Solstice – song premiere
Bardo Methodology exclusively premieres a song from the forthcoming pre-production demo of UK doom metal veterans Solstice – admittedly not the scoop of the century but when lost in the desert one must take such water as one is offered. In conjunction with this, I spoke to vocalist Paul Thomas Kearns about the featured song, Solstice in general, and the various musical phenomenons he despises.
An acoustic song called “For all Days, and for None”; is this SOLSTICE’s new strategy to revive the lost art of power ballads?
– Well, says Paul, it is and it isn’t. There was a Christmas number one on “New Dark Age” (second and latest album, 1998) called “Blackthorne” that was also acoustic, so it’s nothing new. This one is very different though, far more dreamy.
The song has its origins in the phrase it got its name from; Paul came up with it a few years back and had since been looking for a way to use it.
– When Rich (Walker, founder and lead guitarist) mentioned material that he wasn’t sure if he’d use I immediately urged him to send it to me. ‘For all days, and for none’; words of great value to me – so much so that I never thought to use them for SOLSTICE, simply because I didn’t expect to ever have music that would be apt to sing them over. It took some time to get everything to gel, let me tell you, but I’m glad we persevered.
The song is from SOLSTICE’s pre-production demo for their upcoming full-length album. The demo will likely be made available through some platform or other, although which has yet to be decided.
– Admittedly, when Rich told me we were recording yet another demo I thought it sounded like a complete waste of time, energy and money. Especially since one of the three songs was “White Horse Hill”, which we’d already recorded a demo version of just over a year ago.
Now that it’s done, have you come to terms with Rich’s line of thinking?
– No, I feel exactly the same. However, Rich really wants to work this way and since I was already there recording the other two songs it was hardly a big sacrifice to do it.
To phrase it with some diplomatic finesse, the quintet’s founder is known to be a bit headstrong.
– SOLSTICE is, to the surprise of nobody, Rich‘s band. He’ll go to great lengths to claim that the rest of us are just as integral to the band as he is now – etcetera, etcetera. I truly believe he means this one hundred percent – while he’s uttering the words.
I spy with my little eye a hint that this is not quite the reality.
– Well, the reality is that SOLSTICE is Rich‘s band and he likes to record these demos before laying down the final product. In fact, he’s likely the most meticulous bloke I’ve ever encountered in a band situation. I’m not into being especially ponderous, most definitely not into over-thinking this stuff and am certainly no perfectionist – Richard W on the other hand, he’s the complete opposite. Personally, I don’t mind flaws – Rich craves perfection. The lad is painstaking and for him, doing these demos is essential.
So in the end, it’s seniority that takes precedence.
– Listen – none of us are greaseball squatters like those guys that tried to usurp GORGOROTH, we all understand and respect the fact that Rich has been doing this band pretty much for 25 years. SOLSTICE was started in 1990; I only came along in 2011, Andy (Whittaker, guitar) a while before me, James (Ashbey, drums) and Izak (Buxton, bass) shortly after so when Rich wants to do a demo, I’m on board with that – we all are.
It’s not only in internal band matters that Rich has a prolific presence; he has a number of well-publicised feuds with other scene personalities. Paul however, makes a point not to go anywhere near any of it.
– Not a fucking chance.
For those curious about these quarrels and SOLSTICE’s history in general, an interview with Rich Walker himself can be found here.
The current line-up has remained intact since 2012 but prior to this, the ranks saw a fair bit of fluctuation.
– That was a mixture of two things. One was folk having to move on or be replaced ‘cos they really had no right playing in a band like SOLSTICE, the rest is tiresome bullshit that should never take place between grown men.
After a moment’s afterthought he points out that the above description does not apply to his predecessor, Felipe Plaza from PROCESSION.
– In 2010 they had a guy called Paul Britton (ex-SCARAB) on vocals; he was part of the line-up that was meant to reintroduce SOLSTICE as some kind of properly functioning entity.
By all accounts though, it did not go well. After two smaller shows in the UK, meant to break the newly reformed band in before a January 2011 gig in Greece, Britton was out of the band.
– The Greek show had a lot riding on it – not least the expense that the promoters had already incurred, so something had to be done. That’s where Felipe came in; he did that show and several others. Every single person I’ve spoken to who saw SOLSTICE with Felipe singing said he was nothing short of amazing. Even Rich and Andy, who can be critical to the point of it being a fetish, still rave about him to this very day.
Living in Sweden as well as having his own band made it impossible for Felipe to give SOLSTICE the attention he thought they deserved, so he stepped down.
– The only downside to this is that every now and then I’ve felt a pang or two of ‘the fear’ at coming in directly after him. I’d consider myself a step or two below him in terms of ability and sometimes tend to focus on that more than I should.
Speaking of former vocalists, I initially meant to ask how he rates his take on Simon Matravers vocal lines – Matravers sang on debut album “Lamentations” (1994) and EP “Halcyon” (1996). I subsequently realised I’d never heard Paul perform any of them.
– We played “To Ride With Tyr” from “Halcyon” a few times and to be honest, I butchered it. It’s a masterful and genius vocal performance that I was just not capable of doing justice to.
But why not play anything from the first album?
– I personally wouldn’t mind doing it but Rich is adamantly against it. Remember how I said SOLSTICE is a ship steered by Rich? Well, there you go. If that’s how he feels, I support that one hundred fucking percent. He truly doesn’t want to be another one of these countless bands that just recycle their past, which is nothing but a very good attitude.
Instead of nostalgic reminiscing, Rich’s focus is on carving out future SOLSTICE history.
– The word from the furnace down below is that we’ll be recording properly before the end of the year. Apparently, it will be a full length.
The last ‘proper’ release was “Death’s Crown Is Victory” (2014) – a self-financed EP that the band released on vinyl themselves, with the CD and cassette pressings licensed to Into the Void Records from Ireland.
– As it stands now we’ll do pretty much the same thing with the next release. The only difference will be that Dark Descent Records from the US will share the CD license with Ireland’s Invictus Productions – Dark Descent will handle the USA and Invictus will have Europe. And if Brian, the stud behind Into the Void, wants to do another limited run of cassettes then I should think he’s more than welcome to. As we did last time, we’ll likely take care of the vinyl ourselves.
One can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to leave the distribution to an actual label and focus exclusively on the music.
– Releasing the vinyl ourselves doubtlessly means we’ll reach less people than we would through most labels but you could argue that we make more money this way. Certainly for each copy sold and this is basically what funds the band for things like rehearsals, equipment storage and so on. The smart thing to do would be signing to a good label at some point though.
It was actually not that long ago that SOLSTICE had pretty much agreed to sign with German label Ván Records.
– Head-honcho Sven Dinninghoff flew to Dublin to meet us and finalise everything. Never happened though, we messed it up. It still grinds on me because I love that label, their aesthetic and attention to detail is without peer today. As well as that – Sven is in my opinion the most genuine, honest and fair guy you could imagine. Man, it was and remains the perfect label but I suppose it wasn’t to be.
Paul adds that he gets some consolation from the fact that Ván Records has now contracted Irish doom metal act MOURNING BELOVETH.
– Easily my favourite band at the moment. “Formless”, their last album, is of such genius that it was painful to see it almost go to waste because they were on a label that had no interest in them. That’s very, very different now; signing to Ván is the best thing they could ever have done. I just wish we could have been similarly fortunate.
For a band functioning as their own label, communication tools such as social media is an invaluable help. Besides self-marketing, it gives smaller bands a platform for their opinions – lending them a voice without the aid of magazines and other external media. The result is various band members subjecting the general public to a lot more of their personal opinions on everything ranging from music to politics these days.
– It’s horrible and embarrassing, people who make fools of themselves by thinking that their opinions have merit simply because they happen to be in a band that sells an album or two. Cringe-worthy and hollow. Don’t flatter yourself, thinking that your opinion is more warranted than someone else’s because you happen to find your own lyrics socially or emotionally aware. Please. It’s a travesty that folks actually think having a few dozen sheep that click the Like button when you post another embarrassing insight on Facebook to further indulge your narcissism actually adds merit to your vanity. While I’m at it, I should also point out that I fucking despise people in bands that only talk about being in a band, or about their own band. Suck my fucking cock you empty cunts.
I see now why Paul gets on so splendidly with Mr. Walker.
– Stupidity is surely a cancer, but a necessary cancer. Stupid people who think they’re intelligent? That’s a fifty-fifty shout – it’s either the best entertainment imaginable or a train wreck too awkward to watch.
Speaking of awkwardness, is the upcoming album still supposed to be called ‘Englander’?
– I believe that idea has been scrapped, for now at the very least. I realise that it would have been kind of odd – an Irish bloke singing on an album called ‘Englander’, especially considering the colourful history between the two countries. This was certainly pointed out to me on a few occasions.
The album name was announced before Paul was in the band, which meant he had to factor this in as an encumbrance when applying for the vocalist position.
– Definitely, though not enough to deter me from putting my name forward. I decided I would just have to take any criticisms or slagging that would come, should I end up having to sing that song or participate in an album by that name.
Long before SOLSTICE, Paul had been the vocalist for Dublin death metal band FIFTH DOMINION from 1992 until 1996 when it morphed into death/doom outfit ARCANE SUN. Under this name, they released a self-titled debut album in 1998 and recorded another one in 2000. The latter, “Fade”, remained unreleased for more than a decade after the label they were signed to went under and as a result failed to pay the studio expenses. It was finally released online by the Irish Metal Archive, with permission from the members. The band itself ceased activities shortly after recording their second album.
– It kind of fizzled out through a combination of disinterest and apathy – from some quarters at least. That band was everything to the young and naïve me so I was really disappointed and deflated after that, it completely zapped any enthusiasm to start something new.
Despite enduring the twilight of ARCANE SUN and then having to deal with its emotional aftermath, Paul remained firmly ingrained in the metal scene.
– For a few years I was promoting shows in Dublin – everything from MORBID ANGEL and DISMEMBER to OPETH and ANATHEMA. I was so insanely into booking bands for so long I never even thought about being in one.
If there was something he wanted to see he’d try to bring them over, and failing that – go to them.
– Gigs and festivals abroad have always been my choice of recreation. Having lived most of my adult life in Dublin and Oslo, both of which are places often overlooked by touring packages, I would travel all the time to see bands. In that respect I was very much involved in the ‘scene’, if you want to use that word.
Do you still have the same outlook on music as you had back then?
– Definitely not. I wish I did in one respect, or in most respects. I’ve become too cynical and grumpy – I don’t like it but couldn’t willingly be any other way. There’s so little sincerity in music today, compared to how I remember it from my formative years. Even contemporary bands that I like a lot musically, like CULT OF FIRE and MGLA; the latter’s “With Hearts Towards None” is such a gorgeous, ferocious album – I love it. But the fucking masks they wear live?
Paul is not in the least bit enthused by latter day antics of performing in disguise.
– To me, it’s a gimmick and lessens the impact of the live show. CULT OF FIRE are even worse, those ridiculous klan outfits? Okay, that’s a bit harsh but come on – when the music is so fucking good. Now you have muppets all over the place doing the same thing, it’s so embarrassingly obvious that one band copies the other. This is what I’m referring to when I speak of a lack of sincerity.
It’s not the mysticism aspect per se he loathes, or even the theatrical approach to it – it’s the associated disingenuity. He mentions DISSECTION and WATAIN as examples of where these elements are incorporated, but in a manner that can be taken seriously.
– “Reinkaos” and “Casus Luciferi” – masterful albums that revitalised everything. Both borne of a spiritual base that to me felt truly genuine. Argue the merits of either’s belief-system all you want, neither meant shit to me – the fact that they seemed to do it for reasons that were a million miles from cosmetic was good enough for me.
One band that rose in the wake of the latter two was Holland’s THE DEVIL’S BLOOD, who have since disbanded under similar circumstances as DISSECTION.
– I find it unthinkable that anyone would doubt that they too meant every single word – again, it meant less than zero to me on any grounds but the fact that they also struck me as absolutely genuine gave everything more value. It was beautiful.
Not everything that’s been washed ashore by this wave is held in similar regard. In fact, most bands invoke rather contrary sentiments.
– Pissing forth their own bargain basement bullshit versions and their worthless fucking ‘rituals’. Really, just fuck off.
Paul lived in Oslo between 2003 and 2014, having now returned to Ireland after residing in Norway for eleven years he’s noticed a stark contrast between the respective scenes.
– Norway has an infrastructure that the useless paddies could never dream of matching, organisation and interest that puts Ireland to shame. To name a few, they have small festivals like Inferno, Beyond the Gates and Karmøygeddon.
Structure is as far as the scene superiority of the fjords goes, according to Paul.
– Creatively, their scene is dead. It thrives on names that have been redundant for years and years – seriously, how can anyone not think DARKTHRONE and Fenriz are comedy disasters today?
After swift contemplation, he mentions another example with palpable revulsion – KEEP OF KALESSIN.
– Disgusting fucking Eurovision whores who made a disgrace of themselves to the world. And what happens? About five other Norwegian so-called metal bands do the same, try to qualify for that same filthy anti-music competition. Towards the end of my time in Norway, my theory was that people in bands there placed more emphasis on photoshoots for their Facebook profile pictures than they did on creating music. Disgusting. Yet these ‘black packers’ (black metal tourists) still laud over them – odd.
He describes the situation in Ireland as vastly different.
– It might be a mess on many levels but at least we have bands like MOURNING BELOVETH, GRAVEYARD DIRT, MALTHUSIAN and PRIMORDIAL. On a creative level there’s simply no comparison.
While he might sound rather disillusioned with metal in general, he points out that all is not lost.
– Don’t get me wrong; you still have bands such as DESTRÖYER 666 and MOURNING BELOVETH – who I mention a lot, I know – then MARDUK and the likes. Bands and people who are still here because they mean something and play music with meaning to themselves.