Canadian band Into Eternity is forging new ground as a hybrid between death metal and progressive metal ("Progressive Death Metal?") After playing ProgPower Europe, their 3rd album will be the first with worldwide distribution. Sea Of Tranquility's Duncan Glenday caught up with Tim Roth, vocalist, songwriter and guitarist, and discussed the new album Buried In Oblivion.
Duncan Glenday Sea Of Tranquility : Where are you, Tim? In the cold winter of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada?
Tim Roth Into Eternity : No we're on the road right now, we're in another province, and it's warmer here than in our province
we're in Calgary, Alberta. and our A&R rep Clay flew up from LA, and it's his first time in Canada, and he'd freezing too. It's just a bit warmer than our province it's nice, around 32° or 0°C, which is nice compared to 40° back home.
Tim Roth - Into Eternity
SoT : Tim, are you familiar with Sea Of Tranquility?
TR : Yeah, I am, yeah, Sea Of Tranquility seems to be pretty good. The webzines are great nowadays, and a lot of people hit those websites now to find out about music.
SoT : By the way one of the new things we've introduced on Sea Of Tranquility every week we feature a CD-of-the week, and this week it's your Buried In Oblivion.
TR : [Laughs] As album of the week? That's excellent that's awesome news! We have to check that out and we'll mention that on our website!
SoT : For those readers not yet familiar with Into Eternity - give us the nickel tour - who you are, and what Into Eternity is all about.
TR : Sure basically we started in '97 and we had 3 core members, Scott, our bass player, our drummer Jim, and myself I play guitar and sing. We made a self-titled release and Scott shipped them out to about 50 different labels and we got picked up by a Holland label and put out a couple of albums just in Europe. Meantime we were talking to a bunch of other labels, and after we got back from our tour of Europe in recently, Century Media said they were ready to sign us so we did a deal with them in 2002 for a 2nd album Dead Or Dreaming, released in the US, and in April 2003 we started recording our 3rd album, Buried In Oblivion, which is our first worldwide release so now we have distribution in the States and Europe and Canada and we're working on a Japan deal now.
SoT : How was it that you wound up being on a European label?
TR : A lot of labels were interested, but they were telling us we had to pick what kind of band we wanted to be progressive metal or death metal and we didn't see it like that. We thought this is our style, we want to be a hybrid metal band, so we said to each label just send the contracts if you're interested. It took 8 months of talking to the different labels. DVS was the first to send a contract. It was for Europe, but we took it because we wouldn't have to change our sound and it would give us a chance to tour Europe.
SoT : It's surprising that you had difficulty it strikes me that the hybrid sound, as you described it, is becoming popular these days.
TR : Big as hell! The new God Forbid has clean vocals, Shadows Fall, another American band, and Kill Switch Engage, and it seems like everyone is doing it now. A lot of the bands are more hard-core metal bands and have a little bit of clean vocals, but we're a bit more progressive, we've got big 3-part vocal harmonies, and the clean vocals are more part of our sound. When we originally began a lot of reviewers said "here's a great band but they can't find their sound
". No one ever told me there were rules in metal and you couldn't do it. [Laughs] So we just stayed true to our sound.
SoT : I would suggest that the people who said that had never heard Opeth!
TR : Exactly! Opeth was doing it so it's not that new.
SoT : Tim, what's keeping you busy these days? Are you able to live off the music yet, or are you guys still holding down day jobs? What keeps you busy from day to day?
TR : I think we'll probably always have to work. A couple of the guys work at the studio, so they're around music all the time, but we try to work it so we can tour half the year and then work half the year. Right now we're doing about 60 shows a year and we want to work our way up to around 150 shows a year.
SoT : What music do you listen to now? What's in your CD player right now?
TR : I dig that new Iced Earth. And the new John Arch, I think that album is phenomenal, incredible. I'm always buying new music. I got the new Kataklysm. I'm a metal-holic.
SoT : besides yourselves, what was the best release of 2003?
TR : My favorite band is Nevermore, so I would definitely say Enemies Of Reality.
SoT : You mentioned that you have 3 members at the core of the band, but your lineup has changed quite a bit what's happening there? Is it beginning to stabilize?
TR : Yes, definitely. It was basically just the 3 of us on the first album. When we did our 2nd album we decided to add another guitar player Danny and he can also sing clean, and that was when we decided we could have these big 3-part vocal harmonies. Before this new album Danny left the band, but we wanted to keep that sound so we got another singer, Chris Krall, Scott's twin brother, just to sing clean, but he can sing death as well so now we had these extra death vocals which we'd never had. Then we got another guitar player, Rob, and Rob can do death vocals too! And he can write songs. So the sound is just so much more now than it was before because we have all those different voices.
SoT : Are all of you guys from the same part of Canada?
TR : Yeah we're all in the same city. Rob was in another city Calgary and he joined the band and a week later he moved to our town so now he lives 2 blocks from me.
SoT : How much time do you guys actually spend together?
TR : Quite a bit! Every week we have to rehearse, and we're so slow at songwriting, so we try to rehearse 4 times a week and then write new songs.
SoT : Who are the band's main musical influences? And yours?
TR : Well as far as guitar playing, we have a lot of shredding, so I would say Yngwie Malmstein, James Murphy, Paul Gilbert, all the crazy shredders. But as far as riff writing, I've always been a big fan of Death so Chuck Schuldiner, and Nevermore is my favorite band. When I first picked up the guitar I was a bit influenced by the bay area sound, but there are so many great progressive metal bands like Evergrey and so on so we kind of throw everything into the mix now.
SoT : How have the band's sales been in the USA vs. other parts of the world, and where are you the most popular?
TR : Well our A&R rep is in town, and he says our US album sales should triple with this release. And we should definitely should triple sales in Europe as well. With DVS records they didn't have the same distribution as Century Media, and now we have so much more distribution and promotion.
SoT : Back to the music for a minute: When writing - it is music first, then the lyrics, or is it concept first then melody then lyrics..? What's the sequence?
TR : With us, everything starts with the guitar riff. Rob and I both write, so we're the main core of where the music comes from. We get the music done and we show it to everyone in the band and everyone puts in their thoughts. But we try to make the basic arrangements for the songs and we time it carefully to make sure a 4-minute song doesn't turn into a 13-minute epic [laughs]. So then we start humming, fake melodies and fake lyrics, to figure out what the vocal melody will be like, and then we'll write lyrics. The music is always first, and the lyrics are totally separate.
SoT : So you and Rob are both writing is anyone else writing? How democratic is the band in terms of writing?
TR : It's basically me and Rob that's where everything comes from. The guitar riff is the centerpiece of our music and we make sure about the chords and everything, make sure the riffs are up to snuff, and then everything else comes after. So because we play guitar, that's where it all comes from.
SoT : A big question tell me about keyboards. You had keys before, but you don't have a keyboardist in the lineup now although I picked up some keys in the latest album. What's happening there?
TR : We had a keyboard player on our first album. It's tough when you're in a metal band and at first you're not making a lot of money that may be one of the reasons that members come and go but our keyboard player decided he wanted to go back to school and become a family man. Actually now he's quit school and he's not with his girlfriend anymore and he's a born-again Christian, so
everyone has a choice, and he just wasn't into it. So we tried out some keyboard players, but we're in a small town and there aren't a lot of keyboard players, especially those who want to play metal, so we just never got to replace him. But some day I'd love to have a female keyboardist who can sing clean and who lives where we do
but I don't know if we'll ever find that person! [Laughs]
SoT : You mentioned the 3-part vocal harmonies and I've picked up 2 or is it 3 death vocalists? The vocals are your signature sound tell us about them
TR : Chris does death vocals and sings clean, and so do I. But other guys in the band can do death vocals too. In one song there can be 3, and sometimes 4 death vocalists. On "3 Dimensional Aperture" we decided that each of us would take a line. So it starts off with Rob doing a death line, then Chris, then myself, then on certain parts there are 4 of us doing death vocals, doubling each other. You see, live, we want to have a big, powerful sound. I love bands like Dream Theater, which is incredible, but they don't use a lot of vocal harmonies, and live, there are parts where you'd like to hear those harmonies and they're not really there. With us I wanted to make sure that if there are 3-part vocals on the album, we would be able to play it live.
SoT : beyond those vocals, I noticed a lot of different time signatures on this album ... what other mechanisms do you use to give the music its complex sound?
TR : We made a big point on this album we wanted lots of off-time changes to give it that progressive sound, and we wrote in a lot of different time signatures, so that everything isn't standard 4/4. We like to have an off-time riff but then boom hit it with like a nice groove so people can still bob their heads a bit. We didn't want to make it too technical and throw people off, but we still wanted that progressive sound. It's a fine balance we have to find.
SoT : How formally do you treat your music as it's developing and when it's being recorded. Do you score everything? Or anything?
TR : It depends. People have actually been asking us for the tabs, so I've been taking the time to write some of those out, but it takes so long to score everything. Luckily with these guys you can show them a piece of music, and they've got a good knowledge and can remember everything. But we just basically memorize everything. When I first write the song I might have to write certain things out to figure out the harmonies, and the verses and the chorus and how each riff goes, but those notes are just for my own use.
SoT : The death metal growling isn't that a strain on your voice?
TR : It would be, but we use a vocal technique where we don't just scream out of our throats and have no power behind it. We do it like a normal vocalist, and like when we do it clean. We use the diaphragm and push the air out. If you're just screaming at the top of your lungs you're going to blow your throat out. The throat is like a muscle if you don't do death vocals for say a month and you try do it, you'll strain yourself. You have to keep working it.
SoT : How do fans from the respective audiences, death and prog, respond to Into Eternity?
TR : It's usually a debate on the Internet. Some fans want you to use all death vocals, and others wonder why we don't sing clean all the way through
but this album has been accepted better than any of our albums so far. There will always be that debate.
SoT : You had female vocals before, but none on this album.. What are your plans for the future?
TR : I'd like to! I think female vocals add a lot to the music. On this album, since we had 2 new members in the band, and they were doing vocals, we ended up going that way. But I think that's something we'd like to experiment with, definitely.
SoT : Your songs tend to be very dark. Is an expression of your personality, or is it just for the music? Where does that come from?
TR : Well, from a lot of things, and it's the style we choose. We write only in minor keys, and all the lyrics and all the topics are dark. Just from everyday life and whatnot. We could be like Helloween and do happier music, but it doesn't fit our style. We like the darker edge.
SoT : What about concepts and themes? Do you have any overriding themes that follow through the music? And what about the possibility of a concept album in the future?
TR : We'd like to do a concept album, but it seems too trendy for progressive metal bands to do that so we've been staying away from that. But the theme of death is in all our music and our lyrics, like the crow on the album covers.
SoT : Your cover art what's with the crow? Will that be a recurring theme?
TR : On both of our album covers we have this crow that follows us around and signifies death. That was another big debate on the Internet some people wanted the crow and some people didn't. I wasn't sure at first, but Mattias Noren felt strongly enough. He'd done all 3 of our album covers he lives in Gothenburg, Sweden we got to meet him when we went to Europe, he came to a few of our shows super nice guy and all we do is send him the lyrics and the title of the album and that's his vision. God knows, I can't draw more than a stick-man on a piece of paper!
SoT : Every artist has their favorite songs that they have recorded-what are favorites on the latest CD?
TR : I like "Splintered Visions" because we get to do a terrific solo at the beginning and in the middle of the song [laughs], "3D Aperture" is quite cool because it was the first song that Rob wrote with us for this album. He kind of came in halfway through, and we were able to get into something different vocally and in the riff writing. And "Embraced By Desolation" has a big strong chorus
I like them all!
SoT : Of all the songs on the album, which songs are the hardest to play? And it's a 2-part question in the studio vs. live?
TR : "Embraced By Desolation" is really tough live because there are 4 different clean vocals going on we had to train our drummer to do the 4th part. That chorus is really tough to nail. And all the songs were tough in the studio because we were so painstaking and had to spin each line a hundred times. Live, "Embraced", and "Splintered Visions" is hard as well a lot of energy in that song.
SoT : You and Rob are both guitarists do you share leads? Or is one of you mainly on rhythm? How is that divided between you?
TR : We share leads. On the next album it will be 50/50, but on this album Rob came in halfway through and I already had quite a few of the leads done. He's a great lead guitarist. With "Splintered Visions" we already had done most of the leads but I showed him the second part of the music and he picked it up right away. So it's cool to have a partner to trade leads and rhythm.
SoT : What kind of equipment do you & Rob play? What guitars and amp setups?
TR : I use strictly Ibanez. I've been playing for 15 years and it's always been Ibanez. Mine has a really thin body and the neck is really thin too because I do a lot of soloing so we don't want any thick necks we'e not going to play any big Les Paul's! Rob uses a Jackson Kelly, which is like Marty Friedman from Megadeth, and Rob uses Mesa Boogie amps and I use Peavey amps now. I'd like to use mesa Boogies, and right now our A&R is talking to Ibanez for me so we're busy working on endorsement deals.
SoT : With the new album the title was bounced around quite a lot, wasn't it?
TR : Yeah - after about 70 or so interviews, you're only the second person to bring that up! That's obscure information - yeah, originally our 2nd album was going to be called Buried In Oblivion, and I'd already written that song an acoustic song but I didn't feel it was done yet. And we contacted Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles which is a Canadian metal magazine spoke to Martin Popov-
SoT : Yes, we know Martin he used to write for us.
TR : Great guy! He actually gave us our start in that magazine to get our name out there. Anyway he suggested Dead Or Dreaming, which was already a song title off the album. Which worked out because the song "Buried In Oblivion wasn't done yet, so we saved it for this album.
SoT : In the past, you used samples and sound effects but there are none on Buried In Oblivion. Any reason for that? Plans for the future?
TR : We used them on on our very first album. It was a case of we didn't know what we were doing. [Laughs.] We were recording songs and included sounds, but we didn't know that was going to be released on a label because we weren't signed yet. We just took out loans and recorded songs and sent it out. So all that stuff came back to haunt us. But on the last 2 albums we didn't use any of that stuff. And no plans to use it in the future. Actually we're going to re-release that first album at some point, and we're taking all those samples off.
SoT : Back to the writing process - on the new record there seems to be a lot more attention on the small details, in the arrangements and the production and everything. It's a more mature sound overall. To what do you ascribe that?
TR : After 2-½ years you can't help get a bit better at song writing and even production. Scott, our bass player, produced this album, and since Dead Or Dreaming, he's had 3 years to perfect his production work, and he's working in that studio now. And touring as made the band a bit more professional and mature. But we're always trying to get better at our instruments, and to write better songs. It takes years.
SoT : When you say that you're getting better with time is that true of the vocals as well? In the new CD - the vocals the harmonies and leads have come along really nicely since the previous record was there anything behind that development?
TR : Yeah we were really working on that. We would have vocal nights where we just worked on the vocals. We're always trying to get better. On our instruments I'm always practicing, and going on these web sites to find new techniques, buying instructional videos
it's a passion for us, I suppose.
SoT : I saw Steve Vai's 30-hour workout in the new Guitar One magazine, and John Petrucci has an instructional which I'd like to get for my son.
TR : You must get him the Petrucci video. I have that, and it's great! I mean he starts off with neck exercises before he even picks up the guitar. It's the total approach, really in depth.
SoT : Buried In Oblivion seems to start heavy, and end mellow - any reason for that?
TR : Well, there's a balance for each song with death vocals we would would have a song with clean vocals but toward the end it was almost like we had a trilogy, where the last 3 songs go into one another. "Buried In Oblivion" starts out acoustic and build up to "Black Sea Of Agony" which has a lot of shredding guitar and stuff and ends on "Morose Seclusion" which is another acoustic song.
SoT : The European metal scene is quite different than the North American metal scene. How would you describe the differences, and how do they affect you?
TR : They clap a lot more! When we played ProgPower in Holland you'd stop a song and they'd instantly go into these like soccer chants, and they're just singing not even to the music, they're just singing on their own!
SoT : Does that put you off?
TR : It's pretty interesting! Then we'd play in Maryland, where you're from, and they have this insane killing each other and karate chopping in the pit, which is very violent, and that's quite a bit different from Europe.
SoT : You've toured with quite a few bands - who are the best guys to tour with?
TR : That's a tough one - everyone's been so cool. It was cool meeting Eric Rutan, and just touring with guys you've looked up to for 10 years
SoT : You must have some funny tour stories?
TR : A lot of things with oh, with groupies, you know, sex on the hoods of cars and in bathrooms yeah, we saw some pretty bizarre things. Which doesn't seem to make sense just because you're in a band, for some reason you're looked at differently and those things can happen.
SoT : What's the possibility of you getting into ProgPower USA this year?
TR : Can't really talk about that
they haven't announced any of the bands that's supposed to be on March 1st. So we'll just have to keep our fingers crossed.
SoT : Are any of you guys family guys? You know wife, kids, white picket fence, and so on?
TR : No! When you're in a relationship you have to have someone who understands you're going to be on the road. Luckily my girlfriend sings in a cover band, so she understands how it works.
SoT : Knowing what you know now, if you had kids, would you let them get into metal?
TR : I don't know! The music business isn't what you'd think it's going to be, but there's nothing like being on stage, so I would never discourage them.
SoT : What next for you guysin terms of tours and albums?
TR : We're doing some shows now, and more CD release shows soon, and we're up for some US festivals starting in April and in June, and an Eastern Canadian tour starting in April, and Century Media is talking to people about 5 US tours so we'll see what US tour we get. And in fall we'll hopefully go back to Europe to promote the album. We've written a couple of songs so far, but we're really picky with writing songs, so it's going to take us a while. But we have to start now, because it takes us so damn long!
SoT : Well Tim, thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us! The new album is great, and we hope it helps accelerate your penetration into the market, and you can drop those day jobs! Any last messages?
TR : Well hopefully people will check out Buried In Oblivion, and go to our website because all the tour dates are on there. And thanks to Sea Of Tranquility for making us the album of the week! Thanks again and take care!
NOTE : Click here to hear samples of Buried In Oblivion