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Interview: WHILE HEAVEN WEPT
Title: Kaleidoscopic

If one hears and feels the outspoken freshness and grand vivacity of the Virginian Epic Metal ensemble, the current 25-year anniversary of the band is really hard to believe.

In fact the extremely sophisticated US-Americans are able with flying colors, to sound so unspent and youthful on the new and sixth album „Suspended At Aphelion“ as if they had the musical hunger of their life in the creative belly.

I talk with guitarist, keyboarder and singer Tom Philips as well with lead vocalist Hank Rain Irving.

How do you guys feel now, after having finished these release?

Rain: „Overall, I feel very pleased with the end product in that it, in my opinion, is our most complete work. In other ways, I feel strangely relieved. Initially during the writing stages of the record, I was having a tough time seeing it come to fruition. No fault other than my own, but this record being technically one song, I just didn't know how well it would flow thematically. In the end, I was very very happy. The story is there. The flow is there. Every note has a purpose.“

Tom: „I walked away from the studio and mastering facility feeling very good about “Suspended At Aphelion” with regards to both the performances and successful conveyance of the real emotions. I also felt that we very much achieved our goal of delivering a truly natural, organic, and dynamic record; it was very important that this one came across as clearly “human” versus “precision manufactured”. Of course, in the months since delivering the masters, in true Tom Phillips fashion, there are things I want to change in the mix, and perhaps I will for my own contentment…but all of the parts are there, without question. It’s a success in the only capacity that ever matters to us!“

Would you name the music on the new release typically While Heaven Wept?

Rain: „I can only speak for myself here, but emphatically YES. We have evolved over the years and will only continue to evolve as we will never do the same record twice. As for “Suspended At Aphelion”, there has never been a more "While Heaven Wept" album than this in my humble opinion. We may have stylistically changed over the course of our career however one thing remains constant and lends to what we call "While Heaven Wept music" and that is passion and emotion, which you can bet you will ALWAYS get from us.“

Tom: „I don’t know if we’ve really changed stylistically even honestly…it all still springs from the same wells that “Lovesongs Of The Forsaken” did…that wasn’t a “one note” release by any means…it was different for it’s time, running the gamut from classically influenced Prog Metal to very intimate acoustic passages, from spacey Kosmiche Musik influences to the melancholy of Doom…seems to me that “Suspended At Aphelion” is simply a maturation of all of that. Regardless of the varying ratios of the same influences, While Heaven Wept albums are always heavy, melodic, orchestrated, epic…they’re all love songs of the forsaken! When all is said and done, as long as it comes sincerely from the heart and soul, and maintains the qualities that I just listed, indeed, it is “While Heaven Wept music”.“

Please describe the main musical character of the new album in your own words!

Tom: „It’s heavily rooted in 20th Century and Modern Classical music more than anything else, both in terms of structure and harmonic content…it’s not riff based nor a typical verse-chorus format, rather it’s all about colors and voice leading - where the chords slowly morph into the next, where voices independently move in different directions; there’s a lot of counterpoint. This all stems directly from the song “Finality” on the “Fear Of Infinity” album without question, and is a true progression from that specific point of origin. It’s really classical music performed on electric instruments - for the most part…we do have actual strings, classical guitars, and acoustic pianos involved here too. It’s both brooding and sentimental, dark and light, very much a roller coaster of music and emotions! The most important thing again, is the sincerity…this has always been paramount to the music of While Heaven Wept, and that is one of the reasons it still sounds like While Heaven Wept.“

What's your very own personal view about the artistic spirit of the new album release?

Tom: „I think that despite the fact that it’s more “accepted” in this day and age, the art of the conceptual album is still something of an anomaly…especially now that many bands are focusing on releasing EP’s and singles, while digital consumers have the luxury of downloading the one song that resonates. We still create and release ALBUMS…this has been our modus operandi from the beginning, they are meant to be taken as a whole, not dissected into individual parts…it’s all about the journey. Additionally, the true ambition behind the album was to shun all outside influences, opinions, expectations and deliver what we were truly hearing, feeling, and wanting to hear on our own stereos…making a statement about who and what While Heaven Wept really is. We knew this would be challenging and demanding for listeners and a huge risk compared to releasing 10 “Vessels” or something, but we approached this from the perspective of being at peace with whatever we did, knowing we gave it our all, and hopefully capturing 25 years in the process - while articulating where we are today.“

Rain: „On every level, from Gustavo Sazes work, to each individuals writing, and ultimate performance, I feel as though we all gave it our best effort. Each persons contribution to the "whole" meant so much in making “Suspended At Aphelion” what it became and is. Artistic spirit? Alive and well!“

Btw: which noteworthy (small) differences to the previous album are waiting now for the curious listeners? Please tell a bit deeper about your newest material!

Rain: „The differences from the last album are many. Same as every album being vastly different from the previous record. One common sound you will always get from us , regardless of the release" is the patented "epic" sound that we are known for. Aside from the epic description, This record has to be the most audibly dynamic work that we have done. What I mean by this is that “Suspended At Aphelion” runs the gamut of many styles from black metal to classical. I've always liked our engineer’s description of this record in that he referred to it as "Black Classical" which I feel is quite fitting. Is this record somewhat of a metal "symphony"? Is it an emotional journey of the highest order? I proudly think so. Tom and I have said multiple times that "it's a lot to digest" and let me assure you it is. It is our hopes that the listener will freely embark on this journey.“

Tom: „Yeah, I mean “Suspended At Aphelion” is in many ways the antithesis to “Fear Of Infinity” which was largely stripped down, not unlike “Lovesongs Of The Forsaken”; this one is much more densely orchestrated like “Vast Oceans Lachrymose” but the atmosphere is closer to “Fear Of Infinity” in terms of both the darkness as well as the fragility, depending on which point in the journey you’re at. Again, the fact that it’s based upon harmony and counterpoint rather than riffs is actually a huge difference! “Suspended At Aphelion” definitely stands alone in the discography, yet is the obvious culmination of the epics that came before: “Thus With A Kiss I Die”, “The Furthest Shore”, and “Finality”. It actually would make a lot more sense too if we had released the OTHER new album first, as that is clearly the bridge between “Fear Of Infinity” and “Suspended At Aphelion”, however it was important to us to commemorate 25 years with a bold statement.“

Is it allowed to ask you about special musical influences which led to the new material?

Rain: „I will allow Tom to elaborate here. As for me it was simple. I sang what I felt like it needed depending on the part or section. I do feel that fans and critics alike will notice "influence" on specific parts but I can't speak to specific influences regarding my performance.“

Tom: „The thing is, the strongest influence upon “Suspended At Aphelion” musically was actually our own material that which came prior; I really hadn’t been listening to anyone else’s music - certainly not anything even remotely close to the realms we frequently tread…and basically just allowed the music to write itself. There are different aspects that - to me - stem from from all the composers I was referring to previously (Gorecki, Pärt, Kilar), as well as viking-era Bathory and Primordial to 70’s King Crimson and Rush, even 4AD artists like Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil. These are all part of our DNA though…we never intentionally “write” anything…this music has always “willed itself into existence”/has been channeled from some cosmic location.“

For what or behind which meaning exactly stands the title of these album? One can be very curiously while listening to your newest compositions…

Tom: „“Suspended At Aphelion” literally refers to being immobilized…paralyzed or trapped…at the furthest point from the sun. Of course, as with all While Heaven Wept titles, it is also metaphoric…and the sun could represent nearly any hope or ambition.“

Please tell the readers about the main content of the lyrics!

Tom: „It’s really all about the pursuit of the sun…which is going to represent different things for different people…it could something spiritual, intellectual, material, romantic…anything that is desired deeply and pursued with vigor…but something that we ultimately fail to reach, no matter how much effort, strength, faith, or hope we have. Subsequently, it’s necessary to find a way to acceptance through a maze of dark and unsettling emotions.“

Rain: „I’m certain my response here will differ from Tom’s, however, the listener is the main character. As I continue to listen to “Suspended At Aphelion”, I can't help feel that I am living the story. Granted, I do hear my voice but that has no bearing on what "character" I see in the story, but ultimately that character is me. This song will resonate with the listener ultimately and hopefully having each listener being able to identify with at least some portion of the story. As Tom has explained the story behind “Suspended At Aphelion” at nauseam, it's not too far fetched from what many people have experienced which is failure at some level, despite being equipped with "tools" or what one would need to achieve their goal.“

Tom: „I’d concur with that, even if I know what “Suspended At Aphelion” means in my personal journey - that actually makes me the listener the way Rain put it. It’s something we’ve all experienced in some capacity, but it will mean different things for different people.“

Very epic, but also pretty complex material has been created once more - how much time took the complete songwriting ?

Tom: „Musically, it was channeled in its entirety between late December 2011 and March 2012, almost identically to what you’re hearing on the final master; the only exceptions being: originally Part 4 was just the brief piano interlude, but it always felt like there was something more that needed to be say, and the remainder came via revelation mid-2013…then there was Part 10; Mark had actually completed the tracking of the album, but the original “finale” just didn’t quite have the same impact, magnitude, grandeur, and creative spark as the rest of the album…I mean the original version would’ve been a “typical” While Heaven Wept ending, and it wasn’t as if it were an afterthought…but after Mark had spiced things up rhythmically throughout the rest of the album, it seemed somewhat anticlimactic, so in the 11th hour, I spent a very brutal 36 hours tapping back into the depths of my soul, which resulted in the far more gratifying albeit labyrinthine conclusion you hear on the record. So that’s the most recent example of where While Heaven Wept “is” currently, having come in February 2014. But, like I said, otherwise “Suspended At Aphelion” came in an overflowing stream over about 3, perhaps 3 1/2 months, musically anyway.“

Rain: „Vocally speaking, the melodies took quite a while. The harmonic nature of the chord changes can often times present a problem when trying to craft melodies, however Tom and I were able to collaborate quite a bit more on “Suspended At Aphelion” than previous records leaving us in a position to successfully suss out what needed to be developed for each part and how it needed to be delivered in the studio. Once again, I'm very pleased with the end product as I feel we did exactly what was required.

Markus, I wanted to take the opportunity to share our massive appreciation for you and your readers interest in While Heaven Wept. Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to share our perspectives regarding the writing and recording of “Suspended At Aphelion”. This was a labor of love for us all and we hope you and your readers enjoy "Suspended at Aphelion".“

Tom: „Indeed! Thank you for this opportunity! Cheers!“

© Markus Eck, 08.10.2014

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