2022, Interviews

#Dissentience 🇺🇸 on the ‘Anatomy’ of Melo-Death Metal

By Justin Smulison

Dissentience is a melodic death-thrash quartet from Pennsylvania whose first full-length album, Empire Anatomy dropped in 2022. The album’s 10 incredibly intense songs meet the expectations left by their prior EP, Mask of Pretense and capture the energy for which they are known, especially after winning the East Coast leg of the Wacken Metal Battle USA in 2019.

Empire Anatomy features a cacophony of scorching tunes and searing vocals but also maintains a pristine sonic quality. Produced by Dissentience, local New Jersey audio authority Matt Menafro and God Forbid drummer Corey Pierce, one of Empire Anatomy’s best features is its ability to showcase a controlled chaos that is part of the band’s signature sound.

At the center of Empire Anatomy is vocalist/guitarist Connor Valentin, who took some time to speak with Blessed Altar Zine about the themes expressed on the album, the band’s history and what it’s like to work with top-tier talent behind the glass.

An Interview with Connor Valentin of Dissentience

Tell us the abridged history of the band, starting with what caused the rebrand and the formation of Dissentience.

Jimmy Vitale (guitar), Sean Langer (bass), and I all met in high school and formed the precursor to Dissentience, which was the band, Why We Fight. We played a few shows under that moniker and went through a couple drummers but around my junior year, we couldn’t find a drummer that could really keep up with the music we were writing and, as it goes in one’s formative years, our influences evolved past what they were when we first started.

On top of that, there were at least two other bands out there with the same name so we knew that had to go. Thankfully, one day we got an email from Nick Sherden (who lived halfway across the state at the time) about playing drums for us. Within a few days of getting some of the demos, he had a drum cover posted on YouTube that was tighter than the drums we had programmed for it and he’s been in the band ever since. With the drummer change and progression in style, we decided the best thing to do was to change our name and after going through dozens of possibilities, we ended up with Dissentience after a song by one of our favorite bands, Protest the Hero.

Your first EP dropped in 2018 and it was independently released. How was your approach to Mask of Pretense different than how you approached recording and writing Empire Anatomy?

The approach was very different in a lot of ways but also very similar. Our goal since day one has just been to make heavy music, regardless of what subgenre it might fall under, and that wasn’t approached any differently this time around. That being said, when we wrote Mask, we were all still at school and separated until we went into pre-production and recording so almost all of the EP was written in front of a computer, using a DAW, and copy/pasting riffs together. When we did pre-pro with Corey Pierce on the EP, almost all of the changes that were made were to structural bits that resulted from demoing songs that way, mostly choppy transitions, riffs that went on for too long, or just parts that didn’t make sense in the song. Writing on a computer, I tend to just throw stuff in because it sounds cool but it doesn’t necessarily serve the song as well as it could.

Going into the writing for Empire Anatomy, we really kept all of that in mind and ended up writing most of the songs by just getting in a room, brainstorming, and then jamming until we had a solid song structure. Much less was changed structurally during the pre-pro sessions this time around and I think it’s because we were way more conscious of trying to write a good song instead of stringing together riffs. As for recording, it was night and day. We did the EP in about five days whereas we spent (on and off) almost all of 2020 at Peach Pie Sound working on and recording Empire so there was a lot more room to experiment and to make sure we got what we wanted in regard to performance and tones.

How did your local neighborhoods and underground scenes in Pennsylvania influence your sound and its evolution?  

Most of us grew up in Bethlehem, which has a pretty rich music culture so I like to think that just being around so many different types of music played a big part in us not wanting to shoehorn ourselves into one genre. When we were coming up, the biggest underground scene in the area besides cover bands and blues groups would’ve been the hardcore scene. While they all liked metal bands, they didn’t seem to want any on their shows and the scene was very clique-y so we felt pretty ostracized from the only local scene we had. Now things are a little bit better with venues like The Alt Gallery hosting regular metal shows and we have a lot of great bands coming out of PA which has been really great to see.

How do you compose your brand of melodic thrash and death metal?

It’s tough to nail down an exact process because we try to approach every song differently. We try to start with either a loose lyrical concept or a general feel that we want to capture and use that as a jumping off point to start writing. Next we try to get a rough song structure down and once that’s pretty set in stone, we tweak from there. While I think most of our songs end up in the death-thrash territory, we never limit ourselves to writing in a particular genre, those just happen to be where we draw most of influence from whether it’s old school stuff like Megadeth, Testament, or Morbid Angel or newer acts like Revocation, Sylosis, and Gojira. When the melodic tendencies start to creep in, I think that comes from our early influences like Trivium, Avenged Sevenfold…stuff we listened to a lot in our high school days and still jam on here and there at practices. We draw influence from everything, though, be it jazz, prog, hip hop, movies, books…our only real goals are to stay heavy and to try to avoid the trappings of any one particular genre.

I would guess that “War of Belief” (among other songs) is a reaction to polarizing political leaders.  How does the social and political climate influence your lyrics?  

None of us are super politically-minded but occasionally it does seep into the lyrics because, especially after the last few years, it’s tough not to pay attention to what’s going on in the world. We try not to take any sides in the matter because for us music is an escape from all the craziness of the world so if politics or social matters get brought up, it’s usually a means to explore some larger concept. In the case of “War of Belief,” we wanted to dive into the topic of celebrities talking politics, the concept of influencers, and how that combination has caused the social landscape to become so divided.

Clinical Psychosis” was released as one of the singles ahead of the LP release. How do you decide which songs you’ll lead with?

“Clinical” was definitely one of those songs that, as we listened back to the mixes in the studio, everyone seemed to agree that it should definitely be one of the singles. When choosing which songs get released as singles, I think we try to pick songs that lean more on the melodic side while still showcasing the heaviness and technicality that we like to sprinkle into all of our music.

“War of Belief” was the lead single from the album because after laying low since the EP, we really wanted to make an impact with our album announcement and first song back. That song opens up with a bang and definitely has bits of all the styles delved into throughout the album, so it was a pretty obvious choice to us to lead not only the promotion for the album, but the album itself.

Lost In Rage” ends with a groovy riff. I feel like that was probably the foundation of the song and then it grew from there. How is my aim there?  How did that song come about?  

Actually, that song started its life with the intro riff! Most of our songs seem to be written fairly linearly, intro to outro, but that end groove is one of my favorite bits on the album. Like most of the songs on Empire Anatomy, that one started life while Nick and I were jamming. I came up with that intro/chorus melody and from there, we tried to work it into a faster, thrashier composition.

We’ll usually work the song riff by riff based on some loose concept we have but in this case, there wasn’t really a lyrical idea or anything so we were going totally by feel, writing around the chorus riff. A lot the songs we already had lyrics for were more conceptual or story-based, so for this one we wanted to write something a little simpler that captured the energy of the verse and that groove riff. I like to think that “Lost in Rage” has a bit more of a hardcore punk approach to the lyrics.

How did you get connected with Corey Pierce?  

Not long after God Forbid called it quits, Corey put a call out on their Facebook page looking for bands in the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania area as he was trying to get into producing. I sent him our demo and he must’ve heard some potential so he reached out to me and our relationship has been building ever since.

How does having a high-level player like that behind the glass inspire you?

Before we began work on the Mask of Pretense EP, Corey sent over a few albums for us to check out as potential directions he saw us moving in, from Strapping Young Lad, Kreator, and a few others. Most of them, we were already spinning regularly for inspiration, so it was immediately obvious to us that Corey not only understood our musical background but also where we wanted to go and not go.

What sort of input did he have on the creative direction or the sonic quality?

Most metal musicians hear the term “producer” and get scared thinking that it’s someone who’s going to try to make them radio-friendly or change their sound but Corey has only ever had our best interest in mind and only pushes us in directions we already want to explore. He works with us both during pre-production and the recording process and while they’re very different, his main goal is to get the best work out of us. In pre-pro, he acts as an outside ear to really hone in the song structures and weed out any unnecessary or weak parts. During the recording process, his main goal is to get the best performances out of each of us in regards to what serves the song best. Sonically, we tend to work more with the engineer to achieve what we hear in our heads, this time around Matt Menafro of Peach Pie Sound, though Corey isn’t afraid to chime in and tell us if something isn’t up to snuff. It’s great working with Corey because we get a peek into what it takes to truly be a professional in this business but also because he seems to really care about helping to shape our sound into something unique.

The band came up in the 2010s, but it seems like you embrace streaming services, like Bandcamp. As an underground/independently produced metal band, what are some advantages to websites such as Bandcamp?

Bandcamp and other streaming services like Spotify have made our lives as independent musicians both much easier and much tougher in some respects. It’s easier than ever to get our music directly from our computers to our fans once it’s through mixing and mastering which is awesome but that also means it’s easier than ever to get lost in a sea of other bands that use similar genre tags. Because of that, we still find it necessary to focus on not only refining our sound as best we can, but also trying to keep things visually interesting with artwork that stands out as well as promoting with alternative means on our social media.

Luckily, all of the streaming services tend to have an analytics section where we can see the level of impact our promotion is having on our streaming numbers so if things start to dip down, we know we have to change up our strategy. It really puts the power in the hands of the band to self-promote and be aware of the reach of your music without having to rely on a label or a promotional firm to tell you what does or doesn’t work.

What can we expect from Dissentience in the way of live performances in 2022 and further out? 

We have a few summer shows lined up in the tri-state area right now but we’re looking to book as much as we can for the rest of the year. With venues just starting to open back up to the idea of heavier genre shows, it’s been tougher than ever to get booked outside of the PA area but we’re hoping to play in as many new markets as we can to support Empire, so we just have to put our heads down and push forward. We noticed right away after we put out our EP that we really thrive and connect with audiences in a live scenario much more than online so hopefully hitting the stage more will get some extra buzz going and help us with booking in new areas. The goal is to be doing some light touring or at least consistent weekend runs by the end of the year.

What would you like to say to any of your fans or to anyone first discovering you?

To the fans we’ve made already, THANK YOU for making this an extremely successful album release so far and for sticking with us and supporting us! To anyone who’s never heard of us before, put down the zine, get on your streaming service of choice, throw on our new full-length Empire Anatomy, and check it out while you finish reading! To either group of fans, you can keep up with us on Instagram or Facebook, grab some merch or a CD at dissentience.com, and reach out to your local promoters, radio stations, record stores, etc. and spread the word so we can hit a stage near you!

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