Metal is a strange beast, and it emerges in places that you wouldn’t normally expect sometimes. One of those is Pakistan. Not the first place to think of when hearing heavy metal music, right? Let alone the often blasphemous but always rebellious black metal. Primaeval is the band that is changing all that.
With deep roots and a complex series of influences, their sound offers something new and fresh, but also is an expression from a band that breaks multiple stereotypes you may have of their country of origin. Metal has often been a male-dominated genre, and to have a band from Pakistan with a lady on vocals is groundbreaking. And as admitted by the band, the scene doesn’t treat women well, yet here they are. Paving the way for a change.
Get to know Primaeval, as Farhan Rathore kindly takes time to answer my questions and share more about his band, the metal scene in Pakistan and more.
Fighting for acceptance: Primaeval
How is Primaeval doing?
Primaeval is doing pretty well, although there are a lot of challenges we face as individuals and a band also, like lack of exposure to heavy metal and lack of acceptance from society for our extreme style of music.
How did you folks meet and what were your individual inspirations to start making extreme music?
Farhan Rathore was the guy actively doing heavy metal music for 12+ years who went to his old friends ( Rumi and Athar ) and discussed the idea of forming a band that can showcase all sides of heavy metal. Hence creating a unique sound. Later the band found Byzma and we loved her vocals. All of us have pretty common musical inspirations, mostly old-school but also modern metal sounds. The bands we all love are Katatonia, Electric Wizard, Burzum, Candlemass, Opeth, Empyrium, Draconian, Gojira, Black Sabbath, Emperor, Celtic Frost, and the list goes on.
Am I correct in seeing that you folks are in various other bands and projects? Can you say something more about that?
Farhan had 2 bands prior to this, Athar was associated with a band also. But as of now, we have no side projects. And we are all totally committed to Primaeval.
What kind of idea is behind Primaeval? Who are the main inspirations for your band?
The idea behind Primaeval is to bring a sound that has never been heard in our part of the world (South Asia or Asia in general). We are inspired by Progressive music, Doom Metal and elements of Death and Black Metal. We are basically a band that ranges from extreme sounds to very emotional melodies. And we want to create our own sound of genre if you want to put it that way.
I’d like to know more about the story you are telling with your music. The name of your EP is ‘Horcrux’, which appears to be a Harry Potter reference.
The main idea behind our EP was to put out songs that were personally close to us and some of our work that would let people know why we are different from the contemporary metal bands in our region. One of the songs named “Nocturne (Alternative Version) is a chunk from our full length album. This album speaks about our individual and collective sorrow and mental health related issues maybe at points. And about the EP name, yes of course we are Harry Potter fans lol. And the idea was to establish a name that makes our EP immortal for us at least. It is very close to all of us. So that is that.
What is the process for you in writing and recording the record?
Our writing and recording process is very simple. We are at the studio every weekend, from the evening to the next morning. We take our music writing very religiously, and we don’t compromise. We have spent almost a year recording and writing the EP. Farhan does the lyrics writing, while Athar and Rumi are always creating instrumentals that can draw the sound we are looking for. It’s a constant experiment with scales and tunings. We love it this way. We want to stand out.
Which bands should people really check out?
Yeah we are strictly metal. We’ve always been. Farhan’s previous band is listed in the archives as well. But with our latest EP, Metal Archives labelled it as “Not so metal. And rather a rock EP”. Which offended us since we don’t understand their point with that. But we will be patient and try again once our full length album is out. Because that will be explosive. We can promise people that. So as of now, we have left chasing Metal Archives to be acknowledged or recognized. Because our listeners are our bosses, and if we are metal to them, we are metal for everyone. Platforms need to stop making things complicated for artists with original music.
There’s a general idea that not much metal is made in your part of the world. Pakistan, however, seems to have a lively scene. What is it like and which bands are really the originators? What styles are prevalent? Basically, tell me everything.
Good question. Presently, Pakistan is pretty dull in Heavy metal area. There are hardly 4 to 6 bands actively putting out music. The mainstream music here is mostly rap and RnB. Pop also is a very popular genre in this part of the world. People treat metal as something evil and satanic labels are put on metal artists. We have been subjected to a lot of hatred and abuse due to that. Nobody is willing to give Metal bands shows or even market our music. Although Pakistan has a good history in Metal back in the 90’s and early 2000’s with bands like Dusk, Karachi Butcher clan, Dionysus, Multinational Corporations and others. Right now, Takatak is the standout band in our local scene. And we are trying to make our mark in the metal scene also. So let’s hope the new generation can get exposed to good metal music. Metal is treated as a lower-grade music genre. Although that’s a totally bad idea of treating any genre.
Which bands should people really check out?
I’d suggest people to listen to Dusk, Takatak and Karakoram to get a wider picture of how diverse our heavy music can be. And you can listen to our work also. Lol
Can you shed some light on what place metal has in society, if there is any censorship level, and what you can and cannot sing about? Just for context, in neighbouring Iran, metal bands have been prosecuted.
Metal has no respect in our country, and there is little to no support for metal artists. There is no such censorship on music other than nudity or blasphemy. Since we are in a country that is very extreme towards religion. And again, society treats metal as a source of noise and a symbol of satanism. So it’s very heartbreaking for artists and listeners. Because there are no shows unless artists organize the shows themselves. It’s not a good place for Metal. And I have heard about Iran and Afghanistan, it’s very sad to see musicians being prosecuted anywhere. Art should be promoted rather than being choked.
A metal band from Pakistan is for many people a rarity, a metal band from Pakistan with a female member even more so. You mentioned in a different interview that women were not well-treated in the scene. Can you elaborate on that and why this is the case?
Yes, a female working for a Heavy metal band is a rarity here. And women are generally hurled with offensive and sexist comments here and there, generally in this part of the world. Imagine a woman making metal music in a place where men are not safe with their art. But luckily, Byzma is an outspoken woman who can stand up for herself. And she has us to support her. And we hope she stays safe from all the abuse that women can face here. She has such a beautiful voice.
Is there anything from your origins that you put into your music? Like traditional instruments, musical themes, etc.
We generally don’t. But in a couple of the songs of our full-length album are in scales that are used in our traditional “Qawwali” music. You will love those songs. We are working on fusing traditional scales and instruments to establish our geographical identity in our sound also.
What are your future plans right now?
The immediate plan is to finish with our full-length album recording and then write the next album. We are also looking to collaborate with different local artists and bands that are interested in making a different brand of heavy music.
If Primaeval was a food, what would it be and why?
Hahahaahah it would be “BIRYANI” since biryani is the most loved food in our region. You should come here and try it. We’d love to host you for some days and show you around 🙂
Not before has the project from M. (Fluisteraars, Nusquama) and O. (Iskandr, Turia) performed live on stage. Where else to have a first than on the very nexus of dark, heavy music than Roadburn? They’ll perform their commissioned piece ‘The Great Star Above Provides’. Time to find out what we can expect.
Solar Temple was one of the most spectacular acts on Roadburn Redux. This interview preceded the performance and was published on Never Mind The Hype. It also was supposed to be part of the daily Weirdo Canyon Dispatch. It’s been forever and one could argue that it may not be super relevant anymore, but I was proud of this as it is one of my favourite artists involved in this. In fact, I did a new interview a year later, which can be read here.
Into the beyond with Solar Temple
You have been working together on making music for some time. How did this project come about and where do you draw from?
The idea for the band came from a recording session in which we flouted every possible rule. We were guided by instinct and spontaneity and the resulting demo had an alienating and unique sound. It went down pretty well in the underground scene and soon we had inspiration for a full album. Our interest in old, experimental and psychedelic music resulted in a strange impression of sounds that we are now trying to explore further and further.
How is your process in co-creating music for Solar Temple?
Unlike our other musical collaborations, such as in Iskandr, where one of us is clearly the standard-bearer of a creative vision, Solar Temple comes about completely without any preconceived division of roles. We both take care of all aspects of the whole: from composition to performance to production. This works mainly because we both want to push our personal boundaries in all aspects of music.
Until recently, it was a purely studio-oriented project, where the creative process in particular, was of much greater importance than any notion of an end goal, more important than any image of how it should be. An embrace of spontaneous creation. This is significantly less the case in many of our other projects: there, composition and purposeful work toward a clear creative vision is actually decisive. Both impulses can be satisfying and productive. Maintaining separate projects to pursue both avenues proves to be a good method for us.
The style, feel and sound of Solar Temple is exceptional. In the artwork there is a lot of classical imagery, marble, the term Dionysian is used on the debut ‘Rays of Brilliance’, the word transcendental is often used. In short, what is the meaning?
It’s hard to add to the description, as you already put it here. The references in the artwork and lyrics are not very literal but translate the feeling we are trying to introduce the listener to; ideally, it opens doors to an experience that is beyond the mundane.
What makes you guys choose to do a live performance and then also in the form of an online version?
First of all, because Walter asked us to make a commissioned piece together, and we were already interested in doing that. That this would be under the name Solar Temple was far from certain. The restrictions on getting together, among other things, meant that we were soon experimenting with ways of writing and rehearsing music in pairs. Only later did we realize that this method might work well as a duo, also for the end product, and we decided to focus entirely on a duo performance. This fitted in very well with what we were already working on in Solar Temple. When we were clear that we were going to perform this piece of music under the name of this umbrella project, it released a lot of creative energy in us.
You have worked on a commissioned piece for Roadburn before. What makes it so appealing for you to make something that, in a sense, is a one-off?
It is indeed a challenge to put so much energy into something that is somewhat ephemeral in nature. I think it’s just a huge creative challenge for both of us: it’s a kind of external motivation that you don’t often encounter as a relatively obscure underground artist. Normally you make something, and you put a lot of energy into it, and then you hope that there is a demand for it. In this case, it’s the other way around: the demand is already there, from Roadburn who say: “we believe in you, go make something” and then you go and make it happen. Combined with a concrete deadline and the emphasis on live performance, this is just totally different from how you normally operate. And that is challenging and refreshing.
The creation of the piece ‘The Great Star Above Provides’ was a deconstruction. Can explain what that means?
We can be brief about this: in the studio you can do anything, a live show with two musicians is much more limited. That necessitates deconstructing what we want with Solar Temple. The rest the Roadburn Redux viewers will see for themselves!
Can listeners expect a continuation of the already ‘familiar’ Solar Temple sound?
It really will be completely different. Not completely unrecognizable for those who are familiar with our further output (also in our other bands) but really completely new.
Will this also be a harbinger of a new release?
We shall see.
What would you like to see at Roadburn?
We’re especially curious about everything concerning Neptunian Maximalism and of course what our friends in Dead Neanderthals have in store for us!
I hope you didn’t miss this back in lockdown-days; Solar Temple laid down the Cormac McCarthy-an mysticism with a vengeance.
Remember when Refused dropped that record, “The Shape of Punk to Come”? Or is that an ‘old guy’ thing… Anyway, Soul Glo fits that description very well. An injection of black music into punk rock with a record so full of influences, intertextuality and loaded messages that you can’t really get around it in good conscience. Soul Glo is hardcore as it should be, on substance and not by putting it very big on their shirts.
Bands like Zulu, Scowl, Ballista, Gel, Move and so on (seriously, fill it up, everyone should check out these bands) show that hardcore is not dead, and also provides a platform for diversity, inclusiveness and a stage for the issues that are going on right now. So the new sound, and Soul Glo is part of that. The band is from Philadelphia, and there is clearly plenty to be angry about, and they show it with wry humor and a musical arsenal that rocks. Oh and live they are bold too.
‘Diaspora Problems’ has been out for a while now, and soon the band will also be coming to our capital city along. We asked Pierce Jordan to talk about it, so you can get to know them in advance. get to know the band.
Hey Soul Glo, how are you doing? What’s happening over there? How did Soul Glo get started and how did you get into punk/hardcore music yourselves?
Soul Glo got started in 2014. We got into punk and hardcore from our families and friends.
Did you like the second installation of ‘Coming to America’? And why did you pick the name Soul Glo, which as far as I know can only be a reference to the first film?
I thought it was just okay. It was nice that they restored the original cast but it wasn’t that funny. We picked the name as a reference to a classic piece of Black movie history as well as an explanation of how music represents an individuals innermost self.
What can you tell about that fantastic record ‘Diaspora Problems’. In your words, what is the album telling us and what was the process like to make this gem?
The album is telling you about aspects of my life and emotions and how they reflect a commonality of experience that any given listener may have the chance to tap into. The process was long, arduous, sweaty, and fulfilling.
What is your approach to music like, in terms of influences, genres, styles? I hear so much things on ‘Diaspora Problems’. From heavy metal to post-punk/noiserock, trap/rap and do I hear ska? Where does this all come from? And does this tie into the extensive list of guest musicians on the album.
Our approach to our music is collaborative and a result of all our influences. It comes from all we enjoy about music, but all we enjoy isn’t reflected on this album. There is much more for us to offer. The guest musicians are friends of the band. We admire their work and want them reflected as a part of ours.
Another thing I was dazzled by is the lyrics and titles. This complete play with brackets, capitals, etc. to add layers of meaning to every title, but also that a song can switch from aggressive hiphop-like lyrics (I don’t know how else to express this) to poetic expressions of dark emotions. So, can you say something about your approach to writing, and what inspirations shine through in your diversity on this album?
My approach to lyric writing is pretty much based on a combination of my influences, which include Audre Lorde for her emotion, sentimentality, and analysis of both, The Watts Prophets for their intertwined sardonic humor and vengeful anger, and Tim Kinsella for his technical use of alliteration and consonance. I’m influenced by the way people talk in the city we live in, Philadelphia.
The way I talk in interviews and around my friends and family is different because of the way I was raised. Some people are like this, and some people aren’t. I like to show both in my writing because we are all made up of different selves that come out at different times in order to survive in this world.
When I listened to this record the first time, I was blown away. I was taken back to ‘The Shape of Punk to Come’ by the Refused, thinking: here it is, the shape of punk to come. Punk/hardcore is undergoing a massive shift, and Soul Glo is in my opinion part of that movement, but what is happening in American punk/hardcore?
In the United States there’s both innovation and a lot of celebration and worship of previous styles from past years. I imagine we aren’t very different from the rest of the world in this way.
The hardcore/punk scene has historically been pretty white. I read on Brooklyn Vegan that you had said: “I wanted the album to feel like it was a very broad look at American music, and highlighting all of the best Black influences of American music.” To me, this can only be to the benefit of the music genre, which has only had some minor links to hiphop through hardcore. What would be the shift you’d love to see happen through music like yours in punk?
I’d like to see more perspectives and types of personhood represented within the genre and in all genres in general. That’s what pushes the forms forward.
There are some specific references on your album I understand, and I wish I could write the “Every Rap Reference on Diaspora Problems” article. Do you hope people will pick up on certain artists specifically?
I do. Everyone seems to hear the Cannibal Ox references but not many people have said anything about the 2Pac references.
So punk and hiphop are both styles that speak up against what is wrong in the world. I think that’s the most broad way to describe it. I would think that there is more than ever to speak up against (though I bet every generation says that), but your home country is particularly divided. What are the important messages Soul Glo wants to share with the world, what issues particularly come up in your music?
Though I’m sure it’s already clear, the message that I personally want to share with the rest of the world is that the problems that our country creates for those of the rest of the planet are largely not supported by the majority of the citizens of the United States. They don’t give a shit about us either.
How did you end up on Epitaph, what’s the story?
Essentially Jeremy Bolm extended all his resources to us and single-handedly changed our lives. This includes setting up a meeting with Epitaph, though the label was already aware of us.
You’re gearing up for a European tour. Have you been over the big pond before? What are your expectations? Are you looking forward to visiting the Netherlands?
We’ve been to Europe once before, and even though we had our share of difficulties, the shows were great. The Netherlands in many ways is the polar opposite of the United States, so yes, visiting again will be quite a treat.
So what are the future plans for Soul Glo right now?
A whole lot of shows.
If Soul Glo was a dish, not a fictive hair product, what would it be and why?
Not sure entirely, but it would probably be very spicy.
From the former Yugoslavian Republic hails the band Zvjer, a multi-national entity that brings a type of black metal that feels and tastes like its origins. Balkanian Barbaric Black Metal is what they like to call it themselves. The band has been going strong since 2013 and last year they released their second full length, titled ‘Navia (Zadah Jalovog Svijeta)’.
Zvijer is Serbo-Croatian for beast. The band is currently located in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Knjaz is the bandleader and founder, running the horde since its early days. It’s not his only project, he has many, and they cross borders. Yet, with a small scene, there are also many challenges. We discuss these at length, including the folklore and ideas that inspire the band in their unique brand of black metal.
Thanks to Knjaz and drummer Insanus for their time to answer my questions.
How is Zvijer doing? How has the pandemic affected you guys and your band? KNJAZ: Greetings. All is well. A new album is coming out soon and we are preparing some new songs. I would say that this pandemic has not changed many things in our work and attitude towards music, and life in general. We do our jobs, we play, everything is in the best order. Although you can’t travel abroad, it never meant much to us anyway.
First things first, how did Zvijer get started and what has been your path towards the style of music you play as individuals? You also have plenty of other projects, could you tell something about those? KNJAZ: The former guitarist and I started the band back in the summer of 2013. We wanted to make a band through which we would be able to deal with topics like the cult of night, Balkanian old funeral customs, the dark folklore of the Balkan countries, and so on. Then, in 2016 Insanus join the band and after the first album we continued as a two-man band. We work easiest when the two of us are alone, everything goes faster and without problems. Our music is a reflection of our thoughts and all personal attitudes that we express through words and tones. The basic motive and mover that fuel fires in us is freedom. The absolute freedom we have at work is all we need.
HIBERNUM is a death/black metal band that will release a debut album in the second half of 2021 in their 18 years of existence.
SUTON is a doom metal band that will also release a new album next year after a few years of silence.
BLACK CULT is the parental band of Insanus, it’s also a great black metal.
What does the phrase Barbaric Balkan Black Metal mean for you guys? How did you arrive at this definition of your sound? KNJAZ: “Balkanian Barbaric Black Metal” is a phrase that we have adopted as the best description of our music. We play black metal, our roots are in the Balkans, and our regions are known for a very cruel and barbaric history with a lot of bloodshed and dead people. It is one of the sources of our inspiration. Therefore, it was natural for us to take that determinant for our sound.
You are about to release a brand new album, titled Navia (Zadah Jalovog Svijeta)’. What can you tell about this album and its concept? KNJAZ: Yes, our second album “Navia (Zadah Jalovog Svijeta)” is officially out on December 4th, and it will be released by Seance Records from Australia.
The concept behind this material is human alienation from the world. It is possible to function “normally” among people, and at the same time be lonely and cut off from humanity. The idea is to evoke a feeling of isolation and enjoyment in solitude through music and lyrics. Musically, this album is quite different from the previous one, but for us it is a logical step forward. We evolved with sound, so this came to us quite normally, and it’s up to the fans to listen, compare and see if they like the new material or not.
What was the writing and recording process like? INSANUS: Before entering the studio we had some skeletons of the songs, but in the process of creating and recording songs those skeletons were changed almost to the point of unrecognizability, so we can say that we are creating our songs directly in the studio. Having in mind that we are a two-man band, and I’m responsible for all instruments, that proves for us to be the easiest and quickest way of creating music. I recorded all instruments in my own studio. Vocals were recorded at the peak of the first wave of COVID-19 and all studios around Knjaz were closed, so he did his vocals in an improvised studio in his room or attic, I’m not sure, with even more improvised equipment which gave us that raw sound that fits our music perfectly.
As I have not had the luxury to listen to it, can you tell what listeners can expect from this record and in what way your sound is changing from the previous album to this one? KNJAZ: I could not give an objective answer to this question. People will have to wait a little longer to listen to our album. The material will be available on most major streaming platforms but probably also on many pirate download sites very soon, so it will be available to everyone. In my personal opinion, the album is much better than the first one, but in terms of the evolution of the band. Every song we’ve done, I’m proud of it, but I think “Navia” is the current band’s highlight. I will enjoy it until we release the third album, with which I hope we will be able to surpass this one.
As I understand it, Zvijer is originally from Bosnia but currently ‘based’ in Serbia. Can you explain how that works? And as an outsider, what are the relationships like with other bands and artists from former Yugoslavian countries? KNJAZ: Zvijer was originated from Banja Luka (Bosnia), I am still in Banja Luka. Insanus is from Rijeka (Croatia), but currently lives in England. Honestly, I wouldn’t know. The internet has made it easier to interact, but we have a fairly small circle of people we work with and are in contact with.
What is the Black Plague Circle? KNJAZ: If you think of the Black Plague Circle; that is a group of people and bands like Obskuritatem Nigrum Ignis Circuli, Deathcircle, Niteris, Master’s Voice and Void Prayer.
How is the regional scene doing and what bands should people really check out? KNJAZ: There’s a few good bands in Balkan region; bands like Nadsvest, Arjen, Void Prayer, Old Night, Zlobnik, Zloslut. That is from the metal scene, but I am more into punk bands.
Is there a political component to Zvijer or the regional scene? I couldn’t help but notice some association to certain ‘politically inspired’ bands from a former band member. KNJAZ: Zvijer has nothing to do with politics. As I said above, all we are interested in the band is the history of Balkan, the concept of death, and dark folklore. We are not politicians but musicians, so there is nothing that would interest us in the world of political malarkey.
Yes, our former member is in NSBM. You see, generally, metal scenes in ex-Yugoslavia countries are quite small, and the black metal scene is even smaller. So at this or that moment, everyone will always be in touch, no matter if you are NSBM, Antifa, Satanist or pagan. So everyone does what they want, we don’t mind as long as it doesn’t touch us. Insanus and I know how we want our music to sound and what it should be inspired by.
What sort of concepts or stories inspire your music? As I understand it folklore is a part of it. I would love to get a bit more insight into what sort of dark folklore it is that inspires you, as it is obviously not familiar to me (and I’m curious). KNJAZ: These areas are rich in stories about werewolves, vampires, local demons, and also a large and rich part of our history is occupied by Slavic gods. It is all part of us, our origins, our pride and our history. We want our music, in its originality, to have authentic lyrics behind them in topics that are close to us and that are familiar to us. That is the main reason why we write about it. Every slightly larger village here and in rural areas surely has 10 or more stories of local demons, necromancy, vampirism, fear of the night, etc.
What are the future plans for Zvijer at this moment (if the pandemic lets us do normal stuff again)? KNJAZ: I don’t know what is meant by normal things. We are continuing our plans in this pandemic period as well. We are preparing new songs, we have some concepts that we want to materialize. One is sure, we have no plans of doing any live gigs in the near future.
If Zvijer was a dish, what would it be and why? KNJAZ: Probably pale white aged bone, torn from a bear’s carcass on mountain Kozara. Someone sees that as a dish.
This interview was published in Dutch originally in 2013. It was conducted in autumn that year, at Selim’s house. In March 2014 he had passed away. I published it here in my own translation, as done later in that year for Wyrd’s Flight. For posterity, for remembrance, for a fire that never truly goes out (and websites where this was originally published do). For me personally, this is the defining article I wrote. Nothing will ever top this I think, in intensity of experience and impact on me and my life. The light never falters.
Pictures kindly provided by Brendy Wijdeven and Paul Verhagen
The Devil’s Blood is no more. The band that gained worldwide fame under the rule of bandleader Selim Lemouchi suddenly called it quits early in 2013. The record ‘III: Tabula Rasa or Death and The Seven Pillars’ was released, but after that, this chapter was closed. A few months later, a new band appeared as a support act for Ghost. Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies. Lemouchi later played a gig for the Eindhoven home crowd on July 13th in Café Oude St. Joris.
Now the debut album ‘Earth Air Spirit Water Fire’ is ready to be released. Time to check how things are going, so on a Sunday afternoon we ring the doorbell at the Lemouchi residence.
Imagine the house at the end of the street. You know, on the corner, the odd one out. The one house where the curtains are not proudly opened wide to let people look inside. It was different from the Dutch stereotype in that way. There were stickers on the door, depicting various band logos. Inside the place was crowded and filed up with books, records and cigarette butts. In between all the stuff a huge dog is walking up and down, well mannered but quite shy. One wall is covered in traces of blood and in the corner is an altar set up, just like everyone has seen in the documentaries and interviews. Contrary to what many people have assumed based on my interview, there was no gloomy atmosphere, no foreboding feeling to the words Selim spoke to me. His home was a regular terraced house, on the corner of a regular street that just housed an extraordinary person who was very welcoming and friendly.
A New Path
Since we were raised with the right manners, we thank Selim Lemouchi for making the time for us. Today the musician has enough time: “It’s Sunday, the last day of rest before we really have to start working towards the seventh of December. We must start building up for the show at TAC (Temporary Art Centre), so it’s really time to act now. Sugar or milk?” Lemouchi goes into the kitchen to make some coffee and continues talking enthusiastically. While the coffee drips from the pot, Czech black metal makes sounds on the background. Sitting down on a flight case, Lemouchi continues his story: “I want to offer people more during the release show than just another rock show. Everything needs to be perfect. The music is not the most important, I’d almost say. They used to have better words to describe that, a complete experience, a happening. Music should never become a mass product, no ready made music that gives away all it has to offer on the first play. I want music that sticks to you. If I don’t experience that myself, then it’s not good enough. That’s how I always worked with The Devil’s Blood, I didn’t care what others thought of my music, as long as I liked it.”
He continues: “With the Devil’s Blood, I would always work with the same mould, I had to let that go of that on the new record. The formula went overboard and I decided to let the inspiration go it’s own way, letting it flow out, so to speak, and choose the direction it wanted to go. That has been a huge step, alongside opening up to others and work together. Robbie Geerings (Alabama Kids, mostly known from record store Bullit) even wrote two songs for this record, namely ‘Deep Dark Waters’ and ‘Next Stop, Universe B’. We produced the record together.”
Were these ready made moulds and formulas perhaps the reason for The Devil’s blood to quit, that is the question. “No, I think that within one form you can do endless variations and have an enormous spectrum of possibilities. All music already exists, I truly believe that. That means that one can go anywhere within certain parameters. All the records we made, I’m very proud of. I just think that with this way of working, I said everything I wanted to say. It was time for a change.”
‘Earth Air Spirit Water Fire’
On ‘Earth Air Spirit Water Fire’, the musical journey of Selim Lemouchi continues. There is a new sound and a changing group of musicians who surround him. “I keep wanting to change things. At this moment in time I listen to plenty of black metal. Maybe that is the next kind of record I would want to make. For ‘Earth Air Spirit Water Fire’ I took it onto myself to not hold back, not to limit myself with goals and targets. It was mainly experimenting, letting in others and collaborate on music making. That was the biggest challenge for me after being in full control for seven years. I try to steer the others, motivate them, but also to learn from myself as much as I can.”
A cup of coffee is placed in front of me on the stuffed table. It’s a mug with the Tasmanian Devil on it and the text reads ‘100% Animal’. Lemouchi drops down on the couch and grabs his phone to let me hear a bit of music. “When Robbie (Geerings) moved in here after Bullit closed, I handed him a guitar. He hadn’t touched one in years, but was he just sitting on my couch, doing nothing? I wasn’t having that. So this is what came out, which made me think: we can probably work together!”
Lemouchi was sometimes named the dictator of The Devil’s Blood. Is he now more the manager of Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies? “That’s a good description actually, I think of myself more as a director or producer though. I tell people about my ideas and let them work with those in their own ways.”
The next step in his journey wasn’t a casual step forward, it evolved. First there was the EP ‘Mens Animus Corpus’ (Mind, Soul, Body) was released. A title that seems to be more focussing on the ‘I’ in relation to its surroundings. “That is very true, that record was the first step outwards, it’s like a bridge between how I used to work and the new way; I didn’t feel like letting go of the reigns yet, I needed a sense of control. I recorded demos until I felt it was safe to hand over the music to others, which was still very difficult for me. But I did it and and took this new course I’m on now. From element A in the music, you need to get to element B and there’s only one right path. You have to find that, otherwise it doesn’t make sense, it’s not what it potentially could be and that’s the inspiration you need to unleash, for yourself and others.”
The hard path
Lemouchi blames himself for the difficulty of the path he chooses when making his music: “I demand the best from myself and I’m painfully honest towards others about their input. I expect the same hunger and critical position in return from them as well. Some people have a hard time with this attitude, the current group of musicians I work with as well. At the start, we’d almost get into fights in the rehearsal room. Now everyone knows what I want to achieve and the drive and motivation I have and expect. The music must be great, emotions and egos have to be put aside to achieve that. This is just as true for myself. I think a band loses its quality, when people stop telling them ‘No’. When the keenness and challenges fade. I want to avoid that, but that’s not easy. Artists have to unite creativity with their narcissistic side. Of course, all of it has to do with money as well, but money is something I never really understood much of anyways. My role in this band, is to challenge others and hone them into critical musicians. That way, the band is bound to produce great things. Maybe the choice for the name ‘His Enemies’ has something to do with that, the hostility towards each other now and then. The art is the most important thing in the end.”
Art needs inspiration, but the question that inspires Lemouchi will obviously not receive a standard answer. He gives some examples: “I listen to a lot of music, music is something that’s as broad as you can imagine, when you let go of categories and genres. Take what I am listening to right now, for example (Master’s Hammer from the Czech Republic is playing, red.): I read that a lot of the inspiration for this band comes from Bathory and other classic black metal. It was a review that totally missed the point. My thought was that the writer was incapable to hear the Czech folk influences in the music or the classical influences. People limit their framework of reference and that annoys me. Music is like a spider web, everything is connected and all inspires everything else. Without the Beatles there would not be any Pink Floyd and without them none of the bands that followed and so on. Don’t limit yourself to a genre or a scene by locking yourself up in it.”
“When I’m making music, I only listen to my own music, nothing else. When I have something and record it, I just get into that for days and delve into it. I listen to the recordings a hundred times over, until I think its perfect or I’m utterly sick of it. Then I start writing my lyrics and fill in the gaps in the music. I don’t even know what is popular right now, I only focus on my own music. Of course I do listen to things now and then, I have a list of songs that I think are the best…” The mobile phone comes up again and a series of band names are read out loud: “Jethro Tull, Czech band Root, Coil, Thin Lizzy, Beatles, King Crimson and Black Sabbath… and so on. I listen to this when I feel my own obsessiveness is making me go insane, but even then I have to force myself to let go and listen to something else.” The term ‘Occult Rock’ doesn’t say much for Selim Lemouchi: “I once wrote that in one of those boxes on iTunes for The Devil’s Blood. I love those boxes that you fill in with style names and inspirations… The term fitted with The Devil’s Blood and our sound at the time. Later they asked me what I thought of the occult rock scene, but I don’t know of any scene. Is Occult Rock a scene? It’s not like we and other bands that get this label meet up and hang out at shows, most of these bands don’t interest me at all or I’ve never heard of them. Ghost did make some good music, but the comparison between us and them? Nah, I don’t see it…”
Many books are being read by Selim for ideas and inspiration, but sometimes he reads nothing at all. Lemouchi describes himself as a peculiar reader. “I like to read on the toilet, I always keep a pile of books there that I read randomly. Lately I’ve been reading a lot from the French poet Rimbaud. I enjoy reading the Compte de Lautréamont, who wrote extensively on cruelties. Of course I read plenty of books on theology and theosophy. I started reading ‘An Antarctic Mystery’ by Jules Verne again and I’m reading ‘The Dark Tower Saga’ by Stephen King. I’ve always been able to draw a lot of inspiration from those books. ‘Bloody Meridian’ by Cormac McCarthy is also a great book, which takes place in the early days of the United States. Like you’d expect I read plenty of religious books, grimoires and books on archeology. The Bible and the Koran keep providing ideas and inspiration as well. It’s always good to read books in which others try to find the truth. You should always rely on your own ideas, but those of others can definitely stimulate you.”
This inspiring mode works the other way around as well, as can be heard on the record ‘Earth Air Spirit Water Fire’, which is presented on the 7th of December. An album where Lemouchi inspired the band with his ideas. Lemouchi asks the first question about the album himself: “When you listened to it, did you hear one album or five pieces?” I answer it’s double, the songs are very different, but it feels like one. Some songs remind you of Pink Floyd or doom metal, others are more dreamy and kraut rock inspired, enthusiastic he replies: “I recognise that. For myself, I only listen to the full album in a file of 43 minutes, which I got after the recordings. I have the separate mp3’s as well, but it’s the whole that feels good. The peculiar thing is though, that these are indeed very different pieces of music, written separately, that form a whole. The album feels like the time between sunset and sunrise, the night. Some songs, like ‘Chiaroscuro’ and ‘The Deep Dark Waters’, are simple by design, with just one riff. These songs have a very narrative style and are basically quite simple, containing just one guitar riff that is reshaped, bent and repeated. They never get too complex, too stifled with extra stuff. ‘Next Stop, Universe B’ sounds dreamy. It seems like a very simple song, but it keeps changing although it’s hardly noticeable. It’s like the song ‘Just Dropped In’ by Kenny Rogers, never the same; if feels logical, but it’s completely irregular. It’s almost like we let go of the standard structure of a song in that one. Robbie (Geerings red.) hated it. If I couldn’t write a normal song, he asked me. That told me it was right where it had to be. We fought a lot over that song, but it really became a very good one.”
Having arguments with people is definitely a side of Selim Lemouchi, very different than the friendly spring of words today would seem to be. In his terraced house in Eindhoven he is calm and patient. It is as if he becomes someone else. I confront him about his two faces. I wrote about his friendly side and his artistic side in my review. “Yeah, I read that, but I think I have more than a thousand faces really… No, I think you were right. The friendly side may be a mask, a screen; I present myself as nice to be able to work in this society. On stage, with my music, I become a predator. I leave the herd behind and I see a red glow in front of my eyes. I think that’s where I open up, I show myself, because there I have to be in full control and everything must be right. I’m exactly where I should be and do what I have to do. Everyone else around me is required to do the same. The normal values fade away in those moments.”
Lemouchi looks away thoughtfully, he is not entirely happy with that darker side: “I keep working on it, that’s part of the task of collaborating with others. However, I need to express myself sometimes, even when I don’t want to. I can’t control that. There is a side of control and order to me, but also the creative, chaotic side. Those are intertwined and I’m still looking for the right balance.”
e across an album that defies categorization, that simply is out there in a way little else is. Dordeduh released one of those albums this year, their sophomore release ‘Har’. It’s a celebration of Romanian culture, but also an embrace of the future and crossing over into new domains. It tells of deep history and myths yet opens its arms to whoever listens to it. It’s a statement and testament to what the band is about.
Dordeduh is often described as a project that sort of split-off from the well-known Negură Bunget . Yet, that does injustice to the people behind the project, their vision and creative drive. While the roots may be similar, Dordeduh has paved its own path. It did take years for the follow up to ‘Dar de duh’, which came out in 2012, but hey, here it is finally!
Though Edmond ‘Hupogrammos’ Karban is enjoying his time off outdoors, he did take time to talk about this new album and share some insights into the process behind the band and the album, the current state of the world, and playing Prophecy Fest (hopefully) where they’ll do a Negura Bunget set.
Hello Dordeduh, how are you guys doing?
Hello there. I am in vacation and I enjoy some free time in the wilderness of our mountains, with no internet and telephones and technology.
You’ve released the monumental album ‘Har’ this year, still in the midst of the pandemic. Did you consider not releasing it yet or had you already postponed the release?
We had the album ready already in July 2020. We had some chats with the label if it would be wise to release it in the winter of 2020, but in the end, they decided to have it in the late spring of 2021. But for me, seen from the artist’s perspective, I wanted it out asap, to see the album released and have it out of my hands.
Dordeduh was formed in 2009 and in 2012 you released your debut. We had a long wait for ‘Har’, so the question is; what took you so long? And what has driven you to create music again? I have read, for example, that you were never entirely happy with the ‘Dar De Duh’ sound. Does that have much to do with it?
It took so long because I became the father of 3 boys and family became the main priority in life. When kids started to grow, I started to feel more secure as a parent, I started to write music again. Regarding “Dar de duh” I think that it was never about not being satisfied with the result, it’s more about having a perfectionistic point of view. Judging the compromises we had made on that record, I think that the result is pretty good.
Har has two active concepts in the background. One is related to the title, which means “grace, or divine grace”. This aspect is important because, in order to have such a moment of epiphany where one feels that divine grace, one needs a specific inner balance, a specific openness and a specific state of mind. One has to be mentally and soulwise fit for such connections. And this leads to the second concept, the practical aspect that this album is talking about; more precisely it invites to undertake a journey into our own depths. This journey most of the time does unveil unpleasant aspects about ourselves. The things that we are confronted with during such a transformation process are related to trauma, to different contents that lie dormant or hidden in the subconscious mind. In order to heal all these aspects one needs to be confronted with his own darkness, but also with the craving for pleasant experiences. The wanted state is one of equanimity. It’s a very lengthy process and after the initial confrontation a long integration period is needed. This has to be part of our everyday life, of our routines, of our daily practice. Another aspect related to the conceptual background of this album is related to our lost and forgotten cosmic memory. I strongly believe that we have a cosmic heritage that lies dormant in us, way beyond what can we perceive in our normal state of consciousness. This heritage occasionally gets unlocked during the journey I mentioned before.
As a parent yourself, it’s a horrible question to be asked, but is there a song on this record particularly close to your heart?
Yes, “In vielistea uitarii”. Even most of the material I wrote for Negura Bunget and Dordeduh was always impersonal, this time there are personal touches in that whole impersonality.
You’ve stated that the recording process for the album was very relaxed, though under hectic circumstances. Can you elaborate on that and also share what the process was like for this particular record?
For me, the ideal environment for writing and shaping an album is to have an isolated place where I can freely work exclusively on the material. To be able to keep the focus and an appropriate mood for writing is crucial for me. Otherwise, every time when I turn back to the writing process I need some time to adjust and to create the right atmosphere to dive into the album. This time I did not have anything close to that. I wrote most of the things after 9 PM when I placed my kids in their beds. So the process probably took a bit longer.
But having our own studio allowed us to record some of the stuff already in the composing phase and allowed us to have some basic pre-production. I think the critical aspect for us while recording and producing our own album is that during this process we can’t work on anything else in the studio. And we rarely can afford that, because we also have to have our basic incomes. But we managed well all the things, made this record and we’re pretty happy about it.
I can’t define what style of music Dordeduh plays, but it hits all the right spots for people that love both folk, and metal music, with the mystery of ethnic elements. If any sort of umbrella term would fit its folk metal, yet I always feel that there’s a massive discrepancy between a band like Dordeduh and some guys in pirate costumes who happen to add a tin whistle. Your music feels like a whole, where you can’t separate the elements. Nothing is added. How do you realize that sound from songwriting to production, is it the original vision or do you layer the elements and ethnic instruments?
I think the key element in making all these materialize is to preliminarily have a vision of what one wants to achieve, as detailed as possible. Of course, while the process starts to form a body, the vision gets from the realm of the ideas to something concretely manifested and the image becomes clearer and clearer. At that stage sometimes an added element can improve and support the overall image.
On the other hand, this used to be the job of a producer for the cases of the bands that preliminarily had no vision, or had only a general vision about what they want the next album to sound like. The producer was the one that shaped the whole production in certain directions. Nowadays producers exist only in the area of a big-budget production. On the any other cases, this input could come only from sound engineers who are willing to dive into producing and mixing an album. In the underground scene, it’s close to impossible to find a good producer. And that’s because of a very simple and pragmatic reason: there are no budgets for producers anymore.
Can you perhaps tell a bit more about the instruments you use, such as the Tambal, toaca, tulnic, nai, dube and timbale (etc.) and what they mean or tell in your music? I read somewhere that there is a reflection of different places and regions in your music, which is hard to detect for those not in the know. Is that something you are willing to expand on?
I know that it’s probably hard to imagine, but we don’t use these instruments because we have to use them in order to be cool, different, exotic or name whatever other label. It’s used to enhance a different state, to put more emphasis on certain aspects and so on. We never planned anything regarding these instruments like: “this album should be more folkish”, or “this song should have more traditional instruments”. I want to keep a nice balance between the instruments. I only use them where they are relevant. I prefer to have a general vibe of good taste and not overdo them on the whole length of the album.
The “tambal” is a hammered dulcimer that is present in traditional cultures from all around the world from east to west. The instrument has some variations that varies from culture to culture. With the “nai” it’s the same story. The nai is a panflute that is found in different shapes, materials and sizes around the world. We also use traditional flutes that are pretty specific to our culture, but similar instruments are again found in many traditions. The “toaca” is a hammered wood that nowadays is used in orthodox churches. It’s not really known as an instrument, but it’s dated in ritual contexts for thousands of years. I remember that I envisioned having this instrument present in my music since the first album. I always found it’s percussive sound appealing with huge amounts of long reverb on it. The xylophone, the timabels or “dube” are usual percussion instruments. The types of “dube” we use come from Romanian oldschool fanfare kits. The “tulnic” is probably the most Romanian instrument we use. It’s originated in the Apuseni Mountains and initially, it was a tool to transmit different signals between the villages in different hills or mountains. It’s interesting that in our culture it’s attested that it was mainly used by women and it’s known through history that there were choirs of women who were playing these instruments. It’s the first instrument we used and again I always envisioned that image of a distant mountain where these beautiful songs were played on this instrument.
-The spiritual aspect is very important to you. You’ve also stated that in writing ‘Om’, you meditated a lot. I was curious what you talk about when you mention spirituality?
Yes, spirituality is important for me. I rather dislike using this term because it’s vague. Generally speaking, I prefer to keep this subject to myself. And I do it so because it’s really easy to be placed in contexts that I actually don’t belong. Considering the criticism and the opinion entitlement that everyone has these days it’s probably the worst environment to be mentioned with these kinds of subjects. For me this aspect is a private one, I don’t want to convince anyone to do anything, I don’t feel that I have to prove anything to anyone and I definitely don’t feel that by having a spiritual interest I have something more than other people have. Spirituality is not a virtue by default. It’s a predisposition like any other predisposition. But through practice one can make it a virtue. So, talking about this has no relevance; practice on the other hand has all the relevance.
The ethnic aspect of your music is another thing that fascinates me. As I perceive it, this is very much connected to the land itself, to regional identities and particularly to nature. I’ve read some strong opinions on the state of our world and nature and I wonder how important this is to you as an artist, but also in the music of Dordeduh.
Until I had kids I preferred to not have any kind of convictions concerning the outside world. Nowadays, having a family I started to form and voice my opinion towards different things that are happening in my country and around the world. At this very moment, the outside world got to be quite intrusive and started to affect more and more the inner world, especially with this pandemic context. All the artists around the world are strongly affected by this new context. Even before the pandemic, the artistic profession was already nearly impossible to be sustained, now anything related to arts is almost eradicated. And if I see it from a factual point of view, I can’t predict a bright future.
Your music breathes an identity of Romania, but how has your country changed since your previous record, and has it affected your music and perception?
Happily, we’re not very tuned with the social, cultural or political life of Romania. I admit that I live in my own bubble, secluded from most of the trends that apply to most of the people. This is a good and bad thing in the same time. It’s good because we’re dependent on very few things around us and it starts to be bad in the moments when we’re inevitably confronted with the reality we’re living in.
I’ve got my tickets for Prophecy Fest and I was happy to learn you are part of the Prophecy roster (which I had missed because I forgot Lupus Lounge is one of the iterations). I feel it is a great label and a perfect match for an artist that defies the definition. How is your relationship with the label?
Our relation is pretty straightforward, quite transparent and if there are any kind of misunderstandings or differences of opinions we found a pretty flexible team at Prophecy. Another aspect that I appreciate with them is the fact that they support “unusual” ideas. If we come up with a crazy idea they don’t dismiss it right from the start. They are willing to experiment and they are usually open to new ideas and weird projects. So, we can’t really complain about them.
I sincerely hope we can go enjoy the festival and I can finally hear Dordeduh live. You will also be playing Negura Bunget songs. What is it like to play music from that band for you now, so long after the split? And have you played in a cave before? Apparently, no one had asked Mortiis to play in one before the 2019 edition.
I look forward to the event especially because it’s going to be a special show for us, but also it will be an opportunity to meet up with friends that I wasn’t seeing for some time. Playing Negura Bunget songs seems to me a bit un-actual; it’s a part of our past that defined us for that time around, but not very representative for what I am nowadays. And don’t get me wrong: I love those songs, I even love playing those songs nowadays because I feel I can have an expression that is much close to the initial aim of the songs. It’s also a big and important part of me and my personal history. But nowadays I would like to focus more on the future and less on that past. I personally hope that this will be the last time I will play Negura Bunget songs. Unfortunately for me, my colleagues have a different opinion.
A hard question to answer, but what are your future plans?
Having close to no predictability for the future, all that we can do is to be prepared for any possible live activity. For that we prepared two possible sets, one with a reduced budget for promoters, where we offer a reduced travel party and we play with a minimal setup and line-up. The other one is a bigger production, with a larger travel party and with an extended setup and line-up for the shows. Another thing we can do is to prepare the work for a possible new album and start this process as soon as possible to have a minimal gap between the albums.
If Dordeduh was a dish, a type of food if you will, what would it be and why?
It would certainly be a simple dish with a lot of subtle colourful tastes Why? Because I think our message is simple and can be heartfelt, without falling into much intellectualization, but it contains a lot of layers that reveal a lot of details.
I always find Friesland a fascinating place. Perhaps it is a bit of jealousy of its own uniqueness, its cultural uniqueness. Maybe also a piece of provincial sympathy, I wish Brabant was such an island within our country. What I did not know is that Friesland crosses the border. And not only in the region called Ostfriesland, there is more and that brings me to Friisk. From Nordfriesland, and that’s about how far you can go and that it’s just not Denmark.
In 2018, the band came up with their own variant of black metal with the record ‘De Doden van’t Waterkant’. I listened to it, penned something on my blog and didn’t think anything else of it. Friesland, after all, has always been a healthy ground for Dutch black metal, although often overshadowed by the more central regions of the country. But with ‘…un torügg bleev blog Sand’ I got the band in my sights again. The language was fascinating and the band was, despite a busy time, willing to answer some questions. This busy time also had to do with a show in ‘our’ Friesland with Kjeld.
Anyway, enough introduction, time for the interview itself.
Northsea black metal from Friisk
How are you guys doing under the circumstances? Did the pandemic greatly impact your plans as a band?
Moin. Thank you for having us. Fortunately, we finalised the songwriting before the pandemic started to rage and we were also able to use the advantage of the relaxations in late summer 2020 to join up Andy Rosczyk in his studio in Cologne to record the album. Just before the “long lockdown” in late fall/winter… From this point of view, COVID-19 had not a really great impact on our record itself, but of course, we suffer from the actual circumstances and wish that we can overcome the pandemic and come back to normality.
How did you guys meet and get started as a band and what musical backgrounds do you have?
With the exception of J, we have known each other for many years and have made music together in other constellations before. But in the end we all share the same enthusiasm and passion for metal music, and so over the years we developed together the sound we play today.
You’ve released ‘…un torügg bleev blot Sand’this year, which is a fantastic piece of black metal, dense with atmosphere, yet never too dreamy. What can you tell about the recording process of this album?
We recorded ‘…un torügg bleev blot Sand’ together with Andy Roscyk (Ultha) in the Goblin Sound Studio, Cologne, which has been a great pleasure for us. Since Andy has already been responsible for the mix and mastering of our previous outputs ‘De Doden van’t Waterkant’ and ‘Kien Kummweer’, we intensified that cooperation this time and took a total of five-weekend sessions to ensure sufficient space for concentration and creativity.
You’ve specifically mentioned in the accompanying notes that the sound is deeply inspired by classic German black metal. Which bands are for you the inspirations for that sound? And what newer bands would you say are formative?
Every member has his own preferences, but I think that bands like Naglfar, Lunar Aurora, Secrets of the Moon, Helrunar and Nocte Obducta would fill a playlist that every one of us would feel comfortable with and which have been an inspiration for our current sound. Of course, a lot of “younger” bands or styles of Black Metal have influenced us too, but in this context, it is a little more difficult to highlight individual band names. Ultha certainly belongs to them.
What I find particularly interesting and what made me want to know more is your theme and origins. You use various languages to express yourselves, which in itself is interesting. Could you say something about that choice?
Among ourselves we usually speak German, but (almost) all of us are also able to speak fluent Low German, as the regional dialect is still very common here. And if you refer thematically to the landscape in your home region, nothing can be more authentic than your original language. Therefore, it was natural for us to write some lyrics in our native dialect. In addition, we would like to contribute to keeping our old tongue alive. The Seelterks lyrics go primarily back to T. This almost extinct dialect is a remnant of an original Frisian language which is spoken only by very few people in a small area in Northern Germany.
While black metal never suffered from interest due to inaccessibility due to languages, would you still be willing to express something about the nature of the stories you tell on the album?
There is a deep common understanding among us about what could be suitable for Friisk when it comes to lyrics. We try to keep away from simple or used-out allegories and want to tell little stories we can identify with. I think the German language offers a lot of stones that may let you quickly struggle into a cringe and disgusting direction, therefore we are very happy with the work of T. and the way our lyrics have developed over the years. Each song follows a lyrical theme, of course, but also leaves enough room for each listener’s own interpretation.
How did the concept of Friisk develop from the initial EP, which made me think you were a Dutch band, to the current album? It appears that the significance of the regional expression has grown. I’m also interested in how that impacted the music.
Already in the run-up to the songwriting it was an important concern for all of us to deliver with the first complete album a well-rounded and coherent body of work, in which every song has its raison d’être and doesn’t just “grind out a few minutes of additional playing time”. This was admittedly very ambitious and at times anything but easy. But all the work was definitely worth it, the feedback on the album is overwhelming. Even though in retrospect our EP may seem less regionally expressive because we worked less with different languages, but this time we bring ourselves to the level we focused on. In general I can say that our interest in regional history and culture is coming from heart to mouth. Nothing could feel more comfortable for us than bringing our Frisian mentality into music.
From this point of view, everyone here lives from and with the sea. Therefore it felt natural for us to use impressive but also oppressive paintings of the sea.
You guys hail from, according to the internet, the town of Leer, which is in the Saterland. I was vaguely aware, being Dutch, that Frisia didn’t end at the Dutch border (in fact there’s a whole province in between, but that’s another matter). I knew about the North-Frisian language group, but Seeltersk of Sater Frisian had escaped my attention. Would it be possible for you to tell me a bit about it, it’s history and why it’s so important for you to give these roots expression in your art?
The Sater Frisian lyrics and influences all come from our lead vocalist T., who has his roots in the municipality of Saterland, home to the smallest recognized language minority in Germany. Sater Frisian or Seelterks is the last variety of the origin East Frisian languages and until today still spoken in the Saterland, which once also belongs to the Frisian Sealands, a historical union of traders and chiefs that reigned the region politically. Except for T., we all originally come from different communities and counties of the region East Frisia, and for more than ten years the city of Leer has been the place where we meet, as it is somehow in the middle for all of us. Leer itself is located in the south of East Frisia, very close to the Dutch border (approx. 70 km east of Groningen). However, no origin Frisian languages are spoken in East Frisia today, they have been displaced by regional variants of the Low German over the centuries. But they still show characteristics of the previous languages and differ significantly from ordinary Low German. This probably explains why we use Low German in the first place. It differs a little bit from town to town and our version may contain influences from different regions in East Frisia. The Seeltersk dialect on the other hand is still even for the other members a challenge and until today something very special.
The Seelterks lyrics go primarily back to T. This almost extinct dialect is a remnant of an original Frisian language which is spoken only by very few people in a small area in Northern Germany.
Though Saterland lies inland, the artwork on your EP and LP depict the sea. Is this showing a broader interest in the Frisians and their connection to the sea?
The Frisian history generally connects you to the North Sea. It has always been above everything as a useful but also very unpredictable force of nature and has shaped the country and its people for centuries. While old seaport towns such as Emden or small traditional fishing towns such as Greetsiel have a direct connection to the North Sea due to their location, regions in the south like Moormerland or the Saterland, on the other hand, had to dig miles of canals to ship their goods like peat into international waters. From this point of view, everyone here lives from and with the sea. Therefore it felt natural for us to use impressive but also oppressive paintings of the sea. And in my opinion, the artworks have a very high recognition value, not least because of the chosen painting style.
Can you say a bit about this choice for the ‘sketched’ drawings, which are far from a cliche in the black metal scene, particularly since they don’t depict fantastic beings or so.
We are more than satisfied with the artworks of all three outputs so far. They all fit stylistically very well together, which was in a way intended. We all like this rather simple style of painting very much, as we think it has something attractive and oppressive at the same time. Something that can be transferred to the North Sea. At this point, we would like to take the opportunity to thank Chris from Misanthropic-Art, who has turned all our ideas into a set of unique artworks, far away from known stereotypes and incomparable in their own way. And this despite the fact that he works for so many other quite interesting bands.
Hopefully, you’ll be on the stage in October with none other than Kjeld from West-Frisia. Are you in touch with bands like them who also deal with Frisian language/culture in their work?
With our former band, we once played with Vike Tare from Wilhelmshaven, who deal with very similar topics. But they don’t use dialects or old languages as far as I remember. Nevertheless, we love to share the stage with bands that pursue similar interests, and we are all looking forward to that date. Evenings like the show in Drachten with Grafjammer and Kjeld offer a good opportunity to get in touch.
What future plans does Friisk currently have?
We’ve released three outputs so far and cannot wait to perform these songs on stage. We are open for requests and hope that we can have a good time together with people who share our passion for music. Currently, there is a lot of planning that happens in the background and we are optimistic that we can present our debut album with an appropriate number of shows in the next time.
If your band was a dish (a type of food), what would it be and why?
I would say we are a Queller, a grass that grows in the Wadden Sea. It’s something very natural that emerges from the sea, but not the first thing you associate with it.
Slovenia is a country in the south-east of Europe, one side facing the Alps, the other facing the Adriatic sea and the Balkan. Seceded from Yugoslavia early in the turmoil that tore the rest of the federation apart, Slovenia is a bit of a story on its own, having had independence since 1991 and paving its own way to be named the most sustainable country by 2018. Pretty rad if you ask me.
Malorshiga is a band, playing Istrian ethno black metal, by their own accounts. They hail from the area of Slovene Istria, which is the coastal part of the country. Their music explores deep emotional journeys, against the backdrop of the country’s long history which goes far beyond the federal and communist days to ancient times.
Having released their debut in 2019, Malorshiga reminds the listener of a bridge between the Greek masters of Rotting Christ and the Alpine bands from up north. Yet distinct sounding, Malorshiga is a force onto themselves. While the pandemic has severely hampered their rise, the band are now getting back on track and are willing to share something about their illustrious background. Dizghrazia (drums) and Oelka (vocals) provided answers, with additions from Mizheria (bass), Verghogna (guitar) and Dishpiazher (guitar). Where sometimes an interview is like pulling teeth, that was not the case here. Malorshiga goes deep. Thanks to them for their time and detailed response.
Hails Malorshiga! It seems it has been quiet for you since the release of your album. How are you guys doing?
Hello Guido, first of all, thank you very much for reaching out and for your patience whilst waiting for us to put this together. Really appreciated. It’s been an interesting period since release to say the least. After releasing the album (October 2019) we managed to play a couple of headline shows, a festival and pulled off a weekend trip to the Czech Republic.
Things changed in mid-February for well-known reasons. It seems like we as a society seldom remember how the world got very confusing very fast.
We took the concerns pretty seriously – limiting social contact and therefore not practising as a band for the better part of 2020. We decided to end the cycle for Kvlt of Vitis et Olea on its first anniversary – instead of “pissing against the wind” and trying to book shows in an ever-changing intricate bureaucratic reality, we decided to lay low and focus on our sophomore release.
Most of the band is concerned with the initial phases of their professional careers, while Dishpiazher, the one who’s probably having the most fun of all of us right now is exploring the Baltic while wrapping up his studies.
Can you tell me a bit about Malorshiga, how the band started, the origin of the name and why you chose this musical direction and theme?
Dizghrazia: The beginning of the band was a bit hectic since everything happened very fast. My family is pretty active in their home community and has been part of the core organization team of a yearly event called “šagra”. A šagra is, traditionally, a festivity held in villages where people gather on a dance while an ensemble performs old-people music. They take place every summer on the name day of the local church’s patron saint. As you can see, it’s very old-school.
The 2017 šagra was right around the corner when the organization team decided that they won’t be doing a 2-day event, as they usually did, and that they would like to have the younger generation curate the Friday program with something … a bit different. That’s when things just clicked.
Me and Oəlka fantasized about starting a project for a couple of years beforehand, developing a rough conceptual framework around Istria, our place of origin. We took that opportunity to start that project and have our debut performance on that year’s šagra, which would be a black metal concert. When we presented this idea to the organizational committee they first though we were kidding, but as they realized we were actually serious and we explained how tough it is for newer generations to experience this kind of music being performed live in our region, due to clubs being very hard to approach regarding the organization of metal gigs, they had our back.
We formed a lineup on the same day since we are all basically a collective of buddies who hanged out quite regularly and went to gigs together. It was a pretty incestuous thing, since some of us has had other projects with someone from the band in the past – we always mixed and matched in various occasions but never managed to play all together. The lineup was thankfully on board basically instantly, which was the best possible thing at the moment because there was a far more pressing issue – we had two weeks to organize the whole event and prepare our set.
All except 2 songs from Vitis were written in that period, hence you can fairly say that they are not the most prolific of musical compositions. However, we kind of wanted to keep them as a reminder of that moment.
Regarding the name – we actually can’t remember how the name was chosen, we just needed to put a logo together in order to print the posters and create the promotional material for the event, so it basically just happened by itself. Malorshiga is a compound word. Malora means somethingreally, really bad – from an etymological viewpoint it is itself a compound made out of male (bad) and ora (hour) in Italian. The suffix shiga is invented – it is used to give emphasis on the word’s root, while also achieving an interesting phonemic effect in our dialect – the word sounds like something animate because of it, so you could say that Malorshiga means dread incarnate or misfortune materialized.
The musical direction was a byproduct of the theme and the idea for the live performance – something theatrical, dark and with a possible mystic, primal undertone. We have a pretty varied music taste, but we’ve somehow decided that black metal could be a great foundation to experiment on. The project served as a vessel to venture into the Istrian history, explore what shaped this corner of the Earth and what hardships the people who inhabited this beautiful region endured.
Can you tell me a bit more about your origins in Slovene Istria? Most people will know Istria for its Croat part, so for me, there is little known about your particular region. It would seem that it is distinct from the rest of Slovenia?
Dizghrazia: Geographically, Istria is a peninsula at the northernmost part of the Adriatic Sea in the Mediterranean. It has a distinct climate, soil, vegetation, and culture. Politically, in the past this territory was under foreign rule and as empires came and went, we now find Istria divided between Slovenia and Croatia. It is in itself a very varied and colourful place, with many different dialects, many different traditions and many different people.
People from the Slovene Istria usually (somewhat jokingly) like to think of themselves as not really Slovene, since “whoever lives above the Karst edge (the geological border between the flysch coast and the karstic regions of continental Slovenia) is Slovene, we are Istrian”. It’s a common way to jokingly express a deeper connection with people who have the privilege of inhabiting this beautiful region.
Otherwise, the people are very warm, welcoming, friendly, and open. We are used to being surrounded by many different cultures, especially given the proximity of Trieste, which was a very cosmopolitan multicultural hub during the Austro-Hungarian rule. But the thing that really sets Istria apart from the other parts of Slovenia is the climate and the vegetation. To be honest, Slovenia in its entirety seems like something straight out of a fairytale – nature is just mesmerizing, but Istria, especially in the more rural areas, still untouched by modernization and over-building that characterizes the coast, is full of vineyards and olive groves.
We have been the only part of the country that has no snowfall in winter (well, by the looks of it, sadly this won’t be something exclusive to us in the future) and the quality of the air is something on a whole other level.
We are the seeds the gods planted in this soil, our home is this land and the skies above …
Istrian folklore is a big part of your thematic content. I, and probably many others, am not familiar with any of this. Can you shed some light on the basics of this folklore and how it translates to your art? Do you recommend any books or resources for those who want to know more?
Dizghrazia: The basis for everything is the sea, olive groves, vineyards and the people that work the land. The past has obviously been dominated by agriculture. However, the Istrian people had different “specializations” to say, compared to the classic agriculture and livestock common in the continental areas. They also engaged in fishing, saltworks, viticulture and olive growing, just to name a few. The folklore revolves around the hardships of working the land, everyday survival without all the gadgets we take for granted today, nature and people. We try to explore these feelings and capture them in our music and lyrics.
Oelka: We must mention the legend of Aepvlo, the last king of the Histrii tribe, to whom our upcoming song is dedicated. After being defeated by the Romans, he fled to Nesactium, the Histrian capital at the time. Before conquering Nesactium, the Romans destroyed other important Histrian cities. Later on, in 177 BC, the siege of Nesactium happend. The Histrians, of course, decided to fight, rather to surrender – hence the Istrian saying ’’Krepat ma ne molat’’ (To die, but never surrender). They killed their women and children and threw them from the city walls, so they wouldn’t be killed by the Romans. When Aepvlon realised they had lost, he is believed to have committed suicide by stabbing himself with a sword to avoid Roman captivity.
Dizghrazia: The problem with books is the fact that the majority of the material written in English or translated is focused on tourism. You may find bits of information with the general descriptions of the landmarks and some brief excerpts of history, but, to the best of our knowledge, there are not many books in English with any in-depth content. The best way to learn more about Istria is to come here explore and visit museums in Slovenia and Croatia, with a competent knowledgeable guide that will be happy to answer any questions.
You’ve released ‘Kvlt ov Vitis et Olea’ a while ago. Can you tell me more about the story you are telling us on this album?
Dizghrazia: It’s a collection of vignettes, of moments and feelings, as expressed above. The stories are based in reality, dealing with real-life issues, but the content itself is a product of our imagination. Each song presents a story, all of them are dealing with dark subjects, let’s say, a person sitting under a pergola, utterly broken because his wife and child were killed during a raid, or a person dealing with the thoughts of suicide ultimately deciding to hang himself off a branch of an olive tree sitting on top of a cliff. The title song is an introductory piece to our little universe, being the only song with lyrics in English: We are the seeds the gods planted in this soil, our home is this land and the skies above …
What was the process of writing and recording the album like? Do you have a cooperative approach as a band, or does everyone has their part to play in the creative process?
Dizghrazia: As we said before, all but two songs were written in the two weeks before our debut performance. The music for Vitis was written by me and the lyrics were written on a hot summer night with some glasses of wine at Oəlka’s home by the two of us, while laying out the plan for Črna Šagra. The other songs were made on the spot in the rehearsal room, Verghogna laid out the guitar riffs and gave direction for Mizheria’s bass lines, while I handled the drums and Oəlka the vocals. We discussed possible hooks and improvised, but at the end we did what felt most natural in the spur of the moment.
Dishpiazher joined the band sometime in the future. Funny story – on the way to the rehearsal room he and Verghogna had a minor vehicular mishap – he was trying to give way to a guy in a jeep on some very narrow country roads and was not aware that there was a small ledge just at the edge of the road. They ended up stuck there, but the jeep guy managed to get them out. Meanwhile, Oəlka and Mizheria were already at the destination, I called with the heads up of what happened and Oəlka wrote the lyrics about how an old cart fell off a cliff, Dishpiazher came out with some riffs and that’s how the song (and the alter-ego) Dishpiazher was born.
The album recording itself was also pretty hectic. We were on a tight self-imposed schedule timed in conjunctions with some headline shows. Verghogna recorded guitars at home, while I crashed at his place clicking drums and getting everything ready for the mix/master, Mizheria sent the bass DI’s, and Oəlka recorded the vocals at our former rehearsal studio. Dishpiazher was not actively involved in the recording process, being a relatively fresh member and not yet knowing the ins and outs of the other songs. We sent the recording for the mix/master to Jan Bajc Funa and provided feedback. We made the graphic layout while the artwork itself was commissioned to a dear friend of ours, Urška Vidmar.
Otherwise, the songwriting for the sophomore release has been way more relaxed, very cooperative and methodological. We are quite excited in seeing how things are shaping up.
I’ve seen some pictures of your live performances emerge, which seem to have multiple ethnic/ritual elements it seems. You raise horns in a symbolic gesture, which is as far as I know, something that ties into deep mythology around the Mediterranean. There are also masks that evoke an idea of other ‘cultic’ movements that predate or Christian past. I would love to know more about these elements of your show and why you choose to include those.
Oelka: The horns I raise during our live performances are boškarin’s horns. Boškarin is a famous Istrian cattle, one of the oldest and largest cattle breeds in the world. For me, personally, the act of raising its horns symbolizes the grandiosity of nature and its ability to overpower mankind.
The mask wear is ornamented with drawings of olive branches and tree roots, which symbolize sempiternity, immobility of the olive trees and impregnability of the Istrian consciousness.
We also cover the stage with fishing nets. Besides the aesthetic purpose, the nets indicate the feeling of being trapped and powerless in the grip of eternal pain.
The olive branches, on the other hand, symbolize the sublime beauty of mother nature.
I’ve always, personally, found it difficult to deal with our history in the right way. The past is like one’s roots, you can’t change them and yet they play a big part in who you become, yet you didn’t earn any of them. I’m Dutch, which entails a rich heritage but also many atrocities. Our past, in a way, is, but it does cast a shadow. Istria similarly has a complicated and complex history. It’s been a cultural melting pot, but it also has seen an exodus not even a century ago. What does it mean for you to be Istrian? Why is it important to you to translate this heritage into your art?
Dishpiazher: I haven’t really thought about what being part of Istria, geographically and culturally, actually meant to me prior to becoming a member of Malorshiga. I suppose I always felt a slight, yet subconscious, belonging to the region. However, I haven’t actively explored these feelings. Now, I think I can cherish our dialect, cultural influences, natural landscape and the Istrian outlook on life and its challenges a lot more. To me, that is what being Istrian means. Through art we keep such heritage alive and perhaps even rejuvenate it.
Dizghrazia: No one gets to choose their own heritage, and this is what makes it hard to develop a healthy conception of it. Some people will feel ashamed of the privilege they are given, others will feel shame because of the very difficult living conditions they have been cast into. There is no denying that Europeans, regardless of class, are some of the most privileged human beings to ever have wondered about the Earth. Regardless, we, as we dare say the majority of people, always felt a slight, yet subconscious, belonging to the region, given that your outlook gets influenced by the space and people surrounding you. There always was a sense of community, of helping your own neighbour, of sharing a dialect and cherishing the cultural influences, natural landscape, to live in harmony with the people who inhabit the same space and to be mindful of the nature that enables all of this.
There is an increase of right-wing thought in Europe, which has had a big presence in many parts of the continent for years. How is that in your country and does it affect the music and music scene? Have you as a band dealing with ethnic elements ever faced trouble being misunderstood?
Dishpiazher: Our current government is quite right-wing and the political landscape has remained populated by the same old, obsolete and backwards people since Slovenia’s independence. There exists a left-wing opposition, but it is too fragmented and not unified enough. I feel that the most politicised section of the music scene resides in the underground, both the right-wing and left-wing currents. I suppose this is nothing new, for the underground has always been a place of activism, radical ideals and unmitigated expression. Unfortunately, right-wing ideology has found its medium even in our small extreme music scene. That is why I am very conscious of the fact that we are a Black Metal band. It seems that there is an automatic connotation attached to this genre that evokes the worst kind of stereotypes and misconceptions. That is why I think some people may erroneously perceive us as right-wing or just put us in the generic category of Slavic Black Metal bands with lyrics about nature, folklore, paganism and hateful politics.
Mizheria: I think that one of the reasons for connecting black metal to the far-right political ideology is that many NSBM bands ironically come from Slavic countries (Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, etc.) and many of them share the folkish elements in their music. Because of the small size of the black metal scene in those countries, some members of the far-right scene may be involved with other bands that are not necessarily political. Those kinds of bands then usually perform at the same shows/festivals as NSBM bands so they are also treated as such. This is why we are careful when choosing who to get involved with regarding live shows since we obviously don’t support any kind of extreme ideologies. Luckily we don’t have any well known NS metal bands, record labels or events – our metal scene is predominantly apolitical or left-wing in some cases.
Dizghrazia: We’ve heard rumours of being blacklisted by certain organizers, since, according to certain individuals who’ve got no idea about what we’re trying to communicate, we are supposedly right-wing, so … yes, we’ve been misunderstood, but that’s the stigma that comes with performing black metal. We write songs about olives and vines. The sea. The challenges of the everyday struggle for survival and the mental torture that accompanies such efforts.
Right now, Slovenia is being ruled by a right wing “coalition” which is composed of the biggest Slovene party and some other poor souls, who joined the coalition in order to keep receiving a paycheck until the next election. All they have to do is not oppose the main party, which stands for some pretty radical policies. This can be seen as an increase of right-wing policies, but it can also be seen as a natural reaction to a very vocal, and sometimes even aggressive, left-wing. The issues being debated are some of the biggest non-issues you can possibly imagine. Same rights for all individuals? Sure bet. But somehow there’s a big enough chunk of the demographic that opposes such changes. You may demand things to be changed as of right now, and the older, more conservative generation’s perception to shift immediately, but it is simply not possible. The left gets impatient, the right reacts. Reaction – counter-reaction. It all leads to a bigger gap and more radicalization – extreme left vs extreme right, with a desensitized silent majority quietly observing, not really caring about anything.
The whole point of a democracy is to communicate, share opinions and tackle issues together, but one side does not understand that it is very hard to change an old person’s conception of the world if said person has survived for this long despite this outlook and no change is really needed in their eyes. The same applies to not really self-aware individuals, who take pride in something like their nationality, which is literally the thing they needed to work for the latest.
Impatience is driving radicalization and if this is the way we are a collective are going to approach future challenges … there won’t be much of a future ahead of us.
What are other bands from your region people should definitely check out and why?
Elvis Šahbaz – he is just one man playing the classical guitar, but he is nonetheless amazing, expressive and authentic in the most relaxing way possible
Spiral Mind – a group full of young musicians who are pushing the boundaries and simultaneously mixing so many genres, layers and ideas without sounding tedious
Guattari – groovy, chunky and slightly off-kilter metal that makes you move whether you want it or not
Jan Sturiale – a very competent fusion guitarist worthy of much more attention for his intricate playing
Marko Brecelj – a veteran activist, performer, musician and overall oddball who despite his advanced age is able to capture the nonconformist spirit like few young artists can
Hei’An – a group of young, but experienced musicians, mixing progressive metal with some modern, black metal and electronic elements.
Spiral Mind – started off as an experimental project, but turned out to be so much more than that. The name says it all.
Second Chance Blown – melancholic industrial band that started flirting with dirty electronics and low frequencies, but then got strangled with the rusty guitar strings.
Guattari – the angriest band in the universe. Period.
Ater Era – Koper based black metal band with an unusual tendency towards psychadelic interferences.
NoAir – heavenly soudning alternative pop quartet
Omega Sun – weed and riffs
Zmelkoow – old local legends
Everything that was already mentioned, otherwise, in the broader Slovenian region, I’d warmly recommend Srd, Morost, Snøgg, Valuk, Grob, Agan, Kholn, Dekadent, Noctiferia, Mephistophelian, Within Destruction, Negligence, Teleport and Space Unicorn on Fire amongst others very hardworking bands. There are also other bands from the coast, which were active in the past, but are sadly disbanded, like Somrak, Grimoir, Krvnik and Torka.
There’s the perennial discussion of what black metal actually means. To me, it is about tapping into the mysteries that elude us in this hypertechno world, about finding connections to a greater whole and Malorshiga fits into that with the ethno element. Yet, others will say that if Satan is not a part of it, it’s not black metal. What is your opinion on this?
Dishpiazher: The clichéd and shallow representation of Satanism in Black Metal, or any type of music for that matter, has been irrelevant for decades and I don’t understand the appeal of it anymore. Its initial shock value has worn off and all that is left is a parody of a once rebellious answer to the Christian mainstream. To me, Black Metal can function as the sonic manifestation of certain feelings which dwell inside me and need to be released. Somehow, it is easier to accept and overcome periods of sombreness and numbness when you have their musical equivalents to listen to. That being said, I don’t really listen to such music regularly.
Mizheria: As Dishpiazher said – Satanism’s “shock value” kind of worn off through the years. Many new genres and mixtures of different genres came to light and the majority of them don’t involve Satanism. People started to enjoy different kinds of metal music thus distancing themselves from satanic themes. While I still respect old-school satanic metal bands (also those who still hold to the satanic imagery), I’ve outgrown the “rebellious satanic” phase and I wouldn’t include Satanism in my band.
Which bands do you feel take a similar approach and do you admire? Oelka: I am compelled by my heart and soul to mention Der Weg einer Freiheit, Schammasch, Bölzer and Mgła, the four bands that have influenced me the most in the past few years.
Dizghrazia: The bands listed by Oelka are the exact same that I hold in really high regard. We went to see all of them on different occasions and each experience was something that completely shattered our perception of music, expanding our horizons and giving us a very strong motivation to be able to convey such strong feelings and atmosphere. I’d add Ulcerate to the list and I think Oelka’d strongly agree, but we hadn’t had the privilege of seeing them perform yet.
It also needs to be said that all the band members have a pretty wild taste in music, which encompasses many genres that have nothing to do with metal. We all draw inspiration from very different sonic worlds, which can be somewhat felt as being limited by the context of having a black metal project. In the end, it comes down to the mutual process of creation, where everyone brings their own ideas, which are in turn shaped by everything we “consume” as listeners.
What future plans does Malorshiga have at the moment?
Dishpiazher: We are writing a new album.
Dizghrazia: … vir prudens non contra ventum mingit.
If you had to describe Malorshiga as a dish (a type of food) what would it be and why?
Dishpiazher: Pasta with truffles and olive oil. It looks like a simple and straightforward dish yet it has a distinct and slightly funky taste. Olive oil is the life force that runs through our veins and pasta is the fundamental building block of every living entity in this region.
Verghogna: Ombolo v testu z gobovo omako, I refuse to elaborate further.
Mizheria: Cherry tomatoes and mozzarella cheese with olive oil and basil served in a skull of boshkarin. Nice taste but frightful yet interesting appearance.
Oelka: Every nonna’s bobići.
Dizghrazia: An empty plate. Glad and mižerja – hunger and poverty.
I actually ran into Marton Saliba, the sole member of Saħħar, once upon a time during the Eindhoven Metal Meeting event. An event, where a small enclave of Maltese metalheads apparently sojourns to in order to get their fix of heavy music. Years later, I came across his latest album, titled ‘Tiġrif tal-Ġnus’, released in 2020. I felt the time was right to reach out and ask some questions. Though the album had been about for a while, time has stood still, so it’s fresh enough to dig into.
Maltese metal is a different beast altogether. It’s outward looking, diverse, inspired by the Brittish scene it would seem if you look at the heavy doom presence on the island. But Malta is a strange place, if you look beyond the touristy veil. It has a long history, a peculiar mixture of peoples and cultures, and an own tongue that is impossible to grasp. Interestingly, Saħħar chose to perform in that language.
Below you find the questions I asked and the answers given. Thanks to Marton for his time and make sure to check out his music.
Sonic Mirage of the Mind
Hails Saħħar, how are you doing? How has the pandemic treated you?
Greetings, I can’t complain at the moment, trying to keep my life in balance. Ironically, the pandemic gave me more time in my private life, with enough time to be creative, while my day job was unchanged, although it has been more stressful.
How did you end up playing and loving black metal? What was your musical path?
I’ve been classically trained in Piano and music theory since my childhood. But it was only after discovering metal in my early teens that my interest in writing music started to grow. By the age of 15-16, I already heard several black metal bands, and I also started learning the guitar, so I chose black metal as the genre to experiment on songwriting, and I haven’t looked back ever since. I tried other genres with varying personal satisfaction, but it’s black metal which I always return to.
You have two active projects, of which one is an international collaboration. You also had a project called Entität. Can you say something about what these projects represent to you, in particular Saħħar, of course?
They are all different creative outlets. At the same time, they all will probably bear some recognisable riffing style. Entität bears more melodic and progressive music, whereas Eerbaruh is relentless tremolo picking, with Saħħar being the more intimate musical outlet. I’m the guitarist in all three projects, with Saħħar being quite literally everything else. The additional projects also aid me in publishing more music that would otherwise make Saħħar’s discography more saturated than it already is. Finally, they serve as a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and see what our creativity takes us to.
Saħħar is me, and vice versa. Everything which comes out from Saħħar is always a reflection or sonic mirage of my mind.
What is it you draw your inspiration from?
When I’m in my songwriting phase, I try to avoid listening to other music because everything will become an aspect that could inspire my music. I’m musically influenced by a lot of factors to single out, but what inspires me is my drive to write music, my family and the need to explore more themes and topics and put them in more and more releases.
Having been to Malta for the Doom Days I noticed that the island has a vibrant and tight-knit metal scene. Yet, it focuses on classic heavy metal. Since you do Saħħar solo and perform in these international collaborations, is there no interest in black metal or what is that scene like in Malta?
Indeed, Black Metal is not the most popular sub-genre here. It’s not to say that there isn’t any contemporary interest either, but Saħħar takes up most of my creative time, and it’s not very easy to commit to other bands. That’s the reason for my relative absence from other local bands because international collaborations mean that I don’t have to leave my studio. There are other groups, with Martyrium actually achieving a decent level of success. But other BM bands have a more temporary project vibe, or they are run by one or two individuals, which severely limits their reach.
Before I ask you about your last album, I find it extremely interesting that you sing in Maltese. Using your own language is not an oddity in itself in the metal scene. Bands who use their native tongue have been known to thrive, but Maltese is a unique language. What made you choose this language?
Around the time I was scribbling my very first tracks, I was listening to several bands from the Norwegian Black Metal scene (as one does), and I noticed that most of these bands wrote most, if not all, their tracks in their own mother tongue, and I thought it would be a good idea, creatively speaking, to do the same with my project. I certainly was not thinking about future successes or failures when I chose so, but writing in Maltese was given its due recognition over the years, including award nominations.
Do you think other things that spring from being Maltese enter your music? Any myths, ideas or stories you have found shaping what you say with your music?
The very name Saħħar, was picked from local folklore, and there were other instances where I either wrote or was inspired by local myths. Themes vary quite a lot from release to release, but there will be a local mythology-inspired album in the future, I’m sure.
You’ve released ‘Tiġrif tal-Ġnus’ in 2020, your 6th full length, as I understand it. What are you telling on this album? What is its concept?
Its theme is Genocides and Massacres. I chose a few historical events, and I wrote the music’s words around these events. It was an attempt to show the true darkness in mankind. No occult, no magic, no religious mumbo jumbo, just the darkness plucked from our history itself due to mankind’s actions towards his own kin.
You also released a record with Eerbaruh. Would you tell us something about that?
It started as a happy accident, really, when I contacted a guy looking for a guitarist. It resulted in 4 guys pouring all their creative ideas into a short release to test the waters. The result was a really abrasive and intense release which I am very satisfied with the outcome… We are working on another longer release, but so far it seems to be a lot of hurdles in the way, which I hope we will overcome as a group soon. The same goes with Entität, to the point it seems that the band is disbanded, but that’s not the case just yet.
You released this record in the middle of the pandemic, was it on the shelf long before that, or did you create it during the problems? What were your process and creative trajectory like in this case?
Tiġrif tal-Ġnus was already in the works when the pandemic hit, and I simply stuck to a somewhat predetermined schedule. Truth be told, the creative process was not too different from previous releases, except for having more time to research the lyrics and less pressure in producing it, perhaps. With the exception of the second track, Nirien ta’ Smyrna, all the other tracks were written in roughly a short span of time. Then I focused on the lyrics and then spent the longest time producing the album while preparing the respective artwork in parallel.
Recently, you posted a blog about depression where you share your experiences in a pretty brutal and direct way. What made you open up like this, and do you feel that there may be a sort of suffering in silence thing going on in black metal?
I’m not quite sure why I opened up like that, but it certainly felt better doing so. I suppose I needed to clear the air after a hazy and dark chapter in my life. Kind of how one admits to himself that he has a problem in AA to help himself heal.
Yes, I have noticed that several one-man projects are being used either as a creative outlet or as a cry for help from people with mental health issues, and it has been occurring since the inception of the genre. Several individuals use the genre as an ‘edgy’ attempt, and unfortunately, that makes it hard to separate the bullshit from the ones with the real issues. My suggestion for anyone with depression or any other mental health problems is to seek help and not rely on music as a form of therapy. It can be quite effective in the short run, but otherwise, medical help will be needed.
I have this idea that most people who are into this kind of music are often in various gradations out of sync with the modern and fairly hegemonic world. It’s why there’s such a hunger for nature, spirituality, etc. What do you think about this?
That’s an interesting insight, one which I’m bound to agree with. Black Metal in itself is very individualistic, very close to the soul of who writes it, and has this Carte Blanche situation where anything you write about is fair game because it’s the individual expressing his deeper thoughts through the genre. Overall, Black Metal belongs to a world beyond (or beneath?) this one, where the petty, and weak whims of the contemporary human do not belong, and the genre actively opposes and rejects the notions. Unfortunately, that might also mean that some of us are somewhat detached from reality but, it is what it is.
What are your current future plans with Saħħar?
I have another album in the pipeline, already in its pre-production stage, as well as an EP or two. With the help of some friends, I am also laying down a script and plan for a proper music video, which will be a first for me, and hopefully, there will be some opportunities to return to the live stage.
If you had to describe Saħħar as a type of food, what would it be and why?
That’s an interesting question! I would consider it a Spaghetti Aglio Olio, Pepperoncino. Simple but not simplistic and great when done with passion with a lot of flavour and spice. I am biased, after all, being from the Mediterranean!
For those in the know, Death SS is a legendary band that you can not overlook when you look back on the history of heavy music. The name, always mired in confusing controversy, stands for In Death of Steve Sylvester (get it, (S)teve (S)ylvester). The band was founded in 1977, but it took until 1988 for the band to release the first album after a series of demos and rarities.
Even more rare is any clarity on the times before that, which Steve Sylvester, still the leading man in the band, was kind enough to fill in (albeit partly and often more confusing and obscure than you’d want) in his book on the history of the band. Read it and be hooked, because it is much like the stories about Kiss. Only here the occult is really the occult, the skulls and bones are really skulls and bones, and the weird stuff is… well just as weird (let’s face it, Kiss has a weird history too).
And now, we are at the point of ‘TEN’, the tenth album of the band. Before we continue to the interview, I have to share the press notes on this release:“X”, the number ten in the Roman numerical system, chosen to name this album, is not a random title. The number Ten symbolizes perfection, as well as the cancellation of all things. 10 = (1 + 0) = 1, illustrates the eternal starting over. Ten is the total of the first four numbers (and in our case the first four Albums / Seals) and therefore contains within itself the entirety of the universal and artistic principles contained in each of them. It corresponds to the Pythagorean Tetraktys which, together with Seven (the total number of musical / magical seals of our pact), is considered the most important number, as it is formed by the sum of the first four (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10), thus expressing the totality, the fulfillment, the final realization…! The number 10 is divine because it is perfect, as it brings together in a new unity all the principles expressed in the numbers (or albums) from one to nine. Esoterically the symbolism of the decade represents the perfection relative to the circular space-time, or the divine immanence. Ten indicates the change that allows the initiate to evolve, grow and rise spiritually. It is the symbol of the totality of the represented reality. From a religious point of view it recalls the number of commandments that God entrusted to Moses on Mount Sinai. It contains the Unity that made everything and zero, a symbol of matter and of the Chaos from which everything came out. It therefore includes in its likeness the created and the non-created, the beginning and the end, the power and the strength, the life and the nothingness. There are also ten circles, the Sefiroth of the Tree of Life. In the Tarot the number Ten, which in the Major Arcana corresponds to the Wheel of Fortune (Arcane X) and to Judgment (Arcanum XX), represents the end of a cycle of experiences and heralds a new beginning. Finally in Dante’s Inferno, the tenth canto takes place in the sixth circle, in the city of Dite, where heretics are punished, that is, the rebels, the free spirits intolerant of Dogma, those who choose to take themselves out of the ordinary way, to which this work is dedicated.
I gather, that this is a fairly long intro, but I could hardly ask Steve to rephrase this in the interview, but here it is. What it tells you, that Steve put way more thought into the title than you’d assume, but also that Death SS may be about the show, shock and theatrics, but has a profoundly deeper layer to it and love for that which is dark.
Without much further ado, here is The Necromancer of Rock himself.
Hello Steve, how are you doing? How did you cope with the pandemic (this far)?
Hi! I did as practically everyone did, with patience and trying not to get discouraged by the absurd situation that has arisen. I have dedicated the unexpected free time to further devote myself to music and to my studies, and “Ten” is the result of these last two years …
You’ve just dropped your tenth album, titled unmistakably as ‘Ten’. There’s a lot of significance to this number, as you explain in the accompanying bio. It shows a side of Death SS that not everyone is aware of, which is the depth of thought behind the music.I’m curious as to what resources you have perused to come to this complex idea of the number.
It ‘s something that was born spontaneously .. While I was dedicated to the composition of the album I thought that this would be the tenth “seal” of the career of DEATH SS and this thing should not be underestimated. Gradually all the esoteric and kabbalistic references that are connected behind this magical number have arisen and this has provided me with a further input for the composition of my lyrics …
What can you tell about the creative process of writing and recording this album? Was the relative isolation helpful to you or detrimental?
I would say both .. It was helpful because it gave me more free time and concentration to devote myself to the collection of ideas for composing the songs, but it was also detrimental because it prevented the movements and the relative union between the members of the band because we all live in different cities, and therefore we had to work remotely.
I understand from another interview you did that the album follows a concept, as the songs are connected. Could you elaborate on this? How personal is this record?
“TEN” is personal to the extent that all the records I write are because they represent my mood of the precise historical moment in which I compose them. IT is almost a sort of concept album because all his songs are connected to each other by a common feeling, related to this particular historical period, dominated by the terror, that we have all lived and that in part we are still living today …. Both lyrically and musically there is, therefore, an alternation of lights and shadows, even if the latter often seem to prevail over the first. The mood is very “doomy”, even if there is no lack of power and energy and the desire to rebel and fight, which is the characteristic of all the “heretics” of the Rock people.
What can you tell about the track ‘Zora’? I’ve read your book, The Necromancer of Rock, so I am aware of your love for classic comics. I also watched the video, which I believe contains exactly what your vision of rock’n’roll is. I can only imagine how much fun it must have been for you, so what can you tell about this?
Yes, it was very funny shooting the ZORA video. As you said, the song is dedicated to the homonymous character of the Italian horror-erotic comics of the 70s and 80s, so I wanted to give it a vintage, sexy and ironic touch, like the comic in question …
What is the connection between heresy and rock’n’roll for you? I very frequently see those terms together concerning Death SS, so I’m curious about your thoughts about this.
Great question! The term “heresy” derives from the Greek “haìresis” which means “choice”, also in the sense of “turning”.
The heretic is who refuses to accept what is passed off as dogma or absolute truth, who is not satisfied with easy definitions or predefined schemes. Even in music. Being heretics is a way of life. It requires us to dig where someone tells us there is nothing to dig, to speak up when the others try to silence us, to be critical of any dogmatism and imposition.
The heretic is therefore a “free” man, because freedom, as opposed to power, generates a passion for public action and creative participation. For all these reasons I consider DEATH SS and all our followers as “heretics”…..
Death SS is still the horror-inspired band, that it was from the start. A band that delivers a performance. It’s been said that this performative side of rock music appears to be disappearing (Nikki Sixx actually writes that in the last edition of ‘The Heroin Diaries’). How do you feel about this? And how important is the visual aspect of Death SS?
The visual aspect in our musical performances is and will forever be a very important aspect to me. Since I was a child I have always been attracted to the glamorous and scenographic side of certain artists and I have incorporated this aspect into the DNA of my band. I would not be able to conceive DEATH SS differently!
Since reading your book (which was my ‘get to know’ Death SS moment) I try to explain Death SS as something akin to Kiss and Ghost. I very frequently see this comparison, so how do you feel about this? What are your thoughts on these bands?
Well, KISS have certainly been one of the sources of inspiration for the band, as well as Alice Cooper, all people who started doing what was then called “shock rock” before us, even if when I formed the band in 1977, I didn’t thinking at these artists, but rather at the SWEET, obviously in a “horror” version …..I like Ghosts. They came out long after us and from what I know, it was probably us who influenced them in some way.
Having mentioned those, it’s as if in the evolution of rock and metal, other bands choose punk or metal, and Death SS did something else. Paving the way for what was to come, yet never really challenged, sounding uniquely like yourselves on Ten. But what is that unique essence of Death SS and the drive behind its creativity?
Since from the beginning, I’ve never asked myself the problem of labelling what I was playing. It is difficult for me to channel my band into a specific musical genre. This is why I have always said that DEATH SS play “Horror Music”, because it simply means that we want to express certain atmospheres that draw from the esoteric and horror imaginary, in the freest possible way, obviously always with a Rock matrix.
What are the current future plans you have for the band? And in your personal artistic endeavours?
For now I’m simply promoting “Ten” which has only been out from few days. I’m waiting to see how things will go and above all I’m waiting to see if the concert situation can finally evolve without all the limitations to which we all was forced lately, in order to be able to do some important show …
Will there be more writing with adventures from Steve Sylvester?
Who knows? Maybe in another twenty years … Ha! Ha!
Would you say that rock’n’roll is the secret to keep looking as young as you do, or is it actual vampirism? You’ve been making music with Death SS since 1977, there are artists who started a decade later and look 40 years older than you. What is your secret?