Once upon a time, in the legendary 80s, there was the even more legendary label Neat Records - featuring Venom... one of their label mates from back then were a.o. the Brits Cloven Hoof, nowadays probably rather labelled Old School Metal, but their progressive approach definitely helped to pave the way for the more complex version of thrash metal. In 1990 it was over. But let´s leave the past behind, Cloven Hoof are back and give a quite optimistic outlook on the future with their new release "The Definitive Part One". And STALKER wanted to know more from Lee Payne, eloquent mastermind of the band and student of black magic.
Can you say something about your newest release “Cloven Hoof – The Definitive Part One”?
The notion behind "The Definitive Part One" in a nut shell was we wanted to re-record the tracks again and play them as we sound today, with clear production and show everyone how much better we play the songs these days. We wanted to capture our live power so we recorded the drums and bass live and used minimum guitar overdubs. In essence, it sparkles with live power and captures the essence of the band more than any past release. So called nu metal bands just cheat and use pro tools all the time to cover up the fact they can´t play accurate. The result is a mechanical, sterile and over-produced sound. I hate that; more bands should actually play their instruments instead of letting guys in the studio take over and cheat. Tight but loose is what we wanted like Zeppelin and Maiden, and we sure achieved it with the new album.
When did Cloven Hoof form?
The band started in 1979. We used to watch any and every rock band that came to town. Rush, Lizzy, Sabbath, UFO and the brilliant Scorpions. I saw their UK debut, they were superb. Metal in those days was very underground like a secret society. Many people pretended they didn´t even like rock music, then you would see them at a Black Sabbath gig pretending they were true fans... Spineless bastards! You should be proud to be part of the greatest form of music in the universe, stand up and be counted... Metal is All!!!
In any case Mick played lead guitar pretty well so we started to rehearse songs like "Another Piece of Meat" by the Scorpions, "Warrior" by Thin Lizzy, "Lights out" by UFO, we then put an advert in a local paper for a drummer. Kevin Poutney showed up and was superb, it was then that I presented my original compositions to the unit. Everyone thought they were cool and they were “Passover”, “Gehenna”, “Nightstalker” and “Road of Eagles”.
Finding a good vocalist was difficult, but we eventually got a guy in who talked a mean song. He was nothing special but we did a demo anyway. After we recorded it Kevin and myself knew the other two were not up to scratch, so we first booted out the singer and after a while the guitarist too. Grafton wasn´t too bad, he just had too much of a blues style. We were heavy metal through and through, so we needed a versatile speed demon on the fret board.
After Kevin and I had got rid of the initial guitarist, in about 4 months a roadie nicknamed Bobby Klingon mentioned he had recently seen the greatest lead guitarist on earth playing in a local west midland band called Megellan. Kevin and I were eager to see if this was in anyway true, and got him to get the phone number of this would-be genius. It turned out to be none other than 18 year old Stephen John Rounds. We told him to audition by learning “Temples of Syrinx” from Rush. He said fine as long as Kevin and I learn “Cygnus XV” and “Xanadu”! Wow, what a cheek we thought, but were impressed by his spirit and taste. Duly, we all complied and we played the three Rush tracks at Steve´s audition. Someone who heard the rehearsal immediately asked us to do an open air festival as a Rush tribute band. We laughed and declined and said it was only our first day together much to the promoter´s amazement. My god all that seems a million years ago now!
OK for our Italian fans I will reiterate that explanation. Right from the start I didn´t want the band to be a standard rock act with an obvious name and music. I wanted to break new ground and be original, the music had to be epic and thought-provoking and the name had to reflect this too. “To show the cloven hoof” means to reveal your evil side, to let it take over. The church of Satan call their church, followers of the cloven hoof, in short disciples who worship at the feet of the devil.
I had always had a fascination with the occult and horror movies, so I wanted to reflect this in the name and material of the band. The moniker of a rock group needs to be memorable and powerful, that a crowd could chant out easily, so I began by writing down all the things I could think of with occult word associations. The name that really grabbed me immediately was...Cloven Hoof!
Who writes the lyrics for the band?
I do! I guess we were amongst the pioneers of black metal. I was very interested in the occult and that kind of subject matter. I used part of an actual witch´s rune in the CLOVEN HOOF title track, but I have experienced enough spooky scenarios surrounding this band to say to any impressionable fans reading this here and now... Leave the occult well alone!!! I dropped satanic themes for a while because I was worried about it having an adverse effect on the fans. There was a serial killer called the Nightstalker in the States around the time of our first album who killed in the same kind of way as our song suggested. I don´t know if Ramirez was a fan of the band, but I didn´t want to take any chances.
With the album “Throne of Damnation” we decided it was back to our roots and no compromise. So it´s back to doing what we love best, satanic subjects whatever.
What could you say about Cloven Hoof´s early years - the first tours during the 80´s?
The band´s material for “The Opening Ritual” was written during the first new wave of the British heavy metal movement, but it took a hell of a time to get musicians who were good enough to play the songs. The material was a little ahead of its time so most players did not get the multi time changes and progressions. Some musicians were prog rock influenced and could handle the technical rigours of the music, but lacked aggression and attitude. Others played heavy but were too basic and could only play run of the mill 4/4 tunes. So in the end finding Steve Rounds and Kevin Poutney was a blessing.
There was a thriving rock club scene in England in the 1980´s, and bands could cut their teeth by gaining valuable live experience on a regular basis. A little known midland heavy metal band called Jameson Raid were great and we did most venues Diamond Head did too. I talked to Brian Tatler (Diamond Head) the other week about the time we both tried to poach each other from our respective bands. He jammed with Cloven Hoof once and he and I got on great. Brian remembered our rehearsal room had trophy knickers pinned to the wall from various groupies, you had a pretty good collection even then he said. Ah, boys will be boys, I guess!
We were blown away at the fanatical support and how everyone knew the words to all our songs. It was a humbling and moving experience. The Dynamo club in Holland and the Shockwave Festival in Belgium were incredible experiences.
Has there been any controversy regarding your lyrics as far as black magic is concerned?
Yeah we always get protest from some crack pot Christian religious groups. They can go and F##K themselves! Free speech in heavy metal or everyday life is worth fighting for. Take INQUISITOR for example... It is a story about medieval torture and religious fanaticism set in Spain, during Tomas De Torquemada´s reign of terror.
Much has been written of the inhuman cruelty of Tomas de Torquemada. Llorente computes that during Torquemada´s office 8800 suffered death by fire and 9,654 were punished in other ways. Even the Jewish historian Graetz contents himself with stating that "under the first Inquisitor Torquemada, in the course of fourteen years (1485-1498) at least 2000 Jews were burnt as impenitent sinners."
Torquemada´s ways of ferreting out and punishing heretics seemed justifiable by his order and seemed not barbaric with the penal standard of the fifteenth century. The preservation of Christian Spain was all that mattered and Torquemada was called "the hammer of heretics, the light of Spain, the saviour of his country”. He died peacefully in his sleep.
Religion has always been an excuse for genocide. One man´s murderer is a martyr, when at the end of the day murder is just murder. The end doesn´t justify the means. In the present day dangerous climate of Sept 11th, Nothing changes... Evil in the name of religion still has its face.
Are you a student of the occult?
The subject matter we cover in CLOVEN HOOF the band is meant to be taken in the spirit it is intended, for entertainment purposes like a comic book or a horror film... Nothing more. Religion is a very personal thing as are beliefs, but we do not endorse the practise of black magic in any way.
I decided from the start that due to the black magic orientation of the band, I would try to learn as much as possible about the subject. I had started to write a title track called Cloven Hoof (surprise) and it seemed a good idea at the time to make a section of it an actual witch´s rune from the Book of Shadows (This is a collection of witches spells, as used by Aleister Crowley etc).
Many unexplained events happened to the band I feel sure as a result of this. I was showing the bands original guitarist the finger picking part of the spell section whilst reciting out the lyrics. Suddenly a guitar jammed between two Marshall cabs was mysteriously thrown forward as if hurled by an invisible force, and my companion, the six string maestro, was off like a shot out of the door saying "Call me tomorrow... See ya!" I was left alone to ponder what a strange atmosphere had descended on the room afterwards. Funnily enough, this happened on Beltane night a witch´s Sabbath!
But things finally came to a head when a vocalist who had recently joined the group announced that after he had practised reciting the said witch´s rune section of our title track, he felt as if unseen hands had gripped his legs! He delivered an ultimatum... "Unless you change the words, I will leave the band!" I duly complied under protest.
However, there were still some passages of the song that I left unaltered and as ill fortune would have it, when we performed the track at a rehearsal hall, it was duly struck by lightening! The guitar amps were fused and the hapless vocalist was mildly electrocuted. Needless to say he wanted nothing more to do with the fledgling Cloven Hoof after that!
So stay away from the occult!
What has kept the band going for so many years?
I personally think we are an important group because just as 70´s era Rush are the link between prog rock like Yes and Genesis and traditional metal, Cloven Hoof are a 2006 link between Rush, thrash and metal. We act as a role model for power metal bands to have epic and imaginative song structures with thrash power and melody. This is pretty unique in this day and age.
Because we were ahead of our time the music press in Britain did not know how to take us. Malcolm Dome, who I respect very much, commented that , we did not sound raw like Venom or totally melodic either, that was astute enough... We were simply different from anyone!
Cloven Hoof had outlandish costumes, but we had prodigious musical ability for mere 18 year olds. An outrageous image did not cover up shoddy music either, as is the case for most bands of that ilk. Hoof songs were multi time change tour de forces and the European rock media understood that from day one. Some say you are never a prophet in your own land, maybe that´s true, but we certainly had an amazing hardcore following throughout the rest of the world. Now we have a type of legendary status that is humbling and very flattering to say the least.
The music has grown in popularity for over 25 years and longevity is the only way to judge if music is good or not, we had no hype whatsoever! Hoof songs have been spread by word of mouth and that makes us a people´s band, and I would rather have genuine fans who love us and stay a cult group. We are down to earth people and they can stick the stardom bullshit where the sun don´t shine!
Every album had to count, that is why the material is so strong. We had no financial security net like other groups who churn out one good song per album, with the rest filler dross. Hoof has had to fight tooth and nail for acceptance and the battle rages on today stronger than ever!
Many missed the point that we were a sci-fi, horror subject matter based band, breaking new ground with innovative conceptual ideas. Now everyone seems to have elements of us... Excuse the pun. Slipknot have masks, we did that years before anyone, Metallica had multi time changes and power, Cloven Hoof were way before them too. These bands are major league outfits, and if we did not have the legal hassles then it would have been a different story. Now Cloven hoof are back to re-dress the balance and hopefully take its rightful place at the top. With the metal CD buying public behind us, then maybe we will... Time will tell ultimately.
Can you name any bands that have inspired you?
The musicians I admire today are pretty much the same as always... Bass - Chris Squire, Geddy Lee, Jacko Pastorius. Guitar - Ritchie Blackmore, Alex Lifeson, Michael Schenker, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen. Drums - Neil Peart, John Bonham, Bill Bruford. Vocals – Russ North (He has the best voice in metal!), Rob Halford, Ronnie James Dio, Tori Amos. I don´t feel anyone has improved on the contribution to music these aforementioned players have. I strongly feel that as long as musicians really believe in the music that they are playing then that is all that matters. What I can´t stand are all those players jumping on and off the band wagon. Just changing style because of stupid music papers and trends is total bullshit, you should play what is in your heart and soul. We always have and always will. CLOVEN HOOF plays heavy metal because it is the greatest music on the planet and it will never die. Hybrid metal such as gothic and industrial is ok because it still rocks, but traditional classic metal can never be beaten.
I would just like to express my profound thanks to YOU in allowing me the chance to give the fans more information about Cloven Hoof and spread the power metal message across the world.
The fans are all important to the band, In one week... out the next, was never what heavy metal stood for. The music was all that mattered, it was underground and ignored trends. The grass roots fans made their own minds not told what to think and wear, like sheep. We believe in die hard, free thinking and imaginative real metal supporters everywhere, we want to be a true people´s band. Our music is never safe and repetitive, we want it to be epic and always hard rocking for the faithful.