Ash Borer is a name that seems to have been lurking through the Pacific Northwest for an infinitely long time, with appeal and demand for booking from all corners of the regional heavy metal world, and even beyond.
It should come then, as no surprise, that the mind behind Ash Borer is one capable of great and intriguing variety, from punishing black metal, to meditative soundscapes, to introspective cascadiæ, caustic death metal, and even releasing as art.
Having twice welcomed Kyle Morgan to Vancouver in both Ash Borer and Superstition, we figured it was time to better understand the influences and aspirations behind one of the leading minds and one of the most prolific people modern American metal.
Kyle: no one seems to really know where you are from- or at least I can’t tell anymore. Can you settle this for me, and give a brief timeline of where your projects have been situated? I feel like my chronology is all kinds of fucked up.
I’ve moved around the country at a maddening pace for the last 10 years or so, with projects arising in every location. Between 2007 and 2012 I was in the upper reaches of the California Coast working on ASH BORER and CEREBRATE. Since then I’ve primarily been haunting Northern New Mexico other than a brief relocation back to the Pacific Northwest in 2014-15. PREDATORY LIGHT was formed in NM in 2013, though has partial membership in the PNW as of 2014. VANUM was conceptualized as early as 2010, but materialized in a more physical capacity in 2014 with myself in the PNW at the time. SUPERSTITION is the newest project that I’m involved with, formed in 2017 in New Mexico.
In 2016, Ash Borer released The Irrepassable Gate to the all but unanimous consensus that the band had released its masterwork. Now, with two years to reflect on the album, and the fall out there from, did the album complete its desired effect?
I am extremely proud of that release – it is the culmination of everything we have wanted to do as a band since we formed nearly a decade ago. Compared to earlier works it is a bit of a shift in tone towards a more overtly malevolent din, without sacrificing the explosive, dynamic nature that has always defined our sound.
When we started the band, most of us were in our late teens or early 20’s and in some ways lacked clarity in terms of what we were hoping to accomplish with the project, which served us just fine at the time, as what we lacked in vision we more than made up for in feral intensity. Which in my opinion is what makes our very early releases most successful (of course, there are some good riffs there as well!). However, over time it becomes necessary to distill this huge range of influences and ideas to its essence, which in my opinion is what The Irrepassable Gate is. It is the sound of Ash Borer: what we were chasing all along.
Both Cold Of Ages and The Irrepassable Gate have titles with an almost onomatopoeic effect in regards to the sound. COA is severe, cutting, (obviously) cold, and with a very shrill tone to it. TIG, on the other hand, has a majestic, deep, rich sound, and an ominous overtone that definitely makes it feel like there is no turning back. Talk to me about what happened between these albums that allowed, and made way, for the differences between them.
I tend to think of Cold of Ages as our “true” black metal record. Earlier releases had explored a more melancholic and hazy sound, still rife with harrowing darkness but not as an exclusive focus. When writing for COA we were more interested in exploring and expanding upon the darker, colder aspects of the band, as well as to deny ourselves the pleasure of easy musical payoffs to some degree (in terms of warmer passages and huge dynamic shifts primarily). It was also written and recorded during a particularly bleak winter, which certainly forced its way into the songs themselves.
For most of the members of Ash Borer, the 4 years or so between COA and The Irrepassable Gate were heavily focused on touring as well as seeing many other projects to fruition. Going back to the previous question, while focusing on so many other projects slowed the writing process down a bit, it also contributed to the distillation of the Ash Borer sound. Certain sonic characteristics, types of riffs, chord progressions, etc. couldn’t just be lazily thrown into the mix to provide us with enough material for an LP, instead we had to really spend time thinking on what makes Ash Borer “Ash Borer” beyond just a collection of riffs and drum patterns. This process necessitated a longer gestation period for the album as we have no desire in rushing things or putting out an album that we aren’t 100% satisfied with.
In terms of the sound of the records differing, we have always demanded of our recording engineers that an album’s production suits the atmosphere of the material, and have in depth discussions as a group about the more esoteric end of sound prior to beginning tracking, even if that results in an unorthodox sound compared to whatever production trends are in vogue at the moment. As you mentioned, the material on COA is sharp and severe, so it required a matching production, while TIG has what is essentially the opposite approach to production, again matching the material. We avoid working with engineers who have a specific sound associated with them, preferring to work with individuals who can also immerse themselves in the material and make calculated production choices that fit the music. No discussion about this end of the band (or any of my projects really) would be complete without raising a glass to Andrew Oswald who has recorded most of our material, as well as Randall Dunn who recorded TIG.
Going a little further back in time, the Predatory Light full length was released shortly before that to a great reception as well, but the band didn’t seem to capitalize on that wave of momentum with festival appearances. Were you busy with Ash Borer during this time?
We did do a fair bit of touring around the release, though limited only to the Western US. There was a small DIY tour of the SW/Southern California/Mexico, followed by a performance at Eternal Warfare festival and a short tour back through California with Mortuary Drape. We’ve since done another small tour of the PNW and a festival in Texas as well. All performances were well received and the MD13 shows in particular were insane.
While we have not managed to do very extensive touring outside of the Western US, the project isn’t going away any time soon and will continue to tour and release new material as time and logistics allow.
What is going on with Predatory Light now?
We’re (slowly) working on material for a new release. No specific timeline exists for that as of now but based on the rehearsals we’ve had I expect this to be the most psychotic and psychedelic material to date!
Another horribly demented project with which your involved is Vanum. There is a lot of ways to approach questions regarding Vanum, but I want to spend some time on the lyrics here. Whereas Ash borer’s lyrics are not easily available, and Predatory Light’s are heinous, short, punishing vignettes, Vanum’s lyrics and grand, verbose, and bearing an almost royal majesty to them. What is the essence channeled in to Vanum, and what are the influences (music or beyond) that are exclusive to Vanum, and left from your other projects?
As opposed to other projects which all have their own lyrical/thematic focuses, the lyrics for Vanum are meant to be victorious and empowering, rather than dark/frightening/evil. They focus on the individual’s place and potential within a world where myth still lives. A huge range of thematic influences exist, but Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell are two writers that are frequently referenced. It’s also worth mentioning that I am not the primary lyricist in Vanum so for a much more in depth look at Vanum’s lyrical inspirations and the philosophies behind them there are several other interviews out there with Michael Rekevics that explore this more fully.
Musically, Vanum is heavily influenced by the more triumphant and tragic sound of early black metal, with an emphasis on exploring the melodic commonalities that tie so many of our favorite records together, despite them coming from different places and different times. The early Hellenic sound, Bathory (Blood Fire Death in particular), and early Eastern European cults all share similar melodic sensibilities to my ears, and are the primary music influences on Vanum, at least in terms of other metal bands. That said, I rarely sit down with the goal of writing anything that sounds specifically like any of that, my goal is always to write a song that sounds like Vanum,but those are common points of reference for what we’re doing.
As outsiders, there is perhaps some confusion, or at the very least association, in many minds between Psychic Violence, Vrasubatlat, and Fallen Empire. Can you walk us through some history and context?
Psychic Violence started in 2010, initially with the sole intention of releasing the debut Ash Borer record on tape, as we were not affiliated with any outside labels at the time. Of course it has grown since then, and now is somewhat active on a consistent basis in order to showcase the exploits of like-minded conspirators and collaborators. This year we have released music by Vilkacis, A Story of Rats, Turia, and Sanguine Eagle, with more to come relatively soon.
R.F. of VT is a close friend and bandmate in one project, and Michael from Fallen Empire is a personal friend as well, but on the label end of things VT/FE/PV don’t have much to do with each other outside of the odd split release or performance in which bands from both rosters play together. One exception is that recently Fallen Empire has been brokering records at a pressing plant in the US, we’ve gone through them for a few releases now (as has VT I believe), but that’s a business relationship rather than an artistic or esoteric one.
Psychic Violence has an impeccable look and feel, clearly releasing only high quality, and carefully curated releases. Tell us what you look for in a project before you put your name on it.
I don’t take submissions and tend to only release music created by a small number of friends and collaborators. If a project is going to be of any interest to me in terms of releasing their music, it is created by people I already have a close personal bond with, and who’s music I have already expressed interest in. In terms of the aesthetic, I have fairly uncompromising (also limited) aesthetic interests when it comes to this sort of music, so I choose to work with artists who share a similar vision and don’t mind me being involved with the design end of things, as it is important to me for my releases to have a fairly consistent appearance, with respect to different artists of course. I stay out of the way in terms of guiding anything sonically as I respect my artists’ musical process and wouldn’t be working with them if I had any doubts about the quality of their output.
One of the worst kept secrets in the metal underground world is that you play in Superstition. When the demo dropped recently, it fucked MANY people directly in the ass (myself included), and though I try to stay away from blatant comments in an interview, we’ll just go ahead and call it a masterpiece. Let’s really zoom in on this one- specifically what old school releases are influential for the band (’cause it sounds like it came out in 1988), and what’s up next?
Ha! Thanks (I think). The reception to Surging Throng of Evil’s Might has been overwhelmingly positive across the board, and we’re very excited to continue spreading our plague across the globe with more tours and releases planned for the not-too-distant future.
Our primary influences are strictly limited to very early death metal from the Americas. Specifically, Necrovore, Morbid Angel (mainly Altars/Abominations), Incubus, Nocturnus, Mortem, Sepultura, etc. are major points of reference. For most of us this just happens to be the style of death metal that we’re most interested in listening to, and happens to be one that is hugely underrepresented these days, at least in the US where everyone is (currently) obsessed with mimicking early Finnish and Swedish bands. Of course we are also inspired by the likes of Goblin, Coil, Klaus Shulze, etc. in terms of creating a haunting sense of space for music to exist within, and those projects are hugely influential to the synth/ambient based material on the demo.
As for what’s coming next, we’re intensively writing for an upcoming LP that will come out on 20 Buck Spin. By the time this interview is public there will also be a new promo tape that you can buy of 2 new songs that will be on the LP in non-demo form. Plenty of touring with follow the release of the LP next year.
To close things, could you please tell us what does the rest of 2018, and 2019 hold for a man with so much on the go?
On the creative front, Vanum will have a new full length coming out in the Winter, either late 2018 or more likely early 2019, which will be followed by a sizable European tour in the Spring of 2019, as well as North American performances throughout the year. As mentioned above both Superstition and Predatory Light are writing for future releases that will be out in the not too distant future. As for Psychic Violence, we’re about to send the Sanguine Eagle dual LP releases to press, which are an absolutely monumental pairing of records. Easily some of the best black metal to come out in the last few years. Everything besides that has to stay under wraps for the moment.
Thanks and hails to Sebastian and The Covenant!