"In Search of a Psychoactive Shift" - An interview with Roman Ring

Coming to invade your brains and put their own conceptual stamp upon the world of death metal, another burgeoning act full of budding superstars has arisen from the streets of Chicago. Formed nine years ago, the quintet known as Roman Ring is a pseudo-supergroup whose latest full-length release, The Halogen, seeks not only to ensnare ears and bewitch senses with its impressive tunes, but also endeavors to carve out its own brand of “Psychedelic Death Metal” ascendancy through its artistic motifs, lyrical themes, and consciousness-expanding abstractions. Part art, part music, and all goal-oriented, Roman Ring aim to set themselves apart from the herd; and if the way they’ve garnered their already massive fanbase prior to the release of The Halogen is any barometer, this accomplished group will hit their marks with ease.

Roman Ring’s guitarists and founding members Bill Fay and Nate Madden established the band as a departure from the act of their youth, as Madden explains, “Small Town Murder was a band that I started in high school. We had several lineup changes [from 2005 to 2011] under that moniker, and thus decided to rebrand. Initially, Roman Ring was a new name that better fit the [new] music we were writing.”

But the lineup changes didn’t stop there. After recording their initial EP, Gateways, bassist Franco Caballero came aboard in 2012, and about a year later, vocalist Danny Rodriguez – a former bandmate of Caballero’s in an act called Erjony – joined the fold. Along with original drummer/songwriter/lyricist Johannes Jans, the group then recorded their next EP, Babel, but before the release even saw the light of day, Jans was replaced with Jason Nitts, and the lineup of Roman Ring, which remains to this day, was solidified. “We’re all friends, [and] our music has a cohesion that directly parallels our personal lives and relationship to each other,” explains Caballero, “A big mix of dudes that have known each other for a long time. With each member, we make a well-rounded unit.

However, even with the lineup finalized and gelled together, Roman Ring still faces the challenge of being fully comprised of members bound to other acts. Madden is also one of the guitarists for the popular blackened sludge artists on 20 Buck Spin, Immortal Bird, Kay moonlights in the enigmatic Something is Waiting, Caballero is also the bassist of the up-and-coming tech death outfit Wounds, Rodriguez was already the vocalist for eOne’s melodic deathcore group Through the Eyes of the Dead when he joined up, and Nitts also drums for the blackened progressive death stars of The Artisan Era, Warforged.

We joke together about how our band is a supergroup”, quips Madden, and they’re essentially right, but one of the drawbacks to being such an act is that multiple projects for each member means multiple commitments of time and effort for each member. In other words, the more established bands usually take precedent over Roman Ring, and as a result, they’ve had to rely more on playing live to remain relevant with fans rather than staying consistent with releases to achieve the same ends.

That being said, Roman Ring have firmly established themselves as one of the premier local openers in Chicago for just about any of the national tours that involve technical or progressive death metal, and since the release of Babel, they’ve shared the stage with such big name acts as Pig Champion, Beyond Creation, Revocation, Gorguts, Aborted, and Archspire, among many others. In doing so, they’ve procured themselves a sizeable regional following, and Caballero adores them all: “I absolutely love our fans because there are so many types of people that we seem to appeal to, and I feel that’s the way it should be. We’re all a family when it comes to metal, [and] I think our breadth of influences and personal styles [allow us] to manage pulling it off originally and in a way that does not seem forced, which seems to resonate with others as well.”

Resonate with others it certainly has, and over the past few years, as the reputation of Roman Ring has grown and grown, the only thing that’s been missing to really kick things into a higher gear has been that big, satisfactory, full-length release to appease their ever-growing fanbase... and lo, the bubble finally burst on March 20th, 2020 with the independent release of The Halogen.

As it is, The Halogen represents only the third offering to be issued by Roman Ring, but since the band is on their own and not working under the pressures of a contract with a label, they could take all the time they needed to finetune and perfect their latest work. “I’m definitely proud of the album, we got to try everything we wanted to,” says Madden, “Half of a fourteen-hour day was spent auditioning different guitar heads and amps just for the main rhythm tone, [and] the album features [added] acoustic guitars, fretless bass, triple-tracked drums, scissor samples, and even some [guest] piano work by Adrian Perez of Warforged.

The beautiful artwork of The Halogen as rendered by Parin Cashmony

The Halogen was mostly recorded and mastered at various times between 2016 to 2018 at IV Lab Studios in Chicago by engineer Paul Aluculesei, and Caballero feels the choice was a good one: “[Paul did] a spectacular job as helping us achieve our vision. His patience and dedication are second to none, and I enjoyed working with him immensely. His input was so valuable, as was the care and love he put into this album. We couldn’t have done it without him.

And now that The Halogen is officially available to the masses, Roman Ring’s full and true vision of “Psychedelic Death Metal” is out there for all to see, hear, and experience, but what exactly does that mean? Nitts explains, “I want people to think less of it as yet another subgenre in death metal and more of a branding. I was looking for something that would really resonate with our band and the ideas that go along with what we’ve worked on musically and thematically. Sure, people can listen to us and think we’re a tech death band or a progressive death band, but I think our experimentation with adding different sounds and feelings into our form of death metal, even in one composition, makes the difference, [and it will] most definitely be a theme continuing forward with new works as well.” Succinctly put, “Psychedelic Death Metal” more than just describes the music, it summarizes the very essence of Roman Ring itself, from album concepts to imagery and everything in between.

Available to the masses or not, though, The Halogen, like all other albums released amidst these trying times, has been hampered by the global COVID-19 pandemic. “We were working on getting physical copies rolling right when the situation got really serious,” says Madden, and not only are CD’s tougher to get going right now, Roman Ring are just like every other band on the planet in that they cannot play live to support their new effort.

But also like most other bands on the planet, they remain optimistic and dedicated to their craft: “We’ve been using this as an opportunity to start working out some ideas for [more] new music,” says Nitts about the quarantine, “Once this is all said and done, hopefully we will have some solid foundations for new songs, and we’ll be back to playing the Chicago-area as regularly as we can.” Caballero agrees, adding, “Hopefully we can make some time to really buckle down and perform after all of this has settled, and we’ll be dedicating some time for writing our next release and doing our best to keep on the up and up with our creative process.

So, fear not, fans of Roman Ring! Not only will copies of The Halogen be available as soon as nonessential businesses return and get cranking out the CD’s, but just perhaps the follow-up to this remarkable release will already be well under way as well!

All in all, the plague has thrown a massive monkey wrench into the works of the world, but once we can return to our normal, show-going lives, Roman Ring plan on hitting the stage posthaste, so prepare yourselves for the inevitable by checking out The Halogen in its entirety below, and be sure to purchase a digital copy for the time being, and support this incredible band in the time when they need it the most! \m/

Roman Ring Links: Facebook, Instagram


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