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[Curumbor Elendil in bold; WHW founder Tom Phillips in plain face.]

So first tell us a little bit about the upcoming album. How would you describe the sound? How long do you expect it will be? What's your target date for release? Any chance of getting "In Aeturnum" as a bonus track? (I got the Eibon Records pressing of "Of Empires Forlorn," which doesn't have that track, so I'm asking for selfish reasons.)

“Vast Oceans Lachrymose” is absolutely the most diverse collection of material so far, and clearly a logical step beyond “Empires.” A lot of people said we pushed the boundaries of doom metal as far as they could go with “Empires,” (although I don’t consider that album pure doom anyway), and if that is in fact the case, then “VOL” can only be described as “While Heaven Wept music;” All of the signature characteristics are present in the new material – the melancholic and epic sweeping melodies, the dense orchestration, the occasional progressive flourishes…but there are some distinct differences this time around. For example, the emotional quality of the record as a whole is far from “one dimensional” – there are many contrasts throughout the course of the album. More specifically, rather than exhibiting the true equilibrium of happiness against sadness, we’ve opted to contrast the melancholia with explosive rage – as per usual this is the result of expressing real feelings, so it’s as sincere as ever. With this in mind, the actual music is varied; some songs are the fastest we’ve ever written while others are more typical of what people have come to expect from WHW. In all cases though, it’s clear that “VOL” is 100% epic metal throughout, and will surely be a rewarding journey for those who choose to explore it. To further describe the sound of it, try to envision Immortal, Dream Theater, and Candlemass performing Viking-era Bathory hymns or perhaps Arcturus playing the music of early Fates Warning. Sounds bizarre huh? It’s a very natural blend of our influences, so there are aspects of doom, black, prog rock and metal, epic, and classical in virtually every song. As for the structure of the album itself, it will contain 9-11 tracks, clocking in between 50-60 minutes. The album will actually be divided into 2 sidelong “suites” where a group of songs intentionally flow together. All of the compositions can be performed individually or as a part of a larger whole. At the moment we’re looking at a February 2006 release, but we’re not really in any hurry to rush the recording process (we’re known to be obsessive and meticulous!) – all that matters is that in the end the album is identical to what I envision and that it maintains or surpasses our own standards of quality (in terms of production and performance). As for “In Aeturnum,” it will not be included on “VOL,” however we will be re-issuing a new edition of “Empires” after the release of “VOL” and it will contain both exclusive tracks as well as an improved mastering/mix (I do recommend the more recent version in terms of production – but my goal with this “ultimate” version is to have both the smooth flow of the Eibon pressing as well as the clarity of the Rage Of Achilles edition).

Sounds diverse, which is always good. One-dimensional doom (funeral doom, for example) rarely works well, to my ears. Will there be any neoclassical-ish melodic songs like “The Drowning Years”? While straightforward in approach, that’s one incredibly effective song.

Oh, this whole album is even more neo-classical in terms of form and structure; definitely some fine examples of counterpoint (which is rarely seen in metal period) as well as different forms besides sonata allegro, including a few pieces involving theme and variation. Unorthodox structures have always come natural to me – instead of something typical like ABABACAB, some of these new songs are more like ABCDEDEABCDEFG or ABCDEFGFGFG (if that makes any sense!). Anyway, there are a couple more “conventional” songs, but nothing exactly like “The Drowning Years” – I don’t think we’ve ever had one song that is reminiscent of another, and I’d prefer to keep it that way. I can say that overall there’s probably one entire song and one outro that have similar moods to “Drowning” however, and both have the contrapuntal aspects as well coincidentally.

What about time signatures? You mention Dream Theater, Arcturus, and Fates Warning, all of whom have done interesting things with tempos and time signatures – one of my favorite pieces on La Masquerade Infernale is a bizarre metal waltz. Anything like that?

Absolutely; it has always been a natural thing really – I’m not sure if it’s because I was a terrible rhythm player when I first started or if it’s because I’ve always listened to more challenging music (or a combination of both), but it seems like it’s just in my nature to come up with riffs in odd time signatures. Almost all of our riffs start straightforward enough in common time signatures like 4/4 or 6/8, but for melodic reasons I always naturally add a measure of 5 or 7 or 9 at the end of a phrase. That aside, Trevor and I have experimented with odd syncopations and metric modulation since we played together in Brave, so there are examples of that, although I have to admit I’ve intentionally pushed him to keep some things more straightforward than he’d like to do – polyrhythms, while very cool conceptually don’t really lend themselves to headbanging metal haha! I’m not adverse to incorporating them inevitably, but I’d rather do it subtlely, within some internal layer of the music, rather than on the drums, which would be more obvious. I think you’ll enjoy the shifts and changes in this new batch of material.

On your website, you've said that you're moving to Europe permanently. How will that affect your collaboration with the other members of WHW? What made you decide to relocate?

Well, at the moment any plans of that nature are on hold for a plethora of reasons, the recording of “VOL” not being the least of them. This isn’t to say that I won’t be moving there at some point, but for the time being, we’ll all remain based in the Washington metropolitan area. The logic behind moving overseas was simply this: the majority of our fan base is in Europe, we can actually live off of the music there, and there’s no real sense in constantly flying there for tours (generally we only play in Europe). In the event that this move ever actually transpires, those who want to continue collaborating with me will do so, and we’ll simply take advantage of technological advances (like sending demos back and forth in mp3 or WAV formats) – those who don’t will be replaced, but all of us are pretty enthusiastic about the music right now, and despite the fact that everyone has another band or two, I think you’ll see the current line-up around for quite some time.

You've frequently collaborated with members of Brave, another band based in northern Virginia. I notice on their EP, "Waist Deep in Dark Waters," on which you play guitars, they have an instrumental called "To Search a Soul" that fades in and fades out, as if it's part of a larger piece. To deepen the puzzle, it's copyrighted Vast Music Lachrymose. It's a really awesome instrumental, so I was interested in finding out where it comes from - is it from an early WHW album? Or is it a piece that you wrote specifically for that EP?

Indeed our ties with Brave are strong and irrevocable; not only are Trevor (Schrotz, current WHW drummer) and Scott (Loose, guitarist) permanent members of Brave, I still collaborate with them and perform with them occasionally, Jim (Hunter) has filled in on bass for a few shows with them, and Michelle (Schrotz, Brave vocalist) has played keyboards with us on and off since 1998. The interesting thing though is that Brave and WHW are clearly two very different entities, with only my contributions to Brave bearing any similarity to the WHW sound (at times; Brave gave me the opportunity to explore some other avenues musically as well). As for “To Search A Soul,” that is something that I wrote during my active membership with Brave (although Scott provided the acoustic intro). It really is in fact an excerpt from a larger, multi-part work, that I originally intended to include on the first Brave full-length, but alas, we parted ways before that could take place. When Trevor first started jamming with WHW in July of 2004, we actually started working on parts II and III again, but the focus inevitably shifted towards the actual new WHW material. I’ve often considered manipulating the arrangements of it a bit and including it on a WHW release complete (in other words making it a bit heavier and more epic), but this probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon. There’s always the possibility of us doing it with Brave too, especially considering there’s talk of a 10th anniversary collection of new and re-recorded works, but that’s just an idea this point too. Just for the record though, “Lost (In Retrospect)” from the same EP was actually something I wrote with longtime WHW drummer Jon Paquin back in 1993, but it just didn’t fit in with the other songs for obvious reasons, thus was left on the shelf for almost a decade before we did it with Brave.

Now things start to make sense! Being an unrepentant metalhead, I find Waist Deep in Dark Waters to be the best Brave release, & it’s the only one that I would describe as “metal” rather than “rock.” Interesting that that’s the album you collaborated on.

Yeah, I hear you man, I’ve been a metalhead since I was 4-5 years old, and it’s in my blood you know? I’ve grown to appreciate a lot of other styles of music with age and education, and as a musician I recognize the necessity for having an open mind and a lot of colors on the palette, but there’s nothing quite like some savage riffing, that makes you want to drink beer and bang your head!

There's been a bit of resurgence in the popularity of metal Stateside recently, with "Headbangers' Ball" back on the air and metal bands getting bigger contracts, but most of the new interest seems to be going toward genres like "metal-core" and simple death metal. Has there been any carryover to demand for "Of Empires Forlorn" do you think, or like most real metal bands is your market mostly in continental Europe and elsewhere?

Quite frankly, our market is predominantly in Europe, specifically in countries like Germany, Greece and the Benelux region where real metal never died. We have absolutely nothing to do with these hybrids of hip-hop and metal, nu-metal, mallcore, etc. I personally despise these insults to my ears and I hope this trend is quickly extinguished. That being said, from a business standpoint, I suppose it’s a good thing that radio isn’t afraid to broadcast heavy, distorted guitars anymore, but then again North America tends to be far too trendy for anyone that’s on the fringe or unique. The thing that really pisses me off is seeing corporations marketing nu-metal hybrids as “a return to the classic metal sound” when all along there have been REAL metal bands like Brocas Helm, Slough Feg, Twisted Tower Dire, October 31 (etc) doing that since day one, all of whom were unceremoniously ignored by the bigger labels during the height of death and black metal popularity. None of them are comprised of Korn fans that happened upon an old Maiden album, so chances are they’ll never be as successful financially as some of these new bands, but at least they are leaving a legacy of great music behind, and have never sacrificed their integrity for a buck. What was however interesting around the time of “Empires” was seeing WHW, Place Of Skulls, Reverend Bizarre, Orodruin (etc.) breaking into the mainstream press here. Perhaps people are finally realizing they need a breath of fresh air. But, it’s probably just an anomaly haha.

I think you’re probably right, unfortunately. Do you expect to do any shows in the U.S. this year? I know there used to be a U.S. stoner-doom festival, which I never attended, but there are also a few places in NoVA and New England that bring in some good bands. And I think the organizers of Prog/Power USA should give you guys a look too.

Nah, we’ll be holed up in the studio for most of this year working on the album, and besides that, we did more shows last year than all prior combined. Since we’re essentially an underground “super group” we tend to “take turns” hitting the road, so this year TTD, October 31, and Brave will have priority over WHW as far as live shows are concerned. We’ll get back to the stage once the album has been completed and released. There IS however the excellent Templars Of Doom coming up July 8-9th in Indianapolis, which will have many of our good friends Reverend Bizarre, Penance, Orodruin, Gates Of Slumber playing. Aside from Templars and Born Too Late, there are really no other proper doom festivals in the US – the closest thing would be those stoner/doom hybrid events, and honestly, they just don’t work. Real doom is METAL, not stoner hard rock, and I wish people would stop putting the two under the same umbrella to be honest. As for Prog Power USA, I do know one of the organizers personally, and well, we’ll see if “VOL” is progressive enough for them!

2005 looks to be a good year for epic doom, with your album coming out and the "classic" lineup of Candlemass coming back with a new album, but epic doom still seems to be the one area of metal where the quality still outstrips quantity. Why do you think epic doom metal is so underrated in general, and do you see this changing in the future?

Well, the good news is that Forlorn are back after being silent for several years (they are now called Isole to avoid confusion with the Norwegian band), a newer band from Germany called Doomshine released their great debut last year, Solstice is re-uniting (with yours truly sharing guitar duties), a new Solitude Aeturnus album is on the way, and like you said, the new Candlemass is out now. Considering all of that, I’d say it’s going to be a great time for epic doom fans over the next couple years, however there’s still only literally a handful of bands in this vein (and Solitude for example, haven’t exactly been “epic” for a few albums). Why this is, I have no idea to be honest. I guess it’s just easier for people to revert back to the Sabbath/Pentagram/Saint Vitus approach, which is more bluesy and raw, and there’s really nothing wrong with that. I’d say bands of that ilk are our closest relatives besides the proper epic bands (Doomsword, Airged L’amh, Wotan, etc. all of whom are generally playing much faster music than your average doom band of any variety). That being said, as aforementioned, we’re certainly not confining ourselves to any particular genre, and we never have – the truth is, if we did it would most certainly be insincere and thus false, which is entirely unacceptable. I’d quit playing music before I was forced to adhere to someone else’s boundaries and definitions!

Solstice is back together, eh? That’s great news. New Dark Age is one of the most underrated metal albums ever. Certainly a prerequisite for real creativity is breaking genre boundaries, and there are always plenty of metal bands who fail to do that—in every genre, including doom. WHW has brought in some influences beyond just metal; what are some of your strongest non-metal influences?

Well, Solstice isn’t quite active again yet, but we’re working towards it, albeit slowly. Anyway, as for my personal non-metal influences…damn you’re opening a can of worms here haha! I own about 7000+ recordings, and only about half would be metal of some kind. Probably the three biggest non-metal influences would be classical music (which I studied for years), AOR (it’s what was on the radio during my formative years and helped shape my definitions of good songwriting), and unquestionably obscure 70’s progressive rock/jazz fusion (including various space/Krautrock). I think all of these styles are clearly evident in the music of WHW. Really, just about anything apart from modern top 40, dance, hip-hop, and mechanical music has exerted some degree of influence upon me. Really, I suppose this robotic and prefabricated crap does in fact influence me to some extent – to compose as far in the opposite direction as possible! Anyway, were you looking for specific band names here?

Sure...bands, composers... I know you did a cover of an obscure German space rock group, Jane, on Empires, but I only know that because I looked it up! Any other interesting stuff from the past that feeds into your music and that you believe has perhaps been overlooked?

Probably the most overlooked and obscure bands that exert an influence upon me are those that came into being during transitions from one trend to the next in popular music. A strong example would be all the progressive and symphonic bands that came out in the late 70’s – when punk and new wave was starting to come into vogue; some of those bands were simply overlooked because they were clinging to “old ways” – even if a few years earlier they would’ve been huge (one example that comes to mind is Germany’s Anyones Daughter, who were every bit as good as Genesis or Yes in my opinion). Also, consider all the bands that never stopped defending the faith of true metal like Manilla Road and Brocas Helm – virtually ignored, as more extreme forms of metal became the flavor of the day. I could list hundreds of quality bands that I feel were done an injustice (by the media especially) from the pantheon of 70’s prog, NWOBHM, and Doom Metal for that matter as well. Ultimately, if we do elect to record more covers they will be from such bands that I hold dear, whom I hope with our ever-increasing exposure, will at least gain some new fans themselves. I want to bring this music into the next century and show this next generation that there was a time when talent and inspiration was a pre-requisite for any successful band – something that is as rare as artist development today.

{Harm Magazine will be following up this interview with another conversation with Tom Phillips once Vast Oceans Lachrymose is released.}

June 16, 2005
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