WITH THE DEAD “A Soundtrack to My Own Hell”

By Dr. Abner Mality

From the ashes of defeat and despair sometimes a new icon may arise. Crushing negativity can be used towards positive creation. The secret to this transformation lies…With The Dead.

Feeling empty after the demise of his long-time band Cathedral, singer Lee Dorrian was looking for something new to kindle his creative flame. He found it when he hooked up with Tim Bagshaw and Mark Greening,who had been part of another doom metal  colossus Electric Wizard. Tim and Mark were feeling sour after bad relations with Electric Wizard and were looking for another outlet for their legendary negativity.  An alliance with Dorrian seemed at first improbable but was actually very natural. So these giants of doom united to unleash bone-crushing riffage under the new monicker of With The Dead.

In the following interview, Lee is very candid about his long career and the difficulties of putting With The Dead together. But it’s also a story with a happy ending, as doom metal now seems to be a respected sub-genre at last and With The Dead looks set to rattle teeth for many a year to come…

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: When you wrapped up Cathedral, did the urge to do something heavy hit you right away or did you need to decompress for a while?

LEE DORRIAN:  The urge to do another band wasn’t even something I thought about at all. It was the last thing on my mind, to be honest with you. There were a lot of painful times with Cathedral, a lot of ups and downs.  The band coming to an end was kind of a bittersweet situation, you know. As much as it was a relief, it was also very sad.  It had taken up so much of my life to that point. But once Cathedral was over it gave me a lot more time to focus on what I needed to do with the Rise Above label. So I got my head 100% to sort things out with the label. It’s a very demanding job, it’s more than a full time job and I have to oversee everything because I can’t leave it in the hands of other people. So joining another band wasn’t my intention at all. With The Dead just kind of came my way, really. I got asked to join after the foundations had already been built.

WC: With The Dead is the perfect mixture of Cathedral and Electric Wizard sound . Did the songwriting chemistry click right away or did it take a while to develop?

LD: No, it was instant. As soon as I’d heard the tracks, I was like, fuck, this is amazing. I was totally blown away by what Tim and Mark had come up with. The chemistry was there right from the start. The songs were very spontaneous. Mark and Tim got together early last year and had a jam. Tim kept writing more and more stuff. Tim lives in America these days, he lives in New Jersey. I told him to come over…this was before I had been asked to join the band. Shall I tell you how I joined the band?

WC: I know there were some tough situations between Electric Wizard and Rise Above. Did you just locked yourselves into a room and hash everything out?

LD: No, we really didn’t talk about anything. Let me go back to how the band really started.  Mark and Tim had been playing in Ramesses together for a fair few years. Tim moved to America a few years back so that meant Ramesses was no longer happening, really. This whole shitstorm happened with Electric Wizard, when Mark rejoined the band and then got booted out again. I guess he felt a bit lost and had nowhere to go and he wanted to do something else. So he and Tim had a talk and then Tim got in touch with me and asked if he and Mark put out something new, would Rise Above Records be interested in releasing it? I had stayed friends with both those guys through all the things that had happened. I said sure, I’d be up for releasing something. Keep me updated and send any tracks you come up with so I can check it out. So Tim wrote a few tracks and recorded them on his four-track in his bedroom with a drum machine and sent them to me and I was instantly blown away from them. Wow, this is fuckin’ killer stuff and I’m very interested in releasing it. Initially, I wasn’t intending or even thinking about joining the band. Maybe they had it in the back of their minds, but they didn’t ask me about it early on. I suggested that Tim come over and go through all the songs with Mark. They went together in a room and just rehearsed them all and then went into a studio and recorded them. By doing that, at least you’ve got the backbone for an album.

They did that about this time last year, around Halloween, and I went down to the studio and checked out what they were recording. To be honest, I wasn’t too keen on the way it sounded. I really liked the material but the studio they were in wasn’t very good, it wasn’t a professional studio. The songs sounded a bit too rushed. While I was down there, they asked me if I wanted to join the band and I said, well, yes, definitely, let’s do it! I was a bit hesitant before, but one of the things I missed about being in a band is having a place to vent all my frustrations and anxieties and anger. I had no way to get it out of me anymore since I wasn’t in Cathedral. I saw this as the perfect vehicle to do that. What I said is, yeah, I will join the band but we need to use these tracks as a demo instead of a record. We’ll come back at it a few months later with a proper studio. That would give me time to think about how I would approach the vocals and how I would approach the lyrics. Six months later, Tim came back over to England and we re-recorded the whole thing from scratch. That’s how it happened basically. There was one rule. If I’m going to do this band, we’re going to make it the most heavy, uncompromising “fuck you” record we could make between us. Just no room for any lightness or happiness. It has to be the most nihilistic, crushing, oppressive record we can possibly make. Once we made that commitment and made that our focal point, that made it a lot easier to get to where we were.  There wasn’t  too much thinking involved. We just went straight with our gut instincts and that’s how the whole record came to be.

WC: It certainly sounds like “Mission: Accomplished”.

LD: (laughter) Thank you!

WC: I was really looking forward to the project once I heard about it but it wound up exceeding my expectations.

LD: Really?

WC: I wasn’t sure if you would be doing something completely different from your past bands, because that is often the case when you have a new start, or if it will be back to the basics. You guys sounded really pissed when you came up with this.

LD: There was a lot of shit to get out of our system, that’s for sure. Of course, some of that related to the things that had gone down in recent times, There’s no denying that. If that whole shitstorm with Electric Wizard hadn’t of happened, Mark Greening wouldn’t be in With The Dead, he’d still be in Electric Wizard.All this stuff that’s been said about me or about him or all the shit on the Internet from Electric Wizard relating to me…mainly from Justin Oborn…that had its impact. You know, it wasn’t very smart saying all the things you said, that were 100% lies anyway, because what goes around, comes around. What’s happened partially as a result of the way you’ve behaved is that this band has happened. (chuckles).

WC: In the modern age, the Internet makes everybody into a loudmouth. And I can’t even excuse myself from that. But the trouble did result in a great new band. Do you think your contribution will be strictly lyrical or will you take a greater hand in the more musical side as time goes on?

LD: We’ll see. I really trust Tim, I think he’s a great songwriter who writes great riffs.  All the stuff he’s come up with, I love it all so far. I never have to say “change this” or “change that”.  If there’s a point where I feel like I need to, then yeah, may be.  But at the moment, I don’t feel that need. It’s nice, because we’ve all got our own little role to play, you know.

WC:  Maybe it relieves some of the weight…

LD: If you have trust in each other’s capabilities, which I think we all have, you know where you are in the band and everyone else knows where they are. That makes things a lot easier. Who knows what will happen as time goes on? But right now, that’s the way it is and it feels good that way.

WC:  Back in Cathedral days, you used to get a lot of inspiration from classic horror and science fiction like “Captain Clegg” and “Planet of the Apes” and the “Blind Dead” movies. Is that something that will continue with With The Dead?

LD: Whether we will be as specific about movies and use them as a direct reference, I don’t know.  When I did that with Cathedral, it was mainly just for fun, because I was paying homage to my favorite films, really. With The Dead is kind of the like the soundtrack to my own hell, as I believe they say in the press release. It’s not based on a specific movie. But the way certain stories and certain writers influence you, that’s also the way certain movies influence you. The atmosphere of those movies will creep into a song, if not directly, then subconsciously. Horror movies are so installed in me, the way I’ve grown up, that I sometimes use horror movies as a metaphor for real life. The way the lyrics are written are almost in a dialogue that would relate to a horror movie but they are actually about real life horror as opposed to a fantasy. Especially in With The Dead, anyway.

WC: I’ve always been a fan of that stuff myself. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith. Now there is a flood of bands who are influenced by the Blind Dead movies…

LD; (laughs) Where did all that come from? 

WC: Cathedral was the first to do it. You took sounds right from the movie and gave it such a creepy crawly feeling…

LD: Me and Gaz when Cathedral first started, we wanted the whole band to be about the Blind Dead movies. We wanted to record four 7 inches, one about each of the movies, and then quit the band! We weren’t joking, either! That’s what we wanted to do. Doom metal was one thing, but to us, those films were the audio representation of a doom metal record. The visuals in the Blind Dead movies are so macabre and doomy…the images of the Templars creeping around is the most fuckin’ doomy image I can ever imagine!(laughs) They were a major, major influence on me…I loved those movies! They are still my favorite horror movies of all time.

WC: Do you like the tack that Hooded Menace takes with those characters? 

LD: Yeah, I haven’t heard too much of Hooded Menace’s records, just bits and pieces, but I like it. They are obviously going for it in a big way, which is cool.

WC:  They really are a band that based almost all their lyrics on the Templars. They play a different kind of doom but I think they think about The Blind Dead the same way you do. Moving along, you guys have quite a macabre look on the cover of your new album. Is that just for the cover or will that carry through to the live show?

LD: I’d like to think we’d incorporate some kind of theatrics into the live shows as well, yeah.  The whole idea to be the decomposing end of the world priests was a spontaneous idea but it looks quite powerful so I think we will present ourselves that way on stage.

WC: It looks really cool. Do you guys have any live plans for the band at this point?

LD: It’s funny you should say that because it’s only been in the last two days that we’ve been talking about that. We never had any specific live plans. The beauty of being in this band is that we can do things totally on our own terms. I run the label, we manage ourselves and if we get offered shows, we can pick and choose which ones we do and which ones we don’t. So we can totally take our time and make our decisions at our own place. But yeah, we definitely plan to do some shows next year. We’re not going to be the kind of band that piles into a bus or a van and tours six months of the year all around the world. We can’t physically do that because of our other commitments, but we will be out there playing some shows at some point next year. There’s a couple we’re talking about but I can’t actually confirm them until we know more.

WC: In addition to being into the real heavy stuff, you’ve got quite an interest in old progressive rock and folk music.  Do you have any thoughts of a different project involved with those sounds?

LD:  I’d love to but I don’t think I’m musically gifted enough to be a folk singer or a progressive rock musician. I’m generally in bands that play to my own strengths. After Cathedral ended, I was hoping to have the time to practice guitar a bit more. But I haven’t had the chance to. I’d like to become better as a musician so I could do some more challenging things, sure. Maybe as I get a bit older and time avails itself to me so I have a bit more of it, yeah, I would love to do something more in a dark folk or progressive vein, beyond the shadow of a doubt.

WC: You’ve been at the helm of Rise Above Records since the late 80’s. Back then, it was taking quite a chance to be involved with a label for this type of music. Has it been pretty satisfying to see the audience come around to doom metal? Now doom and occult rock is more popular now than ever.

LD: It was non-existent back then in the early 90’s, pretty much. The thing is, I was really into bands like Trouble, Pentagram, Witchfinder General, The Obsessed….all those bands, Candlemass…without sounding like a cliché, I was obsessed with these bands. I realized that no one else running record labels gave a fuck about these bands.  There was one label in Germany called Hellhound that released a couple of doom records.  I just thought that bands like Revelation and Solitude and Penance were so good. I was in a position running my own record label that I could help. At first I was putting out hardcore 7 inches because that was all I knew. I thought why not take a gamble and put out something you really want to put out? So I got in touch with Revelation and asked if they wanted to do an album. They said yes and it cost hardly anything to record. We put it out there and people warmed to it. Then we did a record from Penance and then a compilation album called “Dark Passages” which was the first ever doom metal compilation LP. When we did that, there was finally something that could define the scene. There was something that people could latch onto. If somebody mentioned doom metal, people could look to this compilation as a reference point. As time’s gone on, it’s never been easy running this label. It’s been a fucking nightmare, to be completely honest with you. Financially and every other way. It’s been very hard work to get to where we are now. It’s only like the last 3 to 4 years that I’ve started getting a wage from it. Before that, I was living hand to mouth, starving and almost destitute with no money, trying to make ends meet just to keep the label alive. It’s never been easy. But in recent times, doom metal has become a recognized genre. It’s amazing to think that it’s happened. Back in early days, the press used to laugh at us! You would find a couple people that would get it, but the general response to doom metal was that it was a waste of time, it was boring and a joke. That’s what people in the industry thought. I remember being at a CMJ panel once and somebody from another label said, what’s the point of doing a doom metal label? Nobody’s interested. And I always thought, fuck you, doom metal is the heaviest form of metal that exists. It was the most expressive and the most soulful. You didn’t form a doom metal band to make a million pounds, you played it because you believed in what you were doing.

WC: It has to be very satisfying to see what it’s become now. I remember the only publication that really gave it a fair shake in the 80’s was Metal Forces magazine.

LD: Yeah, that’s right! That’s true.  Griff, the original bass player for Cathedral, did what was probably the first ever doom metal fanzine. He did one called “Under The Oak”. That was in 1989. It was an amazing fanzine. Unfortunately, he did a second issue but he left all the photographs for it on a bus and lost everything. 

WC: We’re fortunately that we’ve had somebody like you working on this, somebody with the wherewithal to do it. It probably would have broken a lot of people.

LD: It’s ironic that you mention Metal Forces because that’s pretty much how everybody met each other. The whole scene came from the “pen friend” section in the back of Metal Forces. There was a guy called Nigel Fetters and I heard of him through those ads in the back of Metal Forces. He was talking about Pentagram and Paul Chain and Death SS and stuff like this. I wrote to him and he sent me a bunch of doom metal tapes from the States by Asylum,  The Obsessed, Iron Man, all these kind of bands. That all came from the back of Metal Forces…that’s how I found Griff, how I found Gaz.

WC: It used to drive me crazy waiting to get my copy mailed over to me in the States. But now, you can look stuff up at the touch of a button.

LD: It was more exciting then, wasn’t it? The anticipation…

WC: It was, it was! Waiting for a new record like something from Judas Priest or Venom to come out. You’d almost have to camp out for it…

LD:  You’d hear the radio play one advance track from it and you’d be flipping out, yeah…Those were the great days!

WC: You’ve got a very interesting story to tell. Do you think somewhere down the line after all the bands are done that you might come up with an autobiography…a recollection of your growing up in the heavy music scene?

LD: I thought about it in the back of my mind, but I don’t think many people would be interested. I thought about it for my own sake, but who’s going to buy a book about Lee Dorrian, really? I don’t think many people would bother.

WC: You might be surprised.

LD: Eh, maybe. The thing is, as time goes by, the memory fades. The more you have to take in, the more goes out. (chuckles) If I’d set down with somebody about ten years ago, I think things would be a lot clearer in my head about the past. Obviously the older you get, the more things start fade.

WC: If you could have dinner with any 3 people from history, who would they be?

LD: Oh my God, really?  Ramses the Second would be the first one, I think. Jesus Christ would be another one if he did indeed exist. Who else? Let me think. Somebody from more recent times. It’s a good one, it’s one I have to think about. Elvis was a hero of mine when I was a kid.

WC: That’s not bad. Elvis, Ramses and Jesus…(laughter)

LD:  (laughing) I never thought about this before until you put it in my head! Yeah, those three would be a pretty cool dinner.

WC: You’d have to keep an eye on Elvis to make sure he didn’t clean off everybody else’s plate…

LD:  If it’s peanut butter and banana, for sure.  I’m vegan, so at least I can eat peanut butter and banana. I don’t know what I’d be eating with Ramses.

WC: What was the last release you got just because you wanted to pick it up?

LD: Hmmm. I buy records all the time so I have to think. The last thing I got was an original copy of an album from a band from Finland called Elonkorjuu…an album called “Harvest Time”, which I think is from 1971. It’s a Finnish prog record that cost me a small fortune. I’ve been after it for years.

WC: Any last words for the fans?

LD: As always, thank you very much for your support over the years. It’s much appreciated. Thanks for believing in what I’ve done and thanks for believing in the label. I hope you all dig With The Dead and I hope to see you all out on the road.