Sunday, May 16, 2010

Interview: Abazagorath

Having just released one of the best American black metal albums I've ever heard in "Sacraments of the Final Atrocity", Abazagorath are poised for a triumphant climb to the pinnacle of their musical genre. I was prompted by my enjoyment of - and sheer admiration for - this release to contact the band and try to gain more information about this mysterious collective of artists. Bassist and band leader Nyarlathotep was kind enough to answer my questions...

You recently returned from a 10 date (I believe) tour throughout Europe, touching Spain, Germany, Austria, France, even into England...what was it like? Was it a good experience all around? Tell us about it. Was it your first tour of Europe? What was the response of the crowd to Abazagorath's material like? You also toured with Craig Pillard (Ex-Incantation, Disciples of Mockery) playing second guitar - can you tell us why this was done? Did he have any trouble stepping in and fulfilling his role satisfactorily? Has he helped you in the past in this capacity? Are you planning any kind of tour of the States anytime soon?

Yes, at the beginning of April we did a 9 show tour (10 were scheduled but one of the vans broke down forcing us to cancel the Swiss date) with DEMONCY and KRIEG. It was fucking amazing! The best experience I have had in my life thus far. Even though the drives were long, there were 18 people crammed into 2 vans, we didn't sleep much (too many hours of the night spent getting drunk!!!!) and we didn't make much money, it was absolutely worth it. As a band, I think the tour brought us all closer together than ever before, and we have become more focused and committed to what we are doing. This was actually the first real tour we have ever done, period. Going into it, I did not really know how we were going to handle life on the road and how the shows were going to turn out, but the organization was very professional, resulting in better conditions than I had originally expected. The venues were fully packed for a majority of the gigs. The crowd response to our material was quite good, considering we were playing mostly brand new songs and that I think we were playing to a large audience that may not have been familiar with us at all. Craig offered to help us out when our second guitarist Demonic quit the band about a month before we were supposed to leave for the tour. He seemed to have no trouble at all jumping right in and delivering exactly what we needed. He approached everything very professionally as far as learning the songs, practicing them at home, rehearsing with the band and even making his own arrangements as far as renewing his passport and buying his own plane ticket. Also, the fact that he had done several tours with INCANTATION proved helpful to the rest of us as his previous experiences proved to be a source of valuable information. This was the first time he helped us out. We've been friends with him for a few years now, but I had never thought he would ever get involved with what we were doing. I was actually really surprised when he offered to do it. I was basically convinced we would have to do the tour with only Morgul on guitar, and although he is the main songwriter and can carry us if necessary, we sound much more powerful with 2 guitars. We have no plans for a US tour at the moment, but we all definitely want to hit the road again as soon as possible!!!!

Abazagorath has a long history...I think you've been around since the mid-'90s, correct? Yet to this point I think people mainly know you from the album you put out on Elegy Records in 1997, "Tenebrarum Cadent Exsurgemus". How do you view that record today? Do you think it's still viable, relevant, or "evocative" in the manner it was meant to be? Have your feelings towards it changed over time? Between that record's release and the EP you put out on Blood Fire Death there was a space of 4 years...what was happening during this time? Why did the band take four years to release something new at that point? Did you have problems with Elegy? Also...as to the material recorded for the "Enshrined Blasphemer" MCD that you eventually put out on Agonia, this was originally supposed to be released as a split album...with what band? What happened to that collaboration?

Right, we formed ABAZAGORATH at the beginning of June 1995, so we are just turning 9 years old. Well, there was the "Channeling the Ethereal Moons" MCD that we put out in 1996, so we had the name out a little bit before "Tenebrarum..." came out. Overall, I like that album even though I don't listen to it much. But in general, I don't listen to any of my recordings that much. There are 4 or 5 songs on there that I think have stood the test of time and I am as proud of them now as I was back then. That album may not be as "evocative" now, but we were younger then and it was one step towards where we are now. I have no regrets about anything regarding "Tenebrarum..." as it was a necessary stage in our development. Through the years, we experienced numerous line up changes (probably about 6 or 7 guitar players and about 3 vocalists). On top of that, from about August 1998 to early 1999 Warhead (drums) was out of commission recovering from injuries he received in a motorcycle accident and an infection he caught while recovering. So, while we never quit there were periods of time where activity waned. There also were some side projects - FUNEBRARUM for Morgul and myself and WARHEAD for Warhead and myself to a lesser degree - that were going on during this "lull." But we were still doing occasional gigs and continued to write material. Rob from Elegy patiently (...or impatiently) waited for us to get stuff together for the second album, but in the end we made a mutual decision for ABAZAGORATH to explore other options as far as getting the newer releases out. There were no "problems" with Rob that had to do with that decision. We remain good friends with him to this day, and support Elegy 100%. In 2001, we recorded 7 songs. Two ended up on "The Spirit of Hate for Mankind" 7" that BFD released in 2002 and the other tracks were slated to be released by 7 Gates of Hell Records (Poland) as a split picture disc LP with an obscure Polish act known as WARMIST. The LP was scrapped when communication with the label "faded" after we waited months for them to get the record out, and I have never been able to verify at all (even with contacts I have in the Polish BM scene) whether WARMIST ever actually existed!!! Luckily, Filip from Agonia Records came along and offered to get those tracks out, so more than 2 years after they were recorded they finally saw the light as "Enshrined Blasphemer."

Please excuse my curiosity if these questions are redundant or too boring for you, but I have one more little one: it also says in your bio that you recorded a cover version of Mayhem's "Funeral Fog" exactly four years ago for a tribute that never materialized. Can you tell us a little more about that? Who was set to release that, and who else was scheduled to be on it? Why wasn't it released? What happened to this recording - will it be added to another one of your albums as a bonus track...perhaps to the LP version of "Enshrined Blasphemer"? Obviously Mayhem was an influence for you if you picked one of their songs to cover...would you rethink releasing such a cover today because of the way that band has changed now (some say for the worse), or would it still be seen by you as a tribute to the "old" Mayhem with Euronymous?

ABAZAGORATH has never been about doing lots of cover tunes, but we used to do "Black Magic" (SLAYER) at some gigs in 97- 99. Mike Meacham from Warhammer Records got in touch with me and asked us to appear on a USBM tribute to MAYHEM they were putting together. At the time he provided me with a full list of the bands that were supposed to contribute but I can't really remember who all of them were. I think I remember DEMONCY, KULT OV AZAZEL and KHISANTH were mentioned..... For some reason, they never put it out. I ran into Mike at a show up here in the summer of 2001 and asked him what happened but I guess I was beyond caring at that point because I can't even remember what he told me!!!! I think only like 2 bands (one of them was us) even bothered sending their tracks in. Yes, there are plans for this recording to emerge "from the dark past" so to speak.... My Polish BM brother Skrzypor Tethyr of Hail Satan 666 Productions plans to release it on a CDR comp tribute to Dead and Euronymous he is working on. My other Polish Metal pal Filip wants to use it as a bonus for the forthcoming vinyl version of "Enshrined Blasphemer." And it may end up on a split 7" with ENGORGE, another NJ act, who will have a DARKTHRONE cover planned for their contribution. So, yeah, I think you will hear this track eventually!!! "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas" has always been one of our biggest inspirations, so regardless of what kind of shit MAYHEM is up to these days, it was our honor to pay tribute to Euronymous, Dead and the Black Metal Spirit they created....

Chart for me the progression of Abazagorath. Have you improved as instrumentalists over the years, or improved in any way (in your eyes) as songwriters or musicians with the ability to channel and/or capture the "ideal" sound you have in your minds for your band? Are you coming closer to that ideal? Has Abazagorath's sound or style changed since your last release in any way that reflects a new preoccupation, or a changed view of black metal's potential? What are the main themes of Abazagorath and main inspirations outside of antichristian sentiment? How does Abazagorath satisfy you? What does it mean to you in your own life? What specific emotions, beliefs, or convictions do you think your band reflects? In your bio it says that Abazagorath "create the ultimate expression of death" - explain this to us, what it means to you...

I don't see any one of us as the sort of guys who feel like playing our instruments for eight hours a day or strive to be recognized as musical geniuses, but as we have been doing this for nine years, a certain degree or progression or improvement has to be expected. From my own experience, I find that through the years I have become more "comfortable" with the bass and find myself trying out new things or trying stuff I could not pull off in the past. I have always held a certain "philosophy" behind song writing. I like tempo changes and transitions to build up different moods and I think there needs to be a certain natural flow to how all the riffs come together and how the melodies float over them. I don't think we have reached the "ideal" sound or style just yet, but I think that any active musician would say that it is just an ongoing process filled with development and experimentation. I do think we have made some really big strides over the years, however. While I think there are some elements that have remained a constant in our music, I think every release definitely has its own signature sound and feeling. My attraction to Black Metal has always been based on the combination of the raw primitive aggression with the melodic and atmospheric elements that come together to create such a cold and dark listening experience. That's what I wanted to convey with ABAZAGORATH when we started out, and that's the path we still tread.... The anti-christian / anti-religion themes form the greater part of our "message," but there are other concepts like War, Hate and Depression being expressed. ABAZAGORATH is a means for me to externalize what I feel and spread it upon the world like a plague... Over the years I thought about leaving the band, but it is really hard to imagine what my life would be like without it. I see ABAZAGORATH as the most important thing in my life right now. Like I said a few sentences ago, this band is a means for me to "unleash" the darkness within me - the depression, anger, isolation, opposition to the existing religious / social order, etc. Black Metal is Death Worship, and this is what we want to transmit.... Nothing more, nothing less....

Your new album, "Sacraments of the Final Atrocity" is, I believe, a massive step forward both for your band and the USBM scene as a whole...to be honest it is probably the most complex, epic, well-written album from an American black metal band I have ever heard. You actually say on your website that "this release is destined to leave a permanent scar across the Black Metal scene and set the bar higher for the Extreme Metal scene as a whole." Self-promotion aside, what directly motivated you to put so much work into your new album? What kept you going this entire time - what beliefs, what desires? Did you feel that Abazagorath had something to prove? Is this new album a response, in any way, to the criticism on the part of Europeans that American black metal bands can not match Continental songwriting skills or dark melodicism? Do you ever personally see scene divisions along nationalistic lines or is this just a false construction on the part of critics? Congratulations on the album, by the way...

To me, there was no choice but to come up with the strongest album possible. "Tenebrarum..." came out in 1997 and here we are just putting out the follow up 7 years later.... Anything less than 100% commitment to our best effort would not be acceptable. What kept us going? The will to conquer!!! The will to overcome the obstacles thrown in our path and continue forward nonetheless. Yes, I feel that we had something to prove on this album. As much as we do this because it is what we want to do and will do this regardless of anyone else's opinions, heads will turn and we will be recognized. It's not a response to any criticism from anyone regarding their personal tastes or any biases based on the inference that geographical location has anything to with your ability to create killer Black Metal. Personally, I think the US scene has been taking off over the past few years.... Back when we started, the USBM scene was just beginning to stir for the most part. Now USBM has secured a position of wider recognition and respect, and as a part of that movement, we sure as Hell have a lot to say and a lot of fucking noise to make!!! Back in the mid 90s I did look at things from a point of view that held the Scandinavian bands in higher esteem, but I have always been open to and supporting great Black Metal bands from all parts of the world. This "Norwegian Black Metal is the absolute best" attitude needs to die out....

"Sacraments"...I'm guessing this plural noun refers to all of the songs together, as they appear as rituals dedicated to...what? What is the "final atrocity"? I haven't read the lyrics but I'm assuming just by the title of the album and the lines that I can make out while listening that it is certainly apocalyptic in approach and/or theme. Is Abazagorath an apocalyptic band? Are you pessimistic fatalists? Do you believe that our world civilizations are heading towards some kind of final cataclysm, an armageddon...or is this just material for your lyrics? A sort of "dark fantasy"?

Well, it is not a concept album, but the lyrics to the title track speak of various rites of passage - basically a perversion of the roman catholic sacraments - that would "purify" us in preparation for the final plunge into Hell..... The "Final Atrocity" is Armageddon. To say the least this is more than a bit Apocalyptic. This is a theme that comes up several times over the course of the album and has reared its ugly head over the years with us. Does that make us an "Apocalyptic Band?" We are just reflecting upon what we see in the world around us. Speaking for myself, I think some would call me a pessimistic fatalist, but I call it "Wishful Thinking." It is definitely more than just fodder for lyrics. The end of the world may not be "right around the corner," but I think one look at the newspaper or evening news will clue you in on the fact that it looks like things are bound to get "worse" - at least according to society at large.... And for me, worse is better.... And worse means the end of the fucking world as we know it....

In your discography it states that "Sacraments..." will be released in CD form on a label called "Satanic Perversions" and the LP will be out on "Diabolist Records". What happened to these plans? Was "Satanic Perversions" the original name for your own label, Morbid Wrath? If so, why did you change the name? Why did you choose to finally release your new CD on your own label? Were you having trouble finding a satisfactory contract from another label or was it just something you decided to do (prudently, in my opinion) because of your experiences with the industry? Will you be working with any other labels to enable adequate distribution of the new CD? I would like to see it spread very far; I think it deserves to be heard...

Satanic Perversions was to be a label headed up by former guitarist Demonic, and "Sacraments..." was to be the debut release. Due to some personal problems, Demonic quit the band while we were mixing the album and folded the label. Due to the tight deadline we would be facing in order to get the CD out before leaving for the European tour, we ended up taking matters into our own hands and released it ourselves, through Morbid Wrath. Demonic had contacted Deathgasm Records upon Satanic Perversions' demise, and they offered to release the CD, but we decided that we could just do it ourselves. The contact with Deathgasm still helped things along as they coordinated the CD manufacturing, got us good prices and made sure it would be ready for us to take out on tour. Releasing the CD ourselves gave us complete control over the project and I think we can do just as well for ourselves than most labels could do for us. A number of labels and distros currently have "Sacraments..." in stock and it will surely spread more widely in the months to come. As well as the LP version which is still due through Diabolist, I do hope to license it over to a larger label for another pressing. Frankly speaking, I also think the album needs to be heard so I hope it spread like the Plague...

Do you think the post-9/11 American climate is more or less accepting of extreme metal bands than the time before? If more - why do you think this is? Do you see the last few years of American history as a time of growing darkness, or period of openness where Americans are finally realizing the violent nature of the nation's international political/diplomatic stance and are tasting some of the fears that other countries have experience for some time now? If it _is_ a period of spreading darkness is this, in your opinion, something to be embraced or rejected? Do you think it will lead to something new - something in the national character/history/sentiment we have never seen before?

Headbanger's Ball, featuring a lot of that screamo pseudo HC/ Metal shit, may be back and dimmu borgir may be on Ozzfest, but come on, I think it gives the masses a pretty weak impression of what Metal is all about!!! I think American society has taken a sharp turn towards conservatism since 9/11, so I don't think there is any more acceptance of real extreme music. Look at what has unfolded over the past few months: all the publicity and fanfare over Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ," the religious right pushing hard politically, the FCC suddenly taking serious action on "indecency on the airwaves." The christians are trying to worm their way back into the forefront of American culture. Besides that, I think most Americans are just brainwashed sheep ready to blindly follow the latest fads and trends, swallow what the mass media force feeds them and are more worried about their pricey gadgets and luxuries to really analyze what the fuck is really going on in the world. I suppose Americans now have a bit more fear in them regarding issues they never worried about, like terrorism, but have been forced into a mindset that leaves most with a really narrow, short-sighted world view. I think things could get very much "worse," at least as far as the majority's perception goes. I accept this growing darkness and embrace it. I think it could lead to something new if it rose to a certain level in which the complete social order was overturned.

Do you think the style of black metal, in itself, is open to "expansion" or aesthetic progression? At a point in the early '90s many bands within the scene who called themselves "black metal" were also trying to widen the boundaries of the genre and explore different musical ranges of expression within it. After this initial period of experimentation a lull or returning decadence set in where, in order to "protect" a few essential elements of the style (or at least what they viewed them to be) a number of bands deliberately halted all aesthetic progression whatsoever and tried to coalesce around a form of metal that became increasingly conservative. Why, do you think, did this atavistic structure of post-Norwegian black metal develop? Do you think contemporary black metal bands usually view progression with suspicion now that the early Norwegian scene has been "corrupted" by commercialism? Where can black metal go from here?

To a certain degree, yes, I think that the art form can be expanded upon without losing the qualities that set it apart from mere entertainment for the masses. Unfortunately, at a point, all the experimentation that was going on started to dilute the essence of Black Metal and the meaning began to get lost. The resulting backlash against the expansion or aesthetic progression was a reaction against this "weakening" of the style. It does seem that progression or even a decent handling of one's instrument can be looked upon warily by some in the scene these days, but I think this idea has been taken a bit too far.... Too many use this concept as a crutch to legitimize shitty music!!! On the other hand, you still have bands that can tread firmly within the conservative confines of the style and still manage to create something that explodes with an energy that is fresh and innovative. Cases in point, WATAIN's "Casus Luciferi" or DEATHSPELL OMEGA's "Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice." As many times as the genre has been pronounced dead, there are those who still continue to proudly march forward and keep the flames burning... We plan to be among them for some time to come...

Well, that's all I have for now! Please include any other information you would like our readers to see...how can they contact you and order your merchandise? What are Abazagorath's plans for the immediate future? Thank you for supporting Erebus and for answering this interview.

Thanks for the interest, support, and probably the most thorough and comprehensive interview I have ever answered!!!! I hope my answers did it justice! For any additional information, check out our website at www.abazagorath.net. To get in touch, e-mail me at abazagorath69@hotmail.com. Right now, we have copies of the "Sacraments of the Final Atrocity" CD available for $12 (US) / $14 (world), postage paid, cash or money order made payable to David Wagner. Drop an e-mail to get on our mailing info. Some new merchandise ("Sacraments..." LP, "Enshrined Blasphemer" LP, re-press of "Tenebrarum..." CD, shirts, etc.) will most likely be available over the next coming months. We also have a gig booked in Boston on September 4 with ANWYL, OPEN GRAVE and some others, and hopefully some shows in the NY / NJ area will occur over the summer. Hail to all our supporters! Greetings and 1,000 hails to Craig Pillard, Cecile Hansen, the maniacs in KRIEG & DEMONCY, Steve (Metal Kommand), Evan (Deathgasm Records) Volker (Merciless Records), Silke (Blasphemous Underground) and everyone else who made the USBM Attack 2004 a great success!!!!

As Darkness Falls, We Arise - Nyarlathotep

This interview with Abazagorath was written by U. Amtey. Published 1 June 2004, 11:47 CST.