If you were here in this site’s earlier days, you’ll remember that one of my earliest interviews was with then newly signed youngsters, Darkest Era. Having released a debut album through Metal Blade, it was exciting to get the chance to speak to them about the start of their career as a band.
Fast forward to now, and the kids from Eire have learned a bit more about the music industry, not to mention how to survive in the face of change. So take a seat, put on second album ‘Severance’ and read what happened when I met up with the band in person!
From left to right: frontman Krum, drummer Cameron Åhslund-Glass and guitarist Ade Mulgrew
So how are you doing? It’s been a while since our last interview!
Ade: It’s been few years since our last album, which did quite well for us; it gave us successful tours with Alestorm, Glory Hammer and Arkona. It’s been a real chartable growth, especially since our second album ‘Severance’ which got a really good critical response.
And Cameron, what about your transition into the band as the drummer?
Cameron: t’s been quite a natural one! I’ve always been a fan of the more extreme genres of metal, but Darkest Era was just a good fit for me. Martin Lopez has been quite an inspiration on my drumming, so a “folk metal band” was right for me.
Ade: Stylistically and personality-wise, it’s been seamless!
Since ‘The Last Caress’ back in 2011, how has your experience of the music industry been for you guys, as a young band?
Ade: It’s dying a death! I know that a lot of people say that, but it’s absolutely true, as there’s less and less money for bands and even labels. (The Music business has) become more vocational and tougher for musicians, so it’s been a learning curve for us. We’re much older and wiser, now, but we came around when the whole digital planet had changed things around us, anyway. We’re not a band whose careers span across all physical sales; we’ve been around since downloads and illegal filesharing came on.
Even the touring market is being squeezed by this, which means that there’s less money for mid-level musicians. Not that we had any expectations of earning millions or whatever! We just want to be a band who write our own albums and play gigs in front of people.
And you, Cameron?
Cameron: This is my first “big deal” per se… my first gig with Darkest Era was at Ragnarok Festival in Germany, which totally blew my mind. I wasn’t even cognisant of the fact that folk metal had a legitimate market, but when I came in saw all those black and pagan metal bands, it was amazing. We were really well taken care of, and I had an absolute blast. Every show and tour we’ve been on has been a great learning experience, all around.
What was the biggest change that you had to get used to?
Cameron: Good question! I’ve always tried to use a professional, clinical approach when playing with bands, but learning someone else’s pieces… it’s become such a full-time job for me! I’ve had to try hard to play every piece, note for note, to the best of my abilities. I guess that learning how to work as a unit with everyone else, and make decisions with them as a whole, was the biggest challenge!
Ade: Everyday is a struggle! (chuckles)
Last we spoke, we touched on the topic of filesharing and downloads, which brings up an interesting argument that filesharing is tape trading for the current era. What do you think about this?
Ade: I wasn’t around for tape trading, but I’m not sure that it really is the same, When tape trading was going on, there were a lot of physical copies before people went to buy the real thing. They weren’t playing to death a full album (on these tapes), but a compilation of – for example – Brazilian death metal or something just as obscure. So I don’t consider this to be a valid comparison, though I can see why they might say that.
However, the industry is very slowly adapting to how people currently consume media, and everything has to be instantaneous. This is why streaming on say, Spotify or YouTube is quite “endgame”, because you can’t get any more spontaneous than just tapping into a library of music like that. If there’s technology that exists for people to do this instantly, then you can’t stop them from using it.
I understand that people are talking about how to get royalty rights from programs like Spotify and so on, so I think that this will be the next change (in the industry). you have to adapt the model, to sustain all of the interested parties and stakeholders.
Funny you mention Spotify; there are concerns about artists being cheated out of their money from it
It depends on what sort of deal you have with whatever’s putting your music out… I mean, it’s a double-edged sword: it’s an amazing platform for bands to get noticed, but if they’re not paid correctly, then there’s the issue. Myself, I’ve always loved Spotify, it’s been awesome for me as a tool to find new music. Though the way that it gives money back should be reconsidered. That said, it hasn’t contributed any more to the death of the industry than iTunes! There are people now who’ve grown up with that as their HMV or Virgin MegaStore.
Why did you move over to Cruz del Sur?
We only had one album to put out with Metal Blade, and the music industry itself had declined a couple years, in between releasing that record. We sold more copies than they originally expected (from us), so that was positive, but the goalpost had shifted due to said decline. This meant that we didn’t sell enough for them, as did twelve or thirteen other bands at the bottom of their roster, whom they dropped. In context, their top bands like As I Lay Dying had sold about a million albums throughout their career, while we only sold about three or four thousand. For an underground band, this is killer, but for a label like Metal Blade, not so much.
Cruz del Sur is a label whom we knew about for years, and I’ve always been a fan of the stuff they put out, from Argus to Atlantean Kodex. I was even trading albums with Pharaoh and stuff. I’d argue that they have a more consistent roster than Metal Blade, owing to a heavy metal catalogue which they don’t really deviate from. They’re not going to release a bunch of stoner bands, just because it’s come into fashion!
They’re a label whom I have a lot of respect for, and our relationship with them has worked out really well. We haven’t lost any momentum because of this, and despite their being a small company, Darkest Era is a high priority for them.
I’ve heard that the Irish rock and metal scene isn’t particularly strong, despite the output of bands like The Answer.
I’d disagree with that; you’ve probably heard that through some old people who like to complain about how things aren’t the same was they were in ’89. There are lots of terrific bands coming to Belfast and Dublin now, and the shows do very well, compared to other UK cities. There are enough bands playing, rather than loads of new, young bands – it’s not Sweden! I think it’s much better than these people give credit; there aren’t any shows where it’s completely empty.
You’re never stuck for a good gig to go to, local or in either Belfast or Dublin!
Cameron: The scene isn’t anywhere near as bad as people make it out to be; Dublin has a really strong black and folk metal scene, while Belfast is more geared towards death metal and hardcore. There are also really devout fan bases in both areas, but it’s just really a geographical thing; it’s a small city, so there’s going to be a smaller scene. There will be a lot of great bands come through – I’ve seen many big names in the metal scene come through, in the past few years, and even Belfast is coming gradually more cosmopolitan.
Looking at your current album, ‘Severance’, I’ve noticed that there’s a more introspective touch here around.
Ade: That album was the product of circumstance, really. What you’re hearing in the songs relates to what was going on at the time (of its creation), which explains why there is a melancholy and sense of bleakness present. The band was somewhat on the verge of falling apart at the time of writing, so this did creep into the music, though I do feel that this is a step up for the band! There’s more of our own identity on there, which is what we wanted to do with Darkest Era.
I think it hints at what we were going through, but we’re always trying to use our own voice, so to me it’s essentially a transitional album; we didn’t have a solid line up at the time of recording, but now we do, so the next album will likely be a realisation of the last few years for us.
Live photos taken by Grete Hjorth-Johansen, 2014-2015
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