“…We’re the luckiest guys in black metal, really. And our loyalty is to keep giving you the true Inquisition sound, and keep you guys happy.”
Those familiar with the worldwide underground black metal scene are already well familiar with Inquisition. Originally formed in 1988 in Colombia, Inquisition began their existence as a thrash metal act on their first EP and demo before embracing a rawer black metal style in 1998 on their debut LP, Into the Infernal Regions of the Ancient Cult. While other black metal acts have moved far past the original vision of the Norwegian scene and embraced shorter hair, unpainted faces, and various disparate elements from other musical genres, Inquisition have fully embraced the raw and dirty sound of primitive bare-bones black metal without ever putting out a stagnant release. From Infernal Regions all the way up to their fifth release, 2011’s Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm, their output has been consistently impressive, immersive, and absolutely devastating. With deceptively complex musical arrangements laid over raw black metal instrumentation performed by a minimalist two-man lineup, Inquisition has been a major force ever since, as anyone who’s been to their live show can easily attest to. To see only two guys make that much noise is truly a blessing of the Dark Gods.
The band played two back-to-back shows at Saint Vitus, the most metal bar in Brooklyn,* on April 26th and 27th of this year in celebration of the bar’s one-year anniversary. Cheap beer, good vibes, and heavy rocking were in full force on the Friday night I visited. I was lucky enough to meet with Dagon, the guitarist, vocalist, and mastermind behind the band before his performance that night. We discussed the evolution of Inquisition‘s sound, his original inspirations in the world of music, the ritualistic aspects of black metal, and what’s next for the band in the interview below.
Inquisition’s music is for sale on iTunes and Amazon MP3.
*It has this over the bathroom sink.
MB: You’ve been a force in the heavy metal underground for many years, but Inquisition is still pretty obscure outside of the metal world. How would you describe your sound to those who aren’t familiar with the band?
D: It’s very guitar-driven. That doesn’t mean that any [one] thing is more important than the other, it’s just that the compositions are based around guitar melody rather than just a rhythmic structure. How I would describe it is…it’s a collective, it’s a mix of several types of metal, everything ranging from heavy metal all the way down to black metal. What inspires me is everything I like, and I try to take several genres of metal and kind of melt ‘em down into what Inquisition is. Keep everything seamless, you know. I don’t want it to be a collection of styles, but I’m very inspired by different genres. But how I would describe it? Describing sound can be challenging, so I’m really not gonna risk leading people into something and trying to veer ‘em off from being interested in hearing us. But if you like metal guitar and you like the classic black metal and heavy metal and all that stuff with quite obscure chant-like and demonic-like vocals [then you'll like Inquisition]. Some people will describe [the vocals] as everything from comical, like a frog, all the way to a shaman chanting invocations. You’re gonna have to listen to it, build up your own view. Some people will say we’re very much Immortal-driven – absolutely, they were an inspiration for me, one of my all-time favorite bands – but we have our own thing going on. Check it out.
MB: Is there any specific experience you can point to that originally motivated you to start playing and performing music?
D: Yes. When I was thirteen years old, and I heard Angus Young’s guitar tone, I said “That’s what I want to do. I want an electric guitar, and I want to play a guitar – not because I like guitar, but because I want to hear that sound. I want to produce a sound that that guy’s producing.” This was when I was listening to Jailbreak and some of the first AC/DC albums. But really, what got me to want to be on stage isn’t music videos that I saw in the 80’s or hearing live shows like Live Undead from Slayer, it was going to a show. My first show, it was pretty late because I had been living down in South America and we didn’t get any of the bands that you guys did up here. The time I came up here to visit in ’89, I saw Exodus with Helloween and a few other bands I can’t recall at the moment. I remember the guitar techs coming out for Exodus and cranking up those Marshalls and doing a quick sound check, and I said “I have to be at least one of those guys one day.” So that’s what got me up there. When I heard that guitar tone live, cranked out of those PAs up there, I was 17 at the time and I said “I’ve gotta do this.” And that’s what got me to do what I’m doing now.
MB: Although you started as a thrash act, you moved to embrace a raw black metal sound for the majority of your career. Is there anything in particular that precipitated this change?
D: Yes, there’s several things. I kinda have to think that one over because again, I don’t want any misunderstandings. Like a lot of us in the 80s, I was a thrash kid. The heaviest thing I’d been listening to before I’d heard anything like old black metal, like Venom and stuff, was Judas Priest. My favorite bands were Kreator, Sodom, and Destruction. All the German thrash inspired me as a musician. But, you know, that was in the 80s and as you start getting older, some guys veer away from metal. They’ve had it. Some guys, they want more. And in this case, in a musical sense, I was looking for a “harder drug.” I wasn’t really looking for it, but thrash was really getting burned out. I don’t like saying it this way, but it really was getting dated. I mean, some people say metal shouldn’t evolve, [but] whatever term you want to choose, the term I choose would be…it’s just not moving forward. Thrash had gotten stagnant, uninteresting. All of a sudden, even though I’m very much a guitar-driven person, I heard this new style of what we called “black metal” at the time that definitely was guitar-driven. When I heard Immortal‘s Pure Holocaust – Darkthrone, all that, I liked those; I liked Emperor and everything – but Mayhem and Immortal really, really are what lead me to do what I’m doing now because, again, the guitar-driven melodies and songs that they had just floored me. The visuals of it, the theatrics that accompanied this obscure ideology just went so hand-in-hand with the music. And once again, all that could’ve existed, but if it hadn’t been guitar-driven I would’ve been very uninterested in it, even though there were the drum blasts and everything.
MB: Many black metal bands have found a raw and stripped-down sound to be stifling, but you guys have managed to remain fresh-sounding across all your releases – I’d argue that Ominous Doctrines is your strongest release yet. What’s your secret?
D: Many steps forward, many, many steps back in the songwriting process. The style that many fans and non-fans designate to us as a simplistic style can be true in a sense, but it’s not a simplistic approach when I write. The riffs you hear on each album, especially Ominous, are a result of throwing away, creating, throwing away, creating…You could say that every writer does that. But those two, three years it takes me to write an album are full of moments like that. That’s really what the result is, each album guitar-wise are the best riffs I could come up with up to that moment. Could they have been better? You could think so, but the problem is [that] in art, you want to finally know when to turn things off and say “You know what, it’s time to call this album done. Let’s get it recorded.” I’m kinda getting into that rut with this new album. We have to move forward, so I’m starting to teach myself to be happy with the riffs I’m coming up with and keep them.
MB: When you write your songs, are they initially composed with the live performance in mind, or do you focus on the studio recording first?
D: That’s a very good question. Both, 50/50. It can be very difficult at times, because you could say, for example, “I want the song to be very atmospheric.” It’s gonna be atmospheric, and usually to make it atmospheric the riffs are going to end up being very simple. And then I think “okay, my critics are going to say ‘wow, he got really simplistic on this song!'” So I kinda shake things up a little bit, I go “well, I wanted it to be atmospheric, but let’s make it a little brutal. Okay, killer. How’s it going to sound live, though?” But which one really calls the shots? Live. When I’m writing the riff, I think “man, imagine what this is gonna sound like with those Marshalls cranked up!” How is it going to translate in the studio? Well, if it translates well live, it’s definitely going to translate well in the studio.
MB: Do you ever have difficulty translating your studio work to a live setting with such a minimalist performing lineup?
D: Give me an example, so I can understand the question better.
MB: Like on “Astral Path to Supreme Majesties,” the first track off Ominous Doctrines, when you’ve got so many guitar tracks going at once. How do you end up translating that?
D: Ok, excellent. We have to sacrifice the overdubbed guitar, and that is something I think about when the song’s being written. And it’s one of those things where you go, you know, I could tell Incubus, the drummer: “Hey man, look, what if we laid this little guitar part over it?” It’s too bad, we won’t be able to do this live, but what are you gonna do? Trash the song and a great idea because we can’t do it live? I think fans will get used to not hearing that one part, and if anything, they get to focus more on the rhythmic part. The short answer is that we sacrifice, we have to compromise.
MB: The vocals are definitely one of the most distinctive elements of your sound. How did you decide on using your particularly unique style of vocal delivery rather than a standard black metal scream?
D: I started thinking over a new vocal approach around ’95. And I thought about the high-pitched screechy vocals, I loved ‘em. Like the old Funeral Winds albums and demos, and Blaze in the Northern Sky and all that old stuff, you know. I loved ‘em. But I wanted something a little bit more…I don’t know if it’s fair to say “inhuman.” I thought [about] what can I do with these vocals, that when people listen to me – I don’t care if it’s going to be funny to them or not, or strange, or not fit in – I want something that when they listen to it, they’re not really thinking of a human being there in a studio screaming. It’s not easy – it’s easy to do, but it’s not easy to take that concept and make it work right to where it does suit the atmosphere and people do believe in what you’re doing without thinking that you’re not taking things serious enough. But my approach was, I basically wanted something that was…something along the lines of the old Graveland albums, or De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas of Mayhem, with Atilla. Something along those lines but kind of adapting my own tonality to it. Something monotone, emotionless, and take it from there and see what happens.
MB: While many black metal bands are content to embrace Satanism out of shock value, your lyrics have always had a bit more of an esoteric and occultist bent. Would you be able to shed some light on the themes and elements you use for lyrical inspiration?
D: Sure. Satanism to me is, in music, a great thing for somebody who wants to keep things dark, root for the bad guy in essence. We all know what the Devil’s all about. But to add a serious approach to it, you have to add somewhat of a mystical, occultist-like feel meaning not really taking anything from a particular culture or philosophy. Keep things poetic. I write my lyrics around nature, and really throw Satanism over it, as controversial as that may sound to some people thinking “What does that mean? That doesn’t sound very deep.” I could be here for hours going on about that part. It’s not really gearing myself towards anything too much. I don’t wanna be seen as just [a guy who] writes about Satan, Satan, Satan, based off the Old Testament and that’s it. But what do you write about? It’s a great topic for black metal. Right now I’m really going more towards astrophysics, and keeping things a little colder based on science. I’m trying to find something new and interesting, but I gotta keep Satan in there.
MB: As black metal’s evolved far past its original Norwegian incarnation, many bands in the scene have either abandoned or completely neglected the corpse-painted and bullet-belted aesthetic while you guys continue to embrace it. Why is that?
D: It just really suits the atmosphere. I have no problem with people in short hair, no paint, I don’t care what they look like. At the end of the day, what’s coming out of those speakers is all that matters. But as long as you’re willing to add a visual [element] to your performance, why not? If you feel, if anything, if you want to use visuals for yourself, because it’s going to inspire your mood more, enhance your mood, then do it. I can tell you right now, we do it more for ourselves than [other] people because by now, so many hundreds of thousands, if not millions of metalheads worldwide have seen the facepaint so much, it’s almost as cliche as the long hair thing in metal. It’s not new anymore. The thing is, though, when you don’t wear it, we do feel different. There’s been a couple occasions where our paint disappeared last-minute. In New Orleans we had to go on without it, and we were as inspired, but it’s just…you feel different. The drummer and I, one night I told him “I think I understand now why they call it warpaint.” When warriors of many cultures, many tribes, put their paint on it really sets a mood. It’s almost like going to the other world when you’re putting it on, and it ritualizes the moment before you go onstage. It’s not just “okay, time to warm up, time to stretch,” it’s more like stretch, do all your stuff, and now you have your time to yourself to put your paint on, you’re thinking about what you’re doing, you’re now transcending into another world, into this black hole when you’re looking into the mirror and doing your paint. That’s what I’m thinking about when I’m doing it. There’s no words, there’s really no thoughts, it’s just a state of being, and it’s a very relaxing one. Why don’t we stop doing it? Because of that. I think it’s a very nice tradition for black metal, and I think it should be kept for those who wish to continue doing it.
MB: What’s next on the table for the band? Will you be touring another region of the world after the States?
D: Well, we came here to the East Coast to do five shows, one more in New England, then we’re going back. I think we have four or five days rest, we get home on Monday. We have three shows in Mexico. One of those three shows is gonna be pretty cool. It’s a little fest called Metal on the Rocks, it’s with Exumer and Morbid Saint out of Wisconsin. It’s with those three bands, and then two more shows in Mexico. In no specific order, June we have New Zealand and Australia coming up, five shows. Many different continents, many different countries. The demand’s there, and we’re trying to do this to the fullest of our time right now. There’s South America, and Europe…we’re busy. We’re busy this year.
MB: Do you have any plans for a new album in the works?
D: Absolutely! I’m smiling right now because that’s the biggest challenge, and it’s a good one. It’s a good challenge. We signed on with Season of Mist. Our promise to them was to have the album written and recorded and produced by December 31st, but they have no problem with waiting a little more. I went ahead and got Michael [Berberian] of Season of Mist, asking him if they could wait until around March. I told him we’ve been doing a lot of touring, and it’s all by demand, so we wanna please fans and promoters that want the band and that kinda gets in the way a little bit of the songwriting, but in a good way. We’re writing and it’ll be out on Season of Mist next year, and then more touring. Same routine.
MB: Any last words for your fans?
D: I really don’t know how to make the words “thank you” show appreciation in the most honest and authentic form without sounding cliche. We’re all brought up to always be thankful and everything, but I do want everybody to know one thing: that I feel like I am the luckiest guy in black metal. I can’t believe that doing what we do, breaking a little bit of the standards, two guys playing what they wanna play, because of fans – and promoters are fans, too! You’ve got people paying into this to get you where you need to be to play in their country, their city. Fans are people, working-class citizens, and they’re dishing out money to buy your product, show their support. “Thank you” is not, I mean it’s just, that’s not the right word. I’d rather say I feel like I am – I really am, and Incubus the drummer [too], we’re the luckiest guys in black metal, really. And our loyalty is to keep giving you the true Inquisition sound, and keep you guys happy.