Interview with Sapient of Abomnium

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Interview by Jason Guest

Thanks for taking time out for this interview. Congratulations on Coffinships; it’s a very impressive work (Ed: Jason’s review is here). As for some of our readers Abomnium will most likely be a new name on the scene, could you give us a brief history of the band? What was it that you wanted to achieve when you started Abomnium?

Thanks so much for asking me, and I’m glad you enjoyed the album! I’ve been writing music for a good few years now, and around a year ago I started Abomnium as the outlet for the more extreme songs I write. Abomnium is, for me, a celebration of extreme metal where speed and brutality can happily collide with hypnotic rhythms and hints of melody.

Jason: To what extent does Coffinships mark an evolution for the band? How does the band differ from that on Rites Like Chains?

Rites Like Chains was musically a bit of a mixed bag. There was a bit of black metal, some grind, a little bit of death metal and a lot of thrash. I also had a handful of co-writers who provided lyrics and concepts on three of the songs. With Coffinships I wanted to concentrate on the black and death side of things, and I wrote all the songs on the album myself. In fact it was going to be all black metal, but there’s one song, ‘Black Canyons Of The Living Dead’, that just had to be on there, and it’s very much more death metal than the rest. Chris Newby of UKEM Records and I have had a bit of banter on how it was tricky to nail what sub-genre of metal Abomnium fits in. We settled on blackened death metal for Coffinships. I reckon that makes sense!

I also worked hard to have a stronger sound overall on this album. When you produce your own music you have to keep learning new tricks. One or two of the sounds are different on this album, and the production is a little cleaner I think.

What was it that you wanted to achieve with the album?

I wanted to craft a set of extreme and uncompromising songs that fit together and that sounded good. First and foremost I write songs that I would want to hear, so you’re never sure if it’s going to appeal to other people. But I’m delighted there are now folk out there that like what I do; so far I’m really happy with the reception it’s getting!

Could you tell us about the concepts and the themes on the album?

At its core, it’s about how easily people can be controlled and led down the wrong path, and is vehemently anti-religion. Not any one religion in particular, but just the concept of allowing yourself to be bound in fear by some stuff people wrote in books long ago amazes me. There’s a story that links all the songs together, one that I have been telling on the band’s Facebook page in the run-up to the album’s release (and the lyrics are here). It’s about a world where people live under the heel of a viciously suppressive religion, and how the religious ruler of the world is overthrown by a group of free-thinking engineers who decide to do something about it.

Could you tell us about the album title’s meaning and how it relates to the album’s lyrics and music?

Sapient of Abomnium 2012The coffin ships of history were the vessels that people sailed in when they tried to escape the Irish potato famine. It’s a fitting name and captures the awful experience of those who sailed and died on these terrible death traps, and Primordial wrote about them on their album, The Gathering Wilderness. My Coffinships are more closely related to ideas expressed by authors such as David Brin and Cory Doctorow, who have written about the idea of choosing to die and being cryogenically stored until years in the future, in the expectation of a better world. That’s the purpose of the coffinships in my story: the ships are massive flying tombs that are used to escape the world run by the theocracy. Those sailing on the vessels have their minds patterned and stored, and their bodies held in stasis. Once in a generation the ships’ orbit takes them back within sight of their home planet, and onboard systems check to see if conditions have improved. But they only get worse, and that’s when the trouble starts!

Is it the lyrics, concept, and themes that inspire your music, or vice versa? Or do they both develop at the same time?

I’ve been a member of the February Album Writing Month (FAWM) community since 2008. Every year, over two thousand FAWMers set out to write 14 songs in the month of February. It’s an incredible challenge in creativity: you have to work fast and not worry too much about what you’re writing. What usually happens is that I set upon a few guitar riffs I like and I build up the music from there, and it’s usually only once I’m done with a first pass of the track that I sit down and write out the words. I never really know what the song is going to be about until I put pen to paper. In this case though I realised after three songs or so that a theme was emerging, so as more blackened tunes emerged I kept in mind the idea of the story arc.

As you write and play everything for Abomnium, does your approach to writing lyrics differ to how you write the music?

Well as I say, I tend to work on first versions of songs pretty quickly, and it’s almost always the case that I write the music first and lyrics second. Lyrics tend to come as rather stream-of-consciousness to me. If I’m in the right frame of mind I can have a set of lyrics done and dusted in ten minutes. If I’m lucky I can also nail the basic structure of the music pretty quickly, sometimes within an hour or two. However polishing a song usually takes me weeks, and I’m always fiddling around with things: an extra section or a drum hit or finding little guitar squeaks that need to be knocked out.

Who are your inspirations? Is there any particular band or bands that influence your writing?

I listen to all sorts of metal, but Ihsahn, Immortal and Nachtmystium are probably the strongest influences on my music right now. I also really like what Wolves In The Throne Room have been doing and I’ve recently discovered Winterfylleth and Wodensthrone. I really love those long melodic songs that still have a frightening brutality to them.  Lyrically, it’s a combination of sci-fi from the likes of Alastair Reynolds and Neal Asher and science text books that tend to trigger what I write. I did a song called Impact Chamber a couple of years back that compared a mosh-pit to the Large Hadron Collider… I’m a bit of a geek really.

Abomnium - CoffinshipsCan you tell us about the artwork? Who is the artist and how did you choose him/her? How much direction do you give the artist for its design?

I’m so pleased with the artwork for this album and I think it really captures the key imagery of the songs. The artist is a friend of mine, Rachelle Meyer, who helped me out with the cover of Rites Like Chains when my own cack-handed attempts to use free drawing software failed miserably. When the idea for Coffinships was coming together Rachelle came round to my studio, we drank tea, listened to bits of the songs, and talked about the concept. She went away with a notepad full of ideas and a little while later the images were there. Quite an amazing talent.

How did you get involved with UKEM? Why did you choose to sign with them?

My best mate from school was in a band called Morstice with Chris Newby back in the 90’s and I was interested to see online that Chris was still really involved with the metal scene now. When he started the label and doing distro I bought a lot of his stuff as the bands he was picking were right up my street. He reviewed Rites Like Chains for the UKEM blog, and when I was done with the music for Coffinships I sent him a preview copy, hoping he might give it a review. Well, I got the review, and also a nice surprise in the form of a message saying, basically, “What are your plans for this?”, and things just went from there. I’m delighted to be associated with UKEM. Chris has a really strong and consistent vision, and I think the interest in the label and the range of bands who are involved with UKEM shows how vibrant UK extreme metal is right now.

What does the future hold for Abomnium? How do you see the band and your music developing?

Well, since Abomnium is entirely me I’m free to develop my music without tricky negotiations with other band members! That does mean, though, that I have to rely on myself for ideas and production. I’m also lucky enough to have a few trusted listeners who I can talk ideas through with and get feedback from, so that also helps me to shape my music. I loved making this album, and I can’t wait to get recording again. I’ll be back to FAWM come February, and with luck there’ll be a few new songs that come out of that. If I can keep writing songs I like, then I’ll be happy. I’m hoping for something in a similar vein, perhaps a smaller number of slightly longer songs this time round.

Do you have any plans for Abomnium to play live? If so, are there any musicians that you want to play with as part of Abomnium?

Oooh, you don’t have Ihsahn’s number, do you? Mind you, he’d show me up something awful! Ah, but it’s a good question. I have played a couple of songs live, but not as paid gigs, and the only way I was able to do it was to use a backing track for bass and drums. I’m not sure that’s really what people want to see though, is it? I think I’m likely to remain one of those shadowy, one-man, album-only metal projects, lurking in my basement studio!

Thanks for taking time out for this interview. Is there anything you’d like to say to our readers?

Well, thank you for having me. I’d like to wish everyone a very happy new year, and encourage folk to get out and support their local music scene – and if it’s blackened death metal, then that’s all the better! Thanks, Jason, for the great questions – and thanks to The Midlands Rocks!

  • And you can visit Abomnium here