“Tell me Akkad, who knocks on your gates?” An interview with Tabernacle

In May of 2021 a brand new trio of epic metal warriors arose from the metropolis of Dubai and released their debut recording, a three-track demo title Terror in Thrace. When a fellow member of a heavy metal Facebook group shared the Bandcamp link I was immediately intrigued by the release’s title, as Thrace was the name of the region just to the north of ancient Greece in what is now Bulgaria. This led me to find the lyrics to the corresponding song “Terror in Thrace” on Tabernacle‘s Metal Archives page and not only was the song based on a story set in Thrace, but during late antiquity when it was part of a Roman Empire confronting the migrations of the Goths. This track was set between two other songs that were based on the history and legend of the Akkadian Empire in ancient Mesopotamia. I read the lyrics while listening to the demo (available only as a digital, name-your price download), whose tribute to old-school epic heavy metal grew more exhilarating with each listen. This was special in so many ways, and it was a thrill not only to hear a band exploring not just the more overlooked parts of Greco-Roman history, but also the ancient civilizations beyond the Mediterranean whose histories and cultures were just as rich and interesting, but to so many too unfamiliar. I just had to learn more about how these guys approached their art and their subject matter.

Tabernacle consist of Rayner on guitar and vocals, Shawn on drums, and Jasper on bass, who also wrote the lyrics. Below is an interview I conducted with Rayner and Jasper on the band’s genesis and inspirations, as well as their approach to the reception of antiquity in heavy metal, especially in terms of how the music and lyrics connect with both one another and to the musicians on a personal level.

Tabernacle - Photo

Many thanks for agreeing to this interview! Let’s begin at the beginning, with Tabernacle’s origin story. What circumstances and events led to the band’s formation? Why did you choose the name Tabernacle?

Rayner: Thanks for having us! About Tabernacle’s origin story- Shawn (drummer) and I used to have another band many years ago playing more straight forward Heavy Metal à la Judas Priest and Accept, and I guess at some point we got a little tired of the songs we had at the time. Around that time we began doing some Manilla Road and Omen covers, and Eternal Champion put out their debut later that same year (2015) – which did have an effect on further pushing us in this direction. The guitarist and bassist of that band had to leave the country after that, so that band had to be disbanded but we continued playing this kind of Heavy Metal. In 2019, we were playing an open mic and ran into Jasper (bassist) and Yasir (ex-guitarist) and roped them in to complete the lineup of a new band. The name came from “Morbid Tabernacle”– the little interlude off The Deluge album. I know that interlude is not a fan favorite but it’s quite the mood setter, and the name just fit with what we were trying to do, so it stuck.     

Please tell us about the metal scene in Dubai. What is it like to be a metal fan and musician in the United Arab Emirates? What special aspects of the scene would you like to highlight? How have you connected with members within this scene, and in the wider international scene, both before and during the pandemic?

Rayner: The metal scene out here is pretty small, and still in its formative stage. There’s some death metal, some proggy stuff and punk-aligned bands. Not much at all going on for the kind of stuff we play, but hopefully that’ll improve with time. There are some bars that play metal from time to time as well. I think we’ve personally connected better with people in the international scene, through internet groups and such, where it’s much easier finding people into this style of music than here in Dubai. I actually got into Manilla Road in the good old days of the Metal Archives’ IRC chat when someone told me I wasn’t a real Heavy Metal fan ‘cause I hadn’t heard of them!

Moving on to musical inspirations, what artists, metal and non-metal, have influenced Tabernacle in the composition of this demo? You already mentioned in our correspondence the legends Warlord, Omen, and one of my favorite bands of all time, Manilla Road. Terror in Thrace was released only five days after Warlord’s mastermind Bill Tsamis passed away, so it is only fitting to dedicate part of this interview to him, his music, and subgenre of epic heavy and power metal he helped establish. 

Rayner: Since we transitioned from playing covers of songs from all those bands, it was only natural for our own shit to have been at least slightly influenced by them – Manilla Road, Omen, Warlord, and their ilk – the more epic sounding 80s US Power Metal bands. Majestic Ryte and Enchanter were quite influential to the way I sang these songs, in the sense that they had very dramatic-sounding vocal parts, which we felt the subject matter demanded. It’s also possible for these influences to not show up, from the point of view of listeners. Some people have drawn comparisons to Heavy Load as well, which we didn’t really think of while coming up with the demo, even though we do like them. I suppose it’s up to the listeners to tell you what it really sounds like, but we did have all those aforementioned US Power Metal and Epic Metal bands at the back of our minds during the songwriting process.

Obviously the passing of Bill Tsamis hit us hard. I read Mark Zonder write, after he passed, that each of his songs on the old Warlord releases all had their own distinct feel and I hadn’t really thought about that before. I revisited Deliver Us and And the Cannons…after that, and I would have to agree with Zonder. While the overall sound is pretty much a constant, the songs do have their own “character”, if you will. “Lucifer’s Hammer” had him experimenting with unusual rhythms (at least in this style of music), “Black Mass” with its powerful middle-eastern vibe, “Lost and Lonely Days” had the ultra-melodic somber feel, and on and on. It really gave me a new-found appreciation for the level he was operating at. Shame he had some less-than-ideal political views though! 

What makes the style of heavy metal you play a fitting accompaniment to the lyrical themes of ancient history and legend you explore on this demo? Why do you think antiquity and heavy metal are so compatible? Also, what personal connections do you make to the ancient past through your music?

Jasper: First of all, thank you for giving us this platform to talk about ourselves and our music. I think Heavy Metal works great as a tool for telling stories about history, myth or legend because of the inherent feeling of adrenaline & power that a set of drums, bass and distorted guitars can give to the listener. In our opinion, this feeling gives a longing for an experience that is more primal that we can only access outside of society or through stories that send us back to a more untamed time in our history as a species. Concerning Heavy Metal, the use of the Arabic scales, minor scales or other metal scales give more than just the adrenaline feeling. They also place upon the listener a feeling of grandeur & adventure, something that most people would say is missing from present society. So it becomes easier to relate to history or to legend & myth to captivate this feeling well. I personally have a deep love of history, and since I volunteered to write the lyrics, I of course decided to write it about history. History for me allows us to look deeper into ourselves and understand what makes us who we are.

The demo’s first song, “The Curse of Akkad,” appears to be based on the Mesopotamian epic of the same name, which tells of the reign of the Akkadian king Naram-Sin (r. c. 2254-2218 BCE) and how the god Enlil punished his hubris by sending the Gutians to raid the Akkadian empire and destroy the city of Akkad. The song ends by suggesting this is a cautionary tale against greed and megalomania. What significance does this story hold for you, and what inspired you to set this story to this style of music?

Jasper: I think this period in history hasn’t been talked about enough throughout Heavy Metal songs. When reading about this time and the history of the Akkadian Empire, its rise and fall were so full of action, drama and incredible battles that I had to talk about it. The fall of the Akkadian empire was especially an interesting story. I couldn’t think of another song or artist who had sung about this in the past so I decided to write about it in this song. When we were writing the riffs to “Curse of Akkad,” it had a very strong Middle Eastern vibe to it, and since we had already written the lyrics to Sargon at the time, we decided to stick to the same time period since it was so rich with history. I think anyone listening to the words of this song can take something away as a lesson from it. While we might not be smitten by the pantheon of the Akkadian gods, it is important to always have a level of humility, especially when you’re in a position of power; not just for oneself, but also to be a good example for those looking up to you.

In the last song “Sargon the Conqueror” you embody Naram-Sin’s grandfather, Sargon of Akkad, whose conquest of Sumer in the 24th century BCE formed the first ever empire in recorded history. The lyrics appear to style him as an underdog who rose to power and conquered in the name of liberating the oppressed from the tyranny of the old regimes. What does Sargon symbolize for you?

Jasper: Let me be fair here and say that some of the stuff that Sargon did was not stuff that I can condone. He was a ruthless strategist on the battlefield and put down revolts in the later years of his reign. But it cannot be denied that he did fight for what he wanted and came up from almost nothing to the point of ruling a vast empire during the Bronze Age. He represents the desire for something greater in all of us, and we should all do our best to follow his example of doing whatever it takes to achieve what is important to us. I also believe that, as for Sargon, fate does have a part to play in our lives and it wouldn’t hurt to discover our own destinies for ourselves.

Akkadian empire (2400-2007 BC) | Short history website

With the title track, “Terror in Thrace,” you depart from the Akkadian Empire of the third millennium BCE to the Roman Empire of late antiquity, during its encounters and struggles with the Goths, specifically after the empire had begun officially converting to Christianity in the fourth century CE. The lyrics tell of a Gothic woman who avenged the murder of her husband as a prelude to the Goths’ vengeance against the Romans in the region of Thrace (is there a connection to the battle of Adrianople in 378?). The tale of Bludwyn is not one I am familiar with, and I would love to hear your telling of it and where the story came from. It reminds me a lot of the British queen Boudicca and her rebellion against Rome. 

Jasper: I love that you were able to draw a comparison to Boudicca’s rebellion, but Bludwyn’s tale is more of historical fiction than fact. It does serve as a prelude to the Battle of Adrianople in 378 AD, as the events of Bludwyn’s story takes place a year earlier in 377 AD. To give a bit of context, Bludwyn’s husband was supposed to be one of the Goths who died in battle while fighting for the Roman legion. But because he was not a Roman citizen and because he was a Goth, his surviving family did not receive the support they needed after losing the sole bread-winner. Coupled with the fact that the Goths were being severely mistreated, with women and children selling themselves to get food, we go to the imagined tale of Bludwyn, who saw all the suffering and injustice around her and her son, decided to take a risk by kidnapping a priest from the monastery that was built in Thrace in 376 AD. To be fair, we don’t have anything against Christians, as Bludwyn herself was supposed to be Christian. This tale was more to do with fighting against injustice as an underdog from a larger & corrupt power. The story actually came from the artwork as we had the artwork ready before we wrote the lyrics to the song. Seeing the imagery of a woman in a dress with a sword and on horseback with a battered priest on the back was what reminded me of the Goths and their tendency to have women riding with them on raids from back in the day and just had to write about it.

Battle of Adrianople: 378

The demo’s artwork illustrates part of Bludwyn’s tale, depicting her on horseback wielding a sword, with a Christian church in the background. I am immediately reminded of the cover artwork to Smoulder’s fantastic album Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring. Please tell me what’s happening in this image, how it connects to the themes of the demo, and, of course, about the artist. 

Shawn: Well observed! Smoulder’s artwork was definitely one of the inspirations behind our artwork. Michael Whelan’s stuff in general, to be honest. The image portrays the scene right after Bludwyn captures the priest from the church and rides away with him on horseback, bloodied and bruised. The main motive behind this image was to show the capabilities of Bludwyn accomplishing what she had come to do which relates to the overall theme of the demo – fighting for what you believe in, not letting your head get clouded by greed, and so on. The artist that did the painting is based in India. She is a contemporary artist that does freehand drawings as well as paintings, and other weirder abstract stuff. Her art account on Instagram is @the.mistaken.arts. Do give her a follow if you like her stuff! 

What does the future hold for Tabernacle? What ambitions do you have for taking on the post-pandemic world? What lyrical topics are you interested in exploring next?

Jasper: I think Tabernacle’s future will be a process of evolution of the sound we are trying to deliver. Heavy Metal is at the very core of what we want to share with the rest of the world, but what has been defined as Heavy Metal has been changing over the years since its introduction in the 70s. Yes, there is a certain formula that has always been its defining attribute, but sticking to the same exact thing limits what you can share, in our opinion. We will always have a strong connection to our roots & inspirations from bands like Black Sabbath, Manilla Road, Omen, Cirith Ungol and the other pioneers, but we want to forge our own sound and our own path.

In the face of a world that has changed so much since the 70s with everything that has happened so far, including the pandemic, our way forward has definitely become difficult. We are in a world where music has become so accessible to so many people, that it is easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of choice you can have for entertainment. We will take on these many platforms in the digital world as best we can by staying as true to ourselves and our way of music, but we will still try to be as traditional with physical releases and an emphasis on live shows wherever we can get them.

Lyrically, the histories of different cultures is such a vast reservoir that it will be very difficult to run out of topics to make music about and so far we’re all in agreement that we still want to explore other histories and cultures in our music. That said, we wouldn’t mind dabbling in things like famous legends, myths and maybe sci-fi stuff as well.

Thanks very much again for taking the time for this interview! I look forward to sharing this with fans and scholars of both epic metal and ancient history. Do you have anything else you would like to say on this platform?

Rayner: Thanks again for putting in the effort to read the lyrics and everything. We’re very glad you liked it. Keep up the good work with the blog, we look forward to your articles! 

Terror in Thrace is available for digital download and streaming on their Bandcamp page. Follow their Facebook page for band updates.

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