Where are the gods when the sun is obscured by the dust of human effluence?
Six years after their debut album, UK’s Scythian will be releasing Hubris In Excelsis through Hells Headbangers. Here, bassist/vocalist Vrath talks to MR’s Jason Guest about the new album and its themes, what the band have been up to in the six-year interim and the band’s development since their formation in 2004, the re-release of their debut To Those Who Stand Against Us… with new artwork, and being the first UK band to sign to Hells Headbangers…
Thank you very much for taking time out for this interview and congratulations on Hubris in Excelsis.
Vrath: Hi Jason, Thanks for having us! This is the first of a long line of interviews that we will be doing for Hubris In Excelsis! It is quite fitting that this first one would be for a Birmingham-based publication at that – our first ever gig was at the Irish Club in Digbeth back in 2007!
Other than the split with Kawir in 2011, it’s been six years since your first full length. Why so long?
Vrath: Time sure flies. To be honest, at times it even felt like a semi-permanent hiatus, with Von M and I taking part in many different projects such as Crom Dubh and Craven Idol. Besides the usual pretext (life, chicks, beers), I suppose it was a matter of topping our first album and avoiding that second album slump… on the other hand we have really been working on the material all this time. I recently came across the first version of the track ‘Apocalyptic Visions’ that I’d sent to the rest of the band way back in 2008. So behind the shadows always lurked madness…
Can you tell us about the development of the album? What did you want to achieve with it?
Vrath: As mentioned above, the initial goal was to top the first album. This soon transformed into absolutely destroying the first album; to show our teenage selves that we are by far their superiors. Too many acts out there lose their fire after just a few releases – it was important for us to make a statement with this record – to cast an insult upon an increasingly mundane and uninspired metal scene. There are no tried and tested formulas here.
How long were you working on the material?
Vrath: In a way we have been working on this material since 2008, however, we became truly focused in late 2012 / early 2013. Von M had moved back to his roots in Suffolk which initially made writing difficult. We are a very intuitive band and our best output it created when playing together. End of the day, Von M’s relocation turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as the tranquil, rainy fields of the countryside, away from the distractions of London, gave us all the time in the world to work on new material… and taste a high variety of its myriad delicious scrumpy ciders.
Did you have an idea of how you wanted the album to sound or did each of the tracks and the whole thing take shape as it was being developed?
Vrath: We wanted it to sound like Scythian 2.0 and I believe we have succeeded at this. The album came together song by song, however, the consistency of our respective approach to creating music granted Hubris In Excelsis its consistency. We enjoy a high array of genres and hence the album is as varied as you’d expect from early ‘extreme metal’ – from the time before genres dictated how you could sound and what you can play. Gobsmackingly enough we have actually received criticism for this… but then again if you want monotone death metal you’ve heard 100 times before I can point you to thousands of bands… or you can leave your comfort zone and listen to some Scythian.
What kind of progression does it mark for the band since 2009’s To Those Who Stand Against Us?
Vrath: To Those Who Stand Against Us feels light-years away. We were but children when we wrote the album, and frankly I barely touched song-writing at that stage – so it was by-and-large the work of Von M and Volgard. I believe the progression to be immense – but without losing sight of what Scythian is. This is the main priority in all of our song-writing. We aim to broaden and explore what makes Scythian into Scythian… not to limit ourselves by setting barriers.
How did you approach composition? Is there one main writer, do you collaborate, jam ideas out…?
Vrath: Collaboration is key, however, one has to identify a fine balance. We have all participated in bands with one single song-writer; in a way you turn into a session musicians regardless of how much you love the tracks. This is not the Scythian way. Writing together is what makes us sound the way we do. Normally, one of us will come up with a rough skeleton of a song and we will all – to an ever-varying degree – add our bits to it (usually through hours of argument, of course). We have learned – after a history of said fights and struggles – to work together and get the best out of our respective ideas.
Who writes the lyrics? And where did inspiration come from for the album?
Vrath: Von M wrote all the words for our debut. I took the reins on this one and wrote almost all lyrics (except for ‘The Laws…’) under the supervision of Von M’s electric eye. The inspiration comes mainly from books – I studied literature in University so reading is close to my heart.
Is there a theme, a concept or a philosophy behind the album?
Vrath: There absolutely is. Firstly – to set the record straight – the name ‘Scythian’ does not strictly or solely refer to the infamous tribes of Eastern Europe – instead connoting to the adjective ‘scythian’, which means something of a brutal and uncompromising nature. Besides of symbolising the music that we aim to create, it paints an image of power, as well as the strive for something beyond.
The lyrics themselves are a fusion of sun worship (Ra, Phaeton, Popol Vuh), war, injustice, cyclical history, and works of such novelists as Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, Charles Bukowski, Kafka, Waltari, and Nietzsche to name a few.
The main theme of the album – as the title suggests – is the nemesis faced by man after centuries of hubris. The most common tale in this context is the one of Icarus who flew too close to the sun and fell to his death (however, I do find the tale of Phaeton depicts the concept more accurately).
The image we aim to conjure is that of the last days of man. It is not one of desolation, however, more akin to the overcrowded metropolis presented by Philip K. Dick in his novel ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep’ (as well as numerous other masterworks as ‘Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldricht’ and ‘Flow My Tears, The Policemna Said’). A more commonly known reference would be the film ‘Blade Runner’.
We look into the mind of the human in such a world where hope is lost, existing in a small personal universe governed by drugs and hallucination. The degeneration of the mind and the illusion and transformation of reality. Where are the gods when the sun is obscured by the dust of human effluence? They are as blind as men… created in hubris and killed by the madness of their fathers.
The lyrics themselves took an unexpected twist when the concept of dark ecology was introduced to me by Crom Dubh frontman Mk. But I won’t delve into the theory at this time.
Can you tell us about the artwork and how it relates to the music?
Vrath: The artwork draws a beautiful parallel to the music. The subtleties employed by the war-time art of Otto Dix (in particularly the triptych ‘Der Krieg’) and Géricault’s ‘The Raft of the Medusa’ endure in Blanka’s art. Art is near to just as essential an influence as some other bands of old.
Who’s the artist? Why choose to work with him/her? And how much direction was given in the artwork’s design?
Vrath: The artist is Blanka Dvorak – who also painted the breathtaking cover for our ‘Grunwald’ split 7” with Kawir. Her stunning work was first introduced to me by Craven Idol bassist Susprial many years ago. Like with many of the more known bands of old, we have come to appreciate a sense of continuity in artwork. We are hardly Iron Maiden or Manowar on that account, however, we have come to identify with Blanka’s work. We find that her approach to painting perfectly combines the epicness of Bathory covers with the violence of old school artwork.
As for directions: We gave Blanka the lyrics and the music – she worked her magic and handed us a number of paintings that will appear in the album. They recite the tales of the record…
The album was recorded at Priory studios in Birmingham, yes? Why this studio?
Vrath: The London scene is a close knit group and when it came time to choose a studio for our second album we naturally asked our friends in recording bands whom they would recommend. We had already heard of Priory Studios before and when the name kept coming up we decided that it was the right choice. We also craved to re-create that atmosphere of solitude that we wrote the album in back in Suffolk. This turned out to be the right choice as the serene midlands grounds not only gave us peace and calm (and snow) but also invoked the spirits of the great bands that were once born from its soil.
It was recorded and engineered by Esoteric’s Greg Chandler and mastered by Mithras’ Leon Macey at Dreaming Studios. Why choose to work with these two?
Vrath: We are great admirers of both Greg and Leon – be it their work in writing music or recording and engineering it. Greg’s work with Esoteric is absolutely unique and they are easily amongst the most important UK bands out there (and not just today). As for Leon, we have a long history with the Mithras lads; A Von almost joining the live line-up many years ago. Leon had also done a sterling job with our debut and returning to Dreaming Studios for the mastering was key to completing the album sound. The results couldn’t be closer to what we were after!
Scythian has become the first UK band to sign to Hells Headbangers. You must be very proud. How did you come to work with the label?
Vrath: The classic way. We had self-produced a demo that we sent to labels and this caught the attention of Hells Headbangers. It was a massive for us, having all followed the label since we were teenagers. I would say that more than being proud we considered it a challenge…
I see that your first album is being re-released with different artwork. Are you dissatisfied with the original? If so, why? And who is working on the new artwork?
Vrath: Whilst the others in the band are mildly bemused by how the artwork for the debut turned out – I’m simultaneously infuriated and bewildered by it. My copies of the debut album are hidden within a cupboard instead of being on display like other releases I consider pivotal. The reissue via Austral Holocaust (the label of Goat Semen’s Neyra) will give us the incredible opportunity to present To Those Who Stand Against Us… in worthy packaging. Expect a release in the autumn of 2015.
The band has been making music under the Scythian name since 2004. How does the band of 2015 compare to the band of the early days?
Vrath: One would think that 11 years would really make more of a difference – but we are essentially the same band. Up until recently, the band consisted of the same people with the same spirit and ideas. I suppose it doesn’t really give us too much credit that our musical skills haven’t exactly gone through the roof in a decade’s time – however, in another way this is a blessing. I genuinely believe that if life wouldn’t have got in the way, we could have written this album perhaps even 3-4 years ago. We may be adults on the outside- but we are the same terrible teenagers craving the hellnoise on the inside.
You recently parted ways with original drummer, J.C. Volgard. What prompted the split? And do you have a replacement in line?
Vrath: Unfortunately, we had to split with Volgard due to personal differences. He remains the most creative drummer I have ever played with. A replacement is being trained as we speak.
Any plans for shows in support of the album?
Vrath: Absolutely – we are currently working on setting up a release show in London. Any interested parties for other dates should get in touch via Scythian.email@example.com
What would be the ideal setting for a Scythian performance?
Vrath: The setting really comes second to the crowd. A crowd ready to truly enjoy and go wild is what makes a show – no matter if a rehearsal room or the Camden Underworld. Whilst massive shows like our Open Air appearance in the Crimea back in 2008 – the stage overseeing the endless beaches of the Black Sea – were absolutely spectacular, it is gigs like the one we played in the packed some 200-capacity Old Blue Last in London that have undoubtedly been our best.
What does the future hold for Scythian? Early days I know as the album is yet to be released but is there more material in the works? Will we have to wait another six years for the next album?
Vrath: I sure hope it won’t be another six years… then with music you never know. A lot of bands get stuck into the routine of writing and touring. We don’t set ourselves any schedules – music cannot be forced or you might (and probably will) end up with distinctly subpar results…. And there’s enough mediocrity out there already, I tell you what. We are signed to Hells Headbangers for another album yet, so no doubt the same criteria will apply for the new material. Before this, however, we are planning to do another split… but we cannot reveal more at this time.
Thanks again for taking time out for this interview. Do you have any closing words for our readers?
Vrath: Thanks for the interview – we hope to return to the midlands soon! Keep up the killer work! For interviews and promo/review/gigs please contact: Scythian.firstname.lastname@example.org!