Their name is misleading, as Northern Ireland’s Darkest Era are one of metal’s brightest hopes. Their stunning sophomore opus, Severance, boasts both a deep, melancholic atmosphere and rip-roaring leadwork, and has put the ambitious quintet firmly on the map.
RUSHONROCK’s Richard Holmes caught up with guitarist Ade Mulgrew to talk Lizzy, Yeats and difficult second albums…
RUSHONROCK: Severance has had some great critical acclaim since its release – have you been surprised at the reaction, or did you always feel it was a strong album?
Ade Mulgrew: We were going on instinct during the writing process and it did feel like the songs were strong, however as we worked on it and recorded it in such an intense period it was very difficult to be objective about the material after a while. I would say I had mixed feelings about it in the months afterwards and couldn’t really honestly tell how it stacked up against the first album for example. I’m really pleased that the reviews have been so positive. It sat for over a year before release so to have people finally hear it and really connect with it is a wonderful thing.
RUSHONROCK: David Lindsay (bass) left before the recording of Severance while Lisa Howe (drums) parted company with Darkest Era shortly afterwards. Did these personnel changes affect the recording of Severance?
AM: It made for a pretty stormy and intense atmosphere to say the least. Lisa was in the process of leaving the band and we didn’t have a permanent bassist in place. Add to this the pressure of writing everything in a rather short space of time and you have a recipe for things to boil over. There were a few occasions during those 11 or 12 weeks where it really seemed like things might collapse completely. It was a difficult time to try and write an album to be honest. There were one or two dark moments where I thought it wasn’t going to happen, but thankfully we could see the quality in some of the stuff and we had enough steel in us to see it through.
RUSHONROCK: Do you feel a stronger band has emerged out of that situation?
AM: Definitely, as at the moment everyone in the band absolutely wants to be where they are. By the time Lisa and David left we had a good idea of what kind of people would work best within the context of the band dynamic – you learn what kind of people you will be able to work with essentially. We know now that under pressure we can come up with goods, we know that the first album (The Last Caress of Light) wasn’t a fluke. It has given us a tremendous amount of confidence going forward.
RUSHONROCK: How have your new members Daniel O’Toole (bass) and Cameron Åhslund-Glass (drums) bedded in – do you feel like a different band now?
AM: I wouldn’t say a different band; myself, Krum (vocals) and Sarah (Weighell, guitars) have always been at the core and the songwriting setup hasn’t changed. It feels reinvigorated I guess, with new blood in the band. And the newfound stability, even with day to day stuff like rehearsals, is a welcome change. And there are certainly different influences and styles in the mix now, particularly with Cameron, who is a much more technically proficient drummer and who has probably a much better understanding of heavy metal drumming, which is a huge plus. I don’t know much about drumming so sometimes during writing when I talk about a beat, I can’t explain in ‘drummer terms’ so I normally reference a song. Cameron just has an instinctive feel for the kind of drumming that works for us, so I’m very much looking forward to the next writing cycle now!
RUSHONROCK: Your band is often described as ‘Celtic Metal’ – to what extent does traditional music, and Celtic folklore, influence your music and lyrics? Are there any musicians or writers who provide particular inspiration?
AM: People often think that all our songs are about Celtic mythology but this isn’t the case. We have a few early songs inspired by those tales and some of the writing style is influenced, among other things, by the imagery of those writings. It’s the same with traditional music, again we don’t reference it directly but all these things are part of our history and culture I guess are somewhere there in the subconscious. It’s not something we deliberately bring to the fore. My style of writing lyrics however would be directly linked to Irish poets such as Yeats, Joyce and other romantic poets. Certain heroic fantasy is also occasionally inspirational as well.
RUSHONROCK: What are short and long term aims for Darkest Era? Are there are countries or festivals you are especially keen on playing?
AM: We’re very ambitious in terms of where we want to play. We have some tours lined up right now but in the next 12 months we want to play Scandinavia for the first time and do an extensive run around mainland Europe, with festivals next summer. There are a lot of bands these days so there is plenty of competition to get booked but there is buzz about the band right now so hopefully we’ll play a few. Long term, we are determined to play for our US and Canadian fans. I owe it to my 16-year-old self to do a nightliner tour around the States one day!
RUSHONROCK: You have mentioned before that the metal underground in Enniskillen, your home town, is pretty small – how much of a challenge has it been for you to break out of Northern Ireland?
AM: Luckily, ever since our first demo, we have had the attention of the European underground, and we’ve always been looking at the bigger picture rather than concentrating on becoming hometown heroes. So from the beginning we won fans from all over Europe and the US, which gave us the confidence that our music would appeal to a worldwide audience. You need to be ambitious and driven to break out of any small scene – we always had our sights set on bigger things.
RUSHONROCK: How do you feel about the Thin Lizzy and Primordial comparisons?
AM: Both bands have an influence on us so it is perfectly understandable, and of course they are both great bands. Sometimes I think the influence is overstated though, especially the Primordial comparison – a lot of the time it is just lazy journalism. There is an atmosphere that we share but really we take it in a completely different, much more ‘heavy metal’ direction. I think on our new album people have realised that we have much more of our own sound than they may have thought.
RUSHONROCK: Sweden seems to be dominating the market for traditional-leaning heavy metal, do you think you can give those bands a run for their money?
AM: In terms of our live show, if we think that there is any band we cannot stand side by side with, we have to ask ourselves, ‘Why the fuck not?’ and then we work and work and up our game until we can compete with these bands. Otherwise, if we’re not constantly trying to be the absolute best we can be, then what the hell are we doing! I agree that Sweden has the best bands around at the moment, particularly in traditional metal, but in some other sub-genres too. They are very impressive in how these bands arrive seemingly already like pros! I would say though that what we are doing is not strictly straight up traditional metal either. I’m not sure if you’d find a Swedish band with the particular kind of melancholy and atmosphere that we fuse into our music.
RUSHONROCK: Why do you think there has been a resurgence in interest in ‘traditional’ metal among younger fans?
AM: Everyone is looking to the past these days, with the thrash resurgence, then after that the occult doom thing – it’s not surprising really. These things happen in cycles it seems. Another part of it I guess is the fact that you can access almost anything on YouTube nowadays. Nothing is obscure anymore, so all the early 80s metal that was hard to access is now readily available for people to listen to. Traditional metal is probably my favourite, so long may it continue!
RUSHONROCK: What are your plans for future material – have you started writing Severance’s follow-up, and if so, what kind of album will it be?
AM: I think we’re going to start writing the follow up quite soon actually, probably once we come back from our Autumn tour. It’s hard to say at this early stage – except that we plan it to be the definitive Darkest Era album.
Severance is out now on Cruz Del Sur. Darkest Era’s UK tour kicks off on September 25 at Scruffy Murphys, Birmingham.