When guitarist and hellacious growler Kelly Schilling, bassist Kevin Handlon and drummer Jordan Clancy first launched the Colorado Springs black-metal band Kastigation back in 2006, they just wanted to make music that tore holes in the walls. They never imagined that 11 years later, they'd be breaking boundaries by writing progressive post-metal embellished with flute and saxophone — instruments they played before they discovered underground metal.
"We wanted to expand on what we did," says Schilling. "So [in 2012] we invited keyboardist [and clean vocalist] Lauren [Viera] into the band. And since we had keys, we kind of went, 'Well, what else can we do that would be interesting?' I had been playing flute since I was 10, Jordan played tenor sax and Kevin played mandolin. So we decided to mess around and see what we could do in a metal band with all these instruments."
The group changed its name to Dreadnought and began developing its sound, maintaining a steady balance between atmosphere and aggression. The long hours and unwavering determination paid off, and in 2013 the band released its first album under its new moniker, Lifewoven, which incorporates psychedelic and jazzy passages in a framework of extreme metal. Some fans immediately "got it." Others didn't.
"In the beginning, we got some crazy looks whenever we played," Schilling admits. "But gradually we became more comfortable with all the different elements of our sound and how to make them work onstage. I learned how to loop a guitar part with a delay pedal so I could play a flute part while the guitar was still going. And Jordan figured out how to play drums and saxophone at the same time because, well, he's crazy."
Dreadnought's third and latest album, A Wake in Sacred Waves," is their most well-crafted and cohesive to date, combining a wide range of diverse influences including Pink Floyd, Neurosis, Opeth, Magma and Yes. And even though all four songs on the record are over 10 minutes long ("Vacant Sea" clocks in at 17:24), the music evolves naturally, ebbing and flowing in intensity without adhering to standard verse-chorus constructs or meandering into aimless, tedium.
Revolver talked to Schilling about the healing and destructive force of water, the power of a solid local music scene and the inner turmoil that could have torn Dreadnought apart.
YOU STARTED PLAYING FLUTE AT AGE 10. WHAT GOT YOU INTO METAL?
KELLY SCHILLING I really got into Linkin Park and Disturbed in middle school. Then, in high school, my tastes got wider and I went through a big Children of Bodom and Arch Enemy phase. As I got deeper into the culture, I found that the local scene was really strong and the people in it were very welcoming and supportive. So the more people I met, the more I got into underground music.
I love the energy or really aggressive music. Deathspell Omega is one of my favorite bands and I really love Blut Aus Nord, but I don't know if that comes across in Dreadnought. I think what I do comes more from my love of that pagan realm of metal. Moonsorrow has always been an inspiration for me. But we all honestly believe you can't have enough influences.
WHEN YOU WRITE, HOW DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG A PART SHOULD GO ON FOR AND WHEN IT'S TIME FOR A RHYTHM OR TEMPO CHANGE, LET ALONE A STYLISTIC SHIFT?
Usually, one of us will come to the band with a riff or an idea for a song and then we'll expand on it based on what we hear in our heads. Slowly it grows into this picture.
IS THAT EXPERIENCE MORE SCIENTIFIC OR SPIRITUAL?
It's more spiritual because we just do what feels right when we're doing it. We don't put a lot of thought into it beforehand and we don't have a certain reason why we stop a song when we do, other than it feels right. There's just a transcendent feeling there.
EACH OF YOUR RELEASES IS A CONCEPT ALBUM THAT REVOLVES AROUND A CERTAIN ELEMENT: LIFEWOVEN IS ABOUT THE EARTH, BRIDGING REALMS CIRCULATES AROUND THE ETHER AND A WAKE IN SACRED WAVES IS ABOUT WATER AND THE SEA.
The reason we do that is it gives us a broad framework to work within so we can think about what tones and what moods to focus on for the album. We like making music flow and be all-encompassing. Water worked for this one. It's definitely fluid, soothing, healing and stress-relieving. But it can also be very destructive and even deadly. So within that theme of water, we made a story based around a character we created.
It's a little sea creature that grows and evolves. And it's basically a big metaphor for life and death, and more specifically the journey of finding and creating your own meaning and purpose within your life.
DO YOU LOOK AT LIFE WITH THAT KIND OF PERSPECTIVE?
I think it's important to realize that life is constantly in flux, and being OK with that and being able to move with those changes in a positive way is a part of growing as a person.
YOU ADDRESS AN ECO-SYSTEM IN THE LYRICS THAT THE SEA CREATURE YOU CREATED HAS TO NAVIGATE TO SURVIVE. ARE YOU ENVIRONMENTALLY AWARE?
We all definitely love and respect nature and our environment. Jordan is an engineer and he really wants to help fix the environment with his engineering skills. Being brought up in Denver and being around nature gives us this respect for it. We all want to take care of it.
THIS IS A GLOOMIER AND HEAVIER ALBUM THAN YOUR OTHER TWO. WERE YOU IN A DARKER PLACE WHEN YOU MADE THIS?
We were all going through major changes in our lives. I was getting out of the long-term relationship and trying to figure out that whole world of being away from this person for the first time. I think maybe there's some brooding and depression in there from that, but also there's this readiness for change that's present as well. One change we were all going through is the way we were working together and the recording experience. That was difficult.
CAN YOU ELABORATE?
There were personality issues and we were getting on each other's nerves. But now we have fully worked that out and we're getting along better than ever. But it was definitely stressful in the studio, which I think adds to some more emotion and the songs, and that can be a good thing.
HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THOSE PERSONALITY ISSUES?
We brought everyone to the table and discussed what was bothering us and what we really wanted to do as a band. And we discussed the ledger of things we had built up over time. We have a philosophy. We're each members of a band and Dreadnought is the fifth member. So everything we do in the band is for the benefit of that fifth member. That really helped us not focus so much on our own egos because that's just destructive. Instead, we focused on our common goals and that was a big progression for us and brought us closer together.