(In this new interview Comrade Aleks conversed with Simon Iff?, a fixture in The Lamp of Thoth and frontman of the UK heavy doom band Arkham Witch, who have lots of new things going on.)
Being born from The Lamp of Thoth secret lodge this band seemed to be just a funny side-project which soon eclipsed The Lamp itself. Arkham Witch balanced between heavy metal and doom in recording their debut On Crom’s Mountain (2011) in a very natural way, but soon Witch’s savage spirit was unleashed and the following albums Legions of the Deep (2012) and I Am Providence (2015), as well as a series of short but important EPs, showed the band’s true face. If there ever was any.
Dreamers of Lovecraft’s fantasies, true metal warriors of Manowar’s metal, and old-schooled admirers of Robert Howard’s talents, as well as Doom Cult believers, already heard Arkham Witch’s true English metal EP Three Bladed Doom (2021), and I believe you also know about their forthcoming full-length Swords Against Death. The band’s spiritual leader Simon Iff? (vocals) is beyond good and evil, but he was kind enough to spend some time answering my questions. ‘Cause I love The Lamp.
Hi Simon! How are you doing? What’s going on in Arkham Witch’s lair?
Hi Aleks, very nice to speak with you again.
Arkham Witch’s lair is very busy! We are just waiting for the masters for our forthcoming album Swords Against Death which we started recording in November of last year and finished off over the Christmas period to come back. The album will be released by Metal on Metal very soon. We are also back in the studio next week to record some new and old material – we have quite a few live shows in the UK in the coming months, now restrictions have come to an end – so it’s full steam ahead at the moment!
Wait! May you tell more about this story with “new and old material”? What’s that?
So far we have recorded a couple of old tunes, one being “Lamentations of my Fist” – a song we have been playing for a while but never recorded with this line-up — and also the actual song “Arkham Witch” from the first demo. We have also started to record a song called “Tower of the Elephant” (think you can guess what this song is about!) and a new tune called “Give Me Death By Heavy Metal”. We are not sure what we are going to be doing with these tunes but we are very happy to be back in the studio.
First of all, as I understand you closed the series of EPs where Arkham Witch plays The Lamp of Thoth songs with Get Thothed Vol. III back in 2018. I was thinking that The Lamp is put out finally, but then The Lamp got in a Metal on Metal compilation with the new song “Zombies Lair”, and you released three… four!… four demos as a part of The Scream Sessions Demos. Why did you choose the demos format for this material?
The demos format was basically chosen due to lockdown. Myself and Emily decided at the time to record some demos. This was at the time when everything was closed and we couldn’t rehearse or record with Arkham Witch – so it was just an effort to keep busy musically. We thought only people who really like the Lamp would dig them so we put them up as a subscription option on our Bandcamp page.
Just before lockdown in January of 2020 we went into the studio to begin recording what was planned to be a new TLOT album – we recorded four tracks, one of them being “Zombie’s Lair”, and another being “Droid Fucker” but then Covid hit and obviously our plans got put on hold. Later, Metal on Metal needed a song for their compilation and because we had the tracks ready we were happy to oblige, and as you know we re-recorded “Droid Fucker” with Arkham Witch.
What’s The Lamp’s status today? Does it mean The Lamp may return with another full-length recording?
The Lamp’s status is that we really want to record a new album and we have the material for the band but it is the age-old problem of time and money. We are hoping to do this very soon however.
I believe such a productive gentleman like you should have a studio in his cellar for such situations, don’t you?
It would make things easier!
The band was kind of silent after the Get Thothed Vol. III release. And now you return with a fresh EP, Three Bladed Doom, and a following LP Swords Against Death is to be released relatively soon. So I think you didn’t waste time during the pandemic. How do you value this period? Are you used to all these restrictions and the constant threat of the virus coming if you had any?
Lockdown was a weird time and the world now seems to have changed for the weirder! We just tried to keep busy and work around the restrictions and constant doom mongering, but also there was a bit of internal drama as both our guitarists left to pursue other musical interests. Dodo Doom has since returned to the fold and this fact coupled with the glorious return of Vampire Death bassist and former Arkham Witch bass player Klankenstein means we are sounding stronger than ever!
Three Bladed Doom was kind of a happy accident in that we went into the studio for three days to record a few tracks and ended up recording the eight that appear on the EP. It really does pay to rehearse!
As soon as we had finished the EP, because the restrictions were still in place, we moved straight on to writing songs for a new album – a few are old tunes and then some we wrote in rehearsals.
I see that Metal on Metal wasn’t prepared for this accidental EP and you released it on your own. What’s your experience of dealing with the financial side of playing in the band? Did selling your own merch or CDs ever help you to raise some real funds to pay taxes?
All money from the CD sales of the EP were poured back into the recording costs, which any band will tell you are not cheap. Thus far we haven’t made a profit as everything goes back into the band. We all have real jobs and the band is a hobby for us.
Metal on Metal were prepared to put out the EP but we needed something to sell to pay for not only the recording session for Three Bladed Doom, but also for the new album – it all worked out grand!
Your previous album I Am Providence stays aside from other of your records because of the super-fast and strictly Lovecraft-influenced songs. How was it received by listeners back then? How did this release affect the band?
Well, at first everybody seemed to hate I Am Providence, but I think people are starting to come around to it and we still get messages saying how much people enjoy the album. The Weird Tales EP has also had a bit of a resurgence in popularity over the past few months.
The idea of the album was just to fill a CD with 70-odd minutes of songs about Lovecraftian stories and tropes and that’s what we did. When listening to the album we realized it was quite a lot to listen to in one go and so it was decided to split the album into the Weird Tales EP and the aforementioned I Am Providence.
Personally, I think it is one of the best things we have done and I am grateful that Metal on Metal chose to take a risk and put it out. The daft thing is that there are some traditional heavy metal stompers on the disc in between some of the more punky stuff (I’m thinking of ‘Necronomicon’ and ‘Hastur the Unspeakable’ for example) so I thought there was a bit of everything for everybody but all tied in with the Lovecraftian themes. I would love to re-record a few songs from it with our current lineup because we have introduced a couple of the songs from the album into our current set and we are really enjoying playing them!
Yes, the Weird Tales EP… Did you approach relatives of the artwork’s author (Edmond Good, R.I.P.) to solve any copyright issues? And I must admit the artwork’s provocative motive, I remember you were praising Alan Moore’s Neonomicon for revealing the sexual side of Lovecraftian tales.
Metal on Metal handled the artwork and layouts for Weird Tales and did a great job — it’s my favourite of the bunch. As I remember, the artwork was out of copyright but I’m not sure if they contacted any of his family. I don’t think there’s any real provocative motive in the artwork itself – any suggestion of it is probably filtered through our modern obsession with sex (obviously the artwork is from the Weird Tales magazine of the 1940s) – but I will admit the themes of the story of The Shadow of Innsmouth are also in the mind when viewing the cover!
Three Bladed Doom’s songs take us back to Arkham Witch’s earlier stuff. Did you consciously choose to ignore the I Am Providence style? Asking this, I keep in mind these “short” tracks like ‘Cult of the Dead’ and ‘Droid Fucker!’ as well as the up-tempo style of the whole EP.
We didn’t consciously choose to ignore I Am Providence, what we are doing now is what we are into at the moment. It depends really, I think, on what you are listening to, reading and watching when you write songs. And the I Am Providence sessions were over 7 years ago now. The I Am Providence album was always designed to be a stand-alone kind of project. In the sessions in which we recorded it we also recorded Get Thothed and five pure heavy metal tracks that never got around to being released – so we were still playing the more traditional style which we were known for whilst I Am Providence was being recorded. We never abandoned it!
Having said that – sometimes the short, more punkier numbers do come out when we are writing new stuff!
I’m wondering how were you involved in heavy music? It’s obvious that you know a few things about how to perform punk stuff effectively.
I like the element of danger that the punk energy introduces to metal – I typically like a ‘looseness’ in music – a desperate energy that comes from having something to say and doing your best to get there despite musical ability – I suppose I like that element of rock n’ roll which seemed to be present in the early metal bands and was still there when the NWOBHM bands came along. And throughout the years I have always listened to bands like Macc Lads, M.O.D., Suicidal Tendencies and Pro-Pain.
I got involved in heavy music just through that – just wanting to emulate the bands I was listening to.
By the time I was in my first proper band that would have been bands like Manowar, Saint Vitus, The Obsessed, Cirith Ungol and Pentagram – still the bands that inspire Arkham Witch songs to this day!
I was surprised with the Star Wars homage in the ‘Droid Fucker!’ song, as I was sure you’re out of the mainstream. What made you to keep your attention to this franchise?
It is a lamentation rather than an homage! I am of that age who remember when the original films ruled the world. I was happy for a couple of hours in 1982 and it has scarred me for life. The Disney sequels prove what a genius George Lucas was in their desperate attempt to bleed Star Wars dry through misplaced nostalgia and inane fan service to get a return on their investment. Who knew in the 1980s that Lando had had romantic relations with the Millennium Falcon’s navigational computer?!
I fucking hate the word ‘franchise’!
I’ve found bliss in ignorance and never heard of this. I was charmed with the original Star Wars trilogy, but I guess Warhammer 40k already entered my life when Disney started to feast on the original story’s corpse. I heard that people praise the new Boba Fett series, does it work for you?
It had some good moments in it but story-wise it was all over the place and served only to take away the mystery of the character of Boba Fett in order to set up another Mandalorian series – but I suppose Disney need their ‘content’!
The title song of Three Bladed Doom is based on Robert E. Howard’s story of the same name. But true to tell, I hope still what one day you’ll record one more song about sailor Steve Costigan as it was on your debut album. When do you plan to return to this unfairly forgotten character in line?
We did a song called ‘Wizard of the Gloves’ on Get Thothed III which was based on the title of the Costigan story ‘Viking of the Gloves’ about the art of boxing with an occult twist – very much in the vein of Howard’s stories.
We may come back to sailor Steve Costigan though I haven’t read the stories for years. I was thinking of doing a country and western album based on Breckenridge Elkins though!
Thanks for clarifying the case of ‘Wizard of the Gloves’! Costigan wasn’t popular in Russia, so I skipped this title. I was surprised as there’s just one Lovecraftian song on the album, and it’s ‘Azathoth’. Did the Ancient Gods take away their blessings from Arkham Witch?
To be honest “Azathoth” is an old number – we have done a lot of Lovecraftian songs and maybe it is time to pursue other avenues of lyrical influence, but you never know when the nightgaunts will swoop and carry you to Mt Ngranek to bask in the glory of the Old Gods.
We have, though, rerecorded ‘Yog-Sothoth’ which was featured on the reissue of Legions of the Deep in a live version. This is the only direct Lovecraft reference on the new album though.
Don’t you think that the Lovecraftian metal scene is oversaturated nowadays? Death, black, prog, doom metal bands – it looks like everyone just found H.P.’s compilation in the local library and died to spread his gospel around the world!
Whilst I am glad that Lovecraft is getting the recognition he deserves these days (even being published in Penguin Modern Classics) it can seem like he is everywhere, but having said that it feels to me that Lovecraft has always been an influence in metal since its inception, and the saturation of his ideas and themes doesn’t bother me – a good song is a good song. The gods, beings and characters of his literature is now kind of a shorthand for the idea of cosmic dread and horror – probably a cliché at this point in time but it does all lead people back to his work wherein the true power of his ideas are revealed.
We have always tried to emphasize the pulpy fun of Lovecraft (and from what I have read Lovecraft was said to have a good sense of humour) rather than trying to replicate the cosmic horror and dread in his stories through music, but having said that I do think we have been true to the source material. I do enjoy bands who can achieve this atmosphere. As we once had written on a T-shirt back print many years ago, in our songs we try and oscillate between the Cthonic and the Olympian – the one being the spirit of gloom and fostering superstition and the other a ritual of stoic cheerful character. I wonder if those polemics could apply to both Lovecraft and Howard’s worldviews – Lovecraft’s characters tend to resign to the comfort of madness in the face of the cosmic horror, like the narrator in Dagon, whilst Conan’s encounter’s with the cosmic unamables that spew forth in the Hyborian age does not really affect the way he views life. How ironic then that despite this trait in his character, Howard ended his life in the way he did whilst Lovecraft seemed to soldier on.
There isn’t much information regarding the forthcoming album Swords Against Death. May you share some details of this work?
Yes of course. Swords Against Death is the new album from Arkham Witch out in a few months on Metal on Metal Records – fifty-odd minutes of traditional punky doom infused metal in the epic vein.
Track list is
- Bringing Down the Thunder
- Storm the Sky (Death’s Dream)
- Swords Against Death
- Reap Your Soul
- Into the Fray
- Sentinels of Steel
- Terminus Est
‘Shieldmaiden’? Did you return to Scandinavian territory (if ‘Viking Pirates of Doom’ counts!)? Also didn’t you think to do a song based on Arthurian myth? I believe you’re able to find a plot fitting for Arkham Witch there.
Yes – we have returned to the Scandinavian thing! ‘Bringing Down the Thunder’ is about Thor when he is drunk. ‘Storm the Sky’ is about the portent of Odin bringing dooms to the world of men, ‘Sheildmaiden’ is about dying in the snow on a battlefield. Our good friends Iron Void did a whole album on Arthurian myths – based on the excellent film Excalibur — but if I did something in that vein, I think I would be based on Prince Valiant in the Time of King Arthur.
Simon, you also run that obscure proto doom band Vampire Death. Well, there’s a difference of course but it sounds close to your other (two) bands… So Arkham Witch, The Lamp of Thoth, and Vampire Death, isn’t too much for you? Do you feel that you found a balance to keep all three bands in good shape?
To be very honest – at this point in time the three are really all the same band. It is hard to keep a balance. I don’t know if we will ever do any more Vampire stuff but all three releases contain members of Arkham Witch so you never know. We will do some more Thoth however in some form or another!
Good to hear it, that makes things easier. So I’d like to ask you to gather all three bands’ releases in one Bandcamp profile if it’s possible. Or maybe Metal on Metal will be able to release a glorious box-set with some key works from all three bands? Like ‘The Lamp of Arkham Vampire Death’, you know. Please let me know if Jowita or Simone will confirm this plan, and that’s all for today. Thank you for great interview, it’s always good to know how things go on your side.
That would be nice!
Thanks again Aleks for the great questions.