ALLEGAEON – The Golden Ratio
Allegaeon (l-r): Greg Burgess, Michael Stancel, Ezra Haynes, Corey Archuleta and Brandon Park
On September 12th, 2013, Fort Collins, Colorado-based death metal outfit Allegaeon confirmed that it had parted ways with guitarist and founding member Ryan Glisan. Ryan’s final studio haul as a member of the group consists of 2008 EP Allegaeon, July 2010 debut full-length Fragments Of Form And Function, and May 2012 sophomore effort Formshifter.
“We try not to talk about it too much, just out of respect for him,” notes Greg Burgess, guitarist for Allegaeon as well as Ryan’s erstwhile bandmate. “It really got to a point where… We had been on a tour with Job For A Cowboy and Cephalic Carnage, and then we got back. Financially, he just wasn’t really into it. He was very turned off about the whole touring thing, and basically, he had already started that band with Tim Lambesis (As I Lay Dying / Austrian Death Machine) – the Pyrithion thing. He thought that that was gonna be his ticket, so we came back, he sat us down, and he was like ‘Hey, I’m not touring with you guys any more. I’m gonna be doing this other band’… And this is a verbatim quote: ‘This is a stepping stone to my career. You guys are stepping stones to my career.’ He was very focused on what he wanted to do. I don’t think that came off as well as he had envisioned it, but it was kind of like ‘Woah. Okay, dude. Umm… Well… Okay. Good luck.’ This was a long time before he actually left, but I think we only played one gig with him after that. I might be wrong, but yeah.
“He thought that the Pyrithion thing was gonna go really well, and he had had some other things in the fire, like he was in a country band. He is very much motivated by… He wants to be successful playing music. I don’t know if he really cares about what he’s playing, so to speak. He wants to do country, but then he wants to do pop music – anything that’s gonna make him a comfortable living while playing guitar. I love metal, and I wanna playing metal. I don’t care if I make money, but it’d be nice (laughs). I’d love not to work five jobs and then have to do this, but yeah, that’s really what it was.
“When it came down to it, he was just like ‘I’m not gonna be able to make the sacrifices to make this band work.’ We were like ‘Alright, man.’ That’s what happened, but then we got Mike and started touring. At that point, Mike was just a fill-in – Ryan hadn’t fully stepped out of the picture yet. When we were then on the first tour with Mike, he called us – I think we were in Milwaukee or something. He was like ‘Yeah, I’m gone.’ We were like ‘Okay, man. Good luck.’ That was the last time we ever talked to him.”
Such comments suggest the pair aren’t friendly. “It’s not that I dislike Ryan,” the axeman stresses. “He has different goals in his life. I try not to take it personally, but he’s gonna do what he wants to do and this is what I want to do. When it came to the fact that he quit, it was like ‘Hey, you know what man? Good luck.’ We didn’t hang out. It’s not that we didn’t try to do that, but we’re just different people. I wish him all the luck in the world, but I’m really stoked about what we’ve got going now.”
As I Lay Dying vocalist Tim Lambesis was arrested on May 7th, 2013, having hired a hitman to kill his estranged wife. Ultimately, he was sentenced on May 16th, 2014 to serve six years in prison. Pyrithion – whose line-up consisted of Tim, Ryan, guitarist Andrew Godwin (ex-The Famine), and drummer John Paul Andrade – issued inaugural EP The Burden Of Sorrow in April 2013, one month prior to Tim’s arrest. “It was definitely a shock to Ryan, I think,” Greg estimates. “The day we found out Tim went to jail, I texted Ryan to make sure that he was alright and everything. He was like ‘I don’t know what’s going on.’ I was like ‘It’s none of my business. I don’t care what’s going on – I just want to make sure that you’re okay.’ I think he was a little bit in shock and everything, but it looks like he’s carrying on. He’s got that thing with Wes Hauch formerly of The Faceless and I’ve seen a video of his country band, so it seems like he’s doing what he wants to do.”
Tim’s arrest and subsequent incarceration shocked much of the metal community. “The rest of us have only met Tim once, when we were at his house recording,” the songwriter recalls. “He walked in with his little kids, and he just seemed like a really nice guy. That was it. I’m the first to admit I don’t think I’ve ever listened to As I Lay Dying (laughs), but yes, it was really nice for him to open his house to us and let us record the record. First impressions are not always the full disclosure of a person’s character (laughs).”
Recording sessions for Formshifter taking place at Tim’s home was the result of Lambesis Studios being double-booked. A May 2012 interview with Metal Forces touched upon the subject, although the name of the other group in question wasn’t revealed at the time. “Glass Cloud I think their name was,” Greg discloses. “I don’t even know if they’re still around, or what they’re doing. It had the dude from Of Mice & Men, the former singer of Of Mice & Men (Jerry Roush). I don’t think it was their fault, but someone had double-booked the studio. We were supposed to be there, but then they showed up early or late or something like that. We totally got the shaft in that whole situation, but whatever. The record came out fine. We didn’t complain about it, but their guitar player (Joshua Travis) was really nice. The guy from Tony Danza (The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza), he was a really cool guy. The singer formerly of Of Mice & Men, not so much, but their guitar player was really nice. I really liked talking to him.
“I don’t even think they knew what really happened. I think they were kind of oblivious to the whole situation, because we didn’t make a stink about it. Yeah though, it really sucked, because we were supposed to be there. Like I said, I don’t think that it was their fault – I don’t think that they did it on purpose. It was inconvenient for us, because we were all the way across the country and sleeping on floors to do the record. We were supposed to have bunks and everything, but like I said, the record came out great so we didn’t really complain too much.”
Occupying the guitar position vacated by Ryan is Michael Stancel. “He’s the guitar player in a band called Artemesis, a Denver band,” the axe-slinger informs. “The other guitar player in that band is named Matt (Meyer), and he was a student of mine. I would always go to their gigs, and watch Mike play. I was like ‘Holy hell. This kid is really good.’ He’s 19, and so that was one of those things, like ‘Man. When he gets to be my age – when he gets to be 34 – he is gonna be just unstoppable.’ I already think he’s a killer player, probably better than me. By the time he gets to my age, man, he’s gonna be just a nightmare to have to try to keep up with (laughs). So yeah, that’s really what it was.
“When I was looking for a guitar player for the tour, I was asking around. My other buddy Mikey (Reeves) – who’s the guitar player of Vale Of Pnath – I was trying to get him to do it, because he’s another unreal player. He was a little intimidated by Ryan’s stuff. Every guitar player we tried to get was intimidated, but Stancel was like ‘Yes, I’ll do it.’ There was just no hesitation whatsoever. I was like ‘Okay, cool,’ and then within three rehearsals, you couldn’t even tell Ryan wasn’t there, and so it was really good. Funnily enough now though, now that the new record’s out, everybody’s going to that other Mikey. It’s like ‘Hey brother, we love the new record’ (laughs). The two Mikeys have this… Whatever (laughs).”
Stepping behind the drumkit is Brandon Park. “It’s actually a really funny story,” remembers Greg, relating the story of how Brandom came to be Allegaeon’s sticksman. “The last permanent drummer we had was on Fragments, and then we had a studio guy who did Formshifter. Basically when we did some touring, we had a fill-in guy named Shawn McGuffin, and he did a killer job for us. Every time we played St. Louis, Missouri, we’d bump into Brandon, and we’d talk to him. He would always be messaging me on Facebook, like ‘Hey man. If you ever need a drummer, I want the gig.’ He wasn’t annoying, but just persistent. Every couple of months, he would just follow up very respectfully. In hindsight, it was just meant to be with this guy.
“The last couple of times we played St. Louis though, there would be this drunken guy who would come up, and he’d be like ‘I’m Brandon’s friend. You should just get rid of your drummer, and get Brandon.’ I’d be like ‘Okay, dude.’ He was completely disrespecting the guy that we had, so I was immediately turned off (laughs). I was completely just like ‘Man, screw this guy. His friends are jackasses.’ We’d then go back, and his other friend was like ‘Hey man. Do you guys wanna do coke?’ I was like ‘Dude, I do not. We’ve had drug problems in this band. We’re done with it. No, we don’t wanna do any coke with you.’ I was like ‘Okay, this guy’s got asshole friends, and he’s a cokehead’ (laughs). I was immediately like ‘No, this guy’s not getting the gig,’ but then I couldn’t get a drummer for this last tour we went on.
“He was on my list of emergency guys, because I knew he could play this stuff. His ex-band Suffer The Wrath was very much like Behemoth, so I knew he could pull it off no sweat. It was just that on a personal level, I wasn’t sure how he was gonna fit. He posted something on his Facebook where he was making fun of these drug users, like ‘That’s why I never do this.’ I was like ‘Oh, that must be that one guy.’ I called him up, and he was like ‘Absolutely. I’ll do it.’ Then on the road, he was such a pleasure, such a nice guy. He’s so quiet; he just sits there and chills, and does his thing. He keeps to himself. He just really loves being there, and he’s really just an all-round great guy and an amazing drummer. On top of that, our van broke down, and he was like ‘Oh, I can fix it,’ and he fixed it. I got in the van, because it was freezing outside. He was standing outside fixing our serpentine belt. I was like ‘I love this guy. He’s in.’ It’s because he’s a really nice guy, a great drummer, and can fix our van (laughs).”
Inaugural Allegaeon drummer Jordon Belfast suffered from substance issues, to clarify. “I don’t know what he was on, but he was definitely on some substances,” the guitarist shares. “It was bad; it was a bad environment, and there was a reason why we didn’t continue working with him, let’s just say. He might be completely fine now. See, I hate talking crap about people (laughs). I feel like such an asshole. There were drug issues though, and it wasn’t a pleasant situation. We’d play a gig and he’d be fine, but then at the next gig, he would show up really late, and he’d play our set at half-time. It was just like ‘C’mon man.’ Our performances really suffered. He didn’t like to learn what was actually recorded, so he would miss parts all the time. He would change stuff up, and it was like… The performance aspect was bad. He was a phenomenal drummer, but he just had some issues that were kind of disrespectful to the rest of us. So yeah, he had to go.”
The substance in question wasn’t cannabis, but more heavy duty narcotics. “That stuff’s fine,” Greg reckons, of cannabis. “We live in Colorado (laughs). There were definitely some times where there’d be things put up noses. I don’t care what anybody does, but when it affects myself and it affects the product that we’re trying to put out, it’s disrespectful to the band and it’s disrespectful to the fans – they pay a lot of money to get in. I don’t want to put up with that.”
Allegaeon operated for some time lacking a permanent drummer, the ensemble simply not opting to hire one. “Ryan really didn’t want to get a permanent drummer,” the musician cites. “We had a lot of drummers to choose from, but it became ‘Hey, why get a permanent guy? It’s dividing the pie one more way.’ It was a financial decision. When Ryan left, it was like ‘Wow, so now we don’t have a permanent drummer. We don’t even have a guitar player.’ It just gave the appearance of an incomplete band, and I know the fans didn’t really like it. That was kind of like my first thing. When I kind of took the reins almost, it was like ‘Well, we’re getting a full band – that’s one. I’m getting a drummer, and I’m getting a new guitar player.’ It was a first priority.
“All I will say is there’s basically a change in management. He started the band, so he had a lot of pull. We did things his way, but now he’s left, it kind of left a space for other people to come in and take other responsibilities. Stuff is delegated correctly now, and stuff happens. Just opportunities seem to present themselves a lot easier now. That was definitely the first thing we did, and the other thing was starting a new business model where everybody in the band needs to be happy. If someone isn’t happy, it gets dealt with immediately. If everybody’s happy, then productivity is way higher, and then it’s just a better product for everyone.”
Writing sessions for June 2014’s Elements Of The Infinite – Allegaeon’s third studio platter overall – were “fairly intensive. I had a lot more work this time than on past records, definitely. I didn’t even think… I thought I was going to have to write the whole thing by myself, so it was a little bit intensive, but it was also an opportunity as it were to prove that I could step up and take the reins a little bit. It was stressful but it was also kind of exciting in a way, if that makes sense.
“When you go through a member change, you don’t really want to… It’s a hard enough thing, especially for the fans. They come to identify a band by certain members that are in it and what they bring, so it was very important for me to try to not let the fans down, right? You have to try to… Our old guitar player’s influences are not mine, so I had to really do some kind of research into what those influences were, and try to incorporate them into my own writing as it were.
“Ryan very much liked Behemoth and Nevermore – he was a huge Jeff Loomis fan (Nevermore guitarist). Me, I respect the hell out of Jeff Loomis, but I never really listened so much to Nevermore up until that point. I had to really sit down and listen to a lot of Jeff Loomis’ playing, and try to capture some of what Behemoth had done on their last couple of records. It was cool in that I had to actually sit down and listen to a lot of other bands, and try to absorb what they were doing, and then make it into Allegaeon – if that makes sense. For my own personal style, I’m much more of a thrash kid. I’m much older, so I grew up with the Big Four and more prog music, like I love Yes and Rush and Dream Theater. So old school thrash and the more prog stuff, that tends to be my natural writing style. That’s all mixed with a little bit of Gothenburg melodic death metal stuff, but also mixed with some of that more progressive thrash’y stuff. So, yeah.”
Michael Stancel’s songwriting aptitude is evident on the compositions ‘The Phylogenesis Stretch’ and ‘Genocide For Praise – Vals For The Vitruvian Man’. “Mike had never played an eight-string or a seven-string before he joined, so I was like ‘Mike, you’re gonna have to get an eight-string to jam with us,’” Greg reveals. “He was all about it. The first day that he got an eight-string, that’s when he wrote ‘The Phylogenesis Stretch’ – that’s what came out of him. He wrote two songs that day; ‘The Phylogenesis Stretch’, and this other one. The other one sounded dead on like Allegaeon, but we just really liked ‘The Phylogenesis Stretch’ better – it sounded kind of like Allegaeon mixed with Revocation. It was just really good, so we were like ‘Dude, let’s just put that on the record.’ It wasn’t even for us; it wasn’t even for release. He just wrote it, but I loved it so much. I was like ‘Dude, let’s definitely put that on the record.’
“Then there’s track ten, ‘Genocide For Praise’, which is actually becoming a big favourite. I basically had eight songs done, and was working on ‘Genocide’. I had all of this classical guitar stuff for the intro, and I had a bit of the electric guitar stuff. I was basically like ‘Well, let’s let Mike have a real audition.’ We knew he could play and I knew he could write because of his other band, but I wanted to see him write in the style of Allegaeon. I was like ‘Hey man, here’s a whole bunch of classical guitar music. Write an Allegaeon song out of it.’ I wanted it long, and kind of wanted another ‘Accelerated Evolution’ – from our first record. I was like ‘Hey man, take all this. I want the classical guitar parts come back in the middle.’ Yeah, he took it, and he totally hit a home run with it.”
Clocking in at 12:48, ‘Genocide For Praise’ is Allegaeon’s longest tune to date. “That was by request,” the artist explains. “It actually came out a little longer than I asked it to be. I like that; I like long songs, because everybody gets more bang for their buck. Not when you’re forcing it obviously, but… I gave Mike all of the classical guitar music, and then I told him where I wanted the electric to come in. I demoed all of that. Basically what it was is that I had written eight songs, and I was beyond fried. and I was really just hoping; I was like ‘Man, I really hope this turns out good.’ I was under the gun, and so I really needed help to finish the record. Basically, before we had even heard what he did, we had already decided that he was the guy. When I actually went over to hand him all of the demos and everything, like ‘Here’s where your solos go and everything’ – just giving him all of the material, and welcoming him to the band – we hadn’t even heard it yet. We just liked him so much.
“After we had all celebrated and everything, me and him just sat in his basement, and we started going through the song that he wrote. It was great. There were a few things in there that I wanted to tweak, and so the classical thing came back a little stronger. We were then like ‘Hey, let’s have Corey have a bass solo over the classical guitar stuff.’ We had the beginning kind of come back, and then there’s a fake ending with the Queen guitars kind of later in the song. The classical guitar solo I put on every record, I was like ‘You know what? I’ll just tag it on at the end.’ It made sense with the keys, because it was B minor – it just made sense key wise. It was a labour of love. It was a great way to introduce Mike, to say ‘Hey, not only is he our new guy, but he’s also a powerhouse writer.’ He fits right in.”
A younger player, Michael harbours contrasting musical influences. “He’s very influenced by Revocation, but he’s also a big Allegaeon fan, and so there’s a lot of Allegaeon influence within his writing,” Greg judges. “That kind of helped him fit right in, and that’s why his writing on ‘Genocide For Praise’ sounds like Allegaeon. It doesn’t sound like another band, almost. It sounds very much Allegaeon’y because he’s been a fan of the band, and so it was very much natural for him to write in the style of Allegaeon.”