Tacoma’s Alda have been on a trajectory upward for years now. Their last record, the stunning “:Tahoma:,” really seemed to open eyes and ears, and that built up some pretty serious anticipation for their latest and greatest “Passage,” a record we have been unable to remove from our loop of listening. Their spacious, atmospheric black metal sounds grounded in the nature around them and their awe for what’s ahead of them. But there also is a vitriol geared to those with no respect for the wild world, who would see it fit to be compromised for the goods of greed and commerce. Alda’s music sounds like a warrior fighting that good fight and who will not quit and not give an inch of ground. You can hear that in their music and playing.
This band is a four-headed beast with Michael Korchonnoff on drums and vocals; Stephanie Knittle on bass, cello, and backing vocals; and Timothy Brown and Jace Bruton on guitars, and they rip right into this amazing collection with the rousing opener “The Clearcut,” and from there, they squeeze your heart and emotions over and over again. The sound of the record is rough and raw, adding a gritty sentiment to what can be overwhelming, beautiful songs. That dresses cuts such as weathered, path-beaten “Weathering,” noting, “We are parched land aching for drink,” hammering home to struggle and the sense of crawling through the wilderness. A clip from the movie “Jeremiah Johnson” is worked in expertly at its center, moving toward the song’s fiery finish. Closer “Animis” has wild dogs howling, before the song strikes hard. It has you feeling like being locked into center of the wilderness, the song raging with fire and epic glory, a track that can make you feel truly alive inside.
Alda have made a true masterpiece with “Passage,” and it’ll be close to our heart for as long as we both shall live. We were lucky to have the band answer some questions about the record, its impact on them, and some of the meaning spread across these five amazing songs. (Sept. 25)
Meat Meat Metal: We are naming “Passage” as one of our top 5 favorite metal albums of 2015. This record has really stuck with me ever since hearing it for the first time. Talk about its creation a bit and what went into constructing this album.
Michael Korchonnoff: The origins of “Passage” lie back in 2010 when we wrote the song “Animis,” before “:Tahoma:” was released actually. We were all still living in our Tacoma house together and had recently finished recording “:Tahoma:.” Our creative energies were very high at that time and pretty seamlessly flowed from working on one album into laying the foundations for the next. Shortly afterwards, however, it became harder to coordinate our schedules as we entered a period of transitional limbo, our lives branching off in different directions. We wrote the rest of the songs in this transitional period as we cycled through different living situations and spaces, completing the writing of the album in 2013. These three years afforded us a fair amount of time to take an eagle-eyed view of the album as a conceptual whole, and when we began recording it at the beginning of 2014, we thought of it as a whole, almost as one big song. We recorded and mixed it at our rural Pierce County home in Washington State with the help of our friends Pythagamus Marshall (who recorded our acoustic parts) and Nate Myers (who did the metallic sessions). Working with their busy schedules meant it ended up taking the entire year to finish the damn thing. So it’s been quite the long, strange process.
MMM: One thing that really struck me is the sound of the album. It had a rawness and a sort of primitiveness. I could see a record of this nature getting overpolished and glossed up, but you didn’t go that route. Was that a conscious decision?
MK: That rawness is probably because it is a home-recorded album. But it was conscious in the sense that we intentionally chose not to create it in a professional studio, the reason being that we knew we wouldn’t have the time we really needed to include reflection in the recording process. Plus we really wanted people we liked and trusted to assist us in recording, people who were familiar with our music and would understand and be able to work with some of the particular nuances of our vision.
MMM: What is the meaning behind the title “Passage,” and why was this the appropriate word to sum up this collection? It’s an interesting choice that seems fairly open to interpretation.
MK: “Passage” as a single word that carries many implications within it. Seeking passage, passage from one state of being to another, a passage within a piece of writing or music. It is referential of movement and transition. When we were writing the album we were in a in a state of flux, facing upheaval and trying to find balance. Although this condition certainly influenced our mentality at the time of writing, in keeping with our regimen of writing about humanity as one of the elemental expressions of Nature (and all the drama that comes with that!), the themes of these songs are writ large. “Passage,” as the passage of human beings navigating the exponential devastation of industrial modernity that severs us from our origins and poisons the source of our very vitality. “Passage,” as processing suffering and loss. “Passage,” as letting go of egoic personification itself and accepting the absolute return to that source from which we have sustained our individualized existence – the big surprise everyone has to look forward to!
MMM: The opener “The Clearcut” is such a powerful and great way to open up this collection. There are delicate sounds, gushing power, the blending of voices. Talk about this song a bit and what meanings lie behind it.
MK: Lyrically, “The Clearcut” is accusational towards those human entities who poison the vitality of life through their exploitation of the Earth. The admonition is that those who exploit and destroy also hollow themselves out and their innate vitality through those very actions. But this accusational tone is not just sanctimonious finger-pointing. The one who accuses is also complicit in the atrocity. The pronouns ebb and flow, “you” and “we.” We are the abuser, a blind hand cradled in iron smiting the striving of life. The writer of these lyrics first sang these words when they found themselves driving on a rural road late at night, swerving around trying to avoid running over a host of frogs who were crossing the pavement, traveling to their mating grounds. Yet the song ends with a reminder that beyond our reach, below our level of awareness, life sleeps, waiting to emerge again, with or without us.
MMM: You chose a clip from “Jeremiah Johnson” to insert into “Weathering,” with the line, “Can’t cheat the mountain pilgrim,” seeming the hammer-home sentiment. How does that piece relate to the song, and did you have its use planned from the start?
MK: “Jeremiah Johnson” was one of several movies we watched during the writing of the album. The theme of a traumatized colonialist trying to flee the memories of war and devastation and seeking sanctuary in the harshly purifying and unforgiving environs of the mountains was moving to us. In the quote, a personified “Mountain Man” reminds Jeremiah that many people seek something in Nature that they feel they are missing where they come from. But you can’t cheat the Mountain. If you aren’t willing to let go, you’ll take it with you wherever you go. The Wilderness is what it is – if you seek healing, you have to open your ears and your eyes and accept it for yourself.
We didn’t plan to use that quote from the start. It was kind of tossed into “Weathering,” the only song of ours that was completely conceptual in construction. We sort of mapped out “Weathering” –we never performed it live, unlike most of our other songs, and it will never be performed live. But the sample fit.
MMM: Much of this record seems to have an appreciation for the expanse of nature and the outside world. Perhaps that’s just my interpretation. Is that a correct assumption, or is there something else going on?
MK: That is absolutely accurate. Without the direct experience of the Wild world, we would lack the spirit to make the music we do. Everything we have to say is directly connected to that. If that were to change in our lives, the spirit to create the music would wane. However, our songs are not merely exhalations of the wilderness nor lamentations for its destruction. Talking about nature is to talk about the essence of our being. And lots of things are layered into that–the dichotomies of industrial modernity and our animal natures, facing the fear of extinction and the emotional experience of loss, processing that karmic hand of cards dealt to us by our ancestry. All of these and more are part of what is touched upon in our music. And then of course there is something driving the music that is hard to describe, something in the personal chemistry we share as long friends and musicians. This is the thing that truly forms the foundation for the music itself.
MMM: What does the band have planned going forward? What kind of year will 2016 be for Alda?
MK: Who knows? We will probably still all be living together and making music. We will be playing a festival in Minnesota that we are looking forward to. Otherwise the future is unwritten!
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alda/116289091792839
To buy the album, go here: http://eihwazrecordings.com/distro/
For more on the label, go here: http://bindrunerecordings.com/