Rituals of the Oak are an impressive up and coming doom metal band from Sydney who have put out a couple of releases so far and are working towards their second full length effort. I had a deep and informative talk with their frontwoman Sabine about their past, present and future (and freeballing)...
Hey Sabine! How are you doing today? Let’s start things off with a bit of background info about Rituals of the Oak, if you don’t mind? How and when was the band formed? Who’s in Rituals…? And any other relevant info we should know!
Hey mate! I'm great, cheers! I hope you're having a rockin' day!
Rituals of the Oak started in 2008 by Shane Linfoot (guitars) and Matthew Shriffer (drums). I joined later in 2008 after their singer Mike left as he was more interested in prog/power metal than doom. The original bass player, Nathaniel Smith, eventually left the band in 2010 and we have since recruited Dale Harrison and his mad Rickenbacker.
We are based in Sydney and play doom metal in the vein of Candlemass, Pentagram, Warning, Solitude Aeturnus etc. In terms of releases, we put out a demo in April 2009 which fetched us a deal with Eyes Like Snow/ Northern Silence in Germany. Our debut album "Hour of Judgement" came out in November 2009 and we recently released a 3 way split in June 2011 with our label mates Apostle of Solitude and The Flight of Sleipnir.
It's been an awesome few years so far and things are actually going well for us; we have some exciting times to look forward to over the next 12 months which we can't wait to share with everyone!
It sounds like it’s been a great couple of years for the band so far!
What bands have you and the guys been involved with in the past (if any?) and are any members involved in other projects currently? Do these past musical ventures effect and/or influence Rituals of the Oak?
I have been personally a doom metal freak for over a decade but have been involved in other aspects of the genre in the past. It wasn't until Rituals of the Oak that I found myself doing exactly what I wanted to do. I sang in a few different bands growing up in Lebanon, the latest being Kimaera, a gothic/doom band from Beirut. I have then joined the ranks of Lycanthia, another gothic/doom metal from Sydney, after I moved to Australia in 2005. Their former singer/keyboardist Mandy Andresen had left the band and I took over those duties for the next 3 years. I eventually left in 2008 because I wanted to pursue a more traditional path, and Rituals of the Oak happened to need a singer around the same time. So that's that!
Shane and Matt were previously playing progressive heavy metal in Transcending Mortality and eventually ended up disbanding it and forming Rituals of the Oak. Dale formerly played bass in The Amenta and is currently in The Herd, a Sydney based Hip Hop band, as well as Rituals.
I don't believe any of our former musical endeavours have influenced Rituals much, but as far as the inspiration behind the band goes that's entirely attributed to the bands I had listed earlier, which many of us had listened to and loved for years.
That’s a pretty broad musical background for a band like this, isn’t it!
So what directly influences Rituals, musically and non-musically? What do you guys generally enjoy listening to on a daily basis?
We listen to everything actually! A lot of metal, 70's rock, 60's psych, hardcore, crust, punk, funk, hip hop... And that's on a daily basis. Matt, Shane and myself share a terrace and we have a mad set up in the lounge room where all of our furniture point at the record player (instead of a TV set) and you can trust there's always something spinning on that thing. Despite our broad musical tastes the first few releases we put out were purely doom metal. I can now actually say that you'll start to hear more "other" influences in our future releases. For example, we're currenly working on a song, which would be on the band's third album, that sounds like Type O' Negative. Another song is starting to sound a bit Warning-esque. We're basically keeping an open mind when it comes to music.
As for non-musical influences, we draw a lot of inspiration from a bunch of authors, philosophers and poets such as Oscar Wilde, Friedrich Nietzsche, Baudelaire, De Maupassant and others, not to mention booze and chronic, which are essential for the band's creative juices. Heh!
It’s always good to have plenty of variety in your listening! That’s a killer living room set up.
How did you get into this type of music? What made you want to play/sing doom metal? When did you first decide to become a vocalist? Did you have formal training or self-teach? And do you play any other instruments?
I was given Iron Maiden's first album by my cousin on cassette when I was 11 and that was that! I remember ditching school with a friend when I was 12 years old and going on a cassette hunt to find "Kill 'em All" and "Ride the Lightning" haha! Metal was of course black listed in Lebanon at the time so it was incredibly difficult to find anything but somehow we got by. I was 15 when I first heard My Dying Bride's "Turn Loose the Swans" and I just fell in love with the all aspects of the genre from the slow paced music to the heartfelt lyrical content etc. That has led me to discover bands like Solstice, Reverend Bizarre, While Heaven Wept etc and I have been hooked ever since!
I have basically been singing ever since I can remember. I didn't really receive any formal training so all my techniques are self taught. I also taught myself to play guitars and keyboard, but I haven't touched either instrument in at least 12 months... mostly due to laziness.
What are your thoughts on the Sydney metal scene, and the Australian metal scene at large? What bands are you into? Do you think we have a good “scene” over here? Is it a good or bad thing that there’s no “central hub” so to speak, for Australian metal, in your opinion?
I'm sort of new-ish to the Australian metal scene being fresh off the boat and all hah, this said, I discovered a few Australian bands, worthy of a mention here, in the last 6 years I've been living in Sydney. I love some Australian black/thrash bands such as Gospel of the Horns, Trench Hell, Shackles, Stargazer etc. Another Australian band that absolutely blew me away at Evil Invaders III was Portal (that was the first time I'd ever seen them live). I also try to catch Raven Black Night and The Loving Tongue every time they come out to Sydney. Unfortunately the doom metal scene in Australia is almost non-existent; there are plenty of gothic/doom acts around Australia but very few doom bands in the traditional sense and these are scattered all over the country.
I had heard from many people that the '90s was the best era for Australian metal; of course I wouldn't really know that myself since I was still ducking shrapnel in Lebanon at that time, but I believe we have somewhat managed to find good local gigs to attend every once in awhile without the existence of a "central hub" for Australian metal, especially as of late where we have people like Hushy to thank for the recent resurgence of great gigs in Sydney. In a nutshell, I really enjoy many Australian acts, old (a la Buffalo) and current. I just wish we had more promoters organizing more international gigs.
So let’s talk a bit about the bands debut album “Hour of Judgement”. When and where were the songs written? When, how and where were they recorded? How would you describe the sound and style that you guys achieved with this album? Is the band, as a whole, satisfied with it?
A big chunk of the material on “Hour of Judgement” was written in 2008 before I even joined the band. Shane is responsible for the music composition whilst the lyrics were written by Matt, Shane and their old singer Mike. By the time I joined the band, they had already most of the 1st album written and ready to be recorded. We then recorded the demo and picked up a deal offered to us by Eyes Like Snow in Germany who put out some great doom albums.
“Hour of Judgement” was recorded in June 2009. The live recordings (drums, bass and first guitars) as well as second guitars were recorded at Soundcheck studios in Belmore, where we used to rehearse. Vocals and mixing were done at our friend, Andy Troy’s home studio in Ashfield and the mastering was done by Rick O’Neil at Turtle Rock. Eyes Like Snow released it in November 2009.
“Hour of Judgement” is purely a doom metal album influenced by the music of bands we all love and respect like Solstice, Solitude Aeturnus, Pentagram etc. What I really liked about the album is that the songs are all different in their own way, musically and lyrically and the album as a whole doesn’t put the listeners’ attention span to the test. For example, the lyrics in the title track “Hour of Judgement” depict the roman invasion of the Celtics and Druids in England who had to resort to extreme measures such as human sacrifice and even cannibalism in a bid to the Gods to bring the invasion to an end. “Standing in the House of Suffering” is based on Edgar Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Spell of Doom” is based on our personal experiences with doom metal. The songs also vary musically where you could come across some heavy riffage, slow morose melodies and even instrumental bits at times. All in all, we are very proud of “Hour of Judgement” and consider it the perfect debut album which opened a lot of doors to the band and given us exposure on a local and international level.
What can you tell me about your contribution to the 3-way split with Apostle of Solitude and The Flight of Sleipnir? Do you see it as a sort of “progression” from the material on the debut, or is it similar in style? What is the song about? Where and how was this one recorded?
Both The Apostle of Solitude and The Flight of Sleipnir contributed two tracks each to the release while we chose to record one 18 minute track entitled “Hallward”, based on Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. The story is narrated by a painter Basil Hallward who was hired by a young man called Dorian Gray to paint a portrait of the latter. Gray becomes completely consumed by beauty thinking it’s the only worthwhile aspect of life. He ends up selling his soul to ensure the portrait Hallward painted would age instead of himself, which of course leads to his demise.
“Hallward” was written in 2009 by Shane and Matt (who wrote the lyrics for the song) in 2009. In essence, we found Hallward to be a unique song we wrote, a song we couldn’t really fit on our second album: it is crushingly slow, repetietive (in a good way of course) and long and as such we decided to release it on its own. Hallward was recorded and mixed in mid 2010 at Tradis Studio in Marrickville and mastered by Rick O’Neil.
I don’t think this track is a progression for the band given that we won’t be writing similar songs in the future because we like to mix things up. This said, even if we don’t consider the style Hallward was written in to be the direction the band is taking going forth, we absolutely love the shit of that track, especially the last 20 seconds!
Interesting… that’s a lot of backstory for one song!
I understand Rituals is working on material for a second album. Has much of the album been written so far? Is there any idea as to when it will be released? What kinds of themes are present on the already written songs? Are there any particular musical directions or progressions planned or do you guys write what feels “natural” and see how it turns out?
I absolutely love the story behind Hallward, being a huge fan of Oscar Wilde and all!
The second album is entirely written and recorded! We are currently in the last stages of mixing before sending the tracks to Rick for mastering. We are expecting it to be out on Eyes Like Snow late 2011.
I believe album number 2 is the perfect follow up to Hour of Judgement, similar in essence and in terms of influences but different altogether! The new album is also comprised of 5 songs. Shane wrote the music and Matt and I handled the lyric writing; these were influenced by different literary stories and historical references as well as personal experiences with themes including pagan rituals, madness, war and tyranny etc. You hit the nail on the head here with regards to our writing process: we indeed write what comes naturally to us. Sometimes we’d be jamming and Shane would come up with a mad riff and we just go with it! All of the songs are subject to tweaking and perfecting later on but fundamentally we write what feels and comes natural to us. I can honestly say that I don’t know what direction the band will ultimately take… You never know, we might end up playing funk Bootsy Collins style! Hah!
What plans are in motion to promote the album? Any plans to tour or play shows in support of it? What about merchandising; shirts, patches, g-strings, etc. etc.? What’s coming up in the near future for you guys?
There’s a lot of exciting stuff happening in the Oak camp over the next year. The new album is expected to come out later in 2011 and I believe we will be planning a couple of gigs early next year to promote it in Australia. We are also planning some overseas adventures which I can’t talk about freely as of yet! Everything will be revealed in due time!
The label has been great at promoting our releases overseas so we will be handling the album promotion within Australia. We haven’t really discussed merchandise for the new release with the label yet but I am sure they’ll be printing shirts and patches to include with the die-hard edition. We don’t really plan on printing any g-strings seeing how we are strong believers in free balling!
Well this is all very exciting news! I’m a bit disappointed about the lack of g-strings, but I also enjoy freeballing!
Being in a band, I’m sure you’ve experienced plenty of ups and downs, what are some of the positive and negative experiences you’ve had? Do you have any funny and/or interesting stories you would like to share?
Haha! The freeballer general over there!
We definitely had some good times over the last few years, the best of which were had in Europe in 2010. We played Doom Shall Rise in Goppingen in Germany alongside some amazing bands like 40 Watt Sun, Garden of Worm, Mourning Beloveth, Jex Thoth etc. The only downer for me was that I had contracted a bloody flu a couple of days earlier and was absolutely ruined on the first night. Luckily we weren't playing until the next day and I decided to obliterate myself with alcohol before I got on stage in an attempt to kill the germs. And that kinda worked, except that I was plastered! We played, and I survived, a set of 5 songs and the reaction was nothing short of overwhelming! We had quite a great time at DSR and met some mad people and made awesome friends! I would go back as soon as possible!
I guess we haven't had any major issues or problems in the band, and hopefully we never will! We also rarely ever play live so that sort of eliminates the chances of technical issues occurring and fucking shit up! heh.
Well, it seems we’ve just about covered everything here! Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer my questions, I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did!
Any famous last words, Sabine?
Cheers to you for the interesting questions! I very much enjoyed talking to you! Nothing famous, just a thought: how awesome is Funkadelic's Maggot Brain?