Interview with Tom Sutton conducted by Bill Zebub for THE GRIMOIRE OF EXALTED DEEDS magazine
Israfel is an angel who has mastery of music. In that sense, I can understand why the band uses the name. Your riffs are quite tasty. But is it not a strange choice to use the name of an angel, especially when the lyrics are sometimes demonic?
Yeah, there’s plenty of good old-fashioned satanic panic in the lyrics, for sure. But the idea for the band was always that the music would ultimately be uplifting. I wanted to share happiness with people, even if the music is presented in a melancholy way. I think religious imagery always has a kind of majesty and weight, so I liked the idea of using the name of an angel for the band. So far, all the songs have some kind of light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not sure it will always be that way, but that’s the way it has been so far.
It may be none of my business, but wouldn’t your band be best suited to a label like Svart Records? I love many of the albums on Napalm Records, but your classic riffing and vocals seem a tad out of place on that label.
My other band, Night Viper, actually did our first album on Svart. Yeah, it would have been a good fit. Napalm just expressed interest very early on, and we liked their approach, so we didn’t feel like we had to think much further than that. Napalm have started really diversifying, though. I think they want to be a label that covers a wide range of heavy music rather than just one or two styles. They have released Candlemass albums, so there are other bands that we have things in common with on there.
Do you know Chritus from Goatess and Count Raven? I am not sure why I am asking this.
Haha! Yeah, we know him well. We have played a couple of shows with Goatess. He actually got on stage with us at our second show to do a cover of Candlemass‘ ‘Solitude’ along with Mappe from Candlemass. My first exposure to Saint Vitus was actually the video clip for ‘Fear’ which was from the album Chritus is on. That was Saint Vitus as far as I knew for a pretty long time.
Your band is not stoner doom, but some of the riffs flirt with that style. I’d like to call you heavy metal because some of your songs remind you of how I felt when I first heard Black Sabbath. Rather than ask you what your category is, because that is more for retailers than for music fans, I’d like to know what you are thinking when you create music.
It varies from song to song, I guess. It depends what kind of feeling I get from the early riffs in a song. Like, something that feels spiritual will lead me to think of some kind of lesson or message. I’ll reach for something deep and universal. Something that feels more cinematic will lead me in more of a narrative direction. I always want each line of lyrics in the song to play its role in telling the story of that song, so I’m trying to make sure I’m disciplined about that rather than just throwing stuff in because it rhymes. And then as we’re putting the details into the song, it’s about creating an interesting color palette for the ears and making it more exciting or giving it more atmosphere.
The vocals sometimes remind me of Jethro Tull. I don’t mean that as an insult, or even as a comparison. What I mean is that the vocal delivery seemed very good for storytelling, and your lyrics are of things happening, words of action.
Ah, thanks. Our bass player loves Jethro Tull, and we even asked Ian Anderson to play flute on our second album, but he didn’t have time. Kind of crazy that we even got a response. Yeah, I think it’s great to engage the power of story-telling in songs, and in those cases it’s important to be able to hear what the singer is saying. I’ve never written any short stories or whatever, but I love creating stories in songs. Actually, ‘The Noctuus’ from the first album and ‘A Shadow In The Hills’ from the second are parts one and two of a single story. I gotta come up with at least one more part now. Can’t leave the story hanging!
It’s cool how you have radio-length songs, like four minutes, and you also have a fifteen-minute song. You also vary from upbeat to something more like a doom dirge. Peter Steele would have called you “Schizo-phonic.”
Thanks. It’s something that bothers me a bit with Sabbath-family bands these days. They tend to pick one tempo or one vibe and then do that to death. I find it really boring, actually. The bands that established all this in the first place all had a lot of variety in their music. From Black Sabbath to Cathedral to The Gates Of Slumber, all my favorite bands in this style knew how to use light and shade and dynamics. I think it’s really important.
I’ve seen some live clips and it makes me envious of those who have been able to catch a show. Is America not ready for you to do a headline tour?
Man, we’d be playing all the time if we could. The fact is that all bands are at the mercy of how popular they are or aren’t, and whether or not booking agents are willing to put the time into booking tours for them and whether or not promoters in each city feel like they’ll make their money back. We’ve been pretty lucky in Europe, touring with Pentagram, The Year Of The Goat, et cetera, but the costs involved in coming to the US when it’s hard to say that anyone would come up just don’t make it feasible yet. I toured the U.S. once when I was in Church Of Misery, and it was one of the most fun tours I’ve ever done, so it would be fun to come back some time, for sure.
“The Vow” is quite chilling. Your songs sometimes can be left to interpretation whether or not the band has occult inclination, but this track has strong words. What effect has this had on fans who may not go this far into horror?
I’ve only ever heard one person outside of reviews talk about it. She loved it at least. I’ve never heard that anyone had a problem with it. I’m just surprised that no-one has recognized it for what it is. It’s from a film, actually. The guy who produced the album set up the sound effects, and I recorded the dialogue. It actually plays into the story of the song that follows it on the album, so I thought it would be cool. I still like how it turned out. Maybe I should do more spoken word!
“The Order of Israfel” makes me remember a time when bands sounded different from each other. Do you think that it’s harder for a unique band to become known in a time when people seem to be in musical cliques?
Maybe, but bands that don’t have much personality only get so far. They might find some kind of following, but people will always want something that stands out from the pack. It’s nice that you think we sound a bit different from other bands. I would hope so, but it’s hard to know about your own band, of course.