Throne of Heresy – Unleashing the PlagueFriday, 24th November 2017
Continuing to gain traction in the death metal realm, Throne of Heresy recently released their third full-length, Decameron. A conceptual album based on the Black Plague, a fitting topic for a band entrenched in death metal. But often times, people have a tendency to underscore the need for more high-concept material within the brutality (though several recent examples still come to mind). The argument mostly sticking to the, “If it’s just barked vocals, what’s the point?”
Of course, the point is that some fans do enjoy a good concept to give more depth to an album. Particularly when the story is well-researched and clearly a labor of love. Such a description fits Decameron to a tee, and it’s also just as visceral and aggressive as you’d hope. But the depth is noticeable and appreciated, as such, we reached out to vocalist Thomas Clifford to learn more of the album’s backstory, challenges in writing, as well as his thoughts about death metal in general.
Dead Rhetoric: Decameron is your third release. What made you decide to go the conceptual route this time?
Thomas Clifford: I think it just happened, to be honest. We talked a bit about a theme for the album as a sort of framework. The plague was on the table pretty early, along with some other, in hindsight, awful ideas. I got to thinking about the subject and originally meant to write songs loosely connected with various versions of the plague as the common denominator. There’s the plague of Justinian, the Black Death, the plague of the 17th century and so on.
We even discussed, very briefly, the possibility of ending the album with a track about a plague outbreak in current times, or perhaps even in the future. As I said, some ideas weren’t all that great… Eventually it became clear that there was enough interesting material from the 14th century to focus the album on the Black Death, which in every way was a good thing – excepting, of course, the plague itself.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that a conceptual album requires a bit more focus for the band overall?
Clifford: Absolutely. It has been an arduous process creating this album. But in a way it’s also been easier, because we’ve had this framework set up that gave us some direction and even boundaries. Songs about slitting guts or just getting shitfaced wouldn’t exactly fit on an album about the Black Death.
We’ve worked with the lyrics and the music in segments, trying to piece them together to fit the music to the theme of the song. So there are some influences in the tracks that help create the feel that you’re in a certain place, where the plague strikes. Eastern influences in the beginning of the album, and Nordic influences later on, as the plague progresses towards Scandinavia.
Dead Rhetoric: Where there any particular challenges you faced in writing/recording Decameron?
Clifford: Some songs, like “Siege of Caffa,” were finished early on. And some weren’t even done when we entered the studio. I wrote parts of the lyrics for “A Silent Vigil” in the studio, between takes and between studio visits. It was pretty stressful and not a situation I’d recommend. We also had some stuff that didn’t make it onto the album, like certain folk instruments that would have given the tracks a bit more of that flair. In the end some of it just didn’t work out as we thought, and some parts had to be scrapped because of time and money constraints. The entire recording was done on our own budget so that very effectively limits how long one can stay in the studio.
Dead Rhetoric: The album itself centers itself around the Black Plague. What makes it a great topic for a death metal band, other than the obvious?
Clifford: Well, as you say the obvious is already there. “Black Death” for a band playing blackened death metal. Sort of gives itself away, doesn’t it? Other than that I think it’s just a great theme because the sheer immensity of it. A third of the entire European population is thought to have perished. And no one was spared, rich or poor, pious or impious. And once I got into the research and stories around it, there was just such a wealth of material to draw upon. I’ve always been a fan of Iron Maiden’s historical lyrics so I really enjoyed converting my research into the lyrical form, frustrating as it was at times.
Dead Rhetoric: How much research was done on the topic? Did you learn anything particularly interesting about the times?
Clifford: I probably spent way too much time researching it, at least if you see the ten tracks and the lyrics produced. But there are so many details in the artwork, and small stuff in the booklet and so on that it really paid off. Besides, I really enjoyed it. Once I learned a bit, there was always something more just around the corner that I needed to look into. There’s even a literature reference list in the booklet…
Dead Rhetoric: The album seems a bit more bleak than your previous release, Antioch. Was this due to the atmosphere of the topic at hand?
Clifford: Yes, partly that, but also partly because it’s a natural evolution to our sound I think. All of us are in various degrees fans of darker music and bleak, almost minimalistic sounds. Not that Decameron is minimalistic in any way, but I think some of the influences carried over into our sound.
Dead Rhetoric: Could you talk a little bit about the concepts behind the “Liber Secretorum” video?
Clifford: The video for “Liber” was shot and directed by the fantastic Guilherme Henriques, who flew in from Portugal to film us (he did have other business in Sweden too so it’s not quite as grandiose as it sounds). We concocted the idea in about a week, just before Guilherme arrived. And we cleared permissions to use the settings and got everything we needed in that short a time.
The concept of the song is really one about the effects of plague in European society. It namedrops flagellants, little brothers (fraticelli), the pope as the antichrist and a variety of other concepts that meant to help the dying people find some solace or hope or understanding of what was going on – false or not.
The video however, focuses on a father whose child has died, and how he consecrates the body before ending up flagellating himself, a rite not uncommon in those times. We used the historical setting of Alvastra Abbey to further connect the story to history. The abbey is of course in ruins nowadays, but we found it a fitting image for the ruinous effects of the Black Death.
Dead Rhetoric: Karl Beckman lends vocals to one track. What made you decide to bring clean vocals in for this song?
Clifford: Karl actually lends his vocals to several tracks,” Pax Mongolica,” “Jartecken,” “Alvastra” and the title track. On Decameron he does the “Decameron” part, the rest of the clean vocals are actually mine. Those were a bit of a challenge since I don’t often do clean vocals other than the occasional singalong to Iron Maiden or some such when home alone.
It was very clear in my mind from early on that some sort of rough clean vocals would fit that particular song very well though. It is an odd track in and of itself, and we debated in length as to whether it really should be the title track or not. But it’s different nature won the day and we eventually all felt that it was perfect, if not ordinary, as a title track considering it’s churning, doomy and almost ritualistic approach.
Dead Rhetoric: What elements do you think allow Throne of Heresy to stand out in the death metal field?
Clifford: I think with Decameron, we’ve evolved past the “play stuff that is fun to play”-stage to the “play stuff that is interesting to listen to” stage. There’s a big difference between the two with the former being more music for the musicians (guitar wanking, noodling, strange rhythm shifts and vocals doing a bit of this and that) and the latter being more of an atmospheric approach for the listener. If that means churning on the same chord for three minutes or doing your best impression of a monk holding a baritone note for a full minute, then so be it. As long as the final listening experience is worth it.
Dead Rhetoric: What draws you to death metal as a musical style?
Clifford: It’s almost hard to say these days. I’ve been listening to extreme metal for so long that it’s just “music” for me. But of course, it’s about the atmosphere as I mentioned above. Something so dark and twisted that it immediately turns most people away. How can that not be appealing?
Dead Rhetoric: What plans lie in the band’s future as we approach 2018?
Clifford: We’re scheduled to play some gigs in Sweden during the end of 2017. For 2018 we are still drawing up plans. It’s a bit late in the day for it, but so it goes with near-oldtimers like us. Jobs, families and even upcoming babies for some mean that we have to plan every step carefully, so that it doesn’t all break apart. Any promoters are free to get in touch for 2018 shows though!