Q&A: Temple of Void’s Alex Awn And Mike Erdody Paint The World Doom

Temple Of Void

Michigan death-doom luminaries Temple of Void rise from Warhammer 40K, grunge, and sick riff binges to release new album Summoning the Slayer, their first for Relapse Records. The denizens of Decibel have long appreciated the Detroit-based death-dealing downers, going all the way back to debut album Of Terror and the Supernatural, released the same year Ebola raged and other negative shit went down. Fast forward to 2020 though. The mighty Motor City mavens released their third long-player, The World That Was. So impressive and inline with our respective musical ennui that we awarded it #24 on our Top Albums of 2020. In Decibel #186, esteemed writer Justin Norton said thusly: “You can decide to play orthodox death metal by the book in the second decade of the 21st century, but you need to be great to pull it off. You can also upend the formula and go in different directions—you also have to be great to pull it off. Fortunately, Temple of Void are knocking at the door of death greatness, and this album is another example of the hidden treasure a few bands still find in an over 30-year-old genre.”

With Summoning the Slayer, Temple of Void outstretch their skeleton hand into slightly newer territory. No, they haven’t gone Dream Theater, but there are aspects of their sound that has (and is still) evolved. The death-doom herald is still front and center, as evidenced on “Deathtouch,” “A Sequence of Rot,” “Hex, Curse, & Conjuration,” and opener “Behind the Eye.” Here, the quintet shake the very foundations of our genre’s active graveyard. Temple of Void are never not crushingly heavy, furtively melancholic, and beastly in aesthetic. There are different things at play, though probably not overt in presentation. There’s a big grunge component to Summoning the Slayer. Not that you’d notice genuflection to Seattle’s best. The nod in the other direction (singer-songwriters) is, however. Closing track, “Dissolution,” is like a body being lowered into a burial vault. Somber, tempered yet intense, Temple of Void have found a way to embed their non-metal influences into their death-doom framework.

Pallbearers to death-doom’s funereal procession, guitarist Alex Awn and vocalist Mike Erdody continue to carry the heavy load.

OK, describe Temple of Void’s music. It’s burly yet melancholic. Like if Bolt Thrower, Demigod, and Paradise Lost (or Katatonia) had a lovechild and it grew up angry and a passionate gaming culture nerd. Tell me your side of it. I think you’ve called it “cosmic death-doom” before.
Alex Awn: That’s a pretty good summary. Those are all musical touch points for us. But I tend to think of it a little differently… We are be nature a proud “death doom band” and we fly that flag proudly. The whole band comes from a diverse set of backgrounds and Temple of Void’s (TOV) music is really defined by how we bring it all together in a unique manner. None of these “left of center” influences should be overt to the listener. Johnny Metalhead should just hear “a cool death doom band,” but if under the hood there’s all this influence coming from the likes of Alice in Chains, Smashing Pumpkins, Quicksand, and God knows what else.

Do you think there’s anything that’s particularly Michigan or Detroit that’s woven into Temple of Void’s aesthetic?
Alex Awn: Into our aesthetic? I don’t really think so. Maybe the fact that we just present ourselves as who we are. There’s no “mystique” about the band. We’re straight up. But that’s not necessarily just a Detroit thing by any stretch.

What have Temple of Void been up to since The World That Was?
Alex Awn: It came out in March of 2020, and we all know what happened then. That put the brakes on everything. So, we just decided to write a new album and make use of the downtime. So that’s what we did. And that’s why we’re talking to you today.

How would you compare The World That Was to Summoning the Slayer? I like how Temple of Void slowly has added cool dynamics to the music like on “Self-Schism” or “A Single Obolus.” Like “Deathtouch” and “The Transcending Horror” have that funeral doom edge that’s all-too absent in death metal. PS. I like the little Killing Joke bass vibe in “Deathtouch.”
Alex Awn: Killing Joke is Jason’s [Pearce; drums] favorite band. I fucking love ’em, too. Well, visually this album is a literal continuation of the last one. You see the boat with five dudes approaching the mouth of the cave on The World That Was, and then for the artwork in Summoning the Slayer you see those same dudes enter the cave. The “cave ambience” that connects each song is literally taking you on a tour of the inside of that mountain. The artwork, the cave ambience, it just all ties in together to create an even more seamless experience.

Describe the songwriting sessions for Summoning the Slayer? Were there any new dynamics coming into the fold? Bands, Warhammer books, etc.?
Alex Awn: Definitely a lot of grunge talk going on. Heavy Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden rotation. We kept the same collaborators (Omar [Jon Ajluni; synth] and Meredith [Davidson; synth]) as the prior album. The only thing that changed was where we recorded and who with. But outside of that, the actual sessions were the same process as we’ve employed since 2013. The guitarists write separately and throw our riffs into a dropbox folder. Then the two of us get together and start connecting the dots. Once we have a few riffs strung together we’d bring it to practice and share it with the band. At the point the whole band starts working on the arrangement and we refine it and refine it until it’s good to go. TOV always starts with guitar riffs and TOV always collaborates on the arrangement. No one has ever brought a whole song to practice and said, “here’s a song, play it.” Everyone’s fingerprints are on everything we write.

There’s no instrumental on Summoning the Slayer. That’s sort of been a Temple of Void trait from the beginning, if I recall. Did the opportunity not arise (with Mike) or did you decide to take a different track?
Alex Awn: Mike gets one song per album to do whatever he wants with. A total Mike Erdody original. And on the new one he ended up singing over what would have been his instrumental. The last song [“Dissolution”] is 100% Mike.
Mike Erdody: Like Alex said, there’s a degree of the unknown happening with each album in addition to the spectrum of doom and death. I may not bring as much of the grunge element, but I tried to add some of my personal influences into the mix that I thought could be complimentary. I felt the song that I picked for the album could have worked as an instrumental, but the main riff seemed to call for some kind of vocals, and building the pattern around the descending bass notes came pretty naturally. It felt right to do, so I went with my instinct. I don’t look at it so much as a major departure or anything, but rather building and expanding on an element to our albums that has always been there.

Let’s talk “Dissolution.” I’m reminded of Cathedral’s cover of “Solitude.” There might be a little ‘90s-era Opeth in there, too. What was informing this song, and why did you decide to close the album with a “ballad?”
Alex Awn: This was Mike’s song. He wrote and recorded it all. It felt like a really nice denouement to the whole listening experience. It’s a thick record and this just sort of gives you time to unwind at the very end. It’s a satisfying ending to the album, in my opinion. I definitely hear Opeth in our writing from time to time, too. And there’s certainly a Nick Drake influence on “Dissolution.” It feels very ’70s singer-songwriter.
Mike Erdody: With the first album, the band suggested I contribute some kind of instrumental or acoustic element to add another layer to our sound and dynamics. As you noted, it’s kind of become a traditional element at this point, but we’ve always tried to change up the placement or approach with each album. Using it as an album closer was something we had yet to do, and I think it makes a statement ending the record in such a somber way. Opeth could definitely be cited as an influence, but there are a few different things going on. When piecing it all together, I wanted the song to aesthetically fall somewhere between “Planet Caravan” or a Budgie ballad and something from Days of Future Passed by the Moody Blues. Omar was really pivotal in capturing the latter part of that combination. There’s a lyrical nod to Nick Drake because I had been working in alternate tunings to get around a bit of writer’s block, and I ended up writing the song in Cadd4, which is the tuning he used for a good chunk of his Pink Moon album (which is also one of the most genuinely despondent records of all time).

Are there moments or full songs on Summoning the Slayer that make you say, “Fuck yeah!”?
Alex Awn: I absolutely love playing “Engulfed.” The second half just builds and builds and builds. It’s only three chords or something. But it’s so satisfying to play. It’s just very transcendent from a physical and musical perspective. I can’t wait to play it live.
Mike Erdody: I always get a huge sense of satisfaction holding a finished album in my hand and admiring it as a complete artform. Being able to see any creative idea to completion is something that always makes me smile. As a music fan, I love deep listening. I like losing myself in an album’s artwork, lyrics, production, and the overall feeling it evokes. We want the listener to be able to do the same with our album. I wouldn’t say it’s a particular song or part of the record, but rather being able to see how it all came together in the end.

Lyrically, tell me what’s happening. The song titles are great. I can only imagine the lyrics (I have just the stream). I get a very Lovecraft vibe, but that’s probably an obvious starting point.
Mike Erdody: Alex has always been into the idea of creating some kind of mythos with the band. Up until The World That Was, the albums were mainly inspired by horror, and the songs felt like an anthology of unrelated short stories. I think that’s mainly where the Lovecraft vibe comes from, but I’ve personally tried not to directly lift any Lovecraft themes simply because it’s pretty well-tread territory in metal. I think the last album offered a bit of a lyrical departure and opened some doors to different avenues for us. The cover art for The World That Was begs the question of what waits behind the entrance of the cave, and Summoning the Slayer was intended to serve as the answer. For some of us the most horrific thing we can face is ourselves, and that can be more frightening than any Lovecraftian horror story. The beast being conjured on the cover art definitely has a bit of a Lovecraft feel, but it mostly represents a manifestation of the worst parts of ourselves and our choices. When you stand on the outskirts of Hades and it’s time to face the slayer, you discover the slayer is ultimately yourself. Each song takes a look at a lot of aspects of the human condition and how those poor choices are often influenced by our own fragility, fear, and shame. It’s very much an ego-death metal album.

Are songs connected thematically?
Alex Awn: Mike will have to elaborate on this one.
Mike Erdody: There’s a lot of interesting parallels to this album. As I said before, The World That Was artwork shows Charon navigating the rivers and leading the boat to the void beyond the mouth of the cave. Taking some inspiration from Dante’s Inferno with the concept of multiple circles of hell, each of the seven songs represents a deeper level of descent into some of the behavior patterns and thinking that is often rooted in our own ego and shame. Not just the notion of seven deadly sins and vices, but also seven emotional stages of grief as suffering is not something that is unique to anyone and we often cope in immature ways. There is a definite thematic link between songs on the album. Behind the Eye begins the album focusing on how maladaptive thinking and behavior rooted in negative experiences breeds apathy and allows human beings to justify doing horrific things to each other in search of status, power, and wealth. From there the lyrics use multiple perspectives to address how humans go through great levels of cognitive dissonance to validate their idealizations, cope with loss, or shift blame from themselves. Others internalize that blame and shut down, pull inward, or find their escape in the bottom of a glass or the chase of a dragon. Some people succumb to their own pettiness and in their need for vindication only end up losing a huge part of themselves, just like those who perpetually allow themselves to be controlled by fear and consequence often lose themselves similarly.

I know there’s a lot of fig painting and roll-playing going on in Temple of Void. Does any of that tie back to your aesthetic, music or lyrics?
Alex Awn: Mike and I are both Warhammer nerds. And Eric (old guitarist for TOV) is one of my best friends and he’s super into Warhammer, too. He comes over every Saturday night and we listen to post punk and paint minis. Eric and I play DnD. Mike’s into Magic. Brent, Don, and Jason don’t really partake in wargaming / RPG’s. But Brent is super into fantasy literature. We’ve had a couple shirts with D20’s on them. And definitely had some shirts with Chaos Knights on them. There’s a Warhammer / Age of Sigmar influence aesthetically. And actually, “The-World-That-Was” is how Warhammer references “the old world” before the coming of the Age of Sigmar. And that was where I came up with the idea for “The World that Was.” Mike has some lyrics on The World that Was that deal with the ending of the Age of Chaos. We have some older songs that reference Lovecraft, too. I play “Call of Cthulhu,” which is a Lovecraftian RPG. Eric played with me actually. And I found the artist for Summoning the Slayer through RPGs. He actually created the covers for some Call of Cthulhu books. And I wanted to branch out from “metal artists” and find someone who was a bit more off the beaten path.
Mike Erdody: It will find its way into some of the aesthetics because a few of us are nerds and it’s hard not to wear your interests on your sleeve, but I wouldn’t say any of it is a major lyrical influence for me though we have touched on it previously. As Alex said, Warhammer was a huge influence on the previous album’s title and made for an interesting way to address Death as an equalizer on the final song, but I would say Summoning the Slayer overall is a bit more bleak and reflective than it is rooted in fantasy or horror.

I know Temple of Void is your art, but what do the members of the band do outside?
Alex Awn: Jobs? Mike teaches autistic kids at a high school. Brent is a fireman. Don is a chef and soundman. Jason is the Charge Nurse for a gastroenterology department. And I’m the Director of UX for Bosch, North America.
Mike Erdody: I teach at a center-based ASD program. I like to do art, be creative, and learn new skills. I collect a lot of things like books, records, and horror movies because I like always being surrounded by things that inspire me.

Relapse is a different label platform from Shadow Kingdom and others. What do you hope to achieve by “leveling up” with Relapse?
Alex Awn: We wanted to be a label that was into putting us out simply because they really liked our music. And Relapse fits that bill. They’re genuine fans and that goes a long way with us. We also wanted to have a team around us. There are lots of people at Relapse with specialties who are in our corner. So we have so much more support when it comes to the media and opportunities. We had offers from bigger labels, but Relapse just felt like the most down to earth. The easiest to work with. We feel comfortable here. The main thing I hope to get out of being on Relapse is simply more opportunities. That could be opportunities to play new countries, or to play on bigger stages, or to be heard by more people, or to have a proper music video budget, or whatever else. TOV is our passion. It’s not a full time gig. So whatever life experiences we can unlock by being on a bigger label, bring em on! We’d really like to be in a position where we’re playing a fest here, a fest there. Just popping out for weekends across the world or the continent. Go play Hellfest in France and come back. Go do a week of shows in the UK. Go play some fest on the west coast. That kinda stuff. Having some more exposure from Relapse should just put us on more people’s radars and put us in more demand. Have a better budget for recording was huge for us because it enabled us to record with a respected producer we love and to have fun for a week in a different city. That was killer.

And what do you want fans to know about Summoning the Slayer?
Alex Awn: I hope people pour over the artwork and listen to the album with headphones. I want them to really immerse themselves in the album however they can. Let it be a fantastical escape. TOV is probably more about atmosphere than anything else. It’s not a message. It’s a feeling. It’s hard to put into words. I hope TOV comes across like a musical version of Warhammer or DnD or your favorite fantasy novel. That’s the kind of experience we aim for and we continue to refine. At the end of the day I think we’re simply trying to communicate the feeling of impending death and existential doom. It’s fucking grim. But having said that, if you really pay attention there are moments of hope. There are moments of clarity. Those five dudes in the boat aren’t dead. They’ll live to fight another day. Maybe summon another demon. Slay it. Steal the gold. And then retire and spend their time reading books and painting minis.
Mike Erdody: I hope with Summoning the Slayer the listener finds an album they can keep coming back to. I want people to have a degree of surprise when they listen, but also still able find the same familiar things they’ve come to expect from us just put together in a unique way. I want the listener to find the record to be memorable, relatable, and immersive.

** Temple of Void’s new album, Summoning the Slayer is out now on Relapse Records. Order the Decibel edition on LP HERE. Or, get LPs, CDs, and t-shirts HERE from Relapse Records. “God was real, and he hated us.”

** Check out Temple of Void’s Decibel Flexi disc ripper “Ravenous Eyes in the Distance” (HERE)