When Denver technical death-metal outfit Necropanther started writing songs inspired by In Flames and At the Gates, the band members wanted a unified lyrical direction for their music. So, in 2016, as they worked on their self-titled debut they decided to avoid tired metal tropes and loosely based the songs on the plot of the 1984 film The Terminator.
"We wanted to have a subject that was abstract and maybe a little cheesy," says guitarist Joe Johnson. "That was fun and it allowed us to anchor the songs in a way that enabled us to explore more musical territory. As long as we have this kind of theme, we can be more experimental."
For their second album, Eyes of Blue Light (out February 23), Necropanther — Johnson, guitarist/vocalist Paul Anop, bassist Marcus Corich and drummer Haakon Sjogren — searched for another science-fiction classic to tie their songs together. A couple discarded ideas later, Johnson brought up the idea of basing the album on Frank Herbert's 1965 book Dune.
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"Dune was one of my favorite books as a kid so I seized on that," Johnson says. "But I also think Dune, in particular, is interesting because it has a superhuman who becomes a hero by his application of technique, and as a band that cares about performance, that's an idea that's pretty close to all of us."
Eyes of Blue Light is a thunderous, technically precise album colored with tuneful guitar harmonies and hooky death metal riffs. Although it's rooted in the melodic roar of Gothenburg death, there are also elements of power metal, black metal, thrash and prog.
In addition to being self-produced, Eyes of Blue Light is being self-released, enabling the band to make its own schedule and tour without feeling pressured to play certain territories or stay on the road for too long.
"When we talked about what we wanted to accomplish and looked at the resources we had, it was something we didn't need label assistance to do this go round," Johnson says. "I'm open to label support in the future, but it needs to make sense and deliver things that are going to be inherently valuable to us, not just touring for the sake of touring."
As Necropanther approached the release of Eyes of Blue Light, Johnson geeked out on science fiction and scuba diving, explained why he and his bandmates are gonna keep their day jobs, and talked about the ever-evolving Denver underground metal scene.
EYES OF BLUE LIGHT DRAWS INSPIRATION FROM FRANK HERBERT'S DUNE, WHICH CAME OUT IN 1965. HAVE YOU MADE ANY EFFORTS TO UPDATE THE CLASSIC STORY ABOUT GIANT SANDWORMS AND "SPICE"-HORDING TO MAKE ANY SOCIAL OR POLITICAL COMMENTS?
JOE JOHNSON Even in 1965, Frank Herbert was writing an allegory for contemporary politics. That's not a surprise to anyone that's familiar with Dune. We have various political views in the band but we've chosen not to make overt political statements — although you can look at the type of material we've chosen and there's certainly room for interpretation.
DID YOU INCORPORATE ANY ELEMENTS FROM DAVID LYNCH'S 1984 FILM ADAPTATION OF DUNE?
When I was a kid, I used to watch that once a week on VHS. I'm very familiar with it and it's part of my own personal mythology. I like David Lynch in general and how abstract and dreamy he is with his presentation, and I love his over-the-top visuals. But we were not trying to make an adaptation of that movie by any means. It's not true to the book.
DO YOU ALL GEEK OUT TO COMIC BOOKS AND SCI-FI FLICKS?
I liked comics when I was a kid. I still like the mythology of them. But at a certain point life takes over and you move on. We've got different interests that we pursue more vigorously. We watch fantasy movies and we'll probably always keep with that type of concept in our music. I think of it as high-concept lowbrow art.
WHAT DO YOU GUYS DO WHEN YOU'RE NOT WORKING ON NECROPANTHER?
Paul is really into scuba diving. And he's taught me how to scuba dive as well. Marcus is into skateboarding. So we have different things we're into a little bit more than just sci-fi.
MAYBE THE NEXT ALBUM SHOULD BE BASED ON JULES VERNE'S TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA.
That one's actually in the running, or The Abyss. Paul takes underwater photography pretty seriously. I would love to be able to do something that has an aquatic theme and use his photos for the cover.
YOUR FIRST ALBUM CAME OUT ON SAILOR RECORDS. WHY DID YOU SELF-RELEASE EYES OF BLUE LIGHT?
We've had emails from record labels, but having been in bands with a certain amount of success I've learned that figuring out what your goals are as an artist is just as important as the personalities in your band and how people play and whether they have gear and transportation.
CAN YOU LAND STRONG TOURS WITHOUT LABEL SUPPORT?
We don't tour that much. We go to the surrounding states to play long weekends. It's a rich rewards type of deal. The scene here is so good we can play as much as we want to for a full house here. I like touring and playing shows, but I don't see the need to drive 1,000 miles to play a show smaller than we could play at home.
YOU ALL HAVE DAY JOBS?
We're grown-ups. We've got other things we do. We're not going to stop making music, but I work in product development related to engineering. I don't want to say what company. The other guys, generally speaking, have got real jobs as well.
THE DENVER METAL SCENE FEATURES MANY STRONG BANDS INCLUDING YOU, KHEMMIS, IN THE COMPANY OF SERPENTS, DREADNOUGHT AND PRIMITIVE MAN. WHY IS DENVER SUDDENLY A METAL HOTSPOT?
I've been here since 2004 and a lot of the same musicians have been here. But there have been a lot of transplants in the last five years and they've gotten together and made some really great bands. Some of the faces are familiar and maybe they just found the right combinations of musicians to get bands together that were notable. Also, there's been a continued immigration into the city, which has been good for the metal scene in terms of bands and like-minded people that want to hang out at shows.
WERE THERE ANY OUTSIDE FACTORS THAT HELPED SPARK THE SCENE — LIKE LEGALIZED WEED?
The dominant style here is more doomy, so I don't know … But I would say Flatline Audio did really excellent production work so a lot of bands went through there. That's where Khemmis records. Having local bands with that production quality opens people's eyes to what's possible with independent recording and makes it attainable and blazes a trail for other bands. Also, there are clubs like the Hi-Dive and 3 Kings and two heavy metal breweries in town, Trve Brewing and Black Sky Brewing that put on Sunday matinee kind of shows and really support the scene.
ARE A LOT OF THE HEAVY METAL BANDS INTO HEAVY PARTYING?
I'm not going to say there isn't partying going on, but the people who want to party, there are other places that are more about the party atmosphere and they're not related to metal. I would say, for us, it's all about the music.
A LOT OF DENVER METAL BANDS HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO BREAK BIG NATIONALLY. IF YOU COULD DO THAT AND QUIT YOUR DAY JOB WOULD YOU WELCOME THE CAREER CHANGE?
I'll put it like this. I used to be a guitar builder. That was my previous life and I thought making my passion into a career would make it that much better — and it didn't. It was something I burned out on. So I feel really fortunate that I get to control my artistic output and facilitate my artistic output by having a different career that I enjoy. And I get to sleep in my own bed every night.