Azrael

Azrael



BWOA: Greetings Algol! How are things in your camp these days?

Azrael : Hails! Things are quiet. For the time being Azrael lies dormant.

BWOA: For those who were misfortunate and missed out on Azrael during the peak of your existence, can you introduce the band and give us a little history?

Azrael : Azrael was formed by Samaiza and I back in 1999. We had known each other for a number of years at that point. We had similar tastes and visions regarding music, but we hadn’t played in any bands together previously because we were both bass players. It wasn’t until Samaiza starting learning the guitar and I bought a drum machine and a 4 track recorder that Azrael began. Within the first year and a half we recorded two demos and what became the mini cd ‘Obdurate’ which got us signed to Moribund records. We then released four albums on Moribund from ’03 – ’08. Since then we’ve taken an extended break from Azrael because we were getting burned out.

BWOA: Let us discuss the music of AZRAEL for a bit, now I remember when you had given me (or we traded for something) a copy of Obdurate MANY years ago, you had said you only gave out a few of those yet it remains to me, a cult tape that many people “Claim” to have the original tape, I get the feeling a lot of copies were made. Now to me this was like nothing else I had ever heard at the time you released it, I was not used to Black Metal with such a depressive feel to it. Now there are a lot of bands doing this style, so called “Suicide Black Metal” bands, do you feel that you were a victim of being ahead of time? And that if your music had some out, say 3 or 4 years later it would have had a greater impact because at the time of these recordings, it seemed that was the time where everyone was trying to out-do everyone else with speed and “Hail Satan” lyrics.

Azrael : Yes, I had only made about a dozen or so of the original Obdurate cassette. We would have made more, but Desastrious Records offered to put it out on cd shortly after so there was really no need to make more copies ourselves. I think the (wall of) guitar sound that really washed over you gives the album that hypnotic feeling. The songs are actually off of our first demo Virulent Darkness, but we recorded with a friend of ours Cordell Klier and used some of his music equipment. This is why that release did end up having a different guitar sound and overall feel to it than other recordings we did. We both are really into doom metal, so it was natural that there would end up being dark and slow parts in our music. I can’t say that I really feel like a victim (haha). The album is still pretty raw. I’m not so sure it would have a large audience at any point in time. I didn’t get discover Manes or Striid until 3 or 4 years after their monumental demos came out. Maybe there would be that type of appeal. Personally, we were just really excited about how the cd turned out and that fact that a few people we respected like it as well was really cool.

Azrael BWOA: Did you release “Unto Death” on cassette format as well? Because I seem to recall I had another tape of AZRAEL as well as obdurate. Unfortunately both were lost in a basement flood and I had lost contact with you at that time. If so, how well was the second tape received? And how with you only sending so few of Obdurate did word of mouth spread? How was Unto death spread differently compared to Obdurate?

Azrael : Unto Death came out in ’01 and was our second demo. (Obdurate was actually recorded at the same time, but wasn’t released until a bit later.) The first demo we made about 40 copies and got no response at all. Unto Death we made about 80 copies and actually had about half a dozen or so distros carrying it. We got a number of favorable reviews and letters about it. I think we received more interest in the demo once the Obdurate cd was released.

BWOA: Well I for one, was thrilled to see that Moribund had signed you guys, and even more thrilled to see that they released the demo’s as well. How did the deal with Moribund come about, how do you feel they handled AZRAEL? Promote, keep promised release dates etc??

Azrael : We sent a copy of the Obdurate cd to Odin right after it came out. Both Samaiza and I had been loyal Moribund mail order customers for a few years, so he had my phone number on record and called me up a week later and offered us a deal on the spot pretty much. We were really excited as Moribund had some of our favorite releases over the years (Judas Iscariot, Acheron, Windham Hell, etc..) Also, we felt it was a pretty big accomplishment to get signed to a great label like that after only being together for a little over two years at that point. Moribund has been amazing about all of the promotion and everything and is extremely professional as well as possessing unwavering cult integrity and HONOR! Our only letdown I would say is that we never had an LP release.

BWOA: Listening to Obdurate today, I still get the cold feelings I got the first time I heard it, it was a very special recording in my opinion. However, when I listen to it, the drums to me sound very mechanical, almost as if they were programmed, did you actually play drums on that or was that a drum machine? Looking at that recording now, how do you feel about it?

Azrael : I used a drum machine in Azrael until 2004. Good drummers are always hard to find, especially ones that are dedicated to raw black metal. We had a few different drummers over the years (that never appeared on any recordings), but it never worked out. We weren’t huge fans of the drum machine, but we tried to make do with what he had. After Act II came out I decided to teach myself the drums because we felt the drum machine was too much of a hinderence on our progression. We are happy with the way Obdurate turned out.

BWOA: Now if I remember right, I seem to remember Disastrious productions playing a part in something for you guys too. What was their role and how were your dealings with them?

Azrael : Yes, as I mentioned above Desastrious Records put out the original Obdurate release which was limited to 500 copies. We got in touch with Nocturnus about having one of our songs (from the Obdurate demo) on a compilation cd he was going to put out. He agreed to put the song on his release, but after listening to the tape we gave him he decided he wanted to put the whole thing out as a full release. That was great for us because we thought the demo was good, but wouldn’t have had the money to print anything ourselves. Nocturnus was the first guy to really help us and he designed the Azrael logo. Azrael

BWOA: Now let Let’s talk about “Unto Death”, how do you feel the progression between that and “Obdurate” was, looking back are you pleased with the outcome?

Azrael : As I mentioned Obdurate and Unto Death were both recorded during the same time period. All of the songs on Obdurate were off our first demo. There was maybe a little progression in some of the Unto Death material, but it’s much faster and abrasive than the songs that were used on Obdurate. The sound is so different as well it’s hard to say. We were still figuring out how to do things. It was definitely rough.

BWOA: I was taken back the first time I heard “Unto Death” the first song seemed a bit even more necro sounding than Obdurate and the first song starts off the demo after an eerie intro with a fast song with blasting drums, and while I loved the song, I had worries that the band had lost it’s roots in the depressive field. Not only was it is fast song, it was a song with speed and was 11 minutes and 35 seconds long Comments?

Azrael : The earlier demo versions of the Obdurate songs sounded more in line with the Unto Death demo. I don’t know why, but most of the songs we wrote ended up being rather lengthy. It wasn’t a conscious thing, but I guess we found it hard to develop ideas in shorter song structures.

BWOA: In fact the entire recording was fast in nature and it wasn’t until the title track that we saw a little of that depressive nature, but it still didn’t compare. Also as a whole I really felt that the band was slightly out of their element, the sound was extremely raw, and at times I felt the execution of the songs were a bit off, where as, the music on Obdurate was spot on, if there were any imperfections they didn’t stick out at all, this was not the case on Unto Death. Would you agree that perhaps you were searching for your style which you had in fact already found with you very first recording?

Azrael : Yeah, the recording was raw. Samaiza had only been playing guitar for just over a year at that point, so there were technical issues for sure, but we didn’t care. We were figuring out our sound and what worked and what didn’t. It was demo. I think there about as many fuck ups on Obdurate, it’s just a hell of a lot harder to hear with the guitar sound as it was. Even on the Self..Goat release there are mistakes, it’s not about being perfect. I think we had our style since the beginning, yes. We built upon it and molded it to our liking as we went.

BWOA: Now we will move onto the next era of the band, the three CD’s on Moribund, they all give the impression that they are loosely related as they were all given a title and followed by Chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3 and chapter 4.. Was there a specific concept for all of these releases or was that simply a way of letting people know it was your chronological order of your releases?

Azrael : When we recorded our first album for Moribund there was so much material it ended up being over two hours long. A double album for a bands inaugural release is pretty bold. Moribund wanted to release the first half and see how it did and then release the second half the following year. I think it was Odin’s idea to add the ‘act’ label just for continuities sake between the first two releases. It just kind of stuck for acts three and four even though they are not really related to the first two.

BWOA: Let’s begin with “Into Shadows Act:1 Denial”, the first thing that jumps out is the significant improvement in sound quality, was this done in a professional studio or simply a case of you upgrading the equipment you had to record with at home?

Azrael : We recorded the album in a studio called Basquez Audio in St. Paul.

BWOA: The next thing I notice is there is a little more of the depressive cold atmosphere again, as well as some of the blasting, but it appeared to me the fast blasting parts were simply done better here than on the “unto death” demo, was it a case of you just getting more comfortable with that style and getting better as musicians? At any point did you see the band choosing that this was the style permanently?

Azrael : I became a little better at masking the drum machine which helps. Samaiza had improved as a guitar player. That album was the first recording that we started to use acoustic instruments which made the sound a bit more dynamic. I don’t think we ever sat down and said ‘this is what we are going to do’ or ‘this is how we are going to sound.’ We just did it and didn’t think about it too much at the time.

BWOA: I also sensed that like the demo’s, at least some of the drums were that of a drum machine again, was this the case? If so, when did you feel fit to change to real drums?

Azrael : I mentioned above that I started to play real drums for the band not too long after Act II was released. Fortunately, I was able to pick up on it rather quickly. We had a decent sized show coming up about two months after I bought a kit. I remember being really motivated by fear to practice as much as possible. The drum machine was always a thorn in our side.

BWOA: Although much improved performance wise, I still felt you hadn’t completely found yourselves yet, I have always thought you were at your absolute best playing cold, depressive and melancholic songs of a bleak nature. Your comments?

Azrael : Some people like that more spaced out and slow parts. Some people like prefer the more traditional parts. Everyone’s different.

BWOA: Let’s talk about the lyrics from this album, each song is very bleak, they all seem to be centered around death and perhaps leaving this plane of existence, what was the thought process behind the band lyrically?

Azrael : Not much. Neither Samaiza nor I are writers. We just can’t get into writing lyrics. On the demos we never even bothered with song titles. We just made them up whenever it was absolutely necessary (usually the night before we would turn in that layout to the record company). Samaiza would use different sounds or screams. Sometimes there would be certain words or a single line or two that the vocal patterns would be based around. Much of the phrasing was improvised. It was a more intuitive way of melding the vocals in with the music as opposed to telling a story over top of the music. Act I was the only release where we actually sat down and penned lyrics. It was our first professional release and I think we felt like we had to conform to standards a little bit. We abandoned that shortly after because it felt like too much of a chore. Some bands like say, Absu get insanely involved in lyrics, stories and in depth explanations and are really good at it. I think that’s really cool. We’re just on the opposite (and primitive) end of that spectrum.

BWOA: I also noticed that lyrically there was none of the “Hail Satan” type lyrics that seem so prevalent in today’s bands that are trying to make a name for themselves , there seemed to have had much more thought put into the lyrics. Was this a conscious effort on your part to separate yourselves from the “Hail Satan” realm of lyrics?

Azrael : We wanted to create an atmosphere of death, solitude and mysticism with the music itself. We never concerned ourselves with the lyrics. They were just an afterthought.

BWOA: When listening to the album, I have visions of Burzum at times, thought provoking lyrics and varied musical approaches. Was/is Burzum an Influence if so, how do you feel about the current music Varg is putting out compared to the old classics?

Azrael : Of course Burzum was a very special band whose classic releases hold a huge importance in our lives to this day. I have heard the newer Burzum albums. It would be impossible to recreate the magic of those early years. There was something about the energy of that particular point in time and space that is gone forever. Varg is still a strong personality and I respect him for forging on on his own terms. The newer music is ok. I could really take it or leave it.

BWOA: Now, let’s move on to “Into Shadows Act II: through horned shadows Glimpse”, to me this was without a doubt the release that you were honing what would become your definitive style, the intro was a nice acoustic piece, followed by a song that started slow and depressive before going into a extremely fast part, then slowing down to a very Celtic Frost sounding riff. Was Celtic Frost ever an influence? Eventually the song moves back to the slow depressive style that I love so much that you do. Azrael

Azrael : As I mentioned above, Act’s I and II were recorded in the same session in 2002. The songs on those two records were recorded in the order that they were written. The songs were written over the period of about two years which is why the songs sound like they mature from the beginning of Act I and the end of Act II. I know the riff you mention. I think I ripped off that part a little bit from the last riff on Godless North’s album Summon the Age of Supremacy (hehe). We love pretty much all things metal from the late 70’s on up. If your into metal and you don’t like Celtic Frost then you’re not really into metal.

BWOA: One thing I felt that was odd with this release was there was no album info at all, just a 12 page booklet featuring various winter landscape pictures. I felt the images reflected the music well as it was cold and bleak. But once again, no info about where or when it was recorded, no song titles at all, in fact when I play it on my computer it simply says “untitled” for all the song titles. Was this done intentionally? If so, why? And can you comment on everything I pointed out in this question/assessment?

Azrael : Yes, this was done intentionally. We wanted a really cold and lifeless feel to the layout (I have to say, I think we were a little inspired by the layout to The Eye- Supremacy release in this regard). We wanted to remove the human element as much possible to it. No words, just images and music. We tried the lyrics thing and didn’t care for it so we went back to what we were doing before which was almost no lyrics and (in some cases) no titles. I think if you look up the songs they come out as roman numerals as well. That works I guess.

BWOA: On this release, I sensed that the drums were real throughout, am I correct in this assumption? If so, why the change? Did you just become more adept as a drummer and were comfortable playing? Or were they still programmed just with a better sound?

Azrael : No. I think that’s all answered above. If you have a decent kit sound and throw some verb on it when recording it’s easier to mask. The snare and cymbal sounds are usually the most difficult things to get around (at least on the machine I had back then which was a DR-5).

BWOA: As mentioned, the album is varied in speed and style, in fact the fast parts are extremely fast, by far the fastest to date, with a production that is the clearest to date. Did you have a studio budget for this one or did you simply record at a better studio?

Azrael : I think are studio budget for that recording was $1600. Moribund paid for it which is awesome because a lot of extreme or underground labels simply won’t or can’t do that.

BWOA: As mentioned, the drums sound real compared to previous releases, and the speed is something that when you were playing fast on this album it was actually hands down light years ahead of the previous efforts. The guitar playing also had immensely improved, in the past efforts during songs that possessed the speed I could pick out some flaws or just a general slight sloppiness in the performance prior to this album, but on this album he nails everything. Was it an overall improvement as a musician or was there more time in the studio to make everything just right?

Azrael : Samaiza had been playing guitar for a few years at the point. The difference between playing for a few months (like on some of the demos) and a few years is pretty apparent. I think we spent maybe 4 days (when all added together) in the studio for recording and mixing.

BWOA: Mixed in were some Ambient pieces, who is responsible for those songs, was that genre something you guys were into heavily? I know it somewhat was commonplace for a long of the Norwegian bands to branch of and do more and more of this style, once again Varg utilized this style frequently and did it well, would you say Burzum was a fairly large influence on the band?

Azrael : I had been playing upright bass for a few years and Samaiza had a really nice Martin acoustic guitar that he actually wrote a lot of the ‘regular’ Azrael material on so we decided to throw it in. We really like bands such as Hades, Bathory, Abigor and others that incorporate acoustic instruments in their music. I think it definitely became one of the elements that helped distinguish our sound. We were more comfortable doing this than with say adding keyboards which we chose not to do. Both Samaiza and I wrote the different ambient/acoustic pieces.

BWOA: I listen to these albums now, and I feel there is much more of the fast style than I remember, I always considered you guy a dark, depressive, Bleak black metal band. How would you define your style when someone asks you today how to describe what you did with AZRAEL, how would you offer a description?

Azrael : Yeah, the tempos were varied for sure. I think we described ourselves as being experimental obscure black metal. I know that the advertisements used to say avant garde post-black metal, but I’m not entirely sure what the fuck that means. We were somehow that godfather’s of that sub-sub-genre I guess (hehe).

BWOA: What I found odd/unique was that you truly seemed to do whatever you felt like, on this album track # 5 was an 11 minute instrumental, followed by what I view as the best song on the album, a very slow and melancholic piece, that is cold, dark and even incorporates some acoustic guitar, it seems to me, this was a defining moment in the bands catalog and honestly shows everything that I love about AZRAEL, the clean guitars, acoustic guitars and utter melancholy. Ironically I believe this is yet another instrumental, do you view this as being the song that perhaps set up the album that was to come next? If so, explain a little.

Azrael : That’s really perceptive. Yeah, actually those two songs you mentioned do exactly that (setting up the next album). I remember we wrote those songs a few weeks before that recording so they were created very close in time to some of the material that was written for the next album Self…Goat. I suppose they were kind a bridge between those two records.

BWOA: The album finishes with yet another instrumental piece, all acoustic, which I viewed as a fitting end considering what was to come with the next Opus, and final comments on this album and perhaps an introduction to what was to come next?

Azrael : Yeah, acoustic pieces always make for a good intro or outro on metal records. After this record I started playing real drums which changed the way were rehearsed and wrote songs. They became easier to change and mold by feel or through jamming out. I think it helped with the flow. Programming drums was time consuming and song structures were usually set in stone once I made the program (I wanted to minimize my time sitting alone in a room punching stupid buttons for hours on end!).

BWOA: Now, as you just introduced, the next album was a double CD titled Act III:Self on disc one and Act IV:Goat on disc two. I cant tell you how many times I have immersed myself deep into this double CD, and fittingly, the album starts with 2 instrumentals, one being an ambient piece the other just being done on an electric guitar with very little distortion, in fact the “Self” portion of the 2CD seemed to be the “clean guitar” portion where as “Goat” was heavier and had more distortion, was the reason behind this simply that you had many songs of each style and you decided to keep the alike styles together? Somewhat akin to what Opeth did with “Deliverance” and “Damnation”? Not that I am comparing you to Opeth, but I think you understand the question.

Azrael : No, not really. Like on Acts I and II the songs were recorded in the order in which they were written. Maybe our moods changed from time to time and those songs reflected one period to the next. I honestly don’t remember.

BWOA: The thing that really stands out for me is the outstanding song writing and the guitar playing of “Lord Samaiza”, the clean portion is anything but standard major chords, and the result is mind blowing, once again bringing to mind how Opeth was daring enough to infuse so many styles into their band who at the time of Damnation was still quite a death metal act. This album was your swan song so to speak in my opinion, and honestly was one of the best ever to come out on Moribund records, the balance of absolute melody with harsh vocals was something truly innovative for its time and I don’t know that anyone has done it better since? Your comments?

Azrael : Thanks for your compliments. We were rehearsing A LOT and for a long time for that record so our chops were definitely at their peak. Samaiza was writing with large and crazy chords (hand contortionist). I had to dial back my bass lines to give the guitars more room on much of that album.

BWOA: Once again you chose not to print lyrics on this release, in fact the only album to have the lyrics printed was Act I, why didn’t you print them for this release, it seems like such a special release I would have thought you would have wanted people to get the entire package to fully delve into this album with headphone on get taken on a journey of where you were at the time?

Azrael : See answer #17.

BWOA: To me while all of Self is brilliant, the stand out is sealing the coffin, explain to us a little about this song, what is the meaning behind the title and how you feel about this song in general compared to the rest of the of the album? Is there a favorite track on self? It is not a casual listen it Is something that you are going to go away for a while. Your thoughts?

Azrael : Listening to the song is getting something out of it is understanding it. I hope that doesn’t sound like a copout answer, but I don’t really know how to explain it. The middle section with the descending chord progression is really where the song becomes intense. We thought the song title fit the music- that’s all. I think this track or the song Worship are maybe the standouts on that disc.

BWOA: Now, onto “Goat”, unlike “Self” this is a heavier album, while not necessarily of the fast variety, but just back to distorted guitars and a heavier feel. I also feel that chord-wise it Is far from your standard power chords and simple music usually affiliated with underground Black Metal. Can you explain the title of “Goat” and speak a little of my assessment?

Azrael : There weren’t a whole lot of power chords on the album. We were experimenting with thicker and more layered chords to create an intense and torturous sound. We write music to channel the spirit of darkness through ourselves, but also we want something interesting and challenging to play. Maximal form and maximal inspiration is the mark of superior music. That’s what we strived for anyway. I guess that ties in with the transformative powers of GOAT.

BWOA: While not all of “Goat” is heavy and distorted guitars, in particular “Writhing” is extremely fast, however it is done with clean guitars, something extremely uncommon again. It seems AZRAEL was at an all time high for creativity level here. Comments?

Azrael : Yes. You don’t always have to have distorted guitars to sound intense. We thought it sound right and good, so why the hell not.

BWOA: This album was recorded in 2006, and ultimately you have not released anything since. Is the band officially done or just on haitus?

Azrael : Azrael is on ice at the moment. Samaiza and I had been pushing it pretty hard for quite a few years and we were starting to feel burned out a little. If the inspiration is not there, it would be insulting not only to ourselves, but to the fans to put out pointless lackluster material. So we decided to step back into the shadows as it were. I don’t have a crystal ball to see into the future. If we don’t at least we went out on top. If things feel right then it will happen. I have a feeling that sooner or later we will come back.

BWOA: What prompted this long period of silence? Do you ever see yourselves getting back together and Writing new music again?

Azrael : See above.

BWOA: Onto some personal subjects, what are you opinions of all the subgenre’s within Black Metal, such as NSBM, Suicidal Black Metal etc.. Where was AZRAEL’s place?

Azrael : NSBM was really exciting for a few years back around 2000 or so because it had some of the best and most cutting edge bands at that time (Gontyna Kry, Veles, Kataxu, Fullmoon, Wineta, etc…). That forced a lot of people to take notice of it whether they wanted to or not. The suicidal black metal seemed to attract some of the hipster crowd to the black metal ‘scene.’ Some of those bands were really good, but some of it was too emo for my taste. I’m not really sure where Azrael fit in exactly. What do you think?

BWOA: Have you heard anything “new” within the Black Metal scene that has sparked interest in you? If so name a few.

Azrael : I’m not sure how new you want, but Paysage D’Hiver and Nocternity are the two bands that stand in our minds as carrying the true cult spirit of black metal onwards into the night. There are some other worthy bands here and there for sure, but these would be our current favorites.

BWOA: What is your opinion of this great country of ours and our constant meddling into affairs e really seem to actually WANT the role of world Police something years ago, we didn’t really want to be. We meddled in Libya, now Syria, we have been in Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, the threat of Wars in North Korea, Iran, Libya and now Syria.. With Obama recently receiving a noble peace prize it all seems so hypocritical, Your thoughts?

Azrael : The ‘great’ part of this country I would say is the land itself and the natural wonders and wildlife here. The vast amounts of open and unpopulated space are what is beautiful. If you’re talking about the government or the general population it’s a joke and absolute shit. The corporate/capitalist overlords and their military industrial complex do whatever they want and are beholden to nothing expect profits. I keep an eye on what’s going on, but I don’t get too excited over it. Civilization is false and ugly and doomed to failure. All you can do is sit back with a smile and prepare for survival at all odds.

BWOA: It also seems we have increasingly become a puppet for Israel, wherever they want use to fight, we usually end up fighting. We are a blood bank for them, because If they say to “jump” we generally will ask “How high?”, your thoughts?

Azrael : Israel is a little piss ant country. They and their brethren worldwide will get what’s coming to them sooner or later.

BWOA: Well this has become quite lengthy, but a lot was covered, can you update us with what the immediate and long term future holds for AZRAEL?

Azrael : I think everything has been explained. Hopefully, I didn’t repeat myself too much.

BWOA: Thanks for taking the time to answer this, any final thoughts?

Azrael : Thanks for the interview and continued support over the years. It was a good time opening up the vaults and looking back for a while. HAILS!!