Since the release of 'The Reaper's Spiral' in 2015, much has changed for TERMINUS. That excellent record – and a select few live appearances – sent palpable gravitational waves rippling through the void, but then came silence. Interferometers fell quiet. Parabolic antennae harvested only static. Dystopian prophecies grew more flesh on their bones.
But now TERMINUS have reached perihelion once more, reappearing as a two-piece to bring us 'A Single Point of Light' via Italy's Cruz Del Sur Music. So before this intro collapses into a singularity of tenuous sci-fi imagery, I'll hand you over to veteran scribe Luís Ruivo, who put the following questions to David Gillespie and James Beattie...
Interview by Luís Ruivo
Orbital routes locked... Path set to meet-up point... Contact with vessel T-2 established... Deploying airlock... Commencing airlock pressurisation... Airlock pressurisation complete. PFSSSCCHHHHHDT.
1. David, James, well met! In the near 5 years since we last put ink to paper a lot has happened with Battleship Terminus! But as we get settled into all that, why don't we ease ourselves in with what you have been listening to the most so far this year?
DG: Setting aside the new Atlantean Kodex record which, at time of writing, I have not devoted sufficient attention to the only record that sticks in my mind is Twisted Tower Dire's "Wars In The Unknown". A good album with a number of serious bangers. The rest of the year has been filled wit a bad ripoff of Solstice "Lamentations" hyped to the moon and back plus the usual spandex cosplay nonsense. The LP version of Deceased's "Ghostly White" came out this year and that kicks the shit out of any record that pretends it's still 1983. Can I have that? Obviously still "White Horse Hill" and "Walpyrgus Nights" too. They were in a three way knife fight for best of 2018.
I have also been catching up on and refreshing my knowledge of a number of classic back catalogues. Jethro Tull, Scorpions, Free, Wishbone Ash, Queen. That sort of thing.
JB: White Horse Hill, the new Atlantean Kodex, the new Ravensire. I quite liked that last Hällas record too. Besides that and some Synthwave stuff that I get off on, not much else. I'm fairly out of the loop these days, and I'm probably happier for it.
2. Many as of 2019 seem to have taken your announcement of the demise of Terminus as a live unit as the first sign of the total dissolution of the band... As such perhaps we should start with this. Are you still glad you put out that statement back in 2017 ceasing the band as a live entity?
DG: Personally, I would have preferred to say nothing, but there were more personalities than myself involved in that decision. The response to that statement and our subsequent "silence" was certainly interesting. Clearly, today's audience places limited value on a band who states their intent and then quietly goes about their business to achieve these aims without unnecessary nonsense in the interim.
3. From the outside at the time, it seemed that the group went from strength to strength, as each live outing brought a more confident performance out of all, and in particular Beattie. What drove this decision to turn your backs on the stage at the time?
JB: I don't like playing live. I don't feel like a proper frontman and the idea of being expected to "put on a show" never sat well with me. I'm a fairly low key kind of guy, and being on stage is the opposite of what I'm naturally comfortable with. I also begrudged the fact that every time we played a festival it meant that there was a holiday or weekend away that my family would not have. Pouring my own cash into these things got old very quickly too. Other people in bands may well say, "that's just how it is", but it is only that way because there's always someone who will agree to play for less than free.
I was actually perfectly happy with the idea of throwing in the towel altogether to make way for a replacement, but David didn't want to work with another singer. We know each other well, we work well together and an idea of his will light a fire under me and vice-versa, so I've come to the conclusion that he was right to make that call. The other guys understandably weren't interested in not playing gigs. I regret that they are no longer with us, but that's where we are now. No use crying about it.
4. Do you both still look fondly upon the achievements of "The Reapers Spiral"? Given its self-recorded and produced nature, were there aspects of it you were particularly proud of, and others that you were particularly keen to improve upon, given a second chance?
DG: I'm very happy with our first album, especially in retrospect. At the time I had a number of small problems but I'm damned if I can remember what they were - which should illustrate to anyone how perspective is a necessary thing in these matters.
What we did this time was take a lot more control over some tonal aspects of the record. On "The Reaper's Spiral" I turned up at the studio and used what they had, plus my cymbals, and we left guitar tone down to the mix engineer with our guidance. This time I had scoped out what I wanted on the drums and we put some time into defining an identifiable guitar sound that I had in my head. It is a great deal more vile and throaty than the first record.
JB: Overall I'm still proud of that record, although if I listened to it now, I might cringe a bit and point out to myself what I'd do differently or simply better in terms of performance. I'm particularly proud of the fact that it was a big step up from the demo, and that it shut a few people up.
5. The latest broadcasts from Terminus in the Cruz del Sur system state that you felt a need to demonstrate you would be able to surpass your previous effort, David, but did you feel a pressure to deliver an album, as you put it, "within 18 months"?
DG: No. To put it bluntly, I was fucked after the completion of that record. It had been a period of great productivity and learning but also stress with trying to merge the schedules of 5 different people and trying to keep the project moving forward. So a second album was not going to happen quickly. Within 18 months of the release of "The Reaper's Spiral" I had far more pressing and lasting concerns, those being fatherhood. I was in no position to dedicate myself to the writing of a new album in the same way I had been for our demo and subsequent album and I was not about to undertake the task in a half hearted way.
If you are an active band, rehearsing weekly, there is always internal pressure to move forward, to make progress. There were a few things brought to rehearsal that were subsequently discarded because they were derivative. That is about the extent of any pressure I felt.
6. While you two were the creative core of Terminus, did you find writing and recording the album as a duo worked to the advantage or detriment of giving form to the new material?
DG: Neutral, I think. Half of the material was rehearsed and I don't think the rest would have changed appreciably in that situation. Vocals have always been fleshed out and embellished at time of recording by the two of us anyway, so no change there either.
7. In this age of near limitless connectivity among those plugged into the virtual forum of social media or its orbit, with its slippery roads towards navel gazing amongst like-minded peers and any potential wider reach subject to the whims of "The Algorithm", you have studiously avoided making ripples until the time was ripe for the announcement of "A Single Point of Light". Do you feel there is an abuse of these platforms at the moment, making it difficult to keep up with even the announcements that would be worthwhile?
DG: It may seem as abuse or overuse to me but this is clearly not in line with the perception of the younger generation of fans. It seems to me there is a set of fans who want everything to be like the 80s - but with constant social media content to boot. Bands should record everything analogue, like in the good old 80s - then tell me about it on Instagram. This does not make sense to me.
It comes down to how a band wishes to present itself. I find constant point by point updates that have with no substantial information to be cloying and begging for attention. Make no mistake - we will not beg, nor are we at the behest of anyone else's idea of how a band should behave.
The very idea of "The Algorithm" is an Orwellian concept in and of itself which, whilst frightening, is strangely apt.
8. Having previously sung about Asimov's deeply morally compromised Foundation world, Hamilton's cowardly Centaurean and marauding ravagers of your own creating, your recent statement regarding penning songs about "...cowards, deviants, deceivers — the scum of the universe" certainly rings true. Would you care to expand upon the dastardly cast featured in the new material, piece by piece?
DG: The following is not necessarily a reflection of who wrote each set of lyrics.
JB: This time around we have three standalone tracks that are based on source material, and four that make up an original concept.
To Ash to Dust is based on a section of Hyperion by Dan Simmons. The story sparked something in me, although I must admit that I didn't re-read the section when I wrote the lyrics. So essentially what you get here are lyrics based on a half remembered story that I had read several years before. It follows a Catholic priest who goes to a remote planet to investigate reports that there is an alien tribe that appears to have a culture steeped in symbology and ideas that Christianity shares. However all is not as it seems, the tribe does indeed speak of death, resurrection and eternal life for when a member of the tribe dies they lie in state for three days and then wake up again. The priest marvels at this at first, that is until he himself dies, is resurrected and discovers that this is all due to a parasitic organism. Those tribesmen who have died and risen times beyond counting are a pale shadow of how they were before this cycle began which is what the "Takes a slave to grotesque eternal life" line refers to. The priest finally figures out that the parasite will leave if burned out before the host dies. So in the book, there are trees referred to as Tesla trees in the area and they have a season where they spontaneously erupt into flames. The song ends with the priest essentially crucifying himself on one of these trees and waiting for the burning to start. Once the parasite is gone the flames take him and "he sees beyond to sweet repose".
Harvest is based on the 70s science fiction film Silent Running. It follows Freeman Lowell who is a crew member of the Valley Forge, one of many ships sent out on a long mission from a now barren Earth to preserve species of animals and plants in on board bio-domes where they can grow and thrive away from all the pollution and decay on Earth. This is all done with a view to at some point reseeding the Earth with as many specimens as can be grown in these domes. At some point a transmission from earth is received that they are to jettison and destroy the domes and all the life within them. The other crew members are delighted with this as they get to go home to their families, recycled air, cardboard dinners etc, but Freeman Lowell is heartbroken as he sees more value in what's in the domes than he does in the rest of humanity put together. He basically ends up murdering the rest of the crew and taking over the ship to ensure that at least some of the dome's inhabitants survive. The film ends with Lowell about to be destroyed, so he places an android on one of the domes to be its custodian and leaves it with instructions to maintain and look after the life within it. His final act is to set the forest dome adrift in space with the hope that one day it will be found and used for its original purpose.
As Through A Child's Eyes is based upon Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. The main character in it starts off as someone of extremely subnormal intelligence who is derided and sneered at by all around him. He ends up the subject of a scientific experiment, which is successful in that he is brought to a level of intellect that far surpasses even the doctors and professors that were in charge of the experiment. It is possibly the most heart rending science fiction story I have ever read. We watch him reach this pinnacle only to find that the change is not permanent and we have to watch in despair as he slowly slips back to how he was before. Before he loses his ability to reason entirely he seems to come to a place where he realises that he was a better human being without his intelligence than he was with it. I think there's something to take away from that for all of us. Our pride in ourselves, our wealth, our intelligence, our personal appearance, our individual achievements and our tribes really are stumbling blocks to being a society that I want to live in. To quote C. S. Lewis, "Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man." I'm not actually a commie by the way before people start reading things that aren't there into that haha!
DG: A preface on the remainder; our main character is a leading scientist of her era, dying before her time. She is willing to prolong her life by any means necessary and must live (?) with the consequences of her bargain. Each song focuses on an aspect of the wider story and they are not in sequential order nor is each song strictly based on the “plot”.
Flesh Falls from Steel: Mainly based around the widower of our the main character where her captors, finding the machine intelligence useless due to its resistance to control, attempt to gain whatever advantage they can by implanting it in physical form.
Mhira, Tell Me the Nature of Your Existence: Our heroine has been transferred, or duplicated, upon her death into the digital realm. Deprived of the natural senses this consciousness attempts to make sense of the external stimuli by mapping these to an allegory of sight and sound - the titular Single Point Of Light. It asks her questions - and her in turn - as if each was alive.
Cry Havoc: Maverick genius forced to justify his actions in the name of progress. How far someone will go in the name of progress and the laurels that come with success in spite of a moral conscience. Think Oppenheimer, Von Braun etc.
JB: Spinning Webs, Catching Dreams has our heroine on her deathbed reflecting on the arrogance of self reliance and her former certainty of always being able to reason her way out of any situation. For the first time in her life she considers the possibility of "the beyond" and she fears it to the point of being crushed by the weight of that fear. Her certainty that the scientific method holds all the answers has melted away and she is left with a cloying fear of the unknown. Enter our maverick genius from Cry Havoc, who has mentored her for years, with an offer to transfer her consciousness into a machine. This gives her hope that science will save her after all, so she agrees readily. The reality of the procedure is not what she thought it would be, she is uncertain that her personhood from life has actually been transferred. Is she a mere copy? The reality for this soul or simulacrum (we leave the answer to this to imagination) is digitised slavery as referred to in the line "Slithering voice, anoint unto me poison and life one the same."
9. With such a strong historic link between heavy metal and heroic sword and sorcery / fantasy tropes, particularly within the epic leaning side of the family, is anchoring your lyrical concepts around the anti-heroes and villains of the near and far future a way to mark yourselves apart, or purely a reflection of your own personal reading interests?
DG: As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle. At the start of the band James and I were in agreement that we needed a clear and distinct well from which to draw lyrical matter. Our shared interest in Sci Fi was the obvious choice and this quickly became integral to the identity of the band.
Our approach also conveniently happens to stick two fingers up at the conventional wisdom. We take great pleasure in this because we are cynical old men.
10. With the near future demanding radical action on climate, the evolution of AI, and even ‘serious’ talk of human travel to Mars and asteroid mining, and your versing in Science Fiction, do you feel reality and the near future have turned out to match the predictions made by the forefathers of the genre back in the 60s and 70s? Lunar moon bases brings back memories of Heinlein for instance…
JB: We're hurtling towards dystopia. I actually find it quite frightening just how prophetic some of that work is. Of course that could be a result of Sci Fi fans working in the tech sector who are hell bent on making stuff from their favourite books, films and TV shows a reality, but I think if you go back even further in time to Orwell and 1984, the prophetic element is uncanny beyond measure.
11. One cannot help but think the music distinctly follows the lyrical concept of turning tropes on their head, as proceedings start mid warp-speed soloing - doing away with the widespread warm-up intro - that catapults the listener into "To Ash, To Dust". But I wonder, do the two work hand in hand in creating a deliberate thread throughout the album, or is each piece meant to be taken on its own?
DG: Bear in mind that this is all after the fact analysis on my part, but “To Ash, To Dust” had been the album opener in my head for a long time. That was partly as you put it “turning tropes on their head” and also partly applying the same rules we had for running order on the first album which had a different result with these songs. The songs that were connected in theme must run together in sequence. The songs must split over two sides of a Long Playing Record with relative parity between the lengths of each side. In each case we had a definitive idea of the song that should end the record - one could no more follow the elongated feedback chaos of “Spinning Webs, Catching Dreams” with another song than the finale of “Centaurean”. Once a few decisions are made, the rest slots into place in a straightforward manner.
12. While there remains a clear identity in your songwriting, it will not take long for those already familiar with your past to note the clear step up in the maturity of the structures and delivery, across all fronts. While the vocal delivery on "Reapers..." was already dynamic in the registers approached, it has markedly become rawer in delivery, and the phrasings have evolved in complexity. Was this a conscious goal?
JB: My main goal with the vocals was to push right up tight against my limit in terms of range, melody, phrasing and harmony arrangements. I suppose its just a natural outgrowth of my being more confident than ever that I know exactly how to wring the sound I want out of my admittedly less than technically perfect voice. David is playing out of his skin in places too. He's done a cracking job putting this together.
13. With Cruz del Sur taking care of delivering this second album, and the imminent wide release of the last few years of work, do you foresee a continuation of Terminus into a potential album 3 in the undetermined future, or do you consider the 'ghost' exorcised from your system at last?
DG: That's hard to say and we won't just sit down at some point and say yes or no. The appetite is there, currently, to do another, and a couple of good tunes can very easily push that over the top.
JB: If the songs are there, album number 3 is inevitable. If not, we bow out with our dignity intact.
DG: Speak for yourself. My dignity was compromised by the airlock schtick at the start of this interview.
14. Outside of the band, James has recorded some occasional guest vocals for other releases from time to time. Would you both consider bolder forays into other projects a possibility in the future in pursuit of stylistic interests not achievable within Terminus?
JB: Honestly, I used to think to myself, "How can I branch out and who else can I work with?" But now having really thought about it, I am interested in working only with David. He understands my way of working and gives me the space to do what I have to do to get the takes that I need to be happy with an end result. My idiosyncrasies would likely frustrate most other artists to the point that any collaboration beyond a guest spot on a song would be untenable for me and them. Anything else that I've contributed to has been engineered by David anyway. To answer your question, I would love to take on new projects that involve different styles, including non heavy metal ones, but only if I'm going it alone or if David is involved either as a musician or as recording engineer.
15. It would also be remiss to fail to ask the question you are likely dreading... would you ever consider a return to the stage?
DG: Unlikely, but not impossible. Is 2025 too early for us to be "unearthed" as a forgotten band?
JB: My dislike for live performance isn't news to anyone who knows me. But that is not to say that I derived no enjoyment from it at all. I Iiked it well enough when everything went according to plan, but that only happened a handful of times. I would certainly consider a return to the stage at some point, but only if I'm not pissing my own money away to do so and if I'm guaranteed to only be away from home for a day or two tops.