With a new single and video on the way, the death metal trio Rip VanRipper revels in a DIY spirit and determination to ‘learn and expand’ while unleashing its crushing music.
SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTO GALLERY & TO LISTEN TO A RIP VANRIPPER TRACK
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West Michigan's music scene
West Michigan’s music scene is robust with a multitude of characters and flavors to suit almost any music aficionado.
A genre that tends to fly under the radar here also carries with it one of the most tight-knit, supportive communities — one that happens to feature the determined, three-piece death metal outfit Rip VanRipper.
To those who may not be entrenched in the sub-genres of metal, a listener will readily latch onto the melody and groove that beautifully complements a darkened heaviness, influenced by musical acts such as Cannabis Corpse, The Dillinger Escape Plan and Wormrot.
In describing the group’s sonic approach, guitarist/vocalist Jeff Knol (also drummer for country’s The Bootstrap Boys) illustrates VanRipper’s tunes as “music that crushes you under the weight of feeling infinitely small, while simultaneously empowering you into knowing you are a God of universes.”
Condemning as this might sound, upon deeper inspection, Knol, bassist/vocalist Sean Burrows and drummer Andrew Stork exhibit a refreshing sense of hope and appreciation after four albums, lineup changes and a grueling pandemic.
Formed in 2015 and paying homage to the American heavy metal band SLEEP, musical friends Knol and Burrows jokingly named their new project after Rip Van Winkle, the legendary story of a Dutch-American villager who drunkenly falls asleep for 20 years.
Knol admits that the two may also have been a little intoxicated at the time of this decision, undoubtedly kicking the band off on a path of indulgence and amusement. Stork joined the two in 2019, highlighting a common goal: to ensure that every move the band makes is aimed at the success and enjoyment of the trio.
Drunken jokes aside, the group’s goals reach beyond a shallow level of partying: Creation and connection go hand and hand in everything they do. After playing their first show at The Pyramid Scheme in 2015 with Grand Rapids’ defunct Fine Fine Titans, the fond milestone for the band set the precedent and they have since held onto the fragile motivation that typically waxes and wanes with all musicians.
Continuously striving to entertain at a higher level than before with a stronger set, the band places emphasis on supporting local artists and businesses while cultivating a strong harmony between musicians and fans alike.
This was evident at their most recent Pyramid Scheme performance with local bands Drink Their Blood, Fedaykin and Withhold The Blood. (Scroll down for photo gallery.)
“There was a real feeling of camaraderie between all four bands playing that night which made everything go very smoothly,” Stork recalls. “Along with the bands all playing killer sets, the crowd that came out were amazing.
“There is always a possibility for local shows to feel like each band has their people who might not have interest in the rest of the lineup, but at this particular show, every band had a great crowd to support them. Since we put that lineup together, it felt like a huge win not just for us, but all of the bands involved.”
NAVIGATING THE PANDEMIC; HONING THEIR SKILLS AND APPROACH
While searching for the sometimes impossible balance of writing, rehearsing, performing and self-promotion, the group had to adjust to bigger shifts in 2019 and 2020.
While navigating personnel changes and concluding that the band works best as a three-piece (opposed to the four-piece they were previously) the arrival of COVID in The States promptly put a halt to performances and rehearsals. Determined to not let a pandemic dampen their forward movement, the band took the time to hone their existing skills individually, recorded remotely and continued to share ideas with one another.
Along with that also came the drive to build a live rig incorporating in-ear monitoring to rehearse and perform more efficiently and perhaps more importantly: protect their hearing. In recognizing their strong working dynamic, it seems as though their shared taste in music, close friendship and collective desire to enjoy each other while creating music only reinforced their future goals.
Last April, Rip VanRipper released its fourth studio album, “Cosmic Death Worship.” Conceptually, Knol explains that the album is “a psychedelic journey of a metaphysical nature about introspection, meeting aliens, them coming from the boötes void to harvest our sun’s energy, extinction/death, and weed [sic].”
With Stork as at the newest member of the band, the drummer morphed the previously written tracks with his influence by limiting his exposure to the demos just enough to map out the songs while playing live with Burrows and Knol. This recast allowed for increased syncopation, a tighter rhythm section and in general, more room for creativity to ultimately refine their sound.
The latest EP also marked an important turning point for the band: They made the conscious decision to do everything internally between writing, recording, mixing and mastering.
LISTEN: “Electric Seas,” Rip VanRipper (from “Cosmic Death Worship”
While Knol laments on the abundant list of learning curves brought on by self-producing, he saw the lockdown of the pandemic as “an opportunity to learn and expand what we are capable of,” including learning piano and utilizing the digital capabilities and virtual instruments to supplement their live performances.
Adds Stork: “We decided to invest our time and money into ourselves. One obvious advantage is that we were able to record at our own pace and make changes as the songs evolved. When paying for studio time you’re really locked into a schedule and you may not be able to get that perfect take on the arbitrary day you’re booked with a producer.
“As Jeff noted, there are too many hurdles to list, but with each stumble we learned how best to fix the issue or avoid it all together in the future.”
The group holds fast to the value they have found in their DIY ethic while continuing to hire local artists and screen printers such as Ty Dykema, Aaron Adams and Transfigure Print Co. to help support the community they hold immense gratitude for.
While the three don’t see themselves touring much outside of regional weekend runs in the immediate future, they look forward to digging further into self-producing their next album to safeguard consistency in their sound both on stage and in the studio.
With that in mind, fans can look out for a few more local shows to round out 2022 along with release of an upcoming single and video for the track, “Will-O-The-Wisp.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Rip VanRipper, Drink Their Blood at The Pyramid Scheme (March 2022)
Photos by Katy Batdorff and Live For The Show – Antonia Enos Burrows