Keres moves beyond hope
How the local metal band learned to channel its inner demons
As a kid, Matthew Woods Wilhoit hoped to become a supervillain like Alice Cooper.
His music dreams started in elementary school, flipping through a magazine and seeing Cooper clad in black leather and taming a boa constrictor. A kid who watched popular classmates treat others poorly, and himself being tortured by cruel babysitters and their families, he was attracted to Cooper’s sorcery. The magic of a melody. The ability to conjure up something in people.
But 17 years later, Wilhoit lost hope. In December 2013, he left Bog Oak, a doom metal project that had record contracts waiting.
Walled up in his Stockton home during the summer of 2015, he only spoke to family and friends. He fell into a deep depression. Above all, he stopped writing music.
“I was afraid to,” Wilhoit said. “I felt like I was a failure, like I was a has-been. I didn’t have any inspiration to pick up the guitar.”
It took an old friend to jump-start Wilhoit. Trevor William Church, now a drummer in Fresno-based Beastmaker, demanded that Wilhoit start a band and write three songs, one song per day within the next 72 hours. Church would write the drums and help kick things off, and then return to Beastmaker.
In just an hour, Wilhoit wrote and recorded the first song in his garage and sent it off, thinking Church was just being hyperbolic. He wasn’t.
“The next day, by 3 p.m., he was like, ’Where’s my fucking song?’” Wilhoit said.
The three songs formed Worship of Keres’ first EP, Bloodhounds for Oblivion, a muscular, drone-tempo doom suite released in February. Reviews were featured in a global slew of underground blogs. In March, its first track, “Book 1,” was included in “Doom Nation Vol. VI,” a compilation arranged by CVLT Nation, a site dedicated to DIY metal culture.
Wilhoit, a guitarist in the Stockton- and Sacramento-based band, is far away from that summer, but he still carries a fatalistic attitude. His personal mantra is “Trans Lumine Sub Gratia,” a Latin phrase translating to “beyond the light, beneath the grace.” It’s tattooed across his chest, and it’s the name of the band’s upcoming six-song EP, the first three tracks to be released alongside a Starlite Lounge show on Thursday, December 8.
“I feel like it summed up how I feel, how I identify as a whole,” Wilhoit said. “Being beyond any sort of hope. Not being interested in receiving it or being redeemed.”
As with Bloodhounds, production is underway at Sacramento’s Earthtone Studios. Early mixings show a sound palette that remains vintage, but pulls from a later epoch in heavy metal: the 1980s. A riff in the EP’s title track gallops like an Iron Maiden tune, and new singer Justin Helvete’s voice carries hints of Maiden’s first vocalist, Paul Di’Anno.
“There’ll still be those slow, mighty riffs,” Wilhoit said of the EP as a whole. “There’ll still be that melancholy, but it will be weighted by some straight-to-the-jugular ragers.”
In July, the band dropped the “Worship of” in favor of just “Keres,” now that it sports a permanent five-piece lineup, with bassist Robert Lander, guitarist Mike Riot and drummer Ryan Fernandes.
No longer could they just be apostles of the Greek monster Keres, whose “sustenance was the misery and death of others,” Wilhoit said. Instead, they could take a chance at doing the villainy for once.
“I was looking at it from a philosophical standpoint,” he said. “Us not being the people who were worshiping the subject, but instead transforming into it.”