Pick Your Rock and Metal

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Dark prophets in their own land

THEY say that prophets are not always listened to in their own land; and it is a land here in Northern Ireland that has been riven with strife for millenia, and a land where the heartbeat of music has never been far from the ears of its inhabitants.

This is a land where the fife and drum were once a call to arms, now laid out as threadbare excuse for antagonism; a land where the gospel songs mingle with the folk strains of nascent nationalism caught in webs of sickly sentamentality.

But in this land a heart of rock, cold to the mainstream, but warming the faithful, beat steadily in the darkest times. When the impetuous fires of punks rebellion burnt a swathe through the norm they left a musical landscape ripe for rock; and from the fumblings of that scene were born the children of metal.

That evolution has come forth with a host of talent, but too often the prophets of this metal have been, like some biblical relic of a man, unheralded in their own land.

Darkest Era have been bubbling under the wider Northern Ireland radar for some time, at the same time reaching out to wider and wider audiences - the culture, the torment and the majesty of Darkest Era's melancholia bears the hallmarks of the great Irish rock and metal bands, from Thin Lizzy through to Primordial.

We explored this connection when we caught up with Darkest Era's guitarist Ade Mulgrew ahead of the band's spiritual homecoming to The Limelight for Saturday's gig with Mael Mordha. Are the Irish folk subtelties of Darkest Era's music hitting home beyond the shores of these isles?

"We've always had a stronger following in mainland Europe and beyond. Irish folk definitely isn't something that has a 'cool' image here, while people from other countries seem to be a little more open to the cultural influences woven through the music," said Ade.

"Having said that, I think audiences here connect with it as well. In our music it is quite subtle really; it manifests itself in a kind of melancholic folkish kind of way. But certainly we think audiences outside Ireland appreciate these influences a little more, at least that's what I've noticed in reviews. They pick up on a certain kind of atmosphere and style of melody that they attribute to band from this island it seems."

And there is a melancholic thread that runs through Darkest Era's music, a thread that is woven through much of modern Irish metal, both north and south of the border. Ade takes up the theme:

"It's been said before that there is a kind of melancholia present in Northern Irish/Irish metal that is unique. I think it's fair to say that bands like Mael Mordha, Primordial, Altar of Plagues and Mourning Beloveth have a certain atmosphere in common.

"Obviously melancholic metal isn't solely a characteristic of bands from here, but there is definitely an undefinable misery working it's way into the music somewhere. This is present in our own lyrics and music too I guess, in terms of the kind of language and imagery present in our lyrics and the kind of atmosphere that we try and create."

The first time Belfastmetalheadsreuntied came across Darkest Era it was at an all ages gig in Belfast's Black Box. Darkest Era's singer Krum was leading a ragged mellé of youngsters from the heart of a circle pit.

"That seems like such a long time ago now," said Ade. "[Since then] our journey has been like any other band; one of artistic development and personal growth. Our songwriting has matured a lot since then; we're a lot more confident in what we're doing both in the rehearsal room and when we take to the stage.

"We have a stronger identity now and we are a lot more focussed. I guess a few more people are paying attention to us too now that we've got an album out on Metal Blade. In general I would say the band has moved forward at a steady, sustainable pace. We've had time to reflect on things as we went along and now we are especially driven to take the band to where we want to go."

Recently Darkest Era were treading the boards with a UK tour with Scottish mentalist pirate metallers Alestorm. Apart from seeing the right way to quaff a quart of rum, we wanted to know just what the band learned from the experience.

"This was our first real tour, with 14 shows in a row across the UK, and as it turns out you really find out whether you are worth your salt as a live act in this kind of situation," said Ade "Thankfully we rose to the challenge and put in some really solid performances on that tour.

"Touring is a totally different beast than one off weekend shows or festival shows; it has it's own rhythm and it's own set of challenges and you have to be prepared to meet them.

"On this tour we were playing to large audiences, 90% of whom had never heard our music before. so you have to really work hard to win audiences over and put an energetic show across. We were using the local front of house engineer at each show, so it was a challenge to perform each night to the same standard despite varying levels of sound quality on stage and so on. We are a much stronger live act after that tour, we feel. We learned a lot about our craft."

With the Metal Blade release of Last Caress of Light impressing critics and fans alike, and a tidy video for 'An Ancient Fire Burns' out, it begs the question of what next, for this band that are sneaking their way towards wider acclaim and attendant success, after Saturday's Limelight slot:

"We are very much focussing on writing after this show. We are entering the studio later in the year to record album 2, of which we will be announcing details soon hopefully.

"We've done a lot of work since the album came out in the background to help build the band; but now nothing else matters apart from writing songs and making an album. It's liberating in a way to be back at this point again; some of the tracks on the album are a few years old and our next record will be all new songs written over a much shorter period of time. We're excited about embarking on the creative once process again."

And that is surely good news for each and every fan of local metal. It may have taken a while but Darkest Era's journey has been one that has marched steadily upwards. From the early self-produced Nemesis demo in 2006 to the poise and confidence displayed on Last Caress of Light the drums are sounding a welcome to Darkest Era, a welcome that should be heard more and more in their homeland and further afield.

Darkest Era appear in Belfast's Limelight on Saturday, 28th April with Mael Mordha and Celtachor. Doors are at 5pm and tickets are yours on the door for a measley £7 - well worth it for such melancholic grandeur.

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