Empire State Bastard Dissect Their New Album Rivers of Heresy Track by Track: Exclusive

The post Empire State Bastard Dissect Their New Album Rivers of Heresy Track by Track: Exclusive appeared first on Consequence.

In our Track by Track feature, artists guide listeners through each track on their latest release. Here, Empire State Bastard dive into their debut album Rivers of Heresy.

Before they were a band, Empire State Bastard existed as a concept.

While on the road in their full-time band Biffy Clyro, Simon Neil and Mike Vennart spent their downtime hypothesizing an extreme metal band on paper — one that would channel the harshest examples of the genre (grindcore, metalcore, post-hardcore, sludge, etc.) into a singular musical force.

It almost sounds impossible. Considering how much metal already exists — and their decidedly more prog/alt-rock backgrounds — how could Neil and Vennart possibly hope to reach the outer limits of extremity? Tapping the legendary Dave Lombardo (Slayer, Mr. Bungle, Misfits) for drums was a good start.

The fact that Neil and Vennart aren’t necessarily metal guys, in the general sense, plays to their advantage, because the songs on their debut album Rivers of Heresy don’t sound like they were derived from any templated style of metal. Rather, it’s the result of two gifted musicians exploring the limits of their craft, naturally reaching an amalgamation of heavy music that’s certainly extreme, yet undefinably so.

To give us some insight on the inner workings of the album — which is out now — Neil and Vennart shared this track-by-track breakdown exclusively with Heavy Consequence. Their musings on each song are fascinating, revealing details that would otherwise lie beneath the surface. We encourage you to listen along to the album while you read their song descriptions below.


Simon Neil: This song is about harvesting other people’s identities and thoughts. It’s tough these days to know what you think yourself, because everything is telling you how to think, how to look, what to feel. You have very little time to think about things, rather than just taking in what’s on the internet and social media. It’s about trying to shake that pressure that we’ve put ourselves under.

Mike Vennart: It’s coming to the realisation that you can have two completely opposing thoughts in your head at any one time, and that’s ok — you don’t have to pick a side, you don’t have to “know.”


MV: This is one of the only moments on the record where I’m threatening to give myself carpal tunnel. There’s some serious alternate picking that I don’t get to do enough; I have to really dig in and get it tight, but it feels so good — the pain feels so good, man!

SN: This is one of those songs that just barrels; there’s an energy; it’s a self-fulfilling song; it just cannot stop until it’s time to stop. Lyrically, it’s about not being afraid to feel a bit embarrassed, not being afraid to say, ‘Ah shit, I really got that wrong,’ and then there’s room for conversation.


MV: This is definitely one of a couple of “Melvins-esque” moments on this record.

SN: We really wanted to make a three-dimensional heavy record. The fast and intense stuff is an important part of our identity, but we really wanted to bring in all our influences, coming from more alternative rock, progressive. So, I feel like this song could only really exist in this band. I feel like there’s an awakening in the melodies, in the way it pushes and pulls. We deliberately make the time signature sluggish for a portion; it’s like every rule you learn, we’ve broken with this song.

“Tired, Aye?”

SN: This was one of the first songs that Mike presented for the record and the original version had guitar, bass, and drums. But I’ve always wanted to do a duet just with my vocals and a drum set and when you’ve got Dave Lombardo on the album, that’s when to do it! So, it was a bit of a headbutt because Mike’s guitar work on the original version is absolutely superb, and people will hear that version at some point, but it’s just the obnoxious nature of screaming over a drum set — it’s basically our version of a singer-songwriter acoustic song… — S.N.

“Sons and Daughters”

MV: There’s moments in this where the guitars are a sort of sound bath, Naomi [Macleod, bassist] and I just droning on a couple of chords. It’s the first point on the record where you get to meditate for a second really. But then some of the choppier riffs are pure [Buzz] Osborne, and again Simon just took it to a completely different level with his vocals. — M.V.

SN: For me, this song just felt like a monolith rolling through the desert; there’s an undeniability to it. Lyrically, it’s about how cheaply those in power view human life — how quickly we can go to war, and how there are never any real victors. — S.N.


MV: This was one of the last songs I wrote, and it’s probably my favourite. Subconsciously I wanted to bend metal into shapes that I’ve not heard before. These opening riffs, geometrically are a bit wonky; then, at the end the guitar and bass are just droning together, sliding into a new chord that lasts maybe eight bars, and Dave’s just playing to within an inch of his life, as fast as he can. It just sounds like Dave, but I’ve never heard him do that over that kind of sound before and it feels great; it’s just tantric metal.

“Palms of Hands”

SN: As a guitarist, I love what Mike’s doing in this song. The opening riff isn’t even a “riff” but it makes you feel something, and it makes you want to move. It’s got every part of what this band is about — that everything is slightly wrong, but hopefully it still makes sense. Lyrically, I kept picturing this image of people going to a sex party after the pandemic and having been isolated and everyone’s lost their mind — no one knows how to conduct themselves. It’s one of the more tongue-in-cheek moments on the record.


SN: This is probably the most avant-garde song on the album. It took me a while to work out what to do vocally on this song; it’s like a lurching, horrible beast. It’s called dusty because I watched a few things about the dust bowl in the 20th century in the Midwest, and it struck me that it’s similar to what’s happening around the world now. These families had to escape somewhere non-habitable, as people are doing now — no one wants to abandon their home, everything they’ve known, and move somewhere where they’re probably not wanted. That’s not an easy decision.


SN: “Sold!” is about us all continually buying things that aren’t important — myself included. That whole mentality of “life will be better once I buy this thing,” and then you get it and you’re just like, “OK, that’s fine.” Those stories we tell ourselves, trying to buy your way to happiness.

MV: Musically, it’s an old-school thrash kind of vibe, but again with a couple of weird time-signature tricks so there’s a couple of different things going on that contradict each other. It’s got a surf-rock moment, it’s got some stabs — which are really fucking hard to play live.

“The Looming”

SN: As soon as I heard this, I knew it would close the record. There’s an ecstasy to it that’s difficult in really heavy music. The breakthrough in this song was the keyboards to an extent, without them it’s so heavy, those celestial-type sounds keep the listener on the surface. Lyrically it’s about the end of the world, but hopefully there’s a euphoria there, too. It was such a pleasure to record this song — I could do every aspect of the vocals I like doing, because of Mike’s guitar work.

MV: Most of this music was led by the guitar tone; I just stumbled on this sound that seemed to write the songs for me — the same guitar tone, all the way through.

Thanks to Simon Neil and Mike Vennart for taking the time to offer up a thorough and thoughtful breakdown of their new album. You can pick up a copy of Rivers of Heresy on vinyl here, and catch the band playing Chicago’s Riot Fest and select US dates this month (pick up tickets here).

Empire State Bastard Dissect Their New Album Rivers of Heresy Track by Track: Exclusive
Heavy Consequence Staff

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