Manchester’s ARESK have, since their formation back in 2017, quickly established themselves as one of the premier Black Metal acts in the country. They blend the symphonic overtones of the likes of HECATE ENTHRONED and early CRADLE OF FILTH with a razor sharp, caustic brand of Black Metal. Rock Out Stand Out’s guest writer Danny Sanderson talks to Matt and Leth about the band excellent debut album Realm Of Eternal Night, the long road the band took to recording it and the resurgence of Symphonic Black Metal as a force to be reckoned with on UK shores.
Where does the name “Argesk” come from?
Matt: Within the Dracula mythos, ‘Arges’ is the river in which Vlad’s betrothed, Elisabeta, drowned herself upon learning (false) news of his death. This is the subject matter of our song ‘Drowned in Freezing Waters’. As there is an established death metal band with the name ‘Arges’, we added the ‘K’ as a mark of distinction.
Leth: Matt proposed the name, based on the Argeș river in Romania. The K is simply to sound unique. It’s important to create a band brand and it’s good form to be searchable. In both the river and the band, the g is a ‘soft g’, like fridge, or gif, or this goke. The “ș” is a “sh” sound. We don’t say Argesk like that though.
As for me, the name ‘Argeș’ has a potential meaning of “higher ground”. That’s what I take and strive for.
How did the band form?
Matt: I’d been writing melodic black metal riffs for years, and had originally planned to use these in Cumbrian black metal band Glaramara. That band folded due to logistical issues and, since I’d relocated to Manchester, I wanted to find like-minded musicians to play them with. I already knew Leth and Dillon, and got in touch with Bob after I put up a post on Facebook. A few jam sessions and practices later, Argesk emerged almost fully formed. We recorded the Liberari in Tenebrae demo with our erstwhile rhythm guitarist Toby, who had to leave a few months in.
Leth: How the hell do bands ever form? Some hairy blokes wanted mates and the quickest way is a band. Matt, our frontman, put out a call for musicians to play black metal. I was sure I could play black metal. I like makeup. I turned up to a rehearsal and then 2 years later there was an album. I know Bob (our drummer) isn’t a hairy bloke, but if you look at photos of him in his previous bands, he may as well be an honorary member of the Hairy Bloke Circle. I think he’s earned it.
You released your excellent debut album, “Realm of Eternal Night”, back in April. How did the writing and recording process for that record go, and how do you think that fans have reacted to it?
Matt: The album was written and recorded over two years, and grew from humble beginnings as a demo EP. As we grew as a band, developed our songwriting and utilised the excellent production skills of Rik Simpson, it grew far beyond what we had initially envisioned. The long time we spent with this material ended up working to our advantage, as it allowed us to craft the finished product with the care it deserved. We recorded with Rik in his home studio near Stoke, and he put countless hours into realising our collective dark vision through superb recording, mixing and mastering.
The writing process was very natural – I began most of the songs by writing the guitar at home and bringing my ideas to the practice room. The guys would listen to the riffs and then play whatever felt natural to them, developing the skeletal form and putting flesh on the bones. We then worked on the structure of the song and I’d contribute vocals wherever felt natural, coming up with a pattern or rhythm before any concrete lyrics came into play. I then came up with concepts or stories that fit the music, and wrote the lyrics to fit the rhythm and meter.
While I wrote the guitar for most of the songs on ‘Realm’, Leth and Dillon have been taking a more active songwriting role in the newer material. ‘Adversary’, a fan favourite and one of the stronger tracks on the album, was mostly written by Dillon, and Leth took the lead in writing ‘Tempest’, our most recent song that we debuted live after recording the album. As ‘Adversary’ has a blackened thrash feel and ‘Tempest’ is a melancholic dirge reminiscent of Summoning, Leth and Dillon’s contributions bring a wider range of influences to our sound and give us a much wider appeal. That said, these songs still retain the core of our identity as a band, while allowing us to experiment within our medium.
The fans seem to have loved the album. While the press hasn’t always been kind, those who have followed us have universally enjoyed the recordings, and many of them have wanted to hear recorded versions of these songs for a long time. The album has lived up to their expectations (and in some cases exceeded them), and we’re very proud of that. Due to Clobber Records’ excellent promotion of the release, many people who had never heard our music previously have now listened to us and love it. Eternal Night is spreading across our shores…
Leth: Thank you for your opinion that ‘Realm’ was excellent. It was a cursed album. We’ve been playing this album’s material live since our first gig in 2018 (bar Adversary). We tried recording an EP (with our old guitarist, as a fivesome) but a hard drive failure scuppered that attempt. I’ve still got all the test-mixes I recorded to with a burned-in click track, making them useless. The guitarist then left and… well… that was that. We got an initial version of Liberari out of it and that was all we had.
We then decided that a full album was the way to go. The aforementioned Mr Bob is in a death metal band called Austerymn with Rik Simpson. Rik’s a fine upstanding fellow who knows his way around a mixing desk and recorded this for/with us. We then lost all the stems in a hard drive failure. I swear to the gods that our next album is going to be backed up hourly. Thankfully, we had (at least) test mixes of everything so an album it became. Perfect it isn’t, but like that time you wet the bed after sleeping with your secondary school crush, we love the memory all the same. It’s a warm embrace you never forget.
Fan wise, it’s been a weird but uplifting time. We’ve had people express a great enjoyment of our work. That’s all you can ever ask for as a musician.
What are the main lyrical themes of the album?
Matt: The key theme that I hope listeners take away from the lyrics is the idea of self-empowerment, of unapologetically being who you are without the constraints of dogma, whether it be religious, cultural or political. They do this through explorations of LaVeyan Satanism and Crowley’s ideas of the True Will, whilst also referencing gothic and fantasy literature. ‘Adversary’ is an inversion of the Christian creed, asking not to be forgiven by an unjust God and renouncing His ways. ‘In Their Image’ looks to what will happen when humanity’s own creations discover that they have a will of their own, and the title track is heavily influenced by JRR Tolkien in its imagery.
Leth: I play keyboards right. Have you ever heard the bloody album? I have no idea what the lyrics are about. They’re printed in the liner but I don’t think I’ve ever read it. I sing like 2 lines in Adversary, but you can probably hear that for yourself. The hairy bloke at the front is into Satan, so it’s probably about that.
I’m working on lyrics for our second album. My lyrical offerings will be greatly influenced by Baltic Paganism.
Between the release of your first E.P in 2017 and the release of this album, you’ve toured quite a lot and played the material for what would become this album across the country. Do you feel that playing shows before recording has helped create a buzz for the band and the album?
Leth: See aforementioned recording failures. We got one song for the “EP” and I swear we weren’t going out of our way to make an audience hungry for recordings. In the end though, it worked out that way and it certainly helped create the “buzz” you describe.
I don’t think it would have worked if it hadn’t come out organically, same with most things in life. If you engineer emotion in others, it doesn’t happen. We’ve been blessed that people take a liking to our stage show and wanted to take it home. Enjoy ‘Realm’, people, it’s there to be enjoyed.
Matt: I do, though as Leth mentioned this was not by design! I do think that gigging extensively has given our rabid fans a hunger to hear the recorded material, and many snapped up the first print soon after release. We’re very glad that we’ve made such an impression upon those the music resonates with. We feel that the recordings capture the raw power and energy of performing the songs live, and judging by the fans’ response, we are not the only ones.
The band’s sound draws a lot of influence from classic Symphonic Black Metal acts like Cradle of Filth, Hecate Enthroned and Bal Sagoth. Was it a conscious decision to adopt this style when the band formed, or is this the way the music naturally turned out?
Matt: I’m a massive fan of both Cradle and Hecate, particularly the 90s output of both bands. ‘Dusk and Her Embrace’ and ‘The Slaughter of Innocence’ (which Bob played drums on), are two of my favourite albums. Having loved both bands since my teens, it was natural that music written predominantly by me would be influenced by them. My vocal style is also very influenced both by Dani Filth and Jon Kennedy.
This aside, it was never my intention to make Argesk a copycat of any particular band. Emperor and Dissection are two other great influences on the band, and my guitar playing style is greatly influenced by Sargeist and Gorgoroth. I also take influence from atmospheric black metal like Woods of Desolation for the big chords and more DSBM-style howls I often use. Not only that, but Dillon is very punk influenced in his bass playing, Leth loves synthpop as well as dungeon synth, and Bob is big into old-school death metal, so I think that all of these influences can be heard in Argesk.
Leth: We have an ex-Hecate Enthroned chap who whacks some pans at the back of the stage, so I’d have honestly been amazed if we weren’t at least compared to them. The front-hair is a massive Cradle and Hecate fan so whilst it wasn’t engineered to be influenced by them, it was bound to be in time.
Part of what works well with Argesk, in my opinion, is our variety of musical backgrounds. I’ve mentioned Bob and Matt coming from the school of black metal, but Dillon on the bass is an old-school punk and his pingy aggressive style really shows through.
As for myself, when I’m alone I play synthpop. I don’t think those sort of beeps and boops could really have worked with a band like this so I leant heavily into thick, orchestral-sounding keyboard sound. Turns out that’s far from unique and makes us “symphonic”.
Between yourselves and bands like Old Corpse Road, this style of Black Metal is starting to make a resurgence. It’s a style that doesn’t really seem to get as much attention as it deserves. Why do you think this is, and why do you think some bands are beginning to embrace Symphonic Black Metal again?
Matt: For devotees of this style of black metal, the music never went away. Popularity of music genres seems to go in cycles, and it is true that symphonic black metal was at its peak during the 90s and early 00s while seeming to lose some momentum in the 2010s. The press can be fickle at times, but true fans of the music will support it regardless of whether they’re told to.
Whether what we do is in vogue in the relevant scenes or not, we and our contemporaries will play music that is true to ourselves, that expresses what we want it to and that we ourselves want to hear. However, with us now being 30 years on from 1990, nostalgia has certainly begun to come into play, and this may be a factor in the subgenre’s resurgence. There is also the fact that musicians such as myself and Leth were listening to the 90s symphonic masters during our formative years, and now that we’re old enough to be forming our own bands, it’s natural that these bands would be influenced by them.
Leth: It’s not getting much attention? I mean, this stuff comes in waves from all sorts of directions. Black metal has never gone away and has a nice, firm following all around Britain. Seemingly around the world.
The “symphonic” bit may come and go in black metal terms but “symphonic metal” in general is far from gone. Look at bands like Nightwish and you’ll see that “symphonic” never left, even if it strayed from black metal. They’re bigger than ever. A lot of bands are taking a black-inspired metal sound and associate it with “folk metal” instead. The branding wanders, but the music never leaves.
Based on your question, it seems it’s black metal’s turn to carry the Symphonic standard once more.
As stated earlier, you toured quite a lot from the early days of the band. How are you all coping with the current situation, with no gigs for the foreseeable future, and has promoting the record been harder seeing as it was released after Lockdown began?
Leth: It’s all bit shit. We’ve obviously had to wipe away any plans of touring our album. We can’t realistically plan anything either. We’re just now booking our 2021 gigs.
In terms of writing, we write our music by jamming in the same room, as a group. This pandemic has put a stop to that. We’re all writing music separately but it’s impossible to really gel it all together whilst we’re apart. We’ll come back together with a hell of a lot of ideas and plans though. Some of them great, some of them pretty shit. We’ll hopefully weed out the worst.
That said, weighing up us going out and having a great time, playing some metal and enjoying each others company versus people literally dying, you have to take into account that people are literally dying. This may be a horrid time for the band, but it’s a horrid time for humankind. Health and life are valuable beyond measure and so easy to lose. Once this is over, we’ll be back, filling your stages. In the mean time, we’re looking after ourselves. You should be too.
Matt: We all miss playing gigs and rehearsing together. I find it particularly cathartic to scream my lungs out both in the practice room and on stage, and living in a flat I’m not really able to do that. We do have a confirmed post-lockdown gig (February next year, assuming things don’t go tits-up before then), and I’m hoping we’ll be able to get together again in the near future. As Leth says, life and health comes first.
In terms of promoting the record, Clobber have done an excellent job of promoting it online, selling out of the first print of the CD fairly quickly. The copies we’ve sold ourselves alongside t shirts have sold well too. I must say though, since we’re not able to play live to promote the album I do feel the hype has died down somewhat. Hopefully more people will be able to discover it once we’re out on the road again.
Are you currently working on new music, and if so, do you have any ideas of when you think it might see the light of day?
Matt: Yes, we have a lot of new music in the pipeline and we can’t wait to get back to the practice room to develop it. Just before lockdown, we debuted a new song, ‘Tempest’, which went down very well with fans. I’d describe it as Summoning meets ‘Enthroned Darkness Triumphant’ era Dimmu Borgir. The music we’re currently writing is fast, angry, at times despondent, but ultimately triumphant. It holds to the melodic nature of the material on ‘Realm’ while injecting a number of other influences – I think fans will enjoy it. I’m hesitant to give a timeframe on when the next release will be, as we haven’t even practiced most of this new material together yet, but we’re hoping to get recording again next year.
Leth: We’re working on new music, sending it back and forth. Dillon’s sent around a few riffs and Matt’s written an 8 minute rambling post-jazz epic that I can’t decide whether to try to play keyboards to or quietly sob in the background of. I’m not really sure it matters whichever choice I make.
Before lockdown, we gigged a keyboard-heavy song, ‘Tempest’, a couple of times. It’s basically me just playing a single arpeggio exercise for 6 minutes until the rest of them lose the will to live and declare it a track. You’ve got that to look forward to. I sing in it too. We’ll see if you still call us “symphonic black” when you finally hear it. It’s a doozy.
Do you have any post Lockdown touring plans?
Leth: We’ve decided to be brave and look at a tour for early next year alongside more of the Manchester’s black metal family, the glorious Deus Mori. At this point in time it’s at the fever-dream stage, but you’ll see us in all our naked glory.
We’ve booked dates around the North of England but if you want to see us further afield, get in touch. I’m sure we can try to accommodate.
Matt: We have something in the pipeline with our Manchester black metal brothers in Deus Mori. Keep your eyes peeled… As well as that, we’re applying to play gigs and festivals across the UK as well as Europe and beyond. Promoters – if you’d like to put us on, email us at email@example.com or message our Facebook page.
Many thanks for the interview!