Cloven Altar formed in 2012 from their previous band Spellbinder, in which Dustin Altar played guitar and composed the songs. Based in California, Spellbinder had a female singer Lauren Malechek and drums were handled by Michael McNally, but the band never had a complete line-up and only did one demo recording. After that, the band disbanded due to schedule conflicts and lack of motivation. Cloven Altar was the result of Dustin taking some of the Spellbinder material and writing some new songs while also assuming the lead vocal position. Michael McNally came up with the name Cloven Altar (an obvious but cool rip-off of Cloven Hoof and Pagan Altar). Dustin liked the name so much that he hired his friend Chris Horst to design the logo and recorded a bedroom demo under the name. After showing the demo to Cederick Forsberg (Rocka Rollas, Blazon Stone, Breitenhold, Mortyr, etc.) the two agreed to collaborate on a short EP where Ced ended up playing all of the instruments as well as recording/mixing/mastering the final version, while Dustin handled all of the vocals. Danny K of Stormspell Records expressed interest in the project after Dustin emailed him, and has supported Cloven Altar from the beginning. Their self-titled EP from 2014 was followed by an appearance on the German ‘Trvheim Vol. 1’ sampler CD with the song ‘Demon Of The Night’. In the summer of 2015 Dustin and Ced recorded the full length ‘Demon Of The Night’, which came out in November. With it on constant rotation at IFHQ we contacted the band to find out more.
Cloven Altar consists of two members based in California and Sweden, right? How difficult is it for you guys to work together and what’s the writing and production procedure for the songs?
Dustin: “Yes, that is correct – I’m in California and Ced’s in Sweden. When I tell people about this project usually they are surprised that it works, however I find the process very convenient and I think Cederick also agrees. We email weekly just to chat and talk about ideas. When I have a song idea I begin by recording a rough demo in GarageBand. Typically I will have the main riff, verse, and chorus worked out with vocal melodies. I show it to Ced and he lets me know if he likes it or not. If it’s a winner then the next step is Ced adding his ideas to the song, which usually includes a bridge, some rearranging of the parts and melodies, dynamics, and of course his shredding solos. After that, Ced sends me a rough demo mix to record my vocals over. By then we basically have a completed song, and when it’s time to record the final vocals I usually just set up my laptop in the laundry room/bathroom at home and do the recordings there! Ced has more of a proper home studio and does all of the instrumental tracking, mixing, editing, and mastering there. So far this system has worked out great despite the fact that Ced and I have never met or even chatted on the phone. Pretty interesting times we live in!”
After a three-song EP, you have now your first full-length album ‘Demon Of The Night’ released by Stormspell Records. What are your expectations of the album?
“In today’s world I try to keep my expectations very low for music sales and exposure. There are so many bands and so few people buying CDs compared to the ’90s. Still, I think the album is special and people who hear it will like it. I’ve noticed on my Facebook page that I keep getting new ‘likes’, mostly from Europe, which seems like a good sign! It seems that fans in Europe, Asia, and otherwise outside of the USA are more interested in owning the records, supporting the artists, and developing a collection of physical CDs and vinyl. In the USA this still exists but is mostly limited to the ‘real’ music lovers who are obsessed with music like myself.”
In this world where almost everyone is in a heavy metal band, why should we check out Cloven Altar?
“Cloven Altar plays pure, honest heavy metal with strong punk rock influences. The songs have a strong 1980’s vibe and emphasis on catchy riffs and choruses. It’s classic metal for the modern age. I come from a pop punk background of songwriting where melody and hooks are at the core of songwriting but I also was born in 1980 and grew up listening to heavy metal before I started writing punk songs, so there is a strong background in heavy metal and rock music. Also Ced is very knowledgeable and talented when it comes to traditional heavy metal composition and guitar playing. So the result is a unique mix of skate punk and speed/traditional metal that I don’t think you’ll hear otherwise. And unlike the punk bands who’ve tried to mix metal into their music, I consider Cloven Altar to be a heavy metal band first, but one with strong melodic punk rock elements. My vocals are also not the typical sound you’ll hear from this kind of traditional metal band. I sing in a mid-range voice.
“I like to think of our sound as Bad Religion meets Falconer. Also I love ’80s nostalgia and my goal is to always cover obscure 80s songs, so on ‘Demon Of The Night’ we chose the song ‘Break The Ice’ performed by John Farnham for the 1986 BMX movie ‘Rad’. It turned out great!”
What’s the underground metal scene like in the USA for bands like Cloven Altar?
“There’s a strong metal underground in the USA, but it’s small compared to Europe, Asia, South America, and other parts of the world. Some of the bands doing the best work right now include Night Demon, Visigoth, BAT, Blade Killer, and many others. There are also still classic bands like Hirax and Manilla Road that are touring and bringing true heavy metal to the world. I think Jarvis Leatherby is a great example of USA’s metal scene – he’s a hardworking and sincere guy who has serious integrity and talent. He’s committed to the rock n’ roll life and is inspiring to me. Katon W. De Pena of Hirax is also an amazing human being with so much positive energy and passion. That’s what metal needs! I would also include Ryan Waste and Joel Grind as two of my favourite ambassadors of American metal. These are guys who are contributing great songs and are inspiring new generations of musicians to take the DIY path and start making heavy metal music for themselves. Plus Christopher Petersen of the band Cellador.”
Are there any thoughts for a live show, or Cloven Altar will remain a studio project?
“I would love to play live, and I hope that my chance will come. It will not be easy, though. Ced and I live on opposite ends of the Earth and I would need him to be involved always. We’ve talked about my possibly coming to Europe to play a festival with him and maybe some of the Rocka Rollas guys, but this is just an idea right now. I am also a school teacher who is married with a kid on the way, so my ‘regular life’ is not very metal at all [laughs]. Still I find time for my passion of music and will never give up Cloven Altar as long as Ced is still motivated to continue. So please if you would like to see Cloven Altar, I am ready when you are! I am a performer at heart and would be honoured to take the stage and sing those songs with Ced at my side.”
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