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Studio project turned band proper deliver dark, poppy and synth-infused prog metal.
Few bands can state that their origins lie in memes, but without them, British prog metallers Ihlo may not exist. “Back in 2016 I was posting a lot of memes in Facebook groups,” says vocalist and keyboardist Andy Robertson, “and I was also using it as an opportunity to share some of my music. Phil [Monro, guitars] saw some of those posts – he liked both kinds – and after a few messages we decided to collaborate together.”
“As soon as I heard Andy’s vocals on my demos, I knew we had something” Monro returns. What was initially intended to be a two-man, studio-only project, quickly got serious. With the help of drummer Clark McMenemy, who Robertson knew through social and meme based circles, the trio spent the next three years writing and recording their debut album, //Union//. A smorgasbord of artful ambience, dancing djent and glossy pop hooks, they soon piqued the interest of the progressive metal scene as the record suddenly became something of a cult classic. When a gig offer supporting Kyros came their way, the band evolved into a physical entity, with guitarist Rob Mair and bassist Michael Roberts entering the fray. Four years later, Ihlo is a very different prospect.
“I think the first record was an experiment,” Robertson reflects. “We know what we like from our sound now and we’re pushing forward with developing that.”
“The dynamic is completely different,” McMenemy beams. “We’re writing music that sounds like the sum of its parts and that’s very exciting. If //Union// was one of those lovely traditional, bright symbols, that you polish up to a mirror sheen, album two is shaping up to be one of those really dark, trashy metal cymbals. It’s still got a sheen, but it’s much darker.”
Ihlo have released two live EPs since, with 2022’s //Live Sessions From Pirate Studios// giving fans two tantalising tastes of its new era. Now, with album two expected in the next 12 months, Monro is aware of the challenge that lies in producing a worthy successor to their debut.
“There’s unavoidable pressure making a follow up to something that is so well known,” he accepts. “But we feel like a much more cohesive unit now.
“I think one of the biggest changes that has happened in prog in the past five years or so is the introduction of really poppy elements. Look at what Voyager and Sleep Token are doing now. When we released //Union// I felt like that’s what was specifically unique about us; Andy was laying down these really catchy, poppy choruses. Now the context around those hooks is a little darker, there’s a clearer vision and a stronger narrative running through the album.”
“If we wanted to, we could release an album now,” Robertson takes over, “but we’re taking our time vibing with the songs and finding those missing elements which can really elevate the album. We want to justify this being a new era of the band and not just an extension of what we’ve done before.” POW
Andy Robertson (vocals, keyboards), Phil Monro (guitar), Rob Mair (guitar) Clark McMenemy (drums) Michael Roberts (bass)
Brooding Tesseract and Haken instrumentals laced with irresistibly poppy vocal hooks
//Union // is out now and is self-released
— Phil WellerFrom "Limelight - Ihlo" Prog Issue 142 Reprinted with permission.