Interview with vocalist and guitarist Shaun Farrugia
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: July 1, 2020
Australian thrashers In Malice's Wake started their journey back in 2002 and have recorded three quality albums that have all been praised around the world. The band's most recent album, Light upon the Wicked, came out in 2015, so it's been a while since we got anything new from them.
However, these Aussies haven't been resting on their laurels but are working hard on material for the band's fourth studio album, which is now ready. It is called The Blindness of Faith and you can expect a lethal dose of energetic, unforgiving and powerful thrash with some death metal overtones. The album's release date remains open as they have just started shopping it to labels and time will tell when it is released. Here's hoping by the fall (fingers crossed).
The Metal Crypt contacted the band's front man Shaun Farrugia to ask about making the album, what to expect from the songs, if there's a deeper meaning to the title, how the Corona pandemic has affected the band's comings and goings, among other things as well.
How's life in Melbourne, Australia, these days? Feeling isolated and more "miserable" than ever before, eh? ;o)
Shaun: Life in Melbourne at the moment is actually not too bad for us in the band. I guess we're lucky enough to be working and that's not the case for everyone here but at least in terms of our members, yes, we all have our steady jobs and everyone in our families are safe. We don't have too much to be miserable about which we're really thankful for.
I can't say the same is true for all Australians, of course, or for people over in Europe and the US but we are not too miserable. We're just trying to make the most of the time that we've got and for me there's so much band work that needs to be done. I've got plenty to keep myself occupied with.
NEW ALBUM: THE BLINDNESS OF FAITH
In better news, the fourth In Malice's Wake album, The Blindness of Faith, is done, from your part at least. How would you compare this work to your three previous albums? What's old and what's new in your sound on this album? Have your songs become even more brutal and meaner on this new opus compared to the stuff on your previous albums or have they perhaps taken a couple of steps back to the more thrash-orientated style of your first two albums?
Shaun: Yes, The Blindness of Faith is complete. We wrapped it up in I think the early days of January this year and it's great. I'm really proud of it. It's probably closest in style to Light Upon the Wicked. It's very similar in terms of heaviness, brutality and atmosphere.
I would say it's probably twisted slightly in a more thrash-oriented direction although it still retains quite a bit of death metal influence like Light Upon the Wicked did. There's just a little bit of our love for early Slayer that's crept back into some of the sound and some of the riffs have that savage aggression and venom that some of the tracks on, let's say, Hell Awaits and Reign in Blood had but all and all it definitely has its own sound.
There's some surprising elements, a few different instruments have been used on some of the later tracks but yes, I'd say it closely compares to Light Upon the Wicked but it definitely does have a bit more of that earlier thrash influence and not so much influence from The Thrashening but some of those proto-thrash bands like Slayer and Sodom have definitely crept into the sound of the new one. Hopefully, people hear that in the sound, or they might hear something different. We're very curious at this point to hear what everyone thinks of it because we're just dying to get it out.
What inspired you to choose the name The Blindness of Faith? In my sincere opinion, the title sounds a pretty darn powerful, which I bet was something you were looking for when naming the album, right?
Shaun: Yes, the new album is called The Blindness of Faith and I would say that the name very much suits the music. It's a very strong, very blunt, just aggressive sounding album, it definitely deals with the dark side of religion. I would argue there's a light side to religion as well, but we really focused here on all the horror and atrocities that have been done in the name of religion throughout humanity's history. I guess when we were writing the lyrics to the album, that phrase came up and it really encapsulated everything that the album was about as a concept and yes it definitely has the bluntness and the strength that matches the brutality of the songs on the record 100%.
OF FOLLOWING LEADERS
With my next question, let's get philosophical a little bit, shall we? Do you see it as a worrying sign that so many people in this world seem to follow their "leaders" with their eyes blindfolded and ears covered, not really knowing how to live this life that they have? Tough times seem to be a sort of catalyst for many of these (weak) people to take all these false and misleading manifestos unfiltered into their brains, which is just, you know, so sad...
Shaun: I guess I'm not really in a position to comment on what people are thinking or their willingness to follow blindly, the album's title is more of a reference to I guess horrible things that have been done in the name of religion. People that believe in their doctrine so much that they're willing to do awful things. If you look back the history to the Crusades or witch burnings or all sorts of sacrifice throughout history. Yes, I guess it's a testament to the power of belief that people have and just what a strong enough belief in certain ideas can compel you to do.
I think that it's also a statement that you need to question things that don't feel right and that the idea of blindly following something that doesn't feel right but you believe is true because someone with a strong hold over your way of thinking says it's true is not a good enough reason. I like to think about things and if something doesn't feel right to me then I question it. I would hope most people do. I guess history shows that that's not always the case, so the album's themes definitely deal with a lot of the horrible, dark and unspeakable things that people have done for one God, many gods throughout humanity's existence.
Enough about these deep subjects for a while. Let's jump back to the songs on your new album. Would you say that you have one or two songs that will definitely stick in a listener's ears right after the first listen?
Shaun: Yes, we don't often write with the idea of singles or catchiness in mind. I guess I've always been a fan of albums as a whole and listening to them from start to finish and every time we approach a single song we try to fine-tune it and make it stand alone as something that people will really want to listen to if it popped up in your playlist or if it was part of an album as a whole. I find it quite difficult to choose the track listing. I don't know how many times I listened to the album in different orders to get it right, but it's usually more the flow of one song to the next. If you have a song that doesn't have lyrics in the second half then the next song doesn't have lyrics right away, you have this big gap or if you've got two intros that just start big and slow. You need to have variation. There are definitely sections that stand out and when they come, I'm just like, "Wow this bit, this is cool."
I think the album as a whole is a very exciting thing to listen to from start to finish. A lot of thought has gone into the order of it, but I'd like to think every track on there is strong enough to be something that will catch our listeners, I just think every track is extremely strong. I know that's probably something a lot of bands say. We've all got our personal favourites. I guess my personal favorite is one called "Graven Image" but Mark, Leigh, Karl all would have their own.
A COLLABORATIVE EFFORT
When the band started composing songs for this new album, did you keep your songwriting sessions the same way as what has worked before or did you step out of your so-called comfort zone a little bit and try to change some things a little bit here and there to avoid familiar routines?
Shaun: The songwriting process for us has always been quite similar. I would say that the majority of the time I work on the guitar and come up with riffs until I find something that I love and then I develop a few riffs to go along with it and get a bit of a structure in my head as to verse-chorus, what could work here and there. Usually my next step is to work with Mark in the jamming room and he'll put drums to my ideas.
He likes coming in fresh, he doesn't like it if I say, "I want the drums to be like this." He does listen to my ideas if I want a certain pace or whatever but he really takes a lot of pride in the way that he writes his sections and likes to have the freedom to do that, so I like to just write songs loosely in my head with a bit of a skeleton for what I want it to feel like and then go to Mark and explain that and then let him bring that to life. It usually surpasses what I've had in mind. If I ever have an issue with what he's doing, we talk about it.
Leigh does the same. He was the main writer of three songs on this album. He probably goes into the specifics of the drums a little bit more than I do, so every now and then Mark and he butted heads with Mark wanting to change things up a little but we always work it out and I guess our band's quite democratic. We all have input and if there's something that doesn't work for us, we change it until we're all happy with how the song works.
Karl as well is really good with song structures and dynamics so we really do it collectively. Usually the initial idea comes from me or Leigh, but by the end, it's a very collaborative effort and that was very much the same for this album as it has been for the past ones. It just seems to work for us.
As you know the songs on this new album like the backs of your hands, is there anything on the record that may surprise fans?
Shaun: Yes, we really do know the songs on this album very intimately at this point. I have heard them 200, 300 times at least. I think there's definitely some surprises in there. People who are acquainted with Light Upon the Wicked will be familiar with it in terms of its general feel, but there are some moments that might raise an eyebrow. I think for the most part, it's just a great blend of thrash and death metal.
There has been experimentation, especially in some of Leigh's songs. Some strange instruments, clean interludes, voice-overs. Some things that really work to give an eerie atmosphere to some of the songs. There will definitely be some surprises even for people who've listed to us for quite a long time. I'm hoping most people won't be surprised with the general quality and heaviness and how much there is in each song in terms of riffs and quality lyrics. I think it's as people would expect from our band at this point in our career, but saying that, there are definitely some things that we've tried that are a little bit different. There are some songs with congas and some strange bits and all that too. I'm hoping people will be pleasantly surprised by a few of these moments in the album.
You used Monolith Studios to record and mix your new album, just like you did with your previous album, Light Upon the Wicked. Was the same studio chosen because your last visit turned out to be so successful?
Shaun: Yes, we used Monolith Studios and Chris Themelco to produce this record. For us, it's a bit of a sure thing. He's just such a great guy to work with. He's very open and receptive to feedback about what we want from the final product, but he also just has so much technical knowledge and knows how to get great sounds and knows how to achieve whatever it is that we're asking for.
I really miss going in and working with Chris because we saw each other once a week for a year. More than that, quite often. He's just a fantastic guy to collaborate with. He has wonderful production ideas. We're so confident in the final product. It was a very easy decision to make to work with him again.
THE ALBUM COVER ART
For the cover of Light Upon..., you used an artist named Nick Keller but for this new album, you decided to grab your pencils and do it yourself, like you did with your first two albums. Was the original vision for the cover of The Blindness... that you had in your head a bit too difficult to explain to other artists?
Shaun: It was a bit of a leap of faith to not choose another artist to do the cover for this album. The main reason was not the concept was any more difficult, I just really missed doing the cover art and I've recently taken up oil painting whereas before I mostly airbrushed and used pencil for my work. I had a vision for the new one and just really wanted to have a go at creating the cover art. For me, it's just another element of expressing, I guess, the vision I've got alongside the music. If you can do the cover art yourself, it presents a whole different side to it, and I'm really happy with what I've achieved.
I think whenever someone does a piece of art, they always look at it critically, but I know the guys are very excited by how it came out and everybody that I've shown it to seems really impressed. I really got a lot of satisfaction out of being able to paint it myself. Nick Keller was just amazing doing our last cover. We're so proud of how that came so there's a bit of extra pressure to live up to. I don't know if it's as good as a Nick Keller painting. That guy's got a lot more experience than me. His work is just phenomenal, but I am really proud of what I've created, and I hope other people appreciate it too. It definitely suits the music inside at any rate.
What's on the album cover?
Shaun: We haven't released the album cover art yet. I guess the concept of it is a landscape with cathedrals that are spewing forth blood into this boiling river, kind of like a "Dante's Inferno" representation. There are figures in this boiling river of blood all clawing at each other to scramble to the church that's sinking and on fire from all the hatred that's emanating from it but it's the last refuge from this boiling river of blood. That was my vision for it. It was definitely a big challenge for me to pull that off. You have a vision in your head that is a photograph of that exact scene. It's very, very hard to live up to it but I'm pretty happy with the way it's come out. Hopefully, that description matches what people see in the final product.
In terms of how long it took, I really lost count of the hours. I was getting accustomed to the nature of oil paint at the time. I've done endless sketches. I did a whole first version of the cover art that I wasn't happy with and started all over again. I haven't really kept a proper tally, but I'd be surprised if it wasn't 500, 600, 700 hours from start to finish. That's not to say that a much better artist wouldn't have completed in half the time, but that's how long it took me. I guess I was learning on the job at the same time.
THE LABEL HUNT IS ON
You told me that you are shopping this new album to some bigger labels to see if one would offer a good deal and put it out. Any news in this department?
Shaun: The label hunt is a work in progress. You can probably appreciate we're looking for a label to take on this album at what is now possibly the worst time in recent history. We've definitely had a few conversations and been lucky to have a few very large labels have a look at what we've done but as of the time recording this, we don't have an arrangement in place, but we will keep trying.
Our press kit looks fantastic. The product itself is amazing. I think the main thing that might be difficult to navigate at this point is just the fact that it's not a great time for new signings so we will definitely be pushing as hard as we can. At the end of the day, if we do end up self-releasing, that's not a problem either. We are no strangers to self-promotion, and we've got a wonderful fanbase, but if we are successful, we'd like the opportunity to work with a really successful label to help us take the band to the next level.
Did you hope, deep down in your soul, that you had gotten more attention and media exposure from your previous album, Light Upon...?
Shaun: Yes, of course! We got a great response from the Light Upon the Wicked album. For us, it was really nice having a label to handle all the publicity and we got quite a few reviews and interviews associated with the release of that album, but you always want more. I suppose there are outlets that can give us a greater reach. We would love to be featured in large magazines, et cetera, but there is a sense of realistic expectations and how much you can actually achieve. We all worked really hard with Punishment 18 on the release of Light Upon the Wicked to push it as far as possible. I couldn't have asked for more in regard to the efforts of all the parties involved.
Of course, to have it picked up by a huge magazine or to have some interviews that really allowed it to break through and let it have as much coverage as a major label release would've been wonderful but even within the underground sphere that it was released in, the response was great so we're really happy with all of the reaction that we got. Of course, we're always aiming for bigger and better next time. It's just the nature of the beast. We'll see how the next one goes but we won't stop pushing it and fighting to get the music the exposure that it deserves but, yes, definitely proud of the efforts of everybody involved with the last one.
Promotional videos are, of course, a very important way to promote a band. Have you planned to make one or more this new album?
Shaun: Absolutely. In this day and age, promotional videos are probably the most important tools for promoting a new release. We have already completed one video clip for the track "Graven Image" and that's become part of our press kit. We're sending it around in our quest to get some label backing. The clip's fantastic. It was taken from a recent show that we did where we featured that song for the first time. It's one of my favorite tracks on the album. The footage came out extremely well. It's really intense and it's a high-quality live clip. We also have some plans to record a more, I guess, official type movie clip for the actual release. We're still working that out. Of course, there'll be trailers and making of videos and all the other features that you would expect around a release. We even have one for our very recent Morbid Angel tribute track ("Immortal Rites") that we put up. Having a video to premiere and send out to people really extends the amount of reach that you're able to get. Video is a huge part of it. We've got quite a few plans. I guess it's probably all I can say at this point.
Does it bother you that it's been five years since your previous album, Light Upon the Wicked, was released? I mean, coming from a bit of a remote country like Australia, it must be tougher to keep your head above the surface so that people around the world don't forget about you after a while...
Shaun: Five years crept up on us quite quickly. A big factor is the fact that I've had a son. Mark, our drummer, now has three girls, and Leigh now has two. If you factor in very young children, it's going to slow down the amount of time you can put into things, but around that, we worked really hard and just made sure we've left enough time to get things done. The actual recording process has taken a little bit longer this time around. It's taken us a little over a year.
The label hunt has also contributed to that five-year gap a little as well. We don't like to rush the songwriting process. Things take as long as they take. There's a lot of work that's involved with writing an album but also just being in a band, it takes your time. There's a lot of shows, a lot of rehearsal for shows, promotion. The number of tasks involved with running a band, it's a really long list. For me, it's just that we keep moving forward and pressing hard and just pushing in that way.
I am proud of what we're creating. If that takes the five years, so be it. I'd much rather be releasing an album every two and a half years on average, but this one is five. I can honestly say that it's well and truly been worth the wait. That's more important to me than the time in between releases. That said, we will definitely be aiming in having the next release come out in a shorter time frame.
HOW TO BE ACTIVE DURING THE VIRUS PANDEMIC
Doing gigs is impossible these days due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Do you have a plan B if the world is shut down for the next several months? Have you considered doing a live show straight from your rehearsal place?
Shaun: Yes. The Covid-19 pandemic has obviously changed the way all bands worldwide operate. We are lucky in the sense that at the moment, we've only had one show canceled. It's really left me a lot of time to work on getting The Blindness of Faith released and finishing booklets and even starting new songs for the next album.
However, the biggest tragedy for us is we had a chunk of time blocked out for our first Asian tour, which is obviously canceled. That's had to be put on hold. It is hard not knowing how long things are going to remain locked down. We are encountering a few roadblocks with label release as well. There's been a lot of things that the pandemic has done to slow down what we're doing. We've tried to keep in touch with our fan base through social media channels. Releasing our Morbid Angel "Immortal Rites" clip was a really nice way to check in with people and show a bit of a preview of the sound of the new album, also paying homage to a band that we really love. We've been keeping quite active.
In our country, the limitations on people getting together has just been lifted. We had our first band rehearsal last Friday. It was wonderful. It was great just to play in a room with the guys again. We've all been practicing our instruments during the downtime. As things move along, if we looked again to the point where there's going to be another five months without shows, I think we'll have to do some kind of live stream show set up. I guess time will tell. It seems like things are lifting here.
Really what I'm most concerned about is touring associated with releasing The Blindness of Faith. We're trying to get the label lined up for that first, and then, of course, we'll be hoping that the ban on shows and live venues is lifted. We currently have our next show slated for December. We are hoping things are well and truly cleared for that and hopefully, a little bit before because it would be really nice to be doing a tour for this album during the early part of the second half of the year. We can finally get it heard by more people besides us.
**WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS AHEAD?
What kind of hopes and dreams do you have regarding the band's future? I guess I am not too far off if I say that touring around the world and making your living out of this would be a dream-come-true, correct?
Shaun: My biggest hopes and dreams for the band have always been about having the freedom and means to write and record songs that I'm proud of and that are something I'll go to my death looking back on and glad that I've achieved. Probably the biggest thing that we haven't had the chance to do is tour extensively overseas. The absolute endgame goal for me is to take the band to Europe, move our band to Europe individually just for a holiday.
The way metal looks in Europe is a completely different animal. I couldn't believe what I saw when I was at the Wacken Open Air festival for the first time in 2010. The idea of touring this band and the music that we're so proud of internationally is something I would really be hoping is in our very immediate future. The idea of making a living from this, I guess time will tell if I will have young children and jobs and careers that we enjoy.
For us, it's quite a difficult scenario to make enough money to live and support a family doing this kind of metal music. It's definitely become more of a labor of love for us rather than something that looks to be a full-time career we support our families with. That said, the idea of being able to make enough money through doing what we love to support this would be a dream come true.
I'm not sure if that's a realistic hope in terms of the income that niche heavy metal can generate in this day and age, but we'll continue pushing the band and growing it as big as we can. For me, the personal satisfaction that comes along with playing killer live shows even to 200-300 people or fewer, I wake up the next day after a great show just feeling on top of the world and doubly so when I get to the end of the recording an album.
I'm really proud of it. It's a showcase of a thousand hours of work, possibly more over a period of time. There's just so many great memories and experiences associated with being in this band over the years. I think that's what I'll truly treasure by the time this is all done. We may never get to the point where this is our absolute full-time career, but if I can still be doing this until my hands stop working, then I'll be very happy.
That's all I have for this little "chat", so thanks for your time again, Shaun, and may there be some gold at the end of the rainbow for both you and your band, In Malice's Wake. If you have anything else in your mind you'd like to add, then be my guest, sir... ;o)
Shaun: Thank you very much for your time, Luxi. I know you and the Metal Crypt have always been wonderful supporters of our band from way back. I really do appreciate the continuous support. I would just like to thank anybody who's taken the time to check out our band, who's followed our music and who have supported us. It really has allowed us to do what we've done for so long. It really does mean everything to me. I know I can speak for the other guys in the band when I say that we're all really grateful for the opportunity that comes from having a fanbase to support this kind of music. Thank you very much. Thanks to everyone who's followed us over the years. Stay safe during this strange time. Thank you again.
|Other information about In Malice's Wake on this site|
|Review: Visions of Live Destruction|
|Review: Light Upon the Wicked|
|Review: The Blindness of Faith|
|Review: The Blindness of Faith|
|Interview with bassist Luke Blaso on March 11, 2012 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
|Interview with vocalist and guitarist Shaun Farrugia on October 12, 2014 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
|Interview with vocalist and guitarist Shaun Farrugia on November 26, 2015 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
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