Track By Tracks: Of Spire And Throne - Penance (2019)


Penance is our second album, released through Aesthetic Death in late 2018. It's a grueling doomed sludgy death trip through the past, present, and future. We focused on a lot of dynamic shifts between walls of sound and sparse notation, with a lot of rhythmic, atonal sections and twisting, jarring discordant riffing. I purposely worked on making riffs dense and dissonant, while we weaved synth and effects throughout the entire album. It has a very raw, live feel, and we used a lot of first takes and improvisation. We approached each song differently in the way it was written, arranged, and recorded, and it's also the first time we gave the person mixing free reign to add effects and we asked them to work at giving each song a distinct mix.
 
1. FROM DUST:

This track was based on a song originally written by our previous bass player Matt. We played it for many years in a different form. It's a more straightforward sludge style instrumental with a building wall of synths that eventually engulf the other instruments, leading to a collapse and re-emergence, with an angular riff that sets up the rest of the album. There's a slowed down sample running throughout that is actually a live recording of us playing the older version of this song (sample courtesy of Bruce Cowie who recorded the original performance and processed it). The loose idea behind this track is that it represents a distant past. It's an acknowledgement and farewell . It's an odd song on the album because it's meant to be setting you up for what not to expect and the synths are intended as the lead instruments while the rest of the band is the backing track. Also, Graham stole a drum fill from Brand X and used it on this song.
 
2. RELIQUARY:

This is one of our favourite songs that we've written and one of the most unusual. It's utterly brutal and bludgeoning and pretty much devoid of melody. It's very much about the rhythms and building dynamics within the structure of the song. It started out as something I was trying to do after listening to a lot of Thou's Heathen album but the initial riff I had was just a rip-off. Gradually and with the input of Graham's brilliant drum patterns, it shifted into something of its own. The last section came about from an improvised jam. I wanted to include a guest spot with Matt's horrible squawking vocals and create a sort of cacophony of voices at the end. I tried a different vocal and lyrical style influenced by Graves At Sea, although unfortunately I can't pull off Nathan Misterek's awesome style. The song is about reflection, revelation, weighing up and coming to terms, and preparing to make a judgement. It's an acknowledgement that a firmly held belief and a set path has been wrong or no longer suits.
 
3. THEIR SHADOW CAST:

I had a couple of very old riffs for this song which I was playing with for a long time. They sounded too obvious and bright and it took me a long time to twist them into something more discordant and dense. I wrote and discarded many parts for and it took a long time to bring everything together. The middle section was inspired by listening to a lot of Ahab, not that I think that's obvious as I don't tend to end up with something close to my initial inspiration. You can hear some obvious Thou influence in some of the riffs, though. It also features the first heavily effected vocals we've ever used. I've always leaned towards just enough reverb so that my vocals don't sound artificial, but this time we asked the person mixing the record, Andrew Oswald, to include his own creative ideas. Much of the textures and atmospheres were his idea and he really brought out the colour and dynamics of the songs with his ideas and mix. I had no idea how to finish this song up after the big crushing section near the end. The final guitar riff without drums was written by Graham and he had the idea of the drums dropping out then synths coming in to double the riff. The ending turned into one of the most fun parts of the album to play, as Joe and Graham switch to synths and effects and I drone out with guitar parts. The lyrics deal with mistakes of the past and accepting that some things will stay with us and we have to bear them.
 
4. SORCEROR:

Each time we record we tend to have at least one track that is a skeleton or made up of nothing but some basic ideas which we then build upon as we record it. Sorcerer was salvaged from a number of ideas intended for a drone/ambient collaboration which never came together. It was meant to be led by the guitar using a lot of controlled ambient feedback. Instead, it turned into a piano-led track with double bass, effects, and odd instrumentation including a broken piano and bowed bass. I'd first recorded clean vocals for the My Dying Bride cover we produced for the Doom-metal.com tribute album. It's something I've been wanting to explore for some time and it fit for this track. I wanted something that sounded choral or like basso profundo monks. I don't think I managed to pull that off so well but the atmosphere is there. The lyrics for the track were inspired by William Friedkin's remake of The Wages of Fear, Sorceror, and like the film, are concerned with themes of fate, choice, and free will.
 
5. IN THE WAKE:

We wanted to create a monolithic, slow and grinding beast of a track with In The Wake. It's a song that requires patience and endurance which fits with its theme of being stuck in the present, caught between the past and future. I had the idea of having the singular guitar part to bring the song in and create a slowly building tension, before all hell breaks loose, while the idea of the structure was to have dense suffocating blocks of sound contrasting with open sections which are more sparse and melodic. This track gave Joe a lot of room to fill space with effects and bowed bass, and we sat the drums back in the mix, leaning more towards the room mics. I again tried some clean vocals on this track but they're heavily effected. The penultimate riff is one of my favourites on the album, especially coupled with Graham's drum parts. The theme of this track is reaching a point of saturation or reckoning and casting off your burdens and just accepting what is. There's quite a few references to Scott Walker songs in the lyrics and I wanted to tap into his lyrical themes. The song is quite messy but gradually comes together and finds a flawed melody to close. That was very much the intention to represent the subject matter: finding order through chaos. It has something of a kraut rock cut and paste sensibility, and we were playing with structure and various shifts. Early mixes had tighter vocals as I wanted to ape early Deicide, but Andrew turned the track into a nastier, messier affair. As an exploration of the present it's a good representation of the chaos which was around us at the time, and the sense of getting through and making sense of things, picking up the pieces and moving on.
 
6. DISSIDENT:

Dissident ended up being a totally new experience for us. I've tended to prepare the majority of a song in advance, writing alone, before I bring it to the rest of the band. In this case, I had one riff which came to me when I was in Berlin in 2015. One time we were practicing and from this riff the whole of the rest of the song just came together. Luckily we recorded that first play-through, but it felt like it wrote itself, even the ambient "jazzy" part which to my ears sounds like early Bohren & Der Club of Gore. I love the ambient effects which Joe plays during this part. The penultimate riff was originally a discarded part from an old song of ours, Legacy. We love to play Dissident as the riffs are so heavy and immediate. It's probably the shortest most straightforward song we've written so far. As for the lyrics, they're about defying the past and looking to the future. Accepting who you are, what you've done, and resolving to move on to whatever awaits.

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