Doom metal seems to get better and better these days and so it shouldn’t be a surprise when the genre casually throws up a band like The Order of Israfel totally out of the blue. Well, not quite out of the blue. Former Church of Misery guitarist Tom Sutton has been working on his new album for a decade, and it shows. Packed full of ideas and teeming with hooks, it’s an ideal launch pad for his new band. Fans of good old 80s doom, and, in particular, Candlemass, Cathedral and Reverend Bizarre, are in for a treat. Clearly on a roll and not content to let the grass grow under his feet, Tom has taken time out from his continent hopping, launching new bands and tour preparations, to explain how he finally got Wisdom out of his system and why we should never underestimate the power of doom!
The Order of Israfel has turned out to be one of the most entertaining things to happen in doom this year and Wisdom is a cracking album. But let’s start from the beginning: how come you parted ways with Church of Misery?
TS: Wow! Thanks for that! Well, I had this really strong intuition that I had to be in Europe, and after 10 years in Japan, was ready to make that change. I never wanted to leave Church Of Misery specifically, but I just had to follow what my inner voice was telling me. We actually talked pretty seriously about Church moving to Europe too, but it would’ve just been too hard. In the end, it’s worked out. I’m in bands that I adore, and they are still totally kicking ass, so we all win.
AN: How soon after that did you get The Order of Israfel project off the ground?
TS: I left Japan in 2010, and had The Order going by 2012. Actually, I did two tours with Church in 2012 filling in when the guy who replaced me didn’t work out, so there’s some overlap, I guess.
AV: The album feels very complete. It also feels like you have explored a lot of territory with it. Was this intentional and how long has it all been in the planning?
TS: Thanks! It wasn’t intentional, but it has certainly worked out that way. I actually demo’ed the whole album except for one song before I moved to Sweden, and could feel that the songs really worked together as a complete album rather than just a collection of songs. I actually was in the process of starting the band about ten years ago, even before I joined Church Of Misery, but when I joined Church, all my focus went to that. It’s been something I’ve been creating in my head for a long time. The songs on the album have come together over a period of years. A lot of people have commented on how varied the songs are, but to me, it all sounds like the same band. Hopefully it sounds that way to other people too. He he!
AV: What sent you in the direction of Wisdom – musically it’s not a million miles from Church of Misery but it’s a very different listening experience?
TS: Yeah, we’re both in the doom family, but we’re on different branches. All the music in Church Of Misery is written by Tatsu, so it’s no surprise that The Order sounds different. When I joined Church, he asked me to bring any ideas I had for songs, but nothing ever fit. The techniques I use to make a riff or a song exciting or memorable are things that aren’t in the Church sound, and when I tried to write something that sounded like Church Of Misery, it always came out kinda weak or boring. It’s hard to write to order, y’know? People usually pick up an instrument, and their own sound comes out naturally. So, The Order sounds different because it’s me writing the songs, basically.
AV: It feels like its bursting with influences and different musical textures – doom probably does that more than people imagine but you definitely seem to have packed a lot in. How would you describe the sound and where do you think you have drawn your influences?
TS: Yeah, the core inspiration for the band comes from bands like Cathedral, Candlemass, Reverend Bizarre, Place Of Skulls, and The Gates Of Slumber, but we’re influenced by everything from Entombed to Enya. A lot of people have mentioned that there’s a lot on the album that is outside doom metal, and that’s probably true, but doom has only become more homogenized lately, I think. The bands who started it, like Pentagram, Trouble and Candlemass all had a lot of variation in their sounds. None of those bands were one-trick-ponies. Listen to Cathedral; it’s everything from tortuously slow heaviness to folk guitars, to disco, to trad heavy metal. I think doom is as you said, a wider term than people think.
AV: Are there themes that run through the album or an overall concept? What themes does the album cover?
TS: I would say that there are two main types of songs on the album, at least lyrics-wise. Some songs are based on spiritual or life lessons I feel I’ve learned over the years. For example, the song, ‘Wisdom’, is about how the right insight or guidance can come at just the right time if you’re open and receptive to it. My being in Sweden and the existence of this band as it is, is thanks entirely to one of these experiences, actually. ‘Promises Made To The Earth’ is based on an idea that your soul makes certain promises to the earth before being born, and how you should follow the path you decided on, no matter how risky or dangerous it may seem – or suffer the pain and frustration that comes when you don’t follow your heart. The other types of songs are more like stories. Mostly spooky horror-type stories. The song, ‘Morning Sun (Satanas)’ tells the story of how a naive man with an interest in the occult is tricked by a satanic cult into actually opening the gates of hell. At the end of the song he is left as the only human alive, pondering his terrible mistake for eternity.
AV: The album artwork and concept is also quite unusual for doom – much more in keeping perhaps with the more folk/progressive elements of your sound – can you explain it for us / where it came from?
TS: I guess the original idea for using this kind of feel came to me in 2010 when I went to an exhibition of Art Nouveau posters. It was so stylish, but with a hint of the archaic, and I thought it could be perfect for this band. That and old hand-written books from before printing was invented. We were thinking of making the whole album like an old book, but it wasn’t going to work, so we asked our artist, Henrik Jacobson, to come up with something. We absolutely adore what he’s done. Inside LP there’s a huge gatefold painting made from scenes and characters from the lyrics, illustrations for each song, portraits of the band, hand-written lyrics and liner notes. It’s all turned out even better than we had ever thought. Yes, it’s not typical doom metal art, but we wanted to stay away from clichés, and the mystical nature-themed art really fits us, I think.
AV: Doom as a genre seems to have found a new lease of life at the moment. What would you put that down to?
TS: Yeah, it’s nothing like it was in the 80’s when no-one wanted to know. I think that the fact that the internet has made it so easy for people to find underground music has allowed people who potentially like this sound to find bands they like. Also, previously, doom was pretty dorky, but lately there are more bands that look a bit cooler or have a more stylish aesthetic, and that helps to sell the genre a bit more.
AV: To what extent were the other members of the band involved in the writing and the concept and how did you meet/get together?
TS: I wrote more or less everything, but everyone’s DNA is very much in the songs. For example, the first acoustic guitar you hear on the album is Staffan, and he made that part to complement the main guitar part for that intro. His backing vocals have also had a huge impact on the band’s sound. Patrik, our bass-player, has told me that he has felt really free to play how he wants, and I think it’s the same for Hans. I’ve written all the songs, and I might give people in the band ideas or guidance on what they should do with their parts, but everyone has really carved their own place in the sound of the band. I met Patrik when I was working as a guitar tech for Pentagram on a European tour, and his old band, Doomdogs were opening on a few shows. When I was talking about moving to Sweden and starting this band, he said he’d be interested. He had never met Hans, our drummer, but knew of him, and knew he was obsessed with Black Sabbath. We jammed with Hans, and it felt great immediately. I tried out a couple of other guitar-players before we found Staffan. He needed someone to live with him for a few months while he was waiting for his cousin to move in, so I moved in. He asked to hear my demos, and loved the songs. Again, he felt absolutely perfect straight away.
AV: What’s in the name – what does Israfel mean for the band? The name has links with Islam, where it is one of the four archangels, and even appears in Edgar Allan Poe writings. Are any of these particularly relevant?
TS: I first heard the name, ‘Israfel’ when my friend mentioned it as the name for the angel of music. I didn’t know at the time that it came from Islam, or that Poe had used the name in a poem. I just loved the idea that music, this thing that brings all of us so much joy every day, had its own angel. I combined this with my experience of connecting with music-lovers across the world regardless of genre, and came up with the idea of The Order Of Israfel as an order made up of every single person on the planet who truly loves and lives for music.
AV: The opener and title track Wisdom seems to sum up the band – or at least this album – like a personal conversation with an entity. That and ‘The Vow’ seem to suggest a deeper occult meaning to the band. Is that something that interests you in an academic sense or something that has influenced you in a more personal sense?
TS: Yeah, as I mentioned, a lot of the songs come from spiritual experiences. I like the idea of strengthening positive lessons in my life by singing about them on stage in front of people, and sharing that with them. I’ve always wanted the music to be ultimately uplifting despite the heaviness and menace in the sound, and these topics are part of that. ‘The Vow’ comes simply from feeling that Sam Neil’s monologue in ‘The Omen III’ as the anti-christ would make for a great intro to the song, ‘Morning Sun (Satanas)’. I get frustrated with organised religion as we all do, but I’m not on any kind of anti-religious quest or anything. ‘The Vow’ and ‘Morning Sun’ are really just good old-fashioned satanic heavy metal fun.
AV: That said, there’s also an undercurrent of humour on Wisdom (or is that my imagination)?
TS: Ha! Great that you’ve picked up on that! That’s absolutely there. In heavy metal in general, but especially in doom metal, there’s a long history of humour and eccentricity. I mean, ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ is kinda funny, y’know? Lee Dorrian shouting, ‘Huggy Bear, oh yeah!!!’ is kinda funny. Reverend Bizarre’s ‘Godess Of Doom’ where they talk about Christina Ricci, then make the rest of the song’s lyrics with the names of doom metal bands is weird and eccentric. It’s that Hammer Horror feeling, where it’s dark and spooky, but there’s a grin in there somewhere too. ‘On Black Wings, A Demon’, and ‘The Noctuus’ are both absolutely from that family. I mean, ‘His shield was strong and his sword was long…’? Come on! I think there’s room for humour in this style of music, as long as it’s not too much.
AV: I think I heard somewhere that you’re based in England at the moment – but the composition of the band (the other three guys are Swedish) suggests otherwise. How does it work and will that influence touring and gigs plans?
TS: I was planning to move there in 2010, but that didn’t work out, so I went back to Australia for a year and a half, and then moved to Sweden. I live in Gothenburg now.
AV: Are you surprised by the reaction to Wisdom – it, understandably, all seems very positive so far?
TS: Yeah! It’s been amazing. It’s weird. I wrote all this stuff in a total vacuum, not knowing if anyone would ever even hear it, just writing to please myself, and now it’s out in public. It feels great that people like it. When I used to listen to my demos, I knew I liked the songs a lot, but I wasn’t sure how anyone else would react. I remember when we got the first review for the album, and it was a 9/10. We were all a bit shocked, but very pleased, of course.
AV: As I said before, it feels like you have put a lot of ideas into this album. Have you kept anything in reserve for the next album?
TS: There’s a couple of things we want to expand on that are already working well on this album. One is having both Staffan and I singing harmonies more. It sounds so beautiful, and really adds colour to the songs, so we want to do more of that. Also, I want to expand the twin-guitar stuff. I love Thin Lizzy, and the first two Cathedral albums and EPs when they had two guitar-players. ‘Wisdom’ is very colourful, and we want to continue that with more interesting instruments. I’m predicting flute, but we’ll have to see!
AV: Do you have any other projects in mind or any other burning ambitions?
TS: Yeah, absolutely. I joined Horisont, another Gothenburg band, a few months ago after filling in for them on a few tours. We’re gonna be on tour in November with Spiders and Vidunder in November, and then we’ll be working on our next album. I also have another new band called Night Viper which sounds kinda like early Judas Priest or ‘Kill ’em All’ era Metallica. We’ve just recorded our first single, so that’ll be out in a few months, and I’m really excited about that band. I do like to rock. He he!
AV: Sounds great! Nothing like keeping yourself busy! Thanks very much for your time, Tom – and, again, congrats on the album and good luck with everything else!
TS: Thanks! We love what we do with all our heart and soul, and I hope that comes across. Come and see us live if you can. Thanks for checking us out! Cheers!
(Interview by Reverend Darkstanley)