This interview was originally published on Doomantia Webzine
in 2011. The site has since gone offline
Before we get started, I feel I should update
us all on present Unsilence activity. Our vocalist/guitarist James Kilmurray
will be starting a radiology degree next year and it will be impossible
for him to make a regular commitment to Unsilence. However, we have most
of the next album written and we will be recording whatever we have ready
before James starts his course. Weather we can manage another album depends
on what we have ready by then. Hopefully we will as the new material is
about three-quarters ready.
1b) Also, Unsilence involved members from other intriguing bands of the UK undeground scene and with whom, though, professional relationships still go on. So you are still all good friends. Therefore, why such an instability?
The only members we've had who were involved
in other known UK doom bands would be Jonathon who became the drummer
in The River when he moved down south for a while. And our first drummer
Ric did a stint in Esoteric. But we haven't been in touch with him for
2a) The many line-up changes and the different provenance of the musicians involved (including the founder members) must have brought many inputs to the forging of Unsilence's style. So I would like you to mention your landmarks in inspiration for both sound and lyrics, and also say how your references changed in time, if they did, especially for the readers who know you guys less.
In the time leading to our formation, our
first guitarist Ric Harding had been writing stuff in the doom/death vein
like My Dying Bride and Anathema, which was a burgeoning style at that
time. I also enjoyed doom/death but it didn't have the same impact on
me. I was a few years older and had influences which went back a bit further
to bands like Candlemass, Celtic Frost, Bathory, etc. And also our singer
wasn't really into growling. So when Ric left the band when we were
writing the second demo, the death/doom influence subsided. A few years
later, our drummer Jonathon started writing material. And he had more
in common in terms of influences, even though he was younger than Ric.
He liked bands like Iron Maiden, which I did but Ric didn't. I guess he
was the start of the younger generation getting into heavy metal.
2b) But I am curious about one feature of your early days: why did you, Kieron with Rick (Harding), Mick (Grundy) and Ric (Barnes), decided to steer towards doom in a period when a lot had still to be said and done also in the genres, like death metal, you were militating in during the 90's?
I was into doom metal like Candlemass and was discovering more of it at the time we formed. Coupled with the emerging death/doom bands in the early 90s, there was more than enough of a basis for us to develop our style on. I had been playing death metal for a few years and felt that I had gone as far as I could with it. I was also less into the trebly sounds of the black metal scene at that time, at least from a playing viewpoint. Having said that, there were divisions in the approach of that first line up. Mick left the band about a year after we started. He played in my old band and just came with us when we formed Unsilence. But he wasn't really into what we were doing. And the two Rics were gone a year or so later although their departures were more to do with issues outside of music. But they had different ideas, which made our style a bit erratic back then. To sum it up, we were rather unsettled about the direction of the band in those early days. Perhaps we could have waited a bit longer to release something. It wasn't until we did "Transfiguration" that I think we found our style and direction. Not to mention the improvement in quality. No matter what we do, "Transfiguration" will always be a landmark release for us. In many ways it feels like our first release.
3a) Unsilences on-stage activity has been a bit discontinuous over these long years for obvious reasons. You guys did start early in being involved in gigs with big names, like Benediction, The Blood Divine, Anathema, Warning, Forsaken, etc., and in the past years you successfully took part in some great events and festivals. Was it frustrating for you, Kieron, to see so many occasions for exposure burnt off by the internal instability of the band? Or was this oscillating activity fit for running after everyday life issues? I mean, did the band have strong ambitions for emerging?
I don't think we've ever been a strongly ambitious band in the conventional sense. Primarily, we're here to do the music, which comes from our hearts. When it comes to making that music public, weve always aimed for what was immediate. Like when we started, we knew we would like to release a demo rather than thinking about albums. It was only later when we'd built up a name and had label interest that we started to think about doing an album. Same with gigs abroad. It's something in the back of our minds. But it wasn't until such opportunities became possible that we started to concentrate on them. Playing bigger gigs is exciting. But even when these things don't happen, there is something that keeps us going. Having said that, if we didn't have the line-up changes, then there would have been more gigs and recorded output. And we might have had more of a foothold than we have today. And the fact that we did something in the past also means that whatever foothold we do have is stronger than if we were a new band.
3b) Your first big gig outside the territories of the "British Islands" took place only in 2007. However it took place in a really magic underground event, I guess, The Malta Doom Festival. I say so also especially because this year I'm going to see that festival for the first time. How did you live that great experience, even if coming so late in the band's history? I guess it was a cool reward after missing the participation to the Doom Shall Rise Festival in Germany in 2005 ...
The visits we made over to Ireland gave us a taste of what it would be like to eventually travel a bit further. Especially the first trip as there hadn't been as many bands visiting Ireland back then. The trip to Malta was the first significantly further away gig. It certainly made an impression. Malta has a small but enthusiastic scene. And like Ireland when we first played there, they'd not had many bands going over there. It certainly made up for having to miss Doom Shall Rise in 2005 due to our singer's departure. As far as getting gigs abroad was concerned, it had become something of a jinx for us (Ireland aside). We originally had our first offers to play abroad when we were signed to fellow Italians Seven Art Music back in the mid-90s. None of them came off. And we were due to play the Dutch Doom day back in 2003 but Jonathon had left then. We also nearly got to play it again in 2006. So when we finally managed to play the Dutch Doom Day nearly two years ago (our first gig on the European mainland), it certainly felt awesome. Then we got to do Doom Shall Rise six months later and it didn't seem real that we should have another foreign gig so soon. But we certainly lapped it up. We were entitled to.
4) How is it going with the search of the drummer? In the line-up changes experienced by the band long periods seem to have been passed before replacing the missing roles. At the time of the 2009 album you were again in search of a drummer. Did you find one? If not, what is the problem? Are you looking for peculiar expertise or is it because there has always been shortage of musicians in the extreme metal scene? I ask you this because sometimes I hear similar considerations from other bands, although when you chat with people at gigs it seems there are so many people playing and willing to play in a heavy band ...
It's a combination of a few things. We're
in one of the most populated areas of the country. And there are drummers
round here who would have potential. But there's very few who are into
doom metal. It's not essential that they have to be hardcore fans. But
without that genuine appreciation of the music then various problems will
arise. As we've found with some of the drummers we've had. I'm not sure
about any particular expertise when playing our music. But one thing many
drummers we've tried have struggled with has been the pace at which they
play the song. As our music is generally at a slower tempo and many of
them will play things too fast without any regard for the pace of the
song of or for letting the riffs and melodies breath. It's that coupled
with the slack attitude many musicians have. It seems there's many ten-pence
musicians out there. We tried a few drummers out late last year and I
honestly don't know why some of them bothered. Some didn't even bother
learning any of the material or seemed even that interested.
5a) Unsilences style has been variably defined by the many reviewers and webzines that spoke about the band. I found the tag of "forest doom death" by Terrorizer as particularly curious but consistent. In general there's something in Unsilence, which is shared, with several other doom bands from UK. I am thinking about the sense and the types of melody (heavy, undoubtedly, but also with some peculiar, epic folk elements and related musical instruments or techniques, like violins and acoustic sounds), the melancholy almost reflecting grey as well as majestic landscapes as well as a sort of sense of the regret for a legendary past ... Is it true that British doom metal bands have their own specific style or is it just a casual similarity?
Many of the themes of our music come from personal experience rather than a general perspective. But I think that the environment I grew up in played a part in developing our sound. I grew up in a largely built up area that was largely industrial but was deckling. But I was also close moorland, which inspires a certain mystique. Not to mention plenty of rain. England has produced some of the leading metal bands, yet the music doesn't get that same level of recognition that it does in other countries. It thinks metal goes against the generally
restrained attitude of the English. And I wonder if it's this underdog status, which drives the bands we produce.
5b) I think the stylistic features of heaviness inherited by previous experiences as well as of passion were retained in the even changing band arrangements in spite of the fact that Unsilence shifted from melodic doom/death metal to epic traditional doom. I mean, the band changed a lot, in any aspect, and especially (and radically) in the line-up, but, after all, one can still recognize the pristine band's style, and this is remarkable! How did you see this happen? Is it because Unsilence is to be identified with Kieron, the only original band member left, since its very early days?
It might be that my writing and playing style has served as a constant, despite the succession of other writers in the band. I'd never really thought about us switching from doom/ death to epic doom in such a calculated way. We wanted the vocals to be more melodic for example. As our first guitarist did a lot of writing on the first demo and some on the second, you had his death/doom-influenced style along with mine. And in later years when Jonathon later James started writing, there would be my own style combined with their ideas. Although by that point an Unsilence style had developed.
5c) The new album, Under a Torn sky, has received excellent reviews and, as far as I saw on various webzines and forums, some debate and moderate contrasting comments, although basically within the limits of highly positive judgement. One thing that struck me most was the common opinion that the band has been growing and definitely "matured". Great professionalism, depth and craftsmanship as if it were the product of the physiological evolution of a normal endowed band. But this is no normal band! So I think it is great that in spite of all the radical changes the band has been able to keep their original style, or better imprint, since the early days. So I guess I have to ask ... Is Unsilence to be identified with Kieron, the only early-day original band member left, since its beginning? If so, what is the degree of creative freedom of the other band members and their role in song writing and in the evolution of the band's sound?
I really don't see myself as being Unsilence. , as the other members had played a significant role in the development of our sound. I've always tried to encourage the others with their ideas and I've always been excited by the way we can bounce ideas off each other. If you find musicians of a similar mindset then creative differences will be kept to a minimum. Apart from one former member, there hasn't been any creative tension. Both Jonathon and James had been in the band for some time before they started writing. So by the time they did, they'd became absorbed with our style and was able to blend their writing around that.
I think you're referring to a review or our performance at the Dutch Doom Day. It's not the usual heavy metal style and therefore not something that can easily win over the casual crowd. At that particular gig the reviewer was already familiar with our music.
6b) The emotional vocal style has been a distinguishing feature of Unsilence during the years. I loved Andrew Hodson's vocal tone. However it sounds almost like an incredible coincidence that, when Andrew left the band, guitarist James Kilmurray's performance on vocals came out to be in remarkable line with what had come before. Notwithstanding, James' performance is great, strongly emotional, energetic and his style quite personal. James, would you like to write something about this experience of yours?
(JAMES KILMURRAY) I agree with what you say about the similarities. For a start, being in a band together we all share a lot of musical tastes. A lot of the music that influenced Andrews vocals would have been a common influence on the rest of us.
7) The band's activity developed slowly in the past but especially in these last two years you guys seem to have been accelerating: the 2009 album Under The Torn Sky, then the making of a new project (The Human Condition) and eventually a new album about to be released. What happened? Did you change something in the song writing or did you get a stimulating response from the fans or the scene? Or is this related to other reasons?
You're probably speaking about me personally rather than Unsilence. We were probably more active after James took over the singing back in 2006/2007. We were gigging and rehearsing quite regularly although the writing of what became the Under a Torn Sky album was rather slow. It probably looks like we're more active as we've had an album out and the few gigs we managed were more high profile. Not to mention we're getting ready for the next album as opposed to the lengthy gap between "...Oceans" and "...Torn Sky". Since doing the album, we've only played two gigs. And since the last one (Doom Shall Rise a year last April), writing material for the new album has been our only activity (apart from a few drummer auditions). This has largely been due to not having a permanent drummer. But there are also the other things in life, which take priority as time goes by. And there are the other musical activities. The Human Condition has become quite serious for me. Also James partakes in other musical activity. Doing open-mic nights down his local. It's all acoustic guitars based and not metal at all. But its something which means a lot to him.
8)What is the relationship between Unsilence and the new band The Human Condition? The legacy relationships are known and a common ground is undeniable, at least on some features of the overall style. But I would like you to tell me about it, how the project started and how you see its development and how you think it will influence Unsilence (if the case applies), etc..
Jonathon became a father in 2005 and moved
back up north. He started working on material with some kind of project
in mind. A few years later, he asked if I would like to help him out.
At that point it looked like it would become a project as he'd asked musicians
from other bands to help out. But he then managed to get a whole band
together about two years ago. The relationship between The Human Condition
and Unsilence is that I play in both bands and Jonathon (who does guitar
in The Human Condition) was in Unsilence and still helps us out. I have
yet to contribute any material towards The Human Condition, as I don't
want it to interfere with writing for Unsilence. And as we're broadly
in the same genre of music, it wants to avoid the dilemma of having to
decide what to use for what band. But it's possible that I might write
some material in the future.
9) What do you think about the sort of general "awakening" of interest for downtuned heavy music, and in general "old metal" done by old as well as brand new bands, that has been sweeping across Europe, especially, and elsewhere in the last years? Do you think it is a phenomenon that is bringing a cool contribution to the scene or are you pessimistic about the results?
It's hard to take in. I thought metal would remain some kind of cult mainly made up of the dwindling fans from the heyday along with the occasional new fans. I could never have believed it would regain the ground in the way it has done. There seemed to be a stigma towards metal from younger generations after my own. And I assumed this would continue with subsequent generations. But younger generations have embraced metal. I remember thinking how unusual it was for Jonathon (who's a good few years younger than I am) to be into Iron Maiden when he joined back in '96 But back in the nineties when metal declined in popularity, the ways of promoting music were more limited than they are now. And the music industry had more clout in pushing its agenda. But the Internet has changed this. Also, as terrible as Nu Metal was, at least it got a younger generation into heavier sounds. This surge in popularity is largely a good thing. If there were a downside to it then it would have to be the possible commercial opportunities that would come with it. And a watering down in quality.
10) Can you tell us something about the new album you have been working on as of late? You had mentioned me about a new direction for the production relative to the 2009 album. But are we going to expect some surprise, some diversion from the previous style?
As I write, we have five finished tracks
and ideas for a few more. Although the five we have nearly makes up the
time for an album so we might just settle for six songs. All we need to
do with those songs is finish the lyrics. With James leaving next year,
it depends what we can get ready on time as far as another album goes.
I think it can be done but whatever happens, we will record some new material
with James before he leaves.
11)Unsilence's music is epic and sorrowful, but I am sure you guys are as jolly metallers as many seen around at gigs. I mean, the experience of playing one's beloved music in freedom can't but be an experience, which gives inner satisfaction. So I am sure you guys do have a smiley side you would like to let people know ...
Like everybody, we have a complicated range
of emotions, given the situation. And in our music it's the more sorrowful,
deeper kind of emotions that we feel the need to portray. And the lighter
side doesn't get much of a look in, as it would undermine what we're really
about. It's a limitation but one we can more than live with.
A FIRE ON THE SEA
A TORN SKY