Sheffield’s Ba’al are a long-standing fixture on the city’s live scene and have had a consistent if tumultuous journey as a band since their inception. Ostensibly a post-metal band, their sound is one that runs the gamut from black metal introspection to charged, feral death metal fire. Members have come and gone, but their latest incarnation feels more solidified as they add guitarist Chris Mole (ex-Northern Oak/Child Of Ash) to the fray.
Mike Shields catches up with guitarist Nick Gosing and bassist Richard Spencer to talk permanence, real life impacting on lyrical direction and the creative process under pressure.
Your latest album Ellipsism has been out for around a year, what’s the reception been like?
NG: As good as we could have hoped – it’s been pretty much universally positive, which is pretty dang sweet. And thanks in no small part to Clobber Records, it’s become our most purchased, streamed and shared release thus far and I think it’s fair to say that it’s taken us a step further than we’ve ever been before in terms of measurable success and exposure, so I have absolutely no complaints in that department!
RS: Yeah it’s been fantastic, even setting aside the fact we haven’t done any gigs to support it. When you take that fact into consideration it’s even more impressive. Whilst lots of the album was totally new to people when it came out, there are a couple of tracks on there we’ve been playing live since 2018/19, so we’d been sitting on them for some time, and getting them out for people to hear in fully polished forms and then for them to be so well received is a great feeling.
The themes on Ellipsism seem to be about grief and possibly redemption, can you expand on the lyrical themes and how they fit with your writing?
RS: Grief, sadness and isolation are strong themes throughout Ellipsism. Joe [Stamps, vocals] writes all our lyrics and he likes to leave the specific context of certain songs somewhat ambiguous, as it allows him to retain some privacy, while at the same time encouraging the listener to relate these lyrics to their own experiences. He also says it’s important that the lyrics not only reflect the raw emotion of grief, sadness, isolation etc but also find the beauty in these feelings. Simply saying suitably sad-sounding words is not enough; creating an image, a story, finding the source of these feelings and identifying the very thing that might have been lost or torn away is where the beauty resides. Conveniently, these kinds of themes fit pretty well with our doom and gloom riff-writing…
NG: I’m not really one to think about lyrics when I’m constructing riffs or extended ideas, so for me it’s very much just a case of what fits together sonically. Once we have the basic shell of a track assembled, Joe will then get a feel for the song and start to think about what feelings it conjures and what narrative he can apply to it. Perhaps it’s an unusual method (or perhaps it’s completely normal), but either way Joe does a great job of carving out something that compliments the music. He comes from a theatre and creative writing background which also helps with our extended song structures and the grandiosity of our tracks. Take ‘Rosalia’, for example, which started out as a fairly solemn track anyway. Once Joe started putting together the lyrics it attained a new level of harrowing.
Your music crosses many styles. Do you think genre tropes are too restrictive these days?
NG: I think it just depends on how willing you are to take musical risks and potentially turn off a few potential listeners. Some bands are happy to stick fairly strictly to whatever genre they sit in, which is absolutely fine if that’s what you want to do and you’re probably more likely to find immediate ‘success’ with that, but that’s not really what we’re interested in doing with Ba’al – at least I’m not. I think the main problem lies with gatekeepers that think they have a monopoly of musical opinion, and that think they can dictate what qualifies as good, bad, this or that, which is just the attitude of sad blokes that revel in other people’s unhappiness. “Musical Tories” I like to call them, or “wankers” for short. But I think there is a growing culture of acceptance in metal, though there is clearly still some way to go as per my previous comment. Bands that want to push the envelope feel comfortable doing that, and in the internet age it’s easier than ever for extremely niche bands to find an audience.
RS: Yeah I agree. It also depends where you look. We all know the factions of metal that are known for being the most rigid and inflexible, but equally there’s so many bands out there these days really just throwing out the rulebook in all manner of different ways. I don’t think anyone would listen to Ba’al and think we’re the most experimental band going, as all of our various ideas get filtered through our collective brains and naturally come out as something that is vaguely cohesive and sounds like us, but at the same time we do absolutely encourage and embrace ideas from absolutely any source or genre. I think in future we’ll push that a little more obviously than we did on Ellipsism.
Dark themes are prevalent in metal. Are there any albums or artists that you think are on a similarly emotional or cathartic path?
RS: Lyrically I know that Joe finds that Pig Destroyer, Oathbreaker, Swallow The Sun and Deafheaven appeal in terms of being emotive whilst touching on dark themes. Musically, the raw and unfiltered anguish that comes through the colossal riffs of Amenra is something I think we’ve always connected to and tried to bring to our music. I feel the same way about Primitive Man, too – that level of brutal intensity coming from an honest place is really affecting. The righteous raging against injustice that you can feel through Svalbard’s music is also something that really connects, and even though their stuff is obviously more direct in it’s lyrical subject matter than we tend to be, the intensity comes through the music too, I think. Then of course there’s any number of amazing atmospheric/post/depressive black metal bands that go deep into the catharsis, too. To name just one of many archetypal examples, the chord progressions in the music of Woods Of Desolation always really get me in the feelings.
NG: I think Richard summed it up pretty well there and I agree with his choice of artists. If I had to name anyone else that stands out for me personally it would probably be The Elijah, which was basically my introduction to music that carries overwhelming emotional baggage. They are sad. Similarly bands like Envy which obviously sit a lot more on the post-hardcore/screamo side of things but have that same cathartic energy and emotional release that we try to express, albeit filtered through a slightly different lens.
The UK underground is bubbling with a standard we’ve not seen in years, are there any bands you’d like to recommend?
NG: Too many to mention! To make this question easier I’m going to limit myself to five and start with Still from Hull who are about to release an AOTY contender (low key flexing that I’ve already heard it). Of course our housemates in Gozer get a nod for being excellent dudes and one of the tightest live bands around at the moment. The same goes for The Grey, although they’re not our housemates of course, and I’m looking forward to seeing them with Andy Price throwing himself around on bass later this year. Five The Hierophant have released my favourite post-metal album of the past couple of years in Through Aureate Void. Obviously I can’t list my favourite UK underground bands without mentioning Hundred Year Old Man, Vow, Wren, Crimson Throne, Luna’s Call, Dead Cosmonauts, Underdark, the list goes on. My five band limit went well didn’t it…
RS: I second all of the above – Nick has listed a bunch of my favourites too! However I’m going to have to add Torpor and their crushing temple of tone; Bast and their swirling, doomy black metal odysseys; Earth Moves and their totes emosh, highly dynamic take on post-metal; Under and their twisted, progressive and avant-garde spin on doom… Plus Aerosol Jesus, Calligram, Gilmore Trail, Bosphorus, Naisian and Formicarius. Did anybody warn you that me and Nick like to go on a bit?
How did you start collaborating with Clobber Records?
RS: Once we had the album recorded, we started our search for a label by thinking of contacts we already had. Joe is friends with the guys in Manchester black metal band Argesk who are on Clobber, and so we thought we’d send them an email and open that line of conversation. They were brilliant right from the off, with a comprehensive plan and a lot of enthusiasm for the record to do well. Crucially, they were also genuinely huge fans of the music itself.
NG: We were in various stages of discussion with a few different parties but Clobber just seemed to tick all the boxes. As Richard said, we had no doubts that they knew what they were doing and most importantly they are a lovely bunch of people as well. Looking forward to meeting them in person for the first time when we play Birmingham in October as well! I think having a strong relationship with your collaborators is vital. It’s common knowledge now that there are labels out there that would gladly shaft you at a moment’s notice and that’s just not something I want to be a part of. Clobber are not one of those labels.
The album launch for Ellipsism is taking place in September, will this feel like a huge moment of catharsis?
NG: I think so. Having not done it in so long I’m going to have a few nerves, especially given that it’s our album release show and our first gig with Chris [Mole, guitarist] and only second with Luke [Rutter, drums]! But once we’re past the first few riffs I think it’s all going to come flooding back, the muscle memory will kick in and the eighteen months or so of waiting will feel like a lifetime away. Distance makes the heart grow fonder as they say! Just hoping people actually turn up…
RS: Yeah I’m genuinely worried for my spine at this show… I’m generally big on fairly excessive headbanging, and with so long being out of practice I think it’s going to hurt a lot afterwards… Added to that, we’re playing our entire 63 minute album in full, which makes it the longest set we’ve ever played by a considerable distance. I’m going to need to do a lot of stretching before we take the stage. But yeah, mostly I’m incredibly excited to get back to playing live music, and for our first gig to be a release for something we’re so proud of and that we worked on for so long really makes me feel incredibly lucky.
Ba’al has had a few lineup changes since your first EP, are you more settled now with Chris as your latest addition?
RS: We realised recently that since the band started in 2016, we’ve had a line-up change every single year… However, whilst each one has obviously been challenging, we’ve been very fortunate to be able to find new members without too much difficulty each time, and they’ve always fitted in well. In most cases, as with Chris, we’ve also been able to bring in people that at least some of us already knew personally from other contexts, which obviously helps things run smoothly. I was a fan of Northern Oak back in the day, attending their final gig in 2016, and I also loved the Child Of Ash demo, which of course he did with our own vocalist Joe. He’s fitted into Ba’al seamlessly both musically and personally, and his contributions are already bringing a fresh energy to our songs whilst also blending with our existing sound.
NG: This is not to disparage any previous members of Ba’al but I certainly think that this is the most symbiotic we’ve ever been as a band. We all have varied influences and bring different ideas to the table, as has always been the case, but there’s a real collective spirit and focus regarding how we want to move forward. Chris has taken to Ba’al like a duck to a bread convention and I’m sure anyone that knows him will attest to how much of a pleasant dude he is. He’s already brought some new ideas to the table so the material we’ve been working on is a small but not insignificant diversion from Ellipsism, and we’re excited to push that envelope even further.
What are the plans for 2022 onwards for Ba’al?
NG: I think it’s nice to be fairly open-ended, we’re sitting on a lot of ideas that were written during the pandemic, some of them very simple and some of them basically being full songs already, so this has allowed us to hit the ground running with writing new material together. Honestly though, it’s just nice to be able to do anything again, so we’re pretty chipper about the future even with nothing specifically set in stone. I suppose the main challenge we face now is deciding what we’ve actually got time for after a year of saying “ooh we should do this and that and the other when we get back from lockdown”.
RS: Yeah, we’ve got some ideas for some slightly leftfield, stop-gap releases we’d like to come to fruition, but mainly we’re already making sizeable inroads on writing the songs for our next album. Right now we’ve got one song in the bag and another that just needs some tweaks and final lyrics. On top of them we have a shared folder of ideas online that is absolutely bursting at the seams, and we’re really enjoying getting stuck into piecing it all together. I’d imagine we might do some of that gigging malarkey at some point next year as well… but on that front for now, we’re focused on our very delayed album launch and then a tour with Gozer in October.
Ellipism can be picked up on Bandcamp.
Words: Mike Shields