Many know Absu as the band that transitioned from mythological death metal to heavy-metal tinged black metal to finally a progressive, jazzy, and eclectic blend of metal, Celtic folk and psychedelic fusion styles.
According to percussionist/vocalist Proscriptor, “We’re attempting to divide the concerts into two sections: the first act will showcase songs spanning from our entire discography, as the second act will focus on Phase Two from the album Tara: The Cythrául Klan’s Scrutiny. For the past couple of years, many of ABSU’s followers have requested specified songs from this chapter of Tara, so it is our aspiration to give the people what they want.”
The tour covers North America in the blood of the righteous, and gives Absu a chance to show off their psychedelic rock-metal fusion trilogy: Absu, Abzu and the upcoming Apsu. As always, it is expected that the tour will showcase fantastic musicianship, chaotic pits and manic scrambling of residents for talisman artifacts of protection against the summoned evil.
4/05/2013 Millcreek Tavern – Philadelphia, PA
4/06/2013 Roger’s – Chesapeake, VA
4/07/2013 Strange Matter – Richmond, VA
4/08/2013 The Windup Space – Baltimore, MD
4/09/2013 Middle East upstairs – Cambridge, MA
4/10/2013 St. Vitus – Brooklyn, NY
4/11/2013 St. Vitus – Brooklyn, NY
4/12/2013 El N Gee – Hartford, CA
4/13/2013 Theatre Plaza – Montreal, QC
4/14/2013 L’Agitte – Quebec City, QC
4/15/2013 Wreck Room – Toronto, ON
4/16/2013 Ace of Cups – Columbus, OH
4/17/2013 Mojoe’s – Joliet, IL
4/18/2013 Rocco’s – Milwaukee, WI
4/19/2013 Station 4 – St. Paul, MN
4/20/2013 Zoo Cabaret – Winnipeg, MT
4/22/2013 Dickens Pub – Calgary, AB
4/24/2013 Biltmore Cabaret – Vancouver, BC
4/25/2013 Highline – Seattle, WA
4/26/2013 Ash Street Saloon – Portland, OR
4/27/2013 Shinneybrook Creek Cabins @ Festum Carnis – Soda Springs, CA
Burly, basic, and uncompromisingly fit together like ancient stonework in the war room of occult martial artists, the old school death metal of Remains is casually minimalistic but smoothly fit together into a series of visions of dark passages through life. Instrumentalism is good, composition is promising, and we’d like to hear more from this band.
Luckily, we were able to catch these up-and-coming metal wizards for a brief interview…
First of all, thank you to the support to our band; we are very happy to know that the EP has been well received.
Now, the questions…
Can you give us a brief history of the band? How did you start, how did you meet, how long have you been a band and what other projects do you have?
Miguel, Emmanuel and Leonardo knew each other because they are studying at the same university. On the other hand, Edoardo and Miguel know each other because they were in an old project some time ago.
Remains was originally proposed by Miguel and the project was born at the beginning of 2011 with a different line-up, but it wasn’t until of the middle of 2012 that it stopped being a project and became a band. With the present lineup Remains recorded the demo “The True Essence” and then in 2013 the EP …Of Death.
About other projects… Leonardo and Miguel have a melodic death metal project called “Fractal Entropy.” Emmanuel plays in two more bands which are “Sinister Mind” (black metal) and “The Light Of Dark” (brutal death metal) and Edoardo has a black metal project named “Fog of Chasm.”
This is a two-part question: (a) what bands influenced you most in your composition and songwriting; and (b) what bands do you think you sound like, even if you think you sound a little bit like more than one band?
a – Death Metal in general, bands like: Grave, Carnage, Dismember, Autopsy, Edge Of Sanity, Vomitory, etc.
b – Maybe something of Grave and Edge of Sanity, you know… old school bands, someone said that Remains sounds a little bit like Master.
Why did you decide to make old school death metal in a time when most of metal has gone on to newer styles, or just given up and become nu-metal?
The principal idea has been never been fashion; we don’t try to follow every new tendency. In my own opinion (Miguel) I grew listening to death metal because of my father (Miguel Angeles – Darkcreed, Pyphomhertum, Foeticide) I mean … death metal is my forte.
So… Remains was born as a tribute to the bands that gave origin to the Death Metal.
Do you think there is a metal “sound” for Mexico? How do you think of yourselves in the lineage of bands such as Cenotaph, Transmetal, Mortuary, Toxodeth and Xibalba?
Maybe there are features which distinguish a Mexican band from others, but is difficult to say that there’s a pure Mexican sound. Those bands are the best we have had in Mexico and we would like to continue that lineage and not lose it with the birth of new bands and styles.
We believe we can do something so the scene grows and doesn’t forget with the passage of time.
You decided to release your first EP, “…Of Death,” online as MP3 files in a downloadable zip archive. What made you decide to do this? How do you think it will help you? Are you worried that people will just pirate the MP3s and not buy the EP? Do you think musicians can make money even if they give away their MP3s? Does it matter?
The idea of the band has never been to get money. When we put out the EP we decided that it would be in the free MP3 format because someone who really likes what he hears will go looking for the CD or tape. (Now we do not have a label) If you want to buy or download our music… whatever, you are listening us and… that’s good for us.
What’s next on your agenda? Are you going to write more material, go on tour, or do something else?
Right now we are working in our first LP and we hope it will be ready in September of this year (of course, when we finish it, we would like that you listen to it).
These songs (on “…Of Death”) are well put-together, where every riff has its place and they fit together well. How did you compose these songs? Did you spend a lot of time after you wrote them, going over them to get the details right and make sure all the riffs fit together?
Every song came to its moment. When Miguel composes a song he always has a clear idea of what he is looking for in every riff and the way to adjust and mix them; then, every member of the group put their personal stamp on Miguel’s composition. We don’t spend too much time in details; if something doesn’t work, it stays out.
What do you think are the origins of death metal? Is it still relevant as a style of music today? What do you think motivates people to want to enjoy and eventually create death metal?
Since the metal was born, the trend always has been to be more aggressive. Bands like Possessed or Mantas gave us the guideline for this style; it continues being relevant since more bands of Death Metal are born every day, maybe what motivates people to listen to it is the aggression, the force that has death metal’s song as well as the theme of the lyrics of every band or the technique that is necessary to make it possible.
If someone wanted to hear some death metal bands from 2013, what newer bands would you recommend to them?
During the early days of black metal, it was acknowledged that punk had been a major musical influence on the genre. In particular, Discharge was cited as a foundation for seminal black metal band Hellhammer which later inspired a generation in the form of Celtic Frost.
The descendants of that heritage were the legendary Darkthrone, who fused punk energy, powerful riffs, and the searing bleakness of black metal into a musical maelstrom that had never before been heard.
Two decades later, Finland’s Hautakammio emerge with an even more intense attack. Sounding like a black metal crossover band, Hautakammio fuses the punk style with a black metal sound similar to Gorgoroth, producing a blistering aural assault. Riffs organically transition from dashing powerchord riffing to rapid tremolo picking while decidedly black metal vocals occupy the background.
Unlike Darkthrone however, Hautakammio does not sound greater than than the sum of its parts. While powerful music, it does not invoke a landscape of sound, remaining confined with linear production and direction. Nevertheless, this track is a solid composition with a unique take on a genre often stagnate.
For those interested in hearing more, the album Kukaan Ei Opasta Teitä Pimeässä will be released later this year through Darker than Black Records.
DeathMetal.org continues its exploration of radio with a podcast of death metal, dark ambient and fragments of literature. This format allows all of us to see the music we enjoy in the context of the ideas which inspired it.
Clandestine DJ Rob Jones brings you the esoteric undercurrents of doom metal, death metal and black metal in a show that also exports its philosophical examinations of life, existence and nothingness.
This niche radio show exists to glorify the best of metal, with an emphasis on newer material but not a limitation of it, which means that you will often hear new possibilities in the past as well as the present.
If you miss the days when death metal was a Wild West that kept itself weird, paranoid and uncivilized, you will appreciate this detour outside of acceptable society into the thoughts most people fear in the small hours of the night.
The playlist for this week’s show is:
Necrophobic – The Nocturnal Silence
Extracts from The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot (read by Eliot himself)
A Transilvanian Funeral – Cold Blood and Darkness
Sergei Prokofiev – Night (from Scythian Suite)
Metal music has from its very beginning existed as music outside the normal narrative of popular culture. Refusing to conform to the saccharine hippy outlook of 60s rock, or later the cheap sloganeering of punk, it existed even outside of the officially sanctioned definitions of ‘outsider’ music. It eschewed both post-modern self-irony and the pre-packaged emotions of pop to create a music that was both assertive and esoteric at the same time.
Peak metal genres, death and black metal, essentially grew up in a parallel cultural atmosphere to what was gracing the covers of Rolling Stone and NME magazines or playing on MTV – a culture that only made sense to the initiated and the dedicated, and spoke a language of death, danger and intolerance for the posers who would water down metal’s intensity.
Metal first came in from this wilderness as music that was only an echo of its surface sound. Bands playing loud, distorted guitar rock with a stand-offish attitude were taken up by the media and the public as relatively accessible versions of what had previously been denied either by them or to them by Darwinian means. It had little of the substance of metal but claimed its name.
Metal had been co-opted by people who had neither the heart nor the stomach to understand it, who parodied its most obvious components and fed back into the general perception of what metal was without any idea of what it had been up to that point. Shortly, bands who had been underground stalwarts were picked up by major labels looking for the next profitable act, and together duly proceeded to water down their sound to fit more closely the rock paradigm that suited the market and reinforced the conception of metal created by the co-opters.
Where metal had once ignored how people dismissed it as mindless brutish music, to privately develop its own distinct and even elegant musical language, it now embraced its stereotype, and turned into an angry flavour of the same musical clichés all pop music is based on. Where once it dismissed the crowd, it now was overwhelmed by it.
Whilst its popularity may have soared, hollowed out, the quality of metal went into a nearly two decade-long decline.
Dead Congregation – Martyrdom
Supuration – Consumate
Cosmic Atrophy – Shattering of Terrestrial Reality
Perhaps as an inevitable consequence of generational power shifts, academia is now taking seriously this music that two and three decades ago a diffuse bunch of young people held out to insist was both unique and powerful. Metal seems to be once again coming in from its wilderness, this time however it is being assessed on its own terms. Rather than sanitising or absorbing it into the broader cultural milieu, people from outside of metal are trying to understand it, and discovering the surprising quality of work that can be discovered when one scratches beneath the mainstream-encrusted surface.
It perhaps says something for the morbidity of metal art that it has become a sort of study piece – a museum-worthy curio to sit around chin-scratching and taking notes on. Near-extinct – or, at least, no longer threatening.
The new-found seriousness about metal may prove to be a healthy dose of self-confidence for a much misunderstood genre, too long equated with aggro-rock and/or blamed for any number of society’s problems. Yet still, it remains to be seen whether metal will be creatively spurred by this new-found level of acceptance and recapture anything like the long-gone glory days of the genre.
The dry, sanitary air of academia may not suit it as much as an atmosphere of evaporated sweat, grave miasma and dried blood. For as strong as metal is artistically, it is nonetheless still an art that emphasises outward action over introversion. The capricious nature of inspiration means that art is something that must be lived, not theorised and examined in microscopic detail. Sometimes this means that inspiration comes once in one big unself-conscious outpouring, and then afterwards simply never surfaces again.
Wading through the endless memes and cat pictures on social media can unearth some interesting news.
Mike Browning has long been a lone voice correcting the happenings of Morbid Angel after he left the band. For many people there is confusion about the status of the Abominations of Desolation album. Most fans that have followed Morbid Angel have heard that it was just a demo recording, but Mike Browning has always stood behind the notion that it was intended to be their first full-length. According to Mike Browning’s Facebook page he was recently barred from a nightclub over David Vincent’s wife assuming that Mr. Browning initiated a smear campaign against Morbid Angel, which seems very unlikely. Morbid Angel started their own smear campaign on themselves by releasing Illud Divinum Insanus.
Staying true to roots is difficult because as time goes on and learning increases, one must necessarily spread wings and soar to more ambitious ground. Killing Joke do both on MMXII, an album that showcases the style of their first album as interpreted through a more modern style and revisiting their influences.
Categorizing Killing Joke has never been easy. They sound like they should be an electronic music band, with spacious beats and future pop song structures, but then they add in guitar which sounds like a lighter version of Amebix, and a distinctly sweet-sour male vocal that gives the music an expansive mood and lightens the sometimes intense distortion on the guitars. They augment this with atmospheric keyboards and a throbbing, pulsing aggro-pop bass groove.
On MMXII, the band get closer to their roots in early electro and British techno pop, using melody to lead the otherwise unstoppable fusion of industrial, pop, punk and rock that they wrap into a final product that is both passionate and furious. While this is no way a metal band, Killing Joke has influenced a good many metal bands because it shares a similar mood: mythological, metaphorical, distanced from the human and yet emotional in the sense of someone watching a lovely mountainside burn in a drought.
As fierce critics of the modern life and its favorite crutches, Killing Joke also have a mood that is more punk than the most righteously self-proclaimed punk. This gives the music a surging quality, between a contemplative Britpop melancholy and harmony, and a driving rage during which the vocals distort to the edge of black or death metal territory. The result is an enclosing wall of sound that catches the listener in its emotion.
MMXII presents an amazingly consistent package. While songs are generally verse-chorus with strategic breaks, and cycle around to circular structures that repeat with changes, they are not consistent and each one has a different set of moods. Like actors playing a role in the drama of the album, each seems like a shard of the glass face reflecting the true experience of this album, which is both elaborate and brilliantly compelling.
The Death Melodies Series (DMS) continues with modernist Richard Wagner.
Born in Germany during 1813, Wagner composed his first opera The Fairies when he was 20. He wrote many operas and had successes as a composer and conductor. However, political controversy hindered many aspects of his life.
Wagner was discontent during the industrialization of Europe. Mankind’s lust for advancing technology left many areas poverty-stricken. He became a Socialist in hopes that a revolution would rectify the issues in Germany. Wagner had a small role in the May Uprising in Dresden which proved unsuccessful. He fled to Paris, then relocated to Switzerland for eleven years.
While in political exile, Wagner desired to resurrect the Norse spirit of ancient Europe. He’s best known for the monumental work Der Ring des Nibelungen, which is the most ambitious undertaking by any one person in European music. The Ring Cycle took Wagner over 25 years to accomplish, as well as having a playing time of 15 hours.
Wagner delved into many different Scandinavian sources and fashioned a grandiose medieval drama. Dwarves, Valkyries, heroes and monsters all had roles in the operas. He wanted his work to help strengthen political principles, but he also managed to craft some of the most stunning works in classical music.
In 1840, Wagner started composing his Faust symphony which was inspired by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s play Faust. The symphony was never completed and it was instead turned into a single-movement concert overture.
The job of a reviewer is to describe music, not judge it. Assessment ultimately becomes obvious from the context of expectation created by the reviewer which shows where all things must fit in the bigger pattern.
Monsterworks resembles a mixture of things and prefers to stay that way. The majority of the structural parts of songs are like Led Zeppelin mixed with Southern Rock and early doom metal, using metalcore style rasp vocals, so that most of what you hear is very guitar-rock styled heavy metal. This is a welcome change from the less organic metalcore of late.
If you like guitar playing that is bluesy, varied and emotional, this album will pique your interest. While the vocals rant, guitars hit all the right rhythms and then work in leads with the fills, slowly building up intensity until the song explodes in sound. If you can imagine Led Zeppelin and Ion Dissonance collaborating on a stoner doom album, this might be about it.
Monsterworks create very much in the 1970s style, and yet with its vocals and aesthetics, very much in the 2010s style as well. The result is both deeply engaged and like newer metal hybrids, incessant in its peak intensity, which can make it meld together indistinctly. It often detours into “different” arenas, like progressive rock, tech-deth, and straight up hardcore, as if a variety show.
Album of Man reforms the anti-technical side of post-metal and metalcore however by using the guitar as a voice of its own, and breaking up the strident extremity with old fashioned instrumentalism. This both brings rock and metal back to their core and renews the intensity of the vocals. By doing so, it takes newer metal to a better place and makes for a more satisfying listen.
We can only know the present by knowing the past. In the case of heavy metal, it is a murky past obscured by both the grandiose rockstar dreams of individuals and the manipulative fingers of a voracious industry.
Metal arose through a complicated narrative worthy of a lost empire, and by knowing this history, we can know more of the music we enjoy today.
Specifically of interest are a number of threads that interweave throughout the history of the genre, both as outside influences and later as internal habits, which influence its twisting path from something a lot like rock to a genre entirely separate.
This story then is a tale of how many became one, or how they found something in common among themselves, and how it has taken years of creative people hammering on the parts to meld them into one single thing, known as heavy metal.
However, no one really likes a lengthy essay. Instead, here’s metal’s history the best way it can be experienced: by listening to it.
1968-1970 — the origins
Three threads ran alongside each other: punk, proto-metal and progressive rock. All three are on the edge of being metal, since the type of progressive rock in question is raw and disturbing and not of the “everybody be happy love friends” hippie style. This is music that thinks our society is disturbed, and that therefore many of the values we reject are worth a closer look. Some is fatalist-nihilist, like the self-destructive tendencies of punk, where progressive rock is more clinical, and metal more epic (looking for meaning in the ancients, in nature, the occult and conflict).
Iggy and the Stooges – Raw Power
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King
1971-1981 — maturation
A lot happened here, but basically, metal became more like its ancestors (hard rock), progressive rock faded out, and punk got more rock-music-like. The punk from this era is more like normal rock music than the outsider stuff it originally was, but also gains some aggression from Motorhead, who may technically be metal but were born of a progressive rock band (Hawkwind) and sounded very punk and inspired the next generation of punks to be louder, lewder, etc.
Punk music arose from the earlier work by Iggy and the Stooges, but formalized itself into a pop genre that used guitars more like keyboards than like the guitar fireworks of conventional guitar-intense bands like Cream and The Who.
An exception to the metal of the period was NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal). DIY and extreme for the day, it left behind the Led Zeppelin-styled “hard rock” vein of metal and got away from Sabbath’s detuned doom and gloom to make energetic, mythological but also somewhat excited-about-life metal.
Satan – Court in the Act
Angel Witch – Angel Witch
Iron Maiden – Killers
Judas Priest – Sin After Sin
1982-1987 — the peak
Punk got its act together, in part inspired by the more commercial bands like Ramones and Sex Pistols. This is where hardcore punk really happened. That in turn spurred a revolution because music had finally left rock behind, and by mating the nihilistic (no inherent rules) composition of punk with the longer-phrase riffs of metal (derived from horror movie soundtracks), the riff styles of death metal and black metal were born, and the progressive song structures of speed metal evolved. At the same time, essentialist movements in punk hybrids (thrash) and metal (doom) emerged, sending many back to the roots of these subgenres.
Discharge – Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing
The Exploited – Death Before Dishonour
Amebix – Arise!
A second generation arose in the USA (all of the above bands are UK):
Cro – Mags – The Age of Quarrel
Black Flag – Damaged
Minor Threat – Discography
1983 — the big branching: speed, thrash and death/black
1983 is a crucial year, and so it gets its own entry. Metal and punk cross-influenced each other. The result was a lot more metal. If you’re familiar with nu-metal or more radio style metal, start with speed metal, as it’s the most like really violent rock music with influences from progressive rock in song structure. If you like messy punk (!!!) try some thrash. And if you’ve already given your soul to Satan, try death/black. With death/black, there’s also some influences from progressive rock, although they’re balanced with punk technique which makes for a chaotic spawn.
Speed metal took the complex song forms of progressive rock, the muted-strum guitar riffing of the NWOBHM bands like Blitzkrieg, and added to it the high energy of punk hardcore and came up with songs that kept getting faster and faster. This shocked people of the day, and was the primary reason speed metal bands were different from the NWOBHM that came before them, hence it was dubbed “speed metal.”
Metallica – Kill ‘Em All
Nuclear Assault – Game Over
Megadeth – Rust in Peace
Testament – The New Order
Thrash is a hybrid genre that takes punk songs and puts metal riffs in them. Its name arises from “thrasher,” or skater, and those were the people who embraced this style of music that was more extreme than metal or hardcore at the time. While it leans toward punk, it used metal riffs, and wrote short songs that in the punk style lambasted society but in the metal style tended to mythologize the resulting conflict.
In 1983, these bands contributed just about equally to the new sound. In the largest part inspired by NWOBHM like Venom and Motorhead filtered through aggro-hardcore like GBH and Discharge, the unholy triad invented underground metal to come.
Bathory – The Return
Once proto-death/black metal had occurred, people began to expand on the formula. One side decided to make it more technical, and riffy, and taking after Hellhammer’s “Triumph of Death” and the increasingly mind-bending riffing of Slayer, made it use mazes of mostly chromatic phrasal riffs. On the other side, some wanted to preserve the atmosphere of the simpler songs that Bathory and Hellhammer had to offer, but injected melody and loosened up the drums to keep it from being as clear and rigid as death metal. While that latter group went off to figure out black metal, the death metal team experienced a boom of creativity and excess during 1985-1995.
Necrovore – Divus Te Mortuus
Morbid Angel – Abominations of Desolation
While death metal was just starting up, other bands were trying to figure out how to make melodic ambient metal, structured equally after early melodic metal and free-floating songs like Slayer’s “Necrophiliac.” The result had chaotic drums, deliberately bad sound quality to avoid becoming a trend or something which could be imitated, and high shrieking vocals to death metal’s guttural growl. Taking a cue from Bathory, Slayer and Hellhammer, it also embraced the occult and esoteric and rejected conventional social norms and religions.
As black metal matured, it moved into Norway, possibly inspired by the previous generation of melodic Swedish death metal bands who used high sustain through heavy distortion to make melodic songs which featured less constant riff-changing than the bigger bands from overseas.
Immortal – Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism
Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
Darkthrone – Under a Funeral Moon
This is just the beginning; there’s a lot more after this in all of the genres, which kept developing in their own ways. This is only an introduction to the history of it all, and is not designed to be comprehensive…
Satan‘s Life Sentence is going to hit a lot of best of lists for this year because it is the root of the most lastingly popular metal genre ever created.
In the early 1980s, speed metal bands like Metallica popularized the style, but acknowledged their debt to NWOBHM including Motorhead, Diamond Head and Blitzkrieg. These bands were from the far side of NWOBHM as it incorporated more punk influences and as a way of differentiating itself from the earlier versions, got harder, heavier, riffier and generally more aggressive.
Back in those times, Satan’s Court in the Act was considered one of the fore-runners of speed metal. With the advantage of 30 years of wisdom, Satan re-assembled — now with experience spent in bands like Blitzkrieg and Skyclad — and restored its vision of the past with an album that is harder, faster and heavier than their earlier works.
Life Sentence however also includes the best aspects of NWOBHM, which includes the melodic vocals and melodic guitar-based songwriting, with technical chops that aren’t overstated, and a good sense of developing theme. It makes many of the post-Metallica imitators of speed metal seem like two-note template-based song construction, and shows metal a way to renovate its own flagging fortunes: improve songwriting.
It won’t be hard to convince people to enjoy this album. As we pointed out in our review, it’s a winner with metalheads who like musicality with their speed thrills. We were fortunate to be able to talk with guitarist Steve Ramsey.
Back in the 1980s, when asked about the origins of speed metal (Metallica, Exodus, Anthrax, Testament, Megadeth) many people pointed me toward Court in the Act, and others mentioned the “Into the Fire” demo you released in 1982. What do you think your contributions were toward inventing this new style? Do you think it was widely recognised?
I think on the underground it was recognised that the album had some significance. Unfortunately it didn’t seem so to us at the time, hence the name and direction change. We knew we were pushing boundaries in our own way.
What floors me about Life Sentence is how you mix melodic guitar playing with aggressive and fast riffing. Do you get a lot of comparisons to Judas Priest’s Painkiller? How do you think this album is different from your past works?
We were heavily influenced by early Priest, especially the Unleashed in the East live album and the older material on that album. No one has mentioned this until now. Their earlier material in he seventies was very progressive, unlike some of the stuff that made them popular in the eighties. We tried to create what we think would have been our second album had the lineup stayed in tact. We had a few rules we made and stuck to. For instance, we didn’t think we would have written much in odd time signatures.
The term “power metal” popped up a lot in the late 1990s to refer to bands that were melodic in composition but used the more aggressive riff styles of speed metal and death metal, like Helstar and Stratovarius. However, Satan was doing all of this back in 1982. Do you think the community caught up to you, and do you think that your first album would be received differently today?
If the reaction to the new album is anything to go by then yes, I think the album would have fared better now. Aggressive melodic speed metal is a term that could be used to describe a lot of what we are in to writing and performing as a band.
Life Sentence is a remarkably complete album in that every song seems to fit and there’s not a dull moment. What’s your songwriting and quality control process? How do you start writing a song — with an idea, an image, a riff, a melody, or what? — and how do you determine what goes on the album?
It’s strange really, we didn’t have any left overs. Everything we put together is on the album. Russ is the main writer of the music along with myself, but a lot of the stuff is a collaboration between us and the other members adding their bits and pieces to the general picture and overall performance. It’s a true team effort.
Members have gone on to other bands, including Skyclad which claimed your guitarist and bassist for some time. How is Skyclad different from Satan? It is famous for mixing folk music in with metal. Is this a natural progression from what you did with Satan?
Not at all. That was a concept perceived by our ex-singer Martin and myself. We started off playing a more thrashy form of music and gradually added more of the folk element as we went on. Sabbat were a thrash band that Martin was in previous to Skyclad. His vocal style determined what we were able to do too.
How do you see yourself as different from death metal? In the Metal Forces interview, you say Satan changed the name in part to avoid being seen as being like Venom and Slayer. Musically and artistically, how do you see yourselves as different from these bands? In an interview with Snakepit magazine, you mentioned that Satan chose its path before black metal and death metal. What do you think of these movements which have built on what you’ve created?
When we formed the band Russ and I were 15 and still at school together. We thought Satan was a true heavy metal name for a band and of course we’d come up with a fantastic logo. We were into Black Sabbath but they weren’t branded by their name with everyone thinking they were into the occult or whatever. This happened later to the music scene. In the eighties we had some towns trying to ban us from playing and Christians demonstrating outside shows because of the name. We tired of this and having to explain that we weren’t preachers of evil etc.
I think nowadays it’s taken a little more tongue-in-cheek what a band decides to call itself. I like aggressive music and we write songs about the evil things that happen in the world but we have nothing to do with devil worship and all of that stuff and dont want to be associated with it. The forms black and death metal weren’t the issue, it was the message that some of these bands were tring to deliver. Slayer are one of my favourite bands.
In the German TV interview posted on your website, you mention how metal audiences are too trend-orientated. How do you think this has helped you or hurt you over the years? You mention in the context of Skyclad, that not being popular isn’t a judgment on musical quality. Can you tell us more about this?
This is especially what happens in the UK. The popular press lead the fans into liking the music made by the major labels, and of course those labels are the ones that fund the magazines through advertising. We’ve had situations in the past with press in Germany too where you’ll get an album review but no feature because your label aren’t paying for a big full colour advertisement in that mag. This makes it more difficult to be heard if you’re trying to create someting new on a small independent label. It’s really not the audience’s fault, they get into what they get to hear and that goes for mainstream too. This has changed a lot since I made that statement due to the internet and fans being able to find what they like themselves.
In the Snakepit interview, you say that your first gig involved playing covers by Black Sabbath, Motorhead and the Ramones. How much influence did punk have on your music? Where did the Motorhead influence come in? Was it balanced by another influence, that sounds more like traditional NWOBHM and guitar-oriented rock?
We listened to a lot of punk stuff in the seventies and wanted to involve that raw energy in our music. Motorhead were one of the first metal bands to do that for us. Also we played punk stuff because it was easy to play and people would identify with it at school where our first gig was! We were also listening to Deep Purple, Rainbow, Priest and Rush but couldn’t play that yet. We would play a lot of Priest songs from Unleashed in The East, “Kill the King” by Rainbow, “The Trees” by Rush and others later on in our early days.
How is it that people confuse writing about evil, with suggesting that evil is a good idea? Does this reveal something about them? I’m thinking of your comments (Steve and Graeme) in the German TV interview on the Satan page about how people would boycott Satan without knowing anything about the music.
Yes, it is a little naive. Unfortunately there are people out there who make assumptions without listening. There were bands promoting it through their lyrics too though and that didn’t help with us being called Satan.
In an interview with Metal Forces magazine, you said you wanted to get away from darker themes and “all this black death, killing people and devils. We want to get some life into metal. Music isn’t about death, it’s about life.” — is there a way for bands to be about life even with dark themes, or are the two mutually exclusive? Do you think many metal bands are going about this the wrong way?
I think what I was trying to say was that some bands try to deliver a message through their lyrics and sometimes it’s not good. We certainly did that with Skyclad and still do but Satan was never about that. We want people to enjoy listening to the band and the dark lyrical themes suit the music we make but were not trying to deliver any kind of opinion or message with them. There are also a lot of bands that share the same attitude.
You’ve now played a number of festivals, and come out with what I think will be a strong contender for album of the year, and you’ve got a powerful lineup ready to go. Are you going to tour more, or focus on recording more material?
Thanks for that accolade. Everything is very much up in the air and in the lap of the gods! If you’d asked us a couple of years ago are we going to make an album we probably would have laughed. The interest in what we do is leading us. This album went so well that there have been whispers in the camp about maybe doing another. We take the shows we get offered and we have some good ones coming up.
Thank you very much for the great review Brett. It’s great to know there are people out there who really get what were doing and appreciate it and that really came across when we read it.