In the video for “Storm in Summer,” the title track from her 2021 EP, Helen Ballentine, who records as Skullcrusher, is safe behind glass while rain, hitting the window, casts shadows across her face. There’s a sense of removal—she’s contained and remains dry. But on her spellbinding first full-length album, Quiet the Room, the window is open, and all of the rain is getting in. Guitars degrade into splutters. Pianos flicker like ghosts. Across these fourteen tracks, the outside world seeps in, and the inside world crawls out. This album is the sound of a barrier dissolving: Ballentine is ready to let you in.
Just two years since releasing her debut EP, the buzz surrounding Skullcrusher has seen her music described as “tranquil on its surface but torrid underneath” or “Lovely, captivating, and quietly devastating.” The attention initially caught her by surprise, she says.
“Definitely, in the beginning, you know, with the first EP and releasing those songs, I was very much taken aback by the sort of speed with which everything came together, career-wise. I was sort of expecting to just be kind of doing it part-time, you know, on the side of things for a while. And it ended up sort of becoming more of the central thing that I was doing more immediately. I think that at this point, I think just because everything happened really fast, I feel like I’ve been doing it for longer, and maybe I think with Covid as well, that the couple of years sort of felt like really long, you know? So yeah, at this point, I feel a little bit more like I have a hold on things, but in the beginning, it took me some time to adjust.”
Quiet the Room is a stunning and quietly moving work that reflects the journeys we take through the physical and spiritual realms of ourselves in order to show up for the world. The framework for the record was laid two years ago when Ballentine wrote and recorded a song of the same name. Unlike most other Skullcrusher songs, it was written on piano, her childhood instrument. Perhaps it was the familiar sound—harkening back to the black upright Kawai that remains in her mother’s home today—that started the memories whirring.
“The first song I wrote technically was Quiet The Room, which I wrote before I knew I was writing an album. I think it was around the time I wrote Farm and Song For Nick Drake, and I sort of like put it aside cuz I was like, I think this is maybe something for later. Like, it just felt like a different thought. And so I put it aside and then came back to it when I knew I was gonna be writing an album. I feel like that’s the jumping-off point. And then I wrote, They Quiet The Room because I was half kind of just trying to remember it cuz I hadn’t played it in a while. It was like a year later, and I had a guitar there, so I was like, I remember the words, so I’ll just write it again or something. And then it became like this sort of other version of it. So those two songs/one song kind of represent the first step of the album. And I mean there’s definitely a connection to the fact that I wrote it on piano. I wrote it at my mom’s house at the piano that I grew up playing on and so I was just in the space of connecting with my childhood self in a way. And I think that that song was the beginning of this sort of investigation into how my upbringing and how the circumstances of my childhood have affected me and made me into who I am. Those initial questions that I was maybe asking myself and asking family members and asking people around me, which sort of opened the door to the rest of the album.”
The name Skullcrusher might seem an odd fit for an artist making music that is simmering, acoustic guitar-centred rather than hardcore death metal. But for those that know her, she says it’s perfect.
“Well, it has kind of a long answer but has become a very relevant question and one that I enjoy answering because I think that the main goal with the name is to contextualize the music with something that sort of allows the music to have a meaning that maybe wouldn’t otherwise be very apparent with the sound and with the visuals. And, yeah, I think that meaning is to just give it this sort of power and this sort of aggression that often gets questioned. People are just like, that doesn’t make sense to have like this scary-sounding name go with this really beautiful music. And I think that maybe that’s also a cliche, but I think that it’s one that rings true for my life and just the things that I’m drawn to. There’s often a lot of power and aggression and intensity and ugliness within things that might seem soft and meek and quiet and this sort of like duality that exists, like in a lot of the ideas that I’m talking about. It’s funny because people who know me really well when I called myself that, they were like, oh yeah, that makes sense for you. But people who don’t know me are like, I don’t get that. So it’s kind of just like exposing something about me that maybe wouldn’t otherwise be noticeable in kind of an extreme and sort of fun, goofy way, you know what I mean? It’s a band name at the end of the day, which I feel like you can have fun with and be a little bit more performative and a little bit more extreme. And I feel like there’s definitely a little bit of like a wink in that name as well. So it’s not completely serious. And then the fun kind of aspect of just being able to take on a role for yourself.”
Listen to the full interview with Skullcrusher below:
Skullcrusher plays Bar le Ritz in Montreal on November 16. BUY TICKETS HERE
Photo credit – Angela RicciardiShare this :