Interview with vocalist and guitarist Dagon
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: December 10, 2016
Inquisition, Colombia's gift to extreme underground Metal, has gone a long way since they started out in Cali, Valle del Cauca, back in 1988 (as Guillotina 1988-89). The band's brains are made up of Dagon and Incubus who together have run the band in the most uncompromising way since their debut album. Into the infernal Regions of the Ancient Cult released by Colombia's Sylphorium Records in 1998, two years after Inquisition relocated to Seattle, WA in the United States.
With seven full-length studio albums in their discography and a number of more or less successful tours behind them, Inquisition's hard work has paid off. The band's latest album, Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith, garnered rave reviews everywhere and brought the band across oceans and over many lands. One of Inquisition's tour stops happened in Hell-sinki, Finland, on November 18, 2016, where they were greeted by the supportive, and mostly Finnish, crowd.
The Metal Crypt managed to meet up with Dagon prior to their show to ask about ongoing activities in the Inquisition camp, Dagon's personal inspirations that fuel his fire for the band and the tough life in his home country back in the day, among other things...
Luxi: Welcome to Finland, may I say once again, as this is not your first time in this country. You played last year at the Jalometalli festival in Oulu, Finland. Do you have any memories from that show?
Dagon: Thank you. Yes, I lose track. I lose count of how many times we've been where and when. That's right, I even forgot about that. I have memories of the fest but I forgot that we were there. I'm trying to get a picture right now of who was headlining. That was a part of our summer run last year and I know we did something in Sweden. We went through Finland and I'm just... I remember the flyer. I can't remember. We do so many shows now.
Luxi: Indeed, you do. Do you remember anything about the Steelfest show that you did back in 2012 here in Finland?
Dagon: That I remember very well. That's possibly my favorite one.
Dagon: Yes, not my favorite performance but that festival itself. I think everything about it is nearly perfect. The size of it, the number of stages, the layout, meaning all the stages are close, there's covered ones, so if it rains you guys out you have that. There are just so many variables and the most important one, the line-up. You have so many sub-genres of Metal there but all of them, well not all but the majority of them are more on the obscure side, be it Death Metal, Heavy Metal or whatever. It's very cool and it's very well organized. The fans that go there are so civil about the whole thing, very civilized, very polite. It's just a very elite atmosphere and I say that in a good way, but I love it, it's great.
This is really important as a lot of people go to festivals to have fun. That's the bottom line. They're going there to have fun. Some people go to festivals for the music and to have fun, but that fest it is about the bands, the music. Of course, they're going to have fun but it's for well-seasoned veteran metal heads, man.
Luxi: How is your Bloodshed Rituals tour going? You've told me already it's been a long tour for you guys and now you are at the end of it.
Dagon: For a band, the most important thing is to walk away happy and you can do that in a couple ways. Some people just care about the numbers. How were the numbers? Did anybody make or lose money? That's extremely important. No matter what type of work you do, financially, you want to be successful or at least not lose money. Even if it's a hobby or something you love, you don't want to be throwing money down a hole. That's the boring side of it but as far as that is concerned, I'll say it went very well because these tours are not cheap and most fans don't know how this works. Usually when you're the headliner, it's your bill.
Is that the most important thing? No. The most important thing is the line-up. That to me is the most important thing. Was I happy with it? Of course, it materialized, it happened. When you write down on a piece of paper your vision of what line-up you want, you should write enough bands down so when you hand it over to your booking agent, he has more than one option. There were several bands that couldn't do it or they didn't want to do it or whatever. We wanted a high-profile band to be direct support or co-headliner with Inquisition on this tour. We feel that we've earned our spot now. We feel that it is not ridiculous to ask a bigger band to either co-headline or be direct support. We think we truly have earned our spot where we're at.
A band that truly respected that and took that position was Rotting Christ. Sakis and company, they're amazing. Amazing people. Both feet on the ground and fully professional. They have a lot of respect for Inquisition and they know we're not just an overnight sensation or some gimmicky band trying to fit into the bigger circuit. We've really earned our spot. Anyway, we were very happy that we could make the line-up we wanted happen. We brought Mystifier from Brazil, a band I chose that Tom, Incubus the drummer, fully approved of. I wanted everybody to agree and it's nice when people can agree with your ideas or visions.
We did that and then we had some mosh and obscure bands and it went really well. What I was going to end this with was, even though it was such an obscure line-up, I think it we had something like eight or 10 sold-out shows.
Luxi: Wow, now that's pretty cool!
Dagon: And most of the venues that didn't sell out were 95%, 98% filled. It shows that the real deal holds a lot of mystique and interest for people.
Luxi: When you started this band way back in 1988-89, did you believe that you would go this far?
Dagon: If you're asking me about my career, now at 44, man, there's no simple answer. The simple one is "absolutely not". In fact, I always tell people, I don't even think I'm supposed to be sitting here with you doing this interview, it's beyond my comprehension. Was it intentional? Of course, anything I do, I try to do it to the best of my ability. Everybody says that, but I'm not going to lie to myself. I know I do things to the best of my ability. Not every day is your best day but overall, since we started playing together, my vision started right then and there, and even much earlier.
Earlier I would call it more of a teenage dream but in '96, even on an underground level, I wanted this band to be a very strong cult band. I didn't care if I toured the world or not, I didn't care if I had to work three day jobs, but I knew deep down we would do shows here and there. That was the vision; to get some kind of worldwide recognition, not because I need it but because it would be a good feeling one day to know that I brought something to the table, meaning the genre. In that sense, I thought big but never, ever at this level.
In the 90s, I saw it the music dying out on the big stage but then the underground got better and better. Sometime around the early 2000s I thought, "Well, cool, we're doing these smaller, obscure tours in Europe." Back then the big band was Dimmu Borgir and all that stuff. That was it. You had to be a band like that to do those kind of circus tours. Now, it's amazing how it has evolved.
Luxi: Exactly, yes. As for your latest album, Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith, it's just full of jaw-dropping intensity and atmosphere and I am sure many share my opinion.
Dagon: Thank you very much!!
Luxi: I was just wondering how on earth you are able to get so much atmosphere and intensity into one record. There are not many bands in this world that can do what you guys did with this album.
Dagon: First of all, and I always humbly say this to people, when I hear things like what you just said, it's difficult for me to hear. I feel guilty hearing it because I don't think I have... Let me put it this way and I really mean this; I'm one of you guys and I want to hear good music. I like to be a fan of good bands. I want to enrich this music. I want to be entertained. I want bands to make good albums so I can go home and listen to some good music. Now I have to make it always.
This may sound like what we in the States call "a little sappy" but it's the truth. When you can share that, it's something very magical and Black Metal to me is not only magical music, it's magical times 100. It's one of the best genres of music to really take to a more surreal or unreal level and make people go "Wow, ooh, aah..." It's difficult with raw Black Metal because you want to keep things a raw, simple, minimalist, but complex at the same time.
But to answer your question, how it's purely emotional, is difficult to put into words. I say it's difficult because it's like explaining smells. What does that brick smell like or what does this smell like? But being transparent and not being too shy about it, I am a bit of an emotional person. I'm a very passionate person. Those can be good things, they can be bad things but I never let them be bad things. The good thing is they're put into creativity, put into art. I'm a very hypersensitive person in some things and I think that's true of most artists.
Some artists create music that really, really grabs you by the soul. I think what you're hearing is music coming from writers that are in another world. Mentally, emotionally, it's hard to put into words.
Luxi: Were there some specific sources of inspirations there that kind of fueled your creativity when you were in the middle of the songwriting process for the Bloodshed... album?
Luxi: And they were...?
Dagon: The moment before the creation of the universe was, to me, a blank period. There are still people that argue, but the moment of that big bang, the moment that explosion from nothing, everything that we are doing came from it. Everything we are.
I know I'm stating the obvious but I think too many people really comprehend that, the amazing power of that. Now, from a biological or scientific point, that holds no meaning. I do recognize the fact that the universe holds no meaning. There's no meaning, there's nothing meaningful about it. Just like that garbage can, it holds no meaning but it has a use. You put garbage in it, fine. The universe may have no emotional... Well, it holds an emotional meaning but really in a logical sense, it has none.
But from the universe that has no meaning came us. We look for meaning in things. It's impossible not to get philosophical about something that holds no meaning. We're natural born philosophers, just a lot of that has been taken away by all the materialism. But that's the source of inspiration. It's the force, which I label as Satan, that is the opposing force of all. The ancient Hebrews refer to Satan as the enemy force because it's an enemy in every way of people who believed in the other gods or THE God.
The great Satan to me is the force that spawned the universe. What that force is, they're still learning, they don't know. A lot of ancient mystic mythologies and religions talk about it. The Egyptians to the ancient Hindus, to the Sumerians, which is my biggest source of inspiration. To finalize the question, the very, very early period of Sumerian culture is what really inspired me the most. I want people to understand that it's not really a theme for the band. It's not like Nile with Egyptology, or Melechesh with Sumerians and Annunakis. The way it was applied here was personally. You can already answer that which was the Sumerian view of what alien creation is and was, was a source of inspiration. It is not the theme of the band. It's not the theme of the album. I could be here for hours going through it. I have a passion for it, but that is the source of inspiration. It's the classic question of who or what turned on this light or why. The universe holds no meaning. If there's no meaning in the universe then why was there an action? Do all actions have a meaning? No, but actions have a purpose.
Luxi: Absolutely, I very much agree.
Dagon: Something needed this universe to explode and become something. The Annunaki story is a beautiful one where the sons of Anu were sent down to replenish the earth with much needed people. There are scientists, some call them quacks but they aren't, that have enough of an open mind that they have worked with Zecharia Sitchin thinking, "Hey, maybe all the different species that roam the earth were part of an ultimate experiment by the Annunakis." Like we create cars for one thing, trucks for another, planes for another.
But the moment those enzymes started boiling in our oceans and spawning life, we don't know where they came from. Those enzymes, what we do know, is they came from cosmic rocks, asteroids, meteorites. Technically, we are all aliens.
Luxi: You have done your homework very well. There are, of course, many fans that really like your music but have very little understanding of your lyrics because they are complex and let's say, pretty tough nuts to crack. I was wondering if you write your lyrics that way to purposely make people think more deeply what this world is all about, what this universe is all about. It's way easier to sing, "Let's kill the fucking priest and smash the fucking icons" but you have chosen to go deeper with your lyrical approach, being more into this philosophical...?
Luxi: Yes, exactly.
Dagon: Lyrics are probably the most difficult thing for me to do in the band. They are extremely difficult because I am limited in what I can say. It would be no different than me asking you guys to say, "All right, you can only use 13 words under this rhythmic pattern along with this melody of guitar behind it. You only get this many vowels or this many words or consonants." I'm limited because I do the lyrics last. But the advantage of that is when you're done, when you're finished, when you're completed, it's just so beautiful how it worked together.
I'm really proud of this last album because I put extra care into doing my homework. I thought, "This is going to be more than just nice words or good black metal lyrics. This has to be very mature based on my abilities with more intelligent lyrics without being overly cryptic," and that frustrates me. I need to add this, the problem I have with hyper cryptic lyrics is I feel like I'm possibly either being mocked and laughed at or I'm just not smart enough and I don't understand it. Now hopefully, that's what it is.
There are bands, I won't mention names, but there are bands that have lyrics that impress me a lot. They're so cryptic that I don't know if I am interpreting them the correct way or it is just an open book or if they're just toying with me? Basically, are they bullshit? Is this all fancy bullshit? That's why I don't like being over cryptic. If you look at some of the best writers in modern history, Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, they were cryptic but to a certain level. They were still written for you, they were written for me.
Luxi: They're not so much over the top either...
Dagon: No, they weren't written for some ancient God in the sky. Now, there are some books that were written hyper cryptically and you can interpret them in any way. One is called the Bible. It's always those sacred writings that are so hard to decipher they're open to any form of interpretation. I wanted to clear that up. My style is right in the middle. I want them to look beautiful, look nice, just good. Good words but not words that I wouldn't normally use. I try to use words that are, and I don't have a problem saying this, fun to read and go hand in hand with the music.
But that's the style, that's what inspires me. I really like how Paul wrote, I really liked his style. I don't know if I left something out of your question?
Luxi: No, you did not. In fact, that was pretty much a complete answer to my question. Do you find it hard to make these lyrics rhyme with the melodies, riffs and stuff? It's not one of the easiest things to do when you are in the middle of songwriting...
Dagon: Correct - and that's what makes it difficult. It's not so much the rhyming, that's a very old-school thing, which is fine. But what's frustrating is when you want to use a couple of words that are so important but they don't fit. It's like a piece of a puzzle and you have maybe five pieces left, and you have that one piece that should fit. It almost does, you can jam it in there, but it doesn't work. What do you do with that? I did that a couple of times on the album and what I like is a word that doesn't quite fit in, it almost works like an offbeat. It throws the vocals off a little bit, which is pretty cool, and it makes the word stand out.
No, I like the words and everything to fit. I'm old school man. I'm from that era when Tom Araya, all those guys, old Kreator, Destruction, the way they used the words with the music, I loved it. But the depth and the profoundness of the meaning behind it took a hit because they only go with what sounds good. Again, I'm trying to do both.
Luxi: How about working in a studio environment? Do you feel at home being in the studio and recording or do you consider being it a necessary evil?
Dagon: Being in the studio is my favorite thing.
Luxi: So you are saying that you love being in the studio environment?
Dagon: Next to food, sex, music in general. The studio is the top, the pinnacle of what I enjoy most.
Luxi: I am asking this because many musicians say just the opposite...
Dagon: I wish I could grab all those people and tell them, "I understand but I know what your problem is." If they were to tell me, "No, I don't have a problem, I just don't like it," to me, that is a problem. That is a problem. It's okay for musicians to have problems, we are human beings. It's okay to deal with it and still do your craft well. I have consistent neck pain and I can drop it down from a 10 to 1 but it's still there. When it's a 1 is my life better? It's better but it's not complete, I still have pain.
For a musician to say, "Well, I'm going to go into the studio and stay more positive" that's fine, but in the back of their head, if they don't fully enjoy it, it will limit their maximum ability, their creativity in the studio. For example, if a guitar player, drummer or whatever is having a bad day and doesn't want to be there, they can still execute the song. But can they produce their own song? In other words, "Hey, you know what? I want to do another take because I have another idea and I have another idea." Tell the producer, "Hey, actually go back, I have another great idea for this part." You're going to flow more when you're happy. It's really important to find the maximum level of happiness in the studio because in the end you're going to have one hell of an album. But I understand there are a lot of people that don't like it. That bothers me a little bit but that's fine. I'm happier when I'm in the studio.
Luxi: Maybe you can just say, "Well, it's their own headache."
Dagon: It's their own headache, yes.
Luxi: Back in the day, you used to be a three-piece band but then you decided to go with just two. Did you worry if two guys could make a good live performance?
Dagon: I want to clarify; we never tried being a sideshow. "Hey, you think we can pull this off just the two of us and kick ass and crush bands as we go as a two-piece?" Never. There was never any malicious intent, never any arrogant ideas behind it. I treat music in general and my instrument symbolically with the highest level of respect. I always tell people, it's like the sword of the samurai, you don't try to use it against your own people.
I'm very competitive in a healthy way but was being a two-piece ever symbolic of, "look what we can do, versus what you can do?" Absolutely, never. The story behind it is Inquisition was always a two-piece, really. I don't know what it is but I always had tunnel vision and just having a drummer goes way back to my days in South America when I always saw another guitar or a bass as something secondary. It never really interested me because it has to do with how I make music. It goes back to this kid, sitting on his fucking bed, jamming. Instead of tapping your foot, you need a drummer. You want to play drums. There, that's it. I'm happy. Cool, let's jam.
But where I was never professional, let's just say, I am unprofessional is going to the next step in forming a band, because the professional thing to do is, "Okay. Well, music has more harmony. You should have another guitar. Bass has its position in music, so as a professional, we should have a bass. You should assemble this... " Not only professional but I should also be traditional because sometimes tradition comes from the refinement of something that's been broken, and repaired, and refined, and then ultimately, this is the best formula. A guitar or two guitars, a bass and drums.
There's a good reason why Blues, Rock and Roll and Metal today still use that formula; because it works. What's funny or ironic is I don't care, because when I listened to music as a kid, I was very selfish, I would only listen to the guitars. I was one of those guys that would like a lot of bands that had what some people would label as shitty vocalist. I didn't care, I only cared about the riff. It's all I want, the riff. Riff, riff, riff. Yes, break my neck with a good riff, man and everything else will be fine. Why? Because with a good riff, you have to have a drummer behind it. It can only get better.
Luxi: Yes, that's so true.
Dagon: Unless, he's a real shitty drummer but a good riff man is a really good thing for a band to follow, it really is. It lifts the spirits of everyone in the band. That's it, I took that bad habit into Inquisition. Then I always thought we'd be a studio band, so our first album has a bass. It does have a bass. Then after that album, we did some shows in South America, we hired a temporary guy to do bass for those shows. We had problems so we got rid of him. We never went back to having a bass player because we did a couple of shows between 2001 and 2004 in Germany and I thought, "You know, I don't want to waste time looking for a bass player just to do these few shows. If we can rehearse this way, we can sound good live, why not?" That's it and we kept it that way.
Luxi: You moved from Santiago de Cali, Colombia to the USA in '96, right?
Luxi: Do you miss your home?
Dagon: Not really. I miss it though sometimes when we go down there and tour because it's changed drastically. It's gotten really nice, it's really evolved, it's much more up-to-date. My brain, my mind was still stuck in the Colombia of the 80s. What everybody sees on that Narcos series and all that, it's somewhat of a good example. But the economy is booming, it's getting better, people are learning how to basically be normal human beings and [laughs] not destroy their own country. Build it, not break it down. It's getting better. Because of that, I get nostalgic when I'm there and singing, "Wow, this is actually nice". Yes. The short answer is, yes, I do miss some things about it.
Luxi: While you still lived in your home country did you go see some Metal gigs there?
Dagon: Man, very few. Many that I could mention here would hold no value to people, like a lot of cover bands. We didn't have bands that came from New York or the US, so all the kids would do cover bands. It was very common for a band to do a show. For example, playing Ride the Lightning in its entirety, perfect. These were bands that all they would do was practice and practice and practice an album, so it was amazing. I got to see a lot of those bands, it was very cool, man. Cult bands, Reencarnación from Darjeeling. Before Inquisition it was called Guillotina, kind of like Hellhammer to Celtic Frost. With Guillotina, we got to play with Reencarnación twice. That's one of the best memories I have. I was at a rehearsal of Reencarnación, I met the Parabellum guys.
Luxi: Coolness. Very cool.
Dagon: Knew them. I got to meet them. Got to watch rehearsals of their side bands. They had a grand core noise band called Herpes. It was incredible, it was sick.
Luxi: What about Masacre?
Dagon: Of course. Yes, good friends of mine. I knew Mauricio, I knew him very well. Alex the singer, Dilson Díaz the old bass player, Juan Carlos the original guitar player, I knew all the guys. I used to go to Beijing a lot. It'd be somewhere around 1989 when I was 17. 1991, 92, I went there like three, four times. Dangerous time too to be there.
Luxi: I can only imagine what it was like back then, living there...
Dagon: Dangerous time to be there. What people don't understand is it was dangerous to be a metal head because the police back then, they didn't know who we were. We were like a new movement. I won't go into too much detail but it's like metal heads that are really, really into extreme Black Metal nowadays. Some people and police, and movements see those type of Black Metal heads as very dangerous and a threat, so they create problems for them. Take that situation but make it truly political. Imagine an underground police movement where when they're out of uniform, their job is to shoot homeless people, shoot drug addicts, and on that same list was metal heads.
Luxi: That sounds just shitty and very bad.
Dagon: Yes, that was the 80s for the metal head. That's what it was like, that's why it was dangerous. I had friends that wouldn't even wear metal shirts and cut their hair. If you had long hair, black shirt, a lot of times cops would pull you over, throw you against the wall, start questioning you, throw you in jail for a couple of days, no reason.
Luxi: Yeah, it's crazy and stupid.
Dagon: Well, they had good reason and they took very seriously what Metal was about if we inverted crosses and said, "Fuck Jesus." Back then, we had a lot of punks that were coming from the Punk scene and getting into extreme Metal. It morphed and they brought the antigovernment mentality into it. There was a very strong black, we didn't call it Black Metal then, Black Metal essence then that much more anti-religious and anti-government than before. We were seen as a threat. Some metal heads were actually taking action. They were burning down police stations, going into churches, fucking stuff up. That was interesting though, man.
Luxi: This all somehow reminds me of what happened in Norway back in the 90s, even if it happened for different reasons...
Dagon: Yes. Yes.
Luxi: So many old churches were burned down, some murders happened, plus other acts of violence took place there back then...
Dagon: Yes, somewhat like that. Ironically, a lot of those guys were inspired, maybe not directly, but there were a few. The soloist mentioned it that they enjoyed and knew what was going in South America. He found out mostly through Mauricio, my friend who did Massacra in Taipan. He would get all the news about everything. Brazil also had an extreme scene.
Luxi: How is next year shaping up for Inquisition? You have got some plans already?
Dagon: We have plans. That's always a necessary question so fans know what the bands are doing but it always ends up with the same boring answers. Unfortunately, I have to give you the same boring answers. Yes, we have some tours planned. I could give you times but a lot of touring, a lot of shows. I think more importantly, if I was an Inquisition fan, I wouldn't mind hearing this; I'm going to start getting busy writing the next album. I want to devote a lot of time to it. We're talking maybe a year and a half probably writing.
Luxi: Yes, it's a relatively long time to write an album.
Dagon: Yes, but I want people to get a little bit of a surprise from the next album, like they did from this one. I can tell you right now it won't be a safe album.
Luxi: With the next Inquisition release will you try to get to the next level both creatively and songwriting wise?
Dagon: Yes. I haven't even gone over this with the other member but I just want to take things so far man. The opposite of what 98% of bands do, go soft, get safe, I want to go the other direction. But the challenge is I still want to sound musical, I still want to sound tight, somewhat of a clean production. There's a very professional side of me. It's always a difficult thing to balance.
Dagon: How can Inquisition maybe one day play third on an Amon Amarth bill? Can that work? Well, it can but you don't want to sound like shit.
Luxi: Right. You sort of need to take the middle way in order to maintain credibility among your fans, you know.
Dagon: Yes. That's what I admire about Revenge from Canada, man. You can put those guys next to Deicide and Amon Amarth. They actually did that tour in the 2000s. Because they're tight, they're on their shit and that's what we will always do. But when I say push the limits and other things - just darker, better, more darkness.
Luxi: Now that sounds very cool to me.
Dagon: Right. Yes, right.
Luxi: Okay, Jason. Thank you for your time, and all the best for tonight's show.
Dagon: Thanks a lot. It was a nice interview.
|Other information about Inquisition on this site|
|Review: Into the Infernal Regions of the Ancient Cult|
|Review: Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm|
|Review: Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith|
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