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Interview: Ishmael

Recently Hell Is Empty, And All The Devils Are Here by UK band Ishmael drew my attention. A 35 minute long downtuned, bleak, filthy and evil sounding blend of sludge and doom that should please fans of bands like for instance Khanate, Burning Witch, Grief or other pleasantly unpleasant sounding bands. The fact that a band that, for me, came out of the blue could release such a strong album aroused my curiosity and made me decide to ask them some questions, which the band kindly answered.

I was pleasantly surprised when i first heard your album a little while ago, having not heard from you before could you introduce the band for us? How did you start, how long are you together , previous releases etc.

Jim – The current lineup consists of myself on bass, Dani Hawkins on vocals, Rick Metters and Owen Hewitt on guitars and Conor McCaffrey on drums. We originally formed in 2009 as a 4 piece consisting of myself, Dani, Conor and Alex Kearney (also now in The Wounded Kings) after our previous bands broke up. Rick joined us on 2nd guitar in 2010 adding some much needed dirt to the sound. We released a self titled demo in the summer then Alex left the band at the tail end of 2010 to fully concerntrate on The Wounded Kings. We were in a state of limbo for a number of months before hiring Owen and developing a much heavier, destructive sound that you hear today.

Jim. You are also in the Wounded Kings, is Ishmael considered a full band or more of a project?

Jim – Ishmael is very much a full time band. Both The Wounded Kings and Ishmael are two entirely different beasts; Ishmael obviously being at the more extreme end of the spectrum, whereas The Wounded Kings are a more traditional, song-orientated doom band.

Any other members of Ishmael that play in other bands as well?

Rick – Not currently, although I have an abundance of material for other projects.
Owen – I’m nearing completion of a multimedia ambient drone project I’ve been working on for the past year.
Dani – God no, I have enough trouble writing lyrics for one band!

Hell Is Empty And All The Devils Are Here is currently only available in digital format, will there be a physical version available as well? Vinyl, cd, tape, all three?

Jim – We’ve just put out a limited edition digipak version of ‘Hell Is Empty…’, which is available to purchase via our Big Cartel merch store and Bandcamp. No plans for tape or vinyl as yet, but never say never!

When listening to your album it reminded me of Khanate from time to time, especially Little Bones has a bit of that vibe in my opinion (which is a very good thing). What do you consider to be your influences?

Owen – Khanate! *laughs*
Rick – Our influences are drawn from numerous genres within extreme music. We try not to write in one particular style, there are elements of noise, sludge, doom, black metal… song structures can be influenced from elsewhere, even outside metal, such as film scores, and computer games.

I really like the sound you have on Hell is Empty, how did you get in touch with Rich Robinson and are you satisfied with how things worked out with him?

Owen – He’s one of my oldest friends and I hate everything he is and everything he stands for. *laughs*
Rick – Rich is a good friend of the band whom we’ve all known for years, so when it came to recording he wasn’t just an obvious choice but also the best person for us to go to.
Jim – Working with Rich was an absolute blast, he had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to achieve so the recording process went very smoothly. We’re very happy with the way it came out.

What are the lyrical / conceptual subjects? Is there a connection between the bandname, Ishmael (being the first son of Abraham) and the Hell is Empty quote by Shakespeare?

Dani – We’re aware of the Biblical aspect of the name and some of the artwork and samples do reflect on it to a degree but no, no connection at all. Lyrically I just wrench out whatever’s on my mind.‘Buried With Fingers Crossed’ came from something Alex once said: “If we wait for karma, we’ll be buried with our fingers crossed”. It’s a very general rant about religion and injustice, how a benevolent god will permit murder and atrocity and leave a trail of traumatised innocents in their wake. ‘Little Bones’ is about domestic violence through the eyes of the victim, and then a warning to the perpetrator. My favourite lyrics so far have been ‘The Soul’s Dirtied Windows’, about a voyeur who’s obsessed with extreme porn and snuff and fears how much further their obsession can go. I just like writing about death, perversion and general nastiness.

The Wounded Kings play live quite often, for instance on the last Roadburn festival and on the Dutch Doom Days next month. Any chance that Ishmael will tag along for some mainland Europe gigs?

Jim – Unfortunately work commitments don’t currently allow us to do much touring around the UK or Europe with Ishmael. We’d all love to be able to tour more in the future, but probably of our own accord and not tagged alongside The Wounded Kings.

Any other touring plans or will things be focussed on the UK for now?

Jim – Yeah for now we are focusing mainly on the UK but we’re trying to get out as much as possible.
Dani – Our lives clash unbelievably, there’s so much rigmarole around getting time off work and things like that.

In my experience quite a bit of promising UK doom/sludge etc. bands are around these days, for instance Conan, Undersmile, Bismuth and of course The Wounded Kings. How do you see that resurrection (if you can call it that) of the British scene yourself, are there more bands coming out or is it just business as usual in your opinion?

Dani – I reckon it’s business as usual, only the spotlight has finally fallen on the doom scene. I find most ‘heavy metal’ pretty fucking dull at present so it’s really cool to see that some good and genuinely interesting extreme bands are getting the attention they deserve.

Any other bands from the UK we should keep an eye out for?

Dani – Parole!
Rick – Sons of the Sand.
Jim – Gurt, Iron Witch, Sea Bastard.
Owen – ‘Sea Bastard’… brilliant! *laughs*

Recently there has been a bit of a debate about whether or not filesharing, streaming, offering your album for free is a good idea or not. Since you are offering the entire Hell Is Empty album for streaming at your bandcamp i was wondering what your stance towards this is?

Dani – If people want the album to keep they still have to pay for it. I think of streaming as a try-before-you-buy thing. I download free music too but I will buy an album if I particularly enjoy it.
Rick – I’d like to give all my music away for free, but you just can’t afford to, with recording costs, CD duplication, etc.

What will the near (or not so near) future bring for Ishmael?

Rick – Currently we’re working on new material and obviously would like to get out and play live as often as we can.

That’s it from my side, thanks for answering these questions and feel free to add anything you want.

Jim – Thank you for having us!

Check out more from Ishmael on their Facebook. Buy their stuff. Or click the play button below.


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