Swedish doom band Below return with new Metal Blade release Upon A Pale Horse, an album that will land on you like ton of bricks yet carry you to heights of feeling usually reserved for metal classics at the same time. A more traditional heavy metal influence courses through the veins of this doom outfit than, say, death-doom or the currently all the rage alternative melodic metal/doom of Pallbearer (for example), but it is certainly as powerful in a different way.
In many ways it is terrific to hear a band who carry on and bolster the durability of classic time-honored metal forms, while finding endemic roads of their own amidst well tread riff lands. Below are one of the best bands Metal Blade has in their stable for fans of true metal, certainly no flavor of the week signing like some labels toss out these days to appeal to trends. This is just a cool and real group for die hard metal followers.
Zeb from Below took time out to fill me in on the new album, uh, BELOW.
Your band name is so ominous. It is basically made for a metal name. It could mean those below in the underground who don’t care about the mainstream bullshit, those who risk going to Hell to worship heavy guitars, or any number of things. There was an awesome NYC band called Bottom. I hope they are still together. But it gave me a similar vibe of a name, being either used to being low or dwelling in the dark. How did you come by your name?
Well, we wanted a name that just says “this is an ass-kicking metal band”. Dark, yet catchy and easy to remember. I think we had a couple of potential band names to choose between, and Below was the one all members really liked. If I recall, I think I was the one that came up with that name ha ha.A quite boring answer maybe, but it has no deeper meaning or such, just an “in your face” band name.
2. You have more of a classic doom and metal sound that reminds me of, say, Sabbath or Candlemass than like funeral doom with death vocals. You have said you really found your sound on Upon A Pale Horse. What do you mean by this? The first single had some even more epic layers. Does this album title mean you are thinking of mortality even more? Your band could leave a lasting body of work because you have a sound that some would kill for, haha. But as we age we think of the legacy of the art we leave behind as well, right?
In my opinion, the new songs are more original and well written than our debut.It took a much longer time to write this one and we’ve incorperated a wider range of influences. All this mixed together has turned it into a more diverse and complete record.The album title obviously comes from the song “Upon a Pale Horse”. That’s because it was by far the best song title to name the whole album. I wouldn’t say that we are thinking that much of mortality.Of course I would like people to remember us and our songs when we call it quits, but it’s really nothing I’m thinking about at all.
Yes, better to worry about what is right in front of you or the next gig, ha. I think Below is one of the coolest bands on Metal Blade. Maybe not the most flashy orhigh profile yet but the music is so consistent song to song. And sometimes you remind me of Headless Cross-era Sabbath (which turns 28 today!) and so that rules to me, haha. Did you know you had a big challenge to follow up the high quality of songs like “Trapped Under Ground” and “The Whitechapel Murderer” that made Across The Dark River memorable?
Thanks man, happy to hear that. Below are not among the biggest or “hottest” bands, we are just trying to make the best music we possibly can do.We sure knew that “River” was a quite strong debut, but on the other hand, we also know our capacity as songwriters. That we could surpass that album, and I think we did by far. The guitar sound has more crunch, my vocal performance is way better and the songs are even more catchy.
Is it hard standing out as a band from Sweden when there are actually so many awesome bands these days? Do you know the band Night Viper? I am friendly with them.You should do a gig with them and I will save my pennies and come visit, haha. They
play faster than you but it would still rule.
I have seen the band name a lot of times but I’ve never heard them. But I sure will check them out.
So Deep Blue Studios is where you tracked your earliest material but not the album before this? Is that correct. That was done at the great Andy LaRocque’s studio from King Diamond. I know the band Shining has done some stuff there. But what made you return to Deep Blue this time? It again sounds amazing, regardless of where.
Yes, we recorded our demo EP with our buddy Nicko at Deep Blue. We were so pepped to record “River” with our hero Andy. Besides being one of the best metal guitarist in the world, he is the nicest and most humble guy. But this time we chose to record in our hometown for a couple of reasons; We live in Nyköping on Sweden’s east coast, Andy’s studio is in Varberg on the west coast. Sweden may be a small country, but driving 450 kilometers one-way is quite exhausting to do several times within a month. Except that, I believe Andy was on tour with King Diamond when we scheduled our recording.
So there are some backing vocals by Sorcerer’s Anders Engberg and a speech by Alan Averill of the legendary Primordial. How did these guest spots come about? True metal people like yourselves, indeed.
For the speech, it was important to find a man with english as his first language. A speechlike this, but with a swede trying to sound british or american would be too lame. We thought of Alan, who actually is our A&R at Metal Blade, so we have frequent contact with him. He said yes and we’re honored to have him on the album. Alan’s voice is so theatrical, dramatic and brutal, so it fitted like a glove.My vocal producer on this album, Conny Welén, is close friends with Anders. When we talked about doing the choirs, Conny said that himself and Anders gladely would do them. They did a couple of choirs like that on Sorcerer’s album. Anders is an amazing singer, so having him sing on two of our songs is just awesome.
Do you want to be a band that takes things step by step and builds a following that is die hard or have it explode maybe a bit too fast like happened with Ghost? I mean, they will probably keep their fans over time but sometimes for the long haul it is better to get medium popular and stay there than too big too soon and have more pressure. I don’t know. Thoughts?
Honestly, doing metal and rock at all more power to anyone in this day and age. I’m pretty sure that it is impossible to explode like Ghost if you play doom metal, it is a way too obscure genre to make it that big. Ghost is an exceptional rock band with a cool image, so I can see why they became superstars. We don’t have to worry about stuff like that, ha ha. We do what we do, in our own way.
The songs are often pretty much past the five minute mark or more, almost like a story in that way. There is a sense of watching a dark movie sometimes. This is a corny question because it is kind of cliche, but do you write the lyrics to the music ahead or time and plan out what tales will be told? I imagine Cathedral had to do that sometimes, for example. Or do you have sort of well rehearsed arrangements that are then fleshed outwith lyrics? “Portal” on the last album sounds like it could have been like that way.
Well, songs tends to become a bit longer when you play them slow.We always write the music first, it starts with a riff or a vocal melody and goes on from there.Lyrics are always the last thing we add, always. I think it’s difficult to write lyrics, much easier and more fun to create the music.But in perspective, I think the lyrics turned out ok anyways.
How has the reaction been so far to the newest single “1,000 Broken Bones”?
It has been great, only positive response as far as I’m aware.As a matter of fact, “Bones” was the second song we ever wrote as Below (“Whitechapel” was the first).It was featured on our demo that got us the record deal.