Demons began as the brainchild of Virginia Beach singer/guitarist Zach Gehring. Three years on, the band has concocted a killer post-punk, pseudo-sludge sound. Besides Gehring, Demons features bassist Jon Anderson, drummer Drew Orton, and singer/guitarist Chris Matthews. Together, they draw clear inspiration from 90s heavies like Mudhoney, Fugazi, and Spiritualized. “When we talk about influences and bands, we can go a lot of different places,” Gehring explained. “Everyone listens to and identifies with music for different reasons, and we all have our different in-roads musically. At the same time, we [in Demons] have a general appreciation, interest, and identity in harder music. When it comes to playing and writing music, we all like to challenge ourselves, and do what we have a good time doing. It’s a pretty great dynamic right now.”
Demons’ debut full-length album, Embrace Wolf, is out December 1 on Seattle record label Spartan Records, who also released the band’s 2015 EP Great Dismal. Demons’s presence on the Spartan roster was spurred by Gehring’s friendship with Spartan founder John T. Frazier. They had previously worked together on a project with Gehring’s other band Mae. Gehring makes it clear that Demons is especially grateful for the collaboration with Spartan, especially considering that the band is unable to heavily tour this winter in support of the album, the standard for a new release on any label. Speaking of the relationship with Spartan, Gehring explained, “We have an understanding and it’s a good one. We’re going to do what we can at a minimal expense and see how it goes.” Spartan was formed a decade ago and, in addition to Demons, is currently host to a slew of other bands including Schematic, Barren Womb, Ourlives, and Richmond’s Shy, Low.
The new album has a natural, cohesive feel, which perhaps shouldn’t be surprising considering how their early recordings turned out, but it still seems uncommonly together for a debut full-length album. That comfortable feel may be a natural result of the fact that the bulk of the recording occurred at a short-term rental house outside Charlottesville. The band holed up for a long weekend of intensely focused, uninterrupted mobile studio work. Embrace Wolf’s recording and production quality is excellent; it comes across as an album, not a collection of disjointed tracks, like so many other firsts. The sound is polished and professional, but not overproduced, and while there is a clear aesthetic throughout, each track is distinct enough to tell the story without being boring or repetitive. There are periodic bits of vocal layering and post-processing for effect—such as the dream-tunnel drum intro to “Wish,” and the vocal exorcism outro from “Dig”—but otherwise each song on Embrace Wolf sounds like it might have been recorded in one take, live in the studio.
Demons’s early writing and the recording of the band’s first EP were led in large part by Gehring, who enlisted Orton and Anderson to hone his creations. Embrace Wolf sees the welcome addition of Matthews on vocals and guitar and is clearly the product of a tenacious group dynamic. Musically, Demons knows exactly what sound they’re going for and each member is adept with the tools they bring to the table. Although there is some detectable restraint here and there—possibly owing to a conscious effort to suppress any over-embellishments—whatever the intent, the result is a carefully calculated cacophony that just works.
Commenting on the writing process for the new album, Gehring said, “Our general goal with these songs and with the record was to generate or express an ‘almost off-the-rails’ kind of collision, but still within our own structure that we're comfortable with. Lyrically, it mainly deals with self-doubt and reflective self-criticism. At this point, we don't feel comfortable writing about anything other than ourselves.” In spite of the aforementioned tour constraints, Demons will be doing a string of winter shows with Portland, Oregon’s Red Fang (currently touring the UK with Mastodon). Together, Demons and Red Fang will be hitting up Kansas City, Memphis, and Atlanta in January.
Back home in Virginia Beach, Gehring explained that area venues and promoters have been hugely helpful. “TBA Productions, LAVA Presents, 151 Productions, Dead End Booking—all these people just do a killer job of making sure great bands are coming to the area, and that area bands have places to develop and engage with the community. It all works together really well right now.” For Demons, the generosity of those promoters was key in gaining momentum locally, as well as for building a network of regional bands with mutual camaraderie and respect. “It’s a really good time for Norfolk and Virginia Beach in general, and I’m just happy that we were able to emerge at a time when these opportunities exist here.”
The Demons album release show is on Friday, December 1 at The Granby Theater in Norfolk. They’ll be joined by Virginia Beach bands Sunndrug and True Body, as well as Prayer Group from Richmond. I’ve been assured it will be a thoroughly raucous display.