While Heaven Wept
While Heaven Wept is an epic doom metal band from the USA. Their latest release – Of Empires Forlorn – was released not a long time ago. The classic doom metal riffs, massive orchestrations and the majestic vocals make this album a masterpiece. If you are a (doom) metal fan, but you haven’t heard yet their music, go and pick up a While Heaven Wept CD and then read this fine chat with WHW’s key figure Tom Philips.
Greetings Tom! How are you these days? How’s life in the USA right now?
Hi Robert! I’m doing well, thanks for asking. Things seem to be ok here in the USA, but to be honest I don’t really pay much attention to what’s going on here – too busy working my ass off and when I’m not, I’m drinking and battling for metal! We practice now and then too (laughing)!
I know WHW has a very long history and you had probably told it a thousand times before, so I don’t want to bore you, but maybe you could summarize the most important stages of WHW from the earliest period to the present days.
How about something of a timeline?
1989 – band formed under the name Dream Wytch
1991 – While Heaven Wept insurrected as permanent moniker
1994 – “Into The Wells Of Sorrow” 7”, “Lovesongs Of The Forsaken” demo released
1995 – “Lovesongs Of The Forsaken” MCD released
1997 – split 7” with Cold Mourning released
1998 – “Sorrow Of The Angels” CD released
1999 – most of the current line-up came together
2002 – “Chapter One: 1989-1999” 2LP, “The Drowning Years” 7” released
2003 – “Of Empires Forlorn” CD released, WHW signs with Rage Of Achilles records
2004 – Touring Europe and the US, then recording again!
Our full bio is available on our website www.whileheavenwept.net
You are the only one member of the early line-up and during the years you have worked with no less then 65 people. What do you think is the reason that WHW had so many line-up changes? Do you think you are a difficult person to work with?
The band started when I was barely 15 years old, so a lot of the early members simply moved on to other things (college, work, starting families, other bands) and the same could be said for the college years. Admittedly in the early days, my vision was so strong that I wasn’t always the easiest person to work with, and of course as with most bands, everyone wants to express themselves, which is understandable…
I just had a specific mission (the need for catharsis) so it was either my way or the highway. Also there were a lot of instances back then where some of the members improved as musicians, while others did not, and you can’t always keep people in the band just because their your mates (if you’re trying to accomplish more than jamming in the garage).
For the last decade or so, I’ve “borrowed” lots of members from other bands, but eventually they tend to gravitate back to their primary gig, so that has more to do with the ongoing changes than anything else. WHW is much more democratic than in the past, and I’ve certainly learned a lot about making a line-up work!
What is the present line-up of the band? Do you think that this line-up will last more then the previous ones?
The current line-up consists of:
Jason Gray – Drums (ex-Forty Days Longing)
Jim Hunter – Bass (Revelation, Twisted Tower Dire, October 31)
Michelle Loose – Keyboards (Brave)
Scott Loose – Guitar (Brave)
Myself – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals (Solstice, ex-Brave, ex-TTD, ex-GBK)
Apart from Jason, this line-up has been intact since 1999, so we’re doing pretty well so far (in WHW terms)!
Could you tell me about your musical background? Who were your early influences, how did you get in contact with metal music and doom metal in general?
I started playing guitar when I was 9, and I do come from a fairly musical family. My earliest inspirations were Journey, Rush, and Iron Maiden, but I didn’t start playing until after the Steeler album (with Yngwie Malmsteen).
From about age 6 on, I was listening to a lot of NWOBHM, and my tastes continued to get more extreme with the advent of thrash, death metal, and grindcore even, but for my own music I always stuck to my roots for the most part.
My first real contact with doom would probably be Trouble, but Candlemass had a bigger impact for sure. Of course I listened to Sabbath and Witchfinder General too, but there really wasn’t much in the way of doom when WHW formed, and we didn’t set out to be doom specifically – the music just came out the way it did, and we had more in common with that style than anything else.
The main influences on WHW were (and are) John Arch era Fates Warning, early Queensryche, Rush, Candlemass, Black Sabbath, Trouble, early Slayer, Coroner, Celtic Frost, Bathory, Manowar, Kitaro, and various classical music composers.
Do you write all the music for WHW, or the other band mates are involved too in the writing of the songs?
So far I’ve composed all of the music for WHW apart from the opening sequence of “The Mourning,” which co-founder Chris Galvan came up with, and the B-side of our first 7” “Shores Of Desolation” was essentially based on a song our first drummer Jim Chappell wrote for our previous band Polaris.
I encourage everyone to bring ideas to the band, but most of their material ends up being used for their primary bands. Everyone does make suggestions for the arrangements, and we try out all the ideas, but to date, no one else has actually composed something for WHW aside from the aforementioned songs.
Although WHW was formed in 1989, you released only two full-length albums (and a lot of singles, compilations of course). Why is that so? It takes you that much time arranging and writing the songs?
The music of WHW is strictly composed via revelations spawned from emotional catalysts. I never sit down to forcibly write a song, so they come when they do.
There is probably two album’s worth of unreleased material that may or may not see the light of day, but I suppose that is still a bit thin compared to bands that churn out albums every year. At least we never release anything that isn’t passionately inspired and honest – there is nothing more dismal than albums of filler material.
I know you were involved in the band Brave (Arise From Thorns originally). Tell me about your work with this band! Why did you quit with this band?
Well Arise From Thorns was really Scott and Michelle’s band. WHW shared their rehearsal space in 1999, and I’d always enjoyed their music, so I got involved with that project that summer, first as a helping hand (ear) in the studio and as an arranger, then as a guitarist for the subsequent live shows.
When we started writing new music together, it was clear that it was a different entity, so we formed Brave out of the AFT framework. I wrote about 50% of the material on the debut MCD “Waist Deep In Dark Waters,” and contributed quite a bit to the other 2 songs. That really was a high point for all of us, and it was difficult to determine what was to come next afterwards, because we had a conflict of musical interests within the group at that time.
It took a few months to find our way, but by then my personal problems distanced me from the rest of the band, and I wasn’t feeling very inspired to work on Brave material at that time (which is when the need for WHW took precedence). I helped write a couple songs that ended up on their debut full-length “Searching For The Sun,” but we already parted ways on somewhat bad terms in April 2001.
Fortunately, everything is more or less resolved now, and “bridges have been rebuilt.” Of course, Brave is still Scott and Michelle’s main band, and we’ll be touring together later this year. It’s likely that someday the original line-up will regroup to record some “lost” songs.
You chose such a great name for your band: While Heaven Wept. What’s the story, or philosophy behind the name?
As with our lyrics, the name has multiple meanings. Primarily, it refers to rain, which is a metaphor for tears, but what a lot of people don’t know is it also refers to images similar to the lyrics of Slayer’s “Raining Blood” (there is an underlying concept woven throughout our releases, so you can take things literally or look deeper into the lyrics).
WHW is a very personal name because it refers to the events that took place on a specific day, related in the lyrics of the song “Sorrow Of The Angels:” Heaven weeps with my sorrow through the clouds veil of black lace, and infinity of angels share the tear streams I pour away. In the storms of sadness, I’ll eternally remain; love is lost forever you are mourned by this rain…forever weeping.
Empires meant to be released on Miskatonic Foundation, but in the end it came out on Eibon Records. Why is that so?
Originally we were going to release a 4 song EP on The Miskatonic Foundation, which would have included the songs “The Drowning Years,” “Of Empires Forlorn,” “Voice In The Wind,” and “In Aeturnum,” but Rich kept encouraging us to include more new material, which we managed to sort out, however he later decided he didn’t want to release something with old songs on it, which didn’t agree with my personal vision for the release.
Mauro at Eibon completely understood and supported my ambitions, so we ended up developing another agreement with him. Obviously there are no hard feelings between Rich and I; it was just a difference of opinion.
The harsh vocals in the song “Empires Forlorn’ surprised me a little, yet they are really great and I would love to hear more vocals like that on your next releases. Are you planning to introduce more grim vocals in the future?
I have no problem incorporating more aggressive vocals when they are appropriate, but generally there aren’t many places in our songs for that kind of thing.
I used to do all death/black vocals in 1991 when I first started doing the vocals, but abandoned them and returned to the clean vocals we started with (when Brendan Galvan sang for us), primarily because the growling tends to obscure the true emotion of the songs. Plus we’re not a slow death metal band like MDB or shit like that.
The CD covers of WHW are dealing with themes like falling of angels, divinity and so on…Do you believe in the existence of a supreme being? How do you see religions? I mean not just Christianity, but the other religions too.
The use of religious imagery on our covers and in our lyrics is strictly metaphorical; we are not a religious band. The fall from heaven represents the loss of innocence and bliss, and I assume the role of Lucifer in many of the songs, as he was the one cast out.
Of course this probably isn’t obvious in the lyrics because I’ve never stated it so plainly, but if you go back and read them with this in mind, you’ll see that there is more than one way to interpret them. As for my personal beliefs, I do not adhere to any doctrines of faith - I simply follow my heart and rely on my conscience.
My religion is music, my gods are Beethoven, Bach, Wagner, Jimi Hendrix, (etc.), but I don’t care what anyone else chooses to invest their faith in. Whatever makes them feel better is fine by me - just don’t preach to me.
The lyrics are pretty depressed. Are you a depressed person or you are just writing such lyrics when you're on low frequency?
At the moment, and as of late I’m not particularly depressed. I learned a lot about the concept of acceptance a few years back, and that had a big impact on the way I handle things. There was a time though that I was perpetually depressed and suicidal – for the better part of the 90’s really, and that is reflected in all of the older releases lyrics and music.
There were a few events that led to the lyrics on ”Of Empires Forlorn” which are just as bleak, but they did provide quite the catharsis. Since the recording of the album, I’ve been in a pretty good mood, so who knows what lyrics will come in the future. The bottom line is they are all real and brutally honest, and that is something that will never change.
Death is a topic that appears in many of the lyrics. How do you see death? Are you afraid of dying? What do you think is happening after we die? Do you believe in any kind of afterlife?
I view death as the absence of pain...the end of suffering. I’m not particularly scared of dying; it’s an inevitability...I just hope I’ll be able to complete a few things before my time comes. I don’t speculate much on what happens post mortem, all I know is flesh dissolves and we rot to the bone. It would be nice if there was more to it than that!
I know that “stoner doom” is definitely not your favorite music. I’ve also heard that you were a little bit pissed off at the Stoner Hands Of Doom festival, because Spirit Caravan played a very long set just before you so you were forced to play a shorter set. How was it exactly?
I generally don’t like much of anything that isn’t pure doom, as far as when I’m listening to doom. Slow death metal, gothic, or stoner, its all bollocks to me. As for Stoner Hands Of Doom, quite frankly it was a mistake to even consider playing there.
Apart from Revelation, Las Cruces, and Trouble there were no Doom bands there…mostly stoner rock crap that has nothing in common with our music. Needless to say, things were running fine until a massive deluge ended the outdoor half of the event, forcing the remaining bands to reconvene at the venue booked for the evening portion. This whole transition was managed really poorly…it wasn’t Spirit Caravan’s fault; the stage manager got drunk and fucked off, so SC just kept on playing, forcing all the bands to abbreviate their sets afterwards.
We were told to cut our set short (after listening to an annoying Kyuss clone who droned the same riff for 15 minutes), use someone else’s drums (which we refused), but we were willing to accommodate Rob to a reasonable extent anyways. The final straw was when the sound engineer told us to start playing or get off the stage, when we hadn’t even finished tuning!
By that point I was livid, and the material we were playing at the time was impossible to play enraged. So I said fuck it; we played 2 songs and walked off. Mind you that was still about 25-30 minutes, but I couldn’t handle anymore. It was bullshit. Admittedly, I could have handled things more professionally, but after busting my ass to promote this event for months, I wasn’t too cool about WHW getting fucked over because of some other people’s mistakes.
Originally I was quite pissed off at Rob Levy who organized the event, but later I found out that it wasn’t his fault and I apologized for my misdirected anger. He worked a lot harder on the fest to make it happen than I did, and he deserves props, not angst. But that stage manager needs a beating. (laughs)
And what do you think of Wino and his bands?
I respect Wino a lot as a guitarist, musician, and person, but I’m not really a fan of his music apart from some early Obsessed (circa “Sodden Jackal”). Haven’t heard Hidden Hand yet though. He did some killer songs with Vitus, but I prefer the Scott Reagers releases by far…that guy was just so unique and charismatic.
I will say that I’d rather listen to Wino himself as opposed to these shitty bands that copy his work almost identically. I’m happy for all the attention Wino’s getting because of Probot as of late, as he’s a local and also if anyone deserves some props, it’s him. He’s a veteran and it’s about damn time he got some credit for his endeavors (in the mainstream). Personally, I’d rather listen to Pentagram or even Place Of Skulls.
Tom, what do you think is the true essence of doom metal? What makes a band doom?
Well its not frilly black shirts, candles, slow death metal, and a glass of wine! For me it’s all about the sincerity of emotion, the mood, and the conviction. Whether dark and sinister or painful and brooding, there has to be real feelings behind it. Bands that play doom for the sake of doom are the epitome of falsehood in my opinion. It’s like playing black metal and going to church on Sundays.
The intro and opening riffs of the first Black Sabbath album, or something like King Crimson’s “Epitaph” or “In The Wake Of Poseidon” best define true doom. To me bands like Paradise Lost or MDB have very little to do with doom apart from the lyrics and the occasional somber melody; if you took away the violins, female vocals, and other trimmings, all you have is slow death metal.
The essence of true doom is woven into the music itself, and without anguished melodies and riffs of painful conviction, it isn’t pure. I don’t care if it’s a slow death metal band or a Hellhound band…without heart, it isn’t true…it’s just there.
Hell, I don’t even consider WHW true doom anymore…”Of Empires Forlorn” is not a true doom album like Reverend Bizarre’s “Harbinger Of Metal;” both of these albums are real in their convictions and emotions, but WHW isn’t pure doom in a musical sense.
I know you have a very diversified taste in music and you are listening to almost everything. I think that the more a musician listens to diversified kinds of music, the more his music becomes more colorful. Do you agree?
Absolutely – the more colors a painter has to work, the greater the possibilities of expression…capturing microcosmic events, feelings, and expressions, and the same is true of the musician.
I think it’s a shame when a musician is close-minded because that ultimately is a limitation, creating boundaries for expression. It’s one thing to have strong opinions, but it’s another thing altogether to limit yourself…
I even listen to bands I don’t like occasionally just because it inspires me to compose even further in the opposite direction! The only music I do not listen to at all is plastic, pre-fabricated music (be it pop, metal, or otherwise), rap, and gospel. Oh yeah also no drone either as that is just cacophonous noise that a chimpanzee could as easily create. But one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Like religion, people can express themselves however they choose, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to waste my time listening to it.
What was the first album you ever bought?
I got two simultaneously: Journey “Infinity” and Kiss “Dynasty” in 1980, followed soon after by Rush “Fly By Night” and “Caress Of Steel.”
And what was your last album?
Well I picked up the new Doomsword, 3 Cirith Ungol re-masters (the vinyls are getting worn out here!), and Manilla Road “Spiral Castle” at the same time, but I always get new things in the mail like the Orodruin/Reverend Bizarre split and the Woods Of Ypres demo most recently.
And which are the most favorite albums of yours? Give me 10 titles.
There will have to be a few ties! I have 7000+ CD’s! But here goes:
Journey – everything between 1974-1996, fuck the post-Steve Perry era
Rush – “A Farewell To Kings,” “Hemispheres,” “Permanent Waves”
Devin Townsend – “Ocean Machine,” “Terria,” “Accelerated Evolution”
Arcturus – “La Masquerade Infernale,” “The Sham Mirrors”
Fates Warning – all but especially, ”Spectre Within” and “Awaken The Guardian”
Cirith Ungol – “Frost And Fire/King Of The Dead”
Manowar – “Into Glory Ride,” “Hail To England”
Slayer – everything through “Seasons Of The Abyss”
Queensryche – everything through “Promised Land”
Immortal – all except “Blizzard Beasts”
There are probably tons of classical, progressive and symphonic albums I could include too, but these still get played regularly on my stereo. “No doom?” you ask? Only a few classics and a few of my colleagues’ latest releases get played at all.
What do you think of the re-union of classic doom bands like Candlemass, or Trouble? Have you heard the Krux album?
I think its great to have them back as a fan – I saw them both together last year, and Trouble totally blew me away. They were even better than before. Candlemass put on a great show too, but it’s a bit hard to follow Trouble!
I’m curious to hear some new material from both bands, but I have the feeling that some of the newer bands have more to offer – I could be wrong and I hope I am.
As for Krux, I have the album, and I think the production is storming but the songs are rather uninspired. (shrugs) It’s still better than most of the Hellhound discography (apart from Revelation and Count Raven)!
Are you following with attention what is happening in the (doom) metal scene? Which are the bands, albums that you enjoyed in the last years? Who do you think are the innovating bands in the doom metal genre these days?
I keep up on the doom scene sure, but apart from our past, we really don’t have much in common with most of it anymore. This year is probably the last that we’ll even do shows with doom bands apart from the odd festival – musically we just don’t really fit with most of the bands.
I wouldn’t say there are any bands that are particularly innovative in the doom metal scene. “Of Empires Forlorn” is probably the most progressive doom album ever that could still be considered doom (I don’t consider it a doom album, but the vast majority of people do).
That aside, even if there’s not really anything strikingly original coming from the doom scene, at least there are some new bands that perform with great conviction like Orodruin, Doomshine, Forewarned, The Doomsday Cult, Thunderstorm, Reverend Bizarre, and Spiritus Mortis (old band, but probably new to most people!)…that’s all I require to enjoy an album…conviction.
Do you think WHW belongs to the elite of doom metal? (I do think myself.)
That would be a bit bold of me to suggest that. I think we stand alone if considered part of the doom metal scene, in that no one sounds anything like we do. The closest relationships musically would be Solstice, Doomshine, Candlemass, and Solitude Aeternus, but they are all quite different from WHW.
I don’t know really. There are fair amounts of people that seem to agree with you, but if you looked at WHW as a progressive rock band it might be a completely different perspective.
Nu-metal is very popular right now in the USA (and not just). What do you think about this style of music?
It’s rap-inspired shit and isn’t remotely metal in my opinion. Bands like Tool or Dead Soul Tribe are far superior.
Are there any good bands in your area? Could you recommend some good (doom) metal bands?
There are not any doom bands around here besides Pentagram and the Maryland bands (Internal Void, Iron Man, etc.). There are plenty of other great bands around here, but none are doom: Brave, Twisted Tower Dire, Grand Belial’s Key, Modulus, Arghoslent, Deceased (etc.).
You re-joined Solstice not a long time ago. What can you tell me about this? Are there any new songs? Have you been involved in the songwriting? When will the album come out?
The new line-up consists of Rich, myself, Greg from Slough Feg, Scott from Twisted Tower Dire, and possibly Jim too. At the moment, there isn’t much activity on the Solstice front as Rich is focusing on Isen Torr, and I’m rather busy with WHW.
The plan is to record a 12” called “To Sol A Thane” which will have new material only. I won’t be contributing much besides the vocal melodies, but I may have throw an idea or two out there. Basically Solstice is Rich and whoever is playing with him; he writes everything.
I know that amongst your intentions is to re-release “Sorrow Of The Angels”. Will you include any bonus tracks? Please tell me about this re-release!
We will re-record the “Sorrow Of The Angels” album later this year. It will include all 4 songs from the original (albeit with new vocal harmonies, guitar solos, new sections, and more developed arrangements) plus 2 songs that were originally recorded for that album but never released (also re-recorded), and 2-3 additional unreleased tracks (primarily dating back to the era when the album material was written).
The album will also feature the artwork I’d intended to use since 1990! This will replace the long out-of-print Eibon version that was released in 1998.
I guess you are not make a living from music. How do you make your living? And what are you doing in your freetime? Do you have family, or children?
I work with Scott and Tony from Twisted Tower Dire wiring apartment buildings and schools for phone, cable TV, and Internet. I also teach guitar as well. All that plus doing WHW fulltime leaves little time free, but when I am free, I am usually drinking and battling for metal. No wife or children yet!
What are the future plans for WHW? I know that “Empires Forlorn” was released “recently”, but maybe you can tell something about the next album. Do you have any new songs? What should we expect from the next WHW album and when will it come out?
We do have quite a few songs that are brand new and some older songs that remain unreleased (aside from those slated for the “Sorrow…” re-release). The next all-new album will be called “Vast Oceans Lachrymose,” and if we use the songs we have at hand now, it will be an extremely diverse affair – very heavy and epic metal, with full orchestration and space elements.
At this point it doesn’t look like there will be much in the way of doom on it, but that could change. Most of these new songs are very aggressive, even thrashing, but still very much WHW. Lots of progressive passages as well.
The main reason we’re re-releasing “Sorrow Of The Angels” next is because it’s very unlikely that we’ll ever do a 100% true doom album in the future, but the main characteristics of WHW will remain intact. I’d say it’s likely to appear in 2006 or so, but you never know with us! If nothing else, we’ll get another MCD/EP out shortly after “Sorrow Of The Angels.”
There’s going to be elections in this year in the USA. Who do you think will win? What’s your opinion about Mr. Bush’s policy?
I have no interest in politics. Most politicians are untrustworthy scum. Next!
That’s all for the moment. Thank you for answering these questions. Any message for the sorrowed hearts?
Thanks for the interview Robert, your support and enthusiasm is appreciated. Thanks to all of our fans everywhere as well…you fucking rule! Anyone wanting more information on WHW can visit our website www.whileheavenwept.net.
by Robert Sun