DATE OF INTERVIEW:
23rd April 2012
ALAN 'NEMTHEANGA' AVERILL
METAL DISCOVERY: You have Hell as main support at the two forthcoming shows who obviously have a link with Sabbat as the late Dave Halliday taught Andy Sneap to play guitar originally and Sneapy’s in Hell now of course. I gather Sabbat are a band who were a big inspiration and turning point for you back in the day because of the image and general aesthetic?
ALAN: Oh, huge, yeah. I saw Sabbat in 1989…I think a few of us did, and that was the first time any of us had really seen a band doing something other than jeans and t-shirts. Okay, there was maybe Slayer wearing spikes but they had this Pagan sort of outlook, especially with ‘Dreamweaver’, and it was a really big album over here. Those two albums of Sabbat were. Considering it was the eighties, very English overtones to the band, they were huge here and they had a big influence on us. And then I saw Skyclad in 1991 or 1992 and, again, the first two Skyclad albums were a huge influence. And obviously trading back in the day for the Hell demos, that was something I would’ve been very aware of and the Sabbat demos as well.
(Alan Averill on the dual essence of his lyrics)
"...it’s a fine line between being a rabble-rouser and being an intellectual. You kind of want to be both; you want to have the interesting metaphor and the stuff for people who scratch the surface of the lyrics and find some deeper meaning but, also, very simplistic meaning as well at the same time that people can fucking sing along to at a gig."
Alan 'Nemtheanga' Averill - promo shot
Interview by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2011 Gareth Averill
The new Hell album took a long time to grow on me because, as a singer, I found the vocals…“what the fuck…?”… they’re histrionic, but then I saw it live and it made sense. I was like, “oh, okay, now I understand what’s going on.” When you hear the vocals on the album without seeing what’s going on on the stage, it just didn’t connect for me.
MD: The guy’s a trained actor isn’t he, a Shakespearean actor so I guess that explains the more melodramatic delivery.
ALAN: Yeah, once you’ve seen it on stage it makes sense. It was an absolute no-brainer when their name popped up to play with and, also, we’d been around at some other show to shake hands and say, “how’s it going?” before. And Winterfylleth, they’re one of the new generation of English Pagan Metal bands which we’re very aware of as well.
MD: Last year’s ‘Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand’ is more of a grower, I’d say, than its predecessor but, for me, still classic Primordial. It’s a year on since its release now so have you found that reactions to the new material at gigs have become increasingly more enthusiastic maybe the longer people have had to digest the new songs?
ALAN: Yeah, sure, and that was always the thing with it. We knew once we made it that it was gonna take people a little more time which, when you consider what an impact ‘To the Nameless Dead’ had on people who’d never heard us before and who were only getting into the band at that stage, we were aware of the fact that many of those people were expecting an album full of ‘Empire Falls’. Of course, there are some very straightforward, catchy bits on there with big choruses but, overall, it’s a kind of a little bit more complicated album. And that’s not to say the next one might not sound like an album full of ‘Empire Falls’! [laughs] It was no conscious decision; it wasn’t planned, it was just the way the songs came out.
But for fans of the band, I think they realise time moves slowly in Primordial land and it takes a couple of years to get every album out and it takes a longer time to get to the end of a song or whatever, so you have to make the time with the music for it to have that impact. But, yeah, I can see certain songs definitely seem to connect with people like the ‘Bloodied Yet Unbowed’ thing with the old school rock lyrics that seem to get to people and that kind of thing.
MD: Lyrically, the album deals with themes of spirituality and mortality and how people make sense of their relation to those concepts. Now we live in a predominantly secular, materialistic world, do you think spirituality and mortality are largely repressed for the majority and not conscious modes of thought?
ALAN: When I made ‘To the Nameless Dead’, when I was travelling before and for that album, I would’ve spent more time looking at war monuments and cenotaphs and how statues in towns relate to the history of the state, of the nation, of the town or city itself and I was very interested in the moving of borders and history. But then, this time, even in some of the same cities, I began to look at the churches – the mosques, the synagogues, the graveyards or whatever, the things that connected to our relationship to, yeah, as you say, death and mortality and spirituality and how we try and make sense of ageing; how we try and make sense of our place in the world. It just seemed to me to be a natural progression and, also, because I’d never written about things like that before…religion, or faith, or spirituality, or any of that is sort of something new to Primordial.
And it wasn’t the typical black metal angle which was anti-religion. In fact, the album generally doesn’t have a judgement; it examines our relationship to faith. I mean, obviously, we live in the secular West where consumerism and capitalism have detached us from our religious roots. We’re living in a Western secular society where if you look at a post-collapse of communism, a post-Cold War society, the eradication of the old working class has allowed people to be more educated in a sense and replace religion with consumerism. But those things are in sharp contrast when you travel somewhere where people are still very religious and contrast that to the society that we now live in.
MD: Yeah, I think those things are very repressed in the West. Do you regard the repression of mortality as any kind of a problem in contemporary society?
ALAN: A problem? I don’t know. I mean, part of the album is informed by the fact of ageing, at least from ourselves in moving from one phase of your life into the next which is basically youth into middle age. It’s about your changing set of attitudes, even just getting older, like ten years older from the lyrics I wrote ten years ago. But it’s also trying to make sense of our place in all of this and how people deal with that fear; how they deal with dying and stuff, and whether it’s spiritual, religious, or even agnostic or atheist structures they place around themselves to deal with that, and so I just became really fascinated with that.
And, also, I kind of mixed it in with a bit of…I became really into these redemption songs, these sort of outlaw songs so whether anyone really gets it there’s a lot of Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams sort of stuff in there; kind of 4am bottom of the bottle logic. I decided to try and put that stuff in there and be a Bon Scott or something! [laughs]
MD: So it’s a little bit self-reflective in one sense would you say?
ALAN: There are lines here and there. There always is a little bit with lyrics that I write but I try not to…if I use the first person it’s not necessarily only about me. It’s in the hope that people will be able to see themselves in it. So it’s not exactly like that. You can look at ‘Bloodied Yet Unbowed’ and say “Alan’s singing about himself” and, yeah, I see myself in it which is what I got from listening to a lot of the people who I mentioned but also your Phil Lynotts and your Phil Moggs…classic rock lyricists, you know, to be able to introduce a bit of meaning into something like a simple message.
MD: Would you see an ideal world as one that has a perfect balance between secularity and spirituality or do you think the essence of humanity should be biased more towards a spiritual existence?
ALAN: An ideal world…I don’t know what that is but I have to be honest, I’m not a particularly spiritual person. I don’t know what way I will feel in the future but still I air on the side of science and logic so I would generally be opposed to most of the spiritual things that people would place around themselves. But that’s neither here nor there – often, the fact that whether something is fact or fiction doesn’t always have the…how can we say…it’s sometimes not necessarily for me to criticise people who might have placed something that, to me, is fiction around their lives if it does actually give something to their lives.
And that’s also the thing of growing older, sort of realising, okay, to me, it makes no sense but Buddhism or something, why not. I picked that one because it sort of makes sense…[laughs]…for people in some way they can use it as a focus. Or many other things, you know; there are lots of other things. But, like I said, the album isn’t really against…it’s not set itself up as anti-Christian or anti-this or anti-that, even if I may still consider myself like that.
MD: So it’s kind of more objective and observational than making any sweeping, subjective…
ALAN: Kind of but it is a morbid record; it is a dark record. It is morbidly obsessed in the true sense of the word in that it is death obsessed. Maybe a lot of it, sometimes, is just asking questions and a lot of the lyrics don’t necessarily have answers. Before, I might’ve been shouting, “hey, I’ve got the answer to this” and you can hear it in some complex metaphor for the small percentage of people who can speak English as a first language who read the lyrics!
But, sometimes…as I was saying to my friend the other week, it’s a fine line between being a rabble-rouser and being an intellectual. You kind of want to be both; you want to have the interesting metaphor and the stuff for people who scratch the surface of the lyrics and find some deeper meaning but, also, very simplistic meaning as well at the same time that people can fucking sing along to at a gig and go, “ah, he’s singing about me”. ‘Bloodied Yet Unbowed’ – I can see people doing that at gigs.