Interview with Leon Macey / guitarist of Mithras
From the ancient past and the depths of space comes Mithras, an extreme metal band from England. Their cosmic force sets them apart from any and all of their peers with an unmistakable and signature sound. Without further delay, the following transmission about the band comes from the words of Leon Macey, guitarist and writer for these voyagers from the far beyond.
How and why did you choose the name “Mithras?” And why did you choose something so different than standard gory names and themes?
Well, the band was originally named Imperator which means Roman Emperor in times of war, but we decided to change the name when the Polish band of the same name reformed. We chose Mithras as it had a link to the Roman historical elements we already associated with, but with a more spiritual connotation, which suited where we were going with the music yet came from a similar place to ‘Imperator’.
Can you tell the readers a bit of the influences that brought you to your current sound and lyrics, and also how you would describe that sound to someone?
I’d describe our sound as progressive extreme metal, with some death metal elements and also some more ‘musical’ passages, some ambient parts… In the early days we were influenced by a lot of the bigger death metal bands like Morbid Angel but also more avant garde bands such as Bal-Sagoth. Lyrically and conceptually we simply wrote and still write about ideas which appeal to us, whether the power and nature of dreams, fantasy, space exploration, physics, sci-fi, the unexplained… These concepts sit well with the music we write which sounds pretty unusual in places!
In the linear notes of World Beyond the Veil you mention that keyboards were used sparsely. Can you tell the readers more about this decision?
The reason there’s notes in the albums regarding the synth work is that a lot of people mistake what I’m doing with my guitar for a synthesiser or keyboard so we have specific notes to avoid confusion. If a Mithras song has drums in it, it’s almost certainly NOT got any synths or keyboards in it (the exceptions being ‘Psyrens’ which starts off with a synth and sample intro and ‘Arena Sands’ which has a string section in the middle part. So most of the crazy sounds on the records are guitar generated.
In addition, was it difficult to reproduce that sound live? The live tracks on the Time Never Lasts EP shows that the sound can definitely be transferred to a live setting, but listeners would imagine it was a bit difficult.
Well the live tracks on ‘Time Never Lasts’ are actually played by just three of us, Rayner Coss (oratory/bass), myself on guitar and a session drummer, whereas on the records I play a guitar part on each side and leads ontop; so I had to use a bit of clever trickery and a stereo rig for the guitar harmony bits and we had some effects automatically applied to the bass whenever I did a lead part to fill it out some, but really all we’re doing here is making up for the lack of a rhythm player (not an issue now as we have Tom from Sarpanitum playing rhythm guitars for us). The spacey guitar parts on the albums are just sounds and presets in my rig and floor pedals so I can nail them exactly the same live more or less.
For those who haven’t seen the band live, do you play mostly the more typical metal songs live, or are the more atmospheric tracks also present in the set list?
I try and always put SOMETHING in which isn’t just one of the metal tracks, be it an atmospheric coda or extended solo or something. I’d really like to do a show one day with a fair number of the sans drums instrumental atmospheric tracks played on guitars, which would be doable, even if using a sample synth track as a backing for some parts.
Can you describe what its like for the band to travel and play shows? And how you came to choose your live/session musicians?
Unfortunately, we’ve had so many issues with live drummers that we’ve not played a great deal of shows so I don’t have a lot of experience to relate in this instance. We’ve done some good shows though, the headlining show we played in London 2008 which the live tracks on ‘Time Never Lasts’ come from was a blinder, not to mention the massive show at Brutal Assault festival in 2009 (when Sam Bean from The Berzerker was handling vocals and bass) when we played after Brutal Truth and before Cynic to an audience of nearly 10,000. Re: the musicians, we’ve always been stuck for a selection of live drummers and had to take anyone who could get close to being able to handle the complex material, but we had two very good guitar players audition for the live guitar spot and ended up with Tom who I mentioned before – he’s a fantastic guitarist who totally gets what we’re doing and can nail it to boot.
Could you tell us about the writing and recording process a bit?
On previous albums, I composed almost all the music as demo guitars on my own, and performed a lot of the leads in an almost trance like state, which led to some great but impossible to learn leads! The core of the band is Rayner and myself and we always worked the arrangements a little in the rehearsal room and experimented with vocals guitar and bass over the existing guitars. On our upcoming album Rayner and myself are just working in my home studio and assembling the tracks in a more fun way; recording, editing, trying lots of arrangements and seeing what’s best. We don’t really find it that challenging to physically perform the fast material anymore so we’d rather spend the time we have for the band being creative rather than endlessly playing the same demo arrangements in order to master them physically speaking. I tend to write the majority of the lyrics myself then Rayner inputs a bit, or vice versa.
What music does Mithras listen to?
Both Rayner and myself listen to a fair bit of extreme metal in various forms and some classic rock and metal too, not to mention some classical music. Speaking for myself I like to listen to a lot of pop (some modern and older stuff) these days, and a lot ambient and electronic music, as well as some prog stuff too.
Are there any albums from this year that have really impressed you?
I really like the new one from Blut Aus Nord – ‘777 Sect(s)’, really progressive avant garde black metal, with a near cinematic quality in places. I also really dig the latest Zombi record ‘Escape Velocity’ which is electronica, 80’s sounding synth based and fantastic, like the music from a John Carpenter film.
Some listeners or readers may not know about Galactic Records. Can you tell us a bit about your label, and what it means to run it?
The label was really an experiment I did a few years ago. Galactic released two records, one by Sarpanitum and another by Sepia Dreamer; both CDs were distributed worldwide by Plastic Head. However, neither band really performed to our expectation for a variety of reasons; Sarpanitum stopped performing shows right when the record came out and had line up problems thereon, and Sepia Dreamer just didn’t really do anything at all, which meant neither record did that well even considering the reasonable advertising and promotion we did for both releases. After this I attempted to push on and tried to sign about five other promising bands, but unfortunately ran into a ridiculous number of logistical difficulties and frankly unreasonable expectations from some of the bands. This lead to me realising running a label which was more than a vanity project wasn’t a great idea, especially considering the terminal decline in paid for music and particularly CD sales. The latest Mithras EP is simply out under the Galactic name as we weren’t interested in working with another label on something as small as an EP and it was a convenient thing to do.
One last question. As mentioned before, Mithras’ material has moved from ancient gods and trampled works, to the endless planes, to the black holes of oblivion, and now to the godmind. Can you tell us about this progression, and what can listeners expect in the future?
Indeed! The progression just runs in a natural way in terms of how we progressed as people, with changing interests over time. The material on our upcoming record is quite epic is scope and deals with universal questions and themes which anyone could relate to, but with a sci-fi lean.