Ilium – Lead with PowerThursday, 10th February 2022
Twenty years in the books for Australian outfit Ilium – featuring guitarist Jason Hodges and guitarist, bassist, keyboardist Adam Smith, along with a strong guest support cast that includes at this time vocalist Lord Tim from Lord and drummer Tim Yatras. Choosing to issue a new EP for Quantum Evolution Event that contains a mixture of new material and re-recordings of older tracks, listeners can hear strong twin guitar harmonies, endearing and memorable vocal passages, plus compositions that are fully realized in terms of sonic complexity. This is power metal of vivid images, including poignant lyrics that will make people think about many environmental issues necessary to consider for the future of our planet.
We reached out to Jason Hodges to get the scoop on the thoughts behind their latest EP release, working with session musicians that they respect over the years and how this fuels their creativity and output, thoughts on the evolution of heavy metal and the changing tides of the 90’s having a worldwide splash on the underground versus mainstream outlook, plus talk regarding his day job working with animals, the environment, and future plans.
Dead Rhetoric: The latest EP from Ilium is Quantum Evolution Event – featuring guest support from Lord Tim on vocals/production and drummer Tim Yatras. Tell us about the process behind the recording and development of this material – which includes a mixture of new songs and re-recordings of older Ilium tracks? Where do you see this EP slotting in the catalog of Ilium discography?
Jason Hodges: Okay. Basically, we had a bunch of songs ready to do for the next album, and we wanted to have something that we could release independently, so we chose the songs “Quantum Evolution Event” and “Tsetse” as the newer songs, both turned out really well. And also a few older songs that stood out. Since we did our last album Carcinogeist, we really stepped up our production. Lord Tim sang with us on this album, but the previous albums Genetic Memory and My Misanthropia had Mike DiMeo and Lance King on vocals originally. Tim just gave the songs a new perspective. We tried to reinvent these old songs and show people where we are at currently for our sound.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you discuss the cover concept for the EP and the importance of cover art to the band – as you’ve had some very striking work for your records over the years?
Hodges: Yes. We went with Dimitar Nikolov, an artist out of Bulgaria. He came up with the concept for Quantum Evolution Event. It was more about his visions about what the title sort of evoked. We do care about the artwork for every album. We grew up in the 80’s when there were so many good artists around like Ed Repka, Andreas Marschall, people like that – it’s something that is a bit lost these days. I enjoy the visual side of things as well – and of course Iron Maiden.
Dead Rhetoric: Where did you want to come across lyrically for the two new songs?
Hodges: Well, we don’t do concept albums, but we do have concepts within songs. “Quantum Evolution Event” is a rapid evolution that happens within people, it’s sort of a concept where certain people evolve within themselves as sort of a change, and some people don’t make it to create a new world more in line with treating the planet better. “Tsetse” is sort of a sick co-dependence, it’s more about evoking some sort of imagery within the mind of the listener. The tsetse fly is a fly in Africa that causes sleeping sickness. I wanted to sort of bring across some sort of delirium I suppose in the lyric. I wanted to create a feeling and let the listener get some sort of interpretation from the lyrics.
Dead Rhetoric: Adam and you are the main musicians within Ilium since the early 2000’s. What are some of the pluses and minuses for your outlook on using outside musicians to complete these recordings? Does it make it harder to advance your efforts compared to having a stable, full-time lineup – or do you believe in today’s marketplace, the quality of the final product matters most?
Hodges: We do it mostly for ourselves. We were a full band back in the early days. We had issues with the lineup. Lord Tim has worked with us for a while – and so has Tim Yatras, who has been with us since our third album and the only one he didn’t play with us on was My Misanthropia. We’ve known Lord Tim since the first Dungeon album Resurrection. When we decided to work with each other again, we re-recorded our first album Sirens of the Styx, and we got him to sing on it as originally we were hoping to get Lance King. Lance had a lot of personal issues and couldn’t commit to it, so we rekindled things from there.
It’s easier for the two of us to have some control. They both know what we want, and they go above and beyond. Tim Yatras is a great drummer; we’ve known him for a long time. We are able to have more back and forth, he knows what we are after. It works for us from the perspective of getting the ideal final output.
I’ve known Adam for a long time, and we’ve been friends since teenagers. When he first joined our original first band Oracle, I didn’t think of anyone else I would rather work with on a musical level. His ideas, we sort of mesh. It’s one of those combinations that works. It’s like a symbiotic sort of thing. We know what the basic vision is, so anything that Adam comes up with I genuinely like. It’s really good. He’s introverted, but we make it work.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the highlights or benchmark moments in your career with Ilium – specific albums, tours, festival appearances or other times where you knew you were making an impact with your music and ascending up the ranks in terms of popularity or respect?
Hodges: Hard to say, we are so underground. We don’t really play out live. When we did our second album Permian Dusk, that got great reviews in Rock Hard in Germany. You see things go up incrementally, you can see positive changes from album to album. When we redid Sirens of the Styx that was a big step-up production-wise for us. And then for Carcinogeist where Tim is right on board from the very beginning, there was a bit of a break from working together. In the meantime, his abilities as a producer improved because he has his own studio now, moving forward in leaps and bounds. This was a rebirth for us. The songwriting, the way Tim interprets the lyrics, you can see some big improvements from what we’ve done before.
Dead Rhetoric: How has it been working remotely with some of the singers like Lance and Mike over the years in comparison to what Lord Tim does?
Hodges: I was very happy with the work that Lance and Mike did. The main difficulty was the scheduling. There would be long lag periods where we weren’t hearing anything, so that was difficult. Tim is much more focused on what we need and gives everything 110%. His voice suits us a bit more as well. Mike and Lance are great singers – before they came on board for the albums. With Riot being one of my favorite bands, and with Lance the first time I heard Balance of Power I was amazed by his voice. Working with both has been a privilege for me. It’s like working with musical heroes. But Tim, and this is a common consensus as well, it works more for Ilium.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the evolution of heavy metal worldwide? What do you consider some of the aspects that you enjoy, and what changes (if any) do you think need to be made and considered for the overall health of the genre?
Hodges: It’s hard to say. There’s been a lot of positive and a lot of negative in terms of the way people changed their views when we got Ilium together after our previous band Oracle. We could see more possibilities with the internet. In terms of creativity things are much better these days, in terms of what you can do with technology. For us, we are an independent band, to be able to do exactly what we want to do is a major thing for us. In terms of being able to reach an audience, it’s very, very difficult for a band like us just to get people to sort of listen to what we are doing. It’s really difficult for newer bands these days, you have to have a passion for the music, it costs a lot of money to do. It’s not really something you see much of a return on really, you do it for the love of it.
It’s hard to say where things are going at the moment. I remember back when Nirvana and other bands like that had a big impact, everything seemed to change overnight and went underground. I tended to focus on the European stuff, bands like Blind Guardian, Gamma Ray. It was a tough time for a little while, and then there was an improvement after that. A big surge of power metal, symphonic metal, progressive metal, which kept things exciting if you kept up with it. It was mostly outside of England, Australia, it was hard for us pre-internet where getting information on these bands was kind of difficult. It was hard to get your hands on the music for quite a while, the late 80’s and early 90’s. There are pros and cons, I guess. The hardest thing is there are so many bands out there, and in terms of the overall… the focus when it comes to hearing bands since 1990, it’s often on bands that don’t have a lot of melody. What gets called heavy metal after that period is something I don’t really listen to a lot. A lot of changes in that regard, to me in terms of what we produce musically we are in place where we enjoy what we are doing. In terms of promoting the band, it’s very, very difficult.
Dead Rhetoric: It is interesting, because in Australia you have a pocket of melodic, power, and progressive metal bands that are establishing themselves more on an international platform. Bands like Vanishing Point, Voyager, Black Majesty, the list goes on…
Hodges: I guess in terms of bands like Black Majesty and Vanishing Point, which are based out of Melbourne, I don’t know if it’s sort of on the wane. Vanishing Point just released their first album in years. Black Majesty, you don’t hear as much about them anymore which is a shame as they are really, really good. In terms of what is happening at the moment in Australia for melodic power metal, it’s hard to gauge it. It seems to be getting more difficult to develop a following for things that are more melodic and progressive. These things come in waves.
Where we are influenced by bands like Savatage as well – we like this sort of balance between the melody, and the idea of escaping from reality. That was prominent in a lot of the 80’s bands like Dio. I don’t really relate to a lot of the newer bands. If it’s in the more traditional, power, thrash genres that were around in the first couple of decades of heavy metal, I do relate to that. Some of the changes that happened aren’t really my thing. I know who Parkway Drive are, and I’ve heard of Twelve Foot Ninja, but I don’t really relate to that sort of thing.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you think you’ve evolved, grown, and changed as a musician and person from the early days of Ilium to your current outlook and philosophy?
Hodges: Philosophy, I don’t know how much I’ve changed. Obviously, we have gone through a lot personally. Adam’s brother took his life in 2020, and that had a big impact. Personally, I’ve always been a sort of independent thinker. You certainly do see and refine yourself as a person. Musically, I guess I’ve taken more of an interest in the lyrics and some musical ideas, and then Adam sort of runs with the rest of it. We focus on having something that’s still progressive and a little bit accessible, and with Lord Tim and Tim on board they help bring that out of us.
When we worked with Mike and Lance, you give them the lyrics and what you get back is what you get back. Tim again, he knows who we are and what we are after. He really gives us 110%.
Dead Rhetoric: What is the worst advice you see or hear being dispensed in the metal music industry? And do you have any tips for younger musicians/bands to take into consideration based on your years of wisdom and experience?
Hodges: It kind of depends on what you are after. If you are thinking of making a full-time job out of this, it’s extremely unlikely. You have to do this for the passion. You have to really know the technology that you work with. Which I don’t, but luckily the people that I work with do. You have to be a technical person as well as a musician. Be true to yourself, don’t worry about trends. People will like you for who you are, and they won’t like you for who you are as well. The most important thing you can do is if you have a vision, go with that vision. If you are creating things based on what other people say, you aren’t being an artist.
Dead Rhetoric: You work in animal wildlife rescue and for a butterfly house – discuss your passion for this area and where do you see the greatest needs and concerns that take place for humanity regarding their outlook and treatment of animals/nature?
Hodges: Yeah, I’ve always had a passion for wildlife and the environment. I’ve got a lot of animals myself. You see a lot of disconnect from nature from some people (regarding) the whole climate change for instance. We’ve known this since long after the Industrial Revolution, where people noticed the changes in climate – people tend to ignore those things. You end up seeing people over the past couple of years with opinions not based on anything scientific. The internet has been a leveler, it almost seems like everyone’s opinion is equal, and that’s just not the case. You have people that have studied climate change, medicine, that sort of thing, working on this for their lives that are extremely intelligent, and I feel some people go onto the internet and buy into conspiracy theories. Your opinion isn’t equal to that. The extinction rates that have happened over the last few years have been massive in terms of the decline in habitat, the changes that have happened in the environment as a result of that. It’s been pretty catastrophic, and it’s heartbreaking to someone who loves animals.
It makes me sort of wonder, that we are moving on blindly without thinking about how it’s going to affect the rest of the planet, only ourselves. It’s kind of difficult, and we bring this out in a lot of our lyrics. We write about a whole range of things. We do have a little bit of environmental stuff in there, but I don’t want to force it down people’s throats. You write about what you are passionate about. There are some major changes that need to happen, and they are not happening.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Ilium or any other musical projects/ guest appearances over the next twelve months or so?
Hodges: We are getting ready to record the next album. I couldn’t put a timeframe on anything, you have to work things in with the rest of the things you have to do to support yourself. Work, stuff like that. We’ve got quite a few songs ready, about fifteen or so. We have eight laid out for the album, we are working on two others. We want to get a few more ideas together to try and have a fairly balanced sort of album. We want to represent different sides of ourselves. We’ve got some of the best songs we’ve ever written coming up so I’m excited. We are getting ready to send some material off to Tim Yatras to get the drums happening, and it comes down to schedules for everyone else. It will be ready when it’s ready, I guess.