Because every day another band records another song. Because 83% of those songs are unlistenable and you can’t be bothered to sift through the dreck. Because metal is about not giving a shit and waking your own personal storm. Because music is universal, expression is boundless, and even indie labels (whatever that means these days) don’t know everything, Decibel brings you Throw Me a Frickin’ Label Hack.
The rumors are true. All band names have been snapped up, and now we’re left with odd word combo leftovers. Today we bring your attention to Black Table, a terrifyingly bleak and not easily classifiable gut-punch out of New York and New Jersey. Not Black Altar, or even Black Meal Staging Surface (okay, yeah, that’s worse…), but Black Table. Far be it from me to make fun – my best recent shot at a new band name was Interminable Whaleslap – but a band with music this stirring and well executed should at least have a moniker that gets out of the kitchen.
Black Table have released their new EP, Sentinel, at their Bandcamp page, and boy is it a broiler. Do you like any of metal’s trends of the past decade (other than shitty slamcore)? Blackened rasps, sky-scraping post metal, doomy paces, technically inspired arrangements… Black Table offer all this and more in Sentinel’s 25 rousing minutes. The quartet graciously took some time to talk about their background and forward momentum with Decibel, so while you bang your bod to the EP’s title track, scroll further to get the skinny on this Northeastern crew with a simple furniture fixation.
Who are Black Table? How did the band come to be?
Mers: We are a four piece experimental metal band that started in 2010 from NY and NJ. I'm the vocalist and one of two of the guitars. It began with Ryan and I but, eventually Mike joined, then Matt in the winter of 2011. I convinced Ryan to sit down and play guitar with me one night and we came up with a few songs over a short time. We programmed the drums and I laid down vocals. It wasn't there but we could see potential. Mike was our ideal choice for a drummer, but we had to wait for him to be available because he was in multiple projects at the time. Once he joined us, everything started coming together really quickly. We decided to look for a bassist after we had 3 songs written and Mike suggested Matt, who was down to do it, lucky for us. Ryan was in Randall Flagg for about a decade until they broke up in 2010. Mike has been in multiple projects like Mabus, Randall Flagg, and Ryan and Mike have another band called Empier. Matt was in Mabus for ten years right til the end. I’m a student but I’m taking time off to focus on the band. I’m working towards a degree in cultural anthropology. Mike teaches private drum/piano lessons and also performs in several jazz groups. Ryan is graphic designer in NYC. Matt does graphic design in the Hudson Valley as well as some electrical work on the side.
What does the music on Sentinel represent to you? What did you hope to convey with it?
Mers: Sentinel for me is handful of vignettes of historical events, existentialism and looking back to nature and our pasts to understand our relationships and process as organisms. Each song is thematic, has landscapes and tells a story. I'm really into myths, science and history - I love to research shit. The EP tells the story of Joan of Arc who was burned twice and thrown into the Seine and the hypocrisy of Christianity and politics, Jesse James taking the American Dream and holding it in a mirror to the people, life on earth originating from a dead star and the naturalness of death.
Mike: Sentinel is a very important release for me, especially since it's the first professional recording I've done in about 5 years. I really wanted to go all out on this record, and show all of our individual strengths and how we have all matured as musicians. All of us like completely different styles, genres, and sub-genres, which creates this melting pot of ideas. We never sat down and said, "Let's do a black metal section, then a mathy section," instead, it just all came out naturally. I really believe that Sentinel represents all of four us in different ways. The musicians we have become derive from the music each of us listen to and appreciate, and it comes out in our playing. Ultimately, the EP represents all of our separate musical quests into one cohesive vision, and I was hoping to convey the idea of genre freedom on this record, by tastefully sampling from different metal sub-genres.
Ryan: This recording was exactly what I wanted to do. I've been in a few bands, and I think for the first time I can say, I really didn't filter myself. I did everything I creatively wanted and didn't worry about how it would be perceived. It's an amazing and scary feeling all at the same time. I think as a whole we became aware quickly that what we were doing was pretty unusual. We knew we were onto something when people would ask what genre we were and we really couldn't figure it out. We still don't really know haha. We have so many influences among us it's hard to say which have the biggest effects on the songs. The one thing I love is we don't have any formula we really just write and work on songs until the songs are done. We just like writing stuff that's interesting to us and then we hope other people will enjoy it. That's the scary part.
How does songwriting work for the band? Are songs written by individuals or with the group banging out parts together?
Ryan: Mers and I would tag team the initial writing process. One of us would disappear with the computer and write and record a section. Then the other would listen, give it the thumbs up or down, and we'd discuss (fight) what we think should happen next, themes, concepts and then the other would record a complimentary part or a new section, and it would go back and forth like that for a few days, maybe weeks, maybe longer continually revising and refining.
Mers: Months haha. Yeah, I prefer to write and refine parts alone in our office. I need that space to focus.
Ryan: Our writing process takes a long time, we want things to be right, we try not to rush it.
Mike: After Mers and Ryan have the skeleton, we jam it out a little at practice to help Matt and I develop our parts. Then all four of us would go home, work on our ideas, and bring them to practice next time. We worked really hard on demoing all 4 songs before we went into the studio to record "Sentinel." There were countless nights where Ryan and I would sit at his computer and program the drums/clicks, often times ripping our hair out trying to decipher what pulse and time signature we were in for certain sections. This painstakingly slow process helped us get the song forms solidified so practices could be more efficient, especially since half of us live in the Hudson Valley, and the other half live 90 miles away in Jersey City.
Do you have the support of a music scene? Seems like your location is right in the middle of some great doomy/black stuff. Are you connected with other area bands doing similar work?
Mers: We have had generous support from CT and NY. The CT Black Metal community really welcomed us which was humbling. Lord Vial of The Legion booked us for the Winter is Coming Festival 2012 before we had done a show live yet, just based on our demo song “Heist”. One of the nicest guys I've ever met and solid supporter of the scene, really intimidating to look upon though, I would not fuck with him haha. Agalloch, Ritual, Evoken and Vattnet Viskar played that fest as well, that was a real honor. We reached out to Vattnet Viskar, who we really admire and Chris Alferie has done a lot to help us out in any way he can, he also does our PR via his company GrimSleeper. Chris Thompson of CT Battle Stag Records knew Mike from Empier and has supported us with shows at the Heirloom Arts Theatre and is releasing our EP on a 12" vinyl in February. Precious Metal, curated by Curran Reynolds was our first show and we had the opportunity to play one of the last 4 shows Precious Metal will be doing after a successful 6 years.
Being in a band is a community effort; everything we get to do besides our music is due to other bands, bookers and fans who surprised us with such overwhelming support and friendship. I really didn't expect that. All I envisaged was getting to play some live shows to 1 or 2 apathetic kids; I really thought no one would give a fuck. Haha.
As for bands doing something similar to us, we are a pretty weird band, but we have run across bands that are doing their own thing extremely well, like Swordmasters of Ginaz, Protolith, Torrential Downpour, Dead Empires, Meek is Murder, So Hideous and Ferocious Fucking Teeth.Ryan: I think the scene in the tristate area is amazing; it's like a real family.
The thing that’s great is the scenes are now converging because of facebook, bandcamp, etc. and I feel like bands in Europe are as close as the bands in my area. There are so many good fucking bands from all over making great albums right now: Sonance an experimental/noise/doom band from Bristol, C R O W N atmospheric/noise/doom from France, Falls of Rauros black metal from Maine, The Bell Witch doom from Seattle and Alaskan atmospheric post-metal from Ontario. I could really name 100 bands that I think are doing amazing stuff. I find new bands every day that I’m blown away by, I love the Internet.
Are there plans now for music beyond the EP?
Mers: Definitely. On tour I brought up an idea for a full concept album that we might do and if we get it right, it will be exciting and challenging and something we haven’t seen yet from anyone else. One of the things we are into is creating an experience with music and trying to find new ways to that. To create a world or a dimension that is more than just aural. We have a merch kit that we made called “DeepWell”; it’s a 20 minute track of ambient droning of guitars and distorted drums and bass that comes with a candle, mirror, incense and scroll with a spell on it for revealing a past life. It’s essentially a ritual that uses all the senses to put the subject into an altered state. I wasn’t sure anyone would be interested in it, but it’s our best seller and people ask for it specifically.
Ryan: Of course, this is just the beginning for us. We have ideas, plans, and secrets for future projects. The one thing we really want to do is keep things clever and interesting, I don't think we'd be happy releasing another recording very similar to Sentinel. We want to challenge ourselves to make new and unique work.
Do you have any particular goals for the music or for the band over the next year? Longer?
Mers: We would like to tour at least 2-3 times this year, with a handful of weekend trips. We are aiming to go down to SXSW and book some shows outside the festival. It would be great to have our friends Swordmaster of Ginaz, So Hideous, Gradius or Dead Empires join us on that. I’d also like to do a few film projects for our songs as well.
Mike: Tours to Texas, Canada, and California are definitely short-term goals we would like to achieve this year. A more long-term goal for us is to make it overseas to Europe in 2014-2015. Personally, I would love to play some shows in France with the bands Crown and Cathedraal.
Is there any particular art/literature that's influenced your musical direction?
Mers: Songs in “Sentinel” were written with landscapes and moods in mind at first with a visual and aural journey from start to end so lyrics I write last, kind of like a narrative on the music. Specific inspiration came from by H. P. Blavatsky’s order of the elements, Pythagoras, The Hávamál, and images of the old American West.
Have you been playing these songs live? What has your stage/touring experience been like?
Mers: We have played 18 shows so far since August 2012.
Mike: Everywhere from Rhode Island to Nashville. At first we did a lot of local shows, then we graduated to weekend tours and finally our most recent east coast tour this past December. Our stage experience has been pretty interesting, considering we have 4 huge cabs and a pretty big drum set. I remember that it took us 45 minutes to set up at our first show, and we only played 3 songs (20 minutes) haha. Since then, we've eliminated some equipment and streamlined our set up to make it quicker. Touring for 9 days also helped us in that regard, and really tightened up our live show.
While booking our most recent tour (December 2012), I was truly shocked at how supportive and helpful everyone was. For instance, I stumbled on "The Owl Farm Collective," and booked a show at their Hymen House venue in Nashville. Every band and person there was so positive and supportive, and we really had a great time. There was no cover or anything, but we made enough money on merch sales to pay for gas to our next show, 9 hours away! I've been in touring bands before, and we always had some sort of problem on the road, or we had to pay for most of the gas out of pocket. However, this past Black Table tour was so refreshing because every show went really well and we broke even, which is huge for us. We are all really grateful for all the people we met and their hospitality and we can't wait to go back out on the road.
Mers: Def. We are very careful about booking though, every show we do is because we feel it fits or makes sense and I think that guides us towards like-minded people and bands. This made booking a tour a little easier; as we had help from great people we met through the scene.
Ryan: Shows have been great. Nothing has blown up, been stolen, or barfed on yet haha. We've been really lucky to play with a ton of talented and interesting bands. We love playing with bands that have soul and really craft their work. A lot of the time they’re all sorts of genres like doom, emocore, experimental noise, technical death metal, instrumental punk, you name it. It's all great! Good music is all that counts. I love playing a show with a band I don't know and they're awesome, then I buy their CD and shirt and come home telling everyone. It's the best!
Mers: Yeah, we get a lot of band boners haha.