(Comrade Aleks brings us this interview of guitarist Jonathan from the Texas band Elliott’s Keep, whose formidable fifth album was just released last month and will be available on vinyl through NoSlip Records.)
At first I was attracted by the ascetic artworks of Elliott’s Keep, and by the band’s name itself, and they also performed quite original doom, so it was interesting to know what hides deep in the Keep’s cellar.
We kept on communicating with the band each time they released a new album, and I need to tell you that Elliott’s Keep became only stronger with each new release. How many doom bands with progressive, death, and epic influences do you know in the US? So there’s Ellott’s Keep in Dallas, and you’ll learn the rest from this interview with the band’s guitarist Jonathan, who’s ready to tell the story of their fifth album Vulnerant Omnes released on August 19th.
Hi Jonathan! I’m glad to find that Elliott’s Keep are active still, and you’ve just released your fifth album Vulnerant Omnes. How are you? Are you busy with promotion of the new album now?
Hello, Aleksey! It’s great to talk with you again. I hope all is well with you and your family. All is well here with us. It is an exciting time for us with the new album out now and hearing from people now listening to the new songs. We have been working with Zach Moonshine and Metal Devastation PR. Zach and his team have done a great job of helping us spread the word about the new album.
Which medias have supported Vulnerant Omnes’ release already? And how did the situation with promotion change for you over the last ten years? There was doommantia in the US back then, I guess it played its role well in promoting doom metal.
Things have definitely changed with the release of each album. When we released In Medias Res in 2008, MySpace was used by many bands and that was no longer the case when Sine Qua Non was released. Now, Bandcamp is great for bands – especially since Facebook is ridiculous in how it limits the majority of your followers from seeing your content. We have been very appreciative of the support from a relatively large number of internet radio stations, Facebook pages/groups and blogs. The metal community is great in that aspect.
There are five years between Vulnerant Omnes and your previous full-length work Lacrimae Mundi. How did you spend this period?
We finished recording the new album in the summer of 2021. This is our first time to have an album released on vinyl and the delays worldwide with vinyl production caused a full year delay for the album release. We think it was worth the wait. The vinyl release is through NoSlip Records and can be ordered at https://nosliprecords.bigcartel.com/product/elliott-s-keep-vulnerant-omnes. I’d like to give a shout out and thanks to NoSlip Records‘ owner Robert Pilson. We are very excited about the vinyl release and appreciate the opportunity to work with Robert.
As always, the album can be downloaded digitally and CD’s ordered at https://elliottskeep.bandcamp.com/. For those who prefer to stream music, this album and the four previous albums are available on all streaming platforms.
During the past year, we filmed videos for the new songs “Laughter of the Gods” and “Vanguard of Despair”. They are up on the web in a number of places, including at https://www.youtube.com/user/JoelatElliottsKeep. Next up, we are planning a video for the album closer, “White Wolf”.
Was it a vital aim for you to continue keeping the band alive despite all odds?
Definitely. We remain committed to creating music that we love to play and that we would want to listen to as metal fans ourselves.
Did the process of recording differ this time or did you work the same way as always?
The process of writing the music was essentially the same as the prior albums. Some of the songs took a long time to go from initial visions to completed songs. I’m speaking in particular of “Omnis Pretium (Fortress I)” and “Et Sanguinem (Fortress II)”. The music in “Omnis Pretium” matches the various lyrical moods of the story of a failed defense against a castle siege, with a retreat to the keep when the castle is overrun. “Et Sanguinem” picks up lyrically with our protagonist in the top room of the keep, bleeding out and reflecting upon his life.
In writing the music for those songs, we brought many ideas to the table, including various moods and time signatures, as well as some other non-traditional aspects for doom music. It took about a year of trial and error – and heated arguments over various visions – to get those songs to their final form. As with all of our songs, they aren’t finished until we are all three in agreement as to all aspects. We are very happy with the end result – even if it took time to hammer out.
As with the prior four albums, we recorded with JT Longoria (Solitude Aeturnus, Robert Lowe/Candlemass, Concept of God, Absu, King Diamond) at Nomad Studios here in North Texas. As always, the album was mastered by Gary Long, owner of Nomad Studios. New this time was a separate vinyl mastering by Dave Eck at Lucky Lacquer & Digital Mastering.
Which non-traditional aspects do you mean regarding the “Fortress” songs?
For example, in “Omnis Pretium” at the 2:23 point, the lyric lines beginning there are “disoriented, suffocating – time blurs.” When that musical section repeats later in the song, the lines are “carnage and chaos – stench and nausea – obscenities and futile prayers.” We wanted the music to fit those words, as the protagonist is basically shell-shocked, to use a more modern term. The music slows from the previous frantic pace and drops into a slower doomy section – but what makes it all work is the use of 5/4 time there and the drum work under the bleak guitar melody.
In “Et Sanguinem”, as our hero is reflecting on his life at the moment of death – some good memories and some bad – we wanted the music to reflect a number of different emotions in a short time period to fit the flood of different memories. The result of that is a more progressive section than is typically found in the doom genre.
What was the most difficult part of recording the album this time?
The actual recording process was very smooth, under the steady hand of J.T. We always enter the studio with fully completed and practiced songs – so we are very efficient in getting them tracked. The most difficult part for us was the delays. First, there was a pause required in the middle of the recording process because of a serious medical issue with a family member. And, as I mentioned, then we had to wait a full year after completion to finally arrive at the release date.
Elliott’s Keep are known for your lyrics telling the stories about dramas and noble battles in – correct me if I’m wrong – medieval or fantasy surroundings. I’m not going to provoke you, but I am really bewildered with all the modern fantasy and medieval movies where all the characters look like they came there from the neighbouring studio where they play some trendy dudes in another sitcom. I know for sure that I don’t want and I won’t watch the glamorous new Lord of the Rings series. So the question… how do you live with that? Are you ok with these new trends in movies if they ever inspired you?
Yes, we often tell stories in those settings. We find them to be interesting and appropriate settings for the lyrical side of Elliott’s Keep. The only songs we have ever written that were based on outside works were based on Tolkien. I’m referring to the songs “Feanor’s Bane” and “Tale of Grief” on our album Nascentes Morimur. They are original works lyrically but retell less-familiar stories that Tolkien created. The inspiration for those songs came from the original written works and not from filmed versions. As to film or television adaptations, we certainly favor ones that are true to the original source material.
I guess that I asked you the same question nearly ten years ago, so why not to repeat it once more? How does the local doom metal scene look now from your point of view?
Like everywhere, Covid shut down all of the local and Texas music scenes for a very long time. It is coming back to life and hopefully we will all be back to a pre-Covid status soon.
How long ago did you play your last gig? Do you plan to do a few shows to support Vulnerant Omnes?
It was prior to Covid. We are kicking around a number of possibilities now.
Well, you have five albums in your discography and I see how the band has grown from one record to another. But I wonder why – let’s say – honest and dedicated bands like Elliott’s Keep failed to get proper recognition. I asked the same question today to your colleague from another band, but still I don’t see a solution to this problem. Are people really closed to new names? Are people too focused on those four old big bands? Is it just a lack of promotion?
I think there are many answers to that question. Here in the U.S., most people listen to other styles of music and not metal sub-genres. It is a relatively small fraction of the population that listen to any of the styles of metal music. Then, among our metal brethren, some only listen to one or a few sub-genres and are not interested in the others.
For those who enjoy styles such as doom metal, it often requires some effort to learn about the bands who are making new music today – although there are many excellent resources online and publications such as your Doom Metal Lexicanum (and thank you again for including us in your first volume). Even then, we encounter metal friends who like only clean vocals or only dirty vocals – and not both. So, there are factors like that, as well. Word of mouth remains the best tool and we appreciate all those who help spread the word about Elliott’s Keep.
Is it a crisis or just the normal situation for doom metal?
I think it’s just the normal situation for doom metal. Going back to the beginning, doom never had a wide audience. Some people only like fast tempos in their metal and doom tends to be slow or mid-tempo. Of course, one of the signatures of our band is that we bring many faster tempos into our doom metal.
You, Kenneth, and Joel have played together since 2006. Have you ever thought to add a new member to the Elliott’s Keep brotherhood?
That was never a consideration for us. Coming back together as a band after the death of Glenn Elliott, our vision was to remain a three-piece band and I don’t expect that will ever change.
Well, you have this cool recent promo photo, but Joel with his Dallas Stars jersey, and you know… hah, it doesn’t look doomy. Does his passion towards hockey outweigh the dedication to doom metal?
When we took that photo, we were recreating a favorite band photo that we took back in the 1990’s in our prior band, Marauder. Joel had a Stars jersey in that one, so he did the same again. There is a metal connection with many hockey players in the States, and the Stars had a connection with Pantera back in the ’90s. For Joel and me, our passion other than metal is American football.
What are your further plans for 2022? Do you have any gigs in your schedule?
Joel is busy at work on the upcoming “White Wolf” video. He is our “director, producer and editor” of those things. That is next up and then we are talking about what will be next.
Thank you very much, Aleksey for this chance to talk with you again. We appreciate your support and friendship back to our earliest days as EK. Also, we welcome any of our listeners to reach out to us and talk about EK or other music subjects. You can find us on Facebook under our names Jonathan Elliottskeep, Joel Elliottskeep, and Ken Elliottskeep.