Top Seven Influences – GAIA

Brighton-based prog metal quintet, GAIA, released their second single, ‘Key and the Gate’, in November 2021 and have big plans for 2022. If you haven’t heard their music, be prepared for a mystical blend of Born of Osiris with the jagged groove of Jinjer and the compositional excellence of Tesseract. “There will be light and dark, there will also be calm and manic moments. However, the underlying theme is definitely ‘groovy’,” explains guitarist and producer, Jamie Clark.

Like many British metal artists, GAIA’s chance for wider exposure came in the regional heats for the Metal 2 the Masses competition that allows winning entrants to play the legendary Bloodstock Festival. GAIA won the 2019 battle of the bands in Brighton and landed a slot on the New Blood stage as a reward. It was a highlight of their early career, but 2020 was a bitter-sweet experience with the departure of their original vocalist, Jack Woodward, and the release of their self-titled EP. Now they have a new singer in James Moffatt and a debut album in the works. “We have nine of the best tracks we have ever composed and a flow to the album we are very proud of,” says Clark. “The next stage will be artwork and final recordings. The aim is to bring our first album out in parts, staggering the release into three parts.”

Current single, ‘Key and the Gate’, is a monstrous burst of dexterous seven-string riffing and menacing vocals with a technical finesse that emphasises breathing space as much as shredding. New boy, Moffatt, gives the band a wider vocal range and a more mystical presence. It’s clear the band have come a long way since they emerged onto the UK underground scene in 2019, although ‘Key and the Gate’ has been floating around since the early days. “Our guitarist, Olly Rybaczuk, wrote the initial idea before our debut release,” says Clark. “However, we prioritised the EP, which is why this wasn’t completed until this year.”

Moffatt’s introduction into the band gave the other members a new determination to do something with the original genesis of the song. It was a slow process in assembling its different parts into a coherent sturcture, but GAIA debuted their latest single with a triumphant return to live music on 9 November 2021 at Brighton’s Komedia supporting Munro and Eyes of Nocturne. “We did a gruelling twelve-hour rehearsal before our [November] gig. Despite this journey being a bit of a roller coaster, we’re super proud with the outcome as a band and feel the hard work paid off,” enthuses Clark.

We can expect to hear a lot more from GAIA over the next twelve months. With support slots to Gruesome and Monuments under their belts and an endorsement from Tesseract’s Daniel Tompkins ringing in their ears, the Brighton five-piece know the future is theirs for the taking if they can keep up their current level of creativity and collective ambition.

SBR’s Jack von Bismarck spoke to the band about the seven biggest influences on their music. Here are their choices.

Above: Guitarist and producer, Jamie Clark, is the main composer in GAIA. He studied professional musicianship at BIMM Brighton.

7. Meshuggah

Nicholas Tappenden (Bass): Hearing the tone of Meshuggah’s Koloss album for the first time in 2013 and feeling the power and clarity of the mix was just awesome and inspiring. The bass just sits amongst the guitars, and they all mix together like they are one instrument. The playing style for ‘Key and the Gate’ was influenced by this to form an aggressive, but buoyant, technique to cut through the mix and emphasise rhythm.

6. Sikth

Olly Rybarczuk (Guitar): The first ideas for ‘Key and the Gate’ were written even before the release of GAIA’s debut EP, but the song sat in limbo for ages and was initially left unused as I had no idea where to take it after the first minute. I eventually decided to try and come up with a tapping riff in the style of Sikth to follow the main riff section by combining a major lick fretted with the left hand with a diminished lick tapped with the right hand. The aim was to create a sense of atonality and dissonance but still retain a very melodic sound, which I feel is a key part of what makes Sikth sound so unique and musical while also sounding completely chaotic.

5. HP Lovecraft

Jamie Clark (Guitar/Production): It goes without saying really, HP Lovecraft massively influenced our upcoming album. After we released our EP, I had a fair amount of material ready to be picked up and utilised, however this being the first album I have ever composed, I had to make sure there was cohesion from start to finish. Composing for GAIA is my favourite thing in the world, however my creative freedom is so vast it can be difficult to know what I want to write, so I decided to pick a theme to create some sort of framework to compose within. I am a big fan of horror as a concept – there are a handful of horror movies I really enjoy, however, my biggest problem with horror movies is the visual element. Our brain can do a much better job of scaring us without any rational stimulus, i.e., that classic moment when you see your jacket hanging from the door whilst you are trying to get to sleep – you know it’s just a jacket, but your brain tells you otherwise. This is way more powerful than any CGI devil with a voice of a little girl, so I chose my favourite form of horror, and that is cosmic horror in the written form. I found HP Lovecraft to be the perfect author for this task. The short story format made it easy to pick a story per song. It made the whole process so much easier – song titles and lyric themes were just pouring out. Plus, it goes hand in hand with our dark, progressive sound.

4. Mudvayne – (k)Now F(orever) (2000)

James Moffatt (Vocalist): I’m a big nu-metal guy, and I think its influence can be heard throughout my vocal writing. While it’s not the most technically competent singing etc., what nu-metal vocalists do really well, is use a range of different voices to convey the emotion. In terms of vocal switches, Chad Grey’s been a huge influence on me – transferring from cleans, to growls, to melodic growls to out and out screams and even rapid, rap-like vocals as well. LD 50 was arguably my first foray into proggier metal, and ‘(k)Now F(orever)’ certainly doesn’t follow a standard song structure. Ryan Martinie’s bass parts elevated Mudvayne’s songwriting to be more technical than their contemporaries. Bands like Mudvayne, Korn, Sikth, Archspire and Pain of Salvation have all fed my willingness to experiment with different voices to portray shifting emotions and moods within music.

3. Borknagar – Up North (2019)

James Moffatt: I’ve followed ICS Vortex’s work since first listening to Dimmu Borgir’s Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia. I fell in love with the quality of his voice, his ability to shift between full voice and falsetto, and the incredible harmonies on each Dimmu album with him on. The recent Arcturus and Borknagar albums also show he’s got a decent growl on him too. ‘Up North’ is probably my favourite song of the last five years. I adore the perfect mix of melodic and heavy with great progression throughout. I hope my cleans on the last two GAIA songs, ‘The Crawling Chaos’ and ‘Key and the Gate’, have at least been reminiscent of his.

2. The Contortionist – Exoplanet (2010)

Jamie Clark: This is another album which has ingrained itself into my subconscious. At the time, I was thirteen and listening to a fair amount of deathcore. The brutality drew me in, hearing those dissonant seven-string breakdowns for the first time was revolutionary! Then came along Exoplanet, that built the bridge for people like me, who wanted to have a dabble in something more than just ‘heavy’. This album has it all – breakdowns, blast beats, heavy and clean singing, ambient sections, synthesizers, and to top it off, a three-part epic to finish the album. There won’t be a piece of music I write for GAIA that’s not inspired by Vildhjarta’s Måsstaden and The Contortionist’s Exoplanet.

1. Vildhjarta – Måsstaden (2011)

Jamie Clark: The signature rhythmic insanity Vildjharta employ seems to scratch an unobtainable itch that no other band has found – this and the euphoric ambient sections dotted around the album is what found a way into my song-writing. This album encapsulates what I love about modern progressive metal – it’s heavy as anything but also has some of the most beautiful moments I have ever heard in music. But the most important thing, which Vildhjarta nailed on this album, is the flow! There isn’t a second of music that sounds out of place. As a songwriter this floats my boat massively! There isn’t anything specific on this album for me. It’s the whole piece which seems to put you in the best coma you could ever ask for.

*** GAIA self-released their latest single, ‘Key and the Gate’, on 26 November 2021. You can stream it on all major platforms.

Above: James Moffatt (far left), Jamie Clark (centre), Nick Tappenden (far right). Drummer, Jack Lowe, and co-guitarist, Olly Rybarczuk, complete the line up.