‘Destructive Music’ Interview

Click here to read the interview on the Destructive Music website, or read the interview in full below.

Following his review of their split with Hesper Payne, Richard the Infernal Overlord caught up with the UK Doom duo known as Sabazius to talk all things down tuned, depressive and deadly!

The older Extreme Metal gets, the harder it seems to be to be genuinely “Extreme”.  With indecipherable vocals and inhumanly fast drumming so widely accepted that bands featuring those elements can get on the cover of Kerrang!, bands seeking to push the envelope of extremity are forced to look elsewhere.

Sabazius – considered by some to be one of England’s best kept Metal secrets – are a soft-spoken and distinctly un-Rock Starish Brighton two-piece who are taking slowness and song-length to frankly ludicrous extremes.  With their previous full-length album lasting a colossal two-hours and the long-awaited follow-up clocking in at double that, Sabazius write music so demanding and hypnotic that it can be positively mind-altering.  Combined with intriguingly developed religious and mystical themes, they are that deeply rare thing – the genuinely unique band, and it’s no surprise that a buzz is starting to form following the joint release of two hour-long “mini-albums” Parousia and The Watchers.  We got in touch with vocalist/song-writer/concept artist Steve to ask some painfully specific questions about

Destructive Music: With the exception of four limited-edition physical releases, all of Sabazius’ music has always been available for free download.  Is this the result of a deliberate choice or simply circumstances?

Steve:  The decision to release everything as a free download, whilst also having some physical releases, was a combination of various events early on when we started the band. Initially we wrote the four tracks that are on the first album and then looked for a label that might be interested. After a year we’d also written three EPs but still not released the album, so we just did that as a download, with the intention of putting EPs out physically and if we did a subsequent album maybe releasing that free too.

The various indie labels we began to work with had numerous problems actually getting to the point of being able to do anything, and by that time we had another EP track and a cover song recorded, so we just started releasing it all ourselves, with the exception of ‘The Goat’ as Dead Pilot Records got things done and released it.

After that we just thought it easier to do things ourselves, as we were spreading via word of mouth by that point anyway, and Nev’s old band, Landmine Spring, had a bad experience with their label, so we quickly embraced being a bit more underground and just doing things ourselves without worrying about the commercial aspects of being in a band that releases stuff.

DM: Creative credit in Sabazius is split down the middle, with Nev handling all music and you taking responsibility for lyrics and themes.  Is this form of collaboration important to the way the band works?  Could one member make an argument for the band being more theirs than the others?

S: Yeah, I’d say things are pretty evenly split between the two of us, and we both have equal say on all aspects of the band really. As you say, Nev records all the instruments and handles the mixing and mastering, whereas I’m more responsible for the vocals, lyrics and general themes.

The writing is mostly done together, nowadays with Nev coming up with the initial riffs we start with, and we then write the songs together. Once the song is at a point we’re both happy with, he’ll record all the instruments whilst I work out the draft vocals, and once we’re both happy with them too, we record them and begin mixing.

Nev generally trusts me with the themes, same as I trust him with the mixing and the guitar sounds, but we both also have input over these areas; we generally only ever disagree on how the bass should sound, as we have very different views on that – I play the bass very differently to Nev!

So, overall, I don’t think either of us could make a claim to the band more than the other, as we both have our roles, but we also both have input over all areas. It just seems we both have similar ideas on what we want to do, so generally we just get on with things and whoever needs to get something done just goes and does it.

DM: You’ve implied before that Sabazius are a “concept band”, and there are certainly themes that can be observed running through your various releases.  Being honest, how central is this concept, and how consistently maintained is it?

S: Well, it depends on how you view the concept really. I’m not saying that just to be awkward, but the lyric choices are partly autobiographical, in a roundabout way, and partly a comment on people and history. As the vocalist, or at least the person responsible for choosing the lyrics, they will obviously reflect my interests, and these come out in  various ways, whether they be music, paintings, drawings, writing, reading matter, and to an extent my work.

So, I’m basically saying that the concept is always changing to an extent, as it develops, and Sabazius is one angle to view it from. I won’t go too much more into that, as I prefer the idea of people reading into the band what they want to, but the concept is very much reflected in the band.

DM: As the person responsible for the lyrical/thematic side of Sabazius, how well integrated do you think it is with the music?  Have you ever felt that the music doesn’t fully match up with the concept?

S: Hopefully the themes and lyrics always fit with the music, but I guess that can be a matter of opinion. Often I try to see what the music sounds like to me before applying a theme, but it depends on each song, and generally on my interests at the time. Sometimes I will have a premeditated idea of what subject matter I want to focus on, whereas other times the song will just sound a certain way to me. If I have an idea already I may push for the music to reflect that idea, or I may just go with the dynamic that already exists.

For example, when I saw the words that we used for ‘Eighty Days and Four’ I knew I wanted to use them for a song, and I kind of adjusted the theme of what we were doing at that time to incorporate those words, as well as then angling the music to fit the concept.

The outro to ‘Her Crimson Lotus Feet’ was written to reflect the mantra that I wanted to use, whereas the words I wrote for ‘The Madness from the Sea’ were originally intended for the new album, and there’s even a riff on the first song which would fit those lyrics, but I felt the music we had for ‘Madness…’ worked with those lyrics a lot better, so we went with that instead.

DM: You recently released a split EP with Hesper Payne, and it was clear from your Facebook updates (see?  I’m down with the kids) how excited you were about it.  Do you think that there is a connection between you and Hesper (musically, thematically or in any other way), and are there any other bands that you think you share it with?

S: We were definitely excited about the Hesper split, me especially, as I’m a big fan of theirs. It was cool as we’d talked briefly via email years ago when both bands started out, but during the intervening years they were listening to our stuff as we went along, and we were listening to them. I sent an email suggesting doing a split and Brooke replied and was very keen as we’d both become fans of each others’ music, so there was a genuine initial enthusiasm about the project from the outset.

As Brooke and I discussed things via email, we realised we actually have quite a lot in common, and ended up just chatting a lot of the time. Obviously both bands have an interest in Lovecraft, but we soon found we both have an interest in fossils and prehistoric life. I was already intending to have our track as a follow on from Death’s Eternal Sleep, and I mentioned this to Brooke only for him to say he was going to theme their track on from Dreamer in the Deep; both tracks are about the same thing. We then went from this point, swapping some lyrics and themes, and the whole thing began to revolve around this concept, so we both did artwork for it, worked the tracks so they would run into each other, and it all came together very nicely. The chanting at the end of their track actually incorporates Nev and I among the many voices, and the weird spoken word parts on our track is a recording Brooke sent us, so we even contributed to each others’ songs.

Both bands are very proud of what we achieved, and there’s definitely a connection between the two bands in that thematic area. Interestingly it came up in conversation between myself and Brooke about the almost autobiographical nature of Sabazius, and he said he felt the same regarding both Hesper Payne and Axis of Perdition, in that even though the themes were guised in mythology and symbolism, they are still pretty personal.

There are other bands that share similar ideas in varying ways, but I think that split is probably the closest link as we all worked quite so closely together to produce it and it reflects a mutual interest from every member of both bands.

DM: Aside from the length, one of the most noticeable things about Sabazius’ music is the religious themes.  Is this simply an extension of the toying with religious imagery that Metal bands have indulged in since Sabbath, or would you say that it goes deeper than that?   Do you think there is a reason why religion has often been such a popular topic in Metal, and do you think it’s meaningful to explore it in this way?

S: I’d like to say that the religious imagery we use is a bit more than ‘toying’, but then I’d also not necessarily say we are a predominantly religion themed band, though that is obviously a key factor in what we do. As I said, the lyrical themes of the band are partly autobiographical, and without going into too much detail, let’s just say that they also reflect my life at the time when we record the songs, as opposed to being a purely academic exercise.

Regarding the treatment of religion in general by metal, I’d rather avoid that topic really, as I don’t especially think people in bands have a great deal of relevance to the subject. That’s not to dismiss people’s views just because they are in bands, but you have to be a bit sensible about who is saying certain things. I don’t expect Glen Benton to be a major theologian anymore than I expect the Pope to have a grasp on Death Metal.

That said, like yourself Richie, I do at least have some academic background in the themes we deal with, so I would like to think they would stand up to some scrutiny;  there’s no Holy Blood and Holy Grail, or Da Vinci Code in the themes we use, and I’d hope we deal with the themes we do in a meaningful way. Whether people pick up on that, or even agree, is up to them really.

DM: You’ve stated that your next full album will be four hours long.  Was this a natural result of the direction the music was headed in, or was there an element of daring yourselves to make it even longer?

S: To be honest, it was a bit of both. Generally each recording is a bit of a response to the previous one. So for example, after ‘Devotional’ we wrote the mini albums ‘Watchers’ and ‘Parousia’ as we wanted to do something a bit shorter. Having done shorter songs (for us, anyway) for a while, as well as having two years off from Sabazius, we kind of came back to the band wanting to push ourselves and to not limit what we were going to do for the third album.

We wanted to try to, at least in our opinion, top ‘Devotional’, which is a big work and we are both very proud of it. To that end we began writing songs intending to have no limit on what we did, other than on the length as they needed to fit on a cd, and we thought three songs would be a good step from DS.

However, Nev had four instrumental pieces which he had written as part of his degree, and that we were going to turn into Sabazius tracks. The more I listened to them, the more I thought they might fit the new album, so I sat and listened to all seven tracks, and they worked well, so with a  bit of persuasion Nev came around to the idea, and that is why the new album is quite so long!

We wanted to push the whole idea of a Sab album into a kind of more classic music kind of direction, with separate movements in large tracks, and interludes in the music. I’d got the inkling of that from Wagner’s Parcifal, and Nev’s always pushed that more orchestral feel to our music, so the album came out as it has quite naturally, but we were also aware of the fact we were pushing the length boundaries of what we were doing.

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