The first thing that strikes me about Kyle Anderson’s appearance on our Zoom call isn’t his long dreadlocks or plethora of tattoos. It’s the Spice Girls T-shirt.
‘I grew up with the Spice Girls in the house,’ he smiles. ‘My mom would play them a lot. Yeah, it's good times, good memories.’
Popular culture fascinates Anderson. His band, Brand of Sacrifice, derives its name from the long-running Manga, Berserk. Something is happening with Anderson’s band, and other acts across deathcore and associated genres, that smells like a moment. There is potential to bleed over into the wider culture that clearly excites him.
‘I think what we're starting to see is an impact,’ he says ‘With "core" music – whether it's deathcore or metalcore – on the culture again. Maybe we're seeing a spark of it, not maybe compared to the early 2000s, or mid-2010s. But I think it's leaking into popular culture a little bit again.’
He noticed it on a recent tour supporting We Came As Romans. The headliners are a lighter proposition than Brand of Sacrifice, but the latter's single "Exodus", from forthcoming EP Between Death and Dreams, was getting a huge reaction each night. Brand of Sacrifice’s music is a maelstrom, a widening gyre, that is sucking new blood into it. ‘This is just hitting me a certain way,’ kids tell Anderson, compared to deathcore bands that have come before.
Anderson is meticulous about what he does. He is polite, concise and assured when he’s talking about Brand of Sacrifice. He doesn’t waffle or over-explain. There's a plan, a vision, and he is in the midst of executing it alongside his songwriting partner in the band, guitarist Michael Leo Valeri.
The new EP is a transitional recording. A stepping stone from 2021 album Lifeblood to what’s coming next: a full-length that acts as a full-blown experience. Anderson uses the word ‘experiment’ a lot: ‘We're just trying to add new things to the mix, but not in a way that's going to be alienating.’
He cites the single “Dynasty” as a showcase of what came before: multiple layers, textures, choral soundbeds, herky-jerky rhythms, devastating breakdowns, and an epic confrontation between the organic and the synthetic.
The EP’s opener, "Blinded", is different. It reaches back in order to look forward, by incorporating nineties’ industrial metal elements. Anderson calls it a ‘bare bones’ song for Brand of Sacrifice. Some of it reminded me of classic UK crossover act Pitchshifter.
‘Even Slipknot would definitely be an inspiration in that song, Nine Inch Nails, stuff like that. We definitely want to play around with more of the industrial style,’ he says.
"Blinded" still incorporates what Brand of Sacrifice does supremely well: the earth-shattering, sickening, seemingly endless breakdown. It’s a staple of ‘core’ music, but Brand of Sacrifice are making it into an artform. The more ridiculous the better.
‘Whenever we write a breakdown, we definitely try to do something a little bit different with it, and have fun with it,’ says Anderson. ‘If we're not laughing when we listen back to it, it's no good in our eyes.’
Is there a risk of breakdown burnout?
‘I think a breakdown is a part of the experience because it's a dynamic, and it's a good release,’ he counters. ‘So I think the possibilities are endless, personally. You just have to get creative with it.’
“Exodus”, too, boasts an outrageous breakdown, but the song also explores a new-found melodicism in the band’s sound. Anderson began experimenting with cleaner, sung choruses on the stopgap single “Enemy”, featuring Spencer Chamberlain of Underoath. Everyone in Brand of Sacrifice has a metalcore background and were keen for more singing. Even if it was a more of a yell or scream-singing. For Anderson, the opening out to big choruses is the key to unlocking a more ‘timeless’ sound on the next album proper.
‘You can write a very relentless and heavy record, but you also need to have some space to breathe, or some light to the darkness,’ he says.
Anderson sees the new EP as an ‘alpha’ or ‘beta’ build of where the band are going next. He hopes in the future that, 'There might be certain tropes that were a part of this time period, but you could listen to it ten years, twenty years ahead and still enjoy it.’
The core writing partnership of Anderson and Valeri remains, but the mindset has changed. Anderson tracks his vocals in his home studio. He’ll listen to Valeri’s guide track, decide upon a lyrical theme, and then begin the process of constructing his vocal performance, piece by piece. It’s intricate work with different guttural vocal intonations, often stacked in multiple layers, alternating with animalistic squeals and barks. After grinding through a minute of a song, he’ll often take a walk and listen back to the track. The oxygen flowing through his bloodstream helps him listen to it more objectively. Other times, he’ll blaze through it. He recorded the song “Lifeblood” end-to-end in a single five-hour session.
When it comes to the new, catchier choruses, he’ll sit on a Facebook Messenger chat with Valeri. Once Anderson has sung his initial melodic ideas, Valeri captures it on a synth track which they use as the basis to iron out and rephrase the chorus, until they’re both happy. Brutality is a solo endeavour; melody is a collaboration.
Brand of Sacrifice is a whirlwind of the digital and the analogue, but the latter has to anchor the former. The synth needs to be blended with a real guitar sound.
‘It has to be somewhat grounded in reality, in a way that a human being can understand and relate to,’ says Anderson. ‘And then you can take people on a grand adventure.’
Anderson and Valeri are the architects of a fully realised soundworld and aesthetic, with Valeri as their de facto producer. There’s a danger to opening the box and letting someone else play around with their sound. But for the next grand adventure, to get to that timeless realm, they are thinking of seeking out an external producer.
‘We hadn't done it previously, but I think getting things to the next level or trying something that's very exciting and fresh, having a separate set of ears would be good,’ says Anderson.
This also means getting more personal. The band has leant on the mythology of Berserk for a lot of its lyrics. That remains, but Anderson is also making forays into his own struggles. “Blinded”, he says, is about ‘battles with addiction, specifically alcohol, and how it can impact you and bring down others around you, if you let it take hold.’
Heavy music has long been associated with the notion of catharsis: the release of repressed emotions. For Anderson, and a new generation, it remains an artform for looking into the dark glass of our true selves.
‘It's a very healthy medium,’ he says. ‘I'd say to either deal with issues or just release energy. Whether it's negative or whatnot, and use that negative energy for good: to create. That's how I like to use it personally, especially performing as well.’
On “Dynasty”, Anderson explores the classic metal theme of overcoming oneself and the camaraderie of a band of brothers: ‘I think it's about the friendship and companionship in overcoming the demons, whether they’re inner or outer, in life.’
This links back to the determination and resolve of lead character Guts in Berserk. Despite the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, he keeps going. The Manga has a metaphysical, almost spiritual, dimension. Those who bear the brand of sacrifice and survive the associated sacrificial ceremony reside in a space between the physical and astral planes. They are caught between worlds, somewhere between death and dreams.
I ask Anderson whether this informs his life philosophy – could it be described as a religious framework?
‘The brand itself is obviously symbolic,’ he explains. ‘Because when it bleeds, you start to cross into that astral plane, and you're then meeting the demons from that world. They're crossing into the physical world and attacking him
The regular world is proving a good place for Brand of Sacrifice. Spotify listeners are up and tours are selling out. As for transcending the realm of deathcore, Anderson thinks they have something to offer the broader metal scene. He mentions Babymetal as a band he’d jump at supporting. It’s obvious that he plans for the next full-length record to lay the pathway to get there.
Brand of Sacrifice is a kind of demon in itself – a deathcore being agitating to break into broader popular consciousness. Anderson cites Fred Durst’s iconic red cap as a symbol of nu metal’s assault on the pop charts at the turn of the millennium. The cap was Limp Bizkit’s own brand of sacrifice, bleeding red onto the mainstream.
Anderson wants a piece of that: ‘Because at the end of the day, things are most popular when they're involved in the culture,’ he says. ‘We can really spill over more into pop culture to be almost... not characters... but figureheads. Frontmen or frontwomen and people that really represent – who kids want to be like and want to become. I think we're getting close.’
Upcoming tours with Lorna Shore and Spiritbox will see Anderson join some of those emerging figureheads. It will be interesting to see how much Brand of Sacrifice is prepared to bleed to become the demon kings of this world, full as it is of earthbound gods and monsters.
The new EP from Brand of Sacrifice, Between Death and Dreams lands April 21st.
Pre-order the album – HERE
Be sure to catch Brand of Sacrifice on with Lorna Shore on their Pain Remains tour and later this summer with Spiritbox in the UK. Get dates below.
Get tickets - HERE