Cork Metal: Veteran Musicians Take New Approach

A showcase event on the 15th, upstairs in metal stronghold Fred Zeppelin’s, sees three new bands take the stage, each led by longtime Leeside musicians. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with the bands.

The Grief, Demeter and Onkalo all take to stage on Saturday April 15th, among each of the outfits’ first gigs. Nothing new about bands taking their tentative first steps in the red room upstairs, but each of these outfits is led by and comprised of longstanding Leeside metallers, each part of a scene that has been through ups and downs over the past few years. Each band boasts a laundry list of predecessors that have featured on bills up and down the country and around Europe, but with previous projects parked for various reasons, their constituents have got up and started again, in a scene well used to venue and band turnover.

Demeter are a black-metal three-piece, comprised of ex-members of Molde, For Ruin, Slugbait, and Kawtiks among others. The demo they’ve released features some feral, raw examples of their sound, a process which Ollie O’Shea gets into. “We like the fact that we are a three-piece, musically. Which means that there are less stumbling blocks to creating songs, less naysayers. This leads to songs coming together quickly and organically, which gives them a certain energy, I think. But we do take the time to let them sink in, to make sure we’re happy with the songwriting. The chords we use are always twisted towards a dark and cosmic place, if we feel someone sounds too ‘nice’ it’s shot down pretty quickly. When Liam comes in, he gives it an extra dimension and ties it all together with his howling, demented soundscapes. We recorded them live, multi-tracking all instruments at the same time. While this leads to imperfections, it also keeps the energy in the recording.”

The reception to the self-titled demo has been positive, with Metal Ireland in particular giving it a warm review. Bassist Pat Gillen is enthusiastic about how it’s all happened so far. “The tunes have gone down well, three gigs in. We’re still perfecting our stage presence and building confidence with each outing. We’re writing more songs, and we feel we’re definitely progressing from the first songs we wrote.”

That leads to more incoming shows, but not before a look at their gig-mates on the 15th. “There’s a few offers rolling in, gig-wise, which we’re looking into, but meantime we’re looking forward to Fredz on the 15th as we just played with The Grief up in Dublin last weekend, and they were class, so will be good to share the stage with them again. We also saw Onkalo opening Lodgefest 2 last October and they were just vicious! So overall, it will be a great opportunity to see three new bands, thus again proving all is well in the flourishing metal scene here in Cork.”

The Grief is a new project and a departure for John Murphy, frontman and guitarist of blackened death-metal four-piece For Ruin. That band had released three albums and gigged extensively before slowing down, and The Grief emerged from exploratory jams with members of Corr Mhóna during that downtime. “Well, personally Ive always been a fan of a lot of the gloomy, dark, slow side of extreme metal from the hey-day of British doom – Cathedral, Anathema, Paradise Lost – to the likes of early Katatonia and there’s always been influences of those styles on the For Ruin releases from the outset – the demos and each of the three albums have some slower moments on them. So while For Ruin has mostly been about faster-paced material, it’s good occasional tinges of doom. After doing the Ater Angelus album a few of the guys weren’t going to be around so I took stock and decided to park “‘froon” for a while – and it’s still parked. We did an early-years Paradise Lost tribute band for a while which I loved as that’s the music I went through school with, and we did the Katatonia tribute which was great fun too – but these things have a limited shelf life and appeal. We did them for ourselves and purely for fun, and then brought them to a conclusion naturally. They might happen again some time, but no plans to right now – but we enjoyed the Katatonia stuff so much that we decided to try our hand at writing some original material in a style that was different to the band members’ other bands and we simply continued on with The Grief. I had a bunch of songs written as had Paul and we pooled our resources and that’s now up to ten songs which we’re finally getting around to gigging, after taking around a year and a half of getting a drummer in place and polishing up the songs. We’ve now come to the point of playing a few shows, we have a few more in the pipeline and we’re now turning our attention towards recording a demo over the coming months so people can hear the fruits of our labours”

Doom seems to be stronger than ever in Ireland; Brigantia, Graveyard Dirt and others have been active on the Irish metal scene in recent years. Murphy reflects on this phenomenon. “Maybe we’re just a miserable bunch – I don’t know! It could be the influence of the aforementioned UK bands, and those from elsewhere, that we relate to, but there has always been a healthy dose of doom in the metal scene around the country. It makes for good variety amongst the retro-thrash and high-speed technical stuff that’s out there which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I would say too that the music The Grief is playing is not entirely doom-orientated; there’s other flavours in the mix too, as there should be. Doom is certainly at the core, but that doesn’t preclude us from the odd turn of pace now and then.”

This gig will be a showcase for all three bands in an important venue for metal in Cork – the importance of Fredz to the event can’t be understated. “The scene in Cork has been up and down over the last few years with venues shutting etc., and that’s a pity – Fred’s has been there through it all and we’re lucky to have it, small though it is. But the bands seem to still be there and are lucky to have somewhere to play. It’s a shame there aren’t more places like it… Having played in Freds so many times by now its only fitting that our first Cork gig should be there.”

Onkalo move with more velocity than the Grief, but with no less venom or weight. Drummer Shane England explains how the band emerged from the demise of noise/hardcore outfit Kawtiks, and the breakup of [r]evolution of a sun. “Myself and Fitzy had been chomping at the bit to start a band since Kawtiks had ended, and we were both on the same page more or less on what it wanted to be like – short, nasty, simple straightforward hardcore. It was pretty daunting for us at the start as both of us were used to being in bands where the guitarists had generally ‘led’ the songwriting process, and we had gotten used to being in bands with some exceptional guitarists. We managed to cobble together some basslines and beats and realised we actually had something to go off. We knew Pete since the Kawtiks days and knew he was perfect for vocals but frankly I was flabbergasted that Kenny (guitar) joined as I honestly thought he’d look at us as the chancers I thought we were. The stuff we’ve written with Kenny is the sound of a band that knows what it wants to sound like. Not like, “right, we’ll have a bit of crust, then grind, then doom, then stop” but something that sounds crafted. The creative process hasn’t changed much since the early days though, you’ll have a basic riff/bassline, then just hammer it out. Then have a smoke. Then take the piss out of each other. Then try and remember the bassline/riff.”

The band kicked off their live tally with Lodgefest as support for Hope is Noise, one of the last gigs to take place in the Pine Lodge in Myrtleville before its recent reopening sans live music. Vocalist Peter Murphy shares his thoughts on the night. “Yeah, fair play to the boys from Hope is Noise for asking us. It was unreal to play our first gig in the Lodge with Cork’s finest. I’ve played the Pine Lodge a good few times and always loved it. Paddy was always sound and the atmosphere was always class. It is sad that another great venue in Cork is gone, seems to be happening a lot these days.”

It seems to be a great occasion for Cork metal on the 15th. What does England make of the importance of this show to the Cork metal scene? “Important, I dunno… the three youngest heavy bands in Cork that are, funnily enough, all old as f**k?”

The Grief, Demeter and Onkalo play on the 15th at Fredz on Parliament Street. €5 at the door, kick off at 9pm.