Destroy the Hive Mind: The Oddworld of Shrykull

Google “Shrykull” and you’ll be greeted by images of a malformed beast from the late ’90s video game Oddworld. Looking at the demonic creature, it’s crab-like legs, multiple crooked limbs and protruding misshapen jaw, it’s not hard to see how it could be the inspiration behind a metal band. Like the in-game beast for which they’re named, Shrykull‘s music is a grotesque fusion of different forms of ugliness, a shambolic smashing together of several different approaches to extreme metal that proves to be more than the sum of its riff-driven parts.

The Nottingham duo, fuelled by Kez Whelan’s clamorous drums and William Powell’s savage riffs and throat-shredding growls, have just dropped their debut album, a self-titled, sub-half-hour dive into sludgy realms of blackened chaos. Whether offering up the slower, doomier vibes of ‘Plagued’, the frantic battery of ‘Deafened By The Echo’, the crust-ridden intensity of ‘I.B.T.’ or the driving black ‘n’ roll of ‘Destroy The Hivemind’, the musicianship is precise, always held together by an appositely murky production.

Now that their debut LP has been unleashed for all to hear, we had a chat with the duo to find out more about the influence of Oddworld, crossing genre boundaries and the enduring legacy of their hometown’s metal scene.

Astral Noize

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your name – it’s taken from the late ’90s game Oddworld we believe (we remember playing it back in the day). What’s the significance of the Shrykull and how does it relate to your music?

Kez: Those first two Oddworld games are some of my favourite games ever, I love the dystopian aesthetic and the amount of subtext and social commentary they squeeze in too. For anyone who hasn’t played it, the Shrykull is basically this big grotesque beast you can turn into later in the game, and it lets out a big scream that kills all the enemies on the screen. The protagonist (Abe) is this really disgruntled, downtrodden slave, and turning into the Shrykull marks the point that he starts to take the power back and take control of his own life. Both me and Will had been going through loads of shit personally when we formed Shrykull and were really frustrated after previous attempts at forming bands hadn’t worked out, so naming it after a mutant demigod that destroys everyone just by screeching at them seemed like a pretty good fit.

Will: I hadn’t actually played the Oddworld games until I met Kez at university, I owned a Sega Saturn in the nineties so missed out on it at the time. I guess after completing both the games together the name popped up naturally when we created the band. We also just thought ‘Shrykull’ looked good when written down, and it sounds pretty brutal!
Astral Noize

Shrykull has some of the spirit of Darkthrone’s first few black metal albums – that mixing of metal subgenres and punk that come across as totally evil and tremendous fun at the same time. Is that kind of spontaneity and genre-crossing something you aspire to and if so how is that reflected in your writing process?

Kez: Thanks a lot, I love Darkthrone and have spent many hours listening to those albums, so I’m chuffed if we can channel a similar vibe. We’re both into loads of different kinds of music, and the idea of starting just another death metal band, or another D-beat band or sludge band or whatever, seemed kinda restrictive, we just wanted to smash together all these different sounds we were into and see what happened. Or to put it another way, we just couldn’t decide on a sound so kept flinging shit at the wall to see what stuck. As far as writing goes, some of the songs I’ll write on my own at home and then show Will the riffs, and vice versa, and some of the songs we end up putting together in a practice room between the two of us.

Will: I definitely like to keep an open mind when it comes to writing a song. I feel the best riffs and ideas usually come out when you’re not really overthinking what the song should be so much. As Kez said earlier, we both listen to a wide range of music, so the different influences just get thrown into the melting pot. Metal and punk meant a lot to me growing up, and there’s something about combining the two that just brings a raw energy to the music.
Astral Noize

Given that your songs can just as easily move from d-beat to sludge, or black metal to death/doom, are there any particular bands that are foundational influences, in sound or attitude? As a two-piece, are there any bands that one of you likes but the other one hates?

Kez: Darkthrone were a big one for me, and Dystopia too – I love everything about that band, especially the way they seamlessly fuse together all these bits of sludge, crust punk, death metal etc. into this big wild, untamed sound. Black Sabbath and Celtic Frost are the main bands that I rip off for riffs, and bands like Bismuth, Ghold, The Body etc. were really inspiring to me in terms of opening up the possibilities of what a two-piece band can do. We both just love music in general though and listen to loads of different genres. I think there’s a lot of overlap between our tastes but obviously there’s stuff we disagree on too. I don’t share Will’s love of Dream Theater, for example, and I’ve never been able to sell him on the genius of Tom Waits, so I guess we’re not going to have any extended keyboard solos or gruff piano-led ballads on a Shrykull album any time soon, but it’s all good.

Will: Well to be honest, I don’t regularly listen to Dream Theater too much nowadays, and it’s not like I hate Tom Waits or anything! Other than the bands Kez already mentioned, a few others that I think play a part in our sound are Electric Wizard, Autopsy and Cannibal Corpse. They definitely had a big impact on me over the years.
Astral Noize

What inspires your lyrics? From a glance at Bandcamp you sing about everything from existential despair, drunk guys from other bands and the evils of social media.

Kez: A lot of the lyrics on the album are pretty bleak, I guess. We tried not to overthink it, most of the songs started off with a vocal pattern and I’d end up just yelling words in practice that seemed to fit, and then we’d write the lyrics around that. There’s a lot of stuff about depression and trying to navigate life in this mad sci-fi hellscape that we currently live in. ‘Ian Boult Thrower’ is kind of the comic relief of the record; it was a working title that we liked so much we ended up keeping it, and the lyrics are about going to gigs at SOAN [Stuck On A Name Studios] and having a lovely time, and a bit of a tribute to Boulty too, the legend that runs the place. The lyrics to that one are pretty silly, but I like the juxtaposition between that and the other more negative stuff on the album. It’s like, sure, the world is falling apart, the internet is radicalising lunatics and segregating everyone and we’re inching closer to apocalypse day by day, but at least we can still get together with some pals, drink some beers and watch some ‘orrible music together.
Astral Noize

What part does has the DIY scene centred around Stuck On A Name (SOAN) Studios played in Shrykull’s career so far? Is there something about that community and Nottingham as a city that’s unique?

Kez: SOAN is an awesome place, it’s definitely kind of a hub for the Nottingham scene. We’re really lucky to have such a cool space just down the road from us, we’ve recorded everything we’ve released so far there, and played loads of really fun gigs there. It’s just got a really nice atmosphere, and there’s a regular crowd who’ll come out for gigs too. Everyone seems pretty open-minded as well, you’ll see the same people at black metal gigs as well as hardcore gigs or doom gigs or whatever, everyone just seems well up for coming out and supporting bands and checking out new music, which is really cool. And obviously, Boulty’s been doing an amazing job running the place too!
Astral Noize

Speaking of Nottingham, as a city that’s produced iconic metal groups like Iron Monkey, Earthtone 9, Pitchshifter and Fudge Tunnel, who do you consider to be the quintessential Nottingham band? Are there any active local bands that you think are destined for bigger things?

Kez: Obviously Iron Monkey cast a pretty big shadow over that whole sound to this day, but I think it’s hard to single out one band as “the” Nottingham band, as the city seems to produce such a big variety of bands. The city’s music scene is the reason I moved here to begin with, really. I could name bands from around here all day, but in terms of active ones at the moment, Bismuth, Moloch, Underdark, Dark Mother, Bloody Head, Antre, Berserk, TV Crime, Brianblessed, Widows, Wolvencrown and King Of Pigs are all smashing it. We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to new bands really!

Astral Noize

At Astral Noize we’ve covered guitar and drums bands like yourselves, Dawn Ray’d, Mantar and Vile Creature. What exactly do you lot have against bass players?*

*This question has nothing to do with the fact that the interviewee plays bass.
Kez: Will was actually originally a bassist, I played guitar and we were looking for a drummer for what felt like an eternity, so I ended up learning to drum and Will picked up the guitar instead. This band was very much born out of frustration and necessity, so at the time seeing all these awesome two-piece bands made us think “fuck it, let’s just do it with the two of us, we don’t need a bassist”. We’ve talked about the idea of getting a bassist on board since then, but there’s something really freeing about the two-piece set-up that we both really like.

Will: I think the two-piece set-up really allows you to listen in and play off of each other. We’ve been playing music together in some form for quite a while so we have a pretty good idea of each other’s quirks. But nothing against bassists at all! I do wonder how our band would sound with a low F# under it…
Astral Noize

Shrykull’s members are involved in around five or six different other bands. What do you enjoy about being involved in so many different projects and have you ever accidentally started playing the wrong band’s songs at a show?

Kez: I play in three other bands at the moment (Lindow Moss, FILTHxCOLLINS and Damn Craters) and Will used to play in a really cool Hellhammer-style band called Walpurgis, although I think that’s on hold. I just love playing music, and after trying to start a band for so long and having no joy, learning to drum was the magical key that opened up bands to me in a way, so I just wanted to play as much as possible. Everyone always needs a drummer! If there were more hours in the day, I would definitely start even more bands. All the ones I’m in are pretty different though, and fairly easily to differentiate between in my mind, so luckily I haven’t mixed up any setlists yet!

Will: It’s unfortunate that Walpurgis didn’t take off; I really liked the songs we had! But I guess we all had some real life things to take care of at the time. Especially as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised I shouldn’t stretch myself out too thin for the sake of my mental health. Ideally, I’d own a studio where I could write, record and produce music all day long, but that hasn’t become a reality yet…
Astral Noize

From your involvement as musicians, promoters and journalists within metal, what frustrates you most about the heavy metal scene at the moment and what gives you most hope?

Kez: I think metal’s hero worship can get a bit frustrating sometimes – obviously metal has a really rich history and I think it’s great that the culture surrounding it encourages people to dig back into it and discover the roots, but at the same time that can lead to people putting certain older bands on a pedestal and ignoring newer ones. You know, that whole “there are no more proper festival headliners” argument. I mean, there easily would be if more people would take a punt on new bands and spend less on Metallica arena tours, but whatever. Metal is, to me at least, still very creatively inspiring and I’m constantly finding new bands that blow my mind or change my perspective on the genre, so that definitely gives me hope. On a more serious note, seeing racism creeping into black metal especially is very frustrating – the fact that something as inherently nonsensical as NSBM even exists is incredibly depressing, but seeing the big pushback against that kind of shit lately definitely gives me hope. Metal is for everyone.
Astral Noize

Finally, what are your release plans for Shrykull? Do you have any plans to gig or tour the album in the future?

Kez: We’re doing a limited run of 100 CDs which we should have before the end of the month, and then we’ll take it from there really. I’d love to do a vinyl release if there’s enough interest, if only to see Luke Oram’s awesome artwork on a bigger scale! We’re hoping to sort out some tours next year, but for the immediate future we’re playing SOAN on Oct 20th with Hundred Year Old Man, Archelon and Le Menhir, which I guess will kind of serve as an album release show for us too. After that, we’re playing the Leeds Damnation after-show on November 4th, then we’re opening for Vile Creature at their first ever UK show in Notts on November 23rd (which I’m very excited about!) and then playing Brighton’s Riffmass on November 24th. Come and have a drink and a smoke and discuss obscure ’90s video games with us!

Will: What Kez said! Thanks to everybody who has supported the band so far! We both really appreciate it.
Astral Noize

Shrykull is out now. Purchase here.

Interview: Andrew Day

Intro words: George Parr

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