Mithras - Cosmic Crusaders

Interview By Dr. Abner Mality

Man in his arrogance believes he is the center of the universe and that he was created in God's image. There are those questioning minds who know differently...that our wonderful planet Earth matters about as much in the cosmic scheme of things as a tiny speck of ash would on one leaf in a gigantic forest. If even that much...

England's Mithras is a pair of such minds, belonging to Leon Macey and Rayner Coss. These gentlemen practice the not-so-gentle art of brutal death metal but not in the typical fashion. Instead of fixating on flesh-eating zombies festering beneath the dirt, they have cast their minds upon the solar winds, to dream of realms dominated by incomprehensible forces and ancient destiny. The key idea in the Mithras mythos is "grandeur" and they express it through the most aggressive of metal mixed with celestial ambience and melody.

The latest Mithras sojourn into is "Behind the Shadows Lies Madness", a tour de force that will wreck your neck and free your mind at the same time. Technical wizardry, brute force and cosmic vision combine in this masterpiece. Recently the Good Doctor travelled beyond the Fifth Ecliptic of Antares to exchange telepathic inquiries with Rayner and Leon. The following is the result of the interdimensional interrogation...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: I thought you guys had disappeared into a cosmic vortex. Was your long layoff something that was planned and did it turn out to be beneficial for the band?

Rayner: Yeah we had a long break from Mithras before starting work on the new album, which we had both agreed to take. Overall it was beneficial on a personal level. However we ran into problems when we started to work on “Behind The Shadows Lie Madness” with yet again, unreliable new band members, this led to Leon again having to do the drums for the album and that put us back a great deal as he had to learn and master all the drum parts as well as all the guitars.

Leon: Yeah, originally we planned to have 6 months away from the band after 'Worlds...' was released and our live line up
at the time fell apart. We'd been working on the band constantly for nearly 6 years and realised we needed a break. We recruited a new drummer in 2004, but he left half way through working on the new album in 2005, so as Rayner says it was seriously delayed. We really didn't plan this as we'd like to keep the gap between albums to 2 years really, but we had to make the album as good as possible.

WC: Your lyrical view is still focused on the mysteries of the cosmos. What was the genesis of this unique outlook?

Rayner: Well, a lot of the lyrics are based around our own dreams and ideas. The story took the ideas in that direction and we just thought of lots of strange and “out-there” things and ideas to include in it.

Leon: The story has a certain cosmological aspect to it, with extra dimensional ideas etc. It's very sci-fi incluenced for sure. I guess it's simply because we're into these subjects.

WC: Is "Behind the Shadows Lies Madness" a concept album of inter-linked ideas or does each song stand alone? It would seem Mithras is oriented to the vast and epic.

Leon: Each song can be seen as a standalone piece and taken as such if the listener wishes, but if you play the album through, it flows as almost a continuous piece of music, with a few interludes. The lyrics also can be interpreted in different ways instead of being fixed in one absolute mode.

Rayner: The album and in fact all our albums are linked together. Each song tells part of the story, this makes the album flow as a whole and gives it more meaning. It does comes across as very epic which is fantastic in my opinion.

WC: The new album's title and cover art seem very ominous and Lovecraftian. Have Lovecraft and his accomplices been an influence on you and if so, which tales specifically?

Rayner: I personally haven't read many of his tales to be honest, but he does influence a lot of people and their work which may have found its way to influence me in someway.

WC: How did you acquire the services of Dan Seagrave for the cover art? Does that picture illustrate a particular song or moment from the album?

Leon: We basically got in touch with Dan directly and asked him if he'd be able to do the cover artwork for us, nothing more complex than that. We knew his work from all the great album covers he's done in the past and wanted to get something really incredible.

Rayner: The picture is based around the album as a whole, but the most obvious thing in the picture is the “twisted tower”, but it also contains ideas from other songs in it. It's a great piece and Dan did a fantastic job on it.

WC: You have some of the most unorthdox song structures ever in extreme metal. How is a Mithras song constructed? With precision or with intuition?

Leon: Well thanks for saying so, I take that as a compliment. Most of the music is just made through playing and recording guitar ideas, so through intuition with the arrangements coming naturally. Sometimes i'll have to apply some precision to a section however, it just depends on the particular song and its genesis.

WC: What are some of the "outside" influences you put into your music? I detect some world music and New Age type touches within the mayhem.

Leon: Yeah, well spotted, most people don't see that at all! I'm quite into a lot of bands you could term “new age” like Dreamtribe (defunct), some Dead Can Dance and other really obscure bands. I'm also quite into Rush also some maybe some of the proggy edge has come in.

WC: How important are those spacey cosmic interludes such as "The Beacon Beckons" to the overall Mithras experience?

Rayner: Very important, they break the metal up and build up the atmosphere. We don't believe that bombarding the listener with riff after riff is in any way extreme these days. To be really extreme you need “extremes” and those tracks give the listener that. It also adds an amazing depth to the album.

WC: The band has some of the most blasting drumbeats and heaviest riffs ever, yet I get no sense of "darkness", "evil" or "total aggression" from the music. Is this the effect that you are after?

Leon: Thanks for saying so, yeah generally it is. We aren't a “negative” band so we don't try and convey any of those emotions you mention. I think the album conveys almost inhuman titanic forces with the massive walls of monolithic riffing and mechanical drumming. However I'd say there's a bit of darkness and menace in some of the parts, maybe the end section of 'To Fall From The Heavens' or the end of 'To Where The Sun Never Leaves'.

WC: Scientists have recently discovered the most Earth-like planet yet. Do you think life is common in the Universe or is humanity a very rare phenomenon?

Rayner: Well, just because something is rare doesn't mean it's unique. I believe there may well be other life forms out there...whether they have the means to visit earth or not is another thing. The universe is so massive it's hard to believe we are the only ones. There must be so much we as a race don't understand yet.

Leon: Essentially, the universe is so vast it's almost infinite relative to us, so i'd say the chances of there being other “life” whether carbon based or otherwise is certain.

WC:. Do you think there is some cosmic intelligence at work in the Universe? In other words, is there a God?

Leon: To be honest, I'm sure there are many “cosmic” intelligences at work inside the universe, but I don't believe the universe was created by anything “inside” of it. Whether there is “a god” or not, I believe there are higher beings, but whether they're anything to do with or a manifestation of mankind's ego or desires, I really don't know.

Rayner: I find it hard to believe there is a singlular “god”, but still, if that's what other people want they should have it. If people believe in something hard enough it becomes reality for them, even if not for others. Regardless of one's own beliefs, you have to accept that other people may think differently to you. Problems always occur when people feel they should force their beliefs onto others.

WC: Do you think humanity will transcend its current troubles or is the end of our species imminent?

Rayner: It's hard to say. Maybe humanity needs something to pull it together so it works together against a greater threat as it were. Only then will there be a real value on every man, woman and child's head. And then we can move forward as a race.

WC: What track from the new album would you say is your favorite and why?

Rayner: 'Behind The Shadows' at the moment, I'm really happy with the way my parts came out and the track comes across as very heavy which I'm really happy about.

Leon: Err, either the track Rayner mentioned, or 'Awaken Man And Stone'. However I'm really happy with all the tracks.

WC: Will Mithras ever play live? With just two "real" members, will other parts be played by session musicians or will the band expand?

Rayner: As far as playing live goes, we haven't got any plans in the near future but we have played live a fair bit in the past. If we get offered any viable tours, yeah ,we would use session musicians as we have decided that it is very unlikely that we'll ever find any suitable members to join the band full time.

Leon: We've tried having other members in the band many times, but they always let us down and we end up wasting years of time teaching them how to play our music only to have them leave. We did invite a new drummer into the band who joined while we were writing 'Behind The Shadows...' and we were looking forward to being a a full band and being able to do shows, but he also left. So Mithras, at least recording wise will now remain just the two of us, as we recorded all our albums that way anyway.

WC: I thought "Behind the Shadows..." was more metallic and direct than "Worlds Beyond the Veil". Will you continue in this direction?

Leon: Yeah, it's both more direct and more metallic. After doing such an ethereal album last time with 'Worlds Beyond The Veil', we wanted something more direct and concise this time around, without losing the elements we brought to the table with 'Worlds...'. I suppose we also wanted to incorporate some of the direct approach from our debut 'Forever Advancing...... Legions' into 'Shadows...' and in my opinion, it's worked out really well.

Rayner: Its hard to say at the moment re: direction, we are only just discussing doing another album. We've found the the music will take us where it wants to go rather than the other way round, haha.

Leon: Yeah ,we'll see what happens.

WC: What musicians would you like to collaborate with?

Leon: Hmm, good question, but to be honest I really don't know. I'd like to do a different style project with a female vocalist, something more ambient probably.

WC: What was the last CD/tape/album you bought for your own enjoyment?

Rayner: Bal Sagoth - 'The Chthonic Chronicles'

Leon: Monstrosity – 'Spiritual Apocalypse'

WC: What was the last gig you saw just because you wanted to?

Leon: Gig wise, Abgott playing live at the London Underworld. Notably I went to see Devin Townsend being puppeteered by Ziltoid The Omniscient last week but that wasn't technically a “gig” ...more of a “special appearance” haha.

WC: Is there any "Spinal Tap" moment in the cosmic history of Mithras that you would like to share with our readers?

Leon: Well, I've definitely smashed many unfortunate items of musical gear to pieces over the years in a style reminiscent of Nigel Tufnell, but only if they've fallen on me or electrocuted me!

WC: Any final messages?}

Rayner: Yeah, cheers for the interview! Everyone get out there and buy “Behind The Shadows Lie Madness” and keep an eye out for the new Mithras T-shirts, which can be purchased from our webstore,

Mithra's Official Website