Entering the Underground #19: “Fell Sorcery Abounds” on Morgul Blade’s Towering Debut
Genuine improvement with metal bands these days doesn’t feel as common as it should be. A debut demo or EP often signals how the album will be–a decent demo means a decent album, and a great demo means a great album. More uncommon still are bands that are more interested in pursuing their own path than trying to fit cleanly in with the rest of the modern scene, and new heavy metal especially seems obsessed with copying successful contemporary or 1980s bands instead of embracing the pioneering spirit that almost all of the best classic bands embodied.
Morgul Blade perfectly sidestep both of those conventions. The potential on 2019's Harbingers of Power and the World’s End collides perfectly with the obtuse, heroic blend of Bathory-esque black metal and epic heavy and power metal styles that these Tolkien-worshiping Pennsylvania maniacs love to form. It's something as different as it is killer: an album that fits in no box, dancing as nimbly between mean minor-chord tremolo riffs, ghoulish snarling, triumphing true metal, and even anthemic singing that’s more early power metal than anything. Variety is the name of the day on Fell Sorcery Abounds and Morgul Blade are no more afraid of bookending a scary extreme section with a Nocturnal Rites-ish passage than they are of including a beautiful acoustic ballad on an album in an era where ballads are largely dead.
Stylistic exploration and genre melding in these well-defined later years of heavy metal often mean being relegated to obscurity, but Morgul Blade's mastery has transcended that barrier and it’s no mistake that Fell Sorcery Abounds was a smash hit, selling out of its first vinyl pressing almost instantly. Get down with your new dark lords, turn up your stereo, and dive into Morgul Blade while reading the interview with the band’s main man Klauf below.
Morgul Blade on Fell Sorcery Abounds uses harsh vocals to narratively represent servants of Morgoth and powerful, anthemic clean ones as the good of Eä. Was the underlying music itself written with the contrast in mind?
Not directly, but I wanted peaks and valleys within the composition, and atmospherically I knew that I wanted to go this direction in pre-production and demoing. The abrupt changes in the songs both vocally and musically kinda reflect my ham fisted attempt at this. Subtlety sometimes isn’t warranted, especially within heavy metal, and the lack thereof can be used as a tool or nuance in itself, with hubris.
Does that mean we can expect more subtlety as you gain experience, or that the changes will be even more ham-fisted?
I think a little bit of both. Making something obtuse and ham fisted work well also requires a fair bit of panache and nuance. I don't want to reveal too much about what will become a follow up to our debut since so many people are still enjoying the first but you can expect more out and out black metal parts on it to counter the trad stuff for sure. I just want this next record to be MORE. More of everything that people have come to love us for. More Evil. More battle. More fucking dragons, maybe, who knows? If that sounds ambiguous it’s because it is meant to be. Sometimes concepts can’t be quantified judiciously in words. Substance works better.
Genuine ballads are uncommon in this day and age, but you make a wonderful shot at it with "Oak in the Mist." Was including a ballad the goal from the start? How did it come together?
I wish I could give you an exciting story about this song because I also love it, but the truth is that the song is about 10 years old itself and was originally for another project many moons ago. I knew I wanted some sort of acoustic, Medieval-esque passage on the record and one day we were sitting on a porch right when the air was getting crisp and the nights grew long, and Jep kinda just busted that out on guitar nonchalantly, and I immediately knew that was the song that needed to be realized in full on record. So we recorded the guitar track during early stages of recording and left it with Spectre, our then producer and now drummer, and he in his infinite poise and creativity added all the strings and keys, partnered with some lovely elven vocals from High Priestess Nighthawk, and voila, an inadvertent album favorite was oddly born!
Are any of the other songs on the record older?
Sons of the Night is actually a song I wrote for my old band MOTA, but that was a stoner doom band and very clearly when I played that for them they started to see my separation from the genre. The song kinda got lost in the back of my head for a couple years and resurfaced when I was very quickly trying to get 2 songs together for what eventually became Harbingers of Power and the World's End. At that point, we had another song called "Traversing the Fields of Carrion'' that was going to go on Harbingers. The song is by far the most blackened one in my repertoire and would've given the EP a completely different vibe. The resurgence of Sons of the Night was a very important step in the sound of the early days of the project. And as for "Traversing the Fields of Carrion," you may be hearing that soon enough as well.
Given the strong relationship with black metal found within your music, was there ever thought of turning to a more extreme metal oriented label before pairing with Greece's No Remorse Records? Was the label skeptical at all before hearing your music?
I'm painfully new in dealing with these things as I’m even to this day, amazed, quite frankly, that Morgul Blade is where it is in stature. I have to attribute a lot of that recognition to No Remorse. I have been buying and loving bands and records from them for so long and when they came calling it was an instantaneous decision. To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t sought out any labels prior to this mainly because I hate selling myself and I honestly didn’t think anyone would be interested…how so very very wrong I was. Many people argue about what genre belong in and whatever other tropes we fit in, and really I don’t give a fuck about any of that. We play heavy metal, and No Remorse is the best underground heavy metal label in all of middle earth, so I’m content.
Given how well the album did and your inexperience do you worry at all about satisfying fans on stage?
I don’t know that "satisfying" is the term I would use as much as what the perception of the live project brings. This was never supposed to be a live band at first. I worry that it will detract from the immersive nature of the music. I am an introvert. I am not a people person, and I have extreme social anxiety. But as the project grew I saw an opportunity that needed to be grabbed. I have been playing music in one shape or form since I was about 11 years old. I owed it to my 16 year old self to see how far I could take this project. Queensrÿche has a great song called "Take Hold of the Flame" off of their 1984 album Warning and it’s about seizing your fucking opportunities in life:
So take hold of the flame
Don't you see life's a game
So take hold of the flame
You've got nothing to lose, but everything to gain
So here I am. Taking Hold of the fucking flame.
Fell Sorcery Abounds represents a significant amount of growth from 2019's Harbingers of Power and the World's End, both musically and for the band's profile. What steps did the band take to improve so much in such a short period of time? Do you feel that there’s still a similar amount of room left to grow with Morgul Blade?
Ya know, there was never a "recognized" effort to improve ourselves, I believe in self improvement and natural evolution of a project is an extension of that. This band and what I write are really just obelisks of blended worship to everything I love and grew up listening to. Bathory, Pagan Altar, Windir, FWOSHM, Agalloch, and AFI don't have much in common other than you can hear them all equally in different parts of Fell Sorcery Abounds because they are all so important to me. It’s important for me to pay my homage to these and many more monuments. We already have most of our follow up written and I can assure you that we’ve gone in even more interesting and pointedly different directions. (Blackened Dokken Riffs, anyone?)
Why use pseudonyms for instrument credits and then turn around and use what appear to be real names for songwriting and production credits?
That was totally an accident! [Laughs]
Does that mean we should be all still calling you the mighty Klauf and politely ignoring the instrument credits? What exactly is a Klauf, anyways?
Well my real last name is "Klaus" but a pizza place by my Grandparents house in Chester County, PA, would always list my name as "Klauf" when I called in for pickup, and honestly I just thought it was really funny and adopted it. That was about 10 years ago. Plus "F" was "s" in Middle English so I still just kinda thought it worked in a way. I don’t know man, I’m fuckin weird.
How did the band initially find the cover artist, Wyrmwalk, who painted the album art for Fell Sorcery Abounds? Was it tough finding someone to match your concept for how the band should be represented?
Jerry Hionis aka. Wyrmwalk is an artist I've been following for a long time. We started talking and I approached him about the artwork and as it turns out we only live about ten minutes apart in the West Philly Suburbs (go birds.). His use and emphasis on color vibrancy is really what I love the most about the work he provides, but also his promptness and honesty. I don't like to give artists too much of a rubric to work with so as not to stifle any sort of creativity by pigeonholing them somewhere they don’t want to be. I merely told Jerry the album name, and then let him go to town. The piece is called Dark Magi and encapsulates everything I love about heavy metal art. It is influenced by the masters like Gerald Brom and Michael Whelan.
Are you planning to use him again for the next one? Is there any value to constantly changing artists and visual representation as you improve the band’s music and grow together, or is consistency more important?
I will know what I’m doing aesthetically when I decide what the next album will be called. If I decide to use a different artist that is most assuredly not an indictment on Wyrmwalk at all, he is excellent to work with and a great man. It's just that as of now the way the second LP is shaping up, it seems like it's gonna be a tad bit more evil and darker, so I may be thinking black and white art will be more the trick. This is of course, all hypothetical, but kind of an insight to how my thought process works regarding band aesthetics.
Fell Sorcery Abounds released November 26th, 2021 via No Remorse Records.