Bassist Lyle Steadham about Solitude Aeturnus’ debut Into the Depths of Sorrow
Doom metal was never popular, but at the early 90’s the genre got some publicity. It was the time when a lot of bands (re)discovered early Black Sabbath. Doom started to split into several subgenres, such as traditional, epic, funeral doom etc. If we talk about epic doom metal, one of the best outfits of this style is the Arlington-based Solitude Aeturnus. Their first record, Into the Depths of Sorrow was released 30 years ago and it was enough reason to speak about this masterpiece with bassist (previously drummer) Lyle Steadham.
Lyle, before I’d ask you about Solitude Aeturnus’ debut Into the Depths of Sorrow, I’d like to know, at what age did you first become interested in heavy music? When did you first start learning to play an instrument and which instrument was it?
My first introduction to heavy music was through my best friend’s older brother. We were in elementary school at the time. He had some albums by Black Sabbath other groups that weren’t generally played on the radio. We would hear him jamming those in his room, and occassionally we would go in there and play the albums ourselves. During middle school I started listening to popular metal like Ozzy and AC/DC, although once I reached high school I got into the hardcore punk scene. That eventually led to the discovery of thrash metal.
Being based in Arlington (Texas), what do you recall of the state’s scene as a whole? How was the metal scene in Texas compared to Chicago, New York, Los Angeles or the Bay Area at this point?
At the time Solitude started I knew of the metal scenes in the California Bay Area and somewhat in Chicago, but that’s about it. The only way I knew what was going on in other cities was from whatever tapes and albums I could find by other bands. There were some good bands in the DFW area, such as Gammacide and Hammer Witch, but not as much thrash and heavy bands as San Antonio I suppose. Pantera was still a cover band at the time, so they hadn’t made the impact on the DFW scene yet.
Was it San Antonio’s scene that drove the Texas metal market?
As far as Texas metal, San Antonio seemed to be the best scene.
What do you think about that many bands like Judas Priest, Rush and Iron Maiden would later graduate to the large arenas and stadiums and help turn San Antonio into the unofficial „Heavy Metal Capital of the World”?
That’s cool, however it happened.
When did you decide to be part of a band?
I tried to start my first band when I was 14. It was called Jet Black. I played drums at that time. We didn’t have a singer, just drums, guitar, and a keyboardist. We tried to play some Van Halen covers, but without a singer we didn’t get very far. When I turned 16, I started playing drums for a punk band called The Holy. That’s where I first met Robert Lowe. He was playing guitar for the band and we happened to meet at a Dead Kennedys show in Dallas. From 1983 to 1985, The Holy played gigs in Dallas supporting well-known hardcore punk bands from around the country who were on tour. Around 1986, I got away from the punk scene and started getting more into extreme metal, particularly thrash, occult, and later doom. Robert was always a huge metal fan even though he was playing guitar for a punk band. I remember Robert playing me the first Trouble album and at that point something clicked. I suddenly wanted to do something dark and heavy like that. So Robert and I started a dark metal band called Graven Image. Robert was on guitar and vocals, me on bass, and a friend of ours on drums. We did that for a few years, playing around the DFW area. Unfortunately we never made a studio album. We just have a few live recordings.
You joined Solitude as a drummer after releasing their first demo And Justice for All… to replace Brad Kane. How did you get in the picture exactly? Were you the band’s first choice, by the way and were you familiar with that demo?
I wasn’t aware of Solitude until I saw them play live at a venue called Joe’s Garage in Arlington. As soon as I saw them, I instantly knew I wanted to join that band, somehow. A few months later, John Perez and I ended up in a class together at University of Texas at Arlington. When he started having some issues with the original line-up, I offered to step in, playing whatever instrument was necessary. By then I could play drums, bass, and guitar. As fate would have it, Kane left and I stepped in to play drums.
The second effort of the group was the one-track Mirror of Sorrow demo…
A short time after I joined the band, John had some issues with the original vocalist. I suggested we get Robert, knowing he would be perfect. He’s a great guitarist, but his true power lies in his vocals. The first two new songs we wote were Opaque Divinity and Mirror of Sorrow, which eventually ended up on that demo.
How did the Arlington scene react to Solitude at first, being a little different from other bands in the area at the time?
They didn’t react much at all outside support from some of our friends. Nobody in Texas was into doom metal, especially in Arlington.
Did the band start getting attention for the music almost immediately with their recordings?
Metal fans beyond our hometown began to listen because John started circuiting the demos through the tape-trading underground. Doom was just starting to get some more recognition at the time.
You changed the name to Solitude Aeturnus to avoid legal actions taken by another band of the same name. Were you aware of the existence of the thrash metal act Solitude from Wilmington, Delaware?
I knew of them from the Metal Blade comp or whatever, but since John had already chosen the name, I didn’t give it much thought. It wasn’t until we got a letter from the original Solitude threatening us with legal action that we had to consider a new name. I remember the forerunner for a completely new name was Tribulation. But ultimately we decided it would be better to modify Solitude by adding Aeturnus rather than make a total change. Aeturnus means eternal in Latin.
What made you to switch to bass from drums after the Demo 1989?
Although I had joined on drums, I really wanted to play bass. I had played bass in Graven Image, and not only enjoyed being out from behind the drums but felt I was a better bass player than a drummer. Once the original bassist left, I switched to that position and we started searching for a replacement drummer.
In 1990 John „Wolf” Covington (previously HYD, Omega Thesis) was added to the line up being the new drummer. Did your choice fall immediately on him? Were there perhaps other drummers auditioned as well?
We auditioned one other drummer at the time, but felt Wolf was a better fit. Both drummers were good, but Wolf seemed to have a better feel for the slow, heavy style.
In my opinion the classic line up of the band took its shape at this point, including you on bass, Wolf on drums, Robert Lowe on vocals, Edgar Rivera and John Perez on guitars…
Once we added Edgar, the line-up felt really solid at that point. Everyone was the right person for the job and the chemistry was powerful. I think we could all feel it as we began to rehearse.
The two-song tape (Demo 1989) caught the attention of the independent label King Klassic. Did you perhaps make other companies interested also?
I remember we wasted time considering an offer from another label, but that fell through for some reason. Ultimately, John knew the King Klassic guys and felt they understood our music best.
When did you start working on your debut album? How long did it take you to come up with new songs?
We worked over a period of time, starting when Robert I and first joined the band and continuing after we made the line-up changes. There were the songs from the demos, plus others that John had worked up. I provided the lyrics while John wrote the music with the exception of White Ship where I wrote part of the music. There were delays in dealing with King Klassic and other stuff, so we had plenty of time to practice and hone the songs prior to the recording. We played them live at various gigs, which help solidify the arrangements.
You were an important part of the band when it came to songwriting, weren’t you?
I’ve always been good with words, so naturally I gravitated towards lyrics when I started playing in bands. As far back as The Holy, I was already writing most of the lyrics even though I wasn’t the singer. Likewise in Graven Image, I wrote all of the lyrics while Robert sang them. Robert and I worked well together, so we just continued that when we joined Solitude.
The band entered the Dallas Sound Lab in January 1990 to record the album. What do you recall of the recording sessions?
I remember being very excited because we had a budget and a label, but it wasn’t long before we began to lose faith in the producer’s skills. Though he later became a great producer, this was his first metal album. We had to really work hard to get the sound we wanted.
Is it correct that the whole album was recorded for a sum of $3000 and done in seven days including the remix? Why was the budget so low?
I don’t remember if the total budget was $3000, but whatever it was, it was better than nothing. King Klassic was a super small label, so I’m sure $3000 was huge to them.
Shortly after the album was delivered it suffered a delay due to King Klassic not having the money to put it out. Did they go bankrupt? Were there other outfits on their roster?
They did have some other bands on their roster, but I don’t really remember what happened. John dealt with most of the business back then.
After some shopping around, the album eventually caught the attention of Roadrunner Records and a licensed deal followed by Solitude Aeturnus signing directly to Roadrunner. What kind of contract did they offer to you? Did they offer a lot of things, such as touring support, worldwide distribution, promotion, advertisements etc.?
The contract was basic and mostly in favor of the label. But Roadrunner was a big label with good distribution, so it was far better than King Klassic, and really our only option. They did hook us up with a touring agent, so that helped as far as touring.
After numerous other delays, the album finally saw the light of day in July, 1991, a full year and a half after the album was recorded. What were the other delays? Have you ever given up on the album coming out?
I remember we were really depressed about how the business side of things was going and how long it look for the album to come out. But we played doom metal and this somehow seemed appropriate for that vibe.
How do you view, that in the mid to late 80’s/early 90’s, doom metal seemed to be split into several factions? There were the traditional Black Sabbath-inspired bands such as Trouble, Witchfinder General, Saint Vitus, Pentagram, Count Raven etc., there was Candlemass, who managed to create an epic, dark, opera-style doom and the funeral doom acts started to emerge as well, not to mention the death/doom hordes, such as Paradise Lost, Anathema, My Dying Bride, Winter, Sorrow, Asphyx etc.
I was a fan of Black Sabbath, certainly, and some of the early doom like Candlemass, Trouble, Pentagram, and Count Raven, but I didn’t listen to any of the other stuff.
Do you think, the exciting thing about Into the Depths of Sorrow is that it has all the majesty and mystery of epic doom without sacrificing the pace and playing chops of more traditional metal?
I definitely think it blends a good feel of epic doom and traditional metal.
Would you say, there is a lot going on in the songs with tempo changes, acoustic passages, slow parts, fast parts, great solos that are superbly executed, full of emotion and the songs are well-crafted, quite varied?
We were certainly unique with the alternating fast and slow parts. The solo work by John and Edgar, along with Robert’s soaring vocals, created a signature sound that hit hard on the debut album.
Do the songs rely on slow heavy guitar riffs, high pitched vocals, pounding rhythms and plenty of creepy atmosphere?
Definitely. That’s what gives it the signature Solitude sound.
The guitar work is excellent, Edgar Rivera and John Perez produce an astounding quantity of top notch doom riffs…
Those killer doom riffs are why I wanted to join the band in the first place. John is a master of heavy riffs.
Did the perceptive arrangements of the tremendous riffs anticipate the melodic enhancement of leads and solos, that reminiscent of Candlemass, who were obviously inspirational to the band’s formation?
Candlemass was a huge influence on us and it’s evident within the music and lyrics even though we managed to create our own unique brand.
Combining the intricacy and mystique of Fates Warning with the power of Candlemass or Trouble, the album also has more power and progressive metallish moments, edge respectively. How do you explain this?
While we all loved doom, we also loved bands like Fates Warning and Metal Church. Robert and I used to sit around at my old apartment listening to all the early Metal Blade and Combat records, so that was in our blood. John also loved those bands and grew up listening to the greats like Judas Priest. So even though we concentrated on the heavy, plodding march of doom, those other influences often shined through.
Did Solitude Aeturnus hit the mark song after song on this debut?
I supposed the fans would be the best judge of that, but I think in terms of this album, each song is strong.
Are technicality, doom and power metal elements, melody and melancholy fused on the record?
Does the album have an overall feeling of despair and did it manage to create a mood of sorrow and loss?
I intentially tried to conjure those feelings in the lyrics and likewise we tried to convey that with the music. In both words and music, there are times of slow, dying despair, and times of anger, exhilaration, and hope.
Do you think what really raises this album above others is the simply superb vocals of Rob Lowe? Are his vocals absolutely key to the music?
Robert’s vocals are an absolute key ingredient. Without his power, melody, and metal magic, the album wouldn’t be the same.
Did Transcending Sentinels and Where Angels Dare to Tread somewhat differ from their original versions? Did they sound much better with Robert’s performance?
I liked the original demo versions and I like the versions we did. I don’t think they necessarily sound better; they just sound like the epic Solitude songs they are.
Why didn’t you put City of Armageddon on the record? Did you have any material written, that didn’t make it to the record or never saw the light?
If I recall correctly, we didn’t end up putting that song on the album because we didn’t feel it was strong enough compared to the other tracks. There is only so much space on a record so we had to choose carefully.
Is Into the Depths of Sorrow an album that remains practically still unequalled and unimitable more than 30 years later?
I’m proud of what we accomplished back then and proud that the music has lived on for all these years through the fans. Robert, John, Edgar, and Wolf are like my brothers and we have a bond and connection that can never be broken. I think that’s one reason our music has withstood the test of time. We were five guys who loved playing metal together and we poured our heart and soul into those songs. We didn’t care about trends or getting rich, we only wanted to craft an album of pure, heavy doom. And that’s exactly what we did.
Is there any chance for a Solitude Aeturnus reunion?
I never say die and I never say never.
Lyle, thanks a lot for the answers! What are your closing thoughts at the end of this interview?
Thanks for the interview and recognition, and thanks for helping our music live on!