“Alea iacta est” – An interview with Kull

UK’s Bal-Sagoth is a name known far and wide among fans of symphonic black metal. Largely inspired by author Robert E. Howard – the creator of Conan – the band has been around for a long time. With the “Hexology” of Bal-Sagoth finished, members of this classic band can now be found in Kull – equally symphonic, equally inspired by Howard, but perhaps also something quite new? We shot off a bunch of questions, upon which these replies were shot back.

Hi! How are things this fine day? What are you up to right about now?
Not bad – doing the usual which is juggling work, kids, music etc. Oh, and answering this!

Kull was started as a side-project of Bal-Sagoth. Why did you decide to do this? What was it that couldn’t be expressed in Bal-Sagoth, but can with Kull?
Speaking as the newcomer, as it were, Kull was born out of the need to continue composing music. Byron has frequently commented that, as far as he sees it, the Bal-Sagoth Hexology is complete. However, the powerhouse that forms the backbone of both Bal-Sagoth and Kull is the Maudlings and their unique compositions. With a complete Hexology a new vehicle for these compositions was required. That isn’t to say that there’s no musical difference between the two bands. In some respects Kull is more direct, I would say. However, the principle distinction is less to do with a calculated variance in style and more to do with the developing musical journey of the individuals involved.

Tell us all you can be bothered to about your upcoming debut album – Exile. Theme, circumstances of the recording, and so forth.
As anyone who has followed us since the inception of the band already knows, this record hasn’t seen an easy birth being beset as it was with various technical and personal setbacks delaying progress. However, the seed was really sown back in the summer of 2011 where the desire to continue composition despite Byron’s statements regarding the completeness of the Bal-Sagoth Hexology became discussions into the possibility of a new project.
Composing and recording at our own Wayland’s Forge studio became a bit of a blessing and a curse: It gave us time to really hone the material and try out different techniques as far as approach, instruments and samples were concerned but also meant that when things didn’t go to plan there was a steep learning curve to be surmounted.
In terms of the release itself, there is a continuum which each song fits in to, lyrically speaking. However, these are not presented in a linear fashion but rather are snapshots from along overlapping timelines. An overarching theme that is repeated throughout the lyrics is one of fate and the question of free will. Is there such a thing as predestination? Can this be altered through the assertion of Will? Can true significance be applied to our actions or do we create our own fate because of or in spite of these? As allegory, I leave it to the listener to make what they will of these.
Musically, the journey was an interesting one. If you rearrange the album to reflect the order in which the tracks were written, a clear progression can be perceived. A progression, that is, in some way away from Bal-Sagoth and towards the emerging and unique identity of Kull. I think the keen-eared listener will be able to plot a timeline of this – it would certainly be interesting to see if they get it right!

The metal scene has developed immensely since Bal-Sagoth was started – for better and for worse. What major differences do you see? Advantages? Problems?
I think Bal-Sagoth and subsequently Kull stand kind of alone when it comes to the metal scene, in some respects. Chris and Jonny have never really been constrained by what they think people want to hear or what the scene may dictate is the appropriate sound at any given time. Of course, developments on the technological side have opened up what we are able to do with synths and the recording techniques we employed with this release compared with say A Black Moon… or Ultima Thule. Such developments will always be favored by some and condemned by others – there’s no way to get around that save for burying your head in the sand and living in the past. But in terms of our musical output, we didn’t approach it with a particular sound or approach in mind. We created something that we can be proud of and hopefully others will appreciate.

It seems that the writings of Robert E. Howard is a major influence on you guys – first Bal-Sagoth from “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth” and now Kull. Is this an interest that the whole band shares?
I have been a fan of REH and Conan in particular for a long time. Certainly, REH was also a big influence on Byron as well. I think it is to a greater or lesser degree for each member.

What of the character of Kull? He is certainly less known than Howard’s work in Lovecraft’s Mythos Cycle- not to mention Conan – but he’s made it into a few comics and so on throughout the years. Why his name?
When we were kicking around names for this project we knew two things: That we wanted some manner of continuity – at least in a vague sense – and that we wanted something short, decisive and straight to the point. The name “Kull” fit this perfectly. Furthermore, I think that it fits in a lyrical capacity as well. Not directly, however, if you compare REH’s Kull stories to those of Conan, you see a character who has a little more depth, who broods and philosophises over his own nature and the world around him. Tales such as The Skull of Silence also take a more lyrical turn than many of the Conan stories, which I felt better reflected the layered and allegorical meaning within my own lyrics for the project.

Any comments on the 1997 film Kull The Conqueror also known as The Conqueror -Son of Conan?
Fantastically bad B-movie! Hugely enjoyable whilst missing the point of almost everything about the character. Still, far superior to the Conan remake! That could have been such a good representation of the character as REH wrote it. As it was, it was nothing short of a travesty.

How does your song-writing and rehearsing work? Do you treat Kull as a “side-project” and rehearse only as much as is needed to record the album, or is it turning more into a major band that you will tour with?
Song writing usually starts with either a symphonic piece from Jonny or a few riffs from Chris that are then gradually molded into a complete piece. I will then approach the lyrics based on the feelings the composition evokes. Once the two are pieced together, we may rearrange the work for better cohesiveness – it all depends on the song in question. Until recently, rehearsals were a weekly affair, however, with putting effort into trying to find a label, as well as other commitments, these weekly rituals have temporarily been halted. However, the intention is very much to get on the road and take the live show to as many places as possible.

What is your overall ambition with Kull?
Is it crass to say world domination? Right now, our focus is on finding a label to release Exile. It’s frustrating to us that there are so many people out there clamoring to get their hands on it and, as yet, have been unable to do so. Once we have that hurdle out of the way, it’s all about live shows and writing the follow up. Ultimately, we just want to keep on doing what we love.

When not playing epic black metal, what do you guys do? Drink? Stay sober? Stay sober-ish? Build stuff?
With the exception of Wak, we all have our day jobs. Jonny is engineering a variety of projects, Chris is working overtime at his job – Mac probably has the most metal profession as a bona-fide metallurgist. Personally, I’m in the process of trying to get a business off the ground but the most important things to me are my kids. Other than that, I do indeed like a drink and, when I can find a spare few minutes, I like to work on other musical and literary projects, though there’s precious little time for that these days. Wak can usually be found in a haze of smoke playing Counter Strike.

What are your immediate plans for the band, and how do people that want to hear your barbarian outbursts go about it?
As previously stated, we are trying to find a label to pick this record up and get it out to people. At this stage, there’s nothing more pressing than that.
Currently our main website is down but you can find us in all the usual places:
Any ultimate words of knowledge and violence?
First I’d like to send our thanks to all of those who fly the Kull banner, have supported and continue to support us today. Secondly, thanks to you for this opportunity to continue the dissemination of Kull’s message. Thirdly, if there are any labels out there interested, contact us! The work is done – let’s get this out to the hordes! Finally, it’s only fitting to end on a Howard quote, so here’s one of my all-time favourites:
“Gleaming shell of an outworn lie; fable of Right divine—
You gained your crowns by heritage, but Blood was the price of mine.
The throne that I won by blood and sweat , by Crom, I will not sell
For promise of valleys filled with gold, or threat of the Halls of Hell!”
Alea iacta est!

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