On December 4th 2020 I released my eighth solo album with next to no fanfare, PR push, review copies sent out or any sort of celebration whatsoever, that being said it had already made a profit by the point of it's release so go figure. There are many reasons for this choice to create an album and not engage in 'the game' which this post will reflect and expand on in no particular order.
I am a solo artist signed to a micro-label 'Trepanation Recordings' who enjoys a level of freedom not available to most 'signed' artists, as in I can make and release music outside of Trepanation Recordings without their permission. As someone who has left bigger labels and even turned down opportunities to work with 'cooler' labels I just felt like utilising my freedom to put out an album without needing to consult anybody for permission. This also goes hand in hand with the freedom I have as a multi-instrumentalist solo artist, I don't need to wait or collaborate with other musicians in the creative process (although I did, but more of that later). So yeah, one of the main reasons that I wrote and released Orc Mage was 'because I can', total artistic freedom of control has been a long time coming and it just seems mad to not 'use' the freedom every once in a while.
For the best part of spring and early summer I was utilising lockdown to work full time on what will be my ninth solo album, although at the time it was my eighth... This is due to be released via Trepanation Recordings summer 2021 and is for want of a better description my most honest and challenging work yet, which is by my own design a total guitar worship album, containing upwards of twenty lead guitar solos, some of which are a couple of minutes a piece. As I was working on the leads for this album I hit a brick wall with the guitar solos and came to the realisation that I simply was not a good enough guitarist to be able to carry the weight of such a project on my shoulders. Rather than compromise my vision I realised that I would need to take a detour from working on the album to simply become a better player. The best way to do this is to work on an album, so I started a new album, namely Orc Mage. One of the reasons Orc Mage exists was simply to use it as an opportunity to become a better guitarist. I didn't need to just get a 'bit better' or 'faster', I realised that I needed to achieve nothing less than a seismic shift in my abilities. So I took to studying the modes and reconnecting to my true self by a strict regime of daily modal improvisation routines. The end result being the leads on Orc Mage being, to my ears at least a huge leap from the Unrelaxed albums. So then when I returned to my now ninth album, finishing off the leads was no longer an issue. I had become a musician capable of honouring the albums musical vision.
In March 2020, I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear that legendary Conquest of Steel vocalist Dan Durrant had died. I had known Dan for many years and shared the stage multiple times as my old band Man of the Hour were signed to the same label, namely No Face Records. Conquest of Steel and Man of the Hour had played many shows together and I am proud to have considered Dan a friend. Although Orc Mage is not a tribute to Dan, he did influence it as Vic Victory also of Conquest of Steel painted the cover, as he had done many of my releases 'The Wizards Bones' and 'The Necromancer' being two of them. Myself and Vic had a bunch of calls were we remembered Dan via anecdotes and funny stories, which inevitably led on to us discussing Vic doing me a new painting. Rather than commission something for the album I was working on, it seemed right to do something altogether different. Perhaps there was a feeling that we needed to do something positive and spontaneous as a reaction to the sometimes shocking uncertainty of life and death... The album I was working on at the time, was/is very dark lyrically and has followed a more serious tone that started with my Unrelaxed album in 2018. I have of late spent much time engrossed in issues of neuro-diversity, mental health, politics and altogether a different universe of the Man of the Hour / Conquest of Steel insane celebration of metal for the sake of metal because metal with a little bit of metal on the side. So yeah, Orc Mage... that's pretty metal and would have slotted right in on any Man of the Hour / Conquest of Steel album. Orc Mage isn't a tribute to Dan, instead it's more influenced by him. Sure it's devastatingly sad that the influence is a posthumous one, but it is tantamount to the purity of the metal positivity he exuded as a musician that he remains an influence even after he has left us.
One of the motivating factors for creating the Orc Mage album was to see what I had in terms of production skills. I produced my first two solo albums myself, with three being done by Paddy Tobin and two by Bryan Ramage. I figured that it was time to test what skills I had learned in the last eighteen years since I produced one of my own albums, and Orc Mage was going to be that test. I've gotta say that it was a hugely enjoyable experience, albeit stressful, but I found the extra pressure to be a useful motivating force of creativity. I drew the line at mastering though, as my attempts were at best pitiful and at worst horrifying. So I called upon the talents of Jamie Gilchrist, guitarist for Scottish doom metal heroes King Witch. Jamie had previously mastered The Necromancer, so I knew Orc Mage was in good hands. This turned out to be the only financial expense for the entire album, and I made that back in the first hour the album went on pre-sale.
Okay so last July I bought a new guitar and the motivating impact this had on Orc Mage is huge. I ended up coming into a surprise bit of money, so after being a boring adult and paying off debts and saving most of it I figured it was only right to get a new guitar. So I bought a white Fender Stratocaster and fulfilled some childhood dreams. Thing is, I had just completed all the rhythm guitars for the album I was working on and most of the leads. So I had this smoking hot new guitar and no project to us it on.... only one thing for it.... new album specifically for new guitar!
As I said earlier, my next album which will be my ninth solo album is due to be released summer 2021 via Trepanation Recordings... However it was originally going to be my eighth solo album until Orc Mage appeared out of nowhere. This has been quite fortunate as it happens, because this here ninth solo album is considerably more advanced musically than anything I have previously put out, so Orc Mage has served as a surprise 'level up' to help ease people into what will come next. One of my favourite all time bands is a surf punk outfit called Man or Astro Man? I remember years ago reading something about them and they explained that in the future they are the most popular band in the galaxy, but unfortunately when Earth makes first contact with the rest of the universe humans are not musically evolved enough to handle it and all go insane when they hear galactic music. So Man or Astro Man? take it upon themselves to travel back in time to the 1990's to play music that will kick start human musical evolution enough to enable a survival of first contact when it eventually happens. This is quite possibly my most favourite all time piece of nonsense ever spoken by a band, and it did actually inspire some musical innovations. I decided that Orc Mage could well serve as a stepping stone, and I figured out a couple of ways in which I could do this. The first being time signatures, of all the solo songs I have ever done I had so far only strayed away from 4/4 about three or four times. So every song on Orc Mage has a time change, and the album in total is represented by 5/4, 3/4, 2/4, 6/8, 11/8 and of course old faithful 4/4. This alone gives the album it's own identity within my discography as well as stretching what I offer overall as an artist. The second was I wrote every song on keyboards first, and added bass second and guitar last (apart from Marked For Death Axial Command, but more about that later). As I am a guitarist first, it has always made sense to write my music on guitar first and add other instruments later, but as well as this being a bright idea, sometimes it is a crutch. Doing this had me adding riffs that had to serve a purpose of fitting within an already composed songs, as opposed to being the basis of the song itself. It was a great challenge, I learned lots and will definitely repeat this process again.
One of the original ideas for my Unrelaxed album was that I would get a different guest vocalist for each song. This never worked out for a million reasons, but I did actually get one done. Vic Victory recorded vocals for what was to become Witness to Samsara, however these of course where not used and I sang the version on the album. I did however keep the vocals... These were Marked For Death (Axial Command), you guessed it, they were eventually used on Orc Mage. However, what I did do was create the song vocals first. I had Vic's vocal stems and set a track to the same bpm and built the song around the vocals, which was utterly backwards, very hard and massively fulfilling, it ended up being my personal favourite on the album and not just because of the bizarre way it was created. Another track with guest vocals and guitar is Consumption of Punishment, which features Half Deaf Clatch. This is a great moment for me as Clatch is one of my oldest friends and we have played many gigs together, back in the day I was his guitar tech for a bit. Now all of us pals from back home have all at some point been in bands or contributed to songs by each other, all except me and Clatch. So it we managed to make a reality something that had bene a long time coming. Clatch is a fantastic blues solo artist in his own right so it was magnificent to get his contributions on a track, and also have him revisit his metal roots. A pleasure and an honour in equal parts.
So why did I not play the game, why did I not try to drum up millions of press, why didn't I generally not do anything you are supposed to do? Simply because fuck it and fuck em to be honest. Although there was some deranged logic involved somewhere. You see, if you have let's say an extra £200 to spend on your album your producer is gonna straight up tell you that your album absolutely needs another day in the studio... Your artist is gonna convince you that they could do a better job if they had more time... Your singing instructor is gonna tell you the vocals would be better with a bunch of lessons and your PR guy is going to tell you that nobody is going to care about your album unless you spend the cash on a 'social media tune up only £200'... Of course they are all correct, and it's up to the individual how much they feel is appropriate / possible to spend on an album. Over the last couple of promotional cycles for albums, I have felt increasingly burnt out on promo and business and general none musical concepts. I just wanted to not put myself through any of it and make the whole Orc Mage cycle be about music and music only. I first used professional paid PR on my Unrelaxed album, and I can say that it was a really positive experience for me which I felt was really great value for money and something I will indeed be repeating in the future. However here's the thing. I released two videos for Unrelaxed, the first one I posted once on social media with no fanfare, the second got a premier on a blog, PR push and a multitude of shares. Thing is the one I just posted the once, got more than double the views of the one pushed by PR... This perplexed me and got me thinking as to why this was the case. I came to the conclusion that my demographic likes to engage directly with me, perhaps doesn't give a shit about high profile shares and might even be a bit turned off by this extra layer of distancing between me and them. So with this in mind I thought we might try 'the art of promotion without promotion' and yeah, as mentioned right at the beginning of this post... Orc Mage was in profit at pre-sales and actually made me money, enough to pay for a couple of days in the studio for album nine. I was inundated with positive feedback from fans and peers all praising the music and the down to earth no nonsense attitude of the release. I think I was right, the people that actually care and give a shit about me really appreciate the DIY ethic. Of course, there is no doubt that if I had of used professional PR that my reach to new fans would've been considerable more, but I also wouldn't have made any money whatsoever and the whole project would be a financial loss. So you got to ask yourself as an artist, 'what is it you want and how much are you prepared to pay for it?' And when I mean pay for it that includes stress just as much as it does money.
In February 2020 I released my seventh solo album via Trepanation Recordings. This was Unrelaxed 2 and was at the time my best work. It was critically acclaimed in reviews and I received a lot of respect for it. I feel this was a wonderful achievement but also that the album did not close come to reaching as many people as it could as just slightly more than a month after it's release the whole of my country and most of the world went into lockdown due to the covid-19 pandemic. People, myself included, promptly forgot about a lot of things specifically unusual progressive metal albums on micro labels. I'm not moaning, there is only one physical copy left and the folk that like it still play it. It's just at the start of 2020 I felt that the year would be defined by Unrelaxed 2, when in fact it was defined by a global virus. So, yeah, there was a lot of me that wanted to close the year with a new album, just my little way of motivating myself to reclaim a year dominated by the excruciating reality of a humongous death toll. Of course, my next album is my 'covid 19' album, as the lyrics almost exclusively deal with the pandemic, but you will have to wait for that... I didn't want to wait, I wanted to fight back against negativity and stick an album out to close the year, so I bloody well did just that.
Oh yeah, and you should totally buy it.