Sometimes lost amid the multitude of Detroit's garage, indie pop and hip-hop groups, there's a metal scene that's surprisingly active. Among them is a powerful band that blends precise and punishing musicianship and visionary lyrical content: Scorned Deity. The group has been around since 2004, when Eric Kempa, formerly of Fordirelifesake, fell under the spell of European metal bands. Lately, the band has released two albums, 2011's The Monarchy Memoirs and 2013's Adventum, and the group has played to thousands in Michigan and beyond.
Lead vocalist Brian Sheehan joined in 2009, and is perhaps better known by his nickname, "Batman." Ask why he shares the name with the popular comic book character and you may get an interesting answer like, "I sleep upside down."
Fans of Sheehan's melodic black metal juggernaut have undoubtedly noticed the group's absence from the stage recently. But there are good reasons for their low profile. "Recording mostly," Sheehan says. "We have a new album that we've been working on. We are currently drummer-less. The search for a drummer has been ongoing. We have people every month hit us up about it, but the people we usually want are in too many different things, or they're like, 'Oh, man. I don't know if I can play that,' which is just a nice way of saying they're not interested. For the time being, we're programming the drums and writing and recording."
Scorned Deity remains Kempa's baby, who brings in the basic ideas that eventually form the songs. "Without him," Sheehan says, "it wouldn't be a thing," admitting, however, that he is much less collaborative when it comes to the lyrics, which he says, "I do pretty selfishly."
The band does its recording themselves with Kempa leading things as producer. "We record as we write, and we write as we record. So there's no pre-production, especially when doing vocals. We don't demo anything out. We'll get a song done in an hour, and, sometimes, we'll spend, like, eight to 10 hours on one song just experimenting with different shit. Not playing shows has kind of sucked, but it hasn't been time ill-spent."
Doing all of the recording and production themselves not only allows them to work at their own pace, but it also allows the band to create a product that they believe in. "I'm not one for saying you should do your own recording or you should always go to the studio. I've done both, and I like both, but in the act of doing your own recording, you're building the canvas that you're going to paint onto. You're not letting somebody else go into the store and buy it. You're making everything. To me, it's the most honest thing you can do, even if it's not the best-sounding."
Recording is only one of the ways in which Scorned Deity embodies the DIY ethic. Shipping merchandise, such as their self-released albums, to countries as far away as Germany and Japan, is another duty band members have to take on. Even the artwork and web design is something Sheehan helps with.
His childish moniker aside, Batman is a highly articulate individual who speaks with thoughtfulness and deliberation. His dogged work ethic and immense appreciation for the music helped him land the position and serve as the catalyst that propelled the band. "I joined the band later on. Over the years, writing and recording was always on the back burner. Then, when I joined in 2009, we finally got a lineup together and a set list and started playing shows. The first album was an accumulation of things since 2004. Some songs were new, but some were from when they first started out. Stuff jumped around to where it sounds completely different from the last song, which isn't bad, but it does stop the flow sometimes. It sounds like a greatest hits album or something."
Sheehan's work lyrically reflects his intelligence and imagination. Each song serves as a single chapter in the greater concept he has created. To call his approach literary would be an understatement, as he draws influences from fantasy and horror genres, particularly the author H.P. Lovecraft. "With H.P. Lovecraft, his mythos is awesome, because even though he's dead, authors are still adding on to it and adding their own touches."
Batman also draws a lot of influence from spoken word performance, which informs his persona on stage. The combination of lyrics that read like epic poems and his vocal delivery make him a black metal bard. Like any good performer, Sheehan wants to create an experience for the audience. Deity is the vehicle he uses to spin a mythos of his own.
Regarding his unique writing style, Sheehan explains his uncompromising process, "I've never been able to just sit down with a clean slate and write as I'm listening to a song. You're thinking and worrying too much about adding to the song. So, I write stuff out free verse. No boundaries, just writing everything out. Then, I get the music and I apply it to that and rewrite stuff and move it around so it fits the music. It's never the same product. You always change stuff. Doing it that way, I've found, you don't sacrifice content for just what sounds good. Both are important, but being a lyricist, content is important." It's worth adding that Sheen's lyrics are atypical for death metal, with themes that are more enlightened than the run-of-the-mill macabre imagery so prevalent in the scene.
Batman and company — Kempa who handles guitar, bass and synth duty, and guitarist Jason Tountas — have been stalwarts of the local music scene for years. You can sense the fondness in his tone when he discusses what's happening here in Detroit. "With the metal scene here, it's a city of doers as opposed to just spectators. You go to a show and half the audience is in bands themselves. It's really good, but I think a big part of it is there are no big labels around here, which is why it hasn't gotten any exposure nationally. It's definitely on the incline. It just needs a good push to get national attention."
With the creativity flowing in the Deity camp, the writing and recording sessions for the new album are proving to be a step in a new direction without the growing pains. "It's been a complete change of pace; you never want to make the same album twice. The last two were more symphonic and operatic, whereas this one has more of a spacey, industrial sound as far as the synth sounds go, and that plays into the story and the lyrical concept. It's not a part three, necessarily. In short, it's about not just being king of this physical realm but ascending into space, and so much higher if you can transcend these physical bounds. With the new music, there's a lot of influence from '80s analog synth sounds, stuff like Depeche Mode."
Music isn't the only part of Sheehan's life allowing him to employ his vast imagination; he works a seasonal job at Scarefest Scream Park, which he's been a part of for nearly a decade. Even after years of being heckled by bratty kids and drunk teenagers, he still realizes how good he has it. "It's definitely the best job in the world."
There's a very obvious constant in the frontman's life. Whether he's in costume for his day job or on stage with Deity, there is a persona he takes on in order to entertain. It's no surprise that a heavy metal vocalist is a perfect candidate for scaring and intimidating customers of a haunted theme park. Intimidation and primal grandiosity are essential for both roles.
As far as what's on deck for Scorned Deity, fans can expect big things coming soon, "Finishing the new album is the main priority. Finding a drummer, of course. That's just a matter of time. It gets discouraging, with such a long time between playing shows. At the same time, we're not really bummed out about it because we haven't been sitting still. Working on new music has been very productive, and we wouldn't be able to do this if we were worried about putting together a set list and making sure everything is set for the show."
Aside from the upcoming "haunt season," the term Sheehan uses affectionately for his job at the scare show, and his continued work with Scorned Deity, he's looking forward to recording an album with a new, yet unnamed band, which he describes as, "Raw, blackened doom. By the end of August, we're going to start getting drums tracked. Hopefully, before Halloween, we'll have something out ... and hopefully a name by then too."