What’s in a name?
With the release of their widely heralded 2015 album Settler, New Hampshire’s Vattnet (formerly Vattnet Viskar,) rode the line between American black metal and a more experimental blend of atmospheric, melody driven metal. But in a genre known for its uncompromising aggression and dark nature, Vattnet found themselves the odd band out, as they explored both the light and darkness of their musical nature on tour.
“I love black metal bands, there are a handful of bands I absolutely love, but I’ve never considered us to be among them,” says singer/guitarist Casey Aylward. “It’s a tag that’s followed us. I think it has helped us, but also hurt us in some ways.”
The band was formed in 2010 by founding members Chris Alfieri (guitars) and Nick Thornbury (ex-vocalist/guitarist) and eventually rounded out with Aylward on bass and drummer Seamus Menihane. Their early work was very much influenced by blending straight-forward American black metal acts such as Wolves In The Throne Room with more eclectic groups like Agalloch.
“We can’t deny where the band came from,” Aylward says, speaking about the band’s musical dichotomy. “But on Settler we took it even further.”
The band toured heavily behind their Century Media debut album with black metal staples such as 1349, Maruta, Taake and even landed a coveted slot at Maryland Deathfest 2015, but once the ear-ringing distortion of the road faded, a sudden lineup change left the band at a crossroads of who they were and who they wanted to be.
“We toured pretty heavily and at the end of it Nick realized it just wasn’t for him,” Aylward said. “We had to go back to square one.”
Soon after Thornbury’s departure, the remaining three members returned to their practice space, free of expectations and pressure, to begin forging a new musical path for themselves.
“There is a lot of self realization when you go through that process,” Alfieri said. “You take an inventory on yourself. We got into the shed a week after and just started writing songs.”
Already knowing that their music was going in such a drastic direction by stripping away the black metal elements, the band gave themselves one criteria while writing: “In ten years if we had to listen to this record and we were the only ones who liked it, would we still like it,” Aylward recalled.
The result is Vattnet’s new self-titled album released on Canadian indie label New Damage Records. Their new shortened moniker came as a result of Thornbury’s departure and a way for them to sever the ties to their past without fully abandoning the band’s history.
“When we would go out on tour everyone would call us Vattnet. Internally we were already calling our own band,” Alfieri said.
“When Nick left it was just a no brainer, it was also a way to show that we are not the same band. The same idea, but a slightly different take,” he added.
The eight song album is a grand sonic departure from the tremelo picking, blast beats and guttural vocals from the band’s formative years, that now boldly raises the bar set on Settler and their 2013 debut album Sky Swallower, with an aurally diverse blend of melody, heavy angular progressive riffs and and clean vocals from Aylward, now stepping into the lead vocal position.
“I’ve known Casey for years and I’ve loved Astronoid and all his bands,” Alfieri said. “So it made sense for us to keep things internal instead of bringing someone else in to sing. Especially when we ultimately knew we weren’t gonna get a guy who was gonna scream anyway.”
Rather than rush and book weeks and weeks in the studio, as they had done in the past, the band took their time in fully developing and experimenting to get the sound they wanted with their friend and fellow Astronoid member Dan Schwartz, who produced and engineered the new album
“I’m very comfortable with Dan, I like the way he works,” Aylward said. “He is a mad musical genius. He’s a quiet guy but he is so good at engineering and has such a good ear for music. If we didn’t go with Dan and if we couldn’t work at our own pace, we probably might not have even made a record, because we needed to take our time.”
Vattnet’s new sound is more in tune with progressive metal acts like Rosetta, Intronaut and The Ocean while Aylward’s vocals have hints of Deftones’ Chino Moreno mixed with Robert Smith of The Cure and lyrically touches on topics of deep loss and pain that the band have carried over from their past albums.
“Nick's lyrics were a lot about science and the unknowns of the universe,” Alfieri said. “Casey’s lyrics are kind of in the same way, but dealing with it in terms of humanity and people,” he added regarding the lyrical continuance from their last album. “It’s a similar story and narrative, but told through a different perspective.”
Songs like “Better Ghost” and “Sugar” are filled with raw, visceral lyrics, dynamic songwriting and anthemic hooks that finds the band juxtaposing the darker lyrical themes with dizzying new heights of atmospheric and melodic metal.
“The music is not as intense,” Alfieri said. “But there is still a heaviness and weight to the subject matter. There’s still tons of guitar harmonies and there’s a lot of metal in the record, it’s just through the lens of where we are right now as people.”
“Chris and I can only write the way we write. We write riffs with heavy parts, but there are parts like on "Sugar" that has a pop hook in the chorus and a sweep picking solo in it.” Aylward said. “It’s the poppiest song but it also has the most traditional metal and rock elements in it.”
Visually, when it came time to decide on the album cover the band learned from the controversy that surrounded the artwork of their last release.
“On Settler when we submitted the cover we were told ‘are you sure you want this? People are going to hate this,’” Alfieri recalls. “During that interview cycle all the question we got were mostly about the album cover and not the music.”
The band turned to Austin-based photographer Mike Villars, whose haunting and evocative minimalist style, featuring mainly women in eerie and demonic like surroundings, visually captures the essence of what the band hopes listeners feel when they hear the album.
“By accident it seems we have have women on our album covers,” Alfieri said. “We wanted a very subdued cover this time, something that you can take what you want from it but there is also this feeling of unknown.”
Though the band’s style may have changed, by no means is Vattnet a soft or upbeat record. While their former label gave them the freedom to explore new ground on Settler, Alfieri admits the album was written more to placate the metal fans and label that Vattnet never felt fully embraced by.
“They definitely have their own ingrained audience and gave us as much freedom as we wanted, but it was more of a subconscious thing,” Alfieri said.
With the transition to new label New Damage for the release of such a venturesome album, the band feels unrestricted and free to reach for new heights.
“New Damage signed us based on what we’d done and when we told them that we’d be going in this new direction they were super supportive and quite excited by it,” Aylward said.
“I don’t think many labels would let us do what we were doing. It’s a debut record for them, but it feels like a debut record for us too,” he added.
For Alfieri, the band’s new album represents his return to the pre-black metal influences that inspired him early in his childhood.
“My foray into black metal was in my teens, but the older I get the more I revert back to the stuff I grew up on,” he said. “We wanted to write a record that we would listen to if we never got a chance to write a record.”
“We felt honest about Settler when we wrote that. For us, we are putting out something we feel honest about now,” Alfieri said.
Their music has always been a time and place for them, and though the band doesn’t rule out the possibility of one day returning to their black metal roots, it is clear by the bold and adventurous nature of their new album that they have no intention of looking back.
“I just don’t think we have much to offer that world anymore,” Aylward said.