Interview: Pyrkagion

There were times when we were tracking for Pyrkagion and right beforehand, I was working on writing the Bell Witch material which was kind of hard.

Dylan Desmond has had a busy year with release from both the mighty Bell Witch with Future’s Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate album and his brilliant black metal side project Pyrkagion with The Katechon and the Unending Fire EP. Gavin Brown caught up with Dylan to talk extensively about Pyrkagion, black metal, making music in multiple bands and how the recent Bell Witch UK tour and new album have been received.

E&D: The new Pyrkagion EP The Katechon and the Unending Fire has just come out. How has it been received so far?      

Dylan: It seems to have been received great. We just started a little tape label to release it and we sold a lot of them having never played a live show. I’m very surprised about that!

E&D: Who are the biggest influences on the the sound of the EP?

Dylan: A big influence was Master’s Hammer. Dødheimsgard as well. I think Antaeus was probably an obscure and odd influence too.

E&D: How did the recording and the creation of the album go and was it a smooth process?

Dylan: Zach Wise, wrote the skeletons for the songs, and sent them to me. I wrote lead guitar parts and we sent them to Brennan Butler, who wrote the drums. We recorded Brennan’s parts first, and then we recorded the guitar parts and Zach did bass. Zach did a lot of synthesiser stuff on it, then we sent off to Dylan Haseltine to mix it and Greg Chandler mastered it.

E&D: Were you making it alongside the new Bell Witch album and was there a lot of overlap to working on it?

Dylan: Yeah, it was challenging sometimes. There were a lot of times when Bell Witch would have band practice, that would be a four or five hour long thing. Then Zach would come and meet me at the practice space, and he had and I would dive into this for a while. It was a lot, but thankfully, I had coffee, that keeps everything going!

E&D: Did you have ideas you has for Pyrkagion that you though it would work for Bell Witch while you were doing it and vice versa?

Dylan: A little bit of both. There was some times that both were being written. There were times when we were tracking for Pyrkagion and right beforehand, I was working on writing the Bell Witch material which was kind of hard. A hard thing for me is shifting gears like that. I used to be better at that when I was younger, and I also think that maybe the harder I focus on something, the harder it is to shift. Maybe as I’m getting older and becoming more particular, I get deeper.

E&D: How did Pyrkagion start and have you wanted to do a black metal project for a while?

Dylan: Yeah, I guess in some ways it started before the pandemic, Zach and I are friends and we work together. We were at a Gevurah show in Seattle, and we were watching them, they were great and we thought it would be fun to start a black metal band. We both play bass and  it would be weird to have a black metal band with two bass players, it just wouldn’t sound right to me. Not that people shouldn’t do that, someone should try that but that wasn’t what we were going for. We thought, what would happen if we both tried to play guitar which neither one of us knew how to play, so if we both tried this new instrument. I think sometimes, a band’s first album sounds is extra special because they don’t quite know what they’re doing and this sort of magical thing happens, where what they’re intending to do is there but this sideline thing happens, that make it really interesting and unintentional. There’s no way to recreate that without just starting, a new project and if both of us picked up a guitar that neither one of us know how to play, and just try to do the best we can with it, maybe we’ll be able to harness energy. We were both so accustomed to playing for one different styles of music and the way he writes music is very different than the way that I write music, and putting that all together, there was a lot of new things we were learning and stepping over and learning how to integrate together. I love the way that it worked out, and I think that we set the stage for a really interesting thing moving forward with the band.

E&D: With you both playing guitar, where did the bass come into it on the recording?

Dylan: Zach added the bass. It was definitely an afterthought from the guitars, those were the main focus, but he wrote a bass solo into one part of it. I think part of his idea was, here’s the structure, how would I fit a bass line that would bring out other elements that might be missing, It’s different based on what I would have expected. Whenever he first played it for me, I was like, I didn’t expect that.

E&D: What does the band’s name refer to?

Dylan: It’s Greek for wildfire, which is really unfortunate that there was some wild forest fires in Greece, it’s no connection to that, that was not intentional. I’m sorry to everyone who was affected by those. I think the idea was a reference to a mythological end of days that would come about specifically through fire.

E&D: Did you want the rawness of black metal to be prominent in the music?

Dylan: Absolutely, that’s what we were aiming for. We recorded it ourselves and neither one of us really had a great amount of experience in recording so it was kind of thought of as a demo. I think as we record more albums, we will probably end up going into a proper studio but I think we wanted to capture some of that rawness that would come from guys who don’t necessarily know how to play guitar.

E&D: Which black metal bands and albums have been influential to you?

Dylan: Oh, personally, I’ve always thought those first two Emperor albums are fucking amazing. Anthems To The Welkin At Dust especially. That Emperor guitar sound. I love it. It’s magical. I like Master’s Hammer. Celtic Frost is the pinnacle, the initiation.

E&D: Has black metal always been an influence on your music since you discovered it and what does it mean to you?

Dylan: Yeah, I think so. I suppose it has a different meaning for everyone.

E&D: Have you got plans for a full length Pyrkagion album?

Dylan: Oh, yes, there’s already a full length album, the structure is already written, and there are demos being made currently. It’s written right in line with what one would think having listened to the EP, and it’s right in line with how that would progress. It’s great.

E&D: Are you looking at next year for that to be out?

Dylan: Next year is possible. Likely even.

E&D: What about any live dates?

Dylan: That might be further down the road, but I think that that is something that will come onto the table at some point in time.

E&D: Would you ever consider playing with Pyrkagion and Bell Witch and doing two sets at all?

Dylan: I mean, that’s possible. I’ve done a tour where I did double duty a couple times in the past and it’s fucking hard! The first show, no big deal but by the fifth show, its like, alright, this is a lot. Then by the end of the tour, it’s like, I’m never doing this again. Of course, I do it again! But I always regret it. That’s a lot of fucking work. So, who knows? Sometimes Bell Witch sets can be long themselves and they’re not getting any shorter. So, I don’t know. Maybe one!

E&D: How did you your recent European two with with Bell Witch go and what were some of the highlights?

Dylan: It was fucking amazing. It was the first tour Bell Witch itself has done since 2019 and every show was incredible. We didn’t quite know what to expect. It was like, does anyone want to see this? There’s been a pandemic, the whole world has changed. Our entire perspective on life has shifted in a lot of ways. I don’t know if this can happen anymore. But apparently something can happen. It was cool that turnouts were great. The response was great, which is such a wonderful, wonderful feeling when people come out and appreciate something that took so long with so much energy put into it. It’s awesome.

E&D: I came to the show in Sheffield, England, and it was it was fantastic. It was phenomenal!

Dylan: That was a great show. Our tour manager was from Sheffield! That was a great night.

E&D: How was it touring with Fuoco Fatuo on the run? They were fantastic as well!

Dylan: Yeah, they’re fucking awesome! They were wonderful people and they were great live. I love that they could go from this chaotic sort of, almost, disconnection feeling to very concise and tight real quick. It puts one in a weird headspace to have those shifts. It’s wild!

E&D: The setlist that Bell Witch played which ended with the intro of Future’s Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate was absolutely fantastic. Did you put a lot of thought into what you’re going to play within the set and did you consider playing the new album in full?

Dylan: We talked about it but we did the whole thing from start to finish at Roadburn and that was a special thing so maybe we should reserve that for special occasions. I think it’s rare that a band will play the full album in a live set unless it’s a short album, of course. We played just shy of seventy minutes and that’s stretched out a little bit live. We’ll probably end up playing the full thing live at some point, but just for this first tour, it’s like, let’s just feel it as it goes.

E&D: Will you be making it back over to the UK your next year?

Dylan: Yes, I can’t disclose anything yet, but there is a developing conversation about exactly that.

E&D: Do you find that playing the music you do in a live situation is a deep and meaningful experience, both for the band and the audience?

Dylan: It should be, ideally. That’s the idea, to kind of tap into that sort of dilation side of all of our brains to, I think that with any art, sometimes it’s hard to immerse oneself in a painting, sometimes it’s hard to immerse oneself in a lot of different artistic mediums but a really cool thing about music is, especially when it’s fucking loud, is there’s not really any way to escape it. You just get locked up in it, and it’s easier to lose oneself at a live concert, with all the energy that’s bouncing around from everything. It taps into a really interesting aspect of what we are and the way that our body can process a motion and think about its own.

E&D: Did you want the music you were playing to tie in with the visuals in the background and you spend a lot of time so developing that for the tour?

Dylan: Yeah, Bobby Cochran made that video for us. He spent a lot of time and he had the actors come out to film that He’s a incredible videographer and we were lucky to have him make that for us.

E&D: Will you work with him again in the future?

Dylan: Yeah, I think we’ll work with him for the rest of the next two albums.

E&D: Have you been pleased with with how the new album has been received so far?

Dylan: Yeah, it’s been great, absolutely incredible. I didn’t exactly know what to expect. I think I can speak for Jesse too. There’s part of us that we’re just like, well, if people don’t like it, then that’s their fucking problem. We’re not actually writing it for someone to like, but I’m not offended if someone does like it. So it’s been fucking great. All the responses that have been great. Everyone seems to be very appreciative of it. People were coming up after the shows and saying how important had been to them so far in the year which is humbling, but so cool to hear people talk about that.

E&D: When can we expect a part two of Future’s Shadow?

Dylan: The next thing is the follow up to the Stygian Bough album, but Future’s Shadow Part 2 is already mapped out. Hopefully it’ll be next year If we can get our shit together and work on it. We’re on tour so much that makes it hard to get together but  I think that I think we’ll have it done next year.

E&D: Do you work on music when you’re touring?

Dylan: I’ve been trying to, sometimes it’s hard but I’ve been trying to get a little interface. I can plug into my computer so I try to I try to work on it every chance I get.

E&D: What have been some of the standout moments in your your music career so far?

Dylan: I think some of the live sets. Roadburn this year when we played The Clandestine Gate was probably a standout, my mom and dad flew over for that and my mom had never flown over an ocean before. They came all the way to stay. That was fucking cool. There was something wild that happened after Mirror Reaper came out. We were touring and  people started coming up to me after shows and saying, Hey. This is weird but people were coming up to me saying I lost my spouse, or my parent, or my sibling, or my dear friend and listening to this was special because it had a different meaning in that moment to the situation or it allowed me the space to contemplate and process what was going on which is a fucking wild thing to hear. I think that album for myself and for Jesse, was that in itself and for somebody it’s such a specific unique aspect of life unavoidable but unique and to have other people who are going through the when they’re going through those experiences in parallel with us kind of apply it was is a fucking wild thing. It’s a horrible thing, but it’s a real thing and it’s unavoidable. It was very special to hear that every time I heard it.

Photo by Chris Schanz

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