Cult Norwegian black metal act Ancient is back after years of dormancy with their new album entitled Back to the Land of the Dead, the release which totally relieves the glory of 90’s melodic sound. Frontman Zel is here to tell us everything we needed to know about this mysterious troop.
Greetings Zel and welcome to the pages of Metal Sound! How are you doing these days?
Thanks, I’m doing very well, we’re quite busy these days with the release of the news album, doing interviews, and various promo on the internet, also working on some tour booking at the moment, and apart from this I am also working on my other band Melina Mortis ( “baptized” yesterday ) and we soon have music ready for the first album, so I am quite buys now, but it’s all good.
First of all, I would like to congratulate you on your new album Back to the Land of the Dead – it denies today’s trends and sounds totally in 90’s vein while still following Ancient’s path. How do you feel about the album from this perspective?
Thanks a lot. Yes this is what everybody keeps telling us, some people think of it as a “lost treasure” from the ‘90s hehe, like an album that was made 20 years ago, but was never released until now. We don’t really follow so much what’s going on the in black metal / extreme metal scene these days, there are few bands that really interest us a lot, and there are just SO many bands out there now, it’s hard to dig through everything and find something that really is interesting, but that’s also a lot cause we listen to a lot of different metal, and music in general. This is probably why we could make an album that somehow “sticks out” a bit from a lot of other stuff in the scene today. We just did what felt natural, as always, and this is the result. I think if you listen too much of one specific kind of music in one genre, you can get a bit “confused” or lose track of what you really want to go and how you want your album to be. Some people might say the album is not so cool because it sounds old, and some people say that’s exactly why it is good, hehe. We don’t think of it in that way though, we just do what we do and what feels natural to us. I think we have managed to still keep our special Ancient sound and identity yeah, but it’s just what comes natural, it’s never something we plan.
Let us now go back in time a little bit: your previous album Night Visit was released way back in 2004, what has happened with the band and why did you take such song break?
Yeah, well from 2006 to 2009 there was a total silence from Ancient. We made no concerts etc. and I didn’t even meet Dhilorz in this period, as I moved to Greece in early 2006. I guess we grew a bit tired of the band after 2005. Grom left Ancient and relocated to the USA, and I think we just felt we needed a break, but we didn’t agree on stopping the band exactly, it just happened, and we never made any official announcement that the band had split up, though practically it had. In 2009, by a coincidence, a friend of us in London introduced us to Nick Barker, we met up and we decided to start playing together. We started thinking about a new album, things were moving slow though, with me in Greece and Dhilorz in Italy (and Nick in the UK when he was not away for touring with other bands. In theory we could have finished the album a lot earlier, if we went and did everything in 1 or 2 studios, but with various jobs, bands etc, everything went really slow. We, and the people recording the album, were also unfortunate to have lost several family members in the period we were recording, and this was also tough to deal with. This won’t happen again for another album though.
Only you and Dhilorz remained from the old line up, I would like to know how did you get in contact with Nick Barker? Did his arrival inspire you to get Ancient going again?
Yes, we are the 2 main members in the band now, and the main songwriters, though Nick also has contributed to the final works of the tracks on this album.
We actually got in touch with Nick back in 2008, by a kind of coincidence, as we have a mutual friend in London, we met up and decided to play together, so we did some mini tours in Spain and Portugal in 2009, and the feeling was very good. After that we slowly started thinking about a new album, so yeah I have to say that he was a great part of the inspiration to get the band going again. A great drummer is really important in this kind of music, and he is a great guy as well, so yeah, without him, I don’t know what the situation of Ancient would actually have been today.
Back to the Land of the Dead was awaited for a long time so can you tell us how did the composing process go, and who was responsible for the music?
Yeah, the songs for the album were written mainly between 2012 and 2013, so the album took us almost 2 years to complete. I was also making some music in 2010- 2011, but these were of a more slow and heavy “doom metal / gothic” style, and some of these are now being used in Melina Mortis as I mentioned above.
I was working on my songs in my house in Greece, and Dhilorz was working on his in Italy, a few tracks we completed together, but most of them were made by me or him alone, and in the end we made some pre productions with Nick, so he also contributed to composing in the end.
The album sounds totally melodic but still black metal, in my opinion like some lost album from the golden era in 90’s for this kind of music. Do you agree with my statement and how do you view the musical direction of the album?
Hehe yeah, exactly like I mentioned earlier. As I said, we don’t see it the same way as the fans, we just do what feels natural to us. It’s not like we sat down and say “ok, I think we should probably make an album that has a typical ‘90s style”, we just wrote the songs, and this is how it turned out. We all like the ‘90s style of black metal, not so much the newer things of today, but we also have many other influences, which somehow contributes to the special Ancient sound. As you can hear, we have more blast beats than ever with this album, and that is mainly cause we have such a beast like Nick behind the drums, you can’t put a lion in a cage, you know, it was quite clear from the start that we would have a very aggressive sound with this album, although there are still plenty of slower atmospheric parts, which is typical for Ancient.
Is Back to the Land of the Dead sort of conceptual album? Can you tell us what the lyrics are about?
It is not a concept album, just 3 songs are connected, “The Excruciating Journey” trilogy.
Looking at the album cover, you might think this is an album about zombies, and I have some slight regrets about that now, the artist didn’t follow my idea 100%, but it is a fine piece of art.
The album title “Back To The Land Of The Dead”, will maybe confuse some people, thinking we’re saying something like “we are back FROM the dead” ( the band makes a “comeback” ), but it’s different. On the cover you see a hooded figure coming out from some kind of passage or gateway, and below there are hundreds of zombie like creatures, these are the “dead” people, but they’re not exactly zombies, like those in the zombie movies, you could call them “spiritual zombies” maybe.
The land of the dead is the society we all live in today. It’s right here.
With this I mean a very great part of people in our society today, who are somewhat “spiritually dead”, the way they live and what they occupy their minds with etc., ( luckily I see that in the metal scene, not so many belong in this category, most metal fans are different than the rest of society, we have a different mindset and many of us are rebellious or/ and have somewhat different ways to view life and what is really important here, I do believe that metal music is healthy for our brains in many ways), of course I see it as a relative thing, who are the “dead” people and who is “somewhere in between”. It’s not about discriminating anyone, but it’s speaking about something that is happening to a lot of us and our minds, with the “modern lifestyle” so many of us are following now, having our face buried in the Facebook hours a day, internet in general, our mindset etc., The track The Sempiternal Haze is speaking more about this, describing a “spiritual haze”, which is somewhat shows in the people you see at the front cover.
The lyrics in the title track „ Land Of The Dead“ speaks about a person who has been away from the place he was born, for many years, and when he returns he sees that the people there have become somewhat „spiritually dead“ and he needs to „wake them up“ from their „death“ before it becomes a physical death, like the lyrics repeats „ my journey is over, it’s time to come back“.
It’s not actually a concept album, but most of the lyrics speak about the devil, the spirit of the devil, and how it can influence us in various destructive ways. They might be a bit intricate but for those who are interested, they will understand the meaning I think. I have been studying these subjects over the last years, and I know most of the fans has a very different view of who or what the devil is (though many have no interest of course) but I write it from my view and how I see it, I found it to be very good lyrical material as well as an interesting, and important, subject. I could go on forever speaking about this…
Can you please solve us some controversies and excuse me for asking maybe a personal question – some time ago the news came that you have converted to Christianity, is that true and how do you combine it with playing in Ancient? Also Deadly Kristin converted to Islam, do you still have contact with her?
Yes, since 2009, though I think people are starting to understand that I am basically the same guy as before and I am not trying to do something really “weird” with Ancient now, the album doesn’t sound any more soft than our previous works, rather the contrary.
There are so many different kind of people who call themselves Christians, and the same goes for Satanists, atheists etc etc, I don’t really feel I am a different person than before, I just feel I see some things more clear now, and have a bit different mindset. How I combine it playing with Ancient, well I guess a lot of people think this is weird, that a Christian can create extreme metal, but I feel that to make this kind of music you need a certain dose of aggression and inspiration to create some dreamlike music with a rather dark atmosphere. Even though I am a Christian now, I still have plenty of things that makes me angry and pissed off, probably more than before, what’s important is which things is in your mind and what you consider important in life.
Yes she converted to Islam many years ago, I haven’t spoken to her in a while though.
It’s a peculiar situation I guess, Kaiaphas now lives in Israel, we had a member who used to call himself Jesus Christ, I am wearing a crown that some people connect with the image of Jesus (though it was totally not the idea when it was made back in 1993), we have a band name which is not like most black metal bands, many such interesting “coincidences” with Ancient. If it’s really a coincidence or not, only time will tell… I personally believe that everything happens for a reason, it’s just usually taking a long time to see what that reason really is, and sometimes it can take half a lifetime or more.
On the other hand, Ancient was there from the beginning of Norwegian golden era of black metal. If I am informed well, you grew up in Bergen so do you have some interesting stories to share from those times?
It was a quite interesting and inspiring time, in many ways. One thing I still remember well was meeting Varg at the local rock pub, Garage, when he told me “ I have quit Old Funeral, I now have my own band called Burzum, this means darkness in the language of the elves”, and I visited him a few weeks later in his apartment and heard some demos from his first album etc, though we were never close friends or so, then the year after he was on the front page of the local newspaper etc, and we all know the rest. The whole vibe and feeling was very “intense” among the musicians and fans in the scene, and black metal was something most people considered “dangerous” and really obscure, most people had never even heard about Satanism and so on. Creating music in that time was also quite a unique feeling, with everything that went on, and at the same time the interest in the scene, especially from other countries, was really good as well. Some people might have thought that some bands were getting known quickly and good great recognition just because they were from Norway, but the music that came out from Norway in those days was generally very good and had a unique feeling, as we all know. I got bored of life in Norway though, I felt it was too much of a quiet place, and when Grimm left the band and I got in touch with Kaiaphas, it didn’t take me long to move over to the USA, I was very ready to experience some new environments etc. But it’s not exactly cause I thought it was a “better place”, I guess I just felt I needed to travel and see new places and situations.
Ancient was always “love or hate” band – you had a lot of fans while some people spat on you and called you disgrace to black metal. How do you perceive this situation?
I think this is something the fans notice more than us, back in the ‘90s we didn’t have internet (until 97 or so) and things were different than now, we rarely noticed any “hate”, but yeah I heard some people spoke bad about Ancient, for various reasons, but it’s not something we really care much about. The “problem” is that a lot of people really liked the band, a lot because we were different from the rest, for better or for worse.
I honestly never really saw Ancient as a “black metal” band, even though many people consider releases like “Svartalvheim” and “Trolltaar” as black metal, I always felt we were doing something a bit different, and also today I have that feeling, but maybe that’s just me.
I always though what really matters is what comes out of your speakers, though I know some people have gotten a very different impression. Some photos and videos of questionable quality contributed to that, but I don’t judge music in this way. If I listen to a great album by a great band, I’m not gonna let the photos in the album booklet let me change my mind. If some people hated the music, that is a fair reason, but ok, let’s hope this feeling of hatred was used for something worthwhile : ) A strong feeling of hatred can often be used to create some great music, you know.
Are you planning to do some videos for the promotion of Back to the Land of the Dead? Ancient always had highly controversial videos, that’s for sure! My favorite on is Lilith’s Embrace, how do you recall those old shootings?
There is a good possibility we will do a video for “The Sempiternal Haze”, but it’s not yet 100% decided.
Yeah most of the old videos were done really cheap and not very well, but I don’t really care about it today, the video of “Lilith’s Embrace” is probably the best example yeah, but at least it also gave us some exposure for the music, not just poor video production hehe.
How do you think that Ancient fits in today’s black metal scene with its style that is different comparing to what is popular nowadays?
I honestly can’t give a very good answer to that one, we don’t really follow the scene of today so closely and we don’t think so much about this stuff. But what we have noticed, is that the feedback and comments from this album is really good, and lots of people seem to praise the fact that it has a very ‘90s feeling. I was thinking that we maybe went a bit too far with keeping such an old sound, but the band is called Ancient, so maybe it makes great sense after all : )
Since I am old fan of your work, can you please give me your comment about your old albums, how do you see them from this distance?
We have many albums behind us now, and they all are a bit different from each other, I don’t think we have 2 albums that are really similar, but even so, they all have that special Ancient sound which we are known for, maybe Mad Grandiose Bloodfiends was a bit too much away from our roots for some people, although I personally like it a lot. I can say that The Halls Of Eternity is probably the only album I don’t feel very satisfied with musically. It has many good tracks, but if the music was performed better, with better production and arrangements etc, it would have made a huge difference. When we played those songs live, they sounded so much more powerful and tight compared to the album.
I am proud and satisfied with all our albums though, and it is great that there is still interest in the old albums after all these years. I never had some clear long term idea about how Ancient would develop etc, we just kept it going.
I listen to our albums in a different way than our fans, I think.
In most of the albums I can somehow connect the feeling of the music to my life at the time it was recorded, and the place they were recorded. Especially the albums Trolltaar and The Cainian Chronicle give me a very special cold feeling, and I can somehow feel and remember the winter landscapes in Norway (and Sweden) from back then, it’s like the energy I got from the nature was somehow captured into the music, and this is a very magical feeling. With the later albums I have similar feelings, just not quite as strong.
Are you perhaps planning to present the album with some tours, do you already have some gigs booked?
Yes, we are considering a few various options at the moment. If everything goes as planned, we will be touring in all of Europe, also East Europe and Russia, as well as USA and South America, but nothing is confirmed yet. I remember we were supposed to play in a festival in Serbia in 2003, but there were some problems with an organizer who was drunk and suddenly out of money, so our performance got cancelled, and we were very disappointed about that, let’s hope we can make a revenge this time, cause we know the fans in Serbia are really great and enthusiastic.
That would be all for this time, thank you for this chat and I would like to wish you all the best! Your last message to Serbian fans…
Thanks a lot for the support !!
We do sincerely hope to visit Serbia in 2017 !!!