Dawn of Azazel


by R.S. Frost

I caught up with bassist/vocalist Rigel Walshe on the eve of 2018’s Hymns To The Dead, an extreme metal showcase and part of the Dark Mofo festival, an annual dark-arts event held in Hobart, Tasmania. As I make my way to our arranged meeting place, I pass multiple 20-metre tall inverted crosses erected for the festival, illuminated neon red against the picturesque backdrop of Tasmania’s capital. I find it fitting given the content of Rigel’s musical output and the media attention he has unintentionally garnered over the years.

- ‘Master of Puppets’ by METALLICA. That was the first metal album I ever heard. Then it was ‘Peace Sells…’ by MEGADETH, which had detailed descriptions of all of their gear in the liner notes. They used a B.C Rich Ironbird bass and there was one of those on sale at the local music store, so I talked my mum into buying it for me for my birthday. That’s how it all started. The school I attended in Auckland didn’t have a lot of metal going on. It wasn’t a poncy school or anything, but around this time, 1993-1994, everyone was listening to rap and NOFX.

At school, there wasn’t really anyone else who was into metal - at all. Around that time, bands like THE SMASHING PUMPKINS were really big, but metal was kind of a bad word. And when I look back, that time period was probably one of the worst times for metal. It really just wasn’t cool. So I didn’t really have anyone around me who was into it.

Given the state of affairs at the time, how were you able to put together the lineup for what would become the first iteration of Dawn of Azazel?

- I spent most of high school trying to muster up some people I could play with. It was when I was around 17 that I think I put up an ad or read an ad at the local rock shop (Billy Hyde, I think), and that’s how I got in touch with Joe (Bonnett). He was into bands like CRYPTOPSY and was getting guitar lessons with a guy who was into the same style of music so was learning how to play that stuff. We had a couple of drummers that didn’t really work out but we ended up finding a guy through a local radio show that I used to listen to. I would call them up and ended up meeting those guys and getting to know people in the local scene, and that’s how I met our first drummer Tony (Corey).

At this time I was writing a bunch of songs at home that would end up being on the 1999 demo ‘Of Bloodshed and Eternal Victory’. I used to get the bus up to where the guys hosted the radio show on the weekends and started hanging out with them throughout the show and having my first drinking sessions and that kind of thing. I was hanging out with some of these older guys who were getting all these awesome records from overseas and one night they played BLASPHEMY’s ‘Fallen Angel of Doom’. I had never heard of them before and my reaction was pretty much, “What the fuck!” It was so evil and gross sounding and I was really taken by it - it just had so much atmosphere that I was really into.

Around the same time, I was reading lots of zines and remember reading an interview with CONQUEROR in Heresy Zine, which was done by Jason (Healey) of ATOMIZER, who said they were really influenced by Blasphemy, so I ended up getting a copy of ‘Anti-Christ Superiority’ through tape trading. Then I wrote to the band and got in touch with Ryan Förster who sent me a copy of the ‘Annihilate’ promo which was more or less half of the ‘War Cult Supremacy’ album and that was a massive influence as well. It was super bestial and aggressive and had that fucking crazy style. From there I joined the dots and got onto bands like BESTIAL WARLUST, SADISTIK EXEKUTION and BEHERIT.

Around this time in high school, I was reading a lot of Nietzsche and read an interview with ANGELCORPSE frontman Pete Helmkamp about his book The Conqueror Manifesto, which was only recently released. That book took a lot from people like Nietzsche, Ragnar Redbeard (Arthur Desmond) and a few other people like that, so I started getting into that whole philosophy.

Dawn of Azazel released the ‘Of Bloodshed and Eternal Victory’ demo in 1999 and then in 2000 followed up with another demo, ‘Vita Est Militia Super Terram’. Looking at the musical influences behind these early releases, there seems to be a stark difference in output.

Whilst albums like ‘Drawing Down the Moon’ and ‘Fallen Angel of Doom’ follow a similar pattern lyrically and conceptually, these albums are full of atmosphere and an overall sound that is quite different to Dawn of Azazel’s demos. The biggest difference to my ears is that Dawn of Azazel’s offerings just do not let the listener rest. At all. Ever. It is full speed, full aggression all of the time. There are no opportunities for environmental distractions.

- The only thing I’ll say is, in my opinion, the early material was much more adventurous than the albums you mentioned. There were much longer songs and more complex arrangements, which is probably because I had been listening to a lot of SWANS and similar stuff and was able to throw some of those influences into the music. The song structures were more epic, there was a lot of up and down in the music, and because of this I think it was quite unique.

In 2003 the band’s debut album ‘The Law of the Strong’ was released through Polish label AGONIA RECORDS. To the amazement, and oftentimes mire, of members of the Auckland music community, the album was treated to high praise in mainstream music press, radio and television.

- There was a local band called 8 FOOT SATIVA who I had known for a few years and around this time and they put out a video and just got massive. I’m pretty sure it went to number one on all of the music video channels and stayed there for several weeks. It was crazy. Anyway, I was at a music industry party and was put in touch with someone from Rip It Up Magazine, which was a big street-press style music mag, and this was when street mags still had quite a bit of power. They ended up doing a feature on the New Zealand metal scene, in part due to the 8 Foot Sativa thing, and I was able to be involved with that. Shortly after this, I got in touch with Brendan (Southwell) from DIOCLETIAN who was into video production and he helped us put together some good quality videos to help promote the album.

From there it all started to snowball really, we saw an opportunity and ran with it. Looking back now, in my opinion, 2002 through until around 2006 were the golden years for the New Zealand metal scene. Before then there was no real movement, no shows, no scene at all. I booked our first few shows at random halls and just tried to put on whatever black metal and death metal bands I could find. There was no connection or knowledge to what was going on in Wellington or Christchurch at all either. We slowly started to connect with people from other bands in these places and eventually were able to go and play shows in other cities between 2001-2003. That hadn’t really been done before in New Zealand.

With their debut album released, garnering praise from seemingly every direction, and having a hand in establishing a New Zealand-wide touring circuit for metal bands, Dawn of Azazel fixed their gaze further abroad and headed out on their first European tour.

- When we signed the deal with Agonia Records for the album, a condition that we stipulated was that they would organise a European tour for us. You’ve got to remember that at those times for any band from this part of the world to tour Europe was just not a done thing. I think Sadistik Exekution had done it, but beyond that, from what I was aware, there were no other extreme metal bands from this part of the world that had toured Europe or America. It was like this impossible thing, so we hooked that up and were the first extreme metal band from New Zealand to play Europe.

It was a short tour. It was meant to be eight shows but ended up only being six. Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium. There were supposed to be shows in Poland and the UK, but they got cancelled. It was us, URGEHAL from Norway and THUNDERBOLT from Poland, and the three of us were all driving around in a Ford Transit van. There were some absolute stinker shows with only 20 people there, but others were around 80 or 100 people. I think we had somewhat unrealistic expectations due to the media coverage we were getting in magazines like Terrorizer and such, so we were a bit disappointed. It didn’t help that a few of the people in the touring party didn’t handle things very well. Drugs and low morale don’t make for the best band dynamic.

In 2005 Rigel, Joe and new drummer Martin Cavanagh entered Kog Studios to begin working on their follow up album and the next step in their inexorable advance. The album would be called ‘Sedition’.

After the band had recorded the album they began searching around for promotion and a potential release deal. They weren’t having the greatest of luck, until they received an offer to perform as one of the headlining acts at Bloodlust Festival; Australia’s premier extreme metal music festival at the time.

- It’s a funny story how that came about. Daniel, who used to put on Bloodlust Fest, had done the 2003 Australia/New Zealand INCANTATION tour as well. I had heard that the tour was in the works and, being a massive Incantation fan, I got involved and ended up helping to promote it. Daniel and I got along really well and he liked Dawn of Azazel, and that’s how we ended up doing Bloodlust 2005.

The connections that were made during both the Incantation tour and then Bloodlust Festival eventuated to Dawn of Azazel getting a deal with IBEX MOON RECORDS (run by John McEntee of Incantation) for the release of ‘Sedition’. These fortunate circumstances essentially propelled the band onward and upward and they played around 120 shows in promotion of ‘Sedition’.

- Yeah, that was a crazy time. I remember around the same time this deal happened I went to see HATE ETERNAL play and caught up with the guys from SOUNDWORKS TOURING. I already knew Dave Haley and Dysie, who also ran PRIME CUTS MUSIC, loosely through writing to each other for a while. I asked Dysie if they would potentially be keen to release the album in Australia, which they were, and did.

Not long after this, DISGORGE (USA) were coming down, and we were able to do New Zealand, Australia, Thailand and Indonesia with them as well. Then while we were on the Disgorge tour we got an offer from Ibex Moon to support Incantation and VITAL REMAINS in America. This is pretty much the beginning of that 120+ show season which all happened in 2006.

At this stage of our conversation, having consumed an appropriate amount of refreshments, I feel it is time to probe Rigel about a series of very publicised events in 2005 that led to him being known to some as “Hell Cop”.

- Now, I had been in the police force for around three or four years at this time, and a lot of people knew this, and those people started talking. One day I got a phone call from someone letting me know there was going to be an article about me in the newspaper the following day. So, Sunday morning I pick up a copy of the newspaper and the headline reads: “Skinhead Cop Fronts Satanic Metal Band”.

The article was basically saying; here’s this cop who plays in this satanic metal band. It had some of our lyrics in there, a band photo that showed all of my tattoos, a big pentagram covering my arm and all of that. It was a total beat-up piece. And you know how the media does that, they don’t necessarily condemn you, they just say well… here’s this guy, look at him, look at what he’s into, and he’s also a police officer.

That article came out on the Sunday. Monday morning I got a call saying that Channel Three News, which was the biggest TV news station at that time, are going to put you on the six o’clock news and they want an interview with you. I was in this very precarious situation now. If I was going to go on TV and say something that didn’t reflect favourably, I could easily lose my job. I thought about doing it for quite a while, but in the end, decided against it.

But they ran the story anyway. They ended up using footage they dug up from a video interview I did for the ‘Law of the Strong’ release, and mixed that up with live footage of the band and a video of me bringing a guy into court in the police uniform from when I was working in the courts. They threw all of that together and aired their story.

It was pretty massive. It was the number one story on the six o’clock news on a Monday night. I had heard it was going to air but thought it would be some small thing at the very end of the news, you know, like, “In other news!” kind of thing. But it was the very first story of the evening, and it was a pretty surreal experience to watch it. It wasn’t something that I’d done six months ago that I got busted for, an “Oh no, they found the body!” sort of thing. The number one story on the news was me, and how I chose to live my life. That was insane.

After seeing yourself as the most newsworthy story on television and in the newspaper, being an active member of the police force and being in the middle of a seemingly unstoppable rise in popularity and success with the band, I can only imagine that this situation had a considerable effect on your attitude towards both the band and your job.

- It was fucking crazy. For weeks every radio station was trying to get a hold of me for an interview, and as much as I would have liked to capitalise on it, I still had bills to pay *laughs*, so I had to turn them all down. I even had people offering me jobs fronting music channels and stuff like that, but to make that jump from a secure and stable job, it’s really hard to know where you’re going to land. How people are going to perceive you, even how you’re going to be presented. Are you going to be a bit of a joke? I didn’t really want to make that jump, so I turned it all down.

Having to turn away from a seemingly unattainable amount of mainstream publicity for yourself and the band was clearly not an easy decision to make. I’m very curious as to how the powers-that-be in the police force were addressing this media circus.

- Eventually, I was called in to speak with the district commander, who was the most senior police officer of the district where I was working. And in a long-winded way, he pretty much told me to quit my job or I was going to be fired. Then I got an official letter that pretty much said the same thing. So I sought legal advice, and was told that it’s basically my human right to artistic expression and they can’t fire me over it, and if they do, take them to court.

I ended up staying in the police force for another six or seven years, but the whole time I had this sword above my head just waiting to drop. I eventually left the police force in 2012, and the last thing I did was as part of the Prime Minister’s Protection Squad. So I definitely did some pretty cool shit. But having that whole thing in the back of my head, I definitely think it affected how my career went and how I saw the job. Having that anxiety about your employment and not knowing what the fuck I would do for work if it ended was pretty full on. And all of that on top of an already stressful and head-fucky job was quite a surreal experience. Everywhere I went with that job, everyone knew.

After going through a maligned media frenzy threatening your livelihood, Joe, Martin and yourself headed to the United States to join Incantation and Vital Remains.

- By the time we got there a lot of people had heard about what was going on in New Zealand with the band and had seen the news reports and all that. I had guys in Texas just yelling “Hell Cop” when I walked past *laughs*.

That was a bit of a shit tour though. A few things happened between some of the people involved and some relationships ended up getting soured. We were driving the whole time, and Martin seemed to be suffering from narcolepsy, so Joe and I pretty much drove the distance from Los Angeles to Sydney all up. It was brutal. We would finish a gig in one city, then load up the van right away, drive 14 hours to play a matinee show the next day in another city. It was pretty hard yards, on us and on the pocket.

We were spending everything we had to do this and ended up having to borrow money from people to be able to finish. But we got through it and were the first metal band from New Zealand to tour the states. So that was pretty cool.

Following this, the band hit the road again in December as main support for DEICIDE throughout their sold-out tour of New Zealand and Australia.

This tour was actually the first time I saw Dawn of Azazel live. I had heard about the recent saga and had been given a copy of ‘Law of the Strong’ a couple of weeks prior to the show. I recall being thoroughly impressed and satisfied by the amount of noise, precision and aggression coming from a three-piece band.

- That was an amazing tour. It was near the end of the touring cycle for Sedition. We had done a full New Zealand run, the Disgorge tour, then the Incantation and Vital Remains tour. We also did a small run with SKINLESS in New Zealand, and now this massive one with Deicide, all within the space of 11 months. It was very fortuitous timing given that the most important thing for a live touring band is maintaining momentum. We were all fortunate enough to be able to make enough money in our day-to-day lives to be able to say yes to all of these opportunities.

Deicide was an awesome band for us to tour with as well. Given that we had played with a lot of death metal and black metal bands, and seemed to have fans from both camps. They were a really good band that was able to span those genres. They’ve got the satanic cred but also the death metal chops. That was an amazing tour.

At the time of our meeting, Deicide guitarist Ralph Santolla had recently passed away from a heart attack, an event that had quite an impact on the global death metal scene. I query Rigel for any particular memories of Ralph from that tour back in 2006.

- That guy was a really fucking top dude, man. Nicest guy, so friendly, always partying with us. Just a top human being. It’s a real shame. He lived a pretty hard life from what I could tell, so maybe it was not so unexpected. But pretty sad. That was pretty shitty to lose him last week.

Following a year that held more of everything than anyone had anticipated, the trio marched on through and hit the ground running in 2007.

- Someone had paid for us to fly over to Melbourne and play a gig for New Year’s Eve *laughs*. Then right after that, we did Overcranked Festival in Brisbane. For the style we played, to be included on that festival was massive. And then we got onto the biggest tour we’ve ever done to date.

It was really last minute; maybe a month before the tour was starting. Someone had pulled out and the promoters were looking for a three-piece band because there were only three beds left on the tour bus and they couldn’t fit a four-piece. It was a full 32-date tour through Europe with fucking IMMOLATION, who are one of my all time favourite bands, as well as KRISIUN and GRAVE. That was a fucking amazing time and we got along great with everyone, the shows were great, it was all a lot of fun.

Then around September, we got offered to play with MOTÖRHEAD in New Zealand. So we jumped on that. Then not long afterwards, Soundworks Touring hit us up about BEHEMOTH, so we did an Australian run with them in December. Really cool guys, we had a really fun time on tour with them.

Not long after we went back into Kog studios and recorded three new songs for the 2008 demo with the intention to use this to shop labels. Basically, we wanted to start getting things ready for a new album. We ended up signing with UNIQUE LEADER RECORDS and decided that we really wanted to go full-on with this new album. We had been thinking and planning for a while now and wanted to really make an impact with it.

In ’09 the band then made the long journey to Florida, to begin recording their third album ‘Relentless’ at Erik Rutan’s Mana Studios. It was the first time the band had recorded outside of New Zealand. The band worked with Brian Elliott at the studio, and at the same time, CANNIBAL CORPSE happened to be recording their ‘Kill’ album with Erik in the next room.

- That was a pretty eye-opening experience for us. Working with Brian, who is the most proficient and professional dude, was amazing. He really made us aware of a lot of things that happen in a big professional recording studio, something that we had never really been exposed to before. We were hanging out with the Cannibal guys heaps too, which was really cool. They are really nice guys.

In retrospect, I’m not really happy with how that album came out. I guess their philosophy was to sound replace pretty much everything with triggered sounds. All of the drums were sound replaced and to me, I think it came out a bit too clean, clear and polished. But I kind of took a back seat for that one, as Joe had written pretty much everything for that album and was far more aware of recording and what sounds he wanted for his guitars and all the rest, so he pretty much took the lead. At the time we were all really happy with it, but looking back I feel that it could have sounded a little more natural. But working there with all of those guys was definitely a positive experience for us.

‘Relentless’ was released in 2009 and the band went on to tour across New Zealand and Australia with Krisiun, MEGADETH, SUFFOCATION, NECROPHAGIST, DYING FETUS, MORBID ANGEL and SLAYER.

By the end of this cycle, Rigel found himself in crippling debt and with quite low morale. He was also facing a decision that would once again force him to evaluate his commitment to the band against aspirations he held for his career.

Rigel was offered a position of a “covert nature” within the police force. During this period, from 2010 till 2013, the band took a hiatus.

- I had been working primarily in the courts for a few years by this stage, mainly because it was the closest thing to a nine-to-five job I could secure. This had allowed me to be available for regular band practice and all of the band activities that we had going on, but it was sort of a dead end job. My motivation for the band had lapsed quite a bit and on the job side of things, I hadn’t really been doing a lot of the cool shit that I had wanted to do, and had been doing, before the band blew up. So I got back out on the street for a while and then decided to put my name in for the Diplomatic Protection Squad. I got the job and did that for almost two years.

All of the politics and bullshit that goes on when you get to that echelon of government work wasn’t for me. I mean I learned some pretty cool ninja shit by that point and had figured it was something to have on the CV, having protected the head of state and all. But I quit after that.

Having spent the better part of a decade in the police force, being victim to an intense personal attack led by the media, climbing the ranks of covert government protection work, then being dealt a blow by diplomatic red tape, and all the while touring the world. I’m very interested in your general outlook on the world and your place in it, and how these life lessons have impacted your personal philosophies.

- One of the biggest things I noticed throughout my career was age. You get these thin slices of information on people and sometimes you’ll get a guy who’s 50 but looks 80, and vice versa. And the mentality of those people who are spritely and alive at old ages are the ones who are constantly challenging themselves and pushing themselves. Their minds are constantly in use, and it shows. When people aren’t constantly challenging themselves they start to go senile and a bit loopy.

You have to keep growing and finding new interesting things. If you don’t, you just become a boring old fuck.

After Rigel had left the police force, and the band had taken an extensive break, the old drive to hit the stage started growing again. With a new wellspring of motivation, Dawn of Azazel became active once more.

- Towards the end of the touring, I was pretty financially fucked. But when you leave the police you get a super-fund payout that is then matched dollar-for-dollar by the force. I was fortunate enough to have spent enough time in the police to get quite a nice little golden handshake at the end of it all. I was able to pay off all of my debts and get out from under that black cloud that had been following me around for years.

We began writing for a new album.We got all of the songs mapped out and had pre-produced everything with click tracks and all that. We were more organised going into the studio than ever before.

Once again, the band entered Mana Studios to begin recording their new album after a six-year hiatus.

- The recording process sucked for me. It was horrible. I had just bought a new Gibson Blackbird bass that I had shipped over for the session. It was somehow lost in transit and never turned up. I still haven’t got it back. It just disappeared. Luckily James (Harvey) from GOATWHORE lent me his bass for the recording. Also, while I was over there I had once again started to get low on cash, as I found it really hard to find work after I left the police. I kept getting the “over-qualified” thing again and again. I was also in the middle of the breakdown of a relationship. I basically got home afterwards with no girlfriend, no money and no job. It was a complete fucking disaster.

In 2015 Dawn of Azazel released their fourth album ‘The Tides of Damocles’; a name referencing the ocean as a metaphor for the forces of life that constantly assail and erode the will of those who seek power.

- So we put that out. We played some shows to promote it, one of which was the Living Death Fest in Melbourne. We did a couple of things off the back of it back home as well, and tried to get some shit going overseas, but it was just not really happening.

Eventually, one day we were in the middle of a practice and Joe just said “I can’t do this anymore. I’m out”, and then Jeremy said pretty much the same thing. So that was that. I can understand the decision you know, the amount of money that goes into being in a band, the brutal touring, I kinda get it. Also, Joe was much more into the studio side of things and not so much the live stuff, whereas I was the exact opposite. I was pretty bitter about it when it all happened, but it’s all water under the bridge now. I can understand their decision, and I’m sure working with me isn’t always snowflakes and roses.

The departure of Joe and Jeremy was announced on April 24th 2016, and then there was radio silence for 12 months.

On April 24th 2017, a statement was released through the band’s website alluding to new music on the horizon.

This new music never saw the light of day, and Dawn of Azazel has not made any further statements or movements as a band since.

- For a while, I was writing new music. Then I started to get into making some electronic music, but all of it was going nowhere fast. Then one day I got an email from Brendan from Diocletian, which was strange because at this point we hadn’t been on speaking terms for almost a decade. He hit me up out of the blue about possibly joining Diocletian, which was exactly the sort of music that I wanted to do. I see a lot of similarities between Diocletian and the first Dawn of Azazel album. I could play music that I really liked, I didn’t have to get a whole new band together, I didn’t have to go label hunting again, the train was sitting at the station ready to go. Perfect serendipity. So I jumped on that and it’s been such a good vibe, everybody’s on the same page in regards to where the music is going etc.

We’re writing a new album for Diocletian at the moment and have got some cool shit lined up for Europe, Canada and the US, which I can’t say too much about right now.

Image credit - Laura Fiori Photography

Rigel is now focusing his energies on a somewhat eclectic assortment of endeavours. Aside from now fronting New Zealand powerhouse Diocletian, Rigel also runs seminars and workshops for young entrepreneurs that give them the tools they need to establish their own businesses. More recently, Rigel has plunged headfirst into the world of cryptocurrency.

- The main focus besides the music for me now is crypto. I came across it in 2014. I started to read into the whole thing, started reading about Tor and all of that and thought, knowing what I do from my old job, that this has the potential to essentially change the world. I pretty much spent the entirety of my savings on buying into coins. I was really into it from the cypherpunk angle of decentralising access to finance through technology. Money and access to money is power in one of its most raw forms. If you’ve got enough resources you can affect all sorts of things; you can make things happen and have the ability to enjoy freedom in the way that you live.

What’s happened throughout history is that the people with a monopoly on violence tend to also have a monopoly on money, so they’ve got more tanks, bombs, guns and armed forces. They can essentially just come to your house, and take your stuff. That’s the way it’s always worked.

The reason this decentralisation of finance is so important is that it turns money into information that is cryptographically secured. You can have as many super-computers as you want, but will not be able to remove that money from my vault so to speak. What this means is that there is a great potential to change the abilities of people who are in power.

To me, this is unquestionably the most interesting thing that is happening in the world right now.

Over the course of our almost three-hour conversation, Rigel comes across as noticeably excited and energised by the prospect of the future. Undoubtedly moving forward to “triumph through perseverance”, as it were.

- *laughs* The lyrics have come true!

I’m at the stage now where I’ve done well enough from my various avenues of income that I would be able to quit my job and not work for years. So I’m going to a lot of conferences and making a lot of connections and just trying to figure out where I want to go with this from here on. But you won’t see me acting like one of those “Crypto-Bros” cruising around in their Lamborghinis *laughs*.

Since this interview was conducted, Diocletian set out to complete a European tour in August of 2018, will be performing alongside BÖLZER on their Australian tour in June of 2019, and have been working on the upcoming album, which is set to be released through PROFOUND LORE RECORDS in the near future.

This article is approximately half of the full interview conducted, which delves deeper into acute media attention and the power it holds, contains further anecdotes on extensive touring, and touches on Rigel’s time undergoing Special Forces training in a time of diplomatic upheaval.