Melbourne’s Colossvs returned recently with their new single, ‘In The Absinthe Of God’. But that’s not all, with their original frontman Christopher Tew back in their folds, the metal band is really getting back into the swing of things for a new record. Recently, I spoke with guitarist/songwriter Michael Calle & bassist Chris Gladman about the new music, dynamic range and over production in metal nowadays, their thoughts on Christian metal, & on separating the art from the artist. It’s a pretty good fucking read, I promise.
With having original vocalist Christopher Tew coming back, did Colossvs have any other vocalists in mind following Lochlan Watt leaving the band?
Mike: This stretches back to January or earlier when CJ quit Thy Art and that band had asked Lochlan to join. We went back and forth about people that we’d maybe want to do vocals for Colossvs going forward. We reached out to a couple people and we really needed to someone to really mesh with our world and also be about what we’re about as a band. Once we thought about it a lot, we checked to see if Christopher was interested. It’s funny, Christopher was out with us for dinner when we discussed our next steps as a band and we said ‘Do you wanna do it?’ [Laughs].
Well, with that in mind, was there a contingency plan for the band if Christopher or another vocalist fell through and couldn’t join the band?
Mike: Basically, if Christopher had said no to rejoining, that probably would have been the end for Colossvs. We would have really considered why we were still doing this. He his now our third vocalist, and I mean, how many times you can do that before it becomes a big problem. But every single time we’ve had a lineup change, in the long term, we’ve felt that it’s better for the band and after a while, you start to learn to roll with the punches. You gotta think what’s best for the band long term.
Exactly! With ‘In The Absinthe Of God’ being just a single, I think it maybe goes without saying that the band has a new album or EP on the way?
Chris: Yeah! We’re actually in the process of writing the rest of the LP now, so you should be hearing something sooner rather than later.
Mike: In The Absinthe Of God was meant to be the first single for the album number two, but with everything that happened, we decided to drop it earlier to reintroduce the lineup and keep ourselves busy. With this song, I had the riffs from the Unholy writing sessions that I just archived for later to build it up for the second album. The song actually came together really quickly. We took it on tour for the Thy Art tour last October and we tried it out on the road and working out the best way for that song to be. We’ve never had that opportunity before, to test a song in the live environment and build the feedback into the song.
I was going to ask about that, as the band has said that it’s become a staple of your live set. So was there anything that has drastically changed with the song over the past year? I only ask because I actually haven’t seen Colossvs live since that song’s been introduced into your set so I only have the current final version to go on.
Mike: I think the drums underwent the biggest changes. They used to be a little bit more simple, but Ash’s playing has really stepped up over the last six months. Musically, it’s the best work I think he’s ever done. We dropped back to a single guitarist this year and we wanted to fill out that out with more orchestral elements, where our second guitar would be. Having the orchestral element is a nod to older, cheesy black metal bands like Dimmu Borgir [laughs]. But thematically and songwriting-wise, I think it’s a big step up for us and it shows more influences than Unholy did.
It’s interesting you mention filling out the sound with not just more guitars, but orchestral elements. As some bands with one guitarist will double track or triple track their guitars just to make it sound just as big. So Chris, with only having one guitarist now, did that affect how you approached tracking and writing the bass for this album?
Chris: It certainly affects how I fill the void by losing another guitar. I have to think about using different tones or playing different lines to compliment the single guitar we have.
Right on. I think back to an old episode of Metalocaplyse where they talk about mixing the bass out of their songs. With metal music like Colossvs, what are your thoughts on how the bass is perceived, Chris?
Chris: I think it’s such a necessity. Just look at bands like Converge and how the bass fills out so much in the live setting. It definitely has its place and it shouldn’t be mixed out.
Mike: It has become much more important now with the one guitar now, not having the second one to rely on. You do want it to sound like how the single will sound in the live environment as well, so you should always be thinking about that.
Oh, of course! I think a lot of older black metal and punk DIY releases from the 80’s and 90’s have badly mixed bass, as it’s just so much mid-range and not that much actual bass a lot of the time.
Mike: We actually went through a couple variations of the bass tone to find the right balance between filling the low-end void and getting that grit, that growl in the rhythm section.
Chris: Just so they compliment each other and not fight each other for space in the mix.
Exactly, you never want things to clash too much in the mix. Now, with the song’s music video, it was mentioned in the presser that the band found this animal bone pit outside of Melbourne. So…just where exactly is this supposed animal bone pit?
Chris: I cannot give up my location of the bone put, but it is most certainly just outside of Melbourne. It was just something that I happened to stumble across in my travels one day. I can’t give you any more details, I’m afraid.
[Laughs] That’s incredibly suss, dude.
Chris: Look, it’s not mine to claim.
Okay…well, who knows, maybe you’ve stumbled across some upcoming serial killer burial pit for the animals they kill.
Chris: It’s on a farmland, near this old bluestone house near it. But other than that, I don’t think anyone has been there for years.
Mike: I think that that house is creepier than the bone pit. That house is creepy as hell!
Well, when you look at a bone pit, you know what you’re looking at but with a house, who knows what shit has gone on in there or what you may find.
Chris: When we were shooting the location shots for this video, there was the bone pit and this old abandoned house near it. It still had all of the clothes, cutlery, and furniture; it was fucking creepy.
That’s pretty ominous. So, it was just completely abandoned?
Chris: Yeah! The house is fucked. All of the windows are smashed, but everything is still there unused. It’s really weird.
That’s very creepy, but it’s very cool. It works well for a metal band’s music video! Now, with you having 66 limited edition merch bundles for the single, was that for the obvious reason that you’re a metal band? Or because that’s all you could afford with the budget you had?
Mike: The thing about pre-orders, is that people pay you for them and then you can pay it all back. The budget constraints aren’t too much of an issue, though. The 66 is something that we’ve done for a while, even when the band first started. Like, on Friday the 13th, we’d do limited runs of merch to 13 shirts. When they started selling out in like a minute or two, we had to choose the next “semi-evil” number, which was 66. We just wanted something small for this and we didn’t want to go down the vinyl route and put it out as a 7”, as this single is the short version; the full version is six minutes and the clip version is edited down.
Oh, right! I did think it was kinda funny that the physical copy is on tape because I’m not sure if that was just me but ‘In The Absinthe…’ was a pretty quiet song compared with some of your peers. I did an AB between the song on YouTube with the new stuff from I Shall Devour, Graves, Iconoclast, & some of Boris The Blade’s latest stuff, who are definitely more “core”. But all of their music was all so much louder than this new song and that’s definitely not a bad thing! But was that dynamic range intentional when the song was being mixed & mastered?
Mike: Hmm, I’m not too sure, I actually haven’t AB’d it with a lot of other tracks yet. Looking at the track in the audio software, it looked pretty hard mastered. It sounds pretty loud to me.
Chris: It could just be YouTube’s compression being weird?
Yeah, maybe. I sometimes find that the first streams of songs compared with their music video versions can have more or even less dynamic range. Sometimes it’s just because there’s an album mix and then a single mix.
Mike: Yeah, it’s interesting. Unholy was recorded mainly analogue. Our producer for Unholy, Mike Deslandes, would track everything digital but he’d run it through his analogue console in the end. Even with the recordings, we used these crazy rooms, like an old trades hall for the drums to give it this massive sound. With the single, we wanted to go with the more “modern” route. If you listen to Unholy, it’s quite aggressive and gritty, but the new single is much more polished. But we want to avoid the sound of these current deathcore bands, as we want more dynamic range.
For sure, and having some dynamic range is good because, at the end of the day, the listener can just turn the song up louder!
Chris: Exactly. Looking back at the 90’s, you had the loudness wars, where albums would be mastered as loud as possible.
Mike: Yeah, and we got St. Anger out of that! We’re doing anything to avoid a St. Anger scenario.
Chris: Just to avoid Metallica in general, really [laughs].
Mike: I find it funny how people get really picky about production. I’ll throw on a Darkthrone or Bathory record and those dudes just didn’t give a shit and it sounds sick. I think that we are getting a little too over produced with metal now. I think it’s a little too polished and glossy but I think that’s just a personal taste.
I get what you mean about people being so picky. I think it’s also because so many bands and engineers are so much more open nowadays about their recordings, their mixes, and their gear. Plus, a lot of producers and engineers, like Chris Lord-Alge & Butch Vig, for instance, have their own plug-ins now as well.
Mike: Oh for sure! It’s gotten to the point where on the last album, we had someone say to us that the drums weren’t quantized enough on one of the songs. That’s because the drums aren’t quantized he fucked up. But I love being able to see the creative process in the end product. With Unholy, it originally ended with just silence and you could hear the room sound, and as we were all in the room while Ash recorded drums, the chairs we were sitting on creaked heaps. It was really cool and it was really creepy. But it got chopped off in the end anyway and we didn’t find out until it went into mastering [laughs].
Damn, But I think drums are the best example of finding that human characteristic in a song or in a recording. Like the consistency of the snare drum hits, for instance.
Chris: Sometimes those inconsistencies, you can see the human playing and no human is playing. I think that hearing something like that on a record is more personal as hearing one that’s just digital and sounds kinda sterile.
Mike: I’m not a techno-phob or anything, I use technology to cut corners where I can, but I think it needs to be used in the correct application of the band. As opposed to just ‘Here’s a bunch of presets!’ It just needs to sound like a real band at the end of the day.
Another Melbourne band, Ceres, dropped a new album last week and they tracked to Pro Tools but through the Neve console at Sing Sing Studios. So it already had that “warmth” or “saturation” to its sound, as cliché as that sounds. Moving away from that…do you guys still get the mispronunciations of your name due to the ‘v’?
Mike: Oh yeah man, we get heaps of weird spellings of our name from time to time. We were originally called Colossus, but that was also the name of a Christian metalcore band from the States that started up, who were really bad too. But we started rolling with the ‘v’, as it’s easier to search for online and because we aren’t a Christian metalcore band.
[Laughs] fair enough! On that, though, what are the band’s thoughts on Christian metal? As some of my favourite bands are groups like Underoath, As I Lay Dying & Unearth.
Mike: Wait, Unearth are Christian?
Chris: Yeah! Didn’t you know? They are massively Christian!
Mike: I had no idea. But I don’t really care, as I’ll listen to Underoath and Unearth. I’m okay with it.
Chris: Some of my all time favourite bands are Christian bands. I won’t listen to them just because of their personal beliefs; if they make good music, they make good music. Mewithoutyou, for example, I love that band. They’re a great band and they’re hugely Christian.
No, I agree. One of my favourite bands is Skillet and they’re pretty fucking Christian. Bringing it back into metal, I have friends who enjoy black and death metal but can’t get into some of the bands because of their beliefs and in some case, their actual actions. Like Gorgoroth or Burzum for instance.
Mike: It’s a tough one. I’ll listen to bands that I know do very shitty things and have very shitty beliefs but it’s easy for me to separate their art from what they do. It’s when their art is about what they do; it’s a grey area for me. I take it a case-by-case basis.
Chris: I remember Young And In The Way got that bad press for wearing those Burzum shirts onstage. They made a press release, saying that they separate the art from his personal beliefs. Because some of the things that Varg believes in is horrible. It can be such a minefield to navigate sometimes.
Mike: I can listen to Burzum and enjoy it. But when you start going down into those nationalist, socialist black metal bands and that’s the sole purpose of them existing, that’s where I stop.
Chris: When the band starts being a vehicle for propaganda, it’s not a good thing I’d say and I couldn’t listen to something like that.
Well said, guys. One of my favourite books is American Psycho – and the movie was great too – and whenever I mention that some people assume that I’m misogynistic because the author Brett East-Ellis is kinda misogynistic. I can’t fully abide by him but I love the art he’s created.
Mike: With books like American Psycho, I find it a bit easier because it’s a fictional thing. With the music, the line can be so much more blurred. As you can’t tell if it’s someone’s actual beliefs or first-hand experiences or if they’re just telling a story. So much of metal is just a story.
Chris: It can be so open to interpretation when the lyrics aren’t spelled out right in front of you.
I think back to Thy Art Is Murder’s EP, ‘Infinite Death’, where you had these intense, extreme metal songs, but they were all about hacking up women and all I could think was how fucking terrible they were.
Mike: Oh, I actually remember Lochlan saying he had a bit of an issue singing some of those songs.
Oh, I can imagine. Anyway, I feel that that brings us full circle for this interview, so we’ll leave it there. Mike, Chris – thanks so much for your time tonight, guys, It’s been a blast to chat with you both. I wish you nothing but the best for the tour…and I expect the new album to not be as mixed as loudly as every other band!
Chris: No worries, cheers man.
Mike: Thanks Alex! I’ll keep that in mind and mix it louder for you. I’ll just crank everything to 11 so it’s just hard limiting. Basically, it’ll just be distortion.
Be cool and go see Colossvs on tour later this month. Dates below and further details can be found here.