Sandstone - Welcome the Cultural Dissonance
By: Matt Coe
When you think of Irish heavy music, artists like Thin Lizzy, Therapy?, and Primordial come to mind. Progressive metal may not be a genre associated with this small country, but Sandstone aim to put their sound on the worldwide map. Releasing their third album Cultural Dissonance, the four-piece produce a type of sound that rivals many of their European brethren with a sense of tightness and compact arrangement knowledge that usually reserves itself with the veterans in the business.
After enjoying numerous spins of the latest record, I reached out to guitarist Stevie Mclaughlin who was very happy to fill us in on the thought process behind the album, future plans, as well as what it’s like to play with his brother in such a potent metal outfit.
Blistering.com: How do you feel about your new album Cultural Dissonance at this point? Can you give the readers a little insight into how the songwriting and recording process went for this effort - were they any surprises or difficulties in terms of particular songs?
Stevie Mclaughlin: Overall I'm happy with it: I feel it's the best and most complete album we've made so far. Nothing is ever perfect and I always feel that maybe one more take on the guitar solo or just a little extra tweak on the snare EQ and we'd be there. But that could go on for an eternity, and at some point you need to draw a line under it and move on. I've no regrets; it's the best music we could've made at the time.
Myself and Sean [McBay, vocals] are the songwriters of the band and we usually would write our own songs, everyone learns their parts and that's what we'd record. This way of doing things led to some people thinking our music was eclectic or had no clear direction. In an attempt to address this, we tried a different approach for this album: Sean wrote all the lyrics and I wrote all the music. We have lots of different styles that we like from hard rock to metal to power to prog and we used to write songs in these different styles, but this time the challenge was to try and write songs that contained all these approaches within the individual song structures. Of course, as the album started to take shape we relaxed these rules and Sean contributed some riffs and I wrote some lyrics, but this approach did help us to create a more coherent album I think.
Blistering.com: At what point did Limb Music enter the picture for the band? You re-released your second album Purging the Past through them, cutting off three tracks from the original release. Any particular reasons why this happened?
Mclaughlin: Shortly after we released Purging the Past with Casket Music, Limb approached us with an offer to re-release the CD for Europe and worldwide and we jumped at this. It was a no-brainer for me since some of the bands on his roster are personal favorites. Our previous label had served us well, but were pretty much specializing in more extreme metal, with Limb we felt we were moving in to a more "like-minded" club.
Straight away Limb wanted us to cut down the length of PTP and pointed out there were five ballads on it. We went with his advice and held "Sleep" back for Cultural Dissonance, “Skulkadin” was retained for the Japanese release and we'll likely use “Critical” in a future release. I think Limb was right as, PTP flows better and, having fewer ballads on there, makes them stand out more powerfully than before.
Blistering.com: Your brother Dave plays bass in the band with you. Who had the interest in metal first, and how is it to perform side by side with your brother in Sandstone?
Mclaughlin: I'm the eldest so I guess I've been into music the longest, Dave has wider tastes in music than me: He likes dance, pop, indie as well as metal - he's pretty open-minded. He actually produces underground progressive house music under the moniker of Audio Dropouts as one of his side projects. With me, it's prog-metal and that's it. Dave is the music technology guru of the band and is always updating us on new toys and approaches in the studio. I tend to be more traditional in my approach to recording, but we find common ground in the middle and I think that works for us.
As far as the brother thing goes, I think being in a band is a pretty intense experience to share with anyone and most people are going to come out of that feeling like brothers or enemies. I guess what I'm trying to say is that all the guys in the band are like brothers to me - maybe that sounds a bit cheesy but that's how it is.
Blistering.com: One thing I really enjoy about Cultural Dissonance is the balance between writing progressive parts within songs like “Little Forgeries” and “Trick of Mind” and yet the emphasis remains within an arrangement that has compact sensibilities. Is this something consciously driving the band - to not become too long-winded and overstay your welcome so to speak, like other technically-minded progressive metal acts?
Mclaughlin: I'm very pleased you said that, sometimes the aesthetic in prog metal seems to be the more virtuosic and the longer the better and there's little appreciation for how difficult it can be to be more concise. I do love a progressive approach, but at the same time my hard rock influence filters the prog. Lots of our songs were at one point longer than they appear on the album. We like to live with the songs for a while and maybe abstain for listening to them for a while so you can experience them with fresh ears. That way it becomes easier to identify what is working and what is confusing the flow or distracting from the main theme. I do like a nice indulgent guitar solo, but like the rest of the song I'm always trying to drill down to the essence and find the soul of the song. Then everything else is decoration.