They are the most important English black metal band of the past 10 years. I fucking love ’em! This was an interview done in 2004 for Subterranea.
CHRIST: THE ALBUM
Metatron is explaining that the next Meads Of Asphodel album will be a concept album called The Passion And Death Of Ioseus about the big JC, an album that he has been planning to do for years.
“It will be about Jesus the man,” he says, “I have my own theories about him.”
“I think that he was a Zealot. He came to claim his right to the throne of Israel. He upset the Romans and they nailed him up for it. And nobody rose up because they were scared of the Romans. I mean there never was a crueller race. Hitler only had 20 years but the Romans were at it for fucking ages.”
The Meads Of Asphodel are not a band who think small. On all of their three full length albums and particularly on their latest Damascus Steel they have explored the pernicious influence of all of the Religions Of The Book – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – on world history. Except there’s none of the usual black metal fuck-Christ-hail-Satan bollocks that lesser bands employ as a shock tactic. You can tell that Metatron actually has an idea of what he’s talking about. The debut album The Excommunication of Christ “revolves around the basic concept that Jesus was a mortal man and in no way a demigod. The Christian faith is built upon the resurrection and thus built upon a lie.” The follow up Exhuming the Grave of Yeshua continued the theme, particularly on songs like God Is Rome and A Healer Made God where Christ’s voice says: “I was a preacher of peace/ A healer of the sick/ Just look at me now/ I never wanted this shit/ I’m a God on a cross.”
Damascus Steel is riddled withs theme of Holy War: it starts with George W Bush invoking God in his mission in the middle east like a Crusader of old.
“He’s thrown Christianity into the whole Islamic world, which is madness,” says an outraged Metatron.
The album is shot through with the fallout of the post 9-11 world which now so resembles the era of the Crusades from whence the armour clad Meads draw much of their inspiration. As one of the few bands who are critical of Islam, are the ever the targets of religious extremists?
“No,” he says adamantly, “We’re not out to offend anyone. If we were there’s a lot of stuff that we could do that would be really really offensive but no, we’re just saying what we feel about religion. Islam is where Christianity was at the time of the Crusades. You know, call a Crusade and millions go and die: the Pope announces that all their sins will be forgiven. And that’s where Islam is now. If in another 500 years we haven’t blown ourselves up, then Islam will cease to be as influential as Christianity has ceased to be today.”
The Meads are one of Britain’s most enigmatic underground bands. Never photographed without their masks and chain mail, they are completely open about everything on the phone but reluctant to do interviews face to face and keep their identity a closely guarded secret. They have never played live as a band – though they have all played live with other bands – though things are afoot.
“We don’t want to do a Therion. I saw them and loved every minute but we want to project this whole Hawkwind vibe projecting this image of everything that we’re about. We’d want to play with the sitar players and tabla players, not to backing tapes. It would be very difficult: we couldn’t wear the armour. I’ve seen some bands do it but they don’t look very well at the end of the gig.”
Although the core members of The Meads Of Asphodel is a masked and armoured three piece – Metatron, J.D Tait the master song- smith and musician, and drummer Urakbarameel – there is a floating pool of associates such as Hawkwind bassist Alan Davey, Mirai [of cult Japanese band Sigh], Max [from electro goth band History of Guns], Huw Lloyd Langton [also from Hawkwind], Alisa Coral [from Russian space rock band Space Mirrors who plays Theremin], the Gnesh Brothers [on sitar and tabla], plus various musicians contributing violin, trumpet and female vocals all contributing to Damascus Steel.
“This was a really easy album to do,” asserts Metatron. “Everything came together, particularly the Louis Armstrong cover.”
Yes, that’s right. Old Satchmo’s syrupy 1968 hit Wonderful World has been reworked as a portrait of a world in chaos. The original line “I see skies of blue and clouds of white/ The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night/ And I think to myself what a wonderful world” is reworked as “I see ethnic cleansing/ Pain beyond belief/ Whole nations murdered/ Sorrow and grief/ And I think to myself what a wonderful world”
“A lot of people have asked if we’re taking the piss but we’re not at all,” says, “ It was a really fresh and natural thing. We’re very pleased. We wanted it to split the album in two. Every time we’ve heard that song, it’s often used as an ironic intro to films about war but nobody’s ever done anything with the lyrics before. For years and years I’ve had it in my head. I’ve been working on the lyrics for seven or eight years ad one day I put the last verse to it and I was so happy. If we offend anyone, great. If we make them laugh, even better. If you want misery go and listen to a Cannibal Corpse album.”
Musically this is one of the most expansive albums that the band have made. As well as the black metal backbone in their sound there are snatches of Middle Eastern, Indian and even jazz drifting in and out. They use samples, weird instruments like the ghostly-sounding theremin, organ and brass. On the next album, Martin Walkyrie of Skyclad may be involved. Their artistic ambition knows no bounds though the more sordid business side of things is about to undergo some changes. Every Meads album has been done for less than a couple of grand and released through cult black metal label Supernal, though the band are in discussions with other labels at the moment.
“Obviously the people playing on the records haven’t got a lot of money out of it, so we’ve been helped a lot by them. Supernal is an underground label and it has, given us that underground cred but the bands on the label are so ultra underground that we can only go so far with them. The next step is to find somebody who can get us into the US and Europe. I mean we get mail from all over the world. How they get hold of our stuff is beyond me.”
Through their association with Supernal and their T-shirt slogan English Fucking Black Metal, there’s a perception that they are in some way the offspring of Bathory.
“When you say black metal you’re always going to think of Darkthrone, Emperor, Burzum…the Norwegians basically own it. I don’t think we’re a black metal band in the music, but lyrically, yeah. I think we’re space rock black metal. We’re not one of those bands who start moaning ‘don’t pigeonhole us’. We’d rather be pigeonholed somewhere than nowhere. You’ve got to be something.”
Is it important that the Meads Of Asphodel remain enigmatic and keep the helmets on?
“Oh yes,” he says without any hesitation. “It’s certainly not egotistical…if it was we wouldn’t need the helmets. Playing live, it may be a bit difficult to conceal our identities. We’d either be dripping in sweat or we’d all look like the drummer from Samson. And that would be awful.”