Heavy ship: Batillus’ captain Geoff Summers talks heavy doom

All of you good people out there whose recreational time is spent zoning out, hunting down and then getting suitably crushed in turn by overly hefty riffs should really be taking notice of New York doom outfit Batillus. Their debut longplayer Furnace has all of the weight required to wind on impact, but is also a complex headswimmer, mixing black metal, industrial, (almost) new wave beats and post-whatever metal to create an album that’s big on disortientating… Well, fucking soundscapes, in essence, if that’s not too grand a concept; it’s one big cinematic dirge that’d sit nicely alongside your Tombs, Indian and Minsk records.
Produced by Sanford Parker, Furnace is at once ugly and fucked up and inhospitable, but at the same time has light and shade to chase away the moments of pure bleakness. I guess that’s equilibrium. Whatever, it’s hard to take exception with a band named after a supertanker; after all, it pretty much somes them up with the go-to adjectives of slow and heavy. We caught up with drummer Geoff Summers to talk a little about the making of Furnace and Batillus the band.

Batillus is not your typical extreme doom band: how important is it to experiment to exempt yourself from the pack?
Geoff Summers: It’s just monotonous guitars and volume and that’s as far as they take it, and that’s cool. But something that we try to do is to have a little more depth in the sound, something to add something, to help with that [atmosphere]. I know for me as the drummer, I try to know when it’s appropriate for me to play a straight-ahead standard rock beat and there are many times that is the most appropriate thing to do, but at the same time I’m trying to push myself creatively, to other ideas and other things to play that might not be the most obvious thing to play at any given time. I’m not too sure that happens all the time but that’s what I’m going for.

Doom’s spectrum is quite wide, from NWOBHM-style doom to U.S. doom: but you’re very much at the edge of the U.S. style, trying to do something a bit different. What sort of influences outside of doom have shaped your sound?
GS: That’s what we’re hoping for. I mean, I think we all, all four of us, have certain influences that are the same and certain influences that are not necessarily the same; it’s sort of the obvious ones, such as Electric Wizard that we all kind of agree on—they’re definitely an influence for most of the guys in the band—and some other ones such as the more industrial things like Ministry and Godflesh we’re all pretty into as well. I guess you could say we are into the usual suspects as far as doom goes but we’re also into other things that are outside of that world as well.

Is it something that’s agreed upon at the start, that you won’t limit yourself in terms of ideas, and try to create something that’s experimental at times?
GS:Umm, yeah, I think a lot of times the process develops that way—we’re not quite sure what we’re going to end up writing. We might set out with a specific idea, like we want to do a song that his this specific element or that specific element or has this sort of vibe, but a lot of times it’s just a natural evolution and we’ve surprised ourselves many times in the writing process. I think that more importantly than writing songs that are any specific type of music or type of genre or what have you, we try to focus on quality, and we’ve very picky about the riffs and ideas that we write. It doesn’t draft if you will on average for any given song before we settle on what the final version is going to be. There are many steps along the way in that process.

Do the songs change once you’re in the studio or are they totally finished and it’s just a question of recording them?
GS:Not much. The Furnace record was recorded almost exactly as it was rehearsed; there were a few things, a few dotted Is and crossed Ts that were done in the studio with Sanford’s influence but as far as the arrangements and the performances themselves, yeah, that recorded was more or less as it was rehearsed. I think if we end up recording with him again—which we would like to, we’ll see how that shakes down—we might be a little bit more flexible in that process and have him a little bit more involved. That might be an interesting possibility but I’m not sure, we’ll see how that goes.

I guess it’s about trusting a producer’s input.
GS:That’s the thing. Before we recorded with him we were obviously familiar with this work and that’s why we chose to work with him but we didn’t really have a working relationship, as we got to know him and work with him on the record, y’know, we feel really comfortable with him. He’s good at what he does and he’s really good at making the band feel comfortable and relaxed in the studio. I think now that we know what to expect from him and he knows what to expect from us, the next time around could be a little different. I know I am certainly looking forward to working with him again—the rest of the guys are as well.

To what degree was black metal an influence?
GS:I dunno, I guess the black metal stuff is just another influence that sticks its head out in what we’re doing from time to time. It’s not really a primary influence, it’s something that we’re all interested in to varying degrees and when we do let that black metal influence creep up in our songwriting we try to do it in a less traditional or less conventional way—we’re not a black metal band; we’re not going to play a traditional black metal song. Y’know, it’s just not what we do. It’s not how we work. I mean, from the record it’s kind of obvious…. I dunno.

You tend to use it as another texture.
GS:Yeah, a lot of times it’s not even a tempo or a speed thing, it’s just a textural or harmonic thing, and I think that, again, a lot bands who do the doom thing or the sludge thing—they’re playing blues riffs, blues harmonies and blues scales, umm, and harmonically we’re I guess a bit more unconventional, a bit more dissonant, an the [black metal] influence is more evident there than in anywhere else.

What would you like to add to your sound?
GS: We have been writing quite a bit lately, one thing that we are exploring and starting to utilise a bit more is sampled percussion sounds, sampled drums, sequenced drums, drum loops… And that sort of thing goes back to the industrial influence, but using that, the sequenced drums, not to replace live drums but to enhance or contrast them. We’re still kinda in the process of working these new songs out but we’ll see… That’s one thing that we are exploring. Another thing we are trying to do a little bit more of is that, in the past a lot of the songs were built around a riff so it starts with the riff and then the other layers are added in after that; what we are trying to do is to start not necessarily with the riff but maybe start with a drum idea or a sample, or start with a texture or an atmosphere. Something else. It’s trying to find different starting points.

It’s a claustrophobic record. It’s maybe the power of suggestion or whatever but it kind of takes on the vibe of the city.
GS:Yeah, I think that living in the city certainly shapes the way our music sounds in one way or another. Maybe there’s some parallel there between the bands that are from the rural areas and play more bluesy riffs, and us and Tombs who are from the metropolis and play a bit more of a, I dunno, tense music if you will!

The vibe and atmosphere of Furnace makes me think visually at times of a film like Eraserhead, just in the sense of that industrial noise tension.
GS: Oh yeah, that’s good. When music evokes visuals in people— that’s a good thing. There are a lot of things beside music which go into what we are doing, generally speaking, we are all very interested in post-apocalyptic imagery and literature and films. I think that makes its way into our music somehow, certainly, I dunno, without going into the specifics because I think we all come from different places, all for of us, but we are all fascinated with post-apocalyptic imagery and that whole vibe of what the world looks like, what the world feels like, what the world sounds like when people are gone, y’know.

Is that a lyrical theme that’s going through Furnace? Where do Batillus fit in with the apocalypse, would you be playing before, during or after it?

GS: That’s a good question—I’m not really sure how to answer it.

Are you pre-apocalyptic or post apocalyptic?
GS: That would depend on the song, and what part of the song I guess!

What’s next for you guys?
GS: Well, as I say we are writing. We are trying to get enough for a full-length and a split written by January. We’re going to try and record in January if everything goes to plan. In terms of live shows, we have a few shows, five or six, in late September with Indian, that will be in the New England area, and then we are working on a full U.S. tour, including the West Coast where we’ve never been, for November.

Batillus are:

Geoff Summers (Drums)
Willi Stabenau (Bass)
Greg Peterson (Guitar)
Fade Kainer (Vocals/Synth)