A Hill To Die Upon: Band Of The Day

By on 14 May 2014

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A Hill To Die Upon are that rare breed of band, a Blackened Death Metal act of the post-Behemoth variety who blast and burn and bludgeon with their own style and voice, darkly melodic and strangely haunting, yet inescapably visceral and aggressive.

The creative core of the band is comprised of two siblings, Adam Cook (vocals/guitars/bass) and Michael Cook (drums/vocals), whose brotherly brutality provides the backbone and impetus behind the band’s signature riffage and blazing drum work, melding unusual barque chord patterns and bombastic tremolo runs with an undercurrent of raw, blasting ferocity.

With three full length albums to their name – the most recent of which, ‘Holy Despair’, was unleashed upon the world in April – the brothers Cook have been crafting and refining their majestic blackened sound for ten years now, and show no signs of giving up or giving in just yet!

WORDS: Andy Walmsley

WHO ARE THEY: A Hill To Die Upon
WHERE ARE THEY FROM: Illinois, USA
FOR FANS OF: Behemoth, Immortal, Naglfar
LATEST RELEASE: ‘Holy Despair’ (Bombworks Records)
WEBSITE: Facebook

Hello Michael. Thank you for speaking with me! To start off with let me ask you: how are things going in The AHTDU camp at the moment?
Michael (Cook, drums/vocals): “Things are going great! The new CD is having a good impact and we couldn’t be happier to finally release it. It has taken a long time to write the songs, fund the album, record it, work out the release, and then get all of our supporters their dues, but it has all been worth it!”

As I don’t think you’ve ever been featured in Terrorizer before – either in the magazine or on the website – would you like to introduce the band, and your sound, to the audience?
Michael: “A Hill to Die Upon is a blackened death metal band from Monmouth, Illinois. We started in 2004 and since released three albums, ‘Infinite Titanic Immortal’, ‘Omens’, and now ‘Holy Despair’. Adam and I are the core members of the band, but we have some great players and great friends with us for the live show.”

How did you originally start out the band? And who were (and are) your main influences?
Michael: “AHTDU has always been about playing heavy, fast, and loud. That was hardcore and metalcore when we started in 2004, but when we heard death metal and black metal, it blew us away and our songs started to get faster, darker, and more aggressive. We probably sounded a lot like Zao when we started, but later we really sunk our teeth into Old Man’s Child, Naglfar, 1349, Behemoth, and Satyricon. I think those bands really influenced the sound that exists now.”

With your brother Adam you form one of several famous fraternal pairings working out there in the metal world. What’s it like being so closely and artistically involved with your brother in that way? How often do you fight, and has anyone ever won an argument over a song with a headlock?
Michael: “No headlocks! Honestly, we don’t really fight that much. We’ve always gotten along pretty well. It’s really great to work with someone you’ve known for 23 years because communication is just really quick. We can just nod to each other sometimes and the mood of the song immediately changes. We do disagree sometimes, but we are pretty good about knowing when to back off. For instance, I write the lyrics and Adam writes the riffs. I can say which riffs I like better, and he can say which lyrics he likes best, but we each control our own domain.”

Your latest album, Holy Despair, was just released last month. How would you say it differs from, or builds upon, its predecessors?
Michael: “It goes back to the heavier riffs of ‘Infinite Titanic Immortal’ but also takes the darker, slower riffs of ‘Omens’ a step further. The album was intentionally split. The first half is fast and the second half is the slow. The acoustic ‘Somme’ divides the album, slowing the tempo and I don’t think its placement could have been any more appropriate. We actually wrote a lot of songs that sounded like Enslaved at first that we had to cut because they weren’t us, but eventually we were able to find songs that really felt natural, with a good balance between the speed and atmosphere, groove and melody.”

As far as I’m aware it’s the ten year anniversary of AHTDU this year. Any plans to celebrate, and did you ever think you’d still be playing and recording this far along after you started?
Michael: “To be honest, it really snuck up on us. We’ve just had our noses to the grindstone and it just showed up. I don’t have any idea what to do… special t-shirt? Pizza party? Bar crawl? I think we always thought we’d be doing something musically together, and we were probably just foolish enough to believe it could be AHTU!”

The lyrics of your songs are a big piece of the overall package, touching on Old Testament scripture, Norse mythology, and post-WWI literature, so how do you decide what particular topic or theme to work with when writing a new track?
Michael: “Grains of songs start and then pretty early on we attach them to riffs based on the general feel of the riff and the lyrical idea. The lyrics then feed off of the guitar and the guitar feeds off of the lyrics until they finally turn into something we are happy with. I always try to interweave at least three different ideas. A song with one idea tends to be pretty shallow, but a song with three ideas gives you the ideas plus the tensions between these ideas.
Our song ‘Nekyia’ uses the Greek sacrificial ritual of nekyia (the blood of a black ram is poured into a pit and fed to a ghost) as a metaphor for the trenches in World War I. This just begs for a comment from the Post-modern poets, right? AHTDU has always been very focused on despair and that one emotion pretty much sums up the effect of WWI on the literary world. We ended up with Greek mythology playing off of the Post-Modern poetry of W.B. Yeats which is all discussing the despair of WWI. Hopefully this provides a complex, unique, and interesting lyrical composition.”

Care to pick out some of your favourites sources of inspiration for us, and maybe the particular tracks whose creation was fed by those inspirations?
Michael: “The indie rock band MeWithoutYou has been a really huge inspiration on us over the last few years. I know very few bands that handle subjects as deep as they do, and they are just incredible musicians and songwriters. ‘Cloven Hoof Hava Nagila’ uses the Norwegian Billy Goat Gruff (as well as Plato’s cave analogy) tale as a metaphor for spiritual stubbornness. I would have never tried to use something like ‘Billy Goat Gruff’ had I not heard Aaron Weiss’ lyrics on ‘St. Agnes and the Bear’!”

You’ve also included a couple of unexpected covers/reinterpretations of traditional American folk songs on each of your last two albums, ‘Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down’ (from ‘Omens’, 2011) and ‘O Death’ (from ‘Holy Despair’). How exactly did each of these come about?
Michael: “First of all, being from the Mid-West, we have a deep appreciation for traditional American music, whether it is gospel, country, folk, etcetera. In 2009 we played Destruction Fest in London, England, which was hosted by the Church of the Living Dead. The next morning they held a service and sang ‘Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down’ and we knew we had to cover it. The irony alone is worth it. We loved working on the song and wanted to continue working with folk music so we searched out another song for “Holy Despair” and ‘O Death’ was an easy choice. Timbre Cierpke lent her voice and harp to ‘O Death’ and took the song to whole to another world.”

You released a stand-alone single ‘Manden Med Leen’ in February last year. Any plans to write and release any other stand-alone songs in the future?
Michael: “We hope to! We’ve discussed doing a 7”, using it for a bonus track, and an EP. We aren’t sure how it is going to happen, but a lot of our fans have been asking about it, so it is going to happen.”

And, finally, speaking of future plans, what do you have in mind for the rest of 2014, and indeed for beyond that?
Michael: “2014 is our year to notch another arrow and prepare for what’s to come. We have several things cooking(pun intended) and we’re really excited for the coming future.”

About Kez Whelan

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