Deep in the bowels of the Make.Shift space dwells a dark, smelly entity. This beast has 8 legs, 8 arms, 4 heads (with 7 good eyes, and 1 recently surgically-repaired eye), and a sweet-ass collection of bones and skulls hidden away somewhere.
Obviously, this beast I write of is Bellingham’s own Leatherhorn, and not some deformed mutant of some kind (although, I suppose that is arguable.)
The band features Jeff Kastelic on vocals, Sean Jerns on guitar, Ryan Clapper on bass and Noah Burns on drums. In many ways, this band could be considered a super-group, as they consist of band members that have been in some of the heaviest, gnarliest bands in Bellingham history (Full Frontal Assault and Dog Shredder, among others) but, the band itself came together organically over the last few years and has taken on its own identity.
When you visit Leatherhorn’s Facebook page you will see the word “metal” six times: the band’s About section header: “extreme metal from Bellingham,” Description: “metal,” Biography: “Bellingham heavy metal,” Band interests: “metal,” Genre: “metal,” Influences: “metal.”
During my interview with them, the band members said the word, “metal” an additional six times in about a 10-minute span. So, yeah, they like metal.
Leatherhorn just recently finished the recording of their first album, Skull Worship, which has been more than two years in the making.
“Most modern metal albums are just cut-and-pasted, recorded inch-by-inch and just sound sterile,” Kastelic said. “So, we went into the recording of the album with the philosophy that we would keep it raw, with energy and soul. When you hear this album, we sound like a real band. It’s not all about making it sound flawless and pristine.”
Energy is definitely one thing that sets Leatherhorn apart from many of their contemporaries in the scene. Also, usually when you see a metal band, the guitarist will have a gajillion effects pedals at their feet, but between all the members of the band there is only one effects pedal: a distortion pedal used by Clapper on da bass.
“[Skull Worship] is really as close as we could get to a live album, in some ways,” said Jerns. “We didn’t use any effects or anything. It’s just fast and brutal, not fancy at all. Well, I guess some of the record is slow and brutal also, but, yeah, not fancy either way.”
The band originally intended to have a record release show on Nov. 27 at the Shakedown, but their plans were thwarted due to the fact that Burns needed emergency eye surgery for a detached retina. The band’s official record release show in Bellingham is currently being re-scheduled, but no official date has been confirmed yet.
The album will feature eight songs that range from ambitious songs that clock in at more than nine minutes, and some fast-burners that clock in around four minutes. Some of the songs on the album are tunes that the band has been playing since the beginning, some are new and some are ideas that Jerns has had kicking around in his head for the better part of five years, before the band ever played together.
“Our songs tend to be on the lengthy side,” Kastelic said. “We like to give ourselves a lot of room, so we can go places and experiment with adventurous, epic changes and stuff like that. The sound we tried to create on the album is more in the vein of classic metal. We’re trying to be unique within the realm of the genre, but still true to the music we’re into.”
The songwriting process usually begins with a riff or idea from Jerns, and then the band will coalesce around the idea and turn it into a complete song. Once that is done, Kastelic will write vocals and fit them to the songs.
“The music is way too complex to even try to do it any other way,” Kastelic said. “If I came to the band with some pre-written lyrics and we tried to make a song out of them it would just be too crazy, and wouldn’t work.”
Skull Worship was recorded by Peter Hilleary (member of Todos Somos Lee, soon to be member of Ship To Ship) in his father’s woodworking shop over a span of a couple weeks. The album features artwork done by local artist John Overly and was mastered at Black Belt Mastering in Seattle, which has mastered albums by Dog Shredder, Hot Bodies In Motion and the Absolute Monarchs, among others.
While it may be a while before Leatherhorn takes to a Bellingham stage for their record release, they said they are looking forward to it.
“For me playing live is a work-out,” Jerns said. “I probably sweat more than anyone else in the band, well, except for maybe Noah.”
“That’s f#@$ed up,” Clapper said. “I don’t sweat at all. I must not be working hard enough.”
You can hear a few prime cuts from Skull Worship at leatherhorn.bandcamp.com, and make sure to watch them sweat their asses off (except for Clapper) when their record release show is finally announced.