After an extended hiatus, Lansing, Michigan’s are preparing to release their third record, Back to the Sea, on January 26. The record comes after six years of silence from a band that never had that much of a following, to begin with. So why am I so excited about Back to the Sea? Because even when they were inactive, Dagon was quietly writing some of the best melodic death metal on the American continent, and their long-delayed third Lp lives up to the legacy of its predecessors.
Dagon’s last album, Terraphobic, has become a well-respected secret since its release in 2009. That year it received year-end props from the then-nascent Heavy Blog is Heavy. It commands a powerful average 86% rating on Metal Archives (somewhat tempered by the fact that it only has two reviews) and an even more respectable average 3.8 on Sputnikmusic compiled from a more robust 26 reviews. Terraphobic traffics in a lightly progressive style of melodic death metal emphasizing big riffs and shout-along vocal hooks, in other words, it’s easy listening as far as harsh vocal metal goes. Dagon could have been an American answer to Amon Amarth.
Unfortunately, Dagon never played many dates outside of Michigan. Terraphobic was distributed by Christian label Bombworks. Although the band was formed from the ashes of a devout metalcore group named Bestiary, Dagon-as-such bore little musical resemblance to the Jesus-loving mosh bands their label specialized in. These factors all but assured that Dagon couldn’t reach their maximum potential audience in the last decade.
Maybe Back to the Sea will raise Dagon’s once-scuttled ship from the depths. The album is streaming in full below, alongside a lightly edited interview with the band’s new guitarist Kris Finison and founding drummer and vocalist Jordan “Truck” Batterbee.
Dagon has long been a staple of the not-so-well-known Lansing-and-mid-Michigan heavy metal scene since at least 2007. Still, many Decibel readers may not have heard of the band. To begin, why don’t you tell me in your words, the origin story of Dagon?
Jordan “Truck” Batterbee: Dagon actually came about in 2005. Randy, Chris, and Jordan all played together in a metalcore band called Bestiary. When that ran its course, the three of them recognized that they still had a lot of musical chemistry and a deep desire to continue performing heavy music. They had always bonded over a shared fondness for 80’s thrash and Gothenburg death metal, so they decided they wanted to do something in a more definitively metal vein.
Since I brought up Lansing and Michigan in-general before, I think that scene is world-class but remains pretty deep underground. What is your take on the state of Michigan metal as of now?
Batterbee: Right now the scene seems to be enjoying a comeback. If you asked me the same question five years ago, I would have said it was struggling. Metal is a resilient genre, though. A lot of bands that are playing now are largely made up of players who weathered the decline and are reaping the benefits of the comeback. That means a lot of experience- and it shows.
Kris Finison: The Michigan metal scene is really interesting as of late. Not only is there a lot of interesting, talented bands but there are many really cool people in the scene. There’s band members helping each other out, trading shows, collaborating, communicating, and promoting with others bands. That’s a really cool thing to see happening, especially when I hear people in other states talking about how so many bands in their local scenes are petty and selfish. Some people will say that the scene is dead, but I think it’s what you make it.
Kris, you’re not an original member of Dagon. You joined in 2016 according to Metal Archives. How did you come to join Dagon?
Finison: I knew the guys vaguely from the local music scene and their days in Bestiary, I came into the Dagon fold when talking with Randy about the band’s hiatus and he alluded to the possibility of the three of them writing an EP’s worth of music. He mentioned they’d talked about having a different guest musician to play solos on each song and, asked if I’d be interested. Long story short, being a Dagon fan, I said I’d be willing to play whatever they wanted me to play.
While we’re talking about Metal Archives, It lists four other bands with that name. Still, I think of you guys first. Has the shared name ever caused any confusion?
Batterbee: We’ve had a few people tell us they came across the Texas-based Dagon while looking for us, but there’s never been a large amount of confusion over the shared name. It’s an honest case of parallel thinking. We were never out to steal anyone’s name, and I’m sure the other Dagons know that about us as much as we do about them.
Dagon writes songs with a nautical theme, but the album Terraphobic was released on Bombworks, a strictly Christian label. Maybe the only lyrical reference to Christianity on that record is a passing bit of “Demons in the Dark”. Given that, how did the Bombworks relationship begin, and is Christianity still a decision-making factor in Dagon’s music?
Batterbee: Dagon was never what you might call a “Christian” band. Some of our members are Christians, but we play music for the sake of music, not in an effort to proselytize anyone. Our lyrics are free of profanity and crude sexuality—things you’d expect from a “Christian” band—but they aren’t spiritual in nature. We each believe what we believe, but we come together as Dagon for fun and self-expression.
I can’t call Terraphobic a ‘hit’, but in the nine years since it’s release, it’s become something of a cult classic. Bring it up on metal forums or on Reddit and in-general anyone who has heard of it will speak positively about the album. How do you feel about that album and its reputation now?
Batterbee: All of us still love Terraphobic. Those of us who were there for the recording are extremely proud of the songs and extremely grateful that they were well received by our fellow metalheads. We consider it our best work—until Back to the Sea comes out on the 27th, that is.
Which begs the question, why has it taken six-and-a-half years to complete another Dagon record?
Batterbee: We went on hiatus for a few reasons. One was that our former guitarist, Matt Trzcinski moved out of Lansing for a job. We’d filled that role several times already and weren’t looking forward to entering the process again. We also had some creative fatigue after gigging very heavily on Terraphobic and Vindication. Mostly though, it was other life stuff going on: children being born, homes being purchased, one of us dealing with divorce, opportunities in our day jobs, etc. Technically, if you take out the straight-up hiatus portion of the timespan, the new album only took two years to write, rehearse, and record!
So what in particular has evolved or changed between records for Dagon? For example Back to the Sea is longer than Terrpahobic.
Finison: A different lineup combined with us growing and evolving as musicians probably played a part in it, I’m sure. We all have a wide range of musical tastes so sometimes being stuck on a particular band might influence the riffs we were writing at the time. We didn’t set out to write a 13 song album, but this lineup really enjoys and collaborates well in the writing process. Once we got started, we just kind of didn’t stop until only a couple of weeks before we had to start recording them.
In some ways, it seems like a faithful sequel to Terrpahobic, though. The cover art is similar and there a sequel to the great “ocean Metal” song from the previous LP.
Finison: Although not intended to be a sequel, there are some similarities in that both were produced by Josh Schroeder and the cover artwork was done by Jan Yrlund. The band had good experiences with these guys in the past and we were glad to be able to work with them again. We also enjoy the storytelling aspect of songwriting and Dagon has been known to have multiple installations along the same theme (namely, “Children of Poseidon” parts I, II, and III.) Along with “Ocean Metal 2”, this album also has the song “Blood for Gold” which is a sequel to “The Triton’s Daughter” from our last EP, Vindication.
So now that you’re back, finally, what’s next for the Dagon agenda?
Finison: We are glad to be back and have already started sketching out some new riff ideas.
In the more immediate future, we are ready to play some of these new songs live and looking forward to the feedback from all the amazing Dagon fans.