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INTERVIEW: Steve Tovey – The King Is Blind

Since the release of Our Father last year, THE KING IS BLIND have really started to cement their place in the UK metal scene. Through adoration from the press to a monolithic live presence, the band have made huge strides in crafting a solid reputation in the UK and now, the band are looking to expand on this in abundance through album number two; We Are The Parasite, We Are The Cancer. With THE KING IS BLIND taking the independent route this time round, the stakes are higher, but the band are really pushing to expand their name. We caught up with vocalist Steve Tovey to talk about their upcoming album, the expanding influences at the core of THE KING IS BLIND‘s sound, their reasons behind going independent and the issues striking our modern metal scene.

So you and THE KING IS BLIND are gearing up to release We Are The Parasite, We Are The Cancer in October. The new album comes off the back of 2016’s Our Father. How has THE KING IS BLIND developed in that time?

Steve: While we have a core set of influences from the bands we’ve grown up with, bands like CELTIC FROST, CANDLEMASS, NAPALM DEATH, NEUROSIS, we get excited by what’s happening now, and releases by NAILS, BOLZER and CODE ORANGE were amongst those, whether sonically or musically, that we were talking about while we were finishing off the writing and recording. We wanted a lean, fat-free, and muscular album, but not at the expense of not letting a song develop how it needed to develop. How that manifested is in a much more aggressive album. It’s no less or more metal, but by bringing the focus of the lyrics into a contemporary, modern-day setting, and by encouraging ourselves to explore our political leanings and anger with the current situation in Europe, Syria, America, North Korea… you fucking name it… it is a more contemporary album, and an angrier one.

Our Father really skyrocketed THE KING IS BLIND into the spotlight. What sort of pressure have you felt when it came to writing We Are The Parasite, We Are The Cancer?

Steve: The external expectation was more of an inspiration and motivation than anything else. We challenged ourselves smash Our Father out the water. We left nothing behind; it was all about giving 100% to every take, and to injecting real emotions into the album. We didn’t go in to record a perfect take, but by recording a more raw version, THAT became the perfect take.

What is intriguing about this upcoming release is that the record will be released independently through THE KING IS BLIND’s own label, Calva Records. What were the origins of this decision and why did you decide to go independent?

Steve: Our second album is our defining statement, and we wanted to make sure we could influence every aspect of that. Setting up a label has been something we’ve talked about a lot, and this was the ideal time to back ourselves. It really excites me, to be honest; we’re looking to expand, sign other bands once we’ve learned from this release, and for the label to become a self-sufficient entity. We admire what Dig did with Earache, what Hammy did with Peaceville, back in the “good old days”, and what Holy Roar have done more recently; finding and pushing exciting, innovative and different bands. We were also inspired by the NEUROSIS model of setting your own agenda, not someone else’s.

And with some notable bands in our world taking the independent route alongside yourselves, do you think it is marking a notable change in the music industry?

Steve: And, yes, I do think the independent model is a welcome direction of travel for the industry, particularly for non-mainstream acts like us. There is still plenty of benefit to having a machine of an established label behind you, so we’re not ruling out going back down that route in the future, but we’re very excited at how well us taking the independent approach has been received.

Now, onto the record itself. We Are The Parasite, We Are The Cancer continues THE KING IS BLIND’s signature sound with a few new sounds coming through this time. What influences drove your creative process for this album?

Steve: More NAPALM! We were very aware that We Are The Parasite, We Are The Cancer must represent everything we are, while not repeating ourselves. As always with a concept album, there was the need to match the feel of the lyric to the feel of the music. Everything is more “real” this time; more live, more human, more “us”. The drums are live, the guitars are via an amp, the vocals were done using a hand-held mic, recorded in verses and sections, rather than line by line. Everything was about us injecting the energy and aggression of our live performance into the studio environment, which isn’t always easy and requires a lot of self-motivation. Although it came out after the vast majority of the album was written, it’s worth noting CODE ORANGE‘s Forever as a game-changer – it sparked conversations and turned our heads, and it pushed us to think about our “sound”, where we wanted to sit, and to spend time on guitar and drum tones. It also encouraged us to explore the samples and additional elements that we’d toyed with on Our Father, and really embrace them as embellishing and fleshing out this album. But grind, hardcore elements, whatever… we are, and always will be a metal band. A HEAVY metal band, bringing a focused, relentless, angry take on metal.

Mantra XIII features Karl Willetts in a guest vocal spot. Can you explain how Karl became involved on this track and describe what it was like working with such an iconic vocalist in death metal?

Steve: It’s no secret that we’re all BOLT THROWER fans; Realm of Chaos was one of the first metal albums I ever heard – in at the deep end, right! – and Lee’s riffing is often influenced by them. We’re grateful that Karl has always been very positive about us from the beginning; even before we talked about collaborating he was very generous with his online support of us. The concept album premise allows for different characters to have different “voices”, so we asked Karl if he would be interested in roaring on an anti-capitalist track. He agreed, we met up at Bloodstock to firm it all up, I sketched the outline of the part, and when they went in to record the excellent first MEMORIAM album, the MEMORIAM guys were kind enough to give up some time to Karl letting rip on Mantra XIII (Plague: Avaritia). We’re really, REALLY chuffed with how it came out. Karl’s distinctive bellow really makes that track stand out. I only hope I can do his parts justice live, or that the opportunity comes around where he can come and perform with us! It’s a great feeling to be endorsed by someone as influential as Karl, and to have him “Speeeaaarrrheeeaadd!” our album.

The album name, We Are The Parasite, We Are The Cancer, certainly seems damning to our current society. Can you explain the meaning behind the album’s title and what themes and messages will be explored on the album?

Steve: We want everything about this album to be a statement and to be the best we can make it. No laziness. No phoning any single aspect of this release in. We didn’t want another album title; it had to sum up what we were saying throughout the album and in a strong, iconic way. I’ve always been drawn to the depth that genuine concept albums are required to have. Maybe it’s a by-product of Seventh Son… being THE first metal album I bought, or it’s rooted in my long-held love of literature and story-telling, but I wanted to write a story. Album one was re-writing, re-interpreting and re-presenting someone else’s work, and this time I wanted to tell my own story. The challenge I was set was that the album had to be contemporary, had to be a vehicle to discuss current societal issues and our views on those, but that it also had to tell a coherent story. The arc, that the I/Satan character from Our Father is, in modern day Earth, calling down seven plagues, each one to represent one of the seven sins, to establish the hold of chaos and selfishness over spirituality and love, allowed this. There are two “story” songs to bookend the album that also hold a dual purpose – to progress the narrative, and to pose questions of us as people, to provoke thoughts about how we feel about modern society and the choices we may have to make – and then each of the seven “Plague” songs explores the impact of a particular sin on earth (for example Mantra XIII (Plague: Avaritia) is the plague of avarice, and the replacement of spirituality with commercialism, consumerism and capitalism and the effect that has on the world – of man’s inherent selfishness and the damage to community with capitalism encouraging the primacy of self). There is further comment throughout the album that in the modern world we’ve replaced He/God with Sin and self-interest and that the world is run by celebrity politicians more concerned with winning Twitter pissing contests than being responsible, progressive human beings. And much more. It was exhausting, rewarding and challenging to pull it all together, and I’ve still not found a way to sum it up succinctly! Maybe that’s my next challenge.

Look, there’s no love of “organised religion”, there’s no apology for the atrocities of both the past and the present that are carried out in the name of “Love” or “God”, or what have you, but you have to accept that consumerism, vanity, avarice, self-interest, no collective awareness or social interest in community is a dangerous and fucked up place to be in. The failing isn’t with religion, or spiritualism as a concept, or as a set of ideas… it never was… it’s about interpretation and primacy… it’s always been about people manipulating tenets of faith, or scripture, to their own means and ends, whether to control or for financial or political gain. All of the evil being done in religions’ name aren’t the actions of a nebulous God or gods, but are actions designed by, and carried out by, people. By human beings. Added to that, throughout the lyrics are multiple references the parasitic nature of humanity. We are parasites sucking this earth dry and picking the bones of each other’s carcasses. Embers From A Dying Son (Plague: Gula) is about gluttony, not in the traditional sense, but in how we’re greedily ruining this planet, scoffing down everything it produces, defiling the natural resources, all in the name of profit.

And with the new album dropping in October, what are you and THE KING IS BLIND are hoping to achieve with this new release?

Steve: We said when Our Father came out, we had no expectations, we just hoped to begin to establish ourselves as a band that people could expect quality from. We think we’re coming into album two from a position where we’ve done that, so album two is the STATEMENT. This is the “This Is Who We Are” album. Yes, we’d like to become “bigger” (whatever that means) and reach more people, but above all, we want We Are The Parasite, We Are The Cancer to definitively establish us as a band who deliver aggressive, powerful, dynamic, varied and high quality HEAVY music and to be an album people still talk about in years to come.

THE KING IS BLIND’s rise has come at a time where British metal is soaring. How does the scene today benefit your growth and is there still room for improvement?

Steve: I disagree. I don’t see a scene. I see a few (and I mean only a few) good, new bands, a handful of really good old ones and a gaping chasm in the middle filled with a lot of bands doing a decent (and no more than that) job of regurgitating that which has gone before. Are we really happy? This is a country of great metal heritage, that at one point had PARADISE LOST, MY DYING BRIDE, NAPALM DEATH, BOLT THROWER, CARCASS, GODFLESH and more at the same time, all bubbling up from the underground, branching out in new and exciting ways; a country that followed that up with CRADLE OF FILTH, with AKERCOCKE, that now has… who?

Attendances are low at metal gigs, in the main, and an enthusiastic minority aside, punters, in general, seem disengaged with new, or less established, bands, and are going to see the same established bands album cycle after album cycle almost irrespective of the quality of their output. It’s easy to think otherwise in an online echo chamber, but when we went out on the AKERCOCKE tour last year – and we were coming in with great coverage from various media outlets – 90% of the crowd had never heard of us, and at that point, those people should have been our core audience, we’d have thought. From our point of view, we’ve been lucky to pick up some excellent tours with some of the few bands I’d see as an exception to the comments above in WINTERFYLLETH, VOICES and AKERCOCKE… but where do we go next in terms of lives? It’s difficult, cos there isn’t a strong or popular scene that we’re part of. Hopefully that’ll change in line with how hardcore has redefined itself, and hopefully we can grow our own following and begin to hook up with a few interesting bands, utilising our label to find and help push stimulating and challenging UK acts.

2016 saw THE KING IS BLIND really cement a place on the live front. What touring plans are in the works to support your upcoming release?

Steve: Thank you. I feel like we’ve done that, too. Every show we’ve played has felt like we’re going out to win new people over and I bloody love that feeling of proving ourselves live, it gives us an edge. We like the underdog role, and we’re looking to find the right profile of support / Special Guest slot for this album. We do feel, to a point, less is more, and we don’t want to become “that” band that hops around opening every show going – we want to preserve a bit of exclusivity to our live shows, and for our being on a bill to mean something to us, the audience, and the bill itself. We’ve been lucky in our short lifespan to have already been invited to play, and to go down well, at each of Download, Bloodstock, Damnation, Hammerfest and Incineration, and I’d hope one of more of those excellent festivals would be up for inviting us back again soon.

And finally, to close, we will offer you the floor. Do you have anything to say to the readers of Distorted Sound Magazine?

Steve: If you care about something, don’t be apathetic about it. If it’s an artist you love, support them with all your heart, even if you can’t financially; if it’s something political or ethical, raise your voice; if it’s seeing something you don’t agree with, challenge it, stand up to it. I spent far too much of my life worrying about being seen as uncool, or saying or doing the wrong thing, or liking the wrong thing, and do you know what…? Life is so much better when you embrace who you are and start to live and reflect your beliefs and likes. You can’t change your tastes, so if what you love is cheesy power metal, but you’re worried you’ll be ripped for it, fuck ‘em and all strength to your fist-pumping elbow. And, especially if it’s a HEAVY apocalyptic post-Grind, Monolithic Metal band called THE KING IS BLIND that you’re enjoying. If you like them, let everyone know! We Are The Parasite, We Are The Cancer is out on October 13th via Calva Records. Pick it up from the usual digital places, but we’d especially love it if you could check it out via www.TheKingIsBlind.Bandcamp.com. All the very best to you, James, and we really are grateful for all the love Distorted Sound has given us. You’re a great magazine, and thank you for giving us your continued support.

We Are The Parasite, We Are The Cancer is set for release on October 13th via Calva Records.

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