Over the past few years Ireland’s VIRCOLAC evolved into one of the strongest blackened Death Metal acts the country ever gave birth to. Since their orgin in 2013 the band has released two EPs (“Codex Perfida” and “The Cursed Travails Of The Demeter”) plus their debut full length “Masque”, which came out in 2019. To find out a bit more about these guys, we contacted vocalist Darragh O’Laoghaire (who also runs the fine label Invictus Productions) for the following interview…
Greetings Darragh, hope you’re doing fine and you are motivated enough to answer the first interview for Voices From The Darkside ever?
“Hi Frank, thanks for giving me the opportunity to discuss the band here. I am fine indeed on this fine July day!”
Did VIRCOLAC already exist when you joined them or was it more like, you got together with some friends and then you collectively decided to form a band?
“No, I effectively formed the band with the former guitarist. There was a bit of a Death Metal boom here around 2012 / 2013 with ZOM and MALTHUSIAN getting their shit together and the old guitarist had some riffs and what essentially became the song ‘Confessio’ on the demo written, so I offered to do vocals and then the whole thing quickly morphed into VIRCOLAC with the addition of a bassist and drummer. It all happened quite naturally and organically at the time.”
How was it for you when you started “singing” at a rehearsal for the first time… did you already have in mind in which style you wanted to perform your vocals? Did you try out other options in the beginning as well maybe, like ultra deep grunting or the more aggressive Thrash style?
“I’d been fucking around in different kinds of bands for a while here and there, so I already kind of knew my own style and what I wanted to go for stylistically. I guess my vocals have a somewhat Black Metal style mixed in with the Death Metal growl.”
Who came up with the band’s name VIRCOLAC (which is supposed to mean “werewolf” if I’m not completely mistaken) and is there an interesting story connected to its origin maybe?
“The name came from a book on werewolf folklore called “The White Devil: The Werewolf In European Folklore” and a quick glimpse at Metal Archives indicated that no one else had used the name so we adopted it immediately. The thematic concept behind the name is that music transforms an indivdual in a place, time and situation and this fit perfectly with the horror themed approach to the music we had as well. A man transforms into a werewolf and thus we are transformed by the music we listen to play and of course our performances live.”
Is it true that your debut demo “Codex Perfida”, that you recorded and released in 2014, was limited to 30 copies only? What was the reason for that? Weren’t you convinced enough by your own material?
“Nah, the initial run of the demo was merely to make it available for the show we did in Dublin around the release of that tape. I think it was printed on 600 tapes in the end. Or 630 including those ones!”
The demo was later re-released via Dark Descent Records on CD and Iron Bonehead on cassette. How did you hook up with those labels and why haven’t you just released it through your own label Invictus Productions?
“I didn’t want to release the music originally through my own label as I wanted it to be a separate and entirely distinct entity. We have achieved that now, having had the music released by Iron Bonehead, Sepulchral Voice and Dark Descent. I’ve worked for years with Iron Bonehead and Dark Descent and consider both good friends and staunch allies of mine, so the collaboration was as a result of that.”
The production of “Codex Perfida” sounds very natural, with all instruments pretty good audible in the mix and a great overall atmosphere, which is kind of surprising for a band’s debut recording… So, did any of you already have any studio experience before VIRCOLAC?
“Ola, who engineered it, is a natural with some great insights, ideas and understanding of how to get results. Given that we were all in our 30s when we did the demo, and most of the line-up had been playing in bands already for years, a lot of experience went into the recording as well. It was done in a professional studio over one weekend. I think we did it in 3 days total. Maybe 4.”
How did you actually find out about the studio? Was it recommended to you somehow or was it just pure luck that the result turned out that good? Did you produce the demo material yourselves?
“We were aware of the studio before and Ola had a deal working there. PRIMORDIAL recorded their “Spirit The Earth Aflame” LP there in 2000, for example. We had spent a whole year writing the 3 demos songs, so going in, we know what we were aiming for and Ola brought some extra magick to the recording then as well and had some great ideas when it came to rounding out the songs and making them more complete.”
In 2016 you surprisingly recorded another demo entitled “Feraliminal”… what made you do so? Why did you use a different studio for it and what made you re-record the songs for your next release, the “The Cursed Travails Of The Demeter” EP from 2016? Weren’t you satisfied with the versions that appeared on “Feraliminal”?
“The idea behind that was to get a feel for the newer songs we were writing with Brendan (McConnell – guitars – Frank), who had joined in 2015 and had contributed enormously to the new material. It was recorded where we used to rehearse in an afternoon, live, and the vocals were all done in one take as well. No overdubs there. It was never meant to be widely distributed, as such, and was a tester recording really, but as it was Brendan’s first recording with us, it was a significant document of that time, so a nice memento as well for a band that was progressing and advancing stylistically with a new guitarist on board. “Feraliminal” was a demo and the versions on that are rough and raw. The recording is fine, for what it is, but it wasn’t exactly an elaborate and professional recording.”
The just mentioned “The Cursed Travails Of The Demeter” EP was released through Sepulchral Voice Records overhere and it even came out on vinyl… Was that one of the reasons why you went with them instead of just Dark Descent Records, who released the EP on CD in the US?
“Given the cryptic, horror themed Death Metal we create, Sepulchral Voice seemed like a natural home for the band and I think that, by and large, VIRCOLAC sits well on the roster with the many other releases Sepulchral Voice have put out in the Death Metal field. Dark Descent handled the EP on vinyl for the US as well, as it was a split release. Sepulchral Voice released it on digipak CD and Dark Descent on jewel case CD in the US.”
For the recordings you once more switched studios and the result is again very impressive, even though it seems to me that the whole production has a somewhat warmer sound, compared to “Codex Perfida”. Was that a wish of yours or just a result due to different studio equipment?
“The “Demeter” EP was recorded with Ola again in a studio beside where we did the demo. Day one of the recording was lost due to technical issues in the studio, that slowed things down a bit and created a bit of chaos. In my opinion, the sound on the EP is a little too swampy and muddy. It lacks a certain clarity that I feel would have greatly enhanced the songs had we gotten it right, but that’s the beauty of recording. Not everything is perfect and works out exactly how you want it to. Looking back, I wish we had tackled some of the muddiness in the studio and cleared up the sound. With that said, the swampiness of the recording does bring its own charm to the atmosphere of the whole thing.”
For your debut full length “Masque”, which was released in 2019, you went with Dark Descent and Sepulchral Voice Records again, so I suppose you were satisfied with the work they did for VIRCOLAC previously, weren’t you?
“Yes, certainly. We will stick with these guys as long as they want to stick with our stench! Everything with “Masque” worked out great with both labels. The album went down well, got some very favourable press and fan reaction as well, which was great. We put a huge amount of effort into the recording and had a very clear vision so it’s always good to see that people appreciate your work. It’s not about a popularity contest and trying to be hip, cool, fashionable or a press darling. It’s underground Death Metal and so having a handful of people appreciate the music and enjoy it is more than rewarding for me, personally!”
Your bass player Karen Bobaron was replaced on that album with Jason Keane… what was the reason for this line-up change and how did you get together with Jason exactly?
“She wasn’t really too much into the style as time passed by, so decided to leave. Jason I’d known from being a customer of the label to working with me part time and as a very accomplished musician, he made sense immediately to replace Karen. He was up for it and fitted seamlessly into the band… though he did miss his first ever show with us in Glasgow due to losing his passport, ha! He also plays in SACRILEGIA, which is his band.”
Your second guitar player Jamie Grimes also wasn’t involved in “Masque” anymore. What happened to him?
“Jamie was present for and contributed to the recording of “Masque” and quit the band a couple of days before the end of recording, as he was burned out entirely being in a band and all the demands that came with it. After a bit of fucking around, we now have Ciarán from COSCRADH on bass and the line-up is solidified. We did a mini tour of Eastern Europe last November and it was great on every level. The shows were killer, the line-up works incredibly well now and the overall vibe was one of unity and camaraderie. On that tour, Diego from SACRILEGIA filled in on drums, because our drummer, Colin, had recently become a dad for the second time, so had paternity leave from the band. On the tour, Diego, Ciarán and Jason played two sets back to back every night. SACRILEGIA performed before VIRCOLAC and the three of them literally stayed on stage until Brendan and I got onto start the VIRCOLAC set.”
How active has VIRCOLAC been on the live front ever since you started back in 2013? Did you already play any standout shows in general or outside of Ireland?
“We’ve done a fair amount of shows for sure. Our first show was to open “Redemption Fest” in Dublin in 2014 with BÖLZER, RUINES OF BEVERAST etc. That was a great show, I think. Especially for our first show. Playing “Chaos Descends” was great. “Beyond The Gates” in Bergen was tremdenous and Budapest on the most recent tour was also great.”
A lot of the live pics I’ve seen from VIRCOLAC show the band in green light… is that pure coincidence or does that represent the country you’re from, which is known as “the green island”?
“We always wanted to set a mood when we played live and didn’t want to have the usual disco light show you see sometimes, so we stuck with dead green lights because we felt they were evocative. In truth, the idea was totally ripped off TYPE O NEGATIVE and applied to us and it’s more or less coincidental we’re Irish, really, as that didn’t have any bearing on the decision to us that colour, though a lot of people assume it did, haha!”
Since you’re the vocalist of the band, I suppose you’re also writing most of the lyrics (if not all)… Any preferred topics that you write about?
“Yes, I am responsible for all the lyrics and the themes all vary. For example ‘The Cursed Travails Of The Demeter’ is about the voyage from Varna to Whitby of the infamous Demeter ship that Dracula sailed on and it recounts the story of that voyage. It’s also allegorical in the sense that the ship itself represents the arrival of death on new shores. One can read into this the coffin ships that sailed from Ireland to the US, for example. ‘Lascivious Cruelty’ is a reflection on Caligula’s Rome and the decadence he was bound to and indulged in. Then, ‘Tether & Wane’ is about the death struggle of the ancient Irish mythological hero Cu Chulainn who tied himself to rock as he died to continue fighting off his enemies. And even in death, his name and fame lived on. There are so many different themes that interest and inspire me cutting across so many different topics that I have a never ending well of ideas for lyrics.”
Do you think that lyrics of a Black or Death Metal band need a certain message or that they should have some depth?
“Unless you’re playing in a deliberately “fun” band, I think that effort and depth in the lyrics is essential. Now, with that said, some of the outright classics of the genre from the 80s have goofy Satanic lyrics, but they work incredibly well painting an image of utter hell when combined with the ferocity and viciousness of the music, so the lyrics compliment the music perfectly. Like the debut SODOM EP, for example. Or SARCOFAGO “INRI”. But, we are long past vomiting ridiculously obscene lyrics for the sake of it, in my view, so a bit of thought and craft should go into lyrics. Not saying that I am somehow a wordsmith or anything, but I do put a lot of effort into the themes, concepts and delivery of the lyrics as I feel they’re important to the songs and tell tales within themselves.”
Some of your songs are exceeding the typical 3-4 minute mark, which really helps to create a great atmosphere, but does that also work out well at shows, where people just want to go nuts?
“I think we can offer a pretty good punch to the guts when playing live even if the songs are long. They don’t meander aimlessly, repeating themselves endlessly with the same patterns, so there’s enough there to keep folks interested and there are quite a few changes in the songs as well and the tempos change a little here and there too, to keep it interesting.”
Which bands had the biggest musical influence on you collectively in VIRCOLAC? Did you ever play any cover songs to honour your heroes at rehearsals or shows?
“The bands that would be our biggest influences would be METALLICA, MORBID ANGEL, SLAYER, BATHORY, SODOM, IRON MAIDEN, JUDAS PRIEST, AUTOPSY, MOTÖRHEAD – all the classics, really. These bands are the ones that have been favourites of ours since we were kids and have stuck with us all the way through. Covers wise, we used to play SAMAEL ‘After The Sepulture’ and we are planning to record two covers for a seven inch later this year as well.”
Can you already tell which cover songs you want to record for the upcoming seven inch?
“We’re planning on doing ‘Supposed To Rot’ by ENTOMBED and ‘Demon Seed’ by MORBID ANGEL. Two short rippers that are a little different and perfectly timed to fit on the B side of a 7″!”
You are currently working on your next release… what can you already tell us about it?
“Yes! Given everything that has occurred in the world due to the spread of the virus, we like every other band had to halt our gallop, cancel shows and tours and plan ahead. Given we can now meet again, writing the new record is well underway. Brendan has 6 songs more or less musically completed and he is currently putting the structures together with Colin on them. Once they have some structure, Ciaran and Jason will then start rehearsing and adding their parts, expanding the songs. Finally, I’ll do my bits when the songs are more whole and completed musically. Ideally, we’d be aiming to record in late 2020 or early 2021, but we’ll concentrate on getting the album written before worrying about recording dates. I think it is safe to say that we will have a second album out in 2021 though.”
Just like VIRCOLAC also your label Invictus Productions has grown quite a bit over the years, so do you think you will be able to continue to handle both in the future?
“Yeah, for sure… and perhaps more so now given the way the world has changed irrevocably because of the virus. Who knows what’s coming down the line and when live shows will happen again! But for now, the concentration is on writing a new LP and getting that done. We’re putting a huge amount of creative effort into this and I have to say I am very excited about what will come about as everyone’s on the same page and has a unified vision of what it is we want to do with this record so the investment in it will be massive from everyone.”
Ok Darragh, that’s about it. I hope I didn’t bore you too much. I’ll leave it up to you to close this interview in any way you want. Thanks for taking the time and all the best to you, Invictus Productions and VIRCOLAC!
“Thanks Frank, old friend! Appreciate the time you’ve given to me to discuss the band here. Anyone unfamiliar with VIRCOLAC, you can check us out on all the usual digital streaming platforms as well as CD / LP via Sepulchral Voice and Dark Descent Records!”
Photos: Maciej Mutwil, Łukasz Marciniak, Clea Nguyen
Interview: Frank Stöver