Latest release: Divine Council (EVP)Website: www.psycroptic.com
“I’ve never lost two jobs in a day before,” Psycroptic drummer Dave Haley says wryly in response to a question about how he was affected during the past two years. “The pandemic affected everyone in completely different ways. I’m not getting a little violin out and saying ‘Woe is me.’ This is a once in a lifetime – I hope it’s a once in a lifetime – crisis, so the way I got through it was to get to work and remain as productive as possible.”
So as well as completing the latest Psycroptic album Divine Council, Haley has also made two albums with Werewolves and released music with The Amenta, CrisisAct and Abramelin. The Abremelin album, Never Enough Snuff, dropped just as COVID restrictions really began to bite, meaning they had no time to perform on the back of it.
“Growing up, Abramelin was one of my favourite bands, so it’s kind of surreal to be playing in the band. I take a little bit of a backseat regarding the planning and direction of the band, and it did come to a grinding halt. We had just released the new album and we were planning to do a bunch of launch shows and we still did as much as possible in the background,” he says.
In the end it took almost two years before they got to play at all; The Amenta, whose comeback album Revelator appeared between the first COVID wave and the second, were forced to cancel a national tour.
For Psycroptic, things have started to return to normal. Hometown shows in Tasmania were followed by the Melbourne leg of the oft-postponed Full Tilt festival. There were other appearances at shows like Uncaged scheduled too, but in the end Full Tilt was the only one they played. The Tasmanian shows sold well, but in the end more than half of those who bought tickets didn’t turn up.
“Life was almost ‘normal’ down there until December/January so people were very, very reluctant to come to shows,” Haley explains. “They both sold very well, but there was less than 40% turn up rate, because everyone was wigging out! So to have a fully fledged festival happening with no restrictions, playing in front of two thousand people was a good reminder of how it used to be and how, hopefully, it will be. It was one of those shows we needed to do to reaffirm why we do it.”
Psycroptic has more shows on the horizon now, including their next show in Sydney with one of his other bands, Werewolves. It’s not the first time Haley has stumped up to do two (or even three) performances with different bands on the same night, but he admits, “it’s not getting any easier! It looks good on paper, and I hope it looks good on stage. Then when you arrive on the night you go, ‘OK, here we go!’ It is a bit of a challenge. The physical side is OK, it’s more of a mental challenge. You get a bit of mental fatigue when you do two sets back-to-back. There’s a lot of blastbeats in there!”
Along with their own shows to launch the new album, Psycroptic is also set to appear at Canberra Metal Fest on the first weekend of July, and Blacken Open Air. Psycroptic played at what was the first Blacken Open Air festival, and Haley remembers it as being a pretty special event.
“Alice Springs itself… I don’t think I’ve had a similar feeling anywhere else in the world. It’s very unique. The festival itself – we played quite a number of years ago – was awesome. Very strong community vibe. That’s one thing that stood out. It wasn’t just metalheads there. There was a big turn out of the local community, as well. Very enthusiastic and very unique.”
This year they will be sharing the bill with Abramelin and Ruins – another band Haley plays drums with – along with a wealth of talent from the rest of the country and, for the first time, international acts in the shape of Shepherd Reign from New Zealand and Psycroptic’s occasional touring partners, US death metal band Revocation.
“We’re really looking forward to it,” the drummer promises. “We haven’t seen so many bands for a while. Revocation, who are really good friends, are coming out… I don’t know what to expect other than we’re pretty excited. It’s at a different site from where we played, so I don’t know what it’s like but from the pictures I’ve seen, it will be amazing.”
Divine Council is released a week after Blacken. It will be the band’s eighth album and Psycroptic has already introduced it by way of videos for Rend Asunder and Exitus, and the track A Fragile Existence which appeared on a limited-run single-sided vinyl EP last year. Musically and thematically, Divine Council follows the path the band has set for the last three or four albums.
“Musically it’s a continuation of what we’ve been doing,” says Haley. “Each album is like passing the baton on to the next one. We don’t want to repeat ourselves, and we want to come out and do something that – well, not unexpected, but a natural progression. That’s the thing. We have a certain style we write in, a certain formula, because when we get together, that’s what it sounds like.”
Lyrically the album follows vocalist Jason Peppiatt’s exploration of themes involving man’s relationship with the planet and humanity’s destiny on a world it is pushing to the brink.
“In terms of lyrical themes, I haven’t really had much of a hand in it for the last few albums,” Haley says. “I did early on, but it’s been Peppo who’s been steering the ship there. And from he tells me, it’s more about his personal take on humanity and where it’s headed, all the pitfalls and, if we’re not careful, where we’ll end up. It’s not a concept album in any sense of the word or imagination, but it’s his style.”
This time too, Psycroptic is expanding the role of recording guests. Joe Haley’s wife Amy Wiles once again contributes the dark ambience and ethereal vocals that appeared on As the Kingdom Drowns. Divine Council also contains extensive contributions from Origin vocalist Jason Keyser, who has worked with the band before in the live scenario when Peppiatt has been unavailable to tour.
“He’s had more of a role in terms of adding a different vocal technique to the album. He’s filled in on a couple of tours for us in the past, so Peppo just thought that it kind of makes sense. [Peppiatt] had a couple of ideas that he wanted to expand and add on outside of what he does, so it just made sense to ask Jason.”
Keyser’s contributions were so integral to the album as a whole that the band made the unprecedented decision to include him in promotional images for the release.
“In some regards it’s caused a bit of confusion,” the drummer admits but that’s cool as well. It’s created discussion. He was on the album, so we thought, ‘He’s part of this artistic output, so let’s put him on this artistic output’. Whether or not he does anything live with us in the future, none of us know, but he had a hand in it so let’s put him on it.”
Divine Council’s striking cover is the work of prolific and sought-after artist Eliran Kantor, whose credits now go into the hundreds and include recent releases by Testament, Soulfly, My Dying Bride, Incantation, Thy Art is Murder and Aversions Crown, to name but a handful. It is based on a loose theme that combines the previous album and last year’s The Watcher of All release. Haley has been a fan of Kantor’s for quite a while.
“We were pretty stoked to be able to work with Eliran. I’ve been a big fan of his artwork for years. That’s one of the perks of being in a band. You get to engage with other amazing artists that you just wouldn’t get to do in everyday life. You can go and commission some artwork. It’s not often you get to do that! With that being part of the process, it’s definitely been a privilege. With most of the albums we’ve used different artists, just because we were able to! It’s a cool thing to be able to do.”
Three different artists interpreting the same theme three different ways has both tied the records together and gives them an individual character. As a band that has always maintained its own creative control, they have done the same with the artists they work with, giving them an open commission and trusting them to produce something truly worthy of gracing the cover of their album. So far, no one has let them down.
“They all tie in to Peppo’s overall lyrical themes. So when working with these artists, we give them free rein. We’re not going to give them any restrictions at all. We’ve found that artists come up with their best work when you go and find something that you want to do. We’re going to give you a long lead time, and just come back to us when you’re happy with it. And it’s worked.”