INTERVIEW: Dagon – Inquisition

Since 1988, INQUISITION have been a cult figure within black metal. Never aligning to trends or popularity, the duo of Dagon and Incubus have crafted a series of records that pushes the band and the black metal genre to new and dark places. 2016 sees the release of their latest opus, Bloodshed across the Empyrean Altar beyond the Celestial Zenith, and with it sees INQUSITION refine their art. Prior to the record’s release we caught up with frontman Dagon to discuss the record and it’s themes and concepts, signing to Season of Mist, whether social media is a good tool and the band’s upcoming tour with ROTTING CHRIST.

Hello there, Tim from Distorted Sound here. INQUISITION are one of the few bands that have made a mark on the black metal genre since your formation. Record number seven Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith has just been released. What can we expect from the record?

Dagon: The album is split, I would say 50/50 in between ritual atmospheric and brutal. It is a darker album than our last two albums, the riffs dwell in the darker scales, the notes, the vocals are deeper. think from a small reptile to a fire breathing cosmic dragon… going by a fan metaphor of reptile. Also the productions is massive, crystal clear with no fear of showing what we are playing but never polished or sterile. This was entirely produced on all gear from the 70’s and 80’s essentially. I used three different amps and they got some very unique tones. The drums are our best produced ever, very natural but hard. The Neve 8048 we tracked on from ’73 gave us that unique tone overall that you just don’t get to hear that much anymore. It is challenging to put into words because on one end you have INQUISITION in pure form, all the way, no change. But there is change when you begin to observe the details and its like that by design. There’s a change of character, but not a change of style. Darker character, INQUISITION style. The theme is about what was before the initial spark that ignited the universe; what that force was and what that same force will do to our universe in the end. From a mythological perspective and from a scientific fact.

How’s the reception been to the record so far, if you’ve seen any?

Dagon: It has been excellent. In the beginning people were as usual, quick to judge, a bit fearful I think. Premieres are not my thing. You really need the entire album. I’m not a pop writer where one song is a hit. You need the entire picture, not a detail of the picture. However, premieres are supposed to be like a sample, and samples don’t go well with INQUISITION fans because we have quite demanding fans, with us or against us,  they all want more of everything. There is never enough, and you can’t get enough with a song or two. So the premieres went well though and by the time the album came out, just a few days ago, the album has gained a very large support from a group of people. I don’t want to give a victory speech, but the album is setting its mark in a few days already thanks to the fan support.

You’ve been signed to label Seasons of Mist since your last record Obscure Verses For The Multiverse. What prompted you to sign with them and how has that relationship worked compared with previous labels you’ve been on?

Dagon: By the time we reached our 5th album, Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm, we simply needed more distribution. INQUISITION by then in 2011 had gained such a big cult following that the supply and demand was not there. By the time we moved to Hells Headbangers, they did a phenomenal job and did for us what we needed and what fans needed. They definitely were our step up between No Colours Records and Season of Mist. But then Season came and offered us something with the intent of really allowing us to grow and expand, something we were never against. We both grew up watching great bands grow, not all of them got better, but INQUISITION is about growth and thriving to maybe be a cult classic one day and to do that you expand through good distribution, which Season of Mist has. Don’t get me wrong, Hells Headbangers is an amazing label, Chase and the crew are phenomenal and work professionally but it is also from the spirit. Us moving on was all because of that extra small difference and Season being in Europe, it helps.

In a similar vein Seasons of Mist recently re-released all of your older albums with new cover artwork by the brilliant Paolo Girardi. Were you happy with the results of these and the exposure to people who may not have had the chance to hear these record before?

Dagon: I was happy yes, they look great and fit the atmosphere. But to be honest I wanted the original album covers intact, I wanted the original art on them; preserving the era, the times. The label wanted to release a themed design to make it like one big compendium, which I thought would be fine. It has the original art inside each album, so people will clearly understand what the original underground releases were, who painted them and simply, how great those covers were. Overall it was a move I was still hesitant to do, releasing the entire discography. I had that odd moment when approached of feeling for the first time that INQUISITION was going to be exposed now more than ever before; I wanted to wait. Michael told me “what are you waiting for, waiting for what?” That got me to think things over for the next few days. I sat on the idea for about a week I think it was. My conclusion was the timing was perfect, I felt we earned this. Later could be too late and my pride is that we were a true underground cult band for at least five albums.

What prompted the decision to have a more digital artwork from Vincent Fouquet instead of continuing with the previous style on the new record?

Dagon: That’s a good question because, the art he did for us is not digital at all. He illustrated every single thing you see. I wanted him because I want to continue the tradition of using obscure, nearly non-known artists. I noticed most of his art was digital, but within the digital editing he draws a lot of it. I approached him and proposed the cover. I said “however, I want it all hand drawn, old school looking but in your own style, your own interpretation of what that old style should be in your view as an artist”. Unique is what came out of it despite working within a classic framework.

Your first few releases came out in the late-90s, as such you’re almost uniquely placed to comment on the changes to the music industry resulting from the introduction of the internet and the effects that had. Do you feel that emerging at that time helped or hindered INQUISITION as a band?

Dagon: Honestly, we felt zero difference from the internet when it started. You have to remember it was sort of a niche area in life in general. The internet was a special place and was not yet the main frame. So it did not launch us out there really. Touring is what did it, playing live a lot. Going to Europe when my day job allowed me to. Touring there every year since 2004 is what got the name out. The internet did its job immensely when we signed to Hells Headbangers in 2009 because once we signed with them we were on the entire music distro network, we were all over the place.

Obviously social media, with all of its positives and negatives, has become a big deal for some bands these days. While you guys do have a slight presence out there, is that something you like doing or did you prefer when traditional methods of exposure were the main way of getting publicity?

Dagon: I really miss the old days. I really do. Not out of emotional nostalgia but out of practicality. What seemed counter intuitive was actually what made this music so much more appreciated in a small consumer way.; because everything was slow, you had to think more before you voiced an opinion, you had to take time to promote your album, time was used more wisely I think. Today I believe people can still be and are like that, but my main issue is from a listener’s perspective. On the listener’s side, the consumer side, no matter how much the underground prides itself, it is today an equal part to the fast paced world of pop culture in many ways because of the extreme exposure. Everything is out there, this is in fact very old news so no need to go deep here. But even in the underground there are so many bands, so many releases, so many and so much of everything, that I almost feel music has become an assembly line on all levels. And what people retain is very little. This should answer the aspect about social media in that a person listens and probably immediately is keying in their opinion, emotional opinion at that, while retaining very little because they wanted instant gratification (its not exactly like the previous album – oh shit). People MUST slow down, really gel with a new album and then move forward with their first thoughts and even then that can take a week at least. Brains need time. In other words it is much much more difficult to create a classic today; but it can be done and when a classic is done today it jumps out more than before.

Lyrically you have always been distinct from the more “generic” black metal bands by your unique interpretation of the subject matter. If possible can you even begin to describe how you go about creating lyrics and the inspiration behind them?

Dagon: I look to where there are facts combined with our original primordial interpretation of what we justify as God or Satan is for example. What godly is, what creation is, chaos… everything that is under the banner of both mythology and science, history and bullshit history. We can sing about forests, but what are forests for, and why do they have a purpose at all if the universe has no purpose. If everything has no purpose than why does the existence of all present itself to our conscious, meaning why did we evolve to find meaning in everything that supposedly holds no meaning or purpose at all. Why is ancient religions always so centralised around the force of Satan as the greatest enemy of all? Those two aspects combined create a long tale of thought that makes for some important perspectives and Black Metal is an excellent vehicle for these topics of science meets philosophy. Mythology had its place and weather and climates hold a romance for the atmosphere of Black Metal; but going into the furthest reaches of space and into the deepest areas of our mind are two powerful perspectives I thought would be great for this occult music today. In the end, it boils down to what ignited this music, the essence and spirit of Satan as the supreme force of all forces and gods. Gods are manufactured, but the essence of the ego and quest for self-awareness and consciousness is vital.

INQUISITION are musically quite a distinct sounding band, within a genre where the amount of copycats and clones seems to run opposed to the fundamental beliefs of staying true to your sound and attempting to create something worthwhile. How do you think you’ve managed to avoid having any bands that imitate your sound, when compared to other larger black metal bands?

Dagon: That’s a mystery to me. But one thing for sure, is we have never quite “fit in” with the standard mold. No matter how much fans allow us to grow, at the end of the day we will always be a cult band because we do our own thing, and I mean we really do. I think lazy listeners are the ones to instantly compare us to one another band out there but when you truly engage into listening we do have our style; our identity. Why it has not been copied is a mystery but I would like to think it’s the proof of the somewhat uniqueness. It’s just too much of a somewhat patented sound, for lack of a better word.

Across your history as a band there have been very few changes to the core sound, yet each and every album has its own unique feel to it. When creating a new record how do you approach these two opposing ideas and how do you feel that Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith will stand in relation to your other records?

Dagon: It will definitely be our darker album. I write thinking of the overall discography. I want to think that one day when someone sits down and does an INQUISITION marathon session each album will keep things within its own perimeters but also allow the listener to go to different places within that perimeter album from album. IRON MAIDEN, each album has a different mood, theme, vibe. But you instantly know who it is each album. That’s what I grew up to, those kind of dynamics. The first few SLAYER albums, CELTIC FORST albums… it’s my era, I am influenced by that kind of song writing and its good in my opinion to not do exact copies album to album, for INQUISITION anyway. Another reason I have such a passion for production; I get very excited and motivated planning on where we go to record next album, and what kind of production to go after. I don’t go for “simply the best production possible with the most known names out there as producers” whats the point in that? I want real good productions, especially on this latest album we went all the way. But notice it still has old school vibe. That’s what allows each album to sound different, in that each album is not just different studios and engineers, but everything is different while the style and execution is the same.

You’re soon to embark on a large European tour with ROTTING CHRIST and support from MYSTIFIER and SCHAMMANSCH. Do you feel the similar yet differing styles of black metal will go down well with fans? Are you excited to get on the road and present the new material in a live setting?

Dagon: I’m extremely excited about this tour; we are ready to enter battle and crush relentlessly. Drain them lifeless. Combining bands is an art form, no different than making a playlist at home for listening pleasure. Big differences can be great, sometimes it can be a bad thing. I wanted something classic, so everyone in our management helped out trying to make it happen. Not all the bands you want can make it or accept. From this ROTTING CHRIST accepted, and MYSTIFIER accepted. I was very happy on both accounts because having ROTTING CHRIST and MYSTIFIER on the same tour is classic. Two great and classic bands. SCHAMMASCH is a newer band, they play very occult like Swiss Black Metal. Great band! In the end it’s darkness across the entire plain and whilst variety is a must, differences and dynamics, the essence must be the same from beginning to end and is a must when you pair four bands together and specially under an INQUISITION headliner tour.

Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith is out now via Season of Mist.

INQUISITION will tour the UK with labelmates ROTTING CHRIST in November. For tour dates click here.