Exploring Entertainment in Florida's 850 & Beyond
by John Schreiber
When I did my first piece for 850me.com I put together a list of my favorite metal albums of the year 2015 – a list I put a lot of time, thought, and pride into because I love metal music and all of its fun little sub genres. Number seven on my list “The Oracle” by Florida’s own Dark Sermon.
Hailing from Tampa, put together from the ashes of their former band called In Reference Of A Sinking Ship; Dark Sermon has quickly taken their rightful place in the world of extreme metal. With their latest release “The Oracle,” Dark Sermon brought new life to their sound – moving from a respectable ode to melodic death metal played in a slightly modern day tone to a darker and more atmospheric approach. There is an artful blending between black metal, death metal, and doom – making it their own twisted creation. On a vocal stand point, Johnny Crowder attacks the album with razor sharp brutality. He displays a vocal tone one could say resembles a sound that summons demons.
Dark Sermon has taken their soul piercing brand of metal to crowds across the US through countless tours and even as a featured band on heavy metal themed cruises. Yes, my friends we live in a time where heavy metal cruises are a thing!
Recently Dark Sermon stopped through Pensacola, Florida to perform at The Handlebar as part of their tour with Rivers Of Nihil & Black Fast. Vocalist Johnny Crowder took a moment to speak with us about their new album, touring, and ultimately what shaped the band to the monster they are.
850ME: It’s pretty obvious that from there is a big change in sound from your first album (“In Tongues”) to this one (“The Oracle”). Was that per-determined for you guys early on or did it happen naturally during the writing process?
Johnny: I think we are just allowing ourselves to sound like we sound, really. With our first record we might of felt like we should sound a certain way and then after we put out that record we were like, “Maybe we should do what feels right.” So that’s really why the new record sounds so different. We allowed the music to become what it would become. We didn’t try to steer it any way.
850ME. With these past two albums you’ve had different engineers you worked with. Kenny Gil produced ‘The Oracle’. Was there a difference between the two producers or was one more favorable perhaps as far as making an album goes?
Johnny: I had fun working with Kenny because he actually recorded our first demo in 2009 then record our first EP in 2010! So we have known him for years and years and years. I actually filled in vocals for his band on tour before I ever toured with Dark Sermon. He’s seen our band play a million times and he understands our live show, which is something that we wanted to bring into the studio. We wanted to work with someone who understands who we are; and not just the music but the whole performance.
850ME: On your Facebook, recently you’ve been posting the lyrics to your songs off the new album along with the meanings behind the lyrics which I think is great because especially with the decline in people actually buying CDs lyrics seemed to get over looked sometimes. And your not only making sure you’re getting that out there but the meanings as well; some really deep meanings at that. What lead you to want to put all this out there like you have?
Johnny: I have been writing for at least 10 years and for the past probably 4 years it has felt like no one reads the lyrics. They hear the lyrics, but they don’t try to understand what the song is about. A lot of people will make assumptions like ‘their a satanic band’ just because we have candles and bones and stuff (on stage) and really if they read the lyrics they would know we are not (a satanic band). Half of it is wanting my voice to be heard, and the other half is for fans that are consuming this music to understand what they are listening to.
850ME: Your live show now a days has a very ritualistic atmosphere to it, as you just mentioned with candles and bones and what not on stage. What brought this on?
Johnny: It’s changed almost every single day. We’ve basically just been doing what feels right and natural. So if I feel like I’m supposed to burn sage on stage then I do it. I think I stopped having so many rules for myself. Originally I always felt that a front man is supposed to do “this” and a metal band should be like “this” but now I just feel like going with a gut instinct and overall I believe that’s allowed this band to turn into what it is.
850ME: So you guys have been on this tour with Rivers Of Nihil and Black Fast for almost ten days now. How has is been going so far?
Johnny: It’s been loads of fun. Luckily both the bands are full of people that we totally mesh with. On the first day we felt like we hardly had to meet anybody, we all just clicked.
850ME: In the past, you guys have had the opportunity to tour along side some seasoned bands within the scene like Aborted and Cattle Decapitation. Is there anything you try to take away from touring with bands like them?
Johnny: I think the coolest thing about touring with bands that have been bands for way longer than us, I mean like Cattle Decapitation; they been around as long as I’ve been alive, same with Aborted (Johnny says with a laugh). I remember one specific time, I was touring with Aborted their vocalist Sven got hurt and he injured his rib on the tour and he wasn’t able to play a show so the band had to play instrumental. Later on I was talking to him and he said that it was the only show he’s ever missed… In 19 years, it’s the only show he’s ever missed! Like that’s inspiring! It’s funny because on the Cattle Decapitation tour I had a lung infection. I had to go to the hospital and they were saying ‘you shouldn’t be singing’ and I’m like ‘yeah, I know that” but we were playing in front of a good amount of kids everyday and just felt like I couldn’t miss a show because Sven from Aborted doesn’t miss shows! We definitely hold ourselves to a certain standard and I think it helps getting to tour with bands that are that professional.
850ME: I remember hearing a similar situation with The Word Alive’s singer Telle Smith, he broke his back on a tour and still managed to finish an entire tour! That’s crazy but I guess he has that same mind set.
Johnny: Dude, it’s so hard being a lead singer when there’s something wrong with your body and still manage to perform.
850ME: How has the feedback been on this album compared to your old one?
Johnny: I had an interview last night with that exact same question, heh, and it’s a cool one to answer because the first record I was almost worried we might of put ourselves in a pigeon hole. That people might expect that same type of music continuously and then we put out our second record and very luckily for us people have been even more supportive! For instance, on this tour we are playing 4 new songs and 2 old ones and we aren’t getting any complaints about it! I mean that’s such a relief.
850ME: What were some bands early on for you that brought you into playing this kind of music?
Johnny: I listened to a ton nu-metal and old rock and stuff (he says with a slight chuckle). That’s what made me want to be in a band was groups like System Of A Down, Slipknot, Korn and what not. So I don’t really know how I wound up in this particular genre. I do remember thinking ‘ok well System of a Down is heavy, what’s heavier than this?’. Then, ‘ok cool so what’s heavier than Slipknot?’ and it just slowly progressed and now I’m in this band.
850ME: Last question, it’s semi off topic but I couldn’t help myself but ask. Last year y’all performed on the 70,000 Tons Metal Cruise. I mean, how much fun was that really?
Johnny: It’s the second cruise show we have done because we did Barge To Hell the year before – so now we just want to do all the cruise tours that we can. It’s just weird! There is nothing like playing a festival cruise tour, at least to my knowledge and if there is we definitely want to try it! The craziest part of it was the areas on the ship where they had the fine dinning and everyone is in cut off shirts and playing death metal, it’s just sick! Best of both worlds for sure!
Dark Sermon’s performance Friday February 26th, at The Handlebar certainly did not disappoint metal fans in Pensacola. Right from the rings of their opening song ‘Starved” to the closing notes of ‘Rat King’ – the audience reacted quite appropriately to Dark Sermon with fierce head banging and glorious circle pit action that only seemed to leave Pensacola metal heads wanting more. Which vocalist Johnny Crowder plans to make more of a habit of that, telling me that, “We seem to rarely play Florida but we are trying to do so more often. We’re gonna get on that!” Lets hope Johnny is right and that the panhandle can be graced with Dark Sermon’s presence again. If you have seen Dark Sermon before you know it’s a show simply not to miss, and if you haven’t – do not let your next opportunity pass you by.
Thanks again to Johnny Crowder for taking your time to talk with me.
You catch Dark Sermon on tour this April and May along side Thy Art Is Murder, Rings Of Saturn, and Fit For An Autopsy (see dates below) and can check out Dark Sermon via facebook at https://www.facebook.com/darksermon
Apr 6 – Tucson, AZ – The Rock…
Apr 7 – El Paso, TX – Tricky Falls
Apr 8 – Lubbock, TX – Jake’s Sports Café
Apr 9 – San Antonio, TX – Alamo City Music Hall
Apr 11 – Fort Worth, TX – The Rail Club
Apr 12 – Houston, TX – Scout Bar
Apr 14 – Birmingham, AL – Zydeco
Apr 15 – Indianapolis, IN – Emerson Theatre
Apr 16 – St. Louis, MO – Fubar
Apr 17 – Springfield, MO – Outland Ballroom
Apr 18 – Lawrence, KS – The Granada Theatre
Apr 19 – Wichita, KS – Rock Island Live
Apr 21 – Farmington, NM – Top Deck
Apr 22 – Grand Junction, CO – Independence Ballroom
Apr 23 – Colorado Springs, CO – The Black Sheep
Apr 24 – Fort Collins, CO – Aggie Theatre
Apr 25 – Omaha, NE – Sokol Underground
Apr 26 – Palatine, IL – Durty Nellies
Apr 27 – Valparaiso, IN – Big Shots
Apr 28 – Lansing, MI – The Loft
Apr 29 – Columbus, OH – Park Street Saloon
Apr 30 – Lakewood, OH – The Foundry
May 1 – Erie, PA – Basement Transmissions
May 2 – Buffalo, NY – Buffalo Iron Works
May 3 – Burlington, VT – Higher Ground Ballroom
May 4 – Portland, ME – Port City Music Hall
May 6 – Reading, PA – Reverb
May 7 – Pittsburgh, PA – Mr. Smalls
May 9 – Greensboro, NC – Greene Street
May 10 – Wilmington, NC – Ziggy’s By The Sea
May 11 – Virginia Beach, VA – Shakas Live
May 13 – Baltimore, MD – Baltimore Sound Stage
May 14 – Freehold, NJ – Game Changer World
May 15 – Hartford, CT – Webster Underground
May 16 – Syracuse, NY – Lost Horizon
May 18 – Amityville, NY – Revolution Bar & Music Hall
May 19 – Worcester, MA – The Palladium