And My Axe: In Conversation with the Gimli-Themed Metal Band

“I’m wasted on cross-country, we dwarves are natural sprinters!” is a line that cemented John-Rhys Davies as the much-needed levity in an epic film trilogy full of catastrophic battles, poignant speeches and a tooth-and-nail struggle against an all-consuming darkness threatening to engulf everyone and everything. For Southampton metal duo Gimli, Son Of Glóin though, it’s more of a mission statement. The band’s songs seldom break the two-minute mark, preferring to race past in a tornado of grindcore shredding, tech-death insanity and the occasional chugging breakdown. All of this leaves barely any room for vocals, but those that are here come courtesy of samples from Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and all of them quotes from the hairiest member of the Fellowship. Maybe lockdown’s just finally driven us mad, but the duo’s succinctly-titled new album At Last; Durin’s Mightiest Son Returns To The Field Of Battle With Axe In Hand And Glory In His Heart! is one of the best metal releases we’ve encountered so far this year, so we felt compelled to reach out for a chat. Sitting on a Skype call with the duo, Astral Noize learns of the project’s origins, why the pair chose Gimli and how exactly such an absurd project rose to the top of Bandcamp’s death metal and grindcore best-sellers list. 

“We were writing an album for our other band Deavhronun, which still hasn’t come out – Katherine if you’re reading this, please finish the lyrics – and I was just messing about with some stupid riffs,” begins guitarist Tom O’Dell. “We’d already done one demo with a sample of Palpatine saying ‘do it’ from Revenge Of The Sith, and then we did another 30-second one which had two Gimli samples in. It was hilarious, and we were like, ‘Oh, we could never do a full album of this,’ and then, and here’s the key detail, the two of us said, ‘Why couldn’t we do a full album of this?’.”

And that was that. O’Dell “spent two weeks writing stupid riffs” before bassist Tom Abbey (aka Stumbly) added his parts, then it was simply a case of slapping some “awful artwork” on it and uploading it to Bandcamp. Boom, album one in the bag. “I think we had about £25 worth of sales, which for a stupid project was like, ‘Yeah, that seems about right. We can move on’,” says O’Dell. But his bandmate wasn’t quite as prepared to leave the project behind just yet. “Tom started pestering me to do more,” adds O’Dell. 

“Yeah, I came to you with the first song for the second album,” says Abbey. “I forget which one it was. I can’t remember our own song titles.”

Some of them are pretty long, to be fair.

“One of the stupid ones,” O’Dell helpfully clarifies.

So, against their better judgement, the duo set to work on a follow-up, which came out back on New Year’s Eve. Unbeknownst to him, John-Rhys Davies was about to become the lead-singer of a successful underground metal band, as the duo climbed the ranks of the Bandcamp best-sellers list, were featured on Metal Injection and seemed to win the hearts of every metalhead who doesn’t hate fun. “We’re not really sure how it exploded like this,” admits O’Dell. “It was on Bandcamp for about a week, then I think this kind of snowball effect just happened. People were like, ‘Oh, top-selling death metal, I’ll get that, that looks stupid’.”

“The most common comment we get is ‘come for the memes, stay for the riffs’,” laughs Abbey. That’s understandable – as much as the band was born of a gimmick, the music is no afterthought. Though their latest release may only clock in at just over ten minutes, the duo waste absolutely none of that time. Abbey cites new-school Cryptopsy as an influence, mentioning that he’s tried to emulate Olivier Pinard’s bass tone, whilst O’Dell mentions that the first album was in part the product of having recently seen Dying Fetus at Wacken. “I’m a core person at heart,” he adds. “So there’s always a few breakdowns in there too. Meaningless chugs.” For the second record, he mentions trying to emulate the tech and slam influences brought in by Abbey, citing the likes of Analepsy, Obscura and Beyond Creation.

“I only had to slow down one bar of one song by 10% to get a clean recording,” says Abbey. 

“We’re gonna have to redact that!” his bandmate replies.

These influences come together to form ten minutes and 44 seconds of whirlwind extremity, none of which would be out of place on a less tongue-in-cheek release. It’s metal in a distilled form, full of riffs and slams and pretty much nothing else, save of course the odd Gimli sample. Keeping the songs short seems like the obvious choice given the comical nature of the release, but in doing so the band have accidentally stumbled upon something of a winning formula. “It stops the music getting stale,” suggests Abbey. “If I’m writing longer songs, I get too self-indulgent and say, ‘This is a great idea, I’m going to keep using it.’ Then it’s only when you’re making someone else listen to it that you go, ‘Oh, this is actually kind of boring’.”

“We definitely had that problem in our other band,” says O’Dell. “We had to do a lot of cutting down, and that was a useful lesson to learn. When it came to Gimli, the model we set upon was: our songs are 30 seconds long, how do we make the most out of that 30 seconds, with ridiculous carnage?” Mission accomplished. The pair’s sophomore release is nothing if not absolutely packed full of ridiculous carnage. 

Metal with a comedic slant and a carefree attitude is nothing new, but in a scene so packed with edgelords taking things way too seriously and diehard fans who bemoan anything that isn’t “trve kvlt” in their eyes, it’s still refreshing to see, especially when the music is also really fucking good. Perhaps the scene at large could stand to learn something from the success of Gimli, Son Of Glóin. The band’s carefree attitude has clearly been effective. “Stumbly did an AMA on Reddit and people were like, ‘The sound is great, the mix is great! How did you do this?’” says O’Dell. “I was like, ‘by not giving a shit’. We put less time into the mix than we put into the writing, which is saying something.”

It’s also impressive that the band have essentially found a new angle of bringing Tolkien into metal. It’s fair to say that the late author’s work has been thoroughly explored by the metal genre ever since its inception, a fact that O’Dell is very much aware of as the sole member of atmospheric black metal project Dwarrowdelf, whose most recent album Evenstar shift its focus onto the future king of Gondor himself, Aragorn. “Oh yeah, that’s me being serious about Tolkien,” he says. “Infinitely less fun.”

The two projects could not be further apart in terms of aesthetics, but there’s a shared love of fantasy, not to mention that both have their origins in the dwarves of Middle Earth, with Dwarrowdelf being another name for Moria. So, why dwarves in particular, and why Gimli?

“He’s hilarious,” offers O’Dell.

“He’s also the most metal,” suggests Abbey. “People have commented stuff like ‘Gimli is definitely not the most metal character. What about the Nazgûl, or Saruman?’ It’s like, you try getting enough samples out of them!”

“There’s a lot of Tolkien-inspired metal out there that does go down those roots,” comments O’Dell. “I don’t think anyone’s really done Gimli as the hero. Why not give him his moment in the sun? Tolkien didn’t really seem to care about the dwarves that much. The Hobbit’s got them in, and there’s some stuff in the appendices, but he just wanks over the elves too much.”

We can’t imagine a scenario in which Tolkien envisaged Gimli’s moment in the sun coming from a DIY extreme metal project whose members accuse him of “wanking over the elves too much” , and yet somehow it seems fitting for perhaps the most overlooked member of the Fellowship to find his home amongst the outsiders in the underground metal scene.

Let’s hope the band can keep it going, although running out of good quotes is a very real threat. “I think we could squeeze out another one quite easily,” hints Abbey. 

“I’ve downloaded a video from YouTube called ‘25 Great Gimli, Son of Glóin’ quotes,” reveals O’Dell.

In the meantime, the band have printed shirts to “capitalise on our fleeting moment of fame,” which are available on Bandcamp along with all eighteen minutes of their existing material. Just don’t tell the elf.

Words: George Parr

Middle Earth hXc crew
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