The New Monsters of Scotland
It goes without saying that the United Kingdom has birthed some of the greatest acts the rock and metal world has ever heard. Pink Floyd. Led Zeppelin. Black Sabbath. Iron Maiden. Napalm Death. Carcass. Cradle of Filth. The list is seemingly endless, though the majority of what many believe to be the best of the best hail from England. Yes, Ireland has had its fair share of terrific musicians/bands over they years but there’s one country that is hardly, if ever, mentioned as even a hive of metal: Scotland. With their debut full length The Giants of Auld just released last month, black/folk metal act Cnoc An Tursa are hoping to change that.
The Giants of Auld is a scorcher of an album, a long player that ends with as much force and vigor as it starts. Considering how deadly the ten songs that comprise the album are, hopefully it’s a harbinger of things to come from the land of bagpipes, kilts and, of course, scotch. TeethOfTheDivine recently caught up with Cnoc An Tura’s mainman, guitarist/keyboardist Rene McDonald Hill to pick his brain about the band, the music, and what they expect to do after such a terrific debut.
TeethOfTheDivine: First off, congratulations on The Giants of Auld. It’s a terrific album, especially for a debut. I’ll assume all of the members in the band are proud of it?
Rene McDonald Hill: We are blown away by the final outcome. It took three times longer than we originally anticipated to record but the end result has been well worth the extra work and effort. The reviews have been extremely positive. With the support of Candlelight our music has reached a much larger audience and gathered a whole host of new fans
TeethOfTheDivine: Cnoc An Tursa has been around since 2006, yet your debut album just now came out. What took so long to create and release it?
Rene McDonald Hill: First of all I have to admit that I am a bit of a perfectionist, sometimes driving the other band members to distraction. Early on we experienced a lot of issues with the production of the album. The album had already been recorded twice but lacked the quality I was after. We were really lucky to be able to work with Chris Fielding and Anthropocide Studios who addressed these problems.
TeethOfTheDivine: The album is filled with memorable, catchy songs that also have great atmosphere and melodies. Many new bands don’t really know how to write actual songs that are memorable. Not Cnoc An Tursa. How difficult is it for you all to write catchy songs?
Rene McDonald Hill: I try not to overlook things and keep everything in a condensed package right down to the actual length of the songs. You could say I take an almost pop-based structure approach in my writing. The typical verse/pre-chorus/chorus works best for us and it’s the approach we will continue to use. I also grew up listening to a lot of 80’s new wave music which traditionally follows this pattern so it’s perhaps something that’s unintentionally influenced my writing as I grew up.
TeethOfTheDivine: “The Piper O’ Dundee/The Lion of Scotland” is a perfect way to start the album and “Blаr na h-Eaglaise Brice” is the perfect ending. Were these songs written to be the bookmarks of the album?
Rene McDonald Hill: Yes, the tracks mentioned were actually the final tracks written for the album but it was my intention to write them as bookmarks. The piper of Dundee” is actually a well-known Jacobite war song. The original lyrics to the song deals with the rebellious influence of music during the Jacobite era. The bagpipes were outlawed in Scotland because they were deemed to be an “instrument of war” and many songs were known to stir up the blood. It was a conscious decision to make this the intro track.
TeethOfTheDivine: What is the writing process for the band and who, along with you, is the driving force behind the music?
Rene McDonald Hill: The tracks are written and recorded by myself and Alan (Buchan, guitars and vocals) in isolation at my home studio and then rehearsed as a band. Normally a new song will develop from a guitar riff and the poetry is placed over the song at the end. Some songs are completed within a few days while others but may take a month. It really just depends.
TeethOfTheDivine: The Giants of Auld was recorded back in 2011, meaning the songs are even older, maybe even from 2010. With that said, how much new material, if any, do you have written for the follow-up?
Rene McDonald Hill: I have a lot of ideas ready to go; some songs are complete others are maybe half done. There are also older unreleased demo songs from 2007-2008 which we absolutely love and I’d like to re-work and include in the second album.
TeethOfTheDivine: Considering the songs for The Giants of Auld are likely old to you now, did they get boring at all and how relieved are you to finally have them out? How anxious are you to move forward?
Rene McDonald Hill: I always enjoy playing those tracks live but my song writing and the band, as musicians, have vastly progressed since then. There is definitely more of a Scottish vibe happening on our more recent songs but we will always stay true to our roots without straying too far from the basic foundations of our sound. We intend to play a few new tracks live this year.
TeethOfTheDivine: The band has cited many different artists as influences. How much of a challenge is it to incorporate all the band’s influences into the music?
Rene McDonald Hill: In the early days Diabolical Masquerade and Ancient were massive influences particularly in the guitar. Later we started to incorporate some of the Celtic vibe from some well-known Scottish rock bands like Runrig and Big Country. It really just got to the stage where we moulded the above mentioned bands into our own, writing the music became a natural process. We no longer look outside Cnoc An Tursa for influences as we have pretty much penned our own sound so to speak.
TeethOfTheDivine: What does Cnoc An Tursa mean, by the way?
Rene McDonald Hill: Cnoc An Tursa is Gaelic for “Hill Of Sorrow” and relates to the Callanish Standing Stones (similar to Stonehenge) which is an actual place on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides Scotland.
TeethOfTheDivine: Scotland is not known as a metal hotspot. In fact, not too many metal bands have come from Scotland before. Speaking of the UK, Ireland has a decent history and, of course, England always has terrific bands. Is it a challenge to be a metal band from Scotland and how is the metal scene there? Is it important for the band to hopefully lead Scotland into the spotlight and put the country on the map when it comes to metal?
Rene McDonald Hill: The problem is the metal scene in Scotland has always been underrated with very little support from the Scottish people. Recently the scene has seen a slight up rise with quality bands such as Falloch and Cerebral Bore making a name for themselves. Ironically from experience we go down a lot better live in England than we do in Scotland but I’d like to believe with the release of our album it will at least have some sort of positive effect and bring Scotland closer to the forefront.
TeethOfTheDivine: What are the immediate plans for Cnoc An Tursa for the next year or so?
Rene McDonald Hill: We are actively working on a follow up to the Giants of Auld, possibly a concept album based on Bonny Prince Charlie and the Jacobites with the aim of recording it early 2014. We plan to play as many live shows as possible to promote the release of the album this year and will likely play a few new unreleased tracks live!
TeethOfTheDivine: Thank you for taking the time out to do the interview. We look forward to hearing what’s next!
Rene McDonald Hill: Thanks for your support Mike. Cheers!