Dungeons & Dragons Is Cool, Actually: An Interview with Fantasy-Based Doom Metallers, Pilgrim
For metal fans who think Black Sabbath play too fast, we bring you Rhode Island trudge metal band Pilgrim, one of the most sluggish doom metal bands to down tune a distorted electric guitar. Whatever the band lacks in speed, it makes up for in concussive impact. The band’s second full-length, II: Void Worship is a crushing barrage of sustained power chords, gut-churning string bends, deliberate drum bashing and otherworldly vocals about beefy warriors and barren wastelands.
While the album features three songs over eight minutes long, it’s far more eclectic than the band’s 2012 full-length debut Misery Wizard, which rarely exceeded the pace of an oozing slime creature. “Masters Chamber,” from Pilgrim’s new record – which Noisey is proud to premiere below -- encapsulates the band’s new aesthetic with slow, steady beats and a monochromatic riff that blends with an inviting counter melody. Equally potent are The Wizard’s vibrato-laden vocals, which mournfully wobble like a sword-wielding soldier wiggling through quicksand, then soar majestically like a trained dragon that rescues his owner from a squishy death and ascends to the heavens.
As powerful as they are, the band’s creeping slugfests have their precedents. Pilgrim frontman The Wizard proudly admits he was heavily influenced by Finnish doom band Reverend Bizarre and English acid casualties Electric Wizard, and anyone who nods to Sleep and early Earth will definitely notice parallels. Still, Pilgrim rarely abuse their inspirations, and considering Reverend Bizarre are no more and Sleep only come out from hibernation once every dark age or so, it’s refreshing to find a band that’s utterly devoted to pummeling nerd metal without sounding anything like Manowar.
Noisey entered The Wizard’s hallowed chambers for a spell and talked about classic doom metal, Dungeons & Dragons, surviving lineup shifts, fans who try to chop down venues and the harrowing joys of surrendering to the Void.
Noisey: Dude, do you like interviewers to call you the Wizard or something else?
The Wizard: Oh, I don’t care what you call me?
How did you earn such a lofty title?
I just love wizards. We use stage names because the bands we really like, the early black metal bands and [Finnish doom band] Reverend Bizarre, all had stage pseudonyms. We chose fantasy titles because we’re really into World of Warcraft and role playing games. We all play Dungeons & Dragons. Our drummer Krolg, Slayer of Men has always been the warrior guy and I was always the wizard.
As The Wizard, what’s your spell of choice? Can you wave your magic wand and make people buy your albums?
I wish. But in D&D I would have to choose the fireball because of how classic it is. There’s a spell called Maximize Fireball, which is super-enormous and burns up everything in its path. I also really like Power Word Kill. That’s when you just say, “Kill,” and it kills the target. Oh, and there’s actually this one spell that’s used by cancer mages and when they cast it, it gives the other person a blood disease and they slowly die over time. Then there’s also an awesome spell called Phantasmal Killer, and if it’s cast on you, you go to sleep and get murdered in your dreams and die for real because the dream seems so real.
Phantasmal Killer. That should be the name of a death metal band. You guys seem more inspired by doom.
Some of our favorite bands are Electric Wizard and Reverend Bizarre and we usually listen to them when we play Dungeons & Dragons. When we formed Pilgrim [in 2010 in Rhode Island], we wanted to make a doom metal band that was all about fantasy and that’s still a really big part of what we do. We loved good doom metal, but we also liked a lot of early black metal, like Darkthorne and Burzum, which are high fantasy in themselves. I’m pretty sure[ Burzum’s] Varg [Vikernes] was totally into roll-playing games, too.
He was obviously reading J.R.R. Tolkien when he wasn’t memorizing Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.”
Right, we’re just into the fantasy side of things. We love Tolkien and the early black metal influence is actually huge because the melodies they used were so fucking fantasy-based. If you orchestrated the music on some of those records, they could be the soundtrack to the “Lord of the Rings” movie.
Do you go to Medieval festivals and dress up as your favorite characters?
No, and we’re never done larping (live action roll playing), where you dress up and hit each other with swords. It sounds like fun, though. I would do it.
What is Void Worship?
Well, it’s the name of our new record. It’s also our new hit single. The term has a meaning to us, but at the same time it’s more important what it means to the person that’s listening to it. It’s kind of self-explanatory, anyway, yet vague enough that it can mean anything you want it to mean.
Your first album Misery Wizard was universally praised. Did that make it easier or more difficult for you as you headed into the second record?
Neither, really. The idea and the way we’re writing songs is completely different. When we look back at the first record we felt like some of the material was really long-winded, so we’re really happy with the new record in the sense that the way it flows and the way the music moves is a lot more interesting.
How was the writing process different?
A lot of the riffs were actually from the first record that we didn’t use that we’ve recycled and made into new songs. But this time, we didn’t beat melodies and songs into the ground like we did on the first record.
A lot of groups with 10 and 15 minute long songs get classified as stoner metal and you get the impression they smoke a bowl, hit record, launch into a jam session and everyone’s too wasted to end the song in a timely manner. Is that how Pilgrim works?
Not at all, and that’s why we decided to do things differently this time. We used to play “Misery Wizard” from the first record live, and every time we did it we’d get bored halfway through. We didn’t want that to happen again.
Is bassist Count Elric the Soothsayer out of the band?
Yes, our permanent new bass player is Bradoc the Barbarian (Ice Dragon). We made Void Worship as a duo because Count Elric departed right before we did it so I played all the guitar and bass on the album.
Why did Count Elric leave?
I don’t know. It was just a really weird situation. It became really personal. We caught him trying to cast Phantasmal Killer on us and we told him that was it. He had to go. We’re on better terms now, but I don’t think he’ll ever play music again and that’s kind of the biggest bummer. He was the original member and we had such a solid thing going. When he left there was definitely a void, but we’ve done our best to fill it.
What’s the wildest thing that’s happened at a Pilgrim show?
Once in New York at the Cake Shop, Curt [Johnson, the guitarist] from Mutant Supremacy was really drunk and he pulled out a big, huge sword and started chopping away at this big wooden beam, which was the foundation of the building. He definitely put some serious dents into it. And in Sweden there was a guy who got onstage and was fucking with our pedals and trying to grab us so we Braddock quickly eliminated him with a swift kick to the face.
What other bands do you like these days besides Mutant Supremacy?
I’m really into this band called Druglord from Richmond, Virginia. They’re like a ‘90s underground rock influenced doom metal band. They’re so fucking good. And we’re really good friends with the guys in Windhand. And this band Balam, from Rhode Island are really great. They’re about to come out with a new record.
Lately there seem to be a bunch of new female-fronted, occult-based doom bands…
Ah dude, don’t even get me started on that bullshit. It’s really agitating. It just seems too easy to do. It makes sense if you want to be in a band to make money and I just question the artistic integrity behind bands like that. I mean, a band like Blood Ceremony, holy shit, yes, they’re fucking amazing and so talented. But the occulty girl thing is becoming like a gimmick.
What do you think of Ghost?
I’m not really into them. I thought their original demo was pretty good. It wasn’t my favorite kind of music. But it kind of bothers me how much they’ve blown up. It’s just Mercyful Fate. That’s all it is. They just took Mercyful Fate’s riffs and changed them a little bit. I was listening to the new shit the other day with my friend Alex [Carellas, the vocalist]from Balam and I was just like, “Dude, I heard this track on Melissa. I know this vocal melody.” And he’s not as strong a vocalist as King Diamond.
Were you raised on metal?
No, I used to not like metal at all. It took me a long time and a lot of friends playing it for me to eventually get into it. I used to be really into the West Coast Sub Pop thing from the ‘90s. I liked Nirvana, the Melvins and Tad. At the time, Krolg and I were really cocky about what we’d listen to. We met in school when were, like, 14, and we refused to listen to the shit we thought wasn’t good. Now, I totally like the old metal stuff like St. Vitus and the first Trouble record.
Were you and Krolg part of the popular crowd in high school or did the jocks throw their grilled cheese sandwiches at you during lunch?
[laughs] What do you think? I never really got too badly picked on. I think people just thought I was too weird so they stayed away.