Seventh Angel is typically considered one of the best Christian thrash metal bands of all time, though this moniker doesn’t begin to describe their sound. Now reformed with original members Ian Arkley on vocals, Mark Broomhead on bass, Simon Bibby on guitar and Andrew “Tank” Thompson on drums, the band has released The Dust of Years, an album that is musically diverse and captivating while still maintaining some of the classic Seventh Angel sound. We recently caught up with all of the band members to discuss the new album and find out what they’ve been up to all these years.
Chris Beck: It’s been almost 20 years since the recording of Lament for the Weary. Why release a new Seventh Angel album now, after all this time?
Ian Arkley: Because we have reformed the band. We would never do it to relive the past, but because we want to be making music together again and because we enjoy creating something brand new. It is a busy time right now with Seventh Angel and My Silent Wake both being so active at the same time and it gets pretty confusing sometimes when you are playing Holland one weekend with My Silent Wake and Switzerland the next with Seventh Angel! We will be having one of our friends help out with some management soon as managing ourselves is too much for creative types such as ourselves.
Mark Broomhead: It took us that long to write the songs! Only joking; in fact, it has been the quickest project I have ever been involved in. The first time we heard some of the songs in their entirety was as the component parts were assembled in the studio. It was very risky, but very exciting. The short answer is that Nordic Fest asked Ian if we would play the following year when he went to play with My Silent Wake; we had been threatening to do it for a while, just for old times sake. This gave us a deadline. The problem was when we got together in a room with our instruments it became very clear that we did not want to be a Seventh Angel tribute band, and so it began, again.
Simon Bibby: Who knows? Who knows why we end up doing half the things we do? Some of us in the band hadn’t been in contact with each other for a number of years. When we did eventually all meet up again the seed was sown and before you know it you’re agreeing to all sorts of crazy things. There is no master plan. We’re just enjoying being able to play music together again and also simply to spend time with each other.
Andrew “Tank” Thompson: After my wedding a couple of years ago, we met up and had a couple of beers; we talked about the good old days and that was the start of it. We thought it would be fun to start playing together but it took another year of talking and phone calls to even get together to jam. When we started getting offered gigs it seemed that there was potential to have some fun again. It went on from there really. We wrote songs quickly and people wanted us to play, so we are back.
Is Seventh Angel a concept you thought you had permanently moved on from, or did you always suspect that one day you would once again be playing Seventh Angel music?
Ian: No, I never thought I would return to Seventh Angel. Until recently it wasn’t a consideration at all. Just two or three years ago, we all started to see each other a lot more and remembered how much we loved spending time together and making our music. I really enjoy the creative process and am an avid music fan myself so I have been busy in various projects and bands and it has been very effective in keeping me off my Playstation for the last few years. When Seventh Angel reformed it was a very exciting thing for me and the others. It was one of those events that you can’t quite believe is actually happening and I had serious worries that it could get embarrassingly emotional onstage! The first song we played at our reunion gig in Norway was “Lament for the Weary,” and it was a great feeling to be playing that song live for the first time and to actually be playing a gig with Seventh Angel again after a break of 16 years. I managed not to weep like a small child, which is fortunate for everyone concerned.
Mark: If you had asked me ten years ago I’d have said no way, but you only had to get a few of us in a room with a pint or two and a good helping of nostalgic talk and anything becomes possible.
Simon: Up until a couple of years ago I certainly thought Seventh Angel had been put to rest. We’re all a lot older. With age comes that little thing called responsibility (something we had the luxury of not having the first time around) and so our lives have increasingly become very busy with all sorts of other things. As I said, you end up agreeing to all sorts of crazy things!
Tank: If you’d have asked me five years ago, I would have said there was no chance as we had pretty much lost touch with each other and were all doing our own things. So, it is a bit of a shock to be playing together again and that we are just about to put out a new album.
What does Seventh Angel represent to you? Besides the obvious factor of different members, how is it different from your other bands?
Ian: Because it was my first band, I have a lot of great memories from all those years ago and now we are making a whole lot more memories. It has been a completely positive experience. I still love playing in My Silent Wake just as much as ever–with all the great times we have gigging, practicing and recording or just hanging out together–and will continue with this band also. I am close friends with all the members of both bands, and it is a pleasure working with either band.
Do you consider Seventh Angel to be a Christian band?
Ian: I consider Seventh Angel to be a band. I am not too keen on labeling the band in our lyrics or music, other than being a metal band. As far as music goes, thrash on it’s own doesn’t come close to describing what we sound like. As for our personal beliefs, they are just that–personal. I have realized over the years how much some (mainly self-righteous) people judge you on this and sometimes it is better to say nothing. I want everyone to listen to and enjoy our music, whether they are Christians, Satanists or whatever, and I don’t want anyone to think they will be judged by us for what they believe, because they certainly will not be. We have a wide range of beliefs within the band, but we never have any problems with each other because of this; it just makes things richer and more interesting.
Mark: Seventh Angel has a very obvious spiritual heritage and has been part of a journey for 13 members over the years. In the early days there was a very corporate spirituality, but now inevitably with so many years apart we have gone on our own spiritual adventures that have taken us to different places. Now there are four passengers in the vehicle we call Seventh Angel; I am but one. While it is difficult to call an inanimate concept such as a band Christian, I am a follower of Jesus, flawed and inadequate, as are we all, and all my inputs into the band are from that perspective. My day job is as a church leader. I think that was probably a long way of saying ‘no’ if you were to press me.
Simon: Is that like a Christian breakfast cereal? To be honest, I try to steer away from labels. I don’t even like the band’s music to be categorized. I am a follower of Christ and I play in a band. When I write lyrics, my faith and other facets of my personality and life experience come out. Does that make Seventh Angel a Christian band? I don’t think so.
Tank: It is a difficult one for me as I have been a practicing Buddhist for a couple of years and help to run a Buddhist meditation group in my town. I would have to say we are a spiritual band with a positive attitude, but in no way do we set out to push our own ideas or beliefs onto anybody else.
The new album is called The Dust of Years. Does this title refer to Seventh Angel’s reforming, or perhaps the release of the new album after so much time? What is its meaning?
Ian: It is from the lyrics to “The Raven Sky.” Simon wrote the lyrics and Kate from My Silent Wake read them and suggested that line for an album title, and we all liked it. It does hint at the meaning that you suggested and also it’s own meaning within the song, which I will not try to explain as I did not write it.
Simon: It means whatever you want it to mean. It’s taken from the first line of the song “The Raven Sky.” “This blood flows thick with the dust of years.” I suppose it does fit with the fact that there is a certain ancientness about us–well, some of us!
Tank: I suppose it fits quite well but it was in no way planned that way.
The depth of loss and pain described in the lyrics of The Dust of Years is hard to ignore. Are these lyrics based on specific events in your life, the cumulative effect of life’s events, or something else?
Ian: I can only answer for myself, as it would be unfair to comment on the lyrics written by the other members as they are personal to them. My lyrics are written from things I have been through and certainly reflect some difficult times. I wrote the lyrics to three of the songs on this album: “The Turning Tide,” “In Ruins” and “Chaos of Dreams.” I will not explain everything about those songs, because they are personal to me and I want them to mean other things to the listeners; they can have their own interpretation.
Simon: I can only really speak about the lyrics I have written for the album. I try not to write too much about specific events or even the cumulative effects of events in my life, although they are a factor. I think more people are able to engage with specific emotions than with specific events. When I write I am trying to put into words something of the experience of the human condition. Humanity is broken, incomplete and fractured in so many ways. I write about the struggle that comes from our brokenness, regardless of whether you believe in God or not.
Some listeners may be able to relate to your lyrics due to difficult circumstances in their lives. What message would you like for them to get from your songs? What encouragement would you offer them?
Ian: To realize they are not alone in the struggle and that many others have been through the same things. Life is like a long journey of discovery and our feelings and attitudes change as we go along. I have often expressed dissatisfaction with my old lyrics, which were written as someone who was immature and had high ideals that were based on a life without the experiences I have had since and with all the lessons I have learned. I am still learning. I think it is important to get on with something that you are interested in when life is becoming difficult and to never give up on life. It is never the right thing to do to end your life. Eventually things will change; sometimes it is just a case of hanging on and going from one day to the next. Finding someone good to talk to is very helpful. I would also encourage people who have friends going through hard experiences to be there for them and to make a real effort not to judge, but to be loving and to understand that any advice given may or may not be taken.
Simon: That there are no easy, on the spot, quick fix answers to many things in life, but there is hope.
Tank: I see myself as one of the listeners. Although I am closer to the songwriters and have an insight into the background of the songs, they are personal to the writers. There is a lot of life experience within the band to draw from. Unfortunately, mine are not written down in lyrics.
The album covers for the first two Seventh Angel albums remain popular to this day. In fact, the cover for Lament for the Weary is a personal favorite of mine and seems to tell a story all to its own. Once again, the cover and layout for The Dust of Years is very distinct, with the appearance of blood splattered throughout and a woman with a very hollow appearance. How much input do you have on the album covers, and what “look” were you gong for with the new album?
Ian: We really trusted Matt (Matthew Vickerstaff) to come up with something good for this and only gave him some vague ideas. He has come up with classic ideas for My Silent Wake and My Dying Bride, to name just two bands. He ran everything past us first and we were happy with what he had come up with. The album has much more than just the front cover art and is a whole digipak package. I really like the Lament for the Weary cover and have it hanging up in my living room. I have a friend that I met at work many years ago and I went to his house one day and he had the poster hanging up right there in his room. He had never heard Seventh Angel or even heard of us. The poster just said Rodney Matthews – Lament for the Weary. When he moved, he gave me the poster and I framed it.
Mark: We chose the artist because we liked the feel of his work and Ian had worked with him before. We gave him a pile of lyrics and a title and he started by showing us the kind of textures he thought would be good and it went from there. The title/concept comes from the line in “The Raven Sky” which goes, “This blood grows thick with the dust of years.” Simon wrote that one so he would be better placed to explain it.
Simon: I’m not sure what look we were going for…I don’t think we’re that organized.
Tank: We have had the pleasure of working with some great artists over the years. The first two album covers were very much of their time and were loved by many, but we wanted a new look for the new album. The new album cover is dark and just a little spooky, maybe just like us.
The Torment and Lament for the Weary were musically very different. What can listeners expect to hear on the new album? Will it resemble the old Seventh Angel sound, or have the last twenty years, understandably, changed the sound of the band? Did you have any particular sound you were trying to achieve as you wrote the music?
Ian: I agree that the first two albums are very different and this is different again, but still retaining the energy and sounds that we have made our own. This time it is doomier and the vocals are deeper and more growly on my part and very melodic on Simon’s parts. Simon has a great voice. He was the lead singer in Fire Fly and he also did the intro to “The Charmer” and sang with me on “Epilogue.” Simon played bass on The Torment, but has now switched to guitar (he also played guitar in Fire Fly). It is really exciting to be writing songs with Simon again. Although Simon had left before the recording of Lament for the Weary, he wrote a lot of the music. Of course, you will hear Tank again with his fantastic drumming–who could fill his shoes? Tank played on both the previous albums. Mark Broomhead was in Detritus and Fire Fly and he also played live in Seventh Angel for a while. He could be heard playing bass on the Bombworks live/demo album on some of the tracks from 1992. It was great to be playing with these extremely talented friends again and things came together very quickly. The strange thing is that Mark and Simon never played in Seventh Angel together, as they were both bassists in the band at different times. They played in Fire Fly together and now here they are playing in Seventh Angel together. It is a very dynamic lineup and things work extremely well. I hope that people enjoy the new album and that they don’t get stuck on us not being a 100 miles per hour thrash band. We never were that! We have influences from doom, black metal, prog, punk, thrash, death and lots of other genres–even folk and classical music.
Mark: This album goes back to the writing partnership between Simon and Ian from the days of The Torment with Tank’s unmistakable arrangements and drumming, and little ol’ me throwing in the odd spanner in the works. If you are expecting a third Seventh Angel album or a Seventh Angel tribute album, you may be disappointed. This is far more like the seventh Seventh Angel album–unmistakably Seventh Angel, but none of us have been sitting on our hands for twenty years so our skills and tastes have matured.
Simon: Opinions on music tend to be so subjective. I could say we were looking for this sound and for people to expect x and y and z on the new album, but most people would probably disagree with me. The music is an expression of who we are at this particular time. Do I sound like I’m trying to be awkward? I’m sorry! If it helps, my personal preference for music is slow, heavy, epic, emotive, atmospheric, fragile, melodic and dark. I grew up on Candlemass.
Tank: It is not easy to describe; we didn’t set out to write in any style apart from to keep it fresh and try not to write a follow-up album to Lament for the Weary. The new album in my opinion is more variable than the last two, but people will make their own minds up on how it sounds and they will all say different things.
Were the songs on The Dust of Years recently written, or were they written over the last several years?
Ian: They were all written in the last year or so. Pretty much as soon as we started working on the old songs and working out how to play them again, we started on new stuff also.
Simon: All of the songs are pretty recent, some very recent–so recent that the studio was the first chance to hear them.
What were some of the challenges while recording the new album?
Ian: Only really a couple of technical problems with instruments, which were easily sorted. The engineer and producer was Greg Chandler from Esoteric, who is an expert at creating heavy and great sounding albums. He also added some amazing guest growls as well. I asked him if he would be willing to contribute and he was more than happy to. He has a massive voice and listening to him record his parts was an eye opening experience. He can sustain a death growl for a very long time and retain all the power he started off with. The man must have an incredible capacity in his lungs! I have known him for ages–since the early days of Ashen Mortality–but had lost touch with him until pretty recently. The band all worked really well together and we had a lot of fun making the album. There are photos on our MySpace.
Mark: Time, distance and budget. We are all very busy people so none of us were there for the whole recording, which was a bit weird. We were very keen to get a good live feel and resist the urge to “cheat” and take shortcuts in the studio. What you hear on the album, with the exception of guest appearances, is our instruments recorded with microphones played by us. I had some problems with my bass neck and we didn’t have time to get it fixed so I had to play without putting any backward pressure on the neck which was challenging. Because of the time restraints in the studio and in the run up to recording we were constantly having to make on-the-spot decisions as we went along, which was exciting and I think has given the album a very fresh dynamic.
Simon: Mark is right when he talks about resisting the urge to cheat or modify endlessly (edit, quantize, etc.) being a challenge. It is for me. I’m a perfectionist who is unable, for a variety of reasons, to ever attain perfection. Another challenge was working out what to do about vocals, with me now sharing these duties with Ian, which is a new development. As I’ve said, most of the songs have only been written very recently, leaving no opportunity to experiment and find out what works, either in practice or playing live. Having said that, we had a great time. We spent a lot of time just trying to get used to the fact that we were actually doing another album.
Tank: Time, money and distance, but it was great fun.
Will Seventh Angel be touring to support The Dust of Years?
Ian: We are playing a few festivals in various countries, but we will not be touring for weeks on end and we have no plans to play the UK unless something really good comes up!
Mark: We are hitting as many festivals as we can so that most people can get to see us in the most efficient manner. We haven’t played the UK yet, strangely.
Simon: We will do as much as we can. It depends on what offers we get. We’ve never played in America; that would be nice (subtle hint!!).
Tank: We would love to tour, but it is the time thing again. If we got a good enough offer it may be possible, but for now we are just doing as many festivals as possible.
What is your favorite Seventh Angel song of all-time and why?
Ian: It’s too hard to choose an absolute favorite! I like “Woken by Silence” a lot and “The Raven Sky” from the new album is amazing. I can say that because I didn’t write it. : )
Mark: It’s always the newest one we are working on for me. At the moment while we are gigging, I love to play “In Ruins.” It is challenging but still has a groove!
Simon: I don’t really do favorites. The lyrics to “Katie” on The Torment are very personal to me; they are something that means a lot.
Tank: I have different favorites for different reasons. I love “The Raven Sky” from the new album, but to play live, my favorite is “Woken by Silence.” It is a joy to play–it’s got it all.
What have you been doing for the last twenty years? What is your line of work?
Ian: All sorts of things! My job is a freight train driver and I have been doing that for nearly seven years now. I had a variety of jobs after Seventh Angel split up, but they were normally just to pay the bills. The job I have now is enjoyable most of the time and I get a lot of time off from work, so gigs and recording are generally not a problem. As for music, I have been involved in the bands you mentioned and also Paramaecium, Century Sleeper, The Other Window and others.
Mark: I got married and had kids. I was a secondary school teacher for a while. I play in a band called Fire Fly with Simon. I am an ordained pioneer minister in the Church of England, which means that part of my job is to think of new ways of beginning church for communities that are usually overlooked or excluded. My particular area of interest is developing church for alternative sub-cultural groups, such as metalheads, goths, etc.
Simon: I have been up to all manner of things. I can’t imagine that anyone would actually want to read about that. I currently work alongside Mark as a development worker in the same church. Mark married my sister so I have to keep an eye on him!
Tank: I have been playing in bands all the time. I was in Freekspert (a punk/rap metal band) and we did two Kerrang! tours. I also did some session work, playing all styles of music. For my job, I work with people with learning disabilities and run a DJ and club night for people with learning disabilities.
Did you think you would still be creating this kind of music over 20 years after you first began? Do you see yourself doing this for another 20 years?
Ian: I really hope so. I don’t think I looked that far ahead at the time, but now I hope to be making music for a long time to come…as long as I can produce something creative and enjoyable. If I start reading universal criticism on the forums one day then I may be too embarrassed to release anything else and just go up on some mountain to produce strange noises.
You have accomplished a lot in your career. What is the main thing left that you really want to do before your music career is over?
Ian: I really wanted to do a proper video and I got to do that with My Silent Wake a couple of years ago. I would certainly like to produce many more albums and more videos. I love playing at places like Elements of Rock, Brainstorm, Fear Dark and Nordic Fest; these are great gigs with amazing people so I hope these kind of gigs will continue. I don’t have any unrealistic goals and I enjoy doing things at the level they are right now. The gigs abroad are always great experiences and as long as these continue and we can keep recording, I should be pretty content for years to come!
You have now released several albums on Bombworks. What does Bombworks offer that other labels perhaps don’t? How would you describe your relationship with Bombworks?
Ian: Our relationship is very good. They are very committed to their music and they love doing it, which is the main thing in my eyes. They look after the bands well and the promotion is getting better and better. I like the way the communication is pretty instantaneous. The fact we are many miles apart doesn’t create any problems at all. They have been great with this album and have given us a lot of encouragement. Everything has come together very quickly and for someone as impatient as I am, that is a definite bonus.
What does the future hold for Seventh Angel?
Ian: I shall consult the scrying mirror…hang on. No, nothing…it is unclear. Seriously though, I hope to be doing what we are doing for many years to come. We certainly don’t want to be doing this as a half-hearted reunion, but as a fully functional band that will be recording every year or two and playing some shows at nice countries where people appreciate our music.
Mark: Now that we have the bug I think we will carry on. I think a few ideas for the next album will be coming together very soon.
Simon: The future looks good. We’ll continue to listen to our inner misery and write more music. We don’t have any agendas; we simply play music because we do.
Tank: I hope more albums and more gigs; it just depends how people react to our live shows and new album.
Do you have any last words for the readers of Heaven’s Metal?
Ian: Thanks for the support over the years! If you have burned, scratched or worn out your Seventh Angel albums, there are some lovely reissues on Metal Mind and the new album is great–but we would say that, wouldn’t we? If you have never heard the band before (Where were you? Possibly not even born at the time of our old albums.) then please check out our MySpace page at www.myspace.com/seventhangelofficial to hear some samples of our nose flute and tuba dub anthems. Look out for future April Fools jokes–some of you will know what I mean. Look for the new album and it’s special Christian bookshop friendly cover-all sticker.
Mark: I hope you enjoy the new album; we have had loads of fun making it! Thanks for not forgetting us! Can I come around for tea when I’m passing through?
Tank: I hope these aren’t my last words, but thanks to anyone who has been kind to us over the years and if we have never met, come and say ‘hello.’
Simon: Last words? Are you thinking my time on this planet is coming to an end?
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