Rebirth of Nefast are among a small, tight knit group of underground black metal acts in Ireland – under the radar, low key and enigmatic.
The band is the brainchild of Steve ‘Wann’ Lockhart, who has in fact moved to Iceland and is running a studio that’s played no small part in shaping the sound of the emerging Icelandic scene.
Andy Cunningham tracked him down for an interview – and we also present some awesome new material from the closely aligned band Slidhr. Feast your ears!
The Ghost House
Welcome, Steve. You had been operating for many years in the shadowy corners of the Irish scene before heading over to Iceland.
First off, give us a bit of a history of your own activity within the Irish scene, what drew you to black metal in the first place and what was your impetus to start playing that style yourself? When did you leave and what was your motivation to go?
Cheers Andy, thanks for the opportunity. The Rebirth of Nefast demo was my first attempt at putting a release together (and at recording). At the time, I wasn’t interested in playing with other musicians, not just because I wanted to do everything without outside interference, but also because there wasn’t really a whole lot of like minded musicians I’d have considered working with, with the exception of Joseph from Slidhr.
So when he offered to play drums on the demo, it was the kick I needed to stop twiddling around with riffs and actually do something I wanted to hear myself.
At the time I was studying Forestry in UCD and the opportunity came up to go to Iceland for a work exchange program. So I went over mid 2007 with a few guys and after I graduated the following year, I ended up moving over full-time.
Icelandic BM is currently enjoying its moment in the spotlight but many people reading this might not realise that an Irish hand has had quite a huge part in developing, or at least capturing, those bands’ sounds.
The most notable record that people will likely have heard to have spewed from Studio Emissary is Svartidaudi’s monstrous ‘Flesh Cathedral’. That album is undoubtedly the cornerstone of the whole Icelandic sound, as far as I can hear.
How much input did you have in the producing of that actual sound? Were you in the thick of it or did you sit back and let the band do their thing?
Those were odd sessions, in that they were very relaxed and intense in the same breath. I was living in what we affectionately called ‘The Ghost House’. It was basically a rather large old house in the middle of nowhere (at least by Reykjavik standards). Varying sources say it used to be a mental institution or a hospital for tuberculosis patients.
I stayed there alone a little more than a year. Living there was a claustrophobic experience to say the least, especially during the winter with only a couple of hours of daylight. This was the setting for recording ‘Flesh Cathedral’.
I am normally right in the thick of anything I produce and this was no exception. I recall a three hour live ambience session that took place in the middle of the night after a successful days recording. Very, very intense.
Much of that made it onto the album in the form of intros/outros. I also arrange and manipulate the ambient sections heard on many of the Studio Emissary recordings.
Despite Iceland being a very fertile place for experimental music as well as metal, the population is very small. Are there enough bands to keep you busy? Have you worked with many bands from outside the metal scene?
So are you running the studio full time these days? Is it possible to actually make a living from recording bands?
I am running the studio full-time (more like double time). Making a living on just metal here, well, that’s another story.
The market is pretty small, with a lot of quality but not so much quantity. So generally, there are not enough bands here to keep the doors revolving. I’m working with foreign bands more and more lately though, so it works out nicely.
In addition to that, I find myself working with a lot of different content, from TV, sound design, a lot of editing/tuning, engineering etc. This I find is really healthy.
Not only is it excellent to step out of the comfort zone, but it’s also just a nice change – listening to ten hours of high gain guitars every day wears heavily on the ears.
In terms of outside the metal scene – I’ve worked with quite a lot of bands/artists actually, some you probably already know.
You recorded Sinmara’s excellent ‘Aphotic Womb’ debut and subsequently joined the band on bass. They share members with Svartidaudi and there is naturally a similarity in sound and style detectable there too.
Are you concerned that the Icelandic sound is in danger of repeating itself and burning out or are there enough new ideas being introduced to keep it moving forward?
I have considered this quite a bit. What needs to be taken into account here, is that a lot band incest is going on, most musicians are in several bands, so of course styles are spilling over.
For the last five years or so, the scene has consisted of just a handful of prolific, hard working musicians, who have have been putting out great material long before the ‘Icelandic sound’ came into the spotlight. By 2010 Svartidaudi, Sinmara (as Chao) and Wormlust already had some fantastic releases that gained much of respect in the underground.
What I do consider however, is with the amount of attention being garnished on the scene at the moment, the term ‘trend’ starts to get thrown around, which is a term I refer to begrudgingly, because it always comes with the connotation that the success is somehow undeserved, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
And usually when scenes get labelled like this, the ‘trend’ has a limited life-span before people start to get bored of it. Most of us here are already quite conscious of it.
There is always new blood however, and from what I hear of developing material from the aforementioned bands, repetition or stagnation certainly is not an issue.
Whatever will happen, will happen, but I would like to think that as long as the quality remains high, the attention will continue.
Sinmara will be playing at the Siege of Limerick in October. What can we expect from your live show? Will you present any new material?
You will also be making up the numbers for the Slidhr (whose debut album and forthcoming EP were also recorded in Studio Emissary) lineup. What is your role there and can you give us any hints of what ideas JD has in store for live presentation?
With Sinmara, I guess everyone comes away with their own experience. I would a least hope that people walk away spellbound, if not a little traumatized, but lets see. It is very likely we will be presenting new material, as the level of writing has been prolific of late.
As regards Slidhr – you’ll have to ask Joseph that. I will be filling in duties on guitar, along with Gar√∞ar and Bjarni (both from Sinmara) making up the rhythm section.
Joseph will perform guitar and vocals. Basically, this live manifestation will be composed of 3/5ths Sinmara, so you are going to be talking to some tired musicians after the show.
And here’s that new Slidhr track – ‘Spit Of The Apostate’
Another icelandic BM band with an Irish connection of sorts, Abominor, (recently joined forces with Invictus Productions) will be joining Sinmara and Slidhr for the Siege of Limerick. Their forthcoming EP was recorded in Studio Emissary so what can you tell us about that?
I got to know the Abominor guys though the old Sinmara rehearsal space. It was us, Abominor, Svartidaudi and Shrine (who you’ll also be hearing more about soon).
Their debut EP ‘Opus Decay’ was also recorded partly in ‘The Ghost House’, although during the summer, a very different setting, but inspiring none the less. I am looking forward to both Sinmara and Abominor coming to Ireland. They’ll finally get to hear a real Irish accent. Also worth mentioning, √ìli (Sinmara) and √ìskar (Abominor) are brothers!
Seven years on from the incredible ‘Ex Nihilio’ split between Slidhr and Rebirth of Nefast you have finally made it to the final stages of recording the debut Rebirth album. What the hell took you so long?
Are you a perfectionist or were you too caught up with the studio? What can we expect from the album? Has there been much progression with the new material or are you sticking to the style you honed in the past?
It’s a combination of both, and other elements as well. Firstly, I am indeed a raging perfectionist, so when my profession has me constantly discovering new ways to improve the production of the record, it’s very hard not to alter and re-record elements. Which may sound like a black hole, which it can be, but I have no regrets whatsoever.
Every change and all the time spent so far has been completely worth it . The result is that I am sitting on an album, in which most of the material is years old, but I can still stand behind 100%.
The fact that I am doing everything myself (except drums, Bjarni from Sinmara/Slidhr/Wormlust performed that duty) takes time. Writing also can be a slow process when I am basically auditioning everything with myself.
Time is absolutely of the essence – most of the last few years has gone into honing the sounds of other bands, which has a tendency to consume all creative juices. But for me, this project has never been about achieving the success most bands strive for, it would be nice don’t get me wrong, but it’s not what it’s about.
It will be released on my terms, when it’s ready. And if the project has to fall into obscurity for the last seven years in order for it to be ready, so be it.
I’ve had people say to me, that perhaps if I just released it’s incarnation of four years ago, maybe it wouldn’t have been perfect, but I could have done another album two years later, then another now. Which brings me to the point that I don’t want to release a bunch of ‘good’ albums just for the sake it. I would rather release one great album that I am entirely proud of.
And then there was Haud Mundus, Wormlust, Myrkr; my collaboration with those projects took up the best part of a year. I have also written another albums worth of material for Rebirth of Nefast which will be used on other releases.
Of this 100+ minutes of music, it took a while to nail down what would work best together as cohesive release.
As regards the material on new album ‘Tabernaculum’ itself; it’s more varied, especially in terms of tempo. The feeling has not changed however.
Expect a lot of ambience, harmonising, and a hell of a lot of reverb! There will of course be some ‘this doesn’t sound like it was recorded in a cave like the demo’ but that’s fine with me. There were comparisons like that already between the ‘Only Death’ demo and the ‘Ex Nihilio’ material.
Which bring me to my next points; for me, Black metal is first and foremost about atmosphere and feeling, production is just a means of delivery.
I have no interest in how fast something is or how technical, and I have no interest in how the end result was achieved. This is where it gets complicated, because there is a small contingent within the Black metal scene who consider everything that does not sound like it was recorded in 1993 with 4-track recorder illegitimate.
For me, where this argument falls completely short, is the idea of relying on poor production to provide atmosphere. If Black metal does not sound ‘dark’ or ‘evil’ when you can hear everything that is going on, then there is something seriously wrong with it.
The prime example of this would be a lot of second generation bands; once they had decent studio budgets, all of the feeling and atmosphere of their music went out the window when they had proper production. Which leads me to think that the atmosphere was in their rawness, not actually the content of their music.
I recall a very old interview with Fenriz where he’s talking about how they would play a riff though an old organ, and if it didn’t sound like it could be in a Hammer Horror movie, it was thrown away (I am aware of the irony of quoting Darkthrone in reference to good production).
I believe there is an element of validity in this point. If you play your Black metal on an acoustic guitar, does it still sound like Black metal or does it sound like folk music? You can play the most majorised material with distorted guitars, fast drums and bad production and it will be considered Black metal. There is something wrong there, for me at least.
The bottom line is in the very name itself; Black metal. This music is supposed to be dark and overwhelming, but as the name suggests, also heavy. All aesthetics aside for a moment, Black metal is still a sub-genre of metal, and this is something elitists don’t like to admit for fear of aligning themselves with the ‘metal brother’ mentality, but this is actually how it is.
I also encounter similar attitudes regarding the means in which recordings are done; click tracks, re-amping, sampling, recording a drumkit with more than one microphone, whatever.
It is all completely meaningless when you consider the bigger picture. Every note and beat is written and played for a reason. It is supposed to be heard and it is supposed to be tight.
However the end result is achieved is inconsequential if it sounds good. Remove this way of thinking and these imaginary rules; concentrate on composition, combined with proper delivery, and you get something truly spectacular.
Will Rebirth of Nefast ever play live?
Hah, I was waiting for this. I toy with the idea a lot, but it always comes back to the thought that it would just be too much work, especially with my commitments now to Sinmara and Slidhr.
I also consider that most Black metal gigs are bar gigs, so I don’t think those settings would do it justice in terms of delivery. I wouldn’t like to give up any elements of what you hear on record, but I suppose having five guitarists on stage at the same time isn’t an option.
I am surrounded by excellent musicians who are way more enthusiastic about the idea than I myself, so maybe some day they’ll twist my arm. Perhaps it might work if I can separate the concept of how it sounds on record vs. how it would sound live. Ask me again in six months. This fluctuates.
With cheap direct flights from Ireland to Iceland becoming available this year will you hope to attract some bands from here to fly over there for a recording session?
Have you had much interest from outside of Iceland up to now? What exactly can you offer to bands who might want to head over there? Big sell!!
There are deals for foreign bands who want to come over. I understand it’s a bit of a pain going to another country to record. It could work for bands who maybe just want to come over for a break and do a little recording at the same time. This is what’s been happening with Slidhr already.
If bands are organized, everything can be tracked in a week, so it’s totally possible. Come over in the winter, won’t get a more inspirational setting than that. Can maybe throw in a volcano or two, sweeten the deal a little.
Then of course, bands don’t even have to come over for mixing and mastering (as was the case with the new Mortuus Umbra). There has been quite a bit of interest from abroad recently. I just finished some mixes/masters for bands you’ll hear about soon.
– Interview by Andy Cunningham ::: 12/05/15