There aren’t too many people whose idea of a dream band is a Slipknot-esque collective backed by a horn section – even this writer, who grew up as a trumpet player. But that’s exactly what we get from intriguing new band We Are Many We Are Legion, who describe their fusion of metal and brass as “challenging, uncomfortable and melodic.”
Indeed, the band tell us they can “confidently say you will have never heard anything like this album. And love it or hate it, you will have an opinion.”
We Are Many We Are Legion offer up heavy metalcore, clean and harsh vocals and bouncy grooves alongside a six-piece horn section. And the horns play the role of riff support to the guitars and often carry the band’s heavy breakdowns, which is truly amazing to hear!
The band is the brainchild of north-east based Paul Kirk, a drummer who tells us he was at a loss for what to do when his previous band ended. So he started tentatively writing his own music and, eventually, decided to rely on session musicians rather than working with a full band.
As Paul explains: “I tried a couple of times to recruit people and put a band together for this project. Every time I nearly got enough people together I would lose people who felt it was taking too long and wanting to move on. So I ended up just having to go it alone. I set about writing a batch of songs and then recruiting the session players I needed to turn these songs into a reality. I don’t think it’s any secret in metal these days that session musicians are often hired by artists to play on records, but it is certainly more common in other genres.
“What I have found really interesting about the process is that it means nothing is off-limits. I can be really free to create anything I can conceive. For example, Diego and Scott who handle all the clean vocals, I could send vocals that I had tracked and, being the seasoned amazing singers they are, they turned those melodies into beautiful vocals. It allowed me to write stuff for instruments I didn’t play or something that I could do but not quite to the standard I needed, which could be interpreted by the guys who played on the album.
“Really pleasingly, the horn players didn’t even bat an eyelid. I mean not much music they normally play demands fast 16th notes like guitarists, but they really nailed it. I’m still amazed at times that horn lines I wrote in midi have been turned into what you hear on the album, a six-piece horn section in a room, letting it rip.”
We were intrigued as to where the idea of fusing brass and metal came from. Paul told us: “The first seed of an idea came from a conversation I had with a mate of mine, a great singer called Scott Cavagan. We were both in bands and had planned a lads trip away for the weekend to Liverpool. We were standing in a comic book shop that was playing some RnB. We had been talking about genre cross-over bands and we decided that Metal and RnB had to be the next big thing to come up. Those soulful sweet vocals and rhythms. I totally forgot all about that, the band I was in ended and a few years went by.
My housemate, who was a real tv and film fan, turned me on to a tv show called Treme, which focused on the musicians in New Orleans post-Katrina. This New Orleans style brass band stuff, the rhythms, the tone, the massive sound of all that brass, the slightly edgy dirty rasp of those instruments, at times quite thunderous sousaphone bass lines. In my head, I thought, ‘Imagine a band like Slipknot with a six-piece horn section as well as guitars and two vocalists. A huge swirling mass of humanity manically charging around the stage.’ I figured it was bound to exist out there somewhere.”
“I came across some great bands, Diablo Swing Orchestra being the closest to what I thought would exist. But I couldn’t quite find what I had imagined. I’m a drummer, but I’d never got into songwriting before, other than my own parts. I think along the way, I learned a lot from previous bandmates through osmosis so I thought if it doesn’t exist, could I write it and create it?
“Everything started with what I know: drums and rhythm and built out from there. I ended with a pretty solid method for myself eventually that refined itself over time which serves me as a kind of writing template. I still have a word document that I use to jot down ideas and that first seed of an idea of RnB and metal is still on there, but I think it got passed by Nola horns and metal!
And you’re probably wondering how easy it was to pair up brass and metalcore. Paul adds: “I think in some ways I benefited from learning to write songs as I went along. Now I’m not advocating to not learn things properly, but when I started researching music theory and various things for myself everything I read that horns should play shell chords. I believe the basic premise is the horns together play the minimum they can to still sound like the chord you are going for, the rest being filled out by other instruments.
“I wanted to do something a bit different to that, so I was splitting 4 to 6 note guitar chords across the horn section. Then in places, the guitars are lower in the mix and just remind you that this is heavy music with their crunchy tone. I’m a bit of a compulsive list maker, so as I went along I refined my method and had a pretty good set of rules and guidelines I tried to stick to so that once I had my core sound I could put everything in the same ballpark.”
And it must have been challenging to mix together the brass and metal sounds, right? Paul continues: “The biggest challenge wasn’t so much in the writing, although there were times where as a non-horn player myself I was fearful I had written things that were not playable. The main challenge was in the mixing, due to financial constraints and perhaps stupidly I thought I could mix it myself. I ended up needing quite a lot of bailing out there, but luckily for me Max Morton, who is a fantastic producer and an even better human, stepped in to give me the guidance I needed to get to the finish line. Finding sonic space for all that instrumentation that is often playing in unison and having it all coherent and clear was the biggest challenge. I did end up having a lot of fun in the mixing stage though. I’m beginning to wonder if that makes me a control freak!”
So that’s the theory covered, but what does this intriguing brass and metal concoction sound like in practice? Well, it’s pretty damn impressive. Our first taste was Don’t Close Your Eyes, the seventh single to be released from debut album Breathe. Fight. Believe., which is out on Friday (24 June).
The track opens up with stabbing guitars that continue under gruff vocals, which feed into delicious clean vocals with stabbing brass notes. A dark atmosphere is established by rolling drums with little flourishes of brass notes before feeding into the clean chorus, which give way to heavy djent sections.
Midway through, a section of horns imitate djent guitars, dropping into a heavy section before a cool guitar riff is supported by stabbing brass as the intensity builds up. And it closes out with a return of the engaging clean vocals and heavy rolling drums and djent guitars.
On the single, Paul told us: “The reception has been really good. The one thing you can guarantee within the underground metal community is that there are a tonne of people willing to give new music a try, it’s just all about getting into those people’s ears.
“DCYE is a real frenetic stomp, with one of the creepiest breakdowns I have ever conceived. I was really pleased with how almost terrifying the horns sound in places here. It’s split into two parts. The opening half is frantic and mimics the protagonist’s descent into a mental break. The second half slows things down a notch and builds to a more positive affirmation hoping they can still be saved.” Check it out in the video here:
More recently, the band’s released the equally fast and frenetic First Cut, which opens up with heavy guitar chords answered by short sharp brass retorts. A funky little flurry of brass ushers in clean vocals then heavy guttural screams, ending on a cool guitar and brass section. Things slow down with a cheeky little drum solo, then heavy guitars and stabbing brass notes feed into gruff vocals supported by dunky stabbing instrumentals. Check it out here:
There’s plenty more where that came from in the album, including a few personal favourite tracks Hey Maniac (which you can watch below), What If I Fall and Idols and the intense Die With Me and Go To War.
On the album, Paul tells us: “I was so tempted to put the whole thing out at once, but as a music fan I remember really enjoying the excitement of Sleep Token’s album where every week or so you knew something was coming. Now I don’t have a huge fan base waiting with baited breath like they do, but it’s been a fun ride watching the reaction song by song and we are nearly there!
“The album on the whole is a bit of a journey. You get to visit the inside of my head, confront some realities of the world we live in. Hopefully, in equal measure it will make you think and also for some people, make them realise that other people have been through similar things to them. There are expansive songs that drag you kicking and screaming through complex arrangements, there are simple songs that make you want to dance, there are downright ludicrous songs and everything in between.
“I have a few rules when I write a song: 1. It has to have a melodic chorus, 2. It has to have a chunky heavy riff somewhere, and 3. It has to have groove and rhythm. I love exploring interesting song structures and rhythms from a variety of genres and cultures. I can confidently say you will have never heard anything like this album. And love it or hate it, you will have an opinion.”
As you can probably guess, the We Are Many We Are Legion sound is formed of contrasting influences. Paul tells us he grew up on djent and nu-metal like Korn, Slipknot and Limp Bizkit (and Incubus), while the likes of Sikth are probably his biggest influence along with the likes of Monuments, Veil of Maya, Periphery and Born of Osiris. Then on the brass side, he references Youngblood Brass Band, Hot 8 from New Orleans and UK band Renegade Brass Band.
And on what inspires him to write music, Paul tells us: “If you ask any of my friends and family they would tell you that I am completely emotionless. Never too high, never too low. I used to fight against this slander on my personality! But over time I’ve come to realise that they are right. I’m an only child so I just got used to my own company and dealing with things inside my own head. But in writing lyrics for the first time I realised that it’s all just still in there, rattling around inside my head. There are a lot of things I’ve never talked to anyone about, never let out. I would like to think I deal with things pretty well that way, but the catharsis that I felt letting some of this out was incredible. There was a nervousness there for me, as someone who doesn’t really share his feelings, putting them to music felt easier to start with, but then I realised that you are really laid bare once people start to hear it.
“In many ways though, it has been really therapeutic to dig inside the dark recesses of my brain and get some of it out. The other big influence is the world around us. There are topics that just strike a chord with you sometimes. Hey Maniac was originally written about the UK going to war with the Middle East, but sadly many of the messages within that song are relevant again in terms of Ukraine. For Parallelism, I rewrote the lyrics completely even though it was nearly finished because I just felt I needed to share my opinion on the racism problem we have in the world today. I try and come from a place of understanding, thoughtfulness and honesty.”
The debut album Breathe. Fight. Believe. is out on Friday (24 June) and has been a work of labour that’s been a long time in coming, so Paul’s rightly excited for it to finally be on the verge of release. He’s also hopeful of putting together a live show – despite it obviously being a tough ask due to the size of the band required to do so.
And he adds: “I think the main thing is that I hope this music inspires people to try new things, I would love it if more people would start to combine the worlds of brass and metal. After all I felt the need to make this music because I assumed it existed and it didn’t, so I want to be fed more of it.”