From Northern Ireland a hopeful up-and-coming band sets out to please the guild of Symphonic Power Metal with their second album „Immemorial“.
And the quartet from Belfast can come up with enormously atmospheric material, whose innocent and unspent soul can quickly ingratiate itself into the stylistically inclined consciousness. I’m talking with guitarist and keyboard player John Connor, vocalist Rebecca Feeney and bass player Dean Kane.
The band name, which is actually contradictory in itself, inevitably arouses curiosity. It is learned that initially there were several group names to choose from.
John: Anytime a new band starts, there's always a long list of possible names that get thrown around, the back and forth is always to decide if the name sounds memorable enough for audiences to be recognised as a 'real' band name. Ravenlight was one of the band names on the list, but the idea came originally as an homage to the Kamelot song of the same name.
Do you like ravens, that is Corvus Corax in latin, the big ones, and what fascinates you most about these super smart birds?
John: I think there's a lot of imagery that comes with them, they always have the association with the darker more gothic parts of the world all the way back to Edgar Allen Poe, so I think when you associate your band with that imagery, people have a basic idea what to expect. There's a beauty to them, but also darkness.
Rebecca: I’m obsessed with Crows and Ravens! They’re my favourite species family of birds, I wish it was possible to own one as a pet! So of course when we were deciding on the band name, I was quite enthusiastic about Raven being in the name!
How good & qualitative is the Metal scene in Belfast?
John: There are a lot of great bands in Belfast at the minute, but it's heavily dominated by Death Metal with bands like The Crawling and Stranglewire and throwback Classic Rock/Metal, like Conjuring Fate so we are a little out of left field in the local scene. For a number of years since Ireland is a small island, it was rare to see a band getting shows overseas, but thankfully in recent years this is changing and more and more of the bands in our local scene are getting the wider recognition they deserve. When it came time to decide what label we were going to release the new album with, we actually ended up signing to Distortion Project Records which is based in Belfast, not because of a local bias, but because we felt it would open the most opportunities for us with the album, which is something I wouldn't have expected a few years ago.
How have you used the time in between your 2021 EP "Intermission" for Ravenlight mainly beside pure songwriting?
John: We were lucky enough that as soon as venues were allowed to reopen post lockdowns, we were able to get back on the stage quickly, so we spent around 9 months after Intermission released playing shows across Ireland before focusing on finishing the new album. It was a great opportunity for us because we were able to play new cities for the first time to enthusiastic post lockdowns crowds and support bands such as Cruachan and Firewind in front of new audiences.
How well was the EP received by fans and media?
John: I feel like it was universally well received which is nice! We were a little worried about doing a covers EP so early into our career as we thought it might be a little early for people to care about us playing other people's music, but "Blinding Lights" (The Weekend Cover) from the EP has become a staple of our live set. We have even seen comments ahead of bigger shows with people specifically hoping that it will be played.
Rebecca: I was glad we went ahead with the Ghost cover too, Zenith is a lesser known song by Ghost but it’s seen by many Ghost fans as being a hidden gem. We got a lot of positive comments on that one, that made me very happy!
Congrats to your new album - how does it feel for you, to release it soon, after all the work on it?
John: It's exciting for us, especially because we finally get to expand the live set more! We have been playing half the songs from "Project Genesis" since 2018, so it's an extra push of life for us in that sense, but also because we have been working on some of these songs for years in our own little bubble, so seeing the crowd reactions live to the new material and comments on the single releases online from listeners hearing it for the first time is amazing. For us personally, we think the new album is a big step forward in all aspects from production, to performances and songwriting and it's great that people are joining us in that enthusiasm.
Your sound is quite independent, and doesn't pander to anyone - what are your idols and inspirations?
John: Thanks! I think our sound comes mainly because our goal is to write good melodic music. We don't think too hard about things like "does this song have enough orchestration to be classified as Symphonic Metal?" As we know it's our song at the end of the day and we write to fit the specific song/album rather than trying to sound like somebody else. We all have a fairly wide range of influences that come together, I'd be a fan of a lot of Power Metal bands like Sonata Arctica, and anything Magnus Karlsson does, as well as lots of musicals as they are essentially concept albums, while Rebecca is a fan of certain Power Metal bands, she's also a fan of heavier music and our drummer Mike comes from a more Prog background. Dean cut his teeth playing 80s Thrash and Metalcore… So overall, we know at this point what makes something sound like 'Ravenlight' and how our influences can contribute to that.
Rebecca: Yeah elaborating on what John was saying about my influences and music tastes, I do enjoy a varied range of music, from Black Metal to 80’s Japanese City Pop haha. I’ve always been heavily inspired by Tarja’s vocal style, and I myself come from a classical training background. But in recent years I’ve worked more on my “chest voice” and I’ve definitely incorporated more of that vocal style in this new album.
Who of you guys out of Ravenlight composed and arranged the lion's share of the new song material?
John: I tend to write the outline of the music and lyrics for the album but everyone has free reign to have full control over their sections. For this album Mike handled the lyrics and melody for "The Maze", and Rebecca co-write the lyrics for "Spiral" and wrote the lyrics for "Left Behind". Certain sections of songs will have a bit more coordination needed, like the extended instrumental section of "Left Behind" which was done between myself and Mike. Dean joined fairly late into the writing cycle for this album, so he didn't have much opportunity to contribute to the early structure of the songs.
Dean: Yeah to a certain degree I felt thrown in at the deep end. I had stood in for a couple of live shows before I came onboard full time but there is a big difference between learning enough (already released) material to get through a show and having to put together my parts for 10+ brand new tracks while working to a deadline but I have really enjoyed the challenge. "Immemorial" is going to feel like a major personal achievement for me because I have had to push myself to play harder, faster and more technical than ever.
Rebecca: Yeah usually John will write an outline idea for the vocal melody and then give it to me to change a bit. But in the case of the song "Left Behind", I wrote the vocal melody for that one myself. I had an idea for lyrics and I just asked John to send me the demo to see what I could come up with, which was fun! I’m not usually very confident in my writing skills, I see myself as more of a performer, but it was fun to do that!
How did your collaboration for the new work go in these difficult times?
John: It was actually very straightforward for us! All our writing has always been done remote. Due to the technical nature of the music, from the beginning of the band, I had been demoing songs at home and sending the tracks to everyone else to work on so it didn't affect our production schedule at all. We are all set up with home studio gear and everything is written in the studio.
How was the selection of songs for the album done? Was it difficult for you?
John: When putting an album together, in the beginning we generally don't even work towards an album. I will write a bundle of demos, anything between 10-20 demos and overtime I'll either get bored working on some of the songs, or we will realise they don't stand out too much from the pack. The ones that we want to keep working on end up being the rough skeleton of the album, and when we reach around 6 tracks we are happy with, we start looking at the songs more seriously as an album. This is when we try to work out what is missing, like, do we need an energy boosting fast song? Do we need another ballad? Do we have too many mid tempo songs? At some point we have an album, but it sort of sneaks up on us.
Do the songs thematically revolve around all kinds of mysticism? Nature, tradition, legends, tales, etc.?
John: This album at a low level mainly draws from mental health and emotions, there are a lot of songs about dealing with loss but we wrap everything in a layer of storytelling and abstraction that draws metaphor from stories and nature. "Painters Dream" and "Paper Ships" are stories about characters dealing with loss of loved ones, while songs like "The Maze", "Spiral" and "Left Behind" are more personal to people in the band, while "Masque Of Red Death" and "Springtime Lament" adapt classic literature. Overall this album is heavily leaning on themes around the cycle of Life and Loss.
Rebecca: I’ve been doing a lot of introspective thinking since covid, and definitely I agree with John that there’s elements of mental health and emotions in this album. Over the last 2 years people have experienced such extreme emotional highs and lows, and i feel like that’s reflected in the varying themes from song to song in this album.
Nearly everything has changed since Covid - the world, the music business, the societies - how much have you changed, how much have your views on true art changed now?
John: I think the main thing that changed for us is that we always viewed the music industry as a large infallible empire. It was always hard for bands to survive, but seeing artists much larger than us suddenly get hit with these sudden changes and struggling to adapt was an eye opener. As a smaller unit, I feel like we had more flexibility to change our plans with music releases and our ways of interacting with fans because we didn't have a wider network/team we had to accommodate.
Anything you would like to add?
John: Be sure to check out our album when it releases on January 27th! We have a few videos out already on YouTube, we think they are pretty fun and we hope you do too!
© Markus Eck, 02.01.2023
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