(In this new interview Comrade Aleks presents a conversation with members of The Drowning, whose new album was released on November 8th by Transcending Obscurity Records.)
Over a sixteen-year career the Wales-based doom death crew The Drowning have recorded five full-length albums, and their most up-to-date work The Radiant Dark has been released by the now-famous Indian label Transcending Obscurity Records. The gentlemen honed their skills for years, and logically the new material demonstrates highly effective songwriting and powerful expressive delivery. The songs balance on a verge of old school doom death (leaning to the Paradise Lost doom sound) and more modern meaty and melodic death doom, so the album has already got its portion of praise.
I hope that the collaboration with Transcending Obscurity, and this interview with Mike Hitchen (guitars), Dicky (bass), and Matt Small (vocals), will help The Drowning reach a wider audience.
Having started in 2003, The Drowning leaves the impression of a stable active band. There are five full-length albums in your discography, and that’s a good score. Were your intentions from the start to keep The Drowning active as much as possible?
Mike: At the time we didn’t know what we were going to do or where it was going to go. We just wanted to make a demo, and after the demo we were back in the studio after a few months, as we enjoyed doing it.
There were not that many bands in your field when you started. Was it easier back then, 15 years ago, to organize gigs? How does the situation differ with venues nowadays?
Mike: It was a lot worse; it was a lot harder to book gigs back then as there were none in the genre apart from the big boys, so we ended up playing with the all the metalcore bands that were around. We’ve always found the UK limited in the best venues, and the gigs we’ve played have been in Europe. There seems to be more of a scene out there.
What are the bands who led you into doom metal territories?
Mike: Back in the earlier days when we started gigging, we got a message from another band not far from us, My Silent Wake. We checked each other out and felt we were a good pair to play shows together in the local scene. And soon after that we attracted other bands, darker bands, including Tor Marrock, The Prophecy. Then, of course, within these circles we were becoming involved with small doom festivals. By then we were finding ourselves comfortable within the scene, and moving away from just the local scenes.
Your debut When The Light Was Taken From Us leaves an impression of a melancholic atmospheric album, as since the second release The Bleak Descent the band tends to be a more straight and aggressive, nihilistic sound. How do you see these changes from the inside?
Mike: When The Light… was just myself and the producer, who was also the bass player, so it was all my ideas. Jason just came with me at the end to do some solos. I wrote the whole thing pretty much by myself. So, the sound changed to reflect the band becoming a live band, whereas before the songs were constructed for the studio and not a live performance.
Despite all these changes, which seem to be quite natural, The Drowning has kept its individuality based on the laws of classic doom death metal. What is the core of your sound?
Mike: Hard metal riffs.
Dicky: Not restricting ourselves to the confines of the genre, being able to throw in a riff if it sounds good and not being afraid if it doesn’t fit the classic idea of the genre.
Matt: Definitely remembering first and foremost that we are a metal band, and whilst we can be experimental and emotional, we always make sure the track is metal as fuck.
The Drowning – Prometheus Blinded
It seems that initially you tended to lyrics common to doom death bands in general, as James Moore’s texts can be described as dark, depressive, poetic, and abstract. So Fall Jerusalem Fall’s title surprised me a bit. Did you decide to take another direction with this album, concept-wise?
Mike: Whilst the lyrics were still written by our first vocalist James Moore, I actually came up with the title, so that’s why it differs stylistically. The idea behind the album was wanting Jerusalem and the religions it spawned to fall. The constant shameful belief that they need a higher deity to give their life meaning is completely delusional. “Three Temples Ablaze” (the opening track on the album) represents christianity, judaism, and islam
So you’re meaning that it was a concept album, right?
Mike: Umm, not in so many ways, no. If you look at tracks like ‘So Glorious Am I’, that was a very personal song, lyrically, about a very close friend of both mine and James. He sadly departed from us due to substance abuse. The other tracks from the album do have that questioning anti-religious content, but the album was never intended as a concept.
Do you have your own negative experience of dealing with the church?
Mike: No, not at all!
Matt entered The Drowning as the new vocalist during the band’s work on Senescent Signs. What are your memories about this recording session? Was it different because of this replacement?
Matt: The recording was a nightmare. We ended up taking over three years to complete it due to losing the whole album during a heatwave that cooked both the hard drive and the computer in the same week. That said, it gave Mike a chance to rewrite most of the album. So if that hadn’t happened the album would have been completely different.
Mike: When Matt joined us the vocals became a lot harder and aggressive and more straight-to-the-point, so the music was able to bend more towards this style, although for Senescent Signs the music had mostly been written before Matt joined the band. It’s only with The Radiant Dark that the music was written with him in mind.
Does the final version of the album differ that much from the original? How much time did it take to record all the songs anew?
Mike: I remember being in the recording studio the first time around, laying down rhythm guitars. I was still writing one of the tracks while at the studio, so I still had no idea really how it would sound. Some of the tracks on the album, the first time around, were still in their infancy.
Steve: Going back in for the second time around I think was the best thing that could have happened for the album. We were all far more familiar with the album this time, and Mike and Jason really boosted some guitar work. They had new lead lines, and new solos, that I think really helped develop that album into the best version of itself.
By the way, Senescent Signs has killer artwork. Grim, disturbing, expressive. Did Matt Vickerstaff create it strictly for the album? Is it connected with the lyrics?
Matt: Matt Vickerstaff created the image based on the ideas we wanted to convey. We were very happy with his interpretation of the concept of facing the signs of decay and how it affects your reality when you accept and observe your own signs of senescence
Four of your albums were released by Casket Music, and finally you switched to Transcending Obscurity, which has released a bunch of excellent doom albums this year. What are your expectations from this collaboration?
Dicky: So, our expectation is to get a much larger international presence and for our music to reach a whole lot more people. Transcending Obscurity is one of the leading independent labels in the world at the moment, consistently releasing quality albums. We’re honored to be on their roster and look forward to finding out what the future holds.
How much time did it take to finish The Radiant Dark? What was your vision of this album from the start?
Mike: From writing to recording it took two years. This album came from a completely different angle from Senescent Signs. I wanted it to be darker and more depressive, but at the same time, as opposed to feelings of melancholy matched with these emotions in Senescent Signs, I wanted the emotions these concepts provoked to be angrier and more hate-filled, to be more aggressive and less passive in the face of defeat. The Radiant Dark is a true representation of the afterlife, just a blackness that radiates for eternity in death.
What inspired you to choose this harder concept?
Mike: For me personally, writing a more power-driven rhythm to the album seemed the natural way to go forward from Senescent Signs, knowing Matt’s vocal capabilities pushing forward with new material. I’ve wanted to mix the natural melancholic mood of The Drowning but this time we wanted to go with a more outright aggression, but still with our sound.
Steve: After all, you don’t want to see any lifeless bodies at a show, you want to see them banging their fucking heads!
The Drowning – In Cold Earth
Death doom has its own limits, as any genre does, but you’ve managed to keep the genre’s features and make a new step as a band, developing the sound a bit further. How far did you go from Senescent Signs from your point of view?
Matt: The Radiant Dark is completely removed from Senescent Signs, just as the next album will be completely removed from The Radiant Dark. The band constantly evolves as a side effect of being driven to push ourselves and to exceed the limitations of the previous albums as we see them.
Mike: Although we’ll always be instantly recognizable as The Drowning, due to the length of time we have known each other. I started hanging out with Jason in ‘86 and we have been playing together since 2003. Steve’s playing is a huge part of the sound as well since he joined the band in 2006, so throughout all the albums, you’ll always a have the sound we have developed together over this time.
You had four albums behind you before the new one, you know what you wanted to achieve, and I bet you knew how to achieve it in the studio. Yet I wonder if you had any difficulties during the recording session? Or was it just fun in the name of the doom cult?
Mike: It’s always been fun. It’s never been a chore or a grueling process. If it wasn’t fun, we’d stop doing it, which is why James stopped, as it wasn’t giving him pleasure anymore.
Dicky: There’s no difficulty, it’s just an accepted part of the lifestyle if you want to make music you can be proud of. Certain aspects are gonna suck — carrying gear upstairs for one, and the 99% of indifference you’ll receive from people when you share your art and bare your inner-most being… but you know, being in a band fills the hours before death.
Speaking about the doom cult… It seems that all the high positions on the doom peak are occupied by a few older bands or bands very actively promoted by labels. How do you see The Drowning’s status and prospects, considering this?
Matt: It seems that the only way to guarantee a turnout to a show or to be given an opportunity is to have been going for at least 20 years, as if it automatically makes your band good ‘cuz people can say I knew them before they were big. So maybe in 4 years more people will give us a listen! That said, I think we are well-known and respected among other metal bands, but you can’t always just play to other musicians.
How actively do you promote the band? Do you add some extra effort to push it further, or are you satisfied with the labels’ job towards promotion?
Steve: So promotion does come from our label Transcending Obscurity, and we also work with a PR company, Imperative PR. We also do a lot of our own in-house promotion through social media. We try to do everything we can to keep any fans out there as connected and up-to-date with what we’re doing. If you haven’t already, you can check us out on our Facebook and Instagram, and Twitter I believe is a thing too, or of course through our Bandcamp. Shameless self-promotion!!!
The Radiant Dark will also be released as a box set. What does this edition include? And do you plan a short tour or will it be only a release party when The Radiant Dark is officially out?
Dicky: The Radiant Dark limited-edition box-set includes….
Number 1, an autographed card signed by all members of the band (three times, as the post system can go eat a bag of dicks!). Number 2, a metallic bonding parchment featuring the insignia of the band. Number 3, an icebox attraction strip featuring the insignia of the band. Number 4, an interlaced fibrous rectangle featuring the insignia of the band. Number 5, a stringed instrument attack triangle featuring the insignia of the band. Number 6, a portable beverage release mechanism (with keychain) featuring the insignia of the band … oh, and the 8-panel digipack CD containing a code in 1s and 0s that when correctly decrypted releases the album.
Matt: There are plans on a UK tour next year in its very early stages, and we’re hoping for a lot more opportunities following the album release… based on the reception and feedback so far, we are hoping to start approaching booking agents soon.
That sounds like a real Christmas present! Thank you for the interview gents! How would you like to sum up our conversation?
Mike: It’s been nice to have covered some of the old material, not just the new album. Obviously we’re excited about The Radiant Dark but it’s nice to know, after all this time, that people are still talking about the previous stuff. Safe in the knowledge that even though members have changed, the band hasn’t changed, only grown.