With the release of Shadow Of A Fallen Star Part 1 this month, London’s Seven Sisters cemented their position as leaders in the global resurgence in classic heavy metal. Ahead of the band’s UK tour, Rich Holmes kicks off Rushonrock’s NWOTHM week with the lowdown on the new album – and a journey into the cosmos – with vocalist/guitarist Kyle McNeill.
Rushonrock: What is the concept behind Shadow Of A Fallen Star Part 1 and how did the record take shape?
Kyle McNeill: It’s a story that I came up with myself. Originally, we only intended it to be on one album, but then I started writing the prequel to the story, to explain to the guys what my idea was.
After a little while, I was sending them pages and pages of stuff and they were like, ‘yeah, we’re not going to fit this all one album!’.
We are all into the proggy side of things anyway, so we were excited to be able to spread our wings and tell a story over a couple of albums.
The story itself focuses on a planet called The Great Library which was made by humans that left Earth sometime in the future. There are people that still live on Earth, but nobody is interested in exploring space – they are focused on living in a virtual reality that they have created.
But there are a group of people that go searching for a new planet, and they come across an alien consciousness trapped in a crystal, which is what The Crystal Temple (the song featured on the band’s 2019 split with US metallers Haunt) is about. The alien guides them to this planet – The Great Library – that they build and live on.
The story is set on that planet and follows one particular character. She discovers that things aren’t quite what they seem. She goes on a bit of a journey back to The Crystal Temple.
The story is focused on discovery. It’s a bit of a metaphor for things like Facebook and online information, and a comment on ‘everybody’s got their own version of the truth’.
It’s not a ‘conspiranoia’ thing. It’s a case of finding your own way.
I haven’t finished writing the story yet, though I know how I want it to end. I’m hoping that I can get it together and make it a short story to come out with Shadow Of A Fallen Star Part 2.
But it’s one thing writing an album and another thing writing a book!
Rushonrock: What did you set out to achieve with Shadow Of A Fallen Star Part 1?
Kyle McNeill: We didn’t want to just rehash what we’d done on The Cauldron And The Cross (Seven Sisters’ second album). We always want to explore new territory.
There was a conscious effort on this album to write bigger choruses – choruses that stay with you. I think we’ve achieved that.
Everything else was focused on creating the sci-fi atmosphere. Obviously it gives you a different sonic palette to play with than the medieval fantasy stuff. The Cauldron And The Cross sounded quite folky in a lot of ways, whereas Shadow Of A Fallen Star Part 1 definitely sounds like it’s in space!
Rushonrock: Did any particular sci-fi works inspire the story?
Kyle McNeill: I read a lot of Philip K Dick, Alfred Bester and all those classic sci-fi authors. And I’m into sci-fi films. I really enjoy how the real classic sci-fi books end up becoming a pre-commentary on what then becomes reality.
Rushonrock: Did any sci-fi soundtracks or scores influence the album?
Kyle McNeill: Possibly subconsciously. It’s there in the back of your mind.
The whole concept of the album is quite big – it involves planets and massive distances – so we were focusing on trying to create that atmosphere. We want to transport the listener into the story and take them on a bit of a journey sonically.
You can still jump in at any point and listen to a song and enjoy it for what it is, but there is also a rewarding listening experience to go from the beginning to the end.
Rushonrock: Drummer Sam Christou and bassist Gaz Martin have both joined Seven Sisters since The Cauldron And The Cross was released in 2018. What has it been like to work with two new members… and what did they bring to the album?
Kyle McNeill: The way we work is that I’ll send them a demo of the tracks and then tell them, ‘this is the general vibe, feel free to embellish it and add your own things, and make it yours’. And they really did! They have both done such a fantastic job.
Sam is a different style of drummer to Steve (Loftin, who departed in 2020). He has brought a more ‘power metal’ precision to the drumming style, which fits this album really well.
We didn’t want to see Steve go, but in a way, with Sam coming in, it’s probably served the album a lot better than it would have done if Steve was trying to play this kind of stuff.
Sam took the parts that I gave him and ran with it.
In the same way, Gaz is really open minded as to what is expected of him, but he’s also really keen to write things that aren’t entirely what you would expect.
So it’s been good, having fresh creative input on everything.
Rushonrock: How have you evolved as a writer and musician since Seven Sisters started out in 2013?
Kyle McNeill: I think as a musician, I’ve improved a massive amount. A lot of that is probably to do with pushing myself beyond what I would normally be comfortable with.
The most conscious improvement is definitely my vocals. It’s night and day. On the first album… listening to me back then, I just cringe. I can’t do it. But now, it feels like I have a voice, I have a tone. I’m not just worrying about hitting the notes, it’s more about the musical delivery.
I started singing in Seven Sisters and I’d never done that before. It has been a journey of learning as we’ve gone along and figuring out my comfortable range. That has also improved my songwriting, because it made me conscious of things that I’d never had to think about before.
Rushonrock: Looking back to the early days of Seven Sisters, could you ever imagine having the ability – and vision – to create songs with the ambition of Horizon’s Eye and Shadow Of A Fallen Star?
Kyle McNeill: I think we always had it in us. We always wanted to do that stuff. But it’s a case of getting good enough to be able to do it and being comfortable enough in your own abilities, and with the way that other people think about you.
Until Sam joined Seven Sisters, I’d been the youngest member of the band. I have been a songwriter and also a frontman, which is something that I was never used to. You feel conscious about things and worry about what people are going to think.
I think we are past that now.
I’m interested in writing music that we enjoy and we feel is the best representation of us. Realising that we can still release music that is not straight up heavy metal, but that people are still enjoying it, is just going to help us become more confident and explore even more territories – while still remaining Seven Sisters.
Rushonrock: There is a lot of love for your earlier material. Have the diehard Seven Sisters fans accepted your progression?
Kyle McNeill: Yes, I would say so, probably because we’ve always had that slightly progressive element. I’m not saying that we’re prog, but we have always had that tinge.
On the demo (2014’s The Warden), we had Avenger, which is quite a long song. It has clean bits and then it builds up, and on the first album there are elements of that as well – the title track, Seven Sisters, has 7/4 time signatures and there’s all sorts of stuff going on.
So we’re just taking that and building on it… it’s not like one minute we have been a super traditional heavy metal band and the next minute we’re trying to be some sort of concept proggy band!
It has been a gentle progression and people seem to be willing to come along with us. Not everybody – we get the odd ridiculous comment on YouTube which we find hilarious – but that’s fine. We can’t please everybody!
Rushonrock: You don’t write particularly long songs, but there is still an epic ‘feel’ to many Seven Sisters tracks. How do you achieve that?
Kyle McNeill: It’s just making sure that the song has got what it needs and nothing more than that. You have to be brutally honest with yourself.
I went to university to study songwriting. There’s that pop sensibility that you learn at university level. There’s a huge focus on that. In Nashville there’s a saying, ‘you don’t write a song you rewrite it’. That’s exactly how I work. I’ll start with a song and I’ll get it from start to finish, and then there’s a refining process.
And you get to know your own gut feelings when you’ve been writing music for a while. You’ve got your own style going on. You know when you have something that’s going to work.
Rushonrock: What impact did the Coronavirus pandemic have on Seven Sisters – and the creation of Shadow Of A Fallen Star Part 1?
Kyle McNeill: The difficult part was the mental wellbeing of all of us during lockdown. It affected everybody in a pretty bad way, depending on their situation.
We were just about to go on a big tour with Night Demon, off the back of coming off tour with Haunt.
We were really psyched up for it being a great year and playing lots of shows.
But in hindsight, the album wouldn’t have turned out the way it did if that had happened.
The actual practical element of recording the album wasn’t too bad. You can do that pretty remotely these days. The equipment that’s on hand for not too much money is astonishing. It’s the best time in the history of humanity to record music on your own, because it’s so easy to do now!
Also, with me being the primary songwriter and having no job because all the live work had gone, I had all the time I could possibly want to write an album, which is what every songwriter wants… despite the shitty situation.
Kyle McNeill: It’s more exciting than it’s been for a long time. The standard is just getting better and better.
I’m a huge fan of Wytch Hazel. Their evolution has been amazing: Pentecost III (Wytch Hazel’s 2020 opus) is an absolutely incredible album.
Colin Hendra (Wytch Hazel vocalist/guitarist) and I work in very similar ways. He is the primary songwriter for Wytch Hazel, we are both from Lancashire and we chat quite regularly.
I’ve listened to the Eliminator album that they will be releasing and it’s incredible. The standard is getting better. And with Toledo Steel it’s the same.
It helps that we’re all friends. Danny (Foster) the singer from Eliminator and I grew up in the same hometown. We’ve been friends since we were teenagers.
It’s really close knit. I keep in touch with these people on a regular basis and we’re always talking about what we’ve been up to and what we’re thinking about doing next. I think having that creative hub has really helped me.
Rushonrock: Trevor William Church from Haunt is a major supporter of Seven Sisters and has helped to push you Stateside. Do you think you can make some more inroads into the US following the release of the new album?
Kyle McNeill: Yeah, absolutely. Trev started talking about us and The Cauldron And The Cross on Facebook. He such a nice, genuine guy. He’s helped us so much.
The tour with Haunt was our first actual tour. We felt like a real band going out on tour for a couple of weeks: that was a big deal for us.
We are trying to get over to America next year. It would be nice for one of us from the UK scene to go over there and do proper tour.
Rushonrock: What are your plans for Shadow Of A Fallen Star Part 2?
Kyle McNeill: We have plenty of ideas already. I really want to get back into writing that as soon as possible.
The gap between The Cauldron And The Cross and this album was too long. I would like to aim for an album a year. All the bands in the 70s were doing that sort of stuff. It was super prolific and it was all good stuff.
I’m writing an album for another project that I’ve got going on, which is just a solo project. Once that is finished, I will start on Part 2!
Shadow Of A Fallen Star Part 1 is out now on Dissonance Productions.
Seven Sisters are on tour in October with Toledo Steel and Eliminator. You can check them out at: The Black Heart, London on October 26; Boom, Leeds on October 27; Trillians, Newcastle on October 28; Star & Garter, Manchester on October 29; and The Firehouse, Southampton on October 30.