Latest release: As the Kingdom Drowns (EVP)Website: www.psycroptic.com
Psycroptic is close to passing twenty years together as a band. Raised from the ashes of their previous band Disseminate by brothers Joe and Dave Haley, the Tasmanian quartet has maintained a consistent rise in both popularity and the quality of their material. Their technical skill and work ethic has taken them the world over as they have forged a reputation matched by few other Australian extreme metal bands. The band’s latest album, their seventh, sees a further development in their style as they dial back their fearsome technicality in favour of other aspects.
“We wanted to go a bit darker and a bit heavier, I suppose,” explains vocalist Jason Peppiatt. “On the last [self-titled] one we had the big choruses but we tried to go a bit further with it this time. We pushed a few elements on it, and getting it mixed elsewhere helped develop the sound a bit, getting some fresh ears involved.”
Even Peppiatt was surprised by how As the Kingdom Drowns sounded when he finally got to hear the finished product.
“All the pre-production stuff that I got sent didn’t sound like it was going to come out as dark and nasty as it did. I think it just built up that way, which is good because that’s what we wanted to go for: a darker, heavier sound.”
Previously best known for the dense technicality of the Haley brothers’ playing, this album builds on some of the creative aspects Psycroptic began exploring more widely on 2015’s self-titled release. Several of the tracks are slower with a reliance on atmospherics, and for the first time a Psycroptic track features a guitar solo.
“The way that song ‘Deadlands’ came out,” Peppiatt says, “it’s just a straight down the line thrash song, really, so it was just begging for it.”
Another highlight track, ‘Upon These Stones’, is markedly different from any song the band has yet done – atmospheric, doom-ridden and perhaps the slowest in their catalogue.
“Joe had the main parts of the song, but he hadn’t really worked out what he wanted to do with the ambience and how to put it together,” the singer says, explaining that the guitarist usually writes “the backbone of the songs” with an intuitive knowledge of what the other members of the band will bring to it. “He’ll write a chorus and go, ‘Well, Pepp’s gonna go for a big chorus here so I’ll play things accordingly’; he predicts what our movements will be during a song.”
The band’s remarkable stability – the recent departure of founding bassist Cameron Grant being the only hiccup in the line-up since Peppiatt replaced original frontman Matthew Chalk in 2005 – has perhaps helped Psycroptic develop that level of understanding. Their willingness to constantly explore their sound has also ensured that even seven albums into their recording career they are still crossing new creative horizons.
“If you just keep recording the same things over and over, it gets stale for the listeners and it also gets stale for the band members who have to keep playing and writing it,” Peppiatt asserts. “We want to keep it fresh and interesting for us and for the listeners as well.”
Of course, introducing new elements, dialling back old ones or taking slight artistic detours are fraught with the danger of alienation. The more groove-laden approach of Psycroptic’s previous album meet with some resistance, and it’s likely there will be criticism of some aspects of As the Kingdom Drowns as well. Peppiatt’s ready for that.
“We understand that, because we branch out a bit from album to album, that people who loved the last album might not necessarily be into what we’re doing this time around,” he says, “but that’s part of the package. We can’t keep everybody happy all the time, so we’re at the point where we just write the songs that are in the style that we enjoy.”
“With this album,” he continues, “the reception has been great for the singles so far. That’s always a bit of a nerve-wracking thing with new material. Are people going to be flogging it, or are they going to be enjoying it? Looking at comments on YouTube, there’s always going to be people that flog it because it doesn’t sound like Scepter of the Ancients or Symbols of Failure, or whatever, but 95% of the feedback so far has been good.”
As the frontman, he’s the one who faces the most pressure when it comes to introducing new material live, and to introducing the band to new audiences, particularly as each fresh release pushes the Tasmanian metal machine further into un-tapped territory. After almost 15 years in the job, however, he just takes it all his stride.
“There’s a fair element of pressure just playing in a band with Dave and Joe Haley,” he admits with a laugh. “They’re so phenomenal at what they do. I just try to have fun with it really. You can get all worked up and be ultra-serious with it and be constantly thinking about mistakes or whatever, or you can go out there and have a great time. Which is what I do. If you make a mistake… I’ve said ‘How you going, Russia?’ when we’ve been in Poland and that sort of thing. Mistakes are made. I don’t dwell on that. I just try to have fun with it. Being in a death metal band isn’t the greatest career move. There’s not a lot of money in it, so you’ve just got to enjoy it.”