In 1969, King Crimson released their debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King. By rooting themselves stylistically in free jazz as opposed to the blues influences that drove every other contemporary hard rock group, the English pioneers would singlehandedly invent the game-changing genre of progressive rock.
Almost fifty years down the line, the adventurous spirit of this avant-garde style still survives, albeit in a hugely different form to that which initially took Rush, Genesis and Yes to chart-smashing success in the ‘70s. Nowadays, prog bands are heavy, uncommercial and eclectic, thriving on genre-bending hybridity just as much as they do on wacky time signatures and lengthy song structures.
Case in point: SikTh and Loathe. Despite forming over fifteen years apart, the two underground icons are heroes of modern British prog, earning continued acclaim through their twisted, anarchic delivery, inalienable energy and varied dynamics. And while SikTh stand as discordant, down-tuned giants that helped inspire the popular “djent” movement, Loathe exist as a diverse yet taut reimagination of nu metal and metalcore.
To discuss each band’s individual approaches to music as well as their places in the contemporary progressive scene, I got to sit down with SikTh guitarist Dan Weller and Loathe shred-lord Erik Bickerstaffe during their stacked UK tour.
Matt Mills: “Both of your bands obviously create very progressive and diverse music. So, when each group was starting out, what did it mean to be progressive in heavy metal; how much has that perception changed?”
Dan Weller (SikTh): “When we were getting started, things were way more segmented in terms of style. You were either a metalhead, into pop, or an indie kid. We were very much in this metal world and there was no looking beyond that. But, equally, we listened to loads of death metal but used to laugh at the subject matter of it all: ‘Why aren’t there people doing really tech s—t without talking about corpses?’
“Me and Pin – our other guitar player – our vision was to be, melodically, really on-point and, technically, really out there, but without showing off. Coming out of the nu metal era, we wanted people to bounce and sing along, but also be really intense. To be progressive, for us – the answer is we wanted to be completely unique. If someone wanted a sound like SikTh’s they’d have to come to SikTh to hear it. We saw a gap no one else was filling.”
Erik Bickerstaffe (Loathe): “It was never an intention for us to be more progressive than anybody else. At the beginning, we wanted to be like Phantom of the Opera, but metal and disgusting with Silent Hill, vile imagery. To be answering that question is actually a little weird because we never thought we would be lumped into that scene as well. It was never our intention.”
“Did Loathe set out to be a part of the hardcore scene then?”
Erik: “No, not really. Honestly, I was into Miss May I and Attack Attack!: that synthcore metal stuff was just me when I was sixteen. When I was younger, anything that was outside of metal, I would not give it a listen. Now it’s the total opposite. That goes hand-in-hand with our style: we try to be completely different. Like [Dan] said, there’s nowhere else you can get Loathe other than at a Loathe show. This may seem big-headed but, when Slipknot first came out, everyone went ‘No, we don’t want them supporting us because they’re too good’; we wanted to be a band that had that same impact.”
“Is the kind of genre-crossing diversification that SikTh and Loathe bring to the table something that metal will need to survive?”
Erik: “I think so.”
Dan: “There’ll always be intelligent, intellectual music fans who know when they’re having wool pulled over their eyes. When you’re in a band that’s forward-thinking, like [Loathe] or SikTh, you’re living and dying by your music. Some bands don’t care about being unique: they just want to go out on tour and drink beer with their mates. That machine will always go on and always be sustained. But there will always be bands behind the scenes, like them or us, who can get a huge following without that. Take a band like Mastodon: big, bearded dudes who sell out venues all over the world because they just went down their own route. Meshuggah, they did that. Loathe have even taken those Meshuggah influences and made them their own.”
“Obviously, both bands released albums last year: The Future in Whose Eyes? and The Cold Sun. Do either of you have any plans for making new music at the moment?”
Erik: “Definitely. We always try to write anywhere. The first thing we do is the concept: we’ll do twelve songs and plan out what to do in each. Now, we’re just focusing on sustainable songs that we all enjoy. You can think too much about these things, sometimes, and we definitely do that. We’re going at it in a more understanding way of what we are capable of and what is going to work, rather than pushing too much.”
Dan: “I’m not writing any SikTh at the moment, at all. We sort of go into ‘SikTh mode’ and, when we do, it’s pure hell. We come out at the end with something we’re really proud of, but we don’t teeter into it until we have to. And this record [The Future in Whose Eyes?], it’s like Death of a Dead Day: our fans like it, but it’s done f—k-all for us. No one really gives a s—t because there are new bands like [Loathe] that people are more distracted by. But, in writing new SikTh, when we start doing it, we’ve decided now that all the elements of SikTh that have made us really popular need to be exploited. We need an album that wipes the floor with everyone.”
SikTh’s The Future in Whose Eyes? is out now via Millennium Night. Read more about it in our “50 Best Metal Albums of 2017” list.
Loathe’s The Cold Sun is out now via SharpTone Records.
Read more about Loathe in our “10 Best Metal Bands of the Last 10 Years” list.