Leon Macey (Guitars/Studio Drums) and Rayner Coss (Oratory/Bass)
By Kirsty Birkett-Stubbs
In Mithras’ case the sky is by no means the limit and as of yet the band are still to find their ceiling as they push beyond the usual parameters of death metal into the higher stratosphere. A complex blend of intricate ambience and punishing brutality, over the last 14 years this two-man outfit has carefully planned a trajectory of well crafted extremities. As they explore the path of this relationship, Leon Macey and Rayner Coss touch on where their gaze will fall next…
Hi guys,thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for Metal-Rules!
Leon Macey: Hey Kirsty, no problem!
I think one of the things that first strikes me about Mithras is that you’re a duo – was this a conscious decision?
Leon: In the early days, way back in 1998 we had a full band with more members, and rehearsed in a traditional way.
A bit later on in 2000 we decided the best thing for the band in terms of being able to progress was for me to start playing drums on the recordings (as well as handling guitars) and after our first album ‘Forever Advancing…… Legions’ was recorded in 2002 we realised it would be more productive to work on all the music for our albums going forward as a duo, with live members joining us at some rehearsals when necessary and playing to pre-recorded tracks the rest of the time.
We had some dalliances from this path along the way, but it always comes back to the duo format in the end as it’s the most productive.
Rayner Coss: Being a duo wasn’t the original plan, but with an endless string of people that couldn’t commit to the band or struggled with the material it’s become the best route for us on every album.
How do you manage to create such intricate music with just two people?
Leon: We put a lot of thought into the arrangements and small touches, and most of it just comes naturally. We’ve been working almost every single facet of our new material, which I actually find really enjoyable!
Rayner: Yeah, we’re definitely playing around with the structure and ideas a lot more on the upcoming album, which is different to the way we’ve done it previously, which is making it all the more interesting this time around.
Does this present certain challenges compared to working as part of a larger band?
Rayner: With Leon living only up the road from me the logistics are simpler with just two of us!
Leon: Haha yeah! We’ve definitely found it’s easier this way with less people to manage and thus fewer problems to overcome. In the past, as Rayner mentioned, like most bands we had reliability problems with other members not showing for rehearsals or not being as committed; being a duo, unless one of us is ill we always make it to rehearsal. The only challenge is that I have to play both drums and guitar and do quite a bit of practice but I enjoy both so that’s not an issue.
How do you translate this into a live environment?
Leon: In the past we’d recruit a live drummer so we could play shows with me handling live guitars, and sometimes also a 2nd guitarist, but this was a bit of a frustrating process and led to a lot of wasted time and negativity in the long run.
In early 2010 I was on lead guitar, Sean Broster was handling live drums and Tom Hyde from Sarpanitum was playing 2nd guitar (as well as Sam Bean of The Senseless/The Berzerker handling bass and vocals while Rayner was on a hiatus from Mithras) and we were nailing the songs from the records.
This was easily the best live line-up we’ve ever had.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t convince Sean to do any more shows and it fell apart. So unless Sean has a change of heart or we find a drummer willing to step in who can play our material as least as well as Sean can, I don’t see us doing any live shows again as I’m not willing to settle for an inferior drummer any more.
Rayner: The music translates well in a live environment, but as Leon has said it needs everyone on the same page, otherwise it can become overly frustrating and difficult, which obviously takes away from the whole experience.
Are the creative duties shared equally between the two of you?
Leon: I do the lion’s share of the band duties these days; creatively speaking I write most of the raw music and lyrics, and Rayner comes in with extra ideas and helps me refine everything.
At rehearsals we work on the tracks, test out arrangements and make small changes, as well as bust out loads of old tracks.
Rayner: On the new record we’re collaborating on the arrangements and analysing everything to make sure it’s exactly what we want, we’re creating alternate versions of songs to compare ideas and really scrutinise what will work best.
You’ve been working together for more than a decade now – how have you maintained this relationship?
Leon: We’ve been playing in bands together since 1996 and I think the reason we’ve managed to make our musical relationship work this long (barring the period 2008-2010 when Rayner was having a break) is that we’re both coming from the same place regarding what we want to achieve, and compared to people who’ve come and gone over the years we’re prepared to put whatever it takes to achieve our goals; be it rehearsing relentlessly, investing in building a studio, buying expensive gear, spending a lot of time thinking about concepts for songs, whatever really.
We don’t need the band to be “fun” all the time and understand there’s inherently going to be an element of hard work involved, which is rewarding in itself in my opinion.
Rayner: We both have a lot of respect for each other and both enjoy the work that goes into creating something that we can enjoy and be proud of, which is enjoyable in itself. We’ve been friends for most of our lives now and help each other out when and where we can.
What do you do to keep things fresh musically?
Leon: As I see it we’ve always just written music which we’re interested in and want to listen to within the remit of what we set the band out to be.
Our music evolves with each release and we try different things.
Rayner: We aren’t scared to try something which would be against the norm for us, equally we are completely honest with each other if we think it doesn’t work.
Once we settle on something it’s done and we don’t go over it time and time again.
Now the word on the street is that you have a new album coming later this year? Can you share anything with us?
Rayner: We’re making progress with the new record all the time which is fantastic, we are just chipping away at it bit by bit.
Leon: The aim is to hopefully have it out this year, but I can’t guarantee that as the writing is taking a long time! This isn’t a downer, as we’re both really enjoying the writing process this time.
I don’t suppose you can give any insight into particular themes or track names?
Leon: Sure, so far the track names we’ve revealed (beyond the two cuts on the EP, ‘Time Never Lasts’ and ‘Inside The Godmind’) are ‘When The Stars Align’, ‘Howling Of The Distant Spaces’ and ‘Why Do We Live’.
The new album is themed around the concept of time and the titled will be announced in the not too distant future…
I read on your website that ‘every time we finish one, we have a new idea for another one’ – does this mean you’re going to struggle to pick what makes the final cut?
Leon: Since ‘…Legions’ we’ve never worked up a track to have it not make it onto the album so it’s unlikely we’ll have too many songs to choose from, just a long record.
Some people complained our last record ‘Behind The Shadows..’ was too short so that should cheer them up!
In anticipation of this release, last year you released the EP Time Never Lasts – are the two new tracks on there a teaser of what is to come?
Leon: Exactly that. Those tracks are demo versions of the songs and will be rerecorded on the album proper, the EP was released to bridge the long gap since ‘Behind The Shadows Lie Madness’ came out in 2007.
We included three live tracks on the EP as bonus material; as we wanted to release some of the recordings from that live show (Rayner’s last live show with Mithras in 2008) and fans had been asking about them.
Do you think people have expectations of what the album will be like? Will you be incorporating anything really different?
Leon: I guess people have expectations but I’m not really sure about what they are to be honest, all I can say is that in my opinion all our albums are reasonably different from each other, and each one has fans who prefer it to the others, so I’d hope this one will draw a similar response.
We’re not planning on incorporating anything extremely outré and alienating like faux rapping or lame gabba beats, but we’ll be trying a few things we haven’t tried before and the record has a different flavour to the previous albums.
We already play a flavour a extreme metal which is already quite different and progressive compared to most other bands, so I don’t feel the need to keep pushing the envelope for the sake of experimentation alone.
Rayner: We have always tried to add something a little different to each of our albums so people should be expecting something a bit different. But we have always kept a very solid identifiable core and solid songs which lets people know its Mithras they are listening to.
One of the things I’ve heard applied to Mithras is ‘hearing is believing’ – would you agree with that?
Leon: I guess so!
Rayner: Definitely, haha.
Thanks again Guys!