Voices of Ruin
On their latest release, Voices of Ruin combines elements of European melodic death metal and classic heavy metal with some US West Coast thrash and a bit of black metal. All of it made for a killer independent release that's somewhat removed from the pure metal genres. But hybrid sounds often shake our expectations and evolve our listening experience. Greg Watson had a chance to chat with vocalist Dave Barrett about the new release "Born from the Dark", song crafting, criticisms, genres and sub-genres, vinyl, and "Larry".
MM: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us Dave. Let's start off by you telling our readers a little bit about the band and its formation.
No problem, thanks for having me! We started in 2007 under the name Oblivion. We started off as a thrash metal band playing through the local SoCal circuit and having a blast. Back in the MySpace days there were far too many bands with the name Oblivion so we decided to make the switch to Voices of Ruin. I had written a song with the same name and we felt it was a great name for the band. The music soon evolved into a more melodic and progressive sound. We've been through a bunch of member changes in the early days but we now have a really solid lineup with some really dedicated guys.
MM: Being from Southern California, there is a pretty good music culture out there. Has that culture influenced you all in any way and if so, how has it influenced you all?
Definitely has, funny we are more influenced by a lot of European metal bands but being from SoCal we naturally have thrash roots. The thrash culture is so strong in Los Angeles, it's impossible for us not to be influenced by it! We started off as a thrash band covering Slayer tunes but we've definitely progressed. There is also a solid death metal scene in SoCal but I think we stand out with a more European influenced sound.
MM: Alright, let's talk about "Born from the Dark", the band's new album. First off, I have to say that this album is absolutely outstanding. When I listen to the album, I hear so many different influences from bands that created the "Gothenburg" sound such as In Flames, Soilwork, etc. Yet, I also hear some traditional metal and some black metal in there as well. It's a great amalgam of sounds and I was just curious if you could try and explain how you all were able to combine those styles into such a tight sounding combination.
We are really stoked on how it turned out. My brother (lead guitar and songwriter) and I have a little different preference in music, but we are huge fans of the Gothenburg style and bands that came from the early melodic death metal movement. As we write the songs, we try to incorporate each person's style in their own instrument. As a vocalist, I am a black metal fan so I think that comes out in my vocals while Tom, being a melodic death metal and classic metal fan, really gives it a good blend. We appreciate all different genres of metal and aren't afraid to mix it up. We let the songs come together naturally and try not to dismiss anything because it doesn't have a specific "sound".
MM: Another thing that stands out to me on the album is the songs themselves. With death metal, most fans tend to either fixate on the lyrics or the music, rather than the song itself. But with the songs on "Born from the Dark", there seems to be a very strong effort on the band's part to craft very well constructed songs both lyrically and musically. Explain a little about how you all as a band develop the music and lyrics and then merge them together perfectly to create a song.
Songs are very important to us. You can always make songs that are just brutal or just a wild combination of riffs but we believe that the song comes first and is always most important. It seems to be becoming a lost art these days! Tom usually arranges everything beforehand and then we bring it into rehearsal. As we jam the songs in our rehearsal studio, we see what changes come naturally and we let the song grow. From there I'll write around the different vocal sections and make the song come to life. Then we open some beers and listen to it to decide if it's something we want to keep or if it needs more work. It's awesome to hear that you enjoy it!
MM: Your vocals are a bit of a hybrid style of death and black metal styles that creates this raspy, rumbling delivery. How did you get to the vocal style that you use now and had you tried other vocals before deciding on this approach?
It's funny how I became vocalist. When we were all together drinking and listening to music as kids I would always sing along to bands like Amon Amarth, Immortal, At The Gates, Dimmu Borgir and so on. So when Tom asked me to join the band I was excited to sing original songs! I wouldn't say that I've ever tried any other vocal styles but I feel that my technique has evolved and improved since we started. I try not to just copy another melodic death metal band's vocal style but to develop my own sound. Our producer Scott Fuller also pinpointed a vocal delivery that he felt sounded best for "Born From the Dark" and we tried to focus on that. I feel it has evolved even further since the last album and I'm always trying to push myself to get even better.
MM: Musically, this album is packed with monster riffs, incredible solos and some very speedy guitar work. Your brother Tom and rhythm guitarist Steve are quite a formidable duo. How do they go about picking and creating the guitar parts for each song? And additionally, do you write the lyrics before the music is created or do your lyrics start coming out after the music has been hammered out?
"You can always make songs that are just brutal or just a wild combination of riffs but we believe that the song comes first and is always most important." --Dave
They are great together, they really mesh well live too. Lots of headbanging! Tom has been the main creative force in songwriting and is really critical about the riffs and melodies. I'll hear him record tons of different guitar parts and put songs together. Anything that he doesn't really like gets put on hold and anything that he thinks is awesome is sent to the rest of the band for approval. Steve has become increasingly active in the songwriting and we're looking forward to having more of his riffs on the next album. The lyrics are always done after we practice the music. I think it's important to find the most effective vocal patterns before actually writing the words. Otherwise you're stretching words or changing things just to make them fit. Tom always takes the vocals into account when putting the songs together too. So I'm not just singing over some random guitar madness! He knows what I can sing over and what is not going to work.
MM: Production wise, "Born from the Dark" sounds really solid. The guitar tones are very crisp, the drums and the bass sound really thick and heavy and your vocals aren't muddied in any way and the overall mix just puts everything in to one great package. Who handled the production on the album and how much of a hand did you all have in the final mix?
Thanks man! We called upon Scotty Fuller (Abysmal Dawn, Annihilated) for this album, and man did he do a killer job. We say that he became the "6th" member of the band for this album. He stayed with us for 6 weeks while he did the engineering and recording. It was really awesome being able to do everything locally and in comfortable locations. I'm sure Scotty was annoyed with all the minor tweaks we requested but he did a great job with the initial mix! He was awesome to work with and is highly recommended, we're hoping to work with him again on the next record.
MM: "Born from the Dark" is an album that, in my personal opinion, is a game changer. I feel that way because the death metal genre has become so stagnant and has stalled on creativity that it could provide a real shot in the arm. But in addition to that, I feel that the album transcends the genre itself because of the diversity of styles that you all incorporate in to your sound as a band. How do you all feel about the death metal genre in regards to it seeming stagnant and sluggish? Do you all see the album as being an album that can bridge gaps in terms of genres?
I really appreciate your thoughts on the album here. I agree that the death metal genre is feeling a bit stagnant lately. It has lost much of it's initial shock value. There are exceptions of course but a lot of the songs just lack a certain depth. It's cool to make heavy music but we feel that music shouldn't be brutal just for the sake of being brutal. That's fun but it becomes instantly forgettable to me. I suppose that's where we come in. We like to use elements from different genres to create songs that we feel are captivating and memorable. I mean, these elements are why we got into metal in the first place!
MM: What type of response have you all been receiving from fans and critics about "Born from the Dark"? Is there a part of you that gets nervous when you see a review of the album up and you wonder if it's going to be a positive review or a negative one?
The response has been awesome so far! Fans really dig the album and critics have been very positive which is great because critics and reviewers can be brutal sometimes! We are confident in the music but I think it's natural to be a bit nervous of the public reaction. Once you really put yourself out there for everyone to judge, you naturally feel a bit vulnerable. We practice hard and put a lot of work into what we do so it's always hard to hear negative feedback. But at the same time, it's not for everyone. I guess that's really the beauty in music. It's so personal - one man's favorite band is another man's most hated band. Of course, we appreciate all of our supporters and anyone who takes the time to listen to our tunes.
MM: When it comes to the criticisms or suggestions that you all may receive, how do you all deal with that? And also, how are you all affected as a band and on a personal level by negative feedback about the music that you all create?
Sometimes criticism can be constructive and something we agree with. I try to take it objectively but you really can't let criticism change the way you approach your art. This music really isn't for everybody and we don't want to compromise what we believe in because it doesn't meet a specific standard. It's art and criticism is a natural part of the process. Negative feedback is going to happen but as long as you believe in what you are doing, it's not going to crush your soul!
"This music really isn't for everybody and we don't want to compromise what we believe in because it doesn't meet a specific standard. It's art and criticism is a natural part of the process. Negative feedback is going to happen but as long as you believe in what you are doing, it's not going to crush your soul!"
MM: Your sound could classify you in so many different genres of metal but mostly you all get labeled as a death metal band. Are you all comfortable with the death metal tag? If you all could classify yourselves, what would you say you were as far as metal is concerned?
The genres and sub-genres for metal have become so specific it's almost become a science! We're not trying to fit into a specific category but I wouldn't consider the band to be straight up death metal. Like you said, we try to combine many genres of metal. I would say that I'm comfortable with being labeled as a death metal band because of the extreme vocals but I feel that we're much more than that. I also feel that we're not just a typical melodic death metal band. My favorite genre label for the band is probably blackened melodic death metal but at the end of the day, we're Voices of Ruin.
MM: When I saw that you all were independent, it absolutely blew me away! Have you all sent out feelers to record labels and just had no bites or did you all just decide that going independent was how you all wanted to do things?
It's a combination of both, we are definitely looking for a major label support but haven't had any solid offers. We keep doing really well on an independent level but we've gotten to a point where an established label would really help bring things to the next level. We are just going to keep pushing and moving forward. Times are tough in the music industry but we're hoping to secure some label support in the near future. Either way, we're not going to stop kicking ass and trying to take things to the next level!
MM: Being an independent band, I've always been curious, what do you all have to do in order to get a new album financed and a studio booked for recording time? Roughly how much does it cost to book the studio and make the album?
We all work normal day jobs to support our music and keep a roof over our heads. We'll save up and we pool our resources together to get the albums financed. You just have to plan ahead and budget everything properly. There are a lot of costs involved in making an album from buying and designing the artwork, to booking studio time and paying engineers, all the way to the the actual printing of the physical CD. I can't go over the specific numbers but I can say that it's not cheap!
MM: When it comes to file streaming and albums being leaked out early, what are your thoughts on those subjects? If your album was picked up by Spotify let's say, what sort of an impact, if any, does that have on you all as a band financially?
I don't mind streaming and it does seem like the future of music. Physical music releases are becoming much less common but I do like this vinyl comeback that this seems to have sparked. I've been buying vinyls from my favorite bands and they're sweet! I'm sure streaming impacts us negatively on a financial level but at the same time we don't expect to be selling millions of copies so it's not hurting us that bad. We're really just excited to have the music readily available on so many platforms for people to access. That's really what we try to focus on. It's awesome to have our music available to anyone at any time.
MM: I think I might be one of the few people left on this planet who will still buy albums that I love because I want that physical copy in my hands, the artwork, the lyrics. With digital releases you don't get that and frankly I don't understand it. Do you feel that with the ability for people to have the ability to purchase single songs or get albums digitally that is has devalued the physical album as a whole?
Yes, I do. I grew up buying albums and so did the rest of the band. I think the experience of actually buying a physical product and having it in your hands as you listen to the music is something that is very special. With streaming you really don't get that experience. Streaming allows bands and music to become much more "disposable". Now it's common for people to listen to 1-2 minutes of song, judge the entire band's catalog, and move onto the next band. Attention spans have gotten shorter and there seems to be much more focus on just having that instant "wow" aspect in metal songs or making the bands conform to an already accepted sound. It's just something we have come to terms with and we really appreciate hearing that fans like yourself that still listen to music on that deep of a level.
MM: Making a random subject change, tell me a little bit about the band's mascot "Larry". Who came up with the idea for "Larry" and do you all plan to feature him on forthcoming albums? What about incorporating him in to your live shows, kind of like how Maiden does with "Eddie"?
You know, it just kind of happened. We had a vision for the artwork on our first full length. We wanted to have a demon summoning the viewer into a fiery apocalypse. Par Olofsson really brought it to life and created the demon character. We're just a bunch of goofballs and we decided to name him "Larry" for no specific reason. He's really become a staple in our album artwork after just 2 albums. I think that Larry will continue to be a big part of Voices of Ruin artwork. It would be awesome to have him come out on stage, Iron Maiden style!
MM: Speaking of touring, what sort of tour plans do you all have in the works currently? Are you all going to be out on the West Coast mainly or will you be all over the place?
We recently got back from a tour with Black Metal legends Ritual, that was a blast! We are planning some small West coast tours and are pushing to get a full US tour sometime soon. We'd love to go all over the place. We're hoping to get out to places like Europe and Asia sometime soon if we get the right opportunities. Be sure to keep checking on social media and our website for upcoming tour announcements!
MM: That's all the questions I have for you man. I'll let you have the final words by saying whatever you'd like to our readers and your fans out there. "Born from the Dark" is a phenomenal album and I know you all are very proud of it. Best of luck to you guys going forward man! \m/
We really appreciate the kind words! Your questions were great and we're stoked that you took the time to check out the band. Thanks to everyone that read through this and be sure to check us out online - www.voicesofruin.com. Keep it metal everyone... heads up, horns high!