Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Reticent Talks Most Emotionally Intense Album They Have Ever Recorded, Thoughts on Religion, Politics and Mainstream Appeal!

Interview With Chris Hathcock

North Carolina's The Reticent have always a been a bit of a cutting edge progressive metal act, but On The Eve Of A Goodbye sees them at the heaviest they've ever been, both musically and lyrically. This suicide based concept album can be very difficult to hear at times, especially since it is based on a dear close friend of group mastermind Chris Hathcock. That's right, all of the pain and misery here is authentic, which makes it a sprawling wave of emotion unlike any other I've heard this year. 

I always start these interviews at the beginning, at what I mean by that, is I’d like you to talk a little about the band and how you came to be. Not mentioning the recent unexpected departure of your drummer, how do you feel about the lineup of The Reticent at present? 

The original intent of the The Reticent was to be a conduit through which I could funnel a lot of the more quiet and morose songs/ideas I had while playing in some different black and death metal bands.  I was writing the more personal and often despondent tunes consisting usually of just my voice and an acoustic guitar.  It wasn’t something that really fit with the hyper-aggressive music I was already playing but was something I needed to write to fill that void.  As such, the first two records (the demo “Hymns for the Dejected” and “Amor Mortem Mei Erit”) were almost entirely acoustic.  After the other bands I was in had come to an end, The Reticent became my sole outlet and so many of my other compositional ideas (many sprung from metal of all types) became a part of the sound.  This is probably clear in hearing the evolution from “Le Temps Detruit Tout” (the last record) to “On The Eve Of A Goodbye”.  The band has seen its share of line up changes in terms of the live performing members.  The core group that I have right now is extremely solid and committed to the vision I have for the band which is very important.  We’ll most likely be adding a member or two soon but either way we’re gearing up to get back out doing shows again presently.

Before we get into the extreme lyrical nature of On The Eve Of A Goodbye, let us talk about the disc musically. I’ve noticed much of Tool as on prior records, but also a great deal of Opeth influence. It sounds almost as if you’ve been studying a lot of those earlier Opeth albums here. What were some of the records that you feel personally may have helped to inspire sections of this piece?

You know, the funny thing is I haven’t listened all that much to Opeth since they released “Watershed”.  I know our styles are similar but maybe that’s why I don’t listen as much to them as I once did.  All during the writing of this album I was listening to a wide array of music as the songs on this album span several years of writing.  Some are 9 years old and some were only months old when I recorded them.  So with something that has been in my mind slowly coming together for a long time, it would be very difficult to pinpoint any albums in particular that had a direct influence.  I can say that the albums I most was moved to write by during this period were:  “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis, “Souls At Zero” by Neurosis, “Symphony No. 7” by Ludwig Van Beethoven, “Option Paralysis” by The Dillinger Escape Plan, “Sideshow Symphonies” by Arcturus, and “Anthropocentric” by Ocean.  I’d have to say my biggest influence overall is probably Neurosis, though.  I know that my music sounds nothing like them but then no one can sound like them.  I am more influenced by their approach and the depth they put into their music, rather than trying to emulate their style.

Lyrically, the record deals with the suicide and the aftermath of the suicide. But before you go into discussing the concept, tell me a little about the writing process for those lyrics. Obviously it was a very difficult process. Were there a couple of songs that you didn’t use the lyrics for, or that you had to re-write a little entirely? I’ve heard that “Funeral For A Firefly” was hard for you to sing. 

Writing lyrics for something like this is a rather difficult journey.  Rewrites upon rewrites upon rewrites.  I’d try to walk the line between being poetic versus literal because though it is my story I would like for it to have enough room for others to be able to put themselves into this as well.  Suicide is not something that is a small time issue.  In the US it is the 10th most frequent cause of death.  Many people have been affected by it either explicitly or implicitly so my hope was that by telling my story in the right way I could purge myself while giving a voice to someone else.  “Funeral For A Firefly” was the most difficult recording/performing experience I’ve ever had.  To this day, I have sung that all the way through only one time - that performance is what you hear on the record (mistakes and all).  I had underestimated how hard it would hit me to be in the dimly lit vocal booth and actually say these things that I had wanted to say for years.  The first attempt at recording it, I got two lines in before I burst into tears.  And I mean sobbing.  I thought - well, actually I even told Jamie (my producer/engineer) that there was no way I was going to make it.  The song was that close to being left off because I couldn’t make it.  But Jamie convinced me to try just one more time and what ended up on the record is the result.  By the time I got to the shrieking ending, it felt like my heart was being torn apart.

Tell me about the lyrical concept behind the record and what is happening within each scene of the piece. It seems to slowly countdown from 24 hours until the time of the event, as well as the aftermath. 

I added interludes through the album that are counting down while simultaneously giving the listener a perspective from one of three vantage points:  my perspective, Eve’s perspective, and an omniscient storyteller's.  The songs progress through the day before and events leading up to Eve’s suicide and then the fallout afterward.  Some songs are very clear in what they are in terms of the overall structure of the story.  For instance, “The Girl Broken” introduces Eve but through my eyes, “The Confrontation” and “The Apology” has to do with an argument and subsequent make up the day before, etc.  Others are perhaps more purposefully vague in terms of whose perspective we’ve taken or the significance - like “The Hypocrite”.  The song “The Postcript” if you were to read the lyrics you would find it was composed of mostly sentence fragments and the music is unlike the rest of the record being far more disjointed and odd - this is because the song is meant to be Eve’s thought process while attempting and ultimately failing to write a suicide note.  The final piece “For Eve” is something specifically written for her - my way I of saying to her “I hope you have found peace.”

Not to go too deep into the personal matter behind the tragedy which inspired this masterpiece of human emotion put into the musical medium, but how do you feel regarding the situation now? It seemed towards the end of this performance, that your heart was literally being ripped out of your chest. 

Well, to be honest, it got much harder for a while after I recorded everything.  Finally putting this all together and on tape had suddenly brought so much to the surface.  There were many things I did not deal with when it happened.  I didn’t even speak to anyone for two months after it happened.  I just shut down.  I believe a lot got buried over the years and came out in other ways.  I think you are exactly right to use the apt phrase that it was like my “heart was literally being ripped out of my chest”.  The album was recorded in album order to allow me to go on the journey and for that to come through to the listener (you can hear the deterioration of my voice as we progress through the record). I am better now than I was.  Unfortunately, suicide remains something that comes up now and again so I don’t know that the wound will ever fully heal.  As I said, my hope is that this record will connect with someone that needs it - not that they need my crappy music in particular but need to know that someone else feels this.  Be it the loss or be it suicidal thoughts, I wanted to give voice to the whole horrid experience.  If I in any way can help someone, then I’d definitely say that will help me a great deal in that something good at all came from this tragedy.

Considering all this, it has to make you think possibly a little more about the afterlife. Would you consider yourself a religious or spiritual man? Do you believe in an afterlife? If so, do you feel that there’s a chance (and I apologize for this one, if it’s bit too much to answer) that perhaps the person that the record was based on might have actually heard it or had been there during the performances? Do you feel that she’s still there in spirit? Or do you feel otherwise? 

I’m not a religious man.  And though I would love to imagine that Eve was there and heard me, I’m afraid she’s just gone.  That’s the tragic part for me.  One shot and she vanished into nothingness.  At the same time, that is what I did on the album.  I talked to her, cried with her, screamed for her.  I think it is summed up in the line from “The Day After” about mid way through the song: “There’s no more you now it’s just me talking to ghosts who give no reply.”

Changing the subject, some of these tracks like “The Comprehension” for example, are quite radio friendly. Would you ever see The Reticent as a radio-friendly act or do you consider yourself more a part of the underground music scene?

I count myself extremely fortunate that anyone at all likes my music so the idea of anything of mine being on the radio seems extremely far-fetched.  I don’t know that mass markets really want something that encourages reflection or introspection, though.  I may be wrong - I mean, what do I know?  I’m not a TRUE UNDERGROUND KVLT kind of guy either.  I don’t really fit in anywhere haha.  If The Reticent found its way on to the radio, I think that’d be great but I can’t write with that kind of end in mind, you know?

Considering this rough election season, do you hold a vested interest in any of the candidates, or do you just wish that everyone would stop talking about it?

I am so very, very much the latter.  I believe that the United States has picked perhaps the two worst candidates I have seen in my lifetime.  This is so emblematic of all the inherent flaws in a two-party system to me.  Nevermind the number of people using bullying tactics to push theirs views and cherry picking facts to push narratives and agendas - and I mean on both sides.  The whole thing has me so very, very sad.  Whereas music may be at its best and most primal when it is fueled exclusively by raw emotion, politics and government are quite the opposite.  Objectivity, patience, impartiality, logic, these are the things that are needed and are absent.  The candidates who were disciples of such things have been pushed out of the way to make way for more rhetoric, emotionally galvanizing chatter, and a population seemingly content to just argue instead of discuss.  I don’t know.  I’m fearful, of that I am sure.

Thanks for answering my questions, and I apologize if some of them were a bit difficult to answer. On The Eve Of A Goodbye was a very difficult record for me to listen to as well, because I feel that the way this subject matter is portrayed is very close to heart. The disc left me speechless for a few minutes after it ended, to be honest. I didn’t expect that. That being said, it’s also one of the best albums I’ve heard all year and without a doubt, the single best recording that you’ve ever made. 

Thank you so much for taking the time to ask them and I am deeply honored by your very kind words.  Thank you for listening to my work.

Bestial Invasion - Trilogy: Prisoners Of Miserable Fate (2016)

This is the first EP release issued by the Ukranian technical thrash act, which actually comes after a full-length debut earlier last year. Uncommonly, this band did not release an EP before the debut, instead releasing a couple of singles and a split before the full-length. The style of music here seems to reference Iron Maiden's early works, and even frontman V. Zadiev has a little bit of Bruce in him. I'd know that air-raid siren approach from anywhere, and he's nearly got it. That being said, we're definitely still getting thrash here and that's coming on the back of drummer Ivan Semenchuck, with additional bass pounds from Metal Priest. The band features two guitarists (Evgeniy Maestro and Alexandr Klapstrov respectively) who manage to throw in some catchy leads and solos to the mix, even though it is quite obvious that the playing here lends to experimentation. It has some Maiden, but it also seems to take things in a much faster, more technical direction without relying on djent, core or other metal modernisms. I don't mind a little bit of prog and technicality when it works to beef up a record like this to such an astonishing degree. Listeners, you will hear and experience real song structures on this album, complex ones at that – and if the vocal fronted pieces don't work well enough to show it all off, then you have the amazing instrumental cut “Lord Of The Middle Earth” to demonstrate what these guys can really do. Perhaps their English skills aren't so great, but they can play above and beyond that of many other bands in this genre. I'm quite surprised by the sheer level of dedication to craft here and would recommend it to those looking for something a bit more complex that doesn't wander too far off into core or kitchen sink territory.

(4 Tracks, 22:00)


Emanation - Temple Sleep Crystallization (2016)

Apparently, no one cares about this Spanish black metal act, which is a shame because they've got some real potential. Temple Sleep Crystallization is actually the band's sophomore album, even though the scribes at Metal Archives stopped with the demo. I guess if one guy hears a demo that he only half-likes, he pretty much says fuck all to the rest of the band's recordings. I couldn't find much coverage done on them either sans two black metal blogs, which will make this review yet another promotional step for them as they do deserve it. This record is one of the few experiences where I find it hard to tell if there are any actual vocal pieces. If you listen deeply to the album, you might be able to pull out something that might resemble vocals, but according to the information that I have here, that is definitely not the case. But it doesn't need to be either. The mastermind behind this project is CG Santos and he commands everything that you're hearing on the disc. I still can't tell you if there are vocals here, these might be samples mixed into the whole aura of the thing – it sounds like a mist. A swirling sort of mist, like a tornadic event if you will; but with a heavy backbone of blast beats. The blast beats sound like metal caught up in the storm, almost giving me a slight feel of metal mixed with classic industrial. Even noise elements appear on this record, which make it loom far away from the realms of metal as we'd expect.

Not all of the tracks are quite so heavy, like “Crystallization” which reminds me of the kind of material I'd get from Malignant Records. That's pretty cool in my opinion, because it shows just how far the artist is willing to go to create this soundscape. Sure, you can bang your head to it and enjoy it like a raw black metal album, but it's a bit whirly and twisted – it might even make you think. A man on the internet today just warned me that from listening to too many odd approaches like this, I can totally damage my psyche. If that's the case, Tower readers know that I'm already too far gone. I can understand the man's concern, and there might be (haven't checked myself) some factual evidence behind erratic sounds and the human mind, but I don't find myself losing it until I start staying up far later than any man should. (I am working to remedy that.) Getting back to the album, we'll find a mixture of both heavy things and rather subdued things, making for an experience that is just that – an experience. You don't really say, “Well, I liked this track because it had a good chorus, or a good riff.” It's more like, “Well, that was a bit odd.” At least give the band a chance if you're looking for some slightly different deviations from the normal metal soup. This to me is like when someone puts fruit in cereal for the first time and realizes that it's actually quite good. You don't think something like fruit would work well actually inside the bowl with the milk, but as soon as you've tried it, you realize that the process yielded better results than you would've hoped. I should add that some pieces veer closer to black metal, while others like “Bridges” tend to feel like they would work better with horror films. Yes, I'll admit that I felt a bit of a chill on the back of my neck with that one. Could it have made Blair Witch better? Probably not. Even the album's final cut, “Compulsion” makes me feel a bit awkward, with it's ghastly church organs and ghostly mist. This is usually the music that plays in films where evil triumphs, or demons rise from hell or something. Most people don't like to hear such an approach in real life, which might be why some of the reviewers over at Metal Archives refused to review it. The disc is just a bit freaky, and when the metal isn't playing, I feel as though there's something looking at me from behind my shoulders. Some say that there might be and I'm okay with that. But you might not be...

(8 Tracks, 47:00)


Moloch/Gurthang - Split (2016)

This is a split between two atmospheric acts, the first one being Moloch from the Ukraine and the other being Gurthang from Poland. Both acts love to use keyboard synths, which is why I deliberately used the term atmospheric, and these synths help to demonstrate a style of atmosphere that I find a bit uneasy.

Here we have something that is the opposite of a meditation with Moloch's opener “Das Uralte Verweilt Dazwischen” which leaves to bring in a vocal influenced piece with spoken word and harsh vocal influence called “Unendlichkeit” which adds in slight guitar drones to accent it's increasingly morose atmosphere. Moloch can't be described as a happy rock act, and the music here is certainly not something for those at the top of their day. If you're feeling a little low, maybe you'll want to give this one a listen. It is certainly depressive, with not even one hint of a drum. It's very ahrd to even consider this a brand of metal, as it seems to want to incorporate industrial bits towards the end.

When we come to the only track offered from Gurthang, we find something that closely resembles black metal a bit more than Moloch did, which might have been the intention there. Gurthang differ, because they actually feature drumming and well, black metal. Their frontman is a bit stronger as well. The lyrics are all in Polish, but the feeling is there. Oddly enough on the only cut we have here, (Of Decay and Solitude) there still remains a spoken word portion like with the latter Moloch track. I tend to prefer this act a little better as far as black metal is concerned and feel that something very grim and awesome could come out of this. It's a bit short though, the band really doesn't kick into high gear until the end, even though drone seems to be a major factor here as well. We'll just have to see how these gentlemen perform in the future as to where the band's next step will be. So far, it's quite promising.

All in all, there are two different styles by which black metal has been referenced here. Moloch seem to want to go into a more industrial or synth-based style, while Gurthang seem more committed to the occult style, even though I don't believe the lyrical matter is that of the occult – it just has much in common with that nearly ritualistic style performed by similar bands. Both acts are worth a listen, so do go ahead and pick it up.

(3 Tracks, 8:00)


Morbo/Bunker 66 - Into The Morbid Bunker (2016)

Here we have a split between two Italian acts. The first one is Morbo which can be described as death metal, with the other being Bunker 66 which is considered by Metal Archives to be a blackened thrash group.

The first two cuts come from Morbo, which offer up what I'd consider to be a very raw and classic type of death metal. Maybe it's safe to say that they thrash a little more than some death metal bands, but you wouldn't want to call them death/thrash either, as this is nowhere near the speed or potency of an act like The Crowned. Instead, we're getting something of a traditional production value appropriated to what I'd consider to be an almost progressive and quite weird style. “Cross Tormentor” actually changes from the slower approach in “Per Legem Mortuorum” to literally include the speed-thrash that I at first mentioned was absent from the performance. Oh, well. I guess it's a bit tough to classify these guys and two songs really don't seem to be enough to display all that they're capable of either. I guess we'll see in time as to how far these gentlemen are willing to go in order to combine their style of classic death metal with bits of oddity and speed/thrash.

The next two cuts come from Bunker 66, which seems more like a type of death/thrash mixed with punk than the blackened thrash tag that Metal Archives gave them. There isn't any black metal to be found here, as the band instead offer what I'd consider to be a thrash meets punk style of riffing with hardened vocals that feel a bit gravel along with some killer little solo sections. It's more or less the kind of thing that comes in hard and fast, with little time to really observe it. This definitely had the energy of old punk and possibly some Motorhead infusions as well. It's about the furthest thing from black metal that I think there can be and the band's tag needs to be changed to fit that. For a band who has been around for as long as these guys have, (which is about a good six or seven years) it seems like Bunker 66 have changed their sound a bit. Though it is possible that this was only done for the split.

In the end, both bands are pretty decent. I thought Morbo was a bit more interesting because of the odd progressive tinkering, but that's just me. It's a relatively solid split and perhaps you should give it a listen.

(4 Tracks, 11:00)


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Zealot Cult - Karmenian Crypt (2016)

Ireland's Zealot Cult play a style of intelligent death metal that reminds me of a brainier Leprosy. I'm certainly hearing the Death influence, particularly on the vocal side of things and that works for me of course, but there are other facets of this performance which will keep the listener intrigued, the main facet of that being a band that just plain knows how to play death metal music. Folks, there are song structures within this album. Never are we hearing a band forced to swim through the simplicities of core. Zealot Cult doesn't make it easy for themselves, rather they fight through the muck in order to make an EP that seems worthy enough of their name. Jesus Christ, listen to the guitar playing on this record – that's the example for great death metal. Period. Now I'll admit that it's a little sludgy and pretty slimy in some areas as well, but it fits the atmosphere beautifully. If you're looking for good death metal, you're going to buy this one. Doesn't even matter if it's only seventeen minutes long. You'll play it again. Hell, I would. I'm already listening to this album again after previewing it the first time. My opinion of it hasn't changed.

As I mentioned, these gentlemen have just made their mark on the scene with this debut and other than a demo, it's all they've put out so far. So to tell me that these guys are going to go on to make a full-length soon enough, well... I want to hear it! But fuck my opinion, I want you to hear it. Yes, you – the death metal listener looking for something that actually sounds like death metal, not double-bass and cookie monster vocals and core breakdowns, but authentic death metal from musicians who sound like they've been playing it their entire lives. Originally, the drummer (Declan Malone) and guitarist (Mick Carey) had been playing death/thrash in a now defunct band called The Swarm, and while I can't tell you what that sounds like, I can tell you that what you're experiencing here is going to blow your mind. Now there are a couple of clean vocal portions on the hypnotic closer “Suffocation Of The Mind” but I didn't even feel perturbed by them. They simply added to what was an incredibly well-built and finely performed death metal track that merely serves as the topping on an already impressive cake, such as the one I'm feasting on here. Take a trip down to the pub for this one, gentlemen. You deserve it!

In my professionally unprofessional opinion, I think you'd have to be a complete ignoramous to skip out on this one. Ten more death metal records could come to my inbox within the next few days and I can guarantee that not even one of them would be as good as what I've just heard here. The Grim Tower highly recommends Karmenian Crypt and it's without a doubt one of the best EP's I've heard all year.

(3 Tracks, 17:00)


Assailant/Ubiquitous Realities - Bringers Of Delusion (2016)

We have here a split between two acts from Costa Rica, the first one being Assailant which is technical thrash metal with Ubiquitous Realities which is technical death metal.

Assailant reminds me a bit of Sepultura fused with latter-era Death and with maybe a hint of Cynic. Most of you are going to hear the Death influences though, which I think are quite apparent and show just how well these guys can play. Not only is guitar work completely abstract, but the drumming seems to line-up perfectly with what can be some rather bizarre compositions at times. Assailant have a vocal end as well, but he's not doing anything that I haven't heard from Chuck Schuldiner before and the band make a better instrumental act. It just depends on how you like your technicality. I can say that I would rather listen to the hard-edge of Assailant over a mainstay like Voivod which just bores me to tears and that's saying something. Yes, I'd rather listen to an act that just started out than one who's been around for decades because I think that the act sounds better than the legend. There, I said it. Crucify me. I had the chance to see Voivod live and walked out. They just were never that interesting to me and these guys seem to capture the essence of technical thrash much better.

Next we have Ubiquitous Realities, which is by and large different from the Assailant. First of all, these guys aren't just technical death metal – they're technical brutal death metal. After a slight movie quote, the record takes off into what can be considered the most extreme realms for the heavy metal genre. The bands that you know for playing this kind of music are those that have surgical procedures as monikers and intense gutturals. Also, I might mention that Ubiquitous Realities aren't a one-trick pony. The songs here actually have depth, and even some solo numbers. Opener “Bringer Of Malevolence” at one point had a sound that made me think the frontman was grinding his teeth, an approach I haven't heard in this genre before, even though it sounded pretty silly. There's definitely a lot of kick-drum here, but the fact that I am hearing a slight bit more than that makes these guys a bit more interesting. Sometimes they dip into breakdown or djent territory, but at least they're thinking out of the box. Especially on the spacey instrumental closer “Alterated Perception II” which I don't think anyone wwill see coming. If you like acts like Fallujah and Animals As Leaders, you'll find something there too, but they're still a BDM band. I promise!

Such an extreme partner on the disc makes for an odd split, I must say – but neither band disappoint and there's something for thrash and BDM fans here that I feel both will be happy with. I tend to like the Assailant part more as I think I've heard several better technical BDM acts like Wormed and 7.H Target, but these guys aren't half bad and at least it isn't the same old shit. I could see myself really getting into these guys after they've gotten a full-length out to show what they can really do. Yes, I'm saying that there's something in Ubiquitous Realities that could be very promising if they stick with it. Definitely give this record a listen, as this is a very strong Costa Rican split that just very well might surprise the living hell out of you.

(8 Tracks, 31:00)