With “The Reaper’s Spiral”, one of the strongest albums released in 2015, Terminus debuted with a bang. Packed with powerful epic metal, the album surprised a lot of people. In the wake of the album’s release, the band also built a reputation as a convincing live act, but something wasn’t quite right, and in October 2017, the news broke that the band had quit performing live.
Although it was announced that a second album would come sometime, the news that it was ready, came as a big surprise to almost everyone. Was it a strategy you had to keep a low profile? How many people knew you had “A Single Point Of Light” in the bag?
– Whilst it may seem we kept a low profile to a modern, social media savvy audience, I don’t really see it as having gone out of our way to do anything. We weren’t playing live anymore, the promotional cycle for “The Reaper’s Spiral” (for more about that album, see the interview we did back then) had long since finished so there was nothing going on in terms of reviews or promotion for that. We certainly weren’t going to be posting an endless stream of irrelevant drivel on the band Facebook page promising that an album was still coming and virtually begging any audience we had to please continue to pay attention and hang on our every word. These are strange times we live in when simply not shouting for attention constantly is seen as keeping a low profile, Only a few people knew – the people involved in the process like Enrico from Cruz Del Sur, Anaïs Mulgrew, Richard Whittaker and a few other close confidants to whom I vent my frustrations, says former drummer, now multi instrumentalist, David Gillespie.
In October 2017 you announced that Terminus as a live act had ceased to exist. Give us a little insight into the process behind this decision.
DG: – James (Beattie) had never really been comfortable playing live. He didn’t feel he was a natural frontman and he had a hard time dealing with his own very rare mistakes. It’s worth noting that from my point of view he definitely came across as a natural frontman and I don’t ever remember him putting in a bad performance but you can’t change how someone feels.
– Truth be told, Leif, I am not a particularly stable person when it comes to self criticism. Other people will have a bad gig, leave it to experience and move on, whereas I will beat myself up constantly, replay the mistakes over and over again in my head and make myself feel pretty worthless. That’s not healthy, and I think I was heading for total mental breakdown if I had carried on with it much longer. At least by just recording the songs, I get a second, third or thirtieth chance to achieve what I set out to do. I have more control over what goes out to the audience and I’m satisfied with the finished work. There were other factors too of course, explains singer James Beattie.
DG: – That left us with a choice of replacing James and carrying on or ceasing to perform live; the latter was the clear choice for me. The rest of the guys weren’t interested in being part of a band that didn’t play live and that is entirely understandable. James, beyond his voice, is fundamental to the band. Good singers are hard to find in this day and age, let alone one who has a shared musical history and vision, shared passion for the subject matter at hand, can make a significant contribution lyrically with vocal melodies and most importantly who you are comfortable working with. Things can get tense when you ask for a 10th or 15th take to get the last part of some weird harmony to line up properly and you don’t cast aside a working relationship like that lightly…
JB: – I’m not quite sure how we haven’t murdered each other…
DG: – If it’s hard to find a singer in mainland Europe, magnify that problem one hundredfold locally. Everyone saw what happened to Old Season – how many years were they out of action after losing their singer? Even if we had continued with an unsuitable replacement, the band would have withered on the vine and in all likelihood would be finished at this point. Keep in mind also that we’re in a fairly isolated location, geographically speaking. Driving to shows in continental Europe isn’t at all feasible even when compared to a band from the south of England for instance. There are very few direct flights from Belfast to continental Europe and, although Dublin is a lot better, the frequency of the flights to some of the places we were playing made things difficult. Sometimes it was a three or four day round trip to play one show and by the time we quit playing live, we were only starting to get to the point where promoters were meeting some of our costs. Unfortunately by then, James in particular had become thoroughly fed up with, as he put it, “pouring my own money down the drain” . All the guys in the band were of an age where we had families and that limited what we could do both financially and in terms of time off work – if you have to take three days off work to play a show in Europe and you do that four times a year, you don’t have much time off left to spend with your family.
How does David feel about not playing live anymore with Terminus? Did you, unlike James, enjoy being on stage?
DG: – I enjoyed playing, but waiting around for three days to play a show was a real pain. Playing the show was fun, if stressful – I don’t have quite the same tendency to beat myself up after the fact that James does, but I was always relieved to get through any performance mostly unscathed.
Having met and spoken briefly to most of you guys on a few occasions, from the outside it seemed that the Terminus consisted of very different personalities and people with different musical backgrounds. Was this a positive thing, or something that made the ride harder?
DG: – I don’t think it made things any harder because the guys knew what the musical vision of the band was when they came on board and there was never any attempt made to change that. They had a lot more experience of the mechanics of being in a band than we did and they were extremely patient initially – I couldn’t play drums at all at our first practice. I’m not exaggerating here; I could play one beat and that was it, I had to learn something new for every song. There were a few points of contention which came down to the difference between presenting yourself as a band that was part of a local scene or one that was aiming for something outside that – things like our social media presence which I touched on at the start of the interview but also the formats we were releasing things on. Bands in Belfast didn’t release cassettes in 2013 and there were precious few of them releasing split 7” records either, but it worked for us internationally which was always where the main audience for a band like Terminus was going to be found. We all knew each other, some better than others, for years from being part of the local scene so there was a comfort level there very quickly that overcame any differences.
I remember when you released your first album, you were quite critical of what you did on the demo. An album is a step up of course, and I guess you must still be proud of what you presented on «The Reaper’s Spiral»?
DG: – I’m proud of everything we’ve done, including the demo. (For more about Terminus at the demo stage, read this interview) Thinking back to the time, James wasn’t happy with his vocal performance on the demo. He went away and did some vocal training and that in combination with naturally increasing confidence over time improved the strength and quality of his voice massively. The singing on the demo is still recognisably James and it captures a moment in time; you can’t judge these things too harshly. Personally, my problem was with the tempo of the songs on the demo, but that’s how we were playing them at the time. For a demo and also considering it was my first time producing a full recording, mixing, mastering etc. I think it sounds pretty good and certainly on a par with what other bands at similar stages of their development were producing in professional studio.
JB: – Oh yeah, I absolutely detested my performance on the demo. It wasn’t helped by the fact that neither me or the recording engineer knew what part of the mic we used at the time actually captured the sound. Isn’t that right David?
DG: – I have very few problems with “The Reaper’s Spiral”. I don’t question any of the songwriting choices, the performances are all good and the production job that Paulo Vieira did was great too. In my own, biased, opinion it stands alongside the best of what Epic Metal has had to offer in the last ten years.
JB: – Apart from the fact that I would be able to put in a better performance on those songs now than I did at the time, I’m immensely proud of “The Reaper’s Spiral”.
David, being the main man behind the songs on that album, the positive response it got everywhere must have been satisfying for you. Was it parts of the feedback, either from fans, reviewers or fellow musicians that was extra special for you?
DG: – I don’t remember specific feedback but it was always gratifying when you could tell someone really understood what we were trying to do, thematically and musically.
With “A Single Point Of Light”, I guess no-one will accuse you of just copying your debut album. What were the main forces that made this new album different from the first one?
DG: – Broadly speaking, I don’t believe the two albums are very different. The aim was as you put it – to not simply push out a copy of “The Reaper’s Spiral” in 18 months and call it job done. We aimed to remain true to the bands core sound whilst introducing enough new elements to keep things fresh, which we did in a few places. That can be as overt as the middle section of “Harvest” or some of the riffs in various songs that you wouldn’t have found on the first album. Finally, we consciously increased the difference in tempo between the slower and faster songs – the faster songs are a little bit faster than the first album, but the slow songs are a lot slower. This allows James a little more room to sing and also lets the songs breathe.
In the past, the riffs and the basic arrangements were David’s, while the band contributed with ideas and suggestions. Have James now taken this role on his own, or are the songs on the album more or less like when they came from David for the first time?
DG: – James has always had a part to play in that; I always send rough demos of parts of songs or just even a couple of riffs thrown together to see if he thinks there’s anything there or if it inspires him. At the time of the split we had put together “To Ash, To Dust” and “Harvest” partly in the rehearsal room, I had “Flesh Falls From Steel” for a while and we were working on “Mhira, Tell Me The Nature Of Your Existence” so those songs had a bit of input in the rehearsal room but we made extensive changes to “Mhira” when we recorded a demo of these four songs during the first half of 2018. The whole key of the verses and the transition to the chorus was changed and the second half of the song was ripped up, pieces moved around and parts increased in length to accommodate the vocals as they were written. I’d say most of that input happens now happens when we do our first vocals on the song before it’s properly recorded, which is similar to how things were at the very start of the band when we were writing the demo material.
David, do you feel you have any limitations as an instrumentalist that has affected the end result on this new album?
DG: – I am a musician of limited ability so naturally that limit was pushed up against on a few occasions, particularly when it came to the guitar solos. We drafted in a friend of the band, Alvyn McQuitty, for a guest solo on “Mhira, Tell Me The Nature Of Your Existence”; I’m no shredder, but he is.
Have the fact that you knew these songs were not to be performed live, affected the way the came out on the album?
JB: – Vocally, definitely. I don’t have to worry about trying to replicate any of it live. In comparison to some of the screamers out there, none of the notes I sing on this album are particularly high, but they’re high for me and If we were still playing shows, where anything from a slight sniffle to being slightly dehydrated can destroy my ability to hit a given note, I would have had to play it safer on the recording. I’ve been able to delve deeper into using harmonies this time around too, without feeling like I’m short-changing an audience by not having them feature in a live performance. “Harvest” for instance, would have been a different beast if I was second guessing if I could reliably do it under anything less than perfect on-stage sound or vocal health conditions.
DG: – Any embellishments we’ve added this time round are no more than any other band would add if they were playing live. There’s nothing musically, or indeed vocally, that couldn’t be pulled off in my opinion.
Last time we spoke together, David said something like: «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”. It sounds like those words are relevant for this new album as well?
DG: – Absolutely. There are a number of themes in both the original story arc but also in the interpretive songs. To sum it up in the immortal words of one Roy Batty – “I want more life, fucker”.
If I understand right, the last four songs on “A Single Point Of Light” make up some sort of concept. Why didn’t you make the whole album as a full blown concept?
DG: – That’s correct. The last four songs tell the tale of a scientist on her deathbed, feeling her life’s work is incomplete. She is approached by her mentor, a man on the fringes of his field dabbling in legally and morally dubious realms of their shared field with an offer to transfer her consciousness into the digital realm. From there, several events happen as she is forced to come to terms with the consequences of her choices and how she is misused. We didn’t go down the route of a full blown concept partly because we had some other works we wanted to interpret in the same way we did on the first album and partly because we had already written some of those songs before happening upon our concept and didn’t feel inclined to throw out a strong set of lyrics. I tend to think the term “concept album” puts off certain listeners as well; there’s a whiff of the bloated 70s Prog Rock epic about it, which I personally love, but this way there is a thread tying the album together that the listener can either ignore or delve into as they choose.
What about the three songs not part of the concept? I guess writing lyrics for stand alone songs are a bit different, as you haven’t really got the time and space to let a story evolve like in the mini concept. Would you describe the words to these songs as mini stories nevertheless?
JB: – The main difference for those three was that we had source material to refer to. “To Ash to Dust” and “Harvest” were mostly mine and are based on the Hyperion novels by Dan Simmons and the ’70s Sci fi film classic Silent Running (which features my other favourite Bruce) respectively. “As Through A Child’s Eyes” is pretty much all David’s work, I can’t remember if I had any input into it or not, but it’s based upon Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. The approach to writing most of our stuff whether it’s something we’ve created from scratch or not is to zone in on one or two elements of the main story arc or one character in particular and come up with as you say a mini story. A secondary difference is that with the entirely original content, we have a free hand and It can be anything we want it to be. I found that I was able to project something of myself onto the characters and connect more with the lyrics on an emotional level. I’ve found that immensely satisfying and I’d like to head further in that direction in the future.
Seen from the outside, the fact that you are now on Cruz Del Sur comes as no big surprise, as they are the home of many of today’s best underground acts. Are you satisfied with the work done by Stormspell and Horror on your first album, and when and how did Enrico enter the picture for this new album?
DG: – We were very happy with the job Stormspell and Horror did for us. I think we were one of Azter’s best selling releases, the promotion was good and both labels were more than fair with us. We had offers from bigger labels at the time, Cruz Del Sur included, but we felt Horror and Stormspell were a better fit at the time. We recorded a demo of four of the songs from the album over the first few months of 2018 and we only sent this to Enrico. He was immediately very keen and had been disappointed to miss out on the first album. The label’s reputation and reach had only grown since we had last spoken so we looked no further. Enrico is doing a great job for the album so far and he’s a trustworthy guy – we know enough people who have been on the label in the past or are on it currently that would attest to it.
What are your personal favourite bands and release from Cruz Del Sur’s rich catalogue?
JB: – I love most of the stuff Enrico has released, and Ravensire are pretty near the top of the list, but it’s got to be Slough Feg. Picking a favourite album is too hard a task though.
DG: – It will come as no surprise if I mention Walyprgus ‘Walpyrgus Nights’ and Twisted Tower Dire ‘Make It Dark’. The Walprgus album was derided by some for being “wimpy”, or whatever other shit reason they could come up with, but it’s wall to wall classics and has not left the rotation around Casa Del Gillespie for very long since it’s release. It’s like TTD with added Scorpions to my ears and I absolutely love it.
Can you already say that there will be a third album from Terminus as well, or is that decision yet to be made?
JB: – If David keeps the songs coming, I’ll keep singing them. And if we feel like they’re good enough to record, we’ll do it and hopefully someone will release them for us.
DG: – We will inch forward over the next while and see what we come up with. As James says, we’re not going to put out any old shit and, as evidenced by the new album, we’re not going to produce a 100% duplicate either. Time will tell.