Interview: Abramelin’s Simon Dower on their first album in 20 years, ‘Never Enough Snuff’

It was April 28, 2001 at The Arena in Brisbane and they were supporting Cradle Of Filth on their ‘Midian’ tour.  It would be one of Abramelin’s last shows together before packing it in a couple of years later.  One of the pioneers and leading forces in Australian death metal since 1988 just sort of died quietly.  A decade passed.  The guys got married, had kids, played in other bands or gave up metal entirely.  That was until a chance encounter at a show sparked something.  It was enough to reignite the band in 2017.  Now they’ve released their first album in 20 years – ‘Never Enough Snuff’.  So what happened to the Melbourne brutes all those years ago?  What did they do in the years between?  And what led them to make such a disgusting album today? 

“There was no real reason for the split,” founder, vocalist and lyricist Simon Dower, 49, says.  “It was probably one of the most organic splits that could have happened.  We got back from those shows and we just didn’t call each other and no one rang anyone else to say, ‘Hey, what’s going on? Are we rehearsing next week?  Have we got any other shows booked?’  Literally no one rang.  It felt right; like it was just time.  Tim (Aldridge) was off doing some things with The Beserker for a while.  Matt (Wilcock) moved to the UK and was playing with another band over there.  Rob (Mollica) was off doing his own thing.  The drummer that we had at the time departed.  Didn’t really hear from him again.” 

Hair metal: Simon Dower, Tim Aldridge and David Abbott in the early days.

Meanwhile Dower, burnt out from decades of metal fandom, had had enough.  From demo tape trading in the 1980s to running distribution for Earache, Metal Blade, Music For Nations and Century Media and band activities in the 1990s, he needed a time out.  “I really don’t like when people say, ‘I used to listen to metal but I outgrew it’.  That fucking does my head in.  I never outgrew metal. But I got to a point where there was too much saturation of metal in my life.  All I did was metal, metal, metal all of the time and it got to a point where it didn’t have anything fresh left to offer me. I was always looking for something new and something fresh and I’d heard every combination and it was just getting a little bit same-same.  I know this will horrify some readers but I did get pretty heavily involved in the underground party scene, like outdoor bush doofs,” he laughs.  “I went that way for a while.  That’s actually where I met my wife – on the dancefloor of a party.  Which is actually quite interesting, because you do find a lot of metalheads at those events.”

He had finally found something fresh in music.  It was the driving bass, the high tempo – it was something new and something different. “It was nice to have that break while I was having a break from the band, because then I got to go back and rediscover metal.  I started back listening to all my old albums from the 90s.  I got to relive the whole experience which was just fucking awesome. And then of course, being thrust back into it now, I get to see new bands on the scene.  Having that break was like have a refresher in so many different ways and having the time apart from metal I think was essential for that.  To come back with fresh eyes and musical growth.”

Simon Dower in 1995. Photo: Hedrush Artworks.

Dower married and they had a daughter and a son – who are now 14 and 10.  Then, in a move some would consider contrary to a metal lifestyle, he became a personal trainer two years ago.

The beginnings of the second chapter of Abramelin take place at a show in Melbourne.  Dower hadn’t been to a metal gig in years, but decided to go for a look.  That’s where he ran into Aldridge, who introduced him to their current drummer Dave Hayley (Psycroptic), who was promoting that particular tour.  “Tim said to me, ‘If we ever got back together, this guy’s gonna be our drummer’, and I was like, ‘Hi man, sure, no worries.  We’ll never see each again, but g’day’,” Dower laughs.

Fast forward to 2017 and Mollica (Earth), who used to play guitar for Abramelin but now plays bass, was involved in organising the Metal For Melbourne benefit gig to feed the homeless.  “He rang and said, ‘Does Abramelin want to do a show?’ And I was just like, ‘Ooo, ooo, ooo… maybe.  Okay’!  So Matt was back in town, Tim was right up for it, Rob said he’d jump in on bass, and of course we were always gonna get Dave on drums, so that was it and off we went.”

And so the second phase of Abramelin was born.  Dower was on vocals and lyrics, Aldridge was on guitar and songwriting duties, Mollica was on bass, Wilcock (Ackercocke) was on guitar and Hayley was on drums.  The first rehearsal was really strange for Dower.  To have everyone back in a room together was a bizarre feeling.  “It’s like 14 years; a fucking whole life time.  I got married and had kids who are now are teenagers and it was just a whole other world and all of a sudden you’re thrust back into it.  I tell you what, my throat fucking copped it at the start; it was not used to it.  Have you ever worked out at the gym and had a really long break from squats and you go back and start doing squats again and you just shred your legs?”

Simon says get angry. Photo: Mick G Photography.

The five members all have the same sense of humour.  Everyone’s on board with the same thing. There’s no animosity or disagreements in the band.  All those things have helped them gel and get along together.  Getting this bunch together was a lot easier than in the early days.  For instance, when they recorded 2000 LP, ‘Deadspeak’, it was just Dower and Alridge because they couldn’t find musicians up to the task.  “It was a pretty tumultuous lineup to begin with,” Dower says.  “I think that was just trying to find people who were good enough musicians to be doing what we’re doing because it ain’t easy to play death metal.  A lot of people think it’s a whole lot of racket, but to play good, fast, technical death metal, you gotta be a fucking good musician.  And the guys we’ve got at the moment are just impeccable at what they do.  We didn’t have a drummer at the time who could pull it off.  You’ve got a lot better drummers to choose from in Melbourne now, but back then, you only had a small group who could actually play that tempo and that technical.  It made it tough.”

So when it came time to make another album, were Abramelin up to the challenge?  The band, which spent its heyday selling CDs and appearing in paper metal magazines, was asleep for the biggest technological change in music history.  Social media took off with Facebook in 2004, smartphones boomed with 2007’s iPhone and streaming leader Spotify disrupted the market in 2008.  Well, the name might’ve been comatose, but the individuals certainly weren’t.  They’ve actually gone super modern, leaving the traditional record label platform behind and releasing it independently on Bandcamp and streaming services.  “We shopped it around with a few internationals (labels) – probably about a dozen – and had four or five come back to us and say, ‘Yeah, look, we love it but unless you’re over here in Europe and the States touring frequently and whatever else too, we can’t help you’.  Which I get.  The whole thing’s changed back from the days when I used to work in the record industry.  It was always about your physical sales and now physical you get diddly squat. They want a cut of the merch sales and the tours and everything else that goes with it.  I understand completely where that’s from.  I don’t think what we’ve done with Never Enough Snuff is lacking in musicianship or quality.  I reckon it’s up there on an international level, but we just opted to do it ourselves.  If we kept waiting to find that right label, it might not have ever happened, so we bit the bullet and said, ‘Fuck it’.”  

The guys saved up all of their pennies from the shows and merch and dumped it all into this record.  They don’t really aim to make a living off it, preferring to constantly reinvest.  “It’s always funny when you’re talking to people and you say you sing in a band and they’re like, ‘Oh wow, is that your fulltime job?’” Dower laughs hysterically.  “‘You know how there’s metal, and then there’s this niche; that’s what we do’.  We’re 100 per cent in it for the love, not because there’s any sort of business sense.”

That point is furthered by the fact they didn’t postpone the release despite being in the midst of a global shutdown due to COVID-19.  “It’s a shit time for everyone.  Ideally, in a perfect world, without this ridiculous pandemic hoo-ha, we would be touring straight away now.  The album would have launched and we would have been immediately on the road and smashing laps around Australia trying promote it and do whatever we can.  We’re relying completely on online sales.  The only good thing is there’s a lot of people at home at the moment, so there’s a lot of eyes on social media.  So it’s a good time to get the message out there.  Sales have been okay.  We’ve got a lot of old school fans and old school fans are collectors.”  Dower then changes his voice to that of an old man: “Not like a lot of young folk today,” he laughs.  “Music is a little bit more disposable.  Sort of taken for granted, whereas back in the day all of our hard earned pennies went into every piece of vinyl and merchandise.”

Dower says it was a very unusual recording process, because back in the day, it was everyone in the studio at the same time and they’d belt it out, whereas now, they recorded everywhere.  Hayley recorded his drums with his brother in Tasmania, Alridge and Wilcock did their guitars together in South Melbourne, Dower recorded his vocals at Beveridge Road Recording Studios in the Dandenong Ranges, and Mollica did his bass at home.  Apart from Alridge and Wilcock, none of them were together.  When they finished tracking, the whole thing was sent to Dan Swanö (Bloodbath, Dark Funeral, Dissection, Incantation, Marduk, Malevolent Creation) in Sweden to mix and master.  “There’s producers in Melbourne that can can mix really well, but because we’re old school, we wanted an old school sound, and to get an old school sound, you need an old school producer,” Dower says.  “And there’s no real old school death metal producers – not that we knew of – that were working in Melbourne who were willing and able to take it on.  So we started going through albums and were just like, ‘Eh’, none of the modern stuff really captures me and that’s what we want.  I think Rob said, ‘What about Dan Swanö? and I was like, ‘Oh fuck, imagine that.  How good would that be if we could get Dan?’  Rob said, ‘Just contact him and see what he says’, and I’m like, ‘Alright, fuck it’.  And so I did.  And he’s like, ‘Right up for it man, no worries.  Let’s go.’  So off we went.  And that’s the stuff you could only dream about back in the day, because back then, you’d have to track everything and then we’d probably have to go to Sweden or we’d have to go over there and record it in the first place.  Theres no way you could afford it, but now, you can track the stuff here and send over the file.”

Dan the man.

The band sent Swanö a few album suggestions, including Carcass, allowing him to get an idea of what they wanted.  Then he could pull the sound as close as possible and tweak from there.  “He knows death metal so well.  He’s been living and breathing it his whole fucking life, so it’s not difficult to program for someone like that. Whereas in the past, other engineers we’ve worked with in the past they might have been like a rock producer who’s trying to do death metal or someone who hasn’t really got ear for it, but they trying their best to pull the sound, whereas with Dan it was so easy.”  Dower says it was all tracked in a very raw state so it could be sent to Swanö and then he could fuck with it the way he wanted to.  They didn’t use too many effects because then he might have to undo things on his end.

In addition to the signature Swanö sound listeners might pick up from Never Enough Snuff, they will also ingest the signature dark, disturbed and depraved lyrics from Dower’s brain.  Dower has been engrossed in horror novels since a child, but spent much of Abramelin’s hiatus searching for danker material.  “I read a lot of books.  Let’s look at this like a horror movie analogy.  If you look at standard horror books then you would call them your Stephen Kings, which is sort of run of the mill horror – let’s call it heavy metal.  Then you’ve got the more extreme authors like Graham Masterton and Clive Barker – let’s call them thrash metal.  Then you’ve got another genre which is called splatterpunk, which encompasses authors like Edward Lee – that’s the death metal of horror. So that basically crosses the boundary and becomes X-rated horror, so it crosses over into porn and the type of horror that normal people wouldn’t normally go for because it’s way too graphic.  That’s primarily what I read a lot of,” he laughs.

Dower compares his disturbing literary journey to his metal one.  “(Always) looking for the next hardcore thing: ‘What’s faster than this?  What’s heavier than this? What’s more brutal than this?’  Then back in those early days when I was tape trading in the late 80s and early 90s, you were always looking for that next hit; sort of like a death metal junkie looking for the next high.  I started off reading regular horror back when I was a kid and then just progressed through and it was like right, it has to be nastier, has to be more gruesome, has to be scarier, and that eventually led me to splatterpunk, which is really over the top.  Then even in splatterpunk I try to find the worst of the worst, so that gives you a lot of inspiration for lyrical content.”

Rather than being an Alice Cooper theatrics-type affair or even a misanthropic endeavour, Dowers says it’s more of a morbid fascination than anything else. “Always has been ever since I was a little kid. Like really – a little kid.  You know, going to the drive-ins with my parents when I was six-years-old to watch horror is when it started.  When I was eight-years-old, my dad got me a copy of Fangoria magazine from back in the day and I was right into it from then.  I could never get enough of it.  I don’t do it to shock or to get a rise out of people.  For me, it’s like we’re trying to play the most brutal, heaviest death metal that we can conjure. And to do that, or to accompany that, I think you have to have the most brutal, nasty, vicious lyrics that you can come up with to go with that.  And then also artwork.  It’s a package.  I don’t try to make it schlocky.  It’s not gore for the sake of gore.  I do try and craft the lyrics the best I possibly can.  Each one’s like a little mini horror novella; mini horror film.  Each one I come up with an idea: ‘This one’s about a serial killer who does this or this one’s about a young girl who goes around and murders everyone.”

While his lyrics wouldn’t reveal it, Dower says he really likes people and is generally friendly and silly.  “I think I get a lot of my angst out through my music and writing things like that, and it really is just a morbid fascination.  From decades of going to gigs, you don’t find a nicer bunch of people than those in the death metal scene.  All so friendly and so polite.  Just generally nice-natured people because I think that they are there for the music.  They do get a lot of their angst out through the music, the imagery, the lyrics, all those other things, and they tend to be sort of like more well balanced.  Which is hilarious looking in from the outside.  They look like the scariest bunch of people but they couldn’t be more wrong.”

Never Enough Snuff is a ten-track ride of snuff films, decapitation, skinning, necrophilia, demonic possession and being torn apart from the inside.  The title track, Never Enough Snuff, is pretty straightforward – it’s about doing a snuff film. It was the first song Dower wrote when they started rehearsing again.  “The guys went through the existing songs we knew and Tim’s like, ‘Ive got a new song’.  And of course, when they start jamming a new song, I’ve gotta sit there and twiddle my thumbs, so I thought, ‘Fuck it, if they’re going to start on a new song, then I’m going to start on a new song’.  So I smashed Never Enough Snuff in probably 15 to 20 minutes without really changing anything from what it is on the final album.  

Knife Play is pretty much an extension of that.  It’s just a perpetrator tying someone up and hacking them to bits.

Full Gore Whore is about a teenage girl who’s a murdering machine and she gets snaffled up by the government and then dropped overseas to go and kill the enemy, so all she wants to do is just kill, kill, kill.  A lyric in there is: ‘Why waste such a weapon, let’s not hesitate / Unleash this child on foreign soil / Let her bath in blood, let her mutilate’.  Which is what she goes and does. 

Moondogs is just my werewolf ditty.

The Peeler is my homage to Ed Gein or Leather face from Texas Chainsaw – a dude who peels flesh off people and likes to wear it.

“The character in Horror-zontal came to me in a meditative dream type state as a dark figure that comes and visits you in your sleep but then appears in the body in a physical format and then actually starts ripping you apart from inside.

“I wanted to ensure that everyone had a crack at killing and had to think about how that would work with kids. Play With Your Prey is sort of inspired by Cronenberg’s “The Brood”, but with my own sinister twist. 

Sparagmos is an old Greek word which means ritual disembowelment. Which is a little bit of an extension for an old song that we had called Invocation about summoning demonic forces and then it all goes sideways and then you end up possessed and fucked up, and that’s essentially what happens in Sparagmos as well.

Headfuck is a homage to Edward Lee.  He’s got a series of books called Header, which are about taking a drill and punching a hole in someone’s head and having sex with it.  When you read it, you go: ‘That song’s a bit of a head fuck’, and you read it and go: ‘No, actually it’s about fucking someone in the head.”

Sweet dreams…

“The story behind Pleasures is that when we toured down in Tassie, we were walking down the street and we were having a bit of a chin wag and we said, ‘What about if we re-record Deadspeak and did it as a full band? And we’re like, ‘Yeah’.  And then we thought, ‘Well maybe we could do it when we record the new album’?  Instead of doing the whole thing, which is too long, the compromise was: ‘Let’s pick a track off Deadspeak and we’ll re-record that as a full band.  So we picked Pleasures.”

And what death metal album is complete without a fucked up cover?  That came courtesy of Sally Moore at Hedrush, who also designed their self-titled and Deadspeak.  Inspired by the lyrics of Never Enough Snuff, it features a rotting female head.  It was created with special effects make-up by Lee Norris and photography by Martin Reddy.  “The actual cover, without giving too much away, is my homage to Never Enough Snuff.  I took it to the band and said, ‘Right, this is what I want for a front cover’, and they’re like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah’.  And they thought about it and went, ‘No, no, no, no, no.  You cant do that.  We wont be able to sell it anywhere’.  I said, ‘Alright, what about if I put another cover over the cover, and they’re like, ‘Ergh, I don’t think you should do it at all dude’.  They sat with it for a few weeks and they came back and they’re like, ‘Yeah fuck it, let’s do it’, and I’m like, ‘Yessss’.  There’s no way we’d get away with displaying that cover anywhere.  I think if it was in retail at the moment, it would only take one person to go in and uncover it and take that shrink wrap off in the store and thats it – it would get pulled from retail straightaway and subsequently banned pretty fast.”

Some things never change.

Never Enough Snuff is out now via Bandcamp and streaming platforms


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