Las Vegas metal band SpiritWorld just dropped their sophomore album, DeathWestern, which consists of 11 loud, gritty tracks of dusty thrashcore. This easily makes it a strong contender for the best heavy metal album of the year. Ahead of the album's release, PopCulture.com had a chance to catch up with SpiritWorld founder Stu Folsom, who offered some insight into the band's western-horror theme — including his personal influence from legendary cowboy author Louis L'Amour — as well as the role late Power Trip vocalist Riley Gale played in Folsom's book, Godlessness, which is a companion to DeathWestern.
Right from the start, DeathWestern has a clear zombie/outlaw concept at play, which Folsom clarified is a continuation of the story that started with the band's 2021 album, Pagan Rhythms, and continues through Godlessness. "It's in the same world, same characters," Folsom said. "It kind of overlaps some of the characters in DeathWestern or things that are happening at the same time as these short stories. So it's one big, like three different projects, different mediums collection. This was right before the COVID lockdowns, this is my artistic outlet. And then it took me a couple records. I had them when we finished the first one, I was sitting on all these riffs and just didn't stop playing guitar. So I just made another record. It worked out perfect."
"This is all planned out," he went on to explain, "because we did a demo and we had some cowpunk stuff we were doing and then I started playing a bunch of heavy stuff on guitar. So I was like... What can I do that can be in that space where I can have a band that can straddle the fence and thrash death metal, but also when I'm ready switch back and do stuff that's more like all country punk rock and have some steel guitar and some more roots Americana influence. And so I kind of came up with the concept album idea because I'm a metal head and I'm just like, I don't think anyone's ever done any culty old west stuff that I know of. So I'm just going to create my own little world."
Folsom added, "And then the fiction writing was a bonus to that. I've always wanted to do some longer form fiction writing. And so I did that, self-released it and it's got picked up by Rare Bird Lit out of LA so that doing a cool reissue of a hardback of the short story collection I did."
Much of the Western themes on the new SpiritWorld album, as well as in Godlessness, bare a striking homage to the works of Louis L'Amour, a legendary Western author, albeit, with some Clive Barker-esque horror mixed in. This, Folsom says, was intentional. "That was the blueprint a little bit for me because I grew up in a household where my family's big into rodeo and Western stuff, just came from Texas originally," he shared. "So same thing, there's not a bathroom growing up that didn't have a stack of Louis L'Amour books in it. And I love that idea of having... His stories are all the same. Meet the good guy, you have the fistfight, you meet the girl and then there's a gunfight... and they're short."
He continued, "So the idea of my short stories was that. I was just like, I'm just going to write something like the size of the Louis L'Amour's that I've read a thousand of and just put it out with a metal record. Had no idea any of this would pop off at the time."
Certainly, it's somewhat of a gamble for a record label to take a chance on a Louis L'Amour-inspired project that is not just a concept album but, essentially, a concept band. Folsom assured us, however, that the band's label, Century Media, has been incredibly supportive. "When I was telling even guys in the band this, when I wrote the demos and I'm like, because I wrote all the songs and I tracked the first one, I'm telling people what I was going to do and they were just like, 'Sure, yeah, sounds great.'"
He went on to share, "And then as the stuff is manifesting and it's like, 'Oh, our first tour is with Obituary.' And even this, we're all hardcore kids, we're out with Agnostic Front, like mind-blowing. But, same thing with the label. I talked to the A&R guy, we have Mike Getter, he's great, but as I'm laying all this on him, I'm just waiting for somebody to be like, 'You're f—ing nuts, bro. You're out of your tree.' But everybody's... I think it emboldens people because the quality of the stuff that I deliver, the content, I think people see how much effort and love goes into it. So makes it an easier pill to swallow even though it's weird and a little bit gonzo."
Finally, we asked Folsom about his friendship with late Power Trip frontman Riley Gale. He spoke highly of his friend, who passed away in 2020, and revealed that Gale had been working with him on Godlessness prior to his death. "I grew up in Las Vegas, so early mid-twenties or something. My family's been in Nevada, but Riley used to come out to my old band shows. So we've known each other forever since, I don't know, he was 15 or something. And so we were just always in the same little metal hardcore scene, always hanging out. But when I was working on this project originally... it had been so long since I'd really taken a writing class or anything, I could not even remember how to format dialogue or anything."
The SpiritWorld vocalist added, "He wanted to get into kind of editing stuff but more on the creative side because he had done some professional writing, and editing throughout the year. It was a side hustle. And so I hit him up and sent him some of the early drafts and then we were working together. He was going to edit the whole thing for me and I mean, tragically passed away."
Folsom then recalled, "It was kind of bizarre. We talked on a weekend, I sent him the final draft of it and then it was the middle of the next week he passed away. So just one of those things that every time I see the book, read it, anybody asked me about it, it's kind of nice because it just makes me think of him and good memories."
He continued, "We had just got done with Pagan Rhythms, the studio record, and so I sent him that too and was explaining to him the whole vision for this project. And it was nice having one of my friends that, I mean their band was popping so he was early on one of the people that was like, 'This whole thing is incredible, bro. You got to just go full on...' The fact that he was willing to help me execute it too. Meant a lot at the time. How can it not?" Click here to stream DeathWestern, and make sure to check out the SpiritWorld website, including options to buy the new album, as well as Godlessness and other merch options.