Sonic Misanthropy

18 October 2012 | 7:00 am | Eli Gould

"Abyssal Theology is sort of referencing; a lot of my lyrics are referencing passages or beliefs within the biblical or the Christian terms."

It's taken them 14 years to finally grace the shores of Western Australia, but Brisbane black metal veterans Astriaal are finally making the trip from the East Coast to headline Perth's 2012 Bastardfest. Since forming way back in 1998, the band has released two of Australia's most iconic black metal releases through 2003's critically acclaimed debut Renascent Misanthropy and the release of Anatomy Of The Infinite in 2010. One might think that they may have snubbed Perth over the years, but vocalist Arzarkhel explains that it was 14 years in the making. “It's just such a long way from the East Coast, but we've always wanted to get there. We've had requests to get over there and we've had people contacting us since The Summoning Of The Essence EP in 2000.”

Because of their long breaks between records and their relentless touring schedule, fans of Astriaal in Perth will no doubt be amped to see them bring their hardened and unique style of melodic and aggressive black metal to Perth for the first time. “I'm always about two years behind,” Arzarkhel jokes. “We haven't done much since Anatomy Of The Infinite, but we've pretty much basically written the next album, it's just about seven or eight songs that we've pretty much finished.”

Since releasing Renascent Misanthropy, Astriaal toured non-stop, a factor that would lead the band to taking an indefinite hiatus. They later re-formed to play live shows and then wrote and recorded 2010's Anatomy Of The Infinite. However, it was a release the band looks back on with some disappointment; in particular the mastering aspect, as Arzarkhel explains: “Looking back on Anatomy..., we were disappointed, so we definitely know that the next [album] has to be the one that leaves its mark the most.”

The band believes that their 2010 release was rushed and the songs that were written for the record were too old, having been written from 2004 to 2006. Anatomy Of The Infinite was mixed in Norway, but was rushed. “We really only had two days to mix the whole album, which is kind of ridiculous really,” Arzarkhel bluntly declares. “Listening back to it now, there are so many little details now that we wish we could refine.”

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Despite the setbacks, in a scene that has so many different sub-genres, what separates Astriaal apart from many of the other bands in metal is not only their sheer brutality and craftsmanship, but also their lyrical content. They're not the kind of band to write songs about plain old boring shit, but in turn they focus on what has meaning to them. Enter: Abyssal Theology, the main topic of their last release. “We've always had the cosmos or the grand abyss as being a massive subject and influence on where I come from and just a darker sort of inspiration,” Arzarkhel explains.

“Abyssal Theology is sort of referencing; a lot of my lyrics are referencing passages or beliefs within the biblical or the Christian terms,” he adds. But what role does religion play in their music? “It's just I find religious thought, and especially fundamental religious thought, is kind of an enemy to what is truly natural. To deny the cosmos or just look up every night and to just falsify that with gods and icons is absolute man-made bullshit. I can't believe that humans can go down that path when nature itself can show you more and real inspiration – it's just meaning to life,” he declares. However, in writing the newer Astriaal material, the vocalist has tried to venture away from the Abyssal Theology as he does not want to be regurgitating the same philosophies. Instead, he has been focussing on “dreamscapes and some more abstract metaphors and analogies”.

Having formed in 1998, 14 years later Astriaal's passion and drive for music is still thriving, and perhaps even stronger than ever. However, they have been on the verge of disbanding more than once; life, as it does, can get in the way. The catalyst for the drive and passion the band still has can be attributed to guitarist Baaruhl as well as the revival of the death metal scene in Australia – in particular in Queensland. “As far as the drive, it's sort of driven by our guitarist Baaruhl… He's been the core since the beginning, and it's been his vision.”

With the metal scene in Australia growing by the minute, especially through festivals such as Bastardfest, Arzarkhel believes that there is great new black metal to be found all around the country – each band exhibiting its own unique style – in particular his hometown. “To be honest, Brisbane alone seems to be like a crucible of creativity at the moment,” he states matter-of-factly.

The future looks positive for Arzarkhel and the members of Astriaal. They have learnt many valuable lessons over their 14-year history, some that have made them grizzly veterans of the black metal scene in Australia. And they're the first to admit that they did not capitalise on achieving their goals back as far as after the release of Renascent Misanthropy. When discussing Australian black metal heavyweights and good friends Psycroptic, Arzarkhel determines that “Psycroptic have definitely achieved great things – they've worked hard to make it happen and their consistency as far as releasing albums… You're going to get more notoriety, and that's where for the start of the mid-2000's we kind of blew it after Renascent.... We just didn't keep the consistency up so we're kind of starting again; we're trying to catch up again.”

Straight after the Bastardfest 2012 shows are finished, Astriaal are hoping to hit the studio again and put their focus completely into the pre-production and recording of their upcoming release. The band is hoping it will both re-define them as well as be their most epic album to date. “I hope and believe it will be our strongest, most poignant and brutal release thus far,” Arzarkhel iterates. Astriaal are hoping that by early to mid-2013 the band will have the new album ready, or at least a taste of what's to come. “It's what we've been building up for 14 to 15 years now, so we hope that's the album that lets people know who we are and blows away what we've done previously.”

Astriaal will be playing the following shows:

Saturday 3 November - Bastardfest, Melbourne VIC
Saturday 17 November - Bastardfest, Sydney NSW
Saturday 27 October - Civic Hotel, Perth WA