Doom seems to have taken over the underground at the moment. Even though trends come and go, doom will stay as long as there is a dedicated following. Myopic Empire are three dedicated doom warriors who live for the slow, powerful riffs of the genre. Ahead of their show in Colchester at the Waiting Room, I spoke to the band about all things doom.
Jack: Hey Myopic Empire, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. How are you doing?
James Balcombe (Drums): Alive.
Dean Derron (Vocals/Bass): Same here. I think. Then again, we are all probably in a computer simulation, so who actually knows?
Jack: How did Myopic Empire form?
Tom Webber (Guitar/Vocals): We formed in a puddle of sick in a bus stop outside a KFC in Uganda.
James: The band already existed in a drummer-less capacity and I had actually played some of their earlier tracks on my Saint FM radio show so had been aware of the band for a while. They’d obviously gotten to the point of desperation looking for a drummer as they asked me to join, I was already playing in 2 other active bands (Osmium Guillotine & The Tickturds) but thought I’d give it a bash and see if I can fit a third into my ever-so-busy schedule. So far, so good!
Dean: Tom and I met when Tom came to buy an amp from me and we got chatting about music. A few months later we realised we shared the same ideas about doom and decided to work on some music.
Jack: It’s clear that the band loves playing doom, what makes doom such a seductive genre?
Dean: The riffs! Oh my the riffs! I like how you can breathe as the riff breathes in and out. It’s not a blur that you have to concentrate to make out. It’s not technicality or musicianship. It’s something you feel. The riff cuts through you and you feel it in your gut.
Tom: It’s just full of massive riffs, and I’ve been told I’m slow my whole life so it’s only fitting I play slow music.
James: Maybe I don’t love playing doom. Don’t assume my genre.
Jack: What are the main influences for Myopic Empire? Have you been influenced by any films or books alongside music and actual events?
Dean: Yes, I think there are some films that influence the lyrics I write and the imagery I try to convey. Ingmar Bergman’s ‘The Seventh Seal’ influenced the song ‘Whispered Words’ on the Doom EP, and I watch a lot of science fiction. Science fiction, aside from usually depicting the future, puts humankind in its place as a cog in the machine of the universe, slowly clicking, turning and grinding towards some unknown end.
Tom: Nihilism, self loathing and the odd piece of music.
Jack: Are there any unknown/obscure doom bands you want to recommend to readers?
James: There’s a lot of great bands on the local scene who fit the doom/sludge/stoner/prog category that more people should definitely know about, such as Earthmass, Three Thrones, Whoremoan, Telepathy, Royyy, Old Man Lizard to name a few…
Dean: Vodun, Lucifer’s Fall, GURT, Camel of Doom, Age of Taurus, Universe 217, Bevar Sea, Sickfist! These are all great doom/sludge bands from around the world, and you should hear every single one if you like doom!
Jack: I think doom metal is getting more popular, would you agree?
James: I’ve been to a fair few local doom gigs over the past few years and they’re always well attended. I don’t think it’s a style of music that’s ever going to be big in the mainstream, but it’ll always have it’s followers and definitely seems to be growing.
Dean: It sometimes seems like that. I see a lot more big doom festivals and gigs around the country, such as HRH Doom versus Stoner. That had a killer line-up. If doom is getting popular, I hope we can ride that wave somewhat and spread the message of the end of days!
Tom: I think people are just getting bored of bands that can’t actually write songs and just play scales at 250bpm over riffs that look like binary code.
Jack: What album best captures the spirit of doom?
Dean: Woah. That is a tough one. Blimey. That is hard. Doom takes so many forms, from the traditional Candlemass style to the grimy and dark stoner style of Electric Wizard. I think the album I put on when I feel in a really doomy mood is actually a relatively unknown album by Age of Taurus. They’ve only done one demo and an album, but the album Desperate Souls of Tortured Times is absolutely killer. It has great vocals, lyrics and songwriting, but it is entirely focused around massive riffs, some of which are huge and slow, and some of which are blistering headbangers. It’s fantastic fun.
Tom: Death Magic Doom by Candlemass. That album has every lesson in doom you’ll ever need!
James: This is always a tricky one as there are so many to choose from, I like to look back at the origins of the music, which for me would be Master of Reality by Black Sabbath. I think it’s fair to say every doom band out there can trace their influences back to the early Sabbath stuff, so as an introduction to the genre I think that’s not a bad place to start.
Jack: You released your Doom EP last year, are you still happy with the EP or is there anything you’d change with it?
James: Well it was recorded before I was in the band, so… Yeah, me on drums!
Dean: I try not to look back too much. We learned a lot of lessons by doing that EP, people are still enjoying the songs when we play them live, and we are really proud of it, but we are striving to do something better with the coming album.
Tom: It’s a good EP, it represents where the band was at that point in time. One thing I’d change is that we used a drum machine on it.
Jack: What was the recording process like?
Tom: Like being locked in a cell with nothing but nails on a blackboard for entertainment. We recorded it ourselves over the course of 2014.
Dean: [Laughs] Tom! Tom and I worked together a lot more than we did on Myopeia, and I think that makes it more cohesive, sound wise. We were working on songs for an album, but we decided that we didn’t want to rush it and we had some songs that we thought would be a good showcase of where we were at at that point in time. I think our sound and songwriting ability improved a lot after Myopeia, and we wanted to show that. I can’t even remember exactly what we did – I think we both recorded guitars at home, using identical setups, but we did record some together. I played most of the bass, and so Tom was teaching me bass lines as I recorded them. I made a note of who recorded what in the liner notes, because each song was slightly different in that regard. We have quite different styles of playing guitar and so it’s nice to capture that on a record (Tom says my style is ‘unnatural’, which I take as a compliment!). We even got our friend Dale in to help write ‘Whispered Words,’ and he did a great job on that.
Jack: Some of the songs on the album touch on political and social themes, would you say Doom is a political EP?
Dean: Most of what we will write as a band will be about the end of the world, which I’d say is a political issue, but not as specifically political as a couple of the songs on Doom. ‘SOB’ for example, is about the American church’s influence in the ‘kill the gays’ campaign in Uganda; and ‘Democratic Demons’ is about police brutality. The other songs begin the process of telling the story of the end of the world.
Jack: Your first gig was only in August last year, was it a nerve-wracking gig?
Dean: Yeah, you could say that! It’s always tense when you get on stage, but we’re growing in confidence with every gig.
Tom: It was a little nerve-wracking, but it was mostly a drunk one. The other bands on the bill didn’t turn up.
Dean: Oh yeah, I forgot about that! We headlined and supported all at the same time. We actually played every song we knew, including two Black Sabbath covers!
James: I suppose so. Although I’ve had my fair share of playing live with other bands, it was still playing a whole set of new songs with a new band so there’s always gonna be a few extra nerves at first.
Jack: How has Myopic Empire’s live show progressed since then?
Dean: We’ve got tighter and developed more of a rapport with each other, so things are a bit smoother.
James: Well we’re only just into double figures now with the number of live gigs we’ve played but there’s already a noticeable improvement all round.
Tom: We’ve got louder and drunker!
James: So far there’s no studio recordings available by the full band (the previous releases used programmed drums), so it was good to release this as a taster of what the full band sound like live. There are some limited CD copies available as a bonus alongside the Doom EP.
Dean: Tom has a great portable recorder and we just positioned it near the sound desk. I then mixed the tracks in my home studio and two days later we had a free downloadable live recording! Technology is amazing.
Jack: Did you think that was a good gig?
Dean: I think the crowd seemed to enjoy it, but we’ve got better since then.
James: Yeah it was great fun with a really good crowd. We were sharing a line-up with other bands I’ve known for a while so that always makes the night more enjoyable. We played well but I know we’ve improved since then so it’s a good document of how the band sounded at one of our first gigs.
Jack: You’re playing The Waiting Room in Colchester in October for Shalloween, as it’s Halloween are you doing anything special for the gig?
James: We’re just gonna get out there and play some riffs! We look hideous enough as it is without having to make an effort. Really looking forward to that gig though, I’ve never played The Waiting Room and there’s some great bands on the bill.
Jack: The Waiting Room is sadly closing its doors in December, what can be done to stop the rise of venue closures?
Dean: I’ll let James answer that. He’s the music scene guru.
James: Ah, the bane of all our lives is the constant closure of venues! The only thing we, as music fans and band members, can really do is just keep on supporting them. Go watch a night of live music and see some new music, buy a couple drinks while you’re there, it’s not going to break your bank balance but it’ll all go towards keeping these places alive.
Tom: People should just stop closing venues – that would work!
Jack: Earlier this year it was MetalRecusants 5th anniversary. Is print journalism dying?
Dean: I have no idea. James?
James: Unfortunately like a lot of formats everything is gradually going digital…but much like CDs and vinyl, there will always be people that want something physical!
Jack: What are the future plans coming up for Myopic Empire?
Dean: We will be working on an album, which will be called ‘Road to Ruin’. We don’t know the release date yet, but we’re cracking on with it. Everything’s written, but we’re just rehearsing and tweaking the songs so that we can begin the recording process. I’m also working on some unique artwork.
Jack: A lot more bands are singing about the end times, are the end times near?
Dean: Yeah. We’ve already crossed the ‘carbon tipping point’ and the planet is now working its way to a new state of equilibrium. It will reach that point without humankind and a lot of the animals and plants that exist now. But it will recover and life will find a way. That is my only hope.
James: Oh yeah, definitely. My plans are just go to The Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over.
Jack: Finally, as Halloween is coming up, what is your favourite horror film?
Dean: The Mist, by Stephen King. It has a tragic ending, and I like that.
James: Sister Act II: Back In The Habit.
Tom: That’s a harder question than the one about the doom album! I’d have to go with the original Evil Dead trilogy. It feels like they make horror films for kids these days.
Jack: Myopic Empire, thanks for your time and I’ll see you in Colchester!
Dean: See you there! Doom forever!