Metal music has always encompassed some of the most genuine expressions of the human condition; Coming face to face with one’s worst moments in a way that intends to conquer all the negative thoughts, emotions, and otherwise encounters by means of artistic form and, often, lyrical expression. Many, many acts over the years have covered various realms of the darkest recesses of the human mind and made their monuments to either overcoming or living with these day-to-day struggles. Be it addiction, depression, loss of loved ones, failed relationships, or just general vacancy of belonging or finding purpose in one’s life – Everyone has their story to tell. Metal music creates a generally positive and productive means of expressing all these subjects and more for the grittiest, ugliest, and most repressed stories that any and all have to tell, as well as a source of relatability for those who consume the art. As such, today we welcome a band that has crafted their own masterful contributions to the trope of ‘letting it all out’, Toronto, Canada’s lowheaven, as our Weekly Featured Artist.
lowheaven describe themselves as a sort of byproduct of what seemed to be the end times in 2020. More specifically, they were formed during the worst wakes of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown during that year. As the old familiars began to fade, businesses closed their doors, public events of any sort were put to indefinite halt, and dreams and hopes of the future were crushed or permanently altered in adaptation to what would be the ‘new normal’, people everywhere found it hard to see beyond the bleak circumstances pressing them every day. Even when they felt like workarounds, nothing went without some sort of drastic change or having to adapt in order to survive and continue on with some semblance of hope that what you were doing was or would be meaningful.
However, sometimes (if not most times) the lowest points of life are where we learn our biggest strengths, and somehow find our way skyrocketing to higher points in ways we’d never imagine. In lowheaven‘s case, while the songs they wrote during this formative period may forever haunt them due to their correlation to the times and what each member was enduring, the darkest depths from which the project found its recipe for concoction resulted in some of the heaviest, hard-hitting, most abrasive, and undeniably well-composed noisy, sludgy metal crossed over with elements of post-hardcore and screamo. Fast-forward about three years to the present – the band is signed with Skeletal Lightning, has released a strong, deeply visceral EP entitled collapse and seem to have nowhere to go but up, even if the music tends to reflect on the lowest times. Vocalist and guitarist, Dan Thomson, chimes in to talk about the band’s conception, as well as what brought them all together and why they do what they do:
‘lowheaven is a crew of four individuals coming together with a common goal of making music that is the amalgamation of those four’s ideals and focuses. lowheaven was a direct cause of the covid crisis. Significant change across many aspects of life and the upheaval of life as we knew it really created absolute chaos in most people’s lives. Specifically to us, it signified the end of a few musical projects, and the want to create during what felt like the end of what we all knew as normal. It actually makes it hard for me to listen to our own stuff, as it’s like tearing at a scar that just won’t heal. I really do feel the sheer despair and anxiety that floated over writing all these songs every time we play them, which is a bit of a new experience for me compared to past projects.‘
Speaking on the influences of the band…
‘This is a tough one because everyone comes from a different spot, which is definitely a benefit. I think there are a few obvious ones (Cave In, Poison The Well, etc), but there was a lot bubbling under the surface that shaped and cut our sound into a specific spot. We all love heavy music, it’s just where we land in that landscape that is different. Along with that, and especially during the recording process, we were really diving into a lot of dark-leaning art: David Cronenburg directed movies, bleak-leaning literature, and just a want to pull from the darkest depths of what we have to offer. Given the time we had taken even working on these songs before getting to the studio, there was definitely many avenues to pull from.‘
Easily one of my favorite releases from 2023’s seemingly never-ending array of powerful additions across virtually every working artist right now, collapse is everything you need to feel empowered in times of stress, anxiety, and less-than-fortunate circumstances alike. As Dan mentions in discussing the band’s formation, the sheer bleakness by which the band crafted their sound is quite palpable in the music. Take for instance, “cancer sleep”, which seems to lyrically center around (based on my own interpretations, of course) how society tends to never really learn from tragedy, or attempt sanctimonious means of justifying their ignorance or blind hatred, overall detailing how apathetic we truly can be in the face of awful things. The song is a metallic, chaotic banger filled with dissonant riffs and vocalizations propelled straight from the heart and soul, giving way only to a melodic, clean vocal passage towards the end that embellishes the dreamy leads overtop the nonstop abrasion of gritty, sludgy, rhythmic guitars; Tearing your nervous system down slowly but surely as it reaches the final 3:06 mark of its duration. Good news, this is only the first track, and is exactly how the rest of the EP plays out!
‘We tire outside the forced shame
Eliminate the name to fall
Resign to the everlasting rot
Foreign bred, fast light to fall
Expanding upon what makes the perhaps unintentionally trademarked sound of lowheaven, Dan spoke with me about the studio session surrounding collapse as well as their most recent single, “end lesion”, and why the rawness of just taking what is (as far as what is seen, heard, felt, and most realistic as well as reflective of what the creator wishes to convey) tends to be the biggest focus for the group, both as a whole and individually:
‘So both collapse and “end lesion” are from the same recording sessions. We actually didn’t have much of an idea on what was going to end up where, when we were working on things. I wouldn’t necessarily say on purpose, but we were just so focused on ensuring that each song had its due attention and effort. Once we were finished, it became kind of obvious to us that “end lesion” should exist on its own, although we didn’t really know how it was going to exist. It was pretty great that we were able to do something special for that song. collapse was a bit different, as there was definitely a good amount of conversation around what songs we wanted to be on there, and how we wanted to handle what we shared with everyone. It was an interesting time, hearing how everyone in the band heard everything we have worked on. But I think we found a good spot to share the aspects that we were ready to share, and give everyone a glimpse into the world we had created, and the emotions that we captured.‘
I made mention to Dan that the EP, as well as single, gave hints of if elements of Primitive Man were mixed up with a more chaotic, and at times uptempo atmosphere that sprinkles beautifully contrasted clean vocals when and where they find fit. As a writer, I personally try to avoid getting too much into comparisons to other artists, as I admire the general styles that many metal musicians (especially the more modern names of the past decade or so) seem to blend and play with when crafting their sound and finding their uniqueness. There’s certainly no rulebook anywhere that forbids you from keeping things in familiar, standard tropes of tech death, hardcore, thrash, grindcore, or what-have-you; But for those that take things outside the box or ride off the rails a bit, I’ve always got open ears to give something ‘weird’ a chance. lowheaven may not be the ‘weirdest’, most ride-off-the-rails thing to happen in music, but what they are doing, they do exceptionally well. As such, I also asked Dan about what songwriting tends to look like for the band and if there were any particular methods or formulas they find themselves following:
‘Primitive Man is a great mention. I think that band is fantastic. Truthfully, there isn’t a huge consideration in ensuring we hit any benchmarks, or a checklist for things we ‘need’ to do in order for it to be a lowheaven song. It’s 1000% more about the feelings and message we are trying to convey, and how we can best do that with the tools at our disposal. There is a great deal of care put into HOW things sound, and ensuring that we are impactfully growing or shrinking parts, which I think is sometimes missed in music nowadays. But to say that there needs to be a ‘big riff’ here just isn’t how we work. Like I mentioned before, everything is about feeling. Creating anxiety or despair or bleakness will dictate what we need to do, and we chase that until we find the end.‘
As mentioned earlier in the article, lowheaven have quickly propelled to significant heights, having just wrapped up a tour with none other than Holy Fawn and Caracara, spending the entirety of October miles from home across a great majority of the United States. As Dan spoke about the general excitement and high points of the tour, he also touched on some unfortunate moments, as well as one particular event that resulted in both injury and missing a show (which happened on his own birthday, sheeeeesh!), although it also provided an opportunity to catch up with an old friend. This recounting of events reminded me of exactly what I hear in the band’s music as well as their general mantra of crafting it; You take the awful, ugly, disastrous things that happen to you, filter none of it, keep it just as it is, and find the healthiest means of converting it into something powerful and more to your own hand and control.
This is what metal music is all about – perhaps even music and art in general – transforming the demons we face into something much more powerful and positive, that ultimately both results in guidance for others who subscribe to it as well as our very own means of coping with and healing from those aforementioned demons. Music, therefore, is a never-ending collection of deeply valuable and visceral life lessons; We are both teachers and students to our own ways.
Dan, speaking about the tour with Holy Fawn and Caracara:
‘This was a dream tour that we didn’t expect to end up with in any shape of the words. To be able to tour with such great bands as the first bigger tour we get to be a part of is not something we’ll forget any time soon. Especially when you figure out that you all come from very similar points in art, a quick bond is formed. Shows were crazy, the crowds were receptive, what more could you ask for?? This tour had a ton of driving, as we crossed the whole US in a little under a month, with only four days off. Little chaotic. We all kind of rallied around each other, and it was very quickly a family vibe. As for some stories, we blew up a tire on the way to Orlando, and I (Dan) ended up falling onto a guardrail and slicing my knee open. The wound required stitches and we didn’t end up making the show (all of this happened on my birthday, of all days). The positive that came out of the whole thing was getting to hang with an old friend in Gainesville, so sometimes things still work out, even in the worst of times.‘
As a bonus, we talked about the best spots to stop while on tour. In my personal experience, Taco Bell, Buc-ee’s, and Wawa have usually been preferred choices. But it’s always great hearing where people as cool as Dan and the rest of lowheaven choose to garner the grub that keeps them fueled for the road; Let’s face it, no matter who you are or how you cut it, the road is and can be quite unforgiving. All us touring musicians (or really travelers in general, truth be told, I also often equate touring to long camping trips of sorts) like to do things on a nice budget, and thus…when you’re just leaving the venue at 1:00 and have another couple hours before you reach the shitty hotel room you had to lie about how many in your group will be staying in to get that single-room rate – Yeah, Taco Bell and places of the like are typically like Sites of Grace in Elden Ring. ‘This is a crapshoot based on who you’re talking to. Taco Bell is definitely a big one (given there is a vegan in our group, but also it’s cheap and not super horrifically bad for you). Sheetz is also a big fan favourite. Buc-ee’s was a new experience for all of us, I would definitely say there is some love for them.‘
With discussing lowheaven with Dan Thomson, and his explaining that the band’s formation as well as their songwriting centers around external factors being channeled into something that artistically analyzes and finds purpose, or healing, with them, I am taken back to when I spoke with Vyva Melinkolya about how our environment, or aspects of it, tends to find its traces in the art we create or even just influences something we do in any other given way. For instance, Austin Lunn of Panopticon makes mention of his music being ‘regional‘. While this idea doesn’t always exactly entail attachment to the physical place itself, areas in our lives and what we define in different spaces we see, exist in, or otherwise experience tend to nurture us in some way or another, or at the very least possess that ability.
As such, I usually like to try and talk with musicians about their local scene or the area they spend much of their formative time in and how it maybe affects (negatively, positively, or even neutrally) different parts of not only their music and performances, but just general ideals and how they go about growth and moving beyond their region, regardless of their relationship with it. To put this in some perspective, I come from a city that is extremely revered for its openness to art, progressiveness, activism, solidarity in community, and of course the cultural mixing pot that surrounds its general atmosphere.
However, in my personal experiences and from talking with others, you’ve still had your cliquey-ness, venues shut down or slowly worked out of their buildings, hostility within the local scene, people referring to the city and region as a ‘black hole’ in the sense of artists never getting their name out, and just a plethora of other areas that serve as substantial contrary to these ideas. I won’t say that those ideas are at all falsified, as there’s plenty to love and adore about my hometown – and make no mistake, I very much do love and appreciate my hometown – but knowing the myths, legends, truths, and best and worst properties of my local scene and just the culture of my hometown in general, one can’t help but be curious what it’s like elsewhere.
Touching on what the Toronto scene, as well as perhaps some daily life existing there, looked like for lowheaven, Dan gives me some insight based on his perspectives and experiences:
‘This is a tough one to answer, because we have always existed a little left of centre as far as Toronto scenes go. That’s not to say the city is not inclusive by any means, very much on the contrary. But we’ve never really dropped into a spot where we are limited to these specific bands that we can play with, and I love that. Toronto is incredibly diverse, there are so many great, inspiring artists and bands out there. But I could agree with the sentiment you say about Richmond, for all the bands in Toronto who get out there and help make a name for our city, there’s probably equally as many fantastic bands that never seem to get out of the city. I think everyone is kind of predisposed to look at where home lands, and see it with a bit of a tilted perspective. I think I feel a little different as I am a transplant to Toronto, I didn’t grow up here. So my appreciation for what the city offers to a music fan and artist may be a bit different.‘
…On how things have shifted in more recent years…
‘The heavy community in general I think has really changed in the last few years, especially since the whole covid nightmare. Those who made it out to the other side, I think there has been a big perspective change in what we have. I know for myself, there is definitely this gratitude that hasn’t been lost on me that I am still getting to do what I love in a meaningful way. There’s also this wave of new bands that seem to be popping up that’s really exciting, and it keeps you pushing your own envelope. Not in a competitive way, but in an inspiring way. Even seeing a band I don’t end up aligning with will sometimes get that creative wave flowing, and that’s just such an amazing thing.‘
Talking with Dan, receiving lengthy responses and being able to talk at length on a fair variety of topics both about the band and otherwise, makes plentiful representation of just how genuine and down-to-earth lowheaven are. I find that most of my playlists (and especially the choices in artists I write these articles on) tend to involve and magnetize towards incredibly passionate and sincere artists that do it because they mean it, so to speak, but as Dan expresses what music means to him, it reinvigorates my own love for it as well. His words hit quite close to home, aligning very directly with my own reasons for loving music and wanting to create it myself. One big takeaway with the band is found in Dan’s words, too – that even in places you find yourself doubtful and uncertain you have any purpose to carry on with your passions, the feeling of creating and expressing is eternally unmatched and always worth doing.
‘Music is everything. It’s the reason to wake up in the morning. It’s what makes it worth working all those jobs that aren’t what you love, and is what makes the overnight drives and the headaches worth it. Being able to play a show, or record a song, or just be around creativity is the reason to be alive (speaking for myself, of course). There isn’t anything in the world that connects to me as much as music, and this crazy world we all exist in. It’s sometimes tough for me to relate to people who don’t feel that way about something (even if it isn’t art related). The feeling I get from writing a riff, or hearing a song someone else has created, or being at a live show of bands or artists who are invested in what they do, it’s incredible. It’s everything.‘
At any rate, you should be following the band right now. Do yourself the favor of finding salvation and keep up with lowheaven via their Bandcamp, Instagram, and Facebook! Skeletal Lightning doesn’t know how to disappoint with their roster (especially with hometown heroes from my city. Ostraca, being one of many incredible names on it) and lowheaven make no exception to that testament! As far as upcoming plans for the band, those of you in Canada are in for quite a treat next month concerning some dates the band has planned: ‘We have a few dates with Single Mothers and Monk up here in Canada in December, which we are pretty excited for. We, hilariously, have not played much around our home country, other than a Toronto and Montreal show when the band first began, so we’re pretty stoked to see some friends and play some pretty tiny venues given the size of the tour. It’s always nice to end the year around home.‘
If this article is your first discovery of lowheaven, I hope that your takeaway of this band is that they are the real deal. Every piece of expression, even if the music is bathed in darker, grueling, negative, melancholic, and loathsome energies and atmospheres – the band is a beacon of realism. Taking on the things that plague your life, head-on, and addressing them in the most human way possible. I believe this band makes a powerful statement of introspection and observing the world around us for what it is.
The message may seem harsh, but the lesson is no less there and valuable. Just as Dan points out below, above all else, inclusivity is another key component of the band. Although the time and circumstances they found themselves forged in revolved around hopelessness, disconnection, and isolation – their music has brought them all together in a beautiful and meaningful way unlike anything else could. Similarly, we find that their music, others creating much like them, and the communities, scenes, and otherwise spaces reserved for art and its expressions, find that same solidarity through this; Sometimes it’s the worst things imaginable that end up creating the best things in our lives.
‘We’re definitely happy to have you. To be able to create, and exercise these demons and feelings in a way that can connect with others, whatever that may be, is exactly what we hope for. We want things around this band to be inclusive: It doesn’t matter what you like or who you are or how you got here, we’re happy to have you along for our journey.‘
Dan Thomson – vocals/guitar
Mikey Buchta – vocals/bass
Alex Pley – guitar/keys
Justin Hebb – drums
Photos of band by Justin Hebb