“If there’s anything for a band to base their sound on, it’s a murdered android having a fairly bad time after being shot by President James Marshall.”
Emerging from the burgeoning Irish metal scene with their nonconformist brand of doom and unique worldview, Tipperary’s zhOra have come a long way since their debut EP in 2012. With their second full-length, Ethos, Pathos, Logos, the band’s ambitious vision has finally been fully realised across over an hour of gloriously heavy doom that centres around an eccentric and expansive concept.
Ethos, Pathos, Logos‘ narrative is an exceedingly complex one, steeped in violence but informed by the persuasion techniques of modern language (the source of its title). It’s concepts and motifs cannot be summed up in a single review, so we caught up with the band’s Tom Woodlock to discover more about the weird and wonderful world of zhOra, covering everything from Ireland, musical influences, and innovation to Blade Runner, Mastodon and The Rock.
Ethos, Pathos, Logos is a concept album, could you tell us more about its themes and narrative?
Ethos, Pathos and Logos are the modes of persuasion in modern language – essentially the different approaches you can take to convince someone of your point. It’s worth reading up on but they boil down to; appealing through perceived rank or experience, an emotional appeal and the supposedly most logical choice. Basically – through your rhetoric, you can convince anyone of anything you want. So, if an argument can be made to be persuasive through how you say something, how truly does someone actually believe in their beliefs? Surely, you’re just repeating the point of view of whatever person has convinced you, that their way of looking at things is the right way?
It’s not really anti-religion, that’s been done to death. The characters in the story are locked in this frame of mind that they’ve got all the answers and where they are in this moment is exactly as fate has willed it. Through some events in the story, these characters end up fulfilling this ultimate task, which is completely at odds with where they came from. The main character is a king from this isolated, non-technological tribe who ends up believing that flying a spaceship into the sun is the only way to save the world from how evil he could become, because of a vision he received from cannibalizing an alien. It’s fucking ludicrous.
Basically, I was having a go at how ridiculous it is to have your mind made up about anything, and refuse any new information that can challenge it. At the same time, your mind can be swayed into believing anyone’s agenda, so do you actually believe any of your beliefs? None of us are really convinced of any belief system we might have had or have currently, so being judgmental towards someone because of their beliefs is just dumb.
What does the name zhOra mean? Is there a reason it is stylised that way?
The name is actually one of the characters from the original Blade Runner way back in 1982. The newest installment is absolutely fantastic too. The soundtrack is so abrasive and loud, you have to almost let the film happen at you. It’s a great big cacophony in neon.
Zhora is one of the Replicants that our best friend, Harrison Ford, is tasked with “retiring”. There’s a particularly great scene where the character Zhora is shot and killed, but manages to make utter shite of a few plate glass windows in her death throes. If there’s anything for a band to base their sound on, it’s a murdered android having a fairly bad time after being shot by President James Marshall.
We stylise the name with the central “O” as a way of showing the musical tie that binds the four of us together. Through all the rows and fights or good/bad times, the band is the link that gives us somewhere positive to put anything negative that’s eating at us.
What’s the metal scene like around Tipperary? Was it hard to break out and make a name for yourself?
The more rural parts of Ireland definitely do have fewer bands than any of the built-up areas like Dublin, but that’s to be expected really. The genre-regional type of scene isn’t really as much of a thing over here because the country is small and the pool of metal bands even smaller. Breaking through is based on how much you’re actually in it to make honest and real music, and not just another bored bunch of hobbyists.
What you do notice though is how varied the bands are, despite us all having the same pool of resources. The internet makes music so much more accessible now, any sub-genre you want; you got it. Bands have a wealth of things to be inspired by now, so it’s not like 20 years ago when everyone was out to make Where the Slime Live Pt. 2: The Slimening.
You define your music as “Irish progressive sludge”, is this because you feel your home country has influenced your sound in some way?
Absolutely. Ireland is a weird place, it has beautifully jagged scenery that can be very serene and placid. At the same time, the climate has everyone over a barrel with the near constant rain and gloom that is our weather for 80% of the year. I’d say most of the country has Seasonal Affective Disorder. Our Celtic heritage was based on a lot of goddess worship, animals as the embodiment of magic and storytelling. So, to counteract that, there has been a very stifling influence by the Catholic Church throughout the country’s history – obviously very anti-feminist and against idol worship, whatever the subtext may be.
I’m not romanticizing the past here at all, but I think it’s easy to see how we’re such a nation of functional alcoholics when there are all these outside forces pulling us every which way. Irish music, stories and art have always had a touch of wistfulness to them. There’s beauty in a lament, and that’s part and parcel of being Irish, especially our culture of waking the dead. My sister moved to England years ago and she knows some 40 year-olds who have never seen a dead body, which is absolutely bizarre to me.
If anything, it influences us to put real emotional weight in our songs. Whether someone else picks up on it is irrelevant really; we know what we meant when we wrote it.
Who or what inspires zhOra’s music?
Absolutely anything really. Day to day life, music, film – whatever you can think of. If something has made you sit up and take time out of your daily routine, you can write about it.
To what extent does zhOra, as a band, want to sound different from what has come before? Is innovation something you strive for?
It’s easy enough to fall into lockstep with the easiest path to gratification. You see that all the time in people you know, stuck in the same job they hate because your security is now a commodity. We could have sat around and made our debut EP four times at this stage and said “okay, we’re a doom band now, that’s the end of it,” and played to the same group of people with the same interests and probably done well doing it. People whine on about selling out; that’s fucking selling out in a nutshell.
The things we try in our songs don’t always work out perfectly, but I’d rather fail hard having tried something new than sleepwalk my way through a lifetime full of conceit. If we want the next album to be us banging our dicks off a dustbin for 82 minutes rather than release the same thing again, we’ll probably do it (release coming on PornHub – watch this space).
Jake Kobrin’s super trippy artwork for the album is awesome, is it based on the album’s themes?
Correct and right. Three faces, three-word title, three-part story. There’s also a UFO near the top, and the main character approaching a city from the story at the very bottom. Anyone that figures out the full story can send us a full, referenced synopsis via carrier pigeon. We might send you a zhOra grinder (Note: Not the Grindr App).
Parallels have been drawn between Ethos, Pathos, Logos and Mastodon‘s Crack The Skye, Tool‘s Lateralus or Pink Floyd‘s The Wall. Were these albums that you took inspiration from?
Definitely in terms of their scope. Mostly Crack the Skye because of how emotionally charged the lyrical subject matter is, but we loved how well the album ebbs and flows with a full story coming through the music. A concept album is hard to write and not be utter, unrelatable shit, so it does make it easier to have a personal element in it to write about. Any good story is a bit autobiographical, and Ethos, Pathos, Logos is the same really.
I was raised Christian – as are most metalheads, but I eventually gave up that faith. One way I made myself feel less scared of missing the invisible guiding hand was taking great enjoyment out of laughing at everyone who wasn’t WOKE AF like me. It’s pretty hypocritical to think anyone who doesn’t conform to same belief as you is an idiot when you were the same not too long ago.
How important do you think it is to stand out and do something new in modern metal?
So long as what you’re putting out as your art has come from a real place, standing out isn’t too much of a big deal. That being said, everyone has so much music to digest it’s hard not to make something original provided you don’t listen to the same two bands every day.
As far as I’m concerned, “Standing Out” means having a great live show, better songs and a positive attitude. If you’ve got that and the commitment to playing as many shows as you can, you’re standing out plenty.
The band is celebrating the release with a five-date tour of Ireland, can Britain expect a tour in the near future?
We’re actually shooting over to Reading on December 9th as part of Facebarmageddon before this year is out. Tickets are available from ourselves or the promoters.
Seeing as all Irish people are in the IRA, we’ve had orders from above to fill every public house we encounter with Tayto Crisps and 80 bag packs of Barry’s Tea; no more, no less.
What have you guys got planned for the rest of 2017 and beyond?
Ethos, Pathos, Logos is out now. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr