Interview with Nomad Son's Albert Bell
Malta-based Nomad Son, whose latest studio album, "The Darkening", rekindled my love affair with doom and made it's way into my article "The 55 Best Release Of 2013", has quickly grown into one of my all-time favorite doom metal bands! In fact, along with Chicago's own Trouble, they are probably the most played doom metal band in my personal collection! This particular e-mail interview that I did with bassist Albert Bell actually goes back to the later part of 2013, but (for various reasons) it is only now that I am posting it. I want to thank Albert Bell (Nomad Son's founder) for sitting down and answering these questions for Heavy Metal Time Machine. I greatly appreciate the fact that he was willing to chat especially given Nomad Son's hectic schedule! These guys seemed like they were just about everywhere in 2013 and were going non-stop! So it means A LOT that Albert hooked me up (and with some great answers to boot!). For those who might not have caught my review of "The Darkening", which, besides being an obvious must-buy release for doom fanatics(!), was one of the top doom metal albums of 2013 and so much better then the latest piece of "work" from a band with the (ever appropriate) abbreviation of "B.S.", you can check it out right here: http://metalmark.blogspot.com/2013/08/nomad-son-darkening.html
Andy-Let me just start off by saying that your latest album, 2013's "The Darkening", is not only my favorite doom metal release of the year, but will be making my year-end "Best Of" list! I'd imagine that the response from both critics and fans has been overwhelmingly positive, right?
Albert-Hi Andy, first off, cheers for this interview and the opportunity to get across to your readers. I’m really chuffed to hear that you have enjoyed “The Darkening” so much! The reactions to the album have indeed been overwhelming, and we’re somewhat awed by it all, even though we were quite confident with the quality of the new songs and the intensity of the new album from the outset.
Andy-The growth from your first album, 2008's "First Light", to "The Darkening" is more striking then anything. When you were in the studio did you guys sense that you were onto something really special?
Albert-We were quite aware of the album’s intensity while we were putting the songs together and working on the pre-production. However, the stellar performance that each band member managed to secure this time round helped to push things to another level.
We’re very self-critical and always try to ensure our best on each of our releases and leave no stone unturned to secure improvement. There has been strong progression on each of our albums. With “The Darkening” we took stock of our previous efforts and made sure that any shortcomings that may have diluted our previous releases were addressed. We have always had convincing and strong songs in my opinion with “Shallow Grave”, “Empyrean Fade”, “Forever Twilight” and “Seven Notes in Black” from the debut and “The Vigil”, “Winds of Golgotha”, “Throne of Judgement” and “Sigma Draconis” from our second album “The Eternal Return” for example being strong cases in point. The main difference between our first two albums and our latest opus is the intensity that we managed to capture consistently on “The Darkening”. The new album offers much more of a holistic aural experience, the heaviness is unrelenting and the way the tracks tie into each other takes the listener’s breathe away so to speak… at least this is how the album impacted me when I first got hold of the master and played it on my car stereo for the first time. I actually had to stop and park the car to listen to it! It’s certainly not the kind of album that you listen to casually… it really grabs you by the proverbial balls …and doesn’t let go of them till the end album! (haha!)
Andy-When I listen to "The Darkening" it really seems as if all of the pieces have finally fallen into place for you five and that this was the album that you guys were destined to create since day one. It has a remarkably open feeling to it... almost as if it was a spontaneous, in the studio, creation. How much of the album was already written by the time you guys went into the studio? Were there any numbers that emerged from your time together with producer David Vella?
Albert-Our songs take different paths until they see the light of day. “The Devil’s Banquet” and “Age of Contempt” matured in our rehearsal place and were the first two songs that we wrote for the album with each band member pitching in with their ideas in the song-writing process. The title track “The Darkening” was penned mostly by Chris, while “Light Bearer”, “Only the Scars” and “Descent to Hell” were the three songs that I brought to the table for this album this time round. In all these cases however after the song structure is laid out, each band member then has the opportunity to come up with his ideas and thus take the songs to another level. The spontaneity factor that you mentioned also always plays a key role in Nomad Son. Some of the tracks on the new album matured in this way at Chris’ (our guitarist) home studio in the album’s pre-production phase. Both “Caligula” and “Orphaned Crown” for example developed like this. “Caligula” originated while Julian (keyboards and organ), Chris (guitars) and I were jamming away at Chris’ studio. Julian came up with these bewitching and very atmospheric riffs and Chris and I just followed suit. The same spontaneity was used for “The Orphaned Crown”. Chris had this magical chorus which he played to me while we were working on something else. I then came up with the verse riff and then Chris followed with the bridge and then we just pulled things down a notch or two together spontaneously for the mid-section. That is how things flow and gel when the songwriters in the band are on the same wavelength. It is difficult to describe in words really… but that is how songs often get created in Nomad Son. We’ve had this sort of formula since day 1… it is something really special and that I have rarely come across in all the years that I have been writing and playing music. All the songs for “The Darkening” (in their entirety) were finalized and pre-produced before we went into Temple Studios to record the drums and mix and master the album. David then pitched in with some killer ideas for arrangements etc. His input is always the icing on the cake!
Andy-As far as David Vella goes he has worked with Nomad Son from day one, correct? He was instrumental in getting you all together if I'm not mistaken.
Albert-Yes David has been pivotal to Nomad Son in many ways. He was the one that introduced me to the guys after I told him my plans to start a band that combined a heavy, classic rock feel with doom metal. At the time I was revisiting my 70s rock collection (mostly Hammond driven stuff like old Uriah Heep, Atomic Rooster etc) and was really excited to get this new band going and broaden my horizons. David loved the idea and suggested that I meet and team up with the guys from Frenzy Mono who were recording their debut at his studios. He called me to his studio one night and aired me some stuff which the guys had just recorded and from the outset we felt that we could get something interesting going. Some days later he set a meeting up with the guys as they also really warmed up to the idea of trying something different. We really got on well when we met and we just plugged in out instruments while they were still set up in the studio and finalized two tracks in one night! Both tracks were to feature on the debut – “Shallow Grave” and “Empyrean Fade”!
Andy-Albert, when you were playing in Forsaken was the idea for Nomad Son always in the back of your mind? Or was Nomad Son was a reaction to creating music that would not have fit in with your band at the time?
Albert-Like I have just said, I am a huge Hammond freak and wanted to start a new band, exploring different avenues and soundscapes than those that we normally explore in Forsaken. Initially I thought that it would just be a project band, but right after that very first jam we all new that there was so much potential that it would be more than just a simple, one-off studio project. Nomad Son has been a godsend to me really, as it has allowed me to mature in so many ways – both as a lyricist/songwriter and as a musician. Moreover, teaming up with Chris, Julian, Jordan, Edward (all accomplished and fantastic musicians in their own right) and our manager James has helped me forge long-lasting and true friendships which I really cherish and treasure and which have helped me grow as a person. I am sure that all the guys feel the same way. Nomad Son is really something special to us, which we are all really committed and dedicated to. I think that this special bond of brotherhood is reflected in the music that we create and our live shows – both our studio and live output are really, really intense. Without the solid bonds that we have in the band neither would be possible.
Andy-Nomad Son sounds as if it was born out of a shared love of not only Black Sabbath, but classic bands of the seventies (both classic rock and progressive rock), right? I'd argue that it gives Nomad Son an upper hand in the doom metal genre.
Albert-We all share some important reference points (like the ones you mentioned) that help to create a common template and approach to creating our music. This said, as I have also said elsewhere, we also each have more specific tastes that make the sources of inspiration that we can tap into really kaleidoscopic. This all contributes to the richness of Nomad Son, and was the whole scope for the band’s creation. We set this band up to reflect and capture the variety of our musical trajectories while keeping everything laced within a template that is somehow recognizable for doom metal fans and enthusiasts… and from the reactions we’ve had ever since our first stage appearance in 2007 and our debut album in 2008, I can safely say that the doomheads out there have really embraced this vision.
Andy-Speaking of which, what are the odds that a band like Frenzy Mono (whose four members helped fill out the ranks of Nomad Son) wouldn't have a bass player? Julian Grech, their keyboardist at the time (who plays in Nomad Son now obviously), handled the bass parts with his keyboard. It has to be more then just mere coincidence that here you had this great, classic rock-like band that was perfect for your new project just sitting there. It's as if all you had to do Albert was plug in your bass guitar and that was that. Perhaps it was divine intervention?
Albert-When we reflect upon how the band started we often say that divine intervention was really at play in the creation of the band, Andy! You have summed things up perfectly in fact. All that I needed to do was plug in my bass and let the doom unfold really! I couldn’t have asked for anything better! The band set up and infrastructure were already there, as was the willingness and musical competence by all parties involved to get this new mean doom metal machine up and running. What’s even more fascinating is that even though I had heard of Frenzy Mono and the guys had been to some Forsaken gigs before, we didn’t know each other at all until we met at Temple… and that’s really saying something when you consider how small the Island is and that rock and metal musicians here normally cross paths regularly… so yes I firmly believe that supernatural forces were and are behind Nomad Son’s birth and continued development!
Andy-Nomad Son's various members come from different walks of life and have different tastes in music and yet it all seems to gel together perfectly. Was that natural chemistry felt from day one or, seeing as how "The Darkening" comes off as your best album to date, has it been a work in progress?
Albert-As I have already explained the magic in the band has been unrelenting since our very first jam. Even our rehearsals are an experience to relish. We exude power and treat every time we are together, whether it is on stage or in the studio, with the same intensity and conviction. Obviously, over the years, we have come to know our strengths even more and refined the way we approach our song writing and the recording process. But that initial chemistry that we all felt when we first got together is still very much alive and kicking in the band and hopefully will still remain the essence of Nomad Son for many years to come.
Andy-What are you guys most proud of when it comes to your new album?
Albert-I would simply say the completeness of it all… the intensity, the strong musicianship, the mind blowing songs, the way the lyrics and songs complement each other, the production values on the album, the artwork and sleeve design – Hope I am not sounding like I’m blowing too many trumpets as I remain very critical of all the stuff that I do and am involved in - but “The Darkening” for me epitomizes everything that a metal fan should look out for in an album – it is the complete package really!
Andy-Recently I reviewed the re-release of "First Light" that came with the bonus DVD. Your live clips simply blew me away! Your front-man, Jordan Cutajar, has a natural stage presence. In a live setting he adds a lot to the overall appeal of your band. Of course he also has a very distinct voice that people seem to either love or hate. I for one love it as it helps the band stand out from a far too cluttered scene! What has it been like working with a lead vocalist like Jordan?
Albert-Jordan is an excellent singer, very professional and always very prepared for the studio and our live shows. Over the years I have seen him grow stronger in stature both as a front man and singer – and this development is a reflection of his personality. He is always ready to take criticism and improve himself as his totally outstanding performance on “The Darkening” demonstrates. Like all the rest of the guys, I really have to say that working with Jordan in Nomad Son has been fantastic journey and experience. His voice is certainly one of the jewels in our crown and I can only see him improving himself further in the years to come!
Andy-So far Nomad Son seems as if it has played all over Europe. What are the chances though that fans here in the U.S. might get to experience Nomad Son live? Has there ever been any talk of bringing the band over to America for a tour or is that just out of the question right now?
Albert-We’re always open to offers to take Nomad Son to different places on the road. The US and North America still elude us unfortunately. However, we’re not discounting anything and will consider all serious offers seriously!
Andy-I'll leave you guys with the last word. Anything else you'd like to share about the band or anything you'd like to say to your fans? You have free reign on the mic!
Albert-Once more mega thanks Andy for this interview and Heavy Metal Time Machine for all your support. People like you are priceless in helping bands like us reach out to more fans. So hails and ales my friend! As for all those of you reading this, feel free to check us out on YouTube and should you like what you hear get in touch with the band on Facebook or our erstwhile and hardworking label Metal on Metal Records and order a copy of “The Darkening” and our previous release to continue to support the band. Alternatively you can also get electronic versions of the album from Bandcamp or CD Baby. I am posting all the relevant links below. Meanwhile, stay heavy y’all and all the very best for 2014!