Building a Shrine

Seattle finally gets a taste of soul-crushing metal supergroup Shrinebuilder.

Them Crooked Vultures may have landed themselves on Saturday Night Live and created enough pre-release Internet buzz last year to deafen a small planet, but another hard-rock supergroup has had the metal underground a-twitter since 2006. Now, after four years of protracted anticipation, Seattle will get to see and hear what happens when members of iconic metal bands Neurosis, the Melvins, Sleep, and St. Vitus take the stage together as Shrinebuilder.

"This is the first supergroup of the modern metal age," enthuses Andrew Chapman, frontman for local metal act the Keeper and owner of Algerbay Records, a label that regularly releases compilations of up-and-coming Northwest metal and punk bands. "They have some of the heaviest résumés in metal today, and that they are writing, recording, and performing together is metal history in the making."

The five songs on Shrinebuilder's eponymous, 40-minute-long debut CD are a dreamy collection of doom-centric dirges, sludge-filled séances, and thick, classic stoner-rock riff-fests; it sounds true to the signature sounds of its individual members, but also very much like the launch of a new endeavor, not a one-off whim. "Basically, this is us saying 'hello,'" affirms guitarist Scott Kelly, best known for his 25-year tenure in groundbreaking sludge-metal act Neurosis. "Everyone is really into it, and everyone has the support of the members in their other projects, which is pretty important."

Released last October on Neurot Recordings, the label collective run by Neurosis members and A&R baroness Kristin Von Till, Shrinebuilder was warmly received by an overwhelming majority of critics and fans, though it's inevitable that such a rich bloodline could produce mild disappointment, even among their closest comrades and greatest admirers.

"To be perfectly honest, I was left wanting a little more from it," confesses Jon Weisnewski, bassist/vocalist for local metal mainstays Akimbo, which also released its most recent record on Neurot. "Based on pedigree alone, Shrinebuilder inadvertently set the bar extremely high for themselves, but that's no reason to downplay their collaboration just because it isn't this fanboy fantasy ofHoudini plus Through Silver in Blood plus Dopesmoker," he continues, referencing the highlights of each band's back catalog. "The record is definitely quality, and I'm frothing to see them play it live. Regardless of any preconceived expectations I had whipped up in my head for the album, I am 100 percent positive that these men will crush souls in a live setting."

Shrinebuilder began when St. Vitus leader Scott "Wino" Weinrich called Sleep alumnus Al Cisneros and suggested they start a new project together. Through his work as the frontman for The Obsessed and guitarist for St. Vitus in the late '70s and early '80s, Wino helped lay the leaden foundation for what would come to be known as doom metal, and had recently disbanded his latest project, Hidden Hand.

Cisneros earned the broad respect of his peers in the early '90s as a founding member of Sleep, a Southern California–based band widely renowned for helping meld the dour notes of doom with the psychedelic heaviness of what came to be known as stoner rock. He later explored even more adventurous territory through Om, an experimental duo he built around the traditions of Tibetan chanting. "Wino felt there was a commonality in our approaches and felt a kinship there," recalls Cisneros, discussing their connection via phone from his San Jose home. "I definitely felt the same way, so I was into it."

With Cisneros' encouragement, the pair then enlisted Kelly, leader of Neurosis since its 1985 inception, and Om drummer Chris Hakius. Once word of their union leaked into the blogosphere, fans clamored to hear the results, but there was no measurable movement for two years, when Hakius suddenly decided to retire from music and legendary Melvins drummer Dale Crover stepped in. Shortly thereafter, the band got to work writing songs for what would be their debut.

"Every song is a collaboration," says Kelly emphatically. "Some songs might start as more one guy's or another's, but every song has at least two of us, if not three of us, contributing."

The band has played a handful of shows on the East and West Coasts and have a slew of European dates scheduled, but are already bristling with ideas for their sophomore release, despite the demands of their home projects.

"Even with the schedules with Om, Neurosis, and the Melvins and St. Vitus, we're still finding ways to write songs for the next record," says Cisneros, with audible enthusiasm. "But we'll definitely spend more than three days on the next one," he laughs.

"Shrinebuilder isn't something I ever could have planned for," continues Kelly, mulling over the band's future. "But obviously you can't walk away from that. I don't think it took more than one second for me to get the 'Yes' out. It's pretty shocking to me after playing with the same band for 25 years to look to my right and see Dale there. I can't help but laugh; it's fucking ridiculous!"

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