Surviving the Revival When Tomorrow’s Lost: An Interview with Cauldron
The latter part of the last decade saw a resurge in popularity of the NWOBHM and thrash metal sounds of the ‘80s. Cauldron emerged during this revival, and and now with its third studio release, Tomorrow's Lost, this Canadian heavy metal band’s love for the genre has managed to survive all trends. PopMatters explores further...
As time passes by, trends come and go that impinge on every facet of popular culture. And even though metal has prided itself on being far removed from the conformist attitudes of what is considered “trendy” amongst the masses, metal too has been the victim of trends; albeit trends that have been for the most part metal specific -- rarely has outside influence permeated metal’s seemingly impenetrable walls. During the latter part of the last decade, a major resurgence in the popularity of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) of the late ’70s/early ‘80s and the thrash metal of the ‘80s was felt. Suddenly bands emerged left, right, and centre that mixed the joyous guitar interplay of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Saxon with the thrash bite of early-Metallica/Armoured Saint/Overkill et al; and in some instances even the hook-laden songwriting of rock giants, Scorpions and Def Leppard. It came as no surprise to see NWOBHM/thrash metal rise in popularity again as hungry bands (both figuratively and literally) had now come of age, and obviously favoured the style of music they loved during their youth.
The bands lumped into this revival were looked upon suspiciously by the metal old-guard who had consistently supported these genres, even when they were not necessarily en vogue. And as with any musical trend that appears on the public consciousness, a divide appeared between the genuine (talented) bands who favoured this style of music simply for fact that it is engrained in their DNA, and therefore an innate source of inspiration, and bands looking to capitalize on a popularity surge for more nefarious reasons. You can only guess which side has managed to outlive the trends, and it has all been because of the quality of the music these bands have released and the purity behind their intentions for making music in the first place. Toronto, Ontario’s heavy metal traditionalists, Cauldron, are a prime example of such a band. And over the course of one EP and three studio albums -- culminating in their 2012 release, Tomorrow’s Lost -- Cauldron founders: Jason Decay (vocals/bass) and Ian Chains (guitars), alongside their contemporaries in Municipal Waste, Warbringer, Evile, Enforcer and Gama Bomb, amongst a handful of others, have survived the revival where the more contrived bands have gone the way of the dodo.
According to Chains, the reason for the band’s survival has been because of their refusal to succumb to the hype that was imposed at the time, but mainly because of the band’s legitimate love for metal. “Well I kind of feel like we've always been doing our own thing. We never tried to be part of any “retro” scene, that's just magazines and labels picking up on a trend and trying to market it. The only reason we play music is because we're real fans. We're not in it for any other reason. If some band tries to be part of some scene then they're fakes and they're not going to stick around.” To which Decay agrees: “Yeah, we're genuine, the real deal… and we’re old. We were around before a lot of these bands and will probably be around long after most of them.”
The confidence in the future endurance of Cauldron beaming from the band’s founding members stems from the fact that these guys know that with their latest album, Tomorrow’s Lost, they have written the best album of Cauldron’s prolific six-year existence. The follow-up, the well received Burning Fortune, contains greater hooks -- musically and vocally -- as well as tightly constructed song arrangements. And this maturation in Cauldron’s sound seems an entirely natural progression for the band; an impression that the band is happy to confirm. “We never try to force anything, but I guess the more you work on song-writing the better you get at it. I think coming up with a good hook is something that works a lot better subconsciously. If you sit down and try to specifically come up with a melody it'll never be as good,” admits Chains. “We are always trying to improve upon ourselves and have always had a strong emphasis on songwriting -- it is our biggest priority,” states Decay strongly, before proclaiming excitedly: “When you get an idea in your head, you have to drop what you’re doing and find a guitar right away!”
The band’s belief in capturing the moment inspiration strikes and constantly trying to better themselves as songwriters is commendable, and it’s this realisation that looms large over Tomorrow’s Lost, especially on the likes of the thrilling lead single “Nitebreaker” and “Burning Fortune” (title contains a nice nod to bands that have named songs after their previous album). On these songs specifically, Decay’s vocal hooks shine brightest -- something he initially struggled when it came to recording with long time producer and friend, Jameson Elliot. “I'm always trying to get better at my vocals... I sort of felt like I hit a wall with my vocals in the studio this time, but listening back a few months later, I can definitely hear the improvement from the last record,” asserts Decay. It may have taken some distance from the record for Decay to hear the improvements in his vocals, but for everyone else -- and particularly fans of the band -- it can be heard as soon as opener “End of Time” kicks into life and lasts until the final notes of “Tomorrow’s Lost Sun Will Fade”... erm, fades out. While musically, Cauldron continue to ripple with the same characteristics of ‘80s metal that proved popular with the plethora of bands buzzing around during the mid-to-late period of the last decade.
Chains’ rampaging riffs on Tomorrow’s Lost do have some contemporary appeal, but it's obvious he prefers the style of the masters, particularly when encountering the Tony Iommi-esque guitar leads he employs throughout. But Chains and Decay are not just restricted to their crusty Savatage and Anvil LPs, and both members do open themselves up to find inspiration outside the genre heavyweights. “I mainly stick to the classic Priest and Scorpions stuff, as most of my influence comes from the old German and US metal of the ‘80s,” confirms Decay, before adding emphatically: “but I’m not limited to just that -- there are a handful of newer bands that I like a lot: Hour of 13, Phantom, and Enforcer. I’ll take influence from anywhere I hear something that I think sounds good, or is a good idea, and I’ll put it through the Cauldron filter.” It’s this mix of traditional qualities and contemporary crunch that provides the key to the band’s growth as heard on Tomorrow’s Lost, not to mention the other immediately recognizable improvement on this record when compared to the past two scrappy studio releases -- the overall production.
The sound of Tomorrow’s Lost is big and bold with the guitars and drums sounding fuller without losing any the band’s signature bite. This is something the band worked on with producer Jameson Elliot, and according to Decay, the sound was achieved by keeping the process quite minimal: “We recorded the bed tracks live together at our neighbourhood studio with Jameson Elliott at the helm again. Then we overdubbed the vocals and lead guitar. We kept a quite basic approach to capture the real sound of the band.” A punk ethic has always been applied to Cauldron’s music, and the band has never been one for pomposity or high levels of grandeur, preferring to keep things paired back instrumentally to expose the immediacy of the music. That is why when you are greeted by the highly pessimistic album title of Tomorrow’s Lost and its elaborate and mysterious artwork, thoughts that Cauldron may have decided to tackle the feared and bombastic “concept” album manifests. However, such notions are strongly and humorously quelled when posed to the band. Decay offering a self-deprecating response that the band is not deep enough to create a concept album, while Chains elaborates further: “There's definitely no concept here -- at least we've never talked about it. I can't say I've ever been a fan of concept albums anyway. The title somewhat refers to striving hard for something but never quite making it. I guess the bright source of light on the cover symbolizes some kind of resolution that you may or may not reach.”
The record cover, as alluded to by Chains, has been created by Todd Kowalski, and Cauldron chose him for the job after seeing his work on Sacrifice/Propagandhi’s 7-inch split record. The Cauldron guys were also drawn to Kowalski’s talents because he is an exclusive artist that nobody else in the scene had used, not to mention the fact that he was willing to take their ideas on board. “We gave him a concept surrounding a morbid looking landscape with a source of light and a few reference pieces, and he went to work. I think we sent him some Thomas Cole paintings we liked, as well as Entombed’s Clandestine, and I think the first Angel Witch record -- it kind of looks like a cross between those!,” states Chains, proudly. Indeed, it does. The album art is quite striking and a must for any record collector—just make sure you don’t ask for it on 180 gram vinyl! “Real record collectors don’t have room for that shit on their shelves,” spits Decay vehemently, who also shares an affinity with this PopMatters scribe for metal etched into more ergonomic wax.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t been all hefty records and plain sailing in the Cauldron camp. Since the band’s formation they have been constantly plagued with the dreaded drummer problem, which has almost reached Spinal Tap levels of absurdity -- the band is currently on its fifth in total. For the Tomorrow’s Lost recording sessions Cauldron reverted to past drummer Chris Rites, who left once the album was complete and has been replaced by Myles Deck. Decay explains the drummer confusion: “Chris has commitments with another band so he was only able to do the recording. Myles is working out just fine and it looks like he will be around for a long time. He was willing to move half way across Canada so that was enough to convince us! That and he came with a really good reference from a mutual friend.” Whether this signals stability for the Cauldron line-up remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: Chains and Decay will continue in their quest for heavy metal perfection, and they don’t seem content just yet. “In my mind I’m never satisfied,” states Chains, when questioned as to whether he is pleased with Cauldron’s lot at present.
It is this drive to improve and fighting instinct that keeps the band going -- something that has always been an implicit part of Canadian metal bands. The underdog mentality and constant sense of having to struggle under the shadow cast by America is always going to be part and parcel for bands in a country that doesn’t seem to have major scene for this type of music; especially when compared to the below border behemoth. “There are quite a few good bands throughout Canada right now, but it's pretty spread out. I don't think there's any one city with an amazing scene. I think American bands always have a better chance,” Chains muses, before quoting the criminally underrated Canadian metal band, Razor: "American luck, too bad we're Canucks!” But unlike Razor, Cauldron seem destined to reach their potential, and the band’s partnership with the legendary extreme metal label Earache over their three studio albums has been fruitful to say the least, and the band seem satisfied in the relationship. “Things are going well, they get our albums distributed and get us in magazines -- I guess we can't ask for much more! There are some good bands on Earache right now, I guess they like taking chances on new bands and seeing what happens.” With this legendary label entirely invested in Cauldron and the band themselves proving that quality music will outlive all trends, the future for Cauldron looks brighter than ever -- even if the band believe that tomorrow’s lost.