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Stijn van Cauter returns with a perfect package of cosmically-influenced Ambient Funeral Doom.
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Several months in the making, this long and involved ten-year anniversary interview with Of Spire & Throne co-founder Ali Lauder should tell you all you need to know about the band...

Interview with Of Spire & Throne.
"Edinburgh-based band Of Spire & Throne celebrate their tenth anniversary this year, heralded by the December 2018 release of sophomore full-length 'Penance', their most expansive, yet raw and suffocating, work to date. Broadly falling under the Sludge/Doom banner, they've significantly pushed the boundaries of that over the years, making them one of the more intriguing and challenging of contemporary underground UK bands - frequent, if not always accurate, comparisons with Esoteric serve to underline their hard-to-define experimentalism. Having already had plenty of contact with co-founder Ali Lauder (guitars/vocals) over their contribution to our MDB tribute album, it seemed very natural to pick that up again, and, in the end, we conducted the whole interview as an in-depth e-mail conversation stretching over several months. Well, it is Doom: always better to be deep and thorough than rash and hurried! My thanks go to Ali: I appreciate there's a lot more work involved than in running a simple written "questions up front, answer at your leisure" format, but it was a real pleasure to make it a proper discussion - the miracle of the internet, even though he's currently half the world away, in Canada, it wasn't so very different from chatting to an old mate in a nearby pub. So, here we go, and if OS&T aren't currently on your radar, perhaps this willl explain why they should be..."


Of Spire & Throne: Ali Lauder, Joe Turner and Graham Stewart.


Hello Ali, and thanks for participating in this interview. Could we just start by introducing yourselves?

Hi and thanks for interviewing us! We are Ali Lauder, guitar and vocals, Graham Stewart, drums and synths, and Joe Turner, bass, effects, and synths.

How did the band name come about? Is it a reference to your native city of Edinburgh?

I came up with the band name in 2007 or 2008. I'd settled on the idea of using the word "spire" after reading a story in 2000AD (an old Vector 13 story about a Satanist building an inverted spire underground) as I liked the idea of it as a structure to channel prayer. I thought this fit with the idea of music as a vessel or conduit. I wanted to use the word "throne" as I was reading G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday and there's several references to thrones in various contexts. I liked the imagery of a personal throne as a goal, or a position which the individual seeks to find peace or control. I had the loose idea of a search or dream At first I was going with The Spire & The Throne, but our drummer at the time misheard it as Of Spire & Throne, so I guess she named the band! This slight change suggested church vs state, and I like that metaphor for conflict and how it can be applied to heart vs head, etc. A lot of thought went into it and I still stand by it, but with time I've come to realise the importance of acknowledging that it's just a cool, impactful name and you don't need to go any deeper. Also it's worth acknowledging that a band's music becomes synonymous with their name and eventually other meanings become secondary to the immediate association.


Live in Glasgow, 2018: Ali. (Photo: oculus sinistra.


You were in Death Metal band Acatalepsy at the time Of Spire & Throne was founded, is that right? What was your vision for the new band, and how did it come together?

I actually joined Acatalepsy in 2009 or 2010. Before that the band was an ongoing project of my friend Guillaume. He had been playing with our mutual friend Hamish for a couple of years and things came together after I joined. Later, another friend Derek joined and we managed an EP and a couple of tours before we disbanded. I hope we'll return to it some day as we still have songs that were written but never recorded. I'm still good friends with those guys and I'm in a new death metal band with Hamish and Derek called Ageless Summoning, while I have continued to work with Guillaume on various projects. He's actually been involved with a lot of OS&T stuff. He once filled in on guitar for us live, recorded part of our Toll of the Wound EP, contributed guitar parts to Sanctum in the Light, and helped us with shaping Penance.

The origins of OS&T go back to being a teenager and discovering music and playing guitar with my oldest friend Steve. We were about 15 or 16 and we started messing around and writing songs We did that for a while getting started, then when we got to university Steve's friend had asked him to create a soundtrack to an animation project. We ended up doing an entire album of ambient soundtrack music under the name God IS. This was a formative experience for us and the way we explored that music has been a big part of OS&T from the beginning as we've included atmospheric and experimental sounds. As we were working on God IS we were also working on the band that would lead to OS&T. We played a mix of rudimentary thrash, death metal, grindcore, doom, and whatever else we came up with We would play these styles separately and the approach to each was consciously quite unorthodox. That didn't necessarily mean that what we were doing was good, but we had a lot of ideas and we kept at it, experimenting and growing.

Long story short, we can cut to when Steve and I found our first semi-stable line-up and we started to put together the first two songs which ended up on our demo By that point I had a clear vision of the band playing slow and weighty heavy music in a relatively unique way, avoiding excessive repetition or overly simplistic or familiar songwriting. I wanted lots of sections and different parts but all tied together within the same narrative. I wrote with set themes and ideas for the music, lyrics, and sound for a particular release. I tend to focus on riffs of a particular style or set structures, while I've consciously used recurring techniques and motifs when writing.

I still want the band to have the same approach and I want the music to be a continuation of what we've done, but I think that I've moved on a bit from my early approach and I find myself more often just letting go and embracing where the music takes us.

Thanks for the clarification – it's often difficult to figure out an exact chronology from what's available online! So OS&T were effectively your first band, then? And since the self-titled demo came out in advance of Acatalepsy's only recording, I guess it must mark some significant milestone in your recording career. How satisfied were you with it, when it came to expressing these intentions for OS&T? What would you say were the key points you learned from the process of making it?

Yes OS&T is the first proper band I've done, having played my first ever gig in 2009 and recording and releasing our demo which was my first release as part of any band. My first time in a studio was when Steve and I had gone with the band we had before OS&T and we tried to record a 4 song demo. We were woefully under-prepared and almost failed to produce anything. The engineer made sure we went away with one finished song though, and that experience taught us a lot about what we needed to do to get ready We went back to the same place to do the OS&T demo and had the whole thing recorded, mixed and mastered in 2 days. I remember listening to it in Steve's car on the way home and thinking how heavy and atmospheric it was. It was the first time I'd really heard what we do and I was surprised at how brutal it sounded. For such inexperienced guys (Steve and me anyway) I was really happy with it and felt it really captured what I wanted to do. A review we got later said something like we had a perfect balance between riff and non-riff with a merging of doom, sludge, and drone. I was delighted with that because that was exactly the intention. It was of course just a demo, and there's plenty of faults and weaknesses, but I'm still really happy with it I felt like we had our own style from the beginning.

As far as what we learned - just about everything! I didn't know about the creative ways in which you can use the studio, record and build songs using different tracks, panning, EQ and effects; overdubs, recording live or layer by layer, nor did I understand much about mixing and mastering The guitars on the demo are pretty much single tracks, apart from Steve's leads, and single takes. One major thing I learned at that time was that recording vocals is a very different experience. It depends on so may factors Sometimes you nail everything with ease, others you're not feeling right and you have to spend hours trying to record something decent! Every time we've gone to record we've learned a lot and it's informed our next steps for the next release. Our approach to The Trial of Failure was a direct result of what we learned from creating our demo.


Live in Glasgow, 2018: Graham. (Photo: oculus sinistra.


It looks like Graham, who handles drums and synths, has been with you since the beginning – how did he fit into OS&T, and how much of a contribution does he make to what you do as a band?

If you ask me, Of Spire & Throne officially began the day we first met and played with Graham. I remember our first rehearsal vividly. We'd been playing for months and months with a lineup that wasn't really getting anywhere. We parted ways with the drummer we had at that time, and Nick, our first bass player, told us about a friend he knew, Graham, who played drums. The first practice this guy turns up on a bicycle, wearing a suit, looking like some sort of 60s British spy. Chelsea boots, thin tie, cool as anything. He then proceeded to play Through Time & Light and The Final Piece perfectly, with all of these creative fills and amazing little details, as if he'd known them for years. It was so brutal. Before that point, we'd been playing for ages and I never felt like we were ready to take things out of the practice room. I remember after that night totally buzzing thinking that we could play a gig right away.

It's funny, because Graham was never a big metal fan, although he loves Sabbath and he's got into certain bands over the years (most importantly, the Priest!) His background was prog, blues, electronic, noise, and a wealth of weird and experimental sounds. However, he's always been a driving force for making things as brutal and nasty as possible, telling me to make things less melodic, and he has a real ear for dynamics and atmospheres. He's always been integral to what we do. He's an amazing musician, and great at every instrument he picks up. All of our more atmospheric songs: Ruin, Tower of Glass, Fathom, Gallery of Masks, Sorceror, were skeletons which I created, then Graham (and now Joe), filled them out and made them what they are, with synth, atmospherics, and cool ideas. Graham's drumming is really distinctive and creative, and he uses unusual percussion like bells and saw blades. Oh, and he writes amazing guitar riffs that are better than mine, too. I relented control long enough to allow him to write some riffs on Toll of the Wound, and ever since there's been an ever increasing number of great riffs on our stuff which are very much his!

So you basically started out with a classic 'rock quartet' line-up, and switched to a more typical 'power trio' format from Toll Of The Wound onwards Did the loss of a second, permanent, guitarist significantly affect how you approached composing the frameworks of songs? What did you gain, or lose, during that change of approach?

Yes it did. As a guitar player I like a very simple set-up. I've mostly used the same guitar tone from the beginning and I like to focus on what I can do without effects, trying to change my approach to writing to achieve new sounds. When Steve was in the band I would write with him in mind and leave parts and ideas open for his input. He would handle leads and effects and write parts to complement or clash with mine. I wanted us to use two guitars to open up the songs and make things more layered and dynamic. Once we changed to a three-piece I would either strip songs down or write in a simpler way, then we would do more in the studio, recording things we couldn't reproduce live. I felt that losing the second guitar meant that we were more limited and I considered a few options like finding another guitarist, but after Toll of the Wound I embraced it. It's partly why I asked Guillaume to contribute guitar to Sanctum in the Light and also why we started to leave more room for synth and other sounds. At that point I loosened up and figured it was no bad thing to have songs with a studio version and a stripped down live version. When Joe joined in 2016, he brought a whole new arsenal of atmospherics, handling bass, effects, synths, and more. I like that I stick with a simpler approach and then Joe has a lot more room to do what he does. It's different than a power trio with the guitar player filling in much of the colour and texture. I consciously put the guitar to the back at times, partly to give Joe and Graham space for their ideas. It's kind of like I fill the role of bass player and play more rhythmic parts to allow for lead synth, bass, and drum parts.


Live in Glasgow, 2018: Joe. (Photo: oculus sinistra.


That's a genuinely interesting approach – I'd rather like to explore that further! In a Doom context, the standard power trio approach is a well-established one – it sounds as though you're more or less attempting to turn that on its head, whilst still maintaining a completely Doom sound. Would that be a fair assessment? So, I guess, there are a couple of subtexts involved – firstly, what would you say are the key elements of establishing a Doom vibe within your music, and, secondly, would you see that the subversive nature of that approach has a valid comparison to Esoteric's particular brand of key but undefinable doominess?

I wouldn't say that this approach is deliberately about doing something different from a power trio. It comes from how I learned to play guitar. When I first started in bands I stuck to vocals, then I got into guitar playing to write my own songs. I was never one for lessons or learning from books, so I stuck to learning simple riffs. As I started to explore further, I came up with the approach of writing a lot of different but simple parts that flowed together because I didn't want to repeat myself. From the start of OS&T, I didn't want to play what I saw as traditional guitar leads, partly because I wanted to do something different that was my own style and approach, but mostly because I wasn't good enough to do much else. It was Steve's job to do more conventional guitar solos, while I experimented with my own thing. I never saw these as solos on top of rhythms so much as the song changing shape and things going somewhere new. It never turned out as innovative as I hoped it would be at the time, but I think it did lead me on a unique path.

I'd say I've brought in a lot of unusual ideas to the music and we've steadily produced something which is quite different. Of course this is relative and within a very particular context: we're tuned down to A standard, it's mostly slow or very slow, the vocals are extreme and pained, and the lyrics are abstract and personal - but within that very small niche I'd say it's unique! I think that the things I write about coupled with my love of slow and heavy riffs and heavy music means that it's likely to have a doom vibe, but more importantly the music needs to have a particular feeling and if it feels right, we go with it. I'm not exactly sure what that feeling is, but we've been following it so far.

We've had the Esoteric comparisons from the beginning, even more so now that we share a label, but I always thought that was mostly down to the vocals. Just about everything else is different. Lyrically, they're exploring the psyche, space, time, and philosophy, while OS&T is basically my diary They're much cleaner, tighter, and more technical in their playing, with immersive washes of black and post metal. We're messy, loose, and have quite a lot of one-note riffs, with post-punk inspired forays into synths and experimenting Also, Greg Chandler is an experienced producer with a comprehensive understanding of what he's doing at every level. You can really hear it! Meanwhile, my ignorance knows no bounds. It's a great compliment, but not really accurate in my opinion! However, this gives me an opportunity to thank Greg as he helped us immensely with his advice while we were mixing and mastering Penance! Cheers again Greg!

Of Spire & Throne - Exclusive preview (Live, 2018):


I'd certainly agree that musically the Esoteric comparison isn't a particularly accurate one, but I do see some similarities in both experimental attitude, and roots in the various, unique, musical evolutions that the UK rock/metal scene has initiated – and refined –over the years. You've already cited quite a broad range of genres that OS&T wanted to articulate – are there any specific bands within that which you would consider as truly influential to you, or was it more of a case of taking on those broad genre characteristics and interpreting them in your own way?

I think it's definitely both. I had a whole mix of bands and music I was listening to that formed my approach. I've always cited Neurosis and Crowbar as two very important influences, but this is less about sounding like them and more about wanting to emulate the way their music made me feel. In the beginning I wanted to make extreme metal or extreme music, and I loved doom, sludge, death metal, and grindcore, but I'm a fan of all sorts of music and I tend to think a certain part or sound is cool and then I end up reinterpreting it as OS&T. Off the top of my head and in a rough order of our songs from the early days, I've taken various bits and pieces from Slayer, Mussorgsky, The Human League, Crowbar, YOB, Neurosis, Pallbearer, Magazine, Scott Walker, David Bowie, Thou, Graves At Sea, Ahab, Bohren & Der Club of Gore, King Crimson, Candlemass, and all sorts of cool music that Graham has introduced me to - most recently traditional Greek folk/blues music. What's cool is that Graham does this with his writing too, so he's thrown in Schoolly D, Queen, Brand X and all sorts of synth influences. I find myself being influenced a lot more by the attitude and approach of artists, so I'll try my version of ideas and strategies used by Bowie, Eno, and Scott Walker, while certain albums have provided many ideas, such as Thou's Heathen and Magazine's Secondhand Daylight. I tend to get complete ideas rather than just references, and through either luck or lack of ability, the things I try don't ever sound like the source material, so it becomes its own thing and not too obvious.


Early discography, part one: 'Of Spire & Throne' (demo, self-released, 2010),
'The Trial Of Failure' (EP, self-released, 2011), 'Vagary' (EP, self-released, 2012).


So, during the earliest years of the band you were self-releasing, with the self-titled debut, The Trial Of Failure and Vagary all coming out as EP-length CDs. How would you characterise the progress you made with each of those, how well each of them blended in all of those influences, and how successful they were? And, out of curiosity – did you have to hand-assemble all the paper envelopes for The Trial Of Failure?!

Yes, we hand assembled all copies of the demo, The Trial of Failure, and Vagary! This idea was taken from our friend Hamish who had used the same style for his bands Haar and Vostok I drew unique hand-numbered sigils on cheap paper stickers on all copies of the demo, too!

The Trial of Failure and Vagary were recorded by the same engineer at the same studio. The main thing I wanted to approach differently with The Trial of Failure was using multiple guitar tracks, both rhythms and overdubs, and I wanted to separate and reinforce particular parts. It was a big step up sound wise, much bigger and heftier. Loss Ritual was a sludgier, almost stoner groove sound in comparison to the demo, while I think Lost in Ruin was the track that really set us up for some of the songwriting and structural ideas we'd be exploring in the future. Ruin was really special for us because I just had the idea for the riff and the drums and then we built it up bit by bit. It was our first time using synths and the day I realised that the sound really worked with what we were doing. I remember thinking that we'd come up with something quite unique with ToF. It's a sort of death-sludge with psychedelic and progressive leanings. I didn't really know that's what we'd done at the time to be honest, but I think the styles blend together really well. We'd had an ambivalent reaction to our demo so we weren't expecting much for the next release, but I remember it exploded in comparison, and we got a lot of great reviews and lots of people listening from around the world. It was the first time it felt like people were into what we were doing, although I wanted to get more releases out there to establish that we weren't going to settle on any particular style.

Following from The Trial of Failure, I wanted Vagary to be a super slow doom drag with minimal groove and to be something of an endurance test. I wanted Steve to use a better amp (he used a weak-sounding solid state amp on ToF), so we borrowed Guillaume's ENGL - which is a beast. Vagary was a bit of a watershed moment for me personally. My dad died when I was 18 and I wanted the release to be something of a tribute to him but also act as a catharsis, like I could cleanse myself of all of the residual negatives and leave it all behind. As we were writing the song, the thought kept coming to me and it felt like the right thing to do, so I wanted it to be a standalone release. We took our time and the song took shape, and I spent a very long time on the lyrics, but I remember there was a point where I realised that the idea of trying to encapsulate or resolve something like that was ridiculous, and I ended up putting that realisation into the lyrics. That experience really loosened me up with writing going forward, and I later found it a lot easier to let go and have things flow without trying too hard to achieve something in particular. It was still an important release for me, and despite some ropey-sounding sections, I think it still sounds good. It didn't have such an impact, though. Not surprising as it's quite a hard-going and punishing song, especially in comparison to ToF - the first seven minutes are the same two riffs!


Early discography, part two: 'Serpents And Thrones' (split tape with Ortega, Tartarus Records, 2013),
'Toll Of The Wound' (EP on 12"/CD/tape, Broken Limbs Recordings, 2014).


After that, you got some label involvement - Tartarus, initially, put The Trial and Vagary on a split tape with Ortega, Broken Limbs then put out Toll Of The Wound in various formats in 2014, and the two albums since have been with Aesthetic Death. Did that affect any of the ways in which you work? What are the good and the bad points of working with those kinds of smaller, independent labels, would you say?

Working with labels hasn't affected how or what we write, nor does it influence artwork or merch, but it does have an affect on formats and presentation, as this is something you need to work out together and you may be restricted by costs As an underground band, the experience of working with labels is perhaps not what people expect. Bands can put out their releases on whatever format and it's pretty easy, if expensive, but people are less inclined to buy directly from the band because they see a release very differently when it's on a label - it's seen as legitimate, approved and endorsed. Labels create their own personality and ethos and any artist which becomes associated with the label becomes part of those things, too, and that's important and valuable. Working with a label at this level isn't so much about money for the band as it's about promotion, prestige, trust, and being part of an established following. Well-known and regarded labels can secure a lot more interest and coverage for a release, and the biggest challenge is to get people to listen. The good points are working with good people and the personal connection and enthusiasm that comes with that, and the benefits of coverage and fans which you wouldn't find otherwise. The bad points are how you're at the mercy of fickle trends and that can be difficult to compete with, with a lot of blogs and websites only prepared to cover what's generating buzz. A lot of the time, the bands getting attention are the ones who know the right people or who have been picked up by a hip set, and then that build and builds, with people desperate to be part of the next big thing - but that's a minor complaint - it's no different than it is for anything anywhere at any level.

I guess that was a more or less inevitable result of the increasing democratisation of manufacturing music – labels stopped being the arbiters of what could actually see release, and started being more of an endorsement of particular bands amongst the ever-increasing numbers of self-releases out there. I certainly do use that as one of my guides as to which bands I'd want to investigate further, though – being somewhat old-school – I probably consider it more important that, with or without label backing, the band take what they're doing seriously enough to produce a physical release. That may be a hopelessly dinosaur attitude to anyone who's grown up with the www and easy digital streaming – but since you've gone to the trouble (in some cases, a lot of trouble!) of making all of your releases available physically, what's your view on 'real' versus 'electronic' media? And does that 'real' aspect seem to have any great influence on encouraging people to buy directly from bands, in your experience?

For me, if I'm into a band, I want the record or CD or tape, I want the shirt, I want to see them live. If I like something but I'm not so into it, I'm happy enough to listen where I find it. I do find however that those bands I listen to digitally often eventually become bands I'm a fan of and then I want the record With the music I'm involved in making, it depends on what it is, but there's a deliberate approach to how it's presented. For OS&T, I wanted the artwork and physical releases to be high quality and to match the intent and themes of the music. Since we had the opportunity to release Toll of the Wound on CD, cassette, and vinyl, I've wanted to have slightly different styles for each format but for them to co-exist as a set, and I've wanted to keep that going for each album. We managed to do so with Sanctum in the Light, but so far it looks like Penance will only be available on CD, tape and digital. We have the artwork and layouts for vinyl, but we haven't managed to secure label support for those formats ... yet.

The most effective way to generate interest is really touring and playing live. At a gig the band gets the chance to put the music across and have people properly listen and there's a better chance that people will engage. You can connect to people through the presence and performance and meeting them face to face. That's where you really build a following, and underground bands which keep touring keep building that interest and if they do it regularly they keep it going. Labels know this too, and most of them won't touch a band that doesn't tour. I think having well presented, high-quality merch and physical releases is important and it will make people more likely to want to buy, but nothing will generate loyalty and support like playing live and touring. So many opportunities arise when you're willing and able to take the music out there. Right or not, there is the perception that a band which takes the trouble to put out physical releases and tour is more serious and dedicated. A lot of bands just stick with digital releases and local gigs and I'm sure that's increasing. We haven't toured for years and it's definitely cooled the interest in what we do. Touring is one of the best things about being in a band and I wish we had toured consistently all the way through 'til now, however, life gets in the way sometimes, a lot of the time, and now all the time. My goal is still longevity, so if we have to put live activity on hold for a while, so be it, but the music doesn't stop until I do.


'Sanctum In The Light' (CD and LP, Aesthetic Death and Tatterdemalion Records, 2015. Also on tape, with a cut-down of the LP cover, Tartarus Records, 2016).


Well, I can certainly vouch for the presentation and quality – and a fair bit of the variety - of OS&T merch! I'm slightly curious about how the 'different styles' art fits in, though, since they are quite markedly different: 'Toll...' in all three formats had quite abstract artwork but shared some consistent imagery, whereas on 'Sanctum..' the vinyl/tape and CD covers look like the same scene visualised pre- and post-collapse. Are they images representing particular tracks, storyboarding some underlying concept, or something that just seemed an aesthetically intriguing idea?

They're all three, really. Toll of the Wound's art and design were created entirely by our friend Alan. I gave him some vague direction and the lyrics (no music) and he came up with the various pieces. There tends to be a dichotomy between the human and the structural in our artwork, with human bodies and architectural or monolithic imagery. This reflects a constant theme in our music: the frailty, imperfection, and vulnerability of humanity, the self, mind, body, soul, and spirit, all set against the pursuit of vision, work, and dream. With Toll of the Wound the artwork has grotesque medical drawings set against ethereal statues and pillars. The music focuses on the idea of dealing with a great trauma, facing your own weakness and mortality, and taking great pain and willing it into something which will stand in monument to it, and perhaps surpass it. There's a great sense of physical and mental disgust running through the lyrics and an observation and exploration of death and suicide (I wasn't having a very good time at that point in my life). The metaphor of sand to glass present in the lyrics sums it up, and the glass becomes a reflection and a lens Looking back at the artwork I think it's amazing how Alan captured everything that was going on when he had so little to go on from me, it seems like it was instinctive.

The artwork for Sanctum in the Light consists of two main images which are linked to one another, one which we used for the vinyl and tape, the other for CD. In this case, I had a clear idea of what I wanted, and I commissioned Lucas Ruggieri to create the art for us In the art used for the vinyl, a lone figure drags a huge pillar through an otherworldly desert wasteland leaving long drag marks in his wake which double back and stretch out beyond the horizon. He's lost in madness and constantly dragging the pillar, treading over old ground, obsessively dragging on and on. There are discarded pillars all around while great leaning structures loom in the background. He doesn't know where he's going, he's just going, lost in his obsession, dragging on in a vain attempt to build something like these flawed structures around him. This was meant to represent obsession, madness, self-destruction, and the constant quest to create, build, and find meaning. The structures represent unattainable ideals, although from a certain perspective they're imperfect and unimportant. The pillars are dreams or goals or something intangible which we just have to pursue, even if this is damaging to us There's a sense of the physical and trying to reconcile the body with the ambition of the unrealised dream, and a longing to decipher and understand What is reality, what is dream, how do we make them so, and what does that mean for something so abstract and out-of-reach?

On the CD, the same figure holds a distorted pose as he disintegrates into sand, a massive pile of discarded pillars behind him. The pillars are as dreams and ambitions, but the disintegrating figure here is representing the album's themes of identity and self, exploring the idea of multiple roles (or masks, as with Gallery of Masks) and constructs of identity, reality, and our perception of them The Sanctum in the Light is the unknowable nothingness of not just existence but how we exist. The light is unattainable nothing, so why do we strive for such a reward? Why am I doing this and why am I doing it in the way that I am when it's so intangible? Perhaps the answer is not to ask, and just to embrace and accept that I'll be dragging that pillar through sand until I become one with either or both. There's more to it for me, but that's the gist!

I'd like to think there's more which can be explored and that other people can take different things from what we do. We want to create atmospheres and give people something to experience, so aesthetically intriguing ideas are important to us. It's great to have concepts, themes, ideas, and a sense of purpose, but it's also great to include elements which are intriguing, interesting, and unknown. You can't exert complete control over something you're creating, and I think the more you accept and embrace that, the more you can give something the opportunity to develop and grow outside of your initial vision.

And, as a corollary: it's often the case that EPs and shorter releases are an opportunity to be a little more playful or inconsistent with what goes on them, compared to full-length albums. Did you have any different approaches and intentions in mind when you came to write 'Sanctum', or was it really just a logical, slightly longer, extension of what you had already been doing?

Our output so far has been a steady progression. I tend to be a release or two ahead and we just keep working bit by bit. We make changes to our approach after each release and that informs where we go next. I think that this continual change happens because we get a batch of songs out of our system and we don't see things in the same way once they've been recorded and the release has come together Also, what we do is a reflection of us and what's going on in our lives, and that's constantly changing. We tend to discard some things and develop others further, while we've stuck with the same overarching style and themes that we've had from the beginning. I also like to make loose rules for each release, such as avoiding the use of certain styles or techniques, keeping the vocals or lyrics a certain way, or encouraging the other guys to do things in a certain style.

With Sanctum... it was our first album and with that in mind it shaped how I wanted it to come together: as a retrospective looking back at everything we'd done and presenting it with a new perspective before marking the end of that period. I think I knew that things weren't going to be quite the same afterwards. I wanted it to be in two parts, with Carrier Remain and Fathom as companion tracks which make use of similar motifs, and Upon the Spine setting up the finality of Gallery of Masks. The full songs and skeletons we had prepared included a lot of new things we hadn't tried before, including some parts which had been influenced by experimenting with black metal, and I set out and planned a structure to fill with atmospherics. We went into the studio with a vague plan, but many of the ideas and elements which give the album its character came about during the recording and through our experience at Skyhammer Studios. Furthermore, a lot happened after the first studio session, with Guillaume sending parts he wrote after hearing the recorded rhythm tracks, and Graham spending a lot of time adding synths once we'd finished in the studio .

Of Spire & Throne - 'Reliquary' (Live, 2015, with bassist Matt Davies):


After 'Sanctum...', we were glad to have you aboard for own site project – the My Dying Bride tribute 'A Lake Of Ghosts'. Uniquely, for that album, you chose to rewrite rather than simply cover a song: something which stands out, and not just because I had an absolute nightmare time trying to sort out all the copyright agreements! How was the experience from your point of view, though?

Being involved in 'A Lake of Ghosts' was a great experience and something which I am very glad we agreed to do. I used to think that we wouldn't cover any songs as I felt it was something that diluted what we were doing or that it couldn't be genuine if it wasn't our own stuff. After 'Sanctum...', Matt left the band, Joe had just joined, and it was a new start. I'd been doing a lot of thinking about how I approached OS&T and I reckoned I needed to step back and reevaluate. When I got the email asking if we'd be interested I thought, "why not?' My Dying Bride aren't a favourite band of mine, but I love the Songs of Darkness, Words of Light album, and I love My Wine In Silence. I thought it would be cool for us to cover it because it's a more delicate track and it's not something you would necessarily expect from us. It was a chance to do something with Joe and get some experience recording together, and it was a chance to experiment with a few new things. I used clean vocals and we really reworked the song. Graham never listened to the original song which meant he came up with a completely different approach to the drums MDB's style is very clean and arranged, and there's a lot of bands who are influenced by them which go for a similar sound I thought it would be interesting to do a raw rehearsal room recording, and take the spirit of the song and translate it into what we do. It's perhaps a bit contentious that I changed the lyrics, but I can't shake off the taking-things-too-seriously complex completely, and I felt that the lyrics had to be mine for me to be able to do it justice. So what we did was more of an interpretation of their song I guess. I like that, too, because usually a cover can never touch the original, so it's at least interesting when a band reworks it. We loved the result and were very pleased to be involved. It set us on the path to how we approached Penance, and it gave me a lot of confidence to start pushing myself into new territory. I'm so sorry for all of the copyright hassle, but hopefully you feel it was worth it!

You've been quite modest throughout about your musical talents – and on 'A Lake Of Ghosts', you described your sound as 'knuckle-dragging brutality'. Though that's a fair description of some of the results, as we've been talking, it's increasingly apparent that there's an awful lot of thought which goes into the how and why of it. It's not difficult to make noise, but making it meaningful – especially in a stripped-down, slow Doom format, where there aren't many places to hide – is a lot tougher. It may sound like an oxymoron, but it would it perhaps be a fairer description to call it 'a thinking man's knuckle-dragging brutality'?

I wouldn't describe us as 'thinking man's' anything. That's generally used in a way which doesn't sit well with me. We're not above anything or anyone, and just because something is simple, brutal, or one-dimensional, it doesn't mean that there isn't thought and care behind it. Often the exact opposite is the case. For me, what we do is more about how I feel. Thought brings constant disappointment and failure, but feelings transcend the material and mundane. That's really what I'm following. Of course, I think a lot about what I'm doing and how I do it, but I don't want us to come across like we think we're somehow above or outside doom, sludge, metal, or heaviness. There's a few bands who seem to just use the style and then present themselves as deep thinkers or philosophers, and they try and operate outside of it, like they're too good for metal and they're embarrassed to admit they like it. That's not us We have an unusual approach and we like a wide range of music and we just follow our own path, but we are absolutely part of the heavy underground family.

I'm glad you mentioned my description from the album's liner notes, though. One thing I've always liked about My Dying Bride was Aaron Stainthorpe's dry sense of humour. They take the music seriously, but they don't take themselves seriously. It's clear that they believe in what they do and they care about it, but I get the sense that they don't feel the need to tell you that, it's in the music already. It's the same way for us I hope. I don't think it comes across, but a lot of the things I say in relation to the band are tongue-in-cheek. The music is very important to me, but I feel increasingly turned off from the way bands present themselves or how music is discussed, and I like to make fun of that and myself sometimes. We've had so many people focus on our "brutality", and I'm kind of poking fun at the whole thing sometimes. When you step back and look at it, we're just some guys making noise and then attributing some profound value to it. I think it's important for us to nod to that side of things. Ultimately, we love getting together and playing big, slow, heavy riffs, and it's great fun! Of course, I'm not trying to downplay its importance to me, suggest we don't care about it, or hide behind humour. It's just that it occupies several spheres - intellectual, visceral, serious, fun - and they're all valid for me. It's the most important thing in my life, I want to make complete albums that encapsulate significant experiences and communicate something meaningful, but I want to have fun while I'm doing it!


'Penance' (CD, Aesthetic Death, 2018. Also on tape, Ancient Entity Records, 2019).


You said earlier that you evolve each time, and - just above - that the MDB cover helped set you on the path to approach Penance: what were the main differences or shifts in how you set about creating it?

With Penance, I had how we had approached Sanctum in the Light in mind. Sanctum... was planned so that I came in with a whole skeleton of the album with a lot of empty space set aside to be filled with synth and improvisation. A lot of it was quite meticulous, while the rest was left open. The album was produced by Chris Fielding at Skyhammer who really guided the sound and playing, and this gave things a polished and meticulous sound - which was great! I wanted Penance to be raw and chaotic, like an early Stooges album. Us going in knowing all of the songs, playing live, recording everything at once apart from vocals and the odd overdub, first takes, improvisation, blood, guts, and noise. The MDB cover was something of a trial run of that approach. Also, while it was going to be this raw and unpolished beast, I wanted it to include our most dynamic stuff, with clean vocals and atmospherics and some new approaches to songwriting such as with the minimalism of Reliquary or the more straightforward structure of Dissident. I wanted each song to have its own personality so we would record each song slightly differently where a particular instrument would be leading the song in the sense of the composition and mix. For example, drums might be the focus of a particular song and I wanted us to keep that in mind and ensure that came through in the sound and balance when we were mixing. Unfortunately, a lot of my ideas were too rigid and arbitrary, and it caused us a lot of delays and endless mixing because they weren't working. Sometimes you can overthink things, and my ideas weren't necessarily what was best for the songs. In the end, we were feeling slightly defeated and sent everything over to Andrew Oswald at Secret Bathroom in California and asked him to do whatever he wanted. That's where a lot of the effects and creativity with vocals and balance comes from, they were Andrew's ideas. I was always adamant that I wouldn't have vocal effects - ever - but I loved what he did with the various effects The raw vocals were actually all done pretty much in one take using the demo tracks I came in and I wasn't feeling my best. The retching on Reliquary wasn't planned, I was just ill-prepared and feeling rough. But once we heard them back, the vocals had a real honest urgency to them and I didn't want to clean them up or redo them. Penance came out sounding like the experiences that it was meant to represent, so we're very happy with it.

I would certainly say you got your raw sound, in the end, and I guess the word that best summed up my first impressions of Penance is 'intense'. So there may have been some ideas that didn't quite work, but the final result is pretty compelling – are there particular aspects of that, or ideas arising from it, that you plan to carry forward?

Actually, the whole experience left us feeling like we'd paid our debt! Long before we'd finished Penance I felt like I wanted a new direction. The next album is well underway and I might be overstating it, but it's quite a shift. It's a lot more precise, tight, and intricate, and maybe even technical at points. It's a big step up playing-wise, and dare I say it, quite progressive (relative to what we usually do anyway). I seem to have come up with quite a unique approach to the writing, and have been working on a new guitar playing technique that's quite jarring and unusual to me. We'll be doing more with Joe's electronics, while I want to further explore the clean vocals. I think a lot of our 80s prog, post-punk, and kraut rock influences have surfaced, and I think it will be the first fully realised recording of this line-up. Joe has really transformed the band. He and Graham play really well together, either bass and drums, or synths and electronics, so it's really spurred me on to push myself and catch up a little. All three of us love prog, weird sounds ,and experimentation, so I think it's going to be special We've played a couple of the new songs live and they've had a great reaction - from other prog nerds at least - so I'm excited to finish it!

Of Spire & Throne - 'Dissident' (Live, 2017):


And what sort of feedback have you had on the album thus far? Any idea how successful it's been in terms of both reception and sales?

Feedback for Penance has been really great. Considering that we've only managed CD and digital so far (tape's just out now) and we've only managed a couple of gigs to promote it, sales have been healthy, reviews have been positive, and we've reached lots of new fans. We've had quite a few messages from people who just dicovered the band saying they were really surprised and that it was refreshing, etc. and that's always really nice to hear. It's an album which we thought might be a bit too much, maybe too raw and chaotic, but it had to be done that way. For me, I had to get it out of my system, and I was expecting that it would have a lukewarm reaction. Label interest wasn't as strong, and I knew that it was a difficult listen which needed work. It's the least instant release we've done, and I think you need to give it some real time and work at it to hear what's going on under the murk and chaos. Even people who know our music well have said that, so I expected that a lot of new listeners wouldn't last long. However, it seems I was wrong! Another cool thing has been that we've had positive feedback from people we don't really know but who we respect for what the do, and to hear that sort of thing from a musician or engineer who has created things you like is pretty great!

So where are you now, as far as OS&T are concerned? I understand you're all pretty busy with different life events at the moment, and you're actually overseas – does that make it difficult to plan or achieve anything with the band, or is internet connectivity enough to keep things rolling along?

I moved to Canada to join my wife late last year while Joe and Graham are still in Edinburgh with lots on their plates but we're continuing to do all we can. We recorded drums, guitar and bass for the new album before I left and we're continuing to work on it long distance. It's actually a really productive way to do things because the distance means that we really focus down on particular ideas, while I'm finding that being in a new place and not having much going on here means that I'm being very creative and things are flowing. This is the first time we've done everything ourselves (so far) and it's going really well. It feels great to have that control and work so collaboratively. We can really take our time and do things the way we we want and make decisions together each step of the way.

I'm hoping to visit Edinburgh as much as possible and ideally sort some live gigs for when I'm back, and the long term goal is to return for good and bring my wife with me. We are also very much overdue a tour and this is something I have been very keen to arrange. It can be hard to keep the momentum going and there is a communication barrier relying on email and messenger services, but to be honest, that can be a problem for anyone doing anything - even when you're in the same place. Doing what we do, there really is no incentive other than our own reasons for doing it, be that the fun of it or the need to express something or whatever, but it's not paying bills or facilitating some hip scene social life. Where there's a will there's a way, and you make it happen, be that your first year or your tenth.


In the studio...


I was going to cover the live side of things, and that's maybe the perfect lead-in: how much do you consider it to be essential, and/or enjoy, performing live? What sort of venues or events work best for you?

Playing live is an essential part of the band and a different way to present the music as opposed to on record. The recorded albums have something of a narrative and a planned approach to create a particular experience. Live shows are more direct, spontaneous and variable, and we approach the set differently depending on the gig and what we're focused on. We have lots of songs and parts we can't replicate live so we embrace that and strip them down to adapt them for live performance. For me, playing live is the most rewarding part of being in the band, especially touring and playing in new places to new audiences. The best times I've had have been live shows. I wouldn't say we have particular venues or events that suit us best, or at least, we've had great shows in tiny spaces to just a few attendees and in larger venues to hundreds of folk. It usually depends on who is involved and we've been very lucky in that regard - we've played with lots of great bands, for lots of great promoters, to lots of great people. I do think that currently the best way for us to put across what we do is in a larger setting with more room for us and more room for the different elements of the sound to come through, in particular the synths and electronics, but we'll play anywhere.

What are your best and worst gig memories?

The best has got to be one of our most recent gigs, opening for Godflesh and Cut Hands in Edinburgh. The whole event was perfect and felt like things coming together after 10 years as a band. The gig was put on by our first bass player Nick and was the biggest we've played The venue and their staff were great, the audience were totally engaged, the sound was immense, we had lots of friends in attendance, and we made new fans. Godflesh were amazing and really enjoyed their time in Edinburgh. We also had a great night going out with everyone afterwards. One of those gigs where everyone involved is into it and there's a really positive atmosphere.

The worst gig we ever played was an improvised drone set without Graham, but it was fun to experiment and we were on early as part of a festival. We've had plenty of the usual issues like broken strings, failing instruments, playing through illness, cancellations - but that's all part of it I'm glad to say that I don't have too many complaints in that regard. We love playing live and we're not overly fussy. Whether the PA is bad or we can't hear much through the monitors or there's no-one there, we've never been too bothered. We're just happy to be playing so we blast it out no matter what. To keep going is what's important.


...and on the stage.


2019 marks ten years of OS&T. Is there anything you would've changed along the way, with hindsight, or are you content with way the journey's worked out? And are you planning to do anything special to mark this anniversary, or is that something for maybe further down the line?

I think that for the most part, I'm content with how the last ten years have gone. Things followed a pretty linear path up until our first album and we spent that time learning what we could along the way. After that, I made a few decisions that were perhaps the wrong ones for the band, but I had to make them and I can now see the value in what I've learned. Also, plenty has happened that could have been better that was beyond our control, but I wouldn't change that - it's part of the story. If I'm honest, I do regret the lack of touring and the reduction in productivity over the last few years, but I've had to face up to some things in my life which are external to the band and sometimes other things have to take priority. It's coming up for a year since we last played together and I've been feeling pretty lost and empty without OS&T. It's all helped to form the next stages though, and I have the challenges of the last few years to thank for the next two albums to come. I think that in a way things have come full circle and I see now that while I've been wrong in the past in prioritising the band at the expense of everything else, it's still very much something I need to do, and I need to be working on it constantly and in the flesh - but I need to work on balance and compartmentalizing. Saying that, Of Spire & Throne has always given me immense focus, purpose, clarity and meaning, and I'm very grateful that it's still here with more to come. I think I may be marking our anniversary by getting back to Scotland and playing some gigs - I hope so anyway.

It's been an absolute pleasure chatting with you over the past few months, and I hope we've managed to cover most of the important aspects of the band. But if there's anything you'd like to add – well, the floor is yours!

Mike, I just want to say a huge thanks for taking the time to interview me and that it's been a real joy to answer such engaging, thoughtful and considered questions. I've really looked forward to your emails. Doom-metal.com has been a real support to us and we're very appreciative of that. We know that we don't fit neatly into the doom category and we're an awkward band to place, but we're lucky to find open-minded people in the community who will give us a chance. It's great to find others who value tradition and history as much as they want to push things and explore new territory. Thanks to all involved and please keep up the good work! To anyone who has listened to and supported us over the last ten years: thank you!

Penance was just recently released on cassette through new Edinburgh label Ancient Entity Records. They made up some Of Spire & Throne pin badges, too! Also, our next album will be called Imprison and it will arrive in 2020.

Many thanks Ali, and I hope we'll be in touch for many years to come...

Absolutely! :-)


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Interviewed on 2019-10-27 by Mike Liassides.
Rotten Copper
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