Saturday, May 22, 2010

Interview: Epoch of Unlight

I know that you are probably sick and tired of answering this question, or seeing it at the head of interviews, but could you please relate the background information for your band - the members, their histories, former bands, etc.? Is there any kind of story behind the name you have chosen for your band - a theme or particular message? Are we now living in an 'epoch of unlight'?

Epoch of Unlight has existed in various forms under different names since 1990. Initially, the band was named Enraptured. This incarnation of the band went through many line-up changes and played quite a few shows in the Memphis area before its demise in 1993. Requiem was then formed by Jason Smith and myself, along with Danny Murphy and Justin Jones. A demo was released in November of 1993 entitled As the Image Slowly Fades. with a last minute change in bass players (John Henderson replaced Murphy).
After another line-up change Jason and I officially named the band Epoch of Unlight in 1994. Randy Robertson was added as a replacement guitarist for departing member Justin Jones. Three months later, bassist John Henderson was replaced with Pierce Totty. Pierce had played in the band's Enraptured days until he parted ways to play with Incineration. With this line-up, the we recorded the Beyond the Pale demo in the summer of 1994.
Shortly after the recording of the new CD in 1998 both Pierce and Randy left the band. Pierce was quickly replaced by his brother Joseph while Randy's position still remains open.
The name of the band was derived from the individual meaning of the words involved. Epoch literally is taken as "the beginning of a new and important period in the history of anything." . Unlight describes the darkness or blackness that has always existed around man and his kind. When combined, the two convey the ideology or motivations behind the band's existence.

What is it like being in an extreme metal band in Tennessee? What is the local scene there like - are there places to play? How supportive are the people around you when it comes to understanding your music and following the band? Do you play live often there? Do you think that bands from more 'fashionable' locales are taken more seriously than yours or that location really matters with this form of music? Do you think that there are regions in America that are somehow more conducive to inspiring black metal bands, they way that Scandinavia is for Europe?

There is literally no scene here at all. Every few months a new rap metal band pops up but they usually break up in 6 months time. Since there is no scene you can understand that there is VERY limited support for extreme music in this area of the country. Because of that we don't play live in town often. It really not worth the effort. A new club just opened up in town that we will be playing next weekend. Other than that there is really only one other place to play in town.
The tour has shown us that "locale" is definitely a discriminating factor when it comes to some peoples taste in music. Most people could not believe we were from Memphis, Tennessee.
I don't think that there is any one place that our country that breeds "black metal" more so than others. We are too civilized a country in those respects to have the influence of nature that the earliest black metal bands seemed to draw from. Its actually kind of funny to see some US bands slap up a picture of some guys standing around a snow covered forest. (The only region in the country that I would say affects the quality of the music that originates from it would be the infamous Florida death metal scene.)

Are you in contact with any other 'black metal' bands in the US? What do you think of the US scene - pros or cons? Do the American bands have something to offer that bands from other countries lack? Why do you think critics or fans refuse to take American black metal bands seriously? Is it their own fault? Do you think that the American bands influence each other in any way - or is the country too large to form one cohesive scene?

Yes. We talk to a few black metal bands (Thornspawn for example) but we do not limit ourselves to just that form of music. I really don't limit myself to music from one side of the ocean or the other. I'm sure we could both list incredible bands from either side of the ocean. Personally, we have been stuck in a catch-22 though for a couple of years, however. Most US death metal reviewers make the comment that we sound too European influenced while overseas they say we sound to death metal influenced. How we can be "too-influenced" either way is beyond me.
I think critics typically display the current likes and dislikes of the scene in which they are located. (present company excluded) My guess is that most critics in our genre of music probably had bands of their own which never quite "made it" in their eyes so they vent on the rest of us.
I doubt if we will ever have a cohesive scene when the number of bands outnumbers the fans.

If you read my review of your album, you'll notice that I feel that you guys are being typecast in a role that really doesn't fit you, and that you have much more to offer in terms of your talent and sound than most black metal bands...why do you think it is so difficult for people to understand that all bands don't necessarily fit into these little categories that journalists invent? Do labels and categories of this sort hurt or hinder creativity? Do you feel any pressure to write music that is in a 'black metal' vein, or do you just write for yourselves? Is there a category that you feel Epoch of Unlight naturally belongs to?

The categories are just there to sell the CDs in my opinion. You have to have the proverbial bin to dump the CDs so they are more accessible to the masses. I really don't get many of the labels that some bands get. Seems like it would be better draw analogies with several better known bands than to make a blanket statement as to whether or not a piece of music is death/doom/black/power metal....etc.
We've never really had a problem avoiding writing for a specific vein of music. We write what sounds good to us. Sometimes its a bit more melodic than brutal death fans would care for but it doesn't matter. Same for having a cleaner production than our European counter parts. I never really understood the concept of composing music and then obscuring it under a thick layer of crappy production.
I doubt if I can give you a good category. A bland one might be "black-influenced death metal".

Are there any certain themes that are central to Epoch of Unlight's lyrics - messages that you obsessively return to again and again? Does your band have any one political stance or approach to ethics - be it religious or anti-religious? In reading through your lyrics, I noticed that your messages tend to come from an introspective exploration, instead of being a commentary on the world around you - is this your natural approach to writing things that are meaningful for you? Do you think that black metal, as a genre, allows a limited scope for themes and/or lyrical messages? Is there any way to transcend this? What were the direct influences behind the lyrics on your album?

I view the lyrics as an opportunity to tell a story or paint a picture or image. [To many times "others" have used lyrics as an excuse to rave about ideals or spout clich├ęs that they may not fully understand.] With this in mind, my lyrics are an outlet to my desires and the ever-present influences in and around my life. I also try to capture brief images, however metaphorically, as to what I believe to occupy this "Age of Darkness" in which we dwell. These metaphors extend to the use of various vampire, science fiction, fantasy mythos in the story telling or descriptive process. I draw a great deal of influence from the works of Brian Lumley and I would highly recommend his books to everyone.
The phrase "What Will Be Has Been" is a recurring symbol throughout the Necroscope novels by Lumley. Quite literally, the phrase embodies the cyclical nature of all the events surrounding the world that Lumley created. I just extended this towards the events depicted in my lyrics. I also use the worlds that Lumley created as a setting for the stories I have written.

How has the response been to your album so far? Have there been any overriding topics, any criticisms or praise that stand out for you? What have you learned from the release of this album that you will apply to your future work? Has the reaction to your music, on a wider scale since the release of your album, changed the way that you view the metal scene, or the whole system of band/audience interaction?

Most of the reviews have been VERY positive. Everyone seems to note the combination of speed and catchy riffing. As far as production on the disc is concerned, we get mixed feedback. Some people like it while others mention that it seems a bit flat to them. I can see need for improvement in this area obviously. The only really ripping negative review came from a very tiny e'zine. Apparently this guy is not a fan of grind or fast music and to him the album seemed comical. This is funny coming from a guy that writes for a zine named "Satan Stole My Teddybear". (John Chedsey - ed.) (Due to his excellent critique we have decided to release a 71 minute doom song in which we pine for the cold north and commiserate each other for our horrible lives...heh.)
The tour opened our eyes in many ways. A big one was that our scene in many ways resembles the proverbial highschool clique. Until someone on the inside brings you into the circle, you're stuck on the outside looking in...no matter how much effort or time you put into your craft.

What is your plan for your future releases - will there be a lyrical or thematic continuation from the first album? How has Epoch of Unlight's sound or approach to music changed since the release of that work - is there something new for your fans to expect? What direction are you going in with your newest material? Is songwriting a laborious process for you guys, involving a lot of work and/or honing and polishing, or do you just let it flow forth untouched? What role do you think outside inspiration plays in writing your music?

The new lyrics are actually all centered around a central idea that is indirectly linked to the last song on WWBHB. Therefore, there is a slight continuation from the first CD. The story will be original however, and only governed by the "physics" of Lumley's world.
The new material written is just a natural progression from where the last disc left off. The combination of melody and intensity should present itself in more evolved way. The drumming is still fast with plenty of grind and double bass work while the guitars are more hook oriented. There maybe a return to actual guitar soloing rather than just lead melodies...that is yet to be determined.
Song writing as a whole takes us a while. So far I've written all five of the new songs and I am taking a break from the music to finish lyrics. The songs constantly evolve and we are polishing them right up to the week of recording.
Of course there is the influence of what we listen to. For instance, my recent diet of Power Metal (ala Blind Guardian) has lead to some parts of our songs being played differently so that the guitars are the focus in that section as opposed to the drums.

As far as the occult themes in your music go, what led you to pursue these avenues of interest? Are there any specific paths of occult knowledge that you are particularly interested in? Are there any periods in history that you are especially attracted to reading or writing about? Why do you think so many bands are obsessed with imagery or themes based on medieval or ancient history - is it just conforming to the traditions passed down by earlier bands?

I would not say that we are so "occult" orientated. As I mentioned above the certain works of fiction were more of my influence rather than anything else. I do enjoy works that are considered period pieces in both book and movie form. I guess most bands draw form those sources because of their overly romanticized qualities. A few could be seen as referencing certain historical events but for the most part you are probably correct in saying that most bands today are following a pattern. Still, I can't be overly critical of bands influencing other bands lyrical subject matter (as long as its not Satan-this or that...that gets boring quickly). If someone is turned on to reading a work because another band sang about it first, then there is nothing wrong with the younger band offering their interpretation of a great work. Hence, that's what makes the work so great...the ability to influence and its timelessness.

Why do you think so many black metal fans are aggressively opposed to their favorite bands progressing musically? Is there room within the black metal style for progression, evolution, and advancement? Does this go against the ethics of 'true' black metal? Is it possible to evolve as a band and still stay close to your roots or the ideas that you started with?

Evolution is natural. There are points, however, when a band ceases to be coherent within its own defined style. I sure a few names come to mind where the band should have just changed its name altogether. But progression as a whole is good. It shows that one is typically becoming a more capable musician. It also, to me, is a chance to show initiative and creativeness which is so NOT a part of pop culture or its brand (or bland) of music.

You guys completed a tour a little while ago with some high-profile European bands, how did it go? How was the response to your live set? Did you consider it a good opportunity? To digress for a second, do you feel that there is a better audience for your music in Europe rather than in your home country? Did you learn anything on this tour that you will take to shows in the future?

The tour was a very educational experience. First and foremost all of the bands were very cool guys and we got along well with them. (Contrary to popular belief, the guys in Dimmu are pretty cool.) I think what we learned was that you never hire someone to tour with you in your band unless you know them really, REALLY well. Serious character flaws have a way of surfacing when you spend 10 hours a day in a van with someone.
Also, you realize just how much the taint of big industry has trickled into the underground scene.
Our set was generally very well received. Our only complaint in this respect was that we typically went on VERY early in the evening (due to the obnoxious and completely overbearing tour manager).
I'm sure shows in Europe would have bigger draws, but the US crowds were still good. The biggest and best show of the tour for us was in Montreal.

How is your relationship with your label? Will you be staying with them in the future? Are you satisfied with the way they are supporting you? Is there anything you would change?

They are great. Andreas and Sergey are really cool guys. Dealing with them is more like discussing your favorite CDs with a friend rather than dealing with a business. They took a big chance on us financially putting us on the road. We are really proud to be the first band on the label to tour. The only thing that we have ever had a problem with was the misprint on the back of the CD and T-shirts. Other than that we are glad to be on THE END records.

And finally, the last question: can relay some information about the release of your next work? Please use the space remaining to add anything else that you want our readers to see...

Thanks for the interview and the interest. Epoch of Unlight is scheduled to play the March Metal Down in New Jersey and tentatively the May fest in Los Angeles. We are planning a few short mini-tour runs (like 4 or 5 shows) over the next three months. Currently, new material is being readied for a new album and tour this summer.