Nick McMaster, the six-string bassist and diabolical vocalist of both progressive black metallers Krallice and the band's younger counterpart, death metal duo Geryon, is nestled comfortably inside Carroll Gardens’ cozy wine joint Black Mountain Wine House, swigging down a glass of fine vino and chowing down on a tasty goat cheese tart.
While McMaster and drummer Lev Weinstein (the pair have been friends since childhood) and guitarists Colin Marston and Mick Barr are still reveling in the surprise New Year’s Day release of Krallice’s latest forward-thinking avant-metal sprawl, Ygg huur, it turns out this riff-spewing, skins-mutilating rhythm section don’t need no stinkin’ guitars to wreak havoc. The Wound and the Bow—Geryon’s second full-length and Profound Lore Records debut—offers up face-melting death metal mayhem of Herculean proportions. Bled out by co-anchors McMaster and Weinstein, its seven gnarled epics are both brutal and brainy as the album rages full on with neck-snapping angularity.
WhileMcMaster readily dismisses the prog- and tech- tags, instead admitting “the primary influence is still death metal,” there isn’t any denying that The Wound and the Bow is complex, shape-shifting trip into the sonic unknown. The Marston-produced The Wound and the Bow is also something of a collaborative effort; its lyrics were penned by McMasters’s sister, poet Antonia McMaster, and the album includes various sonic contributions from the likes of Nick Podgurski (New Firmament, Feast of the Epiphany), Jim Mroz (Lussuria) and Chris Latina (Private Archive, Article Collection), amongst other luminaries.
Noisey is proud to present an exclusive stream of the record, plus a peek into Geryon’s universe courtesy of McMaster.
Noisey: First things first: how did you get into death metal?
Nicholas McMaster: A friend of mine, Michael Sochynsky, who for a while did the band Genghis Tron, came over in high school and brought Napalm Death’s Fear, Emptiness, Despair. I was like, “I don’t know, man.” I associated metal with the hair metal/Spandex vibe at the time and I was really against that. But he was like, “No, you should check this out. It’s really strange.” So we listened to it and I didn’t like it, but after he left, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So I went to HMV at 96th and Broadway and I bought the only Napalm Death CD they had which was Diatribes; it was honestly a kind of a weak album, but that was my first death metal CD, and that sufficed. Then a month later, Napalm Death came through Coney Island High, which still existed, with Morbid Angel actually headlining. I didn’t even know who Morbid Angel wa,s but I was like, “Shit. I’ll go see Napalm Death.” Napalm Death was great, but Morbid Angel came up and I was just like, “Oh, my god.” It was the oneness of their sound, the ferocity of it and the realization that this is just as intense as the noise shit I’m listening to, but they’re doing it with the lineup of the Beatles. That was something to me—to be able to produce that with four dudes playing relatively simple instruments.
When did you first pick up a bass?
In 2000, which was the end of my senior year of high school, I had a long period where I was doing visual art instead [of music], but Lev played in bands. He had a hardcore band, and they actually played ABC No Rio with Burn The Priest, the pre-Lamb of God band. There was “band days” at school and I remember just wanting to do it so intensely. I had played piano and shit so it wasn’t foreign territory, but anything stringed, I just had one of those weird misconceptions that kids have, like, “I can’t do this.” I remember starting to play and being like, “Lev is a good drummer, if we do a band together then I’ll just have to be okay and because the band has a good drummer, people will think it’s a good band.” [Laughs]
Did you and Lev have duo bands in Chicago?
No, because we didn’t think it was “all right” to do that. We wrote songs as a bass and drums duo but always imagined they’d eventually have guitar. The guitarist we found was this dude, Foy Scalf. He was older, we were 18-19 and he was 24, and he was really impressive to us because he had been in death metal bands in Cincinnati, specifically this band Internecine, which had Jared Anderson who played for Hate Eternal and was the singer/bassist of Morbid Angel—not on any records but on some tours. This dude, Foy, knew how to achieve the death metal sound we only knew from records. He helped us a lot.
When did you actually move back to NYC?
I moved back in fall 2007. Lev had been back for a few months before. We met Colin Marston in 2002, through mutual friends while we were still in college. I had a friend who went to Chicago for only one year and then he transferred to NYU. He had gone to high school with Mike Lerner from Behold... The Arctopus. Mike Lerner was Colin’s roommate and they were just getting that band together. My friend had a funny way of putting things: this was the height of technical death metal and Colin was doing the Warr guitar stuff and my friend was like “You have to see Mike Lerner’s roommate play this thing he has. It sounds like ten Necrophagists!” [laughing]. So we met and we knew we had a lot in common.
How then did you and Lev hook up with Krallice?
In 2007, Lev had moved back and they thought Krallice was just going to be a one-off recording project. Mick and Colin did the guitars and also played the bass and they actually just paid Lev as a session drummer to do it— that was the extent to which they viewed it as a temporary thing. Krallice started getting offers for shows and because they played the bass on the album, they couldn’t do it live. So he asked me “Do you want to be the live bass player?” That was pretty much how it started.
What about Geryon?
We also wanted to reform Astomatous in New York because that had been our band for years at that point. We kept looking for guitarists, but of course Krallice was pretty consuming. I remember I had very provisional talks with Hunter Hunt-Hendrix about being the guitarist in Astomatous. Obviously, that didn’t come to pass [laughs]. The sort of story of Geryon is that Krallice consumed us for a couple of years—this was the time where we just made the first three records in three years ,and were actually touring and all this shit. But it was always in the back of my mind because we had made an Astomatous album, which is essentially the same thing as Geryon but with guitar and with Foy’s influence and songs. We kept wanting to continue the project but never found a guitar player and just eventually we were like, “Well, maybe we don’t need guitar.”
What made you think that you could pull off a guitar-free band ?
I don’t feel particular musically influenced by this band, but from 2002 through 2007 Lightning Bolt felt kind of inescapable. We saw them a few times and Krallice even played with them early on. I just remember walking away from that and thinking: “Nobody watches that and is like ‘Oh, that’s a good bass drums duo.’” You walk away and you’re like, “Holy fuck. That’s a complete experience.” So I knew in some sense—with enough amps and pedals and attitude—it was possible to do a duo band and have it be sonically satisfying. I basically figured we could take the music that we would write and put it in that format. Though it’s funny to say the primary influence is Lightning Bolt [laughs].
There was a pretty lengthy period of this band where I just wasn’t sure if it was possible, or it wouldn’t be of interest to anyone to hear it. Frankly I sort of still feel that way. Krallice makes sense to me, because I can look to the guitarists and be like, “Well, they’re amazing.” And Lev is amazing as well, but the fact that other than that it’s just me playing bass, I’m still like, “Does this count as music? [laughs]
I would think you’d namedrop some obscure death metal band as the inspiration for Geryon instead of Lightning Bolt.
A lot of my writing does come from things I’ve pulled from Crytopsy, Morbid Angel, Gorguts and all the greats cobbled together, but sonically it is true that Lightning Bolt was kind of the band where I was like, “This would be possible.” Though there were others; I saw Archaeopteryx a number of times in New York in the mid 2000s, which was Tony Gedrich and Ben Greenberg. Ben played drums and Tony played bass through a lot of amps including this thing that looked like a missile launching rack because it was a thing of sixteen two-inch tweeters. Not lacking for treble [laughs].
Speaking of equipment, what’s your gear setup?
The way I break it down, and honestly I’m going to fucking embarrass myself here, but the concept actually came from an interview I read with the Tool guitarist before I even played bass, where he said he played through three amps. Yeah, I’m losing all the cred [laughs]. But nonetheless, the concept is you play through three amps: one amp for treble, one amp for mids and one amp for bass. That’s kind of the division of what I do. And I’ve been sort of anti-pedal to an extent. In college, I met dudes who I felt like seemed more into designing their pedal rigs than actually playing the instrument. It’s not for nothing that when Krallice plays a show, Mick and Colin use no pedals. They just use amp distortion.
What effects do you use on your vocals?
We’ve experimented with organic reverbs. On The Wound and the Bow, Colin had a standup piano he got somewhere and he actually put a mic in the piano. What you can do is you can catch the resonance of your vocals in the room through the piano strings. So it’s more that, and capturing the room sound of vocals than using computer reverbs or delays.
On Krallice’s Years Past Matter and the first Geryon record, I was into sneaking pitch shifter just a little bit here and there. I was actually influenced by this Deicide record, Once Upon the Cross. The first Deicide record has a lot of pitch shifter—like they’d have the real vocal and the pitch shifter vocal in parallel for whole sections. But I think he got some flack for that because on Legion, the second album, there’s a disclaimer like “no vocal effects used.” People used to say things like that in those days; it seems like early death metal had this competitive sports vibe— concerns like, oh, you use triggers, you’re faking, or you’re somehow cheating to get this inhuman vocal effect. Anyway, so I guess Benton had been accused of “cheating,” and did Legion with no effects, but, on Once Upon the Cross, he sneaks it back in, the low pitch shifter just layered in quietly under some lines for emphasis. I thought that was a really cool effect just to add a little bit of depth and an extra element so I snuck that in on Years Past Matter and the first Geryon. But then I got bored of it.
What about getting feedback like Geryon is some sort of Krallice side project?
Well, that is technically true, after all. One thing that makes me feel really good about releasing this second album and having it be on Profound Lore and getting kind of a push is people are like, “Oh, I figured this was just a one-off.” The second album hopefully shows that this is going to continue. Really, this band is the core of my music-making. It’s like, what can I do when it’s just one melodic line to be played on one instrument? Can I make it interesting? Even if it wasn’t called Geryon or wasn’t with Lev or wasn’t released, I’d be working on something like this in order to practice composition in general.
On The Wound and the Bow, your sister, Antonia, wrote the lyrics.
She’s a poet, as is my mom, actually. My mom actually named the band. I’ve always loved Antonia’s poetry, so it was a natural thing to ask her to write for us. Death metal is also so overwhelmingly male and even at times explicitly misogynistic that, while it’s not like it was any idea to tackle female-centric topics or anything like that, I liked that the lyrics would be by a woman, and have that energy. And obviously, she’s my flesh and blood.
What’s the story behind your mom naming the band?
Well, my mom is a poet and a humanities professor, and is steeped in all this stuff. There was a time when I was like, “I can’t think of a band name” and she proposed “Geryon.” I had talked to her about my lyrical concepts in the past, like [Krallice's 2011 album] Diotima, who to me was interesting because she was a Greek figure but then also appears in Friedrich Hölderlin’s poetry. So this idea of characters that get reused and used for different ends was interesting to me. So she brought up Geryon because he’s classical, he’s in the Labours of Hercules in one form and in Dante’s Inferno in another form.
I’m pretty sure she was probably made aware of him by Anne Carson’s book, The Autobiography of Red. Anne Carson’s book reimagines Geryon and Hercules as gay lovers and Hercules, as you would imagine, is the macho alpha type while Geryon is the sensitive type. Hercules breaks Geryon’s heart and that is the slaying—the heartbreak. So with this sort of tripartite reflection of this figure, I think my mom knew I’d be into that [laughs]. I then looked into it myself and was like, “Yeah. This really fits.”
You guys also add electronics into the Geryon mix.
From the get-go, because the record is all sheets of bass distortion and pounding drums, my idea has been that we'd have sixty second ambient or electronic interludes—just something to change of the sonic picture so that the bass tone and drums sound fresh when another song kicks in. Sixty seconds was just something I settled on, because I remember tiring of Cradle of Filth-like symphonic interludes that drag on for like four minutes. Everyone skips those tracks. I figure sixty seconds is good, because it takes twenty to thirty seconds for the listener to even recoil from the last song and realize even that what they’re hearing isn’t just feedback. By the time they’ve acclimated to it and realized it’s a composition in its own right, there’s only about thirty seconds left, and who’s gonna get bored in thirty seconds?
Do you care when Geryon is labeled as tech-metal or prog?
People can call it whatever they want; I don’t really care. The tech thing bothers me, because that to me implies you’re playing these things to show that you practiced a lot or whatever. Music isn’t sports or working out; I think there’s really only an incidental relation between difficulty and quality.
The thing about the prog label that bothers me, and no disrespect, is I have never listened to a King Crimson or a Yes or ELP album all the way through, ever, in my whole life. I guess progressive metal is supposed to mean something different, but it seems like a line is being drawn back to progressive rock. So given that that stuff is not in my history, it’s a little weird when people call my music progressive. And if that’s not what they mean, it just shows that the term has become so diffuse that it’s not really a useful label.
'The Wound and The Bow' drops on April 8th via Profound Lore; Geryon plays Saint Vitus May 28th with Kayo Dot and Yautja.