“This is proper black metal”: An interview with Jason Asberry of Stormruler

Jesse Schobel and Jason Asberry of Stormruler. Photo by JT Ibanez.

Stormruler is a St. Louis-based melodic black metal duo consisting of guitarist Jason Asberry and drummer Jesse Schobel. Named after a legendary sword from the video game series Dark Souls, the band released its second full-length album, Sacred Rites & Black Magick, on October 14th through Napalm Records. They commemorated the album release with a show at Delmar Hall the next day, supported by St. Louis metal bands The Lion’s Daughter and The Gorge.

Stormruler has built up a significant international following since forming in 2019 and spent much of the past year touring nationally. They will be touring again in spring 2023, supporting the legendary American death metal band Cannibal Corpse on their upcoming European tour. We spoke with Jason Asberry to discuss the new album, the Cannibal Corpse tour, and his thoughts on the state of modern black metal.

The Arts STL: You released your second album, Sacred Rites & Black Magick, through Napalm Records, which is based in Austria. What it’s like being an American band working with a European label?

Jason Asberry: Sacred Rites was our second record with them [the first Stormruler album, Under the Burning Eclipse,was also released through Napalm]. They have a U.S. office out of New York, and that’s who we mainly deal with. We have a PR [public relations] liaison that we deal with out of Austria, but we mostly deal with the U.S. crew. They’re the ones that got us hooked up with our manager.

How did you get picked up by Napalm?

When Jesse and I first started this project, it wasn’t really a band yet—we just wanted to record an album, and after we put Under the Burning Eclipse out, they happened to pick us up. They’ve been very supportive, especially for a band that didn’t really have a name yet.

Stormruler’s Under the Burning Eclipse

What was your process for recording and releasing your first album like?

Jesse and I wrote the brunt of the first record back in 2019, and then recorded it over the next year and half. We recorded the drums, bass, and vocals ourselves, and then we did the guitar tracking with Dreathus Harris from Xaemora, another local black metal band that Jesse and I were playing in at the time. We did a self-release through Black Metal Promotion on YouTube on December 1st [2020], and then on December 3rd or 4th, Sebastian from Napalm A&R [artists & repertoire; division of a record label responsible for talent scouting] was in our inbox.

Did you record Sacred Rites in a studio?

That one we did, because we had more of a budget to work with. We went to Encapsulated Studios in Maplewood, who do a lot of the screen printing for bands like Fister, The Lion’s Daughter, Hell Night—all the big, cool St. Louis bands—and they also have a recording studio. We worked with Gabe Usery [sound engineer at Encapsulated] and he fucking crushed it. He’s recorded Fister before and worked with other extreme metal bands in St. Louis.

Your latest album, Sacred Rites, is over an hour long (about 75 minutes). How long did it take you to write and record it?

We wrote the first record in early 2019, and that one was right about an hour long. We haven’t stopped writing since then, really. When we got picked up by Napalm, that’s when we really started cracking down on writing new material [for Sacred Rites]. We wrote most of the album in about 7 months. It was pretty much the same formula as with the first one.

It’s really impressive how prolific you’ve been—your first album was released just a year before the second one, so that’s over two hours of material in just as many years.

We were on a writing freight train after finishing the first album. We were striking while the iron was hot, and it’s still hot! We’ve got a shitload of material for a third and fourth record if we really want to put one out.

Are you thinking about releasing another album next year?

We don’t know just yet—we might give this one a little more time to breathe, and just do a ton of touring next year. Next year is going to be pretty busy in our camp, but we have a couple of ideas to keep material and content going. I know a good handful of bands that I’d like to do a split EP or two with. There’s a band in the Netherlands called Martyrium, and they’re an extreme black metal band, kind of melodic, more in the Marduk vein. My friends in Tchornobog, we might be doing one with them.

Stormruler’s Sacred Rites & Black Magick

It’s really exciting to have a successful black metal band from St. Louis—what is the black metal scene like here in general?

St. Louis has been pretty dry for good black metal for a long time. Xaemora was cool. They toured a few times, but Dreathus [lead vocalist and guitarist for Xaemora] has a kid, so he’s a family man now. Tyranny Enthroned is another good one, they’re more like a blackened death metal band. There’s some underground black metal, but it’s more crusty and raw, like Unspeakable and Blackwell.

From my perspective, the local metal scene in St. Louis seems saturated with metalcore and deathcore-type bands, like Summoning the Lich, more than black or death metal.

I know Ryan Felps and David Bruno from Summoning the Lich pretty well, and I’ve played with those guys a few times. That was the thing in St. Louis for well over a decade: technical death metal, metalcore, and deathcore was running rampant for a while. It’s a Midwest thing. Kansas City was one of the tech death capitols of the U.S. for a time.

Stormruler is often compared to Dissection, one of the defining melodic black metal bands from the early ‘90s. What are some of your other influences?

We’re big Marduk and Emperor fans. Honestly, what really sparked the band was Jesse and I sitting around in his basement, reminiscing about how all the black metal bands in the U.S. weren’t really playing black metal the way they should, or at least the way they used to. We were sitting there listening to Dawn’s Slaughtersun, and Allegiance’s Blodörnsoffer, and we were like “This is proper black metal, we need to play black metal like this.”

For a lot of the more popular and black metal bands from the U.S., like Liturgy and Deafheaven, I feel like they usually strive to distance themselves from being labelled as “black metal” in a conventional sense. By comparison, I feel like Stormruler is very respectful of the traditional black metal sound.

There are a lot of bands labelled as avant-garde metal, with black metal elements, but far from traditional black metal. That’s what we aim for—we’re trying to throw everything we love about black metal into a record. It’s got those Dissection black thrash moments, but it’s also got the Marduk hateful riffs, the Emperor triumphant riffs.

I notice a similar trend going on within the U.S. death metal scene—bands like Undeath that take a very traditional approach to death metal and how it sounded in the ‘90s.

That’s been another thing in the U.S. for the last decade and a half—the resurgence of OSDM [old school death metal], with every band wanting to sound like Obituary. The U.S. is starved for good, traditional shit. Europe has been rife with it for a minute, they know what’s going on when it comes to extreme music. But the States have been lacking.

Jesse Schobel and Jason Asberry of Stormruler. Photo by JT Ibanez.

You’ll be joining Cannibal Corpse for their European tour in March and April 2023. What has your touring experience been like so far?

We did the Devastation on the Nation tour this year with Rotting Christ, Borknagar, Abigail Williams, Ghost Bath, and Vale of Pnath. We did that full tour with them, for 35 days. That was our first big tour in the U.S. We did some one-off shows after that, like our album release show at Delmar Hall with The Gorge and The Lion’s Daughter [on October 15th 2022]. We’re going down to Puerto Rico on December 9th for a one-off headliner show. We’re going to try to go out for a few shows in January too. Then the European tour with Cannibal Corpse, Dark Funeral, and Ingested in March and April next year.

Which countries will you be playing in Europe?

We’re starting out in the Netherlands. We’ll be playing Inferno Fest up in Norway. Then we’re going through Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Poland, France, the UK, Hungary, Switzerland, Austria, Spain. We’ll be doing 40 shows, in 45 days, in 15 countries.

I know that Stormruler is a duo at its core—how does that work for your live shows?

It’s just us [Jason and Jesse] on the records, but we always fill the lineup out when we play live. We’ll be taking our buddy Derek Engemann with us to be our bassist for the tour. He played bass on most of Cattle Decapitation’s records throughout the 2000s, and he played bass on the first Stormruler album. Scott Fogelbach from [St. Louis metal band] The Lion’s Daughter will be coming out to Europe with us to play rhythm guitar.

Lastly, I’d like to ask you about some of your non-musical inspirations, specifically Dark Souls. I recently saw pictures of Jesse wearing a Knight Solaire costume [character from Dark Souls]. What’s the story behind that?

In our music video for ‘Reign of the Winged Duke’, we have a two-second cameo by Solaire right around the two-and-a-half-minute mark. After we got signed to Napalm, they gave us a budget for the record, but Jesse and I reallocated some of it to buying armor. In the music video, Jesse puts on the Solaire gambeson, and then we both wore a full-body chainmail suit, and Jesse does the whole “Praise the Sun” thing.

How does Dark Souls influence your music? You have references to the games in some of your song titles and lyrics, but it seems like it’s just one source of inspiration, and that you don’t want to be labelled as “The Dark Souls Band.”

No, not at all. We originally only started on the Dark Souls shit because, when we were writing the first record, we were like, “Well, we need to sing about something… What are we both doing right now? We’re both playing a lot of Dark Souls. Let’s just write some Dark Souls metal.” The whole game is just rife with black metal content. But even on the first record, there’s only four Dark Souls-related songs, and only two on the new album. We don’t want to be a theme band; we don’t want to be locked into Dark Souls. It’s like what Lord of the Rings was for ‘90s metal bands: you can sing a lot about Lord of the Rings, but that doesn’t make you “a Lord of the Rings band.”

When not busy writing new music and preparing for the international tour next year, Jason has been enjoying the latest game in the Dark Souls franchise, Elden Ring.Although he prefers to play offline, he does occasionally dabble in both cooperative and competitive online play. If you find yourself tormented by an invader with poisoned arrows, it’s quite possible that you are being stalked by Mr. Asberry himself. | David Von Nordheim

STORMRULER w/ Cannibal Corpse, Dark Funeral and Ingested – Europe 2023:

03.10 Hengelo, NET | Metropool

03.11 Speyer, GER | Halle 101

03.12 Lausanne, SWI | Metropol

03.14 Toulouse, FRA | Le Bikini

03.15 Pamplona, SPA | Sala Totem

03.16 Madrid, SPA | La Paqui

03.17 Barcelona, SPA | Razzmatazz 2

03.18 Lyon, FRA | Ninkasi Gerland

03.19 Stuttgart, GER | Im Wizemann

03.21 Rennes, FRA | Antipode

03.22 Paris, FRA | Elysee Montmartre

03.23 Cologne, GER | Essigfabrik

03.24 Zurich, SWI | Komplex 457

03.25 Prague, CZE | Palak Akropolis

03.26 Budapest, HUN | Barba Negra

03.28 Munich, GER | Backstage Werk

03.29 Vienna, AUT | Arena

03.30 Cracow, POL | Hyde Park

03.31 Leipzig, GER | Hellraiser

04.1 Coesfeld, GER | Fabrik

04.2 Berlin, GER | Huxley’s Neue Welt

04.4 Copenhagen, DEN | Amager Bio

04.5 Stockholm, SWE | Klubben

04.6 Oslo, NOR | Inferno Metal Festival

04.7 Gothenburg, SWE | Pustervik

04.8 Aarhus, DEN | Train

04.9 Hamburg, GER | Gruenspan

04.11 Hannover, GER | Capitol

04.12 Ledien, NET | Gebr. de Nobel

04.13 Antwerp, BEL | Trix

04.14 Strasbourg, FRA | La Laiterie

04.15 Geiselwind, GER | Music Hall

04.16 Lille, FRA | Le Splendid

04.18 Bristol, UK | O2 Academy

04.19 Glasgow, UK | Barrowland

04.21 Manchester, UK | Academy

04.22 London, UK | O2 Forum Kentish Town

04.23 Nottingham, UK | Rock City

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