‘Shadow Self Psalms’ was the 2018 debut album of my band Amid the Barren and Lost. The album featured Sean Gibson on vocals, Chad McCamlie on bass and Leigh Costanza on drums. I played all the guitars on the album, as well as producing, recording, mixing and mastering the entire record.
The album was a project that spanned over two years of work, from inception of the band, writing and recording the music, to mixing, mastering, sorting the excellent artwork by band vocalist Sean Gibson and organising all the behind-the-scenes business that’s required to independently release music on all major digital platforms as well as physical releases. It’s the largest and most difficult project I’ve ever been involved in and frequently descended into a source of considerable pressure, stress and borderline mental health issues, but I’m really proud of the final result and was beyond relieved when we finally got to releasing it so that people could hear the collection of songs that we’d all invested so much into.
Almost all of the songs on this album started out as riffs I would imagine away from the guitar, before figuring them out on my instrument and developing them. I recorded full demos of the completed music, using programmed drums to illustrate the type of feel I was thinking of for each section, before showing them to the rest of the band.
Leigh would then take a version of the demo without the MIDI drum tracks and figure out what he wanted to play to embellish the structure of the songs ; quite often his final parts felt like a major transformation as his style is very busy and intense, which I think is a signature element of the bands overall sound. Leigh and I started playing music together when we were teenagers and had worked together fairly consistently up to the point of making this album. I feel like this album is the ultimate realisation of the combined style that we’d slowly found together over the course of around 15 years, his playing definitely influenced my compositional direction significantly and I’m pleased that we got to make a record that went someway to fulfilling the vision that we had when we first met as young musicians.
Whilst Leigh was working on his drum parts, Sean would start working on vocal ideas for the songs. Many of the vocal parts started out with demoing sessions where Sean would try out different ideas, sometimes with lyrics and other times just shouting random syllables as markers for where the final parts would go. Once we had a demo we were happy with I’d send Sean a bounce of the recording and he’d go home and finalise the lyrics and make adjustments to any sections that he felt needed further tweaking before returning to track the final vocals. Sean is a very physical singer, transporting himself seemingly instantly into the required headspace to nail his performance with genuine authenticity. To facilitate this the vocals were all recorded handheld on a standard Shure SM58 to emulate the experience of live performance and to aid the raw vocal sound we were chasing.
I had known Leigh and Chad from previous bands, but we met Sean through advertising for a singer online in the opening weeks of the project. We received many applications, all of which were unimaginably appalling, and were at the point of despair when I woke up one morning to find an email application from Sean. I listened to the track he’d sent with apprehension, preparing for further disappointment, got two lines of vocals into it and knew we’d found the right singer immediately. I sent it to Leigh and Chad who both instantly agreed and Sean joined the band soon after. I’ll be forever grateful for Sean’s contributions to this album, I think his vocal performances are absolutely perfect for the style that we developed and working with someone with such clear passion for such extreme music was a source of inspiration that pushed me to make more aggressive, uncompromising music. It’s no stretch to say that if we hadn’t met Sean we might never have made this album.
While all of this was going on, Chad was also working on his bass parts. Due to the way the music was written I had already composed bass lines for the songs, so I sent full transcriptions of all the parts to Chad, who would then learn them and make adjustments, as well as contributing his own parts where he had developed further ideas for the music. Due to the frantic pace and frequently acrobatic feats of fretting-hand dexterity required to perform these songs, the extended scale of the bass presented quite a technical performance challenge. I was consistently impressed with how well-prepared Chad was at our tracking sessions and how accurately he was able to execute some of the more challenging parts which I struggled with. Chad also has a great ear and musical insight and offered me a much-valued second opinion on many of the difficult compositional decisions I was wrestling with throughout the production of the album.
Very early in the process I made the decision to base the project entirely around 7 string guitar, the first full-length album I’ve done exclusively on this instrument. This was a difficult decision at the time as so much of my life is centred around developing my perception, understanding and ability with music and this was a commitment to a not insignificant change to my primary instrument for doing so, but in hindsight I definitely feel like I made the right decision. 7 string guitar opens so many creative doors of opportunity for contemporary heavy metal without compromising anything that’s come before it for me; at this point I’m unsure I’ll ever work on a major project where it isn’t my primary instrument again.
Most of the album was recorded at The Rhythm Studio in Kensington and Chelsea College, the music school I had been a principal guitar tutor at since 2009. During my time there the director Chris Hodges was always exceptionally accommodating of me using the space out-of-hours for my own work, which was critical for the recording and development of this and many other projects and for which I’m incredibly thankful for. Having a space I could set my own gear up in and make lots of noise without worrying about neighbours and other distractions made a lot of difference to the successful outcome of so much music.
We originally had big plans to pursue developing this band as an independent business, with promotional campaigns, music videos and tour plans in process (we even had a 30 minute set rehearsed and ready to go at one point), but sadly during the long process of creating this album other band members lives transformed radically and unforeseeably to the point where continuing this band past ‘Shadow Self Psalms’ was no longer an option. It was a huge professional disappointment but I’m still extremely proud of this album and happy that we were able to finish it before everybody went their separate ways. Whilst it’s extreme style means it’s definitely not for everyone, it’s my proudest musical accomplishment to date.
Amid the Barren and Lost are on all prominent streaming services. You can purchase a copy of ‘Shadow Self Psalms’, either as a deluxe digipack CD or a digital download, from our Bandcamp page:
Amid the Barren and Lost Bandcamp
Many thanks to Charlotte Speechley for the band photos.