By Kyle Anderson
August 15, 2014 at 07:33 PM EDT
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Next week sees the release of Foundations of Burden, the second album by Arkansas-bred doom metal band Pallbearer. Their first album, 2012’s Sorrow and Extinction, was a critically-beloved collection of heavy tunes that not only announced the arrival of a great act but also cemented Pallbearer’s label, Profound Lore Records, as the best source of new material for headbangers everywhere.

The 10-year-old label, based out of Kitchener, Ontario, has put out a staggeringly excellent series of releases by some of the best groups currently working in the extremely fertile metal underground. Just this year, Profound Lore has released stellar collections from Lord Mantis, the Atlas Moth, Alraune, Dead Congregation, and the Must List-approved Agalloch. Pallbearer comes out next week, with a new album by Witch Mountain not far behind. These bands dig deep into metal subgenres, conjuring up remarkable darkness via black metal, death metal, prog, hardcore, folk, and whatever else is available to get the turned-to-11 point across.

For such a revolutionary label, it’s alarmingly small: Profound Lore is a one man operation. Though he had a handful of partners at the beginning, 36-year-old Chris Bruni is the beginning and end of the label’s staff. “It started off just doing limited vinyl releases—real hobby, niche stuff,” Bruni explains. He was just wrapping up grad school and had a difficult time finding a job, and the label was more of a way of not losing his mind than any sort of business venture. “It was a big struggle to keep it going,” says Bruni. “The goal was to find a job in my field, and I knew what I wanted to do. I just wanted to do the label as a part-time hobby. About five years ago, it officially became a full time thing. I had a day job that I quit. I was really miserable—being at a morgue was more exciting. So I wanted to see if I could pull it off for a year just doing the label full time.”

The turning point came with the release of Oregon sludge metal act YOB’s The Great Cessation in 2009. “That release was a big turning point,” explains Bruni. “That was kind of their comeback album. If I were to pick a mentor in this scene, I would consider Mike Scheidt from YOB a mentor. He approached me to do their comeback album, and I was floored that he even considered me to release it. That album in particular was a big turning point in helping take the label to the next step and planting the groundwork for what it has become. It was selling well and provided me with a bit of backup to help take the label to the next level and do this full time.”

Since then, Profound Lore’s growth has been as slow and steady as a doom riff, and the organic nature of that particularly pleases Bruni. “The big leaps come naturally,” he says. “There isn’t any kind of plan. I just put out whatever releases make their way into the schedule and see what happens from there. It’s interesting to see how things unfold. I just go with it. There’s no grand plan to make something. I don’t think in those terms. It’s a dedicated underground community built on word of mouth. Nothing has been forced. It’s been a natural growth through releasing a quality product from quality bands and artists. “

Bruni says he generally finds new acts via referrals from friends or other bands—Pallbearer, for example, came from a tip from some pals in a Nashville metal band called Loss. “I put out their album a few years ago called Despond, and while they were working on that album, the singer was working on a track he wrote and was telling me he was bringing in a guest vocalist on the track. He said it was this guy Bret Campbell from this band called Pallbearer. Nobody had heard them at the time. They didn’t even have a demo. I heard Bret’s voice and it totally blew me away. So Bret’s guest appearance on the Loss song led to me getting in touch with them and putting out Sorrow and Extinction. A band like Pallbearer is everything I want and look for in a metal album.”

Bruni grew up on a steady diet of Rush, Metallica, and early ’90s death metal, though he also credits some significantly less loud acts with helping to inform his musical worldview. “I also loved New Order and the Cure. They’re like my favorite bands,” he says. “Stuff like that has also played a vital part in my musical tastes and the label. They’re not metal, but bands like New Order and the Cure are very essential to my musical upbringing. I had a running joke many years ago that if a band wanted to be on the label, they had to be influenced by the Cure.” Still, his main goal is to challenge listeners. “I’ve always been into metal that pushes the limits of the listeners boundaries,” he says. “I like metal that’s extreme in a way that pushes my listening threshold to another level. I was never into the good time, pizza party kind of metal. I like stuff that’s really challenging, and that’s what I like releasing. I like taking the listener to an uncomfortable place. Maybe it’ll punish them, maybe they’ll feel uneasy, but maybe that will help enlighten them and empower them too. If it polarizes them, that’s good.”

Though he has devoted his life and career to extreme forms of heavy metal and the underground is as fruitful as it has ever been, Bruni’s life isn’t 100 percent guitars and growls. “I don’t listen to metal much these days with the exception of the stuff I’m working on,” he confesses. “If you were in the car with me, you’d hear James Blake, Drake, and Lana Del Rey.” Like headbangers looking for the cream of the juggernaut crop, Bruni sticks with Profound Lore.

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