August 10, 2014

Forgotten Gods - Fall of the Dagger

Written by Calen Henry.

Forgotten Gods are a relatively new Southern California band that dropped a stellar record last fall. Everyone should hear it. They rule.

They play a melodic brand of stoner doom that has excellent echoes of classic rock, with killer hooks, epic concepts and some epic track lengths to match. Think Crack The Skye filtered through Sleep and the Desert Rock sound.

I caught up with singer/guitar player Dave Stoltenberg to talk about the band, the aforementioned stellar record, concept records in general, and the loudness war.

Tell us a bit about the band, for those not familiar:

Forgotten Gods is a 3-piece stoner/doom/rock & roll band formed in 2011 in San Jose, CA. We released our first full length Album Fall of the Dagger at the end of 2013 and are currently playing dates on the west coast in support of the release. The band is Kevin Swartz (Archer, Burning Monk) on Drums, Pete Rice (Janitors Against Apartheid, Thunderhorse) on bass and Dave Stoltenberg (Slick Shoes, House of Doors) on guitar/vocals.

What’s the story for, and behind Fall of the Dagger?

So Pete and I were hanging out before a show in Santa Cruz about two years ago and he tells me about this idea he has for a song about aliens visiting some native tribe and telling some whole time travel story (the details of that night are a little foggy *cough cough). For most of our songs, I try to craft these weird sci-fi/fantastical stories with fictional gods and heros and some absurdity and humor here and there. Definitely influenced by Sleep’s Dopesmoker. Anyway, I started putting this big story together based on Pete’s concept and it plays out in this gigantic string of riffs that kind of bounces from one segment to another, each telling a different part of the story.

The gist of the story is that this alien is banished from his homeworld and leaves his planet in a ship called “The Dagger”. He crash lands somewhere in the U.S. in the last couple thousand years or so, and is taken in by the locals. In return, he gives them the gift of the electric guitar, cranking some tasty riffs through his spaceship that doubles as an amplifier. Totally ridiculous, but all in good fun.

That’s the best take yet on Ancient Astronauts. Do you have any favourite ridiculous concept records, either as influences, or not?

Haha definitely. Concept albums are awesome, although almost always super cheesy/self-indulgent. There’s this Rick Wakeman album Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table that’s just total nonsense with synthesizers and voice-overs. So awesome. On the other hand, I love the first Mars Volta album De-Loused in the Comatorium because its just amazing and the whole record is this crazy journey with a huge, epic climax.

You guys play stoner doom but, in a genre that often revels in tradition, you guys don’t really sound like anyone else. What are some of the big influences for Forgotten Gods, and what do you think sets you apart?

I think we sound like a lot of different bands but can never think of one band in particular that we are super similar too. I think the obvious influence is Black Sabbath, but we also are big fans of the whole 90s stoner rock scene, and just trying to make our riffs as huge as we know how. The one thing that stands out is our relatively light use of screamy vocals. Most of our stuff is pretty melodic I think. We play lots of shows where every other band is doing blast beats and is just non-stop intense, where I think we are a bit more dynamic and musical, or at least we try to be haha. I like the crazy, intense grind stuff too though :)

That’s a great point, I find that often in the doom sphere vocals can make or break a band for me. Do you have any particular favourite metal vocalists (stoner/doom, or other)

I’m the same way. I don’t think it gets much better than Neil Fallon from Clutch. Fantastic lyricist too. I also really like the mood and storytelling that John Haughm from Agalloch creates. I've kind of always been into the vocals up front approach, rather than burying unintelligible vocals in the background. Just a personal preference.

Speaking of sound, the choice of guitar tone is one of the things that makes your sound unique. Rather than the thick Sabbath-ey tone a lot of stoner doom bands use, you’ve got kind of a mid point between classic rock and 80 thrash going on. How did that come about?

Its weird because I've played through all kinds of different pedals and amps over the years, yet I always kind of got that chainsaw fuzz sound going. Definitely grew up on and learned guitar from 80s and 90s metal and punk rock. Lots of Pantera, and just trying to play as fast as possible haha. But also was big into Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin etc. So ya, your assessment seems pretty spot on haha. Most of my sound these days is coming from a big muff combined with a tube screamer knock-off that I've become fond of.

So it’s more of a “found your sound” situation, than consciously setting yourselves apart from peers, sonically?

That sounds about right. We had some early tunes in our set that ended up getting cut over time because they just weren't vibing with our sound as a whole. I think by now we've kind of solidified what sounds like a Forgotten Gods track and what doesn’t, although we’re always pushing ourselves to try new stuff and see what works.

Lots of records these day, particularly metal albums are mixed very loud at the sake of dynamics and overall sound. I noticed that Fall of the Dagger is uncommonly dynamic for this day and age (unquestionably a good thing). What compels you to buck the current trend and release a dynamic mix, not just on vinyl?

You totally hit the nail on the head there, and thanks for noticing. I've been aware of and against the loudness-war for years now, but what really made me decide to take action on this recording was the absolute atrocity that was done on Ghost’s latest album Infestissumam. There is audible digital distortion throughout the entire album, and even when its not clipping, it sounds completely flat. Fantastic songs, completely ruined by a terrible master. I have it on cd and vinyl, both are poopy. So when we did our recording we definitely made an effort to use compression sparingly and keep things open and airy when mastering, lots of headroom. I’m not saying its perfect, but we made a conscious effort to make the record sound the way we want music to sound.

I’m a pretty big fan of the result. What else is in store for Forgotten Gods?

That’s awesome, thanks man! Currently we are playing as much as possible on the west coast, while working on writing some new tunes. We keep landing bigger shows and meeting new bands and people to work with. I'm predicting a new record happening sometime early 2015.

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