Abigail Williams – Veil of DarknessTuesday, 12th November 2019
An ever-present force in US black metal for over a decade, Abigail Williams has also not been without its trials and tribulations. A few band shake-ups along the way, and lots of turnover among the ranks has led the act to become more of a revolving door, with mainman Ken Sorceron as the constant to be found. While it’s been quiet on the Abigail Williams front in the last few years, we are now only a few days away from the release of Walk Beyond the Dark, the band’s fifth full-length, which deftly incorporates elements of their past while progressing into new directions. We spoke with Sorceron himself to discuss Walk Beyond the Dark, the impact of producing albums and working with other bands on his own sound, and even how he continues to preserve in the face of many line-up changes.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you view the way that Abigail Williams’ sound has changed over the years?
Ken Sorceron: I probably view it differently than the way other people do, because it’s sort of a delayed way that they hear it. For example – By 2008, In the Shadow of a Thousand Suns came out but I was already working on a different sound. I’m always viewing the band as whatever I’m working on, while the public is hearing something else.
Walk Beyond the Dark, in my opinion, has elements of all of our albums. It wasn’t fully intentional, but once I saw it going that way, I liked it. But at the same time, it still stands apart, soundwise, from our past albums. After In the Shadow, to In the Absence of Light, Becoming, and The Accuser, there was this progression to this more raw, low-fi sound quality. It was because that’s what I thought would fit the songs the best. Now it’s come full circle back to a bigger, more clear production on the new album.
Dead Rhetoric: So what does Walk Beyond the Dark do to progress your sound?
Sorceron: The intention that I had, was taking what I had learned in making the last few albums – the intensity of the performance, vocal performance, and capturing that attitude and rawness, while making it sound more dense while also more open. It’s what I wanted to hear at this time. When I’m working on an album, I want it to be something that I want to listen to. I was probably burnt out on the more low-fi end sort of stuff lately, and I wanted to hear something with more depth to it. When I started working on the album, I wanted to make sure that the production had more detail.
Whereas on the last couple of albums, it was more about just getting it down as quickly as possible and capturing that moment/vibe in time. Sound quality was secondary. This was an attempt to have the best of both worlds. Musically, some of these songs date back to before The Accuser. Some of them were also written like a week before the album was recorded. It spans like 5 or 6 years of writing, but it still sounds like an album.
Dead Rhetoric: I saw you had over 20 songs that you liked and narrowed it down? Any plans for the leftover tracks?
Sorceron: I have some tentative plans, but nothing that is set in stone. I’m thinking about using some of them for the next album. Some others might be released as other project. Some of them I just thought were too big of a leap for the band. I know that from album to album I like to do something new, which does alienate fans sometimes. But some of these songs, they would really confuse people, so I used some restraint for once, and held some of the songs back. I’ll do something with them at some point. You never know – some may end up on the next album, which I have been kind of thinking about already.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel Chris Brown’s cello added to the mix?
Sorceron: On some of the songs it’s pretty sparse, and it adds a bit more depth. Then on tracks like “The Final Failure,” the cello almost makes the track. It would be a cool song, but it’s a great song with the cello. Chris is a really good musician, and he understands what we are doing in a lot of ways. He’s easy to work with. I met him at a show in Cleveland, back in like early 2012 after Becoming came out. He told me he played cello and all that – he was younger and I remember thinking he was an odd kid [laughs], and I didn’t think much of it but then he moved to California when we were in L.A. at the time. I was just thinking we should take him out for some shows and see how it goes. It’s been interesting to watch him grow over the years. It’s cool.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been involved with other bands over the years, and even now. What do you feel you’ve gained from those experiences?
Sorceron: I’ve gained a lot of experience, playing with all of these great musicians. I guess you could say that it’s really been beneficial. When I was starting out in Phoenix, not to diss anyone in the scene, but there wasn’t a lot to choose from. The big game in town was Vehemence. I was lucky enough to hook up with those guys to work on some tunes. They had reached out when I put up the demos, and that worked out at the time. I already wanted to do all of these other things, but I didn’t have the confidence or the mindset to do as much on my own as I do now.
Over the years, gaining access to all of these different people and players, that’s been a game-changer for me. If a band hits me up and asks me to play for them, even a band like Tombs or Cobalt or Lord Mantis. I was just a fan of Lord Mantis. We played a show together back in 2012. Charlie [Fell] and I hit it off pretty well. I guess I gave him my number, because a few months later I got this random text asking if I wanted to join the band. That was awesome, because I really liked Pervertor. It was a really good experience when we did Death Mask. I would say that was the first time that I worked with a group of guys with pretty much the exact same influences coming up. We were all into the same stuff. It was awesome – it was a magical record how it came together.
Dead Rhetoric: With all of the line-up turnover through the years, what drives you to keep moving the band forward?
Sorceron: I guess early on, there was line-up changes from the start, so that’s what I was used to. I didn’t really see it as an “oh, I lost a member, I have to stop the band.” When the band first started, it was me, Ashley Jurgemeyer, and Connor Woods. Connor was the singer, and I only did the clean vocals and did guitar. I think we played like 2-3 shows locally like that. That was when we got the deal with Candlelight, and we were very inexperienced. We had a huge disagreement in the band, and most of the band saw me as some controlling asshole, which I probably was [laughs]. Honestly, it was so long ago, looking back I was probably a dick.
They kind of tried to kick me out of the band, and it was during that time, I was just thinking that they had taken my band and they would sign this record deal. Then Candlelight reached out to me, asking what was going on – the email from the band saying that I was out. So I said that was it, but they were like, we don’t want those guys, we want you. In my head, I was like “oh shit!” It gave me a lot of confidence. I sat there and I started recording a new song, and it turned out to be “Watchtower.” I put it up on Myspace the day I was done with it. It was just me. People loved it, so I felt that I could just do the band no matter what. Then of course, I had Ashley back within two days and people were apologizing. We were all cool shortly after that. But having that be the beginning of the band gave me that mindset to keep going no matter what.
Dead Rhetoric: How has your producing jobs influenced what you do for Abigail Williams?
Sorceron: Interestingly, in the past – with the Legend EP and In the Shadow, I was pretty production-minded when working on my own stuff. I was still learning, but I think I had a knack for it at the time, and I was focused on getting nice sounding productions with what I had at the time. Over the years, I had to sell so much of my gear, just to keep the band going. Being on tour all the time, I’m not making any money. I was basically homeless, crashing on couches for a few years, just to keep the band going. That is another possible reason why I still wanted to be in charge of the productions. That probably influenced the more raw sounds on those few records. When I would work on other people’s stuff I knew I couldn’t make it sound like shit. If anything, I did a lot of terrible sounding recordings to mix/master. Some good ones too, but a lot of them sounded like shit when I got them. It influenced me, because I got fed up with it [laughs].
I wanted to work on something that sounded awesome. So if I had to do it myself, then let’s do that. But yeah, working on other people’s stuff is cool, because I try to figure out the sound that they need, for that band. Whether it’s a polished or rough around the edges sound – not every band needs a good, clean-sounding mix. Some need it to be a little dirty. Being able to figure that out, that has influenced me as well. Letting the songs dictate what the sound needs to be. I know a lot of guys, when they are mixing, they are thinking from purely a technical perspective at all times, which is one way to do it, but the vibe/atmosphere that the songs need is probably more important.
Dead Rhetoric: What continues to be appealing about black metal music for you?
Sorceron: I don’t know if it is. I don’t know if it’s appealing to me, but when I sit down with a guitar and I start writing music, that’s what it most closely resembles. I don’t know if I have a choice in the matter anymore, that’s just how I make music. People can argue that it is or it’s not [black metal]. I don’t really care – that doesn’t matter to me. I’m just making some music, and I don’t really think about it. I don’t think, “oh, I have to make a black metal song today.” It’s more like, here’s a song and this is it.
I would say early on, the first time I heard black metal was when I was in high school in the ‘90s. I heard Emperor’s Anthems, and I was at my friend’s house. We usually listened to industrial, and he put this album on and I remember just thinking, “What the fuck am I hearing? This sounds evil.” It did something for me. It made me feel something in my heart. I didn’t even fully understand it, but I wanted to. It took years and years, getting into the more obscure stuff. There was probably a point when I was listening to everything that came out, or I was trying to. Now I am at the point where I feel that I’m good [with black metal]. I might check out a band that people are talking about quite a bit, but I don’t stay up on what’s happening.
Dead Rhetoric: You have the album coming out and Abigail Williams will be out on the road, what else is going on for the band or for yourself?
Sorceron: That’s pretty much it. The album is coming out and we will be on tour. My focus now is getting everything ready for the tour. Figuring out what songs to play and making a really good set. We are looking to play the States again in April, and hopefully we will tour in Europe in between November and April. That’s my goal anyways. We are just seeing what happens. If the album comes out and it does well, it could lead to us doing more. But it’s not like it used to be, where I have to depend on doing the band fulltime. I would love to, but at this point, I’ll just focus on a couple tours and see what happens.