Track Premiere/Interview: Protodisk – Phase Meridian

Minneapolis-based progressive sludge metal trio Phase Meridian flew just under my radar with their 2020 debut, Grow. Decay. Transform. After hearing their new single, “Protodisk,” I right away went looking for more Phase Meridian to fill my ears and mind. Think Mastodon meets Cave In at a space-themed coffee shop run by Old Man Gloom. Though the truth is any number of comparisons would both fit and distract from what Phase Meridian has to offer, which is progressive metal with its boots in the mud and sense of humor intact.

Joe McCumber (guitars, vocals), Kevin Shermock (drums, vocals), and Jake Spanier (bass, vocals) are responsible for the sounds you’re about to hear. It is often hard to believe these guys are only a three-piece, which is, of course, the mark of any excellent three-piece. I can’t think of any that sound like Phase Meridian – maybe an electrified hallucinogenic alien Peter, Paul & Mary from Dimension Zero – but excellent bands rarely go too far out of their way to sound like anyone but themselves.

Check the song out for yourselves below, and we’ll have a chat with the band on the other side.

Hey guys. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. How’s the autumn treating you so far? Minneapolis is beautiful this time of year, yeah? 

Phase Meridian (PM): Hey Joel, thanks for having us. It’s been a really lovely fall so far. Great weather for listlessly wandering through dying forests in search of inspiration for new tunes. Honestly though, it’s been a really nice autumn. 

Thank you for sending us an early listen to your new track, “Protodisk,” which absolutely has a Mastodon vibe to it, combined with the looseness of Red Fang or Eyehategod, perhaps. Extremely tight and intentional but with sort of an improvised violence. How did this tune come about? How did it start? 

PM: Thanks, it warms our hearts to hear the Mastodon comparison. This is actually a very old tune with a fresh coat of paint. It was born out of one of the many nine-hour jam sessions we used to do in Joe’s parent’s basement. Older versions of it have been a live staple for us. People in our circle are probably sick of hearing it, so we decided to finally give it the production value it deserves and send it out into the world. 

Lyrically this song comes from the struggle of accepting your own insignificance in the universe, while at the same time not giving in to despair. It’s a stark warning against getting drunk and watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. 

The groove is infectious right from the starting riff, and those bass lines are intense as hell. The drums are perfectly balanced in the mix as well. It almost sounds like you guys could pull it off as an instrumental. As the press release says, all three of you “share the terrible burden” of singing. How easily do you find fitting in vocals? 

PM: Vocals have always been a struggle. None of us ever intended to sing, and we only started because our original singer bailed a couple of weeks before our first show. I don’t think we’ve ever gotten over the trauma of having to re-invent our band in such a short window of time. It used to be that whoever was playing the easiest part was on the hook for vocals. As we’ve built confidence and discovered where our different vocal styles shine, more conscious choices are being made. Now we’ll hear a riff and know whether it pairs better with Joe’s pained shrieks or Kevin’s chocolatey baritone. We no longer let a lack of confidence make those decisions for us. 

The song is said to be “about cosmic existentialism and the joys of getting to explore the universe in a meat vehicle,” which is both intriguing and hilarious. I love the idea of heavy metal astronaut philosophers traveling time and space to spread good music through the cosmos. Do you think your music would appeal to alien races? If not “Protodisk,” which of your songs would make the best first impression?

PM: I think it really depends on what type of aliens we’re talking about. For example, the Ferengi from Star Trek would hate our music because it doesn’t make any money. The Vulcans might be on board if we cleaned up and played in key more often. I think “Protodisk” would be a good pick though. It at least shows that we’re curious about the universe and humbled by it. If not “Protodisk,” maybe “Hypersleep” from our first record, which is literally about an astronaut astral projecting and finding what they think is god but is actually the nexus of all consciousness.

The lyrics have a limitless quality to them. The types of things that could be discussed by almost anyone from almost anywhere… and for a very long time. The following lines, for example… 

“Creation is a concept 

You cannot comprehend 

You could die a thousand times 

And never see the end” 

Can you expand on this hypothesis, and how does it fit into Phase Meridian as a whole? 

PM: Those lines are basically an expression of awe at the scale of our reality, and of our tiny place in it. The processes that shaped life on this planet work on such a massive time-scale that thinking about it too much can really freak you out. But at the same time, anything that needs a billion years in the oven before it’s ready has got to be special right? Trying to paint a human face on these huge, seemingly indifferent cosmic events is an idea that we keep coming back to. It’s a thread that runs through a lot of our work. 

Do you have any touring plans, and is there another full-length on the way? 

PM: We are hoping to hit the road with some friends this spring, but those are pretty loose plans at the moment. As far as new music goes, we have a lot on the docket. We’re going to be dropping some standalone singles in the coming months that will culminate with an EP. Another full length is on the horizon, but we have some directionless fury to get out of our systems before focusing on a larger project. 

As you explore the universe in your meat vehicles and happen upon a shitty day, what is an album that helps you through? 

Jake: When my meat vehicle stalls out on the highway I’m probably going to grab Fantastic Planet by Failure or The Way of All Flesh by Gojira

Joe: Depending on the kind of bad day, either Failure‘s The Heart is a Monster or Cattle Decapitation‘s Death Atlas.

Kevin: The Dear Hunter‘s Act V: Hymns With the Devil in Confessional or The Ocean‘s
Pelagial. Both albums have really helped course-correct some rough days.

Thanks so much for your time, guys. We’ll look forward to hearing more Phase Meridian, and
have an awesome rest of the year.

PM: You as well my dude. Thanks for the support.

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