(Comrade Aleks managed to catch up again with Australian musician Phil Howlett and engaged in a discussion that ranges among a number of his bands and solo projects, including Solemn Ceremony, whose newest album was released this past June.)
Mister Phil Howlett from Adelaide is a dedicated metal warrior, and though he has that blackened thrash project Zlórtcht, he’s well-known mostly because of his doom band Lucifer’s Fall (which we interviewed a year ago) and his doom solo project Solemn Ceremony.
It’s hard to believe but even today playing metal in Australia could be a difficult task, as you’re unable to take part in bigger fests on a regular basis, as European or American bands are. The internet helps but not the way you need if you want to play your metal stuff live!
So Nine Records released Solemn Ceremony’s second album Demise on the 10th of June and we slowly lent a helping hand to Phil and that’s it, another entertaining and in-depth interview. Want to know how to play doom in Australia and not to be depressed all the time? Here we go.
Hi Phil! How are you doing? I see that Lucifer’s Fall and Eldritch Rites’ split was released on the 20th of August by BlyatDeth Records. So accept my congratulations and let’s discuss that and other news from your side.
Hi Aleks, I’m doing alright. Nothing much different happening in my world ha ha. Same job, same life, etc.
First of all, you said that you put Lucifer’s Fall on hiatus and now we have the split. I’ve checked and I’ve found your new statement about returning the band back to life. What’s happened? Where did your disappointment with the music “business” go?
The split was always going to happen, as the songs were recorded at the same time as III: From The Deep. It was supposed to be released on Rafchild Records but as he was having some issues we got a bit frustrated and went our own way with the release. All this was planned and organized before I decided to “quit” Lucifer’s Fall.
We’re returning to life in a reduced capacity because we had a really well-attended and enjoyable show over in Melbourne while finishing off our commitments. The result of this being that we might do the occasional show here and there if it feels like it’s worthwhile. I’m still pretty disappointed with everything to do with the music business, apart from writing and recording. So nothing’s changed there really.
Did you visit a really cool doom gig in your area? What was it? I’m just wondering how it could be…
We had a nice gig interstate in Melbourne (Doom In June). It was a “doom” show in the sense that most of the bands involved were Sludge, Stoner, or Post Rock variants. Excepting Zombie Hunger (Trad Vitus, Pentagram style, and 90% ex-Dire Fate members)). Also I liked Mammon’s Throne a lot (more of a doomy death metal thing). Anyway, it was an all-day thing and we were one of the headliners. There was a good enthusiastic crowd (more like 100 rather than 15) ha ha.
I’m not sure if that’s the solution but doom metal is more “popular” in Europe, though both of us know that this “popularity” is low in comparison with heavy, death, or black metal. Didn’t you ever think to move to the Old World in order to perform your doom in front of 100 people instead of 20? Doubtful pleasure in any case.
Ha ha not really. I’ve got too many things in my life tying me to where I am. I’m too old and I definitely can’t be bothered with any of that.
Graveyard Rites was released in a very limited edition, and as I understand, it’s a DIY release. How do you find the balance when the deal is worth spending your own time, money, and energy?
I’ve gotten a bit tired of trying to find labels to release things and also getting burnt by promises that aren’t followed through on. I understand that labels willing to release this stuff are in the same boat as small bands, so I don’t blame anyone personally when they decide they can’t afford it or it’s not worth the money to release. But it does get frustrating when it happens to you two or three times.
We went ahead with doing this one ourselves because we had enough band money saved up to be able to afford to do it. It’s still expensive and in the end if we sell all the copies we will make very little money on it…. All money just goes back into the band fund anyway for any future plans. In the end we’ll probably look for a label for the next release, an EP titled Children Of The Night because I don’t think we’ll have sufficient money in the bank (ha ha)
How do you plan to surprise listeners with the Children Of The Night EP? What may people expect from this recording?
I feel that this release is a little different. It contains four new songs and a re-done version of “Lucifer’s Fall” (from the debut). The only song I personally wrote most of (The Invocator wrote the intro) is a thrash metal number titled “Judgement Day”. The track “Children Of The Night” is a very different sounding song for us. It’s doomy but just feels like something different from our usual. “Doom In The Grave” is a heavy as balls Vitus/Trouble style doomer with a slight Black Metal tinge in the final part. “Fight With The Beast” is a punkish track which I guess feel-wise you could compare to Unknown Unnamed whilst not really sounding anything like that song. Being an EP I guess it’s a bit less thematic than the albums but I think all the songs are pretty cool.
How do you see the band’s strong sides after all? Is it in your dedication to trad doom roots? Is it in your punkish approach? Is it something in your artistic vision of doom metal?
Both the first two of those for sure. The trad doom roots are strong but they’re mixed in with a dedication to old school styles of metal too. Also, while we are not a punk band I love that we can do a punk track and get that attitude into our music in general. So yes, the attitude has always been a very important part of Lucifer’s Fall. Another strength is that we’re not afraid to throw different styles and riffs into the mix. I like the fact that many ’80s bands did whatever the hell they wanted but still retained their “own sound”. In my opinion there’s a bit too much sticking to a very limited sound and influence for the sake of genre purity in metal.
Did you think if there was ever an opportunity to promote Lucifer’s Fall or Solemn Ceremony more effectively? What do you think could help you with that task?
There’s probably a million ways to promote things more effectively but I don’t really have the time or the inclination any more. Personally I’m not the kinda guy who enjoys continually hassling people to listen or help spread the word, and paying for promotion with small sums of money doesn’t seem to do much either. I’d rather just write and record music and not worry about all the other shit. To my bands/projects’ detriment, I guess ha ha.
I don’t want to annoy you with the question regarding Lucifer’s Fall’s prospects, especially now when you got a new release of your solo project Solemn Ceremony, Demise. Nine Records released it in June, so do you see any feedback now?
For Solemn Ceremony, honestly I’ve seen very little feedback on the release. Virtually no reviews and only a few nice opinions from some known fans and supporters. It seems pretty dead to be honest.
Some things are just starting to come in for Graveyard Rites, so hopefully more opinions/ reviews will show up in the next few weeks.
How many songs based on Lovecraft’s legacy do you have in Demise? I see hints of Lovecraftian horror in two songs, but you know – maybe my ears betray me and my eyes see just what I want to see.
I don’t think there really is anything Lovecraftian, in the sense that nothing was consciously based on those themes this time around. I guess you could put “The Mark” into those realms, as it is a fantasy story type song. There’s a lot of depressive misery in the lyrics this time around and of course one or two songs about Satan.
Why does Satan’s image work for you? Do you see your doom as a “sinister” one? By the way, what do you think about “occult” doom / “occult” rock bands?
More than anything it’s just good old heavy metal horror fun. Religion is ridiculous and the whole Satanic/Evil thing is just enjoyable. It’s like a good horror book or movie. It’s a bit tongue in cheek and just escapism really. I like using Satanic themes to take a shot at religion in general though. And the artwork that you can use is killer. Ha ha.
I enjoy a lot of occult doom and rock bands because it’s often basically just a throwback to ’70s rock with a satanic image. And I love a lot of ’70s rock. The only thing against it is that it’s a bit of a trend and there are a lot of bands out there doing it. The result is usually that the quality and originality begins to suffer. Plus I find when everything gets marketed the same way it’s a bit boring but, I guess if that’s what sells….
One of many bands’ unfailing sources of inspiration is the horror movie genre. Australian horror cinematography is known for Wolf Creek and The Babadook, and those movies with crocodiles too probably. What’s your opinion regarding the local horror movie “scene”?
I like horror movies but honestly I don’t watch a lot a movies at all these days. I’ve seen The Babadook (it was alright). So, I guess I can’t really comment on the scene. I just find over the last 10 years I really don’t feel like sitting down and watching movies much anymore. I end up just re-watching comedy TV (Young Ones, Black Books, Black Adder, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers etc). I’ve always been an avid reader and music listener and I’m doing this more and more the older I get. I’d just rather do those two things in general than watch movies. Yeah, I know it’s totally un-Doom.
Subjectively, Demise sounds catchier than the debut self-titled album. How do you value your own progress on this record?
Glad you think it sounds a little catchier. It wasn’t really a conscious effort but catchier is good (ha ha). I had a lot of difficulties with Demise. In fact I think it is almost the most difficult album I’ve recorded. Many of the songs were changed quite severely after the drums had already been recorded. New riffs, new lyrics, etc. I think “The River” went through about six different versions. The only song that wasn’t altered was “In Satan’s Name”, which in my opinion is one of the catchiest songs I’ve ever written.
The album feels like a transitional record to me. I’ve already written most of the third record, which has come along really easily. I’m looking forward to completing it. It’s a bit more uptempo and I think it will be catchy as hell ha ha.
So, I guess I’m not really sure if Demise shows progress or not. It’s kinda paved the way for progress on the next one, but Demise itself was so difficult that it feels more like relief that it’s done rather than progress. Plus, I am utterly terrible at self analysis regarding the music I make.
Do Lucifer’s Fall releases work another way for you? More therapeutic or entertaining maybe?
Well, not doing everything yourself instantly takes a lot of pressure off, so I guess it’s more of a fun thing than recording the mostly solo projects. Especially as the band has gotten older and my contributions less. But conversely, the business side of things becomes more irritating.
I thing though that in the end whatever I’m doing I obsess about it too much. So whether it’s the vocals in Lucifer’s Fall or music and vocals with the other projects, it’s always kinda annoying and hard work. I basically live for the results. I love the end result but the process to get to it can be quite painful and frustrating.
Ah, okay, the future is blurred but I have to ask about your plans regarding any musical projects you’re involved in for the rest of 2022. Bring it on! Please.
Ok. I have a couple of projects that I’m currently in the process of recording, neither of which are much relevant to Doom Metal.
The first one that I’m currently almost finished recording the drums for is Zlórtcht which is a Celtic Frost worshiping project containing additional hints of punk and doom. It’s mostly mid-tempo to fast but there is one ten-minute doom track. Shayne of Eldritch Rites is doing lead guitar and I’m doing everything else. It’s pretty much all finished apart from drums for two songs and some guitar leads. Just had a label express some interest in it so hopefully that will all work out.
The second project is Caprahed which so far I’ve recorded guitar, bass, and keyboard tracks. Drums and vocals are next in line once I’ve finished Zlórtcht. Caprahed is basically whatever I feel like. It has influences from doom, prog, punk, blues, alternative and everything else in between. I’m doing everything in this project myself. It’ll probably be unlistenable ha ha.
Then following these two recordings I’ll get back to work on the third Solemn Ceremony album. Oh, also I am about to commence recording vocals for Lucifer’s Fall – Children Of The Night EP. Most of the music has already been recorded.
Yes, I was going to ask about Zlórtcht, but I was sure that it was on timeless hiatus, so… Okay, you’ve said it. Thanks for the interview Phil, and good luck with your projects. Let’s hope a proper opportunity appears to push it further and find more followers.
Cheers Aleks, It’s always a pleasure to talk with you and answer your unfailingly thoughtful line of questioning.