Interview: Brandon Teel of APHELION
Words/Interview by Kelly Tee
As the USBM (United States Black Metal) scene is taking off with a sound that is fast becoming distinctively their own, a band who hails from Missouri USA is producing some of the most primitive and raw no-frills black metal to add to the growing lists of black metal bands and solo artists crushing our ears from this area of the world. 2019 was a huge year for Aphelion, with the release of their raw and intense Demo I and Demo II, both of which were lapped up by the black metal community and celebrated. I caught up with the guitarist and vocalist, Brandon Teel, to discuss their Demo releases, the growing black metal scene in the US and their up and coming full-length album.
Hey Brandon, thanks so much for chatting with me. So, 3 lads making some pretty raw and stripped back black metal out of Missouri. I have to ask, how did you guys form? And has black metal always been a passion for you guys or a metal progression?
Brandon: Karl and I met in college and were close friends before we did a brief stint as bandmates in a band called Goat Sabbath. After graduation, Karl continued with music and I was pretty stagnant for a little over 10 years. One night I was feeling nostalgic and I hit Karl up with the idea of getting back together to record the old songs and possibly do a house show. After talking back and forth for a while the idea snowballed into a complete overhaul of the old songs, under the new name Aphelion. I didn't meet Zach until our first band rehearsal with him. He is in another local metal band called Soheil Al Fard. Their guitarist/vocalist told me to hit Zach up when he found out we were looking for a drummer, so I contacted him through Facebook and the rest is history. As far as black metal goes, I've been a huge fan of metal my whole life, and black metal has always been one of my favorite genres. I love the cold, harsh soundscapes of black metal that seem to capture misery like no other genre. It also seems to retain the artistic side of music more than most genres of metal, which I love.
Demo I, which you released in April 2019, (and is one of my top picks for that year), is a vivid showcase of seething, raw and abrasive melodicism. What were the themes accompanying the rawness of this Demo?
Brandon: As far as musical themes I try and write music that, even without lyrics, can portray some type of emotion or story for the listener. Bitterness, coldness, but power too. No matter how grim the music, I always want there to be an ever-present feeling of power. That warrior mentality I guess.
I read a comment on Bandcamp, placed by a reviewer, that your music has "the chill factor and frost of the Norwegian winters". Yet, they were confused to learn you were from Missouri. What is the stimulus for the icy soundscapes you create? Do your surroundings impact the way you write and conjure your lyrics for your black metal? And if so how?
Brandon: Nostalgia has always played a role in my songwriting. I want music that takes me back to my years as a youth, living in a desolate town in the Southeast corner of Kansas. It was lonely and the winters were long and cold and I hope our music captures that same essence. When I was living in those moments, grim music always made me feel less alone in the misery, which I found solace in. I haven't quite gotten my guitar riffs to where I want them when trying to portray that feeling, but I will continue to write and grow as a musician until I find it.
You guys had a busy year in 2019. On the back of Demo I, you also released Demo II in November. Was your plan to smash out two demos in one year? Or was this a case of striking while the artistic thoughts were hot?
Brandon: 3 of the 4 songs on EP, I, and even 2 on EP, II, were written over a decade ago. We reworked them a bit, and having been out of music for so long I had a sense of urgency, like an itch that needed to be scratched. We wanted to come in like a blitzkrieg and get some music out there to make up for the lost time. We do plan on keeping the creative wheels turning, and while we may not rush any future releases, we will continue to pummel the ears, of anyone willing to listen, with new Aphelion releases.
Comparing your Demo releases, Demo II feels as if the bare bones are exposed, even more so than its predecessor (Demo I). It has a harshness to it that makes it feel more chaotic and manic than that of the dark yet raw melody heard in Demo I. Are the themes carried on from Demo I to this latest Demo II, or are different stories told within both releases?
Brandon: First I want to say bless Karl and Zach for being so patient with me. EP II was a step in wrapping up old riffs and ideas, specifically Weathered and Fed to Fathoms, and as a whole, it isn't where I want Aphelion to be music-wise. Luckily they are patient and allowing me to develop as a musician. They are both so talented and hard-working I just try to progress and not let them down. With that said, this full length will start to tease at the direction we will be exploring for the foreseeable future. So as far as musical themes, they are evolving until we find that recipe that's perfect for us. I can't speak to lyrical themes that Karl uses, but on EP "II" I wrote the lyrics to Weathered and Fed to Fathoms. Weathered was about making mistakes, and inadvertently being the snake in the grass so to speak. Fed to Fathoms deals with having to let go of the past, including people, who have a way of holding you down. The song is written in a metaphor, where a ship is crossing the ocean and the captain is returning home with the bodies of dead loved ones. A storm is closing in on him but his ship can't outrun it without dumping the caskets into the sea to lighten the burden the extra weight has caused him.
Tell me about your writing process? And is the writing of Aphelion lyrics and music a collaborated effort?
Brandon: I usually write guitar parts at my house, take the ideas to Zach for feedback, and we usually just start jamming and seeing where it goes. Once we get the arrangement set, we record what we have and shoot them over to Karl so he can get his vocals lined out. Karl lives a few hours away, so we have to be creative in how we collaborate with ideas. We are going to be doing a split with Zach's band Soheil Al Fard, and he wrote the guitar parts for that song. He sent me the riffs in video form so I could learn them, and we will be having some joint rehearsals with his other band so the split will have one cohesive feel. It should be a blast.
Aphelion commenced in 2018 and, as mentioned, cranked out two banging Demo's the following year. How have people responded to your Demo's and Aphelion in general, so far? And from your perspective, what has been the best way to gauge this response?
Brandon: It's hard to say really, the modern music landscape is so different from when I started listening to metal. We didn't have as much access to music or different ways to listen to it. You bought a record and you listened to it start to stop until you couldn't stand it anymore...then you loaned it to a good friend and let them go through that same cycle. By the time it came back to you it was fresh again. Now people have access to thousands of options that you can download or stream anywhere at any time, and it almost feels like, for the most part, it's throwaway culture infecting music. We do get messages from people, and the best responses come from people at shows who approach us and we get to talk face to face. That's the best! I guess the best litmus test for the response we have been getting is that nobody has straight up told us we're terrible...yet.
You guys are busy working toward your debut full-length album. Are you able to hint at what we should expect and how this album will differ from your previous Demos?
Brandon: I hope it's a little more put together. I take full credit for rushing EP II, and that kind of restricted everything from the writing process to production, which we do entirely ourselves. We have about 8 songs that we are currently "sculpting" into their final versions. I hope the guitar riffs are a little more expressive and reflective of where we want to be, musically. I think we are also going to be exploring some different styles within the black metal realm as well. I want to have some slower riffs to invoke more doom and gloom. This album should possess a little bit of beauty as well, but the kind of beauty that is present when you watch a wolf take a deer. It's brutal but subtly beautiful.
We'll see I guess. You will certainly be one of the first people to hear it, Kelly.
Let's talk about record labels. Currently, you are unsigned. How important is it for you, Aphelion to secure a record label business partner? Is this a priority for you this early in your band's career? And if so, why?
Brandon: With EP "I" we had label help from Anti//All - Forever Records, Blasphemous Creations of Hell Records and Mayhemic Overkill Records. They were great to work with, but we decided to go 100% DIY on EP II. We aren't against working with another label, because there is something to be said about releasing on one of the many underground labels that have a built-in network and fanbase. But for us, in this era, the label would primarily be for PR and networking because we can take care of CD and cassette manufacturing ourselves. We do plan on reaching out to a few labels before we release even a hint of the next release. Right now I'm digging a lot of releases from Folkvangr Records, Appalachian Noise Records, and many others. So as we start to mature into our style, we may start reaching out to labels regarding releasing our full length. I feel like we are evolving to a point that even if a label wasn't interested in I or II, they may feel differently about this full length.
The USBM scene is intense and making a solid name for itself within the black metal community. It's becoming known for its complete devastation and bitterness. How do you find the metal community in your area? Is there much of a black metal scene in Missouri? And for the most part, do you find the black metal scene there is supportive of each other as relatively new bands?
Brandon: The metal scene here seems to be cyclical in a way, it ebbs and flows with new bands and venues, but there are a few stalwarts that have seemed to figure out the formula for longevity. Missouri has a few black metal bands besides us, one being Daven whom we are planning a split release with, and another great one is Nefirum out of Kansas City. Everyone should check both of those projects out. If you like death metal, check out Damned by the Pope and Karl and Zach's other bands PGSK and Soheil Al Fard. If you like your metal epic as fuck check out The Covenry Sacrifice, and if you wanna thrash check out Gravehuffer! All the bands we have played with have been cool as hell.
The footage and photos of you lot plaguing the stages in the States with your blackness looks like you deliver a fairly ambient and opaque experience for revelers. What is the best thing about playing live for you guys?
Brandon: I think the best thing is meeting fans of black metal, even if it isn't our brand of black metal. Interacting with fans face to face is awesome. Today, so much is done online with social media, that if you don't play shows you may never get to connect with a fan in that way. With just 2 shows under our belt since our start and one forthcoming, we have already met some cool fans, bands, and sound engineers. It's also cool to get all 3 members together in one place at the same time. We all live in different towns, and Karl is about 2-3 hours away, so any time we can all get together to play music and just talk face to face it's always a blast.
Are there plans for more gigs heading into 2020? And if so, where can people follow your gig guides so they don't miss out?
Brandon: We had a show scheduled in March, at the infamous Cesspool Castle in Missouri, and we’re discussing ramping up the live shows a bit for 2020, however things are a little up in the air now with COVID-19. People can follow our band pages on Facebook and Instagram for gig updates, that is probably the best way for now in these uncertain times.
It has been a pleasure. I love your work so far and look forward to hearing more black metal from Aphelion. Is there anything else you would like to leave with the reader? You have the floor.
Brandon: First, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you, Kelly! You have always been a wonderful supporter of all things black metal and it means the world to us. To everyone else, support music any way you can. Buy an album, shirt, sticker. Hell, just shoot a band a message and let them know you enjoy their art. Get together with friends and listen to an LP, or go to a show! Cheers.
Listen to "I" (Full EP) & "II" (Full EP) below: