It’s hard to be a doom fan, or a metal fan in general for that matter, without having a strong threshold for gimmicks and silliness. Even the most uber-serious amongst us can’t pretend they haven’t listened to a band dressed in bizarre outfits, adorned in freaky masks or boasting their own mythology. Stack the likes of Slugdge or even Sunn O))) (both brilliant bands that are silly in their own way) up against this two-piece devoted to “telling the story of the Toad King, the discontented ruler of the goblins and their forest home”, and they’re not as out-there a prospect as you’d think at first.
Goblinsmoker’s ultra-fuzzy sound is more stoner than doom, but blackened edges help give it more than a whiff of sludge. This combination is not entirely unique to the trio, but the band wield it with some skill, offering up gargantuan servings of prime fuzz-soaked riffs drenched in churning grooves so satisfyingly infectious that they’ll swirl around the inside of your head like the melting bodies of goblins that froth and bubble inside the cauldron-sized end of the Toad King’s pipe.
The story might sound like the result of a few mates smoking a little too much one night, but it’s fun to dive into. Moreover, the band’s music is truly impressive, and perhaps more inspired by real-world influences than you initially expect – as we discovered when we had a chat with guitarist and vocalist Adam to find out more about imminent second EP A Throne In Haze, A World Ablaze. Read on to get the goblinsmokin’ lowdown.
First off, how would you describe your music?
The fuzz-soaked riff worship of doom and the bleak atmosphere of black metal coming together, to tell a Lovecraftian tale.
Who/what would you cite as influences?
When the band started out as a one-man project it was intended to be as much of a straight up doom band as you could get. All the usual suspects as an influence. However when we expanded into a two-man project and started to develop the sound, things took a bit of a darker turn. In the end it was a winter storm that really sealed the fate. After battling through heavy snowfall to practice one night, we played about with a harsher black metal vocal style as it felt fitting and that was that. From there we’ve tried to bring more influence in from black metal but remain a predominantly a doom band. Away from music, I think it’s easy to see fantasy and monster movies/literature have had quite an influence.
That fantasy influence definitely comes through – you guys write about a goblin-smoking toad king. Tell us a bit about that…
So yeah, the Toad King is the king of the goblins ruling the goblin forest. He was shunned by his own kind for walking out of step. He then found his natural home amongst the goblins. The goblins worship their king so fanatically they willingly sacrifice themselves to be smoked by him. This goblin smoke serves to free the king’s mind from his dissatisfaction with life, however leaves him open to influence from the goblin’s shaman. The goblin’s shaman look to use the toad to unite the goblins, then have him lead the goblins to war against his own kind, with a view to destroying them and having goblins rule the world.
So where did the idea of the Toad King originate?
The toad actually started life as a turtle! I’d recently watched something about a child who was born with a rare condition where his back was covered in a huge growth which resembled a turtle shell. In the superstitious community where he lived, there was a belief that child’s growth was a result of being conceived during an eclipse. This meant the child was shunned and was forced to live apart from the village. This got me thinking and messing around with a concept of a similar situation where the central character would find acceptance elsewhere and return to seek vengeance against those who had wronged them. It was initially a turtle king kind of in the image of Gamera from the Japanese movies. When it came to writing the lyrics to the first song, the word turtle didn’t work so well. As a result it got switched out for toad, then we had a toad king and never looked back.
What’s going on story-wise with A Throne In Haze, A World Ablaze. We hear there’s a battle involved this time?
Well this record picks up the story where the last one finished. ‘Toad King’ saw us set the scene and lay the foundations for the trilogy. We introduced the Toad King, his goblin smoking ways and hinted at his past. The record finished off with the shaman using the goblin smoke to induce the Toad King into a trance-like state and convince him that war was coming. Playing on his past, they lead him to believe his kind were coming for him and he must strike first.
The opening track of the new record ‘Smoked In Darkness’ sees the Toad King lead his goblin hordes in a charge on his ancestral home, burning anything and anyone in sight. ‘Let Them Rot’ is set immediately after the city has fallen and is lyrically set from the Toad King’s point of view. He now sits on his new throne, the throne he would never have been granted. Still full of rage, he sits as the bodies of his own kind smoulder around him and he cries out to “let them rot”. ‘The Forest Mourns’ deals with feeling that change has come and the anxiety of the new, dark future. The world is not what is was and the goblins have come out from the shadows. It also hints at the third and final part of the trilogy, proclaiming the shaman has one final move to make.
You mentioned that the EP picks up where the last one left off. How long do you see this episodic storytelling continuing? Is there more of the Toad King’s journey yet to be revealed?
Well, after the release of the third EP, the Toad King’s story will be complete. As a band we haven’t really discussed where to go from there. Initially the band started out as something that would never play a show and we were purely doing it for ourselves and our enjoyment. We never expected anyone to really hear it, let alone sell out of 100 cassettes in less than 24 hours. The initial plan was to tell the story of the Toad King and then that would be that. But as long as we’re enjoying it, we’re likely to carry on. There’s plenty of stories that could be told from the Toad King universe.
Is the Toad King a heroic figure to you, or more of a villain? I’m sure the goblins would argue the latter…
I see him as more of an anti-hero. He’s a product of his environment and the society in which he lived. While he slaughters his own kind and shows no remorse, obviously an extreme reaction, I think his anger and the vengeance he seeks against a society that rejected him for no good reason, is relatable. And the goblins, they see him as nothing less than a god-like being. To be in his presence is a privilege, to be selected and engulfed in his holy flame, an honour.
So is the world of the Toad King a fully fleshed-out mythology in your heads, or is it just a fun idea that continues to grow as you write new music?
The skeleton of the story was there from the beginning, but initially it was a fun idea that we would play about with whilst writing, or over a beer or two. However, whilst writing the first record, the story was fleshed out and we settled on the direction it was going. This was kind of essential for the lyric writing and to progress the story across the tracks/records. We also settled on how the art for each part of the trilogy will look, as well as how it will be presented. It’s nice to have all this in place and feels like we are writing and working with a purpose.
Do you think it’s important for bands not to take themselves too seriously?
I think everyone’s approach will be different, but my personal experience is that I’ve been in bands in the past where things have been taken too seriously. Seeing shows other bands would be playing, review sites they were getting on, general shit they were up to and comparing ourselves to that. That sort of mindset took all the fun out of what we were doing. So right from the start with Goblinsmoker it’s been about having some fun creating a story and playing some riffs. This band offers us joyful moments, even in our bleakest times, and we would like to hope it can for others too.
The world’s pretty messed up right now, in a lot of ways. Do you see this fantasy storytelling as mere escapism, or does the world of Goblinsmoker reflect reality in some way(s)?
To be honest, there’s probably a bridge that connects them both. While the story of a toad smoking goblins and riding to war is certainly sat in the world of fantasy, I think as people living in the world we live in, you can’t help but be influenced by it and have things creep in there consciously or subconsciously.
That’s an interesting answer – it seems like what you’re getting at is that no art is completely apolitical or uninfluenced by the world around us…
Yeah, I think whether we want to or not, the world around us affects and influences the people we are. Therefore when creating art, that influence is going to carry through on some level, even if subconsciously. You’ll never get a true disconnect from your emotions, no matter what you’re writing or singing about. For example, just before we were due to go in the studio to record Toad King, a good friend and someone I’d been in bands with for pretty much 16 years committed suicide. Going back to the studio we recorded in together, even while I was singing about a goblin-smoking toad, there was a lot of emotion going into that record.
We’re really sorry to hear about your friend.
Thanks, it was super weird getting back in the same studio literally weeks later. But in truth, I only started the band because I had a really bad week where my long term relationship broke down, my dog died and my last band broke up. So I needed something to focus on, and writing this concept and the riffs was that. So the thing with my friend was just another bump the band helped me work past.
That shows how fantasy works as escapism, and can help give you a focus away from any real-world struggles.
Yeah, it definitely did offer some escape from stuff that was going on. It helped me turn a negative part of my life into something I love and enjoy. I didn’t want a whole ‘woe is me’ vibe to dominate it though, I’m not the only one who’s had a hard time of it.
For more fantastically silly but kickass fuzzy doom, check out our piece on Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters here.
A Throne In Haze, A World Ablaze is out 7th February on Sludgelord Records. Order here.
Words: George Parr