With the band’s new project Death The Leveller emerging from the promising dark corners of the Ireland’s flourishing metal scene, members Shane Cahill (drums), Gerry Clince (guitars), Denis Dowling (vocals, ex-Cursed Earth), and bassist Dave Murphy are gearing up to once again to bring to light, a new strain of 90’s inspired death/doom back into the minds and hearts of the beloved metal genre.
OD – Let’s start from the beginning and the back story that led to the creation of Death The Leveller. How did it all come together?
DAVE – Gerry, Shane and I had been playing together in Mael Mórdha (pictured below) since before the release of the Cluain Tarbh album in 2005, so we’re very familiar with each other as musicians. Without rehashing the history of that band too much, when founding member Rob (Roibeard Ó Bogail) left the band we continued for a while with Stiofan De Róiste of Celtachor on vocals but the three of us came to the realisation that it wasn’t working for us.
I think we felt that we had stylistically limited ourselves to the genre and that Roibeard’s presence was a more fundamental component than we had perhaps realised. So, we essentially put Mael Mórdha on ice and just started jamming together for nothing more than our own enjoyment, without the pressure of a pre-determined concept. The music we started writing felt significantly removed from that template and we decided that if we wanted to progress with it, it needed to become its own thing.
As musicians, we are all agreed that we want to write songs, not instrumental music, so we knew we would be looking for a singer to come on board, but we had no set idea of what style of vocals would sit best with the music. Good fortune, in the form of a rehearsal for a covers band, put us in touch with Denis (Dowling). We had an idea that his vocal range and style might sit well with the music we had been working on so sent him on the demo tracks we had recorded. Denis worked on some lyrics and vocal melodies and when we came together in the rehearsal studio it just clicked.
OD – With regards to the band name “Death the Leveller”, what was it about James Shirley’s poem that translated the ethos of the band?
DAVE – We were discussing the idea of an ‘ethos’ for the band if that’s the right word, and this particular poem just seemed to fit. Maybe it’s connected to reaching a certain age in life and recognising some of the vanity and futility of your past endeavours and realising the inevitability of where we’re all going.
There’s a resonance in the imagery, and perhaps the grandiosity of his language with the style that we try to convey a certain epic quality. Shirley spent some time in Dublin, and was involved with the Werburgh Street Theatre, which no longer exists, but would have been close to Saint Werburgh’s Church, which has some fantastically gothic death’s heads carved over the door. I’ve been familiar with this church for years, and it’s interesting to know James Shirley lived and worked around this area. Shirley drifted into relative obscurity in his latter days, and is said to have died in the Great Fire of London in 1666 (fairly metal that), which in light of the poem’s sentiment is a curious thing to note.
The poem isn’t a manifesto for the band or anything, the title and the meaning struck a chord with us in terms of what we were discussing ourselves so we co-opted it, you could say, in homage and tribute to Mr Shirley.
OD – I believe that you collectively draw influence from a variety of artists particularly the ‘death-doom’ bands of the early 90’s. Can you elaborate on the bands sound a little more?
DAVE – As regards our music being doom metal, I think that 90’s era is a clear point of reference from a musical point of view – but we don’t use any death metal style vocals. I think the mournful, melodic approach to heavy music of the ‘big three’ of that era – Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, Anathema – is an influence that comes through with DTL.
We have a lot of other common touching points musically, some of which may come through in DTL’s music or may not – often depending on the listener I find. Bands like Fields of the Nephilim, Killing Joke, Type O Negative come to mind. There’s also a lot of straight-up heavy metal in there I think, maybe driven by Denis’s vocal delivery which puts us into that space. He’s formerly sung in thrash bands and has a great voice for classic rock/metal so that’s probably putting us in touch with a lot of those influences which we all share.
OD – Prior to Denis joining the band, did you have a foundation of material already written while you were searching for a vocalist or did it all come together as soon as the line-up was completed?
DAVE – The four songs on the EP were all essentially written and demoed prior to Denis joining the band. When he came on board, the intention was to effectively rewrite them as songs with his lyrical and vocal input but in the end, there was relatively little change in the song structures as previously written. I think we were all a little surprised at how easily it came together but that just shows that we found the right man for the job.
OD – Having previously been part of Mael Mórdha and Denis with Cursed Earth, there is more than enough history and experience under your collective belts. Do you feel that this experience has benefited the approach to Death the Leveller as a whole?
DAVE – Definitely. From a musical point of view, every time I’ve entered the studio with whatever band I’ve learned something new about songwriting, arrangement, recording techniques etc… and carrying all of this into DTL has been a huge advantage. We’ve also learned the risks of too rigidly defining the aesthetic of a band to the point that it takes over, and we’re determined to keep this grounded as being primarily for ourselves, and any like-minded souls out there who enjoy the music.
From a ‘music industry’ point of view, I think we’ve all learned a few lessons along the way, mostly about measuring your expectations and making the right choices. DTL won’t be rushing into anything that doesn’t suit us or work for us.
OD – Was there a particular method or process to the writing sessions for the EP, or was it just a case of all of you working on the compositions in a rehearsal style environment?
DAVE – For this EP, the music came out of several months of jamming and really finding and refining a style that we genuinely just enjoyed playing. This coalesced into four distinct pieces which we recorded as demos, at which point Denis entered the fray. As I mentioned, it didn’t take a huge amount of work to knit together his vocal melodies with the music through rehearsals. Having recorded this EP, I’m looking forward to seeing how we’ll progress to writing as a complete band.
OD – It seems that many bands are deciding to produce and release EP’s rather than full-length albums of late, do you see Death The Leveller taking this route in the future?
DAVE – It suits our purposes for now. We want to get the name out there and start getting more gigs under our belt so it made sense to release our first four songs in this format. I think they will sit together as well due to the process of their creation and the next recordings we release will be written from the beginning by the full band. With the
With the way, music is released and consumed these days it’s hard to know if there’s much to be said for the album format, and I don’t see any benefit right now in waiting to release 8-10 songs rather than the EP format. The same applies to physical formats. We will do what seems right at the time and what there seems to be a demand for.
OD – In the grand scheme of things – will we be seeing Death The Leveller appearing more at various up and coming festivals and UK/European shows going forward, as I’m sure you will agree, there is only so much that artists can do in Ireland, especially when looking at the genres of heavy music?
DAVE – That’s definitely our intention if the interest is there. There are some great things going on in this country but if you want to expose your music to the widest audience I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to look beyond these shores. To take the opportunity to travel and perform to new audiences is one of the reasons I got into this game, and it’s given me such incredibly rewarding experiences thus far. It’s really each to their own, and I don’t criticise any band who don’t feel the need to get out and play gigs abroad, but for me, it makes no sense not to follow that path.
OD – Although unsigned at the moment, do you find that the environment has changed for artists such as yourselves, with reference to building your own presence and keeping control of what you do and how you go about doing it?
DAVE – To be honest, I don’t feel I have a very good handle on where the environment is right now, and I’m not sure that many people do, to be honest. So, for now, it seems to make sense to keep ourselves in control of what we do. This is the advice of a lot of good friends in other bands for dealing with the way things are right now. We have no illusions about what the advantages and disadvantages are of getting involved with labels etc… and if the right situation presents itself we don’t rule anything out.
OD – Besides the material that you have recorded for the self-titled EP, have you been writing any new stuff and if so, can you talk a little about it and if there is any evolution in the band’s sound as is the case when writing new material?
DAVE – We’ve been writing new material, and it’s at an early stage so far, but what’s been interesting is seeing how it evolves now that we’ve established the band and the general area of sound that we want to work in.
It’s a very freeform writing environment though, as I’ve said we’re not interested in writing to a template or trying to copy a particular style so we’re really just letting the music find its way and whatever influences may seep in to work their magic as well. We also have some material from the rehearsal sessions from before Denis came in and we’ll revisit that and see how it might fit with the sound that we’re developing now.
I think we’ll have the basis of 3 or 4 more songs together over the coming months and will probably look to record those. We’re also toying with the idea of recording a cover song, but this will only happen if it feels 100 percent like the right thing to do. But if we do it will be something a little outside our own genre.
OD – Finally, what would be the most realistic and ideal situation you would like to see Death The Leveller progress going forward.
DAVE – We want to keep writing these songs and exploring this particular avenue of expression that the four of us have devised. But this isn’t just for our own entertainment and we feel we have something to say and to get out to as wide an audience as possible by the best means that we can.
I’m a firm believer in the separation of recorded output and live performance: for me, a recording of a song is more a snapshot in time than a definitive object. So for me, live performance is an equally vital element to the band as recording and we want to get out and perform these songs.
Death the Leveller will be releasing their debut track ‘A Call To Men of Noble Blood‘ tomorrow (Tuesday, May 30th) exclusively on Overdrive.
For more information on Death The Leveller, please visit this link.
Photography © Down The Barrel Photography 2017 / Death The Leveller © 2017