Don’t Leave Your Head Unprotected: Hear Black Table’s “Helm”

photo by Dean Chooch Landry
photo by Dean Chooch Landry

To suggest that I’ve been excited for Black Table to release their debut full-length would be something of an understatement.  To imagine that my excitement has dulled even a little because it has been nearly four years since their Sentinel EP would be foolish.  In just a couple weeks (October 14), the heavy music amalgamation (black/death/doom/self-loathing-core) will see the release of Obelisk through Silent Pendulum Records, and the wait will be over.

Right now, though, we have the album’s third track ready for your enduring damnation, alongside an interview with guitarist/co-songwriter Ryan Fleming about the sun-dimming atrocity to come.  And don’t make plans for October 15.  It’s arrival is iffy at best.

We last spoke more than a year ago about the new album… What delayed the release of Obelisk?

Ryan Fleming: We took a short break after our first major US tour in support of Sentinel because we hadn’t really had any down time since the band’s inception. Aside from that we’d been writing Obelisk almost non-stop. For us, writing tends to take a little longer because of our geographic separation. The band is pretty spread out, we are scattered across upstate NY and NJ. So we can’t just get together anytime we want. In addition, we are very meticulous and extremely critical of everything we touch. We take tremendous amounts of time debating and experimenting with ideas. We probably have enough material in the trash to make another album if we wanted. It’s just the way the process goes. If it isn’t good enough we keep working until it is, or we scrap it and start again.

Our process typically begins with Mers (Sumida, guitars/vocals) and I locked away in a room with a couple practice amps and a computer. Mers will usually have an idea – sometimes it’s a ten second riff and sometimes it’s half a song – we will take that seed and quickly track it into Ableton Live and start building. I’ll typically write a rough MIDI drum part to build a foundation under her piece and then track a guitar idea over that. And we’ll go back and forth until we have something we like. Meanwhile, we are constantly arranging the parts and rewriting as the song develops and evolves. When the core of the song is done from a guitar perspective Mike (Kadner, drums) and DJ (Scully, bass) begin writing their parts. Mike will listen to my drum ideas and then write fully thought-out parts. Sometimes he likes something I have and keeps the general concept and other times he writes everything from scratch. Then DJ will write a bass part based on the total picture. We then look at the entire piece together and rearrange, rework, and refine as a group, and once we have it in a solid place we finally start rehearsing live. In general jam sessions are not part of Black Table’s creative process, we are very purposeful about almost every moment so random discovery isn’t very useful, but it’s completely necessary for us to create the type of music we make. 

What are your favorite parts of the new album… or favorite things that happened while you were recording?

Fleming: I think my favorite part of Obelisk is the the ending of “Homo Ergaster.” The song goes from this seemingly never ending heavy, plodding, mathy section and then suddenly it drops into this clean melodic sort of dream like state. I love that moment where it just hangs in limbo between the two places. It then starts rebuilding and layering into this tremendous atmospheric wash. It gets very emotional to play sometimes. I love it, I think it’s beautiful.

Since this album is your first full-length, did the recording process feel different than what you had done in the past, specifically with Sentinel?

Fleming: I’d say it was very different. Sentinel was a learning experience. We went into it trying to get in and out of the studio as efficiently as possible. We didn’t have much money or time to spare. We used an AxeFx II for the guitars to save on studio time and because of Hurricane Sandy destroying the east coast, and cutting our time before tour in half, we had zero extra time to explore any sound ideas. We got our Sentinel masters in the van on the road heading to our first tour date, we were burning CDs as fast as we could. I think we were really happy with what we made all things considered, but in hindsight we knew we could have taken it further. With Obelisk we had a very clear goal of what we wanted and what we needed to get there. We wanted this to be big and expansive, we also knew we needed someone amazing to help us get there. We made a dream list of producers we wanted to work with and the name at the top of the collective list was Billy Anderson. He’d done so many amazing albums with so many great bands, not to mention Four Phantoms by Bell Witch, a personal favorite, so we sent him an email thinking we wouldn’t even get a response, I mean, we were some unknown band and only had a four song EP, we couldn’t imagine we’d even be on his radar… and by some miracle he was interested! He actually had heard Sentinel and wanted to work with us. To say that we were excited would have been the understatement of the century. 

So we went into Backroom Studios in NJ with full demos in hand and started working with Billy from there. Having someone of his caliber and experience brought out sounds and ideas we didn’t even know were missing. Billy was great at balancing dense layers, and maintaining the song no matter how thick things became. He would just try crazy things and see what we thought – if we didn’t like it, who cares? Billy had ten more ideas ready to go. He was a mad scientist, just mixing things together to see what would happen. The album couldn’t have become what it was without him.

What are the life experiences that play into this band’s music?  What regular-life stuff are the members experiencing that drives day-to-day life?

Fleming: Of course who we are, our perspectives and philosophies play a part in what we make musically, but we try to focus on actualizing the ideas we are trying to explore more than any direct expression of ourselves as individuals. 

What plans do you have to support this album from the stage?

Fleming: We are completely DIY so we have been buried in an avalanche of work surrounding getting this album pressed and out the door for our October 14th release date. We are currently booking and looking to book a ton of shows and get back on the road as soon as possible. So stay tuned for tour dates, they’re coming.

Get in touch with the band at their Facebook or Bandcamp sites, and pre-order your copy of Obelisk here.