Friday 29 July 2011

EXTREME DOOM PART III: Niko Skorpio of Thergothon

This is the third part of the series of short interviews with prolific and notable extreme doom metal musicians. They were all asked the same questions to see the different perspective they have for specific aspects of the genre. I spoke to Niko Skorpio former vocalist and keyboard player of the split-up Finnish band Thergothon, which was one of the most important groups of the extreme doom underground. Their only album “Stream from the Heavens”, released in 1994, is a milestone of obscure and tortured funeral sound. In 2009 bands such as Mournful Congregation, Evoken, Asunder, Worship, Officium Triste and more paid their homage to Finnish pioneers with a double tribute album “Rising of Yog-Sothoth”. In spite of not being active in the metal scene Niko Skorpio answered to a couple of questions about the dark past.

What was your first experience with extremely slow doom metal?
Depends on what you mean by extremely slow. Early Paradise Lost and Cathedral (the two tracks on “Dark Passages” compilation) are the first that come to mind. But I think we considered them only halfway down that road and we wanted to go way slower ourselves.

What inspired you to play such music?
We found it a suitable way to express and exorcise the negative emotions we were experiencing. I think each of us was suffering from the kind of existential angst common to most teenagers everywhere. I don't think we were influenced by any other bands but in retrospect it's quite clear we were influenced by Bathory (especially “Blood Fire Death” & “Hammerheart”), Paradise Lost, Cathedral, Black Sabbath, Tiamat, Mana Mana and obviously my lyrics were influenced by H.P. Lovecraft. As for places I've been interested in all kinds of desolate and abandoned surroundings since a kid, the atmosphere felt in those kind of places might have been and influence on some level.

What was the most important in Thergothon – is it the heaviness, the atmosphere, the lyrics or maybe something else?
The atmosphere. Everything else happened just to support it.

Do you see your music as a very demanding one for the listener?

I don't know, it depends on the individual listener and his or her musical background, taste, openness to things he or she haven't heard before and so on.
Is extreme/funeral doom metal more over the top and extreme than super fast grindcore in your opinion?
I have no opinion on this, except that it sounds like another of these "my daddy is more extreme than yours" things.

Is doom metal a state of mind or just another sub-genre of metal?
Just another sub-genre of metal.
Did you ever feel like a misfit or a reject in the metal scene?
Not really, more like an outsider. Then again I feel like an outsider in most social surroundings I find myself in. Anyway, consider the fact that all the hype about Thergothon appeared some ten or more years after we had terminated the band. Back in the years the band was active there were maybe ten people in the world who really cared about our music. Luckily a few of those people ran record labels.

Can you relate to escapism?
I guess so, up to some extent, as most of us.

What do you think about the “Rising of Yog-Sothoth” tribute album?
To be honest I never listened to that tribute album. In general I'm not a fan of tribute things, and the idea of metal bands covering a metal band didn't really pick my interest. Having said that, I must add that I do appreciate and respect the efforts of those involved in that project. It is of course an honour having been involved in something people want to pay tribute to.
Thergothon was just something I did for a couple of years as a teenager, nothing more, nothing less. There's plenty of other things I've been involved since which have been more important and creatively rewarding to me personally. I'm aware it's hard for some people to see things from my perspective, but so be it.

Wednesday 27 July 2011

EXTREME DOOM PART II: Matt Skarajew of Disembowelment/Dusk

This is the second part of the series of short interviews with prolific and notable extreme doom metal musicians. They were all asked the same questions to see the different perspective they have for specific aspects of the genre. I spoke to Matthew Skarajew, bass player for obscure doom death metal group Disembowelment from Melbourne, Australia. They have released only one full-length “Transcendence into the Peripheral” in 1993 but what a groundbreaking and horrifying album was it. 18 years later it still seriously kicks ass. Now the band is active again as Dusk and performed live for the first time in 2011 because the original Disembowelment never had a chance to do so. Some new material might be on its way.

What was your first experience with extremely slow doom metal?
For me it was Sabbath, Candlemass, Trouble and the doomy aspects of early Mercyful Fate, Death, Autopsy. Some bands had doomy moments that really stayed in your memory. That can be just as powerful. So I would include Venom and Celtic Frost. Some might be surprised by that but if you know that material well you should see where I am coming from. It was not an instant realization, rather something that grew over time.

What inspired you to play such music?
I remember watching an early video of Trouble live in a tv studio at a party one night. It was so heavy and brooding. Such great attitude. Also I was playing in a thrash band in the late 80's and we had a comparatively slow and heavy song that the crowds always seemed to love. We realized people liked the slow stuff just as much as the really fast stuff. The second Disembowelment demo was very inspiring too. We were already friends but I loved it and offered my services. I know Renato loved early Sabbath and Paul was corresponding with Gary Jennings of Cathedral at the time. Their early demos were inspiring. All of Disembowelment had a great love and respect for a Melbourne band Persecution. They were utterly crushing live. As good as any band of the time and so heavy. Their doom was mind blowing. A big influence for us. For me it was not just metal though. I was brought up listening to a lot of dark ambient music and loved the idea of incorporating that into the heavy context.

What was the most important in Disembowelment – is it the heaviness, the atmosphere, the lyrics or maybe something else?
Well the most important element in d.USK is a balance between the musical elements, light and shade, sparse and complex textures, rhythmic and melodic contours. This is in my opinion the secret to playing heavy music. We absolutely try to avoid repetition in any one of those factors. Lyrically we always try to tell an impartial story be it in the first or third person. Creating atmosphere is also a key component. Always has been and was the ultimate key to Disembowelment. Keep in mind it is the balance of the elements we seek.

Do you see your music as a very demanding one for the listener?
d.USK should not in theory be particularly demanding for any listener. We are trying to avoid the epic style of songs that Disembowelment featured. That developed more out of youthful enthusiasm and ignorance than anything. That's not to discredit what we have previously done but looking back the songs can suffer at times from being a little over self-indulgent length-wise. I want d.USK to be able to entertain a listener in a live context, so we use d.USK as a vehicle to break up the long-winded nature of the old Disembowelment tunes. For example we have a new doom track that clocks in at around five minutes! That's new for us but still feels complete. It's like playing a half of an old song!

Is extreme/funeral doom metal more over the top and extreme than super fast grindcore in your opinion?
More over the top? No it is simply the inverse. If I understand what you are implying. I like to see variation in a set or on a recording not a continuous stream of fast or slow.

Is doom metal a state of mind or just another sub-genre of metal?
I think it is fair to consider doom metal as a substantiated sub-genre.

Did you ever feel like a misfit or a reject in the metal scene?
Never. We're from the old school. We celebrated metal in most forms except glam and religious-based music. One of the big disappointments for me in the early 90's was the super-cool tribalism that developed and the split in the local scene. In Melbourne, throughout the 80's all kinds of bands played together and the crowds were a great mix. You got exposed to all kinds of metal and accepted each others' tastes. Admittedly we were keen to eschew some of the clichés of the death metal scene at the time. This was two-fold. It gave us a unique angle and subsequent foot-hold in the scene and quite frankly some of the imagery and topical ideas seemed very childish or simplistic to us at the time. It is a little known fact that we momentarily tried to change the band name from Disembowelment to d.USK before the full-length came out but Relapse would not allow it even by that age we were a bit embarrassed by the name at least the visual profile made up for it.

Can you relate to escapism?
I think it would be fair to say yes. I think escapism is a natural human phenomenon in many shapes and forms. Perhaps as long as it doesn't distort your concept of reality. That might be unhealthy. I like holidays. I like to have a glass of wine in the evening. That's all escapism isn't it? And I suppose slamming out brutal and heavy music is a great positive form of escapism. I'd recommend people stick to positive life-affirming escapism. I have personal reservations about religion-based escapism. It's a broad notion though very subjective to us all. Spending time with my family and spending time with my guitars and amps is a great escape from the menial or tough aspects of everyday life. I can certainly relate to that.

Monday 25 July 2011

EXTREME DOOM PART I: John Paradiso of Evoken

This is the first part of the series of short interviews with prolific and notable extreme doom metal musicians. They were all asked the same questions to see the different perspective they have for specific aspects of the genre. First one of them is John Paradiso, guitarist and vocalist of New Jersey monumental and monstrous act Evoken. The band is active since 1994 and released bludgeoning albums such as “Embrace the Emptiness” (1998), “Quietus” (2001), “Antithesis of Light” (2005) and “A Caress of the Void” (2007), which indisputably belong to extreme doom finest achievements. The group is currently writing their fifth opus and heading into the studio later this year.

What was your first experience with extremely slow doom metal?
My first experience with extremely slow doom had to be the Thergothon demo.

What inspired you to play such music?
Mainly, it was that you can be more creative with doom. What I mean by that is you can have parts in your songs that wouldn't sound right in standard death metal. I also find that to be true with black metal.

What is the most important in Evoken – is it the heaviness, the atmosphere, the lyrics or maybe something else?
The heaviness is up there but it has to satisfy my ears the most. I think the production is very important to capture the atmosphere of the pieces we write.

Do you see your music as a very demanding one for the listener?
Yes, I think that's why we don't sell as well as we should. The average listener can't dedicate an hour of their time to experience the CD like it was meant to be.

Is extreme/funeral doom metal more over the top and extreme than super fast grindcore in your opinion?
I'm not sure about more over the top. I think it requires more thought because you are challenged to keep the listener’s attention with material that is usually over ten minutes long.

Is doom metal a state of mind or just another sub-genre of metal?
A state of mind by far. It's the ugly, grim version of what it might be like to journey to hell.

Did you ever feel like a misfit or a reject in the metal scene?
No, more like just overlooked. Maybe if it was played constantly on the metal stations like 89.5 here in Jersey we could see just how many people could appreciate it.

Sunday 24 July 2011


Extreme doom is one of the most underground, misunderstood, overlooked and uncompromising genres of metal. I decided to speak to the musicians who are or were a part of it to get to know more about their  true inspirations, experiences and motivations. They were all asked the same questions. Here what they had to say.

Anders Eek of FUNERAL (Norway)

Tuesday 19 July 2011


They took the metal underground by storm. But two strong EPs, “Through the Crack of the Earth” and “Sol”, published consecutively in 2007 and 2008 were only heralds of what was about to happen later. Their debut long play “White Tomb” marched high on the ‘best of’ lists of 2009 and Tom G. Warrior, as a curator of the Roadburn festival, invited the Irish group to be a part of the “Only Death is Real” event in April 2010 by performing the record live in its entirety. The band returned in 2011 with a second album, “Mammal”, in the meantime releasing an excellent EP, “Tides”, which only made their music a more obscure and disturbing wave of intensive sounds. Again they hit deadly and precisely. Altar of Plagues’ guitarist and vocalist James Kelly talks to We Wither about post-black metal, Ireland and poetry.

“White Tomb” was a quality record and it was acclaimed too. Do you think you have bettered it with “Mammal”?
I would never describe something new as 'bettering' something older. They were created for different reasons, under different circumstances, and with different motivations musical and emotional. We were extremely pleased with “White Tomb” and likewise we are equally pleased with “Mammal”. Something that felt different to me when writing and recording "Mammal" is that we are now much more comfortable working together and we have a far more natural dynamic as writers. We have improved our craft, so to speak.

Was the writing process of “Mammal” any different to the previous sessions?
It was written in a very natural and impulsive manner. “Mammal” essentially came about as we had reached the point where we felt we were ready to create an album. We felt inspired and our energy levels were high. We toured quite a bit last year and the intense energy of live performance found its way into our writing. I wrote the basic tracks first and we collectively structured them. We prefer to let the music dictate its own structure and this was especially the case when writing "Mammal". It is about achieving a sort of emotional exhaustion or climax. Once we have delivered that motivational force then we know a track is complete.

How close to perfection is the sound of “Mammal” in your opinion? Did you achieve everything you wanted with it? Is there any room for improvement?
Yes we feel that we have achieved everything that we wanted with it. We anticipate the recording process, and now having endured it a number of times, we know what we like and don't like, and how we wish to approach it, generally speaking. During the mixing process we are quite meticulous and ensure everything is exactly as we want it to be. But once we all agree that the work is complete, we no longer listen to it in a critical manner and we simply engage with it as listeners.

Does post-black metal mean anything to you? Isn’t it just a label created for the lack of accurate words to describe your style?
I have never been a fan of that word as it has far too many negative connotations. It is generally associated with the word 'hipster' – a word that means nothing to a man from rural Ireland. If people struggle to pigeonhole us then that is only a good thing in my opinion. We have never been interested in being a copy cat band, or a part of a specific scene. We simply do what we want to do. I am very much enjoying the black metal, or derivatives of black metal, that have appeared in the past number of years. There is a true honesty behind all of this, I believe.

“Mammal” is issued with different cover art through Profound Lore in America and Candlelight in Europe. Was that your idea? Which art is your first choice?
This was a choice made collectively between ourselves and the labels. It was not any sort of a marketing ploy to sell extra copies (we detest such things), it was just a simple means of keeping both releases distinct from one another. We decided that we would choose two very different artworks, but wanted both to be entirely representative of the album’s concepts. We are extremely pleased with the outcome. The photograph used for the Candlelight edition was captured by Daniel Sesé, whose work I came by when looking at some photography. We contacted Ketola as I am a huge admirer of his work and I was confident that he would be more than capable of creating the right piece, which we feel he did. I like that both covers are quite ambiguous and are open to interpretation. However, both artworks were created (in the case of the Profound Lore edition) or sourced (in the case of the Candlelight edition) after the album was completed and as such the lyrical content was in mind throughout this process. I think that the representational value of each cover becomes somewhat more apparent when one reads the lyrics to “Mammal”.

How did you get to release your EP “Tides” through Burning World Records?
Quite simple actually - they just sent us a message saying that they would like to work with us.

What are the chances of you getting your Roadburn show published?
I'm not entirely sure. For various reasons we were not entirely happy with our set(s) but it’s a lesson learned. I have not listened to the recording myself but I'm not confident that they would be the best possible representation of our live performance.

What is the inspiration of Emily Dickinson’s poetry to your music?
Her work is immensely beautiful while touching upon some of the darkest subjects. She sees the world in a very unique way and describes her world with such colourful language. Her personality shines through her work and I think if you read a number of her poems consecutively you may begin to see how her moods change, often indicated by optimism or pessimism. There is a great deal of ambiguity in her work which I also enjoy as it allows the reader to make their own interpretations, as opposed to some other poets of similar statue who may have been less reclusive, and actually provide explanations of their work.
What other literature would you name as an inspiration to Altar of Plagues?
John Steinbeck’s "To a God Unknown", W.B Yeat's "The Second Coming", J.M. Synge’s "The Playboy of the Western World", Aldo Leopold’s "A Sand County Almanac".

Is Altar of Plagues mainly a live band? Is playing live hard work or something you always look forward to and enjoy?
Writing and performing live are my favourite aspects of music. Recording is a necessary evil. I believe that the music only truly exists when we perform it. That is when it is a living, real thing. Recorded music is just a document. While recordings serve their own purpose, I believe strongly in the power of live energy.

Could you say a little about the upcoming project, the split with Year of No Light?
It is a track from the "White Tomb" album recording sessions. It was unfinished and we revisited it this year to complete it. I think that it will stand out among our other tracks as somewhat unusual but we like this piece very much.

Cork seems to be a distant location, somewhere in the south of Ireland, away from Dublin. Is the vibe, the atmosphere of the city present in what you do?
If it is, then it is not consciously. I grew up in the country-side and that is what has influenced me most. Cork is a very grey place, as is Ireland in general. But Ireland, despite many of its less appealing qualities, is the place that makes me most happy.

What would be your dream-come-true tour line-up to be a part of?
We don't really think about such things. To be honest, every tour that we do is a great experience.