THE SPECTRE BENEATH – interview
Introduce your band, and describe your latest release:
The Spectre Beneath is a prog/power metal band from the north-west of England. We’ve been away for a couple of years due to our previous singer becoming sick and stepping down. It took 18 months to find Stevie but it was worth the agony of trying to find someone suitable. She certainly has lungs of steel. A lot of female front metal is either symphonic, poppy, gothic or core tinged to allow those growls and screams. To me, there aren’t many straight up thematic metal bands with a female voice which is where I think The Spectre Beneath carves its own niche.
Our latest release, The Ashen Child, embodies all the above. It’s fairly short in comparison to our first two albums but it’s to the point, has pace, some dark, slower moments and our usual fayre of harmonies, solos and quirky themes.
What’s the hardest part about being a band in this day and age?
Trying to get people to listen to your music. When you’re just starting out, people have that perception that you’re rubbish and can’t play and are genuinely surprised when they find out you can, but that seems to be as far as it goes. When you’re on support slots, the room is half empty because no one really cares and when you post your stuff on sites dedicated to either the music we play or specifically female fronted forums etc… and groups that has +10k members, still no one really bothers. It’s frustrating but that’s the way it is, you have to keep plugging away because you never know who might be listening tomorrow. That’s how we got signed to a label, it just took one guy on French radio to hear us and get in touch.
When did you realise that your project had the potential to be much more than just a fun idea?
It was about 3 months after releasing our debut album, ‘The Downfall of Judith King’. It got leaked a month prior to its release date and we got some great feedback from people who had ‘obtained’ the album and we were getting offers in from PR companies, agents and websites. There was only one website who gave us a mediocre review because they couldn’t get passed the vocals which is fairs doos, all the other reviews were great. It was when The Spectre Beneath were described as one of Metal’s most valuable discovers that it went from being an idea we wanted to try to realising we may be on to something.
Tell us about your latest release, why should we check it out?
The Ashen Child is six brand new songs and initially was going to be called Forsaken because, thematically, each track was about a forsaken soul. However, a couple of the songs were about Judith King, the woman about whom four tracks were dedicated to on our debut album. Judith King is The Ashen Child, and the two songs dedicated to her on this release describe how she was separated from her friends and imprisoned in ‘luxurious’ house only to ultimately escape. The album has all our trademarks, fast songs, brooding songs, big vocals and widdly guitar work. We went for a slightly fuzzier production after the dryness of our last album and we consciously went for bigger finishes rather than over using the scream at the start trope. We feel the album is heavy enough to satisfy the metal head but accessible enough for those who just like rock but are on the fringes of metal.
How does a song typically come together for you?
For the most part, I come up with a bucket load of riffs and mould them into some sort of song structure. When I’m happy with a working instrumental demo, I start working on any vocal ideas I’ve come up with whilst writing the music. I take my ideas to Katy and we work on vocal melodies together and she demos them adding her own style and then we take the songs to Stevie who then adds her own flavor to the mix. The rule we all go by is to perform the vocal melodies how you personally want to do them and not how you think they should be performed. Katy and I tend to write most of the music, however, the track, As Far As The Eye Can See, was penned by myself and long-time collaborator, Paul Dutton. We’ve been in bands together for years and he has an excellent ear for melody especially heavy mellow music. I sent him the music and he came up with the melody. It did have a chugging middle section after the solo but after Stevie put her outstanding vocal on it, the chugging middle section just took all the pace out of the song, so it was cut, hence why it’s less than five minutes. The lesson here is to be as flexible as possible and not be afraid to change anything.
How would you describe your sound to an unfamiliar reader?
We were called Power/Prog metal in the first ever review for our debut album and it’s probably a fair summing up. If you like power metal and progressive metal but don’t want to go too far in either direction, The Spectre Beneath maybe for you. Definitely all clean vocals to allow the melodies to shine and to allow big harmony choruses. We certainly have fast songs and lots of melody but also longer more involved tracks. However, under the surface there is certainly an undercurrent of thrash especially with the pace and twisting riffs as I’m a big fan of bands like Overkill, Forbidden, Testament and Annihilator. I like to think it’s that element which stops The Spectre Beneath from falling too far into the tropes of Power Metal and the sometimes over indulgence of Prog. We definitely don’t have layers of keyboards either, even though drummer Consta tries to squeeze some in. Apart from some piano and a few atmospheric drones, we try and keep the music riff and vocal focused.
What do you want listeners to take away from listening to your band?
We would the listener to take away from our music the very thing we’re trying to achieve, and that is attempting to have a female singer sound like a female singer which sounds fairly ridiculous but hear me out. There are a lot of female singers in metal, a hell of a lot more than you would think. However, a few years ago, I realised there weren’t that many female singers who sing straight up metal, it’s usually symphonic, pop, growls etc… When they did sing metal, they approached it in the same way a man would sing the songs, or sing them in the usual metal way. What I wanted to do is to have a woman sing metal but throw away the metal vocal tropes. Women write different types of melodies and use different inflections and intonations etc… and I wanted to bring that out. Which is why, when I first came up with the idea of The Spectre Beneath, I approached Katy to help write the vocal melodies so they would, not only be suitable for a female voice, but be nuanced and styled for a female voice. We’ve already had some criticism for it because the vocals are not what some reviewers are expecting and so are unable to get passed them, but, on the flip side, some of our fans adore what we’re trying to do. To answer the question, I would like the listener to notice how the vocals are not your usual metal vocals and how they are a juxtaposition for the heaviness of the music.
Where would you really like to tour that you haven’t done so yet, and why?
Live shows have not entered the equation because we were concentrating on getting the album completed. With myself supplying bass duties and all guitars on the album, save for a handful of guest solos, we’d need some extra troops. Personally, I’d love to bring The Spectre Beneath’s new material to the live arena, I think the songs have lots of energy and would go down well. However, at present, we need some more people.
How would you say that the sound of your band has progressed over the years?
We’ve not really been around long enough to notice too much of a progression in terms of sound, however, bringing in Stevie on vocals has definitely given the vocals a more soulful and sassy feel. The way we approach song-writing has progressed though. Our first album was basically my ideas with Katy chipping, save for a couple of tracks we did together. Since then, Katy and I work very closely to ensure the vocal melodies and harmonies are how we want them. Along with Stevie, we’ve made a decision to start moving away from the usual metal trope of a scream at the start to concentrate on bigger finishes and adding vocals during the middle section whether it’s a scream of a choral moment, something rarely done in metal I feel. Certainly on The Ashen Child, five of the six tracks adopt this philosophy.
How excited are you for 2023, and what can fans expect from you?
We’ve just released The Ashen Child. We have the next album planned out and I would say 70% of it is written. There are 12 songs planned but this will get whittled down to 10 or less depending on how timings go. I still have three blasters yet to write. I have ideas but I’ve not started putting them together yet. After being away for a couple of years due to singer changes and other challenges, it’s just nice to get more material out there. Hopefully, with the new album, we can get some momentum back into the ranks because we’d ideally like to finish writing the new full-length and get it recorded before the end of the year or at least before Easter 2024 and get it released in 2024 as well. We’d like to squeeze some live shows in at some point but we’re short on a bass player hence why I’m playing it on the new release, so completing a line up would be next as well.