INTERVIEW: S. Vrath – Craven Idol

Since 2005, London based blackened thrashers CRAVEN IDOL have been bubbling away in the UK underground metal scene. Their uncompromising style and adoration for the early waves of extreme metal have helped CRAVEN IDOL establish a foothold in the metal underground. 2017 has seen the long-awaited release of the band’s second full-length studio record, The Shackles Of Mammon, and a performance at this year’s North of the Wall Festival. We caught up with guitarist/vocalist S. Vrath to talk about their latest album including its themes and recording process, alongside divulging into the band’s musical style and the state of the UK underground metal scene.

Hello there, Tim from Distorted Sound here. It’s been a while coming but we’re finally being treated to another album, titled The Shackles Of Mammon from CRAVEN IDOL. The most obvious first question is why the wait between albums and why release your second now?

Vrath: Salutations and thanks for the interview! As an underground band we are not ones to rush a release. Ideas take time to materialise, as do riffs, structures, and songs. We’re not a big touring band, so we’re not monetarily dependent on releasing an album every 1-2 years – which is just the way I like it. Truth be told, this release was written by-and-large between 2015 and 2016, once I’d developed a full understanding of what it was we wanted to craft. Line-up changes and other outside such distractions also played a role, but more about that later. As to why we are releasing it now… the simple answer is: Because it’s done.

You’ve been signed to label Dark Decent since your first record four years ago. Since your still on them for your second release it can be assumed you enjoy working with them. How did you end up on the label and how have your dealings with them been?

Vrath: I have worked with many labels in my time and Dark Descent is by far the best. Label boss Matt Calvert is passionate about all of his bands and does the utmost to support them. When we were nearing the recording of The Shackles Of Mammon it was a given, I believe for both parties, that it’d be out on Dark Descent again! The label follows very similar old school ethics to mine, which explains the way that we originally got ‘signed’ to DD. We’d recorded Towards Eschaton in our then-drummer Volgard’s studio NLE and sent out promos in parcels across the world. Unlike many a label who insist that they listen to all promos, Matt actually does it… and after hearing the record, he got in touch and offered us a deal. The rest has been smooth sailing and I hope to remain on the label for the foreseeable future (not that there is such a thing anymore).

How did CRAVEN IDOL come into being?

Vrath: CRAVEN IDOL was formed in 2005 by Scourger and I. We’d both come to London from small towns and were dying to play some old school extreme metal. That was more of less it – we rehearsed in a cramped cellar near King’s Cross (London) and wrote a demo that we release in 2006. We wouldn’t play our first live show until 2010 at the Armageddon Festival, with Volgard joining on drums and Suspiral on bass. This was also the year we released our MLP Ethereal Altars via Hammer Of Hate.

Recently founding member Scourger left the band. How has this affected recording the record or live performances?

Vrath: Scourger and I had started writing new material for the second album soon after finishing gigging for Towards Eschaton. Whilst the writing chemistry was all there, we just didn’t get together as often with him having moved to Nottinghamshire. All in all his focus at the time was mainly on his other bands SOLSTICE, DECEPTOR, and LETHEAN, so we decided mutually that we’d complete the album without him. Obscenitor took over on second axe soon after Scourger’s departure, with Heretic Blades filling the void left by Volgard. Recording and live-wise this has made the band a much stronger entity, as we rehearse regularly and can play more gigs as a result. The recording experience was the best I’ve had as well!

While people often refer to your style as Black/Thrash in the traditional of the many great Australian acts, there has always been an element of the early Black metal sound to your records, refusing to conform to what the Norwegians said the sound should be. Is this a deliberate choice on your part or is it just what comes naturally?

Vrath: Completely naturally; we are first and foremost music fanatics who play what they’d want to hear themselves! Of course, you’re not wrong, we adore the ‘90s Aussie wave of black/thrash and both waves of black metal. But these are just guiding genre tags really; Easy ways of identifying/communicating a sound that is, to one degree or another, hard to put into words. Euronymous was a great visionary as were many of his peers, and together they created something exceptional. But the generations of copy-bands that followed are rarely worthy of their ancestors. Quorthon set himself no such limitations, and he went on to create numerous genres – all on his own terms. Now, it’s important to say at this point, that I am not comparing myself to these legends, but rather to the spirit of pioneering they represented. Hence, when asked what genre we play, I simply say ‘extreme metal’ in the vein of the late 80s/early 90s. To me this was the pinnacle of metal as a whole, a race for extremity, an age to revolutionise, to not do as others did before them. There is a freedom to that era that is unique, somewhat similar to the NWOBHM a decade prior. It is these bands that we are inspired by; BATHORY, MASTER’S HAMMERS, POISON (Ger), SODOM, VENOM, HELLHAMMER… the olden Gods!

CRAVEN IDOL shares members with both SCYTHIAN and CROM DUBH. For anyone unfamiliar with the relationships between them could you briefly explain how this situation works?

Vrath: CROM DUBH is Obscenitor’s band, and I merely play guitar for them. I’d been a massive fan of the band since the demos, so I’m stoked to be part of the fold. As for SCYTHIAN, I play bass and do vocals, and also have a major part in songwriting along with A Von M (who briefly played live session guitar with CROM DUBH as well). All in all, we’ve never had any major clashes and the bands work well simultaneously… being underground and without real time constraints does the trick.

Obviously with these connections you’ll have a better understanding of the state of underground metal in the UK today than the majority of people. There is an argument that trends for the “flavour of the month” style amongst the underground are causing harm rather than driving creativity, would you agree?

Vrath: I whole-heartedly agree. I used to be a very active part of the London metal scene, organising over one hundred shows. But recently, I find things have become so trend-driven that I’ve lost interest. I’ll do gigs on my terms, or not at all. Musically, the UK has some killer acts, but mainly punters are into absolutely dreadful local spin-offs of commercially successful acts from the ‘90s. Playing anywhere besides of London, Glasgow and a few other cities is truly a fool’s errand. Metal in itself seems to be developing into background music for most listeners, who are more interested in the ‘general vibe’ than the actual song-writing and quality. Certain bands are socially acceptable to listen to… the rebellion is gone. Musically speaking it’s hardly a new trend by any means, and metal’s been lacking creativity from the underground (and by-and-large for that matter) for a good few decades now. But then this is true of most things in the materialistic, low-attention-span, instant gratification era that we are living in (and most likely will die in also). On the topic of CRAVEN IDOL, I consider as isolationist in this sense. As mentioned above, we simply wish to play late ‘80s extreme metal when the horizons were endless. Even if we were capture an inkling of that magic and no one ever listened to a note we play, it’d be a low price to pay, especially for not being one of this pathetic occult DEATH/DIAMOND HEAD historical re-enactors.

The Shackles Of Mammon is a longer record than Towards Eschaton was, clocking in at three quarters of an hour as opposed to its predecessors’ half hour. What’s behind the longer record and how long do you think a CRAVEN IDOL record should be? Or a metal record in general?

Vrath: I think the ideal length of a record is fully dependent on the type of music. A doom record clocking in at 30 minutes would habitually sound incomplete, whilst most legendary thrash records of the ‘80s are just that length. To be completely honest regarding Towards Eschaton, it was originally planned as an EP, but when all was done and dusted, the whole just worked (some 30-35 minutes of material). So The Shackles Of Mammon is about 10 minutes longer, which, to my mind, is quite long for an extreme record. But give that the final track Tottering Cities Of Men is almost nine minutes long, it sort of makes sense. Ultimately I simply aimed for an 8-track album to tell the story we set out to tell.

You recorded at Birmingham’s Priory Studios and worked with ESOTERIC’s Greg Chandler on engineering the sound. How did the recording session go? Any moments that you’d like to share?

Vrath: I’d recorded with Greg once before with SCYTHIAN and was keen to return to Priory for CRAVEN IDOL. Greg is a master of his craft and capable of harnessing any sound imaginable to sonic matter. We specifically went for an old school sound for The Shackles Of Mammon and had numerous conversations prior to recording to set out what we were after. Once we actually arrived at Priory, in the outskirts of Birmingham, some seven miles from Aston, everything was ready to go and the session went smoothly as can be. It is hard to pinpoint a moment out of the norm, given that all parties delivered the goods. The greatest moment always is hearing everything coming together and a vision as complete as it was perfect.

The underlying themes of the record is “the vices of man, the plagues they unleashed upon themselves, and the rationalisation of its own actions – be it in tragedy or ruin – through the creation of deities and cults.” What inspired the creation of such a dark work and the message behind it?

Vrath: The old adage reads ‘write about what you know’. The folly of man is something we are won’t to know about given our status as well-read white males, haha. “Jokes” aside, the world we live in has been a part of CRAVEN IDOL’s lyrical output since the early days. Back then we were more focused on being anti-establishment/anti-Christian to an almost punk ethic. These days we are a bit more subtle in our point and whilst Torwards Eschaton was more all-encompassing in its outlook of evil, with The Shackles Of Mammon we aim to focus more directly and specifically on the influence of currency and the cults that surround it.

It would be remiss not to mention the beautiful album artwork adoring the front of the record by artist Daniel Corcuera. Can you tell us how you came to use his art and how you feel about the end result?

Vrath: The artwork was painted specifically for this album by Chilean artist Daniel Corcuera. The band and the label had been big fans of his art for years, so it was a no-brainer to go with Daniel. The artwork – displaying the Demon of Avarice Mammon – presents a further step down into the abyss. The chronology of our covers begins with Ethereal Altars, a gateway to the Eschaton, continue with the horrific canvas of hell of the debut album, and, for now, concludes by delving down ever deeper into the lockers of the eternal fire, where we find the Lord Mammon. The painting you see is based on a 1896 wood carving by Sascha Schneider, a more barren image, fundamentally with the same message. Ultimately, the only ‘reality’ displayed in the image is the human and his ruin – Mammon isn’t real, currency isn’t real, the visions in flame aren’t real, as neither are the shackles. He’s wrought his own web… and it consumes him/us.

I’ll bring this interview to a close by offering you the floor. Is there any final statement you’d like to make?

Vrath: Thanks for the great interview and your support for The Shackles Of Mammon! It means a lot! Stand strong against the raging tide!

The Shackles of Mammon is out now via Dark Descent Records.

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