Beyond Grace – Intellectual Brutality

Sunday, 29th August 2021

Death metal act Beyond Grace made some waves a few years back with their debut Seekers.  Eloquent and thought-provoking metal that was still just as heavy as the rest of the pack, but gave listeners a little something more.  The band is back here in 2021, with a follow-up that brings their game up to the next proverbial level, both with intricate musicianship and savagery as well as engaging fans with some socially and politically charged topics.  We spoke with vocalist Andy Walmsley about many facets of the new album, a look back at Seekers, his involvement with writing within the scene (such as No Clean Singing), and even get his thoughts about the world today.

Dead Rhetoric: It’s been a few years since Seekers.  What are your thoughts on the album looking back, and what have you been up to between albums?

Andy Walmsley: I still love the album.  I have the distance from it now to see what didn’t work as well as what we had hoped for.  Surprisingly, what I didn’t like at the time I have come around to really enjoy, which is nice.  I don’t mind listening to my own stuff once I’ve gained that critical distance from it.  I think you can see that we had first album syndrome: play everything as hard and as fast as we possibly can, everything at once, with as many guitar layers as we could record.  It’s funny, I love it but it sort of seems like a sign post from a different time in my life, I think exacerbated by the past year and a half, which has felt like 10 years.  There’s a lot of distance.

I think the new one builds on the good parts of that one.  We looked back at “Acolytes” and “Demiurge” and “Omega Point” as an outlier, as songs with a stronger sense of identity.  We weren’t trying to do a million things at once.  We had a clear idea.  I think on the new one, we have been able to do more.  Instead of throwing everything into one song, we really found a strong core.  We can take that, and then throw stuff on top of it.  I hate to use the word mature, it will age us and date us badly, but it feels like that.

We have also added a new member, Chris [Morley] on guitars.  We had been looking for a second guitarist for a long time, and it’s all about finding the right person.  You have to be able to play, and no shade on anyone who had filled in for us – they were all extremely talented – but it was due to sheer circumstance and personality, they weren’t the right person.  Chris has been one of our best friends for the last four or five years.  He joined during the touring process for Seekers, so this was his first chance to write with us for this album.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel that Beyond Grace has adjusted or improved for Our Kingdom Undone?

Walmsley: The one thing we improved on was that we communicate better.  We didn’t quite have to go to couples counseling and have a couple of meetings.  Being in a band, it’s like I am dating four other guys.  I’m getting none of the sex, but I am getting all of the emotional baggage.  Everyone laughs, but it’s true.  They are all my best friends and we are all very close.  We love each other and love playing with each other.  That’s why we were looking for the right fit for the second guitarist.  They have to fill that role.  During Seekers, there was a lot of yelling and back and forth.  Figuring out who we wanted to be, still trying to figure out what we were going to do in the future as well as in that second, and I remember times yelling across the room – not in a nasty way – but emotions got a bit heightened.  We are all trying to be the best we could be.  After that, we sat down and talked and we matured again.  Now that we can communicate better, and remotely as well.

We have only been together a handful of times since 2019.  Our drummer used to live up here in Nottingham but now lives in London.  There’s a lot more remote communication going on.  That forced us to discuss reasonably and get our points across without pissing each other off [laughs].  It helped the album so much, because we could talk about our ideas better.  We could also talk about each other’s parts.  Before, if someone had said, “oh, I don’t like that,” maybe they would have taken offense.  Instead of saying, “I don’t like that, you are not very good,” now it comes across a lot better because of our communication.  People are more open to listening more.  That really helped the album grow, because we could all comment on each other’s parts and ideas.  It took a long time, we write slowly because we are perfectionists and change things, and then change other things and it takes a few weeks sometimes to come up with a better idea.  It’s a healthier environment, and I hope we keep going for a bit like this.

Dead Rhetoric: It’s the second album too, maybe you aren’t as focused about each person making sure that they get their part in – there’s more congealing perhaps.

Walmsley: Yeah, entirely.  There are bits in the first album, working together, in making sure that each person got a percentage of representation so that no one got upset.  This time, the whole song was written by all five of us, even if not everyone gets a flashy moment, which I think they still do – we all stand out working together – but there wasn’t this grasping for straws or territory.  There was no desperation.  We are all happier now, so let’s just do something together rather than five individuals.

Dead Rhetoric: You have this massive 12-minute song alongside very concise and trim 4-5 minute tracks.  Did you approach the title track differently in terms of the writing of it?

Walmsley: It’s a funny one.  I like that you said that 4-5 minutes is concise and trim.  When we first started, Tim [Yearsley] was on this 3-4 minutes is how long a song should be.  Then we realized that we can’t really write 3-4 minute songs.  We would get to about 4 the fastest.  We are trying to always do something that just needs a bit more time than that.  “Persona Non Grata” is arguably my favorite and that one is 6-minutes, and that’s a good space for me.  But the title track is a special case.  I don’t count it as my favorite because it’s so different.  It’s ridiculous.  It’s kind of hard to remember because your brain creates a story around these things, but I remember we wanted something epic and I had always had in my head the idea of doing a song in movements.  Some of my favorite bands that have songs, even if they aren’t explicitly in parts, they are clearly written – even with subtitles or something like that.  There’s a wonderful sense of metal attention to it.  It’s a wonderful genre.  It’s a ridiculous genre where you can say really serious things in the most ridiculous manner.  I am grunting like a butcher or maniac things about trickle-down economics and no one is paying attention to what I am saying, but I think it’s important.

The title track, I remember quite clearly, I’m an average bass player but I have a good brain for big picture and structure.  I can see how many times we should do something or change stuff.  I remember seeing the title track in my head – this weird amorphous 12-minute song and it was in three parts.  I didn’t know what was going to go there but I had an idea for the flow.  Then bit by bit everyone would bring a part and we started to see where the joints came together.  Tim would be better at this.  You know when you are a sculptor and you are just chipping away the unnecessary rock.  The idea that the statue is in there already, you are just bringing it out.  This song felt like that.  The song was already there and it existed in the ether.  We added bits and took bits away.  It was written differently, because the three parts aren’t separate songs but they have their own identity.  There are references between the parts, and it all ties together.  That one was probably the most fun to write.  Once we knew we were going that epic with it, there were no constraints on timing or length.  It wasn’t everything in the kitchen sink, but we let it go as long as it had to in order to feel right.

Dead Rhetoric: Could you briefly go into some of your favorite songs, from a lyrical perspective, from the album?

Walmsley: Oh that’s cruel!  My lyrics are my babies.  This is not a brag, even if it sounds like one, but I spend 10 times the amount of time on lyrics than a lot of bands I know.  Simply because I am never happy with them.  I’m always chopping and changing parts.  Changing one line changes the rest of the song.  At some point, the guys basically have to grab me and pull the keyboard or pen out of my hand and say, “Stop it!  That will do, that’s the song.”  But I love writing them.  I have 30 ideas or so for the next album in terms of song titles or lyrical couplets and stuff like that.

“Persona Non Grata” is the obvious one.  I love that one.  The spoken word and quiet part, Martin Niemöller did the ‘first they came for the socialists’ and I paraphrased that in the song.  It quotes ‘democracy dies in darkness,’ which was the NY Times or Washington Post.  This is my problem.  I’m like a magpie with lyrics.  I’ll be watching something or reading something…my books are full of dog-ears because I notice something on a page I read so I can steal the line.  Then what happens is that I do that, but I can’t keep track of where I got the quote from.  But that song is particularly personal.  I’m writing about guilt more than anything.  It’s about not speaking out or not standing up when you have the opportunity to do so.  I’ve done that.  I wrote the song to remind myself to not let these things, even if they are small, pass by.  Small things turn into bigger things.  So it’s not about me yelling at other people, it’s more of a conversation I’m having with myself.

What’s funny about it is that it’s about the unwanted, the unclean, all the persona non gratas around the world.  It’s got a quote from Churchill at the beginning, which I think is fascinating.  As a character, massively pro-EU and anti-war and bringing things together, but also massively bigoted against a lot of different races around the empire.  As a historical figure, he’s very much white-washed.  When we chose that quote, we thought about if it would distract from it, but he fits the song perfectly.  It’s about learning from the past.  The fact is, that for all the great things this guy did, he had many terrible aspects to him that should not be ignored.  It shouldn’t downplay what he did in his life, but it doesn’t mean you should ignore the awful things he said about minority groups.  That’s what the song is about, not accepting just one varnished version of the truth or the past.  It’s about looking back and saying you could do better.

The title track is another one that is full of my favorite lines.  Each of the songs was based on an idea from a book or movie, and the title track refers bits from all of them.  There’s a line from The Handmaid’s Tale, the TV show not the book – although I love the book and stole from there directly as well, don’t tell Margaret Atwood [laughs] – where Aunt Lydia is talking about pre-Gilead they had the freedom to do things.  What are you willing to give up for safety and security?  It’s an interesting question.  “We are the blinded led by the blind” is the chorus but there’s just a ton of stuff in that.  “A Monument to Compromise” is the very last bit before the outro, which is from a Rick and Morty episode of all things.  Again, I’m a lyrical magpie and see something on TV and I take the line out of context entirely.

“Barmecide Feast” was the first one we wrote for the album and it has the weirdest title I think.  It’s from Arabian Nights/One Thousand and One Nights.  Barmecide was a particular group at that time, and they invite the character in and share that story.  They are invited to have some mutton but there’s nothing there.  So he starts mime-eating.  He’s told that the servants will bring wine and they pour nothing so he mime’s drinking.  The protagonist plays along enough until the rich man says that he is wonderful and great and that now they will get an actual feast and money.  It’s a fascinating story, but absolute bullshit for real life.  If you accept being fed nothing, you will continue to be fed nothing.  It felt like a key metaphor.

That’s got another magpie line, there was an article comparing Trump and Johnson and some other world leaders, I think Moody was in there and some others.  The assumption that they know best, and so any contradictory information is questionable at best, or assumed to be wrong.  They describe that leadership style as ‘arrogance and ignorance disguised as disdain.’  They are either too arrogant to believe they could be wrong, or they are too ignorant and they can’t understand it.  If they can’t understand it, they just disdain it.  They treat it as if it’s not worth it.  That’s again a wonderful line to me to build a song around.  I’m giving away all my trade secrets here!  Nothing is original, it’s just me stealing shiny things and putting them together into something I think makes sense.

Dead Rhetoric: If you think about music as a whole, it’s more or less that same concept of taking what’s there and making it your own.

Walmsley: What’s the adage?  Good artists borrow, great artists steal?  That’s the controversial quote right?

Dead Rhetoric: You pour in all this time into the lyrics, do you find that fans are somewhat drawn to the lyrics or is it just an added bonus?

Walmsley: To be honest, it’s more of an added bonus.  I definitely focus on the clarity of the delivery this time, so you can tell what I’m screaming rather than just having the same syllable over and over again.  There’s a place for that, but it’s not what I want to do.  I think because a lot of my early listening was Earth Crisis and Vision of Disorder and Shai Hulud – those early hardcore metal stuff.  There was a bite to those vocals and the delivery was sharp.  They were trying to communicate something rather than just raw emotion.  It was raw emotion with a message, and that’s something that has stayed with me.  it is nice, every once in a while you get a comment like “I really got the message” or someone quotes something from a song – even better if it’s not the big chorus hook, because most of our songs have a big hook even if we are trying to write non-linear songs.  I think there’s only one song on the album that goes verse-chorus-verse-chorus, they all have themes though.  It’s really nice when someone has caught a stray line – I put tons of attention to detail in getting the timing right and the syllables – and you realize that it’s the 18th line in a bridge that no one is actually listening to because it’s 7-minutes into the song.  Then one person comes out and they like it, that’s enough.

Dead Rhetoric: There’s a very in-depth interview about the cover art for the album, but to that end, the cover is unique in that it eschews a lot of the death metal stereotypes yet still looks dark.  Sometimes death metal just needs a bit more color and less black.  Was the color scheme something you aimed for specifically or just the vision of what happened?

Walmsley: A lot of that comes down to Shindy himself.  A great collaborator by the way.  The short story is that we had a different cover made by a friend of ours and the label – not that they didn’t like it, and I’m hoping to use it for an EP or t-shirt design, because it’s great!  It actually inspired some lyrics for our next album already.  I do that a lot.  So we are actually going to use it.  The original cover for Seekers, which we were originally calling Powers of the Infinite, which was a much more pretentious song title.  By the time we had the artwork through, because we had to scrap a version of the album which is a long story, I rewrote it with better lyrics for the songs, and they were inspired by the artwork.  So it’s kind of come full circle again.  We are doing the same thing with the artwork for the next one.

With Shindy’s, I gave him a Microsoft Paint mark-up, which is terrible.  It has only seen the light of day once, and I hope it never will again.  But we bounced ideas back and forth and just naturally came from the idea of the horse needing to be a certain cover, the lady, the Boudica archetype, had to have bright red hair and needed to be striking.  Once everything was mapped out with the pencils, it made sense to have that color scheme.  It needed to feel alive rather than dead.  A lot of death metal is zombies, or black and white…black and white zombies.  Or the putrid greens or clotted blood.  There are palettes that fit certain pieces of art, and that’s not a bad thing.  This one made sense with that color scheme.  A lot of people looked at it and said that it wasn’t what I expected, which I am fine with actually.

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