I’ve followed the band that is now called Darkest Era since they were Nemesis and released their self titled demo back in 2006. After a while, a change of bandname became necessary, partly because there were already too many bands peforming under the same monicker. Darkest Era was chosen, and early in 2008 the band’s first release under the name was made available through Germany’s Eyes Like Snow. The title was “The Journey Through Damnation”, an EP containing four songs.
What some people aren’t aware of is the fact that the band had already pressed copies of that release on their own before they were contacted by Torsten from Eyes Like Snow. So in fact, not one, but two versions of this release exists, one containing the Eyes Like Snow-logo and another one done by the band. Next in line was another EP called “The Oaks Session”, released as a digipack early in 2010 by the band themselves and limited to 250 copies. The idea behind the release was to see whether there were some labels interested in financing a full lenght release. Fast forward a few months and the news broke that the band had signed to Metal Blade who helped release Darkest Era’s debut album “The Last Caress Of Light” in February 2011.
It was around the release of said album that guitarist Ade Mulgrew and I spoke together last time. Back then you seemed quite optimistic about the whole cooperation with Metal Blade, so why did “The Last Caress Of Light” become your first and only release for the label?
– Metal Blade is a label who have some big artist, like As I Lay Dying for example, a band that sold, I think, close to a million records for Metal Blade across their career. It’s a very big label, and we were a small band. We had just released demos previously. We obviously had a lot of promise, but we were young, and also coming from a very uncool part of Europe. In other words, we were from Sweden with an underground following already. It was always going to be a case of trying to impress and prove that we belonged there, but unfortunately the climate of the industry was going downhill even more in the two or three years that had passed since or first album, and although we actually sold more records than they expected when we signed, in the end they had to make a business decision and I think it was about twelve or fifteen bands they decided not to continue with. That was fair enough. We knew that we won’t gonna be lost once this happened, because we had enough interest in the underground, built a lot of momentum, and started to build a fan base. We knew we wouldn’t be homeless, and were sure we would have some interest from other labels. Once the initial disappointment was over, we actually saw it as an opportunity because we knew we would be working with a label that was more suited for us and more connected with what’s actually going on in the heavy metal underground at the moment. A label that could help us with tours and stuff. With Metal Blade, once the promotion cycle of the album was finished, we were really on our own any way. That is the way Metal Blade work with a lot of the bands. We were financing tours and videos ourselves, and we were getting a label for our vinyl ourselves. So we were already doing a lot of our own work.
Were you promised more from the label than the one album you did?
– No, not really. The way things are these days, bands aren’t signed up for three or four albums anymore. The climate is too uncertain and there isn’t a lot of money in the industry. The days of, this is why I cant blame Metal Blade to be honest, a label signing a band and saying, like EMI did with Iron Maiden in 1980: Here they are for three albums, were gonna build this band and look at it as long term investment and an attempt at developing the band, that doesn’t happen anymore. We knew there was a possibility of two, three or four albums, and we knew there was a possibility of only just one album, so we didn’t assume we would be with them for longer.
How did you approach trying to secure a new deal once you learnt that the cooperation with Metal Blade wasn’t gonna be continued? Did you finance the recording of the new album by yourselves and then shopped it around in hope of capturing a deal?
– Yes, sort of. The thing is, the message from the label was 11th hour news to be honest. We had heard nothing from them for a while, so we said: Look these are our plans. They said: Fair enough. We had booked the studio and all of a sudden they asked for demos and said “we don’t know”. So we were already committed to the recording process at this stage, and decided to go ahead with it and work out a deal afterwards. The deal we got with Cruz Del Sur was a very forward thinking, contemporary record deal. To be honest, most deals these days are still based upon an industry that was in boom 30 or 40 years ago. Most records contracts today are archaic and completely out of date, and the bands end up being screwed. With Cruz Del Sur we’re absolutely on the same page, it just took a little bit of time to get things finalized…To be honest I’ve been aware of the label almost as long as I’ve been into metal. We all own a lot of the records they’ve put out, and they’re probably more of a consistent label than many bigger labels nowadays.
Let’s talk a little about your member changes. Back in 2012 your bass player David Lindsay left the band. This must have been a major change for the band since he had been with you since the Nemesis days?
– Yeah, it was, but it wasn’t a shock either. It was one of two changes happening within about eight months. We had done our first big tour and had our first album out on a big label, but the tour really was a turning point for us. You have to remember that we formed the band when we were still in school and very young. You come through a lot in the first few years, and it gets to a point were things are quite serious, and people realize it’s not for them, it’s not how they imagined the tour or however. There was a divergence in the band when we started touring. For myself, Krum (vocals) and Sarah (guitar), it was was just what we wanted to do since we started playing, a fantastic experience, not glamourous and a lot of hard work, but still what we had been living for. David and later Lisa on the other hand, decided it wasn’t for them anymore.
Were the two exits connected, I mean we’re talking about the rhythm section here?
– No, I don’t think so. Lisa (Howe, drums) did leave six or seven months after David. She did one subsequent tour with us and then decided it was enough. They weren’t connected, but still they were for the same reasons. The other three of us knew for certain that we were doing the right thing. Every time we go off tour, we’re planning the days until we get back peforming.
The reasons given for both of the exits, was the fact that they wanted to focus on other interest. How on earth can you have more important interests than music?
– Exactly! Well, maybe not music, but Darkest Era specifically. Lisa is still playing drums, teaching drums and playing in cover bands, but I think that what it takes to be in a heavy metal band these days the rough and tumble, the fact you’re working with other creative people was maybe not for her. She is still involved in music, but one of the main reasons for that particular split was that she had other ideas of how things should work in a band than the rest of us. David on the other hand, started to concentrate more on his studies. People nowadays are not naive, they know that if they’re gonna be playing music the way they want to, they’ll have to sacrifice a lot of things. You have to really want it, it has to be in your blood, and you have to be prepared to give up certain things for your passion. I think David is studying for a chemistry degree, and had a different pathway in mind. I can’t blame him for saying: This is not for me. But for me it’s this or death, you know.
Let’s switch the attention to your two new members then. I noticed that your new bass player, Daniel O’Toole also plays guitar in another band, and I came to think of the fact that quite a few bands these days have a bass player who in fact is a guitarist.
– You’re right. I noticed that Portrait’s new bass player is a guitarist. Daniel was playing guitar first, but he is not a guitar player playing bass, he was a guitar player who learnt how to be a bass player. So he is not playing bass like a guitarist. He is playing in other bands, but actually he is playing bass in most of them. When you come from a small, rural place like we do, there are only so many musicians, and even less musicians into metal. So it’s not uncommon for people to play different things just because bands need members and they can be in other projects. It’s common enough, I guess it’s the same in Norway or Sweden too.
Does this mean that it was hard for you to find your new drummer Cameron Åhslund-Glass as well?
– It’s funny because we didn’t have a lot of people to choose from. We had very specific requirements. The band is five-six years old now, so we’ve been through the music industry and knew what we would need in a new member. That meant we didn’t consider a lot of people, which would have been fine in other bands. As it turned out, Cameron was one of the few, but also the perfect member. We knew from the beginning he was on the same page musically, creatively and his personality would work in the band. We had a jam with him and straight away it was a big step up and something I felt we had been lacking. It worked out really well and knew that he was our guy.
You have toured a lot between your debut and “Severance”. How would you sum up this experience for a young and rather unknown act having only released one album?
– It was definitely hard work. We were quite lucky, because the first tour we did was a UK tour with Alestorm. It sounds like a strange match, and we’re a very different band, but we got to play infront of huge crowds and many sold out venues in the UK. It was tough work because the audience was maybe not exptecting us to come out and play what we’re playing so you had a battle on your hands every night to reach out and try to grab them and to bring them over to your side. As you said, we are a relatively unknown band playing to a lot of people who haven’t heard you before. But its part of our character now to go on the stage almost with a mentality that were ready to fight and pull people from their comfort zone and over to our side. Its tough work, also financially when you are an realtively unknown band. You have to do it when the opportuinity is there and we would much rather do it than be sitting at home. Touring gets tougher and tougher for almost every band now, but if you really want it and believe in it, you find a way to make it happen.
I don’t know the guys in Alestorm, and not the ones in Gloryhammer, another band you toured with, either, but in our part of the scene, a lot of people basically laugh when these bands are mentioned. Did you consider this fact before touring with them?
– If we had choice to go with Gloryhammer or Atlantean Kodex or Slough Feg, the latter two would obviously win. Sometimes the bands we really want to tour with are not on tour, and there are so many other circumstances that dictate whether you go out on tour or not. It came to a point where we simply needed to play to people. And the advantage of playing in front of those kind of audiences is that people haven’t heard of you before and many of them are quite young and when they move past a certain point, they’re potentially people that could sooner or later get into your music. You have to look at it that way, and those tours were absolutely worth doing because we sold a bunch of merch, won a lot of fans, also some people that didn’t think they liked traditional epic heavy metal, but turned out to fucking do. But sure, if I had the choice to go out on tour with Grand Magus or something, that’s a completely different story.
And perhaps it’s a little about getting out there and putting the music straight into the ears of people so to say, especially in times where many are too lazy to check out bands that aren’t presented to them in the easiest possible way…
– Exactly, and that’s one of the big things about our performance. We’re not going through the motions or acting about while we’re on stage. We really mean it. It comes across in our albums as well. People that really get what we’re doing, often say that they feel like an emotional attachment to our music. There is something that connects with them. I’ve noticed from some of the reviews of the new record that people say: I never heard this before, but it’s something about the music that completely grabs me. That’s what were trying to do live as well. We have people coming to the show, no idea who we are, not expecting anything. Perfect!
Let’s focus on “Severance”, the brand new album out on Cruz Del Sur Records. I believe you have used another studio this time around. Did you have any earlier experience from it, or was it perhaps recommended to you?
– We wanted to work with Chris Fielding again as our producer. That was the main thing, and he had moved from Foel to London, and we simply couldn’t afford to do the record in London. All we needed was a studio was far enough away from our home so we could be isolated and work and come up with something good. The studio we chose is located in the far south west of Ireland, the only band I knew had recorded there before was Altar Of Plagues, an Irish black metal band. Their record sounded fantastic. Chris was happy and it was residential so we could work through the night and into the morning, and do whatever we wanted. It turned out that it was a great facility, With a huge drum room, which helped us getting a really good drum sound. It was very comfortable and we could really focus on the music. It was a very atmospheric place as well, as we were in the heart of winter, right on the Irish coast, being battered by storms every day.
Very early on in the process of creating this album you said it was gonna be darker, heavier and faster. Do you think the three words are still valid to describe “Severance”?
– At least to my ears. It sounds more aggressive, it’s a little bit darker, and yes some of tempos are faster. The album turned out more or less as we thought, but things tend to take on a life of their own along the process, so at the end of the day when I listened to the album, some things became apparent that I hadn’t forseen or expected. Still I am very happy about the album. What do you think?
I enjoy it a lot so far, but I won’t force a review yet, as there is quite a lot to be digested here. The album needs and deserves some time as well. I sense that the material has qualities to last for long, but I also recognize that I need to be an active listener to get most out of the album…
– To be honest, I would agree with you. When people don’t understand the band, and we get a not so good review, it’s maybe from people who haven’t had the patience to spend the time with the album. There is a lot going on, the album isn’t particularly long, but it’s quite an involved listen. We didn’t necessarily intend it to be that way, or not to be that way, it just sort of happened. Personally some of my fave albums are albums I didn’t like at all on the first listen. At least I hope people who think they might like it spend enough time on it.
As you mentioned, it’s not a very long album, I think “The Last Caress Of Light” was nearly a quarter of an hour longer. Does this say something about what you had in your mind when you composed thematerial?
– Yeah, a little bit actually. Personally I felt some of the songs on the first album were a little meandering, you know went on a little too long or danced around the point. On this album, I didn’t want to allow the songs to run away from the listener. I wanted them to be focused and more to the point. I also wanted to bring our heavy metal influences a little bit more to the fore, and do that through some slightly shorter songs more based on riffs, solos and choruses, but still within the kind of atmospheric, dark metal context we had before. I read a review that summed it up quite well, It said “Severance” sounds like traditional metal but unshackled by tradition.To me the spirit of the album is straight up heavy metal, it evokes the same kind of feeling as the early, eighties heavy metal, but it doesn’t follow the same template and structures, as it has been filtered through 25 years of the heavy metal underground and the Irish countryside. Not everyone is gonna understand that, but if they do, I am happy.
Last time we spoke you said you wouldn’t dismiss people who described Darkest Era as a mixture of Primordial and Iron Maiden. Is that still valid, you think?
– Possibly yes, but I think people are becoming less and less fixated on the Primordial comparison. It hink finally now with this new album, people cab hear bands like Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy and Primordial or whatever, but at the same time, the album sounds more like its own beast. It’s positive for me to hear that, and it’s something I agree with. Still there will always be a little element of Primordial, as there will always be a little bit of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest or whatever, because were drawing from common influences, but yes I think it’s still fair enough to say.
One big difference between the first album and “Severance” must be the fact that the first one had some really old songs, written over a long period, while on this album most of the songs were made during a much shorter period of time. How did it affect the outcome?
– It wasn’t necessarily intended to be that way, it was just because that year we were touring and then we had our line up changes and stuff so it was very difficult to get a focused period of writing over four or five months were we could jam ideas back and forth and really spend lot of time on it. I kind of see that as an opportunitity, and I Guess it satisfied me in a way. I wanted the album to sound more focused, not like a collection of random ideas. It was basically written in a ten week period, but of course there were a few ideas which we had accumulated thoughout the year, little riffs here and there. I personally wrote 70 percent of the material within ten weeks between November and December, and the other 30 percent came from Sarah. And then quite a lot of it we finished in the studio. It was an extremely intense period of writing. It was a lot of pressure as well, because in the middle of it all, we found out that this album was not to be a Metal Blade-album. A lot of the pressure certainly was on my shoulders, as the band was pretty much falling apart at this point. I knew that I couldn’t let it die, it was going to come through one way or another. This did filter into the songs, affecting the tone and the vibe. In the back of my head all the time I was thinking that Iron Maiden wrote their albums in the eighties in six weeks and recorded them in a few weeks. Maybe its like going back to those days, where you didn’t’ piss around for a year? I thought of it as an opportunity and it was very intense, and it’s maybe not the approach we will take next time.
How did you cope with the pressure you are talking about, and did you have any previous experience from situations where you worked under similar conditions?
– Well, I’ve always been the kind of person that thrives under pressure. In school for example, I wouldn’t do a fucking thing for exams until I really had to. Then I turned on and got shit done. It was tough but it’s almost like a different kind of state of being. Like I said, Sarah was more involved in the writing process compared to the first album, so we were really sending lots of ideas to each other and writing as a team. The recording was tough as well, very, very intense, because we were still writing lyrics and arranging the songs while we were in the studio which is fine, but by the end of it you’ve undergone this reality shift where the only thing you are looking at in your whole life is this album. I wasn’t on the internet for a couple of months, I wasn’t talking to friends, I was just unbelievably focused on this record. In the end, if you make the album you wanna make, it’s worth it.
Having now made two albums yourself and learning how much work there is in it, have it changed your view on other people’s albums as well?
– When I am listening to an album now I am inclined to think a little bit more about the backstory of the writing and the recording process. And when I read interviews I am a little bit more interested in the creative process, and I suppose I feel a certain affinity with some bands I read about that have done things in a similar way. So yeah, the whole creative process interest me. There are so many different ways you can do it. For different bands and different musicians it works different ways. It does interest me and the experience of this new album has strengthened those of us that were involved in it.
When you wrote so much material in such a short time, how did you react to it afterwards?
– Well I didn’t bother trying to write anything for months afterwards, and I didn’t really listen to the album very much either. You simply need space from it. And because the album sat for almost a year before anyone heard it, I still probably lost the ability to be completely objective about it. I am proud of it and I think the album copes with were we wanted to move creatively. It’s also a stronger album and it’s interesting now that I am talkinig to other people and hearing what they make of the songs because I left it there for a while. They’re hearing things that I didn’t hear and they think some songs are great that I felt weren’t so good. That’s kind of interesting. We’re at a point now with the new lineup where we will begin writing again and its like I got a clear perpective of where we are and we are talking about what we want to do in the future. So yeah, it was a few months of being burnt out and then rebuilding the band.
You said that some opinions on a few of the tracks surprised you. Does this mean that you feel there are songs on this album that are considerably stronger than the rest?
– Maybe not considerably, but there are some songs that I wasn’t convinced of. In the end, that’s probaly no different than any album that any band makes. There will always be tracks you prefer. There are a two or three I wasn’t so sure about, but the first reviews have singled them out as strong songs, so what do I know?
What were some of the songs you weren’t so sure about then?
– Well, I was a bit unsure about “The Scavenger”, just because I wondered whether it was too different and sat a little bit apart from the rest of the tracks. “A Thousand Screaming Souls” I thought could have had a stronger chorus, but some people think this chorus is great, so it shows it’s really down to opinion. And sometimes you are better going with things, sometimes you can overthink stuff as well.
What are your favorite songs from the album?
– I think “Beyond The Grey Veil” is one of my favourites just because it’s thematically the centerpiece of the album. The artwork is based entirely upon that song. The artist actually had a connection with that track, and that’s what produced the artwork. A song like “Songs Of Gods And Men” also, because it shows a lot of the things Darkest Era is about a lot of different influences and it has a strong chorus.
Last time we spoke you told me that “The Last Caress Of Light Before The Dark” was your favourite Darkest Era-song. Is it still your number one, even after the release of “Severance”?
– It’s probably still my favorite to play live, just because I think the journey of the song itself, the way it starts, builds and has a climax and a melancholic finish, is just really interesting. “Best” is perhaps hard to define, as a song like “The Morrigan” is a guaranteed moshpits at most shows. My opinion on the albm “The Last Caress Of Light” and the songs haven’t changed too much since it was released.
You have made two songs “Sorrow’s Boundless Realm” and “Trapped In The Hourglass” available on the internet before the release of the album. Do you think there is something like a representative song for the whole album on “Severance”?
– I think “Sorrow’s Boundless Realm” is a reasonably close approximation to the overall atmosphere of the record. It’s got aggression and speed, but it’s also pretty melancholic and atmospheric. To me it sounds very heavy metal as well, there are parts that to me are a little like post-reunion Iron Maiden. I don’t think its necessarily the strongest song on the album, but when you listen to it it gives a fair idea. Having said that, when we released the song, there were people who said: I don’t know about that song, and when they listen to “Trapped In The Hourglass”, they thought that one was fucking awesome.
I haven’t had the chance to read the lyrics, as they weren’t included with the digital promo, but judging from the song titles, they don’t really seem optimistic.
– It depends. I mean, optimism isn’t something you probably find, but I don’t know about pessism either. A lot of the tracks are just observing, you know. And people can make up their own thoughts and opinions on what is being observed. There is probably not so much hope in some of the songs, but there is some “fight” in a few of them.
There is no title song on the album, so how did you end up with a title like “Severance”?
– Well, the lyrical themes of the album are a little abstract and philosophical. The title was deliberately enigmatic to try and sum up the different themes on the album. The seed of the lyrical themes was that I became very interested in the idea that dreams and real life memories can reach the point where they seems as real, whether its an memory of something that happened quite far in the past, or if you dreamed about something the previous night. Sometimes they can both seem as tangible as each other and this lead me to the philosophical concept of solipsism, the ide that you can never be sure about anything beyond your own frame of reality. Then I thought it was interesting to talk about what would happen if your form of existence and every thing we use to make sense of the world suddenly broke apart. That is basically what is contained in the song “Beyond The Grey Veil”. The title “Severance” refers to what is basically a ripping apart of everything. So to your question that there isn’t a lot of optimism, yeah, perhaps I would agree.
Cruz Del Sur has released some amazing records through the years, stuff like Atlantean Kodex, While Heaven Wept, Twisted Tower Dire, Slough Feg and Pharaoh to name a few. To test you self confidence: Is “Severance” worthy a place among the highligts from the label?
– I think that is up to other people to say. I can say that we made a record we are really proud of. It’s a record people should hear, and its something different among the shit and false metal of today. Anybody that connects with heavy metal and calls himself a heavy metal fan should listen to us, I am sure he will find something that awakens some sort of fire. With regards to Cruz Del Sur’s backcatalogue, you are right some of my favourite albums are there. You mentioned Pharaoh, in fact I swapped albums with the guitar player back when we were still Nemesis. He heard our demo and the “Journey Through Damnation”-EP. We traded records and theirs still gets played in my car, Pharaoh is such a killer band.
Also the quality of the stuff is very consistent.
-Yeah, you will not see Cruz Del Sur releasing death metal or grindcore album, or something that has just started to become popular. Enrico is really true to his own ideas, and that’s something I admire a lot and can associate with. Another reason why we’re a good match.