As most of the regular readers have probably noticed by now, I was offered the chance to stream one of the very best metal albums released this year here at Metal Squadron. The album in question is of course “The Reaper’s Spiral”, from Terminus, soon to be released on CD by Stormspell and on vinyl and tape format by Horror Records.
While I am still to decide whether or not hosting the stream disqualifies me from reviewing the album, I didn’t hesitate to ask the guys for an interview, a kind of follow up to the one we did when the band’s demo was released. This time, singer James Beattie (JB) as well as drummer David Gillespie (DG) put their heads together to answer my questions about the killer debut full lenght as well as other recent happenings in the Terminus-camp. By the way, if you want the full story, you can find the other interview with the band here: Interview 2013.
Let’s start with the demo, some people mentioned the vocals when they pointed at areas where there was room for improvement back then, and I think it was Manuel from Atlantean Kodex who said: “If they manage to add a little more passion and energy in the vocal department, Terminus’ debut album will be a killer release…”I think that’s pretty much what you have done here. Of course there is improvement in other areas as well, but James has really taken strides, and the passages where he adds aggression in for instance the title track or “Fortress Titan” works exceptionally well.
JB: – Haha, well I don’t mind admitting that I’m utterly appalled by my performance on the demo, and it makes my toes curl just to listen to it. I’m even more embarrassed by how annoyed I used to get when people mentioned it too. When the demo was recorded, I genuinely had no clue what I was doing! I think that there undoubtedly has been an improvement in the vocal delivery, but I’m really not sure that this is the result of any conscious decisions that I have made. I think this is just a case of me now being familiar with how to get the best possible sounds out of my voice and learning how hard I can push myself without doing damage. Of course to balance out the people who really like my vocals, there are still plenty of people who simply do not like what I do, but I have the voice that I have and there is little point in wishing it was different because it isn’t going to change. While I have my own voice, I will never be a technically gifted singer. I’m at peace with that.
Reflecting on the material on the album, which contains all the songs from the demo, comparing the first songs you wrote to the stuff you made later on, do you see some kind of development in the way you write and arrange your songs?
JB: – We still do things more or less as we always have. The main difference is that David doesn’t feel that he has to come to rehearsal with a fully formed song anymore. The riffs and basic arrangement are still his, but the songs are hammered into shape as a band. On the demo songs, the vocal melodies were for the most part also David’s. I now feel confident enough to bring my own to the table and David luckily has the good sense to not interfere.
DG: – A lot of the development is down to the natural progression that comes as you improve at your chosen instrument. I still absolutely stand by all the material on the demo – otherwise we wouldn’t have re-recorded it and we wouldn’t have continued to play it live. We’ve been able to broaden the palate of our songs as we’ve improved as musicians – James spent a tremendous amount of time working on his craft, I pushed myself and as a band we made a conscious effort to bring a bit more lead guitar into the mix compared to the demo. All that said, the way I and the band write still hasn’t really changed.
When we did the first interview, you spoke about some early songs that you had pretty much from the start, but didn’t use for the demo. Are some of these included on the album, or have you simply written new stuff to go with the from the demo? What are the oldest and newest song on the album?
JB: – The song “The Merchant Princes” is from the batch of material from the time of the demo. I think the oldest song in terms of being fully formed is probably “The Mayors” and the newest is “The Reaper’s Spiral”.
DG: – “Centaurean” was all there before the demo, “The Merchant Princes” was mostly there too and “Poseidon’s Children” came together around the time the demo was being released. We were playing seven out of nine songs on the album in our live set within a few months of the demo’s release. The only thing I didn’t have any part of before the demo was “Fortress Titan”.
All songs that previously were on the demo are based on one of the short stories from the book “Foundation” by Isaac Asimov. Do these tracks constitute an entity within the album, or are they linked lyrically to the new songs you have included?
JB: – They are not linked to the new songs at all with the exception of “The Merchant Princes” which is the fifth story in “Foundation” and we do regard those songs as an entity within the album, the songs are all lumped together and run in the order that they appear in the book. This is mainly because we have a touch of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
The song “Centaurean” is about John Truck from the novel “The Centauri Device”, written by M. John Harrison, while I guess “Poseidon’s Children” is probably inspired by Alastair Reynolds trilogy of the same name. Are the other songs also inspired by written works? Are all members of the band eager readers, and do you find the works of contemporary writers as inspiring as the old classics?
JB: – Well you learn something new every day! I was completely unaware of a series called “Poseidon’s Children”. That song was actually the result of David watching “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” and me watching “Das Boot”. I liked the way the nautical theme could work for either concept, so to this day I’m still really not sure if it’s about “Wrath of Khan” or “Das Boot”! The song “The Reaper’s Spiral” is from “The Forever War” by Joe Haldeman and it really just zones in on the element of the story where the characters are somehow conditioned to hate an enemy that they have had no experience of. There is so much good stuff in that story that to fit it all in the song would’ve been 45 minutes long! Myself and David do read quite a bit although I don’t read as much as I should these days. Finding time is always a problem. I don’t discriminate between old classics and modern writers. A good story is a good story end of story! There are some truly great, inspiring writers in what I class as being in the contemporary bracket and two that immediately spring to mind are Dan Simmons and China Mieville although the latter is not strictly speaking science fiction.
DG: – The newer songs are a bit different in the way they approach any source material than the “Foundation” songs are. I started writing the “Foundation” songs because we needed some lyrics for our first song and “The Mayors” appealed to me as a short story that had enough ideas and content to write something about but also not so much that I would have to spend hours editing the story down. The rest of the “Foundation” songs follow a similar pattern because they’re all short stories – you can largely summarise the plot either narratively or from the point of view of one of the characters like in “The Encyclopedists”. Something like “The Reapers Spiral” or “Centaurean” where the songs are based on a novel makes it a lot harder to do that so James and I prefer to focus in on one aspect or idea from the book that appeals.
Do you see science fiction as a theme that will occur in your songs also in the future, being part of the concept that is Terminus, or do you plan to open up for other inspirations when it comes to the lyrics?
JB: – It’s obviously something that we are interested in, and there is a vast amount of song inspiring material out there in the Science Fiction canon, so I see no reason why we would ever completely abandon it. I can’t speak for David, but I will not limit my scope when it comes to lyric writing, If I feel moved to write about something else, I will do it.
DG: – Science Fiction at its core is a medium for conveying ideas – any idea. I don’t think there’s a subject that I would wish to write about that I wouldn’t want to present in those terms. I feel our themes and lyrics are at the core of what the band does and are a part of what separates us from the legion of eighties revival copycats.
Have you invested a lot of thought into the running order of the album? First we have one new song, then the four from the demo, then three new ones and an old one (“Centurean” from the split single) to close things off. I can see that the four from the demo needed to follow each other, but was the running order of the other ones just a case of getting things to flows nicely?
JB: – Yes indeed. Running order was something that we discussed at length and the one we arrived at was one that we felt flowed well, allowed a break in the middle for the vinyl and tape release, and it also satisfied our need to have the “Foundation” songs together and in the correct order.
JB: – We had no real expectations beyond it being a platform to promote the release from. I have seen bands streaming albums from other sites before and I always liked the idea as a way to get the album out there into the collective metal head consciousness before release. Aside from that, streaming from Metal Squadron was the obvious choice for us because you were first to offer us an interview and a bit of encouragement when the demo was released. So it also functions as a little “thank you” to you for what it is worth.I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the interest that we have been getting from it too. There’s been quite a bit of traffic through it and also on our facebook page which is in no small part because of the stream. So all in all it was a rather splendid idea if I do say so myself.
Is the fact that the CD is coming out on Stormspell and the vinyl and cassette on Horror simply down to the fact that these are the formats the respective labels specializes in?
JB:– We have obviously had nothing but good experiences with Stormspell, so we were well pleased that we could work with Iordan again, the man is a godsend to the underground metal scene and to us. Our involvement with Horror Records really came about from the Denial of God brothers. Azter, Denial Of God guitarist, runs the label, while Ustumallagam, Denial Of God-vocalist, writes a zine called “Tornado” and I had contacted him so that I could send him copies of the demo for review and it turned out that he really liked our stuff and soon forced Azter to listen to us too! So from there I have struck up a friendship with both of them and have come to regard them as kindred spirits with a love for heavy metal and dirty jokes. I am a long term fan of both Denial of God and just about anything that Horror Records has ever released. So for me personally it was very important that the record be released on this label. I was very pleasantly surprised when Azter asked us if he could release the LP and tape. Surprised because I honestly didn’t think he’d be all that interested in working with a band that essentially falls outside his usual market. But fair play to him, he liked what he heard and he was prepared to take a risk. I should take this opportunity to say that the vinyl package that he has agreed to should turn a few heads. He gave us everything we asked for with regard to the layout and packaging.
I know vinyl is a dream come true for you, but apart from that, was it important to have the album available in as many formats as possible?
JB: – I cannot place enough importance on having a record available on all formats. This is not the eighties no matter how much some people seem to want it to be, and in my opinion it is foolhardy to limit your reach because you don’t think digital formats are trve or kvlt. Music is not a stamp collection, people should listen to what they buy and not be judged by others whose format preferences differ.
Knowing that the demo was completely self produced, with the drums being recorded in the rehearsal room and the rest at home, it’s not a surprise that you have decided to rerecord the material from the demo. It’s easy to hear the improvement, but were there elements from the rough recordings you wanted to bring into a more professional sounding recording?
JB: – Not really. The demo recording is not something that I listen to or really think about at all anymore. It served its purpose at the time and aside from the songs themselves I think we just wanted to blow our previous recordings out of the water.
DG: – I wanted to present the songs in a closer form to how they were when we played them live. When we recorded the demo, that was the speed we were playing those songs at – that changed over time and the odd occasions I would listen back to the demo I heard songs that were a hammer blow when we played them live sound like their feet were wading through treacle. I thought they were still great songs, so they had to go on the album.
When bands record a new album nowadays, the tend to flood their Facebook page with boring details and small movie clips from the recording. You have pretty much kept quiet. Was that a conscious decision?
JB: – Less is more Leif! We made the decision at the start that we would only post details of events and releases that are “concrete”. Nothing annoys me more that a constant stream of daft selfies and studio diaries, so we decided that we wanted no part in that. We talk when we have something to say and not before.
DG: – I find it undignified when a band provides a constant stream of updates. I really don’t care about your last rehearsal or any of the minutae of being in a band that you seem so determined to inundate me with – let me know when you are playing a gig, have some new merch or have some other information of worth. I prefer substance over hype and we try to project ourselves in that way as a band.
I know from the split single that “Centaurean” was mixed at Dead Dog Studio in Drogheda. What are the details about the recording of “The Reaper’s Spiral”?
JB: – The drums were recorded by Jonny at Dead Dog this time as this was the one element that we felt we could not improve upon if we recorded them ourselves. The rest of the instruments and vocals were again a home recording. The difference this time was that David was armed with better knowledge of how to record and we had invested in new equipment. When I say new equipment , I mean a better vocal microphone! The final piece of the jigsaw fell into place when Paulo Viera accepted the job of mixing and mastering the album. We got in contact with him through Nuno from Ravensire who had worked with Paulo before. I think he did an amazing job. When I listened to the raw recordings we knew we had improved upon our last recording, but we were not quite prepared for how great an engineer who understands the music that he is working with can make a recording sound. The first time I heard the mixes, I was driving and I almost crashed the car when I heard how heavy it was.
The impressive artwork for the album is done by Paul McCarroll. What did you give him to work with?
JB: – I gave him the concept and lyrics for the song “The Reaper’s Spiral” and told him to simply pick out the elements that appealed to him. We have known Paul for a long time and are very familiar with his amazing work. We trusted him completely and did not interfere with his vision. He really did a fantastic job of bringing to life the idea of conditioning a soldier to hate and kill an enemy that he has no prior knowledge of and illustrating the different implanted visions that float around the edge of the protagonist’s consciousness. The soldier’s eyes have also been plucked out to show that he cannot see things for what they really are and is now driven not by experience, but by an implanted bloodlust. The level of detail in the drawing is utterly astounding.
According to the guys from Ravensire, the story about the split single which we have briefly mentioned already, started when you were approached by a label to do a single on your own, and then suggested a split and thought about Ravensire. Why didn’t this one come out on the label it was supposed to?
JB: – Underground labels are a labour of love for the people who run them. It is not a full time job for most of them and sometimes the world drops its trousers and shits loudly and messily all over these fine people’s plans for future releases. Without going into detail, this is essentially what happened. No harm done and things worked out well for us in the end.
Even though I am pretty sure you guys have followed everything metal closely for many years, as a band you only entered the frame a couple of years ago. The way you have been embraced by both fellow musicans and fans in the underground scene, must have been a very positive experience for you?
JB: – We can’t thank the people who have embraced us enough. They are salt of the earth. Although I would say that for the most part, the only people who really showed an interest towards us initially were people in other bands or people we knew personally so it was difficult to gauge opinion. The non musicians are only really starting to come through now, but I understand why that is. Those with a musician’s ear could maybe hear something in us at the time of the demo that others couldn’t, and whatever it was that they heard is only coming into fruition with this album.
This strong comradeship in the underground scene, is it just a case of being underdogs and having something in common, or is it stronger than that?
JB: – Oh yes, there is nothing like the underdog mentality to forge strong bonds of friendship haha. The underground also provides a great feeling of belonging to bands and fans alike. While some bands seem to want to escape the underground, I do not. To me, this is home.
On the other hand, when you see the scene more from the inside, have you had experiences or observed things that have made you angry or pissed you off?
JB: – Yes indeed. The heavy metal scene is quite fixated on image among other things and if I continue with the train of thought that I am currently on I will end up shooting myself in the foot and will never be booked to play in Europe again if I don’t stop haha!
Back when we did the last interview, you spoke about not being pro or slick enough for a broader audience when it comes to live appearance. Now that you gained a bit more experience, do you think this still applies?
JB: – It absolutely still applies. We are in no way, shape or form accomplished musicians. We have simply decided that we have good riffs and good songs and we will play them to the best of our ability and to hell with anyone who thinks we have no right to. We are not and will never be a slick, well oiled machine. I wouldn’t ever want to be anyway. Imperfection gives character and besides good songwriting, this is what makes bands interesting to listen to.
DG: – The situation is still largely the same. We’ve been told outright that we’re too heavy for some of the shows, venues and promoters that some higher profile bands from the Belfast scene you’ve covered on Metal Squadron would form a regular part of. I find this equally bemusing and reassuring; we’re clearly doing something right.
James, you recently contributed lyrics to Corman’s single “Galaxy Of Terror/Battle Beyond The Stars”. How did this happen, and was it different compared to doing lyrics for Terminus?
JB: – I’m great friends with Francisco and I wanted to help him out when he was looking for a singer, so I offered my services to him to enable him to at least release a record, I did a couple of rough tracks for him in the way I thought the songs should be, which was a very harsh almost Celtic Frost style, While Francisco liked what I had done, the rest of the band didn’t quite know what to make of it so I didn’t get the job hahaha! He kindly credited me for lyrics, but I really didn’t write anything. As English isn’t Francisco’s first language, there was inevitably some awkward turns of phrase in the lyrics, I simply helped him to correct this and nothing more.
Live photo: Garry Lynas