Arizona four-piece progressive death metal band Kardashev released their latest album, Liminal Rite, three months ago today on Metal Blade Records. The self-described “deathgaze” pioneers have outdone themselves with this one, folks! An absolutely massive record in both sound and scope, Liminal Rite has been on near-constant repeat for us since the needle dropped, and the likelihood of this changing is slim.
Trendcrusher spoke to Kardashev guitarist, Nico Mirolla on release day about the songwriting process, lyrical and musical concepts, influences, non-metal listening habits, and the band’s relationship with their fans. Transcribed by TMW for you below, this is a wonderful conversation.
Trendcrusher (PK): Hey, Nico. How’s it going?
Nico Mirolla (NM): It’s good, Peter. How are you doing today?
PK: I’m doing well, man. I want to start by congratulating you on the release of your second album, Limited Rite, which is out today on Metal Blade Records. How does it feel?
NM: It feels great. We’ve been working on this record for about two years now, and it feels really good to finally have it out there. Although it’s busy.
PK: Yeah, I can imagine. First of all, I must say thank you for taking the time to talk to me today. After working on an album for two years, I’m sure you just want to get a day off. I want to ask you a very basic question. Do you normally have, like, a release day ritual?
NM: Oh, a release day ritual? No, but we totally should. Usually, the release day ritual is just a lot of coffee and a lot of anxiety trying to get back to everybody and show appreciation to people for just being excited about the album or being critical of it.
PK: Yeah, I definitely am glad you brought this up right up front because that’s one of the things I want to unpack in our chat. One thing I’ve noticed about the band is that you guys are very close to your audience. And I think that’s something that is completely changed over the years in Metal. Especially in a year like 2022.
NM: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. The Internet, and subsequently the pandemic, has allowed bands and fans to grow a different kind of relationship than just that sort of parasocial fandom where you’ll never actually meet or have a conversation. So it’s really nice in that way.
PK: One thing I just found out about you. Something you share in common with, I’m sure, a lot of Metal fans is the love of cats.
NM: Absolutely, yes. In my free time, I go above and beyond and try to take care of people’s animals. But I particularly love cats. I think they’re adorable. And people can have an opinion about cats person, dogs person, or whatever. But at the end of the day, I think cats are better.
PK: Awesome. If you think about it, cats are Metal also, right?
NM: They’re totally Metal, bro. Yeah, they’re ferocious.
PK: Okay, now, I know you might be tired of answering this question, but I’m glad at least I’m speaking to you from the band because you’re the one who coined the term “Deathgaze.” Now, before diving into what “Deathgazee” is, I want to get a quick reaction for you. Do we really need another metal subgenre?
NM: No, absolutely not. We do not need one. But there are those people who love specificity, and I’m that kind of person. So I’m always trying to find where I fit in. And I think that Deathgaze made sense at that time.
PK: Okay, so for somebody who has never heard of Kardashev, who has no idea what Deathgaze is, how would you break it down?
NM: I would describe Kardashev as a mixture of Death Metal, and, Post Rock, or Shoegaze. That’s kind of the way that I would pitch it to someone on an elevator who I don’t know anything about. But if I knew this person was a Metalhead, and they were familiar with the fascination of subgenre-fying every single band they come across, I would try to explain to them that the blend is more like Death Metal, Deathcore, Black Metal, Atmospheric Black Metal, and then somehow arriving in the Post Rock realm all at the same time, because we pull a little bit from each one. So Deathgaze kind of makes sense to that person.
PK: One of the things I always enjoy talking to bands is that it’s not that you’ve got someone who says, “Okay, here’s the song. Now you play it.” Or you get ghostwriters or things like that. It’s actually jamming and getting together in the last couple of years. Just sharing Guitar Pro files, or Dropbox or whatnot. How did you all amalgamate all of these sounds that you had? Because I can distinctly see that it’s coming from different band members also. Am I correct?
NM: Yeah, you’re absolutely correct. Working from home has always been part of the way that we function. Our drummer lives in Canada, and the rest of us live in the United States. So we always have had this need to share files digitally across the Internet.
So it’s really ingrained in how we write altogether. But what’s really unique is that each of us has a different background of musical interests and also life experiences. I myself pull a lot of musical interest from classical music all the way to scores for movies. That’s kind of where I get a lot of my musical love. Whereas our singer, Mark, has, like, folk music and he has pop music that inspires him. And our drummer and bassist, they have their own versions as well. But we bring a little bit of each of them and eventually we wind up at our sound.
PK: Okay, so now that you break it down, you can see it there. And what I love about Kadashev is how seamlessly it all melds. I know this is a band that you would enjoy; Alcest.
NM: Oh, yes, of course. Neige is beautiful.
PK: Yeah. I had the great fortune of watching them live a few years ago here in India. And I’m telling you, it’s like there’s something about listening to this music or these tracks, and you can imagine it and you play it in your head. And then when you finally watch it live, in the right experience, it’s just about dusk. So it’s not too dark, but it’s not too bright. And then you’ve got the band playing in there, and at some point, you’re just lost in that sound.
If I had to watch Kardashev, that’s the kind of experience I’d want. Right? You don’t want to watch it in a dingy club because there are certain bands that think through that whole aesthetic kind of lens, too, right? That whole atmosphere. But I think if I catch Kardashev live, or if you guys come over to India, I think you should do one of those kinds of shows.
NM: I think that would be lovely. I, too, have experienced Alcest live. And I know what you mean when you describe the sort of sunset time frame of listening to a band that evokes that sort of emotion. I think I agree with you. I think that Kardashev would be best suited not for a club or continuous circle pitting and mosh-pitting, but maybe more akin to watching an orchestra. Right? You can kind of sit down and just take it in and not worry about getting beat up from the side or something.
PK: Okay, now we warmed up everyone with where you guys come from and the Deathgaze sound, let’s dive into Liminal Rite.
PK: Break it down for me. Because when you’re talking about two years, we can’t get away from talking about the pandemic. Let’s get the elephant out of the room. How much did dealing with the pandemic have an impact on the album?
NM: The pandemic set us back in a couple of ways. Logistics around the world were set back in some ways, so releasing the album, the time frame was very unsure. We didn’t know when the album was going to come out. Originally, it was December of this year, and then it was pushed back to next year, and then it came in today. So, I mean, it’s been kind of wild in that way.
But as far as writing, fortunately, our process didn’t have to change much because we’re an international band in that way. So a lot of file sharing still occurred. Now, on an individual level, obviously, there’s like, the sickness scare that everybody experienced individually with their families and friends. But at the end of the day, it didn’t do much to our timeline. What it did, if anything, was give us a lot of individual time to reflect and stew in our emotions and see how we could channel that into the record.
PK: Okay, so then I have to ask, at which point do you realize “this is it”? Like, you don’t want to tweak more. You don’t want to mix more. You don’t want to add that little bit. Because there’s always that temptation, right? Especially with digital, you always want that last minute until it’s finally sent off. Were you guys tempted at all with that?
NM: Absolutely. Yeah. One of the biggest challenges as a creative person in life is to know when you’re done; when is something truly done. And I think that now that we’ve been doing this for ten years, we kind of have a better understanding of when to be accepting of how it sits, how the album sits, how the song sounds. And one thing we were afforded, thanks to working with Metal Blade, was being able to all travel together, albeit in the pandemic.
We got to travel to the mixing Knoxville, Tennessee, to see the album finished. So we were there in the room with the engineer making sure that it had all of the sounds and qualities that we hoped for it to have upon release. That was one of the best opportunities to make sure it was finished.
PK: Let’s talk concept. I’m one of those guys who really enjoys a concept, a story. I don’t just listen to the music and leave it there. I want to go beyond that. Some reviews have been really helpful where they talk about the concept of the album is about an aging man whose day-to-day existence is slowly diverging from his reality. And there are so many different things that come in. You’re talking about the failure of memory, the nature of dementia, and all of that.
PK: That’s not easy stuff. At least if, and please correct me, is that the story came first, then the music. How did you guys go about that?
NM: That’s a good question. It actually happened in the reverse. We tend to write music and then our singer, who is our primary lyricist and story writer, listens to the full record instrumentally and he decides what mood it puts him in; what emotion it’s trying to speak of. And in this case, when he was listening to a good portion of the finished record, he decided that it sounded like it would facilitate the story of a person who’s going through a struggle. It’s got a melancholy vibe. It’s got heavy moments, and it’s got light moments. So as a result, he was able to instill the idea of this narrative of a character traveling through their family home while also suffering from memory loss and dementia.
The way that he tells that story is very compelling because he’s great at prose. So originally it was the music, and then our singer and subsequently our bass player came together to write the story of the record on that landscape. Wow.
PK: That’s quite a fascinating way of working with it. And it’s like, now you’re completely making me think about the record differently.
PK: I was having this chat earlier with someone and I said I really like bands who put out the instrumental versions of the album. Because just the instrumental can put you in a completely different mood. And I think that’s exactly what you’re talking about. I like how you put it. Just like we’re an international band in there. Because, while you’ve been around for ten years, in the last seven years, you guys have been really prolific. What’s the secret sauce?
NM: What’s the secret sauce to being prolific? Not going on tour and making your entire focus to just make records in the studio. We’ve never really had the opportunity to go on a tour that we thought would be a meaningful tour. We’ve had some offers here and there, but at the end of the day, we decided it wasn’t going to be worth it for whatever reason.
It could have been the time period. It could have been the member availability because a couple of our members are in other projects and so they could be off doing that at a time when we get an offer. And so that doesn’t really work out. But I will tell you that in the amount of time that we have been making music, that’s been our sole focus. I mean, we have content, we have music videos, and we stream live on YouTube. And our vocalist has an academy where he teaches people how to do vocals. But our focus has always been on records. And so that affords us a lot of time to do just that.
PK: I think that’s really cool. In terms of having that singular focus and realizing that’s one of the things. I work with a lot of creators and content makers, and I think that’s the X Factor. A lot of people say it’s luck, but just having that singular focus and being consistent. So, kudos to you guys, honestly.
If I can make another assumption, that’s one of the things that would have caught Metal Blade’s eye, right? And as a label, that’s what you want. You want someone who can be consistent. Because, as I mentioned earlier, I’m one of the people who love reading about music. And it’s a little disappointing sometimes when you read the biographies of rock bands and you realize the excesses they lived in.
Slash’s biography, for example, talks about sometimes spending millions just because Axl Rose showed up late to a show and they ended up paying fines and stuff like that. Like stories of the excess in the 80s. But, since you mentioned Metal Blade, tell me about that moment.
NM: Yeah, it was very surreal. And yet you’re correct. It is fresh in my mind. Because every day I think it’s not real yet. Right? It’s not real, real yet. And maybe that’s because I’m waiting for an opportunity to just flagrantly spend millions of dollars, but who knows? That day will come.
But I will tell you this. When I did finally have a Skype call with Metal Blade and talk to them, it really occurred to me that they were interested in the sort of creators that we were. But they were also interested in our ability to function as a business. Because at the end of the day, it’s a partnership, right?
They are looking for bands and creators that they think are going to do right by them in creating. And so I think being able to display that and show that we have a great track record of continually putting out music, as you said, being prolific. It helped us sort of sell the deal to them when they were in the decision-making process. And to this day, I am infinitely grateful for them, just for the opportunity to see three records through. It’s going to be awesome.
PK: One of the things in the Metal world is, do you really need a label in there? And the more I have conversations with bands like yours, I realize there is a huge value. Take an example like Periphery, which started as a bedroom project. But for them to do what they need to do now, they still need to lean on a label like Century Media to leverage that distribution. So at some point, while that debate happens, do you see it in a similar way, considering that you did a lot of the stuff independently before this?
NM: Absolutely, I do. I share that perspective, and I agree with you. Periphery is a great case study of bands that started in DIY. Probably like most in history, it’s do it yourself. You do it for fun. You do it for the love. And then eventually somebody says, oh, I think there’s an opportunity here to commodify or create products from your creativity. And one of the interesting things about modern day is that a lot of people, a lot of bands and creators, are under the impression that if they just do the work, they’ll be found.
But in reality, everybody shares that. And so because of the Internet, and because you can make your own eCommerce store on Etsy and use different platforms for websites, it seems very easy and accessible. But in turn, that means that there are so many more people doing it, which means you can get lost in the weeds.
Just this morning, I was looking at Bandcamp and I was trying to see if we were trending anywhere, like best selling or most listened to or something. And I went through three genres of Metal. I went through Death Metal, Progressive Metal, and then one other one I can’t remember. And we were nowhere to be found on the first twenty pages. But all of these came out on the same day. And I was thinking to myself, this is amazing. So much music is being made, and yet here we are, even on a record label, still not on the first twenty pages. So it’s kind of an uphill battle in that way. Unless you’re absolutely noteworthy, if you’re doing something novel, I think you’ll stand out either way.
PK: Okay. I have two follow-up questions. First, I think this is a pet peeve, but I want to see if you also face it. I hate when the band is a Death Metal band, but will also have Black Metal, Grindcore, blah, blah, blah. And then, when you go through these genres, it’s messed up. Because you like the genres, what do you think? Have you come across that?
NM: I have, and I tend to agree with you. This is part of the reason that I started saying Deathgaze. Because if I told somebody who loves Metalcore that we sound like Metalcore, they might tell me I’m wrong, and they might have that result. The same thing is true for Deathcore and Black Metal. I mean, as you go along, if they’re not truly that, where do you fit in? So I just said, I’m going to make up my own. Because nobody else can tell me that we’re not Deathgaze. As far as I know, I’m the only one because I made it up. Right? And that’s where I was coming from with that.
PK: And how do reviews affect you? I mean, do you go through reviews?
NM: Oh, yes. Like I said, we really foster that communication and friendship with our fans and listeners. We do our best to really have that conversation. And part of that is reviews, because many start as fans, and then they think to themselves, I’m compelled by this band or record. Or maybe me or one of the other band members. I want to write about them. And so really, a lot of those people can be people we already have relationships with.
Now, this is a different case because Metal Blade has a marketing team reaching in places like yours where I’m just meeting you for the first time. But that doesn’t mean we can’t talk afterward and maybe you want to hang out again. But the point is, I love reading reviews. I love seeing the critical feedback. That’s where a lot of the inspiration came from, to figure out what the term Deathgaze meant. Because a lot of reviews said it’s not quite Death Metal, it’s not quite this, it’s not quite that. And it helps me figure out where we might actually fit in.
PK: I see a lot of bands changing, and one of the important things is community, right? To use Periphery as an example again, they do Periphery Camp, which I think is brilliant. Like the fact that you can go away. In India, we don’t understand the concept of camping. All we know about it is through movies like American Pie. Sorry, that’s just what happens. That’s the kind of culture that filters down.
But just the fact that you get access to fans and now say, in the last few years, you haven’t been able to do it. You’ve got platforms like Discord and Patreon. One unique thing about Kardashev is that you guys got the Enlisted Traveler program. Tell me about that. What impact has that community had on the band itself?
NM: Absolutely. Thank you for bringing this up. This isn’t a new model by any means. It’s just a patronage model. It’s a way for fans who are sincerely interested in our efforts and our music and our creativity to just fund us a little bit from their own pocket. And in return, we offer them insights into our demos and our creative process. We credit them on all of our music videos and all of our performance videos.
In the past, we’ve shipped them just a bunch of swag saying, thank you so much. We actually do one-off designs for individuals. So if they want to have a Kardashev shirt with their name on it, I will make that for them and send it to them. All set, no problem. So it’s kind of going back to a classical era of patronage when you’d have a person who has the means to fund somebody who would rather spend their time creating than exchanging time for money in the traditional way. So there’s a bunch of bands doing this now. I mean, it’s popularized, thanks to platforms like Patreon, but we have moved away from those crowdfunding sources ourselves, and we now have our own on our website.
PK: I remember when crowdfunding became a thing because it was such a different aspect. Here you have people who can choose what they want. I may not want an MP3. I may want the flak version of the album. On Bandcamp, you can choose the audio quality that you want. But say I’m willing to pay that $5 more to get that T-shirt that you talked about, because, hey, that’s cool, right? I mean, that’s something I want to show off. Hey, this is mine. This is unique.
But the counter to that is how do bands fund this? Because traditionally you’ve seen the record label model was always that. And I don’t think anyone ever looked at it as a loan. Right? But the more and more the industry has evolved, we’ve got streaming in there. So I think there’s a lot of merit to this. Do you have any interesting stories from the Enlisted Traveler program?
NM: Absolutely. In the past, we’ve done live stream events where we particularly invite our Enlisted Travelers to join in and be a part of it. And on one particular night, I was creating merchandise, and I invited everyone. I said, hey, come on in if you want to watch what I’m doing. I’ll share my screen. We’ll share our cameras. We can all listen to some music together, and I’m just going to create some T-shirts. There’s a very simple premise, but of course, thirty minutes into the call, there’s absolute chaos and happiness and laughter because we’re meming every member of the band. We’re putting their faces on underwear. Then we’re uploading it to the website. People can buy it. So it just became a ton of fun for us. To go down in history and have a story where it’s like “this one time we were making merch, and we put Mark’s face on the crotch of a pair of underwear,” something like that. So it turns into a lot of fun sometimes.
PK: Wow! This goes back to the community. One of the things that has changed. And social media can be like a double-edged sword. I don’t want to name bands or anything, but it’s weird when you’ve got this band wearing corpse paint and blood, and then you see that they have the same problems as you. Like, “My God, I ran out of coffee.” That kind of kills the whole mystery or aura to it.
PK: I grew up in an era where I bought some cassettes, but I also bought CDs. And I still have a very distinct memory where I bought a Trivium CD, and I looked at the logo for the longest time on Matt Hefee’s T-shirt and tried to figure out which band it was. And then I realized it was Darkthrone. At that time, Darkthrone had a website that was just black. That’s it. So you had no idea who the members of Darkthrone were. And that was some kind of mystery. Right? And now you realize, when you listen to Fenriz’s mixes, he also enjoys 80s Cock Rock as much as anyone else. On a Friday night, just having a drink. Have you encountered any similar things? Like where you suddenly realize that they just have normal people’s problems, like all of us?
NM: Yeah, it is funny when you can identify or when the veil is removed. You sort of have that either relationship, or that awareness that these superstars – or people of celebrity, or of high prestige – that they’re just like the rest of us under different circumstances. I think there’s a lot to be said about the cultural phenomenon of appreciating different statuses or classes or however it comes down. There are some cultures that try to look at it as evenly as possible, but most of them seem to stratify it in some way. And I think the same is true with Metal.
We have bands like Slipknot, where before the members removed their masks, everybody was talking about the mystery. That same thing is now being done with bands like Sleep Token, right? Where they take on a persona on stage. Or even look at Tool when Maynard would sing in the dark behind the drum set. I mean, they are adding this element of mystery that makes you discuss it with your friends. And I think at the end of the day, it’s a good marketing opportunity.
But also it could be the way that they’re coping with something like stage fright, or maybe they don’t want celebrity in their life. They want to be able to walk around without wearing a mask, glasses, and a hat, disguising themselves. So I’m not really sure what motivates it, but I know that in my life, I find it more genuine to be honest with someone. To tell them who I am, and what I do. And if that’s something they’re interested in, then we can share that experience.
PK: You’ve got such a variety of music that you have come from, and backgrounds that you have come from. What are the non-Metal influences that seep in? Like, come on, drop some names that would totally surprise people.
NM: Okay. Names that would surprise people. Okay, here you go. Top three for me that are not Metal. I would say Loreena McKennitt. I would say Imogen Heap. And I would say Little Tybee.
NM: Yeah. They’re nowhere near the middle spectrum. It’s like New Age music. It’s like mathy folk music, and then Imogen Heap is like electronic pop. None of these enter the Metal spectrum, but I appreciate them in ways that I think I can adopt into our music.
PK: I think there’s something to be said for non-Metal that Metalheads enjoy because there’s a certain kind of thing that you do. Taking Loreena McKennitt, for example, you find blues, jazz, and even Country musicians, to be far more “Metal” than actual Metal musicians. Because they’re just so badass. The way they look at things and their attitude towards their music. It blows my mind.
But in terms of Metal music versus non-Metal music? Is there a mix?
NM: Yeah, that’s interesting. I haven’t reflected on that in a while. In the past, I was enthralled with Metal when I was still discovering it, and I was still identifying the nuances of the different subgenres, and what qualified them to be categorized as such. But lately, and probably for the past five or so years. I’m not really compelled by sifting through Metal. By listening to playlists and hoping that I’ll find something that catches my ear.
Instead, I really depend on friends and fans who come to me and they say, “I think you would like this.” There’s something about that when you know a person and you have that relationship to take their recommendation sincerely. Because oftentimes the algorithm will show you something where you’re not quite sure that it’s going to be worth it. And that seems to be the trend, at least in my experience. So I listen to mostly non-Metal these days.
PK: I have similar friends. They’ll just send it, in case I haven’t already heard of it. That’s the old-school algorithm. Like, I’ve curated friendships with these people. What are the last couple of bands that have been recommended to you that just blew your mind?
NM: This is a great question. One of them would be Wake. This is a band that I actually found through Metal Blade. I had no idea that they were as good as they are because I wasn’t recommended them by anybody I know personally. So going through the Metal Blade channels, I came across their latest release and I listened to it. “Swallow the Light” is awesome. There’s a band called Inferi, which I was not really familiar with, but they’ve been around for quite a while. And ATLVS is super awesome.
PK: And I think that’s the cool part, just to go back to our conversation about labels, is at the end of the day, for somebody, especially sitting on my end, you have no idea, right? You’re getting like 20-odd emails every day on different bands, independent bands, and stuff like that. And then the moment it’s from a PR person or a label that you know in there and I think, “at some point, everyone who listens to my podcast is sick of me” talking about a label like 20 Buck Spin. Because anything they put out, I’m sure it’s going to be great. So I’ll just blindly go listen to it as soon as the music comes out.
An example is, just before doing this, they surprise-dropped the new Tomb Mold EP. Like, think about it. Just going back to what you said, there are so many bands, so many labels, we’ve prepped for this one day. And then these guys just surprise drop.
NM: Yeah, that’s one of those marketing tactics that I’ve always employed until I was on a record label. It was just like, let’s try to surprise people with this. Because there are days when a welcome surprise can be a change in your psychology, in your mental health. It’s like, oh, it’s going to be a great day because Kardashev released a record. Or in this case for you, this three-track dropped. Right? And going back to record labels, I think you’re right. Record labels are like the original tastemakers. They are the ones who go through the filtering process of identifying what might be worth your time. And as long as you trust them and their trajectory of providing good quality music to you, then you can almost depend on them in that way. For me, I find that that’s true with the label Season of Mist. Anything Season of Mist releases, I’m probably going to love it. So I kind of depend on them for that.
PK: Thanks for sharing the bands because I think that’s one of the cool things also. Because sometimes I feel like, with Metal, it’s Metal, Metal all the time. You need that switch. I appreciate that, but it’s been great talking to you, Nico. I think I can go on. And this is one of those cool things about chats like this. You can just go on. So I’m going to just be mindful of the time. Thanks so much again for taking time out to speak to me and just sharing all your experiences. It’s been great.
NM: No problem, Peter. Thanks for having me on Metal Wanderlust.
A Close captioned video of this interview can be viewed on our YouTube channel or at the link below.