It’s the day after Earth Day, and Kevin Ardrey, Brian Weaver and Carter Felder —three of the four members of local black metal band Salvaticus—sit on a worn wooden bench under an open-air roofed shelter at Ivy Creek Natural Area. The dogwoods and redbuds have bloomed, clouds move through the blue sky and a breeze shakes pollen from the trees while birds twitter.
It seems purposeful that Salvaticus—a band that takes its name from a derivative of the Latin word “silviticus,” meaning wild, or untamed—would ask to convene at a nature center to discuss its music, which concentrates (and comments) on the relationship between human civilization and the natural world.
Salvaticus got its start in spring 2010, when guitarist Weaver and drummer Ardrey decided to break off from another band and do their own thing. If music is a language, Ardrey says, he and Weaver speak “the exact same dialect”—black metal—and they found it easy to communicate creatively. Over the years, they’ve added other musicians who speak that tongue, including Felder, also a guitarist, and current bassist Ben Kidd.
There’s something captivating about the expressiveness of black metal, they say. There are many subgenres of heavy metal: fast and aggressive (thrash metal, speed metal, power metal); bone-crunchingly heavy and crushing (death metal); slow and somber (doom metal). Black metal, Weaver explains, is more dynamic—it can be fast, aggressive and devastating at some points; slow, subtle and mellow at others, conveying positivity and negativity, hope and fear, all at once.
Ardrey, Weaver and Felder compare black metal to classical music, which they all listen to and love. “Classical music and black metal tickle the same nerve for me,” says Ardrey. “I listen to both for similar reasons: They spur thought; they’re more intellectual musical pursuits than mainstream pop music. I like music that makes me think and ponder and feel, not just with my mind but with my heart. I like music that takes you on a journey.”
And while not all black metal bands explore that dynamism, Salvaticus does, and it’s evident on the band’s forthcoming album, Ordo Naturalis (“Natural Order”).
A vinyl release is pending, but the band sold cassettes on its recent tour, which concludes with a show at Magnolia House this Saturday. It’ll be Salvaticus’ last Charlottesville show for a while, as Ardrey and Weaver are moving to Olympia, Washington, this summer, though they still plan to write and record with Felder and Kidd.
Ordo Naturalis builds thematically on the band’s 2014 debut, Hidden Manna, an ode to the connections between mankind and nature. Ordo Naturalis addresses the conflict between the two, specifically mankind’s failure to live in harmony with the natural world.
There’s “Collapse,” a vigorous track that incorporates one-off variations of melodies and riffs within a typical A-B-A-B structure, and the raw, aggressive “Inflict,” with lyrics about the pointlessness of modern consumerism, how humans mistreat one another as much as they mistreat nature.
Ardrey, Weaver and Felder credit much of the group’s thematic growth to Luke Smith, the band’s vocalist, lyricist and bass player who died in January 2017, not long after recording his parts for Ordo Naturalis. Smith was the youngest member of the band, and Felder says “he still had that youthful anger that was needed to awaken” people.
On the record, Smith is audibly “upset and pissed off, and has just had it with life and with humans in general,” says Ardrey.
Not long before his death, Smith started putting a mic behind Ardrey’s drum kit during practices for their other band, Blooddrunk Trolls. “It seemed impossible at first,” Ardrey says of drumming and scream-singing at the same time (it is difficult), and he didn’t understand why Smith kept encouraging him to do so.
“It’s almost like he set you up or something,” says Felder, because after Smith died, Ardrey took on the duties of lead vocalist, learning not only Smith’s lyrics but his delivery of them.
“Every time we get together and play the songs, I’m channeling him and trying to do him justice. It’s his memory,” says Ardrey.
Ordo Naturalis is on the surface “a pretty angry record,” says Felder, but there’s more to it than that. “In some of the [instrumentation], you have the hope.”
It’s true, Weaver says, pointing at some nearby robins hopping across the grass—there are even bird sounds and spring peepers on “Ages of Ages,” the record’s penultimate song and the thematic climax of the album, a mellow, somber imagining of the state of the Earth after mankind’s extinction, as the natural world begins to regenerate.
Salvaticus has had to undergo its own regeneration over the last year and a half, relying on black metal as a conduit to a complete, realistic emotional and intellectual journey.
“We’re just trying to do what comes natural to us,” says Weaver, and along the way “convey a message that we think is worthwhile, express a truth that we believe in. Hopefully that resonates with people.”