With a new album out on Moribund Records called Omega, Finnish black metal veterans Azaghal are set to really make a serious impact on the ever growing extreme metal scene. Longtime guitarist Narqath recently had a chance to chat with Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo about the new CD, the history of the band, and the state of black metal in Finland.
Sea of Tranquility: It's nice to hear some serious black metal coming out of Finland in recent memory, and you guys have been at it for quite a while now. How is the scene in Finland these days? Do you anticipate one day metal fans including Finland alongside Norway and Sweden as a hotbed for quality black metal bands?
Narqath: I haven't paid that much attention to the Finnish scene in the last few years, but overall the state of Finnish black metal seems to be better than ever. Archgoat made a great comeback and recorded their strongest release ever, the new Alghazanth album is their best yet, Horna is still going strong, and there are a lot of interesting new up and coming bands. Also the amount of black metal shows has increased a lot, so black metal seems to be more popular than ever in Finland. I think Finnish black metal is pretty well respected, but on a more underground level than Swedish or Norwegian.
SoT: Azaghal have been around for close to a decade now-can you talk a little bit about your history, like how the band was formed, influences, early discography, etc?
Narqath: Azaghal was formed in 1995 by guitarist Narqath and drummer Kalma (later known as Vrtx and V-Khaoz). Varjoherra joined the horde as a vocalist in 1997. First demo was recorded shortly after that in late 1997. 2 more demos ("Noituuden Torni" and "Kristinusko Liekeissä") were recorded in 1998, as well as the debut 7" EP "Harmagedon" which was released by Aftermath Music.
The debut full-length "Mustamaa" was released in summer 1999 by Melancholy Productions (later known as ISO666). The album was originally released only on limited vinyl (300 copies), but was later re-released also on CD by ISO666. Only few months later the second full-length was recorded, titled "Helvetin Yhdeksän Piiriä". The first 2 albums featured mostly re-recorded demo material, thus the quick space between the recordings and releases. "Helvetin Yhdeksän Piiriä" came out on Brazilian Evil Horde Records in December 1999. The year 2000 saw the releases of couple of split CD's, "Helwettiläinen" 7" and a collection of rare & demo tracks "Deathkult MMDCLXVI". Azaghal tracks from the two split CD's (with Mustan Kuun Lapset and Beheaded Lamb) were also released on 12" vinyl called "Ihmisviha" by Blut & Eisen. In early 2001 JL Nokturnal (whom had appeared on most of the earlier releases as a session member) joined Azaghal as a lead guitarist / bassist and we recorded our third full-length album "Of Beasts and Vultures" in March 2001. After some delays "Of Beasts and Vultures" was finally released over a year later in spring 2002. After this album founding member and drummer V-Khaoz was kicked out of the band because of increasing conflicts both on a personal and musical level.
In 2002-2003 we recorded more material for split releases and signed a deal with already familiar Aftermath Music for the release of a MCD and new full-length. The result was the limited "Kyy" MCD and our most raw and nihilistic album to date, "Perkeleen Luoma". These two releases were also released as 2LP by finnish Hammer of Hate. We didn't feel the need to find a new drummer at this time, so these releases were recorded with a drum machine (aka Unhuman Warmachine) to give the recordings colder and more unhuman atmosphere. After nearly 10 years of existence and a very negative approach towards gigs the whole time, we finally decided to start playing live in 2004, so TM Blastbeast (aka Teemu Mutka, ex-Deep Red, Nerlich etc.) was brought in to handle the drums. Our first live appearance was at the Under The Black Sun Festival in Germany in summer 2004, the response was great to say the least and thus we have continued playing random gigs since then. Later in 2004 we signed with our current label Avantgarde Music, and as an contrast to our previous album, "Perkeleen Luoma", we recorded our most diverse and complex album "Codex Antitheus" and in support of it played a few more gigs in 2005 (in Switzerland and Italy). In 2006 we recorded our second album for Avantgarde Music, "Luciferin Valo". This album saw more of a back to basics approach both in simplified song writing and rawer production. After the recordings we replaced TM Blastbeast behind the drumkit with Chernobog (also in Kingdom of Agony).
SoT: The new CD Omega is an epic and powerful statement that ranks up there with some of the strongest releases in the genre the past few years. How does it feel to put something together that can be looked at as comparable to recent works by bands such as Marduk, Gorgoroth, Dark Funeral, and Mayhem?
Narqath: We do this for ourselves mostly, but of course it's nice to get good response from the media and a wider audience instead of just the die-hard fans. I think that "Luficerin Valo" was a very strong album, but Avantgarde Music somewhat fucked it up with their lack of promotion and interest towards Azaghal. So we are kind of in a "we'll show em" approach to the making of "Omega", and it's nice to see it pay off.
SoT: The vocals on the new CD are all sung in your native tongue-has there been any thought to using English in the future, or do you plan on sticking to your home language to keep that truly Finnish feel?
Narqath: I think that singing in Finnish has become a part of recognizable sound, but there has been some thoughts about doing a full album in English eventually too. Writing in Finnish is also more challenging for me as the lyricist.
SoT: What are some of the bands favorite tracks in Omega and why?
Narqath: My personal faves are Quetzecoatl and Kaikkinäkevän Silmän Alla ("Under the All seeing Eye"), because of their more complex structure. Chernobog's fave is clearly Kuolemankultti ("Deathcult") which was originally played by his "own" band, Kingdom of Agony but which we stole for Azaghal, because I thought it was too good to just "waste" on a demo only a few people would hear (laughs). From JL Nokturnal and Varjoherra, I dunno.
SoT: Are there touring plans in place to support Omega?
Narqath: We'll play at the Dunkelheit Festival in Czechs in August, and there has been some talk about doing a European tour with Horna, but nothing is yet confirmed.
SoT: Has the band been contacted at all regarding possibly coming to the US to play?
Narqath: Nothing as of yet but of course it would be awesome so hopefully it'll happen eventually.
SoT: How quickly does the band plan to once again start writing and going back into the studio?
Narqath: No clear plans as of yet, I've done a couple of new tracks after "Omega", and we have about 10 unused (and mostly recorded, just vocals missing) tracks from the "Omega" sessions, so we'll see what we will do with them.