This is the first interview for Sympathy here at Lords Of Metal. So could you please tell us more about Dharok and Sympathy? I understood that it all started as a one-man band, and meanwhile the new album 'Anagogic Tyranny' is already your third full length album. What happened so far?
Sympathy actually started as a five-piece band in the early nineties, but it got smaller and smaller as members left and lost interest. By 1995 I was the only person left. But in 2000 I wanted to get Sympathy going again, so I started writing music. After I had written an album's worth of music, I was able to get a record deal with Fear Dark Records from The Netherlands. After doing two albums with Fear Dark on my own, I was able to find two more players. There were two holes in Sympathy. I needed a drummer, because I had been programming the drums. And I needed a lead guitarist. Now there are three of us working together and I am quite happy about that.
On the latest release you are joined on drums by Jim Austin from Into Eternity and guitar player Jeff Lewis from Abolishment Of Hate and Mortification. How did these guys become involved and isn't it very hard to combine working for all those bands?
Jim left Into Eternity about three years ago. The band was getting really serious and was on the road all the time, and since he has a family and career to worry about, he felt it was best if he stepped down. If he was still part of Into Eternity, he wouldn't have time to be part of Sympathy. In a way, it was to my benefit that he decided to quit. And Jeff does not play in Mortification any more either. He was a big part of that band for the 'Relentless' album, but he quit soon after that. Mortification is based in Australia, and Jeff is a Canadian. He was a long way from home, unable to work, and not making any money in Mortification. So I guess you could say that both Jim and Jeff were “free agents” when I contacted them.
Now let's talk music. The new album 'Anagogic Tyranny' turns out to be a very strong and diverse death metal album. The songs are very interesting, there is a lot of variation (even atmospheric synthesizers and some choirs are used in the tracks) and the band plays really tight. But how did you develop these songs? Do you use a special manner of song writing?
Jeff wrote four of the songs, and I am not really sure what his process is. I think that his songs sound very different than mine. You can really hear the thrash influence in his writing. It's a little bit like Testament. What I do is come up with an idea for a topic for a song. Then I try to write melodies that fit that topic. The very last thing I do is write the lyrics. I want to make sure that the instruments are interesting enough to listen to by themselves. That tends to make my songs very complex and busy sounding. But that's what I like to do.
And what about influences? I would say that you guys listened a lot to Morbid Angel. Am I right?
For me, definitely. But only the old stuff between 'Altars Of Madness' and 'Domination'. I really like death metal from that time. I would also say that Carcass and Suffocation are big influences on me. I think that Jeff would say that his biggest influences are Cannibal Corpse and Testament. Jim would probably say that Dream Theater and Death are his two biggest influences.
And what can you tell us about the lyrics? Phrases like “To be reborn we must murder ourselves” and “The meek shall inherit the earth” ask for some explaining. What is the overall theme on the album? What inspired you lyric wise?
My biggest influence over the last few years has been a series of novels written by a Canadian author named R. Scott Bakker. His stories are very complex and full of meaning. When I was writing the lyrics for Anagogic Tyranny, I was trying to express what the characters in Bakker's books were experiencing and relating it to my own life. I highly recommend reading Bakker's books. They are difficult, violent, and dark. But they are very rewarding.
'Anagogic Tyranny' has got a very clear and powerful sound. Is it correct that you recorded the album by yourself? Wasn't this hard? I mean, doesn't that distract you too much from the actual recording of the song?
I indeed did all the mixing and most of the recording myself. And yes, it was hard. The only time that we paid for a studio was when we had to record the drums. To do that well, you need to have good microphones and a good drum room so I couldn't have done that where I live. But other than that, I recorded all the guitars, bass and vocals in my studio. Mixing took a long time, because like you say, it is easy to get distracted by the technical side of things and neglect the music. I also made a few mistakes along the way, but in the end I am satisfied with the result. Next time will be better because I have learned from what I did this time. Also, I would like to mention that since I am a big fan of death metal from 1990-1996 period, I tried to make 'Anagogic Tyranny' sound like it was from that era. We didn't use samples for the drums, and we didn't go crazy using special computer gadgets to make it sound modern. We tried to make it sound vintage 1995, right in the era when all the best death metal albums were being recorded.
The music and the lyrics seem to be also in line with the artwork. What can you tell us about the concept of the CD booklet?
Well, the artwork is based upon an idea that I got from R. Scott Bakker's books. Without giving too much away, I would say that the overall theme in the lyrics and artwork is that there are some people in the world who like to control others, and they do that by oppressing them with “anagoges”, or spiritual stories and lessons. The very first song 'Insurrection' is about no longer submitting to those oppressors and about being more concerned with truth than with being “normal” and fitting in.
This next question may sound a bit silly, but I still want to know why your band is named Sympathy. Isn't this name too soft for a brutal death metal band?
Not a silly question at all. I have two answers. First, brutal names have always sounded silly to me. They make me laugh and I find it hard to take the bands seriously. And second, I took the name Sympathy from a book written by the composer Richard Wagner. I have always liked Wagner, and when I found this quote, the name Sympathy seemed to make a lot of sense. This is what Wagner said, it's quite poetic: “The dreamlike nature of the state into which we thus are plunged through sympathetic hearing and wherein there dawns on us that other world, that world from whence the musician speaks to us. We recognize at once from an experience at the door of every man: namely, that our eyesight is paralyzed to such a degree by the effect of music upon us, that with eyes wide open we no longer intensively see." The reference to "sympathetic hearing" is where I got the name Sympathy.
I also wonder how you will play these well packed songs live? Sympathy has got only three members. Will you use session players or perhaps some music on CD during a live show?
We do have other players lined up for if and when we play live. I wouldn't be able to do both vocals and play guitar, so we have another guitarist who would play. And we also have a bassist ready to step in. They are both experienced players with a lot of gigging under their belts.
And is there a change to see the band in Europe this year?
If we get an invitation, it would be VERY hard to turn it down!
Sympathy is hailing from Canada. How is the metal scene over there at the moment? Do you have enough gigs to play? Are there some other interesting Canadian bands that we should check out?
I have stopped paying attention to the Canadian scene in the last few years. I have lived in both Toronto and London, Ontario, and there is basically no local scene compared to what I would expect. There are a lot of fans, but there are very few bands and even fewer good bands. I would suggest keeping your ears open for a new album from Sacrifice though. I have heard they are recording again. That would be amazing. In Western Canada, where I grew up, there is a lot more going on. I would suggest checking out Into Eternity. Their first record deal was with a Dutch label called DVS, and I really liked their early material when Jim was their drummer.
Okay, that's it for me. I wish you all the best for 'Anagogic Tyranny' and do you perhaps have some final last words for our readers?
I would like to say hello to the guys at Fear Dark. If they get a chance to read this, I would like them to know that I very much appreciated working with them.