Interview with guitarist Rob Anderson and vocalist Curtis Fitzpatrick
Interview conducted by Mjölnir
Date online: May 24, 2020
Ba'alzamon started in 1998 as one of the first Black Metal bands in Arkansas. They stood out in a scene dominated by Sludge with their novel approach to Black/Death and DIY theatrics, but despite all this the band split up in 2001. They reformed sometime in 2017 and recorded both old and new songs to finally release their debut album, A Desolate Place. I was able to sit down with guitarist Rob Anderson and vocalist Curtis Fitzpatrick to talk about the band's past, present, and currently bright future.
Mjölnir: Tell me a little about how you got into Metal and ended up forming a band.
Rob: I probably started listening to metal at about 12 or 13 years old. One of my first music purchases was Metallica's And Justice for All, and I sort of just discovered more and more different and darker bands from there. I was always drawn to the darkest bands, so when I heard death metal for the first time a few years later, I knew I had found the music I was meant to enjoy. My first death metal bands were Obituary and Deicide. I later discovered Black metal bands like Cradle of Filth (Dusk and Her Embrace era) and Emperor (Anthems era), and knew I wanted to incorporate parts of that into my sound.
We first all met at around the average age of 20. I think Curtis was still in high school, but Marc and I were graduated. We instantly started to try creating music together and had a few band attempts before Ba'alzamon. Some of that early stuff is kinda cringeworthy if in an endearing way. It was bad, but we were earnest in our attempts.
We formed Ba'alzamon when we finally found a drummer into the same type of music. He was about 15 years older than the rest of us and kind of a creep, we ended up firing him and found a second drummer the same day. He unfortunately was shot and killed in a robbery at the store where he was working.
Mjölnir: You describe your sound as a form of Black/Death you call Ozark Mountain Metal. What would you say separates your sound from other bands in the genre, and what bands influenced it the most?
Rob: We were then (and still are) inspired by a lot of the early second-wave Black Metal bands as well as the traditional Tampa death metal scene. Marc (bass and keyboards) was into hardcore punk as well, so he always was able to find the right power riff to tie together songs. So there is a little of that in there as well. Together the three of us have a very broad spectrum of musical/metal tastes and we try to bring a bit of all of that together in the songs. What separates us is that, well, we aren't afraid to latch onto a hook. So many death/black metal bands hit the good part and just jump onto the next thing, we will work a chorus or hook for all its worth.
Ozark Mountain Metal is just something ridiculous we would do a "call and answer" with the audience during shows. It just kinda stuck as a descriptor of the music. We were near the Ozark Mountains, but don't really draw any influence. You'll note the lack of banjos, although I will pick at a mandolin from time to time.
Curtis: Personally I feel that our sound separates itself from all genres of metal because of the massive amounts of influence around us. Here we are in the dirty south Bible Belt, folk capital of the world listening to anything we can get our hands on. Acid Bath is one of the bands that I would say is a huge influence of mine as a band being they were amazing sonically and drew from multiple facets
Mjölnir: Since your name is taken from the Trolloc word for The Dark One in the Wheel of Time series of books, would you say they've had an impact on your overall sound, or just the lyrics?
Rob: Well yes and no. We were inspired by the name, which also translates in the series as Heart of Darkness. At the time, we were seeing bands naming themselves after LotR references. We wanted to do something but not LotR. Lyrically, we haven't drawn from the Wheel of Time although Quest for the Twelfth Sphere of Amaroth is a fantasy song of our own making. Expect more on Amaroth on our follow-up LP.
Good catch on that.
Mjölnir: You can thank Google for that. I only read two of those books beforehand. How is the Black Metal scene down in Arkansas? The fact I can only name one other band from there makes me think it's not great, but I'd love to be proven wrong.
Rob: You are not mistaken sir. Tel-Anoreth is picking up steam, Nightspake is out of Conway where we originated, Ash of Cedars, Pantheon (not the National Socialist band) with BJ from Fallen Empire. But overall the scene is still dominated by the Sludge scene, but the Sludge is beginning to erode. I think we were a bit ahead of our time.
Mjölnir: According to your bio, you guys spent your initial run as a live act until you split up. Was there ever any talk of an album during that time, or was that only considered after the band reformed?
Rob: There was always talk, but circumstances, jobs and technology limited what we wanted to do. Plus, no drummer. It wasn't until drum software got to where it is now, that we were comfortable tracking the songs for an actual release. We had some demos and may even release some down the road, but the album is as close to our original vision for the band as we could get. Back in the day, we even had a girl on the violin for a few shows just because we wanted to incorporate symphonic sound into our music. Again, with modern recording and emulation software, we can now pull off what we were never able to do live in our younger days.
Mjölnir: Speaking of live shows, it seems you had quite the reputation for DIY theatrics, mainly homemade lighting rigs and fake blood. Who was mainly responsible for these effects, and how much did they impact the live experience?
Rob: Curtis was mostly responsible for the effects, whether it was coffee cans covered in red "satan" tape for lighting rigs or playing in shorts, barefoot and spewing blood and fire into the crowd. Those things got the energy up, especially compared to the low energy Metal bands that were around. Kinda had to do something when you were slated between four other bands who all sound like the Melvins. Not knocking the Melvins, but if you weren't into them you would hate the scene at the time.
Mjölnir: It's good to know I would have hated the scene at the time. What would you say was your most memorable live show from your old days?
Rob: Probably a show we did at a place called Vino's. It is a staple club in the scene (has been for decades), and it was kind of a rite of passage to play there. Plus, I can still remember the after-party pretty well, and that was, I think, where we were peaking with that particular line-up.
At this point, Rob had to leave the interview, so the remainder of the questions were answered by Curtis
Mjölnir: So what ended up causing you guys to split in 2001?
Curtis: Well the disbanding was brought on by many things. A big portion was due to not having support in the local scene (which was thriving at the time). There was national publicity in the Little Rock sludge scene which I was a part of, but somehow Ba'alzamon was not. On any given weekend, you would see some amazing extreme band come through with 2 or 3 stoner bands made up of the same handful of guys, and that was beyond frustrating. All that, along with previous members causing turmoil within the band, just killed it for all of us for a while.
Mjölnir: What projects did you all move on to after the first run with Ba'alzamon? I know your keyboardist went on to play with Fallen Empire for a bit, but not much else besides that.
Curtis: Well that's where things get interesting. Rob played in a few bands, moved off and became a touring comedian for a long while before he settled down, started a family, and became a college Professor, all while earning his doctorate. Yep, good ol Dr. Rob (Well not official yet, but close enough).
Marc joined the Army and served two tours overseas. He also formed/joined bands in Arizona and Arkansas including Fallen Empire, Nightsphere, and Frostcrown, the last of which is where we came up with the song "Knights of Soth".
As for me, I've been engraving tombstones for the past 15 years. I also have kids that keep me extremely busy and involved with all sorts of local events and programs. There have been music projects here and there such as Locust Swarm, Frostcrown, and many others that are nameless and unworthy of note.
Mjölnir: So what officially brought the band back together after all those years?
Curtis: The three of us have always stayed very close. Even when we lived in separate areas of the U.S. we would still get together, have a good time, and record a bunch of stupid joke songs or work on riffs and ideas here and there, but the resurgence of Ba'alzamon came from when I was remarried. We had camped and canoed for a few days in north Arkansas when Rob played a recreation of one of the old songs, we loved it and said fuck it lets do this again.
Mjölnir: Let's talk a bit about A Desolate Place, a mere 11 questions into the interview.
I understand that the songs on the album are a mix of older songs and new ones you wrote during the recording process. What songs are new, and how would you say they differ from the old ones?
Curtis: The new songs are "Through the Ashes Of Eden" and "Eternal, Eclipsed, and Enslaved", but "Trapped In Flesh", "Empire Of The Dead", and "Quest For The 12th Sphere Of Amaroth" were unfinished songs from the old days. "Knights of Soth" was originally a Frostcrown song that Marc and I wrote that never really fit until Rob got a hold of it and bam, the personality of the song changed right into Ba'alzamon. As far as how they are different from the original writings... stylistically not much at all. We grow old, our paths fork, and we all enjoy different things, but when the three of us come together and write, the tone flows naturally. We have said from the beginning that whatever the song molds into is what it will be.
Mjölnir: What was the recording process like? Did your experience with other projects affect this process in any way, or was it a learning experience all around?
Curtis: We have always been a DIY band and recording was no different. Everyone recorded their parts at their own pace at home. Riffs were emailed back and forth, little jam sessions here and there. I set up a mic in my hot dirty shed, Rob and Marc turned little areas in their house into mini studios, not much different than how people are staying connected now with having to stay home during the pandemic. Recording that way was so much more comfortable than having someone that probably doesn't like your music sitting there trying to bang it out and go home. That being said, it's not all great either. There is a large amount of stress being your own critic, editor, engineer, sound guy, and all the other things that go into the process. Rob spent countless hours mixing and re-mixing, mastering and editing.
Mjölnir: I felt that this album had a very old-school Symphonic Black Metal sound that would have been right at home in the early 2000s. Was that a conscious effort on your part?
Curtis: Not at all, we just try to make what we think goes together well. I think we focus more on not sounding like other bands or sounding too much like a particular genre than anything else.
Mjölnir: I know the current COVID-19 situation makes playing live shows and touring impossible, but have you considered doing either of those when it is once again safe to do so?
Curtis: Playing live would be pretty difficult for us being that we live so far away from each other. Throw families and jobs in that pot and you got yourself a hell of a task ahead. Doesn't mean we won't though.
Mjölnir: What are your current plans for the future of the band?
Curtis: Writing and recording this album has sparked our love for creating music together. Let's do another, and another!
Mjölnir: And for our traditional closing question, is there anything you would like to add?
Curtis: You can follow us on Facebook or the website baalzamon.com, the album A Desolate Place is available on Bandcamp and most streaming services, hope ya enjoy it, thanks a lot, and stay heavy.
|Other information about Ba'alzamon on this site|
|Review: A Desolate Place|
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