Heathen Harvest: First off, I would like to say thank you for taking the time to do this interview as it must be quite a busy schedule you have going on at the moment. I am a huge fan and have been since I had first heard The Third Storm of Cythrául, so I am sure I speak for many people when I say it has been a very long 8 years waiting for the next Absu attack. Was the departure of Equitant a large reason for the hiatus since your breakthrough Tara release?
Here is the story behind the official hiatus. There were many innuendoes pointing in my direction that ABSU was beginning to crumble and it all originated in late 2001. As a matter of fact, my relationship was getting so deficient that I quit the band for four months and during that period, I auditioned for Slayer. When I returned, Equitant left in April 2002, but we decided to carry on as trio because before his departure. Equitant converted to bass as we had another guitarist in the band: Kashshapxu. As we were beginning the compositions and arrangements for the self-titled album, a minor tragedy struck. In June 2002, I was in an accident and shattered the bones in my left wrist. A couple of orthopedic surgeons were not optimistic about my ability to ever play drums again, so this had me a bit concerned. Once this occurred, the songwriting completely stopped and the motivation to continue amongst both guitarists had vanished. Luckily with a few custom made casts and rehabilitation, I was back to playing drums and ironically speaking, playing better than I did before I snapped my wrist. After the healing process, I immediately flew to The Netherlands then Sweden to rehearse/record with Melechesh for two months for the recording of their third album Sphynx. Upon my return to Dallas in early January 2003, I was informed by Shaftiel he no longer wanted to continue working with ABSU, so it was all down to me. I had decided it was a decent time to go on hiatus as we all had been working diligently for over 12 years. So, I took a four year pause from ABSU and pursued parenthood, two Equimanthorn albums, a Starchaser Network album, (both projects with Equitant) I was in a short-lived band called The Turning (which was an immense mistake), performed one festival with Melechesh and exalted my label Tarot Productions with nine releases to date. I also started my own mastering/post production studio to assist other bands with their releases before their final product went off to manufacturing. Now, the tale of the reformation: in the Spring of 2007, I contacted guitarist/songwriter Aethyris McKay about possibly resurrecting ABSU since both Shaftiel and Equitant had no interest in continuing the band. He mentioned he knew of a lead guitarist that would be an ideal replacement for Shaftiel named Vastator. Vastator only lasted six months (May-November 2007) in the band and left due to musical differences. He contributed four songs for the new album, as I was gratified for his services. The day after his departure, Aethyris and I recruited long time comrade Zawicizuz of Infernal Oak/Rape Pillage & Burn fame to replace Vastator and let me tell you, it’s been a prosperous working environment ever since. A few months ago, we also hired bassist/co-vocalist Ezezu from the Texas-based band Panzram to fulfill, yet complete the line-up of ABSU once and for all. So, here we are with a new line-up, new album and new vision for future times to come. The songs on the new album consist of, more or less, “leftovers” from the prior and current guitarists of ABSU. Half of the tracks were composed by current guitarists Aethyris and Zawicizuz, while the other half were written by Shaftiel and Vastator, which I thought created a good blend of diversity throughout the entire album. Many people ask me what it is like to work with a new line up versus the classic power trio of myself, Shaftiel and Equitant. When the band initially went on hiatus in January 2003, I was a bit devastated because I never thought of ABSU being without Equitant nor Shaftiel. It was a difficult acceptance at first because I personally felt I had not fully accomplished all of my goals with this band. So, I accepted ABSU’s hiatus status and went on to pursue other projects of interest. I waited four years to see if I would receive a call from either Shaftiel or Equitant to possibly pick up where we left off; however, this never occurred, so that’s when I realized it was time to contact Aethyris and proclaim ABSU’s continuity with a new and unpolluted start. It was Equitant who came and went a few times, but to be honest with you, I do not blame him for those decisions. During the 90’s period, ABSU was a confusing band, yet a band that deserved a lot more than what was given to us. One of the chief reasons we never toured frequently was due to our incomplete live line-up. Of course, we were a trio, but it was mandatory to have a fourth member to execute a proper live performance. We tried countless times to find this fourth member in the Dallas area, but it was extremely difficult due to indefinite, yet tainted influences amongst musicians around here. Most musicians in our area were either into bands along the lines of Cannibal Corpse/Internal Bleeding or Cradle of Filth/Emperor. Not that we did not care for those bands, but those influences were nowhere near our style. We could not find any musicians with vast knowledge in the occult let along their ancestral background, so finding a member for ABSU back then was an utter struggle. As time progressed, I think it became rather discouraging for Shaftiel and Equitant and that’s why they left me in the dark, but like I said, I cannot blame them for making that choice. During those times, there was never really any turmoil amongst us and never any kind of personal problems; the band simply fell apart due to mundane activities of simply being in ABSU. Now, I am more optimistic than I have ever been being in ABSU with the new line-up. This may sound ironic, but both Shaftiel and Equitant are overly supportive of what I am doing now, as we have remained solid comrades since the split.
HH: By the sounds of the new album, it seems as though you have started where Tara left off regardless of the time between releases. With an all new line up and album set for release, do you feel that Absu is at its strongest point of its existence?
In most cases, yes. Having this new album released nearly eight years since Tara has truly delivered a tenfold result. Our new label Candlelight, as well as the press that has heard it thus far, were thoroughly impressed upon the first listen. I am not going to sit here and tell you that “this is our best work to date” or “this is a natural progression from Tara,” but I will testify that I am tremendously proud of this album. It is ABSU’s best mix to date and an album I have always wanted to create with this band without any limitations whatsoever. When I enlisted Aethyris and Vastator into the band, I knew that I was not going to obtain the same songwriting formula that Shaftiel and Equitant brought to the music of ABSU. Knowing Aethyris as long as I have before he joined, I knew him first as a drummer and secondly as a guitarist. Once he showed me his guitar-playing skills, I was thoroughly impressed and was astounded by his techniques. When Vastator left the band, we were still in writing mode and had a few songs to complete before entering the studio. Luckily when Zawicizuz stepped in, he saved us a great amount of time by fully supplying two of the songs on the album, which are quite incredible.
HH: The new self-titled album is set for release in a couple of weeks in the US through Candlelight Records, how has the response been thus far by the label and media and how did it happen to be that you decided to sign with them as a label?
Please excuse my delay in providing the responses to this interview, as the album has already been released in the US. The response from both the label and media has been overwhelmingly superior, as I am very pleased with this. After the release of Tara, ABSU had one more album to fulfil in the contract. While the band was on hiatus, I decided it would be best to complete the contract with Osmose by releasing a two-CD compendium titled Mythological Occult Metal: 1991-2001. (Basically, this compilation featured most of ABSU’s recordings that were not featured on any of our full-length releases) When I reformed the band, the self-titled album was initially to be on Osmose, but the new agreement was not appealing to me whatsoever, so that is when I decided to contact Candlelight. Actually, I contacted a few labels and without hesitation, Candlelight was our best choice. Don’t get me wrong: I cannot say enough positive words about my good friend Herve Herbaut and what Osmose did for ABSU the 16 years we were on the label’s roster. Speaking of, Osmose just re-released a re-mastered version of Tara + In The Eyes Of Ioldánach, so just because we signed with Candlelight does not mean the business relations have ended with Osmose.
HH: As with all Absu releases, there is a concept behind the lyrics which tells of ancient societies, indulging in the occults and extreme times within the human races existence. What is the thesis behind this album, and why did you decide to use the bands name as the title?
My idea for this self-titled album was an objective of mine for many years, even before Tara was ideologically drafted. Absu is primarily based upon the meaning of the band moniker: Abyss, a limitless space/bottomless chasm, the fresh underground water of Ea and the Seven Sage’s home or a mythical place producing “secrets.” The songs on Absu discuss Sumerian mythology, Mesopotamian cosmology, Goetia, numerology and antiquated necromancy narrated in various tenses. For example, the song Magic(k) Square Cipher is a numerological song representing the Seal of Saturn and its ruling Sephirah. Amy (no, not a ballad about my wife – her name is Tiamatsu) is a story concerning a prevailing demon to have been an imperative part of the underworld alongside Nergal. Those of the Void Will Re-Enter, lyrically written by Ashmedi of Melechesh, refers to servants of the arcane order, as the “void” represents the Annunaki (Seven Sages) in Sumerian mythology. I have officially taken a lyrical vacation from Celtic lore and my ancestral attributions to pay homage to the Ancient Ones.
HH: I understand that during the hiatus of Absu you auditioned for Slayer but did not get the position as they decided to go with their original drummer Dave Lombardo. How was this experience and how did this opportunity become available to you?
Sometimes, I don’t know how to honestly answer this question due to the fact I have heard various stories from various sources after the audition. To protect certain individuals, some say I was very close, yet some say I was not. In most cases, I heard I was the 3rd selection, as Derek Roddy (Hate Eternal) and Kevin Talley (Misery Index) were ahead of me. (Both being good drummers) I still believe, to this day, this was a tactical ploy to lure Dave Lombardo back into Slayer. Miraculously speaking, if I was chosen to be Slayer’s drummer, I would have only stayed for one studio album and quit the band. I just know Kerry and I would have clashed in one way or the other and would have been treated like a puppet or drum machine. My mentality is that “I am a leader and not a follower,” so this would have been difficult for me to deal with. On the other hand, it would have been beyond astounding to say that “I use to be the drummer for Absu and Melechesh; now, I am the drummer for Slayer.” The audition was held on February 2, 2002 in Dallas, Texas and it actually went very well, as it solely was Kerry and me. He let me select four songs, which were “Disciple,” “Post Mortem,” “Raining Blood” and “Hell Awaits.” As a matter of fact, the auditions were only held in three cities in the US: Peoria, San Francisco and Dallas. During the Dallas audition, there were only three drummers who tried out for the position; one of them being me. A good friend of mine, Vince Rossi, drove me to the audition and I was forced to sit in the car while the other two drummers tried out. In other words, I was not allowed to hear the other candidates audition. One more note of interest: the drum set I used belonged to Vinnie Paul of Pantera fame. Without even realizing it after the audition, I completely cracked two of the cymbals, as my stamina and endurance did not impress Kerry King.
HH: You have several side projects that show you experimenting with several different approaches to styles of music. Can you describe your various side projects for fans that may not know about them?
I had several side projects when the band was on hiatus, such as Melechesh, Equimanthorn and Starchaser Network, but since ABSU is in full force now, I have dropped all extracurricular activities to completely concentrate on nothing more than mythological occult metal.
HH: Since being a member of Melechesh for a time, will you still contribute lyrics for the band. Do you plan to keep working with them on future releases?
I will most likely continue to contribute lyrical passages and backing vocals for their future releases, but as far as my drumming involvement is concerned, it is highly doubtful at this time.
HH: It really does seem that you are quite the busy character, seemingly always having something on the go. It must be hard to be dedicated to all these bands and you also run your own record label Tarot Productions. How is it that you keep so active and still have the time to run a label?
Like I have previously stated, I am solely deliberating my time to ABSU and Tarot Productions: nothing more – nothing less.
HH: Is there any future releases from Tarot Productions we should be on the look out for?
Tentatively speaking, we are anticipating the release of a live Rigor Mortis, which was recorded in Cleveland, Ohio during a performance they did with Slayer for the South of Heaven tour in 1988 and an anthology CD from an old Dallas based band called Talon who later turned into Sedition. (Talon/Sedition) This compendium CD will feature a total of three outstanding demos and bonus live tracks as well. The aforementioned are all the plans we have for Tarot Productions at the current moment.
HH: Getting back to the new Absu album, it seems that you have quite the tour schedule planned to promote it with some spots on festivals in North America and in Europe?
We are performing several festivals throughout Europe this year and embarking on a full North American tour with Glorior Belli, Sothis and very special guest. You can expect a full barbaric storm of mythological occult metal, which will be crushing and devastating - that is what you can expect.
HH: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with Heathen Harvest.
Thank you very much for the interview and your support in mythological occult metal.