Ten years is most definitely considered a long time between an artist’s first two full-length releases.
You would have to wonder if a band still existed if they had no new output in that time. Yet, here we are with Threshold Sicks, a couple of line-up changes and a decade after they self released The Scorpion Ensemble, and still awaiting the ill-fated second opus. It seems, though, that within the inner circle, this is celebratory milestone, rather than a millstone around the neck. Bassist and founding member, Greg Mckenzie-Milne, was at the helm of production for the whole album. He took some time to reflect on the ins and outs of the project, the mindset that led to steer completely away from studios, and instead, self-record.
Greg Mckenzie-Milne: Money was the main factor.
We didn’t have a lot of disposable income evenly available throughout the band. We try to work as a team as much as possible. Considering the costs of studio time, this was the best option available to us. We spent money on equipment and software instead. Also, having tested the waters in studios, and not getting good results, it was also a case of ‘once bitten, twice shy’.
Threshold Sicks – The Scorpion Ensemble (album)
Threshold Sicks have been responsible for the gnarliest of my many next-day bangovers for the best of part my gig-attending career.
In terms of genre box-ticking, this band falls firmly in the “other (please specify)”. Their wild combination takes, the beefy thickness of groove metal, the bounce of metalcore, and the speed and shrewdness of thrash. Making sure you aren’t bored with this pattern, they scrunch this all up with a handful of tech, sludge, nu, and even grindcore influences.
The single guitar form of this band brings a barrage of rapid-fire chugs, a thudding, sloppy, sludgy guitar tone, while executing thumping, fast-paced, thrashy riffs, that tail off in chaotic solos, and messily designed leads. The stuttering and technical rhythms of the drums add a new layer of complexity to the mix of pit happy numbers, spicing up the scale to jazzy at times. The evil, damn-right filthy, and thunderous bass sound fills the mix with a gravelly thickness that is positively demonic, as it lays down melodic grooves. Upfront in the mix is the harsh, growled and gurgled vocals by Phil “The Neck” Malloch whose presence on stage was more than formidable, as he echoed out words of real pain, anger, rage, and disillusionment from the lyrics.
This album, despite the flaws in production, and its, at times, slippery grasp, still gives you a very filling 38 minutes-or-so of headbanging fun, and great taste of one of the scenes finest metal acts that are still firmly their glory years.
Many bands have had unsatisfactory studio experiences, for sure…
…but what was Greg hoping to achieve in the DIY approach? What were his own aims in each of the stages; recording, mixing, and mastering?
GMM: Recording; constancy, as much as possible. The reality of recording in a spare bedroom limited this, unfortunately. The kit had to be moved several times between sessions. The mics too during other set ups.
Mixing; to get the best out of the root sounds and get it close to a studio standard where possible.
Mastering; wasn’t really a consideration. The aim was to get the mix as good as possible, and keep this stage to a minimum, as we only had basic mastering tools available to us.
GMM: We had a good routine going, and good focus during the sessions.
We fought to overcome hurdles, and I think we did well to end sessions if they weren’t going well. This kind of flexibility is missing in the studio environment. My favourite funny moments are usually bloopers. Phil had some crackers when he forgot lyrics or got tongue tied. Some of these still exist on my hard drive. My favourite time was the final stages, having listening parties, and all of us sitting there, getting excited about having an album to share, rather than another demo.
Looking back now, does he have any regrets about keeping it in the band?
GMM: None. We worked together to make the decisions on the sound. We also had friends listen to the occasional mix, and feed back to us. It’s hard to find someone that gets us and our sound. The problem is that the modern standard isn’t a good fit. We don’t down-tune and thinner, modern production values can really kill the grooves. When it reached the mastering stage it’s exactly this that we came up against. In the end, a very basic master by myself won out.
Moving on, what were the major things he wanted to change, going into recording the follow up, Beat Unmerciful? What lessons did he take forward from The Scorpion Ensemble?
GMM: The biggest focus was to nail the consistency this time around.
The mics go up, and nothing moves! Mixing also became more layered and things were a lot more structured when running Cubase. The new album has been in production for a very long time, with a huge gap in the middle due to line-up changes mid-flow. I think I definitely NEVER want to have to work through that again. I’ve been able to work on upgrading equipment, my skills, and my perspective. The NEXT album will be very much back to basics, hands on, working real EQs.
The Scorpion Ensemble is available as a pay-what-you-want download on the Threshold Sicks Bandcamp page.