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Beyond The Sixth Seal

Interview von: arne mit Adam, am: 19.11.2002 ]

Boston's Beyond The Sixth Seal finally made it. "Earth and Sphere" is the long-awaited debut record by this leading band in extreme Metal. With the entrance of new vocalist Mike McKenzie (The Red Chord), Beyond The Sixth Seal bring a totally unique aura and crushing presence to Melodic American Metal that melts brutality with sheer melodic Death-bliss.


Musicscan: give our readers a short briefing about beyond the sixth seal, please. introduce the band and its individuals, please. what do you do besides playing music? how did you get involved in that kind of music you are playing?

Beyond The Sixth Seal: Beyond The Sixth Seal is a band from Massachusetts (USA). I'm Adam, I play guitar. Mike sings, Justin plays guitar. Brendan plays drums. This guy Greg, who has a moustache, is playing bass at the moment. We've been around for 3 years and have had twice as many lineups. I play in another band as well with our singer Mike. Between both bands, most of my time is taken up. Any free time I have I use to do freelance graphic design, usually for other bands. I got into "underground" music when I was about 13 through a "friend of a friend" type thing. I was seriously injured in highschool and wasn't able to walk for some time. It was during that time I basically got serious about playing music, because all i could do was sit around and play my guitar.

Musicscan: why did you want to become active musicians? what has been your motivation? do you still have to work regular jobs or do you tour most of the time?

Beyond The Sixth Seal: I love playing music and travelling, so being a full time musician allows me to do both, plus bringing the rock is way less dumb than flipping burgers or working at hot topic where I would be forced to sell my dignity alongside shiny pleather pants adorned with useless buckles and zippers to overweight acne ridden girls and anorexic goth wannabe guys who wear more makeup than my club-going sister. I keep very odd hours, and tend to only feel creative and productive at odd times, so the whole 9-5 deal doesn't really work well for me. I don't handle rigid structure well at all. Between the two bands, I'm almost touring full time, so I'm playing shows at least 20-25 days a month on average. When I'm home for a while for whatever reason, I work at a temp agency, which is shitty work, but it's easy money and I have no problems taking off time for tour. I also do freelance design work, which has been keeping me busy lately, so in time I'll be able to ditch the temp agency deal and be my own boss when I'm not on the road.

Musicscan: do you feel sucessfull as a band? i only read very good reviews for your first ep and i can imagine that everyone will love this new full length...

Beyond The Sixth Seal: We're a very young band that still has alot left to cover. I haven't given much thought to how people are going to react to the new record. We're all excited about it, so as long as we're pleased with it, that's all I care about. We have a more substantial backing now with Lifeforce, so I'm sure sales will improve, but that stuff doesn't really matter to us much. We just enjoy writing and playing music together. Reviews are meaningless. I sure don't give much thought to what someone I don't even know thinks of a record, and I'd hope other people would have enough of their own mind to discover for themselves how they like or dislike a record instead of taking the opinion of a stranger. I understand that reviews are necessary for press releases and getting endorsements and stuff like that, and we appreciate the praise/criticism, but we don't take them too literally. I know bands who get all bent out of shape because someone doesn't like their record. It's not the end of the world, and no band pleases everyone. It comes with being a musician.

Musicscan: where do you see your fanbase? what are the people that are interested in your music all about?

Beyond The Sixth Seal: I have no idea who is interested in our music really. We don't have breakdowns, so most hardcore/metalcore kids in the US don't like us, but at the same time we don't look like a metal band so metal kids don't like us. No one likes us really. Random people come out to our shows. It seems like there's more of an interest now that we've been playing out after completing the record, but it's not out yet so there aren't any sales at shows to indicate the reaction, and you can't dance to us, so we just kinda play, and then go home. I guess we'll see when the record comes out. There seems to be more an interest in us in Europe, as I feel more kids there care about musicianship and song writing as apposed to a lot of kids here who just want to see you play gratuitous breakdowns.

Musicscan: why has it been necessary to change the singer? how did you pick up the new one? did his style of singing/screaming change the music a bit?

Beyond The Sixth Seal: Well see, The Sopranos are on Sunday nights. And we used to practice on Sunday nights. So there was this huge conflict. Everyone here watches The Sopranos, so if Larry taped it to watch it later, it wouldn't matter because he'd hear people at work talking about it, and they'd give it away. So he obviously couldn't practice on Sundays because it was necessary for him to watch TV. Then we also practiced on Tuesdays, but that was a problem too, because this mod/80's bar had Kareoke on Tuesday nights, and as I'm sure you all know, hanging out with mods is more important than band practice. It makes sense really... mod stands for modern. So here are these "modern" kids wearing vintage clothes, singing along to songs from the 80's, and doing coke, which is usually reffered to as an 80's drug. If that's not "modern," well then, I don't know what is. So to sum it up, dramatization of the NJ mob and a bunch of bisexual drug addict mod kids stole our singer from us. This was in the middle of writing the record, so I asked Mike, who plays guitar in my other band, to do the record as a session vocalist. We had some rehearsals and demoed the record. Then he and I went on tour for a few months. We were always discussing the record and coming up with more ideas, and by the end of tour he said he'd like to join full time. After what we'd seen him do, we knew it'd be near impossible to find anyone else around here who would be able to pull off his vocals. His style definitely brings a whole new dynamic to the music. I think his vocals are the focal point of the record, and rightly so.

Musicscan: what bores you about heavy music and how do you try to avoid to play boring music?

Beyond The Sixth Seal: The lack of songwriting bores me. No one cares about songwriting anymore, it's all just riffs stacked together with some breakdowns and some tech parts and some sludge and some blasts. I'm not going to sit here and claim we're this horribly original band or anything, but I'd like to think we at least attempt to care about making songs instead of a line of riffs. We all listen to lots of non-heavy music, where songwriting is usually better. We get influence for structures from sources outside the realm of heavy music. We're still getting growing into that way of writing, but I think the progress is evident from the last record to this one. We're into the idea of having only a few relative riffs, and seeing how much you can get out of them. The newer material is taking a very rock based approach to the structural side of things, and I'm sure the progression will be that much more apparent in our next release.

Musicscan: you are signed to lifeforce this time so this is the second german-based label you are working with. didn't you find an interested label in the states? why did you chose to sign up lifeforce?

Beyond The Sixth Seal: Willowtip was going to put this record out in America, but they were more concerned with us spending alot of money for a small amount of days at an expensive studio so our record would sound like shit but have this studio name on the inside, so we said fuck it. We pretty much disagreed on everything. He couldn't understand that this band works differently than my other band, and we couldn't understand why he was so clueless about how things work seeing as he runs a fucking record label. But you can't win them all. So we gave his half to Lifeforce and let Stefan work the disc worldwide. But in all fairness, the split with Willowtip was mutual. We gave him copies of the demos and he really wasn't into it at all. We wouldn't have fit on his label and I think sales would have suffered. After the EP on Voice of Life we were very weary of working with another European label, but our EP wasn't released in america, so we were unknown here, and there was no other interest at all from state-side labels. In the end we felt comfortable with Lifeforce and everything has been great so far. He cares about putting out records that both he and the bands are pleased with.

Musicscan: how important is the band in your life? what does the band stands for out of your view? are you all close friends that hang out together besides being a band?

Beyond The Sixth Seal: Playing music is all I do pretty much, and it's all I know how to do sometimes. We're not supporting ourselves financially with the band or anything, so sometimes people kind of scoff at you when they ask you what you do and your only answer is "Oh I play in this metal band." But it's chasing a dream, and we all love it. The 7 other guys that make up Beyond The Sixth Seal and The Red Chord are my closest friends. Working with them and spending time with them is always a pleasure. We all spend time together outside of the band, even though I joined both bands basically only knowing one person. They took the place of my other friends that moved away to school or for work when I started doing this all the time.

Musicscan: what were your goals, musically and lyrically, when you first started with the band?

Beyond The Sixth Seal: To be standing next to Carson Daly on TRL, with one of those nifty ear-peices in my ear telling me what to say because I can't read the teleprompter due to my poor eyesight, and since the frames of my glasses aren't really fashionable, the ear-peice would be my only way of getting my lines and still looking presentable to the public. I can't really say anything about the lyrics, as I've never been the one with the pen.

Musicscan: are the lyrics equally important to the music you are playing? what do the lyrics deal mainly with? do all members identify with?

Beyond The Sixth Seal: Lyrics are important, but I don't write them so they affect me differently. There is no lyrical release for me, but there is for Mike. And we have to enjoy them and be able to draw our own meanings from them. We're very pleased with his lyrics in comparison to our older ones. I have no idea what any of the songs are about, and I probably will never ask Mike either. He wrote them for himself, and I will read them for myself. They're probably about Castlevania and roast beef sandwiches though, that's all that kid talks about. His lyrics are very personal, and will most likely stay that way. They're printed with no punctuation whatsoever in our record, to allow anyone to interpret them in any way they want. I've always been a fan of more obscure lyrics. Real obvious and literal lyrics sort of take the fun out of it for me. I like to be able to take something and give it my own definition, and perhaps relate it to my own life.

Musicscan: what are you guys doing when you enter your rehearsal room? what's your main focus creating new songs onto?

Beyond The Sixth Seal: We actually don't have a rehearsal room anymore. We couldn't afford it so we just don't practice now. When we have shows, we rent a room for the day and work out a set and play for like 8 hours. It's worked out great so far and it's much easier on our wallets. As for new material we've all been individually writing on our own and making tapes for everyone else, so people are at least familiar with it. And when it comes time to work on a new release, we'll rent out a room for a month or so, and pick what songs we want to use, and then work them out as a group and finalize them for the studio. It's much more productive than how we used to go about it.

Musicscan: describe the songwriting process, please. your songs are incredible interesting and complicated but rarely ever stay in one place for too long...

Beyond The Sixth Seal: We used to just sit there and work on a song together. Someone would come in with a part and we'd play it out and see where it took us. But we'd hit a wall and just sit there and try to force it. It was hellish and painful, but for some reason we kept doing it. Writing this record was a nightmare and we'll never operate like that again. It was so stressful and crippling of any productive thought. Plus it would waste lots of time that we could have spent sleeping. I think in some ways our songs suffered a bit because the stress would take over and some things could have been worked out better alone or outside of that atmosphere, but instead they were beat out at practice. Patience is something we're learning to utilize. We also learned alot working with Kurt as a producer. He pointed out things we never would have noticed and I think we've all taken that into consideration while working on new material. Some days we'd get to the studio early and he'd be working on the new Converge record. It was really cool to see how another band goes about the writing process. We learned alot from this record.

Musicscan: is it an intentional drive to make the songs as varied musically as possible?

Beyond The Sixth Seal: No. As I said in the previous question, the endless variation is a result of the stress we put on one another by being impatient and just cranky assholes. We lost focus as individuals, and so the songs lost focus as well.

Musicscan: what does it take to write a particular song? have there been any songs so far that were specifically difficult to make?

Beyond The Sixth Seal: Someone would have an idea or theme and we'd try to run with that. This record was kind of choked out, and there was so much going on with the band while we wrote it. We were constantly losing and training new members, having to move to smaller and smaller rehearsal spaces due to money constraints, massive equipment failure... you name it, it probably happened. The record sounds a bit stressed and agitated to me, and I think it's directly indicative of the situation we were in at the time.

Musicscan: what is the song you guys feel especially proud of (whether compositionally, lyrically,...)

Beyond The Sixth Seal: Faceless is the strongest song on the record. The recording of that song came out best. It just flows. I think the writing is more focused and mature on that song. The vocal placement is right on. Everything just fell into place with that song, even though it's one of the slower songs on the record. It's strange too, because that song was written a few weeks after we recorded "A Homicide Divine." There was no deadline to have anything finished, so that song just kind of happened. Those type of songs tend to come out better.

Musicscan: oh, why did you chose to the song "a homecide divine" on your record for a second time?

Beyond The Sixth Seal: We re-did "Homicide" because someone asked us to. That's not the real reason, but it's probably something like that. We felt it was a strong song and at the time the EP looked like it was dead and out of print forever, so we thought we'd revamp the song and let Mike take a crack at the vocals. I'm not sure which version I like better, but it's there now. We basically didn't want to let that song fall through the cracks with the EP being out of the picture at that time. Here's a useless fun fact: No one ever spells "A Homicide Divine" correctly.

Musicscan: what was it like to be in the studio this time? what is working with kurt ballou like? did he has an certain impact on "earth and sphere"? are there interesting stories to tell?

Beyond The Sixth Seal: Recording is always a test, but we had a blast working with Kurt. He's an awesome guy and had alot of input and advice to give us. We had him produce it, so we demoed the record months before we recorded it, and sat down with him and reworked alot of stuff. "Earth And Sphere" would sound very different if we hadn't worked with him. He had alot of cool stories about weird shit that happened on Converge tours, but I'm not really at liberty to divulge them. We were constantly gambling in the studio though. We won dinner from him more than a few times. We would bet ridiculous shit like microphones and guitars.. one time we were out of money so we bet our bass player while he was asleep. Matt Woods is officially property of Kurt Ballou.

Musicscan: "earth and sphere" is the title of your record. it's ambiguous and general. what has been your intention to take this three words?

Beyond The Sixth Seal: When I hear that title I always get visuals in my head. It made me think about different things all the time. It just had a certain ring to it. It just is what it is, and nothing more.

Musicscan: how does the artwork of the record relate to its music? i mean, you play straight-forward death metal-sound but i wouldn't call the artwork typical for a death-band...

Beyond The Sixth Seal: I can't stand traditional death metal artwork. I absolutely loathe it. I stopped thinking gorey photos and naked girls and all that crap was cool when I was like 16. I think it's all just so stupid and cheap. I don't know if people are trying to make a statement or be shocking with that type of artwork, but the concept is just lost on me. I'm a big fan of contrasting mediums applied to the same subject. I always thought it was cool when a record would look one way and make you think it's going to sound a certain way, but then completely destroy your expectations in the end. I mean it's been done before, but I'll take that over a illegible logo and some undead creature raping nuns in some dungeon any day.

Musicscan: do you still feel a connection to the hardcore-scene? voice of life and lifeforce came up of a hardcore background and most people i have seen on you first european tour have been metal-hardcore-kids. do you come from a hardcore-background, too?

Beyond The Sixth Seal: The hardcore scene exists on a level that allows unknown bands to have a chance to play in front of a decent sized audience out of their own doing, whereas the metal scene isn't as strong on the independant/diy level. Local metal shows bring out virtually no people, so the harcore/metalcore scene is more realistic to a band like us. There seems to be more open-mindedness in the hardcore scene as well, where you can find crossover shows with indie bands and the like. We've played hardcore shows as well as shows with major metal bands, but we have no qualms with playing to hardcore and metalcore fans. A youthful enthusiasm exists in the hardcore scene that I often don't notice in metal crowds, and it's something I personally relate to. I come from a hardcore background moreso than a metal background, and so I'm more familiar with hardcore. But I don't think our choice to work with these labels had anything to do with their being more hardcore based labels. It was a matter of who was interested and who we had similar ideas with. It seems we have a sound that can potentially work with both scenes, which is cool, because we can play more diverse shows. Within the band it's all over the place, some of us are into only metal, some only hardcore, and some are just here to play music and have no real concept of any underground heavy music scene.

Musicscan: where do you see beyond the sixth scene in the grand scheme of heavy music? you don't fit nicely into hardcore, extreme metal is too ambiguous and just death metal seems limiting to the style you are playing...

Beyond The Sixth Seal: We're a weird band in that we don't fit in anywhere really. we don't have breakdowns or blast beats or crazy solos or anything. I always take it as a compliment that we're not easily labeled as a certain type of band. The whole concept of the genre and a specific label is pointless and limiting in itself. All that matters is the music itself. I don't really get why people need these labels to cling to and abide by. It's sort of sad that someone would need something like that to provide a point of refference. I can't remember who said this, but it answers this question perfectly: "There are only three types of music in the world - Music I like, music I don't like, and music I haven't heard."

Musicscan: your sound has a very european flavor. are those BIG swedish metal heros your main influences?

Beyond The Sixth Seal: Not really. The core of this band grew up on a steady diet of Maiden and Slayer, then the rest of us came along and fucked that all up. There are Scandinavian bands I really admire and look up to, but almost none of them are metal. I agree that we sound more european than american, but I don't really have an answer as to why that is. I generally feel that European metal is stronger as a whole than American metal, but I don't think we ever have made a conscious effort to sound European.

Musicscan: what will be the future of beyond the sixth seal?

Beyond The Sixth Seal: I'm not sure. I see us continuing to grow and progress, but who knows where that will lead. I'm sure 5 years down the line we'll sound completely different than we do now. We'll just keep writing new material and try to find a niche that suits us well.

Musicscan: how do you remember your first european tour for "a homecide divine"? i have seen you here in berlin but there have not been that much people at this evening...

Beyond The Sixth Seal: That tour was such a great time. To us the shows were all great. Bands are treated very differently in Europe than they are in America, which I'm sure you've all heard before. It was a first tour for a lot of us, and an easy one at that. After coming back and touring in the US, I realize how spoiled we were on that tour. We plan to go back in 2003 though, and hopefully things will go just as well if not better.

Musicscan: what kind of mix have you seen as your fanbase or at your shows here in germany/europe? has it different to the states?

Beyond The Sixth Seal: I suppose mainly the metalcore crowd, but we play more of those types of shows than shows with like Mayhem or Moonspell or anything like that, so I think the crowds have been indicitive of the bill we were on at that particular time.

Musicscan: how much attention you put on europe? i mean you have chose a german label twice...

Beyond The Sixth Seal: Europe is definitely our target market. Our type of music is accepted much more in Europe it seems. The US just wants breakdowns, and we don't exactly deliver in that category. It's not much of a surprise either, looking at who is popular here, and who is popular in Europe.

Musicscan: do all the members listen to the same types of music or do certain people have their niche? what are acts you are interested in at the moment?

Beyond The Sixth Seal: We all listen to different stuff. I'm sure there will be fights in the van forever about what's being played. For metal and hardcore, the only things I've been listening to are Mastodon, Kid Dynamite and the new Opeth record. For other stuff I'm really excited about Turbonegro getting back together. The new Hellacopters record is really good as well. I've also been listening to a lot of the Murder City Devils and The Dwarves... a lot of Sub Pop artists it seems. Mike has this Pizzicato 5 record that is really interesting... The Police.. I don't know really. Whatever is lying around in my car basically... it's the only place I really listen to music anymore.

Musicscan: something you'd like to add? do it...

Beyond The Sixth Seal: http://www.theredchord.com/btss

  Beyond The Sixth Seal- Bandpage
  Lifeforce- Labelsite