ANTERIOR – Sleep Soundly No More
Tredegar, Wales-based metal outfit Anterior formed in December 2003, its inaugural line-up consisting of vocalist and guitarist Luke Davies, guitarist Leon Kemp, bassist James Britton, and drummer Ross Andrews. A summer 2004 demo caused local promoters to select the group as support to bigger artists like DragonForce, The Black Dahlia Murder, Himsa, and 3 Inches Of Blood. “Basically, we were school kids messing around,” remembers Luke Davies, vocalist and co-founder of Anterior. “I bought a guitar when I was 13 or 14-years-old. Me and James Britton the bassist – I think he was even playing drums at that point – just started playing covers; old punk covers were a thing when we were kids, old Misfits and everything. We formed this band, and went through a few line-up changes. Leon joined a little while later on, and we started to take it a little more serious then to take it from a hobby to a career – well, as much as you can when you’re 16-years-old anyway. We were playing every show that was possible, every local band show; if we were lucky to get on one, we were more than happy to do it.”
The tale behind Anterior’s moniker isn’t a riveting one. “When we were 14-15-years-old, we just thought ‘We need a band name for this,’” the singer recalls. “We messed about with a couple of ideas and just looked in a book, and literally saw this word ‘anterior’. I’m not even sure what I was reading at the time, but I thought ‘That sounds cool – we’ll use that.’ It isn’t the most interesting of stories, but that’s the truth at least.”
The assortment’s first proper studio outing was helmed by producer Tim Hamill, the culmination of which would be the December 16th, 2006 announcement that Anterior had inked a record contract with Metal Blade Records. “We made a couple of demos, but we made a serious one when we were 17 down in Llangennech in a studio called Sonic One,” Luke reckons. “We signed a management deal off the back of that demo with a company in California, and they shopped the demo around to various labels. We had two offers come in; one from Metal Blade, and one from Joey DeMaio’s metal label Magic Circle Music. Basically it was the same offer from both labels, but in our view we thought that the Metal Blade roster was more similar to us. They’re a bigger record label; you can just look at the releases they put out every year and the bands on there to see that it’s a colossal metal label. We signed with Metal Blade, and I suppose everyone knows the rest I guess.”
June 2007’s This Age Of Silence marked Anterior’s inaugural full-length. “It was basically four of the tracks that we’d recorded for the demo initially, and we recorded another five tracks,” the frontman discloses. “The recording process for that was pretty arduous because at the time we were overwhelmed with signing to a record label. Being under the same roof as Unearth, As I Lay Dying, Cannibal Corpse, The Black Dahlia Murder – bands like that – we were really struggling, going ‘Can this be as good and compete with these really big bands?’ and everything. It was really honest though. We sat down with a guitar – me, Leon and the drummer – and literally just battered out the best stuff we physically could at the time and then lightly tweak them, which was more often than not taking stuff out rather than adding stuff in (laughs).
“We were all up for doing ‘Orion’-type stuff (Metallica instrumental, featured on March 1986’s Master Of Puppets); massive, lengthy things, passages that you never usually hear in mainstream metal. We filtered all the stuff out that we thought was a little bit over the top, and made sure that everything that went on was the best that we could do. We were really happy with scrapping things; we wouldn’t write 12, 15 or 20 songs, and then whittle them down to the required amount for the album. We would say ‘Ok, we’ve got this song.’ ‘It’s good enough for the album.’ ‘Brilliant.’ Or we would say ‘We’ve got another song.’ ‘It’s not quite good enough.’ ‘Alright, let’s scrap it and start again.’ That was the mentality that we had, and it’s still the same today.”
“I think there are always things that we would change slightly if we had been given the financial benefit as well as more time,” he continues, queried as to whether he would change aspects of the album with the benefit of hindsight. “The thing is, it’s a really strong record. It’s an honest record, you know? We would like to shorten things down again if we were to go back and re-record it, although I don’t think there’s any point in messing with it. That’s what we did; we recorded it and released it, so we should just leave it there. I would have taken more time to record the vocals though, probably. We really didn’t have much time in the studio – we were really pushed. It was a little bit like ‘We can’t really do that – that’s the way it’s gotta be, so let’s move on.’ I would like to have redone some things if possible, and I’m not a massive fan of the artwork. I think it could’ve been better, but again time and finances led to what it was.
“At the time we had an in-house designer from Metal Blade do the artwork; his name is Brian Aimes and he’s a really, really good artist, but what it ended up being was really rushed. We didn’t want it to be digital; we wanted it be designed by a real artist who could physically draw things and send them to Brian so he could arrange them, but it didn’t work out that way. We’re happy that we had something that was white; you never get really bright metal album covers, so in that respect it succeeded. Some people really, really dig it. Personally though, I’d change one or two things. Not a great deal mind, if I’m being honest.”
Luke originally played guitar, though he was forced to abandon the instrument and concentrate on vocal duties. Erstwhile Mendeed axeman Steven Nixon joined the fold, the addition being publicly revealed on September 26th. “Up until a couple of months after the release of This Age Of Silence, it was a four-member band,” Luke confirms. “Anterior was me on guitars and vocals, Leon Kemp on guitars, James Britton on bass, and Ross Andrews on drums. I just suffer really badly with carpal tunnel syndrome in my left hand, especially considering the amount of pressure I put myself under just trying to compete with bands at the time and that overwhelming pressure that we had on us with our record label. It was self-made pressure, really; I thought ‘We’ve got to practice loads more to get there to compete on the world market and everything,’ so I was just literally stressing myself out all the time.
“The guitar was always around, and it just really aggravated my carpal tunnel syndrome to a point where I had to go to the doctors. I had to go to hospital about it because my hand just wouldn’t work anymore. We had a tour with The Black Dahlia Murder back then, so we got a mate to fill in on guitar for us and it’s pretty much stayed the same way. Mendeed split up, and Steven Nixon joined us from Mendeed. We were really happy with the line-up, and the way the five-member band was working. Right now though since this has all calmed down – I’ve had a lot of physiotherapy – it doesn’t seem to flair up as much. I might get the odd day or two, but that’s it.”
Occasionally though, the co-founder still picks up a guitar and composes some tunes. “Sometimes we do it,” he admits. “We’ve had tracks with Steve where it’s been me and Steve sitting down with a computer sometimes, and just knocking out guitar rhythms and stuff. I suppose it’s just trying to bounce ideas off of as many people as possible. The majority of the time though it isn’t me with a guitar in my hand – it’s usually Steven and Leon.”
Inaugural drummer Ross Andrews departed in April 2008. “I suppose it’s hard to explain,” Luke begins, “unless people have been in a band and done really hard slog touring and the grief that comes with it – the financial burden almost you put yourself under when you try to take a band off, especially trying to take a band from a hobby to a career. It’s pretty difficult because there’s a lot of factors to take into consideration, so you’ve got to balance family life, work, the band, touring all at the same time and some people don’t cope as well as other people. That’s the brutal honesty of it, and I think that was Ross’ gripe. At the end of the day, some people just want to get out of it and get a real job and do life normally (laughs). Pursuing a career opens up a lot more opportunities to you, although it’s just whether some people want to hold onto their dreams, put up with the negative parts of life that come with it and charge on with the band. Ross made his decision, and the band stands by him all the way. We’re gonna keep charging on.”
Andrew Cairns was announced as Ross’ successor on February 4th, 2009, though on that exact date one year later yet another replacement was unveiled. “Another case of not realising entirely what goes into being in a band, a touring band,” the vocalist believes of Andrew. “I think the fantasy was bigger for him than the reality. We were signed to a particularly major record label – Metal Blade Records – and it’s quite a big deal for a lot of people. He joined us just prior to going on a major UK tour with All That Remains and The Haunted, which was quite a big deal for him – it was a big deal for me as well at the time. A lot of people are really up for that lifestyle; being in a band, touring around the country, drinking booze and playing with these awesome bands in front of really big crowds. They think they’re signed to a record label where millions of pounds will be flowing in and their pockets will be lined from day one, and that really, really isn’t the reality.
“There is a lot of hard work to be done, and you’ve gotta have a fair amount of albums under your belt before you see any financial benefits in the music business. The reality of it is you’ve got to put a lot of money into it, and you’ve gotta slog like everyone else – anyone in a band will tell you this. He didn’t want that lifestyle. He didn’t realise the extent of the hard work that went into Anterior I don’t think until he was in the band for a number of months, and then he said ‘I wanna leave. I don’t want this lifestyle – I don’t want it,’ which is all well and good. I think it was naivety on his part at least. He didn’t leave amicably; we had a big bust-up – a proper rock ’n’ roll bust-up – and we hate each other (laughs). But that’s fine (laughs). He left us in the lurch, and I’m happy to let anyone print that. He basically left a week before a tour, which is naughty. That’s not what people do.”
You get a bad reputation like that. “Absolutely, yeah. It doesn’t just affect one person; it affects the whole band, all the people that’ve put effort into the band. It affects the management, it affects the record label, it affects booking agencies – the lot.”
The replacement in question is James Cook, his membership confirmed following a December 2009 debut. “All the way from London,” Luke reveals. “It was quite random, us meeting up. He was in London at a show in the Underworld I think it was in Camden, and he was the drummer playing for a local thrash band from northwest London. At the time we were in the middle of practically looking for a drummer. He can really, really fucking hit the drums man (laughs). That was it. I thought ‘Great – bring him down to Wales,’ and we brought him down. He came down for two auditions, and the rest I suppose is history. He’s good enough. He gets along with everyone, and we get along with him really well. He has a drive, and he knew what he was getting into. What more do you want, really?”
August 2011’s Echoes Of The Fallen is the first Anterior album to be cut with Steven Nixon and James Cook. “Writing went on for quite a long time for this record,” the Welshman divulges. “There’s been a lot of trips back and forth to Scotland for Steve, Steve coming down to us. Again, it was pretty much the same deal as the first album. Unless the ideas are absolutely the best things that could go into a song, the song is not gonna make the record – we just scrap it, kill it and start again. We recorded this one near Ipswich in a studio called Grindstone Studios with the producer Scott Atkins, who’s an unbelievable human being – he really is. It was an absolute pleasure to work with him, and an absolute nightmare to work with him (laughs). I don’t think he’ll mind me saying that – I think he would say the same thing about us, even.
“We were in there for quite awhile, and it was a new experience for us because we moved basically to Ipswich for this. We stayed there because previously we’d just been back and forth to the studio. He’s a real fucking taskmaster, brutal with everything. Long days are no problem for him – 14 hours in the studio – which is mentally arduous for everyone. He will bring the best out of everyone though, he really will. I don’t think the record would’ve been as good if we had gone with anyone else. It’s bit of a bold statement but I truly believe that, I really do.
“I definitely think it’s more to the point, and is wrapped up in a slighter neater package – we didn’t go for the eccentric, incredibly long songs. It still contains an awful lot of the – some would say – over the top guitar work. That’s the originality of Anterior; the ridiculous guitar work that you never really hear on a metal album like this.”
The presence of Steven Nixon on Echoes Of The Fallen’s tracks has altered Anterior’s sound. “You can definitely hear a change; you can definitely hear a little bit of Mendeed in Anterior, especially when it comes to some of the lead guitar work,” Luke feels. “He’s got his own thing – I was joking with a mate in the car not so long back… You can totally hear the difference between the two guitar players. I think that has opened up a new avenue for us. Steve is an absolutely fantastic guitar player, there’s no denying that. He’s given us a little bit more of his flavour, and I think that’s really a good thing. It mixes it up a little.”
The guitar work has improved on Echoes Of The Fallen. “Definitely,” the singer agrees. “At the end of the day, it’s four years on this album is. If you don’t improve in four years then you’re doing something wrong. We’ve literally been playing for four years longer, and that’s as long as some kids have even been playing guitar. If you don’t come up with something better, then something’s weird. Especially Leon and Steven, they wanted to make an impression – that’s the thing writing with these two guys. They’re bouncing off of each other again, especially with the intense lead guitar work. Not that they were trying to outdo each other, but I think it was a friendly bit of competition sometimes. Again, Scott Atkins pushes it as well and really hammers it, saying ‘You can play better – you can do something more fancy here.’ I think the guitar work is a unique selling point.”
The four-year gap between the issue of This Age Of Silence and Echoes Of The Fallen hasn’t helped Anterior. “I agree with you,” Luke laments. “It was never our agenda to release albums so far apart; it was just a matter of availability of band members, and going through so many line-up changes. It was so insecure in terms of band members for quite awhile that it just made it impossible to track and record. We had talks to record this album two years ago, which is when we were originally speaking with Scott to record this album, and it’s been two years late. We made an honest vow – to ourselves at least – to make sure that that doesn’t happen again. There are already songs kicking around now for the next album, which is gonna happen within the next two years.”
A mixed bag of opinions and critiques denote Echoes Of The Fallen’s lyrical content. “The title was decided a little while after the songs and lyrics were written because I had the idea of using this quote that was relevant to the lyrics in the songs,” the frontman stresses. “The songs were inspired by a quote from someone almost. Coincidentally everyone who happened to provide the quotes were authors, and social commentators who had died previously even and have been dead for a long time. We thus titled the album Echoes Of The Fallen.
“We made a point of saying ‘We’re not gonna have a concept album – we’re not gonna just fix on one main point. There’s gonna be nine full songs of lyrics on the album and nine different topics.’ I suppose it’d take awhile to outline every single one, but a few things on there we discuss are financial inequality in society, and racism. I address ambition more than once, and a few other things – drugs, and a few personal things as well. ‘Sleep Soundly No More’ started off life as an ode to my own insomnia; I really, really struggle to sleep, and I was up one night again just not sleeping. I just picked a pen up, and started writing about it.
“I was watching a documentary on TV which as it happens was about a German man who escaped East Germany during the 50s when the Berlin Wall was up; he happened to dig a tunnel to his brother, but when he went back to bring his wife and three children a young soldier saw him going and he shot that soldier. The soldier was young, about 17-years-old, and the guy was in tears talking about it. It really struck home. I was thinking, ‘Fuck, and I’m having trouble sleeping just because I really over-think things.’ I’m lying in bed, trying to sleep and just going over loads of stupid things in my head like ‘Oh, is the record gonna be good?,’ ‘Are we gonna try to do this?,’ ‘Are we gonna try to do that?’ and this guy is dealing with some serious issues. It was a humble thought, I felt. That song was born out of just something as simple as that.”
Touring has inevitably improved Luke’s vocal experience. “I think singing’s a lot easier,” he deduces. “When we were first recording, it was such a hit and hope attitude to everything because we had pretty much no idea what we were doing. Just getting there in a vocal booth and shouting your head off, that was the idea. This time around, after touring for four years and being on tour with so many great vocalists, you pick inspiration and advice and take it all onboard and mix it up with your own experience. I think I’m a more competent vocalist now, a little more consistent, and pronunciation, words and phrases have become a lot easier. I’ve never actually been asked about the vocals. I’m happy with the way the record turned out. There’s always little bits where you go ‘I wish we could go back and change that’, but like I said earlier, the first album was recorded the way it was so should be left alone.”
Richey Beckett designed the cover artwork for Echoes Of The Fallen. “This time around we made the decision that we wanted something a little more old school,” the co-founder muses. “We didn’t want anyone to be on a computer when they designed this album cover, and Richey Beckett did a fantastic job – the guy’s a genius. We sat down with him; he pulled his pen out, started drawing on a piece of paper and kept going really.”
“Incredibly varied – it’s always been varied, I think,” Luke says of the Welsh metal scene. “Initially when Anterior first got signed, we didn’t receive a lot of love from the local scene at all. It was always a little… I don’t know what it was. I don’t think there’s that many bands in Wales in the same vein as Anterior. There are a lot of big trends I think, especially image-driven trends. I suppose the rest of the UK metal scene is the same, but I always felt anyone trying to do something like we’re doing is kind of alienated almost. We didn’t fit in, really. It was way too European I suppose for South Wales. There are a lot of American trends going on, and we’ve never been a part of that.
“There are always a lot of great, great bands in South Wales though which should be doing a lot more than they are, bands like Storm The Walls, All To Ruin, The Hotel Ambush and Fell On Black Days just to name a few off the top of my head. There’s a lot of talent here, there really, really is. I really do hope that these bands get the opportunity to do what we’ve done, to tour their arses off.”
Luckily for fans, a four-year gap will not lie between Echoes Of The Fallen and Anterior’s third studio album. “Definitely not,” the vocalist concurs. “When a band takes such a long time to produce another record and get back into everyone’s faces, you really do lose momentum. We’ve had to put our heads down and fingers up, and get back on the horse and fucking charge on again. There’s obviously the hype from the previous record, but unless a record follows that up in due course then the hype dies down and the following for the band dies down. You’re giving yourself a little bit more hard work to do to climb the ladder again. There’s definitely not gonna be such a long gap between albums this time around definitely.”
Echoes Of The Fallen was released on August 26th, 2011 in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, on September 12th in the rest of Europe and on the 13th in North America, all through Metal Blade Records.
Interview published in August 2011. All promotional photographs by David Meadows.
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