Ilenkus: “All the Work We Got to Do Felt Particularly Rewarding”

Ahead of touring this week with Swedish mathcore outfit God Mother, Mike McGrath-Bryan chats with Ilenkus frontman Josh Guyett.

2017 was a quietly busy year for Galway mathcore/sludge five-piece Ilenkus, one that saw the much-feted physical release of most recent E.P. ‘Hunger’, and consistent live activity across the country in its wake. Guitarist/vocalist Josh Guyett surveys his feelings on the year that was. “It was a good year for us but also a tough one. We did a couple of tours in support of ‘Hunger’, despite the fact that it was a pretty demanding year for us personally, so all the work we got to do with the band felt particularly rewarding.”

‘Hunger’ came in for high praise from genre blogs and listeners alike, while the attendant touring worked out well numbers-wise for the band. Guyett goes into the record’s gestation process, and how it was met. “It was a really smooth process to be honest. We wrote the whole EP as one piece over the course of a couple of months at our rehearsal space in Galway. After figuring out where how we wanted to split the tracks up, we did a bit of pre-production and headed to the studio with our buddy Aidan Cunningham from Murdock. The tracking of the instruments was done quickly and with very few overdubs, which seemed to focus the sound. We were really happy with how it turned out and the response it got from the public.”

The physical release came about via a split with a series of labels around the world: WOOOARGH, Smithsfoodgroup, and others, including the band-affiliated Feast promotion house. How did these come together and how did it work out in the end? “Basically, after pitching ‘Hunger’ to some bigger labels without much luck we decided to try to fund it by getting a bunch of labels to all collaborate together. This works out great for smaller labels because the bulk of the costs are shared. It also benefited us by widening our exposure across their locations and networks. Overall I’d say it turned out well, all the labels are very supportive and the records came out looking and sounding great.”

Some of the labels also helped out with touring internationally to support the record, a process only given pause by the aforementioned break for attendance to personal matters. “To be perfectly honest that was the plan, but with 2017 being such a tumultuous year, we didn’t get to do as much touring as we’d have liked. We got picked up by a new booking agent earlier in the year; a mad bastard called John from a deadly band called Vasa – go check them out – so working with him has been fun!”

It’s been a healthy 2017 for heavy music in Ireland, also, and Guyett is effusive about the metal scene over the past twelve months. “Destriers are great, so are Bailer, who just put out a raging new track. Horse, Unyielding Love, Partholon, Soothsayer, Coscradh, Zh0ra, Ten Ton Slug. Our pals Bitch Falcon have been doing brilliant lately, Jenova impressed me when they played in Galway, and there’s a cool sounding new band called God Alone.”

Guyett has also had a busy year as a promoter with Galway-based gig house Feast, alongside Galwegian culture impresario Shane Malone and Tribal-resident Limrocker Steve Hunt, with some massive names in during the year and their domestic duties with Ilenkus’ release. “It’s been crazy and really cool. The highlight for me was getting to put on Melt Banana and Zu in the same week. Such great bands, and it was a privilege to bring them to Galway. We also have a distro set up at all the shows these days, and have been working away on a website for the label. It’s great to see Feast progressing and I honestly don’t know where we’re going right now, but we’re going!”

The band is on tour with God Mother for the rest of this month, a tie-in with the band that supported influencers Dillinger Escape Plan’s final gig. “I had first heard God Mother a few years ago when they released a split with Artemis, a UK band that we’d toured with, so last year I reached out to them on behalf of Feast. I asked whether they had any interest in coming to Ireland and when they said they did, we figured the best way to do it would be to tour with Ilenkus. We’re really excited for these gigs, it’s their first time in Ireland and a while since we’ve done an Irish run, so we are psyched for some great shows.”

The inevitable “what next” question is met with a holding close to the chest of cards, understandable considering the aforementioned revision of plans mid last-year. “We’ll be working on new material for sure, as well as touring. Beyond that I can’t say too much right now, but keep your eyes peeled.”

Ten from the ’10s (So Far)

Adding yet another voice to the shouting match over great Irish music, Mike McGrath-Bryan takes a stab at updating the “Irish rock” canon.

The creation of lists, listicles and the like are, at the best of times, half the writer’s personal preference, half a tiresome editorial box-ticking exercise. The October 1st edition of the Sunday Times bore this out to be true, as a much-feted “101 Irish Albums We Love” list, compiled by Something Happens vocalist & Newstalk man Tom Dunne, ripped the bandage away from the unending arguments over objective stances on a subjective medium. Was ‘Astral Weeks’ really that good? Was the chase for the next U2 really the best thing for Irish music? Why aren’t Scary Éire or Primordial ever on these all-timer lists?

The big takeaway from this latest bout of squabbling, however, was a note of disappointment for readers under thirty: one of the country’s highest-profile disc-jocks and champions of music programming had seemingly included one (1) single independently-released album from this decade on an otherwise comprehensive list. Amid a current golden age in independently-released music in Ireland, no less.

While the debate around the issue has cooled down to the usual degree of infighting among Irish music pedants, your writer would be remiss if he didn’t create some degree of companion piece to balance the conversation. And here it is: a list, though by no means definitive, ten Irish records from this decade you should be adding to your collection. The rules are simple: albums released since 2010, open genre policy, no big-name reunions, no major-label releases. Enjoy.

ADEBISI SHANK – This Is The Second Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank (2011, Richter Collective)

A day-zero event in the current development of independent music in Ireland, the Wexford trio’s second long-player marked their transition from fret-burning, pedal-stacking math-rock noisemakers to something more. Post-rock and its associated sub-genres set about rearranging the deckchairs and do something new with an established setup. With the beep-boop, oddly-metered intro to opener ‘International Dreambeat’, the intention was apparent: clear the decks and make way for a retro-futuristic anime parade. The following forty minutes are unlike anything this country has produced, before or since, a joyous race through thumping, squalling sounds and lush textures.

AND SO I WATCH YOU FROM AFAR – Gangs (2012, Richter Collective)

North Shore four-piece And So I Watch You From Afar had also been grafting for years on sweetly melodic, yet no-less deft tunes that packed the detail of math-rock, the dynamic & breathing space of post-rock, and the velocity of metal into its ebbs and flows. A self-titled debut LP saw the band begin to make themselves a space; ‘Gangs” threw explosives in and cleared their path. ‘Search:Party:Animal’ is a shot of concentrated adrenaline, ‘…Samara to Belfast’ oozes tension, while single ‘7 Billion People All Alive at Once’ takes a pretty, building piece of post-rock and detonates it into a grin-inducing, babble-along waltz. A special record from a band in a special place.

LAURA SHEERAN – What the World Knows (2012, self-release)

While Ireland has had a long and proud tradition in the fields of improvisation and the avant-garde, there are very few artists that have brought together the sheer love of the process with a singular, driven vision for every aspect of creation quite like Galwegian Laura Sheeran. What the World Knows provided our first longform glimpse of Sheeran’s internal creative world, stark and melancholic, playing with arrangement and form, but always making her strong and steady voice central to its peaks and valleys, as best demonstrated on ‘Hurricane’.

BANTUM – Legion (2013, ElevenEleven)

Dublin-resident Corkman Ruairí Lynch was a favourite among bloggers earlier in the decade, presenting an eclectic, yet accessible take on a wide swathe of electronica. Debut long-player ‘Legion’ sanded all the polish off, leaving only evidence of the swelling, full heart of a creator and the friendships behind the collaborations thereon. Singles ‘Oh My Days’ and ‘Legion’ heave with a wistful, yet ultimately upbeat take on internal monologues; the former nesting Eimear O’Donovan’s vocals amid layers of reverb and delay, the latter providing an eighties-indie feel of earnestness to warm, yet haunting electronic pop.

LYNCHED – Cold Old Fire (2014, self-release)

Amid the depths of austerity, and the increasingly-apparent nature of its legacy, tone-deaf cries from mainstream music press bemoaned the lack of protest music as with previous generations before moving along to the next shiny thing. If they’d bothered looking around, they would have found the band currently known as Lankum, recasting lost folk gems from around the world for the modern condition, and co-penning the definitive modern recession song in the album’s title track. In the process, the Dublin four-piece became arguably the custodians of the Irish folk tradition, a contrast from the stuffy gatekeeping of conservative Ireland.

ILENKUS – The Crossing (2014, self-release)

With a keen ear for technicality and a feel for the weight of sludgy, metallic tones, Galwegian five-piece Ilenkus have always brought to the forefront of their music something casual observers have wrongly remarked is missing from the genre: humanity. The band’s second full-length is a brave, honest work that sees the band confront internal and external issues, from the painful, cathartic and intricate title track, to the pointed sociopolitical barbs of ‘Over the Fire, Under the Smoke’ (sent viral that year for a one-take promo video that saw Chris Brennan perform his gutturally yowled vocals on a walk down Galway’s Shop Street).

NAIVE TED – The Inevitable Heel Turn (2015, self-release)

By day, mild-mannered social worker/music teacher Andy Connolly. By night, skratchador enmascarado Naive Ted. A longtime fixture on a small but dedicated Irish turntablism scene as one-man duo Deviant & Naive Ted, Limerick-based Connolly found himself in a wider, albeit cultish, spotlight via a series of chance encounters culminating in his work ending up as entrance music on Japanese national television, accompanying Wicklow pro-wrestling superstar Fergal Devitt and his villainous Bullet Club gang. The full-length that followed was positively bananas, as old-school skratchology met a truly eclectic range of samples before being thrown, full-force, at Steve Reich-esque experimentation and being thoroughly deconstructed accordingly.

SHARDBORNE – Living Bridges (2015, Out on a Limb)

Metal in Ireland has always been kept alive by community efforts, from gigs and labels to zines and blogs. No more loyal defenders of the cause exist than the brothers Culhane, two of a team of volunteers that Limerick’s Bad Reputation gigs and the Siege of Limerick all-dayers. It just so happens that they’re also half of progressive metal weapon-wielders Shardborne: technically-proficient, theory-literate musicians whose love of seventies prog seems them invoke the pioneer spirit of their genre forerunners in a completely different context.

KATIE KIM – Salt (2016, Art for Blind)

Created throughout 2014 and produced by Percolator/Guerrilla Sounds man John Murphy, Salt saw Waterford’s Katie Kim place her quietly-powerful voice on a larger, yet more deeply personal creative stage from the go, where sparse, echoing production is offset by celestial synth in ‘Ghosts’, or set against resonant pianos amid the pain and rumination of ‘Body Break’. It’s a theme that runs throughout, playing on a feeling of foreboding and the natural urge for introspection from which the listener emerges different, more in tune, best summed up as the layers of sounds continue to amass as album standout ‘Life or Living’ wends its way around itself.

RUSANGANO FAMILY – Let The Dead Bury The Dead (2016, self-release)

The trio of GodKnows, Murli and mynameisj0hn had been collaborating together in different configurations in the years prior to naming John and Godknows’ joint album ‘Rusangano/Family’, a bilingual take on the ties that bind Irish people to the wider world, and a wave of young new Irish to the culture they have grown up and become themselves in. A fitting banner, then, to take the lead into a new generation of homegrown, multicultural music with ‘Let the Dead Bury the Dead’, riffing on cultural change, the weight of history, and the challenges of identity. ‘Soul Food’ is a shirt-waving banger of a tune, while ‘Lights On’ is nothing short of a love letter to Limerick city. Winner of last year’s Choice Award for a reason.

Ilenkus: Galway Metallers Hunger for More

Ilenkus hit Cork on tour for new E.P. Hunger on April 7th. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with guitarist Josh Guyett.

It’s been a long road for Galway mathcore/prog outfit Ilenkus, from their beginnings seven years ago in and around a then-fervent hardcore scene in the West. Today, with two long-players under their belts and their dues more than paid on the live slog around the country, the band is ready for the next chapter in their story, opening with new 7” EP Hunger, released this month following a digital release in November. Josh Guyett, guitarist, speaks on their reaction to the record being out. “We’re delighted to finally have the EP’s in our hands, they look beautiful and we’re generally very happy with how well they turned out. It’s always a privilege working with James Sheridan and I think his art really shines through on this record. The process from writing the riffs to completion takes such a long time and so much work from many different people, that the main feelings we’re experiencing are probably satisfaction and relief! I guess we’re also feeling pretty proud of ‘Hunger’. Personally it’s my favourite out of all of our records so far.”

Heavier on riffs and lighter on dynamic, Hunger sees the band focus their considerable energies in one musical idiom, a contrast from the ambition displayed on previous long-player The Crossing. As much out of desire for change as for expedience, the band kept it concise enough this time to go on a wax platter. “It was a conscious decision for us to focus more in one direction for this release. Where we have previously spent a lot of time working on songs, these were all written in a relatively short period of time. We tuned down our guitars and set out to write something a little more to the point. The recording and mixing was all done by Aidan Cunningham (Murdock) and that made the process so smooth. Aidan really understands this type of music and was super-easy to work with as a result. We gave him a brief and some references in terms of sound, and he just got on board with the whole thing. The mastering was then done by Brad Boatright in the States and we couldn’t be happier with the final result.”

Previous records have also had social/political connotations whereas tunes like Hunny Bunny come directly from the more personal, seemingly. How have the themes changed in recent times? “I think we toyed with some of of these kinds of lyrical themes on old tracks like Devourer, but this time around we eliminated any obvious political or reactionary imagery. Instead we aimed to tell a story. This record is more of a social commentary than a political one. It primarily deals with human nature and issues surrounding mental health. The story is about an individual spiraling out of control and losing their grasp on reality. We all have darkness, rage and secret desires inside ourselves. This story is about someone who can’t keep them buried inside any longer.”

The E.P.’s physical release has been stewarded by several labels in a few different territories, all split-releasing. Guyett explains the exact arrangement. “In terms of labels, we’ve been lucky to work with WOOAAARGH and Tjueto Cvlt from Germany, Smiths Food Group DIY from The Netherlands, Icore Produzioni and Vollmer Industries from Italy and Feast here at home in Ireland. There are plans for a larger European tour as soon as we can set aside some time for it. We’re also now working with Black Sheep Agency in Glasgow as our booking agent, which is fantastic as it allows us to focus a bit more time on things like writing new music. So yes, more touring is on the horizon for sure.”

At home, the release is being overseen by Feast, a label/gig promotion collective including members of the band. Guyett is one of its founders, and is quick to outline his vision. “I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a label for a couple of years now, so it really felt like a natural progression for Feast. We’ve expanded from running gigs and the odd tour to helping bands release their music. That could be done through financial assistance, taking records for our distro, giving advice, sharing information and a host of other things – we’re just trying to help bands raise their profile and become self sufficient. Obviously Hunger is our first release with Feast, but we plan to get involved with another two/three records this year. For now we will only be working with Irish bands. Part of our vision is to be a platform from which some of the often overlooked, quality Irish bands can showcase their work in a professional manner. We’re currently setting up our website and shop, that will distribute a handpicked selection of Irish records, as well as the projects that Feast is involved with more directly. This is not a typical record label format. Instead of putting up all the money for releases. because we physically can’t do that, we’re offering a range of ways that we can assist musicians. Fundraising, PR, pressing, contacts and networking, booking and even just being an extra set of eyes or ears. Our goal is to help develop bands and showcase their work. This year we hope to work with Belfast’s Hornets, Destriers from Dublin and Cork’s very own Bailer.”

06. Irish metal seems to be in rude health again, and Cork is finally catching up in recent years after an extended period of silence throughout the recession. The band have always found a home Leeside, though, and their connections run deep. “To be honest, the scene in Cork has always been good to us. I remember our fist ever gig down here in The Quad in 2011 – it was way more hopping than we were expecting. Things may have quietened down all over the country for a few years, but live music and especially heavy bands seem to be on the up again. Maybe it’s a reaction to the current political climate… or maybe these things just go in cycles. One way or the other it’s a great time to be playing in a heavy band. New promoters and bands keep popping up and the one of the really cool things is how the community is developing. People are happy to work together to help the scene. Like our Cork gig on the 7th is a co-promotion between Cosmonaut and Pyre. It’s a group of cool people coming together to create environments where bands and artists can viably ply their trade. That’s what helps the scene; community, working together and building a collective of people who share the same ideas. It’s a pleasure to be a part of.”

Ilenkus are playing the Poor Relation on Parnell Place on April 7th to launch the Hunger E.P. alongside a rake of other bands. What are the band’s thoughts heading into it? “This Cork gig is the first show of our Irish dates and one of the gigs I’m looking forward to the most. The lineup in incredible. We’ve got Destriers, who hugely impressed me at their recent opening slot for Oathbreaker (in Dublin). Then Partholón, who are a deadly new Cork band, featuring members of our old friends Five Will Die. Horse, another awesome band made up of friends and musicians from cool acts like Fat Actress, Kawtiks, Ghost Of Medina and Waiting Room. Then finally we’ve also got our mates in Bailer, who’ve been carving out their own niche for the past few years. Even just having all those bands in one place is gonna be fun for us to get to hang out! We’re excited about this show. A lot.”

With an ambitious long-term plan for the band, the question next is how to get there.“Next up for us is hopefully a UK tour in August. We’re planning 10 dates up and down the country. I also imagine we’ll do a headline Dublin show in the next while and possibly some live video recordings. Musically, we’re working on new material all the time, so with any luck we’ll be back in the studio before long. After that who knows…”

Ilenkus play the Poor Relation on April 7th. Support from Bailer, Horse, Destriers and Partholón. Tickets €10, available at tickets.ie and participating Centra/SuperValu outlets.