The Bay Area band Judgement Day plays string metal, and play it so well, they deserve to own the domain stringmetal.com, where you’ll find their website. This week, on Friday night, they’re playing a headlining show at 924 Gilman, where you’ll have the opportunity to pick up a copy of Out of the Abyss: Live on Tape, a new 7″ vinyl release from the band. We caught up with Anton and Lewis Patzner, the violinist and cellist of Judgement Day, and asked them to answer some questions for us.
Spinning Platters: Explain any struggles you may have describing your band to others.
Anton: On our first record it was easy. We could just say: “It’s violin, cello and drums playing face-melting metal” and that would be that. With our new stuff it’s harder, because there is a lot more variety. We still have some shredding metal songs but there is also some really pretty melodic stuff and way more experimentation. One of
the hardest questions for me to answer is “What band do you sound like?” I honestly have no idea. I guess I could say that the style of our music is somewhere in between Radiohead, Slayer and Shostakovich, but that would pretty much be pointless.
Lewis: You could say its a blend between hard rock, metal, cinematic and classical with a dash a jazz fusion, but at that point in the genre naming game you’re not saying anything meaningful. When I write music for Judgement Day I approach it from a performer’s perspective. The music I want to play is the music I write. The end result is a
very active and full sounding use of the cello. When you try to get the most of out of your instrument, you’re going to end up with some heavy stuff.
SP: Bands that play “string metal” tend to do it without a vocalist.
Any thoughts on why this is?
Anton: Metal is one of the only kinds of music that we listen to these days where instrumentals are not just acceptable but are totally embraced. There are a ton of great metal records that have 10-minute or longer instrumentals and a lot of times those are my favorite tracks. On top of that, I think that strings are already voices by themselves. The violin and cello are primarily melodic instruments and they fill that same range that a vocalist fills so we definitely don’t feel like we need a singer. Apocalyptica, who is kind of like the OG string metal band, started out instrumental but now uses singers. It’s brought them some great success but for me their music is less appealing as a result.
Lewis: One thing I like about playing with Judgement Day is we can play lots of different kinds of shows. We’ve had good shows playing for true metal heads as well as for pop-inclined hipsters. I think if we got a singer we’d be more pinned down to one genre. The crowd at a Mates of State show’s not going to put up with some joker screaming his head off.
SP: What are your favorite places to play?
Anton: We’ve been really lucky to get on some great tours playing big venues like Great American Music Hall and The Fillmore, but my favorite shows are at the underground DIY spots. Basement shows in Portland and Pittsburg, Speakeasy Studios art gallery / warehouse / recording studio in Oceanside CA – those kind of places just always have a great vibe. The people there are super appreciative and rock out harder than anyone else. I think Gilman fits into that category too. It’s been around forever but it has always been totally real and DIY. When we play there, the kids go totally crazy and the crowd just becomes a giant, gyrating sea of rock. I have never seen that kind of energy
anywhere else. It’s very exciting.
SP: What are your favorite guilty pleasures?
Anton: I’m a big fan of pop music like Beyonce and Justin Timberlake. I like dance clubs. I also really like Project Runway. But I’m not really embarrassed about any of that. I am a little bit embarrassed to admit that I sometimes like watching…. The MTV dating show NEXT.
Lewis: The USA TV original Burn Notice. It’s just so cool…
SP: How do you push the evolution of your sound?
Anton: I think that’s a really good question because it’s something that is really important to us. For our second record, Peacocks / Pink Monsters, which is coming out in February, we really experimented a lot with effects pedals, improvisation and orchestral arrangements. It’s way bigger in scope than anything else we’ve done so far and there are some really unique sounds on it. If you have ever wondered what a violin sounds like running through a sythesizer, followed by a backwards delay, you will finally know. And if you are normal and have never wondered that, then I’ll just tell you that I always wanted to know and when I found out it was even sicker than I thought it would be.
Lewis: When we first started playing together some of the more progressive elements of our music seemed more difficult. If we did write something in an odd time signature it would usually be something pretty simple like 5/4 for an entire section. Now I think we’re much more comfortable with that kind of playing. We’re able switch time signatures every measure in some cases. I think its key, though, to make sure when writing this kind of music that you’re doing it for the right reason, which is not doing it just because you can. I only like to write that kind of music when it seems to flow naturally.
SP: Who are you listening to now that you’d like everyone to know about?
Anton: Everyone should listen to Arvo Pårt. He is a contemporary Estonian composer and his music is absolutely beautiful. I don’t know how else to describe it. Check out Fratres, Tabula Rasa or Spiegel im Speigel. They will make you cry.
Lewis: Gary Thomas is a badass tenor sax player. His album Exile’s Gate is a good example of modern jazz fusion.
SP: You’ve both spent time as touring members of other bands. How do you keep your creative juices going when doing this?
Anton: Another good question. It can be hard, because touring really isn’t that creative. You spend a of time setting up, breaking down, driving and playing the same songs every night. A lot of times your only chance to get creative is during the show. One thing that has been really lucky for me is that almost all of the bands I have played with have been open to improvisation. Bright Eyes was one of the most fun bands to play with because Conor Oberst was totally down to jam and the songs would go in totally new directions every night. He would pretty much let me play whatever I wanted. That definitely helped me to keep feeling creative. Sometimes on tour though, no matter how hard you try you’re just not going to feel it, and when that happens I find the best thing to do is just to practice scales until creativity strikes again.
SP: Who are some of your favorite bands to play with?
Anton: We’ve been really lucky to tour with bands who are both musically interesting and really fun to be around. Mates of State and Dredg have both been amazing bands to tour with and they pretty much feel like family at this point. On the local tip, we just did an acoustic tour sharing a van with a dope all-girl experimental pop band called Foxtails Brigade. That was pretty fun because usually it’s all dudes in our van, so it was nice to have some feminine influence. One of my favorite tours we ever did was with Silian Rail. Their drummer Eric is the kind of guy that can pick up just about any instrument and make a song out of it. We had some dope late night jams on that trip.
Lewis: I like the Cleveland Browns a lot. They’re out there having fun, plus their music is awesome. It’s great they’re playing shows again.
SP: Anything we should be correcting on your Wikipedia page?
Anton: Hmmm…. It looks pretty good… except that it doesn’t list our latest release on the discography. It’s a new 7″ record called Out of the Abyss: Live on Tape. We recorded it in a vintage studio on tape and did all of the tracking live. We’re stoked to finally have vinyl. The packaging came out awesome and it comes with sheet music for the B-side Etude. Are you going to fix that for us? Do you do that for bands? For free? [Editor’s Note: We don’t normally, but we did this time. It’s corrected now.]
SP: What’s coming next for Judgement Day?
Anton: The main thing is that our new record is coming out in February. We’re working really hard to get the word out for that and get people hyped up about it. In addition to finishing the artwork and mastering we’re also working on a couple of music videos that we’re really excited about. It has been five years since our first record came out and we have grown so much since then. I think our fans will be really surprised and pleased to see how far we have come.
Be sure to catch Judgement Day at 924 Gilman on Friday, August 28.