3) Band Archives & Features
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Here’s the original rough sketch of the cover for “Starfire Burning…” which artist Joe Petagno sent to me for approval back in 1996.
And this is the original pencil version of the “Caylen-Tor” illustration by Samuel Santos:
Here’s Martin Hanford’s original black & white version of the Sigil of War artwork, followed by a rough sketch of the revamped “Mk.II” version:
This is one of the rough sketches of the cover artwork to “The Power Cosmic”, which Martin Hanford sent me for approval back in 1998.
Below is one of the rough sketches for the “Atlantis Ascendant” album cover sent to me by Martin Hanford in 2000.
Here’s the original rough sketch by Martin Hanford for the classic “The Crows Will Pick Your Bones Clean” warrior shirt and flag. This draft of the preliminary illustration does not feature the shield which appeared in the final version, because at this stage in the design’s evolution Martin was considering having a bird of prey, such as a hawk or a falcon, perched on the character’s hand. Ultimately, Martin and I decided to go with a shield. The final version of the artwork appears below the sketch.
Below is the rough illustration for the “Future Era Caylen-Tor” design by Martin Hanford, which appeared on the classic “Bow, Yield, Kneel” shirt and also in the digipak re-release of “The Power Cosmic”. I asked Martin to add a helmet to the character, and he sent me illustrations of several brilliant helmet designs to choose from. The final lupine helmet design was chosen to reflect Caylen-Tor’s status as “The Wolf of the North”. The finished version of the artwork, painted on a watercolour board, appears below the preliminary sketch.
More artefacts from the Bal-Sagoth Artwork Archives soon!
THE ANNOTATED DISCOGRAPHY
The personal recollections of Byron Roberts on the recording of Bal-Sagoth’s works.
1) The Demo (1993)
BYRON: We recorded the demo during a single afternoon in a small recording studio under a curry house. We could only afford to book in for a few hours, and we recorded three songs during that time. We never officially released it because it was never officially finished. We always intended to go back and add a few more vocal parts and a few more keyboard parts (making them sound less like a stylophone), and to remix the whole affair. However, we never got round to it and ultimately I started releasing the tracks into the underground tape trading community (this was in the days before MP3s and file sharing). The tracks on the demo included a very early version of “Dreaming Of Atlantean Spires”, a song called “By The Blaze Of The Fire Jewels” (which later underwent a lyrical and musical overhaul and became “Shadows ‘Neath The Black Pyramid”), and a song called “A Shadow On The Mist”, which we broke up for spares, using some of its riffs in other songs. The “true” version of the demo includes an intro which I took from the movie “Masters Of The Universe” and also some BBC radiophonic workshop sound effects from the classic “Death & Horror” tape. These tracks were raw, brutal, rough, and totally incomplete, and they only hinted at the greatness that was to come. Nevertheless, they got us a three album deal with Cacophonous, so they ultimately served their purpose. I authorized two of the tracks to be included as bonus tracks on the Japanese sub-licensed version of our fifth album “Atlantis Ascendant”. The demo will soon be released as a limited edition CD with additional tracks and a lyric booklet!
2) A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria (1995)
BYRON: Our first full length album! We had about two weeks in Academy Music Studio to record this, during the midsummer of 1994. The archaic glory of analogue recording equipment! Needless to say, things were very hectic, and time was short. We of course ended up running out of recording tracks, and lots of stuff was therefore recorded on the same tracks, which resulted in a lot of fun, and slider carnage, during the final mix. I don’t think Cacophonous knew what to expect from us with this album. They initially wanted us to wait a while before recording a full opus, but I was adamant that we were ready to go ahead and record a full LP. A good studio and a fair budget duly enabled us to show the world exactly what our take on extreme metal was all about, and what the Bal-Sagoth mandate truly was. The Bal-Sagoth lyrical mythos officially began with this album, and the genesis of many of the hexalogy’s epic tales was here. Angsaar! Khthon! The Shadow-Sword! Legendary sound engineer Mags helmed this one, so beginning his long and glorious association with the band. A few interesting snippets of first album trivia: We heard that COF were quite pissed off that we were recording at Academy because they were allegedly worried we would steal their keyboard sound. Ha! Well, needless to say we proved with this album that we were pretty serious about our keyboards. Also, the guitar solo on “The Ravening” was played by John Piras, who at that time was in Solstice, and who later went on to be in COF. Mags also played a bit of guitar here and there on this album, and also on the next one, as it happened. And finally, the album intro was composed and played by Keith Appleton, the owner of Academy Music Studio. I’d been telling Jonny for ages that we needed a keyboard intro for this album, but of course when the time arrived, nothing had been composed. So, Keith came to the rescue by giving us a piece he’d created some years earlier, which was in reality part of a musical suite for a stage production of Alice In Wonderland, but which had been rejected because it was too scary and would have freaked out the kids. Also, this album remains the first and only Bal-Sagoth opus to have been released as a vinyl LP edition (although the vinyl version omits the track “The Ravening”). This album hit the metal scene like a set of adamantium claws through the chest. Only when this ferociously dark and brutally baroque work landed on the doorstep of Cacophonous did they realize the true power of the mighty Bal-Sagoth. (Still didn’t stop them taking almost a whole year to release the album, though.) Bal-Sagoth had arrived.
3) Starfire Burning Upon The Ice-Veiled Throne Of Ultima Thule (1996)
BYRON: Back to Academy during another sweltering summer for the second album. Everything about this album was bigger and more epic, from the music to the song titles! Forget pan & scan, this was the anamorphic version of Bal-Sagoth. Just over two weeks in Academy, which was nowhere near long enough, but that was all the label would spring for. Also, they wouldn’t even foot the bill for new 2 inch reels, so we actually had to use the same reels as before and record over the first album! Unforgivable. Anyway, the temperature in the studio reached such crazy levels that the recording equipment actually broke down on several occasions. But we battled on, secure in the knowledge that we were creating something special. Elaborate orchestrations, intricate vocals, symphonic keyboards… this one really pushed the envelope and proved once again that the power and the glory of Bal-Sagoth was truly unparalleled. The cover art was painted by the famous Petagno. The lyric booklet was huge for its time, and contained the most elaborate lyrics yet seen. The saga of Bal-Sagoth truly continued with this album, and fan favourite stories like the Hyperborean Empire saga, the Obsidian Crown saga, and the Darkenhold mythos began here. We spent a long time writing this album, and it was sublimely epic in scope. Up against the clock, we pulled out all the stops and used every trick in the book to get this one completed on time, including playing a lot of the double bass drums on the keyboards (yes, you read that right). This album also featured a CDROM track, which in truth was little more than an ad for the Cacophonous roster of the time. (For some reason, it was also placed at the beginning of the album, which meant that when played in a normal CD player, the first track on the album was a fascinating journey into silence.) Dark, epic, icy, gloriously sinister and bombastic. Many consider this album something of a metal milestone. Which is fine by us.
4) Battle Magic (1998)
BYRON: Winter at Academy, and time for the creation of episode III. Just back from a European tour with Emperor, we were ready to continue the Bal-Sagoth legend. This album was so intricate and compositionally elaborate that it pushed the facilities at Academy to their absolute limit, and almost gave engineer Mags a nervous breakdown (but he loved every minute of it and it remains one of his favourite albums)! Crazed and experimental songs pushed the boundaries still further, like the madly indulgent “Blood Slakes The Sand At The Circus Maximus” (no, the copyright holders of the “Spartacus” film score didn’t sue us. Seriously, listen to the opening moments of both pieces back to back!) If nothing else, this album proved that we were a band not afraid to take risks… a band who prized art and originality above all else. A different approach to the keyboards sacrificed much of the dark ambience of previous releases in favour of a more symphonic brass oriented sound, which although not to everyone’s liking nevertheless gave the third album its own unmistakable audial identity. Some said that the guitars, more refined than before, were also arguably less heavy. Whatever the case, if “Starfire Burning…” was our “The Empire Strikes Back”, then “Battle Magic” was definitely our “Return of the Jedi”. Lyrically, the grand Bal-Sagoth mythos continued apace, and still more secrets of the vast lyrical multiverse were revealed to the readers & listeners, such as the genesis of the conflict between the Hyperborean King and Lord Angsaar. Colourful sound, colourful production, colourful concepts, colourful artwork. The full spectrum of genius shone brightly here. Now secure as a firm fan favourite in the Bal-Sagoth canon, “Battle Magic” is an album which the erudite and the imaginative can savour eternally. “Ride them down!”
5) The Power Cosmic (1999)
BYRON: And lo, the fourth album! The first one for Nuclear Blast! A new record label! A new cover artist! A new drummer! A new bassist! Lots of changes here. A grand return to the hallowed halls of Academy Music Studio for the fourth chapter in the Bal-Sagoth saga. This album was the first one on which Jonny did not play drums and Chris did not play bass. A searingly clear production (some would rightly argue too clear) and a decidedly less barbaric approach to the musical compositions meant that the fourth album was perhaps quite markedly different in sound from previous chapters, substituting much of the trademark Bal-Sagoth chaos and extremity for a more refined and crystalized soundscape. Nevertheless, this was still undeniably Bal-Sagoth. This album was the first during which the more science-fiction oriented aspects of the lyrics (heavily hinted at during the previous releases) finally came more to the fore. The millennia-spanning saga of the evil arch-fiend Zurra and the fabled Empyreal Lexicon was unleashed upon the legions of Bal-Sagoth fandom. Controversially, this album, for the first time, did not include a full lyric booklet, something which incensed many long term fans of the band’s stories. The lyrics, as intended, were ultimately released as a downloadable exclusive at the Official Bal-Sagoth Website, and later included with the Russian sub-licensed edition of the album. And at long last, there’s a new expanded version of the lyric booklet included with the recent digipack reissue of The Power Cosmic! Boasting a glorious cover by artist Martin Hanford, “The Power Cosmic” went on to become the biggest selling instalment in the entire saga, which was at least partly attributable to the massive promotional push which NB gave the opus (seriously, I must have done something like 200 interviews with magazines and radio stations all over the world to promote this album. NB certainly had a massive promotional engine). Fourth album trivia: During the recording of “The Power Cosmic”, the band’s iconic sword Excalibur was stolen from the studio by local street urchins who proceeded to sell it, presumably in order to buy rocks of crack. Fearing the righteous wrath of the mighty Bal-Sagoth, various lowlife scum swiftly gave up the sacred blade, and it was ultimately returned to us, after having passed through at least one pawn shop and several worried owners.
6) Atlantis Ascendant (2001)
BYRON: The fifth album! Once more into the fray! Once more into the haunted labyrinthine chambers of the Academy! This album marked the first tentative steps on the path of digital recording, as Academy had begun to upgrade and replace its analogue equipment with some new digital apparatus. New vistas opened up before the band’s collective creative eye, and the digital age dawned in the kingdom of Bal-Sagoth. Continuing the long established tradition of elaborate and intricate orchestration, the fifth album was a multilayered, multi-textured exercise in dark and epic art. Mixing elements of all the previous chapters, “Atlantis Ascendant” struck a fine balance between extremity, clarity, aggression and refinement. Lyrically, the baroque saga of Bal-Sagoth continued, with the Hyperborean Empire trilogy reaching its climactic finale, and the exploits of archaeologist and adventurer Professor Caleb Blackthorne III making their debut, setting the scene for many of the events on the sixth album. Fan favourite songs such as Draconis Albionensis and The Dreamer In The Catacombs Of Ur were unleashed upon the world, and the band’s artistic palette expanded with a myriad vibrant musical and literary colours. Overall one of the most consistent, complete and most successfully realized of the Bal-Sagoth albums, “Atlantis Ascendant”, resplendent with its glorious artwork, further fortified the band’s undeniable legend. The fifth album provided the supporters of Bal-Sagoth with plenty to reflect upon, which was particularly important when you realize it would be a full five years until the appearance of chapter six! Fifth album trivia: “Atlantis Ascendant” was the last album to be recorded at the old premises of Academy Music Studio. As we were putting the finishing touches to the album, the studio was being disassembled around us. We even took some of Academy home with us, for old times’ sake.
7) The Chthonic Chronicles (2006)
BYRON: Patience is a virtue. All good things come to he who waits. Better late than never. The sixth album took so long because someone decided it would be a great idea if we recorded it on the band’s own digital equipment, in the band’s own digital studio. That was in 2002. Over the years, the slow and onerous process of amassing all the required equipment dragged on, and on. And on. Deadlines were set. And ignored. The clock kept ticking. Several years, numerous fights, and a few catastrophic hardware failures later, we were ready to begin to consider the possibility of recording the sixth album. Gradually, the music took shape. The lyrics had of course been written years before, and it was vital that the music for this, the climax of the hexalogy, reflect the thematic nature of the stories to the letter, stories such as the siege of Gul-Kothoth, the Catacombs of Ur prequel, the great sub-aquatic voyage to the Abyssal Plain, and the all important reprise of Hatheg-Kla. The music was adhering to the detailed story outlines and the synopsis I had presented to keyboardist Jonny, and the compositions were progressing gloriously, if very laboriously. More deadlines were set, and more deadlines slipped. Tensions were running high. More songs were slowly nearing completion. The mysterious new studio, “Wayland’s Forge”, reached its ultimate evolutionary form. Everything was digital. We had fully embraced the future, for good or ill. Equipment was upgraded, parts were re-recorded. And yet true progress was still painfully slow. Keyboardist Jonny had asked to handle sound engineering duties for this most ambitious of projects, and as it was his first truly major foray into such territories, it was very much a voyage of discovery. The amount of time this album took to record strained band relations to the limit, and they remain strained to this day. But finally, in November of 2005 it was time to put the finishing touches to the album with a vocal session at the new Academy Music Studio. Partly due to tradition, and partly due to the fact that only Mags understands my idiosyncratic and highly specialized vocal approach, I decided to return to Academy for the vocals. Then, in December 2005 we started on the final mix. I’d commissioned the cover artwork from Martin Hanford three years previously, and it had been locked away in my vault for all that time, waiting in the dark for the day of its unveiling. Finally, that day was drawing near. This one went right to the wire, with us mixing all the way up until the day the courier was scheduled to arrive. The album had to be completed. It had to be despatched. I had to take it and package it for the UPS courier, otherwise Nuclear Blast were threatening a release date delayed by up to a year. The Death Star had cleared the planet. ”The Chthonic Chronicles”, as I promised the world several years before its release, was an album darker and heavier than much of our previous work, encompassing elements from all the preceding five chapters as well as containing a plethora of new and exciting touches to thrill the listener. Truly organic sounding choirs, utterly genuine symphonic effects and unparalleled orchestral grandeur, thunderously heavy guitars and venomous vocals. Lyrically, the climactic and most malefic chapter in the entire saga, featuring both long awaited continuations of old stories and some all new tales, all set within the conceptual framework of a shunned, blasphemous and apocryphal occult grimoire. This wasn’t just the climax of five years of work, in a way it was the climax of thirteen years of work. Luckily, the world embraced “The Chthonic Chronicles” fully. Upon release, the sixth album received some of the very best and most glowing reviews of any of our works, and we finally, at long last, allowed ourselves to believe that the job was done. Thanks for listening and reading! Blodu Ok Jarna!