Interview: Smoulder

2023 is already an outstandingly great epic metal year: Gatekeeper, Megaton Sword, Triumpher and many others have already delivered awesome albums. On 21 April Smoulder follow up with their second full-length Violent Creed Of Vengeance, which will be released by Cruz del Sur. On this occasion we talked to all band members about this release, but also many other topics.

Pic by Emma Grönqvist.

André: Thank you very much for taking the time for us. How was the winter in Finland?

Sarah: It was quite mild this year, unfortunately! Last year was way more fun – we had generally a good meter of snowpack and it was minus -25 for several months. This year was more gray, flooded, and dark. We enjoyed rehearsing a lot though and I personally spent a lot of time making art. 

André: How good is your Finnish by now? I think it must be incredibly difficult to learn this language. And what’s the “oddest“ Finnish word you’ve come across so far?

Vincent: My Finnish has improved quite a lot since I completed six months of language classes, but there is still a long way to go.

Sarah: I don’t know what I’d define as an “odd” Finnish word – all languages have idiosyncrasies, and we’ve definitely noticed that and learned a lot, mainly coming from a monolingual part of Canada. Maybe words that have multiple meanings could be defined as odd. Kuusi is like that. It means six and spruce; for a giggle, look up the phrase “kuusi palaa” and you’ll get an authentic glimpse of how Finnish works. 

André: Is there a Finnish dish that you particularly like and possibly also prepare regularly yourself?

Sarah: I’m a big fan of lohikeitto, which is salmon soup. It combines bone broth, onion, carrot, potato, baked salmon, dill and cream that is extremely flavourful and delicious. Usually, I make it with bone broth that I’ve simmered overnight before making the dish. Altogether, Finnish cuisine is delicious. Suolaista piirakkaa is also delicious, which is an open-faced salty pie. I also love villimustikka, which is wild blueberry. 

André: What was the last album you listened to before this interview?

Vincent: The new Megaton Sword album Might & Power. Much darker and moodier than their debut, I particularly like “Iron Plains” and “Power”.

Collin: I listened to Monasterium’s Cold are The Graves last night before I went to bed. Killer epic doom from Poland (where we just played!)!

Adam: A late-2022 release that I’m still enjoying is Sacral’s album Inverted Temple, and I was just listening to it on my way home from dropping off some merch orders. They experiment with atmosphere and black metal elements in ways that keep things fresh and interesting while staying grounded on a foundation of heavy riffs and arcane melody. There are also some really tasteful bass parts, particularly on the epic title track.

André: On 21 April your second full-length album will be released: Violent Creed of Vengeance. First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the great artwork. Can you please tell our readers some background information about it?

Vincent: As with our previous two releases, it comes from an old sword and sorcery book. This one, in particular, comes from Amazons II. It’s an anthology of short stories (one of which influenced the title track for “Violent Creed…”) from authors such as Tanith Lee and George R.R. Martin. Like our previous albums, the cover art helped dictate and solidify the theme. On this album, it’s vengeance. 

André: Which artwork of metal albums did you particularly appreciate in the past?

Vincent: Besides obvious artwork from other bands using Micheal Whelan, Ken Kelly, and Frank Frazetta, I really enjoy the artwork of the first few Blind Guardian, most Manilla Road, and Cauldron Born (Born of The Cauldron in particular). Also weirder stuff like Scanner’s Hypertrace, Tröjan’s Chasing The Storm, and Slough Feg’s Traveller are really cool.

Collin: Besides the ones mentioned by Vincent I really enjoy the artwork of Ioannis and his work with Fates Warning on Awaken The Guardian and The Spectre Within.

Adam: In terms of classic albums I love the Judas Priest covers by Doug Johnson (Screaming for Vengeance, Defenders of the Faith, and Turbo), with their vibrant colours and mechanical beasts of war. The best album art represents the theme of the record, giving the listener some idea of what the music is about. I always enjoy the cosmic horror illustrations on strange death metal records by bands like Howls of Ebb and Tomb Mold that make it clear there’s more going on lyrically and thematically than the usual suspects of Satan and gore. A recent release where the art struck a nice contrast with the music was GulchImpenetrable Cerebral Fortress. Its macabre subject matter is elegantly presented, then the record hits you with blistering hardcore. The art hints at additional substance beneath the surface of seemingly straightforward music.

André: What do you think distinguishes your current record most clearly from your debut album Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring?

Kevin: The music is faster and heavier, with less emphasis on our “doomier” side. I also feel we have stepped up our songwriting game, utilizing more complex instrumental parts, while adding more variety in vocal techniques as well.

Adam: Yeah, the clearest difference is the average speed this time around. Even “Dragonslayer’s Doom“, the ten-minute song with Doom in the title, is much faster than the first album’s epic doom closer.

André: I assume that the songwriting on this record was significantly different than on the previous releases because of Sarah’s and Shon’s move to Finland. Was it very difficult to give shape to an album in this way?

Kevin: The songwriting process was not that much different from the first album. We’ve always been spread out geographically, even before Sarah‘s and Vincent’s move to Finland. I will say that for this release, we spent a lot more time tweaking and editing the songs until we felt good about them. We had plenty of time to shave off musical imperfections, considering we couldn’t do much else during the Covid lockdowns.

André: Is there a song that you would describe as a kind of signature track for Smoulder in 2023?

Vincent: While I think it’s too early to tell what song from the new album will become a staple in our live set, “Ilian Of Garathorm” is definitely still our “signature track”.

Sarah: Ha! I never thought “Ilian“ was our signature song. I think it’s “Sword Woman”. Now I think it’s “Midnight in the Mirror World,” followed by “Spellforger.” That song is the most Candlemass/Solitude Aeturnus song we’ve ever released, and it’s a huge challenge. Meanwhile, “Spellforger” is like Original Sin or very old Blind Guardian. I think those two tracks represent a marriage of the styles we’re performing and inspired by: epic doom, speed metal, power metal = ARCANE POWER DOOM

Collin: I think “Ilian” is definitely our signature track from the first album, it really encapsulated everything we’re about in my opinion. On this album, I think the signature one is probably “Victims of Fate” as it has all the elements that we use (power, doom, speed, fantasy based lyrics, arcane atmosphere, etc.)

André: Have you actually used all the tracks you’ve written in the last few years for Violent Creed of Vengeance, or do you still have a few up your sleeve that could be used on an EP in the foreseeable future?

Kevin: We have several songs either unfinished or at the first draft stage and in need of edits. The songs that made it on the album felt complete to us, and they also complement each other. That’s why they made it on the album while some of the others we’ve worked on didn’t.

Vincent: Just to add to Kevin’s answer, there was a total of 9 tracks we made demos of before heading to the studio, and the two that didn’t make the cut are being revisited/revamped to bring them to a level we can feel confident in releasing.

André: What do you think about the term female-fronted that many journalists use? I’ve interviewed some female musicians over the last few years who think it’s horrible.

Sarah: It’s exactly as descriptive as “male-fronted”. Enough said! 

André: Are there currently developments in the metal underground that you view with concern?

Sarah: I think I’m most concerned about how badly inflation is impacting touring right now. It’s troubling to see a lot of festivals and bands canceling and the like. Covid has been really rough on everyone, and artists were really hung out to dry over the pandemic. Now, inflation is going absolutely hog wild, and not only that, there are YEARS of backlog. It’s really difficult to make a dent and break into touring when so many venues have closed and the costs of operating them is skyrocketing. It’s nice to see so many bands getting out there, but there’s also the fans to think about: you’ve really got to pick and choose what you can afford right now.

André: Especially in recent years, some veteran metal heroes have turned out to be contemporaries who, in view of some weird comments, you would like to turn off the internet. Where do you draw a red line for yourself? At what point do you say: This band is no longer enjoyable for me to listen to?

Sarah: Everyone needs to make that call for themselves. For me, implicit and explicit misogyny, racism, homophobia, and/or transphobia are where I draw the line. There’s too much art and music and magic in the world to allow my personal space to be flooded with hateful garbage. 

André: On our blog, we focus on metal with epic elements. How would you define the term “epic“ regarding music?

Adam: Even more so than dealing with traditional themes like myth and fantasy, what makes a metal song or album epic is how the songwriting serves as a platform for storytelling. This can mean atmospheric sections, progressive song structures, triumphant melodies, or simply straightforward bludgeoning riffs, but whatever form it takes I think the point is that there is a grand theme or sweeping narrative aligned with the music.

André: Has there already been an album released this year that you found particularly outstanding?

Vincent: Triumpher – Storming The Walls is the most impressive album I’ve heard this year. It’s an aggressive and powerful amalgamation of Manowar’s fist-pumping epic metal from the 80s, their speedier 90s power metal, tremolo-laden Greek black metal (Blast beats and all!), and progressive techno-trash. My only criticism is that it’s TOO LONG.  

Collin: So far I’ve really been into Transgressive’s Extreme Transgression. It’s really pissed off modern thrash with some power thrash elements in the riffs and songwriting with super righteously angry crossover-style vocals. Its angry political thrash made the way it should be! Other than that, the new Savage Oath EP and Chevalier’s Ancient Metal EP have been big favorites of mine too! Awesome epic metal on both counts!

André: Last question: Let’s assume time travel would be possible. In which era would you most like to live, at least temporarily?

Sarah: I’m good with the present. I like modern healthcare. However, if you could bring modern healthcare into the early 60s to mid-70s and get to attend a lot of those early rock and metal gigs and be part of the early acid tests, that’d be far out.

Adam: Can I live in a futuristic utopia, like in Star Trek? I think I’d also be happy on the anarchist moon Anarres from Ursula Le Guin’s novel The Dispossessed.

André: Thank you very much for the interview! The Epic Metal Blog wishes you all the best with the new album – and I’m looking forward to seeing you live at least once this year!

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