There is no need to keep knocking.
I'm late for band practice at the Chapel Hill home of Scott Endres, the leader of the contemplative doom metal trio MAKE. Their low, deliberate riffs are already rumbling through the brick walls, so they won't hear me until they take a break. I claim a chair on the patio, crack a beer and simply listen. Except for the ravenous mosquitos, the pre-dusk scene is a pleasant one. MAKE's vision of heavy metal is unhurried and meditative, suited for calm moments just as the sun dips below the trees.
When at last I'm inside, the back room hums. MAKE's members—singer and guitarist Endres, bassist and singer Spencer Lee, drummer Luke Herbst—ruminate on a handful of riffs, improvising parts to connect several themes and give a nascent song shape.
"We're still trying to figure out if we like what we've got," Endres offers between whiskey sips.
They end the night with an instrumental run through "The Immortal," from their new album, The Golden Veil. The song lunges from gorgeous post-rock to corroded distortion. Before they began, Herbst, who replaced drummer Matt Stevenson only earlier this year, asked to clarify the opening drumbeat a few times. Endres reassured him, and when the song begins in earnest, there's no trepidation. The members seem pulled into a trance of their own design, hypnotized by their own powerful and precise repetition. The force feels seismic.
The Golden Veil is an exercise in contrasts. It matches pensive, almost-pastoral moments with quaking metal thunder, and it is tightly arranged but laced with improvisational detours. The mix is compelling, immersive and rightfully acclaimed. NPR praised the album's "lush meditations that hold off on heaviness until the moment demands an earth-rattling release," while the metal mag Terrorizer called The Golden Veil "perfect if you want an album to lose yourself in." Actually, the band almost lost themselves while trying to make it.
"I'm glad people are enjoying the record," Endres told me a couple of weeks earlier, sweating behind a pair of aviator shades on the patio of the Chapel Hill bar and arcade The Baxter. "But it just feels good to be active."
Endres' frequent, broad grins clash with his tough-guy look—a clean-shaven head and a long brown beard. He speaks thoughtfully and passionately, his voice rising to make points about the album's scrappy start. After the press cycle for MAKE's 2012 releases—the LP Trephine and the EP Axis—slowed, doubts crept in. MAKE were burned out on metal and its scene.
"The Golden Veil happened because we realized that, if we didn't do something, we were never going to do anything," Endres says. "There was a bit of an anticlimactic moment that coincided with a lot of other shit."
Lee continues: "A few record labels had expressed possible interest, but when we actually got in touch with them, it was just dead air."
Tall and sturdy, with long red hair and a beard, Lee is the band's most gregarious member, prone to animated storytelling and easy laughter. But when remembering this scenario, doubt and frustration creep into his voice. What's more, there wasn't much new music that piqued his or Endres' interest.
"It was a really weird moment of 'Where are we? And where is that going?'" he admits.
After a brief hiatus, MAKE reconvened to start work on new material. Otherwise, they might have just ended it.
"I felt like, if we're going to stay alive, we have to keep moving forward," Endres says. It wasn't some fully formed burst of inspiration. "Nowhere in the process of doing it was I ever certain that we were on to something."
MAKE recorded The Golden Veil in three short sessions over nine months at Greensboro's Legitimate Business. Between each studio shift, they'd go home, listen to the work in progress and demo new embellishments on their own. This gave the band time and freedom to experiment without wasting money while the studio logged its hourly rate. They had enough material to fill up the sessions and maybe an album, but they wanted to get the record right, not just finished.
"The one thing we did know was, whatever's going on, let's take our time," Endres says. "There's no race. If we have to spend another fucking year thinking about it, then that's what has to happen."
Late in the process, Stevenson left the band. A quiet, lanky veteran of area acts such as El Sucio and Ben Davis & the Jetts, Herbst had been looking to play in "a band like Neurosis." When the spot opened in MAKE, Herbst was eager to enlist. He spent the final months of 2014 learning Stevenson's parts.
Endres and Lee, meanwhile, put the finishing touches on The Golden Veil.
"I don't think I really expected anything. We let it happen," Endres says. "I felt, when we were done, it was the best thing we'd ever done."
Indeed, The Golden Veil is a master class in dynamics, dropping delicate sections into deep, cyclonic doom. It reveals a litany of influences that go much deeper than the obvious icons. Its spiraling riffs reveal the band's affection for musical minimalism, a love Endres attributes to hearing the experimental Baltimore group Lungfish as a teenager. Electronics embellish the powerful closer "In the Final Moments, Uncoiling," suggesting film scores, new age music and brutal metal at once.
As we talk, after rehearsal, Circle's lush, psychedelic LP Pharaoh Overlord spins. Endres' cat, an orange tabby named Hairy Nilsson, claims a spot on the couch. Endres and Lee agree Pharoah Overlord might be the year's best album, but Chelsea Wolfe's Abyss and Locrian's Infinite Dissolution are contenders, too. Being omnivorous listeners is a point of pride for MAKE. The band's hiatus, for instance, forced Lee to broaden his own tastes, as he delved into drone and early psychedelic music.
"I will listen to Carcass right after I listen to Cat Stevens," Endres boasts.
Unexpected influences should continue to infiltrate MAKE's music, especially now that they're reenergized. Herbst has already given Lee and Endres a new burst of inspiration. With The Golden Veil out in the world (digitally, anyway; the vinyl arrives this fall), MAKE is already moving on. They'll enter the studio again in November to start work on a new EP, their first with Herbst. They're not playing live very often, either, a bit surprising for a band with a new LP that has been greeted so warmly by national and international press. But Endres says the band's immediate goals are to "focus on who we are now."
If tonight's rehearsal is any indication, their new chapter should prove thrilling. As they divine new strength from fresh riffs, the band's chemistry is immediate. They're friends offstage, too; their rehearsal serves as a prelude to Endres' weekly horror movie night.
"That thing we played tonight is our first batch of new stuff," Herbst says, referencing the riffs I heard soon after I arrived. It was heavy to the point of being belligerent, but still measured and ponderous. "It felt good to me. It's been pretty seamless."
"All of our ideas, everything we do, just kind of comes from turning your brain off and letting whatever is inside of you come out," Endres explains. "Everything has to start from there. Then it's just a matter of chiseling away."
It's this approach—rooted in open exploration but refined with compositional focus—that makes MAKE's music so compelling and their new chapter so promising. It's metal, in all its foundation-rumbling fury, but a strange countercurrent runs through it all. Perfect, it turns out, for a reflective moment watching the sun sink.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Slow moods"