UNSILENCE INTERVIEW WITH HELLRIDE 17.01.2015
For the Classic Doom Metal aficionado not hipped to the sounds of Unsilence, do yourself a favor and take a listen to this long-running British band. There's no pretension or gimmick, just three guys making music from the heart. Unsilence is heavy sure, but there is a melancholy beauty in their music that is striking coupled with a flair for the epic. I love the vocals because they're sung properly, clean with a resonant timbre and passionately delivered, right up front in the mix. In this interview, we talk with Kieron and Jay about their long history and their evolution from a death/doom band to the majestic metal heard on their new album A Fire On The Sea.
Hellride Music: I've been listening to Doom Metal for a long, long time and when I think truly Epic doom metal, I think of Forsaken (Malta), Mirror of Deception, Warning, Solstice, ThunderStorm (Italy) and definitely Unsilence occupy my mindspace. As a band, Unsilence has a history much longer than most. Can you levelset the readers to the history of the band to this point? Secondly, can you speak to what has kept you at it for so long? It seems to me that Doom is the most polarizing of metal's many genres. Either you get it or you don't, and if you get it, you're cursed with it forever. It gets it's claws into that way. Is that what keeps you guys going? Or do I have it ass-backward?
(KIERON) The band started around this time 21 years ago (December '93). The first couple of years were pretty chaotic with line-up changes, the musical directrion of the band, etc. We recorded an album which didn't turn out great and the label who was supposed to release it went under. After that, the line-up and direction stablised and we released the 'Transfiguration' MCD (2000) and the 'A Walk Through Oceans' MCD in 2002. After that, two major line-up changes slowed things down as drummer Jonathon Gibbs left in 2003 and our vocalist Andrew Hodson left in 2005. It wasn't until 2009, with Jonathon rejoining on a stand-in basis and guitarist James Kilmurray having taken over the vocals, that we released our debut album 'Under A Torn Sky. Our next album, 'A Fire On The Sea' was released in June this year.
Given the headspace which the heaviness and the melodies of doom metal can evoke, it really is a no turning back situation. The lack of tangiable sucess, which is usually what makes bands throw in the towel, is a rather shallow notion compared to this. You'll push yourself to the desired standard with your latest release. And then over time you want to do it again as your perception of it all will have developed. Ultimately good luck also plays a part in that we've been able to find the musicians to do this with. Before Unsilence, I'd been playing in a death metal band (Burial) but I wanted something which as well as being crushingly heavy, got to the emotional depth behind that.
Hellride: That's a very noble notion when you think about it, tangible success isn't even on your guys' radar. From what you say, you're in it solely for the artistic expression.You can't really 'throw in the towel' because for you it seems like the towel doesn't even exist! Shifting units or selling T-shirts seems like an afterthought. Would this also explain why Unsilence flips the bird to convention with what's happening in modern Doom? There are no guttural vocals, no sickly down-tuned guitars, no OTT Occult imagery... you guys seem to be the new 'extreme doom' simply because you are flying in the face of convention and being true to your own unique artistic vision vs jumping on a passing band wagon. Am I reading too much into this? Do you guys pay any attention to what's going on currently musically and do you ever feel like "Bah! Let me put a couple of pentagrams on my album cover, tune down a bit more and get Billy Anderson to produce my next record and show these kids how to do it!"?
(KIERON) We've all been around for a bit and have established what we are and what we're comfortable with.
On our first demo we did lean towards a more doom/death style, which was burgeoning in our country at that time. A genre which we still have a lot of respect for. We were actually using more guttural vocals. Something which our first singer quickly realised he didn't want to do (apart from a verse on a later song) and something our present singer would never do. I think we were just a bit too eager to get things going. But as we settled, we realised that music had gained more momentum for us than merely being a UK doom/death also ran. For example, some of the younger musicians who were with us briefly would be influenced Anathema, etc, but I remembered Candlemass, Celtic Frost, etc.
I don't get to hear all the new stuff that's around nowadays. Not out of any kind of belligerence but because there's quite a lot of stuff to keep up with. And in some cases, I can remember what some of the new bands are doing when others did it first time around. Not necessarily a bad thing as some can do it well, but others not as well. If you look at what the doom metal pioneers did, they took influence from bands they grew up with, played what came from the heart but established their own identity. There wasn't a doom metal blueprint to adhere to. To look at it from a "show these kids how to do it" perspective, there isn't a better way. Not to mention that at best, we've a limited interest in the occult.
(JAY) I'd agree with Kieron that Unsilence had sort of forged its own identity a fair while ago. While I wasn't part of the band then but I'm aware of it as a fan. Nowadays I donít think thereís another band that sounds quite like Unsilence. It sounds like a ridiculous cliche and everyone says it but I think the band really is about the music above everything else. I donít really think that sets us apart all that much. Lots of bands put the music first. It's just got to be that way really or I don't think we'd be doing it. I just like getting together with people I get on with and making music that Iíd want to listen to. There's not going to be any commercial success, no big festival appearances, no new albums being streamed on Pitchfork or NPR.
It's frustrating sometimes. It feels like when it comes to exposure the more traditional end of the doom spectrum is being squeezed out hard by the millions of sludge bands and "blackened doom" bands, not to mention this occult rock craze. I don't think it makes sense to be critical of it really. It's just not really my thing, with the exception of a handful of bands who do it really well. I just think it's a shame that bands like ourselves don't get the attention I think the music deserves.
It can be hard to keep up with everything thatís going on. Thereís so much out there and Iím constantly short of cash. I did see The Wounded Kings live recently and thought they were great. Iron Void have started getting a bit of attention after plugging away for years. The new Apostle of Solitude album is great. Iím a big fan of Argus. My friends in Coltsblood are getting well-deserved attention. I will say though that I think Billy Anderson did a great job with the new Pallbearer record. That's my album of 2014.
Hellride Music: So it seems like Unsilence does what it does and that's the way it is. That's fair enough, you guys definitely have a definitive style that isn't in sync with what seems to be popular these days. That's a Red Badge of Courage in my book, but it's my job to pigeonhole and heap praise or disdain, not yours. And so it shall be. When you look at the more recent Unsilence albums, from "A Walk Through Oceans" to "Under a Torn Sky" to "A Fire On The Sea", what do you see as the main differences between the three? Kieron, as the Unsilence mainstay, what has each musician contributed that is unique? James, from your perspective as a relative newcomer, how do you think "A Fire On The Sea" compares to previous material? What do you consider as your main contribution to the band in it's current incarnation? What have you brought that may have been lacking or nonexistent previous to your joining the band?
(KIERON) With "A Walk Through Oceans", that particular line-up had been together for two years since James Kilmurray (who I'll refer to as Kil from now on) joined on guitar. Although the rest of us had been together for over three years before that with other guitarists. So you had quite a solid unit that had developed together. Back then, we wrote the music first and then added vocals later. But some ideas weren't working as well that way as we didn't have an idea of the whole character of the song. And also with the hindsight that the original singer Andrew Hodson left nearly two years later, his dwindling interest was showing in his performance. Still, a lot of great material on there. We'd been recording at Academy studio with Mags who had been a a great producer and a real boost for us. But the production turned out a bit too clinical, particularly with the guitars. At that point the studio had moved to a smaller digital set-up and the guitars were DI-ed through a Line 6 POD. We were initially pleased with the guitar tone but over time felt that it sounded a little too artificial and not too distinctive.
"Under A Torn Sky" was written over a period of six years with two major line up changes and it's quite a diverse, maybe disjointed album because of it. Kil had taken over the vocals and was more confident in his approach than his predecessor, giving us a new leash of life. This brought more possibilities with the songwriting and ultimately the flow of the songs had improved. A downside to this was that with some of the material, more emphasis was put on the melody than the riff. And the drummer we had at that time was also pushing for a more melodic direction. I sometimes wonder if we should have had an overhaul of the material before we recorded it. But they were all great songs and they showed the journey we'd been on in the years between "...Oceans". It's just that the album was written over a long period of time and naturally some ideas were less representive of where we were going at that point. The production of this album was a bit of a disaster. The engineer turned out not to be what we wanted and we struggled to get the right mix. It was a good enough sound but fell short of improving on the clinical aspects of "...Oceans" like we had hoped. It does sound better on vinyl though. The only release of ours on glorious 'V' so far!
With Kil and I having become more settled with our resources, we were able to approach the writing for "A Fire On The Sea" with a more balanced sense of direction. All the elements of our style, the heavy riffs, the melody, the emotion are are more consistent. We recorded the album at Full Stack Studio with Matt Richardson and this time we've managed to get the production right. We've retained the sharper type of sound we have. But made it heavier without going more sludgier and compromising the identity.
(JAY) I'd say that from Transfiguration, through A Walk Through Oceans and onto the full-length records there's been a clear progression, a development of a really unique style. I think over the course of those four releases, Unsilence found a voice for itself, particularly when Kil took over the vocals.
The new album really codifies what the band was doing on Under a Torn Sky. I'd say the new one is a little bit more direct. The production is a lot weightier and that really helps the songs come through. Before I was in the band, Kieron showed me some rough demos of the material and I was blown away by it. I knew I wanted to play on this album.
I like albums that take you on a journey. I thought the last record did that well but this one does it better. There's a more coherent structure to the whole thing. It's a bit like going on a voyage, with each part of each song acting like a place you visit, or a part of the scenery on the way. I think the album will take you places if you let it.
As for what I bring to the band, I haven't really been involved in the songwriting but that's fine because there's already two good writers in the band. I'm not very good at analysing what I do. I just came in, came up with the basslines on my own and solidified them in a couple of practices before we went into the studio. You'll have to ask Kieron what he thinks.
Hellride Music: OK, I'll do just that. Kieron, what do you think that Jay brings to the band that is unique?
(KIERON) When our previous bassist left, the plan was for Kil and I to share the bass duties on the album. But the attention I'd have needed to give the bass would have interfered with the guitar work I needed to concentrate on. So the obvious thing was to ask Jay, as I knew he'd be up to the task from working with him in The Human Condition.
The one apprehension I had was that the more distorted tone he uses in The Human Condition (and previously with Misericorde) is very different from the cleaner tone our previous bassist had and that it might not work. So I did tell him there might be a need to adapt his tone. But I didn't want him to have a tone he wasn't comfortable with. And there's also the possibility that a bit more distortion on the bass might be a positive boon. The end result is that the bottom end of our sound has solidified due to the superior ability and initiative Jay has compared to the previous bassist.
Hellride Music: Great! Sounds like a kismet, I'm very happy the collaboration worked out and bore fruit. Now that "A Fire..." is complete and out, what are the future plans for the band?
(KIERON) I think it's the classic case of a band getting older and more pressing matters demanding our attention. It's fair to say that Unsilence is more of a project these days rather than a band that's regularly rehearsing or gigging. In fact we haven't played a gig since our appearence at Doom Shall Rise nearly five years ago! The main reason for this has been that Kil has gone back to college to become a radiologist. And he's also due to become a father for the first time next month. The limited time and finances have made him unable to make a full commitment. In this case, most other bands would either split up or replace him. But musically or personally, this still means a lot to us. And trying to replace Kil would be a collosal task given that he's become an integral part of the band over the past ten years. So we decided to just do this on a when we can basis.
The other reason is that we've been unable to find a fully commited drummer. It's been great to work with Jonathon again but he's limited because of his commitment with The Human Condition (of which Jay and I are a part of) and his family. We tried to find a new drummer a few years ago but there was nobody even remotely suitable. So again with Jonathon, we'd rather do that on a when we can basis and be less active rather than have an unsuitable drummer. Been down that road before. We'd all love to be more active and in particular play the new album live. But we're grateful that we have at least had the chance to make the album.
We are now writing new material. It's possible that the next Unsilence release might be a 7". But I can't say much about it right now as it's all a bit sketchy. It might feature a cover or a reworking of an old song with a new song or something. And then hopefully another album. But there's no timeline. Gigs can't be ruled out. We had hoped to do something last summer. We'll just have to see.
Hellride Music: Yes, suffice it to say, James' vocals are very distinctive. I think Unsilence music would take a big hit without his voice, it's part of the chemistry we've come to expect from the band.
Kieron, Jay, it's been a pleasure and I thank you for taking the time out to do this interview for Hellride. You've all got an amazing thing going with Unsilence, really a distinctive sound. Is there anything else you'd like to add before I say fare thee well?
I mean, there was an Unsilence before Kil. But he was able to build upon the performance of our first vocalist, Andrew Hodson, as well as his writing contribution and that of Jonathon when he was a full member. But he also was able to incorporate that with his individual approach and this has shaped the Unsilence of nowadays.
Thank you for this interview and for your support in general. It's never taken for granted. Keep the Hellride flame burning.
Jay: Thanks Chris. Your support is much appreciated. Dont forget to look out for an album from The Human Condition in 2015.