Phil Hall is not a man given to downtime. Whether it’s putting together thrash classics (thrashics, if you will) with Municipal Waste, weed hazed death metal with Cannabis Corpse, or political-tinged crossover with Iron Reagan, Landphil can usually be found working on something music related. With so many albums across so many genres, you could be forgiven for expecting Hall to take advantage of some much needed downtime during the pandemic era. Fortunately for black metal fans everywhere, Hall did the opposite.
Morbikon, Hall’s new throwback black metal project, released its debut album, Ov Mournful Twilight, at the end of October. Over its eight tracks, Hall and companions put their love of classic black metal on full display through compositions that should bring some kind of warmth to the blackest of hearts. Outside of the music aspect of Morbikon, Hall has taken on new and exciting responsibilities for the band that have provided our man with a host of unique challenges. We recently got Hall on the phone to chat about the new record.
First off, how did Morbikon get started?
Phil: Well, there was something that gave me a little free time, obviously [laughs]. I decided that I wanted to use my time wisely and work on something that I’ve always wanted to work on, which was a black metal project, because I’ve always been a fan. When I was growing up, getting into metal, I was into death metal, I was into black metal, I was into thrash metal. I was indiscriminate. I’ve had the good fortune of doing a death metal band and a thrash metal band so I figured this time around I’d try something completely different and do a ‘90s throwback melodic black metal band.
Kinda crossing off all the boxes of your favorites then?
Phil: Yeah, I’m just a guy that loves music and I love creating records. At this point in my career I’ve been fortunate to have over 38 releases so at this point, I just wanted to try something that I hadn’t tried before.
Who were some of those big black metal influences from when you were starting to get into the genre?
Phil: Well obviously there’s the big four of black metal bands like Mayhem and Emperor and Darkthrone and Immortal. When I was about 15, I got that book, Lords of Chaos, and all those stories in that book and all the photos…it really piqued my interest and, believe it or not, that book was how I discovered bands like Mercyful Fate and there were a lot of educational things about that book. This was before the internet, so I really needed things to educate me in metal because I didn’t have a lot of friends that were into metal growing up. I would look at the back of records if there was an album I would like and I would look at the T-shirts that people were wearing on the back of the album. I was really just trying to find new music.
That’s funny that you mention that book because that’s how I ended up getting exposed to a lot of different black metal bands too. You’d read about a band and then see that this guy played in this band and that guy played in that band and it just snowballs from there.
Phil: I had an appetite for metal and I wanted to know all the bands that were out there. Obviously that’s an unobtainable goal. There’s just an endless mountain of metal and every day there’s a thousand new metal bands but you can find the musicians that you like and the things that you connect to and go from there. It’s like a tree with roots.
How did you settle on the name Morbikon and what does that mean?
Phil: Believe it or not, the band name just came from the fact that I liked Dead’s first band, Morbid, and I was just kind of coming up with a band name that had morbid in the title. I didn’t want to do a two-word band name because most metal bands have two words, this and that, and I just wanted one word cause I felt like having a one-word band name is very strong. That’s kind of what it stemmed from.
What’s the music writing process like for the band?
Phil: I have a co-writer, his name is Quotidius. I would send him riffs and he would perform drums on the riffs, and he’s not a very good drummer so the drums had a certain quality to them that…he would come up with drum parts that I normally wouldn’t come up with because I use a drum machine at home so I use whatever drum beats I can think of. If I want an insane blast beat with insane double pedal then I can do it because I just have to program it. The limitations of his drumming actually led to certain ideas and I really thought those ideas had a real black metal feel to them. Once we had written the songs with his drums, that’s when I got Dave Witte involved and he, of course, is a fantastic drummer so when he performed these parts and added his finesse it really came to life and I really started feeling like this was something special.
What’s the lyric writing process like?
Phil: The lyrics are also written by Quotidius, my co-writer. We had written these parts and then we brought them to Vreth, our friends from Finntroll, and he performed the parts and what he brought to the table was great too. [There’s] just a lot of different pieces to this puzzle that came together nicely.
Being that you play in a few bands across different genres, is it ever hard to switch modes when you move from one to the other?
Phil: People feel like I’m constantly bogged down by writing but there’s time between albums and time where I can recharge my batteries when it comes to writing and things are spread out pretty nicely. When I feel like there’s a Municipal Waste album coming, I start preparing myself for that and [it’s the same] for all my bands. I don’t ever feel bogged down with switching gears or anything like that. Everything comes in it’s own way and I enjoy it. I enjoy the challenge.
Going off that, how important is it for you as an artist to have those different outlets where you can explore different influences and ideas?
Phil: I’m a guy that just loves music and I love being creative so having all these vehicles to express different facets of my music is great. I’ve even dabbled in writing some classic rock and country music and I try a little of everything because I feel like it flexes my creative muscle. Even with this project I’ve learned how to use animation software and I’ve been creating cartoons to go with the music. That itself was a very intense challenge, learning a completely new medium and learning how to draw and animate and that brought a whole new challenge to the table that I enjoyed as well.
Yeah I really dug that video for “Universal Funeral” and actually wanted to ask about that. What was that process like for you?
Phil: I started from scratch. I didn’t know anything about animation or using animation software, which there’s a lot of great software out there. Obviously in 2020 I had a little extra time so I sat there…I have to give credit to my twin brother Josh. He got into animation software as well so he helped me get my foot in the door, but a lot of it I learned myself just watching YouTube tutorials and things like that and just watching other people’s work and just trying to learn. As I went along, things started to get a little easier and the whole process, from learning the software to having the finished video, probably took about six or seven months. I started out with very primitive drawings and it looked like complete crap. One day I decided that I was just gonna absolutely try as hard as I can to make it look as good as possible so hopefully the end result looks pretty good.
I think it’s a kickass video. How excited were you when you saw the end result of all those months and months of struggle and work?
Phil: I kind of treated it almost like a full-time job. I was working on it for five or six hours a day, almost every day and just grinding on it. It absolutely was the most labor-intensive time in every way. It was one of the most intense experiences ever. Now I’m working on video number two for Morbikon and the process has become a lot easier because I’ve learned so much from doing that first video.
The new album is called Ov Mournful Twilight. How did you come up with the name for the album?
Phil: It’s a title that came up pretty organically through me and Quotidius working together. I can’t remember the exact circumstances of the title but I just remember that we thought it sounded very classic ‘90s black metal, which has a flamboyant, Goth quality to it. The original title was a lot longer. We thought it would be cool to have this really long title but after awhile, we just decided to shorten it.
The cover there is really memorable too with the portrait in the middle and then the frame around it. Who did that and how much direction did you give them?
Phil: The color portion of the art was done by Pär Olofsson that I’ve been working with. He did the Cannabis Corpse cover for Left Hand Pass and also Nug So Vile and also From Wisdom to Baked. He’s just an artist that I’ve been working with for quite awhile and the frame around it was done by a different artist who has a strange name like MXII or something like that. He’s an artist that I found on Instagram that does really intense black and white black metal imagery so I just combined the two pieces of art into one piece and it looked really great to me.
I wanted to ask about a few songs specifically on the album. What’s the inspiration behind the opener, “Consumed by Entropy,” and why make that the first song?
Phil: Lyrically, Quotidius had a lot of input and he’s a very intense creative mind. I feel like he did a really great job of writing lyrics that fit the music but that doesn’t get into too much of a cheesy black metal territory, which is easy to do in this genre, which was something I strived to avoid. He 100% is responsible for the gloominess of the lyrics and we tried to avoid leaning too heavily on the Satanic and occult lyrics too because that can be pretty paint-by-the-numbers as well when it comes to this genre. We just tried to explore new territories lyrically and I have to give him a lot of credit for that. As far as opening with that one, it just had such an intense beginning to the song and it’s one of the more concise songs on the album. I didn’t want to open the album with something more epic. I wanted to open the album with a total banger that’s nice and short and sweet in our own way and then get into the epic, long territory in the meat of the album.
Fair enough. I was also wondering about the musical inspiration behind “Deaththirst.”
Phil: Oh yeah, “Deaththirst” is a very Dissection-worship sort of [song]. That’s another very intense song. “Deaththirst” features a solo of a friend of mine Blake [Hibberd], who’s in a band called Unburier in the U.K. and I got him to do the guitar solo on that one and he did this berserk, Kerry King style, almost noise solo that sounds like it’s almost gonna come off the rails but it’s perfect. It brings that sort of intensity to that song.
How cool is that for you to have been in music so long and have so many friends in the industry to just be able to call up your buddies when you think you’ve got something perfect for them to play on?
Phil: I’ve met a lot of terrific musicians over the years. I’ve been doing this over 17 years and there’s definitely guys that I love to work with and having different brains add their little flair to the songs helps a lot. When I’m writing music, if I get too much into my own ideas I can feel like I don’t have that same creative energy as I do when I work with other artist and they add their own ideas. I think that’s valuable to just get other people’s input on your music.
I was also wondering about the musical inspiration behind “Borne of Phantom Vessel?”
Phil: That one is absolutely one of the more epic tracks, for sure. The orchestration on it is really great. I sort of composed a piece at the beginning of that song and I have a friend in Long Island, New York who actually worked with WWE for a little while doing intros for professional wrestlers. He actually did Finn Bálor’s intro and he had done a lot of really cool intros and he’s a really smart guy who knows his way around orchestration. I’d given him the piece that I did and he gave me back a piece using his own touch, and I was just blown away so when you listen to the beginning of that song, it’s this completely epic vibe that he helped build.
Nice! I’m a big wrestling guy too so that’s really cool to hear. How about the inspiration behind the closer, “Infinite Pathways to the Earthen Grave?”
Phil: That was actually the last song we wrote for the album. It has this outro part that just sort of fades away at the end of the song and it just felt like a great way to end the album so we just decided to go with that track. It was always designed to be the end of the album just for how it ends.
You’ve talked about how some of the songs there have more of that epic orchestral composition style to them. Was that a challenge for you to get into the frame of mind for writing that style of music?
Phil: We had written, originally, these songs and they were more like brutal black metal tracks. Then, once I started listening to them, I started adding certain things and adding intros and outros and the songs began to build and build and things just came together in a really cool way that’s hard to describe. I kept adding little touches and little bells and whistles to the songs to make them what they are.
With the album coming out right around Halloween, is there a better time to release a new black metal album?
Phil: I’m glad it happened that way. We didn’t plan it but I’m glad that it’s coming out the weekend of Halloween. Hopefully there’s people listening to the album out there putting on their ghoulish black metal corpse paint and getting out there and smashing pumpkins.
What plans do you have for the future of Morbikon?
Phil: I’m working on getting the live band together. I’ve got a couple great musicians in mind for the live band and Dave Witte is, of course, gonna handle the drums. I’m working on it and hopefully next year at some point we’ll have a band together rand we can start playing some shows.
Last question, what do you hope people get out of the record when they sit down to check it out?
Phil: I just want them to feel the same way that I did when I started listening to this style of music when I was a young kid and just enjoy how different metal can be from one thing to another. You can have brutal songs, you can have epic, sprawling, orchestrated tracks…there’s no rules when it comes to metal so I hope it inspires some creativity out there.
Photo at top by Marc Birr.