Six Dumb Questions with Holy Grove

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on September 13th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

holy-grove-photo-by-Foto-Phortress

This coming weekend, Sept. 16, Portland, Oregon’s Holy Grove are set to appear at Epicenter Music Fest in San Francisco, California. In that endeavor, the soulful riff rollers join the considerable ranks of High on Fire, Big Business, Mos Generator and others (full lineup here), and after appearances at Psycho Las Vegas in 2016, making their debut run through Europe alongside Boston’s Gozu, and offering one of last year’s finest debuts in their Heavy Psych Sounds-released and Billy Anderson-helmed self-titled (review here), it would seem to be the finishing stamp on the cycle for their first outing as they get ready to move on toward the writing and recording of the second.

Anyone who’s heard cuts like “Nix” and “Holy Grove” doesn’t need me to say that’s good news. Topped off as it was by some of the most striking cover art Adam Burke has ever produced (which is saying something), Holy Grove‘s Holy Grove offered modern tones and classic groove in kind, vocalist Andrea Vidal establishing a commanding presence amid the righteous lead work of guitarist Trent Jacobs and the full low end push from bassist Gregg Emley. They’ve worked with a succession of drummers already since founder Craig Bradford recorded with them, and they just recently welcomed Eben Travis to the fold as at least the fourth in that line, hopefully settling the issue once and for all.

As we move into Fall and begin to look ahead toward some of 2018’s most anticipated releases, it’s only fair to include an impending sophomore outing from Holy Grove on that list. The level of bluesy stylistic cohesion and songwriting they brought to the driving, swinging “Huntress” and to the nodding, semi-metallic expanses of “Hanged Man” would demand no less. Just how will the four-piece, now including Travis as a (fingers crossed) permanent member, begin to move forward and expand their sound in the New Year? And will they hit the road again with the same fury they did behind the self-titled? Sounds to me like it’s time to check in with Vidal for a full update.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

epicenter-music-festival

Six Dumb Questions with Andrea Vidal of Holy Grove

We’re about 18 months out from the self-titled release at this point. Looking back on your first album, how do you feel about how the songs came out? What is your favorite thing about it and what is your favorite memory of the recording process?

I think overall, we’re pretty satisfied with how the songs are represented on the record. We knew going into the recording process that we wanted to create studio versions of the songs, and have the live versions be their own thing. To that end, I think we were successful. It served the purpose of introducing people outside of Portland to the songs. My favorite memory of the recording process was the day we finished mixing at Everything Hz (Billy‘s studio). We literally finished up mixing the last song, and then listened to the whole thing from beginning to end. It was definitely one of “those moments.”

What’s the status of new material? Do you have a recording plan yet and a ballpark release date? How have the new songs started to come together?

New material is progressing nicely. Even while we were down a drummer, the three of us continued to show up to practice to work on new material with the intent to have songs basically finished and ready to start working on as soon as we found a drummer. We played two new ones at our first show back which felt great. We have a few more nearing completion and a large backlog of riffs and ideas that we’ll start pouring over in the next few months to get a new record written and recorded by early next year.

Is there anything in particular you want the new songs to build on from the self-titled? Anything you want to change in the band’s sound or a new way to challenge yourself or the band as a whole? Something new you just want to try out in the studio, maybe?

I think the idea for the new batch of songs is to push ourselves to take the tunes to the next logical level. I wouldn’t say there is anything we want to change or reinvent particularly, but we do want to amplify everything that we did on the first record. More swing, more groove, more power, more riffs!

Tell me about bringing Eben Travis into the band. What was it about him that let you know he was right to take on the drummer position? What were you looking for in someone new?

We basically knew as soon as Eben started playing that he was “the one.” We really wanted someone who understood the feel of the tunes without us having to explain it, someone who hit the drums fucking hard, and was someone who we could welcome in to the band on a personal friendship type level… someone we could also be pals with, basically. Thankfully Eben was that guy. Dude is the total package.

You toured in the US and in Europe for the self-titled. How do you feel about the way the band has been received on the whole, in terms of the record and live? Can you sense a difference at shows between now and before the album came out?

We’re all pretty flattered and humbled by the response to the band and record. I think after we played Psycho Las Vegas in 2016 and got a positive response that we realized we had a chance to make a mark outside of Portland. Having the record out means that when we play people are familiar with the tunes a bit more, and Psycho was the first time I looked out and saw people in the crowd singing along, which was really a special moment for me personally.

You’ve got Epicenter fest Sept. 16. Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

First and foremost, we can’t thank everybody enough for the support. It truly means the world to us. After we get back from Epicenter, we have a few local shows with The Obsessed, then the plan is to finish up writing the new record, get it recorded and hit the road. We’re in the early planning stages of getting a European tour planned for 2018, which is something we are all really looking forward to. More shows, more music!

Holy Grove, Holy Grove (2016)

Holy Grove on Thee Facebooks

Holy Grove on Bandcamp

Holy Grove at Heavy Psych Sounds

Heavy Psych Sounds on Thee Facebooks

Epicenter Music Festival 2017 event page

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Six Dumb Questions with Earthride

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on September 11th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

earthride

This week marks the arrival of the first new Earthride release in more than half a decade. The new single, Witch Gun, arrives via Salt of the Earth Records as the follow-up to their third full-length, 2010’s Something Wicked (review here), which brought an expanded melodic palette from what the Frederick, Maryland, doom scene kingpins brought to their earlier work on 2005’s Vampire Circus, 2002’s Taming of the Demons and their initial 2000 self-titled EP, songs like “Destruction Song,” “Watch the Children Play” and the opening title-track itself showing considerable growth on the part of the band, who remain in no small part defined by the unmistakable character and presence of their frontman, Dave Sherman.

Earthride returns in 2017 following a stint on Sherman‘s part first in the reformed trio Spirit Caravan and bozzoven earthride tourthen in The Obsessed that ended following the recording of that band’s 2017 comeback LP, Sacred (review here), but in addition to fronting Weed is Weed, working on the new project Siren of Sorrows, and a history in and impact on Chesapeake doom that rivals the likes of Pentagram‘s own Bobby LieblingSherman is no less defined by his work in Earthride than Earthride is defined by him. The thick grooves he rides so fluidly on vocals on cuts like “Earthride” from the self-titled or “Fighting the Devils Inside of You.” The track “Witch Gun” is no less a part of this pantheon of Earthride landmarks, and perhaps all the more so for the future productivity it might be kicking off.

With the prospect of making a new album for release in 2018 ahead of them, Earthride will hit the road in October alongside unhinged sludge purveyors Buzzov*en. It’s more than a solid match. Both acts are legends in their field and have grit to spare and a reputation for chaos. As Earthride take to stages for the first time with the lineup of Sherman, founding drummer Eric Little (who also was in the lineup for Church of Misery‘s latest LP), guitarist Greg Ball and bassist Edmund Allen Brown, they’ll no doubt be exposing a new generation of listeners to their hugely lumbering grooves and riffs that for the last 17-plus years have more than lived up to their stated ethic of “Pure Maryland Doom for the Brotherhood of Music.” All the better to give their audience a glimpse of what next year might hold in a new release, further touring, and a more fully reborn Earthride.

Sherman was kind enough to discuss all this and more. Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

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Six Dumb Questions with Dave Sherman of Earthride

Tell me about stepping back into Earthride after being with Spirit Caravan and The Obsessed. How much does Earthride feel like coming home for you? You’ve been doing Weed is Weed all along, but how different is it for you fronting Earthride?

It feels very refreshing especially after I was treated unfairly in The Obsessed. I’ve known Eric Little since we were in high school together. We were in one of our first bands as well — Judgement Hammer — 1986-ish, which was Eric Little drums, Dave Sherman bass, Kelly Carmichael guitar and Billy Rines voice. We played two Pentagram songs the song “Black Sabbath” and three or four originals that later mutated into Internal Void riffs. I love Weed is Weed, which we came out with an EP available digitally [through our] Facebook. Check that out, but fronting the mighty Earthride, getting back at the helm feels real good again.

How did the new lineup for Earthride come together? Who’s in the band now and how have the shows and rehearsals been? Of course you’re working with Kyle Van Steinburg and Eric Little again, but how much has Earthride changed over time for you? How do you feel about how the band has grown?

I was drinking local pub Guido’s in Frederick, Maryland, and I ran into an old friend Edmund Allen Brown. We started talking music and he’s one of the best bass players I’ve ever met and a real go-getter, so I thought what a perfect bass player for Earthride. Greg Ball was in a band Hovel and was willing to try out as the second guitar player and Kyle is gonna be on the 45 new single Witch Gun, out on Salt of the Earth USA and Totem Cat out of France and distribution for Europe, but the new band sounds killer and it feels good to hear the songs again.

You played Maryland Doom Fest in June. How was that experience? Maryland Doom has grown so much since Earthride got going, and of course your history goes back much further than that. How do you feel about where the scene is now and where do you think it’s heading? Does “pure Maryland doom” still mean the same thing for you?

Maryland Doom Fest was so good. Everybody was so into it and so happy to see Earthride again, smiling, cheering, headbanging. It was a pleasant surprise I think because the band’s old and has had a bit of longevity in the scene and we just never got out there as much as we should have. Now that we have the new band and lineup we are fired up about getting out a new album and tour. We are going out with Buzzov*en in October for 10 shows, East Coast, Midwest. Just from the MD Doom Fest standpoint, I think the scene is growing around the world and has grown beyond belief from what it was back in the day, and I want to Thank JB Matson and Mark Cruikshank for having this amazing festival. Cheers.

It’s been seven years since Something Wicked came out and 15 since Taming of the Demons. What can fans expect from the next Earthride album? Where are you in the process of putting it together? Do you know yet who’s doing the recording/producing or has that started? Will the songs from the new single also be on the record?

I have a ton of ideas and so does the rest of the band. We recorded the Witch Gun single at Omega Studio in Rockville, Maryland, so that is probably where we will record the new record at. Out next year. Hopefully working on the material now.

You’re doing the Descendants of Crom fest in Pittsburgh in September, but will Earthride tour for the new album? Any chance you could be headed to the West Coast or Europe in 2018, or is it a wait-and-see kind of deal for when the album comes out?

Yeah, we’re excited about everything we’re about to do and about what we’re trying to conquer which is people’s ears and trying to destroy their subconscious with heavy music. We’re doing the tour with Buzzov*en like I said on the East Coast and Midwest, which is gonna be a blast since they’re old friends of mine, but in 2018 we plan to do some more touring, try to get this new record out there. I would like to get back to Europe with the band and possibly do Roadburn or tour some festivals.

Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

I appreciate the interview and I would like everybody to be looking for us: Earthride, Weed is Weed and a very new project called Siren of Sorrows which has Starr Piazza on voice from the band Serpent Witch. Thanks and peace.

Earthride, Live at Maryland Doom Fest 2017

Earthride on Thee Facebooks

Salt of the Earth Records website

Salt of the Earth Records on Thee Facebooks

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Six Dumb Questions with Hair of the Dog

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on September 6th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

hair of the dog

Across a skillfully constructed six-track course, Edinburgh trio Hair of the Dog smoothly brought together influences modern and classic on their third album, This World Turns. Released through Kozmik Artifactz this past July, it’s an unpretentious 41-minute rocker that comes out swinging with the semi-garage riff of its nine-minute opening, longest and title-track (immediate points), opening to a rolling groove that’s just the first of many by the time the record is done — its emphasis on sonic clarity as much as organic chemistry, songwriting as much as execution.

And if the world is turning — spoiler alert: it is — so too is the craftsmanship of Hair of the Dog, who fluidly transition between the parts and pieces of the follow-up to 2016’s The Siren’s Song and play between classic guitar-led impulses, the near-metallic shuffle of cuts like “Ctrl-Alt-Delete” — where Scorpions and Iron Maiden come together at last — and the key-laced-but-still-post-Thin Lizzy low-end groove of “In Death’s Hands,” unfolding a deceptive breadth of approach that ties together easily via clean production value courtesy of an ongoing collaboration with engineer and obviously benefits from the band’s work since making their self-titled debut in 2014. An ongoing collaboration with producer/engineer Graeme Young of Chamber Studios is only bolstered by the mixing work of James Atkinson of Gentlemans Pistols, and as they make their way toward the classy, smoothly realized crescendo of closer “4AM,” the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Adam Holt, bassist Iain Thomson and drummer Jon Holt continue to easily draw a line between rocker soul and heavier push, resulting in a style that’s timeless in its refusal to belong to any single era or another.

With a performance slated for next month at the potentially-lethal-sounding-or-at-very-least-liver-taxing Riffs and Rum 5 in Manchester, England, a live album upcoming, and work already started on a fourth long-player to answer the growth on display throughout This World Turns, Adam took some time out to discus Hair of the Dog‘s mission on the record, the progression across their three outings to-date and the writing and recording processes from which This World Turns‘s righteous, heavy-rock-for-heavy-rockers moments in songs like “Keeping Watch over the Night” and “The Colours in Her Skin” resulted.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

hair-of-the-dog-this-world-turns

Six Dumb Questions with Hair of the Dog

You’ve said that these songs are more personal for you than The Siren’s Song or the self-titled. What kind of experiences are you expressing on This World Turns, and now that the album has been released and you have a little distance from it, how do you feel about that expression? What is This World Turns ultimately saying about Hair of the Dog as a band and as people?

I wouldn’t say they are more or less personal than our other songs. All of our songs stem from our life experiences, from a real place — but with This World Turns, the subject matter is definitely more mature in nature. This is just a reflection of where we are in our lives as three men. Jon is married and has two young children. Iain is now married and has a cottage out in the countryside. And I am soon to be married this October. These things — especially bringing new life into the world — force you stop and view your life in a new light, as well as the world around you, which I’m sure we can all agree, is a fucked up mess right now!

Before I had the lyrics and title for This World Turns, I had the idea for the cover. The reaper staring out over the sea towards earth. I liked that image, to me there is as sort of comfort in that image which reflected the ideas I had floating about for the lyrics. I’m the reaper looking at the world, you the listener are the reaper looking at the world – is this how you want your life to be? Is this how you want your world to be like? You never know when that scythe will swing, so would you be happy with what you have if it did, right now? And I think that’s ultimately what This World Turns is about. It’s a record about reflection.

This World Turns — tomorrow is a new day, don’t take your life for granted, life can change – but the world will always continue to turn regardless.

Tell me about opening with the title-track. When did you know that was the one you wanted to leadoff the record, and was that before or after you had named the album? How did that song come together?

“This World Turns” was the first song we wrote for this album. I think we started jamming the various riffs for it very soon after The Siren’s Song was sent off to Kozmik. We even premiered it and “Ctrl-Alt-Delete” at Roadburn Festival in April 2016, so that gives you an idea as to how far along we were with the record even by then!

Like most bands, we have our own “pet names” for our songs so we can identify them – “This World Turns” was naturally called, “The Big One” and remained that way right up until the week before we recorded it, when I wrote the lyrics. I am pretty shit when it comes to writing my lyrics, often leaving them to the very last moment – I like to worry the other two, keep them on their toes! But sometimes it just takes longer for me to hear and feel what the lyrics should say.

The music itself was very natural, I think we wrote it over the space of a few jams – each riff just seemed to naturally lead to the next. It is such a fun song to play from a musician’s point of view. It definitely set the bar for how we wanted the rest of the record to sound, which is why I felt it should be the song to kick the whole album off, set the tone sort of thing – it just had that feel to it, and we always go with what feels right to us.

Talk about your experience in the studio making This World Turns. How long were you recording? What was it like working with Graeme Young again to get the songs down and then bringing in James Atkinson from Gentlemans Pistols to handle mixing? Was that the result of something specific you wanted to do differently coming off of The Siren’s Song?

We recorded the music for This World Turns in four days, then I took a two-week break to write the lyrics – an approach I haven’t used before. This was partly because I didn’t have any solid lyrics by the time we started recording, but also because I wanted to really take time to let the songs settle with me and see if that brought something new to my writing – which it did.

I always write my lyrics in my local pub. I sit with my headphones in, with the songs on repeat and basically wait until one or two words, perhaps even a phrase, comes to me. Once I get that starting point, I just go with them and the rest of the song follows. For example, with the song “This World Turns,” I kept hearing this phrase “keeps you safe inside its lies,” I’d sing it over and over all day. It’s hard to describe, there’s a definite click moment with my lyrics, when everything just comes together and flows.

Working with Graeme is awesome. I’ve known G as a friend for many years and worked with him on various bands. We call G the secret fourth member of HOTD because, as well as working with us on all of our records, he is the man that plays any keys or synth on the records. He is an extremely skilled recording engineer and as a musician himself, has a great ear for music. He pushes us really hard and always gets the best performance from us. Not to mention he also puts up with a lot of shit from us — mostly me — during the recordings too. We like to drink in the studio and this can often lead to the recordings taking back seat to our antics.

As for James, that was really just to bring something fresh into the fold, try something new. I had got chatting to James after we both played Roadburn 2016, and I asked him if he’d like to mix the album. I’m a big Gentlemans Pistols fan, and really love his work on their albums, so I knew he’d bring some magic to our record – and he didn’t disappoint.

One of the aspects I find most striking about This World Turns is the classic feel of the riffs and the construction of the songs still has a deeply modern sound. Three albums in, do you feel like you know what you want to get out of a recording experience with Hair of the Dog? What were your goals for the sound of This World Turns?

That’ the HOTD sound… We take pride in that, so when people pick up on that it’s rewarding. We love those bands, Zeppelin, Sabbath, Cream, Deep Purple, Hendrix. Our parents and teachers introduced us to these bands — one of the first songs I ever learned on a guitar was “Hey Joe.” But we also grew up on a diet of Pantera, Rage Against the Machine, C.O.C., Down, Metallica. The list goes on.

When we started, over 15 years ago, we just jammed songs by all of these great bands we liked – extending riffs, adding in parts, making songs heavier — and from these jams, we eventually started to write our own songs. We never sat down and decided we’d sound like this or that… we just developed this sound over many years jamming together. We just wish the audience was there for us when we started, because back in 2001 nobody wanted to hear our music!

In terms of recording, we love it, it’s like a holiday for us – time to hang, have some beers, do what we love and annoy Graeme as much as we can. We didn’t have any goals as such for This World Turns, as I have mentioned, we record live for the most part and we always enter the studio with the songs polished – so it’s just about having a good time, enjoying it, letting the creativity flow and make something we are proud of.

We like the spontaneity and experimentation that only manifests in the studio. Sometimes the best parts of our records come from stupid jokes and conversations we have after a few beers: “This song needs an orchestra; The Beatles had an orchestra, why can’t we?” Next thing you know, we’re dialing up some string sounds and adding them in. The studio is a musician’s toy box. Once you have those songs recorded, you start to hear all the melodies and counter-melodies hidden within the song that you couldn’t hear in the practice room – it’s a magical time.

How do you feel about what you’ve accomplished across your three records to-date, and is there anything in particular you’ll look to change next time?

We are incredibly proud of the three records we have put out so far, and we are extremely humbled by the positive response each record has received around the globe. With each album we grow as a band, as does our fan base. We love to play our music and doing so with that support and encouragement from our fans is a dream come true.

Next time? Well here’s an exclusive for you, we already have around three songs for our fourth album. We are going a bit heavier on this one. It will still have that HOTD sound to it, but we are experimenting with darker, heavier riffs.

You’re playing Riffs and Rum 5 in Manchester in Oct. with Pist, 1968 and others. Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

Yeah we are looking forward to that show, we haven’t played England that much, which is shameful considering it’s right on our doorstep. But we will certainly put on a killer show, that’s for sure – free rum all night and three Scotsmen?! What could go wrong!

Plans, plans, plans… we have quite a lot coming up actually…

Our track “My Only Home” which had to be dropped from the vinyl version of The Siren’s Song is being featured on an up-and-coming double-vinyl project between several prominent independent labels – think that’s all I can say about that at the moment.

We are putting out live album in between This World Turns and our next studio album. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing it and it rocks, definitely one for the HOTD super fans! More on that to come soon.

And finally, the wheels are in motion to get the Dog back over to Europe in 2018. We hope to play a few of the summer festivals and dot a few headline shows around those.

Hair of the Dog, This World Turns (2017)

Hair of the Dog on Bandcamp

Hair of the Dog on Thee Facebooks

Hair of the Dog on Instagram

Kozmik Artifactz website

Kozmik Artifactz on Thee Facebooks

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Six Dumb Questions with Destroyer of Light

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on August 30th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

destroyer of light

Name your band Destroyer of Light and you’re setting up some pretty serious expectations on the part of your audience. The Austin-based outfit — veterans of Psycho CaliforniaFreak TulsaElectric Funeral in Denver and others — have never tackled those expectations as head-on as they do with the newly-released Chamber of Horrors, their third album. Songs like “Into the Smoke” and “Luxcrusher” bring a refocused approach on grim, rolling doom even from what the band presented on 2014’s Bizarre Tales Vol. 2, and the chugging, driving, lumbering pummel suits them remarkably well, coming as it does complemented by a persistently bleak atmosphere summarized in the title. More than they ever have before, Destroyer of Light are putting their listeners in a specific place. And it’s pretty damn horrific in there.

Brought to the blinding light of day by guitarist/vocalist Steve Colca, guitarist Keegan Kjeldsen, drummer Penny Turner and bassist Jeff Klein (who seems to since be out of the band), Chamber of Horrors may be playing more toward the heft Destroyer of Light are known for in their live performances, but that doesn’t mean it’s all raw or wanting for a sense of purpose in its vibe as a studio album. Rather, the murk conjured by songs like “Prisoner of Smoke” and “The Virgin” and the ambient threat that lingers from the moment the chamber door opens at the start of intro “Whispers in the Threshold” till the moment it closes at the end of 10-minute finale “Buried Alive” resound with doomed directionality, the finisher especially punishing in its tempo and uncompromising in its trades between creeping, The Gates of Slumber-esque verses and Electric Wizardly swirl in its marching hook.

The whole record carries the stink of death, and Destroyer of Light have never sounded so alive as they do reveling in it.

As Destroyer of Light set themselves to the task of a 2018 that will be spent largely supporting Chamber of Horrors as well as a follow-up two-song EP that’s set to arrive in the coming months via the band-affiliated Heavy Friends Records — see also: Heavy Friends Booking, which handles their touring end — as well as perhaps finding a new bassist if they haven’t yet, I wanted to talk to them about how their experience on the road already has affected their sound this time in the studio, how they developed the ideas that became Chamber of Horrors and how they see themselves continuing to grow as they move forward from here. Fortunately, both Kjeldsen and Colca were willing to discuss these subjects and more, and you’ll find the results below.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

destroyer-of-light-chamber-of-horrors

Six Dumb Questions with Keegan Kjeldsen and Steve Colca of Destroyer of Light

Talk about writing Chamber of Horrors. The album is a pretty significant change for the band in terms of sound. How did that come about? Was there something you wanted to consciously shift in your approach, or did it just happen in the writing process?

Keegan Kjeldsen: We knew before we started writing it that we wanted to make a very heavy record, which may sound like a cliché. But the previous material was sludgier and usually more up-tempo, and we experimented a lot. For the self-titled release, we’d had some pretensions of getting a ‘vintage, lo-fi’ sound. That kind of sound wasn’t really right for us, though, and our goal shifted to creating a record with the kind of powerful, crushing experience that audiences were getting live. We heard a lot over the years, “The album is cool and all, but you guys are so much heavier live!” We took it as a compliment, but it taught us that the shows were selling the recordings, the recordings weren’t really selling the shows. So we wanted to push it to the limit in terms of both quality and volume. Thankfully, our engineer Matt Meli outdid himself this time. We also included elements of our live shows: lengthy feedback, melodic interludes, sample clips from old horror movies. But from the start, our core has always been doom metal, so the natural thing for our goal of making a heavier record was to focus on that.

Steve Colca: Like Keegan said, we did go in wanting this record to be more heavy sonically and closer to what we sound like live. However, when we wrote the music for this album, we didn’t have the intention of how the songs would take shape. Obviously, it still sounds like us at the core, but our songwriting keeps improving and our palettes progress over time to add different touches to our sound that maybe we didn’t show previously. As you grow as musicians and songwriters, it definitely helps with your confidence and allows the ability to try new, different things.

You’ve done significant touring the last several years. Do you feel like that was a factor in how this record took shape? If so, how?

KK: Touring will whip you into shape. You’re effectively practicing the same set every single night for a month. After playing some of our material live so frequently and consistently, we’d find that a year after we recorded something, it was sounding very different on stage. Sometimes it was just little nuances or flourishes that one of us didn’t come up with until months of playing the song live. But sometimes the whole tempo would change, or parts would be extended or added. We were determined to let the songs for Chamber of Horrors breathe. After we recorded them for a pre-production demo, we played the whole album from start to finish on a six-day tour through Texas. By the time we were recording the album proper, we felt like the songs had developed enough that we could call them finished.

SC: Yeah, I believe doing a six-day run just playing the album front-to-back live really gave these songs the energy and final touches that they needed. We always found previously that after playing the songs live that we would change things here and there. To add, extensive touring also improved our playing as musicians and we become more confident in our abilities as songwriters. For me, vocally, all the touring and learning to deal with my vocals helped a lot on this record.

Is there a concept at work behind the album? What’s the story being told in these songs?

KK: It’s a loose concept album. Most of the storytelling and symbolism can work on multiple levels, so it’s up to the audience as to what you want to take from it. The album begins with the opening of a large, heavy door, and ends with it slamming shut. There are also whispering voices in both the first and last song. We were playing with the idea of the line between dream and reality being blurred. I was thinking a lot about Carl Jung at the time, and how there really isn’t much difference in what we mean by the word ‘hell,’ and a psychological hell that a person creates for himself. People make themselves suffer because of the things they pursue, and sometimes the private torment they undergo is more real than anything else in their lives.

So, the song “Into the Smoke” – on one level it’s about a protagonist who goes down into a cave, searching for something valuable, but is possessed by a monster made of psychedelic smoke that permeates him and enslaves him, sending him on a bad trip that lasts forever. On another level, it could be a song about drug addiction. But more archetypally, it’s a song about the feeling of being powerless, driven by forces beyond your control into a mental underworld. It’s opening the door to the unconscious part of the psyche and getting consumed by the shadow. The Twilight Zone was also a huge influence on both Steve and myself in writing these horror stories, or alternatively, private hells within the chamber of horrors, since a lot of Rod Serling’s stories deal with a character trait, usually a flaw, that becomes a real, physical phenomenon in the character’s life.

SC: I was also thinking along the lines of In the Mouth of Madness. As every song has its own individual theme and story, they all tie into the question, is it a dream or reality? There is a lot of ugliness in the world, and sometimes you don’t want to believe it and want to stay naive to the whole possibility. However, you read the news and papers, and some of these stories really happen.

You seem to be trying a lot of new things vocally in particular here. Tell me about changing your voice to fit a certain part in a given song. What makes you feel like “Luxcrusher” needs a different approach than “The Virgin?”

KK: In the case of “Luxcrusher,” I wrote that song, and really wanted to sing a significant part of the lyrics because of how personal they were. I’ve usually had one or two vocal parts on each recording, but I think that’s something I’m going to move away from. I feel like I’m at the point where I’m getting worse, whereas Steve gets better on every record. The lyrics are actually about being in a doom band and touring – when I’m talking about “midnight worship at the shrine” and my body being throttled every night, being ravaged by sound. But the lyrics also take a nihilistic turn because that’s how I was feeling at the time.

The placement of that song on the album was something that unconsciously worked really well with the concept, because the lyrics ended up recounting the subject matter of the first half of the record – talking about human sacrifice, or about being pulled into a haze. It was unintentional, but I think of it now as if “Luxcrusher” is the voice of the devil that was summoned in “The Virgin.” As far as the different approaches in general, I think the narrative structure of the songs sometimes lends itself to different voices in a variety of styles, as if they’re different characters or personas. Suzy does this on “The Virgin.” It was a Fleetwood Mac kind of attitude – we had three vocalists on this record, lending different styles where it was appropriate.

SC: Back to extensive touring throughout the years, I have become more comfortable and confident in my vocal ability. Which has allowed me to try and do different things. Vocal melodies have always been very important to us. Also, from the start of this band, we wanted to incorporate screaming and growling as I used to be in a death metal band and a heavier sludge band before this. Whatever vocal style the song requires, we want to be able to do it. No need to be tied down to one particular sound or style. That’s the beauty of writing music, no limitations… unless it is completely out of your capability.

I know it’s early, but where do you see Destroyer of Light going from here sound-wise?

KK: More melody, and even heavier. It’s not as early to talk about it as you might think. We have an EP that we plan on releasing soon, I can’t say anything about when exactly, but it’s already recorded. It’s two songs that are tuned even lower, with a more pounding, guttural tone. We did one of the slowest songs we’ve ever done. All the space you get when you play a really slow, plodding song allows you to fill the void with harmony, melody. I’ve been listening to a lot of drone music, maybe you could even call it post-doom, stuff like later-era Earth, OM, Grails. Steve’s love for Alice in Chains came out, also. I think the next full-length will head even further in that direction. Me and Steve have also been jamming some of our favorite stuff from the ‘80s recently, like The Cure, Tears for Fears.

SC: We’ve already started writing of a few songs for the follow-up. It is a continuation of where the last album left off. Like Keegan said, the music will be heavy, but probably more of a focus on melody. Like I said, no limitations. We do plan on incorporating some different approaches because of some of our other influences coming out in the songwriting. I’ve been listening to a lot of Alice in Chains, The Cure, Depeche Mode, and Helmet. A lot of bands that I grew up listening to when I first started learning guitar. So, we shall see where some of this will take us. However, the two-song EP that we release down the line will give you a taste of our direction.

How much will you tour for Chamber of Horrors? Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

KK: We’re going to tour for the foreseeable future. We have some short jaunts planned, but next year we’ll be hitting the road a lot harder. This year has been relatively slow for us. It’s great to finally put this album out, and take a breather before we dive headfirst into it again. I guess, on that note, the only closing words I have is a thank you to all the fans and friends who have let us stay with them, made us food, or even just bought a shirt or bought us a shot of whiskey. You guys are the reason why we’re able to go on the road, and we love y’all.

SC: We have a few short runs lined up to finish the year. I think more of the extensive touring for Chamber of Horrors will begin in 2018. This year, where it may have been the slowest year for the band; albeit, a couple tours, recording of a two-song EP, and an album release. Our personal lives have been very busy. So, it’s been nice to have a somewhat, casual year, but it’ll be nice to get back out there and do what we do. Thanks to everyone that has bought and said some very nice things about Chamber of Horrors. Very proud of this record and glad to see a lot of you agree with us on it. See you again soon on the road, I can’t wait to see you! Much love!

Destroyer of Light, Chamber of Horrors (2017)

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Six Dumb Questions with Pagan Altar

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on August 23rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

pagan altar

The winding tale of UK outfit Pagan Altar would seem to hit its concluding chapter this week with the release of The Room of Shadows (review here) on Temple of Mystery Records. What’s been purported as the NWOBHM doomers’ last full-length, it arrives posthumous to the May 2015 passing of frontman Terry Jones and features his last studio performance. Originally intended for issue as Never Quite Dead, the seven-song collection was completely reworked by guitarist Alan Jones — son of Terry and a co-founder of the band in 1978 — with redone bass tracks from Diccon Harper and drums from Andy Green, given its new name, and in its final form, it follows 11 years behind Mythical and Magical and quickly proves itself worthy of the enduring underground legacy of the band and of serving as the capstone on their career as well as their homage to the elder Jones.

Whether that’s through the chorus of “The Portrait of Dorian Gray,” the eerily folkish atmosphere conjured in the title-track or the metallic breadth explored in “The Ripper,” Pagan Altar can only be said to be rising to the occasion across The Room of Shadows. Their recorded-in-1982/released-in-1998 debut, Volume 1 — subsequently revisited on 2005’s Judgement of the Dead — is a major source of their legend, but it’s hard to imagine The Room of Shadows doing anything other than adding to that, even if the die of their influence is so long since cast. In going back into the studio and assembling the redux of “Danse Macabre” and “Dance of the Vampires” behind Terry‘s vocals, Alan has ensured that Pagan Altar‘s departing statement is a definitive moment, pushing beyond the 2004 sophomore long-player, Lords of Hypocrisy (discussed here), and the EP of earlier recordings, The Time Lord (review here), released that same year on I Hate Records and subsequently reissued along with Mythical and Magical and the rest of their catalog to that point by Shadow Kingdom.

In the interview that follows, Alan Jones talks about what motivated him to revamp Never Quite Dead and turn it into The Room of Shadows, how he feels about putting Pagan Altar to rest, and the possibility that Time Lord, in which he, HarperGreenBrendan Radigan of Magic Circle and Cauchemar guitarist Andres Arango will pay tribute to Terry at the Wings of Metal festival in Montreal on Sept. 9, will continue on as a new project. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t quite say no.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

pagan-altar-the-room-of-shadows

Six Dumb Questions with Alan Jones of Pagan Altar

What was behind the decision to re-record the instruments on The Room of Shadows? What was it about the initial tracks that wasn’t working, and did you know what would make the difference in having them redone? Was there something specific that was missing?

I had a great chemistry with Andy Green and Diccon Harper, with whom we started to write Never Quite Dead, the original name of the album. Unfortunately Andy had to move to Wiltshire – which is about 200 miles away from London (it was too hard to come to practices every week), and Diccon eventually left the band. I really enjoyed playing with these guys, and I felt that they were the best musicians for the job. The album we had finished recording in 2014 just wasn’t good enough, and I didn’t want to go out with an album that I wasn’t happy with. But now, the album reflects much more what we wanted to do – we are very much satisfied with it!

In light of Terry’s passing, how much has The Room of Shadows become a tribute to him, and was that a factor in how the album ultimately came together? How do you feel when you listen to these songs now as a finished product, or do you listen to them at all? What do you think of when you hear his performance on the album?

We originally wrote the album in 2004 when we were recording Mythical and Magical, just to give our minds a rest from the other album. When we were recording Lords of Hypocrisy we were writing Mythical and Magical… But yeah, the album is not a tribute as such as it would have came out anyway if Terry was still there. Terry and I always used to think as one – we always agreed musically and we never argued about music. I just carried on and I knew what we both wanted, so I got the musicians that I thought could do the job. I suppose that’s how it became a tribute to him. I listen to The Room of Shadows quite often, and all the way through, which I never do normally with records. I believe it’s our best album, especially lyrically. You listen to the words on the album and it’s really good! And finally, to answer your question about his performance – I knew he was struggling especially towards the end, but I don’t think that you could actually hear that he was struggling at all… His voice is not as strong but it’s a little bit cleaner. You could really hear what he’s singing!

The last two tracks on The Room of Shadows share their titles with songs by Judas Priest and Black Sabbath. Is that coincidence or a nod to classic heavy metal and maybe Pagan Altar’s place in it? How do you feel about everything Pagan Altar has been able to accomplish since releasing The Time Lord in 2004 and what do you see as the band’s legacy?

Oh, no — it was a complete coincidence! Terry always wanted to do a song about Jack the Ripper. We didn’t even think about that. I feel really honored that Pagan Altar’s music is being listened to all across the world, and within several generations. I think that’s the legacy, really. Hopefully there’s another generation coming through.

Tell me about writing and playing on “The Ripper.” What’s the difference in how a song like that comes together as opposed to, say, “The Portrait of Dorian Gray?”

Well, “Dorian Gray” came about when I bought a new guitar. I was just fiddling about with it and came up with the main riff. With “The Ripper,” Terry and I were in the studio, just the two of us, and it sort of wrote itself! We just started playing around, did a bit and everything followed. It was really strange, never happened to us before… It only took us 10-15 minutes to pretty much finish it. Terry’s first lyric bit was “And the momentary glimpse of a flashing blade is the last thing they will see,” and then wrote the whole song around that.

You, Brendan Radigan from Magic Circle, Diccon, Andy, and Andres Arango will do a set as Time Lord at Wings of Metal in Montreal next month. How did that come together? How did you make the choice to go with Brendan on vocals? If all goes well, could Time Lord be an ongoing project?

A longstanding friend of the band, Annick [Giroux] and her husband François, came over to my sister’s house in London last year and I asked her if she wanted to release our record on her new label. I also dropped in that we would play live if the opportunity came up – and she kind of took it from there. Wings of Metal is her festival, and she pretty much arranged everything for Time Lord. There was a guy (Brendan) that she said was really good and we all listened to him and thought he had a good range and he’d be perfect for the job. And also, Andres plays in Annick’s band and she said he was excellent and that he already knew the songs. By the way, Annick had previously booked Pagan Altar in 2010, and it was the only occasion we ever played “The Crowman” live – and we also did the whole Vol. 1 album! But to answer your last question, I don’t know about what’s going on with Time Lord after the show. After this gig we’ll have a discussion about it.

Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

I really want to thank Rohan, Ani and Bart because if it wasn’t for them, the album would have never come out. Also, of course, everyone who has bought our albums (or streamed them!) and showed us support. We are really grateful. And I hope you enjoy[ed] the premiere of the song entitled “The Room of Shadows”… This piece is actually inspired by a friend of ours, Albert Bell from Malta. He once told us that there was a room when he was a child that he would never go into… so it is based on a true story:

“The Room of Shadows”
The child’s laughter ceased as he tiptoed by, that dreaded open door
With a cursory glance into its depths, as if to reassure
He never really understood, what first made him hate that room
But childish intuition knew, something lurked within its gloom
He knew the room held many things that came from long ago
But why they were kept within that room, a child of eight wouldn’t know
He sensed a dark force that dwelt within, that watched his every move
Hidden deep within the shadowy bowels, of that accursed room
It took every bit of courage, to retrieve that bouncing ball
That always rolled into that room, when he was playing in the hall
Sheer terror would grip the child’s heart, if he found himself alone
And a glimpse of a fleeting figure, would turn his legs to stone
He would lay a salt trail all around the room, for why he never knew
But a voice from deep within him, told him exactly what to do
Adults seem quite unaware, of the demon that waits inside
And laugh at his reluctance, to cross that threshold line

The adults lost their perception of, the truth only a child can see
The price we pay for material gain, the price for material greed

The years have passed and the memories dim
The child is now full grown
Still living in the family house
With young children of his own
His sights are now firmly set upon
The furthering of his life
Aided and abetted, by a materialistic wife
But his eldest son, has a morbid fear
Of the antiques room off the hall
And he keeps leaving a trail of salt along
The room’s perimeter wall

Pagan Altar, “The Room of Shadows”

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Six Dumb Questions with Cortez

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on August 16th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

cortez

Let’s face it: a new Cortez outing doesn’t come along every day. The Boston heavy rockers offered up their first release in 2007’s Thunder in a Forgotten Town EP through Buzzville Records. It would be five years before they’d answer with their 2012 Bilocation Records self-titled debut full-length (review here), and five more beyond that for the recently-landed second album, The Depths Below (review here), to make its mark this year as their first domestically-backed collection, issued via the Connecticut-based imprint Salt of the Earth Records. They had a 2014 split with Borracho (review here) and a 2016 digital single covering Deep Purple‘s “Stormbringer” (posted here), but still, they’re not exactly what you’d call prolific.

But, when a new Cortez outing does arrive, it’s all the more of an occasion worth marking. The last half-decade has brought some significant changes in the band, as seen in the departure of longtime drummer Jeremy Hemond (who still plays on The Depths Below) and his replacement with Alexei Rodriguez and the addition of second guitarist Alasdair Swan alongside founding six-stringer Scott O’Dowd, bassist/backing vocalist Jay Furlo and frontman Matt Harrington, but one thing that has remained central to the band is their songwriting. The Depths Below, from the opening aggro thrust of “All Gone Wrong” through the three-part storytelling of “Walk Through Fire,” “The Citadel” and “Blood of Heirs,” and the Life of Agony-esque “Dead Channel” late in the tracklisting, is a shining example of how Cortez are and seem to have always been underrated for the quality of their craft and the purpose of their execution. A well-kept secret known to denizens of smaller Boston-area venues and European labels, it would seem, but primed nonetheless for a wider reach.

As they have been all along. Maybe on that level the lessons of The Depths Below are a refresher course in the kind of straightforward righteousness Cortez have honed since they got their start more than a decade ago, but if check-ins from them are to be so periodic in their nature, then attention and appreciation for the band’s work on its own terms are no less duly earned than they might be if they busted out a new record every eight months. In the interview that follows, O’Dowd and Harrington talk about making The Depths Below and the shifts in lineup Cortez have undergone since the self-titled, as well as the work that’s already begun on their next outing, which is set to arrive whenever the hell they decide it’s good and ready to arrive.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

cortez the depths below

Six Dumb Questions with Cortez

A lot has changed for Cortez since the self-titled. How do you feel about everything that’s gone down with the band in the last five years? Tell me about bringing in Alasdair on guitar and Alexei on drums. How do you feel about where the band is at now?

Scott O’Dowd: In the five years since the release of our self-titled album, quite a lot has happened. Not the least of which was adding Alasdair on second guitar. We’ve always envisioned ourselves as a two-guitar band, but after Tony (our original second guitarist) left the band in 2008, we continued on as a four-piece. This was only because we didn’t have anyone else in mind to fill the position. We’re big believers in chemistry, both musically and personally, so rather than adding someone that we didn’t know, we decided to continue with the four remaining members until we found the right fifth member. Alasdair (who happens to be married to my wife’s cousin) had recently moved to the US from Scotland and we really hit it off on a musical and personal level. I told the rest of the guys about him and he came down to rehearsal. He was a perfect fit and has been with us ever since (2012).

We parted ways with our long time drummer Jeremy [Hemond] in November of 2016 when he moved back to Vermont. As might be expected, devoting time to the band had become an issue because of the distance. We decided to move on and look for another drummer. In a complete stroke of luck, Alexei came across an ad we placed and came down to audition. After trying out a handful of drummers who weren’t right for us, we knew Alexei was our guy from the first song. He fit right in and we all feel a renewed sense of purpose.

We’re really happy, looking forward to working on new material, and playing shows.

How did the writing process work out for The Depths Below? When did you start thinking about a follow-up for the self-titled and how did the material come together? Was there anything in particular you wanted to do coming off the first album?

SO: The writing process worked pretty much the same way it always does, except for Alasdair contributing to the songs, and Matt having even more input this time around. We very rarely stop and say, “OK, it’s time to write for the new album.” Instead, we are always working on ideas whenever we have a chance or are feeling inspired. It’s a perpetual thing for us. Sometimes songs will come together rather quickly, such as “Johnny” from the self-titled. Other times we may have a couple of parts and not be able to finish the song. When that happens we tend to put that particular idea on the back burner and come back to it at a later date. Sometimes even years later. We work on a particular idea until we feel it’s finished, however long that takes. It’s not enough for us to throw a few riffs together and call it done. It’s important that a song has a flow and makes sense. We work democratically and listen to each other’s input and tweak parts until we are satisfied. We’re our own toughest critics.

Some of the material written shortly after the self-titled was in the process of being recorded. Some of the other ideas were fleshed out later on. As I mentioned above, it’s an ongoing thing.

When did you know that “Walk Through Fire,” “The Citadel” and “Blood of Heirs” would tie together? How did that come about, and what is the narrative uniting the songs?

SO: I’m going to defer to Matt on this one.

Matt Harrington: If I’m remembering correctly, “The Citadel” was the first song we completed of the three. “Walk Through Fire” is in a different tuning, but I must have heard it right before “The Citadel” on a practice recording because I remember really liking the way they led into one another. I also knew I wanted to tell a little more of the story when I finished “The Citadel,” which also plays into the lyrical why of “Blood of Heirs.”

“In the Shadows of Ancients” is a loose adaptation of a story I wrote. “Walk Through Fire” is the radicalization of the disenfranchised, “The Citadel” is the execution of the oath by the faithful with a little familial revenge thrown in, and “Blood of Heirs” is a homecoming of sorts with the backdrop of a battle.

How about the recording? Was the album done in one shot or over multiple sessions? It seems like there’s a more aggressive sound this time around. Was that something you were looking to bring out purposefully, or just how it worked out in the writing and production?

SO: We recorded the whole album with Benny Grotto. I give him major credit for understanding exactly what we wanted and helping us capture it in the recording. The album was recorded in a few different sessions. The basic tracks (drums, bass, and some guitars) were recorded at Q Division in Somerville, MA, in December of 2014. We recorded most of the rest of the rhythm guitar tracks at Mad Oak in Allston, MA. We finished up leads and vocals at Moontower (R.I.P.) in Somerville. The actual recording was finished in June of 2015. From there we mixed with Benny and sent it off for mastering to Jeff Lipton and Maria Rice at Peerless Mastering.

As for the more aggressive sound, I think partly it just had to do with some of the songs themselves. We’ve always listened to all sorts of music, and I know I tried to bring some more of my metallic influences to the forefront on a few songs. “Walk Through Fire” for example, was a song that had a bit of a NWOBHM feel to me when I came up with the main riff. “Blood of Heirs” has more of an oldschool thrash-metal-meets-Bathory sort of feel to the main riff. I know we made a conscious effort to have a lot of variation in tempo and feel. I’m sure that directly contributed to the genesis of those two songs. Aside from wanting a good amount of variety, there were no strict “rules.” We like to write riffs and songs we enjoy and try not to worry too much about something being a stylistic outlier or odd man out sort of thing. If we like it, we go with it.

What’s the story behind “Dead Channel?”

MH: I’ve always loved dystopias. I never expected to live in one, but that’s a whole other thing.

The name is a nod to the first line of William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk book, Neuromancer: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

That line drew a young me in instantly, and the visual is a favorite of mine. Pretty soon, someone who picks up that book for the first time won’t know what that is without checking Google, if they even bother to. Isn’t it sort of weird, uncomfortable, and exciting all at once that culture and technology change so completely and frequently now?

Lyrically, this song is a companion of sorts to “Poor and Devoid,” in that they both touch on the idea that we are both consumer and product everywhere we go physically and virtually, and what is presented to us (and sometimes what we present) isn’t always genuine or real.

I watched online communities go from USENET and dialing into BBSs to message boards/forums to where we stand now in both the more mainstream and less accessible parts of a vast internet. These communities have become global cultures and I think this sort of connection without boundaries or borders has power, both positive and negative. The optimist in me likes to think that interconnectivity, community, and freedom are ultimately a good thing.

Do we want to live in a dying world or die knowing we built something that lives on? Maybe we find a better us together, and find better ways to communicate and collaborate without the noise, ideologies, or agendas. Maybe we take a look at the old and say… you know what, it’s okay that isn’t a thing anymore. Maybe we decide to tear every last vestige of those old things down completely. Sometimes it takes weird, uncomfortable, and/or exciting to make something new. Nostalgia and fear shouldn’t prevent people from building things. My hope is that the new things we create are real and genuine and not born from the distractions that are all around us now.

You did the release show earlier this month for The Depths Below, so what’s next for you guys? Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

SO: To be honest, there was a great sense of relief in releasing The Depths Below and playing the actual release show. The record had been a long time in the “gestation” period (which seems to be our pattern at this point), and it was our first Boston show with Alexei on drums. We wanted to pick up right where we left off and, at the same time, state our intent to continue progressing as a band. It was a packed house at our favorite club, with some of our favorite folks. We couldn’t have been happier.

As for what’s next, we’re working on new material, getting Alexei up to speed on some choice older tunes, and looking forward to the demo process for the new stuff. We’re already pretty booked up for the Fall with a bunch of regional shows. We also have a split 12″ in the works; that will hopefully be released late this year/early next year. We’re just looking to keep it rolling, wherever it takes us.

Our album is available from our Bandcamp page, or at shows.

Cortez, The Depths Below (2017)

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Six Dumb Questions with The Quill (Plus Track Premiere)

Posted in audiObelisk, Six Dumb Questions on August 9th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the quill

Time flies, and often in more than a single direction. 11 years ago, Swedish heavy rockers The Quill released In Triumph, what was then the victory lap around four prior successful classic-fueled blasts of rock and roll. The long-players Hooray! It’s a Deathtrip (2003), Voodoo Caravan (2002), Silver Haze (1999) and The Quill (1995) had established them as a powerhouse outfit in a crowded Swedish scene, with the megalungs of frontman Magnus Ekwall at the forefront over guitarist Christian Carlsson‘s riffing, given thrust and groove by bassist Roger Nilsson (who left in 2005) and drummer Jolle Atlagic to land in a place that was no less Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath than it was contemporary to countrymen outfits like Mustasch, Dozer or The Awesome Machine.

It would be another five years before The Quill followed-up In Triumph with 2011’s Full Circle (discussed here), and when they did it would be without either Ekwall or Nilsson in the band. Carlsson and Atlagic‘s songwriting was intact, but the energy of the group was different, and even as they came “full circle,” they were on uncharted ground. The then-topical Tiger Blood followed in 2013 with Nilsson back in the group alongside vocalist Magz Arnar making his second appearance, and now The Quill return to thethe quill born from fire Silver Haze-era lineup with Born from Fire — a completely over-the-top, righteously unmanageable 66 minutes that’s just as much at home in the Motörheaddy thrust of “Snake Charmer Woman” as in the Sabbathian roll of “Keep it Together” and “Unchain Yourself,” the stomping “Skull and Bones” or tripped-out psych passages like “Set Free Black Crow” or the harmonized apex of “Hollow of Your Hand.”

It’s too bad they already called a record Full Circle, because otherwise, Born from Fire would certainly be a candidate for the title. It’s 12-track stretch finds The Quill rejuvenated and in top form of craft and performance. For not having appeared on a Quill album in more than a decade, Ekwall hasn’t missed a beat in reassuming his former role, and with over 30 years of experience behind them since their first demo, the band delivers crisp, professional-grade heavy rock. For not one minute of the hour-plus release are they anymore lost than they want to be, and whether it’s the nestled-in chug of “Ghosthorse,” the bass-heavy ultra-fuzz of “The Spirit and the Spark,” the swaggering hook of opener “Stone Believer” or the atmospheric epilogue in closer “Metamorphosis,” that command of their approach remains absolute. Whether a given listener is familiar with past offerings or not, Born from Fire lands with a sense of purpose and personality that only straightforward heavy rock at its most done-right could possibly muster. It is a blueprint not just for the best-case-scenario of reuniting with former members, but for the renewal of spirit that reunion can bring about at its most successful.

In the interview below, Ekwall talks about coming back to The Quill after his prolonged absence, how the writing and recording of Born from Fire came together, the band’s intent toward capturing the vibe of their earlier work and much more.

Born from Fire is out Aug. 25 on Metalville Records. Please enjoy the premiere of “The Spirit and the Spark” and the following Six Dumb Questions:

The Quill, “The Spirit and the Spark” (track premiere)

Six Dumb Questions with The Quill

Tell me about coming back to The Quill after so long away. It’s been more than a decade since In Triumph was released. How did rejoining come about? How does it feel to work with the band again? 

Actually, I am really surprised how easy it was to come back. Very natural, no hard feelings. This was not a planned reunion. It just happened. The guys asked me to join them for a local gig playing a bunch of old KISS songs, and when we rehearsed for this, we tried out a few old Quill tunes, of course. Someone had a new riff and suddenly the first new song was written. I believe it was “Set Free Black Crow.”

We just took up from where we ended when Roger left the band back in 2005 or something, no problem. You know, we are living in a small village and we have met several times over these 10 years I have been away from The Quill. Christian and I became friends like 40 years ago. So everything is great and the most important thing is we made an album that we really love otherwise this would never have happened.

What was your time like in the studio? Tell me about arranging vocals for the songs and putting together lyrics for these tracks. How was it stepping back into doing that again? Did you have any specific goals in mind for what you wanted to do vocally or what you wanted to bring to the material this time around?

The album is recorded in two different sessions in a studio close to where we live. I personally like to record fast, a lot of the vocals are first takes, just the way I like it, to keep the feeling right. Lyric-wise, I decided early on to write about stuff that has happened in my life, like an Ekwall biography, to make it easier for me to sink my teeth into writing. They became rather dark in the end. You find a few songs about death and people close to me that have died, in cancer and so on. Some songs, for example “Hollow of Your Hand,” are about my own anxiety and fear of life itself. There is also a few simple rock ´n´ roll lyrics like “Snake Charmer Woman” and “Electrical Son.” During these years away from the band I have written and recorded loads of stuff with both other people and by myself so I never been out of the process. Writing and recording is just a natural process for me.

We decided early on to try and get the same feeling we had when we wrote and recorded the Silver Haze album; just having a laugh, an easygoing atmosphere. Start from zero and just write without any plan. And it turned out very well, the 12 songs on the album are the 12 songs we first wrote, so there is no old leftover material from back in the days, just new, fresh songs. I personally think it sounds a bit like the old, innocent Quill back in the late ‘90s.

Did you find going into Born from Fire that the writing process changed at all from when you were last in The Quill? What was the timing on your coming back and the album being written? How did the tracks come together?

No, nothing has changed at all. As I said before, this was not at all planned from the start we just happened to write some songs we really liked and when you have done that you normally record them and that was just what we did. When the first session was over we decided to go for it!

Writing process is almost the same for every song. Chris or Jolle has a riff, I come up with the melodies and later the lyrics, we kind of do it together in our rehearsal studio. It almost never happens that somebody turns up with a whole song.

The album kind of spaces out after “Hollow of Your Hand,” gets more atmospheric toward the finish. What was the process like putting together the tracklisting and was there something particular you were looking for in terms of the overall flow?

We had a bit of a hard time deciding if Born from Fire should be a double or a single record. But in the end we used all of the recorded tracks and I personally think it was a good decision. Now you get the whole picture and the variety of our music. I like the spaced out songs, always did, I just love the way bands freaked out in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. Looking back on the Quill catalogue I really dig songs like “Until Earth is Bitter Gone” and “Man Posed.”

You have to try and find some flow in the tracklisting but you also have to consider the length of the tracks but we are pleased and I really hope our old and new fans love it as much as we do.

Would you say that part of the intention of Born from Fire is to capture a vibe similar to records like Voodoo Caravan and Silver Haze? More of a classic heavy rock sound? Or was it not something the band really thought about during the writing and recording?

As I said before we tried to get back into the mood we had circa Silver Haze, no worries on what a future label would think about what we do or how to present ourselves, just an honest an breathtaking album from our hearts. The songs we wrote are the songs you hear on the album, nothing added, nothing taken away.

Any plans or closing words you want to mention?

Well, it is great to be able to be a part of The Quill once again, a band I spent so many years in, building up and created great albums with. I really wish from my heart that the honesty in Born from Fire really shines through.

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Six Dumb Questions with Demon Eye

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on August 8th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

demon-eye-photo-ken-trousdell

Over the course of three albums, North Carolinian four-piece Demon Eye have evolved a notably crisp, efficient and standout method of constructing memorable songs, and as it should, their latest offering marks the pinnacle of their achievement in this to-date. Out Aug. 11 via Soulseller Records, the 11-track Prophecies and Lies (review here) is the proverbial lean and mean execution of classic-influenced heavy rock given a modern aesthetic update. Marked out by the stylized dynamic between vocalist/guitarist Erik Sugg, lead guitarist Larry Burlison and the driving forward rhythm section of bassist/vocalist Paul Walz and drummer/vocalist Bill Eagen, Demon Eye‘s work stems from a core master plan dedicated to building an individualized sound around familiar structures, which is something neither easy to do nor often done as naturally as the Raleigh natives make it seem they’re doing it.

Veterans twice over of the Maryland Doom Fest and having earned a reputation for a particularly energetic delivery there and on just about every other stage they’ve taken, Demon Eye hit the studio this time around with founding Corrosion of Conformity bassist/vocalist Mike Dean at the helm. Dean‘s recordings often carry a distinct tonal sharpness, an edge that pervades the sound, and this suits the finished product of Prophecies and Lies in style and substance alike. Tempo shifts in cuts like “In the Spider’s Eye” and the engaging swing of “The Redeemer” are brought forth with underlying structural purpose as well as atmospheric breadth stemming not from self-indulgent meandering but from the tones, melodies and hooks that have become so much the staples of Demon Eye‘s approach.

Ahead of the release later this week, Sugg was kind enough to take some time out to discuss the band’s writing modus, their time in the studio with Dean, how Demon Eye feel about what they’ve accomplished three records into their ongoing tenure and more. Their release show for Prophecies and Lies takes place in Raleigh, NC, on Aug. 18 with Captain Beyond. More info on that can be found on the Thee Facebooks event page.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

demon eye prophecies and lies

When did the writing process start for Prophecies and Lies? Tell me about how the songs came together. Was there anything in particular you were looking to accomplish coming off of Leave the Light?

Generally most of our riffing is done individually. The classic, “dudes playing guitar alone in their bedrooms”-deal. But for the process with this album, one standout memory was when we were driving up to New England for a fest performance. Along the way we stayed in a Super 8 somewhere in Maryland and wrote a lot of ideas right there in the hotel room. Most of what was written that night ended up being what you hear on the record. Somewhere I still have the complimentary Super 8 notepad with all of the ideas written out. They have hilarious working titles, like “Erik’s Spidery Riff in D,” “Uncle Larry’s Acid in E,” “Voivod in G,” etc.

In terms of trying new things from the previous records, we wanted to try different dynamics with the music, like changing things rhythmically and structurally, while also making sure it still sounded like a Demon Eye record. We didn’t want people to listen to the new album and go, “Oh, this is their prog record.” For the first album there were a lot of occult/witchcraft themes. As the main songwriter for the band, that’s something I wanted to steer from. I enjoy that sort of thing and probably always will, but I didn’t want to pigeonhole us as being just another band who does that sort of thing.

Songwriting is always the element of Demon Eye’s work that strikes me the most. Do you have a specific approach to putting pieces together to make songs, or a general guiding philosophy for structure? Demon Eye sound like a modern band, but would you agree your songwriting might be the most classic element of what you do?

I would agree, yes. With our songs we basically just try to keep it simple and let things flow naturally. Most of our songs end up being the traditional verse/chorus/verse format. I tend to follow the philosophy of, “Why fix it if it ain’t broke?” Most of my favorite rock bands and heavy metal bands growing up did it like that. Songs like “Paranoid” and “The Prisoner” were more or less pop songs, simply by sticking to that format. Heavy pop songs, sure, but they had great hooks, powerful riffs, and well-crafted music that stayed with you and made you want to listen to them over and over again.

On the flipside of that philosophy I also love bands who write 10-20 minute epics. YOB, Sleep, and Electric Wizard are three of my favorite bands. I love their music dearly, but writing music in that style is not something I could do well. If Demon Eye ever tried to release a song like “Marrow” or “Holy Mountain” it would probably come off sounding forced and inauthentic. Maybe not, but it’s definitely not my particular comfort zone. I think it’s important to know your strengths. I believe our strengths are in the riffs, the melodies, and the basic song structures.

How was your time in the studio with Mike Dean? What is he like to work with as a producer, and what was behind your decision to have him work on the record? How long were you in the studio and what was the recording process like? What was the vibe as the album came together?

It was a total blast recording with Mike. He’s a hilarious guy with lots of energy and he works like a mad scientist. He’ll run around feeling completely inspired by one thing, then stop and shout, “Wait! Don’t do that! Forget that! Let’s try something else!” Mike’s a good friend so the vibe was very laid back. Just friends having a good time making music together. I think the overall timeline for the record, including mixing and mastering, was September of 2016 through January of 2017. Because Mike is very busy, and everyone in Demon Eye has so many different “life” obligations, we took our time and scheduled sessions pretty sporadically.

Prophecies and Lies is the third Demon Eye album. How do you feel about everything the band has been able to accomplish up to this point in your career? How do you feel about the audience you’ve been able to build and the response you’ve gotten live and to the three records?

Not to sound like a Pollyanna, but I am immensely grateful for all that we have. Our fanbase, the positive reviews, the opportunities we’ve been granted, the incredible people and bands we’ve had the chance to meet, etc. All of it. The thing with Demon Eye is that, in the beginning, we had zero intentions of doing anything outside of writing a few tunes and playing locally on occasion in front of like 20 of our friends. That was all we envisioned.

When our initial demo was recorded and put online, and then all the Internet activity and positive response came about (not to mention the record deal offer), we barely had time to process all of it. We were like, “Huh? This is really happening?!” It was very humbling. Sure, there’s more we’d like to do (like playing overseas and playing bigger fests), but we’re not the kind of guys who get bummed over what’s not happening. We are happy and grateful for what we do have, and it’s actually quite a lot. I look forward to doing more of what we’re doing now. More records, more performances, and meeting more amazing people.

Let’s talk lyrics. As a lyricist, do you see yourself more as telling a story or describing a theme? How much of Demon Eye’s lyrics are metaphors for real-world issues? You’ve delved into some pretty dark territory over the course of the albums. What has this allowed you to express, and how important do you feel the lyrics are to Demon Eye’s overall aesthetic?

It’s funny, because when I listen to my favorite bands the lyrics are typically the last thing I pay attention to. But with Demon Eye, I do take the lyrics seriously and feel they are important. For the last few records I have found myself focusing more on real-world issues.

If you play in a band that prefers darker song content, there is no shortage of material in the world today. Some days I’ll simply read the news and see what sort of madness is happening politically in this country. Sometimes I’ll find myself opening my perspective and seeing the evils that innocent people across the globe are forced to endure.

I used to work with children, and it was pretty sobering meeting a young mother who recently fled Syria with her two young daughters, only to arrive in America in time for a proposed ban on immigration. Those types of situations really make me think about the darker side of human nature and how it affects people who don’t deserve it.

Also, I don’t really talk about it much in interviews, but I’ve also dealt with a lot of mental illness and substance abuse issues in my life. After putting a lot of care into my health throughout the past decade (sobriety, lifestyle changes, etc.), it’s granted me the opportunity to explore things with a fresher perspective, and naturally, songwriting provides you with the chance to express yourself.

One thing I always try to do, though, is to make Demon Eye’s song content as universal as I possibly can. I try to think, “Now what would someone want to raise their fist and shout along to?” It may not always come out as intended, but it is something I strive for.

Demon Eye toured the West Coast in 2016 and has played Maryand Doom Fest two years in a row now Any plans, shows coming up or other closing words you want to mention?

Our record release show for Prophecies and Lies will be on Aug. 18 at the Pour House Music Hall in Raleigh, NC, with Captain Beyond. We are honored to celebrate the release of this album with such a legendary band. During the latter part of the year we are planning on heading throughout the Midwest again, and we also want to hit the Northeast and make our way south throughout Texas. We sincerely appreciate everyone’s support and hope that we have the chance to meet all of you in person!

Demon Eye, Prophecies and Lies (2017)

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