Exclusive: Bal-Sagoth Discuss 20 Years Of Epic Highs And Lows
Yorkshire’s seminal epic metal institution, Bal-Saoth are due celebrate the 20th anniversary of their first, self-titled demo with a very special release.
Entitled Apocryphal Tales, this retrospective is due out at the end of September on both CD and vinyl via Godreah Records – the home of equally ambitious and deeply English voyagers, The Meads Of Asphodel – featuring all manner of bonus material, full lyrics and sleevenotes from frontman and lyricist Bryon Roberts.
The demo was never originally released, so this is a unique look into the heart one of the most imaginative bands ever to have emerged from the UK’s nascent black metal scene. In an exclusive and very candid interview, Chris Chanter talks to Byron to discuss the band’s very early days, the forthcoming series of graphic novels and the changes 20 years have wrought upon the metal scene.
What were your initial ambitions and motivations for forming Bal-Sagoth, how have they changed over the years, and how have you changed as people and artists?
“My initial motivation when I came up with the idea for Bal-Sagoth was simply to create a band which told epic stories through the medium of extreme metal, in a literary style reminiscent of the pulp fantasy and sci-fi of the 1930s. Fusing that stylistic approach with symphonic black-death metal was always the idea that underpinned the band as I perceived it. Over the past 20 years, nothing has really changed in that regard, and those original motivations still hold true today. As for how we have changed as artists, well, we’re certainly no longer the naive and callow youths we were at the beginning. I know the music industry inside out now, and it’s a very dispiriting entity, populated by deceivers, backstabbers and charlatans. There’s a certain element of innocence that inevitably gets eroded away with the passage of time. Idealism is something which all too often gets sacrificed upon the altar of reality in the music business.”
What have been Bal-Sagoth’s highest and lowest points over the last 20 years, biggest triumphs and biggest regrets?
“One of my personal favourite moments was when John Peel discovered Bal-Sagoth and became a fan. He gave the band some decent airplay on his show, and we exchanged letters and faxes for a while. I was looking forward to sending him the sixth album, but alas, he never got to hear it.
“As for low points, well it’s probably the abundance of naysayers, underminers, doxies, drabs, quislings, plotters and turncoats that have clung to the band like limpets at various points over the past 20 years. Dealing with such negative elements has always been a chore.”
It’s now eight years since you recorded your last album, The Chthonic Chronicles, and Chris and Johnny have just formed ‘symphonic black metal’ band Kull. Will there ever be a follow-up? How are relations within the band, and is there any impetus to work together again?
“I haven’t ruled out the possibility of further Bal-Sagoth albums. In fact, I have all the lyrics, stories and even the cover artwork for albums seven, eight and nine already prepared. That stuff has been ready for years now, as the whole Bal-Sagoth saga was planned out well in advance. But now is not the time. The hexalogy currently stands as a perfect and complete artistic circle, which is something I’ve been saying since the release of the sixth album back in 2006. But one thing I can say is that if we ever decided to continue with further albums, the material would be far darker and more malevolent than anything that has come before, and much of the more accessible and benevolent sounding elements of the music would by necessity have to be excised. Over the years, certain elements of the original musical directive that drove the band have steadily been diluted, but if the third trilogy were ever to become a reality, the sinister and primal roots of the Bal-Sagoth project would very much come once again to the fore.”
In 2009 came the announcement of a series of short stories and graphic novels expanding Bal-Sagoth’s lyrical multiverse. How are these coming along? Have new tales been written, and where are you at creatively at the moment?
“The short stories will be published in one or two anthology volumes and will include a wide variety of material. The expanded edition of the lyrical glossary will also be released in due course as an illustrated paperback. The comics are a project that myself and the artist, Martin Hanford, are working on very much for our own gratification, as we both love the medium of comics so much. The progress has been slow but steady on those, as Martin fits in his work on them in between his numerous paying commissions. There’s already interest from a publisher to put them out, so we’ll probably serialize the initial wave of strips as web comics first, before collecting them into a print edition at some point afterwards. I’ve also got an idea in mind for a Bal-Sagoth art book, which would showcase all the fantastic artwork produced by the talented artists we’ve worked with over the years, as I still own the vast majority of all the original artwork from our albums and merchandise. It would include finished pieces, preliminary sketches, concept art, alternate designs, and various things like that.”
How did the music industry and underground scene into which you released your first demo differ from nowadays, and what’s your prognosis for the future of metal?
“When we started out, the tape trading scene was still the dominant way of discovering and exchanging underground music. In fact, that’s how I circulated our original 1993 demo, which is about to finally get a CD and vinyl release. In those days, you really had to hunt down material by those obscure bands you wanted to hear, and discovering new acts was much more of a quest. Today, everything is on the internet. New bands simply upload their stuff for the world to discover, and with the advent of cheap and easily accessible recording technology, it’s much easier for a band to record professional sounding demos and self released albums. In so many ways, things are now inestimably better for bands, and it’s much easier for them to thrive within their respective scenes. And yet, I still feel something has been lost in the transition to instant electronic musical gratification. For a start, piracy is certainly now a bigger menace than ever before, with entire albums illegally uploaded to the internet to satiate the ‘something for nothing’ mindset that proliferates. The music industry must fundamentally change to meet these new challenges, and it’s a change which is still very much in progress. In many ways, Bal-Sagoth is a band spawned of a bygone age; the product of a more simple and innocent era.”
Check out Bal-Sagoth’s homepage here!