When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in March, Asheville-based metal band Bleedseason was just shy of completing its debut full-length album. Not ones to give up, the self-proclaimed “Appalachian Horror Groove” outfit found a way to put the finishing touches on the project through a pair of determined and calculated studio trips manned by a tightly knit bubble of essential personnel. The result is Afterbirth (released July 5), a brooding and melodic journey through a landscape littered with despair and desperation, but fueled by movement and energy.
While founding members Elijah Wayne Lynn (lead vocals) and Ryan Coker (guitar and vocals) both come from musical backgrounds that would be considered “heavy” by most, their specific tastes and influences within the metal subgenre only occasionally overlap. Still, the pair — along with bassist Michael Sommers and percussionist Eli Raymer — have found a way to blend their disparate influences into a formula that clearly showcases their individual musical upbringings. Cleverly disguised within the depths of Afterbirth lies reverence for such varied acts as Alice in Chains and Sick of it All, along with heavy doses of metalcore from the late ’90s onward.
“We’ve always liked the sense of Bleedseason being a tribe,” Lynn says. “[But] we don’t want to build a cult or a following as much as we do a community of healing in an aggressive and positive way.”
That unusual combination may sound counterintuitive to the uninitiated, but the cathartic nature of mosh pits and slam dancing has been well documented in punk documentaries, books and testimonials from the past few decades. “We love playing music even if no one’s there,” Lynn says. “But nothing touches a packed-out, sweaty room when you know the crowd’s feeling you, and you’re feeling the crowd.”
Live music can be a transformative experience for both artist and audience, but Bleedseason’s outlook extends beyond physical venue walls and into the bedrooms of children trying to carve out a place of belonging. “If there can be one kid that’s in some nasty trailer park, half-starved, and we keep him around for him or her to be an artist. … That’s what I wanna put back into the world,” Lynn says.
This positivity, while not necessarily represented lyrically in Afterbirth, is a driving force behind the band’s ideology. The back-and-forth between audience and artist is not just acknowledged, but respected as a necessity.
However, with music venues closed until at least Sept. 11 under phase 2 of Gov. Roy Cooper’s Safer at Home executive order, and limited capacities and other significant safety measures all but certain when operations resume, is it viable for a band to persevere with no full-fledged return to a live setting in sight? The agreement between Coker and Lynn seems to be that Bleedseason and the following it’s garnered are capable of weathering the storm. But, as Lynn says, “It’s going to be malnourished.”
Modernized music delivery has certainly become easier with the advent and industry takeover of the many streaming platforms available, and bands like Bleedseason — unsigned and fully self-financed — rely on them more than ever as a major source of exposure. “With streaming, the music will stay alive,” Coker says. But with no live setting to sell additional merchandise like T-shirts and physical albums to newcomers and longtime fans alike, the rigors of sustaining relevance and the short attention spans of many music fans may take their toll.
“Everyone’s eager to get back to it, but I don’t think it’s going to be quite the same,” Lynn says. “Everything you’ve worked for and have crafted for and strived for can just be like, ‘Well, we can’t do that no more.’”
Afterbirth was originally set for release on the full moon of June 5, but the band decided to postpone in deference to the protests rocking the country in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. “There’s other things to hear right now,” Lynn says.
With a new date chosen — July 5, another full moon — the album was finally released on streaming platforms, including Spotify and iTunes. But to add yet another complication, The Mothlight — the band’s chosen venue to debut the album — unexpectedly announced that it had permanently closed. The release show was quickly moved to The Odditorium, but, once again, COVID-19 interfered as music halls were ordered to stay shuttered. Bleedseason remains optimistic, however, that even with the lack of in-person experiences to support Afterbirth, the band can find new fans and impress old ones.
“This is how we heal — this is our friendship, this is our brotherhood,” Lynn says. “I don’t think we want to put a ceiling on Bleedseason. We want to grow, we want to tour. We want to touch as many lives as we can.”
Hopefully, they’ll still get that chance before too long. bleedseasonband.bandcamp.com