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Lovecraft-inspired US band The Plague Physicians like to remain anonymous and let their Doom/Grunge crossover do the reaching out. Comrade Aleks approached these Doctors of incipient madness about last year's album release...

Interview with The Plague Physicians.
"Dr. Orange (vocals), Dr. Blue (bass), Dr. Pink (drums), Dr. White (guitars) and Dr. Blonde (guitars)… It looks like Cleveland's Central Hospital crew started their band in order to relax like true weekend warriors, but I have no clue who hides behind these names (and masks), even after this interview with Dr. Orange. This anonymous project was officially founded eight years ago in Ohio, and after releasing an EP ('The Raven Mocker' in 2018) and two subsequent singles, The Plague Physicians have come up with full-length album 'In Arkham's Shadow'. I'm having another Lovecraftian period, so I was naturally hooked by the album's title and cover and now I need to tell you this mix of very Trad Doom and bleak atmospheric acoustic parts could be a nice soundtrack for a decent screening of some H.P.'s stories."

The very anonymous The Plague Physicians.

Hi Doc! How are you? What's going on in The Plague Physicians' camp?

We've been doing some writing. We have six songs in progress, and we're thinking of putting them together as an EP.

Can you tell us few things about The Plague Physicians' origin? What was on your mind when you gathered your council for the first time?

About eight years back, I rediscovered how much I loved the first six Black Sabbath albums. Then I heard San Francisco's Orchid. I think Mouths of Madness was the album? It made me sit down and write the main riff for Let Sleeping Gods Lie. Just took 5 years to write enough for The Raven Mocker between other projects.

Did you focus on the Lovecraftian legacy from the very start? Which aspects of his mythology draw your attention?

I did. I've always been fascinated by the indescribable horrors created. Cthulhu, Yog Sothoth, and those eldritch beings. I also enjoyed the darkness in the atmospheres. Innsmouth and Dunwich and the section of Paris where Erich Zann are dark places with heavy air.

Did you witness a common atmosphere in Cleveland? What pushed you into accepting Lovecraftian vibes?

I have witnessed similar atmosphere in Cleveland. I mean, the heart of autumn in Northeast Ohio tends to be cold and rainy, with the sun going down by 6 PM. It's an oppressive gloom that creeps up on you after a summer that can't decide whether or not to stay hot. The building on the cover of In Arkham's Shadow is the allegedly haunted Franklin Castle, and is representative of some of the spookier architecture you'll find in older neighborhoods in Cleveland.

There are many bands that channel Lovecraft's morbid premonitions through their lyrics and music. Some do it in a brutal way, some prefer classic Metal variations and some tend to shape it in progressive forms. Could you name some of the most successful forms of Lovecraftian stories in music?

This is probably a pedestrian answer, but Metallica's 'The Thing That Should Not Be' is the one I come back to most often. They nailed the tone and atmosphere for my liking.

Your full-length album 'In Arkham's Shadow' sounds like a logical development of EP 'The Raven Mocker'. Were you so satisfied with the direction you chose that you took the decision to follow this further?

I wanted to try to strike a balance between weight and atmosphere. I wanted heavier songs, and I wanted darkness. In the end, we were very happy with the outcome. We had the heavy in songs like 'Difference in the Dose' and 'Crawling Chaos', and had some atmospheric journeys in songs like 'Dagon' and 'Madness at Sea'.

The Plague Physicians - 'In Arkham's Shadow' (Full, 2020):

Yes, that's exactly what I'm meaning the heaviness of doomy tracks is balanced with acoustic tracks, reminding me of the methods Paul Roland used in his own Lovecraft-influenced songs. But speaking about the Doom aspect of The Plague Physicians. Do you see it as Doom Metal or is it just your love of Black Sabbath and Orchid?

It started as a doom metal project, but I think doom is just a fraction of what we are now. Embracing all of the heavy music we listen to and distilling it into the songs we write is the way we approach it now. Since we tend to play slower heavy stuff, we tend to feel comfortable enough to appropriate the doom designation.

What kind of settings concerning sound did you have when you started recording 'In Arkham's Shadow'? What kind of atmosphere did you try to evoke with these songs?

I don't know if this will make sense, but it's my thought process when I work on the songs before getting the other docs to add their touches; I grew up near the coast of Lake Erie, in Northeast Ohio, and there's a feeling I would get when I'd be at the lake as a kid after sundown - hearing the water, feeling the bite in the wind as the moon rose. I wanted to have the music create that feeling in me. I wanted a gurgle and a chill. When I feel that while working on my riffs, I know I'm heading the right direction.

Yes, I believe it makes sense. Now I wonder if The Plague Physicians is your solo project, or a real band with five anonymous members. So… what's your answer?

It could really go either way. A lot of the music comes and lyrics come from me, but I collaborate with some friends I've played with for decades now. If I have to commit to one of the other, then at this time I'd probably call it more of a solo project since we've never taken any of this music to a stage.

From my point of view your way of telling these stories is close to the original, because there is a sense of menace in your songs as well as feelings of desolation and that atmosphere of forsaken New England places. How natural was this decision for you to combine all these elements in The Plague Physicians?

Lovecraft felt like a natural starting point. It gave me a way experiment with lyrics. But Lovecraft isn't the only literary influence either. The Leviathan single was inspired by the Lovecraftian video game Call of Cthulhu as an extension of what inspired us on The Raven Mocker. Arkham had me drawing on Machen on the song 'Prove the Devil'. That song was based on The Great God Pan. 'Carcosa (Cassilda's Song)' was inspired by Robert W. Chambers and Ambrose Bierce. 'Difference in the Dose' started as a tribute to Layne Staley, and became a more personal song by the time we finished it. Raven Mocker and Arkham each have a song inspired by my all-time favorite comic book series: Hellboy. 'The Hand From Beyond Space' and 'Seed of Destruction' owe their existence to Mike Mignola and Guillermo del Toro.

My respect! It's good to see a wider range of inspirations! Can you name bands which formed your vision of The Plague Physicians and in particular In Arkham's Shadow?

Overall, classic metal and thrash bands like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Metallica, Anthrax, and Slayer are big influences. I think the biggest influence on our sound, though, is Alice in Chains and Jerry Cantrell's extracurricular work. I love Layne Staley as a singer, but I feel like my voice is closer to a Cantrell voice. I don't want to even try to sound like Layne. I'm also a fan of Willaim Duvall. The post-Staley AIC albums have been pretty solid. Phantom Limb has one hell of a riff, and can stand up alongside classic Alice jams like Dam That River, Rain When I Die, We Die Young, or Grind. Mastodon, Baroness, Opeth, and Valkyrie are also reference points for our sound.

The album was only released digitally: didn't you make a limited run of CDs, or maybe you have found a label interested in helping you with that?

We haven't, actually. The Plague Physicians lives mostly in this space where we sneak the music out there, and let it lie in wait for people to discover. We haven't looked at this as a career move. It's a place to put the kind of music we like writing that doesn't work with other projects.

No ambitions to push the band further? No plans to play these songs live? To reach more listeners?

I've been in a couple other bands over the years, and done more of that kind of thing with those projects. This has been more of a passion thing for now. If we had the right opportunity to do something bigger than digital releases, like doing a limited run of physical merch or playing some shows, we'd probably take it. For the time being, we're just enjoying putting these songs into the world as they are, and then punching in for our day jobs.

Have you watched modern cinematographic interpretations like the movie Colour Out Of Space, or the Lovecraft Country series? How do you think such settings and ways of narration fit Lovecraft's original storylines?

I actually haven't watched either of those! I have a Lovecraft Country in my "to be read" stack, though. From what I know about Lovecraft Country, I'm excited to dig into it and experience how it takes some of the bad elements of Lovecraft's work and turns it against the legacy. It's difficult to separate some of Lovecraft's views on society from the work when he includes outwardly racist sentiment, and I understand Matt Ruff tackles a bit of that in Lovecraft Country.

What are your plans towards new works for The Plague Physicians in 2021?

I mentioned the EP earlier. That's kind of where we are now. Doc Blonde sat down during COVID-Summer 2020 with copies of AIC's Sap and Jar of Flies, and brought me a couple of the new pieces. I had a couple other ideas I was messing with, and they worked together pretty well. It's a different feel to the stuff we've made already. I don't want to say too much about music right now, but I'm really excited about what we have so far, and I'm working on the lyrics right now. I will say that I'm pulling more of the lyrical inspiration from personal stuff and from Russian folklore. Might try to see if I can still sneak a Hellboy song in there too.

Well, I need to ask anyway: will you keep moving in the same direction you took for 'In Arkham's Shadow' with new songs?

I really don't know for sure. I mean, I think one can tell that Raven and Arkham are by the same guys, even though the approach to each project was different. Raven was written over a few years, and used some ideas that didn't fit other bands we'd been in. Almost accidentally written, you could say. Arkham was written more on purpose. We wanted the songs to belong together, and we wanted to still feel free to do what felt right. That will be the prevailing approach every time; what feels right.

And another question I just can't skip is about your Russian folklore influences. What are you talking about? It's just atypical for a USA-based doom band! Though I remember there was a Baba Yaga band a few years ago.

When I was a kid in the 80s, there was a series of books you could order from a Time-Life books commercial. I think it was called The Enchanted World? One of the books had an illustration of Baba Yaga in it. It scared the hell out of me as a young'un. But it also planted a seed in me. I've read a couple folklore anthologies over the years just to feed the Baba Yaga fascination and learned about Koshchei the Deathless. So those are things I kick around in my head when I'm trying to figure out what kind of tale to spin in the songs. For the EP, specifically, Baba Yaga fits in with the personaification of horror for the new songs. I don't want to give too much away right now, but one of the new songs is an instrumental called 'Queen of Teeth'. The image that conjures in my mind is a creature that could rival Baba for being a menace to someone's psyche.

Thank you for the interview Doc! I hope we'll get more from The Plague Physicians soon, and maybe that will be a good opportunity to talk again. Did we miss anything? How would you like to finish our interview?

I think you covered everything. Whether we get onto a stage or not, we still plan on making new music. We could be the doom/grunge answer to XTC; mainly a studio project beloved by a few like-minded guitar lovers.

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Visit the The Plague Physicians bandpage.

Interviewed on 2021-09-14 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
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