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Keen Of The Crow

Looking back on it, the Doomination of Europe tour 2003 would turn out to be a pretty important event in my life. That evening I got to know three bands (personally anyway, I had 'Solinari' of Morgion) I always stayed in contact with: Morgion, Mourning Beloveth and The Prophecy. When I discover that a new name Keen Of The Crow includes two members of the meanwhile split San Diego doom collective Morgion, I am within the mark quite curious. 'Hyborea' – that's the name of their debut album – appeared to be a direct hit in the doom/death metal genre! Reason enough to send a number of questions overseas to inform what happened since the release of the latest Morgion album in 2004. Fortunately bassist Justin Christian remembers me of the dusty interview in the underground basement The Frontline and from the latest Morgion album. Let us have a look at all what happened in those last years…

By: Vera | Archive under doom metal

Hi Justin, we did an interview in 2004 when the Morgion album 'Cloaked By Ages, Crowned In Earth' came out. Time flies, a lot of things happened, so let's pick up the thread somewhere around that period. What happened after that release and what were the causes of the eventual Morgion split?
Hi Vera! Glad to see you're still in the game! After the last Morgion release we played the Northern Lights festival in Toronto, Canada in June 2004 and parted ways shortly thereafter. Really, it came down to differences between members as to where the band should go and what opportunities it should take or make. We were all pretty much on par musically, but couldn't agree to how active and in what scopes the band should be. We officially broke up at the end of 2004.

What was next? Did you both found a new band (Keen Of The Crow) or did you both join an existing band which finally became Keen Of The Crow?
In October 2004, Ron Slater and myself started writing music and putting ideas together for a new project. A couple months later, Rhett joined, then we got Seth Arthur a little later and finally Dan Ochoa in August 2005. It was a brand new band.

Every doom metal fan will know Morgion, but can you tell a bit more about the background of the other members: singer Dan Ochoa and guitarists Seth Arthur and Ron Slater?
Not a lot of history on the other guys, but Seth came from Phoenix, AZ and had played in different bands…he has a background in grindcore, actually. He plays a lot of acoustic, almost-folk style music…good stuff! Ron Slater has been in various projects over the years, but took a liking to doom metal some time back and is probably most known for his project Nepenthean. Dan has been in a few bands, and plays a bit of guitar, but has mostly been involved in death metal projects.

I think 'Hyborea' will appeal to every Morgion fan. Do you agree on that? Can Keen Of The Crow be seen as a kind of sequel of Morgion? (as it has the similar captivating shifts from rigorous outbursts to magnificent solemn parts)
We started Keen of the Crow with no intent to be like Morgion. Only because it is part of whom we are, and I started writing after 'Cloaked by Ages…' do the elements come into play. I agree there are dynamic elements in this band's music that may appeal to Morgion fans. I don't know if all of those fans will like 'Hyborea'. I didn't expect them to, but so far the response has been great. We mixed a lot of elements…doom, death metal, black metal, thrash, progressive, post-hardcore, etc. but all dark. I tend to simply call it “dark metal”

Who are the main composers of this band? How do you write songs?
Main composers are myself and Seth Arthur. Ronnie also writes some and Rhett writes most of the lyrics and helps us arrange some of the songs. We write in different ways…A lot comes down on one playing ideas and the group picking and choosing or modifying those parts. Probably more than I've experienced in a band before is us bringing in written material…a complete song with all its parts, or most of a song.

You first recorded a demo and then an EP 'Premonition' was launched at the world. Can you tell a bit more about these first recordings?
The EP is the demo…same name. We finished the demo December 2005 and by Summer 2006 we were signed to Grau. While we were in the process of recording 'Hyborea', we spoke with Grau about releasing the demo as an EP…with some vocals updated and re-mastering. It was released as the 'Premonition' EP in December 2006. We were originally going to re-record those songs for the full-length, but decided not to in the end.

'Hyborea' is a conceptual album with a theme (the character of Conan of Cimmeria). Of course now we want to hear as much as possible about this concept…
The concept is not new to us…Rhett used this theme in 'A Slow Succumbing' on the last Morgion record. We didn't start out deciding to do a theme album, but as the songs progressed, and the lyrics were written, Rhett proposed the idea of a concept album and we all agreed. Rhett is a fan of the books and we are fans of the movie 'Conan the Barbarian'.

How is the concept reflected in the artwork? And who is responsible for this artwork?
Kris Verwimp did the art for us (he has done many bands' album artwork, including Absu). The parchment paper effect is obvious; the snake symbols are derived from the movie, the symbol of the “snake cult”.

Now we can shine a light on the recording process. It was recorded by John Haddad, so you quit working with Mathias Schneeberger. Why? And can you tell a bit more about this particular recording process?
Simply put, we couldn't afford to work with Schneebie this time out. We recorded at Shiva Industries, home/studio of Century Media band Eyes of Fire (former members of Mindrot) with John Haddad and Matt Fisher. We started in July 2006, but had some technical difficulties, we'll say, with the process, and ultimately decided to start over in November 2006 with new songs recorded (not the ones on the EP) and finished with mixing and mastering by our vocalist, Dan, at Love Juice Labs, where he used to work. This process wasn't too different…just scheduling each person enough time to get everything they want done. We still love Schneebie's work.

It is almost impossible to pick out some favourites, but according to my feelings the album reaches a kind of summit around the triptych 'The Eye Of The Serpent', 'To Reach Emptiness' and 'Burning Away'. Can you tell a bit more about this part of the album or its particular songs?
I appreciate your opinion. 'The Eye of the Serpent' comes from the snake symbol in the movie, again. It was the last thing I recorded…we based the melody off of a scene in “Conan the Barbarian” when they climb over the tower and down into the snake pit. We made our own version, and recorded only as bass and keyboard, so it has a functional, yet minimal feeling. 'To Reach Emptiness' is a more upbeat song…kind of a galloping Iron Maiden verse riff, then the middle Candlemass-like riff that I've had for years. I love Dan's singing there…reminds me of Green Carnation for some reason. 'Burning Away' is way more doom…Seth and Ronnie wrote that…reminds me of Mourning Beloveth. The album wasn't really broken into sections for feeling…just a flow, really.

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What about live gigs? Did you play some gigs you want to tell anything about here? What were highlights until now?
We've been playing a lot since we started…a West Coast US tour in October 2005 with Ludicra, Grey and Aldebaren…all great bands! An East Coast US tour in May 2006 with Shroud of Bereavement, Loss, and Godless Rising (ex-Vital Remains)…all great bands, In between we played a lot of shows in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Phoenix with Rigor Mortis (a great experience from being a fan as a kid), Avenger of Blood, Katatonia/Moonspell/Daylight Dies, and others.

Are there plans for gigs or hopefully a tour in the near future?
We hope so, but no formal plans yet. We were talking to Saturnus, Pantheist and Draconian, but no real arrangements.

You signed a deal with Monoment Booking for Europe. Can we expect you in Europe soon?
I sure hope so…can't wait to get back there!

There is a lot of variety in vocals as well. Is Dan Ochoa in charge for grunts as well as clean vocals or did he get some help of some of you?
Yeah, we wanted him to do different things for the music. He does all the vocals…no help from us, who can't sing at all... ha ha. He did have some vocal training before the album…it helped out a lot.

Another important item is finding a label. You are signed by the German Grau label now (a label that releases excellent records!!!) How did you get in contact with them and what are the expectations?
We knew Grau from being in Morgion. They approached us when we played in Rotterdam, Holland on the Doomination of Europe 2003 tour. They were one of the labels interested in Keen Of The Crow, and that we were interested in talking to, so really it just went from there. Our only expectations are that they release our music and distribute it as well as possible. It's pretty simple with us; really…we're not looking to make a lot of money.

Mourning Beloveth is on Grau as well. Are you still in contact with them and with The Prophecy? (remember the Doomination of Europe tour hehe )
Oh yeah, those friendships will never die…we love and support both those bands!

I think you would fit perfectly in a package with Novembers Doom. Do you know them?
Yes, we have known them over the years…they came to our show outside Chicago in May 2006. Nice guys. We were going to tour with them on the West Coast US later in 2006, but they had to pull out for other commitments.

Keen Of The Crow is a special name for a band. Any reasons or remarks you want to tell us about this choice?
I just named one of the first songs that when we started in late 2004. I liked the definition of “keen” – a mournful lament. The alliteration of “crow” sounded nice, and the symbolism of this creature calling you for your transition into the next realm, or death, fitted our music well, so that became the band's name. It's unique, I agree. I just wish it was easier to understand when you tell someone verbally…”No, not king…Keen!” Funny story…our first gig on the October 2005 tour, in Seattle, backstage they had listed us as “Keen of the Cow”. Since then, the joke names haven't stopped.

Is there a reason why the album is called 'Hyborea'?
It comes from the Conan books and movie…I believe 'Hyborea' is the time in which the story was set. Rhett's the expert on that topic...ha ha

Is anyone of you involved in other bands or projects or another segment of “art”?
Yes, Rhett has gotten his thrash band Gravehill back together, Ronnie and Seth have other doom-style projects, and I have started on some new bands (too early for me to say much).

What are the plans for the near future?
Stay away from each other for a little bit…ha ha! We're just busy with our other music and we'll see what we decide to do next.

Last words are for you guys, to wake up the European doom metal fans again!...
Are they asleep!? Well, we love it there, and we love the music there, and we hope to see some familiar and friendly faces there soon!

I hope to welcome you on European soil again and wish you all the best.
Thank you, Vera! We appreciate your continued support and kindness. I am really happy if one person loves this album (sounds corny, but I mean it). So…we can crash at your house when we come? ha ha

You bet! Cheers!

Plans for the near future? Stay away from each other for a little bit? Well, I visited the website when writing this interview and got a moment of consternation. It says that Dan Ochoa, Seth Arthur and Ron Slater have left the band. RIP Keen Of The Crow. Now already? They have only just begun! Well, not really, they are together since 2004, but it probably means that 'Hyborea' will remain the only tangible evidence of their existence. Though as you can read, maybe things will take a turn and the band will come together again. Let's hope! And otherwise we have to wait for new musical challenges of these accomplished musicians. Thumbs up!

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