Arkham Witch masters of metal storytelling are a band of doom loving purveyors of traditional heavy metal. They encompass all that is beloved about our genre and mold it into one unstoppable force and spew it out in mammoth proportions, encapsulating the very essence of heaviness.
How long have the band been together and could you tell us a bit about the early days and the formation of the band, how did you all meet and was it difficult to find like minded individuals?
We have been together as a band since around 2010 – in the early days the band was an offshoot from The Lamp of Thoth in a bid to place some extra songs we wanted to record. It was just me and Emily in the beginning. We released a demo which was very well recieved and after the good reception decided to become a proper band.
It wasn’t difficult to find like minded individuals – we just headed down the pub and recruited two of our mates – Mr Aldo ‘Dodo’ Delle Rose and John Demaine respectively! A couple of beers and a kebab secured their services and after a few rehearsals and a few gigs – we set off to the studio to record our debut album On Crom’s Mountain for Barbarian Wrath Records.
In the very early days – myself, Aldo and John had all been in bands together – playing tradional heavy metal and thrash and doom to indifferent audiences – but then the internet came to West Yorkshire and a whole vista of opportunity opened up before us – people started to actually like what we were doing and we were getting attention from like minded people. So it was a no brainer to be in a band together and to just carry on what we had been doing for years – this time with appreciation and interest from around the world. John Demaine has since left the band but we have two more friends who have since joined us on our merry crusade – Jay on bass and John on guitar.
What's the origin of the name 'Arkham Witch'?
It is from the ficticious New England town which H. P. Lovecraft invented – witch-haunted Arkham. The actual Arkham Witch is one Keziah Mason from his story Dreams in the Witch House – I liked the name because it was a nod to one of my favourite writers and also a nod to the tradition of metal bands with the suffix ‘Witch’
What were your influences staring out, did you all find common ground within the music and do you think their are any influeneces which fans may find suprising?
Influences starting out in the very beginning were the underground and underated bands I discovered in the early to mid ninties when I reaslised that the mainstream magazines and media were just pedalling trends and that even though traditional heavy metal and doom seemed so unfashionable and so uncool – many of the underground bands had stuck to their guns and continued to make great albums that weren’t trying to do anything ‘new’ that wasn’t outside the confines of their chosen musical forms. I think a lot of the big bands at that time seemed to run out of steam trying to keep up with the trends but the whole uk doom scene was rising up, bands like Cathedral, Electric Wizard and Orange Goblin. Then I got into the American stuff, I started listening to Saint Vitus, The Obsessed, Pentagram, Cirith Ungol, Witchfinder General, Manilla Road – Aldo introduced me to Trouble’s first two albums – I found the great bands on Hellhound Records, Iron Man, Count Raven and Revelation. By 2000ish myself and Aldo were in a band called Ironstorm and were trying to incorporate all these influences into it, along with Aldo’s love of thrash metal. A few Arkham and Thoth songs are from that era. Now that we are a 5 piece band again there is a whole range of metallic influences from Death Metal to ZZ Top!
What inspires the music and lyrics, I know you delve into a lot of local folklore which may not be common knowledge to the general public, a secret history of England if you will for example, 'An Oath Sworn on the Ashlar Stone’ and ‘David Lund’. Could you tell us about the origins of these tales as I always find one of the compelling aspects of good metal has always been the lyrical content and storytelling which metal gets very little credit for. In fact I have probably learnt more history from listening to metal than I ever have from school?
Well it’s just inspired from local history really – the idea that whereever you live it is the centre of the universe and the omphalos of creation because that is where you are – each individual is a microcosm to the macrocosm! Lovecraft himself did it – all his tales of comsic horror and alien civilisations are routed in his own locality - The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath being one of the best examples of this idea – in the end the fabled sunset city Carter is questing for is the Boston of Carter’s youth. In most fantasy the landscape is a character itself and think in some of our songs (especially the early Thoth stuff) West Yorkshire looms large.
The lyrics to An Oath Sworn on the Ashlar Stone is not really historical in any sense but more of a conflation of history and myth. It was inspired by the Hitching Stone – a big boulder brought into geological solitude upon Keighley Moor and marked out as an omphalos by the slow machinations of the last ice age. It sits upon the crest of a hill and marks out not only the border of three wapentakes, but also the border betwen Yorkshire and Lancashire. It has a tube like hole that runs into it where a fossilsed tree used to be,and was once the site of a Lammas Fair. It’s easy to imagine what such an imposing edifice would mean to the occult imagination and how druids, witches and masonic neophytes would gravitate towards it, which is what that song is about.
David Lund is a more historically accurate song. He was a local astrologer and Rosicrucian who was at one time the Secretary for a mysterious Keighley based society known as The Fathers of the Rosy Cross and also The Dew and the Light, who produced an occult magazine called ‘The Lamp of Thoth’. The song is a detail in verse of his argument in the pages of the Theosophical magazine ‘Lucifer’ with Westcott and Mathers of The Golden Dawn who were trying to discredit The Keighley Father’s as charlatans and black magicians in order to promote their own fledgling organisation. Not only does West Yorkshire have an abundance of pagan monoliths and standing stones but also a strong occult history! Fertile ground for metal songs!
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Are their any other folk takes in your discography which are so obsure as to be unknown even by your most dedicated fans?
Probably one from the Thoth days which was only released as a demo on a tape that came with the diehard edtion of the first album. It is called On the Hill of the Beltane Fires and is a song about Baildon Moor, specifically the etymology of the name, which some scholars think is derived from the Baal of Phoenician worship. It’s all about a druidic sacrifice at Beltane!
Of course there is also the reoccurring references to Lovecraft in your songs. What keeps you coming back to him for lyrical inspiration?
I think it is the same reason that anyone still reads him now in the 21st century – he was a true original and a visionary and I am glad now that he is getting the recognition he deserves. Like any great writer his work is open to a myriad of different interpretations and explorations, and upon re-reading him I always find something new, or something old that sparks off a bout of songwriting.
Having said that, the idea behind I am Providence was to expunge this influence for a while – and to take the concept of Arkham Witch to it’s logical conclusion. The original idea for the album was a cd with 70 minutes of music all focused on the stories and concepts of Lovecraft – then we would leave the old gent alone for a while. But don’t worry – we still have a few Lovecraft inspired ditties up our sleeves!
What has been your biggest challenge as a band?
I think our biggest challenge has been trying to stay active in the face of everyday life. Last year we only played one gig due to various reasons, so in 2017 we want to play as many gigs as we can and get as tight as we can!
What do you think about online music sharing, do you think it's a case of 80's tape trading on a larger scale or does it do more harm than good?
I think that if the underground metal fans were like the ordinary everyday consumer then it would be a big problem. But most of the fans in this scene want to support the bands and are also completists. If they do not have a physical copy of the album they will buy it eventually and also a lot of people buy both the cd and vinyl if availble. I think they would rather give their money directly to the bands at gigs and over the internet, or to the reputable and dedicated metal labels who support the scene. I think the internet and sharing gives a lot more scope for checking out bands and finding something you like, but I also miss that element of surprise when you would wonder into a shop and buy a cd of a band you knew nothing about, and if you didn’t like it straight away, you would have to listen to it a few more times before you made up your mind because you had invested 15 quid in it!
We’d be as rich as the Stones if only we had sold as many records!
Old school genres of metal seem to be making a hugh come back as of late with so many bands springing up defending the fate and turning their back on modern production and digital sounds turning to the ways of yore for inspiration, has this effected the popularity of Arkham Witch in anyway and do you feel a connection to any current bands on the metal scene?
Yes we consider ourselves a part of a scene and we are connected to all the bands and festivals we have played with. We are probably most connected to two stalwarts of the doom metal scene namely, Iron Void of England and Forsaken of Malta, both musically and due to the shared history we have!
I don’t think the trad/doom metal resurgence has affected the popularity of Arkham Witch really – we are probably riding along its waves – but even if there was no one listening we would still be doing this for our own gratification and mental wellbeing. It’s in our blood!
What's happening in the band at the moment, what are you currently working on?
Currently we are working on Get Thothed Vol III – which we hope to have out as soon as possible this year. Most if not all the songs on the CD willl be unreleased Lamp of Thoth songs that never saw the light of day for one reason or another, so I will be excited to finally record them and get them out of my system!
Then hopefully on to the next album. We recorded five tracks last year for a new album but they were put by the wayside to record Get Thothed vol II, so we will have to see where we are with everything!
What does metal mean to you?
Heavy Metal is the alchemical marriage between music and imagination, it is an electric literature in sonic form which amplifies the primal words of true and valid experience through images and sounds conjured up by the fundamental forces which lie dormant but ever ready to awaken in even the most slumbering of hosts. If musical genres comprised a Kabbala – metal would be its Kether.
Why doom metal?
It’s slow like me! Also, song structures mess about with time and can induct you through the hours and minutes – a long well constructed doom song is sometimes the shorter distance.