San Francisco Bay Area trio Cormorant are something of an anomaly: an accidental death metal band. Explains fretless-bassist and lead vocalist Arthur von Nagel: "I listened to folk rock and classical growing up. I started playing bass three years ago because I'd written some poetry I wanted put to music. I thought it would come out sounding like Bob Dylan or Serge Gainsbourg, maybe Johnny Cash. That didn't quite work out as planned..." When not punishing his kicks drums for Cormorant, percussionist Brennan Kunkel composes and sells hip-hops beats. "It's a nice outlet for me," he says. "It really opens my mind to new drumming ideas, new ways to accent the melody that are usually foreign to metal." And guitarist Nick Cohon? "My last project before Cormorant was a old-time country band called The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers," he laughs. "I played acoustic guitar with them, but I'm a pretty decent banjo, mandolin and fiddle player too."CORMORANT GENRES
How this mix of musicians with such disparate tastes produced a melodic death/black metal hybrid project in the vein of Celtic Frost, Amon Amarth, Sigh, Moonsorrow, Agalloch, Enslaved, Quo Vadis, Falkenbach or Opeth is a mystery, even to the band members themselves. "I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I can't sing worth a damn," jokes Arthur. "But I can growl. You get your words out there anyway you can." Says Nick: "When Brennan and I were teenagers, we had a sludgy hard rock band going in his basement. Rage Against the Machine, Alice in Chains, Pantera sort of sound. We grew up with heavy music." Brennan adds "We're in our early twenties now, and our music, with all these influences we've acquired over the years, has matured along with us. Arthur and I have been studying under local jazz-fusion legends Clarence Stephens and Chuck Brown, and Nick took lessons with Willie Nelson guitarist Jackie King. It's afforded us a unique perspective on extreme music. In the case of many progressive or avant-garde bands, metal is the new jazz."
Though only officially formed in January of 2007, Cormorant made quick headway. They've already released a self-produced 3 song demo, which has been downloaded over 10000 times on their MySpace website. The band captured the music live in their home recording/practice studio, only overdubbing the lead guitars and vocals. The songs "Trojan Horses" and "Two Brothers" have even benefited from internet and FM radio airplay in both the US and Canada, a rarity for a death or black metal act. They've performed all across the Bay Area to enthusiastic crowds, in venues like the Oakland Metro at Jack London Square or the Octopus Lounge in Pacifica, surprising many a metalhead with their proclivity for improvising complete songs on the spot. Cormorant secured the sponsorship of master luthier Greg Nelson, who custom-built the monstrous, 5-string fretless "Leviathan" bass to Arthur's specifications, modified Brennan's drum kit, and is currently working on a secret project for the group to be unveiled later this summer. The band has just recently developed a line of merchandise, employing the design-talents of former New Line Cinema and Stephen King artist Alex McVey, which will go on sale in mid-June. Also of note are the essays on metal Arthur has posted on the band's website, which have gone on to become some of the most read and commented music blogs on MySpace.
Cormorant's debut full-length album (title TBA) is currently set for a tentative November release through their in-house label Andromeda Records, to be recorded at Sausalito's Studio D, of Faith No More and Soundgarden fame. The LP will explore many facets of the death, black, thrash, doom, and folk metal sub-genres while still referencing the formative influences that make Cormorant's music unique. Nick comments: "I have no qualms introducing a blues-based guitar solo into a Norwegian black metal piece if the song calls for it. Why worry about rules?" Arthur agrees. "Other music genres have so much to offer. Aside from Steve DiGiorgio and Sean Malone, hardly any metal players are utilizing the tonal advantages of fretless bass guitar. It's traditionally a soloist or fusion instrument, but there's just so much power in its glissando and vibrato techniques. I can make it sound like a trumpet, a piano, a cello, even a human voice." Arthur's own voice and lyrics play a major part of the Cormorant sound. "People have trouble with the harsh vocals," he admits, "but I truly think if people can get into Tom Waits, they can enjoy this. Once you get used to the singing style, you realize how essential it is to the presentation of the music, and eventually you're even able to understand the lyrics." The words to Cormorant's songs are also of a kind very seldom seen in metal. "The lyrics start off purely as poems, very much influenced by 19th century French Romantic and Symbolist literature, then I combine those with American folk music's story-telling and a healthy dose of old school punk's sense of social unrest. They deal with my own dreams, questions of morality, politics, history, mythology. I've been working on a very simple piece about an old man sitting on the beach, watching the ebb and flow of the waves and contemplating the path his life has taken since his youth. It's both the most serene and the bleakest song I've even written." Brennan loves that kind of dichotomy. "You need a balance of brutality and beauty to fully appreciate both," he explains. "If I'm dropping blast-beats at 230 tics per minute the whole album, it all ends up sounding the same, and it's not scary or impressive anymore." Brennan smiles and adds, "Sometimes you have to lull your listeners into a false sense of security."
Melodic Death Metal
CORMORANT LYRICAL THEMES
Surrealism, mythology, history, nature, politics
United States of America (Novato, California), formed in 2007
CORMORANT CURRENT RECORD LABEL
CORMORANT CURRENT LINE-UP
Nick Cohon - Guitars
Brennan Kunkel - Drums (Natural Selection Agency)
Arthur von Nagel - Fretless Bass and Lead Vocals (Natural Selection Agency)