Whilst the UK hasn’t always been recognised as a hotbed for Black Metal bar the occasional, exceptional case; recent times suggest the burgeoning of a rich scene in the underground; from the likes of A Forest Of Stars getting wide plaudits to the new breed which includes Wode, Underdark and Dawn Ray’d flying the flag. Also throwing their hat into the ring, Nottingham up-and-comers Antre offer a somewhat esoteric and widely influenced strain of the genre with a full-length debut that not only personifies the depth the genre has to offer but also puts them as a prime force in the UK’s scene. Continue reading →
To celebrate the release of their stunning 9/10 album Carrion Skies (Code666 – review here) The Watcher, guitarist and vocalist of England’s atmospheric post-Black Metal band Fen spoke to Ghost Cult on a range of subjects. In the first of four parts, with a further feature to follow in the next Ghost Cult digimag, he enthuses on the conscious injection of metal back into their sound that facilitated the statement album that should propel them to the head table…
“You look at a band like Paradise Lost. When they started out, they couldn’t be more Heavy Metal. Then they get to 24, 25 years old and then it’s ‘Heavy Metal is for losers. I’ve been listening to this for 10 years, it’s old hat. I’ve heard all there is to hear of this, it’s for bozos. I like Depeche Mode, let’s do that and let’s be all grown up’. But then it goes full circle, and when they hit their late 30’s they’re ‘God, I think I was a pretentious little twat back then! I actually do like Heavy Metal and I wasn’t anywhere near as clever as I thought I was when I went all experimental’.
“You see it a bit with the Norwegian scene, too, that all went ludicrously avant-garde in the late 90’s. It’s like they all went to university and thought ‘Ooh, I want to be clever now. What’s clever? Well, heavy metal definitely isn’t, so…’
“The thing is, I like Heavy Metal. I want to play Heavy Metal. It sounds a bit Bad News, but I love Heavy Metal. I listen to Heavy Metal. Heavy Metal.”
Once people stray away from the metal part of their sound they’re moving into a shallower pool of influences, and have a shortfall in their depth of knowledge. The problem is, bands not understanding these additional elements of their sound as much as they do the metal… I’m not saying don’t utilise these additional, non-metal influences, but make sure you understand what you’re doing…
“Exactly. It is dabbling. It’s going ‘I’ve been listening to a load of synthy 80s new wave bands recently, we can do something with that’. And there’s a danger for bands to get really carried away, and I think this is what was happening with us.
“At the start of last year, the end of the year before, we’d done Dustwalker (the band’s third album, also on Code666) and me and our drummer, Derwydd, had been listening to loads of Sad Lovers and Giants, The Chameleons and Snake Corps, all these guitarwave bands. Then, in rehearsal I thought I’d turn the distortion off, put a bit chorus and delay on it and, oh, we can sound like that… and it’s easy to carried away with it when you’re playing one style so much. But to your ears it’s a really fresh sound, and you’re like ‘Yes! We can do this!’ At points we were even talking about doing a whole album like that, a whole album with clean guitars.
“It was only when we got back from touring with Agalloch that we realised that we’d got completely over-excited about the fact that we do listen to some non-metal stuff and we can do a passable version of it. But it’s not really enough, and we did have to put the brakes on and take a look at it, and say ‘Are we just playing a slightly rubbish version of The Chameleons with some guy shouting over it?’ And in all honesty, we were.
“We took a really objective step back and looked at it, and a lot of the stuff that was originally pencilled in to be on the album was binned off. We had gotten carried away and were disappearing up our own arses.”
An integral part of the Fen sound has always been that it comes from black metal and the inherent extremity of black metal first, despite the fact that you are often compared with bands like Agalloch and Alcest, who are much lighter, much “nicer”…
“I like Agalloch and I like some of the early Alcest, but it’s a bit of a lazy comparison I think. Particularly with this new album, we’ve set ourselves apart from that. I mean, touring with Agalloch for a month… they do that stuff really well, but we don’t want to sound like that. They’ve got that sound nailed. We sat down and said we needed to define ourselves, we needed to really underline what we’re about.
“Unfortunately there are bands out there who don’t take that step back until it’s too late, until it’s ‘Oh shit, we’re not as clever as we think we are’, but I can see it from the other side of the fence, that it’s easy to get swept up in it. Everyone gets whipped up into a fervour, and gets all ‘We can do it! This is so different! Look at how versatile we are!’ , but any competent musician can turn their hand to doing a vague version of another style, but doing it well is a different thing.”
“Dustwalkeris a metal album, but we did go down a certain route. There’s a lot of atmospheric stuff on there, there’s a whole song on there that’s got no distorted guitars whatsoever. With this one, we thought ‘We’re in the mood for metal, we want to do some metal!’ We’re an extreme metal band and it’s almost become a cliché for bands that are in the post-black metal scene to shed the trappings of black metal, and that’s not a game I’m interested in playing.
“I want to reassert our credentials as a metal band.”
Total Fucking Darkness transcended the role a demo normally plays, achieving near-legendary status in the murky underground of the early 90s. To celebrate its official release some 21 years later, original Cradle of Filth guitarist Paul Ryanspoke to Ghost Cult.
In the beginning Cradle of Filth was a death metal band. But, just like no good story ever starts with drinking tea, so no good story really starts at the beginning. It usually gets going a little while after that. For Cradle of Filth, one of Britain’s most successful metal exports, things really started to pick up pace 18 months into their existence with the dawn of their third demo tape, Total Fucking Darkness. Affectionately known as ‘TFD’, it showcased a band moving beyond a juvenile but enthusiastic love of Autopsy et al into one embracing black metal influences that were to go on and define their sound, and a young, hungry band undergoing metamorphosis into something special.
Yet, TFD was the unplanned child. It wasn’t supposed to happen…
“We were looking at signing to a label called Tombstone” begins Ryan, “and we went into a studio to record the Goetia album, but the label didn’t want to pay for it. Unfortunately at the time, tape was very expensive and we were all from working-class backgrounds and none of us could afford to pay for it, so the studio wiped the tapes.”
Such a crushing blow would have derailed many a young band, but instead destiny intervened and the group were now heading down their own left hand path… “We had a situation, but we weren’t going to give up” the guitarist confirms.The break that Cradle were dealt was that it allowed a new influx of influences to infiltrate the bands’ sound away from the public eye. “At the time there was such a rich vein of music and new influences kicking around, it was a transition for a lot of people going from death metal into the second wave of black metal. Even though bands like Bathory and Celtic Frost are lumped in with black metal, it was all very separated at the time. It was more looked upon as weird European thrash, it wasn’t called black metal then.”
But black metal was making its’ mark on the hungry band from South East England and tracks like the creeping, atmospheric, Hammer Horror tinged Gothic masterpiece ‘The Black Goddess Rises’, still a classic and fan favourite to this day, were born and found their way onto TFD.
“The second wave of black metal that was coming in, we were starting to listen to it. Burzum, demos that you’d pick up through tape trading, Immortal and Darkthrone, and that became a real influence on us, Emperor, in particular. And then when we played with Emperor that opened our mind up to a lot of that stuff. It wasn’t as contrived as ‘we’ve got to do this or that’, it just felt like the right thing to do. And it fun was to put that mask on and go out and play shows and have people looking at you like they didn’t know what the fuck was going on. That was exciting.”
UNBRIDLED AT DUSK
The reason I’m sat in a car after a The King Is Blind (Paul Ryan’s new band) rehearsal with Paul, talking about the events of some 21+years ago, is because as part of the acknowledgement of the 20th anniversary of their essential and classic debut The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh, serendipitously Cradle mainman Dani Filth and the guitarist who departed the band less than a year after the release of Principle… came together, and a conversation led to them pulling together a reissue of the demo that, essentially, spawned the beast that Cradle became.
“There’s a little bit of self-indulgence with it (the TFD reissue), but we were aware there was some interest from the old school Cradle fans that they wanted to see some of the earlier material, but we did it because we wanted to do it. Dan and I hadn’t spoken to each other really, outside of bumping into each other at festivals, for 16 years. Then, by chance, we end up having a meal together, catching up, talking a lot about old times and when a mutual friend of ours, (Frater Nihil of Mordgrimm Records, who originally signed the band to Cacophonous for the debut), found out we were hanging out again he suggested the idea of sticking the demo out as he had the master.”
Rather than just reissuing the original 5 tracks, the ball was rolling with impetus to put out something that would really interest Cradle fans, old and new.
“Dan went up in his loft, and I went round me Mum’s and went up in her loft and we literally sat down at the table and between the 3 of us we had quite the horde of old pictures and tapes. And when we sat down with the tapes one of the things that we managed to find was the first track on this release, which was ‘Spattered In Faeces’. The only existing song from the Goetia album was a tape copy that had sat in a shoebox up in Dani’s loft for literally 20 years!
So, what else (quite literally) ended up on the table? “We found a really good rehearsal which had ‘Devil Mayfair’ on it, which was a track that didn’t make it onto ‘TFD’. The intro to ‘Unbridled…’, that sort of backwards intro, is actually that song reversed, but the proper recording of that was lost as well. We also found some keyboard tracks that weren’t used that went on to be used on both ‘Principle…’ and ‘Dusk…’ that my brother (Ben, former Cradle keyboard player) did. So, all in all, we have a good mixture of stuff of interest for anyone that gives a shit about stuff from around that time.
“We’ve still got stuff from the first 2 demos, there’s still loads of stuff kicking around” responds the affable Ryan when asked what else was uncovered once the treasure trove had been unlocked. “With the interest that this has had, we fully plan at looking at the first 2 demos.” I mentioned before that no good story starts right at the beginning. That’s because the beginning is always a story in its’ own right. These days, there’s always a prequel…. “We’ll probably look at doing the first two demos together, as it’s a separate period for the band. TFD’s relevant in respect of the fact it’s the 20th anniversary of The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh this year and all the stuff on TFD was the prequel to that album. It’s a bit more its’ own entity than the first two demos, which are much more Death metal. Together I’m sure they’ll make a very interesting release with some of the other stuff we’ve got for it.”
The option to explore more of the unreleased very early material is made easier due the exceptional response to the TFD reissue. Has the level of response taken you and Dan by surprise? “Very much so. We did it initially because we thought it would be a cool thing to do, and we wanted to do it as a collectors thing, but the interest has just snowballed. The pre-sales for it were really good. Initially we wanted to do 666, and if we sold them, great, and if we didn’t then we’d sell them over time, but it’s far surpassed that, and it’s turned into a different beast really.
“We did 666 double-vinyls – there’s 222 each of 3 different splatter combinations.” With exceptional artwork from occult painter (and Radio DJ) Daniel P Carter to boot, TFD could be called “Total Fucking Package”… “We also did a limited box set of 66 copies which sold out within an hour when we stuck them online, which is great, and there’s a retail blue vinyl edition and a CD digipack. It’s also on digital, I think iTunes have stuck it out now.”
FRATERNALLY YOURS, 666
While our conversation started off covering the start of the rise of Cradle, it turns to the end of Paul’s (first) journey with the band. Shortly after an absolutely vicious and near legendary headline show at the prestigious Marquee Club, London, back in 1995, where the tension on stage crackled and was palpable even out in the crowd, Paul, along with half the band, and Cradle parted ways.
How was it meeting up with Dani again? “Yeah, it was really cool. We had bumped into each other on festival fields and locations around Europe over the last 10 years or so with me working as a booking agent, and it had always been very amicable. But that was the first time we’d had a proper chat. It was good. It was just like old times, really. I think, being a bit older, you kind of look back on these things with a much more rounded view. They’ve obviously gone on to have a lot of success, and I’ve been very fortunate with my career as a booking agent (Paul’s roster of bands includes, amongst others, Trivium, Bullet For My Valentine, In Flames, Lamb of God, Amon Amarth and Bring Me The Horizon), so we had a lot to talk about.”
With the departure of yourself, your brother and Paul Allender (who subsequently rejoined the band in 2000 before leaving again in April this year) after Principle…, how does it feel looking back now? Any awkwardness or bitterness? “It’s interesting, when you’re younger you don’t think of things in long-term factors, you don’t think of the consequences of it, you just do what you think is right. And when we left and did The Blood Divine we were quite happy to just go in a different direction, and we weren’t really paying any attention to anything that was going on with them any more than they were with us.
“To be fair, if I hadn’t stayed working in music and hadn’t had the career that I’ve had and been very successful doing it, I might feel very differently about it. But I’ve had my career off the back of being in that band and it’s helped me a great deal. The foresight and insight it gave me was invaluable. Being older and having benefited from it, I can’t look back and not have anything but very warm feelings about it, to be honest.”
“I do want to thank the people who’ve been interested in this, and hope they enjoy it as much as I have. It’s been a really rewarding experience, to be honest.”