Not so long ago Agiel released their latest EP Dark Pantheons, which is an exciting and inspired merging of Death Metal and classical orchestration. We caught up with Agiel vocalist and founding member James Taylor to see what makes the band tick…
For those that are unfamiliar with your band – introduce yourself
Great to speak to you! We are AGIEL, a blackened-death metal four piece band from the US. Our music integrates the brutality of death metal, raw intensity of black metal and significant orchestral arrangements to produce an intensely unsettling yet enigmatic style.
The band name comes from western astrology and symbolizes the intelligence of Saturn; a planet that represents agelessness and occult power. In the European astrological system each planet has a baleful and baneful influence; a positive and negative aspect that is. Because of its role as the intelligence and wisdom that is gain from knowledge of the occult, AGIEL is generally seen as the constructive aspect of Saturn’s influence on mankind. The focal subject matter of our music explores many aspects of the occult, theosophy, mythology and the limits of our spiritual potential as human beings.
Give us a bit of background to AGIEL
Time passes so quickly and it’s hard to believe that I started AGIEL over 15 years ago. Our origins go back to about 1997. That’s when we started making serious strides towards the creation of our own sound and style. To be honest I wish that I was a better chronologist because I’ve lost troves of AGIEL material over the years. I’ve gotten better at it, my erratic nature tempered perhaps by maturity, but the broad strokes of our history are intact at least.
We released our first full length CD The Works of War in 1999. The title was a bit of a play on the Christian concept of the works of peace (clothe the naked, feed the hungry, etc). I think we were 18 or 19 years old when that album was written, so there’s more than a small dose of blasphemy in that material. We moved past all that kind of thing really quickly once we began to study the Occult in a more serious way. Our experiences with that are what inspired us to begin writing music and continues to provide a source of inspiration to this day.
In 2000 or 2001 we started working on a demo titled Hymnos ex Maledicus Gemini, which would later become the 2002 release Dark Pantheons Again Will Reign. That album began a kind of tradition for AGIEL in that we would try and break out of our musical comfort zones and reinvent ourselves with each new release. One of the aspects of this band that I love most is that desire to constantly change and evolve, to never stagnate or stay with what’s safe. Musically we moved from a black metal sound to something that was much more like brutal death metal.
From then until about 2007 we continued that evolution and experimented with many different permutations of death metal. Like I said earlier, I wish that I had kept better track of that period because we were quite prolific with the amount of material that was written. Some of it is still available and we’ve made an effort to preserve it. There was a 10 – 12 song album titled Kuthula which was a big technical achievement for us. The songs in that collection were very intricate and extremely challenging to perform. I’m glad to say that we still have those. Next was another full length which we called Aeon and I’m sad to say that all of that material has been lost to the ages. And finally, we published a shorter work called Vessatu of which only 3 songs remain in our collection.
In 2007, for a variety of reasons, we decided to let AGIEL rest and it wasn’t until December of 2012 that we picked up its mantel once again. An improbable, but perfect convergence of opportunities brought us back together to create music once again. That brings us to this year’s release of Dark Pantheons.
What are your influences?
We draw from pretty varied sources and I think that is a reflection of the diversity of interests between the guys in the band. Jesse, our guitarist, has a lot of influence from classic melodic metal bands like Iron Maiden. Kevin, AGIEL’s drummer, is into more black-end death metal types such as Flesh God Apocalypse. Rich is into a lot of brutal death metal. I’m into a lot of different musical styles, but my listening habits tend to lean towards black metal bands like Emperor and Dark Fortress. I’m also pretty obsessed with modern orchestral music from composers like Mahler. He’s one of my favourites.
Then of course there is the music that we grew up on which was the second wave of European black metal bands like Emperor, Satyricon, Cradle of Filth, Dissection, etc . In terms of literal musical style we might not share too much in common with these bands, but that black metal attitude is engrained in our consciousness.
What are you listening to at the moment that you want to recommend?
My current listening obsession is Mahler’s sixth symphony. It’s a devastating, powerful and downright brutal composition. At over 80 minutes it is pretty lengthy in comparison to most of the music that I listen to, but totally worth the effort. We’re gearing up right now to write a new full length album and I throw this piece on whenever I need inspiration. I think a lot of people that are into death metal would really like this particular symphony.
There is so much great music out there today and it is so much more accessible than it has ever been. It can be overwhelming really. One of my favorite ways to unwind is to just throw YouTube up on my laptop and start into a random playlist. I do that a lot actually. There’s always something filling up the background while I work on various projects.
You blend Death Metal and cinematic orchestration in a seamless way that’s effective and sounds unforced. Is this really the case or was it a challenge getting the two genres to fuse together?
I’m glad that you’re into that aspect of our sound. I spent too many hours to keep track of on getting the orchestral compositions to work in concert with the songs. It was a unique challenge in that we wanted it to sound as if the orchestra was integrated into the band on a really deep level and not just a layer that goes on top of a metal song. We took our time to get the interplay between the classical and modern instrumentation to a point that we were happy with. I also tried to write arrangements for each of the different sections in the orchestra and not rely on layered sounds. So for each of the songs I wrote up to sixteen separate parts that got layered up to create the final sound.
What does the writing process involve for you?
For me, everything starts with what I call a seed idea. This could be almost anything; a short melody that came to me randomly, a particular word that resonated with an emotion, maybe one of two bars from a song heard in passing or maybe a piece of visual art that was particularly inspiring. From there I let that seed grow in my subconscious mind until ideas start breaking through to my conscious thoughts. At that point I’ll start writing things down as they occur to me. It annoys the hell out of people though. I’ll stop mid-sentence, frantically look for something to write on and then scribble down a line of lyric or a tonal progression. It doesn’t matter what’s going on. Everything stops for me until that ideas is down on paper.
In truth, a lot of my notes make absolutely no sense when I look at them later on, but a few will actually stick with me and those are the ones that make it into a song. I consider it a vetting process and don’t panic if I can’t remember something. If it is not memorable then it probably wasn’t that great of an idea anyways.
Give us some background on how the lyrics came about.
The overarching message in AGIEL’s lyrics is a call to throw off all constraint and to embrace absolute freedom for the mind, body and spirit. I firmly believe that ridding yourself of external influence until the genesis of all action comes from your own true will is crucial to reaching our potential as spiritual beings. The lyrics that I’ve written attempt to convey both my own struggle toward that potential and the multitude of ways in which that potential has incarnated itself throughout the historical human experience. My personal experience tends to be represented abstractly as the emotional context that the lyrical narrative plays out in. The broader human experience is usually represented through the mythology of many different cultures.
I suppose that this would depend on what you mean by that. If we are talking about style and influence then I’d honestly say that this isn’t something that we’re terribly concerned about. There are so many talented bands out right now that are doing some really amazing things. I’m really inspired by the level of talent that’s in the metal scene right now. I just think that it’s more important to us as a band to concentrate on contributing something unique to the genre.
In terms of our message, what we’re about, I’d like to think that we stand apart in this respect. AGIEL’s music can be a dark, unsettling and difficult experience, but that simply reflect the reality of most occult experiences. They can be troubling, even dangerous in some respects, but beyond the chasm of the abyss lies a liberating truth. We’re not just looking at the horrific violence that fills the world or how fucked up this or that aspect of our society is. I suppose that’s why I see ourselves as a beneficial influence on the world.
Are you happy with how the release came about? Would you do anything differently?
Overall we are extremely proud of this release. We went at this with an energy level bordering on frenzy and I hope that comes across in the recording. Sure there are lots of things that I’d do differently, but that’s all part of the artistic process. You have to see it through until the end in order to gain insight into the future. Now that we are on the other side of Dark Pantheons I can look back and see where we have opportunities to create an even more intense album.
What’s next for AGIEL?
Our primary focus right now is on writing new material for our next album which will be a full length release that we hope to have ready for early 2015. That’s turned into an all-consuming pursuit at this point! We are trying a lot of different methods to break out of old, tired thought patters so that we can offer something truly new and unique to the metal scene. It’s been a lot of fun to push the boundaries of our musical comfort and attempt something really ambitious. So in the upcoming year we’ll be working extremely hard on achieving that.
But in the short term we do have a couple of projects in the works that will bring new AGIEL material to light. This includes live performances of the Pantheons material as well as a few brand new tracks. That’s in production now and I hope to have everything wrapped up later this year. It’s an exciting time for the band and we feel intensely privileged to share our music with the world.
We look forward to it.