Vampyric Castles, Conspiracies, and Conversations: A Chat with Old Nick
Black metal in the last decade has become increasingly more outlandish. Of course, while there’s still some level of predictability - the tremolo riffs, the blast beasts, et cetera, if the past ten years have taught fans of the genre anything, it’s that black metal is far more malleable than it appears at first glance. Acts like Ved Buens Ende planted the seeds early on with albums like 1995’s Written in Waters, which stylistically is as fluid as it’s name would suggest. And though musically very different, Alcest and Panopticon carried this experimental streak into the 2010’s with their own unique permutations of the black metal formula. Since then, it has only become even more liberated; Liturgy has tinkered with trap beats and banshee shrieks, Dark Watcher imagines black metal in a stetson wearing spurred boots, and Old Nick... well, Old Nick is an entity all of its own.
Formed in 2020, Old Nick’s initial releases were quirky, but still neatly fit into the black metal framework. Alongside the genre staples, their first EP Witch Lymph also hinted at a certain eccentricity that helped them stand out from the legions of other freshman raw black metal bands. Subsequent releases nurtured these odd impulses from both a musical and aesthetic standpoint. Album covers eschewed the typical black and white artwork for more colorful and near-parodic images, while their sound became increasingly more complex, from the black metal elements to the incorporation of video game sounding synths, neo-classical clamor, and folky underpinnings.
Normally, these dalliances would be painted as gimmicky, and though there is certainly a feeling of levity to Old Nick’s output, the music never feels like a joke. And it’s this balance between genuinely strong black metal craft and the sense of not taking themselves too seriously that has quickly earned Old Nick thralls of dedicated fans in the short time they’ve been together. Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Old Nick’s frontman Abysmal Specter and talk about the band’s beginnings, their songwriting process, and their goals for the future.
First thing I’d like to jump into is the kind of oddball, outsider persona Old Nick has cultivated for themselves over the last year. Was this intentional, or just a natural byproduct of the band’s collective personality?
I've begun to realize our position on the outskirts of black metal stems from our unconventional influences and inspiration, it's very unintentional. I like vibrant colors, I like eccentric imagery, and I like to reimagine classic tales from our childhoods. Everything I create comes from instinct. I trust my senses unwaveringly. If I find an aesthetic that speaks to me, I don't question it, I don't think about how it will fit into a scene, a sea of black and white, image thresholding album covers, this is what old nick is spawned from. An innate connection to what we create, a deep trust of our eyes and ears, and decision making based on first impressions. Sonically, we are influenced by music from all over the genre spectrum. I don't confine myself to one genre, and I despise genre elitism. There is no such thing as bad music, just music you don't like. There is no such thing as bad art, just art you don't like.
Where did the name Old Nick originate from?
The name comes from a colloquial way to refer to Satan. The origins are obscure but some speculate that it derived from "Old Iniquitous" which is another term of endearment for Mr. Satan. I've got no official sources on this, just a random internet article. We just thought it was cool, so we went with it.
The band’s early artwork has a noticeably kitschy, MS Paint vibe to it. Who was responsible for creating it, and what was the thought process behind that aesthetic?
The band’s initial imagery was organically and haphazardly thrown together by me (Abysmal Specter). No deep meaning, all I knew is that I didn't want a typical black and white album cover.
The initial Old Nick EP, Witch Lymph, was released on April 4, 2020 and quickly followed by another 10 days later. Then your first full-length Forest of Grief dropped a little over a week after that; did you guys have some sort of cache of ideas to draw from, or was that material more improvised?
Witch Lymph was started and finished in the span of eight hours, Flying Ointment took a week, and Forest of Grief was half new songs, half rehashed material from a band I was a part of featuring Tyrant of Fugitive Wizard, Siphoner.
It feels like the complexity of Old Nick’s music deepens with each subsequent release. Can you talk a little about how you feel the group has grown as songwriters in the last year?
As we honed in on our desired aesthetic, we were able to expand on certain ideas, musically and aesthetically. It's an organic progression, from the blunt force rawness of witch lymph, to a more nuanced approach of vampiric conspiracies. As for the songwriting, we love hooks, the earworms that draw you in. The hook from “2 Minutes to Midnight” by Iron Maiden, or the main riff from “Transylvanian Hunger”, once they're in your head, it's hard to get it out, that's kinda what we strive for with the songwriting.
Speaking of vampiric conspiracies, the majority of your lyrics seem to deal with the supernatural. What inspired you to write more fantasy based lyrics as opposed to the usual black metal fare? Is there ever any allegorical allusions to what’s going on in the real world in your lyricism, or is it pure storytelling?
I think it's easier for me to actually be emotionally moved by something that can fit in my room, as opposed to something along the lines of "eternal grimness from beyond" for example. Those types of themes are too obtuse, and frankly aren't all that spooky. The themes are purely fantasy, and have no connectivity between themselves or the real world. I prefer to think of them as snapshots into their own individual worlds, never was a fan of concept albums!
As far as I know, Old Nick has been a studio-only endeavor and began shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic really broke out in the States. Now that things are normalizing and bands are putting on concerts again, do you have any plans for live shows or touring at some point? If so, who are some bands you’d like to tour with? If not, are there any groups that have announced shows that you’d be interested in attending?
Old Nick has no plans of playing live :(. We kinda like to think of ourselves more as content creators than performing artists. We get our rocks off in the studio, and it ends there. Personally, I appreciate the experience a live concert can offer, but I just don't think it fits with my personality, nor do I go to shows. I'd probably make a crappy performer anyway, haha.
How do you feel about all the buzz the band has generated over the last year? It feels like Old Nick was almost immediately embraced by metal underground.
I'm very pleased with the response, and it’s cool to know the music is resonating with people! It's a great feeling knowing that Old Nick scratches an itch, especially since, initially, it was haphazardly put together. Witch Lymph was started and finished in 5-6 hours, no preparation, no pre-writing, none of that! I'm still coping with that notion!
Do you have any concrete goals for Old Nick moving forward? What do you see in the future for Old Nick?
Our plans are to keep creating music, and pushing the boundaries with our creativity and songwriting. This has been an unexpected, and amazing journey!
Old Nick's numerous releases can be found on Grime Stone Records' Bandcamp page.