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Garden Of Shadows    
garden of shadows

In the early days of death metal, the scene was more focused on brutality than anything else. Over the years we began to see some change in the death metal movement with more melody added into the music and the continuation of the traditional death metal vocals in such bands as My Dying Bride's early efforts and the endless number of bands from the land of Gothenburg. The US bands rarely took this daring step toward guitar harmonies and soothing melodies and it became more of a European sound. But Maryland's Garden of Shadows has been going against the US standards since '95 with their brand of melodic death metal. Finally, Garden of Shadows has gotten its "major" label debut entitled 'Oracle Moon' on Earache's subsidiary label Wicked World. In an effort to find out more about this creative band, the Metal Update had a chat with guitarist Brian Rabinovitz.

METAL UPDATE: For some history, how and when was Garden of Shadows formed?

BRIAN RABINOVITZ: Well, I'd say that we began in '95. I was playing with some friends of mine and we decided to start trying to make a serious band. So we started looking for a second guitarist and we found Mary in the summer of '95. When she joined, she had the exact same musical ideas and goals as me so we started right away going in a heavy direction. The bassist and drummer we had at the time - they weren't as into the direction we were going in and they also had school obligations. They left shortly after Mary joined. So then from the summer of '95 to until the fall of '96 we worked with various drummers, none of whom worked out, and we didn't get a whole lot done until we met up with Bret, our current drummer, in the fall of '96. He was in a band called Sadistic Torment, which was a brutal death band, and they had broken up just prior to his joining our band. When he joined, everything really clicked into place and we started practicing regularly. That is when we came up with the band name and we recorded 'Heart of the Corona', our debut demo in April of '97.

MU: Is the lineup the same as on the demo with the absence of the keyboardist?

BR: Yeah, well there have been a few other changes. On the demo, I played the bass because we didn't have a bassist. Then after we did the demo, Sean joined us on bass. He had also been in Sadistic Torment with Bret.

MU: So he took over Owen's place?

BR: Owen hadn't joined yet. I'll go up in order. Sean joined a little after we did the demo. He joined because Bret knew him and Bret introduced him to us and he was into our music. Everything was working out well, but Sean had some job obligations that forced him not to come to practice and so he said he just couldn't do it anymore. That's when we started looking for another bassist and that's when we found Owen. This was in '98 and a little after Owen joined we recorded "Shards of the Sphere" which was the bonus track on the CD release of 'Heart of the Corona' that came out on X-Rated Records. A little after we released that, Scott our keyboardist left us mainly because he wasn't into metal so much, and things just weren't working out between us. We knew it would be best to just part ways. So then Sean was able to come back to us and he came back to us on bass and Owen moved over to guitar synth to try to fill the keyboard slot and we played some shows that way. We played the metalfest in New Jersey - the first March Metal Meltdown. A little after that we stopped playing with Owen mainly because the guitar synth just wasn't doing the job that we wanted it to do because it just couldn't do the kinds of parts that we had written for the keyboards. So Owen is actually playing guitar now in Rain Fell Within. We're in the process of looking for a keyboardist and I played the keys on the new CD because we don't have one yet. Other than that, that is the current line-up.

garden of shadows

MU: But you are planning on looking for a keyboardist.

BR: Yeah, we are looking currently, but it's tough to find somebody that's both good, dedicated and into your music and everything.

MU: What is the writing process like? As far as who writes the music? Who writes the lyrics?

BR: The majority of it is centered around Mary and myself. Generally we'll both write riffs at home all the time. We'll get together and see what riffs go together well and start trying to write a song. Usually it will go in steps or we'll put several riffs together to make a section and then we'll think of bridges to merge sections together. Generally, we will write a complete song just for two guitars (just playing our electrics acoustically at home). Once we have a complete song for guitars, we'll take that to practice and we'll start playing it with everybody else. First, we'll work with Bret on drum parts. He'll play riffs with us individually until we connect everything and we'll sort of show Sean what we are both playing and Sean will then write a bass part to accompany it. The last step would be the lyrics and the vocals. I write most of the lyrics but everything I do Mary will contribute to and sort of revise as well. So, pretty much, Mary and I both write the lyrics. Then we'll get together with our vocalist and we'll go over vocal placement all together and then we have a song.

MU: What do the lyrics deal with? They seem to have a mythological feel to them.

BR: You could say that. We don't feel restricted to anything in particular, topically. There's not one theme that we feel forced to center around. We just will write about whatever strikes us as a great topic and whatever has the right mood and feel to the music we're writing. On the new CD, a lot of it centers around the cosmos, the complexity of the universe and the inability of man to fully comprehend everything in the universe. And this fascination with the complexity of the universe comes across on several songs on the new album. A mystical mood is something we want to convey in our music, and we try to have that happen in the lyrics, as well, so everything gels together to form one cohesive whole.

MU: The band has a very strong European sound. Has there been a better response overseas than here in the US?

BR: Our response has been good everywhere really, but I do think that in Europe a lot of the people there get the music more. Things seem to be changing in the US, though. There are definitely more melodic bands popping up in the US. I feel like we were more different in '97 when we did 'Heart of the Corona' than we are now because there's quite a few other bands in the US that are doing atmospheric or European styles. I really like the fact that that's catching on. A lot of European reviews in the zines. . . I feel that they understood the music better. A few of the US zines compared us to bands that I don't really think we should be compared to, but that really revealed just a limitation of the journalist, as far as his knowledge of our musical background - of the stuff that we are coming from. But the response has been good in both places so I'm not complaining or anything like that.

MU: How well did the 'Heart of the Corona' demo sell? Because first it was a demo, right?

BR: Yeah, it was a demo. And for the demo tape we made 900 copies and we sent about 200 out to zines and we sold basically all the rest. We probably have about 10 copies left. Basically 700 copies have been sold. Actually a few more considering some of those 200 were to distros, but I would say in the neighborhood of 700 copies were sold.

MU: OK. And then X-Rated Records pressed a CD with a bonus track.

BR: Yes. We also remastered the demo for the CD release and included all the lyrics. On the CD release, they sold out of the first pressing of 1,000. They may have a couple copies left and they need to make a second pressing. Due to some financial difficulties with the label, he's been unable to do it for a little while, but I believe he's going to be making a second pressing right now.

MU: So how did the Wicked World deal come about?

BR: Well Dan at Wicked World got in touch with me. He had bought a copy of our demo and he listened to it and liked it. He wrote to me and said he was very interested in us and asked us if we could send him any of our newer material. So we sent him the CD version of 'Heart of the Corona' with the bonus track on it along with a rehearsal tape of two of our newer songs. From that, he convinced Dig at the label to sign us and it wasn't long after that we had a contract sent to us in the mail.

MU: Did you have any offers from other labels?

BR: At the time we had offers from several other underground labels but none of them were as big as Earache.

MU: So, obviously, that was the best choice.

BR: Yeah. We made that choice thinking it would be the best for the band as far as promotion and distribution.

MU: Where was 'Oracle Moon' recorded and what was the recording process like this time around?

BR: Well, it was recorded at 3 separate studios. We did the drums and keyboards at one local studio called The Salon. We did that in September of '99. Then we recorded the guitars, bass and vocals at my home studio. We were supposed to begin recording that at the start of October, but there was an engineer we were going to work with who was going to come out one day and help us get sounds. He couldn't show up for various reasons a few times, and eventually we decided to just go on ahead with our own sound and just not worry about him coming in. We started recording the guitars late in October, and we recorded those guitars through November. Then we went on to do the bass and vocals. We were going to go mix at a third studio. We were scheduled to go mix at this studio in December, but we had to delay that because when our vocalist came in to start recording he had pneumonia. Actually the first track, Oracle Moon, he had pneumonia when he recorded that track, and he really hurt his throat doing it. The next morning he said he couldn't come in and do the rest. We had to delay the mixing for him to get better and come back to finish the rest of the vocals. Then we went to mix at this third studio in January. We went there for one day and on the start of the second day he said he didn't have all the time we had booked available. He didn't want to rush us so we came back on the next available date he had which was the end of February. When we came back in, he said he had everything set up the way we left it. But it wasn't the same and we didn't realize until it was too late because he didn't burn us a CD to take home the first day. In the end we realized we had a product that didn't sound nearly as good as the one song we mixed in January. We were pretty upset about that so we went to remix it at another studio, Assembly Line Studios, in April. That turned out a lot better. We were much happier with it.

MU: What is your home studio like? I thought I heard that it consists of computer programs?

BR: No, I have a single ADAT. So I had an ADAT, I had a few good microphones, some good mic pre and a small room that I had outfitted with a fair amount of studio foam to make sort of a recording booth for both guitar cabinets and vocals. The bass was recorded direct through a preamp.

MU: It sounds really good. Has Garden of Shadows had the opportunity to play out often?

BR: We have had the opportunity locally. There was one club around here that has been really great. We had the chance to open up for bands like Dimmu Borgir and In Flames. And there's another larger one where we've opened up for Mayhem, My Dying Bride, Suffocation, Obituary and Six Feet Under. We've been pretty lucky. The one thing that really sort of sucks is that one of those clubs, which was the coolest club to play at, closed a few months ago. So, that is making it tough locally. We've also played in Milwaukee and we've played in New Jersey. We've played shows in Philadelphia and in North Carolina, but we haven't done any major tours as of yet. We definitely hope to be able to do one soon. It would be nice to do one in support of this album.

MU: You've also played the Czech Republic? It was a festival with Septic Flesh?

BR: Yeah. It was the Brutal Assault Open Air in Blansco in the Czech Republic. And that was an opportunity. . . I was conversing with someone who runs the fest and he said that they would love to have us come down and play there. I had never been to Europe and had wanted to take a vacation there anyway. We told the rest of the band and they were all into going. Even though it was only for the one fest, it was really a blast and we enjoyed it a lot. It was a 2 day fest and we played basically at the end of the day on Friday. It was a great crowd and it was really cool. The next day we got to see both Depresy and Septic Flesh which was awesome. Septic Flesh played material from every one of their albums which was cool. I got to see material from their early albums performed live.

MU: Yeah. Which tour was that for them?

BR: I don't believe it was on a real tour. They actually flew them up from Greece for the one show and flew them back.

MU: Did they pay you guys or was it basically pay your way and play?

BR: We did have to pay our way, although they were very cool about transportation for us while we were there, and they set up a tour of some local caves for us and Septic Flesh which was pretty awesome. We went on a tour together of caves in the Czech Republic. That's definitely the kind of experience that is a once in a lifetime sort of thing.

MU: What did you think of this year's Milwaukee Metalfest?

BM: I thought it was the best fest I've ever been to. Things seemed to be handled better than a lot of previous ones. There weren't two stages in the same room which is always good, and Children of Bodom put on an amazing show. That alone was worth going I think.

MU: I think Opeth pretty much stole the show as well.

BR: The only real negative for me was the fact that they had screw ups with our set times, and we got shuffled around. I think the time we actually played. . . Not everyone that wanted to see us knew when we were playing so they didn't all get to see us, which is sort of a shame. Then we got cut off after about 16 minutes for them to get back on schedule. I understand if they can't run too far off schedule, but it's a shame when it's you they decide to cut to get back on time.

MU: Now that you are on Wicked World, and you're definitely willing to tour, is there anything in the works at the moment?

BR: Nothing that we know of, no. We would probably need a bit of help with setting up a tour. Sort of financial support because it's tough when you don't have a lot of money. We would love to do it and I would most love to do a European tour, but any exposure and touring would be great.

MU: Hopefully something will work out. Who runs the Garden of Shadows website?

BR: I run one and one of our fans set up another. The one I do is at That would be the official one - we are planning to do a big update soon. Then, a fan of ours set up a page for us, and that's actually the one that Earache has a link to at the moment.

MU: OK. That's probably the one I saw. It was pretty good but it seemed like it was lacking a little bit. It's good to have a strong solid website. I didn't know if you had more than one. It was kind of hard to find some info on you guys.

BR: The one I do isn't the fanciest or the best website but it's probably got a little more information than any of the others. I do like to play a lot with computer design, with 2D design, things with Photoshop, 3D programs. Actually the layout of our new CD, we had sort of a hand in designing it along with the artist.

MU: Who is the artist on that?

BM: The artist is Art Hamer. He's in Virginia. He did the cover and he did most of the art for the inside. Actually, the image that will be printed behind the CD on the final release is an image that I designed myself.

oracle moon

MU: The US is not really known for many atmospheric death metal bands such as yourself. Do you know any others worth mentioning?

BR: Yeah. Just recently new releases from both Estuary of Calamity and Abominant. They are in the Cincinnati and Kentucky area. They're very good. There's another band over there called Thorns of the Carrion. They are a lot slower than us. More in the early My Dying Bride vein, but they're good too. And then around here, there's Witchunt who's new CD that is coming out on X-Rated is a really amazing black/death - kind of melodic. It's really emotional. Just great music. I actually recorded it at my home studio. That was the first thing I recorded. Then another is Forty Days Longing around here. They're great atmospheric, sort of doom/death, and they've got a female vocalist that is extremely brutal. She's pretty amazing. She actually did backing vocals on the last track of our new CD. She did the backing screams of that track - the high screeches.

MU: And then Mary probably did the clean vocals on that track?

BR: Yeah, she did the clean vocals there, and I know a lot of people were hoping for more. She sang on Heart of the Corona. There was actually a track that we didn't put on the album that we're planning to release sometime in the future, possibly on a comp or a bonus track. I'm not sure. But she's doing more singing on that. We'd have more of her vocals but we're not going to force them.

MU: Yeah, I find that you use them tastefully, rather than being forced to be like, "we should use clean vocals on this song and this song." You definitely get away with using very little clean vocals and most of the brutal.

BR: We're going to put them there if it fits well, but if it doesn't work really well we're not going to use it. She tried singing over other parts of the album, and we thought it wasn't necessary so we took them out. We really want everything to work together as a whole, and, first and foremost, we're a death metal band. We're not trying to change to some sort of gothic thing or something like that.

MU: Could name your three most influential albums at this time?

BR: Well, my #1 would be Septic Flesh 'Mystic Places of Dawn'. #2 would probably be Depresy 'A Grand Magnificence'. #3. . . can I go more than 3?

MU: Yeah, sure. . .

BR: Orphaned Land 'Sahara', Pan-Thy-Monium 'Dawn of Dreams' and Crypt of Kerberos 'World of Myths' and Rotting Christ 'Non Servium'. Actually, I'll stick on Nightfall 'Macabre Sunsets' and Horrified 'In the Garden of the Unearthly Delights' as well.

MU: So that will sum it up, for the most part?

BR: Well, pretty much a combination of those. I guess you could add on Dark Tranquillity 'The Gallery' and In Flames 'Subterranean'. If you take influences from all of those and mix 'em up, I think you have our sound. Not necessarily equal parts of all those bands but some of the feeling from those various different genres within death metal.

MU: So everyone pretty much has the same tastes in music?

BE: Yeah. Mary and I have the most similar tastes. We're probably carbon copies of each other which is why we work so well together. Then for the other members, they like what we like, and they are probably a little more eclectic in their choices - a little more wide ranging. But the other things they like outside of the heavier metal (things that we listen to) don't really come into play when it comes time to make our music.

MU: There's a time and place for everything.

BR: Right. They'll listen to a wider variety of genres than Mary and I do, but when it comes time for writing, it all stays concentrated around the sorts of music that I mentioned before.


review of Garden of Shadows' 'Oracle Moon'






Interview: Scott McCooe [ ]
Editor: Brant Wintersteen [ ]
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