“The world will know . . . that few stood against many, under a gathering storm!” Thus, on the wings of a rousing intro, begins The Gathering Storm, the debut album from Washington state’s own progressive death metal prodigies Gallows Hymn. After a name change (the band was known as Empyrean until 2018) and an intense period of focus, the four-piece has imposed its will in the recording studio and the results are both victorious and impressive. With so many bands releasing music, it’s always fascinating when an up and coming unit can draw from such a vibrant creative arsenal.
Six-stringer Nicholas Spevak reports that there was very little standing in their way. “The album was written over the course of about 9 months, until we started recording in the fall of 2018. The writing process was fairly smooth and straightforward to be honest. A big reason why this album came together so well in a relatively short period of time was mostly due to our work ethic and discipline, and the fact that we are lucky enough to all be on the same page creatively speaking. Some of the songs on the album were written while we were under the name Empyrean. We quickly developed a different sound and style and felt a name change was fitting after bringing in our current drummer, Matt Howe.”
Where some artists can only produce greatness out of some sort of tension or conflict, fellow guitarist Zach Hornung exudes the joy of creative synchronicity. “The writing process was the most enjoyable part of the album process. It came most naturally to us. We recorded everything ourselves, and I actually had to learn how to do everything on the fly as we were doing it. It was a very constructive learning process, but quite stressful at times. We had originally planned for a longer time frame for recording, but we got contacted by Art Paiz (bass player of Hate Eternal) about mixing and mastering and we decided to speed things up a bit. Also, we quickly learned that delegating roles and responsibilities would work well in our favor and expedite the process. That was key to moving things along as quick as they did.”
The stress felt to get the recording done properly is understandable, as the fortunes of so many metal bands rest upon their ability to sound both professional and spontaneous in the recording studio. It’s safe to say that the band succeeded.
One word that comes to mind when listening to The Gathering Storm is grandeur. In the same way that bands such as Primordial and Nechochwen weave tales out of their compositions, Gallows Hymn builds their songs via an unhurried approach. Feeling and intensity are woven throughout the nine tracks on offer, whether it’s in the mournful guitar leads and lush keyboards of “Beacon of Fire in an Age of Ice” or the jolting pugnacity of “Xibalba.” The somber heathen cadence of “Straumfjord” brings to mind the windswept fervor of bands like Falkenbach, injecting just a hint of a folkish feeling into the prog-metal battery.
While each song sounds bred for the same album, Gallows Hymn is clearly drawing from varied wellsprings of lyrical inspiration. Is there a philosophical connective tissue binding such disparate subjects together? Nick Spevak elaborates. “While our songs are all eclectic in their subject matter, I see them as all rooted in the universal human struggle against adversity, in one form or another, whether that be warfare, oppression, or even the forces of nature itself.”
Vocalist George Miller, whose rasping shout hearkens back to the old UK doom of Aaron Stainthorpe or Vincent Cavanaugh, also provides a wicked boost to the bottom end, his bass licks as visible in the mix as the booming percussion of the aforementioned Matt Howe. Pertaining to the poetry he delivered, Miller concurs with his guitarist. “I find that our individual lyrical themes relate closely to one another regardless of subject matter. There is common ground between these songs. There is a desire to overcome. A bridge between god and man. A road between reality and fiction, history and our future.”
Wise words, young band. This is the feeling surrounding A Gathering Storm, an album of surpassing dignity that does not forget to rock the socks off the listener. Nick Spevak discusses the spellcasters who immersed him into a life of music. “In a lot of ways, we all share similar interests musically. One of mine and Zach’s foundational bands is Opeth. We are equally inspired by the different genres of extreme metal as well as progressive music. Some of my personal influences as far as bands are from the Greek metal scene. I am particularly inspired by Septicflesh, for their melding of both the grotesque and the sublime. Also, Rotting Christ is badass for the use of world music and tribal percussion in the context of metal. As far as lyrical themes, some of my favorite bands are Primordial and Ahab, especially for their use of serious subject matter as well as an epic sense of storytelling. I am also influenced by music outside the realm of metal, in particular 80’s goth, but I also take massive influence from classic cinema and composers such as Maurice Jarre, Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota and more recently Jocelyn Pook. What I appreciate about their compositions is that they served the purpose of advancing a greater story in the context of the films. One of my ultimate goals as a songwriter is to meld the use of cinematic storytelling with extreme metal.”
Zach Hornung is similarly inspired and enthused. “As Nick mentioned, Opeth was a huge influence on me during my formative musical years. In particular, learning songs like “Hope leaves” helped me discover chords and intervals that expanded my conception of guitar playing. That lead me to fingerstyle acoustic playing, spanning from Andy McKee, Donovan, Nick Drake and others. Most every Gallows Hymn song has some artifact of influence from that style of music in my guitar playing. aside from that, I got really into choral music when writing for the Gathering Storm. Russian choir, and modern film choir in particular. Enslaved is a huge influence, right up there with Opeth. Also, Fen, Dead Can Dance, Wolves In The Throne Room, Agalloch, Fallujah, Hate, Meshuggah, Ulcerate, and the whole Icelandic black metal scene. There is a wide range of influences but that is just a quick gloss.”
Its not surprise that Gallows Hymn takes their influences from such a wide array of artists. The music on their debut, however, is entirely focused upon making riveting heavy metal. Riff-driven, fist-pounding metal, as exemplified in album closer “Seven Pillared Worthy House.” Yet they aren’t afraid to add orchestral flourishes, the keys flavoring the sound not dissimilar to the way Satyricon employed them on their classic Nemesis Divina album. Noticeable, yet in no way taking the place of the six-stringers’ work.
“Atmosphere is one of the most important aspects of our music,” asserts Spevak, “but I would say that the key to our work is the overall composition and structure of the songs. Pure “atmosphere” without any memorable or catchy riffs would be bland, but on the other hand, so would a collection of heavy riffs with no atmosphere or embellishment. As for the orchestral sections that you hear on the album, our goal is to mold a symphonic element to the music without over relying on it or using it as a substitute for bland riffs and boring rhythms. While I am a believer that metal can reach the heights of classical music and sometimes does, I do think that there are many bands who use an orchestra as a crutch and that are all sizzle and no steak.”
Hornung knows that different elements within Gallows Hymn’s sound each have their role. “I think Nick pretty much hit the nail on the head. I would add that our music is primarily focused on melody and the orchestral elements tend to expand on that to bring everything together and add different textures.”
Textured melody, pounding rhythms and interludes of instrumental beauty abound on The Gathering Storm, putting the listener in mind of bygone ages of heroism and solidarity in the path of strife. Gallows Hymn, however, feels a couple of steps short of the pure escapism of certain strains of heavy metal. Surely, there are lessons to be learned from the past as our species lurches towards its uncertain future.
Spevak picks up the thread. “The inherent problem with the continuous march of human advancement is that every time we think we’ve fixed an issue we’ve often merely created another one to take its place. While I don’t necessarily believe in romanticizing the past entirely, I find that the conditions of the modern world have led to an artificial sterility that ultimately leads to the very evils we originally tried to eradicate.”
Hornung is a bit more pensive. “I don’t necessarily think that technology itself has strangled our way of life. I do think that it has set us on the road to freedom. There are lots of things that could change that, like artificial intelligence or quantum computing, but they could arguably just as easily speed us along to further freedom. But that’s beside the point. I couldn’t have recorded this album without technological progress and the information bank that is the internet. People are oftentimes their own biggest impediment. Its easy for people to sit on their phones or computers or TV’s or whatever technology they have and waste their lives away. And certain companies pay professionals to cater technologies to do exactly that, moral considerations aside. but doing that is better than dying of smallpox, or the plague, or tuberculosis, or polio, or tooth diseases, or any other number of things that technology has allowed us to overcome. At base I think all of that is underscored by human curiosity, ingenuity, will, and creativity. People tend to romanticize the past and forget about the number of children and mothers dying in childbirth and other terrible things. We are lucky to be able to sit in a heated room with running water and a refrigerator and ponder how to construct a great melody, song and capture an atmosphere. People will find ways to be either lazy or productive in any given society in any time period.”
Excellent points raised, it is clear that Gallows Hymn put a lot of thought into their music, as well as its place in the grand scheme of advancing society. Speaking of futures, theirs is looking quite productive as they enter the upcoming decade. Spevak’s excitement is palpable. “For fans of our music you are in luck. We have written 90% of our next album, and are set to begin recording in January of 2020. The next album will be called “The Age of Decadence” and will largely follow the same path carved by The Gathering Storm but with many new improvements. We feel as though the new songs we have surpassed our work on The Gathering Storm entirely.”
Follow Gallows Hymn on: