(Comrade Aleks brings u this interview of Tim Preston, guitarist/vocalist of the UK band Damnation’s Hammer.)
Damnation’s Hammer is a strange beast. They’re usually tagged as “death doom”, but despite this label this UK project is strongly influenced by the late Celtic Frost sound. As the band’s founder Tim explains, “The vision of the band has always been to create dark, doom-laden metal incorporating surreal atmospherics”.
Tim Preston (guitars, vocals) has been in the underground scene since the early ’90s, so he knows for sure a few things about how to play dark and heavy, and the band’s second album Unseen Planets, Deadly Spheres was recorded with a new, though experienced, lineup.
And yet despite the new blood in the veins of Damnation’s Hammer, the sound of this album is very close to the debut record, Disciples Of The Hex. What new things did Tim and his crew incorporate into the band’s sound? Let’s ask Tim.
Hello Tim! What’s new in Lancashire? What’s going on in the Damnation’s Hammer camp?
Lancashire is cold and wet as usual, It’s grim up North as we say! Well Damnation’s Hammer has just self-released our second album, Unseen Planets, Deadly Spheres. We spent the majority of 2017 recording it, so it feels good to finally make it available. We’re very happy with the results.
I spent a long time since the release of our debut album putting together a solid unit and writing songs. I feel as though a weight has been finally lifted and I can concentrate on writing new songs and developing ideas. I love to write and be creative.
You started in the thrash band Dearly Beheaded in the early ’90s, then you played groove metal with City Of God. How did it happen that one day Damnation’s Hammer was raised?
I was actually never a member of City Of God. My name is on the album but I never played on it, nor was I going to play live with them. Yeah, I was the bassist in Dearly Beheaded, and we released a couple of albums through Music For Nations in the late ’90s.
The idea to form Damnation’s Hammer came when I saw Celtic Frost in 2006. I remember they opened with “Procreation of the Wicked” but they played it deliberately slower than the recorded version. It sounded menacing and heavy. That’s when I realized this is what I wanted to create musically. Mid-paced, heavy music, but not like a traditional doom band.
Tim, it’s said that “Damnation’s Hammer was formed as an homage to the avant-garde metal of the 1980s”, yet usually the band is tagged as death doom (at least it was so after the release of the Disciples Of The Hex album). How would you sort out both kinds of influences?
We’re not a death/doom band. We’re not a death metal band nor are we a doom metal band. We’re a metal band with some doom elements for sure. I usually refer to us a doom-laden metal band, however I would prefer just the metal tag. Celtic Frost are often referred to as Avant-Garde, and as I mentioned previously, they were my main inspiration to create Damnation’s Hammer, so we are indeed an homage to them.
No one sounds like Celtic Frost to my ears; they are a very unique band. We try to create music in the spirit of the 1980s whilst at the same time trying to bring something original to the table.
Damnation’s Hammer – Disciples Of The Hex
The demo album Serpent’s Wrath (2009) was released by the band as a quartet, then only a trio was left (with another drummer) on Disciples Of The Hex, and the new album Unseen Planet, Deadly Spheres was recorded by you and a new lineup. Were there any really significant changes in the crew, or do you still remain till the main author of everything there?
Serpent’s Wrath was recorded as a three-piece actually. I’ve always been the main songwriter in the band so in that respect nothing has changed song-wise. All the riffs and song structures are my ideas, and once we have the body of the song I will add lyrics to it.
What you have to realize is that I’d never written a song before forming Damnation’s Hammer. I’d always been the bassist in every other band I’d been in. I couldn’t find a guitar player for Damnation’s Hammer so I switched to guitar and began writing for the first time. “Serpent’s Wrath” was the first Damnation’s Hammer song. I’d never sung before that either, so it was a steep learning curve for me. I love it though.
Disciples Of The Hex is a remarkable album. It has its individuality, it differs from a lot of doom albums released in the same period, it has some Celtic Frost old-school vibe. Strike while the iron is hot… But the sophomore album appeared five years later. Where have you been all this time?
Thank you for the compliments on Disciples of the Hex. The drummer on that album is an old friend of mine named Steve, who he lives on the Isle of Man, which is the small island between England and Ireland, and we’d talked about being in a band together. However, the only way it could work was if we did it via the internet.
I would record a guitar track to a click track, then email him the parts. Steve would then record his drums to my guitar. Once all his drum parts were done I re-recorded the live guitars over the top. This is how we created the Disciples album. As you can imagine this was a far from ideal situation. It was time-consuming and frustrating.
I needed to get into a rehearsal room with a band to play the songs for real. It was then that I knew I had to find a line-up to play live with. Which is easier said than done, finding musicians of the same mindset as myself. I spent at least three years trying to make the band work with various different musicians. Things started to move forward finally when Gary joined the band on drums in 2015.
Unseen Planets, Deadly Spheres sounds like a more fierce and straightforward version of Disciples Of The Hex. What was your goal when you started the recording session for the album?
To create the best album we could really. The song-writing and performance is so much more focused than the first album – as it should be, I’m sure you’ll agree. I wouldn’t necessarily say Unseen Planets, Deadly Spheres is more straightforward — if anything it’s more complex. It had to be an incredibly heavy album sonically, both in the riffing and song performance and also in the atmospherics we weave into our songs. The almost ambient sections of some songs still had to invoke a heavy atmosphere; they’re as important as the riffs.
I’ve asked that previous question about the similarities between the albums, but I need to point out some differences as well. For example, your vocal style on “Wolves Of Aquarius” differs from the straight in-your-face screams you usually use. What influenced you during the work over this song? And who influenced your manner of singing?
I’m still learning what I can do with my voice. As I mentioned previously, I’d never sung before Damnation’s Hammer, and if I could sing like Bruce Dickinson then I would. However, I can’t, so I have to use what I have.
I really wanted my voice to be more convincing on this album, as I was never really into the tone and timbre of my voice on Disciple of the Hex. I approached “Wolves of Aquarius” the same way as I approached the other songs.
Really there’s no big secret or technique I used. Until you asked the question it’d never crossed my mind, to be honest. The main verse riffs on “Wolves” are a little more laid-back than the majority of the other songs on the album — there’s more space and groove, which I guess lets the vocals “breathe”. I had no real influence in mind when I recorded the vocals, to be honest, just be myself and give the best performance possible.
The final track “Entrance To The Final Chamber” has few atmospheric parts; it’s something rare for Damnation’s Hammer. Do you feel that the album needed more diverse tunes, as that kind for example? Or do you feel that you expressed everything you wanted through it in this straight and fierce way?
I’m afraid I’m not 100% certain what you mean by this question. Are you saying this song is not atmospheric?
For me “Entrance to the Final Chamber” is an atmospheric song. The whole mid-section where we take the music down to picked clean guitar with delay effects really adds another eerie dimension to the song. Towards the end of the song I utilize a spoken-word piece that says, “And deep in the recess it stirs as the dead air slowly drifts, uncoiling a slithering horror awakens”. Then, as the riff comes back in, it gives the feeling of some huge leviathan started to stir and move! I apologise if I’ve misinterpreted your question.
Tim, how much did the other members put into the new material? Can you tell whether some of new musicians brought their influences into the band? I see that drummer Gary Bevan played in the old-school death-doom outfit Nightmare Visions, and bass-player Jamie Fowler is in a power-metal band.
Gary is a guitarist who always wanted to play drums, and as I couldn’t find a drummer to work with we decided to give it a shot together. He’d never seriously played drums in a band before, but he got really good really quickly. He saved the band actually, as I don’t know what I’d have done if we didn’t try to make it work. Drummers are so hard to find!
Our bassist Jamie also plays bass in an Iron Maiden tribute band called I’m Maiden. He’s a great bass player, and obviously Steve Harris is an influence, as is evident on some of his bass runs on the album.
Damnation’s Hammer is now a functioning band, and I think the vibe on the album is evident, as each member brings his own playing feel to the table. Our lead guitarist Ady is a classic rock guy and his influence is evident in the solos he plays. He works on his ideas to make them memorable for the listener, as opposed to a flurry of notes. Ady’s rhythm style is a little different to mine, and when listening to the album – particularly with headphones on – you can hear the subtle nuances between our individual guitar attacks.
Disciples Of The Hex has a lot of Lovecrfatian influences, music-wise, and Unseen Planets, Deadly Spheres seems to continue this tradition. What else can you tell us about the lyrics you wrote for the new songs?
None of our songs are actually based on a particular Lovecraft tale. They just sound like they should be. I usually come up with an interesting song title and brainstorm the lyrics; I let my imagination wander and write down all the ideas, then edit to make them fit to the music.
I can give you the background to the song “Wolves of Aquarius”. Although I can’t remember where I read it, but apparently we are currently transitioning into the Age of Aquarius. As the Earth rotates, it tilts on its axis and it takes 26,000 years for this tilt to reach its extent before it begins to tilt back in the opposite direction, and during this time we undergo a great upheaval, which is what we are living through in this day and age.
Will the Age of Aquarius bring a revolution of peace and love as heralded by the sixties–or will it usher in an age of unprecedented misery for humanity? I thought this was a great subject matter for a song. The Wolves are those who know that there is a malignant force that seeks to control humanity and enslave us. The Wolves are “illuminated” with knowledge; they are the renegades.
There’s a new part in the “Hex” series in the album, just a brief (01:27) interlude. Why did you include it in the record? What is this series about?
We are all merely Disciples of The Hex!! I wanted an atmospheric, ethereal soundscape on the original Serpent’s Wrath demo, which was to become the original Hex; obviously this inspired the song title “Disciples of the Hex” of course. We will continue this tradition with every future Damnation’s Hammer release and have the next edition of The Hex.
It’s not really about anything other than creating an ethereal vibe on the albums. We also use “The Hex iii” live between songs to create a somber, dark atmosphere. It gives us time to tune up, etc.
Interestingly the heartbeat you can hear in “The Hex iii” on the new album is my daughter Tabitha’s whilst she was still in the womb.
Tim, what are your plans for 2018 concerning Damnation’s Hammer? Gigs? New record? Some rest?
There is no rest at the gate! We’re still open to having the album released via a label if the right situation should arise. Disciples of the Hex was originally self-released before I Hate Records became involved. We’re trying to line up as many gigs for this year as possible and get out there to play live. In the meantime we’re constantly writing new material too. We have a few ideas for the follow-up to Unseen Planets. We’ll be around quite a while.
Thank you for the interview Aleks.