Below, Brooklynite multi-instrumentalist Ian Cory of Gabby’s World, Bellows, and Small Wonder walks listeners through the new album from his solo venture Lamniformes. Entitled Sisyphean, the six-song LP was released digitally and on limited-edition cassette on March 15 via Furious Hooves.
Trying to unspool the influences on a piece of art is always a fool’s game. No artist is ever truly aware of what influenced them to make any given creative decision. Inspiration is cumulative. Every piece of music that I’ve ever listened to has, in one way or another, influenced the way that I write my own music. That being said, there are a handful of guiding lights that I referred to often during the writing and recording process of Sisyphean. These songs and albums represented living proof that the goals I had for the album were achievable. When it seemed like the album would never be completed, I played these pieces of music on repeat, hoping to soak in their magic by osmosis. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that no one has pointed out the similarities between my songs and the ones that I reference below, but now the secret is out. Here’s hoping that this explanation enriches your experience with Sisyphean.
For a playlist of the songs mentioned in this article, click here.
“Nothing Ends, Nothing Lasts”
I wanted to begin Sisypheanby placing the listener at the bottom of the record’s metaphorical mountain just before the long journey of pushing the rock back up the hill. In a sense, “Nothing Ends, Nothing Lasts” is meant to capture the entire Sisyphean struggle in miniature; it begins gradually, becomes increasingly intense, and then collapses under its own weight. No genre is better suited to that emotional arc than post-rock, and I referred to a few different sources to capture the mood that I was going for.
When it comes to the conventional “crescendo-core” version of post-rock, few bands are as effective as MONO. I was particularly inspired by their song “Lost Snow” and the way that it was able to balance stirring melodies with brain-rattling noise. I knew that I wanted “Nothing Ends, Nothing Lasts” to have a dramatic collapse into ugliness and then a slow despairing fadeout, and I knew that this kind of structure would work because of how effortlessly MONO pulled it off on “Lost Snow.”
Unlike MONO, I don’t write instrumental music, so for the song’s opening section, I looked to bands like The Antlers and A Silver Mt. Zion. While I can’t say I’m a fan of the entire album, I’ve always admired the way that The Antlers opened Hospicewith “Kettering.” The intimacy of the vocals combined with the softness of the piano immediately puts the listener inside the world of the record. I also loved the naked urgency of A Silver Mt. Zion’s “Microphones in the Trees.” The balance between the rawness of Efrim Menuck’s vocal performance and the heavy layers of effects applied to the track is really special. Both of these songs feel very natural but also heightened, otherworldly even. Hopefully “Nothing Ends, Nothing Lasts” captures that same mix of tones.
“I Have Been a Flame”
If I had to point to one album that had the biggest impact on the sound of Sisyphean, I would without hesitation point to ISIS’s Oceanic. Although there are days when I prefer listening to Panopticon—and certainly, that album’s thoughts on the surveillance state make it the more prescient of the two)—Oceanicremains my blueprint for how to write thoughtful and unique heavy metal in the 21st century. My goal with “I Have Been a Flame” was to take ISIS’s basic ingredients, slow down-tuned riffs, subtle polyrhythms, multi-instrument counterpoint, and hypnotic repetition, and bend them into a slightly more pop-friendly shape. Not out of any desire to “soften” their sound, but because I love listening to music with clear melodies and hooks and wanted to see if I could blend that style with the cerebral post-metal that I loved in high school and college.
“Deep Despair in Covington, KY”
This is another song deeply indebted to ISIS, specifically the song “Carry.” Funny story, when ISIS were playing their farewell tour, I made it a point to find Aaron Turner and let him know how much the band meant to me. During our brief conversation—emphasis on brief; don’t be a punisher, kids—I told him that now that the band was breaking up, I felt comfortable emulating their sound. He chuckled as if I was joking, but I wasn’t.
The music of “Deep Despair in Covington, KY” was inspired by the form of ISIS’s “Carry.” I love how that song takes a simple rhythmic motif and gradually builds an entire song out of it, like prehistoric animals emerging out of the ocean and slowly learning how to walk. When writing this song, I decided to be even more strict in my adherence to this idea than ISIS were. Once the kick-drum pattern starts, “Deep Despair” never deviates from those accents.
I wrote the lyrics to “Deep Despair in Covington, KY” during a truly hellish car ride on tour with Bellows in 2012. We were convinced that our car was going to break down, and since we were all pretty inexperienced when it came to touring, the entire ride had apocalyptic overtones. In an effort to stave off our immense dread of being marooned in Kentucky, we cranked Mount Eerie’s Clear Moonand didn’t talk for the rest of the ride. The first draft of the song emerged from the freewriting that I did to keep my mind off of the tension in the car. While I wasn’t consciously trying to sound like Phil Elverum, some of his talk-singing style did make its way into my approach to “Deep Despair.”
This song was written in the winter of 2011, at a time when I was swept up in The Weeknd hype. It’s important to remember that long before he was collaborating with Daft Punk or making coked-out wedding jams, The Weeknd had a real air of mystery and danger to his music. As a relative neophyte to R&B, I was completely enamored with the brooding darkness of his first three mixtapes. To me, a song like “The Knowing” is only a few Orange amps away from being a doom metal track.
Around the same time, I was blown away by Wolves In The Throne Room’s Celestial Lineage. Although I’d been skeptical of their whole shtick before, this album just grabbed me by the throat. If I had to guess why, it was probably the way that it balanced the traditional black metal elements with the “spooky” ambient sections. This blend felt much more psychedelic and evocative than their earlier work, although those other records still hold up very well.
I think of “Hypothermia” as the bastard child of The Weeknd and Wolves In The Throne Room. It is a deeply twisted sex jam that uses freezing to death as a metaphor for arousal. To me, the marriage between frigid, nocturnal R&B and nature-worshiping black metal makes perfect sense. For everyone else, your mileage may vary.
ISIS weren’t the only post-metal band that I drew from for Sisyphean. “Diminisher” owes a great deal to the relentless and mechanical style that Cult Of Luna have built their name on. I may be projecting my admittedly limited understanding of Scandinavian collectivism on them, but I’ve always been impressed with the way that Cult Of Luna seem to play as a single unit. You never get the sense that any one instrument is breaking off from the whole. “Diminisher” is my attempt to emulate that cohesion. You’ll notice that, other than the drums, every instrument in this song moves in lockstep with each other rhythmically. I guess my vanity as a drummer prevented me from holding back. I’m very proud of my drum performance on this track, especially in the final third once it picks up in volume again.
“Measured In Rings”
Take it for what it’s worth, but in my opinion, the greatest song ever written and recorded is Have A Nice Life’s “Earthmover.” If you were to break the song down on paper, it would appear almost too simple for consideration. But the specifics of its performance and recording, the way the various layers of distortion interact with each other, the way Dan Barrett brings the lyrics to life, the absolute fucking destruction that those GarageBand midi drums wreck… all of this defies rational explanation. Sometimes a song just pierces through all of your critical faculties and changes your brain chemistry. “Earthmover” was one of those songs for me. Which is to say that “Measured In Rings” probably wouldn’t exist if I didn’t hold “Earthmover” as the Platonic ideal of how to end your album. I wouldn’t even dare to say that I got close to capturing the magic of “Earthmover,” but that’s what I was aiming for. Also, if you listen carefully during the bridge of “Measured In Rings,” you’ll hear the same GarageBand pad that Have A Nice Life used to open Deathconsciousness, albeit with slightly more distortion. Just my little nod to the masters.