That last couple years have been filled with uncertainty and turbulence for Philadelphia-based groove metal band A Life Once Lost. They returned from hiatus in October of 2010 to the pleasant surprise of metal fans all over the world who believed the band to be all but finished. A Life Once Lost added to the fanfare by promising a new album would be released soon after they finalized a new record deal. The band released a new song and began playing shows, reminding the underground of their hyper violent brand of progressive stoner thrash while also rebuilding their fanbase and garnering anticipation for the new record.
The band announced signing a record deal with French label Season Of Mist in 2011, but questions began rising when drummer Justin Graves departed in the spring of that year. Guitarist Robert Carpenter followed suit and A Life Once Lost appeared to be in flux yet again. But as guitarist Doug Sabolick explains below, that was far from the case. In fact, the loss of two founding members only reinforced Sabolick and vocalist Bob Meadows’ designs for a new direction.
The two threw out much of the already completed follow-up to 2007’s Iron Gag, welcomed drummer Jordan Crouse and began working on their new new record. The result is Ecstatic Trance, out Oct. 22. Sabolick says it is an album thoroughly different from their previous work while still faithful to the crushing heaviness for which they became known.
It was my impression last time we did an interview [in December 2010] that the album was done; what has pushed back the release until now?
When we talked before, we finished what we thought was going to be the album. That was mostly with the original lineup. Then Bob Meadows and I just started reevaluating what we actually wanted to do with our new record and we started collaborating a little more. That lead to the other guys not being as into it; they didn’t want to go where we wanted to go. They just kind of wanted to stick to the same old.
That lead to [the four of us] going back and forth on it for a while, but then those guys just got kind of weeded out anyway for their own life decisions that they made or wanted to make. Bob and I, we play music. That’s what we do. Doing anything else [for us] was just kind of a way of waiting to play more.
… You have to be a hustler to be a musician. You have to be multi-talented and you just have to go for it… That’s why the album took so long—because people were dragging their feet. I don’t want to drag my feet. So we reevaluated the album, lost some members in the process, we rethought how we were going to approach it and that’s what we did.
We went away for a while but we made a lot of ground too. It wasn’t like we went away for a while and then put out the same album we would have put out a while ago.
How much of the material for the previous record made it onto this record, if any? You released the song “Expressions Of Hate” in 2010, did that make the record?
No, that isn’t going to be on the album. We took maybe about half the album riff-wise and reapproached the drumming, bass groves and overall orchestration, but that was still just guitar riffs. Everything else we still had to build around, the drums, the bass, the vocals, guitars, lead guitar, the organ. So, you know, a lot of the stuff that was a little more guitar riffing became stripped down in some areas so other instruments could take the lead on some things. It wasn’t only about the riffs; it was about the bigger vibe, the bigger picture. We have achieved that. The bigger picture is there.
If you listen to it and expect only guitar riffs or whatever, well, you’re not going to get that. If you can get beyond that and see the big picture, you might be able to connect with what we’re bringing right now.
So are people going to say that you guys aren’t as heavy anymore and that you can’t write good riffs?
No. The album is 100 percent heavy riffing the whole time. That is something that we kept in the back of our minds. I didn’t want to just change what we’re going for. So those guitars are there the whole time, but they’re just a piece of the puzzle now.
Were you building songs, then, in other ways? Were you writing riffs from drum grooves or basslines or vocal parts?
Yeah, we took elements of things like krautrock and a lot of Afrobeat rhythms. We’d come up with these repeating patterns on the drums or whatever and I’d sit there and riff until I locked into something that was pleasing to me. Not every song was like that, but we definitely built it around the drums.
Although we were influenced by these things [like Afrobeat] we didn’t try to recreate them. We just took those things that we liked and created our thing.
What attracted you to the Afrobeat stuff?
Now, when I listen to music, rhythm is what I’m drawn to. Afrobeat just sucks you into a trance. There’s all these things going on but not everything has to change. When I heard it, I just connected. The dynamics that could be created with the bass playing—I just thought it could be a new thing, though it’s not like we’re trying to recreate [Afrobeat].
It might sound crazy but it’s not really.
What’s the most obvious change on this record people will notice that set it apart?
Well, there’s a few things. The guitar solos are more atonal, less shred. They’ll notice the drums not being as chaotic, although the music is chaotic. The drums serve a purpose, [they are] part of the music. The organ is there. There’s a lot more melody and harmony that we’ve never really done before, just as a whole.
What are the touring plans at this point?
We’re doing a U.S. tour in October and November with Revocation and KEN mode. Then we’re flying out to L.A. to play the Season Of Mist showcase. Beyond that, we’re ready to get out there. We’re just trying to unleash the album. When things come up, if people want us to come [out], we’re ready.
At this point you’re ready to completely focus on the band then?
Well, I’ve been completely focused on it for a while, just leading up to writing everything and getting the album done. We want to [focus on the band]. Life is crazy but that’s the goal.
A Life Once Lost has always had a great live show with your DIY lighting; what’s new to the live show now?
The live show is something that is going to be perfect every night. We’ve just been taking technology and making it work for us. When you see the show, it will be more of an experience. It will be more than just a metal band playing in a bar.
I don’t like to talk about what we do [live]. I just want people to be there and enjoy it if they want to be there.
Ecstatic Trance is out Oct. 22 via Season Of Mist. A Life Once Lost will play The Studio at Webster Hall in NYC on Nov. 12 with Revocation and KEN mode. For more information, go to facebook.com/ALOLOfficial.