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21st October 2017
After signing a three album deal with Prosthetic Records, UK death metallers Abhorrent Decimation unleashed their sophomore full-length work via said label just a few months ago. Eschewing the death scene's prevalent clichéd and banal iconography, vocalist Ash Scott turned towards unlikely subject matter in the form of a story from Chaucer's 'The Canterbury Tales'. And the resulting album, 'The Pardoner', is a sonically fresh departure from the band's more old-school-swayed debut, 'Miasmic Mutation'. Metal Discovery met up with Ash and bassist David Archer before their show at Manchester's The Star & Garter, to discuss lineup changes; 'The Pardoner'; the Prosthetic deal; and Bernie Clifton...
METAL DISCOVERY: ‘The Pardoner’ came out this summer, which picked up a lot of glowing press… were you 100% confident you’d made a great album… or any nerves ahead of the release in terms of how it would be received?
DAVID: We went for a bit of a stylistic change from our previous work. I think we were… not apprehensive, but just unsure how people would take it. We were all pretty into the fact that we knew we were doing what we wanted to do and, obviously, at the end of the day, you’ve just got to see if people like it or not. And, as pig-headed as it might sound, we made the album that we wanted to, and I think we’re all very happy with how it sounds. Luckily, people seem to get it, which is nice.
(Ash Scott on finding conceptual inspiration within Chaucer's 'The Canterbury Tales')
"...moving into ‘The Pardoner’, everything upped its game a bit, and we just felt the need to be more sophisticated."
Abhorrent Decimation - promo shot
Photograph copyright © 2016 - uncredited
Interview by Mark Holmes
MD: Were you still short of a drummer at the time of recording… I noticed that you’re credited with bass and drums?
DAVID: Yeah, we were still short of a drummer at the time.
MD: You’re a bit of a nifty drummer as well then, obviously.
DAVID: Oh no, it was all just magic!
ASH: Explain the process, it is a fascinating process.
DAVID: I mean, I could’ve just programmed all the drums in MIDI and it would’ve been way faster, but what I did instead is… I spent Christmas Eve up until the day after New Year’s Day locked in the studio by myself, set up all the shells, and I learned how to play four bars. Literally, just four bars… recorded that, and moved onto the next 4 bars. And I did that for the entire album. And I did all the cymbals.
MD: Just four bars at a time?
DAVID: Yeah. Sometimes longer than that... especially with the cymbals, there were some songs where I did the whole thing in about three takes. A lot of the cymbal work’s not insane but, yeah, lots of fills and snare rolls… so, yeah, it was quite time-consuming.
MD: The new album sounds less old school, and more contemporary, so with Ross coming in on guitar between albums, would you say that had an impact on the evolution of your sound since ‘Miasmic Mutation’, or do you think you would have evolved naturally in this way, anyway?
ASH: I think Ross coming on board had an effect on the lead playing more than anything. But, actually, the main shift in the stylistic change from ‘Miasmic…’ to ‘The Pardoner’ was we had quite a few lineup changes after the ‘Miasmic…’ era. And that was another thing that sort of drove us to write the album that we wanted to write as a band because, prior to that, it had just been myself and the former lead guitarist who did all the writing, basically. So, we didn’t have much of a collaborative feel in the band. It was us two who started the band. There wasn’t a band when we first started, so we just carried on that writing process for the first two records and then it got to the point where I really wanted to open it out to the other creative forces in the band, because it felt a bit of a waste to just focus on two people’s desire. And, for one reason or another, we parted ways with him and then Archer took on the lion’s share of writing, and then, before we knew it, he’d made this thing and everyone had a few little chip-ins. But, going back to your question, Ross’ main input on the album would’ve been in the phrasings of the leads and stuff like that… and a couple of riffs here and there.
DAVID: I also think he’s actually quite an open and understanding person, so I think the fact that a lot of stuff that I wrote, in particular, he was willing to play. You know, he doesn’t mind the fact that I made some of the stuff ridiculously hard to play. He was very open to all of my suggestions and, yeah, he’s a very good person to have in the band. Having him in the band made the record better, even if he didn’t put as much into it in terms of the writing… but that’s not necessarily the most important thing, anyway. Sometimes, you just need to have people around you who are working together as a team, which really makes a big difference.
MD: The concept’s based around the ‘The Pardoner’s Tale’ from Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales’, so what was it about this literary masterpiece that you thought would make for great source material within the context of an extreme metal album?
ASH: A good question… not sure! Basically, I originally wanted to do something about the Black Death and this was sort of during the touring phase of ‘Miasmic…’, and we went out with a band called The Infernal Sea, and they had just released an album about the Black Death, so, “Oh shit, I can’t do that then, can I.” So, we got close to them and it felt rude to sort of do that. I really had a connection and I’d done a lot of research at that point, so it felt a shame to have wasted my investment and just completely move away from that time period. So, I just looked out a little further and went onto the literary side of that time. Chaucer’s work is something we do, naturally, in the curriculum at school… back then, you think it’s rubbish but, going back to it, I went on Wikipedia, did a little bit of researching, and just found a few of the darker tales, and bought a few summary/synopsis copies of them, and ‘The Pardoner’s Tale’ was the first one that got delivered. It was just sort of fate. I just opened it up, started reading through it and, luckily, I’d bought a second hand copy, and it had a student’s notation all over it…
MD: The translation was already there…
ASH: It was kind of like that. And I was sitting there reading it and I thought if this isn’t the basis for an amazing death metal record, I don’t really know what is.
MD: It’s not one of the most obvious ones, I guess.
ASH: Yeah, the Pardoner sort of slips into the tale.
MD: Was it quite a challenge to transpose and translate Chaucer’s Middle English into something more accessible within your lyrics?
ASH: In some ways, yes and in some ways no. The main challenges are, obviously, working with a frame of music. Some of the verses from that particular poem are incredibly detailed and incredibly long, and you’ve got to break the story up into songs, and you’ve got to make sure you cover the ground in an interesting way. Some chapters, he had this knack of saying so much in so few words and, while that’s lovely, it didn’t really help me, because it didn’t give me much to work with. I think the hardest thing was not transposing it or translating it, it was trying to make it interesting enough and to separate it out into songs. That was probably the hardest part. But, as far as transposing… no. Once you get it, it makes a lot of sense. But it was good fun. Probably the most fun I’ve had writing lyrics ever.
MD: In terms of the anti-religious themes you cover in your songs, I would say it’s far more effective in deconstructing and debunking religion philosophically, rather than resorting to cheap, satanic iconography… which is an inherent part of religion itself, anyway. Is that something you’d agree with?
ASH: Yeah, I’d agree. And it was a conscious decision, actually, to behave in a less cheap manner, if you know what I mean, with our material, moving forward. The main reason it was how it was before, was because we didn’t really have a style, and we didn’t really know what we were doing; we were just trying things and expressing ourselves and that was relatively easy to speak like that, and to write lyrics like that. You know, my lyrics, back then, were more like statements rather than trying to encourage anyone else to believe what I think of the world. I’m just saying it as a matter of fact. But, moving into ‘The Pardoner’, everything upped its game a bit, and we just felt the need to be more sophisticated.
MD: All the satanic imagery in bands, it’s becoming a bit Spinal Tap…
ASH: A bit boring now, yeah.
MD: Boring and old hat, yeah. It’s all one step away from ‘Saucy Jack’… actually, I think most metal bands are probably one step away from Spinal Tap, in one sense…
ASH: Yeah, definitiely.
MD: I gather you had a few different labels contact you after The Black Dahlia Murder shared a link to your last album on Facebook, so what attracted you to Prosthetic Records?
ASH: Prosthetic were the ones that stood out at the time and, actually, one of the owners of Prosthetic Records is the manager of The Black Dahlia Murder. So, basically, when Trevor and the guys put the record out, we had a few labels message us, but it was just the manner in which their message was written that was, like, “These guys seem cool.” And one of the owners flew over to meet us. No one else was that on it, and he just wanted to talk with us and work out what was going on. And he was the most understanding about our situation when we explained we were going through a lineup change, and the sound was gonna be different. And it was, basically, off the back of that meeting that he was just like, “Look, I’ve got a good feeling about this band that, no matter what you do, it’s gonna be good, and you don’t seem like you’re gonna put out a load of rubbish.” With good faith, we had to just take the jump, I think. You know, we all just had a chat amongst ourselves that the band were gonna move forward with the Prosthetic deal and we just felt, yeah, this feels cool.