In 2017, the post-rock outfit Night Verses collectively decided it was time for a radical change. After five years and two critically acclaimed full-length albums, singer Douglas Robinson was going to leave the fold and the remaining members would forge ahead as a three-piece instrumental unit. Was the new direction a bold, gutsy move forward for the extreme-rock virtuosos from Fullerton, California? Or was it a return to their roots? The truth lies somewhere in between.
"The three of us have always been more inclined toward the artistic side of music," says Night Verses bassist Reilly Herrera, referring to guitarist Nick DePirro and drummer Aric Improta, all of whom have been playing together for around 15 years, long before the formation of the current group in 2012. "We always wrote as a three-piece first, and would have to make adjustments to the music when Douglas — who lived across the country in New York, by the way — had to do his vocals."
"When the three of us started working on the material that would become our last album, From the Gallery of Sleep, we were having conversations about being more art-centered and not really putting any limits on what the record was going to be," Herrera continues. "So when Doug decided to opt out of the band, it was very mutual because we were kind of already heading in that direction anyway. And with what we had envisioned for the album, it actually would have made it more difficult to execute with a vocalist."
Night Verses fans got their first taste of the group's new voiceless direction in January 2018, when the band dropped the three-song Copper Wasp EP as a preview of what was to come on the full-length follow-up, From the Gallery of Sleep, released in June of that year. As Copper Wasp began to circulate, it didn't take long for the band to realize that they had made the right decision in joining the instrumental prog-metal space already occupied by such celebrated outfits as Intervals, Animals as Leaders, Scale the Summit, Strawberry Girls and Polyphia.
"The response to this has been incredibly positive," says DePirro. "And it's pretty much across the board — whether it's on our social media channels or just talking to people at shows or wherever, they all seem to be on the same page as us. For me, as a fan of other bands, I would be kind of bummed if the singer left — so it's really cool to see our fans being completely understanding of the situation and willing to move along with us, and without questioning why we're doing what we're doing."
Night Verses' loyal fans — who initially connected with the complex math-metal found on their two previous full-length records, Into the Vanishing Light (2016) and Lift Your Existence (2013), as well as their 2012 debut EP, Out of the Sky — may have been down for their new, updated sound, but Herrera says the band still "weren't really sure how things were going to play out" when they transitioned to touring with other instrumental acts. Thankfully the group's trepidation was unfounded.
"Once we started touring with other instrumental groups, we realized that we fit in better with those types of bands now," he says. "I feel like we got kind of lucky in the sense that our older fans were able to jump into the instrumental stuff with us without having to think too much about it, and the people that were already into this type of music now had a new band to get into."
It makes perfect sense that the heady instrumental muso crowd is responding: From the Gallery of Sleep is a sprawling mindfuck of a journey down a tense, anxiety-fueled path of musical rule-breaking — a landscape dotted with explosive highs and serene lows, moments of multiple instrument — crashing density contrasted by breathable open space, and passages that border on the edge of chaos at all times. Spend a few minutes with any song, and, as you find yourself lost in the cacophony, you'll quickly realize that these boys have no interest in following tradition when it comes to writing or playing music — their songs will keep you guessing at all times.
"As an instrumental band, we're now able to write more freely without having to worry about traditional structure and things like choruses and repeating verses," says DePirro. "We still repeat moments of our music, but the idea that we can move all around and try to fill as much sound as we can with our instruments has been a lot of fun for us creatively."
For DePirro and Herrera, all the myriad sounds created between them — the squeaks, the squeals, the crushing riffs and funkified slappings — come from a variety of gear sources. At the heart of DePirro's setup are his two guitars, an Ernie Ball Music Man JP15 six-string and, for when lower tunings are required, a Strandberg Boden OS-8 eight-string — both of which he channels through one of the newest additions to his rig, a Blackstar MKII amp. "I like that head a lot," says the guitarist. "It gives me the right amount of tone options and has some great dynamics."
When Herrera, who is also a visual designer, is not focused on a different kind of gear with his skate/punk/weed–inspired clothing company Learn to Forget (which he founded with Mike Cambra of Death By Stereo and Adolescents) — the bassist is dialing in his sound. To that end, the musician points to two primary components that are essential to his bass sound: his Spector Euro4 LX four-string and his Darkglass Alpha and Omega pedal.
"The bass is the Czech Republic version of the Euro series," he says, "and it's just so versatile. I can make it sound like a low flatwound or move a couple knobs and make it sound like a super-gnarly, really hot active bass. That, mixed with my Darkglass Alpha and Omega pedal, is the real shape of my tone. My head is pretty much just a power amp at this point; I use it to alter my tone a little bit, but for the most part, it's all the bass circuitry in the Spector and the Darkglass pedal." When Night Verses hit the road this summer, Herrera will most likely be using a Blackstar amp onstage — he just hasn't decided which model he'll bring with him yet.
While DePirro and Herrera are responsible for all the intoxicating stringed-instrument work heard in Night Verses' music, it is drummer Aric Improta who serves as the backbone of the band. A technical drum wizard in his own right, Improta also lends his heroic stickwork to the politically charged, hip-hop–infused three-piece Fever 333.
In addition to splitting his time between two impressive groups, Improta is the orchestrator of the Drum Chain Project, a unique, ongoing series of YouTube videos in which multiple drummers from across the musical spectrum record their own short snippets of a song according to Improta's specifications, and once all the beats are collected, he organizes them into a single song — with guitars and bass provided by, who else, but DePirro and Herrera. Contributors to the Drum Chain Project thus far include, among others, Billy Rymer (Dillinger Escape Plan), Mike Ieradi (Protest the Hero), Craig Reynolds (Stray from the Path) and Charlie Engen (Scale the Summit).
"Once Aric has all the beats in place, I'll take that and jam over it and start writing guitars to the drums," says DiPerro. "And even though these guys all send videos of themselves playing, I pull out the audio tracks and just listen to those, as if it was all one drummer. Once I put in all the guitars, I'll send it to Reilly and he'll add in his bass lines. It's a little bit of a chaotic writing process because it's not really written like a Night Verses song."
Regardless of any side-project chaos, when it comes to Night Verses, DiPerro, Herrera and Improta take comfort in their new instrumental configuration, and the creative reinvigoration and freedom it has brought them.
"We can essentially do what we want now," says DePirro. "And I wouldn't say that we restrained ourselves when we had a singer, but without one now, there's no cap to it — we can just go in any direction."