Full Album Stream: Palace of Worms – “Cabal”

After nearly two decades of existence, Palace of Worms is dead, buried beneath the weight of a creative discography and a legacy which spanned four full-length albums and countless splits, demos, and EPs. Originally started in 2007 by a California-based musician known as Balan, Palace of Worms was initially a black metal band–fast, negative, and miserable, but also progressive an adventurous, a creativity which would carry him through splits with fellow like-minded musicians Botanist, Ecferus, Mastery and more.

A fitting epitaph to Palace of Worms’ lengthy run, Cabal‘s sepulchral, gothic-informed doom metal is a near-swift about face (Palace of Worms’ debut as a doom metal band quietly happened in 2020 with the Through the Dark Arches demo) from the band’s history as a black or blackened metal band. It isn’t apparent that Palace of Worms was never really a doom metal band, though, as Cabal‘s might and downtrodden character speaks to a lifetime as a gothic music fan, which Balan undoubtedly is.

Though Palace of Worms is now over, Cabal briefly breathes new life into this project’s doomed carcass. Long live Palace of Worms.

Listen through Cabal in full below and read an interview with Balan ahead of the album’s February 3rd release.

Cabal is your first full-length outing since 2016’s The Ladder. There have been some big changes since then! What is it like presenting Palace of Worms explicitly as a doom metal band this time around?

I’m pretty used to changing the band’s sound at this point even though the early records could all be considered black metal they all kind of had a different flavor to them. As far as classifying the band now goes it’s definitely much doomier because at this point in my life being 40 years old things just seem a little doomier, I guess? I don’t know, I just don’t really have the anger and vitriol towards humanity and life as I used to when I was playing strictly harsh black metal and, of course, that’s going to reflect in the art I create. I just wanted to present different spaces in the music and textures and always loving doom felt that that was a natural progression since the band had been getting heavier and heavier throughout the years anyways. Playing in death metal bands like Larvae and having the live Palace lineup contain members of death metal bands also really helped influence the direction of the new record. In regards to slowing things down and making things heavier, that is.

Really, if I could summarize why I always change the sound of the band though it simply because I have a short attention span and get bored with the same thing really quickly

I’m pretty good at alienating anybody who might have liked the previous record sound though so it’s a win-win.

Do you feel you will get bored with this new style soon? Palace of Worms was pretty consistently of one parent style for a while.

I think I’ve decided to not continue the project after this. Despite the fact that I’m only really interested in exploring evolving sounds with the project I feel like if I were to do it too many times after this record it would just become this kind of parody of itself, like the quality of the music wouldn’t be what was important it would be this “Oh what is it going to sound like this time.” I wouldn’t want the project to be viewed as a freak Show or a novelty act. Palace of worms evolves in accordance with what has been going on in my life and my worldview within the (on average) six to eight years in between records. I enjoy bucking expectations but I also want the music to stay true to how my life has changed. Cabal remains a dark, negative and pessimistic record largely but those themes are also joined by a lot of optimism and Hope and life experience that my previous records were too myopic with hate and malevolence to really express.

I probably would have ended it much sooner had I not wanted to move past the black metal sound. Which really truthfully I only think The Forgotten is the only real black metal record I’ve made

How does it feel to bring such a lengthy chapter in your life to a close? It’s been… 16 years since your demo?

Yeah, I did the demo in 2007–the same year I formed the band. I mean, I have mixed feelings about it. Looking back at it I think it was more like an endurance test than anything else. I listened back to the first demo and the first record and well actually a lot of many of the records and I just cringe and think “Oh god, why did I do it that way?” The whole thing was a really big learning process and another reason why I wanted to keep the band going was because I just wanted to take what I had learned from the mistakes of the past records and try to just improve on them and do better with each record. I think Cabal is the best one that I’ve done so it’s a good place to hang it up. There was a fervor and unquenchable Fire that really drove me in those early days. I was living in the Bay Area with no money and experiencing a lot of hardship and the urban despair really informed a lot of the early music. I was starving and living in squalid conditions and it provided a fertile mindset for extremely negative expressions. Much of what I’ve done with Palace of Worms is unrefined and has its flaws but despite a lot of its juvenilia, all of the recordings were me being true to myself. I feel good about starting something new though and I already have a much more scaled down project I’m working on and I feel like just having something fresh and new will Revitalize my desire to play music as a hobby again

What can you tell me about this new project?

The new project is called Les Saints Innocents and it’s more of a deathrock post punk thing meets lo-fi black metal. Kind of sounds like Killing Joke or Days of Deformity-era The Grinning Plowman meets Celestia or one of the more romantic sounding French black metal bands. I’m almost finished with the first demo and I recorded it all on analog four track with the most basic setup I could think of because I really wanted to just do the opposite of what I did with this most recent palace of worms record. That is, make something extremely stripped back and minimal without a ton of trappings. I want to self release them in a limited number of tapes with handmade cases because I’m sick of dealing with trying to find labels. I’m looking forward to working with this project though and want to do some live shows over the summer up here in the mountains.

How does it feel transferring from one project to another?

Great. Like I mentioned, it really revitalized my interest in music. Kind of had writer’s block after I finish the Palace record and I don’t know a whole new set of experiences including fatherhood living in a new town and just being able to reflect on all my past fuck ups provides a lot of ample inspiration for new sounds.

What kind of things do you consider to be the more extravagant elements you want to leave behind with Palace of Worms?

It’s funny because Palace of Worms originally was not that extravagant and I think it became kind of a part of my mission to make it more and more Baroque sounding as time went on. A lot of that had to do with the fact that I was a much worse player in the beginning though too haha. With this new project I’m not thinking really hard and pulling out my hair about writing the music. I want this project to just have this sort of natural feel to it and just let the ideas flow like it used to when I started Palace of Worms. When I was writing Cabal there was a ton of anxiety and neuroticism that I was experiencing that was also influenced by external real world factors like impending parenthood and stressful work environments and mental struggles and that kind of stuff but I wanted to just start something that as weird as it sounds I didn’t have to put a lot of thought into and just enjoy myself creating it. Enjoy the process of creation more than perhaps the actual outcome

There is that gothic undertone which does unite these projects together, and there was one element on this album that I really wanted to point out. Your clean voice is a dead ringer for Peter Steele’s. I understand Mattia from Sentient Ruin feels the same way. Do you get this a lot?

Oh that’s actually Sammy Fielding’s voice! He also mixed the record as well. Type O Negative has been one of my favorite bands since I was about 15 and was listening to a lot of it prior to making this record which is pretty obvious I think haha! Sam has this amazing baritone voice that has an absolute dead ringer for Peter Steele and for years I’ve been trying to figure out a way to utilize his abilities in my own music and since I was writing this kind of more gothic sounding metal record I figured it was a perfect fit so I badgered him until he said yes. He created a really amazing and unique mix for the record as well and working with him up at his studio. Ancient Owl Audio outside of Nevada City in the Sierra Nevada mountains was one of the more unique music making experiences I’ve had. You get to mix metal in a log cabin and then go frolic in the snow and sip single malt scotch on a frozen river. Great stuff! But yes most people who have heard the record do mention that there is a definite ’90s goth metal vibe to it, specifically Type O Negative.

That sounds like a dream–Matthieu Canaguier from Aluk Todolo told me once about how he recorded the Vediog Svaor album in a cabin in the Alps. Do you feel the setting helped?

Oh, it definitely helps. You’re out there in such isolation and surrounded by natural beauty and silence. There’s really no neighbors out where he lives except far enough away so you don’t really see anybody and it allows you to get into this headspace that is very focused and perfect for creating music. Quite the opposite from previous experiences mixing in the bowels of Oakland although that provides its own tones albeit a much more rancid color of green.

Does Cabal have an overall concept?

All Palace records are autobiographical. Obviously it’s all filtered through metaphors and symbolism but each album is like another chapter informed by the events in my life that I’ve experienced since the previous record. Not unique within the realms of music of course, but instead of focusing on the usual Satanist/occult tropes I’ve always been more interested in portraying the landscapes of my personal hell and apocalypse than any sort of biblical ones. Religion does very much interest me as it has from a young age so I incorporate quite a lot of religious imagery (particularly Catholic) to serve as a metaphor for my internal conflict. Plus I enjoy the aesthetics. Several major factors went into inspiring the Cabal record. Two of the major ones were the birth of my daughter which was simultaneously the most wonderful and most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced. To witness the creation of a new life was completely mind blowing and it really put a lot into perspective for me in regards to how I had previously lived my life and my world view. I experienced complete ego death at that moment and realized I would do anything to keep this child safe, including self sacrifice in the lost literal sense. In an instant my world was torn down and built back up and a lot of the album’s themes touch upon the feelings of wonder, fear, despair, and hope that I experienced. The second major inspiration for the record was my day job working in the funeral industry and now with the county coroner. Entering that field of work was a decision I had made to face death and try to kind of demystify it in my mind. It kind of didn’t work and now that I’ve seen the things I’ve seen my questions and fears about dying only seem to have changed form and become more intangible. So yeah the album concept revolves around birth, death, and the destruction of the ego.

Cabal releases February 3rd via Acephale Winter Records.