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10th February 2011
Beginning life as Nemesis in 2005, Darkest Era adopted current moniker two years later and, following the release of a couple of EPs, February 2011 sees the Irish metallers unleash their debut album on Metal Blade. Awash with trad-metal influences, the eight songs that comprise 'The Last Caress of Light' are also infused with a melancholically dark atmosphere and subtle folk-edged flavours that has led to comparisons with the likes of Primordial, Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden amongst others. While they are still a largely unknown name within the scene amongst the metal masses, with such a strong debut album, it seems all that is set to change in 2011. One of the band's two guitarists, Ade Mulgrew, chatted to Metal Discovery about Darkest Era's stunning new release...
METAL DISCOVERY: Your band is quite a new name in the scene to many a metal fan out there I’m sure – can you briefly describe how you came to be as a band…I gather you were called Nemesis originally?
ADE MULGREW: That’s right, yeah. We formed as Nemesis around 2005 when most of us were still at school so we were around 16/17 sort of age. We were just looking to play heavy metal and play original metal songs so after a year we released a demo, and that was the ‘Nemesis’ demo, then we changed our name to Darkest Era in April 2007 and we recruited a new drummer at that stage, and it was Lisa, so that’s the lineup that we have now. Towards the end of that year we recorded our first EP which was ‘The Journey Through Damnation’ that came out around about May 2008 on the Eyes Like Snow label. Then we just kept writing songs, and playing some gigs around Europe and the UK, and the album’s about to come out on Metal Blade now.
(Ade Mulgrew on the wide critical acclaim for Darkest Era's debut album)
"...to get a review in Kerrang was quite cool in a way…even though there was Good Charlotte on the cover..."
Darkest Era - promo shot
Photograph copyright © [unspecified year] Peter Marley
Interview by Mark Holmes
MD: Of course, yeah, and a very good album it is too. How did you settle on the name Darkest Era?
AM: Well, there’s not a great deal of back story to it. We came to a point where it was getting a little bit more serious and we knew we couldn’t continue with Nemesis because, obviously, there are tons of bands called Nemesis…and, also, the songs were going in a different kind of direction so we just felt we needed something that would fit the tone as well. Darkest Era just represents a number of things…the kind of things we’re writing about with historical and cultural references, so it just fits very well for us.
MD: I’m sure Arch Enemy are partly to blame for lots of band being called Nemesis after they did that song!
AM: [laughs] Yeah! Naively, when we were 16/17, we thought wouldn’t it be badass for us to cover ‘Nemesis’, but then we realised afterwards it was a shit idea! [laughs]
MD: Too obvious!
AM: Yeah, yeah! [laughs]
MD: You announced the deal with Metal Blade in August last year – how did you end up signed to such an iconic label, and has that changed your outlook at all as a band, in any way?
AM: Er…that’s an interesting question. Well, basically, it was around the turn of the year, it was January 2010, and we were writing songs which we intended to be on our first album, and we decided to release a two-track promo called ‘The Oaks Session’ which was limited to 250 copies. The purpose of that was to keep the momentum going with our fans to give them something new but, also, to shop around labels with so they could hear what we were planning on putting on the album. Around this time as well, coincidentally, Alan Averill from Primordial started doing A&R for Metal Blade - we’ve been well acquainted with him before…we’ve played with him a couple of times - we supported them at their DVD recording in Dublin and at a few other shows, and we’ve been in contact with Alan quite a bit. We were one of a number of bands that he suggested to Brian Slagel and we just got an email one night at about two in the morning saying that he was in the office and could we send through some stuff. Brian Slagel heard it and really liked it; he liked the sort of Thin Lizzy influence in there and the early 80s metal thread as well. So over the next few months we thrashed out a deal and, yeah, announced it in August. We really wasted no time – we kind of had a short window to record the album so it was about two weeks after it was announced that we were actually in the studios.
MD: Yeah, I read it was a really short timeline between getting the deal and then having the album ready.
AM: Yeah, which suits me down to the ground because…I like to push things forward as much as possible.
MD: Sounds like you were more than ready for it – you know, if that’s what you’d been waiting for when you started the band, getting the big deal, then I guess you wanted to get in there straight away.
AM: Yeah, we were totally primed for it. Basically, it was another stroke of luck as well because Primordial were actually booked in and they had to cancel the session, so we just kind of swooped in and we were just lucky. So it all worked out well for us. In terms of our outlook, it hasn’t really changed anything. Obviously we know a little bit more about the workings of the industry now but, in terms of the band, it hasn’t really changed anything…what we want to do; where we want to bring the band. I mean, we kind of had this vision for the band that we want to follow and that’s still there.
MD: It gives you more opportunity signed to a bigger label though, I guess.
AM: Yeah, and it’s great in the fact that they don’t meddle artistically. They just sort of let us at it, which I thought was fantastic. They don’t enforce anything or tell you what to do in any respect with your music.
MD: That’s cool, yeah. If they signed you on the strength of the material they liked then they’d be stupid to tell you to change anything, I guess.
AM: Pretty much, yeah, but it’s been great so far.
MD: And you recorded the album in a residential studio in Wales…so did you actually live there for the whole time during the recording?
AM: We did, yes. I think it was two of the best weeks I’ve ever had! [laughs]
MD: I checked it out on the net and it looks like really picturesque surroundings. Did that kind of environment prove inspirational in any sense during the recording?
AM: It did, yeah. Basically, we wanted to get out of the country to record it or be anywhere where we’d be tempted to nip home for an evening, or this kind of thing. We just wanted to be there to work on the music and be completely focussed, so the location suited amazingly because we were properly up in the mountains looking over the Welsh valleys. You were five miles from the nearest village. There was nothing to do except go for a walk around the hills or work on the album so it’s just conducive to a very focussed working environment. It was really what we wanted and, looking back on it, that’s what we got. But that and the fact it’s got a reputation for producing great metal records, and the accommodation is there and everything so it all worked out great for us.
MD: Sounds like a nice little holiday and recording an album at the same time!
AM: Yeah, pretty much, we didn’t have to worry about a thing so it was great.
MD: There’s a very organic, almost analogue, sound to the music with the production – was that your aim to keep it ‘real’ and not strive to have an overly polished, over-produced sound?
AM: It was, yes, certainly. That was another one of the draws of the studio, actually, because it’s got this Trident analogue desk, a huge thing…so it was kind of responsible for giving the whole recording this warmth. Sceptics say that it’s nothing you can’t reproduce with plug-ins now but I just think that’s bullshit. It’s great to a certain extent but, in terms of feel and atmosphere on a record, these things are important.
MD: Yeah, it feels more human in that sense; you can sense there are actually people playing the music rather than an over-produced, very clean, very polished production.
AM: Yeah, that’s what we were going for…it would’ve been completely at odds with the ideal of the band to have that kind of production. I think it’s the first time we’ve got a production that we’re a hundred per cent happy with. I mean, the guitars sound very natural; you can almost hear the valves burning into overdrive. The studio had a good live room for the drums…there’s a lot of natural reverb over everything. Yeah, that was definitely the intent and it turned out that way. But, bizarrely, we still get the odd comparison on the internet with…you know, people saying it’s over-produced or it sounds like Killswitch Engage which just proves that some people are idiots! [laughs]
MD: Really?! People have said that, seriously?!
AM: Yeah! [laughs]
MD: That’s incredible!
AM: We get a laugh out of it, to be honest, because it’s obviously so crazy!
MD: It is very well produced, but it does sound very natural at the same time, which is so good to hear in this day and age. It’s been generally well received from the reviews I’ve read and I read on your Twitter page it got KKKK in Kerrang…
AM: It did, yeah. Most of the reviews or scores I’ve read so far have been from European press…it’s topped one of the German magazines soundchecks which is massive, and in Legacy mag it was joint third with Amon Amarth which is superb for us.
MD: Wow, that’s incredible.
AM: Yeah, so it’s been received really well and, yeah, it got KKKK in Kerrang and a really good review there.
MD: Kerrang seems to have gone full circle and be getting back to appreciating proper metal because it was rather shit for a few years.
AM: Yeah, yeah, it was nothing more than toilet paper for a while! It was kind of unusual us getting a good review in Kerrang because, obviously, Kerrang coming from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the first place and we’re still influenced by that era and, then, to get a review in Kerrang was quite cool in a way…even though there was Good Charlotte on the cover, but…[laughs] But, yeah, it’s been well received so far and we were surprised, definitely, to a certain extent, but pleased.
MD: So did you think you had a really strong album on your hands when you sat down and listened to the final recordings?
AM: Erm…well…[laughs]…when we first listened to the album back it was eight in the morning on the day we were supposed to leave! Basically, we mixed right through the night….totally down to the wire. We started around 11am on the Wednesday, or something, and then this was now 8am on the next day, so everything sounded too fast and we couldn’t hear anything because we were so sleep deprived. But when we got a proper listen back we were like, yeah, this is sounding very close to our original vision for the album. It’s difficult to be objective because we’re so close to the songs because we’d heard them so many times in so many different incarnations. Maybe it was a little bit difficult to say how it would sound until a few months afterwards when you get a break from it and digest it. I mean, we thought it was strong, certainly, and we were very, very happy with it so that was our prime objective accomplished…you know, we were happy with it ourselves.
MD: If you read a bad review, I guess it becomes more subjective than objective again and you get quite defensive of it and go – “hang on, we’ve done a good album, so…”!
AM: Pretty much, yeah, but, to be fair, when you see some of the bad reviews it’s comforting when they’ve just missed the point. Some of the reviews, as I’ve said, throw in crazy comparisons in there, and it’s just obvious that this guy hasn’t really listened to it or he just hasn’t understood what it’s about…
MD: Yeah, just lazy journalism or someone who doesn’t listen to much of a range of metal, I guess.
AM: Yeah, exactly.