If you missed me raving about underrated Troy, NY outfit The Final Sleep back in 2019 (at which point I was already two years late to the party), the three-guitar quintet features members formerly involved with the likes of Arsis, Burning Human, Dying Breed, and Withstand—trivia that should damn well grab your attention. If for some strange reason that's not enough, though, how about the fact that they cite some of their primary influences as Opeth, Edge of Sanity, Control Denied, King Diamond, etc.? The end result is a top-shelf mixed-bag of aggressive progressive sounds that seamlessly fuses everything from melodic blackened death to epic traditional metal—both musically and vocally—amidst carefully crafted songwriting that really ought to land The Final Sleep regarded just as highly as whatever "popular" metal fare the wider-reaching promotional machine is feeding to less truly underground-minded listeners these days.
The group has finally readied its long-awaited sophomore outing, Vessels of Grief, set for release on February 4, and trust me when I inform you that the advance tracks available to date merely scratch the surface of the excellence that this material has to offer. Stream Vessels of Grief track two, "Until it Ends," below; followed by a chat with drummer Mike Van Dyne...
It's been five years since your debut, I, so The Final Sleep is clearly not a band that rushes new material out into the world. Talk about how the writing and recording took shape for Vessels of Grief, and delve into some of what led to it being a fairly long-term process.
The material was written quite a while ago, so we were able to play all the songs live many times before actually recording them. Overall, a lot of care and detail work went into this—both writing-wise and production-wise—which definitely contributed to it taking so long. Additionally, all five of us work professional jobs, have different schedules, etc.; so "quality over quantity" was the only way to do it. I recorded studio drums for seven songs total, but one of them got put on ice and we just focused on making these six songs/40 minutes of music as killer as possible.
The new songs are stylistically in line with the band's prior efforts, but it does feel like the material possesses even more of an epic vibe. Overall, there's a bit more emphasis on singing and constant vocal variety/interplay, and—I don't want to say "traditional," but...—everything's still progressive/aggressive, it just seems like there's this "classic" heavy metal undercurrent to the more melodic side of the compositions. Where were your heads at in terms of honing the songcraft in the years since I?
I'd say the biggest difference between the two albums is that all the material on 2017's I was written by the original lineup before myself, Jeff (vocals/guitar), and Jay (bass) were in the band. The three of us integrated our own parts and ideas into those songs once we came on board, but the arrangements, tempos, etc. had already been set in stone before we joined. With Vessels..., all five of us were heavily involved in the songwriting, so you can hear some more influences this time around. But, the core sound of The Final Sleep is definitely still there. In regard to the vocals, Jeff is just an insanely awesome singer, and his contributions to the songs are huge.
We'll be premiering the album's second track, "Until it Ends." What can you share about this composition in particular?
Thanks for premiering the song with us! Musically, this one was written mostly by guitarist Mike Stack, and has epic solos by all three guitarists. Jeff wrote the lyrics to this and all the songs—except for "Eternal," which were written by Jay. The song order of the album was arranged by Jay to create a whole lyrical concept from start to finish.
One of the things that immediately surprised me about The Final Sleep when I first encountered your work back in 2019 was that the band had remained unsigned despite your music—at least in my opinion—coming across equally as strong if not stronger than a lot of what I hear coming from sizable metal labels these days. It looks like you'll be self-releasing Vessels of Grief as well, so is the D.I.Y. route your preferred approach to keep total control in-house and hassle-free?
Thank you so much, man. I don't think any of us were ever opposed to working with a label, but the primary focus was always just writing great songs and sharing them via gigs/recordings with or without any outside assistance. The definition of what a label does has changed a lot over time, too. During the 10 or so years that I played drums in Arsis, the labels we were signed to did a lot for us... paid for our records/videos, got us tons of press, put us on tours all over the world with amazing bands, etc. I wouldn't expect anything of that magnitude these days, but if we were to hand over our hard work to someone, they'd have to at least be really enthusiastic about what we do and have a solid track record.
Along similar lines, will Vessels... be a digital-only outing, or will there be some type of tangible format available, too?
As of right now, it'll just be a digital-only album. I'd love to see Vessels... (and our first album, too, for that matter) get a proper CD and/or vinyl release. They're both absolutely worthy of it quality-wise. If a label or distro expressed interest in collaborating with us for a physical release, we'd certainly be open to the idea.
It feels like every day I still see headlines about shows or tours being canceled, with the pandemic still wreaking havoc in that regard. Thus far, are there any plans coming together for getting The Final Sleep out in front of more ears once Vessels of Grief hits the streets next month?
Well, we were confirmed for two shows back in the summer of 2020, but those obviously got canceled due to COVID. I'd be happy to get together with the guys for an occasional gig if any cool show offers come our way in the future, but I can't speak for everyone on that, since we've all been doing our own things now for some time. Myself and Jeff have a band called Fleshspoil that'll probably have some tunes out later this year, Jay plays in a band called Ice Queen, and Kevin did an acoustic collaboration a while back. So, just getting this new album out there for people to enjoy is the only goal currently.