Atlantan black metal horde Cloak discuss making of pivotal 3rd album 'Black Flame Eternal'
It’s a bitterly ironic truth that, the greater our seismic leaps and strides in cutting-edge technology and assorted digital wizardry, the more we seem to sacrifice of ourselves in the process – be that the ability to correctly punctuate a sentence, forge meaningful connections with others or even simply listen to an album in its undisturbed entirety. But, as much as the modern world may be awash with blandly unremarkable Instagram trends and electronic platforms fuelled by nothing but the coldly detached and robotic pursuit of profit, such darkly blistering, subterranean gems as Cloak are thankfully here to remind us that the smouldering embers of creative authenticity are far from extinguished. Indeed, with deliciously malevolent third album ‘Black Flame Eternal’, it would seem they’ve never burned brighter.
“We want to create songs that are timeless and that you can go back to and remember,” proclaims Cloak frontman Scott Taysom of his rare inclination toward creative substance and authenticity in a world otherwise riddled with fickle trends and lazily derivative imitation. And while such unremarkable, oftentimes heavily commercialised musical output is hardly anything new or particularly unprecedented in the year 2023, the frequency of such blandly uninspiring material has been indisputably amplified with the ever-increasing prevalence of social media and digital streaming platforms. Certainly, with monetisation and the ever-insatiable hunger for turning a profit all too frequently taking precedence over the altogether more authentic drive to simply create (art for art’s sake, if you will) Scott is quick to observe how irrevocably this has altered the musical climate we once knew.
“Obviously the Internet has helped spread us, Spotify and Instagram, YouTube and all that,” the vocalist observes thoughtfully. “But it can also be a bit intrusive and a bit too easy for a lot of bands just record their stuff on their computer by themselves and then throw it up online. It's just all too easy now. There's too many bands. That’s kind of the way I see it. But, you know, if you're a hard working band and you do it the traditional way, I think it will always shine through.”
Indeed, it’s precisely this inexhaustible work ethic and incendiary passion for their craft that’s fuelled and sustained these relentlessly ambitious young players from the earliest inception of the band back in 2013. From the tremolo-stricken hostility of Dissection and the wolvish, sweepingly epic orchestrations of Watain through to the frantically barrelling, sinewy groove of Motörhead, Cloak’s collective affinity with these various iconic reference points rapidly gave rise to a sound of their own darkly distinctive and inimitable design. Evoking a craggy, frostbitten majesty far removed from the mellow, sun-drenched climes of their native homeland of Atlanta, Georgia, the past ten years have seen the band work tirelessly to perfect the most vital and viciously arresting manifestation of their musical being. Entering into pivotal third album ‘Black Flame Eternal’ from a place of elevated technical proficiency and firm assurance in their sonic identity, the blistering yet intensely absorbing material that followed speaks volumes for the immeasurable experience they’ve amassed over the course of the past decade.
Scott elaborates: “You become better songwriters the more that you do it. You become a better guitarist the more that you do it. I had to learn a lot about what I do best on guitar and I had to learn better guitar skills. As I started writing new material, I had to make myself a lead player which I never really was before. And Max [Brigham] has taken over a lot more leads as well and he's doing solos that I didn't even know he could do. So it's like, well, you should start doing that more often. But yeah, you work together as a band for 10 years at this point and you figure out what you do best and like, I already know what Sean's [Bruneau] going to do on the drums because I just know him so well and I know his drumming style, but then every so often he'll throw us a wild card and do something completely different and it's even cooler. Things like that. So yeah, I think it's both technical proficiency like you said and just being comfortable in who we are as artists. We're all getting a little older and we don't really give a fuck about what other people may want or expect from a band like us any more.”
Yet, however exceptionally skilled and seamlessly cohesive a collective Cloak may be, there’s no denying the significant trials and challenges encountered at various points within the lengthy and frequently gruelling compositional process that followed. With the searing, viciously abrasive throes of thrash-laden standout ‘Invictus’ triggering a veritable deluge of compositional sketches and ideas, Taysom and co. expended tremendous time and energy in cutting and refining this subsequent wealth of newly-penned material into the epic and exquisitely layered tour de force that is ‘Black Flame Eternal’.
“It was right out the gate, honestly,” the composer recalls of the inspirational spark that first ignited ‘Black Flame…’ into being. “The first riff that I came up with for the record was that intro thrash riff to ‘Invictus’, so that kind of showed where it was going to go after that. There were maybe a couple of little bits and pieces I had before that, but that was the first that I like, full-on demoed and completed. So I think it was a pretty conscious decision from the start and then as it developed we had tonnes of throwaway songs, tonnes of random demos, but the ones that we chose were sort of what developed fully and were the most organically written, I would say. And then you have to do a fair bit of trimming once you've got that initial recording. I mean, I think we had over 40 or 50 demos initially. We knew pretty early on after jamming as a band that if it doesn't work three times, like within three practises with a song, it's typically not going to work. But then again, a song like ‘Ethereal Fire’, that chorus took me months and months to to nail down.”
“A lot of our music is really a lot of piecing things together and a lot of trial and error. It's really not easy at all to write, it's pretty intricate and it can get pretty complicated and hairy sometimes, so it's an interesting process that’s not very rewarding until the end. It can be really frustrating. It's not a fun process, but I still love and enjoy writing, but yeah, like I said, it can get frustrating sometimes. It takes a lot of work to write music like this, but then again, you'll have a band like Midnight where you know exactly what you're going to get on every record, but the records are cool or, you know, like Motörhead or something. And I'm not saying their songs are easy to write, but they're easier to write than ours. Bands like ours and like Necrophobic like you mentioned, there is a lot more detail to the style of music. It's not just straightforward rock 'n' roll.”
Indeed, with its numerous, elegantly orchestrated transitions from frantically barrelling aggression and weightily pulverising, subterranean groove through to sumptuously ornate orchestral flourishes and dizzying crescendos of impeccably sculpted riffery, there’s no mistaking the meticulous arrangement underpinning this deliciously blackened yet genre-transcending long-player. Tempering their evident reverence for such genre-defining icons as Watain, Dissection and Danzig with a striking talent for innovative and sonically intrepid composition, this musically diverse yet seamlessly cohesive long-player is by far the Atlantans’ finest accomplishment to date.
Scott expands: “I think it's all about just taking risks and doing something a bit different, but still honouring metal tradition and rock 'n' roll tradition, which is something we’ve always done. That's the way we've taken our path as a band, so I think all that stuff kind of meshes together. As far as those influences go, we love those bands, but we're not trying to be a worship band, like a rehash band, you know? We don't want to be so on the nose with influences or bands that we like. I think have our own sound. Like a song like ‘With Fury and Allegiance’, I don't think Dissection would write a song like that, I think that's kind of our own individual style. Or a song like ‘Eye of the Abyss’ that doesn't sound like any of those. That, to me, sounds more like Mercyful Fate meets ‘Black Album’ Metallica, you know what I mean? But then you throw my vocal style in there and some of the leads in there and that could be sort of akin to some of those bands you mentioned. So I think a lot of different influences shine through, mixed with the bands you mentioned and then mixed with like, Metallica or something like that. It's all sort of in there if you kind of pick it apart, and that all collectively forms what Cloak is.”
And just as the sonic dimension of ‘Black Flame…’ audibly crackles with the unmistakable, synapse-scorching spark of compositional ingenuity and creative vision, the album’s lyrical content is equally awash with intricate and darkly absorbing thematic territories. Centred on the timeless philosophical concept of breaking free from the oppressive shackles of organised religion and societal convention in order to attain an enlightened state unburdened by fear, wilful ignorance and indoctrination, Cloak’s lawless and darkly subversive art comprises the perfect antidote to such damaging institutions and regressive ideologies.
“Cloak is a a band that follows the the left-hand path,” Scott affirms. “That's the philosophical side of it. I think all of our records are devoted to that and to the path that we're speaking of. I just think this album encompasses a bit more of the empowerment side of things. The more in-your-face, violent will of breaking through those metaphorical chains. The other albums were maybe a bit more mystical and exploring those dark angles of the spirit. ‘Burning Dawn’ had a little more of that side that this new album has, but then this album brings it to that level of really just breaking through all of that. So it's kind of a progression in that sense of spiritual liberation or taking that spiritual path. You take what you learn and then you contemplate it and you meditate and then you break free from whatever you need to and empower the spirit. That kind of iron will is is shown more on ‘Black Flame Eternal’, and the title of the record, the ‘Black Flame’ is that spiritual flame, that spark that you have to ignite in order to have enlightenment or gnosis.”
'Black Flame Eternal' is out now via Season of Mist. Click HERE read our full verdict on the new record.