Sunday, April 5, 2015

Proclamation: An Interview with Ciaran McCloskey of Vex, Nosferion, and In Oblivion:

Ciaran McCloskey has been kicking around the Texas metal scene for years as a guitarist and songwriter in several different bands of note.  He’s also one of the few people I know who can talk about violent black metal and English prog rock gods Gentle Giant with equal enthusiasm (the riff in “Wreck” >>>>>>>> ) .  McCloskey took the time to answer a few questions about his bands, which are divided into sections below:


1.  Vex has undergone several lineup changes over the years before settling into the present incarnation.  Describe your thoughts on the current lineup and what the future holds for it.

We've never had a better lineup than we do right now. This is true in a musical sense and down to the intricacies of personality and drive. Everyone understands without anyone having to declare it that Vex has evolved into its own entity that supersedes our own egos or any sort of conventions outside of the band. I also dig the fact that everyone brings a sense of personality into their playing that helps give our music a distinctive flavor.

Parting ways with Bill in 2013 was very difficult for us, especially Eoghan and I after roughly 14 years of the three of us serving as the creative core of the band, but it was mutually acknowledged that it was the only way to reconcile his decision to start a family with us wanting to move forward with writing and recording at a more aggressive pace. Bill is a phenomenal bass player whose sense of melody and aesthetics played a strong role in forging our musical identity. It worked out well in the end in that his replacement, Joel from Batcastle, has an innate sense of exactly the kind of playing that our current style requires; rhythmic and colorful in a way that enhances the dynamics of the arrangement.

Nothing in music is permanent so I've really no idea what the future holds, but at least in the immediate future I can easily see more songwriting and arranging contributions across the board, and as much touring as our convoluted lives will allow for, since everyone seems to dig being on the road. There's a real surge of creative energy in the band right now that is very exhilarating.

2.  Amongst the uninitiated, progressive metal can have a connotation of meandering, overlong “epics” with an overabundance of self-indulgent instrumental showboating at the expense of songwriting ability.  What separates Vex from the bands that fit that stereotype?

Great question. We were all a bit shocked when “Memorious” was released and we started to be universally hailed as a progressive metal band. This is mainly because with a few notable exceptions, none of us really have much interest in what tends to fall in that category these days, for exactly the reasons you mention, plus we're very far from technically advanced in an extreme metal sense. I'll resist the urge to name names, but it seems to me that most progressive metal bands use that label to justify overtly dissonant and disjointed explorations that are maybe interesting from a musical perspective but are almost completely unlistenable. The song should always reign supreme – it should be the reason for the sonic exploration, not the other way around. Kayo Dot is an all too rare example of a modern group that brilliantly exemplifies this principle.

I see progressive music as more of an approach then a sound, as Robert Fripp defined it some years ago, that effectively ignores any kind of musical restriction. I would say what separates us is that our progressive side is really just an inherent sense of musical curiosity, of letting our songs decide where they should go, rather than a specific influence derived from a band like Dream Theater. We do love Fates Warning though, so make of that what you will.  [The previous two paragraphs are fully backed – Ed.]

3.  What would you say are the highlights of your career with Vex, live or recording?  

The short tour we did with Agalloch last summer was not only the highlight of the band, but also the musical highlight of my life. The opportunity to share multiple stages with a band of such extraordinary magnitude, both in a general sense and to us as listeners, was an incredible experience that won't be forgotten. The crowds were much larger than what we'd become used to on the road, so it was a bit terrifying but I really felt that we all stepped up to a level of performance that exceeded what we were previously capable of. The response and encouragement that we received from the crowd and from the headliners themselves really helped to solidify our sense of confidence about what we're trying to go after musically. Directly supporting Morbid Angel for the Austin date of the “Covenant” anniversary tour was pretty incredible as well.  [That Divine Eve show in ’11 ruled too – Ed.]

The studio highlight would definitely be the recording of “Memorious.” We'd gone through hell in the three years prior trying to track the first album “Thanatopsis” and the “Circular Ruins” EP in a timely manner, and in doing so had learned many valuable lessons about how to work efficiently on our own. We'd also been turned down by three of the most prominent labels in extreme metal prior the recording, all of which gave us a variation on the line that now is the worst possible time for melodic death metal, in that it couldn't be farther removed from the type of  revivalist metal that was selling so well. This created a sense of drive and urgency that still comes through on the recording I think. The raw production was a deliberate middle finger to the industry that had made us feel so marginalized at the time. We've since signed a very rewarding deal so it's good to know that remaining firm in our conviction was the right decision.

4.  If a younger fan who was new to metal and prog discovered Vex and wanted to go back and get into your roots, what are five metal albums and five prog albums you would recommend to them?

Another great question, Lord Jake – definitely had to mull over this one a bit. First metal, then prog, each list in no particular order:

1. Garden of Shadows – Oracle Moon
2. Ved Buens Ende – Written in Waters
3. Dark Tranquility – The Mind's I
4. Iron Maiden – Piece of Mind
5. Bathory – Blood Fire Death

5.  I understand that Vex is experimenting with a three-guitar lineup for certain sections of newer songs.  How does this change affect the structure of the songs that use it, and are there any plans on adding additional instrumentation in Vex (live or otherwise)?

To be honest, when JJ picked up the guitar it didn't really affect the structure of the songs, it just gave me a lot more freedom with the harmony and layering for each section. It was almost by accident that we realized it really wasn't necessary to have to choose the two best guitar parts live for a three-guitar section when we have a perfectly capable third guitarist within our ranks. You can definitely expect to see more robust instrumentation in the future; JJ seems to handle guitar and vocals just fine so I've only now started writing with the specific intention of having three guitars live. We'll also continue experimenting with sampling different kinds of ambient and synth backing tracks to intensify the atmosphere a bit live.


6.  Nosferion’s debut album has been recorded, mixed, and mastered (please feel free to correct me if this is inaccurate).  What is the status on the album’s release as of January 2015?

This is correct, Lord Jake. We finished tracking it around the fall of 2011 but then went on indefinite hiatus during Seth's exile to Colorado. That probably would've been the end of the band had Melissa not stepped in last year and offered to help us get back onto the stage. The shows with her have been incredible and have inspired us to meet back up with Lord Odin to give the album a proper mix. I feel that the sound is finally right where it needs to be but the status is unfortunately questionable since we can't seem to find a label to release it. The first EP, “Burning Lifeless Eternity” was released through the UK label Blackthorne productions which to my understanding is long since defunct. There wasn't much of anything that followed the release of the EP, short of an appearance at the 2002 Sacrifice of the Nazarene Child festival – with Alex from Thornspawn filling in on drums – that was canceled for reasons that escape me right now.

7.  Nosferion seem to have a diverse set of influences ranging from the chaotic to atmospheric.  What would some of these influences be, and how to they affect the songwriting in Nosferion?

Nosferion works from a very limited palette. This was the intention when Tyler and I started demoing songs in the early 2000s, as a sort of exuberant response to all the great underground USBM that was thriving at the time, stuff like Black Witchery, Judas Iscariot, Blood Storm, Grand Belial's Key, etc. – these groups helped to ignite our own love of Hellhammer and Darkthrone and mold it into some sort of nihilistic self-expression. It was intensely liberating at the time and it still is. Since then our sound has evolved into all kinds of strange places that I honestly can't account for. It probably has something to do with the influence of Rory Gallagher, Hill Country Landscapes and 16 Horsepower records.

8.  Nosferion is associated with the phrase “Feel the Hate”.  Is this a hatred towards the self (i.e. “Inner War”), a hatred towards others (i.e. “I Hope You Die”), or is it open to personal interpretation?

Our hatred is all encompassing. Our work precedes from a sort of scorched-earth policy that spares no one. We hate ourselves as much as we hate the depraved souls who for whatever reason are choosing to lap up what we're vomiting onto the stage. Shitty venues, inadequate sound systems and small-to-nonexistent crowds are encouraged, but not necessary. Our product is not meant to be enjoyed by one, or accepted by any community or scene.

In Oblivion:

9.  Since In Oblivion is a fairly new band, please provide a brief explanation of the music, origin, and band members.

In Oblivion is the brainchild of Justin Buller, mainly known for his work with the local death metal band Manifestation since about 2005. He and I shared a few stages during the mid 2000s and began bonding over mutual worship of Shape of Despair, Skepticism, Evoken, Thergothon, etc., during which time I was thrilled to learn that he had written several funeral doom albums of his own. This style is very much on the fringes of the underground, so I don't think he ever expected to find a band that could perform these songs live, but we've gradually making that happen since then. Andy is a bassist from South Texas whom I've known since about 2003, when he was gigging around the state with the thrash band Hammerwhore, and Shane is originally a guitarist/singer whom I met through gigging with his death/grind band VBT around 2011. It was awesome to find out that both of these cats harbored a fondness for doom metal, because they each come from the sort of vastly different backgrounds that makes playing together so much fun. We are all very busy with our jobs and our other bands, so unfortunately progress has been about as slow as the riffs are, but we've recently recorded a debut EP that will hopefully be unleashed very soon along with a few debut performances.


10.  Do you agree with the following sentence?  If not, please explain:  “Art is what one creates in order to prevent going insane?”

I can certainly stand behind that. Songwriting is essentially my of way to trying to process and understand both the world and the strange people who inhabit it. More significantly, it's also my bridge away from the mundane into something much more significant and transcendental. I need this, and I think everyone else does as well. I really can't even fathom what kind of strange spiritual path my life would've taken had music not afforded me this opportunity.

There have been periods in my life – grad school for example – that didn't allow for much time to write or perform music, and the result was something that felt a lot like insanity. The songs didn't stop coming in; in fact they only came through with more urgency in my attempt to silence them. I felt a bit like a raving lunatic with all of this nonexistent music keeping me awake and knocking against the hinges of my skull.

11:  Along those lines, do you think that obscurity is a positive or negative (or a combination of both) fate for an artist?  Please explain.

This is a very intense question that tends to weigh on my mind a bit these days. I think obscurity is a very liberating path, but it can certainly feel very negative to see an artist fall short of proper recognition for what they do, especially if it affects their ability to continue performing. On the one hand, discovering an artist like this on your own can be very exciting, but on the other hand you can't help but wonder if more recognition would've granted them the resources that they would have needed to continue and thrive. Personally I'd be fine with obscurity as long as it allows me to keep shoveling coal into the engine without pawing my guitars.

12:  Now that the philosophy examination is over, please rank your favorite Bathory albums in order.

Blood Fire Death, Under the Sign of the Black Mark, Hammerheart, The Return, Twilight of the Gods

13.  As this publication is focused on Texan bands, what are some of your favorite bands from this state to see and listen to?

When I think of Texas Metal as a whole, my mind always harkens back to high school when I first discovered Divine Eve, Absu, Necrovore and Solitude Aeternus, all of which left a very strong impression. It was an incredible thing to discover these groups and to learn that extreme metal was not a strictly European phenomenon, that it could be produced here in Texas with a sense of pride and distinction. They remain my favorite Texas Metal groups to this day.

14.  Any final words for the readers of Under the Sign of the Lone Star?

Onward and upward.

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