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INTERVIEW: Dāmim – Technical Death Metal from the UK

After a significant period of inactivity, the artists until recently known as Dām (Taurkad), have returned in 2016 with a new name, new material on the horizon, new shoes (probably), and renewed intent! In this interview vocalist/guitarist Nathanael fights his way through TO’s hail of questions.

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Transcending Obscurity (Ewan): Could you introduce yourself, tell us who’s in the band and what they do, and provide a brief history of Dam?

Dāmim (Nathanael Underwood): The line-up is myself on vocals and guitar, Flow on drums, Edd on guitar and Faust on bass.

Now known as Dāmim, the earliest incarnation of Dam started playing shows around London and the UK – notably at the Devil’s Church at the Red Eye. After the initial demo and a few tapes the voice became more defined and thrash oriented. Playing with Jaime also brought blast beats and more fluidity to the mix. Lal and himself were the longer-term mainstays for that period up to the end of the promo cycle for ‘Purity…’. ‘The Difference Engine’ period saw a few line-up changes – recorded with Jaime but toured with Brad (TrenchHead, Annotations Of An Autopsy). We also switched to having Dan Knight on guitar full-time (ish) after his lead part contributions to the recording and since he’d already been performing with us live for a few years at that point.

After that we played with Rushy who is a fantastic drummer. I really don’t know anyone who quite nails the rigorous, metronomic brutality of death metal drumming with quite the same intensity apart from the big names like Mike Smith or Pete Sandoval. Of course with Rushy there are other issues, such as the fact that to play anything at the speed it was intended at requires a superhuman effort. Then there are the issues with personal discipline, which I’m pleased to hear he has mostly overcome.

We also worked with Didier (Razor of Occam, Dragonforce) quite a bit. He has a very distinctive feel and a strong sense of the aesthetic that will work. He brought that flavour to the old songs and we wrote a couple of new tracks for the new album with him.

This is where Flow comes in. I worked with him for a few years and he has an approach that makes song writing a breeze. He is also particularly well-schooled, disciplined, versatile and he connects with the material in a way that imparts a fresh influence and character both to the new songs and to the existing material.

So the recording line-up is Flow on drums and myself for everything else. There will be guest performances on the album and the live entity will be revealed when we actually play to promote the new material.

TO (Ewan): Could you tell us where the band name comes from, and who in the band came up with that suggestion?

Dāmim (NU): It is especially timely that you ask this as the band name in evolving from Dām (blood) to Dāmim (דמים), which means bloodshed in Hebrew.

TO (Ewan): How would you describe the sound of the band to someone who hasn’t heard you before?

Dāmim (NU): Intricate, dynamic, mix of death, black, thrash and doom influences built on a backbone of cathartic riffage and layered with vocals ranging from the low growl to the midrange snarl and high blackened shriek. Building an expressive sonic construct is always a priority. It almost always ends up being the therapeutic noise that makes you want to smash things or clutch high the invisible orange of doom.

TO (Ewan): And how would you describe the sound of the band to someone who has no idea what Death Metal is?

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Photograph: Ester Segarra

Dāmim (NU): Rhythmically pulsating patterns of violent sound with discernible harmony and melody. When I refer to melody I don’t mean lines in a major scale that sound like bastardised folk music, I mean melody as a discernible sequence of notes that form a recognisable or memorable tune. The vocals are often textured screaming or shouting, sometimes with melody, always rhythmical. These should trigger a primal, subconscious-driven emotion that any kind of extreme human vocal sounds would elicit. It’s not for everyone and it isn’t supposed to be. You either get it or you don’t. You can get back to reading NME now.

TO (Ewan): Who’re the band’s primary musical influences, in terms of style and sound, and also as individual musicians?

Dāmim (NU): Death/Chuck, Emperor/Ishahn, Morbid Angel, Napalm Death, Killing Joke, Godflesh, Will Haven, Burnt By The Sun, Carcass, Bathory/Quorthon, Meshuggah, Virus, Godflesh, Cadaver, Brutal Truth, Suffocation, Akercocke, Prong, Nile, Devin Townsend, My Bloody Valentine, Christoph De Babalon, Cardiacs, Portal

TO (Ewan): Do you have significant influences from outside of Metal, or even outside of music as a whole?

Dāmim (NU): Absolutely. For instance – Killing Joke and Cardiacs. These can be considered borderline cases, but they often express very similar sentiments with a different palette that I feel can and should be used in a more noisy and distorted context. Another perhaps is the whole world of electronica, distortion-inclined and otherwise. Whether we’re talking about Aphex Twin, Christoph De Babalon or Whitehouse, there are shades of darkness to be explored that cannot be visited otherwise. Film and game music is another rich seam, most notably mined by Nile…

TO (Ewan): Do you think the genre tags Death Metal or Technical Death Metal are satisfactorily adequate for a band like Damim? Do you think such labels may have affected your potential for wider appeal over the years?

Dāmim (NU): No and yes, respectively. When you don’t tread the same weathered path as a legion of bands whose well-established formula can be easily replicated, you cannot just piggyback on their audience and grow in that way. The press have a hard time deciding which tribe to sell you to (if any). The most surprising reactions I’ve seen is from certain sections in the press (mostly German webzines) who cannot get their heads around the idea that a band might combine different kinds of metal. Some reviewers actually manifested genuine outrage that their tidy compartmentalised vision of the world could be challenged in this way. I’m happy to report that order has not been restored.

TO (Ewan): Your debut album ‘Purity: The Darwinian Paradox’ came out in 2005. What’s your opinion of that album 10 years on?

Dāmim (NU): I wish I’d known then more of the things that I know now. It’s recorded too fast so some of the songs sound rushed. The production is inconsistent rather than varied, which is a shame as quite a few of the songs came out quite nicely in their own way. I’m still very proud of the material, and I’d like to air more of it live – possibly even re-visit – more of it since the interpretations have evolved over the years. We tried that quite successfully with ‘City Of Envy’ for a Metal Hammer compilation, that version now probably being my favourite recorded rendition of it.

TO (Ewan): What is the meaning behind the title ‘Purity: The Darwinian Paradox’? How did you come up with it?

Dāmim (NU): It was inspired by a vision in a dream from someone who arguably doesn’t believe in either, but is a fan and a friend.

TO (Ewan): On ‘Purity…’ you covered Carcass’ ‘Forensic Clinicism / The Sanguine Article’. What made you choose that song in particular?

Dāmim (NU): Pretty much anyone who’s ever been involved in the band has had love for Carcass. It was fun to play and off what is probably our favourite Carcass album. We’d been practising it and by the time it came to the recording we could pull it off. It was also easy to get people, such as the guys from Misery Index, Ben from The Rotted or Paul from Akercocke to guest on it. The mix just came together very nicely.

TO (Ewan): Dam’s 2nd album ‘The Difference Engine’ followed in 2007. What’s your opinion of that album now?

Dāmim (NU): I make music for myself. By that criteria it’s a strong release that doesn’t have the same sounds as its contemporaries and does not work with the same logic when it comes to constructing songs or albums. I still enjoy listening to it.

TO (Ewan): From where did the title ‘The Difference Engine’ originate? How does this relate to Dam/the material on the album?

Dāmim (NU): You see it as alluding to existence as a transformative process. This is essentially a thread that runs through the entire album.

TO (Ewan): ‘The Difference Engine’ saw a streamlining of the band’s sound, and a more consistent style throughout than its predecessor. To what do you attribute this progression?

Dāmim (NU): The recording method played a big part, as did the song writing. The first album was almost a collection of early material recorded over a longer period of time. A lot more emphasis was placed on consistency in the new release, although organic variation is inevitable unless you go out of your way to make your material sterile and monotone. While you could argue that a few (very few) artists exploit that angle successfully, it isn’t really what we ever went for.

TO (Ewan): The 2 tracks which round out the album contrast with the 7 tracks that came before, albeit in totally different ways. ‘New Quest’ is the track which would most comfortably sit on ‘Purity…’ (the pacing, the melody), but ‘This has nothing to do with Apathy’ is a significant departure on all fronts. How did that song (‘…Apathy’) in particular come about?

Dāmim (NU): The exploration of a new creative tool often leads to new ideas. ‘New Quest’ came about with a new recording set up and slightly different tuning. ‘Apathy’ came about from a few riffs and the tempo they naturally engendered. Once the seed was borne it grew naturally until we had a whole song. When I say naturally I mean we played it and played it and played variations of it until we figured out what came before and after and how it would start and end.

TO (Ewan): 2015 marks 8 years since the release of ‘The Difference Engine’. What’s been going on in the meantime? Did you think back in 2007 that so much time would pass before a follow up would see the light of day (I’m banking on there being a 3rd album at some point)?

Dāmim (NU): You can’t really plan for these things. I’m happy about the journey because we are where we are at now. We have a great team, some of the strongest material we’ve ever written being conceived and played by individuals focussed on making something we can be proud of. We have a third album that is on its way to completion and material following hot on its heels. We have never sounded tighter.

TO (Ewan): There will be a follow up right? 😉 How far along are you on that front? Any scraps of information or clues as to what we might expect from a future Damim release?

Dāmim (NU): It continues where we left off and adds new elements to the mix. There will be departures, similarities and surprises. There’s maybe more tech thrash in the next release, but also more open material – layering textures, progressions, atonality. Wait and see. It’s right around the corner

TO (Ewan): Guessing/hoping new* material exists in some form, how would say it compares/contrasts with your 2nd album? *i.e. anything written post-‘The Difference Engine’.

Dāmim (NU): See above.

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Photograph: Ester Segarra

TO (Ewan): Assuming it has indeed passed, looking back now, how do you view your time with Candlelight Records?

Dāmim (NU): Getting signed by a label that put out some the records we had grown up listening to was a milestone and in many ways a validation, irrelevant as that kind of consideration may be in the grand scheme of things. In profile and in material terms the association with the name helped us.

TO (Ewan): How does the creation of new material work in Damim? Is it a band effort or do you work individually then come together?

Dāmim (NU): It’s a gestalt, it varies with personnel and there is no fixed formula. I will come up with ideas, phrases, sections, etc. The other musicians involved in the project will respond to these sections. The most important is the guitar/drum axis, as different drummers will respond surprisingly differently to identical riffs and hear different rhythmical aspects to accentuate – if they have any affinity with the material to start with. Finished songs that feel right usually contain equal parts old riffs that have finally found a home, fresh riffs that are a few weeks old and have materialised almost simply to bind the material coherently, as well as the outcome of rehearsal room spontaneity and jammage to see what will actually make sense and stick. Further elements often come from recording and internalising the early iterations of the material to allow for the subconscious creativity to work its magic.

TO (Ewan): Over the course of its releases, Damim/Dam has had a varied visual representation. How important do you think the visual aspect is to your music, and do you have any notions of where you may take this in the future?

Dāmim (NU): I used to dismiss the image as unimportant, since growing up listening to tapes and tape copies, the appearance of the band was very much a secondary concern. It was all about the evil noise and the direct connection to the genuine intent behind the music itself. To me, appearance was unimportant.

While I don’t care for anything that isn’t representative of what we actually are, I’ve come to appreciate that you need to present a more focussed persona, and try to simplify what you are conveying, if possible with an understanding of the semiotic components of your projection.

TO (Ewan): How would you describe Damim’s prevalent lyrical themes? Are there any hidden messages or metaphors going on within Dam’s subject matter?

Dāmim (NU): Life, death, existence and our place in the context of eternity. Let the words create the impression in your mind. You can decide for yourself.

TO (Ewan): There have been bouts of gigging over the last 8 years. Are there any plans for Damim to play live in the near future?

Dāmim (NU): Yes we certainly do. Please check http://damim.uk/ and subscribe to our Facebook news feed for any specifics.

TO (Ewan): For the benefit of those who’ve not had the pleasure, what should an attendee expect of your show?

Dāmim (NU): Compelling renditions of new and classic material. Art, not gimmicks.

TO (Ewan): Are there any bands that Dam would like to share a stage/tour with?

Dāmim (NU): Of course. We’ve had the privilege of sharing stages with many of our heroes already – including Napalm Death, Testament, Entombed, Decapitated, Gorguts, Obituary to name a few, but there will always be more. Carcass, Tryptikon, Meshuggah are three off the top of my head.

TO (Ewan): What have been the best live experiences of Damim’s career thus far?

Dāmim (NU): Playing with Gorguts was a definite highlight. The live experience is always a risk. You don’t know what’s going to go well or go wrong, no matter how much you’ve rehearsed. A case in point would be the Leeds DeathFest which we played a few years ago. The smoke machine got stuck so the room filled up, a fuse tripped blowing one of our guitar amps half way into the second song, and Dan’s (guitar) trousers ripped at the crotch at about the same time. It took us about five minutes to clear the smoke and get everything back on track, but we had a great sound (thanks James Dunkley) and Jason (Mendonca) to lend us a spare, we powered through and in the end it was a great show. Dan’s trousers remained torn though.

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Photographs: Ewan Gibb

TO (Ewan): As someone who’s active in the underground, what’s your format of choice when purchasing new music?

Dāmim (NU): Digital downloads directly from the bands. I’d love to say I collect vinyl (I do) but I don’t have the space to aggressively pursue this.

TO (Ewan): With the underground specifically in mind, where do you see the CD’s status currently and in the future? Can you see a point where they will no longer be used? And if so, how would that affect the labels and bands of the underground?

Dāmim (NU): CDs are arguably only in existence currently because of laziness. People don’t want a cumbersome, breakable assembly of plastics. Maybe the inlay will survive as a physical format, but the near future as I see it is either downloads or vinyl. The other factors are of course the evolution of technology (formats – will there be a new cartridge-like medium adopted by the industry that will stick with the audience), and people’s attention spans and willingness to invest themselves into the aesthetics. Music has lost a lot of edge as a medium now that EVERYONE can get into some kind of act that has adopted a certain sound and adheres to their views. The different agglomerations of fans and musicians (there is a huge overlap) have become echo chambers of aesthetics and viewpoints that transcend national boundaries but ironically seem very insular.

TO (Ewan): The scene in the UK is incredibly healthy at the moment. Who’re your favourites among the current crop of such bands in this country?

Dāmim (NU): Agonyst, Rannoch, Antichrist Imperium, Shrines are all making challenging, vital tuneage. Also – I’m not sure what their current status is – but Dead Beyond Buried are criminally underrated. Check them out.

TO (Ewan): Having been around since the late ’90s, how has the underground scene in the UK changed over that time? What do you think is the pre-eminent challenge facing underground Metal acts these days? Does this differ to how it has been in the past?

Dāmim (NU): The crowds are a lot more diverse and a lot more populous. It’s much less of a statement of antipathy to the mainstream now that the sounds and aesthetics are so pervasive. The too-kool-for-skool NME used to respond to the earnest treatment and acknowledgement of darkness embodied in metal with bemused derision. It went through a phase of desperately trying to pander to an audience it never understood by running web-features on “unreadable logos” and “metal? what’s that about”. They recently moved to a free model which wiser publications (such as TeamRock) have shunned.

I digress. Despite what you might hear, there are more venues that will cater to the genres. The tools are there if you are savvy to make your music and get it out there. There is a bigger potential audience although what it’s prepared to pay for is different and its attention span is a lot shorter. There are fewer ‘big’ acts in a sense also. The threshold seems different and the attentions of the audience seem more fragmented as a result.

I think the last decade has been transformative like no decade since the music industry established itself as a market. The means of production and promotion are democratised. It is possible to have a cultural impact of some sort or even just find a sizeable audience of sorts without becoming established. As a result what it means to be a successful artist has completely changed and the ideal of what constitutes a viable model for being a working band is very different for many from what it might have been 20 years ago.

TO (Ewan): What are the aims and plans of Damim for 2016?

Dāmim (NU): Release more music. Play more, bigger shows. write record and play more music. Find more great people to collaborate with. Play with more bands. Be the best at being who we are and be the best at doing what we do regardless of whether the zeitgeist is in tune with us.

TO (Ewan): Are the members of Damim involved in any other bands? If so, here’s a chance to plug any non-Damim shows or releases that are happening.

Dāmim (NU): A project that Faust and Edd have been working on for a wile now is at the mixing stage. I’m also in another band. That’s all you’re getting for now.

TO (Ewan): Finally, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Dāmim (NU): Things are happening. Watch this space: http://damim.uk/

Thank you for the interview!

Photograph credit (non live pics): Ester Segarra

Dāmim Twitter | Dāmim Facebook | Dāmim Homepage | Dāmim Bandcamp

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