Exalt's Five Steps for Making Groundbreaking Metalcore

Exalt's Five Steps for Making Groundbreaking Metalcore
Exalt Photo: Steph Mill
Kitchener, ON-based four-piece Exalt have grown a great deal in the two years since their signing to Toronto-based label New Damage, and the subsequent release of their second LP, Pale Light. Returning with The Shape You Took Before the Ache, the unit prove that the third time really is the charm, elevating their brand of eerie, esoteric metalcore to new heights by branching off in new and unexpected directions.
Guitarist Ben Waugh gave Exclaim! some insight into how they managed to achieve this feat in their latest work.
Step 1: Focus your writing.
In years past, when Exalt had a second guitar player thrown into the writing mix, "the process itself was more scattered and less refined than it is now," Waugh tells Exclaim! The Shape, however was written mostly by himself, alongside brother and drummer Tim, in intense, focused sessions.
"Every album so far has been a different writing process, and this is the first time we did it one focused way from start to finish without having bits and pieces of songs written by multiple people."
Step 2: Pick your producer(s) wisely.
Through a stroke of luck and a snafu involving a bachelor party, the first time Exalt hit Bricktop Recording in Chicago to record Pale Light, the band had the privilege of working with both resident engineers, Andy Nelson (of Weekend Nachos) and Pete Grossman. Eager to recapture that same magic on their new record, the four-piece made sure to bring both producers into the fold once again.
"We just felt so good about it after our first experience. Usually when you book time there, you get one or the other. Andy's very much into spur-of-the-moment, organic type stuff while Pete is more concerned about how tight things sound and how hard they hit. They bring very different ideas to the table but it all works great together. It was a really smooth process because of how well it went last time around."
Step 3: Step out of your comfort zone.
Across the new record, Exalt stretch the boundaries of being a metal band, diving into uncharted sonic waters, incorporating layers of ambience and atmosphere in addition to reworking typical song structures into something fresh, simply "because we can, and it is just what we wanted to make."
"Every time we do something, I want to go beyond — I'm not necessarily saying that what we've done before is lacklustre, but every time we go forward, I want to do something new. We have a lot to offer. This is our band, and we aren't really concerned about boundaries people put on us, or if they expect us to be really heavy all the time. There have always been melodic elements in our music, even from the first things we ever made — and this was something I wanted to do for a while. But we waited for the right time to do it. There are a lot of blurred lines, but we wanted to bring more of that new stuff to the forefront, while also making the heavy stuff more crushing, and just let each part be what they are."
Step 4: Stay versatile.
Each song across The Shape stands out because the band never linger in one sonic space for too long. By constantly shifting tone and structure, says Waugh, they are able to keep tracks distinct, while at the same time harkening back to one another for a more cohesive feel.
"Each song stands on its own. We never say to ourselves 'Oh well, we have eight good songs, might as well crank out a couple more and be done with it.' We will never make filler. Also we really put thought into the flow of an album. Personally I don't listen to songs in playlists or anything, I like to hear an album from start to finish, and that translates into how we put together our own music."
Step 5: Never compromise.
Sticking to the vision — whatever it may be in the moment — is key to Exalt's creative method. Although the ideas they have at one point in their career might differ greatly from others, they are not intrinsically better or worse — only different, and commitment to the idea at hand is what makes their work come together.
"We're always going to progress, it's not like I look back at our old stuff and see them as failures or embarrassing. They're all stepping stones to where we are right now. The stuff we're doing now I could've wrote four years ago, but at the time I had different ideas. It's always changing, and it's really exciting like that."
Check out The Shape You Took Before the Ache's "Sacrifice to Purity" below.