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Having clocked up over a decade of their particular Doom/Thrash combination, and with fourth album 'Lacrimae Mundi' now out, Comrade Aleks thought it was time to catch up with Elliott's Keep and see how things were going.

Interview with Elliott's Keep.
"For twelve years Texans Elliott's Keep have steadily paved their own road towards the horizons of Doom. They perform their own eclectic blend of Doom Metal with Thrash elements, and mix that with an Epic sound, Progressive approach and both clean and harsh vocals. Nowadays, their line-up is the same as on the debut album ('In Medias Res', released in 2008 through Brainticket Records): Kenneth plays bass and performs vocals, Joel is on drums and, as always, Jonathan takes responsibility for guitars. The contemporary release 'Lacrimae Mundi' shows the pure essence of Elliott's Keep experience in playing together, and objectively it's the band's most effective and strong work. A good reason to ask the trio few questions, so let me introduce Elliott's Keep."

Elliott's Keep: Joel Bates (drums), Kenneth Greene (bass, vocals), Jonathan Bates (guitars).

Hail Elliott's Keep! What's going on in Dallas? What's going on in the band camp?

Joel: Hail, Aleksey! Many thanks. We recently released a video for "Banished to Shadow" and are working on another video which will be available soon. As always, we continue writing new song lyrics and riffs and putting together ideas for our fifth album.

Ken: And thanks so much for including us in your book! Doom Metal Lexicanum is amazing! Your description of our band was spot on, so thanks again!

Thanks Ken! We had to have you! Well, your previous album 'Nascentes Morimur' was recorded in 2013, how has the band spent these last four years?

Joel: The writing process takes time and then life intervenes.

Ken: Put simply, I have had many medical problems with my heart. For various reasons, that affected my voice during this period -- I just couldn't sing. As a result, we spent a lot of time on songwriting and perfecting the instrumental aspects of the album. Once I got my voice back, and we were back to 100%, we headed straight into the studio.

Jonathan: It took longer than we expected, but we wrote 'Ninestane Rig' during the delay. So that worked out for the good.

'Lacrimae Mundi' was released just three months ago, I bet that your impressions of the recording session are still fresh. How much time did you spend in the studio? Did you work the same way as on previous albums?

Joel: The recording sessions were very much like the previous albums. Our songs are always complete and nailed down before entering the studio. We don't write anything in the studio. We went in and did drum tracks over a couple of days. We followed up with guitar, then bass, and vocals last, of course. In real time, it was about a week of studio time, but it was broken up over a few months due to work schedules and studio availability. With this being the fourth album, we have our working process down and know what to expect when we get to the studio. We worked again with JT Longoria and Gary Long of Nomad Studio. JT is great at bringing out the great sound that is heard on the EK releases. He always adds a flair and presents a few new ideas to complete the sonic attack, from the tracking and into the mix.

Jonathan: An example of that is the emphasis on the acoustic guitar on "Reflection." Most of the songs were a few years old to us by the time we recorded them, so they had been well-refined by that time. A few things always play out a bit differently than expected during recording, but overall it was the same process.

Ken: Jonathan's point about "Reflection" and JT is right on. Hearing our song, JT mentioned that he always loved how Megadeth's "Into the Lungs of Hell" mixed acoustic guitar under the riff. We went with that idea, and it ended up sounding so much better than we had envisioned originally.

Discography: 'In Media Res' (Brainticket 2008), Sine Qua Non (Brainticket 2010) Nascentes Morimur (Self-released 2013), Lacrimae Mundi (Self-released 2017).

You recorded 'Nascentes Morimur' at Nomad Studio too: is it a good place for you? Does the choice of the right studio play a significant role for you?

Joel: We chose to record our first album at Nomad because we were familiar with the studio from previously being band guests there during the recording of Solitude Aeturnus' Alone album ... and also Robert Lowe's vocal sessions for Candlemass' King of the Grey Islands. While writing In Medias Res, we looked forward to the opportunity to work with JT to bring our vision to reality. We were very happy with that experience and result. We continue to record there because of the quality and the relationships that we developed with JT and Gary, the studio's owner, who has done the mastering for all of our albums. The albums sound amazing. JT and Gary are easy to work with and the equipment there is top notch.

Ken: To me, the issue has never been about the place -- it's about the people. JT is our guy, and we would not have it any other way. Gary too.

The album is really thoughtful, and I would say that it's without doubt the best record you've ever done. How do you see it now? Would you say that the band has reached its peak of form?

Ken: I came away from this recording convinced that we had made a big step up in songwriting and performance. And we did.

Joel: I would like to think that we continue to improve in our craft as we work at it week by week, year by year. We have definitely established the sound of Elliott's Keep and still strive to present new stories, riffs, fills, etc. As a band, we are very proud of this release. Every song is strong on its own merits, and then it all blends together to make a complete album.

Jonathan: I take "thoughtful" as a real complement, thank you. There is certainly great thought invested in all that we do. After 27 something years playing together, we know well who we are, how we want to sound as a band, and what kind of songs we want to create. As to the best EK album, it very well may be our best set of songs and our best recordings from a performance and sonic perspective. However, I love each of our songs and albums, and they hold up well over time. As for Lacrimae Mundi, if I made my own top 10 favorite EK song list, this album is well represented on it.

Joel: I agree. I think it is our best overall record so far -- and here's to keeping the arrow pointed up but it is great that some of our favorite songs to play, week in and week out, are off our early albums. It's all about writing a good song, and we are proud of them all.

Elliott's Keep - Lacrimae Mundi (Full):

It seems that this time you moved into faster and more aggressive parts more often, though the material hasn't lost its doomy essence. Did you keep in mind that you need to hold on that balance? Did you ever think of simply changing Elliott's Keep's direction to this Thrash/Death side?

Joel: We have always had a thrash and death influence from early Marauder days into Elliott's Keep. Among many others, Megadeth's Rust in Peace and Slayer's Seasons in the Abyss were foundational albums in the early days of our playing. We always strive to find the balance between the slower doom riffs and faster tempo elements in our songs. I don't think this is anything new to Lacrimae Mundi, as it can be found on all our previous albums as well. The mix of elements can vary from song to song and album to album, but the recipe together is still fully EK. On many of the songs, the lyrics were written by Jonathan ahead of the music. Composing the music, we think about what the thematical elements require -- doom riffs, chord progressions, faster parts or leads -- depending on what the song/story requires, while always remaining focused on making a great song. We always strive to bring some progressive elements to doom, such as in "Iter" and "Tempest." Those elements make the song interesting and are fun to play. Tempo and time signature changes are a big part of what we do. Jonathan writes doomy riffs and then we add in the fast/death sections to complete the tapestry.

Ken: I consider this album to be much more of a "doom" album than Nascentes Morimur was. By way of example, I would put the opening riff of "Carpe Noctem" against any other doom riff ever written (with all credit to Jonathan). "Banished to Shadow" is pure epic doom, albeit accented with the other styles that we do. "Ninestane Rig" has classic and epic style doom riffs. "Tempest" starts out with the most prog-metal stuff we have ever done, but then falls into pure doom for minutes at a time. And no, we will never become just a thrash or death band. We are what we are.

Joel: Yes, I agree with Ken on the doominess of the album. We made a conscious effort to go more doom, this time. I don't know what that percentage may be. I expect that to continue into the writing for the next album. But, at the same time, our progressive interests may have significant impact, as well.

Jonathan: When we put out a new album, I don't ever describe the music to anyone. Instead, I want to hear how people tell me they hear the songs or album. There have been times where we have been surprised by differences in how others hear things versus how we do or what we expected, but usually that difference has been interesting and insightful. I do agree with Ken, that Nascentes Morimur was more aggressive overall. With Lacrimae Mundi, we wanted to continue from the epic doom of Sine Qua Non and we are well pleased with the end result.

Is it technically difficult to perform a smooth switch from fast Thrash parts to a slower doomy pace and vice versa? I'm just wondering how much time you spend gathering all these different parts of the puzzle together to build a proper song?

Ken: No, for us, it just isn't difficult at all. Abrupt changes in tempo and style have always come naturally to us. Similarly, I have no problem shifting my vocal styles from "clean" to "dirty" whenever the song needs it (and, yes, I can do both styles live). That said, of course we spend a lot of time putting it all together before we can repeat it flawlessly. And then we do that a few hundred times. And then we finally record it for y'all.

Jonathan: We are not a band that writes a song in one or two or five sessions. We have a great many parts in our songs, which we always want to be diverse and musically interesting to us. We spend weeks or months creating parts and crafting a song. When we put those parts together, it takes some repetition to get the changes nailed and smooth. By the time we get to the recording studio, we have played them hundreds of times and worked out all the changes so that it is second nature.

'Lacrimae Mundi' develops the original ideas you put into your first records, and I guess that its high production quality is the result of your rich experiences as a band. But have your influences somehow changed throughout the years? The band sounds eclectic as always, yet somehow it's different.

Joel: As always, we are first lovers of heavy metal music, whether we are playing it ourselves or enjoying the music of other bands. We have always loved many genres of metal and over the years we have found many new bands that carry on the metal standard. In the last few years, we have enjoyed doom releases from Doomocracy and Crypt Sermon, for example. But we listen to other great albums from non-doom bands, like Mors Principium Est and Archspire. Each of the three of us has metal sub-genres that are our own personal favorites, but there is great overlap, to be sure. A metal Venn Diagram. Whether prominent or subtle, all those bands contribute to influence our band -- be they doom, prog, death, or otherwise (see you in September, Alestorm).

What kind of stories do the new songs tell? As I see it, it's all about the same fantasy realms you explored on previous albums, right?

Jonathan: Yes. We have a great many story ideas and wait until the time is right to work one up. For example, "Witchburning" was an early story concept that didn't appear until the second record. "Ninestane Rig" is another conceit that has been around for some time, and was finally turned to song and recorded on this album. The song is based upon the legend of the evil lord Soules in the Elliott's castle, Hermitage. The epic and fantastic elements of the story not to mention the Elliott connection - made it a natural fit with our styles of music. With "Tempest," we tell a tale of fate and doom in a nautical context, which is a favorite setting for Ken. "Banished to Shadow" is set in the time of the Inquisition. "The Doom of Men" considers the downfall of historical empires. "Moment of Respite" tells of an epic, raging late-night cemetery party attended by gods from across the spectrum of mythology. It is another song (after "Convergence") which was written with appreciation for the works of Neil Gaiman. Storytelling is a fundamental aspect of our band, often interposing the personal observations of a first-person protagonist.

The album is self-released, just as its predecessor 'Nascentes Morimur' was. But I guess that you could draw more attention if you released it through a label, or if you were supported by some distro. Did you think about wider promotion for 'Lacrimae Mundi'? I just think that the album for sure needs wider exposure.

Jonathan: For a number of reasons, we had a great situation with John Perez at Brainticket Records for the first two albums. We had complete control and ownership of our music, and John was really cool with his support for the band. Unfortunately, Brainticket was a casualty of changes in the music business.

Joel: As we all know, the music industry landscape has changed significantly. There are benefits to having control ourselves. If the right opportunity presented itself, we would be glad to distribute our music through a label or distro. Until then, we will continue doing so ourselves.

Jonathan: This style of music is a relatively small pond. We count and appreciate our fans one by one. If you like these songs, we want to hear from you. If you are inclined to help spread the word, that would be much appreciated. That is how it works these days in the music underground.

Ken: "We're big in Belgium." Kidding (movie reference), but kind of true. We have heard from fans all across the world, which we absolutely love. As Jonathan said, it's a relatively small pond musically -- but it's also a big ocean when you think about the audience that online music has created. We just really want to make sure that those who will "get us" get to hear us.

Did you think to make a vinyl edition of one of your albums, or perhaps some special die-hard edition with a small run just for yourselves and 97 fans?

Ken: Sure, we've thought about it.

Joel: Being self-released, there is substantial cost for us in the recording process and duplication. Vinyl may be something that we do in the future. We have had some fans ask about that. Ken: But right now we don't have extra money to spend on that. We are focused on getting our music out there to people who hopefully will dig it. For now, that means physical CDs, digital downloads and a little merch.

Joel: If we find that a vinyl release would be cost-effective or even something that more fans readily desire, then it is something we would consider.

How has the situation with Elliott's Keep's changed over the last years? How often do you get out of Texas? Have you thought about further expansion?

Jonathan: We are now beyond a decade as EK and things are consistent with us across the years. We have not left Texas, although this is a discussion point among the band. Joel would be for more shows. For many years, he has been ready to get in a van and go tour. I will accept that blame, as I am just about composing, recording and jamming in our practice space. I really don't care much about performing. Put me in the same category with Patrick Walker in that regard. If Solitude Aeturnus ever plays again and if we were invited I would be there in a heartbeat and perhaps Perez would grace us with a live version of his solo from "Shades of Disgrace."

Ken: Expansion would be awesome if the right record label comes knocking, we will be home! But, as I said, we are what we are. If that is all we will ever be, then so be it. We will continue to make the best music we can, with the best friends we could ever have, and with the most amazing world-wide fans we could ever imagine.

Thank you, gentlemen, for this epic interview! I wish you all the best on your way with Elliott's Keep! And let's hope that this interview will bring a few more pairs of ears to 'Lacrimae Mundi'! Any final words?

Ken: I think this is the best work we have done. I am so damned proud of this album. I sincerely hope you and your readers enjoy listening to it as much as we did creating it. I'm sorry it took four years -- but to quote one of my heroes: "It's been a long way, but we're here." Thanks.

Jonathan: Many thanks, Aleksey, we greatly appreciate this opportunity and your support. And thanks also for all that you do for doom music around the world! Our music and merch can be found easily at Bandcamp and other online outlets. To those who like our music, please give us a shout out through social media. We would truly love to hear from you.

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Visit the Elliott's Keep bandpage.

Interviewed on 2018-02-20 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
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