Go ahead, world, thinkpiece yourself until hell freezes into a giant cosmic ice cube and Satan is left jobless and alone, wishing he remembered a damn cardigan. Mortals, don’t give a fuck. Sure, they’re girls in a dude-dominated metal-verse; yeah, they went straight from unsigned to the biggest extreme label on earth; and, yep, they’re from buzz-band Brooklyn, but all these blackened doom breakouts really want to talk about is their debut album, Cursed to See the Future, and it only takes one listen to understand why. A potent concoction of killer riffs, Oslo-approved shriekage, and ambitious arrangements, Cursed is one of the best debuts you will hear this year and we caught up with the trio to discuss it, boxing in bathing suites, idiot MTV writers, and why you shouldn’t miss their record release rager at The Acheron on Friday night. After all, your backpatch cred may well depend on it.
FREEWilliamburg: You guys just dropped your full-length debut, Cursed to See the Future, last week and it absolutely slays (one of my favorites of the year thus far). What was the writing/recording process like for that record?
Lesley Wolf (bass/vocals): Thanks so much! We began writing this album in the summer of 2012 and Relapse approached us at the end of that year. After we signed, we set to work fine-tuning the existing songs, plus writing more to complement those to make for an album’s worth of material. We set a deadline of summer 2013 to go to the studio—Developing Nations in Baltimore, with recording engineer Kevin Bernsten, who has also recorded Mutilation Rites, Ilsa, and Magrudergrind to name but a few. Once we were home from that session and able to reflect, we knew it wasn’t quite there yet so we continued writing/rewriting/adjusting until the fall, went on a four-week Canada/USA tour, and then returned to the studio last November.
Caryn Havlik (drums): Thank you for the “slaying” comment! We’ve been going to record with Kevin because we like the way he abuses us, and he gets the great initial sounds and mixes that we’re going for, though he’s not our producer, thank you. As far as funny anecdotes are concerned, there was this one time last July that I just took a mini studio holiday and found a lap pool/fitness center while Elizabeth was tracking guitars. Within 10 minutes of getting my swim on, the next lifeguard failed to show up for the shift, so the pool suddenly had no lifeguard, and I was evicted. Instead, I wound up punching a speed bag in my dripping swimsuit. But no one was there to see it (or film it), so did that really happen?
FW: For this record, you guys signed with Relapse Records. What was it like moving to one of the biggest metal labels on earth for this release? Was there any added pressure or things you could suddenly try that you couldn’t before?
LW: We were never on a label before Relapse. We self-released everything leading up to Cursed to See the Future so going from self-releasing to being on Relapse added significant pressure, but I believe we stayed true to our art and are putting out music that is 100% Mortals through and through. We didn’t do anything fancy or different in the recording process, besides just putting more time into it.
Elizabeth Cline (guitar): The time constraint of getting signed was the main pressure for me. We were still going through a transition from our earlier style of music to what we sound like today, and that meant a lot of trial and error and scrapping entire songs. Before getting signed, we just waited until we had an album’s worth of material to record. The guys at Relapse have the patience of saints for waiting as long as they did for our first album.
CH: Let’s just say that I wanted for there to be an all-male choir on one of our tunes, but the idea was vetoed by the band. Relapse probably would have made it happen, had we asked.
FW: Obviously Mortals is an entirely female band, which can be double-edged sword in that it differentiates you from a mostly male metal community, but also leads a lot of journalists and listeners to hear the band in relation to that subtext. Is the gender band characterization something Mortals embraces or something you seek to distance yourself from?
LW: I’m pretty tired of the gender conversation. I do my best to distance myself from it.
EC: Very few people have made an issue out of it, and we’re hoping that continues to be the case.
FW: Speaking of that “metal community”, one of the things I have always loved is that it always seems to look out for its own. But then something like MTV’s “How To Pick Up Chicks at a Saint Vitus” piece comes along and I can’t help but wonder if I’ve been looking at things from one side of the fence for too long. Have you guys encountered any gender-related hurdles over the years and, when you guys see something like that published, do think it reflects fairly or unfairly on the actual scene the band operates within?
LW: All I ever want to do at metal shows is pick up hot chicks, so I thought it was a great, thought-provoking article! Good tips! I offer up my earplugs to any girl who is wincing at the show noise with their fingers in their ears, then next thing you know, well, you can imagine.
EC: I thought that article was a timely, superbly-crafted, well-researched piece of journalism. So accurate and insightful! Just kidding. That said, yes, metal is becoming more inclusive, and, yes, there are more women at shows and in bands and who love metal. You don’t go to a Dying Fetus show unless you’re a metal fan.
FW: That articles like that have popped up of late is, in part, testament to the explosion of Brooklyn’s metal scene from underground entity to full-blown phenomenon in the past few years. How have you guys seen things change of late and where do you see Mortals fitting into that movement?
LW: Heavy metal in general has been blowing the hell up over the past few years, and I find it exciting to be a part of a scene that is getting so much attention. As far as things changing, the opening of The Acheron and Saint Vitus within the span of the last four or so years, offering a home to the local metal scene, is a huge alteration. I find the scene here in Brooklyn incredibly supportive and really positive overall.
EC: Metal, as a genre, is going through such an inventive and creative time. That’s what I find so amazing. In Brooklyn, there’s a sense that we’re creating something—a community, a sound, a movement maybe? Mortals got into the Brooklyn metal community almost seven years ago, just as it was starting to get organized and take off. I love seeing new faces and new bands cropping up, and there’s probably no way at this point to avoid having MTV writers crash our shows.
FW: Mortals also have an album release show coming up at The Acheron on Friday. Do you guys have a favorite song off the new record to play live? If so, why?
LW: I love playing “View From a Tower” the most. The ending of that song is so super charged and headbangy, and I love seeing the crowd reaction to that one.
CH: My favorite is “The Summoning.” There are a whole bunch of really beautiful parts in it: The vicious hard start, for one. Midway, there’s this bridge riff that we nicknamed “Soaring Bird”, which makes me giggle every time. Then, I love it when the bass and drums connect perfectly to punctuate underneath the noodly Celtic guitar line at the end.
EC: My current favorite is “Series of Decay;” the chorus on that song where it says “Dead hands pull me under” and the riff right after that, well, that shit rips. The drumming is so cool and Lesley vocals are rad. Together, that’s a moment I wait for our entire set. Where it’s at in the current set is also exhausting, too, so I always feel like I’m going die at that point.
FW: Finally, plug time. Give NYC metal scum one reason to get their ass out to The Acheron on Friday night:
LW: Because there’s probably nothing else to do on a Friday night in New York City!
CH: Because this may be our only New York show until November and The Acheron is like hanging out at home with 99 of your closest friends, or beers on the wall.
EC: Because we’re trying to end the show portion of the evening a tad on the early side, so everyone can get drunk and have a dance party.