Spewing their black terror metal into the world since 1995, Azaghal's ninth studio album, Nemesis, will be available to mere mortals from 31st January 2012. Staying true to the stripped-back aesthetic of black metal, the ten tracks that make up Nemesis are fierce, brutal barrages of anti-Christian mantras. In this interview, Azaghal's bassist and vocalist Niflungr takes time out with SoT's Jason Guest to discuss, amongst others things, the album, its themes, its artwork, the band's philosophy, its history and development, and the effects of the internet on the black metal scene.
SoT: Thanks for taking time out for this interview. Can you tell us what you wanted to achieve with Nemesis?
Niflungr: We use music and lyrics to channel out what may rage inside us. It is all about self-expression, so we can´t really say that there was a certain goal to be achieved here. Things came out naturally and now we are soon (31st of January) having a physical result of that.
SoT: With eight albums and a host of other releases – EPs and Splits – behind you, was there anything that you felt you hadn't achieved previously?
Niflungr: If you compare Nemesis to the previous releases, there are some elements that weren´t used previously. I suppose the main difference is the language. Most of the songs are written in English and only couple of them in Finnish. This was also the first time for me to handle the main vocals on full-lenght album. Varjoherra did some background vocals in few songs. On Teraphim it was the opposite.
SoT: Can you tell us about the central concepts and themes of Nemesis?
Niflungr: Once again, the main lyrical theme is anti-Christianity and blasphemy and Satanism. Most of our people were converted to this sick middle-eastern religion by a sword. This should never be forgotten, or forgiven. This keeps feeding our hatred.
SoT: Does Nemesis represent any development in the band's philosophy?
Niflungr: Not much has changed throughout the years and Nemesis is no exception.
SoT: How would you describe the band's progress since its inception in 1995? And how do you think it has culminated in what is found on Nemesis?
Niflungr: Unfortunately I wasn´t around in 1995 yet, but I´m convinced that a lot has been happen after that. This can be seen on the individual musical skills of each member, but also in the skill of compose songs the way that the result would be as satisfying as possible. Nemesis is one step closer to the perfection we are looking for.
SoT: Who are the band's main musical influences? Who were you listening to whilst writing Nemesis?
Niflungr: I can speak only on behalf of myself, but the 90´s Norwegian scene has a huge influence on me and probably the rest of the guys; Emperor, Immortal, Mayhem, etc. When creating music for a new release, I try to listen to bands in the same genre as little as possible. Perhaps this way we wouldn´t be too influenced on any other band and we would get some unique stuff created. Personally I listened to Misfits and other horror punk bands back then, I think. It was nearly a year ago.
SoT: The lyrics on Nemesis are both in Finnish and English for the first time.In an interview with us in 2008 , Narqath said that writing in Finnish was more challenging. What's the difference between the two? why did you choose to write some of the tracks in English? And was it as challenging as writing in Finnish?
Niflungr: As Varjoherra was no longer involved, we could try writing stuff in English as well. According to my knowledge, it was mostly his idea to do this "in Finnish only" thing. For myself it is equally hard or easy to write in either language. I cannot really tell the difference.
SoT: Around 2006, your approach to song-writing returned to a simplified style. On Nemesis, the songs retain that simplicity but it's clear that Azaghal is unafraid to mix black metal with other styles. Across the album are a bunch of surprises that could be considered unorthodox for black metal. For instance, 'Black Legions of Satan' has a more "traditional" metal feel to it, 'Nemesis' features a magnificent vocal passage, and the melodies in both the vocals and guitar riffs are very catchy. Is Azaghal always trying to evolve musically or is it more a natural progression? Are there any lines you draw when it comes to writing?
Niflungr: Most of the things we do come out naturally. We are not really spending nights wondering what would be next "different" thing we could use on our next album. You could call this a natural progression for sure. Of course there are some basic lines we do not cross, just to keep it "in the roots". I guess this is the reason why we have managed to keep our sound recognizable despite the differences on each album.
SoT: What does the music mean to you to compose and play? Is it as perhaps cathartic or affirmative in any way?
Niflungr: Our art is a way of self-expression and to spread the message. If I wouldn´t be doing this, perhaps I´d be out on the streets shooting random people (laughs).
SoT: How did the band write for Nemesis? Did the songs materialise while playing together or were they written alone and then brought to the band to finalise?
Niflungr: Usually during the writing process the band members compose some riffs/ideas/songs on their own and then introduce them to the mastermind Narqath. He processes the ideas and eventually some new Azaghal songs are ready.
SoT: Is Azaghal a "Do-it-yourself" band that controls every aspect of recording, promotion, management, and production itself?
Niflungr: What comes to composing, recording albums and touring, we do it on our own. Usually the albums are recorded at Cursed studio or DT-audio that are both in our control. Also the mixing and mastering process is handled in our premises. So the label gets a final "product" that they can promote and spread.
SoT: Generally speaking, black metal values lo-fi production. Nemesis' production is raw yet clear, the drums in particular are much more powerful because of it. How important is production to Azaghal?
Niflungr: Production must match the atmosphere of the song/album. However, we are not spending days or weeks to get the perfect possible sound.
SoT: Some black metal bands have included orchestral and/or keyboard elements into their sound. Do you see them as playing a role in Azaghal's music in the future?
Niflungr: I do not see this ever happen in our case. We use some keyboards to add some atmosphere in selected situations, but I can´t imagine orchestrations or keyboards to dominate in Azaghal song. If I would like to listen to movie soundtracks, I wouldn´t put on a Black Metal album.
SoT: Given the band's history and longevity, how do you see Azaghal's music and philosophy developing in future?
Niflungr: Azaghal´s music has always developed if you compare the albums. We do not try to add something new or different to each album, but this comes out naturally. However, this natural development doesn´t take us too far from the roots.
SoT: Can you tell us about the artwork for Nemesis? Who is the artist and how did you choose him/her? How much direction do you give the artist for its design?
Niflungr: The Nemesis artwork was created by Rafael Tavares from Brazil. I asked if he could create us some t-shirt designs and we got impressed so much that we asked him to design the album cover as well. We only gave him the title of the forthcoming album. So he basically had total artistic freedom, and it turned out absolutely fantastic.
SoT: Since the advent of the internet, the underground appears to be less underground as it's much more easily accessible. How do you think the internet has affected the underground scene?
Niflungr: As you said, the underground scene seems less underground as you can spread your creations globally in digital format, without much effort. This has of course caused the flood of new Black Metal bands and it can be really hard to find something extraordinary among these thousands of Darkthrone worshippers. But of course sometimes you are lucky to find some jewels among the mediocre mass.
SoT: Live performances for Azaghal have been sparse. Do you have any plans to perform live, perhaps in Europe, USA or UK?
Niflungr: We have not received any contacts from USA or UK in this matter. We are negotiating about a possible gig in our hometown (Hyvinkää, for the first time) and also in South America.
SoT: Thanks for taking time out for this interview. Do you have any closing words for our readers?
Niflungr: Thanks for the interview. Nemesis will be out on 31st of January, so remember to check it out. Harass your local promoters to contact us for touring in your hometown.
SoT: Thanks again. We look forward to hearing from and (hopefully) seeing more of Azaghal in the future.
(Click here to read our review of Nemesis)