Smoulder took the metal underground by storm with 2018’s The Sword Woman demo, so much so that it landed them a well deserved spot on our women in traditional metal feature. This epic doom metal band is poised to make a big splash with their debut album next month titled Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring. In this feature, we’ll walk you through the themes that make this album so compelling. We’ve also included an interview with vocalist, lyricist, and professional sword woman – Sarah Ann.
It is said that in a review, the author has to set the point he will make for the article in the first couple of phrases. So that was the first, and the second is Smoulder is undoubtedly the best release of 2019 so far and here is why:
Smoulder made a great impression on me before I even listened to a single note. The gorgeous cover sets the mood and works like an index for what follows in the album. It was created by the amazing artist Michael Whelan, who has done covers for Cirith Ungol, Sacred Rite, and numerous fantasy novels that are hopefully on your shelves. It depicts Morgaine, the dimension travelling heroine of C.J. Cherryh’s “Well of Shiuan”, who is consumed by the need to succeed to her mission at any cost, with the assistance of her trusted companion and her mighty spell-sword.
The unusual title now, is from the book “The Greater Conqueror” by every metalhead’s favorite author, yours truly included, Michael Moorcock. The often overlooked epic fantasy novel is set in a similar world to ours and in the Macedonian Empire, revolving around a mercenary who is punished after confronting Alexander the Great for his ill treatment of women and children.
So after noticing all these there is one thing abundantly clear to me: Smoulder are the coolest people, really into the epic fantasy genre and have something that is missing from countless recent album releases: a theme. Unfortunately, the music industry today is revolved around single song releases with no tie ins, just when a band has enough songs they compile them together and call that an “album”. The theme presented by this album here through numerous innuendos is the archetype of a strong woman succeeding in a world of men where she is equally dangerous and powerful.
This is where we get to the good part, the music. First of all Smoulder, being the coolest of people and all, made a little thing that was mostly done by bands in the 80’s, back when there was vinyl and cassettes. They arranged their songs in a side A and in a side B according to the musical motif and subgenre. Side A is faster, epic doom metal along the lines of Solstice and Solitude Aeturnus, while Side B is closer to the slower, traditional doom of Reverend Bizarre and The Gates of Slumber.
The album starts with “Ilian of Garathorm” an epic mid tempo song about the homonymous incarnation of eternal champion from Moorcock’s Hawkmoon series. The track starts slow before turning into a headbanging rollercoaster where the guitar and the rhythm section sounds tighter than cement, to peak at the chorus where Sarah Ann’s voice creates an unforgettable impression.
The next song is the reintroduction of “The Sword Woman”, which was was the title track of the 7” that was released last year. “The Sword Woman” now is bleeker, intenser with better instrumentalization especially on the guitars and the vocals here are top notch, sung with so much passion that makes the track Sara Ann’ best performance in the album. The song takes its name and subject from Robert Howard’s novel revolving around the early days of Dark Agnes de Chastillon, an untamable and brave girl, turned mercenary and kick ass warrior.
“Bastard Steel”, the last song of the Side A, probably favorite track of the record. It’s an absolute uptempo banger, in your face – borderline power metal, with amazing riffs and leads, thundering bass and a catchy chorus. I can’t hype this track enough, its where Smoulder shows that they are capable of so many things and different musical directions in future releases. The track is an epic metal anthem about George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” character Jon Snow.
Moving on to the doomier side B, and “Voyage of the Sunchaser”. This re-recording of the song is stouter and the guitars now play an even bigger role. The bass shines here and sets the grim imposing tone for the track. Guitarist Shawn Vincent does a wonderful job on evolving this tone into a magnificent rifftastic crescendo and an wonderful solo, while Sarah, out of the comfort zone provided by previous tracks compositions, delivers a very powerful and evocative performance. The lyrics are based in my personal favorite Dungeons and Dragons campaign setting of Dragonlance ( once again, cool COOL people these Smoulder gang) and the story here is an analog of the Tower of Babel tale, just with flaming mountains.
“Shadowy Sisterhood” starts with an almost 70s rock blues lead which is followed by an a la Solstice staccato riff to create one of the doomier songs of the album. Galloping tunes, a hazy psychedelic chorus and a pinch of occult rock atmosphere complete the recipe of this haunting track.
The final song of the album, “Black God’s Kiss” is a homage to the band’s doomier influences like Reverend Bizarre, Procession, and others.The title of the song gives away the topic,”Black God’s Kiss” is a story by one of the first women fantasy writers C.L.Moore. Slow, commanding and heavy, the 9 minute track is a perfect epilogue to Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring.
This review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the amazing, jaw dropping work of producer Arthur Rizk (Eternal Champion, Sumerlands), who manages to give that extra layer of haunting atmosphere to the album. I strongly believe he is the best producer of this generation of music, and hope he will get the recognition he deserves.
As you can see the cool people involved in Smoulder have listened a lot of music, read a lot of books, and they are fans of the music. Writing novel inspired fantasy lyrics is often misunderstood. Most people dismiss it as easy or “nerdy”, while in fact the stories themselves are allegories and parables of real life situations. And after countless Conans, Elrics, and Targaryens in metal lyrics in the recent years, this my friends, are fantasy lyrics done absolutely 100% right.
Get Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring on April 26th from
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Interview with Vocalist Sarah Ann
You got the world excited after listening to your 7” almost a year ago. Do you feel the excitement and anticipation for your upcoming album by your fans?
That’s a very kind question, but also an odd one. We’ve received a lot more attention than we anticipated, and many people have reached out, so altogether, yes! We feel some excitement and anticipation. I think the anticipation affects us more internally, as the album has been recorded since October, so now we just want to release it to the world. We love doing this weird little band, and we think it shows.
What should we expect from the next album?
People should expect an epic doom/power metal album about swords and magic. We’re very happy about the production on the album – Arthur Rizk of Eternal Champion did a great job – and we were overjoyed that the iconic Michael Whelan allowed us to us one of his captivating paintings. The songs are all big, bombastic, and wild; the album cover is a great indication of what you should expect.
In the upcoming album is there a song that has extra sentimental value to you? Can you tell us the story behind it?
They all have sentimental value – it’s hard to pick a favourite. That said, I think right now I’m obsessed with “Black God’s Kiss” because it’s difficult and evocative. It’s a song that Shon penned both musically and lyrically on his own, and he’s an immensely talented songwriter. It’s about Jirel of Joiry, who is the original sword and sorcery heroine. The song itself is almost ten minutes long, and is a huge challenge to perform. The writing in it is excellent. It’s the track that sounds the most like Reverend Bizarre. My other current favourite is “Bastard Steel,” which is the fastest song on the album – it reminds me of early Blind Guardian mixed with Chastain. It’s literally about A Song of Ice and Fire, but allegorically, I ended up spending a lot of time writing between the lines for this track.
What I really enjoy in your songs is the imagery that you create with your singing. What goes on in your mind when you perform?
Honestly, I don’t think I would describe myself as “thinking” when I perform. I’m not used to performing in a band yet – when I play, I can’t eat or drink for hours beforehand because I feel anxious and nauseous, despite having a lot of stage experience in theatre, on camera, on radio. But honestly, once I get on stage to play, that feeling of being anxious disappears and I just become acutely aware of deliberately taking up space, in a way that entertains hundreds of people. So I move around a lot, I exaggerate and gesticulate. I’m intentionally acting like the person in the fucked up sword and sorcery movie who would cut off your head just to bathe in your blood.
What singers would be your personal inspirations?
Robert Lowe. Grace Slick. Albert Witchfinder. Leather Leone. Karl Simon. Dusty Springfield. Ronnie James Dio. Doro Pesch. Johan Längqvist. Farida Lemouchi. The Overtly Melancholic Lord Strange.
Smoulder lists Tales of Medusa as a main influence. I hear quite a bit of that influence in “Voyage of the Sun Chaser” in particular. I know Shon is also a pretty huge fan given that his solo project Ezra Brooks covered a ToM song. What makes that relatively obscure band so inspiring?
Shon and I have been bandmates for a long time, and were friends for a few years before that. We’ve introduced each other to a lot of music, watched a lot of sword and sorcery together, and swap books all the time. He introduced me to Tales of Medusa seven or eight years ago, and the band became a bit of a competition over who would own a physical piece of their music first. We’re both big vinyl and cassette collectors, but that band was always unattainably expensive to buy. Turns out, I was in New York City one night about five years ago (on a trip with my best friend Serena to Maryland Death Fest and the Frazetta Family Museum), and that dreaded Discogs “want list” email came through. Someone was selling The Fatal Wounding Gaze for $100 bucks. In my drunken state, it seemed like a great idea, and I bought it. From then on, it was on regular rotation in our household. It just sounds so obscure and evocative. Plus, we gain a lot of pride from the band, given that their Canadian and they clearly worship sword and sorcery. The whole ethos and operation of the band is so compelling. Their production and songwriting is magical. I think I like them ten times more just because we have no damn idea who they are, and that they just wanted to share their music and sent it to people for free. It’s such a cool idea and is so radical and egalitarian.
Toronto has been the springboard of many wonderful bands lately. Do you feel that a local scene has been formed over there?
There’s a great scene here! Toronto’s scene is pretty amazing. There are tons of talented bands and fans who get what we are doing and are doing amazing things themselves, but sadly, venues have been shutting down left and right. The rent situation in this city is dire.
Is there a band from the scene that we should keep our eyes open for?
There’s a ton of incredible and established bands in Toronto like Blood Ceremony, Manacle, Cauldron, Demontage, Tomb Mold, and more. We also love the newcomers like Hounskull, Rough Spells, and Possessed Steel. It’s cool being super close to Ottawa and Montreal as well – watch out for bands like Cauchemar, Palmistry, Occult Burial, and more.
How was your experience playing at Hammer of Doom 2018?
It was really mind blowing to play that festival. It was our fourth show ever, and we somehow flying to Germany to play with Coven, While Heaven Wept, and Hällas?! It didn’t feel real. I think I almost threw up about ten times following up to our performance because it felt so surreal going from a 100 person room to performing to over a thousand people. Just being there, and selling out of all of our vinyl and having complete strangers walking around in our shirts was a dream come true.
Manolis Karazeris of UTH recently talked about how a band builds sort of a resume when performed in high level festivals. Since you will be taking part in UTH XV do you feel you are getting there?
I think so! We’ve certainly been forced to turn down a lot of offers that most bands end up taking – you know, shows on a Tuesday night, or gigs with death metal bands that you have nothing in common with. Having members spread across two countries means that we only take the shows that really make sense. We’ve been fortunate enough to be offered some truly great show opportunities, and we’d be foolish not to take them. The dream is to play to big audiences, so we’re certainly on our way!
You’re a photographer, a part of BangerTV, a fellow writer, editorial at Bandcamp, and a musician – how do you find the time for it all?
I’ll sleep when I’m dead. When I’m awake, I just want to do shit related to heavy metal.
You’ve been involved with BangerTV for well over a year now. Has your experience with the channel changed the way that you view or listen to music? Has it influenced your songwriting process at all with Smoulder?
Hmmmm. I think the channel has democratized how I view albums that I don’t like, and reinforced the power of the underground in my own life. Being a legitimate critic is a balancing act – just because you don’t like something personally, doesn’t make it BAD. It’s important to take that into consideration when you’re reviewing a release, and to remember that shitting on something you either don’t understand or don’t prefer is lazy and disingenuous at best. It’s also made me rethink how to introduce people to music. Side note: the bands that excite me are not the best sellers. They are the underground gems, the unknowns. I scour Bandcamp all day literally every single day for the next interesting thing, and the best way to share those bands with people is to give them a common reference point and a rich description. So I’m forced to consistently navigate HOW to tell people about music without disregarding their experience and musical history. I want to completely avoid talking down to people about music, because growing up, a lot of dudes did it to me, and all it managed to do was piss me off. All that said, working for Banger has not at all influenced my songwriting process with Smoulder. They are separate entities, and I work hard to keep them that way.
As a long time concert photographer, what’s the most memorable live experience you’ve ever had?
Standing four feet away from Tony Iommi and shooting him was really special, but the most memorable moment I’ve ever had was when I photographed Iron Maiden the first time. Steve Harris (who is my idol) was running around stage, and jumped up on this amplifier. He was wearing these absurd cargo shorts, and he crouched down and pointed his bass neck towards the crowd. As he did it, this bright beam of light shone right off his massive tuning pegs, and I got this perfect picture. I love Steve Harris, and that was…. well, special.
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Aiden Halloran · April 2, 2019 at 5:41 pm
They were amazing at Hammer of Doom. Coming onstage early and scaring the hangover out of people with a sword was a highlight of 2018!!
I have the album on order and can’t wait to annoy the neighbours with it!
Marco · April 3, 2019 at 9:14 pm
I can’t find live footage from them at HoD anywhere, but awesome to hear they killed it! They’re coming to Up the Hammers in 2020 so I hope to catch them there myself. The new album is really great and I’m sure you’ll love it! Can’t wait for my vinyl to get in either 🙂
Flagris · April 20, 2019 at 9:56 am
While the music is kinda OK, having a few memorable riffs but nothing exceptional though, the vocal mars this release the most. Not being bad by itself, it just doesn’t suit to their music that evidently asks for male voice.
Marco · April 22, 2019 at 6:57 am
Hey Flagris, I’m going to respectfully disagree here. I really enjoyed Sarah’s performance on the album and I never once felt the need for her to be replaced by a guy.
Panos Anagnostopoulos · April 22, 2019 at 8:28 am
I agree with Marco on this one, and to be honest I never think of male vs female singer, instead I think about bad vs good singer, and Smoulder definetly fall into the latter category.
Apart from this, almost a month after the review, I still consider the album the best I’ve listened through, a very fruitful, 2019
Ian MacDonald · May 5, 2019 at 8:57 pm
I’m not sure what’s particularly evident about Smoulder’s music that requires a male voice. Sarah’s vocals are as powerful and passionate (maybe moreso) as anyone else out there, regardless of gender.
Thorwald1921 · July 8, 2019 at 10:31 pm
Sounds really like an irrational mysoginist argument. Sarah is an awesome singer, I love the dramaturgy she gives to her voice. I feel that it is good to hear more females in the underground traditional metal scene, and when they are good it’s even more excellent.. Mystik’s first album is so enjoyable in this perspective.