Please introduce us to Symbel.
Hails, thanks for the interview Ramon. Symbel is the Dark-Age Heathen Metal act of Sceot Arcwielder from England. It has been in existence for a little over 18 months. It is a studio based act, with good quality underground heathen metal releases as its aim. The project arose from a personal desire to hear atmospheric, dark, yet uplifting extreme metal that inspired visions of the English dark ages, swords, runes and heroic times. Pagan / Folk / Heathen metal has for too long been seen as a joke by many and I knew that there were people who wanted to hear more credible acts within the genre. Symbels first release…'We drink, Hymns and Counsel of AngloSaxon Heathenry' is a concept album based on the philosophies of the AngloSaxons, and how they affect those of us who consider ourselves Heathens. It is a journey into the dark ages of AngloSaxon England – a time of war, allegiances to ones tribe and ones land and blood. It has been a derogatory term for some time, and now in a few countries it is being reclaimed as something positive.If you are inspired by any of this, then perhaps you will find this album to your liking.
Are any previous releases still available?
No, Symbel is a very new project. There are lots of rough recordings of other songs, some of them quite atmospheric but they probably won't see the light of day as a commercial release. Better to wait for the next CD.
How did you get in contact with Angelisc Enterprises?
A friend posted me a compilation tape with a FOREFATHER track on it, about the time I had written half of the album. They were unknown to me at that time, but that track really stood out and although Forefather's music was different to SYMBEL the spirit was very similar. Out of interest I searched the net for Forefather and read about ANGELISC ENTERPRISES and how they had considered releasing other bands work. It seemed perfect to me. I emailed them a couple of sample mp3s and Wulfstan replied within the hour showing genuine interest. And of course the rest is history.
It seems there is a slight punk influence in your music. What influenced you, music wise?
Each song on this album sounds different, but all together the CD sounds like the dark ages of England, that's what I wanted to do and I think I have achieved it. Lots of bands mix styles clumsily, but in this case I think it has worked just fine. Otherwise, I wouldn't have released it. Ok you want to know what I have listened to? The bands that I have played a lot over the last few years would be Celtic Frost, early Hawkwind, Deicide, early Neurosis, Electric Wizard, Burning Witch, lots of the early Black Metal but in particular Darkthrone, Isengard, Burzum, Immortal, Ved Buens Ende and some lofi guitar bands such as early Slint. What I am listening to this week is Isis, High On Fire, Opeth, Frozen Shadows. I don't know if any of this is helpful because I don't think that Symbel sounds like any one of these bands. The album came from the heart so to speak. Punk? Some of the songs are drinking songs that you can quite easily sing on the bus or in your car, and they are simple in structure, just like original punk was. It could be said that I had 'punk' roots from an early age, in the sense that Siege, Disorder, Doom, Cryptic Slaughter, Crude SS, Heresy, Antisect and early Napalm Death were 'punk'. It is an often misunderstood term, particularly with modern MTV definitions. Yes I learned to play guitar and drums in hardcore punk bands. Its influence on metal ( and vice versa ) is often underestimated. Many people from these very bands are now into the underground metal scene. The darkness and venom of the two genres are quite similar, and extreme metal was a very logical progression from dark hardcore punk. I don't have a problem liking both genres. Punk vocals sound very raw and real, whilst extreme metal for the most part in latter years has been about disguising vocals to sound inhuman. I can see it playing a larger part in metal again actually, particularly in the many divisions of Black Metal. In measured doses there is something very refreshing about hearing raw shouting.
'We Drink” is released on CD. What about vinyl, what is your stand on this format?
Ha ha! As I write there are three shelves sagging with the weight of 800 vinyl albums right above my head. One day they will drop on me and kill me. Vinyl is great for DJing. Other than that I have no particular opinion. If you are asking whether I would be happy to see Symbel released on vinyl, then yes, I would like that. The last vinyl release I bought was Supercoven by Electric Wizard. It skips halfway through and I have to get up and nudge it on. Most of my records are scratched too, and sound rubbish, but then again I've also worn out a few cds.
Heathenism as a term is used today to cover many different views. How do you perceive it?
Heathenism to me means the mindset of the pre-christian people of England and many other European countries. It is about an identity lost to the masses, yet is so obviously right in front of their faces. It is unique in the form I understand it, because it is about defining oneself by celebrating what one is, rather than the definition of oneself by condemning everything one is not. If there is a battle it is a battle for control of our own minds. That is the contemporary path of the heathen warrior as I see it. The core idealogies are respect for oneself, respect for those who deserve it ( irrespective of class or culture ), self reliance, a sense of humour in the face of adversity, honesty and family. I would also argue that these qualities have not really vanished from the minds of most ordinary people. It has though been subtly denied the chance to evolve as it would have done by Christian interference, and so its resurrection by many is based heavily on 'the golden age'. I do actually believe that life was more honourable in this time and in many ways yearn for it, but with an important difference. I see the journeys into the past as a way of learning where our philosophies should be today. Many may ask, why go back to Anglo-Saxon times? (the period after the total retreat of the Romans in 449 AD up until the Norman invasion of 1066). Well for me that is the last period in history in which I feel a pride and a connection. By piecing together the philosophy of my forbears, I can imagine where I should be now. There is much we can learn from the past, but it is not where we belong. That is defeatist. I am heathen and I am here now in this society. I am an English man with a past and future. I like extreme metal, seeing bands and drinking beer. Other people don't. I may not be interested in their music and culture but I respect their wish to be different to me. It would be a very boring world if we all liked the same things. Yes, there are many views associated with the term Heathen. There is an increasing use of the word Heathenism to convey fascist idealogies. I have read their arguments and justifications, but remain uninterested.
Do you think there is still place for belief in today's society?
I think you should live your life like it has meaning, yes. The song 'The Willing Suspension of Disbelief' is about the overcoming of the fear of placing belief in something unmeasurable, for example Heathen 'gods'. Faith in 'the gods' is ultimately faith in yourself in the context of your own existence in the land to which you belong. You grow up, have children, teach them well, live honourably and do what you think is right, make lots of friends, you die, your children bury you, and you live on in their memories and so on. Whatever you do, you do the best you can. It is what people have done all over the world, from the dawn of time, just like our ancestors did.
What drew you towards your past, your ancestors and their beliefs?
I've never had to answer this question before. It has been a gradual feeling for the last few years. I can't really say what made me start reading and studying archaeology, but that certainly set me on the path to questioning the pagan books on Wicca etc that I had read. I think what clinched it was this - meeting other people on my travels who have pride in their own race and culture, I saw something lacking in my own. The world is a very interesting place – I have met people from many countries, and life is pretty much the same for all of them. A friend from Quebec once said that being English means nothing, because you have no culture left. I saw what she meant. I would guess that many Northern Europeans feel the same, and this loss of identity explains the rise of Heathenism. If we are to survive as a race or culture with its own identity (other than being the slave state of globalised US capitalism) then something needs to change. We must reclaim our identities alongside all honourable peoples of the world. And that change starts with individuals with no identity other than clinging to the remnants of the Christian British empire redefining themselves by looking at their distant pasts.
Inside the lyrics you speak of rituals. Would you tell more about your personal experiences?
The rituals that are contained within the lyrics are well documented historically. The Symbel itself is an AngloSaxon drinking rite whereby the participants placed themselves in the flow of fate that had been begun by their forbears. They would then announce their intentions with the ancestors and gods as witnesses. There are some heathen groups that do these Symbels regularly, but I think it is just as well to do this with one or two friends. Theoretically Symbel could be performed alone, although no one could challenge your boast. Shamanism is the philosophy of Woden. Those who would follow him learn the hard way if they are expecting a friendly replacement for the christian god. Heathenism is a balanced philosophy where real deeds and actions within the flow of fate are what counts. Personally I do things that strengthen my link with the dark ages, they are not particuarly mysterious things, and there is little point in me describing them here – interested people need to try and see what works for them. I may spend months thinking of little else but the lore, as was the case with the recording of the SymbeL CD. The I may do nothing for a few weeks. Our lives are full of phases. The recording of the Symbel cd was a ritual in itself, and at times was either magical or even scary, but most importantly it felt right to me. Chanting shamanically is very effective, and there is a lot of that that I didn't put on the Symbel CD. We all do rituals. The meaning is always personal, but the rituals I may do are specific to English Anglo-Saxon Heathenism, as our ancestors would have done. Dressing up in war gear is a ritual. Drinking from a mead horn is a ritual. Whatever, doing it yourself is important, not following instructions from a book. The world is full of dishonourable people who will happily show 'the way' to those who are searching for 'something'.
Do you have any other activities/interests you would like to speak about?
Those of you lucky enough to own a copy of the CD will have seen a picture of a home made sword on the inlay. This is in the true spirit of heathenism, self reliance. Why would you want to buy a fancy sword when you can make one yourself? Learn how to weld metal. Get a friend and meet them in a remote woodland for a fight. This is a fine ritual that I sincerely recommmend. Strange things will happen, believe me.
Forefather are kings of English Heathen Metal, Symbel is a good runner up. Are there more bands that should be taken notice of?
I thank you for your good taste! Yes Forefather must surely have been the first to lay claim to this throne, although I hope by the actions of our two bands we will inspire others to follow in our shadows. Other English bands? Maybe Forefather could help you with this question as they distribute lots of underground releases. In England we have of course BAL SAGOTH, who are obviously pagan-heathen influenced but in an escapist fantasy way. THE MEADS OF ASPHODEL are an intriguing band – I haven't heard enough of their music to form an opinion but they certainly deserve respect for their insanity, plus Huw Lloyd Langton from Hawkwind is amongst their ranks. Notable bands with cd releases from my home town are ANAAL NATHRAKK, MISTRESS and FROST. I don't know of any other bands who would fit the genre other than a project I am working on with an acquaintance, Dagfari Wartooth. We have almost finished recording an album of 'Pure English Heathen War Doom'. The emphasis is on drunk, heavy and chaotic. Wartooth comes up with most of the tunes on his distorted bass, evil vocals and lyrics, and I play drums, put guitars over the top, and add my range of vocals as appropriate. It has been most refreshing working with someone with different ideas to me melodically, but I have also put a lot of effort into the musical arrangements to make the songs work, so those of you who like SYMBEL may enjoy this also. I can tell you now that it will be a good release. We are using a working title of BRETWALDAS ( a name for the Anglosaxon tribal kings, many of whom were staunch pagans ), so look out for it in the summer of 2003.
What can we expect for the future?
Well as I just said BRETWALDAS will be out soon in either a CDR released by ourselves or professional release depending on label interest. I want to have the second SYMBEL CD finished in late 2003. Four potential songs are already written. Maybe even other musicians will be involved with it, we'll see what happens. The slowest part of the first release was crafting the unique sound, what with problems with old equipment and a slow PC. Symbel has since upgraded its digital recording equipment. Production and performance wise it will be much easier this time around, and you can expect a good cd.
Any last words for this interview?
Thanks again and mighty Heathen Hails from England to you and all your readers. Get in touch with Angelisc Enterprises if you want to either buy it or distribute it. Check out the main webpage at www.metalprovider.com/symbel. Hails to my family and friends and all those who have bought the CD. Hails to all of your readers in Holland. I lived their for a year once.
Yes. I lived there in 1991 in Hillegom and Bennebroek which is by the bulb packing factories. Myself and a friend had finished school, we were bored and so we hitchhiked (autostop) to Amsterdam. I worked 60 hours a week with itchy hyacinth bulbs, and lived in a truck. It was a very interesting experience to work with the Dutch bulb farmers! Of course they thought that we were stupid to work there, but we just wanted to see a bit more of the world. The main town I went to was Haarlem and of course Amsterdam. I saw a few bands but most of them were punk bands, I think one famous Dutch band was called BOBWIRE. We talked to them a lot. Yes the Dutch are great people, and very tolerant of scruffy youngsters like myself.
Any likes or dislikes about our little country?
What did I like best? Well, of course you have lots of nice things to smoke which suited me at the time (although I don't smoke now), the fries with mayonnaise and peanut butter, Vanilla Vla, the bicycles without brakes, and the countryside is very similar to where I grew up (East Anglia in England, which is also very flat and below sea level). And, I got very good at table football. Any dislikes? No not really, other than the flower bulbs.