From the moment Mike Lepond (Symphony X, Silent Assassins) told me about THEM, I became intrigued. The band’s debut record, Sweet Hollow hit like a sonic assault of over-the-top metal theatrics, with grandiose vocals, muscular guitars, pummeling rhythms, and a cheesy but engaging concept that would make King Diamond and Alice Cooper proud. The name alone is brilliant, but the darkly cinematic approach of the band’s sound is ear bait for fans of Iced Earth, Mercyful Fate, Helloween, and so forth. Sweet Hollow had originally been envisioned as a one-off album, but vocalist KK Fossor (nee Troy Norr) fortuitously realized the scope could be much bigger, and thus THEM have returned with the second piece to the story, Manor of the Se7en Gables.
Along with Fossor, the sextet also features American guitarist Markus Johansson (Sylencer, 4ARM) and drummer Angel Cotte (ex-Demolition Hammer), as well as Mike Lepond who handles bass in the studio. They are joined by their German contingent, guitarist Markus Ullrich (Lanfear), and keyboardist Richie Seibel (Lanfear, Ivanhoe). Alexander Palma handles bass when they perform live. This week Metal Nation caught up with Fossor to discuss THEM, the new album, and more.
Like its predecessor, Manor of the Se7en Gables finds Norr reviving his tortured protagonist, KK Fossor. The tale picks up where Sweet Hollow closed, but the story of THEM began almost a decade ago…
Just shy of a decade ago we were doing a King Diamond tribute, which was almost like a farce because I was in a cover band and I thought I’d like to do one King Diamond song. Turns out one of the guitar players knew the entire Them album from King Diamond. So we vowed to do like a Halloween show, and that one show turned into three-and-a-half years. I was playing with excellent musicians and I thought it would be cool to do something in a heavier vein then what we were doing, but it just didn’t pan out that way.. I wound up meeting Markus Ullrich at a dinner in 2012. He was in Lanfear. It was chance meeting, which is just kind of crazy and pretty amazing.”
While THEM began as a one-album project, it continues to grow. It is not simply an album concept, but rather a full band concept that has been meticulously planned at every turn.
There are a number of groups in heavy metal where they have concept albums, and I can appreciate what those groups have done to bring those works to life. It’s really involved. This is a little different because as you said, the entire thing is a concept, and the story is continuous. It’s not like it’s a 3-part trilogy where there might be a time jump in between. Literally the story has continued consecutively without the drop of a beat. So that makes it different. But one rule we always follow is the music is first. The music is number one, the story is number two.”
Fossor admits to being something of a mad scientist when it comes to envisioning every aspect of THEM.
I’m the one who stays awake late at night thinking about all these crazy things. How this story would work. I toss it around with the others guys, and they laugh and chuckle, and say ‘Oh, you’re crazy.’ This album really amazes us because everything–the visual, the audio, and the thematic content is just gripping.”
The first single from Manor of the Se7en Gables is the instantly addictive, “Witchfinder,” a song that is bound to be a seminal track and live staple for the band.
Actually, we were playing this song a year before we recorded it. It’s funny. This song, we knew we had to play and I was running out of time, so for quite a few shows I sang the song just using scat singing. Meaning there were no discernable lyrics yet. I knew what the vocal mapping was. That was consistent from day one. I knew what the harmonies would be, etcetera, but I didn’t have lyrics the first handful of shows we played it. And people loved it. We used to end our set with that song. It’s probably a song that will be played forever, for the life of the band.”
Despite the obvious King Diamond influence and nods to traditional and power metal, musically THEM feature a multitude of styles melded together. “Refuge in the Manor” is very much a speed-driven thrash monster, and something like “As the Sage Burns” has progressive elements and even a little hardcore flavor on some of the vocalizations, while there are hints of death metal on “Punishment by Fire,” and other tracks.
Our backgrounds consist of various sub-genres of heavy metal. You have some musicians that hail from progressive metal, death metal, and thrash metal. So when you mix that all up, what do you have? THEM. How many bands that play songs where you say, ‘Wow, that’s thrash,’ and they have keyboards? It’s mind-boggling what these guys come up with, and that music really drives the story.”
Check out the full interview with Fossor below as he talks in-depth about the storyline of the first two records so far, the impact of background vocalist Paul,Sabu, working with Dave Otero, and what is coming next for THEM.