3) Band Archives & Features

 

BS-03

FROM THE ARCHIVES

 

bal sagoth, byron roberts

Vintage Bal-Sagoth Flyer

 

bal sagoth starfire ultima thule

Starfire Cover Sketch

 

bal sagoth

Bal-Sagoth Sigil of War

 

bal sagoth, power cosmic

The Power Cosmic Sketch

 

 

bal sagoth cthulhu

Cthulhu Shirt Design Evolution

                                                                                                                                             

More artefacts from the Bal-Sagoth Artwork Archives soon!

BYRON

 

bal sagoth logo

 

BAL-SAGOTH FAQS

In this section, I’ll strive to answer some of the most frequently asked questions which people have posed over the last 26 years or so. These questions range from old classics to very recent queries about the current state of Bal-Sagoth.

Byron Roberts

 

The Beginning of Bal-Sagoth

How did the band start? This question has been asked so many times over the years, so here’s the definitive version for the archives! Here you will find out about the origin of both the concept and the band itself. I came up with the idea and concept for Bal-Sagoth many years ago (around 1989), and had tried unsuccessfully to start it up with a succession of different musicians. Unfortunately, it was the era of socially aware thrash metal, and nobody was at all interested in committing to a fantasy oriented black/death metal project. I was determined to start the project however, and continued my attempts to find musicians who might be interested in the idea. Then, a guy I knew called Alistair (or “Mac” to his friends), who had played guitar in a prominent local thrash band called Systematic Insanity, asked me if I wanted to jam with some guys he’d met. They were only playing Metallica and Napalm Death covers in their bedroom, but they were interested in starting a serious band. So, I went and met the Maudling brothers Jonny and Chris (Jonny had previously been in a thrash band called Igniter, playing the regional pubs and clubs and once supporting Xentrix), and we jammed some stuff. Unfortunately however, I really wasn’t interested in playing the kind of material that they were into, so I figured it just wasn’t going to work out. Jonny and Chris weren’t at all familiar with black metal, and also Alistair didn’t like the fantasy/mythology concept I had in mind for the band, or the name “Bal-Sagoth”, for that matter. Alistair wanted to do a sort of thrash/death metal band with contemporary socio-political lyrical topics. He was also, at that time, somewhat horrified at the suggestion of a metal band with full keyboards. I figured I might as well keep jamming with these guys until I found someone else with whom to start Bal-Sagoth, so we called this non-serious bedroom outfit “Dusk” and continued to spend Sunday afternoons making a truly horrific noise. (Special mention must be made at this point of the house in which we were jamming. It was an old manor house which had once been a lunatic asylum. Yes, seriously! It was Chris and Jonny’s parents’ house, in which they all lived. Ask anyone who attended our rehearsals… they’ll tell you how cool the old Manor was). Well, this went on for a few months, but absolutely nothing came of it. I wasn’t happy that I couldn’t implement the Bal-Sagoth concept fully, and Jonny and Chris also confided in me that they too weren’t happy with the kind of material which we were playing as Dusk. Then, for a variety of reasons, we parted company with Alistair (but ironically, he would later re-join us on bass). At that point, I explained once again to Jonny and Chris in detail the kind of music I wanted to do, and gave them a rundown of the Bal-Sagoth concept, saying that keyboards would ideally play a prominent role in such a band. Back then, I kept all the lyrics, logos, and ideas in a large black folder, which I showed them again to give them a firm idea of the whole concept behind the band. They thought it was all pretty weird, but Jonny, who was a trained pianist, was very intrigued by the idea of keyboards, and when I showed them material by black metal bands such as Emperor, they were sold. And so, Bal-Sagoth was formally implemented during the summer of 1993. We had Jason Porter on bass guitar, and for keyboards we recruited Vincent Crabtree, and thus we began crafting the music which would ultimately end up on our demo and then later on the debut album. And that’s how the band started.

 

Why doesn’t Bal-Sagoth play many gigs?

It is very difficult to recreate this material accurately in the live environment. The music of Bal-Sagoth is so multi-layered and intricate that there is really no way in which we can genuinely translate the songs live to a truly satisfactory extent. Some of the other guys in the band are okay with this constant compromise in their desire to continually play shows, but it has always vexed me, particularly when we attempt to play the more complex songs.
Additionally, I have always felt that when a band plays live, much of the magic and the mystique which is contained on an album is generally lost. No matter how good the show might be, the very act of playing live often demystifies a band and brings them back down to a mundane and earthly level; such are the limitations of the technology and the very medium itself.
I’d also like to add that it takes a lot of preparation and logistical planning for us to undertake shows. Rehearsals have to be arranged, transport has to be coordinated and band members have to take time off from work. The low gig fees and shirt sales from shows often simply do not make all that expenditure worthwhile.
Additionally, we don’t have our own sound man, so we are constantly forced to rely on the sound engineers available at whatever venue we might be playing, and those sound engineers invariably have no idea as to what this band should sound like in the live environment. Even if we’re afforded a thorough sound check during which to educate the sound men as to the band’s nature, the levels and monitor mixes always end up wildly incorrect.
All in all, the live realm is certainly not the ideal platform from which to showcase the artistic vision of Bal-Sagoth.
So basically, those are the reasons why this band doesn’t play live very often.

 

The Song Writing Process

I call the process by which Bal-Sagoth composes songs the “synergy” method, as that’s the best way to describe it. The lyrics are always written well in advance of the music being composed. However, the other members often don’t get to see the actual lyrics until well after the fact. It’s always a surprise to them to actually find out what the final lyrics are.  It was different in the early days, when I showed all the lyrics to the members from day one and often demanded certain riffs be written specifically to suit certain lyrical passages. These days I prefer not to do that. Instead, I always prepare a general conceptual synopsis concerning the narrative outline of the album which I then give to Jonny as a reference. This synopsis includes information on which stories will be included on the album, what the required themes and moods should be, the general emotional essence a piece should convey, etc. Sometimes the details I give him are very sketchy, which Jonny often prefers so as to not overtly colour his music writing, while other times the synopsis is quite detailed. An example of the synopsis being followed well is the song “The Fallen Kingdoms of the Abyssal Plain”, for which I told Jonny that I needed a piece which conveyed the feeling of a journey to the bottom of the ocean, down through the various levels of the marine depths, to the very sea floor where we would see the ruins of ancient non-human underwater cities. I was very pleased with how well that one reflected the synopsis. In the case of epic centre-piece songs such as the second chapter in the Obsidian Crown saga or the Hyperborean Empire cycle, the synopsis will include much greater information, such as a broad outline of the events in the actual story, the key occurrences, what kind of music is required for a certain event, etc. We find this method generally works best. More often than not Jonny will just write something completely unconnected to any outline and present that to me, too. This is often how it works, but it varies. The process of refining and perfecting a composition then proceeds over a period of weeks and months, with any number of different versions of a song exchanged as MP3s, until everything ultimately comes together in the recording studio. And that’s the Bal-Sagoth way of writing songs.

 

Wasn’t the Circus Maximus used just for chariot racing? But you have gladiatorial combat taking place there in “Blood Slakes The Sand At the Circus Maximus”.

The Circus Maximus was very much an “all purpose” arena. Although it is perhaps best known for the epic chariot races, many different events were in fact held there, including parades, beast hunts, plays, recitals, athletics, religious ceremonies, gladiatorial contests and horse racing.

 

Isn’t “chthonic” pronounced wrong on the album “The Chthonic Chronicles”?

Well, the “ch” is technically silent, but I chose to pronounce it as “katonic” for a couple of reasons. First, I liked the alliterative qualities which the “hard c” sound afforded when paired with the word “chronicles”, which neatly paralleled the alliteration of the previous Bal-Sagoth album title “Atlantis Ascendant”. Second, I always liked the Lovecraftian connotation which the “katonic” pronunciation suggested.
As editor Simon theorizes in the fictional “Necronomicon” publication:
“The pronunciation of chthonic is “katonic”, which explains Lovecraft’s famous Miskatonic River and Miskatonic University, not to mention the chief deity of his pantheon, Cthulhu…”
So, although he is technically wrong about the pronunciation, I always rather liked that theory and the phonetic link to HPL which it afforded. So, that’s why I decided to use the “katonic” pronunciation.

 

Why didn’t Leon and Alistair play on any Bal-Sagoth albums?

By and large, Leon and Alistair were recruited solely to play the material live. In Leon’s case, he received an intensive crash course in keyboard playing from Chris and Jonny. It’s important to realize that Leon had never played keyboards before and in a very short time, he became proficient enough to play our material at gigs! He did an amazing job, and learning the keyboard parts of the Bal-Sagoth songs so quickly was truly a phenomenal achievement. But as far as the albums were concerned, it was always going to be Jonny who actually played the keyboards in the studio. Similarly, Chris wanted to play the bass on “Battle Magic” himself. As he had laid down all the guitar tracks, he felt it would be much more efficient and practical if he also played the bass parts. This was partially due to a desire to save time, as we only had a limited amount of time booked into Academy Music Studio and therefore it made more sense for Chris to play the bass as he was already so familiar with the riffs. Additionally, at the time Chris felt that Alistair’s playing style might be slightly too imprecise to meet the exacting standards which the recording required. So that is basically why Leon and Alistair never actually played on any of the Bal-Sagoth albums.

 

How many stories and books have you had published? How long have you been writing these stories?

I’ve been writing stories for many, many years. In fact, many of my Bal-Sagoth lyrics started out as prose stories which I then adapted to lyrical form. Several of the characters from the Bal-Sagoth lyrics now feature in published short stories and novellas. The Elizabethan privateer Captain Caleb Blackthorne takes centre stage in a trilogy of short stories which have been published in the “Swords of Steel” paperback anthology series from DMR Books. The stories are titled “Into the Dawn of Storms”, “A Voyage on Benighted Seas” and “The Scion at the Gate of Eternity”. And the merciless vampyre hunter Joachim Blokk also features in a trilogy of short stories, the first of which, “Darkfall: Return of the Vampyre Hunter”, was published in the fantasy anthology “Devil’s Armory” from Barbwire Butterfly Books/Horrified Press. The Obsidian Crown saga which started on the second Bal-Sagoth album is also featured in a couple of published short stories, including the tale “Chronicles of the Obsidian Crown” which appears in the paperback anthology volume “Barbarian Crowns”, also from Barbwire Butterfly Books/Horrified Press. There’s also an Obsidian Crown story in my debut novel, which I’ll mention shortly. The barbarian warlord Caylen-Tor has also found his way into book form, first in the anthology paperback “Dreams of Fire and Steel” published by Nocturnicorn Books. The story was called “Caylen-Tor”, and was actually an excerpt from my full length Caylen-Tor novel. The novel itself is entitled “The Chronicles of Caylen-Tor” and consists of three linked novellas featuring the fan-favourite character. The stories are “The Siege of Gul-Azlaan”, “The Battle of Blackhelm Vale”, and “The King Beneath the Mountain of Fire”. The book was published as a classic sized paperback and a trade paperback by DMR Books. I also had a poem (“When Dead Cthulhu Dreams”) published in the Lovecraftian anthology “Beyond the Cosmic Veil”, which was released by Horrified Press. Additionally, another of my poems (“The Hallowing of the Wolf-King”) was published in the second edition of “The Hyborian Gazette” from Carnelian Press. The poem also features in “The Chronicles of Caylen-Tor”. There are also many other stories and novellas in the works, which will be published over the coming months and years. Keep checking my blogs for more information, and thanks for your support!

 

Why did Bal-Sagoth go on hiatus?

A very good albeit inevitably complex question which accordingly demands a somewhat lengthy and convoluted answer. It’s common knowledge that I considered “The Chthonic Chronicles” to be the final album in the “first phase” of Bal-Sagoth and the culmination of the Bal-Sagoth Hexalogy. That’s not to say that I intended that it would be the last Bal-Sagoth album ever, rather that it would be the final album for the immediately foreseeable future, at least. I was justifiably proud of everything we had accomplished since 1993 and I simply felt that it was right to leave those six albums as an enduring legacy; a testament to our unique collaborative artistry… at least for a while. As time went on, Jonny and Chris understandably felt the need to produce more music. However, I still felt that the time was not yet right for the Third Trilogy of Bal-Sagoth (yes, I prefer to work in trilogies, so it would not have been just the seventh Bal-Sagoth album, it would have been the seventh, eighth and ninth). So, we busied ourselves with playing gigs whenever and wherever they were offered to us. At this juncture, it’s important to note that when we completed “The Chthonic Chronicles”, our three album contractual obligation to Nuclear Blast was duly fulfilled and as a result the record company did not promote the album as extensively as they perhaps could have done. For instance, we received no tour support from the label for that album. Even though the record was getting great reviews across the board, NB did not financially assist us in arranging any tours. So, the gigs we did in support of the sixth album were all arranged directly between ourselves and whichever gig promoters were interested in booking us. (And now, I’ll take this opportunity to address some crazy rumours that Jonny and Chris were allegedly labouring under the misapprehension that I was unilaterally turning down numerous tour offers without even consulting the other band members. Those rumours are absolute codswallop, as the truth of the matter is that we weren’t offered any tours! We were offered one-off shows, mini-tours consisting of a couple of dates, and various festival appearances, the vast majority of which we actually accepted! So, there you go… another ludicrous rumour quashed!) Admittedly however, the other members did always want to play more gigs, and the comparative scarcity of live engagements always rankled them somewhat. Anyway, things went on like this for a while until our bassist Mark unfortunately had a big “falling out” with Chris resulting in him eventually leaving the band. There were also other factors which influenced Mark’s final decision to leave, but I won’t go into those here. Shortly thereafter, Alistair joined on bass (again). Okay, it’s important to note at this point that for a while, a latent and insidious malady had been creeping into the band… a strange and shadowy schism which was lamentably only to worsen over the next couple of years or so. Now, I’m not going to delve into things here in too much detail, because this isn’t a soap opera or a braindead reality show in which everyone’s grievances are put on display for public scrutiny, but suffice it to say that some implacable miasma had inexorably infected the adamantine core of Bal-Sagoth. A distance was growing between us. There were actually many potential factors to which this aforementioned schism could be attributed, and perhaps one day I will disclose them all in full, in the unlikely event that anyone’s actually interested enough to want to learn of them! Anyway… fast forward to summer 2011, when I was forced to pull out of two UK gigs under undeniably cryptic circumstances due to poor physical and psychological health. (I know that certain agents of iniquity have spun all manner of tales regarding the events of that tumultuous time, all in the soulless service of sowing further dissent and the debased pursuit of perpetuating misinformation, and that the ever ill-informed legions of keyboard warriors who hunch vigilantly before their screens passing pitiless judgement via message boards and social media have long since reached their envenomed verdicts, but the truth of the matter is that there’s a LOT of stuff which remains unknown about the whole affair and that quite frankly, it probably just wouldn’t be all that interesting to anybody, anyway. I can only reiterate my sincere, heartfelt and undying apologies to the Bal-Sagoth fans who rightly deserved to see those shows with a full complement of band members. Placere nobis suscipere paenitemus!) Although that comparatively acrimonious event wasn’t the root cause of Bal-Sagoth’s hiatus, it was certainly the catalyst which finally triggered the process leading to its implementation. Some weeks later, Chris asked me if I was interested in releasing a further Bal-Sagoth album, telling me that he and Jonny had started the preliminary compositional process of writing new music and asking me if I wanted it for Bal-Sagoth. He also said that if I still felt that the time was not yet right for a new Bal-Sagoth opus, they would accordingly embark upon a new project under a different name (the intent evidently being to explore new avenues whilst still maintaining an inevitable stylistic link with the progenitor band’s sound). I pondered this and ultimately decided that it was still not the correct time for a new Bal-Sagoth trilogy, duly wishing them well with their new venture. And thus commenced the hiatus of Bal-Sagoth and the birth of Chris and Jonny’s new band Kull. So, there you have it. I very much hope that this explanation clears things up for a lot of people and lays to rest any enduring misapprehensions which may still persist.

 

Will there be any further BAL-SAGOTH albums?

Never say never, but there are currently no plans for any further Bal-Sagoth albums, at least not for the immediately foreseeable future. That’s not to say there’s any shortage of inspiration or material… far from it! I have the content prepared for albums 7, 8 and 9, including lyrics, titles and even the cover artwork. That material has existed for years, and includes the final chapters to all of the stories which were left unfinished on the existing albums. But now is not the time. Perhaps one day… if the stars align.

 

BYRON

 

byron roberts, bal sagoth

Byron Roberts

byron bal sagoth

Byron Roberts, 1992

 

11 Responses to “3) Band Archives & Features”

  1. Nicklas Says:

    Hail to the best band in the universe!!
    Hail!!

  2. Myriad triumphant adulation for the mighty Bal-Sagoth!

  3. SIX SCORE AND TEN OBLATIONS TO THE MALEFIC AVATAR OF SUBLIMELY CTHONIC WICKEDNESS KNOWN AS BAL SAGOTH! BLODU OK JARNA!!!

  4. Sebastian Says:

    The Hammer Of The Emperor ♥ what a MAJESTIC!!! I really hope you could bring shows in South America, Argentina please! one day…. one day… *.*

  5. RobTheCelestialAscendedBeing Says:

    Hail Lord Byron! You and the others of Bal-Sagoth are the very backbone of all music in the world! You are the greatest metal band ever been formed and my personal favorite(including more mainstream bands such as Drowning Pool, Three Days Grace and Five Finger Death Punch. All because of the rich lyrical flavor those bands and your music have to offer!). Your a great inspiration for my own ideas, both musical and downwritten(short-stories). For me you are the most epic metal band in the world, no one can deny that. First of all, your narration through all of your songs are most tasteful and mostly passionate, it gives me a “soul-recharger” so to speak, refills all of my energy.

    I hope your coming up with a new album soon, for I am waiting for some new and fresh material from you 😀 I can’t wait. Thanks for been both a great inspiration of my own works and for been a life-saver! 🙂 And I’m also hope you and the others will come to Sweden sometime in the future.

    Thanks for your attention.

    /The Celestial Ascended Being

  6. shurik.bu Says:

    когда же вы что-нибудь наваяете.или здох bal sagoth совсем.жалко если так.очень даже хорошо у вас получалось!!!!!!

  7. Hey, Byron! It is time make some fresh stuff! In the early days of mine I found Bal-Sagoth and it guided me in every step, inspiring with a vigour and bringing the hope. Great music for the great men! To be honest, I found no one compared to Bal-Sagoth in its epic feel (except Basil Poledours’ soundtrack for Conan, of course;)!
    I want to propose to make some music stuff (I am the music producer specializing in cinematinc orchestrations) together! Please, listen to my two themes “Forging the Celestial Battle Axe” and “Legend of the Venus Fall”. They are very close to your style (because inspired with:)!

  8. LazerBil Says:

    Hail Byron. How goes thy world? Due to circumstances beyond my control, I am not dead! Rumours be scotched and purgatory descend upon all scandal-mongers!
    All this talk of re-issues, in expanded formats….. What about some new storytelling, with more gleaming broadswords and ice thrones? This is me telling you to get up off your arse, like I would do, as you well know.

  9. Volkan Ardabak Says:

    When you will come back ? 🙏🏻

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