As documented very well on the recent, excellent compilation, “Trapped Under Ice”, the Canadian scene is really vital at the moment. While they’re not represented on that particular release, Smoulder is one of the bands leading the charge, catching many people’s attention with their “The Sword Woman”-demo, released on tape and as a 7″ vinyl through Hoove Child Records last year. With their first album out on Cruz Del Sur, wonderfully titled “Times Of Obscene Evil And Wild Daring”, pretty much the whole band gathered to answer Our questions.
Apparently, Smoulder was formed as early as in 2013. How much of a progress did you make the first few years, and why did it take until 2018 to get the demo out?
Vincent (guitar): – Between a scene that had little to no bands in the realms of traditional and doom Metal, and a lack of musicians interested in playing our style of music, progress was very slow for us. It wasn’t until Sarah and I recruited Collin and Kevin that things began to pick up. While on a trip with Colin to the second edition of Frost & Fire in 2016, we showed him some poor recordings of us jamming with Sarah on drums and myself on guitar and vocals, and discussed the possibility of him joining.
Collin (guitar): – I had met Sarah and Shawn through attending various festivals throughout the years. In 2016 a few friends of ours and I roomed together for Frost and Fire where they first told me about their ideas for Smoulder. They had mentioned that they were trying to morph it into a more epic styled project than straight doom, which definitely piqued my interest! The next May at the first Legions of Metal we roomed together again and this is where I introduced them to Kevin. We were both playing in other projects at the time, but were searching for something new to work on. After many beers and all of us hitting it off, we decided that we all needed make some sort of project together!After a few months of tossing ideas around, we ended up deciding to combine our efforts into Sarah and Shawn’s project Smoulder and get into the studio to record a demo.
It seems like things really sped up once you released the demo. Did you expect it to make such an impression?
Vincent: – I don’t think any band can expect to make such an impression from a debut demo, and we’re no exception.
Collin: – I really didn’t know where it was going to go to be honest. I knew we had something special with the demo, but I was really surprised about the huge positive reaction that we got from it!
Kevin (drums): – The demo was really a launching point for all of the success that has come after. We had such a positive and vibrant response from listeners that was way beyond our expectations. This initial success helped us to get on the bill for Hammer of Doom, which led to us getting signed to Cruz Del Sur, which lead us to now.
You met Enrico from Cruz Del Sur at Hammer Of Doom last year. Had you already started recording the debut album by then and where planning to shop for a deal?
Collin: – By the time we had gotten to Hammer of Doom the album was mostly recorded, we only added a few minor things such as extra leads afterwards, so at that point we were actively looking for a deal to release it. Enrico reached out to us before the festival and listened to our rough mixes and finally presented us with a deal at Hammer of Doom. For me, I couldn’t be happier; Cruz Del Sur is easily one of my favorite contemporary metal labels.
Your Bandcamp-page says: “Epic power doom in the tradition of Tales Of Medusa, Gates Of Slumber and Solitude Aeturnus”. First it’s great to see Tales Of Medusa mentioned. Do you know anything about the band that the rest us don’t? I am not sure I would call your music doom, as there is a lot of powerful heavy metal in your sound as well. Is it important for you to be categorized as doom?
Vincent: – Unfortunately we do not know anymore about Tales Of Medusa than what can be found online. All we can do is hope to see another release from them one day.
Collin: – While I’d definitely say that we have more in common musically with arcane epic metal bands such as Manilla Road and Tales of Medusa than we do with the straight up doom bands like Reverend Bizarre, I think it’s still important to recognize the doom element of our sound. At the end of the day, the epic doom sound is really the at heart of the band. We always strive to imbue our songs with that mystical and arcane vibe that made the music off early Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus so compelling.
Bass on the demo was peformed by Ryan Donoho, but since then you have recruited Adam Blake. Where did you find him, what is his background and how does it fit in in the band both as a musician and personality wise?
Collin: – Adam is a great addition to the band and I’m very glad that Sarah and Shawn found him. Not only is he a top notch bassist and a very energetic stage presence, he also is a great fit for us personality wise. All positive vibes and has a great sense of humor!
Give us a little insight into how you write songs for Smoulder. Is everyone involved, or are there only a few members contributing?
Collin: – Everyone is involved in the writing for Smoulder, which is something that I really enjoy about us. Each person definitely has their own style of writing that they bring to the table, which definitely keeps things interesting and varied. However we have a really great chemistry and feeling for each other’s styles and influences so that whatever we individually come up with usually fits within the context and vision of the band.
Kevin: – Our songwriting is a mixture of individual composition and collaboration between band members. Sometimes one member will write a whole song by themselves to present to the group, and other times when one of us hits a dead end in the songwriting process, that person will pass the song off to another member to continue writing. For example, “Bastard Steel” was co-written by both Collin and myself. Collin came up with most of the main riffs, while I wrote the bridge section in the middle to tie it all together. Everyone in the band is involved in the songwriting process. Sarah Ann focuses on lyrics while the rest of the band works on the music.
The title of the album is pretty impressive. There is no title song of course, so why did you choose it?
Vincent: – Since the album cover is not based on any of the songs on the album, it didn’t make sense for us to chose a title track. We found it perfectly encapsulated the themes found on the album, and in addition, it’s a line from the short story “The Greater Conquorer” by Michael Moorcock, who also penned the book that “Ilian Of Garathorm” was written about.
The cover art is no less impressive, it’s the work of Michael Whelan as far as I can understand, and originally used for a book. Who came up with the idea of using it, and did you know it originally from the book? Why do you feel it fits this collection of songs?
Sarah (vocals): – One day Vincent and I were at a book store, and he found an art book featuring Michael Whelan paintings. We brought it home, and as I poured through the :images, I came across “The Well of Shiuan.” I instantly said: “This is our album cover.” I grew up surrounded by Frazetta paintings courtesy of my dad, so as I grew older I became interested in the art of Boris Vallejo, Salvador Dali, Alphonse Mucha, Ken Kelly, and Whelan. When I discovered it was originally used for a book, I purchased the trilogy. Altogether, the art perfectly encapsulates our music: I love that we got to use this painting for Smoulder. All of our songs are about revenge, bloodshed, fantasy, and magic.
One thing that definitely sticks out is your logo. I guess you have achieved pretty much what you aimed for with me taking notice of it and the logo catching hte eye of people on festival posters.
Vincent: – I designed the logo very shortly after we chose the band name. I drew dozens of versions before we decided on the current one. Few bands have vertical oriented logos so I thought it would be interesting for us to have one. So far only one person has misread it as “Smouder” haha.
The New album has a rather modest playing time of around 38 minutes. On one hand you have bands trying to squeeze as much music as possible onto an album-release, but there also seem to be a reaction, with lots of releases, at least within the traditional metal circles being between 35 and 40 minutes at the moment. In your case, was this all the material you had ready at the moment, or simply all you had the time and resources to record right now?
Vincent: – When we started figuring out what the album was going to look like, we all agreed it should be no longer than 40 minutes. It’s the perfect length to fill up two sides of a record without compromising sound quality. It’s long enough to be considered a full length, but short enough to leave people wanting more. We had additional songs ready to record, but they would have pushed the album length well over the 40 minute mark.
Kevin: – There are a couple reasons for the shorter album length. The first is that most of the songs we’ve written are at least five or six minutes long, so trying to squeeze an extra song or two on the vinyl would be tricky since they only have a limited amount of recording space available. The second reason is that we didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew for our first album. This is our first time recording something of this stature and we were also recording in two separate locations. We would rather record six songs really well than record seven or eight lackluster tracks.
As already mentioned, there are a lot of things happening in the Canadian scene at the moment, and I was kind of surprised not to see Smoulder on the “Trapped Under Ice”-sampler from Temple Of Mystery. Do you think there is something similar that fuel all these excellent newcomer acts at the moment or is it more of a coincidence with them popping up at more or less the same time? Do you have some personal favourites?
Collin: – Not being Canadian myself, for a while now I’ve wondered about what’s in the water up there for so many great and original new metal bands. To me it just seems that there’s a great drive among the Canadian bands to make really original but yet old school sounding heavy metal. I can’t really put my finger on what exactly the main driving force behind all of these great new acts coming up all of a sudden is, but there is definitely some very exciting stuff coming out of Canada right now! Some of my personal favorites right now are Gatekeeper, Syrinx, Cauchemar, Emblem, and Starlight Ritual.
Let’s speak a little about the individual tracks of the album, and we need to start with the killer first track, “llian Of Garathorm”. I guess it was a pretty easy choice as the opener for the album? Also the first taster off the album, do you feel it’s the strongest song on there? I get a slight Eternal Champion-feeling from the song, not only because of the lyrics and the Artur Rizk-mix, but also when I listen to the music.
Collin: – All the music for this song was actually originally written by Kevin and I a few years back for an old project that never got off the ground. When we joined up with Smoulder we immediately offered it up as we thought it really fit for what we were going for. I’ll agree that the song definitely has an Eternal Champion vibe especially in the riffing, but the big influence for us when it was originally written was Solitude Aeturnus and their use of harmonic minor/arabesque textures in their riffs.
Kevin: – The music for “Ilian of Garathorm” was written by Collin and me a couple of years before we joined the band. The song was originally for another music Project we were involved in that never got off the ground floor. We thought the song was too good to not use for anything, so we showed it to the rest of the band. Everyone loved it and we decided to include it as part of the debut. It’s hard to say whether or not this is the strongest song on the album as we love them all, but we are definitely thrilled by the positive response by our fans since showcasing Ilian as a single.
Vincent: – Before “Ilian Of Garathorm” was decided to be used for Smoulder, Sarah and I had already planned on writing a song with lyrics based on “The Champion Of Garathorm”, so it was a natural fit.
“The Sword Woman” was also on your demo of course, but it seems you wanted to make some changes to the song rather than just re-record the exact version that was on the demo?
Vincent: – Yeah, we wanted to give “The Sword Woman” the production it deserved. Thicker guitars, punchier leads, and it’s altogether slower and heavier.
“Bastard Steel” that’s another track, that at least to me is more heavy metal than doom metal, and one that should work really good live as well?
Collin: – “Bastard Steel” is one that I’m really excited about,since it’s kind of my baby! Haha! It’s actually quite an old song, going back at least five years to that project that Kevin and I were working on that I had mentioned earlier. After years of being in limbo we both decided to present it, with some edits to make it more fitting, as a possible Smoulder-song. It really let us flex our old-school power metal influences that we all share, so we decided to give it a shot live. After working on it some more, we agreed that it should be on the album, and I think we definitely made the right choice with that. It’s a great change of feel from our more mid-paced and a slow songs on the album. I’m very proud of this one!
Kevin: – As mentioned before, “Bastard Steel” is another collaboration song between Collin and I. The song was written five years ago and was originally a speed metal song at a faster tempo. We all thought the song fit well with our vision, but it did need a few songwriting tweaks to help make it a bit “doomier”. The song is still an adrenaline rush and is a lot of fun to play live. It’s a good one for our fans who prefer faster metal music.
“Voyage Of The Sunchaser” was also on the demo. Were there elements about the demo version you weren’t fully satisfied with and wanted to improve for this album version?
Vincent: – Absolutely. I think we’re all much more satisfied with the album version than the one found on the demo. Besides the guitars and vocals being bigger, everyone’s performance was much tighter this time around.
Collin: – I also changed up how I played some of the chords at the beginning and end of the song to really emphasize the heaviness and to add some more dimension and depth to it.
“Shadowy Sisterhood”, another cool song with some pretty intense vocals and great lead work. Also the title and what I can dissect from the lyrics caught my attention. What is this one about?
Sarah: – I’m very proud of this song. It felt like it fell out of Vincent and I over a very short period. The song is an original story that I wrote, and is very much a theatrical piece about a young witch who ventures into the forest to learn from a powerful sorceress. The witch then kills the sorceress with the magic she’s obtained, and for this crime, the Shadowy Sisterhood coven kills her. This same coven will make future appearances in Smoulder songs.
“Black God’s Kiss” is the definitive doom track on the album, by far the longest and most epic song. Did you know early on that you wanted to end the album in this manner?
Collin: – I think pretty early on we knew that this was going to be the album closer. We definitely wanted to end it in a big way, so “Black God’s Kiss” was the natural choice.
Vincent: – Yeah, It was definitely intended to be an album closer. When I started writing this track back in our earliest days, it was originally slower, longer, somewhere around 13 minutes, and less interesting than the finished product you hear on the album. Besides being our longest track yet, it also took the longest to complete. I worked on the lyrics for months until I was satisfied with them. Sarahs vocal performance really brought this track to life and it’s probably my favourite on the album.