Solemn Ceremony interview
Phil Howlett is one man-doomed-army. He played in Rote Mare and Dire Fate, but his hyperactive band Lucifer’s Fall seems to be the most prolific form of his self expression.
His self-titled album was released on Nine Records in 2018. He also released EP The Chamber. Lucifer’s Fall appeared on three different split releases.
What are you currently working on?
Hi Aleks! Currently I am working on rehearsing 10 new songs for the upcoming Lucifer’s Fall album III: From The Deep. I have also started work on the next Solemn Ceremony although at the moment I only have the basic framework for 2 songs plus a few other ideas. I plan to get more into it once the Lucifer’s Fall album is completed. I have also written 5 songs for a Zlórtcht EP. Zlórtcht is my Celtic Frost / Hellhammer worship project. I hope to have this completed sometime next year along with the Solemn Ceremony.
I never heard of Zlórtcht before.
It is a new project. At the moment it’s not a band. I feel like I really only have time in my life for one actual band. I’ve recorded some guitar and vocal demos. I’m planning on getting The Hammer (new Lucifer’s Fall drummer) to play drums on it. I’ve already asked Shayne from Eldritch Rites to add some lead guitar once the rest is recorded.
Last time we talked, Solemn Ceremony’s debut was about to be finished. What’s the aftertaste?
I’m pretty happy with the end result. All the people I got to contribute were amazing. Also I’m very happy with the rawness that I got although it’s not to the taste of your average music fan. As always there were things that could have been done better. I think I need to update my home recording setup. It’s a long way behind the times. Solemn Ceremony was pretty much all recorded at home on old technology so I’d like to make some improvements in that area. I would like to have been further along with new Solemn Ceremony but Lucifer’s Fall and a lot of other things have taken up my time. Also general laziness…. Ha ha.
Did you use tape recorder?
Haha. Not that old…. I use a 16 track portable Boss digital recorder to record, mix and master. It’s virtually impossible to do any fine individual track editing if needed. It’s very limited in editing facilities compared to a modern computer program. I did a few very basic overall cuts to a couple of the songs when I would’ve rather gone in and done some finer editing to a few of the drum tracks.
You managed to record a very distinctive record within the overcrowded genre. The artwork on your album is very impressive!
What I love about the great traditional doom bands is the weirdness and how they manage to stand apart for the norm. A lot of the time it’s an individual vocalist. Although my vocals are far from technically good I try to make them at least sound individual and hopefully raw. I definitely realise that they are not for everyone but I have worked hard on them over the years. I do find a lot of doom fairly boring and safe. I preferred the days when bands didn’t give so much of a fuck about genre and what other people think. I think bands can experiment a lot more within the type of music they are playing rather than just tick the required boxes of the genre. The artwork is by Godlike Ikons who is a really excellent Russian artist. We also used him in Lucifer’s Fall for II: Cursed & Damned and the Cursed Visions Demo. I didn’t really have an idea for the artwork I just let him do as he felt. Once I saw the artwork I kind of based the lyrics for ‘End Of The Line’ around it.
In Solemn Ceremony you aim to sound really barbaric and old school. How do you do it?
Ha ha. That is a difficult question to answer. The drums were recorded in an actual studio and then the rest was recorded at home. I pretty much used my standard methods of recording guitars that I have been using with Rote Mare for years. One deep thick rhythm guitar and the other rhythm guitar with a lot more of a treble tone for contrast. Vocally I then tried to get a very rough and raw sound with plenty of over the top expression so the end result was hopefully a bit demented sounding. Ha ha. After it was all recorded at the mixing stage I generally made the EQs on everything a bit more trebly to give it a bit more edge. I didn’t spend a lot of time at this final stage really. It’s very easy to get stuck in overanalyzing and continually redoing what you’ve already done. So I try to do as little of that as I can.
When did you first encounter doom metal? You mentioned Cirith Ungol as one of your favorites.
The first doom metal albums I heard were Candlemass – Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, Trouble – The Skull and Cirith Ungol – King Of The Dead. I heard all of these in the first half of the 80’s so I have been listening to these classics for a very long time. Big name doom bands which I didn’t hear until much later were Saint Vitus and Pentagram. Of course I love them too.
How did you get interested in Trouble? Candlemass and Cirith Ungol are more easy going metal bands as Trouble, well, they were really ‘not for everyone’ I think.
I think the first time I heard Trouble was through tape trading when a friend of mind got a live recording containing songs from the first couple of albums. It just clicked with me right from the start. I followed that up with getting The Skull on vinyl. The songs “Pray for The Dead” and “The Skull” had the biggest impact on me. Probably two of my most favourite tracks ever. I really like all Trouble but for me nothing after the first three albums is as good. I prefer the rougher sound of the earlier albums over the more polished later material.
The Chamber EP was released digitally earlier this year. It’s marked as an experimental record. Songs are built around the old Rote Mare drum tracks. Do you see it as successful experiment?
I don’t really see it as successful or unsuccessful it’s just there… I found it a bit limiting really but I did it very quickly without a lot of thought. I didn’t change or edit the Rote Mare drum tracks apart from just cutting some sections out. It was an interesting thing to do. The songs were written from start to finish in a couple of days and were really almost the first thing that popped into my head when listening to the drum tracks. So although it was reasonably ok I probably wouldn’t do it again.
There aren’t many opportunities to play live with Lucifer’s Fall in your region. Do you feel Solemn Ceremony will remain such an outsider-project?
I’m pretty sure Solemn Ceremony will never amount to anything. It’s not intended to be a live band. I’m pretty sure it’s way too uncommercial and raw to get a greater exposure. It’s not trendy enough and basically I’m not interested in making it so. I think if it ever got anywhere it’d be an absolute fluke.
So you’re ok with Solemn Ceremony remaining a studio project? No ambitions, just sharing this music with people who are into it.
Pretty much. I could never rule out Solemn Ceremony becoming a legitimate band at some point but it’s not really my intention for the future. I feel that Lucifer’s Fall although it doesn’t really follow the rules as such is a much easier band for people to take.
One of common influences for doom bands are horror movies.
I don’t think I’ve ever based a song on a movie to be honest. I have loosely based a few songs on 70’s Doctor Who episodes. I don’t watch a lot of movies anymore. I’ve always preferred reading to be honest and even then I tend not to base my songs directly on books. I think a lot of the ideas are based on things I may have read but then I use my own imagination to make up some kind of story. I prefer to do that rather than base something directly on a book I have read. “Mountains Of Madness” by Lucifer’s Fall is one of the few things more directly based on a book but I still didn’t bother to quote large pieces or go back and re-read things for accuracy. It’s more of a feeling rather than an accurate lyrical rewrite. Plus a song lyric really goes nowhere near the depth of a book.
Your upcoming Lucifer’s Fall album is named III: From The Deep. The name sounds like H.P. Lovecraft tribute, though of course it may be interpreted in many ways.
Ha ha. Yes indeed! It is very much a Lovecraftian Innsmouth story. I guess it’s my own take on that story with a bunch of extras thrown in. There is a risen from the deep old one, a bunch of mutants spawned from interaction with the creature. There is an asylum full of lunatics, a high priestess, zombies and a Reverend back from the dead. All the songs relate to the subject matter in some way so I guess you could call the upcoming record a concept album although it won’t be a running in sequence narrative. We will record 10 songs which is about 70 minutes of material. We will use 35-45 minutes for the album. The rest of the songs will most likely be used for a split with Eldritch Rites and maybe something else.
What’s new going on? Splits with Acolytes Of Moros and Cardinals Folly were recently released. Any touring plans?
After Mikko from Cardinals Folly took a holiday over here and stayed with me for a few weeks we chatted about a possible Finnish tour next year sometime for Lucifer’s Fall. It may or may not happen but the whole band is willing to take that next step if we can manage it. The splits with Acolytes and Folly were both excellent fun. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Simon from Acolytes and Mikko from Folly for being absolutely awesome and really easy to work with. Lucifer’s Fall plan what is probably our final split ever with our great friends Eldritch Rites to be released next year sometime following our new album.
How about playing in US? It seems both bands have more followers in Europe, but maybe a good company of another band could make it easier?
I guess it’s always possible. The main concern for us is the expense and getting time off from work. At the moment an idea of a US trip seems very far away.
Do you stay in contact with some US bands?
I don’t think I really have any contacts with US bands that I can think of. Not any direct ones anyway.
I guess it’s ok if I ask you again about new Lucifer’s Fall album? How soon do you plan to finish it?
Recording takes place in December. We should have it all wrapped up by the end of January next year. We are recording 10 songs which will make up the album and the Eldritch Rites split. I feel it’s a bit doomier overall this time around but there still is quite a lot of variation. There’s a bit of trad metal, a bit of punk and some psychedelia thrown in the mix this time around.
That sounds like a good plan! Thanks for the interview Phil. How would you sum up Solemn Lucifer message?
Thank you Aleks for some excellent and insightful questions. The Solemn Lucifer message is that if you like your Doom and Metal raw and uncompromising look no further! We bring it!
– Aleksey Evdokimov