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Ten years old and hailing from Sydney’s beautiful Northern Beaches comes Black Trillium, a death/doom duo that breathe darkness into all they encounter.
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The Fatal Shore is their debut album, developed and fine-tuned over seven long years. Sydney is the birthplace of modern Australia, and the album echoes the darker side to our history in one form or another. Isolation is given rise in songs like Convicted, just like some of our First Fleet; Banished (feat. Tim Charles of Ne Obliviscaris on violin) and Diseased paints that bleak picture of early life for settlers in Australia amid our national narrative of being in the “lucky country.” It wasn’t so lucky, for some. It’s also proof that doom doesn’t need to come from gloomy English moors; we can do fine all by ourselves. Talking to Simon Skipper, one half of the duo along with Zach Carlsson, we peer into the minds of Black Trillium—named after a rare orchid—and what their old school death/doom has in store for us all.
Hysteria: You’ve been around since 2010, this is your first debut album. What took so long? (I kid, I kid.)
Simon: Well, we’ve done some stuff in the past. We released an EP in 2012 which was called The Locked Woods. Zach and I, we met in high school and we’ve always written a lot of music together. But we never really wrote much metal together, even though that was the genre we both liked the most. So it seems sort of silly not to try and do something heavy. So when we did, we created Black Trillium and it was a bit of a tribute to My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost and bands like that. And when we were writing, we were like, “Oh this is actually pretty cool.” So we put it out and we got some good feedback on it.
And then in 2013 we did a little follow-up EP with a B-side and some covers called The Black Trillium. And yeah, that was also received well. And then we just went and really we started working on this album, but life gets in the way, and doing other music things. And it went quite until just recently. We reignited our love with the musical we were writing and just thought, “We really want to get this out.” So now in 2020 we’re going to release our first album, The Fatal Shore.
It’s like a painting, you don’t actually know when the final brush stroke is until you just have to say to yourself, “I don’t think I should touch this any more.
[ Simon Skipper ]
We are glad you mentioned that, because this album does have that old school ‘Peaceville Three’ sound; older My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost, Anathema. What attracted you to that sound as a two-piece?
That’s a good question. I mean, we love lots of different types of metal from whether it’s DragonForce or Bal-Sagoth or something ridiculous like that. I think for me personally, I just think there’s something really interesting about it. When you explain it to people, you say, “Well it’s like death metal, but imagine that four times slower.” And I feel like there’s a lot of different styles you can, at least we can, try and put into it. We can be a little bit groovier, or melodic, or just go straight into death metal without it sounding like some weird Igorrr song, just jumping all over the place. It’s still sounds consistent. I think that, like I said, with our influences, it just drifted towards that way.
With such a long writing and recording period, at what point did you say “yep, this is it.” You didn’t have any deadlines to contend with, when did you both decide a song was “finished?”
We started writing it in about 2013, on and off, like I was saying. And we wrote seven songs and then it got culled down into what we think is the best five that really worked as the album. And we wanted to make sure, we kept sculpting them and resculpting them until we absolutely loved them. And I think it’s like any creative process, there is no real completion. You almost just have to give up on them and abandoned them. It’s like a painting, you don’t actually know when the final brush stroke is until you just have to say to yourself, “I don’t think I should touch this any more.” Same with mixing or anything like that, you could keep mixing it. We could still keep rewriting the songs now, but you do actually just have to say enough is enough. But hopefully at the same point you’re still happy with what you’ve got, which we definitely are now.
It’s interesting to show non-metalheads doom metal and present it as an extreme. They’re like, “yeah, but, it’s slow.” But it also gives you freedom to include non-“metal” instruments like violin and harmonica, as you have done here.
It was quite a funny story actually because Zach and I, we meet maybe once a week to write music. A lot of the times when we meet up, we actually have the same idea that we were going to present to each other. So because we were doing this album, which was a lot about imprisonment, the harmonica is a instrument that’s associated with that. And the guy who plays it, Calvin, is Zach’s dad. He’s this great blues harmonica player, and he’s even done workshops at high security prisons in Australia. So it just seemed like a really cool idea to bring them onto it. And he just improvised this great melancholic piece, which just sounds so, I don’t know, isolated and painful. And it just really captured the vibe we were going for.
The first song is called Conviction, and then Banished, and then the very timely Diseased. Which obviously you had no control over.
Complete coincidence, yes [laughs].
As for the video for Banished, it’s minimalistic but so expansive at the same time. I bet that cave was an absolute gem of a find.
We live in a very beautiful part of Sydney called the Northern Beaches, and it’s scattered with bush reserves everywhere. And one of them, it’s called Irrawong Reserve in North Narrabeen, and there’s a very easy boardwalk into there and that leads to this nice little waterfall. But if you start climbing up these rocks and you keep going, you climb and jump over boulders for about 10 minutes, and then you find this really hidden waterfall. And it’s just such a cool area. Not many people know about it, and it just looks so great on film, obviously. So we wanted to make that, we wanted this video clip to end in a very dark way. We wanted a cave, but that was the closest we could get to. So it was just this really dark waterfall where the climax or the clip is.
It looks like a cave, so …
No, it’s not a cave, it’s much more open than that. But I’m glad you thought it was a cave, because that’s what we wanted. So, it’s good to hear!
There’s a little bit of choreography and an overall bleak look to it, how long did it take to finish?
It was on and off over about three months, because we had three locations which we needed to find. But then also, because it’s all outside, you need to have an overcast day. Because we tried to film something when the sun was coming through, and it just looked a bit silly. It just made it look really bright and happy and just wasn’t the right vibe. So we had to wait for the overcast weekends, and then jump out and try and film and see if it looked good. And then go back and re-shoot it on another overcast day if we didn’t like what we had. So it did take a little while, yeah. But definitely think it was worth it because I love the outcome now.
What’s next for the band? Are you hoping to play live? Are you able to, as a two-piece?
Yeah, we definitely could play it live. We recorded it with our friend David Schneider on drums, and he says he’s super keen to get onto the stage and play the songs. We just need to find another guitarist, which is just that final piece of the puzzle, which we’ve never really found. Like you’re saying before, it’s a bit of an obscure genre. And just find the right person who’s obviously located near us and is keen to gig … you can’t do that right now. I’d love to play the songs live again. Especially because we’ve been revisiting this album so much in the past few weeks. I’d love to get out there and show people, because I think playing live is also my favourite part of being a musician as well. So hopefully it does happen, but I just have no idea when that would be.