Prophets of the digitising of music have always pointed to the opportunities it provides for artists from the extremities of genre and geography. Palmerston North struggles for population and is the more musically hard case than hardcore, yet remains the home of Depths, a four album-deep black metal band with a social media following that would be the envy of many. Say, Don McGlashan or Kings, for instance. Amber Beaton talked with Jason Meadows and Josh Bain about their band’s latest conceptual album, Swedish mixing and the challenges of keeping it together through separation.
What’s it like to be a band trying to break out into the international metal scene when you’re from a modest place like Palmerston North? That’s exactly what black metal outfit Depths have been doing since 2012, with their band’s fourth release ‘Endless’ dropping in May.
“I guess Palmy is a big enough city to be decent,” explains lead guitarist Jason Meadows. “But it’s like off the map, no one ever goes through it. It’s kind of a closed loop.”
Isolation can, of course, be beneficial to art making, but in Depths’ case not all members are based in the loop – more like at three corners of a lower North Island triangle.
“When we first started everyone was from Palmy,” says vocalist Josh Bain. “But Jason moved to Hamilton, and Shaun our drummer lives in Wellington. As for shows, it’s been pretty non-existent for the past five years. We played a lot of hardcore shows because the hardcore scene was big back then.”
It’s commonplace here for diverse metal acts to play together in one show, so making it difficult at times to pinpoint a band to a genre.
“We’re not death metal enough for the real death metal heads, and we’re not scene enough for deathcore,” Josh laments. “So we’re in this weird middle group of not either one really. When we first got labelled deathcore we really hated it. Our earlier stuff was definitely deathcore, but then we tried to push away from that and become more death metal. I guess it’s not traditional death metal, but it’s what we go with instead of going with a niche genre to link ourselves to.”
It did seem elementary at the time to label Depths as deathcore, most people assuming the name derived from paying homage to one of the most prominent deathcore bands, Oceano, who have an album named ‘Depths’.
“People always think our name came from the Oceano album but it didn’t, it just came out around the same time. We just thought Depths was a cool word for a name. That album blew up at the same time!”
No matter the genre, bands run the risk of riding a movement. As fresh waves of music come into play old trends fade away. Depths have survived through the brightness and inevitable dimming of both hardcore and deathcore to still remain relevant.
“I think for us it’s just about keeping it interesting,” says Josh in explanation. “Each album we’ve done we’ve tried to do something new. We haven’t just done the same album over and over again. We just write stuff that we enjoy playing. Really, that’s always been it.”
With that simple approach the band have accumulated many thousands of fans worldwide, Spotify similarly revealing tens of thousands of listens per track. Having toured extensively in Australia, Depths are eager to take their disciplined work ethic and dynamic live show to those global fans. Keen but frustrated.
“We’ve had some bad luck with tours falling through,” Josh admits. “We’ve had tours in Europe that have almost been there and then at the last minute they’ve crumbled. But we’re never going to be content in where we are. I think if you don’t have that push as a band you’re never really going to push the boundaries of what you’re doing.”
Speaking of pushing boundaries, their latest offering is a concept album. A tricky decision that seems to have paid off for Depths. The album at first submerges the listener into a huge production that’s almost pushed to the edge of overdone, before being pulled back into organic territories. Coupled with appropriately fantastical artwork ‘Endless’ takes the audience on a journey from start to finish.
“We always intended for it to be one song cut into parts,” explains Josh. “And always had a cohesive story going through the whole thing. We worked hard on it too. Way more than any other release because there are so many intricate parts and we wanted to make it perfect. I’m stoked on how it’s turned out. I’m really proud of it.”
‘Endless’, it turns out, tells the story of one man’s journey through the Egyptian underworld in search of absolution. It’s easy to imagine this story is a metaphor for Josh’s own experiences.
“It’s not specifically about me. Everyone has their moments in their life where they wonder what the fuck they’re doing and stuff like that. I went through some stuff, nothing like this concept though. It’s definitely more about a character. It’s kind of the extremes of what someone would go through when they have to re-evaluate what they’re doing. I just pushed it to the extreme really.”
The admirable production quality of ‘Endless’ can also be partly attributed to Swedish producer Daniel Bergstrand (Meshuggah, Strapping Young Lad, Behemoth) who mixed and mastered the album.
“When we were looking at Daniel’s work, like on Behemoth’s stuff, the production on that just wowed me. We didn’t think this guy would be in our price range at all,” Josh recalls. “When he came back with the price it was really in our zone and so it was stupid not to do it.”
“Especially the dynamic,” adds Jason “When it was big and heavy – he knows how to make it huge. And then for the soft parts he knows how to keep them soft, rather than just bringing the soft parts up to be loud as fuck. When it goes down you can really feel the space instead of just being in your face.”
As the release date for ‘Endless’ approaches, Depths are under no illusion as to the attraction of streaming albums these days, but still hold hope that people will appreciate the work gone into producing the physical copies.
“We tried to make it an experience more than just an album,” says Josh. “The artwork goes along with it, it has a whole story. Each panel follows this guy’s journey through it. That to me would be the ultimate experience and I just hope people enjoy it.”
“I hope people hear it how we hear it,” Jason agrees. “I would just love to know that someone sat down for the 30 minutes and listened to it from start to finish.”