Monday 9 March 2009

Thoughts from the Sanctum Sanctorum of Bal-Sagoth

Bal-Sagoth FAQs answered by Byron Roberts.
(Updated: 2022)


In this section, I’ll strive to answer some of the most frequently asked questions which people have posed over the last 29 years or so. These questions range from old classics to very recent queries about the current state of Bal-Sagoth.

Byron Roberts

The Beginning of Bal-Sagoth

How did the band start? This question has been asked so many times over the years, so here’s the definitive version for the archives! Here you will find out about the origin of both the concept and the band itself. I came up with the idea and concept for Bal-Sagoth many years ago (around 1989), and had tried unsuccessfully to start it up with a succession of different musicians. Unfortunately, it was the era of socially aware thrash metal, and nobody was at all interested in committing to a fantasy oriented black/death metal project. I was determined to start the project however, and continued my attempts to find musicians who might be interested in the idea. Then, a guy I knew who had played guitar in a prominent local thrash band asked me if I wanted to jam with some guys he’d met. They were only playing Metallica and Napalm Death covers in their bedroom, but they were interested in starting a serious band. So, I went and met the Maudling brothers Jonny and Chris (Jonny had previously been in a thrash band called Igniter, playing the regional pubs and clubs and once supporting Xentrix), and we jammed some stuff. Unfortunately however, I really wasn’t interested in playing the kind of material that they were into, so I surmised that it probably just wasn’t going to work out. Jonny and Chris weren’t at all familiar with black metal, and also the guy who introduced us (Alistair) absolutely did not like the fantasy concept I had in mind for the band, or the name “Bal-Sagoth”, for that matter. He hated it. Alistair wanted to do a sort of thrash/death metal band with contemporary socio-political lyrical topics. He was also, at that time, somewhat horrified at the suggestion of a metal band with full keyboards. I figured I might as well keep jamming with these guys until I found someone else with whom to start Bal-Sagoth. I quickly drew up a lengthy list of alternative names for this non-serious bedroom act, and “Dusk” was the last name on that list. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that was the name which was chosen. (Alistair didn’t like the name Bal-Sagoth, but he was seemingly quite fond of Dusk). So, I swiftly created a logo for Dusk, complete with a skull and an inverted cross. Truth be told, this whole Dusk thing was a compromise, and from the outset I wasn’t happy with it. I duly vowed to keep my Bal-Sagoth project on stand by, waiting for an opportunity to put it into action, should such an opportunity ever arise. Anyway, we continued to spend Sunday afternoons making a truly horrific noise. (Special mention must be made at this point of the house in which we were jamming. It was an old manor house which had once been a lunatic asylum. Yes, seriously! It was Chris and Jonny’s parents’ house, in which they all lived. Ask anyone who attended our rehearsals… they’ll tell you how cool the old Manor was). Well, this went on for a few months, but absolutely nothing came of it. I wasn’t happy that I couldn’t implement the Bal-Sagoth concept fully, and Jonny and Chris also confided in me that they too weren’t happy with the kind of material which we were playing as Dusk and that they found Alistair difficult to work with. So, to cut a long story short, we parted company with Alistair, asking him to leave the band. As he didn’t like black metal or fantasy lyrics, it was quite simply inevitable. (But, shortly after we released our second album, Alistair found his way back into the band as bassist, having seemingly had a change of heart regarding his dislike for black metal and fantasy orientated metal concepts.) After Alistair’s initial departure, I explained once again to Jonny and Chris in detail the kind of music I wanted to do, and gave them another detailed rundown of the Bal-Sagoth concept, saying that keyboards would ideally play a prominent role in such a band. Back then, I kept all the lyrics, logos, and ideas in a large black folder, which I showed them again to give them a firm idea of the whole concept behind the band. They thought it was all pretty weird, but Jonny, who was a trained pianist, was very intrigued by the idea of keyboards, and when I showed them material by black metal bands such as Emperor, they were sold. And so, Bal-Sagoth was formally implemented during the late summer of 1993. We had Jason Porter on bass guitar, and for keyboards we recruited Vincent Crabtree. Thus, we began crafting the music which would ultimately end up on our demo and then later on the debut album. And that’s how Bal-Sagoth started.

Why doesn’t Bal-Sagoth play many gigs?

We actually played quite a few shows over the years, including several tours and many festivals and one-off shows. The truth of the matter is that it’s fairly difficult to recreate this material accurately in the live environment. The music of Bal-Sagoth is so multi-layered and intricate that there is really no way in which we can genuinely translate the songs live to a truly satisfactory extent. Some of the other guys in the band are okay with this constant compromise in their desire to continually play shows, but it has always vexed me, particularly when we attempt to play the more complex songs. Additionally, I have always felt that when a band plays live, much of the magic and the mystique which is contained on an album is generally lost. No matter how good the show might be, the very act of playing live often demystifies a band and brings them back down to a mundane and earthly level; such are the limitations of the technology and the very medium itself.
I’d also like to add that it takes a lot of preparation and logistical planning for us to undertake shows. Rehearsals have to be arranged, transport has to be coordinated and band members have to take time off from work. The comparatively low gig fees from shows often simply do not make all that expenditure worthwhile.
Additionally, we don’t have our own sound man, so we are constantly forced to rely on the sound engineers available at whatever venue we might be playing, and those sound engineers invariably have no idea as to what this band should sound like in the live environment. Even if we’re afforded a thorough sound check during which to educate the sound men as to the band’s nature, the levels and monitor mixes always end up wildly incorrect.
All in all, the live realm is certainly not the ideal platform from which to showcase the artistic vision of Bal-Sagoth. (Although the other band members would invariably disagree). At one point, there were rumours that I used to turn down a lot of the shows which we were offered. That was quite simply not the case. We accepted the vast majority of gigs which we were offered.  Whatever the case, my favourite shows were the ones where we wore our theatrical garb, such as warpaint, masks, etc. We only played a handful of shows in “normal” apparel. (Well, unless you count our very early gigs, when I was the only one donning the theatrical gear. It took a long time to convince the other members to join in with the theatrical aspect!)

The Song Writing Process

I call the process by which Bal-Sagoth composes songs the “synergy” method, as that’s the best way to describe it. The lyrics are always written well in advance of the music being composed. However, the other members often don’t get to see the actual lyrics until well after the fact. It’s always a surprise to them to actually find out what the final lyrics are.  It was different in the early days, when I showed all the lyrics to the members from day one and often demanded certain riffs be written specifically to suit certain lyrical passages. These days I prefer not to do that. Instead, I always prepare a general conceptual synopsis concerning the narrative outline of the album which I then give to Jonny as a reference. This synopsis includes information on which stories will be included on the album, what the required themes and moods should be, the general emotional essence a piece should convey, etc. Sometimes the details I give him are very sketchy, which Jonny often prefers so as to not overtly colour his music writing, while other times the synopsis is quite detailed. An example of the synopsis being followed well is the song “The Fallen Kingdoms of the Abyssal Plain”, for which I told Jonny that I needed a piece which conveyed the feeling of a journey to the bottom of the ocean, down through the various levels of the marine depths, to the very sea floor where we would see the ruins of ancient non-human underwater cities. I was very pleased with how well that one reflected the synopsis. In the case of epic centre-piece songs such as the second chapter in the Obsidian Crown saga or the Hyperborean Empire cycle, the synopsis will include much greater information, such as a broad outline of the events in the actual story, the key occurrences, what kind of music is required for a certain event, etc. We find this method generally works best. More often than not Jonny will just write something completely unconnected to any outline and present that to me, too. This is often how it works, but it varies. The process of refining and perfecting a composition then proceeds over a period of weeks and months, with any number of different versions of a song exchanged as MP3s, until everything ultimately comes together in the recording studio. And that’s the Bal-Sagoth way of writing songs.

Wasn’t the Circus Maximus used just for chariot racing? But you have gladiatorial combat taking place there in “Blood Slakes The Sand At the Circus Maximus”.

The Circus Maximus was very much an “all purpose” arena. Although it is perhaps best known for the epic chariot races, many different events were in fact held there, including parades, beast hunts, plays, recitals, athletics, religious ceremonies, gladiatorial contests and horse racing.

Isn’t “chthonic” pronounced wrong on the album “The Chthonic Chronicles”?

Well, many learned sources assert that the “ch” is technically silent, but I chose to pronounce it as “katonic” for a couple of reasons. First, I liked the alliterative qualities which the “hard c” sound afforded when paired with the word “chronicles”, which neatly paralleled the alliteration of the previous Bal-Sagoth album title “Atlantis Ascendant”. Second, I always liked the Lovecraftian connotation which the “katonic” pronunciation suggested.
As editor Simon theorizes in the fictional “Necronomicon” publication:
“The pronunciation of chthonic is “katonic”, which explains Lovecraft’s famous Miskatonic River and Miskatonic University, not to mention the chief deity of his pantheon, Cthulhu…”
So, although he is technically wrong about the pronunciation, I always rather liked that theory and the phonetic link to HPL which it afforded. So, that’s why I decided to use the “katonic” pronunciation.

Which keyboards and sound modules were used in Bal-Sagoth?

In the studio, as far as sound modules, sound cards and samplers were concerned, we primarily used Roland Sound Canvas, a Proteus 2 and also an old Akai S900 during the recording of the albums. (The Akai S900 was used for the choirs on “Starfire”.)  The keyboard we used at Academy Music Studio was a Roland MIDI keyboard. For our early rehearsals we got hold of a Yamaha DX21, which we soon replaced with a Korg M1. We used the Korg M1 for all our live shows over the next few years. We then acquired a Roland XP-50, which we used alongside the Korg M1 at gigs. (The XP-50 was also used in the studio during the recording of “Battle Magic” and also on the later albums, although not to a great extent.) Later, we started using a Roland Fantom X7 for live shows.

Why didn’t Leon and the other live session members play on any Bal-Sagoth albums?

By and large, Leon and Alistair were recruited solely to play the material live. In Leon’s case, he received an intensive crash course in keyboard playing from Chris and Jonny. It’s important to realize that Leon had never played keyboards before and in a very short time, he became proficient enough to play our material at gigs! He did an amazing job, and learning the keyboard parts of the Bal-Sagoth songs so quickly was truly a phenomenal achievement. But as far as the albums were concerned, it was always going to be Jonny who actually played the keyboards in the studio. Similarly, Chris wanted to play the bass on “Battle Magic” himself. As he had laid down all the guitar tracks, he felt it would be much more efficient and practical if he also played the bass parts. This was partially due to a desire to save time, as we only had a limited amount of time booked into Academy Music Studio and therefore it made more sense for Chris to play the bass as he was already so familiar with the riffs. Additionally, at the time Chris felt that Alistair’s playing style might be slightly too imprecise to meet the exacting standards which the recording required. So that is basically why Leon and Alistair never actually played on any of the Bal-Sagoth albums. Eventually, we recruited a new drummer and moved Jonny onto the keyboards for live shows (resulting in many bewildered looks from the audiences when they saw Jonny). That drummer was Dave Mackintosh. Shortly afterwards we recruited Mark Greenwell on bass, who did play on three of our albums. 

How many stories and books have you had published? How long have you been writing these stories?

I’ve been writing stories for many, many years. In fact, many of my Bal-Sagoth lyrics started out as prose stories which I then adapted to lyrical form. Several of the characters from the Bal-Sagoth lyrics now feature in published short stories and novellas. The Elizabethan privateer Captain Caleb Blackthorne takes centre stage in a trilogy of short stories which have been published in the “Swords of Steel” paperback anthology series from DMR Books. The stories are titled “Into the Dawn of Storms”, “A Voyage on Benighted Seas” and “The Scion at the Gate of Eternity”. All three stories (including a revised version of the first) are collected in the mighty “Swords of Steel Omnibus Edition”, available now. And the merciless vampyre hunter Joachim Blokk also features in a trilogy of short stories, the first of which, “Darkfall: Return of the Vampyre Hunter”, was published in the fantasy anthology “Devil’s Armory” from Barbwire Butterfly Books/Horrified Press. The Obsidian Crown saga which started on the second Bal-Sagoth album is also featured in a couple of published short stories, including the tale “Chronicles of the Obsidian Crown” which appears in the paperback anthology volume “Barbarian Crowns”, also from Barbwire Butterfly Books/Horrified Press. There’s also an Obsidian Crown story in my debut novel, which I’ll mention shortly. The barbarian warlord Caylen-Tor has also found his way into book form, first in the anthology paperback “Dreams of Fire and Steel” published by Nocturnicorn Books. The story was called “Caylen-Tor”, and was actually an excerpt from my full length Caylen-Tor novel. The novel itself is entitled “The Chronicles of Caylen-Tor” and consists of three linked novellas featuring the fan-favourite character. The stories are “The Siege of Gul-Azlaan”, “The Battle of Blackhelm Vale”, and “The King Beneath the Mountain of Fire”. The book was published as a classic sized paperback and a trade paperback by DMR Books. The follow-up novel “The Chronicles of Caylen-Tor: Volume II” was also published by DMR Books and contains four stories “The Trial of Blood and Steel”, “Carnage at the Crimson Stones”, “In the Hall of the Wolfborn Liege” and “The Devil Beyond the Gate of Shadow”. Both volumes also include extensive appendices sections containing much information on the characters and events of the fantasy world. I also had a poem (“When Dead Cthulhu Dreams”) published in the Lovecraftian anthology “Beyond the Cosmic Veil”, which was released by Horrified Press. Additionally, another of my poems (“The Hallowing of the Wolf-King”) was published in the second edition of “The Hyborian Gazette” from Carnelian Press. The poem also features in “The Chronicles of Caylen-Tor”. There’s also the novel “Karnov: Phantom-Clad Rider of the Cosmic Ice” which was a collaboration between myself, Matt Knight and Howie Bentley. We each took it in turns to write sections of the book. It’s also available from DMR Books. There are also many other stories and novellas in the works, which will be published over the coming months and years. Keep checking my blogs for more information, and thanks for your support!

What’s Chris and Jonny’s new project Kull all about?

Following “The Chthonic Chronicles”, I felt that the Bal-Sagoth discography was complete, at least for the immediately foreseeable future. But I also had the material prepared for a further three albums, including lyrics, stories, artwork, etc, so I certainly did not want to rule out the possibility of further Bal-Sagoth albums in the future. Anyway, we concentrated on gigging for the next few years, playing shows and festivals in places such as Norway, USA, Finland, Portugal, Czech Republic, etc. However, Jonny and Chris were increasingly keen to continue composing and releasing new music, so they ultimately decided to form Kull to continue their musical endeavours. Contrary to what has been claimed, the debut Kull album was not originally written as the seventh Bal-Sagoth album. Nor is Kull simply Bal-Sagoth under a different name. It is a new project for Jonny and Chris to showcase their compositions, exploring exciting new ground whilst maintaining a stylistic link to the celebrated style and sound (which all three of us) established over the years.

Will there be any further BAL-SAGOTH albums?

Never say never, but there are currently no firm plans for any further Bal-Sagoth albums, at least not for the immediately foreseeable future. That’s not to say there’s any shortage of inspiration or material… far from it! I have the content prepared for albums 7, 8 and 9, including lyrics, titles and even the cover artwork. That material has existed for years, and includes the final chapters to all of the stories which were left unfinished on the existing albums.) Anyway, at some point we might reunite triumphantly for a seventh Bal-Sagoth opus. But now is not the time. Perhaps one day… if the stars align.


Bal-Sagoth: The Annotated Discography

The personal recollections of Byron Roberts on the recording of Bal-Sagoth's works.

1) The Demo (1993)

BYRON: We recorded the demo during a single afternoon in a small recording studio under a curry house. We could only afford to book in for a few hours, and we recorded three songs during that time. We never officially released it because it was never officially finished. We always intended to go back and add a few more vocal parts and a few more keyboard parts (making them sound less like a stylophone), and to remix the whole affair. However, we never got around to it and ultimately I started releasing the tracks into the underground tape trading community (this was in the days before MP3s and file sharing). The tracks on the demo included a very early version of "Dreaming Of Atlantean Spires", a song called "By The Blaze Of The Fire Jewels" (which later underwent a lyrical and musical overhaul and became "Shadows 'Neath The Black Pyramid"), and a song called "A Shadow On The Mist", which we broke up for spares, using some of its riffs in other songs. The "true" version of the demo includes an intro which I took from the movie "Masters Of The Universe" and also some BBC radiophonic workshop sound effects from the classic "Death & Horror" tape. These tracks were raw, brutal, rough, and totally incomplete, and they only hinted at the greatness that was to come. Nevertheless, they got us a three album deal with Cacophonous, so they ultimately served their purpose. (I authorized two of the tracks to be included as bonus tracks on the Japanese sub-licensed version of our fifth album "Atlantis Ascendant".) The full demo was finally released in 2013 (the 20th anniversary of the original recordings). I titled it "Apocryphal Tales" and it was made available via Godreah and Exhumation Records on CD and limited edition 7" green vinyl, featuring a full lyric supplement, sleeve notes and even a couple of bonus tracks.

2) A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria (1995)

BYRON: Our first full length album! We had about two weeks in Academy Music Studio to record this, during the midsummer of 1994. The archaic glory of analogue recording equipment! Needless to say, things were very hectic, and time was short. We of course ended up running out of recording tracks, and lots of stuff was therefore recorded on the same tracks, which resulted in a lot of fun, and slider carnage, during the final mix. I don't think Cacophonous knew what to expect from us with this album. They initially wanted us to wait a while before recording a full opus, but I was adamant that we were ready to go ahead and record a full LP. A good studio and a fair budget duly enabled us to show the world exactly what our take on extreme metal was all about, and what the Bal-Sagoth mandate truly was. The Bal-Sagoth lyrical mythos officially began with this album, and the genesis of many of the hexalogy's epic tales was here. Angsaar! Khthon! The Shadow-Sword! Legendary sound engineer Mags helmed this one, so beginning his long and glorious association with the band. A few interesting snippets of first album trivia: We heard that COF were quite pissed off that we were recording at Academy because they were allegedly worried we would steal their keyboard sound. Ha! Well, needless to say we proved with this album that we were pretty serious about our keyboards. Also, the guitar solo on "The Ravening" was played by John Piras, who at that time was in Solstice, and who later went on to be in COF. Mags also played a bit of guitar here and there on this album, and also on the next one, as it happened.  And finally, the album intro was composed and played by Keith Appleton, the owner of Academy Music Studio. I'd been telling Jonny for ages that we needed a keyboard intro for this album, but of course when the time arrived, nothing had been composed. So, Keith came to the rescue by giving us a piece he'd created some years earlier, which was in reality part of a musical suite for a stage production of Alice In Wonderland, but which had been rejected because it was too scary and would have freaked out the kids. Also, this album remains the first and only Bal-Sagoth opus to have been released as a vinyl LP edition (although the first vinyl version omits the track "The Ravening"). It was also reissued in 2016 as a new double LP gatefold edition and as a CD with expanded lyric booklet and spectacular new cover artwork. This album hit the metal scene like a set of adamantium claws through the chest. Only when this ferociously dark and brutally baroque work landed on the doorstep of Cacophonous did they realize the true power of the mighty Bal-Sagoth. (Still didn't stop them taking almost a whole year to release the album, though.) Bal-Sagoth had arrived.

3) Starfire Burning Upon The Ice-Veiled Throne Of Ultima Thule (1996)

BYRON: Back to Academy during another sweltering summer for the second album. Everything about this album was bigger and more epic, from the music to the song titles! Forget pan & scan, this was the anamorphic version of Bal-Sagoth. Just over two weeks in Academy, which was nowhere near long enough, but that was all the label would spring for. Also, they wouldn't even foot the bill for new 2 inch reels, so we actually had to use the same reels as before and record over the first album! Unforgivable. Anyway, the temperature in the studio reached such crazy levels that the recording equipment actually broke down on several occasions. But we battled on, secure in the knowledge that we were creating something special. Elaborate orchestrations, intricate vocals, symphonic keyboards... this one really pushed the envelope and proved once again that the power and the glory of Bal-Sagoth was truly unparalleled. The cover art was painted by the famous Petagno. The lyric booklet was huge for its time, and contained the most elaborate lyrics yet seen. The saga of Bal-Sagoth truly continued with this album, and fan favourite stories like the Hyperborean Empire saga, the Obsidian Crown saga, and the Darkenhold mythos began here. We spent a long time writing this album, and it was sublimely epic in scope. Up against the clock, we pulled out all the stops and used every trick in the book to get this one completed on time, including playing a lot of the double bass drums on the keyboards (yes, you read that right). This album also featured a CD-ROM track, which in truth was little more than an ad for the Cacophonous roster of the time. (For some reason, it was also placed at the beginning of the album, which meant that when played in a normal CD player, the first track on the album was a fascinating journey into silence.) The CD reissue in 2016 finally removed the CD-ROM track. The re-release also featured a special newly expanded lyric booklet. Dark, epic, icy, gloriously sinister and bombastic. Many consider this album something of a metal milestone. Which is fine by us.

4) Battle Magic (1998)

BYRON: Winter at Academy, and time for the creation of episode III. Just back from a European tour with Emperor, we were ready to continue the Bal-Sagoth legend. This album was so intricate and compositionally elaborate that it pushed the facilities at Academy to their absolute limit, and almost gave engineer Mags a nervous breakdown (but he loved every minute of it and it remains one of his favourite albums)! Crazed and experimental songs pushed the boundaries still further, like the madly indulgent "Blood Slakes The Sand At The Circus Maximus" (no, the copyright holders of the "Spartacus" film score didn't sue us. Seriously, listen to the opening moments of both pieces back to back!) If nothing else, this album proved that we were a band not afraid to take risks... a band who prized art and originality above all else. A different approach to the keyboards sacrificed much of the dark ambience of previous releases in favour of a more symphonic brass oriented sound, which although not to everyone's liking nevertheless gave the third album its own unmistakable audial identity. Some said that the guitars, more refined than before, were also arguably less heavy. Whatever the case, if "Starfire Burning..." was our "The Empire Strikes Back", then "Battle Magic" was definitely our "Return of the Jedi". Lyrically, the grand Bal-Sagoth mythos continued apace, and still more secrets of the vast lyrical multiverse were revealed to the readers & listeners, such as the genesis of the conflict between the Hyperborean King and Lord Angsaar. Colourful sound, colourful production, colourful concepts, colourful artwork. The full spectrum of genius shone brightly here. Now secure as a firm fan favourite in the Bal-Sagoth canon, "Battle Magic" is an album which the erudite and the imaginative can savour eternally. The 2016 CD reissue also featured a newly expanded lyric booklet and fantastic new cover artwork. "Ride them down!"

5) The Power Cosmic (1999)

BYRON: And lo, the fourth album! The first one for Nuclear Blast! A new record label! A new cover artist! A new drummer! A new bassist! Lots of changes here. A grand return to the hallowed halls of Academy Music Studio for the fourth chapter in the Bal-Sagoth saga. This album was the first one on which Jonny did not play drums and Chris did not play bass. A searingly clear production (some would rightly argue too clear) and a decidedly less barbaric approach to the musical compositions meant that the fourth album was perhaps quite markedly different in sound from previous chapters, substituting much of the trademark Bal-Sagoth chaos and extremity for a more refined and crystalized soundscape. Nevertheless, this was still undeniably Bal-Sagoth. This album was the first during which the more science-fiction oriented aspects of the lyrics (heavily hinted at during the previous releases) finally came more to the fore. The millennia-spanning saga of the evil arch-fiend Zurra and the fabled Empyreal Lexicon was unleashed upon the legions of Bal-Sagoth fandom. Controversially, this album, for the first time, did not include a full lyric booklet, something which incensed many long term fans of the band's stories. The lyrics, as intended, were ultimately released as a downloadable exclusive at the Official Bal-Sagoth Website, and later included with the Russian sub-licensed edition of the album. And at long last, there's a new expanded version of the lyric booklet included with the recent digipack reissue of The Power Cosmic!  Boasting a glorious cover by artist Martin Hanford, "The Power Cosmic" went on to become the biggest selling installment in the entire saga, which was at least partly attributable to the massive promotional push which NB gave the opus (seriously, I must have done something like 200 interviews with magazines and radio stations all over the world to promote this album). "The Power Cosmic" was remastered and reissued in 2011 with an expanded lyric booklet, and again in 2016 with an extra-expanded lyric booklet! Both reissues were digipak editions. The album was also reissued on vinyl in 2021 featuring a special die-cut cover with movable tabs.

6) Atlantis Ascendant (2001)

BYRON: The fifth album! Once more into the fray! Once more into the haunted labyrinthine chambers of the Academy! This album marked the first tentative steps on the path of digital recording, as Academy had begun to upgrade and replace its analogue equipment with some new digital apparatus. New vistas opened up before the band's collective creative eye, and the digital age dawned in the kingdom of Bal-Sagoth. Continuing the long established tradition of elaborate and intricate orchestration, the fifth album was a multilayered, multi-textured exercise in dark and epic art. Mixing elements of all the previous chapters, "Atlantis Ascendant" struck a fine balance between extremity, clarity, aggression and refinement. Lyrically, the baroque saga of Bal-Sagoth continued, with the Hyperborean Empire trilogy reaching its climactic finale, and the exploits of archaeologist and adventurer Professor Caleb Blackthorne III making their debut, setting the scene for many of the events on the sixth album. Fan favourite songs such as Draconis Albionensis and The Dreamer In The Catacombs Of Ur were unleashed upon the world, and the band's artistic palette expanded with a myriad vibrant musical and literary colours.  Overall one of the most consistent, complete and most successfully realized of the Bal-Sagoth albums, "Atlantis Ascendant", resplendent with its glorious artwork, further fortified the band's undeniable legend. The fifth album provided the supporters of Bal-Sagoth with plenty to reflect upon, which was particularly important when you realize it would be a full five years until the appearance of chapter six! Fifth album trivia: "Atlantis Ascendant" was the last album to be recorded at the old premises of Academy Music Studio. As we were putting the finishing touches to the album, the studio was being disassembled around us. We even took some of Academy home with us, for old times' sake. "Atlantis Ascendant" was remastered and reissued in 2011 with an expanded lyric booklet, and again in 2021 with a further expanded lyric booklet, both as digipak editions. A limited edition vinyl LP version was released in 2021 featuring a lenticular 3D cover.

7) The Chthonic Chronicles (2006)

BYRON: Patience is a virtue. All good things come to he who waits. Better late than never. The sixth album took so long because someone decided it would be a great idea if we recorded it on the band's own digital equipment, in the band's own digital studio. That was in 2002. Over the years, the slow and onerous process of amassing all the required equipment dragged on, and on. And on. Deadlines were set. And ignored. The clock kept ticking. Several years, numerous fights, and a few catastrophic hardware failures later, we were ready to begin to consider the possibility of recording the sixth album. Gradually, the music took shape. The lyrics had of course been written years before, and it was vital that the music for this, the climax of the hexalogy, reflect the thematic nature of the stories to the letter, stories such as the siege of Gul-Kothoth, the Catacombs of Ur prequel, the great sub-aquatic voyage to the Abyssal Plain, and the all important reprise of Hatheg-Kla. The music was adhering to the detailed story outlines and the synopsis I had presented to keyboardist Jonny, and the compositions were progressing gloriously, if very laboriously. More deadlines were set, and more deadlines slipped. Tensions were running high. More songs were slowly nearing completion. The mysterious new studio, "Wayland's Forge", reached its ultimate evolutionary form. Everything was digital. We had fully embraced the future, for good or ill. Equipment was upgraded, parts were re-recorded. And yet true progress was still painfully slow. Keyboardist Jonny had asked to handle sound engineering duties for this most ambitious of projects, and as it was his first truly major foray into such territories, it was very much a voyage of discovery. The amount of time this album took to record strained band relations to the limit, and they remain strained to this day. But finally, in November of 2005 it was time to put the finishing touches to the album with a vocal session at the new Academy Music Studio. Partly due to tradition, and partly due to the fact that only Mags understands my idiosyncratic and highly specialized vocal approach, I decided to return to Academy for the vocals. Then, in December 2005 we started on the final mix. I'd commissioned the cover artwork from Martin Hanford three years previously, and it had been locked away in my vault for all that time, waiting in the dark for the day of its unveiling. Finally, that day was drawing near. This one went right to the wire, with us mixing all the way up until the day the courier was scheduled to arrive. The album had to be completed. It had to be despatched. I had to take it and package it for the UPS courier, otherwise Nuclear Blast were threatening a release date delayed by up to a year. The Death Star had cleared the planet. "The Chthonic Chronicles", as I promised the world several years before its release, was an album darker and heavier than much of our previous work, encompassing elements from all the preceding five chapters as well as containing a plethora of new and exciting touches to thrill the listener. Truly organic sounding choirs, utterly genuine symphonic effects and unparalleled orchestral grandeur, thunderously heavy guitars and venomous vocals. Lyrically, the climactic and most malefic chapter in the entire saga, featuring both long awaited continuations of old stories and some all new tales, all set within the conceptual framework of a shunned, blasphemous and apocryphal occult grimoire. This wasn't just the climax of five years of work, in a way it was the climax of thirteen years of work. Luckily, the world embraced "The Chthonic Chronicles" fully. Upon release, the sixth album received some of the very best and most glowing reviews of any of our works, and we finally, at long last, allowed ourselves to believe that the job was done. The album was remastered and reissued as a digipak in 2011 with an expanded lyric booklet, and was reissued again n 2021 featuring a further expanded lyric booklet. It was also released as a double vinyl gatefold edition in 2020 featuring a special die-cut cover with a magnetic clasp. Thanks for listening and reading! Blodu Ok Jarna!

Byron Roberts