Grey Skies Fallen – Mournful While Exuding Hope

Thursday, 7th March 2024

New York’s Grey Skies Fallen has been a vital act to the US underground metal scene. Their fusion of influences across doom, death, and progressive lines ensures each recording contains some distinctive elements. Their latest album Molded By Broken Hands sees the return of founding guitarist Joe D’Angelo, whose rich, diverse axe play compliments the band in such a way that a lot of this material takes My Dying Bride, Katatonia, October Tide and others into an amalgamation of sorrow, despair, yet resplendent in positive outcomes.

We reached out to guitarist/vocalist Rick Habeeb who was happy to delve into his early musical memories across childhood, the exciting work behind the new album while signing to Profound Lore, thoughts on Joe’s return to the group, making music videos for the first time in their career, fond memories of Jack Koshick related festival action, plus future plans with Grey Skies Fallen and other related offshoots Reeking Aura and Buckshot Facelift.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your earliest memories surrounding music growing up in childhood? At what point did you discover heavier forms of music, and eventually want to pick up an instrument to start performing in bands?

Rick Habeeb: Earliest memories of music in childhood. It’s weird – I was born in 1976, I am dating myself now, it’s crazy how far away 1976 is now. I remember very early being in a store with my mother and hearing Billy Joel over the PA system. It was the late 70s, I remember a lot of Barry Manilow as a young kid too. I remember the Beatles as well; my father is a big Beatles guy. As far as heavier stuff – I went to a school between kindergarten and eighth grade, the same school. In that school, back in 1980-81, kids would bring their radios into school – we would call them box radios at the time. They would play Zeppelin on the bus. The first song I remember hearing was “Black Dog”, I was five or six years old, it left an impression. And then one day I heard Black Sabbath at a friend’s house, I was in his basement, and it was his birthday. I was seven, his father used to own the club called L’Amour in Brooklyn, the ultimate metal club in history for the East Coast. After that, you start getting into more and more stuff.

A few years later, the first record I ever got was Quiet Riot – Metal Health for Christmas in 1983. I picked up a guitar for the first time in 1989, so there was a good gap in between there. I was just about 13 when I picked up the guitar. I remember there were some friends of mine in that same school I was talking about earlier, they had all bought guitars. We were getting into it, but that didn’t last too long. I really didn’t start singing until I had to. We needed a singer for this band, our bass player originally was the singer, but he didn’t like doing that. I never really sang before, so it was let’s see what happens more out of necessity. And that was around 1996-97.

Dead Rhetoric: Molded By Broken Hands is the sixth studio album for Grey Skies Fallen – and first with Profound Lore Records. What can you tell us about the songwriting and recording process for this set of material – and where do you see this record sitting next to the previous discography for the group?

Habeeb: It seems like every album that we’ve done, we’ve had a different lineup. That might be because we’ve spaced the records out a few years. Each record has had a different feel to it – that’s how I’ve felt. That might just be because of the comings and goings of people over the years. This album features our original guitar player Joe D’Angelo, who comes back into the band. It’s his first recording with the band since our 2010 EP Along Came Life. He started the band with us, me and our old bass player Chris. The writing this time, it was back to Joe and I putting things together. A lot of what Joe had – one of the songs he had, the lead single “Knowing That You’re There”, was a Joe song he had demoed over twenty years ago. I had always liked that song, and we basically had forgotten about it. When he brought it to the table, we gave it the modern Grey Skies Fallen treatment and turned it into a good song for us. Now it’s back to us writing like we used to.

As far as to where this sits in discography, I see it as a progression from our last album, which came out a couple of years ago. We were a three-piece, the bass player Tom and Sal. I really love that album, but I think this one is a good progression. It sounds great, but with Joe back it brings the traditional feel that we had back in the day.

Dead Rhetoric: What made partnering up with Profound Lore attractive? As I know that a lot of the previous albums were DIY, self-contained…

Habeeb: Yeah, and that’s basically been out of necessity over the years. Working with Profound Lore, I’ve been wanting to do for quite a while with this band because that’s a great label. I’ve been a fan of that label for quite some time. Going back a little over ten years, even though the label has been around a little longer than that, that’s when I jumped on. My other band Reeking Aura also works with Profound Lore, so that was the place of my first choice. I don’t think I did a good job of getting the last album in good hands. That album, we had signed with another label to put it out, and then COVID-19 hit. That put a wrench in a lot of promotion for that record. We hope this is the beginning of something good for both parties.

Dead Rhetoric: How did the guest appearances come about with Colin Marston on keyboards and Ben Karas of Wayfarer for the violin? What do you enjoy most about their approach that is beneficial to the final outcome of this record?

Habeeb: Colin recorded the record for us. It’s the first time we recorded with Colin; my other band Reeking Aura has recorded with Colin before. I was comfortable, and Tom was comfortable. We love recording there, I enjoy recording with Colin a lot. It was easy to have him in the studio while listening to the tracks, he has all these vintage keyboards set up, analog synths. He played with the sounds; it wasn’t planned. It was a happy little thing, sprinkling in things on two of the songs. We didn’t want keyboards all over the record. With Ben, he’s a strings player. He was introduced to us by Craig Rossi, our old keyboard player. Craig has a new band called Drift Into Black, and he used Ben for tracks on his last record. I wanted strings in this band for a while. The guy is extremely talented, and we are very happy with the outcome.

Dead Rhetoric: The video for “Knowing That You’re There” created by Craig Rossi is stunning – combining the band performance elements with the artistic / narrative components. Tell us about the treatment and how you feel about the video – do you believe your style of music lends itself easily to these thought provoking images in a visual format like this?

Habeeb: Yeah, this was our first real video. Craig, over the last year to eighteen months, he picked up how to make these videos. He has that creative mindset, he always liked movies and directing. That was in his blood, he wanted to deal with the stuff like that. It lends itself to the format for bands. In this day and age, is a video really necessary? Maybe not as much, but you can put it up on YouTube and the video gets around. I think what he did for us with that song was great. It was a shoestring budget, but he can pull it off and make it look like a million bucks. That’s great we have him in our corner. He did the upcoming video for the second single, “Cracks In Time” – which is equally as impressive as the first one.

Dead Rhetoric: What also impressed me is you picked a single that’s the final song on the record – not a usual thing a band will do to premiere a record…

Habeeb: I thought about it as well. Usually, you pick the first song or the second song from an album. This album – I think the way it ends, at least on vinyl because on CD there is a bonus track – the run length is track one to seven. But I do think the bonus song is killer, we did record it at the same time as the other tracks.

Dead Rhetoric: What qualities at this point are essential to make for an ideal Grey Skies Fallen composition? Do you find you have to be in a specific mindset to create the best material lyrically and musically for this band – or does inspiration strike at various times that you just capture and develop as it comes?

Habeeb: Music-wise, I’ve always found that we are best when we are in a room collaborating together. Throwing ideas around – even though in the modern day it’s easier to just email each other with ideas and tracks, that’s awesome and I am on board with it. But I always like to be in a room to write. With lyrics, I’m very bad. I leave them to the last minute; they are intimidating to me. When Reeking Aura was on tour last summer, I had to do the vocals for this coming up. I was sitting in a hotel room with my iPad trying to hash out lyrics for the Grey Skies stuff. This time, with these songs, each one has a specific theme. It was easier than normal this time. I wasn’t as stressed. I was inspired easier this time – current events, there’s a lot coming at you.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess your vocals? You seem comfortable handling the clean and extreme elements…

Habeeb: Early on, I keep going back to the school that I was at growing up. We had a chorus class you had to do, I learned certain things of basic singing. I learned how to do certain things vocally, and it stuck with me. When I started this band, I was able to go back in time. This stuff comes naturally to me. I want to learn how to breathe properly going forward, I want to improve my death vocals. Singing – I do need to even at this stage and age, I need to get better, and that’s on me.

Dead Rhetoric: Beyond your work in this band, you also perform in Buckshot Facelift and Reeking Aura. How do you juggle all the work between these acts and the different styles present – are certain acts more of a priority than others?

Habeeb: Buckshot Facelift, we haven’t been active for a few years. There is talk of getting that band going again very soon. Four of us in Buckshot are in Reeking Aura, so it’s incestuous in a way. The drummer of Buckshot is Sal, who plays in Grey Skies Fallen. We are all the same people. It hasn’t been three of them going on at the same time. It’s easy to differentiate, they all have their different kinds of sounds so it’s easy to flip the switch to be in this mode, or that mode. Buckshot is more crazy, grindy, death metal mode. On the one hand, you need the time to do that. I do have that, as I don’t have kids. Not many guys my age don’t have kids. You find as much time as you can doing three bands. Buckshot Facelift I don’t think got it’s due in the past. I’d like to get it back out there in the lexicon.

Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider some of the career highlights to date for Grey Skies Fallen? Specific album releases, shows, festival appearances, or other events where you knew you were doing something special and making a mark through your craft?

Habeeb: I’ll always go back to a gentleman named Don Decker. He was in a band… I hate to say the name, Anal Blast. They were a porno, goregrind band. He ran a label called Nightfall Records; he also was the booker for the Jack Koshick Metalfests. I don’t remember how, but we got to cross paths, and Don really liked the band. He signed us, he re-released our first album on Nightfall Records, and also allowed us to play these metal festivals. People talk about these shows we played now, twenty-five years later – reverential status. We played with bands like Opeth and Katatonia, their first American shows, we were right there, right before those guys. You are playing for 500 or more people.

But people still talk about those shows – they tell me about Milwaukee Metalfest in 2000, or we played in 1999 in San Antonio, Texas – November to Dismember. In Flames, it was their first show in the US, Moonspell played. The singer of In Flames approached me, he liked the vocal style I had after we played where we went from clean to death vocals. On the next In Flames album, there was a lot of clean vocals, but I’m not taking credit for that (laughs). I found that cool. Another highlight was a lowlight because I didn’t take advantage of it, the first festival we played was the New Jersey Metal Meltdown in 1999 in Asbury Park. I was approached by Peter from Hypocrisy after our set. I knew Hypocrisy and who he was, but he didn’t introduce himself as that he wanted to record us. Who knows what would have happened if our second record had been done by him?

There are some missed opportunities, but there have been some highlights. Great shows from a long time ago. I want to get the band back on that level where we can do things like that again.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you view the state of the metal music scene within the United States versus other parts of the world? What aspects do you enjoy most, and what changes (if any) do you think need to be implemented for the greater good of all parties involved?

Habeeb: I see the festivals in Europe and overseas, tens of thousands of people. You look at that stuff and think that metal is bigger around the world, but on the other hand there are good things happening here in America, like the Maryland Deathfest, which is awesome. The reactivated Milwaukee Metalfest, which I would love to get on that somehow – Jamey Jasta, hit me up. Going back to our heyday, twenty to twenty-five years ago, it’s a lot better now than it was then in the late 90s. It was tough for metal in America. As far as what could be fixed, I see a lot of good things. Especially in New York, there are a lot of great venues. There are five or six venues here any night of the week that you could see a good metal show. I think things are sprouting out – regional too. There is a lot of growth in the underground.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some of the biggest worries or concerns you have about the world that we live in currently? Where do you think the average person needs to spend more time, energy, or resources on even at a local level to make things better for the greater good of society in the long-term?

Habeeb: I think people are too hung up on what they believe is accurate. There’s no compromise anywhere – it’s just my way or the highway. People are split down the middle here in the country, a lot of people feuding and putting their hopes into these politicians. They don’t give a shit about us, the little people, except themselves. Rich people, it’s great you have money, I wish I had money, but things are unbalanced. We are seeing it over the last forty to fifty years, things have gone a little down in this country. It’s hard to get out, I see a lot of people putting their hopes into people that don’t deserve it. This election is going to be a shit-show coming up. I’m interested to see what happens.

Dead Rhetoric: How has your relationship with your fellow bandmates evolved over the years?

Habeeb: Most of these guys I’ve known for a while. I’ve known Joe in Grey Skies since 1992, Sal I’ve known since 1998. Those relationships are like brothers at this point, we are going to have ups and downs. I don’t have a brother, but I’ve seen brothers that fight and make up. In Reeking Aura, I got involved with them about twelve years ago, we are all great friends. We respect each other, especially our abilities to play music. As bandmates, there’s give and take. Some guys are better at certain things than others. Sal doesn’t like to do business, so he leaves that up to me. Every relationship evolves, and you see what people can do and what they can’t do and take it from there.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for anything related to Grey Skies Fallen and your other bands over the next twelve months or so?

Habeeb: I’d love to start playing some good shows with this band. We really have been picking our spots over the last five years or so. We have played with Amorphis in 2017, Oceans of Slumber in 2022. I’d like to get some good fests, some regional tours we can hack. We can’t be doing any four-week tours, if there is a good regional tour to do an East Coast tour, that would be good. If we could go to Europe one day, that would be good. We will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the debut album, we will re-record two songs off that and release them digitally, in late summer/early fall. Post a lot about this record, we want people to like this album.

With Reeking Aura, we are recording our next full-length starting next month. We are working fast, that will be with Colin again on Profound Lore. Buckshot Facelift will be reactivated, we will be playing a festival in August. We had stuff written before we stopped playing a few years ago, we may revisit that and put out a new album. Also, Tom and I have a new project, an instrumental, ambient, laid-back guitar and bass, acoustic stuff. There is a lot going on.

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