“There was one conscious decision when it came to this album, and that was to have a bit more pace in there. Once we started playing the Severance stuff live, we sped a few songs up and they sounded way better. We sound our best when there’s a bit more urgency. Then, when it came to recording, we wanted to recreate the live sound as much as possible with natural, organic sounds, with everything properly recorded.”
Jamie Graham sounds slightly worn at the end of a long day of press, promoting the new Heart of a Cowardalbum, Deliverance (Century Media), but there’s no mistaking the glint in his voice when discussing their new release. Because he knows. Part tech-metal, part groove armada, HOAC have taken the slicker, yet oh-so-malevolent approach of Severance (also Century Media) and worked hard on their song writing to produce this years’ sleeper for UK metal’s breakthrough album. He knows Deliverance is a bit special.
“You can’t just play constant ragers for 50 minutes; people want dynamics. But we’re getting to a balance where we don’t have any songs that are there just to make the time up”, he begins, moving on to discuss the flesh of the new offering. And it is a body of work that sees some impressive vocal output from the man himself, with attention in the detail of the different tones of his more aggressive shouts and the nuances and delivery of his cleans, a performance that upped the ante for Graham. “Yeah, it’s tough! I’m not going to lie! Since we’ve started playing the new songs I’m like… Fuck! It’s hard!”
If anything, the laughter that accompanies that comment betrays modesty, for Graham has always delivered as a vocalist. This time around, though, he shines, leading a slew of new metal anthems that should see HOAC truly establishing themselves. “I had that feeling when we did Severance as well. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing, to be honest. As soon as you’re setting be all and end all goals, you’re setting yourself up for a fall. Hopefully people will appreciate the album, and forward it on, talk about it, or whatever the kids do these days, and the album itself will do the rest.”
While not a concept album, Severance linked itself to a reoccurring theme; Deliverance (continuing the train of album titles ending with ance – “Haha, yes! Well, after the last one came out we thought, why don’t we make this next one the last of set?”) also returns at key moments to motifs and similar notions: “to an aftermath, or a result of something, whether a conflict, or struggle, or endeavour. Most of the songs are about fulfilling something – hence the title. The last record was more about breaking away from things that were holding you back. There’s definitely a cohesiveness between our album titles and themes, but there’s not a story across them.”
Heart of a Coward may seem a relatively new name, but since adding guitarist Steve Haycock and former Sylosis vocalist Graham in 2011, this British quintet have been very much in the ascendancy. If 2013’s Severance saw a refinement from bluster, and a band of raw promise, to a genuine contender to the UK metal throne, then Deliverance should, by rights, see them being fitted with ermine robes and bejewelled, pointy head gear.
“It doesn’t feel like it to us, but a lot of people still perceive us as a new band” Graham confirms. Album three is a tricky place to be for a line-up that is only four years old; but four years that have now seen three increasingly excellent albums. “It works in our favour as we’ve been around the block and fully road-tested, so someone coming to check us out won’t need a second time to be convinced. At the same time, there’s no excuse for complacency. We know we have to put the work in and we do the best we can.”
With convincing recent performances under their belt at both Download and Techfest, one of the questions to be asked is, where do Heart of a Coward fit in? “It’s pit music that has hooks and choruses” states Graham. With his band appealing to different audiences, Deliverance sees further development of a more song-based progression. While this will appeal to the more centre ground, is there a concern of leaving their Tech Metal fanbase behind?
“We’ll always have enough technicality to appeal to the tech fans, but we’re a simpler equivalent” explains the frontman. “I’m not worried about that at all. You’ve got your Born of Osiris and Periphery’s and they do their thing and have a lot of bands trying to copy that, but that can’t do it as well (as they do). We do take a portion of that sound, but then mix it with a Killswitch vibe, and with a touch of Acacia Strain or Hatebreedy stuff.
“With the technical side, a lot of bands lose the purpose of the “song” for the purpose of being technical. But then it can go too far the other way with bands who just have a chorus, and the song becomes far too throwaway. We balance that.”
Graham has already mentioned an insistence on ensuring a live, organic feel to this album, and it is with the live arena in mind that several of the songs were constructed. “We did that with this one, yes”, he confirms. “Songs like ‘Deadweight’ and ‘Shade’, we probably wouldn’t omit from the live set, so we wanted to think of songs that would fit nicely with those songs, but without copying them. You have to pace yourself too.”
And the band are aware of the increased demands live, considering the developments on record. “Steve’s doing more backing vocals and stepping into new territory. He’s got a really good screaming voice, a real proper gruff Scott Kelly smoking through a rubber tube voice, which is wicked, Carl can sing too, but it’s a confidence thing with him as he’s so used to just playing his guitar”, Graham adds.
Deliverance is a maelstrom of modern metal that bridges the age gap within the HOAC ranks. With Graham’s own introduction to metal being Machine Head’s ‘Death Church’ as a mate slipped him Burn My Eyes (Roadrunner), Side B first, to Metallica, Guns N’Roses and then Deftones, it’s no surprise of the diversity flecking the spectrum of HOAC, as Deliverance supplies ragers, groove metal, djent, jagged Gothenburg riffs and modern metal songs with depth and character.
“I like most that it’s got dynamics, and more variety, but it doesn’t lose focus” concludes Graham. While each band spouts their current album is their defining moment, ‘tricky’ album three has proved just that moment for Heart Of A Coward. “I’m really proud of that. A lot of bands struggle on album three to not repeat themselves and whatever big hits they‘ve had before and whatever’s worked for them before, and tend to exploit that too much. Or the opposite, and they veer off in a direction that alienates the whole fan base.
“We’ve straddled both and we’ve paved the way for the next album to be a logical evolution. We know where we want to go with it all, now.”
WORDS BY STEVE TOVEY