Approaching the Threshold

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Normally, for me to attend a decent metal show I have to either drive 2 ½ hours East to St Louis or 2 ½ hours West to Kansas City. However, once in a while Columbia, Missouri, a mere 30 minutes from my house, will have a decent show at one of their smaller venues (Origin, All That Remain, Mastodon, Between the Buried and Me). So once I saw that North Dakota/Minnesota noise merchants Battlefields were going to hit up one of the venues along with former label mates Sleeping In Gethsemane (who by the way are a very cool instrumental metal act) , I had to attend. I also thought I would squeeze in an interview with a band which has released two very impressive albums (2007s Stained by the Blood of an Empire and 2009s Thresholds of Imbalance) that take the typical post rock genre, add some doom, some progressive elements and a sprinkle of hardcore. So on a chilly evening outside the venue I shared some beers and visited with the very amicable trio of vocalist Rusty Steele, drummer Rob Schmidt and guitarist Matt Ricigliano….

So how is the tour going so far? It looks to be filled with lots of smaller venues.

Rusty: So far it’s been pretty awesome. There have been some down days like every tour and we caught in a snow storm that shut down I-80 so we missed two dates – Lawrence KS, and St. Louis. For the most part it’s been awesome though lots of new folks coming to the shows.


I hate to lump you in with a particular genre, but I have to say this is my first “post rock/shoegazer” show. Especially with local Isis clones Cascades playing. Is there any difference from the show I’m about to see as opposed to say a typical black or death metal show?

Rusty: There is really a big difference, though as time goes on there has been so much crossover between genres. However, I feel that older death metal fans really haven’t brought into anything we are doing because they associate the genre with younger fans and young hardcore fans just aren’t ready for 12 minute songs. Hopefully this tour will get us in front of our niche fans.


You use the word ‘niche’ and ‘genre’. If you guys had to pigeonhole yourself or put yourself in a genre or niche, which I understand no band really likes to do – what would it be?

Rusty: I would just say we were a metal band. Just a metal band.

Matt: I call it Doom-progressive-hardcore- it’s a mixture of all those.


Is there any concern that once the word post rock or post hardcore gets thrown around, you’ll simply be either regarded as a simple Isis or Neurosis clone?

Matt: Its going to happen if we want it too or not because that’s someone perception of out music.  If people listen to one or two songs, they could make that assumption that we sound like Isis or something, but the album was written as a whole. Based on one or two songs you could make the assumption that we sound like Isis. I hate those kinds of labels, buts it’s going to happen. It’s what people do; it’s easier to say ‘they sound like Isis”.


And I’m guilty of that! – Rusty, I noticed you rolled your eyes when I started discussing Isis and Neurosis?

Rusty: Its just that it gets frustrating for bands that are working hard, and though at one time they may have been influenced at this point they have surpassed those influence and rather than replicate those ideas and moved on they are now forcing bands like Isis to change how they sound.


So there has been two years between albums, explain the growth and development that obviously occurred between Stained by the Blood of an Empire and Thresholds of Imbalance

Rob: Really we just took the stronger ideas from the first album like Andy’s (Guitarist Andrew Wallin) more death metal influence, my classical training and Rusty’s screamo background and take those ideas and see how far we could take them and mess them up. Just give everything amore progressive, more experimental way. We didn’t want to be just one of those bands that just play drop D and be heavy- we wanted to be more expansive.


And you can hear that on the new album I think the songs a longer, fuller and there’s three instrumental interludes that do make the new album more expansive… was that a conscious decision?

Rob: It was a decision. The first album was probably more influenced by Isis than the new album. On the new album we just took the stuff we liked and just write, and write it for us rather than try and please anyone.


So you made the jump from Saw Her Ghost Records and Init Records to Translation Loss Records- which seems like a perfect fit. How did that come about?

Rob: Rusty had been talking to Drew (Juergens, co-owner of Translation Loss Record and former scribe) over the internet for a while just maintaining contact after he saw us live. We were in Philadelphia hanging out one time and we asked if he would be interested in ever signing us and he said yes and it went from there.

Rusty: It helped that we did tour with Rosetta, so Drew was able to hear from them what we were like on the road, and that kind of stuff.


Was there any other label interest? Hydra Head?

Rusty: No, we never delved into Hydra Head. We did get some interest from Season of Mist. It seemed like after looking at their roster we would be there ‘out of the box’ band compared to the rest of their roster. We didn’t even know how say half of those bands’ names!


So when looking for a label is there some decision as to be a band that ‘fits’ a certain label or do you want to be the ‘different’ band on the roster?

Rob: Definitely want to fit it in with the roster. We liked Translation Loss because we liked the bands that were already on the label. Plus after touring with Rosetta, we just thought they were cool, nice guys.

Rusty: And we had also started associating and hanging out with other Translation Loss bands like Javalina, Irepress and Mouth of the Architect.


I’d like to talk about the artwork on the new album. Its Paul Romano artwork, but it’s not very typical Romano work -one usually thinks of his incredibly detailed Mastodon covers and such.

Rusty: Paul had come out to see us at a Philadelphia show and after asked if we wanted to come by his studio. So we all went to the studio, went out to eat and on the way back from eating he asked us if we would like him to do artwork for the next album. We contacted him a few weeks later after hearing that he really explains his artwork and lets the artist know what everything in the artwork means.

Matt: I just want to add that Rennie from Starkweather went out with us, as they were supposed to play with us, but they couldn’t, but Rennie came down anyway and we all went out and to the studio.


So did you approach him with the concept of the album and he works around that or did he just come up with something?

Rusty: As the project started, about six months before recording started, he wanted any books that we were reading, any side notes, lyrics, tabs – he just gets fully involved and tries to get into the bands shoes and come up with something.


So what is the theme of the cover?

Rusty: It’s more of a middle finger towards modern religion for bringing down ancient thoughts and ideas, ideas that were more realistic back then, into modern society and the possibility of a cosmic intervention. A lot of ancient cultures talk about coming from the stars and giving them knowledge. On the cover there is a hand coming from the sky over an alien landscape of a planet in development, and the hand is intervening. He even incorporated the northern lights and desolate landscape into the panel artwork as we can see the Northern lights from where we a based in very desolate North Dakota. So he’s got everything in there.


Who produced the new album? It was someone different from the first album, right?

Rob: I did the new album. We changed from Mike Dresch (Cathouse Studios) in Souix Falls. But the big thing was he didn’t do analog tape work, and we just wanted to take a new approach with the new record. I did the EP (2007s Entourage of the Archaic), the studio I worked at, I was comfortable with and get a good deal money wise. It was just nice to produce the record from the inside out, even as we are writing; I have the production wheels turning as early as the writing process.


Is the plan to stay with the self production or something else in future?

Rob: We would like to get into higher budget stuff, but we’d still like to produce and track ourselves. We really want to work with Sandford Parker in Chicago (Minsk, Buried at Sea, Rwake. Etc). Maybe he could mix or something like that.


So there’s a producer you’d like to work with, how about other acts or bands you’d really want to tour with?

Rusty: We really like Tombs. We hit it off with them when out paths have crossed and we are both about the same level of growth. The bands we would really want to tour with are all bands that are growing, all about the same level of growth as us. Upcoming bands like Buried Inside- who we have some dates with this July with, Irepress, Samothrace, we are friends and we like associating with them. Dylan from Samothrace actually played bass for us on tour.

Rob: Yeah – we really don’t have like any dreams with playing with any certain established bands or anything.


So what are the immediate plans for Battlefields after this tour?

Rusty: We have those summer dates with Buried Inside, we will be doing a tour in June with Høst, that’s our bass player, Zander’s other band-its black metal. We have the American Waste Hardcore and Metal Festival in Kansas City- It’s a two day festival Unearth, Coalesce, Testament and tons of other bands.


Do you generally seek out tours that have you playing with similar styled bands of would you be fine touring with say Cannibal Corpse or Dragonforce?

Matt: If it came up to play with those bands we would not be opposed, but we like to tour with bands that are the same, the crowd is a little more ready for 12 minute songs and they know what to expect from us.


So then what about the tour with Høst? That’s a black metal band

Rusty: Well hopefully there will be some cross over because Zander plays bass for us as well as Høst-so the fans might be interested in both.

Rob: And it seems like there is some crossover between fans of experimental music like ours and the New Wave of Black metal like Nachtmystium.

Rusty: It’d be like the Wolves in the Throne Room, Pelican and Tombs tour.


So what other bands from North Dakota do I need to be looking out for?

Rob: Sleeping In Gethsamane who is touring with us, Høst, Gumbi- who are more of a noise rock thing, but they are amazing.


Well, thanks for the interview, I’m fucking cold and I’m going inside! – have a good show!

Rob: I get to break in my new C & C drums tonight, so I’m excited.

Rusty: Me too! Thanks for the interview.

Matt: Thanks man.


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