It’s easy to think of vocals as perhaps the most important cog in a band’s machine, with the lyrics expressing the music’s message most directly, their delivery contextualising the music underneath and the frontperson often being the focal point of any live performance. As such, it’s always fascinating to hear how a metal band navigate a vocal-less existence, whether it’s the exploratory post-rock of Russian Circles, the pioneering drone metal of Earth or the stoner grooves of Karma To Burn.
It’s a bold move to go without a vocalist – many potential listeners see the lack of one as a gap in the band, as if something is missing, whilst some groups struggle not to give that impression when their material seems to be truly lacking something, be it the poetic capabilities of lyrics or the versatility of a good vocalist. It takes a remarkably high calibre of songwriting ability to craft something moving and affecting through instrumentals alone, and listening to The Sacred Dissonance, the debut EP from Scouse post-metallers Mairu, the lack of vocals is far from apparent. Were you to go into it without prior knowledge, the way its four exploratory tracks unravel leaves no seams and no suggestion of something missing – you might not even notice there’s no vocalist at first.
Operating at an intersection between ambient music and sludge, the EP is driven by raw riffs, occasionally blackened in tone, which somehow coalesce with vast atmospheres and spruces of psychedelia to create transcendent soundscapes that are simultaneously devastating and empowering. It may be their first release, but the potential it hints at is massive, and we aren’t the only ones to take notice – the band have already started landing shows up and down the UK, supporting the likes of We Never Learned To Live and King Goat.
To find out more about these enticing newcomers, we spoke to bassist Dan Hunt. Read on to get the lowdown.
How did Mairu come into being?
We came into being a year ago in a little town called Skelmersdale, which is where we are all from. Me and Ant [Hurlock], our guitarist, have been best mates for years and always talked about doing a heavy band in the style of Crowbar or Neurosis. We started jamming and came up with some ideas. Three of us – Myself, Ben [Davis] and Alan [Caulton] – are in another instrumental band called Kusanagi and had just gone on a break from that for a while. We asked Ben if he was interested in playing drums for us, though he usually plays guitar, and asked Alan if he was interested too. We’re all good mates and it kinda just clicked straight away. We had half a song ready after a few weeks of practicing, and got asked to play a gig by our now mates DOEM within a couple of months. With that gig offer, we knew we’d have to sort a set out quick and so wrote these four songs that are on the EP within a couple of weeks. We’ve played a few shows and got the EP recorded at Vagrant studios in Southport. It’s been a busy year.
How would you describe yourselves and your music?
I’d say we are an instrumental post-metal band with influences from black metal, doom and death metal thrown in the mix.
As the four of us have a lot of different influences, we kinda add our own tastes to the songs. Sometimes stuff that isn’t metal, like say trip-hop or film music, can influence the way we write.
We’re pretty laid back guys who are really good mates and it’s lucky that we’ve gelled so quickly as a band.
How does the debut EP differ from the initial idea for the project? Was the plan always to create an instrumental post-metal/sludge band?
The EP hasn’t differed really from what we set out to do. I think we always wanted to be a heavy post-metal or doom band, we have thought about dabbling with vocals but we may save that for our next release. I think we will be an Instrumental band but if we do use vocals it’ll be as an extra layer, not necessarily all the way through entirety of a song.
The song ‘A Fire Within The Splendour‘ was the first song we ever wrote together and we kind of tried to get a theme or feel going through the rest of the tracks that fit that first song. Alan and Ant came up with a lot of the riffs and melodies that make everything come together nicely and make the EP flow instead of just four completely different songs.
Who/what would you cite as influences?
I’d definitely say our main influences are bands like Cult Of Luna, Neurosis, Russian Circles, Mastodon and Deftones. All those bands have been huge parts of our musical DNA for a while.
Were all influenced by numerous bands, from Bjork, Tool, Godflesh, Gojira and Crowbar to stuff like Cult Leader, Converge, Behemoth, Mogwai, Pelican, Deafheaven etc. I think extreme metal is in a purple patch at the minute. There are so many great bands who are pushing themselves to write some amazing albums over the last few years. So many exciting bands coming out at the minute like Employed To Serve, Boss Keloid, Mastiff, Conjurer, Code Orange – exciting times.
Are there any particular themes or concepts your music is inspired by? How do you express these without lyrics?
I think being an Instrumental band is about creating a feel or something you can imagine in your head. It’s about the songwriting journey and keeping people wanting more, whether it be loud walls of noise or delicate melodies. I’d say there’s an ethereal feel to the album and earthy dirty tones. I think the songs have a tribal feel to them which is why I’d say it’s a connection to nature and earth.
We’re all inspired by a number of things but, as human beings. I suppose we have that connection to earth, water, time and space, life and death. For me, the songs conjure up those images.
There’s a lot of good metal bands in the North West, why do you think that is? Are you inspired by the scene there at all?
Yeah there’s loads of amazing bands in the North West and we’re definitely inspired by the scene. Bands like Boss Keloid and Under are doing great. I think the metal scene in Manchester and the smaller towns around it are helping drive that scene and showcase how many good bands there are. I think labels like APF Records and promoters around that area really champion the bands. We’re a pretty new band and have been lucky to play with some awesome bands already in the North West. I think the UK in general has an awesome extreme metal scene. It seems to be thriving at the minute which is a great thing.
Post-metal has been around for over well two decades now, with all manner of weird and distinctive takes on it emerging since. How do you aim to stand out from the pack?
I suppose we can stand out by being instrumental but heavy, we’ve maybe taken a different approach to writing post-metal with not having a singer, so that will instantly get people interested – whether it’s for everyone we will see. We just hope to perform live as best we can and create an atmosphere and get people moving. I think our music can be quite intense but it will take you on a journey. There are melodies and riffs that people can latch onto and at the same time be heavy and emotional.
What can we expect from Mairu in the future?
At the minute we are playing a few shows around the UK which we can’t wait for. We released our debut EP on April 26th and a new video for ‘Sacred Lands’ with that. We hope to play a few shows for the remainder of the year and see what happens with the EP. We’ve also started writing our next batch of songs, which seem to be going in a heavier, more doomy direction. We’ve also started playing with vocals in parts of songs so will see how that goes.
Should hopefully be a great 2019.
The Sacred Dissonance is out now. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr