(In this post our Russian friend Comrade Aleks interviews Nick “Necroskull” Ruskell, vocalist/guitarist of the UK band Witchsorrow, whose third album No Light, Only Fire, is being released on September 18 by Candlelight Records.)
It’s hard times for doom cult followers. There are so many bands that you can stray within the labyrinth of names and faces and get into the trap of another copycat band. But here we are — to spread a Word of Doom, to bring the knowledge and tunes so heavy and crushing that skies are shaking! Well, heavy and crushing are Witchsorrow, the band from London, where people disappear in fog-covered streets and are swallowed by the routine of life in a hive-city…
Witchsorrow is a headstrong band, and they’ve recorded their third work No Light, Only Fire and are releasing it through Candlelight Records. The new songs sound harsh, sinister, and straightforward, yet in a traditional doom way, and I was wondering how the band could reach such a result?
It was necessary to know, so I’ve contacted Nick “Necroskull” Ruskell, the singing guitarist of Witchsorrow.
Hi Nick! Finally Candlelight Records have released Witchsorrow’s third album No Light, Only Fire. What do you feel after finally getting your newborn release?
It feels like finally getting rid of something enormous! The amount of work we did before the studio was immense, and the period between finishing and the record actually being out always feels really depressing and empty for me, to be honest. You’ve been putting in so many hours and so much work to actually make the album, and then once it’s done your life feels empty. I’m looking forward to it being out so people can hear it and it feels “done”. I’m really proud of it, though. I think every idea and ambition we had for this album has been met and realised, and there’s nothing else we could have given it. Some of the stuff on there blows my mind that we thought of it and followed it through, which feels excellent.
What kind of ambitions did you have after finishing the recording of this album? It is a pretty solid and thoughtful work, and it would seem that the band already has a good reputation, having such a result.
I just want to tour as much as we can with it – play festivals. That’s what we like doing, and hopefully we’ve made something good enough that we’ll get more offers. Playing live is the whole damn reason I started playing guitar as a kid in the first place! We want to rain down fire and doom on people!
Nick, you’ve changed from Foel Studio in Wales to Skyhammer Studios in Cheshire to record No Light, Only Fire. I read how it was comfortable and fruitful to work with Chris Fielding in Foel. So were such changes necessary?
Well, we’re still working with Chris, he’s just the man at Skyhammer now, after leaving Foel. I think we’ve reached a point now of, where he goes, we go. I’m not big on other people, especially not letting people get their hands on the band. Chris has been a perfect fit for us from the very beginning, so it just feels right to work with him. Foel was beautiful, in the middle of nowhere, but Skyhammer is great too.
If I’m being honest, I miss the remoteness of Foel because the further away from people I am, the happier and more comfortable I feel, but there’s very few distractions at Skyhammer, and it’s still pretty rural. I’d never record in a city – fuck that! Although I get really angry going in to London every day for work and all the associated idiocy that comes with that fucking city, so maybe that’d add an extra layer of doom.
Let me guess… Can we suppose that Witchsorrow is also a way to escape from London, from society? And yet – doesn’t London inspire you as it is?
Yes! Fortunately Emily and I live outside of London, in Hampshire, so it’s better, but I do fucking hate London. Too big, too busy, too many people. There are times when I’ll be walking around at night and see Parliament or St Paul’s all lit up and I’ll “get” it for a second, but in general I can’t stand the place. Bullshit place, full of wankers! Going there pisses me off, which is kind of inspiring, I suppose. But it’s all an escape, definitely. When you’re playing, nobody can touch you, nobody can interrupt you, you can be out on your own, cut off from the world for a little bit. If I could live like that every day I’d be really fucking happy!
Your neighbors Serpent Venom recorded their second album at Skyhammer Studios too. It’s interesting to see how your and their records differ. I’d like to say that — from first glance — Witchsorrow sounds sharper, heavier, and harder then before; how did you achieve this result?
We basically said to Chris, “Hellhammer. ‘80s aggression. No posing”, and he got what we were after straight away. He’s good like that. He can understand whatever nonsense I’m coming out with and make his recording equipment do it.
One of the things with doom at the moment is it seems that, after a few years of proper doomy heavy metal, things have gone back to there being a lot of people just concentrating on low tuning and fuzz, or a lot of post-rock stuff, instead of the actual DOOM METAL of it. One of the things we really wanted was to have the vibe that this is doom METAL, like Trouble, Reverend Bizarre, Candlemass, Solstice, Gates Of Slumber, Solitude Aeturnus, etc. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool doom fanatic and have been since I was a teenager really, so it’s very important to me to uphold what I love about this music. I like sludge and some of the Isis-type bands, but there have to be the stewards as well. I think Game Of Thrones is crap, but I sort of feel like one of the guardians on The Wall – they’ve ended up shouldering this heavy burden, the life of the defender chose them.
Can you name other guardians of true doom?
Electric Wizard, Iron Void, Serpent Venom, Argus, Procession, Solstice, Pilgrim, The Wounded Kings. All bands who totally carry the heavy metal torch and the burden of doom!
Witchsorrow shows improved sound with these new songs, there’s no filler — it seems that you’re on peak of your form. Will you support this release with touring or some gigs?
Thank you very much for saying so! Of course, we’ll be on the road. I like going to the studio because it’s cool to make a record, and it’s exciting, but the whole reason we started the band was to play live. It’s what I love – I love doom gigs, I love playing guitar, I love seeing other bands, and I absolutely adore the feeling of playing a really crushing, heavy gig. For that hour when you’re playing, you know no fucking weakener is able to tell you to do something, or send you an annoying email, or otherwise intrude on your life. That bit of your brain switches off and you just get lost in total doom mania. We’re hoping to play loads more international shows this time – hopefully we’ll finally get to America. We shall see.
How far have you toured with Witchsorrow up to now? And what do you usually take with you on tour that you need besides instruments and equipment?
We did a European tour around Roadburn with Moss, which was excellent. I now have a full knowledge of European punk squats. It was a lot of fun, and all the people we met were awesome. I have only happy memories of that tour. But that’s the longest we’ve done and that was 10 days or something. Normally we can only manage to organize one or two shows at a time.
Other than gear, on the road you absolutely must have deodorant. It’s the difference between happiness and misery, my friend. Emily also insists on Iced Tea. She is a fiend for it.
Witchsorrow – Aurora Atra
There’s a song “The Trial of Elizabeth Clarke” on your debut self-titled album dedicated to the first victim of Matthew Hopkins. Do you have songs with lyrics based on historical events in No Light, Only Fire?
Not this time. To be honest, the genuinely historical side of it came and went with that one song because it was so perfect. She sort of summed up the name Witchsorrow, and that idea of being an accused witch with no chance of reprieve seemed quite poignant, as a lot of the outlook was to do with feeling like you’re totally fucked no matter what. Still is, actually.
I still like to use a lot of that imagery and those historical sounding phrases in the lyrics, though: witches, Biblical-sounding stuff about damnation, old words, curses, all that sort of stuff. It just seems to fit with the music and the vibe. It’s part of what makes doom doom to me. I like bands like Black Flag and The Ramones who have quite gritty, street lyrics, but that totally wouldn’t work for us. And I don’t think someone like Lee Ving from Fear singing about peering beyond the veil and putting curses on your enemies would sound all that great either!
You also had the song “Gomorrah” in the Witchsorrow album, and now there’s a new song “Negative Utopia”. What about the misanthropic component of Witchsorrow? What’s the general emotional “message” of the band?
I have a pretty misanthropic side to me, to be honest. My general first reaction to most things is that it’s going to be shit and a pain in the arse, and that people are going to piss me off. I hate crowds. I hate bustle. I think the more people there are in an equation, the bigger ball-ache it’s going to be, because at first glance to me, most people are a bunch of stupid wankers. Walking down a busy street to me is like going through a bloody chicken coop surrounded by idiots, except that chickens are chickens, and these people have no such excuse, ha! I can’t stand how the stupidity of humans is ruining the earth, stealing our future from under us, eating up all the natural resources with no thought for anything beyond what’s on the telly. It drives me fucking mental.
I’m quite nice when I’m away from people, though. If I started reacting to the stuff that annoyed me, I’d be a complete mess. It’s like the Charles Manson thing, “If I started murdering people, there’d be none of you left”. I like that in the band I can yell and vent about it all and be totally unreasonable with how I feel about things, without someone going, “Waaah, that’s horrible, you’re really mean”. I try to be a nice guy the rest of the time.
Which song of Witchsorrow would you play to show the best of the band presently?
I’ll say “Made Of The Void” or “De Mysteriis Doom Sabbathas”. “Made Of The Void” is a real headbanger, it’s one of the more heavy metal songs we’ve done for the new album, and I love it. “DMDS” is just pure doom apocalypse. I think that one touches the very heart of everything we’ve been trying to do since the beginning. It’s the Reverend Bizarre rip-off we’ve been striving for all these years!
What’s your opinion about the overuse of doom clichés like images of a witch, a bong, the Devil, and such stuff nowadays?
There are A LOT of those bands!!!! There’s been gigs where it’s felt like a never-ending carousel of bands with names like Bong Witch 13, Witchreefer, The Devil Smokes Pot, all playing the same Bongzilla riffs through too many amps, but some of them are good. It just seems like a really fucking easy way to do things – sing about weed and play slow. It’s fine for a bit, but the formula wears thin after a while.
Witchsorrow and God Curse Us were released on Rise Above; No Light, Only Fire is on Candlelight Records. Both labels are big ones, and it would be interesting to know how their methods of band promotion differ?
For this album it feels like we’ve done way more interviews. I’m not sure if that’s from Candlelight pushing harder for them or what, but it’s great to be doing so many!
How was it to work with Rise Above? Is the very fact of working with them enough?
It was cool being on Rise Above. When I was discovering doom as a teenager, Rise Above seemed like the one-stop shop for all this stuff, and Cathedral were like gods to me. So when Lee offered to sign us, I was really over the moon. It felt right, and it was great to be counted among bands I loved like Wizard and Grand Magus. Of course, all things end, but I’m still friends with Lee, he’s really happy for us, and the stuff he’s doing and putting out now is awesome as well.
You recorded the tape EP De Mysteriis Doom Sabbathas exclusively for Roadburn Festival 2013. And this song is also included on the new record. Did you record it anew or is it the original version?
That was done as a tape for Roadburn, yeah. It was that and a cover of “Freezing Moon” by Mayhem, which we did because we’d been playing that song for a long time and wanted to record it, but didn’t want to stick it on an album, so a special thing for Roadburn seemed perfect. We did all the artwork just like the Mayhem album, total rip-off! Attilla actually saw one of the shirts we made with the art on it – he looked a bit confused, haha!
We recorded it anew this time. The original version was cool, but it would have sounded really weird next to the rest of the album, because sonically it sounds worlds different. It’s way more raw and tape-sounding!
Nick, it’s not a secret that there are a lot of “witch” bands on the doom scene. Have you thought of doing a coven tour with — just for example — Arkham Witch, Witch Charmer, or Space Witch?
I’d love to do that! Those bands are all killer! Whenever we’ve played with Electric Wizard it’s been like Witches and Wizards, haha! Maybe do a doom/NWOBHM fest and have Witchfynde headline, that’d be good.
Nick, you’re also a writer and editor at Kerrang. Does the magazine have some space for doom metal bands on its pages?
Yes, of course! I can review what I like – so plenty of doom! Just this week I reviewed the new AHAB album – which everyone should check out as it’s amazing!
How do you see the role of modern paper magazines in the promotion of underground music? Are they still influential when there are so many blogs and e-zines around?
I think so, yeah. There’s a lot of stuff on the internet, which is cool, but I think people will always want printed, paper magazines to read as well. I have every issue of Zero Tolerance and Iron Fist magazines – I can’t explain why I’ve kept them all, but I have done. But then, apparently last year vinyl sales were up way higher than ever before (or something, I don’t know the actual statistic). I think maybe people who are into underground stuff just like to have the finished/physical version of something. I know I do, anyway. I don’t have an iTunes account or use Spotify or anything like that. I have some music loaded onto my phone for my train journey to work every day, but even that seems alien and weird to me. I don’t get people who are happy to just have a hard drive full of music. You’re missing half of it if you do that, I think.
Thanks for your patience Nick! I have no more questions for you today… At least ’til the next album. Good luck! And well – do you have some words of Witchsorrow curse/blessing for our readers?
Thank you for the excellent interview, my friend. Hopefully we will see you at a gig before too long. And as a message for readers, I can only think of one: You’re all fucked!
Big fan of Witchsorrow – good to hear that there’s a new one from them coming soon.
Sounds killer, and I love that band name 😀
New stuff sounds even much killer, but I didn’t find anything on YouTube to share.