1989 May – Metal Forces 39 – Interview

On the eve of the release of their second album, “Dreamweaver (Reflections of Our
Yesterdays)”, Garry Sharpe talks to Sabbat’s Martin Walkyier and Andy Sneap.

The band are about to unleash the follow up to the high profile success of their “History of a Time to Come” debut. The damn (damned?) thing found its way into over 50,000 happy thrashers abodes and successfully launched SABBAT onto the top rung of the British speed metal ladder.

Now, anyone who knows me will confirm that thrash/speed metal isn’t exactly my favorite, but Derbyshire’s SABBAT gleefully break the rules and thus force themselves head and shoulders above the rest the pack. SABBAT, in my view, are blessed with a creativity and drive that can only win my outmost admiration. I was the first journalist ever to put pen to paper in praise of this band and believe me it’s extremely gratifying to see that diehard STATUS QUO fanatic (Andy Sneap as he appeared at the time) who thrust a glaucous cassette into my hand with the command “Listen to this” before turning tail blossom into a worldwide power act. At the time I likened Martin’s vocals to a hippie being violently sick underwater. Having had no comeback on that description thus far, I take it the man took is as a compliment!

Obvious question first. What have you got to tell us about your new album, “Dreamweaver (Reflections of our Yesterdays)”? “It’s a concept album,” Martin takes up. “It’s based on a book called ‘The Way of Wyrd’ by an American author named Brian Bates. It’s about a Christian missionary in the North of England who, a thousand years ago, is sent down to the South of England to learn about the pagan ways and in doing so determine the best way in which they can convert the pagans to Christianity. Having taken on this mission, he travels down south expecting to find a guide waiting for him. The first night in the wood, where this meeting is to take place, no one turns up and he’s left there on his own.
That night he has a nightmare and that’s when the story really begins.”

I can recall talking to you at the beginning of last year when you had just started to read “The Way of Wyrd”. I can remember you enthusing about it then. So how long has this concept been on the boil? “About a year,” says Martin. “As soon as I’d read the book I knew it would come out in some form of our music.”

“Originally we were going to spread the concept over one side,” adds Andy. Have you had to fit any songs into the concept? “No. They were all written with the concept in mind,” answers Andy again.

I think it would be a good idea to talk us through all of the songs. “First track, side one is ‘The Clerical Conspiracy’,” states the singer. “That deals with the monks in the abbey deciding who they’re going to send on the quest. The next track is ‘Advent of Insanity’ where the missionary departs for the South by ship and as he’s sailing along he’s thinking about was he’s undertaken and wondering if he’s equal to the task that has been set for him. Seeds of doubt are sown in his mind. Third track is ‘Do Dark Horses Dream of Nightmares?’ and this is where he arrives in search of his guide in the woods. It also deals with his bad dream where the spirits come to him and in effect they’re checking him out to find out how he’s going to use the information he gathers.”

In relation to the album concept, what exactly is this information going to be used for? “The spirits try to work out whether he is trying to destroy the old Gods,” Martin explains. “The story asks if he is trying to impose the new religion upon them. The next track is ‘The Best of Enemies’ where he finally meets his guide the following morning. The guide who’s name is Wolf, tells him of the pagan ways and starts to rebuke the ideas of the missionary. He asks ‘By what right do you come here to impose a new faith upon people who have been living like this for thousands of years?’ There’s now a questioning, why do Christians want to change the ways of nature and the way people live in this part of the world? In this song the guide tells him if he really wants to learn then he can’t just tell him about the spirits and the spirit world, he has to encounter that for himself and has to meet the spirits face to face. He says that the spirits will give him all the knowledge he wants, but only if he has the conviction to go through with it. He has to actually risk his own death in meeting the spirits, that’s the end of side one.”

And side two… “‘How the Mighty Have Fallen’ is the opening track on this side,” Martin continues. “This track is basically the spirits having a good moan about how they’ve been forgotten and that they know that they are about to be replaced. Their days are numbered but they won’t go down without a fight. This is also where the priest first encounters the spirits. The next track is ‘Wildfire’ which we’ve been playing live for quite some time now.”

“‘Wildfire’ is when the priest journeys to the spirit world. The next one is ‘Mythistory’. The guide tells him of the preparations he must undergo to meet the spirits, but he deviates from what he’s been told and the spirits come too soon, stealing his soul. He has two days in which to recover his soul or his lifeforce will ebb out. In fact, he journeys to the spirit world before he is ready to do so. In ‘Mythistory’ he encounters his own soul which is a woman. He doesn’t know that he has met his own soul and tells the woman he has come to learn the way of the wyrd and the power of nature. She tells him to look no further for she is his soul and on returning to the material world he’ll know anything he wanted to know.”

“The last song is a short one called ‘Happy Never After’ which is a basic conclusion to the story. At the end the priest decides not go back North but instead to travel and learn about the pagan ways.”

Do you find lyrics are always the last thing to get finished on the album? “It always is,” Andy tells me. “I get the music together with the rest of the band and then Martin has to fit lyrics to it.”

“I’ve tried different ways of working,” offers Martin. “The best way though is to sit on my own with two packets of fags and write.”

Who would you say is the main musical force behind SABBAT? “Me definitely,” states Andy. “I write all the music although Simon (Jones) has written the odd riff for the album. I organize all the arrangements and song structures.”

Now, Simon used to be in HOLOSADE. How did you come to choose him as second guitarist? “We didn’t actually get many tapes through”, says Andy surprisingly. “A lot of them were your usual bedroom type guitarists and so hadn’t got much idea of gigging. Simon seemed to have enough experience on the live front as well as having done an album with HOLOSADE, so he was familiar with the studio as well. He’s also a very tight player. On top of all that he’s from up north as well, so he has the same sense of humour!”

So what you’re saying is you didn’t want any southerners? “Er… not really,” Andy admits. “Nothing against them, but it just seems a totally different way of life to us.”

Richard Scott from NO EXCUSE played with you on the tour and I believe you asked him to join at one stage? “Yeah. Richard was OK, but looking back on it now, he didn’t really fit in. He’s a great guitarist, he can play anything from VAN HALEN to thrash. Very versatile. It came about because we were doing two radio broadcasts in Holland and so we needed a second guitar to make the sound a lot thicker.”

Your first album was a great success. Did Noise anticipate this? “No,” laughs Andy. “We know that because at first they said there would be no compact disc and after about two weeks of its release it did around 20,000 straight away and lo and behold a CD popped through my letterbox. It did a lot better than everyone anticipated.”

How has the album sold up to this point? “We think it’s done about 50,000,” Martin informs me. “Although we’ve had no definite statements yet. From what Noise have told us the first shipment to America was 20,000, we sold 10,000 in Britain and the rest in Europe.”

Producer Roy Rowland has been sitting patiently throughout this interrogation, so I think it’s time to exercise his vocal chords. I asked him what he first thought of SABBAT and what were they like to work with? “It was very refreshing because it’s very rare that I come across something that is entirely different. A lot of musicians, in some respect, do tend to try to put something across in their music that you’ve heard once or twice before. SABBAT were completely original sentiment. I found it very creative working with them. For that reason I’m looking forward to the new album very much because it’s a definite progression from the last one.”

Why the change from Horus Studios to Skytrax to record the new album? “You mean Horror-sound Studios,” jokes Andy. “Er… because it was shit basically. It’s true. The old desk in there tended to turn into a microphone at times. The acoustics aren’t too brilliant in the mixing room. Noise own Skytrax so it’s a lot cheaper and a much better studio.”

“What’s also nice about the Noise studio is that they’re very open to the individual requirements of their own bands so you can create the right kind of atmosphere in there,” adds Roy.

“What he’s trying to say is that we can get the drugs in,” beams Andy.

Noise Records seem to be giving their bands a lot more commitment than a lot of independents. “Yeah,” agrees Andy. “Noise are very good at building a band up from small beginnings. We had an advantage because we’d got our name around in the underground already, which some of the Noise bands don’t have. I think the success they’ve had with HELLOWEEN has helped them in finding out what ways and directions they should push a band in.”

As a band on your first tour, what exactly did you discover about touring? “How bad everyone can smell,” says Martin in all seriousness. “How annoying Germans can be,” adds Andy with as much conviction.

“We all managed to get on with each other surprisingly well”, the guitarist continues. “There wasn’t one argument really, except when Simon spat the gherkins in Martin’s bed. One of the worst things was discovering how bad our bass player feet can smell. We played with RAGE and RISK in Europe and when watching those bands it struck us how solid we are. They hadn’t been going with the present line-ups as long as we had. With RAGE you’ve got three people at different musical levels and RISK… well, better not say anything about them. No, only kidding. RISK are very good, but they have a massive disadvantage in that their singer doesn’t speak English.”

How did you find the audience differed across Europe? “In Holland they were brilliant,” Martin enthuses. “I think that was because we’d done the Dynamo earlier in the year so we’ve got a good following there. Germany was a bit strange, but I don’t think that was down to us, more the bands we were touring with. The other acts were both German and so they were the bands aimed at bringing the crowd in and some of the attendances weren’t too good. Switzerland was good, Luxembourg has some great people, the club we played at had their last band their in 1981 which were MOTÖRHEAD. It was weird for us, a small English band, to have people coming up to you and shaking your hand saying ‘You’re English, you’re rockstars, you know Lemmy?’ We were going ‘No, no’, they must think England is a town or something. Everyone was really friendly, that was such a welcome. A lot of the German crowds were very complacent. They get a lot of very good bands playing there. They’re probably a bit spoilt for choice.”

“Spain was very smelly,” interjects Andy. “Fucking hell. I think it’s down to their great sewage system. The crowds were very enthusiastic, but that’s all I have got to say about Spaniards.”

“The venue was an old slaughterhouse,” Martin elaborates. “We even had a police escort to the stage. The inhouse P.A. you wouldn’t believe, the guy must have been deaf.”

“The German part of the tour was the most monotonous,” moans Andy. “It was nineteen days in all and it was if you were playing to the same crowd. You could even pick out the same faces. Y’know, blond hair, blond eyes, leather mac…”

I wondered if SABBAT thought that the ‘Dinosaur bands’ had now been effectively replaced? Andy for one thinks they have. “Definitely. It’s getting back to its roots as the older bands become a lot more commercial, thrash is nearer to how metal started out. I see it as a progression.”

Would you say that the good speed metal bands have actually evolved into straight metal bands in order to survive? “It’s a progression that all bands go through. It’s musicians maturing. For example, on the third album there may well be a few songs without solos because solos strike me as the least important part of a song. We’ve certainly matured over two albums, we now arrange songs better and we play a lot better. I think the thrash bands do tend to take a bit too much influence from punk. I started out listening to JUDAS PRIEST and AC/DC. Martin was well into old hippy stuff like STEVE HILLAGE. I think those influences stick with you and make your music a little diverse.”

SABBAT are certainly “a little more diverse” as Andy puts it. Here’s hoping they can retain their integrity and character as they develop further. SABBAT could well develop into a true worldwide metal act and their second album, released by Noise on May 15th, should provide a useful stepping stone.