Forming in 1993, it took Yorkshire, UK’s traditional metal mob ASOMVEL 16 years to put out their debut full-length, but 2009’s ‘KAMIKAZE’ was the attack British metal needed. Four years on and the band are not resting and in the wake of the death of founding frontman JAY-JAY WINTER they are fired up and ready for their next onslaught.
Forming in the early 1990s and almost adopting the name The Hairy Mary’s, Songs Of Praise were never really on the agenda for this Yorkshire outfit. Luckily the band conceived by Lenny Robinson and Jay-Jay Winter chose the less hirsute moniker of Asomvel and another classic UK heavy metal group slowly emerged. Asomvel, which actually has no significant meaning, saw a band with no real goals or direction forming from humble origins as Lenny reflects: “I asked Jay if he wanted to start a band, ‘cos I got on with him. He was the coolest bloke in town and we seemed to have the same attitude to things. I was gonna play bass (‘cos I had one) and Jay was gonna sing and we were gonna have two guitarists. Of course, nobody else was interested, so Jay ended up with the bass and I got a guitar. Then we piled round to Mark Wharton’s house with some Special Brew to press-gang him into drumming, ‘cos he was an old mate and he’d just finished the Acid Reign thing. We never really looked past having a few drinks and making a racket on the pig farm we rehearsed at. We were only doing it for our own benefit.”
Mark Wharton became just one of many and to say that Asomvel have a bit of a Spinal Tap situation as far as drummers are concerned would be an understatement. They came and went until Ian Wright arrived on the scene and things seemed to gel with the trio releasing debut album ‘Kamikaze’ back in 2009. However on asking Lenny why they couldn’t keep a sticksman, it seems he has news of yet more upheaval for us. “Most people are lucky if they have a few things in common. It helps, when you’re in a band, if everyone is coming from the same place and is on the same page. Most of the drummers we’ve had weren’t even on the same book. We’ve just said farewell to Ian recently, so that’s another for the body count. There has to be a meeting of minds, and with Ian, we couldn’t agree on certain issues. He’s been a solid citizen, but we have to do what is right for Asomvel.”
One thing that is thankfully easy to identify is the pure thunderous heavy metal sound behind Asomvel. It is one that has often garnered comparisons of Motörhead and Venom, something that Lenny does not deny, but he’s not beyond shocking us on talking about his real influences. “I’ve always been a big Elvis fan,” he admits. “That was the first time I really noticed music, when I saw Elvis singing ‘Return To Sender’. I love The Beatles, too. Far removed from heavy metal as they are, they have really shaped how I think about song-writing. Of course it was Motörhead that really inspired me to get a guitar. I used to sit for hours with an old record player and Motörhead’s ‘Overkill’ album, learning how to play. I don’t really know how to tell anyone what we sound like. Yeah, some people have said we sound like Motörhead, but do we really? It’s easier to say we sound like Motörhead than think of something clever.”
Not that Asomvel’s music needs a gimmick, it proudly speaks for itself but one thing that has confused Iron Fist are lycanthropic affiliations associated with the band, what’s that all about Lenny? “I remember watching those old black and white films, but that’s about where the werewolf interest comes to a halt. We stuck a wolf on the cover of the ‘Full Moon Dog’ [2007 EP], ‘cos what else are ya gonna do? Full Moon Dog is about kicking people’s heads in when they ask for it, nothing to do with wolves. I used to be a werewolf, but I’m alright noooowwww!”
Howlers aside, unfortunately there is no avoiding talking about the tragic death of bassist, vocalist and core founding member Jay-Jay Winter in a car accident in 2010. It is fair to say that his death touched far and wide throughout the heavy metal community. It must have been a very difficult decision to carry on for Lenny. Was this something that he thought about long and hard or was it something that he quickly decided had to be done in his memory? “You have to remember that I’ve known Jay for nearly 30 years,” Lenny urges. “We could finish each other’s sentences. I was his best man at his wedding. I’m married to his sister. I know he would want to be remembered for doing something he loved. I didn’t have to give it a second thought.”
As if this tragedy were not enough to contend with, finding a replacement must have been an insurmountable task both on a musical and personal level; those were very big boots to fill. Firstly the band had to step up to the microphone but things did not work out and then along came Conan who takes up the story from his point of view. “Before I joined Asomvel, I was playing in a number of different bands, mainly Tangaroa and Deathwing. Until Deathwing I was just ‘the bass player’ at the side of the stage. Lenny had caught me stumbling around on stage with my previous band. We’d played a few gigs together and got on with each other well. I even took my girlfriend to an Asomvel gig on our anniversary. I was so blown away that there was actually a band around with the same frame of mind in regards to heavy metal as me, I had to start my own band just like ‘em.”
“That’s where Deathwing came along. Fucked if I was just gunna play bass, I wanted to be like Jay. He was such a powerful frontman, he gave me the balls to get up and give it a shot myself. After Jay’s passing, Len had seen me playing in Deathwing. Fuck knows what was going through his mind, cos’ he must’ve liked something. He gave me a call to play a one-off gig [the Full Moon Dog Festival in 2011] and worked out a little too well. I ended up staying!
Funny how things work out really, I like to think that spark Jay passed on to me to front a band is still burning away within Asomvel. Without watching Jay in his element, I wouldn’t be doing this.”
Ah yes, Full Moon Dog Festival, as covered in Iron Fist #2, is an annual celebration gathering bands and fans for one day in Leeds to honour the memory of Jay-Jay. Although it may seem like a lot of work the organisation is mainly down to the expert management of Lenny’s wife and Jay-Jay’s sister, Deb Robinson, who not only put it all together but also filmed the event for posterity this year, soon to be available on the ‘Madder Than A Full Moon Dog’ DVD. Obviously Lenny has nothing but praise for his wife as does Conan who sums it all up enthusiastically: “Deb’s is an absolute machine. Not only did she have a full day of bands to organise, she had a whole film crew on top of that. You’d think that would be too much for a mere mortal to cope with, but Deb took it all in her stride. The whole day was a blast, heavy metal maniacs going wild, booze everywhere, the spirit of the ’80s thick in the air. Hopefully people who weren’t there will get a sense of how mental that day was, or at least remind those who were too drunk to remember it.”
Bringing us up to date, the latest news from the Asomvel camp is that Debs is currently working on a new horror film ‘Calicoon’, starring Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider and that Asomvel will be providing some of the music. But one has to ask about that second album, it’s been over three year’s since the band celebrated full-length debut ‘Kamimaze. Have the band quietened down in the interim? Conan addresses his response like a veritable barbarian: “Quietened down? Fuck that. We’re working on a new album ‘Knuckle Duster’. We’ve got a bunch of songs ready that’ll blow your dick off. There’s nothing different now Jay isn’t here, it’s the same message, the same ferocity… It’s all it can be, it’s Asomvel. We’re not turning down yet!”
It’s a formidable title for what is bound to be a sledgehammer of an album and on the subject of new material Lenny is unequivocal of its stature, stating that “getting ‘Knuckle Duster’ released is no bad thing, [we’re waiting for] somebody [who] knows a good thing when they hear it.” The search for a new record label is on and Conan has one message left for those considering picking up the mantle: “Yeah, you know of any one interested? How about an advance off EMI, anything to keep us stocked up on Marlboros. Special Brew ain’t cheap ya know!”
Originally printed in Iron Fist#3
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