Underground Sounds: Droid – Terrestrial Mutations

Label: NIghtbreaker Productions
Band: Droid
Origin: Canada

This may indeed be the Droid you are looking for. The progressive thrashers from Ontario, Canada have released an album that incorporates everything that is awesome. It’s considered progressive, but with the raw energy of thrash metal. These guys have an eclectic mix that just screams enthusiasm with this debut album ‘Terrestrial Mutations’.

Even the band name is very, very awesome. The sci-fi theme is something that always appeals to me and with a sound that puts them in league with the likes of Voivod (yes I went there), we’ve got some fun listening time ahead of us. The band has been releasing some stuff before, but since 2012 this is their first full length. It’s rather important for me to note, that they were called Wesley Crusher before, the character from Star Trek played by Wil Wheaton. Since my blog originally was titled ‘Wheaton’s Law’, I think we have a click.
The sound is remarkably clean, with a lot of space for frivolous guitar fidgetting and kick-ass riffing. The freedom that a lack of distortion allows is definitely a contributing factor to a great sound that is vibrant and full of crackling energy. The listening pleasure Droid offers stems from the same source, which also allows some little reverb here and there to make things sound just bigger than they are. What I’m also quite amazed by, his the freedom you feel in their music. Listen to the at times almost post-metal sounding ‘Temptation of Terminal Progress’, with its spun out passages. Sometimes it’s that little guitar riff in the thrashing, vibrant sound, like on ‘Abandoned Celestial State’ that does the trick in grabbing your attention.
At times the band has the frantic thrashy energy, that even leans towards some first wave black metal at times. Other moments, the vibe is much more old school thrash or even straight-up rock’n’roll. The futuristic themes and effects often add a different flavor to the music, that is hard to really pin down the style. On ‘Mission Drift’ it even seems like the band leans towards some mathcore at times. Just saying, this album is awesome. If a beardy guy in brown robes comes up to tell you this isn’t your thing, just tell him to fuck off.

Albert Bell: Malta doom legend

The Mediterranean island of Malta is a peculiar place. The two (inhabited) islands of Malta and Gozo are a haven for many and the land has a rich history. It’s also a great soil for heavy metal apparently, which it proudly has been displaying for years.

In fact, it inspired the making of a documentary ‘Brotherhood: A Story of Metal in Malta‘, which will be coming to you soon (keep an eye on their page). If there’s one man in Malta, that can tell everything about metal on the island, it must be Albert Bell. Bell has been playing in bands and organizing gigs for ages and I found him willing to answer some questions.

Albert plays in Forsaken, Nomad Son, and Albert Bell’s Sacro Sanctus at the moment, while organizing Malta Doom Days as well. The festival is a growing feature in the agenda’s of doom-aficionados all over, so put it on your agenda! Due to that, it took some time to get this together, but now you can learn everything about metal music on the small island.

Metal Malta History

What bands are you currently playing in and for those not familiar, what sort of bands are they?

I am the bassist for both Forsaken (established in 1991) and Nomad Son. Both are doom metal bands, but while Forsaken tends to thread to epic doom path drawing inspiration from the likes of Candlemass and Solitude Aeternus (while incorporating other influences and obviously our own approach to the genre), I formed Nomad Son in 2006 to realize my passion for 70s heavy rock/metal. I think Nomad Son may be best described as a cross between doom metal and 70s heavy rock with some touches of NWOBHM.

In 2011 I started by own project – Albert Bell’s Sacro Sanctus which combines various influences (creating a sound that I call blackened, primeval, epic doom heavy metal). The latter celebrates my passion for all things old school and also underscores my passion for the likes of Venom, Motorhead, Candlemass and so forth.

How did you get into metal music in the first place? What bands were the first to capture your attention and what was the charm of the music to you?
I started taking music seriously in early in my teens and possibly the first band that fascinated me was KISS. I guess it was the band’s energy and somewhat dark imagery which attracted me to them. The contrast with other chart hitting bands at the time was quite evident. BLACK SABBATH had an even more profound effect on me in this sense. I still remember hearing tracks like ‘Am I going Insane’, ‘Paranoid’ and ‘Changes’ on National Radio and their mystical, obscure aura was quite gripping.

Through my older brother’s collection, I discovered other important 70s bands and artists – from Peter Frampton, to Rush, Bowie, T-Rex and so on. After that like my brother, and our close English friend Roger I was swept away by the whole punk thing and we used to spend hours on end listening to the most important punk bands at the time, from the Pistols, to the Clash, The Stranglers, Sham 69 and the like. Our image was also heavy influenced by the punk fad that was quite popular even in Malta in the period in question and I even sported a very short, skinhead style hairstyle for some time! Haha!

We were fans of a local punk-ska band called the Rifffs who were quite big in Malta at the beginning of the 80s, and the first shows I attended were local punk gigs. However, one day while we were hanging out at home – our English friend told us that he has this single called ‘Ace of Spades’ by this killer band Motorhead and he made it a point that we to listen to it! Once it started spinning on our turntable, I was totally blown away!! And that was my first real musical epiphany really. I started getting into more and more Motorhead stuff and by 1981 I was totally dedicated to all things metal, getting more and more into the 70s heavy rock/metal bands that I had already enjoyed like Purple, Sabbath, Priest, Lizzy. Rainbow and so on and then really delving in NWOBHM, worshipping the early stuff from Maiden, Saxon, and even Def Leppard.

However, when I turned 15 in 82 I crossed paths with VENOM and that was another important epiphany for me! The sheer energy of that unholy trio totally blew me away and it was very easy for me to embrace the early thrash explosion to the extent that I formed my first band in 1984 (first called Exorcist and then Kremation after I found out that a US band with the same name was in circulation – love that album by the way haha!) with the scope of introducing Thrash/Speed metal to the local scene. Thrash/Speed metal remained my staple diet (without however foregoing the other bands I was always into) until the end of the 80s, but by then also perhaps due to CELTIC FROST’s influence on me I started searching for different stuff – which was more based on heaviness and dark atmosphere vs high speed riffage. And this is where doom came in – a genre that I also love with a passion – without ever, however, losing sight of my formative influences.

Malta is a small country, but with a lot of international influences. How did metal music get started there? I think you were in one of the first bands from Malta, but did foreign bands play Malta first or how did the metal scene develop?
You have to keep in mind that though somewhat geographically isolated from the rest of the continent, Malta was under British colonial rule till 1964 with a strong presence of the British forces remaining on the Island till 1979. So basically Malta at the time was imbued with Anglophile influences in various respects. Much of what was played on the local radio at the time reflected chart trends in England and the US and we also had music mags here from abroad like Sounds and Melody Maker and later even Kerrang and Metal Forces (still miss that one), so those of us who were bothered to delve deeper into things were really quite well informed and I already had a cool collection of vinyl at the time.

I used to order stuff from local record stores in cases where the stuff I wanted was out of stock and I also used to get stuff directly from England through my family connections. Moreover, the metal scene at the time was really tightly knit and we used to tape-trade like mad! Discovering obscure bands was our main mission in life really! Haha! There were also several of us active in metal bands in the 80s. However, the genre has even earlier roots. For example, there was a band called Evil Grave in the early 70s that was gaining popularity here at the time strongly inspired by Sabbath, Zeppelin, and Purple. Marc Storace (who later emigrated to Switzerland and after a band called Tea was to join the seminal Swiss rockers Krokus) was already active in local bands like the Boys. You also had great Prog bands like Over and Mirage very active in the early 80s and some great ballsy hard rock/metal bands like B3 (two members of which went to Germany to join High n dry), Acid, Centaur, Overdose, Stratkast and Unexplained. Sphinx was another important band at the time – a sort of fusion between Rush and Rainbow.

Other metal/hard rock important bands in the 80s included Ivory Cross, Passion Blade, Coven, Brainstorm. Entract, Epicure, Kremlin, Kraken, Hellequin and the Tarxien based Vandals. The latter was instrumental in introducing Thrash/Speed metal to Malta. By 1985 Speed metal really started to take root here and apart from Vandals (still going on in the form of X-Vandals) my bands Exorcist/Kremation helped to gravitate the scene towards more extreme stuff.

By the 90s then you had a strong wave of death metal bands coming to the fore (with local legends Beheaded being a great case in point, and others like Amentia, Sceptocrpyt etc), doom of course with Forsaken and later Oblique Visions, Victims of Creation, Weeping Silence and so forth, some black metal etc. We did not have that many foreign bands visiting the Island (unlike nowadays), so there was something intrinsically Maltese in all those metal bands that pioneered the scene. Even though perhaps small when compared to other countries, Maltese metal has a rich and quite eventful history. The above is just a snippet of its progression.

Which bands really pioneered the scene?
I sincerely think that all the above bands and several more that I haven’t mentioned were all pivotal for the genre’s propagation and entrenchment on the Island. However, I think that it was the 90s wave that helped to internationalize Maltese metal really. It was Forsaken and Beheaded that first started exporting local metal with record deals and tours abroad and then many others followed and also left their indelible mark in this regard to the extent that today you have quite a good number of Maltese metal bands touring abroad, releasing albums regularly, hosting festivals on the Island and networking well within the global metal scene. Bands like Loathe, Abysmal Torment, Weeping Silence, Martyrium, Thy Legion, Weeping Silence, Victims of Creation, Nomad Son are now all active in the international circuit and really pushing Maltese metal forward in their own niche scenes.

You played in two bands, which as far as I can tell are the earliest ones in Malta, namely Vandals (later X-Vandals) and Kremation. When you started out this music, was everything available (like instruments, recording studios, other people playing, places to play shows?
Everything was much more an effort then things are today really. Equipment was much more expensive and band shows were concerts really versus the club shows that you have in most cases today. We used to rent out huge halls and basically build stages, with drum risers, doing all the promotion ourselves (designing, printing and running around putting up posters on bus stages at strong personal risk because it was illegal to do so!) and so forth.

Professional studios were few and far between and everything was totally DIY. The younger bands today really cannot fathom the immense effort we used to put into things. I know this sounds patronizing but it is true really. We used to leave no stone unturned to ensure that our shows were a success. And the thing can be said on our efforts to reach out abroad in the early days… the amount of time and money spent on physically writing to people and spreading the word on Forsaken’s first demo was incredible for example. If I had to use one word to describe the scene at the time it would be passion.

Perhaps, today’s bands might be more skilled, and have better equipment, better-sounding demos and recordings, better-designed fliers and all the works – but I think that somehow they lack (obviously one cannot generalise) the gusto to do things their own way, without expecting some higher power to drop manna from the skies. Things just do not happen that way.

How was the response to the music in those early days of Malta metal?
Totally incomparable to what it is today really. 350-500 punters attending shows in the 80s was a regular and realistic expectation really. In many instances even more than that. By the mid-90s this was not the case anymore. The fragmentation of the scene didn’t help really plus the big concert hall shows had ended, and all the bands gravitated towards club shows – and with some exceptions, a 200 plus crowd at a local gig since then is somewhat of a rarity these days. Moreover, merchandise sales have also dwindled with less and fewer fans keen on getting physical albums and so forth. This said I have to say that in my bands’ case we are blessed by a very loyal and committed core of fans and supporters and we have ventured on despite the difficulties. It is also encouraging to see younger fans and bands also taking up the call to arms to take metal forward in the years to come, with some exciting prospects looming on the horizon.

What sort of interest does metal music generate in Malta nowadays? Is there anything typical about bands from Malta and their music, especially since there is a relative isolation of the island?
The virtual, digital world has made this isolation less evident over the years and today one can reach out beyond our shores at the click of a button. Perhaps the scene has lost some of its charm and specificity as a result, but in my opinion, there is still something particular about Maltese bands in whatever style. Our social context does leave an indelible mark on who we are and what we do (of course as a sociologist I cannot say otherwise, but it is true). If anything, quite often, vs. Foreign, especially Nordic bands, Maltese bands (and fans) are still very passionate about what they do and this oozes out in their stage performances. It is never simply about going through the motions. Perhaps, this is a reflection of our national (rather) exorbitant and Latin character….but it’s there.

You’ve later started with bands like Forsaken and Nomad Son. Both in the artwork and lyrics, the theme of Christianity seems to be a returning factor. It seems to be an element of Sacro Sanctus as well. Why is this theme so significant; is it the historical context or something personal?
I guess what I have just said above answers your question. Christianity in Malta (especially in my personal trajectory; it may not necessarily be so for the younger kids with Malta shifting towards a much more secular and multi-cultural society) has strong and profound roots. It is omnipresent really and a strong feature of one’s socialization and personal moral development. Of course, I also rebelled against the over-bearing and often suffocating presence of the institutionalized forces of Christendom on the Island. However, I never really let go of those formative values that were passed on to me by my parents and elders. I am talking about the universal values of respect, community, tolerance, responsibility for one’s actions, solidarity and personal sacrifice (fundamentally rooted in Christ’s teachings in my opinion). Moreover, various personal experiences helped me to rediscover my spirituality over the years. And Christianity/Catholicism offers profound insights in this regard and these often surface (proudly I might add) in my song-texts. Though I often use lots of metaphor, symbolism, and allegory in this respect, to entice the reader/listener to build his/her own opinions on the subject matter at stake. It is certainly not the boring pulpit preaching of some of the more fervent Christian bands out there! And I am open to listening to anything. Exposing yourself to different worldviews often makes you more convinced of yours!

Nomad Son

Sacro Sanctus, often presented as Albert Bell’s Sacro Sanctus, seems to really be the project closest to you. You seem to be quite a busy man, why did you start this project and what story are you telling with it. Do you work with other people for this project?
Sacro Sanctus is entirely my vision. I have been in bands since I was a teen. I was 16 when I started my first band. Band democracies may be very enriching on various levels. They are also quite often sources of frustration, as in any situation where decisions are not entirely your own and where you need to pace yourself and adjust to other people’s expectations, situations and ways of doing things. I would best describe it as the best laboratory for developing the art of compromise which after all is very important in various aspects of life. But with Sacro Sanctus, I wanted a different approach. It provides an opportunity where I can realize things (both from a management and musical perspective) my way. And that is how it has been so far and will remain.

I handle all the compositions, the song texts, the vocals and most of the instrumentation, bar for the drums. I have had different approaches to the drums in the project. On the first two albums, I built the drums on midi with the help of Chris from Nomad Son (who pre-produced those first two albums) and then brought in a professional drummer (Robert Spiteri, one of the finest and busiest on the Island) to bring them to life in the studio. On the next album ‘LIBER III: Codex Templarium’ I am working differently and totally forgoing the midi process, which was very time-consuming really. So now I have a new drummer called Steve Lombardo (who has also helped me with the album’s preproduction at his cool studio) who basically recorded the drums from scratch after I finalized the guitar and vocal guides and proper bass takes.

The end result sounds really encouraging so far and it has been awesome working with Steve who has a real old school approach to things. I have also roped in a guitar wizard – Owen Grech – for some solo shredding on the album but still did all the rhythm guitars and melodies and arrangements on guitar. So yes, I am ready to get the right people in the project if I am uber-convinced that they share my vision and are excited to participate in Sacro Sanctus. As was also the case with Alexia Baldacchino who guested on the first two albums on a couple of tracks and Luciano Schembri who laid down some awesome organ work on a Death SS cover I did for an upcoming tribute to the Italian horror metal masters on Black Widow records. And this is the great thing about Sacro Sanctus not being a typical band as I can rope in people as requisite without difficulty while keeping total control on things.

Obviously, there are difficulties in respect of threading this path. The financial burden is one them. But I have to say that the end result is really gratifying and I am excited at the prospect of releasing more Sacro Sanctus stuff in future, as long as God gives me the strength and the inspiration continues. As far as the lyrical dimension goes, all these first three album chart important episodes in the history of the Knights Templar combining both fact and myth and imagination in the process. I just love it! Haha!

Do you have anything in the works right now for any of your bands or projects that you can tell us about? I read that Forsaken signed an album deal with Mighty Music?
Yes after a seven-year wait, we (Forsaken) released our new (fifth) full-length album on Mighty Music records last October. It is called ‘Pentateuch’ and basically is inspired and centers on the first five books of Moses. We are also hoping to be touring soon to support the album apart from some local shows. As far as Nomad Son go, we are taking a bit of a breather right now which will possibly extend until the end of 2018. The plan is that we start working on a new album and start gigging again.

Apart from a very busy musician, you also have an academic career. It seems to me from your research fields, that you’ve found a way to at least partly bring the music and the academic side together in your research field. Can you say something about that?
Correct again. One of my main research interests is music subcultures. My Phd and various academic articles culled from it in fact focused on a sociological appraisal of Maltese metal subculture and I am also planning further research to this effect, which will hopefully be realized next year. Basically, my research area marries my love for metal/music and sociology. I enjoy researching and teaching the subject at University – something that I have done for well over 25 years now.

How did you start out organizing the Malta Doom Days as well? Another avenue you’re active in, which I can imagine takes a lot of time, effort, money and love. Also, which shows where the absolute highlights for you personally?
There have been several personal highlights like hosting Leif Edling this year with his new project The Doomsday Kingdom and in previous years, Pagan Altar, Manilla Road and The Black – all legends that I have long worshipped. But hosting Venom.inc in 2015 surpassed all and hearing classics like ‘Black Metal’, ‘Countess Bathory’, ‘Witching Hour’, ‘Prime Evil’ etc. on our stage was a very proud, emotional and moving moment. Plus meeting and hosting Mantas, Abaddon and Tony Dolan on the Island were awesome as they are really great people and so easy to work with. So basically, despite the huge mammoth effort behind Malta Doom Metal (MDM) – dedicated to all things doom and old school; instances such as this make the whole thing worth it plus of course seeing all those smiling happy faces of the MDM regulars (now from all over Europe) which is ultimately the main reason why I started the festival – to create a quality, international festival where doom and old school metal fans can come and enjoy a great weekend of killer music and like-minded company – a little heaven in the Mediterranean of the doom and old school elite!

If someone was to visit Malta, which they should do during the Malta Doom Days obviously, but outside of the event, what places are go-to ones for metal/rock fans in Malta?
Metal clubs and oriented venues are few and far between right now. However, there’s a great new club called The Garage in Zebbug which hosts metal gigs on a weekly basis. Plus we also have other cool metal festivals throughout the year here including Metal Over Malta which is also another great festival, now running in its fourth year. There’s practically a metal festival occurring every month here next year, so there are quite a few things to do for metalheads on the Island now!

During the Doom Days, I noticed that it’s generally a very passionate scene. I saw as well and heard that there’s a lot of divides in Malta. Between the two islands, between the English and Maltese speaking parts. Are those also visible in the metal scene? For example, apart from Saħħar I haven’t come across bands with Maltese lyrics.
Vandals also had some songs in Maltese way back. And Norm Rejection (featuring Sean from Forsaken) was perhaps the first standard bearers for that in the local Metal scene, but you are right Saħħar is certainly the most prolific at present in this respect, and for me personally one of the most exciting bands in the scene along with our label mates Chaotic Remains. I wouldn’t say that our scene here is that representative of the sources of class and status distinction that you find on the Island. I think that the main source of distinction/fragmentation in Maltese metal is music preference and perhaps age and peer groups too as is also the case world-over.

Which bands from Malta should people really be checking out, and why so?
As I mentioned before, there’s loads and loads of bands mirroring different styles and preferences – and most offer high-end quality and passionate stuff. I do not wish to single anybody out, but I cannot end this interview without mentioning X-Vandals (my former band between 89-91 and I have to admit still my absolute faves when it comes to local metal) who are still going strong and released a new killer album just last month called ‘Exhume the Truth’. Killer stuff. 12th Ode is certainly also one of my favorite local bands – very well done old school heavy metal with all the right ingredients and I will be on the lookout for Wolven Hour’s (featuring Leo from Forsaken) to see the light of day for some more old school metal worship. Those looking for something more vintage may check out Frenzy Mono (featuring members of Nomad Son) and prog masters Mirage – who have recently reformed and also rank among my favorite local bands. I am sticking to my personal tastes here, but as I said before the sheer volume of quality bands in diverse styles is quite bewildering really. Hats of to all!

What future plans do you have in music currently?
There’s the new Sacro Sanctus album which as I said above is currently and quite vehemently work-in-progress and should be out on Metal on Metal Records next year – so that is keeping me really and happily busy, plus I have several other songs already written for the project which I will be short-listing and be organizing for future reference soon. We can also expect the Death SS tribute album featuring Sacro Sanctus to be released soon.

I am also expecting 2018 to be quite busy for Forsaken with both local and foreign shows and perhaps some more song-writing too. These will be the main priorities music-wise for me in 2018 and MDM X of course which is an ongoing and pivotal concern right now too.

If you could have your dream line-up for Malta Doom Days, who would be playing?
Haha…this is a trick question! Slowly but surely we are attracting bands that I have always wished to see in Malta. I won’t be revealing any names but if things go to plan then we should be realizing another dream in 2018…enough said though!

If you had to compare the music of your bands to a dish, what dishes would they be and why?
A plate of pasta arrabiata – not too overdone, basic ingredients yet still quite angry, potent with lots of gusto and a dash of chilli hellfire!!! Hahaha!

Dungeon Sounds: V.A. Dungeon Synth Compilation – Codex of Lost Voices

Label: Dungeon Synth Compilation
Artist: Anglachel, Il Cinghiale, Morgan Muir Woods, Anglezarke, Mörkt Slott, Conqueror’s Mourn, Erang, Machina Coeli, Vandalorum, Krampusnacht, The Inquisitor
Origin: Various

The Dungeon Synth Compilation is a bold project, to unleash a compilation every month of the last year. Records that revolve around a concept or story, oozing that uncanny feel of abandoned crypts and dark passages. Old ruins and abandoned tombs are part of the visions invoked by this music.

This edition, titled ‘Codex of Lost Voices’, revolves around the library. A place once filled with tomes and manuscripts is a magical place filled with mystery. Here this record takes us, to a place where the lure of secret knowledge is a deadly trap for those too eager to withstand its call. Writings that consume the souls of those, trying to harvest their knowledge, as depicted in the artwork by JDecker.

The opening tune comes from Anglachel, whose languid tones and twinkling keys, are playfully filling the silence of the abandoned structure, as the listener strides towards it. Imposing, but also tickled with curiosity, we enter to ‘The Journey of Vindyamar’. A grand hall stretches out with ‘Brittania’ by Morgan Muir Woods, with grand arches and a trudging, booming rhythm. The contribution following is by Il Cinghiale, bringing a bit more of an organic, folky sound with fingerpicking guitar (it’s always tricky to really resolve the origin of the sound), with a thick echo. I feel the incredible sad melancholy of an abandoned place of knowledge with this tune, titled ‘Tale of Hiems’.

Here The Inquisitor picks up with the brief ‘The Winter Hare’. Classical, wavery synths merge together and form a tapestry of sound. The music truly flows, offering an intermezzo from the empty halls. Vandalorum then steps back to ambient with sparse keys, to really evokes the feeling of abandonment, loneliness in these vast halls. A feeling Krampusnacht mainly prolongs with ‘Nos Galan’.

From there on, songs from Anglezarke, Mörkt Slott and Conqueror’s Mourn stick with a dowsed, atmospheric demonstration of their skills. Never does it really demand your attention, but it always sets the mood like a set of scented candles. The more pronounced notes by Mörkt Slott and horn-emulations by Conqueror’s Mourn create a certain build up for the song, which all leads to Machina Coeli’s ‘Creation’, which is the most futuristic-sounding song on the record, with some interesting use of bells and chimes, to create a very different moment in the journey. The tones filled with echo are there still, but the energy is higher, seeming to take us to the crescendo of the record. It’s climax if you will.

Erang then takes us to the the aftermath, with warm and regal tones. The whole sound has a taste of nostalgia, the last look over your shoulder at the great times. That’s what makes this so good. Nothing but praise for the person who put this together to weave a story with songs that are not naturally connected. Great stuff.

Underground Sounds: ΚΑΤΑΠΥΓΩΝ – ΜΗΟΥΣΑ

Origin: Russia

ΚΑΤΑΠΥΓΩΝ or Katapygon translates best as ‘the finger’, so that should be clear. The project combines ancient Greek music with electroacoustic and ambient sounds in order to create a uniquely flavored concoction of blips, chants, and ancient rituals. It makes up a rather miraculous release altogether.

ΜΗΟΥΣΑ, in turn, translates probably best as ‘muse’. The description with this record is strange, to say the least. Suggestive and shrouded in mystery, the notes refer to a poem by Paul Celan, to the philologist Wagenheim (which might be a Latinized name). The Russian group creates a record with all these references, that suggests the dispersion of humans from the islands of Hellas millennia ago in music that defies description.

From the operatic opening of ‘Jenseits Der Menchen’ onwards, you’re drawn into a world of mystery and wonder with this mixture of folk, ambient, and drone. Classical samples and odd incantations fill the air, as this collaborative effort with Noises of Russia rolls forward. Spoken word passages whisper over the droning, heavy drums, which only hid after large intervals. By the time we get to ‘Пчёлы Персефоны (feat. Sal Solaris & Noises of Russia)’, a full on martial, throbbing beat takes over as a whispering voice pronounces the words. It’s odd, wet sound is almost uncanny if it weren’t for the supporting regal drones.

The chanting ladies on ‘O Phosphor Hecate’ take it all to a more ethereal level, with dense, vast beats and that traditional ecclesiastic singing in an uncomfortable disharmony. The chanting evokes a melancholy and yearning, that harks back through the aeons that separate the suggested origins from the obtruse age we live in, where magic and art no longer are an intertwined, integrated part of life. As we move towards ‘Persephone (feat. Neznamo)’, we are once more taken on that journey of mythical chanting and fat, physical beats. You can feel this in your gut.

This record is quite something. It defies proper description, but really rattles the listener. Recommended audio-experience!

Underground Sounds: Flešš – Frenzied Bloodlust Underneath A Black Moon

Label: Les Fleurs du Mal Productions
Band: Flešš
Origin: Canada

Vampiric metal is a very specific undercurrent within the black metal movement.The unholy blood drinking entities inspire groups like Flešš (pronounced flesh) to develop unique sounds that express the harrowing nature of these monsters. This leads to listening material that often is out of the ordinary. Truly unnatural.

Originating from Canada, this is is the second release from the mysterious raw black metal entity, that you’d best listen to at night. Nothing else I can tell you about the origin of the record, which I find rather unpleasantly mysterious.

The raspy nature of the opening riffs on ‘Frenzied Bloodlust Underneath A Black Moon’, the opening track of two songs on this album, are like the scraping of tombstones in the dark. Eerie keys and sound effects add to the uncanny feeling you’ll get listening to the opening of this tune. The guitars are gritty and distorted, concealing whatever it is that skulks in the shadows. And then it pounces, with thin battering riffs and unearthly wails, gasps and gibbering. It’s a frightening ordeal to listen to.

‘Vampyric Drain Through Hypnotic Force’ is a whole different story. A gloomy, hypnotic tune with barely any outbursts, but repetitive and slowly, but surely, reeling you into the maw of doom. Creepy and overwhelming, that really brings the whole thing back home to towering peaks and ancient castles in Transylvania… or maybe something less tangible, even more, slithering and always around us, hiding just in the dark.

Dungeon Sounds: Oghoryt – My journey through the sleeping forest of the past/In the cave plunged through the magical power

Label: Self-released
Artist: Oghoryt
Origin: Poland

Judging by the currency, the artist Oghoryt hails from Poland, but apart from that, no information is available. I’ve tried ye olde googles, but the mastermind must be busy in his laboratory, creating new sounds to bespell and bewitch the masses, like he does on these two releases. In autumn, the record ‘My journey through the sleeping forest of the past’ was unleashed, soon followed by ‘In the cave plunged through the magical power’. I’ll give both a spin.

My journey through the sleeping forest of the past

This release has a magical, hand-drawn cover of gold on black. It shows mountains and a thick pine tree forest, castle gates and a peculiar tower. Illuminated by the gold in the middle, we find the magical path. The music itself is condensed to a bare minimum of droning effects and very muted keys on ‘The wizard who stole the stars’. It’s so subtle, you might just pass it by as you stumble past like loud big-folk do.

‘A village of shady dwarfs hidden in a mountain cave’ puts up a bit more sound, mostly using the droning, metallic clang of the synths to put up a feeling of secrets and magic. Repetition is key for the tunes of Oghoryt, with ever rehashing of the same sequence in a sense. The sound is solemn, with a stately quality to it on the final track, titled ‘Witches’ Sabbath of purple froggy swamp’. It’s a journey for sure, but way to brief.

In the cave plunged through the magical power

Intense soundbites open up the second EP, titled ‘In the cave plunged through the magical power’. A crackling, lo-fi sounding drone is added to the music, which works much like an unnerving buzzing in the lower realms of the sound.Oghoryt sounds less gentle here, grander and more open on ‘I’. The buzzing is accompanied by even some slight bombasticism in the sound. In ‘II’ we ever so slightly move back to that intricate, minimal sound of the first EP, which made this act so alluring to me.
Oghoryt shows a lot of potential for the dungeon synth scene. Let’s hope for more soon!

A Village In Despair from Sri Lanka

What if the reality you see before you offers more struggle, than any imaginary hell or dark realms you can conjure? For A Village In Despair, that must have been the line of reasoning. The band from Sri Lanka plays a peculiar brand of black metal, inspired by the situation in their country.

As tourists, you probably see a nice place when you go somewhere. According to the band, this is only a facade. Behind the pretty pictures, most of the people in Sri Lanka live in poverty and subsistence. It’s been that way on the former Brittish colony for a long time, since it changed from Ceylon to Sri Lanka.

A Village In Despair doesn’t make music about the big stories, but the small suffering. That makes them stand out, so I was very eager to get in touch with them and learn more.

The realities of rural life

Hey guys, how are you doing?

Hi Guido, Thank you for taking the time to speak to us.

Can we start of with an introduction to A Village In Despair? How did you guys get started as a band, how did you meet and how did you get into metal?

A Village in Despair (AVID) is a fairly new band, almost everyone in the band plays for other bands and has done so for quite some time. I am the vocalist of Plecto Aliquem Capite and the former vocalist of Forlorn Hope. Kasun plays with me in Plecto Aliquem Capite alongside a host of other metal bands from Sri Lanka. Sandun too, is the guitarist of the black metal band Rathas and we’ve crossed paths many times.

I mulled over the idea of starting an atmospheric black metal band for a while. It really didn’t take off till I had a chat with Sandun who was on the same wave length as I was. Concepts were discussed, riffs were created and Kasun was brought on board to do the drums, recording, mixing and mastering of our first EP. I spoke to my friend Melani about this concept and asked her if she could lend a hand with the female vocals, it was meant to be one-off but it worked so well that we decided to bring her on board as a full-time member of the band.

It seems that A Village in Despair has had a pretty fast start. As I understand it, you guys joined up in 2017 and a single and EP followed quite rapidly. You also signed to PRBM from the UK. How did everything happen so fast and how did you end up with PRBM (and can you tell a bit about them)?

Yeah, things that usually take years took only a couple of months for AVID. Every member was on the same page, I think that helped immensely.

PRBM is a very small operation, a niche underground label if you may. Their main focuses are extreme metal and noise and it is indeed an honour to be on their roster. We got several offers from labels, this was the most sensible option for us.

Your artwork seems very unique. Can you tell me where it is from and why you chose it?

The artwork was designed by our guitarist, Sandun Harshana. We wanted to reflect what we sing about, the artwork was influenced by day to day life in rural Sri Lanka and nature.

I’ve been listening to your music and reading the lyrics, it seems that the band name is in fact also the theme for your music. Struggle, despair, poverty… I was wondering if you’d be willing to talk a bit about that and maybe tell us why you’ve chosen these topics. Does this village physically exist and how does it relate to you?

There are hundreds of families living in rural parts of Sri Lanka without access to what you and I call basic necessities. People forget this quite easily if they don’t have to deal with these hardships themselves. The aim of AVID is to bring these issues to the fore and do something to help them.

We have been fortunate enough to not have been affected by any of these problems, but we feel that it’s not right to turn a blind eye when these issues are still very prevalent in the country we live in. If you look beyond the tourism brochures promoting Sri Lanka, you will see there’s a vast number of people who still live in rural, underdeveloped parts of the country. Life for them is nothing short of a struggle, farming is their main source of income but it is by no means enough to help them meet their basic needs.

What you and I have taken for granted, like having clean drinking water, access to healthcare or access to education doesn’t come too easily for them. Their lives are simple, they don’t have major aspirations and getting through another day is considered a victory by some. Yet they somehow manage a warm smile despite their hardships.

How do you go about making your music? Do you do things DIY? Do you start with lyrics or with the songs and how does everyone work together within the band?

We start off with a concept and lyrics follow soon after. We use lyrics as a guide to set up the song structure. We usually discuss our ideas via Facebook chats and video calls because we are all quite a distance away from each other.

On your EP, which is self-titled, I feel there are some typical elements that truly distinguish you from other bands. It’s as if you’re not encumbered by the rigorous ‘rules’ of the genre and there are these odd spoken word passages. Can you tell something about this EP, those spoken word elements and if you feel your sound is perhaps unique to where you are from?

Yes, the spoken word passages have caught a lot of people off-guard. The spoken passages are done in Sinhala which is our native language. These offer the first-person view of the issues discussed in the song and add a more personal feel.

We try not to restrict ourselves and be confined to the particular genre. We try our level best to include elements that capture the essence of life in rural parts of the country. We will be experimenting a lot more on our next record.

I’m curious about the scene in your country Sri Lanka. Mostly, where I am from, we take the facilities and freedom we have for granted. How are those things in your country? Do you have things like rehearsal spaces, venues to play, instruments and so forth available? Are you free to sing about whatever you want?

The metal scene in Sri Lanka had very humble beginnings. There weren’t many recording studios, rehearsal spaces or even venues during the early 2000s. A lot of individuals put in a lot of time, effort and money into the scene and most of the new bands don’t have to go through the hardships faced by bands back in the day. Things have definitely improved with time in Sri Lanka.

The scene is pretty underground in Sri Lanka and censorship hasn’t been a major concern for local bands. Things might change if the metal scene gets a massive following in Sri Lanka but that is quite unlikely just yet.

What is the scene like in Sri Lanka and maybe can you tell a bit about its history and who pioneered metal music in Sri Lanka?

The metal scene in Sri Lanka is thriving to say the least. The country is blessed with a lot of talented musicians who are in bands that range from black metal and death metal to grunge and punk. The origins of the current metal scene date back to the early 2000s, but there has been a couple of bands in the 70s and 80s as well. It’s a bit difficult to say who really pioneered metal music in Sri Lanka, what I can say though is that everyone who’s a part of it has contributed to its growth.

What bands from your country should people really check out and why?

There’s a lot of great bands from Sri Lanka across a lot of genres and sub-genres of metal. We would recommend you check the Encylopedia Metallum page for Sri Lanka and pick bands that play the genres they fancy.

What future plans does A village In Despair have?

We are hoping to release a 4-track EP by mid/late 2018. We might look at the possibility of playing live towards the end of next year, but nothing’s confirmed. It will be  based on the concept of ruin. It will talk about how the 4 elements of nature affect people in rural parts of the country.

If you could choose 3 bands to share the stage with, who would it be? Have any of them ever played in your country?

We are likely to pick Drudkh, Wolves in the throne room and I shalt become. Unfortunately, two of these bands don’t play live and the other hasn’t played in Sri Lanka as of yet.

If you had to compare your band to a dish, what would it be and why?

We haven’t really thought about it….. nope still can’t think of anything.

Underground Sounds: VVilderness – Devouring The Sun

Label: Casus Belli Musica/Independent
Band: VVilderness
Origin: Hungary

It took me a while to really explore who VVilderness is, but I felt little surprise to see that Ferenc Kapiller, operating under the name vvilder, was operating this band. The previous project of Kapiller was Release The Longships. As much as a continuation, this is also a break with the previous sound, to create something new within the same context of northern mythology.

‘Devour The Sun’ imagines Ragnarok from an ecological perspective, as a cleansing of the world. A rebirth aftwerwards without the human infestation that has been slowly killing it. The sound is firmly lodged into the blackgaze niche, thanks to the shoegaze that is embedded in the soothing sound on ‘Devouring The Sun’.

The peculiarity of VVilderness is that the sound really is, as they describe it, akin to Alcest. Perhaps with a bit more brawn and postrock sensibilities, which come forward in the gradual build-up and conscientious craftsmanship that goes into creating an album so solidly connected. ‘Starless Dark’ is a slow ascent to the heights where the band operates, with sonorous tones and emotion-evoking strings. When it launches into the track ‘Sól’, this is where we get the black metal influences. Though I get the comparison with Harakiri For The Sky, I imagine a bit of Lantlôs too in there.

Though the music holds an intensity, that overwhelms the casual listener, the darkness eludes you. VVilderness offers tranquility, soothing beauty, like hazy rain on a sunny day. The sound is optimistic, warm and beautiful. On ‘Devour The Sun’, the guttural vocals disturb that peace and a slightly melancholic tone hits home. Well, it’s the end of the world so that makes sense. The undeniable majesty and force of the event takes over and dilutes this human emotion though, which fits the theme. From there we move to more acoustic music. ‘Life’ introduces the rebirth, with the sweeping ‘New Earth’, that simply offers a pure, meandering sound with high notes that sound like little bells heralding a new, beautiful age.

We leave with the glowing sounds of ‘Afterglow’. A bright ray of hope perhaps, though not for humanity.

Rudra: Discovering the Self within Metal

Some bands carve their own path in this world and very rarely one creates a very own style and genre. Rudra from Singapore does, with their unique sounding Vedic metal music. Blending thrash, death and black with folk elements to create a unique sound from their small city-state in Southeast Asia.

Singapore has quite a scene, but Rudra seems to set itself apart musically and aesthetically. The city-state is also extremely densely populated, with a high life quality and a vast influx of world cultures. I asked Kathir, singer and bass player a couple of questions about their music, the meaning behind it and their 25-year existence and more.

Thanks to Kunal Choksi from Transcending Obscurity, for helping realize this interview. This is Vedic metal. This is Rudra.

Rudra: Vedic metal from Singapore

Hello! Could you kindly start by introducing yourself? Can you tell us how the band got started and how you guys got together?

Kathir: I am Kathir, the bassist, and vocalist of the band. The band was formed in 1992 and since then the line-up has gone through a couple of changes. The drummer Shiva and I have remained in the band since its formation. Shiva and I met back in school in 1991 and we immediately got along for our common love for rock music and metal.

What bands influenced your music? I understand that you sort of carved out your own niche, but what metal acts inspired you.

Kathir: As much as we have created a niche for ourselves, it has been the usual suspects that inspired us. Slayer has been the single biggest influence in our early years as well as early Sepultura, Obituary, Bathory, Megadeth, Death, Black Sabbath, Kreator, and Destruction.

So how is Rudra doing? Your last full length came out in 2016. Can you tell us about the album ‘Enemy of Duality’?

Kathir: We just crossed our 25th year of existence. We are currently busy recording our next release which is going to be an EP of covers of six bands that inspired us. We are also releasing a compilation of tracks from our first 5 years which will be entitled ‘Past Life Regression’ and a third release called the ‘ Black Isle Sessions’ which will feature tracks that were played live and re-recorded in the Black Isle Studios. The year 2018 will be a year of renewal by consolidating our past and preparing for the future.

‘ Enemy of Duality’ is another concept album based on a very old Sanskrit text ‘Mandukya Karika’. It is really a special album because it brings back the fusion of Indian instrumentation and modalities into our music. It has been very well received. Having existed for 25 years, it is pretty difficult to incorporate new songs into our live setlist. But a couple of songs have emerged to be crowd favorites from this album.

How do you guys approach the creation, writing and recording process of your music? Does everyone have separate roles or is there a clear order and set of tasks?

Kathir: It has become pretty organic. Everyone contributes to the song writing. With the recent albums, we became more emergent in the song writing process allowing our ideas to emerge in the studio. We stopped walking in prepared with riffs and ideas.

You guys have been around for 25 years, congratulations. Can you tell me what has changed in your music and world as a band over this period?

Kathir: Thank you. One big shift that took place in the 5th year was the clear niche we created for ourselves via Vedic Metal. Since then we have been consistent in playing our brand of Death/Black Metal. With the sole exception of ‘Rta’, our 7th album, every album is of the same vein with varying production value. We have worked with different producers at times to renew our sound and sometimes produced it ourselves. Rta is the only album that brought an epic feel to our music and stood out from our other albums.

Your style has been labeled as Vedic metal. Can you explain in your own words what that means and also what it means to you?

Kathir: We came up with this term to denote the fusion of metal with ancient Indian philosophy and Indian classical music modalities. Our lyrics also revolve around the theme of ancient Vedic philosophy as well.

Can you tell me more about the Vedic mysticism and sacrifices, particularly what you bring into the music? Like me, many listeners and readers will be rather unfamiliar with its meaning and content, so can you offer an explanation? A little historical background would be very interesting too.

Kathir: The Vedas are very ancient texts in the Sanskrit language. They primarily deal with four subjects which are hymns, rituals/sacrifices, meditations, and philosophy. These texts go as far back as 2500 BCE. Rudra’s lyrical themes revolve around the fourth subject which is philosophy or also called the Upanishads in Sanskrit. The philosophy deals with existential topics such as the source of the universe, nature of the world and the Self-knowledge. We have primarily focused on Self-knowledge as the theme of most of our lyrics.

Now, I know that Hinduism, which is your main theme, has many faces. How in your own view does it match with heavy metal music? Where is the click for you?

Kathir: Hinduism is a big word and it does not have a monolithic set of beliefs or philosophy. It has evolved over thousands of years and at times quite unrecognizable from its ancient roots. However, it is the philosophical aspects of Hinduism which clicks for us as a band, in specific the philosophy of non-dualism. We find non-dualism radical enough to be presented via metal.

I hear some traditional instruments in your music, also some interesting structures. How do you put the two things together?

Kathir: These are instruments we have listened to since we were kids. So it was quite natural for us to imagine these ideas before even fusing them with metal. But what made it easy was working with expert musicians.

I particularly like how you guys have records with a distinct look and feel. The artwork really promises a new experience, something unknown and at times even a bit unnerving. I really enjoy that aspect. How much work goes into that and how does this whole vision come together?

Kathir: We spend a great deal of time finding the right fit for the music and the cover art. It needs to make sense to us. And there is much interpretation that goes into the choice of artwork as well as its final form. For example, the artwork for ‘Enemy of Duality’ presents an ancient form of the Indian drum and a trident is tied to it. The three spokes of the trident represent the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep. The base of the three spokes is a singular rod which represents the fourth state of Self or non-duality. Together it indicates the causal relationship between the three states and the Self. The drums attached to it represents the sound of the Vedas which become the means to know the Self. This is a typical example of how we come up with design and artworks.

As I understand it, your band has even become a topic for scholarly interest and academics have started noticing you. Can you give some examples and what does it mean for you to get such recognition?

Kathir: It definitely means a lot that we have gotten the attention of musicologists as well. Although as metalheads we do not look for acceptance or mainstream appeal, this attention we got definitely shows that metal, as well as Vedic metal, is worth a deeper study from a musical and anthropological sense.

I’d like to ask you about playing metal music in Singapore. How did the metal scene, in general, get started there? Which bands next to yourselves really pioneered it and is there (in your view) a distinct sound for Singapore bands?

Kathir: The metal scene started in Singapore with bands like Rusty Blade in the mid-80’s. After which a new wave of underground metal bands emerged in the late 80’s and early 90’s which inspired us. The bands from this period that inspired us were Martyrdom (RIP), Silent Sorrow (RIP), Stomping Ground (RIP), Lycanthropy (RIP), Morbific (RIP), Opposition Party, Global Chaos (RIP), Savage (RIP) and Anesthesia (RIP). I do not recall any of these bands had a distinct sound but they sounded just like the bands from the western worlds. And that was what precisely impressed us.

From online sources, I understand there’s a vast metal scene in your country. What does the metal scene in Singapore look like? Is it divided by genre or regions in any way? Are there plenty of venues and rehearsal spaces? Also, is there any form of censorship or public dislike towards extreme metal music, as there is in many places around the world?

Kathir: The current state of the metal scene is pretty good. There are perhaps more serious bands in the scene than perhaps ten years ago. This could be due to the fact that recording and releasing music have gotten a lot less expensive these days. This had created more serious bands that went on to record their music. The scene is pretty united but just that the metal scene hangouts vanished in the 90s. There used to be hangouts where bands used to gather to talk about what’s happening in the scene as well as new discoveries. That’s how we discovered new bands. These days, the internet has replaced this purpose. The metal scene is here is not split into genres. Bands from different metal sub-genres share the same stage. The censorship to has lightened since the 90’s, as well as national funds, have been created for bands to support their music creation. Perhaps we are at the most opportunistic time in Singapore’s music history.

I understand most of you guys have side projects. Would you be willing to tell something about those and how they fit in with playing in Rudra?

Kathir: We do not get too involved in side projects as we did ten years ago due to priorities such as business and family. However, Vinod and I play in The Wandering Ascetic currently. That’s about it for now.

What bands from Singapore should people really check out (and why)?

Kathir: Witchseeker cause they play good old Thrash. Assault because of their new album rocks. Wormrot needs no introduction.

You’ve released an album, titled ‘The Aryan Crusade’. Now, I know that this term has various different meanings, but since people from various places might read this, can you comment on what that means for you to prevent misunderstandings. Also, is there any political element to your music?

Kathir: Firstly there is neither any political nor nationalist element in our music. Secondly, I want to thank you for asking this question. In around 2004-5 one of our fans was confronted by a couple of guys for wearing the Aryan Crusade t-shirt. The bunch of guys assumed that he was a neo-Nazi. At the time of releasing the ‘Aryan Crusade’, we deliberately named the album so, to educate the metal world about the usage of the word Aryan. The word Aryan is explicitly a Sanskrit word, used in Vedic, Jain and Buddhist traditions. The word was not used to denote a race but people of a certain character. The early Vedic definition of an Aryan would be someone who led a highly structured life performing sacrifices to be in harmony with a universal order called Dharma. Therefore, the Vedic perspective refers to a noble quality born out of an appreciation of this order and not something inherited genetically. That’s how we used the word for that album as well as the opening song on that album, ‘Aryaputra’.

What future plans does Rudra have?

Kathir: We will be spending the second half of 2018 writing the next album and hopefully release it in early 2019.

If you had to compare yourself to a dish (a type of food), what would it be and why?

Kathir: This is the most difficult question. I can’t think of any.


Underground Sounds: Guilhem Desq – Visions

Label: Self Released
Artist: Guilhem Desq
Origin: France

The Hendrix of Hurdy-Gurdy

I never thought I’d read the phrase ‘The Hendrix of the hurdy-gurdy’ anywhere, but there it is. It applies to none other than Guilhem Desq. Breathing life into an instrument that makes people tilt their head in appreciation for its rustic image is no small feat, but the Frenchman has succeeded in it.

He completes that with the fantastic album ‘Visions’, where you truly enjoy this instrument in a profoundly new and imaginative way yet always harking back to its roots. From traditional folk tunes to oriental swooping songs, the instrument evokes many vistas of a world we left behind. A set of visions of you like, of this majestic past, we’ve come to cherish so dearly in this time and age.

Opening tune ‘Le château magique’ is airy, almost a trip-hop-like with its’ pleasant beat and playful tunes, which just flutter about. Nothing feels forced about this song, except perhaps that gently prodding rhythm. It’s the title track that brings up the eastern promises instantly, with tense drumming and intensity in the push of the instrument, which whines and cries as it edges you on. Luckily it relents and ‘La libellule et le baobab’ offers an oasis of rest. It’s calm and mellow tones are here and there disrupted by the shrill sounds of the hurdy-gurdy. Mostly the two sounds of sound join together effortlessly to create harmonious, pleasant music. As if you’re sitting in the sun, eyes shut.

We travel the desert on ‘Sand Sailor’, with more ethnic elements and the clear rhythm of a camel ride. We go on journeys through lush green forests, with the organic sounds of the hurdy-gurdy. Sometimes joyfully singing, otherwise making frantic brief bursts of sound that shock you out of our routine. Guilhem Desq plays warm and full of light at times, like the pleasant memory evoking ‘Jusqu’en haut de la montagne’. Here you imagine a far view, that bird’s perspective moment with the soaring tones swelling and rising over a base of pulsating droning nature. We close the album with the melancholic, yet eclectic, ‘Le château abandonné’. A beautiful tone, that brings together the best of the record.