Ever since I first heard the band’s debut demo I’ve been a big fan of Draghkar. In a wide ocean of faceless death metal here is a band that stands out, and seem to be improving with every release. Draghkar’s latest is a full EP named The Endless Howling Abyss. Make sure you grab a copy when it’s released on July 27th, as it’s pretty damn killer.
Guitarist/vocalist BW was kind enough to give us a lot more information on the band and its history, so have a read of his thoughtful and comprehensive replies to my queries below…
Introduce us to Draghkar
Hey mate! I know you don’t need much of an introduction since you’ve reviewed all of our releases to date, but for people not familiar with us, we are an American death metal band centred in Los Angeles, California. I formed Draghkar in 2016 as an outlet for my love of death metal- prior to Draghkar, I’d only really written black metal, heavy metal, and doom metal, and had never finished a release despite having a handful of bands and a short-lived solo project. Given that I learned a hell of a lot of guitar on Vader, Morbid Angel, Celtic Frost, and Dismember, it felt like it was really time to get started on something like those bands, though even before the first demo we moved towards another direction. Draghkar’s lineup has up until recently always been very tumultuous, and the result is that I’ve historically written all of our music, with the music evolving both with my current obsessions and my ability to express myself as a musician. These days, Draghkar shares members with Ossuarium and Tyrants of Hell, and has had the same lineup for about eight months- longer by far than the previous longest lineup of the band. We have released a total of three things to date: a three song demo that dropped in February, 2017, a 7″ split with Desekryptor from Indiana, and a 20 minute EP.
What are your influences?
Lately, it’s been a lot of Mortuary Drape, Celtic Frost, Molested, the oldest Amorphis material, Depravity, Mercyful Fate, old Septic Flesh, Varathron, Rotting Christ, and Abhorrence. Plenty of other stuff makes it into the music- there’s a part inspired by Kaamos on the new EP, a part by Darkthrone, a couple by Morbid Angel and Sadistic Intent and by other bands- but the bulk of our influence right now is definitely split between old Greek and old Finnish death metal, with a heavy influx of occult horror. Past that, there’s always a lot of Hellhammer, Black Sabbath, and Morbid Angel in how I write death metal music just because I learned guitar on those bands, so their songwriting and riffwriting is firmly entrenched in how I compose.
Name five things you’ve listened to recently that you’d recommend
I’ve been listening to a ton of Question‘s new EP- fantastic death metal from Mexico that evokes a lot of the spirit of the old Mexican scene as well as the old Finnish scene. Aside from that, it’s been a lot of Caveman Cult, the new Varathron, Lunar Shadow, and Vanity (Gre). Caveman Cult is a name I’ve been familiar with for quite a while, but the sheer fanaticism of a couple of friends made me ignore them out of spite, I’m sorry to say; however, after they floored me at Destroying Texas last month I knew I had to give them a shot and they really are incredible. The new Varathron is also amazing, their best in years. Lunar Shadow admittedly I listen to as an EP, culling the last three songs from the release, but when listened to that way it’s quickly become one of my favourite recent releases. Lastly, Vanity was a Greek death metal band sharing a guitarist with the band that would later turn into the incredible Soulskinner, and share much of that same quality.
Tell us about The Endless Howling Abyss and how it came into existence
The Endless Howling Abyss was conceived as the conceptual followup to our side of our split EP with Desekryptor, and written with that in mind. I don’t want to spoil the story, and would request that fans who buy the EP don’t upload the lyrics online, but it concerns the descent into madness of a being who once held power over, and walked safely in, an abyssal realm that threatens and stands aside from our own. The music itself parallels his descent into madness, and the song order was selected to better represent that. I wanted to write something a bit more cohesive than our previous efforts and that fell a bit closer to my true heart than the raw Finnish death metal demo worship that World Unraveled represented. I started writing it in the summer of 2017 and finished the songwriting in December 2017. Alongside ES and DK, both of whom joined the band and wrote their parts for the EP within December itself, we polished the material and then recorded it at the start of this year. The EP was mixed by our good friend TG, who plays in another band with ES and me, and was mastered by Dan Lowndes. The artwork was done by our friend Karmazid, who also did the covers of our previous releases, and the logo redesign (commissioned to reflect our new music better than the original logo, which fit the demo material but not our current trajectory) was completed by Infernvz.
How do you go about writing and arranging your songs?
Generally, songwriting for me is a question of need. I’ll have either something vague or something specific in mind and then I’ll just jam and improvise towards that. Once I have a handful of usable riffs (or more), I’ll record those to a metronome, and try and construct the skeleton of a song. Once I have enough of a skeleton to know what exactly I want from the song I’ll start writing additional riffs, tweaking existing ones, and maybe tossing in some programmed drums to see if everything fits together properly. Eventually, this process will result in a song which may or may not be complete; I’ve changed songs within a week or two of a recording deadline before, or had a recording deadline fall through for whatever reason and then do some re-writing between the original deadline and a new one. Arrangements are done according to both what I think fits the song best as well as what fits the release; I always write towards the format, and so I’ll change pacing, intros and outros, and transitions between songs to reflect that once I have enough songs to have a rough track order in mind. Because of this, the first songs written tend to change the most towards the end of the process as I alter them to fit together better with the other songs on a given release. Once everything is finally done, we’ll record scratch versions of the release to a metronome, rehearse, and schedule a time to get it all recorded properly.
What are the lyrical themes about?
Draghkar from the start has been about the end of the world, and each release is and will be a different conceptual tale discussing different ends of different worlds. As I said above, in the case of the new EP, the lyrics are about a single individual’s fall to madness, and the resulting loss of the world from the very abyss he was meant to protect it against. Future releases will discuss different timelines and universes (some from existing fictional realms, some original), but will always come back to the same concept- that of decay, destruction, death. I’m a huge fan of physical media and as such will leave the particulars of our lyrics to those that want to buy our vinyl, CDs, and tapes. That being said, unfortunately, the first pressing of The Endless Howling Abyss does not include a lyric sheet, so fans that purchase it can email us and I’ll provide them.
What’s your favourite song on the EP and why?
After a lot of thought, I think my favourite is Endless Disintegration (Of the Body and of the Mind). For one, it has the coolest song name, and that automatically gives it some precedence! It’s the most fun to play, and I think it has some of my best ideas on it contrasting different moods and feelings of speed and heaviness. It also has some of the most fun vocal parts, at least to me – it lyrically represents the fall into madness of the main character of the EP, and that translated to some really cool bits where I’ll be delivering a cool vocal part over a guitar part that I normally would be taking a different approach on. Even past that, I think it has a good balance of slightly longer instrumental parts and ones where I cram in vocals- I’ve always been a fan of instrumentals in death metal (hence the nearly two minute long instrumental intro to the EP), and while Endless Disintegration never really gets close to that, it has enough breaks to feel satisfying as I play it.
How did you decide on the order of the tracks?
Admittedly, though I altered the songs to match the lyrics somewhat, the actual order of the songs themselves had nothing to do with that- I write music to flow together instrumentally and to make sense with whatever format I have in mind (in this case, 12″ vinyl). For The Endless Howling Abyss, I already had some of the body of Traversing the Abyss song written when I decided that it’d work the best as an intro, so when I was finishing the song I made sure it started well. Similarly, I decided to close out with Fading into Emptiness, so I wrote it a long, melancholy outro; as a matter of fact, Fading was one of the first songs I started and I initially intended it to open the EP, so I had to do a hefty amount of rewriting to make it otherwise! Having a work that flows well throughout its duration and feels cohesive is very important to me, and I never want to end up with just a collection of songs (at least in this band), so every choice made is to make that happen.
If you had to do it over again, would you change anything?
Definitely. The first Draghkar demo was rushed, and I regret it. I wish I’d spent more time refining the songs, more time rehearsing beforehand, and that I hadn’t recorded the vocals with a sinus infection. I wish I’d spend more time asking friends in bands about a good approach to releasing music, and I wish that it could have been better. That being said, I don’t regret any of my most recent songwriting, and the Draghkar demo was a learning experience for all that it was somewhat regrettable- and it’s not bad at all for what it is! I’ve met a lot of cool people through Draghkar, and had some great experiences, and I wouldn’t trade those for the world even if I wish I could change some minor specifics.
What lessons have you learned from The Endless Howling Abyss that you will take forward for your next recording?
Songwriting, at least for me, is a constant learning process. I learned a lot about good flow, punchiness, and writing memorable parts with this release; more importantly, I learned where I want the direction of Draghkar to go, so next time I can write something more focused from the getgo rather than spending time trying to decide what I want to do. The reason I did an EP before a debut full length album was to both have time to further improve my songwriting ability as well as to be able to solidify a sound that’s all Draghkar, and I feel like I’ve accomplished both here. Additionally, though it’s not exclusive to Draghkar, I’ve really learned a lot lately about how important it is to have other musicians to work with songwriting, and I’m looking forward to having a steady lineup to work with for future material so that I’m not trying to do it all myself.
Tell us a bit about the EP’s artwork
As with almost all of the things I’ve released, I got in touch with my buddy Karmazid to do the art for this release. Frankly, I didn’t give him much direction with it. I basically just sent him the lyrics, gave him a vague idea of what I wanted (very, very vague!), and told him to go nuts- a while later he got back to me with the gorgeous cover that we’re using. I tend not to have the best personal artistic vision for album covers, so it’s always wonderful working with someone that can predict what I really want far more fully than I can do myself. Again, though I don’t want to spoil anything, the cover is a mixture of a representation of the music as well as a representation of the musical ideas on it and the mood I wanted to set for it.
How important is good album art to you?
Extremely. I’m much less likely to listen to something with bad art, and would never be willing to release music without good art. Artwork is a visual representation of an artist’s vision of their music, and even if an artist has a vague idea of how that vision translates into a visual medium, I think that it shows a lack of pride in the music to not try and present it well. There’s plenty of fucking amazing music with crap art, don’t get me wrong – stuff that I could never even get close to matching the quality of – but it’s outweighed by the shit, so unless I have a strong recommendation from a trusted friend, bad album art means a skip. I don’t want that for myself, so I always strive to make sure that the album art on my releases will be as good as I want the music to be.
Your band logo has changed over time – is this still a work in progress, or has it settled now on its final form?
Only time will tell! I changed logos because the original one, while totally killer, fitted our early music much more than our current one. I tried on The Endless Howling Abyss to imbue a sense of mysticism in line with the classic Hellenic bands to the music, so I felt it needed a less straightforward logo than what we were using. The current logo perfectly represents our sound, I feel, and we’re very fond of it. However, I try and develop what I’m doing a bit more with every release, so at some point this logo may end up needing an overhaul or an outright change. It’s definitely around for at least another release or two, but I can’t predict past that.
How would you compare your latest work to your split with Desekryptor and your debut release World Unraveled?
The Endless Howling Abyss is better on every possible level. Better songwriting, better and more memorable riffs, better vocals (though to be fair, I had a sinus infection recording the demo, and the split’s vocals are pretty good), better musicianship, better production…in my opinion, it’s absolute night and day on most fronts. Our split track with Desekryptor I think is pretty good, though it could have had a much stronger guitar tone, and is a decent in-between of where we were then and where we are now, but even in between that and writing the new EP I think that I really improved songwriting. On top of that, I think that ES and DK match me the best in terms of mindset musically compared to people I’ve worked with in the past; though we don’t always have the same influences, we gel well together, and the end result is that much better.
How do you think your music will progress in the future?
I want to have songs that are both more complicated and mystical without losing any heaviness or any of what makes Draghkar special. I’d love to take some of the approach that The Chasm uses and mix it into what I’ve already been doing, but I don’t want to fundamentally diverge. More heavy metal influence, more interesting leads, cooler song structures- but also totally memorable parts, bone-crushing riffs, plenty of d-beats, cool melodies, cool vocal parts, a sense of Hellenic and Finnish power, controlled out of time bits, the works! If the direction of the Draghkar EP disappointed people, they’re going to absolutely hate where we go next, but that’s where my heart is calling me and that’s okay. To offset it I’m channelling my most primal death metal urges into another project, Skullsmasher, so hopefully those not into where Draghkar is headed can get something from that at least.
How do you feel you fit into the global death metal scene in 2018?
Pretty well. We have friends all over the world that like us, have worked with labels from several countries with more to come, and I think we offer something unique enough in our influences and songwriting to have our own space. I think that’ll only increase as we define our sound more and release more music, but Hell, I don’t do what I do to fit into a scene – I’m glad people are into what I’m doing, but ultimately I do it for me.
What are your views on playing live
Generally favourable. Some bands don’t translate well live, and if I was playing something that I didn’t think would be cool live, I just wouldn’t do shows. Draghkar I think is something that will be a cool live entity, and we’re taking our music to the stage in August for a short tour of the West Coast. I can’t really give much more of an answer than that because those will be my first ever gigs! Ask me when I get back from tour.
Tell us a bit more about these shows
We’re playing five shows running up the West Coast of the United States in August. We’ll be playing with some really fucking cool bands like Cave Bastard, Funeral Chant, Defecrator, and more! I still can’t believe we get to play with Plague Bearer, which is Kelly from Drawn and Quartered continuing the band name that preceded D&Q as a side band. Total legends. Also really excited to play with my buddies from Eosphoros; JT has helped me immensely since I got started with making music, and I can’t wait to share a stage with him. Every show we’re playing with awesome dudes, with no exceptions, and I couldn’t ask for better for a first tour.
What are the next steps for Draghkar?
After tour, I’m going to simmer down on Draghkar for a bit and focus on other projects; I’m hoping to debut my first heavy metal 7″ this year or early next year and finish the songwriting for both Skullsmasher and Grave Spirit full lengths as well as making Skullsmasher into a live entity before I really kick into gear for Draghkar again. Hopefully, Draghkar will launch on another tour next year at some point and have some new material to perform, and I’m aiming for our debut album to be released sometime in late 2019 or in 2020.
Any final words?
Thanks for the interview. Check out our music. Hail death, and hail the abyss.