THE SPECTRE BENEATH: Modern but Uncompromising

The Spectre Beneath

The Spectre Beneath is a progpower metal band formed by guitarist and composer Pete Worrall. The group launched their debut album ‘The Downfall of Judith King‘ in September, and it was a reason good enough to talk with Pete and find more about the release, its concept, and more.

Define the mission of The Spectre Beneath.

The mission for The Spectre Beneath is to deliver exciting, energetic music that is influenced by the beloved tropes of both power and progressive metal and moulded into a sound that is modern and melodic that does not compromise on its influences.

Tell me about the creative process that informed your recent album “The Downfall of Judith King” and the themes it captures.

‘The Downfall of Judith King’ did not evolve in the usual way an album is put together, i.e ‘let’s write a bunch of songs’. It is a collection of tracks I initially had earmarked for other projects which, sadly never materialised. After sitting on the songs for a couple of years, I decided to create a new project for the tunes because I thought they were catchy and melodic but quite bombastic at the same time which was slightly different to my other projects. I felt they were too strong to leave them sitting on my hard drive gathering virtual dust.

However, this suggests it was a simple process of recording the songs and making the album, but this was not the case. The songs needed to be refined, cut down and shaped into something palatable. When I initially come up with an idea, it’s usually a riff and an idea for a drum beat and I build on that, but one of my failings in past projects is to make the songs too long, usually with too many repeated parts. This time, the finished songs were still quite long so I took a scalpel to them which is why you get a lot of riffs and ideas all crammed into the running time. A good example of this is, ‘As the Crows Peck at your Bones’. At 6:22 it’s still quite a long song but the intro was about thirty seconds longer, there was a chorus after the first verse and bridge, the last chorus was repeated and the ending was a little longer. Even in the early demos I found myself drifting off because it went on a bit. I think knowing something needs cutting out and being brave enough to do it, and also listen to feedback in regards to song structure is an overlooked skill.

In regards to themes, I prefer to write short stories, situations and also write lyrics about my favourite films in a similar way to Iron Maiden. For example, ‘Mrs Lovett’s Pies’ is about Mrs Lovett from the Sweeny Todd story but she is only going along with his scheme to earn enough money to leave London. ‘There are Cameras in the Dolls’ is about an AI who has look after a human who has never met another human being. There’s a quirkiness to the lyrics because I find it easier to write what is essentially flash fiction in the form of song lyrics than to write about politics, love, loss, birth and anger etc… Other bands do that sort of thing much better and if I had a go it would just come across as unconvincing.

But at the heart of ‘The Downfall of Judith King’ is Judith King herself. I have her whole story fleshed out and one of my plans is to write a concept album about her life, but on this album we get to see a snapshot, her downfall and her plotting a devious plan for revenge.

The Downfall of Judith King

What is the message you are trying to give with “The Downfall of Judith King”?

I don’t really have a message for ‘The Downfall of Judith King’. As I’ve mentioned, from a lyric stand point I prefer the story/flash fiction style themes, but I think the message that I would like to put across is, ‘if you have a vision or want to try something, just do it’. The Spectre Beneath was born out of wanting to try something with the songs I had, trying something differently vocally, trying something conceptually different with the Judith King idea. This is our debut album, it was recorded by three people on a budget that was essentially a shoe string. If we can create ‘The Downfall of Judith King’ with limited resources then, speaking to all musicians in similar situations, have courage in your convictions and make the best with what you have at your disposal.

How did you document the music while it was being formulated?

I jam on the guitar and play around with ideas, recording on my computer the ones which catch my ear. After several days I’ll listen back to all the ideas and those which still catch my ear will be developed upon. I try those ideas with other riffs or chord sequences that naturally follow on and then leave them for another couple of days. I then come back to them, and if they still sound good, I create a basic song and mix it down. I then listen to it while doing other things such as walking the dog and this gives me an indication of what works and what doesn’t. I then go back to the track, make any necessary tweaks, do another mix down and follow that whole process again until I have a track I’m pleased with. This can take anything from a week to several months with dozens of early demos littering my computer and phone, each one with a higher number at the end of it, for example, ‘Fragmented v8’ and so on.

Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected?

Yes it is. Album structure is a fine art in my opinion. For me, an album should have peaks and troughs, fast parts, slow parts but all presented in a way that it never turns the listener off. Too many blasters in a row might wear a listener down, likewise if all the slow tracks were placed together. Balance is the key and having the faith to know when the listener needs picking up after a slower number or to take a breather after an aural assault or even showcase what the band is capable after a couple of more simpler songs. I think the biggest influence on how I approach songs and albums is Overkill’s ‘The Years of Decay’. For me, it is a perfect blueprint of writing a diverse but credible album. It’s a superbly balanced album, no two songs on that album sound alike but they’re all totally Overkill. In my opinion, this is a skill that’s very difficult to master. It’s not my favourite Overkill album, that’s ‘Horrorscope’, but from a structure, balance and creative aspect, ‘The Years of Decay’ is a masterpiece.

Describe the approach to recording the album.

I had only finished an album by my other band, ‘Plague and the Decay’, in January 2019, and the tail end of 2018 was spent working on that, so starting The Spectre Beneath while the ‘Plague and the Decay’ album was being completed did not seem to be the best time to take on another project. In the end, the situation helped because it meant I could keep working on refining the tracks over a longer period of time. After I had come up with the Judith King idea, I thought it would be a prudent idea to structure the album in a similar way to Coheed and Cambria where they have a theme at the tail-end of an album in several parts. Because The Plotting of Judith King and then the Abduction and Questioning of Olivia Soams all narratively follow on from each other, it made sense to close the album with that trilogy.

How long “The Downfall of Judith King” was in the making?

A couple of songs, ‘Fragmented’ and the title track were written about six years ago, the others a couple of years after that but the decision to put them altogether into ‘The Downfall of Judith King’ was made March 2018, but, due to availability, demoing the tracks was not started until December 2018. The album then took eight months to record and mix.

Pete Worrall

Which bands or artists influenced your work on the release?

I grew up on Iron Maiden. I remember liking metal’s breakthrough songs in passing on TV and the radio, but it wasn’t until my friend gave me a copy of Iron Maiden’s ‘Number of the Beast’ that I became hooked. Listening to the opening track, Invaders, was like the flicking of a switch. I just loved the energy, the pace, the musicianship. Looking back, it was one of those moments where my life changed forever, that’s what metal does. I’ve always had a love for the faster elements of Iron Maiden and metal in general, so embracing Megadeth and Helloween was not a huge step and I could not get enough of the dual axe attack, the twin harmonies, the solo trading. I still love it to this day, anyone who listens to ‘The Downfall of Judith King’ will attest to this as the album is littered with those types of guitar breaks.

Even though Savatage’s early albums only had one guitar player, Criss Oliva, the guitar work, Jon Oliva’s raspy vocal style and the huge metal anthems such as ‘Beyond the Doors of the Dark’ and ‘Gutter Ballet’ was an instant draw for me. In fact, I have to admit, the last third of ‘The Plotting of Judith King’ is straight out of the Savatage handbook. I also liked the fact that a lot of their songs, similarly with Iron Maiden and Dio, were short stories, flash fiction so to speak. So, when I heard Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime for the first time, I was transfixed, which is why ‘The Downfall of Judith King’ has songs that are both conceptually linked and stand along songs about Mrs Lovett and her delicious pies or someone who is spied upon by an AI via a shelf of dolls.

Add to the above an overdose of great female fronted bands such as Unleash the Archers, A Sound of Thunder, Love Bites, Frozen Crown and Unlucky Morpheus, acts that showcase what impressive things can be achieved with female vocals in metal, then you end up with the blueprints for The Spectre Beneath.

What is your view on technology in music?

I sit on the fence. Technology is invaluable for me in regards to the creative process. When you record digitally, within seconds you can edit your ideas to the nth degree, try riffs and passages in different places in the song and then press ctrl ‘z’ to put it back as it was. Cutting down songs is much easier in this format, it’s certainly a far cry from the 4-track recorder I used to use where I had to re-record the whole song or passage again just to see if an idea would work. In regards to the creation of music, technology gives people like me wonderful tools to be more prolific and be able to refine ideas with greater ease.
However, I don’t like it when technology takes over, when it makes the music sound manufactured or too precise. I’m fairly old-school in this regard, I do like rawness of metal, it’s ‘Do It Yourself’ mentality and I think technology can dilute this and rob a band of its unique sound because it’s too easy to select a preset. As long as technology doesn’t take over the ‘human’ element and is used as a tool to get the best out of that human element, then I think this generates the best results.

Do you see your music as serving a purpose beyond music?

With ‘The Downfall of Judith King’ it really was a case of, ‘getting the best results with what we had to hand’ and, in my opinion, it turned out really well. I think this is a very useful motto to have in life and I hope our music reminds people that it’s not what resources you’ve got, it’s what you do with them that matters.

What are your plans for the future?

I have the next two albums planned out and most of it is already written with an ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ mentality, and I’d like to have one of them out next year. After those two albums I’d like to tell the full Judith King story. I already have about half of it written. It’s a little more progressive and more akin to songs such as ‘The Questioning of Judith Soams’ and ‘The Plotting of Judith King’. It’d be nice to squeeze some live performances in as well at some point but we’ll need some more members for that.

Aside from that, I would love to write a death metal album because I have a huge soft spot for the genre. I love the riffs, the intensity and the brutal vocals. I’m currently listening to Izegrim and if I can create something that comes anywhere close to them, I’d be more than happy. I hope to start writing it in the new year.

Get ‘The Downfall of Judith King’ from Bandcamp, and follow The Spectre Beneath from Facebook.

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