|Everything I ever hear influences me in some capacity, and I am constantly craving new music to devour.|
| While Heaven Wept is about to release their new album 'Of Empires Forlorn', an album that promises to take the Doom community by storm when it comes out. We had the opportunity to talk to WHW's main man Tom Phillips about the new album, his band, his view of Doom-metal and more.|
Hi Tom and thanks for taking some time out to answer our questions.
"Thank you, it is an honor and a pleasure."
Your new album 'Of Empires Forlorn' will soon be released. It's been a while between the last studio album 'Sorrow of Angels'. Did a lot of time go into writing and recording the new album?
"As with all of the WHW releases, the material was indeed developed over the course of several years, but the vast majority was conceived and completed in 2001 (this includes the arrangements for "Epistle No.81" and such). The only real exceptions are the title track, which I began writing for Solstice while I was still a member, and the song "Sorrow Of The Angels" which was composed in 1993.
Although the actual recording sessions were spread throughout 2002, the amount of time actually spent in the studio adds up to about 9 weeks. The vast amount of time between some of the sessions (we tracked from February until the end of June, then resumed in November) allowed us to finalize the arrangements, and really focus on every last nuance contained within the album.
We've always spent a fair amount of time recording, but I think this time around we were much more effective, because we knew EXACTLY what we sought to achieve, and were very much prepared with notes from every rough mix we did (we literally took home about 25 CDRs of the songs at various stages of completion, and with alternate mixes even)."
What I noticed when I first heard 'Of Empires Forlorn' is that it's one of that records that just instantly grabs you. The song writing manages to mix both an epic "grand" feeling with feelings of sorrow and bereavement. How do yourself look at the end result?
"After all the months of microanalysis, at first, I found it very difficult to step far back enough to simply listen to the album as a whole without scouring its details. We knew the album started taking on a life of its own upon our return to the studio in November, but really had no idea that this would be the final result when we first started the process in February; when we started recording the "Empires…" album, it was very clearly an Epic Doom album, but after all the symphonic layers and vocal harmonies were incorporated into it, I really was not sure what the hell this album was anymore…but I knew the foundation of Epic Doom was intact. Having said this, I am very proud of this recording; we worked very hard on it, and I think it is the most professional sounding recording I've been involved with ever. I think we captured a lot of great performances, as well as some kind of "magical" essence that I cannot exactly describe, but it is reminiscent of Fates Warning's "Awaken The Guardian" or something of that ilk. It really seems like everything I've been striving towards all these years finally came together on this album. I do not however think it is merely an Epic Doom album personally, even though that is still the basis; WHW has evolved into something that is distinct, with a sound and personality of its own, and can best be described (for simplicity's sake) as an uncharted territory between Candlemass, Fates Warning, Bathory, Styx, Bach, and Kitaro."
So it's save to say you matured a lot musically speaking since 'Sorrow of Angels'?
"Absolutely. You see, although I had been studying classical music composition for many years, I was just graduating from college (finally) when "Sorrow Of The Angels" was completed, and the majority of that material was written between the age of 14 and 18. I'm 28 now, and have since come to better understand all the tools and concepts I was given through my studies, therefore I am able to better apply them to the music I am currently composing. Our influences are also much less obvious than before, yet there are so many more sources that I draw inspiration from now, besides my own personal experiences and emotions.
Additionally, as previously mentioned, "Of Empires Forlorn," unlike all of its predecessors is NOT a developmental work, rather it is the expression of a band that has clearly established its own sound and ideals."
Everybody who has heard samples of the new album is extremely enthusiastic. Even people who before never heard of your band. How do you see the future for While Heaven Wept?
"Well considering the fact that we are one of the only bands still actively performing some form of Epic Doom Metal, there is nothing else to compare it to right now… and that can be a good thing or a bad thing. I would like to think that we are further defining the genre itself in some capacity, since we do not merely sound like Candlemass at this point, but I could also see how some people would view it as music of antiquity, considering all the sub-genres that have been developed since we started 14 years ago. My hope is that we will cross over to several different audiences because of the diversity of the material, but at the same time establish the fact that Epic Doom Metal is still a legitimate form of music, with plenty of room to further develop."
Will you declare me insane if I already say I don't see any other release this year toping 'Of Empires Forlorn'? (with a due note I am to unmannered to suck up, so when I say this I mean it)
"Yes, you probably are a bit insane going that far (laughing), but I certainly appreciate it. I would agree that it is pretty unlikely that anyone will release anything with this particular combination of elements, but who knows what great music will be released this year? If you want to talk strictly in terms of Epic Doom, no matter who releases what, nothing will sound EXACTLY like "Of Empires Forlorn," but that is not to say it is unbeatable. As pleased as I am with this recording, It is not for me to say where it fits into the grand scheme of things - only that it sounds good on my stereo, and that I feel as though I successfully expressed what I intended to. So, satisfying those two aspects leads me to declare this album a success in my opinion, therefore anything more than that is just 'icing on the cake'."
The tracks have gone down to more or less "normal" length (most around 7 minutes). Was this a conscientious choice?
"The primary reason for the shorter song lengths is because the music was composed before the lyrics this time around, unlike previous offerings. There was some awareness on my part in the sense that I did not want to have 16 repetitions of a riff in a row, so I opted to "trim the fat" a bit, and get right to the point, but had the lyrics come first, the song lengths would have accommodated them. Another aspect is the fact that there are not really any "Funeral Doom" tempos on this album to begin with, but this is not something we have permanently abandoned; the next WHW album, "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" will contain some of our slowest riffing ever, as well as another 20 minute epic like "Thus," although it is really more like several songs within one."
You are already planning a new album?
"For the most part, we have completed the compositions for the next recording, which will be entitled "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" (not to be confused with our personal label Vast Music Lachrymose). Before we even finished the "Empires…" recording, all of these songs were essentially completed, and we are merely in the process of further rehearsing them in preparation for their recording (hopefully around the end of this year). This album will be even more diverse than "Empires…" and certainly a more aggressive release; by no means are we abandoning our foundations, as once again the basis of early Fates Warning, Candlemass, Bathory, and Kitaro is evident, but the material is definitely wider in scope. When WHW first formed, we were equally inspired by bands as diverse as Voivod, Coroner, and Celtic Frost, so basically what is happening is I am finding a more comfortable balance between my influences. In some ways, the new material harkens back to the very first compositions of WHW. What this means is there is a greater emphasis on the thrash elements and such, but I assure you that it is no less Epic and atmospheric. Really the "V.O.L." album is going to be a journey from beginning to end…with even more immediately identifiable riffs and melodies. Hook after hook, without sacrificing our heaviness. It would be safe to say that it is even more progressive than "Empires…" and will again, be an entity on its own. I have no interest in releasing the same album over and over again, nor do I wish to adhere to any "boundaries"; i.e. I will not Doom for the sake of Doom. It would be foolish to release "Empires part 2" or something, and being more progressive-minded, that is simply not even an option. What I can say of the material is that it does contain a long piece that ranges from brutal thrash, to the extremely Epic, with several more tragic moments interspersed throughout, as well as some of the most atmospheric Funeral Doom we have ever composed, balancing the album out. It, like "Empires" is meant to be heard as a complete work, rather than as individual songs. Following "V.O.L." will be the re-issue of "Sorrow Of The Angels," so by no means is our path a one-way journey; I seek to further expand the range of WHW, without compromising our foundations…building upward rather than outward musically. What that means is we will never pull "a Metallica," instead we will explore shifting the balances of our existing elements, while incorporating whatever else I feel is essential to the realization of what I hear in my head."
Because I first got to know While Heaven Wept with 'Sorrow of the Angels' I was rather surprised sort of by the grunted vocals on your older work when the 'Chapter One' compilation came out. I noticed sporadic usage of a grunted vocals on 'Of Empires Forlorn' as well (like on the title track). What prompts your choice of vocal style for a song?
"Generally speaking, WHW has always featured clean, melodic vocals, except for a brief period of time around 1991, when I took over the vocal duties. This was my first attempt at handling lead vocals ever, so I was not exactly comfortable with my singing voice (and in truth, I have never thought much of it), so being heavily influenced by bands like Death, Obituary, and Morbid Angel at the time, I elected to use the more brutal Death Metal vocal style, but quickly realized that it tended to obscure the emotion of the music. It was then that I began the painstaking process of developing my clean vocals, and I would have to say I have come a long way, but still do not even come close to my heroes in my opinion. Anyway, in the case of the first 7" "Into The Wells Of Sorrow," those tracks were recorded during the same sessions as the "Lovesongs Of The Forsaken" CD, but during a particularly frustrating day of vocal tracking, I decided to ventilate a bit, and vomited out the vocals over those songs, but never intended them to be heard. At that time, we had been around for 5 years already, without a single release, so we decided to release that 7" as a special item, for all of our close friends specifically…many of which who were around during the Death Vocal period of WHW, but it was not an "official" debut (in fact the cleanly vocalized track "The Mourning" was actually released prior to the 7", on a local compilation). Sorry for the tangent here, but I figure some people would want a bit more insight into those tracks on "Chapter One."
In the case of the case of "Empires," that particular section was so heavy and brutal, that it was simply begging for more aggressive vocals. Ultimately, the compositions themselves dictate the vocal approach, which does tend to vary from song to song (for example something like "The Drowning Years" is predominantly sung in a higher register, whereas "Soulsadness" has a lot of vocals in a lower range, at least during the verses)."
Can you give us some insight into the lyrics? Are they fictional or do they carry a deeper personal meaning?
"There is absolutely NOTHING fictional about our lyrics; every single composition lyrically throughout our discography refers to a specific event or relationship of mine. Everything is 100% real unfortunately; even though I may incorporate fantastic or supernatural imagery, that is strictly for metaphorical reasons. Every lyric is based directly upon my own life experience, and delivered with brutal honesty; Unlike several bands often argued about on this site, WHW does not and will not perform Doom strictly for the sake of being Doom, as that is truly false. When I no longer FEEL doomed, or have said everything that I feel I need to say, WHW will either end or move on into other musical realms. WHW stands as a symbol of integrity against the bloated and dying acts who are simply "going through the motions" to maintain a "lucrative position" in the industry. Let's be honest here, you know as well as I how obvious it is when something is lacking heart, soul, and conviction…why even bother if you are past your prime or have simply shot your load? I don't want anyone to misinterpret me here…I am strictly talking in terms of what is "real" versus what is "contrived," and being a fan of so many bands myself, it is simply sad when artists continue churning out the same album over and over again because of the success of one several years before…when everyone is aware of the fact that the one "experimental" album that bombed is what they REALLY want to be doing. Again, sorry for the tangent, but integrity and truth are virtues I will die upholding…lyrically and otherwise."
The album seems to draw from very diverse influences and every time I listen to it I discover new bits and influences. So I am wondering, who or what are your main influences?
"I listen to just about every form of music there is, notable exceptions being Top 40, gospel, rap, and dance music but even those inspire me…to compose as far in the opposite direction as possible! Everything I ever hear influences me in some capacity, and I am constantly craving new music to devour. Sometimes these influences are evident in our songs, and other times only on the conceptual level. Needless to say, the most important and obvious influences would be Candlemass, Fates Warning, and Kitaro. Those are the main three that lead to our sound initially, but now there are so many more artists that have an effect upon my writing and thinking that it would take a completely separate article to sum up even half of them. Once again, for simplicities sake, I will stick to the specific genres that influence me the most: Music of the Romantic Period, the High Renaissance, Contemporary Classical, Symphonic and Progressive Rock, Jazz Fusion, AOR, Progressive Metal, Doom Metal, Black Metal, Thrash Metal, Death Metal, New Age, Darkwave, and select Gothic acts that lean towards the orchestral side of things. The Stoner Rock of today, Sludge, and Beauty and the Beast bands exert no influence whatsoever upon me other than avoiding these areas at all cost, but I do enjoy the Funeral Doom bands quite a bit, much to the chagrin of my more militant colleagues I am sure (laughing)!"
You just mentioned a lot of styles you listen too. Do you still focus mainly on doom or are all styles equally represented in your "playlists"?
"There was a time when I was younger that I listened to Doom Metal almost exclusively, but for the most part, I have always had a diverse palette. To be honest, while I try to listen to almost everything that comes out at least once (as far as Doom is concerned, sub-genres included), I mostly listen to more progressive and experimental music, because of the fact that I am a studied musician, and a veteran of CD retail stores; I basically hear EVERYTHING that comes out, and after a while, I realized how much sounds the same, so I veer towards the more eclectic artists out there. Mind you, anything done with great conviction is worth multiple spins, but so many releases come out lacking these days, it is depressing. I understand that not everyone performs music out of necessity, but to be honest, I am not going to invest my time in anything that is "sublunary" in nature. If it was created with heart, I will be listening to it, regardless of whether or not it is Doom, Black Metal, Prog, whatever. The rest go to the second hand stores (Laughing)"
While Heaven Wept has had so many line-up changes it's hard to keep count. Do you think this has hindered your progression as a band?
"65 to date (Laughing again). I believe that with every line-up change, we have only progressed as a band personally, partially due to the fresh influences, and partially because of the ever-improving quality of the musicians involved. At this point in time having the right attitude and HEART is what is most important to me; we have had some stellar musicians over the years, some of which are of world-class quality on their individual instruments, but lacking the conviction this music requires. I think that lack of heart hindered us more than the line-up changes although, fortunately, those periods were never documented on a recording. The only hindrances the line-up changes created were the lengths of time between releases, but we were composing and progressing during those "silent years" regardless."
The current line-up includes Revelation and ex-Forty Days Longing members. How did you get the current line-up together and do you have good hopes this will be a stable line up for future albums to come as well?
"Most of the current line-up has been in place since 1998, when I assembled the performing line-up of the band after the release of "Sorrow Of The Angels." The bassist who recorded the album with us, Danny Ingerson, lived 3 hours away, therefore could not practice regularly for performances (eventually resurfacing with the newly-signed Relapse recording artists Dysrythmia), so I asked my longtime friend Jim Hunter (Revelation had just become dormant, and he was just starting to jam with October 31) if he would handle those chores…little did I know how integral he would become at the time. We also brought in the brother/sister duo of Scott and Michelle Loose (from the band Brave/formerly Arise From Thorns) on guitars and keyboards respectively. Basically, this line-up has remained intact since then, except for the drumming position that Jon Paquin vacated after 9 years in the Spring of 2001. Scott, Jim, and myself jammed with a couple of other drummers before asking Jason Gray to join us (Forty Days Longing had only recently split up, and Jay obviously had no problem playing slower tempos). I can't ever be 100% positive that any line-up will ever remain together after all these changes, but I think the basic core of the band will be the same, at least on the next 2 recordings (for which the material is already composed, and merely awaiting rehearsal and tracking)."
You yourself sing, play the keyboards and play the guitars on this album. I don't know if While Heaven Wept has any plans to play live in the near future, but if so how will you manage? I understand you then extent your lineup?
"The line-up tends to expand and contract as needed; right now we are also working with an extra guitarist, Paul Lipscomb and Michelle Loose is handling keyboards/harmony vocals once again, even though neither appeared on the album. I will be singing almost exclusively for any live performances, but it is likely that I will cover some of the keyboard parts, and select guitar lines as well. It seems as though it is best to record with the "core" line-up of Jason, Jim, Scott, and myself because we know this music inside out and can record it efficiently, and then expanding the line-up to cover the additional overdubbed instrumental parts in a live setting. We've pretty much always worked this way; both "Lovesongs…" and "Sorrow" were recorded as a 3 piece, but any performances were done as a 5 or 6 member ensemble."
What drives you to continue making music?
"Strictly the need to express my innermost thoughts and feelings; as far as WHW is concerned it is still all about catharsis and being able to express some things through this medium that I could not otherwise express. There are also people who continue to inspire me to pursue my ambition of achieving both the highest clarity of expression and, ideally, self-sufficiency."
Taking things beyond the scope of just While Heaven Wept, how do you yourself look upon the doom scene and your place within it?
"There are so many great bands out there now, from all the sub-genres…I would say that the Doom scene is pretty healthy as a whole, even if it seems unlikely it will ever be completely united. We've lost so many great bands over the years, but some at least seem to reincarnate like Candlemass and Trouble, and at the same time younger bands keep coming up all over…Thunderstorm, Orodruin, etc. As far as WHW is concerned, I've always felt as though we were kind of a bridge between the more atmospheric and traditional Doom bands; I certainly have many of the same opinions and ideals that the more militant traditionalists are always defending, but tend to be a bit more liberal in terms of accepting other variations on the theme of Doom. I would like to think that there is something for everyone somewhere in the discography of WHW."
Do you think with Candlemass around in their most popular lineup again that Epic Doom will step out of the shadows a bit again? And do you think While Heaven Wept could contribute to this as well?
"I think having Candlemass back in action will offer an insight into things a lot of the younger Doom fans missed out on, if you consider the first four albums the "golden age," that ended just prior to the release of the early Peaceville albums, and being that Candlemass were the most visible of the Epic Doom bands, pretty much all anyone had to go on as far as defining Doom, in the modern sense, was the Death/Doom tangent. Of course, there were plenty of bands in the deep underground performing traditional Doom the whole time, but the Peaceville 3 were certainly promoted to a much wider audience, one that was already frothing at the mouth at the height of the Death Metal trend.
As far as rekindling an interest in Epic Doom on a global scale, I suppose it is possible in some capacity, both on account of the Candlemass reunion, and the (hopefully) widely publicized WHW release, that at the very least, it will not be considered a redundant or dying genre. Personally, our goal is to bring more people "into the fold" via the other elements of our sound…the progressive and symphonic aspects…I think many of the fans of those genres would also enjoy many of the various Doom styles."
Are there any releases or events you're looking forward within the doom scene?
"The Doom Shall Rise event is something that every Doom fan should be looking forward to. I personally cannot make it this year, but absolutely intend to make it to the next one! It does not get better than that!
As for releases I personally am looking forward to: the Revelation demos CD, the NEW Revelation album, a new Candlemass, the new Mirror Of Deception, more Shape Of Despair, the Orodruin, the Doomshine recording, the Isen Torr recording, and the release of the WHW album on vinyl!"
To close this interview I was wondering if you could tell me the first things that come to mind with the following keywords?
Tragedy :: "Seems to be the story of my life sometimes. The greatest of all for me personally is having to watch helplessly as someone I love deeply fights for every breath of her life."
Epicus Doomicus :: "Metallicus, of course - my favorite Candlemass album of all time, largely in part because of Johan Lanquist's vocals. The first Epic Doom Metal album (not counting King Crimson's "In The Court Of The Crimson King"!)"
Solitude Aeternus :: "Our sole Epic Doom brethren from the US. Their first two albums are essential listening for anyone into Doom, and still get played on my stereo today. Long since evolved into something of their own, but still a great band and still my brothers."
Epic Doom :: "The genre of music created by Candlemass (and King Crimson!). The only examples I am aware of personally are Solstice, WHW, Solitude Aeturnus, Forlorn (Sweden), and Millarca. Bands like Doomsword , Memory Garden, and Sorcerer are similar but more Doomy Power Metal in my opinion, whilst Thunderstorm and the like have more traditional elements. But I will settle for whatever Leif Edling decides on the Day of Judgement!"
Miskatonic Foundation :: "A labor of militancy and love. Rich Walker of Solstice fame's label. He only releases music he believes in and enjoys; certainly Miskatonic is the antithesis of falsehood - you would be hard pressed to find a more honest label in this industry. WHW is intimately involved with the Foundation, although we are not signed to the label. Ale and Kill!"
Angels :: "I use images of them on all of the WHW releases for metaphorical and symbolic reasons. Such strong imagery is connotative of what I was feeling when I composed this music, and by no means a reference to religious preferences. Angels reduced to carnage, torment, and despair adorn all of the covers of our releases."
Happiness :: "Often a fleeting moment in time, that I suggest everyone enjoy if and when they can."
Art :: "The all-encompassing term for the products of expression. I have an appreciation for all forms of art - visual, aural, and intellectual."
Music :: "My one, my all, my religion. Music is the source of solace, inspiration, and wisdom that will never abandon or betray me. Nietzsche said it best: 'Without music, life would be a mistake.'"
As I am all out of questions I would like to thank you for the interview but also give you the opportunity to still say anything you feel you should have said but did not get a chance for already.
"Thank you for the giving me the opportunity to express myself and discuss the new While Heaven Wept album. I appreciate why you do what you do with Doom Metal.com. For more information about WHW, or the new album, anyone may peruse our website www.whileheavenwept.com or the label's site www.eibonrecords.com. To contact the band directly, you can email me via email@example.com or via snail mail:
While Heaven Wept, attn: Tom Phillips,
4809 Lockwood Lane,
Dale City, VA. 22193,
Doom forever onward..."
Visit the While Heaven Wept bandpage.