There have been precious few Black Metal bands in Ireland, let alone those worth talking about.
A few have surfaced with grainy photos and a shitty sample or two. They rightly disappeared after a few months’ disinterest. Multi instrumentalist Joseph Deegan isn’t one of them. He’s had a hand in two of the most meaningful Black Metal bands in Ireland to date: Sol Axis and Myrkr.
Myrkr’s new album, ‘Black Illumination’ is out now. It’s faster, harder and much darker than its predecessor. Its tenebrous and olde world feel make it a record that takes the listener away from the here and now and into altogether less comfortable surroundings. Some of it is plainly foul – and all of it is exceptional.
“I started playing music about 17 years ago and started playing in metal bands about 12 or 13 years ago,” begins Deegan.
“Nothing very exciting to begin with since it was always pretty hard to find serious members so it took some time to get a decent band going. I guess the first band I played live with was Cacodemon, the first one I’m not embarrassed about anyway, hah.”
This would have been about the time of Moonfog, Cernunnos, older Geasa and Lunar Gate – do you think any of those bands could or should have done more?
“I think a serious amount of bands showed some real promise but unfortunately died out. Moonfog could have gone on to do some great things, despite their name… ”
You’re obviously otherwise known for your work with Sol Axis. Tell us a bit about that period in time – it seemed to have real possibility about it, and tracks like ‘Ice Bound’ remain impressive today. What happened, and why was it impossible to keep up the momentum?
“It was a pretty cool time because I hadn’t been playing much music at all for quite a while before we started the band, so when we got going it was pretty exciting. Especially playing live with really good musicians who knew their shit, this made gigging way more enjoyable than with previous bands. Over time though, there were personal differences in direction and stuff that became too big an obstacle, so I quit. Actually, playing live turned out to be the main one.”
Did the Sol Axis experience influence or somehow give more drive to Myrkr?
“Myrkr had already released material before I left Sol Axis and to me they were two very different things. Sol Axis was more of a group effort, if I wrote something it would sound quite different after everyone added their personal touch. However, with Myrkr the creating process was far more introverted I suppose. The other member lived in Sweden and I was in Dublin so there was very little interaction in the typical band/rehearsal sense. We each did our thing, critiqued each other etc, but it was still less of a typical “band ” situation.”
There is quite a divide on whether or not its even appropriate to play Black Metal live. What’s your own position, and does it bug you that profile and fame can now be acquired, literally, from the bedroom?
“There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be played live. I mean, it’s embarrassing to see a black metal band acting like some stadium rock band on stage thinking they’re the shit, but if a band can do something real and capture a good atmosphere well there’s no reason why they shouldn’t. Technology has been great for musicians, the day of going into a studio and paying a fortune to record some shitty demo is gone.”
“The problem is every little mouthbreather with a computer is recording unlistenable shit and flooding the genre. They want a cool hobby and a reason to play with make-up. Fucking losers. What’s worse is that there are people actually releasing this nonsense. Occasionally they get pretty well known too. Lame. Sad little Varg wannabes. He had talent, take note.”
‘Offspring Of Gathered Foulness’ was a decent release by any measure. Something that strikes me about it is how much it relies on the midpaced feel. It never really accelerates. The question may strike you as odd, but how important is speed to you within the BM framework? It’s noticable that ‘Black Illumination’ ramps it up a gear.
“I was making some intentionally primitive black metal with Myrkr and wanted to keep things quite basic and raw, just totally influenced by classic Scandinavian stuff. A lot of that shit wasn’t super fast. This is how I felt Myrkr should sound back then. Obviously things evolved quite a bit but the sound we had from day one is still very much there I think. Things have gotten faster, I guess because I’m a better drummer these days and can handle it more. I only really started to play drums because drummers were hard to find. I never practice unless I’m going to write or record something. Whatever the tempo, it really is all about atmosphere.”
What eventually led to yourself and Vordr parting ways in advance of ‘Black Illuimination’?
“He just lost interest. Simple as that. It’s a shame because he brought something really special to Myrkr, but there’s no point creating something half hearted. There are way too many fake bands doing that shit already.”
‘Black Illumination’ is audibly better than its predecessor. What do you feel is the most important aspect that you’ve grown into with this release?
“The whole period we were recording the album was pretty hectic. We had a lot of delays and stuff but this seemed to work out well in the long run, we could reflect on what was already done and contemplate the next move. When the recording process started I think the music started to go in a slightly different direction to what I had initially written.”
“It got darker than all the other releases. Hard to describe from my point of view I suppose. I used different guitar tones than before, a more organic sound overall too. Still, nothing was forced too much. If a song was going in a certain direction, I let it happen. Then after starting work on the vocals, Vordr realized he couldn’t put as much into it as he should. Finding a new singer so far into the recording process certainly pushed the end result in a different direction than I had in thought, albeit a very refreshing direction to my ears.”
You mention the word ‘introverted’, and I feel that’s the foremost tone within ‘Black Illumination’. There’s also an audible feel of being transported back in time, which not all BM manages to create any more. Do you think BM bands have shied away from that over the last two to three years, as they search for other angles?
“It depends where you look. There are plenty of bands who have their own sound but still sound like they’re straight out of the early nineties. Black Illumination is what it is. This is what Myrkr sounded like over the period it was recorded.”
New, almost monkish, harmonies are apparent in the background, and add significant atmosphere. Is this something you’ll be developing?
“Most of this is down to the new guy, Wann. He went all out with the atmospherics. This really left a big impression on the album. I gave him free reign to do whatever and this is the result. I wouldn’t have asked him to join if I didn’t trust what he would bring to it. Who knows what way Myrkr will go in the future though. I’m not even thinking about it right now.”
Black Metal is an individual thing, and scenes no longer come into it – that moment has passed.
But why is it that Ireland that has singularly failed to produce decent, or even consistent BM? Primordial aside, and that’s debatable anyhow, everthing has been either shit or an all too brief flash in the pan. We’re sorted on the cultural aspect, so why have we never translated it?
“No idea. You’re right though, we have all the elements that SHOULD make an interesting breeding ground for black metal but there has been hardly anything of worth. Recently, the one band that stands way above others is Rebirth of Nefast.”
“Most other countries encourage kids to pursue music and support artistic growth. Here it’s the total opposite. Even trying to hire a half decent rehearsal room can be a struggle and a total rip off. Staying inspired isn’t easy when the simplest things are against you. Most black metal bands who pop up are hard to take seriously, I’ve pretty much given up caring at this stage though.”
But there’s an interesting point nestled in there. BM, even heavy metal in general, is supposed to be kicking against normality. It’s supposed to be confrontational. How does that square with government funding for rehearsal rooms? Not very satanic, is it?
“Most of us don’t start with extreme music though. If you start playing music at an early age, you start with the usual stuff. This is the foundation, learning how to play your instruments and having access to facilities.”
“When your tastes evolve, you’ve already got the ability to do what you want to do. You think government funded rehearsal rooms aren’t evil enough? Well you can be sure that most of these guys never had a job in their lives and live off the system too so there isn’t a whole lot of difference. The same goes for stinking hippies who are anti-establishment blah blah blah, they’d be fucked if their dole was cut.”
And yet somehow BM has come full circle in the likes of Norway, where massive artistic support has led Enslaved to be honored as real cultural ambassadors, and Ihsahn to be funded by govt musical grants. Do you think it odd that what once was beyond the pale has now become a real cultural export for the country, in spite of its harshness – and should we as metallers be doing the same for Ireland?
“I personally wouldn’t want anything to do with government grants but it is interesting to see. Those guys are hardly black metal anymore anyway. I mean, I quite like Enslaved these days but they’re nothing like they used to be. If a band like Primordial were from Norway I’m pretty sure they’d be in a similar situation in terms of exposure and recognition.”
You can pick up ‘Black Illumination’ – the old school way – at Eitrin Editions mailorder. Get it here at the link below.
Interview by Earl Grey ::: 06/07/09
Photography by Emmett Connell