(On June 26th Cruz Del Sur Music will release the debut album of southern California’s Stygian Crown, whose music conjures thoughts of Candlemass and Bolt Thrower melded together — “Candlethrower” sounds. And in this new interview Comrade Aleks spoke about the music and the band’s origins and processes with three of its members.)
Rhett A. Davis stood at the roots of the Amercian doom-death scene. He’s one of Morgion’s founding members, he took part in the practices of Crimson Relic/Divine Eve, and he had the Keen Of The Crow band, who also followed a similar musical direction. Besides that, since 2001 he has performed drums in the death/black/thrash band Gravehill.
So in around 2018 he and two of his Gravehill companions Jason Thomas (bass) and Nelson Miranda (guitars) started the traditional doom band Stygian Crown, and the band got a real push when Melissa Pinion (keyboards, vocals) and Morbid Eclipse’s man Andy Hicks (guitars) joined their ranks.
How hard could the doom metal be when there are three men in the band from such an extreme crew as Gravehill? Let’s find out with Andy, Melissa, and Rhett, who are going to tell us a few details about Stygian Crown‘s forthcoming self-titled release.
Hail Stygian Crown! How are you there? How does quarantine go in your area?
Melissa: I have mostly been working from home, but I go into the office a couple times a month to assist with our organization’s food pantry, because many people are out of work and low on funds for groceries. In terms of music, this is the longest time I’ve gone without a gig in probably 20 years and it makes me feel like screaming sometimes.
Andy: The shelter-in-place order has me working from home as best as I can. Mostly I am playing with my kids all day and showing them every Sci-Fi movie that I would have said they were too young to see just a few weeks ago.
Rhett: I’m sheltering in place, working from home, spending time with my Lady and our Dogs. I am a homebody anyway so I’m not losing my mind over a beach or a haircut, or anything trivial. It would be fun to see my bandmates and play drums but I am patient.
Good to know that the situation is under control on your side. So Cruz Del Sur Music is going to release Stygian Crown’s self-titled debut on June 26th. What are your plans now considering the release’s promotion? Do you still have some gig dates that aren’t cancelled?
R.: We had/have fests that we still plan to perform but due to this Pandemic, we are playing each event by ear? We are slotted to play LEGIONS OF METAL, HAMMER OF DOOM, UP THE HAMMERS and HELL OVER HAMMABURG. If they get delayed or continue to be delayed we still plan to support.
How often did you play with Stygian Crown before the pandemic started?
R.: We had played a handful of gigs in the Los Angeles area, and we rehearsed once a week for the longest time before the Pandemic. We are looking to start rehearsing soon. Even if it means masks and social distancing.
From a first glance Stygian Crown looks like a side-project of Gravehill, though musically there’s a big difference. What drove you to start a new band performing a less extreme kind of metal? Rhett was always in heavier bands, as well as Andy and Nelson.
R.: I never considered SC a “Side Band”, not by intention anyway. I just wanted to pursue another Doom band and it just took a long while to get the right people and ideas to synch together. Nelson and Jason are both in GRAVEHILL too, but we don’t feel that band holds much identity to STYGIAN CROWN besides having a few of the same personnel.
By the way, how did Andy and Melissa become involved in Stygian Crown?
M.: I’ve known Jason for close to 20 years, but Rhett and I did not meet until a record-store signing for Heaven and Hell in 2009. A year later, I saw Rhett again at Ronnie James Dio’s funeral. The metal circles we were traveling in eventually led us to this band.
A.: I have known Rhett, Jason, and Nelson for years through the metal scene. We have a lot of similar interests, so when they approached me to play guitar in the band I jumped at the chance, and it was a very natural fit. Plus it’s another excuse to buy a full stack and more guitars.
What was Stygian Crown’s project at the moment you all joined it? Was it just an idea to play a traditional form of doom or was there a deeper concept behind the name already?
M.: The guys had been approaching Stygian Crown as a traditional doom project for a number of years.
A.: When I joined, the band had one and a half songs written and we still did not have Melissa. The idea was to play traditional doom, and we discovered our specific “Candlethrower” sound towards the end of writing the demo.
R.: The name is my tribute to my old bands MORGION & KEEN OF THE CROW and also my admiration of the character of THULSA DOOM from the film CONAN THE BARBARIAN (Milius/Schwarzenegger version).
Stygian Crown – Up From the Depths
How have you shared your duties in the band since then? Do you have someone who generates most of the musical ideas for songs?
M.: I worked closely with the band on songwriting for the first album and I hope to continue that tradition going forward. Though our collaborative process is not orthodox, I think it’s a formula that works for us.
A.: For this release we went into the studio with some really solid ideas from Mel and Nelson. Rhett lays down incredible rhythm and it gives Jason and I space to fill it in with our own styles. Then Nelson and I write leads on our own, come together to play them back to back, and make sure we are playing off each other the way we like.
How did you record Stygian Crown’s songs? Did you spend together one solid, focused session, or did you split the recording into a few parts?
R.: We recorded drums at TRENCH Studios with John Haddad (whom I’ve been tracking with for nearly 2 decades now). Nelson (Guitar) has a home studio (SAURUSOUND) so we recorded all guitars, bass, synth and vocals there. We then handed over the Mix and Mastering to Mark Kelson in Melbourne, Australia. We were not all in the same room for each tracking session. Having fulltime jobs, families, responsibilities… we tracked individually during our free time. Once tracking was complete, Mark sent MP3 tests to listen to until everyone was happy with his mix. We were in a bit of a time crunch doing it, so we could meet our deadline of release, but it came together quite well.
Rhett, you have performed heavy music since 1990 (correct me if I’m wrong) — is it comfortable for you to record music this way nowadays? Does this way weaken the experience of being in a band?
R.: It is much easier to record now than it was in my early days. I can think of a variety of other things that make the band experience weak, but recording is not one of them.
Mark Kelson recorded guitars for ‘When Old Gods Die’ and some narration for ‘Two Coins For The Ferryman’. Did Rhett know him from the old days with Morgion when Mark was running Cryptal Darkness?
R.: Mark Kelson is a good friend of mine and I did meet him during my MORGION days, not in person ’til many years after, but we have been in contact for a few decades now. I think it best to point out his MIXING & MASTERING for the album over his guitar and vocal contribution. Our album would’t be what it is without his work behind the desk. Fact, not opinion.
Oh, really, true to tell, I’ve skipped the fact he did mixing and mastering. Why didn’t you approach someone with whom you had already workeded in Gravehill? Ryan Butler who worked on When All Roads Lead To Hell or John Haddad who worked on three albums of Gravehill… What made you approach Mark?
R.: Keep in mind that TRACKING, MIXING and MASTERING are all very different processed. I’ve always used John Haddad to at least track the drums if not all instrumental tracking. We love his studio, and since he is a drummer, I feel it’s best to track drums with a drum-savvy person. GRAVEHILL mixed and mastered with John Haddad, Ryan Butler, Dan Ochoa, Alejandro Coredor. GRAVEHILL just liked to change up our options in that arena, and it also made each album have its own identity, which is important to the band. Mark Kelson was chosen to mix & master for STYGIAN CROWN because he was the right choice. Just like all the other guys were the right choice for those albums, at that time.
It’s said that some of the album’s lyrics were written by Rhett and some were written by Melissa. What kind of topics do you find suitable for Stygian Crown? And do you try to write lyrics in the same vein to fit the band’s concept?
M.: Some lyrics were already completed when I joined this project – one focused on a dragon (‘Flametongue’) and the other on warriors in battle (‘Trampled Into the Earth’). The third demo song had a tentative title of ‘Through Divine Rite’ but had no words that I can recall. I followed the existing theme and turned it into a song about the Battle of Mount Vesuvius – a conflict in 73 BC between slaves and Roman militia. The remaining songs on the album focus on mythological creatures and gods of different cultures.
Stygian Crown – Live
These themes fit the doom metal vibe well, though Spartacus’ story is a kind of original topic for a doom band. Though I remember there was a ‘Spartan’ song on Lord Vicar’s debut. Why did you choose this story for your song? Do you feel Spartacus’ rebellion is something people should keep in mind nowadays?
M.: I think it’s fair to say that most everyone loves an underdog story, particularly metalheads, and Spartacus’ rebellion fits that description. I found myself particularly drawn to that battle due to its unusual tactics – using vines to rappel down steep rocks on the back side of the mountain, rather than suffering casualties from a frontal assault.
It’s hard to foretell how the current situation will affect the music industry in the future, but do you have any concrete plans for Stygian Crown for 2020?
R.: If our fest dates are delayed we will use the time to write another album. Melissa has at least 3 vocal/piano pieces we have yet to work on. Plus the 1000 riffs Nelson has stored away and the 1000 more he tends to write on the fly. We have plenty to keep us busy!
Do you feel yourself motivated enough to record new Stygian Crown material this year?
R.: I think so, my favorite activity as a band is the writing process. We have plenty to work with plus we are a newer band so ideas are plentiful!
M.: I recorded demo ideas just this weekend, so if we don’t record this year, it won’t be for lack of trying.
It’s kind of an interesting turn indeed, as a lot of bands have sung about Armageddon, pestilence, holocausts on a global scale, etc. And in the end I don’t remember that anyone is happy with the current situation. Has it changed your mind considering your involvement in heavy music? Have you thought it over whether it’s right to spend your energy on music amidst all of this?
M.: We’re obviously sensitive to the upheaval the coronavirus has had on people’s lives and the losses they’re experiencing. But what the world needs at a time like this is more music, not less. The creative energy that’s occurring while people are in isolation has yielded amazing results, artists have raised millions of dollars for people in need, and listeners will ultimately reap the benefits from all of this.
So would you say that you’re into metal because metal unites people?
M.: I’ve been a metalhead for as long as I can remember because of the brotherhood and sisterhood it creates. You simply cannot experience this level of unity with any other genre of music.
A.: The metal community can be a very close, caring community. I have always been very drawn to that aspect of it. It’s amazing how a link to a Dio concert from a friend can really cheer you up at times like these.
Thank you for the interview. I hope it’ll help to spread the band’s message and reach new listeners. By the way, how would you sum up Stygian Crown’s message?
M.: The most dangerous monster is the one that lives within ourselves. That’s what Stygian Crown wants its audience to hear – a monstrous sound coupled with tales of old that call into question what creatures should truly be feared.