"We want to be the best death-doom band in the world, right?" Alex Awn's bandmates in Temple of Void snicker some at the guitarist's ambitious rhetorical question, but it doesn't deter him.
"I don't know why you'd set your sights on anything less: 'We want to be the third best band in the world.' No! We want to write the best death-doom humanly possible."
The Detroit metal band may have come damn close. Released last month on Shadow Kingdom Records, Lords of Death, the band's second full-length album, received near-unanimous praise from high-profile metal magazines, websites, and blogs, including Decibel, MetalSucks, Metal Injection, Angry Metal Guy, No Clean Singing, and Invisible Oranges.
Sitting around guitarist Don Durr's Royal Oak living room before a recent weeknight practice, the band seems to agree they've taken a step forward in songwriting and production values with this latest effort.
Awn founded ToV with guitarist Eric Blanchard late in 2012 after being introduced by a bandmate in thrash-punk band Hellmouth, who was also an instructor in the Israeli fighting style Krav Maga.
"Hellmouth used to practice once a week and do Krav Maga once a week," Awn says. "We'd play music and beat the crap out of each other and alternate between the two."
After meeting during a Krav Maga session, Awn and Blanchard started meeting up to lift weights and talk music. As Hellmouth and Blanchard's previous band, Knife, slowed down, they started a new project based, in part, on both being fans of '90s death-doom innovators Paradise Lost.
"It was like, 'Alright, let's do some doom," Awn says. "It's a pretty wide genre, so that was the only foundation — low and slow."
Awn recruited friend Brent Satterly to play bass, and the three held auditions for others before landing on Jason Pearce on drums and Mike Erdody — a prolific guitarist also playing in local heavies Acid Witch, Nuke, and Failed — to handle vocals.
With Awn and Blanchard supplying the chugging riffs and eerie atmospherics, the band developed a massive, sprawling sound that paid equal homage to early British doom metal and old school American death metal.
It's not easy to make out many words from Erdody's deep — and surprisingly musical — growl, but song titles like "The Embalmer's Art" and "Rot in Solitude" give a pretty good idea of the kind of morbid tales he's telling.
"There's not really much happening metaphorically or anything like that," he says. "I just wanted each song to sound like a story. You're living the event, and this is the soundtrack to this horrible thing."
With the release of their debut demo in 2013 and first full-length, Of Terror and the Supernatural a year later, the ToV built a buzz in underground metal circles nationally and internationally, thanks, in part, to the support of high-profile fans in established death and doom metal acts Sinister, Hooded Menace, and the Black Dahlia Murder.
"Those guys have been real big supporters and vocal champions of the band, so that's helped," Awn says. "When Lasse or Markus from Hooded Menace say something, people listen."
On Sept. 2, the band will celebrate their new album with a release show at Small's in Hamtramck. It's their first local show in a year, and a new lighting rig and fog machine will be christened for the occasion.
The band has reason to celebrate. Nearly three years in the making, Lords of Death is a concise, crushing statement from a group of local scene veterans hitting their stride together.
"I just wanted it to be heavier," Satterly says. "For the first album, we kind of hadn't quite found our sound and didn't really trim the fat. This one's much leaner. The [songs] we kept were more death metal, for sure."
The doom elements are still there, but they're not forcing the issue to fit into a specific genre.
"It's like a pendulum," Erdody says. "Maybe it swings a little more on the death side at this point. The next one might swing a little more on the doom side."
The recording itself is also noteworthy for its controlled take on the blown out, bleeding sound of real instruments played by real humans really loudly in the same room. The band credits engineer Clyde Wilson at Mount Doom Studio for clearly capturing their raw sound without the standard suite of software plugins, processors, and triggers typically found in modern metal.
"We show up, he mics our shit, and that's the secret," Awn says. "You don't fuck with it. You just record it. If you've got good tones going in, you're going to have good tones coming out."
The release show also marks a new period for Temple of Void's lineup as its first local appearance without Blanchard, who left the band last April. Durr, a longtime friend of the band who has traveled with them to do lights and sell merch, filled his spot in time to play a pre-party at Maryland Deathfest the following month.
"He showed up to the first practice, and he knew our whole set, so it was just like, 'Fucking hell. We're good!'" Awn says, laughing.
More festival gigs in the U.S. and a 2018 European tour are in the works, but with a median age in the upper 30s, full-time jobs, and kids, no one's planning on hitting the road for weeks on end.
For now, they're looking forward to playing the new album in front of the hometown crowd. One reason for the slight change in direction was awareness that the slower songs kept getting cut from the set. That's not an issue with the newer stuff.
"I want to play them all," Awn says. "There's no low point; it's all peaking. So there's gonna be a lot of head banging. That's the kind of record we wanted to write."
Temple of Void's album release show is Saturday, Sept. 2, at Small's; 10339 Conant St., Hamtramck; Doors at 8 p.m.; with special guests Tombstalker, Centenary, and Isenblast; Tickets are $10.