London’s gothic/symphonic metal sextet Pythia released their third (and possibly final?) album at the end of 2014, so ZT had a word with guitarist Ross White about it and the band’s future.
Formed in 2007 and coming from a few different musical backgrounds, Pythia throw gothic, fantasy and classical elements into a melting pot of heavy metal that forges their symphonic/power metal sound. Three albums in and they’ve certainly honed their craft and established a place in the scene, with latest release Shadows Of A Broken Past sure to please any fan of the aforementioned qualities.
There have been a few line-up changes and happenings outside the music that have left the band’s future not yet decided. Guitarist Ross White spoke to ZT about that, their newest album and working with a certain Brian Blessed once again.
ZT: Firstly, will this be the final Pythia album? And if so, why have you decided to call it a day?
Ross White (Guitars): I don’t know, to be honest. Only time will tell I guess. Back in the early days of Pythia I remember saying to Marc (drums) that my view is that as long as we still enjoying writing, recording and performing Pythia music and we sell enough albums to be able to afford to make another album then there is no reason to stop. If we don’t enjoy it anymore or lose the desire/passion for it then we’ll knock it on the head. As things stand we are sort of all having a little break from Pythia activities as Oz (guitars) became a dad a couple of months ago and I have my second child due next month. Despite what Manowar will tell you, some things are actually more important that heavy metal!
So I think the plan is that a few months down the line we’ll reconvene and see how everyone is getting on and what we want to do moving forwards. I think we have a really cool line-up of musicians and have developed a pretty cool and unique sound, so it would be a shame if Pythia doesn’t carry on.
With a different line-up for ‘Shadows of a Broken Past’, did it change your approach to writing/recording compared with your previous two releases?
No, not really. We have a pretty settled and organised way of writing so fortunately the new band members were able to integrate into that pretty seamlessly. Myself (guitars) and Marc (drums) generally come up with the riffs and basic structure of the track, which then gets sent over to Emily for her to write the vocal parts and lyrics to. Then come the keys, bass and lead guitar parts, in that order. Everyone writes their own parts, so with new band members it of course means new ideas, writing styles and sounds coming into Pythia, which was very exciting and positive but also a little nerve-wracking as well, as there is always the slight worry in the back of your mind that ‘what if it doesn’t sound like Pythia anymore?’.
It is a 50% line-up change from The Serpent’s Curse to this album after all. Fortunately Mark (bass), Oz (lead guitar) and Marcus (keys) more than lived up to our expectations and all delivered fantastically written and played parts for the album. They all did exactly what you hope new band members will do in that they acknowledged and respected what their predecessors had done on the previous Pythia albums and then added their own style and flavour to it.
Where did you draw inspiration from, both lyrically and musically, for the new album?
Early on in the writing/demoing phase of the album I remember having a chat with Marc where we both agreed that the plan for this album would be to have no plan. Just write whatever comes naturally, as and when inspiration strikes. We have always done that to an extent but generally in the past we have had a bit of an idea in our heads as to what direction we were aiming; Beneath The Veiled Embrace was us putting down the foundations for how we wanted Pythia to sound and The Serpent’s Curse was us expanding on those foundations, going a bit heavier, darker and more progressive. Also because myself and Marc come from a thrash/death metal background we would at times have to make sure what we were writing was ok for Pythia, not too weird, evil or fast etc.
The plan with this album was to just to go with whatever came naturally and trust ourselves that whatever we come up with will be Pythia. I think Emily has always sort of worked that way with the vocals and lyrics anyway. When we send her a demo of a track she has a listen and whatever subjects and styles of vocals pop into her head whilst listening that is what the song will be about. Sometimes the lyrics are deep personal feelings, sometimes they are pure escapist fantasy and sometimes they are a mixture of both, they appear to be fantasy but the characters and story are actually metaphors for real life things. Something we all agreed on with this album was that we wanted to try and strip things back a bit so there were less layers of vocals, keys, lguitar parts and harmonies, as there were times on The Serpent’s Curse where we felt there was so much going on that parts were getting lost and maybe the vocals were losing a bit of emotion/intimacy. We felt by stripping things back a little bit it would actually allow each instrument/part to have more space to cut through, would give the vocals a rawer and more emotive sound and would actually make the songs sound bigger and more dynamic.
It’s easy to make tracks sound big by having layers and layers of vocals, guitars, keys etc but it takes more self belief and confidence to strip it back and let the song really shine through. We probably didn’t have have that confidence to do that before but we did for this album and I think it really helps make it a better album.
Why did you decide to get Brian Blessed involved for a second time? Is he a big power/symphonic metal fan?
When we were demoing the track ‘Sword Of Destiny’ Marcus sent over his ideas for the keys parts and he had actually put a spoken word over the intro for a bit of fun. I think it was something from Lord of the Rings. We all had a bit of a chuckle about it but it did sound pretty cool and it got us thinking that a spoken word bit might actually be cool on that bit, and of course there is only one voice we wanted, Blessed! So Marc contacted Brian’s agent again and asked if he would be up for it, and he was! Marc then found a little speech from the crusades that we thought worked well and Brian came and read it for us.
Back when we asked him to be on our first album I don’t think he was really familiar with power metal etc. but he apparently liked the idea of it so came along, did the spoken word part and was asking a lot about the music and the lyrics. He seemed very enthusiastic about it all (is he ever anything else?) and I think when he heard the completed album he was really quite thrilled about it. Next thing we know he is appearing at metal award ceremonies and doing guest vocals on Manowar albums! I think anything big, loud and epic is right up his street so it’s actually quite surprising that no band had thought to ask him before. It’s well worth it just to spend a few hours in his company! Amazing character.
Do you feel symphonic metal is in a good place at the moment?
I don’t really know to be honest. I guess from a sales/profile point of view it is, Within Temptation and Nightwish seem pretty massive these days (I remember seeing them at the Astoria 2) but in all honesty I’m not a big fan of those band’s latest albums or a lot of the other bands in that genre at the moment. I guess the problem with a genre becoming more popular is that suddenly a lot of ‘sub-standard’ bands start popping up and the bigger bands start seeing the dollar signs and releasing more commercial/simpler material. I’m probably just being a cynical grump but give me Wishmaster over any of these newer albums.
Do you think the increased popularity of other fantasy type entertainment (Game Of Thrones, The Hobbit etc.) in the mainstream has had any impact on the genre?
Good question. Yeah, quite possibly. I think the Lord of the Rings films surely must have opened up a lot of people’s minds to that sort of escapism, fantasy and epic storytelling that in musical form is basically power/symphonic metal. Blind Guardian surely should be the biggest band in the world by now! If it was up to me they would be. I think in mainland Europe that sort of imagery and music has been embraced for years but in the UK the public and the media can be a bit ‘too cool for school’ a lot of the time but in recent years that seems to be changing, which can only be a good thing in my opinion. Stop worrying about wearing the ‘cool’ band t-shirts, tight jeans and playing 42-string djent guitars and just have a beer and sing along to songs about Mordor!
What are the most important lessons you have learned with Pythia?
Well I’ve learnt a hell of a lot about a lot of things from being in Pythia. The initial things are learning (through trial and error) about writing more melodic music (after coming from a thrash/death metal background) plus the recording of albums (as we record ourselves). Being in any band is a constant learning curve regarding inter-band personalities, relationships, egos etc. We are totally hands on with everything from photo shoots to album artwork and layout so we have all learnt a lot regarding that stuff. Also as we are our own record label (Golden Axe Records) I have learnt a lot about the finances and logistics of that side of things plus PR campaigns, touring costs etc.
Where next for Pythia and its members?
We are all sort of doing our own bits and bobs at the moment while a couple of us are on paternity leave. But we are all really proud of the album and are doing what we can to help promote it. A few of us have other bands/projects we are working on, some are doing session work, some are just enjoying some family time but we are all keeping in touch and as I say, a few months down the line we will all have a chat and see what we want to do. Go play some shows? Start working on a new album? Go our separate ways? Time will tell.