It's a Monday afternoon in Atlanta, and Cloak vocalist-guitarist Scott Taysom is talking about Satan. "I do truly believe in the devil as a force," he says. "The breaking of barriers and boundaries is a cornerstone of Cloak, and it really lives inside me. You can say it in as many words as you want, but instead of talking we're more about becoming. Instead of pondering, we're more about evoking."
Cloak do an excellent job of evoking a sinister atmosphere on both of their albums, 2017's To Venomous Depths and this year's The Burning Dawn. Splitting the difference between anthemic arena rock and catchy, mid-paced black metal, Taysom and his bandmates — drummer and band co-founder Sean Bruneau, guitarist Max Brigham and new bassist Billy Robinson — have struck upon a sound that few groups are even attempting, much less doing well.
"No one's doing it," Taysom ventures. "We love going to those shows where it's like, 'This is a fucking rock & roll show.' We all love that early footage of Danzig and late Eighties Metallica. That doesn't happen anymore. Bands will just be standing there, not hitting their drums hard, not putting on a fucking performance. Our goal, if there is any goal, is to bring the rock & roll spirit back into metal."
"Scott and I definitely talked about that when we started the band," Bruneau says of the fateful day when he and Taysom started jamming in 2013. "We decided that there wasn't a whole lot going on locally or regionally that invoked that darker, dangerous thing that we sought out in music — whether it was an old rock & roll record or a death-metal record. So we decided to form something that had that."
Cloak didn't really get going in earnest until a couple years later, after Brigham joined the fold. By then, Cloak had solidified not only their sonic palette but also their spiritual underpinnings: Both Taysom and Bruneau felt drawn to Satanism. "Really it was just born out of the desire to ascend within the self," Bruneau explains. "Scott and I talked a lot about questions and feelings we had. We found that the left hand path was the path that allowed us the most strength and potential as individuals because we did not have to stop and bend a knee to one entity that gave us our power. It gives divination and empowerment to the individual. You can take it as literally or as metaphorically as you want to, but it all lies within your own hands."
"A lot of people take the devil aspect metaphorically, but to me it's a very literal thing," Taysom adds. "It's not tongue-in-cheek to us at all. That's something that really bothers me about people singing about death or the devil — because it's cool. These things are real to us. They're powerful. We're not joking when we sing about it. These are things to fear but also respect."
Like many young metalheads, Taysom and Bruneau were initially drawn to the devil through music. "It's just something that grows — it's not one thing," Taysom observes. "The obvious answer would just be our interest in black metal and then diving deeper. We're not the type of people that will take something on surface level. And the way something looks as a teenager might look different as an adult. You might see a Slayer lyric and think, 'That's cool and evil,' but then you see a Dissection lyric and think, 'There's something to this. There's something behind the metaphor.' You can always dig deeper, and I think black metal is the deepest of the metal genres."
Metal provided the gateway, but it's clear their spiritual interests were also a reaction — at least in part — to their semi-religious upbringings in the American South. "I went to Sunday school and church, but my parents weren't super strict about it," Taysom says. "I think it's important to see that side of it, though. Experiencing religion is important because at the core of it, religion is just man's wonder of the beyond and our questions of how we got here or what our purpose is, what may control the currents of this world, and what's to come. For me, it was important to see that stuff."
Bruneau grew up in what he describes as "a burned-out Catholic household." His older brothers turned him on to alternative music and counterculture early on, and he says he was an atheist by the time he was 12. Getting involved in the local punk and hardcore scene as a teenager only reinforced his beliefs. By the time he became an adult, he says, "I had no moral boundaries telling me not to delve into this concept. So, to me, it wasn't that shocking. If anything, it was just suspending this shallow, material veil that told me that this was stupid."
Taysom says he also became an atheist at the same age. But he had more difficulty overcoming church doctrine than Bruneau did. "When you're 12 years old, coming from a somewhat religious family upbringing, it's a scary thing to claim atheism," he says. "I remember thinking, 'Is this what I am now? Am I really gonna ditch God?' It was a big deal to me."
He says he initially felt a bit lost as an atheist. Then, at some point in his early twenties, he fully embraced the devil. "I've come to the conclusion that this spirit has always been in me," he says. "It's just something that came with adulthood. I wouldn't take away what I was in the past because I think you learn from everything, but there was just always something inside that I think was tugging at me and telling me, 'There's something else. Dig deeper.'"
As it turns out, the spiritual aspect of Cloak goes hand in hand with their music. "If you speak about the band, you have to speak about the spiritual element, which is definitely intention-based," Bruneau explains. "We talked about how important it is to write songs that people remember because when they remember them, it's addictive — it plants a seed in a person and the seed grows. Then other people will find out about it."
Both Bruneau and Taysom cite the music of Glenn Danzig — Misfits, Samhain and Danzig the band — as a major influence. Earlier this year, Cloak released a 7-inch featuring a cover of Misfits' "London Dungeon" and artwork inspired by their 3 Hits From Hell EP.
"We're all super into the Danzig bands, and I remember reading about when he sat down with [producer] Rick Rubin and said, 'I need to do a band that people can go back to forever,'" Taysom recalls. "And that's what we wanna do. We wanna write a 'Mother' or a 'Twist of Cain.' I think we did more of that on The Burning Dawn."
Indeed, The Burning Dawn is somehow an improvement over the mightily impressive To Venomous Depths — with more hooks, more memorable choruses and more tangible menace. As Taysom sees it, Cloak's ongoing musical development is also inextricably linked to the band's philosophy. "The devil is in every culture, every religion," he says. "To me, it's a force in this world that I believe in. But it's something that's taught us to constantly progress and not ever stop. I think that's the most important thing that we have to say. It's a constant progression — and stopping is not an option."