By Keith Bergman
While they never rose to the levels of fame that their contemporaries enjoyed, England's SABBAT built up quite a cult following during their short tenure in the 1980s. Vocalist Martin Walkyier, guitarist Andy Sneap, bassist Frazer Craske and drummer Simon Negus rose from the UK underground with a pair of wicked albums on the Noise label, "History of a Time To Come" and "Dreamweaver" (for which they were joined by second guitarist Simon Jones). Their blend of buzzsaw thrash, pagan imagery and Walkyier's breathless, ranting, wordy bark stood out among the horde of MEGADETH and KREATOR clones at the time.
Following an acrimonious split with Walkyier, the band soldiered on with American vocalist Ritchie Desmond for the panned "Mourning is Broken" album, before calling it quits. Sneap, of course, went on to become a renowned metal producer, while Walkyier took his folk-tinged pagan vision to the band SKYCLAD for a decade of criminally underrated releases. More recently, he collaborated with the likes of IMMORTAL's Iscariah and James Murphy on a project called THE CLAN DESTINED, which itself ended with some acrimony, causing Walkyier to announce his retirement from making music.
Meanwhile, the generation of metalheads influenced by those dark, medieval, and now sorely out-of-print SABBAT albums were themselves making a mark in music. Walkyier lent his vocals to a CRADLE OF FILTH cover of "For Those Who Died" in 2000, which led to a quasi-reunion called RETURN TO THE SABBAT. By 2006, the "Dreamweaver" lineup including Sneap was back together and committed to shows, though no plans for new material were announced.
Now, in 2008, the remastered SABBAT classics are again on store shelves, and the band is making a long-overdue maiden trip to the USA for four shows in April. The affable Walkyier answered some questions about the status and long-term plans of SABBAT, as well as the many other facets of his long and strange career.
Q: At the time you quit SABBAT in the early 1990s, would you have been surprised to know you'd someday be in the band again? What led you to leave in the first place, and is it all water under the bridge now?
Walkyier It is a source of constant amazement to me that there are so many people who are still interested in, and influenced by, the music of SABBAT. I honestly would never have dreamed back then that we'd be reforming the band all these years later, and that there'd still be countless cool metalheads out there who want to see SABBAT play live. The response from the fans has been utterly overwhelming, and their boundless enthusiasm is one of the numerous reasons why I'm enjoying these reunion shows so very much.
The majority of the problems we faced with SABBAT back in the early days were undoubtedly business-related. Despite the fact that the band were busy playing lots of concerts and selling records, the useless record label and management we were signed with back then meant that we never received any money for all our hard work. Add to this the fact that both myself and Andy Sneap were little more than naive kids back then, (inexperienced, highly opinionated and exploding with youthful testosterone and acne); and it's really no wonder that things went seriously awry in the way in which they did.
Andy and I have changed a lot over the years; we are both now far more mature and chilled-out as people, and we currently enjoy working together as friends in a way which was sadly never possible in the early days of SABBAT. If only we had known back then what we each know now, then everything would have been entirely different, I'm sure. I believe that with this SABBAT reunion we've been blessed with a second chance, and so we should all make certain that we have some serious fun playing these songs live this time around!
Q: Now that you've been away from SKYCLAD for a few years, do you have a different perspective on your time with the band? Are there any favorite (or least favorite) songs or albums from that time? Do you think a reunion with SKYCLAD would ever be possible?
Walkyier: When I look back upon my many years spent as the vocalist and lyricist of SKYCLAD, I feel enormously proud of what we managed to collectively achieve. I think that basically we created a brand new sound with that band, which has over subsequent years influenced a whole load of other musicians both in the metal and folk scenes. However, I still believe that I chose exactly the right time to leave the band; as finally I'd realized by then that my fellow musicians sadly no longer seemed to share my drive, passion and full-time dedication to our creative crusade which, for me personally, was one of the main reasons for creating those SKYCLAD lyrics in the first place. The band was plagued by numerous line-up changes during my time together with them, which were largely down to the fact that there was never any money to pay anyone and also that the band's finances and organization were back then in complete and utter disarray. This extreme disorganization was enough to make anyone lose heart. Some of our band members lasted only a few months, whilst others held out for several years. I myself worked for over a decade on the SKYCLAD project, during which time I earned on average the princely sum of 40.00 (GBP) wages per week for all my efforts. So nobody can ever say that I was in this band for the money!
My all-time favorite SKYCLAD albums are "The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth", "A Burnt Offering For the Bone Idol", "Prince Of The Poverty Line" and "Folkemon". I also really enjoyed doing some of the more acoustic, folky and experimental material we tried and tested over the years.
I have no plans whatsoever for any kind of SKYCLAD reunion, but it would perhaps be interesting to do some SKYCLAD "cover versions" with other musicians and bands in the future should the opportunity ever arise.
Q: When THE CLAN DESTINED initially fell apart, you stated that that group's recordings would be your final musical offering. Does your return to SABBAT mean you've changed your mind about music in general?
Walkyier: At the same time as things started to go wrong with THE CLAN DESTINED, my elderly father became seriously ill; his health then gradually deteriorated until finally he died in hospital in February 2007. I'm sure that you can imagine the great distress this has caused for both me and my family. I began to become increasingly disheartened with everything that had happened, and regrettably began to lose faith in myself, and the direction my life was taking. There were times when the messages of support from the loyal fans was all that kept me going, to be honest. A week before my father passed away, he was in a lucid and talkative mood when I went to visit him in hospital (this was a rare event indeed during the final months of his life).
It was during what proved to be our final conversation that my father said to me "Martin, promise me that you won't ever give up on your dreams and making your music just because some bloody, childish idiot has let you down badly and is now spreading cruel lies about you in the press and on the Internet. People often prove to be a big disappointment in this life, and some day he will realize that betraying you in the way he did was perhaps the biggest mistake he's ever made. Now stop feeling sorry for yourself my lad, get straight back out there and make me proud of you and prove to everyone what tough stuff the Walkyier clan are made of!"
And so this was the final promise that I made to my dad, one that I can never break under any circumstances. Whilst I still have breath in my body I will fight to keep THE CLAN DESTINED dream alive.
TCD are currently working on a concept video which should be finished in early March this year, and I am busy writing some brand new music with a whole load of very interesting musicians. Thankfully, not everyone I've worked with so far on THE CLAN DESTINED project has proven to be an immature idiot. The TCD "In The Big Ending..." demo recordings were finally completed with the kind help of such loyal friends as Andy Sneap, James Murphy, Les Smith, Jay Graham, plus many more cool people. I'm in the process of writing a book about everything that's happened here, and it will make very interesting reading indeed! For further updates and information visit: www.theclandestined.com.
Q: Would you consider the SABBAT reunion a limited engagement for fun and nostalgia, or could the band conceivably regroup for new material?
Walkyier: Myself, Andy and the rest of the SABBAT guys have discussed the idea of writing some new material at great length, and have unanimously decided that this reunion should purely be used as a way for us to have some fun and to give the fans a final opportunity to hear these ancient songs played live. As I stated in my earlier answer, we were entirely different people when we wrote those old SABBAT tunes. I do not think that we would be capable of recreating that original sound even if we wanted to, as anything new we wrote today would sound like an entirely different band anyway. It's just great for us at the moment to be able to get out there and play the tracks to all our fans, both young and old. We have been filming as many of these gigs as possible, and will hopefully be releasing an official SABBAT DVD of this material sometime in the not-too-distant future. Check-out www.sabbat-uk.com for further details.
Q: Your vocal style in SABBAT is fairly rapid-fire and wordy. Was there a period of readjustment to that kind of vocal when you started rehearsing with the band again? Are there any songs where you've made adjustments for the sake of getting through the song live, or simply because you've thought of a better way of delivery in the ensuing years?
Walkyier: Yes, everything about these SABBAT songs is rather hectic both musically and lyrically. The first few rehearsals we had together proved to be a bit of a challenge for us all. They're the kind of tracks where if you lose your concentration and your mind wanders even for a second, you've forgotten where you are in the song. This is all part of the fun of playing them live, I guess.
Whilst I try to keep my vocals true to the original versions as much as possible, there are some parts that I have changed a bit to make them flow a bit better lyrically and give me more chance to breathe.
It was weird playing the tunes again after such a long break, but the more gigs we do together the better we get we've kind of rediscovered our live "groove" again now and the songs are really starting to sound extremely good. If we're still playing them live in another twenty years time, by then we'll be absolutely fucking brilliant! [laughs]
Q: When you first realized that CRADLE OF FILTH and others considered SABBAT so influential, what was your reaction? Did you consider SABBAT to be groundbreaking or important in the grand scheme of things, after you'd moved on from it?
Walkyier: It makes me very proud indeed to know that we have influenced such great bands as CRADLE OF FILTH and DIMMU BORGIR, amongst many others. The fact that we have been an inspiration to artists of this calibre has been a reward in itself although it would also be nice to finally get some of the royalties we're still owed by our old recording and publishing companies!
The band who originally inspired SABBAT back in the early days were an outstanding UK quartet called HELL, who sadly never released much material due to the untimely and tragic death of their uniquely talented singer Dave G. Halliday. Andy Sneap and I are currently working on a full album of HELL material together with the three remaining original musicians, Kev Bower, Tony Speakman and Tim Bowler. I am seriously looking forward to doing the vocals for this project, as Dave Halliday was a real inspiration to my vocal and lyrical style. Whilst SABBAT have received recognition for our contribution to the metal scene over the years, both myself and Andy Sneap agree it's about time that Dave and HELL finally get some of the credit they rightfully deserve for being so truly innovative and literally decades ahead of their time.
Q: Fill us in on what you're doing for a creative outlet besides music these days.
Walkyier: Making music seems to be taking up ever more of my time these days, as currently I find I've now become the vocalist of three bands! As I mentioned earlier, I'm busy writing a book about my musical exploits and humorous adventures over the last twenty or so years. I also write a column for an awesome underground magazine called Devolution. In order to help finance my various creative ventures, I run my own merchandising label, printing all my own amusing t-shirt designs and also manufacturing top-quality tour shirts for lots of other bands and cool, creative people. Check out www.prick-tees.com.
Q: How important was it for you to play the States with SABBAT? If I recall correctly, neither SABBAT nor SKYCLAD ever got to tour the USA.
Walkyier: We've never played any concerts in the U.S. with either band, and therefore I'm looking forward to these shows in April enormously. Lately we've been receiving countless messages via the website from our fans in the States who are all really excited about these forthcoming gigs. I look forward to saying hello and drinking a beer with you all when we're over there in a month's time!
I think America is a very beautiful country and I've met numerous cool people when I've had the pleasure of being there over the years. I'm not a big fan of your current Bush administration, though, to be honest. Sadly, the world already has far too many fundamentalist religious leaders who possess weapons of mass destruction, pursue aggressive foreign policies and sanction the torture of political prisoners and so hopefully soon you'll manage to kick out all those warmongers who have made themselves at home in the White House?! If the opposite of "pro" is "con," then what's the opposite of progress?
Q: Did you ever listen to "Mourning is Broken," the infamous third SABBAT album? If so, what did you think of it? I know Andy has distanced himself from it I assume there's never been talk of resurrecting any songs from it for the current setlist?
Walkyier: There are many parts of "Mourning Has Broken" which are actually very good. I think that Andy will agree that if the band had changed its name, then this album would perhaps have been judged far more fairly and achieved much greater success. The problem with a band like SABBAT is that it has a very distinctive sound indeed, and any attempt to change it would greatly disappoint the fans which is one of the main reasons why we're not planning to try and write any new material twenty years down the line.
I don't think that I could emulate Ritchie Desmond's vocal style any better than he could copy mine, as we're two completely different singers. So therefore I doubt very much that we'll be performing any of those tracks during our upcoming shows.
Q: Lastly, is there such a thing as "too old to rock and roll," and if so, are you anywhere near it yet?
Walkyier: Yes, I think it is possible to become "too old to rock and roll," but then hopefully I've not quite reached that state of senile decay just yet! Over the countless years I've been in the music business, I have endeavoured to slowly pickle and mummify my body whilst still alive with the preserving properties of cigarette smoke and alcohol, in much the same way as Lemmy from MOTRHEAD has already done. When finally I shuffle off this mortal coil, I hope that some young, up-and-coming band will maybe find a worthy use for my desiccated and leathery remains. Perhaps they could use my ravaged corpse as some kind of Eddie-style mascot or fill me full of pyrotechnics as part of their stage show.
Upcoming SABBAT shows:
Apr 13 - B.B. King Blues Club & Grill - New York, NY
Apr 15 - The Pearl Room - Mokena, IL
Apr 17 - Whisky A-Go Go West Hollywood, CA
Apr 19 - Jaxx - West Springfield, VA
Jun. 08 - Scala - London, UK
Professionally filmed video footage of SABBAT performing in 2007 can be viewed below.