We’re all aware of djent, to varying degrees, as the freakish third cousin to prog metal (twice removed) that sounds “kind of plonky”, and while very few bands can be considered as genuine genre innovators in the 21st Century, djent would be an entirely different beast, if it existed at all, without SikTh. With revivalist bands holding a significant amount of the limelight in the earlier years of the noughties and modern, envelope-pushing bands not getting their dues for years to come, SikTh had their work cut out for them.
While it’s hard to even consider a time when the band were nothing more than a footnote, it’s widely agreed upon now that the six-piece, alongside their Swedish counterparts Meshuggah were seminal in creating the sound, the template and the albums that later became the altar at which a plethora of modern bands praise. This, as introduced earlier, is known as “Djent”, a phrase with which guitarist Dan Weller is all too familiar.
Dan is sat opposite me, restringing his guitar prior to their show at Brighton’s Concorde 2 tonight. It’s an overused line in journalism, but it’s nevertheless true that my company tonight is frank and forthright, between noodling with his guitar, in talking about the past, present and future of the band, the “aloof stubbornness” that steered the career of the once-stalwarts and he even challenges the djent movement and the plagiarism within it.
SikTh formed at the tail-end of the 90’s with guitarists and schoolmates Dan Weller and Graham Piney. Over time, “Metal Dan” Foord, Mikee Goodman, James Leach and Justin Hill joined the fold, solidifying the line-up in 2001. A glint of admiration crosses Dan’s face when he’s asked about the musicians involved; “We just got lucky really!”. Drummer Dan Foord, while obviously being a driving force behind the bands uniquely outlandish sound, was instrumental in more ways than one. “He also knew James from college, he was the bassist that all the other bassists wanted to be”.
While it’s unthinkable now, Dan himself was not the band’s initial pick. “We had someone in mind who we really wanted to do it but he wasn’t interested. He said he knew a guy called ‘Metal Dan’ who’s got really fast feet. He turned up in a ripped vest with a shit drum kit, he smoked a load of weed and drummed ridiculously well. He was doing weird stuff that didn’t make sense”. As for Justin, “he was this good-looking guy with an amazing voice, we thought he’d be the perfect lead singer”. Knowing him from playing in other bands, this initial line-up, with Mikee also handling vocals, gelled instantaneously.
So, it’s 2001. A new band called SikTh is born into the underground. They’ve completed the line-up with people of all different talents and a sound that’s quite literally unheard of. How did this actually come about? “We were very conscious that there was a gap in the market for doing something really progressive and really melodic but also really brutal. We started making music you would never have imagined”.
So it was a conscious decision? “It was a completely conscious decision to get the best people from their own bands to be a supergroup of sorts. We were listening to a lot of death metal but we didn’t want all the bullshit that came from death metal, like virgin slaughter. We wanted to take the intensity and the technicality of death metal and put it to sensible subject matters. Granted, we don’t always have them! We wanted more of a progressive thing than the brutal, macho bullshit. Our riffs were already quite tech-y but it was only when Dan Foord joined the band that his drumming pushed it further down that unique route.”.
At the time of their arrival on the scene, when the internet was in its infancy, rock and metal was being pulled in all different directions. The contrasting, dominant forces in the rock stratosphere; nu metal and pop punk were reaching their commercial peaks. It was a time when The Offspring and Wheatus were rubbing shoulders with Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit and System Of A Down in their invasion of popular music. Bands were either adorning khaki shorts or were high-school teenage dirtbags. So how did SikTh and their atypical entourage fit into all of this? Their initial exposure came in the form of a Rock Sound article, though they were already garnering a name for themselves as a brilliant live act. “We’d built these strobe lights that were rigged up to the guitar pedals and we’d leave them on for the whole song which is totally illegal obviously but at the time we were a bit anarchic, so our shows were getting known for just destroying everyone’s eyes and being a bit of a mindfuck”.
It was at one of these shows at The Barfly in London where BBC Radio 1 Rock DJ Mary Anne Hobbs saw the prog metal trailblazers and picked it up. “She got really into it. She said ‘I really wanna help you guys, what can I do?’ so we gave her our songs and our demos and she played them on the show. She also gave us our own live session really early on, before our first EP. That just got the band rolling”.
From there they featured in Kerrang!, took on a manager with connections and things started going up for the band. “This was before Myspace or anything. You couldn’t go viral, this was literally just hearing someone on the radio or reading about them in a magazine. Back then it was basically Kerrang! TV, MTV Rocks, Kerrang! magazine, Metal Hammer, Rock Sound and Big Cheese. Beyond that there was nothing else. If you were a band in any of those places, you were getting seen by a lot of people. It was much easier to go from nothing to quite big pretty quick”. With a hint of pride, Dan rounds off his answer with; “Because we were so different and so unusual, we didn’t struggle getting any exposure”.
Part 2 of this interview will be online tomorrow.