This interview was published in Dutch originally in 2013. It was conducted in autumn that year, at Selim’s house. In March 2014 he had passed away. I published it here in my own translation, as done later in that year for Wyrd’s Flight. For posterity, for remembrance, for a fire that never truly goes out (and websites where this was originally published do). For me personally, this is the defining article I wrote. Nothing will ever top this I think, in intensity of experience and impact on me and my life. The light never falters.
Pictures kindly provided by Brendy Wijdeven and Paul Verhagen
The Devil’s Blood is no more. The band that gained worldwide fame under the rule of bandleader Selim Lemouchi suddenly called it quits early in 2013. The record ‘III: Tabula Rasa or Death and The Seven Pillars’ was released, but after that, this chapter was closed. A few months later, a new band appeared as a support act for Ghost. Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies. Lemouchi later played a gig for the Eindhoven home crowd on July 13th in Café Oude St. Joris.
Now the debut album ‘Earth Air Spirit Water Fire’ is ready to be released. Time to check how things are going, so on a Sunday afternoon we ring the doorbell at the Lemouchi residence.
Imagine the house at the end of the street. You know, on the corner, the odd one out. The one house where the curtains are not proudly opened wide to let people look inside. It was different from the Dutch stereotype in that way. There were stickers on the door, depicting various band logos. Inside the place was crowded and filed up with books, records and cigarette butts. In between all the stuff a huge dog is walking up and down, well mannered but quite shy. One wall is covered in traces of blood and in the corner is an altar set up, just like everyone has seen in the documentaries and interviews. Contrary to what many people have assumed based on my interview, there was no gloomy atmosphere, no foreboding feeling to the words Selim spoke to me. His home was a regular terraced house, on the corner of a regular street that just housed an extraordinary person who was very welcoming and friendly.
A New Path
Since we were raised with the right manners, we thank Selim Lemouchi for making the time for us. Today the musician has enough time: “It’s Sunday, the last day of rest before we really have to start working towards the seventh of December. We must start building up for the show at TAC (Temporary Art Centre), so it’s really time to act now. Sugar or milk?” Lemouchi goes into the kitchen to make some coffee and continues talking enthusiastically. While the coffee drips from the pot, Czech black metal makes sounds on the background. Sitting down on a flight case, Lemouchi continues his story: “I want to offer people more during the release show than just another rock show. Everything needs to be perfect. The music is not the most important, I’d almost say. They used to have better words to describe that, a complete experience, a happening. Music should never become a mass product, no ready made music that gives away all it has to offer on the first play. I want music that sticks to you. If I don’t experience that myself, then it’s not good enough. That’s how I always worked with The Devil’s Blood, I didn’t care what others thought of my music, as long as I liked it.”
He continues: “With the Devil’s Blood, I would always work with the same mould, I had to let that go of that on the new record. The formula went overboard and I decided to let the inspiration go it’s own way, letting it flow out, so to speak, and choose the direction it wanted to go. That has been a huge step, alongside opening up to others and work together. Robbie Geerings (Alabama Kids, mostly known from record store Bullit) even wrote two songs for this record, namely ‘Deep Dark Waters’ and ‘Next Stop, Universe B’. We produced the record together.”
Were these ready made moulds and formulas perhaps the reason for The Devil’s blood to quit, that is the question. “No, I think that within one form you can do endless variations and have an enormous spectrum of possibilities. All music already exists, I truly believe that. That means that one can go anywhere within certain parameters. All the records we made, I’m very proud of. I just think that with this way of working, I said everything I wanted to say. It was time for a change.”
‘Earth Air Spirit Water Fire’
On ‘Earth Air Spirit Water Fire’, the musical journey of Selim Lemouchi continues. There is a new sound and a changing group of musicians who surround him. “I keep wanting to change things. At this moment in time I listen to plenty of black metal. Maybe that is the next kind of record I would want to make. For ‘Earth Air Spirit Water Fire’ I took it onto myself to not hold back, not to limit myself with goals and targets. It was mainly experimenting, letting in others and collaborate on music making. That was the biggest challenge for me after being in full control for seven years. I try to steer the others, motivate them, but also to learn from myself as much as I can.”
A cup of coffee is placed in front of me on the stuffed table. It’s a mug with the Tasmanian Devil on it and the text reads ‘100% Animal’. Lemouchi drops down on the couch and grabs his phone to let me hear a bit of music. “When Robbie (Geerings) moved in here after Bullit closed, I handed him a guitar. He hadn’t touched one in years, but was he just sitting on my couch, doing nothing? I wasn’t having that. So this is what came out, which made me think: we can probably work together!”
Lemouchi was sometimes named the dictator of The Devil’s Blood. Is he now more the manager of Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies? “That’s a good description actually, I think of myself more as a director or producer though. I tell people about my ideas and let them work with those in their own ways.”
The next step in his journey wasn’t a casual step forward, it evolved. First there was the EP ‘Mens Animus Corpus’ (Mind, Soul, Body) was released. A title that seems to be more focussing on the ‘I’ in relation to its surroundings. “That is very true, that record was the first step outwards, it’s like a bridge between how I used to work and the new way; I didn’t feel like letting go of the reigns yet, I needed a sense of control. I recorded demos until I felt it was safe to hand over the music to others, which was still very difficult for me. But I did it and and took this new course I’m on now. From element A in the music, you need to get to element B and there’s only one right path. You have to find that, otherwise it doesn’t make sense, it’s not what it potentially could be and that’s the inspiration you need to unleash, for yourself and others.”
The hard path
Lemouchi blames himself for the difficulty of the path he chooses when making his music: “I demand the best from myself and I’m painfully honest towards others about their input. I expect the same hunger and critical position in return from them as well. Some people have a hard time with this attitude, the current group of musicians I work with as well. At the start, we’d almost get into fights in the rehearsal room. Now everyone knows what I want to achieve and the drive and motivation I have and expect. The music must be great, emotions and egos have to be put aside to achieve that. This is just as true for myself. I think a band loses its quality, when people stop telling them ‘No’. When the keenness and challenges fade. I want to avoid that, but that’s not easy. Artists have to unite creativity with their narcissistic side. Of course, all of it has to do with money as well, but money is something I never really understood much of anyways. My role in this band, is to challenge others and hone them into critical musicians. That way, the band is bound to produce great things. Maybe the choice for the name ‘His Enemies’ has something to do with that, the hostility towards each other now and then. The art is the most important thing in the end.”
Art needs inspiration, but the question that inspires Lemouchi will obviously not receive a standard answer. He gives some examples: “I listen to a lot of music, music is something that’s as broad as you can imagine, when you let go of categories and genres. Take what I am listening to right now, for example (Master’s Hammer from the Czech Republic is playing, red.): I read that a lot of the inspiration for this band comes from Bathory and other classic black metal. It was a review that totally missed the point. My thought was that the writer was incapable to hear the Czech folk influences in the music or the classical influences. People limit their framework of reference and that annoys me. Music is like a spider web, everything is connected and all inspires everything else. Without the Beatles there would not be any Pink Floyd and without them none of the bands that followed and so on. Don’t limit yourself to a genre or a scene by locking yourself up in it.”
“When I’m making music, I only listen to my own music, nothing else. When I have something and record it, I just get into that for days and delve into it. I listen to the recordings a hundred times over, until I think its perfect or I’m utterly sick of it. Then I start writing my lyrics and fill in the gaps in the music. I don’t even know what is popular right now, I only focus on my own music. Of course I do listen to things now and then, I have a list of songs that I think are the best…” The mobile phone comes up again and a series of band names are read out loud: “Jethro Tull, Czech band Root, Coil, Thin Lizzy, Beatles, King Crimson and Black Sabbath… and so on. I listen to this when I feel my own obsessiveness is making me go insane, but even then I have to force myself to let go and listen to something else.” The term ‘Occult Rock’ doesn’t say much for Selim Lemouchi: “I once wrote that in one of those boxes on iTunes for The Devil’s Blood. I love those boxes that you fill in with style names and inspirations… The term fitted with The Devil’s Blood and our sound at the time. Later they asked me what I thought of the occult rock scene, but I don’t know of any scene. Is Occult Rock a scene? It’s not like we and other bands that get this label meet up and hang out at shows, most of these bands don’t interest me at all or I’ve never heard of them. Ghost did make some good music, but the comparison between us and them? Nah, I don’t see it…”
Many books are being read by Selim for ideas and inspiration, but sometimes he reads nothing at all. Lemouchi describes himself as a peculiar reader. “I like to read on the toilet, I always keep a pile of books there that I read randomly. Lately I’ve been reading a lot from the French poet Rimbaud. I enjoy reading the Compte de Lautréamont, who wrote extensively on cruelties. Of course I read plenty of books on theology and theosophy. I started reading ‘An Antarctic Mystery’ by Jules Verne again and I’m reading ‘The Dark Tower Saga’ by Stephen King. I’ve always been able to draw a lot of inspiration from those books. ‘Bloody Meridian’ by Cormac McCarthy is also a great book, which takes place in the early days of the United States. Like you’d expect I read plenty of religious books, grimoires and books on archeology. The Bible and the Koran keep providing ideas and inspiration as well. It’s always good to read books in which others try to find the truth. You should always rely on your own ideas, but those of others can definitely stimulate you.”
This inspiring mode works the other way around as well, as can be heard on the record ‘Earth Air Spirit Water Fire’, which is presented on the 7th of December. An album where Lemouchi inspired the band with his ideas. Lemouchi asks the first question about the album himself: “When you listened to it, did you hear one album or five pieces?” I answer it’s double, the songs are very different, but it feels like one. Some songs remind you of Pink Floyd or doom metal, others are more dreamy and kraut rock inspired, enthusiastic he replies: “I recognise that. For myself, I only listen to the full album in a file of 43 minutes, which I got after the recordings. I have the separate mp3’s as well, but it’s the whole that feels good. The peculiar thing is though, that these are indeed very different pieces of music, written separately, that form a whole. The album feels like the time between sunset and sunrise, the night. Some songs, like ‘Chiaroscuro’ and ‘The Deep Dark Waters’, are simple by design, with just one riff. These songs have a very narrative style and are basically quite simple, containing just one guitar riff that is reshaped, bent and repeated. They never get too complex, too stifled with extra stuff. ‘Next Stop, Universe B’ sounds dreamy. It seems like a very simple song, but it keeps changing although it’s hardly noticeable. It’s like the song ‘Just Dropped In’ by Kenny Rogers, never the same; if feels logical, but it’s completely irregular. It’s almost like we let go of the standard structure of a song in that one. Robbie (Geerings red.) hated it. If I couldn’t write a normal song, he asked me. That told me it was right where it had to be. We fought a lot over that song, but it really became a very good one.”
Having arguments with people is definitely a side of Selim Lemouchi, very different than the friendly spring of words today would seem to be. In his terraced house in Eindhoven he is calm and patient. It is as if he becomes someone else. I confront him about his two faces. I wrote about his friendly side and his artistic side in my review. “Yeah, I read that, but I think I have more than a thousand faces really… No, I think you were right. The friendly side may be a mask, a screen; I present myself as nice to be able to work in this society. On stage, with my music, I become a predator. I leave the herd behind and I see a red glow in front of my eyes. I think that’s where I open up, I show myself, because there I have to be in full control and everything must be right. I’m exactly where I should be and do what I have to do. Everyone else around me is required to do the same. The normal values fade away in those moments.”
Lemouchi looks away thoughtfully, he is not entirely happy with that darker side: “I keep working on it, that’s part of the task of collaborating with others. However, I need to express myself sometimes, even when I don’t want to. I can’t control that. There is a side of control and order to me, but also the creative, chaotic side. Those are intertwined and I’m still looking for the right balance.”
e across an album that defies categorization, that simply is out there in a way little else is. Dordeduh released one of those albums this year, their sophomore release ‘Har’. It’s a celebration of Romanian culture, but also an embrace of the future and crossing over into new domains. It tells of deep history and myths yet opens its arms to whoever listens to it. It’s a statement and testament to what the band is about.
Dordeduh is often described as a project that sort of split-off from the well-known Negură Bunget . Yet, that does injustice to the people behind the project, their vision and creative drive. While the roots may be similar, Dordeduh has paved its own path. It did take years for the follow up to ‘Dar de duh’, which came out in 2012, but hey, here it is finally!
Though Edmond ‘Hupogrammos’ Karban is enjoying his time off outdoors, he did take time to talk about this new album and share some insights into the process behind the band and the album, the current state of the world, and playing Prophecy Fest (hopefully) where they’ll do a Negura Bunget set.
Hello Dordeduh, how are you guys doing?
Hello there. I am in vacation and I enjoy some free time in the wilderness of our mountains, with no internet and telephones and technology.
You’ve released the monumental album ‘Har’ this year, still in the midst of the pandemic. Did you consider not releasing it yet or had you already postponed the release?
We had the album ready already in July 2020. We had some chats with the label if it would be wise to release it in the winter of 2020, but in the end, they decided to have it in the late spring of 2021. But for me, seen from the artist’s perspective, I wanted it out asap, to see the album released and have it out of my hands.
Dordeduh was formed in 2009 and in 2012 you released your debut. We had a long wait for ‘Har’, so the question is; what took you so long? And what has driven you to create music again? I have read, for example, that you were never entirely happy with the ‘Dar De Duh’ sound. Does that have much to do with it?
It took so long because I became the father of 3 boys and family became the main priority in life. When kids started to grow, I started to feel more secure as a parent, I started to write music again. Regarding “Dar de duh” I think that it was never about not being satisfied with the result, it’s more about having a perfectionistic point of view. Judging the compromises we had made on that record, I think that the result is pretty good.
Har has two active concepts in the background. One is related to the title, which means “grace, or divine grace”. This aspect is important because, in order to have such a moment of epiphany where one feels that divine grace, one needs a specific inner balance, a specific openness and a specific state of mind. One has to be mentally and soulwise fit for such connections. And this leads to the second concept, the practical aspect that this album is talking about; more precisely it invites to undertake a journey into our own depths. This journey most of the time does unveil unpleasant aspects about ourselves. The things that we are confronted with during such a transformation process are related to trauma, to different contents that lie dormant or hidden in the subconscious mind. In order to heal all these aspects one needs to be confronted with his own darkness, but also with the craving for pleasant experiences. The wanted state is one of equanimity. It’s a very lengthy process and after the initial confrontation a long integration period is needed. This has to be part of our everyday life, of our routines, of our daily practice. Another aspect related to the conceptual background of this album is related to our lost and forgotten cosmic memory. I strongly believe that we have a cosmic heritage that lies dormant in us, way beyond what can we perceive in our normal state of consciousness. This heritage occasionally gets unlocked during the journey I mentioned before.
As a parent yourself, it’s a horrible question to be asked, but is there a song on this record particularly close to your heart?
Yes, “In vielistea uitarii”. Even most of the material I wrote for Negura Bunget and Dordeduh was always impersonal, this time there are personal touches in that whole impersonality.
You’ve stated that the recording process for the album was very relaxed, though under hectic circumstances. Can you elaborate on that and also share what the process was like for this particular record?
For me, the ideal environment for writing and shaping an album is to have an isolated place where I can freely work exclusively on the material. To be able to keep the focus and an appropriate mood for writing is crucial for me. Otherwise, every time when I turn back to the writing process I need some time to adjust and to create the right atmosphere to dive into the album. This time I did not have anything close to that. I wrote most of the things after 9 PM when I placed my kids in their beds. So the process probably took a bit longer.
But having our own studio allowed us to record some of the stuff already in the composing phase and allowed us to have some basic pre-production. I think the critical aspect for us while recording and producing our own album is that during this process we can’t work on anything else in the studio. And we rarely can afford that, because we also have to have our basic incomes. But we managed well all the things, made this record and we’re pretty happy about it.
I can’t define what style of music Dordeduh plays, but it hits all the right spots for people that love both folk, and metal music, with the mystery of ethnic elements. If any sort of umbrella term would fit its folk metal, yet I always feel that there’s a massive discrepancy between a band like Dordeduh and some guys in pirate costumes who happen to add a tin whistle. Your music feels like a whole, where you can’t separate the elements. Nothing is added. How do you realize that sound from songwriting to production, is it the original vision or do you layer the elements and ethnic instruments?
I think the key element in making all these materialize is to preliminarily have a vision of what one wants to achieve, as detailed as possible. Of course, while the process starts to form a body, the vision gets from the realm of the ideas to something concretely manifested and the image becomes clearer and clearer. At that stage sometimes an added element can improve and support the overall image.
On the other hand, this used to be the job of a producer for the cases of the bands that preliminarily had no vision, or had only a general vision about what they want the next album to sound like. The producer was the one that shaped the whole production in certain directions. Nowadays producers exist only in the area of a big-budget production. On the any other cases, this input could come only from sound engineers who are willing to dive into producing and mixing an album. In the underground scene, it’s close to impossible to find a good producer. And that’s because of a very simple and pragmatic reason: there are no budgets for producers anymore.
Can you perhaps tell a bit more about the instruments you use, such as the Tambal, toaca, tulnic, nai, dube and timbale (etc.) and what they mean or tell in your music? I read somewhere that there is a reflection of different places and regions in your music, which is hard to detect for those not in the know. Is that something you are willing to expand on?
I know that it’s probably hard to imagine, but we don’t use these instruments because we have to use them in order to be cool, different, exotic or name whatever other label. It’s used to enhance a different state, to put more emphasis on certain aspects and so on. We never planned anything regarding these instruments like: “this album should be more folkish”, or “this song should have more traditional instruments”. I want to keep a nice balance between the instruments. I only use them where they are relevant. I prefer to have a general vibe of good taste and not overdo them on the whole length of the album.
The “tambal” is a hammered dulcimer that is present in traditional cultures from all around the world from east to west. The instrument has some variations that varies from culture to culture. With the “nai” it’s the same story. The nai is a panflute that is found in different shapes, materials and sizes around the world. We also use traditional flutes that are pretty specific to our culture, but similar instruments are again found in many traditions. The “toaca” is a hammered wood that nowadays is used in orthodox churches. It’s not really known as an instrument, but it’s dated in ritual contexts for thousands of years. I remember that I envisioned having this instrument present in my music since the first album. I always found it’s percussive sound appealing with huge amounts of long reverb on it. The xylophone, the timabels or “dube” are usual percussion instruments. The types of “dube” we use come from Romanian oldschool fanfare kits. The “tulnic” is probably the most Romanian instrument we use. It’s originated in the Apuseni Mountains and initially, it was a tool to transmit different signals between the villages in different hills or mountains. It’s interesting that in our culture it’s attested that it was mainly used by women and it’s known through history that there were choirs of women who were playing these instruments. It’s the first instrument we used and again I always envisioned that image of a distant mountain where these beautiful songs were played on this instrument.
-The spiritual aspect is very important to you. You’ve also stated that in writing ‘Om’, you meditated a lot. I was curious what you talk about when you mention spirituality?
Yes, spirituality is important for me. I rather dislike using this term because it’s vague. Generally speaking, I prefer to keep this subject to myself. And I do it so because it’s really easy to be placed in contexts that I actually don’t belong. Considering the criticism and the opinion entitlement that everyone has these days it’s probably the worst environment to be mentioned with these kinds of subjects. For me this aspect is a private one, I don’t want to convince anyone to do anything, I don’t feel that I have to prove anything to anyone and I definitely don’t feel that by having a spiritual interest I have something more than other people have. Spirituality is not a virtue by default. It’s a predisposition like any other predisposition. But through practice one can make it a virtue. So, talking about this has no relevance; practice on the other hand has all the relevance.
The ethnic aspect of your music is another thing that fascinates me. As I perceive it, this is very much connected to the land itself, to regional identities and particularly to nature. I’ve read some strong opinions on the state of our world and nature and I wonder how important this is to you as an artist, but also in the music of Dordeduh.
Until I had kids I preferred to not have any kind of convictions concerning the outside world. Nowadays, having a family I started to form and voice my opinion towards different things that are happening in my country and around the world. At this very moment, the outside world got to be quite intrusive and started to affect more and more the inner world, especially with this pandemic context. All the artists around the world are strongly affected by this new context. Even before the pandemic, the artistic profession was already nearly impossible to be sustained, now anything related to arts is almost eradicated. And if I see it from a factual point of view, I can’t predict a bright future.
Your music breathes an identity of Romania, but how has your country changed since your previous record, and has it affected your music and perception?
Happily, we’re not very tuned with the social, cultural or political life of Romania. I admit that I live in my own bubble, secluded from most of the trends that apply to most of the people. This is a good and bad thing in the same time. It’s good because we’re dependent on very few things around us and it starts to be bad in the moments when we’re inevitably confronted with the reality we’re living in.
I’ve got my tickets for Prophecy Fest and I was happy to learn you are part of the Prophecy roster (which I had missed because I forgot Lupus Lounge is one of the iterations). I feel it is a great label and a perfect match for an artist that defies the definition. How is your relationship with the label?
Our relation is pretty straightforward, quite transparent and if there are any kind of misunderstandings or differences of opinions we found a pretty flexible team at Prophecy. Another aspect that I appreciate with them is the fact that they support “unusual” ideas. If we come up with a crazy idea they don’t dismiss it right from the start. They are willing to experiment and they are usually open to new ideas and weird projects. So, we can’t really complain about them.
I sincerely hope we can go enjoy the festival and I can finally hear Dordeduh live. You will also be playing Negura Bunget songs. What is it like to play music from that band for you now, so long after the split? And have you played in a cave before? Apparently, no one had asked Mortiis to play in one before the 2019 edition.
I look forward to the event especially because it’s going to be a special show for us, but also it will be an opportunity to meet up with friends that I wasn’t seeing for some time. Playing Negura Bunget songs seems to me a bit un-actual; it’s a part of our past that defined us for that time around, but not very representative for what I am nowadays. And don’t get me wrong: I love those songs, I even love playing those songs nowadays because I feel I can have an expression that is much close to the initial aim of the songs. It’s also a big and important part of me and my personal history. But nowadays I would like to focus more on the future and less on that past. I personally hope that this will be the last time I will play Negura Bunget songs. Unfortunately for me, my colleagues have a different opinion.
A hard question to answer, but what are your future plans?
Having close to no predictability for the future, all that we can do is to be prepared for any possible live activity. For that we prepared two possible sets, one with a reduced budget for promoters, where we offer a reduced travel party and we play with a minimal setup and line-up. The other one is a bigger production, with a larger travel party and with an extended setup and line-up for the shows. Another thing we can do is to prepare the work for a possible new album and start this process as soon as possible to have a minimal gap between the albums.
If Dordeduh was a dish, a type of food if you will, what would it be and why?
It would certainly be a simple dish with a lot of subtle colourful tastes Why? Because I think our message is simple and can be heartfelt, without falling into much intellectualization, but it contains a lot of layers that reveal a lot of details.
I actually ran into Marton Saliba, the sole member of Saħħar, once upon a time during the Eindhoven Metal Meeting event. An event, where a small enclave of Maltese metalheads apparently sojourns to in order to get their fix of heavy music. Years later, I came across his latest album, titled ‘Tiġrif tal-Ġnus’, released in 2020. I felt the time was right to reach out and ask some questions. Though the album had been about for a while, time has stood still, so it’s fresh enough to dig into.
Maltese metal is a different beast altogether. It’s outward looking, diverse, inspired by the Brittish scene it would seem if you look at the heavy doom presence on the island. But Malta is a strange place, if you look beyond the touristy veil. It has a long history, a peculiar mixture of peoples and cultures, and an own tongue that is impossible to grasp. Interestingly, Saħħar chose to perform in that language.
Below you find the questions I asked and the answers given. Thanks to Marton for his time and make sure to check out his music.
Sonic Mirage of the Mind
Hails Saħħar, how are you doing? How has the pandemic treated you?
Greetings, I can’t complain at the moment, trying to keep my life in balance. Ironically, the pandemic gave me more time in my private life, with enough time to be creative, while my day job was unchanged, although it has been more stressful.
How did you end up playing and loving black metal? What was your musical path?
I’ve been classically trained in Piano and music theory since my childhood. But it was only after discovering metal in my early teens that my interest in writing music started to grow. By the age of 15-16, I already heard several black metal bands, and I also started learning the guitar, so I chose black metal as the genre to experiment on songwriting, and I haven’t looked back ever since. I tried other genres with varying personal satisfaction, but it’s black metal which I always return to.
You have two active projects, of which one is an international collaboration. You also had a project called Entität. Can you say something about what these projects represent to you, in particular Saħħar, of course?
They are all different creative outlets. At the same time, they all will probably bear some recognisable riffing style. Entität bears more melodic and progressive music, whereas Eerbaruh is relentless tremolo picking, with Saħħar being the more intimate musical outlet. I’m the guitarist in all three projects, with Saħħar being quite literally everything else. The additional projects also aid me in publishing more music that would otherwise make Saħħar’s discography more saturated than it already is. Finally, they serve as a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and see what our creativity takes us to.
Saħħar is me, and vice versa. Everything which comes out from Saħħar is always a reflection or sonic mirage of my mind.
What is it you draw your inspiration from?
When I’m in my songwriting phase, I try to avoid listening to other music because everything will become an aspect that could inspire my music. I’m musically influenced by a lot of factors to single out, but what inspires me is my drive to write music, my family and the need to explore more themes and topics and put them in more and more releases.
Having been to Malta for the Doom Days I noticed that the island has a vibrant and tight-knit metal scene. Yet, it focuses on classic heavy metal. Since you do Saħħar solo and perform in these international collaborations, is there no interest in black metal or what is that scene like in Malta?
Indeed, Black Metal is not the most popular sub-genre here. It’s not to say that there isn’t any contemporary interest either, but Saħħar takes up most of my creative time, and it’s not very easy to commit to other bands. That’s the reason for my relative absence from other local bands because international collaborations mean that I don’t have to leave my studio. There are other groups, with Martyrium actually achieving a decent level of success. But other BM bands have a more temporary project vibe, or they are run by one or two individuals, which severely limits their reach.
Before I ask you about your last album, I find it extremely interesting that you sing in Maltese. Using your own language is not an oddity in itself in the metal scene. Bands who use their native tongue have been known to thrive, but Maltese is a unique language. What made you choose this language?
Around the time I was scribbling my very first tracks, I was listening to several bands from the Norwegian Black Metal scene (as one does), and I noticed that most of these bands wrote most, if not all, their tracks in their own mother tongue, and I thought it would be a good idea, creatively speaking, to do the same with my project. I certainly was not thinking about future successes or failures when I chose so, but writing in Maltese was given its due recognition over the years, including award nominations.
Do you think other things that spring from being Maltese enter your music? Any myths, ideas or stories you have found shaping what you say with your music?
The very name Saħħar, was picked from local folklore, and there were other instances where I either wrote or was inspired by local myths. Themes vary quite a lot from release to release, but there will be a local mythology-inspired album in the future, I’m sure.
You’ve released ‘Tiġrif tal-Ġnus’ in 2020, your 6th full length, as I understand it. What are you telling on this album? What is its concept?
Its theme is Genocides and Massacres. I chose a few historical events, and I wrote the music’s words around these events. It was an attempt to show the true darkness in mankind. No occult, no magic, no religious mumbo jumbo, just the darkness plucked from our history itself due to mankind’s actions towards his own kin.
You also released a record with Eerbaruh. Would you tell us something about that?
It started as a happy accident, really, when I contacted a guy looking for a guitarist. It resulted in 4 guys pouring all their creative ideas into a short release to test the waters. The result was a really abrasive and intense release which I am very satisfied with the outcome… We are working on another longer release, but so far it seems to be a lot of hurdles in the way, which I hope we will overcome as a group soon. The same goes with Entität, to the point it seems that the band is disbanded, but that’s not the case just yet.
You released this record in the middle of the pandemic, was it on the shelf long before that, or did you create it during the problems? What were your process and creative trajectory like in this case?
Tiġrif tal-Ġnus was already in the works when the pandemic hit, and I simply stuck to a somewhat predetermined schedule. Truth be told, the creative process was not too different from previous releases, except for having more time to research the lyrics and less pressure in producing it, perhaps. With the exception of the second track, Nirien ta’ Smyrna, all the other tracks were written in roughly a short span of time. Then I focused on the lyrics and then spent the longest time producing the album while preparing the respective artwork in parallel.
Recently, you posted a blog about depression where you share your experiences in a pretty brutal and direct way. What made you open up like this, and do you feel that there may be a sort of suffering in silence thing going on in black metal?
I’m not quite sure why I opened up like that, but it certainly felt better doing so. I suppose I needed to clear the air after a hazy and dark chapter in my life. Kind of how one admits to himself that he has a problem in AA to help himself heal.
Yes, I have noticed that several one-man projects are being used either as a creative outlet or as a cry for help from people with mental health issues, and it has been occurring since the inception of the genre. Several individuals use the genre as an ‘edgy’ attempt, and unfortunately, that makes it hard to separate the bullshit from the ones with the real issues. My suggestion for anyone with depression or any other mental health problems is to seek help and not rely on music as a form of therapy. It can be quite effective in the short run, but otherwise, medical help will be needed.
I have this idea that most people who are into this kind of music are often in various gradations out of sync with the modern and fairly hegemonic world. It’s why there’s such a hunger for nature, spirituality, etc. What do you think about this?
That’s an interesting insight, one which I’m bound to agree with. Black Metal in itself is very individualistic, very close to the soul of who writes it, and has this Carte Blanche situation where anything you write about is fair game because it’s the individual expressing his deeper thoughts through the genre. Overall, Black Metal belongs to a world beyond (or beneath?) this one, where the petty, and weak whims of the contemporary human do not belong, and the genre actively opposes and rejects the notions. Unfortunately, that might also mean that some of us are somewhat detached from reality but, it is what it is.
What are your current future plans with Saħħar?
I have another album in the pipeline, already in its pre-production stage, as well as an EP or two. With the help of some friends, I am also laying down a script and plan for a proper music video, which will be a first for me, and hopefully, there will be some opportunities to return to the live stage.
If you had to describe Saħħar as a type of food, what would it be and why?
That’s an interesting question! I would consider it a Spaghetti Aglio Olio, Pepperoncino. Simple but not simplistic and great when done with passion with a lot of flavour and spice. I am biased, after all, being from the Mediterranean!
For those in the know, Death SS is a legendary band that you can not overlook when you look back on the history of heavy music. The name, always mired in confusing controversy, stands for In Death of Steve Sylvester (get it, (S)teve (S)ylvester). The band was founded in 1977, but it took until 1988 for the band to release the first album after a series of demos and rarities.
Even more rare is any clarity on the times before that, which Steve Sylvester, still the leading man in the band, was kind enough to fill in (albeit partly and often more confusing and obscure than you’d want) in his book on the history of the band. Read it and be hooked, because it is much like the stories about Kiss. Only here the occult is really the occult, the skulls and bones are really skulls and bones, and the weird stuff is… well just as weird (let’s face it, Kiss has a weird history too).
And now, we are at the point of ‘TEN’, the tenth album of the band. Before we continue to the interview, I have to share the press notes on this release:“X”, the number ten in the Roman numerical system, chosen to name this album, is not a random title. The number Ten symbolizes perfection, as well as the cancellation of all things. 10 = (1 + 0) = 1, illustrates the eternal starting over. Ten is the total of the first four numbers (and in our case the first four Albums / Seals) and therefore contains within itself the entirety of the universal and artistic principles contained in each of them. It corresponds to the Pythagorean Tetraktys which, together with Seven (the total number of musical / magical seals of our pact), is considered the most important number, as it is formed by the sum of the first four (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10), thus expressing the totality, the fulfillment, the final realization…! The number 10 is divine because it is perfect, as it brings together in a new unity all the principles expressed in the numbers (or albums) from one to nine. Esoterically the symbolism of the decade represents the perfection relative to the circular space-time, or the divine immanence. Ten indicates the change that allows the initiate to evolve, grow and rise spiritually. It is the symbol of the totality of the represented reality. From a religious point of view it recalls the number of commandments that God entrusted to Moses on Mount Sinai. It contains the Unity that made everything and zero, a symbol of matter and of the Chaos from which everything came out. It therefore includes in its likeness the created and the non-created, the beginning and the end, the power and the strength, the life and the nothingness. There are also ten circles, the Sefiroth of the Tree of Life. In the Tarot the number Ten, which in the Major Arcana corresponds to the Wheel of Fortune (Arcane X) and to Judgment (Arcanum XX), represents the end of a cycle of experiences and heralds a new beginning. Finally in Dante’s Inferno, the tenth canto takes place in the sixth circle, in the city of Dite, where heretics are punished, that is, the rebels, the free spirits intolerant of Dogma, those who choose to take themselves out of the ordinary way, to which this work is dedicated.
I gather, that this is a fairly long intro, but I could hardly ask Steve to rephrase this in the interview, but here it is. What it tells you, that Steve put way more thought into the title than you’d assume, but also that Death SS may be about the show, shock and theatrics, but has a profoundly deeper layer to it and love for that which is dark.
Without much further ado, here is The Necromancer of Rock himself.
Hello Steve, how are you doing? How did you cope with the pandemic (this far)?
Hi! I did as practically everyone did, with patience and trying not to get discouraged by the absurd situation that has arisen. I have dedicated the unexpected free time to further devote myself to music and to my studies, and “Ten” is the result of these last two years …
You’ve just dropped your tenth album, titled unmistakably as ‘Ten’. There’s a lot of significance to this number, as you explain in the accompanying bio. It shows a side of Death SS that not everyone is aware of, which is the depth of thought behind the music.I’m curious as to what resources you have perused to come to this complex idea of the number.
It ‘s something that was born spontaneously .. While I was dedicated to the composition of the album I thought that this would be the tenth “seal” of the career of DEATH SS and this thing should not be underestimated. Gradually all the esoteric and kabbalistic references that are connected behind this magical number have arisen and this has provided me with a further input for the composition of my lyrics …
What can you tell about the creative process of writing and recording this album? Was the relative isolation helpful to you or detrimental?
I would say both .. It was helpful because it gave me more free time and concentration to devote myself to the collection of ideas for composing the songs, but it was also detrimental because it prevented the movements and the relative union between the members of the band because we all live in different cities, and therefore we had to work remotely.
I understand from another interview you did that the album follows a concept, as the songs are connected. Could you elaborate on this? How personal is this record?
“TEN” is personal to the extent that all the records I write are because they represent my mood of the precise historical moment in which I compose them. IT is almost a sort of concept album because all his songs are connected to each other by a common feeling, related to this particular historical period, dominated by the terror, that we have all lived and that in part we are still living today …. Both lyrically and musically there is, therefore, an alternation of lights and shadows, even if the latter often seem to prevail over the first. The mood is very “doomy”, even if there is no lack of power and energy and the desire to rebel and fight, which is the characteristic of all the “heretics” of the Rock people.
What can you tell about the track ‘Zora’? I’ve read your book, The Necromancer of Rock, so I am aware of your love for classic comics. I also watched the video, which I believe contains exactly what your vision of rock’n’roll is. I can only imagine how much fun it must have been for you, so what can you tell about this?
Yes, it was very funny shooting the ZORA video. As you said, the song is dedicated to the homonymous character of the Italian horror-erotic comics of the 70s and 80s, so I wanted to give it a vintage, sexy and ironic touch, like the comic in question …
What is the connection between heresy and rock’n’roll for you? I very frequently see those terms together concerning Death SS, so I’m curious about your thoughts about this.
Great question! The term “heresy” derives from the Greek “haìresis” which means “choice”, also in the sense of “turning”.
The heretic is who refuses to accept what is passed off as dogma or absolute truth, who is not satisfied with easy definitions or predefined schemes. Even in music. Being heretics is a way of life. It requires us to dig where someone tells us there is nothing to dig, to speak up when the others try to silence us, to be critical of any dogmatism and imposition.
The heretic is therefore a “free” man, because freedom, as opposed to power, generates a passion for public action and creative participation. For all these reasons I consider DEATH SS and all our followers as “heretics”…..
Death SS is still the horror-inspired band, that it was from the start. A band that delivers a performance. It’s been said that this performative side of rock music appears to be disappearing (Nikki Sixx actually writes that in the last edition of ‘The Heroin Diaries’). How do you feel about this? And how important is the visual aspect of Death SS?
The visual aspect in our musical performances is and will forever be a very important aspect to me. Since I was a child I have always been attracted to the glamorous and scenographic side of certain artists and I have incorporated this aspect into the DNA of my band. I would not be able to conceive DEATH SS differently!
Since reading your book (which was my ‘get to know’ Death SS moment) I try to explain Death SS as something akin to Kiss and Ghost. I very frequently see this comparison, so how do you feel about this? What are your thoughts on these bands?
Well, KISS have certainly been one of the sources of inspiration for the band, as well as Alice Cooper, all people who started doing what was then called “shock rock” before us, even if when I formed the band in 1977, I didn’t thinking at these artists, but rather at the SWEET, obviously in a “horror” version …..I like Ghosts. They came out long after us and from what I know, it was probably us who influenced them in some way.
Having mentioned those, it’s as if in the evolution of rock and metal, other bands choose punk or metal, and Death SS did something else. Paving the way for what was to come, yet never really challenged, sounding uniquely like yourselves on Ten. But what is that unique essence of Death SS and the drive behind its creativity?
Since from the beginning, I’ve never asked myself the problem of labelling what I was playing. It is difficult for me to channel my band into a specific musical genre. This is why I have always said that DEATH SS play “Horror Music”, because it simply means that we want to express certain atmospheres that draw from the esoteric and horror imaginary, in the freest possible way, obviously always with a Rock matrix.
What are the current future plans you have for the band? And in your personal artistic endeavours?
For now I’m simply promoting “Ten” which has only been out from few days. I’m waiting to see how things will go and above all I’m waiting to see if the concert situation can finally evolve without all the limitations to which we all was forced lately, in order to be able to do some important show …
Will there be more writing with adventures from Steve Sylvester?
Who knows? Maybe in another twenty years … Ha! Ha!
Would you say that rock’n’roll is the secret to keep looking as young as you do, or is it actual vampirism? You’ve been making music with Death SS since 1977, there are artists who started a decade later and look 40 years older than you. What is your secret?
Botswana is a metal country and that is something most people will not know. The African continent is not known for their wide range of metal bands, but Botswana is the exception. And while some bands have ventured outside their native boundaries to play their music, none has seen so much as Skinflint.
The band hails from Gaborone and has been around since 2006. Having just toured the USA, the group found itself stalled by the global pandemic. Nonetheless, the spirits are ever high in Skinflint and they were glad to answer a number of questions I had and share why they feel African stories are well-suited for metal music, what it’s like to tour with Soulfly and what comes next.
How is Skinflint doing? Has the pandemic been hard on you?
It has affected us all. But fortunately, we are all fine and getting back to making music again.
What got you folks originally into metal music? What made it such fascinating music for you?
Metal is music that breaks stereotypes and pushes boundaries. It was the best platform for our artistic expression.
I’m curious as to how Skinflint started as a band and how you managed to keep a rather solid line-up for so long. Though there’s a vibrant scene in Botswana, finding the right chemistry would seem like a challenge. How is that for Skinflint?
It is hard to find like-minded musicians here in Botswana as even though there is a dedicated Metal following, the scene here is actually small and does not get much recognition locally. I met Kebonye at a festival in Lobatse many years ago. Cosmos I knew him from another band he played for called Amok which disbanded. When Alessandra left the band I thought of him and asked if he wanted to try for auditions.
Musically, you are hard to place in one stylistic corner. But what I find very fascinating is that you take African mythology as part of your themes and topics in the music. I assume these are regional stories, because saying African mythology is as wide-ranging as saying European or Asian mythology, obviously. Could you say something about this and perhaps give a bit of a background for those not in the know on these themes?
Africa is a continent rich in myths and storytelling. Much of which has not been covered by mainstream media. I thought of incorporating some these tales into the bands music. I believe this gives the listener a new perspective to listen to Metal, and also bring to attention some of these tales. Some are regional, some are inspired by true events and others I have played around with.
Why is it significant for you to use metal to tell these stories? What do you want people to take away from Skinflints music?
The stories are raw, dark and strange. It fits the kind of Metal we play well. I hope to see these tales told in other art forms too. I hope people can find some inspiration in them and even incorporate them into their own works. Furthermore, I would love to see more of it, in music, art, video games, comics etc as I don’t see much coverage for them. This is why I have been consistent with them throughout my career. They are important to me and most of it unheard of.
After your last record, the self-titled album from 2018, your drummer Allessandra left the band. You have a new drummer now, has this impacted the direction or sound from the band much?
It has. But not too much. But not just because of her departure, but we feel like it’s time to try something new while still retaining the identity of the band.
Before Covid-19 hit, you guys were touring with your new drummer in the USA. What was that like, playing with bands like Soulfly? And since you got home on the 3rd of March, was it tense towards the end?
Playing with Soulfly felt like a dream. Coming from Botswana, the only place we see these bands is on YouTube or videos. Next thing, we are sharing the stage with musicians we watched growing up. The tour was intense and a vital part of the bands’ growth process. These are the things you cannot teach but need to experience in order to achieve a higher level of playing.
You’re now getting work underway on a new album. What can you tell us about it? Has your creative process been different? What can we expect?
The new album is almost done. You can expect the same raw energy the band is known for but with a few surprises. The songs are heavier this time around, with a newfound energy and chemistry within the band. You can hear a band playing with hunger and heart here. I am confident in the new material.
When do you think it’ll be out, and what plans does Skinflint have for the future?
Early next year. We already have some festivals booked in Europe, and then we hope to confirm further dates in the USA too, hopefully.
Botswana is one of the few African countries with a metal scene that is globally known and seen. While it makes little sense to treat it as an oddity, it is very distinct, DIY and creative. How are things there? Which new bands are coming up that people should know about?
We are proud of the scene here. With Covid hitting and the scene being on hiatus for 2 years now, nothing new has come out. It’s still the same bands that I know of. Check out Overthrust if you like old school Death Metal.
Your local scene was subject to numerous articles and documentaries. In what way has that impacted the metal scene? Has it been positive or negative?
On the positive, it brought attention to a scene that may not have been discovered in the first place. Some of it was really good. But on the bad side some of the documentaries were all about the imagery and completely excluded the music/bands. Skinflint has distanced itself from those, as we felt it was more like a fashion show.
If you had to describe Skinflint as a dish (a type of food), what would it be and why?
Braii. Putting meat on a fire in the middle of the bush. The closer to the bone the sweeter the meat becomes. That is what Skinflint sounds like. In fact, we have braii every time the band gets together to rehearse or record.
For those eagerly awaiting the release of Wardruna’s ‘Kvitravn’, it’s not merely a record on the purchase list for this year. There’s a significance to Wardruna’s music to its listeners that borders on the spiritual. It makes sense, as that is where the music by Einar Selvik comes from. It hails from a deeper place, where we reconnect with nature, our past, and the sanctity of the earth. And through the years, the audience for the Norwegian group has grown and grown.
‘Kvitravn’, release date 22 January 2021, heralds’ new beginnings. It’s the first full-length album outside of the trilogy. It breaks with the original project yet is a continuation. Interestingly, the title is the same as the nom de guerre Selvik used in his black metal days, as part of Gorgoroth, Jotunspor, and other projects. Things come full circle, as it is often in our ancient traditions, which are closely related to the natural cycles. Birth, death, rebirth. We spoke with Einar Selvik on the latest album, or complicated histories, his creative process, the sanctity of nature, and the messages in Wardruna’s music. Enjoy reading this, and keep your eyes peeled for the white raven.
Thanks to Paul Verhagen for the pictures.
Wardruna: myth, mystery & natural harmony
First of all, how are you doing?
I’m doing good. Of course, it’s been busy times with the release coming in. That’s a positive thing in my line of work. I’m chronically busy, actually. Not being able to tour and stuff like that, is of course, sad and strange, but I’ve been busy in the studio working with the music for Assassin’s Creed: Walhalla and stuff like that. So it hasn’t been a downtime at all—more than enough work to do.
You have the new album out now. What has the trajectory been like since the trilogy (Runaljod – Gap var Ginnunga, Yggdrasil, and Ragnarok) and Skald to Kvitravn?
In a way, for me, it is hard to separate this from especially the trilogy. It feels like a continuation. During those 15 years, I was so focused on the trilogy, but there were some things I wanted to do that I put in the drawer for later. Revisiting a lot of these ideas and thoughts was part of the process after the trilogy when I was thinking about what comes next. So, in many ways, it is a continuation. Perhaps, on this album, I go more into the details, the specifics, and the human sphere of things, our relation to nature, and how we define ourselves as a species according to older traditions. It’s more complicated than our body and consciousness, or if you are a religious person, you also have a soul. But in the old ways of seeing it, it is much more complex. The album sort of explores some of these concepts in depth.
There was a series of brief documentaries as part of the album’s promotion, in which you touch upon topics such as animism, traditions, and history. Are these aspects you are referring to?
Animism has always been central to Wardruna and what our music is about. It has been so since the beginning. The topics in that documentary are definitely the backbone of this album, but also relevant to previous works, I would say.
The topics you are working with are incredibly complex and hard to digest in today’s world. I’ve just finished the book ‘Children of Ash and Elm’, which is an excellent resource about Viking history. What one learns is how complicated and multidimensional. We know so little, and there’s so much more than warriors there. As an artist, do you feel the desire to go beyond that simplistic view and be properly understood?
I have the book too. Well, first of all, I have to specify I never intended to replicate music from a specific time period. I use instruments and ideas that go back to the stone age, the bronze age, the migration period, the Viking Age, and even modern times. The idea is that it is kind of timeless and still has the potential to speak to us in the same manner it used to do.
Yeah, I do feel a responsibility. I always say, don’t climb into a tree without solid roots. Doing thorough research into the musicology and the themes I’m working with, approaching them in a scholarly manner… So I have solid ground before I go into these intuitive and creative processes. That’s very much at the core.
As you say, it’s so much more than warfare; that’s just a small part of it. That’s one of the many reasons why I never use the word Viking to describe my work. I prefer the word Norse or whatever. Because defining a whole culture based on what a small group of people did for a short time, that’s entirely wrong. On a personal level also, I’m not so fascinated with that whole era and that warrior culture. It is interesting, and I understand this big focus on Vikings and warfare because they were rulers of their times in many ways. But still… If you would make a series or a game that would be authentic, it would involve a lot of time farming, cooking, or spinning wool, and that’s not so sexy in a way. It’s understandable, but I don’t share that fascination. For me, there are so many things that represent this culture in a more complete way.
There are actually simulation games like that. Yet, you did make music for the Assassin’s Creed videogame and, of course, the TV-show Vikings, which both, in their way, represent that cultural snacking and enable people only to take that element from it. Is that why you get involved in these projects because there is a certain contradictory element in there.
Yes, well…. You have to take it for what it is. The Vikings TV-show or a video game like that, for example, is made for entertaining the masses. For it to be a success in the modern-day, it needs to play on historical correctness and balance it with the modern notion of what that time is. You need both to make it catchy, and with that in mind, you have to deem and judge it by what it is. My expectation is not that they should make a TV-show to entertain only history nerds like me; that would probably not be a very successful show in a broader perspective.
For me, it is, as you say, an opportunity to highlight certain things, like the poetic culture, which is one of the things I really wanted to get across in both my work with Vikings and Assassin’s Creed. Of course, it’s Assassin’s Creed, so you see a lot of the fighting element, but I think they did a great job in including a lot of other things. On the musical side, I really wanted to give voice to the oral tradition, the skalds, which we often forget but were so central for the people, their culture, and the courts. Even for the aristocracy, it was a central part. This allowed me to actually give voice to them and give voice to that and how that culture might have been. I understand the contradiction, but I don’t see it as one. My expectations are based on what they set out to do and what is logical in contemporary times. In any case, I think it is a step in the right direction because they are, of course, removing some stereotypes… and perhaps creating new ones. But also illuminating them and creating a more nuanced view of the times.
Over to ‘Kvitravn,’ can you tell me what the white raven is and what it means to you? Though you have stated there is no relation to your black metal nom de guerre as Kvitravn and this record, it tells us how close this theme is to you.
It is; it’s what inspired me to take that name in the first place. I have long been fascinated by ravens, and I have a form of totemic relationship. Of course, the raven itself is such a central animal in the Norse tradition and mythology. Not only in the north but globally, the raven is seen as a messenger between this world and the next. In the north, it is seen as the trickster, the animal embodiment of the human mind and memory. So, it’s almost seen as the human in nature, in animal shape. It carries a lot of meaning, and then you have these sacred white animals, which is also a global phenomenon. Whether it’s white elephants, serpents, lions, or reindeer, they often come with a prophecy of some form of change, renewal, enlightenment, etcetera. The image of the white raven, the coming or return, labeling an album that, to me, is a powerful symbol and perhaps even a hope and call for change.
If you would condense it in a way to a modern factor of change, what is it that you hope people take from this? Because through your words, also in talking about animism and your creative process, which is so tightly interwoven with the connection to nature, I detect an environmentalist viewpoint.
You are, of course, correct. But I hate preaching or claiming to know any truth, saying what other people should do… But if my music has some form of a message within it, it would be that I do think it would be beneficial if we all had a more animistic view of the world. What I mean by that is the idea that nature is something sacred, something we are a part of and not the rulers off. That doesn’t have to be a spiritual or religious thing; it’s an attitude. The second we took that sacredness out of nature and put it up in the sky or completely disregarded it, that’s when we got into trouble. I think it would benefit us all if we all had a more respectful view of nature as something we are the caretakers of in a way. It’s something we should respect, something sacred in a way.
It’s simple. I think it represents all of my music. You can look upon many of these things as spiritual things, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s something that is relevant, whether you are a spiritual person or not. It’s an attitude, a philosophy; it’s something beyond those things. Timeless, universal, and highly relevant to all of us.
You spoke at Roadburn a few years ago about your creative process and explained the deep connection to nature when you actually compose and even record your music. For the video of Lyfjaberg, you climbed up a mountain. How was that during the creation of ‘Kvitravn’?
The inspiration can come from many things. As you say, perhaps my main muse is when I walk; it’s when I see and hear things. Sometimes it comes from the instruments, poetry, or the themes I work with have such a strong image that I see and hear the sound of it, and then it’s about chasing down these things. This album follows the same kind of creative concept, where the themes themselves find the instrumental needs, where I record, what state I’m in when I record. I try and go as far as I can in interpreting the theme I’m working with on its own premise. Capturing it, if you will.
Some recordings on this album have been done in places that have a connection to the theme I’m working with, the time of day, or a state of mind. It’s hard to give you concrete examples of it, but I still work in the same way. There are quite some recordings in forests, sacred places, and on burial mounds.
While listening to it, I felt more buildup and cinematic quality, if I can use that term, compared to the previous records. Do you think your other projects affect the sound you create in that direction?
I don’t think there has been any conscious decision on changing it. Of course, in everything I do, every song I write, I learn something from and build on in my work. That goes for everything in my life. I guess I’m always chasing this soundscape; I feel I’m getting closer and closer to my visions. I get better at replicating what is in my head when I’m inspired, hearing, and envisioning these songs. That’s an ongoing organic process, but not a conscious process of decisions. I try to let the song go where it wants to go, rather than me trying to give it any kind of shape.
You mentioned before not wanting to preach anything, and I want to get back to that for a moment. When you started Wardruna, it was singular, unique, and a new avenue. By now, Wardruna is a global phenomenon with dedicated fans around the world. Listening to Wardruna for them is usually not ‘just throwing on a record’; it’s more than that. Has this in any way affected how you see yourself as an artist and how you approach your art?
No, I try not to relate to that part. Fame, the growth of the band, that’s something I try to keep a distance from, especially when I’m writing my music. I’m not writing music for anyone else; I’m writing it for me. That’s my perspective. I’m writing music I want to hear, and if anyone can enjoy it, that’s fantastic, but not the reason I’m doing it. Which, I think, is a healthy way of looking at it.
I don’t think it would be good if I felt pressure to create this or that, to adapt my art in any way. I don’t compromise. But, of course, it is challenging. You meet a lot of people, and I relate to the fact our music is growing. Yet, I try to keep a healthy focus on it and not feed my ego; it’s not about that. I try to distance myself from that side of it.
What are the best compliments for you that you receive from listeners?
I don’t know, but it is always special to hear that people connect to it, which I hear often. It gives them something and awakes something healthy on a very personal level. That’s, of course, more than anyone can hope for. Many of these songs live their own lives in the world and give meaning to people. That’s a special thing and overwhelming in many ways.
This album has been ready to go for a while. You mentioned you’ve been busy, so I’m curious if you’ve already started looking for future musical directions for Wardruna?
To be completely honest, actually no. I’ve been so busy on the Assassin’s Creed project, which is an ongoing project. I’ve been very occupied with that, and this period has allowed me to pursue that in a more healthy way without touring on top of that. But, of course, if this period continues putting limitations on what we can and cannot do what we normally do, I will remain productive.
I always think about where to go and what things I want to do and give voice to. On a certain level, that process is ongoing, but I haven’t started recording or planning yet. I presume that is to come.
So those are my questions, just a personal anecdote I wanted to share. A few years ago at Roadburn, a photo exposition was posted, which giant concert photos. One photograph (by Paul Verhagen) of you displayed there was given to me as a wedding gift and now hangs in my living room. My 5-month old daughter has her playpen right beneath it and stares up at you a lot, to the point I’m worried she may be unclear which face is daddy.
*laughs* I’m honored to take part of your home. Give my best to your family!
Thank you very much Einar, best of luck on your release, and let’s hope things turn to normal so we can see Wardruna live again!
Same here! We always love coming to the Netherlands. We’ve always been received very well there, and it’s become our second home in many ways.
Vietnam is a far-away place and often our perception is limited to cinematic exposure and (in my case) snack food. I’m not stating this to make light of it, just to illustrate how little we sometimes may know about the world around us. Vong is a black metal project, hailing from the South-East Asian nation, and its sole contributor Indigo Tongue weaves the history and culture of his country into the tapestry of its music.
Vong has released a debut, titled ‘A Wander in Liminality’, in 2019. A record that stands on its own, with a distinct flavour and identity. I was happy to find Indigo Tongue willing to fill me in on its contents, the Vietnamese metal scene and more.
A Wander in Liminality with Vong
How is Vong doing? How has the pandemic been treating you?
Greetings, it’s been an honor to represent my home country and take part in your project.
Aside from not being able to hang out with my friends or jamming with my bandmates, I’m not really affected by the pandemic. Normally I work from home and staying in means I get more time to finish my artworks, record new materials, or tend to my cat and my plants.
Your moniker is Indigo Tongue, can you tell me what that means for you?
It was an alias that I picked for my illustration projects. It came to me pretty randomly and doesn’t necessarily mean anything much, other than bearing a mystic vibe to it. I figured it had a nice ring and decided to adopt it for the black metal project as well.
What got you into metal music?
I couldn’t say much, other than the fact that I developed a taste for it in my teenage years, just like most people. It started with something like Metallica or Black Sabbath and got gradually more extreme down the line.
Can you tell me how you started the project (which I understand is a one-man band) and what bands inspired you to make this kind of music?
It’s not hard to point out that I was inspired mainly by several second wave Norwegian bands, or specifically, the most notorious one-man black metal project that I need not mention. It was their sound that bought me: raw, uncompromised and gritty, cold and grim like a rusty blade cleaving into your flesh. What fascinated me was the fact that they made do with whatever equipment they had at hands, which was a similar situation that I found myself in: I was in college studying fine arts, all equipment I had around the house was a cheap guitar whose neck had broken twice and got glued back, a combo amp, my cellphone which I used to record everything and my laptop. So me, being a DIY guy, decided that I’d try to make black metal with whatever I had lying around.
At the same time, I found black metal to be the subgenre that I’m most comfortable with, compared to other subgenres that I had listened to. I’ve always been drawn to themes like romanticism, occultism, nature, death, human emotions,… and dark medieval aesthetics. Black metal just happens to have most of them to offer.
You’ve released your debut in 2019, titled ‘A Wander in Liminality’.
What can you tell about the process of creating this record?
Like I’ve mentioned, it was all DIY, from the process of recording, mixing to the artworks. It was a fun experience, as I was new to songwriting and audio engineering at the time so I got to experiment recording with a cellphone and fooling around in the digital audio workspace.
I built a pillow fort around the amp and just stuck the phone in to record it, and samples on the title tracks were from creaking cupboard doors, amp static noises and me gargling water over the phone. For the intro of the track “Lệ Chi Viên”, I used the bell and mokugyo (or fish drum, a small wooden percussion typically used in chanting and ceremonies) from the family altar (probably without my ancestors’ permission).
The creation of the artworks was my favourite too. They were all hand-drawn and took many weeks to finish. But the end results were worth it, I believe they were the best artworks I’d ever completed up to that point.Overall, it was a fun experience as I learned a lot about songwriting and audio engineering from it, despite the horrible sound quality, which was a result of recording on a cellphone.
Some of your song titles are in Vietnamese, yet your lyrics are in English. Why did you choose this language and not your own? Black metal has never had an issue with different languages, it would appear, so it would be a valid choice.
Vietnamese is a complicated and colourful language that works very much different from Germanic or Latin. For example, there are dozens of different pronouns depending on age, genders, relationships and context of the speech, which makes wording a chore. If I were to write a romantic poem in Vietnamese, it would flow elegantly like a petal in the stream. But we are talking about black metal, so the lyrics tend to focus on sorrow, war and hatred,… you know, the whole nine yards. Writing about such matters in Vietnamese often feels kinda cheesy (to me, at least). It’s just really hard to explain to non-native speakers.
But the most important reason why I stick with English is that I knew the majority of listeners were going to be foreigners because I was pretty much unknown in the local scene back then. I’d spent a lot of time on the lyrics, so I wanted them to be heard and understood. At the same time, most Vietnamese metalheads (or the youths in general) are capable of understanding English since they are no strangers to Western culture, so it’s a win-win situation.
I understand you are inspired by literature and history, specifically of your home country of Vietnam. Can you say something about this? And can you give some insights into what sort of stories and writers those are?
History and culture have always been among my favourite subjects, and when I took a look at our own history and customs, I found a lot of aspects that would fit well in the context of black metal. For example, over the course of three millenniums of our recorded history, we had fended off foreign invaders numerous times, got subjugated and revolted again and again until we gained sovereignty, which inspired a patriotic theme (not to be confused with ultranationalism) similar to those observed in some of my favourite projects. When it comes to history, I often draw inspiration from tragic events (foreign oppression, famine, persecution of innocents…) or decisive battles that shaped the country. Sometimes it was wartime stories from family members who served in the army as well.
Asides from history, I took inspiration from folklore as well, most of which however are orally passed on from one generation to the next, so no one really knows the dates or who the authors were. Typically these stories either serve as explanations to origins of beings, or fables that reflect the perspectives and moral values of Vietnamese people.
Like most Oriental cultures, our customs and beliefs are heavily based on spiritualism and have a connection to death and the afterlife, with rituals and ceremonies involving the dead. Although Buddhism is the most popular religion in the country, people found ways to integrate folk religions into it, like worshipping ancient deities and saints alongside the Buddha, or ancestor veneration, which is considered unique to the Vietnamese culture, also inspired the themes of Vong.
Vietnam is a country which is to most, including to myself, known mostly for the Vietnam war, which I’m sure has its reverberations to this very day. As you intentionally chose themes from your culture and the English language, is it a purpose for you to change of at least affect that view?
You could say so. Southeast Asian countries have a rich history and cultures but they are often overshadowed by East Asian nations. It wasn’t until the 50’s that we were actually recognized as an independent country internationally when the French colonialism was put to an end, and not until the breakout of the Vietnam War that we were put on the map. Yes, the Vietnam War very much shaped the country as we know it today, but I wanted to point out that there are much more to Vietnamese history rather than the stereotypical “American PTSD experience”.
You’ve also been active in Elcrost, which would seem to focus on a more western romanticism in the lyrics and themes. How did you get into this project and how does it relate to the obvious other direction you embrace with Vong?
It’s a small scene. I’d known the guys from Elcrost before joining their live lineup and we have been good friends ever since. At that point, we were the only two active black metal bands with original materials in the North, they needed session members for live gigs because two out of three guys were abroad and I’d need live members since I’m a one-man project. So we formed up as a 2-in-1 kind of lineup, where we’d perform songs of both bands at gigs under Elcrost/Vong, featuring members of Vietnamese bands like Rot (black metal) and Cút Lộn (thrash/punk) at the time.
Well, just because Vong embraces national history and culture, doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy Western literature and arts. After all both projects are influenced by Western arts and music. The only difference is that I chose to integrate Vietnamese themes in the lyrics. So even if the themes or music of both projects contradict, we share quite some common interests in visual arts and Romanticism. I very much enjoyed their materials and it was a great experience playing in their live lineup and taking part in their EP “Foregone Fables”.
What is it like to make this kind of extreme music in Vietnam? Is there a connection with surrounding countries?
Like I’ve mentioned, the extreme metal scene in Vietnam is relatively small, so as soon as you drop new materials you will certainly get support from the Vietnamese metal scene, which I find rather wholesome.
I’m aware of black metal acts in neighbouring countries like Thailand or Laos and to a greater extent, the Southeast Asia region. I have made contact with the Thai black metal project กาฬพราย (Kanprai), but other than that I don’t know much about connections between bands within the region.
How free are you to explore darker themes in your music? Is there censorship to take into account?
To a certain extent, but in general, it’s rather easy to breathe. Most extreme metal bands are under the radar of mainstream media so most people don’t know or care if you write songs about butchering humans or burning churches. They would just call it noisy or unintelligible music and turn their heads. But of course, censorship is a thing here and there are certain parts where one should tread lightly if you don’t want to catch the attention of the authority, i.e. controversial topics like politics or history of the past 70 years.
Vong is associated with House of Ygra. What sort of cooperation is this and how did you connect?
House of Ygra is a new label based in Hanoi, founded by members of the local scene. Their specialities are black metal, melodic death metal, gothic and experimental stuff, so naturally, I was offered to join their roster, which I gladly accepted. Their role is to produce and distribute merch like CDs, shirts and art prints for bands as well as taking part in visual designs.
What are the future plans for Vong?
I plan to save money for a recording mic and a proper bass (the bass on the demo was played on a guitar pitch-shifted an octave down), finish the artworks for CD releases, record another full length or two, probably another EP or a split before retiring it and move on to other projects.
If Vong was a type of food, a dish, what would it be and why?
Not exactly a dish but I’d go with green tea mixed with passion fruit juice and a spoonful of honey, solely because it’s my trusty beverage during vocal sessions.
Indonesia is a hotbed for metal, though black metal is rarer so I was surprised to find the debut album of Glora Nexus in my mailbox. The band from Jakarta is a solo project from Svarte, who is determined to pave his own path in the genre. The debut, ‘A Grand Monument To Mortality’ is quite an engaging piece of work, that combines a raw approach with an atmospheric sound. On the album, there are some guests contributing. Alexander Lexy from Blodwen plays the guitars on a track, Ragnar Sverrisson from Helfró joins on vocals, Teguh Permana from Tarawangsawelas plays the tarawangsa and finally from death metallers Devoured, Ardian Nuril Anwar joins in. It ads to the result, because the downside of a one-man band is that it often gets to be much of the same. Also, it adds a little death metal groove to the sound I feel.
Svarte was kind enough to answer a bunch of my questions, that came up. Well, most of them, as is his right as an artist to keep holding on to a certain mysterious side of the band. More than anything, I encourage you to check out the music. After all, that’s what this is about.
Glora Nexus and Indonesian black metal
How is Glora Nexus doing? How has the pandemic been treating you?
Hi, I’m still fine even though sometimes it’s very annoying to be in a pandemic situation that has succeeded in limiting the space for human activities. Thank you very much for this interview, I had fun answering it! Also, a very personal thanks to you and I wish you live much luck, keep supporting the underground!
What got you into metal music?
To be honest, “Ascension of a Divine Ordinance” was the first metal song I heard when my uncle brought some CDs home. at least Messiah’s Rotten Perish album has made me familiar with the metal genre.
I felt that sense of pride and individuality that only true feelings for metal can give a person, I listen to metal because I truly love it with an undying passion, and I’ve always been so proud of that, I’ve never bowed to any trend or done anything because I was “supposed” to, and I’m very glad that I had the ability to become an individual instead of a mindless follower like how 99% of today’s society is, indeed. Just like any other human being, I grew up together in the good and the bad, it was good in a sense.
Can you tell me how the project got started, and what bands inspired you to make this kind of music? I understand Glora Nexus is a one-man project.
Previously I asked you, have you ever read the results of the interview answers about this question?. If you have found it, I will not rewrite it here. Sorry to say, I’m not really interested in this question. The music of a Black Metal band should be dark in some way. There is no law that would forbid growling from a Black Metal singer. And I’d like to see bands use more imagination, knowledge, and individuality in their lyrics. Could it be more pathetic?
(ed.) If the reader is interested, here is more to be found in the interview on Occult Black Metal Zine, which is the other interview I’ve found. A later interview sheds more light too, on Himnos Ritualis. I do feel the music sounds particularly as if it has been inspired by the Icelandic scene.
Before your EP, you released two singles, what has been the development like for you as an artist towards this EP?
I don’t think there is any clear and definite answer, but this is a philosophical statement using music as a vehicle and I think that is just plain foolish. From the song “Spiritual Havoc” to the release of the EP “A Grand Monument To Mortality” is that progression is simply exploring yourself because in the end music and all art is a reflection of the artist. As long as you explore yourself and use yourself to write music. Ultimately the quality of a musical work should reflect the musician’s confidence in his own abilities and his ambition to achieve the desired result.
You’ve just released your EP ‘A Grand Monument To Mortality’. What can you tell me about this record, your process in creating it?
From my own experience, I find that through the years I have become more comfortable and find myself trying out new things or trying stuff I could not pull off in the past. I have always held a certain philosophy behind songwriting. I like tempo changes and transitions to build up different moods and I think there needs to be a certain natural flow to how all the riffs come together and how the melodies float over them. I don’t think we have reached the ideal sound or style just yet, but I think that any active musician would say that it is just an ongoing process filled with development and experimentation. The composition of “A Grand Monument To Mortality” was really spontaneous, kinda comparable to how we did proceed with the debut track “Spiritual Havoc”. When I had the complete songs and their related lyrics we started to add this and that to melt each lyric to its own musical support. Everything went very fast a bit like if some force was just telling us what to do, it was quite intense and natural.
What sort of theme are you striving for with Glora Nexus? The artwork of the EP gives me very specific vibes that sort of click with dark romanticism, but maybe I’m completely wrong there.
I think people just got bored with their hollowness and started to look for something with a deeper meaning behind it. Our “imagery” is everything to us. My attraction to Black Metal has always been based on the combination of the raw primitive aggression with the melodic and atmospheric elements that come together to create such a cold and dark listening experience. We try to keep the Black Metal spirit alive with our vision. To me, our central theme has always been and will always be nihilism and Solitude is essential for keeping yourself balanced and healthy if you are unhappy being around most people, as I am. From my point of view, this is also beneficial as staying isolated keeps one’s ideas independent and free of any manipulating influence. That’s what I wanted to convey with Glora Nexus when we started out, and that’s the path we still tread.
What is it like to make this kind of extreme music in Indonesia? I know little about the scene there, apart from fragments displayed in the ‘Global Metal’ documentary, which is years old now. Can you say something about that?
To me, nothing surprising. Indonesia’s metal scene is one of the countries that attract the attention of death metal maniac audiences with all the positives and negatives that accompany it. I think that most Indonesian bands are original because of our national character. We have this inborn tendency to be very individual, to the point of being stubborn. Currently, the Indonesian black metal scene has also grown very significantly with the presence of several bands that have been able to attract international audiences to start paying attention to their existence. I think, “A Grand Monument To Mortality” has also helped strengthen us into the Indonesian metal scene further, at least I hope so.
Even if you are the reigning king of the universe, you have to bargain with people and deal with them in a proper manner. I think this is indisputable.
How free are you to explore darker themes in your music? Is there censorship to take into account?
Of course, I would never limit the theme, although there are also quite dark themes like you said. Glora Nexus is a means for me to externalize what I feel and spread it upon the world like a plague. I see Glora Nexus as the most important thing in my life right now. this musical project is a means for me to “unleash” the darkness within me. let me ask you something: how many people who listen to violent and extreme music are actually placid and harmless individuals in real life? We ought not to forget that music is an extremely powerful medium, with the capability to affect sensibilities in all sorts of unpredictable ways.
When I was reading up on you, I found an interview and you express the following sentiment: “The Spirit of Opposition is still very much alive & potent in the most obscure underground fanatical circles. Life is war, choose your side, stand for the underground.” What do you feel extreme metal in this time should be opposing? And where does Glora Nexus stand?
This is a good question, as it illustrates the way in which we humans unconsciously dress up the world to suit our needs and desires. It’s easy to extrapolate this further into other avenues of existence, and determines the structure of our awareness. Everyone ought to find his or her own path to happiness. I don’t believe in ‘utopian’ solutions if you have that in mind. When each individual lives for nothing but his own benefit then society cannot hold for long, at least when taking in mind the way most humans behave themselves. I think that as long as one is able to adapt, even if it’s a superficial adaptation and not a ‘real’ one, they will be able to survive. But this is not a simple process for them. Admit it, humans are anomalous creatures. Glora Nexus’ position is not to deny all forms of human existence, even the absurd ones. because reaching a compromise with another human being is almost impossible to avoid in real life. Even if you are the reigning king of the universe, you have to bargain with people and deal with them in a proper manner. I think this is indisputable.
You’re releasing your EP through Bhumidhuka Productions (Malaysia) and Harsh Production (Indonesia). How is the connection between local and national scenes in your region? As it surprises me your record is also coming out on a Malaysian label.
I think the Indonesian metal scene is still very solid even though there are some people whose passion lies more on an individualistic level who just want to be left alone with their creations. We’ve partnered with Bhumidhuka Productions and Harsh Production for the release CD and cassette so far, at the same time I’m happy that we’ve been able to at least have people interested in working with us.
What are the future plans for Glora Nexus?
The new record will be even more unholy than ever before!
My fascination for dungeon synth is a perpetuating occupation in exploring new artists’ work and locating unique creativity. I had not thought to find dungeon synth being produced on the island of Réunion, in the Indian Ocean. Aker Aeon is not an original inhabitant of the island, but it is where his memories of the beloved home turf in Occitania sparked the inspiration for his main project: Akerius.
Akerius is an oddity in dungeon synth for its location, but also a unique sound. At times foreboding, dark and full of alchemical mystery, at other times hints of pastoral landscapes ad to the colour of his sound. This October, he released his latest record, titled ‘Shadowed Paths Through Middle Earth’. A beautiful, Tolkienesque piece of art in shadowy times.
Though personal issues momentarily put the interview on hold, Aker Aeon quickly got back to me with a wealth of answers about his music, inspiration, and facing this pandemic in the most remote part of France.
Occitanian Nostalgia and Dungeon Synth with Akerius
Let’s start with a ‘How are you doing?’
I’m doing fine, had to fix some personal issues a few days ago but things are getting better now, and quicker than what I was expecting. I think my passion for music helped me to deal with stress and tiredness! Finally, this interview is a good opportunity to take my mind off things.
How has the pandemic affected your life on Reunion?
Quarantine, curfew, wearing masks,…etc. Our situation in Réunion is not so different than from other countries. But at the moment, we succeeded in maintaining an “acceptable” situation, for example, there is no confinement anymore (until when ?…) but more restrictions concerning liberty: always wearing masks, no gatherings with friends or family and so on…
The positive thing is that I can spend more time at home and I’m more focused on writing and playing music. But on the other hand, this pandemic situation can also affect you so deeply then making music can be the last of your preoccupations! We all clearly need escapism…
I understand you’re not native to the island, can you share a bit about how you ended up there?
Yes, I was born in Occitania, a place fantastic region full of history (medieval castles, legends, secret places…). I’ve grown with all this ‘background’ and my mother used to tell me stories about those places, especially Carcassonne and the legendary Cathar country. Of course, I feel very nostalgic about this period and this is one of the reasons I started my project ‘Akerius’.
I decided to move to Réunion island for professional and personal reasons. I studied sciences for years (Biology & Geology) and Réunion is a very attractive place when you are fond of science and biodiversity, but the one more reason why I moved is love…
How did you get into dungeon synth music and metal and which is the dominant style you enjoy? Which acts inspired you?
It all started with the “Norwegian black metal era” as I was a reader (and still I am) of a magazine called “Metallian” wich deals with extreme and underground music but also plenty of different styles like ‘avant-garde’ music…etc. I discovered this extreme music called ‘black-metal’ and it was so intriguing, mysterious, violent but also romantic. Of course, I think you cannot dissociate Black Metal from DS, I’m thinking about Burzum, Mortiis, Wongraven…but I’m not a ‘specialist’ of the genre then I won’t do more comments about it. I must say I enjoy listening to DS, Metal, Black Metal in an alternative way, it depends on the mood of the day. For example, a few days ago, I was even listening to some old VanHalen vinyl!!! Today I’m more into ‘Darkenhöld‘ and ‘Crepuscule d’Hiver‘ (french atmospheric/melodic black metal bands accompanied by a medieval universe). Inspiration comes in fact from many bands, many albums and many genres!
You have multiple projects going on as I understand it. There is Akerius, Aker (Aeon), and Nosferâ (am I missing any?). Can you tell a bit more about all these projects? I’m also curious about how they connect, particularly Akerius and Aker.
Nosferâ is a live metal band with some death/black metal influences that I created with my son who is a young drummer and also some good friends. We created this band for the pleasure of playing ‘live’ some compositions. Each musician puts his own influences in it, it’s a strong amalgam of genres, we’re having great fun playing together! Unfortunately, we were programmed to play for a festival here in Réunion island called “La Nuit de Kal” during the Halloween period, unfortunately, it has been cancelled because of the pandemic situation! But we’re still doing rehearsals, we try to keep it up!
AKER is an ‘instrumental’ metal project. Inspiration comes from all my musical influences, it’s very diverse, depends on what I’m listening at the moment, for example, the EP “Stellar Sacrifice” (featuring a track with Stuurm from Gargoylium/Crepusculed’Hiver) was written while I was listening to a lot to the THORNS VS EMPEROR album.
Out of curiosity, how do you create ‘dark’ music in a place that is, as far as I can tell, the opposite? Though I do see magnificent nature in photographs of your place of residence.
This dark ambient and medieval music come directly from my imagination after reading books, watching movies, listening to music… in fact, I am like most of the musicians who are writing their own music, so nothing special here… But I must say that Réunion’s landscapes are so fantastic that they can be a great source of inspiration! Especially the mountains, forests and volcanic areas! Nature can be ‘magnificent’ as you said but there are also some secret, mythical and ‘grandiose’ places that can inspire you in a way and feed your imagination if you’re receptive to it! For example, I explored months ago a lava tunnel that inspired me the music for ‘Inside The Trolls Cavern’ from my last album.
Is there any sort of scene there to speak of in darker music in the broadest sense of the word (metal, dungeon synth, or even punk)? yeah…metal, punk, rock, progressive/alternative rock…etc. Some very good local bands from Réunion are trying their best to export their music (not so easy when you’re isolated in an island!). Concerning DS, I did not hear from any other projects, it looks like I’m the only one, and let’s hope that in the future there will be more DS projects here…
Your latest album is ‘Shadowed Paths Through Middle Earth’. This is a Tolkienesque album, but that’s not your regular topic as I understand it. What are your inspirations for dungeon synth?
I’ve been listening to a lot to Mortiis, Summoning, Ulver, Emperor, Covenant, Satyricon, Wongraven, Evol, … just to name a few. Inspiration comes from music first (it can sound strange but I listen a lot to King Diamond or Mercyful Fate when I lack imagination), but of course also literature, movies or even paintings can inspire me in a way. For example, I particularly appreciate some drawings from John Howe but I also admire the work from other underground artists (Bard Algol, Corbac Lenoir).
On the other hand, you’ve now used Middle Earth. What are particular aspects that make Tolkien so inspiring for you? What are your favourite tales from his work and are there other fantasy writers you enjoy and would pay tribute to (I’m personally still hoping to find some Gemmell-inspired ds)?
Yes, S.P.T.M.E is a ‘special’ one in my discography as it’s the only album dealing with the Tolkien’s universe. Music was written during a period I was reading some tales about Middle-earth, the last one I read (once again) was ‘The Children of Húrin’ which I did not like a lot on first reading. Tolkien’s work deals with many themes and the world he has created is also made of drawings, songs and of course tales, all of this is incredibly rich and inspiring! Of course, there is also this atmosphere of melancholy and the struggle between good and evil that feeds many of his stories: definitively inspiring for writing music! I do not have favourite tales but let’s say I usually come back to ‘Bilbo The Hobbit’ and of course ‘The Lord of the Rings’ which is a much more complex and dark work. Because of its darkness, it is more appealing to me…I don’t plan to pay tribute to other fantasy writers for the moment but as you suggested I should start reading ‘LEGEND’ from David Gemmell, some friends always encouraged me reading it because the fantasy universe he has created is different and original. We’ll see…
What is your recording process like and what sort of equipment and instruments do you use?
The recording process is very simple: a DAW, a sound card, and an old Korg keyboard with enough presets to make some decent music but I do not use MIDI sequencing. In a way, my approach of making music is ‘old school’, the sounds & presets that I’m using are very simple and ‘ basic’ comparing to the 2021 audio technology (not to mention the ultimate quest to get a ‘wall of sound’ mastering). Maybe in the future, I’ll try to use more modern sounds but for the moment it’s ok, I’m not ‘disgusted’ with my recording equipment yet.
I also use electric and acoustic guitars and a ‘baglama’ when I want to add some special vibes or dark ambiences. I always liked the acoustic or clean guitar interludes you can find in metal, that’s why I tried to add some guitar parts in my DS compositions.
What are your thoughts on the phenomenon that is dungeon synth and modern offshoots like a comfy synth?
Don’t really know what to think about it, but all I hope is that the ‘dungeon synth’ revival stream will get stronger and will spread the world, lots of my friends who didn’t know this genre like it a lot now! I think it’s the kind of the music that is very appropriated to listen to when you are in isolation, and if you need to disconnect from reality, it can easily transport you to other places and time… This music is so deep and mysterious, I think this is why it attracts more and more people including musicians starting their new projects. Comfy synth is not music I’m used to listening to, any artists come to my mind right now but I will look forward to it!
This brings me to the question how do you define dungeon synth? Because opinions vary and for some, the definition is quite narrow, for others it’s very broad.
The origin of this music is very special and complicated, so many things have been said and everyone has his own explanations and arguments. I won’t try to give a definition as I’m not myself a ‘specialist’ of the genre. I think that Dungeon Synth is a “sub-genre” of black metal, but nowadays when you listen to the new DS scene you can easily notice that the music is ‘polished’ and clean when you compare it with the sound of the dark period of the ‘old school’ DS! It has evolved so much!
DS can deal with so many themes and ambiences: darkness, melancholy, fear, mystery, history (medieval times), paganism, sorcery, literature…etc. And the music can be mixed and recorded in so many different ways (lo-fi or a bright and powerful mastering with a ‘more modern vibe’). For all these reasons and different aspects, it’s so hard for me to define it!
What future plans do you have for Akerius, Aker and other musical releases?
I have no plans, I play what comes. I can write some music very quickly because inspiration is knocking at the dungeon door. And if I have enough energy to shape what I have in my mind, I motivate myself to start the recording process which can be a time-consuming thing if you’re a perfectionist like me. But during this pandemic period, creating music is a “mind healing”, so the more plans I’ll have the more it will be fine!
If you had to describe your music as a dish, what would it be and why?
If my music was a dish it would be a good « Cassoulet » with a glass of red wine or a glass of Hypocras (a medieval drink that I particularly like). Cassoulet is a speciality from the ‘Occitanian terroir’(the region where I was born). Sausages, confit (typically duck), pork, and white beans are used to cook this dish. An excellent option for entertaining especially on cold winter nights when the weather calls for a stick-to-your-ribs kind of meal. It’s a very ancient, authentic and generous dish. I would be perfect tasting it in an old tavern or inside a medieval castle! If you never tasted it, you should try one day 😉
But of course, music is the best food for the soul… Thanks for giving me the opportunity to do this interview Guido! Salut!
Taiwan is a strange country to most in the west, yet it has brought forth some fascinating metal groups. The small island state is also known as the Republic of China and Chinese Taipei. Its history and identity is complex, but bands like Bloody Tyrant take up the deep, cultural roots that dwell there.
Bloody Tyrant (暴君) has been around for 11 years and has released 5 full-length albums to this date. One of their topics is the Sun Moon Lake, where the band originates from and which inspires them to share the native stories of the island. The band was kind enough during this time to answer my questions and tell a bit more about metal in Taiwan and their latest album: ‘Myths of the Islands’.
Lords of the Isles: Bloody Tyrant
How is Bloody Tyrant doing?
We’re doing pretty well. Has the band suffered from the COVID-19 outbreak much? How has it hindered your efforts as a band?
A lot of shows were canceled, but we’re glad that Taiwan is doing a good job at handling the pandemic, and we’re getting more and more shows back on.
Please, tell me something about your background and how you got into metal music. I understand some of you also have different projects.
Most of us started with school activities back in the days, and started listening to heavier and heavier music, then started to get our own bands going.
Can you tell me something about the formation of Bloody Tyrant and how the band has evolved?
In the beginning, Bloody Tyrant was an extreme black metal band. But as time moves forward, and tastes and creative directions change, we are now more of a folk metal band.
Taiwan has a fairly lively heavy alternative music scene and a lot of bands merge folk with black metal, like yourselves. What made you choose to blend these styles and create a distinctive and unique sound for yourselves?
Actually, there aren’t that many bands in Taiwan like that, or I would say there aren’t that many bands in Taiwan.
What is the reason to make your country’s mythology part of your theme? How important is it that your music reflects something of your heritage?
Part of the reason why we started using those traditional instruments was that some of the members were in those Chinese traditional orchestras and studies traditional instruments back in the days.
On Metal Archives, special reference is made to Sun Moon Lake. Can you tell me more about why it is so significant and an important topic in your music?
Sun Moon Lake is located in the only county in Taiwan that’s almost next to the sea – Nantou, and that’s also where Bloody Tyrant started. So to have mythologies about Sun Moon Lake as our theme was a way to be connected to our land.
In the middle of this pandemic, you have released a new album, titled ‘Myths of the Islands’. What can you tell me about the recording and writing process of this record?
Actually, we started to work on this album back in 2018, where we started to look for those mythologies about the aboriginals. And just like the two previous albums, we tracked and mixed the album in 2019.
What story can listeners learn by listening to this album? Most songs you’ve shared are introduced as stories from your land. Can you provide a small introduction to these stories?
The stories from the album are all from the Taiwanese aboriginal mythologies, and just like many other cultures of religions, there are mythologies about the genesis, the flood, shooting the sun, and plague and that kind of story. Some of those mythologies are related to their rituals, totems, and such.
How has the reception of this record been this far?
Although the style is very different from our previous albums, for the folk metal fans they have been enjoying the album, and for some people who are into the Taiwanese aboriginal cultures, they are also happy to see a Taiwanese metal band promoting such stories.
What’s happening right now in Taiwan’s metal scene? What bands should people really check out today and what interesting things are happening?
There aren’t many metal bands in Taiwan, but slowing getting more. And since there aren’t that many metal bands, so the styles are very limited. Again, because there aren’t that many metal bands, so the bands with styles that aren’t as modern would be very interesting, such as melodic death metal band Sacrifice, Taiwanese folk style gothic band Crescent Lament, black metal band Efflore, symphonic black metal band Raven Skull, etc.
As an island nation, do you connect to scenes from neighboring countries?
Although we use the instrument that is commonly seen as a Chinese instrument – Pipa, a lot, and indeed the instrument was imported into China way back in the days and became populated by China, but this kind of instrument also got into Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Ryukyu, etc and they each became their own, so we just call it an oriental instrument.
Taiwan was ruled by Japan for a period of time, so not only the domestic development was influenced by the Japanese, but also culturally, even until this day, and that’s why we had the album HAGAKURE.
Politics are often involved when bands talk about their origins, history, and legends. Being a band from Taiwan, is that a part of what focus on as a band, especially today?
It’s actually kind of sad, as when rock n’ roll, metal, or the freedom movement were at their peak back in the 70s or 80s, Taiwan was actually under martial law, so that inhibited our cultural development by a lot. In order to have Taiwan be known in the global artistic field, Taiwanese bands would really have to catch up, and also we really have to have some political views to get rid of the old, outdated way of thinking.
Also, politics is about people, it influences how we live our lives, everything is connected to politics, every culture, every language, and every story is a byproduct of politics.
What future plans do you currently have and do you plan to tour Europe again?
We will be going into the promotion phase for our new album. We will definitely be planning to go back to Europe after the pandemic, as we received really good feedback from our European tour this year.
If Bloody Tyrant was a dish, a type of food, what would it be and why?
I’d say we would be Japanese style Naples pasta. Because Bloody Tyrant fuses different cultures together and it became its own kind, just like Japanese style western food, when different cuisines were imported to Japan, they became their own Japanese food.