THE FIRST THING you’ll probably notice at a SubRosa show is that three women line the front of the stage. Second, two of them—Kim Pack and Sarah Pendleton, the kickass bookends on either side of kickass vocalist/guitarist Rebecca Vernon—are holding violins.
Seeing SubRosa perform is not like seeing other modern metal bands perform, and that’s a beautiful thing. For a decade, the Salt Lake City five-piece has been one of the most ambitious and impressive heavy acts around. With the release of 2013’s More Constant Than the Gods, SubRosa became one of the sought-after darlings of American doom.
Since then, the band has racked up effusive reviews, hired booking agents, and played major festivals both nationally and abroad. All five members still hold day jobs, Vernon says in an interview, but it’s been a time of tremendous growth and opportunity for SubRosa.
“Some things haven’t changed. [We’ve] always had this super deep passion for what we were doing, and belief in what it means to us, even if it was only for our lives,” Vernon says. “That’s still there. I hope it never leaves.”
In August the band released its fifth full-length, For This We Fought the Battle of Ages, through Profound Lore Records. With six tracks stretched out across 64 minutes, the album moves like a graceful, avant-garde giant. Quiet passages featuring only Vernon’s voice and gently plucked guitar give way to sections of sludge anchored by bassist Levi Hanna and drummer Andy Patterson. Pack and Pendleton weave in and out of this dynamic plod, their violins somehow imbuing SubRosa’s foreboding hymns with both symphonic grandeur and rusticity.
For This We Fought is built around a concept based on Yevgeny Zamyatin’s 1921 dystopian novel We, which Vernon read a couple of years ago.
“This is the first time we had a concept and wrote based off that. I’ve always wanted to write an album about how we’re destroying the world,” she says. The relevance of the album’s subject matter in current times isn’t lost on Vernon, of course—she calls it “a fitting soundtrack for now,” but says any correlation is a “total accident.”
Also sort of an accident: SubRosa’s distinctive sound, which Vernon credits to friendship and serendipity.
“I had this vision of a band I wanted to start, and I wanted it to be really brutal, with weird time signatures and big fat riffs. I wanted to crush everyone,” she says. “Sarah and I were best friends, and she was learning violin at the time, and she’s like, ‘I wanna be in the band with you.’”
Vernon was skeptical about their sonic chemistry, but wanted to make music with Pendleton. It didn’t take long for her to realize what she’d stumbled upon.
“I quickly saw that the violin adds so much emotional resonance to the songs. To this day, we still retain the heaviness that I wanted, but with that extra layer of emotion, sadness, sorrow, pathos,” Vernon says. “There’s no way I could evoke that with drums, bass, guitar, and singing. We probably would’ve been a much more typical band—still really heavy, but the violins are really special and they add a lot. Every day I feel lucky and grateful to have them. I never take any of it for granted.”