Metal Mofos’ Isaac Sauers spoke with brothers Adam and Michael Cook of the blackened death metal band A Hill to Die Upon. Read the interview below to find out more about this talented band out of Illinois.
Metal Mofos: What’s happening in the realm of A Hill to Die upon?
Adam: Over the past year or so we slowly started stoking the fire to get the wheels turning. We’ve been dormant for a little while. We wrote some new music. I’m super stoked about it. We’ve been at the grindstone for so long that it is kind of weird now to have things materialize and be met with open arms.
Michael: Yeah, it’s been a little while. Now we’ve come back after a year, and we haven’t expected to have anyone care or people forgot about us. But it seems like a few people didn’t so that’s kind of cool.
MM: Well, that’s definitely some exciting news that some new tunes are in the works. Any set time to enter the studio?
Michael: It’s actually already done and handed off to the record label. The other albums we have done have been with Bombworks Records who we were real familiar with. We knew the guy who ran the label and he lived close to us so it worked out to do that. We shopped around for new labels for a bit. We haven’t gotten the go ahead yet to say who the new label is yet. They’re super onboard with us and excited about us.
MM: That’s awesome news. What can you tell me about some of the songs we are going to hear on the new record?
Michael: One of our all time biggest influencing bands is Rush. I heard in an interview with them that every time they would write an album they would pour themselves into it and felt like, yeah this is Rush. That’s something I began to strive for. This is A Hill to Die Upon. The first album was like yeah this is us trying to be a metal band, the 2nd album was yeah we’re starting to wrap our legs around this, and our third album I was like, we really have to release this and the world has to hear it. This new one is a whole other level. At least for me anyway. I’m very excited about it. Same type of lyrical things but just deeper and better. The music is better I think. Not as much on the blast beat side of extreme in your face style, but it has a better grasp on songwriting and expression.
Adam: I think one thing we tried with Holy Despair and this new album, if you read any interview with any band they’ll say we’re forging new ground and breaking boundaries. Then you listen to the new album and it’s just another one of their albums. No boundaries being broken. We just want to be better. If you’re looking for just meat and potatoes, you’re going to get some damn good meat and potatoes.
Michael: Yeah, exactly. If you’re looking for someone to break boundaries it’s not us. We do what we do and want to do it as good as we can. I think that is something that came out in Holy Despair and now this is our first one where we are behind that 100%. We know what we want to do and we’re doing it as well as we can.
MM: To the point of breaking new ground musically, do you think there’s anything really left to be broken? There’s only so many notes on a guitar, right?
Adam: Actually it weird. I’m wildly passionate and I’m already excited to delve into the next album. I feel like I’m breaking new ground, but maybe the new ground is in my mind. I’m just writing for the love of writing. I feel like that gets lost especially in metal. My process is looking at it like a guy writing a novel. Do it for the passion. My outlet is extreme metal instead of a novel though. There is new ground to break. You just change the shape and flavor of it. You’re not going to say, wow that riff is unlike anything I’ve ever heard.
Michael: I listened to an interview with someone about art and good art. You have those pieces of art that are inexhaustible like Lord of the Rings, The Beatles, Bach, Beethoven. Certain art forms are inexhaustible. When we’re writing our 50th,60th extreme metal song for A Hill to Die Upon it’s not going to get old.
MM: Ok, cool. Let’s go back in time a bit now. How old were you when you first started playing instruments?
Adam: I got my guitar a couple months after my 13th birthday. We were homeschooled, and our parents told us we had to learn an instrument for school. We thought bands were cool but had no interest in playing music. It was all about legos and GI Joes. Our parents made us play an instrument and somehow ended up on drums and guitars then evolved into trying to learn Bon Jovi songs or Priest songs, then turned into punk, then slowly evolved into everything extreme and hard.
MM: Where does the name A Hill to Die Upon Come From?
Adam: It comes from way back when we started a punk/alternative rock band. I had a bunch of names written down of stuff I had heard. I had heard the name somewhere. It’s actually grammatically incorrect. It shows how good my hearing was. At the time it just sounded cool but now it feels like it has grown in significance to us. We put so much work into the name at the time that it has followed Michael and I through all that time from from punk to hardcore to metalcore to death metal and wherever we are at now.
MM: What is the secret to writing a great black metal or death metal song?
Adam: When you find out please let us know! I’m passionately always trying to find out tricks and do dads about writing. I typically stumble on things by accident. I don’t think it’s one or two things. I think it’s a big sphere that has multiple dimensions. Some of this helps and some of that helps. I think the writing style I use has changed a lot over our 3 albums.
Michael: One thing I’ve been getting into is quantity. Having material to load up your arsenal of good material to use. I heard on a podcast to just write and don’t get caught up in perfection. Just make sure you get stuff. I listen to a lot of country music and was talking about writing consistently and what do I have to do to get people to cut my song? I was told well, write 500 songs. When you have 500 songs then people will take you seriously. I was like, holy shit! The thing is you probably can’t write a good song now. The time you get to 100 songs you’ll be better. By the time you get to 200 you might have a good song. By the time you get to 500 you might be able to sit down and write a decent song. The amount of riffs Adam puts out is just unbelievable. They just get filtered down and siphoned down to the best ones. I think there is a riff on the new album he’s had for like 4 years.
Adam: There’s at least 2 that are around 6 years old.
Michael. Yeah, he just never got rid of them. They were just kind of always around. They missed out on being on two albums because there just wasn’t a place for them in a song. Then eventually the rest just came together.
Adam: He’s actually a good friend of ours. We’ve known him for a long time. We’ve played Nordic Fest over in Oslo a couple of times and hung out with him. We were bored one day and went to a coffee shop and he showed us some demos he was working on. He was in the band Antestor at the time and showed us what they were working on. I really dug it and put it in the back of my mind to contact him once we started writing. When we did I start I asked him if he wanted to help co-write a couple songs. He sent us a bunch of demos to choose from and we picked the three that sounded the most like A Hill to Die Upon. One he wrote for us and the others he just had sitting in his bank. He’s a guy who has some songs. He’s an amazing writer. Just amazing stuff.
Michael: Yeah, he has good stuff. It’s not just a pile of stuff. It’s good.
Adam: He actually really helped turn Holy Despair into a really good release. His level of perfection kind of helped us step up our game. We have a guest writer for the new album as well. I’ve started to enjoy some collaborative efforts when writing songs.
Michael: It’s fun for me too with lyrics to sit down with the song and hear it then try to write lyrics to it. I don’t see built from the ground up. I approach the song totally different.
MM: Michael, I know a lot of lyrics are influenced by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien. What are your favorite works by those authors?
Michael: Obviously Lord of the Rings is just one of the best things ever written. I actually themed my wedding off it. We cut the cake with a sword. The Silmarillion which has the creation myth behind Middle Earth and everything around it. It’s probably one of the coolest bit of fiction. You can find it on audiobook. I have a cassette of it somewhere and it’s awesome. As far as Lewis, I didn’t really read the Narnia books for a super long time. They’re kids books you know and you can watch the movies. The original movies are god awful and the newer ones are hit or miss. His nonfiction stuff is unbelievable. He was so smart. Just reading what he writes about English school reform is so interesting somehow even through I don’t care about English school systems in the 1950s but he cared a lot about it. I think Weight of Glory is a really good collection of essays. I eventually did go read the Narnia books. The Last Battle, the last book, is probably one of the greatest fiction books I’ve ever read.
MM: I don’t think I’ve ever read the Narnia books. Maybe I’ll get there someday. I’ve seen the movies especially the old cheesy BBC ones from the 80s.
Michael: Yes! With the beaver costumes?
MM: Oh yeah!
Michael: That’s great. The great thing is when you read the books all the cheese is all of the sudden like, well I have wine now too so I love the cheese. Then there’s those parts where your skin crawls.
A friend of mine was talking about Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. There’s some tunes that Johnny Cash puts out and they’re not the coolest thing in the world but then he has those moments like “Folsom Prison Blues” which is one of the greatest songs every written. Merle Haggard never really has those moments. He’s just steady. Everything he puts out is just great. Tolkien is a guy who never put out anything bad, but I think Lewis has higher moments. Like 2 paragraphs in a chapter from Lewis will move you more than anything else you’ve ever read.
MM: Ok, well back to the new album. Is there a projected release or title in mind for the new album?
Adam: Yeah, we’ll give you a title. It’s Via Artis Via Mortis.
Michael. It’s Latin for the way of art, the way of death. I haven’t heard any official date yet, but I know it will be in the fall.
Ok, we will be sure to keep a look out for it. Looking forward to some new tunes!
Be sure to like A Hill to Die Upon on Facebook
Check out the official video for the first track off their album Holy Despair, “Cloven Hoof, Hava Nagila” below: