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Blood Ceremony's Sean Kennedy Blends Heaviness and Horror

Blood Ceremony guitarist helps unearth sounds and vibes history forgot

July 14, 2014 9:05 AM ET
Sean Kennedy
Blood Ceremony
Courtesy Blood Ceremony

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WHO: Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, the saying goes – but in rock music, those who remember the past tend to do a pretty good repeating job as well. Every so often, though, a group marinated in the rich stew of a bygone era comes up with a sound that is not so much anachronistic as wholly original. Formed upon the altar of proto-metal, Toronto's hex-laying Blood Ceremony pit swinging percussion against frontwoman Alia O'Brien's mind-frying organ trills, overpowering vocal amplitude and honest-to-goddess flute solos that rip like a knife across a white sheet in a Hammer horror film. Holding it all together is the deft guitar prowess of Sean Kennedy, who manages to weave together modern metal madness with spidery pre-metal riff-runs and a smattering of pastoral folk.

20 Best Metal Albums of 2013: Blood Ceremony's 'The Eldritch Dark'

FLUTE FLIES: If you think flute doesn't belong in a rock band, you probably don't spend as much time in the early Seventies musical headspace as Mr. Kennedy & Co. "In the Sixties and Seventies, there was a lot of flute in rock music. A lot of the Italian progressive bands had flute – bands like Osanna – and then bands like Black Widow in the U.K., and Clear Blue Sky. It's not as prevalent today, but if you look at our record collections, it's kind of a no brainer!" When Blood Ceremony erupted into the modern metal world in 2008, they were met with a stampede of Jethro Tull comparisons. "We got that, definitely, and on our second record [2011's Living With the Ancients], we made a conscious effort to have some songs that didn't have any flute on them at all. But really, it is the sound that we have. It's who we are in a sense, so we kind of got over that!"

BACK TO THE SEVENTIES: Blood Ceremony's diverse sound might actually be the most early Seventies thing about them: "If you look up old show posters," Kennedy explains, "it's completely mind-blowing what bands were on the same bill: Black Sabbath and Yes playing with the Eagles. But you also had dynamic-sounding albums as well, because it was before the fragmenting of styles. Sabbath wasn't a metal band, they were a heavy band. And in a weird way, I kind of see that sort of thing going on now in metal again: metal is raw rock and roll when you come down to it, and people who enjoy rock & roll and heavy music kind of want to see it go back to its origins when it was just heavy metal, and not, you know, grindcore or death metal, specifically."

SUBTLE SHOCK: Metal is filled with young bands almost too eager to shock, a state of affairs that helps make the slow-build terror of Blood Ceremony all the more satisfying to the experienced fan. "Death metal, for example, it is a genre obsessed with strong imagery — and I like that because I like sensations," says Kennedy. "But as far writing songs about supernatural themes, I've always preferred songs that suggest something rather than just beat you over the head; the suggestion of violence or the suggestion of horror has a profound effect if it's done right. The title of our last album [2013's The Eldritch Dark] just kind of felt like this liminal space, this twilight place where all these suggested terrors could take place. If you can create a kind of unsettling vibe with the music, then I'm convinced that that's a heavy song. Like Fairport Convention – They're seen as Brit folkies, but they were writing murder ballads, really spooky stuff. So that's also heavy for me!"

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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