It’s a small world, and it gets even smaller at festivals. You never know who you’re gonna bump into – that guy who remembers you from two years ago, that band you love but are too shy to speak coherently to, or the frontman of a new band you’ve discovered – as it were, at Damnation Festival 2012 last weekend.
Say “Hello” to Nick Ruskell of Hampshire’s traditional doom act, Witchsorrow
You may know him as the Features Editor of Kerrang! Magazine, but Nick is at heart an old school doomhead. I’d been told to get in touch with him before by friends, ever since I first ventured into the lifestyle of being a metal blogger, so when the chance to grab him for a few minutes in the press room came up, how could I say no? He loves doom, I love doom, we both love heavy metal more than we do other subgenres of metal – this was an interview jsut waiting to happen.
So let’s get the ball rolling – why doom metal?
Well, I’ve been a doom fan since I was really young… I had been into Black Sabbath since forever, and at 13 I had discovered bands like Cathedral, Iron Monkey and Orange Goblin from free CDs on the front of magazines and stuff. I’ve always been really into that style, especially as I got older. When I met (our bassist) Emily at the age of 14, who soon became my wife, we were both uncovering bands like Electric Wizard and Sleep together. It wasn’t just the music that enraptured us; we were also into Metallica and Iron Maiden, but there was this extra element to doom which was really dark and fit in with our vision of life as we were also interested in the “old timey” and “witchy” vibes.
Didn’t Cathedral also have their final live show, last year?
Yeah, they did back in December, and then they did another in Australia. We could see that these bands were knocking on, and that there needed to be more people to carry their torch. Reverend Bizarre were starting to pick up the pace, but even they came to an end soon after! Trouble hadn’t even gotten back together, nor were they releasing anything new. So, it felt as if we were indeed picking up a very important torch – we didn’t want doom to die! It was almost like a relic from another time.
Obviously there were many sludge bands, though none of them played what we saw as “true” doom, which is why we started playing. The vibe is that it has to make doom seem important, and that’s what we do! It’s essential for us to keep the “doom fires” burning, because for each new band in every generation, you keep wondering “who’s next?”
Maybe there’s some gormless thirteen year old (like I was), who’s listening to us on a new Terrorizer [magazine] CD now, who in ten years will start a band and take up the mantle! But that’s how it is, there’s always been this need to continue the traditions of doom after the forefathers have left.
What do you think of the current subgenres of doom, like “romantic” death/doom (My Dying Bride, Swallow the Sun) or even funeral doom, like Ahab are thought to be?
I’m a fan of Ahab and My Dying Bride! For us however, we see doom as a really narrow thing, where it’s like “here are the tools; they’re the only thing you’re allowed to play with – first six Black Sabbath albums, do your worst!” Whereas My Dying Bride have always been on the outside, starting their first album as death metal and then later they released ‘34.788%…Complete‘ which has trip hop!
I do think that that’s really cool, and that the death/doom stuff is good, but to me the romantic side that you’ve mentioned… I dunno. I mean, I do like a lot of those bands, like Ahab and Skepticism, but to me they’re a totally different thing because they don’t come from the Black Sabbath well of inspiration. This isn’t saying anything against them, but to me it’s like saying a banana isn’t an apple. For me, the sort of doom that Witchsorrow plays is along the lines of that played by Electric Wizard and Saint Vitus. Then there’s the sort of stuff that My Dying Bride do, which – though does have doom around – they take somewhere completely different. They like to use it from a well of despair, where they can utilise any sound they want to bring out a “doomy” atmosphere, including electronic notes. Even though I’m not fond of “34.788%...”; it’s still a good thing that they did it, since it shows their imagination. As long as My Dying Bride are writing their music, that’s fine.
It’s just a different thing – comparing Witchsorrow to these bands is like comparing us with Iron Maiden! It’s all good, but it’s a totally different bag. As long as they’re doing what they’ve set out to do, it’s all groovy.
How does it feel to be one of the doom acts (next to My Dying Bride and Electric Wizard) on stage at Damnation, today?
It feels good at the moment, because at metal festivals there’s always a lot of excitement over doom bands! Electric Wizard here today is like an event! When I went to Hellfest in France a couple of years ago, they headlined the stage with Saint Vitus, not to mention that Pentagram was also playing. It seems that when these guys play, you suddenly get this enormous enthusiasm that you don’t get a lot anymore; it’s like something amazing is happening!
When Electric Wizard played at The Forum venue in London, it felt like a real spectacle because they handled all the lights, horror films and everything else. It was also like this thing were if you weren’t there, you wouldn’t know what you were missing. The excitement was that it would be the kind of experience that would change your life – it was spectacular!
That’s the thing with doom metal; it lurks in the shadows of heavy metal, like the red-headed stepchild of metal music in perhaps the same way that black metal was when it came out twenty years ago. Doom metal mostly lies dormant, and when there is any activity, it’s fucking massive!
People rush to it because they know it’s going to be something incredible, and really, heavy metal bands don’t deliver that much anymore! There isn’t a new Metallica, there isn’t a new Iron Maiden, there isn’t a new whomever. For doom metal, there is this old school heavy metal feeling to it, and some of its values are that heavy metal should have a bad name, it should be “the work of the devil”… heavy metal isn’t something that you’re supposed to see on t.v., it’s supposed to be something freaky and weird! There aren’t a lot of bands who do that, though Pig Destroyer [sitting by our left] do fucking mental lyrics and so forth!
Witchsorrow want to be the sort of band that bring back the “bad name” of heavy metal from when it was dangerous, and when you weren’t seeing bands you once respected doing things on commercial television that are just embarrassing.
You don’t want to see Slayer on the Fox Sports show – that was rubbish!
Going back to doom, this is a genre that lies in the corner of heavy metal and says “No!” to all of that. Black metal used to be like that, though for bands like Waitain, their thing seems to be more about “Look at me! I’m fucking evil!” and showing off. Meanwhile, bands like the aforementioned Electric Wizard are far more dangerous, in that they’re a bit more sketchy and hidden in the shadows where you know very little about them and what they’re about.
By contrast, you can see Erik from Watain on the Swedish equivalent of MTV, which loses its impact, whereas for Wizard, if there’s a rumour about them, that’s a good thing especially if they won’t explain it. That’s all it is – a rumour! It was like that with KISS in the 1970’s, where you knew fuck all about them, and there were so many stories that they’d encourage, just to create more excitement about themselves!
This kind of thing is lost from heavy metal music and culture, though there are certain groups who are picking this up again; many of whom are doom metal bands, who believe that heavy metal means something which your mum isn’t supposed to be into, that it should be this kind of dangerous, corrupting thing like being into drugs. I’m not a drug user, but I do like the idea of (the music) being this far out thing that people believe you shouldn’t be into, as they think it’s bad for you! To me, this is summed up by what doom bands are putting out there.
Let’s envision that someone comes up to you and says, “I don’t know anything about doom metal” before asking for some traditional doom bands to try. What would you recommend for them?
I can’t pick just one! Okay… let’s say, the first six Black Sabbath albums – I’d say “Just listen to the heavy songs!” (laughs) Then I’d tell them to try the following:
Reverend Bizarre’s ‘Rectory of the Bizarre Reverend‘
Cathedral’s ‘Forest of Equilibrium‘
Electric Wizard’s ‘Dopethrone‘
Saint Vitus’ ‘Born Too Late‘
Trouble’s ‘Psalms 9‘
Witchfinder General’s ‘Death Penalty‘
If you listen to all of this for six weeks and nothing else, go watch a load of old horror films before taking a walk in the woods and visiting old crumbling castles, then buy yourself a skull and some candles. Once you’ve done all of that, you’ll understand what doom is. When you even look at a band before hearing their music, you will know exactly if they are doom metal or not!
K. Ann would like to thank Nick Ruskell and Damnation Festival for their help.
Edited to include actual Slayer video, by request of the interviewee.
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