First of all, why loosing the corpse paint? Are you just tired of it or this change has a deeper meaning ?
In the latest promo photo you see us without any paint, but for live shows I will be using the crown and make up like before. I have had some mixed feelings about it to be honest, but after considering well, I have decided to continue with it, this image is sort of putting me into the character that I am on stage. I have been thinking that the corpse paint thing is kinda old now, it is, but still, personally I like to see a band on stage that doesn’t just look like the fans there. The most important is always the music, sure, but I do like to give the performance that extra effect it gives. I am a person who appears in many different ways, that’s just how I am.
You've also shortened your pseudonym from Azazel to Zel. How come?
My previous name was Aphazel. I have been using Zel as short, among friends etc. since like 15 years or so, and after a while I just decided I want to use this name. I have been going through some personal changes the last years as well, so yes you can say it was the right time for a name change, though it’s more just a short version of Aphazel.
Probably because of your band image (but not only) I've always associated Ancient with my homeland, Transylvania's myths about vampires and always thought it would have been a killer combo for both the band and the region if Ancient would have been from here. What do you actually know about Transylvania? Have you ever been here?
Yeah I know what you mean, though the kind of vampirism we were into back in ’97- ’98 was more like a “ spiritual vampirism” rather than then one connected to Vlad Tepes and so on, you see. I have never had the chance to visit the Transylvania region, but I am sure one day I will be able to, it does seems like a fascinating place, with the cold wilderness there etc. I do know it is a very big region in the middle of Romania, with the Carpathian forests and mountains etc, where Vlad Tepes lived and reigned around 1450, it must be a great experience to see this place. I do believe the vampire myth about Vlad Tepes is half true though, it was said he drank blood of his enemies or so, roasted children, took sadistic pleasure in torturing and killing his enemies, and that was made into some story that he was a kind of vampire I guess, in any case he seems to have been a very interesting character to say the least.
We did play a concert with Ancient on November 1, 2003 in Timisoara, that is the closest I have come to Transylvania, maybe next time we can also get a concert around Bucharest, and I will have a chance to visit the Transylvania region at last. http://www.ancientband.net/timisoara.html ( photos will be re- uploaded soon, our web site is undergoing new construction these days ).
You, and with you the band, too, relocated a lot during the years. Where are you based now? I've always had a doubt: originally you're from Norway or from Italy?
Yes, I have relocated many times over the years, and I still keep travelling a lot. Originally the band was a solo project which I began in Norway in 1992, then in 1995 I relocated to the USA to start working with Kaiaphas as singer and drummer. In 1998 I moved to Italy as I did not have the papers to continue living in the USA and the band line-up was somehow falling apart as well.
In Italy I recruited new members, one of them, Dhilorz, is still part of the Ancient line up today.
I moved to Greece in 2005 where I still have my “ summer house”, though I work sometimes in Norway. I am originally from Norway, yes.
So, today, the line up is me ( who is sometimes in Norway, sometimes in Greece, sometimes in Italy ) and Dhilorz ( who lives in Como, Italy ) and we are playing with Nick Barker on drums ( who is from the UK, but also he travels all the time, for touring with various bands etc ). So, the situation today is a bit messy, being 3 members in different countries, but it works out even though we don’t get to meet so often in person. We usually meet in Italy once or twice a year as that’s the “ middle “ of where we all are, plus our management, Alpha Omega Management is there, as well as our session guitarist and other people we work with. For touring, north Italy is also a good location to travel from, rather than Greece, Norway or UK, you know. I have sometimes been thinking to move back to Italy again, but for the moment I will wait with this decision, I like Greece, but for the band, Italy is still our “homebase”, so to speak.
What happened since your latest album from 2004, Night Visit? It's 11 years of silence on discographic level. Was the band still active live?
After the release of Night Visit we did an European tour with the band Illdisposed and Final Breath. We also toured in Russia in 2004. But, with the decreasing sales of cds due to people downloading the music for free, Grom (the drummer ) leaving the band, we all started losing motivation and slowly the band went on pause, with no new concerts booked etc. I basically was getting a bit tired of it all and at the time I also met my girlfriend in Greece and moved over there and started a new life. I was not very inspired with writing new music etc. Ancient actually did some concerts in south America without me in 2007 (we had a strange situation about arguing if this tour was a good thing or not, the promoter was a rip off, I decided to not participate, and the other guys did the tour without me, and got in big problems in south America with plane tickets not being paid etc etc. ). Then in 2009, we started speaking again about doing gigs again, we met up with Nick Barker, as mutual friend in London connected us, and we did a small tour in Spain and Portugal in 2009 and 2010. We were getting inspired again and decided to start working on a new album. With the 3 of us being in different countries etc, it was taking really a lot of time to compose, meet up etc etc, but we started recording our new album in middle of 2014, and just next week we will be doing the final mastering at Finnvox and the master for the album should be ready at last.
So, the band was never officially “split up”, things were just quite for a long time and we weren’t active. Around 2007- 2008 I didn’t imagine that I would be playing with Ancient again, but we never really made some real decision about ending the band.
You're currently working with Nick Barker on drums, would you consider him a permanent member of the band, or only a session member? By the way, what's the current line-up of Ancient?
Yes, Nick is actually just a session member for the moment, though I like to think of him as a full time member, maybe in the future he could be, but the difference is mainly just about who’s making decisions in the band, how we invest etc.
The current line up is :
Zel : Vocals, guitars ( vocals and bass for live performances )
Dhilorz : Guitars and bass ( guitar for live )
Nick Barker: Drums
then, for live concerts we will have as session guitarist Ghiulz ( of the Italian band Bulldozer ).
Ghiulz has been a friend of us since like 20 years or more, and he was a natural choice for choosing a live gitarrist, and he is an amazing musician as well.
As far as I know your seventh studio album, Back To The Land Of The Dead, is ready to be released. Could you please tell us a few words about the tracks that will be featured on it?
Ok, the album has 13 tracks, 12 of our own compositions and 1 cover of Bathory ( it is very late now, but we did feel we wanted to pay a tribute to the late Quorthon, who has been one of our greatest inspirations over the years ).
7 of the tracks are written by Dhilorz and 5 by me. Some people will maybe ask why I haven’t written more for this album, I actually had some more material, but it is slower stuff that I will be using for another project of mine, to be released next year, so 12 songs is what we all had, and it’s almost up to the limit as to how much space a cd can hold, the album is about 67 minutes, last time I counted everything. As usual for Ancient, the album has a variety of styles, there are several melodic slower parts, but mostly fast tracks. This is surely the most aggressive album ever by Ancient. With a drummer like Nick Barker, it was natural to have him playing blastbeats and fast parts which he is so great at. We are really satisfied with the final outcome of this album, it has taken a long time, but in the end we have a great album with also a production which kicks ass, it has a rather analog warm powerful feeling, a bit old school as we like it, not too much reverbs and effects on this album compared to the older Ancient album, but the sound is really powerful and aggressive, I have been listening to the new mixes a lot lately, and it’s the kind of album that makes you want to turn up the volume really loud, only in the car and in the studio I have been able to do this ! Many of the songs have have a kind of ‘90s feeling I guess, we have not been doing something new and “modern” this time around, but I think that’s good, or at least that’s just what felt natural for us with this album.
The track listing is as follows :
1. Born In The Land Of The Dead ( Music by Dhilorz, lyrics by Dhilorz and Zel )
2. Beyond The Blood Moon ( Music and lyrics by Zel )
3. The Sempiternal Haze ( Music by Dhilorz, lyrics by Zel )
4. The Empyrean Sword ( Music by Dhilorz, lyrics by Zel )
5. The Ancient Disarray ( Music and lyrics by Zel )
6. Occlude The Gates ( Music by Dhilorz, lyrics by Zel )
The Excruciating Journey
7. Part I Defiance and rage ( Music by Dhilorz, lyrics by Zel )
8. Part II The Prodigal Years ( Music by Dhilorz, lyrics by Zel )
9. Part III The Awakening ( Music by Dhilorz, lyrics by Zel )
10. Death Will Die ( Music and lyrics by Zel )
11. The Spiral ( Music and lyrics by Zel )
12. Petrified By Their End ( Music by Dhilorz and Zel, lyrics by Zel )
Bonus track :
13. 13 Candles ( Music and lyrics by Quorthon )
Music is mainly written by me and Dhilorz, but Nick Barker has been involved in the creative process of all tracks as well.
Where was it recorded? I know you worked with Daniele Mandelli in studio Or he only mixed the material?), do we know any of his previous works? How was it to work with him? How long did it take you to record and have this new album ready for release? Have you missed this process?
This album has actually been recorded in many different locations, and that is partly the reason why it has taken us so long to put it together.
The drums were recorded in Como, Italy, vocals in Denmark, some guitars and keyboards I recorded in Greece, all in all we used about 8 different locations I think. We just chose the best place for every instrument, I was determined to record my vocals with Jacob Hansen in Denmark, as he is really good with compressors etc. as we experienced when recording with him in 2001 for the Proxima Centauri album.
Honestly I have to say that I have not really missed the process of recording in the studios etc. so much, cause many times it can be a stressing situation, getting everything to sound perfect, and this time around it has taken us so much time and work, that next time we make an album, I think we will do it in the style of 2001’s Proxima Centauri, where were just went into 1 studio to record and mix everything in 4 weeks, but we will see.
Daniele Mandelli of Elfo studios has done a really good job yes, it was good to work with him indeed and the studio is great as well. We knew about this studio as our friends in Forgotten Tomb has recorded several albums in Elfo and that was one of our main reasons to going here to mix the album ( and they have a place with amazing red wine just next to the studio lol ).
To finish the whole album has taken maybe 18 months or so, as well did it in so many locations and since we all have different jobs and projects going on all the time, it has been a really slow process, but we are glad to see the end of it now and to have such a great product in the end of everything we have gone through and experienced.
How would you describe your style on this upcoming album? Is it still Black Metal? Did you still used rich orchestrations and female vocals?
Personally, I never really saw Ancient as a real “black metal band” ( maybe just around ’94-’95 but even then, I didn’t think we were pure “ black metal” ) cause we have so many different influences and elements in our music. A lot of people will say that we are “some kind of black metal”, as there are so many styles you find these days, bands mixing genres, but to me, a pure black metal band, would be something like the old Darkthrone, old Gorgoroth, Marduk or so, a band with no keyboards, guitar solos, acoustic guitars etc etc, like we do. I never really cared for labels, I know they’re needed for people and magazines to describe styles of bands and so on, but personally it’s not something I am interested in, I always thought Ancient was a band different from the rest. Although we’re not 100% original in everything we do, people always keep telling us that we have a special sound, which is typical for Ancient, not to be confused with other bands, and I like that, we’re not just a band among thousands, we have our own certain style and feeling although we keep progressing with each album.
We have not used orchestrations, I don’t feel that is something for Ancient, maybe in the future, but… I have mixed feelings about it. We do have one track with some spoken female vocals, but nothing more.
Are the album's lyrics part of a concept, or are they individual stories? What are they about?
It is not a concept album exactly, although many of the songs are somehow connected. Most of the lyrics on this album speaks about the devil actually, the spirit of the devil, what it does to the humans, how it appears and so on. Most of the bands on black metal glorify and worship the devil, but the very most of them does not actually know who or what the devil actually is, it seems to me more like a kind of “trend” to worship the devil, or satan, without actually gathering knowledge about what this spirit or being actually is. What almost nobody understands, is that the devil actually never wanted to be worshipped in the first place. One of the most important games of the devil is to make man believe that he (or “it” ) does not exist, cause that is when he can actually do his work with us. This is a very difficult, vast and abstract subject, but I have been slowly studying this over the last few years, and I have to say that when you start understanding and seeing clearly what the devil really is, you come to a kind of spiritual clarity that will change your mindset and how you view the whole world in general, why certain things happen and seeing the connection with things, seeing logic in things that most people think of as strange, unexplainable or so. The devil is a very real force, and has been here since the beginning of time, but he ( or it ) is not some kind of physical creature sitting in a cave somewhere with horns and pitchfork, it is a spirit we are talking about, an omnipresent negative energy that is around us all, wherever on the planet or whatever society we live in. You can see the devil especially in the city, on the news every day, and any place where there are humans. The devil is always there and one thing I can say for sure, there is nothing positive coming from the devil, just destruction, confusion, anxiety, lies, deceit etc etc. Some of the lyrics actually speak about how the devil influence politicians and powerful people, and uses them for his agenda etc. The way the lyrics are written, you will not understand from first look what they’re actually about, as they’re all written in a non explicit way, with many metaphors etc. but if you take time to study them a bit, you will understand more of what they’re saying. I have had help from several people who have good knowledge in this subject, and they tell me they understand my lyrics 100%, so I believe I have done something good, even though many people will find them difficult to understand. Especially if you are not familiar with understanding metaphors etc. For instance, there is a song called “ The Sempiternal Haze”, it is not about a physical kind of haze or fog at all, but rather a spiritual “fog”, it can feel endless, which is one of the many ways to see the devil’s spirit and what it can do to our minds etc. Ok, I could go on forever with this, but I think for now it is enough : ) There are also a few lyrics that are based on a dream I had, about the armageddon, the end of the world, and a trilogy speaking about a guy growing up in a rebellious way, but also these have some connection with the subject of the devil and it’s powers.
The album title “ Back To The Land Of The Dead”, will maybe confuse some people, thinking we’re saying something like “ we are back from the dead” ( the band makes a “comeback” ), but it’s different. On the cover you see a hooded figure coming out from some kind of passage or gateway, and below there are hundreds of zombie like creatures, these are the “dead” people, but they’re not exactly zombies, like those in the zombie movies, you could call them “spiritual zombies” maybe, and with this I mean a large group of people in our society today, who are somewhat “spiritually dead”, they way they live and what they occupy their minds with etc, luckily I see that in the metal scene, most of us does not belong in this category, the metal fans are different than the rest of society, we have a different mindset and many of us are rebellious or/ and have different ways to view life and what is really important here in this life. This hooded figure is coming back to “wake up” the minds of some of these people ( though for many of them there is no more hope ).
Is the band currently signed? Do you know who will release the album?
Actually no, at the moment we do have some standing offers from labels wanting to release the album, but we decided to first finish everything with the album, have the mastered album ready and then evaluate the different offers we have, there is one label in particular we expect to sign with, but this will be decided I guess in 2 weeks from now, so mid November or so.
How are the reactions so far, do you feel the "Metal World" is interested and curious about the new album? How do you find the Metal scene now compared to, let's say, 10 years ago?
We have had very good reactions from the people who have heard the new album, as I said earlier, we are a band with a special sound and our fans are very much appreciating this, and really look forward to the new album, it’s not just one more album among thousands out there. It has been 11 years since Night Visit, and some of our fans have probably lost interest in the genre or so, but it seems a lot of our old time fans still follow the news and look forward to see us touring and releasing albums again, and this is great. Among new fans there seems to be a good interest, but these days the scene is so full of bands and it’s difficult to reach the audience that is in our “target zone”, but with some work and promotion, touring etc, it will slowly be working out I believe, there is always work for a band with quality music, no matter what the genre is. I have honestly not followed the extreme metal scene so very closely the last 10 years, I have noticed that people have changed in attitude and so on, but there is always interest for good music.
Do you still keep in touch with your former band members, especially Grimm, Kimberly Goss and of course, Deadly Kristin? Are they still involved in Metal, or music in general?
With Kimberly I actually lost contact completely, Grimm I met a few years ago here in Bergen but we don’t have regular contact these days, it seems he is not very active in music anymore unfortunately. I had some contact with DK but not recently, last I heard, she was still working on some musical projects but not extreme metal I think..
I have contact with most of the other ex members and session musicians of the band though.
What's next for Ancient, are you planning some tours after the release of the new album? What are your expectations from the near future?
Yes, touring is necessary and also enjoyable, most of the time, it is always great to travel and come out to meet the fans and play live. I think we will start playing live in February ( we are already booked to play in Bergen, Norway on the Blastfest festival on February 20 ). Hopefully a full European tour before the summer, and other places of the world as well in 2016, we will see how it works out but we will indeed try to play more than ever after the release of this album.
Thank you so much for your time and best of luck with the return of Ancient!
You’re very welcome, and thanks for your support, we need people like you to keep the band alive !!
www.ancientband.net (new version will be up around November 20 or before )
Interview by Adrian
Answers by Zel (28.10.2015)