"Hellbound and Determined" - An interview with Shaun Albro of Crusadist

Chicago’s up-and-coming melodic death metal quintet Crusadist have been making some significant waves already in their abridged existence as an act. Yet while the band itself could still be classified as rookies, the collective experience of the members goes far beyond any tenderfoot status the unified group may currently be shedding. Pulling together their cumulative skills and talents, Crusadist have immediately made a meteoric impact on the international metal community with the independent release of their debut full-length, The Unholy Grail, and are planning on deepening said impact in the coming months and years. Not satisfied with simply conquering their own backyard, Crusadist desire to conquer the world – and if the initial reaction to The Unholy Grail is any indication, the world might well be coming into the focus of this phenomenal act’s crosshairs.

Formed in 2017, Crusadist rose from the ashes of many former promising Chicago projects, explains vocalist and founding member Shaun Albro: “(Guitarist) Aaron Nobles and I have been in the same circles in the metal scene for many years now. I joined a band that came to be known as ApotheCarrion. Aaron was in the process of joining ApotheCarrion towards the end and unfortunately the project fell apart before anything was to come of it. Crusadist bassist Kevin Ariel was the bassist of ApotheCarrion, as well.”

After ApotheCarrion, Shaun eventually joined the talented-but-sadly-on-hold Against the Plagues; and he brought one of his friends with him. “Against the Plagues was in the process of reformation and I ended up pulling Aaron into the band. When Against the Plagues went on hiatus, I joined up with Marco Martell, also formerly of ATP, to help with the creation of Deadhand System. I went [on] to record an EP with Deadhand System and played a handful of shows until the lineup changed due to guitarist John Major moving out of state. There was a slow point where Deadhand System was struggling to find members, and it was then when I decided to contact Aaron and Kevin to start something fresh.”

And so, the propitious juggernaut now known as Crusadist started to form, but it wasn’t quite complete. Not yet. “We went through many interested musicians and eventually Jason Rak stepped up and was determined to help push things further. He became the permanent drummer in February of 2018. After [trying out and] working with thirteen different guitarists, we were stuck on who would be the fifth member and lead player we needed. We decided to contact Dan Klein [of Iron Hand Audio in Chicago] and recorded a three-song demo to showcase our sound and hopefully attract a second guitarist. [At the start of recording,] on a whim, I contacted Luke Sever and asked if he would lend his services. He agreed and recorded the guitar leads on the 2018 Demo. Shortly after the demo was finished, we had an opportunity to perform as an opening act on Exmortus' “Summer of Steel” tour at The Forge [in Joliet, Illinois]. Luke agreed to doing the show and remained a permanent member ever since. From there, writing for the album and plans for our conquest began.”

Crusadist (L to R): Shaun Albro (Vox), Kevin Ariel (Bass), Aaron Nobles (Guitar), Luke Sever (Guitar), and Jason Rak (Drums)

Writing a great album, though, is a group effort through and through, and it takes all five members – and sometimes more – to concoct something as bold and brutal as The Unholy Grail. The three songs on the 2018 demo (“Only the Fearless Ride”, “The Moonlit Brigade”, and “The Noble Savage”) all appear on the full-length and were born mostly of Nobles and Ariel, but another song on The Unholy Grail owes its existence to someone else entirely. “'Tempered in Black Flame’ is a song that we wrote with one of the previous guitarists; one of the thirteen actually, the last one before Luke stepped in, by the name of Dave Gormley. Dave was with us the longest of the thirteen and had been contributing ideas up until his departure in March [of] 2018. ‘Tempered’ was his baby and was tweaked and turned into a Crusadist song, and with his blessing, we kept it alive and put it on the album. Some of Dave's riffs can also be found in ‘Beyond the Count of Grief’.”

But once Luke Sever arrived to permanently fill Gormley’s place, the final piece to the puzzle had been found. “Luke definitely brought a new energy, [and] ‘For Blood and Conquest’ and ‘The Unholy Grail’ were mostly comprised of Luke’s contributions. We are all on the same page musically with what we want to write, and I feel like everyone’s styles are compatible with one another. [It] really helps to bring our own genuine and unique blend of something fresh, yet classic.”

Thematically and lyrically, Albro uses not only personal inspiration, but also rhythm and feel to form what he thinks will work best with the songs. “I usually have a concept and a general story in mind beforehand. While the music is being written, I start to develop vocal patterns, cadences, which start to help inspire the emotion. Once the emotion has been identified, the words and story start to take place. The story is usually a parable of my life, what I'm going through at the time, the battles I'm fighting. I always strive to make the music real, to help redirect the energy that I absorb throughout the day or throughout life. I started doing vocals not only for my love of music and metal but as a cathartic release. I wanted to personify the voice screaming inside, that violence and aggression, and turn it into something beautiful. To inspire and to entertain all in one.”

Crusadist performing live in Indianapolis, May, 2019.

Inspiring, entertaining, and sounding remarkable in the speakers, The Unholy Grail was recorded at one of the Midwest’s most legendary studios, Belle City Sound in Racine, Wisconsin, by the ultra-experienced Chris “Wisco” Djuricic. Wisco, who has recorded some of the finest works by acts such as Jungle Rot, Novembers Doom, Disinter, and Origin, made Crusadist feel almost literally right at home during their recording sessions. “[Chris] has rooms set up [in his house] for bands [to use] when they record. A bottle of scotch, some Spotted Cow, and a leather LaDonna [massage chair] lulling me into a pool of goo after my sessions became something of [a] paradise. I’ve got to tell you, we had so much fun recording this album. Despite the hard work, we had an amazing time full of laughter and great energy. We definitely went in with the idea of giving our best performances knowing the great recordings that have come out of [Belle City]. We wanted to live up to the caliber of professionalism we felt the studio and Chris [deserved].”

Well that they absolutely did. Since the independent release at the end of November of The Unholy Grail, fans, journalists, and industry peers alike have offered Crusadist words of praise and encouragement, including James Malone of Arsis, Noah Carpenter of Skinless, and Jadran “Conan” Gonzalez of Exmortus, among others. All things considered, Albro is truly floored by the public’s and the industry’s warm receptions. “Honestly, we set out to make a statement with this album, and the response has been surreal. Of course, the overall goal always is and should be to blow people away, but when it actually starts to happen, it's an amazing feeling. We are still carving our way into and through the metal industry as a band, but the response has been awesome to say the least. We have sold and shipped albums to Canada, Poland, The Netherlands, Moscow, Ireland, Slovakia, as well as all over the United States. We are honored to have made some top albums of 2019 lists and mentioned alongside some incredible bands. The fans and industry folks who have reached out to personally express their love for the album is truly an honor. This definitely makes us hunger for more and writing on the second album has already begun.”

Consequently, now that The Unholy Grail is out there and doing so well, and that the composing of its follow-up has already commenced, Crusadist may begin to truly explore representation on the next level, even if they already gave it a shot with the current album. “When we were finally finished with the production of [The Unholy Grail], we sent it out to some labels both big and small. We received a lot of good feedback and some offers from smaller labels, but, in the end, we decided to remain independent. We came this far on our own and knew we still had some growing and some dues to pay in order to ascend to a higher level. Yes, it takes more work, more sacrifice, more money and more time, but in the end, it all reinforces that statement we intend on making. We are a serious, hardworking band that will make shit happen regardless of who's support we have. We already have about twenty-seven shows booked up until mid-April of 2020, including an east coast tour in March. On top of those dates, we are [also] adding festival appearances that will be announced shortly. We are hoping to be ready to record our follow up to The Unholy Grail by the end of the year and to release the second album through a bigger label by Spring of 2021.”

The outstanding cover art to The Unholy Grail, as rendered by Par Olofsson.

Sounds like Crusadist has its plan in place and have begun executing it step by step. Ultimately, though, while gigging and recording and potentially getting signed are all good and admirable, they are not all that Crusadist is about. Not by a longshot. Crusadist is a band that strives to write good [tunes], to carry the torch for true metal, and [to] do our part to keep metal alive and well. We are first and foremost fans of music and the genre in general. We create to inspire. We create to redirect the negative energy and [to] expel it into something that is positive and powerful. All of us in this band have always been forced to [strive] and overcome against the odds. Music has been something that has empowered us and liberated us from societal constraints, and [has] allowed us to conquer our fears, to be unique, to be dreamers. We hope to inspire that fighting spirit and to awaken that energy that allows you to be relentless in the pursuit of that which you desire. We want to entertain, to grow as a prominent name of our time, and to be noted within pages of the history of metal.”

Talk about some lofty goals, Shaun and the rest of the guys in Crusadist have their sights extremely high, but as Hunter S. Thompson once said, “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right!” Riding the strength of The Unholy Grail will certainly get this budding quintet quite far, but wisely, they also know that the train doesn’t stop here. It must keep chugging on with new music, new releases, and updated goals as the days, weeks, months, and years tick by. Crusadist has already come quite far in their short time together as an act, yes, but they also know that they have much, much farther to go. Indeed, the future looks incredibly bright for Crusadist, but while only time will truly tell just how far they’ll get to go, so far, so very fucking good!

To listen to The Unholy Grail in its entirety, just press play below, and be sure to visit Crusadist on the web by clicking the links provided below the music. Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year from Hated One Metal Reviews! \m/

Crusadist Links: crusadist.com, facebook.com/theunholygrail

(Photography Credit (Top Photo/Promo): Cheyenne Jaworski - Many thanks to Shaun Albro of Crusadist for providing so much of the meat to this piece with his fantastically detailed and full answers. It is always a treat to interview artists who know that this is their stage and their time to speak out and be heard about the passion that is their music. Stay metal, always!)


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