“I’m very much into cosmic horror and a huge fan of the Alien franchise. Cosmic dread is so appealing to me and this record was a better chance to dig into those influences than the first record.”
Any visit or Zoom call to Austin Haines’ Pennsylvania-based man-cave will see those influences prominently and ominously on display. Even before hearing a note of the suffocating sizzle of Outer Heaven’s newest and second album, Infinite Psychic Depths, the environment surrounding the vocalist speaks to his otherworldly and fantastical obsessions. Peeking over his shoulder are floor-to-ceiling cardboard cut-outs and life-sized action figures of instantly recognizable horror characters, table-top Xenomorph figurines occupy the majority of proximal flat surfaces, the walls are covered in rendered and painted homages to H.R. Giger, Ridley Scott, Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shushett, his book shelves are weighted down with pages of fictional tales and making-of tomes. For Haines, he’s used Outer Heaven’s intricately organic death metal precision to satiate his dark creativity with all the aplomb of a screenwriter who has seen some shit. He relishes in being able to expunge the shadowy corners of his mind via cascades of gruffly strangled wind tunnel vocals backed by calamitous extreme metal that emerges with as much professorial attention paid to byzantine elaborateness as to coarse Neanderthalic stomping.
“Realms of Eternal Decay was more of a body horror kind of thing,” Haines says about the band’s debut full-length, “but this one allowed me to play into my influences, creativity and the endless well of ideas when it comes to that kind of stuff. I’m an ideas guy and if a doctor ever saw the Notes app in my phone, I might be in trouble,” he says with a sinister chuckle.
To that end, Haines took advantage of the time afforded him and his band mates — drummer Paul Chrismer, guitarists Jon Kunz and Zak Carter and bassist Derrick Vela (also of Tomb Mold, who played on the new album, but has since been replaced by Paul Tshudy) — by the pandemic shutdown to not just simply do a deep thematic dive with the band’s second record, but to load up the scuba gear and pack the oxygen tanks in order to traipse along the edges of a conceptually abyssal continental shelf.
“On the last album, I laid out a whole narrative through the music, lyrics, art and music video we did,” offers the frontman. “This album serves as a prequel to the story of the first album. It goes so deep that when you open the gatefold vinyl of the first album you see one piece of art. But when you open the new album and place it on top of the first one, the two sleeves connect to make one gigantic piece.”
The cover and sleeve of the band’s debut depicts a severely strewn, post-apocalyptic world in which humanoid is pitted against humanoid. Based on something called Stoned Ape Theory, it posits that, “psilocybin mushrooms and hallucinogens were a major turning point in the evolution of human beings and human creativity, speech, language, fine thinking and stuff like that.” As the story goes, an egregious, slimy substance twists minds into violent form and action with only the strongest of hopped-up humanoids surviving.
“This album describes what happens and how it gets to the point on first album’s the cover where the landscape is infested and the humanoid creatures have turned cannibalistic.”
To sum up, Infinite Psychic Depths traces the backstory by starting off with a Big Bang-like incident and the creation of amorphous souls, which eventually take physical form that populate then ravage their newly created environment. This, in turn, unleashes a disease, the infection of which sends victims into a violent fugue state and drug-like psychosis. The plague spreads until information is revealed on how to stop the contagion in its tracks. All the while, the new world’s omniscient, original creators are angered at what’s become of their gifted environment and, as a result, destroy the wasted civilization. The remnants of that world end up as what you see on the cover of the first album. This complex and involved story has not only allowed Haines to flex his imagination muscle, but tie the two albums together in unique, thoughtful and compelling manners. Including one way that wouldn’t have been possible just a few months prior.
“The most interesting connection is the last track ‘From Nothingness to Eternity’ which fades out and swings back in with the sounds of the first song from Realms played backwards combined with the sound of my newborn daughter’s heartbeat. That’s supposed to represent an ‘essence of life’ kind of thing.”
Formed in 2013 as an outlet for then-Rivers of Nihil guitarist Jon Kunz and Haines (who was touring with the band as a crew member), Outer Heaven didn’t start with a clear-cut goal in mind, outside of having fun during the downtime away Rivers’ rigorous tour schedule. Their moniker was nabbed from the Metal Gear Solid video game series. Their early releases are an admitted mish-mash of sub-genres lacking in definitive focus that, still to Haines’ surprise, caught a buzz. As they started to develop and ease into a comfortable direction that tapped into influences like Morbid Angel, Demilich, Gorguts, Cannibal Corpse and Incantation, they also found community with the likes of Gatecreeper, Tomb Mold, Undeath and Genocide Pact. The band’s debut EP, 2015’s Diabolus Vobiscum, caught the ear of the now-defunct Melotov Records, who a year later also issued an Outer Heaven/Gatecreeper/Scorched/Homewrecker four-way split release. Eventually, the attention of Relapse was caught and the fellow Pennsylvanian’s issued Realms of Eternal Decay in 2018. The album did exceedingly well and was the recorded precursor to tours and festival appearances alongside the likes of Nails, Misery Index, Ulthar, Pig Destroyer, Full of Hell, Enslaved and Triptykon. Also, to a certain amount of detriment, the album somewhat pigeonholed them into a category alongside the multitudes of bands with difficult-to-decipher, if not completely illegible, logos who proudly wear the caveman death metal tag on their Bolt Thrower long sleeves.
“I think we were trying to find ourselves and our sound on our last album,” says Haines. “We put ourselves in a good place and got a reaction that was a lot better than we expected. For this album, we took a look at our strengths and what we liked about the first album and built on that. It’s helped our sound get to something that is more focused and prime for us.”
Taking advantage of Kunz’s and Carter’s penchant for, and interest in, fleet-fingered flashy display of technical prowess and in-the-pocket rhythmic galloping and melodic catchiness, respectively, Infinite Psychic Depths bridges the worlds of dark n’ dank despair and upbeat hookiness. A trundle down the ‘Swe-death’ left hand path is embarked upon during the melodic breaks of the Repulsion ripping that comprises “From Nothingness to Eternity.” An air of Morbid Angel/Immolation methodological riffing swirls around an infectious and muscular half-time clobbering in both “Soul Remnants” and “Unspeakable Aura,” the former being the album opener and the latter featuring the first-time appearance of angelic clean vocals. “Pillars of Dust” and “Liquified Mind” take the listener on a journey from the furthest reaches of the Earth’s exosphere to the sweat and spilled beer of a dive bar mosh pit. Smartly-phrased soloing emerges from the acrid pitch and comes at the listener from multiple angels throughout the album’s forty-five minute run length. Heck, “Fragmented Suspension” gives a backhand to the genre tunnel vision with a tendinitis-inducing palm muted shuffle that’s part Norwegian black metal iciness and part classic ‘80s L.A. hardcore skate punk.
Recorded by Ryan Reed at the band’s practice space (where they also recorded 2021’s In Tribute… covers EP), with vocals recorded in Haines’ horror-themed home office and mixed and mastered by Greg Wilkinson at Earhammer Studios (Vela’s bass tracks were recorded at Boxcar Studios in Hamilton, Ontario), Infinite Psychic Depths also throws a few tricks and guest appearances into the mix with Pig Destroyer’s JR Hayes, Morbid Angel’s Steve Tucker and Alex Jones from Undeath all contributing guest vocal spots with Dave Suzuki (Churchburn, ex-Vital Remains) doing a trade-off solo on “Rotting Stone/D.M.T.”
“COVID made this both a blessing and a curse,” asserts Haines. “This record could have been out two years ago, but we saw the landscape and it took some of the thrill away of releasing a new album. We recorded it a while back, but I sat on the instrumental tracks for a year before I did my vocals because it didn’t feel like the right time. The downtime was good for us because before COVID we were grinding hard and burning out. We were able to take the time to look at the material we had and see if we could make it better. As time went by that became our workflow: hashing material out for months and evolving the sound, which I think is most important.
“What I’m hoping for is that the fans love this album as much as they did the last one,” he concludes. “That we reach some new people and that people see and appreciate the evolution of the band. This album is ambitious and we really put everything we’ve got into it. I hope people see it for what it is and it takes us somewhere cool.”