Doom metal has always been in good health in the UK, but this recent crop have been smashing it over the last couple of years. Bournemouth-based Greenhorn are at the head of the pack, with a new song taken from a split with Urchin entitled ‘The Narrator’. Stretching out their legs over 20 minutes, the song is over double their previous track lengths, and diversified from their original sludgy sound. Vocalist/bassist Simon Williams and I discussed this track and its surrounding circumstances at length, and what it means for the future of this promising band. We also have a review of the monster track by Chad Murray here.
Firstly, the name Greenhorn. It’s taken from the TV show Deadliest Catch, which Simon used to watch a lot, “and I mean a lot! The first song we properly wrote was actually written about a fictional crab fishing boat that had been shipwrecked and we were thinking about calling it Greenhorn. We still had no name for the band despite having our first gig confirmed and ready to go, so decided to go with it.” The name does have implications of newcomer status in its meaning, but the band are willing to accept it because it also gives almost zero indication of musical expectations. “We wanted to pick a name that didn’t essentially tell the listener what to expect before they’ve even heard a note, in the way that – for example – when I first got a Slayer tape I pretty much knew what to expect before I’d pressed play.”
The Narrator’ is being released as a split with fellow nautical doom band Urchin. The origin of the split is more down to serendipity – and the power of Facebook ads. “They [Urchin] released their ridiculous (and I mean that as a compliment) first recording Spine on the same date we put out ‘The Race’.  I guess they saw it being shared somewhere and just sent us over a link to the track as thematically we have a lot in common. I had an absolutely disgraceful hangover as we’d played a show in Bournemouth with Ohhms the night before, and I put it on as I was getting ready to go to work. Obviously I loved it and sent it to AJ [guitars]and Mandy [drums]. We just stayed in touch and eventually the conversation turned to putting out a split together.” Details are in the works regarding a physical release for the split, so stay tuned.
‘The Narrator’ was written with the split in mind – “We wanted to write something else that would tie in with the sea theme we and Urchin are exploring.” Needless to say, they approached the track very differently to previous works. “All of our songs to date are us telling a story, but as ‘The Narrator’ is our retelling of the Lovecraft short story Dagon,  it was the first time we were telling someone else’s. Whilst it’s the longest we’ve spent writing anything, I would say that it came quite naturally after we’d figured out how the different sections of the song would reflect the different sections of the story.” Its monster length has had an impact on their live shows: “When we play it, it doesn’t feel like a 20-minute song, but most of our recent sets now have been just two songs…”
So aside from length, what’s different? Well, the vocals for a start. Simon has a history of torturing innocent microphones with his snarling, but his occasional cleans have developed incredibly – even more impressive considering he had a “rotten cold, and turned up for the vocal session with a flask of honey and lemon!” He is also joined by Lucy Grogan, who provides ethereal vocals that complement Simon’s marvelously. The source of inspiration was Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas’ spectacular collaboration album Mariner [review here], and it will be interesting to see how this affects their songwriting going forward.
The narrative is tightly interwoven into the track – “When we first started writing the track, AJ brought this beautiful big journal to bandcamp and we broke it down into about ten different parts of the story.” The lyrics and the changes in the music are intended to fit in with the narrative of the story, from when the main character first finds himself in this desolate ocean wasteland through to his first glimpse of Dagon, and then his subsequent retreat and demise. It’s a masterful telling, in keeping with Lovecraftian tradition without aping the plethora of bands who have plowed this ground.
Greenhorn have toured quite extensively around the south of the UK, and playing it live has been quite the experience. “We were slightly concerned as it’s different from our previous output and has quite a lot of calmer sections, but people have been into it which is ace. Obviously we don’t have Lucy to add her vocals to it live so it’s just me. Originally we said we would never play it live, as obviously with a 30-minute set that means we can only play two songs, but we were so into it we felt we couldn’t leave it out.”
So, considering the above shift in vocal styles, and the introduction of calmer, bluesier sections, can ‘The Narrator’ be seen as an experimental offshoot, or a step in a new direction for Greenhorn? “Good question. Maybe both?! Ha! As far as songwriting goes, we’re happy to just explore different ideas as they come to us. Rather than feeling constrained by being a doom or sludge band we’re enjoying writing heavy music, but at the same time looking at different ideas or styles that excite us.” Simon is switched-on to what goes on in the related heavy music scenes – he is also a writer for the Outlaws of the Sun website,  which focuses on all things fuzz. The owner, Steve Howe, “is always sending me over records that he thinks I’ll like. Typically if I do like them, they go in the van when we’re traveling to shows, so we get to listen to a huge variety of heavy music which probably helps keeping the ideas flow.” This also keeps the rest of the band in the loop, and combines their three individual styles with these various influences – conscious and subconscious.
Where next for Greenhorn? Aside from the physical release of ‘The Narrator’, they’re going back on the road with another seafaring band. “We are putting together a little four date tour/weekender with the excellent The Dead At Sea for the end of the year. We played with them a couple of times on this last run of gigs we just did, and not only are they a great band, they’re bloody lovely boys as well.” They also have an excellent pun in mind for the name of the tour, so keep an eye on their social media and go out to see them unleash the Dagon.
1. Greenhorn’s previous track, listen here. Urchin’s Spine can be heard here.
2. You can read Dagon in full here.
3. Website here – recommended for fans of doom, sludge and stoner and related.