Fresh from completing a recent Zero Tolerance sponsored UK tour in support of latest EP The White Death and currently working on their next album, Graham Matthews caught up with Achren’s lead guitarist Callum Kirk to find out what’s next for the Glaswegian Blood Metal pioneers.
It has been three years since Achren released their debut album The Forgotten King back in 2011, a release that saw them get on the bill at Bloodstock, Wacken and Metalcamp (now Metaldays) but it’s not been smooth sailing for the Scots since then. A line-up change had the biggest impact but with this year’s fine three-track EP The White Death, the band have made sure fans won’t be forgetting about them any time soon.
ZT: How did your recent tour go?
Callum Kirk: We have Beermageddon on 22nd August coming up, but the tour itself went really well. Folk seemed to be pretty stoked to hear the new material which is always good. We’ve done a few underground tours over the last few years, and the scene has changed a lot since we started in the sense that the major bands are touring much more now so this time we did a lot more towns off the main touring circuit, because I think a lot of big cities are so over saturated now, with heavy gigs several times a week in somewhere like Glasgow for example.
It was supporting your latest EP The White Death. Why did you decide to base it around Finnish sniper Simo Häyhä?
I’ve had some kind of Finnish obsession for a while now, and the lyrics of Suomen Susi are based around personal experiences of Finland mixed with historical and mythological ones; the winter war obviously figures highly so the sniper with the most kills was a good link, and gave some strong cover art: the best looking Finn in a sniper mask, shot in the face at 35 and lived until 96; you have to admit that’s pretty fucking metal. The Eschatologist, although about a hangman, links into the sniper concept too with the whole necessary death idea which is a bit different from writing about serial killers or murder for example. It’s more of a challenge to humanity when killing is something “good”.
You also worked with Matias Helle again. How did the partnership with him come about considering he’s based in Finland and you are in Glasgow?
As is often the case, discovering Matias Helle was pretty much just wild chance in the first place. I discovered Matias’ website because he had a post on Andy Sneap’s forum at the time looking for a web designer. I wasn’t answering the ad though, I was just being nosey. Before that we’d already been to Finland so we knew how seriously they take their metal and how well they do it (especially the technical side of things). The stuff he’d recorded, in particular with Lord of Pagathorn, was really what we’d been looking for but we’d never come across anyone doing that kind of thing over here. It’s no problem now with the technology available to record one place then send them off for mixing as long as you have the right person to do it.
And how pleased were you with the results?
We’ve definitely been over the moon with what Matias did, both on the last album, and on The White Death. He really understands what we’re after, and that became even more apparent second time round. We went for a slightly rougher sound with The White Death and tweaked the guitars a little; actually spent much less time recording them to try and make it that bit more spontaneous, most of the lead work is first takes, and Matias really added something to the songs in the way he mixed them and the creative ideas he had production wise.
Was this EP a precursor for your second album? When will that be out?
Yeah, that’s the plan. There were a couple of reasons to release the three tracks the way we did; the main one being artistically because the songs and the concept stood apart from the other material we’ve been working on. The other more pragmatic one being the line-up change just after the first album was done; we wanted to capture the interim line-up on record. It’s not really a “taster” because I think it stands apart from the rest of the material. There’s no release date for the next album yet but we’ll be recording once the demos are done, which we’re working on at the moment.
Has much changed, stylistically or otherwise, in the three years since you released The Forgotten King?
After the first album, it became clear that we wouldn’t be continuing with the same line-up. We tried to work through it but it really wasn’t going to happen, so losing Gordon our original drummer at that point was the biggest change. That really changed the dynamic within the band and had an effect on how we write.
There has been a clear musical progression between The Forgotten King and The White Death of course; the first was very much straight ahead, basic bash bash bash. The White Death has a bit more musical subtlety. We’re also approximately three years more bitter….
What would you say are the main influences for your upcoming album (lyrically and musically)?
The next album may come across as quite dark conceptually. There’s a bit of a time lag between writing and release so we’re all very jolly now but we do put a lot of personal experience into our songwriting and there’s been no shortage of things to seek musical redemption from since the last album.
Lyrically and musically, I don’t write many lyrics but I really need to have some personal inspiration for guitar parts. Music should have some mix of crushing despair and ultimate triumph, it has to have emotion and soul otherwise it becomes just an empty athletic exercise or masturbation.
Our influences are always our own experiences. I’m not especially interested in listening to songs about zombie invasions or a butcher’s off cuts and I’m definitely not interested in writing about something I don’t connect with.
We’re demoing tracks at the moment and there’s definitely some much faster stuff there, plus the more typically Achren catchy heaviness, but often the defining parts are last minute additions before we send the tracks to mix so it could be a surprise for everyone, us included.
How would you describe Achren’s sound. I’ve seen the phrase Blood Metal mentioned, what is it?
Blood Metal, it’s our own mix of black, thrash, death… we came up with it because we didn’t fit neatly into any of those exclusively. The term itself is of course a reference to the iron in our blood; I think we had a song called ‘Blood Metal’ at the time and it seemed to make sense.
Why should Zero Tolerance readers listen to Achren?
Well, if you’ve read this far then it’ll probably take less time than that to check it out! If you like your old school heaviness it’ll be an enjoyable experience, and if you don’t you’re probably reading the wrong magazine.
Finally, what future ambitions do you have for the band?
Right now the only ambition is to write the best album we can to follow up The White Death; after that maybe book some huge gigs somewhere exotic and cold and we can take it from there.