"That is always the goal—to make the heaviest music we can at any given time," frontman Erik Stenglein says.
Milwaukee’s metal scene is a tight-knit collection of musicians and fans, and a longtime constant in that community has been sludge-metal group Northless, who celebrates 10 years as a band on Saturday, December 16 at Cactus Club. In advance of the show (which also doubles as an album release), Northless guitarist/vocalist Erik Stenglein discusses the evolution of the project over the past decade, the history of the city’s metal scene and the latest record, Last Bastion of Cowardice.
On getting into metal as a genre
When I was 9 years old, my sister dubbed me a cassette that had Voivod’s album Killing Technology on one side, and Fugazi’s album In On The Kill Taker on the other. It was insanely hard for a 9-year-old with no real prior musical reference to grasp.
Two years later, I heard Metallica’s Black Album and it was all over. Something inside me clicked, and from then on I became dedicated to finding the most extreme metal I could find. First, it was Slayer and Anthrax, then it was Napalm Death and Obituary, then Crowbar and Eyehategod, then Gorguts and Cryptopsy. And it just kept going from there.
On Milwaukee’s bygone metal scene
In my opinion, Milwaukee was a metal haven from the late ’80s through the early 2000s, with the annual and nationally respected Milwaukee Metalfest, as well as a smattering of good bands. And then in the early 2000s, metalcore infected the scene here, and produced mostly a lot of what I would consider “faux metal” or “metal lite” sort of bands, that consisted mostly of younger folks who weren’t involved in the aforementioned metal scene.
On the evolution of metal
Since metalcore has become more passe and replaced by an even worse genre in the national metal mainstream (Djent), a lot of those older metal folks from the OG scene seemed to pop up in new bands, or reform their old bands—Dr. Shrinker, Morta Skuld and Viogression are good examples. Death metal and black metal became the popular and predominant metal genres again in the national metal scene. Those styles have inspired some great new bands here over the last six to seven years, like Pig’s Blood, Prezir and Uhtcearu.
On the growing fanbase
There were tons of people who came to metalcore shows back in the early/mid 2000s, for varying reasons. As soon as metalcore became lame, the vast majority of those people stopped coming to shows. Slowly, actual metal fans and musicians who are also music fans started coming to shows more regularly.
Every year since 2007, I’ve seen more [new] people attending shows, which is great. New bands with the right idea have been forming and kicking ass. Milwaukee’s metal scene will never be what it was in the ’90s, but there will always be talented people forming good bands and making good music.
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On Last Bastion of Cowardice, recorded with Shane Hochstetler at Howl Street Recordings.
No joke, Shane is like our fifth member. He has always helped us make the heaviest record that we could at any given time we are with him. I feel like we’ve kind of grown together.
This new album is the best thing we’ve done with him, and our collective experience helped us arrive at the tones we did on this record, which honestly I couldn’t be more proud of. Shane also put up with a lot of our dumb ideas and made them work, which we like. He also has an uncredited performance on this record, but I’ll never tell.
On the new record’s different sound
I guess what I can say is that it’s a very dark record, and while we are not a Satanic band or a band who really references the Biblical version of Hell, it does use ‘hell’ as a general pejorative to describe life and the suffering that comes with it.
I made a record that sublimates the anger and despair that I often feel inside, and that acts as a cathartic composition that myself and others can reference when they are feeling low. It’s a concept record, it’s a fictional story, but it contains personal elements from my own life reworked into a story format.
On what’s next
Eventually, there will be another album. We’ll probably play some shows in the meantime, maybe even tour again. It’s essentially a cycle: write songs, record music, release that music, play shows and save money up, write more music, use that saved money to record and then repeat. And, I know I always say this, but our next record will be heavier. That is always the goal — to make the heaviest music we can at any given time.