Interview With Casey Jones (No, not From Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – but he does perform guitar and vocals in this band) By The Grim Lord
These UK metallers have just arrived on the scene with their debut album Black Path and it’s a real monster. Frontman Casey James spoke to me about their beginnings, the writing and recording process, band influences, working with the master Dan Swano, and his personal love for mixed martial arts, Elder Scrolls and Dark Souls III, (which The Grim Lord can’t get running on his crappy old laptop.)
Nobody can tell a band’s history quite like the band members themselves, so tell me a little about how you came to be. I certainly love what I’m hearing here on the disc, and feel that the journey has been well worth it.
Well we don’t really have a history as such as we’ve only been together since October of 2016. Me and Szymon met online I saw an advert he’d placed and we were pretty much at the same place in life with regard to music and this was basically our last shot at making something we were proud of or we would call it a day. So really we just got our heads down straight away and worked fast and hard to make something we loved. A bit later we were joined by Max who we got on well with and fit right in. I think we’ve all had experience with a lot of bands previously that haven’t really gone anywhere due to “personalities” so really the mistakes were made before and we have a very low drama work oriented relationship where we can pretty much just concentrate on what we like musically.
Tell me a little about what it was like writing and recording the disc. How was the studio experience? Are you happy with the final result of the disc?
A lot of the initial writing was done via the internet to save time as we live some distance from each other. I usually start with the lyrics then choose riffs that fit the atmosphere I’m looking for in the song. From there Szymon adds his own take on the songs and that’s usually when they start to really come together and start kicking ass its always great to hear what he can do with what he’s given. Then we get together and thrash them out till we’re really happy with them it’s a pretty stress free process as we have similar taste in music and enjoy each others work. Max probably had the toughest time joining three weeks before recording but he did really well and a lot of his writing for the parts where the Bass really lifts the songs was done in the studio and that’s a credit to his willingness to experiment and work with me as a guitarist which doesn’t happen with bass players often.(Laughs) We recorded parts at a number of different studios when we could afford it or had time so that was a bit chaotic. But we had a good vision of what we wanted from demoing all the songs in advance which helped a lot.
We’re really pleased with the album, we worked really hard to get it where we wanted it in a short space of time and we think it stands up to the best of the death metal albums of the year. We think it stands out style-wise from a lot of releases at this point in time. We also learned a lot making it so we’re very hopeful to make the next one even better.
Obviously, your influences range from Bolt Thrower to early/current-era (funny how that happened) Paradise Lost, Asphyx, Entombed and others. But what are some of your personal favorite discs, the ones that you feel are essential to the formation of this project?
Man, there are so many I could choose from I think really the big ones would be Warmaster, Shades of God, Leprosy, Heartwork, The Rack, Necroticism, Utopia Banished, De Profundis, Beneath the Remains, World Downfall, Covenant. I suppose it’s really that late eighties/early nineties period where thrash, death and grind were similar that we love so much; and there are so many great memories from bands of that time. I think they really formed our taste for metal.
(Side Note: Just absolutely great fucking records there, guys. There’s some homework for new heads here, so you’d better hurry up and listen, there will be a pop quiz on all of it next week!)
What are some of the events that inspired the lyrics on this album? What were you feeling around the time this disc was written?
At the time I started writing I’d pretty much given up music, but was writing short stories. I was having the stereotypical existential crisis and was trying to get an outlet for that as well as trying to understand it. So, I was reading a lot of Jung and Nietzsche and similar writings and was trying to find a way to organize my thoughts on how to deal with events in my own life. Most of the subject matter really stems from grief or political anger and without some form of outlet I was feeling like I was being consumed by those things. At the time I was living and working in the Middle East and certain things about being there were exacerbating those feelings. Just by chance as I was in this stage of my life I walked past a guitar store and couldn’t help myself. And from that point onward the stories became songs and I started looking for some like-minded individuals when I moved back to the UK.
I think the lyrics are the important backbone of an album I’m really sick of listening to bands that have gone through a dictionary and looked for clever words to shove into a song or have read two pages of Marx and decided that they’re an intellectual. Orwell is one of my favorite writers and it’s because he had genuine integrity and life experience. When I write a song, I try to have to really feel passionate about what inspired me to write it in the first place so if it’s an angry sounding song you can bet your life I was fucking angry when I wrote it, there’s been a rage there which has been lived with and through. I don’t think you get that with a lot of bands these days, because most people who can afford to be in bands are middle class teenagers who live at home. Like, what the fuck have you got to be angry about? Go and live a life for a while and see what you have to write about then and if you don’t want to anymore, then you shouldn’t have been doing it in the first place.
What is it like working with Dan Swano? The man’s an absolute master. His contributions to this scene are countless and I hope that he gets proper commendation for all of them, being one of the best producers in this business.
Dan was amazing and if I’m honest I’m not entirely sure why people would go to anyone else. Because of how we’d recorded the record at different studios it wasn’t coming together like we wanted and knew that it could, then Dan just came in and sorted it out like a superhero. I don’t think there are many other engineers or producers on the planet who have his level of knowledge technically combined with a genuine understanding of metal music, he really gets it which is important. The fact that his fees don’t price out bands at our level is also fantastic. We really think the album sounds amazing so honestly couldn’t be more pleased with his work.
The Grim Tower mixes music with geek culture, so we want to know what kinds of things you guys geek out on. These don’t have to be movies, books, games or television, per se; they can also be anything that you devote a lot of time to outside of making music.
We’re pretty fucking geeky people, so most things really. (Slight Chuckle) In all seriousness though, its only through being a geek I got into death metal in the first place, I loved Warhammer as a kid and John Blanche (who was an artist for Games Workshop) did some art for Bolt Thrower and Sabbat so I bought those records when I was around ten purely based on the artwork.
Most of my time these days is spent geeking out on martial arts, as my day job is as a Brazilian Jujitsu and mixed martial arts coach so I spend a large portion of every day obsessing over small details to do with fighting and the teaching/coaching of fighting.
But then in my spare time, well… everyone loves computer games right? Myself and Max are the ones in the band who probably spend more time gaming, though Dark Souls III is really pushing the boundaries of how much I can actually enjoy a game at the moment though. It’s pretty likely that by the time anybody reads this my Xbox will be thrown out the window. Though I’m trying to not let that happen before the next Elder Scrolls game comes out (if).
(Side Note: They appear to be working on it, try to keep that console intact!)
These UK extreme metallers really know how to tear shit up, and on this debut record that is more than wholly apparent. Symon Ogiello’s drums are utterly abrasive to the point of it sounding like a sort of weird, angry static onslaught, with Casey James’ vocals coming in like some sort of ravenous wildebeast. I’m reminded a bit of The Crown and Heaven Shall Burn there, which are both strong acts and worthy of comparison. There are definitely a few times where Max Morgan’s bass hits explicity hard, making for what I would consider to be a few worthwhile groove sections among what is mostly a speeding death/thrash with more than subtle hints of melody. Though I enjoy this melodic touch and I hope that James will continue this style on future albums. I thought the melody was most potent on album opener and band moniker, “Nihil Eyes” which I hadn’t been expecting from first listen. As we continue on, we’ll notice that real riff compositions are being utilized here, making for an album that actually sounds like something we can add to the table of classics, rather than just another rehash of familiar material. “As The Water Falls” is yet another impressive cut ruled by melody that nearly shakes off the “grindcore” part of the tag that Metal Archives assigned to these gentlemen. While that grind feel is definitely here, this aforementioned track almost comes off like something from Daylight Dies or Swallow The Sun, which in my opinion makes for a welcome change in any respect. Too many acts these days want to write the same damn song, which is kind of boring and neanderthal, so when you get a record with a lot of unexpected changes like this, you know that you’re listening to a band who actually gave a shit about the writing process. The record is not exactly rife with solos either, but this cut definitely contained one; which again goes to show that there is more to Nihil Eyes than one might see at first glance. Though I wish they’d get out of the habit of speedy death/thrash/grind (which the latter half of the album seems to fill with, unfortunately) I do like the fact that there’s at least more than one welcome break in the formula to keep the attention of listeners. Though I’m not expecting them to incorporate flute and accordion either. In fact, let’s hope that they never do. If you’ve got an accordion at home, leave it there. In any case, the death/thrash/grind approach that does occur here is potent and varied well enough to make an impact, so I can’t really say too many harsh things about this album. In fact, it’s quite good and you might just want to give it a listen in case you’d skipped by it before. Especially because these guys are talented musicians who care about the work that they’ve recorded here and manage to do all of their influences justice. Why this album hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, I’ll never know – but it’s definitely not one that you want to relegate to the corner. There’s more than grind here to be found and I think you’re going to see that immediately. A superbly strong effort – don’t miss it.
(8 Tracks, 38:00)
Purchase HERE (Bandcamp)