Back in March, I reviewed Ashen Horde‘s latest opus of black metal fury, Fallen Cathedrals. I heaped an unhealthy amount of praise its way back then, and I’m still spinning it a ton now. In fact, I would be very surprised if it were to fall outside of my top 5 albums come year’s end. My review may have been riddled with factual errors,1 but founder, songwriter, instrumentalist, and clean vocalist Trevor Portz showed up in the comments and revealed himself to be a gracious and enormously cool guy. So, when the opportunity to do an interview presented itself, I couldn’t resist. As fortune would have it, I had already bought tickets to Tech Trek IV in Seattle the following week, so Trevor was able to set up a time for me to chat with Ashen Horde vocalist Stevie Boiser while he was in town with Inferi. I followed this up by trading emails with Trevor, so we could hear from both halves of this Horde of two.
As the cherry on top of this cake of words, we have the pleasure of exclusively premiering the brand new lyric video for “Retaliation/Regret” from Fallen Cathedrals. Check it out below to hear Trevor’s terrifying tremolos and Stevie sounding like Satan’s more evil Uncle Carl.
Live Interview with Boiser at Tech Trek IV in Seattle — May 9th
On the way to the interview, Holdeneye is overcome with anxiety, so he pops into the bar of the hotel he happens to be walking past and pounds exactly one Elysian Space Dust IPA. The potion dulls his affliction and he continues awkwardly on with his quest.
Thanks for talking to me.
Yeah, no problem. Thanks for having me!
My first question is: As a child, did you know that you would one day be in every metal band?
[laughter] Nah, I was pretty sure as a kid that I was going to become a Pokémon master. That was kind of my grand master plan at the time.
What got you into metal?
Honestly—and this is going to sound really nerdy—I bought this Dragonball Z movie and it had a Disturbed song in it, and a Deftones song, and a Drowning Pool song. At the time, typically music was just a background thing that happened, there were a few songs that I knew and liked, but I wasn’t really intrigued by it. I think I was like maybe eleven or something at this point, and I heard those songs and thought “Man, this is really cool.” There was a kid in the same class as me who lived across the street and I knew that he liked metal, so I went and asked him if I could borrow any of his CDs. He let me borrow a few of them and I spun them a ton, and it kinda just evolved from there.
You’re in all of these different acts. How do you balance all these things you’ve got going on?
Time management definitely isn’t one of my strong suits, but I try! Really, it kind of just depends on who has what going on. Luckily there’s usually a little bit of time between when people are working on new material, but I’m typically doing two projects at once. Since I live in Denver, I typically actively practice with Tethys once a week and we work on writing material and playing shows and stuff. With Inferi, it’s been a little easier since my entry, because I just fly out to Tennessee for rehearsal and then we hit the road.
When we recorded The End of an Era | Rebirth last year, I was able to just do that from home which was nice. I have my own recording setup so I was able to just take my time and record the songs as long as I fell within the deadlines of when we specified we wanted the album done. With Equipoise we are not actively playing shows or touring yet, so when we have new material I just write and get it done, and the same thing goes for Ashen Horde. Because we’re not playing shows or anything like that, Trevor will just give me a deadline as far as when we’re trying to make the releases happen, and I do my best to get all the music and everything down within those parameters so we can crank out material.
What was it about Trevor and Ashen Horde that made you want to get involved with that project?
So how that all began for me was, Trevor’s brother Jeremy played drums for The Alchemist EP and they’d been working on material, and Trevor wasn’t feeling the greatest about his vocals. He wanted to go ahead and find someone who was more focused on that, because he’s already dealing with guitar, bass, and all that kind of stuff too. Since Jeremy and I had worked together previously in Vale of Pnath, he had contacted me and sent me some of the songs. It was vastly different from the other bands that I’m in, definitely more on the black metal end of the spectrum. It just seemed like a fun opportunity to do something that was different, something that I’ve been curious about for a while. I dig black metal and symphonic black metal, so it kind of allowed me to have another creative outlet for something that I don’t get to express in my other projects.
So who are some of your favorite black metal bands?
Honestly, I’d probably say Dimmu Borgir, Septicflesh, Carach Angren—mostly on the symphonic side for me. Those are probably my top three for sure.
So the theme of Fallen Cathedrals, the rich vs. poor—we’re standing here in a city where we have some of the most phenomenally rich people in the world but also have a gigantic homeless problem. I thought it was a really well done take on that issue.
Thank you! That’s actually Trevor. Oh man, what’s the name of the book? There’s a book that he—High Rise! So the entire thing is sort of based upon that, but I feel like it’s a very real thing that we’re experiencing all over the states. You know, Seattle and where I’m from, Denver are great examples of like you said—people who are absurdly rich next to people who have absolutely nothing. That sort of dynamic obviously creates tension in certain ways. The fact that it’s based off of High Rise but it’s also a socio-economic problem that we’re experiencing in the US and different places all over the world—that’s a concept that we hope resonates with people, something that people can somewhat relate to regardless of which side of the spectrum they’re on.
Since Ashen Horde is different than some of your projects, and you sound like a man possessed on it—
Haha, Thank you!
Was your approach any different here being that it’s a more heavily black metal sound?
Not entirely, so typically what I do when I create vocal patterns and create different voices and stuff like that for projects is I’ll take the music and just listen to it a ton and see what sorta forms in my head. Towards the beginning of me being in Ashen Horde is actually when I started experimenting with being able to record stuff on my own. I picked up a really nice mic and an interface and found a DAW,2 so I really had time to formulate a sound for that. It’s a bit different from my other bands. I will say that going into that I did put more black metal stuff on heavier rotation than I typically have it, just so I could kind of analyze what other people are doing that makes them successful and then see how I could make it my own and give it my own take.
So, I think you’re a perfect example of how collaboration among metal musicians is becoming a huge thing. Like you said, you can be in one place and record while getting music from all these other bands. What are some of the benefits of working with so many different people?
Honestly, it’s just inspiring! Like really, that’s the biggest take away for me. It’s really interesting because Trevor has a very different writing process than we have with Tethys. For Tethys, we’re typically in a room working on stuff together and bouncing ideas off of each other, and you know that varies vastly from how we do things with Equipoise in which all of the members of the band live away from each other. We’re scattered throughout the US and Canada. That’s also very different from how Inferi does things when Mike and Malcolm sit down and start creating riffs and stuff.
For me there’s just a really big dynamic with being able to work with so many different musicians. It’s challenging in a sense as I can’t just rely on my same formula to work for every project, I kind of have to think outside of the box in terms of doing the band justice in my own eyes. I don’t want it to be a thing where every project that I’m in sounds the same or my voice sounds the same on every record. So I try to create those dynamics within each project where there are certain parts where you’re like “I think that’s him!” but then there are other things that are like totally different.
Well I have to say that one of the reasons that I agreed to do this was that I did a review of Fallen Cathedrals—I just totally gushed over it because I loved it—but I made a few errors like crediting you with the clean vocals. Trevor showed up in our comment section and was super gracious about it and seemed like a super cool guy, and it was a major reason that I said “I gotta talk to these guys.”
Yeah, Trevor is super laid back. And honestly, the last year or so has been super busy. I’ve kind of been all over the place which has been really nice. It feels like I’ve finally been able to start to make a career out of what I enjoy doing which is wonderful. And I actually did read your review as well, and I really enjoyed it so thank you for the kind words!
As far as the clean singing goes, that is all Trevor. I take no credit for that! I’ve been working on singing, but I’m just not a huge fan of my own voice. I feel like it’s probably because I’m still early on in it—doing anything that’s heavier, I know exactly want I want and I already have the techniques and can make myself do it. I’m not sitting in a room failing takes again and again and again until I’m like “Aha! There’s the thing!” With the lyrics for Fallen Cathedrals—Trevor wrote the vast majority of them—in the recording process there were sections that I elaborated on, where I’d go through and add a stanza of text to fill in certain areas that had a quicker place and I had burned through whatever he had already written. There were some other passages that I got to create entirely, but the bulk of it was him. I should be writing more lyrically on our next release.
When he approached me originally, he had The Alchemist (EP) done, he had his whole vision planned out and he had the majority of the material for Fallen Cathedrals done as well, so I kinda just got to hop in. He gave me music and lyrics and I just got to go through and create all of the vocal patterns and throw in where my harmonies go, and that made it more of a unique process as well—seldom do I collaborate with people writing lyrics. Usually people are like “Here’s the music, do your thing!” Having someone else’s stuff and being able to structure it in my own cadence was really cool, definitely challenging, but a really cool experience.
Well, you’re kind of a big deal to both our staff and our readers, so is there anything else that you want to pass on to them?
Just keep your eyes peeled! Fallen Cathedrals came out this year, Inferi released The End of an Era | Rebirth this year, Equipoise released Demiurgus this year, so three fresh albums and if you haven’t checked them out, I would highly recommend it! Inferi is going to be touring a little more extensively—we’ve got some stuff we haven’t announced yet—but right now we’re currently on tour with Virvum, Wormhole, and Archspire, so if we’re coming to your city, come out and say what’s up and let’s hang out and drink a beer or something!3
Email Interview with Trevor Portz — Initial and Follow Up
Most important things first: On a scale of 1-10, exactly how honored are you to be a part of Holdeneye‘s first interview?
Originally, I was going to pull a Nigel Tufnel and say this is an 11, but I feel like that would be both a) derivative and unoriginal, and b) an insult to the honor I feel as your first interviewee. Thus, I would rate this a solid 12 out of 10.
Haha! The honor is all mine! I absolutely love Fallen Cathedrals. Are you happy with how it turned out?
I really appreciate you saying that!
On the whole, I’m very happy with Fallen Cathedrals. Like most musicians, I’m a bit high-strung and neurotic when it comes to my own stuff, so I could probably list 100 things I would change about the album, but overall, I’m pleased with how it turned out. I think it was Devin Townsend that said he was about 70% happy with one of his albums (Physicist, maybe?), and that’s about as good as it ever gets. With that in mind, I’d say I’m 80% happy with FC. So either he’s way too critical of himself (obviously, the man’s a genius), or I think too highly of myself (equally likely).
I will say that Stevie’s vocals were a huge part of my satisfaction with the final product. I was never able to deliver vocal performances that matched what I heard in my head, so it was great to have someone not only meet, but exceed, my expectations!
It’s not often that progressive music is this focused and intense. Is that a purposeful aim when you’re creating music?
I think there are a couple factors at play here… I did work hard to keep the songs more focused (the “flow” wasn’t always as clean on previous albums, IMO). So I worked hard to keep things flowing a bit more smoothly this time. Of course, I didn’t want to lose any of the stylistic variation that is the core of Ashen Horde, but did attempt to make things a bit less jarring. I have a very short attention span, so sometimes I have to resist the urge to change things every 10 seconds! On the other hand, I did try some new things—the middle break in “The Vanishing,” for instance—which people seem to be digging.
The other big factor: I’m simply not a Berkeley-level shredder/virtuoso. I don’t read music, am almost entirely self-taught, and have to work super hard at playing competently. So it’s a safe bet that I’ll never drift into Spiral Architect territory, or write a 10-minute, free-form jam with a million solos.
As for the intensity, I guess that’s just how I like my music. That doesn’t mean everything needs to be blast beats and chaos all the time, but I like things that are energetic. John Garcia’s acoustic album, for instance, is very laid back, but still full of energy. Plus, I don’t know that the story would have worked over something more relaxed. Again, my short attention span surely plays into this!
Speaking of intensity, in my review I mentioned that the music on Fallen Cathedrals reminded me a bit of the insanity of Strapping Young Lad. I remember that you mentioned in the comments that you adore City. Has that album directly influenced Ashen Horde’s music, and what are a few other key bands and/or albums that have helped shape your sound?
Oh man, I’ve been a Devin fan since I first discovered Heavy As a Really Heavy Thing not long after it came out. My path to that album came from a combo of Vai‘s Sex and Religion, which my brother was super into, and my love of The Wildhearts—my favorite band of all time4—whom Devin played with briefly in ’94. It was unlike anything I’d heard at that point. I was super excited to meet Dev and get my CD signed when Strapping opened for Testament, and he wrote “Thanks for providing us with food $$$” on it.
Anyway, when City came out, it was such a revelation. Not only was the album brutal, fast and heavy, but it also had a ton of melody and the songs were instantly memorable. I’m not sure if Devin was the first to really merge death metal intensity with almost pop-level choruses, but for me, metal had been reborn. Of course, the Ocean Machine album came out the same year (my personal favorite Devy album), representing an entirely different side of his personality. That only added to my love of his music, because I wasn’t aware of too many other extreme musicians unafraid to indulge in their pop sides (Maybe Biomech isn’t exactly pop, but it is compared to City!). So to say that album influenced me would be an understatement. Hell, I even played “AAA” at my high school talent show with some other random metal peeps (we lost to some shitty pop band, of course).
In terms of other bands that I consider a major influence? Again, I’ll mention The Wildhearts. Stylistically, it’s probably pretty hard to draw a comparison to Ashen Horde, but the way I write songs is very much based on Ginger’s writing. Here was a band that was creating music that touched on so many genres. There are pop elements, punk elements, thrash, rock, etc etc. It was like Cheap Trick had mated with Metallica, and the baby was raised listening to Motörhead and the Ramones. Plus, their songs would often feature long instrumental sections and would jump from riff to riff, style to style. That’s what I try to do with Ashen Horde: not be bound by a genre, and put in whatever I damn well choose. I only hope it works a tenth as well as it does for them!
Beyond that, the biggest influences I can think of of would probably be Enslaved, Immortal, Anthrax, old Sepultura, old Cradle of Filth, Brutal Truth, Napalm Death, The Cult, Borknagar, Ihsahn… the list goes on and on. I’m a music nut and collector and like to think everything I like influences me in some way. Even the crap I hate influences me, reminding me what not to do!
The theme of Fallen Cathedrals seems to be a very balanced take on the struggle between the rich and the poor with both sides succumbing to their baser instincts. Did this theme drive the music you wrote, or did the music inspire the theme?
Yep, you nailed it! While there ultimately is a true enemy at the end of the story (spoilers!), no one really knows that until the very end. Instead, people from both sides shrug off their humanity in favor of punishing those they hate, fear, or just don’t trust. A bit of fiction drawn from reality.
In this case, I did have the story laid out while the music was being written (it was inspired by J.G. Ballard’s dystopian novel High Rise), so I was able to tailor the songs to the underlying story, at least within the confines of extreme metal. The intensity of “Retaliation/Regret,” for instance, reflects the utter brutality of the first strike against the wealthy. “Final Ascent,” on the other hand, is slower and more doom-y, representing the struggle of someone who has recognized that there is an enemy orchestrating the tension, and making the decision to seek that person out.
Would you consider yourself to be a bookworm?
I don’t know that I’m a proper bookworm, but I do like reading. The aforementioned short attention span, coupled with devoting most of my free time working on music, listening to music and spending time with my wife, doesn’t leave much time for book reading. On the plus side, I take the subway to work (yes, there’s a subway in L.A.!) so I get almost an hour of reading time every weekday. Winning!
What are some of your favorite books? I know that a lot of our online followers are voracious readers and would love to hear what you like!
Oh man, that’s tough! Generally, my tastes bounce around between three main categories: music biographies, sci-fi, and history. I’ve been very obsessed with the Golden Age of Arctic exploration lately, so I’ve been reading all about that. The Ice Balloon by Alex Wilkinson and In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides would be my top recommendations there. I’m actually working on a black metal album based on the latter!
In the fiction category, there’s a series called The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands that I love. I think it’s technically aimed at younger readers, but honestly, I feel like a lot of young reader books are better than their adult counterparts. They tend to focus more on good storytelling, rather than pretentious wordsmithing and unnecessarily convoluted plots. Anyway, the series focuses on an apothecary’s apprentice in the 17th century, and is rooted in actual events. Excellent stories and characters, and a great glimpse at life during a very vicious and superstitious time in our history. I’m also a super nerd for Harry Potter, so there’s that.
As for rock bios, I just finished Slim Jim Phantom’s (Stray Cats) and very much enjoyed it. City Baby—the autobiography of Ross Lomas of GBH—was fascinating and highly recommended. I’m also keen to read the new Paul Stanley book, realizing that much of it may actually fall into the “fiction” category.
I will say I’m a “Voracious” reader, and give a shout out to my buddy Markisan Naso, who writes a comic series called Voracious for Action Lab. It’s well written and original, and he’s a big metal head, so I recommend it to everyone!
How did you meet Stevie?
The long version: In late 2015, right around the time Nine Plagues came out, I was diagnosed with pretty bad vocal cord lesions. Having been warned that the necessary surgery could possibly alter my voice forever, or cause irreparable damage, I opted to give up harsh vocals and avoid future issues!
So I hit up my brother, who is a metal drummer in the Denver scene, to see if he knew any potential vocalists. Stevie’s name came up immediately, so I reached out. He was already in a couple other bands, but since Ashen Horde wasn’t a touring entity, he took the job. I actually didn’t meet him in person until several months after he joined, and luckily we got along well! He’s been an amazing addition to the Horde, and has definitely pushed our sound to the next level.
The short version: Christian Mingle.
Haha! Speaking of mingling, do you have any aspirations to assemble a proper Horde and do some touring in the future?
This comes up a lot, but it’s hard to say if it will happen anytime soon. Not only would we need to find some other people to flesh out the group, but Stevie’s other bands (Inferi, Equipoise, and Tethys) are pretty active, so scheduling becomes a challenge. But I’d love to do a handful of shows at some point; we just need to find the right time and place.
My dream would be to do a string of summer festivals, so hopefully we’ll do well enough to get the Wacken/Hell Fest/Graspop call one day!
I Google stalked the hell out of you (not in a creepy way) in preparation for this. You live in Los Angeles, right? Do you follow the hilariously sad @overheardLA on Instagram or Twitter? Does that environment feed into your black metal angstiness at all?
How dare you cyberstalk me! But now that the secret is out, yes, I’ve lived in L.A. for a few years now, having previous lived in NYC for a decade. As much as I love the weather and laid-back SoCal attitude, there are more than enough frustrations to keep my angst levels elevated! I’m consistently baffled at just how entitled, vapid, conceited, selfish, and egotistical people can be. Obviously, there are some amazing people here, too, but the stereotypical, superficial Hollywood posers inspire more lyrics, haha.
Honestly, it’s the little things that really set me off: people not picking up their dog shit; changing lanes without signaling; bringing your parrot to the grocery store and allowing it to shit all over your back while you stand near the salad bar (seriously, I witnessed this). But without all that, what would I do? Write pop songs? Actually, that may be a way to monetize this whole music thing. I hope Stevie looks good in a halter!
I do follow @overheardLA, and love/hate it. It definitely supports the statement that people who know the least know it the loudest! I’ve certainly heard some ridiculous things, but of course can’t think of any good examples. My mental immune system must have destroyed them, lest they poison my brain.
What’s next on the horizon for you, and is there anything else you want to tell our readers?
Well, we’re already knee-deep in an EP that will hopefully be out later this year. We’ve added a live drummer to the mix—Robin Stone of Norse—and he’s adding a whole new element to the sound. The next album is also in pre-production, and I’m hopeful that it won’t be three years between albums this time!
Otherwise, I’m just hoping people hear Fallen Cathedrals, like it, and share it with other metalheads. It’s very difficult to break out from the pack, especially since we don’t tour, so we have to find creative ways to get into people’s ears.
Beyond that, I’d just like to say thanks to everyone that has checked it out, bought the vinyl, worn the shirts, played it on the radio, or allowed us to be their first Angry Metal Guy interview! It means the world to us, and I wouldn’t be talking about a fourth album without you all. Cheers!
- I credited Boiser with vocals on Inferi‘s Revenant, when in reality, he joined the band after the album had been recorded. I also credited Boiser with performing clean vocals on Fallen Cathedrals. Portz performed the cleans. ↩
- Digital audio workstation according to Google. ↩
- Holdeneye is a procrastinating bastard, so you’ve already missed this tour. I hope you saw it. It was killer. ↩
- Paging Dr. Fisting, Dr. Fisting to the interview. – Dr. Wvrm ↩