Two years after the end of the Doom Metal behemoth Cathedral, Lee Dorrian returned alongside with former Electric Wizard alumni Tim Bagshaw and Mark Greening to form the unrelentingly brutal With The Dead. We caught up with Lee and talked about the origin of the band, the inspirations behind their newest self-titled debut and how the metal landscape will become after giants finally stop walking the earth, among other topics.
For what I know, With the Dead has already been around for a year now. How did this new project started?
Well, Hopefully it’s more of a band than a project. I don’t want it to be seen as a band that just does one album and that’s it, no shows, and then it just disappears. I think it’s too good to let that happen. I wasn’t initially part of the band. Tim Bagshaw lives in the States these days in New Jersey, and he’s lived there for some years now. He’s married to an American girl and came back earlier last year to the UK to meet with Mark Greening. They discussed maybe having a jam together, because since Tim went to America, the band they were in before, Ramesses, came to an end I suppose, but in the meantime, Tim asked me if Rise Above would be interested in releasing something by this new project if they got enough material to record an EP, and I said I’m interested in doing something with the band but not an EP, because EPs are kind of an invalid format these days, especially if you have to fly someone down from America just to record a few tracks for an EP, which it’s kind of pointless. So, I’ve said “send me some stuff when you have it”. I was definitely interested, he sent me some tracks by the course of the last year and I really liked the stuff he was sending over. Straight away I just thought it was really cool, he was coming out with stuff which wasn’t complicated, it was kind of straightforward, to the point and raw, with a freshness about it that have been missing. I mean, I’m not saying that it was in anyway innovative or even original, it just sounded fresh and I was like “wow, yeah, this stuff sounds really great!”. They were just demos that he recorded in his bedroom with a four track and a drum machine. I said, “why don’t you come on over again to jam with Mark and go through all the material that you’ve got and record it?” Then I went down to the studio whilst they were recording and to be honest, I didn’t think the recordings turned out really well, they sounded too unprofessional and the studio wasn’t very good, and I guess they only had a couple of days to rehearse and then recorded it straight off, so there wasn’t any time to really get the songs a full attention as a unit. What I suggested was using those original recordings as some kind of demo and coming back to them at a later point, during which time they were asking me if I wanted to contribute vocals to the recordings and I said I would love to, but I really didn’t have the time. I was a bit apprehensive because I have so much work to do at Rise Above all the time, but committing to being in the band was complicated. Anyway, as time went on, I got more into the idea, because I thought that the actual material was pretty killer and in all of these past years since I’ve been in Cathedral, I didn’t have anywhere to get all this shit out my system and it builds up. For all these years when I was in Cathedral there was a platform for me, whenever I wanted to get up there and get all the creative stuff out. That was one of the things I missed about being in a band, I mean, a lot of things I didn’t missed at all, but that was one of the things, so they asked me again and again and a few other times and I eventually said yes and then I just started to think about ideas of how I would approach the songs and the kind of lyrical content. I arranged for Tim to fly back over in March this year and record the record again, but properly this time. There was a six month gap between the original recordings and the proper ones and at least it gave Mark a bit of time to let the songs sink in properly and just think about how he wanted to attack and approach them without being rushed. That also gave me time to let the vibe of the overall proceedings to resonate inside my head a bit more, which it did and I thought of loads of ideas, but I didn’t actually write anything down, pen to paper, right before going into the studio really, and that’s how the band came together. I recorded all the vocals first take, for the first time in like, two hours, one night pretty much. The whole idea was that we wanted to keep the LP as raw and spontaneous sounding as possible really. We had an agreement amongst ourselves, where I’ve said “look, if I’m going to do this, we’re just going to make the most crushing, uncompromising heavy record we can possibly make between us”, and I think when that’s your only rule, it’s quite easy to be focused.
After the end of Cathedral, back in 2013, did you initially contemplated getting involved again with a Doom metal project again in the future?
No. Like most things on my life, I don’t really plan anything. If something comes my way and it seems a good idea, then maybe I go for it, and that’s of exactly of happened here. I didn’t have any plans or ambition to be in any full time band. I have this band called Sceptic Tank, but that’s kind of an open band, just something we do very, very occasionally. If Scott Carlson is in town we get together, have a jam and record a few tracks, but that’s like an open book really, there’s nothing definite about that band. But, no, I never had any ambitions or desires to be in a band again after Cathedral to be honest. I was kind of worn out by the whole process, after twenty-odd years of doing it.
Speaking about Tim and Mark, it’s your first time working with them. In which way did you find that experience different in comparison with your past bands?
It was just easy, I mean, it was really easy I think, because there was no kind of excess baggage or overhang from previous releases and because it was a brand new band, it was very straightforward musically. I mean, I spend a lot of time thinking about the songs, but actually putting pen to paper I never spend more than half-an-hour writing the lyrics for each track. Everything was very instinctive, it just felt right, and I wanted it to be that way. I kind of said to myself that I don’t want to torture myself over writing lyrics, spending three months on one line or something like that. I just want it all to sound off the wall and as spontaneous as possible. Sometimes with Cathedral we probably thought too much about what we were doing, other times we didn’t think at all, we just went for it, whatever came out. This album, “With The Dead”, was just very focused from start to finish. I suppose the last Cathedral album “The Last Spire” was pretty focused and other albums like “Endtyme” and “Forest of Equilibrium” have been very focused. Other ones have been quite random in the way they were approached. Overall, this was just a lot more straight. To me, it was the easiest record I’ve ever made, to be honest. We just wanted to keep everything sounding raw! There’s takes when you can hear the feedback wasn’t edited, it’s just like as it was, straight from the gut.
“… people are becoming more and more self obsessed, and becoming more and more, not just so much materialistic, but a lot of people just only want to seem to know other people, just to get something from them, as opposed to there being some kind of mutual respect or love, and just this whole kind of way the world is just going more and more towards this selfish like a “Fuck You” kind of attitude.”
We really don’t hear a lot of that nowadays…
Too many bands are spending too much time on making everything sounding perfect and it’s fucking boring. I want to hear a band that makes mistakes. I want to hear a band with something that sounds messed up. It’s just getting boring all this processed production. I just want to listen to the punk attitude again in music really. Fuck Pro-Tools and all that kind of stuff, it’s kind of boring!
The band released a statement mentioning that the record is about the “voices inside your head, the anguish in your soul and the death you see around you”. Seems like the album was kind of an exorcism for various things. Could you elaborate a bit further on what inspired you to write?
Just general existence. I’ve been for a rough few years myself in my personal life, which is private stuff, I don’t want to go on talking about that, but also just general shit that’s gone on with people around me stabbing me in the back, or at least it has felt that way. Even members of Electric Wizard, previously…the whole kind of shit storm that went on with that band when we broke with them from Rise Above Records, it was Justin Oborn saying a lot of bullshit about me all over the internet at whatever opportunity he could, he just seemed to want to be negative about me, instead of being like a real man and coming to me face to face and telling me what he actually thought to my face, instead of just making up all this bullshit. We could have come to some amicable situation, but obviously he didn’t want that. He obviously thinks he’s too clever to be like a grown up about things. I guess a lot of that kind of angst and negativity comes from Mark and Tim as well, with their relationship with him. I suppose they felt like they’ve been shat on a little bit. I don’t want to dwell too much on that, but it was one of the ingredients that came to the fore. Just living in London, seeing the way people treat each other, I mean, I’ve been here for thirteen years, but just the way people are becoming more and more self obsessed, and becoming more and more, not just so much materialistic, but a lot of people only want to seem to know other people, just to get something from them, as opposed to there being some kind of mutual respect or love, and just this whole kind of way the world is just going more and more towards this selfish “Fuck You” kind of attitude. In the end of the day, when you make a conscious decision to make the heaviest, most brutal record you can, you can’t sing about positive things. Can’t write about nice things going on, you have to write about horrible things.
You’ve mentioned that the underground Euro horror movie classics from the sixties and seventies are a continual source for inspiration. Which movies from that era remain, to this day, inspirational to you?
Well, the Amando de Ossorio collection of the “Blind Dead” has been my favorite for many years. He’s one of my favorite directors and all of those “Tombs of the Blind Dead” movies, all four of them are like a massive inspiration. They have been since the late ‘80s I suppose. I dig a lot of Paul Naschy movies, a lot of Italian horror movies from the ‘70s, a lot of German crime movies, Italian crime movies, English horror movies and films that were [made] on Titan, Amicus or Hammer Productions. Generally, I watch horror movies in a way that you almost observe and pick up on vibes in horror movies that you can relate to the world around you. The record is almost like a soundtrack to our own personal hell, because we’re kind of comparing reality to some kind of horror movie in many respects, you know?
How would you compare that early underground horror movie scene with the horror scene from our current days?
There’s no comparison really, I couldn’t even begin to say. I have no real interest in modern horror films, in fact I don’t have any real interest in modern films. It’s not to say that I don’t just care, it’s just that I don’t really have the time. Most of the times I see a new horror movie I’m disappointed. There’s still tons of movies from the old days I haven’t seen that I still want to see, so they kind of take priority really!
Probably because, we go more for shock value these days and horror is not so obscure or atmospheric as it once was…
I prefer atmosphere to gore, to be honest with you, I prefer something that’s going to scare me as opposed to going “eeewww”…I mean, I like suspense, and I also like comedy! I mean, there are humorous elements to all those movies that don’t exist anymore. In the darkest horror movies, there’s always some kind of twist that’s has some sarcastic sense of humor, which I’ve always find very warming. The effects [nowadays] are shit. Everything is too digitalized. In many ways you can compare modern horror movies the same way you can compare music production. A lot of the human feel, the human touch is gone. I’m not trying to sound like some retro fucking guy living in the past (laughs). I just think I prefer classic themes and classic vibes really.
Some of the songs on “With the Dead” like “Crown of Burning Stars” and “Nephtys” seem to sound like a cross between stuff like early Sabbath, Saint Vitus and Trouble, but heavier and gloomier than what they did. Did you try to make a record that could take you back to those roots and show how extreme that early seventies sound could be?
It’s just a continuation of that whole style of music really. We’re not trying to be heavier than Trouble or Saint Vitus, or anything like that. When Cathedral first started, we had all come personally from a more underground, extreme metal scene than Saint Vitus or Trouble had. Saint Vitus grew up in the ‘70s listening to classic rock bands, whereas I grew up in ‘80s listening to hardcore punk and extreme metal, and through discovering bands like Trouble, we had no other way to play our music because we weren’t as accomplished as musicians as them, so we were in this extreme kind of state of mind, which meant the only way we could express ourselves was to make ourselves sound more extreme and more heavier than most bands that came before us. That was all we were capable of doing really. Our strength was in our extremity as opposed to our music ability, and as time got on with Cathedral, then the musical side of things became more broad, but I guess With The Dead has the same mentality as that really. I think the first Cathedral album, “Forest of Equilibrium” changed the way Doom Metal was perceived. I’m not trying to say that to get some kind of great acclaim for it or anything, but I just think it’s true. I think a lot of bands followed on and it was easier for bands to get into those other bands what we know such as Saint Vitus, Trouble and Pentagram, if they got into Cathedral first. I don’t think that the average kid that was listening to Death Metal in 1990 would turn around and listen to “Run to the Light” by Trouble and got it. They had to find it through some other means and I think, having a band like us that opened the doors because we were so extreme, in our own way, we made it easier for people that were in the underground scene to discover all those bands like Vitus and others. In the end of the day, With the Dead is not trying to be anything other than what it is. We still have the same influences and we’re still into the same things we were when we first got into Doom I suppose. It’s not trying to say anything other than we just wanted to make the heaviest record we could.
“Everything is too digitalized. In many ways you can compare modern horror movies the same way you can compare music production. A lot of the human feel, the human touch is gone.”
Cathedral has lasted 23 years and was your main band for the greater part of your life. Do you envision doing more things with With the Dead as your main band from now on, or do you think being the main owner of Rise Above is still going to take up most of your time in the future?
Being in charge of Rise Above Records takes up nearly all of my time, so I do want to do stuff with With The Dead, I don’t want it to be something that’s just one record and then it’s over. That depends on quite a few things I suppose. I can’t see it lasting as long as Cathedral did, but then I didn’t think Cathedral would last more than one demo, and there we were twenty-three years later! I mean, in twenty-three years time I’ll be fucking seventy or something! (laughs). I can’t see it happening, still, being With The Dead when I’m seventy, I probably will be dead, so I’ll probably be literally with the dead. Hopefully not, hopefully I live a little longer than that, let’s see! But really, I don’t know, it’s just one of those things we take as they come, it’s the only other kind of rule now. Now that the record is recorded, I would like to think that we would eventually do some live shows but I don’t know yet, there’s no definite plan. The record is done and we’re happy with that so we’re going to take one thing at a time really.
About the possibility of doing live shows, will you alternate between old Cathedral material with your songs and possibly some covers?
No, we haven’t even talked much further than actually maybe doing some shows. First and foremost, Tim plays guitar and bass on the record. If we’re going to do live shows, we’re going to have to find a bass player to cover that spot and we won’t be doing any old songs from Cathedral or anything like that. Cathedral is over, I don’t really see the point of resurrecting things just for the sake of it. When things have lasted for so long and you’ve laid them with a bit of respect, I think they should stay that way really.
You have been able to successfully maintain Rise Above as one of the best independent metal labels out there nowadays, ever since 1988. I’ve heard that, for years, you were the one who practically ran every label business up until recently. It’s no small feat to have achieved 27 years in business, even having been in bands. So, putting it simply, how have you managed to do it?
Fuck knows! I don’t know! It was always just putting yourself into it and trying to get on with it, doing whatever you can and by any means possible. It was a complete labor of love you know, and it was only during the last three years that I’ve actually started taking a wage. Before that I was just living on nothing and trying to keep the label alive. It’s been hard work, very hard work. If you consider, we’re only on two hundred releases in over twenty-seven years. That’s a long time for two hundred releases and that’s not even ten a year. Some of those are reissues so, I mean, really there’s probably about eighty releases out of ninety you know? It’s been very difficult, I can’t even begin to explain how it’s been, but it’s a test to it that it actually managed to survive, and in recent years we’ve had some success with a few bands that helped it float along bit more easily, obviously with Ghost and now Uncle Acid and various other bands like Blood Ceremony and Cathedral during the last record. All these things helped to keep the label running. It’s been hard work, but it’s been very much worthy because I’ve enjoyed it so much and I continue to do so. When you’re involved in doing something that you really love, you feel partly responsible for putting out records that you’re really excited about by bands that you’re really into. I think there’s nothing better really then being involved in it, I think it’s an awesome job to have.
What was for you your proudest discovery in the sense of “I’m totally glad I’m the one who discovered these guys and launched their career”?
There’s a few! Most of the bands really, but there’s a few bands like Witchcraft for instance, their first record was totally amazing. Astra, another band from San Diego, I think they’re still around, but unfortunately they’ve gone a bit quiet these days. Both their albums were totally mega-prog albums, like classic prog with a contemporary scent. Blood Ceremony which I completely love, The Oath, Lucifer, all these bands really, I can’t really single out one more than the other, because I love everything that we’ve done. There’s a band called Hidden Masters and their record was completely amazing! They broke up before that bloody record was even released. Things like that happen that can really be heartbreaking, you have some relationships with bands that kind of become very difficult, for whatever reason, so a lot of the fun goes out of it, but generally things have been fine. We’ve had a pretty good relationship with bands.
You also have a re-issue branch in your label, Rise Above Relics. How are things going with that and are there any new releases coming along?
It’s a bit quiet at the moment, because those releases on Rise Above Relics take so much time to get together and make them properly, accepted and as detailed as they can possibly be. Finding the original tapes, finding the extra tracks, tracking down the original members, finding unseen photographs, doing the sleeve notes…all these things take so much time, and to be honest, it’s not really an excuse, but they don’t sell enough records really. The next one is the reissue of the album by Horse from 1970 and we’ve been sitting on that for two years, it was supposed to come out two years ago, but we just didn’t have the time to get it out, and then there’s a band from Wales called Bran. “Bran” is Welsh for crow. They were a band that existed from the mid to late seventies, kind of like a Progressive Folk Rock band, a really awesome band, and there’s a boxset of three albums of theirs coming out at some point, I mean, realistically we’re only talking next year hopefully! Fingers crossed for getting that finished, because that seems to get on forever you know?
In terms of the work you did with Relics, what was your most passionate project to work on? Something like “I really want to see this album re-issued, because I think this band deserves really deserves more exposure”. What project was that?
Most of them really! The Love Machine album was one of the very first ones, and it took me a long time to track down the members. I tracked down their original manager, a guy called Chaz Pete, and then he told me the whole story and I went “wow”, because they were formed in Barbados but moved over to Birmingham, and then they lived in Birmingham for about two years. Then they had to go back again before the record was even released, and it’s a whole tragic story that goes with that band, as indeed is with most of them. The Mellow Candle reissue that we did…The Mellow Candle album is one of my favorite albums of all time really, certainly in my top ten, so to get to know Alice and Clodagh from the band, work on that and do a really nice reissue with loads of extra tracks and photos, that was amazing. Necromandus as well…unfortunately the only member left from Necromandus is the drummer. They had very close ties with Black Sabbath in the early days and getting to know the whole story and speaking to them one to one, that was like a great experience too. Steel Mill had an incredible album…all these things have been really cool. The original Iron Maiden as well. I got to know the whole band members and I got to hear the whole story of what it was like when they were together, so…all these things give you a real, much clearer insight to what was like being in a band in those days, in the early seventies, late sixties. It’s great! Just a fountain of knowledge really!
“I don’t want it to be seen as a band that just does one album and that’s it, no shows and then it just disappears. I think it’s too good to let that happen.”
Now, this is a very much asked question nowadays, but what’s your take on streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music?
I personally just like records, I don’t give a shit about streaming, I don’t use streaming at all. Our releases are streamed, and I guess I wasn’t into it at first because the revenue the artists used to get back was so minimal that it just seemed like a rip off to me. It seemed like the people streaming were the ones that made all the money and the artist sees next to nothing. You have to have like ten million streams to actually make anything remotely close to some income or return from your record, but obviously it’s way things are going. I’m not against technology, I’m not against these things, it’s just that they don’t interest me. I never sit at home and listen to Spotify.
But in certain ways it’s a gateway for more people to get to know certain kinds of bands…
I think things like Bandcamp are great and it’s easier in general for bands to get their music out there, but the thing is…without record labels and without someone behind you to push the band, it’s all very weird at the minute. I think it’s fantastic that the bands got the opportunity to promote themselves and get out there and do what they can to get themselves heard or seen, but they’re kind of disregarding the importance of record labels. You do need someone behind you to get your presence kind of known. Regardless of how good you are, if no one has had the chance to hear you, unless it’s by pure coincidence, then it’s quite difficult, and as well, bands don’t want to work with record labels anymore because they think record labels are gonna rip them off when in fact it’s really hard for record labels at the moment. We just survive by the skin of our teeth really. If you imagine we have to pay for two offices every month, 300 pounds each office and we have to pay full time wages to six members of the staff and then there’s taxes and business rates and mechanical royalties, all these kind of things, and sometimes we only put out four or five releases a year, so there’s a good months in every year when you’re not even selling any records. You spend money on recording them and releasing them, it’s very difficult. But, I mean, I’m all for it in terms of what it can do for other people hearing a much more vast array of music, but I just don’t use them myself. I’m much more into physical, it’s not that I’m disregarding it, maybe I’m just saying my ways you know? I’m forty-seven years old. I like the music I want to hear as opposed to, I don’t feel like I have to hear music. If it’s music I want to hear, I’ll find a way to listen to it.
Before going out, I would like your take on this one too. Sabbath is, as is already known, one of your greatest influences and one of the greatest doom bands ever. They’re about to embark on their final tour, and they’re the representation of the fact that most of the greats in the past are now thinking about ending their careers. How do you feel the heavy music landscape will be when some of these giants finally stop walking the earth?
If we’re talking about Sabbath in particular, I just think it’s amazing that their popularity turned around, because I remember at the mid-eighties, late-eighties all the way through the nineties, even to early 2000s, no one cared about Black Sabbath at all! It’s all very well people saying “Oh Sabbath this, Sabbath that”, but I remember when no one gave a shit about Black Sabbath. I remember being at Reading Festival in ’89 on acid. I dropped a tab of acid and Faith No More started playing and they played “War Pigs” and literally everybody at the fucking festival were singing the words, but they didn’t even know it was a Black Sabbath song, they thought it was a Faith No More song. I was just like “Aaaaaahhh”! I was just enraged, you know? So, with that in mind, I think it’s fantastic that they finally have been warranted with the recognition they deserved, because they have been such a major influence in music, whether you like it or not. For better or worse, I would imagine that this would be the last tour, because Tony won’t want to do it much longer because of his illness. But the main thing is…I hope they get Bill Ward to at least do some of it, you know? At least play some numbers each night or something, because it would be quite sad if they go out and he’s not even involved at all. Then you got Motorhead of course…What’s the world going to be like without Motorhead? Fuckin’ hell! I mean, Lemmy is just a massive, massive influence on so many things without people even realizing. In terms of extreme music, Motorhead were the fucking pioneers really, they were the first band before Venom, before any Black Metal, before anything, that you could consider extreme metal. Actually it was the first band, for sure. It was a different thing to Sabbath, obviously, but in terms of speed and aggression it’s them. I know Lemmy’s going through some tough times physically and he’s still trying to perform. To me it’s heartbreaking…I hope he can have a rest, recuperate and then somehow manage to carry on doing what he loves doing. A world without Motorhead would be a fucking sad world.
Do you have any last words, or something else you would like to say about With The Dead?
Well, just thanks for all the support over the years, whether it was with Cathedral or Rise Above or anything else. I’m very much appreciated, and everyone who’s followed what I’ve done, I hope they’re not disappointed with the With The Dead album, because we tried to make it as crushing as we possibly could, so, hopefully, it delivers!