Interview: Summoning the Lich on Coping With Mental Illness, Family Medical Scare

Would real life be bearable if we couldn’t ever escape from it? Could we drag ourselves to work, muster the ambition to realize goals or even get out of bed if we couldn’t turn to video games, books, cooking and building model train kits for some mental relief?

Probably not, as we witness how emotionally ill-equipped people are to deal with COVID, homegrown terrorism in the U.S., and worsening environmental catastrophes. In fact, for many of us, a brief foray into a fantasy world isn’t enough to alleviate the pain. It’s increasingly apparent that some people would rather spend the rest of their lives detached from reality and in, let’s say, a meta verse.

Technical death metal newcomers Summoning the Lich, who toured with Allegaeon and Arkaik last year, are in between those two worlds. Rounded out by guitarist Ryan Felps, bassist John Flynn, and drummer TJ Chilton, the fantasy-based St. Louis band said hello more than two years ago with their debut album, United in Chaos (Prosthetic). But, as you’ve probably already surmised, they got stuck in the morass of COVID while trying to establish themselves.

When New Noise recently touched base with Summoning the Lich frontman David Bruno, he and his bandmates were driven to move forward and make the introduction they had hoped to make in the first place. Before hitting the road with Gorod, Bruno gave us a fresh reminder of how bands—especially young and spry ones like them—are quickly adapting to an ever-changing music landscape that, to some, is become as desolate as the outlook for climate change.

“Heads-up for anyone who wants to be in a band,” Bruno remarks at one point during our recent conversation over video. “Unless you’re absolutely crushing it out there, you’re going to have to have a few different revenue streams coming in. You’re gonna have to work—and work for it—if you want to get a band off the ground.”

Bruno knows what he’s talking about. After forming in 2017 and getting signed to Prosthetic three years later on the strength of a demo, Summoning the Lich encountered choppy waters that no band would envy. Don’t get him wrong: Bruno—previously a member of metalcore, beatdown, and djent bands—is enjoying his new project “more than anything I’ve ever done before.”

Getting there, though, wasn’t easy.

A few years back, Bruno and his wife faced one of the most frightening scenarios that a young married couple can be forced to confront: pregnancy complications. His wife had become afflicted with preeclampsia, a hypertension disorder that expecting mothers can undergo during pregnancy. As a result, their son, Levi, was born at 3 pounds and 2 ounces—and spent six and a half weeks in the intensive care unit of the hospital before they could take him home.

“It was a really scary time for us. We have some of the best medical facilities available, especially here in St. Louis… and it was still terrifying,” Bruno discloses.

Compounding that hardship was another serious medical issue that Bruno faced on his own.

“I had a huge mental health episode during the beginning of the pandemic, and I went into the psych ward,” Bruno also reveals. “It was real serious stuff. When I got out, I was better than I was, but I was still in that depression.”

How Bruno was able to process all the grief from those two developments and stick with Summoning the Lich is stupefying, as is his decision to view those struggles as opportunities to grow as a person, instead of chances to develop festering resentments. As the face of a very young band, Bruno already has a stronger sense of humility and ability to self-reflect than most veteran musicians ever will.

Still, Bruno found that the trials and tribulations he transcended didn’t make him feel better than anybody else. What Bruno went through “put into perspective (for me) that all of us are struggling,” he says. “A lot of what I’m trying to learn to do is just be more caring toward other people in general. Approaching life with that attitude instead of with just a personal survival gratification perspective.”

As Bruno discussed how he coped with seemingly unconquerable existential threats, it was easy to forget that he doesn’t spend all his time living in reality. Like the rest of us, he has a magic escape portal—one that leads to his imagination—for when the world is too much to handle.

Bruno has constructed an entire mythology around Summoning the Lich, which is also the name of immortal zombie-like creatures from Dungeons & Dragons. The band explained part of the saga in a statement: “United In Chaos tells the tale of the rise of the Lich and fall of the Kingdom Rodor—and the spread of his wicked influence across the land as his power grows.”

Bruno expanded on the concept: “When we first formed the band, it was a looser idea. After I wrote a couple of songs, I started to develop the main storyline and the world and change some of the lyrics I’d been working on for the other songs to fit in. The guys did a really good job of matching the theme musically to the lyrics and the story line of this next album. They’re not involved in the story line per se, but they do write with it in mind.”

During the delays that plagued his band’s initial push after signing to Prosthetic, Bruno already mapped out the next chapter of the tale for Summoning the Lich’s second album. While the first record revolved around world-building, Bruno—who is also writing a book, although it’s unclear if it will be related to the Lich—says he’s ready to let the story live and breathe on its own.

“You’re trying to tell a giant fantasy story with just a few lyrics, but also repeating choruses and some repeating elements of verses,” he says. “It’s definitely a game. But I think there’s something really valid about having something that you can just escape into and enjoy another world for a little bit. That way, you can go back and address these things and really focus and give your all to the things that are important in your life—and important to all of us in the world and the challenges we all face.”

As Bruno speaks with New Noise amid Summoning the Lich preparing to tour with Gorod, he is firmly rooted in reality. This is obvious from the anxiety he expresses over having to leave Levi and his wife at home.

“‘Where’s my Daddy?’… that just destroys me,” he confesses. “And my wife is only going to be as close to a video screen for over a month, and that’s a bummer. Fortunately my whole family is supportive, and they know that playing music is something I’ve worked for my whole life to become.”

“Being in a band nowadays is so difficult,” he concludes. “But, at the end of the day, it’s what I was made to do.”

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