Minneapolis' After the Burial plays a brand of progressive metal that is technically impressive and catastrophically heavy. They're somewhat self-destructive, too: The band has been around for seven years, and they are already on their third singer and drummer.
Such turmoil would certainly tear apart most bands, but guitarist Trent Hafdahl and crew just seem to get better with each new record. 2010's In Dreams went into some uncharted territory, but ponderously titled songs like "Your Troubles Will Cease and Fortune Will Smile Upon You" still carried the power the band has become known for.
Speaking from a fishing boat before a tour stop in Florida and in anticipation of his band's performance Friday night at Trees, Hafdahl was kind to speak with DC-9 about what it takes to be the heaviest band in metal.
Your home town of Minneapolis has a legendary musical history. How does After the Burial fit into that legacy?
Right now, we are one of the biggest heavy metal bands there. We just keep on doing our thing. We are just touring like crazy. We are proud to be from the Midwest and we've always done well here.
When one thinks about Minneapolis, one doesn't immediately think heavy metal.
I don't know why that is. Minnesota is a pretty liberal state. There should be more metal bands here. The scene has grown quite a lot of the past 10 years. Before, a heavy metal band would play a venue that only held 100 to 150 people. Now, it's much bigger. The heavy metal/hardcore punk scene is kind of a mainstay now.
How difficult is it to survive as a band when you go through two vocalists and two drummers?
It is difficult. Any band that goes through changes like that has a tough time. We had to get back on our feet and make sure our fans would be happy. Thankfully, we haven't had to deal with any of that for a couple of years. We've done two albums with our current vocalist. Our current drummer has been with us since we got signed to a label. Our first singer, Nick Wellner, when he quit, it was a heartbreaking experience. But he was a responsible person. He chose to go to college and work on his degree. We are still friends, but was a hard thing to go through.
What does [current singer] Anthony Notarmaso bring to the band?
He has a versatile voice and he is great to interact with. He has a tough side. He can throw down if he wants to. He brings everything we need. I have been really happy since he joined the band.
What is djent?
It's another one of those metal subgenres. With the wealth of music that is on the internet, people are sharing so much music that it is becoming common for people to create terms to refer to certain types of bands. Back in the day, we were called metalcore, a combination of metal and hardcore. Now, it's djent. It's easier than saying, "This band sounds like Pantera meets Yani meets Elton John" or some shit like that. I guess that's where djent came from. We just like to say we play heavy metal music. That's our roots. You could call us a ska band if you want. It doesn't matter.
One review said your band pushed the boundaries of heaviness. Did that make you proud?
Fuck yes. We are always trying to be the heaviest band. It is a battle. We go about it in our own way and a lot of people like it. We want to be the heaviest band. We want to be the band people hear and go, "Holy shit."
Do you worry that the technical nature of the music might make it difficult to attract a wider audience?
At times, I do. But you know what? There are all sorts of technical bands that have made it. I think you could say Rush, Yes and Pink Floyd were technical in their own ways. It's more about the vibe of the music as it relates to the listener. If we can make as many people as possible dig our music, then mission accomplished.
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One of your new songs, "Promises Kept," features some nice acoustic guitar. Will there be more of that style on future recordings?
We always do some experimental stuff on every album. Our first EP opened up with a classical guitar piece that I played. We are not against going down that road or experimenting with our sound. The door is always open. I'm not saying that tomorrow I am going to write two acoustic songs, but there might be a time and a place for an acoustic or strings or a tambourine in the future. On the song "On a Dream," we open things up with a tambourine and some bongos. That was something that we had never done before.
Why self-produce your albums as opposed to bringing in someone from the outside?
Justin and I both produce the albums. And he engineered it. We always want to be self-produced. We know what we are doing and we know what we want. We think we would shoot ourselves in the foot if we used an outside producer. Things would get screwed up. We would lose our true heart and soul. Some bands it works for, but for us, it works really well for us to produce it. We produced our first album in my bedroom. We produced the whole thing in a month. It is a control kind of thing.
Why do you think metal, especially progressive metal, is much bigger in Europe than here in the states?
I would love to know why. I have no answer to that question. I just know that people in Europe love music from here. Metal is just on the forefront in Europe. We played a show at 11:30 in the morning in Belgium and there were 5,000 people there. I've never understood why metal is bigger over there. Perhaps they know that it will be a while before some bands make it back to that particular area? Who knows?