The bleak, cold northern peaks and troughs of England make for a compelling habitation for metal’s most ruminative faction. Post-metal may have found its origins elsewhere, but the sweeping hills, brisk climes, and coarse, industrial skylines of the north offer a fitting backdrop for those that bask in the experimental quarter of harsh music.
Post-metal has grown into an all-encompassing system of artists that exist somewhere along the spectrum of metal. Artists that twist the conventions of heavy music into intense machinations of sonic oppression are at the forefront of this ever-growing movement. In its now three-decade-long lifespan, the style has seen genre heavyweights like Neurosis, Godflesh, and Cult of Luna as the roots of a now vast forest in which one of the fastest rising saplings are Leeds’ Hundred Year Old Man, a band I am here to talk to you about today.
I have been lucky enough to experience this collective’s explosive trajectory from near its infancy through to today, and I’ve witnessed one of the UK’s most compelling underground acts lay waste to venue after venue, leaving audiences consistently floored. I’m beyond grateful to principal songwriter and guitarist Owen Pegg for taking the time to revisit the band’s journey thus far with me, and shine a light on a band that I would implore any fan of evocative heavy music to sample with haste.
I recall vividly my first encounter with HYOM, and indeed the catalyst of a now four-year-long love affair. It was a cool evening in a basement rock bar in my hometown of Sheffield. The setting was unassuming, and lacking in atmosphere, as offensive disco lights coloured the shrill clamour of rowdy clientele and the periodic breaking of glass.
But as the lights dimmed to black, and backlit foglights revealed the silhouettes of six daunting figures, the din began to recede and this den of tumult became a chapel of worship. Our collective gaze was fused forwards, and the short-lived silence was that of a vacuum as the first figure, wielding a guitar in one hand and a violin bow in the other began a solitary dirge. What followed was a masterclass in wrought, afflicting ambience and planetary collision. One can easily make comparisons to the likes of Sumac, Russian Circles, and Old Man Gloom, but truly they exist and hold dominion within their own abrasive valley.
In many ways, Hundred Year Old Man tick all the boxes of the genre. Extended song structures stretching beyond the ten-minute mark, amalgamating layers of reverberant, harmonic noise, enormous bludgeoning riffs, and a tonal emphasis on despair are par for the course, but rarely are they executed with such precision, attention to detail, and idiosyncratic flair. What I love about this band is the focus on feeling. It’s one thing to get lost in the ambience of a great band, but another entirely to be lost and feel so emotionally connected.
Every great journey has a beginning, and it’s interesting to chart this band’s musical evolution from their inception to today. The origins of Hundred Year Old Man take us back to 2015 and the creative exploits of frequent collaborators Pegg and Tom Wright. The pair had worked on several projects together, many of which came towards natural finales before work began on this endeavour.
‘I came up with an idea to make an album with as many of our friends playing on it as possible. Multiple attempts over a year or so and a few demos of various ideas later, Tom invited me over to his house one weekend to have a jam with his mate Dan. Tom would be playing drums and looping keyboards with a Kaoss Pad, I was to play guitar and Dan would play bass. The idea was to record the whole day and hopefully something would come out of it that would form the basis of a doom/drone metal band. That recording is what would eventually become the first, self-titled Hundred Year Old Man record.’
The result is an agonising deluge of cascading textures and inflamed miasma that really illustrates the emotive impact the band would go on to master on subsequent releases. It’s fair to say that the band on this release differ somewhat from the band that exists today. Whilst the progression is clear to see, their self-titled debut is rawer and more uninhibited, bloodied like calloused fists and frostbitten lips, and the anguish is tempered by interspersed moments of muted rumination.
One can appreciate a comparison to more drone-oriented acts like Sunn O))) and Boris, considering the vast layers of guitar and synth-driven noise, but truly this is simply a record written in the moment. The 50-minute EP is an organic traversal of caustic noise and sombre cascate which sets a tonal blueprint of what would follow, even if the band dynamic would dictate a shift in its sonic output.
Alongside the aforementioned trio, the Hundred Year Old Man EP would also feature vocals from Paul McClure and words from Phillip Donnelly, and this idea of bringing in collaboration from beyond the band’s core would become an intrinsic aspect of the band’s creative process, often cycling through several members for live shows and on releases.
‘The idea was always to collaborate as much as possible, but we also needed a core band to make writing and recording work, especially initially. During the five years we have been a band, full-time members, contributors to writing, and stand-in players have come and gone fairly regularly. Whenever someone leaves as a full-time member, with few exceptions, they often simply move onto the reserve bench so to speak. We have started to move to a more traditional band setup with full-time permanent members, however the collaborative approach to writing, and certainly playing shows, will always remain at the heart of what we do I think.’
It was in 2016 that I first experienced HYOM in a live setting, as described previously. By this point the group had expanded into a sextet and had already begun to establish a more traditional post-metal sound. I’m often involved in discussions of ‘favourite live acts’ with friends and peers, and since that day I have consistently included HYOM in my response. When I think about music in the live arena, and what makes the experience something truly memorable, I can only think of the word ‘immersion’. The ability to absorb an audience and craft a subsuming gravity well is a skill that few can achieve, but one that this band revels in.
‘Where possible, we try to play in complete darkness with backlighting only, forcing the focus on the front of the stage where Dave will usually be. The idea for us has always been to have as dynamic a range in the lighting as we have sonically in the music, moving from near black to blinding white light several times in a set. More recently, we have started to use strobe and smoke, and plan to look at other more sophisticated visuals for this new record’s touring cycle. The objective is to both overload and starve the senses of the audience and ourselves alike. We want to be in the middle of the performance, not behind it. We know it’s a good show when reviewers complain about not being able to take photographs.’
So this brings us to Rei and Breaching, respectively the band’s next EP and debut album, which eclipsed any expectations one may have had following their first record. Where their self-titled record was a glowing ember, Rei and Breaching were a raging bonfire. The progression is clear, with echoes and reflections of the former heard throughout, but truly it is the mark of an artist that has found their modus operandi. These two releases marked a clear expansion of their sonic intent, as a somewhat more polished post-metal sound began to take the centre stage, whilst still retaining a distinct identity.
‘We encouraged people to try ideas no matter how leftfield they are and try very hard to not think in terms of genre or overall direction but focus more on what the song needs. That was the case in the beginning and while we may have a more firm idea of what works and what doesn’t now, we still like to encourage influences beyond the obvious post-metal tropes.’
As I’m sure is the case with many others, “Black Fire” is the first track from HYOM that I ever heard, and to date, it remains a firm favourite. Whilst I don’t believe in labelling a single track as, in any way, a pinnacle of an artist’s output, there is no denying that “Black Fire” is perhaps the most representative of the band’s allure. An 11-minute journey through grief and turmoil, the track is amongst their heaviest, most energetic, and most emotionally compelling. It serves as an unignorable awakening drive, and features some of the band’s hardest-hitting riffs, most poignant recesses, and a haunting sample from political activist and English cult hero, Harry Leslie Smith. As the first song proper on Breaching, the track is perhaps the best introduction to the band, just as it is on the album.
What’s interesting to note is the process by which Hundred Year Old Man produce their music. As a predominantly self-produced and self-engineered band, the vast majority of the production process is completed in-house – something that seems to correlate with the seamlessly fluid and immersive nature of their music. Regarding the recording of Breaching:
‘We are able to be far more organised and controlling that way. We know what is needed more or less from the start but also have the control to ensure that it is achieved. Because we were self-produced, we were able to experiment and spend time listening to the songs as we went to work out what was needed. The whole process was probably about a year from tracking to the final mix.’
This intense approach is really evident in the final product. Whilst an album like Breaching is composed of several individual tracks, one can listen through the album without knowing precisely where one track ends and another begins, and the same can be said of their live performances. It’s more appropriate to experience their work as a natural progression of energy – waxing and waning to maximise our emotional response – rather than a collection of individual tracks. Of course, you can choose to listen to them separately, but I implore you to put all your senses at Breaching‘s mercy; you will come out of it in a different state to the one you entered in.
For those used to the enormous tones and aesthetics of the genre, there is no denying that Hundred Year Old Man belong in the upper echelons of magnitude. The dense thickets of guitars, tortured vocals, and reverberant drums are equal to the biggest names in post-metal – past and present. Though predominantly of the slower persuasion, there are still frequent elements of mid-tempo sludge thrown in the mix, particularly on tracks like “The Forest” and “Long Wall”. As something of a tone worshipper, I’m constantly in awe of the sheer power on display in their work.
‘The actual tracking of the record was done by Tom and myself at New Craven Hall, Eiger Studios, our rehearsal space and my personal studio, all in Leeds. At the time we were very heavily influenced by albums like Oceanic by ISIS (the band) and the first two Cult of Luna records, so one of the things we really tried to achieve was to make the heaviness as dense as possible but without damaging the dynamics of the more post-rock elements. We recorded multiple layers of guitar and used large amounts of natural reverb from the hall on almost every instrument in the mix to get it as thick as possible.’
This do-it-yourself ethic and intense attention to detail are mirrored in the band’s decision to sign with Manchester, UK-based label Gizeh Records, who oversaw the release of both Rei and Breaching. The label, run by Richard Knox of A-Sun Amissa (with whom Pegg previously contributed to), is one of the UK’s most respected underground labels. Their mentality of championing artists within the elastic world of ambient music has seen them release records from Aidan Baker & Nadja, Christine Ott, Charles-Eric Charrier, and more.
Though sonically a different beast to the rest of the Gizeh roster, being the label’s first ‘metal’ act, they undoubtedly share an aesthetic crossover which is on display across releases. The difference in output is testament to the shared appreciation of raw emotional responses to harmony. Though As Knox himself states: ‘We have no care for genres or pigeon-holes – simply the noise of harmony and the harmony of noise and the inspiration and spirit of the people who are making that noise.’
So what does the future hold for Hundred Year Old Man? In late 2019, before the emergence of a certain global pandemic, I was lucky enough to catch a date on their tour with Switzerland’s E-L-R, another emerging force in the post-metal sphere. As a performance consisting of currently unreleased material, much of which is set to be released on their upcoming second album, I can assure you that future looks bright indeed, and I hope I am not ruining any surprises by acknowledging a truly remarkable on-stage collaboration with the aforementioned Swiss trio. More recently, the band released a stirring re-recorded version of their track “Ascension”, which features several members past and present, as well as a stunning feature from Gizeh labelmate Angela Chan on viola.
As I have previously stated, Hundred Year Old Man are a band that I continuously and fervently recommend to my peers. They are without question one of the brightest stars in an ever-growing system of bands that orbit the post-metal sun.
Hundred Year Old Man is:
David Duxbury – Lead Vocals
Owen Pegg – Guitar/Vocals
Tom Wright – Guitar
Helen Tytherleigh – Bass
Mark Howes – Electronics/Vocals
Andy Baron – Drums