Photo: Natasha Koziarska
Despite such a genre being synonymous with lauded international acts such as Deafheaven, Oathbreaker and MØL – just to name a few – the UK is home to an underground contemporary black metal scene that is awash with festering talent. Granted, our island nation may not be currently be globally renowned for it’s blackgaze scene, but that’s abound to change very soon, a fact that Hidden Mothers will make certain.
Hailing from the Steel City of Sheffield, the self described ‘snow-screamo’ unit Hidden Mothers demonstrate just how potent and powerful blackgaze can be when implemented with various other sensibilities and techniques. Amalgamating blackened extremity with the raw pain of screamo, the ethereal soundscapes of post-metal and the progressive nature of post-hardcore, Hidden Mothers harbour the necessary expertise, experimental nature and aptitude required to put the UK at the centre of the global blackgaze map. It’s something they’ve demonstrated following a succession of blighting shows with the likes of Wren, Inter Arma and Planes Mistaken For Stars, but something they’re ultimately posed to establish in concrete with their forthcoming debut EP.
Released September 18th via the blossoming Surviving Sounds Records, the approaching three-track EP is atmospheric blackened emotion at it’s most asphyxiating. Recorded at Manchester’s infamous No Studio alongside Joe Clayton (Pijn, Leeched) and mastered by Scott Middleton of Cancer Bats, the record encapsulates human pain, ethereal majesty and unexpected left-field artistry in a fashion haplessly enthralling. It’s also a record that harshly forgoes the more stereotypical negative attributes of black metal, substuting such toxic traits with inclusivity, homegrown prowess and a willingness to embrace sensibilities outside the extreme metal circles. Whilst fans of artists such as Deafheaven, Envy, Birds In Row, Earth Moves, Curse These Metal Hands and even Black Peaks will find themselves immediately at home within the frostbitten hands of this band, Hidden Mothers also establish their own deeply personal identity with the release.
With the record now days away from dropping and being able to be experienced first hand, we got in touch bassist Liam Knowles to find out more about their ethos, the release and what’s going on behind the curtain.
For those new to Hidden Mothers, how would you briefly describe yourselves?
Liam: Loosely I'd say we're a blackened post-metal band with elements of classic screamo and post-hardcore. High pitched screams, lots of reverb, funny timings, naughty riffs. We try to create an emotionally heavy atmosphere and hopefully we've succeeded in that with this release.
You’re on the cusp of releasing your debut self-titled EP, how are you feeling about the release?
Liam: Really excited! It's been ready since February so it feels good to finally be able to get it out there. This is our first proper release and our opportunity to properly plant our flag as a functioning part of the UK alternative scene. We're really proud of what we've created, and we're particularly excited about having a vinyl record as that's something none of us have managed to do before in previous bands. We're genuinely blown away by how many people have pre-ordered it, and we can't wait for you all to see the finished product. Everyone involved has worked super hard to make it as special as possible. The only negative thing about the release really is that we can't properly tour it like we would have liked to, but there will be plenty of time to do that when the world is back to normal.
The EP follows on from your first single, which was released last year. In retrospective, what was the release of the track like?
Liam: Honestly, crazy. We wrote 'The Longest Journey Yet' in our first practice when some of us were meeting for the first time, so it really was the first breath of this band. To have people respond to it in the way that they did, and to get the gig opportunities that we did off the back of it, like shows with Inter Arma, Coilguns and Planes Mistaken For Stars, I don't think any of us could have predicted that. We sold three full batches of t-shirts in about 6 months with only that song available to people, which is mental really. We're incredibly grateful to everyone who decided that we were a band worth supporting based on just that one song. We feel that this new release exceeds the standards that we had set for ourselves, so hopefully the people who have been with us since the first single will agree!
The release was recorded at No Studio, produced by Joe Clayton and mastered by Scott Middleton. What was it like recording with such in-demand and renowned specialists? Liam: When we were deciding who to use to record the first single, choosing to work with Joe was a super easy decision. Most of us had been fans of his work for a long time and I had worked with him before in a previous band so we knew what he was capable of. The Ithaca album had not long come out when we were thinking about recording and we loved the way that record sounds like it could fall apart under the weight of itself at any moment, so we made the call pretty quickly to work with him. He did such a good job of the single that it was a no-brainer to go back to him for the EP, but this time we had a much clearer idea of our overall sound because we'd been doing live shows by this point, including one with Joe's band Pijn, so we all worked together to create something much heavier than the single that properly reflected our more metallic live sound. He really knows how to get the best out of you in the studio and gets you to look at your songs from angles you might not have considered without his input.
As for Scott, he and I have been friends for a long time so he dropped me a message saying he'd like to master the record and although Katie Tavini did a cracking job mastering the single, we thought it would be cool to work with him as he has so much experience in heavy music, what with him being the guitarist in Cancer Bats, and we're super happy with the end result. Both of them were easy as hell to work with and I would recommend them both to anyone looking to make a heavy record.
As well as being musically ravaging, the EP is emotionally crushing. Could you expand on the lyrical themes within the EP?
Liam: This is obviously more Steffan's (Benham, vocals) wheelhouse, but the overall theme of the EP is loss. Loss of life in 'Beneath, To The Earth', loss of humanity in 'My Own Worth' and loss of love in 'My Blindness, Your Burden'. Steff is an emotive lyricist and likes to wait until the songs are pretty much finished musically before writing his parts, as he is influenced by what the music we've made makes him feel in the moment. However, I know he also likes the idea of the listener being able to take their own meaning from the songs, which is why we haven't printed our lyrics anywhere or included them with the record, because we want people to feel whatever comes naturally to them when they hear the songs rather than being guided by words on a page.
In relation, was the creation process a cathartic experience?
Liam: For Steff, I'd definitely say so. The rest of us are quite methodical in the studio but when Steff was tracking his parts you could tell he was really feeling the things he was recording and I think this comes across in his delivery on the record. When he was recording the vocals for 'My Blindness, Your Burden', which closes the record and was the absolute last thing we did in the studio, the rest of us were just on the other side of the glass with our mouths open while he did it in pretty much one harrowing take. He's a beast.
There’s post-hardcore and screamo sensibilities within the EP, something that may be unexpected for those new to your sound. What artists influenced this and how did you approach intertwining such genres?
Liam: That's something that wasn't intentional, to be honest, but those influences just naturally found their way into the songs. We all have different influences but between us we love bands like Envy, Manchester Orchestra, Deftones, Thrice, O'Brother, Fall Of Efrafa, Birds In Row, as well as some of the newer post-hardcore and screamo bands on the scene like Earth Moves, Palm Reader, Respire, We Never Learned To Live, Holy Fawn, Portrayal Of Guilt and bands like that so I guess that just came out organically when we were writing. We're not metal purists by any stretch and the five of us all like lots of different things so I suppose we were never really going to write a record that was only pulling from one genre.
What’s your thoughts on the current blackened metal scene? Do you think the more mainstream metal black genre as a whole is lacking ingenuity and originality?
Liam: There are some really great bands in the scene right now. In the UK alone we have Dawn Ray'd, Underdark, Caina, The Infernal Sea, Agvirre, Crimson Throne and loads more. Unfortunately black metal is a scene that does have a lot of purists who just want badly recorded, evil sounding bands made by dudes with long black hair who pose in the snow looking miserable, but we're not really about that life. The best bands in any genre are almost always the bands that take the genre's tropes and push them in new directions. Just look at Imperial Triumphant; they're a black metal band at their core but there's all sorts of other stuff going on there, their new album is an uncomfortable listen but that's because it constantly does unexpected things. Whether you like them or not you can't accuse them of resting on their laurels within their chosen genre. That, to me, is far closer to metal's core principle of rejecting the mainstream than most "true" black metal I've heard in recent years.
There’s been some elitist discourse online that black metal should be reserved for more traditional ideological subjects and the genre has lost its edge lately. What’s your thoughts on this?
Liam: If you genuinely care about "edge" then you're a poser, sorry, I don't make the rules. You should just make the music you want to make and if it comes out edgy and dark and "evil", fine, there's obviously a place for that, but if you're forcing it or doing it just to get people's backs up then that's really lame. Most of the so-called "traditionalists" just want to be able to carry on saying bigoted stuff like their favourite black metal bands did in the 90s, but the world has moved on and they should too. The best bands are the ones pushing the genre forward, not the gatekeepers arguing about what is and isn't "allowed" to be called black metal. Fuck NSBM in particular, we have absolutely no time for that nonsense.
Finally, what do you want listeners to experience when listening to the EP?
Liam: We want you to cry. No matter how much of a big hard metalhead you are, it's ok to cry and we're happy to soundtrack that. Go on, let it all out. Seriously though, as long as people enjoy it, we're happy. I love the idea of people getting a genuine emotional response from it, but if you just get a surface-level sense of enjoyment from it, that's fine too. Have a cry, bang your head, crack a beer and listen with friends (2 metres apart), stick it on while you're playing Call Of Duty or doing the dishes, it's up to you. Once it's out there in the world, it's as much your record as it is ours.
The debut from Hidden Mothers is released September 18th via Surviving Sounds.