A new festival arrives in Mexico City
Interview: Jesse Schobel (Stormruler)
Stormruler are about to drop one of the best black metal albums of the year. Having emerged from the underground in 2021 the Missouri-based duo amassed a feverishly devoted following, landed a contract with Napalm Records, released their self-recorded debut Under The Burning Eclipse, and almost immediately hit the studio to record the even bigger, better follow-up: Sacred Rites & Black Magick. They’re due to hit the road next year on a world tour with Cannibal Corpse, Dark Funeral and Ingested, but This Day In Metal caught up with drummer Jesse Schobel to nerd out about metal, video games and the past, present and future of Stormruler.
This Day In Metal: So, for the benefit of any of our readers who’ve not heard you before, how would you describe the sound of Stormruler in 2022?
Jesse Schobel: Wellll… I would say it’s certainly, you know, black metal. Moreso than any of the other metals! With a big influence taken from the 90s-era second wave Scandinavian bands. Basically what we thought were the best parts of the genre, we mashed together. I would say if you’re a fan of bands like Emperor or Marduk or Dark Funeral or Moonsorrow then you’ll probably dig us!
TDIM: Yeah, that’s definitely fair to say. So you guys spent a really long time recording your first album, then suddenly everything just happened – you put a few songs up, there was a ton of buzz online, Napalm got in touch and bang, the album came out. That was only just over a year ago… so you’ve had quite a busy time since then, huh?
JS: Busy yes and busy no. There are short bursts of really busy activity and then, like, downtime when you hang out and wait to see what happens. But, as far as over the course of the year goes, a lotta things happened quickly for us. As you mentioned, the first record took a while, we took our time with it because it was our own little project, just involving us and our friends helping us out. The mixing on the first record was done by Dreathus Harris who has a really cool black metal band called Xaemora that Jason and I played in for a little bit. So it wasn’t a rushed process, just our own little thing, and we went back and forth until we got it great. Then, all of a sudden, our second record came along a lot quicker.
Fortunately, we had a bunch of music already written for it. It wasn’t like a rush to get it going, although it was a different kind of process as far as recording went – we used a studio here in town for this one – but the writing is more of what we were already familiar with.
TDIM: Yeah, it’s got a much grander production on it than the first album. Obviously going into a studio has fed into that but was there a different approach in terms of how you wanted to arrange the tracks?
JS: Not so much, I mean, other than just recording this in a week and a half… It was just a matter of getting everything practiced. Personally, I like to practice and get a good couple of weeks of familiarity with the material before I go in, while also leaving some areas open for spontaneity where you can kinda go in and nerd out a little in the studio, experiment a little, you know? But it was more or less the same mindset for the band going into the studio.
TDIM: That’s interesting, because I hear such a huge difference between the two albums. I’m surprised to hear the songs were already written.
JS: Yeah, that’s home recording versus studio recording! [laughs] That’s basically all it comes down to. Although a black metal band whose first album was recorded in a, uhhh, somewhat underground way… I mean, that’s like the best way to do it!
TDIM: [laughs] That’s true, stuff like recording through headphones instead of mics… that’s how the kvlt Scandinavians did it.
JS: I think the rule is you can’t have, like, a good-sounding album until about your fifth album or something.
TDIM: And here you are, smashing convention, and doing it on your second…
JS: [laughs] Seriously though, I think the first album sounds great. I’m really happy with the way it turned out. I think most people would agree this style of music should have a degree of rawness.
TDIM: Oh definitely. First album does sound great, and it’s not like the new one is Dimmu Borgir or something… it’s still pretty raw!
JS: [laughs] Yeah, sadly the orchestra we hired couldn’t make it…
TDIM: [laughs] There is so much melody in what you do though, as well as the rawness. I feel like you’ve got riffs and melodies strong enough that some bands would base a whole song on, whereas you guys just throw them in and move on to the next riff.
JS: [laughs] Yeah, interesting you noticed that…
TDIM: I think Jason said you guys write a lot of the riffs by just humming them into your phone?
JS: Oh my God, yeah, phone riffs for days. I’m just driving around and a riff will kinda get stuck in my head and, if the riff starts repeating itself in my head, at a certain point I’m like “okay, something’s goin’ on here” so I just sing it into my phone. Sometimes I give it a little context beforehand. Just the other day, I came up with one, and I’ll say like “okay, this could be the second riff maybe following like a midtempo opening idea” and then I’ll count it off – “one… two… three… four…!” – and then sing the riff! Then we’ll get together and go through all the riffs we have. Usually we like ’em all! And we’ll be like “yeahyeahyeah, ooooh, oh oh yeah! That riff there, that should be in the song!” and we’ll start building them together and seeing what works.
TDIM: It’s great to have that kind of partnership where you can just fire ideas at each other and they keep growing.
JS: Yep, it is nice, you can’t always do that. The more people you have, the harder it is to do that and have everyone on the same page.
TDIM: I guess that’s why so many black metal bands are one-man bands…
JS: For real.
TDIM: So, the structure of both albums is quite unusual with these sort of interlude tracks before every track and, forgive me, my knowledge of Dark Souls isn’t very good…
JS: Oh, you need to change THAT, my friend.
TDIM: ha! So I hear… but yeah, I *think* that there’s some kind of concept running through Under The Burning Eclipse, is that right?
JS: Well, no, there’s a handful of songs about Dark Souls and one song I wrote about Blood Wars but there’s a couple of other things in there too. It’s not like some Soulsborne Only thing, although that is fun to write about, it just lends itself to so many weird ideas.
TDIM: As someone who’s never played it, what is so black metal about Dark Souls?
JS: Oh my God, what isn’t black metal about Dark Souls? It is a black metal album in video form. Everything about it is the most metal game, I mean, it’s foreboding and dreary, it’s mesmerising, it’s obviously like epic beyond the term’s constraints, and there’s death everywhere, scary shit everywhere, demon creatures, but also like valorous knightly types, I mean, everything about it… [runs out of breath] I can’t believe there isn’t more of it in metal. I know there’s a couple of bands who have dipped in as far as making lyrics about the lore of the game but I’m surprised there isn’t more because… like… Goddamn! Are you not a video game player at all then?
TDIM: Ehhh… not, really. More of a tabletop guy, to be honest. Like, Warhammer is my addiction.
JS: Oh, well, that’s pretty cool, yeah. If you look at the creatures of Warhammer and like the lore of it, it’s metal as Hell.
TDIM: Oh, absolutely. I’ve always wished there was more Warhammer metal. I mean, obviously there was Bolt Thrower and a few other bands but not as many as you’d think.
JS: They’re probably out there, but someone just needs to be awesome enough to rise to the top. Get noticed for just having cool music and then people will be like “oh shit, this is actually about Warhammer! That’s even cooler!” Like, we don’t wanna be considered a Dark Souls band per se, but we do want people who are fans of those games to be like “woah, check this out”. We want people to musically be attracted to us first. Maybe some people might not read our lyrics or care but if those people still think the band is cool and wanna come see the shows, that’s fine with us too.
TDIM: Yeah, you’ve got so much more lyrical variety on this album too, I feel. You’ve got a bit of this Wallachian history…
JS: Yeah, we cover some other topics that we found interesting as well. I know Jason wrote two songs about Skyrim on this one. Which is a pretty metal game as well.
TDIM: Ah man, I didn’t even pick up on that because I’ve not played Skyrim.
JS: Yeah, it’s Vikings The Show The Game, basically. You’ve seen it, right?
TDIM: All I know about it are the memes, like “I took an arrow to the knee”…
JS: Oh yeah, the arrow to the knee and “you’re finally awake”… But yeah, video games are a slightly undertapped source for what I believe to be great metal lyrics. Some riffs, I dunno why but I’m like “that riff reminds of Resident Evil“ or something… We try to tap into that because I think there’s a lot of people who appreciate that.
TDIM: Yeah, I think it’s really cool, it’s a way to make black metal that’s a little bit different. That’s one of the challenges, really, especially with what you guys do, channelling the second wave 90s stuff. Somehow you have to balance that retro inspiration, with not feeling old or derivative. Black metal is very rooted in tradition but has to keep being interesting to avoid dying out…
JS: Black metal’s been around for so long, there are a lot of different ways to play it now. In our opinion, not all the ways are awesome. If there’s, jokingly, 20 ways to play a black metal style, we just try to play the 10 ways that are cool that we like and not play the 10 other ways that we aren’t into. There’s a LOT of black metal now. It’s like, not all of it is terribly musical I guess? I love the brutality aspect of it and the assault just as much as I love the storyteller riffs that take you on a journey, but we like to glue it all together with like black’n’roll pounders and the occasional interlude, a low dynamic…
You know dynamics in the songs are important, in any metal band, period. Songs have to have a dynamic where people are like “ooh, what’s going to happen here? Ooh, cool! We’re down to that! I didn’t expect that but I’m glad it happened!” Then sometimes you’ve got to be a bit predictable, so people are like “I want that to happen, I want that to happen, OOHHH YEAH, it happened!” There’s a way to it, I guess and I suppose we kinda figured out because, after one record, a lot of people were like “oh, this is what’s up!” so that’s all we had to do. [laughs]
TDIM: [laughs] Yeah, it’s funny but it’s true. When you speak the language of black metal, either as an artist or a fan, you kind of understand. Suddenly, everything can stop and there’ll be a medieval interlude with, like, a lute or something, and you’ll be like “YEAAAAH, that slams!”
JS: Absolutely! But your medieval interlude can’t go on for three minutes or it’s like… okay, okay, well, it CAN but it’d better be a really awesome one. I think structuring a song and the dynamics of a song is like one thing that a lot of black metal artists sometimes don’t understand. I think you have to be fans of other musical types maybe to understand how to do that. It’s an overarching thing in all music, structure and dynamics. Black metal was kinda punk rock in that it was like “fuck the trends” and there is a huge degree of that in the style that we do too… and sure, I’m just some schmuck from the midwest of America who likes listening to too much Emperor. I know I wasn’t around when it was being created and would never take away from the people who’ve perfected the raw element of the genre – we want to dip into that too – but there’s a whole way of doing it. The tightrope act is keeping a good song written but not trying to sound like we don’t understand the genre.
TDIM: I don’t usually ask about cover art, because I know bands don’t always have much to do with it but the cover art on Sacred Rites And Black Magick is so fucking cool…
JS: [laughs] It is pretty cool, yeah.
TDIM: How much involvement did you have in that? What’s the story?
JS: So it’s the same artist who did our first record – Giannis Nakos from Remedy Art Design – and he’s done lots of bands’ art and I can’t recommend him enough, he’s great to work with. A total professional. As far as the story with the art is concerned, he threw us the first draft and it was not terribly far off where it ended up because, well, we were playing Elden Ring at the time… and I know you obviously haven’t played it [laughs] but I’d just got to a part of the game where I fought someone who looked just like this freakish figure and I’m like “DAMN! I just beat her!”
It’s not like “oh, this is Rennala from Elden Ring“ but it resembled her in a cool way so we had a couple of ideas like “can we add this here, do a little bit of this here…” but the second revision, we were like “that’s the one!” It’s kind of rolling with a thing that we were into at the time of making the record. Of course, I’ve beaten that thing like six times now but at that time, I was deep in the game and it was really cool to get something that reminded me of something I was super into. But even if you’ve never played Elden Ring, it’s a cool cover.
TDIM: Yeah, my interpretation of the cover was completely different. I saw it as the sorcerer character was summoning a powerful avatar of himself. He’s turning into this golden godlike figure through, well, like, sacred rites and black magick…
JS: Oh yeah! That is a great interpretation that I think works. There’s a lot going on in the cover. Also if you look somewhere, the rider from the first record is in the sky somewhere too…
TDIM: Ah, no way! I didn’t see that. I guess that’s what some of the early black metal albums did, like Burzum, with the character from the self-titled album on the cover of…
JS: …Det Som Eng Gangvar, yeah. And Emperor, they have their, like, flying guy. That guy’s badass. [laughs] It’s fun to have, like, a mascot.
TDIM: I love mascots. Do you think you would ever do a mascot onstage, like Eddie style?
JS: You know, it’s funny you mention that. There’s a character from Dark Souls – Knight Solaire – and I have a Solaire outfit that I got for Halloween. I actually use it in the first video, Reign Of The Winged Duke, that’s me decked out in my Solaire garb! It would be fun to play a show and maybe come out for the last song in the garb, although I’ll admit, it’s hard to play drums in a helmet. But I would try!
TDIM: I dunno, man. GWAR have managed to play drums in helmets for decades..
JS: Oh my God, yeah. I can only imagine what those costumes smell like…
JS: They have to be, like, funkadelic.
TDIM: Yeah, by the end of a tour that’d be like toxic waste… so uh, speaking of life on the road, you guys put together a full live band for doing some shows last year and earlier this year and you’re out on a major tour next year (2023) with Cannibal Corpse, Dark Funeral and Ingested. How is it, playing these songs live as Stormuler, since it’s still pretty new to you?
JS: Honestly, it’s great, I’ve played in many bands, I still do have a number of projects going on, but in terms of consistently having the right impact on people, Stormruler… people seem to be into it. No matter where we play, in certain parts of certain songs people will always be like “YEAAAAAAH!!!!” It’s almost weird, completely different audiences will always kinda glom onto certain parts and certain intros and it seems to hammer home that we’re doing somethin’ right. It’s awesome.
TDIM: It’s great that you’re going out on such a big tour as well. I’m really looking forward to seeing you in the UK.
JS: Definitely come for that, come out and say what’s up.
TDIM: I don’t know if I’ll come to Nottingham or Manchester yet, because I live right in the middle of the two…
JS: Great! You’re coming to both! [laughs]
TDIM: I guess I am now…
JS: ‘Cos one night, what’s gonna happen is one night you’re gonna miss Stormruler ‘cos like you’ll get held up on the road or can’t get outta work, you’ll show up and we’ll be like “duhduhduhdduh thank you! Goodnight!”
TDIM: Or more likely I’ll show up on the second night and you’ll be like, “Aw man, last night we had the mascot out and everything…”
JS: [laughs] Yeah, you missed it!
TDIM: [laughs] Okay, we should try to wrap this up, but because we’re This Day In Metal we like to look back a lot. So, let’s look back… do you remember the first time you ever heard heavy metal and how it made you feel?
JS: Yeah, I remember as a kid when I started to realise that I liked heavy riffs. Beavis and Butthead was definitely a huge influence in that regard. I mean, I watched the Hell out of that show. I just watched a shit ton of MTV, period, as a kid. I watched it every day, every show – I’d watch The Grind where people just like danced. I’d be like this is a joke, but I’d still watch it. And MTV Jams, I’d watch all the R&B and rap videos from the early 90s… But Beavis and Butthead, Pantera or Slayer would come on and you’d see videos on that show that you’d never seen on normal rotation. And it was like “man, this is tight”. Even Beavis and Butthead who would never shut up would shut up and start rocking out, so I knew “hey, this has some kinda power to it”.
Also, this is weird but in the early days of that show certain episodes would end with this KILLER riff. Not, like, the usual Beavis & Butthead riff. I’m talking about this riff that I’ve tried to seek out in the past… the episode would end and they’d be like “heh heh heh” and then [imitates colossal heavy chugging riff] “DUHDUHDUHDUHDUHDUH!” Just two bars of this killer riff and then it’d go to the credits. I’d be like “what is it!? This riff’s heavy as shit!” Anyway, maybe someone out there knows what it is. But ever since I heard that I always gravitated to stuff that was hard and heavy.
TDIM: As someone who loves unsolved mysteries, that is my favourite answer to this question… I really hope one of our readers can help! And, on that note, thanks so much for hanging out today. Good luck with the new album and see you on the road!
JS: Awesome, can’t wait! Thanks, man!
Sacred Rites & Black Magick is out on Napalm Records 16th October 2022
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Interview by C.J. Lines
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