DAMNED IF YOU DO – Chris Neighbour and Jon Hoare talk about Damned Nation, the debut album from Trapped In Purgatory
“Not a reformation but a rebirth,” is how Trapped In Purgatory describe their second coming. Featuring three-fifths of Purgatory, an exhilarating thrash act based in the Bristol area and active at the end of the Eighties, this re-imagining of the band could easily be written off as a nostalgia trip – but nothing could be further from the truth. Their debut album ‘Damned Nation’ is a solid, contemporary thrash album which remains loyal to the band’s roots while boasting a rich twenty-first century sound.
“The blueprint was always thrash,” states frontman Chris Neighbour unequivocally. “We questioned all ideas, trying to decide whether or not they fitted with the remit. However, we were, and are, very conscious that a lot of time had passed since the Purgatory days, and a lot of different influences have entered our lives, as musicians and as individuals. So there were no real boundaries regarding pushing the songs to explore different areas. Once we had the vision and knew what we didn’t want, it became quite a natural process to create what we liked.”
Alongside Chris, Trapped In Purgatory features guitarists Jason Coombs and Andy ‘Jock’ Jamieson, both of whom also played in the original Purgatory. Drummer Marc Paling worked with Chris in his post-Purgatory band Fourwaykill, and bassist Jon Hoare played in several thrash bands in the locality although is better known for forming the female-fronted symphonic metal band Mercury Rain.
“We – Purgatory,” clarifies Chris – “were hunted down a few years back and asked to be involved in a posthumous release of our old demos for Mosh Tunage records. That became the ‘Demo(n) Days’ album,” listed in Ian Glasper’s thrash bible ‘Contract In Blood’ as “the perfect Purgatory keepsake”. “That sparked a resurgence in interest. Then, a couple of years down the line, I got a text from Jason asking if I fancied doing something. If he’d asked me a year earlier, I’d have said no, but now the timing felt right. Once I’d reached out to Jock we then discussed working with the whole ‘classic’ Purgatory line-up, but logistically it wasn’t possible. So we discussed drummers and bass players and Marc and Jon’s names came up. Marc and I had worked previously in an early incarnation of Fourwaykill, and Jon I’ve known for many years, our paths crossing and sharing the stage with his previous band Mercury Rain. I also did a guest spot on one of their albums, so I knew him quite well.”
“Our paths had certainly crossed over the years,” Jon confirms, “and although I was aware of Jock and Jason, I had lost track of Fourwaykill, and didn’t know Marc at all. A band I was in once supported Purgatory, and I’d bought their ‘F.L.T.’ demo cassette, so I guess I was a fan even back then! As Chris said, he’d guested on some Mercury Rain material back in the early 2000s, but life moves on and you drift apart. I had also seen Jock live in [post-Purgatory act] Gripshift a couple of times. So yes, paths crossed, but we’d never all worked together.”
“And once it became clear that the original rhythm section of Daryl Jacobs and Bernie Cobb were not going to be involved,” Chris continues, “we decided very quickly that it wasn't going to be a ‘come-back’ or reformation as such, but more of a continuation of the spirit of Purgatory. The name Trapped in Purgatory seemed to fit perfectly. We're still at it – some would say trapped in it! – and it’s a blatant nod of respect to the now defunct Slayer.”
The band started out the good old-fashioned way, with songs being worked out in the rehearsal room. “In the beginning, when we were permitted to,” Chris clarifies. “It was very exciting to meet up for the first time, a couple of the guys having never met before, but everyone clicked straight away which was very important. We chatted about the general direction of songs, a modern twist on the old school thrash template, and things started to happen. ‘Hung Out To Die’ was the first song and certainly has an early Purgatory feel to it. But as lockdown was introduced we were forced to work differently, and we had to share ideas and plan structures remotely.”
“‘Apex Predator’ was another song born in a sweaty rehearsal room, and some were started there – or ideas were formed at least,” Jon nods. “But then, others were almost entirely studio-written. Without lockdown we would have rehearsed more, but then we might have ended up with a very different album. I work better in a studio setting, creating songs in my studio, whereas Chris is the other end of the spectrum; he’s far happier in the live and live-recording environments. But because of lockdown we all had to adapt and up our game. I think that we all took to a new way of working once the results started rolling in. Everyone contributed to this album, and that’s why I think it works so well. It wouldn’t have been the same if any one of us was missing.”
Just to keep you on your toes, ‘Beyond The Rubicon’ features Theresa Smith of Metaprism guesting on vocals. “That’s our wild card,” laughs Chris, “our metal marmite moment. I was experimenting with the chorus of this big, brooding epic we wanted to write, layering the vocals and trying different keys. It came out almost Halford-esque, and one of the guys mentioned it would sound great with a female backing vocals. I knew of Theresa through her band; I’d seen them a couple of times and really rate her as a phenomenal singer /frontwoman. So once we had – almost! – all agreed we’d give it a go, we reached out to her and she jumped at it. She was the first and only choice, and the song gives a nice little twist to an otherwise very heavy album.”
“I think Jock can take a lot of credit for that,” adds Jon. “It was him who happened to mention that it would sound good with some female vocals on it. I’d been a bit reluctant – given my background – to suggest anything like that, but when someone else said it, all bets were off! It’s a massive departure from the old Purgatory days, but I feel that it’s paid off. And it gives the second half of the album quite a different feel.”
‘Damned Nation’ is a stunning album, and the band are justifiably proud of what they’ve achieved. “Definitely,” says Jon. “It’s been a long time coming, but to work with these guys and go from the early days in the rehearsal room in April 2019 to being sat here now with the album about to be released feels like a huge achievement – especially when almost half that time was spent in lockdown. It was a challenge, but I would happily play the album to anyone. I think it more than holds its own.”
“It did take a lot longer than we first imagined,” adds Chris, “due to the current state of the country and this awful virus, and as I said it forced us to approach things differently, but technology enabled us to write and record remotely. And we worked very closely with Widek, who mixed and mastered the album, even though his studio is in Poland and we’re here in the UK. He’s created a fantastic sound, spending a lot of time on the drum sound and re-amping the guitars to get that crystal clear crunch we were after. It’s a good, modern sounding metal album. And, yes, we are very pleased with it.”
For more information go to www.trappedinpurgatory.com
© John Tucker January 2021