As tempting as it was to name every feature in our anniversary issue after Bathory songs, it made sense to title both the Watain feature (‘Wild Hunt’ being an ode to Bathory at their most epic) and this one after the songs of Quorthon. However, we best not call TWILIGHT OF THE GODS, a new band put together by PRIMORDIAL frontman ALAN AVERILL, a Bathory tribute band anymore. They’ve moved on. Get it? The name remains, the story is so very, very different. GUY STRACHAN gets to the bottom of the how a tribute band became a full-on project and gets to grips with his “other” bands while he’s at it
“I tried to explain something the other day to somebody who wasn’t remotely into metal, that when you’re inside the bubble you see what other people find curious about it, and the things that they perceive as clichés, you understand that they are borne of the original blueprint of heavy metal; that you didn’t second-guess yourself. There was a naïve bluster and charm because of the era that it was in, so when some kid in 2013 assumes that everything has to be pastiche and parody and they can’t take anything seriously, I remember, as you do, that you just didn’t question things. It was part of the mystery. It’s almost like gonzoid journalism, this incredible want to transfer energy to people, so this album is borne out of the love for the pure form of metal.”
Alan Averill is currently a Very Busy Man. Alongside record label interests [Poison Tongue Records], Blood Revolt, Twilight Of The Gods and a brand new outfit in the form of Dread Sovereign, there are also tentative plans for a new album from Primordial themselves. Turning the spotlight first to the Twilight Of The Gods project, what had initially been conceptualised as a one-off tribute appearance to Bathory for the Heidenfest tour in 2010 has now become an album-releasing, touring entity.
“It was a bit strange,” says Alan on the subject of the shift from a one-off to, well, not a one-off. “About four or five years ago the initial idea came from a friend and I sitting down over a few beers and talking about how it was 20 years since [the eponymous Bathory album] and he said it would be cool if Primordial would do a surprise set of some of those songs. The 20th anniversary of Primordial was coming up, and I said that it was difficult enough to get the band in a rehearsal studio to rehearse our own songs, let alone anything else’s, and he more or less made me a bet, saying ‘just do it’!
“So here we are four years later with an album to talk about. It was really because we were sitting around together backstage before playing realising that we all had the same common ground growing up; the same sort of hard rock and heavy metal influences. It was Rune [Eriksen, ex-Mayhem] who threw it out there, saying that we could write some songs and see how they sound. I wasn’t sure at first; I didn’t really know how it would work, but I’m more of a ‘why not?’ person than a ‘why?’ person, so the only agreement we had was if the songs sucked then we’d just fucking bin the idea!”
Much of the attention has focused on the band’s line-up; a combination of several heavy-duty luminaries. Mercifully, unlike a lot of so-called ‘supergroup’ outings, the end result is as good as the sum of its parts, going a long, long way to obliterate any lingering memories of the avalanche of albums released towards the end of the ’90s when it seemed that everyone and their Satan-worshipping brother were forming side-projects, the results of which ranged from decent to pitiful. Most edged toward the latter. And that’s without even beginning to think of all of the things that preceded that lot.
“Yeah,” agrees Alan. “It was very often a kind of an ‘in’ for musicians during down time or bored musicians during the ’70s, ’80s and ’70s. I don’t think that the term ‘supergroup’ really holds that much weight any more in most scenes; maybe in the biggest power metal scene it might be where that scene probably hasn’t been affected by downloading or is an older scene Obviously it helps a little bit, but I think that the blind faith in the ‘supergroup’ thing disappeared at the end of the ’90s when there was a glut of those kind of bands.”
If you spin were to spin ‘Fire On The Mountain’, expecting a mash-up of each of the member’s most prominent activities, you’ll be left scratching your head. It’s neither a composite best-of of the world of pagan/black metal, and nor is it any longer a tribute to the works of Quorthon, but an unashamed tribute to pure, unadulterated heavy metal that will be familiar to anyone of a certain age who came across the genre before adjectives such as thrash, death and speed had generally been placed before the word ‘metal’. It’s this deviation from expectations that seems to have caused much of the head-scratching and, from some corners, arguments on what the band should be.
“The album seems to have been confusing younger people who, because of the name, expected us to sound like Bathory, even though the actual story of the band is easy enough to follow,” says Alan through gritted teeth. “I lost my temper with some kid recently and said ‘Look, we started out to pay tribute to Bathory. I spoke to Quorthon’s sister and told her my plans. She said it was great and it keeps the music alive. That’s all I need to hear; I don’t need the opinion of some 17-year-old forum troll. In that respect, this is like going to see Nick Cave doing an evening of Brecht or Danny Cavanagh playing the songs of Nick Drake. He went, ‘Huh? Why does it sound like Manowar?’
“‘Well, Bathory sounds like Manowar.’
“‘No it doesn’t.’
“‘I can’t have this argument with you. If you don’t realise that ‘Blood On Ice’ is a peon to Manowar then there’s no hope! But older people seem to get it; they get where its coming from. It’s not rocket science. Maybe it doesn’t need that close an examination if you get the energy from it.
“The thing about it is that none of us had just played heavy metal and this is something that goes back to being 15 or 16-years-old and thinking about the kind of band that you would have liked to have been in at that time or could have been in,” he continues. “I mean, some of the nuances aren’t that different, but yeah, it definitely isn’t ‘The Gathering Wilderness’ [Primordial’s fifth album that came out in 2005], it isn’t ‘Ordo Ad Chao’ [Mayhem, 2007] but, having said that, I’m now getting people asking why it doesn’t sound like Bathory all the time! That wasn’t the point; some of it sounds like Manowar, and Manowar were a huge influence on Bathory, which is an incontrovertible fact to me, lost on many people. There are lyrics that are lifted from one to the other, but a lot of people don’t want to see that, or aren’t old enough to have come to make peace with ‘Hail To England’. Primordial already has an element of Bathory in it, so does Einherjer [Frode Glesnes plays bass in TOTG], so does Thyrfing [Patrik Lindgren plays guitar] and I think we wanted to get away from that, back towards a more basic metal informed by things such as ‘Heaven And Hell’-era Sabbath, Dio, Priest and Accept, that kind of thing.”
The actual recording process was straightforward; the band taking advantage of cheap flights to guitarist Rune Eriksen’s adopted home of Portugal, renting a villa off-season and borrowing equipment from local band In Tha Umbra, but one wonders how easy it was, although the desire to do so was there, to actually write the songs themselves. After all, it’s not as if Mr Primordial is known for writing homages to metal. Or choruses in his songs, for that matter.
“Every song has a chorus and I found it really difficult and different to write a chorus. On a superficial level, you can hear, ‘We are the sons of the hammer‘ in a nightclub in Germany and think, ‘Sons of the hammer. Cool’, but then it says, ‘We are the sons of the neutron hammer’, and it’s actually about the cold war, Kennedy talking of the nuclear threat hanging over our heads during the Cuban missile crisis and nuclear stockpiling, but it’s written in the language of metal, ‘metal phallus points to the sky‘, et cetera, et cetera. So, for somebody who doesn’t really speak English they can get the language of metal through what is being said. The title song is definitely a nod to Dio, but it’s about the 1683 siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Army.”
At the same time, despite the musical style and dedication to all things metal, there isn’t the smiling, ‘we-know-we’re-taking-the-piss’ stylings that a number of ‘straight’ metal bands of today have weaved into their oeuvre. While bands such as Manowar might today be looked as a comical metal reference, the fact is that in the early ’80s, they were not seen as some sort of comedy outfit with guitars, more a pure metal band who could and would leave you deaf and battered.
“There are several reasons for that; I can’t do light-hearted,” says Alan on why TOTG should never been seen as tongue-in-cheek in any way. “It’s not power metal; it doesn’t have the hysterical NWOBHM-stylings of a lot of the new generation of bands; it’s not trying to be Angel Witch or Witchfinder General, it’s more muscular in the style of ‘Heaven And Hell’ or ‘Holy Diver’. There’s classic rock in there too. It’s not pastiche; it’s written by people who between them have fifty of sixty albums to their name and who understand the language of heavy metal and there’s no way that I could do that in an off-hand, jokey manner.
“Also, the lyrics aren’t about how metal I am, how much I can drink or how fast my car goes,” he laughs. “There is actual meaning to the lyrics, if people want to dive into them.”
Borne of similar thoughts and motivations to Twilight Of The Gods is Dread Sovereign, a three-piece outfit that made its debut at this year’s Roadburn Festival and followed it up with a 12” EP (shortly to be re-released by Van). A much darker, more harsh and doom-styled entity than anything Alan has put his name to before, the origins of the outfit stem from his attempts to write songs influenced by Cirith Ungol, Venom, Manilla Road; those bands that were more underground, murky and darker than their contemporaries.
“Dread Sovereign was my frustration as a really bad guitar player and also from Primordial having a lot of down time; three or four years between albums sometimes.” he says. “Me and the Primordial drummer [Sol Dubh] were just jamming for something to do and a friend of mine introduced me to [guitarist] Bones [also of Zom]. My friend thought that he might be able to add something so we just started to jam. My main influences for it were Cirith Ungol, Venom, that kind of thing, but down-tuned, which makes everything sound a hell of a lot heavier! We’re actually right in the middle of making an album for Van right now.”
While a considerably more gloomy and shadowy proposition than much of their influences (with the probable exception of Hellhammer – the band evoking a similarly primitive and ominous style to the Swiss trio), where Dread Sovereign proffers the most similarity to their influence is in Alan’s choice of vocal style. Differing from anything else he has recorded, his unique singing style tips its hat to the likes of Cirith Ungol, Witchfinder General and Medieval, each of whom offered something a little different to the standard fare of the time.
“I had to find a different voice,” he confirms. “I can’t do the same Alan Averill voice; it’s trying to find another tone, the murky, sepulchral, almost ’70s-type singing. I sat down and wondered whether we should get another singer in and I thought that I’d just give another singer hell! Slowly but surely, this strange sort of nasal, Pagan Altar-type voice came out.”
Again taking a musically different path from the ‘day job’, the lyrical side to Dread Sovereign offers similarities but at the same time utilising more sinister and direct themes to add to the bleakness of the DS sound, focusing on historical fact to make his point.
“Primordial uses more historical and cultural reference points and is also a bit more personal here. The last couple of albums have more to do with the concept of nationhood and martyrdom than anything to do with paganism. It’s more to do with alienation and trying to find your place in the world. [The three songs on the EP] are related; they’re about the first ever Cathar heretics burnt by the Inquisition, the 13th Clergy to the flames, and they were burned at a church called St Albi that was burnt down in the year 666, all this sort of actual religious fact but steeped in occult lore in the language of metal references. So I suppose you could call it ‘evil doom’ or something!” he laughs.
As Alan says, a Dread Sovereign is currently being recorded. Stating that the material is in a similar vein to the EP, but the listener might also expect other textures and styles to have seeped into the mix.
“Some songs are torturously slow, down-tuned, vile, murky doom to some more upbeat, ‘Seven Gates Of Hell’ things,” he says. “There are a few Hawkwind-style riffs in there too. It’s not any attempt by me to do anything that original, but the guitars add a lot of textures that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise do.”
So, where does all of this leave Primordial? 2013 marks 20 years since the release of the band’s ‘Dark Romanticism’ demo, and it’s fascinating to follow their trajectory from that demo, to their debut ‘Imrama’ on Cacophonous Records, to the seemingly unsettled years of the late ’90s to the more focused Metal Blade years, culminating in the band now being seen as one of the founding fathers of the pagan metal movement. With the age of the band members being what is it, however, matters such as writing and recording new material have frequently found themselves playing second-fiddle to more mundane, but necessary, matters.
“Well, we’re still playing shows, we’ve been playing festivals all summer and the shows have been bigger and better received than they ever have and I think that Primordial fans are loyal to knowing that they’re not going to get an album every year,” Alan says. “Things are a little slow at the moment, [we’re] trying to kickstart the song-writing mode, but you reach that age where there’s other responsibilities such as real life getting in the way. When it happens it happens, but its going at a slower pace. There’s a few riffs out there, and hopefully before next summer we’ll mange to sit down and work out what to do.
“It’s probably no surprise that I’ve been productive in other ways while some of the other guys have been concentrating on families and things. Not to say that the projects are borne out of boredom, as they would have to have existed in one form or another anyway. Primordial is like some sort of institution; it keeps rolling on. When we made one album, we never thought we’d have made three, but it keeps on going at its own slow gloomy place.”
The most immediate task at hand, however, is a European tour for Twilight Of The Gods. Special guests to Rotting Christ, the tour will see the band engage on a decent-sized trek. While admitting that schedule conflicts are the most obvious barrier to sustained TOTG touring, at the same time Alan has no problems with playing in a lower-down-the-bill capacity to that which a Primordial tour might offer, and also not for the sort of ball-breaking, claustrophobic seat-box tours that a Dread Sovereign trek would invariably involve.
“It is hard to organise considering all the other stuff but the main body of us; Me, Nick [Barker, drums] and Rune are struggling professional musicians to all intents and purposes, and so there just has to be stuff happening. Obviously, the ideal tour would be supporting Accept or something, but I really like the new Rotting Christ album. It’ll probably be a struggle to convince people because it’s stepping down a notch or two from our normal jobs but we’ll see what happens. Hopefully I’ll be able to take Dread Sovereign on tour too, so that’ll probably be some underground back-of-the-van, smelly fuckin’ scummy doom tour, but again, why not? It’s another discipline, another challenge, so hopefully next year will have three challenges for me and hopefully people wont get absolutely fucking sick of me,” he laughs.
As noted at the start of this article, Alan has more projects on the go than at any point of his musical career to date. Throughout the interview, he makes reference to life being short, reaching the midway point of the average allocated time on the planet and taking stock of where he is and what he has achieved. Some people hitting 40 let their interests take a back seat; others forge ahead and try to carve out even more time for their pursuits. When asked outright what actually provoked the spurt of activity, his reply is both succinct and inspirational.
“I think that I just came to realise, having been a singer for so long and reaching a point where you’re halfway through your life, that life is short and if you have a challenge then just go for it. Screw the naysayers. If you don’t have any opinion, you’re never going to have any enemies. For me, if you have enemies or, at least, people who criticise what you do then it validates your will-power to make things happen. You know, I could make an acoustic album of old country songs. I could make a purely electronic album if I wanted to. Why not? What is important is to step up to the plate and to try and make things happen.”
originally printed in Iron Fist #7
Copyright © 2023 Iron Fist Magazine. All Rights Reserved.