Apostate Viaticum might be a new name in the local scene, but the characters all have a lot of history behind them, stretching right back to Dublin’s death metal scene of the 80s.
Trends have come and trends have gone in that time but guitarist Vinnie O’Brien and bassist / vocalist George Thomas, now backed by drummer Andy Inight and guitarist / vocalist Muiris O’Fiannachta, stand resolute in the face of change.
With one foot planted firmly in old school death metal and the other planted in, eh, old school death metal, these veterans know what they want and they know how to achieve it.
Perhaps displaying a more doomed hue than their work in Asphyxia and Morphosis, Apostate Viaticum none the less fixes its sights on Christ-crushing metal of death, while obliviously steamrolling over any brittle fads that wander into its path.
Andy Cunningham caught up with Vinnie for a chat and we began by discussing how Apostate Viaticum fits in to his morbid vision…
‘This is a totally separate thing with its own identity. Asphyxia and Morphosis were really just the same band, we changed the name to avoid confusion with a Belgian outfit from the same time. Looking back, we would kinda regard them as two separate things as the sound was quite different, but for a good while three of the four guys who recorded the ‘Conflagration’ demo were still in Morphosis.
I hate it when people refer to those old bands in “legendry” terms, it’s just rose tinted hindsight, but we can’t help where we’ve come from and have no control over what people want to say. Whether we deserved the reputation or not, at least we got off our arses and did it.
I’m sure there’s plenty of worthy musicians out there who never got the nod of acknowledgment they might feel they deserved but what are you gonna do… Everybody knows life isn’t fair. It’s important now that we close the door on it and get on with something new’.
Things went fairly quiet after Morphosis fizzled out. What happened? Did the passion fade or did you always intend on returning at some point?
Tell us something of the origins of Apostate Viaticum and how the lineup came together.
‘We just didn’t feel like doing it anymore. We’d always had lineup problems and it became impossible to move things along. We were playing the same songs with different people all the time and it got to a point where we said bollocks to it and let it go.
It only took a couple of weeks for myself and George to realize we didn’t want to stop playing and we started to look around at who might be available out there. The motivation behind it was to do something casual and hassle-free for whatever enjoyment we were gonna get out of it.
We were very careful this time about who we were gonna get involved with so we looked for people we were already familiar with and who we knew we could get along with.
I already knew Andy for a few years and his previous band Nephridium had recently split. We were keen to work with him as he’s an old bastard like ourselves, has no airs and graces about himself and absolutely no ego. He’s also a hammer-fisted fucker with a very heavy playing style and suited perfectly what we wanted to do.
Initally he wasn’t available so we threw in with some other guys. When things didn’t work out l called him again and asked if he was gonna give this a go or was he gonna cut his hair and sell his kit, hah.
Fortunately he decided to come in. We did some demo tracks and one made its way to Darragh at Invictus who got in touch and expressed an interest in what we were doing. We didn’t expect that at all and it caught us well by surprise.
It moved things in a different direction and we knew we couldn’t pull it off live without a second guitarist. So again, we already knew Muiris and we gave him a shout to see would he be into doing it, primarily on the basis that we knew he wasn’t a dick! And that’s how it’s come about.
This is some really heavy stuff, which isn’t exactly surprising given your history, but there is a strong focus on riffs and song-development across the album. Each song unfurls at a slow and steady pace and, despite often being quite fast, the music has quite a lumbering doom feel to it.
Was there a particular goal in mind when writing? How much input did Andy and Muiris have on the songwriting?
‘It’s just how the riffs fell. Maybe it’s down to playing at breakneck speed for so long that I had a lot of slower ideas that didn’t get used in the past. Writing has been a very laid back process and we’ve let the material go its own way as much as possible.
If we’ve done anything deliberately it’s been to try to keep a handle on the tempos and not let the slower stuff pick up speed run away with itself.
The tempos range from doomy parts up to hyper blasts, but yeah, we did make a special effort to keep the menace and darkness in there, especially as we didn’t get to do that so much in previous bands. If I was to be honest I’d say Andy spent his time stroking his beard while Muiris just played with his dreadlocks, but that would be letting out privileged information, so I won’t!
Writing is a group effort. Obviously, someone has to come up with the initial framework and title and up to now I’ve done that. I can’t just jam out riffs; I need to know where things are going. Once it’s started though, everybody gets involved and between us we get to the end product’.
I quite like the name, despite not entirely understanding its meaning. I have extracted my own interpretation from it but does it have one, or even many, meanings to the band yourselves?
‘I’m not totally sure myself either as I didn’t come up with it. Viaticum is regarded as the last rites or provisions for the dying and Apostate refers to one who is without or has forsaken religion. It’s kind of a contradiction in terms’.
I’m guessing there is a certain disdain toward the church within the group? What fuels your suspicion/hatred of the church here and is this a common theme throughout the entire album?
Is there any sort of overall philosophy at play? Maybe you could give a blow by blow account of each song’s themes?
‘Who wouldn’t hate the fuckin church? The shit they did and how they tried to cover it up- sickening, despicable bastards. Religion has nothing to do with spiritualism and is all about controlling people, fuck them.
Nah, there’s no specific theme to the album really. ”In Articulo Mortis” is a Latin term for the final stages of death. It’s an instrumental intro that we don’t do live as we’d need five guitarists and two bass players to pull it off.
‘Anathema Inherent’ deals with human nature and the malice and evil in everybody.
‘Moloch the Sanguinary’ is about a pagan god from around the time of Carthage. The story has it children were burnt alive inside clay or bronze statues in sacrifice to Moloch. In more recent times it’s thought Moloch was actually a benevolent figure and stillborn babies were offered back to the earth via him.
With the arrival of Christanity Moloch was demonised like most pagan gods. The blood thirsty version makes better lyrical subject matter though.
‘In the Shadow of the Monolith’ again, deals with human sacrifice. It starts with the last riff from ‘Anathema Inherent’ to kinda give an ongoing loop effect.
‘Bastards of Cain’ is again about the dark side of human nature. As the story in the bible goes, Cain murdered his brother Abel so we are all supposedly descended from him…the asshole of the pair.
‘Before the Gates of Gomorrah’ has some more early biblical stuff going on. A bit like a modern day stag weekend in Amsterdam!
‘Beckoned by the Callous Dead’ is self-explanatory I reckon. It ends with a variation on the album’s opening riff, again to get that ongoing loop thing.
How has it been getting back out onstage? I know the plan was to keep things fairly low key, but now with the album getting an international release through Invictus Productions in the next few days, have you considered the possibility of spreading your wings a bit more?
If some tasty offers started coming in from Europe would travelling be on the agenda?
‘The material is handy enough to do live. Especially with the slower parts, things have room to breathe and the songs seem to be working well from a live perspective.
The Asphyx gig was an enjoyable one. We had a very early slot and expected to be playing to nobody but the turnout for the time was surprising and Asphyx themselves are a nice bunch of guys. We’d say the same for Sadistic Intent and Drowned.
Actually, most of the bands we’ve encountered like that have been really good like-minded people and it’s been cool to share the stage and have a few beers with them.
Although we never ruled it out altogether, the possibility of taking this live wasn’t initially on the agenda. It was definitely the involvement of Invictus that changed that.
As far as gigging goes, we’re trying to take it on an “if we can, we will” basis. It’s down to time and notice, we’ve already had to turn down gigs in Cork and right here in Dublin because people weren’t available never mind going further afield.
If the option was there to travel then why not. We’re not young lads though, too much going on to do it at the drop of a hat’.
The eighties and early nineties are often regarded by metallers as the golden years and looked back at with nostalgia.
As old timers in the scene are there any particularly fond memories from those days and how do you think the scene, both locally and internationally, compares today?
‘Honestly, we were drunk all the time and memories are a bit hazy. We’d hire a 50 seater coach, fill it with people, get on with a bag of cans and drive somewhere like Cork or Galway. We’d get there already drunk, unload the gear, soundcheck and keep drinking till it was time to play.
Afterwards, we’d get back on the bus with another bag of cans and head home. It knocked the shit out of us but we loved doing it.
It seemed like there were a lot more people around then. Gigs weren’t very plentiful, touring bands didn’t come here so local bands pulled big crowds. Nowadays no younger guys are getting into extreme stuff. Commercial shit like Trivium can pull so there is an audience there but it’s the underground stuff that’s suffering.
Today’s double edged sword has to be the net and social media. From one point of view, everyone and everything is accessible which is good of course, but what pisses me off is how much time people give to places like facebook, talking about what they’re gonna do instead of picking up an instrument and playing the fuckin thing’.
The production is massive and tonally rich. The guitars have bite yet have warmth and depth, while the drums are booming and natural. Tell us about the recording process. How prepared were you entering the studio and had you much time to toy around with various effects while recording?
‘We went over to Michael at Trackmix. It was a very easy process as some of us had worked with him a lot already and we’re well used to how he operates. Likewise, he knows how we like to work and sound so we’ve a good working relationship. There were no issues at all.
It’s a good, well equipped studio and you’re obviously not gonna go there and not make use of what’s available, but we did as much of it as we could live, didn’t use any clicks and tried to keep it as natural as possible. We knew what we wanted, had enough time behind us to know how to go about getting it and trusted Michael’s experience and knowledge of the equipment. I wouldn’t hesitate to go there again’.
I understand there is new material being written. Has the dynamic changed at all? Is Apostate Viaticum a democracy and how can we expect the new stuff to develop or are you happy to work within the parameters you have already set?
‘Of course it’s democratic, once everybody shuts up and does what they’re told! It’s important that everyone involved gets what they want from it. It’s not right to expect people to give up their time, effort and money to be dictated to by someone else.
We’re very laid back about all of it, everyone has an equal voice. It can work for some bands where one guy rules the roost and the rest willingly go along with it, nothing wrong with that to a point if all concerned are happy with it, but we don’t work that way. We operate on an “as much or as little” basis.
Everybody’s input is valued but nobody would get any stick for not contributing from time to time either. Everyone’s essential to make it work and it wouldn’t be the same without any one of us. With the album recorded we’re looking at some new stuff. Simply because that’s how bands function and we’ve fuck all else to be doing.
I don’t see us doing things any differently, certainly you won’t be hearing any Type O Negative influence! We’ve already done more than we initially set out to do so it’s down to how much we can write and how it sounds to us. We’ll see how things go from here…’
– Andy Cunningham ::: 05/04/17