Cruel Optimism:
Cloak Ascends from the Venomous Depths of Atlanta Metal Hell to Face The Burning Dawn

There’s a certain point in the trajectory of a band (well, any band that’s to a degree “making it” in whatever’s left of the music biz, that is) where what is perceived by the average Joe as success – or at least progress – actually functions as a form of inoculation. It’s a kind of rock ’n’ roll chemotherapy, if you will.

Yes, there are still record labels in the world. And yes, getting a record deal with a well-established, esteemed label is indeed a way for bands to circulate their music and gain traction. But here’s where the equation breaks down.

We all remember back in the halcyon daze of 20th century rock ’n’ roll when getting a record deal was a panacea, the equivalent of winning the lottery or finding the proverbial sword in the stone, right? When bands got signed, they gained cultural capital and, well, you know, capital capital. When a band got signed, they’d become instantly famous, receive a heap of cash and, and instantly begin the process of plundering and pillaging. Sure, the cash was basically a loan from the record company. But when a band is on the front end of their career, well, who’s counting that stuff? This is the bigtime, baby!

Of course, signing with a label has always been something of a Faustian gambit. And these days it’s even worse.

So let’s backpedal from the macro model, the big money rock ’n’ roll of the 20th century, to the micro model, today’s subterranean heavy metal scene. And let’s reintroduce the inoculation/rock ’n’ roll chemotherapy thing.

It’s a tough enough deal trying to scrape by as a local heavy metal act. I mean, those huge amps and V-shaped guitars are really, really expensive, not to mention other requisites like effects pedals, tattoos, vans, drugs and, um, food and rent. And taking it on the road triples or quadruples the levels of hardship. For metal bands, signing a record deal is a kind of cruel optimism. This is to say that, these days, when a metal band get signed, there’s a host of obligations and entailments – and no money, not even much of a loan (an advance) to speak of. So, bands strive to get signed, only to find that when they actually get signed, they end up broker and more desperate than they were before.

Atlanta’s Cloak is a band that has been traversing the DMZ between subaltern metal obscurity and the tangible rewards of economic viability and cultural visibility for around four years. The band hit the ground running around four years ago with a spate of amazing Atlanta shows; immediately followed by an excellent self-released EP (2015’s Cloak), and then signing with French powerhouse metal label, Season of Mist, in short order. Cloak’s first full-length, 2017’s To Venomous Depths, was a critical favorite that the band promoted through high profile American tours. Now on the brink of releasing follow-up The Burning Dawn, Cloak will embark on a month-long U.S. tour with black metal heavy-hitters 1349 and Uada that begins on October 25 – which is, incidentally, the new album’s release date. Yeah, Cloak are making a name for themselves in a big way. And yeah, it’s really, really hard work.

“Touring is hard as shit,” says vocalist/guitarist Scott Taysom. “There’s always opposition and obstacles that you have to face. I’m going through that right now. You have to make sure that four people are on board to do this for very, very little money. I mean, we pay our driver more than we pay ourselves. We have to pay management and booking agents. So, at the end of the day you don’t end up with that much, especially in a new band. But you have to take these risks. That’s part of being in a band like this. I mean, nothing is going to be easy if you’re playing in a band that represents opposition.”

“Things aren’t supposed to come easy,” Taysom continues. “I wish they could sometimes, but it’s not like that.

“But Cloak is my life’s work. It’s everything my life has led up to. I’m 29 right now, and I’ve been in bands since I was 13. That’s more than half my life. And Cloak is an amalgamation of my life’s work. This is everything that I’ve always been leading up to and striving for.

“There’s no money for rock bands anymore, especially metal bands,” Taysom continues. “But I think you can build up to that, somewhat. Metal is still popular. It still is a kind of music that you can make a career out of. Yeah, Cloak wants to be a career-oriented band. Not for money, but because this is the only thing that we want to do. This is our only option. So bullshit stuff getting in the way, stuff like work, that means nothing to me. I mean, why would I do anything that’s not going to benefit me or my spirit at all? We want to make Cloak a career thing so that we can only focus on this.”

From its inception, Cloak has had drive, focus, talent and charisma in spades. And considering the long, long roads that most metal bands trod, Cloak has been on a proverbial fast track toward, ahem, success. This “fast track,” though, really is an inoculation – or at least a variant of the old pain and pleasure dialectic.

“Cloak was never meant to be a local band,” says Taysom. “Cloak was always meant to be something bigger. We didn’t even play our first show until we had promo pictures and a demo out. Everything we do has to have purpose. So we built the package first: Before we presented Cloak in public we already had the package fully formed. We built the music and we built the image. Everything had to have quality behind it before we even announced ourselves to the public. It was always our goal to be more than just a local band that plays the same bar in Atlanta, every other month.”

Taysom is not bragging here, he’s just relating truth as he sees it. (And, by the way, I totally agree with him. Cloak is a special band.) From square one, the band possessed a certain amorphous star quality. That’s right, star quality. In other words, the band’s humble beginnings were not quite so humble. From square one, Cloak has been world class.

Now, don’t get me wrong. And, more importantly, don’t get Taysom wrong. I’m the guy that introduced the term, “star quality,” into the conversation, not Taysom. Here, Taysom is only addressing my question – not calling himself a star per se. (Nevertheless, he is a star.)

“Yeah, I guess when we started Cloak already had an, uh, star quality to it,” says Taysom, haltingly. “I’m not saying that in the wrong way I hope. But, uh, you have to present yourself in a big way for people to believe it. I’m not gonna go watch a band that’s just dilly dallying around on stage, dressed like they just got off work. I mean, you have to take care with the way you present it. Cloak is an extremely serious band, and we’re not going to present ourselves in any way other than that. We believe in what we’re doing too much.”

And this brings us to the onus of belief, isms and iconoclasms that metal bands, especially metal bands that traffic in dark imagery such as Cloak, are burdened with. You see, Cloak is heavily influenced by black metal – you know, that corpse painted, Satanic/Pagan, trve kvlt stuff first introduced by po faced, church-burning Norwegians like Mayhem and Emperor in the late ’80s? So, is Cloak one of those kinda bands? Well, yes and no.

“I consider Cloak a black metal band,” says Taysom. “I think, basically, Cloak is a rock ’n’ roll band with the spirit of black metal. To me, black metal is a very spiritual kind of music. And to me, Cloak is aligned with the black metal mindset.

“Our music is dark, but darkness is a positive thing, too,” Taysom continues. “It conveys strength and triumph, really. With the darkness, you’re venturing into uncharted paths. That was always my goal – to venture into the depths. Yeah, there’s an ideological view of always going above and beyond, and always going to places where no one has been. That’s darkness to me. It’s taking a step into the unknown and taking risks. You could look at it metaphorically, or take it literally. I think I look at it in both ways. I think it’s important to sort of discover that devil inside of yourself, or that pull away from God inside of yourself – that move away from the God of order to, sort of, the devil of the unknown and the devil of opposition. I think it’s important for everyone to explore those kinds of relationships – to look at those things and find where your spirit aligns.

“All of the music of my life has had a dark edge to it. But Cloak is the first band where I’ve discovered different things within myself, different things within my playing, my relationship with the people I play with, and the way that I have a hand in more than just the music.

“Metal in and of itself has always been rock ’n’ roll,” Taysom continues. “But black metal, obviously, the way that the Norwegians were doing it in the ’90s, it was kind of like a spit in the face to commercial success. And that’s fine. We want to bring the rock ’n’ roll spirit and attitude and stage presence to the black metal genre. A lot of that [showmanship] has gone away. And I think it’s important to bring it back.

“The good thing about Cloak is that we can play with a lot of different kinds of bands and still make a connection with the audience. I think we do make that connection. It’s great to have the opportunity to show people that are into other kinds of music that, hey, there’s something to this, too.

“To be honest, we aim to steal the show when we play live. I mean, we support the other bands we play with. But Cloak aims to be the best. It sounds arrogant, but that’s just the way it is. Why would we aim to be anything but the best? Every band’s goal should be to be the best.

“I mean, I don’t want to care what other people do or think. But, uh, I’d say I’m pretty competitive with music. I don’t write songs to be competitive. I believe our music. But when you’re out there on the road, you have to prove yourself. It’s a make or break world.”

Photo by David Parham.