From the ancient past, from the crumbled temples of ancient deities and forgotten cultures, emanates a wave of pulverizing brutal death metal. Heavy with the breath of yesteryear, the weight of Sarpanitum is upon us…. TDM caught up with guitarist/bassist Tom Hyde (T.H. in the interview) and vocalist/keyboardist Tom Innocenti (T.I.).
First, can you give us a bit of history on the band, including the choice and meaning of the name?
T.H: Sarpanitum was formed in 2003 by Jack Galibrath and Andy Techakosit when they wrote and recorded the demo The Agushaya Hymn. Not long after this me and Tom (Innocenti) were playing in a different death metal band and wanted to work with Andy and so we merged bands and went on to release Despoilment of Origin in 2007 and Fidelium in 2011. The name Sarpanitum comes from mesopotamian mythology and has many other names like Zarpanit or Sarpanitu and depending on which research you read the name “Sarpanitum” has been linked to the goddess Ishtar but is most commonly known as the consort to Marduk. As for when the band started, the lyrics dealt solely with Mesopotamian mythology hence, the name “Sarpanitum” where as today, we see it as an ancient name for our lyrics which focus on ancient history.
Sarpanitum takes a somewhat nonstandard approach to heavy music, both in sound and theme. Let’s say a metal fan has never heard your music before, and asks you to describe it. What would you say?
T.H: Musically there is so much we as a band are inspired from really, and I think that is what gives us a non standard approach. Even though we are brutal and heavy there is a lot of under lying melody which is vital to our sound and style and that is often influenced by a lot of classical composers, film score composers, medieval folk, and atmospheric artists for example: Dead Can Dance, Raison d’être, Estampie, The Hillard Ensemble and Tallis Scholars. With regards to the theme, myself, Tom (Innocenti)and Andy (Techakosit ex bass and vocals) always had an interest in history and enjoyed films, books and just chatting about these events, anything from history. Because of this we found that lyrically and concept wise we wanted to explore this rather than what a lot of bands around us were doing at the time which was “gore” and “satanism”. We had been in bands before Sarpanitum that dealt with religious manipulation but never really wanted to base the lyrics about glorifying “satanism” as for “gore”, aside from our dark sense of humour, we did not see the point in singing about something for amusement. Even when we were teenagers we saw a lot of the whole “gore” and “satanism” themed bands as people or other angry teenagers just trying to impress their friends in the “scene” and piss their parents off rather than something meaningful and artistic which is what we started to aim for. I think this shift in our way of thinking and writing music really made us all want to push ourselves musically which is when we started to become a lot faster with our playing, musical ability and practicing a lot more too hahaha! In relation to metal the biggest influences have notably been classic death metal bands, brutal death metal bands, black metal bands, some doom but also a lot of heavy metal, especially from around the 1980’s which my lead playing is heavily influenced from. Also when we formed we knew that we wanted the music to have a “cinematic” effect to it, so in order to do this we introduced subtle melody into the songs but not so much that it loses the brutality or “heaviness”. Overall our ethic when writing is to have some integrated melody to give the cinematic effect whilst keeping the energy and some of the aggression and power that brutal, fast and extreme metal has. If a metal fan asked us to describe the music I would say that the guitars are fast and intense and grand with an underlying melody but not so much that it sounds like “melodic death metal” or so musically complicated that it sounds like “tech death”. The drumming is fast, lots of blast beats, intervals with double kicks and awesome tom rolls/fills. The vocals are mainly low Death Metal vocals but not like slam guttural (more like a baritone death metal vocalist) with occasional teasing of Black Metal shrieks. With our material from Fidelium and our upcoming album Blessed Be My Brothers there are occasional choirs or chants to add to the atmosphere but again, like the guitars not so much so that it becomes flamboyant but so that it adds a degree of texture and most importantly atmosphere to the tracks.
T.I: I think if you are anything like myself and you appreciate modern death metal with a serious approach, good song-craft and atmosphere you’ll be very pleased with our latest effort.
What inspires you, both in terms of music and otherwise?
T.I: For Sarpanitum inspiration comes from both human tragedy at the hands of elites and also from my optimism for humanity. In terms of the lyrical and conceptual themes it was something I wanted to cover. I have a deep interest in this particular period of history and it saddens me that in mainstream media and even academia it is often made a mockery of. The centuries of human misery contained under the umbrella of ‘the crusades’ are either forgotten of as such or unjustly portrayed as whimsical medieval eccentricity rather than being an age of absolute horror and chaos. The real human stories and the people’s inevitable inner and outer conflicts with morality and belief are in particularly my main inspiration for this record from writing the lyrics themselves but also when writing and recording the music with Tom(Hyde). There is sadness and of course brutality in our music but it is also a very positive and hopeful record.
T.H: For me I personally find it essential to write music and enjoy the creative element of it and how it can represent or harmonize with someone’s thoughts and feelings. In particular, writing music that has a positive atmosphere to it, not continually negative, just something that can either inspire people to have more confidence, empowerment and positive emotions. I believe this can be through many artistic approaches such as art, design, writing fiction, acting and so on. All of these are creative means which can have the potential to positively influence people which aside from having a good time listening to and playing the music it is my general aim. The books of Thomas Harris give a really good clear, informative representation of the “official” story from mainstream historians but also the works of David Icke who researches and gathers facts, evidence and theories from a variety of authors, historians, politicians, experts in there fields among other sources that you often don’t hear of in the mainstream media, let alone history. Most notable in his research on exclusive organisations such as The Knights Templar and the origins and potential meanings from Mesopotamian mythology (hence the band name and the lyrical concept of our first album Despoilment of Origin). It can be quite a sobering thought that our history affects society on a global scale today and the reasoning behind certain historic events being a false one or one of many others that were suppressed. I try and keep as much of an open mind as possible but ultimately end up reminding myself that the “official” story be it ancient history or current affairs is only dictated by the rulers and the victors.
Blessed Be My Brothers, Sarpanitum’s second full-length, has been completed in recording and mastering. What can you tell us, both with regard to the writing/recording process, and also the final product?
T.H: Writing wise we normally write a collection of riffs individually for example, I could just write a few riffs maybe even a full song, email this over to Tom (Innocenti) then when we meet up jam these together. Tom (Innocenti) then shows me his riff idea’s then see where this takes us. After this we can then create a full song structure. Me and Tom (Innocenti) have been jamming together in different bands and projects together for almost 12 years aside from being our own worst critics we will push each other musically and have a shared understanding of what we want to achieve with a song. This means we conceptualize whilst we write the songs and riffs. So, we will imagine what the bass will be playing, what the drums are doing then make a rough recording of the song. Over time we review this recording, the song structure and depending on how we feel we might add different harmonies or layers to the tracks suggest a drum pattern then go over and adapt any parts as we feel then when it is finally rehearsed as a full band we can adapt anything. Recording wise the album was recorded at Leon Macey’s (Mithras) studio “Dreaming Studios” just outside of Coventry, UK. It took us roughly a year to record the album was which brilliant as we did not have to rush, and have any time limits to have the album done by so we could set out reasonable goals. We would rehearse a track at a time, then if there was any challenges that we had with timing or whatever with a song we would talk about it, improvise an idea or adaptation, rehearse it through once more then, once we were happy, record it and move on. We choose to work with Leon as we have worked alongside Leon with all of our recordings in the past.
Blessed Be My Brothers features Leon Macey of Mithras on drums, but also on recording, mixing, and mastering duty. Can you tell us a bit about doing all this in house? And also can you explain how Sarpanitum made the connection with Leon Macey and/or Mithras?
T.H: We met Leon many years ago as one of our previous drummers (Sean Broster) who played with us from around 2005 till 2011 also played live drums for Mithras at the time which led to us meeting Leon at one of there shows around 2005/2006 time and we remained in contact with him since. Prior to meeting Sean Brooster (previous drummer) we were (and are still ) huge fans of Mithras , so when we met Leon we had a lot in common with him. I still remember working as a domestic 11 years or so ago when I would clean the hospital toilets whilst I listened to Worlds Beyond the Veil on my portable CD player that skipped all the time hahaha. Infact I was very excited when Mithras auditioned for a live guitarist I tried out, got the part and got to play onstadge for Mithras at the SWR festival in Portugal 2010, which was an awesome experience! We wanted to work with Leon again because Leon has always understood our vision musically, the sound we want to achieve and has been able to bring this out in the music every time whilst getting the best results from us. Leon is genuinely enthusiastic about the music that we play. For a start we (Sarpanitum) have been huge fans of Mithras over the years and we also play the same sub-genre of music as Mithras so it would be illogical for us to record anywhere else really! Because Leon is such a fast and skilled drummer we were over the moon when Leon agreed to drum on the record because essentially we knew that we wanted him to drum on the album.
Is it difficult to reproduce your sound live? And, furthermore, do you think people “get” your music?
T.H: Not really, as long as we have a fast enough drummer there’s no issue with reproducing the sound live. We have tried drum machine in the beginning and another time which we found did not capture the ethic as much, so where we can, we avoid drum machines live. We have always played live with two guitarists, there might be the odd lead that doesn’t have the full counter harmony played live but it has seemed to cut through well live to fans of the genre. Musically I think if people are fans of brutal blackened death metal then they are often interested in our sound as we try and integrate atmosphere as much as we can into the tracks. I feel confident that fans of fast, atmospheric extreme metal, more notably death metal will “get” the music and also some people who are not generally fans of metal or extreme metal have enjoyed the music, although I am sure some metal fans would be a lot more content listening to less intense music.
What music does Sarpanitum listen to, both metal and otherwise?
T.H: Where do I start? My personal favoruite genres are death metal, blackened death metal, death doom, filmscore soundtracks, electronica, synth pop, classic heavy metal, black metal, space rock, trip hop and goth. Both myself and Tom (Innocenti) have always listened to so many genres of music outside of metal which is great because when we come back to listening to extreme metal we want to listen to something really unique that will really stick with us. Death Metal wise the favorites that I can’t get enough of tend to be certain albums from bands like Cryptopsy, Gorguts, Immolation, Morbid Angel, Lykathea Aflame, Zyklon, Infester, Nile, diSEMBOWELMENT, Impiety, Hour of Penance, Hacavitz, Vader, Lost Soul, Krisiun, Portal, Nader Sadek and Rebaelliun. Film score composers I listen to tend to be: James Horner, John Williams, Basil Poledouris, Brad Fiedel, Harry Gregson. Aside from these both myself and Tom (Innocenti) have listened to a lot of early guitar virtuoso’s and heavy metal like Tony Macalpine, Impellitteri, Cacophony, Jason Becker, Judas Priest, Danger Danger and the sort. I am a huge 80’s goth fan so I listen to The Fields of Nephilim, The Mission, The Sisters of Mercy and a lot of atmospheric music, renaissance choral and medieval folk such as Tallis Scholars, Dead Can dance and Estampie. Espically Tom (Innocenti) with renaissance choral who introduced me to The Tallis Scholars. Space rock like Hawkwind and Ozric Tentacles is something we listen to often in fact, both myself and Tom (Innocenti) are big fans of the “Ozrics” and have seem them live together whenever the opportunity has been available. In fact the majority of bands I have mentioned in the interview me and Tom (Innocenti) both listen to frequently. When I fancy something very different I listen to a lot of synth pop like A flock of seagulls, Ultravox and Berlin, electronica like Tangerine Dream and Zombi and modern synth wave like Mitch Murder, Power Glove, Miami Nights 1984, The Outrunners and so on. As I said earlier, when it comes to listening to music I like to stay varied with the expection of metal. If its not 80’s heavy metal or extreme metal I am not in the slightest bit interested.
To change the subject slightly, how do you view the current situation of metal in the world? Where do you see it going?
T.H: Metal I see as staying much the same. To be completely honest in recent years I predict there will be a larger push for artists to perform live because of the rise of accessible downloads which if in the form of a “torrent” may incline people to download music for free. In my opinion it is a brilliant thing for artists to share their music via online streaming but for the luxury of “owning” your own digital or physical copy of the music I know that I feel morally obliged to pay for it. I think that it is a great thing that people can instantly download and listen to and discover more artists but this has the potential to make people perhaps less considerate of the music that they already own. I know that for me the ritual of buying CD’s is really exciting, you work, save your wages and if you have enough money the next month you can buy as many CD’s as you can afford. You then look through the CD’s, admire the artwork, read the lyrics, the thanks lists and listen to the CD so much then put it on your shelf knowing that you can always come back to listen again whenever you want (i.e not when you only have an internet connection). With new music so readily and quickly accessible to download I think it can have the potential for people to not rediscover classic albums. To be honest I have found that if people genuinely crave and want to discover more music and have a certain taste for a genre, say “brutal blackened death metal” or “early 90’s grindcore with hardcore vocals” they will go and actively seek this out themselves. Otherwise, if people do not actively look out for new music people especially within the widened global “metal” scene they appear to me as being content in being complacent. Be this through listening to only who is on the front cover of whatever magazine, only who is headling the next “big metal festival”, only what all their friends are listening to, only listening to there friends bands and essentially, only what other people tell them to listen to. That is fine if you are that way inclined, I just see that as a big popularity contest rather than music which is something personal which you develop a real attachment to and something you enjoy and love. On the other hand the extreme metal scene I believe will always remain quite faithful to buying merchandise, CD’s, vinyl and so on. I think is because first of all in the Extreme metal scene people who continue to listen to extreme metal often actively seek out certain genres of music played at the best standard it can be and because people get so much enjoyment out of it, are so passionate about it they become in the truest sense, fanatical about the music. That to me is great. Not only that but also extreme metal artists are often continuing to expand the music. Extreme metal and music has always been very personal to me so regardless if what we play is more or less in demand I know it will always mean a lot to me.
Are there any albums that you heard recently that have really impressed you? Continuing with that idea, what is the band that you feel is most criminally underrated?
T.H: I recently bought a copy of “Embalmed” from Mexico and there album Exalt the Imperial Beast released probably around a couple of years ago. It is a great album full of atmosphere that just takes me away to somewhere very murky, and brutal hahaha! Very bestial which is great because ,Tom (Innocenti) and I are very much into both bestial death metal bands but also a lot of the more blackened death metal bands from South America and Asia. I think that a lot of the extreme blackened death metal bands from South America and Asia just totally get it right. The latest Gorguts album is a great album, I also bought a copy of the latest Ulcerate album late last year although the sad part is I have not had the chance to listen to it yet. I want to savour listening to it until I get the CD back as it is still in the midlands and I since moved away to Devon so have yet to recover it. I am sure though it will be a great record. I still really enjoy listening to the last two albums, especially The Destroyers of All. I am also really looking forward to hearing the next “Abysmal Torment” and “Hour of Penance” record; in fact I saw Hour of Penance play a great show a few days ago. One band for me that are a real favourite and in my eyes criminally underrated is “Hacavitz” from Mexico. I discovered them when they released Venganza. That record and Metztli Obscura are for me a great source of influence for blackened death metal.
One last question. What can listeners expect in the future from Sarpanitum?
T.H: We are aiming to release our next album Blessed Be My Brothers before the end of this year and once we have decided on how to release the album we will announce this on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/sarpanitum so be sure to stay up to date that way. If we are fortunate enough to find a suitable live drummer we will look into doing some shows although this is a goal for the future. We have already started writing material for our third album, but one thing at a time hahaha! At present we are mainly focused on getting the album released along with some t-shirts for Blessed Be My Brothers and from our previous e.p Fidelium. We hope to make big announcements shortly so be sure to stay tuned!
As Tom(s) stated, be sure to stay tuned. We at TDM will keep you updated with any news or release data, as Blessed Be My Brothers promises to be one of the most interesting records of 2014. Aside from right here, you can keep up with Sarpanitum at:
Author: Witness to the Void