(This time Comrade Aleks has brought us an interview with Ian Arkley, a founder of the UK’s My Silent Wake, who have a new acoustic/ambient/experimental album due for release by Opa Loka Records in July 2020.)
My Silent Wake was born from the dust of another UK doom death band Ashen Mortality, one of the first bands of that kind, born in 1993 and disbanded with two full-length albums in its discography in 2005. So My Silent Wake was given birth by Ian Arkley (guitars, vocals and more), Andi Lee (bass, vocals), and Jasen Whyte (drums, vocals). Doom-followers should know mister Arkley well because he’s one of Seventh Angel’s founders, a legend of thrash / doom metal that started in 1987, two years after the founding of their USA colleagues Dream Death.
Having such huge experience of playing doom-oriented music, Ian Arkley is known for his interest in experiments, so My Silent Wake’s eleventh album Damnum Per Saeculorum will offer you some… We’ve spoken with Ian about nature of his experiments and things doomy beyond measure.
Hi Ian! Thanks for your time and this opportunity to spread the word of My Silent Wake. So the band celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. Accept my congratulations — do you plan to celebrate this date considering the current conditions?
Hi Aleksey. We did plan a new compilation but with the release of the new album coming up as well as my first solo album and the second Guillotine Dream album it seems we have enough releases from our camp! The new album makes mention of the anniversary but I think it will be worth waiting for our twentieth for anything more obvious.
Damnum Per Saeculorum is the title of our new release and it is our 11th full-length album. This time we mixed things up to an even greater extent than our last experimental album. This one includes many acoustic instruments, lots of experimental items, some distorted guitar, lots of vocal parts, and a massive variety of styles. Everything was recorded at our home studios.
Sounds promising! Nowadays due to the covid quarantines and all these issues some people have gotten the time to revalue their priorities in life. Did this situation change your attitude towards the band?
Not really. My attitude is very much the same as it always has been and my belief in the band remains firm. We have excellent imaginative musicians and a lot of ideas keep springing up. I am more than happy to keep recording for as long as possible. For me gigging has become much more difficult due to a few health issues, and currently I feel much happier tucked away in a studio. MSW didn’t gig for the first two years of existence and had recorded two albums before our first gig. Three of us had played previously in Ashen Mortality, and due to the gap we practised very hard indeed before we took to the stage. Things have come full circle now and we haven’t played live since autumn last year. Things do change and I may feel more like doing more gigs in the future but for now I would be happy to tick along as we are.
Was there a period when you enjoyed playing live? With My Silent Wake, Ashen Mortality, or Seventh Angel?
Oh very much so! I still enjoy it sometimes, especially if it goes well. I still have nerves before we go on but afterwards it is still a high to have been up there and performed. The problem revolves around health issues making it impossible to know how things will be on any given day. The other issue is that at times we still play very low-key gigs which can be demoralising when weighed against the effort, time, cash, etc it takes to get ready and to perform. We do not regularly practice, so any gig we do needs a lot of prep, especially as we live in various far-flung places (SW Wales, Forest of Dean, Chesterfield and N. Somerset.)
Most of the time when we are on stage, it just seems to flash by. I rarely have time to think about what we are doing at the time. I think this is partly due to singing and playing most of the time I am up there. It is getting to be quite a full-on experience which I don’t always feel prepared for. I like meeting people normally but at gigs it can get a bit overwhelming.
My Silent Wake’s new album Damnum Per Saeculorum promises to be an experimental ambient piece, and previously you had atypical albums like the acoustic Preservation Restoration Reconstruction (2013) or Acoustic Collection (2012). Do you feel such deviations from the major doom death line is My Silent Wake’s integral element?
Yes they are and always have been really. We had acoustic pieces on Shadow of Sorrow and also recorded our first ambient track the same year (entitled ‘November’). The second album had a whole disk of acoustic tracks. I really enjoy the different creative process of making ambient and experimental music. The variety of things you can use to make these tracks is endless and you can really treat it as a piece of art which develops rather than writing a full song and having to show everyone else and rehearse it before recording. This way we capture more improvisation and spontaneity. Some of the songs were pre-written but there are certainly a few that were started with no idea of the final outcome. Many of the pre-written ones were a loose idea at the start of recording.
My Silent Wake – Warhawks
Did you record the Damnum Per Saeculorum songs with other members at your studio? Or did you work at a distance?
It was a lot of different sessions. A couple of songs I recorded alone but most were recorded with Simon and David. Simon came down and we had a good session for about two or three days, and a few months later we went to see Dave to get more stuff down. Dave recorded a few of his separately and so did Simon. Simon did the bulk of the mixing and production on his own, as lockdown was firmly in place by then.
Will Damnum Per Saeculorum be an album of new songs or do you have some older tracks there as well?
The music is all within the last few years. The lyrics, however, go back up to about 30 years. Simon had many unused lyrics and we ended up using some of them. He has always had a flair for writing and wrote the more poetic stuff on the first and third Seventh Angel albums. He started writing lyrics in his teens.
Really? 30 years ago? I wonder what kind of lyrics they are?
They were Simon’s lyrics which only needed the slightest of changes. Very poetic and probably written around or post the original phase of Seventh Angel.
You already revealed the new song ‘Warhawks’ from the upcoming album. Its folk vibe sounds very natural for My Silent Wake. Which role does the historical and cultural background of your country play in My Silent Wake?
I’m not sure if it is restricted to our country really. There is an interest in the past, and medieval music has always fascinated. I have always been drawn to old things such as ancient architecture, music, a bit of history, but I am not that knowledgeable about it. I want the music to capture a feeling rather than having to be completely authentic. We strive to mix old and new.
Invitation to Imperfection (2017) was a kind of experiment too. It’s almost totally instrumental. What was the idea behind this work?
The album was constructed from many home recordings (and minimal studio recordings) we had created both individually and as various collaborations within the band and our friends and families. Much of the recording was done on basic equipment and in some very odd ways but the whole thing hung together quite beautifully in the end. Once it was mastered it really all sat well together. Strangely it has been very well received.
Ian, do you ever have a lack of ideas for lyrics? Doom metal in general has a limited number of topics to cover, so how about this?
I don’t really feel restricted by genre. I have a lot of unused ideas so I don’t need a constant supply of new lyrics. Sometimes I write a lot and sometimes I have very little that comes to me, but I never worry about that. I moved to Wales a year and a half ago and have really settled in now. It took a while for any inspiration or inclination towards music-making to come, but then it hit again.
Speaking about Preservation Restoration Reconstruction – you performed mandolin and harmonium on this album. It’s not something extraordinary, but still unusual for the standard doom set. What was your first encounter with these instruments? How did it happen that you decided to include them in your work?
Although we have done some acoustic gigs, they are few and far between. Electric gigs are completely that and there has never been a crossover when we play live. On album we have no restrictions at all. If I like the sound of an instrument, I want to record it. I am very fond of harmonium-type sounds and have used mine a lot on my solo album. For the new MSW, as we have used such a wide variety of instruments as well as sampled sounds, we have been able to create a bigger picture than ever before.
My Silent Wake – Killing Flaw
Do you see such albums as your personal harbours that you need to build from time to time, to take a rest from the heavier music you play?
They happen naturally. You start with a few tracks and end up with an album’s worth before you know it. It is definitely more restful and enjoyable than creating heavier music, but I hope to be able to still do both as time marches on. I enjoy both styles. I don’t like doing acoustic gigs, as metal is much more enjoyable to play live, but in the studio I enjoy both. At the moment my preference is for home-recorded experimental tracks, but we have many songs already written for the next metal album.
Do you ever feel that you can totally switch from heavy music to something lighter?
I have always enjoyed a variety of styles and think that in MSW they all work together. Bands such as Empyrium have successfully combined heavier and folkier styles and I am drawn to that kind of thing. I always enjoyed folk as well as metal and goth. This is our fourth full departure album, so it is really no longer a departure at all!
Hah, considering the “goth” tag. I’ve seen that My Silent Wake was tagged as a “gothic doom death” band. What’s your attitude towards the “goth” label?
I am happy to be tagged as gothic as we are influenced by early goth rock such as Bauhaus, Fields of the Nephilim, etc. I would be less happy for any comparison to what often seems to pass as goth, which seems more like pop music to me.
Adam (Adam Westlake, bass) and I play in the goth rock band Guillotine Dream with ex-MSW drummer Mark Henry.
Speaking about My Silent Wake’s current lineup… you remain the band’s last original member for years. Do you feel you have still maintained the band’s spirit that you evoked with the Shadow Of Sorrow full-length?
Yes definitely. The spirit is the same. From the start we felt we had freedom to do what we want and that has continued. Although we have had line-up changes, everyone who plays in the band is my friend rather than acquaintance and it is not just about the music. I keep in touch with most former band members and occasionally they have contributed something to songs recorded after their departure. Anyone who wants to can do something with us. Last year Jasen joined us onstage for some vocals as well as Mike from The Drowning, who has been part of the band’s history for many years. Although Simon is one of the more recent recruits (within the last five years), we both played together on and off for 30 years. I didn’t know Dave that well when he joined but liked him from the start. I am very fond of everyone in the band and it does have a family vibe.
Dave? Sorry, I didn’t know you had a new guitarist. Well, what’s My Silent Wake’s current lineup?
Ah yes, Dave is the most recent recruit. He has been in the band for two or three years now though. His first appearances was live and on the ‘There Was Death’ promo video. He is a great asset to the band and has already written a lot of songs. He was a member of the band Irony of Christ. We recorded a live version of ‘Walls Within Walls’ (unreleased) and our cover of Officium Triste‘s ‘To The Gallows’ prior to this new album.
The current lineup is:
Ian Arkley: vox, guitar, various
Adam Westlake: bass (electric, acoustic and contrabass)
Gareth Arlett: drums and percussion
Simon Bibby: keys, vox and various
David MacLean: guitar, vox, various.
The ‘various’ refers to our playing on the new album, which has a good range of instruments played by Simon, Dave and me and some family and friend guests.
My Silent Wake – And So It Come To An End
The Damnatio Memoriae and There Was Death artworks were created by the famous metal artist Juha Vuorma. Did you ask him for special works due to the albums’ moods or did you choose completed paintings? Will you continue to collaborate with Juha further?
They were works he had already done but were perfect for what we wanted. He is great to work with and very talented. We have also had Matthew Vickerstaff on board for quite a few of the albums and he is a good friend too. With every album we decide which direction we will take. Dave, our other guitarist, has done the art for the new one. I would definitely use Matt and Juha again. Both are very talented and easy to work with.
What kinds of feelings play the leading roles in Damnum Per Saeculorum?
The album is about different forms of loss through time, in the past, present and future. It wasn’t written as a concept album in the traditional sense but has a definite thread and vibe going though, even though the music covers a vast range.
Thank you for the interview Ian! I hope Damnum Per Saeculorum will find its listeners soon, and it should be great, taking into account the ‘Warhawks’ teaser and your previous albums as well.