It’s Thursday night and the streets of north end Halifax have reached an eerie silence, with only the sound of rubber on pavement piercing the stillness. But over at Gus’ Pub, the city’s metal-faithful are just waking up.
The third band of the evening has just finished their set, having offered their own litany of blast-beats and guitar licks; just one more group to play. As the notes fade away, the headline act—Forward Unto Dawn—finish the last of their beers, grab their gear and walk on the stage.
It’s been a few weeks since they released their latest album Alpha, packed with a complex seven-track sound complete with groovy breaks that make you want to get up and thrash. Hailing from East Hants, Truro and Salisbury, NB, all five are eager to promote the concept behind Alpha; inspired by the theories of futurist Ray Kurzweil and the singularity movement—the idea of man becoming machine and inevitably falling apart.
It took a lot of blood, sweat and McDonald’s, but they couldn’t be prouder. “It’s just super sweet to finally have it,” says guitarist Dylan Wallace.
It's been a year since the whole crew had crammed themselves into drummer Nick MacDonald’s Honda Civic to drive “an absurd amount of time” to Cleveland, Ohio, the home of Spider Studios, to record their sophomore album.
“We also should have put a credit on the album for McDonald’s wi-fi,” says bassist Devan Smith.
The trip proved to be eventful as the band discovered many of America’s unique cultural offerings: cheap Arizona, Sheetz gas stations and a shop in Maine which gave a free lobster with every autoglass repair.
Twenty-five hours of driving, and several gas station burgers later, they made it to the home of Tony Gammalo, their producer. Not long after their arrival, they were recording.
“Going into the studio is one of those things that like you’re always worried about,” says MacDonald. College classes had taught them the golden rule of studio recording: don’t fuck around. “Time is literally money.”
The band adapted quickly to inevitable scrutiny. “It’s definitely a helpful skill to be able to take criticism well," says guitarist Taran Murray. "And if you’re not used to that, then it’s not gonna work out.”
MacDonald agrees. “When you mess up in the studio, it’s like 'hey, see this part you messed up? Listen to how bad that sucks. So do it again and don’t suck this time.'”
Having been trained by jazz mentors at NSCC, elements of the genre have certainly ingrained themselves within their music. “All of my favourite bands that even just play metal are usually jazz influenced guys,” says Murray. Today, everything they learned about theory, improvisation and the musicality surrounding jazz have become critical tools in their live performances.
Most of the material was well-established way before recording and despite joining the band not long before Ohio, vocalist Din Stonehouse worked quickly to bring forward his own creativity. “It was awesome to collaborate with these guys as a lyricist. There’s just so much more ideas thrown out there and everything. Very sweet writing the album.”
But Stonehouse also battled with his own frustrations. At times he couldn’t get his voice where he wanted it—a problem given the short amount of time they had. “It’s like, it needs to be working now.”
But after 12-hour days and nearly two weeks of work, each song had something to show for it: the lyricism in “The Nature of Existence,” the collaborative effort behind “Concord & Dissolution,” the defining moments in “State of Duality” and the groove of “A Premonition.”
It was a well-deserved victory for Wallace and the band. “You struggle, and you pull, and you push, and everything and then eventually it really comes out, and the tunes that I had the biggest arguments with at the beginning are now my favourite songs on the record.”
“The best part was every day though,” says Smith. “Being able to kind of step out of the studio outside and just look at each other and go, ‘We’re in fucking Cleveland, Ohio right now, recording an album!’”
“It was just a nice step out of our regular reality and especially for something we’re all passionate about,” says Smith.
Now, with an upcoming tour through July and August, everyone agrees it’s been a long time coming.
“It’s pretty much the last thing on the list of things to achieve,” says Murray. “Be in a band, learn how to play an instrument, write tunes, play shows, play shows out of town, record in a studio, release an album, go on tour.”
Like its creators, Alpha represents a growth and maturity few bands achieve in their music. And while this represents a milestone in their musical careers, there is still room for exploration (and their other passion, Super Smash Bros. Melee). “There’s new music coming out every damn day!” says Wallace. “The more we understand it, the better it can become.”