Interview with guitarist Tom Hyde
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: August 6, 2023
Sarpanitum, a death metal band from Birmingham, West Midlands, England, formed in 2003, took a break between 2008 and 2010 when they picked up right where they left off. They have been working on some new material for their third, as-yet-untitled album. The band's previous album, Blessed Be My Brother... impressed the staff of The Metal Crypt so much that we decided to delve a bit deeper into the realm of this British death metal act for more information about their past achievements and future plans. Tom Hyde, one of the band's founding members stepped up and answered the call, so let's find out what makes up Sarpanitum.
How are things in Birmingham, England, these days? Busy as usual?
Tom: The honest answer is I don't know anymore. I moved from Birmingham and the Midlands roughly 10 years ago to Devon, in the Southwest of England, but I go up to the Midlands to visit on occasion. Now that I am living in Devon, I tend to go to Plymouth every now and then as they have some great shows. In late March I saw Wormrot, who put on an excellent show and in April I travelled out to Bristol and went to see the recent Cannibal Corpse UK tour with Stormruler, Ingested and Dark Funeral and had a great time.
ALBUM NUMBER 3
You told me last time that you have the band's third studio album in the works. Can you give us an update?
Tom: We will be recording with Leon Macey (Mithras) in his Dreaming Studios. Right now, we are rehearsing the material and will be able to start recording later this year and into the next year. The third studio album is essentially now written.
Will this new album be a concept album perhaps?
Tom: The concept and themes are decided. As we are not releasing the album right away, I'm not going to release the full concept and themes yet, but I will let the readers draw their own conclusions. The theme will follow on from the last two releases but in a more mythological and occultic direction.
I am still in the process of finishing the rest of the lyrics as I am taking the lead with writing them. I haven't done that before, which brings additional challenges along with writing and arranging all the guitars, however, I am really excited with the ideas and themes for the next album!
It's been eight years since you released your highly acclaimed second album, Blessed Be My Brothers..., so a lot of water under the bridge over the River Rea. How has this time changed the sound of the band? What's old and what's new regarding the band's new material?
Tom: Thinking back briefly on the past 10 years of the band, the material for Blessed Be My Brothers would have been predominantly written between 2011 and 2013. I moved away from Birmingham in 2013 to the southwest of England just before the release of Blessed Be My Brothers in 2015. I started writing again a year after the album was released, however, as I had changes in my home life and work, I couldn't focus on writing new music. Thankfully by 2019 I was able to get back to writing new material.
What is old and new musically is a difficult question to answer. When I think about what musically defines Sarpanitum, or what we look to bring to each record is speed and aggression whilst having times of atmosphere or melody. Ultimately the next album is another expression of that vision. With each record the band will look to push what we have done before in some new way either musically, conceptually, or technically. Speaking for myself about the upcoming record, I have certainly pushed myself more with my guitar playing, particularly the solos as well as the song writing. Not only that but, as it stands the next record will be the longest (length-wise) record we've released.
Would you go as far as stating it may be your best album you currently have in the works?
Tom: It is something that you always notice in interviews where the band or artist on an upcoming release will say words to the effect of 'this may be our best record yet!" Aside from any pressures from outside, I often think it's the genuine opinion of the artist. When a lot of work, effort and challenges have been part of the process of creating that next record, particularly if you are your own harshest critic, then I do not feel there is any shame in taking some pride in that accomplishment.
With that being said Luxi, I honestly feel this it may be our best record yet!
Do you think some of the stuff on this new record may catch some people off guard?
Tom: Perhaps. I feel the material on the next release defines the Sarpanitum sound and feel and it certainly has my favorite songs on there.
After the release of 2011's Fidelium EP, a lot of people loved it and some felt it strayed too much from 2007's Despoilment of Origin. When we released Blessed Be My Brothers in 2015, there was a lot of positive response but also some who felt it was too far from the Fidelium EP.
How much did COVID impact your plans to start working on the third album?
Tom: I would say it put the album release back by another year at the least. Typically, I had resumed writing for the third album in 2019 so, of course, by March 2020 when the world had gone into lock down I had initially thought to myself, "Well this is just like what happened with Swine flu in 2009, this will be old news in two weeks!" Two years later I realized I was sadly mistaken. As we couldn't meet to rehearse any of the material, I just continued to write.
THAT ONE UNCOMFORTABLE CORNER...
When you were working on these new tracks, did you have bad days when you couldn't get anything done because you demand so much from yourself?
Tom: Absolutely, I could not agree more with that, Luxi. When I was starting to get back into writing, I definitely felt frustrated and even a little lost but eventually, through trial and repetition, I was able to get back on the horse and I am really happy with the results.
When I think about being in the creative zone, I tend to think of a psychological model of creativity, Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Essentially no one is going to be creative if their own basic biological, social, and psychological needs are not met. Even when they have been met, you also have to factor in the physical and mental exhaustion that we all experience from our day to day and life commitments and how that can affect a creative outlet. To be creative you must make sure you've put aside time to not only experiment but also to unintentionally reflect on what you have written.
The frustration I would have at times would be because of the pressure I would put myself under mentally when I had freed up time to write riffs or songs, and I did not get the results I wanted. The difficulty is if you keep getting frustrated with yourself, this can lead to a negative thought loop which can become an unhealthy mental habit where you start to approach music from a purely logical and theoretical mindset. Don't get me wrong, being logical and having some theory under your belt is useful but in excess it can disassociate you from the feel of the music. At one point, everything from discovering new bands or subgenres to learning an instrument and the different approaches to take with said instrument were new, undiscovered, which brings excitement, so naturally we want to recreate that feeling.
What all creative writers want is that "flow" state which most of us would refer to as being "in the zone." The reality is because the "flow" state is a tangled emotional and skill-based experience, it can't possibly happen all the time. When we think about our 24-hour hyper stimulating society, this wish to be in a "flow" state can turn into an expectation.
The way I tackled this was to allow myself not to be frustrated that I had not been at the peak of my creativity in that exact moment. Once I had done that, I would rehearse existing material to re-enforce a theme and build on basic melodies. I then found more often than not I would relax and if not, just gently remind myself to relax and allow myself to "feel" what I was playing. This helped me to re-enforce skills and techniques which progressed and gave me more drive and momentum.
What I would say to anyone writing or doing anything creative is give yourself time to write, reflect and relax. If the melody is basic, so what? There is always another day you can come back and build on it so do not force anything. The riff you write will likely linger in your subconscious mind anyway. At some point in the future, you will probably find yourself having a peaceful walk, or getting on with day-to-day stuff where you can let your mind wander, no headphones, no podcasts, no music, no stimulation, something like daydreaming. It will be somewhere at that point that suddenly you will find yourself humming and creating that piece of music.
Remember, Rome was not built in a day.
Can you reveal the title or any song titles from this forthcoming album?
Tom: I really wish I could, but it is too early to say, sadly. What I can say is that the lyrics on the next album will follow medieval themes and events from the previous two releases. The difference is, although the lyrics at times will focus on certain historical events (like on the past two releases), the next release will also combine and explore the celestial legends as well as the mythological and occult themes from that time, which I'm really excited about!
The lineup of the band has remained the same since the Blessed... album, with only bassist Vic Lochab joining the lineup. What's the story behind recruiting him for the band?
Tom: The line-up has since been revised from our last update. It will now be myself, Leon Macey and Vic Lochab.
Tom Innocenti, who was on the previous records doing guitars, vocals and keys has left Sarpanitum. Tom has been in Japan for around ten years. Being in different time zones, along with work and life commitments has meant he is unable to contribute to the band as he did previously. It was a very hard decision to make as Tom and I have played in all sorts of bands since I left school. Tom had previously left Sarpanitum for a while (in 2006) to focus on his studies but then rejoined again around 2010 when we wrote Fidelium.
Leon Macey, who is the architect behind Mithras, will be resuming the drums for this album as well as recording, mixing, and mastering the record. Leon remixed, mastered, and re-recorded the vocals and leads on our 2007 debut, Despoilment of Origin, and since then every one of our releases has been recorded, mixed and mastered by him. Not only that but I can happily announce that Leon will also be making his vocal debut on the next record!
Vic Lochab has played with Sarpanitum and with us in other music projects as a live member since around 2008. In Birmingham in the early/mid noughties, the band at the time would often play at different metal nights and shows in and around Birmingham so we had often hung out. When Andy Techakosit left the band around 2008 Vic gladly stepped in to play live but also when the band did some live shows following the release of Fidelium in 2012. As I played live guitar for Mithras it was also great to do shows again with Vic. Vic has always been a part of our Sarpanitum adventures through the years but to date had not played on any of our records so we are keen that he will play on the album.
What has Vic brought in to the sound of Sarpanitum, knowing he isn't a rookie in extreme metal music?
Tom: Live wise Vic has been able to pick up and learn the tracks and deliver with gusto. Generally speaking, I write the majority of guitar parts for Sarpanitum so this does not leave much room for new riffs, however, in terms of tweaks or amendments to the existing tracks Vic is always willing to bring new ideas to the table and above all has the passion to do so.
WE ARE HUGE NILE FANS...
Have the comparisons to the American death metal institution Nile ever bothered you? Many people have compared Sarpanitum to Nile over the years, so I guess there's some reason for that?
Tom: No, not really. The band members are huge Nile fans, so being compared to or put in a similar bracket to Nile I see as a complement rather than an insult. With that in mind, when I think back to when we began as Sarpanitum particularly with some of the songs on Despoilment of Origin album, being a much younger and naive musician, I had thought, "Hmmm... we are a fast epic death metal band singing about ancient Sumerian mythology, I wonder how I can show that in the music?" probably brought a lot of the Nile comparisons and the like. After Despoilment of Origin and a pause, we were very keen to move to a different historical era we felt more passionate about. Not only that but we did not want to limit ourselves to sounding solely like our first record.
Your previous album, Blessed..., was released on Willowtip Records. Are you still obligated to do an album for them, or are you free to start your new record label hunt to find a suitable record deal for yourselves?
Tom: Yes, we are still with Willowtip for the next record, which is great. In my opinion, when I look at Willowtip's roster I see a lot of artists who will lean towards experimenting with their sound in extreme metal but also have really helped expose Sarpanitum to a wider audience, which is great.
It's summer already, so my question is when you are hoping to get this new album out? By the end of the year maybe?
Tom: No, between our schedules we will start recording the different rehearsals by the end of this year, so we are looking at next year at the earliest.
I am sure getting your third album finished is your main priority, but do you believe you may try to get some gigs booked to test the band's live condition after the pandemic years?
Tom: Currently, no we are not looking to do live shows. So much time has passed since we released new material. With that in mind, I am keener than ever for this to be out to the world.
What about some festivals this year? Do you believe it's too late for you guys to jump on the festival train this year?
Tom: Well, starting in late 2012 I made the decision to focus on being a studio band. The difficulty with playing live is the time put into rehearsing the new material with new members and so on which takes time away from writing and recording. That does not mean I am ruling out Sarpanitum playing live ever again, I am still open to the idea should the opportunity come again.
BIRMINGHAM – THE BIRTHPLACE FOR HEAVIER THINGS
I have one last question for you and then I will let you go for a British tea... Birmingham (and The Black Country, its surrounding area) are considered the mecca for British metal music. Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Napalm Death, Godflesh, etc. all originally come from there. How's the Birmingham metal scene these days? Do you still see the city as the mecca for British metal music?
Tom: Funnily enough, as a coffee drinker I barely ever drink tea, I should drink tea more often.
From my teenage years until my mid-twenties the band would spend countless hours in the rehearsal rooms and lock ups on days off and weekends in Birmingham. Funnily enough, sometimes we would be in the same rehearsal studios whilst some of the artists you mentioned were also in the building or had previously rehearsed or recorded there. Looking back on this, I do think this set the bar high in terms of what we wanted to achieve musically but it also reinforced the fact that we wanted to distinguish ourselves from those bands.
When we were not rehearsing, the band would spend hours in many of the music and record stores, which Birmingham had plenty of at the time. Before the record stores sadly started to close, we would buy and copy and trade these different records with each other. This meant that between us we had a very resourceful and diverse exposure to different types of metal music, among other genres.
Okay, that's all I had in mind for this conversation. Thank you, Tom, for your time and I'll keep my fingers (and toes) crossed that your new albums will blow some heads off when it finally comes out. Any closing comments perhaps?
Tom: Thank you very much for the interview, Luxi! We are not currently playing live, but I am really happy to announce we have another album written. We are in rehearsals and will be looking to record this in the next year or so and can't wait to share it with the world!
|Other information about Sarpanitum on this site
|Review: Blessed Be My Brothers...
|Review: Despoilment of Origin
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