London metal trio, Urne, are ready to rip your face off with a blaze of filthy drop-tuned thrash riffs and screaming vocals. Drawing on the razor-sharp rhythms of vintage Metallica, the progressive hallucinations of Mastodon and the aesthetics of sludge metal, the UK hopefuls are the hottest band around right now.
One listen to their debut record, Serpent & Spirit, is enough to convince you that the future of British metal is in safe hands with these boys. If you haven’t heard them before, that’s understandable. A solitary EP in 2018 gained a modicum of attention with a guest vocal from Josh Middleton of Sylosis, but things only moved to the next level when the initial recording of Serpent & Spirit caught the attention of Candlelight Records last year.
Now the trio of Joe Nally (vocals/bass), Angus Neyra (guitars) and Richard Harris (drums) have arrived, and they’re happy to indulge your wildest heavy metal fantasies with some of the dirtiest grooves, heaviest head-banging rhythms and hardcore vocals you’ll hear all year. It’s a dark journey that peers into the mind of a man losing contact with reality and falling into anxiety, but it’s also a masterpiece in restrained virtuosity. Urne have the chops and the song writing ability to go far. Just how far is anyone’s guess right now, but the band are adamant this is only the beginning.
We spoke to the trio to find out more about the debut record that looks destined to grace the top reaches of the album of the year polls at the end of 2021.
Let’s start with the early supporters of Urne. Josh Middleton of Sylosis and Architects produced your debut EP in 2018 and contributed guest vocals; Craig Reynolds of Stray from the Path engineered the drums on the same release; you also work with James Montieth of Tesseract, whose PR company handle your media affairs. How did you get to know these people before you formed Urne?
Joe Nally (Vocals/bass): Well Josh is someone that we knew from my original band with Angus called Chapters. Josh loved that band and took us out on tour a number of times.
Craig, he took Chapters out on our first ever tour back when he was in Viatrophy.
James, I knew a bit back in the day, but I haven’t seen him for years. But he works for the PR team that Spinefarm/Candlelight use, and he loves metal. Worked out well.
Tell us how your deal with Candlelight/Spinefarm Records materialised.
Joe: Ha, well, I was sat at home on a Sunday night and we got the first rough mix back. I posted a picture of us in studio, saying how proud I am with what we’ve done. I then get a text from Darren from Candlelight/Spinefarm asking to hear some. So, obviously, a panic set in and we weren’t sure what song to send. We settled on ‘Desolate Heart’, and I think got a call back about 5-10 minutes later saying he wants it and wants to hear more.
Two days later, I’m on a call with him and Joan from the New York office. I think the big draw was working with Darren, as he is someone we know and respect. Me and Rich have always had a good relationship with him, so it really helped.
Turning to your debut record, Serpent & Spirit… Wow! At what point did you realise you had an instant classic on your hands?
Joe: Haha. Thank you, but that moment hasn’t come yet. I think we were aware it was good and maybe if a bigger band released it people might be saying that… But for now, we are content knowing we done the best we could do but already looking ahead to the next. I think I speak for the rest of the guys, but this band is still in first gear, and now with momentum and confidence with us, I think the next one will be the best one.
The listener can identify a wide range of metal influences on your debut album. How wide of the mark would it be to describe Serpent & Spirit as the sludge metal version of Metallica’s …And Justice for All?
Joe: Honestly. I think that’s in the ballpark. And Justice might be my favourite Metallica album (it changes a lot), and they took risks on that, and I know it caught people off guard. But as time went on, the power of that album grew. I feel like that’s what might happen with Serpent.
I know our album has caught people off guard as so many people had never heard of this band and coming up with an album like this as a debut, well, it seems to have caught people’s attention.
Angus Neyra (Guitars): We’d never sought out comparisons like this when writing the record; we just wanted to have songs that were fun and exciting for us to play. So, to have Serpent & Spirit be described as that is a huge compliment.
The lyrics on Serpent & Spirit appear to talk about transcending the human world and the sensation of being on the precipice of life and death. Tell us more about what events influenced the dark existential themes of this record.
Joe: Honestly, I look back at that time, a brief time in my life, and it feels so small compared to what has happened to my life and the world since. It was just me letting things get on top of me, and before I knew it, I was caught up in a lot of stress and worry.
But luckily a good friend had a chat with me and sort of told me off and to go sort myself out. It was much needed, and it shows how important it is to talk and talk to others.
We hear a definite hardcore influence in the noise and rage of your music. How accurate is this observation?
Joe: I guess it is but only because of my voice. A lot of current metal singers all seem to do the same technique and aim for the same tone. That’s all fine and great – tons of great vocalists do it, but I have a very loud ‘shout’ and it’s very raw. I guess that’s what might tie it to hardcore.
But I grew up a metal guy and joined a hardcore band (Hang The Bastard), but at that time they were dipping more into metal.
Yes, your vocals jump from the hardcore belting technique to emotive tenor choruses. How did you learn to master these styles, and who were your influences when you started out as a singer/screamer?
Joe: Oh, I definitely haven’t mastered the clean vocals but thank you, ha! I need to keep working at that for sure, and I aim to get better each record. Shouting vocals… I just use to shout at football/gigs when younger, and it went from there really, ha. I’ve never taken lessons, and I think I should do, certainly for clean singing.
But for singing, my influences are Sam Cooke, Dennis Edwards, Levi Stubbs and I’d say Glenn Hughes. Now, I clearly don’t sound anything like any of those, but they are the guys I listen to the most, and I try and take little bits from each. And with screaming, I’d say Jesse Leach on the first two Killswitch Engage albums. There’s a rawness and passion that struck a code with me when I was younger, and it’s stayed with me since. Those first two records are perfect for me.
Turning to some of the songs on Serpent & Spirit. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this album is guessing what’s in your record collection. What are your thoughts on these observations?
‘Moon & Sky’ – This has a ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ vibe
‘Memorial – Sing Me to Rest’ – Takes Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Hurt’ as emotional inspiration
‘A Tomb So Frail’ – The intro is your ode to Metallica’s ‘The Call of the Ktulu’
Joe: ‘Moon & Sky’ to me, certainly the main riff, is Danzig’s ‘Mother’ mixed with Slayer’s ‘Raining Blood’ but slowed down.
‘Memorial – Sing Me to Rest’… I’ve read that a few times actually, and that’s amazing to read, and we’ve also seen Deftones mentioned, but I can say it’s not from them. Lyrically, it’s based on an old Irish Funeral poem.
‘A Tomb So Frail’… Now, the intro is something I wrote maybe thirteen years ago, and it’s due to my love of old classic westerns. The ending is also a tribute to early Machine Head, but, in between, maybe Angus and Rich can fill in the blanks.
Angus: Loving these observations! Here’s my take on these tracks:
‘Moon & Sky’: Growing up on Randy Rhoads and Jake E. Lee era Ozzy, the tempo change around the middle of the track onwards was my take on a modern tribute to those guitarists.
‘Memorial – Sing Me to Rest’: I didn’t draw from much here; I was playing around with chords and just wanted a sorrowful kind of tone of song, which hopefully we achieved with this track.
‘A Tomb So Frail’: When coming up with track ideas, I’d pictured a black metal thrash song as one of them, mixed with some discordant elements in sections. Some of the riffs I’d been sitting on for a while, but when piecing the track together, I imagined if Death Angel and Dysrhythmia did a side project together.
Taking the studio sound to the live stage is always a challenge. What must you do to ensure your music sounds as heavy and as crisp in a live setting?
Joe: Well we run two guitar cabs for Angus. That is a massive help as we are only a three piece. Also having a good knowledge and comfort with the gear we use. And the main thing is practice – we just have to keep on top of it all. We all worked so hard to improve over the last two years, that we can’t let ourselves slip.
What guitar tuning(s) did you use on this record?
Angus: Since Urne have started, we’ve always been in a Drop C tuning, and to make sure the strings still play and sound tight, I use D’addario 12-60s.
Following on from that, let’s discuss the shredding solo on ‘Memorial’. What were your aims when you composed this majestic piece of lead guitar?
Angus: Thank you, glad to hear you dig the solos! With all the solos on this record, I wanted to make sure there were a variety of different styles and show the range of playing we’re capable of, so with ‘Memorial’ it was an especially good opportunity to show this. All my favourite solos from other guitarists are memorable to me because either the licks are so catchy that you can hum along or air guitar to, or they shred but in a clever way, theory wise. I wanted to follow suit, and hopefully have solos that get others into picking up a guitar. I also love a solo that can key-change out of nowhere, haha.
How much do you think having a deal with Candlelight/Spinefarm Records will open the door to you playing the larger festivals and bigger support shows around Europe and North America once the world moves on from Covid-19?
Joe: Oh, we’ve already noticed a difference. Before the album came out, it felt like nothing was coming our way anytime soon, but since then things have really stepped up. It always helps having a great booking agent on our side. We can’t wait to announce more stuff.
Angus: It feels great to be a part of Candlelight/Spinefarm, as well as having a team who believe in what we do. We’ve got some exciting things coming up and can’t wait to get on tour and play these tracks live.
Final question: Serpent & Spirit is a definite contender for metal album of the year. But what are your picks of 2021 so far?
Joe: Right, I’m the worst at listening to newer music. I’m stuck in the 60/70/80s, but Rich is the guy for this. He is on the pulse of what’s good in metal.
Angus: Tribulation – When the Gloom Becomes Sound; Genghis Tron – Dream Weapon; and Black Midi – Cavalcade are a few of my picks of 2021 so far!
Richard Harris (Drums): Top 3 picks of the year so far:
Ruins of Beverast – The Thule Grimoires
Djevel – Tanker Som Rir Natten
At the Gates – The Nightmare of Being
Honourable mention to Lunas Call’s Void, which I discovered this year when re-released by Listenable Records.
*** Urne released Serpent & Spirit via Candlelight Records/Spinefarm Records UK on 25 June 2021. You can read the original SBR review here.