With their fifth album They Carried The Dead In A UFO British dark psych brooders Cult Of Dom Keller have created their fiercest work yet. Written briefly before the pandemic, but recorded right in the middle, the album radiates the eerie vibes of these caustic and hectic times. Their personalities shimmer through the harsh noisy fuzz of the music, and you can hear they are dark movie fans, but also that they didn’t always have an easy time these days. I was quite thrilled I had the honor of speaking to singer/guitarist Ryan DelGaudio and keys/vocalist Neil Marsden about these things, and quite a lot more.
How have you been doing? How has your “Corona” experience been so far?
Ryan: I’m very well, thank you. I’ve been busy working, writing new songs, growing my beard, trimming my beard, becoming a father for the second time and now having no time to trim my beard. As for the ‘Corona’ experience, I’ve worked solidly through it so this ‘new normal’ became ‘my normal’ very quickly. I’m not a worrier.
I keep myself busy. Babies, beards, music…Keep the mind active.
Neil: I’ve found it very surreal. Nothing like a good pandemic to expose the cracks in humanity. It’s a very creative time for power and disaster capitalism and as good a time as any for an existential crisis.
Was ‘They Carried The Dead In a UFO’ much influenced by the pandemic? In what way?
Ryan: Most of the album was written and demoed before the pandemic. It’s a heavy, dark journey that I think feels in tune with the zeitgeist. With no gigs and tours to get in the way we were able to spend more time than ever really sculpting the tracks and defining the layers. As we were mixing and producing everything ourselves, this album felt more personal and creative than any of the previous albums. When you start to get other people’s fingers dipping into your pie it begins to taint the taste. This album is our best pie yet.
Neil: It certainly forced us to adapt how we approach putting an album together. We never make 2 albums the same way twice and this one was no exception. I’d say the pandemic gave us licence to push that envelope even further than we have before.
Ok, I love this about you, but I always have a hard time defining your sound: what would you say, or is there perhaps a description someone else once did that you thought was spot on?
Neil: Shindig’s review of the new LP is pretty much on the money:
“Post Psyche Pre Prog Freak out”. I’m not sure we have a sound. We know what works for us and what doesn’t.
Ryan: At the dark heart of our music we’re just a deformed, weird bastardisation of the blues.
Can you describe the period between your previous album and the new one? What has been the band’s major progression since then?
Neil: Ascend went down really well. People seem to dig the looser lo-fi stuff. With UFO we wanted to make a studio album, but we couldn’t go to a studio; so we did the next best thing and made a DIY home-studio(s) album mostly online. The difference between the new LP and the last is all the material on UFO is brand new; the collaboration was more fluid; we spent a lot of time crafting it, instead of smashing things together like a Frankenstein collider – the new material is more elegant than some of our previous monsters.
Ryan: The early albums are basically Neil and I’s demos.
Then we made a weird goth post punk album ( Goodbye to the Light ) that some people got and others didn’t. With ‘Ascend’ we just recorded the sound of us losing our minds and with the new album ‘They carried the dead in a UFO’, we really crafted and sculpted these sonic experiments into our best collection of songs to date. Recently Italy’s ‘Rockerilla’ magazine described the new album as ‘Brutalist Cinematic Noise’. I think that kinda nails the overall feel of the record.
I find the new album pretty dark, even darker than I’m used to by you guys. Would you agree? And would you be able to explain it?
Ryan: Unhealthy obsessions with UFOs, cults, conspiracies and insomnia are probably to blame…
Neil: Darks times require a dark soundtrack
Your songs sound pretty unconventional at times, with switches between electronic and acoustic music, how does the writing process go? Do you choose instrumentation before writing, or the other way around? And is it a band process or do individual members contribute pieces?
Neil: Me and Ryan write the songs.Then we pass ideas back and forth until we’re happy something gels, then we repeat the process over and over. It’s a pretty organic process, we often swap instruments and experiment with other sources of sound too; it’s a bit like a musical jigsaw puzzle or a painting: none of it makes sense at the beginning. Al and Liam were going to the studio when they could to add overdubs, that’s where they laid down the bass and drums that became ‘The Last King’. Depending on who ends up with the most bits and pieces, that person tends to do the lion’s share of crafting and arranging. We kinda mix together by sharing many, many versions of songs between the band and tweak based on feedback until everyone is happy(ish). The whole of UFO was produced and mixed by me and Ryan. On this album we worked similarly to how we produced our side-project, Monumentals. I think the experience of working on that record together had a massive influence on UFO.
Ryan: I also think it’s definitely due to being able to say that no one’s ego is bigger than the track. If a track only needs a vocal and a tom to make it work then sometimes we end up stripping instruments off then revisiting with a different idea(s).
The album transcends genres, and I get the feeling the album title isn’t necessarily just referring to any sci-fi theme either, can you lift a tip of the veil when it comes to the lyrical concept?
Neil: The lyrics often come after the music for me. They tend to be heavily influenced by my mood, concerns and state of mind at the time. They have to be impulsive and cathartic and hopefully not shit.
Ryan: I keep lyrics I come up with noted down in my phone and when we start a piece of music that chimes with those lyrics then sometimes it becomes a springboard to developing those lyrics. Most of the time I guess even our most ‘personal’ songs seem abstract.
In ‘Cage The Masters’ there is an enigmatic part where you repeat the sentence “I die every night, but I’m born again”, it doesn’t feel like that’s a good thing either…would you care to elaborate?
Neil: I have ADHD, so sleep has always been a challenge. I have to completely exhaust myself in one way or another to rest. It’s been worse since the pandemic. I’m sleeping a little better now that the album is finished.
The last song on the album “The Last King Of Hell” in my humble opinion is the best thing you ever did, it’s definitely on my list as one of the greatest songs I’ve heard this year. What can you tell me about the writing process of that one? Did you feel it was possible gold as well when creating it? And is there a reason it was placed at the end of the album?
Ryan: Al and Liam layed down this brooding kraut garage groove and once we began laying down the guitars and keys we began to build and build with the intention of creating this giant sonic monster to end the album with. Once Neil laid down his vocal we knew we had something pretty special.
Neil: Yeah, it’s our Rosemary’s baby. The bass and drums on that track are the only part of the LP where 2 members of the band play together in the same room. Once we had the key components we continued to share ideas; swapping in and out different parts – we re-recorded most of the original jam part in the end as well; it was very 2 steps forward, 1 step back. We experimented with the structure until the journey and textures flowed and built right. Mixing it was a real labour of love and at times despair. There are 30 or more tracks playing in unison by the end and I really wanted the listener to be able to hear them all at the same time.
I find your music quite cinematic – it makes me think of ‘PI’ and ‘Metropolis’. What are your favourite films?
Ryan: Love Fritz Lang: ‘M’ and ‘Metropolis’, ‘Dr Mabuse’. Stuff like
‘Cabinet of Dr Caligari’ , ‘Freaks’, ‘Night of the Hunter’, – those dark, brooding black and white classics. Other favourites : Hitchcock, Sergio Leone, Jodorowsky, Lynch, Coen Bros…
Neil: Yeah, almost anything by Aronofsky and the Coen Bros. I really love dark twisted cerebral movies. Sci-fi, the more claustrophobic and mental the better. John Carpenter is a fave. The music plays a big part for me. ‘Blade Runner’ is one of my all time favourite movies. I like 80’s stuff too and old 60’s & 70’s B-movies and hammer horror is fun. ‘The Wickerman’ (original) has to be up there… Sorry, Nicolas Cage…love your mad shit too 🙂