SYMBEL is a dark crusty pagan metal act that has been likened to a mix of early Celtic Frost, Doom, Darkthrone and Tenpole Tudor.
There are currently three full lengths, a 10” vinyl and an EP since its inception in 2001. Everything is currently sold out but can be heard at bandcamp.
Born out of a procession of noisy punk and crust metal projects from the 1990s, the idea was to take the DIY spirit of the late 80s English hardcore punk / crust underground, which at that time was dark, gloomy and evocative of the pagan English landscape, and carry it forward with the fantasy elements of metal and black metal, together with an interest in religion and identity ( thus eschewing punk’s strait-jacket of faux class ‘realism’). Symbel ( which is an old drinking ritual ) explored a sort of escapist ethnic anglo-saxon tribal nationalism in its early releases. Later releases became less concerned with pursuing this, and more diffuse in their lyrical approach, concentrating mainly on the ideas of individualism, libertarianism and anarchism, yet still with a reverence for history and tradition, even if these ‘-isms’ were indefensible in isolation…because life is a game, after all.
2001 HEATHEN DRINKING METAL DEMO
The first tape release, that was not really properly released. In 2001 it was finally feasible for one man to possess enough equipment to do everything himself and record and mix it in a rehearsal room. The sound was rough, and the whole thing rushed, but it was good! Download it free here.
2003 WE DRINK - HYMNS AND COUNSEL OF ANGLO-SAXON HEATHENRY
In 2002 FOREFATHER were looking to release English bands on their label, and a deal was signed to handle SYMBEL’s debut full length, finally released in January 2003. Limited to 1000 copies, it was recorded on a second hand pc with a distortion pedal as the ‘interface’ for everything. The drums were made in a sequencer using samples collected on various floppy discs. The songs however were dark and atmospheric - even the cheerful ones, and it was well received in Britain and most English speaking countries. It later became evident that the fire burning sample at the beginning of the album was also used on the first OBTEST release - great minds….
2003 HEATHEN DRINKING METAL DEMO, again
The tape was then sent out to the people who were writing ( yes, actual physical letters ) to FOREFATHER asking to hear more SYMBEL. The release was miniscule - 50 tapes?
2004 WET ENGLISH FORESTS 10”EP
Interest in SYMBEL grew and Midhir Records of Belfast pressed selected tracks from the tape on 333 10” EPs.
Around this time work was going ahead feverishly for the first BRETWALDAS disc, ‘Droner’, which was released in May 2003, this time using a guitar interface into a ‘new’ second hand pc.
Around 2004 all the tracks for SYMBEL’s second planned album GYDDIGG were lost in a hard-drive meltdown - not only that, the backups were ‘bundle files’ written to cdrs. Alas, none of these bundle files would load. Thus the whole album was lost, save a couple of mixed down tracks which were unfinished. In retrospect, many of the songs were well recorded but quite generic pagan metal. Around this time, somewhat inexplicably, pagan and ‘folk’ metal was gaining in popularity and acceptance. Every album suddenly had the kind of production you’d expect in a PS2 fantasy game, and 'extreme' music seemed to suffer an explosion in sheep mentality. Alongside numerous other domestic hassles, this prompted a disillusionment with the project, and work shifted back to BRETWALDAS.
2007 ALE WHORES OF MERCIA
In 2006, a sudden spurt of new SYMBEL songs begged for attention, but time was very tight and the drums for the whole album were recorded on a very basic kit, first take ( straight from imagination - can you tell? ) direct through a mixing desk in an hour or so in a disused fire-station. It had really high ceilings though, and the sound was pretty good. For the next few months the songs were painstakingly crafted around these recordings and SYMBEL’s second album was released in 2007. ‘ALE WHORES…’ is a wild yet strangely cohesive concept project based around the Beowulf tale and inspired in part by the ( similarly awkward ) Beowulf movie of 2004. Stupidly, this was limited to only 100 copies, but 2007 was the year that everyone got broadband, and file sharing became the norm. It sold 40 copies on release day, then someone immediately uploaded it, and then there was silence, and a pile of unsold discs. These discs were then traded in 5s and 10s around the world with other labels, and the label went cold for a couple of years. ( What is interesting though, is that since 2013 when the SYMBEL material was uploaded to the digital domain BANDCAMP, this album is hands-down the most popular SYMBEL release for plays and downloads ).
The next few years saw little desire to rekindle the project and work began on other projects - 2009 ASTRAL RUNE BASTARDS, 2010 HERNE, 2010 BRETWALDAS and 2012 GRENDEL’S SLEEP.
2013 GYDDIGG - POSSESSED BY THE FURY OF WOD
2010-12 was a difficult period building up a business from scratch, and time was very short. The songs for the album were demo-recorded first in 2011, and then a big hall was hired to record the drums in 2012, this time spending a whole day getting them right. Guitars were added in the winter of 12/13, and the project was mixed and mastered in the following summer. The songs were much, much darker, more focussed musically, and more consistent than previous releases. Despite the increase in quality of both sound and musical structure, the pressing was still very small - 100, and no copies at all were sent out for review. If you’ve got one - well done.
2014 HAMMERWYCH EP
Two tracks that were recorded at the time of Gyddigg, but not of a suitable tone for that album, were reworked for a digital only release in the summer of 2014. The main track ‘Folded Cross’ - referencing the Staffordshire Hoard find, if you were wondering - is a straight up burzum-esque pagan metal song with clean vocals, and the black’n’roll of ‘Surrounded By Orcs’ provides the ‘B’ side. The two lost tracks from 2004 pagan metal Gyddigg were also reworked and included. The EP was free with a shirt.
2014 / 2015
There is a ton of new SYMBEL material demo recorded that will see a release this year. Thanks for reading.