It’s been two years since self-styled gloom punks SALEM RAGES crawled out of the earth to unleash odes to darkness such as Casket and Our Halloween on the punk scene. The band Bido Lito! interviewed back then were a group still grappling with their musical direction, but which had also taken the bold step of inventing a genre under which they would categorise themselves (not to mention giving vocabulary-deficient promoters something catchy to put on gig flyers).
With their first long player Aspects Of The Deepest Gloom done and dusted in August and scheduled for release in early 2014, the band felt it was important that their existing material be re-issued in advance of this. So, Salem Rages have collected their first three EPs and lovingly packaged them in a compendium entitled Splinters, which is out in November. Singer/Guitarist Roman Remains explains the decision: “We’d put our early EPs out on strange formats like cassette and flexidisc and people at gigs started asking us if we had CDs, so we decided that before the album came out we’d get everyone up to speed. It should spread its ashes around a little bit before the album comes out!”
Aspects of the Deepest Gloom, whose title is taken from a line from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, boasts “more instrumentation, experimentation and depth” than their previous material. The band have clearly taken the time to produce a more polished, meaty record – the chords are still as dark and the vocals just as tortured, but songs such as Purging the Flowers and crawling five-minute instrumental Smokescreen Afterlife see a pronounced lean away from hardcore and towards atmospheric post-punk.
The album marks the start of the band’s relationship with Visible Noise, the London-based record label which helped launch the career of Bullet For My Valentine. Sunday Mourning (Drums) explains how the union came about: “It was mutual in a way. Julie from Visible Noise had bought our stuff and you could just tell she was a big fan of the style we were doing and that she understood our background.” He adds that it was a complete package of visuals, sound and look that piqued the interest of the label. “She came to one of our shows in The Pilgrim and it pretty much went from there. The beauty of doing it through Visible Noise is that they have worldwide distribution and can get it out to places we never could. Not only that, but we have 100% creative control, from the artwork to the songwriting. It’s not broken, and doesn’t need fixing.”
The visual, conceptual element at the very core of Salem Rages is key to their appeal. Of course, morbid imagery spans multiple arms of rock n roll: from Johnny Cash’s ‘Man In Black’ persona to the ubiquitous Misfits skull. Whole genres have been created with death and horror as central themes, so when Salem Rages announced that they had developed a new style called ‘gloom-punk’ they came to realise that writing songs was only a small part of what the band would be about. “It’s as much fun putting the artwork together and coming up with the concept as it is doing the songs,” says Remains. “It’s all held together with the logo and once you’ve got that you can use imagery to build around it. Rag Payne does a lot of the illustration and actually only picked up a bass to join the band. She’s come on loads in the last three years!”
With minimal pressing, Remains takes a deep breath and has a stab at describing gloom-punk for what is probably the bazillionth time: “We wear a lot of the death rock influence on our sleeve, but we’re too fast to be death rock and too hardcore to be a horror-punk band. Anyway, A. Dark Sun (Guitar) has got too many pedals to be in a hardcore band.”
There’s a touch of irony in this last comment, as if they’ve grown weary of people struggling, and failing, to categorise their style. Their fusion of post-punk, hardcore, and gothic rock means Salem Rages can worm their way onto more bills than most bands, but this presents an obvious downside. “There will be the occasional person who just thinks we’re a bunch of art students,” says A. Dark Sun. “I’ve had people at gigs shouting at me ‘are you going to tap-dance or play guitar?’.” “I think that’s part of the gloom-punk diversity,” says Remains. “I mean, we don’t want to be pigeon-holed as psycho-billy, horror punk, hardcore, or any other sub-genres that lie within punk – if we can encompass all these different elements, well, that’s gloom-punk.” Sunday Mourning joins the conversation and leans forward at this point to ask Remains: “Can you explain it to me again?”
Although there’s no suggestion that Salem Rages are trying to cast themselves as the flagship band of a gloom-punk movement as such, they’ve met other bands on the road with a similar ethos and it seems a good time to ask if they have a favourite place to play? “Sheffield seems to like us,” muses Remains after some thought. “We played the Men’s Catholic Society there once” – which seems like a somewhat challenging gig, for a band called Salem Rages! I wonder how the Men’s Catholic Society took to them?
“We were outnumbered,” Remains confirms, before A. Dark Sun elaborates: “Yeah, there were Jesus portraits everywhere and the guy running the bar said he was never going to have a gig there again. I don’t think he liked…” Remains interjects, “…me jumping on one of his expensive snooker tables?”
The band are coy about the shows they have lined up around Halloween, but they clearly have a couple of aces up their sleeve and we’re not ruling out some sort of musical trick or treat. Their new venture with Visible Noise looks set to bear fruit, particularly considering the label’s recognition of the aesthetic values central to the band. With tours in support of both Splinters and Aspects Of The Deepest Gloom, and the promise of international exposure, for Salem Rages, it’s most definitely not all doom and gloom.