Jul 112020
 

 

(Andy Synn brings us another installment of his interview series on lyrics in metal, and for today’s fascinating commentary we thank Ian Gillings, lyricist/vocalist/guitarist of the British band Rannoch.)

One of our primary motivations here at NCS has always been to use our platform to highlight the underdogs and the underappreciated, the bands who don’t necessarily have the support of the labels, PR, or any of the other mechanisms which help the bigger names get all the coverage they want.

That doesn’t mean we’re totally ignorant of the “the usual suspects” by any means, but there’s a special kind of joy which comes from knowing that you’ve played a small part in introducing a relatively unknown band to a wider audience – especially when their music runs rings around many of their more famous (or infamous) contemporaries.

Such is the case with UK Prog-Death powerhouse Rannoch, as while we’re not the only site to have written about them by any means, we’ve covered all their releases so far (up to and including their phenomenal second album, Reflections Upon Darkness) with such gusto that we’ve definitely helped raise their profile both at home and abroad.

So, to continue throwing our weight behind the band I invited guitarist/vocalist and main songwriter Ian Gillings to tell us a little bit about his past, present, and future as a lyricist.

A word of warning though – much like the band’s latest album, it’s a long and in-depth piece, so get comfortable… it’s time for some deep, dark reflections…

 

BEGINNINGS…

In my first bands I was always interested in being involved in the lyric-writing process. The visual aspect of a band is pretty much always informed by the lyrical content, so it’s a way to assert an aesthetic and a voice beyond that of just the music.

I would come up with lyrics (sometimes by myself, sometimes co-written) and would suggest how I felt they should fall rhythmically and melodically but never got much more involved than that.

I was never a singer – couldn’t sing a note, couldn’t scream (some may argue I still can’t) – but I remember that three weeks before a string of gigs our vocalist at the time decided to quit, so it was either cancel all of the shows or try to find a way to make it work… which is when I grabbed a mic and why, subsequently, I haven’t gone back to having a “full-time vocalist” in any band since.

 

 

INSPIRATIONS…

By far my biggest inspiration when it comes to lyrics comes from authors and screenwriters.

David Lynch never fails to inspire, if not in the construction of words but in the emotion his work carries. The final three tracks from Between Two Worlds are thematically taken directly from Fire Walk with Me, and if you listen carefully there are some refrains from “Laura Palma’s Theme” by Angelo Badalamenti, transposed to a different key and mode, during the breakdown in “The Lodge”… (nobody has ever mentioned spotting this, so maybe it’s too well hidden).

Interestingly in Twin Peaks: The Return there are several sequences featuring a dark stairway which are uncannily similar to the Between Two Worlds album cover which preceded the series by several years!

I count Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Ian Banks and Cormac McCarthy amongst my favourite authors, and Voice of the Fire (a series of linked short stories spanning several thousand years in Northamptonshire) by Alan Moore is possibly my favourite book of all time.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the end of the chapter called “Partners in Knitting”, a tale of two “witches” burned at the stake:

Where have all the crowd departed to? Mary and I are almost gone; powdered glower amongst the cooling ash. Tomorrow, little girls will dance between our ribs, the bowed bones charred and heaped like paired-off nails from dirty giants. They will sing, and kick up grey and suffocating clouds of us, and if the wind should blow our fragments into someone’s eye, well, then there may be tears.

 

INFLUENCES…

Despite being more interested in the “musical” aspect of a vocalist, when it comes down to the written word my favourite vocalists are not always my favourite lyric writers. The ones who usually spring to mind as influences are back from when I was first getting into extreme music.

I was always taken with Aaron Stainthorpe of My Dying Bride for words that, however minimal, always held a great deal of emotion and depth. Even “Heroin Chic” from 34.788%… Complete. Despite being much derided at the time, for me it’s the “Trainspotting” of Doom.

In the complete opposite direction, Dani Filth always knew how to spin a good lyric…and he spun a LOT of them back in the day (perhaps too many). Dusk and Her Embrace and Cruelty and the Beast in particular had some exceptional lyrical writing. I have no qualms in stating that Cradle of Filth were my gateway to the extreme, even if I haven’t listened to them in about 20 years!

These days I’m sorry to say that I don’t often check out a band’s lyrics. The streaming age means that you can consume a vast amount of music without ever seeing an inlay, and gone are the days when I would buy an album and just sit and consume it with the lyrics in front of me.

 

 

CHANGES…

I’ve never been a political writer, but a political bias will always come across in whatever I write. I used to comment on religion, in particular Christianity, as that is the only one I have an actual understanding of, but feel I’ve done that now and have since moved away from it. These days I am much more interested in telling a story or exploring something a little more introspective.

My process towards lyric writing has always followed the same path. The music comes first, quite often in a fully structured and finalised form, then the vocals will follow. I usually hum along nonsense to myself to have a feel for how things sound well before pen goes to paper and take it from there. I will often just write as much as possible without thinking necessarily about flow or form and edit afterwards to better fit the music or emphasise a particular vocal pattern.

Once that is done I’ll record some scratch tracks on the demo before finally having to figure out how to actually perform all of the vocal and guitar parts at once.

It’s taken me a long time to explore my voice. I have always been, and will always be, primarily a guitarist and everything I write is on that instrument. Vocally there’s things I hear in my head from a melodic or technical point of view that I just can’t physically reach, so often I am “compromising” what I internally hear when applying it to the strengths of my own voice.

My favourite vocalists are people I cannot hope to ever be on a par with – Mike Patton, Devin Townsend, Greg Pucciato – but I’m always trying to better myself with each new song, push my capabilities and try new techniques.

 

 

SOMETHING OLD…

The Navidson Record” from our first album is based on part of House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.

 

 

In the novel they discover a book (that was never published) about a documentary (that was never seen) called “The Navidson Record”. It tells the account of a mysterious house which appears to have quantum-defying internal space. In the book, Danielewski attempts to evoke this labyrinthine maze by disorientating the reader through non-linear narrative and use of bizarre textual spacing. It’s a really unusual and original style.

Appearing like an illusion, inexplicable,
Unable to explain this sudden corridor,
From nothing to nothing, this intrusion,
But as a moth to a flame, we’re drawn,

We descend forever,
Away down, away down,
Into the nether,
Away down, away down,

Day by day, the house ever changing,
Defying logic, defying all reason,
From nothing, to something, a hallway,
And discovering now there’s a door,

We descend forever,
Away down, away down,
Into the nether,
Away down, away down,

Cannot leave this alone, all consuming,
Prepare the exploration, Complete the record,
From hallway to doorway, never ending,
Down an endless stairway we fall,

We descend forever,
Away down, away down,
Into the nether,
Away down, away down,

Through the lyrics to the song I tried to focus on the perceived subtle changes to the house; of repetitious blank corridors and doorways, and to instill a sense of endless descent.

 

 

SOMETHING NEW…

John Dee was a scientist, astrologer, alchemist and occultist of the Elizabethan period. There are many things written about the man, and he is legendary for pretty much everything you can imagine.

De Heptarchia Mystica (“On the Mystical Rule of the Seven Planets”) is the title of one of his books that delved into the summoning and study of angels.

 

 

The tale is roughly as follows:

John Dee met an occultist named Edward Kelley, a medium who claimed he could converse with angels. For several years, across countless nights, Kelley would scry using a highly polished stone called a “Shew stone”; and Dee would transcribe the encounters and ask questions to the summoned beings, who in turn would talk to them about their world and give knowledge.

Many of these sessions would have taken place at John Dee’s home in Mortlake on the river Thames, where today stands a rather decrepit block of apartments dubbed “John Dee House” (apologies if you live there).

I have no doubt that the pair of them would have partaken in a hefty dose of hallucinogens before these sessions, a standard practise of occultists in order to attune the mind to the other worlds.

And so all is dark,
Mists swell upon Mortlake,
And by candle light and liberty imbibed,
Again we set forth upon our path

FYI – “liberty imbibed” is a reference to Liberty cap mushrooms, one for the shroomers.

Whilst tripping balls, Kelley would describe the angels that would visit him; he would describe words leaving the mouths of these angels like rolls of scroll paper:

Through the glass we shall converse with angels,
Seeking occult truths,
Document knowledge delivered on tongues of demons,
Witness the horror,
Souls upon the precipice, all we give,
Damnation eternal,
They must never know this heresy, still we press,
On into darkness.

Being found out by the authorities would have been extremely dangerous and probably resulted in the duo being executed for heresy. Dee was lucky to be under the protection of the crown and no doubt used this to his advantage, but both men knew they were risking everything – not just their physical bodies but possibly their very souls! Still, he was a man with an obsession for knowledge, and for all intents and purposes what he was doing was absolute cutting-edge science…

Madini was the name of a young girl that visited Kelley’s visions on numerous occasions. She would sit in a corner and sing.

She sings,
Beauty,
Mournful,
Madini,

Through the shew-stone
Kelley utters forth dark secrets,

Towards the end of the relationship between Dee and Kelley they received an almost horrific request. Madini told them that there was one final task to complete and then the final secrets would be revealed to them.

What you ask of us now,
No sin could be greater,
But we know what must be done,
Blasphemy,

Madini asked them to swap wives. In Elizabethan times this would have been one of the most sinful acts imaginable, but somehow they convinced their wives to carry out the ritual (which also demonstrates a woman’s lack of power in those times, as well as the male attitude towards them).

My dear think not of his flesh,
As I unto hers,
For the ultimate truths we must lay,
Unholy sacrament.

With all of the angel’s requests complete Dee and Kelley once again attempted to contact them, but from that moment onwards…nothing… no more angels came through the scrying stone and Dee and Kelley eventually drifted apart never to meet again.

Did real angels actually play a part and did the information captured in De Heptarchia Mystica come directly from the kingdom of God? Was it a case of simply too many drugs in a culture steeped in superstition and folklore? Or was Kelley merely a scam artist and everything transcribed by Dee just the work of a clever fraud?

Whatever you believe it still makes for a fascinating tale.

 

 

AND FINALLY…

On our Age of the Locust EP the track “Porphyria” is based around “Porphyria’s Lover” by Robert Browning. And “Darkness” on the latest album is Lord Byron’s poem set completely to music.

But I may have taken that as far as I want to and, for the moment at least, I’m not sure what path future Rannoch lyrics will take… right now it is an open road yet to be mapped.

 

https://rannoch-uk.bandcamp.com

https://www.facebook.com/rannochband

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