Canadian Epic Metal darlings SMOULDER already made an impression with their first album “Times Of Obscene Evil und Wild Daring”. The following trip to Europe ended in a disaster thanks to Covid. But that didn´t stop SMOULDER – in 2020, they released the EP “Dream Quest Ends” and now they released their second full length album “Violent Creed Of Vengeance”. And what an album that is! For me “Violent Creed Of Vengeance” is a sure candidate for my album of the year. So we sent a rather extensive list of questions which they bravely worked through.
Hey! How are you all?
Adam: I just completed my last day at work yesterday, so I’m exhausted and relieved. Capitalism is a nightmare from which I fear I will never wake, but I’m taking a break for now. How are you?
Congratulations on the release of “Violent Creed Of Vengeance”! The album is huge and will most likely be my album of the year – as it is unlikely that ATLANTEAN KODEX will again release a new album in the same year as you.
Vincent: Thank you. I guess it would be a blessing as well as a curse to have a new ATLANTEAN KODEX-album this year!
“I definitely pushed myself to become a better lead player this time around” – You can hear the results on “Violent Creed Of Vengeance”
I already liked the lead guitar work on “Times Of Obscene Evil And Wild Daring”, but you really took that to a new level on “Violent Creed Of Vengeance”. The harmonies are absolutely killer!
Vincent: I definitely pushed myself to become a better lead player this time around. And you can thank Kevin for the harmonies, he’s got a really good ear for smooth guitar lines.
All in all I would say you sound a lot more courageous than on your debut. Kind of like you loosened the brake and went full throttle.
Vincent: I agree. These are definitely our most ambitious and fastest songs yet, and there’s no sign of slowing down.
That applies even more to the vocals. Sarah, you really sound a lot more confident. Who inspires you the most as a singer and as a live performer?
Sarah: Turns out when everything in your life improves dramatically, others can hear it in your voice! But yeah…. moving to Finland has been really life-changing in every single way for both myself and Vincent, but I’ve also been working hard on improving my vocals since the debut was released. A lot of that was learning how to better manage my various health issues, which has paid off in spades. It meant I’ve developed a lot more strength via weight-lifting and hiking, often while singing. It strengthened my vocal cords and my body immeasurably.
As for the actual question – who inspires me the most? The singers that go absolutely berserk on stage and look and sound like they are possessed. The singers who celebrate the strangeness and ugliness of their own voices. People who are uniquely themselves and don’t apologize for it. Here’s a list: Tim Baker (CIRITH UNGOL), Leather Leone (CHASTAIN), Grace Slick (JEFFERSON AIRPLANE), RONNIE JAMES DIO (RAINBOW, BLACK SABBATH, you get it), Terry Jones (PAGAN ALTAR).
And holy fuck! On “Spellforger” you are on fire! I really lost my shit, when i heard that song the first time on my way back home from work. I think I nearly started a one man moshpit in the supermarket… I guess that banger is very challenging to sing live.
Sarah: It’s not yet on our setlist, but the goal is to have it on our setlist for our fall European tour. I’m already working out more in advance of that tour, I know it’s going to be physically demanding. We’re starting rehearsals for that next week, now that we’re home from COURTS OF CHAOS FESTIVAL!
Speaking of moshpits… I can totally see that happening with some of the new songs you wrote. “The Talisman And The Blade” is some neckbreaking stuff!
Vincent: Yeah that is easily one of our fastest yet, and we tend to play it even faster live, so while I have yet to witness any moshpits during our set, I imagine it’s only a matter of time.
You weren’t that much in the mood for doom stuff, I guess. Of yours there are still some doomy passages, but not one pure doom song like “Black Gods Kiss” from your debut. Was this a conscious decision? Or did the whole mess that was our world within the last years just make you more aggressive?
Sarah: I personally don’t think the doom is gone. “Dragonslayer’s Doom” is definitely an epic doom song, and my personal favourite we’ve ever written. Both “Victims of Fate” and “Midnight in the Mirror World” are epic doom songs. But yeah, you’re not wrong about the general sentiment. We became faster on this album, and a lot of it was to do with exorcising aggression about how fucked up the world is. It also was because we put a lot more time and effort into perfecting the songs, and this time around, we were really enjoying going off on strange tangents. More than anything, I’m unbelievably impressed by how talented the guys are. I love listening to our music, it rarely does what you expect and it’s extremely interesting and catchy.
You really have a good mix of catchy tunes and more complex, weird stuff like “Midnight In The Mirror World” for example. It is mostly Shon who writes the latter ones, right? Kevin is kind of your Hitmeister 😉
Vincent: Kevin and I have two different writing styles so we were very deliberate in that sense. I’ve got a specific arcane approach to songwriting, whereas Kevin has more of a classic approach.
Which albums or artists were you listening to, while the songs for the new album were written? Any certain things that influenced you?
Vincent: While it’s probably obvious to the average power metal enthusiast, but BLIND GUARDIAN was the main influence for me while writing “The Talisman and The Blade”. The first four albums in particular.
Sarah and Vincent married amidst the pandemic and moved to Finland, so the two had a lot happening within the last years. How did you all get through the pandemic and what kept you sane?
Sarah: The pandemic sucked for everyone. For us, it kicked off with us losing our first-ever tour and a good $10,000 in band money; from there, we were notified by the Canadian healthcare system that diabetics were disproportionally dying from Covid so they recommended self-isolating very aggressively – we ended up not letting anyone in our apartment for around 300 days for that reason. Then I broke my arm in a bike accident right when the second lockdown started, and it was misdiagnosed, which led to a crippling complication that took years and A LOT of money to recover from. But you know what? In the end, we realized we were incredibly fortunate. We kept our jobs and our home and lives. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters. And through all that, Vincent kept me sane.
Why the move to Finland? Did you plan that for longer? What do you do for living there?
Sarah: I’m a dual citizen of Canada and Finland and have always wanted to live in Europe. When Vincent told me he was ready to give it a try, we left Canada as quickly as we could. There are a lot of reasons why, but to be brief, access to healthcare and greenspace were the most important. As for what we do, I work full time and Vincent is in integration schooling.
How is the mood in Finland right now? They share a lot of border with Russia, who is threatening them for joining NATO, a step I can only understand (the NATO joining, not the threatening), as Russia under Putin seems to be completely unpredictable and dangerous.
Sarah: I would say the mood is somber and cautious. I can’t speak for all of Finland, but I think folks feel uncomfortable, angry and afraid of our next door neighbour, and sympathetic for the people who live there that are desperate to leave but unable to do so.
“It was really great to all put in the work together at the same place and time!” – For the first time since the demo SMOULDER did the recordings together as a band
How did you get to know your Finnish partners in crime, producers as well as live musicians?
Vincent: Because of our mutual involvement in the Speed Metal scene, I had been in contact with Dimi of RANGER for years before moving. We met him and Iiro for the first time during a visit to Finland in 2018 and have stayed close ever since. Shortly after moving to Helsinki we started sharing a jam space with EMISSARY and asked if they would like to play live with us.
Sarah: It was great to meet the RANGER guys through Vincent. They are smart, hardworking, raw, unhinged, and supremely talented musicians with their heads screwed on right. I’m very grateful for their time in Smoulder, and although it’s likely that neither Dimi or Iiro will be playing with us much for the foreseeable future (courtesy of some exciting news: Dimi is becoming a dad! And their bands EMISSARY and RANGER are getting very busy!), they are welcome to return at any time. Otherwise, we meet the very wonderful Valterri through a friend, and he’ll be drumming with us for the fall tour, as Kevin and his lovely wife are also expecting!! Valterri, like Dimi and Iiro, is also in a busy band (a death metal band called ASHEN TOMB), so we work with his schedule. So yeah! Long story short: we’ve got two Smoulder babies on the way, which is very exciting, and it also means the collective is growing. The nice thing tho? We know a lot of really talented folks in bands in Helsinki!
The album sounds great! It sounds raw and in your face! Did the rest of the SMOULDER guys come to Finland for the recordings?
Collin: Yeah, Kevin and I flew in from the USA and Adam flew in from Canada. I think that us being able to record together really helped the album become what it is now. Due to distance we haven’t been able to all record together in the same room since we did the demo, so it was really great to all put in the work together at the same place and time! Besides all of us being there, the engineers at the studio (Soundwell Studios in Espoo) were awesome to work with and were really invested in the project. They definitely got the best out of all of us and stepped our production game up a few notches!
If the whole band was a Dungeons & Dragons Pen&Paper party, who would play what kind of character?
Collin: Alright, here’s what I think our party would be;
Michael Moorcock spoke the Intro to “Victims Of Fate”. How did that happen?
Sarah: That took a lot of emailing to pull off, but I’m glad it happened. Vincent mentioned it years ago – how cool it would be to have Moorcock to narrate the intro to that song, which is about his books. I figured there was no harm in asking, and eventually, we were able to get his contact info from our friends at DMR Books. Over of a year later, it finally worked out. He was so generous with us – initially we asked him to narrate a line featured on one of his books, and he said “it is okay if I write something original instead?” Our heads almost exploded. The night he read it to us over the phone, we sat up all night waiting. Definitely something we’ll never forget, laying in bed and having Michael Moorcock read to us something he wrote.
And of course you have another great work of Michael Wheelan as cover artwork. This time you choose “Amazons 2” from 1981. Why this certain piece?
Adam: The piece was originally created to be the cover for an anthology featuring women authors and characters, and an aesthetic rooted in Greek mythology suits epic metal, so those thematic lines are clear from the artwork to the music. However what’s most important is of course the artwork itself, which depicts powerful women taking violent action, men perishing in combat, cool bladed weapons, and a smouldering blood red sky – all with Whelan’s fantastic realism and detail. Just looking at it, I think we all realised it was a perfect fit.
I guess it would be a dream to have a cover, painted by Wheelan especially for you. Is that in the realm of possibilities or is that too expensive for a band of your status?
Adam: I wouldn’t say it’s outside the realm of possibilities, although it has been a while now since Michael Whelan illustrated a commission during his semi-retirement. I suppose there’d be no harm in asking, but there is also already an enormous volume of work to choose from when going through his career, all of it top-notch, so I’m not worried about continuing the streak of powerful album covers any time soon.
What is your favourite dinosaur? Only one per band member!
Kevin: I’ll go with the big boi Brachiosaurus
Adam said in our last interview, after the release of “Times…”, that he also wants to contribute to songwriting and already has a song ready and some more ideas. When will we hear something written by him?
Adam: I’ve been working on it for sure, but I’m a less experienced songwriter than the others and there are a lot of songs and ideas in the running with everyone writing – which is great because we can choose what we feel are the strongest and leave others out of an album’s tracklist in the name of quality control and being all killer, no filler. So my attempts at songwriting haven’t made the cut yet, but there’s one we were considering recording for a future release that Kevin and I collaborated on, and that Sarah wrote lyrics and vocal lines for – about Pelennor Fields. It’s a lot of fun to play but still needs some edits to keep from feeling too plodding, in my opinion.
I’m taking some time away from work this year and that will definitely free me up to work on music beyond just being a competent bassist. I’ll be refining old song ideas, writing new riffs, and also working a bit more on understanding music theory. Meanwhile anything I write, the rest of the band has free reign to edit or use parts from – and Kevin’s always going to know best when it comes to writing the drums, guitar solos will be tweaked, and even if I write lyrics I’ll want Sarah to be happy with them if she’s going to sing them. So it will be a group effort, but I’m definitely working to get some songwriting credits at some point!
“A little bit like getting blown over by a tornado?” – The KEEP IT TRUE shows did leave an impression
On “Dream Quest Ends” you had a duet vocal part which I really liked. Was this a one time thing or could you imagine doing this again or something similar?
Adam: I’m always really glad to hear when someone enjoys Dream Quest Ends because it has a bit of a uniquely elegant feel with some much softer sections than our usual. I think it’s something special, and am always happy to take on vocal parts as long as they suit the song. In a way the Dream Quest Ends EP was our experiment with more prominent dual vocals, as Vincent sings on “Warrior Witch of Hel.” Backing vocals are pretty rare on Violent Creed outside of a few points where we sing as a chorus, but I don’t think it’s ever out of the question as long as they serve the song.
One thing i really need to say, even if it is a little bit late: I LOVE your cover of MANILLA ROAD´s “Cage Of Mirrors”, i even think it is better than the original. I might get crucified for that opinion, though…
Sarah: That’s very kind! We’ve heard a handful of people say that, and are always surprised and humbled by it. Neudi (last drummer of MANILLA ROAD) was kind enough to give us permission to cover the song when we attended our first KEEP IT TRUE back in 2018, and we saw MANILLA ROAD multiple times in multiple cities, so we feel a kinship with Mark and company. RIP to a true gentleman.
You played KEEP IT TRUE just some weeks ago, even twice! How did it feel to play before the united die hard european metal scene?
Sarah: A little bit like getting blown over by a tornado? Wow. It was just such an intense and huge experience for us. It was extremely fun and very exhausting and a great learning experience, that’s for sure! To get to play not once, but twice, the weekend of our album release, and to play with MESSIAH FORCE, PAGAN ALTAR, CIRITH UNGOL, SÖLICITÖR, BLOOD STAR, VISIGOTH, SANHEDRIN…. And not only that, but I’m thrilled that singers of SÖLICITÖR, BLOOD STAR and SANHEDRIN joined SMOULDER on stage for the ending of “Sword Woman”. It felt really special to be able to do that with multiple musicians we deeply admire.
Was this the biggest show you played so far?
Your new album was released on the Friday of the KEEP IT TRUE weekend and the first pressing of vinyl was sold out even before the festival ended. This is huge, isn’t it? Did Enrico order a second pressing in advance or will there be a supply problem?
Sarah: We’re currently waiting on the second press. It feels great that we sold out of a 1500 run that quickly! I hope we can maintain interest, but we’ll see how it goes. There are MANY amazing albums being released this year.
I just ordered a path with the new album cover while writing these questions (hours before bandcamp friday, sorry, i’m an idiot ha ha ha). I hope there will also be a new backpatch from you guys because I need this for my new battle vest!
Sarah: We’ll definitely do another backpatch eventually. We like to do small merch runs, and we time them out so that people can potentially order more than one item. So be patient and just click “follow” on our Bandcamp page to be notified!
Do you have plans to also ship shirts and stuff from Finland for european buyers in the future? Shipping from Canada still costs a fortune.
Sarah: Shipping from Finland to the rest of Europe is sadly also a fortune – we recently shipped a record to Canada from here and it cost 47 euro, which is just…. Completely insane. Your best bet is to order from Cruz del Sur!
In the promo sheet for your new album, i read that the album title was born out of Sarah QUOTE “processing of the pandemic, its impact on social progress and the unending reality of misogyny and rape culture” END QUOTE. I have similar thoughts concerning the impact of the pandemic, as well as Putins attack on Ukraine on our progress as a society. The pandemic, especially the lockdowns led to a rise of domestic violence and traumatised a whole generation of kids. I still think that most of the decisions our government made during the pandemic were ok and that we got through the pandemic better than other countries but the impact on our most vulnerable groups was massive.
And the war in Ukraine is used as an excuse by many conservatives to slow down the fight against the climate catastrophe. They still try to tell people that we can mostly just live as we used to and even gave the nerve to compare climate activists with terrorists… It’s a shitshow and I guess we could all hysterically laugh about it, if it wasn’t so damn serious… Concerning the misogyny and rape culture part – i could not agree more. As soon as I take a look outside of my happy progressive lefty feminist bubble, I can only shake my head at what is still considered acceptable behaviour towards women.
Here in Germany, as far as i know, every day a man tries to murder his partner and every third day, one of them succeeds. This is completely unacceptable and still, women are far too often not taken serious when they report being threatened or stalked. Victims of sexual violence are blamed for wearing the wrong clothes or going out alone or whatever nonsense is brought up to excuse male behavior. Awareness is growing, but we still have a long way to go as a society. Some time ago I thought it was a little bit better in the metal scene as in society as a whole, but I am not so sure anymore… What are your thoughts about that?
Sarah: I think the metal scene and world at large have a very long way to go when it comes to being actually inclusive and egalitarian. I know a lot of people are trying to be more aware of their behaviors and improve, and that’s a good thing! But….. it’s deeply frustrating to be a woman in the metal scene. Every show we play, something inevitably happens that reminds me of that. And you’re right – victims of sexual violence are, in particular, treated horribly. This is my biggest contention with the metal scene. Every single time an abuser is publicly outed, you can see the response online. People start tripping over themselves to call the victim a liar and threaten the victim or their supporters, to applaud the abuser for their supposed talent, or make sure everyone knows that the abuser is a “good person, so they couldn’t possibly do that.” Rapists and abusers are constantly being reframed as the “real victim” of a “smear campaign”. It makes me sick to my stomach how easy it is for people to be brutally misogynistic when it’s convenient for them or because “sick riffs”.
If the metal scene or world at large actually cared about victims of abuse, it would eject abusers without prejudice and demand accountability from them (whether that be requiring that abusers undergo therapy, community service, give donations to charity that supports victims of abuse, and actually acknowledge their abuse), instead of putting them on festivals and magazine covers.
And the development in the USA when it comes to the rights of Trans people is alarming… Even with our own problems with right wing conservatives here in Germany, this shit seems so unreal…
Kevin: Unfortunately, some bigotry runs deep in the USA, especially religious bigotry in certain parts of the country. It’s insane to me how some people get so angry about trans people, when they just want to be their authentic selves. That doesn’t harm anyone. Whatever happened to live and let live? Afterall, republicans claim to be the “pro-freedom” party.
I only hope for the whole queer community over there, that someone like DeSantis will not be the next president. How would you describe the situation for women and queer people in Canada and Finland?
Sarah: Finland is really odd and unbalanced when it comes to inclusivity. It’s odd because both women and gay/lesbian/bi-sexual people legally enjoy quite advanced rights, but when that intersects with what’s actually happening in private lives, then it changes. A big part of that is because it’s a monoculture, and you definitely can feel and see that as an immigrant who is an outspoken woman. According to statistics, it’s the second most dangerous country for women in the European Union, and one in three women here experiences intimate partner violence in their lives (https://yle.fi/a/3-12204299).
It took until February 2023 – as in, less than a few months ago – for Finland to change the law that required trans people to be medically sterilized if they underwent sex reassignment. Trans people really struggle with access to medical resources. So. Finland has improvements to make. Many improvements to make. I sincerely hope that those improvements will come, and will fight in the streets alongside our comrades for them.
You just played some shows in Europe but I had no chance to see you. How did you experience these shows, any anecdotes you want to share?
Sarah: This last run of shows was a lot of work and a lot of fun. We learned a lot, especially because our audience sizes are growing so quickly it’s hard to keep up. We also spent a ton of time rehearsing, which has been really useful. Each city and festival has been a different and unique experience.
Are there already plans for further shows? Cologne is a very nice city 😉
Sarah: Indeed! We will tour Europe in September, and have other festivals on the horizon that are yet to be announced.
What is going on with EZRA BROOKS? Last thing I read is that the first full length is in the works. When will it see the light of day?
Vincent: Recording is in progress. Some lyrics are still being finished, and the vocals and various other small details still need to be completed. It should see the light of day in 2024!
That’s it, you have reached the end of this way to long interview. Thank you for your time,, your answers and of course that beast of an album! And last but not least, thank you for being vocal about the shit that is going on in the scene and in society in general! The last words are yours!
Sarah: Thanks so much for the interview, we really appreciate it!