The expression of emotional ideas, especially complex ones, is rarely demonstrated through the sonically heavier genres but this week our WFA seeks to challenge that. I recall hearing the debut album Pilgrims on the Path of No Return by newcomer Thy Listless Heart. Without hearing a note from this project – one in which vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Simon Bibby is the sole member – I knew that this was going to be a different kind of doom metal. Just look at that act and album name, they’re both loaded with substance. And they’re not just cool words thrown together in an attempt to achieve a certain aesthetic for cool points. While there was a certain audacity in these words, there was also a sincerity that seeped through and the lovely artwork from the late master Mariusz Lewandowski upped the ante with its wistful travelers.
I knew from the moment that I heard this album that I wanted to have a conversation with the project’s creator to discuss what I felt is an achievement in melding emotional themes with the doom genre that I haven’t felt since Warning’s Watching From a Distance. While it took some time for scheduled to align, I am happy that Simon was up for it and we got to have a digital sit down of sorts to discuss this project. As he is in two other active bands at the time of writing this, I was curious on how the idea began to create Thy Listless Heart, as aside from the time it takes to create an album on this scale, there is also a great deal of heft to the subjects that this project deals in. After an early attempt to try something like this back in the ’90s, there were two main factors that led to the creation of this outlet:
‘Two definite catalysts for Thy Listless Heart coming to fruition were the Covid Lockdowns and me hurtling towards turning 50 years old. I remember having a greater sense of the fleeting nature of life, which inspired an urgency that I hadn’t experienced before.
‘From the outset, I wanted Thy Listless Heart to be a very personal thing. I wanted it to be something that would enable me to express and process emotion. It’s an extension of myself. I had a tattoo done a number of years ago which includes the words, ‘Listless Heart Burn Bright’ – these words are both for myself and also for those I’ve come into contact with over the last 30 years of working with people who have experienced trauma and loss and pain. My voice is perhaps a faltering attempt to be their voice, in some small way.’
The final part of this idea, that he could be an interceding voice for the voiceless is something that I had felt every time I listened to this album. And while it may seem a bit fantastic to hear this in the words and melodies that emanate from this album, I can honestly say that this is squarely the truth. Thy Listless Heart to this day feels like a sage voice for the voiceless reaches a level of empathy and understanding that few albums have in recent memory. While there are no overt religious tones or messaging within these lyrics, there are touchstones throughout that reference some motifs that call to spirituality. There is of course no dogma or explicit ideology being pressed, but using these abstractions of faith, empathy, and intercession is one of the ways that Simon’s songs find an already present avenue through which to travel. My surmisings were indeed correct and as is often the case, church played a foundational role in revealing the power of music:
‘Much of my childhood was spent in one church or another. I suppose this was where I first experienced music and where I discovered just how powerful it could be. I cringe now at the dubious lyrical content, but there’s no denying the impact of being amongst 200 plus people singing a rousing hymn when you’re 6 years old…some of those hymns were pretty dark in places! Thinking about it, maybe doom metal was a perfectly natural place to end up after a beginning like that!?’
As far as where the love of the more melancholic music came from – aside from the aforementioned hymns of despair – bands such as Crimson Glory and of course the seminal doom metal band Candlemass played a role in shaping the mind of a young Mr. Bibby:
‘I have always loved music with an epic and emotive edge. Music that can make you feel. Music that elicits a physical reaction as well as an emotional one. I remember first hearing a track called “Lost Reflection” by Crimson Glory when it was released in 1986 – I had goosebumps on top of goosebumps, my eyes were watering and I felt like I had grown to 20 feet tall. Believe it or not, it still does the same to me every time I listen.
‘Candlemass’ Nightfall was an incredibly inspirational album for me. It was the beginning of my love affair with dark, epic and emotive music. It also helped cement my status as a weirdo in school. I loved the album so much that it was the topic of my English Oral exam, in which I waxed lyrical about the fact that the overarching theme of the album was death and what, if anything, awaits us on the other side.’
Some acts tend to write with a music-first approach where lyrics are added after the fact and everything is a servant to the riffs, beats, or the atmosphere. While there is no wrong approach to be named here, there are times when finding the right balance takes time for some bands but that simply wasn’t the case with TLH output thus far. It’s beyond clear that the first and foremost, what is being said is paramount and the musical identity was built around this. ‘Love or loathe doom, there’s no denying that it’s an ideal genre for carrying the weight of certain topics’ was a succinct and accurate response when I asked about this and Simon goes on to explain that it’s simply the best vehicle in which to express the ideas that he wishes to convey:
‘It incorporates all of the elements that I love to find in music, which more often than not just happens to fall into the subcategory of doom metal. There are always other musical possibilities, but I feel that slow, heavy and atmospheric can offer the perfect mix of gravitas and sensitivity – something that I felt necessary to be able to best convey the lyrical themes.’
Of course, this is no small task. Having the approach in one’s mind and having an understanding of which elements get the spotlight is only a small part of the batter. The larger, often more difficult part of creating music that feels appropriate in tone when dealing with complex emotional ideas is getting the balance correct. Go too far in any direction and the impact can get lost in a noisy mess of good intentions and the weight of the ideas goes right out the proverbial window.
One of the things that I have never felt with the Thy Listless Heart is imbalance. While the tones are often dramatic they never stray into a territory that I would label as insincere. Of course, this is all up to the listener to decide for themselves but regardless of the conclusion, this is something that Simon was conscious of from the start:
‘Pilgrims… is an emotional album – I make no apologies for that and I completely understand that it won’t be to everyone’s liking. The problem with expressing lots of emotion in music, especially when it comes to vocals, and especially with clean vocals is that they can sound contrived, maudlin, cheesy! I was very aware of this, and so in answer to your question – it took me a while to find what I felt was the right tone and level of emotion. I wanted the vocals to have a power to them but also a sense of fragility in keeping with the subject matter. I wanted them to feel human, if that makes sense.’
As we close in on a year since Pilgrims on the Path of No Return landed, I wanted to know what it was like to let it out into the wild. After all, this was a project that had quite the run up to release with its initial inklings beginning back in the ’90s. Aside from the trifecta of ‘Frightening, exhilarating, life affirming’ It seems that the payoff has been a connection with others and just how much these songs are finding their way into the hearts of those that hear them: ‘For me, the greatest joy has been the sense of connection with others. So many people have made contact to let me know how much the album has moved them – how certain songs have proved to be more than just a bunch of notes played in a particular order. Money can’t buy that.’
While the future of Thy Listless Heart is still being written (‘It’s true that I have the beginnings of a song that could be a starting point for a potential follow-up but so far I haven’t really had the time or energy to make any firm plans’) I certainly hope to hear from this project again in the future and it seems that Simon has words from his wife that will help guide him on a more amenable path next time around:
‘When the time is right, when I need to give voice to certain emotions and experiences and when I can summon the necessary resolve I will step back onto the path. My wife, Kristy keeps telling me to ensure that if I do record another album, I need to try to enjoy the process more and place less pressure on myself re timescales etc. She’s a wise woman so I’d better listen.’