The recent release of their new album Severance showed that Northern Ireland metallers Darkest Era has not only evolved as a band with a new flush of blood to its line-up but also pushed their potent sound into new emotively fired and imaginatively compelling proposition. Providing another exploration of the band’s Celtic infused heavy metal in a greater voraciously flavoured and intensive proposition, band and album reinforces the stature and impact of the developing force whilst thrusting Darkest Era upon a new dramatic plateau. Taking the chance to find out more we took some of guitarist Ade Mulgrew’s precious time to talk about Severance, the difficult time around its creation, inspirations and much more…
Hi Ade and thank you for taking time out to talk with us.
Please tell us about the beginnings of Darkest Era and the inspirations or spark to forming the band.
We formed the band while still in school, about 17 years old. Myself and Krum had played together in cover bands, but wanted to form a metal band. We started playing some covers by Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest…but soon we were writing our own songs. The inspiration was, as ever, just to be in a metal band; to write songs and express ourselves. The same reason we do it now.
Was the Celtic influence in your songwriting and music an immediate flavour to your ideas?
It was, yes. The first song we ever wrote came about after I was noodling on a particular riff in ¾, not even thinking about it and Sarah added a guitar harmony. It happened to have a distinct Celtic vibe which we really liked and things just went from there. We didn’t really think about it so much…it just happened to transpire that way and the kind of Celtic atmosphere in our music isn’t contrived really, it’s just how we write.
Where did the Celtic inspiration come from, other metal/rock bands exploring that vein of sound or from a more traditional influence?
I guess you tend to take influence from things around you so growing up in Ireland obviously there is a rich heritage of folk music. We were already to an extent influenced by the folk rock band Horslips, and also the kind of sound on Thin Lizzy’s material. Something about this kind of vibe just came naturally to us. We’re a heavy metal band though at the end of the day and it’s those influences that were the most prevalent and the most important to us.
Initially called Nemesis, why the change to Darkest Era as a band name?
Things started to pick up for us and get quite serious rather early on, so we needed a name that wasn’t taken by 100 other bands. Our sound had started to take shape and we wanted something to reflect this. Candlemass were originally called Nemesis for example and changed their name for the same reasons.
It is fair to say that the second of two EPs opened up a new spotlight on the band and led to signing with Metal Blade Records. Is there something you can point to or say which specifically pulled the trigger to that recognition?
I don’t think so, apart from we are at the right place at the right time. You need a little luck to get noticed sometimes and the fact that we have the Thin Lizzy influence helped a lot as Brian Slagel is a massive Thin Lizzy fan. The band had a bit of buzz going from the demos which helped but I would say to be honest that we were a wild card signing for Metal Blade. We were the first of a few bands brought to their attention by Alan Averill of Primordial, but were an unknown entity by and large. I guess it was a testament to the quality of our demos that Slagel was impressed enough to offer us a deal.
With the label, The Last Caress Of Light, your debut album was unleashed in 2011 to great acclaim and reactions. How did that impact on the band and its emergence beyond having your first full-length out?
Joining a label like Metal Blade meant there was a lot of press surrounding the album; we were definitely exposed to a wider audience than we had been before. We had reviews in tons of printed magazines, websites and ads in the right places – so it was a big step up in terms of the amount of people paying attention to us. However the band was still quite pro-active in pushing itself using its own resources. But simply having an album out at last meant we could then go on tours, play festivals and so on so it was a big milestone, as it would be for any band.
Can we turn to new album Severance now; it feels like the band has found a new depth and potency to songwriting and sound, tapped into a stronger vein of invention…
Yes I would agree with you. A lot of it is simply down to maturing as people and as songwriters. The band is on a creative journey, we had no intention of writing the first album over again. We always want to push ourselves and move forward artistically, and on this record we had a much, much stronger idea of what we wanted to do and how to bring our own identity to the fore. It’s also a little darker and more aggressive, which is probably down to the circumstances surrounding the band at the time of writing. It was a fist clenched, teeth bared, back to the wall kind of scenario…
How do you see the evolution in your sound from not only early days but from the first album and Severance?
As I said it is a darker, heavier and generally a lot more focussed. We create a certain sweeping melancholy with our sound but we wanted to bring this into a much more focused heavy metal framework this time around. We cut the fat and went straight for the throats of the listener. We have a lot of different influences in the band, individually and collectively, and we fine-tuned this to bring more of our own identity to the mix and I really think we succeeded. People are having a hard time figuring out what to call us, but the reviews are very positive so that speaks volumes to us.
Did you take a determined or particular course with the new album or let it organically unfold in the writing and recording?
Myself, Sarah and Krum sat down after coming back from one of our tours and talked about what we wanted to do with the album, and we agreed on very general ideas which I said above, for example a general trimming of the fat in our sound. But at the same time things we written in such a short space of time that we didn’t really have time to stop along the way and think too much about things. There was definitely a significant element of letting things unfold naturally. You kind of just have to trust yourself that you have the songs somewhere inside you, and go with your instincts. Too much thinking can hinder creativity, I find.
So how long did the album take to make?
We wrote the album in about 10 weeks, during a very intense period of writing where the band was pretty much falling apart. We then entered the studio almost straight after, and recorded the album in 16 days. We were still writing quite a bit in the studio, although we had the songs more or less there. There was a lot of lyric writing, tweaking arrangements, vocal melodies and so on in the studio. It was intense also but a different kind of intense. Lisa went home after she recorded her drums but the rest of us knuckled down and worked together to push it over the line. The 10 weeks writing, in comparison, was quite bleak and isolated for me at times as I was shouldering the task of getting most of the ideas off the ground.
You were touring heavily leading up to Severance, it must have been less easy to sit down and write songs, certainly in comparison to the creation of its predecessor?
Yes absolutely, as the cliché goes you have your entire life to write your first album, and with album 2 suddenly there is pressure. Even more so when it’s difficult to put time aside to write. To be honest we gave ourselves a deadline because we knew that otherwise we would never get round to making the album. Things will always get in the way, especially when you aren’t playing music as your job, so we said ok this is the date, let’s just do it. We did not foresee the line-up instability however, which definitely made things a lot more difficult. We did two pretty big tours in 2012, and in the middle of it all we were trying to keep the band from falling apart…So yeah, very difficult circumstances to try and write an album in.
You mentioned there that the band had line-up issues before the album, how big an effect did that gave its making if at all?
As above really…We had no permanent bassist in place, and Lisa was in the process of leaving the band. Things were often at boiling point during some of the writing sessions, and as I mentioned Lisa went home when her drum parts were done so there was a serious atmosphere. Things could easily have fallen apart but we had far too much determination and belief in the band to let it crumble.
How does the writing process work within the band generally and specifically this time around with Severance?
Generally the songs start with myself or Sarah; we’ll have a guitar part, or perhaps a few riffs and ideas put together and we go from there. We’ll normally have a fair idea of where the song is going before bringing to the rest of the band and there it changes shape, gets arranged, pulled apart and the guys add their parts and ideas. Occasionally someone will noodle on a riff in rehearsal and we’ll jam it out over and over and work it into a song, but there was very little opportunity for this on Severance. Mostly it was stuff that I had come up with, and I would send it to Sarah and Krum and we would exchange thoughts and ideas. I did a lot of home demos on this album as I had to have the bones of songs ready quite quickly so the guys knew where I was coming form. Sarah probably had more material on this album than the debut as well; particularly Blood, Sand and Stone. We’ve always had kind of a songwriting partnership but it really came to fruition on this record.
There is a passion and freshness to the album which obviously was not affected by the stronger pressure of getting songs ready for its recording?
I think the passion that people pick up on with this record is a result of the stormy emotional climate that I mentioned earlier, and an unwavering iron will to make a really killer metal record regardless of the circumstances. Some people crack under pressure but it has always been something that I have thrived under, thankfully.
How about in the studio, how did that pan out and did you learn lessons with the first to help with the recording of Severance?
We had a fair bit of studio experience with our previous EP’s and demos, but I guess after doing our first album we knew exactly how the recording of an LP worked and prepared us somewhat. This time around we had a better idea of how to get the sounds we wanted for the album. Drum sound and guitar tone were something we wanted to shift around a little compared to the first album, and I think we’ve done that. We stripped the guitars back to just one rhythm track each for myself and Sarah, as opposed to the double tracking on the first record and I think that’s helped give the album a darker and grittier tone overall. You can really hear the bite of the guitars on this one.
Give the readers some idea of the themes behind the album and particular songs.
Decay of all things physical and metaphysical, Cormac McCarthy-esque post-apocalyptic dystopia, the unstoppable force of time hauling us further to the ground, and the philosophical concept of Solipsism.
Severance is released through Cruz del Sur Music, a label with a great pedigree and a striking array of releases especially over the past year or so. How did that link-up come about?
I’d been a fan of Cruz Del Sur for many years, since I first discovered Slough Feg and started trading CD’s with Matt from Pharaoh. Enrico was aware of our stuff and when it came to searching for a new label they were an obvious choice really. As you say they have an absolutely killer back catalogue so we’re in very good company.
It is a home more fitting for Darkest Era you feel?
Yes I think so, with Metal Blade we got totally lost in their roster and the sort of stuff we’re doing is never going to be a priority for them really unless it’s selling 30,000 copies or whatever. Maybe 25 years ago things would have been different but the days of a label nurturing artists and helping them grow into worldwide forces over the course of 2 or 3 albums are sadly gone. There just isn’t enough pie to go around anymore.
From the outside watching the intensive work you guys put in with shows and tours we wonder if there has been time to reflect on the journey of the band so far, if so thoughts at this point in time?
Not really, we’re constantly looking forward and are a very ambitious band. We have many milestones we’ve yet to reach and don’t feel like stopping to smell the flowers until we’ve achieved a lot more. The band is entering a new phase now I guess; we’ve done our first album, did our first big tours and festivals and come through the line-up changes that often occur when a band starts to step up through the gears. Now we have our second album, a steady line-up and are looking to the next touring cycle and writing album 3 so I think the best we have to offer is still ahead of us.
Talking of shows, we can assume Darkest Era will be supporting Severance intensively around Europe and elsewhere in the months ahead?
Yes we have our first headlining tour of the UK starting this September, hopefully Europe in the spring and who knows after that. Touring and playing to as many people as possible is our number one priority right now.
Did you have any particular aims or hopes for the band starting out and if so have they been realised or replaced with new intentions?
We’ve always wanted to push the band as far as it can go from day one, but first and foremost we aim to write albums that satisfy our creative needs and that people will enjoy and get something out of. We’re on course so far I think.
Thanks again for chatting with us, is there anything you wish to add?
Metal or death!
And lastly give five of the most important releases in your record collection which you could never be without?
Iron Maiden – Powerslave
Queensryche – Operation Mindcrime
Judas Priest – Painkiller
AC/DC – High Voltage
Fields of the Nephilim – Elizium
I should point out though these 5 albums will change each time I am asked! :)
Read the review of Severance @ https://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2014/06/04/darkest-era-severance/
The RingMaster Review 15/07/2014
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