by RS Frost
Minnesota-based death metal band SUFFERING HOUR utilise a pummeling and dissonant sonic tapestry to convey notions of loss and desperation.
In this candid conversation, guitarist Josh Raiken offers insight into his own turbulent upbringing, as well as the current state of extreme music and the band’s journey within it so far.
- I started playing guitar at seven or eight years old, and my interest in music started a decent amount of time before then. I was low functioning autistic as a kid. Not “trains are cool I like books” kind of autistic, I was nonverbal and would slam my head against the wall and scream for hours. Doctors were telling my parents to put me in a home and forget I was ever born because I had no hope of ever recovering. When I was still in this state and my parents were trying to find a way to reach me, my dad showed me bands like THE BEATLES, THE DOORS, QUEEN, etc. That was when what little consciousness I had knew I had to do what Brian May and George Harrison were doing. While I owe 99.99% of my recovery to becoming a (seemingly) functioning human being to my parents, I also truly believe if I hadn’t decided at that young an age that I was going to be a musician, I wouldn’t have ever found the motivation to try and become a functioning person in the first place. To this day, music is the only reason I keep pushing forward in any aspect of my life.
When I moved to Colorado at 18 that had a big impact. I was unemployed and had no friends living there, so I locked myself away for over a year developing the sound of, and eventually writing, what would become ‘In Passing Ascension’. If I didn’t go through that dark time of my life while being completely isolated from the outside world, I doubt the album would have ever come out the way it did.
The album mentioned, ‘In Passing Ascension’, is Suffering Hour’s debut, which was released on May 26th, 2017 through Swedish label BLOOD HARVEST.
- I was in a bunch of sub-par bands through middle and high school like everybody else. SUFFERING HOUR used to be under a different moniker (COMPASSION DIES) and we played black/death metal infused proggy thrash. I still stand behind that era of our career, and even once we changed our name to Suffering Hour our first release was an EP of the remaining thrash material we wanted to record. Even well after ‘In Passing Ascension’ came out, Suffering Hour was still my only priority.
Aside from Suffering Hour, Josh has been involved with a multitude of projects covering a wide spectrum of musical styles over the years.
- I’m involved with some projects now that I do on the side. I’m playing bass in a ‘70s type hard rock band called PULP STARS with ex-members of SATAN’S SATYRS and UNORTHODOX. Super sleazebag raunchy rock and roll. I also write some guitar parts for a black metal band called MERIHEM along with members of OCULUS, VALKYRIA, ABOMINOR, and OBSOLETE. That’s finally in the production stages right now. I’m also about done wrapping up guitar parts for a shits-and-giggles wacky grind type band called THE KRINKLES. It involves me along with members of CROWHURST, OUTER HEAVEN, PIG DESTROYER, and a bunch more I can’t remember off the top of my head right now.
I’ve also been working on some non-metal solo music on the side for a very long time, and it’s finally starting to come together really nicely. Not much more I can say about it right now, but hopefully in the next year or so I’ll have something to show for it.
Given the road that has led you, and Suffering Hour as a whole, to where you find yourself now, I’m curious as to where your sense of enjoyment and satisfaction sits within an artistic sense?
- I really enjoy creating a tight aesthetic. The three of us are constantly honed in on how Suffering Hour present ourselves whether online, on stage, or any other aspect you can think of. I love it when bands have a focused vision in every regard, and we try very hard to be one of those bands as well.
Even taking care of the literal business is fun for us to a degree. Writing emails, getting orders in place, reading over contracts, it’s something we all take part in and all have a say in. It sounds really boring on the outside, and I guess in a literal sense it is as boring as it sounds, but knowing why we have all this business to take care of is rewarding enough to make it feel worthwhile. It’s very fulfilling.
Surely your joy as a musician isn’t limited to menial office duties?
- Of course, touring and playing shows in general is extremely enjoyable too. There’s no better rush on Earth than getting in front of a bunch of rowdy people and playing your ass off. There’s a reason bands sit around in tiny vans and shitty hotels for hours and hours just to play a half-hour set in some random city.
There’s nothing more motivating though than seeing bands doing something that is completely their own and gaining success from it. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find nowadays in the metal scene since everybody’s so hooked on the OSDM revival and DEATHSPELL OMEGA clones, but there are some bands out there totally crushing it while showing the world what makes them special compared to everybody else. I don’t try to sound like anything when I write except for how I feel I sound, and I think if more bands would try and do that the world of metal music would be miles less stale.
So more than the general and overall appearance or aesthetic appeal of a band, the music is what matters the most to you?
- The music means everything. We don’t do this for fun (despite it being fun, of course), and we don’t do it for fame or money or anything like that. We do it because if we didn’t we wouldn’t know what else to do. We’re all pretty messed up mentally in one way or another, and as unfortunate as it sounds, staying alive just for the sake of staying alive isn’t something that registers for us. We need something to keep us improving ourselves and moving forward, and for all of us, it’s this band. Despite the three of us already being best friends for years as it was, that drive is a lot of what keeps our lineup as tight as it’s been. We all have the same mission and we all put our lives into making it happen.
I’m personally influenced a lot more by what’s going on outside of metal. I’ve always believed listening to music similar to what you write is an awful idea because what comes out of your instrument will just be an echo of what you’re listening to. Why do you think 90% of the OSDM revival bands are so fuckin’ lame? They’re listening to the surface level of what death metal was and echoing it through the lens of whatever hardcore they were listening to three years ago. I can’t listen to metal while I write metal; it just takes away what I think my sound is.
Taking this into account, I wonder what comes out of your home stereo.
- Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of what’s dubbed “The Denver Sound,” which is a collection of bands from the Denver, Colorado area that have taken elements of country, folk, dark cabaret, and goth rock to make a sound that’s really specific to Denver. A lot of people know 16 HORSEPOWER and WOVENHAND, which are the two bands to really blow up from this scene, but it also includes THE DENVER GENTLEMEN, TARANTELLA, Jay Munly’s various projects like DBUK and SLIM CESSNA’S AUTO CLUB, along with his solo albums, the list goes on. It’s an entire tightly-wound group of musicians making music between one another that doesn’t really exist outside of what they’re doing. Those are the kind of musicians that influence me more than anything. Also, a lot of those bands make 99% of metal look like poser shit, it’s so fuckin’ evil.
Can you give any insight into the concepts/themes behind Suffering Hour and what you are trying to communicate with the band?
- When I’m writing music I try to be as loose and free-form as possible. A lot of the time what I’ll do is give myself a mood, a tempo, and a key I want to write in and just go from there. I’m always conscious of flow and structure when I write, whether that be in the context of the song itself or between songs or even between releases. There’s really not much music I listen to on my own time that’s not structured really well, and I like writing music I’d want to listen to, so I can’t not go ham on structure. Outside of that it’s really just letting my emotions fly and doing what feels right. I never really remember how I write the actual music itself because I just let everything else take over and let what comes out come out.
Since the release of ‘In Passing Ascension’ and the recent follow-up EP ‘Dwell’ (2019), Suffering Hour has been quite active in the live arena. Have you come across any standout experiences so far?
- TheEuropean tour we just got off with MALTHUSIAN. From when we were all little kids our dream was to tour the world and see a bunch of new places by playing music, and we can say we finally did it now. None of us had been to Europe before this tour, and it was an amazing experience. Malthusian and our driver Nina are also class human beings and I miss them to bits and pieces.
Our tour with SINMARA was also super memorable, just because it was our first tour and it gave us an idea of what the life is like. We had been nervous about the idea of touring just because we all have our problems with anxiety and depression and didn’t know how sane we’d be by the end, but after that run I was pretty confident that we would be fine down the road. Sinmara are another awesome bunch of guys as well whom I also would love to see again.
Given the prior-mentioned challenges faced by the band members, have you run into any considerable trouble whilst on the road?
- I don’t want to get too specific, just because there are people that have caused us a lot of business-related stress that we’re still on good terms with. The industry is a rough place, and you come to find that there are people who are talented or have a heart in the right place that aren’t necessarily cut out for the type of punctuality and massive amounts of energy needed to conduct proper music-related business.
As far as lifestyle goes, we’ve had a weirdly high amount of knives pulled on us on the road. It’s just funny at this point. We also have a tendency to get at each other’s throats sometimes, as anybody would, but we function as a team and we’ve never left an argument without being on good terms again. Touring can be hard, and letting it ruin what could be a good time is something we definitely do our best to avoid.
I’m interested in how you see the industry as a whole and whether you consider the ever-changing nature of artistic output to be a positive or negative thing when observed from an extreme metal perspective?
- The OSDM trend as I previously mentioned, all of these kids jumping onto death metal from hardcore and making the most generic, boring versions of it possible. We get bunched into that sometimes and I find it really irritating. Our next record has moved a lot more to the black metal side of things compared to our previous output, and although it’s something I pre-meditated (I’ve had our discography planned out style-wise five-six albums deep from the beginning because I’m a fuckin’ freak), I can’t help but feel like part of it is just coming from my distaste in the death metal scene.
The black metal scene’s been hype though. There’s this revival of bands taking that MORTUARY DRAPE/Hellenic type sound and bringing it to new levels of experimentation and vibe. Bands like JORDABLOD, CULTES DES GHOULES, NEGATIVE PLANE, MALOKARPATAN, hell even SUPERSTITION applying that concept to a death metal frame has been really sick to see. Also, seeing bands that came from the generation of “Deathspell Omega rip-off bands” starting to find their own sounds has been great too.
However, the blackened death metal scene is absolutely where it’s at. Bands like Malthusian, ANTEDILUVIAN, IRKALLIAN ORACLE, IMPETUOUS RITUAL… that, in my opinion, is the most free-range scene in metal right now. Taking a platform of disgusting filthy demolishing shit-mess and adding these unique approaches and productions has had me more excited than anything about metal. All of these kids talking about “blah blah blah caveman riffs” sending me bands that sound like the worst riffs off ‘Domination’ by MORBID ANGEL with a thrash beat behind it need to turn on some GRAVE UPHEAVAL and figure their shit out.
What does the future hold for you musically and personally?
- The new album is written and will probably be in the recording/production stages as this is published, so definitely keep eyes peeled for that. That’ll be out on PROFOUND LORE sometime early next year. Also, my other aforementioned projects Pulp Stars, The Krinkles, and Merihem will have stuff out at some point.
As far as my solo stuff I can’t make any promises because if I do, I won’t fulfil them. I’m moving back to Minnesota soon, where Suffering Hour is based, so we’ll be able to rehearse harder and get busier. We have no shows until after our projected release date of the new album, so once we’re playing shows again and properly rehearsed we’ll be going harder than we ever have. We’ll bring it to you all as soon as we can. Cheers.