If you ever prodded a black-gloved finger into the murky world of the UK goth scene during the mid-nineties, chances are you’ll already know the name 13 Candles. Their sinister music and vampiric aesthetic was an acknowledged influence on a fledging Cradle Of Filth, while their albums on Nightbreed and later Cacophonous, saw the band establish themselves as one of the UK’s most popular acts for the dark of heart.
Having formed in 1992, they released their debut “Come Out Of The Dark” in 1995 and followed it with sophomore effort “Angels Of Mourning Silence” in 1997, the second effort adding a more metallic edge to their traditional goth sound. The band gigged extensively in support of both albums and became a regular highlight at UK goth events, surviving the departure of original vocalist Louis Holloway after the “Angels…” album. As the nineties drew to a close, 13 Candles recruited a new vocalist in Dan Finch and, for the first time in their existence, a live drummer in Paul Mackey, both of whom joined Candles stalwarts Justin Dracul (Bass) and Marc Hoyland (Guitar) in recording the EP “Killing For Culture” under the guidance of Cradle Of Filth / Bal-Sagoth / My Dying Bride producer Mags. With a string of successful shows, everything looked rosy at the turn of the century, before it all went eerily quiet.
The band is now back and gearing up for some live appearances throughout 2011, but let’s just back track a moment and figure out what the hell happened to the missing decade. Dan summarises what led to the prolonged bout of inactivity
“We got to a point where we were kind of stuck”, he reflects. “We had lost our deal with Cacophonous, a few labels showed some real interest but there was this weird thing going on at the time within the music scene. We had no management, nothing. I watched some videos of our some of our last gigs recently and it was amazing to see just how on top of our game we were near the end. But I guess we were all just fed up. So we called it a day. Plus the guys wanted to do something away from 13 Candles. We were all into heavy music, and I think we knew we couldn’t turn 13 Candles into a black metal band or whatever.”
“We all got disillusioned with everything”, Justin adds. “We had shit with labels and managers, and then there was so much back stabbing and bitching in the scene that we had enough, Marc was doing his black metal band, Dan was doing stuff. Pauly had left the band, I was doing a project as well and there was other personal stuff going off and we just drifted.”
So, no acrimonious bust-up or dramatic split, it seems that 13 Candles simply ceased to function for ten years. It’s a long time, but it’s clear that the band members have been far from idle. Marc has been in Norway indulging his love of black metal; Dan has kept busy by recording and gigging with a number of bands including The Thinking Principle and Twisted Autumn Darkness, while Justin has been occupied with his Egyptian-themed ‘tomb metal’ project Fields Of Iaru, which already has an EP out in the UK and an album scheduled for release in the States.
Dan describes the period immediately after 13 Candles apparent retirement as being ‘like waking up with a hangover with the house smashed up and way too many empty bottles everywhere’, but in much the same way a bacon sarrnie and strong coffee cures a hangover, time has healed any scars and it seems the idea of 13 Candles getting back on the road has never been far from anyone’s mind.
“We had been talking about doing it since we broke up back in 2000”, says Dan. “I remember hearing Marc and Lou did a gig of Candles stuff back in 2005 I think I was, and I remember being pretty mad that I wasn’t asked, but I waited for the phone to ring and it never did. Then Marc, Lou and Justin did a gig in 2009 and again the phone didn’t ring, but I wasn’t so pissed off then, I was happy living with my girlfriend in Colchester. Then last year I got in touch with Paul (Mackey – drums) and we started talking again. We joked about doing some Candles stuff again, and next thing you know I’m talking with Justin and Marc and they’re like “yeah let’s do it” you know.”
Justin takes up the story and it seems there is a certain symmetry to the band getting back together some fifteen years after releasing their debut, with the catalyst for the reunion having also been influential in the early days.
“It wasn’t till Trev (Bamford – top man at goth label Nightbreed Recordings) asked us to play the Nightbreed all-dayer that we finally got our collective asses together to do a gig”, Justin explains. “It was like we had never been apart. The magic was there and I loved every minute on that stage with my two brothers. You realise how much you miss your band mates and to be onstage with Louis and Marc again was an honour. We planned to do more gigs but it was difficult with Marc being in Norway but when Dan got in touch saying he had a lot of interest in us touring again we came up with combining the two line ups to do a tour.”
Whoa, the two line-ups? This might take a minute so pour yourself a large one and we’ll keep it simple. The line-up for the 2011 gigs is going to feature the core founding members of Justin and Marc, who will be joined by original vocalist Louis. This trio will be supplemented by the “Killing For Culture” era drummer Paul Mackey, which leaves Dan – the replacement vocalist for Louis after the “Angels…” album – to complete the personnel as a second guitarist. There will also be a live keyboardist augmenting the sound. Confused? You should try writing this stuff.
Assuming everyone remembers who does what in the revised line-up, the band is understandably excited about the forthcoming live dates and fans of the band – old and new – look to be in for a treat.
“I think these will be the best shows in the band’s history”, Dan states optimistically. “We are all better musicians and performers than we were ten years ago. I think it’s gonna sound huge live. I think there is a certain amount of bitching going on again with our return, people are kind of like ‘oh here they come, the sad old goths’ but I think they will change their opinion of us once we leave the stage.”
That sounds like fighting talk and it’s a sentiment shared by Justin when asked what fans can expect from the gigs, even if he does put a slightly more self-deprecating spin on it.
“Full energy, powerful, atmospheric, all out 13 Candles onslaught. We are better and tighter as a band than we have ever been. We can now actually play well.”
A little light self-mockery aside, anyone who ever caught any incarnation of 13 Candles live on a really good night will know they always could play. Their problem was not the musicianship or the songs; it was having to deal with the difficulties of labels and management, and of being an ostensibly goth band at a time when goth was rapidly splintering into industrial, darkwave, EBM and a dozen other sub-genres. The heavy guitars employed by 13 Candles throughout their career alienated them from many traditional goths, while an equal number of metalheads couldn’t see beyond the goth aesthetic. The last decade has seen goth and metal become the natural bedfellows they always should have been which bodes well for the band. Not that they seem unduly concerned, mind.
“We have never fitted in. We will do what we want to do and how we feel it should be. We are the type of people who are leaders not followers”, Justin concludes. “13 Candles has always appealed to a wide range of fans so why box ourselves in to one scene. We still love goth and our roots are goth but all we offer is 13 Candles, plain and simple.”
And with that, all that remains is to point you towards www.myspace.com/13candlesuk to find out where you can catch the band over the next few months. If you ask nicely, Justin might even tell you the story about Dan and a field full of sheep while the band was gigging in Yorkshire. It’s not what your depraved mind is thinking, but it is equally as funny.