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You know While Heaven Wept, of course, and that they've been quiet since 2014's 'Suspended At Aphelion'. Founder Tom Phillips talks to Comrade Aleks about all of that, and much, much more...

Interview with While Heaven Wept.
"While Heaven Wept celebrate their 30th anniversary this year if we take in account that the band's first incarnation Dream Wÿtch was born in 1989. But you knew that, right? They were Dream Wÿtch, Penance, then Mass Cremation and finally, since 1991, under the current band name. After all the changes in the line-up, after all the switches between Doom Metal and Symphonic Metal, While Heaven Wept are led by founder Tom Phillips (guitars, keyboards and vocals). It wasn't planned that way, but the interview turned out to be as epic as the band's third album 'Vast Oceans Lachrymose', so let's not waste any more time. It's Tom's turn!"

While Heaven Wept. (Photo: Bob Pendleton).

Tom, taking in account the band's early incarnation Dream Wÿtch, we can state that While Heaven Wept was formed in 1989. What was on your mind back then? Did you have an approximate concept for the band?

Dream Wÿtch really just was the first name given to this endeavor; the music has more or less been the same since the beginning - and the catalyst was we (co-founder Chris Galvan and I) were coming from a fairly traditional Metal band that was called Polaris - think more in the vein of Maiden, Priest, Sabbath…with some flourishes of Metal Church and early Metallica - and we were cognizant of and listening to so many other things (from Candlemass to Bathory, Allan Holdsworth to Stravinsky, Kitaro to Celtic Frost, and then Nihilist, Autopsy, Death, etc) that resonated with us…we were compelled to pursue something more diverse. So, you could say at the very beginning, it was strictly musically driven. What a lot of people don't realize is that there are songs from "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" and "Fear Of Infinity" that date back to these earliest days - they just didn't feel like they belonged in the context of prior releases - but that's getting a little ahead of ourselves here!

While Heaven Wept was started as a Doom metal band with a traditional, slightly epic approach. How did you form the sound we witness on the 'Lovesongs of the Forsaken' EP? How did your education help in formulating the principles of the album?

I think it's important to be clear at this stage in life: we never set out to be band of any genre; even on the earliest flyers and promo items it simply said "The Music Of Romantic Melancholy". The three primary influences from day one were Arch-era Fates Warning, "Epicus" and "Nightfall" from Candlemass, and Kitaro circa "In Person"…but first of all, we really came from the Thrash era - so we listened to A LOT of Bathory, Celtic Frost, Holy Terror, Voivod, and Sacrifice especially…and this is still something a lot of folks don't understand: we've never enjoyed what people call Power Metal now; the melodic aspects of WHW come from the AOR and NWOBHM we grew up with in our pre-teen years and things like Holy Terror, "Feel The Fire" from Overkill, "Blood Fire Death", Cirith Ungol and Coroner! At the same time, we were listening to a lot of 70s Prog Rock, Jazz Fusion, and Electronic Music, Romantic as well Contemporary Classical music! Anyway, I'm not entirely digressing here; these are the influences that forged the sound of WHW…and remain as such to this day - the only elements subsequently incorporated later in the 90's were things like Arcturus, Devin Townsend's "Ocean Machine", and in the 2000's MONO. Blend all of the above and THAT is the "WHW Sound"! The caveat of course being the life experiences that changed the premise and landscape of everything…but we'll get back to that.

So indeed, while Chris and I (along with his brother Brendan and early bassist Chad Peevy, drummer Jim Chappell + others that passed through the revolving doors in the early years) were avid listeners of a vast array of rather intense and/or "heady" music - we were studied and studying before we even met; there's always been a need to understand the how and why…the theory, the orchestration, the dialogue between instruments. We were the guys who read the biographies, fanzines, and liner notes who then dug back into the discographies of those who influenced our influences and explored the contemporaries of the artists we adored. Additionally, we took private lessons from grade school through university - and the older we got, the more intensely we studied all things music. We were voracious, and so our academics were never about grades, rather knowledge. What all of this means is we always had extremely high standards as far as the quality of musicians we've worked with…we've always pushed ourselves to perform better, express more clearly, achieve the best productions possible…and this is one of the main reasons we took five years to develop our own identity before doing "Lovesongs". Of course, there were other mitigating factors as well, but this cannot be discounted - and I wish more musicians of today would take the time to learn how to be themselves; just because it's now easy for anyone to record and release something within days of inception - it doesn't mean they should; recorded music is forever after all!

Needless to say, we didn't go into the studio with the intention of recording "Lovesongs", rather to do "Sorrow Of The Angels" - but what I heard in my head and felt in my heart didn't align with the results of those sessions, so we instead decided to piecemeal out some of the tracks - first on various compilations and then with the EP. In instance of the latter, the concept was to offer an overview of what WHW was albeit in a stripped-down capacity; we already knew the songs in our canon were far more orchestrated and elaborate than we had the resources to manage in 1993-94, so "Lovesongs" offered an insight into the scope of the band: one song being more Epic/Progressive, another plaintive and sparse - almost folklike, and the last more atmospheric and crushingly heavy…all united into a single suite via tears of rain…and that is the unifying factor: the melancholy. That came from a very real place, which I'll explain further - but by the time of this EP, the entire premise of the band had changed.

While Heaven Wept - 'Sorrow Of The Angels' (1994):

Did you care about the solid form of your albums in general? I guess it wasn't an easy task to record coherent albums, as your range of influences was wide from the start and you didn't want to restrict yourself genre-wise.

The truth is, I trust the music itself to reveal how it demands to be heard; I know it sounds cosmic or just bizarre - but it's a feeling that I have - just like I know when something is clearly "While Heaven Wept music" or something entirely different; everything we have ever done has unfolded naturally…as if it is writing itself, as if we're just vessels delivering something we're compelled to do. I don't even like to take credit for it because I cannot tell anyone from where it comes; I don't sit down with pen and paper saying "OK, I'm going to write a song" - if I ever attempted that, I imagine it would be utter shit…it always comes from revelation…I'm just channeling this music. Mind you, it's filtered through the kaleidoscope of my life experiences, my emotions - but otherwise, it just "happens"…and it's only in hindsight or via the observations of others that I can see for example some albums are the literal script of a healing process. Regarding the diverse influences…I mean, listen…my personal library consists of 17,000 albums - most of which are classical, Prog, Jazz, and experimental - so in my mind, nearly anything could make sense! All I can say to help make sense of WHW to anyone else is that there's a common thread that runs through all of them - not only because of the fact it's my life story - but because of the aforementioned melancholy. It's like when people were taken aback that we organized a tour with Primordial and Alcest - like how does that work? Three bands coming from very different places, styles, perspectives….but we were all unified by melancholy. Anyway, one thing I can say about all of our albums is that they are meant to be taken as a complete expression - from start to finish…there are no singles…and honestly some things just suck or don't make any sense out of context…but for those who take the journeys…the yield will be understanding and far more than that.

What are your memories about gigs during While Heaven Wept's early years? How often and with what kind of bands did you play?

Like I said, we spent most of our time developing our identity in the rehearsal spaces and for a long time - once the band became more of a vehicle for coping with the tragedies and struggles of life - it seemed to me that it was "too personal" for live performances…better suited for solitary reflection. People that had been around the band from the beginning pushed us to perform though and eventually we relented to some extent - but these were typically private parties at the band's rehearsal space that were fueled by massive quantities of alcohol and drugs. That was the status quo in the suburbs outside of the Washington D.C./Baltimore for a lot of bands really as there were only a handful of venues left at that time, and even less that hosted Metal shows. The few that did tended to focus on touring bands, but eventually some homegrown "festivals" developed and that changed the landscape a bit…however this was about a decade into our existence. The first proper shows revolved around the lead up to Stoner Hands Of Doom 1 - which I was pretty involved with promoting for Rob Levey via my Metal section at Tower Records…so it was common to have billings with Penance, Revelation, Internal Void, and then the next wave of bands to surface like Pale Divine - and later Orodruin, The Gates Of Slumber, etc

Dutch Doom Days 2018. (Photo: Vitus Frank).

You took three years to develop this sound to the one we hear on the album 'Sorrow Of The Angels'. Did you consciously search for a more effective way to channel your ideas/emotions? Was it an option just to find a formula which works better and follow it further without any changes?

Despite beginning with a musical premise, within in a year of the band's inception everything changed in my life; I had no relationship with my family to begin with but then my best friend moved away, my dog had to be put down, and worst of all, I experienced my first heartbreak all in quick succession - it felt like the sky was falling and I didn't have anyone other than a couple friends that pulled me back from the brink; I was absolutely miserable, lost, giving in to drugs/alcohol, and planning my exit from this world when all is said and done. I'd searched for answers to all the questions and emotions I had through various religions, philosophies, aforementioned substance abuse, reckless behaviors…eventually, I realized that the most important answer was in front of me the entire time: music. It was the one thing that wouldn't abandon or betray me…in the music of others I found that at least someone, somewhere, sometime understood the things I was feeling…and that through my own music I could accurately express these emotions that there were no adequate words to describe. The premise of the band from that point forward was to say everything I didn't know how to or couldn't otherwise say and ultimately serve as my epitaph; I didn't intend to be alive to see age 21 honestly. So you see, the only material that ever surfaced of WHW - including "Lovesongs" was after these changes in my life; we shelved about an album's worth of songs that didn't "feel" right - and a couple later resurfaced when they did (like "Vessel" for example). So the evolution that you hear going from "Lovesongs" to "Sorrow Of The Angels" is firstly the coming to fruition of the more elaborate orchestrations that always existed, along with improved skills and experience gained from the previous studio sessions…but otherwise, on the EP it's the expression of my feelings in the immediate aftermath of said heartbreak versus "Sorrow" which was how far I'd subsequently sunken…where I was then…what I felt looking back in retrospect and I also happened to be in the throes of another relationship (this is 7-8 years later mind you) that left me feeling worse than I'd ever known. So yeah, essentially from the moment the moniker While Heaven Wept was insurrected, it was no longer about musical ambitions, rather emotional expression solely. I was grieving and going through the stages of bereavement…that's all WHW has ever been to me…the vehicle for coping with the losses and tragedies I've known in this life.

'Of Empires Forlorn' leaves the impression of a conceptual album, is this suggestion correct? The lyrics sound personal yet rather clad in some abstract forms, so how would you sum up While Heaven Wept's general message?

All of our albums are thematic and meant to be heard in their entirety - as they are after all, actual journeys - but none are truly conceptual; the closest thing to a conceptual album is "Suspended At Aphelion" but that's really one song in 11 parts. The story of "Empires"…what makes it different from everything that came out prior to it is that it's the "next entry" of this aural diary; everything from "Chapter One" (i.e. 1989-1999) is the aftermath of that specific relationship whereas "Empires" details everything that happened in the years that followed (aside from the the re-recordings of a couple older songs obviously): further betrayals, heartbreak, the mire of addiction, a deepened depression. The entire discography of WHW is literally my autobiography - these songs have been lived - the emotions are 100% sincere…the people referred to are real, the events transpired. THAT is what has always set us apart from any other band of similar ilk or otherwise…as it's MY life story through the music. So there's really no message other than the "A-B" conversations I'm sending out to specific people through the songs. Of course, I've employed a lot of metaphors - like the imagery of fallen angels and desolate landscapes - but that's just how the words came out…neither the music nor the lyrics since 1990 have ever been forced into being…they're just "channeled". Felt. But, if there were any message to extract from WHW - it's for those who find themselves in despair and struggle: if you're hearing my songs, my story - that means I survived long enough to express them…so there's still some kind of hope within the hopelessness I suppose. Perhaps the real message is to never surrender - most of the time I find I'm glad I didn't give up on this life as I would've missed so many amazing things that have happened…despite the fact that some sorrows never do end, some wounds never heal…there is a balance somehow that makes it worth choosing to live another day. If that resonates with even one person out there, then all of my suffering is worth it.

Madrid Is The Dark VI, 2018. (Photo: Mahai llie).

There are a lot of keyboard parts on this album, you even have two guest keyboard players. Was that necessary? Did Jake and Michelle perform some parts which you couldn't do yourself?

They were actual band members…officially, "the" keyboard players (Jake replaced Michelle after a falling out during my time with the band Brave, then she returned in time for the Rage Of Achilles pressing of the album with the bonus track)…but, in some cases, it's just easier to do things myself since I can hear everything in my head - I mean…when I'm channeling this music - it's all of the instruments. I can't really explain how it happens…I just "hear" it and I'm compelled to realize it…to make it reality. On the musical side of things, being a fan of Kitaro, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze - as well as traditional orchestral music too - there's no such thing as "too many" keyboards…and I've used guitar synthesizers etc for decades as well. I know keys are usually anathema in Metal, but I have never cared about those prejudices…and besides, when you're implementing complex harmony (i.e. beyond triads) and every note actually matters, something needs to convey it clearly and heavily distorted guitars tuned to C or B aren't going to manage that!

Considering all the changes While Heaven Wept went through...how did other band members react to this constant metamorphosis? Were there people who would prefer to focus and move in one direction?

Well, I cannot really speak for anyone else's opinions or ambitions - I can say that generally speaking they've all always entrusted the course to me, and I entrusted it to fate! What happened a lot in the early years was various people found their calling elsewhere…for example, Chris Galvan pursued Jazz studies and has continued down that path ever since. Along the way, the other members have always had other projects that were their own…I think these are what allowed them to express themselves the way WHW has done for me, and likewise to just "go with the flow" here.

I assure you, I have never wanted the burdens that come with all of this solely - we do make decisions democratically most of the time, but I do have the final say in the end simply because I know what I hear in my head and feel in my heart and soul…and the others deferred to me for whatever reason. Over the years, I've encouraged people to bring their own music to this table, and like I said, those other projects surely got the bulk of what they had to give - but what we've found is, that regardless of style or form - it only clearly sounds like WHW when it comes through me. Sometimes, what has happened also is that people still think of WHW circa 1998 or 2009 - but we've evolved as listeners, musicians, people - so rarely is there an urge to revisit some time that has already past. One exception was Scott bringing the bulk of "Saturn And Sacrifice" into the fold - that was clearly something recalling an era long past - but it felt like it belonged in the "Fear Of Infinity" journey…but generally, there's no desire whatsoever to do anything we've already done.

The truth is, WHW is still confined by some parameters despite being open to evolution and progression; I mean we're not going to drop a Jazz Fusion album or incorporate hip-hop elements EVER…the inherent traits will always be intact: melody, heaviness (musical or emotional or both), sincerity, heart and soul…there's plenty of ground to cover simply allowing the already vast array of influences to manifest in different ratios. There is music that comes through me that goes beyond this…and right now, I'm very much wanting to eliminate all boundaries…but as a fan, I wouldn't do that to our audience…there is a threshold where it's best to release something completely alien under a different name or as a solo project. And that's a very likely scenario. The bottom line is I will only ever perform music that I truly feel and the instant it feels forced, it's time to walk away…whether for a sabbatical or forever.

Rock Of Ages Music, 2018. (Photo: Bruce Phillips).

It's not an absolutely correct comparison, but some While Heaven Wept albums are tagged as "Power Doom Metal". Partly I could agree with that, though of course it sounds different than, for example, Memento Mori, which is the best example of that sub-genre. Do you remember how you arrived at lighter and faster forms?

As intimated earlier, I loathe the notion of WHW having anything to do with Power Metal - I don't listen to it, none of us are fans of it (well…maybe Rain is haha!), it's just not part of our DNA; again it's the AOR, NWOBHM, and Melodic Thrash that IS engrained that people are hearing! I mean - back in the 80's we called bands like Fates Warning and Queensrÿche "Progressive Metal" and things like Metal Church or Helloween were "Power Metal" - if people are talking about that, then ok…I can stomach that…and I do get it - all the latter-day happy Euro Metal since Hammerfall also comes from similar origins…but seriously, if anyone actually put a WHW album on side-by-side to A/B with modern Power Metal - it sounds nothing like us. I think the fact that Rain is closer in style vocally to some of those bands, that's really where it comes from. I suppose the "lighter" aspects might hint towards that…but it's really not where that comes from in WHW either; this is actually the result of my Classical Music education - not on account of putting pen to paper, rather the understanding that when things are all dark - like on "Sorrow Of The Angels", there's no frame of reference; you cannot know Hell without knowing Heaven, Dark without Light…the contrast is what defines anything we experience. Regarding the tempos too - that's just how things came out…remember, some songs date back to the earliest days of the band and that was the height of the Thrash era…so some of it comes from that…but also, consider along the way I've also been a member of Black and Death Metal bands and as we wind our way to the present, what's been happening is I've become more comfortable fusing all the outlets I've expressed myself through into one. The reason it works and sounds natural is because it really is; all of the elements that make WHW what it is come from both broad listening tastes and actual musical experiences. You have to remember that for all intents and purposes, WHW has been something of an underground "supergroup" for years considering the members have been involved with Solstice (UK), Brave, Parasitic Infestation, October 31, Altura, Revelation, Walpyrgus, Grey Division Blue (pre-Dysrhythmia), Twisted Tower Dire, among many others AND even our friends who've made guest appearances are from Fates Warning etc! It just comes down to the fact I used to try to keep disparate influences and expressions separate - or rather the music just told me what was clearly WHW and what wasn't…I could feel it…and that is still how it happens…but I guess I'm just more comfortable being all of the Tom Phillips' there are now.

While Heaven Wept - 'Vast Oceans Lachrymose' (Official Live, 2010):

It looks like the Old World take to more traditional forms of Metal more eagerly than the US. How many times did While Heaven Wept play in Europe? What are your most remarkable experiences of playing overseas?

Apart from the self-financed "Lovesongs" we didn't even release anything in the United States until "Fear Of Infinity"! We've never really been particularly bothered about doing much of anything in the USA; it's never been our market and I doubt it ever will be. I'm not sure if we've even performed more than 20 times over here…while in contrast we've been back and forth to the EU quite a bit…lots of festivals as well as tours with Primordial/Alcest and Mourning Beloveth/Thee Plague Of Gentlemen…it's somewhat hard to keep track of honestly. It's been 30 years! However, the most amazing experiences have been the most recent shows, where the audiences sang their hearts out and wept openly with emotion - I cannot even describe the feeling of connection, of synergy. In the end, it's all about our brothers and sisters…that's who they are…we don't have fans…we have family. Beyond that, it's been an honor to share the stage with our brothers from Officium Triste to Primordial, the next generation like Procession or The Doomsday Cult, and heroes like Arcturus and Triptykon…truly impossible to describe what an honor it's been.

What was While Heaven Wept's most difficult tour regarding organization? Did you ever use the help of session musicians in Europe?

The real challenge has always been dealing with the size of the band - the number of musicians involved…and we've never actually toured with the full cast of characters, mostly for financial reasons. No matter how large or small events or tours are, there are practical considerations - to fly even six people across the ocean roundtrip - with instruments - is exorbitant to say the least…it's something that I've always been cognizant of. It is for this reason, among others, that with only a couple exceptions, we have NEVER charged a performance fee; this may not be a common or wise business practice, but this music is so personal - it feels strange to reduce any aspect to something as impersonal as "business"…so, it's always been approached as follows: if someone wants us to perform, all we ask is for travel costs, accommodation, and sustenance. Seems reasonable right? But just that in and of itself isn't cheap…so I consider this whenever anyone approaches us…this is the reason we'll play large festivals as quickly and equally as a small, private show. And yes, of course, we've attempted to offset some costs further by involving people who are "local" to where we are performing (as well as to make things exciting for the musicians involved)…there's even been talk of having a dedicate EU version of the band at various points, so only a couple of us have to travel from the States…we just haven't found people who were ready to commit longterm to that. In the past though, we tried to form a version of the band "on the fly" back in 2004 with Angelo from Cold Mourning (now Slough Feg) and Fred from Whispering Gallery and as recently as last year we had an amazing guest keyboard player named Diamantis Kalafatiadis with us at least in Athens (though depending upon the course of the future, I have no doubt we will make some music together)…so it happens!

You took part in a few Doom Metal focused festivals. Do you play a special set in such cases? And how often does the band appear at such events nowadays?

I think that we've done just about all of the "major" Doom Metal festivals - at least the ones that have been around for awhile anyway - now it seems every time we turn around there's another homegrown event brewing somewhere…but Doom Shall Rise, Dutch Doom Days, Belgian Doom Night, Hammer Of Doom…yes, we did all of those…and over here - where the events are significantly smaller as well. In most cases, we were involved with some of the earliest editions of these events and in some others, we've returned multiple times - in the case of Hammer Of Doom for example, we've performed more than any other band there - headlining or co-headlining 4 out of 5 times…which is of course, insane to me…and I'm grateful…but never comfortable with that; I just think about all the bands that we worshipped and I don't know…I've never thought of us being on that same level…but I'll concur that we've been around for 30 years anyway…still…I am much more content opening for Primordial, Arcturus, Triptykon - you know - true legends and headliners.

Forming a setlist for any endeavor is a bit challenging because we do want to represent as many eras as possible - we are well aware there are people who ONLY care about the albums where I was singing or only "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" or only the first EP…we do strive to insure that the concerts are journeys just like our albums…and we try to make each one special in that there are elements of improvisation peppered throughout; I come from the perspective that each show should be something only shared between the people who are present and never again - that as impressive as it is to see bands play things note for note, it's more exciting to see musicians going for it…sometimes the failures are epic, other times magic happens in a capacity that alters lives. Also, after Doom Shall Rise II, I decided that I don't ever want to do a one-dimensional set ever…it's very fatiguing to sit through 10 hours of bands playing the same basic thing - even if you love them…so I feel like a "palate cleansing" is necessary - if only for a few moments…thus, if anything, we go out of our way to avoid maintaining the status quo. I've got to say that I was really impressed by a festival like Madrid Is The Dark - that covered a wide spectrum of Dark Metal bands…that was fucking brilliant…a perfect union of Doom, Black, Death/Doom, Gothic, Experimental, etc…but on the same token, the guys at the Baroeg did an amazing job keeping it diverse at the last edition of Dutch Doom Days - it wasn't at all as fatiguing as some of the festivals back in the early days!

While Heaven Wept - 'Soulsadness' (Official Live, 2010):

How do you value the role of Doom elements in your following albums? How do you see the necessary components of the Doom Metal sound? What is it besides down-tuned tritone riffs?

It's just part of the equation; we evolved into some semblance of a TRUE Doom Metal band around the time of the first album - but even then there was a song that was 15 minutes long with a bridge that had 32 time signature changes over a three minutes span…and had we released the other songs that were recorded during the "Lovesongs" and "Sorrow" sessions, it would've been more clear what WHW actually has always been: without genre. So, that's the thing, we've never been a purely Doom Metal band, but it's absolutely part of our DNA and surely always will be considering we have the same influences as we did in the beginning. In the end, it all depends upon what "the muse" channels through me and us! As for what is vital to being truly Doom Metal? In short, if you don't sound exactly like Sabbath/Vitus/early Trouble or Candlemass, you're not TRUE Doom Metal…not pure Doom Metal…rather, some kind of a hybrid…that is the be all, end all absolute bottom line. This is not a slight to anyone to for - example the "Peaceville 3" (although, it really should be the "Peaceville 4" as Autopsy are the greatest Death/Doom band of alltime!) - there's no doubt they all listened to the same things we did - I know that for a fact because I've spent time with some of them personally…but there's no denying there were also other influences at play and that there were Death Metal aspects…so to suggest it's "Slow Death Metal" is accurate. Likewise, sure Fu Manchu listened to Sabbath too but there's an uplifting quality to their music too…that feels California vs Birmingham. Further, WHW ourselves - if we ever did a pure Doom Metal album, the closest we've come is "Sorrow"…by "Empires" it was more like a modern Symphonic Rock album than anything else…closer to Eloy or Jane than Candlemass…I wouldn't say anything else we've done could be considered anything other than a hybrid…just like the examples I've cited here. Related? Sure…but pure? No way. Likewise, just because something is slow - that doesn't automatically equate to Doom; Drone and the like - that existed long before Southern Lord ever did…dating back to scientific experiments in the 1950's…I have the actual recordings! So yeah, there needs to be slow, crushingly heavy riffs, dark atmospheres, and I think clean vocals are necessary for diverse yet clear expression. I also want to make it clear that while I have always wanted to make the distinctions between bands, it's mostly because as a listener - I want to know what I'm getting and that's why I think it's important. Personally, as I said decades ago, I feel closer musically to some of the Death/Doom bands than I do with the stuff that sounds like "Hard Biker Rock" that's for sure!

Tom, how did you spend six years between 'Of Empires Forlorn' and 'Vast Oceans Lachrymose'? What slowed down your writing pace?

Actually, we started recording "VOL" shortly after the "Empires" tour as all of the material existed - the delay was caused by a few different factors: more lineup changes with Trevor coming in on drums and later Rain on lead vocals, no less than two labels we signed to went under (Rage Of Achilles and then Black Lotus), the negotiations with Cruz Del Sur Music, and lastly - given my propensity for perfectionism…to accurately realize what I hear in my head…there was a substantial amount of time spent purchasing and testing all the musical equipment we ever dreamed of - from the cutting edge to rare, vintage items - so as to avoid the urge to want re-record anything; we just wanted to get everything right the first time. Half of "VOL" existed before even the "Sorrow Of The Angels" material and the rest came into being before the "Empires" tour even happened - hence the Eibon Records bonus track "From Empires To Oceans"!

(Photo: Kallinikos Lepi).

You collaborated with a few labels during the band's career, what is your most comfortable experience in this sphere? Did you ever have a label who could care about all aspects of album promotion?

At various points in time, we've been affiliated with anti-labels who were sub-underground by design (which I fully embrace honestly) all the way through to Nuclear Blast who are as big as it gets - no one has more power or reach than they do, nor will anyone in the Metal world ever; the next closest labels aren't even in the same universe quite frankly…but that's not really where we belong, and I'm happy to say that we are back to being DIY like we were for the first 21 years of the band; it was incredible to have an entire team just focused on artwork or promotion or business…but I just never was able to reconcile having anyone else making decisions without us having the final say - mind you, on a business level, of course Nuclear Blast were absolutely right - just not right for us. So, look…we've been the top-selling band on labels and given carte blanche accordingly and we've been a very small fish in a very big sea…in the end, I simply prefer to sink or swim on our own terms. I was happiest when we simply licensed our material out for other labels - who actually care about the music and the people who channeled it - and that's basically where we are again today. This is no slight upon any of our partners past or present…we have nothing but good things to say about all of them despite what I just said previously…Nuclear Blast for example did exactly what they said they would do, and I appreciate that…it's just that I'm not at all a fan of the stress or pressure that comes with a scenario like that, and I won't endure it again. But if the right opportunity presented itself, then we'd certainly entertain it as we do with all offers. The thing is, from very early on I took several pages from the book of King Crimson…and if I were to offer unsolicited advice to ANY band it would be to do the same: retain your publishing, copyrights, trademarks at ANY cost - even if that means passing on a huge deal…it's not worth the trade-off in the end. This is an aside mind you; I'm not suggesting we were forced to give anything up - we weren't and we didn't - but some labels over the years with great interest - the caveat being they wanted it all, and honestly, fuck that.

'Fear Of Infinity' seems to be the most balanced album in combining ideal proportions of Doom and other Metal components. How much does this material differ from your original intentions?

Here's the interesting thing about "Fear Of Infinity" - there was really only one new song on the album - which was "Finality" - and I originally wanted to release that as a single…literally as the last WHW song in fact, hence the title (but afterwards another two albums of material kept flowing out - one of which being "Suspended At Aphelion" obviously)…and for me that song encapsulated everything that WHW had ever been in one statement. Anyway, the rest of the album consisted of songs that were actually part of the "VOL" album but set aside when "The Furthest Shore" turned into a 17 minute epic (thus, demanding itself that album's centerpiece)! A couple of the songs were originally recorded during the 3rd "Sorrow Of The Angels" sessions back in 1997-98 but remained unreleased (though a rough mix of the original version of "Unplenitude" was included on "The Arcane Unearthed" rarities compilation). So as far as it being anything different, it's really just more of the same honestly - that's what a lot of people don't "get" - we've been catching up on a huge backlog of material spanning three decades and hadn't caught up until "Suspended At Aphelion"! I think there's been a misconception because only people close to the band realized the breadth and scope of WHW and everyone else just assumed we were Solstice with keyboards or something! Even when I was with Solstice I was channeling all this more complicated material - and that was back in 1996-97! That said, "Fear Of Infinity" was rushed and pressured in a way that we hadn't felt since the 3rd attempt at recording "Sorrow Of The Angels" when we were running out of resources…so it's not my favorite of our albums, but when taken as intended: a journey…then it yields better results. Really, it's the completion of yet another cycle of bereavement that began with "VOL" and the feeling of catharsis after hearing "Finality" mastered for the first time was…overwhelming. Thus, speaking of that song specifically, it remains the most concise summation of WHW to date…and the sorrow is actually woven into the notes of the chords…I only ever felt that with "La Mort D'Amour" otherwise…it's something celestial to me.

While Heaven Wept - 'Drowning Years' (Official Live, 2010):

'Suspended At Aphelion' went further from a Doom sound. How did people react to this release? How often do you get feedback from the band's fans? Do you need it actually?

Here's the thing - WHW has almost always been universally championed by critics in the media - I can only assume because it's always refreshing to hear something that doesn't sound like anything else at a given time…in terms of content and production…and "Suspended At Aphelion" was no exception. Of course, there's always a handful of folks who totally pan what we do, but I'm ok with that - what I wasn't ok with was people talking about inspiration or lack thereof…no one else can know what was felt…in this case it was actually more intense than anything I've ever experienced…and it was the one time the entire band was on the same page in the entire history of the band! I mean, look…if "Finality" was the summation of all that WHW had been to that point, "SAA" was the culmination of everything we've ever strived to do - and it's the single most "complete" song in our discography. Obviously, we hope that the music resonates with other people and that they feel like they got what they hoped for - but in the end, it's about personal needs…trying to navigate a loss in this particular case…and hopefully healing through the process…so neither accolades nor admonishments matter in the end. This music is my therapy, it's what helps to prevent me from caving in or sinking to the depths…what helps me to lead a relatively normal life from day to day versus living in absolute misery. When people reach out to tell me how it's made a difference in their lives though - that's an entirely different thing - if even one person feels more understood or less alone in this world hearing what I've shared…there is no greater meaning.

What's your most complex album from your point of view? Can you name one which makes you proud because of its complexity?

Unquestionably "Suspended At Aphelion" - it's the pinnacle of everything we've ever done to date; I know many people have other albums that they rank higher or have a deeper connection to…but again, this is the one time everyone involved was in 100% agreement…we put everything we had into that record…and in the end, it cost me everything; what it required of me…I sacrificed it all for that album…I had everything anyone could ever dream of going into it and in the aftermath of tearing myself apart to get it all out…all the soul searching and brooding…being lost in my head and heart…in the end, there was only desolation…but I was damned if I did it and damned if I didn't. I know this sounds cryptic and even some people that used to be in my life would suggest that it wasn't the reason they're gone…but I only know how to do these albums one way: giving all of me to them…they're all-consuming…and more than once I've collapsed from fatigue exhausted…emotionally, spiritually, physically. Like they said in Endgame…whatever it takes…

The point is, the amount of effort exerted to realize this album was like no other…the conversations between instruments is at such an intense level…there are so many layers…it's infinitely more complex than say the bridge of "Thus With A Kiss I Die" or the maze that is "The Furthest Shore". Musically, it's far more akin to contemporary classical than anything Rock or Metal…and I've often pondered stripping the Rock instrumentation away to clarify this…if only for myself…but on the other hand, the first part of the eleven surely sums it all up…as that level of counterpoint and harmony is throughout. Further, the lyrics have so many different meanings, dualities… not that albums prior were so different… but this one is deeper than all of the others. These are just some of the reasons it resonates to this day with me more than any of the rest - even if they're all my "children". I'm well aware that it's more "Misplaced Childhood" than "Tales Of Creation" and I'm ok with that…it comes down to this: could it be heavier? Sure…but not with the elements involved at the time of it's realization; Rain's vocals were never going to be as intense as mine or Scott Reagers for that matter…or Alan's (of Primordial)…that would've changed the landscape for sure…but just the same, we had two albums of new material after "Fear Of Infinity"…the "beautiful" one ("SAA") and the Metal one…the latter would've made a lot more sense for Nuclear Blast…but we've never taken the easy road…we went with our hearts and I wouldn't change a thing about that…it's the statement we needed to make - and we knew people would either largely get it or totally not…we were fine with either response…we did what we had to do and I'd choose the same path again if given the chance.

Temple Athens, 2018. (Photo: Athanasios Seferos).

What are your plans considering a new album? Will you keep moving in the same direction as with 'Suspended At Aphelion' or will you push the limits further?

Well, as I mentioned before, there's an entire album we skipped over between "Finality" and "SAA" as well as another album's worth of archival material from ancient times - but what I relate to the most is the material that I started channeling after "SAA" - and I was just as astounded by what was manifesting. On the surface, the most recent songs might not appear particularly blatant in their progressive qualities - but harmonically - there are things happening that are far from the norm in Metal and Rock in general…so there's definitely that aspect. I will say that it's absolutely heartfelt - and that's the most important thing for WHW…sincerity…I won't ever even entertain the concept of doing anything because it's what's expected or what someone else wants…it has to come from the heart and soul naturally…overflowing with real emotion. That's what While Heaven Wept is and it will never been anything other than absolute sincerity.

Tom, thank you for this enlightening interview! I hope we've clarified a few more things about While Heaven Wept. So let's sum up - what can your listeners may expect from the band in forthcoming future?

Thank you for the opportunity! As for what the future holds…honestly, it's largely unclear; I quit the music business in 2017 abruptly because the price of "SAA" ended up being too great - I had to re-evaluate everything I've ever believed…and because I do follow my heart I don't think there could've been any other outcome…I just wish I could've prevented some of the casualties along the way…I have my regrets…the feeling of loss and guilt that is more profound than anything I've ever known, due in no small part to being completely sober for more than half of a decade now…everything is more acute, more intense…but also clear…choices have consequences…and I can truly say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

But alas, along with this soul searching in the wake of "SAA", I came to realize that I hadn't considered the people that WHW matters to…and between that and the persistence of promoters and colleagues, I was drawn back in and agreed to do a handful of final shows in 2018. Subsequently, I realized that I still have more to express…but also that it didn't necessarily involve WHW…nor was that out of the question. What was clear however was that the same conflicts that had developed in latter years with other people's priorities and responsibilities that prevented them from doing WHW or resulted in having to pass on opportunities…as well as the personal rifts that opened as people had taken vastly different paths in life - to the point that it felt like we were now strangers at times…it lead to the conclusion that the incarnation of the band most people know was over for certain…but whether or not that means WHW itself is too - well - I've said before, as long as I breathe, WHW exists…but I also came to realize that I don't need it and that I definitely don't need to be part of the industry whatsoever; I can sit at home channeling and recording music for myself as needed…when I need the catharsis…and that serves the same purpose…it's the real therapy…it doesn't need to be shared with the world.

Then I think about the people who have shared very personal stories from their lives with me…how this music HAS made a difference…I do think about them…and I do care…despite being something of a recluse…despite my silence…and despite doing what I have to do for me first. I also consider the virtues I've carried all my life…for example: always finish what you start - and I know there's at least a couple albums worth of material that exists that quite a few of us - and I mean ourselves included - would like to hear on our own stereos…that answers the remaining questions, that fill the gaps…it's probably inevitable that these things will be tracked…but as far as whether or not they're widely available is another story…and it's clear that whomever is involved at the time…it's not likely to involve the last known line-up of the band…for all intents and purposes, those shows in 2018 were in fact the final appearances of the "VOL" band…basically, it's all speculation at this point…I really don't have an answer…apart from perhaps that I'm still breathing and I won't be at peace entirely until all is in fact said and done. And I so desire that peace. If and when the time comes, we will absolutely make sure the people who care will know something is happening…and in the meanwhile, all of the other former members have their own musical projects that are worth exploring…plus…there are plenty of newer bands that are carrying the torch already for those craving some territory we've already passed through. So for now, I'll just say: thank you to everyone who has supported While Heaven Wept in any capacity over the past three decades…and that it's probable that the rest of the story will be told…when fate deems it is time.

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Interviewed on 2019-06-30 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
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