With eerily lifelike virtual influencers and a deadly, mutating virus sweeping the earth, it’s hard not to feel like we’re living in the opening montage of a dystopian film. So, bye-bye “normal” music genres, and hello Wallowing – a sci-fi influenced extreme metal band, who neatly slot into 2021’s fantasyland.
The crew formed in Brighton in 2015 and released their debut album Planet Loss a few years later in September 2019, via Sludgelord and Black Voodoo Records. With six songs clocking in at 31 minutes, the record is a punishing slab of distortion and despair. You get: primal screams (provided by vocalists Zak Duffield and Mark Roberts), deep-rooted rage, pure sludge and doom riffs. Plus, like all good sci-fi stuff, there’s a story to tell too.
The lyrics on the album detail the downfall of an alien civilisation at the hands of an oppressive and evil overlord. Corruption, inequality and exploitation are all rife on the rotten planet, with a group of rebels fighting for systemic change. To visually portray this jolly old tale, Wallowing linked up with cosmic illustrator Luke Oram to release a dystopian graphic novella based on the record. It’s being released on the 29th of January, with a re-release of the record.
Ahead of that all dropping, I talked via interstellar communication to lyricist and guitarist Tom Harrison and bassist Rauiri Boyden about Brighton, the extreme metal scene, empathy and sci-fi dystopia.
VICE: Now then, Wallowing! So, what’s the heavy scene in Brighton like? Is it all “misery and disgust” like you guys…?
Tom: The heavy scene down here kind of warps quite frequently, it changes a lot. I think that’s because of the university community. When we moved down here in 2013 there was a lot of heavy, heavy music, bands like Seabastard and War Wolf, a slow doom-y scene, we loved it.
Rauiri: We were spoiled for choice.
Tom: We used to put on house shows for a while actually, that was sick.
Rauiri: We had 66 different bands altogether play at our house!
Tom: The scene kind of changed overnight. A lot of hardcore bands popped up, which was awesome. That’s part of the charm of Brighton, you never really know what you’re gonna get. There’s a space for anything. Hardcore and hardcore punk has been really popular here for the last few years, and there are still other heavy bands, like Pascagoula.
And you guys all play in other bands too, like Herd Mover and Aerosol Jesus…
Tom: Yeah, man. There’s so much creativity in Brighton you kind of want to get involved as much as you can. We’re lucky to be in that community where people are always doing stuff and if you’re not then you feel like you’re missing out.
Nice. What about the wider sludge/doom/extreme metal scene across the country?
Rauiri: Up north is excellent at the moment, Leeds, Nottingham, Hull…
Tom: It’s a totally different experience up there, people seem to be more… untethered! [laughs] They go in harder. There’s a lot more mosh, a lot more interaction. You go to these places and have a proper gnarly night. Underdark, Hidden Mothers are both on Surviving Sounds, they’re amazing, two solid bands.
So, how did Planet Loss come about?
Tom: I was in-between bands at the time and it was an opportunity for me to just go absolutely mad and put all my thoughts on paper and do what I want with them. It was a way for me to express what was going on with me at the time. I was unemployed, I was really stressed, I had a lot of anxiety… things could’ve been a lot better. It was great to express that in a way that was… fun?
I hear you. What’s the story?
Tom: The story goes through four different chapters that tackle different things. “Earthless” is based around how tirelessly the lower class work for very little pay, and how there isn’t much opportunity for the people. The music represents that slog into work.
“Phosgene” tackles homophobia, racism, classism, and bad leaders - people that make bad decisions for the people.
“Hail Creation” is kind of sarcastic and angry. It’s a mirror-image of “Earthless” – the people are marching to make a difference, into the city to confront the evil, overruling galactic empire.
“Vessel” is about mental health and how it’s the silent killer By the end of that track, the end of the story, everybody is dead. The bad guys they’re not about, the good guys are not about either. There’s just one guy left.
Tom: Essentially, if you can’t talk with each other and work together as a group it’s all going to go to shit anyways. Two different parties with two different opinions have had this battle, everyone has felt a loss from it, nothing has come from it but destruction. Without being able to talk to each other as people we’re not going to get anywhere, and we may make things a lot worse.
Is there any hope in it?
Rauiri: It’s a battle for hope, in a way.
Tom: The story is a forewarning of what could happen if people don’t sort their shit out and don’t learn to talk and communicate properly.
You talk about a civilisation “Bred to abide, reared to comply”, along with references to homophobia, classism and racism. Does the world feel dystopian to you right now?
Rauiri: In some ways, yes.
Tom: Even though the record is meant to be a forewarning, we also drew a lot of parallels. We have this galactic ruler and he was definitely our Trump figure. The world was sci-fi when I wrote Planet Loss and now it’s even more like a sci-fi dystopia. That idea going around that the vaccine has a chip in to track us… isn’t that what our phones do anyway? They can hear everything and see everything. It’s intense! It’s an interesting time to live through. It might not be the nicest for a lot of people, but it’s definitely interesting.
What can we do to prevent the fate of Planet Loss happening on planet Earth?
Tom: We need to get rid of ego. It’s all about communication, in my opinion. Given all the trash we’ve had to go through with the lockdowns, it’s mad that people can’t just have a normal conversation. It’s okay if people don’t have the same opinion, but we can sit down as humans and just chat with each other and figure things out. Nobody seems to want to do that in this day-and-age. That’s the deadliest weapon. If you can’t communicate then it’s going to create a bigger rift, you know?
Rauiri: Everything is so polarised that there’s no such thing as healthy debate or discussion anymore, or mediation or compromise. People see it as black-and-white, there’s no in-between where you can figure things out.
Tom: Social media has forced people apart a bit more.
Rauiri: It becomes an echo chamber.
Tom: If we could all chat and be friendly a bit more, that’d help. Have a bit of empathy. When are we going to get a politician that has empathy, you know? [laughs]. It’s tough.
I read that your inspirations come from sci-fi films and comic books. What kind of sci-fi do you watch?
Rauiri: The Thing and Alien are my top two, and 2001: A Space Odyssey – I’ve read the book a few times. That moment went HAL turns is fucking chilling. It hits me in the spine every time! We’re both huge Star Wars fans too. When Tom first came to me, he said he wanted to make Rush’s 2112 done by crusties, with a Star Wars-esque battle between good and evil.
Well put. What about comics?
Rauiri: The City by James Herbert is a massive influence on everything we’ve done.
Tom: There are a lot of parallels between that and what we’re doing. It’s a really dark book.
Rauiri: This guy goes to a totally bombed-out city and it’s full of rat people. He’s got a gas mask and he has these hounds that follow him around to help him fend them off.
Tom: It’s terrifying and the imagery is truly amazing. It’s messy and gnarly and disgusting at points.
Nice, I’ll check it out. So how did you link up with Luke Oram, the artist for your comic?
Tom: I’ve worked with Luke from the very beginning, he’s like our sixth member, man. I spoke to him really early on and I thought that if I get some really good album artwork done then it’ll make me persevere with the band idea. I took that artwork to potential band members and said, “I want to do an audio representation of this.”
Rauiri: It really helped me to visualise it.
Tom: He designed our logo and we kept up that relationship. He’s heavily influenced by 2000AD and Mobius. I don’t think he realised how big of a job it would be, but he’s a saint for sticking with it and keeping his cool, especially with a whole band asking him to do it like this or like this. [laughs]
I saw you got some action figures made too!
Tom: We released the album and then it was lockdown soon after, so we were looking for different ideas. We saw this guy on Instagram called Delicious Again Peter, I recommend checking him out. I messaged him to ask if he wanted to do something for the band. He replied and said he loved the idea and hadn’t done a commission before. We made no money on them so it was definitely a labour of love, but it was something we all wanted. As self-indulgent as it is we wanted figures of ourselves in our little costumes!
Where do you take Wallowing from here?
Tom: We want to keep people on their toes and not get too comfortable with what we do. We’ll always be heavy but we’re open to doing some more hopeful music. I’d love to have some acoustic sections in there to keep it dynamic and break it up a bit.
Rauiri: We’ve even talked about theremin orchestras and shit like that [laughs].
The Planet Loss graphic novel and album are out now via Trepanation Recordings or Surviving Sounds now.