Awaken the Ancient’s Luke Shirley wants you to go to shows and make music

Conducted by Scott Belzer | July 10th, 2023

If you’ve been anywhere around the Atlanta metal scene for the past 10 to 15 years, there’s a good chance you’ve run into Luke Shirley at least once. When he’s not banging his head in a riotous crowd, Luke’s up on stage hitting hellish highs and brutal lows as the vocalist for Awaken the Ancient, who have scratched that tech-death itch for Atlanta metalheads since 2010.

Luke answered some questions for A Rippin’ ahead of Awaken the Ancient’s opening set for Manhack at Bogg’s Social & Supply on July 14 with Degradations, Omenkiller, and Dead Friends. The show is sure to be a smorgasbord of barbaric breakdowns, vicious riffage, and savage screams, so go ahead and buy tickets now. I’ll wait.

When you’re done, check out Luke’s wisdom around joining a band, nurturing your throat while also providing harsh vocals and the Atlanta music scene in general.

SB: Thanks for taking the time to share all things Awaken the Ancient. Speaking of which, that’s a pretty kickass name. What’s its origin story? How did you come up with it? Any special meaning?

LS: Not really. I guess at the time the meaning was around awakening the ancient beings of the earth like the Titans, old Gods, etc. We were young and it sounded cool to us. Lol.

SB: What about the band itself? How did it begin?

LS: Originally, I was looking on Craigslist for a tech death metal band to sing for and found Justin’s old band, Eridian, looking for a vocalist. I tried out and Justin wanted to know if I did gutturals, so for the second tryout, I came out and did gutturals. They asked if I could play a show that night, so I just made incoherent gutturals the entire time. It was a total shitshow but fun. After that, we were around for less than a year before breaking up. Justin and I kept it going and I brought in Adrien, an old friend who got me into tech death, and the rest is typical band history. 

SB: You guys have taken a lengthy hiatus recently (2017-2022), but gotten back on the metal horse with a few shows. What’s the story there? What caused that break and the subsequent return?

LS: In 2017, I decided I just needed to work on my career. Trying to become a realtor takes a ton of work. Justin kept the band going with some new vocalists, a bassist, and 2 different guitarists and did an EP with them. But, after about two years, their new vocalist, Michelle, was getting married and decided to step down. In 2019, Justin hit me up and asked if I wanted to rejoin, and my then-wife encouraged me to get back into it because I missed it. I rejoined a practically new band, learned the songs they had, brought in a temporary bassist, Forrest, and played a few shows before COVID-19 shut everything down.

Forrest ended up leaving amicably, so I brought our old bassist, Ryan, back in. Then Kurt, a guitarist who joined after I left, ended up bowing out and we found our newest guitarist, Jordan. At this point, we finally had a really solid lineup. Jesse, who was there when I rejoined, and Jordan matched well on guitars. 

We started writing new music and had a couple of awesome shows. We released our first single as the current line-up and were getting ready for the Blast Beats and Brews Fest of 2022… and then Justin fractured both of his wrists in a skateboarding accident. After that, we took about a year and a half off to let him heal before getting back into it, with our first show back in February 2023. 

SB: What’s it been like to be back up on stage? Feel a bit rusty or fit like a glove?

LS: My first show back with Awaken the Ancient was in January 2019 at 529. I had been practicing non-stop and it was just like hopping back on a bike. I was extremely nervous, obviously, because it had been 3 years since my last show. But it felt amazing and we had a ton of fun. I did feel some rust with my actual stage performance but after one show it came right off.

SB: The latest single, Chattel of Tyrants, announced you guys are back in a big way. What drove that song’s creation?

LS: Our guitarist, Jesse, is a huge tech and black metal fan and blends the two really well. My inspiration behind the lyrics is the current state of affairs with our nation. Distrust with the government, people just blindly following their preferred party without question… I guess I’m just becoming demoralized by the whole thing. 

SB: Please tell me there’s an album behind it soon. Any release date yet?

LS: We actually have one other song completed and three others written that I need to finish lyrics for. We’re hoping to get into the studio by the end of the year. 

SB: Any details you can share about where it was recorded/mastered? How does it differ from Awaken the Ancient’s previous material?

LS: We’re recording with our old friend Chris Tate at Conquer Recordings. Our style is still techy but with more blackened death metal and groove. I feel like we’re more refined and mature than before. 

SB: You put a lot of wear and tear (or at least manipulation) on your voice. Do you have a routine when it comes to caring for your vocal cords? Let’s hear it.

LS: The key to not wrecking your voice in death metal is warming up, singing from the diaphragm, learning the proper false chord techniques, and not pushing too hard—which I will admit is hard to do when you’re in the moment on stage. Before I play, I make sure to at least warm up for an hour and not drink any really cold, carbonated, caffeinated, or alcoholic drinks. All of those can restrict muscle movement and dry your chords out. The best thing I have found is room temp water with some honey and lemon which helps keep everything lubricated. And it’s trite but true: practice, practice, practice!

SB: What/who would you say are your biggest influences when it comes to Awaken the Ancient? Who helped conjure that sound and inspired you to grab a mic? 

LS: My first vocal influence was Max Cavalera from Sepultura. When my brother first showed me them as a kid I said, “I want to sound like that.” But who really helped me shape my vocals in death metal and clean singing was Mikael Akerfeldt from Opeth. My mother had stopped me when I was learning to scream/growl and said, “Let me teach you how to sing properly first before you wreck your voice.” Mikael’s blend of cleans and screams really pushed me to refine both. 

But there’s been a ton of different influences over the years for gutturals, the modulated tunnel lows, and high screams. It’s neverending, really, and hard to just pinpoint a few as I am always trying to get better and evolve my voice. 

As far as my love for tech and creating a tech death band, Adrien, our old guitarist got me into that style when he showed me Psycroptic, Spawn of Possession, and Decrepit Birth. After that, I kind of found one of my favorite genres.

SB: What are some other bands/genres that you’re into right now that may not have anything to do with Awaken the Ancient?

LS: This is a hard one because I absolutely love indie folk like Gregory Alan Isakov, The Paper Kites, Novo Amor, Phoebe Bridgers, Ed Tullett, Copeland, Elliot Moss…the list could go on forever. A well-rounded taste in all different kinds of music really helps make a better musician.  

SB: Any other projects that you’re working on/have worked on that you want folks to know about?

LS: My only other project is a comedy slam death band called Effigy of Flesh. We had one song on Spotify, “Scummy Twoshoes.” We had other songs in the works, but I took a hiatus from that for some personal reasons. It’s just me and guitarist Josh Kurl from Violence System. We’ll be getting back into that soon I hope.  

SB: You’ve been around for a minute – over 10 years! When it comes to Atlanta, what’s one thing most people don’t know about its music scene(s)?

LS: That it is absolutely fucking awesome! Atlanta is a fantastic place for local music because we have so many different bands and fun venues to go to. You can see a show practically every weekend if you want, from so many different genres.

SB: What about metal or heavy music in general?

LS: I think most people assume those of us that love this style of music are a bunch of mean, evil, Satanic assholes. The vast majority of us are just gentle nerds that love and support one another. We’re just a giant family. Metal is our healthy outlet for our frustrations, pains, and stresses of everyday life. We have families, normal jobs (for the most part) and we’re lovers of animals- especially cats. The amount of cat dads in the metal scene is hilarious. 

SB: What Atlanta bands have you the most excited right now? What should we all be listening to?

LS: There’s so many! I’d say the ones pumping out the most right now are Manhack and Left to Suffer, but there’s so many cool bands. Subdivisions will ALWAYS be a favorite of mine, Violence System, God Tongue, and Control the Devastator are all releasing new, great music. 

SB: Any advice for younger bands looking to make their mark in the city or get involved?

LS: The biggest thing I can say is to get content out there on the internet. We’re a society that craves content. Also, go to shows, make friends, and push your band. Then play shows at as many different venues with as many different bands as you can. 

SB: Provided you had a way to play it, what’s the one album you’d bring with you to a desert island? Why?

LS: Blackwater Park because, even 22 years later, it is still one of the most complex and beautiful albums with practically everything one craves in music. I will never get tired of listening to that album.

See Awaken The Ancient live at Bogg’s Social & Supply on July 14 with Manhack, Degradations, Omenkiller, and Dead Friends. Tickets are available here.