The House Of Capricorn

The House Of Capricorn are New Zealand’s leading exponents of darkly gothic end-times rock ‘n’ roll. The bands new album, In the Devils Days, is set to be unleashed on the 13th of October and it marks a huge step-forward in both sound and vision for the Auckland based outfit.

The band, comprised of Ami Holifield on bass, Michael Rothwell on drums, Scott Blomfield on guitars and Marko Pavlovic on vocals, invoked a rough and ready stoner aesthetic on their 2010 debut, Sign of the Cloven Hoof. The album was a great slice of heavy rock—flecked with metal and doom—all wrapped up in the shady textures of the Antipodes. In the Devil’s Days marks a distinct change in tone for the band, offering up a set of songs that are far more diabolical, provocative and enigmatic than those found on the bands debut. The new album redefines, at least in terms of NZ releases, the possibilities of ritualistic, occultist rock.

Delving into shadowy realms, In the Devil’s Days has an overarching narrative that tells of a journey through hell, and the dark revelations found within. It is a noteworthy release for a NZ band, both in terms of its ambitious storyline and musical excursions; no other NZ band has ever attempted to produce something as epic as this.

To say the new album is a leap-forward sonically would be a colossal understatement. It is a hugely impressive and confident release. Far more nuanced and compositionally progressive than the band’s debut, the band’s determination to infuse the album with plenty of, “graveyard doom and deathrock” whilst still maintaining that, “rowdy essence of rock n roll” is absolutely secured. As far as the harder end of the NZ musical spectrum is concerned, The House Of Capricorn are out there on their own, rockin’ about in new territories. Nobody has ever come close to realizing such an ambitious musical project in NZ. If you think any of that is hyperbole, or I’m just bit of bias towards folks from my own country, just wait to you hear the album. You’ll be as transfixed as I am. It’s that fucking good.

It was a real privilege to be able to hear the album before its release and I’m counting down the days before I can have a good old yarn with a few other folks about how great the album is. Until then, lead vocalist Marko kindly agreed to an interview to discuss the creative process leading up the album and the bands plans for the future.

The band made a stylistic shift on the new album. I’m hearing traces of proto-metal, hard rock bands from the ’70s and a newfound gothic pulse. Am I right in assuming the band has taken a few cues from occultist and post-punk bands of the past on the new album? Or am I missing the point entirely?

Ha! You’re close, my man. Sign of the Cloven Hoof’s writing phase was finished long before it was released (in fact it came almost a 2 years after we’d recorded it, and we’d had almost all of the songs finished about a year before that).  For the past few years we’ve been letting more and more overtly dark influences creep into HOC’s music (I think the last song we did for Sign was Claws of Fog… maybe I’m wrong). We have always been a massive fans of the greatest band of all time, Type O Negative, as well as fiends for good black metal like Glorior Belli, Craft, Darkthrone, Mortuus, Shining’s II, III and IV, and Mayhem’s ‘De Mysteriis…’.

All of that, along with a whole lot of religious Babylon Whores worship (on my part), and a bit of shamelessness, and you get the musical and lyrical content of In the Devil’s Days. While I don’t listen to many classic occultist or proto-punk bands, I’m sure the bands that have influenced me probably do. The gothic pulse however, you are spot on about.

In terms of aesthetic and theme, I made a conscious effort to amplify the relevance of the Devil on this album, which is why I could have probably just scrawled ‘666’ on the cover and it would have had the same conceptual relevance. But of course, we’re far too classy for that kind of behaviour. We had to go all out and put together a sigil that looks like we have our own cult.

You’ve been quite clear that you want the new album to be free of the ‘metal’ tag, why is that? It’s understandable in the sense that the album ranges well outside the boundaries of metal itself musically, but do you see the tag as to restricting for the band?

You’re absolutely correct. As you probably read in our bombastic press release, In the Devil’s Days is to be ideally considered as Apocalyptic Devil Rock (you like that one? Ha!). We all come from metal backgrounds and play/have played in metal bands. In fact we all met through the extreme metal ‘scene’ in Auckland (apart from Scott, who I met through a mutual acquaintance). When it comes to HOC being called ‘metal’, I’m probably the biggest campaigner in the band against it because I’m a bit of a snob regarding that kind of stuff.

Yes, In the Devil’s Days does have metal elements and influences (as elaborated on earlier). However, it’s got just as much goth and punk in it as well. To me, the aura of metal is getting on the waste and listening to Slayer. I mean, I know it’s finicky, and there is definitely a fine line that can be blurred, but you play HOC to any metal purist who’s been sitting in their room listening to Angelcorpse for the last 10 years (or Manowar for the last 30) and they’d scoff. Its not the restrictive element that’s the deterrent, it just doesn’t really fit with the idea and direction of the band to me. I’m not going to cry myself to sleep if someone does decide to call us metal.

So many bands that investigate occultist realms come across as gimmicky, or sometimes just plain inane. But HOC’s new album is really a conceptual masterpiece, and its overarching narrative hangs together exceptionally well. Can you explain the overall concept behind the new album? And what lead you to craft such an album?

Before we started, we sat down and decided we were going to do the next album based around a relatively loose concept. I came with the idea of pursuing something along the lines of Dante’s Inferno, but making the journey appear as a necessary one, with the Devil’s residence being the final destination point to have a chat about just what He has planned for His second coming, not to mention receiving a whole lot of enlightenment and greater knowledge of the void, the antikosmos, and his vessel the Morning Star.

Firstly, we planned out the tracks in terms of atmosphere and direction for each to reflect the tale as best as possible, then we composed the music, and then I wrote the lyrics around this story arc. I did write the lyrics reasonably vaguely hoping to allow each song to stand on its own, as we had first planned not to tell people about the concept, then we decided, “oh, who cares… this is too cool not to”.

What lead us to commit these heinous crimes of blasphemy? We all get excited about spooky stuff, and I’m considerably obsessed with these kinds of things (the Devil, Hell, imposing symbols, graveyards, and old-style lanterns in fog etc.), so it was only natural really. There were similar themes on Sign of the Cloven Hoof, but they were masked on most tracks as upbeat rowdy stoner rock.

Have you taken any time to sit back and look at the album objectively (well, as objectively as you can) because there has never been an album released by a NZ band that has such a strong vision and such a powerful story within. How do you feel about the prospect the releasing such a creative, innovative release, are you aware of what the band has done?

As you have implied, it is of course extremely hard to view your own work objectively. I don’t know about how it stands up against other releases by New Zealand bands, but I do know we definitely didn’t short-change when it came to laying on the aesthetic; making sure it was going to come out as close to what we’d envisioned as possible. Thanks though! What a bunch of nice things to say!

How’s the rest of the band feeling about the album? Everyone happy with result?

We are all very happy with the result, and completely pleased with everything (engineering, mixing, mastering and artwork. You name it, we’re stoked).

What role does NZ itself play in the albums overall aesthetic? Does the darker side of the Antipodes play a role in HOC’s sound and vision?

It does indirectly, but also it also lies at the core of the whole thing. New Zealanders (once you are around them long enough), are some of the most pessimistic people on the planet. The seething mass of tall-poppy-syndrome sympathizers is the best incarnate example. To tie in with that, we tend to have an extremely dark and backhanded sense of humour. I have no problem with exploiting this.

While we all take HOC very seriously, there is no doubt in the world that a massive amount of antagonising tongue-in-cheek humour is present in everything we do. I can probably be blamed for a good part of it (my life’s philosophy being, “If you don’t stir the pot, it sticks”. I SWEAR I made that one up).

I think on the other hand, New Zealand’s restrained humbleness is there too. We’re not the folks who lurk about telling everyone we’re the best band in the goddamn world. In relevance to that, I think the greatest realisation you can have is this; the day you realise that no one else cares about your band as much as you do—and realise that no one ever will—will be the day your band will begin striving towards true artistic merit.

Being kept in check by these key points (as well as many others) offers a good enough set of parameters for our vision. As a final point on all of that, as the great Huey Morgan once said, “I never take myself too seriously, cause everybody knows fat birds don’t fly”. Stevo from Second Gear Grind is going to love that I dropped an FLC reference.

With the album completed, and the NZ press hopefully giving it the coverage it deserves, how is the band ensuring its message is promoted internationally? Does it ever feel somewhat disheartening to be so far away from the rest of the world?

We’ve managed to hook up with a company in the states called Earsplit, whom J. from Glorior Belli put us on to, as they really liked the first record. They have been looking after a bit of digital international PR. As we’re releasing it on our own platform there isn’t a MASSIVE budget, but so far it seems like it’s been beneficial.

It isn’t disheartening being in NZ at all. We can do everything we need to from here. The only real obstacle is the arm and leg it costs to go touring anywhere other than Australia.

Any chances of international touring on the horizon for the band? Are you going to be doing plenty of shows here in NZ? 

Yeah we’ve got some plans for some international tours, but nothing is solidified just yet. It’s all just a matter of slick logistical coordination.

Regarding NZ shows, we’re not going to be doing many. We’ve got the album release show in Auckland on the 21st of October (at Whammy Bar with Arc of Ascent.. FREE ENTRY too, so people don’t have to complain about that 1.5 beers they would have spent their $10 on), then the Christchurch show at The Venue on the 28th (with Second Gear Grind, Shetland and The Lounge Vibration), and then a Halloween party show in Timaru at No.8 Wired Bar on the 29th (with SGG, Hell Comes to Frogtown and Earthsheild) which should be fantastic. COSTUME FOR THE LAST ONE IS COMPULSARY, PUNKS!!

I have to ask—because readers want to know! What’s the deal with your guest-spot on Glorior Belli’s latest release?

Ha! I’ve known J. for a while now. I’ve been in contact with him probably since their first album came out, and we’ve just chatted away for years. The other band Scott and I play in, Creeping, did a split with them at the start of the year. One day he just said to me, “Hey Marko P, you want to drop some clean vocals on a song for the new album?” GB being one of my favourite bands I had to think about it for a few days, but then in the end I reluctantly agreed.

And finally, I know you’re focus is on HOC at present, but anymore plans for another Creeping release?

Yeah Scott’s been writing some new stuff and its sounding good! No idea when it will be coming out (or when we will start recording), but we are working on some new songs. You can always download our last one Order of Snakes from any number of places on the internet. We put it up for free, so we don’t care if you swoop it up. We should be putting that one out on vinyl at some point in the near future too.

One more question. A few recommended bands. Who you digging, who should we be digging?

Babylon Whores—rowdy, dark, banging deathrock from Finland. One of the great (seemingly) forgotten bands from the late 90’s / early 00’s. One of the greatest bands of all time. One of the bands that anyone into heavy music should check out at least once. Start with, Errata Stigmata and, Sol Niger. Both songs have videos online.

Abysmal Grief, Italian horror doom, with a massive focus on keeping it creepy. Drac’d out vocals, gloomy guitar tone, harpsichords, the whole lot. Heaps of songs about rituals, graves, funerals and all that good, campy(ish) stuff we all love. Best thing to check out first would be the, Hearse 7”. Both tracks (Hearse and Borgo Pass) are online with fan-made videos, so nice and easy for all those sceptics who don’t trust my judgement.

And of course, I have to shout out the local crews. Second Gear Grind, Soulseller, Arc of Ascent, Shallow Grave, Vassafor, and Skuldom.

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(The House Of Capricorn @bandcamp)