Interview with Howie Bentley of Briton Rites
I recently was able to do an interview with Howie Bentley, who is the creator and mastermind behind two awesome metal bands actually: Cauldron Born (epic/technical metal), and more currently, a traditional doom and British-style metal project, Briton Rites. Briton Rites features Howie Bentley on guitars and bass, Phil Swanson on vocals (Hour of 13), and Corbin King on drums (of Vainglory). Howie himself, like with the Cauldron Born material, has pretty much written all of the music and lyrics behind Briton Rites. He hails from north Georgia, the state where I also currently reside–where there has also not been much of a metal scene for years. The fact that he is a metal musician in this state is proof alone of his commitment to playing metal music.
Under the band Cauldron Born, he has released two demos (which have been compiled into one CD known as “God of Metal”) and two full studio albums, Born of the Cauldron and …And Rome Shall Fall. It has been about 8 years since the last Cauldron Born CD, however, and many were beginning to wonder if and when he would release any new material. Now we won’t have to wait much longer…Howie has written some new material with a slightly different direction, and this new metal project is known as Briton Rites. I have asked him a few questions regarding himself and his view of metal music, and also a few questions about this new material. Here is the interview:
How did you get into playing metal music?
My father played guitar and he encouraged me to play. I had a guitar when I was a kid but I wasn’t much interested in it. When I was around fourteen, a cousin called my attention to an Ozzy song on the radio. A little while later I heard the Black Sabbath album, Paranoid. I was really just pulled in by the sound and atmosphere of Black Sabbath. I picked up the first Ozzy album and some Black Sabbath. Then I started reading magazines about these bands and learned that this is Heavy Metal. So, I started trying to get my hands on any Heavy Metal that I could find: Priest, Scorpions…a little later on I got Iron Maiden’s Killers album. I t just took off from there. It wasn’t long before I was a full fledged Metal Maniac! This was the early ‘80s, the Golden Age.
What constitutes “real” metal in your opinion—what is your philosophy of metal if you will?
Real Metal is dark, ominous and speaks to your mind on a primal level. The roots are in the British bands: Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest. It is not “crotch rock” like Def Leppard, Van Halen and Motley Crue. Heavy Metal lyrics are about witches, black masses, demons, Atlantis, barbarians, wizards and so on. Even if it weren’t for the lyrics, the music would still give you this sort of feeling like you have escaped into this really cool, fantastic world for awhile. Heavy Metal is not about partying, relationships or whining (like some hippies and grunge bands do). This has always been a hard question for me to answer. I suppose I can better tell you what it is not in an effort to define it.
Do you have any non-metal influences, such as any classical music influences perhaps?
I do like a little classical music, though I used to listen to it more than I do now. I enjoy the standard stuff like Bach, Beethoven and Mozart but I prefer more dissonant classical music from composers like Stravinsky, Bartok and Holst. Outside of classical music, I don’t listen to anything but Heavy Metal on my own time. I will say that I am really tired of all of these guitar players who fancy themselves modern day Mozarts with electric guitars. This kind of music has gravitated so far away from the roots of British Heavy Metal and the guitar riff, and closer to pop music like Abba and pretentious “classical” influences. When the keyboards become more important than the guitar riffs, it is time to go.
What are your current thoughts on the state of metal music?
It is much better than it was a few years back. I think that Metal has become more refined in that most of the people who now play it really love it. There is no next level to go to with it aside from the Underground, so this pretty much shuts the opportunists out. The lack of support for Metal is so bad sometimes that it almost shuts out those who really want to play it, though. It is a good time for fans of True Heavy Metal music, but maybe not so good for those who want to play it, as it is little more than an expensive hobby for the musicians.
Let’s talk about Briton Rites. I have heard two songs from album so far, Carmilla and a Meeting in the Woods. This material seems much different from the Cauldron Born material…not quite as fast-paced and complex as CB, with more of a primitive metal sound. Whereas I can hear influences like Helstar/Iron Maiden in Cauldron Born, Briton Rites sounds more influenced by stuff like early Black Sabbath—can you elaborate on this change? What was your vision behind Briton Rites?
I like the same stuff I always have: Sabbath, Maiden, Priest, Venom, Mercyful Fate and so on. But in the last few years I have been on a big Doom kick. I read that one of the guys in Candlemass was really high on a band called Reverend Bizarre, so I picked up Reverend Bizarre’s CRUSH THE INSECTS album. At first I wasn’t sure if I really liked it, but sometimes you have to have repeated listenings of a good Metal album to really appreciate it. After awhile I got really hooked on it. That song “The Devil Rides Out” reminded me a lot of an old favorite band of mine-Witchfinder General. So I dug out my Witchfinder General albums and that got me missing early Black Sabbath. Even though I grew up listening to early Sabbath as well as the post Ozzy albums, for a long time I just gravitated away from Ozzy-era Sabbath. I think it might have been because a lot of grunge bands (my enemies) were citing Ozzy [era] Sabbath as an influence, which none of them really sounded anything like. Anyway, that was a very superficial reason for me to lose touch with an old favorite. It was a combination of the Witchfinder General influence and rediscovering those first eight Sabbath albums that made me decide on this new musical direction.
Backtracking a little, I was reading Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Gothic Horror novelette, CARMILLA, a few years back. CARMILLA is a story about a female vampire who preys on young girls. That story made such an impression on me that I thought, “I have to make some music that makes me feel like this story does.” I didn’t think the style I was doing with Cauldron Born really embodied that aesthetic properly, and I had been listening to early Sabbath, Witchfinder General, and Trouble a lot, so things just naturally started to go in that direction.
I really enjoyed the short story “Young Goodman Brown,” which is what your song meeting in the woods reminds me of—except it’s like Hawthorne meets Lovecraft. What was your idea behind this song? What are some of the other themes that are explored on this album?
I read “Young Goodman Brown” back when I was in high school, and it left a lasting impression on me-the protaganist coming upon a witches’ sabbath in the woods. I really like the atmosphere of that story, how Hawthorne seems to see the Devil everywhere he looks. I was looking back on that story with my vision tinted by Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. It was perfect subject matter for Briton Rites lyrics.
Other themes: Vampirism, witchery, and demonic possession with a twist.
I like how you also draw influence from obscure horror films, as on the song Carmilla. What are some other movies or books that have been influential in your music, particularly in your Briton Rites material?
Well, my favorite authors are a constant source of inspiration: Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft ,Clark Ashton Smith, Richard L. Tierney, David C. Smith and Karl Edward Wagner. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” novelette is really what inspired me to start writing this kind of music, though. Also, reading “Carmilla” got me watching all of those old Hammer films again, which in turn inspired me even more.
I have noticed, both with the Cauldron Born material and with the Briton Rites material I have heard so far, that some of your lyrics have some pretty dark themes. I like the fact that you draw upon many different sources and influences when writing about these subjects, whether these sources and influences are mythological, literary, historical or even sometimes religious. It seems that a lot of modern bands, rather than being creative when exploring such themes in their music, usually just jump on the satanic bandwagon, since it seems to be a quick way to get attention. Just paint a pentagram on the album cover, have a couple of song titles with 666 in the name, and since about satanic stuff. It really does seem to me, however, that this has become quite trite and does not take much imagination….it seems like a lot of these bands are just posing. What are your thoughts on this? Also, do you think exploring “dark” subject matter is something that is indispensable to writing metal music, or is it merely indispensable to your style of metal?
I am sure there are some bands who just throw these things around for attention, but there is also a reason that Satanic imagery is such an important part of Heavy Metal music. Satan, as a mythological character, is probably the most powerful symbol of rebellion in Western culture. Heavy Metal is the music of true rebellion so it is just natural that it would embrace the image of Satan as a figurehead. A lot of Satanic imagery and dark occult symbolism reach the mind on a subtle level and excites it-so does Heavy Metal music. People who perceive this feeling usually react one of two ways: metalheads enjoy and embrace this feeling. The other people are disturbed by it. So when you see pentagrams, inverted crosses, goat-headed images, Baphomet and so on…these things are staples of Heavy Metal music, just like long hair, black leather, spikes and wild, pointy- shaped electric guitars.
Exploring dark subject matter lyrically is indispensable to making real Metal music and certainly has always been a part of my music. These dark themes are what originally drew my attention to Heavy Metal. I see all of these guys playing all kinds of music making the horned-hand sign. I say they have no business throwing the horns unless they have at least one song about the Devil.
What is the degree to which religion (whether pagan, Christian, or otherwise) plays a part in your music and lyrics?
Heavy Metal is my religion, but I really enjoy using different types of mythology to tell stories in my lyrics. A lot of guys in Black Metal bands [condemn] Christianity, not realizing we have all of these wonderfully macabre stories and legends that are a byproduct of the religion. Powerful stuff! Same thing with Paganism. Supernatural horror is one of my favorite topics, lyrically, and if it wasn’t for Christianity, these stories of witches, warlocks, demons and lamiae wouldn’t exist, at least not in the potency that we know them today.
None of the Cauldron Born albums featured any instrumental songs….have you ever thought about writing a song that is purely instrumental?
At one time I wanted to do some instrumental music. I think instrumental music is more for guitar players to show off. I am kind of past that now. I am more into just creating a particular atmosphere with the music and lyrics. I have such a great time writing lyrics that I get much more satisfaction out of that than just wanking endlessly on the guitar. Now, if there are any future Cauldron Born albums, there may be some long instrumental passages in context of some vocal songs, but they will exist to create that atmosphere that I spoke of instead of being there to say”look what I can do!”
Will you attempt to play any live shows if the fan response to Briton Rites is significant enough?
Sure. If the other guys are up for it, then I am.
What is your favorite song from the forthcoming album? Can you describe what it’s like and why you like it the most?
That is too hard of a question. I think that there isn’t a weak song on the album. Karnstein Castle means a lot to me. I got an immense sense of satisfaction from writing that one. There is a little surprise there. I can’t say what it is yet.
How are things coming with your record label, and what can we expect regarding the release of the new album? Is it going to be released under your own label still? I know there have been a few snags along the way of the album’s release—will it be released soon?
So far, so good. There were some delays, mainly due to the artwork. We are almost finished with everything and the album will be going to the manufacturer in the next few days. The album will be released on my label, Echoes Of Crom Records. For those who have yet to hear Briton Rites you can listen to a couple of songs here:
I will also be releasing a band called Blacksword. They are a phenomenal band from Siberia but they sound like good ol’ USPM. They have a rare and original sound. I think this is partly due to where they originate from. Nice Sword & Sorcery lyrics inspired by the likes of Michael Moorcock and Clark Ashton Smith(they sing in English, of course). Their debut album is called “The Sword Accurst”, and you can check them out at:
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview…it is a pleasure to hear from you, and it is always exciting anticipating another album from you. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Thanks to you, Eric, for your support and the opportunity to talk about my new band and my label. To all of you who are into traditional Doom Metal and/or NWOBHM, buy the album(don’t download it), so I can afford to keep putting this stuff out. You can contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This entry was posted on March 20, 2010 at 9:07 pm and is filed under doom metal, Interview with tags Briton Rites, Cauldron Born, Corbin King, doom metal, Howie Bentley, metal, NWOBHM, Phil Swanson. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.