Hailing from Ontario, Canada, Unbowed are a metal band originally founded in 2011 as side project with Folk Metal roots. It wasn’t too long before they switched to a more melodic black metal sound as they quickly developed from a mere side project to a full time band. Following their recent release of ‘Through Endless Tides’ a few months back, we had a chat with Unbowed to discover more about the band’s writing process.
Mosh: How does the lyric writing process begin for you – Does the music come first, or the lyrics? Do you collect fragments and ideas when inspiration strikes?
Unbowed: The writing process for us has never really strayed from our original setup. Typically speaking I am constantly thinking and writing down fragments of various interesting thoughts I have, and often even write out full sets of lyrics from various inspirations that have presented themselves to me. Due to the fact that I, like Alex, have many different musical outlets, it becomes a matter of what lyrics and themes fit best with Unbowed’s style and message. When Alex believes he has a new song for the band, I will usually take a listen, give feedback, and begin blocking a set of suitable lyrics to the song, from a previously written grouping. Yet often times new material, in itself, sparks in me an inspiration to write about a particular feeling I get from the song.
Mosh: Is this process always straightforward for you? Have you ever struggled with ‘writer’s block’ or similar?
Unbowed: Of course with such a method of writing, and how embedded the process is in feeling and emotion, the process can be quite long at times. While I might have an idea or two that might fit the newest song, I never want to just slap any old words over top of it, I need the lyrics to complement, and excel the song in a way that makes sense and creates a lasting emotional imprint on the listener. Therefore, I feel there is a great need to be patient with this process, and will often not feel they are complete until I feel my own emotions affected by their positioning and wording.
Mosh: Do you go back to lyrics you have previously written and edit or refine them, or is it a case of ‘one and done’? Do you collaborate or share lyrics with other band members and take their feedback on board?
Unbowed: Lyrics are, for the most part, written by me alone. While I actively consult Alex, and other close relations about them, it is ultimately my domain in the creation process and yet greatly consider any comments and critiques that may arise during the writing or recording process.
Mosh: Are there any bands or artists that have impressed or inspired you lyrically? Do you try and emulate any other lyricists in particular?
Unbowed: I believe that emulation and mimetic relations to other bands is possibly the greatest reason why the genre is so greatly oversaturated currently. So many aspire to be those singers they have upon the walls of their bedroom, yet I am entirely removed from any sort of wish. When I one day have thousands singing my lyrics I want them to be mine and mine alone; from the path that I made to get to that point in my life, and no others. While as I have grown there have been many inspirations as to my current presence as the singer of Unbowed, I try to only honor those in the spirit of what I do, not in tone, scream, or word.
Mosh: Do you draw lyrical inspiration from outside of music, such as authors, films or artists?
Unbowed: Typically speaking I take a great amount of inspiration from H.P Lovecraft in terms of how he perfectly encapsulates mankind’s fear of the unknown. While other authors of a more romantic view of the human condition, and of life in general do give me a great degree of inspiration for Unbowed’s more ‘fiery’ songs, I would say this last album’s lyrics deal a great portion with mankind’s weakness of succumbing to their fears, and finding comfort within the madness.
Mosh: Is there a specific space (mental or physical) where you get ‘in the zone’, or can you write anywhere at any time?
Unbowed: In my case, I would say ‘the zone’ would be whenever I feel an overwhelming sense of life, or of one particular emotion or thought that I can fully feel. Then I can sense it as if it were it’s own presence. To be able to articulate what we must in order to have the listener fully understand our meaning, I believe it is crucial that I have an understanding of how very furtive, and mysterious the essence of inspiration truly is. My father once told me to never let a thought go, for if it was interesting enough for you to think about and interact with, then it must never be forgotten. These thoughts are much like seeds, and although may seem nothing more than interesting to you at the time, they may one day gain full blossom if you have them planted away somewhere safe.
Mosh: Do you choose to publish your lyrics or keep them personal? Is it important that fans be able to access lyrical content?
Unbowed: It is very important to me for fans to have full access to my lyrics with every project I do. I take great pride in them, and cultivate them in a way that I would have wanted to find them as a young listener trying to find meaning in an often very confusing, and brutal world. Bands such as Thrawsunblat have always gravitated towards me exactly for this reason. The celebration of lyrics as poetry, and the voice of the music is very important, while many may feel the same presence as I in the instrumental songs Unbowed creates, it is essential that there be a voice to these massive songs for the listener to fully understand their gravity and to imprint the feeling both instrumentally and verbally.
Mosh: Can you remember when you began writing lyrics? Was it a conscious choice? Something you drifted into out of necessity?
Unbowed: I began writing poetry around the age of 9, and as I became more musical those poems began to demand that they be put to music, for history tells us that this natural progression and union between song and poem only makes both stronger. My lyrical endeavours hit full swing when I first began writing with Alex in 2010, and since then, the prospect of both song and poem becoming stronger together has served as a great example of why we are still working together today and see that being the case many years down the line as well.
Mosh: What is your favourite lyric and why?
Unbowed: I think that my favourite lyric will never change, and that lyric comes from David Gold of Woods of Ypres 3rd album. The song is named ‘Thrill of The Struggle” and gives voice to all of those amongst us who fight for what they wish to achieve despite all odds. “I fight the fight I can never win, But I fight the fight for the fight itself. And so I am rich with failure? Brutal North bring me down again.” For this entirely captures the essence, and magnitude of the devotion I feel towards my goal in the one life I have; what I wish to achieve before I die is without compromise.
Mosh: What is your favourite lyric that YOU have written?
Unbowed: I think to this day, the favorite lyric I have written myself would be of a similar message to that of David’s, and that would be “As the fire dies, and my heart still burns, I press on through lands well known to me; to the shadows I now return. And when all grows ill, and my fate seems lost once more, I will stand my ground, and prove to all that I will win this war.”
Mosh: Is there anything you actively try and avoid when writing lyrics? Any topics or themes you think are overdone?
Unbowed: I believe that the band’s start in the folk metal genre has some pretty negative associations with the term ‘viking metal’ and all of its trappings thereof, haha.
Mosh: Is it important to you that lyrics always tell a story or have meaning?
Unbowed: Not only important, but entirely needed. The only point to my writing of them is their connection to a common theme of uphill battles, in and out of one’s own mind, and the conquering of any challenge, no matter the magnitude. Remaining unbowed, essentially.
Mosh: Does your knowledge of your vocal delivery have any impact on how you write lyrics? Do you write to fit a vocal style, or fit the delivery to the lyrics?
Unbowed: I am constantly trying to improve my style and diversity. Not only to improve myself, but for my constant need to be breaking new grounds, and achieving something I could not have a month before. It is very important to me, and my lifestyle that I constantly improve, and become something more than I was a week ago; in and out of music.