I saw Elagabalus for the first time in 2014 at a now defunct venue called F.H. Pappy’s in York. This was still the beginning of me going to shows and as per usual I was unreasonably drunk, because at the time that was the only way I could bring myself to socialize. So most of the bands I saw during that period, are just sort of a blur. Then there are those few bands that cut through that drunken fog and stuck with me. Elagabalus was one of those bands.
There’s a certain feeling I get every time I’ve heard Dustin & Ben perform or on record. And it’s a feeling I can only describe as nostalgic. Every song instantaneously takes me back to these treasured moments of my childhood and adolescence. I can hear the intro music to some oddball Sega Genesis game like Shadow of the Beast or Mystic Defender, or the synth laden soundtrack to whatever 80’s horror or sci-fi movie I happened to grab from Hollywood Video that week. But I can also see myself at 12, devouring early 90’s black metal demo after demo. At the same time, there is a longing for a past I never lived, one where maybe I stuck with Magic the Gathering a little more, or read some high fantasy beyond Conan comics.
At the same time, there is a darkness to the album. Like those aforementioned black metal demos, this album brings forth images of winter, of twisted horrors ripped from the pages of some forgotten Scandinavian epic, and the distant whir of cold uncaring machinery. I’m reminded of Thorn’s seminal 2001 album. Musically the two aren’t exactly similar, but for me they paint the same mental picture, they’re just using radically different styles.
It is the contrast between these two feelings. That dark yet somehow welcoming feeling that black metal has always provided, swirling simultaneously with these hard to define moments of blissful nostalgia that have always drew me into Elagabalus, and on this release more than ever. The best way I can describe it is imagine yourself in a dream, walking through the streets of your hometown, some post-apocalyptic version of your hometown, where everybody disappeared in the middle of decorating for Halloween. This simultaneous sense of peace mixed with a cold spookiness, is something I’ve never felt when experiencing music before.
But make no mistake about it. As much as “Antiquarian Black MIDI” reminds me of some dark reflection of the past, it is an extremely modern sounding album. The elements I’ve mentioned brought together in a way that not only honors the past of both metal and synth laden soundtracks, but it also pushes both genres forward. It is a remarkably fresh take on metal, and unlike some other genre mixing efforts manages to seamlessly tie all of it’s elements together and present them as one product. There are no jarring stylistic shifts, no out of place elements, just one continuous musical journey. Imagine walking into a room you’ve never been in before, but instinctively knowing everything’s right where it needs to be. I cannot recommend this album enough, and I can think of no better album to be the first review on this site
It’s been a few years since I’ve heard these guys, last purchasing their 2014 demo. The bands changed a bit since then. I had a chat with Dustin and Ben, to ask them about the evolution of the band over the past 3 years, their influences, and more:
AYM?: Okay, let’s start with how you guys put the band together, I know you both were/are both involved in projects prior to this?
Dustin Swanson: Hmm,We met at a show. Mom’s Pizza
Ben Price: Our old bands frequently played together. we had talked about doing something together for some time. Dustin started this synth project with my friends and I came to jam on drums. that project morphed into Elagabalus eventually
Dustin: Yeah originally it was 3 synths and a drummer, but pretty quickly I started playing bass and we did the pitch shifted thing for a while.
AYM?: You guys had someone exclusively on vocals for a period too right?
Dustin: Andy. Very good friend of ours. There is an EP before [Elagabalus S/T EP (2014)] with Andy. He does a sick job.
Ben: My dude Andy who I’ve played in bands with for years was the original vocalist,
AYM?: And after Andy left, Dustin you were doing the vocals on the first full length and the ep?
Ben: It was both of us
Dustin: Indeed, On the first full length it’s more blocked out, Ben would write lyrics and sing for a whole song, then I wouldn have my own. On the EP after [ ___ (2016)], we’re more working together.
AYM?: I have that first EP about 3 feet from me haha, but I think you were down to a two piece when I saw you guys the first time though.
Dustin: Yep, I guess by now 2piece is the dominant combination, It’s basically a two piece band
AYM?: So what led to the new album being instrumental? did it just fit more the material that was written?
Ben: When it was all composed, it didn’t feel like it needed vocals there’s a lot more going on with all of the synths on that one compared to the earlier stuff
Dustin: For my part, the album is just totally transitional. We were calling it “3.0” as in a total revision of the way we were doing things. It’s definitely when the synths started to play a larger role. When it was done, it felt right instrumentally.
AYM?: I was going to say, the new album does seem heavier on the synths than the demo, I have to admit, I need to go back and listen to the second ep and first full length that proceeded this, but even only hearing the first EP and the the new album it seemed like a very natural evolution
Dustin: There’s always been synths to some degree. But it would be something simple, and live-performed, like I would just jump over to the synth and play something for a second. Now, there are multiple, totally sequenced synth tracks and I’m bouncing around playing stuff here and there.
AYM?: So musically what are some of your biggest influences?
Ben: For me it would be Neurosis, Sepultura, Swans, Godflesh, Earth, Black Sabbath. drumming-wise, Dave Lombardo and Dale Crover are the big ones.
Dustin: In the prog world I really admire anything with Tatsuya Yoshida on drums such as Ruins or Koenjihyakkei. And I just really enjoy a lot of stuff from that world like Magma, Yes, King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator, and I just could go on and on.
Really what stays with me from the metal world is the attitude and excellence of the 80’s and early 90’s metal bands, like Voivod and Coroner, Godflesh for sure, Kreator, Celtic Frost.
AYM?: Any particular black metal influences that come to mind?
Dustin: Ahhh black metal.
Ben: I’m not super into black metal these days. Blut Aus Nord is great, maybe super weirdo shit like Jute Gyte
Dustin: When I first got into black metal, I didn’t know what it was. I had Samael’s 2nd album Blood Ritual. I just thought it was evil. I had a long stint where it was black metal all the time. Like from 2003 to 2015.
AYM?: Any musical influence from early 80’s or maybe more accurately 90s video game music?
Dustin: Uh yes.
Ben Price: Absolutely
AYM?: any particular composers or games that stick out?
Ben: Yuzo Koshiro, Nobuo Uematsu, Yoko Shimamura, David wise, they did stuff for Streets of Rage, Final Fantasy, various Mario games (esp. Super Mario RPG), donkey kong country respectively
Dustin: I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, being an old fart. The sound and style of Sega Genesis games are really powerful for me.Revenge of Shinobi, Phantasy Star 2, of course Street Fighter, the Thunder Force series. And I’ve also been a big admirer in the whole tracker universe of audio, but it’s not something I’m any good at.
Ben: Thunder Force! good stuff
Dustin: Thunder Force 2 is my shit!
Ben: I also do metal video game covers. working on some youtube videos now
AYM?: Dustin, I’m glad you said that, because that’s the specific system the music reminds me of, being a kid and picking up these oddball Genesis games like Mystic Defender, Shadow of the Beast, or even Splatterhouse 3
Dustin: Fuckin’ Mystic Defender
AYM?: What about some of the more synth laden horror soundtracks, specifically the works of Goblin?
Dustin: I personally like Goblin. I can’t say I have a bunch of their recordings.
AYM?: I can’t say I even own an album of theirs but I’ve seen enough of the films they’ve been a part of.
Dustin: An old friend lent me Il fantastico viaggio del bagarozzo Mark, it’s great!
AYM?: I guess as sort of a transition from there, what are some non-musical sources you guys draw influence from, particular books, hobbies, philosophies, etc?
Ben: I mean living in this world and being somewhat aware probably has some sort of nihilistic influence on my lyrics. musically I can’t say I’m that very consciously influenced by movies or non-musical stuff
Dustin: I guess we already discussed video games. Another subject that has played a role is my childhood obsession with obscure role playing games.
AYM?: You keep beating me to the punch haha, I was going to ask if rpgs had any role. I can’t even say I’m familiar with them beyond casual observance, and some light Magic: The Gathering playing (if that counts) but I definitely feel like that influence comes through in the music.
Dustin: Lyrically I make a lot of not-so-subtle nods to Empire of the Petal Throne, more recently Lords of Gossamer and Shadow. The R Talsorian worlds of Mekton and Cyberpunk, Palladium shit like Rifts and TMNT. Okay, I was a gaming nerd. Honestly I didn’t play RPG’s nearly as much as I collected game literature. The set of rules that determined everything, the mechanics of it was what really got me.
AYM?: So with those influences coming to the table, is a sense of nostalgia something you guys are deliberately trying to craft, or do you think of that as more of an indirect effect?
Dustin: Haha, nostalgia for what, sci-fi video game metal? I don’t think those days ever happened unfortunately.
Ben: Haha yeah, at least when I write stuff for the band, there isn’t much intention as to how it should sound or what emotions it should evoke. it’s really just whatever sounds interesting!
Dustin: I think that certain flavors of synth sounds can really draw nostalgia out of people, I definitely don’t avoid those sounds but I don’t think we intentionally go for any sort of retro vibe, if that helps!
AYM?: It does! Maybe it might be more so for me than other people because I was this weird little kid that had parents that didn’t really filter the media that I got my hands on, so I was simultaneously listening to black metal and playing Genesis when I was 11. So to me, especially the new album, it very much feels like everything about the first 13 or so years of my life that was amazing got blended together and poured out. Not to say in anyway it’s not extremely modern and forward thinking at the same time.
Dustin: That’s so awesome to hear. I’m glad we were able to do that for you! I really appreciate that.
Ben: Yeah man that’s really nice to hear
AYM?: Actually, you guys were actually a major reason why I got back into metal. When I first started going back to shows, it was an excuse to get completely wasted. But there were these moments when a band would sort of cut through that fog and really hit home with me, and made me sort of realize there was more going on there than a reason to get drunk. Elagabalus was one of those bands.
Ben: Damn glad we could do that for you man! I never really expect such a reaction from people, but that’s awesome
Dustin: Ha! well thanks man! Gotta say, not getting trashed at a show is a difficult discipline
I have not mastered it myself
AYM?: You’re welcome. I guess since it’s been said now, tell me about the name. I know Elagabalus was a Roman emperor with a less than stellar reputation, but don’t know much beyond that, what made you guys pick the name?
Dustin: Well, I was on a big Roman history binge. The level of insanity around his four years was off the charts. His personality is a mystery. And my wife Shannon made a great logo with it.
Ben: His level of depravity was exceptional and it looked and sounded pretty cool
AYM?: It does sound cool, though I have to warn you I brought it up during an interview with Mary from Shadow Woods Fest Saturday night and butchered the pronunciation, so if that surfaces in audio format, my apologies haha
Ben: Haha it’s a constant struggle and we don’t really care how you pronounce it
AYM?: And i guess speaking of Shadow Woods, is this your first year playing?
Ben: I played it with my solo project At the Graves last year
Dustin: Oh yeah!
Ben: I didn’t get to stay long but it seemed like a cool vibe I think Wino [Scott Weinrich] watched my set
AYM?: that’s amazing. Everyone I’ve talked to says they’ve crafted a unique experience, unfortunately I think this is going to be the last year for it.
Dustin: Gotta make it one for the books then! I think it will be a time of serious hangs with friends from Foehammer, Aerial Ruin, Seasick Gladiator, Heavy Temple, just a great time
AYM?: Any other shows coming up you guys want to plug in the near future?
Ben: I think our only other show is october 28th right?
Dustin: Yeah. At Guido’s Speakeasy, with Sloth Herder.
Ben: Sloth Herder is excellent
AYM?: Nice! Well hopefully I will see you guys there, Guido’s is really the closest venue to home for me these days. And for the new album, is that bandcamp download only, or physical copies coming soon?
Dustin: We hope, for one day, physical copies
Ben: Yeah, we’ll probably have tapes and/or CDs at some point
AYM?: Well I think we have enough here, anything else you guys want to plug, or shout outs before we call it a night?
Dustin: I think it’s good! Thanks for talking to us.
*Dustin & Ben wish to thank Nick Skrobisz for use of his studio and help with the recording process and CD cover artist Luciana Nudelea*
*Check out Ben’s one man Sludge-gaze project At The Graves, and new album Wrecked *
Elagabalus Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elagabalus777/
Elagabalus Bandcamp: https://elagabalus.bandcamp.com/
At The Graves: https://atthegraves.bandcamp.com/
Luciana Nudelea: https://www.facebook.com/LucianaNedeleaArt
Shadow Woods Metal Fest: http://www.shadowwoodsmetalfest.com/
Guido’s Speakeasy: https://www.facebook.com/guidospeakeasy/