The Canadian band Cromlech strode forth boldly onto the field of battle with the promising album “Ave Mortis” in 2013. Honing their tactics and weapon-craft, in 2017 they released their excellent EP “Iron Guard.” Blending doom, death, and classic heavy metal influences the mighty Cromlech is the tip of the spear in the coming resurgence of epic power metal. In a brief lull between battles, the members of Cromlech most nobly took a few minutes to answer some interview questions.
What is the musical education of the band members of Cromlech? Are you self-taught?
Is it important to have a working knowledge of music theory in making metal music?
R.L (Guitar) – I took piano lessons from the age of 7-12, and then a few years of guitar after that. Being in the Ukrainian community as well, singing and song were very important, whether in church, home, among friends and family, school, or in scouting organizations. Both my parents are musically inclined and good singers, and my late grandfather had a tremendous voice himself; he directed church choirs occasionally as well.
I am a “by ear” musician; I have never really gotten the hang of sight reading tablature or notes. Because of this, I would say that I am largely self-taught in terms of technique. In Into Oblivion, this drove Kaveh (the rhythm guitarist) mad, because my finger technique had no sense to it. Essentially what this necessitated for me was good memory with respect to melody, and many, many rehearsal recordings.
Formal musical theory in metal can perhaps be a bit of a hindrance honestly, as I find many good and interesting riffs in death metal and black metal for example require a great deal of chromaticism. Following too rigorously major and minor keys can lead to a distinct lack of engaging music in metal, and leads one to avoid dissonances which might otherwise produce colour. The aforementioned chromaticism must be unique however in the following aspect: it must be based in the “Order from Chaos” principle, foundational I feel, to most metal. This means that normal chord movements are not disregarded, but rather that we use the Wagnerian principle rather than that of Schoenberg or the nonsense that followed afterwards. We regard well the roadmaps of tonality, but we chromaticize it to weave tensions that dance madly on the edges of Order without following fully into formlessness. This of course is a technique that must be more subtle in classic styled heavy metal, as this is a more earthy, folky expression of the genre that relies on full hearted conventional melody. At any rate, technique develops naturally as one grows older, but technique is a map: a map cannot tell you where to go, only what lies where.
D.B. (Guitar) – I can confirm that R.L.s fingerings make little to no sense and infuriate the mind. My own music education included piano and classical guitar, so I am more conventional in my playing technique. That said, I don’t think a formal education is at all necessary for metal, particularly the extreme variants of it. It’s organically written and it is encouraged to break convention; you can’t follow convention if you never learned it. That being said, there is a tendency among, for example, very technical death metal bands, (especially leaning towards mathcore or the like) to chop convention into increasingly tiny pieces at the expense of writing powerful and effective compositions, which is something I absolutely can’t abide. I think theory is therefore unnecessary, but useful if you have it.
K.L. (Vocals) – I played piano from the ages of 6 until 14, and tried to teach myself guitar around the age of 20 with limited results. As far a singing goes, I had never sung a note in my life until 6 months before Ave Mortis came out. Roman and I had been friends for a few years, and during a night of revelry I jokingly told him I would try out for Cromlech as a live vocalist (which they were seeking at the time). Roman held me to this and the rest is history, but since that time I have taken singing lesson consistently, and Roman, being the more experience singer, has worked with me on technique and delivery. Baron has also helped a lot too, he has often told me to work harder and get better….its proven to be an effective means of motivating me lol.
B.K. (Bass) – I have no formal musical training or education personally. I decided to pick up the bass around age 12 or so, since this was around the time when my personal music tastes started to shift from what my parents raised me on to my own tastes, it was only natural to want to pick up an instrument to play along. I played in a couple shitty bands when I first started out, but nothing serious. Only once I met Roman in high school and started playing with Into Oblivion was I finally challenged to tighten up my skills. Joining Cromlech forced me to take on a whole different set of technique and skills after just playing Death/Black Metal with I.O. for so many years up to that point.
J.J. (Drums) – I received introductory drum lessons for about one year when I was 13. My drumming only improved when I met R.L and joined Into Oblivion. At first I could barely keep pace with their rapid tempo tremolo picking. That pressure forced me into developing black, thrash and death metal drumming techniques when I was essentially a blank slate. Upon joining Cromlech a few years later, I was alienated by the slower tempos. But these slower tempos forced me to refine my coordination and technique. My knowledge of music theory is non-existent. I’ve learned all I know from listening to various metal drummers, such as Pete Sandoval, and attempting to incorporate their drumming styles into the bands I am part of.
The improvement in song composition between Ave Mortis and Iron Guard is fairly marked. Do you as a band consciously work on improving composition skills, or is it a result of a greater familiarity of the band members over the course of time? What is your process for songwriting?
R.L. (Guitar) – My tendency is to write long compositions; this is much like my verbal diarrhea. I feel compelled when I explain a point to do everything possible to lay the groundwork showing how I got to that conclusion, so that I display my internal thought process and thereby my reasoning.
Unfortunately, some of this can be unnecessary. A lot of the improvement has come by excising useless repetitions and showing boldness with respect to brevity. Instead of “showing my work” bit by bit, I often contain references in riffs from other riffs, weaving the unity of the composition through permutations hinting back and forth between at first seemingly distant and unrelated themes, eventually resolving in some stark conclusion. I usually write a song by having one or two riffs in mind. Eventually, I shade around the riffs and play off of them to create others, and over time certain key themes in the song (“pillars” if you will) emerge and take form. The focus and character of the song coalesces around these, and then allow its’ completion.
I will add, Baron’s more conventionally good (as in less self-taught death/black idiot savant maniac playing) approaches to technique and craft have rubbed off on me, and as I mentioned earlier, greater technique does come with age and practice.
D.B. (Guitar) – Did Roman mention the Leitmotif? That’s a point we’re in strong agreement on. I believe this is partly due to us improving in compositional familiarity, and partly due to us selecting some strong and well-trodden material to release on the Iron Guard EP. Within a short period of time after this interview our split with Infamous will be dropping with another shorter, very intense and visceral track from Cromlech, and then after that we will be releasing the next full-length Ascent of Kings, which will contain a lot of the longer, more ambitious, and perhaps less hospitable material we have been working on for the past few years. That said, these tracks are no longer by virtue of repeating the same riff more – there are some very involved three-act beasts in there.
J.J. (Drums) – Whether it is conscious or not, I think we reject having our music grow stale in familiar territory and prefer to progress technically and compositionally. Our growing friendship and improved musicianship will naturally alter the course of the song writing. As for the song writing process, R.L and D.B compose all the riffs and tell me which beats to play!
I see you have a MAGA flag in one of your photos as well as other references to President Trump. Do you think politics has a place in metal? Would you consider Cromlech’s music/lyrics to be political?
R.L. (Guitar) – I think 90 percent of expressly political music sucks. Metal needs to be depoliticized. I can stand leftism if the riffs and song writing are good (there are also principled leftists who I like and respect); the reverse does not seem to be true for others. We have seen this increasingly in the Trump era with respect to Graveland’s ill-fated Montreal show, and even with the crusades against admittedly mediocre but certainly tepid in political views bands such as Marduk.
METAL IS POWER. METAL IS DANGER. METAL GIVES RESPECT TO THOSE WHO DESERVE IT. METAL IS NOT FOR EVERYONE.
As far as Trump goes, the hysteria surrounding him is hilarious. People are insane.
D.B. (Guitar) – Yeah, Trump Derangement Syndrome is a phenomenon I’m at a loss to understand but I get a kick out of poking the hornet’s nest. The problem with music that is expressly and pointedly political (aside from the fact that the band is probably wrong) is that invariably, times change, people change, and political situations change, and an artist refines their stance and is forced to disavow their own work from earlier – or popular opinion one day puts a band in the dump the next day (just look at how mainstream-beloved bands like Dire Straits have had their music pulled from the radio for using the word “faggot” in the song Money for Nothing, even though the context is clearly a satirical voicing of a blue collar working man’s gripe about international recording artists). This sort of pearl clutching schoolmarming attitude needs to be met with a spiked fist to the throat ANYWHERE it rears its blue haired pangendered head in the metal scene.
As far as Trump himself goes, speaking personally and separate from the entity known as Cromlech, I loved his willing and ready attitude during the primaries & main election battle to singlehandedly take on the united ranks of the Lugenpresse and WIN. But post-electoral Trump has been a largely disappointing experience – a politician failing to deliver as promised? Who ever heard of such a thing?
So all that said, politics are too ephemeral and changing to for Cromlech to be a political band. Our music and lyrics derive from principles that are eternal.
K.L. (Vocals) – Cromlech is not a political band. However, with the increasing encroachment of politics, and in particular leftist politics, in the metal scene we have found it difficult not to take a stand at various points. Some may perceive our push back against leftism in metal as simply another right wing stance, but that would be a typically and overly simplistic formulation of our intent. The fact is, politics and culture are categorically different. Moreover, ontologically, politics exists at a lower level than culture. Metal, as a cultural expression, has always striven vertically, and to be pulled down to an ontologically lower level by individuals who obviously do not understand metal and metal culture is an affront to those of us who remain true to the spirit of metal. Metal is overtly realistic in its outlook, thus it transcends mere politics.
B.K. (Bass) – FUCK TRUDEAU. DOUG FORD FOR GRAND EMPEROR.
J.J. (Drum) – Politics has no place in metal, and the parasitic vermin who attempt to spread equality, feminism and tolerance in the metal scenes do not belong.
What is the single most corrosive and debilitating element in the modern metal scene?
R.L. (Guitar) – The scene police. I don’t even recognize anything similar to what I saw in the modern metal scene as a teenager and it infuriates me.
D.B. (Guitar) – I will answer differently here and say that I think social media is the worst offender in this case, as it’s this many headed hydra which contains multiple vectors of attack and infection for metal. The main problem is that it’s opened metal recruitment up to orders of magnitude more people than were exposed during the days when metal stayed on obscure metal specific websites and forums; and even that was an order of magnitude higher exposure than metal got during the underground period after the big American death metal and Scandinavian death metal scenes quieted down and it was just tape trading and Xeroxed mags. This exposure has resulted in a massive influx of scene tourism and hipster entryism from fundamentally weak souled bugpeople who see metal as another fun scene in which to have some drinks, pick up a cool new fashion sense, and increase their social standing with their eclectic range of musical tastes. All seems well at first, but when they learn that extreme musical art contains people with extreme viewpoints – that it’s not just Globo Gayplex Consumerist Secular Humanism with a different shade of paint applied – they recoil in horror and run back to social media to organize slacktivist campaigns to have venues shut down, concerts pulled, harass labels, etc etc.
The takeaway, for me, from that is that metal is of course anti-fragile and all this will result in is the hipsters, tourists and general dross stagnating in the mediocrity of their weak riffs and fashion thrashin’, while real metal is pushed back underground and returns to more word-of-mouth show promotion, street battling against ANTIFA (the hilariously underweight shock troops of modern consumerist globalism), and a sharpening of the warrior spirit. I would simply advise people to DELETE their social media accounts, REVOLT against the modern world, and CRUSH the faces of all who seek to file the fangs of metal. SOME PEOPLE WANT TO ROCK THE BOAT – CROMLECH WANTS TO BURN IT DOWN AND BUILD A GALAXY CONQUERING IMPERIAL CLASS STAR CRUISER FROM THE ASHES.
B.K. (Bass) – Outsiders invading a scene that they’re not a part of. ANTIFA, Feminists, SJW’s, and other weak minded individuals trying to change it, censor it, feminize it, and make it “safe” for everyone. This includes clickbait “metal” websites going on witch hunts to try and “expose” band members’ pasts for behaviors or affiliations they don’t deem acceptable in the name of inclusion, equality, and “social justice”. They’ve clearly drawn the line and have chosen which side of the battle they’re on. We have to let them know OUR MUSIC IS NOT FOR EVERYONE. OUR SCENE IS NOT THEIR SAFE SPACE. We must actively fight to weed these scumbags out anyway we can, and make it KNOWN – THEY’RE NOT WELCOME.
J.J. (Drums) – As I mentioned above, parasitic vermin that enforce their political ideologies into the metal scene. It is common for social outcasts to find empowerment in the controversy of the underground metal culture. I’ll admit that is how I discovered metal, but metal lead me on a journey towards self-improvement and discovery. But metal is not necessarily a movement for “self-help” either. Now with social media, it is easier for insecure social outcasts to enter this scene. The amount of people that reject to follow the path of self-improvement is an issue because these same people try to alter the culture itself to accommodate their laziness and insecurity. Politics and tolerance should not form the core of metal because it was built on controversy, violence and confrontation. If people are too weak-willed to handle this, they can GIT OUT.
Judging from your FB page, Cromlech have a lively and exuberant sense of humour. Does metal take itself too seriously?
R.L. (Guitar) – People take themselves too seriously. Never take your values too seriously. Listen to the end of Sarcofago’s “The Last Slaughter”, or the outro of the Deathcrush EP. Metal is about spirit and ambition above slavery to form, which is why Facta Loquuntur will always have a deep charm the re-recordings lack.
D.B. (Guitar) – With this interview you’ve asked us interesting and serious questions with an obvious degree of thought put into them (thank you for that!) so we’ve given serious answers. However anyone who views our pages will see that we do have a lot of laughs at our own expense. People with no sense of humour about themselves or their ideology are insufferable (see: leftists). But one thing that is no joke is RIFFS.
I don’t see why Facta Loquuntur has to do with this, so I am 100% convinced Roman brought that up just to jab at me (this is a long standing point of contention between us –some of those Absurd demo recordings are unlistenable trash, I don’t care how many excuses you make about their “spirit”)
K.L. (Vocals) – We certainly have a sense of humor, even if others think it too dry. The best part of a Cromlech practice is coming up with the next Facebook post that no one will understand but that we as a band find hilarious. As a band I think we take our art seriously, without taking ourselves seriously. I think the opposite is true for metal now. Most artists take themselves, their values and their ego very seriously and they look for a vehicle with which to express that without taking the vehicle, in this case metal as an art, very serious. Hence, we have a very dumbed down, egotistical, shallow and petty metal scene. I guess this just relates back to the foolhardy idea that art is about, “expressing yourself”.
B.K. (Bass) – There’s a fine line between having or finding a sense of humor about metal and being a full out “Metal Irony-Bro” decked out in white high-top Nike dunks, full denim get-up, ironic mustache, and 80’s Hair Metal haircut in THE CURRENT YEAR because you find it funny or fashionable. The over-the-top nature of metal is part of its appeal, but there should still be an unironic authenticity about it. As for Cromlech we do take our music and live shows seriously (some people might tell you differently), but tend to use our Facebook to post things that we as a band find hilarious, even if it sometimes goes over people’s heads.
J.J. (Drums) – It is evident when a band takes itself too seriously. As long as the song writing and rehearsals are productive, why not joke around and pull pranks on each other?
What level of importance does Cromlech assign to lyrics when composing a song? Is the lyrical content more important because you are singing rather than growling?
K.L. (Vocals) – The lyrics are extremely important. Typically I wait until a song is completely written before starting lyrics, and I feel around for concepts. I will often discuss the lyrical concept of a song with Roman or Baron before I set out writing lyrics to see if they were envisioning something in particular while they were composing, and this sometimes informs the directions I take with the lyrics. The process of writing lyrics can be both laborious and fulfilling, as I want the lyrics to match the tone and vision of the song perfectly, hence there is sometimes draft after draft of ideas that get refined, trimmed and reworked over the course of time. In the end the lyrics should be tantalizing allusion to what the music is already expressing.
The lyrical content is not more important because of the clean singing. Any fan of Celtic Frost, early Emperor and Darkthrone will know that lyrical content can be both profound and insightful regardless of the aesthetic delivery. I think one of the aspects that Roman and I work on is to make sure that the vocal delivery and melodies do not overtake the essential riff nature of metal. The guitars don’t exist on our records as secondary instruments that provide a nice background for vocals. On the contrary, our music is driven by the guitars and the vocals need to remain restrained and complimentary to the musical themes being expressed. It is a fine line.
To conclude the interview, how about you tell us about any upcoming releases or shows Cromlech has in the works.
R.L. (Guitar) – We have an upcoming split with INFAMOUS that will be released this spring entitled, HAMMER OF TRIUMPH featuring a brand new track MYTH AND STIGMA. Eventually we will record and release ASCENT OF KINGS; maybe next year. INTO OBLIVION, my first project, and a band containing 3/5 Cromlech members, will finally, after a long silence, be releasing PARAGON. The future is hopeful…
B.K. (Bass) – What is also hopeful is OUR GROWING FRIENDSHIP no matter how DEEPLY CONFUSED this may make outsiders. HAIL THARLES!
K.L. (Vocals) – Myself, Roman and another one of our buddies (also Kevin) recently released a demo for our neoclassical/ambient/electronic soundscape project entitled MENELTARMA. It was an exclusively independent release limited to 4 hand numbered copies. Look out for it!