“Old, bitter, late to parties and with one foot in an early grave…”
…So says the press release for ‘Husk’, the latest and third full-length album overall from Aussie bastards Vahrzaw. Some bands might be a little put out by that description, but Vahrzaw are not your average band: They’ve just celebrated their 26th year of existence, play the type of ripping riff-loaded old-school atomic black death that could level a small town, and do not give one single fuck what you or anyone else thinks. Consisting of esteemed axe wielder Scott Williams (ex-Elegeion, ex-Army Corpse), throatsman/bass general George Van Doorn and master skin pulveriser Brandon Gawith (Eskhaton, Hobbs Angel of Death), I had the dubious fortune of getting all three members to sit down at the same time to talk shit about… Well, everything really. The result is something… Special? Read on below to see for yourself. It may be my favourite thing published on BMD yet.
“Tired of trends and half-hearted ‘extreme metal’? Want ugly music, for ugly people, by ugly people? Then dive into the 36 throttling minutes that is ‘Husk’ and hail the legacy that is VAHRZAW!”
Hails Vahrzaw! Hope you’re all well. Your new third full-length ‘Husk’ is finally out through Sweden’s Blood Harvest Records. How does it feel that this thing is finally seeing some air?
GVD: It feels like that time we broke down on our tour of Antarctica and had to “keep warm”; something’s not quite right.
SW: Definitely won’t fall for that again. Well, I think relieved is the word I would use. Should’ve been out last year. It’s been complete since August 2017. I’m not too sure what the delay has been. You can tell where we are on their totem pole of significance.
BG: Get fucked.
The first two teaser tracks were great, black death assaults both heavily riff-driven and old school as fuck. A natural follow on from the excellent ‘Twin Suns and Wolves Tongues‘, and possibly even more violent. For those yet to hear the whole thing: is this what they can expect from the rest of the album, or is it packed with ballads and yearning emotional atmospheres?
GVD: Thanks. It’s all about the riffs these days. We’re the John West of Blackened Death Metal – it’s the riffs Vahrzaw rejects that makes Vahrzaw the best. Sadly, there are no ballads. I keep saying “If Primordial got away with doing a god-awful ballad in 1993, then we can do one now. It’s 2018! People are open-minded.” But, Scott refuses.
SW: Ballads are for poser wimps and symphonic power metal fans… who are poser wimps too. Yeah, I think this one is more focused in its aggression. It has to supersede the preceding record. I’m not a big fan of emotional atmospheric-type black metal… or emotions in general, which can be difficult in this age when everyone is a fucking sook.
BG: Get fucked.
Press play on ‘Fiends in the Ether’ for example and you’re immediately struck by how good it sounds while it rips your face off. Where was the album produced, are you personally happy with the sound?
GVD: The album was recorded in a studio in Gippsland (i.e., Spectrum Studios) and mixed in our Producer’s studio. I like how it sounds (e.g., it’s heavy and clear given everything that’s going on), but I was fighting off a lung infection during recording so there are vocal parts that I’m not overly impressed by.
SW: Yeah, it’s good. We run on a very tight budget so we don’t have the luxury of time. It is what it is. The pre-conceived notions I had before recording are forgotten. The guitars are nice and clear without drowning anything out. There’s one shit note bend… but fuck it eh. We’ve been working with Wayne and Brett at Spectrum for over a decade now. They’ve run a live music TV show out of the same studio the last few years.
BG: Get fucked.
What was the writing and recording process like? Has it changed a great deal from the early material, or even from ‘Twin Suns…’?
GVD: Writing takes a lot longer these days. We used to just throw riffs together, but we don’t do that anymore. Lyrics are the same. I wasn’t too concerned in the early days, but now my goal is to try to write better songs than on the previous release. Scott writes most of the music so he can describe his process.
SW: We’re better in the studio. We rehearse everything to perfect prior to it. A budget forces that line of attack. Writing… it’s a longer process. I try to weed out overly long parts (*coughs* Enslaved) or excess rubbish. Make the tracks more concise and punchy. Long songs are boring. Look at Iron Maiden… they have an 18min song about hot air balloons for fucks sake. Hot air balloons!! Most of the riffs are written with a looper these days, which makes arranging more interesting as I can split parts up and write new parts for parts that where once part of the parts I originally split. But in essence, it’s still me and a guitar sitting in my lounge writing riffs, exactly like the ’90s. I get a lot of ideas on the road in the middle of the night and I’m usually writing something down after work at 2am.
BG: Getting fucked up.
Taking into account a couple of line-up shuffles and name changes in the early days and then a few years hiatus, you fellas have been at it for over 25 years now. When you were fresh faced young ruffians, did you ever think you’d be still doing this decades later?
SW: 26 now since forming. I think 19 active… and no.
BG: I wasn’t even a sperm cell.
You guys must have some stories after so long in the game. What’s the craziest thing you’ve had happen or seen in your past quarter century of raising hell?
GVD: I once saw a YouTube video of a rabbit fighting a snake. It was pretty crazy.
SW: I saw a giant seagull murder a pigeon in Venice… right there in front of me. That was as intense as the gelato I was eating at the time. We once hired a girl to dress as a cat and piss into… no, wait, that was Mötley Crüe. In all honesty, I’m quite reclusive and we don’t tour or play live often so there isn’t much to tell. I hate travelling.
BG: Seeing some dude slice his arms with a hunting knife then snorting speed from it.
I’ve heard whispered talk that you’re actually a band of intellectuals. Can you confirm or deny these rumours?
GVD: I can confirm that we deny these slanderous allegations.
SW: If ‘intellectual’ means watching Netflix and not regular shitty poor-person TV, then yes.
BG: Get fucked.
I believe your previous drummer Ben was also legally blind, which I find amazing. Did this present any particular challenges at any point?
GVD: He was legally blind, but he had an eye-transplant. An anonymous gorilla that was put down for inappropriately touching a zoo guest donated its eyes. As for challenges, it was always risky letting him drive to gigs while Scott and I got drunk in the back of the car.
SW: Fucking hell. Risky alright. It was a calculated risk though, being intellectuals and all that. The potential factors at play were discussed beforehand. What a whimsical hellride.
…and yes, moving that drum kit around was a real fucker.
BG: I’m blind all the time, does that count?
Ben was replaced in 2012 by Gawith. Did he have to go through any hazing rituals or perform any feats of strength to make the cut?
GVD: The standard. Take the drumstick up to the logo. Note: it’s been brought to my attention that some people may not know what this means. In the olden days, some young ladies wanted to get backstage to meet their favourite band member (it happens all the time at BM gigs). To do so, the road crew would politely ask these young women to insert a drumstick into a particular orifice. If the woman could take the drumstick to the logo, she got to go backstage. So, I’m saying that Brandon had to insert a drumstick into an orifice to get into the band. Explaining jokes makes them less funny, which (dangerously) assumes this joke WAS funny.
SW: I’d never heard that. “Can you make your mouth into a perfect circle” was the line I used… well would have… if metal had groupies and I wasn’t also a blithering idiot. Brandon is a gun on the kit. Kills it. He’s doing the last Hobbs shows soon and has a new album out with Eskhaton too. Ben is now a lawyer, the true dark side.
Who is the main lyricist in the band and where do they draw inspiration from, particularly for the themes present on ‘Husk’? And fuck it, I have to ask: Is ‘The Epitaph of Garmonbozia (Part I & II)’ a Twin Peaks reference?
GVD: I am. I wouldn’t trust the other two to write a review of a Grug book, let alone lyrics that I want to sing. I used to sing about Satan, ghosts, forests (i.e., very stock-standard BM topics), but now my lyrics can be about anything. If I think an idea is good, I’ll explore it. Husk has songs about TV shows, books, religion, personal struggles, historical figures, and cancer. As for Epitaph, the short answer is “yes”. It’s a reference to Twin Peaks. That was Nick’s idea. I thought it was clever.
SW: I’m not sure anyone would get the Grug reference anymore. I no longer write any lyrics. I was never any good at it.
GVD: Did you just call me old? I’ll get Antifa to boycott your shows… wait… that won’t work out well for me.
‘Epitaph…’ also features Nick from the excellent Greytomb lending his wretched screams to proceedings. How did you snag his services?
GVD: I’ve wanted to collaborate with someone outside the band (i.e., try something different) for a while now. We’d done a gig with Greytomb and we know Jack (guitars). So, I approached Nick. He was interested and so we bounced ideas/lyrics around until we were both happy.
BG: Get fucked.
GVD: Insightful. I’d almost forgotten you were here.
Speaking of vox, Van Doorn, you have some pretty versatile throatwork going on. Are there any vocalists in particular you’ve been inspired by over the years?
GVD: Maniac and Attila from Mayhem and Hat and Pest from Gorgoroth are favourites in BM. Old Chris Barnes is a favourite DM singer.
SW: Is he really? I didn’t know that. Barnes went to shit. He’s bloody awful. I think our older stuff had a real Sorhin/Setherial/Burzum-type vibe to the vocals. All the early ’90s demo days.
BG: The actors from 2 girls 1 cup.
GVD: Actors?! You’re setting a low bar for the use of that term. And yes Scott, Chris on Tomb is awesome. As for our older stuff, I (repeatedly) had people tell me I sounded like Jeff Walker (Carcass).
That cover artwork is great too, an evocative piece by Luciana Nedelea that matches what I’ve heard of the music perfectly. How did the collaboration come about? Were you fans of her work before you made contact?
SW: That was my doing. I had spotted her work online through various pages and checked her out. She does quite varied kinds of art so I picked an example and forwarded the basic concept that we fleshed out. It’s quite different from the original idea (a real emaciated human figure in the darkness) but I really love it. She’s since done work for Dark Funeral & The Satanic Temple plus countless others and it’s all quality stuff. Recommended. It was also a continuation of no digital art as it reeks now. Looks dated already. The booklet art is all original pieces from Jon Ernst too, a fellow Aussie.
The label press release states “VAHRZAW have really had enough of the bullshit associated with producing albums, and even EPs. Thus, ‘Husk’ will likely be the band’s final recording”. This can’t be true. Is Vahrzaw done, are you hanging up your boots?
GVD: No. The label asked us to write that just as we were wrapping up recording. We’re not major fans of each other after recording; there’s something about 5 guys being trapped in a small room for weeks on end that puts us on edge. As such, that write up reflects our animosity. We’re actually working on new material now… but that’s another story.
SW: The studio doesn’t bother me. It’s the fucking emails everywhere to do art and layouts for the various formats and label chat and mixing and organising time. It’s an arduous bore, especially if the communication is vastly one-sided.
That blurb pretty much sums it up… there was another one sent later that was ‘highly intellectual’ but they went with the humorous one, so fuck it.
The CD is currently out through Blood Harvest Records in the EU/worldwide, while you’ve just received your copies for all the slavering Australian maniacs. How has it been working with Blood Harvest? Any news on the vinyl version?
GVD: My mum always said “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. I don’t have anything nice to say.
SW: Vinyl for HUSK and TWIN SUNS is on the cards to the tune of 300 copies each but I’ve heard nothing about it. The layouts were completed along with the album last August, so who knows. The album was actually written for vinyl, 4 tracks and a short clean outro per side.
All the pressing plants are backed up from big labels cashing in on the vinyl trend with the 500th press of a Bowie record & other assorted shit we don’t need more of. I think there’s a picture disc of two Fawlty Towers episodes at this years record store day. Who the fuck would buy that?!
Hopefully ours is out soon but I doubt it seeing as it took 9 months to print the CD. Ask Blood Harvest.
‘Husk’ isn’t the only fresh chunk of Vahrzaw that’s been excreted of late: Your ’96 demo ‘Black Resplendent Waters‘ has copped a well-deserved tape re-release through Swedish/German label Cirsium Kollektivet, complete with an art upgrade from the great Jeroen Van Valkenburg. Are you pleased with how this turned out? What’s it like having the old recordings in the spotlight again?
GVD: I haven’t seen it yet.
SW: Looks great. Jeroen is a legend. You are partly to blame for the re-release as I found the label through this very page and just asked if they’d be interested. Turns out it was a “yes”. He was fantastic to work with. Got the job done quick. As for old tracks back in physical form…*shrugs*.
Time for some opinions. The band was formed in the thick of Black Metal’s arguably best and most fertile period. What do you think of the Black Metal “scene” these days, and how do you see that things have changed? Is it for the better?
GVD: Honestly, I don’t have much interest in the scene. On the odd occasion we play a gig or catch up with friends from the 90s, it seems to me that the scene in Australia cycles. As an example, when we first started out, everyone had to be ‘tougher’ than everyone (e.g., we’re the most extreme BM band ever). Then people chilled the fuck out. Then the pissing contest is back and people think they’re impressing people by claiming to be extreme. Dull!
SW: There’s too many bands all doing the same concepts as 25 years ago minus the mystique and originality. But that’s music. New ingredients get introduced to an older formula. Slight changes over time. Is the scene any better? No idea. It’s certainly more saturated though. Doesn’t seem to bother anyone, people are happy with regurgitated death and black metal. Don’t fix what isn’t broken, I guess. There’s still an abundance of theatricality and lame lyrics which is always good for a laugh. Besides those ‘anti-fascist’ dickheads trying to ruin a few shows with threats of violence, y’know, like a fascist group would, I think the scene is relatively sane. I’m not sure anyone cares what a 41yo male thinks anyway…they should though because we’re clearly the better generation.
BG: Most BM bands in Aust are hipsters or play shit raw BM in the style of shitty Darkthrone. Hail to those who venture into the more extreme and violent side of BM.
SW: Old Darkthrone is fucking ace.
With the advancement of home/portable recording technology and software, it’s increasingly easy to churn out albums in your bedroom, or even on your phone. As a result, there are more projects out there than ever. What do you guys think of this phenomenon?
GVD: I think we’d be hypocrites to criticise people for recording in their bedroom. Back when we had absolutely no money, we used to record demos onto a tape recorder. Now we have slightly more than $0, we’d prefer to record in a studio. But, other people can do whatever they want. I don’t have the energy to care.
SW: I have so many tracks by so many bands on my PC… I hear a bit of music and think “What a magnificent riff, who is this band?”…so I check it out and it’s us! Haha! Happens a lot. The PC recording gear is fantastic now, so why not do it at home if you can?! A bit more effort than a TDK 60 and one mic and running off 50 tapes one at a time on high-speed dubbing… but far less KVLT.
Off the top of your head: the best black metal band currently active, and the band you think should give up and pack it in?
GVD: Mayhem. Behemoth are good too (but probably more Blackened DM). Darkthrone should give up. So should Satyricon. Rubbish albums are destroying their legacies. Note: Please send all hate mail to Scott.
SW: Best… don’t know. I like elements of a lot of bands but most black metal is pretty boring. I will say that 95% of it (black and death metal) shouldn’t ever be pressed to vinyl. It’s A-grade horseshit. There ARE really good creative ones with unreal musicians though. A few bands spinning of late (of various genres) are Deitus, Void Omnia, Belus, Virus, Tchornobog, Beastmilk, Squarepusher, Aphex Twin/AFX, Frank Zappa, Rope Sect, Extortion, Discharge… all good stuff. Band to call it a day. Satyricon… awful. Such disappointing output since Rebel. Not black metal, but I’m glad Slayer are packing it in.
BG: Dead Congregation, unrelenting sonic power. Bands that should pack it in are all the shit bands with beards and flannies!
GVD: What’s wrong with beards?
SW: He can’t grow one yet.
And finally, school the kids: What is true black metal?
GVD: Ha. Trve BM bands will probably claim we’re not trve BM. So, I’m not sure my opinion is worth listening to.
SW: Don’t know. The opposite of what is trendy?! I think it’s moved on from the misanthropic nihilism and existentialism to some degree… but maybe that’s the crux of the genre in its true form?! They certainly aren’t stabbing people anymore. It could also be leather, spikes, and beer. A guy once told me he couldn’t listen to us because “we didn’t hate jews, Australia was a jew cesspool and black metal is ‘white’ music”. We probably play exactly the type of music we play to stick it to cunts like that. The opposite of what people like or the music that they want me to play. But… I’m 41, I honestly don’t give a shit.
BG: Anything that is new and creative and sounds tough! Not the Norwegian rip-offs and clones!
Cheers gents, sincerest thanks for taking the time to speak to us and suffering through yet another bloody interview. Any last words?
GVD: Thanks for the interview. Buy our album you cheap fucks. And to all the zines out there, you’re not getting free copies. And no, we won’t pay 120 Euros to appear in your piece of shit zine. Lots of love. George.
SW: What he said… plus, you can grab the HUSK album (on CD or digital) plus any older recordings straight off our bandcamp or message us on Facebook. Vinyl should be out later in the year. Should. Hassle the label about it. Thanks Aaron. Keep your eyes peeled for giant murderous seagulls.
PS: …and a big ‘get fucked cunt’ to the pleb that runs Third Eye Cinema.
BG: GET ETERNALLY FUCKED.
Purchase Vahrzaw‘s ‘Husk’ on CD from Blood Harvest Records here and the label Bandcamp here, and grab a copy direct from the band with a bonus 25th anniversary guitar pick here.
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