Life sometimes catches up with bands and writers alike. Automb split up shortly after this interview was completed. Danielle Evans is continuing with a solo project, named Stridskvinna. Serge Streltsov has started his own band, named Selfgod. Yet, the album ‘Chaosophy’ stands as a great record, unfortunately without a follow-up in the future.
Black metal is and always has been a genre revolving around the darker themes. Dark has many faces and by now we should know better than to consider the dark evil because some forces in the universe just are. Automb sees this clearly and pays homage to one of them on their album ‘Chaosophy’.
Without chaos there is no order and vice versa, it’s one of those facts of life we sometimes forget. Without restrain, there is no freedom either. Yet, limitations of our time hit bands hard and Automb is one of those. Their album is an absolute gem and worthy of recognition, but without the ability to tour and promote a record, not much happens. Luckily, I received a copy of the cassette release through Knekelput and discovered the powerful, yet compact and focused sound of this band. Originally a side-project next to Necrophagia for band member Serge Streltsov, now the band from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is the focus of him and comrade in arms Danielle Evans, supported by drummer Scott Fuller (MorbidAngel, Annihilated).
Even better, they were willing to answer some of my questions, which I hope you’ll enjoy. Thanks to Serge and Danielle for their time.
Automb and the Laws of Chaos
First, how is Automb doing and how have you been treated by the global pandemic? Did you have many gigs fall through or did you manage to salvage something from this period?
The pandemic has been tough for us the same way as it for any other band. We had to cancel tours, but luckily got to play 2 gigs during it. Other than that it’s been a very slow year for us. All the time went to writing the new album.
How did Automb get started and what are your musical backgrounds (and how did you arrive in the realm of black metal)?
Serge: Automb was originally supposed to be my black metal side project back when I was playing guitar for Necrophagia. I had all this material that was basically ‘too black metal’ for Necro and plus I always played stuff like that prior to Necrophagia.
I started playing guitar at 13 and drums at 16. I’ve been into metal since I was 8. I got into black metal in my mid teens after being into Death Metal for some time. It was the next logical step. Then years later me and Danielle wanted to make our own band so all the pieces fell into place. After the passing of Killjoy and Necrophagia being done, Automb became a full-time project.
Danielle: I started playing the guitar when I was 9 and fell in love with it. Then in high school, I went on to play in a program called “School of Rock” that had students learn classic rock songs and then perform them together at shows, which was awesome. That really gave me the confidence I needed in my guitar skills, as well as vocals. Then in college, I received a minor in music and learned tons of theory and classical guitar. Then in my second year of college, I met Serge and we formed Automb. I got into black metal in high school and Automb was the first band I was ever in so it was the first time I actually played black metal, aside from learning covers prior to that.
This year, you’ve released the fantastic ‘Chaosophy’ album, following the 2018 release of ‘Esoterica’. What happened in the time in between in ways of band development?
We wanted to progress and improve songwriting. Our goal was to focus on the aggressive side of the material that was successful on ‘Esoterica’. The objective is always to outdo the previous record. So we focused on the things we do best.
So, tell me about this album; its concept, creation, recording, warts and all?
The idea was to focus on the darker side of spirituality in this concept. We wanted to focus on one side rather than representing many points of view like on the previous record. But yet still within this concept which is ‘Chaos’ we got to include interpretations from many different cultures, For those of you that heard Dissection’s ‘Reinkaos’ know what we’re talking about. It’s our pagan take on those ideas.
Recording took place in two studios. Me and Danielle recorded in our home studio and Scott worked in his. We live very far from each other – he’s on the whole other side of the country. So it wasn’t possible to work physically together. We worked through demos and phone calls mostly.
One change is your label, how did you end up at Witching Hour productions and how’s that been for you?
Once our time was up with our previous labels we decided to seek a new one and Witching hour ended up being the best option plus we were already fans of the label and the bands that are/were on it.
You’ve also ended up releasing Chaosophy on cassette at Knekelput Recordings, which is what I have in my possession and it looks great. How did that come to be and are you pleased with the result?
We originally thought our previous cassette label was going to release but they went out of that sort of business and couldn’t do it. So we started looking around for the best cassette label we could find. After reviewing our options, Knekelput ended being the one. We were blown away by their cassette designs and thought it was very unique.
You draw inspiration from various traditions and cultures, you’ve said in other interviews. Can you tell me a bit about what you look for and maybe share some examples of ideas or philosophies you take with you into the songwriting of Automb?
Basically what we said in the previous question. Chaos philosophies from many angles of the world. Left-hand path side of paganism.
When I look at the lyrics, I see many cultural/religious references. In a way, it feels like a cultural-religious smorgasbord. How do you approach the process of using all these in your work and what is your method of gathering information? Are you avid readers?
A lot of it was stuff from commonly known mythologies from different cultures. Slavic, Germanic, Hindu, Egyptian etc. We are definitely big readers and researchers of all things ancient. For this particular record, it was focused on the destruction of the worlds and all creation and how those said cultures viewed that. Some songs are based on certain deities which happen to be gods of death and destruction. From a spiritual point, it was just a collection of Chaos Gods. There’s definitely a certain left-hand path Cult that follows exactly that. A lot of that is covered by, once again, Dissection. Who influenced that particular concept a lot and this record is dedicated to the memory of Jon Nödtveidt.
Your logo represents organic/natural forms, which were strongly represented on your previous album, yet this seems to be slightly different on ‘Chaosophy’. Is that still a part of your inspiration and in what form?
Everything we do is interconnected. The logo represents the world tree Yggdrasil and its roots which one of them is in Ginnungagap ‘Chaos’ There’s no Chaos without life. The logo represents life and death. Which in the songs ‘Trishula’ and ‘Ragnarok’ on the new record we talk about renewing the creation through destruction. Another meaning of the logo is the name Automb in general. It is a combination of the words ‘Autumn and tomb’ which represents the season of death that is Autumn. But it is a temporary death from which everything returns renewed.
There has been much ado in recent years about ‘female-fronted’ as a term to define certain bands. That has seen a major shift (for the better I think) where we stop segmenting in that way, how do you feel this has changed? And are there still struggles with acceptance for you as an artist?
Danielle: I personally do not mind that title so much because it is just a reality. A female-fronted band is still more rare than another band with all guys in it, which has usually been the case in metal, especially extreme metal. I think it becomes an issue when that’s the focus or the only reason why people listen to us. If a band is female-fronted and good, then awesome if there are male fronted and good, then awesome. It should not be completely about the gender of the vocalist, it’s about the quality of the content.
I very much enjoyed your album, so I’m curious what future plans there are, like tours perhaps across the pond? Obviously, as soon as this global pandemic allows us a semblance of normality.
Glad you enjoyed it! Right now we are in the works of doing a live stream. Besides that, we are also working on album #3 and yes once the pandemic is over we are going to tour. We already have plans for a North American tour to start. But obviously, no one knows when it’ll be allowed so everything is mostly ideas. For Europe, we already had a festival appearance rescheduled for summer 2022.
I enjoy asking this final one: If you had to describe Automb as a dish, what would it be and why?
We have no idea haha. Never thought of that before!
Music is what connects us from the far ends of the earth. No community embodies that as strongly as the dungeon synth community, which interacts through online platforms, enabling acts from far away places to emerge. Varkâna is one of those unlikely acts to find on your path, experimenting with dungeon synth and its cousin dark ambient to create sonic experiences from his homeland Iran.
Now, the freedom to make music is different in some places. Varkâna may hardly deal with themes and subject matter that is controversial in the Persian realms, yet creating music is an act of rebellion in itself I found out. We spoke, at length, about dungeon synth, the underground and his own projects (find out more here).
Dungeon Synth from the Persian Realms of Djinns and mysteries
First, how did you get in touch with dungeon synth music? And what was it that made you fall in love with it?
My first exposure to Dungeon Synth was Mortiis, I used to be an avid Black Metal fan and it was around 8, 9 years ago that I stumbled upon Mortiis and Summoning of course as a teenager and I just fell in love with the way it sounds and the amazing use of synths, I remember I always wanted to hear more keyboard and synths in Black Metal and here it was the perfect creation.
Later on, I found DepressiveSilence and fell in love with it immediately, Forest of Eternity is definitely one of my favourite DS tracks of all time and a huge influence to me, alongside Paysage d’Hiver‘s Die Festung the use of synths in that record is just mesmerizing.
What I love about Dungeon Synth is first of all the amazingly supportive community which I’ve not seen in any other scene, also as a musician I always looked for a platform to make a certain kind of ambient ritualistic music and I think that would be impossible without incorporating Dungeon Synth elements. There’s this thing about DS that makes it distinctive from any other genre, the fact that this wide range of sounds from video game music to dark ritualistic drone music unifies under the same banner as Dungeon Synth is just amazing and it’s something you don’t always get when dealing with other genres.
Ok, based on your answer I want to back up a little because I hear a lot of conflicting stories about music accessibility, censorship and metal from Iran. How available is extreme metal to you and how much freedom do you have to create your own?
So let me put it this way. You need a VPN-connection. A lot of stuff is censored here and if you use your regular connection, it just doesn’t work and you get nothing. There’s that, but once you have VPN you can use Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music… Whatever. You can’t buy music though, you can’t do that. You can pirate music though, and listen to it and that’s still good.
When it comes to making music, you can probably get away with it. You can’t release music though, especially if it’s extreme metal. You can’t have a gig like play live music. You can record though, there are many studios. These are home studios because there is a massive underground in Iran. It ranges from hiphop to black metal, but it’s all underground because it is not allowed. Yet, you do it anyway, because you don’t give a fuck.
You mentioned the singer of From The Vastland, who left the country due to a lack of freedom (ed. though not listed in the question, I mentioned my interviews with From The Vastland and Avarayr). He is right, freedom doesn’t exist here. You’re constantly exposed to propaganda and surveillance. But it’s not like 1984 here, they are not constantly on top of you. You can still make your music in your own house. Most artists I know do it this way, which is why all my projects are either duos or solo projects. It’s hard to get a band together.
What is it that defines dungeon synth for you, as in if the style had borders, where would these run?
There’s a couple of things that make dungeon synth what it is and are inseparable from the genre. The first one is the extensive use of synthesizers and keyboards which the familiar atmosphere of the genre is shaped around that. The other thing is the DIY aesthetics that are all over the place.
Musically, to me, anything from the 90’s RPG video game soundtracks to OldSorcery and Varkâna is considered Dungeon Synth although I wouldn’t consider Varkâna pure Dungeon Synth, it’s something more like post Dungeon Synth (of course that’s not a term) but you can get the general idea.
To me, original pure Dungeon Synth is DepressiveSilence and Mortiis and then comes stuff like OldTower which is newer but it’s definitely still Dungeon Synth. I have no opinion on the new Comfy synth stuff that recently appeared, I haven’t really listened to it.
But yeah I think Dungeon Synth is really a vast genre and isn’t limited to just a few things like other genres there’s really no defining exactly what is considered Dungeon Synth although it’s easier to classify some stuff than the others.
Where does it originate from and can you tell me a bit more about what it is that makes this genre so compelling to you? What is its charm?
As you may know, dungeon synth has roots in black metal and dark ambient. This happened in the late eighties and nineties, like Mortiis. There’s also this label from Sweden called Cold Meat Industries, which signed acts like Mortiis and Aghast. They had a significant impact on forming the genre. And Burzum, the first two albums Varg recorded in prison are also are very big.
What is compelling to me… As a teenager, I listened to a lot of folk and metal music and when I found out about dungeon synth, I was blown away by the way it sounds, artists like Depressive Silence and Mortiis. Not just because it was medieval, but because it’s the only synth. The atmosphere the synths create is something so different to anything else. There is other medieval music you can listen to, but none has the charm that dungeon synth music has. It’s very graphic, and you can picture yourself in its setting and it seems it is meant to be that way.
You’ve mentioned community. I’m curious about what makes the community so special. As I’ve been a member of the Facebook group, I’ve noticed for example that it sort of ‘self polices’, but in a democratic way. It has its little upheavals, but everyone is very involved and the focus is also very much on being non-political.
The great thing about the community is how close everyone is to each other, everybody supports each other’s projects and are willing to do all they can to keep the genre going.
Also, I think everybody tries their best to keep the drama to a minimum but of course, it’s inevitable at some points.
The DS scene uses the possibility of online in combination with that small scale. There are clear ‘boundaries’ on what fits in and what doesn’t. Or do you feel that’s a wrong assumption? I mean this in both genre stylistics as well as things like politics and ideology.
In terms of politics and ideology, I think you will find that artists’ beliefs vary like in any scene (such as hardcore punk) and I’m sure there are artists and fans out there with some unsavoury beliefs, but they wouldn’t be accepted into the wider community of the scene like most DS artists. For the most part, it’s about the music and the general atmosphere we want to portray/embody. Honestly, DS has no agenda in terms of a united opinion on politics or political ideology. The community is open to all kinds of people and is very open-minded, freedom of expression is generally encouraged and artists’ interpretation of what DS is, or can be, can vary greatly like any genre.
Well, in terms of the music, I think it’s a positive thing that the music is filtered and the community is mainly focused on the actual genre. In the case of the next topic, I think being “PC” is a new trend in media that you can see everywhere with the DS community being no exception. Whether it’s a good thing or not, I’m not in a place to say but that doesn’t make it necessary for individuals and artists to be an advocate for such destructive ideologies as Nazism. Naturally, many only want to cause controversy and stir the pot and don’t actually subscribe to the beliefs they “promote” in actuality.
When you discovered all this music, how did you convert it to something that is your own? You’ve had quite a few projects going, most notably Varkana, which taps into something distinct.
I have lived in Iran for my whole life, so naturally, I have been exposed to Persian folklore, mythology, traditional music since birth. Thanks to this, I feel like it subconsciously influences my music, most notably Varkâna. I use thematically Persian elements in my album/song titles and themes, but this just flows naturally from within me without being forceful. I have always listened to a wide range of eclectic music, so I have drawn inspiration from everything from film scores, Mortiis and Depressive Silence, early electronic and synthesizer music, hardcore punk, shoegaze, post-rock, classical music, synthwave and so on. Similarly to how my “Persianness” is expressed in my music, my music taste also presents itself in my music very organically and the influence is most definitely the foundations of my music.
Had dungeon synth in some ways helped you to explore your ‘roots’ if I can use that word? And how did you figure out in what way you could implement them in your music?
I must say that I was always a massive mythology nerd and read about Persian mythology, history and Zoroastrianism well before I got into DS. but for me, DS and Black Metal are the most fitting ways to incorporate all these readings and concepts into music.
To me, it seems that what you put into the music thematically will dramatically change the way music sounds. Most DS is originally heavily reliant on Tolkienesque, western high-fantasy and RPG’s, so to me, there’s a different flavour to your music. I would argue it’s similar with black metal, where the feisty Norsemen or Celt fantasy (I even heard a Viking metal band from Tunisia) has been sort of played out. How do you feel about the idea of bringing something new to the genre and shifting the frontier as a way of saying?
Well, personally I really enjoy the fact that my music is unique and this approach to DS is not commonplace. But also there are some people who believe this is inferior (especially Cosmic Terror) to the original sound that you’re expecting to hear when you have DS in mind. Again one should keep in mind that DS is a cluttered genre as I mentioned before so it’s kind of hard to keep track of what “true” DS is.
I would like to ask you something more about which different projects you’ve got going on now and what each of them is about.
I’d say Varkâna, Sun Addicted Family and Beam Keeper, but SAF and Beamkeeper are kind of on hold right now and Varkâna is my main project. I’d say Varkâna is a form of extreme transcendental music that relies heavily on being “Iranian” and delves into Iranian mythology and theology. SAF is a more modern approach to black metal and shoegaze and is heavily influenced by Surrealism, Space and our very own existence and at last Beam Keeper is a form of appreciating the 80’s films and music.
With Varkana, you’ve just taken a different turn with a Lovecraft inspired record. Where’s the connection thematically there?
Well, I always really liked Lovecraft and his writings and I thought maybe I can turn them into a Varkâna album, I felt like the atmosphere would be perfect for a new and different release something that still sounds like Varkâna but it isn’t, thematically to me this is the most experimental Varkâna album and I don’t think anything like this is gonna happen any time soon. But musically there’s new stuff coming that I think will appeal to both new and old Varkâna fans.
How would you define dungeon synth, if any definition can be made?
In my opinion, Dungeon Synth can be found in many things (film scores, retro video game music etc) as long as there is a certain feeling, sound or aesthetic quality to it. It is not so much about there being a checkbox per se, but more a general ‘vibe’ or atmosphere.
This means that there is a great deal of creative freedom allowed in the genre, with little to no pigeonholing in what defines something as being DS or not. There are all kinds of Dungeon Synth being made all the time in different themes, from Dinosaurs to Space for example.
Looking at contemporary DS, you can see a lot of growth and expansion in terms of the different branches of the genre, There are noticeable differences in the subgenres within, with the original medieval/ dark ambient sounding DS, rooted deeply in Black Metal only being the starting blocks. Many acts don’t even subscribe to the traditional notion of BM style DS, and nowadays more and more fans are coming to the DS scene without prior interest or exposure to BM. Over time, Dungeon Synth has changed from an offshoot of Dark Ambient and Black Metal into its own distinct genre with its own intricacies and varieties within itself.
What future plans do you have currently as an artist? And are you willing to shed some more light on those hinted-at releases?
Well, I’m currently recording a new atmospheric black/doom album with Eve Hodgkins of Eternal Obsession on guitars and some other musicians including my old friend Harpag Karnik, the album is thematically similar to Ahrimanic Chambers and Rite.
If Varkâna was a dish, a type of food, what would it be and why?
This is a very tough question, I think it would be Persian but something that’s a bit more westernized haha. Like some sort of chicken kebab maybe?
For many, the first association that springs to mind when you hear Kuwait is not metal music. For me, it is the Gulf War, which I remember following on television as a kid. Luckily, those days are behind us and currently, it’s known for its export of culture. Metal is not really a part of that, but it’s happening and in the case of Lasher deeply underground, in anonymity.
The state of Kuwait is notably more tolerant. You’d think it has to be, since 70% of the current population are expatriates, vastly outnumbering the 1.2 million Kuwaitis. Adam, which is a moniker to hide his identity, is the sole creator of Lasher – a project that navigates somewhere between black and death metal. He prefers to keep anonymous because it’s merely safer regarding his artistic expression and content discussed in his lyrics. Luckily, he was willing to share a lot about his music, the record ‘Futile Endeavours To Transcend The Bestial Vessel’ and a lot more. Ready for Kuwaiti black metal?
Kuwaiti black metal unleashed by Lasher
Hello Lasher, so how are you doing? How has the pandemic been for you?
Hello, I’m doing alright. Thanks for reaching out to me for an interview. I’m managing with the pandemic.
How did you get into metal music and what is your musical background?
In terms of my musical background, I grew up in an environment where a couple of my family members played musical instruments and I’ve taken some music classes as a kid in school (piano mostly). But haven’t really started playing guitar until my college years. The main band that got me into metal and made me want to explore the genre more and more was Iron Maiden. I remember just getting blown away listening to Hallowed Be Thy Name for the first time and the whole Number of The Beast album in general. I just fell in love with the dark lyrical themes mixed in with the fast relentless riffing and the absolutely wonderful melodies. I believe Maiden was the turning point for me. Then I think it was just a natural transition into the more and more heavy and extreme metal stuff after that.
Lasher is a solo project. What bands inspired you to create this music and particularly, why did you choose to go at it alone
Iron Maiden for sure has a very big influence on my music as I’ve mentioned earlier in addition to the many other classic heavy metal acts including Motorhead and Pentagram. In terms of the more extreme and specifically black metal bands, I believe early Burzum has influenced me a lot. As well as Bathory, Emperor, Varathron, and Immortal. Pretty much a lot of the classic black metal acts. Of the more relatively newer bands, I’d mention Shining and Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult. And I’ve always been a big fan of the attitude and rawness of German thrash and Swedish death metal. Bands such as Kreator, Sodom, Grave, and Hypocrisy.
Regarding why I’ve gone at this project solo, it’s very hard to find individuals who are into black metal and who could play extreme music well over here. And also, of course, this type of music is not generally accepted and is frowned upon at times. So, privacy and discretion are preferable to me.
You released the debut album with Lasher in 2020. What can you tell about ‘Futile Endeavours To Transcend the Bestial Vessel’?
I started the active process of writing Futile Endeavours To Transcend The Bestial Vessel sometime after receiving news of the sudden death of a very close person to me. So, this album is basically me coming to terms with loss, the futility of life, and the inevitable death that awaits every man. I drew a lot of inspiration from a book called The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker in terms of the general theme and lyrics of the album. The book explores the existential problem of man and discusses the futile things people do in order to transcend themselves and achieve a false sense of immortality. The book concludes with the statement that true and genuine transcendency could only be achieved through religion. In the album, I also explore religious themes, I deal with misanthropy, desperation, insomnia, and self-destruction.
The song ‘Depraved Visions of An Ancient Fiend’, however, I actually wrote about a fictional character called Nadine Cross from the novel The Stand by Stephen King. I found that character very intriguing with the way she dealt with her religious turmoil. And so, I attempted to explore the character’s life in short form birth to death and attempted to interpret her actions and emotions.
What is your process like in writing and recording your music?
I don’t think I have a formula I stick with to write music. I come up with a riff or a general motif that I find interesting and then start to build on it. I record it and then write a second guitar and other instruments like drums and synth. I record everything at home and then send it in for mixing and mastering.
As I understand, you got a Ukrainian studio to mix and master the record, and it was released by Depressive Illusions Records from the same country. How did you hook up with those and what has it been like to work with them?
Yes, I reached out to Chernobyl Studios for mixing and mastering. I read about the studio on the web, listened to some of their mixing/mastering work, and just decided to contact them. It was an absolute blast working with them on the album. Very professional and understanding. I’m very pleased with how the record turned out.
The album was released as a limited edition by Depressive Illusions Records, yes. They actually reached out to me and offered me to release the album with no strings attached and I took the offer.
Black metal is traditionally focused on themes like anti-Christianity, satanism, etc. That has changed and many bands infuse the style with their own backgrounds (history, religion, etc.). Is there anything typical you put into your music?
The main theme of the album as I mentioned earlier is existentialism. It is a subject that is not tied into a specific heritage or background and it draws from philosophy a lot. With that said, existentialism does tie in with religion in general, yes, and I believe I couldn’t help but to express that aspect through my own background and heritage. I do touch on politics quite a bit as well. I speak about the wars and conflicts that’s been plaguing the middle east for the longest time.
What is the metal scene like in your country? I did see that there’s a number of acts active.
There are only a handful of metal bands in Kuwait and most of them, if not all, are inactive at the moment. I would say that the metal scene is non-existent over here.
You’ve mentioned that metal is not wholly accepted in your country, and obviously, there are places in your region that are even more strict on it. Can you tell a bit more about how that is for you?
Kuwait is a country that has always cared about art and artists and it is known for that. The art movement in Kuwait started in the ’60s and it was something unheard of in the Gulf region at the time. The country still puts out copious amounts of TV dramas and a lot of comedy/horror plays are performed on regular basis. Many Arabic music concerts are held here as well. So, art is not something foreign to the country, however, extreme metal is still seen as something foreign and is frowned upon since it touches on taboo topics.
Are there any topics that you have to be careful with, particularly playing black metal?
Certain religious and political topics are not spoken about publicly or openly over here. There are many restrictions on what you can and cannot say. This is something that is common in most of the countries in the middle east. However, there’s been a rise in the liberal ideology in Kuwait for the past 2 decades or so and a lot of people are trying to break the mold.
What are the future plans for Lasher?
I plan on making more music for sure. Whether I’d continue on as a solo act or not, only the future can tell. But yes, I plan on putting out more music.
If you had to describe Lasher as a dish, a type of food, what would it be and why?
I guess I’ll go with oatmeal and some peanut butter on the side. Unsalted oatmeal has a very earthy taste. Simple and clean yet not bland. The peanut butter adds some flavour to that simple earthy taste without overwhelming it. This is how I’d describe Lasher. Straight forward raw riffs mixed in with some melodic and clean moments. The melodies do not overwhelm the music, they have their own place and they add some flavour and tie everything together.
Togo is a country you probably haven’t thought about in a while. Maybe not even in the last 14 years, since the world cup participation of the African coastal nation. That’s likely going to change because Arka’n Asrafokor is turning heads with their specific blend of metal music.
With their debut album, Zã Keli , the band didn’t just set their own country on the heavy metal map. They made an impact on the whole continent. Telling us more about it is rapper and keyboard player Enrico Ahavi, with some additions from bandleader and guitarist Rock.
Due to a lot of circumstances, it took a while to get this interview done. That has a lot to do with the band being quite busy. But here it is: Togo heavy metal warriors!
Breaking the mold with Togo heavy metal
How is Arka’n doing? Has the pandemic been tough for you guys?
The pandemic has frozen many things. Many activities in many domains. And just the same way a doctor lives on his work, an artist lives on his art. An art they cannot fully express yet. It’s not only about having income but the public also. Being on stage and feel the crowd, these people’s energy and joy to be there. So yes it’s tough but we are holding on and we’ll get through this. We’re still working and we are working on new projects. The band is doing well.
Did you change the name to Arka’n Asrafokor in the meantime? I understand it means warrior, but can you tell more about this?
No, the addition of Asrafokor came prior to the pandemic. Asrafo means warrior in our mother tongue. And Asrofokor refers to the music of warriors. Warriors were icons in our culture. They were always ready to fight and die for the community. Ready to die for honor, justice, truth, peace, and love. And this state of mind and soul should always be alive and kept deep within each of us. That’s the spirit of Arka’n. That’s the kind of people we are. That’s the warriors we are, walking in our ancestors’ steps.
So can you tell me how you guys all got into this music, what bands inspired you and how you all met?
The musicians were all friends and playing here and there in clubs. Rock, the leader, was working on an album project meanwhile. He suggested to build up a band with the others. He explained the concept, the spirit behind it. They all agreed because sharing the same point of view, spirit, and culture. I (the rapper) was not hundred percent in the band. I used to sing a couple of songs with them on stage but later on joined the band as a full-time member.
We’ve been inspired by many bands. We can’t mention them all but we think the most relevant ones are Slipknot, Korn, Killswitch Engaged, Linkin Park, and more.
The African continent is known for having a very sparse metal scene and only a few notable exceptions. How was this in Togo when you were coming up and exploring this music? Did you have any musical peers?
Truth is it was really tough because there is not a single metal scene in Togo. There was no stage for us. And people don’t know what that music is. But we tried strategically to perform here and there in Togo. Not everywhere and anyhow. The places were selected according to our objectives. Little by little, we’ve started getting people to know what metal was. And specifically what our style was. And surprise surprise: they’ve loved it. Though some people had never heard of metal before. They’ve loved it because of the traditional aspect of the music. They could understand it. The music was the mirror reflecting their roots.
People know rock music here. There are good rock bands. But we are the sole metal band in Togo for now. Therefore we don’t think we’ll say we had musical peers.
What is often seen in emerging metal scenes is emulating the sound of the bands that inspire. But you guys came up with this whole new, distinct sound. What made you go in this direction and how did you shape your sound?
Instinct brought that distinct sound. It couldn’t be otherwise. Metal patterns and our traditional ones are twins. We took that direction because there was no other one to take. The path was there for us to take because it was who we are. Our culture. The culture we live in and that shaped us. We just did what we thought was right and natural for us to do. It would be out of tune trying to sound like this or that band.
Can you tell me a bit about the traditions, the past, that you put into your music with the tribal aspect? And how did it shape up through the years?
We all have a history. A real history. Not the one written by a couple of constipated guys who distort the truth because they are afraid of what you are and can become. So we cling to our history, our truth. Our values. Honor, justice, peace, and love, as mentioned above. I don’t mean we are perfect but at least it is for example impossible for us to decimate a race for land. This is not in our blood. This is not part of our values and history. Music is meant to teach also. Teach the youngest the best way to choose and why. And this is what we do. A mission we have to accomplish. This is what shaped our music. Our education made our music.
As I understand, there’s also a spiritual side to the band, could you say something about that?
Sorry not to deepen the spiritual aspect of the band but here is what we can say. It’s sad to live half a life when you can live a full and complete life. Like it or not the spiritual is the essence of life. There is no ‘here’ without ‘there’. There is no ‘middle’ without ‘here’ and ‘there’. There is no ‘you’ without ‘I’ but at the same time there is only ‘i’ and nothing else. So mind what you think, say, and do. Do the right thing to the world since you are supposed to be the world. Honor life and differences, honor your soul and laws that sustain the universe. Be as humble as the waves of the powerful ocean washing your feet at the seashore. Teach people and show the way. Spirituality is not about religion but it’s a way of living we as a band have adopted.
You’ve released the album last year‘Za Keli’. what can you tell me about the title, the story, the message on this record that is really quite amazingly good? What has happened since its release?
In our Ewe language, Zã Keli means Darkness and Light, Night and Day. We chose to give that title to the album to make us always remember this duality sustaining this world and the fact that we must accept it, fit with it and do our share. You can feel “Zã Keli ” duality in almost all the lyrics of the album. You can feel it when in some songs we talk about that inner journey of human beings, through bright sunny flowered hills or dark infernal valleys, through laughter and tears, learning, growing, but keeping the inner core of his soul safe, untouched, bright and human. Zã Keli is there again, when you listen to some of our songs, beautiful peaceful words full of hope, and in other songs, war cries calling for a merciless fight against those who spread death on our Mother Earth, those who destroy innocent lives, out of hatred and greed. This album is also like an overview of the story of the band members, what we have gone through, for many years, our musical and technical evolution, our human and spiritual journey. The oldest song of the album was written before 2005 and the most recent one in early 2019. The album came to the world during a memorable release party in a club we used to perform. The following days, the album was available online, and there were amazing reviews from metal magazines in Africa and then writers and blogs here and there from five continents! It was like a new beginning, a new journey. Our fanbase has been growing since then and we are connecting with communities and other bands. Now we are working on the next album.
Can you describe the writing and recording process? Like, how do you approach the whole creative side of it, and who plays what part in it?
Rock is the composer and the writer. He creates the music and we play it with some modifications if necessary.
How was the reception of the album, did it help you connect to the wider African metal scene?
The comments regarding the album were positive. The album confirmed Arka’n as a serious band as well as the style. It’s been proof we took some way and were part of the metal community. It helped connect not only with the wider African metal scene but also with the world metal scene. Many things were planned for this year but the pandemic put everything on hold.
Which bands do you feel we should really listen to from your part of the world, and why?
Metal in Africa isn’t something so rare, and there are many bands I could recommend from Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda, Angola… Let me just name those who come to my mind now…Dark Suburb, a rock band from Ghana, a band of talented and committed brothers who always fights to raise people’s awareness of life in the slums, the hard reality there, but also all the huge potential of the forgotten souls there. Overthrust and Wrust from Botswana, which are the references of African death metal scene, Skinflint, heavy metal from Botswana too. Seeds of Datura and Last year tragedy from Kenya, the awesome Dividing the Elements, Myrath from Tunisia, one of the most worldwide known African metal bands, etc, etc…
How is your reception in Togo itself? Is there any censorship or social scrutiny you have to deal with?
Since we gave birth to our music from our roots there is no censorship. The listeners know what they are listening to. Even the ones living out of Togo. Like in Ghana for example, since we actually share the same rhythms and culture. Our messages are real and about life and society. Nothing eccentric or unethical. Unless being eccentric means to get up and fight for your future and freedom, for the ones we love. Unless being eccentric means following the footsteps left by those who’ve been here before us.
What is the biggest misconception you face as a band from Togo that plays metal?
We would be called ‘satanists’. That is how it was at the beginning. That western image of metal stuff. Wearing black and jumping here and there on stage, growling, etc… They thought it was western stuff that didn’t fit in here. But it changed quite fast as our fanbase grew and people wanted to understand what these crazy guys were doing on stage and what they were singing about.
What future plans does Arak’n have when the world turns back to normal?
Just one plan: hit the road and say hi to the world with more power and love.
There are places where metal is still an oddity and Barbados is one of them if we can believe the stories Kadeem Ward has to share. Over a decade ago, he formed the band Conrad, together with two other musicians from other countries. The first extreme metal band from the island country.
You may know Barbados from its calypso music and, obviously, Rihanna is from the isle in the lesser Antilles. It’s a small place, known for tropical holidays and perhaps for its oddball world championship in Segway polo in 2009. Yet, there are deeper and darker traditions in the Caribbean to explore and doors to open. Kadeem Ward takes us on a flight through his fascinating career, that is still unfolding and filled with creativity. But also a number of setbacks and struggles he had to face on an island unwilling to embrace the darker sounds.
Kadeem is currently working on The Kadeem Ward Project, which has multiple sub-projects mentioned below. Enjoy!
Capturing Caribbean Darkness with Conrad
Let’s start at the beginning, how did you get into music and what inspired you to play rock music and metal?
When I was around the age of 9, I used to watch a lot of WWF shows. I used to like the theme songs that wrestlers used for their ring entrances. Theme songs for wrestlers such as The Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin & Triple H. That was the first time I ever heard heavy metal; but of course, I didn’t know the genre had that name. I had no idea who Motörhead were and that they contributed to that Triple H theme. I never heard the term heavy metal until around the age of 12. One of my cousins introduced me to heavy metal bands such as Sepultura, Slayer & Behemoth. A few years after he did, I was able to watch the documentary – ‘Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey’. Through that documentary, I discovered Norwegian black metal; and bands such as Burzum, Emperor & Mayhem inspired me tremendously. I related to their idea of the rejection of Christianity, because where I’m from, Barbados, is heavily populated by people who blindly accept the faith, and disregard the fact that Christianity was introduced to our black ancestors who were captured as slaves as a means to mentally control & brainwash them. I’m a firm believer of practising whatever forms of spirituality my ancestors were doing prior to their enslavement.
The Norwegians that were a part of the black metal scene, Varg Vikernes, Ihsahn, Euronymous and others, were very aware of similar atrocities which occurred in their native country’s history as well. Christianity has been always used as a method of oppression throughout history. I refused to accept anything Christianity had to offer from an early age. It just manifested into something more as I grew older. Eventually, I began to make music about it when I was 19.
My first recordings were done at the age of 17, but back then I never made music about blasphemous activities.
By the time I turned 21 in 2013, I had completed recording instrumental rough mixes for Conrad’s second EP entitled: ‘Exu.21’. However, I was not able to record anymore because my laptop had an issue and eventually stopped working. It was that same year I decided to switch to psychedelic rock with a solo band called ‘The Kadeem Ward Project’ in an attempt to make enough money to purchase a new one. However, this never worked out, and even to this day, Conrad gets more sales than the Project. Still, it’s not enough money to buy anything, as the customer purchase rates are incredibly slow. So I’ve decided to stick to the psychedelic/progressive rock sounds, as I would like to have a more lucrative band for the Barbadian live settings.
What are the band that totally captured you and really inspire you to this day?
Honestly, I don’t listen to most of the bands that inspired me in the early days. I’ve moved on. Not saying that I wouldn’t listen to those bands ever again, but I’ve just been making the time for new music. I listen to a lot of ’60s & 70’s music. There’s a sea of psychedelic rock & progressive rock that I like to submerge myself in. One band that I’ve really been digging very recently is the Pekka Pohjola Group from Finland. They have a track & album released in 1980 called ‘Kätkävaaran Lohikäärme’ (The Dragon Of Käkävaara) that is just simply ingenious. However, if I had to choose a particular band it would be Saturnalia Temple from Sweden. I love their 2011 full-length ‘Aion Of Drakon’ is a major influence for me. I first heard it in early 2012, and it resonated heavily. It’s so bluesy, especially for a Doom Metal album. Some sections of it remind me of the legendary blues guitarist Robert Johnson. Especially tracks like ‘Fall’. I don’t know if Johnson was an influence for that album, like, if the craft was intentional, but I hail Tommie Eriksson and the gang for their efforts.
As I understand it, you started the first metal band or at least the first extreme metal band, in Barbados. Your first project was called Tohara Harakati, where you started using the moniker ‘Veldt Soldaat’ (which is in Dutch ‘field soldier’, which piques my interest). Here you also started using the moniker ‘Emdeka’. Can you tell me how this came to be?
In 2009, I was looking for a band name. I wanted to have an African name. I used an online translator to attempt to translate Purgatory Process into Swahili. That’s how Tohara Harakati came to be. Unfortunately, it’s not an accurate translation. And yes, VeldtSoldaat translates to ‘field soldier’ in Dutch. I used an Afrikaans translator, and both that and Dutch are quite similar. But I didn’t realize that at the time, haha.
Emdeka just came to be influenced by Samoth of Emperor who took his birth name Thomas and spelled it backwards from each of the last two letters. My birth name is Kadeem, so if I did the same thing it would be ‘Emdeka’. In 2013, I added Exuma to the name, as a tribute to the Bahamian artist who sang about dark Afro-based entities and traditions.
This project then became Conrad, which is the main reason I got interested in your work. It’s driven sound, atmospheric passages and intricate passages are, to me, phenomenal. Can you tell me more about this project and how you shaped it?
I went to the public library in Bridgetown when I was 17 to find a text about Barbadian folklore so that I could choose a new band name. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to borrow that book in particular, so I read through it very quickly and came across two interesting entities. Ballahoo, a spectral hound with chains attached to him, which was known to devour people. The next one being Conrad, a ghost that was said to penetrate women and live in their stomachs, causing irritation. I chose the latter because it felt more intriguing, and I felt a strong spiritual connection with the name.
What was the concept behind Conrad? And what attracted you to the sound of black metal?
The concept behind Conrad is a spiritual one. It is connected with the past activities & rituals of the African people. It just so happens that I took the more sinister path of such a notion.
Also, I always loved how minimalistic black metal was expressed. These guys created a phenomenon through the use of poor quality equipment and recording styles. I also like the variation of speed that can accumulate within various bands.
You’ve said that you wanted to capture Barbados myths with Conrad. You also explored various languages and ideas related to your personal heritage, if I understand it correctly (perhaps afro-centric themes is the correct word?). Can you elaborate on that?
I’m trying to bring forth awareness and glorification of Afro-based entities such as Baron Samedi (found in the Haitian Voodoo tradition, Eshu/Exu (found in both the West African Yoruba & Brazilian Quimbanda traditions; the latter which I have been an active practitioner of from 2011 to 2013) & Shango (found in the West African Yoruba tradition). Our black ancestors suffered a lot and some even died trying to defend their culture. I think it’s fair that more black individuals accept these traditions again because it was our way of living and it was stripped from us!
For this band, you started working with Lord Ifrit from Jamaica, known from Orisha Shakpana. How did you guys get in touch and how did this steer the project to the darker sound on the last releases?
Lord Ifrit contacted me in 2010 via email and hailed me for my contributions to heavy metal. We then exchanged taste in music and eventually talked about collaborating. He wrote the lyrics and performed the vocals for the track ‘Purgatory Process’ which is the second track on Conrad’s first EP entitled ‘-Conrad Within-‘. The darkness of the sound came from me being very heavily influenced by bands such as Watain & Dissection; those two bands glorify the concept of Chaos as a source of liberation from the chains of the cosmic existence and the stagnation of the forces of Order.
New Horizons for The Kadeem Ward Project
I’m not entirely clear on how and why Conrad got quiet or even ended. Orisha Shakpana seems to have gone quiet at the same time according to what I can find. Since then you’ve worked on several projects in new directions it seems. So how did this project end and where did your interests shift towards?
Conrad never ended! The band is currently going through a very long hiatus. What happened with Conrad was a series of unfortunate & detrimental events. First of all, in 2013, during the recording of Conrad’s 2nd EP ‘Exu.21’, my laptop had issues and stopped working. It was my main work station at the time. I couldn’t continue with Conrad’s new material as a result. The DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) that I used was pirated and for some reason, entered a trial mode, and prevented me from recording. I also lacked space on my internal hard drive. So I knew I needed a new laptop.
So sometime in 2013, I worked very briefly at a hotel on the south coast of Barbados to acquire some funds for a new laptop; however, I was fired in less than a week. I managed to accumulate enough money for an external hard drive, and I figured that maybe I can try to form a new project that would be lucrative enough for financial assistance. I created a project called ‘De Adversaries’ which was based on dark psychedelic rock with metal influences, but this was really just an experiment for the development of my playing skills on the guitar. It was supposed to feature individuals from ‘the darkest corners of the world’, but it never worked out.
On November 30th 2013, I created The Kadeem Ward Project, and launched a brand new demo that featured about 9 mins of improvisation through an instrumental jam session. That demo was called ‘Austere’. Shortly after my laptop finally expired and I was forced to use my mother’s laptop in order to do more recordings with the Project. It just became so much easier to record with ‘The Project’ because it was entirely based around guitar improvisation, which I became very good at. With Conrad, everything was composed very carefully and strategically. This became too time-consuming for my situation, because my mother never liked the idea of me recording music on her laptop.
Another thing that took place in early 2013 was my manifestation of schizophrenia. I was doing lots of cocaine and marijuana at the same time and started hearing voices while having a rather painful and unusual increased heart rate. This went on for the duration of a year plus a few months. In 2014, I got in some trouble with my mother after someone I once considered a friend tried to push me out of a moving vehicle and I ended up in the island’s psychiatric hospital, a place called Black Rock.
I spent a duration of about 2 months there before going back home and then attending their walk-in rehab.
I can’t say what happened to Orisha Shakpana, because I was out of contact with Lord Ifrit for a while; but I believe that band is also on a very long hiatus.
One project I came across, that I found particularly interesting was Emdeka Exuma & De Adversaries. It made me think of Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies. Can you tell me more about that project? Is that the last mention of your moniker Emdeka?
For now, it is the last mention, you can say. I became very influenced by Selim Lemouchi’s work since I first heard The Devil’s Blood in mid-2011. Conrad’s 2nd and unfinished EP ‘Exu.21’ is heavily inspired by The Devil’s Blood. When Selim started his new project, I was so inspired that I changed the name of ‘De Adversaries’ to ‘Emdeka Exuma & De Adversaries’. As I mentioned before, ‘De Adversaries’ was an effort to have people from different parts of the globe muster ideas for dark psychedelic music.
You seem to have grown more fond of psychedelic music, but as I understand it from your personal story, there is little room our tolerance for that music on Barbados. You’ve had quite some personal and legal issues as I understand. Is that something you want to tell more about? Do you feel there is more acceptance regarding the music you make today?
I’d say psychedelic rock & progressive rock are a bit more lucrative within the Barbadian setting. It’s something you can get away with if executed correctly and accurately. Most Barbadians don’t like rock music in general. As Christians, they’ve acquired the herd notion that all rock music is Satanic. So they don’t ever step out of their comfort zones when it comes to rock, blues and especially heavy metal. However, the few that do appreciate the genre would probably find psychedelic rock to be interesting. If you play music in the vein of JimiHendrix, they’d gravitate towards it. But honestly, I didn’t choose the genre to have people think I’m the next Jimi Hendrix, it just came naturally as something I loved and wished to express. Honestly, I don’t mingle too much with the local rock fans, because in my opinion, they’ve stagnated themselves by listening to mainstream alternative rock bands that have really watered down the spirit of rock n roll. Rock n roll is a lifestyle of rebellion against oppressive forces, which is a notion that mainstream bands don’t cater to. I get quite annoyed while talking about it, but whining about your girlfriend and singing about being the least favourite student in high school (or whatever the fuck those bands sing about) is absolute weakness and has nothing to do with the true spirit of rock n roll.
As for legal issues, I actually appeared in court for the first time in 2013. January that same year, someone wanted to purchase a tobacco pipe I was selling for $40 Barbadian ($20 USD). They were a graphics designer that did posters for local dancehall shows. He said he didn’t have the money so I trusted that he would’ve returned with the money eventually. I realized that every time I met with him, he didn’t have the money, followed by some excuse. At one point he told me about a situation where he abandoned a girl after offering her ice cream, and he thought that was funny. Eventually, I started hearing stories about how he ripped off several of his clients who wanted to do shows for him, as he was a ‘promoter’. They never saw any money from him. So, after weeks of waiting, I sent him a warning with a picture of my Quimbanda altar and he panicked. He came into my workplace (at the time I was working at a supermarket located a few minutes away from my home in a place called Six Roads) and threatened me twice. When it was time for me to leave around 10:00 PM, he was in the parking lot waiting for me and spoke violently. After he attacked me, I stabbed him. My mother told me to turn myself in, so I did. I was in a jail cell for a few days before I was granted bail. Because of that incident, I lost my job at the supermarket, as they said they weren’t allowing violence on their compound. When I went to court, the judge dropped the charges against me and told me to be careful next time.
Also, I’ve been to the psychiatric hospital 4 times between 2014 – 2018. The 3rd time, in 2016, my mother made me homeless the day after I was discharged from that institution for my 2nd detainment. I refused her request to get a haircut and she called the police to escort me off of her residence. I was homeless for about 6 days. I was then approached by a neighbor who said that my mother wanted me back home. When I did return home, my mother called home from work and asked me what I was doing there, and called the police again. I verbally abused my grandmother because of that. Anyway that same night, I returned home and my mother called the police and I was detained for 9 months. That was the most inhumane experience I’ve ever been through, and I’ve been disgusted by my mother because of it.
Currently, I see project names like The Kadeem Ward Project, Kadeem Ward & His Mechanical Devices, Kadeem Ward & The Pillars of the Pilgrim’s Temple, and Supa Fly Don X Goon City, which is a hip-hop project, but you seem to have a fascination still for the magical element in music. Can you maybe give some insights into what all these projects mean and which role they fulfill in your total artistic expression?
Well, first of all, The Kadeem Ward Project is a medium for my creative energies & passions and I try to have as little restrictions as possible with that band. It’s a vessel that nurtures a field of possibilities, hopes & dreams. It’s one of the most naked experiences I’ve ever had, as in, the band caused me to reveal aspects of myself that I have never expressed on a musical & personal plane. I’ve been listening to my 2nd album: ‘Confection: A Syncretism Of Guises & How All Mad Men Go To Heaven’, and I came to discover how sonically advanced it is for a very minimalistic production. The compositions are very unique and original and I came to indulge in the fact that I was composing something quite progressive and ethereal. That album, along with my 3rd album ‘Dilemma Of Dispersal & Aging (Or A Continuum TO Departure)’ was released the same year. I personally believe that ‘Dilemma’ has a voluptuous role in my life. If I were to accumulate enough money to form a band, that is the album I want to perform live globally, because it has so much potential as a 2 hour plus progressive/jazz album. That album can build an economy, man. I want to use that album to give Barbados a new façade and a new aura & atmosphere. I want to do something like what Fela Kuti was doing in Nigeria during the 70’s & 80’s with ‘The Shrine’ where people can visit Barbados from all corners of the globe with the anticipation to hear my ‘exotic’ compositions. Who knows? That may inspire some locals to create more original and exuberant music. For the last 10 years or so in Barbados, guitarist & singers have just been doing the same bloody covers of mainstream pop/alternative artist and have been making a living off of it. My presence in the Barbadian music industry is to ensure that I denounce that notion of such stagnation, lack of originality & laziness for something more unique, potent & pure.
Kadeem Ward & His Mechanical Devices and Kadeem Ward & The Pillars Of The Pilgrim’s Temple are both subsidiaries of The Kadeem Ward Project. The Mechanical Devices is a live project, associated heavily with the use of a loop station. It’s for one-shot recordings. The Pillars is an acoustic-based project that gravitates primarily around world music.
The rap project came about as a side-interest and a means to support me financially. I used the alias Goon City for that. My cousin that lives here in Padmore Village, St. Philip goes by the name of Supa Fly Don. He’s an amazing freestyler. It’s stunning what he can do off the top of his head. I leave the rapping up to him, I just produce beats.
Religion, spirituality, magic, it all seems to play a big part in what you do musically. These things are, of course, always connected if we look at rock’n’roll history. How do you view this today and which bands are currently your biggest inspirations?
Unfortunately, I haven’t been practicing magick since 2014, because my mother discarded my altar. I haven’t had a steady job to be able to realign myself with magickal practices either. My schizophrenia didn’t help either, I lost touch with reality for many years. The only form of magick I’ve been practicing all these years was through my composition in The Kadeem Ward Project. It’s a medium to express a spiritual connection with entities through vibrations and sounds. I believe in sonic & voces magick (sound and spoken word), so I try to incorporate them into my music as much as possible.
It’s mandatory for me to have spirituality as a theme for my music because it helps me transcend the barriers of this mundane existence in order to find something greater. A lot of artists that I have been around just stagnated themselves with the idea of partying and accumulating material possessions to satisfy themselves. I look past this notion of brain dead entertainment. I want to manifest the energies of my ancestors into the present day in order to grow and to become a wiser, smarter, more progressive person. I do that with magick. I see this world as a grand illusion of false hopes & desires, so I try my best to animate life of sustainability and substance to detach from the false notions of this world.
The bands that inspire me in this sense would be Saturnalia Temple (as I’ve mentioned before), Watain, Dissection & The Devil’s Blood.
What does music mean to you now? To me, it seems like you treat it like a wide-open playing field. Do you see yourself returning to the recording of extreme metal with Conrad or a new project in the future?
Music to me now means mind-expansion. That’s what I’ve been craving more of these days. Developing my psyche and intellectual properties. Music, and good music at that, is a release. It’s hope. It’s the future. Interesting how you should refer to me treating music as an open field; and I do treat it that way. I try not to have a limit to what I listen to and create. I listen to everything expect gospel, country, & dancehall (well I listen to some dancehall tracks but it’s minimal. It’s not a genre I’m too fond of anyway).
Conrad will return someday, most definitely. As for when I can’t say. I plan to launch a new Doom band too called MyceliumGhost, but that may have to wait a while.
What future plans do you currently have?
Accumulating money for the future of my musical journey.
If the Kadeem Ward Project was a dish, a type of food, what would it be and why?
A plate of psilocybin mushrooms, because it’s the key to the inner gate, the forbidden doorway.
Mental health is a concern for everyone. If you struggle, reach out to professionals, talk to people.
Where the Atlantic Ocean beats onto the farthest edge of the country named Spain, is a region you may not know about. It’s not where you find your Costa Brava or Costa del Sol, but Galicia has a proud and long-standing identity, quite distinct from the rest of the country. Mileth is an expression of that.
Formed all the way back in 2009, the band plays its very distinct mixture of folk music and metal. Though the project started light-hearted, their sound is now rich and filled with Galician traditional stories, the language and a feeling you can only get there. The urgency of slowly loosing ones identity, a recurring theme in all my interviews, has pushed the band in that direction. It’s without any form of malice, for all the good globalization brings, it would seem that the responsibility of preserving what is ours rests with us.
The band was kind enough to answer my questions and tell me more about their unique background and history.
Galician metallers Mileth
Hello, how are you doing?
Hello Guido, Marcos here, willing to answer your questions with a good storm as a background soundtrack.
How did Mileth got started?
We started playing with the excuse of having a few beers and playing songs from other bands that we liked, that’s been a decade ago. Then we realized that composing was more fun and we started looking for our own sound, we wanted to make the kind of music that we couldn’t find in our closest environment. This led us to look at our roots and delve into traditional Galician music. Taking our folklore as an inspirational element and bringing it to music was a slow process, as it has required and requires study time, but I think that today is our strongest personality feature.
Where you in other bands before you started Mileth?
For most of us, Mileth has been our first project as a band and our musical baggage has grown in the shade of this tree. Although many people have been in the group and yes, other colleagues have been or are linked to other Galician bands.
Could you tell me what Mileth means and how you came up for the concept of the band?
The name of the group is taken from the Gaelic word Miledh. This name appears in the Lébor Gabála, the book of the invasions of Ireland, and refers to a warrior descendant of King Breogán (hero of our mythology). But Miledh can also be translated as the “sons of a Thousand”, the Milesians, who, according to the story, epically conquered Ireland after leaving the Galician coast to avenge the death of their druid Ith, son of Breogán, killed by the Tuatha Dé Danánn.
This book, written in the Middle Ages, despite having an Irish origin, is important to us because it contains references to our Ancient History from the point of view of myth. In Galicia we have a very rich mythology of oral tradition, but it is difficult to find stories referring to mythological heroes of the past. And this fact, which is wonderful in many ways, helped recovering some figures that would represent the values of the resurgence of the Galician national spirit of the 19th century.
Perhaps it is convenient to clarify that today Galicia is a country without a state, or, seen from another point of view, it is a nation that is within the Spanish state (Like the Basque Country or Catalonia).
For a band like ours, where the lyrical concept revolves around our land and our culture, I think using the myth to build songs is a good way, not only to keep this alive, but also to express our current beliefs and emotions according to the pagan and folk spirit of our music.
Who were your inspirations when you embarked on this project? I feel a clear link to Slavonic pagan metal, but that may just be my perception.
Yes, some people have linked our sound with Slavic Pagan Metal, and it’s funny because there is no conscious inspiration in it at first. I think that the possible relationship comes from the fact that in both folklores there are some similar elements: there are some melodic forms with similar figures, in both folklores the female voices have a lot of presence and there are similar modes of expression. Also, the use of instruments such as the hurdy gurdy , the violin or the bagpipes can reinforce this perception when mixed with the Metal. What’s more, groups like Arkona or Grai use the Galician bagpipe in their recordings … Perhaps the Slavic pagan metal is the one that sounds similar to the Galician pagan (just kidding, this has its explanation, but it is an indicator that we have a really alive folklore).
In short, I could not tell you who has influenced us directly, we have very eclectic tastes and we have fed from many sources. But I could tell you that my main references are Skyclad, the 90s melodic black metal and, above all, traditional Galician music.
All your lyrics are in Spanish, which I don’t happen to speak. Could you tell me a bit more about the Galician mythology, it’s fundamentals, and how that translates to your music?
Our lyrics are written in Galician, not in Spanish. They are different languages. Galician, like Spanish, is also a Romance language, but in its origin it is as close to Spanish as it can be to Italian, Catalan or French. Yes, it is directly related to Portuguese since during the Middle Ages they formed the same language, Galician-Portuguese or Western Iberian. The Galician-Portuguese lyric of that time is well known for having a huge importance between the 12th and 14th centuries. Then, each language evolved independently; in the case of Galician, suffering different ups and downs. It has been an abused and even persecuted language over the years. Galicia’s history is complicated.
Answering your question, our mythology has lived through oral tradition until almost our days. There is a strong connection to the pagan world, with old cults to nature that, curiously, have mostly lived through Christianity. These cults have been transformed and adapted to the new religion, as it has happened in almost all Europe. But, under different forms, the stones, the sources and springs, the stars… they continue to be blessed. Rituals marked on the Celtic calendar are still being celebrated such as the Imbolc (here Entroido), the Beltaine (here Os Maios) … Hundreds of stories are collected about characters from the Hereafter, such as “os Mouros”, creatures who live under “castros” and dolmens. Galicia is a land where witches have had such a presence in society that it has attracted scholars from Europe to document this phenomenon. Different superstitions about witchcraft have remained alive almost to this day. But if there is a fundamental god in our popular mythology, it is Death.
Catro pregarias no albor da Lúa Morta is a journey through the paths of tradition and myth I was telling you about, it is a journey where a dialogue is established with the elements of nature, not always explicit, and where also Death has its leading role.
Musically, it is an extreme melodic metal with sounds inspired by traditional Galician music, but also connected with these natural elements of our landscape. It is really a canvas with many nuances that, despite being a humble production, public and critics have been able to understand and value very positively. So yes, we are happy with how it was received. Our expectations were low and the album has had almost no promotion. So it is incredible that it has reached its public outside our borders. Although publishing with a Russian label like SoundAge has made this a bit easier.
Mileth contains 8 members. Did you start out with this format? And what is it like to compose for such a sizable band? The sound feels still spacious.
In the original lineup we were only two guys, but we immediately decided to look for more people to be able to take our proposal to live shows. Actually, composing for a big band is not the problem, the problem about being many people (and with many instruments) is that it sets a strong limit for us to tour and play live (paradoxically). The technical requirements, space and costs of each show are tripled. It is very difficult to be able to bring such an ambitious proposal to the stage as an underground band. Even so, we are always making our fixes and tricks.
Why is it important to you to specifically express your roots through music and has it become more important in recent years?
Globalization has positive things, but it has many others that are very negative, and on a cultural level, it means sentencing people to gradually lose their own identity marks. The paradox of this is that anyone in the world can access information about Galician culture, they can read about aspects that I have been talking about, or even that in Russia they can have Galician bagpipes or edit an album by a group called Mileth, unknown even in their land. But at the same time, here in Galicia, Galicians increasingly speak less of our language, we destroy important archaeological remains, or we cut down our native forests to plant more economically productive foreign trees. It could be said that our culture is being transformed, adapting to new times, or that it is being enriched by contact with others. In part it does, and it has positive points. Societies have always advanced through communication between people. But we should not allow omnipresent cultures to overwhelm and monopolize all aspects of our society, especially when they mock your roots and erase your identity. Let us build a free and connected world, but not from the culture of capital and economic powers that do not understand neither people nor cultures or nations.
Are there other Galician bands people should check out? I’m familiar with Sangre de Muerdago.
Of course, Galicia has always had a small but high quality metal scene. I would recommend listening to other projects by people from Mileth such as Dioivo, Metalxis or Dysnomia. As well as I would invite you to listen to some of our most mythical bands such as Xerión, Balmog, Dantalion, Absorbed, UnrealOverflows, Machetazo, Kathaarsys, Talésien, In-verno, Fallen Sentinel, Barbarian Prophecies, Wisdom, MadameGermen … or fellow bands such as Atreides, Aquelarre, Lóstregos, Iron Hunter, UtopianVisions of Earth …
And in terms of traditional and folk music we have a lot of renowned bands around the world such as Milladoiro, Berrugüetto, Leilía, MercedesPeón, Luar na Lubre, Carlos Núñez, SondeSeu, Susana Seivane, Budiño … . or groups of musicians who have collaborated with us such as Caldo, Quempallou, RodrigoRomanítrio, Güintervan … Sorry, I start and I can’t stop.
What future plans does Mileth currently have?
A vinyl edition of our album is going to be released through Darkwoods label, but we had to postpone it due to the pandemic. Although if everything goes well, in a few weeks (or in a few days) we will have a release date. Darkwoods had already released a special edition of the album that was impressive. It sold out very quickly, so those interested must be aware because this will also be a limited edition.
On the other hand, this year we had closed the participation in several festivals, even abroad. But we have passed from scheduling trips to not knowing when we’ll be able to rehearse again.
If Mileth was a type of food, what would it be (and why)?
“Cocido galego” (a Galician stew). It is a mixture of vegetables, legumes and potatoes cooked with different parts of the pork (ribs, ham, tail, “chourizo”, “botelo”…). It’s usually accompanied with a good “do país” red wine. The richest parts are the ones that people are most shy to eat: the ears and the muzzle.
Why a stew? We make a mixture of various elements, and there is always someone who finds something disgusting, but if you do not like meat you can eat vegetables, and elsewhere, you will always have the broth, such an amazing thing to both have the body coldness removed or to get rid of a good hangover.
For anyone who has a special place in their hearts for heavy metal, Thomas Gabriel Fischer needs no introduction. Though many will know him as Tom G. Warrior. The man who fronted the pioneering Hellhammer and CelticFrost are as much of an icon as the extreme metal scene ever had and this year he is releasing a new record under the banner of Triptykon; the live recording of the ‘Requiem’, performed live during Roadburn2019, together with the highly esteemed MetropoolOrkest.
This once in a lifetime performance was recorded and now will be released. We had the distinct honor to speak with the man himself about this record, the performance, the emotions attached to it, but also his future plans with Triptykon, Triumph of Death (his Hellhammer tribute), and a new project. Obviously, the COVID-19 outbreak was also part of our chat.
Tom is an easy person to talk to. Every word is carefully formulated, and he lets no opportunity pass to thank those who’ve helped him realize his musical ambition of performing the ‘Requiem’, a piece that took over 30 years to create and complete. Polite throughout the interview, you’d hardly imagine this man to be the guys who sort of crashed a Venom press conference to proclaim they were going to outdo them (more on that in the book ‘Only Death Is Real’). Enjoy.
Tranquillity, Gratitude, and Contentment
How are you doing, Tom?
Doing alright, I had some issues with my health two months ago and some of it is still lingering, but basically, I’m doing alright. Pretty much recovered.
How are you dealing with the current situation?
Well, there’s not that much to deal with as it is not up to my personal decision. It is as it is and I have to adjust to it. All the concerts that we had scheduled for Triptykon and Triumph of Death have been cancelled. That of course means that also my livelihood has been very much impacted. I have invoices to pay like everyone else. I simply have no income from this, so we’ll see what happens. For musicians, it is a challenging time. We were looking forward immensely to playing live. There’s a lot of concerts this year we were very much personally involved in and looking forward very much to play with both bands. It’s very difficult to know that these will not take place or in a year at the earliest.
We felt very refreshed in both bands, so it’s not easy to see everything get cancelled if you have a good connection with your audience. You go on stage with a lot of honesty and enthusiasm, so then it is very hard to let go of all these shows.
I can imagine that feeling, you’re personally and emotionally invested in this endeavour, so it is difficult. But it seems that there’s some shift now taking place. How is that in Switzerland?
There is some indication that things will open up slightly quicker than we anticipated. But I’m very careful with this because there are only very small events that are permitted and there’s still a lot of social distancing required and various measures in place. So I really don’t know, when we are talking about bigger concerts and festivals, there’s nothing right now that indicates when everything will restart. We are basically in unknown territory still. But it’s, like you say, a glimpse at the horizon that certain clubs and restaurants can open again. That’s something we didn’t expect a month ago.
Let’s hope for better days. I suppose you can’t really plan anything in this situation?
No, we can’t. The entire year will now be focused on working creatively. Working on new material, recording new material, working on live recordings. We have some live material from Triumph of Death to mix. We have material to write for Triptykon, and so on… But even that is hindered right now because we record everything in Germany and right now the borders between Germany and Switzerland are closed. Half of Triptykon is German, half is Swiss, so we can’t even meet at the rehearsal room right now. We can’t go to the studio in Germany, so everything is sort of up in the air right now.
There’s a lot you can do online though.
Well… we send files back and forth, but I’m not a huge fan of rehearsing or playing concerts over the internet. I’m a bit oldschool in this regard.
There is a release coming up, the live at Roadburn recording of ‘Requiem’with the Metropole Orkest. What can you tell me about this?
Well, that’s a broad question. That’s a project that took over 30 years to finish, I would talk like… a day.
I wish we had time to do that. But I mean the release itself, as It was clear from the start you wanted to record it, correct?
Well, of course, if you do a project of that magnitude with so many special people involved… the conductor, the orchestra, the female singer, of course, you want to try and preserve this forever. It was clear from the beginning that if we were going to do this, we needed to record it. It’s a very complex project and a very expensive project, and it is in no way given that this will ever be performed again. In other words, it would have been very neglectful not to record it.
Has it become what you expected it to be?
I think so, yes. It was really complex on every level. Starting with the songwriting, then the arranging for the classical musicians, the preparations, the rehearsals… Even the performance itself. And then there’s the mixing of the uncounted tracks that we recorded, with all the individual musicians, cleaning the tracks from all the background noise. It was all very complex. But having said all of that, we are quite happy with the result. It’s a live album, so you don’t have the perfect studio conditions for a regular album. I think we did what we could, it is as perfect as it can be, while still capturing the live spirit that you really hear. We’re really happy with the result.
I was present during the performance at Roadburn and got to listen to the final record, so I can kind of compare and it is really capturing that experience. What I would like to know, having completed this, what did it mean to you to do this on a personal level?
First of all, it was an incredible honor to be invited to Roadburn to complete ‘Requiem’ and not do it on my own basically. It was an extreme honor Walter gave us this platform and all the people who work with him, but also to work with such an incredible orchestra. Walter suggested working with them, the Metropole Orkest. Jukka Iisakkila, the conductor… Like I said, a complex project, but all these people made it as easy as it can be because all of them were very experienced and professional. So I felt it was a big honor to be granted me to work with these people.
On a more personal record, it was quite a significant event to see this project completed that I started with Martin Eric Ain back in the mid-eighties. It was a beautiful feeling on one hand, and sad on the other, because I really wanted him to be part of it or at least hear it. Of course, since he died in 2017 that was impossible, but I literally was thinking of him while we were performing on stage. I carried him with me when we played in my heart. I’m not just saying this, he was very much part of my emotions and I hope in some way he would approve of this.
Has this also for you been part of dealing with his loss?
Well, of course, when Walter and I spoke about this whole thing for the first time he had just lost someone very close to him. I had just lost someone close to me, it was shortly after Martin’s death, so we were both mourning someone very close to us in our own individual lives. I think we both carried this in our minds when we discussed this. It was not just a professional proposal, there was much more to it.
Of the Requiem, two parts were already finished in a sense and ready to be played. The second part, however, is newly created. Can you tell me about its process?
The basic songwriting was done by me because the whole Requiem was an idea of mine. But for this third part, I was very open. I was working with people who are on one hand very experienced and professional, but on the other hand, were personally involved in it. There were no mercenaries and I know many people involved were genuinely part of it, not just hired guns. So I was very open to suggestions, especially when they came from our guitarist V. Santura, who was also the musical director, and Florian Magnus Maier, who was the classical arranger. Both of them are very close friends of mine and they had a lot of songwriting ideas that they contributed, which I was very open to. We had a million meetings in person and on Skype, to arrange this and to improve the piece and a lot of ideas were exchanged. It would have been egotistical in the face of such excellent people, to deny their ideas. I knew that if we combined all those, the piece would be much stronger then if I would enforce an ego. I really don’t have an ego, I was happy to be involved with so many good people so it was no problem to incorporate their contributions.
That’s good, because if it’s such a personal project, you want to be sure that everyone is in it for the right reasons.
Of course, but I never had to fear to miss the personal connection, as I wrote the whole thing. The basic construction and all, because at the end of the day it’s still my piece. This has just made the piece better. If you look at it as a memorial to people that have died in our circle of friends, then the better the piece, the better the memorial. It’s not about ego or being a star, it’s about creating something very, very special. If it’s about art, in my opinion, ego should be very far down the list. First and foremost, there needs to be creativity and the will to do something special.
I also wanted to ask you about the vocals by Safa Heraghi. Her vocals in the second piece just really carry it and hit the right spot. So how did you get in touch with her and considered her for this piece?
I first met her when she was playing a concert with Dark Fortress. She had done guest vocals on one of their songs and appeared later at one of their concerts in Zurich, my home town. I went to see them and her performance that night was absolutely brilliant and moving, so I went backstage and talked to her about one-day doing vocals on a Triptykon album. Traditionally, we have always had female vocals ever since the first Celtic Frost album. She was interested and when the idea for the ‘Requiem’ arose, I called her and asked if she would be interested in doing vocals. But not just backing vocals, but to be the co-lead vocalist in a classical metal collaboration. I’m very happy she said yes and she also contributed many ideas. She was heavily involved in some of the vocal melodies and the lyrics.
You know, we heard the ‘Requiem’ a million times by now, from the early demos till the final touches, but every time I listened to some of her parts towards the new middle part, we were all really moved to the point of tears sometimes. Even though we had heard it multiple times, this was how much her voice and performance moved us.
The artwork for this release is the first one without H.R. Giger’s artwork. Giger passed away in 2014, but I understand you still have the artwork for the future.
There is one more album that has been designed with and approved by Giger, when he was still alive. That was always supposed to be the third studio album, and that’s what it is going to be when it comes out. This is the album we’re working on this year. It’s long overdue of course, but when Giger was still alive in late 2013 he approached us after the first Triptykon album and asked if we were interested in continuing our collaboration. Giger and the band, we all agreed on doing a triptych. So I went with him and we selected the artwork and designed it together, and he approved everything. We used one work on the second album, and the third is yet to come.
Because the ‘Requiem’ is a different project and a live album, it has a different feel to it. It is not technically the third of the three studio albums, so it has a different kind of artwork to make it distinct. But the next Triptykon album will have the artwork, which will in fact be the last album where Giger was personally involved in the design and approval of everything.
But you have now also dedicated ‘Requiem’ to him.
Yes, of course, it is dedicated to Martin Eric Ain and H.R. Giger, two of our closest friends and collaborators who have died in recent years since the second Triptykon album. By the nature of the ‘Requiem’, we felt we had to make this dedication. However small it may be, we wanted to dedicated this to people who were instrumental to the band and close to us.
One last one is in the works then? Carmen Giger, his widow, has offered me to continue using Giger artwork even after the third record. But I’ve told her I don’t think it’s the right thing to do, even though it would be official, as she inherited it, has all the rights and would approve of it. I felt it was important to only do albums that Giger personally saw, oversaw and approved, so I don’t want to go on using his art past his death. After the third album, we will pursue a new direction at any rate.
Everybody knows how much of a fan of his work I am, and I feel infinitely honored for having been granted the possibility to work with him. I was a young teenager, many years ago, when I discovered the Emerson, Lake and Palmer album ‘Brain Salad Surgery’, and Giger’s artwork on that album impressed me to no end. At that time, I would have never thought I would be a musician and work with Giger. By now, I’m 56 and not only have I worked with Giger but I have done so on and on. It’s been four albums. I’m deeply honored and I don’t want to be greedy. I had these four albums with him, but I’m ok with going in a new direction, also as an artist. I’m not a capitalist in that I want more, more and more. I’m happy to say it’s enough, let’s do something else.
I want to ask you about the performance, because afterward you were part of a talk where you spoke with some finality. What you said was: ” I am no longer in tune in this world anymore and I really don’t know why I am still here. Now I finished the Requiem I guess I am free to leave.” I wanted to ask you how this was intended?
It was intended exactly in the way that I said it. When you discover some finality in this, that is exactly true. I’m not overly attached to the world as it is, given human conduct on this planet. I’ve been granted much more than I ever dreamt of as a teenager, when I had these daydreams of one day being a musician because music meant that much to me. I would have been happy to play in a local band, but I’ve been granted far, far more. As I said earlier, I’m not greedy, I’m not insatiable. I’ve been granted much more than I ever dreamt of so, I’m basically ready to call it a day whenever it’s the time and perhaps one day I’ll be instrumental in setting that time. There’s really not much joy in this world, giving the destruction of animals, the environment, ourselves and each other. Our ignorance, even after thousands of years of what we call civilization, we are still completely out of control, we haven’t learned anything and we destroy everything in our path, be it human, animal or environment in our endless egotistical narcissism. That’s not really a home I’m fond of, as much as it has given me. I’ve done a lot of things, fulfilled all my dreams, so I feel very free right now. When it’s time, I can go without hesitation, there’s nothing bad to that. I loathe the attitude of never having enough, always wanting more. It’s one of the big problems that us human beings carry with us, and I’m not like that at all.
Appreciate what you have, be satisfied.
Absolutely, and I have no problem with that fact that there’s an end to things. There’s no unlimited supply of everything. I’ve had my life and I’ve tried to live my life meaningfully, to try realize all my dreams. I worked on everything I wanted to achieve. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, so there’s really no regrets. I don’t need to hang on and say “I haven’t lived yet”, you know. I’ve always lived, against all obstacles.
As long as you are here, I do hope you keep creating…
Well, I’m still here, to my own surprise. And as I said, I’m working on a new studio album for Triptykon. I’m also working on resurrecting my side project that I was working on until November last year, but that I left with the drummer, but we are resurrecting it in a new form because the material is fantastic. I’m also working on the live recordings we did with Triumph of Death, which we hope to release some of this year. As long as I’m here, there’s always going to be some new material.
And of course, I love being on stage. The moments on stage are some of the most pleasant moments of my life.
The side project you mention, is that the mysterious Nyrith project?
Yes, it’s still called Nyrith, but we’re no longer part of it. The drummer and me, we left in December, but I do own the recording sessions, because my labe. paid for those recordings. I’m going back to the studio to work on this bit, I’m going to add some new music and we have some new songs to add and so on. The Nyrith album, everything was signed and ready for those sessions. The album was supposed to come out on April the 24th, but because we left… That departure was unavoidable unfortunately, but we feel very strongly about this project so we are resurrecting it in a new form and I’m very sure we will manage in spite of the COVID-19 situation. In spite of being blocked from the studio, we very much count on it being released this year. It’s very strong material.
You mentioned fulfilling dreams you had. Triumph of Death allows you to play the Hellhammer songs live, which were never played on stage in their own time. Is that one of those dreams?
Maybe not a dream, but it is simply fun. I have a band that is basically my career and is a business venture, which is Triptykon. It has big contracts and big pressure, AR-people, Sony, a label and so on, it’s a serious burden on my shoulders. Triptykon is a serious band. But Triumph of Death is simply fun. We’re playing very early, punkish metal that is simply primitive and powerful and there’s no business pressure or expectations or anything like that. We basically go on stage and have a good time with the audience and that is how we all started and how music should be. It’s punkish, proto-extreme metal and enormous fun to connect with the audience and to play this without the need to promote a new album or satisfy a record company. So far, it’s been fantastic and the audience experiences it in the same way and we’ve grown into a circle of friends. It’s just enormous fun. It’s a privilege to do this.
I really hope to experience that in the future.
Well, most concerts have been canceled, but most have also been rescheduled for next year already. Hopefully, we’ll be showering the world with primitive music again soon.
Gratitude goes out to Never Mind The Hype for letting me conduct this interview. Thanks also to Paul Verhagen, who created the pictures and Justina Lukosiute for the interview shot.
Perhaps you’ve already watched the documentary film ‘Blackhearts’, which tells us about the global phenomenon that is black metal and the love of musicians around the world for the nation of Norway, where it all began. One of the bands featured in the film is From The Vastland and I got to ask Sina a bunch of questions about his latest album and the film.
From The Vastland is from Iran, a country known for its strict regime and limitations in expression. That is, of course, an oversimplification about a nation with a rich, long history and a situation much more complex than I could ever do justice to in a few introductory lines over here. The movie was filmed a few years ago, and by now Sina lives in Norway and is at liberty to explain a bit about that mysterious place he is from and why it still colors his music so deeply.
Here is FromThe Vastland
From Iran to Norway: Sina from From The Vastland
How is From The Vastland doing?
Doing good! Earlier this year we released the new album “the haft khan” and the feedback from the community has been great! Well, due to the pandemic situation we had to change/cancel some of our plans but still, everything is going good. And as always I’m also working on some new material for the next release plus slowly working on some other plans for the band. So, all very good.
I’ve always wanted to ask you about the name of your project. Could you tell me more about its origin?
Sure! Well, it took me a while to choose this name, was thinking about it a lot back in the days when I wanted to start the band. there were several different reasons that I chose this name. One of the most important ones was because I wanted the name of the band also represents the concept of the music. So, let’s put it this way that I am from Iran and all the lyrics are about the ancient Persian empire era (one of the biggest empires in history), Persian mythology, and history. So, like the music comes from the vast land of Persia…Well, there were also some other reasons which together made me think this is a perfect name for the band.
You’ve just released your new album ‘The Haft Khan’. I understand it’s a Persian myth, but it also is the name of a high mountain in your country of birth. Can you share the significance of this story and why you chose it for your album theme?
Right. Well, The Haft Khan is a Persian myth but not the name of a mountain. This is a very specific name that has a specific place in Persian mythology. It’s based on one of the stories from the great epic masterpiece poem, the most notable piece of Persian literature, “Shahnameh” (The Book of Kings – One of the world’s longest epic poems) which was written by the poet, the world-known “Ferdowsi” between c. 977 and 1010 CE.
“The Haft Khan” story narrates seven difficult challenges of a national hero, the greatest of the Persian heroes, called Rostam on his journey by his legendary horse “Rakhsh” towards the land of Mazandaran, to save and free the king “Kei Kavus” and his army who have been captured and blinded by a spell of the White Demon.
In the story, Rostam passes seven stages and fights against natural difficulties, fierce animals, demons, and at the end, the white demon. finally, by dropping the blood of the white demon’s heart in the eyes of Kei Kavus (the king) and his army, sight returns to their eyes again.
The story of “the haft khan” is full of metaphors and symbols and represents some of the most important characters, legends, and myths in ancient Persian mythology and history. So, I found this epic story a perfect theme for a concept album that I was thinking about for a long time.
What can you tell me about the creative process behind the creation of the album? Did you work together with other artists?
This time again I worked on the album for almost 2 years and I did my best to make the atmosphere of the album exactly as I had it in my mind, which was based on the picture you get from reading the real story in the book. Starting a song was more based on the visuals I had in mind but of course, I was taking care of everything with precision when it comes to the song structure, the arrangement, lyrics, etc. to make it a perfect fit for the style.
You know, as always I wrote all the songs and recorded the demo album first and I sent it to my bandmates to practice and record their lines. That’s how we always record the albums but at the same time, I also ask them to use their own creativity on their lines and let me know if they have any suggestions. So, usually, the final result is not far from the demo I have recorded as we are all on the same page and it’s more like they just have a little bit of their own touch in the album too.
I was listening to the songs over and over again to make sure everything is exactly as it should be. When it comes to the sound of the album, I would say over the years, it got more mature but at the same time more aggressive and darker, still emotional and with the same style. And I believe it’s also a matter of experience, the way I write the riffs and how to make them sound richer, you know.
What makes it important for you to include these themes from your roots in your music, particularly within the framework of black metal?
You know, from many years ago I’ve been always very interested in mythology and history. I read about myths and ancient stories, not just Persian but also Scandinavian, Egyptian, Mayas, Greek…but then when I was growing the idea of my project, I found this combination perfect to make BM music with this epic, mythical theme. It is actually what some other bands in other countries are doing with their own but not about Persian myths.
You know, ancient Persian history and mythology are full of epic stories of the legends, the gods and demons, and the eternal battle between darkness and light.
So, not only I found this a perfect fit for black metal but also I wanted it to represent something from my homeland, a part of world history that goes back 7000 years or more. Something that even a lot of Iranians have forgotten about it. That’s also why I chose the “Rising from the ashes of the legendary past” slogan for the band.
The album, of course, landed in the middle of the pandemic. How has this impacted its release and you as an artist? Did you have many plans to cancel?
Yeah, definitely it was not the best time to release an album but you know, everything was already planned and I just thought it’s better to keep it instead of changing everything as we were already in the middle of the process. But yeah, of course, we had to change and cancel some of the plans like the concerts we had around the release time (which suppose to be the release concert for the album) here in Oslo and in another festival called Garasjefestival.
I was also preparing some more merch and just about to start making the cassette tape format of the album to release at the same time with the CDs but then everything was canceled or better to say postponed as they are still in the plan but let’s see how it will go…
Obviously, I have to ask you about the Blackhearts documentary. How impactful has this been for your career?
Of course, Blackhearts had a big impact on my career in a positive way, you know. Just imagine all the attention my band and music got because of the film, especially during the releasing period of the film. And then afterward when the film was released and they were screening it on the festivals all over the world, in cinemas and different types of events. You know, in the first place it was my music that made the producer discover me and my band but then afterward it was the film helping me to spread the words about my band and music. Especially here in Norway, it was so helpful for me to keep on doing what I’m doing. Being known in the scene and making friends is always great and can make things easier, you know. So, really glad and thankful for that!
I didn’t know until recently about the Blackhearts EP you did, following the film. What can you tell me about this project? Did you try to get guys from Naer Mataton involved too?
You know, back in the days I got this idea since I was one of the main characters in the film; so, thought to record some music specifically for the film with the cooperation of other musicians who are also involved in the film. So, I wrote the music and for the recording, “Vyl” (Drums – Keep of Kalessin/Gorgoroth) and “Nul Blackthorn” (Bass – Luciferian), 2 of the other characters in the film, joined me. And since it was recorded specially for the film so, I called it “Blackhearts” and then it was also used for the ending title of the film.
And I was thinking to ask them too but we were in a really short time, I mean everything happened real quick from the time when I decided to do it until we were already in the studio. So, we couldn’t…
What must have been most impactful was your move to Norway. How do you feel about this now? And have you been back to Iran? How did this impact your family?
True! Moving to Norway changed my life completely and I’m really glad it happened! I mean from many years ago I had the dream of moving to Norway and then finally it did happen. So, still today after all these years it seems unreal to me, the whole story and everything that happened in a really short time and changed my life, in a good way. I mean there was no doubt and still, today if I go back, I would do the same!
I haven’t been back to Iran since when I moved to Norway and probably it’s not a smart thing to do after all the threats I had (both back when I was in Iran and even later the first 2-3 years here in Norway). So, haven’t seen my family for the last 7 years which is not easy as you can imagine. So, I just talk to them on phone and sometimes we do video calls but it’s not the same, you know.
The documentary speaks about freedom/censorship you didn’t experience back in Iran. Yet, I’ve heard conflicting stories about that concerning metal music. There are quite some metal bands in Tehran and Iran according to Metal Encyclopedia and the band Avarayr (who are Armenians, living in Iran) stated they felt quite free to do what they pleased when I interviewed them. Could you respond to that and perhaps explain how we should view this? (because I must be wrong somewhere here).
Right, I understand that is kind of confusing for people outside Iran, and to be honest, it’s even hard to explain but OK, I try to explain it as short as possible…of course that’s true there are some other active metal bands in Iran but most of them are like real underground and since we don’t have any official metal scene, no record label to release the metal albums, no record store, festival or something; so, probably you never hear from them. Even though today it’s a bit easier to discover the bands because of social media but still…and regarding the Metal Encyclopedia, I can tell it’s really not updated and a good source to get the right info (…for Iranian bands). I know some of those bands in person! And the info there is not correct. Even the info regarding “From The Vastland” and my previous band “Sorg Innkallelse” is not right. Some of those bands are just a name, a one-man-band project with no release and at the same time there are bands which you can not find there but you know, that’s because there is no official scene going on.
Metal music in Iran is banned and the authorities consider it blasphemy but there is no official law about that. That’s when things get complicated, for example, if you want to release an album or play a metal gig you need to get a permit from the ministry of culture. First of all, they don’t give you a permit for a metal album and even if you get it, still it doesn’t mean you can do it! There are groups related to the revolutionary guard, religious groups, and different governmental organizations that easily can arrest you. They don’t need any permit or something to do that, they have guns and power! And that’s enough.
The thing is the regime pressure the artists whenever they feel like they should, every now and then. So, you never know when or how! it’s about their priorities. I myself at least know 3 metal musicians who had to run out of the country because of their music. probably you have heard about the Iranian band “Confess” and their story. That’s a good example of how things can go for metal musicians in Iran…
In your music, you tell about the legendary past. Extreme metal and tradition have a connection that is at times difficult. Many artists have at one point or another faced accusations of racism, spreading hate, etc. Often wrongfully (though there is the NSBM thing). I wanted to ask you how you feel about this from your perspective and what role does metal have when it comes to our past and identity?
You know, I think we should not forget that there is (or used to be) a strong family kind of feeling in the metal community, no matter who you are, where you come from, your race, skin color, personal preferences…That kind of freedom without feeling being judged or anything. I know in reality it’s not exactly like that or at least not today but we all share the same passion for the music we love and that’s what makes us connected. And when it comes to extreme metal or even metal in general, I think it’s is all about being true to yourself. it’s more than just music, it’s our identity. It’s the music that makes you think, to not forget and keep your roots, to break all the chains and fake rules that limit you. that’s the role it should play and that’s how it gets connected to your past, to your true self, I believe.
We see you walking a lot in the forests and nature in the documentary. How important are these to you and do you have special places you go for inspiration or that connect you to the past?
Nature is also where I get the inspiration for creating the music (one of the inspiration sources for me, you know). Especially mountain which brings back all my memories from childhood when I was going to the mountain around Tehran every weekend with my dad and that actually remained with me until today. And of course, the beautiful nature here in Norway which usually includes mountain and forest together is where makes me calm and inspires me a lot.
For the first four years of my life here in Norway I was living in a very small village outside Trondheim (up north Norway) and the nature in that area is spectacular. I had some favorite places where I could spend hours and hours just to relax, fresh my mind or listen to music. From the time when I moved to Oslo, nature is not that far but still, you need to get out of the town a bit, So, I usually just go for a walk by sea which makes me really calm and relaxed.
As I understand it, your inspiration was Marduk, Belenos, and Gorgoroth. What are you listening to now and would you recommend to others?
True! Well, there are tons of good bands from all over the world and still today I enjoy discovering new, unknown or less known bands. So, it’s a long list but if I would mention just one that I listen to these days then it would be Selbst!
Are there any Iranian metal bands people should really know about?
Well, there are very good bands, especially death metal bands! but you know, as I said, the problem is that the metal scene in Iran is really underground and there is nothing like anything official going on. So, it’s really hard to keep up with the activities. I still have an eye on the scene and check with my metal musicians friends and their bands in Iran but probably I’m not so updated.
What future plans do you currently have for the band? Implied that the world turns back to normal.
Well, I’m working on some new material for the next album, however, I’m not sure if I’m going to release it next year. It all depends on how the writing process will go. I never plan a release an album before I’m 100% satisfied with the material. And when it comes to live shows, I would wait a bit and see how the situation is but I’m thinking about at least a show here in Oslo later this year but if not then maybe we can plan to stream live…Hard to say now when everything is uncertain. The music scene was hit strongly by the pandemic situation and changed all the plans for almost everyone but hopefully, things will get back to normal, slowly and we will see more and more activities.
If you had to compare From The Vastland to a dish, what would it be and why?
Hehe That’s a weird one! Never thought about it before. Well, let’s say “ghormeh sabzi” because it has a lot of ingredients, mostly herbs and even though not all of them are used only in this Iranian dish (well, some of the herbs are) but the taste of the food is so Iranian (I mean, this is a traditional Iranian dish. So, obviously)…Yeah, maybe I can compare my music to that! I don’t know…hehe
Our world still holds plenty of mysteries. There are intricacies, complexities and connections, we can hardly fathom, all around us. Some people tap into the beyond, into the mystery of sound and vibration. One of those is Dylan Carson, a modern day musical shaman and explorer, who by that time had just released ‘Full Upon Her Burning Lips’ with his band Earth.
On this album, he is exploring a more feminine spirit, a sensuality that is almost transcendental. Carson has his roots in the grunge scene, has gone through the darkness of addiction, lost his good friend to suicide (yes, Kurt Cobain) and somehow has emerged as an icon in a musical style that is entirely his own.
Carlson is often called the father of drone metal. Not a moniker he would pick, but one he gratefully accepts. Currently, as we talk over Skype with a bunch of disruptions on the line as friends try to reach him, he is staying in Los Angeles. For the film soundtrack he is making, but also because he will be moving there in December. It’s a lot more sunny in L.A. he concurs: “It’s way warmer up here, nicer weather for sure!”, he chuckles.
We talk about the new album, Full Upon Her Burning Lips, which recently came out. But also about his solo record Conquistador, on which he collaborated with Emma Ruth Rundle. And Bagpipes.
Never Mind The Hype let me interview Dylan for last years’ Le Guess Who? festival, a fest I’ve never visited. I was happy to do so anyway.
Good vibrations and universal harmonies
What do you think about the Le Guess Who? Festival yourself? “It’s one of my favorite festivals. I’m not crazy about festivals, but this one always has an interesting program and many people are there that I’d love to meet. Not that I get to usually, but last time I was there I saw jazz icon Pharaoh Sanders perform. That is really cool!”
How does Earth fit within the confines of a festival like Le Guess Who? And how did you end up playing there this year? “Well, The Bug is one of the curators and we did an album together, so I think that’s how it went. But why we fit in is that even though people love boxing us into genres or microgenres, Earth has always tried to do something new, always pushed itself into new directions. That fits within the confines of this festival very well. As a musician, I don’t feel confined to microgenres. I make music, as best as I can, but I can’t affect the way people deal with that. But we play all sorts of festivals, because we are not limited to just heavy music. We’ve done Hellfest, Primavera, but also Le Guess Who? and Levitation festival. That’s a big range. Big Ears in Knoxville is another one of my favorites by the way. We’re not stuck in a corner, we can go many different ways with Earth.”
Is that what gives you more freedom in starting up collaborations? “Definitely. I’ve done a lot of those and I’m always open for new opportunities. It’s all about being open to possibilities and look for that ‘common ground’. If that’s not there, it won’t work. Our collab with Kevin ‘The Bug’ Martin is a good example. Even though he grew up hating guitars, we have a lot of similarities in our taste for music and love for dub. Even though we come from opposite worlds, there was enough of a match to do something very cool. So kudos to Kevin for having the guts to do this.”
Do you ever worry if such a collaboration will work out? “If it doesn’t work out, you just won’t release it. No one will have to suffer through it. I’ve had those in the past, where it just didn’t work out. But now, I think I’ve done this long enough to know early on if something will work or not, if the audience would like it or not. I believe in ‘happy accidents’, just letting things happen. If it’s a lot of work and effort, the magic just isn’t there.”
For your solo album ‘Conquistador’ you worked with Emma Ruth Rundle. How did that happen?
“She’s just fucking amazing. I seriously can’t praise her enough, both as musician and as a human being. I’m so happy to see all the recognition she is getting, because she deserves every bit of it. She is one of the few people I always love seeing perform. She is signed to the same label as us, Sargent House, though I met her earlier when we did a show with Marriages and Deafheaven in LA. I borrowed her amp and we’ve sorta become friends since. When I was working on ‘Conquistador’, our schedules matched and we met in the studio of Kurt Ballou to work on some music. So that’s what happened.”
How was it for you to create a solo record, instead of an Earth record? “With Earth there are always multiple people involved, which makes the process more complex. Solo I simply have more freedom and a white canvas, possibilities for collaborations, but it also feels more free for me. Though Earth is not a formula, you always look for progress and continuity. Not that there’s a set course, but we don’t want to repeat ourselves while there may be directions I’d like to play with a bit more. The theme of an imaginary western you could here on ‘Hex, Or Printing in the Infernal Method’, so that was a done deal for Earth. ‘Conquistador’ allowed me to further explore that theme.”
“But what was also an influence, is that we had just left Southern Lord. I knew that finding a new label was going to take time and we had just toured intensively for our previous album Primitive & Deadly. There was need for a break, and I had all this music I wanted to work on. So I took the progressions I had and made my own songs with those. So it was a time of finding our bearings and experimenting.”
If I understand you correctly here, Earth is kind of your highway and solo work enables you to take all those interesting byways and explore, is that correct? “That’s basically it. Earth is the main focus of my career, but there’s so much else I want to do. This enables me to do that and it helps my creative process. Making music is one of the few things in my life I haven’t had problems with. It helps me find the right flow, also in other aspects of my life. I feel very fortunate to be able to work on music all the time and I don’t want to waste any of that time. The fact that I once just… disappeared for 5 years, showed up again and was embraced, is something I’m very grateful for.”
But that’s also your own doing. You get called the father of drone for a reason. “Well yes, that. The fact that people respect what I did so much and validate it, that’s an incredible honor. That’s what motivates me to try hard and keep innovating, not rest on my laurels. I could have made Earth 2 25 times, but that’s not how I want to be remembered.”
Does the solo work make you hungry for more? “Definitely. I’m currently working on the soundtrack for the film From A Son and I hope this will be released as a solo album too.”
You’ve often said you’d like to make soundtracks and this is your second, right? How did this happen? “I’ve made a soundtrack for a German film, called Gold. This is the second. The director of From A Son is Gilbert Trejo, son of Danny Trejo, who plays in the movie. His production manager Kyle pitched my music and Gilbert liked it. He tried what it would be like by using some Earth songs and music from Conquistador as place holders and it was a fit. Kyle happened to know my manager Cathy and contacted her. Long story short, I got to make a soundtrack.”
“The process itself has been pretty intuitive. I watched the movie, which gave me some ideas. We then played the movie and I basically jammed to it. Then it’s a whole process of cutting, pasting, filling, adding… Until you have it. Austin from Starcrawler added percussion to the recordings. All in all, this was a very straightforward process. Similar to Gold actually, though there they were shooting while I was composing, so I would get bits of the film sent my way. That was interesting.”
I’ve actually seen you play another soundtrack. In Ghent you did a live soundtrack for the 70’s psychedelic movie Belladonna of Sadness. “Ah, but that was a different process. They actually expected us to play an Earth set, but instead we composed a whole soundtrack. We watched the movie a number of times, chose a number of themes and worked with that. That developed into what we played live that night and which has shaped part of the new album, like the song Descending Bella.
We actually should talk about your new album, but first, you did sign with Sargent House. What made you join their roster? “Cathy Pellow was already our manager and that’s why my solo record is out on Sargent House. Going there with Earth was a natural choice. Cathy is fantastic, really good with artists, supportive and I like her way of doing business. We just click and Sargent House is a great label, with camaraderie between artists I haven’t experienced before.”
Full Upon Her Burning Lips is the first record you’ve done with Adrienne Davis as a duo. Why did you choose for that and how did it work out? “I felt that on previous records, we had to give way to a lot of other instruments. That’s not a complaint, I worked with great people and I’m happy with those records. But I wanted to see if I could give more room for the essence. The drums also could do with more space I felt. By making this record with the two of us, we get to show what Earth sounds like at its core. And I got to play bass, which I like, so that is cool.”
“The process was very smooth. Most of the material was composed a month before we went into the studio, and there everything just got together naturally. It’s again a very intuitive process, where most of the overdubs, solo’s, and bass lines are improvised in the studio. The basis for the song was just there to complete.”
Did you have a clear concept for this record, like you did for previous ones? “That’s actually one thing that was very different on this album. I had various ideas, but not one big concept. My wife, Polly, she’s a dancer and I thought a lot about music and dance, which are so separate in today’s world. I also read a lot of books from Tanith Lee, which have many sensual themes. I wanted to create a record that was more feminine, more sensual, as opposed to the hypermasculinity of heavy music, but also play with dance. Dance is not just for EBM, it’s a form of getting together, interacting physically, of ritual. It’s a communal thing that I find very important.”
I noticed that this whole record refers to that essence. Just the design of the cover, with its 70’s hardrock reference and the picture of you two, it really points to your roots. “That picture was not intended for the cover, but when I saw it, I knew it was just right. It’s the band itself, and this design makes me think of classic albums like the debut by The Stooges. It was just right.”
Could you tell me what, in your view, is that core or essence of Earth. That which makes the band unique? Is that drone? “I see drone as more of a technique. In music theory, it’s called an oblique motion and that can be found in numerous types of music. From Indian meditation, classical music, blues to even Scottish bagpipes. What attracts me to that sound is the open string you work with or against. I think that’s what I’ve always done in my music. Many people think of massive amps and volume when they hear drone, but there are drones in a hurdy gurdy or acoustic music. That’s what I love anyways. Tempo has always been less interesting to me so we’re sort of countering that, which was particularly interesting when we started out in a time when each band wanted to be the fastest in the world. Within those factors there are many directions to explore and as long as this is all in there, it’s Earth I think. Currently I’m using a lot of chromatic movements, which is something new in my music. But that’s still an oblique motion.”
All these examples you mention, like a hurdy gurdy and bagpipes, those create a sound that I think resonates with people. Isn’t that part of the charm? “It might be my Scottish heritage, which makes me cursed with liking bagpipes. But did you know the bagpipe was really used everywhere until the accordion became available? I read somewhere the king of Hungary even burned all bagpipes then and forced people to buy accordions. Maybe that’s where bagpipes got their bad name, but it’s definitely a global instrument.”
“But I feel, making music, that I’m just a conduit for music that’s already there. Like a pipe, the way I’m shaped affects the final form. That vibration though, it’s already there, the universe is all about vibrations. Solid matter are standing waves and I like the idea of a sustained note, that is fed and keeps resounding, which touches us. It’s a shared, universal resonance. Music and dance are the original technologies for ecstasy and transcendence. When I play a really good show, I never remember it afterwards, I disappear into it. When I think too much, when it’s a lot of work, then I remember it. It’s still a good show, people enjoy it, but it’s where I don’t lose myself in that vibration of the music.”
Is that how you experience collaborations? Is there that shared resonance that you look for? “I think so, but it’s also a form of synergy. The sum needs to be larger than the parts, if that’s all good, it’s going to work out.”
Most of the interviews with an artist are because of the release of an album, or relevant news that involves the band. But, sometimes there is an artist that just that never sits still, continuously working on a total of fourteen projects at the same time. Krigeist, also known as Andrew Campbell, plays in Barshasketh, Brón, Belliciste, Dunkelheit and who knows what other musical project he is involved in…
Andrew carries out everything he does with enormous passion and dedication. This is very fascinating if you keep in mind these are not only studio projects. Barshasketh visited the Netherlands several times. Andrew found some gaps in his busy schedule for us to answer questions about his music, inspiration, and how he keeps everything in balance, whilst traveling the world.
Interview originally published on Never Mind The Hype.
Header: Krigeist in Tampere, foto Porta Atra (Source: Facebook page Barshasketh)
Following the Left Hand Path
I was wondering if you could tell me about yourself. Where you originally are from and how you got involved with black metal and in so many projects.
I’m originally from New Zealand, but I’ve not lived there in almost a decade now. I’ve relocated several times since I left, but I’ve now been based in Serbia for a few years.
Since a young age, I’d been looking for a type of music that fits with what I had in my mind and went through many phases searching for it, until I discovered Black Metal, which was everything I’d been searching for, both musically and ideologically. I got into the genre quite late I suppose, when I was around 18 or 19 years old. I think it was Dissection first, followed by Gorgoroth, Emperor, Mayhem as well as newer bands, such as those on the NoEvDia roster. From there it spiraled out of control until I was utterly consumed.
Most of my own projects outside of Barshasketh started due to the fact that the material I had written didn’t suit any of my existing projects, so new ones were needed to accommodate them. The other projects I am involved with were a result of strong connections with other individuals. As well as the projects I’m involved with that already have releases, I’m working on a multitude of others which should see releases in the near future.
How did Bashasketh get started and how would you describe the concept and idea you are expressing?
For me, it feels like your themes and lyrics hold a high level of complexity, though the words themselves are very direct and strong.
I started the band as a solo project around 12 years ago, almost concurrently with my discovery of Black Metal. Since then a number of members have come and gone, but the current lineup of GM, BB and MH and myself has become a lifetime brotherhood. When I started the band, it was a vehicle for me to explore and understand my spirituality and now it serves the same purpose for all four of us. As it’s a natural exploration of our paths through this sphere and beyond, it’s inevitably complex, as these things are never straight forward.
I’m very curious about what that spiritual aspect entails and what directions it has grown into. Could you tell me more about what inspires you? And would you say other projects have sort of grown out of that personal journey?
In the simplest terms, it’s an exploratory approach to the Left Hand Path. We don’t adhere to any specific school of thought, but rather use our own experiences, which we make sense of through our music and lyrics. With the creation of the last album, we have come to realize that this involves a continual cycle of destruction, purification and rebirth. Each time we throw ourselves deeper into the pit and the spirit is reborn in a stronger cast, with more knowledge and more certainty.
The inspiration behind what led us to choose this path is something difficult to pinpoint, however, the reason we have chosen to follow it purely through our own experience was that it seemed to be the only honest way for us to do so. We believe that spiritual growth must come from within, hence we have shunned extraneous influences for the most part.
I wouldn’t say this path has had a direct link on my other projects, although it has an effect on my existence as a whole, so there is undeniably some underlying influence on my other endeavors.
You mentioned that the band is now a whole as such. Does this mean the creation of this latest album was more of a cooperative effort? And can you tell me more about the process?
It was definitely more of a collaborative effort in some ways. As before, either GM or I would write all the guitars for a song, but this time BB and MK were left to write their own parts and put their own stamp on songs-so basically less dictation from our part. All members put forward ideas that were considered and taken on board. MK also contributed some synth parts and provided backing vocals, which was a first for us. Lyrically, I was responsible for the entirety of the lyrics (except for the Latin phrase in Recrudescence, which was the work of GM), but it was something that was discussed and reflected all of us.
BB and MK have also led GM and I to feel less restricted in our songwriting, as they are more than able to handle anything we throw at them.
As for the creative process, it was quite drawn out, with some of the songs being completed in their larval stages even before the release of Ophidian Henosis. As we are all separated geographically, there were months of sending material back and forward in various demo forms. If I recall correctly, the four of us were never in the same room during this process, but we did have one or two occasions with most of the members present to work out the finer details and experiment with structures.
The lyrics came last and were a much quicker process, as the concept was firmly in my mind when I began writing. I feel I should say that a lot of the lyrics were written while in Hungary with the Inner Awakening Circle, so I must thank them for their inspiration.
Can you tell me anything about the Inner Awakening Circle? And what made them so influential.
The Inner Awakening Circle is a Hungarian group of individuals and bands including Lepra, Niedergang and Dunkelheit (who I’m now playing guitar for). They’re very serious about what they do and there’s absolutely no bullshit. The experiences I had with them pushed me out of my comfort zone and pulled me further down, and solidified my conviction that I’ve chosen the right path for me.
Do you believe that this exploration, leaving the known behind, is essential for your art form as much as for personal growth? And are there instances you can describe to clarify how this has impacted your art and person with an anecdote?
Yes definitely, the two are completely intertwined. The personal growth from these experiences is reflected in the music. The music is the medium through which we make sense of the exploration and experiences.
As for specific instances or anecdotes, these are our own. All the things that we want to share in a public forum can be seen in our music and lyrics.
So you said that during the creation of your latest record under Barshasketh, you were never together in a room. But then I’m really curious how the process took place and how you arrange things. I also was wondering what makes you as a person so unbound by a place and how you relate the change of home perhaps to the music or vision you describe. As I see it, this could be a form of exploration too.
For the creation of the Barshasketh album, either GM or I would write all the guitars for a song, then we would send it to MK and BB to work out their drum and bass parts respectively. This involved a lot of sending demos back and forth until we were mostly satisfied. After that, when some of the members were able to get together, they would iron out details and small structural changes. It was quite an interesting way to do things as I’d often get one of my songs back sounding a lot different than I had originally had in mind.
When it comes to the various changes in location, it was all circumstantial really. It was mostly moving from place to place in order to stay in Europe so that Barshasketh could remain active, just keeping my head above water. The places themselves never had an influence on Barshasketh, but I think the upheaval of having to leave certain places without much warning did. The various places I’ve lived is something that is expressed more through Brón than any other of my projects.
Yeah, I was sort of steering in that direction because I’m very much fascinated by Bròn. Can you tell me how that entity came into being and how it has shaped up to be as diverse as it is?
As with all ‘side’ projects, Bròn came out of writing music that didn’t fit with any of my existing projects, both musically and thematically. Fògradh was written after I found out I would have to leave Scotland and it was inspired by my experiences living in that country. It was intended to be a one-off, but while living in Slovakia, shortly before moving to Serbia, Ànrach was written. The three songs deal with the influence that the natural environments of Scotland, New Zealand and Serbia had on me. It became clear at this point that this was a project dealing almost solely with the place.
I think I’ve reached something as absurd as 14 individual projects now – Krigeist
The diversity in material is due to the environment and the relationship to that environment that I’m expressing with each release. For example, the White City releases deals with Belgrade and day to day living in a huge urban expanse, which is quite far outside of my comfort zone. Black metal of any sort would simply have been an inappropriate medium to express those feelings. Ruins was unsurprisingly influenced by various ruins I have visited throughout Europe. Coming from New Zealand where such structures don’t exist, they had a profound impact on me. Again, black metal felt inappropriate, so a more folkish approach was taken. The black metal releases are invariably influenced by nature and an absence of human life, whether it be in New Zealand, Serbia or elsewhere.
I always feel that Bròn is a very personal project, because it just feels very well-conceived and every release is very cohesive and ‘whole’. Is that how you envision it and how do you feel about the term side project, because I don’t feel that any of this is done with a lesser form of commitment and passion?
All my projects are personal in their own right, they just express different aspects of myself. I have no problem with the term ‘side project’ as Barshasketh is more of an expression of my entire being and my perception of this sphere, whereas the other bands are intended to express one specific thing. Perhaps the fact that I share Barshasketh with people who are very meaningful to me makes it a more personal too.
How does Belliciste fit into this whole world as well? As that does seem to stick more northernly, in language at least.
As for Belliciste, this band also has no relation to place. It is an outlet for pure animalistic, reckless hatred with no bonds to anywhere in this world.
The lyrics deal with the filthiest side of my spirit. Absolute misanthropy, apocalypse and the eradication of all life in this world. There are numerous references to deities from various mythologies, but these are not limited to those from the North. There are also many references to the Maori pantheon, most specifically Whiro, but I believe these all to be some sort of archetypes of the Devil, just through a different linguistic lens.
Do you feel that your current projects and themes are for now it, or are you constantly finding new inspiration as you travel and explore and will new entities see the light of day?
I think I’ve reached something as absurd as 14 individual projects now, so there is a lot of new material on the horizon. Some are black metal, others are not. Some are solo projects, some are with other people I’ve met over the years.
These projects all stem from internal exploration and even just musical exploration, rather than anything geographic.
Ok, so I’d like to ask you if there are any ties you still have to the black metal scene in New Zeeland and if there’s anything happening that you’d like people to be aware of.
I never really had very strong ties to the NZ black metal scene, even while I lived there. I only knew and associated with a small handful of individuals, but I am still in contact with most of them and I’m even working on material with some of them. As for things happening within the NZ scene that people should be aware of, I guess most would already be familiar to those into black metal. Bands of note include Vassafor, Heresiarch, Vesicant, Ulcerate, Diocletian, Creeping.
Lesser known bands include Winter Deluge, Exaltation, Vicissitude. I’m surely forgetting a few more…
So what future plans do you currently have with your projects? What’s coming up next?
A lot at the moment. I’m currently working on two Brón releases. One will likely be part of the White City series and the other is back to the black metal style, but this time features a real drummer. It’s being done in a proper studio setting, so things are moving slower than usual.
Other than that, a few Barshasketh and Belliciste releases are in the works which should see the light of day soon. Dunkelheit and Svartgren albums have been finished and shouldn’t be too long either. The other projects are still being worked on, so news about those will follow.
We have some exciting performances lined up for Barshasketh and Belliciste is also becoming more active in the live arena again.