Recently signed to label Nuclear Blast, Strigoi is the new project from Paradise Lost/Vallenfyre members Greg Mackintosh and Chris Casket. Taking their name from Romanian folklore, their debut album Abandon All Faith (read our review here erupted from the depths of hell in November, exhibiting a caustic, hellish collection of riffs and furious lyrics. In music critic speak, that’s a crust-laden, blackened death metal sound, with lyrics that swipe at religion, politics, and the monarchy amongst other nasties conjured by the malevolent demons that plague the human race. We sat down with the duo to discuss politics, religion, family (in a manner of speaking), and the various vile depths humans to which will sink in order to hurt each other.
The Romanian word ‘strigoi’ means ‘one risen from the grave,’ and is also related to the verb ‘a striga’ meaning ‘to scream.’ Do you see yourselves as strigoi yourselves, or more as leaders of an unholy army of the undead? Who would you be leading that army against?
Greg Mackintosh: “Not really, I found the name from Romanian folklore and thought it was a cool name with a cool story behind it. We don’t believe in any of that stuff. It didn’t really paint us into a hole as far as death metal and black metal were concerned. It’s a fairly liberal name.”
Chris Casket: “It gives us the freedom to do whatever we want to do.”
What inspired the desire to “attack organized religion… and dive into the countless horrible things humanity continues to do to itself” in the lyrical themes?
Mackintosh: “I see religion as the most divisive thing on the planet. It’s amazing that in a time where we’re all pretty science-savvy, we still have this weird thing hanging around with kids sent to different faith schools. Our politics are riddled with religious things, even our armed forces, all these things have religious connotations. The way animals are treated and women’s rights, things that are abhorrent in everyday life but when you tag it with the word ‘religion’ it’s perfectly fine. I’d say I’m a militant atheist and I believe it should be fought tooth and nail.”
Let’s hear something from the new album Abandon All Faith with the recently released lyric video for “Nocturnal Vermin:”
But it’s not just religion that you’re railing against on the album. There are other horrible things, surely?
Casket: “I think it would be a misconception to think that there is an inherent message of what we’ve done here. Something may have come up on the news, for instance, or there’s one song inspired by a visit Greg and I undertook to a torture museum in Amsterdam once. There is no huge hidden agenda here. From the lyrics I contribute to the record, all I’m asking anyone to do is listen to them and come up with their own thoughts. There are some obvious things, sure, but in full disclosure: even the title track, it can be taken on those three words, but my initial idea is a far cry from that. I want people to listen to it and pick their own ideas out. Waving a banner for anything, personally, would be uncomfortable.”
Mackintosh: “There are some songs about personal experience, some songs that are complaining, and some songs that are very linear. ‘Iniquitous Rage’ comes from when I told Chris about strigoi and he did some digging and found a Romanian serial killer called the Strigoi of Budapest.”
Casket: “He was caught and kept saying it wasn’t his fault, it was his father’s. They put him to death and two years after this his father’s body was found. They had to identify him through DNA, and cold case files, and lo and behold he had committed exactly the same crimes 40 years previously and gotten away with it. I found it remarkable, how the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree. It did just end up being a family business!”
Mackintosh: “And that’s the happiest song on the album!”
Casket: “It’s very jaunty actually!”
So other than torture, current affairs, and serial murder being passed down father to son, what iniquitous depths have you plumbed for inspiration on this album?
Mackintosh: “Come on Chris, this is your job!”
Casket: “It’s a bit heavy really. It is so varied, honestly. Everything is covered, from humanistic relationships, elements of politics. ‘Seven Crowns,’ for instance, is the utopian promise of a better existence that’s never forthcoming, but we as a race aspire towards. It’s the same with politics. Every four years you get another person who lies to get into office, doesn’t deliver, buggers off, and lets someone else in. And that’s the norm. Same with religion. It’s the norm that the moment your child can speak they’re indoctrinated into a faith. ‘Parasite’ is an interesting one, about being weakened to death by someone who presents themselves as a friend and an honest proposition, as opposed to a selfish, drug-addled narcissist. Ultimately, I don’t really want to tell people what it’s all about!”
Strigoi’s debut album Abandon All Faith was released November 22nd, 2019:
That’s fair, I’m one of those people who likes looking at lyrics properly.
Casket: “I’m the same, which is why I don’t like someone to tell me what the lyrics are. I like to stick the album on, lyrics in front of me. You can try and delve in and take what you want from it as opposed to the view of the person who wrote it. I just would rather people made up their own minds!”
In “Seven Crowns,” the titular seven crowns are described as being corrupted. Can you elaborate on what you mean by this? What are the seven crowns? Are they the Seven Deadly Sins or the Seven Heavenly Virtues?
Casket: “You’ve taken some of the elements there. As opposed it being purely about religion, you’re in the right ballpark. It’s deliberately supposed to be vaguer than that, so there are elements of modern politics that I perceive in there. Religion lies to you. You prostrate yourself in front of a priest every Sunday, you sing all these hymns and so on, and if you do all that you go to some magical kingdom. Well, I’ve done that before, it cost me 2,000 euros, and I got on a plane and went to Florida.”
You’re referring to Disneyland, not a cult?
Casket: “It’s the same thing, isn’t it?” (laughs)
Mackintosh: “It’s looking a bit run-down now, if you ask me.”
Casket: “Yeah, if you want to go to heaven, go to Universal Studios, Florida.”
Looking at the lyrics for “Phantoms” you open the album saying, ‘there is no heaven, there is only hell.’ It feels like more than just a coincidence that you’ve gone from a band that takes its name from an account of the Fall of Satan to writing an album inspired by the words carved above the Gates of Hell. But the line also speaks to humanity’s current situation, because it feels like we’re all going to a hell of our own making. Are you deliberately equating the Biblical hell and our current earthly situation? And what is it about hell and satan that’s so appealing to you, if anything?
Casket: “That is quite perceptive! There is no heaven or hell as far as I’m concerned, but hell is still your current situation. I think humanity is in a particular self-made hell. We could go on, but people are used to it: everybody sees everything. People keep praying, thinking there’ll be a better life. No there’s not. Why not wake up and see that there won’t be a better life? This is it, and if this is hell, why not do something about this instead of thinking about tomorrow? That’s one interpretation.”
Released in September, check out the official music video for “Phantoms:”
The Jean-Paul Sartre idea that “hell is other people” springs to mind…
Casket: “That’s certainly true!”
“We’ll blind your eyes/and kill your kings and queens/a brutish race” from “Plague Nation” is quite the vociferous anti-monarchist rallying cry. Would it be safe to say you’re republicans? Or is it more of a metaphorical stab at world leaders?
Mackintosh: “It is a metaphorical stab at hierarchy, but yes, I’m an anti-royalist. It’s another archaic idea that should’ve been abandoned 100 to 200 years ago. But unfortunately someone’s making a lot of money out of it, and it isn’t me!”
Casket: “All they do is maintain the status quo and these things that make people money.”
Mackintosh: “So the latter was right, ultimately. It’s a statement against hierarchy, per se, but I also wish the Queen would fuck off.”
She seems harmless enough to me!
Mackintosh: “Nah, they’ll find out after her death that she’s murdered quite a few people! Maybe she’s the Strigoi of London!”
Beyond the monarchy, “Plague Nation” also seems to be a knives-out threat to fat-cat capitalists and the politicians that enable them. Would you say that’s a fair assessment?
Casket: “No, that’s not where it came from. For me, it’s more about the self-entitled nature of modern Britain. Everybody’s on social media, and we’re hearing so much half-baked crap about Dunkirk spirit. You can’t just put all your problems on the people that are perceived to be in charge, and I believe people need to take purchase of their own issues. It goes back to when we were discussing ‘Phantoms.’ It’s all very well taking to social media and weeping on about the things that are wrong with the planet but if you put half as much effort into actually doing something practical about it, would you be able to improve your situation? I don’t know, and it’s not for me to judge. I’m not a politician. This is an album and we’re just a band. We’re not here trying to win some votes. We’re just trying to get people to listen to what we think is a cool record. If we’re going to go into the lyrics, I do believe there’s too much onus on projecting your issues on to everybody else.”
Released on the same day as the album, watch the music video for “Carved Into The Skin:”
That seems fair. I think you’re right, we’re almost encouraged to project our issues on to others and to not deal with them and not look into why certain things might be going wrong in your life, or compartmentalize it and not deal with it, which is the most toxic way of living!
Casket: “You’re right. It’s prioritizing as well: Not everybody needs to know that maybe you didn’t enjoy your meal, but maybe some people need to know that you very desperately need some help. I do find it remarkable that everybody is so enamoured with their own voice and opinion and that that’s the most important thing you’ll read that day. It’s not. My opinions only really matter to a close few and even then that’s not always true. But yes there are things that are wrong with the governing bodies and the world in general, but I think people need to take responsibility for change as well and we do live in a society where people feel as though they’re entitled to things changing as opposed to making a positive change so we don’t keep living in hell!”
Given the rise of fascism and impending ecological disaster, do you feel like there’s any hope for humanity?
Casket: “What’s the option? If there is no hope, then that would be that. I mean, is there an inherent rise in fascism? I don’t think there’s an inherent rise in anything really. I think it’s more about how the media is publicizing it, really, and social media is just giving more and more people a voice to air those particular views. I’d always argue that people are entitled to their freedom of speech, and secondly, if you don’t like what people are saying, just move on to the next thing. It doesn’t have to be your problem just because they’ve got one.”
The apparent rise of fascism can be laid in no small part at the feet of the media who’ve said “Oh wow, let’s look at these alt-right people!” giving them a platform.
Casket: “It’s the same with the alt-left. There’s more than I remember ten years ago who are members of Antifa, but then we’re going into a very grey area that I certainly wasn’t interested in discussing on this record. Not for any personal reasons, but it’s not a political project any more than it is a religious project. It comes from a humanist perspective, ultimately, but this is just about writing about things that have struck me and Greg and it ends up making quite a gnarly, heavy, cool record!”
If you are interested in getting to know more about Strigoi, watch this short video on the origins of the band:
It is quite gnarly and heavy. So looking at music, who would you say are the biggest influences on the music of this album?
Casket: “I’m so sorry, Greg’s literally just had to leave and he’d be the best person to talk to about this! It’s varied, in my perspective. The thing that I gravitated to with Vallenfyre was this mixed ethos. Listening to an album from start to finish and being kept interested, mainly. Greg and I share a good few influences, such as he really likes Celtic Frost, and he’s even said ‘this is the Godflesh bit that I really like.’ It’s just mainly trying to set this band aside from Vallenfyre. I was a fan of Vallenfyre, I became friends with Greg, and I ended up joining one of my favourite. It’s friendship with us, primarily. If we weren’t doing this project, we’d still be friends. It’s just nice that we do tend to agree on a lot of subjects.
So when he asked me to write the lyrics, I know where his thought process lies, and I wrote from that perspective. He then wrote the music around the lyrics. Take ‘Enemies of God,’ it needed to have that second wave of black metal vibe to it because it’s talking about elements of things like the Spanish Inquisition from that museum in Amsterdam. We were in that museum just before he was doing Medusa and I wondered aloud if there’d be things there that would be inspiration for the next Paradise Lost album, never thinking we’d be here now talking about it as part of our new record!
I think people can put too much onus into what things mean. We live in a society where people want constant transparency. The thing I like about this record and the reason I wanted to do a cassette was because I wanted to get back to a time where it wasn’t all open. Imagine a time when there was no social media. You couldn’t just go on to Wikipedia and look up what something meant. You had to use your mind and absorb it and make up your decision. I still have that with Strigoi hope someone might get that because I think it was a cool time. Maybe people won’t, maybe it’s a totally antiquated thing, but I hope people get it because I think music is undervalued these days. It feels like it’s only the underground that values music these days, particularly in crust, and punk, etc…”
Who are your top five favourite artists in any genre? You are allowed to say yourself.
Casket: “My favourite artist of all time are The Cure. My favourite artists for well over two decades. Anything Tom G Warrior has done, that’s one Greg and I share. Danzig, particularly the first three albums. I do like The Misfits as well. Let’s go for a maverick one and say The Cardiacs. And lastly, I’ll go for another maverick: the soundtracks of John Carpenter.”
Thank you, and I look forward to reviewing the record properly soon!
Casket: “I really hope you enjoy it! I’m not being obtuse here, it’s difficult. A few people have asked about the political side of it, which has taken me aback. It’s personal, mainly. When I was sitting writing these lyrics, a lot of these things people are saying I don’t want them to misconstrue, but I don’t want to give anything away either. It’s not like I hold it in huge high regard, I’m just trying to keep the format pure in my head. I know it might just be me, but I’m so looking forward to the 12” vinyl with the gatefold lyric sheet. It’ll take me back to when I was school when I got Somewhere In Time by Iron Maiden. It’s just something I miss, ultimately. If just a couple of people enjoyed it on that level, I’d be chuffed to bits.”