Wallowing’s Narrative-Driven Sludge Metal Is Engrossing and Optimistic (Interview)
How many prog-influenced sludge metal bands do you know? OK, maybe there’s a few. But what about ones whose whole musical output revolves around an invented sci-fi universe? Now we’re getting properly niche. Let’s go further—What about ones who perform live in blacked-out beekeeper outfits? If you tell me you already know a band that encompasses this criteria, I want some hard evidence. Cough up those Metal Archives links right now. You can’t? Of course not, because there’s no one else out there like Wallowing.
The Brighton, UK-based band have just released their killer second full-length, Earth Reaper, via Church Road Records. However, this release is just one extension of the band’s ever-growing lore. In the space of their relatively short life span, they’ve expanded into myriad forms of media, including comics, action figures, and whatever this bizarre alien detritus is. All contribute to Wallowing’s sweeping central narrative (a wild, anti-capitalist space opera) that feels both fully-realized, but also, as the following conversation reveals, built on attention to detail and an endearing level of DIY effort from the band’s five members.
The following discussion took place with two members of Wallowing, who choose to remain anonymous, as they are when performing live.
Before we get into the details of the Wallowing universe, what were your introductions to conceptual music, and what are some of your favorites?
T: We’re all massive Star Wars nerds (laughs). That’s where we all started as kids. Film scores as well; we’re big fans of Alien, The Thing.
R: They all have this harrowing sound, but they’re also expansive and full of wonder and mystery.
T: They have that sound of impending doom and dread, but also help carry the narrative. It’s something we’ve tried to do with this album in particular—create a soundtrack to the story. When we’re writing it together, it plays out like a film.
R: Both of us are also massive prog fans, bands like Rush and Camel. Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds is another big one.
Can you fill us in on the background details of the Wallowing narrative prior to Earth Reaper?
T: The first record is based around this one character. He’s stuck on this work-driven, down-trodden planet that’s governed by an evil overlord. The whole world is barren except for pockets of civilization. He lives in the slum area of the capital sector, and every day, they walk into the pristine city area full of wealth and business people. He starts to wake up to it, and the record is about him forming a small rebellion to take back the planet. It leads to a big battle, and it all seems to end in failure on both sides. However, the main character survives, gets off the planet, and makes his escape.
How do you construct the world? Do you literally sit together and start talking about it, like, “What if this happens, then this happens”?
T: It’s funny, the other day we actually started discussing what’s going to happen in the next one. With each album, we’re trying to dive deeper. We’re definitely going over the top with everything; we don’t know where to stop (laughs). But yeah, we just sit down together and bounce around these wild ideas.
R: We are writing a story. There’s plot, narratives, character arcs. Once you start formulating those ideas, you can start forming motifs and riffs in your head to compliment them. For example, we have a robot theme on this one that we call back to several times.
So where does Earth Reaper pick up in the story?
T: I won’t give you too much because we want people to look into the lyrics and figure it out themselves. But I can say that this one’s about 10 years after the climax of Planet Loss. The character from the first one has this hi-tech spaceship, in which he’s spent the last decade trying to hunt down the evil overlord, who also got away at the end of the last album. Wobblenaut, that’s what we call the main character, has spent the last decade on loads of side quests. We’re actually doing another comic about this.
R: It’s called Restless Dusk.
T: And it’s about the time period between the two albums. So he’s got the news from his spaceship that the overlord has been traced to this planet. On this planet, he meets some new characters who make him view the world in a different way. One of these is the focus of “FLESH AND STEEL.” They’re another main character, and they’re from a completely different background. One of the main themes of this album is about totally different people getting to know each other and working together.
I like how every track, besides the interludes, get longer as the album progresses. What was the idea behind that
T: We take a lot of influence from Rush, how they write songs but also how they set up albums.
R: It’s very Caress of Steel, I think. On that one, the whole of side B is this big prog epic, and side A, the three or four tracks are informed by these similar motifs.
T: Yeah, that’s exactly it. They had the main track, which is the main focus, but they also have their singles. We wanted a shorter track like “FLESH AND STEEL” as an introduction for listeners. If they like that one, then they might like the longer ones.
R: It becomes like reading a book. At a certain point, you’re like, ‘I have to know what happens; I’m over the threshold and need to see how it ends’.
Like all the best sci-fi, your story is full of commentary on real-world concerns. What are you looking at on this album?
T: Planet Loss was heavily influenced by the time of its release. We began writing it around 2015/2016, when Brexit and Trump were big issues. The world was a very uncomfortable place; I wish I could say it was any more comfortable now. I was definitely feeling the stress, and I think that came across in the music. It was all directly linked to the pressures of the political climate. But with this one, we wanted to make it different. It’s hopeful. If the first one was defined by despair; this one is hope born from despair.
It’s definitely a hopeful album. It’s harsh sludge metal, but it never feels downbeat.
T: Yeah, we played a lot of major key stuff. We wanted it to feel triumphant at times, particularly when the characters were overcoming things. There’s also a lot in there about identity. The characters have different views on what’s happening, but they discover that the best way to move forward is by communicating and listening to each other.
I’ve got a lot of respect for that. It’s easy to be cynical and forging connections is really hard, but it’s a vital, important thing.
T: Definitely. I’m glad that came across. Thank you.
On to your live show. Besides looking really cool, what do the costumes contribute to the whole Wallowing story and aesthetic?
T: It’s a long story. It started at a basement venue in Brighton called The Bee’s Nest, so it was, in part, born out of that name. We then realized that we’ve got to make them look gothic, so we dyed them black and put some lights in to make them look sci-fi. We also realized that if we’re going to keep doing this, we have to make it all-encompassing. So we wrote the costumes into the first comic book and made it part of the wider lore.
R: In the story, they’re worker outfits. They’ve got air-filtration systems to stop the workers getting dust into their lungs.
T: They’re super DIY. At the end of lockdown, we spent so long stitching them, finding extra things online to add to them.
R: They create this atmosphere when we’re playing live. You put this suit on, and you’re not you. You’re in a different headspace, and you’re the character blasting off into space.
T: They’re so fucking hot. By the end of the set, we’re dying in them (laughs).
Slightly irreverent question to end on—If you had all the time and resources, what would be your ultimate extension of the Wallowing universe?
T: A spaceship? (laughs). I’ve also always had this idea that we could do something that I think Gorillaz did once where they had their virtual characters on stage. Or maybe just a spaceship coming down from the ceiling. We’re open to any weird ideas.
Earth Reaper is out now via Church Road Records.