INTERVIEW: Ashley Scott – Abhorrent Decimation

If you’ve heard, London death metal hopefuls ABHORRENT DECIMATION recently released second record The Pardoner and you’ll know that they’re bursting at the seams with creativity and ambition. The album creates a chilling atmosphere shrouding blasts or brutality whilst telling a dark tale. Wanting to hear more about the album’s creation and it’s medieval concept and we caught up with vocalist Ashley Scott to dissect The Pardoner.

Hey, Ash! How’re you?

Ashley: For a Wednesday I’m chicken dandy!

How would you personally describe the evolution of sound between Miasmic Mutation and The Pardoner?

Ashley: The older stuff, especially the first EP and the first album were more in line with traditional influence, traditional American influence and we made a conscious decision to develop and explore our interest in the more modern side of things on the new album. Mainly in juxtaposition to how old the concept was. We’re using a concept that’s a story that’s from middle England and we just wanted to explore a different side to what we could do. So we set ourselves a bit of a challenge trying to make something that was cohesive with the back catalogue but stands alone within itself. That’s how we got The Pardoner.

There’s a lot more focus on atmosphere building, was this something that came from the concept or did it naturally come into your songwriting?

Ashley: I think naturally we were trying to build something that had a bit more dynamic to it. I know a lot of bands always strive to do something that’s slower, faster, everything else, but we tried to make something that had ups and downs. So the atmosphere was a natural thing, we didn’t make too much of an effort to go out and create that, but it just inherently happened when we were trying to put shade into the album.

Are there any specific bands who influenced you musically whilst creating this atmosphere?

Ashley: I don’t think there was a direct influence on that, we were trying to inject dynamic. I think the song Violative Offerings is really effective in the sense of we knew we’re taking the piss a bit because the interlude in it goes on for fucking ages, it’s like two and a half minutes but it was all for contrast. We wanted someone to really start relaxing or almost thinking “is the CD jammed? is something wrong” and then the drop. It’s almost a bit obnoxious because when it does drop we don’t really give you much, we do like two bars then stop.

How did you first come across The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer and what made you want to focus on the character, The Pardoner?

Ashley: Originally I wanted to do something about the black death and that was shortly after we released Miasmic Mutation. I’m quite guilty of starting to write the next album before the last one is even out. We just put out Miasmic Mutation and I had this idea that I wanted to roll with the black death. So I started looking into it and then we did a few tours with a band called THE INFERNAL SEA and their last album The Great Mortality is all about the black death so I was kind of like “ah shit, I can’t really do that”. Then I just started looking around that time period and I wrote down in one of my notebooks I had the word ‘Pilgrim’ or ‘pilgrimage’ or something like that, so I started doing a bit of research about medieval pilgrimages and one of my friends recommended The Canterbury Tales and obviously I sort of bunged it off straight away because we studied The Canterbury Tales as part of the curriculum in school so I was like “it’s a bit dry, I’m not really sure if I want to pursue that” but I gave it a little look, and I went through a few of the characters and The Pardoner was there. I was just a bit inquisitive, I read into it a bit and thought “this is a dope concept for a death metal record”.

I’m sure whilst writing about the topics of greed and materialism you could draw a lot of parallels to modern society.

Yeah, as Chaucer did back then. I’m sure you’re fully aware, literature is built around 10 or 12 core narratives and we haven’t been able to invent anything new since and this story (The Pardoner) is one of the earliest we have certainly in English literature of that sort of tale. Greed or money, or love of money is the root of all evil and yeah that’s totally something we can draw into today’s times as well. I think a lot of people have money problems be it not enough or too much. There’s a lot to learn from that story. The whole looking at what someone else has and what you have, those sort of things mess a lot of people up really. I don’t think people are aware how powerful money is now.

Could you give a brief summary of The Pardoner’s story for those unaware?

Ashley: If anyone can do it, I can! So basically, The Pardoner is someone who acts on behalf of the clergy, they’re not employed by the church, it’s a scam. He will go around town selling people spiritual credits or what is referred to as ‘pardons’, where basically if you’ve got a sinner in a village who’s done something against the moral code that they live by The Pardoner will sell you a spiritual credit and you’ll be forgiven. But a lot of the times he preaches against avarice, basically the love of money and being greedy, and that’s the big hypocrisy of his character is that him preaching about you shouldn’t be loving money, you then pay him for a spiritual credit, so he’s gaining money off of your sin. The way Chaucer‘s tales work is they’re split into two parts, so Chaucer will tell you about the character so in this case, the character is The Pardoner so he’ll tell you about what he does for his job and who he is and what sort of bloke he is and what he does to people, and then every character in that story has a story to tell. So The Pardoner‘s story he tells of three young men who are drinking in a tavern when a young boy comes and screams hysterically that death is in the village and that someone needs to get him and help. The guys, you know, are half cut, they’re in a tavern drinking ale and that. They say “yeah, go on then, we’ll go and get death” and they go out in search of death and as they get to the forests they meet an old man who they think is just some pissed old bloke and he tells them “I left death in the forest just there, you can find him if you just follow that path”. So the lads run into the forest and instead of finding death they find a sea of gold under the trees, loads and loads of coins. A life changing amount of money, like winning the lottery in this day. They start panicking like “oh my god, we got all this money, what’re we gonna do?” and they start to move it under the cover of darkness so they have to wait till night time. In the meantime, they need someone to go out and get some bread and some wine and just some basic provisions to get them through the night so they draw straws and the youngest boy draws the shortest straw so they send him off to the village. Now, whilst he’s off at the village the two blokes that are left with the money start to conspire against their young fellow like “what’s better than a third? surely a half, when this young comes back we’ll cut his throat and take the money”. At which point, the boy (the guy who went to get the bread and wine) is thinking to himself “what’s better than a third? I’ll have the lot for myself”. So he poisons the wine he’s buying in the hope that they’ll drink it and die and all the gold is his. To cut a long story short he goes back with the wine and bread, the guys stab the young boy, they cut his throat, they writhe him from side to side, remove his guts and then to celebrate their new found wealth they drink the wine and they die as well and no one gets the money. Thus ends the story you know? Greed is the root of all evil.

The character The Pardoner is very reminiscent of certain pastors, especially in the US who say not to worship money but are on TV taking donations and they have massive houses and wealth.

Ashley: and they claim they can make a cripple walk and they can heal cancer and all this sort of stuff. But all they need is $5000 and they can do it!

It’s amazing that this concept of The Pardoner does still exist and is quite prevalent in our society.

Ashley: Yeah, they’re around everywhere and that sort of narrative was one of the main perks as well and what really stood out to me about the concept. Because everything we’ve put out up to this point is quite irreverent, quite anti-religion and I got a bit bored of using the band as a soap box for my own disdain for these things so this time around I just tried to do it in a clever way, so it’s concealed. Chaucer himself was chastised quite badly for this story because The Pardoner is a sexually promiscuous character, there’s suspicion of him being a homosexual which at the time obviously was quite high brow. Also his unholy look on everything and shining a light on these frauds who go around, that was big business back in those days. People were so scared of sin, death, and the devil that they would pay that money, they would pay everything they had. The Pardoner was clever as well, he was targeting people who had nothing so their life meant the most to them. He was a real little devil.

It must have been a great concept to write lyrics for.

Ashley: Yeah, it was good! The first challenge I had to overcome was reading the tale and transposing it into modern English because the vast majority of it is in middle English, which once you get used to it you know it does work but it’s quite a mouthful. Writing it I really wanted to stay as true to the concept as I could so I don’t really go off on much of a tangent or much of my own narrative into it, I really stick to Chaucer‘s tales, at times quoting him, at times saying what his character said, putting you where he put me. Just really trying to such a good job of the concept. So yeah, it was well fun it was good but it was very challenging. I set out trying to do a concept album with Miasmic Mutation, I started trying to do something that was Dante Alighieri‘s Divine Comedy. I wanted to do a concept album about Inferno, the story as he goes through hell. But I lost vision on that quite quickly and got quite excited about writing for the first full length. I failed on the concept last time so I had unfinished business, that’s why I wanted to be so rigid with the concept this time round.

The first album, Miasmic Mutation, did quite well and even impressed US audiences. Do you think it pushed you and ABHORRENT DECIMATION to be more ambitious on this album?

Ashley: Well as individual guys we have been doing bands for like 15 years now and when it got to bringing ABHORRENT DECIMATION together, I had made so many mistakes before I thought I had a good idea on how to do it properly this time. I had a plan, we worked with some great people, we had a great press officer on that album we had a great booking agent at the time who sorted us out with some good tours and some good festivals and we just tried to make a quality product and a good cohesive bit of work and didn’t just put out any rubbish. We tried to present the band in the best light at all times. We were also just super luck man, this whole scene is based on luck. You can put as much work in or have as the best album as you want but if people don’t accept it then it’s just not going to do anything. Like you say, it was quite popular overseas, we got high praise from a lot of the big name press over here and tonnes of support, people just got really behind it. We certainly set the benchmark at a certain level so when we entered this next album not only did we have the strength of that last campaign behind us, we had the strength of prosthetic records who signed us halfway through the cycle for Miasmic Mutation, we just had so much confidence, our chests were puffed. We were ready to go! I think we did a good job on it if I don’t say so myself. Hopefully, it just takes again and people aren’t too put out by the change in style and imagery and this sort of thing and people will just respect that we’re a band that want to keep mixing it up and want to be creative and just express ourselves with it. We’re not going to release the same album every time, if people think that’s what they’re going to get with us then they’re unfortunately mistaken.

You guys have the drive such a massive drive and passion, you take the aim of being in a band full time very seriously.

Ashley: That is the goal, you gotta be a realist as well if this gets accepted by the markets and does well and the band blows up a little bit, that’s only going to be a little while. Long gone are the days of rock stars and superstar careers that span over decades. We’re just driving towards that 2,3,4 year period where we can get the limelight for a bit and just have a great time with it. We’ve all set ourselves up in a way where we can do the band full time, we can hold down jobs, but we can make ABHORRENT DECIMATION our main focus. We’re just waiting, we’re doing the material, we’re doing the shows, keeping the name out there. Hopefully, we can team up with a really good agent sometime soon and start seeing better shows, better opportunities, just keep working on the name you know? We’re very much looking at it like a business which is probably what separates us from a lot of our peers. We just gotta start small and build the empire and maybe one day we’ll get the reward or maybe we won’t.  

The Pardoner is out now via Prosthetic Records. ABHORRENT DECIMATION perform on The Sophie Lancaster Stage at this year’s Bloodstock Festival.