Shroud Of Despondency: The Intriguing Mysteries Within

The Great Midwest – the land of beer, Harleys and a thriving metal underground.  One of the bands who has been gaining attention and respect on their own terms is the mighty Shroud Of Despondency.  Unleashing their own compelling brand of black metal, this Milwaukee based collective has recently deliver the bleak and sonic reveries of Pine.  An adventure in sound and sheer intensity, Pine is a aural forest filled with intrigue and despair, sure to be penetrate the senses of all whom encounter its grim refrains.  Here is an interview we conducted with founding mastermind Rory Heikkilam to unveil the mysteries within the Shroud Of Despondency.  Read on…

Introduce yourself, tell me what you do in Shroud of Despondency, and how long the band has been together.
My name is Rory Heikkila. I play guitar and do a great portion of the writing for Shroud. Shroud of Despondency has been an entity for over 10 years or so now although when initially formed it was just a one man project. We’ve been a band with a lineup for about 2 years or so now.

Where is the band based out of and what is your local metal scene like there? Are there any local bands you could recommend?
We’re based out of Milwaukee. There is a greatly under appreciated metal/underground scene here. Some friends of ours, most still active, include: Northless (sludge/doom), Sacrificial Massacre (2 piece black metal), Subjugation (black metal), Concentric (ultra progressive and mind boggling), Face of Ruin (tech death), Mass Murder Messiah (slammy death metal), Sexual Atrocities (formerly Screaming Afterbirth, sick and brutal), Festerfuck (grind), This Specific Dream (post rocky but heavy and psychedelic), Half Gorilla (grind), Ahabs Ghost (Thrash n Roll), Slob Donovan (Harvey Milk inspired heaviness), Sundown (neo folk), etc. Lots of good, hard working, bands around and a small amount of drama. Those who mutually work hard all respect each other despite genre differences and such.

Is there any story or concept behind the CD title Pine?
Shroud of Despondency has a back history of pretty long winded album titles so the first thing I wanted was a one word title. “Pine” was chosen because it represents 2 things. The first is that it represents the lyrics. There is a great deal of longing, contempt, and wanderlust in the lyrics and we felt “Pine” fit wonderfully. The other thing is that there are four “Wanderlust” intros on the album and each one has a subtitle directly related to the growth of a Pine tree, a tree that heavily populates the areas we were all raised (Wisconsin and Upper Michigan). So it has cultural significance as well. A great deal of my youth was spent in the woods and I often turn to those images and memories when the constant hum of the city gets to be too much.

Please select any two songs from the Pine and what inspired the lyrical content.
The biggest influence on all the lyrics found on “Pine was “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Nietzsche. I lifted lines from Zarathustra for many of the lyrics. Overtly lifting lines is something I’d never done with writing lyrics before, even though I enjoy reading a great deal, but here I couldn’t help myself. The moods,and this doesn’t only imply the pessimistic outlook, matched up perfectly. “Half Open Gates“, “New Trees” and “The Great Sadness Descends” all have lines taken from it and the second “Wanderlust” intro has a sample of a man reading the passage called “The Soothsayer.” Every song deals with longing, contempt, and rebirth. Sorry that’s more than two songs but it’s all kind of the same!

How easy or difficult has it been to basically record and release everything on your own?
I’m a strong individual and music is connected only to my spirit. I honestly don’t really care anymore if record labels show interest. We’ve looked, we’ve cared, but that’s over with. I do everything else in life with an independent mindset so why should music, the greatest passion I have, be any different? I was frustrated with it for a minute but a recent review of “Pine” kind of put it in perspective for me. Despite a constant influx of positive reviews, I’m unpredictable and a record label doesn’t want that because it’s hard to market. Ultimately, I just resign from that aspect of the game. I’ll continue to make music because it’s the only release I have, and I assume I speak for my band mates here as well. Fuck it. For the most part modern music fucking sucks anyway.

What could one expect from a live Shroud of Despondency show?
Lots of volume, spit, headbanging. Metal. Although March 1st we are doing our first acoustic show. We’ll be playing two new songs alongside two songs from “Dark Meditations in Monastic Seclusion” as well as a version of “The Unchaining of an Animal” from “Pine.” Should be fun.

Being from Wisconsin, have you ever played or attended the Milwaukee Metalfest? If so, what was that experience like?
First off, I’m not “from” Wisconsin. I was born in, and spent the first 20 years of my life, in Upper Michigan. When I was 15 I made my first trip to Milwaukee Metalfest. It changed my fucking life. I saw Death, Mercyful Fate, Brutal Truth, Suffocation, Emperor, etc all in one fowl swoop. I went 4 years in a row after that and watched it decline in quality because the promoter was a stupid fucking whore who ripped off countless bands. Find me one person that speaks kindly of Jack Koshnik and I’ll show you a liar. Still, I have fond memories and I know Jon (our other guitarist) and Ron (our singer) both do as well.

Who did the cover artwork for Pine and how much input did you have on it?
Ultimately Ron, our singer, did all of the layout for “Pine.” We all kind of had some say and gave him some direction but he knew how the layout should represent the lyrics pretty instinctively. The cover itself is a small corner of a paining from the 20’s (I think) by a folk artist named Gracie Williams. It’s a one of a kind print that Ron found when he moved into a house years ago. We don’t really know all that much about it. I absolutely love the cover and the painting in its entirety is just as beautiful.

What was it like opening for metal legends such as Deceased and Impiety, and did you get to hang out with them at all?
I’ve known the guys in Deceased for a long time due to the fact that I post on a bulletin board (Lapland) with them. Honestly though I’d have to say that we’re, myself in particular, not really the “hang out” kind of people at shows we play. I purposely build up a lot of inner tension before I play and this makes me probably come off as a bit stand offish and such, so I find it best to just keep my distance. We shake hands with bands we play with and show our support by buying merch, when we like what we’ve witnessed, but I’m not really the “party” type. The Deceased guys have always been really nice in my opinion, new and old lineup, and Impiety were exactly what you’d expect. Not really the “hang out” type of group either. Still, amazing shows and both were an honor to share the stage with.

Has Shroud of Despondency ever played in the Los Angeles area or plan to do so in the future?
We have not! The downside of doing everything yourself is that you don’t get to travel a lot. This is actually kind of fine with me for the moment. I’m a full time student, I work, volunteer, and have a lovely girl and little family of pets that keep me happy. The other guys all have responsibilities and such but are definitely a bit more open to the idea of touring and such than I am. I’m a home body, but playing Los Angeles is not out of the question. Unfortunately right after the recording of “Pine” Jeremiah had to quit due to a leg injury so we’re kind of scoping out the drummer situation and taking it easy for a minute. The reviews for “Pine” have been awesome so far so we’re just trying to be grateful about all that for now. Clawhammer does an amazing job for us and we can not recommend them enough if you’re a metal band looking for a hard working PR company.

Milwaukee is famous for its BEER!!! What is your favorite local beer and why?
Tyler and I will drink some beer together from time to time. We drink Two Hearted Ale. I also like Spotted Cow, but, that’s about as much of an endorsement you can get from me. When we play out I drink cheap whiskey. Most of us aren’t really big drinkers though, especially when compared to the rest of the state we live in.

Are you or the other Shroud of Despondency involved with any other bands or projects?
I’m always busy musically. As mentioned earlier, its the only real outlet I have and the one thing I can continuously go to to make me happy. Right now I’m working on some material with drum programming. Really brutal/progressive kind of material. Not sure if I’ll call it Shroud yet or what. I’m also working on a folk album that is basically comprised of love songs about death and dying. Think “Nebraska” era Springsteen mixed with Simon and Garfunkel or something. I also have some bands with friends from Upper Michigan. The most active is The Terminal Orchestra. We are an 11 piece band. Emily from Terminal actually played all the violin that is found on “Pine.” It’s mostly acoustic music and all instrumental. I also have a fun grind band called Ted Kaczynski
with friends from the U.P. We take all our lyrics from ol crazy Ted’s manifesto. The other guys are all pretty active as well. Jon plays in the aforementioned Face of Ruin as well as does noise projects. Tyler plays in the aforementioned Subjugation and also has a solo endeavor called Cholernik. Ron has a solo project called Apocalyptic Session and does some time with Michigan’s Sons of the Northern Thorns as well.

How does Dark Meditations compare to Pine such as the overall lyrical themes and music?
I wish I could tell you they were different, but they really aren’t. “Dark Meditations…” was a bit more solid as a theme, as it was sort of written around a short story I wrote so there is more of a ‘concept’ but “Pine” is almost just a continuation of that. More physical wandering can be found on “Pine” as opposed to the spiritual wandering found on “Dark Meditations…” “Dark Meditations..” involved a man feeling fed up who finds a cave to meditate in. He has a bunch of hallucinations and all the songs represent an hallucination. “Pine” has the same concepts only doesn’t really involve a story. You get it. Contempt, longing, etc etc. “Pine” has a little more of an attack on religious morality but other than that they are about the same things. Music means oh so much more when it’s about something representative of the shadow side of life on this shitty planet and that goes for any kind of music really. We’re all pretty open minded musically, but rarely enjoy upbeat music whatever the genre may be, and out of all the guys I’m probably the one who is more open minded to pop and ‘happy’ music. I’m thankful everyday for music and I’m sure I can speak for the other guys there too.

Any final words of wisdom?
Thanks to those who have purchased “Pine.” If you download it from our bandcamp it comes with 4 bonus songs. Hard copies are coming when we get the money to press them. Thanks for your time and support. Be sure to check out some Milwaukee bands. Us mid-westerners have a particular work ethic and charm about our music, you betcha we do. Cheers.

(Interview by Kenneth Morton)

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