The statistics really speak for themselves. So far I’ve done something like a hundred interviews for Metal Squadron, and Magister Templi is only the second one conducted with a Norwegian band. Okay, so a real traditional metal scene never existed in this country, apart from a few bands during the eighties, but seeing how our neighbours in Sweden produce one great band after the other, its really a mystery why something decent can’t come out of Norway anymore. Magister Templi has already shown a lot of promise with their first few releases, the EP “Iao Sabao!” and the full length “Lucifer Leviathan Logos”, but their brand new one “Into Duat” is definitely a step up in my opinion.
Gone are most of the doom influences, and what is left must can only be considered as the form of music we love more than anything else…Pure heavy metal! I managed to catch singer Abraxas D’ Ruckus late one evening after band practice, and simply bombarded him with most of the questions I could come up with. Enjoy reading our conversation!
The first lineup of Magister Templi consisted of bass, violin, vocals and drums, but no guitarist? What was the idea behind this constellation?
– I am am not sure that there really was one. It was mainly me and the bass player, now guitarist, that wanted to start a band, and we sort of grabbed the people we had around us and tried to make something of it. The violin gave us a nice folky feeling to things. We are both great fans of Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention and those kind of bands, and in another life maybe we will do something like that.
Even though the music was different, the lyrical concept apparently more or less the same though. Is that’s why you didn’t bother changing the name with the new musical direction?
– Yeah, that is pretty much it. The lyrics have been concerned with Western occultism from the start. We had the band name since the first public thing we did anyway, and never made any actual demos with the first lineup, that was sort of Mark II where we had a different drummer and guitarist and our current guitarist played bass while I sang.
Did you use your psevodnyms already in the beginning?
-Yes, I think so. At least the two, Baphomet and Abraxas were used from the start.
What was the idea behind those two?
-Well, you would have to ask Baphomet about his one, but Baphomet and Abraxas are in many ways the same mythological figure, just in different mythologies. They both represent a sort of divine and diabolical version of man. And that concept has always intrigued me. Of course they are also mythological figures that we know people have related to in some way, but apart from later Masonic and occult interpretations of them, we don’t actually now how they related to them or what they represented. That intrigues me, to have a mythological figure that we don’t know everything about. Except some form of man as a deity.
I took something like four years for Magister Templi to get a proper lineup, and I ask Abraxas to describe how the band slowly turned into a heavy metal act…
– We sort of opened up to the doom stuff pretty early. Me and the guitarist, then bassist, started making more doomy songs, like the song “Lucifer” from “Lucifer Leviathan Logos”. This is a song that I have had with me from even before Magister Templi. We then started writing songs like “The Innsmouth Look” and “Leviathan” and those more doomy things first, and when we introduced the new members, one by one actually, even though the three of them played in the same band at the time. They were used to playing black metal, so it took quite a lot of work to get them to play slow enough to play doom. That made things go faster I think, and turn everything slowly into old school heavy metal. Of course we all really enjoy all these types of music, and we try never to have any rules when we write music. We just write and and just let it develop, and then afterwards we take a closer look at what style the song is. Sometimes we end up with a riff that sounds almost like power metal, then we try to play around with it, and ask: What happens if we introduce some really tribal, doomy drums to this one? Or perhaps an almost Tom Araya-like thrashy vocals. We try to keep an open mind when we write music. To be honest, I don’t know what genre we are in as a band right now, but it’s probably some sort of epic doom/heavy metal or something like that.
This translation from folk to heavy sounds a bit strange, seen from the outside. Can you explain what was the driving force behind it?
– I think it was probably the fact that during this period, we both got very enthusiastic about a band like Pagan Altar. They’re actually the perfect example, because they have some sort of seventies progish feel about them. Rather undefined though, but it’s definitely there. They also have folklore inspiration in the lyrics and stuff like that. The doom was probably there from the start, but we also had some distinct folk rock songs which we have since dropped. And yes, they may resurface at some other point, I don’t know. We have some songs that we played back then, that we simply can’t play now, because they’re too far away from what we do.
Talking about Pagans Altar, they were pretty much a late discovery for most people here in Norway. Did Abraxas and his Companions also discover the band at the Metal Merchants festival in Oslo in 2009, when they were one of the highlights along with Beehler and Warning?
– No, I missed that one. I was on holiday, I think. It broke my heart, because I really wanted to see them. I never got around to go to Metal Merchants, and that sucks, because some of my favourite bands ever played at the festival. Fortunately we got to play with both Pagan Altar and Slough Feg later, so I at least I got to see their shows then. In fact, Slough Feg I saw a lot of times.
Isn’t it unbelieveable that a band like Pagan Altar can go almost unnoticed for decades before people discover them?
– Yeah, but it is like that with many of those bands, you know. Pentagram is probably the most famous example, but also a band like Trouble. To think that “Manic Frustration” is their most selling album, while no one took note of “Psalm 9” or “The Skull” is almost unbelievable. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
Abraxas was very sad when he learnt about the death of Terry Jones, the frontman of Pagan Altar.
– He was an important man to this underground metal scene. I’ve only met him once, but he struck me as a very warm and welcoming fellow. I have never tried to sing like him, but I like the way he sings. He has this very strange voice that many people don’t like. I think it works perfect. Its beautiful!
His voice was a strong trademark for Pagan’s Altar, do you try to use your voice in a way that make people regognize yourself and Magister Templi in a similar way?
– I don’t think so. I just sing, and try to improve with each record. I try to learn some new tricks along the way, but this is pretty much what I sound like.
These days it seems important to have a solid concept, a bond between the music and the lyrics and not only a few songs dealing with different topics strung strung together. Was this something you were aware of when the Magister Templi-concept came up?
– I don’t know really, because I am not sure it was so important back then. We have always been inspired by the whole progressive rock movement from the seventies, that’s sort of where I come from, and for sure the concept album thing is really close to my heart. Besides, I need to write lyrics about something I know, and Western occultism happens to be something I know.
You have even studied some of this stuff?
– Yeah, I wrote a masters thesis about renaissance magic, and I wanted to do a PhD as well, but to be honest, I don’t think people is that interested in renaissance magic.
Did you think back then that you could use the things your read about to develop lyrics for certain songs?
– I think I already had written a couple of songs about occultism without having any band to play them in. It’s more that I write about the stuff that I am enthusiastic about at the moment. I write other songs as well that don’t really fit into Magister Templi, about different things really.
Abraxas is confident that the kind of enthusiasm he’s referring to helps improve his lyrics.
– Yeah, I think that good lyrics, and please note that I won’t claim to write good lyrics, as English is my second language, should be a combination of being able to write well enough, to care about what you’re writing about and finally to know stuff about what you write about. If you have enough of each of those, good lyrics come out at the other end. I should probably specify that I am talking about the lyrics now, because generally speaking I only do the lyrics and the melody lines, like the vocal lines, while the rest is made by other people in the band.
Back in 2010 you released your first demo. Although I don’t think a lot of people heard it, do you feel that you set the direction for Magister Templi with that demo?
– To some extent I feel we did, even though we sounded a bit more proto doom back then. Unfortunately we didn’t know anything about anything at the time, so the recording stuck around for a while until we finally posted it on YouTube. That’s when things started rolling, but that was some time later, just before the first EP came out, I believe.
Abraxas thinks that the fact that the five guys in the band have backgrounds from other kinds of music makes the sound of Magister Templi different compared to what it would have been if the members had only been performing and listening to heavy metal throughout their lives.
– It makes us more free when we write the music. I also think Baphomet’s rhythm trickery comes from other kinds of music, and also the semi-Arabic scales stem from mostly seventies hard rock, which was pretty much what we had in common when we started, along with the heavy metal and the doom metal of course.
The vinyl version of “Iao Sabao”, released on the small Norwegian label Freshtea, should be a real collector items by now, pressed in 200 copies and the majority of them sold in Norway. When the interview was conducted, neither Abraxas nor I had checked Discogs lately, but when I do so a few days after the interview, I find a copy listed for 500 Euro. Plain stupidity of course, no chance that it will be sold a that price, but Abraxas agrees that this will probably turn into a real collector’s item.
– Yeah, I think this release is something people would pay money for in the future. I only have one copy myself.
Shortly after the EP was released you hooked up with Enrico and his label, Cruz Del Sur. Did you know him from before?
– Not really. We were great fans of Slough Feg and Pagan Altar, who were both on Cruz at the time. When Enrico contacted us, we got really enthusisastic mainly because of those two acts. He’s been very nice to us. In many ways I think that a band of our moderate size, or should I say “a smaller band”, isbetter off with a guy like him, because he cares about the music and his bands. He releases only stuff that he likes himself, and tries to help out in every way he can. I’ve never heard anyone else complaining about him either. He is sort of patron of the arts.
Do you have a deal with them for further albums, or is “Into Duat” the last one?
– We have made contracts for one album at a time.
Back when we did the first interview, you told me that you had quite a lot of songs written before you got a stable lineup. Were these songs the foundation for the first full length?
– Yes, they were. Most of the was. I think I am not mistaken, “Tipareth” and “Vitriol” are the only new songs, the rest is stuff that we already had.
Abraxas denies being tired of the songs even if the band had lived with them for quite a while when they were recorded.
– I think a song like “Lucifer” has been with me for about ten years now, so I might be a bit tired of that one. But in general I wasn’t tired of the material, not when we recorded it. The songs changed a lot over the years as well, up to the actual recording. A track like “Master Of The Temple” from the debut took forever to find its final form. It took about three years of adjusting before we ended up with something we were satisfied with.
Were these smaller adjustments or more fundamental changes?
– There were some quite big changes on that one. We always heard that there was something there that we liked, but we had to keep adjusting it, because there was something we didn’t like as well. “Master Of The Temple” was probably adjusted more than any other song on the album.
Is that the way usually work, not making definitive versions, but evaluating and adjusting them along the way?
– Yeah, I think so. Usually either Patriark or Baphomet comes up with some riffs, and I have som lyrics and ideas for vocals lines, and we try to work them “into” each other. Of course, it can be a little different depending on who’s writing the song, but that’s sort of the general way in which we are working. We work out a skeleton together, just two of us usually, and present it to the band and discuss it, adjust it, and arrange it. We have a whole arranging process with the full band. Sometimes it just works out of course, but usually it takes a bit of time working on the details.
How do you view your debut album today? Are you still satisfied with it, or were there elements you really wanted to improve on this new one?
– Yeah, there are definitely lots of things we wanted to improve. “Lucifer Leviathan Logos” has a lot of beginner’s mistakes…
What kind of mistakes are you referring to?
– There are some sound things for instance. It’s hard to do this, without trash talking the first album, or the people involved. Maybe some of the things we did on the first album were sort of spot on, that was the way we wanted to do it then. For example we’d always recorded the band live and added solos and vocals afterwards. What we tried to do on the new album, was to spend less on the studio, so we had more time to work on the recordings. I think that worked out great, and I don’t think you can hear that we recorded in cheaper studios. Quite the opposite, it sounds a bit more professional. Then it’s hard to try to get a more professional sound without ruining the sort of organic and dynamic qualities of that album. We want to sound underground!
At the time, when the album was fresh, you said it was a big step forward from the EP, mainly because you got to work with people that knew what they were doing.
-Yeah…maybe. The main difference was probably the studio though. We actually recorded in a proper studio, and we had gotten more used to record as well, and knew the process better, so we didn’t get quite as nervous as the first time around. For every album we also know a bit better what we want ourselves, but maybe the major improvement with “Into Duat” is that we haven’t been too full of ourselves. This time we have given the technicians a bit more room to work and be professional without us interfering with them all the time.
Are you some kind of control freaks?
– Yeah, we are. Definitely! We never leave them alone, but we let them do their jobs to a bigger extent this time. However, there’s never a day where at least two of us aren’t in the studio when the people are mixing and mastering. We tend to visit and listen to the stuff every day.
What are you afraid of?
– Mainly that it will sound too polished. Too nice!
So that’s the worst thing that can happen?
– Yeah, during the mixing and mastering that is. During the recording, worse things can surely happen. We are also afraid of losing the guitar- or drum sound we have been working to achieve. That someone will misunderstand and do something that would sound great for another type of band, but not for Magister Templi.
– Haha! Yeah. That was funny. It all has to do with one of us working at the museum of national history in Oslo. They were giving an exibition of fossils that were named after punk and metal legends. One was named after King Diamond, another one after Lemmy, so of course we had to include a cover of “Stone Dead Forever” by Motörhead in that set, along with our own songs. It was a fun concert to play, especially because of the acoustics in the museum. I enjoyed singing there.
And I guess there were people there that normally wouldn’t show up at a Magister Templi-concert?
– Yeah, it was like families and stuff. We don’t do many family shows. Haha!
Your vocals, while being one of the trade marks of the band, seem to divide people, at least on the first album. Have you tried to improve certain things for the new album, or were you satisfied with what you did on “Lucifer Leviathan Logos”?
– I am never satisfied…
Not with your performance on the new album either?
– The new one is reasonably good I think. On the first one I sound a bit too straight. I took some singing lessons and got a few pointers, which I have been working with on my own. The main thing was just to relax more when I sing. That is also a lot about not wearing on my voice already on the first two days on tour.
Has it helped you?
– Yeah, I think so. I get a bit more volume and depth to my voice, but of course it’s not like a magic potion. Its something that I have to keep working on and improving all the time
Although they didn’t release an album, 2014 was a pretty busy year for Magister Templi. The band supported Slough Feg on some European dates, did some gigs on their own, and also released a vinyl single…
– We had written this song that we knew wouldn’t really fit into our next album, and we was to release that, then we also wanted to give a bit of a preview of things to come. The A-side of the single is an exclusive track, “Nyarlathotep”, really sort of Egyptian too, while the B-side, “Anubis” is also featured on the new album, but in a different version. We also wanted to bring something new with us on tour.
It’s already been pointed out in interviews, that here is a shift in the lyrical theme on the new album, but Abraxas agrees that there is some continuity as well.
– Yeah, I would say. The theme of the last album is Western occultism, and the theme of the new one is Egyptian mythology. And Egyptian mythology has a very special place in Western occultism. Especially the British occultism from the 1880s or up to contemporary occultism. Egyptian mythology was a very hot and popular take at the end of the 19th century. I tried probably more to capture that spirit, than to actually write coherent and correct sons about Egyptian mythology. I really tried to capture this sort of romantic spirit of Western occultism romantizising abut Egyptian mythology. I just spun onwards on that.
H.P. Lovecraft is one author you have borrowed from in your lyrics. Why does his work fit so well with what you are doing?
– I think its mainly because he was the one who introduced psychology to horror. That’s what fascinates people about Lovecraft. His monsters are sort of undefined and almost out of view at most times, just lurking under the surface and influencing people in ways they couldn’t expect. At least that’s what fascinates me. He also flirts with the occult a lot, which makes it appealing. In the case of the last album, the song “The Innsmouth Look” could have been about anything really, but I wanted some sort of song about the monster within. I like Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, because the monster within the main character slowly manifests through the whole short story, until he sort of surrenders to his monsters nature in the end. I think that’s a more interesting way looking at it than a werewolf or something like that.
For people who haven’t got the interest or knowledge to investigate the lyrics, do you think there is still something to get out of Magister Templi?
– I hope so. I excpect that most people don’t listen to the lyrics at all, so I would really be disappointed if people were only in it for the lyrics. Haha! I think the riffing is great and that the lyrical content may not be as important as the feeling we try to create, and sometimes even manage to create. The words themselves express very little compared with the whole package.
I think you said in a recent interview, that you expected the album to be a grower more than a record that people would appreciate immediately. Why is that?
– I don’t know, but I tend to think about music that way. I guess because we heard it a lot from different people that it’s the kind of music that grows on them. We have a bit of weirdness to us I think. I don’t think were that radical, but were not trying to be easy either.
For me it was the opposite. The first album I found a bit hard to get into, while the new clicked with me almost immediately. I found the songs more accessible than on the first one.
– On the last album, we had some songs that we could tell almost instanstly that they have some sort of hit quality, not like top ten-songs of course, but some qualities that could make the song a hit with some people. On this album, I honestly wasn’t sure that any of the songs had something of that. I don’t know why, because other people seem to find that in this new material as well.
You have recorded drums, bass and the rhythm guitar live. Why is this organic sound you are after so important for you?
– I think it makes the music sound more alive. For us, the communication between us when we play, is pretty important. I consider us mainly a live band really, and I don’t think we could recreate the same feeling, without actually playing together.
Abraxas does the hard task of trying to come up with albums with the perfect organic sound.
– We have several. A lot of seventies stuff, but also the early Pentagram recordings have a lot of that to them. Also a lot of the proto doom stuff, like the early Trouble albums. They have a very distinct sound to them as well, but I really have no idea how they recorded those albums. It definitely sounds like five guys playing together though.
There are a lot of tempo changes in your music, where does that come from?
– I really don’t know. We think its fun, and it makes the music more interesting to perform. It would probably be the perfect question for our guitarist Baphomet, because that’s were they come from. But I enjoy them a lot, as they make it possible to express a lot of different feelings with the same song. At least they make the music a lot more dynamic, and I like that type of songs.
Also, if you don’t know the material that well, these kind of changes often make a strong impression on the audience. Especially those not that familiar with the material.
– Yeah, I think it works pretty well live, because most of our audiences have been unfamiliar with our music so far, more or less. You never get a chance to relax, and that’s good.
With the new album the band has finally gotten rid of their old, some might say, amateurish logo. According to Abraxas, there was not a lot of drama involved.
– We have never been that attached to the logo. Our original thought was to do an Electric Wizard-thing where we just made different logos for everything. We actually have another logo too, on our backdrop. We made t-shirts and stuff of that as well. I think we would like to have a lot of different logos. We don’t see our logo as a brand or something. We haven’t thought about it that way, we just want different expressions.
– Usually the creative periods are marked by regular band practice, first of all. Inspired band practice, I should say, where people turn up with new stuff all the time. It don’t really end at any time either, because I am at home writing my things, while the other guys play guitars or bass and try to figure out something that we couldn’t decide on at practice. So, when we’re in a creative period like that, it feels like the band is a part of you that never let’s og. You’re always in touch with it. Like when I ride my bicycle to work, I have to stop to record a vocal line on my phone, in order not to forget it. We all get like that, and those periods are really nice. It’s mainly that you feel an attachment to the band at all times. Sometimes like now, when were doing interviews and googling for reviews all the time, while preparing to go on tour, I also get that feeling. Melody lines just pop up into my head, because I am sort of wired in.
The studio work for “Into Duat” went fine for most of the time, but Abraxas himself was set back due to a strong allergic reaction..
– I ate some noodles with some nuts, some nuts that looked like something else. I had an anaphylactic shock and had to spend the night at the emergency room. It was very unpleasant and delayed us a lot. I couldn’t sing for a week. It only happened to me once before since I was a kid. Then I ate som fish, probably disguised as something else. But that was the only major incident this time.
I am sure I also read something about some problems during the mastering process as well?
– Yeah, we had some trouble with one song, but fortunately Tom at Strype audio is a magician, and figured it out for us. There was something that we missed during the mix, that almost ruined one of the songs, but fortunately he was able to save our asses.
Looking at the feedback on the internet, it seems a lot of people are very impressed by the cover art. Abraxas explains how the band ended up using “Back To The Deep Lands II” by Stefan Bleyl as the artwork for “Into Duat”.
– Our original idea was to let the guy that did the coverart for our first album do the art for all our albums, but then there was a change of mind, and we wanted to try something completely different. Then we decided that we didn’t want anything explicitly Egyptian, we wanted the expression to be sort of epic doom heavy metal, even though the theme is Egyptian. Everything else should say “epic doom heavy” or something like that. Then Baphomet went into some sort of internet frenzy that lasted for a couple of weeks, where he kept sending us all these great pictures he found, every day. We had lots of different ideas, but this one just stood out. It expresses so many of the same things we wanted to express with the album, even though it wasn’t about the pyramids or sphinxes. Personally I had never seen it before, and fortunately the artist seemed to like our music as well. He seemed to be a bit of a metal head.
In my opinion, Magister Tëmpli is a pretty unusual band to come out of Norway.
Sure. You can almost count relevant traditional heavy metal bands from Norway during the last decades on one hand. Why are there so few?
– I really don’t know. There should be more, I guess. It’s strange, because in Sweden you can’t spit without hitting a heavy metal band. That goes for all of Sweden. Maybe it have to do with the popularity of Norwegian extreme metal. If you could put Norwegian black metal on your sticker, for a long time that would help you a lot, whereas performing Norwegian blues doom probably wouldn’t. I also think perhaps, that extreme metal suits the Norwegian temper better, the more sort of introvert type of music. Heavy metal is very friendly and extrovert in many ways. Of course we had TNT and Witchhamer, but that was it.
You did a small tour with Slough Feg in the past. It should be possible to pick up some tricks from what might be one of the very best live bands on the circuit?
– Well, I think touring should probably be done the way Angelo (Tringali), their guitarist does it. We were sort of crawling out of bed every day, completely fucked up. When we found him, he had usually been up for a while. He had taken a walk, had a shower and breakfast and was drinking a cup of coffee and reading a newspaper. I also think that everything Mike (Scalzi) do on stage is pure brilliance. We have very different expressions, but we discovered during the tour that we both like to run around in the audience a lot.
You have an European tour with Christian Mistress coming up along with a gig at No Sleep Til Dublin. Do you feel part of the rising European heavy metal movement?
– Yeah, to some extent. Its definitely some sort of brotherhood feeling to it. I really enjoy all those one man driven festivals happening everywhere. Like Metal Magic. We also played at Up The Hammers in Greece in March. That was really great. No Sleep Til Dublin is a perfect example of that as well, it’s just one guy who tries to get a lot of bands he like together to do a one day festival. Everyone are sort of friends by default. You have to be because there are so few people into this stuff. So yeah, more and more we feel part of that.