Originally released on the Polish label Blutreinheit (later Monstrous Star) in 2005, MACABRE OMEN's debut album The Ancient Returns was reissued in 2016 following the success of the latest, Gods of War - At War.
We look back at the first album, the writing and recording history and the initial release.
Interview with Alexandros, 25 February 2017
You have always been clear about releasing only when it was right, so first question: what do you remember being the reason or motivation that led to you begin recording your debut album in 2004?
That feeling is very hard to explain or describe but I would say that it is this burning sensation, call it an urge if you like, that assures me that the time is nigh and that it is the right time to book myself into a studio and record the music without fear or doubt. It could also simply be the fact that I have played the material over and over again to death and exhausted all possible scenarios of how the songs could develop. In any case, it is always the same feel I year for before entering a studio to record and it has worked to my benefit. I do not believe in deadlines or rushing to release album after album, there is enough music out there for everyone, no need to flood the market.
How much do you discard over the years as you build a collection of songs into the final album? Can you think of any songs discarded for The Ancient Returns, either before recording or as you began to record? Did any of those ideas appear later in Gods at War?
Not too much is discarded actually, I am very tight fisted when it comes to riffs and overall composition, I hardly discard anything and if I do it will probably be kept and used in something else when the time is right. I write little and discard little, I am a firm believer that if the riff came out in the first place there should be a reason for it to do so. Most of my productive output was composed during my university years in England between 1997 and 2003 where in a way I spent a lot of time in "isolation" and this gave me time to express my feelings and ideas to the maximum. There are no full songs that did not fit in The Ancient Returns and that had to be used for the follow up. I take things as they come at a time. There were definitely a lot of unfinished tracks but when it comes to composing an album I just focus on the finished songs that are to be featured in that album and nothing else. But saying that, Gods of War - At War features riffs as old as 1995-96 and I have also used old MACABRE OMEN material and riffs for THE ONE and vice versa.
You went out to Livorno to record The Ancient Returns, why did you decide to use Big Wave Studios?
No specific reason apart from the fact that the team that would help me produce the album (i.e Claudio and Gionata) were using that studio for their own band FROSTMOON ECLIPSE and recommended me to use it for the MACABRE OMEN debut. The studio was great albeit not designed for black metal productions, it was very organic and I only have the fondest of memories from that experience since it was my first "professionally" produced recording. It all happened very fast in 3 days due to time and budget restrictions but I have no regrets of this recording whatsoever.
What are your memories of the time - recording, travelling, living in Italy and working with Claudio and Gionata?
Like I said I have fond memories of that period, it was pure and spontaneous which is generally how I prefer to work. Although the music was mostly composed and finalised, some of the lyrics were spawned during travelling and on studio breaks. The guys were very easy to work with and were old comrades of mine from the 90s. It all happened very fast but that experience opened doors for me for my future projects. I have revisited the studio on several occasions to cover the BATHORY tracks for the split 7" with ORDER OF THE EBON HAND, THESYRE and NACHTFALKE - the latter to be released this year.
You did not record Gods at War with them, was there any reason beyond just time and planning?
Circumstances mainly didn't allow for this to happen on the follow up. Gionata has been really active with other projects including ACHERONTAS, BLUT AUS NORD, FIDES INVERSA, ENTHRONED and so forth to name but a few and although I am sure he could have recorded the material, I just needed someone that could study the riffs and get the most out of them. It would only be fair on the music which required additional patterns and expressiveness through the drums in order to make the songs stand out further more. I needed to work with someone close to me and the man for the job was TJF Vallely of LYCHGATE / OMEGA CENTAURI and now ACHERONTAS fame. I am of course still in touch with both of the guys, Gionata has filled in drum duties for THE ONE on a number of gigs whilst with Claudio we are still spewing out ideas for our other project AERE AETERNUS.
Is there anything you learnt (writing / recording) during The Ancient Returns period that you used for Gods at War?
Only a fool would not "learn" from their experiences. I take every session seriously and reflect on it in order to avoid doing the same error twice. The playing has improved over the years there is no denial to that but the benefit of looking back into older sessions is that one can improve elements to their advantage be it song layering, use of effects and sound production. For me Gods of War is the natural follow up the The Ancient Returns, if one listens closely they would be able to identify the similarities and differences that take the 2nd album to the next level.
Do you return to your work? How do you personally review The Ancient Returns now?
Once the album is completed I usually go through it for quite a period of time, trying to identify "hidden" elements from within the production and experience it from an audience point of view rather than the one of the musician. When I exhaust that period of listening I seldom revisit the music, possibly because I do not want to get inspired by it and start a next chapter afresh. This also applies to anything else that I have composed in the past. With regards to reviewing my music and my own albums I can only say that at that point in time, this was the album that I wanted to achieve and release otherwise I would have never released it.
1. In Memory...
Although most of the music has been composed way before finalising the track, most of the riffs are indirectly dedicated to Quorthon and BATHORY whose sudden passing did not go unnoticed. The intro on the first track of Gods of War - At War was supposed to be used for this track but time limitations did not allow us to fulfil that. Hence the first few notes are repeated on the first track "I See, the Sea!" from the sophomore album.
2. A Call from Gods to God
One of the oldest tracks on here which I have been working for years. It was supposed to be used in one of the split 7" I did in the 90s but instead it found its way on the album.
3. An Ode to Rhode
The same goes for this track, it is one of those songs that I repeatedly worked on but could have been featured on one of the split 7" from the 90s. Instead I opted to work on it further and feature it on the album.
4. The Perfect Sound of North vs. South
My only main regret on this album is the use of effects, it was all deriving from hardware (no software) which is not necessarily a bad thing but it was either of not good quality or the engineer did not know how to use them properly. The track(s) is great but it could benefit with more delay and reverb on the vocals and instrument which it sadly does not.
5. Hellas - Ode A / Ode B
Another one of those old tracks which I have been working on for several years and it has that perfect ending to the album which is kind of similar to the "Alexandros" diptych finale.
The Ancient Returns was released by Radek's Blutreinheit Productions. When did you first make contact and then arrange the release?
Radek was one of those numerous contacts I managed to obtain over the years in the underground service. He came out of nowhere and disappeared back to nowhere which is more or less how the underground works. Sometimes I feel trapped in a two - decade limbo meeting ghosts that come and go unnoticed. I remember hosting him in my house in London for more than a month whilst he tried getting a job here in the UK. We stroke a partnership and I am pleased with the end result despite the fact that he disappeared shortly after that.
Radek has left now - maybe under a bad cloud with some contacts - but what are your lasting thoughts about the label, the releases and how he dealt with your album?
Like I said, I was in regular contact with Radek back in those days but for some reason he just disappeared which is not something I was expecting but it also did not come to me as a surprise. I have been active in the underground scene since 1994 so have seen faces come and go, be it bands, labels or close contacts. It is not necessarily a bad thing, somehow it resembles matters of life and death. One moment you are here and the other you are gone and forgotten in time. There is no way about it. His label had a good vision and good taste, releasing some very important material from NOCTERNITY, KRIEGSMASCHINE, FULLMOON, ILDJARN, HATE FOREST and BLACKDEATH to name but a few. The album was dealt in more or less the way I expected it to be dealt with, I usually prefer the music do the talking and nothing more.
Between the albums you released two split EPs in your BATHORY tribute series. These were recorded with The Ancient Returns line-up, where they recorded during those album sessions? Can you say any more about the splits and the tribute-series in general?
Quorthon's passing had an impact on me not only because of the musical legacy he left behind but also because of how sudden and unpredictable it was. The tracks were not recorded during album sessions but during the following year in the same studios. There is a 3rd cover for "Under the Runes" dating back in 2008 and it should finally be released this year as a split with NACHTFALKE. I was planning to cover the whole Twilight of the Gods album and I aim in doing just that but with my own pace. Somehow I find it very meditating when I get under the skin of these songs and inside Quorthon's mind.
Although we've talked about the long periods between albums, it would be wrong to paint a picture where you vanish for years between albums. You've released albums by THE ONE, RAZOR OF OCCAM and others during that time to name just two. What are some of your proudest moments during those 10/11 years between the MACABRE OMEN albums?
Like you said the release of THE ONE`s sophomore album I, Master was a great cathartic experience and one I am proud of. Up to this date it invokes images of hatred and disgust to a degree unfound of and unheard of in other albums of this genre. Not many have had the opportunity to discover this gem but I am sure that one day they will. The experience with RAZOR OF OCCAM has also been great, working with some very talented musicians and recording a true thrash black metal masterpiece with a pure sound from down under. My latest venture is NECROMANIAC and the attitude towards this project is the same we all had when we were of a younger age. Pure underground both musically and ideologically, no compromise.
When did you start thinking about a reissue? Was it first intended as a 10th anniversary release?
There were no plans for a reissue but seeing how well Gods of War - At War was received it only made sense to re-release the album which has been sold out for quite a while now. The fact that MACABRE OMEN is now part of the VAN roster also enabled us to revisit and remaster and repackage the album into a more noble format for both cd and lp versions. I would have wanted to gently play with the mixing and some of the other elements on this album but unfortunately the mixes are now lost in time and in a way it would not be fair.
You have cited BURZUM as an influence. Between the two MACABRE OMEN albums (2005-2015) Vikernes returned to releasing music (Belus, 2010), have you been keeping up with his newer work?
I can still remember listening to Hvis Lyset Tar Oss with my mother of all people when it came out, the marble vinyl version in particular and we were both in awe of the music and the overall atmosphere. This type of music was unheard off at the time, even for BURZUM standards and it shows how minimalism can work to your benefit. Sometimes the only thing one needs is atmosphere. I enjoy most of BURZUM's output although to be fair I have not invested enough time in the works after his release from prison. But from what I have heard so far I have no problem with any of the post Filosofem post Hlidskjalf releases, they sound natural to me and not necessarily forced like some people think. It sounds like a more mature version of BURZUM which is exactly what it is anno 2017.
A very general last question... what emotions / memories come to mind when you look back over 10-12 years to The Ancient Returns, taking into account all that has passed since?
Life is nothing really, it is just a flash, a series of camera snapshots put together until the battery drains and we are no more. I decide to take those snapshots with MACABRE OMEN or music in general. When I am gone, at least the music will be left behind and I will exist in essence.
Final words are yours!
Thank you once again for the support over the years and keep up the good, pure and honest underground work. The underground needs more labels like TTR.