In the Meet The Band spotlight this week are the Canadian black metal band Arctos. After an EP in 2017, they just released their full-length debut Beyond The Grasp Of Mortal Hands. Vocalist/guitarist Dan Wilberg introduces us to his band.
Chad Bowar: Give us a brief history of Arctos.
Dan Wilberg: Arctos began in 2014, although some of the initial ideas started as far back as 2008. The founding members initially met while playing together in another band, and when that project went on hiatus, we began to explore those aforementioned ideas that had been hibernating for years. It didn’t take us long to turn those ideas into full fledged songs, and shortly afterwards we decided to make a serious go of the project. After almost three years of writing and honing our craft, we recorded and released our debut EP, A Spire Silent. Arctos’ roots run deep and I’m eternally thankful that we three met and were able to allow this music to grow into what it has become today.
Describe the songwriting process for Beyond The Grasp Of Mortal Hands.
Considering almost every song was written before we even released our EP, I’d say that the songwriting process was pretty simple! In all reality though, our process was very natural. Initially myself or my brother Nick would come up with an idea, share it with each other, see if we could work things into a reasonable demo, and then we would show the song to the rest of the band. Our drummer Josh usually had lots of suggestions for the song structure, and often had suggestions for riff progressions as well.
After that we would record a ‘live’ demo and then we would all spend time on our own listening to it. We are very patient with our songwriting approach, and I think that has helped us to develop our sound as a band. We don’t want to put out anything that we’re not 100 percent proud of, and I think it takes time to know whether a song really is the best iteration of itself. With the songs on the album, most of them have been around for years, so it wasn’t too difficult to bring them up to recording readiness. I would add that Jacob and Jeremy, both later additions to the band, both added a unique flavor to their parts that I think helped elevate the recording as a whole.
What will be your strongest memory of the recording of the album?
Honestly I think hearing the final mixes for the first time was the most powerful memory I have of recording. When you’ve had songs in demo form for almost five years, you become heavily accustomed to that aesthetic. Hearing the properly recorded versions of those songs was very emotional. Initially you’re almost resentful to hear them in such an unknown form, then satisfaction sets in once your brain catches up and realize that this is how it was always meant to sound, and finally there’s the excitement that you’ve taken this idea and created something truly unique with a group of exceptional individuals. Nothing worthwhile in life comes easily, and the reward of seeing years of passion transformed into tangibility is immense.
What lyrical topics do you cover?
Disillusionment, solitude, and misanthropy are themes that we explore often. We are heavily influenced by our natural Canadian landscapes as well, which should come as no surprise to anyone. We don’t want to write songs about subjects that we know nothing about, rather we like to stick to subjects that resonate with us. Every song on the album is based on thoughts, real life experiences, or even dreams that we have had that we have committed to song. Certainly we utilize metaphor as a means of creating a more engaging experience, but every song is rooted in relevance to us.
How has your sound progressed from your EP?
As I mentioned before, the music on the EP and the music on the full length was largely written around the same time. Since recording the EP, the songs on the full length have changed very little, but there were certainly refinements. I’d say the biggest progression came in terms of our recording techniques. This album has a 100 percent natural, true Arctos sound. I can’t stress enough how important that was for us. I think too many bands strive to mold their sound to certain aesthetic, and black metal is a hot bed for such traditionalism. The ‘kvlt’ sound is awesome, and there are bands putting out fantastic records these days using that sound. We didn’t want that though. Sort of along our approach to lyrics and the authenticity that we demand from them, we wanted our sound to reflect who we were and what we would sound like live. Every sound on the album is created by our actual live gear. Our amps, our drums, no samples, no quantizing, no bullshit. In my mind, that’s as true of a sound as anyone can ask for.
How did you come to sign with Northern Silence Productions?
I’ve been listening to many of their artists for years, so it was natural for me to reach out to them when we were searching for labels. When I heard back from them and read their enthusiastic and professional replies, I knew they were the label for us. I would never want to approach a label unless I was completely confident that we were up to their standards, so it was extremely gratifying to receive a signing offer from them!
What are your goals and expectations for the album?
I would love to see the album spread to every corner of the globe and inspire people of all cultures and backgrounds. Its messages are not intended for the weak of the world; it is for those few who find the strength to persevere amidst hopelessness and despair. Those that stand apart from the cowards of the world are who we hope to reach. I expect nothing from this release, but I am hopeful that it’s message will be well received by those who walk the True path.
What has been your most memorable Arctos live show?
That is definitely difficult to say. We were fortunate enough to tour Western Canada in the summer of 2018 with the Finnish band Wolfheart. Almost every night on that tour was exceptional and getting to share the road with such a fine group of men was a true honor. I would say that our shows in Edmonton and Calgary were the most memorable. Packed houses, raging fans, just absolute perfect madness.
What are your upcoming show/tour plans?
Our only upcoming show is at a local festival called Black Mourning Light. After that, it might be a while before we play our hometown again. We have no certain touring plans at the moment, but Europe seems like a fine place to tour…
How did you get started in music?
Music has always been a part of my life. My parents raised us on classical music and punk rock, so even from a young age I remember it playing an active role in my life. I played the piano for a few years as a kid but never really enjoyed it. It wasn’t until I was 13 that I started playing guitar. That was about the same time that I started exploring metal and discovering that I really liked it, so I had sufficient motivation to continue learning the instrument. I never really had any metalhead friends until I was in my 20s, so I would mostly just play along to thrash and death metal albums in my room and share cool albums that I’d found with my brother Nick. Music was a very private part of my life for a very long time, so when I started playing in a metal band in 2013, it was very gratifying to be able to share that side of myself with others.
Who were your early influences and inspirations?
Depends how far back we want to go! Sticking to metal, the ’80s thrash scene was my bread and butter for years. Metallica, Testament, Overkill, Kreator, all that stuff was very formative music for me. I’ve always loved fast music, so it’s no surprise that I ended up getting into black metal. Immortal, Dimmu Borgir, Dissection, Emperor; it was addictive to explore the pantheon of black metal royalty. I would be remiss not to mention that a ton of my guitar influence comes from Jon Schaeffer’s early work with Iced Earth. Night of the Stormrider is a rhythm player’s Holy Grail. That man’s right hand is killer!
What was the first metal concert you attended?
That would be in 2008 when I saw Testament open for Judas Priest. They were touring for the Formation of Damnation album at the time and their set was excellent if not pitifully short. Being the dumb thrash kid that I was, I left before Priest went on (I only liked Painkiller back then). Ah well, life is nothing if not full of regrets.
How is the black metal scene in Alberta?
Alberta has a strong history of black metal, but it’s certainly not the dominant genre by any stretch. We don’t have a ton of active BM bands, but when they play, it becomes apparent that there is a vast amount of appreciation for the art. I like that there aren’t too many active BM acts actually. I think that it has resulted in a very diverse spread of approaches which has kept the scene from becoming homogeneous sounding. From the unique raw aggression of Revenge, the more traditional blaspheming of Idolatry, or the Finnish inspired frigidity of Kings Rot, we’ve got a wide spectrum of sound for any discerning BM aficionado.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
I just bought the new Mgla album a few hours ago, so I’m enjoying that quite a bit currently. Other frequent plays have been from Bane, Bewitcher, WASP, Moonsorrow, Helrunar, and Altar of Plagues.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
I say this to everyone, but seriously try and take the time to listen to the album front to back at least once! I personally recommend going out into nature with a good set of headphones and just let yourself be immersed in the sonic and physical experience. Other than that, I hope you enjoy the album in whatever way feels best to you.
(interview published September 21, 2019)
Listen To Arctos – “The Ancestor’s Path”