In 2014, South Africa’s Adorned in Ash released their debut album “The Dead Walk Among Us” and some of us took about a full year to finally hear of the album and be blown away by their brand of extreme hybrid metal that blends melodic death and black metal with prog and thrash elements. Featuring everything from great riffs and drumming to amazing vocals that shift fluidly between deep growls and almost shrieks, all with a sense of melody and structure, Adorned in Ash is a band to hear. We were able to catch up with them not long after their recent performance at Witchfest in South Africa, a first of its kind metal festival that featured bands ranging from Hatebreed to Epica to Cannibal Corpse and Decapitated. Learn more about the band below and go listen to them!
TMR: Just so people have some idea of who the band is, could each band member introduce themselves and include things like musical influences growing up and any other bands/projects they might be involved in. The big question, how would describe AIA to a metal fan that has never heard you?
Robyn Ferguson– lead vocals & guitar. I grew up with a lot of classical music from my mother. My father and my sisters were also big influences in steering me into heavier music. I have memories of me being dressed up with a neon green ukulele, Guns n Roses blaring in the background, my sisters shouting “Who are you?!” and me yelling back at the top of my little voice “Slaaaaashhhh!” (Guess I didn’t really have any other choice than to be a rocker haha). In my early teenage years I started getting into the likes of SOAD and such, which then morphed and spilled into the more extreme stuff; symphonic, death, black, groove, etc. I was fortunate enough to have music and art as subjects in school and I went on to study sound in college. I’ve been a student with one of the top session musicians in SA for the last 10 years or so and that’s where I’ve learned just about everything I know on guitar. My studies in music/sound and art and playing in a bunch of bands have given me better insight into creating unique and complex extreme metal. I describe AiA as hybrid extreme- melodic blackened death with groove, thrash and progressive elements.
Mark Ivey-drums. I grew up listening to hard rock and glam metal bands which in my teenage years spilled over into more extreme metal influences. I studied music for two years at a formal college where I learned jazz and latin-styled music as well as limb independence. This helps tremendously in extreme metal where odd time signatures, complex drum patterns and innovative drumming is crucial. In terms of describing AIA to someone; the live performance is very energetic, we feel that stage performance and expression is critical! Soundwise we amalgamate many of the extreme metal genres into one melting pot, hence the term “hybrid” metal which tended to stick from the start.
Marinus Terblanche (aka Big M or Big Bear) and I abuse the bass guitar. As a kid I grew up on music my mum loved like CCR, Nazareth and The Rolling Stones. As a teen in the 90’s I discovered grunge that played a big role in how I view music as an art; that freedom of expressing emotions with brutal honesty and passion still drives me today. I then moved into the metal of the day with Iron Maiden and Metallica being main influences and it was then a short step to extremely genres like death and black metal. This is why AiA caught my attention before I joined the band, AIA doesn’t settle for any one pigeon hole but lets the song flow where it needs to. My 1st band was a grunge/punk influenced band in which I played rhythm guitar and did backing vocals, then a rock cover band in which I took up bass duties for the first time and that was followed by two melodic death metal bands where I did lead vocals only.
I describe our music as a combination of black and death metal but with a hint of thrash and dash of groove all held together with a strong prog element.
Leon van Rensburg, the bearded guitarist. Born from a musical family I have been in music in one form or another since 1991. My ears were filled with artists such as Queen, Aerosmith, Status Quo, Boston, Billy Idol, Hendrix, Dire Straits and Nazareth from very early on. I’d describe AiA to someone who is yet to hear the album or see us live as very energetic, musically driven, complex and multi-layered band with talented musicians who are serious about delivering real metal with a real message with shredding and vocals by a pretty little lady which will make your jaw drop.
TMR: So, looking through the various bios of the band, I’ve seen the various lineup changes and reading about how some of these songs had the vocals re-recorded with Robyn’s vocals, I’m wondering if the band has always had this “hybrid” type sound or has that evolved over time and as new band members came in?
Mark: The “hybrid” sound was there from the start and continues to be so even now. The main reason is that every member, old and current are encouraged to add their own unique musical style and influence. That is why we write outside of a single genre easily because each member is not bound to a particular style or direction of writing.
Robyn: There has never been a moment where we sat down and said we should write a song in this genre or that, or we should be a death metal band or a black metal band etc. We have never put ourselves into any boxes.
Leon: The variety in the music we listen to inspires from all angles and drives music which autonomously grows to include highs and lows and different parts which fit different emotional connotations.
TMR: How was the decision made to try Robyn on vocals? And with that decision to have a female on vocals for an extreme metal band, has there been any backlash from the metal community? I know some metal bands face a tough road with clubs/promoters/fans when they have a Christian message or a female on vocals, so have you run into double the challenge? Do you think the response is somewhat characteristic of the metal scene in South Africa?
When our vocalist left we were not successful in finding a suitable replacement. Robyn did minimal backing vocals at that point, not enough for us to really consider her. One day she made the proposal and we decided to consider it. It was soon evident that there was incredible natural vocal talent. We gave it a run at a very dodgy battle of the bands contest and the response was overwhelming. She officially took over vocals from thereon! Some bands may attempt to use a female vocalist as a gimmick of sorts but anyone who has seen us will know that she commands that stage greater than most male vocalists…she also plays lead and rythym guitar, so this is NO gimmick!
Robyn: From my side, I can’t say that it hasn’t had its challenges. Being the only female member in an extreme metal band you will always have people criticizing your playing more, your band more, etc. I know that there will always be someone who is better skilled, similarly skilled and someone who is less skilled than what you are but I also know that we can hold our own and I challenge anyone who may think that we’re less brutal for being Christian or for being female fronted. Yes, I am a woman, I am a musician, I am skilled, my band is skilled, and I don’t need sex appeal to prove it.
TMR: The Dead Walk Among Us actually was released over a year ago in 2014, has there been a recent increase in interest in the album? I know I just recently learned of it and would have loved to have heard it in 2014. Is it tough to promote globally from South Africa?
It is tough to market from our location which is literally the southern-most country on the planet! However we are now on all the major digital sites (Cd baby, Amazon, I tunes, Bandcamp etc). Our album is readily available in hardcopy locally in SA, as well as numerous on-line sites in America, Australia, Finland, Norway and Sweden.
TMR: Speaking of the metal scene in South Africa, I have to ask questions about Witchfest. Could you explain the significance of Witchfest in terms of metal in South Africa and tell how AIA secured a spot at the fest.
South Africa has hosted numerous big names over the years, but in terms of extreme metal bands this was the biggest gathering in the continents history! It was like a metal “all stars” event, one which is to be an annual event now. AIA was recommended by a few people to play and so the organizers invited us and we said YES! Every single person who was a part of this event, wrote a page in the history books and it was an incredible experience.
TMR: Did everyone in AIA go see the same bands or are there differences in music taste among the band members? I have friends in bands and some of them would never go see some of the bands their own bandmates live to go see. What bands were the favorites for AIA? What band(s) were the biggest surprises? Were there any bands you were able to hang out with? Did any of the “big” names see your set and comment?
Mark: We generally have a similar taste in music, but of course each member has personal preferences. I enjoyed the very heavy bands as well as those with a symphonic edge. Fleshgod Apocalypse blew me away! Thoroughly enjoyed Septic Flesh, Kataklysm and Decapitated in particular.
Robyn: I think for the most part we watched the bands together. My favorites were Decapitated, Kataklysm, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Septic Flesh and Epica. I had such a great time chatting with Rafal (Decapitated) and Stephane (Kataklysm) who both have our album and gave compliments. I also spent some time with Skinned and Restock.
Marinus: I think we mostly watched the same bands. I tend to watch a bit of every band at shows especially if I’ve never heard them before. I love discovering new music. A band that was a very pleasant surprise to me was Skinned whom I had never heard of but played an amazing and aggressive set. Favourites for the weekend were Fleshgod Apocalypse, Kataklysm, Decapitated, Cannibal Corpse and Septicflesh. Alestorm was also a great crazy party. I got to hang out with Decapitated, Skinned and Kataklysm where Stephane surprised me by greeting me by my first name (we had a short chat at their show in JHB 2014)
TMR: Were you nervous at all before your set? And speaking of your set, what song did you open with, close with, and what song seemed to get the biggest crowd response? Have you found one song that seems to always be a crowd favorite? Does everyone have a favorite song to play live? Have you done any cover songs? if the band were to do a cover song, what would it be?
Mark: I personally always get tense before any gig, but it helps me to focus and get in the zone. We opened with “Defy your god” from the new album and closed with “Broken glass reflection”. “Evangelion” and ”Black” seem to be crowd favourites, although “Beauty for ashes” also from the new album caused a few tears to be shed from different people which was quite interesting!
Marinus: I’m not sure if I was nervous or just incredibly keen to go on stage but there was definitely an overwhelming emotion lodged in my chest while warming up.
Robyn: I always get a bit nervous before a gig but it gets my game face on and makes me perform better. “Broken Glass Reflection” also had a huge response; mosh pits and the crowd screaming along- awesome. We have only ever done one cover song (Gloria in Excelsis Deo) which went onto a metal Christmas compilation by Santus Gladius Records called Prophecy Foretold. Mostly we prefer to make original music but this was a fun challenge.
TMR: Do you think this exposure at Witchfest will be good for the band, have you seen anything since the fest that might indicate that? Speaking of the fest in general, here in the US there would people telling you that as a band with a Christian viewpoint, you shouldn’t play a festival called Witchfest and/or play shows with some of the bands that were there. What would your response to that type of criticism be? Along those lines, do you consider AIA to be a “Christian band” and what are your thoughts on that label?
We have received excellent feedback and yes the exposure, not just for us but also for other local bands was unmatched. We did receive some “instruction” from a few people saying that we should not play Witchfest. This in my opinion is the same mindset as those “Christian protest groups” who forced the change of venue three times! However we received far more hate from the “darker side of the fence” for playing which just goes to prove that ignorance is a common human trait in general! In terms of the Christian aspect let’s get straight to the point: every member past and present has a personal belief in Jesus Christ and this is reflected in the lyrical philosophy of the band. So yes we are a Christian band. There is much abuse within Christianity, particularly with greed, poor doctrine, over judgementalism, demonic heresies like the prosperity gospel etc which we want no part of nor do we subscribe to! We are Christians and therefore a Christian band solely because of our relationship with Jesus Christ!
TMR: If you could tour with any bands, who would it be? Where would you like to tour if you could?
Robyn: I would like to tour globally, especially Europe, Japan, South America. Ah too many bands to really list but I can say that after WF Decapitated is definitely near the top.
Mark: I would love to tour the USA, Europe, Scandanavia and Brazil. The cost in getting us there is the only hindrance thus far!
Marinus: I personally would like to tour pretty much everywhere, Europe, US, South America, Japan. As for bands to play with…the list is too long but In Flames, Gojira, Iron Maiden and Insomnium are some of them.
TMR: Tell me about making the video for ‘Broken Glass Reflection.’ Who came up with the concept? The video itself is pretty intense, were there any concerns over that? Given the different scenes, I imagine it was shot at different times (?), how long did it take to shoot?
The concept for the video came from the lyrics which Mark wrote, however our friends at The Art of Breathing took the lyrical content and adapted it for film in a very effective way! The video was meant to unsettle people and we trust it had that effect on some? From the inception of planning to the end it took a few months but the main scenes were shot over two days in differing locations in Pretoria.
TMR: What has been your favorite show to play? Any funny/embarassing stories to go with shows?
Marinus: At this stage, predictively, my fav show was Witchfest but I also still hold a very special place for Summerfest in Cape Town and Gorofest in Mozambique.
Mark: Any gig where I can hear properly is always fun haha! Worst moment was a recent gig where I simply could not hear during Blood hunt Labyrinth. I had to stop playing to try and listen but we were on the outro where everything is on an off-beat so I simply could not track where we were and it was a disaster! After the gig we realized that my monitor was unplugged!
Robyn: Well it’s always great when your mic shocks you just as you’re about to growl something quite profound only to have it turn to a very girly squeal. Haha! As for favourite show… I’m on the same page as Marinus there.
TMR: What is the most embarrassing music on everyone’s phone? or most likely to be surprising to those who have only heard AIA.
Robyn: Peaches by Presidents of the USA haha! It reminds me of Dec holidays with my family.
Marinus: I have Jolene by Dolly Parton on my phone. Hahaha. And it often surprises people that I am a fan of Chris de Burgh, Nick Cave and Tori Amos since its so far from heavy music.
Mark: It might surprise people that I have NO music on my phone. (That’s just because he’s stuck in the stone age with a BlackBerry)
Leon: I have White Zombie, Pantokrator, Cradle of Filth, AiA and Elton John on my phone at the moment…
TMR: What are the future plans for AIA? New music soon? Have any labels been in touch with you and if so are considering signing with a label or do you want to stay independent? Any international tours? Is something like that even possible for the band?
As of writing this we have completed nearly 8 tracks from our new album. We plan to start recording early 2016 for the second album. We have been approached by numerous labels but thus far the independent option seems the more viable one. We have left SA recently to play in Mozambique and are planning to tour further internationally. Financial restrictions are all that are keeping us from traveling overseas at this stage.
Robyn Ferguson – Guitar & Lead Vocals
Mark Ivey – Drums
Marinus Terblanche – Bass
Leon van Rensburg – Guitar
Video for ‘Broken Glass Reflection’
Video below: Indiegogo Push