Thursday, January 23, 2014
Can you give us an update on what has been going on with the band since the recording of the new album?
In December, exactly one year to the date from when we regrouped, we played our first live performance since 2007. We played at the Rochester Metal Fest (RMF) in Western New York and it was an awesome show. The energy and enthusiasm from the crowd was fantastic and it felt great to be on stage as AGIEL once again. We wanted to be able to share the first performance of the new release, so we invited a film crew down to capture the set. The footage is amazing and we are working on the production for live videos of all of the songs on the new release. We’re aiming to have these ready sometime after Pantheons is released on the 18th of February. We put a lot energy and intensity into our stage performances which we wanted to share with everyone interested in our music.
There is also a live CD of that set that we are in the process of putting together now. We played a few songs that were not included on the new release and they will be part of that release. The crowd at the RMF erupted into a pit for these songs, so I can’t wait to finish the mix for release later this year.
Additionally we’ve been getting some really good material together for our websitehouseofagiel.com which will be released continuously throughout the year. There will be articles, videos and artwork produced by each of AGEIL’s members and it’s our goal to give everyone a better idea of what AGIEL is all about. It’s been a lot of work, but we are all extremely enthusiastic about being involved in this. And of course we are starting to put together the material for the next AGIEL release.
You have a new album coming out, can you tell us a little bit about the musical direction it has taken and also how does it differ from past releases?
We’ve definitely evolved our sound quite a bit since the last release and considerably so since Dark Pantheons Again Will Reign (DPAWR). The first thing that you’ll probably notice as being different is that the symphonic elements of the music are much more pronounced. AGIEL has always incorporated synth layers as part of our sound and this has progressed throughout the years to what you’ll hear on the newest release. The first album that we ever wrote was actually pretty heavy on the keyboards. We have always been inspired and influenced by the black metal sound though our own sound has leaned closer to death metal. It fits well with the lyrics and provides an enigmatic quality that contrasts with the brutality of the rhythm section.
When we began working on PDAWR some of that was reduced to accommodate a busier style of guitar playing. It fit for that album, but I’d actually consider it more of an aberration than the core AGIEL sound. I’m really glad that we’ve gotten back to that early sound and also really excited to see it transformed into something completely new. The next most prominent change that might be noticed is the greater range of vocal techniques that have been incorporated. There’s still the guttural death metal tone through much of the songs, but we’ve allowed ourselves to use other styles as well like the choral part during The Awakening. It just seemed right to include things like that; adding to the density and depth of the music.
We’ve also tried to arrange the instruments so that everything comes together as one solid movement. It’s definitely a challenge with this style of music where all of the instruments are being played in a very technical way. That complexity and technicality is something that I love about the metal genre; it’s akin to the baroque period of orchestral music. However, there’s the danger that as your arrangements become more complex that it will also lose power and impact. The direction that we’re taking retains much more of the power that we intended for our sound and in our opinion has greatly benefited the music.
This is the first release since 2005; can you tell us a little bit more about what was going on during those years?
The intervening years between the last release and the latest have been tumultuous to say the least. In 2005 we released a small collection of songs entitled Vessatu and this would be the last work that I collaborated on with AGIEL’s second founding member; who had been our guitarist up to that point. We continued to work on creating new material, but progress was slow and hard won.
I was also finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on AGIEL’s growth during this period. My mother who was an accomplished artist in her own right was succumbing to a long fought battle with cancer. My attention was shifting more and more towards supporting my family through this crisis and rightly so. It was a dark time which became even darker when in 2007 my wife’s mother was also stricken with cancer. I needed to move about 7 hours away to Philadelphia in order to provide support throughout her treatment, so it was decided that AGIEL would be let to rest until it could be afforded the attention and energy that it deserves.
Though difficult, this period of rest provided a sense of perspective that I think was ultimately beneficial for the band. It allowed time to reflect on what we had created, where we had been musically and where we wanted to go in the future. I experimented extensively with different tonal possibilities, stylistic changes and thematic directions. Over the course of two years I put together a group of 12 songs that encompassed the entirety of this cathartic exercise. I decided to release it, but as a personal work under the nameNightwork and not as a creation of AGIEL. There were seeds in those songs of what would later grow and develop into a new artistic direction.
Around 2011 I started collaborating with Jesse, our current guitarist, on the production of a solo project we was working on called In Mania. For him it served as the exact same function as the project I had just completed. It was a deeply personal project intended to deliver him through an existential crisis; exactly my intention with Nightwork. Jesse and I had known each other for a number of years before hand, but through working on his project together we developed a strong friendship and kinship.
After wrapping up the In Mania production we knew that we wanted to start collaborating on something together. It also happened that I started corresponding with Kevin who was another old acquaintance of mine. Together we all started talking about what a new AGIEL album would look like and what it would take to achieve. By the end of 2012 it all came together and we started actively working on the production for Dark Pantheons.
What are some of the lyrical topics and subjects the new release explores?
I’ve always been interested in exploring the spiritual nature of mankind as well as my own; primarily through the lens of mythology and the occult. My early lyrics were written from a more personal perspective and centered much more on my own specific experiences of the occult through ritual magic. In later years and on this release the lyrics are written with a broader perspective and try to speak to a more universal experience of our struggle to evolve as spiritual beings.
The songs on this release vary greatly in terms of the subjects explored. For example the title track Dark Pantheons tries to invoke the raw and unbridled power at the core of human consciousness. In the song, a lone figure stands at the edge of a great abyss, bracing himself against the fury of a raging storm. Overcoming fear and self-doubt he embraces the abyss and allows its elemental power to give him strength. Other songs like Andromeda are more rooted in mythology which serves as framework to explore topics such as self-determination, overcoming self-doubt, nihilism and disillusionment.
I know that the band name came out of the writings of Terry Goodkind, can you tell us a little bit more about your interest in this fantasy writer?
Although I am a pretty big fan of science fiction and fantasy literature I’ve never read anything by this author. My first encounter with the name “Agiel” was over 15 years ago when I first began delving into astrology. I was pouring through a huge astrological encyclopedia trying to understand the concepts behind this occult paradigm when the name struck me. There it was defined as the “intelligence of Saturn” which is to say that the name represented the embodiment of Saturn’s occult wisdom. That resonated with me and put a name to the journey that I was committed to embarking on; a search for understanding and a struggle to raise my consciousness. Later I’d see the name again in various kabalistic writings and esoteric grimoires.
It’s a very old name that comes from the writings of occult figures such as Solomon and later from astrologers like John Dee. Mythology and occultism are fertile grounds for inspiration; especially in science fiction and fantasy genres. I’m sure this author came across the name in similar sources.
What are some of the best shows that the band has played over the years and also how would you describe your stage performance?
One of the most vivid memories I have as a performer would have to be a show that we played while on tour in Toronto. It was the first show in a month long tour throughout the Canadian territories and we were nearly stopped dead in our tracks before even getting to the border.
This was early in our career when we had just signed with Unique Leader to publish the Dark Pantheons Again Will Reign album. An opportunity arose to join Cephalic Carnage and December on a 13 date tour in Canada. Even though we were nowhere close to prepared it was an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up. I don’t think we even had a tour van at that point, but it was something that we were determined to make happen. So in a very short time we had ourselves ready to hit the road. We were all really excited and felt unstoppable. That is until the radiator in the van melted down about three quarters of the way to Toronto.
It seemed really unexpected at the time, but looking back I am amazed that this ancient Ford Econoline made its way through thousands of miles of mountainous terrain. It’s a miracle no one was killed! So the van is sitting immobilized on the side of the road and it’s a matter of hours until the show starts, but we wouldn’t give up. We must have called a dozen places before finding a garage that could get us back on the road. After what seemed like an eternity we were on the road again and headed for the US/Canadian border.
The trouble didn’t stop there though. By sheer coincidence a van full of people headed for the show was going through the border checkpoint at the same time we were. A few of the guys in that van recognized us and started screaming our name and throwing up the metal sign and of course we did the same. Who knows if that was the cause, but we soon found ourselves segregated in different interrogation rooms while police dogs tore through the van. It might have been comical if we weren’t all freaking out about possibly missing the show which probably didn’t help speed things along.
Eventually though we did make it to the show, but we were so late that the headlining bands played their sets before us. These guys were so generous and understanding though that they let us take the headline slot without any issue what’s so ever. From the crowds perspective the show didn’t miss a beat and we gave the most energetic, impassioned performances of our career. The fact that we had overcome every single obstacle that was thrown before us only made us more determined to move forward. The place was a wall to wall pit for the entire set. I think that the passion we had for that moment could be felt very clearly by everyone there. It was a really incredible show and one I hope to never forget.
That type of primal energy is emblematic of our performances. We forget ourselves and let the raw power of the performance flow unencumbered through our music. I think that honesty in the performance can be felt clearly and people really respond to it. The energy is contagious and compels people to move with the progression of each song. One of the greatest rewards is seeing people go completely insane to the music. The pure enjoyment of the moment is evident on people’s faces.
Do you have any touring or show plans for the new album and 2014?
We are confirming dates now for performances throughout the year and will be making announcements through our website houseofagiel.com and also through Facebook page (facebook.com/houseofagiel) as things develop.
On a worldwide level how has the feedback been to your music by fans of black and death metal?
Overall I’d say that we’ve been received well and all the feedback so far has been really positive. From those that have heard the new release and those that have seen us live there’s been a feeling of being taken aback by the ferocity of our new sound. I think that we’ve pleasantly surprised any who thought that this might sound like your standard brutal death metal album. We’ve tried to really push ourselves to the limit and create something truly unique. Most of all I can tell from people’s reactions that they really enjoy just listening to the music. That’s exactly what we wanted to achieve.
What is going on with the other musical projects these days that the band members are involved with?
Right now everyone is devoted 100% to AGIEL. We are genuinely excited about the musical direction that we are taking and very proud of the new release. All of us are very excited to see what we can come up with next, so there has been a tremendous focus on taking our music to the next level. We are also very fortunate and I am personally grateful that the current lineup works together extremely well. Everything that we’ve been through together over the last year with the preparation of Dark Pantheons has brought us together and created a great sense of fraternity between us. There is a sense of mutual respect that allows us to push each other to evolve and bring the best out in each of us. There’s no time for anything else. We are all focused on AGIEL’s future.
What direction do you see your music heading into on future releases?
We learned a lot about ourselves as a band through working on this new release. We were able to find out what are strengths were and how to help each other create the best performance possible. By going through all of that it really clarified for us what the future direction of the music would be. Suddenly everything began to come into focus and we are now starting to create real synergies between the instruments.
In terms of a future direction, I probably wouldn’t set anything in stone at this point. I’ve found that in order to create something really special it’s always good to leave at least a little bit of ambiguity about how the end product should look. It’s like when you begin a painting by drawing some action lines on the canvas. If your too rigid and try to force the design to turn out in a certain way you’re usually going to be disappointed in the result.
That being said, there are some broad strokes that I know will be part of whatever we create next. The length of the songs will likely increase a bit. Mostly because there is so much that we want to say musically. It might be too much to fit into a 3 ½ minute song. I’ve always appreciated it when a musician takes more time to let their musical ideas play out in more detail. So we may see that in the next release. More than anything though, I think that we will let the evolution that started at the beginning of the new release continue to develop and mature. It’s hard to describe, but there are definitely parts of these songs and a few others that are not included in this release, where the whole band coalesces as one entity. I’d like to see more of that in future releases.
What are some bands or musical styles that have had an influence on your newer music and also what are you listening to nowadays?
One of AGIEL’s biggest influences stylistically is the atonal orchestral music of the early twentieth century. Atonality essentially means that the music does not have a tonal center or key. Instead of sticking to the rigid structure of traditional classical music, atonal compositions are free to use chords with an ambiguous key center, unexpected harmonic structures and unusual melodies. It’s a style that we naturally gravitated towards, but I would definitely say that the turn of the century composers using this style have been a huge influence on us musically. Metal and classical styles of music have a lot in common, so its influence on us makes a lot of sense in that regard.
We’ve also been strongly influenced by the second wave of European black metal. This is the music that we grew up on, so it is a fundamental part of who we are as musicians. Maybe not in a directly stylistic way, but that early black metal attitude is definitely part of our DNA as a band. We all have a strong appreciation for music in general and have no problem drawing inspiration from other diverse forms of music like Sufi trance, EBM and industrial.
I don’t claim to succeed at it all the time, but I try to keep an open mind and not close myself off to new sources of inspiration. It’s pretty easy to fall into the trap of listening to the same group of bands over and over again. Especially for someone like me who has an obsessive type of personality. After a while though the inspiration dries up because you’re not allowing new musical ideas in. There have been countless times when I’ll hear two or three seconds of a song some random song and get inspired to write new AGIEL riffs. Inspiration is everywhere if you let yourself see it.
These days the playlist on my stereo is pretty random. I picked up a ton of new death metal CDs at the end of the year, so that’s been featured pretty heavily lately. For the last week or so it has I’ve been soaking up a lot of classical by various artists. I’ve been feeling the urge to play my black metal CDs the past couple of days, so that will probably be my new obsession this week. After all of the time I spent mixing this release I’m trying to refresh my ears any way that I can!
How would you describe your views on Occultism?
In my views there is a distinction that can be made between the occult which is the hidden knowledge of the inner world and ritual magic which is a mechanism by which that information can be accessed. AGIEL is the occult; literally. As we talked about earlier, the name AGIEL is derived from astrology where it is known as the “intelligence of Saturn”. It is literally the personification of occult knowledge. Through careful study the knowledge of the occult can greatly benefit anyone interested in understanding it. I do think that the emphasis on symbolism within ritual magic can sometimes cause people to become stuck in the trappings of the occult; losing sight of its deeper truths.
To me occultism is something that is unique to every person that discovers it. No two occultists will approach the study the same way. Some believe that ritual clothing, objects and ceremonies are extremely important while others may not. One person may find access to the inner truth through numerology or geomancy. For others like myself it might be lucid dreaming. The point is there’s no wrong way to go about it. The benefit that’s derived from the practice is equal to the practitioner’s intentions.
Through my experiences I’ve found that occultism is usually labeled as something dangerous or suspect because it raises conscious awareness that the will is the supreme authority in the universe. The more a person is able to exercise their free will the more they are able to reshape the world and take control of their destiny. We live in a time where that kind of self-determination is not tolerated in most of the world. Even in societies that appear open and free our concepts of morality, sexuality and identity are intensely manipulated. In my opinion the purpose of occult practice is to free ourselves from these illusionary bonds.
Do you have any non-musical interests?
After music my next greatest interest would definitely be digital art. I’ve loved to draw and paint for my whole life. My mother was an accomplished artists herself; specializing in a craft known as batik where cloth is dyed after the application of melted wax. If I’m not working on music you’ll probably find me in front of my Wacom tablet. My favorite subjects are fantasy and sci-fi characters and landscapes. I love getting lost in another world when I paint. It’s one of the few ways that I’ve learned to let myself relax.
I’m also a rabid sci-fi film fan. I don’t even care how bad the movie is; if it’s sci-fi I’ll probably watch it. I’ll most always have something like that playing in the background as I’m working. I also like reading sci-fi, but I’ll admit that my schedule makes it a bit difficult to sit down and read a few chapters anymore. And if I’m not preoccupied with any of that then I’ll probably be researching some aspect of occult history or philosophy. In my view the non-music interests are vital for keeping my inspiration up. Painting a kick-ass picture, seeing a compelling movie, reading a new story or learning something new all help to replenish the well of creativity.
Before we wrap up this interview, do you have any final words or thoughts?
Fist let me say thank you for your interest in AGIEL’s music and our motivation for creating it. Our music is an extension of our desire to evolve and raise our consciousness as human beings. Our highest ambition is to be able to share that journey with others. With the release of Dark Pantheons we are a step closer to making that a reality. We’ll be releasing new material throughout the year and letting everyone in on that creative process. Our website is houseofagiel.com and that’s where the majority of this will come out of. We’ll also be keeping everyone informed through our Facebook profile which isfacebook.com/houseofagiel. And this is only the beginning.
James Taylor is the vocalist and founding member of AGIEL