Interview with Howie Bentley
Interview conducted by Sargon the Terrible
Date online: October 9, 2009
Cauldron Born were one of the great unsung bands of the US underground, holding high the torch of true Heavy Metal. The band flickered in and out of existence like a candle, and finally broke up in 2003, seemingly never to be heard from again. But now Cauldron Born mastermind Howie Bentley is back with his guitar, and a new project called Briton Rites that should be hitting us in a few months. The man was good enough to take the time to fill me in on what he's been up to...
Sargon: So, what happened to Cauldron Born? ...And Rome Shall Fall was a really strong release, and then the band just kind of disappeared.
Howie: I was miserable and just had enough. I never really had much in common with the guys in the band. I am a Heavy Metal purist and they aren't. That is not their fault, they are great musicians, we just have different backgrounds. I grew up in the '80s loving metal and pretty much hating other kinds of music, aside from a little classical. I spent years trying to fit the proverbial square peg into a round hole.
It was always my dream to have the greatest Metal band in the world, spend all of my time and energy for it and make at least a decent living playing the music I love. That was a delusion. One day I had to come to grips with reality and that was the day that I disbanded Cauldron Born.
Sargon: What have you been doing in the time since then? You pretty much vanished for about six years there.
Howie: I am a guitar teacher. That is what I do for a living. Outside of giving lessons, I stopped playing guitar for a few years. Being without a creative outlet was aggravating me really bad so I tried my hand at writing prose for awhile. I wasn't exactly great at it but that period did yield one good story that may one day be turned into a concept album if I manage to do another Cauldron Born album. The story involves the Cauldron Born mascot, Thorn, who is on the covers of both Born of the Cauldron as well as ...And Rome Shall Fall. The story is set in Briton around 62 AD, shortly after Boudicca fell and the Iceni revolt was crushed.
I had written some material for what was supposed to be the next Cauldron Born album. Finally, I decided I was going to do another Cauldron Born album with all new musicians. I started playing guitar again like a maniac and ended up hurting my right hand. It was about another year and a half before I managed to rehabilitate my hand to where I could play well again. By then, I was starting to get another idea about what I wanted to do. I decided to put the Cauldron Born thing on the back burner.
Sargon: Tell us how you got back into the music scene and what led to the creation of your new band Briton Rites.
Howie: It started with me buying Reverend Bizarre's Crush The Insects. I had read that one of the members of Candlemass was really high on those guys and I bought their album. At first, I wasn't even really sure I liked it. But I kept listening to it and the Black Sabbath influence really hooked me. Listening to that album actually got me missing and old favorite band of mine, Witchfinder General. So I dug out my Witchfinder General albums and started listening to them. That, in turn, got me missing early Sabbath and it just took off from there.
I was already listening to a lot of traditional Doom and one night I was reading J. Sheridan Le Fanu's gothic horror novelette-CARMILLA. I thought to myself "I need to make some music that makes me feel like this story does." That book made a huge impression on me. If I had to point to a single thing that made me decide to start Briton Rites, that would be it.
Sargon: Is anyone from the Cauldron Born days involved in Briton Rites in any capacity? Do you still keep in touch with them?
Howie: No, none of the guys from Cauldron Born are involved with Briton Rites. I occasionally hear from Shawn (bass) and Bill (drums). It's not like there is any animosity on my part. We just don't have much in common musically. I would point to Black Sabbath as being where my musical journey began, they would most likely point to Dream Theater.
Sargon: When and how can we expect the Briton Rites album to be released? It's coming out on your own label, isn't it?
Howie: Yeah, I am launching my own label just to release my stuff. I plan on having it out by December of this year if all goes as scheduled. I just got tired of talking with labels that couldn't come up with enough money to even cover studio time. It is useless to me to work with a label where I still have to invest money out of my own pocket and not even break even. Studio time costs a lot of money. If a label will only loan me half or less of what it costs to make an album, then you also can guess there will be little or no promotion, and when it's all said and done they will pay me nothing in royalties. So, the next time I make an album it is the same process again. Losing more and more each time. Over time you could pay for a car with the money you are losing to make albums that some prick is just going to upload for free on the Internet. That is one reason I get so pissed when I see these sorry bastards uploading bands' music for free downloads.
Sargon: Is it difficult putting a band and album together in the deep south? Is there much of a scene down there these days?
Howie: Next to impossible. The southeast is probably one of the most trendy areas in the country. Conservative Christian culture is just not conducive to supporting an environment in which Heavy Metal can be played and appreciated. If anyone here (Atlanta) says they are into metal it isn't really True Metal, it is just some shoddy hardcore derivative or something else equally as silly.
I am originally from the mountains of eastern Kentucky, the coal fields. It is an economically depressed and dismal place, unlike the sunny, deep parts of the south. Maybe that is why I write Heavy Metal songs. No one else from there does, though. They all listen to country music. That is one reason I left. The reason I stay here is that I can make a decent living just teaching guitar. I don't have to go out and play music that I don't like for an income. Try looking for a good teaching gig somewhere else like Nashville or NYC. Good luck!
As far as putting an album together, Corbin King is great with his studio (Kingdoom Studios, by the way). I think his studio and what he can do with it is good as any Metal studio, anywhere. Corbin plays drums quite well, too. So between the two of us we have the instruments covered. Being involved with the Metal underground for years, you get to know a lot of people. I found Phil Swanson through some friends who suggested I listen to the Hour of 13 album. That was fortunate.
Sargon: The re-release of Born of the Cauldron made a bit of a splash, are there plans for a similar re-release for ...And Rome Shall Fall?
Howie: ...And Rome Shall Fall is still tied up with Underground Symphony but I plan to work on that after I get the label up and running and see how it is going to do.
Sargon: I was gratified that Stormspell didn't change the cover art for the reissue. Cauldron Born albums never had what you would call great cover art, but it had the right feel and a certain charm regardless. Would you agree, or would you rather re-do the covers if you had the choice?
Howie: I agree that I am glad that Stormspell didn't want to change the cover, but I disagree that they are not great album covers. I really like those album covers. They remind me a lot of the SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN comics from the '70s and 80's. Lionel Baker is my friend and I have always admired his artwork. He is heavily influenced by Frank Frazetta. Lionel used to run a record store that specialized in Heavy Metal back in the '80s in Johnson City, Tennessee and my mom lived right down the street from there at one point.
I created Thorn (Cauldron Born's mascot) but Lionel was the first to draw him so he will most likely be the album cover artist for any future Cauldron Born albums, if there are anymore. Lionel is a big Doom fanatic (he painted the Saint Vitus-Mournful Cries album cover as well) and he is really liking what I am doing now so I plan to have him paint the Briton Rites debut album cover. Maybe the album covers aren't technically perfect but they have a certain presence to them that I feel visually represents my music. I am all about hand-painted album covers. I can't stand seeing these fake, computer-generated pictures on the covers of Metal albums. I think an album cover should pretty much tell you what a band is going to sound like.
Sargon: Is there any possibility of another Cauldron Born album someday?
Howie: I would like to record another Cauldron Born album at some point but right now, Briton Rites and getting my record label up and running are my main priorities. I have at least a trilogy of Briton Rites albums planned. Here is to hoping that happens.
Sargon: Briton Rites seems quite a bit darker than Cauldron Born, what bands/books/movies specifically influenced the new music?
Howie: Musically, my two main influences with Briton Rites are early Black Sabbath and Witchfinder General. I would also cite the Trouble albums up through the self-titled as being an inspiration. That Sabbath album, Live At Last, is one of my favorites as far as their sound. They are down-tuned for the whole concert and Tony Iommi's guitar sound is just perfect. I was heavily into the first eight (yeah, I like Never Say Die too) Black Sabbath albums back in the early '80s. They just helped me form a part of my musical personality in my early years of development as a musician. For some reason I gravitated away from listening to that stuff until the last few years. I feel almost like I have come full-circle.
Of course Le Fanu's CARMILLA was what really sparked the whole thing. As far as books, my main influences are Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Karl Edward Wagner, David C. Smith and Richard L. Tierney. I set one of Richard Tierney's poems to music for the Briton Rites debut. It is a song called "All-Hallowed Vengeance". Tierney is the greatest living Sword & Sorcery author, in my opinion.
Cauldron Born was more of a Sword & Sorcery band and Briton Rites has more of a gothic horror/occult feel to it. There is a song inspired by a Howard story on the Briton Rites album, called "The Right Hand Of Doom". I think that maybe some of your readers will recall that Solomon Kane story. At the time when I first formed Cauldron Born back in 1994, I thought I was the only one writing lyrics influenced by Robert E. Howard's works. There were a few others but I wasn't aware of them (I hadn't even heard Manilla Road's music until after I had recorded the first Cauldron Born album). It seems to be becoming a staple now... all of these bands influenced by Howard.
I am really into the old Hammer films like THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, TWINS OF EVIL, CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, VAMPIRE CIRCUS, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA and so on. When I first heard Phil Swanson's voice his singing gave me that sort of feeling. To my mind his voice evokes images of misty graveyards, beautiful vampire women and witches' sabbats past midnight, deep in the woods. That is why I set out to record an album with him. I think the music of Briton Rites cradles his voice and the two just go together naturally. I am into all kinds of horror films but Hammer made all of my favorites.Sargon: Are there any new bands that you are into? What do you think of the metal scene now as opposed to 6 years ago?Howie: I mostly listen to old bands but honestly there are some good new bands out there now; Gates Of Slumber, Seamount, Hour Of 13, Solitary Sabred, Atlantean Kodex.
I wish I had more time just to listen to music. In my opinion, the underground metal scene now is much better than it was six years ago. I think the only CD that I have recently bought was Lord Vicar-Feel No Pain. I wish Reverend Bizarre were still around.
Sargon: How did you get started playing guitar? What players and bands influenced you?
Howie: I had a guitar when I was younger because my father used to play and he encouraged me to play, but I wasn't much interested in it. When I was around fifteen or so I heard Black Sabbath's Paranoid album and Randy Rhoads playing on the first Ozzy album around the same time and those two things just sparked a sudden interest in playing the guitar. I bought those albums and became obsessed with learning to play the guitar. It just grew from there. My three main influences besides Randy Rhoads were Sabbath, Maiden and Priest. After that I would say Venom, Witchfinder General, the first Grim Reaper album, early Rainbow, Mercyful Fate, early Fates Warning and so on. Getting more and more into the craft of playing guitar solos I was also interested in what guys like Michael Schenker and Gary Moore were doing. Later on I went through a "neo-classical" phase to where I was listening to players like Yngwie, Paul Gilbert, Cacophony and Vinnie Moore. Michael Schenker is still one of my favorite players, aside from that I am as much into what Tony Iommi has done as I was at fifteen years old, if not even more so.Sargon: I know I am deeply looking forward to hearing your new music, is there anything else you'd like to tell us about it?
Howie: The debut album should be out in December on my label, Witchmaker Records. For those interested in Traditional Doom Metal and/or NWOBHM, buy the album (don't download it) and there is a good possibility there will be a second one. I have over half of the second album already written.
Thanks to you, Sargon, for your interest in my music and for helping me spread the word and promoting it and thanks to all of your readers for taking the time to read this.
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