Less than a year ago, Acolyte frontman Malekh spoke to me for an interview on SoundShock’s Breaking The Waves section. Since then, the progressive black metallers have signed to Mordgrimm and are set to release debut album ‘Alta’ (see review here) in May. Certainly, it’s an exciting time for the Manchester band. But that’s not it. Listening to ‘Alta’, it’s clear that 2013 is shaping up to be an exciting year for British metal debuts too. I have a follow-up chat with both guitarist/composer Malekh and frontman JT to find out how life has changed since landing a record deal and completing an astonishing debut album.
Last time I spoke with Acolyte, you were sitting on ‘Alta’, assessing possible interest from a variety of labels with a positive outlook on being signed. Then you signed to Mordgrimm. What did it mean to the band to finally seal the deal?
Malekh: It was wonderful! We were very happy that someone out there was willing to take a gamble on us. They truly believed in the quality of the music so we are thrilled they were willing to put the record out. It was nice, after so long, to have finally got an official seal of approval.
What was it about Mordgrimm that attracted you to them?
Malekh: Neil at Mordgrimm was very supportive and basically offered to put something out for us on the day we released the ‘Leng’ EP. We had been speaking to him about it for a while but then as other things got in the way, ‘getting signed’ took a back seat – touring with Wodensthrone and A Forest of Stars, mixing the album; these were our priorities. We were approached by a few other people but we decided to go with Mordgrimm, as we felt they’d be best suited for us. We are thrilled to be working with a UK label of such calibre, they might be an underground label, but the quality of material they put out is always impeccable (see also; Dragged into Sunlight, Anaal Nathrakh etc.)
It must be extremely relieving to get that debut album finally released. What kept you going? Was there ever a point where you thought you might not get that essential breakthrough?
Malekh: That was never really in question. We were always sure we’d release the album even if that meant self-release. That would have cost us an incredible amount of time, effort and money, but we just wanted to see the record released! Nevertheless we don’t take it for granted that someone went out on a limb for us, it is not an easy decision to make in the current state of the music industry. Every new signing is a big financial risk.
The album cover for ‘Alta’ looks quite apocalyptic. Who did the art and what did you want the artist to capture in his/her imagery?
Malekh: I’m so pleased how the art came out! The artist was Chris Catterall. He was really great to work with on this actually and we both brainstormed the ideas together. We were both very flexible and really didn’t hesitate to bin ideas that weren’t working and also we both were able to suggest new ideas and new thoughts. It was a great process. I basically wanted to capture the theme of the title ‘Alta’ – which means ‘Above’ or ‘Elevated’. We wanted to capture this idea of a malevolent superior god with no interest in the Earth; it being simply beneath him. We are all vehemently anti-religious in Acolyte yet we feel the imagery reflects our own view that ‘God’ as a concept is not a particularly pleasant one in our minds and this theme carries through some of the lyrics.
Musically, ‘Alta’ is a bastion of sharp groove and blackened aggression. When we last spoke, you mentioned influences of Ved Buens Ende, Enslaved, Deathspell Omega etc. How would you describe ‘Alta’ to a music fan who is yet to discover Acolyte?
Malekh: Aaaah! This is the question that we are so often asked! It’s a bit of a nightmare for us to be honest. We have tried using simple genre terms in the past but always felt that had been inaccurate. I think it’s best to speak in terms of bands really so I would say we appeal to people who like bands such as Enslaved, Opeth, Mastodon and the like (although there are no clean vocals on this particular album) but also some of the more esoteric influences you mentioned shine through occasionally so I think we might be liked by some of the black metal fans who prefer the slightly more interesting stuff like DsO, VBE and Virus as you said. We’re not really all about mad timings and being overtly ‘proggy’ but we do like to create atmosphere with our songs and we feel we have a particularly large sound.
You had the album finished quite some time ago. How did the recording of the album go? Did you find yourself going back to it to make sure it was perfected?!
Malekh: We didn’t have the album 100% finished until relatively recently actually, we put the finishing touches on it late last year, however it was recorded back at the end of 2011. The recording went great and we were all very happy, but we noticed a few things and a few inconsistencies that we thought we better check out. We ended up going back to Tom Dring at Vagrant Studios a couple more times to work on the mix until it was perfect. I’m so very, very glad we did as well, as we feel it sounds great now.
The production of ‘Alta’ is phenomenal. The bulky riffs are crisply brought to life, sounding destructive and bone-crunching, yet at the same time wet with groove and given enough air to breathe a proggy splendour. What was it like working with Tom Dring? How did you culminate your ideas to make this brilliant conclusion in ‘Alta’?
Malekh: Tom Dring is a great lad. I’d personally recommend him to anyone; he has a great little studio in Southport near Liverpool. He’s a good mate of mine now from not only this but also through other bandly connections. Tom was great to work with. He was extremely positive about the songs from the outset and remained highly energetic and enthusiastic about it throughout, which helped a lot. It was also a hilarious amount of fun. We had a good laugh doing it. It was stressful at times too and at times we thought we’d never get it finished in time, but ultimately we did. Thank fuck. Hahaha!
In the lyrics to ‘Charybdis’, there’s an extreme sense of someone being trapped, feeling disillusioned, completely doomed and fearing the frailty of their own existence. Could you delve into the inspirations behind the song? What did you want to express?
JT: It’s something of a cliche these days, but it is essentially about the nature of religion and how the promises of a glorious afterlife have been used to control and exploit people over centuries. Regardless of the origin for these organisations, no matter how noble, the end result is often mind control and persecution. How often have we witnessed throughout history the destruction of people who did not happen to conform to a certain set of beliefs? It is still happening today. How do you trust a group of people who habitually lie for a living? Faith is an excuse for having no evidence of a deity therefore preachers of religion are liars whose goal is to make as many people as possible convert to their way of thinking. ‘Charybdis’ represents the suffocation of free thought as perpetrated by those who claim to bring love.
In our last interview, you told us that, thematically, you have never wanted to strap yourselves to a particular ideology, whilst there is a plenitude of bands who have done so in the UK with heritage-inspired black metal. Nevertheless, do you feel there is any themes that run in the blood of Acolyte and will do for years to come?
JT: Some things will inevitably come up because there are things that I feel strongly about – mainly the disappointment I feel with myself and my fellow human beings. But it would not be an accurate portrayal of my personality to be morose and gloomy all the time. I am a happy person and that will be reflected in our performances, music and lyrics. Personally I am determined to write a bunch of positive songs because anything less would be dishonest and I trust my bandmates feel much the same. We are not Xasthur! [laughs] Although, I must admit, the second album is shaping up to be far more depressing lyrically. In short, I would not wish to be pinned to any ideology if it limited the
scope for expression. I’d like to believe we can grow to express most anything we put our minds to.
‘The Nameless Expanse’ is another fascinating track on ‘Alta’, but not only for its themes. It marks a break into a more viscous, sludgy heaviness for Acolyte. When was this song written and how was it spawned?
Malekh: This was one of the very first songs written for Acolyte in the early days. Back when I was less familiar with writing and recording metal music. I wanted to do something more doom-like for that track. It was originally my take on a doom song, so I suppose your sludge tag for this is pretty accurate. The first three songs I wrote were ‘Leng’, ‘Vultures’ and ‘The Nameless Expanse’ so if you listen to those three songs like that you’ll get an idea of how far apart my ideas were back in the early days. It was a bit after this that the music crystallised into something a little more coherent, yet I still think the album works as a whole. If anything those two tracks (‘Vultures’ and ‘…Expanse’) break up the flow nicely and offer the listener something slightly different at times where something a little more idiosyncratic might have potentially not been as interesting.
In regards to the distribution of the record, how will ‘Alta’ be released? Will there be vinyl as well as CD release?
Malekh: We sincerely hope that the album will do well enough to eventually get a Vinyl release, but we are very modest in our expectations on that front. The label really are ones for doing very nice vinyl releases and they have said that they are not opposed to the idea, but it really remains to be seen whether it would be viable to do it. The album is close to an hour in length so we’d only really be looking at a DLP and the costs associated with that are markedly more than for a single disc unfortunately. But we are working hard promoting the album and things such as this interview will hopefully help us to achieve a bit more exposure so thank you very much again for offering to interview us.
What’s next for Acolyte? UK tour perhaps?
Malekh: We are currently knuckling down and working extremely hard on getting all the material for the second album finished at this exact moment in time. We have rough proto-versions of about 85% of the tunes for the new record done and so we are thinking of working really solidly for a couple of months to get the album really ready to record before we think about any more extensive touring. After the album is released, however, we definitely would like to play some more shows and start touring the album and we have been looking for bands we could possibly do something with so yes, we sincerely hope so!
‘Alta’ is out May 6th on Mordgrimm.
Initially published on SoundShock: