With Our Kingdom Undone, Beyond Grace have taken a leap forward – and given us even more evidence that UK death metal is alive, kicking and ready to take on its stateside counterpart.
Rich Holmes got the story behind the album from vocalist Andy Walmsley and guitarist Chris Morley…
Has there been a better time for UK death metal?
Well, yes, if you look back to the early 90s.
But not since the halcyon days of Bolt Thrower, Carcass, Benediction and Cancer has the British DM scene gained the kind of international attention it’s receiving now.
Venom Prison, recently signed to Century Media, have turned heads and battered festival crowds across the world.
Leeds ‘Astrodeath’ quartet Cryptic Shift were snapped up by Metal Blade this year.
And you can add Beyond Grace to the list of acts taking UKDM in new directions.
The Nottingham quintet’s sophomore album, Our Kingdom Undone, dropped last month on US label Prosthetic Records.
Its progressive leanings, cerebral dynamics and politicised lyrics struck home… and earned the Midlands outfit high praise.
Our Kingdom Undone – their first effort to feature second guitarist and brewer extraordinaire Chris Morley – is a technical triumph, yet it feels markedly different from much contemporary tech death.
And songs like Hive Mind, Factions Speak Louder Than Herds and Fearmonger rage against militarism, injustice and religious indoctrination.
It’s a significant evolution from the band’s 2017 debut, Seekers.
“Archspire have a t-shirt that says ‘stay tech’ – we should rip them off and do one with ‘subtle tech’,” laughs frontman Andy Walmsley, when contemplating the band’s unique sound. “I always thought ‘subtle tech’ was our thing!
“I am the musical luddite. The other guys, they have qualifications and experience and talent.”
Don’t be too hard on yourself mate…
It’s certainly true, however, that Beyond Grace boast a crew of virtuoso musicians in powerhouse drummer Ed Gorrod, guitarist Tim Yearsley and bassist Andrew Workman.
And with the added presence of Morley, they have found the final piece of the jigsaw.
“Chris brings a slightly different set of influences and sensibilities, and he is that extra sounding board we were missing,” Walmsley explains.
“He challenges the four of us, who might have got a bit complacent after the first album.
“If we were going to be repeating things from the first album, Chris would be the first person to pipe up and say, ‘I think you have done that before, how about we do something different?’.
“It’s not that he was suddenly going to turn us into a King Crimson rip-off band… it’s subtle tweaks and changes, not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
“He’s helped to filter our sound through a different set of ears, which has really improved things.”
Do they feel that Our Kingdom Undone defines their sound?
“I don’t think we necessarily set out to write the album we ended up with,” Walmsley replies. “The original plan for this album was, ‘let’s go a bit proggier, Tim and I can do some proper singing, we will see if there is any space for that, and we will expand the songs’.
“And then these two morons (referring to Morley and Yearsley) just kept writing heavier and heavier riffs!
“There are some lighter parts but there was nowhere natural for the clean singing.
“Is it us? I think there is still room for improvement.
“There is always room for improvement.”
Morley adds: “It’s a lot heavier than intended. I still think there is room for us to do a more ‘moody’ album, that still hits pretty heavy.
“I feel like that some of the stuff we have been writing recently fits that idea a lot more.
“The latest stuff has more atmosphere.”
“I read an interview with Darkest Hour years back and they said that the end track of every record is essentially a signpost for their next one.
“On this one, I would pick the title track, Persona Non Grata and Fearmonger as being the signposts of where we are going next.
“We are allowing ourselves to explore more atmospheric textures, using more mood and then also dropping the hammer when we need to.”
Yet the band aren’t ready to abandon the infectious attack of songs such as Factions…
Nor do they want to emulate the likes of Archspire and go ‘full shred’.
“I like the really techy stuff but I also like the really hooky stuff, where there is a groove and something to grab on to,” says Morley. “I think there is definitely a certain amount of trying to take those two worlds and mashing them together.”
Walmsley agrees: “We have to be careful. It has to have that hook. It doesn’t have to be a chorus, it can be a refrain or theme, that really stays with you. A rhyming couplet. A drum pattern. Something that defines a song…”
Building Our Kingdom Undone
For ears attuned to maximum impact deathcore and brutal DM, Our Kingdom Undone might sound unusual.
It is wrapped in an organic sonic fabric.
Andrew Workman’s bass bounces and bubbles across each track.
Each instrument shines through the mix…
“Someone in the pub said that the production was a little amateurish!” Walmsley reveals, sharing a chuckle with his bandmate.
“I think what it comes down to was when we spoke to Charles (Elliott), who did the mixing and mastering, we said we didn’t want to do the traditional brick wall ‘everything’, we wanted dynamic range – so when you put the waveform on, you should actually be able to see the track.
“My girlfriend, a couple of years back, bought me a framed waveform for (2017’s) Acolytes and it is essentially just one massive block of sound!
“James (Stephenson, who mixed and mastered Seekers) gave us the ‘oomph’ we needed on our first album but we definitely didn’t have the wherewithal to say, ‘actually can we pull back?’, whereas when we spoke to Charles, he was totally happy to lose a couple of decibels off the top end.
“It doesn’t come in as loud as your traditional deathcore production does these days.
“I like a lot of that stuff but it’s not what we are looking for.
“And it gives more room… and a bit more warmth.”
The vocalist continues: “A lot of people have really loved the bass and it makes me feel bad for the previous album, because Andrew is an amazing bass player.
“He does interesting stuff at the right moments and knows exactly when to follow and when to lead, and he does the same on the first album.
“But the first album is that bit more overblown and he does get buried occasionally, which is unfair because he is great. He is popping a lot more on the new one!
“And the drum sound (on Our Kingdom Undone) is a lot more natural. That was one thing we were really going for.
“The last Triptykon album has one of the greatest drum sounds I have ever heard in my life.
“It sounds like the drummer is in the room with you.
“And we were asking for that warmth of tone, no clicky kick drums.
“I wanted to feel it.”
Beyond Grace get their message across
Walmsley also wants people to ‘feel’ his lyrics…
Factions Speak Louder Than Herds focuses on how the ‘loudest voices’ so often drown out any hope of communication or compromise.
Barmecide Feast, he explains, is “about broken promises, empty rhetoric and hollow words… and about those who act with impunity, but without responsibility”.
“Hopefully one of my strengths is the ability to deliver clarity and power,” Walmsley suggests, adding that he’s no fan of ‘pig squeal’ vocals. “I spend a lot of time on the lyrics and I want people to understand them.
“Hardcore was my thing growing up and I think have maintained some of that.
“The mentality is still there, to have a song that means something.”
Like Venom Prison, Beyond Grace have eschewed the standard gore, guts and graves themes of much DM to focus on the here and now: the strife torn world of 2021.
And like Venom Prison, they signed to Prosthetic at a key point in their career.
Do the band think they can emulate the rise of Larissa Stupar, Ash Gray et al?
Walmsley replies: “I would love to follow in Venom Prison’s footsteps and gain that sort of following.
“But I can’t predict we’ll do the same.
“What you can take from the success of Venom Prison is that success can come without compromise.
“I have been writing and singing for ten years and used to write for Terrorizer.
“I have seen bands come and go. I have seen amazing bands never get the attention and acclaim they deserve.
“I have seen mediocre bands jump on the latest bandwagon and reach insane heights, even though I am sat there gobsmacked over why no one is seeing that the emperor has no clothes.
“And when that happens, I think it sets a bad example – to write to a formula and create something for the algorithm that has no value other than repeating the cycle of getting a bunch of listeners and then breaking up, and then the next band that sounds exactly like you fills the same hole.
“This band is more about getting together with four of your best friends in the world, finding – unexpectedly – a similar musical wavelength and grinding it out.
“Whether or not the label keep us on for ten more albums, we would keep playing the same music and doing things the same way.
“In the words of the great scholar Jamey Jasta: perseverance!”
Morley signs off: “We want to be a band which is nice and stable and a nice place to be.
“If we can maintain that and shoot off towards superstardom then that is great, but at the same time you have to be happy with the level you are at.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t strive for something better.
“But if you are not enjoying playing to ten mates in the pub on a Saturday night then why are you doing it?”
Our Kingdom Undone is out now on Prosthetic Records.