Death the Leveller – Casting AuraSaturday, 21st October 2017
If one sub-genre of metal captures emotions of darkness and despair better than any, doom certainly befits its title. Bouldering, titanic riffs ring out as the slower drumming hits at plodding paces – erstwhile the bass pumps out a low-end steadiness that shakes you to your core. Black Sabbath started doomsters down the lifelong journey, but we’ve seen many twists and turns through the decades as it captures and ardent legion looking for their next fix.
Irish band Death the Leveller may be a newcomer to the scene, but the members within have been working at their craft for a few decades. Taking their name from a English poem by James Shirley, their epic ideals live for the almighty Sabbath as much as Solitude Aeturnus, as well as a bit of that cultural charm that fellow Irish mates Primordial treasure in their output. Their self-titled EP contains four songs and thirty-eight minutes of sonic bliss – sure to make an impression even in this digital age where technology moves so quickly.
Feeling the need to get to know more about the members, bassist Dave Murphy and vocalist Denis Dowling answered questions regarding the circumstances surrounding the development of Death the Leveller, the relationships built as a result of working with other acts in side/live action, how they approach things live versus in the studio, and what the future holds for this promising band.
Dead Rhetoric: Death the Leveller began shortly after your previous band Mael Mórdha went on hiatus in the fall of 2015. What circumstances took place to put one band to rest and start this group – and did you know right away who you would secure as a singer or was this a feeling out process?
Dave Murphy: Three of us were involved with Mael Mórdha prior to the formation of Death the Leveller. The decision to put that band to one side ultimately came from the departure of the band’s founding singer, Roibeard Ó Bogail. We continued with the band for a while, ably assisted by Stiofán De Róiste of Celtachor but the three of us came to the conclusion that it wasn’t really working for us. I think we felt at a creative dead-end within the context of that band, and came to realize that without Roibeard’s involvement it no longer felt entirely authentic. Death the Leveller was born out of our desire to continue making music together but outside of the self-imposed confines of the somewhat strict aesthetic that we felt we had built with Mael Mórdha. It’s strange to feel that something you created yourself, a band and a body of work, can exert a controlling influence on you and that you need to step away from it to rediscover your love of the creative process.
Death the Leveller thus came out of the music we were writing for nothing more than our own enjoyment. As we felt that this music was coalescing into a coherent project, we decided to look for a singer but with no particular person in mind or even a preconception of vocal style. We were put in touch with Denis and gave him our initial demo recordings to see what he thought. His approach to the material, his vocal and lyrical ideas, struck us from the outset and I think we all knew we’d found the right combination for the band.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve recently released your self-titled debut EP. How do you believe the songwriting and recording sessions went, any challenges or surprises come up and what specific standout moments do you have for these four songs?
Murphy: The four songs on the EP are based upon instrumental pieces that we worked on before Denis joined the band, to which he added his lyrics and vocal melodies. I think we were all a little surprised at how easily we felt these songs came together to be honest, once we started working with Denis. We recorded the EP with Michael Richards in Trackmix, Dublin. Michael is a guy we’re familiar with from previous work with Mael Mórdha and we were more than happy to work with him again, he just seemed to really understand the type of sound we were hoping to achieve. A moment that stands out for me was the recording of the final vocal passage in “The Day Before the Night of Broken Glass”, which took a while to come together but when it did I think it showed a different side to Denis’ vocal character to his usual more strident approach which, although unexpected worked perfectly in the song at that point, giving it an innocence or even frailty that it needed.
Dead Rhetoric: Considering the fact that your songs are nine to ten-minutes in length on average, do you ever worry about boredom or sameness setting in to your epic doom metal style? Are you very picky in regards to the riffs and flow of transitions – and is this hammered out in rehearsals or does the songwriting develop in a different manner?
Murphy: It can be a risk in this style of music and with such long songs that musical motifs outlast their welcome and become boring. We are picky but I don’t feel hammered out is the right phrase. We try to let the music develop as organically as possible, and almost let it take its natural course if that makes sense. In that way I feel we will know when something isn’t working as it will feel wrong. It’s a painstaking process though, playing and replaying pieces of music and seeing where different variations take it. Moving forward to the next writing process, we will be a full band from the start so it will be interesting to see how that pans out and what difference it will make.
Dead Rhetoric: Who would you look to as musicians or bands as templates for Death the Leveller to aspire to – especially in terms of their discography, professionalism, or outlook in general, and please explain why?
Denis Dowling: We all have quite diverse taste in music, both within heavy metal and outside of our genre too. For example, I was pleasantly surprised in an early rehearsal when I was name checking synthwave (new retro wave, vaporwave) acts that I find interesting and not only do the lads get it, we all get why each other ‘gets’ it.
We’ve all been involved in music as fans and performers for what feels like forever, we know how we want to sound, how we want to present ourselves and how we see this moving forward and developing. We don’t really have ‘templates’ to follow, there isn’t any one band we want to go sound like, or emulate their image or career path. Sure, we take influences, we wear them on our sleeve collectively as a band, we’re passionate metal heads!
As far as what we aspire to, that’s pretty simple. To make music that we would listen to if we weren’t in this band. There’s no point doing it if it isn’t totally for real, it’s hard enough to survive in this industry without having to fake it as well, you know? You should see us onstage…we live every moment, every note, every lyric. That’s the only way to do it.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you decide on French artist Anaïs Chareyre (drummer for Celtachor) to work on the cover art? What strikes you most about her work, and how important do you believe imagery is for not only metal in general, but epic doom in particular?
Dowling: That was a pretty easy decision. Ger asked her and she agreed! Joking aside, we had developed a concept of how we wanted things to look, in conjunction with the name, the imagery has to fit and look right for your music and genre, but with your own added twist to it, and that is the hard part, believe me! It’s easy to be generic and…. not copy, but pay homage I suppose, to your favorite artists.
A lot of credit has to go to Ger for this, he seriously put in a lot of work and research. We all thought the concept was excellent and would really work. So the ideas went to Anais, and like any true artist she took them, ran with them, filtered them through her own artistic vision and experience, and came back to us with a stunning piece of imagery which surpassed our already high expectations.
What strikes me immediately about Anais’ work is its…. clarity. It’s so well defined, it’s almost deceptively simple looking, then you notice the depth, the detail, all done in such a beautiful way. Imagery has been important in metal since forever. The fathers of both genres you mention, metal and its subentry doom, are Black Sabbath. Look at their first album cover. It fits the music perfectly.
In these times of ersatz art, easy access to music, the almost…… lazy approach some people take is disheartening. We are hoping to build a lasting relationship with our friends, fans, and other bands, that starts with great music and continues through the imagery. Good art is important because it helps you to build an identity within your chosen genre.
Dead Rhetoric: Given the fact that many of the members also have done live work with Primordial, Mourning Beloveth, and Hour of 13 among others, do you feel that this outside supplemental support benefits Death the Leveller in the long run not only from a musical standpoint, but also a networking/relationship stature?
Murphy: In terms of the musical standpoint our collective history as musicians stands to all of us in what we can bring to Death the Leveller. Personally I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to play live with Primordial and Mourning Beloveth, two of my favorite bands, but also glad to have been able to help out long-time friends from the Irish scene when needed. The experiences I’ve built up over the years count for a lot when it comes to performing, writing, and working in the studio.
In terms of networking and relationships, it definitely helps to have connections, especially in this internet age where a personal recommendation or introduction counts for a lot. I think the friendships and connections that we made over the years with Mael Mórdha also stand to us now, as it generates a level of trust and belief in us as musicians that we know what we’re doing and can be depended upon.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe Death the Leveller as a live band? What do you hope to get across to the audience through your performances?
Murphy: We want to convey the atmosphere created by the music and ideally to create a kind of spell-binding aura where people can lose themselves in the music to an extent. But we also want to perform with an energy and a level of engagement that will really communicate to an audience. At the end of the day, we are a heavy metal band and that is what will come across in our live performance. I think it’s also important to differentiate between the recorded and live iterations of the songs. I feel that playing live allows songs to breathe a little differently and each performance lets you express something unique especially when you connect strongly with the crowd. I can’t think of anything (duller) than a note-perfect rendition of a recording when I see a band play live, the live environment gives so much more opportunity to perform.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel a special affinity with other Irish metal bands even if they aren’t in your specific genre? Are there certain traits that you believe make many of these acts stand out in comparison to other scenes globally?
Murphy: I suppose we feel a kinship with other Irish metal bands as we’re from the same scene. We’ve all been active in bands since the 90s and it has always been necessary for bands here to stick together and work to build our scene, isolated as we are from mainland Europe and the UK scene. I’m not sure that this history has generated particularly unique traits in Irish bands, for example I’ve heard much the same story from bands in the Greek scene over the years of struggling to build a scene in a geographically isolated area, but the Irish bands that have become well-known outside these shores have put in the hard work over the years. Some of the best experiences I’ve had over the years, with Mael Mórdha, came from sharing the stage at foreign festivals and gigs with friends from other Irish bands. Hopefully we’ll get to the same level or beyond with Death the Leveller!
Dead Rhetoric: What is your stance on social media and the use of the internet to push awareness and your product to the people? What do you see as the pluses and the minuses given the status of the band currently?
Murphy: Personally, I’m not a fan of social media or the internet in general. For all the convenience it’s brought into our lives it’s created a lot of social problems. Communication in general has become so vapid and facile, and nobody has a proper attention span anymore. Professions like journalism have been utterly degraded by the internet (fake news etc…) and people are becoming more polarized than ever in their opinions.
In terms of music, you can’t ignore this aspect these days. It does offer huge scope to get your music out to people but it can be very difficult to navigate, for artist and listener. I don’t think I entirely understand how it works and where it will go, but I don’t feel anybody else truly understands it either so we all just muddle along using it in whatever way seems appropriate and feasible. The plus side for a band like ourselves starting out is that there is a lot of groundwork we can do ourselves in terms of promotion, without being affiliated with a label, and if you’re willing to put this work in I guess the rewards may be there.
Dead Rhetoric: Outside of music, are there any specific passions, hobbies, or interests that the individuals of Death the Leveller like to pursue when you have the free time to do so? And how do you handle the dreaded work/life/music balance that probably takes place, as it’s challenging to make a living solely from your musical efforts?
Murphy: We’re Irish so we like to drink and talk shit mostly, solve the band’s and the world’s problems over a few pints. I think all of us like to get out of the city and lose ourselves in Ireland’s unique landscape as well whenever possible – this is a huge part of work-life balance for me anyway, living in the city and working in an office. Music is immensely important in this and I see my work as enabling me to work on music while affording to live in an expensive country. Beyond that, personally I try to read as much as time allows for – which isn’t as much as I’d like these days, trying to mix genres between history/politics/fiction.
Dead Rhetoric: Looking back at your musical career, do you have any favorite failures that now in retrospect were stepping stones to learn from and become stronger as a person?
Murphy: The main point of failure I would see is the incorrect allocation of scarce resources. It can be hard to identify where best to invest your limited money in promoting a band and it’s easy to get caught up in spending money on things that ultimately don’t produce much benefit. I suppose an example could be playing the Heathen Crusade festival in St Paul, Minnesota with Mael Mórdha in 2007. The festival was amazing and we played with some great bands and made good friends, but looking back the expense that it took to get the band to the States wasn’t completely justifiable. But having said that, no real regrets from such great experiences.
Dead Rhetoric: Where would you like to see Death the Leveller over the course of the next 12 to 18 months? Have you already started to think about the follow-up effort to your self-titled EP, and if so will it expand upon your epic doom framework or are you content with where the band is going?
Murphy: We’re currently working on the next group of songs to be recorded. I think it’s going to follow the framework laid down on the first EP to a certain extent but we’re not limiting ourselves in any way in terms of the influences that might crop up in the music. The next set of songs will be written from the outset by all four members so it will be interesting to see what that brings to bear on proceedings. We also want to get out and play as many live shows as possible over the coming months and we already have a few things in the pipeline in that regard.