Saturday, May 22, 2010

Interview: Nokturnel

In the underground scene, you have been involved for a long time with death metal bands, and I dare say you have received the most notice for your time with Incantation, when you took over the frontman position for a while. How was your entire experience with that band? Why do you think Incantation has had so many different members over the years? I remember reading, somewhere - I can't remember where - that you didn't agree with the personalities in the band at the time, and that touring was wearing on you, that you found it hard to reach a comfortable state or equilibrium when on tour with that band. Is there any truth to this? I first met you in Milwaukee in '98, when I believe you were readying yourself to try out with Absu, although I'm probably wrong about that. What other bands have you been involved with, where would metal fans have heard your material before? Lastly, what other releases has Nokturnel put out before this new album of yours? Is it possible to still find any of this material?

I have been listening to metal since metal began. I made it my life and hold it sacred. I have never played anyother type of music, my first band Savage Death was part of the first wave of satanic metal way back in the mid 80s. Since then I have played with several bands. From Savage Death I went on to Nokturnel. I helped out Ripping Corpse playing bass for 7 shows and took part in the backing vocals on the "Dreaming With the Dead" CD. When Nokturnel's original line up decided to give things a break I ended up in Morpheus Descends, we played a few shows and I sing and play the solos on the "Horror of the Truth" MCD, I also wrote the lyrics for that one too. When things fell apart we worked on a black thrash band called Brimstone, things were coming along but personal issues came up and Andy moved back to Indiana and formed Fog and Rob and I continued to write under the name Brimstone til some cheezy band popped up and had the same name which led us to the name change of Exile. There’s an unreleased full length from around 97 which may see the light of day soon. After that recording we stopped working for a while and after a brief break Rob ended up in Incantation, somehow I ended up in the band too. When speaking of that bands revolving door policy all I have to say is from what I know sometimes the reasoning was justified, other times it was not. From my personal experiences I can say the founding member of the band can be a dick. Speaking of other bands I almost worked with is not really worth mentioning...
Back to Nokturnel, we put out "Nothing But Hatred" in 93 on J.L. America records and the "Anti Grunge" 7 inch on Rage Records in 94 and played tons of shows. The 7 inch is not the easiest thing to find anymore but I am sure there’s some floating around and "Nothing But Hatred" pops up used here and there and is starting to become something of a rare find. Whenever I find copies I usually buy them up.

Now 'Fury Unleashed', your new album, was recorded down in Austin with Stuart Lawrence, who is mainly known as being the guitarist for the old thrash band Agony Column - who reached something of a pinnacle with their second album, if I remember correctly, although at a time when the thrash scene was waning - and who is now making something of a name for himself by producing the work of extreme metal bands from Texas. The last time I saw Stuart was years ago now, back when Averse Sefira was recording their first album with him, but he has also done work for Thornspawn, Death of Millions and a few other notables - what was your experience with him like? Was his studio adequate? How well did you get along with him, and how did he enhance the recording process? Would you work with him again? Do you think it's important for musicians - especially at this time, when recording technology is so readily available - to support the producers or engineers who are close to them, or that it enhances the recording experience to stay close to home, that it helps to relax the musicians involved, or take some of the pressure off the whole process?

Stuart is a great guy to work with, seeing he is from a metal background is a bonus. Seeing he does wonders with the equipment made me think of keeping the production raw but audible and that’s exactly what I got. I highly recommend him. I am definitely going back there, going and paying steep prices to record on state of the art equipment is not my style,and I don’t think it would do much for me. I do just fine in a more toned down studio environment. Stuart made things go smooth and we didn’t eat up a lot of time fucking around with things, we just kept it true to form. He concentrates on making the recording come out the way you want it but he will offer his honest input if you need it. Being able to work with someone who wants it to [also] sound metal will make the finished product come out all the better. It wasn’t til recently that there’s an abundance of metal producers out there, in the 80s it was a nightmare. There’s less pressure because you don’t have to paint a picture of a sound to someone who just doesn’t get it.

In my review of 'Fury Unleashed', I kind of half-commented on the fact that the album, when listened to while reading the lyrics - as it should be experienced - presents itself as a sort of cycle, a period of rebirth, moving in the themes of the songs from death, the afterlife, and violence to notions of renewal, hatred, and revenge - is this accurate, or was it planned this way? When I think about this album, or what I know about you, it seems that this album is definitely a statement of intent for you, a kind of a strike back against your detractors or those who may have harmed you in the past. Is 'Fury Unleashed' mainly about revenge?

I didn’t intend for it to come out like that but I do agree, it seemed to unfold into a certain cycle which just brings an almost subliminal message. I try to be emotional whether I am writing fact or fiction. I don’t think lyrics which really have a meaning are appreciated by the average metal listener so I concentrate on the effect the line may sound to compliment the music. After the songs were complete I thought of the tracklisting. 85% of people who hear the cd say why isn’t "Forcefed Fear" track #1? I agree it does seem to be the most catchy of all the songs but where it lies on the disc is leaning towards something of conclusion. It’s my way of saying I could give two shits about religion. There’s my reasoning in "Forcefed Fear" and my back to the basics of metal with "Immortal Destroyer", which is about a fictional character [with] which I wanted to portray the image of a crusher of religion. Yet the only thing I cared about was that the songs sound cool and emit the emotions of metal. The music is violent and angry, the music is my vengeance and is surely part of the CD's concept but even "Taking Hate to the Grave" is supposed to inspire you to be unforgiving, not vengeful.

A simple question: what do you think is stronger, love or hate? What do you find the most inspiring about so-called 'negative' emotions, which the extreme metal scene embraces while most of the population is doing their best to reject them? Why is hatred so powerful in moving musicians in this scene towards composition?

I believe they’re equal. You can do either effortlessly depending on the situation and either one can make or break you. In metal you can write about the darker side of things and it totally fits the music. I believe metal should be enshrouded in some form of darkness or can’t write violent explosive music about things that are pleasant, it is pointless. Being hateful in some of my lyrics is helpful in relieving the anger locked up inside myself and I would imagine people listening to the CD may feel that way as well. [Definitely! - Ed.]

Satisfy my own curiosity on this point: who would you consider to be the biggest influences on your musicianship? By this I mean not only your guitar playing, which is very original and which I can really only trace elements of early Morbid Angel in (and that's where I stop), but also your vocals...when I listen to 'Fury Unleashed', the way you sing/scream reminds me at times of Daniel Corchado, which is a strange coincidence seeing as how he also served time in Incantation, but your vocal patterns and the intense effort you put into unleashing hatred in your voice reminds me also of certain hardcore bands. It is not too far off base, I think, to say that your vocals are somewhat...original in this scene of shallow, copycat singers. Is there any kind of specific aesthetic behind this, or do you just scream and let the rest take care of itself? Also, when it comes to your guitar playing, I am mesmerized by your soloing on this album, which is probably the most chaotic and uncontrolled display I've heard in years. At least it sounds this if you are constantly on the edge of flying off the edge of the guitar, and that your prime motivation in the solos is to bring into being a feeling of indeterminacy, of pure freedom, a direct link to your desire for expression. Could you elaborate? Also, with the bonus track on this album, which is older material, you really seem to have turned from a strangely technical style to a much more direct, violent form of this also the result of specific decisions you made about the kinds of music you wanted to play?

Well, to start at the beginning Ace Frehley was my first inspiration to be a guitarist...but my metal roots are firmly planted from 3 bands. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Slayer. Later on VoiVod and Kreator and especially Possessed fueled my fires of metal. Morbid Angel was of course influential but seeing I was into metal since its conception I had already had over a decade of influence before I heard them or any blast beat for that matter. As far as my voice, sometimes I think it really sucks, but...
It is very real, very emotional and [a signature thing for me]. It is fierce, angry and not at all melodic and certainly not monotone. I know there’s lines where my voice cracks and fall apart but that’s what is coming out of me and [I] go for the real thing, not the polished up version. [It's so good to hear that - Ed.] Many people claim to hear and really feel my anger, that means a lot to me. I know I am on the right track. There’s way better vocalists out there, but I don’t care. I know people into my band want to hear my voice so I will never change that. I also sing and play lead which seems to be a big deal to some people. Its all very natural to me. My soloing is the heart and soul of my music. For years all anyone cared about was a guitar chugging some chords with a moshy double bass beat. I fucking hated that! Soloing IS metal. It is a main ingredient of a song. Not every song needs one, but there was no need to abandon it all together. To me it was a huge trend started by guitarists who simply COULDN’T do it so chose to slag it. I know my solos have many things going on that are over the top and out of the ordinary and being a shredder is my first and foremost goal when playing. Destroying the fretboard and abusing the tremelo is what I am all about. I put the bonus track on there to show how the band evolved from the demo days, to "Nothing But Hatred", and to the present. I have tons of teched out songs that are insane. Not to say been there and done that, but I will always try to include my past in my current live setlist, so instead of trying to clone something that shouldn’t be cloned, I wrote a far more straightforward release. I am proud of everything I have ever done, but this is my fave.

You brought in Tophetarath, from the black metal band Fog, to play the drums on this recording - how did that come about, and is he going to continue to play with Nokturnel? Were you satisfied with his efforts in the material? Did he have a hard time learning the drum parts? How did you teach them to him? On your website there is a quote from him that says that at times he considered the recording/rehearsing process to be confusing as he couldn't always understand what you requested from him. Knowing that, how do you think he performed? For people who have only heard Fog, how would you say his drumming is different with Nokturnel, when compared to his other band? I think he did a fantastic job...especially in 'I Remain Faithless', I love the fills in that song...

I met him due to him being in the band with my old bandmate now known as Lord Typhous. Fog came down to TX and we hung out and we briefly talked about having him help me out and I decided to give him a shot after hearing the Fog CD which I think is awesome. I’m totally satisfied with the drum tracks, no need to pick it apart, it is what I asked of him and that’s what I got. Some of my riffing is confusing so of course it was a challenge, but I asked him to keep it as straightforward as possible, no showing off, just keep the beat strong. It compliments the guitars and gives the riffs direction and the end result is furious. It wasn’t easy but we wrote and prepared to record "Fury Unleashed" in under 50 hours. [Amazing - Ed.] Taking that into consideration I feel the CD was meant to be and the final product is awesome. The drumming is not all that different between the 2 bands, I believe he can actually play for both bands in one night at the same show so you never know what you may see later on. Not to mention seeing I am in Indiana right now it is safe to say you probably will see him play for Nokturnel in the future. He does what I ask of him and plays really well so I think I have the drummer thing taken care of for a while.

As I listen to Nokturnel, it really seems to me that with this new album you are releasing a double-edged statement of intent: not only in the sense as it is a sort of 'return to strength' so far as it concerns your own place in the music scene, but also because it is so completely diffferent from most of the other death metal albums being released right now. So, tell me, how do you view the current state of the death metal movement, and what would you like to see changed? With your music you make very definite statements about what you consider to be the 'true' form of death metal, but I would like you to put those opinions into words here if you can. Do you think there has been a sort of corrosion in aesthetics in the movement since the early '90s? Should we return to other forms of writing music? Or do you want to place Nokturnel off on its own, as completely separate from all these other bands, as not even being part of the genre? It isn't too hard to tell, especially when considering the traditional verse-chorus structures of some of these songs, that you look towards older metal as an inspiration...what is inspirational in these more established styles of metal vs. the newer forms?

In my opinion the scene has gotten too diversified without enough bands trying to keep the more true to form styles of metal going strong. We can thank god that the rap-influenced metal never affected the real underground but the goth stuff shook it up for a while and now this techno shit is just too much...what a fucking mockery of true metal! There will always be the small percentage of metalheads who refuse to be "open minded" or influenced by the weakest links of a trend and will have respect for bands that made metal what it is today. The only thing I find inspiring in new metal is the speed of the drumming. My goal is too keep the riffing somewhat traditional but bring it to a new level of ferocity. I think I succeeded in doing that plus added a little originality of my own. There’s plenty of newer bands that are great but I feel the older metal bands had the right idea of [what] metal was and is supposed to be.

You've been involved in the metal scene for a long time now, I know, so let me just ask you in a straightforward manner: what keeps you inspired? What keeps you interested when so many others have moved on to something else? There must be things that you find intensely rewarding both in the music and in the social circles surrounding the genre, or you would have probably transferred your desire to communicate to other forms of art. What keeps you coming back to the metal world? For me, it's like an addiction, a disease that I caught about fifteen years ago, and which I couldn't tear myself away from if I tried. Of course this has had its bad and good results, or moments, and for every disappointment the metal scene has brought me there really has been a corresponding high or satisfaction which balances the entire thing out. Is it just a matter of finding, after much searching, a form of art that enables you to communicate the highest percentage of your desires, your emotions?

I hate to sound corny but metal is my life. I have always lived for it and love playing it. I don’t need any inspiration, I couldn’t change the way I feel about it, it’s all I know. I am pretty social in the scene and really take it to heart when someone compliments me on what I have done, and to hear encouraging words is always rewarding but even if the world told me I sucked I would still be exactly as I am today. To have other very successful musicians say they find my work impressive is also a great feeling of accomplishment. Since the first days of me being able to shred on the guitar I knew I would make metal my life, no matter how many times people tried to convince me metal was dead.

In the song 'I Remain Faithless', which is my favorite work on the album - probably because it is so amazingly ferocious - you make very strong statements about your religous beliefs, or rather...your lack of them. Without getting into cliches here, let me just ask you this: were there specific experiences in your life that made you turn away from religion, or which gave you so much hatred for Christianity? Were you raised as a Christian? Or was it just a matter of watching their idiotic behavior and forming your own opinions? Personally, I don't see how you even think about the entire matter without becoming intensely frustrated, as I can't even really talk to Christians anymore without feeling like taking a baseball bat to their heads...of course being here in Texas, in the kingdom of the Southern Baptists, doesn't help things. Do you think there will ever be a point where Christianity goes the way of so many other mythologies and is pushed into the state of mere legend vs. a 'living (read: dying, killing) faith? It seems to be getting closer to that every day, and to tell you the truth I am very excited by it...what can the common metal fan, those reading this interview do, in your opinion, to help eradicate these religious diseases?

I was raised a Christian, a "god-fearing Christian" to be exact. At a very young age I realized I had no faith, and when I got over the fear I went into a darker direction and felt way more comfortable. I don’t like to discuss it much either. My feelings are: believe if it you want, it doesn’t bother me. I find it amusing to see the seriousness of it all. I also laugh at how people are shocked whenever someone involved in the church is caught in some crime or scandal. And still, these dummies will have faith. I truly believe Christianity will never die, unless some aliens come to earth and convince us they are the creators of humanity. I actually saw some idiots on TV who gave up their home and waited for the messiah on New Year's Eve, thinking they were off to heaven, fucking unbelievable. Let them hate us and go on with their reasoning of why we’re wrong and they’re right. I would rather focus on ignoring it all and sticking to reality, today and tomorrow...

Are there any plans to tour with Nokturnel? I, for one, would really like to see you come to Dallas, which after all isn't that far for you. What plans are there to establish Nokturnel as a permanent band? Tell us, if you can, of the direction of any new material you may have come up with since the recording of this album...where will Nokturnel be headed in the future?

I am the band, [there's] no other way to look at it. The only other "true" members are the original line-up. Martin O'Connor on bass, and Eric Young on drums. Tophetarath and Lee Ribera are members of this band and we do have plans to play out and tour full-scale but I take things one day at a time. I have many things to accomplish first. The new material will be very similar to "Fury Unleashed", but I am going to include some super tech stuff "Nothing But Hatred" style too, totally over the top.

Okay, please use this space for any other comments you would like to add, or for anything else you would like to say. Thanks for the interview!

I would really like to thank all the people who have supported me from the beginning. I hope to keep writing and playing and plan on being more and more involved in the scene with my label, distro, band, and spiked leather gauntlets. [Note: Tom also makes metal gear, check his website - Ed.] Be prepared for Nokturnel to explode and be sure to check out my online catalog at