In the wake of a despotic sycophant leaving the White House in an insurrectionist temper tantrum, the ushering in of global pandemic that refuses to release its grip, and with a world now teetering closer to nuclear war, what’s really left for metal to say? All of the pestilence, tyranny, death, destruction and societal decay we were warned about in the lyrics and imagery inherent to metal has come to pass. So where then do the harbingers of doom go from here? What’s left to scare us?
According to Matt Auxier, whose latest project, Abyssal Rift, just released its absolutely brutal debut, Extirpation Dirge, the ultimate enemy is us, humankind. And now it’s time for us to become extinct.
“It’s a metaphoric prophecy about the human race being a plague on the Earth,” said Auxier about the concept of the record. “We had plenty of opportunities to reverse course, but we never have, so it’s time to go. It’s a funeral march as we walk into the abyss.”
Auxier is no stranger to injecting dire themes into his music. He’s a veteran of the Columbus metal scene, having been a founding member of both the Pretty Weapons and the late, still beloved EYE. Since the dissolution of EYE, the Columbus metal scene has burrowed deeper underground, evolving in weird, complex and surprising new ways, with bands like Paimon Gate and Sanguisugabogg currently thriving far outside the city limits.
“There’s a whole generation of metal in Columbus, who are about 10 to 20 years younger than me, and who are totally blowing up right now,” Auxier said.
Auxier has kept himself busy, as well. After EYE, Auxier fortified himself in his home studio and launched 6th Circle, a solo industrial project with multiple albums available on Bandcamp. That eventually led to Ash Prison, which last year released the Skinny Puppy-indebted Future Torn on Oakland’s Sentient Ruin Laboratories. It’s a work steeped in distant relationships, with vocals by Mattia Alagna recorded in California and bass played remotely from the East Coast by J. Thompson.
But with Abyssal Rift, Auxier was nostalgic for his early love for classic death metal, drawing on the abject gore and speed of bands like Deicide, Obituary and Cannibal Corpse. He was also urged on by newcomers such as Blood Incantation and Spectral Voice – bands that are currently pushing the genre to dizzying new extremes. Using death as a template, Extirpation Dirge explores every realm of heavy music that has ever inspired him in its thrifty, 36-minute run time.
There are ethereal moments of doomed riffs, industrial blast beats, thrashy pick squeals and some of the most terrifying and gnarly vocals laid down in Columbus music history. Auxier spent much of his downtime during the pandemic composing the album by himself, playing all of the instruments out of the necessity of forced isolation. Auxier even programmed the drums on his own before realizing he’d need a human being to play them to actually make his vision come to full life. At the behest of Sentient Ruin’s owner and Ash Prison vocalist, Alagna, Auxier enlisted David Mahoney, who added drums in a Toronto studio.
As for the lyrics, the bulk of which are indecipherable, Auxier alludes to a post-pandemic purge for mankind. “Extirpation” means, bluntly, the extinction of an entire species. “Curse of the earth, plague to all life,” Auxier growls on the lead track “The Plague.” It’s heady, nightmarish stuff that goes beyond the lucid fantasies of your typical metal album. It also couples nicely with current realities, soundtracking the endless stream of horrors which scroll on TV news and can make it feel like we're living inside a hornet’s nest.
“Being an old man, I grew up on thrash and ‘Headbanger’s Ball.’ As I got more into it, I discovered German thrash like Nuclear Assault, but also the staples in Overkill, Megadeth and Metallica. And all of that was about apocalyptic, end-of-world shit. So, most of it was ‘Jesus Christ, what the fuck is wrong with the human race?’” Auxier said. “My lyrics have always been very left-leaning, so with this one the realism thrown in is political on purpose. It’s not about anything too specific. It’s just lords and vassals, which it’s always been.”
That speed and dexterity inherent in death metal will be put to the test when the band makes its live debut opening for Oakland’s Necrot at Ace of Cups on Tuesday, Feb. 13. Onstage, Auxier enlisted his old mates from EYE to help manifest the album’s monolithic sonics, including drummer Brandon Smith, guitarist Jess Martin and bassist Mike Sliclen. But even within Auxier’s impressively bleak body of work, Abyssal Rift stands as his darkest, most terrorizing statement yet – a reality at odds with the comfort he found in its creation.
“The pandemic, as dark as it was, gave me nothing but time,” said Auxier, whose dad died as he worked on tracks for Abyssal Rift, intensifying the record's feelings of loss. “But that time also helped. It was cathartic. It was a release.”