The War Inside My Head: An Interview with Void Rot
Our The War Inside My Head interview series, where we pick the brains of some of the most exciting artists working in the contemporary extreme music scene, is back and boy is it a doozy (I actually hate myself for using that word and yet cannot bring myself to erase it – hate it is). Void Rot are many, many things. They are, first and foremost, one of the best new doom-death acts around, releasing a great EP a few years back as well as a stellar split with one of my personal favorite death metal bands of recent years, France's Atavisma earlier this year. Their upcoming full-length debut from Sentient Ruin Laboratories (who are having a pretty amazing year) has to be one of the best death-doom/doom-death albums to come out this year (the only one I can think of as even close is Funeral Leech's excellent album that was released in April). And, just as importantly they are yet another member in the bubbling-hot hotbed of all that is heavy and, well, rotting, the lovely yet somewhat chilly state of Minnesota, alongside such nightmare bands as Suffering Hour and, more recently, the incredible Nothingness (both of which, it should be said, appeared on our 2019 end-of-year list) among many others.
And the reason I toggle that death-doom/doom-death double category because it seems to be that Void Rot are first and foremost a doom band. There's something about the pacing of their songs, the never-ending loop of tom fills and their emphasis on atmosphere that really speaks to that description even, to an extent, at times teetering on the funeral side of that spectrum. But, on the other hand, they are so damn heavy, so obviously riff-driven, and so, to me, indebted to some of the fore-bearers of death-doom – heavy Winter vibes – that it's pretty difficult to ignore their death-metal side. But, and this is kind of the point, they neither replicate older acts nor are the at all seemingly interested in anything but the most perfect marriage of crushingly heavy sound and immaculate atmosphere. So ahead of the album's release I thought I'd peep under the proverbial hood and see what kind of music inspires the good people at Void Rot. And here we are.
Before we get to the part you actually care about, just a reminder to check out our other interview series (Albums of the Decade and Pillars of the 90s), to follow us on any one of our social media outlets (Facebook, Instagram, Spotify) and also, if so inclined, support us on Patreon. My aim has been to use whatever support we can get to produce interviews like these, focusing on the art and life of that art, as well as other projects supporting our local scene and beyond such as the newly launched music compilation MILIM KASHOT VOL. 2 of amazing local metal, hardcore, and noise as well as some of the best forward-thinking metal in the world right now. And there's our brand new podcast MATEKHET, my somewhat philosophical take on a metal podcast, and can be found in all your favorite podcasting platforms (Spotify, Youtube, Apple Podcasts). On to Void Rot's John Hancock (guitars, vocals), Craig Clemons (Bass), and Will Bell (Drums).
What was the first album you bought with your own money, and where did you buy it?
JH: A Beach Boys greatest hits album at a Wal-Mart I think. I still jam Pet Sounds to this day. Honestly, I think good songwriting is lacking somewhat in today’s metal. Yeah, sure, riffs are cool, but it takes talent to be able to actually write a song. The Beach Boys were masters of that.
CC: Maybe this outs my metal cred, but the first album I remember buying was actually a country record – Steve Warnier Two Teardrops. I’ve no idea where I bought it. I would have been five or six using money I’d earned selling popcorn for the boy scouts. The album itself is decently forgettable as an adult but I still listen to a lot of country, particularly from that era. Listening to records from that time reminds me of my childhood growing up in Kentucky before I moved to Minnesota in my early 20s.
WB: Sports by Huey Lewis and the News. My cousin and I used to rock the fuck out to his parents’ copy of this album when we were about six or seven years old. A few years later, when I had saved up some birthday money, I got a copy for myself. I don’t remember where I bought it, but I distinctly remember air drumming along to “The Heart of Rock & Roll.” I swear I’m not a serial killer.
What 2-3 albums did you hear the most growing up?
JH: I grew up on a steady diet of classic rock radio, so Boston’s s/t debut was in heavy rotation along with Guns N Roses’ Appetite for Destruction. After I got into metal, I don’t think …And Justice for All ever left my car stereo. Honorable mention to younger me scratching the shit out of my dad’s Queensryche album and air guitar-ing to “Jet City Woman.”
CC: My father is a huge AC/DC fan. We probably listened to and watched every record they’ve made but particularly AC/DC Live and the video AC/DC: Live in Donington several hundred times and it was LOUD. Once I started getting into music on my own outside of my parents interest I went deep into thrash metal. First with Megadeth’s Rust in Peace and later with Kreator’s Enemy of God. These guys were my introduction into metal.
WB: My parents weren’t that big on music at home, so the two albums I remember most vividly were those often played by a friend’s older brother: Pretty Hate Machine by Nine Inch Nails and Life is Peachy by Korn. Hearing these as a little kid, some of the tracks had me borderline terrified, which is probably why I remember it so well. At that time, I’m sure I was still just listening to Huey. Unsurprisingly, this same friend would get me into heavier music some years later.
What two albums taught you the most about making music (mixing, production, performance)?
JH: Honestly our debut EP Consumed by Oblivion was a big learning moment. It was our first studio experience as a band, and just the act of recording and seeing how mic placement affects sounds, doing takes “live” together vs instrument by instrument – it all really helped us grow as musicians and performers since we had to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. I’m really proud of the growth from Consumed to Descending Pillars. A lot of this is due to Adam Tucker at Signaturetone Studio, who we’ve been proud to work with on each release that we have done. I’d also have to say collectively all the videos that have been done by Stench Reel – we were able to meet Sam at Total Death over Mexico this year, but I’ve spent hours watching the live footage he’s been able to capture and watching how bands perform and small things like how people will step up to the mic or play or whatever has been huge in helping me develop my skills as a performer.
CC: Cannibal Corpse The Wretched Spawn almost entirely because Alex Webster is a huge source of influence for me technique wise on bass. Charles Mingus Mingus Ah Um. There’s a lot going on here and everything fits. Mingus had a way as bandleader to make everyone that played with him sound good. Figuring out how to space players is hard and to me they nail it here.
WB: Forgotten Legends by Drudkh. Much of this album’s incredible atmosphere is due to its deliberate nature, taking the time to thoroughly explore every musical idea. Admittedly, the riffs are all phenomenal, which is probably why it never feels monotonous. But for me, this album serves as a reminder that, in the wider musical context, straightforward drumming is often preferable. Even if a particular pattern isn’t the most exciting thing to play, it may still be what is most effective. Not that I do any sort of mixing or production, but Mayhem’s Ordo Ad Chao taught me to appreciate that approach to sound. I don’t want to keep rambling about atmosphere here, but the muffled, almost underwater tone of this record feels just right. And when combined with Attila’s sheer intensity—an important lesson in and of itself—it makes for something truly unsettling.
What is the last album that absolutely shocked you?
JH: Human Agony’s Putrescence of Calvary is absolutely mind blowing. I’ve listened to the early Beherit and Blashpemy and I really dig Diocletian’s Doom Cult and Gesundrian, but Putrescence was one of the few albums that made me go “holy shit what is this!” right from the first note.
CC: Devin Townsend's Empath. Things that shouldn’t make sense together just do. It is super weird.
WB: Terminal by Bongripper. Shocked might not be the right word for it, but I definitely was not prepared for the absolutely crushing sound on this album.
What album relaxes you or centers you the most?
JH: Cat Stevens’ Teaser and the Firecat, absolutely. It’s a great Sunday-morning listen when you need to unwind.
CC: Jack Johnson's In Between Dreams. What’s to say, people who get paid to listen to stuff poo pooed it on release and it’s sold 15 million copies. It hits your soul and tells it to calm down.
WB: Sleep’s opus Dopesmoker, without a doubt. It’s my go-to when I need to drop out of life for a bit. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory.
What are the 2-3 albums you’ve listened to the most recently?
JH: Diabolic Oath’s Profane Death Exodus has been a standout for sure – all fretless instruments lead to some really cool and new sounds in the death/doom sound, plus the outro melody on “Chalice of Conquering Blood” is epic. Another has been Anti-Schechinah by HAR which unearthed the majesty of the Tel Aviv metal scene to me.
CC: I Like to Sleep Daymare. I know absolutely nothing about these folks. Found the record recently and I’ve been unable to put it down. I think you’d call it Powerjazz? Gorguts Obscura, it’s my favorite album of all time, why wouldn’t I be listening to it? Imperial Triumphant Vile Luxury they’re gross and weird.
WB: Aevum by Vukari. I’ve had this on steady rotation since John played it during one of our road trips, not long after it was released. The riffs and blasting on this album are incredibly addictive. I could probably listen to the track "Agnosia" on repeat forever. Betty by Helmet. As old as this one is, it was only a few months ago that I heard it for the first time. I absolutely love the drums here, both for the performance and sound. The patterns are just plain fun and the kick and snare cut though perfectly.
What album is grossly underrated?
JH: I think really any Desecresy album always flies under the radar. With how big Bolt Thrower and the Finndeath scene is I’m honestly surprised these guys aren’t talked about all the time. The Doom Skeptron is an excellent album of that raw, mid-tempo death metal that few bands are able to do well without sounding repetitive.
CC: Exodus’ Shovel Headed Kill Machine. It’s my favorite Exodus album and I really love Rob Dukes vocals.
WB: To be honest, I’m surprised that Melechesh’s Djinn doesn’t get more love. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for ayoub-inspired metal drumming, but I enjoy this album every bit as much as their newer material. The production may not be as clean, but goddamn the rhythms are memorable.
What album would you recommend from your local scene?
JH: The debut album by Nothingness – The Hollow Gaze of Death – is awesome death metal and the Nothingness dudes are good friends. FFO: Morbid Angel, The Ominous Circle, Sorched.
CC: Sunless, Urraca – they’re incredible.
WB: This is a tough one because there are so many killer bands in the scene here, all doing awesome stuff that I want to recommend. But if I had to pick the one album that most resonates with me, it would be Suspended in The Brume of Eos by Obsequiae.