Interview with Joshua by Autothrall.
New England is such a diversified womb of metallurgy that some of the best often slips through the proverbial cracks. An endeavor to right this situation brings me across the path of Blacksoul Seraphim, one of our rare Gothic/doom metal outfits, and the prodigy of one Joshua C. (aka Morte McAdaver of local black metal act Sorrowseed). Eclectic, well spoken, professional and devoted beyond mere words. The debut Alms & Avarice is some of my favorite material he's written, and I wanted to discover out just what lit this solemn fire...and so was humored.
Auto: Was the concept behind Blacksoul Seraphim conceived prior to Sorrowseed, or was there a natural inclination towards writing slower material to contrast with the general speed and lethality of the other band’s black/death metal style?
How much time do you put into lyrics as opposed to writing the actual guitars and keys? It seems you have a comparable investment in them to someone like Dani Filth, steeped in the dialect and verbosity of English/American masters of poetry and fiction, from Wordsworth to Poe? There’s a sort of antiquity there I really enjoy. Do you feel like the lyrics are often given the shaft in extreme metal?
Oh, absolutely with the shaft. I’m very critical of lyrics, and they are often the hardest part of a song to write due to my high (or at least peculiar) standards. Unless a song is meant to be cheesy/corny/stupid, or the songwriter’s first language is not English, I can’t excuse terrible or vapid lyrics.
Now that you mention it, I think Dani Filth is one of my main influences...
As for how much time I spend writing them, I’d say probably too long! I review the words repeatedly in my head, reviewing them against the rhythm of the song (which also may or may not be fully written), altering things as necessary, making sure I’m not repeating myself or selling myself short, etc. In short, I am very neurotic and obsessive about lyrics.
The themes behind the debut record are fascinating, sort of an anti-Milton vibe or an inversion of Dante’s Inferno or Purgatorio. I know you’ve probably gone on at length about them, but could you share a summary of this vision for the readers? Are there any particular literary sources which inspired the idea, and do you plan to continue to weave the theme into future material, or will newer songs follow a separate and/or disparate concept?
Actually, I don’t often speak of the album concepts; I like to wait until asked by inquiring minds such as yourself and your readers! I am honored that you find the themes fascinating.
The entirety of Blacksoul Seraphim’s material is essentially the world viewed through a fallen angel’s eyes. He is meant to represent hope, but this becomes his torment as he is constantly filled with despair at the sight of the mortal world and what it has become. He cannot truly connect with us, nor can he express modern concepts as we do, but he does see the evils and corruption that pervade our society, and wishes to inspire humans to rebel against these ills and devils.
Literary sources include, as you mention, Dante’s Inferno and Milton (Paradise Lost), but also the Bible itself. There’s always been this elegant morbidity to Christianity that I’ve appreciated (just like all the other cool goth kids), and it seemed all too appropriate to use their traditions and imagery in this project.
My main source of inspiration, however, is the news. Seeing how complacent people are with the perpetual corruption of elected officials (who are unequivocally owned by wealthy donors and/or corporate parties), the lack of compassion in the face of tragedy, and the addiction to sensational, insignificant stories and advertisements...it all makes me sick to the point of writing angst-ridden music.
Have to hand it to you, I loved how the deeper vocals meshed in with the material here, very melodic but stern, giving the listener the impression he/she is irrevocably doomed, which is rather the point. I felt like a peasant listening to a witch-finder’s sermon in the old English countryside. Did you have to train your voice a lot for this, or did it come natural after the Gothic style you performed in Pandora’s Toybox?
Funny enough, when I first set out to do a gothic rock band, I was all geared up to do my best 69 Eyes impression. Naturally, Pandora’s Toybox would end up becoming a more silly and theatrical thing where I used whatever over-the-top voice was appropriate for each song.
Growing up, I was often in chorus classes throughout school. We sang lots of religious pieces (despite not being church-affiliated), and I loved singing these solemn, though sometimes overly elaborate pieces. I suppose in this way, I was trained to sing this kind of sonorous, despondent material. As opposed to the Toybox, Blacksoul Seraphim seems to be the return to my “choir roots.”
Also, there are occasionally these grueling, excellent growls used sparsely? Were those by the guest vocalist Matt Smith, or yourself, and do you think you’d be open to including harsher vocals more commonly in the future (regardless of who performs them)?
Matt Smith did the harsh vocals on "Plague of Pawns", along with the guitar solos. He seemed perfect for an angel of sickness, and I highly recommend checking out his project, Faces of Bayon. The only harsh vocals I do are the sibilant growls, and I tend to reserve those for when I want the listener to feel haunted.
The newest material has more harsh vocals on them by my drummer and friend, Rick Lowell. He unleashes his fury in the song “Exalted Genocide.” When the music calls for a more stentorian style of male vocal, he more than cuts the mustard.
How was it working with Clay Neely of Black Pyramid, who recorded the first record and also contributed the drums? He did a pretty pro job, especially considering that Blacksoul has a more archaic/antiquated Gothic/doom sound than his mainstay. Is that a relationship that might continue onto the next full-length, or will this be more self-produced?
Clay was, and continues to be awesome. I loved working with him. Very patient guy, punctual, and gave great feedback. He has since moved to Georgia with his family and, far as I know, has not been involved in music production since last year. I actually didn’t know it was him until I first set foot in the studio and recognized him as the Black Pyramid drummer. Once I realized he was in one of my favorite doom bands, I was certain that we’d work well together.
While I would have relished the opportunity to have him produce this next Blacksoul Seraphim endeavor, distance prevents that from being possible. But I do have another excellent producer helping me on this: Benjamin Jon of Stillwork.
You’ve brought on a new drummer, Rick Lowell, who also plays with Sorrowseed. Will this change lend itself to a broader dynamic range in the newer Blacksoul Seraphim material that we’ve yet to hear, or will the core creative process revolve around the same tempos and aesthetics?
Rick is more the metalhead than I am, and he does occasionally influence me in a heavier direction. Suffice it to say that new Blacksoul Seraphim material does include some faster songs with some French black metal influences (hooray for Alcest), and one song that pays homage to Enslaved. However, Rick understands what the project is about, and we’re still mostly building off the same dynamic of the first album.
Blacksoul Seraphim has a very inclusive presence through social media, with you debuting new tracks (uncut or finalized) for fans to experience as they’re written and recorded. I’ve listened through a number of them and they’re quite good, arguably even catchier than on the debut. What inspired this decision? Do you think it might cripple some of the mystique fans feel for a new album as a ‘product’, or will you hold back just enough material to keep us guessing? Or will these come out as some sort of compilation and then you’ll have an entire new album above and beyond them?
Thank you! We wanted to go with a monthly release approach (though reality getting in the way has made that occasionally miss the mark), and keep people apprised as possible.
In terms of mystique and being a product, I am at the point where I would rather just be honest with my listeners. Advertising is simply not in my blood, and I’d prefer people just have my music and enjoy it on their own terms. If money is given, that’s wonderful and I am grateful, but reaching hearts, minds, and ears is more important. With that being said, I am all for just releasing the songs as they become presentable. The only thing I hold back is the “final” product for download, since I’d rather ensure that listeners are able to keep the highest quality I can offer.
For now, we will be releasing songs each month as we are able, and once I’ve run out of ideas, time, and/or money, we’ll release it via digital download. Incidentally, I offer CDs to people at shows for free, and while Alms and Avarice is sold globally through digital distribution, the CDbaby and Bandcamp downloads are free.
You worked with Hillarie Jason, a local photographer/artist for the cover image to the debut, which was both memorable and fitting to the lyrical vision; you also use another illustrator for each of the preview singles, and several others for the Sorrowseed discs. How do you track these people down, are they within a circle of friends & acquaintances or do you hit up places like Deviant Art?
For the initial Sorrowseed album for Extinction Prophecies, I did ransack DeviantArt for Brett MacDonald, but otherwise, I have met artists through mutual friends and contacts. Hillarie I met at shows, and I believe Lilith of Sorrowseed hired her to photograph a show at the Oasis in Worcester. Rebecca Meyer has done the recent artwork for the new songs.
I’ll probably pick your brain a lot more about Sorrowseed at some other time, but I noticed you had a guest spot on Nemesis Engine from Andy LaRocque, who recorded and threw a lead up on one of the tunes. Have you considered tracking down a feature like this for Blacksoul Seraphim? Maybe Leif Edling of Candlemass, or Hamish/Andrew from My Dying Bride?
That would be amazing, though I fear the cost. Andy was very prompt and professional, but he was expensive, and unfortunately, his name did not seem to lend much to the promotional process of Nemesis Engine. While it does feel wonderful to have a favored artist as part of my own work, the expense is considerable. However, if and when I do write a new Sorrowseed record, I plan on asking Devin Townsend.
Massachusetts, and New England in general, seems a relative hotbed for a number of niches in metal and hardcore, but your projects bear a distinct and somewhat more European feel to them, what with the Gothic imagery conveyed. Here a lot of the fans/bands seem to have been bitten by the old school 80s/90s bug, whether that’s thrash, black, death metal or old hardcore. Has this created any notable conflicts or sense of alienation? When listening to this project in particular, I picked up a lot of vibes similar to Candlemass, Yearning, Draconian, Isole and My Dying Bride. Would you be thrilled by the prospect of a tour there, or a label deal with Napalm or some other imprint sympathetic to the Gothic/doom style?
I would be ecstatic beyond words. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that my local area and most of the country doesn’t really have much enthusiasm for my style, and have entertained pipe dreams of achieving success in Europe, whether it’s a tour or just being distributed and promoted there by a label. Should the opportunity ever come, I would gladly take it.
Speaking of which, you’ve actually performed live with this material, if I’m not mistaken? Is there a current complete lineup which could perform a gig on call? How was the reaction to that from an East Coast audience, did people stare slack-jawed and incomprehensive at the brooding eloquence of the vocals/lyrics and the graceful, riff and key-based doom which relies less on a fat/stoner guitar tone with down-tuning, and more on actual musicality?
I have performed three Blacksoul Seraphim shows to date, and will be performing alongside Sorrowseed in September at Ralph’s Diner. Folks tend to just ignore Blacksoul Seraphim performances, likely regarding it as background music. Those few that listen have given positive feedback and great compliments. But yes, incredulous stares are often the best for which I can hope. If, however, there have been people who have appreciated it in silence, I am grateful. And besides, I love playing and singing the material, so the crowd needn’t feel obligated to indulge me.
Much gratitude for taking the time to speak with us! When do you think we’ll hear the full follow-up to Alms & Avarice, and is there any other news for the near future?
Thank you for this chance to be heard! I rarely have my brain picked, and someone has to clean out these cobwebs.
If I have my way, the next album will be available by the end of 2014, but we will see. I don’t like to set deadlines, since they occasionally get in the way of something being done correctly and to the best standards.
In other news, I’ve mostly been laying low, gathering resources, and relaxing however I can. Music is a stressful thing, and the scene(s) often only compound the ideal. I’ll be more active when I’ve figured out a new game play to approach this faltering and over saturated industry.
Gaze upon Blacksoul Seraphim at Facebook.
Experience Alms & Avarice through Bandcamp.