Monday 4 March 2013

YEAR OF THE GOAT ‒ Celebration of the Goat

Sweet Sweden, what would metal be without your bastard sons who since the dawn of mankind have haunted us with guitar-worship madness? Death metal, black metal, heavy metal – you name it, they deliver it. Straight out of Norrköping, there is another demon rising. Its devilish retro hard rock, or occult rock if you prefer, is bound to shake you all night long. Its debut full-length, "Angels' Necropolis", was released at the end of 2012 on Van Records. Humble goat's servant and guitarist Per Broddesson spoke to We Wither to reveal all.

How did Year Of The Goat get started? Were you in other bands before?
Thomas Sabbathi, our vocalist/guitarist, had had the idea of forming an occult inspired ’60s/’70s band since around 2006. Him and I first met through our other band Griftegård and once we got to know each other we realized we had the same passion for old, and sometimes obscure, rock music. At the time he was still playing in a band called Bokor and they were looking to replace their guitarist and I volunteered for the job. Without ever having one rehearsal we basically got started on writing new songs and Year Of The Goat was formed. From the beginning we had Fredrik Hellerström on drums so you could say that the three of us are the forming members. We have had a few different guitar players and bass players passing thru before settling down on our current lineup that has been stable for about a year now and we are a tight crew. Thomas is the main writer for both music and lyrics, and once he presents more or less complete songs we start rehearsing them all adding our own flavours to the mix, sort of like filtering through the rest of us.
Some of us are still playing in bands like the aforementioned Griftegård, Misericordia (Fredrik and Don Palmroos), and Tobias Resch and Poppe are also playing in different bands when given time and opportunity but our main focus lies with YotG. Previous bands are, to name a few, Wolverine, Bokor, Tor-Peders Kapell, House of Aquarius.

Who is the lyrics-writer for YOTG? Do you write them collectively? Is there a main-theme behind your lyrics? Is any of it connected to historical Swedish heritage?
Without question Thomas is our main lyricist. As much as I would love to be able to write lyrics I have tried and learnt that my strength lies with playing the guitar, and singing background vocals at best! Come to think of it I've always wanted to be a drummer as well... go figure.
I wouldn't go as far as saying that we have a main-theme per se, sure our basis is found in occultism, religion, movies, books etc so that's where our theme is, but it's nothing planned as such but more an extension of our personal interests and then we add our own imagination to the mix. In a way our latest album "Angels' Necropolis" is based on occultism/satanism but if you read the storyline you'll notice that it's a storyline that we (Thomas) came up with by ourselves. When he's writing lyrics, and to a certain extent music, he (who is the one of us most deeply involved with occultism) puts himself in a trancelike state and lets the ideas flow to him. We have no connection to any historical Swedish heritage, we let other bands write about Vikings.

Morgan of Marduk recommended your band to me and I'm curious if you ever played a show with Marduk or Death Wolf (ex-Devils Whorehouse), since you come from the same city?
And right he was about recommending us! Sorry, I just had to haha... We actually played a rather large gig last year along with Marduk, and Misericordia who was the opening act so Fredda and Don had to work double shifts that evening. It was in our hometown of Norrköping at an old theater and it was a blast. Initially we were a bit... not really nervous but we were wondering how we would be accepted between two black metal bands. Sure, if you know about us we have our occult side but musically we are pretty far from Marduk. We needn’t have worried one bit though, we had a great reception and a large part of the crowd were singing along to a lot of songs so it was great. There's quite a bit of footage of all bands that evening out on youtube somewhere.
We are indeed friends with Marduk (hell, my brother Lars is their current drummer) and also with Ofermod, Death Wolf, Nefandus, Sargatanas Reign, PG.Lost and a lot of other bands. With Griftegård we even used to borrow their rehearsal space for our rehearsals. We have recorded plenty of times with different bands in Marduk's bass player Devo's Endarker studio. Even if Norrköping is considered a large city by Swedish standards, it's really not that big and musicians of all the bands tend to if not know each other well at least know of each other. It's a healthy scene up here.

Norrköping is not the biggest Swedish city but apparently some very good bands are located there. Could you say how the metal scene was in Norrkoping 10-20 years ago and how is it at the moment?
Well, I didn't live in Norrköping 10-20 years ago and to be honest still don't but looking at bands that have come from Norrköping and it's surroundings over the years I'd like to say that it's always been a healthy scene up there. The city itself, like many other Swedish cities, is helping bands with rehearsal spaces and recording facilities so there's a ton of bands with a different level of competence. At the moment you have all of the aforementioned bands and a hell of a lot more that are really good. Let's hope that more get the attention they need.

Bands like Ghost, In Solitude, The Devil's Blood and Jex Thoth are all great but in my opinion the originator of the occult rock genre is Roky Erickson and his solo 1981 record "The Evil One". Would you agree?
Actually, no! But that's probably because I'm an old narrow-minded geezer who is always looking backwards in music history. As great as "The Evil One" is, so you definitely have a point there, you can look back to the ‘60s for Arthur Brown, Screaming Jay Hawkins who were perhaps more theatrical than genuinely occult and most media always point to Coven's "Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls" LP and even if they rather immediately toned down their image on later releases, for me this would be the starting point. Being an album that I myself have had with me for a very long time, I always point to this release. You have the imagery, song titles, even a black mass on the album and so forth. It's just great that we at the moment have Jex, The Devil's Blood (actually, just read the other day that they are no more). For me In Solitude and the likes are way more heavy metal and I would probably link them to Mercyful Fate and nothing wrong in that. MF were great!

What bands and albums or maybe books and films mainly influenced and shaped the YOTG style?
This is not an easy question to answer since the answer probably lies in all the accumulated musical interests all of us has had since early childhood. As we all know heavy metal and dark imagery has always gone hand in hand, so I think that, at least speaking for myself, with all this imagery and on occasions songs about the devil it was easy to spark a real interest in the occult. The same would go for horror movies, HP Lovecraft and other mainstream books and media. What we all have in common is that we all had music with us from an early age, be it The Beatles and old funk, ‘60s psych and whatever was around in our parents musical library. For me, I got my first Kiss LP at age 4 and quickly moved on to all kinds rock/metal through older friends and friends’ older brothers. I am a huge collector of NWOBHM and private pressed metal (readers: sell me your collections now!) so my own playing style is mostly influenced by Michael Schenker and other melodic guitarists over to technical progressive metal even if I also love some early punk and hardcore (as it was in the early ‘80s I should point out) all flavored with the darker side of things. Not saying that is what I sound like, but that is what inspires me. If you throw this in a mix with movies such as "Dunwich Horror", "Holy Mountain", occult writers and essays and our combined musical creativity you end up with YotG. It all comes naturally to us so we never set out to "sound like this or that", and I think this is our strength as well.

Do you think of YOTG as a modern band reinventing classic hard rock or rather as a pure homage to a style that will never be out of date?
Probably a little bit of both with the emphasis on a modern band reinventing classic hard rock. Perhaps not reinventing as such, but rather not afraid of playing certain riffs or ideas. In this sense we are perhaps closer to classic progressive rock. As anyone has probably figured out by now we are huge fans of the ‘70s rock genres, but we don't want to be limited to only that. We feel that that songs take us where they need to go. And great music will never go out of style, even if some productions make some albums seem very out of date by now haha...

To achieve that ‘70's/’80s sound that you have, do you use classic amps, heads and guitars? Is it more the gear or rather the studio production that make you sound classic?

Ah, we love vintage gear! Of course it's probably easier to achieve an instant vintage sound with vintage amplifiers, but what it comes down to in the end is actually your playing ability. We used a variety of vintage amps and new state-of-the-art amps for this recording but we also have a lot to thank our recording engineer for. One of the things we have realized is the usage of gain or for the recording purpose the usage of as little gain as possible. If you listen to old classic rock albums and think about it there's really not a lot of gain happening so that is something we were careful to use. And considering we are three guitarists, and at times doubling our guitar parts it could've ended up really blurred had we used too much gain or distortion for those who are not into playing the guitar. Based on the gear we use we tend to be a little heavier live than on record, which suits us fine. For what gear we use nowadays we have stepped away from using vintage gear because of one simple thing: reliability! Before I changed to what I use now my old amps (now sold) tended to spend more time being repaired than actually played so it was time to find a nice middle-ground. Both Thomas and I have now switched to Marshall 100W plexis (re-issues) which are absolute monsters when it comes to volume (not convenient when playing live but cool to have!) and the only way to make them distort is to push the volume, so we have boxes at our rehearsal filled with different overdrive pedals and what not... To answer your question, it's a combination of both.
You pay of lot of attention to how your album covers and t-shirts look, it's all very well designed, dark and killer. Do you have a specific person who does the designs for you or is it the work of many people?
Thank you. We mostly use two or three guys when it comes to executing our ideas, but a lot of the ideas come from us. Come to think of it we have a little crew of fans and friends who come up with ideas when asked for input as well, and our label has done some design as well. But, I should point out that nothing passes without being approved by us! Depending on how you look at it, I think it's important for bands nowadays to have a united image with thousands of bands existing, if you want to be noticed as a real band and not just a bunch of people being on stage for the fun of it. Take Ghost as an example - sure I really like their LP, but would they have had such an impact on the media without their image? Not saying that every band needs to look like Slipknot, but bands should look like rock stars. I know I know, we don't really look like that. I guess I need an overhaul... time to start fixing an Yngwie Malmsteen costume haha.

The Devil's Blood played a huge tour in the USA with Watain and Behemoth. Do you also like to play with very extreme bands or do you prefer to play with more classic hard rock heavy metal bands?
We take on everything thrown our way. Since we played with Marduk, we have also played with Necrophobic, which would be the most extreme bands so far, and we have not had any problem with this, neither image-wise nor crowd-wise so if offered a tour with any extreme band we'd gladly jump at the opportunity. From Muse to Megadeth and Morbid Angel, we'll be sure to kick some ass! Book us and we will be there.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

EVOKEN – Between Worlds and Time

When I originally came across Evoken's crushing 2005 record "Antithesis of Light" my world was grinded in a matter of minutes. Perhaps it was one of the most important music-related moments of my life. The New Jersey-based funeral doom metal quintet have since released the masterpiece "A Caress of the Void" in 2007 and the latest pummeling opus "Atra Mors", which came out in July 2012 on Profound Lore. The band went through some line-up changes and at the moment guitarist/vocalist John Paradiso and drummer Vince Verkay are the only original members of the band that was formed twenty years ago. Nevertheless, Evoken are in their prime with the success of their fifth full-length and finally some more exposure from the media. Vince Verkay spoke to We Wither to tell us where the band is at the beginning of 2013.

There are three new members in the band since the release of the previous record "A Caress of the Void". Did that affect the writing process for "Atra Mors"?

Absolutely. Every album we have written, all members had some input into the writing, but this album was truly an effort on everyone’s part. We all have similar influences and enjoyment of various forms of music, but each member also has their own unique interests. With that being the case, it definitely gave this album the upper hand.

Does writing 10 minute-long songs take longer than shorter tracks? Do you tend to improvise a lot in the studio or is it all riffs prepared before and put in order?
Naturally, a 10 minute plus song will take longer to write than a 3 to 4 minute song, but we never compromise. So even our shorter tracks or the various instrumentals we have written over the years have taken some time to write. We always make sure we are 100% satisfied with every riff, every song before we decide any song is completed.
We do improvise in the studio as well. Before we even book the studio time, we prepare and rehearse each song as much as often as we can. We make sure that the foundation for each song is built. The reality is, we really do not have the luxury of going into the studio with half-baked material. We have to make absolutely sure each song is completed with regards to the writing. Since we don’t have the advantage of having our own studio, we have to book and pay studio costs via the record label, thus we are limited to a budget.
At the same time, we don’t allow ourselves to be painted into a corner, sticking only to what we have planned for each song. Once we have the songs themselves recorded, it’s when we begin the mixing process where there is a fair amount of improvisation. We also record additional pieces of music that someone in the band may have written after the fact, which we can attempt to incorporate into the album. It can also be something as innocent as coming across a mistake. What I mean is, we could be mixing a song, hearing it without a certain instrument being brought up in the mix, only to discover that leaving out a guitar section at one point, only to bring the guitar in maybe halfway through one measure creates more of an impact in atmosphere. Or simply recorded a heavy door being closed, hearing it before the song starts, only to wind up using it in a song, things of that nature. Those are just two small examples of how things change once we start recording a new album.

Extreme doom metal seems to be in its prime at the moment, with such strong records as "Atra Mors" or Mournful Congregation's "The Book of Kings", Esoteric's "Paragon of Dissonance" and Mourning Beloveth's "Formless". Would you agree with that? Do you feel there is a bigger demand for such music than, for example, ten years ago?
I agree 100%. The genre has gone through so many changes in the last decade. I think it’s definitely beneficial that this genre experienced these changes at a methodical pace, no surprise there. It’s not a genre that simply exploded overnight. The bands that blazed a new path for the genre, handing things off to newer bands that took those various elements and adding their own touch. With each change came with it more fans and each subsequent change attracted even more fans.
The demand has also definitely increased. A decade ago, we never would have attracted the attention “Atra Mors” has to this point. I don’t believe any of us would have experienced playing in larger venues or stages, or witnessed the increase in attendance at our shows ten years ago. For Evoken, ten years ago we would see maybe 20-30 people attending our shows, and that would be on a good night. Now, we’re seeing what we thought impossible, to sell a show out.
I also think it’s reflective of the times we live in. Movies, music, books are all a product of the period they exist in. There is no short supply of depression [in] this day and age. With the extremes of our climate, the failing economy, the increase in wars and illness, be it consciously or subconsciously, people gravitate toward the music that represents that period of time.

Did you notice more attention being paid to your records in the last couple of years? Did the wider metal public finally learn to appreciate extreme doom metal?
We definitely have seen more attention swing our way the last few years, the last couple of albums. I really can’t say there’s any one reason why metal fans are more aware of the genre. I believe every band in doom has been consistent in dedication and passion toward this music. I think it ranges from the internet giving us a boost, allowing the music to reach a far wider audience to people growing tired of listening to the increase in bands playing more technical or playing at one extremely fast pace. I believe if you asked ten people that same question, you will probably get seven different answers.

fot. by Maclyn Bean
In January 2013 Evoken participated in the Decibel Magazine 100th issue show in Philadelphia with Pig Destroyer, Converge, Tombs, Repulsion and Municipal Waste. How did it go? Do you feel comfortable on a bill with much different bands to Evoken?
It went fantastic. Everyone treated us with extreme generosity, all the bands tried to help each other out with equipment use, and every band was very friendly. The turnout and reception we received was incredible. We were blown away by the reception we received.
We feel very comfortable playing with bands that are at opposite ends of the spectrum from us. I think it allows us to really stick out, it gives us the opportunity to play in front of an audience that, more than likely, would never have attended an Evoken show. It’s something that allows us the platform to gain new fans as well. Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely enjoy playing with other doom bands or festivals, but after a while you can wind-up getting lost in the pack, I think at times you can lose that impact depending on where you’re playing. So, we welcome the notion of playing on line-ups very different from us.

You recorded Paradise Lost's "Rotting Misery" for the Decibel Magazine vinyl series. Was it recorded at the same time as "Atra Mors" or did you do it later because of the offer from Decibel?
We recorded it around the same time. The offer to record “Rotting Misery” came  a few months prior to entering the studio to record “Atra Mors”. We are so appreciative not only for everything Decibel has done for us, but to also get the opportunity to record a legendary track, from a legendary band, and include that cover as a part of Decibel’s monumental 100th edition.

Evoken doesn't tour that much and quite sporadically visit Europe, so how did your lives look between the release of "A Caress of the Void" in 2007 and recording the new album?
Well, we are always trying to improve our live sound, attempting to come as close to the sound of the album, only heavier. We’re also trying to improve on any visuals on stage as well to increase our live atmosphere, so things are changing, albeit slowly, but we have so many ideas, some realistic, some not that we are looking to bring into our live environment.

Do you ever shorten your songs when performing live to be able to present more tracks?
No, not really. I think there has been two events where we altered our songs to fit more material into the allotted time.

Though there are some extreme doom metal bands all over the world, the States, England, Australia, Russia and Scandinavia, it remains one of metal's smallest sub-genres. And actually only a few, Evoken amongst them, do it on the top level. Do you take pride in being one of the few?
We take intense pride in being recognized by fans and bands all over the world, it’s something we will never take for granted.

Could you point out the records or specific songs that in your opinion influenced or created extreme doom metal?
That’s really, for me, such a difficult question to provide a solid answer on. I couldn’t really present certain songs as absolute representation since there is a mish-mash of different elements in various songs that I believe influenced us anyway. I would have to point out Thergothon "Stream from the Heavens", Disembowelment "Transcendence into the Peripheral", Winter "Into Darkness", in a non-direct way Type O Negative "Slow, Deep and Hard" and Autopsy "Mental Funeral".

Are Evoken lyrics metaphors and simply the fruit of your imagination or do they refer to your own emotions or experiences? Could you choose one song from "Atra Mors" and describe what affected those exact words?
They are a bit of both, really. I cannot speak for the others, but my lyrics tend to be more metaphoric than reality or true life experiences. I tend to avoid interfering with the listener’s take on any of my lyrics with the definition of various lyrics I write. I like for the listener to create their own world, their own interpretation of the lyrics. If anything, I would say the lyrics for “Atra Mors” are more direct in creating a setting or story than past lyrics. So, I’m going to remain consistent in my thinking when it comes to the lyrics and keep silent on any meaning or what affected the writing behind any lyrics. To be honest, I am more interested in hearing a listener describe the setting they experience when reading any particular song’s lyrics.

fot. by Derek Brad
No other metal sub-genre than extreme doom produces such an overwhelming and hypnotic atmosphere where listener travels between worlds and time. Is playing Evoken songs such a deep and moving experience as well?
Without one single doubt they are, as I am sure the others would answer the same. That’s what drives us, what keeps us attempting to create songs just as intense in experience for each of us as prior songs. When we play these songs, it doesn’t matter if it’s live or in rehearsals or just writing them, there is a surge of emotion that flows within me. It’s the hair standing up on my arms, or back of my neck, the intense anger or hatred toward humanity I feel that brings my breathing to a deep and slow pace guiding me to play harder behind the kit. I equal it to an intense high I am chasing every time we play. There is nothing more gratifying for me than experiencing the surge when we are creating a new song, which allows my mind to focus all that hatred and dark emotions toward humanity and expressing into the physical, something tangible. I never want to lose that gift.