TEN YEARS ON: Devil Sold His Soul – A Fragile Hope
August 5th, 2017
Ten years seems like an awful long time ago, doesn’t it? Well, a whole decade prior to right now, British post-metal sextet Devil Sold His Soul had just been birthed from the ashes of some fallen local acts, most notably Mahumodo, and crafted and delivered their rather unique brand of atmospheric and ambient yet gruff and destructive metal unto the world, getting some reasonable attention and airplay off the back of their debut EP, ‘Darkness Prevails’.
Following the back of a series of tours both across the UK and Europe to showcase their talent, especially after the heavy rotation that came off of the back of the video for their song ‘Like It’s Your Last’, work soon began for its follow-up and their debut full-length proper.
Coming from an inception of dread, heartache, hopelessness, and general disdain for all things in life, ‘A Fragile Hope’ was a title that was beyond profound for the message that it borne across its over 50-minute long running-time; crushing guitars, pulverising drum lines and ethereal soundscapes providing the backdrop for then-vocalist Ed Gibbs to wail and scream tales that amalgamated tragedy and beauty, and from beginning-to-end was a constant ongoing journey of an ensuing storm of torment to some glimmer of salvation, chiming us out with the final piano key struck notes of curtain closer, ‘Hope’.
Though this set an arduous and sometimes very difficult path for Devil Sold His Soul to continue on in their careers, never once settling to step outside of a line that beautifully blurs between harrowing horror and emotional intensity, and a whole ten years, three albums, and a few member changes later, a celebration for the milestone of such a pinnacle release in British progressive metal is one that should not and has not been ignored.
The band opted to celebrate with tours and festival appearances both inside and outside of the UK to perform the record live and in its entirety, but with both freshly recruited frontman Paul Green and initial ring leader Ed Gibbs both taking up microphone duties.
From the the rib cage shuddering attack of ‘As The Storm Unfolds’, the bass heavy ‘The Starting’, the head-bang inducing ‘The Coroner’, to the jaw-dropping climax of ‘Hope’, we’ve taken a hard and in-depth look back at ‘A Fragile Hope’ with guitarists Rick Chapple and Jonny Renshaw, and both former and current vocalists Ed Gibbs and Paul Green to see what everyone’s mindset was back then, how they square up the record now, to reflect on what it means and what it has achieved for them, and ultimately why it’s such an important and pinnacle album for everyone who was there for the ride back in 2007.
DP!: Here it is – it has now ten years since you put out your debut, ‘A Fragile Hope’. First off, how does it feel to hit this massive milestone?
Rick: It’s a very strange feeling to know that it was 10 years ago since we released it. So much has happened since then but the songs still feel fresh, and playing them all in sequence is something we’ve never done before and it is really amazing how well it has all come together. 10 years already? Really? Madness.
DP!: Obviously, you guys celebrated with a special UK tour where you performed the record in full. That sounds like quite a feat. How were the practice sessions?
R: Practising the album set was really fun. The atmosphere and mood is super positive, and we’re all so stoked on how it is all sounding. Paul and Ed have bonded so well, and their vocals and arrangements have been on point.
DP!: London sold out pretty quickly, so much so that you even had to upgrade the venue. It must be super surreal to know that not only are you guys still going strong a decade deep into your career, but that so many fans love and care so much about the record that they want to be a part of this celebration?
R: London selling out and being upgraded and then selling out again is probably one of the proudest moments of being in this band. It is testament to all the hard work that we’ve put in over the years, and the enduring support of the fans that make it all possible. We really couldn’t wait for that show and it was a lot of fun. There were a lot of friendly and familiar faces there, and it was a real celebration of the past 10 years and more.
DP!: You’ve also decided on a two vocalist attack, with Ed and Paul tag teaming it. Was it difficult to work out who’d be singing/screaming which parts and co-ordinating on each song? I’d imagine there’d be a few switches and play arounds here and there in the rehearsal space.
Ed: The best thing about the whole process is just how easy it has been. Paul and I got on really well from the get go, and splitting up the songs just felt really organic. The two of us got together at Jonny’s place armed with some print-offs and some highlighter pens and just cracked through it. We both knew a couple of parts that we wanted to do, but other than that, it kinda felt like once we had decided who started the song the rest of it just kind of worked itself out. One of the songs we split up on the fly while actually playing it; no conversation, the guys just started playing and Paul and I just kept pointing at each other when we wanted to throw back to one other, and that’s exactly how we ended up splitting up the song. No over thinking, just what felt natural.
DP!: Are there going to be some songs from the record that have never been performed live before?
R: We thought about this recently, but we have actually played all the songs at one point or another, but never in sequence and not always the full album versions, so this is new territory for us and we’re trying to recreate the album as authentically as possible. We’ve also spent time on our live show production to ensure that we make the whole show an immersive experience.
DP!: There’s a first pressing ever of the record on vinyl, too. When did all of these celebration ideas start to sprout, bloom, and eventually start becoming real and concrete things?
R: We’ve always wanted to release this record on vinyl. We’ve just never really had the opportunity, but the amazing peeps over at Basick Records have been the best label we’ve ever worked with and they are so supportive. When the idea came about early last year, it just made sense to tie it all in with the 10th anniversary and Record Store Day. It’s all come together amazingly well and that is mostly down to Basick as they were behind it 100% since day one, and for that we can’t thank them enough.
DP!: Let’s go back a bit, to pre-‘A Fragile Hope’. You guys had not long put out your EP and first release, ‘Darkness Prevails’. You’ve got a bit of traction from its singles and videos, particularly from ‘Like It’s Your Last’. Did this put a lot of pressure or expectations – both externally with fans and the industry, and internally with one another – on what to deliver with your first full-length?
R: I don’t think we ever really thought about it in terms of making songs better than previous ones. We’ve always had a fairly brutal self-assessment of what we write, and what makes the grade in terms of writing and turning demos into songs. ‘A Fragile Hope’ was the first full-length album we’d ever created and our main focus was to create a coherent piece that flowed from start to finish, rather than a collection of songs put together in a sequence. Trends had always come and gone, but we spent time making sure we didn’t consciously sound like anyone else, so maybe that has something to do with the popularity of the record and why the songs still feel as fresh to play today as they did 10 years ago.
DP!: When did the ball first start rolling with writing and recording the record? Do you recall the first finalised song or solid idea that lead to how you knew ‘A Fragile Hope’ was going to sound?
R: From what I recall, it was ‘As The Storm Unfolds’ which became the catalyst for the rest of the album. It was a much darker feeling song than previously written and it set the tone for the rest. ‘At The End Of The Tunnel’ was an older track which we had played live since ‘Darkness Prevails’, so that was the first song to be added to the album, but ‘As The Storm Unfolds’ really set the tone.
E: I remember that we spent a long time arranging the playing order of the songs on this record and I had totally forgotten about that, but playing these songs in order now, it really stands out to me how well the album flows in terms of dynamic and how the songs play into each other.
DP!: It’s a pretty bleak and dark record, both sonically and lyrically, and even the title of the LP emboldens that. What was the kind of mindset and mood of the band back then?
E: You know, I’m really struggling to remember any specific things going through my head at the time. I do remember that we went in knowing that wanted to write something crushingly heavy, and really dark. We’re big Will Haven fans, and at the time there really weren’t that many bands going down that route. I think interestingly, going as bleak as we did on that record, it’s what really what pushed us to explore the more uplifting side of the band and what is the more modern identity of Devil Sold His Soul.
DP!: Do you feel that the title ‘A Fragile Hope’ accurately portrays the mood, message, and intent of the record? Were there many other titles floating around for the release?
E: I seem to remember us struggling with the title for a while, and as soon as it popped up it was a resounding yes from everyone; just a nail on the head moment. It’s from a fairly hidden line in the middle of the record “kick down the doors, a fragile hope is found” (from ‘At The End Of The Tunnel’). It just really sums it up, and how the whole thing comes back around to redemption at the end when ‘Hope’ kicks in.
DP!: Would you say that the cover art also manages to do the same for the record?
E: The art is perfect, I can’t stress that enough. Paul Jackson had most of the tracks and the lyrics from album and used that as a spring board for where to take it. He really understood the album and what art direction to take. I love it. When the Record Store Day releases were announced, I was scrolling through a picture list of the albums and it was just so striking. It really stuck out. I’ve had look through Paul’s layered PSD numerous times, and it just blows by mind the attention to detail and the sheer level of skill and talent he possesses. He knocked it out of the park.
DP!: You put out two videos/singles from the release, ‘Between Two Words’ and ‘The Starting’. Did you feel back then, and even now that they accurately represented the record?
Jonny: I’d say that ‘The Starting’ shows the more intense side of things, and ‘Between Two Words’ shows the more chilled out ambient side, so I guess you could say that they represent it to an extent. If we had done one for say ‘As The Storm Unfolds’ or ‘Awaiting The Flood’, then I think all bases would have been covered as they are the more riffy/heavy ones. Maybe we ran out of money, haha.
DP!: Ed, listening to your vocals from ‘A Fragile Hope’ against everything that was recorded with the band since, your screams certainly sound a lot more high-pitched. Did you change your style and approach to screaming following this record? Was this intentional to create a certain vibe?
E: It’s funny, the vocals on that album are totally accidentally quite black metal. It was never the intent, but it definitely gives the album a mood and a certain vibe of intensity. Honestly, at the time I had never given much thought into technique and even as to how it sounds. I was just screaming at the top of my lungs and that was just how I did it back then. Since then, I’ve been a lot more analytical. It’s definitely been a conscious decision to bring the pitch down. I feel that it gives it a more human quality, and it’s easier to hear what I’m saying. Doing these anniversary shows has been interesting because I haven’t screamed for nearly 4 years. Last October I started practising again and I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t scream. It’s been quite an uphill struggle as I’ve basically had to learn how to do it all again, but I think I got into shape just in the nick of time. My technique now feels the best that it’s ever been and I’m enjoying singing more than I ever have, and it feels really rewarding to have worked as hard as I have and to be able to be up to scratch with Paul, because he really is a talented vocalist.
DP!: Of course, you weren’t a part of the band at the time, Paul, and at the time of the album’s release you were working on the ‘Nightmares Of The Ocean’ EP with The Arusha Accord. Did ‘A Fragile Hope’ have an impact on you as a vocalist back then, or even since?
Paul: Yeah, that must’ve been around that time, for sure. It feels like a lifetime ago now. We (The Arusha Accord) played a bit with Devil Sold His Soul around the ‘A Fragile Hope’ era and, although that particular record didn’t directly influence The Arusha Accord and my writing, I have been influenced by later releases. ‘Crane Lake’ in particular was my go-to song when writing the vocals at the end of ‘The Resurgent’.
DP!: Obviously, you must have a lot of pride and devotion for the record to celebrate it as you are ten years later. But, listening back, do you feel that any part of the release is at all dated or that you’re not overly fond of?
J: I think with every record you do there will always be things you listen back and wish you had done differently. For me, personally, it’s more on the technical side of things, as I know that if I re-recorded and mixed it all now it would be very different. It has its own character though, and it is a time stamp for how things were at that point which is cool. That’s also one of the reasons we chose not to remix or change anything for the vinyl as we agreed to let it stay as it is and not mess around with it.
DP!: Did what ‘A Fragile Hope’ turned out to be pave the way for what you guys would then want your following record ‘Blessed & Cursed’ and following releases to turn out to be? How do you feel it stands in comparison to those later records?
J: I think ‘A Fragile Hope’ was us finding the basis of what we were all about. All of our records since have had all the same elements, but with slight variations. ‘A Fragile Hope’ was a very dark record, ‘Blessed & Cursed’ in comparison was a lot more uplifting, and ‘Empire Of Light’ was a mix of everything that we do. From then on we had such a range of directions we could go in, so ‘Belong ╪ Betray’ is a mix, and ‘The Reckoning’ is almost a throwback to ‘A Fragile Hope’, and possibly the heaviest thing that we have done. It has almost gone full circle.
DP!: Did any songs or ideas that you penned for the album get used for a later offering?
R: For the most part everything written since ‘A Fragile Hope’ has been all new material, except for maybe a couple of riffs here and there that we went back to and thought would work well in a new song. On the whole we prefer to write from scratch, but we definitely have a riff bucket to dip into every once in a while.
DP!: Do you feel that the success of ‘A Fragile Hope’, and the tours that followed in that album cycle, were what you aimed and hoped to gain off the back of it?
R: It was more than we could have hoped for. We played Download to a packed tent, twice, and went on countless tours all off the back of this album, and it really opened the door to so many opportunities that most probably would have been impossible without it.
DP!: Along with the anniversary UK shows and the vinyl pressing of the album, are there any other plans of how to celebrate the 10th anniversary of ‘A Fragile Hope’ this year? Maybe more shows in the UK or in Europe? A live video or album release? A re-recording of the album with both Ed and Paul at the helm?
R: We have a few festivals in the UK this summer and we hope to take these ‘A Fragile Hope’ shows to Europe in the autumn, but after that, who knows? We’re just enjoying this celebration at the moment, and we’re making sure that we make each show as fun and as immersive as possible.
DP!: Do you think you might want to do something similar for the tenth anniversary of ‘Blessed & Cursed’ come 2020?
R: We shall see how we all feel in three years time. These shows have been incredible, and if we feel that it’s right and that it would garner enough interest then I’m sure that it’s something we will think long and hard about. Watch this space.
DP!: What does ‘A Fragile Hope’ mean to you?
R: To me, it means the start of a journey which a teenage me could only have dreamt of. It opened the door to countless opportunities, and made some of my most wildest dreams come true. It means friendship, commitment, hard work, and family, and for it to have affected so many people in such a positive way is just the icing on the cake.
The band’s debut album, ‘A Fragile Hope’, is out now through Basick Records.
Written by Zach Redrup (@zachredrup)