Black Magician: Q & A With Liam Yates
Like the eponymous beast from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound Of the Baskervilles”, Liverpudlian doom five piece Black Magician have emerged from the oppressive fog of the UK’s doom scene to create quite a rumble with their progressive yet thunderous riffs and genuinely sombre atmosphere. As they’re on the verge of dropping one of the scene’s finest doom albums of the year on the nascent Shaman Recordings I caught up with the band’s vocalist Liam Yates to see what lurks in their black hearts.
To many people you’re very much a new name on the scene and not a lot is known about you. Can you give us a brief history of the band…members, previous bands…etc?
I’d been in a band for a while, but it was really just drunken jams. No one seemed that interested in doing traditional doom stuff, and there’s no doom ‘scene’ in Liverpool at all. I was complaining to a friend that I couldn’t seem to get anything sorted, and he said he had this friend who was writing stuff along those lines. That turned out to be Kyle Nesbitt, our guitarist. I met him along with our original bassist at a gig one night and basically told him that we had to start a band. A drunken rant about Paul Chain and Death SS ensued, and that sealed the deal. Kyle sent me some of his demos and they were exactly the kind of thing I’d wanted to do. Our drummer Jay and keyboard player Matt were friends of Kyle.
Kyle also fronts Ninkharsag, one to check out if you’re into that early 90s Norwegian black metal sound. Matt plays guitar for Torture Garden and Serotonal, gloomy heavy metal. Our bassist John used to be in Conan, who need no introduction!
A few months at the anvil and we were playing live. For our second gig we opened for Premonition 13. We received Wino’s approval sealed with that famous iron handshake…
Black Magician seems like such an obvious name for a band I’m surprised no-one has take in before. How did you decide on this for a name?
There isn’t really a story behind the name, it just came to me, and I liked it because, as you say, it’s so obvious sounding. I’d had the whole idea of Black Magician in my head for years, I knew exactly how I wanted the band to be, what I wanted us to sound like. I just thought it was quite 70s-sounding, too.
We’re not an occult-themed band. We’re interested in those ideas, but it’s not the primary focus of what we do.
You’re about to release your debut album “Nature Is The Devil’s Church” on vinyl through Shaman Recordings and on CD through Burning World. Take us through the process of creating the album through the writing and recording. How was it working at Full Stack with Matt Richardson?
Kyle has tonnes of riffs, and I’ve always got stacks of lyrics. Sometimes he’ll bring something first, we’ll come up with a concept, and I’ll work my lyrics around that. Other times I’ll have something and we’ll build the music around the words. However it starts, we always work together as a whole band to expand on the basic structure. The proggy acoustic folk track was all Kyle’s work, though. He probably wrote it in his garden. We were really keen to get that folk element into our sound, as it’s a massive influence.
Lee Shaman suggested that we worked with Matt Richardson, and Full Stack seemed like the perfect place, set in a small village in the heart of Lancashire, in view of Pendle Hill, just our kind of thing.
When we arrived, one of the first things I saw was an “I love Randy Reaper” (guitarist from Lamp of Thoth) badge on one of Matt’s speakers, and I knew we’d come to the right place. Matt fronts his own metal band, Bastard of the Skies, so he knew what we were going for. He had a great attitude and allowed us to experiment during recording.
The recording itself was done over three days. It was quite intense… Playing a gig after the first day’s recording then going straight back in the morning was a bit full-on! Full Stack is hidden in an old mill/depot/warehouse, and I think we tried to capture some of the ‘dark satanic mill’ vibe that comes from working in a small Lancashire town.
Shaman Recordings were first on the scene to offer you the chance to make an album. How did you hook up with them and what is the relationship like with Lee who runs the label (he’s a good bloke…for a northerner!!!). Is this a long term relationship or a stepping stone to bigger things? Did any other labels show any interest?
We’d actually had a couple of other offers before Shaman Recordings, but we wanted to hold out for something that felt right. I’ve known Lee for a few years and knew he was a good guy. He saw us supporting Premonition 13, and that’s when we started talking about doing the album together. He was so positive and enthusiastic about the whole thing that we knew we had to work with him. He’s a top no-nonsense Lancashire-man, and completely on the ball, night and day. When Lee enquired about working together I trusted him immediately when he said he only wanted to work with “Lifers”. Nothing’s certain for us yet, and Lee’s given us freedom to do whatever we want, but Shaman Recordings is sure to go far with his determination.
Burning World will be doing the CD version, how did that come about?
Basically, Lee sent the recording out, it found its way to Jurgen at Burning World, he liked it and offered to put it out. It’s a great opportunity for us as Burning World/ Roadburn is a major platform for doom metal.
The title of the album is very evocative of both pagan thinking and darker occultism. What is the inspiration behind the title?
We wanted to bring to mind images from dark British folklore. There’s a quote from Sherlock Holmes in ‘The Adventure of The Copper Beeches’ which I think reflects what we wanted the title to say:
“…the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside… look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.”
Moving on from that is there a general theme to the lyrics, what inspires them?
I’m interested in folk music and the tradition of telling stories through songs. Tales of witchcraft, Arthurian legend, haunted countryside, brooding landscapes, evil gypsies, boggarts, brigands and black magic. I count Arthur Machen as a huge inspiration, along with Steinbeck’s ‘The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights.’ It’s a collection of completely wyrd tales which delves into the psychological side of the folklore, bizarrely British despite its international sources.
We read a lot of history, and spend our time exploring old, interesting places. Julian Cope’s ‘the Modern Antiquarian’ is another big inspiration for me.
I’ve heard your sound described as being like early Cathedral meets Atomic Rooster which, after listening to your album I would agree with although I’d also throw some vintage Celtic Frost in there as well on the faster parts. Who would you say are the prime influences for the band musically?
All three you mentioned are huge influences, so it’s great that you hear that in our music. We love all the obvious stuff, the old guard of heavy metal like Vitus, Pentagram, Sabbath, Candlemass, Trouble, Count Raven, NWOBHM. Also 60s and 70s prog, psych and folk, such as Fairport Convention, Clive’s Original Band, early Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Arzachel, Graham Bond Organisation, Hawkwind, Elias Hulk, Steel Mill, early Van der Graaf Generator, May Blitz and High Tide.
Our influences don’t dictate what we do. I feel that Black Magician’s riffs are pure Kyle Nesbitt, they’re not re-hashes of Sabbath riffs or anyone else’s, they’re quite unique to us.
Your image is clearly drawn from the late 60’s/early 70’s. What is it about this style and era that appeals to you?
We don’t have a ‘band image’. We dress on stage how we dress every day. It happens that our own personal taste in all things is influenced by the 60s and 70s, but we’re not like some bands who might use that as a gimmick. We’ve always looked like trogg gypsy bikers, which obviously goes down really well in Liverpool!
Not so many doom bands use keyboards, especially not vintage Hammond sounds. How easy was it to integrate this into your sound and was it a conscious decision to use keyboards to make you stand out from the rest of the scene?
We don’t use Hammond as a way to set us apart from other bands; it’s just that we always imagined it as being an important element of our sound. There’s no issue about having to integrate the Hammond, it just happens very naturally. I couldn’t imagine our music without it. Expect even more on the next album.
Unfortunately the Hammond is a bit awkward to haul around, so when we play live we often have to use keyboards. We’re hoping for some Keith Emerson dagger-in-the-keys antics when we figure out a way to transport the Hammond!
Talking of the doom scene, it seems to be growing on a daily basis and replicating itself a lot. How do you view the current state of it and what current bands do you rate?
The doom scene is pretty non-existent in Liverpool, but we do have two notable exceptions: Doom-influenced sludge brutes Iron Witch, and drone-doom titans Conan, both bands are good friends of ours. I’ve noticed a lot of bands being called ‘doom’ when they’re basically playing Sleep/Kyuss-influenced stoner rock. These bands seem to miss that doom is firmly rooted in heavy metal. Bands with ‘weed’ or ‘dope’ in their names don’t interest me in the slightest.
Current doom bands from these shores that spring to mind at the moment are Ghast (these guys need to get out way more!), Wounded Kings, Grimpen Mire, Pagan Altar, Age of Taurus, The Lamp of Thoth, Serpent Venom. All real heavy metal doom!
You’ve recently done a short tour ahead of the album’s release with Serpent Venom, how was that?
It was a great success (apart from the last night when the van died and we couldn’t make it to Birmingham!). Many ales quaffed, strong bonds forged, crowd reaction was great and it was a pleasure to watch Serpent Venom each night. Playing Bannermans in Edinburgh was our most memorable live experience so far. Great crowd, their reaction was overwhelming. Fantastic promoter, great night all round. Seems like the further north we play, the wilder the crowd are. Old bikers, burn-outs and lifers still who hunger for old heavy metal values, and aren’t afraid to get drunk and headbang!
Someone holds a gun to your head and says you can only listen to 5 albums for the rest of your life…what are they?
Clive’s Original Band – Spirit of Love (evil folk gloom with plenty of sitar, tonnes of atmosphere).
Caravan – In the Land of Grey and Pink (the pinnacle of prog, quintessentially English, Hammond perfection).
Manowar – Into Glory Ride (the most metal album ever, pure steel)
Motorhead – Bomber (sleaziest Motorhead album).
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (no explanation needed).
(For this week, anyway!)
Doom all seems very serious…tell us something funny about the band?
The only thing that springs to mind at the moment is that our guitarist had a shocking glory-hole intrusion while on the toilet at a motorway service station during the Serpent Venom tour.
What are your future plans/aspirations for the band in the near future and long term?
Play as many gigs/festivals as possible. Spread our name far and wide. We plan to write and record the next album soon in an isolated cottage in a Welsh valley we have access. Like Traffic did with Mr. Fantasy. Hopefully start our film project going if we ever have time. We plan to expand our sound to incorporate more of the prog/folk influence. Expect flutes, violins, evil morris men. Some gigs outdoors would be nice…Ruined churches, stone circles, graveyards, caves. Promoters get in touch.
This is your chance to say whatever you like…
“We have just begun to navigate a strange region; we must expect to encounter strange adventures, strange perils.” (Arthur Machen, ‘The Terror’).
You can follow the movements of Black Magician at www.facebook.com/Blackmagiciandoom and you can also pre-order ‘Nature Is The Devil’s Church’ LP over at Shaman Recordings here.[audio:https://dl.dropbox.com/u/43655858/02_Full-Plain-I-See-The-Devil-Knows-How-To-Row.mp3|titles=Black Magician – Full Plain I See The Devil Knows How To Row|width=95%]
Interviewed by: Ollie Stygall