When I head that two of my favorite bands were doing a split together, I was already pretty excited. When I heard that it was themed around The Hobbit, I had a full on “geekgasm.” Metal and fantasy have always gone great together for the escapism they both offer and are concepts that Archarus and Thorr-Axe execute to perfection. I was lucky enough to catch up with Drew and Tucker to talk about how their new split came together, their love of Tolkien, and more.
But before we hear from them, scroll below for an exclusive first listen of “Dawn Take You All” by Thorr-Axe and “Erebor” by Aracharus. Enjoy!
Indy Metal Vault: First off, I’m really enjoying the album, especially since I’m a Tolkien and metal nerd. Splits are pretty common in the metal world, but are rarely tied around a single concept. How did this collaboration come about and why did you decide to base it on The Hobbit?
Drew Smith: Thanks a ton! You’re right; we actually had initial concerns of the non-traditional nature of it. But, I think we got past it by manufacturing some sort of chip on our shoulder at potential purists who might dislike the idea; most are all side A / side B. I can’t actually think of one that alternates like ours does, but we were more beholden to the narrative and which band could best tell the respective chapter. I’m sure the origin of the idea came from just shooting shit with Tucker. Like most bands, everyone jokingly attempts to organize a split with other people because “Dream Teams” are fun. The catch here is that I’m a bit more pushy and serious about doing things than people wouldn’t expect. We discussed an idea in theory of doing a split, just for fun and to bridge our subsequent full lengths. At first the idea was to just do a split, then I liked the idea of some sort of Norse hero trying to slay the Archarus dragon as sort of a collaboration between our two themes. I actually had a version of “Erebor” written from my old band and figured I could cash that in on this idea. Tucker then mentioned that he and Chef had a song about the trolls from The Hobbit written as well. So I was kind of like, “Tucker? Do we just want to do a Hobbit narrative split?” Being that we are both huge Hobbit fans, we just ran with it.
Tucker Thomasson: It really did come from just come from Drew and I talking about The Hobbit. I think I may have mentioned in passing to him that I’d always wanted to do a release themed around it, even when I was just starting Thorr-Axe in high school. So because of the split, this whole thing happening is very surreal to me and it’s really nice to see it come to fruition. I will say that the dividing up of themes between the two bands is something I’ve never seen on something like this before, and I’m glad the split of tracks occurred the way it did. I really feel like the respective bands did their parts justice.
IMV: Which one of you is the bigger Tolkien fan and how were you introduced to his works?
DS: Ha, we should do a Tolkien trivia thing. Honestly, one of my earliest memories is my father reading me The Hobbit and for as long as I can remember, Smaug has been my favorite literary character of all time. And The Hobbit is my favorite book of all time. It may be hard to believe that I find this much inspiration in a book “designed” for children, but I carry it with me on all my hikes and I read it on breaks frequently. To answer the first half of your question, I wrote my senior English paper on J.R.R. Tolkein and built my senior project as a four by five foot scale 3-D map of Middle Earth. And I have a Smaug and Erebor tattoo on my ribs, so… your move Tucker.
TT: Tolkien trivia doesn’t sound like a bad idea. I got into him when I was very young, maybe 4 or so, and my mom rented me a VHS copy of the Rankin-Bass animated version of The Hobbit. Gollum terrified me, but the whole story stuck with me. As I grew up, I started actually reading his works, starting with The Hobbit, then the Rings trilogy, then finally settling into The Silmarillion and his translation of The Lay Of Sigurd And Gudrun. The Hobbit was always my book of choice to take with me when I went camping or hunting, though.
IMV: The track listing follows The Hobbit story-line and ties nicely to parts from the book. How did you decide which moments or concepts you would cover and which band would provide the music?
DS: We’re very glad to hear that actually; it’s important to emphasize that these are not “inspired” by The Hobbit. No, this split-album is a full length narrative adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. If someone wants to make this a metal musical, we could. But basically after we decided to do this, the children inside of us got real excited, so we came up with the “monumental” scenes: Trolls, Goblins, Gollum, Spiders, Smaug, the Battle of Five Armies. And then we kind of assigned/drafted scene assignment to each other. To be honest, this part was pretty easy. I took Smaug for the obvious reasons, among others. And I believe in some capacity we both knew that Archarus couldn’t do justice to a song about Gollum or Five Armies and really could only be captured by the carnality, chaos, and bleakness that is Thorr-Axe.
TT: We essentially just picked and chose what we wanted to do songs over, and there wasn’t even an argument or disagreement over it. We just instinctively knew what we were doing, almost. And like Drew said, I knew I wanted to do a song on Gollum, and I knew I wanted to do something for the Battle Of Five Armies, because that’s just the kind of band we are.
IMV: Drew, what was it like recording new Archarus material as a three piece and with you on lead vocals? “Erebor” has got to be one of my favorite tracks from you guys and it has some nice dual lead work on it. Are there any plans to add another guitarist to fill out your live sound for songs like “Erebor?”
DS: Recording was interesting. For reasons mostly of my doing, I ran into difficulty writing pieces for multiple instruments. It’s not uncommon in general, but certainly new to me. I really began to grasp the concept of the phrase “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” I spent so much time writing every piece of the instrumentation that I sometimes couldn’t tell what was “supposed” to go where and when and for how long. Throw in me doing vocals for the first time in my career, it made for an often overwhelming feeling to be frank. I’m terribly happy with the way it turned out, mostly thanks to the amazing talents Niko possesses, but to say it was a breeze would be a lie. The learning curve was sharp and unforgiving, but I feel it was a success. I’m glad to hear the appreciation for the dual lead work. Keeping in the theme of making things harder than I need to, I actually very much plan on incorporating that writing style more often despite only having one guitar player. I genuinely attempt to write everything from a standpoint of “If I can’t replicate this sound live, then I don’t want it on the record.” Much of the layering effects can be achieved with a loop station. It’s something I’ve been experimenting with live since Matt left in May. For the most part it’s been successful; there are some portions of “Foehammer” that utilize the method and we’ve played that song live since August I believe. Anytime you talk to someone about using a looper for solo beds or lead harmonies or track layering, they always tell you it’s difficult, but no one tells you it can’t be done. I’ve spent a decent amount of time lately with Jordan Smith of Drude and Anthony Hampton of R’lyeh, both of which layer and sample like it’s their job and I’ve certainly learned a ton.
IMV: “Battle of the Five Armies” is fantastic, and I especially like the interlude with the horn and drums. It perfectly captures the enormity of the battle. What was the writing process like for this one?
TT: I had been sitting on the intro lead for something like two or three years before the idea of the split had even come up, and I knew it was going to be something that I would use on a future Thorr-Axe release. When it came time to write, I immediately gravitated to the notion of using it for “Battle Of Five Armies.” After we played around on that lead and the riff under it, Garrett (Daniels, lead guitar) took the reins and crafted almost all of the rest of the song. Once he took over, it formed very quickly. We’ve always been a big fan of trying to have songs that almost create visual imagery with their content, so the horn and war drums were an obvious inclusion into the soundscape.
IMV: I love the cover art with the image of the Lonely Mountain and its reflection. Who designed it?
DS: Good ol’ Tristan Thompson who operates officially under the moniker TriStarr. He did Render’s artwork as well. We really had a thousand options to go on with this type of source material. I think we decided for serene over chaotic. The whole story really revolves around trying to finding your home and none more overtly than the quest for “Erebor.” We all figured the scene of the dwarves rowing up River Running towards their unknown final fate is really as anticipatory as it gets. I really pushed for X and Y symmetry on the mountain and reflection; mostly as an indication of the nature of this being a split between Thorr-Axe and Archarus. I am incredibly happy with Tristan’s work and I couldn’t recommend TriStarr more. His work is stellar and he’s a great human being.
IMV: Are there plans to do another split based on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. With so many Tolkien fans in our community, have you thought about including other bands and doing a full length album?
DS: Man… trying to do a concept sourced from The Trilogy would probably require several records ha! Though I will say, the Trilogy doesn’t need a reboot. The Hobbit, on the other hand… well, you can thank Mr. Jackson for inspiring the need for this album. I do, however; have a soft spot for pop-culture based source material. On the heels of just finishing this album, I would say that I’m all set for now. But if you ask me again in a few months, you’ll never know what stupid idea I get in my head. There’s a new Zelda game coming out soon, actually…
TT: I’m willing to let other bands handle the other Tolkien stuff. Thorr-Axe songs have always primarily been fantasy scenarios of my own creation, Norse lore, or actual history. If I can foreshadow for the next Thorr-Axe release, I will say that we’re going to be giving something of a history lesson on our next release, and it is not going to be a pleasant one.