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Track By Tracks: The Dark Horde - The Calling (2021)


The stories behind this album - itself a story set to music - are many and span over twenty years, over thirty years in the case of the lyrics, and include at least seven uncompleted versions with different line-ups, different directions and ideas, to be finally completed and released only late 2021. What follows is some of the stories behind each track of The Calling by The Dark Horde, from Brewin, lyricist, concept creator and author of the horror novel also called The Dark Horde that follows the album...

1. Introduction:

How this track begins is essentially the same since it was first conceived in 2001. The sound of pressing play-record on a tape recorder, and the measured but ominous tones of a narrator introducing the story with no music, recalling the way in which Jeff Wayne’s musical version of War of the Worlds begins, which was my original inspiration for the execution of this concept album.

The cicadae sounds were recorded in my backyard in 2016 because I couldn’t find a recorded sound of local (Victorian) cicadae elsewhere. This mattered to me as an entomologist haha, but they also have a unique sound which sounds like the south-eastern Australia of where the story is set. The main character of the story – Henry Wilcox, a young and broken man living alone in 1989 – is narrated by Kevin Powe here and throughout the album. I’ve had the pleasure of Kevin’s involvement in this project since 2013, and in working on this final version in 2019/20 I asked him to channel “a gravely and bitter combination of Clint Eastwood and Vincent Price”.

Musically this track is designed to draw you into the story that is to unfold, gently (at least at first) but with ominous intent, matching the narrative delivery and story. Logan Jacobs in composing this track wanted it to evoke the haunting melodies of eighties horror movies, such as the soundscapes of John Carpenter.

I met Logan in 2018 as my next-door neighbour soon after I moved into the area, discovered he shared a love of heavy metal, horror and fantasy games, and he became involved in creating music for the project soon after, working with Hanny Mohamed (of the power metal band Black Majesty), the main music composer for the album.

The narration lines themselves I originally wrote in 2001 for a writing group I’d organised with a handful of friends. It was an exercise I set for everyone to write a Lovecraft-themed story, which was fine since we were all into supernatural/ cosmic/ fantasy horror kinda things anyway. This exercise really helped the catalyse the ideas in my head for the story of the album that took shape between 2000 and 2004, even if the writing group itself didn’t continue much longer.

2. Mask:

This track was always meant to be a heavy track to follow the build-up of the first track. The music by Hanny dates back to 2006 when he first composed it, with a few different versions over the years since, but still with the original approach and opening. The lyrics for this track were first written in 2001 and are almost unchanged in twenty years. Some of the lines even date back to 1996 when I was writing my fantasy-ish novel Evermore: An Introduction, where they appear in a different context. Danny Cecati (Wicked Smile, ex Pegazus and Eyefear) is the main vocalist for the album and performer of the sung lines for the main character Henry, and I invited him to sing for this project in 2019. He certainly put his stamp on the track (and album!) with his vocals, but also introduced new elements on each track (like whispers at the start of this track and swapping the placement of the first verse and chorus), making each track his own too.

In working with the sound engineer for the album, Ricardo Borges (of Fascination Street Studios in Stockholm), we settled on the mix for “Mask” that would be the template for the rest of the album. Our brief to Ricardo in terms of the sound that we were looking for was something reminiscent of the Painkiller/ Ram It Down era of Judas Priest, albums which were also around the same time (1989) as when the story of The Calling is set.

3. Childhood:

Musically, we return to a building ambient narrative track here, where the main character Henry begins to tell the story of his life to explain how he got to the point he’s at now, starting with his early childhood. As with many of the narrative sections on this album, the music is structured to allow for the narration, acting and atmospherics to take prominence - to carry the story, with its emotional arcs, to the listener… I am often asked about the voice of “young Henry” that appears in the second half of this track, what an amazing performance he delivered etc. It was in 2004 that Dexter did these lines and was then only five years old. Many years later, Dexter went on to become a successful rapper (Dexter Seamus) so perhaps this time played a role in planting a spark! Dexter is actually my nephew and he was certainly a feisty little kid haha, so I knew that given the right prompts, he had this performance in him.

But what you hear now is actually the result of almost six hours of takes over two sessions. It took time to overcome his shyness at being in front of a microphone with another he didn’t know (Lee Cheney that I was living with and working with on the album back then), which is exactly as you’d expect for a five-year-old! It was about half of the way through the first session I recall saying to Dexter: “Just imagine you’re yelling at your Mum.” And I remember this coaching had an immediate effect – he was like ‘oh now I get what you want me to do!’ – and soon he was screaming his heart out into the mike, and even wanted to keep going when given the chance to stop, cos he was having so much fun. I imagined our neighbours were probably freaked out by the sounds of a “distressed child” coming from our house, but at least no police turned up haha. Poor Dexter’s voice became hoarse from all the screaming but that was also when we got the best takes! Anyway, he was compensated afterward with his pick of lollies from the store for such a good job haha.

The voice of Henry’s mother on the final version on the album is performed by Dexter’s actual mother - my older sister Jane Brewin. Jane’s performance was recorded only in 2020, sixteen years after Dexter’s recording, but she was easily able to put herself into the role given she had first-hand experience of Dexter as a small child!

4. Victim:

This track was always planned to be “the single” of the album (although we would end up doing three singles) and the only track on the album without narration. As with most of the album, the lyrics were written in 2004 and have changed little since then. In composing this track, Hanny channelled a “classic thrash” intro and relentless driving structure to follow, complete with blistering solos from him and Logan. And Danny gave a vocal performance of conviction, power and passion that I think perfectly captures the angst of the main character, Henry.

5. Therapy:

In many ways this track was one of the harder ones to figure out how to best execute, and certainly changed a lot over the years. Ultimately what we settled on was a stripped back delivery that focused on the narrative and acting performance, supported only by keys and moody guitar whines.

The role of Bernard Russell, psychiatrist, is played here by actor and friend Andrew Carolane, and recorded in 2020. In briefing Andrew on the role, I described the psychiatrist as condescending in tone, convinced of his own correctness and dismissive of the situation in general.

6. Memory:

I wanted this track to be something with a “hypnotic” quality and constant momentum, punctuated by a stripped back interlude where the narration comes in, and Hanny and Logan delivered this, together with an emotive outro that I think is complemented perfectly by the powerful notes of despair and desperation in Danny’s vocals.

We actually tried a lot of different things with this track, before we settled on an adaption of an idea that was conceived back in 2005: to combine Kevin’s narrative voice with Danny’s sung vocals. Back then we combined the singer and narrator’s vocals in the chorus, but for the final version in 2020 we combined them in the verses instead, thus giving Danny full range to deliver his soaring vocals on the chorus.

The variation in the lines on the second chorus was only done in 2020, just before Danny was to sing them. Sometimes you can go back to things written many years ago and have new ideas on how to improve them…

7. Destiny:

In writing the melody for this track, Logan wanted to create something reminiscent of John Carpenter’s main theme for Halloween and (to a lesser extent) Mike Oldfield’s main theme for The Exorcist, and the guitar that follows he wanted to be reminiscent of a heartbeat to evoke tension.

I really wanted the listener to “feel the wind” on this track, so I had it turned right up in the mix, enhancing the impact of the narration here.

8. Puppet:

The first thing you hear on this track is a didgeridoo, evoking the ancient history of this land. Logan, who actually has Aboriginal heritage, can play this instrument, but not for the length of the time required here, so we looped a licensed sample instead.

The second thing you hear is the keys, which Hanny played based on the keys Lee had originally used back in 2004.

The third thing you hear is the chant, which I actually did as a demonstration for whoever was to do it, but since everyone was like “Why do we need to get someone else to do that, when what you did was fine?” it stayed, thus making this track have more vocalists than any other track – four. As for what the words of the chant are, I’m happy to leave that as a mystery for others to try to figure out.

The fourth thing you hear are the lines Danny sings, which of all the album’s lyrics, are the ones I first wrote in 1990 (and later tweaked in 2004 and 2012), before Kevin takes over with narration. The lines Danny and Kevin perform here also appear in the book that follows.

Then comes an intense thrashy section and lead composed by Hanny, over which you hear the demonic vocals of Shaun Farrugia (of the thrash band In Malice’s Wake) for the first time – the voice of the demonic entities known as the Dark Horde. I worked with Ricardo the sound engineer on the sound of these vocals for a while, achieving something demonically inhuman and creepy that was still distinct. The lines Shaun performs here actually originated in my first book, Evermore: An Introduction, and were written in 1996. The lines are much revised since then as the concept of the Dark Horde also evolved.

Closing the track is an acoustic narrative section composed by Hanny, inspired in part by Annihilator’s “Crystal Ann” from 1989.

9. Xenogenesis:

This track changed a lot since it was conceived in 2004. It used to be much longer with a repeated chorus and there was another track “Apocalypse” that followed too. But there were always sections added or removed according to the flow of the album, and what those working on it at the time thought was needed. The final result here is a short moody interlude track, starting with a keys and guitars narrative section composed by Logan, and ending with an atmospheric guitar solo by Hanny. The deepest ringing bells sample I could find was added to enhance the ominous effect.

10. Rebirth:

Here we have the first of two tracks composed by guest musicians – in this case Chris Kane (of the melodeath band Eye of the Enemy), who approached this with a modern sound, complete with various melodic movements that rise and fall with the different vocals and narration here. The original idea for this track, as I recall, came from 2004 when Lee wanted to do an epic track with non-rhyming lyrics telling a story, something like Iced Earth’s “Dante’s Inferno”. So I went to the related book I was also writing at the time, to the book’s main interlude that I had written a few years earlier. The lines were adapted for a song, then rewritten extensively in 2020, including the addition of the Venomed One lines, to fit the musical journey Chris created.

11. Slaughter:

The second of the two guest musician tracks – this time by my good friend James Lowe. This track didn’t have a chorus when James came to work on it in 2020, but one was added to suit his approach, and the other lyrics rewritten (originally written 2004) around what was to become the focus. James composed the track as a relentless riff onslaught in the vein of heavy metal bands like Iced Earth and Death.

12. Awakening:

Hanny and Logan return to provide the music for the final epic track, opening with a heavy reprise of the melody on the first track – the ending returning to the beginning. Here Henry Wilcox delivers his final, defiant speech, that then leads into a heavy section with sung lyrics that embody the album title itself and also feature in the book that follows. A call to arms.

This is followed by lines of the Dark Horde, lines written more recently than the rest of the album, but still some ten years ago (2011 I think), before returning to Henry’s final lines that can be considered the mantra of the Dark Horde, and feature in both the book and album. The sound effects used at the end were a mixture of licensed content and recordings taken at my house in 2019.

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