In late November 1989, guitarist Chris Galvan and I decided to start a new project of heavy, progressive, all-original metal. We'd both spent a portion of the previous year in a power metal band called Polaris (do keep in mind, that at this time "power metal" referred to bands like Metal Church, or the sound of the first Anthrax and Overkill albums, NOT the happy Euro metal of today), that fell apart one member at a time after a single low-budget demo.
We wanted to pursue a heavier and more diverse direction than Polaris, having been strongly influenced by the thrash movement, early death metal, doom, and progressive metal (Polaris essentially sounded like Maiden/Priest on steroids; fairly straight ahead NWOBHM influenced metal), and right away we started on our first song called "The Mourning". We thought it was pretty clever to start off by giving everyone the impression it was going to be a total thrasher, but it was pretty clear by the second riff (which Chris nicked from Stravinsky!) that this wasn't going to be the standard affair. I rounded out the rest of the song with some slow galloping riffs influenced by Candlemass. The songwriting was far from polished or mature, but it definitely provided us with a launching point.
Initially, we christened the project Dream Wytch, and brought in Chris' younger brother Brendan in on vocals, who at the time had a voice that was a strange hybrid of Geoff Tate and David Bowie! We tried out a few local drummers, but nothing really panned out in those first few months, so we just kept writing.
Midway into 1990, Chris left to prepare for the Berklee College Of Music, intent on pursuing a jazz career, but another ex-Polaris member stepped in on drums: Jim Chappell, and it was then that the songs really started to take shape. We worked up several songs in addition to "The Mourning," including "Necrospectral Exile" (I think I boosted part of that name from a demo I came across!), "Woman Of Shadows," and "Night Unbroken," most of which remain unrecorded/unreleased to this day.
Later on, I met bassist Chad Peevy randomly whilst causing some trouble in the neighborhood, and we hit it off immediately! After finding we had similar influences, Chad came on board, completing the first proper line-up of the band.
The Dream Wytch moniker didn't stick, so for a while we went under the name Penance (until I discovered the Pittsburgh band of ex-Dream Death members!), and then Mass Cremation, neither of which lasted for long (fortunately!).
In October, my personal life fell apart; I broke up with my estranged girlfriend, whom I cared deeply about, I was constantly at odds with my parents, school became a chore, and I got deeper into drugs and alcohol. I was doing my best to medicate the existence that I felt had shattered, but in the long run, this only resulted in even bigger problems.
Needless to say, in light of all this, the music I was writing took a much darker and more personal turn; newer songs like "Bound By Depression" and "Dying" were bleak, suicidal compositions that were bereft of any other early influences besides doom. My lost love became my muse (much to her chagrin), and the distinct, emotional sound that we're known for today developed at this time.
With the evolution of this sound came a new moniker, the one that has lasted to this day: While Heaven Wept. The story behind the name is simple; I received a letter from my girlfriend one bright autumn day that also happened to be our anniversary. Although I probably should've anticipated the contents considering she had moved to another city, I just didn't want to accept things were over, however there was no mistaking the sentiment behind the words "I've just given up" and "I'm not the only one in this world." I was gutted. I fell to my knees, unable to breathe, weeping uncontrollably, asking the useless question of "why". The air chilled around me, the sky turned black, and sky opened up as if empathetic to my anguish - heaven wept with my sorrow.
At that point, I was more lost than I'd ever been, and if it weren't for a few very close friends, I probably wouldn't be here today. Things had happened that I didn't understand, and I suppose it would be safe to say that any shred of innocence that had survived up to that point was crushed. As I continued spiraling downward, I sought answers in philosophy, religion, pharmaceuticals, science, and still came up with nothing. That was when I realized the answer was in front of me the whole time: music. There were answers or at least empathy in the music of my heroes. If nothing else, I could express myself in ways I could not put into words…I'd have a solace there.
Thus, WHW became my mission, my religion, and the whole of my existence. Gone were the aspirations of "stardom" and musical innovation; I just needed to say the things I didn't have the words for and release the overwhelming emotions that were suffocating me. My goal was simple: to record the "Sorrow Of The Angels" album as an epitaph, and then die. Pretty bleak huh? It's the truth unfortunately.
Songs like "Into The Wells Of Sorrow" and "In Aeturnum" originated during this time, and were 100% autobiographical, focusing on the actual events leading up to the demise of the aforementioned relationship, as well as my emotional state in the immediate aftermath.
All this stuff was probably a bit too "heavy" for Jim, and he wanted to pick up the bass anyway, so he left the group to form a band more in tune with his own influences like the English Dogs. Brendan also jumped ship to Fifth Season, the progressive metal band formed by my high school "arch rival" Chris Ladd. Chad stuck around a bit longer, and as for myself, I had a mission.
Enter James Whorton, a maniacal drummer I went to school with; he was the first guy I knew that could actually play blast beats as well as Neil Peart's drum solo (by 1992, we'd spent the previous 4 years getting deeper into bands like Xecutioner/Obituary, Sepultura, Morbid Angel, Napalm Death, Nihilist/Entombed, despite playing a more melodic variant)! He was always the practical joker, who provided us with endless hours of laughter, despite my perpetually bleak mood. We did have a lot of fun jamming the WHW songs and various covers that year.
Meanwhile, with Brendan's departure, we needed someone to handle the vocals, and through some friends we hooked up with Kenny Thomas, who also played guitar as well. He'd graduated some years before us, had his own house, and was very enthusiastic about jamming with us. This configuration lasted most of my senior year, with the exception of Jason Stone stepping in on bass for a period. I'd moved into the house after my parents kicked me out, so we jammed a lot, and partied even more.
Once Kenny had become distracted with his own personal matters, and my drinking had caused some problems (like flipping my first car), I ended up moving out of that house and back to my parents' place (which of course was another mistake), where I kept jamming with James and Chad on the WHW material.
There are probably over 100 rehearsal recordings from the 1989-1992 time period in existence, featuring countless unreleased songs and long-lost riffs, but the vast majority of this material will probably never see the light of day; I consider just about everything WHW did before "Of Empires Forlorn" to be "developmental material" akin to the work of a group of students (however gifted). The only notable exception being "Thus With A Kiss I Die," but more on that later…
The summer of 1992 we graduated from high school, had a nice share of legal problems, and it marked the last time we played with James, who left the band to get married and start a family. WHW was on hiatus, although I managed to write "La Mort D'Amour" that year.
In the fall of 1992, I started taking classes at the local community college, and I kept seeing this guy walking around campus with a Carcass shirt (and believe me, we stood out amongst the jocks, preps, and faux-hippies), so I eventually we got to talking and it turned out that he played drums in a death metal band from the other side of town called Parasitic Infestation. His name was Jon Paquin.
As it turned out, their other guitarist had just left and since WHW wasn't really doing anything at the time, so we got together for a jam. We hit it off more or less instantly and I was asked to join the band. I think we had one rehearsal before I joined them onstage later that same week. I remember being blown away by Paquin's drumming, and its possible that even at that time I intended to get him involved with WHW (as I was accused of plotting all along haha).
I brought Chad in on bass, and along with guitarist Ricardo Garcia and vocalist Shane Privette, we started tearing up the local scene with chaotic, absurdly loud, brutal gigs and numerous keg parties (which we were infamous for, and they were the most enjoyable performances I was ever a part of). We even included "The Mourning" in our sets, which stood out like a sore thumb, but it kept WHW alive in essence (not that I'd personally even come close to normalcy, or giving up on the mission).
Internal tensions, power struggles, and musical differences lead to my departure from the band in late 1992, but not before I'd met a friend of PI at one of our keg parties, bassist Gabe Funston (from the band Punishment), and convinced Paquin to give me a hand with WHW. (I did however reconcile with PI, and we reformed under the 3.14 moniker, recorded a still-unreleased album, and then fell apart completely for the trivia freaks out there!).
With the dawning of 1993, the new WHW began rehearsing songs for the "Sorrow Of The Angels" album. We didn't bother with the earliest material apart from "The Mourning" and a revamped version of Jim Chappell's "Gothic" (now entitled "Shores Of Desolation"), and focusing primarily on the songs I'd written in late 1991/1992.
In 1994, we went into Neptune Studios with an album's worth of songs: "The Mourning," "Into The Wells Of Sorrow," "In Aeturnum," "Shores Of Desolation," "On Earth It Is Done," "La Mort D'Amour," "Sailing Within," and the recently completed "Sorrow Of The Angels." We also did a demo for a song called "Lost (In Retrospect)" that I put together with Paquin in 1993.
Early on that year, a pre-mix version of "The Mourning" appeared on Shane Privette's "Scenecubator" cassette-only compilation alongside other local stalwarts PI, Open Defiance, and Autism. Positive reactions to our track encouraged us to finish up the rest of the material we were working on in the studio, but ultimately I wasn't completely satisfied with the results; This wasn't sounding like what I heard in my head, so the plans changed midway through the process.
After one particularly frustrating day in the studio, I decided to vent over a few songs by screaming out the lyrics in a death metal fashion, which we recorded, not thinking anything of it (after Kenny split, and I decided to take over vocal duties, I tried the death metal approach for a few months, then quickly opted for the clean vocals this band started with, as the death growls obscured the true emotion in the lyrics). Listening to the playback someone had the "bright" idea (probably myself) of releasing these versions for our friends that had been waiting 5 years for something to listen to at home.
Thus, the "Into The Wells Of Sorrow" 7" came out later that year again on Shane Privette's Open Eye Records (I co-financed this particular release) in a limited edition of 500 copies. We gained more attention from this release in the underground despite not promoting it whatsoever. In hindsight, it probably wasn't the smartest move to misrepresent ourselves before we'd even established our real identity to the world, but we were hungry to get a "proper" release out, but I can't say I totally regret it. If naught else, it's a rare item for our longtime fans and friends to covet.
By the fall of 1994, we'd decided to release an EP with what we felt were the best songs from those sessions and market it as the first "real" release from WHW. We pressed up 50 copies of "Lovesongs Of The Forsaken" as a promotional cassette and sent it out to various zines and other bands we were in contact with/aware of (yes, we were still tape-trading at that time!). The response was overwhelmingly positive, and we decided to touch up a few things and then release it ourselves on CD in 1995.
I'd been working at Tower Records for a couple years by then and met the editors of two zines there, Sargatanas and Sinistrari. We decided to form a small label for our own bands and those that we liked, and thus Sinistrari Records was born (although there had already been a couple cassette-only releases prior to this). We pressed up 1000 copies of "Lovesongs" on CD and sent out copies to anyone who would listen which lead to our first interviews and worldwide exposure in the underground.
Our dark and atmospheric sound was well-received, probably due to the fact that there was a very small doom scene at the time, melodic/atmospheric black metal was on the rise, and slow death metal bands like Paradise Lost had already begun carving their niche as well. We then began building our network of connections, many of which still are intact today.
What I can say about the Funston/Paquin/Phillips line-up was that we inevitably became 100% emotionally aligned as we were all reeling from recent break-ups and personal problems, so the anguish captured on "Lovesongs" was genuine. Unfortunately, Gabe simply became too depressed if you can believe that, so much so that he could hardly function without an extreme emotional response. We probably should've stood by him, but frankly Paquin and I just felt drained after the last few practices with him. The last thing I worked with Gabe on was the brand new intro to a song called "Thus With A Kiss I Die," before we parted ways. From what I understand now, he's doing a lot better after a radical career change, and I'm glad to know that.
Needless to say we needed to assemble a new line-up so, shortly after Gabe's departure, I asked the Daniel Ingerson and Kevin Hufnagal from the avant-garde duo Grey Division Blue to join us on bass and guitar respectively in April of 1995. Kevin had also been a member of our old rivals Fifth Season, and was as much of a Fates Warning fan as I was. We started rehearsing together almost immediately, and they really helpred to push WHW towards a higher level of musical ability.
The four of us returned to Neptune Studios in the fall of 1995, intent on finally recording the "Sorrow Of The Angels" album properly. Along with many of the songs we'd recorded the first time around, we also recorded tracks for a newer composition entitled "To Grieve Forever," which has been an "inside" favorite for many years now.
I'm not really sure what happened in the studio during those sessions, but the mood and atmosphere turned pretty negative. I didn't feel like we were playing our best, there was a lot of infighting, and it soured the whole experience for me. Despite the fact that we tracked the basics for the entire album, I aborted this project before the end of 1995, unhappy with the uncomfortable nature of this particular recording process (my theory is that the studio should be a relaxed, creative, and positive experience, even with the inherent pressures). To this day, the recordings done during those sessions remain unheard, sitting on reels in my closet. I don't even really remember what they sound like now! I'm sure there are some things worth salvaging on those reels, and perhaps someday we'll all find out!
I felt like I needed a break after that harrowing studio experience, so WHW went on a brief hiatus while I worked with Twisted Tower Dire and Solstice (the details of which I'll document some other time), and the rest of the band went off to their colleges. Kevin also began work on a solo project as well.
While I really hoped these side ventures would live up to their great potential, the fact is my drinking was out of control, I was spreading myself too thin, and my heart ultimately resided with WHW. The most productive things to come out of that 6-8 month period were the completion of "Thus With A Kiss I Die" (which was a hybrid of the ancient songs "Bound By Depression" and "Dying" plus the massive bridge section I developed while I was in the UK), "Unplenitude" and "September".
Towards the end of 1996, I made efforts to regroup the band to take another stab at recording "Sorrow Of The Angels" (with an updated tracklist), but everyone was pretty involved with school, so the sessions kept getting postponed. It appeared nothing was going to happen until the following year.
In the meantime, I assembled the liner notes and master for our contribution to a split 7" with California's Cold Mourning, which came out in early 1997 on Game Two Records. We included an alternate version of "The Mourning" from the 1994 sessions as an exclusive track, primarily to offer a sign of life after an ever-growing period of silence. From what I understand, this single sold pretty well considering doom wasn't exactly popular at the time, and these days it's a rarity, fetching absurd prices on Ebay.
Once we finally made it back into Neptune to start tracking "Sorrow Of The Angels" (for the third time!), we were a three piece again. I can't exactly remember why Kevin wasn't involved this time, but I'm sure it had something to do with the fact that he was in Philadelphia going to school and working on various projects.
At any rate, things went a lot more smoothly this time around, and we managed to capture some magical moments on tape (or rather ADAT) like Daniel's improvised bass solos and counterpoint lines, some inspired playing from Paquin, and probably my most emotive vocalizations ever (as usual, I was having some complicated relationship problems, so despite the fact I was singing about the past, the pain was in fact very much in the present).
We tracked seven songs for the album: "Thus With A Kiss I Die," "Into The Wells Of Sorrow," "The Death Of Love" (the electric version of "La Mort D'Amour), "September," "Unplenitude," "To Grieve Forever," and "Cantique De Jean Racine." The latter of which was a failed attempt to modernize the Faure composition, with Daniel on viola, a guest pianist, and chamber choir; I'm sure we could've salvaged it with today's technology and more time, but it seemed pretty clear that it wasn't turning out how I envisioned, so we elected to shelve it.
As a matter of fact, we also shelved "Unplenitude" and "To Grieve Forever" as well - the former because I was sick of every other band having that "one odd" song on their albums (it seemed to be the trend at the time), and the latter…well, I have no idea! It was probably just a moment of stupidity to be honest! Needless to say, some later reviews of the album labeled it as one-dimensional (which wouldn't have been the case if we hadn't cut the aforementioned songs), and my response to that is simply: "You're damn right it is…one dimension of pure, unadulterated epic doom metal, permeated with a very real sadness." That was the whole fucking point, but I digress…
We ended up spending the better part of a year in the studio, and when it came time for mixing in early 1998, the financial resources were drying up (or I should say "drunken up"), and basically we just wanted to get the album out for once and all. I remember various people telling me that we had to compromise or it would never be completed, and while there probably was some truth to that, if I hadn't heeded that "advice," I would have avoided one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made in my life.
Aside from the fact that Neptune was limited in terms of capabilities (in terms of gear) at that time, aside from the fact we brought in a second engineer before mixing (who did as good a job as anyone could have), the bottom line is after all this rehearsing, tracking, and heartache, we rushed the album to the finish line, feeling pressured by time and dwindling finances. It was a decision that I've regretted ever since.
It was a horrible feeling walking out of the studio with an album that meant so much, that we'd worked so hard on, that didn't sound even close to what I had envisioned since the beginning. Mauro from Eibon Records assured me that it was brilliant, and for years, people all over the world have called me insane for being unhappy with it, but my answer to everyone is this: just wait to hear what I hear in my head (more on that later).
Upon completion of the mixing, we decided that we needed to assemble a new, local line-up to promote the album in a live setting (Daniel had long since returned to Philadelphia to finish his education), so I asked Scott Waldrop and Jimmy Murad from Twisted Tower Dire if they would help us out (after all, I did help form TTD and sing on their first demo!), and they agreed.
This line-up was short-lived, but we managed to stay sober enough to perform one set at a party alongside TTD. The bottom line was we were all way out of control, and at the time I don't think Scott and Jimmy took the music as serious as Jon and I…it really wasn't in their nature to begin with. In the end, it was clear that we were better off partying together than being in a band together, so it was on to yet another line-up by mid 1998.
In the autumn, "Sorrow Of The Angels" was finally released on Italy's Eibon Records in a beautiful, luxury digipak (minus the cover art I'd originally intended to use for legal/tax reasons) with much acclaim worldwide. The reactions were simply…amazing. Adoring letters poured in and extremely flattering reviews kept popping up in magazines all over the world. It was a strange feeling being championed for an expression of pain, and certainly bittersweet considering the mix wasn't even close to what I heard in my head. Still, "Thus With A Kiss I Die" remains one of the defining moments of WHW, and I do consider it to be my first "masterwork" (for lack of a better word).
With the release of the album, Paquin and I set out to assemble another line-up to continue performing live in support of the album and ironically, as one Scott/Jimmy team was on their way out, a new Scott/Jimmy duo came in!
I met bassist Jim Hunter while we were both taking classes at the NOVA Annandale campus. Again, it was like when I met Paquin years before; Jim had a Candlemass shirt on one day, and I approached him because of that (we were, of course, still surrounded by the same damn jocks, preps, and faux-hippies). I know he thought to himself "Who the fuck is THIS guy?" (He told me that later haha), but once we found out that we both played in doom metal bands, things just kind of developed from there. I was pretty blown away by the fact that he was in THE Revelation, and he seemed to appreciate what we were trying to do with WHW as well.
So years later, in 1998, once I found out Revelation were on hold, Jim was the first person I approached about playing bass for WHW, and thankfully he accepted (despite having just recently become involved with October 31 as well). I cannot even begin to explain how important of an addition he has been to the WHW legacy, but I suppose it would be sufficient to say that he's still my right hand man in the band today.
As for guitarist Scott Loose, he wasn't really a stranger to WHW since he'd jammed with us previously during the early 90's in one of many incarnations of WHW that I haven't covered here (*see footnote below*). In fact, for a brief period of time he was an early student of mine, and years later, hearing him again I was pretty impressed.
He'd formed a couple bands with other mutual friends from high school, and the most recent of which, Arise From Thorns definitely caught my ear. It was uncanny how similar our guitar and writing styles were, so it was a clear and natural decision to invite him back into the fold. Plus, his sister Michelle also played keyboards, so we told him "you should bring her along too!"
With everyone on board, the new 5-piece WHW began rehearsing regularly, alternating practices with AFT at their rehearsal space. It was an odd blend of personalities at that house, but we generally had a great time despite various personal issues and visits from the police complaining about the noise.
In early 1999, we started lining up gigs and we made our debut live performance with this line-up at the (sadly) now-defunct Phantasmagoria in Wheaton, Maryland alongside AFT and Pale Divine. The first gig was definitely the best that year, because we were 100% prepared, and despite the crowd consisting primarily of friends and family, it was a great success.
Unfortunately, the climate within the band started changing after that one; Paquin became more and more unreliable - sometimes showing up 2 hours late for rehearsals, sometimes not showing up at all. There was more and more infighting, primarily between Paquin and myself, which was really hard for me as we were best friends and had been partners for the better part of 7 years by then.
We did two more gigs in Maryland and one in New York City (with Daniel filling in on bass at the last minute!), but none of them ever matched the magic of that first gig. In fact, I'm sure many people have heard the stories about the cursed SHOD appearance, which was dreadful, and have written me off as an asshole ever since, but the circumstances were totally fucked up, trust me. I'm not going to go on about it here, and I've since made peace with the organizers (who weren't ever really at fault to begin with), so if you really want the inside story on that one, ask.
After SHOD, we pretty much went on immediate hiatus; the band was fracturing apart and we all had other plans/commitments; Jim was getting pretty busy with October 31, Scott, Michelle, and myself were jamming on new AFT material, and Paquin…well, he was becoming more and more antisocial.
Jon and I actually attempted to relocate to the west coast, but shortly after our arrival there, he had a complete and total nervous breakdown, and returned to Virginia right after that. That was the last time I talked to him for probably a year.
I decided to hang out in the Pacific Northwest for a while, waiting to see if AFT were going to come out there like we discussed, talking to Don of Sculptured about forming a new line-up of WHW there for a bit, and then ultimately resolving to come home once AFT bailed on the aforementioned plans.
During this time I got caught up in several matters of a legal nature (among other things) and life was pretty chaotic for a while. Upon my return, I hooked up with AFT again, and started writing music with them. Once I became a permanent member AFT evolved into Brave, and we spent the rest of 2000 writing, recording, and gigging as much as possible.
WHW activity was limited to a few jams with Trevor Schrotz (of Brave) on drums, then we tried to reconnect with Paquin, but it was to no avail. Brave pretty much became the focal point for the time being.
Towards the end of 2000, my whole world was falling apart; more relationship trauma, I was in debt up to my arse with legal fees and fines, my drinking was the most out of control it had ever been, and a massive rift was opening up between the other members of Brave and myself.
In early 2001 things reached a breaking point; by then I was pretty much abandoned, isolated, and dejected. I parted ways with Brave on very hostile terms, and woke up one day realizing everything I once cared about was gone, and mostly because of my own actions (or inactions). The strange thing was, that instead of brooding like in the past, I was enraged, and the need for WHW came back en force. I had a lot to prove to myself and everyone else.
2004 - 2004
First though, I had to re-assemble the band once again. Jim and Paquin came on board immediately, and Scott miraculously stayed on despite the acrimony between myself and other Brave members. We started rehearsing in this configuration more or less immediately, but it became clear pretty damn quickly that Paquin just "wasn't there" anymore. He confessed that he just couldn't handle the emotional heaviness and intensity that is WHW anymore, so after 9 years of collaboration, it came to an end.
Jon's drumming was such an integral and defining part of the "WHW sound," that we were dumbfounded at first, even though we knew we needed someone whose heart was totally in it. We needed a drummer badly.
Like I said, we had tried jamming some of the WHW material with Trevor prior to hooking up with Jon again, but considering the void between myself and the rest of Brave, he wasn't an option at the time, so we looked elsewhere. For a few months we jammed with Phil Bloxam of Hellion fame, but he was really more intent on playing jazz than metal, so that didn't pan out either.
Eventually, we came to the conclusion that an old roommate, Jason Gray would be the ideal candidate considering his tenure with the defunct Maryland death/doom band Forty Days Longing, and the fact that we already had a good repoire with him. His style is very different from Paquin's; instead of flash and finesse, he was a solid pounder, and we figured that there was no replacing Paquin, so why bother trying? What we needed was someone that had the heart and the power to bring the songs to life. Jason was our man, and we started rehearsing immediately.
The catch was that we only had two and a half months to learn everything before the studio dates we'd booked long before were upon us. There wasn't time to orchestrate any complicated drum parts, so we focused on honing a basic, thunderous barrage, even though I think we all would've liked a bit more adventurousness; it just wasn't feasible - we had about 10 songs of material to learn, and zero time for fucking about. All things considered, Jason not only didn't let us down, but he came through with flying colors in the end.
We entered Assembly Line studios in early 2002 to begin tracking the "Of Empires Forlorn" album. This time there would be no short-cuts, compromises, hasty decisions - and we knew from past experience with Brave that Kevin 131 was going to get us the sound we wanted. But it was far from easy…
Just days into the drum tracking, Jason and I both fell extremely ill. I had a fever and was hallucinating, while Jason was fatigued from the grueling schedule and a cold. By the 4th day, he could barely walk, let alone play double bass. It looked like it would be another disaster, but somehow we managed to get everything done that we'd set out to do in that first session.
On and off for the rest of 2002, we all gradually went in to layer our parts, and things went much more smoothly for the rest of the tracking. That is, until it was time for the vocal parts.
I have never been very confident in, nor a fan of my own vocals, and this session was no exception. Am I hypercritical? Are my ideals too high? Probably both, but the bottom line always was: since I was singing about my own experiences, who better to express them properly, even if not technically perfect?
Nevertheless, there came a point where I was so disheartened by my vocal performances, that I nearly shelved the whole project. Fortunately, Jim and the rest of the guys talked some sense into me this time, and once I calmed down the sessions, while still grueling, went more smoothly. Then that weird magic happened again… none of us could really believe what was coming through on the playbacks. My voice sounded different than it had in the past, most likely because of the range that I was singing in, and man, it was wild. At one point Jim sat up exclaiming, "That shit sounds like Styx meets Celtic Frost" (we had more timpani, brass, and such on the early mixes if you're wondering where the CF thing came from).
Due to another artist having booked the studio for most of the summer of 2002, we were forced to take a break before we could finish the rest of the vocals, solos, and nuances. Knowing this break was inevitable, we elected to do a couple of early mixes and release them as a limited edition 7" via our good friend Mike Pritchard's Maniacal Records.
Just prior to the release of "The Drowning Years" single, a limited edition 2LP Anthology called "Chapter One: 1989-1999" came out on Germany's Metal Supremacy Records (thanks to the efforts and suggestions of Sir Richard Walker), containing all of the material WHW had released during our first decade of existence. It was a fine collection (despite the annoying breaks in continuity on sides 2 and 3, which was my oversight), and I knew it would be the last time that those old recordings would ever be available again.
The one-two punch of "Chapter One" and "The Drowning Years" really set a lot of things in motion; the buzz about WHW was reaching deafening proportions, and our audience was largely accepting of how we'd evolved. That was definitely a much-needed inspiration to finish the rest of the "Empires" album.
When we returned to Assembly Line in the late fall of 2002, the album really started to take on a life of its own. The vocal harmonies, solos, and nuances really seemed to flow out like magic - the album started to have this aura…I really can't explain it, but we all felt it, and we were stoked about it.
We finished mixing and mastering right before Christmas Eve, and sent out advance copies to several of our longtime friends in bands all over the world. By mid-January, it was like this slow tidal wave of unbelievable reactions, starting in the UK, and making its way across the rest of Europe.
"Of Empires Forlorn" was released once again via Eibon Records from Italy in early 2003, in the usual amazing Eibon-style digipak…and Mauro really outdid himself this time graphically. For the first time ever, I was actually pleased with how a recording of mine turned out. Well, almost (haha)…
The early reviews were overwhelmingly positive, and in some cases completely insane. However, there were some small issues I had with the recording that I was intent on resolving, plus we left a couple tracks unfinished as well, so we went back into Assembly Line to finish "In Aeturnum" and shelve off those annoying, crackling frequencies in the guitars among other things, and subsequently re-mastered the entire album (with the masterful Bill Wolf again for the record).
Somewhere in the middle of all this, Duncan from the UK label Rage Of Achilles approached us, originally wanting to re-release "The Drowning Years" single. Since we didn't want to screw Mike from Maniacal Records, nor our fans who already bought the 7", we politely declined that offer, but suggested that he might consider releasing the re-mastered/re-sequenced album in Europe and North America.
Needless to say, once he heard the album, he quickly upgraded his original offer, and after a few months of deliberation and negotiation, we signed with Rage Of Achilles for the release of "Empires" in the aforementioned regions and in mid-October 2003, ROA released "Empires" in the standard jewel-case packaging in the UK and North America (followed by releases in mainland Europe in February 2004). I must say that while I prefer the "flow" of the Eibon version personally, there's no mistaking the sonic quality of the ROA pressing is superior.
Through the ROA release, we started breaking into the mainstream press for the first time properly, and "Empires" eventually went on to make several high profile year end lists that year. Again, my suggestion is to listen to the mp3's or read the reviews; I'm not going to say anything more than we're still proud of that album, and there's absolutely nothing more gratifying than the fact that all these years, we've paid for all of these recordings with our own money (and ok, a couple loans from friends and family). That's right, a DIY band actually achieved international, mainstream attention - without major press campaigns, videos, radio, high-profile gigs. It still blows me away, and I'm infinitely grateful for our fans and supporters all these years. We couldn't have made it as far as we have without you.
Ah, but the story doesn't end there does it? Of course not!
We played a couple gigs in 2003 with the "Empires" line-up (plus Michelle once again on keyboards) including the "Born Too Late" festival in Rochester, NY and one Baltimore gig as well. Both were mediocre performances in my opinion, but it's probably that curse of the first SOTA gig looming still.
At some point in 2003, discussions began with the organizers of the Doom Shall Rise festival in Germany, and we started planning our first-ever, long overdue European tour. Everything seemed to be going along smoothly (we were preparing far in advance), until Scott and Michelle (after months of deliberation) informed us they couldn't do the tour, which was a serious blow to our morale.
We tried jamming with some local substitutes, but after a couple months it became clear that schedule conflicts were going to doom that idea, and things started looking rather bleak as far as touring in support of the album that put us on the map, that we were so proud of.
Still, Jim, Jason, and myself knew how important it was to go out and reach our fans personally after all these years, so we brainstormed and soldiered on despite the fact that it felt like half of a band at that point.
We were getting pretty desperate and started talking to friends from other bands about coming out on the road with us. Hell, we even talked to some vague acquaintances from bands we previously never had contact with! At one point, it looked like Dennis from Revelation was coming out to help on guitar, but then he landed the Place Of Skulls gig, so of course that wasn't going to happen (I mean, wouldn't you opt to play in a band with Victor Griffin?), but our longtime friend Angelo Tringali from Cold Mourning on the other hand was like "Fuck yeah I'll do it!"
That was definitely reassuring for me - I knew he had the skills, was a brother, and that it was a shame CM weren't active at the time, so it was like calling in the extended family. Only trouble was he lived 3000 miles away in California!
More bizarre was hooking up with Fred the keyboard player from Holland's Whispering Gallery, who didn't even know we existed before the random email I sent him! I'm sure he thought I was nuts, but fortunately his drummer Pascal was a fan and friend, thus I'm sure he made sense out of my ramblings haha! Inevitably, Fred agreed to help us out, and with his acceptance, we at least had all the instruments covered.
This whole tour ended up being some insane, crash-course/experiment, to see if we could actually pull off the near impossible: to try making a band just a couple days before the tour, and doing it successfully. What were we thinking? Were we even thinking?
Regardless of all that, before we even left the US, the cracks were beginning to show…all of us had gotten sick, all of us were nerve wracked, and all of us were still reeling from the shattered solidarity of the "real" band, but there was no way we were canceling the tour at this point. Whatever was to happen was going to happen, period.
I'm not going to go into every detail of the tour here (I did that on the old website), but I will sum it up like this: we had some of the absolute best WHW gigs ever during the tour (Munich in particular) and some absolute worst (Aalen, Gent). The emotional roller coaster was out of control on that tour; nervous breakdowns, suicidal thoughts, madness and hysteria, conflicts with tourmates and promoters, everyone was way too drunk, relationships fragmenting both within the band and at home. The good shows were amazing highs, whereas those which were shite, still haunt us to this day. Oh, and let's not forget the thoroughly gutting experience of my baby, my main guitar falling over onstage and being broken at the neck.
But, did we pull off the experiment despite all this? Almost…at least in a few instances; we definitely became a better facsimile of a band by the end of the road; Fred and Angelo both did a damn fine job considering all this insanity, and I daresay that some nights we did sound like WHW proper. Yet, the grimmest reality was that I knew the core of the band was falling apart, and there was nothing that I could do.
Upon our return to the States, the atmosphere was moribund at best. It became readily apparent that there were some irreconcilable differences between Jason and Jim and myself. It was an extremely tense and emotional situation, with no easy solution or happy ending in sight. We originally planned to have him involved with the long overdue re-recording of SOTA, but personal issues aside, we couldn't resolve some serious business matters. We parted ways with Jason within weeks of returning home, and things were emotional and unpleasant for quite some time, but thankfully I can report that it's all water under the bridge now.
However, there was one thing that rang through as clear as day: this was NOT the end of WHW by a long damn shot.
2004 - 2009
I was more determined than ever to rebuild WHW, and press forward; we had already written a fair amount of new material before we even recorded "Empires," and there was no way I was going to let our friends and fans down with one tour of varied quality. Sounds like I've come a long way since the beginnings of WHW huh? I most certainly have.
In July of 2004, long after resolving things with the Brave folks, I asked Trevor if he'd step in to help us record the next album. He's the most technically proficient drummer out of all of those we've had in our ranks, and I knew that he could pull off the increasingly diverse material we were writing. Once he agreed, we started rehearsing immediately.
Unlike the last 8 or so years, when we would practice together as a full band, this time it was more like it was in the beginning: just Trevor and myself working out the songs' arrangements, jamming several times every single week. I think the whole band was only ever in the same room to rehearse a total of 4 times since 2004!
We've made quite a bit of use of music composition software and the Internet to send mp3's and files back and forth too, which is a totally new thing for us, but probably inevitable considering we're spread out over 3-4 States now. So everyone pretty much had a lot of "homework" to do to prepare for the new album.
After demoing a couple tracks at different studios, we ended up settling on Salamone's Studio for a plethora of reasons (the least of which being the recommendation of a mutual friend), and the actual tracking sessions for the album began in April 2005. We'd prepared some 10 songs of material for "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" but after learning how meticulously Chris Salamone approached major recordings, we ended up cutting the album in half (Chris and I are both perfectionists, so it's a very slow process, not to mention the fact that I was financing the entire thing out of my own pocket). Tracking continued throughout 2006, however before finishing the album I decided it would be best to invest in all the gear we've wanted to experiment with or dreamed of for use on the album - primarily to avoid further urges to re-record yet another album somewhere down the road. This endeavor was extremely time-consuming and expensive as one might expect, but in the end absolutely worth it.
What I didn't expect was how difficult it was to get "back in the saddle" after completing that mission; everyone's other bands were embroiled with writing/gigging/recording by then, financial resources had dried up, and personally I got involved in another relationship that I wanted to give an honest chance, where for the first time ever I set WHW aside completely with the intention to proceed only once we were in the same place. Despite having gone above and beyond in every way possible (my conscience is clean), this was not to be, and having reached the lowest point of my existence early in 2009 with the news of a cancer reaching my family a second time within 2 years, it was very clear to me that it was time to "go home."
What started with a few tentative rehearsals of new song entitled "Finality" (which I consider to be the greatest of all WHW's discography), evolved into a full reactivation - what started as a personal need and a minute spark grew into a blazing inferno - enough momentum had built up to carry us through the completion of "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" and beyond.
A major proponent for this surge in activity was the addition of a new lead singer Rain Irving in 2008. I know for many this was a shocking twist in that my voice has been part of what defined WHW all these years, but the fact is I was the third singer overall and was strictly a guitar player in the original configuration. Additionally, the new material was extremely demanding musically, and being that I'd been a guitarist for nearly 30 years now it made sense that I focus on that role. This also completely eliminated the problems I've had in the past vocally live (though after the "Empires" tour, I finally figured out what I needed to "hear" myself better).
Longtime friends and fans repeatedly told me "You can't do that!" or "It won't be the same" until they heard his vocal demos, which in all cases yielded the response of "Oh. Yeah, he's amazing!" Of course I knew that already, having been familiar with his past work in the progressive metal band Altura among other things. I assure you, he was the "right one" to step into my shoes up front and take us to another level. I've worked very closely with him and have discussed at length my approach to vocals, which I am sure exerted influence without distorting his own identity. And for those of you still hesitant to warm to the concept of someone else singing, rest assured I'll contribute vocally again in some capacity someday.
It also dawned on me that between Rain, Michelle, and myself we had no less than 3 lead singers in the line-up, so you can be sure this has influenced subsequent material. It should also be noted that Jim has evolved vocally quite a bit as well, so you can expect a wall of vocal harmonies as we move onward.
But, I've digressed here (as I'm often prone to do) - "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" was released in November 2009, and we as a band couldn't have been happier with the results. It featured our first large-scale work since "Thus…" - another 17+ minute epic entitled "The Furthest Shore." "VOL" is the most diverse recording WHW has ever done so far, and it in many ways is a return to the very beginnings of the band; it was not one-dimensional musically or atmospherically, and clearly music without genre or boundary.
"Vast Oceans Lachrymose" was originally slated for release by Black Lotus Records of Greece, but unfortunately the label collapsed under various pressures much like our previous label Rage Of Achilles. In light of this, various offers were considered but we ultimately elected to sign with Cruz Del Sur Music in Italy being that it was already home to our mates Slough Feg and Widow (among others) and beyond that the label head Enrico had been interested in working with us for many years.
Despite being extremely pleased with "Vast Oceans Lachrymose", we had no idea what to expect as far as the reactions of both the media and longtime fans; musically it was far beyond the realms of pure Doom Metal (even more so than "Of Empires Forlorn") and after 18 years I'd handed the microphone over to Rain, amongst other things. We were sure that the album would cause controversy and with that came the risk of alienating everyone that had stood by us throughout all of these years…but it was exactly the album that I personally needed to make and that superseded all other fears or concerns. In the end, these fears proved to be unfounded as the reaction worldwide was nothing short of incredible; "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" was almost unanimously considered one of the greatest albums of 2009 by both the media and the fans…some even going so far to christen it "the first modern classic of the 21st Century"! We were stunned and humbled by the outpouring of praise throughout the world, and the album rapidly became the top-selling release from Cruz Del Sur Records. Ultimately, "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" did end up being counted amongst the best releases of the year in numerous year-end polls, and in several cases at #1.
Meanwhile, we returned to the stage for the first time in 5 years at the 2nd edition of the Born Too Late festival alongside our brethren Argus, Cyrus, Revelation, Pale Divine, Iron Man, Orodruin (etc.) and while we were still "shaking the rust off" as well as breaking in the new line-up, it was certainly a better show than any of the 2004 tour - especially considering we had only one full-band rehearsal prior to this event. Additional shows would follow in early 2010 in Pennsylvania with our mates Argus, who we feel a special kinship with. For the first time in the history of WHW, we were developing into a force to be reckoned with on the stage and having spent the preceding years devouring live recordings of some of my favorite bands it was something I really wanted to emphasize with this latest configuration. Hot on the heels of the overwhelming response to "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" the demand for WHW grew in a plethora of areas - from performances to the demand for the long-out-of-print back catalog…indeed, the fires were raging stronger than ever before. In the end, the milestone of our 20th Anniversary found the band voracious and inspired to carry ever upwards and onwards, in no way feeling weathered or aged; despite maturity, the music still originated within the heart and means more than any accolades.
Rolling into 2010, we were literally on top of the world after two decades of devotion, and the opportunities afforded to us were plentiful, one of the most notable being offered a co-headlining slot at the Hammer Of Doom III festival in Germany alongside Saint Vitus and Asphyx on February 6th at the Posthalle in Wuerzburg. This would be the first time While Heaven Wept would perform in Europe with the complete line-up (as opposed to having surrogates filling in), our first show overseas since the 2004 tour, and the 4th show overall featuring the Rain-fronted band.
Just prior to this event, we decided to commemorate our 20th Anniversary with a series of vinyl releases involving several labels including Iron Kodex, High Roller, Maniacal, and Cruz Del Sur beginning with stellar pressings of "Sorrow Of The Angels", "Of Empires Forlorn", and "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" on 180g virgin vinyl, housed in gorgeous gatefold sleeves. The remainder of the discography would see similar treatments before the end of the year, and I have to say that of all the things we have done, this series is what I am most proud of as a lot of time and heart went into every aspect of each release, and sonically the results were superior to even their CD counterparts. We did however concede to the limited edition repressing of both "Sorrow Of The Angels" and "Of Empires Forlorn" on CD to combat the outrageous prices the long-out-of-print originals were fetching on online auction sites and also to fulfill the near constant requests over the years for these hard-to-find items. All of the aforementioned items sold out before they even left the pressing plants…which was both shocking and indicative of just how profound the impact of "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" truly was.
Returning to Germany was an intensely emotional experience for me as there were a lot of haunting memories from the 2004 tour - both good and bad, even from Wuerzburg specifically. There were high hopes and even higher expectations given the reactions to the album and how we'd grown over the past six years; additionally, for most of the band this would be their first time performing in Europe ever. Seeing so many familiar faces from all over the world in the audience was an amazing thing…and we were welcomed to the stage with great warmth and open arms…the connection with the audience was so powerful - I was overcome with so many emotions that I had to fight back tears…and again…the audience…made it a magical night for us; we played better than we had ever before and the improvisations were truly inspired. Hammer Of Doom III was a triumphant night for While Heaven Wept - a night that ultimately would change the course of this band forever.
Fortunately, the concert was professionally recorded on video and audio as well by our friends from Streetclip TV; I spent the remainder of the summer and autumn of 2010 in the studio with Chris Salamone mixing the audio from Hammer Of Doom III, and sending files back and forth to Streetclip for the final video editing. The end result was our first DVD and double live album "Triumph:Tragedy:Transcendence" which was released via Cruz Del Sur Music and High Roller/Iron Kodex Records respectively. The premise behind this release was to offer those who attended the event the ultimate souvenir and "thank you" for making that night so special for us. We also wanted to give everyone waiting to see us perform in places that we've yet to reach the chance to experience a proper While Heaven Wept concert - and I have to say that I am extremely proud of the results; it was a very challenging mixing process (more so than I had anticipated or imagined) but in the end, the quality was unquestionably of the same high standards we expect from our studio albums.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to everyone outside of the band, a conversation began the Monday morning after Hammer Of Doom III with the A&R department of Nuclear Blast Records - the single, largest independent label for Heavy Metal music, bar none. Between the unbelievable reaction to "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" and the magical performance in Wuerzburg, apparently we'd finally caught the ears of some very important people within the industry - all of these amazing feats and accomplishments are more unbelievable considering we've been a true "Do-It-Yourself" band for two decades! Needless to say, said conversation continued for several months and despite a couple setbacks, eventually an offer was made; we did not hesitate to sign on to become part of the Nuclear Blast family - after all these years…we're certainly not getting any younger…and the state of the industry (as well as our personal circumstances) have changed significantly, so it was time to either really DO this and take it to the next level or resign to the reality that WHW was just a hobby on the side. Personally, I've never "crossed the bridge" into domestication so to speak, and after all the sacrifices, heartache, loss, blood, sweat, and tears we've reached the home where we'll remain (hopefully) until the end of this band.
Needless to say, Nuclear Blast was intent on having us release a new album as soon as possible, thus I found myself once again ensconced in Salamone's Recording Studio little over a month after the completion of the mastering of "Triumph:Tragedy:Transcendence" working on the "Fear Of Infinity" album. Fortunately, between the material that was set aside from "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" (in light of "The Furthest Shore" becoming such a massive epic) and "Finality" (the aforementioned epic in its own right that I was working on prior to the full reactivation of the band in 2009) we essentially had an album "waiting in the wings".
Just prior to commencing the recording of "Fear Of Infinity", we brought in Rain's former Altura bandmate Jason Lingle into the fold, initially to cover the keyboard parts while Michelle was on maternity leave, but I felt from the moment we started discussing the possibilities with him that there was plenty of room within our ranks for a multi-instrumentalist given the often orchestral nature of WHW, and thus he was invited to stay with us permanently.
Despite the importance of the "Fear Of Infinity" album in the grand scheme things, we unfortunately had no time to rehearse the album as a band - not even once; as soon as "T:T:T" was completed, our focus shifted towards preparing for a show in Raleigh, North Carolina (which would be Jason's live debut) so all of us really had to learn our parts from sheet music, MIDI files, and old rehearsal recordings dating prior to "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" - not at all the ideal approach to creating an album. There were very clear time constraints as Nuclear Blast already had a concrete release date that we absolutely had to meet or otherwise risk having the album lost in the waves of other new releases, if not shelved completely - neither of which were an option in my opinion, and thus we had to stick with what we "knew". What this meant was we did not have the luxury of experimentation and thus several members felt creatively stifled, but I knew if we didn't stick to the "script" or had "too many cooks in the kitchen" that we'd never meet the strict deadlines we were facing.
This isn't to say that we didn't make adjustments or try out some ideas whatsoever; in the end, several songs were rewritten several times to insure the vocal parts were flowing and that everything felt good. I also had a very strong vision of the "Fear Of Infinity" album to begin with since the majority of the material was rehearsed in some capacity 6 years prior, so I had no alternative but to " steer the ship" throughout the recording process. The sessions proved to be extremely draining emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually as we worked long hours "under the microscope" to insure everything was translating the way it was meant to. I don't think the recording sessions were pleasant for anyone, and the fact that Michelle was hospitalized right during the onset of the sessions, having gone into labor early only made for more challenging days (fortunately, she soldiered through several days and Chloe was born healthy, in the "safe zone" at 33 weeks shortly after Trevor had completed his tracks).
From the onset, we all knew that "Fear Of Infinity" was going to shake things up again given it was obviously a much darker, raw, and more aggressive affair than "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" but it was the exact album that needed to be made for me personally - and in fact, the exact same album that we would've made a few months later had we continued working with Cruz Del Sur Music, so it while it was created "under duress", it was not at all rushed or compromised; if anything it was scrutinized even more so than those prior by ourselves and had we more time, only a few minor production issues would've been different in any way (which would not change what "Fear Of Infinity" is for 99% of those who would give it a chance).
That said, "Fear Of Infinity" (though a far more challenging and emotionally intense album than all those prior) ultimately did raise quite a few eyebrows upon its release on April 23rd, 2011; surely many people expected "Vast Oceans Lachrymose Part 2" - however, we had absolutely no intention of replicating anything we've ever done in the past, and we never will; every WHW album is an entity unto itself, and this one in particular requires numerous listens to truly digest and understand - this was the case even for myself. In the end, the vast majority of the media and public did "get" the album and it was considered another milestone in the recorded legacy of the band (though it was often compared to "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" - which was as inevitable as it was unfair). "Fear Of Infinity" actually landed on the German pop charts, which was nothing short of a miracle in our eyes - considering the nature of the album and also the fact that we were this obscure band from Virginia!
It wasn't until after the album had been completed that I realized (independently and via some insights from Rain) that it represented the completion of a process that had begun with "Vast Oceans Lachrymose"; all this time I was recovering from the demise of the relationship that came to an end in early 2009 through the music of While Heaven Wept; while "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" represented the stages of shock/disbelief and denial, "Fear Of Infinity" continued on through anger, depression, and only at the very end the final stage of bereavement: acceptance. I cannot even begin to express the liberation that I felt at the completion of the album in word, but without question I had once again healed through this music and had been given another lease on life.
The first half of 2011 marked the most intensely busy time in the history of the band, filled with non-stop interviews, several transatlantic trips, and the most extensive promotional campaign of our career. In March, we co-headlined the Up The Hammers VI festival in Athens, Greece which proved to be even more emotionally intense than Hammer Of Doom III (for me personally, given my history there); it was a great honor to share the stage with longtime brethren Solstice and Dawn Of Winter for the first time, legends such as Sorcerer and Ostrogoth, and younger brothers like Procession - but it was once again the audience who made everything magical…singing every word louder than we could possibly play…it was an experience that I'll never forget - and I can assure you that Greece left a lasting impression on the rest of the band as well.
Upon our return to the States, we headlined a benefit concert for our longtime friend Tony "Dio" Leonard in Raleigh, North Carolina; for many, many years Tony has been integral in creating and promoting Metal events in the NC area (as well as being true soldier and fan in the battle for Metal), so when he came upon some hard times after a surgery, we were more than honored to do our part to help in any way we could. We shared the stage with Twisted Tower Dire and Widow (amongst others) so it was something of a miniature Cruz Del Sur Music festival that ultimately did yield a solid contribution to the cause.
In April, we returned to Wuerzburg for the Hammer Of Doom V festival that we co-headlined with our Virginian "neighbors" (and one of our longtime inspirations) Pentagram and our future tourmates Primordial. As usual, Wuerzburg felt like "home" (Der Haus 150 Biere IS something of a "home away from home"!) and once again people had come from far and wide to attend this ever greater event…we were all very happy to spend some quality time with the many friends whose paths we'd crossed during the previous expeditions. But, would this concert be a reprisal of the