Just days after Deeper completed a European tour last fall, the Chicago band got devastating news. Their former bandmate, guitarist Mike Clawson, had died by suicide. Frontman Nic Gohl was still in Paris when he found out, waiting in line at the Louvre.
"All I was thinking right before was telling him about this weird night I had in Paris the night before. Even though we hadn't spoken in months, I knew he'd find it hilarious. When I got that text, I just fucking ran," Gohl told VICE. "You think about all those times you had: growing up together, experiencing like DIY shows for the first time, writing our earliest songs in a flooded, cramped basement where we couldn't even stand up all the way. He was basically my brother."
Clawson had left the band midway through the making of their sophomore album Auto-Pain, which is out Friday via Fire Talk Records_._ While the split was acrimonious, the band carried on, adding bassist Kevin Fairbairn and finishing the rest of the material. Compared to their icy, riff-heavy self-titled 2018 debut, the songs on the follow-up take Deeper's brooding post-punk into darker and more cohesive territory.
"We were all really emotional at that time that Mike left the band. We grew up the same way where we viewed our instruments as a way to escape. A lot of these are about our relationship with him," drummer Shiraz Bhatti said. Gohl added, "Some songs are really hard now to sing because it's exactly what I thought at that time and that's exactly what ended up happening. It just really sucks."
Though the songs had been finalized long before Clawson's death, the material took on a new heaviness for the band. "We didn't want to practice for a couple of weeks and didn't want to bring up those memories," Bhatti said. "Our first practice was a healing moment in a way." Playing new tracks like "Lake Song" and "Willing" were particularly cathartic with the latter boasting Gohl intoning, "It's alright" like a mantra. "That line was us saying we'll get through this together. We were hoping Mike would hear it.".
With its galloping rhythm section and Gohl's potent lyrics, "Willing" is an affecting standout on the LP. "We've been pretty consistently talking about mental health and anxiousness throughout our musical endeavor," Gohl said. "But for a member of our band to actually commit suicide, it makes everything too real. While you're playing it, it's all you can think about."
Auto-Pain unfolds feverishly with its first three songs "Esoteric," "Run," and "This Heat" setting a frantic pace with the former finding Gohl musing, "Is it any wonder I feel so grey?" There are tumbling riffs and synths throughout the tracklist while Gohl's emotive yelps make for a thrilling listen. Listening through its 12 tracks, all-encompassing anxiety starts to emerge. Gohl often repeats lyrics about "crossing lines" and "feeling sick" as the album goes into darker and more experimental territory in its second half. Songs like "4U" have menacingly harsh guitars while the _Brave New World_-referencing "Helena's Flowers" features found sounds Bhatti recorded on a trip to Pakistan. This is an album full of menacing and brutal textures that get softened by Deeper's unmistakable hooks. Deeper is committed to continuing the conversation around mental health, and the band is donating a portion of the LPs royalties to the suicide prevention organization Hope For The Day in Clawson's memory.
Gohl explains, "We wanted to talk about these issues of mental health, depression, and the heaviness of life right now. With Mike's passing and our friendship, it just feels right to shine a light on this. If we don't keep talking about it, people are still going to die."
This article originally appeared on VICE US.