Bal-Sagoth has always been one of my favourite bands. If I was to make a list of favourite bands, these Englishmen would be found in the top ten, maybe even the top 5. This band has been a beacon of originality, even when they were in the underground. Known for their long titles, acrobatic live shows and original sound this band was able to break through quickly. “Battle Magic” represents a turning point, and Bal-Sagoth was a part of the English Cacophonous Records label until their third album. Bal-Sagoth released their fourth album for Nuclear Blast, practically the largest metal label of today. The band went through many personnel changes, but their styles have not changed much over their five albums. After the more than successful “Atlantis Rising” album they have been taking a long break, but Byron is once again ready to return to the scene working on the long-awaited sixth release. What tales of lost civilization could await us this time? Lead singer of Bal-Sagoth, Byron, one of the most charismatic personalities on the scene, answered some questions for me.
Hi Byron! Are you preparing a new full-length? Could you unveil to us the title and other anything else?
Hello to all the readers and the supporters of Bal-Sagoth. Yes indeed, we are currently recording a new album, our sixth album overall. The album title and the individual track titles will be unveiled after the recording is complete later this summer. The sixth album will feature 12 tracks in total, 8 songs and 4 synth pieces. In many respects, the new album will be much darker than some of our previous works, and the opus will be characterized by having a truly symphonic essence. New technology has enabled us to create a wonderfully orchestral sound, with strings, brass, woodwind and choirs that are almost indistinguishable from the real thing.
Almost 4 years have passed since you have released “Atlantis Ascendant.” What were you doing during this period?
Yes, it has been a long time since our previous album. Since “Atlantis Ascendant”, we have played a few gigs, (including the No Mercy tour, and a second tour with Marduk in 2001, the Bloodstock festival in 2002, some shows with Return To The Sabbat in 2003, and Wacken Open Air in 2004)… Primarily we have spent the time exploring new recording technology and writing the sixth album.
Will you continue your work with Nuclear Blast? Were there any troubles with them because you didn’t release anything?
Nuclear Blast has been very patient for allowing us to take so long to create the sixth album! The end result will certainly be worth the wait, of course.
By the way, are you planning to play any gigs at festivals this summer? Also, do you plan on touring after the upcoming material is released?
We will perhaps play the Tuska festival in Finland in July, although this depends on whether or not we have finished the mixing of the sixth album, and whether we can gather all the members together for a suitable number of rehearsals. We have not rehearsed in over a year, as we have been working on the new album and live shows are not the first priority of Bal-Sagoth these days. After the album is completed, we will decide whether or not we will play any further shows or tours.
Keyboards always were the main instrument in your music. Was it hard to perform Bal-Sagoth songs live? Do you need double keyboards or two keyboard players? Do you like to use any samples?
We have only one keyboard player, who uses two keyboards, a Roland XP-50 and a Korg M1. Additionally, we have recently acquired a state of the art Fantom keyboard, so we will be using that henceforth. Although it is not always possible to recreate the album sounds entirely accurately on stage, we always strive to render a reasonable facsimile. New technology will now allow us to recreate the epic symphonic synth sounds even more convincingly than ever before.
During last year you wanted to release a live album, but suddenly you decided not to. What actually happened? why didn’t you release this record?
We never intended to release a live album, so I do not know where this rumour came from.
Somehow connected to this “live” things is one rumour that I’ve heard long time ago that you were seriously injured during some live performances while you are doing acrobatic scenes. Is this true?
I fractured my sternum (chest-bone) many years ago stage-diving at a Cannibal Corpse gig. My mutant healing factor enabled a swift recovery.
When you record and release one album do you like to read media reaction (like reviews, comments etc) about your work? Does it have any effects on you?
Truthfully, we do not pay heed to reviews or critical reaction. The label often sends copies of reviews, but they are given only a cursory glance before being discarded. We do not create this music to please critics; we create it to please ourselves and our dedicated fan base. Whether or not some artless and ignorant music critic can or cannot understand this epic baroque art is of no concern to us.
You used to have long titles for track and albums; why? Does it have any specific meaning?
The albums generally contain a mixture of both longer and shorter song titles. My longer song titles have certainly gained myself and the band some notoriety, which is of course a good thing. There are fans out there who love the long song titles, and of course that tradition is something which I will always maintain. I have always used a mixture of both long and short titles, and it is something which Bal-Sagoth is recognized for.
The English history is obviously an important theme for Bal-Sagoth and your lyrics. Could you comment a little more on your sources for tales/lyrics writing?
All the Bal-Sagoth lyrics are part of the same grand saga, a saga which encompasses the entire vista of creation from the beginnings of the universe to the cataclysmic end of all there is. They are tales of ancient kingdoms, epic battles, distant worlds, dark sorcery, diabolical demons, rogue gods, and incredible journeys beyond the parameters of humanity to spheres of existence unparalleled in the annals of the cosmos. My tales are born of the imagination and are inspired by many things, including ancient myths and legends, arcane history, dreams, and a myriad other sources. The alternate-universe of my lyrics is a fantastic place teeming with dark and sublime wonders, a place complete with its own unique history, theology, geography, mythology and cosmology… a place of glorious carnage, epic adventure and unparalleled darkness. Additionally there are many short stories set within the world of the lyrics, and work is even now continuing on the graphic novels which I’m writing and Martin Hanford is illustrating. And then there’s the expanded A-Z glossary of all the characters, places, events, etc. of the Bal-Sagoth lyrics which will hopefully be released soon, perhaps in a paperback format. Publishers are currently being selected for these projects.
The music of Bal-Sagoth has always been very different from other bands. Some groups even tried to copy you, but they fail. What do you think is the main reason that you manage to keep such a unique style over the years?
Our style is so strange, insular, unique and complex that I don’t believe there are any bands out there who are psychologically or artistically capable of copying our approach. The essence of our song writing (beyond the “nuts & bolts” practical applications) is a very unique and secret formula which is empowered by the combination of great genius and artistic excellence. One of the keys is synergy and the accurate realization of ideas from the conceptual phase all the way to the final product. There’s a touch of magic about this band that no other group could ever possibly hope to emulate. We have originated our own sound and style; it is an engine we have built from the ground up. There will always be progression and evolution in our albums, but we will never stray far from our unique and winning formula.
Was there anything before Bal-Sagoth was formed; I mean did you have any bands or musical projects before Bal-Sagoth was born?
Both myself and Jonny were in previous bands, but these were little more than time-filling garage bands which served only to hone our skills in preparation for the real thing. Jonny’s previous band was a thrash act called Igniter, and they released some demos. Immediately before I implemented the Bal-Sagoth project, myself and the Maudlings started a “practice” band called Dusk. This was intended only to prepare us for the commencement of Bal-Sagoth.
The artworks for all the Bal-Sagoth releases have always been very special and original as well. But, I must write that I like those earlier covers for “Starfire Burning…” and “Battle Magic” more. Anyway, who painted your cover art and pictures for booklets? It seems that covers play an important part in legacy of Bal-Sagoth?
All the cover art has been commissioned based on detailed conceptual and thematic outlines which I provide. The cover art is very important to Bal-Sagoth, as it essentially serves as a visual representation of the art and audial concepts contained within the album, and is also intended to parallel and echo the lyrical content. The cover artists of our albums are: 1st album: Digitalis (Cacophonous in-house graphics dept.), 2nd album: Joe Petagno, 3rd album: Simon Lee, 4th, 5th and 6th albums: Martin Hanford. Ultimately I’d like to repackage all the albums in deluxe editions.
What’s your opinion about bands like Rhapsody and others similar to them? They have also fantasy lyrics-writing, but again they’re more into other musical genres of metal, not so close to you.
I have never heard any of Rhapsody’s material, so I cannot comment on it. (However, if it is power metal oriented, and then I would probably not like it.) Neither can I comment on any other bands’ lyrics, as I don’t tend to listen to new releases by other bands these days.
Do you think that England has something very specific when it comes to art and musical expression? Many original bands that have influenced the whole metal scene have arrived from your homeland. Also, the situation is the same with Bal-Sagoth.
I think England has over the centuries sired many talented artists working in all avenues of the arts, from literature, to painting, to acting, to music, etc. There is powerful magic which radiates through this small island which creates and inspires artists. Admittedly however, in recent years the number of quality metal bands hailing from England seems to have diminished considerably. Why? Who knows…
And for the end please list some of your favourite movies and books that you’ve watched/seen ever? It seems that some films made a big influence on Bal-Sagoth and you.
Yes, books and films do indeed inspire greatly. Some of my favourite authors are Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, E.R. Burroughs, J.R.R. Tolkien, Frank Herbert, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Stan Lee, David Gemmel, et al. Favourite movies include the Star Wars hexalogy, Conan The Barbarian, Jaws, Mad Max 2, Bride Of Frankenstein, Superman, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Dragonslayer, Jason And The Argonauts, Excalibur, Fire And Ice, Blade Runner, Alien, The Thing, LOTR trilogy, Batman Returns, Spider-Man, King Kong, Jurassic Park, The Abyss, Robocop, Flash Gordon, Akira, Dune, Dawn Of The Dead, Forbidden Planet, etc.
Byron, it was great to have an interview with you. Have you any message for the end?
Thanks for the interview, and hail to all our fans reading this. The sixth album is almost complete and will be released around the autumn of 2005. Don’t forget to check out http://www.bal-sagoth.com and/or http://www.bal-sagoth.co.uk for all the latest band news, and if you want Bal-Sagoth shirts, hotpants or thongs, visit http://www.rock-bottom.de
BLODU OK JARNA!
Interview done by Marko Miranovic in the fall of 2005