“Heavy music is in my DNA,” says Stephen Flam, guitarist and founding member of New York doomers Winter. The evidence certainly supports this. His band’s seminal doom classic Into Darkness, now three decades old, has reached cult status for all the right reasons, its bleak atmospheres and oppressive riffs going on to inspire countless death-doom and sludge acts. Fans of that landmark record have long awaited a follow-up, and oddly, it seems the closest we’ll come isn’t actually a Winter record, but a brand new project from Flam. After Winter came to an end (for a second time) in 2015, with shows at Hellfest and Maryland Death Fest cancelled following the news that Flam had serious hearing damage and was medically advised not to play live, Flam set to work on what would become Goden, a band he refers to as a “continuation of Winter” – they even share their name with a classic Winter track.
“I wrote new music for Winter that was recorded and completed in 2003,” the guitarist tells us. “We started to work on those songs during rehearsals for Winter shows with intentions of using them for the follow up to Into Darkness. When those gigs were cancelled due to my hearing loss issues, I broke the news to the group and everyone was extremely bummed. It was 25 years later, we had a second chance, especially since Winter broke up right after the release of Into Darkness… Everyone knew I was suffering with crippling tinnitus. It was a major setback and a depressing time for everyone. The group chose not to do the shows without me. Everyone removed their equipment from the rehearsal space and that was the end…”
Packing up the last few things at keyboardist Tony Pinnisi’s house, Flam mentioned that the only way to continue would be using an isolation booth he could stand in so sound wouldn’t affect him. “Tony said, ‘So build the iso-booth and let’s move forward and see how it goes,’” Flam tells us. “I explained to the other Winter members what Tony and I wanted to do. It seemed a tremendous undertaking, and it was! Some members joined on and some decided not to join the project.”
Stephen enlisted the help of his brother Chris Flam, a recording engineer, and together with Pinissi they set about turning what was once Winter’s rehearsal space into a recording studio. Moving quite literally beyond Winter, it’s fitting that the band have chosen to name their first full-length release Beyond Darkness, paying homage to that 1990 opus Into Darkness, of which Flam was an integral part. “I feel honoured that the metal community embraces what Winter has contributed and that Into Darkness is considered a cult classic,” he admits. “We never saw that coming. We just made music we wanted to hear, so I am grateful.”
Goden may see Flam moving beyond Winter, but he also dubs it a “spiritual successor” to his previous band. When work started on Beyond Darkness, the band initially focused on reworking Winter demos from 2003, which would become ‘Glowing Red Sun’, ‘Night’ and ‘Dark Nebula’, though various other riffs from those demos also crop up throughout the record. “Tony was a godsend for opening his home to me for this five-year-long recording process,” Flam adds. “We would rehearse and then record the song and put it on the shelf. When ten songs were completed, I reached out to Vas Kallas from Hanzel Und Gretyl, who’s an old friend. I explained my vision, and she was down [to get involved]. She spent the next year working on lyrics and a few different vocal styles. She sang in German, Greek, English and offered a few ethereal styles.”
With Flam, Pinissi and Kallas now on board, the trio set to work on the record, which would soon become a vast concept album on which each member takes on the role of a character. “I had a concept to make the album a story/soundtrack with artwork that would take the listener to a different place,” Flam tells us. “My concept was a fictional story of light and dark set to a soundtrack of heavy music. It was obvious that Vas (NYXTA-Goddess of Night) with her menacing vocal style and lyrics was the darkness. Tony (Prophet of Goden) and I spent countless hours creating a character that would be the polar opposite to Vas, so he became the light, who speaks in the name of Goden.”
Throughout the record, a series of eight demonic spoken-word ‘Manifestations’ help shed some light on the narrative. “They guide the listener on a journey,” Flam explains. “The manifestations became a home for some of my ambient and spacey side of music creation. Vas nicknamed me ‘Spacewinds’ because the manifestation’s music reminded her of Spacewind. I am the time and space in which these characters’ dwell.”
In an effort to lend the release a strong visual component, Flam also collaborated with Slovene multimedia artist Eva Petric to create a visual storybook accompaniment to the album that will be included with the LP/CD booklet. “Eva and I met by accident at a health conference in NYC,” Flam remembers. “She mentioned she was in New York and that her artwork was displayed at the UN and St. John Divine Cathedral. I attended and afterwards was interested in collaborating with her. Eva is a talented artist and it was obvious to me after viewing her work that I wanted her to help create the visual part of the story. Eva and I listened with headphones to the whole album. When we were done she looked me in the eyes and said ‘let’s do this!’”
It’s oddly refreshing to see Flam call this new project a continuation of his past work instead of trying to distance himself from it, as many do when it comes time to move on. Winter’s influence on Goden is clear, but there’s also key differences in both sound and themes. Goden’s high-concept narrative is a far cry from Into Darkness’ bleak sound which, like a lot of the best sludge, came across like a wallow in the existential dread of human life. Regardless of the changes, though, the riffs aren’t going anywhere.
One main difference will come, of course, from Goden’s inability to play live… or so we thought, at least.
“I wouldn’t say never,” Flam reveals. “I think next time around things would have to be different. I am not the first musician to destroy their hearing. I spoke to Roy Mayorga, an old friend, fellow bandmate (Thorn) and the mixing engineer of Goden’s record, about this hearing issue. Roy has been a hard-hitting drummer for decades. He was in Nausea, Soulfly, Stone Sour, Hellyeah etc. He recommended that the group all wear in-ear monitors to keep the stage volume to a minimum. From his own personal perspective this has helped him preserve his hearing and ensured band performances are way tighter. So don’t count Goden out…”
Indeed, Goden isn’t a one-and-done deal – they’re seemingly here for the long haul. “Now that the recording studio is up and running the hard part is done,” says Flam. “The next album should be easier. Hopefully people embrace Goden and journey beyond darkness…”
Beyond Darkness is out 8th May on Svart Records. Order here.
Words: George Parr