Thursday, 29 June 2017

Interview with Lord Saunders of Formicarius

While we can't predict the weather, we can certainly forecast that this summer is going to be great for UK black metal with several up and coming bands putting out some promising albums. Formicarius are one such band, having drawn people's attention with their Lake of the Dead single not too long ago. They're now set to release their debut album, and I'm pleased to have been able to talk with Lord Saunders and get his thoughts on everything that's happened with Formicarius recently. Here's what he had to say...

For the benefit of people who may not be familiar with Formicarius, can you briefly introduce yourselves and describe your music? 

Good evening and thank you for having me! We are an alliance of musicians creating our unique yet distinctly English brand of black metal. We vividly tell the stories of both history and fantasy, using the miserable image of medieval Europe as a metaphor for battling our very human, very personal demons. We intend Formicarius to be something you can relate to and be empowered by. 

I know your members have had a fair bit of experience being in other bands, including De Profundis, Phyrexia and Premature Birth among others. What made you decide Formicarius would be the next step for you all, and how did you come together to form this band? 

This is true! Many of us have been colleagues for years before Formicarius. We cut our teeth in a number of these extreme metal bands and made many mistakes during those times. Personally, having taken a break between 2013 – 14, it quickly became very apparent that writing and performing this extreme style of music is my calling, and I think that's the case for all of us. Having been on the scene for a decade, I found inspiration in how much it had grown in that time and how so much positivity can be expressed through such dark, aggressive music. I've been listening to black metal for most of my life now and truly love this music. This is where we belong, and in this moment of clarity we gathered to decide what we were going to do about it. Formicarius was born and plans were immediately made, taking on board our collective experience and with an attitude to never settle.

Who are your main influences musically?

There's a lot of variety in our influences. We clearly have a foundation in Emperor, Dimmu, Cradle, Satyricon and so on, but we also take a lot of influence from the compositional styles of baroque and romantic music, acknowledge the power of the riff as demonstrated by classic metal bands, and admire the experimental and uncompromising attitudes of the more obscure bands like Sigh, Bal-Sagoth, etc. There's no one answer; we have always strived to keep an open mind and to use our brains to think about what we like about the music, and how we can make that work moving forward. 

You released a single, Lake of the Dead via Bandcamp back in 2015, which gave us a taste of Formicarius. Was the single well received, and how did people's reaction compare to your expectations at the time? 

The first printing of the single sold out after touring the UK in 2016 and is currently its second pressing. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, especially after the video was released and it was picked up for Speed Kills VII. Only a handful of naysaying 'trve' edge-lords have dismissed it, which is exactly what we wanted and expected; we aimed to do our very best and progress forward, not stick around in the sound of the early 90s. We don't care about those people, we care about those who are willing to come out and be somebody in this world, and we see them at our exhibitions going crazy in the front row, cheering us on and sharing our message and music far and wide! 

The song Lake of the Dead last year then came to be featured on the Music For Nations Speed Kills VII compilation, undoubtedly a turning point for you as a band. How did this come about, and what are your thoughts and feelings around being featured on this compilation?

As with everything in life, a stroke of good luck born out of unrelenting hard work found our song in the Sony / Music for Nations office. We put ourselves out there and it is with thanks to the efforts of our incredible management team at Imperative PR that we found ourselves in this fortunate situation. Everything is a domino effect and you can never rest – every day that you're not representing yourself and doing your best to be at your best is wasted. It takes real honesty about what you want and what you're doing about it for these things to happen. 

The rush when we were given the news that we were recognised and to be included in such a legacy alongside such quality acts is second to none. It completely reaffirmed the seriousness with which we took the band – we are now a part of history, and we can't get complacent if we are to have any chance of making history! The cycle continues from there, acknowledging the victories and using them to achieve bigger and better dreams. 

You've also recently signed a deal with German label Schwarzdorn Productions, which I hope brings good thing for you. How did you come to sign with Schwarzdorn Productions, and what are the main things you hope to gain from signing with Schwarzdorn specifically? 

Simply put, we were searching for a label to release Black Mass Ritual with us... and Schwarzdorn listened. After much back and forth negotiation it became obvious that we were completely on the same page and there is a real belief in pushing us beyond where we are now, which is what we want and need. It's a perfect match – not so much about gaining from them as it is about achieving great things with them. Schwarzdorn are an incredible label with an extraordinary legacy. We will do them proud as we embark upon this venture together! 

Your debut full length album, Black Mass Ritual, is I believe set for release on July 21st through this label. What can listeners expect from the album, and how has Formicarius’ sound developed on this album in comparison to the Lake of the Dead single? 

Quite right; It's available to preorder now from all major retailers and set for release on July 21st. Lake of the Dead is actually featured as the opening track as it is a single taken from the album. Needless to say our high production and perfectionist values remain consistent! If you enjoyed 'Lake...', it follows that you will love Black Mass Ritual. 

The reviews are already pouring in and I encourage everyone to check those out for impartial responses to the album. We poured our souls into this record, and I think this is very obvious from the enormous, epic and emotive sound we achieved. We delve into themes of madness, witch burning, war and genocide, with complex and inspired compositions to match these themes. So far the classical inspired harmonies, keyboard driven textures, viscous melodies and intelligible vocals have gotten a lot of attention and praise. Again, don't take my word from it, there are plenty of reviews out there telling you what to expect. 

What are the main themes and inspirations for your lyrics on the album? 

We were reading a lot at the time when we were finishing lyrics for the album, and each piece tells a story of horror, power, tragedy, transformation and so on. As black metal musicians I think we are all obsessed with the darker side of the human condition, and characters whom you may at first think are heroes or villains can surprise you. You have the choice to take the stories literally or read into and interpret them - whatever the case, we aim to present something vivid and thought provoking. The world isn't black and white, and we try to get that across.

What are your plans for touring once the album is out? 

Nothing is set in stone so I can't say too much about this at this time. We love the UK and of course desire to play a city near you as soon as we can. Keep an eye on our website and social media! 

How do you find the metal scene in London, and are Formicarius well received there?  Have you had many opportunities to play live outside London, and if so how were your experiences with that compared to London? 

London is completely different to everywhere else in the UK, and this remains true for live music. On the right days of the week the London scene is of course thriving and the place to be, and the seedy, grimy Victorian architecture coupled with some typical British weather certainly lends itself as a suitable backdrop for black metal. As it is such an important place to play we do try to make our shows there big ones – the responses when we played with Negura Bunget, Hate and Noctem were fantastically powerful! London is spoilt for choice and you're in competition with every enormous international act every day, but the crowd remain grateful and happy to go to a good show – you just have to present them with one. 

Other parts of the country have a much more 'grass-roots' feel to their events, with a genuine gratitude and happiness that you are there to perform for them, but no less professional. There's a real overwhelming joy and wave of support from such a community, and it's an honour and a pleasure to bring our music and message to every corner of the UK. In particular Blackwood and Northern Extremity come to mind as embodying this spirit. 

How do you find the UK black metal scene as a whole, and how would you describe the bands relationship with it? 

I think it's pretty clear by now how in love with the scene we are. There's so much superb, high quality music being made in this scene, there has never been a better time to be involved. We feel a real brotherhood with many of the bands we shared the stage with – we're fans of each-others bands and often times prefer what we're hearing in our back yard to what is current on an international scale. There's an element of friendly competition in there, because this isn't a meritocracy - we want to see everyone do their best, building upon what they first created and seeing success for their hard work. For me, this is the best way for a scene to operate – everyone raises the bar, everyone grows and the listeners get better and better products, watching the artists on their long journey of self discovery. It's fascinating and wonderful. 

What other bands are impressing you right now, and who would you mark as bands to watch for in the future?

It's a long list! Sathamel are releasing their album this Summer, and Shadowflag have just released theirs (which I'm listening to right now!). Old Corpse Road are among my favourite bands of all time, and Aklash are certainly one of the most intriguing. Petrichor are writing and performing at an alarming rate and very quickly establishing themselves as a class act. I'll stick to those five! 

Looking back, what have been the best moments with Formicarius so far, and what have been the biggest obstacles you've had to overcome? With hindsight, what would you do differently, if anything?

One of the most memorable experiences was playing the Black Tor Gathering at the Tan Hill Inn – the highest pub in Britain! Watching the sunset on a cold mountain at a festival celebrating black metal... that was a real honour to be a part of and I don't think I'll ever forget that. A lot of the moments behind the scenes have been pretty great too; hearing the final master of our album, hearing ourselves on Sony printed vinyl for the first time – these are all moments you cherish because you really love what you do. 

Although we are always learning it has to be said that most of our hindsight came from the previous ten years of bands before Formicarius. I'm very happy with how we've come to decisions and the success that has brought. Recording the album was the real trial by fire for me, as I handled my role as a recording engineer in a perfectionist manor whilst learning on the job. Really the biggest hurdle is all the way back at the beginning, getting established and getting people to listen to you - if you can survive the first year you can do anything. 

What do you see for the future of Formicarius from here on, and what are your main hopes from here? 

We're here to take this band, our music and our message as far as we can. We shan't ever get complacent and we don't rely on hope. We will carve ourselves a place in this world and history by always doing more and doing better. Formicarius has a place globally in black metal and we will always hunt for the next opportunity to do Formicarius on a grander scale. 

Once again thanks for taking part, and finally is there anything you'd like to add or say to the people reading this interview? 

I hope you found my words thought provoking and that you find our music inspiring. If you do, I can only encourage you to pick up the album and join us on this journey – we've only just begun and things are only going to get more interesting! 

Thank you very much for having me and I hope you'll have me back when I next have something to say! 

- Lord Saunders

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Album Spotlight: English Steel - Forefather / The Meads Of Asphodel

This was certainly a hugely anticipated release for me, and no doubt for many others, with the prospect of two quality bands from England’s underground collaborating to produce this split album. English Steel, as it’s titled, brings together Forefather and The Meads of Asphodel, with Forefather’s part of the offering consisting of seven new tracks while the Meads have contributed previously unavailable vinyl versions of the Taste the Divine Wrath tracks, along with a number of metal and punk covers.

One thing that’s noticeable from Forefather on this split is that the songs retain that classic Forefather spirit, as you’d expect, but the band have taken a more relaxed and freeform approach to the music on here and as a result we have an extremely diverse range of songs. There’s some really strong material here, “Two Sacred Oaks” being a particular highlight and standout track which is quintessential Forefather, rousing, spirited pagan metal with shades of black metal and a good balance between being heavy and melodic. The dual vocals, clean and growled, work their magic and contrast and complement each other well which enhances the overall vibe of Forefather’s music. “Strongbow’s Death” is another highlight with its folky guitar melodies and cements Forefather’s brand of Anglo-Saxon metal perfectly,

What’s noticeable on English Steel though, is Forefather have taken a few chances as well, and are playing around with a few ideas and doing things they’re less likely to do on a full album. For example, on songs like “One Blood and One Bone” there’s a nod to a more classic heavy metal style with a stronger emphasis on melodic leads, while on “Out of Time” they’ve softened and slowed things right down into almost ballad like levels. It’s an interesting yet good move, as it gives us something which is still Forefather at its core of course, but brings a few different ingredients to the table and shows the band stepping outside their comfort zone.

Coming to the Meads of Asphodel, who I still believe to be Britain’s most underrated metal band by a long shot, their side opens with a medieval folksy sounding intro before ripping into Chidiock Tichbourne, a vicious and frenzied song with the Meads usual unorthodox eccentricities scattered throughout. If you’ve not heard them before it’s as good an example as any of what the Meads of Asphodel do. What the Meads also do from time to time of course, is mess with heads and take the piss, as can be seen from the track which follows. “You’ve Got the Hate” is a Candi Staton cover with altered lyrics, it’s a fun parody of the original, and later in the album there’s an alternate version with Metatron on vocals.

You’ll also hear the Meads fascination with historical themes and religious brutality in the lyrics here, as “Balthasar Gerard” describes the regicide’s grisly end in a somber song with a dark atmospheric quality to it, while “Infidel” sees the Meads go into much more complex and experimental territory with a song that sounds like a crazy freestyle jam, with the band frequently changing pace, tempo and course with very different ingredients following one after the other. As for the covers, admittedly I’m not over familiar with the originals but you’ve got “Castleland”, originally by Desaster really standing out among these, listening to this it sounds like it could easily be the Meads own. There’s also “Perfect Day” and “Borstal Breakout” by The Saints and Sham 69 respectively which offer a nice blast of punk to finish off.

On the whole then, what we’ve got is two bands bringing very different ideas to the table and showcasing what they can do outside of the confines of full individual albums. If you’re a fan of both Forefather and the Meads Of Asphodel this won’t disappoint, there’s plenty to enjoy here and it should more than satisfy you until we hear more from these bands. If you know neither band then you’ve got a great introduction to two of England’s finest and I’d say especially, to those who know one band but not the other, that this is something you’d not want to pass up, the chance to be introduced to a great English band while hearing music from a more familiar one. Admittedly you’ll still find the bands’ best work on their albums and it’s worth exploring those albums if you like what you hear on English Steel, also if you’re a die-hard Meads fan and already have the Taste the Divine Wrath tracks you might be disappointed with the lack of new original material from them here. Those are minor points though, overall, you’ve got an excellent and cohesive split which should please fans of these two great English bands while hopefully grabbing them a few new ones along the way.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Interview with Sathamel

For the first interview featured on the Sine FM Metal Zone blog, Demoniac had the pleasure of talking to Leeds based black / death metal band Sathamel, who are preparing to release their latest album Despair. A song from that will be played on Monday's Dark Side Of Metal show (on Monday 12th June) as well, and here's what Sathamel had to say...

For the benefit of anybody who doesn't know who you are, can you first briefly introduce yourselves and describe your music?

We are a five-piece black/death metal band based in Leeds. The lineup is as follows:
Kruk - Vocals | KVN - Guitars | Aksahl - Guitars | Deimos - Bass | Valdr – Drums

How did you all meet and what made you decide to form Sathamel together?

We met at different points in time around the Leeds music scene. After previous bands ran their course we decided to form this band of a more extreme nature. The band was formed in 2013.

What is the meaning of the name Sathamel and why did you choose it?

Sathamel is a name at the time of choosing we felt an affinity with. Sathamel is a judgmental and protective figure relating to the "other side".   

You released a self-titled EP a couple of years back, and are now set to release your debut album Despair. What can we expect from this album compared to the EP? In what ways will it differ, and what will remain the same?

We have continued with the variation of the material, much of it was written - in some form or another not long after the EP was released. The variation can be heard from our recently released two singles "Great Mass" and "The Evangelist". We're slowly expanding our sound but prefer to keep it natural at all times and not force anything.

What are the lyrical themes on the upcoming album?

The lyrics relate to different points of despair, death, ritual and "becoming".  The concept behind “Despair” is based very closely around our journey as a band. In our 4 years of activity we already have experienced many ups and downs. Most of these songs present a certain feeling I have had during the writing process, others are based on some situations that we have experienced personally. For example, “The Evangelist” is based on sacrifice, be it monetary or personal. “Human Sacrifice” talks about the need to remove a negative influence or person from your life. The title track – “Despair” – talks about a creative block or even depression which I have experienced once these emotions or negative situations overcame me and my psyche. It is through conviction and adversaries that this Despair was born. It also speaks to other members of Sathamel on personal level, for whatever meaning they associate with it. Therefore, the song “Despair” is the final touch and fitting conclusion for the album. Being the title track, this album will also remind us of all the adversaries we had to overcome to make it, hopefully paving the way to the next record.

Is any of your real-life outlook and world view reflected in your lyrics and if so in what ways?

I try to not touch on controversies while writing lyrics. When I do, (which happens very rarely) I make sure that the subject is well hidden within the lines so that it is not obvious to the reader. My views and opinions are not important to the music and I do not want to enforce my views through Sathamel.

I know you play live quite extensively, what can people expect from a Sathamel live show?

Our live show has been described as ritualistic. We adorn ourselves with blood, light incense and take to the stage. There is no way for me personally to describe this, it is a personal transformation and primal blur.

Where have been your favourite places to perform live? Any particular venues, festivals or other events you've enjoyed being a part of?

Incineration festival as that was the most recent springs to mind. We had not previously had such a professional crew of people to work with and such a great production at the Dome in Tufnell Park, London - our most prestigious show to date. Apart from this, York at the Fulford Arms has one of the craziest crowds we have had the pleasure of performing in front of, tied with the Unicorn in Camden.

Any particularly memorable moments from touring?

Supporting Tribulation and then performing at the Blackwood Gathering the following day. We were late to arrive at the Blackwood Gathering due to a fatal car crash just ahead of us, setting us back a few hours. When we finally arrived it was 10 minutes before our stage time with no preparation and total frustration we changed into our stage attire and played the set, this was then captured in tape format on Blackwood Productions. 

What do you think have been the biggest challenges you've faced so far with Sathamel?

We have had lineup adjustments over the years. When the band first became Sathamel we had no bass player and when our previous guitar player called it quits at the end of last year we performed as a four piece once again. Lack of dedication of previous members was a challenge but something we do not suffer with now. Especially since welcoming Aksahl to the fold. 

What has been the biggest highlight of the bands career so far?

Releasing the EP, our short tour with our friends Daemona and Trivax. Performing on stages with bands, that without their influence such as Belphegor, we probably would not be doing this in the first place.    

After the release of this album, what's next for Sathamel?

We are booked to play the Quantic Club on the Rites of the Black Mass in Romania. This is our first overseas date with an incredible line up. Apart from this we shall see what the future holds.

I know you have members in both Leeds and Doncaster. How do you find the local scene in those places, and what is your relationship with it? How receptive would you say they are to a band like Sathamel?

Doncaster is a town we would not consider to have any sort of extreme metal scene, we are not involved in the live circuit and Sathamel has never been asked to play. The town to us is very much catering for the tribute band. We'd like to be proved wrong. Leeds on the other hand is a total hub for this kind of music and music in general, we performed our first show there and were embraced by the scene and it is a place we keep close to our hearts. We regularly rehearse in Leeds that is where the band is based. 

Which other bands have most impressed you recently?

There's an absolute wealth of UK bands at the moment. Alongside ones we have mentioned previously I would say Repulsive, Necronautical, Eastern Front, Sidious and Ascaris.

Finally, once again thank you for doing this interview, do you have anything you'd like to add or say to readers of this interview?

Thank you for the interview. Thank you to everyone who has supported this band thus far. We are looking forward to presenting our new album "Despair".