Get On This:

Altus – Interview with Michael Legge

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Assault on T13 posterAt the end of this month, PlanetMosh will be partnering with Ascendancy Promotions, Ramp Rage, T13 and XporT13 to bring Belfast ‘Assault On T13’ – the city’s biggest ever all-ages heavy metal gig, being stage at the gigantic T13 indoor extreme sports and skate park (and part of the set of the hit HBO television series ‘Game Of Thrones), on Friday September 26.

The gig is the brainchild of Altus guitarist Michael Legge, so what better way to begin our build up to this truly titanic event – being held just yards from a certain ship which took it’s name from that very adjective was built (and, more recently, local hero Carl Frampton knocked the living fuck out Kiko Martinez to win the IBF super-bantamweight world title) – than by talking to the man who came up with the plan… and the obvious place to start is by asking where the idea for the event came from?

Basically, I wanted to put on a gig that I’d want to go to myself. I’ve worked with the T13 guys on several occasions and I really like it there, I like the guys involved and I like what they do, so as regards the venue there was only one place that came to mind for me. I spoke with Aaron (Cleary, T13 event planner) and he broached the idea of running it as an all-ages show as a lot of younger metal fans find it hard to get to shows as most of them take place in licensed venues, and T13 are actively searching to incorporate more live bands into their events programme. From there, it was pretty straight forward. I contacted a few bands that I wanted to see play and we were able to put it together. T13 is a secret weapon when it comes to gig venues in Belfast and I love putting gigs on in there. How more promoters haven’t cottoned on to it yet is beyond me.

We’ll come back to the question of all ages gigs later… so, getting down to band business, we last spoke a little under a year ago, and there have been some changes in personnel:  can you bring us up to date with the Altus story in that regard?

Yeah, it’s been a fairly hectic few months. To cut a long story not so short, Darran (Gourley, former bassist) decided to step down as he was under a lot of time pressures from various factors and said that he didn’t want to hamper what the band were trying to do as our gig diary at the time was fairly packed. We were sorry to see a founding member leave but we respected his decision and we were very fortunate in that we were able to bring in Jonny Munro (Hand Of Death/43 Seconds/Gacys Threads), who produced both Altus EPs and is a good friend of ours, to replace Darran. Jonny’s pedigree as a bassist needs no explanation to anyone familiar with Belfast metal, and we’re lucky to have him.  Ex-guitarist David Brady has been replaced by our new lead player, Dara Monaghan, who’s an unbelievable guitarist:  as well as being a genuinely nice, easy-to-work with fella, he’s very much my type of player. No messing about, no “look at me, look at me,” and we’re really enjoying working with him.  Speaking of guitarists, there’s a massive thank you and our sincere gratitude due to our brother Terry McHugh, who stepped in with his usual good grace and outrageous talent at very short notice to preserve us as a five-piece band for our first Dublin show a while back.

Matt Cordner [pictured left] also decided to step down as lead vocalist in late June, which was unfortunate as he was a key part in the heavier, darker edge we’d injected into our music. As with Darran’s departure though it was all very amicable and we wish the big guy all the best in his future endeavours, whomever he works with next will be lucky to have him. However, as one door closes another opens, and Steve “Sleeve” Reynolds (who has previously been a member of Sorrowfall and Summoner, as well as live bassist in Waylander) has stepped in to help us out behind the microphone.  As with Jonny, I’m sure Steve’s abilities need no further explanation to any veterans of local music, he’s got a frightening set of lungs on him.

When Matt joined the band at the beginning of this year, the band’s sound took on a heavier, more hardcore edge – and you’ve already intimated on your Facebook posts, etc., that the band’s sound is changing again with the new line-up:  can you give us some hints as to what to expect?

With the addition of Jonny and Dara to the remaining original pairing of myself and Kieran (Fitzsimons, drums), our sound has very definitely become more out-and-out metal.  That sludgy, almost doom-ish vibe is still there but there’s more aggression, more bite, more urgency.  Upon revisiting some of our older material with the new lineup, we found some parts of it kind of bloated or overblown, so we consciously trimmed the fat in the music.  This is a leaner and much meaner Altus.  Dara and Jonny are both phenomenal musicians, I sometimes find myself having to play catch up – every day’s a school-day for me in the studio now. As regards what genre we’re headed for, I’ve honestly no idea at the minute. Forgive the tired cliche, but it’s quite hard to pigeon-hole us at the minute. In fact, I wish it was easier to pigeon-hole us as every damn time someone asks me what type of metal we play, I invariably spend a couple of minutes going, “erm…. well…….” I know it’s the same thing every band member says but you’d really have to hear us and decide for yourself what we are. If you put a gun to my head and forced me to answer, I’d say Crowbar fighting with Yob while At The Gates spectated.

Do you think constantly changing your sound with each line-up change is confusing for fans, or is it part of an evolutionary process?

To be honest, I think it’s been a very organic change.  The first incarnation of the band was formed from the ashes of the other guys’ previous band and had quite a southern/groove feel to it:  [a] ot of blues based stuff.  Then when Matt came in, that veered toward a more modern metal sound.  Now it’s changing again which is inevitable given that 3 of our five members are new and are bringing their own tastes and abilities to the band.  It’s not a change we’ve forced… like we didn’t sit down and say “yeah so let’s try some of that there metal carry-on.”  For instance, if you listen to our two EPs back to back, it’s very evidently the same band, just a more grown-up, self-assured version of it.  To be honest, we’ve become an entirely different and, at least in my opinion, much better band over the course of the last eighteen months.  I genuinely feel though (more cliche alert) that this is the line-up for us, and I for one am very excited to see what the next while brings us.

Altus by Marc Leach Photography

Altus by Marc Leach Photography

So, you’ve been off the road for a while solidfying this new line-up, and ‘Assault…’ is your first live outing for the band:  have you any imminent plans to head into the studio and lay down some new sounds with which to brutalize our ears?

We’ve talked about doing another record – it needs to happen and it will happen.  I want this line-up on a physical product.  As regards whether it’s an EP or a longer cut will depend entirely on how much we write between now and studio time, but we’re hot at the minute in that regard, stuff is coming together very quickly. I like to think it’ll happen sooner rather than later. Because we’re essentially a new band we’ve had a real injection of enthusiasm and energy, it’s like starting over again. But that being said it’s important we take our time and put out the best possible record we can and have something to be proud of, something that really shows what we can do. It’ll be ready when it’s ready, but it’ll not be a Chinese Democracy type affair.

Shortly after ‘Assault…’ you’re teaming up with PlanetMosh again, as we’re sponsoring a small tour in which you’re involved:  can you tell us a little about that?

Looking forward to it.  Black Sherriff, Maverick and ourselves.  People aren’t going to know what’s hit them.  PlanetMosh have always been very good to us right from the beginning, and it was a genuine pleasure to agree to this tour.  We love playing live and the prospect of four gigs in four nights was just too good to pass by as an opportunity to show the new line-up and maybe even some new material.  It’s a great way to see out what has been a long and very eventful 2014 for us and we’re looking forward to it.

Back to the reason behind ‘Assault…’ – i.e. bringing metal to the all-ages masses… Belfast is a city in which it is notoriously hard to hold under age gigs, with a severe lack of suitable venues and a plethora of red tape both standing in the way of promoters.  This is a gap which ‘Assault…’ is obviously trying to plug, albeit in a one-off way:  do you see a long term solution to the problem, and if so how can it be solved?

All-ages gigs, or rather putting on all-ages gigs, is and always has been a nightmare in Belfast.  The lack of suitable venues is the real killer, I mean I’ve been part of all ages shows before and there’s a scant handful of places that are really suited to it. T-13 is a real anomaly in that regard, it’s perfect for what we’re trying to do here.  As regards a long-term solution, I think it’s maybe a case of places that wouldn’t normally have metal shows starting to consider them.  Early shows in bars could may be an answer too, although I’m open to correction on that as admittedly I’m not up to date on licensing laws and the like surrounding it.  If the T13 show goes well though, I’m sure it could potentially open doors for us to have more gigs there, or places like it, for all-age crowds.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to PlanetMosh:  it’s been your pleasure, as always!  But… we have one final, very important question.  Seeing as ‘Assault…’ is an all ages gig, will you be keeping your shirt on?

Ha! I can assure you that I have no plans to re-visit my stripping days at future shows!

For more information on Altus, visit https://www.facebook.com/AltusBelfast.

For more information on ‘Assault On T13’, headlined by Rabid Bitch Of The North and also featuring Defyed, Scimitar, Theories Divide and one other act TBC, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/695763550493500/

Mark Ashby
no longer planetmosh staff