Just a few days ago on May 8, the sophomore album from Allegaeon, Formshifter, hit its 10th anniversary. As a fan of the band ever since the release of their debut album, 2010's Fragments of Form and Function, Formshifter has always felt to me like the release that helped cement their identity. On Formshifter, Allegaeon's take on tech-death gone melodic death metal hit a new peak, punctuated by heavy as fuck grooves and classical acoustic guitar work that coalesced into something special. It was also the band's first foray into using 8-string guitars, another ingredient in their arsenal used for the first time on Formshifter.
To celebrate the album turning ten years old, I was able to speak with Allegaeon's former vocalist Ezra Haynes and current guitarist Greg Burgess who played on the album, to discuss all things Formshifter. If you haven't jammed Formshifter in a while, it's been embedded below should you wish to refresh yourselves as to how fucking good this album is.
Given the distance of time, how do you feel about Formshifter in 2022?
Greg: I think it's a really neat snapshot of where we were in time, and I'm very proud of Formshifter. I think there are a lot of great moments on that record that not only stand the test of time, but also kind of informed the band musically through to what we still do today. Most notably the use of 8 strings that stuck. As for changes that I would make now, a lot of my solos weren't phrased very well, I would definitely go back through and work on those, as well as maybe voice my opinion on particular parts throughout the album I think could be made better.
Ezra: I adore it actually. Today it serves as a reminder of a very ferocious time. Sonically, I believe had Corey 'The Versace Papi' Archuleta at the time had more artistic freedom. It would have given the project a bit more of a pulse. I would completely replace one song with a Katy Perry cover. Solid 7.8/10 for sure.
How much touring did you do in support of Formshifter versus the amount of touring that was done for your prior album? Are there any special memories tied to Formshifter-related touring that you'd like to share with us?
Greg: We did two tours in support of Formshifter if memory serves. We did the end of the world tour in 2012 supporting Job For A Cowboy and Cephalic Carnage, and then after Ryan [Glisan] left, we toured supporting Wretched, with Rivers of Nihil opening. That Wretched tour was [guitarist] Michael Stancel's first tour with the band and really enabled us to hit the road on a more steady basis thereafter.
Ezra: We toured a lot more on Formshifter than Fragments of Form and Function that's for sure. However, it wasn't really full-time at that point, compared to some road warriors out there. Some of the tours were just awful, poorly planned, quantity over quality type of gigs, while others forged some of the most beautiful memories and relationships that I'm sure continue to date. All I know is my nut-tap counter is through the roof and many men wish deth-pon-me.
What led the band to add so much classical guitar work to Formshifter compared to its smaller presence on your debut album?
Greg: Well, I think you have your whole life to write your first record. The second record had a lot more pressure and more time restraints. With that being said, I think Ryan had more trust in my writing ability or maybe just less time to go through and express an opinion about my songs. On Fragments, I only really wrote: "Vals 666" on classical guitar. On Formshifter, I had the bit in "Twelve," "Vals for the Legions," and then the parts in "Secrets of the Sequence". The latter two just came out naturally without much thought. With the title track of "Formshifter," Ryan really wanted to start incorporating my classical guitar skills within the band parts, instead of just as intros and outros, so I wrote that part over what Ryan had already written.
Ezra: Simply put, we didn't capitalize on Greg's talents as much as we should have earlier on. We were so fresh and learning out-of-the-gate. We were too busy trying to do it all. It really could've helped with album pacing and depth in hindsight. Shit, Greg doesn't capitalize enough on his classic guitar talent now. Bottomless pit of talent that guy is.
What was the writing process like for Formshifter?
Greg: Ryan and I always wrote separately. We did have two tracks where we collaborated though. The song "Twelve" as I mentioned before with the classical guitar part, and the song "Azrael Trigger". I tried to write that tune in the style of Ryan, which he dug, so I asked him to write a riff or two, which ended up coming in the form of the chorus and that chromatic descending riff in the song.
Ezra: Lyrically speaking, I want to say I wrote about half of it. Mostly via email and piecing it together in the studio.
What does Formshifter as a title mean?
Greg: It was a continuation of Fragments of Form and Function. We took the Form from that title and just altered it to feel like it was a continuation of the band… I don't think I remember whose idea that was, to be honest.
What song or songs are you proudest of on Formshifter?
Greg: I remember slaving over both "A Path Disclosed," and "Secrets of the Sequence". Both of those tunes took forever to fall into place so I'm very proud of them. Although in hindsight I think "Secrets.." is way better. "A Path Disclosed" has some funny changes that I would never do now. I really love "Tartessos," and "From The Stars Death Came". Songwriting with those two really just fell into place. I do have to give Ryan credit for both Behold, which is a tune that goes over amazing live even to this day, and "Iconic Images," I really love that song.
Ezra: "Behold.." is a strong album opener, "Twelve" is rad because the idea was spawned pre-Allegaeon, and it was nice to see that one through. "The Azrael Trigger" has some moments that I'm proud of vocally, and "From the Stars Death Came" has a chorus that's tough to beat. The last half of "Formshifter" is the heaviest live experience and the most straightforward brute force headbanging in Allegaeon history. In my opinion. I miss rocking that part specifically with second guitarist [Michael Stancel].
Are there any particular memories you recall during the recording process of the album?
Greg: I have a few. To this day, this is the only album Allegaeon ever recorded without Dave Otero at the helm. We were in Southern California during the winter, so that ruled. I remember that this was the first time I had ever had Taco Bell in my life! [Former bassist Corey Archuleta] and I went and ate that for breakfast. Meeting and hanging out with JP Andrade [session drummer] was really awesome, he's such a great drummer and a rad human being.
Talking music with him was one of my favorite moments of recording the album. I remember sitting with Corey while he was tracking bass. Everyone else had left California, so literally, Corey and I sat trying to figure out how we were supposed to track bass under the 8-string guitars. Ryan originally wanted Corey to tune the bass an octave down for those songs. It ended up being below human hearing and every note Corey played had to be tuned individually. In short, it was a nightmare for "Behold," "Twelve," and "Formshifter."
We ended up giving up and didn't track the bass for those since it was nearly impossible. Ryan came back out and realized the idea wasn't gonna work so he tracked those tunes in standard tuning. I also remember sleeping on [engineer Daniel Castleman]'s living room floor, and having a mental breakdown trying to record "Vals for the Legions" in one take.
Ezra: Um, I blacked out and became best friends with the bass player of Suicide Silence at a bar near San Diego. I've only been told this. Otherwise, I recall a lot of breakfast burritos, coffee, cigarettes with our bassist Corey, wearing shorts in December, Birds of Paradise, and that Daniel Castleman is a REALLY swell guy.
Since it only took you two years to put out Formshifter after your debut, and the follow-up to Formshifter dropped like clockwork two years after this album, did you already have some of your follow-up album, Elements of the Infinite, written before Formshifter came out?
Greg: I can't for the life of me remember at this point. I probably had a few ideas lying around. I recall that I had a huge undertaking of trying to write a whole Allegaeon record by myself, which was both grueling and exciting.
Ezra: I do not recall it taking too long for the boys to write this album. I'm sure we all had ideas floating about. Everyone's work ethic along with their execution of ideas is pretty top-notch. Additionally, tons of work went into it at the actual studio.
Would it be fair to say Formshifter really helped the band break out and find a bigger audience?
Greg: It would be fair, but it would also be fair to say that our fanbase has grown with every album we've put out. As for Fragments not catching on, I think we were just the new kids on the block. I can't imagine a lot of brand new bands catching right off the bat.
We didn't really tour on Fragments that much, I think we had a hard time getting tour offers that made sense back then. I think we only really started getting pushed after we started putting road time in, which makes sense. Why invest in a company that's not really working?
Ezra: It definitely helped solidify our presence within the metal world as the melodic death metal guys from Colorado [at the time]. I think that turned a few heads. I don't really think there was anything new or exciting as far as marketing goes. It really was just more material to talk about on this plane of existence that we already made for ourselves. Facebook and Twitter posts only go so far. It was the eating shit in a volcano of a van for years that did it if anything. Thanks to booking.
While re-listening to the album a lot again in order to work on these questions, I thought it would be cool to ask about what you consider to be the best moments on the album in a few different areas? Things like best guitar solo, best super melodic riff, best heavy groove riff, best tech-death-y riff? Stuff like that.
Greg: This is a hard question to answer because of the subjective nature of the question. But I always have to give credit to Ryan for his contributions, and mostly those contributions were always on the heavy front. Both "Behold" and "Formshifter" have some of the heaviest parts we've ever had in this band. They say that tone is in the fingers of the player and something about the way he plays. I don't know he just sounds so pissed. If I recorded those parts, they wouldn't have turned out that heavy, the dude just had that kind brutality in his fingers.
I think the progressive stuff I wrote in "A Path Disclosed" was pretty forward-thinking for the band at that time. Also, the sweep verses in "Tartessos" will always make it one of my favorite songs from Allegaeon.
Ezra: Damn, I really touched on that earlier but let it be known, JP Andrade is a god-tier drummer, one of the coolest dudes to work with. I'm very happy to say that I have worked with him in any capacity. I have always viewed Formshifter as our most aggressive album, Allegaeon's "Life is Peachy" if you will. It'll always be a banger in those rare instances that you pull it out for a listen. We all know Allegaeon fans don't pull out though.
Would it be fair to say Formshifter really solidified the Allegaeon sound? Not that the debut had no identity, it's just that this album feels more cohesive and introduced a number of things that would become Allegaeon staples stylistically moving forward.
Greg: I think in some parts it did. The more numerous use of classical and 8-string guitars being the main things we kept from Formshifter. Other than that, obviously, half the influences that were in the band changed, and so did our sound.
I really love classical music, so I started going down the symphonic rabbit hole a bit more on our later albums such as Elements of the Infinite and Proponent for Sentience. I think the ease of writing really pissed off-sounding music went away.
Ezra: To be fair, I think Elements of the Infinite was the album that truly solidified the Allegaeon sound, not to say that Allegaeon ever stopped evolving at any point. I think Formshifter is a great representation of us still trying things on to see what works best. At that age, I think we still had the mentality of wanting to do it all.
Was there any bad blood between the band and Ryan Glisan (founding member, guitarist) that led to Formshifter being his last release? Or, was it just his time to move on and do other things?
Greg: I'm not sure, to be honest. I think personality-wise it was time for a break. Ryan had some other promising opportunities, and I was very happy to take the sole creative reigns on the music. So I think there was a sigh of relief on both our parts. I mean there is always some kinda divorce period, where we didn't talk for a long time.
However, nowadays we're all good, his new band Mire is rad, and it's great to see him making music again. I always thank him for what he contributed to Allegaeon when I see him. I can say that about a week after he left, his other opportunity fell through, and I said he was welcome to come back, but it was just time to go separate ways.
Ezra: It was the best decision for all parties. It was an unclear moment in Allegaeon's history at the time, and that was stressful. In reality though, Allegaeon is so talented that people just gravitate to it. I don't think there will ever be a shortage of talented people who would shoot their shot to be in the group.
Given the longevity of Allegaeon's career, what do you chalk that up to?
Greg: Stubbornness, honestly. A willingness to suffer, ignore the shit we have to eat (albeit its getting harder in my 40's, ha), and the fact that I love music so much. I made the decision 25 years ago that music was what I was gonna do with my life. There was no other option. Whether Allegaeon continues on for another six albums or we call it quits this afternoon, I'll still make music.
Ezra: Allegaeon does not hire pussies. Their dedication and work ethic has and will continue to surpass most. Countless members have joined, later relegated to the graveyard, and that grave will keep growing, and Allegaeon will continue to be the fucking headstone on it.
Are you all aware of how influential Allegaeon has become among both tech-death and melodic death metal bands over the last couple of years?
Greg: In all honesty, not in the slightest. I'm shocked to even read this question. In fact, I don't believe this to even be true. BUT man you're nice, come hang out with me and make me feel better about myself.
Ezra: I am completely oblivious to the metal scene right now, to be honest. That's pretty hard to believe. Thank you for the kind words. The gents are doing a great job keeping that rocket ship cruising.
We’re at the end here, any final words to share here or with Allegaeon fans?
GREG: If you're reading this you must have really enjoyed Formshifter. It means the world to me that you still take the time to listen to something we made a decade later. I hope you're still enjoying the band and even if that's not the case, I still thank you very much.