(NCS Russian contributor Comrade Aleks interviews Archie Hunt of North Carolina’s Atten Ash, whose excellent new album The Hourglass was released by Hypnotic Dirge Records in February and whose similarly excellent split with Lycanthia was released by the same label in January.)
Hypnotic Dirge surprises me again! The label has another killer release after a one-year hiatus, and this time it’s by a melodic death-doom band from North Carolina named Atten Ash. The band’s name literally means “near the ash”, and this trio has created a fantastic – and I use this word very rarely – a really fantastic album, The Hourglass. The album was completed three years ago for digital release by the band, but lay on the shelf until Hypnotic Dirge suddenly found it.
I think you need to know that the band consists of three members – Archie Hunt (who roared with Legion of the Fallen) on vocals, with James Greene responsible for the great clear vocal parts and most of instruments, and Barre Gambling of Daylight Dies playing guitars and keyboards.
The Hourglass is a perfect gift for those who like the old death doom stuff of Katatonia from the Brave Murder Day period, the progressive and emotional works of Opeth, and the melancholic and melodic works of Daylight Dies as well. Without any delay we’ve done this interview with Archie Hunt, with the help of Nic Skog, the head of Hypnotic Dirge.
Hail, Archie! How are you man? What is the band’s current status now?
I’m doing great brother, thanks for asking.
The band is still just the 3 of us, James, Barre, and I. Currently, we’re all still reeling from the swift, kick-ass job that Nick from Hypnotic Dirge has done with the album and vinyl split.
James and I are still living in North Carolina, but Barre’s off in Florida right now, which doesn’t change anything, since the majority of the collaboration we do happens online. Though last time I talked with Barre he mentioned that he might be moving back to NC. If that happens, we’ll probably start working toward playing a few select shows, or touring.
Hypnotic Dirge has released a vinyl split of Atten Ash and Lycanthia. And there’s only one song of yours — “City in the Sea” — and it’s taken from The Hourglass album. What was the reason to do that record now?
If I remember correctly, members of Lycanthia approached Barre, requesting a Daylight Dies song to add to the split. Barre instead threw out the idea of including an Atten Ash song. I think Lycanthia and Hypnotic Dirge had a listen and both thought it a good idea. too.
The Hourglass was released about three years ago only in digital format, and it was a perfect death doom record full of raw energy, fantastic melodies, really good emotional tension, and great vocals. I wonder… I really fucking wonder why has a hard copy appeared only now?!
The original, digital-only release of The Hourglass was meant to be more about getting the word out online. Secretly, we wanted a label to scoop up the record all along; it just took a lot longer than expected. But that can only be blamed on the band, as we had no real marketing strategy and were clearly ill-suited to tackle the job of self-promotion.
I read that some people see a lot of Daylight Dies in Atten Ash, do you agree with that? And how did you record The Hourglass? I bet that Barre has put a lot in this record.
I think what you hear on the album is that everyone in the band draws influence from a lot of the same music. Believe it or not, every riff and drum hit on that album was crafted by James. The Hourglass is truly his baby.
Barre does shine through, though, especially his solos and help with song arrangements and synths. Barre’s really mastered his art and developed a gnarly style that just sticks out in whatever he graces.
It is funny that people regularly say that… James and I are big Daylight Dies fans. I got into doom after seeing Daylight for the first time. And oddly enough, Daylight Dies is how James and I began playing music together. James saw Daylight in England while studying abroad. He already knew Guthrie, DD’s old growler, but later got to know Barre. A year or so later Barre introduced James to my old band, since we were looking for a drummer.
The album was recorded over about a year-long process. Maybe more like a year and a half. At the time we were all working together at the same job, and James would bring in these amazing portions and pieces of songs. It seemed like he and Barre were collaborating a bit before the songs started to truly take form, and then I started laying vocals over them and we started cycling demos within the band. We recorded almost everything separately in our own homes with our own recording equipment. Then we’d send the tracks to James for a quick mix down, constantly refining the music.
What do you like the most in The Hourglass album? What does it personify for you?
James and I really came into our own on this album.
James is the type of guy who gets locked onto an idea or project and just attacks it, not letting go until it’s done. He put almost all of his free time into this album over a long period. The end result was something amazing, a true masterpiece, and a professional sounding one at that. That’s something he had never done before.
For me it was at a bit of a crossroads, my old band, Legion of The Fallen, was slowly dying out and in the meantime I was working on this project and some of my own material. In that short year, year and a half long process, I grasped some song-writing elements that somehow had always eluded me, mainly the art of simplicity and trimming the unnecessary. My vocals also took a huge leap forward. Being pushed by James and Barre really helped me along, and on the way I discovered a few other vocal stylings that I now use regularly.
So that’s my favorite thing… we grew up musically and actually put out a physical piece of music that bears the fruits of our maturing.
Atten Ash “Born”
How do you see death-doom among the other genres? How do you see its cultural aspects from an artistic point of view?
One thing that has always stuck out about doom to me is that so much emotion can come out of these meandering, melancholic riffs. Whether I’m just listening to an album, or playing the riffs myself, they just tear me apart. I don’t know if it’s the slow tempo, or the genre’s leanings toward a more melodic writing, but it’s just fucking heart-wrenching. I guess the way I describe it makes it sound like emo, haha. I could never actually put my finger on it, but that’s the best way that I can describe it.
And in response to your second question, I tend to live my life with blinders, so commenting on how things matter culturally would not be my strong suit, sorry.
Archie, what about your ambitions? Do you roar somewhere else besides Atten Ash? I see that you were a part of Legion of the Fallen, but it seems that band is inactive now.
Yeah, Legion’s dead and it’s been dead for years now.
Now I’m actually working on a punk metal project called über. I know that’s probably a bit surprising, but punk and metal is what I grew up on. It’s a bit of a full circle I’ve recently made back to my roots. I’m really stoked on the initial demos thus far. I have a feeling that it’ll make some waves in that genre. And you guys will get to hear the “other” vocal styling’s I’ve been toying with.
Did you do re-mastering or some other reworks for this release? Does it have any differences compared to that piece of doom from 2012?
Well, besides the obvious: killer packaging, album artwork, lyrics, and better track arrangement, no, nothing is different, haha.
By the way, did you find Hypnotic Dirge Records or did Hypnotic Dirge find you in the end?
It essentially all came to pass because of the vinyl split. Once we were approached by the label, we read through Hypnotic’s mission statement, which lays out a very clear theory of what they’re trying to accomplish in today’s industry. We all dug it. It was simple, fair, and has been working great so far.
How much of your own efforts do you put into the promotion of Atten Ash? I’m asking because I wonder why the band isn’t as well-known as it could be?
Apparently not enough, haha. We truly suck at the shameless self-promotion aspect of being in a band. I think we’re all a bit too modest to be effective in that realm.
But what is the reason? I remember paper magazines in late 90’s, tapes-trading, and so on… it seems that the enthusiasm of some modern bands is not so high. And I wonder about musicians’ motivation. What is your motivation for example?
Truth is, I’m old, haha. I’m not very savvy with the internet, so things that are geared toward online promotion are just lost to me. Nowadays, if it’s not on Facebook, then people just don’t see it and that’s where I get discouraged, as does everyone else in the band.
Believe me, I yearn for the days when tape trading, putting up flyers, and being part of a scene actually made a noticeable impact. In my old bands, those used to be some of my favorite things to do. It took a long time for me to make the realization that that stuff didn’t matter much anymore.
My motivation… coffee, haha. Jokes aside, I’m not sure that I have a particular carrot-on-a-stick that I’m always running toward, I’m over that, I’m over dreaming. I just know that, in some form or another, I’ll be making music for the rest of my life, so why not make it good?
Archie, you know – I need to ask it: what about new songs?
Barre made it down for the holidays in 2014. We met at James‘ house, had few beers and a listen to James‘ newest tracks. All in demo form, but still amazing.
So yeah, it’s happening, but I think the process will mimic the same way we wrote The Hourglass. But I have a feeling that this next album will be so much better. I know that Barre is a veteran, but this is a first for James and I, to be a part of something that’s actually making a wave or two. Prior to the recording of The Hourglass, I only ever did backing vocals. I never had to really think about things like diction, power, and delivery. It was truly a learning experience for me. But it opened up a whole world of possibilities of what I could do with my voice.
I also feel like James truly blossomed during the writing of the album. Since we met 12 or so years ago, he’s always had these killer riffs and pieces of songs floating around. I think The Hourglass was a coalescing of all those ideas. I have no doubt that this next album will sound more mature, refined, and at least on my end, a bit more relaxed.
Do you care about recognition? What is more important for you — recognition from fans, or from other musicians? Though both things are very similar maybe…
I think I can speak for the whole band in this. We truly just want to make beautiful music that is hopefully beautiful to others. Having it stand the test of time would be a great bonus. But no, if we cared what others thought, I doubt we’d be playing doom metal.
Can you name some forgotten or non-active bands that you would like to listen now? For example, I wonder how it would be if Earthcorpse or Aphotic continued to record new albums.
That’s a weird one for me. I guess I have a hard time believing that even if my favorite, retired bands were still making albums that they’d be worth a damn, haha. People get old and fat, their tastes change, music usually gets bad, etc…
Give me a machine that makes 19-year-olds never get any older and I’ll give you tons of bands that I’d still buy albums from.
Okay, thank you for your time Archie! I believe that Atten Ash finally have found their way to listeners and let us consider it as a good start. Good luck man!
I thank you Aleks.
I believe you’re right about the band, this album is a good start and hopefully just the beginning.