When Axl Rose waxed romantically about cold November rain in back in 1992, he clearly wasn’t singing about Leeds on a Saturday morning. A cold, depressing day darkened by oppressive black clouds showering their misery relentlessly from above, there is nothing romantic about Leeds city centre. However, above the sound of rain pelting against umbrella canopies, and cars splashing through ankle-high lakes of dirty water, there is hope. Somewhere out there is Damnation Festival. Continue reading
It’s another one of those typically cold, grey April evenings in central Birmingham. Slowly darkening skies, a distinct chill in the air, and a dense pall of doom hanging over The Asylum as it’s clear that first band Khost are already on as I arrive. Luckily, the band are only a couple of songs in, but the slowly gathering crowd are already enraptured by the duo’s atmospheric industrial grind. Continue reading
The Antichrist Imperium features Akercocke and The Berzerker members in equal numbers amongst their ranks, and with the release of second album Volume II: Every Tongue Shall Praise Satan (Apocalyptic Witchcraft) it seems that team Akercocke is determined to show that they’re on one hell of a creative roll at the minute. Like their other projects, there’s that unmistakable Akercocke tone woven throughout; they’re clearly confident and comfortable with each other as musicians and are free to experiment. Continue reading
One of the saddest parts about Akercocke going on hiatus all those years ago was the fact that after Words That Go Unspoken… and Antichrist (Earache) there was a tangible feeling that they were on course to release something truly ground-breaking. Whilst their recent release Renaissance in Extremis (Peaceville) was very welcome indeed, I couldn’t help but feel that the return to an earlier sound left that potential untapped. Continue reading
You know how it feels when you just can’t decide what to listen to? You cycle through ten albums in as many minutes, hearing bits and pieces of everything but not feeling entirely satisfied by any of it. The first time you listen to Shrines (Apocalyptic Witchcraft) you may well think that you’ve just done that without changing the album.
Shrines are one of those bands that it’s hard to pin down on paper, not because they’ve forced some uniquely individual style, but simply because they jump around so often that it’s frequently easy to forget that you’re listening to the same band. Across their debut’s ten tracks, Shrines cover sweeping Post-Metal, melancholic Black Metal, vaguely pastoral Doom, masterful Death Metal, bullish 90’s Metal chugging and some oddly laconic Gothy stuff about wolves that even manages to sound out of place on this album.
As this review is likely to focus on the negative, it needs to be said that the playing on Shrines is absolutely top notch – the band are in lockstep throughout, not missing a beat despite the complex and changing nature of the material – and there’s no shortage of excellent moments throughout. The problem is that they never manage to coalesce into anything meaningful. There’s nothing wrong with variety, of course, but the bands who really pull it off are the ones who invest every style they touch with a sense of their own identity – Shrines cover a lot of bases with style and precision, but there’s never a sense of who they are beneath that, and each time the album finishes you’re left with no greater idea of who they actually are as a band. The vocals also don’t help, moving (as you’d expect) from soaring clean singing to angry shouts and gruff roars, but never really committing to either and ultimately sounding passive and withdrawn.
Shrines is an impressive performance from a talented band who are undoubtedly trying to forge their own unique style, and for the right listener they may well “click” into something that truly transcends the sum of its parts. Unfortunately, for the rest of us, the abiding impression will be that of so many ideas that none of them really have chance to take root.
With a debut album that flew under the radar, twisted progressive extreme metal outfit Voices made the ultimate statement with their incredible, expansive, complex and warped second album, the must-hear fucked up concept of London. Guitarist Sam Loynes took time out to give Ghost Cult an open top tour…
The difference between your debut, From The Human Forest Create A Fugue Of Imaginary Rain and your second opus London (both Candlelight) is monumental, both in terms of scope and quality. How do you account for this improvement?
We were still finding our feet on the first record and came up with the songs within a couple of months through improvisation, which is how we write. Moving into London, the songs, again while relying on improvisation a lot in their construction, are far more considered.
We wrote London in a visual mode that became the narrative that runs through it, and we had this idea of trying to write a really ambitious piece. We wanted it to be big, meaty, with a lot of information for people to get into; to go full on with it. We didn’t want to do just another standard album, you know, seven songs, and it’s OK. Fuck that. This needed to be a serious, complete record that people can really get their teeth into.
Ambition was the main difference, really. We aimed for the stars with this one.
That’s a good word, because the album is ambitious, with no half measures taken, especially as it has a fully developed narrative and concept running through it. Which came first, the chocolate or the colour?
85% of what you hear on the record comes from improvisation. A great example is a song like ‘Fuck Trance’ that was composed completely in the moment. There was no preconception of riffs, or ideas, or anything like that, we just got into the rehearsal room after a long fucking day at work and fucking horrible journey down to the studio which is way out West London. We looked at each other, and we had it. I looked at Pete (Benjamin – guitars/vocals) and Dave (Gray – drums) and we had it. And the song came out.
The way the narrative came about was within that improvisation. When we were playing and creating it, we’d have these almost like visions, visions steeped in our non-musical influences at the time, things like Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair and the character Maurice Bendrix, who is an anti-hero that is obsessive and anxiety ridden over, of course, a woman. These reference points helped us visualize this new anti-hero as he moved through the streets of London being accosted by these various distorting events, and he’s reaching out trying to find this Megan figure that’s the object of his affection, even though she turns out to be less than agreeable.
It’s quite an abstract thing, but it was such a powerful mode of writing. When we got to the end of, say, ‘Hourglass’, when he was washed up by the River Thames after being poisoned, in our brains we desperately wanted to know where he’s going to go next! And the only way for is to find out is let’s fucking do the next song!
So, the narrative was spawned out of the visual style of writing (and) it was an amazing way to write. I don’t know, but it might even be a once in a lifetime only way of writing, because it was also very specific to where we all were in time and in our lives.
How auto-biographical is it?
Dave was very much at the forefront of encapsulating the specifics of what the narrative became. He then actually wrote the passages that you hear link the songs. It’s most personal to him, but the reason we chime as musicians and as people together is that we all have this disposition within us, this Maurice Bendrix syndrome – steeped within anxiety, very much onlookers, particularly living in London, and not feeling part of it, or feeling not quite right being within London.
I’d say that Dave was the one who related most to the anti-hero character and he brought him to life on paper but we all have over the top, vivid imaginations.
Did you reference other concept albums, perhaps something like Queensryche’s Operation Mindcrime which tells a story?
We were very aware of wanting to live up to the effect that concept records can have and the Zappa one is the one we looked at (Editor’s Note: Sam couldn’t remember the title at the time, I think he’s referring to Freak Out). Dave was keen it was a key reference point. With the theme of detachment, did you look at something like The Wall? To be honest, our influences in terms of the concept were very detached from music. JG Ballard and extending to things like Bladerunner, even Lolita to a certain degree.
So works with those feelings of being outside, or different… that detachment again? There’s a vicarious element to them. It’s very difficult to hone in on what we’ve done here, but it’s those ideas of vicarious obsessions, anxieties and distortions, all captured in an abstract narrative.
As one of the creators of such an ambitious and successful dark work of art, how are you feeling about it now?
Creatively it was daunting, but more so now we’ve done it, because I listen to London and I think “where do we go from here”? What kind of planet are we going to have to be on to live up to, or surpass this!? So for me, I do think we’re going to have to seriously consider what direction we go in next.
I think it was Krystoffer Rygg (Ulver) who said that each album he has done is a reaction to the one preceding it… So, is the response to something as complex and dark as London is maybe something lighter, catchier, more simplistic and punkier…?
It’s funny you should say more punky and poppy, because that was the idea I had. Myself and Dave are massive fan-boys of bands like Joy Division and Bauhaus and more recently to name a contemporary band I’m into, Savages, and while we’re not all of sudden become a fucking pub rock band or whatever, let’s think a little more about song based material, rather than really sprawling epic songs.
A song like ‘Last Train Victoria Line’ is in line with that kind of idea, and to me that’s the direction I’d like to consider going towards. Songs with hooks, choruses, that are a bit like Killing Joke, and a bit like Joy Division, but also extreme and out there.
Who knows what comes out when we start writing again, but I do not have any interest in regurgitating London because we ain’t gonna better that record.
Words by STEVE TOVEY
When spilling the beans about their critically acclaimed second album London (Candlelight), Voices guitarist Sam Loynes walked Ghost Cult through his own metal journey, and then onto how Voices was spawned from the ashes of the empire that was Akercocke…
Where did the journey to Voices and current album London start from?
The band that got me into heavy metal, the band that got me to being a long-haired teenage twat smoking draw way too young was Metallica. No two ways about that. Metallica and Megadeth. I remember when I first heard ‘Blackened’ and ‘One’, at the time it was as extreme as anything I’d ever heard! In the same way that a few years later when I heard Akercocke and thought “This is the most extreme thing ever”, so ‘One’ did that for me then. After that, Master of Puppets is the most important record in my heavy metal upbringing prior to going into left-field stuff, then definitely Emperor and Death as the gateway, the ones that got me into extreme music and what I then went into.
I can hear a fair bit of Schuldiner in your riffs – the off time, the note patterns and structures…
That’s awesome man, thank you. Death are as close to an acute influence on my playing and Dave (Gray – drums)’s playing as it gets. There are other choice bands we try to emulate but without copying or assuming we can get anywhere near creating songs those guys did.
Have you heard the new Napalm (Death)? The fucking sound of that new Napalm is amazing. Have you seen them live before? I don’t know what it is, but they just blow everyone else off stage when it comes to extremity, and I was trying to realize what it was, to tap into it, and it’s fucking conviction. They play a headline show with a bunch of other bands supporting them, younger bands, and they may be technically better, or they may be faster, or whatever, but it just doesn’t come across. Soon as you hear Napalm Daeth, the punk rock influence elevates it to an unrivalled level of extremity. Totally unrivalled. There’s only a few others, perhaps, maybe Converge can do it, but fucking Napalm Death live is the best thing ever. Oh, mate, you must check them out.
Coming on from your influences, you joined your current band mates Dave Gray and Pete Benjamin in Akercocke as their line up changed. First up, I’ve heard many different pronunciations of the “old band”, so, horse’s mouth, what is it…?
Ack – er – cock – err is how we pronounced it in the band
It’s an association that will always exist for Voices, but does the retained interest in Akercocke continue to surprise you?
I’m just a fan of the band. I was lucky enough to play with them in their last wave, though I’d known them for a number of years, but I was just a fan of the band like everyone else. But the legacy, the fact that people hark back to the Akercocke and say our sound is reminiscent of it sometimes, is all complimentary to me. They’re still an influence on me, particularly Jason’s playing and singing, so I only see the association as a positive thing, but we take that legacy and are looking to move forward with Voices. We are trying to establish ourselves with our own identity, which is happening.
So, what happened with the transition to Voices, and the unwinding of Akercocke?
Unwinding is the right word, the best way to describe it. There wasn’t any specific moment or thing that led to it. Myself, Dave and Pete wanted to continue jamming whilst Jason (Mendonca – guitars/vocals) was in a position where, well, life took over. It got to the stage where we were trying to meet up weekly (with Jason) and it wasn’t happening, so we thought “While we’re here, let’s get some music together”. There was no intention to bring it into a band scenario, but between the three of us, some songs started to form. We realized it had serious legs to it and we wanted to pursue it while seeing if Akercocke would continue, because we didn’t know what would happen there because Akercocke is Jason’s thing.
What we were doing, organically became songs and then within a couple of months a whole album. It happened like that, quick but naturally and organically. There was a general idea to do something more minimal and primal, moving away from the progressive metal that Akercocke was steeped within. We wanted to strip it back and do a cold, harsh black metal band, but at the same time, not shy away from the disposition that Ak always had of doing something a little punky, a little avant-garde, and being open minded, while stripping it back from the complexities that Akercocke pursued.
We were definitely comfortable having played with each other for a number of years and in the same rehearsal space, but it wasn’t like we were looking to do material that would be the next Akercocke, because obviously Jason’s the man when it comes to Ak. So it was “let’s do something a bit different and see where it goes from there”. There was no attempt to re-do Akercocke, and there’s no way we could have done that as they were such an idiosyncratic band, but we have a musical language and understanding between us, which was why it was so fruitious in the early stages.
Do you think Akercocke is an entity that will be revisited?
I don’t have the authority to say one way or the other, but you just never know. Jason’s still a great musician who loves to play, Dave still loves to play, so it all depends on life and if it’s something they want to revisit, or just leave it with the legacy it has. I say, never say never, but right now, Voices is what’s happening and it seems unlikely Ak is going to return anytime soon. But like most other people, I’m saying fingers crossed for some point.
Words by STEVE TOVEY