Turning on the future: an interview with Mike Scalzi of Slough Feg

Mike Scalzi

As numerous impressive releases find them drenched in acclaim already this year, the outstanding Digital Resistance from Slough Feg stands on the frontline as one of the more imaginatively incendiary and virulently contagious adventures. Stretching and pushing their unique blend of Celtic folk and traditional metal with an array of additional potent flavours for  release which triggers a new thirst for the band’s sounds past and present, Slough Feg show themselves to be a force which continues to evolve and impress adding something special to the world of metal. Seizing on the opportunity and pleasure to delve deeper into the band and new album with vocalist/guitarist Mike Scalzi, we explore Digital Resistance, home town prejudices, technology and humanity, Slainé and much more…

Hi Mike and many thanks for sparing time to talk with us.

Before we get to your new album Digital Resistance can we ask about the band name… it comes from the Slainé story strip in UK comic 2000 A.D., a publication I have boxes of around the office I must admit. You are comic geeks or just this one character captured the imagination?

I was never really that into comic books—- except when I was pretty young and into Marvel stuff. The Slainé comics I just came across kind of by mistake and liked the “Warp-spasm” idea a lot, and thought it would be cool to write heavy metal songs about that. They came out with a 2000 AD hard-cover book recently featuring all the old cover art from the original Slainé comics and allowed me to write some of the liner notes—– really great. I was really happy about that.

As mentioned you have just released your new album, Digital Resistance, a release which marks a new strength of adventure in the band’s sound?

This is more of a statement than a question. But, here’s what I think:

We’ve done concept albums and albums that were taken to be concept albums that were not. This one I would have to say, is a concept album in the sense that the Beatles Sgt. Pepper is a concept album— it has somewhat of a consistent lyrical theme that runs through several of the songs, but not every song— it is not a concept album in the sense that our Traveller album is. I used to like technology, and still do in a poetic/literary sense, but the reality of it is becoming quite frightening. This theme then expanded to the role of technology in human evolution, etc. I am a teacher, and I watch students’ mindsets changing on a yearly basis—let’s just say I can’t say they are becoming noticeably smarter, with the advent of all this technology at their fingertips.

Did you musically have any clear intention with the direction of Digital Resistance or has it been primarily an organic coveremergence of ideas?

It’s just whatever we felt like writing at the time, no real preconceived ideas. Whatever inspires us at the moment is what we write. I tried to accomplish some different types of sounds on this album— some organ, some more rock songs, some more traditional, simple songs as well.

Your sound seems to be tagged as a merger of Celtic folk and traditional metal, something the new release certainly supports but there is plenty more flavours working away from within suggesting that if not inspirations your own personal tastes in music are potently wide and varied. How would you describe Digital Resistance to newcomers to really nail its presence?

I don’t know if I can. When someone asks me what the band sounds like, that is someone who has never heard it before, I say it sounds like Maiden, but older, with more traditional music influences, even stuff from Broadway musicals. I just write songs, and listen to different types of music, not just metal. In fact I don’t listen to too much metal these days— more traditional songs, like Frank Sinatra, and older rock stuff like the Beatles and Yes and even the Police, lately. These influences find their way into the music.

At times the album sparked up thoughts of bands such as Horslips as well as Thin Lizzy, Helldorado, and Hammers of Misfortune as additional loud whispers in an overall unique sound and adventure. Are there specific inspirations which have actually flavoured your invention over the years would you say?

Well, the stuff I mentioned above. Horslips was an influence at one point for sure; we covered Dergid Doom from their Tain album on Hardworlder. But that’s the only Horslips album I’m familiar with.

As you referred to earlier lyrically Digital Resistance looks at technology and how it impacts on all aspects of life, can you expand on its theme and how personally you have seen that ‘invasion’ coming into your lives?

Some of the songs are interconnected just because they have the same theme—resisting technology, or at least what it’s doing to the human mind— making it lazy and ‘flabby’. Some of the songs though are not about this— they are just about growing up and becoming middle-aged in a world you do not understand. Very simple—- many people go through this— especially today when musicians in particular don’t want to grow up— they want things to stay the way they were when they were younger— when you get older  you tend to think the world is getting older, or dying with you. It’s hard to accept the changing world. I am no exception. I don’t understand what’s going on in the mind of most Americans, it scares me. SO I write songs about it, like Warrior’s Dusk and Magic Hooligan.

Society is leaning on and allowing technology to infiltrate their daily lives more and more, how long do you see it before cyber implants and upgrades become as common place as tattoos and breast enlargements?

No long at all. That’s some of what the record is about. It’s not going to be long before the cell-phones are not outside of our bodies anymore— now people’s eyes are glued to them. Soon they won’t have to stare at them; they’ll already be in their brains!!

..and until the species becomes ‘stupid’ as machines make our decisions for us?

It’s already happening.

Back to the album, how have you approached Digital Resistance in its creation and recording which was different from previous releases?

Not really any different. It’s the same basic songwriting and recording process.

SFHow does the songwriting play out generally within Slough Feg?

Usually I write guitar or now organ parts at home, and then bring them down to the band to see if they sound good with everyone playing their own parts. I let the other guys do whatever they want to do over my riffs– unless it doesn’t sound right and then we all throw in our 2 cents. Generally we agree on what sounds good. Songwriting is really mostly editing. Coming up with the parts and melodies is not the hard part—- ask any songwriter– it’s putting it all together that is challenging— making it all sound like a song.

Having numerous albums under your belts, does each new adventure become easier to immerse within and bring to fruition or are there always new questions and obstacles to engage in which each journey into the studio?

Usually the latter… It is actually becoming very difficult trying to find a new way to do things, so that things continue to sound ‘fresh”. I always worry about putting something out that sounds just like the last thing we did— bands should be more concerned with this, because how many albums have you heard that sound just like the last one the same band put out? Bands need to try to break new ground, but they are often scared to do this because they may lose their audience. But I think they run a higher risk of losing their audience by doing the same thing over and over again.

How has that processed change most dramatically for you over the years?

It was not different than any other album, other than the fact that I used some organ on this one, but really it was just the same.  The songs were written with the band in the rehearsal space just like our other albums- etc. And the singing took forever because my voice is getting old and decrepit, and was never really suited for metal in the first place. I have a crooners voice, or if I’d worked at it a little maybe a choir voice, but not a high pitched metal voice– but I love metal, so I try to sing like Freddy Mercury and fail- and end up sounding like Neil Diamond on steroids. What can I say?

Pretty much the process remains the same—and I’m not actually that happy about it—I write guitar riffs, or now sometimes piano parts, and then bring them to the band and we work out arrangements, transitions, etc. But honestly, after a while that gets a little old, I’d like to do it a little different in the future— maybe if we had more money we could go into the studio and write a lot of the stuff in there and get a more spontaneous feeling for the record— we did some of that on Twilight of the Idols and some really interesting songs came out of that approach. But that takes a lot of time, which means money that we don’t really have right now.

I have noticed in previous interviews you are a band which looks back at your older releases and are quite honest in what worked and just as openly did not work. How soon after a release does hindsight lead you to these observations, when does the cold light of day sink in?

It usually happens in waves. I get pretty critical of the album right after we’re done with it, and then later on after listening to it a bunch I start to like it. But then I start to get critical again in a few months and after a few months I decide I don’t like the record. Then later after a year or so I start to like it again!!!!! It drives me insane!!!

Digital Resistance is released through Metal Blade Records, how did that union come about?

They asked us to do an album with them and we said ‘yes’, that simple. We negotiated a contract and went with it. What do we have to lose?

Mike you are a philosophy teacher, and I was wondering is there a comparison or similarity between that profession and music itself for you, in its content and presentation especially?

Yes. It’s almost exactly the same lecturing in front of kids and performing music in front of them. You have to use gimmicks to sf2keep them interested, and you have to write out content that is interesting and valuable. Doing a philosophy lecture is just like playing a metal show. It has to have peaks and valleys, heavy parts and light parts, a good intro and outro—– you have to keep them engaged just the same!!!

Slough Feg and its sound is not a typical San Francisco band I suspect, how have you fitted in your hometown’s scene over the years?

They hated us for the first 10 years. Hated us, in fact I think we stayed together just to spite everyone here. This was during the 90’s when everyone hated metal, and they hated us a lot. It wasn’t until the late 90’s and early 2000’s that people started to appreciate us. We don’t fit in here, never have. But now we have fans here and it’s cool, but I think we do better in a lot of other places.

What is next and across 2014 from Slough Feg?

A European tour in late May/early June, a couple of local shows and then in July shows in the Midwest– Chicago!! We did a movie soundtrack recently, and a few other projects. Just the same stuff——writing music, recording and playing rock and roll!!!!!!!

Thank you again for sharing time with us.

Thanks!!

https://www.facebook.com/sloughfegofficial

https://twitter.com/slough_feg

Read the review of Digital Resistance @ https://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/slough-feg-digital-resistance/

Pete RingMaster

The RingMaster Review 05/03/2014

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Slough Feg – Digital Resistance

slough-feg

    More an acquaintance in name than sound in the ears here at The RR, Slough Feg has been a presence tempting attention over recent years but never quite drawing it their way. That has now certainly changed with the band’s new album Digital Resistance; the release an irresistible charge of rock and metal which has triggered our thirst to truly investigate previous encounters leading up to this latest triumph. With songs taking a look at technology’s effect on society and life, the Metal Blade Records released album again explores Slough Fegs’s unique blend of Celtic Folk and Traditional Metal with magnetic potency. There is admittedly a constant familiarity to the sounds which rather than disappoints simply coaxes out a greater appetite for the propositions, but holding an energy and adventure which easily fires up the imagination and emotions, the album is one virulently contagious endeavour.

    With a name derived from a character in ancient Irish mythology brought to life via UK comic 2000AD, the Central Pennsylvania hailing and since San Francisco based Slough Feg has consistently lit up the metal world since certainly their debut self-titled album of 1996. Under the moniker The Lord Weird Slough Feg at first, until 2005 when they shortened the name for fourth album Atavism, the band continued to evolve their sound and reputation with albums such as Hardworlder in 2007 and Ape Uprising! two years later. It is easy to suspect that the band has never been a towering enticement for every metallic taste, ours alone finding excuses or distractions to never really immerse in their undoubted excellently crafted and passionate sounds, but as the successor to the acclaimed 2010 album The Animal Spirits rampages with incendiary might in the passions, you realise it was to our certain loss.

     Recorded with Justin Weis, who co-produced the release with vocalist/guitarist Mike Scalzi, Digital Resistance immediately SloughFeg-Digital Resistancestirs up thoughts and excitement with opener Analogue Avengers / Bertrand Russell’s Sex Den. Instantly the impressive vocals of Scalzi are invading the ears alongside imagination tempting keys and guitar speared by energy inciting rhythms. It is a romping temptation which within seconds brings thoughts of Horslips to the fore though with a more subtle Celtic wrap to its thrilling invitation. The song continues to run with the senses until seamlessly slipping into a slower emotive embrace which grips just as enthrallingly, keys and guitars crafting a melodic web to wrap the rich rhythmic bait. It is a riveting and exciting start soon elevated with the fiery dynamics of the title track. Once again, and to be honest within every track, the rhythmic patterns, skill, and temptation provided by drummer Harry Cantwell is scintillating with a virulence for the passions which is immeasurable  and alongside the darker throaty tones of bass from Adrian Maestas, the pair provide the strongest exploratory heartbeat and shadows to drive the persuasion of songs. The track itself weaves around the imagination with a rich fascination sculpted by the guitars of Scalzi and Angelo Tringali, their sonic and melodic designs seductively clasping the lyrical and vocal narrative.

    The outstanding start to the album continues with the excellent Habeas Corpsus, its opening sultry Western climate around an imposing rhythmic provocation drawing thoughts to imagine dust filled climes and black dressed undertakers waiting for their next gunslinger sparked job. The melodramatic intensity to the song brings a mix of Helldorado meets Hammers of Misfortune to thoughts whilst the almost smothering production to the song, especially around the vocals, just intensifies the thick breath of the solemn scenery.

     Both the Thin Lizzy-esque Magic Hooligan with again a healthy dose of a rawer Horslips adding to its irrepressible bait and Ghastly Appendage with its delicious gothic theatre, keep the passions raging with greed and pleasure whilst the heavy metal/hard rock merger of Laser Enforcer brings another lick of the lips around an eager appetite even if with not quite the same intense reactions found elsewhere on the album. As always though even when songs slip a little below the early pace and level the quite dazzling rhythmic alchemy of Cantwell steals an ardour its way whilst bassist Maestas, most notably in the third of this trio, unleashes a presence and snarl to his invention which instinctively stirs up a pleasure to stand tall alongside the satisfaction cast by the guitars and vocals.

    The Price Is Nice is another striking highlight of the album, the song pushing recognisable yet indefinable lures and hooks in its stalking presence as Scalzi deliver words with his excellent dusty almost growling tones. As with many songs either rhythmically or in riffery, there is an ensnaring repetition to the song which in other’s hands may seem limiting but from Slough Feg only increases the creative mesh to get caught up in. The following Curriculum Vitae is the same, a pulsating unrelenting torrent of rhythmic pressuring often a singular surge of intent but as magnetic as the sun. The song as its successor The Luddite, does not impact on and raise the emotions as potently and forcibly as previous tracks, though neither do the pair leave satisfaction and fun lacking a square meal, but there just is not the fuse to the imagination and passions as offered from the rest of the album even if musical craft and invention is as undeniable as ever.

   The closing Warrior’s Dusk unveils another Western twang to the guitars to intrigue thoughts within an otherwise full bodied presence with medieval folk adventure and melodic flames all brewed in a heavy metal vat. It is a fine finish to an excellent album, one which maybe was unexpected due to our poor attention to the band previously but a release providing one of the most enjoyable and easy to recommend albums this year so far.

https://twitter.com/slough_feg

9/10

RingMaster 18/02/2014

 

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Void Moon: On the Blackest of Nights

On the Blackest of Nights is one of those albums which does not truly light any fires, raging or otherwise, within the heart or its passions but still finds a welcome and contented place in the ear. Void Moon its creator, is a band which is openly accomplished and skilled in ability and songwriting, but arguably the album offers more promise ahead than a realised height of triumph in the now. But the album is a welcome and pleasurable companion to spend time within, even if the urgency to return is not as elevated as with many other metal releases.

Formed in 2009 by bassist Peter Svensson, drummer Thomas Hedlund, and vocalist/guitarist Jonas Gustavsson, Void Moon creates an undemanding melodic expanse of doom metal. It is not a sound which extinguishes light or labours with heavy intensive shadows, as there is perpetual melodic warmth which offers an escape from the desolation and emptiness inferred, but it is music to draw strong imagery from. The line-up is completed by lead guitarist Erika Wallberg who joined the band after the release of debut demo EP Through the Gateway in 2010. The album which is released by Cruz del Sur consists of re-recorded tracks from that demo and its successor The Mourning Son of the following year, the band evolving and revitalising those tracks to take their place alongside new songs on their first full length offering.

The tracks sees influences in the likes of Black Sabbath and Candlemass as well as Solitude Aeturnus and Hammers of Misfortune flavouring the music which transports themes of death, philosophy, heathen rituals and the teachings of Crowley through the ear. It makes for at times an evocative proposition lyrically which arguably the sounds do not always quite match or rise to. Despite that the album certainly engages throughout and reveals within its sombre presence some stylish play and impressive craft.

The album opens with Hammer Of Eden, a track which even now leaves indecision as to how good it is and how much it is liked. It is one of those songs which alternate between alienating personal taste and preferences to thrilling those same barriers with strong ideas and invention. The opening sweeps of classic metal guitar and plodding rhythms are decent yet uninspiring though the bass does offer a slight snarl. The track then slows even more to further raise eyebrows but then the already okay vocals of Gustavsson find a declaration and delivery which is unexpected and compulsive. Being extra critical the song feels like its cohesion of elements and shifting passage is struggling to stay together but it works and by the end the song has argued its case with a lingering satisfaction even if it never fully convinces.

The likes of the title track with its slowly winding sharp melodic breath, the intriguing and magnetic The Word and the Abyss, and the slowly stomping Through the Gateway, all capture the imagination without dazzling expectations. There is a thrash metal gait to many of these and the album which certainly keeps one fully engaged and determined to find out more. It is not an adrenaline driven aspect, its energy toned to lie with ease within the doom wrapped skies and intensity of the songs, but as in the latter of this trio it makes for an at times quite infectious lure.

Along with Through the Gateway, the track which stood to the fore was Among the Dying. It is a gentle and heated pleasure with a raw edge to the vocals which makes a firm compliment to the heated mesmeric melodies and caressing sounds. The song does dig into a feisty bag of energy at times to keep the track unpredictable and captivating and apart from the brief image painting instrumental Psychic Bleeding; it was the one time no persuasion to its glories was needed.

On the Blackest of Nights is an album without doubt is worth checking out especially if melodic metal lines your passions, but whether it will ignite greater flames than for us only time in its overall pleasing company will tell.

http://www.void-moon.com/

RingMaster 09/11/2012

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Desert: Star Of Delusive Hopes

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Every now and then an unexpected treat comes forth to pleasure the ear, a band or release sent to or appearing from nowhere to play with and for the senses to give a fully enjoyable experience.  The latest album from Israeli metal band Desert is the latest fine example. Star Of Delusive Hopes is a great release that quite simply gives one a great time. It is not particularly demanding , challenging, or comes offering anything starkly new but the nine track epic album is just an irresistible and lively bundle of engaging metal to make it a more satisfying listen than many other offerings elsewhere lately.

Formed in 2002 in the city of Beer-Sheva by guitarist Max Shafranski, the band took more serious steps with the addition of vocalist Alexei Raymar and keyboard player Oleg Aryutkin a couple of years later. This same year saw the release of their demo The Way To Honor, followed in 2006 by their debut EP Prophecy Of The Madman, both bringing strong acclaim towards the band amongst the underground media. After a line-up change with the adding of Sergei Dmitrik, drummer Zohar Telor, and guitarist Sergei Nemichenister to the original members, Desert worked towards this first album. Through their formidable live shows and the release of Star Of Delusive Hopes via Greek label Sleaszy Rider the band and their stock grew and now with the album coming to the attention of the wilder world one can only see more praise and stronger ardent followers switching on to Desert.

The album was recorded in Italy with Nick Savio (White Skull, Cyber Cross) and subsequently mastered by Andy LaRocque, the -nominated guitarist of King Diamond, in his own Sonic Train studio in Varberg, Sweden. The songs within Star Of Delusive Hopes are themed with tales of great men and women who lived and gave everything for freedom and beliefs, the tracks all stories of lost hopes and betrayal and based on the likes of Giordano Bruno, Joan of Arc, the heroes of Massada siege, and unknown soldiers who fought and died in the fields of Russia. With this premise the album is surprisingly light and exuberant and though mighty in power does not bludgeon the senses at any point. The music of Desert is often tagged as power metal which is a strong feature but with elements of symphonic metal, folk metal and classic metal smoothly mixed in, the sound is a feisty and inviting hybrid. The likes of Moonspell, Hammers Of Misfortune, Rammstein and Tyr all come to mind as the songs with their theatrical grandeur envelope the ear with passion and gusto.

The album opens on one of the two best tracks on the release. The Unsubdued saunters in with a persistent addictive riff, excellent deep clean vocals from Raymar, and the keys of Aryutkin that wave with mesmeric grace from on high. The song spreads in to a rampaging feast for the ear, the guitars of Shafranski and Nemichenister taking control with incisive riffs and firm intensity whilst the rhythms of bassist Dmitrik and drummer Assaf Markowitz lead one into the addictive wealth within the song without needing to bring a brutality to the beckoning.

This song is matched by Victim Of The Light, the other song grabbing the tightest and deepest. As the keys sway and tease like an exotic dancer the riffs consume with muscle and eagerness whilst Raymar unveils the songs tale. With a flowing melodic charm the song wraps itself around the listener like a friend offering a warmth and surety along its length. This is merely a ruse as Desert then twist things, disturbing the safety with firstly a dramatic emotive vocal and piano aside soon joined by coarse growls and glorious discordant keys and a bedlamic intrusion. The song is a triumph and with the opener alone makes the album worth checking out.

The rest of the release is well worth the entrance fee too it should be noted, tracks like the enthused Letter Of Marque, the heart pumping Soul Of A Wanderer, and the impressive Lament For Soldier’s Glory (Order 227) featuring the additional vocals of , all leave one satisfied and grinning. Star Of Delusive Hopes as mentioned does not bring anything new to the table but against that there are not many other similar sounding bands that bring it with the skill and pleasurable energy as Desert either. A great time is guaranteed what more do you want?

https://www.facebook.com/DesertOfficial

RingMaster 23/03/2012

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Hammers of Misfortune – 17th Street

The new album from San Francisco’s Hammers of Misfortune is not just a fine listen it goes even deeper to give a full experience that lights up the senses. The sounds within 17th Street coax, caress, and pleasure the ears as it unveils its melodic and creative glory to stimulate and bring forth powerful imagery and emotions, at times you can almost taste the world and atmosphere the band conjure with their skilled songwriting and stirring sounds such is the quality contained within the release.  The album wraps itself around the listener bringing them into its heartfelt premise, the songs within dealing with loss and endings. John Cobbett the guitarist and producer of the band expanded further when commenting “The songs each deal with this in one way or another. It could be the loss of a loved one, a relationship, a way of life, one’s home or livelihood, or one’s innocence. It could be about any number of these things at the same time”. 

The album sees the new line-up of the band with guitarist and vocalist Leila Abdul-Rauf (Saros, Vastum, Amber Asylum) and vocalist Joe Hutton (The Worship of Silence) joining band founders Cobbett and drummer Chewy Marzolo, plus long standing members Max Barnett on bass and Sigrid Sheie who adds organ, piano, vocals and flute. It has to be said that listening to the album one envisages a larger band, the songs they produce having an almost orchestral feel at times and always creating a big and expansive sound. 17th Street is not easy musically to pin down, the blends of NWOBHM, progressive, thrash, black metal and folk rock all spices in a sound that swings from hard rock through to a rock opera feel but without all the indulgence and over blown grandeur. It is wonderfully varied, rounded and most of all it is uniquely Hammers of Misfortune, though there are many bands and flavours recognisable within the songs it is all distinctively the Californians.  

Formed in the late nineties as Unholy Cadaver it was with their 2001 album The Bastard that the band changed its name to Hammers of Misfortune.  The new release is their fifth album and comes via Metal Blade Records, and evidence that the new line-up has brought more vitality to the band’s sound that is rewarding for all. The musicianship is impeccable and the ideas and their realisation impressive and completely engaging. From the opening ‘317’,which feels like an introduction to the joys ahead rather than a self contained song, the album is ablaze with light and dark alongside hope and shadows all encapsulated in striking and energising sounds.

The title track pounces next with teasing keys, taunting riffs and invigorating harmonies. The vocals of Leila Abdul-Rauf backing and combining with the great voice and delivery of Joe Hutton bring a melodic sweep to the music that it is very easy to become infatuated with. The song swoops and sways in mesmeric fashion bringing highs tinged with more ominous taints peeping from within. A stunning song equalled easily on 17th Street by the likes of ‘The Day The City Died’ a song that is large, bristling, and verging on bitter, the grand and robust riffing and rousing keys of the ramped up and brilliant ‘Romance Valley’,  and ‘Summer Tears’ with its Queen and Phantom of The Opera tinged power ballad flow.

It is ‘Grey Wednesday’ though that takes top honours on the album. With more than a touch of Rush driven with insistent riffs, shining melodies, and intense rich expression the song is a beacon, its power and light drawing one into its heart to feel and breathe the varied tones and shadows.

17th Street is a masterpiece and masterclass of stunning creativity and emotive delivery, a glorious source of heartening and disconcerting themes, words, and sounds. There are obvious touches of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden as well as those already mentioned and more, but all is mere whispers and the music wholly unique to Hammers of Misfortune. The simple fact is 17th Street is one of the most invigorating and impressive albums this year.

http://www.hammersofmisfortune.com/

RingMaster 24/10/2011

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