ZT INTERROGATION: WITCHCLAN GETS IN A BIND WITH ZT’S GRAHAM MATTHEWS
The UK’s self-proclaimed oldest black metal band who are still active, Witchclan are gearing up to release their brand new album at the end of October and mainman Matt Bass opened the doors to ZT.
Founded back in 1990 in East Sussex, Witchclan released a couple of demos containing their brand of black metal before splitting up in the summer of 1995. It was a relatively innocuous existence that would have slipped under most new underground metal fans radar were it not for Matt Bass who resurrected Witchclan in 2009. Having joined on vocals in 1993 and appearing on both demos, he brought the band back to life as a solo project with two further demos in 2010 and 2011 before finally, 21 years after starting; Witchlan released their debut album Misanthropist on October 31 2011. It received mostly positive feedback and so now, exactly three years later Witchclan are back to release its successor The Dark Binding on Halloween again. Matt spoke in depth to ZT about the new album, deciding to bring Witchclan back and everything he has seen and learnt over two decades of the metal underworld.
ZT: Firstly, how did the writing/recording process for The Dark Binding go?
Matt Bass (all instruments): It was a long process from beginning to end which took well over a year and a half to get done. Because I am now the only member of Witchclan, things take a lot longer than they did when we were a five-piece back in the early 90s. The initial writing comes fairly quickly for me. I do things a bit of a weird way around because I map the drums out first, and then I play around with riffs and see what fits and where it should go. Once I’m happy with the guitars, I get the bass and keys down and the vocals are always the last thing to go on.
I do all the production and mixing myself so that’s another hurdle to overcome before the final mastering begins, but you know what? The good thing about being a one-man band is having that unlimited freedom to do what you want, when you want. There’s nobody saying “hey you need to get this done by this date and that done by that date.” I’m a father of two, a husband and I hold down a full-time job as well as doing the band, so when it comes to recording it’s a case of ‘as and when I get the time’ so to speak. It’s all pretty relaxed, but that’s not to say that the album wasn’t plagued with problems during the recording process. I had a lot of trouble with the mixing. We paid a chap to do it initially, which went quite badly. He was a nice enough guy, and very professional, but he didn’t really get the whole idea of how to mix a black metal album so I ended up doing it myself.
Why did you decide to do another album rather than an EP?
Well the last album Misanthropist was released in 2011 so a new release was well overdue and I’d had a lot of fans ask when something new was coming out. I was meant to be doing a split release with Abwerhschlacht from the UK but nothing’s come of that so far, and then there was meant to be a split with another band called Votan but I never heard anything more about that either, so the material I had just kind of grew and doing a full length just felt right. I definitely wouldn’t ever rule out doing a split with those bands, or any other band for that matter, but for the sake of the fans who were asking for something new – I had to get moving on something and that something ended up being The Dark Binding.
What lyrical themes do you cover on the album?
Witchclan has always been all about the darker side of things ever since the band’s inception. The early lyrics were more based around raw Satanism but written in more of a fantasy type style, but that was down to Peter the original vocalist. These days, the lyrics are a mixture of occult influenced rantings and my misanthropic view on the world.
I joined Withclan when I was 13, and when you’re 13 you can be quite impressionable. I was listening to a lot of Norwegian black metal and at that time, it was at the height of all the controversy with the church burning and murders so a lot of the things that those bands said and did at the time rubbed off on me. It was an exciting time, although admittedly, and in hindsight, I don’t think I had much of an identity of my own and so my lyrics were strongly influenced by the bands of that time.
I’m 35 now and have obviously grown up since then, and I’ve lived a good chunk of my life so I have been able to form personal opinions and views on humanity, religion, life and so on. I am the first to admit to being a proud misanthropist and the large majority of what I see in humanity disgusts me. I do not see our race as being fit to inhabit this planet. My lyrics of today reflect that down to a tee and are also heavily influenced by the Ancient Ones and the Occult which is something that has always run through Witchclan like thick blood since the beginning.
How did the artwork come about? Did you give Igor any instructions?
I was hoping you’d ask about that because that’s a very special part of the album. Igor Mugerza is the artist who had done the previous two releases and I’ve always been very happy with his work so it just seemed natural to go with him again.
I had an image in my head of what I wanted so I drew up a rough draft of four morbid priests stood around a pentagram in a graveyard setting, summoning a great serpent. I sent it over to Igor and what he came back with in such a short space of time absolutely blew my mind. He’s done some amazing art but I genuinely feel that this is probably his finest piece to date. There are so many little bits in the painting that you don’t notice first off and it’s not until you come back to it a second time that you can really start to absorb the darkness and notice things you missed before.
As long as Igor is happy to continue working with Witchclan, I would like him to continue to do all the future album covers because he’s a killer artist as I’m sure people who see the new album will agree.
How would you describe the Bestial Hell Metal sound to the uninitiated? Is it much different to black metal?
Bestial Hell Metal was just something I came up with when I did the 2010 demo Descend Into Darkness. I just wanted a tag line which was exclusive to the band and Bestial Hell Metal just fits what I do. For all intents and purposes, Witchclan is a Black Metal band, always has been and always will be but when you listen to Witchclan you can hear so many other influences musically that to limit oneself simply to just black metal didn’t feel right. There’s an injection of death, thrash and doom metal into most of the material I write so I feel that the tagline fits quite nicely and sets me apart from most of the other bands on the market at the moment.
Why did you decide to resurrect Witchclan a few years ago, rather than start a new solo project?
I could quite easily have started something new, absolutely. The reason I wanted to continue Witchclan was because there was already a five and a half year legacy from the early 90s that a few people remembered and I wanted to play on that. Witchclan had been a very important part of my life between 1993 and 1995 and the handful of demos from those early days had been received fairly well at the time so I either had the option of starting something fresh that nobody had heard of or exhuming Witchclan from the grave, and the latter just seemed right at the time. Unless you consider Venom to be black metal, as so many do – I take pride in saying Witchclan is the UK’s oldest black metal band, which is another strong reason to continue and a good selling point for the band.
Were you still involved in music during Witchclan’s period of inactivity?
As far as making music, I was involved in a punk band called M.E.G with two of Witchclan’s ex-members around 1996-1997 but apart from that the only other music I have been involved in producing is industrial electronic type stuff. Of course, I never stopped buying music and listening on a daily basis whilst keeping up to date with the way the metal scene was evolving, but starting another band after the demise of Witchclan in the mid-90s wasn’t really an option due to personal commitments at the time. By 2009 I was in a place in my personal life where I was ready to commit to a long term band again which is when Witchclan was reborn.
Do you prefer working solo than in a band?
Oh yes, definitely. Witchclan was plagued with line-up problems when we were a full band and it weakens you after a while. Back in the early 90s it was hard to record as a one-man project due to hardware restrictions, but these days with the way technology has progressed, it’s much easier to do. The best thing about it for me is that I don’t have to work with anyone else so there’s no arguments, no conflicts of opinions, no delays due to someone not turning up to rehearsal and all the other problems that full bands have to face. I do what I want, when I want and the only person I have to answer to is myself – and my wife of course, who has actually been extremely supportive with my music – it was her idea to rekindle the Witchclan flame and she is the one who practically manages a lot of the foundations for the band. She also appears on the new album on the spoken section for the intro and outro – so she’s the only person I’m truly happy to work with apart from the guys from the record labels – Erik Epperson of Locust Fork and Elvester Records, and Paul Darkins of Darkness Shade Records who have been solid and reliable support.
Have your influences changed much since the start of Witchclan (both musically and lyrically)?
Well I would have to say yes. I wasn’t in the band at the beginning but the sound of Witchclan 24 years ago is very different to what it is now. The very early days were heavily influenced by bands like Bathory, Possessed, Slayer and Venom so the sound had a very raw 80s feel to it. This continued right up to 1993 and you can hear this on the first two demos from that time. The vocals back then were really purely influenced by Darkthrone and Burzum who I was obsessed with as a young teenager, so you had an 80s blackened thrash musical style with Nordic black metal vocals. We introduced blast beats and a more tremelo style of picking towards the mid-90s as we drifted away from the 80s sound to a more up to date approach but these days everything has just progressed as I have grown as a musician.
As I mentioned earlier, the music these days is more my personal take on black metal which incorporates a lot of different elements of extreme metal. It’s all about growing and this shows through in the lyrics as well. When you listen to the lyrics on an early song such as ‘Satan’s Revenge’ it’s obvious we were kids singing about stuff we really had no idea about, using it as an outlet to vent about Christianity, as many bands were doing back then. The lyrics are more advanced now, with more feeling and depth. The metaphors used in ‘Worms of Hypocrisy’ for example are done in a way that get you thinking rather than being straight in your face blasphemy.
What would you say are the biggest changes that have occurred in the metal underground since you started?
When I started listening to metal in the late 80s the whole scene was completely different. I was a tape trader and I was in contact with a lot of other traders and bands by writing letters – remember those? Of course, there was no internet back then so everything was word of mouth and paper flyers sent through the post in jiffy bags rammed full of tapes of obscure bands from the other side of the world. It was a very important and exciting time and something I am very proud to be able to say I was a part of. I met a lot of great people during that time – I used to tape trade with Aort from <Code> who I visited a few times and stayed at his house. The underground scene was thriving and there was a real sense of unity and brotherhood back then, which has near enough disappeared these days – most of which I blame on the internet.
The music industry has become disposable. It’s so easy for kids these days to download something illegally at the click of a button and then if they don’t like it – delete it, and if they do like it then it goes on their iPod and it’s unlikely they’ll buy the physical release anyway. Only the true collectors are keeping the scene alive by buying the vinyl, the CDs and the tapes – really supporting the bands and record labels. I mean, I’m not in this for the money – it’s for the love of the music but there are so many bands out there who try and make a living from this and the internet has made it considerably harder for this to be achieved.
However, there is the flip side of the coin which argues that the internet has enabled bands to be heard all around the world at the click of a button to millions of people who ordinarily might not have had the opportunity to hear them – thus creating more fans which lead to more sell out gigs and more sales so it’s swings and roundabouts.
Extreme metal on the whole has developed massively. From the new sub-genres that have arisen from and split off from older more established sub-genres to the developments in production and new bands popping up everywhere. Black metal for the most part hasn’t really changed all that much in my opinion – but there are new sounds being introduced and developed to further what was already there.
The new sub-genres such as deathcore are not something I can speak favorably about, but the state of black metal, death metal, and thrash metal today I think is very strong.
Do you think UK extreme metal is in a good place right now?
Absolutely. We have some amazing black metal bands churning out some killer albums. I think the UK scene has always been very strong, and has brought metal some of the most iconic, ground breaking bands from the past – and looking to the future you only have to look at someone like Old Corpse Road for example who are leading the way in UK black metal right now.
I think that black metal in the UK has never looked better – and if you delve into the underground you will uncover a whole host of willing participants who are setting the standard from start to finish.
What do you aim to achieve with Witchclan?
I just want to get Witchclan heard by as many people as possible. I’ve put a lot of blood and sweat into the new album and I want the opportunity to show the black metal world what Witchclan is about. I will be around for many many years to come making and releasing music with Witchclan and my other band Deadman’s Blood so you will be hearing a lot more from me in the years to come. I don’t expect to get rich, that’s not what it’s about for me – I am passionate about the music and the message it conveys and so to be a part of that and to get my music heard is all I want. I am very egotistical when it comes to my work – I think that in this business you have to be. There’s no point in saying “Oh well, my band’s not bad – you might like it.” I’m more along the lines of “You need to check out my stuff, it’s killer.”