By James Olson
VANCOUVER — So Hideous are one of those bands that have to be heard to be fully understood. They are a difficult act to define even when utilizing verbose descriptors such as orchestral post-rock or symphonic blackgaze. Guitarist and composer Brandon Cruz puts it in a much more colourful fashion: “I always said the band should sound like Bach’s ‘Mass in B Minor’ with a plane crash happening in it. Or like someone holding a Vivaldi chamber piece hostage.” The New York quartet marry chamber music with vocal and guitar atmospherics not out of place in the more extreme sub-genres of death or black metal. Symphonic elements have been incorporated into metal in the past, but So Hideous stand apart in their devotion to pursuing this union to its greatest extremes. “The metal component is not really an emphasis. If the emphasis for us was to be a full-on metal band, we would do a much better job at it. When we first started it was four guys in a room and I guess the easiest way to get the full sound you’d get from an orchestra was to play through full stacks and step on a distortion pedal. That was our closest approximation to getting a hundred string players and a full choir,” explains Cruz. “We want to create that feeling that hopefully you would have got in a concert hall 200 years ago.”
Laurestine, their latest offering on Prosthetic Records, completely encapsulates the breadth of the band’s ambition and artistic vision. A concept record with nods to classical music luminaries like Bach and Beethoven, the narrative is built upon the scientific fact that the human brain remains active for a full seven minutes after the body has died. Over the course of the seven tracks, written largely in 7/4 and 7/8 time signatures, the story arc follows a man who has recently died and is guided through his fractured memories and experiences by a mysterious woman named Laurestine. So Hideous partnered with a 30-piece orchestra and a small choir to complete the project, an experience that Cruz recalls as creatively fulfilling yet logistically daunting.
“This was probably the hardest we’ve ever worked on a record collectively,” Cruz says. “I had to become pretty good at writing for string quartet. The sheer magnitude of working with all the players, you start to learn a lot about yourself, especially your limitations.”
The dedication required to fully realize Laurestine as a singular artistic achievement shows. Every moment of the record is thematically, musically, and emotionally encompassing and at times overwhelming.
While the band is unable to tour with an orchestra for obvious reasons, Cruz goes to great lengths to divulge how the So Hideous live show compliments what is heard on the record. “I think they are complementary experiences. I look at it as the difference between the record being cinema and the live show being Broadway,” says Cruz. Compositionally, the material has been selected by Cruz with the end goal of being able to execute the songs in a live setting. “If the passion is there and you’re creating a similarly emotionally cathartic atmosphere, it works. We’ll play a rehearsal space, we’ll play a church, we’ll play a janitor’s closet and it will still be the same feeling because it still has the same emotional resonance.”
Upon completion of a short West Coast tour, So Hideous plan to get back to writing their next masterpiece. Cruz is already brimming with ideas.
“We need to make a modern classical noise record that people can dance to,” he says. Regardless of where So Hideous go with their music, it will likely be into frightful and exciting new territory.
So Hideous perform on May 13 at Funky Winkerbeans.BC, British Columbia, Funky Winkerbeans, So Hideous