File them under experimental noise. Avant-garde sludge. Post-metal. Ambient doom. Whatever you do, don’t call ’em “rock,” OK? These guys have more in common with the colossal French supertanker from which they take their name than The Beatles.
For those readers born after the oil crisis of the late ’70s, here’s some history: The Batillus was a fuel transport ship commissioned by Shell Oil France, and the biggest (by volume) vessel to ever ride the seas with a staggering capacity of nearly 4 million barrels of crude. However, in a twist of fate that will strike CityCenter’s owners as familiar, the Batillus was built for better economic times, or at least when OPEC hadn’t instituted a punishing embargo. After a couple dozen voyages, the monster ship was mothballed and sold for scrap.
The ghost of the doomed craft lingers in the haunting, monolithic sound of the Brooklyn, N.Y., band, which desired a moniker that conjured an unmistakably gargantuan, menacing and impendingly ruinous aura. And once this quartet displaces the air around you with their towering amplifiers, you’ll wish you’d been merely dragged under the waves made by a supertanker.
“I always grew up around heavy music,” says Fade Kainer, the band’s vocalist, who uses effects pedals and software to manipulate his already-unconventional vocals live and in the studio. “Since I was a little kid, I’d been into Black Sabbath. Then I discovered industrial music as a teenager.” Kainer’s résumé as a noise/industrial artist and pro recording-studio engineer led Batillus’ founding members—guitarist Greg Peterson and bassist Willi Stabenau (the band began as an instrumental duo in 2007)—to enlist the dreadlocked frontman.
“Greg and Willi wanted another component, something different to add, to the band’s sound,” Kainer says. “I play keyboards and trigger samples and loops, which contributes layers to the songs.” He means songs in the broadest sense. What you experience from the harrowing commotion generated by Batillus isn’t anything like a pop tune’s predictable “verse-chorus-verse” formula. Instead, Kainer and Co. pick up where apocalyptic Canadian post-rock collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor left off, hauling the blueprint of aggressive, momentum-swelling, orchestra-enhanced mood music into a senses-shattering whirlpool of sludge, noise and doom.
After self-releasing a few EPs in ’09, Batillus caught the attention of Germany’s Vendetta Records, who last year released a split 12” featuring the band on one side and former Las Vegan Ryan Fairfield’s doom project Hallowed Butchery on the other. Last April, Chicago’s Seventh Rule label brought out Batillus’ full-length Furnace, six tracks that evoke the world’s last days. If you ever need a soundtrack to embody the theory of Peak Oil, when Earth’s fuel supply runs out and humanity must make nasty decisions (e.g., “Should I cannibalize my neighbors?”), Furnace fits, especially the bleak, guitar riff-imploding voyage of “Uncreator” and the soul-blackening, white noise-laced descent of “… And the World Is As Night To Them.”
“Actually, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we’re a political band,” Kainer says. “My lyrics are about human drama. The subject matter has to do with personal life experience and tribulations, with growth and seeking. At the same time, though, I don’t try to write in a literal, linear or conventional sense. I’m intentionally cryptic.
“Our music isn’t designed to depress you, either,” he says. “We want to be liberating and to show how, after you go through a severe trial, you can either take that pain into a negative place or you can shift direction and develop as a person.”
Despite his enigmatic positivity, Kainer doesn’t sugarcoat the vibe Vegas gives him. “I live in New York City so I’m used to sketchiness. Still, when I was walking around Vegas last year, the plastic exteriors and late-night streetwalkers rattled me. I’ve heard good things about the underground scene there, though, so I’m eager.”