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As Australia's The Eternal offer up their doomiest album yet under that moniker, Mark Kelson tells Comrade Aleks about their story, and that of the preceding Cryptal Darkness.

Interview with The Eternal.
"Started in 1993 as a pretty brutal and bloody Death Metal band, Cryptal Darkness went through a series of transformations that turned them into one of the first Australian Death/Doom bands with the release of their debut 'Endless Tears…' in 1996. Through the next two albums the band soaked up more and more of those My Dying Bride elements which usually wear the label "gothic" (you know Martin Powell took part in their recordings) and thus the band's main songwriter, guitarist/vocalist Mark Kelson renamed the band to The Eternal in 2003. A Gothic Metal band in the wider sense, The Eternal have made six full-length recordings and their latest work, 'Waiting For The Endless Dawn' is their doomiest thing since Cryptal Darkness. Gothic Doom is something I try to avoid, and everyone has its own opinion about this issue, but I'm grateful to Mark for his swift replies which help to shed light on this topic and the story of Cryptal Darkness/The Eternal in general."

The Eternal: Dave Langlands (bass), Ando McDougall (drums), Mark Kelson (vocals, guitars), Richie Poate (guitars).

Mark, you joined Cryptal Darkness soon after the band was formed, and you took part in recording the demos 'Cryptal Darkness' (1994) and 'Last Cries Of A Dying World' (1995). Both records were pretty straightforward Death Metal with appropriate lyrics. What was your motivation back then? What did you want to create as a band?

The first recording I took part in was 'Last Cries of A Dying World' although I joined not long after 'Chamber of Gore'. Basically I was 18 years old and wanted to be in a band badly but it was hard to find guys, I became friends with the Cryptal Darkness drummer Oneil as he liked my melodic playing and around this time through our local underground metal store 'extreme aggression' we had found My Dying Bride 'As The Flower Withers' Paradise Lost 'Gothic' and Anathema 'Serenades'… this just blew our mind and changed the game for us… So you will hear a big difference of sound on those first two Cryptal recordings. 'Last Cries' is a transition into the melodic sound but still very much based in Geoff's Metal Style… my influence really becomes clear on 'Endless Tears'.

The band's first full-length album 'Endless Tears…' was recorded in 1996, and this time you switched to melancholic Death Doom. What affected your decision? How did you evolve this sound?

This was really led by myself and drummer Oneil. As I mentioned above the discovery of the big 3 from the UK was life changing for us, when most Aussie bands were playing death metal we felt like we had discovered something that was just ours! It had a profound effect on both of us. The grind/death thing was fun, but we wanted to make a more emotive and darker musical statement. Of course I think Oneil was like 17-18, I was like 20, I believe the two youngest members of the band at the time, so I think we still didn't know how to fully execute our vision. So that album has a sort of innocence to it, I guess, we just did our best of our musical abilities at the time to try and make a gothic doom album.

Cryptal Darkness - 'Endless Tears' (1996):

You changed direction a bit more in 1998, towards a kind of Gothic Doom metal when you were working on second album 'They Whispered You Had Risen'. And this album was recorded with two new members, while you also performed vocals. What led you to these changes?

By this time Oneil and myself were fully gothic doom, in every aspect of our lifestyles, I believe Oneil even painted his bedroom black haha! I think 'Turn Loose The Swans' and even 'The Angel and The Dark River' had just consumed us. Obviously at this point we had made contact with Martin Powell of My Dying Bride and asked him to collaborate with us (Which has continued in my career to this day). I sung some vocals on the first album but I think the full doom sound and complexity of some of the riffs was just not what Geoff (previous singer) was interested in, so I really became a singer because someone had to do it. I just did a deep gothic moan type thing as I just couldn't sing, people often think I'm growling, but I'm just kind of moaning with a little melody every now and then haha.

As fans of My Dying Bride and Martin Powell it was such a fun time having him down in Australia making those albums with us, once again such innocent and fun times just wanting to make the music we loved and we just happened to get to work with one of our heroes.

How did you manage to get Martin Powell to Australia? How were the sessions with him organized?

I can't remember how initial contact was made, I think the drummer tracked him down. We flew him to Australia and he basically lived with us for several weeks, we recorded and did a couple of gigs, it was a really fun time, I have been close friends with Martin ever since. I think at the time he was far more professional and experienced than us, so he put up with us being fan boys really, but it was a great time spending some weeks with Martin in the studio and watching the songs come alive, I'm sure I have some video of all this somewhere.

What kind of lyrics did you feel were suitable for Cryptal Darkness' new songs, as a vocalist? Did you consciously want to keep some vibe from the previous album?

I was suffering depression in my 20s, something that has plagued me throughout my life, so it was very natural for me to be drawn to the melancholy…so the gore thing of the band before I joined never interested me… Of course, being twenty and all dressed in black and my metal interests being influenced by gothic elements the lyrical content kind of had this vampire romance thing going on, and just total heart ache and loneliness. So there was no conscious thing, I don't think anything was then, we just wanted to live and breathe gothic style doom, it was kind of a salvation and therapy for us at the time.

Cryptal Darkness: Oneil Alexander (drums), Mark Kelson (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Martin Powell (violin, keyboards), Luke Wong (bass), Chris Burton (guitars).

How often did the band play live in the '90s? Was it an important part of being in the band for you? Did you get offers to play in Europe or the US?

We only played in Australia, the idea of touring overseas at the time was a distant dream! We loved playing live, but really the kind of underground cult following the band has only took place long after the band broke up!

With what kind of bands did you play back then?

We played with mostly Australian bands, Virgin Black, Lycanthia are two that come to mind, we would all travel and play with each other and just party all weekend, a bit of unity in the Australian doom scene in those days I think.

Why did you title the third album 'Chapter II – The Fallen'? Is it lyrically connected with 'They Whispered You Had Risen'?

We actually recorded this album at the same time! It was meant to be an EP but seems to of taken the life of an album… so yes this album is very connected with 'They Whispered' as it was basically the same recording and writing project.

How long did you work on these songs? How do you rate the band's progress on this recording?

Its hard to say, I was writing all the time, and those two albums are 80 percent my material, I guess it was a few years of writing, if I'm not mistaken Endless Tears was 1996 and They Whispered was 1999 (20 year anniversary). There was such an innocence to how the whole thing was approached, its probably quite different than today with bands, we formed before email was common, so it was all underground mail and tape trading and letters in a letter box. The only way we could access the bands we loved was to buy a CD, so there was no goals of success or anything when writing, it was us in our bedroom trying to make the music we lived for. I think They Whispered is the best Cryptal Darkness album, it has a lot of the trademarks that I have taken through my songwriting career, so that album is very important for me still being here I think, it set the pace for epic dark music which I love to this day.

The Eternal, live 2019.

Why did you rename Cryptal Darkness to The Eternal? The band had progressed and developed its sound constantly, so was it really necessary to continue this evolution under new title?

Cryptal Darkness were myself and Oneil at its core but our friendship had become strained, there was a lot of talk but not a lot happening and this frustrated me as I was becoming a prolific songwriter at this point, and after 7 years I needed to take a risk to go out on my own and follow my own vision. I think four songs off our debut album 'The Sombre Light of Isolation' I'd written when I was in Cryptal Darkness. Yes I had started to be able to sing, so that that album is more melodic but still has some Cryptal Darkness vibes… So a fresh start as The Eternal was required for me to keep making music, and I don't regret it. I know some people love and some people hate that I have just followed my musical heart and tried lots of things, I know some people would have loved me to write 'They Whispered You Had Risen' for 20 years but I just couldn't. I always needed to look forward, and it has not always gone well. What blows my mind now, is that since I've been in The Eternal, a lot of those bands that influenced me as a teenager I have been lucky enough to share stages with and become friends. If you'd told 18 year old me I would have played with Anathema, Katatonia, Paradise Lost, Amorphis etc I would not have believed you! Haha

How did people react in general to The Eternal's appearance? I guess that Cryptal Darkness didn't have a huge fanbase in its time, so I wonder if people were really surprised with this change of direction?

I think it wasn't a change for me, just a progression, musically it wasn't that different at first, just some melodic vocals and some refining of the song structures. But Cryptal Darkness was still very underground and I don't think you could find all the stuff on youtube like you can now. For me I was just trying new things as a song writer so everything I have done has been a fairly natural progression, I've always made music for my own therapy and if people enjoy it that's a bonus. Those first years of The Eternal were good, it was the first time my I had started to see some results overseas personally and we had the chance in the first year or two of The Eternal to finally tour Europe. I think there are so many purists out there, I love doom metal, it's in my heart and sits deep inside me, but I like so many other things, if was just creating the same thing someone else already created I wouldn't feel satisfied, I love metal, I love prog, I love so many different things, so I think probably the thing that could be hard for purists is I don't stick to the template of what the style is expected to be I just make dark emotive music that expresses how I feel. So what can be more pure than that, when you are creating to release your own vision and feelings.

The Eternal, in the studio, 2018.

It looks like The Eternal record albums on a regular basis and I bet that you don't suffer from a lack of inspiration. So here's that classic question – do you need to be in low state of mind to write that melancholic kind of music?

That's an interesting question, there has been times when I have had 'writers block' and I do usually need to be in touch with some kind of emotion to write, especially with lyrics, I can work on music in most states these days but lyrics usually come when I feel melancholic... a great example of this was our second last album When The Circle of Light Begins To Fade, I was purging pure emotion lyrically on this album, I find it hard to listen to sometimes as I really let the emotions flow openly on that one, but at the same time it was great therapy and cleansing at that time, but I still think that is the album I have done with the most painful lyrical content.

There are a few live recordings besides the full-length albums in The Eternal discography: why do you pay so much attention to this kind of release?

I am a sound engineer by trade so I like making records, the first live thing we did was just a raw thing we happened to record. The second on Circle of Live is kind of a retrospective as we had released 5 albums and had a reputation as a strong live act I wanted to capture that with the line-up at the time. And also try to put together a live DVD, the whole project was put together by myself, so in many ways this project put me in touch with my back catalogue and sort of paved the way for the sounds on our new album.

Also you do video clips for The Eternal, a rare thing nowadays. Do you feel it is a necessary part of the band's promotion?

I think in the time of youtube and whatever its good to have a visual presence, before my career in sound I was involved in design and visual work, so I enjoy the whole process of audio and visual. I do think the visual part is very important today when you are trying to engage peoples attention in a time when attention spans can be short. We shot a new video a few weeks ago actually, for Rise From Agony, and it should be out in a month or so.

The Eternal - 'Down' (Official, 2004):

Your latest full-length album Waiting For The Endless Dawn was released in August 2018, how would you compare that recording session with the one for The Sombre Light of Isolation? For example, back then you were working with Darren White who recorded vocals for one song, and now there's Mikko Kotamäki amongst guests on this album. Did you record Darren's parts with him at the studio? And vice versa, did you do everything digitally with Mikko?

On the first album Darren was in Australia, he had contacted me through Duncan Patterson who I was friends with. I believe he was coming on a holiday but it timed well with the first ever show of The Eternal and we did several songs from Serenades with him, and he recorded that one song with us. We knew Mikko from being on Firebox records together, so I contacted him and sent him the track and he sent back those signature vocals of his! The recording of our first album and the new album are a vastly different experience, I don't think the production is very good on that first album and the engineer was a bit of a grumpy bastard in retrospect haha. Now I have my own studio and have full control over my vision, of course this can be hard when it comes to finishing a project when you have the resources to keep going at your finger tips but its great to be able to fully be in control of the sounds in my head, Waiting For The Endless Dawn was fully done at my studio here in Melbourne.

Mark, are you satisfied with The Eternal's position nowadays? Do you feel that your band is in demand?

The Eternal is not a big band, I think we are a good band, but still fairly underground, we have a small faithful following and I'm grateful for that, I'm grateful I've been able to make so many albums in my career and anyone actually likes them! Would I like the band to be bigger and be able to tour abroad more, I would be lying if that wasn't something I would love. But at the same token, I've made so many albums, toured with all my favorite bands and seen the world all because of some songs I wrote in my bedroom many years ago. The Eternal has also led me into so many other exciting areas, like Sound Production and Audio Education. Are we are huge demand band? Not really… Are we going to keep making albums and trying to share our music with people.. that is for sure… The current line-up for me is very exciting, I enjoy making music with these guys and we already have 4 songs composed for the next album, so I as hard as it sometimes to keep this show on the road, after so many years its just basically what I do and I will continue to do so…. Who knows maybe someday someone will look back and go 'holy shit this dude made a lot of cool albums' but for now we just keep going and with any luck we should be in Europe later this year to support Waiting For The Endless Dawn. Thanks for your questions mate!

The Eternal - 'Everlasting' (Official, 2006):

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Visit the The Eternal bandpage.

Interviewed on 2019-02-25 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
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