When it comes to traditional doom metal with a strong heavy metal-influence, there are really not many better bands than Stone Magnum around. “From Time…To Eternity”, released in the summer or 2013 was a killer album, and already then I spoke to Dean Tavernier in an interview you can read here. The new album is called “Holy Blessings To None”, and as always Dean was more than willing to answer my questions about what is without doubt one of the stand out releases of the first three months of 2016.
Lets start by catching up on some of the things that has happened in your camp since last time we spoke. Some time ago Witches Brew released your first two albums as a 2-CD set. As there was no additional material on the 2-CD, I was wondering if you simply release everything you record?
– It was great working with Witches Brew on the double CD release. We didn’t feel at the time to offer any extras or bonus material on the double CD release was necessary. Up to that point, our debut album was only released on vinyl through RIP Records. Then RIP released the second album on CD only. I met Cheryl from Witches Brew several years ago and always wanted to do something with Witches Brew. They do it for the right reason…they love metal. So we were discussing some ideas to get Witches Brew involved with Stone Magnum. We felt it was a good opportunity to get the “From Time…To Eternity”-CD out in Europe so people could access it easier, and making the double CD an exclusive Witches Brew release with the never before released “Stone Magnum” debut album on CD was a good match.For the most part, we only record what we intend to release. There are some demo tracks of a couple of songs that were never used or released, but they were not full band efforts, so they will likely never see the light of day.
This 2-CD set seems like a good occasion to reflect on the progress from the first to the second album. How do you view these two releases today?
– Those first two albums are still great pieces of work, every bit as good as our newest offering in my opinion. Of course the debut album consisted of different members, and I was handling vocal duties on that album as well, which I felt were not up to par for the caliber of music on that first album, but it worked. I did the vocals out of necessity at that time…believe me, I wasn’t my first choice as a vocalist, but it had to be done and it worked out. But, still, despite what I feel about my vocal performance on that album, there were plenty of fans who loved it. Musically, it was a very dark album, with songs like “Locksmith Of Misery” and “Grave Of Cryptic Sorrows”…it just had a vibe to it that conjured up visions of malevolence. It was a great record….I wouldn’t shy away from putting our debut album up against any doom metal album released in that time period. When Marty, our original bass player departed, we picked up Ben and at the same time picked up Nick. As we discussed previously, it opened some doors for the songwriting to take off in new directions, musically and lyrically…new members, new ideas, new collaborative efforts were realized. The second album was doom unlike anything anyone else was doing, especially from the states during 2013, but it had a lot of variety within the album. For me it was hard to classify it as strictly a doom metal album, there was so many other elements to it. Songs like “In The Garden Of Beasts”, “By An Omen I Went” and “In Tongues They Whisper” were totally original sounding tunes in a doom metal scene filled with fuzzed out, drop tuned, and groovy stoner rock riffs.
Last October you released a CD-single with two songs from the new album, “Condemn Thy Flesh To Dust” and “Signum Crucis”. What was the purpose of release? Are the versions here identical to those on the new album?
– We took a long time between “From Time..To Eternity” and the release of “Holy Blessings to None”. We had new blood coming into the band in the form of new drummer, Justin Henry. We took a long time, by my measure, to write material for the third album. We weren’t playing any live shows during the time of writing the third album either, so to the fans, and the scene, it may have seemed we’ve dropped out of sight. We thought it was a good idea to put a sampler of the new incarnation of Stone Magnum out for people to hear, and to basically let people know that we were still around. Also, it was a pre-production test to assess what we could expect in the recording process for the new album. We had five or six of the new songs in the works, and “Signum Crucis” and “Condemn They Flesh To Dust” were really the two songs that were 100% complete. So we decided to record these two songs as a single. The recordings are completely different than what appear on the “Holy Blessings To None” album.
Is “Holy Blessings To None” also a result of the collective effort you spoke about in the last interview? How would you describe how your songs changes from what you have in mind when you write them till they’re finished?
– Of course, “Holy Blessings To None” was a much more collective effort than the previous albums, as far as writing was concerned. But it took us well over a year to write this album in full. A lot of the older material began with a basic structure, then everyone built on that structure and added their flavor to the final outcome, which was great. But I’d have to say that the collaboration went to another level on this album….we had more rehearsal room collaboration that took place on this album with everybody contributing their ideas to things like arrangements, riffs and tempos. I think more ideas were discussed involving more of everyone’s input in getting to the finished product this time around.
Was that one of the reasons why the songwriting took such a long time?
– There were a lot of things going on. Bringing in a new member to the band required rehearsing the older tunes with the new lineup in order to be prepared to play live when needed, so that set back the progress of writing the new album a bit. Our rehearsal schedule slowed down a bit too it seemed, so the months just kept adding up and before we knew it a year went past.
In Justin Henry, you have recruited a new drummer since we spoke last time. I believe Brad stepped back and quit drumming? I guess it’s always special when an original member is leaving your band?
– Brad’s departure was unexpected. Yeah, it’s hard to lose the remaining founding member of the band. Without going into details, Brad was starting to experience some physical setbacks that were making it difficult for him to really enjoy the performing experience and continue to play at the level he was accustomed to playing at. I don’t believe leaving the band was really what Brad truly wanted to do, but I believe he felt it was his best decision to allow Stone Magnum to continue to progress musically. Where one chapter closes, another begins, and Justin’s entry into the band brought new life, new ideas, and a new energy into the band. His style is very different from Brad, so it opened some doors that would help to take the music into some new and different territories, which is evident when you listen to the new album.
There are some drum parts on the new album that sound a little more extreme to me, adding a darker and more aggressive edge to the sound, how has Justin helped shape this new album?
– There is definitely much more speed and technical drumming on this album than what was done on the previous albums. Justin’s style is very different from Brad. I wouldn’t say either are better or worse for Stone Magnum, both are very capable, but I look at Justin’s style as a new resource for Stone Magnum to utilize in our songwriting. It opened up some room for ideas that may not have materialized previously. I think the transition from Brad to Justin worked perfectly. The final song on” From Time…To Eternity”, “In The Garden Of Beasts”, kind of showed Stone Magnum shifting to more melodic areas than we had done previously. We just took it up a notch from there when Justin joined the fold.
So, even if your debut album was self titled, the song “Stone Magnum” turns up on “Holy Blessings To None”, your third album. I never asked you how the band name came about, is there a connection between the band name and the lyrics to this song?
– The original idea for the band name was Church Of The Fallen Priest actually, but that is just way too many words for a band name. Two words max is the limit as far as I’m concerned. Stone Magnum was a nickname given to me by a friend in the Skullview camp in it’s formative years. We all had nicknames given to us by a friend in the Skullview camp. How those names came about I won’t go into…you had to have been there to understand it, ha. I’d always thought Stone Magnum would be a useful name for a band. So after the idea of Church Of The Fallen Priest was ditched, I figured it was time to use Stone Magnum. As for the song….when the song “Stone Magnum” was written, it was completely different than everything Stone Magnum had written up to that point. It was much faster, more aggressive, more bombastic and altogether less doom and more traditional heavy metal than anything we had done previously. Lyrically the song is war themed…violent and unrelenting…which is another topic that was not consistent with most of what Stone Magnum had written about in the past. Basically, the speed, the aggression, the subject matter were completely out of the context of what we’d done in the past in Stone Magnum. It’s definitely a far cry from the standard “by the numbers” doom metal song. The fact that this song was so different from anything from Stone Magnum’s past identity was the reason why we had to call it “Stone Magnum”.
You have said before that your lyrics delve into insanity, dark fiction, religion and violence. It seems to me that you have quite strong political views as well, but apparently there aren’t too much room for that kind of stuff in your lyrics?
– Well it certainly seems that in this day and age somebody, like myself, who believes in a political ideology that promotes personal liberty, free market capitalism, secure borders, free speech, gun rights, state’s rights, and small federal government is considered a “strong” or radical political stance. Haha!. The political environment in the states now is insane. But I’d rather not get into a political discussion. Music, at least in Stone Magnum’s music, is not the platform for political rhetoric. Political rhetoric is plentiful in broadcast and print media. We don’t need to advertise political positions in music. Music should be entertainment. This isn’t the sixties.
I couldn’t help but notice that you mention “The Illusion Of Faith” as your personal fave off the new album. It’s a great song for sure, but I would like to know why you prefer it to the seven other tracks.
– I think the emotion in this song, as sung by Nick really tells a story. I believe the lyrical concept Nick wrote about in this song had some deep personal meaning for Nick. This was also the first song that Justin and I sat together in one session and effortlessly were able to complete . When we were doing some pre-production demos (from the CD single recording sessions), Justin and I started jamming this song and had it worked out and written in an hour or two. It just flowed really well right from the beginning. There are a lot of different vibes, tempo changes, and influences that crept in to this song once we presented the song to the rest of the band. A lot of music is described as “epic”…but I believe this song is Stone Magnum’s “epic” moment.
Yeah, if there is one word that it overused when it comes to describing music, it’s probably “epic”. What makes “The Illusion Of Faith” epic in your opinion?
– Yeah, maybe “epic” is the wrong descriptor…we certainly are not Manowar, but I think the entire gamut of heavy metal styles are represented throughout the journey this seven minute song follows from beginning to end. I guess the length and the arrangements of the sections in this song could be considered “epic” in structure in some ways. The song encapsulates everything from the slow clean passages to pounding barbaric heavy parts to energetic headbanging fast parts through to the melodic ending. For me it takes me on a journey of everything I love about heavy metal music.
Stone Magnum are not exactly unknown anymore, and your albums are as good as the best stuff in the genre in my opinion, but still you made this new album available for free download as well. How do you legitimate this when you clearly have put an enormous amount of time, money and effort in it?
– Well thanks Leif, comments such as yours contribute to the reasons why I still make music. My attitude towards music and being in a band has not changed over the past 20+ years. I started playing in bands, not as a means to make an income or to quit my day job…it was simply to create cool music that I enjoy. I enjoy doing that. I’ve been fortunate that others find some enjoyment out of the music I’ve had a part in creating…that is achievement enough for me. Being in an original band…whatever the goal behind it is, the ultimate prize for me is when someone expresses how much the music has touched them or given them some form of enjoyment from hearing it. For me, there is nothing that goes beyond that. It’s not a business venture for me, like it is for so many other bands. I have others skills outside of music that are marketable that I get paid very nicely for. So making music is just something I like to do, just as others like to play sports, woodworking, fishing, or whatever it may be….I just make songs. So it is easy for me to give my music away if I so choose. I don’t manufacture the physical release of my music, I manufacture the songs, I record in my own studio, costs me nothing…then I render it to a “music file”. That costs me essentially $0 to do that…so it is not a loss to me to make that available as a free download for someone to hear, or to burn it to CDR for someone to listen to. I guess if my livelihood was limited to what I require to achieve playing music I’d have a different view on all of that.
I remember you saying in the past that it was important to keep some kind of continuity from the first to the second album, even with a new singer in the picture. Was this something you had in mind third time around as well, and how do you balance it against the desire to try out a few new things?
– I do think it is important for a band to retain certain aspects of their identity from album to album, but you can’t simply keep writing the same album over and over either. That gets boring, and uninspired. So, new ideas and directions should be explored, but without changing the identity of the band, and without heading off in a completely different direction. I really think when listening from one album to the next, there are identifying characteristics that make it obvious that this band is still Stone Magnum when you hear the songs. Somebody may hear it and realize the music is faster, or more technical, or more aggressive, but they won’t hear it and ask who the band is…they’ll know it’s Stone Magnum, if they’ve heard Stone Magnum previously.
Does exploring new ideas and directions get harder with each album? Are there certain things you already know you would like to try out on the next album, or is it impossible to plan these kind of things?
– I don’t think the exploration of new ideas or directions is anything that is intended or even apparent when it is actually happening. The ideas just seem to come more naturally, almost subconsciously. In our case, having new members coming into the band on the second and third records has brought new ideas, new skillsets, new playing styles, different visions of where the music is going. The hard part is trying to take all these new influences and using them in a way that it doesn’t become a different band altogether.
I notice that the phrase “The dictators of doom” is used in the ad for the new album. You had some fast stuff also in the past, but with this album, I am not sure I would consider Stone Magnum a doom metal band anymore. Have you met people that are thinking you are moving too in the wrong direction, as you are leaving some of the doomier sounds behind?
– Dictators of Doom is a phrase that was used during our first album to describe our sound more or less. I think at that time, to the astute metalhead, Stone Magnum was a very traditional heavy metal sounding band, but was loaded with major doom elements dominating the music. Therefore, the “doom” classification was most fitting and the easiest descriptor for what we were doing. I think that classification still applies today. We still have many doom elements in our sound, but we’ve added a few twists, more aggression along the way. The “doom” has not disappeared; it’s just gotten more intense. The “Doom” genre does not dictate what Stone Magnum’s sound is supposed to be. Stone Magnum will dictate what the doom sound is going to be! Dictate to whom? I’m not sure exactly, but it sounds cool nonetheless. Haha!
There was a 20 years anniversary for RIP Records in 2014 where you performed with both Skullview and Stone Magnum. While Skullview was on Massacre for one album, have you ever thought that both bands could have been bigger if you had been on a label with better distribution?
– The RIP Show was a spectacular show. It is hard to believe that 20 years has gotten away from us. But to be clear about that Massacre deal…it was a deal between RIP and Massacre. Skullview was not involved in the deal with Massacre…we were signed with RIP…they licensed that deal. We had nothing to do with it, and didn’t get anything from it but a few copies of the cd, not that I can care less to be honest. As a band, we put zero money into those Skullview albums. We got free copies to give away to our pals…goal achieved! There was another deal somewhere along the way, a South American release or something. It was the same thing, it wasn’t the band’s deal. Of course, if I desired the bands to be bigger it could have happened quite easily. Turned down so many deals to sign with well-known labels…it’s just not important to me to be honest. Even with better distribution, it would not have helped to achieve any goals. Distribution won’t help me write a new song.
I believe it was on your personal Facebook page that you recently wrote: “Darkthrone rules…They don’t play live!” At first I thought you might be ironic, but it could also be that you have you had one or more bad recent experiences performing live…
– I really haven’t had any bad experiences playing live. I just don’t get too much thrill from lining up shows and all the hassles involved. I know for bands trying to “make it”, playing live every chance they get is important in getting their name out there. That’s not my agenda. Just a couple local gigs a year is plenty. For me, I get more enjoyment out of creating songs and recording in my studio.
With the US postal prices rocketing, I know you are a bit frustrated in the lack of distribution in Europe. Are you primary looking for a label to release the album over here, or someone to distribute it?
– What is frustrating is having to charge more in postage to simply mail the CD to Europe than the price of the actual product itself. So, I’m stepping out of that mess on this new album and have decided not to sell the merchandise through the band site. I get contacted daily from fans oversees who want the release, but are being creamed in postage rates in order to get it. I’m not a salesman, so I haven’t solicited too many deals overseas. I’ve talked to a couple of people, so perhaps someone will come through to help with this problem. Either way, if a label wants to do a euro deal, or just pose as a distributor for the RIP release, that is fine. But I’m not going to fret on it. It’s not like my career depends on it, ha. I’m just going to write new songs.
Apparently you have other irons in the fire, amongst them a side project called French Blue? What are your ambitions for this project, if you have any?
– Haha, the French Blue thing isn’t really an “iron in the fire”. We used some keyboard in the intro for “As I Burn Your World To Ash”, and the keyboard was left to hang out in the studio after the recordings were complete. I’ve never messed around with keyboards in the past, so it was sitting there in the studio and I started playing with it to see what I could do with it. The next thing I know I have about 25 minutes of music that I created with the keyboard and a drum machine that sounded interesting…in a Floydish kind of way, but it needed vocals and guitars on it, so I proceeded with it and have some completely recorded tunes. There are no aspirations behind it, just me experimenting with different ideas. It’s more a personal challenge to see if I could learn to play the keyboards/organ and actually write something listenable. So far it’s been a lot of fun and very satisfying on a personal level. It’s amazing the response I’ve received from people who’ve heard the first couple of songs, so I guess I have achieved my goal to see if something worthwhile would come out of it. It’s definitely not for metalheads, it’s more geared to those who want to be mellow. Ha! My mom likes it…so what does that tell you? I have no plans on it being anything more than limited edition YouTube clips. Haha!
Is positive feedback on a project like this just as satisfying as when people write a great review or tell you how much they love Stone Magnum?
– Positive feedback in any form is flattering. Reading great reviews and feedback about Stone Magnum is cool because more than just myself have worked hard in creating Stone Magnum. Stone Magnum is a band effort, so it is cool to read the reviews and have the positive feedback, not just for me personally, but it makes me feel good that my bandmates can share the experience as well. They have worked hard to contribute in Stone Magnum, so for them to see the positive reviews and feedback makes it all the more pleasing. With the individual effort, it’s different. With Stone Magnum, you know already who the target audience is…the metal community. With the French Blue, there really isn’t any target audience, per se, in fact, it’s not really an endeavor aimed to be marketed.