HEAVY MUSIC can come from anywhere. But perhaps more than in any other genre, like-minded metal bands tend to congregate into scenes, and those scenes come to define the heavy sound of their towns.
There's Bay Area thrash. New Orleans is famous for sludge. Tampa's a death-metal town. Here in Portland, we're becoming known for doom.
The state of New Hampshire isn't exactly a heavy-metal hotspot. As such, bands like Vattnet Viskar, a fast-rising quartet from Plaistow, New Hampshire (population 7,609), never quite have the opportunity to be assimilated into a local sound.
That's New Hampshire's way. And it suits Vattnet guitarist Chris Alfieri just fine.
"Being from [New Hampshire] definitely gives us a certain mindset. Our state motto is 'Live Free or Die,' and that's something we really take to heart," he says. "I didn't appreciate that motto as much until recently, but it is a way of life at this point."
Five years and two excellent albums into its existence, Vattnet Viskar has established itself as a band that makes exactly the kind of music it wants to make. The band's 2013 album Sky Swallower was an ambitious slab of atmospheric black metal, glittering post-rock, and thunderous shoegaze, a combo that gained Vattnet a fair amount of attention in a post-Sunbather world.
In June, the band issued its follow-up, Settler, which doubles down on Vattnet's outsider perspective: Its guitars climb higher into the heavens, and vocalist Nick Thornbury's growls burrow deeper into the soil. The melodic churn and blistering blast beats of "Dawnlands"—from drummer Seamus Menihane and bassist Casey Aylward—do, in fact, recall Deafheaven. "Colony" zigs and zags like a math-rock anthem pumped full of thrash attitude. And "Impact" stomps along a blackened path before shooting off into the horizon like Explosions in the Sky with a nasty streak.
Yet it's the decidedly un-metal cover art that leads many stories about Vattnet Viskar. A brightly lit image of a space-suited woman floating in what appears to be a crudely padded chamber, it's a re-creation of an old training photo of Christa McAuliffe, the New Hampshire schoolteacher who was killed in the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion.
McAuliffe was from Alfieri's hometown of Concord, New Hampshire, and he says the themes that run through Settler also apply to her doomed mission nearly 30 years ago and are embodied in that photo.
"The record covers much ground lyrically, but it is mostly about the will to do something great, although that path in life may ultimately destroy you," Alfieri says. "Within this concept is the concept that not doing what you're destined to—not pushing yourself to be something bigger than your person—is much more detrimental than any negatives that may come from pursuing a great feat."
Making heavy music from an outsider's perspective isn't likely to result in destruction, of course. But in Alfieri's words, you can clearly see the foundation for Vattnet Viskar's desire to push beyond metal's traditional boundaries—in look, in sound, in feel. Again, it all ties back to New Hampshire.
"I went to Converge, Cave In, and Piebald shows every weekend in the late '90s and the kids didn't look metal then. It was cool to see people that you wouldn't expect screaming the words to [Cave In's] 'Crossbearer' at Steve Brodsky while wearing an Abercrombie & Fitch sweater, I must say," Alfieri says.
"I definitely grew up on metal. Slayer, Megadeth, and Metallica were all I listened to in my youth, but I've never identified with a certain subculture completely," he continues. "More so, I think feeling like an outsider in a scene allows some people to make big progress for that scene musically. They may take chances or bring in influences others would not think to do."