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THRALL from Tasmania

Latest Album: Away from the Haunts of Men Interviewed: 2010-10-14

Label: Moribund Records

Away from the Haunts of Men1. Greeting and salutations, how are things going down under?

Tom: Hot.

Em: It’s summer.
2. Can you tell us about the formation of Thrall? I know that the band use to be called “Thy Plagues” and there were some member changes etc… What is the current line-up?

Tom: Thy Plagues was a recording only solo project. When Em joined and we started to perform live the direction of the project changed and I felt the name needed to change to reflect this.

Thrall performs live as either a 2-piece or a 3-piece comprised of:  myself on guitar and voice, Em on drums and voice, (and where possible) Leigh Ritson on bass. Years ago Leigh played in a great Tasmanian band called Disseminate with Dave and Joe Haley who both play in Psycroptic and Ruins now. Leigh has to travel interstate across Bass Strait for live performances, so we’re making it work as best we can. Alex Pope from Ruins and our engineer Trent Griggs from Throes have both made guest appearances both live and recorded.

Em: Trent has been a bit of a Demonaz to Tom’s Abbath. He’s very talented and has put a lot of work into the project over the years.

Tom: Yeah, he’s the ‘silent partner’ in the company that is Thrall. In the long-term I want to have a stable 4-piece line-up so we can get the second guitar parts happening live.  

3. How old are the members of the band and how long have you been into this kind of music?

Em: A lady never tells.

Tom: I learned to play guitar and bass by playing black metal when I was 13. So I guess I’ve been into it for 18 years or so. Although I’ve played many disparate styles of music black metal has been with me the whole time.

4. Congratulations on the new album. I am really enjoying it; I think it is a killer debut. I love the fact that I can hear the bass guitar on it and I love the natural sound of everything, the drum production sounds so real. What are your thoughts on the new album? Are you happy with the production? Any favorite tracks?

Tom: Thank you. Given the fact that Away from the Haunts of Men is a ‘home recording’ and our first album we’re pretty pleased with it. Although it has only recently been released it was recorded in 2007 and some of the songs were written well before that.

Trent and I spent considerable time on the drums trying to make them as organic as possible. It surprises that so few people have noticed that they are programmed. I can only conclude that we succeeded in making them sound as good as possible under the circumstances. I my opinion, drums should sound like drums. Of course different styles and tempos may call for certain production choices to be made. Look at the difference between doom and technical death drum production for example. Anyway, if they’re triggered, gated and compressed until they sound like a drum machine why not use a drum machine? So we did the opposite to a lot of bands and tried to make synthetic drum sounds as acoustic as possible. Audible bass guitar was definitely a priority for us, having said that it got exaggerated in the mastering process.

People will either love or hate the new album Vermin to the Earth. I say this because it’s has a lot of ‘live character’. The production is deliberately atypical for the style of music. I’ve always wanted to record a black metal album with the seminal Chicago musician and engineer Steve Albini. Vermin to the Earth is the first baby step in that direction. The drums have a lot of room sound. Guitars were recorded using a ribbon, dynamic and condenser microphone on each track through a speaker cabinet LOUD. Again, there’s an audible bass presence. I think that my lyrics are stronger and more conceptually tight as a homogenous body of songs on Vermin to the Earth. We finally found a microphone that can handle my voice at close proximity. So the vocals have a more intimate and unnerving presence. When I did vocals on Away from the Haunts of Men and backing vocals on the Ruins track “Upon these Skeletons (Bury the Dead),” I had to stand 2-4 meters away from the microphone cancelling out a lot of the acoustic complexities in my voice.

My favorite track on Away from the Haunts of Men is “Robe of Flesh” because it encapsulates everything on that album in one song. As far as Vermin to the Earth is concerned I’d be hard pressed to choose a track at this point in time.

5. I love the guitar tone; it is very organic, I swear I am hearing tubes. What kind of guitar and pickups are you using? What kind of amplifier and/or effects are you using?

Tom: You’re hearing vintage Mullard 6L6 tubes, to be precise. On Away from the Haunts of Men we primarily used a VHT GP3 Valvulator preamp and a VHT 2/90/2 power amp. The guitar was recorded through an Axetrack (isolated speaker and microphone). I was so impressed with that gear I got my own VHT set-up: GP3 and 2/50/2 (which run EL34 tubes), which we used on Vermin to the Earth. Getting a VHT set-up is next to impossible in Australia and I had to get mine in Japan, ship it back and then get the voltage changed. My primary guitar is a Japanese made 1970’s Ibanez SG Custom copy with the original Humbuckers. The vintage wiring and pickups sound completely different to any of my ‘modern‘ guitars. The combination of this guitar and amp has a great amount of harmonic complexity.   

6. I get a lot of demos and hear a lot of music while doing reviews. I actually get tons and tons of carbon copies of “Transylvanian Hunger” and I get really sick of the lack of originality and stark mediocrity of many of the bands I hear. I was pleasantly surprised when I heard your debut album because the Darkthrone influence was obvious but your music seemed to have its own character to it and a strong personality. I was very happy to hear someone do justice to the style of music. What are your thoughts on the black metal scene and its current condition?

Em: Thanks for the compliment; I hear what you’re saying about some bands not pushing their own originality very hard.  Tom and I have played in a lot of bands in various styles over the years and I think we bring a bit of that provenance with us, and we have an expansive attitude to the genre, as opposed to a narrowing of everything down to its most limited form.  As far as scenes are concerned I loathe to comment on something I have no interest in and feel like I know nothing about.

7. With songs like “Heliophobia” it is obvious that Darkthrone has been a big influence on your music; what do you think of Darkthrone’s latest album and their new direction over the last few years?

Em: The relentless blasting of Transylvanian Hunger and Panzerfaust is really iconic, and I can see how people would see these albums as being the pinnacle of Darkthrone’s body of work, but the later albums have plenty of cool beats and attitude. Fenriz’s drumming is always the business.  I really quite like Fuck Off And Die.

Tom: Whilst I never intend to rip-off any bands, “Heliophobia” reminds me of a Burzum verse with a Darkthrone chorus, though neither band would ever appropriate a dub rhythm into the end section of their songs. Fenriz and Noctuno Culto are rebels. They’ve always carved out their own niche and done thing on their own terms. In that spirit they’ve refused to resign themselves to producing nostalgic Transylvanian Hunger duplicates. Many bands would have done exactly that, if they’d produced a seminal album. I’m not concerned with consistency: consistency is for the McDonalds of this world. Whilst I personally like certain Darkthrone albums more than others, the jury is still out on Circle the Wagons. There is quite a lot of comedy and pathos in their new material. I think the inherent tragedy of their personal history – of what has become of a genre they helped define – is very complex. There isn’t enough room here to talk at length about it, but suffice to say, I respect Darkthrone and they’ve definitely influenced and inspired me.  

Em: With regards to your question, I think it’s kind of the same with Burzum. I’m going to ignore the keyboard albums here, but when Vikernes released Belus it was a fine album. If it wasn’t Vikernes, plenty of people might have praised it – but it was Vikernes, so many people were disappointed because it isn’t Filosofem. Well, of course it’s not Filosofem! That album was released twenty years ago! Creative minds change, creative practice changes. There are fans that will never be satisfied with an artist unless they release the same album over and over again.  Those fans are destined to be disappointed.  

Tom: Expectation inevitably leads to disappointment. The amount of misinformation that surrounds Vikernes is like a historical fog; it’s impossible to tell other people’s lies about him from the ones he tells himself! However, I respect him from an artistic standpoint.

8. Who and or what are your biggest influences?

Tom: The horror of living in this world.

Lately I’ve been exploring: Deathspell Omega, Endless Disease, Dishammer, Martyrdöd, Creeping, Avsky, Trees, Corrupted, 421A, Hideous Gnosis – Black Metal Theory Symposium 1 (which Em bought for me), Tommyland, Zdzlslaw Beksínski etc…

Em: I don’t really like doing big lists of ‘influences’ but for the sake of not being a total bastard: Motörhead, Craft, Darkthrone, Aghast, Discharge, Gallhammer, Amebix, Corrupted, Weakling and Shining.

9. My all time favorite band from Australia is dISEMBOWELMENT. However, that was 17 years ago. What is the metal scene in Australia like these days? Who are the best bands? I would imagine that the Tasmanian metal scene would be very small in comparison to the rest of Australia. Who are the bands that we should be hearing from your country?

Tom: There seems to be a bit of a metal resurgence in Australia though much of it is stylistically of no interest to me (glam, and power metal, etc). There are very few black metal bands – no ‘scene’ as such – whilst your question might not be loaded, my reading of the word ‘scene’ is. I associate scenes with herd mentality and elitism, both of which I detest. I prefer to think of thing in more individualistic terms.
We’re from Tasmania, the smallest state and one of the more isolated states. It has very few venues these days. However, it encourages people to create their own amusement and consequently it produces interesting artists and musicians. Tasmanian acts that interest me are Ruins, Psycroptic, Throes, Spheres, Chrysalis and M.O.1.O. Of course, there are plenty of bands from the ‘Mainland’ to keep an eye out for too.

Due to the size of the ‘music scene’ in Tasmania during the 90s (when I started playing) there was a lot of cross-pollination, which led to ‘stylistic mongrel’ bands. These are the sorts of bands that interest me the most. I used to play d-beat, crust and grind. Bands that mix other styles with black metal and doom are what gets my blood pumping now. Thrall is certainly not a ‘technical’ band and as such, we have more in common with a DIY punk ethos than many metal bands. This standpoint has sometimes been a source of confusion for listeners and audiences. We perform just as often with bands from other styles as with metal bands. Ultimately those who get something from our music will listen to it, the others are free to ignore it or ‘change the channel’.

Em: As far as a ‘scene’ is concerned, I have about 10 friends who play music that is similar to the music that Tom and I are making. But you know, I’d be friends with them even if we weren’t all making extreme metal. I mean, a lot of gigs are well attended, others not so much so, there’re people out there who appear to be into metal.

As far as antipodean bands to listen out for, Ruins from Tasmania and Creeping from New Zealand are fucking awesome. I also have a lot of respect for Sin Nanna from Striborg. He’s forged his own path and he’s so prolific. I respect true rebels, and I think Sin Nanna is one.

10. Are there any interesting psychedelic drugs in Australia besides Pituri that the Aboriginals use in their rituals or is there a strong amount of secrecy in regard to their shamanic practices? Have you ever done Pituri? And if so, will it truly induce a trance like state?

Em: I don’t know much about Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practices or drugs.  I’m from Tasmania, and there’s a disappointingly tiny Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural presence there.  Wish I could tell you more…

Tom: The thing about genocide is, language and cultural knowledge is destroyed, suppressed or forgotten.  

11. Are there any tour plans in the near future? And what is the future of Thrall?

Tom: We just returned from a small tour of NZ. We intend to tour domestically and in Japan. If the opportunity presents itself we’d be keen to tour in North America or Europe. Mixing is about to commence for our second album Vermin to the Earth. We have plans for split releases though I can’t disclose details yet.

Em: Nothing is concrete at the moment.

12. Where can someone obtain one of those cool Thrall T-shirts?

Tom: T-shirts can be obtained directly from us using PayPal at either www.myspace.com/thrallofvoid or thrallofvoid@gmail.com.  If anyone wants to help us with reprints, sales or distribution let us know!

Em: Please don’t ask for freebies, as refusal tends to offend.

13. Any last words?

Tom: Thanks for the interview.



Interviewed by: Mercury 23

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