(Comrade Aleks brings us this interview with Darryl Shepard of the bi-coastal band The Scimitar from Massachusetts.)
A scimitar is a backsword or sabre with a curved blade, originating in the Middle East. The curved sword or “scimitar” was widespread throughout the Middle East from at least the Ottoman period, with early examples dating to the Abbasid-era (9th century) Khurasan. Also, The Scimitar is a severe and dark stoner doom band from Massachusetts. It was started by Darryl Shepard (guitars, vocals) and Dave Gein (bass) when they were on hiatus from Black Pyramid. They invited Brian Banfield to play drums later as The Scimitar turned out to be their main doom project.
Crushing, sharp, and heavy, The Scimitar is a merciless weapon, but the band have been silent since their first album Doomsayer was released two years ago. I posed a few questions to Darryl to clarify the band’s current status and to go deeper into the history of The Scimitar.
Hi Darryl! The Scimitar debut Doomsayer was released two years ago; it would be good to hear if you finally have a few more new songs. What’s your plan for The Scimitar in 2016?
We don’t have much planned at the moment. Gein lives in California but we do trade riffs via email or text. I have a few songs ready to go, I’m always working on riffs and songs, and he has some stuff too. Not sure if we’ll get to record this year though. It looks like we’ll be playing at least one show in December. I think our next record will probably be an EP, like three or four songs, that’s what we’ve been talking about.
What would you like to change in the next The Scimitar record considering the material you wrote for Doomsayer?
Not too much. We were really happy with how Doomsayer turned out. It’s got some instrumentals, some longer songs, a cover song. Anything we do on our next record will probably be along the same lines. We dig instrumentals so there will probably be at least one instrumental.
You’ve played in a lot of bands and projects throughout all of your life. Which of them are the most active for you today?
Currently, besides The Scimitar, I play in KIND, which is more active right now. We have an album out on Ripple Music called Rocket Science and we just did a short tour of the west coast. I also have a solo project called Blackwolfgoat, which is something I do when the mood hits me. Sometimes I have a guest drummer, Nate Linehan, play with me in that project, but mainly it’s just me solo.
What kind of mood do you need to achieve to compose something for The Scimitar? And well – same question about Blackwolfgoat…
I don’t have to really be in a mood other than a creative one, although anger helps sometimes. If something is pissing me off I can get it off my chest through a song. “The Taker” for instance, that’s a song about feeling like the world is just taking and taking from you and not ever giving back. I was really feeling like things were being taken from me constantly, like my time and my energy, so I wrote a song about it.
Same thing basically applies with Blackwolfgoat. I just have to be in a creative mood to do anything, otherwise it’s like pulling teeth to come up with something good. It shouldn’t be forced, it needs to just flow.
The Scimitar – Doomsayer
Scimitar is the saber that originated from the Middle East. Which qualities of this weapon does the band obtain?
The sharpness of the blade, just cutting shit to shreds.
The Scimitar is a doom band, it’s tight, damned heavy, sometimes aggressive; which factors formed your vision of how doom metal should sound?
Well, it’s gotta be heavy, first of all. And it really does start with Black Sabbath, they’re the godfathers of doom. We try not to sound like Sabbath too much, but the influence is undeniably there. But we also mix it up with some faster stuff that’s influenced by Iron Maiden, who Gein loves. We’re not super-slow, funeral doom or anything like that. I’d consider us more straight-up metal with some doom influences mixed in. Even though it’s doom, it’s gotta rock.
Does belonging to any genre make any sense for you? You know, some people say that we don’t play doom, we play rock like BS did. So in the end – does it help to find the right bands to play with, or is it for fans who could more easily find right-composed riffs?
Genre is really more of a signpost for listeners to have an idea of what to expect from a band. The Scimitar is obviously not thrash metal or grindcore, so doom is probably the closest thing that you could call us. It gives someone at least a vague idea of what to expect. But even within doom metal there are all sorts of sub-genres and different styles, so it’s really just a leaping off point. Some Sabbath stuff is straight-up doom and other stuff is way more just heavy rock. But again, they aren’t a reggae band, so calling them doom is just a way to get an idea of what to expect.
I like all types of music, so playing with different types of bands is fine with me. It really comes down to the band itself and whether they are any good at what they do. Blackwolfgoat has played with folk artists and it’s worked out fine.
By the way, how did you start the band? Is it a full-time band or project, considering all the other outfits in which you’re involved?
Gein and I started the band in 2012 when it looked like Black Pyramid was going to take a hiatus and we wanted to keep playing, so we got Brian to play drums and just kept going. The band is named after the Black Pyramid song “Swing the Scimitar”. We had some songs that Black Pyramid wasn’t doing anything with, so those just became Scimitar songs. “Void Traveler” was totally written for Black Pyramid and we even played it at a soundcheck over in Europe but we never got around to using it. “Babylon” was another song that was written for Black Pyramid but not used, and I had “Crucifer” laying around as well.
The Scimitar was a full-time band for a while, but right now it’s kind of part-time, mainly just because Gein lives in California and Brian and I are in Massachusetts. We did play a couple of shows with a fill-in bass player named Bob Maloney, who plays in a band called Worshipper.
Subjectively – do the tracks you wrote for Black Pyramid and the tracks you wrote for The Scimitar have any significant differences? Or different lyrical ideas? What do you prefer to write about in The Scimitar?
Musically there’s not too much of a difference for me between the two bands. Lyrically there is. Black Pyramid’s lyrics are more about war and fantasy type stuff, whereas The Scimitar’s lyrics are more about everyday things, for the most part. “World Unreal” is about people who believe that everything that happens is a conspiracy, that nothing just happens in the world. I would probably never write lyrics like that in Black Pyramid. “Void Traveler” was written for Black Pyramid, so that has more of a sci-fi/fantasy theme. It’s about someone who travels through space but they always end up somewhere where there is nothing, just a void, and they are cursed to live like that for all of eternity, there’s nothing they can do about it. But musically, to me, the stuff I wrote for Black Pyramid and The Scimitar isn’t very different.
What are your requirements for the equipment you use in composing and recording The Scimitar’s songs?
Nothing special. I write a lot of stuff on acoustic guitar, even really heavy stuff. A lot of times I record ideas on my phone and then I’ll send it to Gein so he can check it out. I have a lot of riffs and songs on my phone, just tons of stuff. We recorded Doomsayer at a small but cool studio called Amps vs. Ohms in Cambridge, MA. Nothing too fancy. We just set up and play live, basically. Then there are some overdubs. But it’s pretty straightforward. As long as we can get a good sound then we’re good to go. We just need a few days, it doesn’t take months. I can’t work like that.
Darryl, you spent a few years in Black Pyramid, and together you released the band’s third album Adversarial in 2013. Some people didn’t get it, some people started to listen the band from this album. Which goals did you set before yourself when you were composing these songs?
When I joined Black Pyramid I just wanted to write some heavy songs and continue the trajectory that the band had. I tried to write music and lyrics that fit into the band’s style — that was a conscious thing. I think Adversarial achieved that. It fits in with what the band is known for, but of course it sounds different because there’s a different singer and guitar player on it from the previous records. I have my own style. But the shit’s heavy and the songs are good, so mission accomplished as far as I’m concerned. If people like it, that’s awesome. If they don’t like it then oh fucking well.
Black Pyramid – Swing the Scimitar
Doomsayer was released soon after you finished Adversarial. How did you share your efforts between these two records? You know both albums were done by nearly the same lineup, but they’re not similar.
Like I mentioned earlier, some of the songs on Doomsayer were written for Black Pyramid but we never got around to using them, so they just became Scimitar songs. Then we wrote a couple more songs and headed right into the studio. The only difference between the two bands is the drummer. We just wanted to carry the momentum we had forward. We were on a roll songwriting-wise, so we just hit the studio and recorded the material as soon as it was ready. We didn’t mess around too much with it. Plus they were recorded at different studios with different engineers, so that’s a big reason why they sound different.
Why did you leave Black Pyramid? Do you regret it?
Well, I didn’t leave Black Pyramid. Gein and I were asked to leave so that they could reunite the original line-up. At the point that it happened we were kind of fed up with a lot of stuff that was going on in the band and just decided not to fight it. You know, the last European tour that Black Pyramid did in 2015 was actually The Scimitar — it was Gein, Brian, and I. But I have other shit to worry about. I’m in KIND and we have an album out, and Gein has a new project now called Septik Onslaught, so that’s what we’re concerned about outside of The Scimitar.
But I will say that I am really disappointed with what happened to Black Pyramid. It was just a stupid thing all around, if you ask me. No regrets though. I’m always looking to the future and the next thing.
Thanks for the conversation Darryl, I wish you all the best with The Scimitar! Good luck with finishing the next album! Do you have any final words for our readers?
Just thanks for the support and for listening to the music. I care a lot about writing and playing music and I hope to do it for a long time, whether it’s with The Scimitar or Blackwolfgoat or KIND or some new band that doesn’t even exist yet. I just follow the riff wherever it takes me. The Scimitar will be back!