Sickdeer are a power trio from Washington DC that formed in 2015. Since we first covered Sickdeer on Demo:listen, their brand of blistering black metal has increased significantly in strength. Their guitarist GT still invents these warped yet melodic riffs to take your head clean off. Drummer SG still beats the living hell out of every one of those riffs with as much precision as malice, and vocalist AB’s screams still sounds the bellows of an angry cave-demon awoken from his accursed eternal sleep.
But on Awake, Proceed, Sickdeer’s self-released sophomore full length, the band members’ talents converge and bloom into something more potent than simply the sum of its individual parts. Awake, Proceed races headlong towards its own sombre and doomed ending, with each track seeming to get faster and faster until finally there is only the tolling of a bell. For all its incredible moments, Awake, Proceed demands repeated listening.
We caught up with Sickdeer’s drummer to gain some insight into what will end up being one of the heaviest black metal records of the year.
SG, who got into 2nd wave European black metal as a young teenager says: “I was immediately hooked on the darker and colder atmosphere of the music. Of course, the ‘necro sound’ and harshness had a lot to do with my dive into the genre, but the themes of mysticism, evil and individuality grabbed my attention as well.”
He goes on to explain that when Sickdeer formed, they wanted to avoid “any kind of gimmicks or . . . confining ideology.” Instead, the drummer says, Sickdeer “wanted to write music and create art that was true to [themselves] . . . rooted in the era of extreme music [they] grew up listening to.”
Regarding their influences, SG says: “Ultimately the sound we create is rooted in the old school and I think we try to stay true to that. As far as our drive, in a way, it’s almost like being fully consumed or possessed by the sound we create that drives us to play the way we do. Almost being hypnotized and disconnected from outside and all the things around us is what allows us to write the music we do, not to mention our dislike for all the ills within society that have caused conflict, things like technology, politics, religion and over zealousness of humans.”
With its evocative, yet simple album title, and its single-word song names, Sickdeer don’t give away too much right away when it comes to the lyrical concepts and themes behind Awake, Proceed. According to SG: “The concept . . . is essentially based on the long, agonizing road towards demise. From the way the order of the songs are presented based on titles, the intention of this album was to focus on accepting the consequences of reality, leading to the process of self-realization before moving towards imminent fate. For example, the first track, ‘Admit’ is the starting point of the process, where all mistakes and lies lead to the next phase & second track— accepting your ‘Damned’ fate. From there, it is the torment of suffering through endless ‘Nights’ (third track), understanding the flaws and ego of one’s true ‘Self’ (fourth track) and realizing that the world is ‘Fleeting’ (fifth track). By this point, the last two tracks essentially bring us to the end. Awake is the awareness of all things to this point and Proceed is ultimately the dive into demise.”
SG goes on to explain that, in “a word,” Sickdeer wanted their new album to sound like “anguish.” Continuing, SG says: “There is a natural atmospheric element behind this album, but our sound is also very riff based. I think the combination of sound naturally creates a bleak, woeful atmosphere with a fiery undertone.”
Once more, Sickdeer went to DC-based sound engineer Yave Rust to record their sophomore record. SG explains: “We recorded this piece by piece; drums first to scratch tracks of guitar, then vocals, etc. This method allowed us to change things as we wanted, which we ultimately did throughout the recording process. We had already been playing these songs live for a year, but recording this way allowed us to shape the sound of this album based on the vision we wanted. If we had recorded live, there could be things that we couldn’t change that wouldn’t be part of how we wanted to prepare this album and concept. Yave Rust is one of the best producers in the DC area and his sense of detail and dedication to his work is what made us work with him . . . We decided to work with Yave again because of his dedication and connection to the final sound of the album. We wanted to work with someone who shows the same passion for their craft like we do for ours, and I think that can be heard through the quality of sound engineering on this album.”
The artwork for their new album is unsettling in a subtle way. It looks like the figure of Death, cloaked in black, is leading a procession across the face of the earth. Between its colors and its style, it’s not the most black metal record cover, but there is something melancholic and eerie about this painting by David Asryan. “Asryan is an Armenian painter whose work had a profound impact on us,” says SG. “His artwork can be viewed towards more of the surrealist theme, but overall the selection of work he curated for our album brings a spiritual aspect that represents exactly how we wanted the album to be.”
Awake, Proceed is available on CD from the band themselves. Support true underground USBM and pick up a copy. Meanwhile, Sickdeer show no sign of relenting. According to SG, Sickdeer plan to tour later this year, and will soon begin writing new music.