Among These Ashes – Breaking FreeSaturday, 30th July 2022
Today’s marketplace makes it difficult to stand out in the heavy metal landscape – especially if you are fresh to the scene. Quality often wins out in the end – and that’s the case here for Michigan quintet Among These Ashes. Their debut album Dominion Enthroned contains a power/progressive metal base, also taking into account elements from thrash, groove, traditional, and extreme angles to create an addictive full-length – beyond the conceptual storyline that has influence from current events, politics, and the prolonged pandemic that took place worldwide over the past couple of years.
We reached out to guitarist Richard Clark who is happy to bring us up to speed on how Among These Ashes developed. You’ll learn more behind the debut album, artwork, thoughts on their album release show which was their debut live performance, the Michigan metal scene and its strong community support, plus future plans and other projects/bands from the members with those impending releases.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about your earliest musical memories in childhood – how did you make the progression into heavier styles of music, and eventually the desire to pick up an instrument and perform your own music?
Richard Clark: My earliest memories are of my parents listening to music, and it was pretty eclectic I would say. They used to listen to a lot of The Eagles and southern rock, which I ended up gravitating towards and I still love. Outlaw country and stuff like that. As far as moving in towards metal, my first experience with that was when my uncle showed me Metallica’s the black album, and I was eight years old so that was in 1992-93. Ever since then I had a passion for it.
I started playing guitar when I was twelve years old, but then I actually quit. I didn’t like it or stay with it, it hurt my fingers too much. It was when I started getting more into the underground type of music in high school, I had a friend who was into Iced Earth, Grave Digger, and stuff like that. I got into that type of stuff, it clicked with me, I started developing a passion for it and then I picked up the guitar again and really loved it.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the start of Among These Ashes come about? I’ve heard that a lot of this material has been in development since the mid 2000’s, is that true?
Clark: I wouldn’t say a lot of it. Honestly that’s been cycled around, it was just a couple of riffs. The idea in terms of how our sound is, a melodic vocalist, actually singing with harmonies as well as the aggression in the music, that has probably what’s stuck around. I had been in other musical projects, I have an acoustic album, a couple of southern rock albums, and after the second one I did there, I always had the metal thing on the backburner because it’s a lot of work. Hard to do, I kept putting it off. I finally decided to do it and then the pandemic hit. We had time to get down to it, that kicked it off. My buddy Joe (Cady), he’s well connected and a fantastic person, very well known within the Michigan metal community. I reached out to him, told him I didn’t want to be the singer on this, I’m okay but not fantastic. I know I can’t do the type of singing that I wanted for this.
I talked to him and asked him what if I reached out to get Matt Barlow – as he is one of my favorite singers. He thought it would cost me a lot of money, and he suggested I reach out to JP (Abboud). He’s in Michigan, stuck here right now, and probably looking for something to do. So I did and over the course of about a year, I worked on the songs, refined them, and brought him in the studio at my house and we recorded everything. It wasn’t intended to be a live project, but we ended up liking this so much that we decided to do it. I hope it continues to build and build and continues to grow.
Dead Rhetoric: So, did you also reach out to Kyle Wagner and Hiran Deraniyagala because of Joe’s connections, or did you also know both of them personally?
Clark: I know Hiran a little bit, Joe deserves the credit though for pulling this whole thing together. He’s got the connections; he reached out to everybody and took the lead to mobilizing this band into a unit. We really gelled well together, and it’s all been very good.
Dead Rhetoric: Dominion Enthroned is the debut album – and a conceptual record at that. How did the songwriting and storyline develop – plus how did you feel the recording sessions went, were there any surprises, obstacles, or challenges to work through?
Clark: The storyline – when I first started this, I thought about developing like a zombie apocalypse. I decided that was way too cliché. It got inspired by social events with respect to the pandemic. What I saw going on within our government, and that’s the theme with the album.
There’s always challenges, but as far as the writing part goes, I’ve always enjoyed that. The part of the music speaks to me, I like to take my time on that. It’s challenging, but I don’t know I would say there were challenges with respect to that. I take a piece of music, and work on it until I feel like it’s really going to stand out. Sometimes I work on it, put it away for a while, and come back to it – refining it over and over. That’s essentially my writing process.
The challenge is getting the job done – and I felt that went really well. I hope that we can continue to improve the product. A big part of why this happened, it’s a do-it-yourself thing but I think we still did a decent job even if it’s not the most amazing production it stands on its own pretty well. The main obstacle was the effort that went into it – it was a lot of work, that’s mainly me pretty much doing everything. It was JP and I in the studio for the most part – I would send my mixes out and get feedback from a couple of guys, make adjustments. Truly this record is 100% us, and it’s very authentic in that regard.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about the cover art from Jayson Cessna – and do you believe there’s still relevance and importance in strong cover art to set the tone and mood before people press play on records these days?
Clark: Cover art it was my idea. I wanted to have the main guy breaking free from the tether of his overlords, everybody else is still being skewed into that. You have the all-seeing eye that is ever watching. The color scheme was to have this turbulence going on, which is essentially what takes place on the record.
I think the artwork is all a part of the entire package. You can’t just have awesome music and crappy artwork; it all has to be put together to be a part of the complete package. It was very deliberate in terms of making sure we have great songs and great artwork to go along with it to be visible. The main reason I had, with social media and the way it is, you need to have something that sticks out and grabs people’s attention from a visual perspective.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the strong Michigan metal scene – as you’ve had some breakout bands make international impact with their music?
Clark: I think the Michigan metal scene – I don’t know if it’s unknown, but there are some absolutely amazing bands coming out of this scene. In all different subgenres of metal as well. My comment on Michigan metal, we have all this great music – it’s not just guys that can go up there and shred, it’s excellent songwriting and the performances are a part of that. What really spoke to me, the way that all these different bands interact with each other and support each other. It doesn’t have this competitive feel to it. All the guys in these bands are excellent, we all realize that we can help each other.
Dead Rhetoric: You recently played an album release show which was probably one of the first shows for most of you coming out of the pandemic. How did the audience react to the material, and how would you describe Among These Ashes as far as your live performances compared to what people take in on record?
Clark: The reaction was incredible. I’m still trying to take it in and properly reflect on it. We played that show on a Friday, and it took me until Sunday to sit down and say, wow – that just happened. It was so amazing. I’ve played live solo acoustic a lot, but that was the first time I’ve played with a full band like that with music as complex as metal music is. It was distracting me a bit, the anxiety about making sure that I and we as a unit can pull it off. By the second song in “The Dead Beside Us”, we knew that we gelled very well, we took our time with our preparation. The outcome was fantastic.
I think it’s close to the same, but a little heavier live because of how we set up our equipment. The aggression was there, the energy. I think you can translate energy through a record but until you go to a show and see it, you won’t see the same kind of energy. It wasn’t planned out, the guys in the band really enjoy playing music and they are very passionate about it. As far as our live show goes, we captured a huge energy and it’s just going to continue to grow and hopefully propel us further.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you see as some of the most important challenges to overcome for the band to gain more traction and a foothold not just locally, but nationally and internationally, as far as your music?
Clark: Exposure is very hard; I’ve come to realize. Especially with metal, because there are so many bands out there. To set yourself apart, and how I approach that is through very good songwriting and then the execution has to be on point as well. That’s what I focus on.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you view the metal music landscape currently? What excites you most, and what changes (if any) would you like to make for the greater good of all parties involved?
Clark: It just seems like metal right now is in a really good place. A lot of fantastic music out there – new, and some things that have been around awhile. It’s inspiring. I would like to see things be easier for newer and younger bands to gain more exposure without having to… it’s an investment and you essentially are building a business. I would like it to be easier, it’s not like it was in the 80’s when the scene was brand new. Or even like ten years ago, it’s very difficult. The algorithms are set up, and social media is a necessary evil if you have a band. Everything is so immediate; you have to constantly be reinventing yourselves, so I’d like to see that change. I would like to see people’s attention spans stand up a little bit longer, because I think that would help.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider three of the most important albums that helped shape your views and outlook on music -metal or otherwise?
Clark: I have so many influences. I’m going to say …And Justice for All – Metallica, just for the songwriting. That album is excellent, maybe not the production, but the delivery is great. That is one that sticks with me. I’m going to say The Crimson Idol – W.A.S.P. Because of the songwriting on that. Let me look at my vinyl collection to see what else I have. Iced Earth – Something Wicked This Way Comes. The way the rhythm guitar was, the riffs, and the songwriting. I could go on and on with that question.
Dead Rhetoric: How do the musicians balance the workload between your band activities, work/careers, and family/friendships? Are you realistic with how far you’ll be able to take things with Among These Ashes as far as a hobby versus full-time career endeavor?
Clark: Yeah, we all have jobs. This isn’t our first priority as far as that goes. I would say 100% of the songwriting and production stuff comes down to me. Kyle and Joe have been great, all the guys have been great about the live aspect. Joe has been the one really that does the best with that- he was a tour manager for Battlecross and knows exactly what he is doing. I’m fine for the creative aspect, that is what I really like doing. JP has Traveler and he is very busy with that, so I end up taking on the songwriting.
My hopes are that we can take things pretty far. I hope we can play Europe or Canada. That’s really trying to take it in realistic portions and advance it that way. Let’s get us a couple more shows in Michigan, see if we can’t get out of state a little bit. I think the opportunities will come as we start to put more music out there.
Dead Rhetoric: What worries you most about the current state of the world today? If you had unlimited time, energy, resources, and finances, what area(s) do you believe need to be looked at the most for a better world overall?
Clark: People are so divided about everything and can’t get along. Everyone on the internet seems to be ten feet tall, arguing with each other. If we were actually meeting in person, I think people would get along just fine. That concerns me quite a bit. The division within our own country. Politics have taken over, that’s what a lot of the album is about. Politicians have taken over and made everything in terms of policy and structure the way the world is going to happen for their own profit, I think. It’s dividing everybody, and people don’t need to be divided – they need to be united, and they can be.
Dead Rhetoric: What have been some of your favorite concert memories, taking things in purely as a fan in the audience?
Clark: Oh gosh. I saw King Diamond in 2015 or 16 in Michigan. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. I saw Blackberry Smoke; they are one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen. That was another fantastic experience. I saw back in 2006 Loreena McKennitt in Kalamazoo, Michigan. It still sticks out with me. Those three really stick out and speak to me.
Dead Rhetoric: Since you’ve talked about songwriting a lot, what qualities do you believe stick out to make a great songwriter?
Clark: I have to really think about this. I think having really good hooks in a song, in terms of the riffs as well as the vocal lines are probably really what matters. Just focusing on making it memorable – making sure it’s as memorable as it can be. Besides the actual songwriting, the execution has to be good as well.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Among the Ashes for activities over the next year or so now that the album is out – and are there other side projects / bands that we need to know about to look forward to?
Clark: I have one kicking around potentially with a friend of mine. I tend to write a lot of stuff in the winter, there’s not a lot of stuff to do up here because it’s so cold. I really want to focus most of my energy into this. We are going to have a single that comes out probably around March of 2023, I think it’s a very strong song. We are kicking around the idea of putting out a Savatage cover as well. We have most of the music and the vocals written for the next album, so we will work on that and make sure it can be as good as we can make it. That’s the plan for Among These Ashes. We have a couple of shows coming up – one in October, we will see what else comes our way.
Joe has Finality, and I am involved in the production of that album, working on it now. That will probably come out sometime before 2023, it’s a strong record. Several of the Battlecross guys are on that record, Tony and Hiran. Definitely look forward to that one. Hiran has a death metal band called Portal of Pazuzu, that record is awesome. Kyle has Nethergate, they just came out with an EP that’s really strong as well. And they are also working on a full-length album. JP has Traveler, and they are working on stuff too.