In January, Decibel was anti-chuffed (OK, mildly melancholic) to premiere the first song off Deathwhite’s new album, For A Black Tomorrow, called “The Grace of the Dark.” (HERE) Two months later and, of course, several listens through Deathwhite’s debut LP, we’re pretty confident we can call the Pittsburgh-based trio the most significant melodic dark metal offering by a stateside band since Daylight Dies.
Certainly, Deathwhite have two things going for them: 1) they totally understand the Greg Mackintosh/Anders Nyström/Stéphane Paut school of playing and writing and 2) they totally get what it takes to make Deathwhite sound like none of them. Songs “The Grace of the Dark,” “Dreaming the Inverse,” “Eden,” and the title track resonate on a different frequency compared to that of their Euro influences. That’s not to say For a Black Tomorrow isn’t full of Euro signatures, particularly the use of melody/harmony and non-conventional song structures, but it’s more American in approach. The directness that’s distinctly American.
So, fans of Katatonia, Paradise Lost, Anathema, Alcest, October Tide, Rapture, et al., your new band has arrived in the form of Deathwhite. Time to party down(trodden).
First off, let’s address the total anonymity of Deathwhite. Why is anonymity important for the members of Deathwhite?
Deathwhite: We started in early 2012 with the most basic of intentions——to record our music and nothing else. The idea was that since the members of Deathwhite had been in bands with varying degrees of success, it would add a unique twist if we kept our identities private and let people judge us on our music and nothing more. It’s a common practice for bands to include “Former members of…” in their accompanying press materials, which, automatically formulates an idea of how the band may sound in the listener’s head. We wanted to reduce that element as much as possible. Furthermore, when we started, the notion of playing shows, touring and embarking on “regular” band activities seemed a bit far-fetched. Deathwhite was to be a band who recorded albums when it saw fit, then started the process all over again. In some respects, it’s a basement black metal approach, minus the pseudonyms and corpse paint. The fact it has gotten this far is a bit surprising to all of us, to be frank.
OK, music not people is the driver here. Deathwhite is pulling on the heart strings of Katatonia, Anathema, Paradise Lost, et al. What were some of the records that really made an impact on you?
Deathwhite: The output of the above-referenced three is of immense influence. The entire Katatonia discography is held in high regard for us; Anathema’s ‘metal’ period, which, could even include Alternative 4 and Judgement count as well, while the songwriting savvy of all eras of Paradise Lost, in particular, Icon and Draconian Times are massively important. We are influenced by these bands, but it’s debatable whether we’re a composite of the three, although imagining the band in such a form is enticing…Nevertheless, the common thread between Anathema, Katatonia and Paradise Lost is that they all know how to write ‘songs.’ Regardless of the directional changes each of them underwent, the songwriting element was never forgotten and it’s something we try to keep in mind when composing for Deathwhite.
The guitars are very prominent—twin harmonies, counterpoint, electric, acoustic, et al.—on For a Black Tomorrow. Who are some of your favorite players? What do you like about how they approach the instrument?
Deathwhite: Aside from the obvious choices (Anders Nyström, Greg Mackintosh, et al), we are intrigued by players like Enslaved’s Ivar Bjørnson, whose chord choices and phrasing are masterful. Neige from Alcest would be another for the sheer lushness of his playing. Fred Norrman from October Tide is also a favorite among the band, going all the way back to Grey Dawn, an album that continues to resonate. There’s simply a multitude of brilliant guitar players (and songwriters) in the death/doom/Gothic scene. We are a far-cry from all of them, but are more than glad to follow in their footsteps.
And vocally, there’s an interesting cross-section of styles, like Mikael Åkerfeldt doing a run on an Andrew Eldritch vocal line. There’s also a bit of Tuomas Tuominen from Fall of the Leafe in there, too.
Deathwhite: You described our vocals fairly accurately, although this is the first time someone has made a Fall of the Leafe reference. (Volvere is their best work.) We take the creation and execution of vocals quite seriously in Deathwhite, perhaps to the point where you could say we are a vocal-driven band. We are fortunate to have a singer who is quite capable of adding a distinct element to our sound. While the riffs, bass and drums are important, it’s the vocals that “put the roof on the house,” for us, ultimately providing our songs with an identity. We’re also a bit challenged by the idea that good, clean, well-enunciated vocals have been pushed to the side in metal. The advent of skilled growlers and guys who can “grunt in key” has made clean singing somewhat of an oddball, as was shared in a recent discussion with the folks at Season of Mist. Both parties shared there is the expectation that you must drop in some type of heavy/death vocals into your sound to stay with the times or acquiesce to those who think it’s necessary. We, obviously, disagree with that sentiment.
What’s a songwriting session, if it can be called that with Deathwhite?
Deathwhite: The songs generally begin with one of us composing on his own, discarding, collecting and ultimately shaping the ideas into form until they are ready to be shared with the rest of the band. It can be arduous process because you’re working in a silo. We don’t rehearse frequently, so the songs can take longer than normal to come together. But, once the rest of the band is involved, they tend to take shape pretty quickly, with each of us adding our own ideas. The advances in modern technology have also helped us. We tend to share files and ideas as we work on the songs, which makes sense since we only rehearse in the days prior heading into the studio. There is quite a bit of collaborating and nit-picking when it comes to our songs especially since we tend to write in the conventional verse-pre-chorus-chorus format, which means you can’t have any dead weight. Lest we forget the challenges of writing for a clean singer, which often has a rather large impact on the riffs and arrangements.
“Dreaming the Inverse,” “Death and the Master,” and “The Grace of the Dark” are three of my favorite tracks on For a Black Tomorrow. What songs have and continue to speak to you?
Deathwhite: “Dreaming the Inverse” is one we highlighted right away and pegged for the creation of our first music video. It’s not formatted like the rest of our songs——we actually kept the chorus in a pretty tight space; i.e., separated by one riff. “The Grace of the Dark” was the last song we wrote for the album and originally was going to be placed much further down in the track listing until we decided (after a lengthy discussion) to move it up to the first spot. It remains a favorite as well. Beyond that, the songs are still fresh to us since we’ve yet to play them live. We look forward to eventually airing them in front of a live audience and seeing how they translate. It is our belief they may sound heavier than they do on our record.
Lyrically, things seem pretty bleak. There’s not a lot of light or hope in the songs. Where are Deathwhite emotionally speaking as it relates to the music? I gather it’s not all hum-drum for the members personally.
Deathwhite: We certainly wouldn’t write lyrics that we didn’t feel strongly about. We, at one point or another, have each had feelings of alienation, sadness and regret. These are basic human emotions, so we find it necessary to express them through song. Our lyrics aren’t “woe as me” as much as they are a reflection on the human psyche and the idea that people are often their own worst enemy. So, this is our way of working through that and realizing our limitations and faults, which, can only help in the end. Other songs take a hard look at the critical flaws of humanity: those who deceive and hurt others through a position of power, those who are perfectly content with wasting time, and those who have the rather baffling idea they are more important than someone else. We wanted to write about these themes without sounding nihilistic. It’s a very fine line, obviously.
The album cover photo is great. Is that a composite image or a single photo?
Deathwhite: Our artist, Jérôme Comentale, is responsible for the cover. It’s an image he created himself. We didn’t give him very many guidelines when it came to the cover of For a Black Tomorrow. We did provide lyrics and some basic themes, but it’s primarily his work. He’s based in France and has proven to be a very reliable, creative partner when it comes to the band’s visuals. We first worked with him on our Solitary Martyr EP, which was largely the same situation——we gave him the title and he took it from there. So, having a cover and visuals to fit our music is of utmost importance. We are very fortunate to be able to work with a gentleman of Jérôme’s talents.
Ever thought of using something local to Pittsburgh as imagery? Like a black and white photo of the Congelier House, or a room inside of it.
Deathwhite: We haven’t thought of using something local to Pittsburgh, but, the city and its surrounding areas do have a lot of beautiful locations. Only recently have the three members of Deathwhite been located in Pittsburgh, so we often left out our geographical location, but, make no mistake——we are rather fond of the city. It has a lot going for itself.
For a Black Tomorrow was originally released independently in 2017. The Season of Mist version is essentially a reissue. What does that mean to Deathwhite?
Deathwhite: We got in touch with Season of Mist literally a week before the independent release of For a Black Tomorrow. Promotion for the album was already well under way and we were lucky enough to accumulate some strong pre-sale numbers. However, the label asked we pull the album so they could release it, which we quickly agreed to. We submitted the band to only a few labels and Season of Mist was at the top of our list. To have them release For a Black Tomorrow on a global scale is beyond our wildest imagination. They have been supportive of us and our somewhat unique configuration right away, which is all a band can ask for. Ultimately, this means we are very grateful for the opportunity. It is not something we take for granted.
** Deathwhite’s new album, For a Black Tomorrow, is out now on Season of Mist. It’s available HERE on LP (White and Black) and CD, and in bundles with a t-shirt. The woebegone should act now or forever be forlorn.