Interview: Shards Of Humanity (2020) / From The Bowels Of Perdition

Conversation with

Shards Of Humanity

Now that humanity as a whole faces what appears to be a possible catastrophic scenario that threatens to change the world as we know it, your band name resonates like a shape of things to come, like a possible sinister indication of what civilisation may very easily come down to. How does that make you feel? If your intention, back when you were starting out, was to go for a name that would reflect the attitude and the atmosphere of your music, how well would you say those two correspond with the situation we are all currently experiencing?

Todd Cochran: The band name was conceived out of a set of lyrics written by former vocalist Kanon Autry in a previous incarnation of the band more than ten years ago, a couple years before we were even in high school. I like to think the name resonates with the duality and inherent tension and separation between people on the planet in the present and previous centuries, which has been the result of different forms of tyranny and general reptilian-minded states of being. I for one do not root for the downfall of humanity and believe the human spirit will prevail eventually in these strange times.

The cover art of Cold Logic doesn’t seem like a random picture you purchased just because it was eye-catching, but a commissioned work with the visual concept carefully developed upfront. Is that correct? If so, can you deconstruct that concept and explain where does it intersect the meaning behind the album’s title and the lyrical themes of the songs?

Todd Cochran: Yes, the original idea was submitted to Brooks Wilson of Crypt Sermon and TrenchRot fame in the form of a mockup created by a graphic artist friend. He then began the painting process and the ideas shifted during the creation into a slightly different concept which turned out to be much more suitable and relevant to my personal taste and general lyrical themes.

Speaking of Brooks, who also did the artwork for Fractured Frequencies back in 2014, he once described Shards Of Humanity as a compromise between the technical prowess of Death and the aggression and grit of Sadus. Do you think that such a sentiment makes the same sense today as it did back in the day it was expressed, which was right after Fractured Frequencies came out? Would you say that Cold Logic was recorded by significantly or just marginally different and improved versions of yourselves?

Todd Cochran: Approaching the musicianship of any of the players in post-Spiritual Healing era Death is a tall order. That band became revolving door of all-stars. A definite and humbling compliment from Brooks. I think what he said would still hint the listener to what they are to hear on Cold Logic, plus or minus some other influences. The performance on this new record I believe has improved in several ways.

If you were to return a favour to Brooks and describe TrenchRot’s debut Necronomic Warfare the same way, which two bands would they end up being a compromise between? Is TrenchRot still active by the way?

Todd Cochran: I remember being at work one day and I couldn’t get this riff out of my head. I couldn’t remember for the life of me where I heard it. It was a slow haunting riff with a lot of power, but not cliche in the least. I searched for the song thinking it might have been Incantation, but gave up trying to find it for a couple months. One day I pulled up the Unspeakable Axe YouTube channel and realized it was the beginning riff of the title track Necronomic Warfare by TrenchRot. I think they have several influences kind of like us but more emphasis on old school death metal rather than death/thrash.

The opening track on Cold Logic is entitled Cosmic Shield, which feels somewhat ironic considering that all the tracks on the record, that one included, sound like something that aims to penetrate every possible shield with their intensity instead of providing one. What made you think that would be a fitting title for that opening instrumental piece?

Todd Cochran: I went back and forth on the name for that one. I like to think that title stimulates a mental picture of something metaphysical and slightly mysterious, conjuring an image of a larger than life extra dimensional force. It also goes in hand with a distorted spoken word section, later edited out during the mixing process.

When it comes to influences, together with the usual suspects in that regard, bands like Atheist, Carcass or Death, it feels as if there are also hints of bands like Aura Noir, Absu or even Deströyer 666 to be heard on Cold Logic. Would you agree that there are small traces of the black/thrash aesthetics hidden within your otherwise rather traditionally influenced thrash and death metal riffing?

Todd Cochran: From time to time a black metal influence will seep into the riffs I feel out during the writing process. It’s definitely a relevant music style in my mind, however I tend to let the riffs come together naturally without thinking about subgenres and sort of let them turn into what they turn into. I definitely think one song in particular on this record carries that influence more so than anything we’ve written thus far.

Which one is that?

Todd Cochran: It’s Martyr’s Gaze.

With the second half of Demonic Crystallized Intelligence you proved the point that, when it comes to guitar playing technique and compositional skills, you are second to none in the entire extreme metal underground. Did you display your abilities in that song in such a supreme and dominant fashion precisely to prove that point?

Todd Cochran: I was excited to include that particular wild fusion type of section in this band’s format. It’s not something I hear often in the vein of music we play and, if I do, it certainly isn’t as straightforward. I experimented at first with some more subtle lead guitar ideas, but once I threw caution to the wind and really went for it, I knew I had achieved something I liked and thus starting building on that foundation. This is new ground for me personally and for the group which leaves me with a feeling of pride.

That wild fusion section, as you referred to it, is interesting primarily because of that pretty unorthodox use of the quite traditional jazz rhythmic background, instead of something seemingly more appropriate and metal-sounding. Was that sequence a homage to some particular jazz/fusion guitarists?

Todd Cochran: I’m a big fan of Alan Holdsworth’s lead guitar style at his most outrageous, and also the late guitar legend Shawn Lane out of my hometown Memphis. At its best, jazz/fusion can be absolutely ripping and the outside note choices can translate very well into formats with increased extremity and guitar distortion.

Would you subscribe to the notion that jazz and metal are the most demanding music styles to play?

Todd Cochran: I think that’s a fair statement, however there other musical styles which require different sets of skills that aren’t exactly easy. Styles like funk can demand a high level of precision and pocket in the rhythm section which takes years to master. Also it’s not every day you hear a blues guitar player as on top of their game as Eric Gales. A lot of classical Indian rhythms require extreme discipline. Being truly great at any style of music is demanding and you can inject complexity in many formats while remaining tasteful.

The intricate musicianship and the sheer amount of music on Cold Logic are so overwhelming that one could easily fail to notice and appreciate the vocals, that are without a doubt this album’s the second most important asset. How much effort went into the vocal arrangements?

Todd Cochran: I really strived and pushed myself on this record to execute the vocal performance with more power and authority than anything I’ve done previously. You’ll notice my vocal style dropped more towards the lower register over the years, however I love the contrast between the lows and highs as per bands such as Carcass and Brutal Truth.

Do you remember the last time you were listening to a band that didn’t mind wearing its influences on its sleeve, but was so supremely confident and competent at doing so that you couldn’t help but feel that they actually surpassed those very bands they had been looking up to and striving to get close to? Can you name a few of those bands?

Todd Cochran: I suppose one example might be those bands that were influenced by the brutal death metal sound of Suffocation and therefore improved the style with expanded upon rhythmic ideas and better suited production value. Usually it seems I gravitate towards the band that does it first and primarily listen to the originator, however there are exceptions occasionally.

Now, without any false modesty, would you find it too pretentious if someone was to say you should be considered one of those bands from the previous question? Could you find enough brashness and arrogance within yourself to allow yourself to see things that way?

Todd Cochran: I don’t necessarily see our music in that light. I think we vary enough in style and tempo that it would be hard to place any singular influence.

When you look back at Fractured Frequencies, how that album turned out and the amount of publicity and visibility it gained, do you feel satisfied and content or do you feel there is something left to be desired?

Todd Cochran: I try not to look backwards often in those terms but rather ride the excitement of the next riff or song into a new album or project. I will say that the recording experience of that record and Cold Logic has granted me more skill and knowledge than ever of how to get the desired outcome when working in the studio. It’s a skill that takes time to develop.

According to many musicians, the only thing that really matters when you’re playing is the intensity and the commitment to what you’re doing in the moment. The greatest purpose for musicians should be to get completely lost in the music, for that is when both them and the music are at their best. Does that notion strike home with you?

Todd Cochran: I think that applies more drastically in periods of improvisation which is something very important to me as a lead guitar player when I perform, even if I deviate from the exact notes on a recording. It keeps you involved and in the moment and forces you to lock into your creative mind. As audience members we hope to see musicians that feel what they are playing and take us on a journey rather than just produce sounds. That’s what makes a performance enjoyable in tandem with the quality of the piece of music.

Someone somewhere said that truly great, important albums should be revisited every five or so years, because every time one reaches the new level of maturity, those albums reveal that there is another layer to the music after all. Have you ever felt something similar listening to an album and what do you think changes during that process, the way one experiences the music or the music itself?

Todd Cochran: I’ve heard albums and different genres of music for the first time and they have been a total miss only to realize years down the line that they become an essential staple to my listening and make their influences in the music I write. Sometimes you just can’t relate to something due to certain mental prejudices or predispositions and then you find out later that you just didn’t have the life experience or a honed enough ear to appreciate the content.

Sheltered by the mere fact it dwells on a hopeless margin, there lies a field of the extreme metal underground and the authentic values that particular culture stands for. Do you feel that Shards Of Humanity belong to that culture and do you take pride in participating in something so insignificant in the grand scheme of things, that is at the same time larger than life?

Todd Cochran: The great thing about underground music and art in general throughout history is that the creators have the gall to totally ignore the potential dishonesty of trying to be polite or please the shallow listener. The idea is to make something that is real and artistically honest, encapsulating anything rather it be good, bad, or ugly. Underground music is often a symbol of counterculture which seems to be severely lacking in this day and age.

Is being a musician a choice or a diagnose in your opinion? Is it an obsession, a profession, or both? Or neither, for that matter?

Todd Cochran: Kind of a philosophical question. I think you could be predestined or you could make a choice today to do anything you want. I’ve found myself both obsessed and bored, it’s like anything else you do and how you approach it.

 

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