Howie Bentley from ECHOES OF CROM RECORDS (and member of Cauldron Born / Briton Rites)
Interview by JP
Howie Bentley, founder of legendary USPM band Cauldron Born and current mastermind behind Briton Rites, has been branching out into the metal industry. In addition to a recent guest article published here in Metal Rules, Howie has also founded a new Record label ECHOES OF CROM. We interviewed Howie to discuss his new label ECHOES OF CROM …enjoy!
Tell us a bit about Echoes Of Crom! Perhaps for our readers who haven’t had the pleasure of knowing Crom, who is he and why did you choose the name? Why not just Crom Records or something?
Crom was a dark and mysterious god of ancient Ireland. Robert E. Howard used the name for Conan’s god. I needed a name that wasn’t so obvious that a thousand other people were already using it, so I called the label Echoes Of Crom Records. The idea is that the music released by the label is the echoes of the god Crom resounding down through time.
In this age of ever decreasing record sales what made you decide to start a record label? Is it even financially viable anymore?
I started the label to release my own music because there were no labels who wanted to put up enough money to cover recording costs for the Briton Rites debut For Mircalla. My hope was to make enough money off of CD sales just to be able to invest in my next project. So far it has not been financially viable. Too much illegal downloading. Of course, the people defending it are going to rail against you and scream: “That’s the old way! That’s the old way!” My reply to that is “That old way is called capitalism.” What are their suggestions for a new way? Usually it is that musicians shouldn’t get paid to make music, and that they should just feel flattered that someone likes it enough to steal it. Of course, they put it off on the labels as being corporate bastards, and that the musicians never made any money in the first place, which is not true. Any business has to make money to stay in business. Do you think that Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Metallica would have stuck around as long as they did without making any money? Something has to finance these tours in the first place.
I have neither the time nor patience to invest in recording myself, especially after teaching all day long, six days a week. So, getting my own home studio doesn’t interest me. Besides, you have to have a knack for that and a love of technology to sit there and read manuals and twiddle knobs for hours on end. I have neither. What free time I do have, I would rather spend writing songs and playing my guitar.
How did you discover Blacksword? Russia seems a long way away to sign a band.
Alex Avdeev (the former guitarist for Blacksword) and I have been friends for years. He used to send me files of his music all the time. He sent me a couple of rough demos a few years back, and I told him they were really good songs and asked if they had any more. He told me they were recording an album, and I started getting the idea that maybe I should put it out. Originally, I had planned to only release my own music, but that Blacksword album was so good that I just couldn’t pass on it.
What do you look for in a new band to sign?
Just stuff I like. I am pretty picky. I have been into heavy metal since 1981. The older I get, the less music I hear that does anything for me. I started off on Black Sabbath and the first two Ozzy albums (with Randy Rhoads). This is what really set me on fire to play heavy metal. Then I got into Priest and Maiden, followed by a lot of underground stuff like Venom, Witchfinder General, Mercyful Fate and so on. I picked up on Metallica on their Ride The Lightning album, followed by Megadeth, Slayer and so forth. When the death metal movement came around I liked the early Morbid Angel stuff and some Death, but I was liking less and less of what I was hearing from that genre. It was even that way with thrash. I have always hated punk, and when bands started trying to mix metal and punk it just did not sit well with me. Some people will say that some of those thrash bands that I like have a punk sound in their music, but I don’t really hear it. I just hear fast heavy metal. It’s the whole rock journalist thing: punk = instant credibility. So the more metal branched off and gravitated away from British metal, the less interested I became.
As far as what I am interested in now for my label: power metal (of the USPM variety, as well as some of the Mediterranean bands influenced by old USPM.) Doom Metal (but not stoner or sludge), NWOBHM-styled bands, and good thrash metal. I might even put out some good death metal if I could find it. I wouldn’t rule out some European power metal if it were cool and unique like Scanner’s Hypertrace album. Progressive metal, if it had a dark sound and wasn’t copying obvious bands like Dream Theater and later Queensryche. A band more in the vein of Watchtower would be my preference.
Lyrics are important to me as well. I like bands that have fantastic lyrics dealing with sword and sorcery, horror and the occult.
Blacksword, then, and now, is a good example of what I do and do not like. The album that I put out is a unique Siberian heavy metal band that had their own sound, though it is obvious that they were influenced by ‘80s USPM bands like Attacker, Sanctuary and Metal Church, but with some technical/progressive elements thrown in. It is Ivan’s (the bassist) band, but Alex (the guitarist) was steering them in this direction. Ivan wanted to go in a direction incorporating folk instruments, keyboards and modern day Overkill-like “grooves”. So, I won’t be putting their next album out. Also, for their new look (which is often an outward reflection of one’s music), Ivan shaved his head. I saw a recent picture of them playing a gig, and they looked like a Red Hot Chili Peppers tribute band.
Other things that I don’t like are a lack of guitar solos (at least make an effort, even if you just sound like Mantas on those early Venom albums), and keyboards (unless they are just there in small doses).
Do you use social media like Twitter, Facebook and so forth to help bring awareness to
your label? Tell us about your blog at Blackgate.com.
My wife made a Facebook page for Briton Rites and Cauldron Born, but I haven’t used it much. I like to play my guitar and spend a lot of quiet time to myself. I don’t really like hawking my wares, but it seems that I have to if I am to continue making music. I do enjoy meeting new metalheads and talking with them, though. Not enough of those around who are into the real thing.
What I really don’t care for about the Internet is that everyone’s opinions seem to carry the same weight. People who have no knowledge about a subject and are not qualified in the least to comment on it can get on the net, express their opinion and it seems just as valid as someone who has been into metal for thirty years. I am always seeing some kid saying something ridiculous about metal when he has only been into it for a year or two, and doesn’t even own any albums. I don’t count albums as a bunch of MP3s someone jacked from a torrent site.
Regarding my former blog at Black Gate, I sold a book review to them (for their print publication) a couple of years back, and the editor there asked me if I would be interested in writing a blog about my music on their site. I started blogging about heavy metal and sword and sorcery. I had some problems publishing an article there, because after I had spent all night editing it, the woman who was the online editor changed it back to the way she had originally edited it. This pissed me off, and I stopped blogging there. I have very little time to do things that I want to do. People who waste my time are a big pet peeve with me.
In these days of instant downloads and so on, how important is it to you to have the full packaging and presentation?
To me, the full presentation is still important. The music, lyrics, album cover–all of this is part of the ritual of enjoying an album. I look at an album as a collection of songs that represents the artist’s oeuvre at that particular point in time. I realize that you can’t do that with pop artists so much, but for metal and classic rock, I think the album as a complete collection is essential. If the whole downloading thing had been around back in the ‘70s we wouldn’t have albums like Led Zeppelin 4 today. No one would have listened to “Stairway” all the way through, they would have just tuned it out to send a bunch of texts messages, and eventually wandered off after a couple of minutes to go play Call Of Duty.
What record labels did you admire growing up?
I didn’t really admire record labels, to be honest with you. They were a means to an end, and I didn’t give them much thought, I suppose. I admired bands and musicians.
What record labels do you admire now, say from the year 2000 and beyond?
Stormspell Records, Sentinel Steel, Eat Metal Records, and Iron On Iron.
Have recently signed any artists and do you have any releases scheduled in the next while?
I started working with a band here in Atlanta called Sadistic Ritual, but they don’t seem to be getting in any hurry to get their album done. I sent them a contract months ago, and they haven’t gotten it back to me. I spoke with the band leader a week or so ago and he told me that they are definitely still planning on doing the album with me. So, we will see. With underground metal and the economy the way it is, everything is pretty much up in the air.
Vinyl is a becoming a huge Metal/retro collectors market. Have you ever thought of releasing vinyl? or hell even cassette for that matter?
I have thought about it. I am distributing Iron On Iron’s vinyl release of my (Cauldron Born) debut album exclusively in North America, and that has been very slow. I may try another experiment or two with vinyl, but my impression is that it will probably not be financially feasible for me to do this.
Have you linked your label with any of the bigger distro groups like Century Media for example?
No, but some distributors that I have sold to have traded my releases to them. So, they carry them.
Read any good books about Metal lately?
It is funny that you asked that, because I don’t normally read books about music, but right now I am reading Lucifer Rising by Gavin Baddeley. It is about Satanism in rock and metal. I would say it is unbiased, but the author says that he is a member of the Church of Satan. In any case, it has been entertaining so far.
I want to pick up Mustaine’s autobiography when I have a chance.
Lucky question #13. Infamous last words?
Thank you, JP, for the opportunity to do this interview. And thanks to the metal-rules.com readers who take the time to read this.
By This Axe…