Surfing The First Wave
Poland’s Armagh are kind of a rarity when it comes to young bands. On the one hand, they come from what is now a very quickly developing Metal scene, with many bands to emulate and many preordained paths to follow. On the other, they don’t really sound 1:1 like any pre-existing bands. They, to paraphrase Phil Anselmo’s quote about how bands ought to apply inspirations, really took in a wide variety of inspirations and made something of their own. They really perpetrate the kind of ragtag wild and entirely analog spirit that bands like Slayer and Entombed embodied in their early days. It’s not about ultra professionalism, it’s not about some super slick and perfectionist attitude that tweaks every note and sound on Pro-Tools. This is raw, this is 100 people stuck into a sweaty basement with shitty amps and a violent atmosphere, this is touring the country in a mini van with beers under the seats and this, this wouldn’t be out of place in the 80’s this band so looks up to. To tell us more about Armagh, their music and their early journeys, is singer/main composer, Galin Soulreaper.
B- So, lets not mince words, Armagh reformed circa 2012, what can you tell us of the story so far?
G- At the very beginning, which was somewhere between 2010 and 2011, I came up with the idea of creating a Heavy Metal band. Nothing special, I took a few guys whom I knew played instruments, mostly from my school. We named ourself Legion after a beer or some shit like that. One of our common friend’s parents owned a rehearsal room, so we started to practice stuff I had composed and also material of bands we were into at the time. Motorhead, Saxon, Turbo, early Metallica, Iron Maiden, W.A.S.P., Tank and many others. It didn’t come out as well as we expected so very quickly, “rehearsal” became underage booze soaked rock n’ roll parties. Which, in turn, got us evicted from the place. We didn’t have any gigs under the Legion moniker. But, I still continued to play and wanted to form a Metal crew. So with new inspirations that came from listening to more Thrash oriented bands like Slayer, Dark Angel, Kat and Sodom, Mark (Usurper, Armagh bassist) and I created Wehrwolf. I took that name from my father’s late 80’s band, and it stayed until we realized how many existing bands are using that name. However, one of our first songs ever written retained that title, Wehrwolf. The legacy is kept and the track can be found on our EP. As Wehrwolf we even had one show (laughs.) We changed our name to Armagh in 2012, shortly after Bloodhammer’s (drummer, Armagh) arrival in the band. Our inspiration list grew bigger and more diverse, and at first, our band was bogged down by an overload of technical playing. We thought at the time that if you want to play well, you have to have chaotic song structures. Tons of bridges and measure changes. It was also too Death Metal and it lacked identity. I think that was a major attitude with many bands we were in touch with. That many were trying to play better than they really could. Nonsense. Somebody finally found a piece of mind, and said that there’s no reason to play it that way. That coupled with our love of Venom, Hellhammer and Celtic Frost, Razor, real metal, we tried to keep to that way and we ditched the technical approach.
B- The band is described on the leaflet given to journalists as a mix of Deströyer 666, Bathory , and a few other quintessential Black-Thrash bands. But Armagh really sounds to me unique due to the heavy influences of classic Heavy Metal (more so than the aforementioned bands) , some oldschool Metallica and Show No Mercy stage Slayer, as well as a very different kind of leads style. How would you describe Armagh’s sound? What do you think sets it apart?
G- To us, we play simple, Black Heavy Metal. Strongly rooted in the music you mention, black thrash from 80’s and early 90’s. I can’t really say what differs us from other bands. A friend of mine once told me back in the day, that the band had a bit of an Irish music vibe to it. That association fits to us, I think.
B- You know, you keep mentioning these bands ala Bathory, Hellhammer, Venom and ETC, what set those bands so far apart for you from say, the Norwegian scene, or the second wave? What made them special?
G- The vibe. Second wave bands, not all of them but most, kind of lost that. First wave bands had that kind of feel that made them special. You can clearly hear Motörhead and other Rock n’ Roll that influenced those bands. They were more sincere, more honest than many of the bands that came later. In my opinion at least. We think that this was at some point the best years in Metal, birth of the extreme, when it all could go either well or horribly.
B- What is the meaning behind the name Armagh? I mean I know it’s a county in Ireland …
G- Don’t mind the place, we’ve haven’t been there yet. To us it’s just a simple, short name. It sounds like a battle roar or something. We also like the original meaning of that name – it stands for Mhacha’s height. A place of tribute and gathering for Celts. Mhacha, also called Morrigan is associated among other with war and anxiety. For us it has a very loose reference to Dissection and we love that band to the bone. The names of the mythological goddesses we refer to sound similar, and I thought back then it counts as a good reason to name a band(laughs.)
B- Your first EP, which piqued the interest of Third Eye Temple is called Venemous Frost, how do you feel about this release?
G- This is the material we’ve worked on from the very beginning. It was reworked for a long time and over several changes in attitude and how it was played. First we released it by ourselves, we didn’t contact any label to sign us or tried to get any release contract. We pushed it and we just waited for a response from the audience and the crowd. We wanted to put the material on our shelves and finally close that chapter. Also, we weren’t sure about the feedback and that was the main reason behind releasing it out without evolving any label. After we released the EP in February and played a cool gig with Incinerator and my other band, Bestiality, our friend Sławek Czekaj gave our material to Qras (owner of Mentalporn and Third Eye Temple-B.) He phoned me and we talked about our music, what he thought of our material, what he has to offer, etc. and we agreed. We tried to send our stuff to Witching Hour, and what not. But we came to know Qras, who he is and what he’s like, and we thought it could be a great opportunity. To play more gigs, to get more recognition in the scene.
B- what are some of the themes and motifs in Venomous Frost? What would you say the lyrics touch on? what’s the feel of the EP?
G- I think the name largely gives away what it’s about. It shows very clearly what’s behind the title. We wanted it to be homage to our favorite bands. The first wave of BM, which has always been the most impactful on us. They were, in a way, behind Venomous Frost. This record in general meant to have that loathing stench of death, frowsty basement rehearsal room sound but also cold…
B- Warm love, sweet tender feeling (laughs)
G- The cold embrace of a power that you can’t really name. The lyrics on Venomous Frost touch on many subjects. Mostly they come from the everyday thoughts or dreams, visions in the night. Our personal, my personal (as I’m the current main lyrics writer), it may sound cheesy, but emotions, feelings, etc. It had to suit the music well. I try not to force myself or anything, it was just the correct mood of sitting and thinking about this stuff. It just came to me in the form of a lyric or a riff. I guess it’s pretty common in songwriting sessions of many bands.
B- Speaking of sessions (insert BDSM joke here), what is the songwriting process like for the band? Is it very democratic or leaning, what’s it like?
G- I am the author of most of the riffs and lyrics on the recording. It has been this way up until now but my friends also have ideas and stuff they write. For now it’s my place in the band to lead it in the right direction of what we want to see it become.
B- The version released on T.E.T also has a new artwork, which is different than the independent release, why did you feel the need to change the old artwork?
G- Uuf, it’s a long story. Qras decided to change our artwork because, I think, it seemed childish to him. It wasn’t exactly our choice. He had a different vision of what should be on the cover and at first we didn’t really want someone to change our shit, even if it was childish, it was ours. He gave us a version, which we didn’t like at first but after hundreds of messages and phone calls we finally reached some sort of a compromise and well, we took it. He gave us an alternative version of our work. The symbol on our first release is something which we wanted to stay though, it’s a symbol we have developed since the early years of the band. It’s something that we wanted to be ours and associated with us. This simple Ouroboros on a celtic cross. It’s a fine visual representation of our music. But we have three versions released up until now, and every release has a different artwork in it.
B- What can you tell us about the new artwork? Who made it? what is behind it? how does it relate to the album?
G- The new artwork was created by Robert A. Von Ritter. The second version, with our Serpent Cross, was made by Hanna Cieślak, who is a longtime friend of the band. Her artwork is on the limited version, meanwhile Robert’s is on the regular release. Well, Von Ritter’s artwork has a venom snake, in a cold, cave of ice. It’s very literal and simple (laugh.) We worked on every aspect of this release since 2012 and I think we must get used to someone’s other inventions with it. To us, personally, this cover looks better when we let go of our predilections. We didn’t want to go into mysticism or anything like that. We wanted this release to be sincere, no lying, no trying to be better than we are, just us. Just our music and all the rest that surrounds it. The album was recorded by ourselves in my friend from Bestiality, Vit Scumfukker’s place and mixed in our friend studio. We took care of production and all, it had to be DIY through and through.
B- Qras also mentions a few times in the leaflets the young age of the band, which is refreshing. Now-a-days, many bands start off much older than they used to back in the 80’s 90’s. It doesn’t take a genius to compare the insides of debut albums now-a-days with the band pictures of say, Left Hand Path, Nihility, or Altars of Madness. What do you think are some of the plusses and minuses of being a young band on this path? how has it effected your way?
G- Mostly minuses if it comes to the budget, we don’t have money to get ourselves some expensive backline, we use cheap instruments and amps. But I don’t really feel a difference. When I talk to the older guys, they might receive us differently, they might see a different picture of who I am, but frankly I don’t know and don’t really care. It isn’t easy because we all have jobs, schools, and regular shit like that. I’ve been playing guitar since I was very young and there aren’t much difficulties for me technically according to the kind of music I play. Metal music shouldn’t be too complicated. I think that my young age doesn’t really factor into the music and what not. When you start listening to us, you can’t really distinguish it in my opinion. We are around 20, the whole band, and I think that’s good thing that we do this instead of the other shit people our age like to do.
B- I was asking mainly because we often get the perspective of the older bands. Specifically I had a chance of working with Behemoth, Vader, Decapitated, Hate and many others, so it’s interesting to hear the other side of that. They can always compare the scene with 10 years ago. But I wonder, what do you think of the scene right now in Poland? I mean the rise is meteoric, the scene got way bigger internationally than it used to be.
G- Well, you know, there are a lot of good bands, a lot of shitty bands too. Most of the good bands, to me, are in the underground right now. I know all the bands you mentioned, I like several of them but apart from the underground, any band that is above that line is either dead or ridiculous. Not everyone, but we just don’t get most of those actual “trends” in Metal. Most of the times we think they don’t really feel the same things as when they started.
B- Fair enough, but do you think the scene is receiving? supportive? or is it more difficult, competition oriented?
G- No, it isn’t about competition when it comes to us. We mostly just don’t give a damn. There is a few bands which have that common sense and we want to create a stage to make strong bands form. I think the prevailing attitude around many bands is to do as they do and live and let live (‘n’ burn!). The current underground scene is growing stronger and better. For example, bands like Ragehammer, Morthus, Boltcrown and others. We gig with those bands once, with Bloodthirst, Morthus, etc. We all know each other and speak to each other, it’s very down to earth. I think the Polish scene is rather fine place to be, as far as I know at least (laughs.)
B- So, Qras also mentioned to me and talked with me a little bit about the upcoming record, the debut, and I know it’s very much in the works right now, but what can you tell me about it? is there anything we can share?
G- We’re constantly working on new material, and we might start recording sessions for the new album after summer. If any unsuspected difficulties will come up, it might be later (laughs.) We have thousands of things to care of, so it’s not going that fast, but we’re constantly developing and pushing it forward, so it’s on its way!
B- Is there any kind of direction that you have with the new record or is it all still in the dark?
G- Obviously, we want to conquer the world with it! (laughs.) Some way, some how. We don’t force ourselves to create material, we want to be satisfied with it after release so it must be prepared and cooked properly. It will show when it will show, but it’ll come for sure. We don’t know where it’ll take us in the future, we just do what we do and that’s how a Heavy Metal band should be, do it our way!
B- The typical last 2 questions- so do you guys have anything planned soon? Gigs, EP’s, videos, records, whatever?
G- In two weeks we play a Bathory tribute gig, and after that we don’t really know. We don’t have any gigs planned at the moment, we can’t afford to organize one at this point (laughs.) In Poland it’s a bit of an expensive thing but for now we have to focus on other stuff. Nearly two weeks ago, our guitarist Ace Helion left the band. He decided to quit and for now it’s just me, Bloodhammer and Mark Usurper. We’re seeking a new guitarist at the moment, so we will have to fix that situation.
B- So, any last words? Stuff to go at the bottom of the page?
G- FUCK MODERN METAL, FIRST WAVE ONLY!
Armagh´s debut EP, Venomous Frost is a slab of prime cut Blackened Thrash Metal that easily attains my seal of approval. The riffs are very well thought out , with interesting influences taken in to produce a debut that walks the narrow line between innovative and faffy, oldschool and wannabe, with grace. For fans of Destroyer 666, early Bathory, Gospel of the Horns and Sodom. Available now on Third Eye Temple on CD
Interview: Benek Astrachan
Photo: Kleo Rutkowska