MusicMan Sub Ray 5 – basswood body, rosewood fretboard, active preamp
Darkglass Microtubes 900 – 900W bass amp head
Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner Mooer Pure Octave Boss LS-2 Line Selector Ibanez Mini Tube Screamer Boss ODB-3 Bass Overdrive Fowl Sounds The Lifer Electroharmonix Key9 Mooer Shimverb Boss DD-3 Digital Delay Boss RC-1 Loop Station
To wrap up our gear chat for the time being, before we release our debut album next week, we thought we’d talk through Richard and Nick’s pedal set ups that were used for the writing and recording of the record. First up it’s Richard’s fairly chaotic, multi-purpose board used for the bass and even some of the viola…
Caline 5 Power Supply
Mooer Pure Octave
Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini
Starting at the start of the chain… I actually picked up the TU-3 very recently, as my old Behringer tuner has always been a bit hit-and-miss with actually picking up my lowest string first time. We used Nick’s TU-3 in the studio and it had no trouble, so I grabbed one second hand post-haste.
The little brown Pure Octave pedal has a lot packed into such a small unit. You can go 1 or 2 octaves in each direction, and a little knob lets you pick any combination of -1, -2, +1 and +2 at the same time. On Ellipsism I just use the standard -1 setting on one of my higher bass lines at the end of ‘Long Live’, but I’ve been messing around with getting some weirder sounds out of the other settings more recently.
I should say at this point that despite the dusty, tangled mess that my board often is, it’s laid out the way that it is for the purely practical reason that I play bass in Ba’al and guitar in another band, and I don’t want to have to keep switching things around every week for practice. This board serves both purposes, and as such some of the pedals were obtained primarily for one band/instrument or the other. However, in many cases I’ve found that something I bought for one ends up getting used extensively for both.
The LS-2 line selector is up next, which has two loops of other pedals hooked into it, which I can switch between, making transitions between sounds a hell of a lot easier on the fly, and meaning that I can switch some things on or off in advance of needing them, without the sound being affected until necessary.
Loop A continues along the chain to the bottom left corner with my overdrives and distortion. As you might expect, the Tubescreamer was bought with guitar in mind, and the ODB-3 for bass. The ODB is the basis of my main heavy sound in Ba’al, and is on almost all of the loud parts of the album. This particular one I’ve actually had since I was a teenager first learning bass. I will sometimes throw the Tubescreamer on top of it to boost the frosty high end and cut through a blasting section, particularly if I’m playing in a higher register. This happens a few times on ‘Long Live’ and also ‘An Orchestra of Flies’.
The big orange pedal is a guitar distortion pedal by Vox – the Trike – which I did actually buy second hand in the early days of Ba’al specifically for bass. It has a + and – octave option, but mainly it just causes absolute filth to happen. It’s got an incredibly nasty, buzzing drone quality to it (particularly with the octave up layered subtly in the mix), and when combined with the ODB it can rumble and disgust people for miles around until you tell it to stop. I tend to deploy this secret weapon only in the slowest, most crushing riffs, as well as if I want to get some nasty feedback going. It’s used on the most funereal of the riffs on ‘Jouska’, the intro and outro drones of ‘Father, the Sea, the Moon’, and the noisy outro of ‘Tarred and Feathered’.
Loop B coming from the line selector contains just one pedal: the Electro-Harmonix Key9. This is part of EHX’s stunning range of organ/keyboard emulating pedals, along with the likes of the B9 and the C9. The Key9 focuses on making your instrument sound like one of various keyboards and electric pianos, like the Wurlitzer and Rhodes, plus some other organs and some wildcards, like a pretty hilarious steel drum setting. This was a prize purchase made for my other band, but some of the more textural settings have found their way onto each of the main Ba’al releases thus far. On Ellipsism, the section in the middle of ‘Long Live’ with the odd time signature has me impersonating an organ. It’s in it’s own loop partially so that I can switch from it straight to my overdrives, but also because it creates it’s very own special brand of weird digital noise when not in use. The scrap of yellow tape in the corner reminds my dumb brain that it is in loop B, which has a yellowish LED on the line selector.
Coming out of the line selector entirely, my chain ends with a Mooer Shimverb reverb pedal and a Boss delay, which are used quite sparingly in this band, pretty much just in the drone/ambient parts. The DD3 is there very sparingly on some of the clean sections throughout the album, and Tom also used it some of his cleans when he needed something more simple than his massive arsenal of more complicated delays would allow. The ‘shimmer’ setting on the Shimverb adds an eerie 7th above the note you’re playing (as well as the reverb), and this feature gets its moment during the drone section of ‘Long Live’.
Speaking of that section, you may or may not be able to pick up a few viola lines layered in there. Those were also run through my pedal board, specifically into the Vox Trike, for a scratchy and unnerving sound.
My power supply is a very cheap one that was recommended by my other band, and it does the job with almost enough supplies for all my pedals; technically I’m one short, but thankfully the Boss LS-2 has an extra power output that I use to supply the Shimverb.
You’ll also notice a few extra loose bits and bobs in the top right of the board. These are my emergency gig supplies: spare patch cables for when things go suddenly dead onstage (let’s be honest, I usually keep them on hand for Nick rather than myself); a pair of shitty rubber earplugs in case I forget my normal, fancy ones; a small pack of hairbands in case I forget to bring one and I need to get my sweaty hair out of my face after a set so I can see where I’m loading my gear to. All essential.
As we approach the release of our debut album Ellipsism on the 30th October, we decided to think back to it’s writing process. Over the next few blog posts, we’ll be sharing some of the influences that we were inspired by individually whilst piecing together these songs, building up a Spotify playlist of them as we go.
Today, we start with our bass and viola player, Richard’s picks.You’ll find the playlist at the end.
Bast – Denizens
Deftones – Prince
Primitive Man – Inevitable
Der Weg Einer Freiheit – Unendlich
Steak Number Eight – Slumber
Archelon – Hollow Gloom
Amenra – .The Pain. It Is Shapeless. We Are Your Shapeless Pain.
Conjurer – Choke
A-Sun Amissa – Remembrancer
SubRosa – Killing Rapture
My influences, like my daily music listening are generally pretty varied, but when it comes to thinking about specific things that impacted my writing and playing on Ellipsism, it’s impossible to get away from the big riff masters. I’d like to think that my equal loves of electronic, ambient, hip-hop and classical music might come through in more subtle ways, whilst this bunch of heavies might be a bit more obvious.
Bast are a band who blend a similar set of genres to us – post metal, black metal, sludge – and do it nearly perfectly in my eyes. In that sense they are a general influence, but this song in particular had a role to play in our track ‘An Orchestra of Flies’, the basic riffs on which were largely mine. In particular, Bast’s crushing slow riff later giving way to more atmospheric territories is something I think works really well.
The melodic ‘chorus’ riff on ‘Jouska’ (the other song I would say I had the most individual input into) is one that I came up with in the very earliest days of Ba’al and has been kicking around as ‘the Deftones riff’ ever since, so it was great to finally put it to use. This Deftones track is a good example of how they cross over with our heavy territories, with the low-tuned large riffery mixed with the chord-heavy emotional parts.
There’s rarely a moment where I’m not trying to make Ba’al sound more like Primitive Man. This track is one of many showing their technique of having disgusting, tremolo-picked guitar lines sat atop super slow-motion filthy drums and bass, which is something else I employed in ‘An Orchestra of Flies’.
Der Weg Einer Freiheit have, in the past year or so, become one of my all-time favourite black metal bands. Their super-tight, clean and precise aggression mixed with a powerful atmosphere is something I always have in mind for our blastier moments, but their song ‘Unendlich’ also shows some great movements in the bassline which change the feel of the guitar chords above them, which is something I’m always trying to do with my bass playing.
Steak Number Eight are a rare band who combine huge Cult of Luna-esque post metal textures with groovy, melodic riffs, without losing the power of either. That’s a big inspiration in general, but the opening riff on this song of theirs typifies the catchy, hooky yet still heavy riff style I was aiming for with the groove in the middle and end of our song ‘Long Live’. Similarly, our close friends Archelon’s debut album (also recorded at No Studio where we recorded Ellipsism) is full of brilliant riffs and shifts in texture, and this song of theirs again inspired some of the changes in feel from open and washy to choppy and rhythmic that I aimed for in ‘An Orchestra of Flies’.
Amenra are – and always have been – a very obvious influence on us as a band in general and this is one of my all-time favourites from them. The unending sledgehammer to the face that is the second half of that song is the feeling I was trying to go for at the end of ‘An Orchestra of Flies’. I wanted to be just as unafraid as they are to let a note ring out during a crushing moment.
Nick and I both love Conjurer, so again they are a general riff influence, though the absolutely frenetic pace at which they unleash a tight blastbeat when they want to inspired me to write what is definitely our fastest blast riff to date on ‘An Orchestra of Flies’. There’s also a cheeky nod to them in a little gap of silence in ‘Tarred & Feathered’.
SubRosa and our friends A-Sun Amissa fit together in this list for me, as they have a lot to do with the vibes I was aiming for with my viola playing on this album, albeit to opposite extremes. A-SA’s experimental dark ambient tones (here featuring Jo Quail on cello too) create a layered atmosphere which really inspires me when I’m planning out viola harmonies on our soft tracks. The twin violins in SubRosa, on the other hand, go all out with two separate and powerful melodies, panned to the left and to the right, during big, heavy riffing from the guitars. This gives rise to exactly the grand feeling I wanted to create with my gratuitous viola layers during the climax of our closing track ‘Rosalia’.
There’s plenty more I could talk about here, including the likes of Obscure Sphinx, Isis, Regarde Les Hommes Tomber, Earth, Gilmore Trail and Carbonscape. Needless to say, a lot of thought went into this album, not to mention a lifetime of listening as unintentional homework leading up to this point.
Continuing our gear talk series, we now turn to some of the amp heads used on the upcoming album Ellipsism, starting with Richard’s Darkglass Microtubes 900, which is still pretty new to the Ba’al family.
As I mentioned in my blog about my bass, I’m the absolute opposite of a gear nerd and know next to nothing about anything technical unless guided by copious online research and advice from knowledgeable friends. So if you’re looking for a spec sheet, this isn’t the place to come I’m afraid…
When I joined Ba’al in 2016, I hadn’t been regularly playing bass for several years (I play guitar in another band), and all I had amp-wise was a Laney RB3 combo. After one practice it was abundantly clear that this was not anywhere close to cutting the mustard in this band, and our then-guitarist helped me out in finding some good deals on something better.
This led me to getting a very cheap 300W Behringer Ultrabass head, which is about the dimensions of a small VCR and about a quarter of the weight. It was incredibly convenient, sounded surprisingly decent, and was so light that we could literally throw it to eachother during loading. Unfortunately, this also meant it was very likely to vibrate it’s way onto the floor during live shows…
As our sound evolved, I found that the beloved Ultrabass was once again not quite providing enough heft, so I next I borrowed an old Ampeg head (I forget the model) from our ex-guitarist Tom, which was definitely a step up in sound. I used this for a good few years (both the Behringer and the Ampeg feature in combination on our first EP), until eventually it developed a fatal fault which was never identified and I went back to the Ultrabass for a while – including our last gig to date in January 2020.
As is often the way I do things, the imminent studio time for the Ellipsism sessions kicked me into gear and got me thinking I should probably up my game again, so I started researching online and taking suggestions from nearby gear heads for a new head. Having tried out a Gallian-Krueger that belongs to the bassist in my other band, their MB500 fusion model was in the running, as was the EBS Reidmar 502. However, with the reputation that Darkglass have been gaining in recent times, and the sound I’d heard coming from them at other bands’ shows (Archelon and Wren being two examples that come to mind), I was mainly drawn to their Microtubes 500 model. Then I was alerted to an alarmingly good second hand deal on Facebook for it’s older brother, the Microtubes 900, and one very awkward trip to the post office later I was sorted.
After my favourable experience with the lighter-than-Nick’s-entire-body Ultrabass, I was keen to stick with something easily portable, and the Microtubes definitely fits that bill, coming in a handy small carry case which also fits all the cables inside. The main thing, though, is that upon switching it on and plugging in, I was immediately about 500% happier with my sound than I had ever been before. The extra headroom and power that I get with 900W immediately fixed niggling issues I’d always had with getting my tone to stay consistent and beefy at the high volumes needed to keep up in this band. I don’t think I’ve needed to go above about 10 o’clock on the master volume yet, and that’s given me a lot more space to play with sounds.
It takes unbelievably well to the various overdrives, distortions and other weird effects I throw at it and, as if that’s not enough, it’s got two of Darkglass’ very own overdrive units (the B3K and the VMT) built into it, with a footswitch to control them, as well as an inbuilt preamp that lots of people have in pedal form. I’ve honestly barely scratched the surface of all the sound possibilities in this little unit.
As you can see from all the knobs, you can really get into the nitty gritty of EQing different frequencies, which I find really helpful in such a bottom-heavy, low tuned environment as Ba’al; cutting through whilst still keeping the aggressive low-end is really important for me, and at long last I have no problems doing so.
Having only got this amp this year (sadly after the one gig we played pre-COVID), it’s only seen use thus far in the practice room – writing and rehearsing the album tracks – and then in the studio, where it truly shone and made my tracking at No Studio an absolute dream. The bass on the album sounds infinitely bigger, clearer and heavier than on any of our other releases, and this amp really carries it. I truly cannot wait to vibrate people with its power when we can finally play live again.
Just to balance out Tom’s encyclopedic knowledge of all things gear-related, now it’s our resident tall man’s turn to talk about his string baby, despite openly acknowledging that gear is not his forte…
When I joined Ba’al, I’d been wedded to 5-string basses for about 5 years already; I was invited to join a Meshuggah-esque math metal band in 2012, which prompted me to find the cheapest 5-string I could find, which was a second-hand Stagg for £50 on eBay, which was posted to my student halls without a case and wrapped in about 5 inches of bubble wrap. Said band never came to be, but I really enjoyed the extended range that the instrument made available to me, so I continued to use it for all bass purposes anyway and got used to writing and playing across 5 strings.
That purple Stagg enjoyed heavy use for the first year of Ba’al, including all our early shows and a demo recording that never saw the light of day. To be honest, it sounded pretty good and I was continually impressed by the tones I got out of something that cost me £50. However, when it came time to think about our first EP proper (In Gallows by Mass), I thought I should probably step it up a bit so started shopping around. After trying it out in a music shop, I was pretty set on getting an Ibanez SR505, mostly because it was such an easy play and felt great. However, our singer at the time then pointed me towards local Sheffield legend Niall Kingdom (of Santiago Kings, Deltanaut and more), who was selling off a small portion of his large bass family, specifically his Music Man Sub Ray 5. I tried it out in his kitchen, and then he let me borrow it for the initial guide tracking for the EP, and although it was a close-run thing between it and the Ibanez (I even briefly considered buying both), the Music Man won me over and I made the purchase on the strength of its recording quality – and the fact that I’ve always secretly wished I was John Myung.
Although it’s the affordable ‘little brother’ of Music Man’s flagship Ray series, the Sub Ray 5 really packs a punch. It’s got a beefy solid hardwood body and all the warm low end that I’m always looking for in a bass tone; I hate it when metal bassists run the mids on their tone to the extent that it just sounds like another guitarist making noise. It also really takes well to the myriad distortions and other effects I subject it to without losing that gut punching power. It’s a pretty hefty beast, too, so it survives a lot of assault both intentional and accidental (though I have thrown it about sufficiently for one of the tone knobs to have fallen off and been lost to the void). Its also a really lovely colour, and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a reasonable factor.
Strings-wise I’ve tried a few, but I’ve been using D’Addario XLs for a while and they’ve served me well. I used to use heavy gauge just because I thought that was what I should do when we’re tuned to either B or drop A, but in the past year or so I’ve been using lighter gauge (.045-.130) and it’s actually been much more comfortable. And let’s face it, I could still tie you up with with the bottom string even with those.
It doesn’t take a long time speaking to me to realise that I’m the absolute opposite of a gear nerd (especially compared to a certain someone in this band whose name rhymes with ‘bomb’). I know next to nothing about the workings of basses, amps or pedals, and will often glaze over when people talk circuitry, valves or even guitar models. I had to search my Amazon orders to even find out what string gauge I use. But I know what I like when I hear or see it, which does often make my decision process pretty long and aruduous and based very much on trying things out. However, the Sub Ray 5 was a pretty easy decision and I’ve not regretted it for one moment. It’s versatile enough to hit all the right spots live as well as in the studio and the practice room, even when the guitars are flying above, below and all around me in terms of frequencies and sounds. I’ve got no complaints and I think it’s really pushed me to improve my playing and writing to match it’s tone and range.