Mythology and metal have never been an odd match, there is a long-storied tradition of musicians from every subgenre exploring the folklore of many cultures – Norse, Egyptian, Greek to name a few. In this respect, Phaëthon is not treading new ground. However, what does make them distinct is their background. While we are accustomed to seeing delineation between traditional and extreme metal, it’s no secret that most death and black metal musicians are deeply reverent of early heavy metal pioneers and their offshoots. Phaëthon fits precisely this mold as two of the main musicians are seasoned veterans of the UK extreme underground – lead guitarist/vocalist Vrath (of Craven Idol and Scythian) and bassist Aees (Dysemblem and Injekting Khaos).
A product of jam sessions dating back to nearly a decade, Phaëthon quietly released their 5 song EP at the end of last year through the excellent Gates of Hell records (Chevalier, Vultures Vengeance, etc). Running at a length of just over half an hour, the band display a widespread appreciation of every traditional metal genre under the sun – taking inspiration from the epic ventures of US power metal, the galloping rhythm sections of the early NWOBHM band and the slow, mournful passages of classic doom. Coming from an extreme metal background, perhaps it’s not surprising to also feel the presence of Viking era Bathory flowing constantly.
Even with just 5 songs, the variety on display is impressive. Vrath does a great job of balancing his guitar duties with his effusive and gruffy singing style; sometimes reminding me of Bobbie Wright and Messiah. Aees provides a solid display of bass work, providing a strong rhythmic backbone. The enigmatic drummer (“Herr Berthelsen”) has no problems keeping the flow going as he transitions between faster and slower tempos. As if it were carefully curated, the production value is purposely slightly lo-fi to give it a rough around the edges sound; one where nothing is overpowered in the mix and that gives it an ancient, archaic feel.
Right out of the gate, the self-titled opener “Sacrifice Doth Call” comes with an explosive barrage of melody and colossal guitar leads – only briefly slowing the tempo to once again burst at the seams. The comparisons to Manilla Road, Brocas Helm, and Bathory are somewhat inevitable. “Suncrater” and “To the Gallows” and keep the blood flowing with its galloping rhythm section and sudden speed transitions which bring to mind those early punk-flavoured NWOBHM singles. The Candlemass comparisons are apparent with the doomy pacing of “Bless us o Ra”. However it’s with the closer of the EP, the 12 minute long epic “The Final Beholder” brings all the previous ideas on display for an explosive potpourri – one where the song takes constant shifts and swirls between doom metal passages and energetic eruptions of guitar solos before once again descending into a mournful and somber close.
As a first release, Phaëthon’s EP hits all the right notes. It is an obvious homage to the epic and traditional metal we grew up loving, but never taking too much from a single source to be considered a rip-off. Recently the band has announced the incorporation of new guitarist Decado (Fen, Fellwarden) and drummer Sherwood (Amulet) which hints at more to come in the future. Let the cult of epic metal never die.
Hey guys, thank for agreeing to take part for an interview. In spite of seemingly coming out of nowhere, Phaethon’s EP has been in the works for a long time (since at least 2015). How did this collaboration occur in the first place and how did the songwriting process evolve during this time?
Vrath: Thanks for having us! I just looked back at some correspondence and it appears it dates back as far as 2013! The story of Phaethon starts way before this paper-trail though. There just never was an outlet for it. To further play devil’s advocate, I would say the summer of 2011, spent partly on a Savonian island, was when the floodgates screeched open. I became obsessed with these melodies and songs in my head. In retrospect, I was probably losing my mind somewhat and it certainly affected all my creative output as a whole. Heavy metal always felt too sacred to touch. Something olden masters did and we weren’t supposed to. That said, once I got back to London that Fall, I started writing. Not to any end…just to stop the songs from haunting me. This sufficed for a while, but having failed to consider the camel’s nose, it was never going to end there. An initial one-man project suddenly needed a drummer, a bassist, and additional guitars. I turned to my great friend Aees and he joined initially as a drummer then as bassist. Markham from Dungeon was also briefly in the fold. We recorded a bit of a demo and the chapter closed… or at least so I thought. In 2017, the haunting returned (songs like The Final Beholder needed recording) and we recruited drummer Berthelsen, who laid down some killer tracks. I had been working on my clean vocals too, so felt I could finally do the songs justice. The tracks remained untouched until last year (2020), the pandemic allowing me to finally focus heavily on recording the mLP (and working on my solos!). Sacrifice Doth Call came together incredibly quickly and with absolute purpose… the iron horse had bolted… leaving the stable in ruins.
Aees: Vrath sent me some not-so-rough demos of the songs and they immediately filled my heart with fire, so it was immediately clear that it would be a privilege for me to be involved.
How has the reception been to the EP so far? More importantly, how did the signing with Gates of Hell, one of the best modern labels for this type of music, come from?
Aees: Once the material was ready, we made a list of the labels that were of interest to us and initially contacted our top-3. Cruz Del Sur/Gates of Hell was actually our number one choice so, as soon as they replied, we knew we couldn’t have asked for a better reception.
Vrath: I’d asked James Ashbey of Lethean (whom I knew from forming Craven Idol) to recommend some labels to me. Lethean released their killer debut LP on Cruz Del Sur and he had only positive things to say. Therefore, CDS and Gates Of Hell became the ideal scenario! Luckily for us they took the bait, hah! Thus far it’s been a great experience! The EP was just released as part of a compilation (bit like the first Bathory release, heh) called Iron and Hell (also featuring our new label mates Chevalier, Atom Smasher, and Iron Griffin); a great way to spread the good word of Phaethon! A vinyl release – of just Sacrifice Doth Call – will follow in the Spring!
Two of you come from an extreme metal background – Vrath being in Craven Idol and Scythian (among others) and Aees in Dysemblem and Injekting Khaos. Do you feel some ideas from those projects bleed into Phaethon? There are moments in “The Final Beholder” that could easily fit into CI or Scythian (or perhaps that’s just the Bathory influence).
Aees: Bathory reigns supreme, of course, and they are a fine bridge between the two worlds of metal (light and darkness). When it comes to comparing Phaethon to the other bands we are involved in, I’d say that even though the material has its creator’s personal touch, it paints pictures of the two different worlds; so there is no case of ‘bleeding’ from one to another.
Vrath: I can only echo what Aees says above. Despite our extreme metal background, I do see the bands as strictly separate realms… one idea couldn’t work in another, at least not at its full potential… I suppose I’m too close to it all to be truly subjective.
On that topic, “The Final Beholder” makes up more than a third of the playtime of Sacrifice Doth Call. Is that sort of epic, expansive songwriting something that Phaethon will explore more in the future?
Aees: You bet! Although the new material sees a mixture of long, atmospheric and engulfing songs with short, fast, metal-to-the-bone ravages.
Vrath: Funnily enough, The Final Beholder was the first song I wrote for the band. I think it more or less sums up our sound… you’ll get doom, old school heavy metal/NWOBHM, and massive epicness, some verging on black metal. Generally speaking, songs tend to evolve very naturally. One idea, riff, or pattern develops and reaches a natural terminus. Like a growing living thing, it’ll ultimately reach its most final form, best suited to its habitat.
All extreme metal is obviously derived in some shape or form from traditional metal, but there are small subsets of bands that make this influence more overt – the Hellenic Black metal sound, Deceased, Armoured Angel, Draghkar and even Scythian or Craven Idol. Do you feel there should be more fluidity and experimentation between both categories, with extreme metal bands drawing more traditional metal and vice versa?
Aees: As you say, extreme metal is derived from traditional metal and, historically, it has been shaped by reference to it – either in opposition to it (at first) or in league with it (in recent years). Many extreme metal bands (including Vrath’s and mine) have influences from traditional metal. Much less common is for bands treading traditional grounds to incorporate extreme metal influences. We pride ourselves in doing this. The songs we are currently working on exhibit much more of this tactic. I don’t think it’s a matter of “should” though, just the circle of life.
Vrath: Metal is passion… the tags and genres are there to guide, not restrain or even instruct. it’s not a performance sport with a right and a wrong answer, nor a definitive measuring pole. That’s why a bunch of teenagers from Belo Horizonte with no working knowledge of music theory can change the world. It’s honest expression. When music becomes about formulaic ticking of boxes it loses its purpose. It can be technically brilliant but lack even a trace of a soul. Sweep as fast as you like, bro, you’re no different to a twattish Instagrammers doing a backflip on the beach for sugar.
Perhaps what is most interesting is how the EP transitions between all these styles; epic metal, doom, and NWOBHM to name a few. Was the mixture of different influences just an ode to all the bands you grew up loving or an intentional decision to stand out from other bands in the heavy metal revival who are content to just play one particular style?
Aees: We grew up listening to these genres, we love them and thus cross-breeding them feels like the most natural thing for us. We don’t even see them as separate entities, just one broad path of the heavy metal glory.
Vrath: Yeah, not intentional… definitely not to stand out either. If anything, I find that bands who play “just one” style tend to do better than bands that try to combine elements… But to me, metal should have no rules. Alas, as a genre, we seem to have been all too keen on rules for the last few decades.
The name Phaëthon (and the cover art) already hints at the mythology theme that pervades the entire EP. Just as the musical influences, the album draws from a wide pool of cultural mythos – Greek, Egyptian and Mayan to name a few. Is there a unified lyrical theme behind these songs?
Vrath: Sacrifice! To the Sungod, to Tonatiuh, to Ruohtta, to fucking Hercules! The list is endless… for man needs to justify his actions. Gods do not exist, only the things we do to justify ourselves to them. Gods may die and new ones will rise. Sacrifice to Wall Street, to the Lira, the American dream, the long-lost memory of glory… Kill for it! Die for it! To the figment of your imagination… to the inexistent. Most importantly… Sacrifice to heavy metal!
Aees: There are the deep meanings that Vrath speaks of, but fusing together mythological references from different cultures is just as much a part of the message and something we intentionally bring to the table. One species under heavens, trying to make sense of its desires and turmoil.
Will the line-up for this EP continue forward or is the incorporation of Sherwood on drums and Decado on drums a permanent change for the band? It must not be easy being so geographically distant (Vrath in the UK, Aees in Greece and Herr in Canada).
Vrath: Herr Berthelsen moved to Canada just before the pandemic hit. The distance made things rather tricky. Sherwood then picked up the sticks (having been on musical hiatus since leaving Amulet in 2017). Jamming new ideas in the rehearsal room is one of my favorite things in the world (and still legal in the U.K. even in Lockdown), so hiring another guitarist made sense. We had one rehearsal with our old friend Decado (of Fen and Lost Legion fame) and we clicked instantly. So, for now only Aees lives abroad, whilst weekly rehearsals with the UK trio are ongoing. We hope to have him back on English shores (where we were born, ha!) once the planet chills out a bit (although I’m told it’s actually doing the exact opposite).
What are the future plans for the band? Once the pandemic is over, can we anticipate some live shows?
Vrath: At the time of writing (Feb 2021), we are hard at work on our debut album. We are making very good progress and focusing wholly on delivering a devastating record. Everything with Phaethon has come in stages… it wasn’t even meant to be a band at all… so you never know if live performances might one day follow. Honestly, I haven’t thought about it. We will have a bit of a rehearsal video out as part of the next Keep It True Video special, in which we perform the title track, though.
Any last thoughts or comments you’d like to make in general to RiG readers?
Vrath: Thanks for the interview and to the readership! The call of metal summons us!
Aees: Know when is your time to stand tall. Keep the banners of metal high.