Category Archives: Interview

Sidereal Fortress: Artistic Freedom & Dungeon Synth

Dungeon synth is a strange beast and each artist would appear to have his or her own views on it. Sidereal Fortress, which happens to be the name the artists wants to use for the interview too, looks at it with a wide-open view as part of ambient music. It allows him to approach the genre freely and create a quite diverse range of records, all worth listening to.

This interview started after I wrote a piece (that would appear to have gone slightly unnoticed) on comfy synth, the new threat to the purity of the dungeon synth genre. Or, if you look at it like Sidereal Fortress, a new dimension of a fascinating style.

Read on, and enter the world of Sidereal Fortress.

Sidereal Fortress – of crypts, forests and valleys

I wanted to first ask you about Sidereal Fortress, how did this project get started and what made you go into dungeon synth?
…as I explained in other interviews, Sidereal Fortress was born like a reaction. I used to be a creative musician, so when I felt that creativity was going outta sight from my playing, I immediately turned to something that could stimulate me without boundaries. Ambient Music, and especially Dungeon Synth, was the key. I found out that this style of music we used to listen to in the 90s…you know, Pazuzu, Burzum, Mortiis etc…had a ‘scene’, a following, and…yes, also a name, haha!

Tell me a bit more about your background as a creative musician? What sort of music did you make and what sort of education/training do you have?
About my background. I have been studying the guitar for many years, listened, and collected Metal stuff for all my life…so, not such a different background from other Dungeon Synth artists…

You mention here that you found freedom in dungeon synth (or ambient music in general). What sort of freedom do you mean by that?
Creative freedom, of course! Notice that listening and mastering Ambient Music takes your relationship with Music to another level. Higher? lower? I don’t know. But it’s DIFFERENT. Your musical perception and sensitivity get expanded, your mind and ears get open extremely wide. No school will ever teach you that…

Is that maybe also, because it is such a highly individual process? I mean, more than anything the music is your creation as such.
Absolutely! And no one makes the rules for you.

But also, dungeon synth is slowly closing ranks, there’s an ongoing debate on what is real dungeon synth and what isn’t. That’s why we already see discussions about winter synth or comfy synth, which I believe are cut from the same cloth. How do you experience that, since your music has been classified in the latter category?
Oh, that’s a long one. Ambient Music is closing ranks just if YOU want your ranks to be closed. Sidereal Fortress is actually a multi sounding project, I don’t pay too much attention if my stuff is True DS or False DS…you know, today I could be inspired by some raw, droning black metal stuff like Paysage d’Hiver, tomorrow it could be by Blackmore’s Night, just to give an example. But: most of all, I let the inspiration in from emotional states (including nostalgic), from hiking in the woods, from visiting abandoned villages and places…you know, all that can really stimulate the imagination. And you know what? I never felt so close to music as I do now. Dungeon synth and related stuff can really break every boundary of your creativity and imagination, giving back to music its very essence, making it become a real form of art. Not a scholarship or consumer product.

And continuing my initial line of questioning: What did you set out to do with Sidereal Fortress and what sort of stories inspired you and did you want to tell in turn to your audience?

Let’s look at the thematics because though you talk about freedom, there is consistency in your music and the direction you take it in. Sidereal Fortress is not an experimental project in that sense, but what is the story you are telling us?
Ah, I know what you mean. Anyway, a lot of ‘free form’ tracks are present in Sidereal Fortress…listen for example to my album The Hermit’s Hole. Also ‘La grotta di Merlino’ from the Vette Inquiete album is an actual free form one. The experimental approach you’re speaking of is, indeed, more present in my ‘kosmische’ project Il Generale Inverno. Sidereal Fortress explores most fantasy and traditional scenarios, instead.

Since my first EP, ‘Ruins’, my way of Dungeon Synth is inspired by places I visited, most ancient sites, abandoned medieval locations, woods, mountains etc…since there’s plenty of them in Italy and in Europe. The Hermit’s Hole, Vette inquiete” and also The Lost Woodsongs EP” are all inspired by obscure or fictional facts from Tuscany, the region where I live. With Vette Inquiete, I tried to translate into Music some less known Tuscan folk tales (you’ll find all of them explained in the beautiful tape edition that HDK released in 2018). The Hermit’s Hole, which I consider my only actual full-length album to date, is an even more intimate and spiritual journey in that sense. Just to make it clear: those releases are NOT intended to be part of a trilogy or series….they came straight from the heart and surely I will keep being inspired by the secrets of my homeland!

Italy, obviously, has a rich and long history. Are there particular eras or topics that inspire you?
Most still recognizable heritage that we have in Tuscany, meaning castles, towers, etc, comes from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, so they’re obviously the ones that most inspire me. But I also have a particular interest in Etruscan and pre-Roman sites and history! 

How did you get in contact with Heimat Der Katastrofe?
I don’t remember exactly…but surely it was because they listened to my ‘Ruins’ EP, back in 2017. They offered me the opportunity to write and record an album for their catalog, so I made ‘The Forgotten Tomb of Yshnak’ and the rest is history. Lately, another great label named Ancient Meadow Records contacted me and offered a tape release of The Hermit’s Hole plus some merch like stickers etc…they’re doing an awesome job, I’m so proud of this collaboration!

I’m interested to learn a bit more about the conversion process of those impressions and the inspiration into the music. How do you go about this? Is there a ritual or personal process you go through?I’m absolutely instinctive. Meaning that, in case of inspiration, I must immediately record the main idea just to fix it and capture the emotional state/moment as it is. I don’t see this process as an actual improvisation, I call it ‘straight composing’, do you like this definition? 

This is the only way to give people true inspired Music, not artifacts. My other project Il Generale Inverno is even more extreme in that sense since it’s actually full free-form improvisation.

So it’s for you really a matter of getting to your equipment when the inspiration hits you?
Ahahah, yes, when it’s possible. If not, I record the main idea whistlin’ at my phone.

I’m curious how you feel about the term comfy synth.
Comfy Synth…mmm…initially, that thing made me laugh, just because it seems to be the bright side of dungeon synth…but exploring that subgenre a little bit, I found out that it has its own sense: it’s not the opposite of dark ambient, it seems to be something like the nemesis. CS is just a shortcut neologism to identify a style of ambient music mostly based on the ‘nostalgic’ feel…hence topics like grandma’s rocking chairs, little peaceful animals like the ones in Enid Blyton’s novels, etc. Notice that some of my albums like ‘Racconti del Focolare’ and ‘Alpestre’ have curiously landed in the Comfy Zone…I think it’s because of that nostalgic pulse. Anyway, those albums have been released long before the term ‘comfy synth’ was crafted…

Well, I mentioned your project in a bit I wrote related to the genre. I forwarded the thesis, that it is not the opposite, but a different form of finding ‘escape’ to an imaginary realm. How do you feel about that idea?
It’s more or less what I said above: telling it’s just ‘dark ambient vs bright ambient’ it’s somehow reductive. Also, I heard a couple of albums that showcase very good compositional skills…so I think taking a listen to comfy synth is definitely worth it.

Each artist I spoke to this far has indicated that the community is one of the most important aspects of what they like about dungeon synth. How do you feel about that?
I don’t know what they mean exactly… Maybe they’re talking about feeling at home inside the DS community because there are no pop-stars among the artists, and every DS addicted frequents the same two or three closed groups. What I like about the DS community is that there’s respect between artists, almost no jealousy or other ridiculous stuff. That said, it’s not so different from other music-related communities…

Well, that’s something. So what sort of equipment do you use to make music?
I’m currently using two controllers and an Italian toy-synth from the 80s to which I added a line-out jack. Sometimes I also use a Yamaha acoustic guitar, a classical one, and rarely also some of my old strats.

Are you a bit of a gearhead?
Not that much, to be honest. I recorded my first EP ‘Ruins’ by using just a USB portable controller, believe it or not, ahah! Then I obviously improved my synth stuff buying two better devices…you know, to have more dynamics, an onboard arpeggiator, a basic mixing section, and other things. This allows me to make also improvised stuff like I’m doing with Il Generale Inverno. The toy synth is a curious story: I casually found that little monster at a fair, for just 5€…it’s a Bontempi, a legendary Italian brand from the old days. And, despite being just a little toy, it has very good sounds!

Dungeon synth is now more popular than ever. Cassettes sell out in minutes for example. Where do you think this is all heading?
Oh, this is a hot one!!! I know many artists do not agree with my point of view, but I think there’s an ‘underground hype’ out there. Music is losing its primary role, in favor of the collecting hysteria. There are beautiful albums, even little masterpieces, that go completely unseen…but when they get a repress by this or that label, they got sold out in 2 minutes. Curious, ah!? OK, labels have more visibility than an independent artist, but this sounds to me almost an apology…

Do you feel it disrupts the artistry? Have you felt this has affected your visibility as an artist?
Let me tell you this: if you feel that hype, marketing, and other shit like that is somehow affecting your art or artistry, well you’d better stop acting like an artist because you’re not. All this stuff regards making music as a job or a source of money raising, not art. Desmond Child maybe does not agree with my view, but I could understand him, haha! To answer the second part of the question, I’m not in the position to complain about my project’s visibility and other things like that, because Sidereal Fortress seems to be respected and welcomed by most of the community, including well-known labels. So I’m a pop star now, haha!

I gather you have your own dungeon now, as a wealthy star in the DS underground?
I’m more interested in doing my music the best I can, trying to keep the quality high. DS has that amateur, underground feel we all like…however this can’t be used as an excuse for masking an objective low quality. But returning to your question, in 2017 when I released ‘Ruins’ I noticed an interest, people were buying my digital EP, though I hadn’t any Facebook, Instagram, or label promoting Sidereal Fortress…it was exciting to see that, and still, it is! I’m obviously thankful to all those who support my projects!

How important is stuff like artwork and the creative side of a physical release to you?
…to be honest, when I started Sidereal Fortress I was focused 100% on Music and I didn’t give graphics and artworks a lot of importance. But yes, with time I learned that artwork is part of the concept and must reflect what you’re going to hear in the tape, cd etc. Then I started practicing with graphic software and I improved my skills a bit. However, we still have to keep in mind that we’re here to make music, not paintings or theater…

About the music, what is the purpose of your work, or in other words, how do you hope your listener enjoys your work? Is it about musicality or atmosphere?
This is the most difficult question I ever had to answer in an interview, really! The most important thing for an artist is always to go straight to the heart of his audience, to touch their feelings and emotions…no matter if with musical skills or just a sound texture. With Sidereal Fortress, I try to be balanced between the two…if you listen to The Hermit’s Hole from start to end, you’ll realize how much it depends on the single track: both  ‘Through ancient woods…’ are super-easy and quite repetitive tracks, but it’s exactly how I wanted those songs to be! At school, you learn that easy Music is almost shit, but the reality is a bit…different!

I read in Dungeon Synth Zine you were considering ending the Sidereal Fortress project?
Yes, I ended Sidereal Fortress one year ago after the release of ‘Odissea’. Back then I felt like I’ve told all that I had to tell with that ‘brand’. But thanks to some estimated DS artists and also some close friends, I found myself reconsidering Sidereal Fortress. That led me to publish The Hermit’s Hole with my usual moniker…and it has been the right move! That album got the interest of Ancient Meadow and a very good overall feedback…yes, I think it’s my best release to date.

Which artists or releases are currently inspiring you or which would you really recommend as you consider them to be particularly good?
Mmm…the dungeon synth scene is moving such fast that it’s really hard to find hidden masterpieces. Also, it’s quite rare that I make my DS Music getting inspiration from other DS. Morphic Sun is a less known artist that I’m following with great interest.

What future plans do you currently have for Sidereal Fortress?
Honestly, I don’t know. I have a few recorded tracks that maybe will be included in my next album, but not in the near future. Dungeon synth is the quintessence of introspective music like dark ambient and cosmic music are…but they’re also a research of the perfect dramatic and obscure symphony. The making of The Hermit’s Hole lasted almost one year, but things could be even longer…or shorter…who knows? By now, I will join the new chapter of a well-known compilation with an unreleased track. You’ll see…

If you had to describe Sidereal Fortress as a dish, like a type of food, what would it be and why?
Without any doubt, it would be a dish from the Tuscan tradition, possibly a mountainside one. Just because my region, as I told you before, is my main source of inspiration. Though I also did some ‘off-topic’ albums like Odissea and The Forgotten Tomb of Yshnak.

Maybe I will choose the ‘cinghiale alla bracconiera’, that we can almost translate as ‘the poacher’s wild boar’ in English!

 

Arka’n Asrafokor: Togo heavy metal warriors

Togo is a country you probably haven’t thought about in a while. Maybe not even in the last 14 years, since the world cup participation of the African coastal nation. That’s likely going to change because Arka’n Asrafokor is turning heads with their specific blend of metal music.

With their debut album, Zã Keli , the band didn’t just set their own country on the heavy metal map. They made an impact on the whole continent. Telling us more about it is rapper and keyboard player Enrico Ahavi, with some additions from bandleader and guitarist Rock.

Due to a lot of circumstances, it took a while to get this interview done. That has a lot to do with the band being quite busy. But here it is: Togo heavy metal warriors!

Breaking the mold with Togo heavy metal

How is Arka’n doing? Has the pandemic been tough for you guys?

The pandemic has frozen many things. Many activities in many domains. And just the same way a doctor lives on his work, an artist lives on his art. An art they cannot fully express yet. It’s not only about having income but the public also. Being on stage and feel the crowd, these people’s energy and joy to be there. So yes it’s tough but we are holding on and we’ll get through this. We’re still working and we are working on new projects. The band is doing well.

Did you change the name to Arka’n Asrafokor in the meantime? I understand it means warrior, but can you tell more about this?

No, the addition of Asrafokor came prior to the pandemic. Asrafo means warrior in our mother tongue. And Asrofokor refers to the music of warriors. Warriors were icons in our culture. They were always ready to fight and die for the community. Ready to die for honor, justice, truth, peace, and love. And this state of mind and soul should always be alive and kept deep within each of us. That’s the spirit of Arka’n. That’s the kind of people we are. That’s the warriors we are, walking in our ancestors’ steps.

So can you tell me how you guys all got into this music, what bands inspired you and how you all met?

The musicians were all friends and playing here and there in clubs. Rock, the leader, was working on an album project meanwhile. He suggested to build up a band with the others. He explained the concept, the spirit behind it. They all agreed because sharing the same point of view, spirit, and culture. I (the rapper) was not hundred percent in the band. I used to sing a couple of songs with them on stage but later on joined the band as a full-time member.

We’ve been inspired by many bands. We can’t mention them all but we think the most relevant ones are Slipknot, Korn, Killswitch Engaged, Linkin Park, and more.

The African continent is known for having a very sparse metal scene and only a few notable exceptions. How was this in Togo when you were coming up and exploring this music? Did you have any musical peers?

Truth is it was really tough because there is not a single metal scene in Togo. There was no stage for us. And people don’t know what that music is. But we tried strategically to perform here and there in Togo. Not everywhere and anyhow. The places were selected according to our objectives. Little by little, we’ve started getting people to know what metal was. And specifically what our style was. And surprise surprise: they’ve loved it. Though some people had never heard of metal before. They’ve loved it because of the traditional aspect of the music. They could understand it. The music was the mirror reflecting their roots.

People know rock music here. There are good rock bands. But we are the sole metal band in Togo for now. Therefore we don’t think we’ll say we had musical peers.

What is often seen in emerging metal scenes is emulating the sound of the bands that inspire. But you guys came up with this whole new, distinct sound. What made you go in this direction and how did you shape your sound?

Instinct brought that distinct sound. It couldn’t be otherwise. Metal patterns and our traditional ones are twins. We took that direction because there was no other one to take. The path was there for us to take because it was who we are. Our culture. The culture we live in and that shaped us. We just did what we thought was right and natural for us to do. It would be out of tune trying to sound like this or that band.

Can you tell me a bit about the traditions, the past, that you put into your music with the tribal aspect? And how did it shape up through the years?

We all have a history. A real history. Not the one written by a couple of constipated guys who distort the truth because they are afraid of what you are and can become. So we cling to our history, our truth. Our values. Honor, justice, peace, and love, as mentioned above. I don’t mean we are perfect but at least it is for example impossible for us to decimate a race for land. This is not in our blood. This is not part of our values and history. Music is meant to teach also. Teach the youngest the best way to choose and why. And this is what we do. A mission we have to accomplish. This is what shaped our music. Our education made our music.

As I understand, there’s also a spiritual side to the band, could you say something about that?

Sorry not to deepen the spiritual aspect of the band but here is what we can say. It’s sad to live half a life when you can live a full and complete life. Like it or not the spiritual is the essence of life. There is no ‘here’ without ‘there’. There is no ‘middle’ without ‘here’ and ‘there’. There is no ‘you’ without ‘I’ but at the same time there is only ‘i’ and nothing else. So mind what you think, say, and do. Do the right thing to the world since you are supposed to be the world. Honor life and differences, honor your soul and laws that sustain the universe. Be as humble as the waves of the powerful ocean washing your feet at the seashore. Teach people and show the way. Spirituality is not about religion but it’s a way of living we as a band have adopted.

You’ve released the album last year‘Za Keli’. what can you tell me about the title, the story, the message on this record that is really quite amazingly good? What has happened since its release?

In our Ewe language, Zã Keli means Darkness and Light, Night and Day. We chose to give that title to the album to make us always remember this duality sustaining this world and the fact that we must accept it, fit with it and do our share. You can feel “Zã Keli ” duality in almost all the lyrics of the album. You can feel it when in some songs we talk about that inner journey of human beings, through bright sunny flowered hills or dark infernal valleys, through laughter and tears, learning, growing, but keeping the inner core of his soul safe, untouched, bright and human. Zã Keli is there again, when you listen to some of our songs, beautiful peaceful words full of hope, and in other songs, war cries calling for a merciless fight against those who spread death on our Mother Earth, those who destroy innocent lives, out of hatred and greed. This album is also like an overview of the story of the band members, what we have gone through, for many years, our musical and technical evolution, our human and spiritual journey. The oldest song of the album was written before 2005 and the most recent one in early 2019. The album came to the world during a memorable release party in a club we used to perform. The following days, the album was available online, and there were amazing reviews from metal magazines in Africa and then writers and blogs here and there from five continents! It was like a new beginning, a new journey. Our fanbase has been growing since then and we are connecting with communities and other bands. Now we are working on the next album.

Can you describe the writing and recording process? Like, how do you approach the whole creative side of it, and who plays what part in it?

Rock is the composer and the writer. He creates the music and we play it with some modifications if necessary.

How was the reception of the album, did it help you connect to the wider African metal scene?

The comments regarding the album were positive. The album confirmed Arka’n as a serious band as well as the style. It’s been proof we took some way and were part of the metal community. It helped connect not only with the wider African metal scene but also with the world metal scene. Many things were planned for this year but the pandemic put everything on hold.

Which bands do you feel we should really listen to from your part of the world, and why?

Metal in Africa isn’t something so rare, and there are many bands I could recommend from Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda, Angola… Let me just name those who come to my mind now…Dark Suburb, a rock band from Ghana, a band of talented and committed brothers who always fights to raise people’s awareness of life in the slums, the hard reality there, but also all the huge potential of the forgotten souls there. Overthrust and Wrust from Botswana, which are the references of  African death metal scene, Skinflint, heavy metal from Botswana too. Seeds of Datura and Last year tragedy from Kenya,  the awesome Dividing the Elements, Myrath from Tunisia, one of the most worldwide known African metal bands, etc, etc…

How is your reception in Togo itself? Is there any censorship or social scrutiny you have to deal with?

Since we gave birth to our music from our roots there is no censorship. The listeners know what they are listening to. Even the ones living out of Togo. Like in Ghana for example, since we actually share the same rhythms and culture. Our messages are real and about life and society. Nothing eccentric or unethical. Unless being eccentric means to get up and fight for your future and freedom, for the ones we love. Unless being eccentric means following the footsteps left by those who’ve been here before us.

What is the biggest misconception you face as a band from Togo that plays metal?

We would be called ‘satanists’. That is how it was at the beginning. That western image of metal stuff. Wearing black and jumping here and there on stage, growling, etc… They thought it was western stuff that didn’t fit in here. But it changed quite fast as our fanbase grew and people wanted to understand what these crazy guys were doing on stage and what they were singing about.

What future plans does Arak’n have when the world turns back to normal?

Just one plan: hit the road and say hi to the world with more power and love.

 

 

Kadeem Ward brings psychedelica and black metal to Barbados

There are places where metal is still an oddity and Barbados is one of them if we can believe the stories Kadeem Ward has to share. Over a decade ago, he formed the band Conrad, together with two other musicians from other countries. The first extreme metal band from the island country.

You may know Barbados from its calypso music and, obviously, Rihanna is from the isle in the lesser Antilles. It’s a small place, known for tropical holidays and perhaps for its oddball world championship in Segway polo in 2009. Yet, there are deeper and darker traditions in the Caribbean to explore and doors to open. Kadeem Ward takes us on a flight through his fascinating career, that is still unfolding and filled with creativity. But also a number of setbacks and struggles he had to face on an island unwilling to embrace the darker sounds.

Kadeem is currently working on The Kadeem Ward Project, which has multiple sub-projects mentioned below. Enjoy!

Capturing Caribbean Darkness with Conrad

Let’s start at the beginning, how did you get into music and what inspired you to play rock music and metal?

When I was around the age of 9, I used to watch a lot of WWF shows. I used to like the theme songs that wrestlers used for their ring entrances. Theme songs for wrestlers such as The Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin & Triple H. That was the first time I ever heard heavy metal; but of course, I didn’t know the genre had that name. I had no idea who Motörhead were and that they contributed to that Triple H theme. I never heard the term heavy metal until around the age of 12. One of my cousins introduced me to heavy metal bands such as Sepultura, Slayer & Behemoth. A few years after he did, I was able to watch the documentary – ‘Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey’. Through that documentary, I discovered Norwegian black metal; and bands such as Burzum, Emperor & Mayhem inspired me tremendously. I related to their idea of the rejection of Christianity, because where I’m from, Barbados, is heavily populated by people who blindly accept the faith, and disregard the fact that Christianity was introduced to our black ancestors who were captured as slaves as a means to mentally control & brainwash them. I’m a firm believer of practising whatever forms of spirituality my ancestors were doing prior to their enslavement.

The Norwegians that were a part of the black metal scene, Varg Vikernes, Ihsahn, Euronymous and others, were very aware of similar atrocities which occurred in their native country’s history as well. Christianity has been always used as a method of oppression throughout history. I refused to accept anything Christianity had to offer from an early age. It just manifested into something more as I grew older. Eventually, I began to make music about it when I was 19.

My first recordings were done at the age of 17, but back then I never made music about blasphemous activities.

By the time I turned 21 in 2013, I had completed recording instrumental rough mixes for Conrad’s second EP entitled: ‘Exu.21’. However, I was not able to record anymore because my laptop had an issue and eventually stopped working. It was that same year I decided to switch to psychedelic rock with a solo band called ‘The Kadeem Ward Project’ in an attempt to make enough money to purchase a new one. However, this never worked out, and even to this day, Conrad gets more sales than the Project. Still, it’s not enough money to buy anything, as the customer purchase rates are incredibly slow. So I’ve decided to stick to the psychedelic/progressive rock sounds, as I would like to have a more lucrative band for the Barbadian live settings.

What are the band that totally captured you and really inspire you to this day?

Honestly, I don’t listen to most of the bands that inspired me in the early days. I’ve moved on. Not saying that I wouldn’t listen to those bands ever again, but I’ve just been making the time for new music. I listen to a lot of ’60s & 70’s music. There’s a sea of psychedelic rock & progressive rock that I like to submerge myself in. One band that I’ve really been digging very recently is the Pekka Pohjola Group from Finland. They have a track & album released in 1980 called ‘Kätkävaaran Lohikäärme’ (The Dragon Of Käkävaara) that is just simply ingenious. However, if I had to choose a particular band it would be Saturnalia Temple from Sweden. I love their 2011 full-length ‘Aion Of Drakon’ is a major influence for me. I first heard it in early 2012, and it resonated heavily. It’s so bluesy, especially for a Doom Metal album. Some sections of it remind me of the legendary blues guitarist Robert Johnson. Especially tracks like ‘Fall’. I don’t know if Johnson was an influence for that album, like, if the craft was intentional, but I hail Tommie Eriksson and the gang for their efforts.

As I understand it, you started the first metal band or at least the first extreme metal band, in Barbados. Your first project was called Tohara Harakati, where you started using the moniker ‘Veldt Soldaat’ (which is in Dutch ‘field soldier’, which piques my interest). Here you also started using the moniker ‘Emdeka’. Can you tell me how this came to be?

In 2009, I was looking for a band name. I wanted to have an African name. I used an online translator to attempt to translate Purgatory Process into Swahili. That’s how Tohara Harakati came to be. Unfortunately, it’s not an accurate translation. And yes, Veldt Soldaat translates to ‘field soldier’ in Dutch. I used an Afrikaans translator, and both that and Dutch are quite similar. But I didn’t realize that at the time, haha.

Emdeka just came to be influenced by Samoth of Emperor who took his birth name Thomas and spelled it backwards from each of the last two letters. My birth name is Kadeem, so if I did the same thing it would be ‘Emdeka’. In 2013, I added Exuma to the name, as a tribute to the Bahamian artist who sang about dark Afro-based entities and traditions.

This project then became Conrad, which is the main reason I got interested in your work. It’s driven sound, atmospheric passages and intricate passages are, to me, phenomenal. Can you tell me more about this project and how you shaped it?

I went to the public library in Bridgetown when I was 17 to find a text about Barbadian folklore so that I could choose a new band name. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to borrow that book in particular, so I read through it very quickly and came across two interesting entities. Ballahoo, a spectral hound with chains attached to him, which was known to devour people. The next one being Conrad, a ghost that was said to penetrate women and live in their stomachs, causing irritation. I chose the latter because it felt more intriguing, and I felt a strong spiritual connection with the name.

What was the concept behind Conrad? And what attracted you to the sound of black metal?

The concept behind Conrad is a spiritual one. It is connected with the past activities & rituals of the African people. It just so happens that I took the more sinister path of such a notion.

Also, I always loved how minimalistic black metal was expressed. These guys created a phenomenon through the use of poor quality equipment and recording styles. I also like the variation of speed that can accumulate within various bands.

You’ve said that you wanted to capture Barbados myths with Conrad. You also explored various languages and ideas related to your personal heritage, if I understand it correctly (perhaps afro-centric themes is the correct word?). Can you elaborate on that?

I’m trying to bring forth awareness and glorification of Afro-based entities such as Baron Samedi (found in the Haitian Voodoo tradition, Eshu/Exu (found in both the West African Yoruba & Brazilian Quimbanda traditions; the latter which I have been an active practitioner of from 2011 to 2013) & Shango (found in the West African Yoruba tradition). Our black ancestors suffered a lot and some even died trying to defend their culture. I think it’s fair that more black individuals accept these traditions again because it was our way of living and it was stripped from us!

For this band, you started working with Lord Ifrit from Jamaica, known from Orisha Shakpana. How did you guys get in touch and how did this steer the project to the darker sound on the last releases?

Lord Ifrit contacted me in 2010 via email and hailed me for my contributions to heavy metal. We then exchanged taste in music and eventually talked about collaborating. He wrote the lyrics and performed the vocals for the track ‘Purgatory Process’ which is the second track on Conrad’s first EP entitled ‘-Conrad Within-‘. The darkness of the sound came from me being very heavily influenced by bands such as Watain & Dissection; those two bands glorify the concept of Chaos as a source of liberation from the chains of the cosmic existence and the stagnation of the forces of Order.

New Horizons for The Kadeem Ward Project

I’m not entirely clear on how and why Conrad got quiet or even ended. Orisha Shakpana seems to have gone quiet at the same time according to what I can find. Since then you’ve worked on several projects in new directions it seems. So how did this project end and where did your interests shift towards?

Conrad never ended! The band is currently going through a very long hiatus. What happened with Conrad was a series of unfortunate & detrimental events. First of all, in 2013, during the recording of Conrad’s 2nd EP ‘Exu.21’, my laptop had issues and stopped working. It was my main work station at the time. I couldn’t continue with Conrad’s new material as a result. The DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) that I used was pirated and for some reason, entered a trial mode, and prevented me from recording. I also lacked space on my internal hard drive. So I knew I needed a new laptop.

So sometime in 2013, I worked very briefly at a hotel on the south coast of Barbados to acquire some funds for a new laptop; however, I was fired in less than a week. I managed to accumulate enough money for an external hard drive, and I figured that maybe I can try to form a new project that would be lucrative enough for financial assistance. I created a project called ‘De Adversaries’ which was based on dark psychedelic rock with metal influences, but this was really just an experiment for the development of my playing skills on the guitar. It was supposed to feature individuals from ‘the darkest corners of the world’, but it never worked out.

On November 30th 2013, I created The Kadeem Ward Project, and launched a brand new demo that featured about 9 mins of improvisation through an instrumental jam session. That demo was called ‘Austere’. Shortly after my laptop finally expired and I was forced to use my mother’s laptop in order to do more recordings with the Project. It just became so much easier to record with ‘The Project’ because it was entirely based around guitar improvisation, which I became very good at. With Conrad, everything was composed very carefully and strategically. This became too time-consuming for my situation, because my mother never liked the idea of me recording music on her laptop.

Another thing that took place in early 2013 was my manifestation of schizophrenia. I was doing lots of cocaine and marijuana at the same time and started hearing voices while having a rather painful and unusual increased heart rate. This went on for the duration of a year plus a few months. In 2014, I got in some trouble with my mother after someone I once considered a friend tried to push me out of a moving vehicle and I ended up in the island’s psychiatric hospital, a place called Black Rock.

I spent a duration of about 2 months there before going back home and then attending their walk-in rehab.

I can’t say what happened to Orisha Shakpana, because I was out of contact with Lord Ifrit for a while; but I believe that band is also on a very long hiatus.

One project I came across, that I found particularly interesting was Emdeka Exuma & De Adversaries. It made me think of Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies. Can you tell me more about that project? Is that the last mention of your moniker Emdeka?

For now, it is the last mention, you can say. I became very influenced by Selim Lemouchi’s work since I first heard The Devil’s Blood in mid-2011. Conrad’s 2nd and unfinished EP ‘Exu.21’ is heavily inspired by The Devil’s Blood. When Selim started his new project, I was so inspired that I changed the name of ‘De Adversaries’ to ‘Emdeka Exuma & De Adversaries’. As I mentioned before, ‘De Adversaries’ was an effort to have people from different parts of the globe muster ideas for dark psychedelic music.

You seem to have grown more fond of psychedelic music, but as I understand it from your personal story, there is little room our tolerance for that music on Barbados. You’ve had quite some personal and legal issues as I understand. Is that something you want to tell more about? Do you feel there is more acceptance regarding the music you make today?

I’d say psychedelic rock & progressive rock are a bit more lucrative within the Barbadian setting. It’s something you can get away with if executed correctly and accurately. Most Barbadians don’t like rock music in general. As Christians, they’ve acquired the herd notion that all rock music is Satanic. So they don’t ever step out of their comfort zones when it comes to rock, blues and especially heavy metal. However, the few that do appreciate the genre would probably find psychedelic rock to be interesting. If you play music in the vein of Jimi Hendrix, they’d gravitate towards it. But honestly, I didn’t choose the genre to have people think I’m the next Jimi Hendrix, it just came naturally as something I loved and wished to express. Honestly, I don’t mingle too much with the local rock fans, because in my opinion, they’ve stagnated themselves by listening to mainstream alternative rock bands that have really watered down the spirit of rock n roll. Rock n roll is a lifestyle of rebellion against oppressive forces, which is a notion that mainstream bands don’t cater to. I get quite annoyed while talking about it, but whining about your girlfriend and singing about being the least favourite student in high school (or whatever the fuck those bands sing about) is absolute weakness and has nothing to do with the true spirit of rock n roll.

As for legal issues, I actually appeared in court for the first time in 2013. January that same year, someone wanted to purchase a tobacco pipe I was selling for $40 Barbadian ($20 USD). They were a graphics designer that did posters for local dancehall shows. He said he didn’t have the money so I trusted that he would’ve returned with the money eventually. I realized that every time I met with him, he didn’t have the money, followed by some excuse. At one point he told me about a situation where he abandoned a girl after offering her ice cream, and he thought that was funny. Eventually, I started hearing stories about how he ripped off several of his clients who wanted to do shows for him, as he was a ‘promoter’. They never saw any money from him. So, after weeks of waiting, I sent him a warning with a picture of my Quimbanda altar and he panicked. He came into my workplace (at the time I was working at a supermarket located a few minutes away from my home in a place called Six Roads) and threatened me twice. When it was time for me to leave around 10:00 PM, he was in the parking lot waiting for me and spoke violently. After he attacked me, I stabbed him. My mother told me to turn myself in, so I did. I was in a jail cell for a few days before I was granted bail. Because of that incident, I lost my job at the supermarket, as they said they weren’t allowing violence on their compound. When I went to court, the judge dropped the charges against me and told me to be careful next time.

Also, I’ve been to the psychiatric hospital 4 times between 2014 – 2018. The 3rd time, in 2016, my mother made me homeless the day after I was discharged from that institution for my 2nd detainment. I refused her request to get a haircut and she called the police to escort me off of her residence. I was homeless for about 6 days. I was then approached by a neighbor who said that my mother wanted me back home. When I did return home, my mother called home from work and asked me what I was doing there, and called the police again. I verbally abused my grandmother because of that. Anyway that same night, I returned home and my mother called the police and I was detained for 9 months. That was the most inhumane experience I’ve ever been through, and I’ve been disgusted by my mother because of it.

Currently, I see project names like The Kadeem Ward Project, Kadeem Ward & His Mechanical Devices, Kadeem Ward & The Pillars of the Pilgrim’s Temple, and Supa Fly Don X Goon City, which is a hip-hop project, but you seem to have a fascination still for the magical element in music. Can you maybe give some insights into what all these projects mean and which role they fulfill in your total artistic expression?

Well, first of all, The Kadeem Ward Project is a medium for my creative energies & passions and I try to have as little restrictions as possible with that band. It’s a vessel that nurtures a field of possibilities, hopes & dreams. It’s one of the most naked experiences I’ve ever had, as in, the band caused me to reveal aspects of myself that I have never expressed on a musical & personal plane. I’ve been listening to my 2nd album: ‘Confection: A Syncretism Of Guises & How All Mad Men Go To Heaven’, and I came to discover how sonically advanced it is for a very minimalistic production. The compositions are very unique and original and I came to indulge in the fact that I was composing something quite progressive and ethereal. That album, along with my 3rd album ‘Dilemma Of Dispersal & Aging (Or A Continuum TO Departure)’ was released the same year. I personally believe that ‘Dilemma’ has a voluptuous role in my life. If I were to accumulate enough money to form a band, that is the album I want to perform live globally, because it has so much potential as a 2 hour plus progressive/jazz album. That album can build an economy, man. I want to use that album to give Barbados a new façade and a new aura & atmosphere. I want to do something like what Fela Kuti was doing in Nigeria during the 70’s & 80’s with ‘The Shrine’ where people can visit Barbados from all corners of the globe with the anticipation to hear my ‘exotic’ compositions. Who knows? That may inspire some locals to create more original and exuberant music. For the last 10 years or so in Barbados, guitarist & singers have just been doing the same bloody covers of mainstream pop/alternative artist and have been making a living off of it. My presence in the Barbadian music industry is to ensure that I denounce that notion of such stagnation, lack of originality & laziness for something more unique, potent & pure.

Kadeem Ward & His Mechanical Devices and Kadeem Ward & The Pillars Of The Pilgrim’s Temple are both subsidiaries of The Kadeem Ward Project. The Mechanical Devices is a live project, associated heavily with the use of a loop station. It’s for one-shot recordings. The Pillars is an acoustic-based project that gravitates primarily around world music.

The rap project came about as a side-interest and a means to support me financially. I used the alias Goon City for that. My cousin that lives here in Padmore Village, St. Philip goes by the name of Supa Fly Don. He’s an amazing freestyler. It’s stunning what he can do off the top of his head. I leave the rapping up to him, I just produce beats.

Religion, spirituality, magic, it all seems to play a big part in what you do musically. These things are, of course, always connected if we look at rock’n’roll history. How do you view this today and which bands are currently your biggest inspirations?

Unfortunately, I haven’t been practicing magick since 2014, because my mother discarded my altar. I haven’t had a steady job to be able to realign myself with magickal practices either. My schizophrenia didn’t help either, I lost touch with reality for many years. The only form of magick I’ve been practicing all these years was through my composition in The Kadeem Ward Project. It’s a medium to express a spiritual connection with entities through vibrations and sounds. I believe in sonic & voces magick (sound and spoken word), so I try to incorporate them into my music as much as possible.

It’s mandatory for me to have spirituality as a theme for my music because it helps me transcend the barriers of this mundane existence in order to find something greater. A lot of artists that I have been around just stagnated themselves with the idea of partying and accumulating material possessions to satisfy themselves. I look past this notion of brain dead entertainment. I want to manifest the energies of my ancestors into the present day in order to grow and to become a wiser, smarter, more progressive person. I do that with magick. I see this world as a grand illusion of false hopes & desires, so I try my best to animate life of sustainability and substance to detach from the false notions of this world.

The bands that inspire me in this sense would be Saturnalia Temple (as I’ve mentioned before), Watain, Dissection & The Devil’s Blood.

What does music mean to you now? To me, it seems like you treat it like a wide-open playing field. Do you see yourself returning to the recording of extreme metal with Conrad or a new project in the future?

Music to me now means mind-expansion. That’s what I’ve been craving more of these days. Developing my psyche and intellectual properties. Music, and good music at that, is a release. It’s hope. It’s the future. Interesting how you should refer to me treating music as an open field; and I do treat it that way. I try not to have a limit to what I listen to and create. I listen to everything expect gospel, country, & dancehall (well I listen to some dancehall tracks but it’s minimal. It’s not a genre I’m too fond of anyway).

Conrad will return someday, most definitely. As for when I can’t say. I plan to launch a new Doom band too called Mycelium Ghost, but that may have to wait a while.

What future plans do you currently have?

Accumulating money for the future of my musical journey.

If the Kadeem Ward Project was a dish, a type of food, what would it be and why?

A plate of psilocybin mushrooms, because it’s the key to the inner gate, the forbidden doorway.

Mental health is a concern for everyone. If you struggle, reach out to professionals, talk to people. 

Mileth: Galician Celts and Oral Traditions

Where the Atlantic Ocean beats onto the farthest edge of the country named Spain, is a region you may not know about. It’s not where you find your Costa Brava or Costa del Sol, but Galicia has a proud and long-standing identity, quite distinct from the rest of the country. Mileth is an expression of that.

Formed all the way back in 2009, the band plays its very distinct mixture of folk music and metal. Though the project started light-hearted, their sound is now rich and filled with Galician traditional stories, the language and a feeling you can only get there. The urgency of slowly loosing ones identity, a recurring theme in all my interviews, has pushed the band in that direction. It’s without any form of malice, for all the good globalization brings, it would seem that the responsibility of preserving what is ours rests with us.

The band was kind enough to answer my questions and tell me more about their unique background and history.

Galician metallers Mileth

Hello, how are you doing?

Hello Guido, Marcos here, willing to answer your questions with a good storm as a background soundtrack.

How did Mileth got started? 

We started playing with the excuse of having a few beers and playing songs from other bands that we liked, that’s been a decade ago. Then we realized that composing was more fun and we started looking for our own sound, we wanted to make the kind of music that we couldn’t find in our closest environment. This led us to look at our roots and delve into traditional Galician music. Taking our folklore as an inspirational element and bringing it to music was a slow process, as it has required and requires study time, but I think that today is our strongest personality feature.

Where you in other bands before you started Mileth?

For most of us, Mileth has been our first project as a band and our musical baggage has grown in the shade of this tree. Although many people have been in the group and yes, other colleagues have been or are linked to other Galician bands.

Could you tell me what Mileth means and how you came up for the concept of the band? 

The name of the group is taken from the Gaelic word Miledh. This name appears in the Lébor Gabála, the book of the invasions of Ireland, and refers to a warrior descendant of King Breogán (hero of our mythology). But Miledh can also be translated as the “sons of a Thousand”, the Milesians, who, according to the story, epically conquered Ireland after leaving the Galician coast to avenge the death of their druid Ith, son of Breogán, killed by the Tuatha Dé Danánn.

This book, written in the Middle Ages, despite having an Irish origin, is important to us because it contains references to our Ancient History from the point of view of myth. In Galicia we have a very rich mythology of oral tradition, but it is difficult to find stories referring to mythological heroes of the past. And this fact, which is wonderful in many ways, helped recovering some figures that would represent the values ​​of the resurgence of the Galician national spirit of the 19th century.

Perhaps it is convenient to clarify that today Galicia is a country without a state, or, seen from another point of view, it is a nation that is within the Spanish state (Like the Basque Country or Catalonia).

For a band like ours, where the lyrical concept revolves around our land and our culture, I think using the myth to build songs is a good way, not only to keep this alive, but also to express our current beliefs and emotions according to the pagan and folk spirit of our music.

Who were your inspirations when you embarked on this project? I feel a clear link to Slavonic pagan metal, but that may just be my perception. 

Yes, some people have linked our sound with Slavic Pagan Metal, and it’s funny because there is no conscious inspiration in it at first. I think that the possible relationship comes from the fact that in both folklores there are some similar elements: there are some melodic forms with similar figures, in both folklores the female voices have a lot of presence and there are similar modes of expression. Also, the use of instruments such as the hurdy gurdy , the violin or the bagpipes can reinforce this perception when mixed with the Metal. What’s more, groups like Arkona or Grai use the Galician bagpipe in their recordings … Perhaps the Slavic pagan metal is the one that sounds similar to the Galician pagan (just kidding, this has its explanation, but it is an indicator that we have a really alive folklore).

In short, I could not tell you who has influenced us directly, we have very eclectic tastes and we have fed from many sources. But I could tell you that my main references are Skyclad, the 90s melodic black metal and, above all, traditional Galician music.

All your lyrics are in Spanish, which I don’t happen to speak. Could you tell me a bit more about the Galician mythology, it’s fundamentals, and how that translates to your music? 

Our lyrics are written in Galician, not in Spanish. They are different languages. Galician, like Spanish, is also a Romance language, but in its origin it is as close to Spanish as it can be to Italian, Catalan or French. Yes, it is directly related to Portuguese since during the Middle Ages they formed the same language, Galician-Portuguese or Western Iberian. The Galician-Portuguese lyric of that time is well known for having a huge importance between the 12th and 14th centuries. Then, each language evolved independently; in the case of Galician, suffering different ups and downs. It has been an abused and even persecuted language over the years. Galicia’s history is complicated.

Answering your question, our mythology has lived through oral tradition until almost our days. There is a strong connection to the pagan world, with old cults to nature that, curiously, have mostly lived through Christianity. These cults have been transformed and adapted to the new religion, as it has happened in almost all Europe. But, under different forms, the stones, the sources and springs, the stars… they continue to be blessed. Rituals marked on the Celtic calendar are still being celebrated such as the Imbolc (here Entroido), the Beltaine (here Os Maios) … Hundreds of stories are collected about characters from the Hereafter, such as “os Mouros”, creatures who live under “castros” and dolmens. Galicia is a land where witches have had such a presence in society that it has attracted scholars from Europe to document this phenomenon. Different superstitions about witchcraft have remained alive almost to this day. But if there is a fundamental god in our popular mythology, it is Death.

Mileth Death

Last year you released ‘Catro Pregarias no Albor da Lúa Morta’, what can you tell me about this album and was it well received? 

Catro pregarias no albor da Lúa Morta is a journey through the paths of tradition and myth I was telling you about, it is a journey where a dialogue is established with the elements of nature, not always explicit, and where also Death has its leading role.

Musically, it is an extreme melodic metal with sounds inspired by traditional Galician music, but also connected with these natural elements of our landscape. It is really a canvas with many nuances that, despite being a humble production, public and critics have been able to understand and value very positively. So yes, we are happy with how it was received. Our expectations were low and the album has had almost no promotion. So it is incredible that it has reached its public outside our borders. Although publishing with a Russian label like SoundAge has made this a bit easier.

Mileth contains 8 members. Did you start out with this format? And what is it like to compose for such a sizable band? The sound feels still spacious. 

In the original lineup we were only two guys, but we immediately decided to look for more people to be able to take our proposal to live shows. Actually, composing for a big band is not the problem, the problem about being many people (and with many instruments) is that it sets a strong limit for us to tour and play live (paradoxically). The technical requirements, space and costs of each show are tripled. It is very difficult to be able to bring such an ambitious proposal to the stage as an underground band. Even so, we are always making our fixes and tricks.

Why is it important to you to specifically express your roots through music and has it become more important in recent years?

Globalization has positive things, but it has many others that are very negative, and on a cultural level, it means sentencing people to gradually lose their own identity marks. The paradox of this is that anyone in the world can access information about Galician culture, they can read about aspects that I have been talking about, or even that in Russia they can have Galician bagpipes or edit an album by a group called Mileth, unknown even in their land. But at the same time, here in Galicia, Galicians increasingly speak less of our language, we destroy important archaeological remains, or we cut down our native forests to plant more economically productive foreign trees. It could be said that our culture is being transformed, adapting to new times, or that it is being enriched by contact with others. In part it does, and it has positive points. Societies have always advanced through communication between people. But we should not allow omnipresent cultures to overwhelm and monopolize all aspects of our society, especially when they mock your roots and erase your identity. Let us build a free and connected world, but not from the culture of capital and economic powers that do not understand neither people nor cultures or nations.

Are there other Galician bands people should check out? I’m familiar with Sangre de Muerdago. 

Of course, Galicia has always had a small but high quality metal scene. I would recommend listening to other projects by people from Mileth such as Dioivo, Metalxis or Dysnomia. As well as I would invite you to listen to some of our most mythical bands such as Xerión, Balmog, Dantalion, Absorbed, Unreal Overflows, Machetazo, Kathaarsys, Talésien, In-verno, Fallen Sentinel, Barbarian Prophecies, Wisdom, Madame Germen … or fellow bands such as Atreides, Aquelarre, Lóstregos, Iron Hunter, Utopian Visions of Earth

And in terms of traditional and folk music we have a lot of renowned bands around the world such as Milladoiro, Berrugüetto, Leilía, Mercedes Peón, Luar na Lubre, Carlos Núñez, SondeSeu, Susana Seivane, Budiño … . or groups of musicians who have collaborated with us such as Caldo, Quempallou, Rodrigo Romaní trio, Güintervan … Sorry, I start and I can’t stop.

What future plans does Mileth currently have?

A vinyl edition of our album is going to be released through Darkwoods label, but we had to postpone it due to the pandemic. Although if everything goes well, in a few weeks (or in a few days) we will have a release date. Darkwoods had already released a special edition of the album that was impressive. It sold out very quickly, so those interested must be aware because this will also be a limited edition.

On the other hand, this year we had closed the participation in several festivals, even abroad. But we have passed from scheduling trips to not knowing when we’ll be able to rehearse again.

Mileth

If Mileth was a type of food, what would it be (and why)?

“Cocido galego” (a Galician stew). It is a mixture of vegetables, legumes and potatoes cooked with different parts of the pork (ribs, ham, tail, “chourizo”, “botelo”…). It’s usually accompanied with a good “do país” red wine. The richest parts are the ones that people are most shy to eat: the ears and the muzzle.

Why a stew? We make a mixture of various elements, and there is always someone who finds something disgusting, but if you do not like meat you can eat vegetables, and elsewhere, you will always have the broth, such an amazing thing to both have the body coldness removed or to get rid of a good hangover.

 

The Passion of Thomas Gabriel Fischer Completed

For anyone who has a special place in their hearts for heavy metal, Thomas Gabriel Fischer needs no introduction. Though many will know him as Tom G. Warrior. The man who fronted the pioneering Hellhammer and Celtic Frost are as much of an icon as the extreme metal scene ever had and this year he is releasing a new record under the banner of Triptykon; the live recording of the ‘Requiem’, performed live during Roadburn 2019, together with the highly esteemed Metropool Orkest.

This once in a lifetime performance was recorded and now will be released. We had the distinct honor to speak with the man himself about this record, the performance, the emotions attached to it, but also his future plans with Triptykon, Triumph of Death (his Hellhammer tribute), and a new project. Obviously, the COVID-19 outbreak was also part of our chat.

Tom is an easy person to talk to. Every word is carefully formulated, and he lets no opportunity pass to thank those who’ve helped him realize his musical ambition of performing the ‘Requiem’, a piece that took over 30 years to create and complete. Polite throughout the interview, you’d hardly imagine this man to be the guys who sort of crashed a Venom press conference to proclaim they were going to outdo them (more on that in the book ‘Only Death Is Real’). Enjoy.

Tranquillity, Gratitude, and Contentment

How are you doing, Tom?

Doing alright, I had some issues with my health two months ago and some of it is still lingering, but basically, I’m doing alright. Pretty much recovered.

How are you dealing with the current situation?

Well, there’s not that much to deal with as it is not up to my personal decision. It is as it is and I have to adjust to it. All the concerts that we had scheduled for Triptykon and Triumph of Death have been cancelled. That of course means that also my livelihood has been very much impacted. I have invoices to pay like everyone else. I simply have no income from this, so we’ll see what happens. For musicians, it is a challenging time. We were looking forward immensely to playing live. There’s a lot of concerts this year we were very much personally involved in and looking forward very much to play with both bands. It’s very difficult to know that these will not take place or in a year at the earliest.

We felt very refreshed in both bands, so it’s not easy to see everything get cancelled if you have a good connection with your audience. You go on stage with a lot of honesty and enthusiasm, so then it is very hard to let go of all these shows.

I can imagine that feeling, you’re personally and emotionally invested in this endeavour, so it is difficult. But it seems that there’s some shift now taking place. How is that in Switzerland?

There is some indication that things will open up slightly quicker than we anticipated. But I’m very careful with this because there are only very small events that are permitted and there’s still a lot of social distancing required and various measures in place. So I really don’t know, when we are talking about bigger concerts and festivals, there’s nothing right now that indicates when everything will restart. We are basically in unknown territory still. But it’s, like you say, a glimpse at the horizon that certain clubs and restaurants can open again. That’s something we didn’t expect a month ago.  

Let’s hope for better days. I suppose you can’t really plan anything in this situation?

No, we can’t. The entire year will now be focused on working creatively. Working on new material, recording new material, working on live recordings. We have some live material from Triumph of Death to mix. We have material to write for Triptykon, and so on… But even that is hindered right now because we record everything in Germany and right now the borders between Germany and Switzerland are closed. Half of Triptykon is German, half is Swiss, so we can’t even meet at the rehearsal room right now. We can’t go to the studio in Germany, so everything is sort of up in the air right now.

There’s a lot you can do online though.

Well… we send files back and forth, but I’m not a huge fan of rehearsing or playing concerts over the internet. I’m a bit oldschool in this regard.

There is a release coming up, the live at Roadburn recording of ‘Requiem’with the Metropole Orkest. What can you tell me about this?

Well, that’s a broad question. That’s a project that took over 30 years to finish, I would talk like… a day.

I wish we had time to do that. But I mean the release itself, as It was clear from the start you wanted to record it, correct?

Well, of course, if you do a project of that magnitude with so many special people involved… the conductor, the orchestra, the female singer, of course, you want to try and preserve this forever. It was clear from the beginning that if we were going to do this, we needed to record it. It’s a very complex project and a very expensive project, and it is in no way given that this will ever be performed again. In other words, it would have been very neglectful not to record it.

Has it become what you expected it to be?

I think so, yes. It was really complex on every level. Starting with the songwriting, then the arranging for the classical musicians, the preparations, the rehearsals… Even the performance itself. And then there’s the mixing of the uncounted tracks that we recorded, with all the individual musicians, cleaning the tracks from all the background noise. It was all very complex. But having said all of that, we are quite happy with the result. It’s a live album, so you don’t have the perfect studio conditions for a regular album. I think we did what we could, it is as perfect as it can be, while still capturing the live spirit that you really hear. We’re really happy with the result.

I was present during the performance at Roadburn and got to listen to the final record, so I can kind of compare and it is really capturing that experience. What I would like to know, having completed this, what did it mean to you to do this on a personal level?

First of all, it was an incredible honor to be invited to Roadburn to complete ‘Requiem’ and not do it on my own basically. It was an extreme honor Walter gave us this platform and all the people who work with him, but also to work with such an incredible orchestra. Walter suggested working with them, the Metropole Orkest. Jukka Iisakkila, the conductor… Like I said, a complex project, but all these people made it as easy as it can be because all of them were very experienced and professional. So I felt it was a big honor to be granted me to work with these people.

On a more personal record, it was quite a significant event to see this project completed that I started with Martin Eric Ain back in the mid-eighties. It was a beautiful feeling on one hand, and sad on the other, because I really wanted him to be part of it or at least hear it. Of course, since he died in 2017 that was impossible, but I literally was thinking of him while we were performing on stage. I carried him with me when we played in my heart. I’m not just saying this, he was very much part of my emotions and I hope in some way he would approve of this.

Tom G. Warrior on stage during the Roadburn performance, picture by Paul Verhagen

Has this also for you been part of dealing with his loss?

Well, of course, when Walter and I spoke about this whole thing for the first time he had just lost someone very close to him. I had just lost someone close to me, it was shortly after Martin’s death, so we were both mourning someone very close to us in our own individual lives. I think we both carried this in our minds when we discussed this. It was not just a professional proposal, there was much more to it.

Of the Requiem, two parts were already finished in a sense and ready to be played. The second part, however, is newly created. Can you tell me about its process?

The basic songwriting was done by me because the whole Requiem was an idea of mine. But for this third part, I was very open. I was working with people who are on one hand very experienced and professional, but on the other hand, were personally involved in it. There were no mercenaries and I know many people involved were genuinely part of it, not just hired guns. So I was very open to suggestions, especially when they came from our guitarist V. Santura, who was also the musical director, and Florian Magnus Maier, who was the classical arranger. Both of them are very close friends of mine and they had a lot of songwriting ideas that they contributed, which I was very open to. We had a million meetings in person and on Skype, to arrange this and to improve the piece and a lot of ideas were exchanged. It would have been egotistical in the face of such excellent people, to deny their ideas. I knew that if we combined all those, the piece would be much stronger then if I would enforce an ego. I really don’t have an ego, I was happy to be involved with so many good people so it was no problem to incorporate their contributions.

That’s good, because if it’s such a personal project, you want to be sure that everyone is in it for the right reasons.

Of course, but I never had to fear to miss the personal connection, as I wrote the whole thing. The basic construction and all, because at the end of the day it’s still my piece. This has just made the piece better. If you look at it as a memorial to people that have died in our circle of friends, then the better the piece, the better the memorial. It’s not about ego or being a star, it’s about creating something very, very special. If it’s about art, in my opinion, ego should be very far down the list. First and foremost, there needs to be creativity and the will to do something special.

I also wanted to ask you about the vocals by Safa Heraghi. Her vocals in the second piece just really carry it and hit the right spot. So how did you get in touch with her and considered her for this piece?

I first met her when she was playing a concert with Dark Fortress. She had done guest vocals on one of their songs and appeared later at one of their concerts in Zurich, my home town. I went to see them and her performance that night was absolutely brilliant and moving, so I went backstage and talked to her about one-day doing vocals on a Triptykon album. Traditionally, we have always had female vocals ever since the first Celtic Frost album. She was interested and when the idea for the ‘Requiem’ arose, I called her and asked if she would be interested in doing vocals. But not just backing vocals, but to be the co-lead vocalist in a classical metal collaboration. I’m very happy she said yes and she also contributed many ideas. She was heavily involved in some of the vocal melodies and the lyrics.

You know, we heard the ‘Requiem’ a million times by now, from the early demos till the final touches, but every time I listened to some of her parts towards the new middle part, we were all really moved to the point of tears sometimes. Even though we had heard it multiple times, this was how much her voice and performance moved us.

Sefa Heraghi singing the Requiem, picture by Paul Verhagen

The artwork for this release is the first one without H.R. Giger’s artwork. Giger passed away in 2014, but I understand you still have the artwork for the future.

There is one more album that has been designed with and approved by Giger, when he was still alive. That was always supposed to be the third studio album, and that’s what it is going to be when it comes out. This is the album we’re working on this year. It’s long overdue of course, but when Giger was still alive in late 2013 he approached us after the first Triptykon album and asked if we were interested in continuing our collaboration. Giger and the band, we all agreed on doing a triptych. So I went with him and we selected the artwork and designed it together, and he approved everything. We used one work on the second album, and the third is yet to come.

Because the ‘Requiem’ is a different project and a live album, it has a different feel to it. It is not technically the third of the three studio albums, so it has a different kind of artwork to make it distinct. But the next Triptykon album will have the artwork, which will in fact be the last album where Giger was personally involved in the design and approval of everything.

But you have now also dedicated ‘Requiem’ to him.

Yes, of course, it is dedicated to Martin Eric Ain and H.R. Giger, two of our closest friends and collaborators who have died in recent years since the second Triptykon album. By the nature of the ‘Requiem’, we felt we had to make this dedication. However small it may be, we wanted to dedicated this to people who were instrumental to the band and close to us.

One last one is in the works then?
Carmen Giger, his widow, has offered me to continue using Giger artwork even after the third record. But I’ve told her I don’t think it’s the right thing to do, even though it would be official, as she inherited it, has all the rights and would approve of it. I felt it was important to only do albums that Giger personally saw, oversaw and approved, so I don’t want to go on using his art past his death. After the third album, we will pursue a new direction at any rate.

Everybody knows how much of a fan of his work I am, and I feel infinitely honored for having been granted the possibility to work with him. I was a young teenager, many years ago, when I discovered the Emerson, Lake and Palmer album ‘Brain Salad Surgery’, and Giger’s artwork on that album impressed me to no end. At that time, I would have never thought I would be a musician and work with Giger. By now, I’m 56 and not only have I worked with Giger but I have done so on and on. It’s been four albums. I’m deeply honored and I don’t want to be greedy. I had these four albums with him, but I’m ok with going in a new direction, also as an artist. I’m not a capitalist in that I want more, more and more. I’m happy to say it’s enough, let’s do something else.

I want to ask you about the performance, because afterward you were part of a talk where you spoke with some finality. What you said was: ” I am no longer in tune in this world anymore and I really don’t know why I am still here. Now I finished the Requiem I guess I am free to leave.” I wanted to ask you how this was intended?

It was intended exactly in the way that I said it. When you discover some finality in this, that is exactly true. I’m not overly attached to the world as it is, given human conduct on this planet. I’ve been granted much more than I ever dreamt of as a teenager, when I had these daydreams of one day being a musician because music meant that much to me. I would have been happy to play in a local band, but I’ve been granted far, far more. As I said earlier, I’m not greedy, I’m not insatiable. I’ve been granted much more than I ever dreamt of so, I’m basically ready to call it a day whenever it’s the time and perhaps one day I’ll be instrumental in setting that time. There’s really not much joy in this world, giving the destruction of animals, the environment, ourselves and each other. Our ignorance, even after thousands of years of what we call civilization, we are still completely out of control, we haven’t learned anything and we destroy everything in our path, be it human, animal or environment in our endless egotistical narcissism. That’s not really a home I’m fond of, as much as it has given me. I’ve done a lot of things, fulfilled all my dreams, so I feel very free right now. When it’s time, I can go without hesitation, there’s nothing bad to that. I loathe the attitude of never having enough, always wanting more. It’s one of the big problems that us human beings carry with us, and I’m not like that at all.

Tom G. Fischer, during the Roadburn panel. Picture by Justina Lukosiute

Appreciate what you have, be satisfied.

Absolutely, and I have no problem with that fact that there’s an end to things. There’s no unlimited supply of everything. I’ve had my life and I’ve tried to live my life meaningfully, to try realize all my dreams. I worked on everything I wanted to achieve. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, so there’s really no regrets. I don’t need to hang on and say “I haven’t lived yet”, you know. I’ve always lived, against all obstacles.

As long as you are here, I do hope you keep creating…

Well, I’m still here, to my own surprise. And as I said, I’m working on a new studio album for Triptykon. I’m also working on resurrecting my side project that I was working on until November last year, but that I left with the drummer, but we are resurrecting it in a new form because the material is fantastic. I’m also working on the live recordings we did with Triumph of Death, which we hope to release some of this year. As long as I’m here, there’s always going to be some new material.

And of course, I love being on stage. The moments on stage are some of the most pleasant moments of my life.

The side project you mention, is that the mysterious Nyrith project?

Yes, it’s still called Nyrith, but we’re no longer part of it. The drummer and me, we left in December, but I do own the recording sessions, because my labe. paid for those recordings. I’m going back to the studio to work on this bit, I’m going to add some new music and we have some new songs to add and so on. The Nyrith album, everything was signed and ready for those sessions. The album was supposed to come out on April the 24th, but because we left… That departure was unavoidable unfortunately, but we feel very strongly about this project so we are resurrecting it in a new form and I’m very sure we will manage in spite of the COVID-19 situation. In spite of being blocked from the studio, we very much count on it being released this year. It’s very strong material.

You mentioned fulfilling dreams you had. Triumph of Death allows you to play the Hellhammer songs live, which were never played on stage in their own time. Is that one of those dreams?

Maybe not a dream, but it is simply fun. I have a band that is basically my career and is a business venture, which is Triptykon. It has big contracts and big pressure, AR-people, Sony, a label and so on, it’s a serious burden on my shoulders. Triptykon is a serious band. But Triumph of Death is simply fun. We’re playing very early, punkish metal that is simply primitive and powerful and there’s no business pressure or expectations or anything like that. We basically go on stage and have a good time with the audience and that is how we all started and how music should be. It’s punkish, proto-extreme metal and enormous fun to connect with the audience and to play this without the need to promote a new album or satisfy a record company. So far, it’s been fantastic and the audience experiences it in the same way and we’ve grown into a circle of friends. It’s just enormous fun. It’s a privilege to do this.

I really hope to experience that in the future.

Well, most concerts have been canceled, but most have also been rescheduled for next year already. Hopefully, we’ll be showering the world with primitive music again soon.                                                  

 Gratitude goes out to Never Mind The Hype for letting me conduct this interview. Thanks also to Paul Verhagen, who created the pictures and Justina Lukosiute for the interview shot. 

 

From The Vastland: The Haft Khan and Blackhearts

Perhaps you’ve already watched the documentary film ‘Blackhearts’,  which tells us about the global phenomenon that is black metal and the love of musicians around the world for the nation of Norway, where it all began. One of the bands featured in the film is From The Vastland and I got to ask Sina a bunch of questions about his latest album and the film.

From The Vastland is from Iran, a country known for its strict regime and limitations in expression. That is, of course, an oversimplification about a nation with a rich, long history and a situation much more complex than I could ever do justice to in a few introductory lines over here. The movie was filmed a few years ago, and by now Sina lives in Norway and is at liberty to explain a bit about that mysterious place he is from and why it still colors his music so deeply.

Here is From The Vastland

From Iran to Norway: Sina from From The Vastland

How is From The Vastland doing?

Doing good! Earlier this year we released the new album “the haft khan” and the feedback from the community has been great! Well, due to the pandemic situation we had to change/cancel some of our plans but still, everything is going good. And as always I’m also working on some new material for the next release plus slowly working on some other plans for the band. So, all very good.

I’ve always wanted to ask you about the name of your project. Could you tell me more about its origin?

Sure! Well, it took me a while to choose this name, was thinking about it a lot back in the days when I wanted to start the band. there were several different reasons that I chose this name. One of the most important ones was because I wanted the name of the band also represents the concept of the music. So, let’s put it this way that I am from Iran and all the lyrics are about the ancient Persian empire era (one of the biggest empires in history), Persian mythology, and history. So, like the music comes from the vast land of Persia…Well, there were also some other reasons which together made me think this is a perfect name for the band.

You’ve just released your new album ‘The Haft Khan’. I understand it’s a Persian myth, but it also is the name of a high mountain in your country of birth. Can you share the significance of this story and why you chose it for your album theme?

Right. Well, The Haft Khan is a Persian myth but not the name of a mountain. This is a very specific name that has a specific place in Persian mythology. It’s based on one of the stories from the great epic masterpiece poem, the most notable piece of Persian literature, “Shahnameh” (The Book of Kings – One of the world’s longest epic poems) which was written by the poet, the world-known “Ferdowsi” between c. 977 and 1010 CE.

“The Haft Khan” story narrates seven difficult challenges of a national hero, the greatest of the Persian heroes, called Rostam on his journey by his legendary horse “Rakhsh” towards the land of Mazandaran, to save and free the king “Kei Kavus” and his army who have been captured and blinded by a spell of the White Demon.
In the story, Rostam passes seven stages and fights against natural difficulties, fierce animals, demons, and at the end, the white demon. finally, by dropping the blood of the white demon’s heart in the eyes of Kei Kavus (the king) and his army, sight returns to their eyes again.
The story of “the haft khan” is full of metaphors and symbols and represents some of the most important characters, legends, and myths in ancient Persian mythology and history. So, I found this epic story a perfect theme for a concept album that I was thinking about for a long time.

What can you tell me about the creative process behind the creation of the album? Did you work together with other artists?

This time again I worked on the album for almost 2 years and I did my best to make the atmosphere of the album exactly as I had it in my mind, which was based on the picture you get from reading the real story in the book. Starting a song was more based on the visuals I had in mind but of course, I was taking care of everything with precision when it comes to the song structure, the arrangement, lyrics, etc. to make it a perfect fit for the style.

You know, as always I wrote all the songs and recorded the demo album first and I sent it to my bandmates to practice and record their lines. That’s how we always record the albums but at the same time, I also ask them to use their own creativity on their lines and let me know if they have any suggestions. So, usually, the final result is not far from the demo I have recorded as we are all on the same page and it’s more like they just have a little bit of their own touch in the album too.

From The Vastland

I was listening to the songs over and over again to make sure everything is exactly as it should be. When it comes to the sound of the album, I would say over the years, it got more mature but at the same time more aggressive and darker, still emotional and with the same style. And I believe it’s also a matter of experience, the way I write the riffs and how to make them sound richer, you know.

What makes it important for you to include these themes from your roots in your music, particularly within the framework of black metal?

You know, from many years ago I’ve been always very interested in mythology and history. I read about myths and ancient stories, not just Persian but also Scandinavian, Egyptian, Mayas, Greek…but then when I was growing the idea of my project, I found this combination perfect to make BM music with this epic, mythical theme. It is actually what some other bands in other countries are doing with their own but not about Persian myths.

You know, ancient Persian history and mythology are full of epic stories of the legends, the gods and demons, and the eternal battle between darkness and light.

So, not only I found this a perfect fit for black metal but also I wanted it to represent something from my homeland, a part of world history that goes back 7000 years or more. Something that even a lot of Iranians have forgotten about it. That’s also why I chose the “Rising from the ashes of the legendary past” slogan for the band.

The album, of course, landed in the middle of the pandemic. How has this impacted its release and you as an artist? Did you have many plans to cancel?

Yeah, definitely it was not the best time to release an album but you know, everything was already planned and I just thought it’s better to keep it instead of changing everything as we were already in the middle of the process. But yeah, of course, we had to change and cancel some of the plans like the concerts we had around the release time (which suppose to be the release concert for the album) here in Oslo and in another festival called Garasjefestival.

I was also preparing some more merch and just about to start making the cassette tape format of the album to release at the same time with the CDs but then everything was canceled or better to say postponed as they are still in the plan but let’s see how it will go…

Sina from From The Vastland

Obviously, I have to ask you about the Blackhearts documentary. How impactful has this been for your career?

Of course, Blackhearts had a big impact on my career in a positive way, you know. Just imagine all the attention my band and music got because of the film, especially during the releasing period of the film. And then afterward when the film was released and they were screening it on the festivals all over the world, in cinemas and different types of events. You know, in the first place it was my music that made the producer discover me and my band but then afterward it was the film helping me to spread the words about my band and music. Especially here in Norway, it was so helpful for me to keep on doing what I’m doing. Being known in the scene and making friends is always great and can make things easier, you know. So, really glad and thankful for that!

I didn’t know until recently about the Blackhearts EP you did, following the film. What can you tell me about this project? Did you try to get guys from Naer Mataton involved too?

You know, back in the days I got this idea since I was one of the main characters in the film; so, thought to record some music specifically for the film with the cooperation of other musicians who are also involved in the film. So, I wrote the music and for the recording, “Vyl” (Drums – Keep of Kalessin/Gorgoroth) and “Nul Blackthorn” (Bass – Luciferian), 2 of the other characters in the film, joined me. And since it was recorded specially for the film so, I called it “Blackhearts” and then it was also used for the ending title of the film.

And I was thinking to ask them too but we were in a really short time, I mean everything happened real quick from the time when I decided to do it until we were already in the studio. So, we couldn’t…

What must have been most impactful was your move to Norway. How do you feel about this now? And have you been back to Iran? How did this impact your family? 

True! Moving to Norway changed my life completely and I’m really glad it happened! I mean from many years ago I had the dream of moving to Norway and then finally it did happen. So, still today after all these years it seems unreal to me, the whole story and everything that happened in a really short time and changed my life, in a good way. I mean there was no doubt and still, today if I go back, I would do the same!

I haven’t been back to Iran since when I moved to Norway and probably it’s not a smart thing to do after all the threats I had (both back when I was in Iran and even later the first 2-3 years here in Norway). So, haven’t seen my family for the last 7 years which is not easy as you can imagine. So, I just talk to them on phone and sometimes we do video calls but it’s not the same, you know.

The documentary speaks about freedom/censorship you didn’t experience back in Iran. Yet, I’ve heard conflicting stories about that concerning metal music. There are quite some metal bands in Tehran and Iran according to Metal Encyclopedia and the band Avarayr (who are Armenians, living in Iran) stated they felt quite free to do what they pleased when I interviewed them. Could you respond to that and perhaps explain how we should view this? (because I must be wrong somewhere here).

Right, I understand that is kind of confusing for people outside Iran, and to be honest, it’s even hard to explain but OK, I try to explain it as short as possible…of course that’s true there are some other active metal bands in Iran but most of them are like real underground and since we don’t have any official metal scene, no record label to release the metal albums, no record store, festival or something; so, probably you never hear from them. Even though today it’s a bit easier to discover the bands because of social media but still…and regarding the Metal Encyclopedia, I can tell it’s really not updated and a good source to get the right info (…for Iranian bands). I know some of those bands in person! And the info there is not correct. Even the info regarding “From The Vastland” and my previous band “Sorg Innkallelse” is not right. Some of those bands are just a name, a one-man-band project with no release and at the same time there are bands which you can not find there but you know, that’s because there is no official scene going on.

Metal music in Iran is banned and the authorities consider it blasphemy but there is no official law about that. That’s when things get complicated, for example, if you want to release an album or play a metal gig you need to get a permit from the ministry of culture. First of all, they don’t give you a permit for a metal album and even if you get it, still it doesn’t mean you can do it! There are groups related to the revolutionary guard, religious groups, and different governmental organizations that easily can arrest you. They don’t need any permit or something to do that, they have guns and power! And that’s enough.

The thing is the regime pressure the artists whenever they feel like they should, every now and then. So, you never know when or how! it’s about their priorities. I myself at least know 3 metal musicians who had to run out of the country because of their music. probably you have heard about the Iranian band “Confess” and their story. That’s a good example of how things can go for metal musicians in Iran…

In your music, you tell about the legendary past. Extreme metal and tradition have a connection that is at times difficult. Many artists have at one point or another faced accusations of racism, spreading hate, etc. Often wrongfully (though there is the NSBM thing). I wanted to ask you how you feel about this from your perspective and what role does metal have when it comes to our past and identity?

You know, I think we should not forget that there is (or used to be) a strong family kind of feeling in the metal community, no matter who you are, where you come from, your race, skin color, personal preferences…That kind of freedom without feeling being judged or anything. I know in reality it’s not exactly like that or at least not today but we all share the same passion for the music we love and that’s what makes us connected. And when it comes to extreme metal or even metal in general, I think it’s is all about being true to yourself. it’s more than just music, it’s our identity. It’s the music that makes you think, to not forget and keep your roots, to break all the chains and fake rules that limit you. that’s the role it should play and that’s how it gets connected to your past, to your true self, I believe.

We see you walking a lot in the forests and nature in the documentary. How important are these to you and do you have special places you go for inspiration or that connect you to the past?

Nature is also where I get the inspiration for creating the music (one of the inspiration sources for me, you know). Especially mountain which brings back all my memories from childhood when I was going to the mountain around Tehran every weekend with my dad and that actually remained with me until today. And of course, the beautiful nature here in Norway which usually includes mountain and forest together is where makes me calm and inspires me a lot.

For the first four years of my life here in Norway I was living in a very small village outside Trondheim (up north Norway) and the nature in that area is spectacular. I had some favorite places where I could spend hours and hours just to relax, fresh my mind or listen to music. From the time when I moved to Oslo, nature is not that far but still, you need to get out of the town a bit, So, I usually just go for a walk by sea which makes me really calm and relaxed.

As I understand it, your inspiration was Marduk, Belenos, and Gorgoroth. What are you listening to now and would you recommend to others?

True! Well, there are tons of good bands from all over the world and still today I enjoy discovering new, unknown or less known bands. So, it’s a long list but if I would mention just one that I listen to these days then it would be Selbst!

From The Vastland Band

Are there any Iranian metal bands people should really know about?

Well, there are very good bands, especially death metal bands! but you know, as I said, the problem is that the metal scene in Iran is really underground and there is nothing like anything official going on. So, it’s really hard to keep up with the activities. I still have an eye on the scene and check with my metal musicians friends and their bands in Iran but probably I’m not so updated.

What future plans do you currently have for the band? Implied that the world turns back to normal.

Well, I’m working on some new material for the next album, however, I’m not sure if I’m going to release it next year. It all depends on how the writing process will go. I never plan a release an album before I’m 100% satisfied with the material. And when it comes to live shows, I would wait a bit and see how the situation is but I’m thinking about at least a show here in Oslo later this year but if not then maybe we can plan to stream live…Hard to say now when everything is uncertain. The music scene was hit strongly by the pandemic situation and changed all the plans for almost everyone but hopefully, things will get back to normal, slowly and we will see more and more activities.

If you had to compare From The Vastland to a dish, what would it be and why?

Hehe That’s a weird one! Never thought about it before. Well, let’s say “ghormeh sabzi” because it has a lot of ingredients, mostly herbs and even though not all of them are used only in this Iranian dish (well, some of the herbs are) but the taste of the food is so Iranian (I mean, this is a traditional Iranian dish. So, obviously)…Yeah, maybe I can compare my music to that! I don’t know…hehe

Pamirt: Contemplation and Remembrance

Pamirt is a project by Kristiāna Kārkliņa, singer in Latvian black metal band eschatos. Amidst the current turmoil, debut album ‘Mausoleum’  was released. A stunning piece of work, driven by the eclectic vocals, but now also supported by a full band. The music is dark, intriguing, and full of emotions. Yet it also tells stories

I’ve had the pleasure to listen to this record and it is well worth your time if you enjoy the work of artists like Lingua Ignota, Diamanda Galas and maybe even some Dead Can Dance. You can read that review right here. But above anything, listen to this album. You won’t regret it.

I was pleased to ask the artist herself about the concept behind the album, the creation and the difficulty in releasing such a personal piece of work.

Live pictures: Neils Saksons

What does Pamirt mean and how did this project get started?

Pamirt means to die slightly or to die for a short moment. It seems interesting to me as a concept because I’ve never encountered anything similar in any other languages I’ve studied.

I believe that first ideas for the title track Mausoleum go as back as far as February 2017. At first, those were just some ideas that didn’t really fit eschatos. There were quite some so in spring 2018 I started to see that this music could potentially be released as my solo project. And it was so until fall 2018 when I returned from writing session in Berlin and we started to work on demos with Edgars and Edvards. In spring 2019 we started to play live as a trio, about 5 months before we even started recording.

What was the process like to carve out this new entity next to your existing band eschatos? I mean, musically Pamirt is quite a bold undertaking and not something that stars on a whim.

The creative process of eschatos is something entirely different. There’s 6 of us and it is a collective process wherein Pamirt for the first time I was making the artistic decisions and for the first time I wrote music that started with voice and piano. Thank god I almost never had to argue with my colleagues about other instruments. We’ve been playing together for years so it was expected that we’d all be riding the same wave.

Who were you looking to as inspiration to make this record? I mean, I’ve made some references in my review but I’m curious where you come from.

In terms of artistic inspiration, I believe that we accumulate everything that we take in and create an entirely different entity, something that cannot really be traced back to one particular source – going to see opera as our family tradition, attending church with my grandmother, listening to black metal, studying art history definitely. I think that for me, part of the process was also just getting rid of this very heavy sadness that sort of left my physical body when I put it into piano and voice.

I could probably do top 10 albums of all time though.

In regards to Lisa Gerrard, Galas and Lingua Ignota I believe those are all culture-changing artists and I love all three of them!

Galas was an artist I discovered when studying art history some 11 years ago and somehow I always saw her as part of the performance art scene with her active voice for Aids victims.

It would seem that this music, project or expression, all fit, is highly personal. What is it like to put something like this out there?

Very strange and also intimidating at times, for sure. But also it is not really one coherent story of my life, more like a hybrid of different events and emotions. Except maybe for ‘This dinner’ that is a vivid memory of my time working at an art gallery where my job was to convince people to buy and collect art created by amazingly talented, sensitive artists to point where I had to ask myself this question – why am I trying to convince someone that their art is good and meaningful if the person being convinced did not always see it that way.

Still, to me this seems like the sort of music you either have to do with full conviction, it has to be right. You can’t do what you do with Pamirt in a mediocre way, you can’t wing it.

That is true, it is very emotional to perform these songs. And it is a trans in a way when we do.

What was the process like to create ‘Mausoleum’, and can you explain the title?

The title track was the first song I worked on for the album. At first, it was just vocal layers and lyrics with no instruments at all. Then the song sat on a shelf for a about a year when I came up with this very simple instrumentation for piano. I used to take piano classes, but I never considered getting back to playing before that because it was the voice I was interested in. And I think as an artist I still mostly am. The title of the record came from this first song and it also seems to capture the general feeling of the record – a secluded place for contemplating and remembering.

What vocal training have you had? Because your voice is indeed at the heart of this record.

I used to sing in a choir a long time ago. Then around 2003 I began to explore extreme vocals and started to perform with my first band. But otherwise I just really like to experiment with my voice and what it can do.

What sort of response have you received this far? It seems the Latvian scene is ready for music like this, right?

The response has been overwhelming. People reaching out from different countries with kind words. The underground community in Latvia, especially in Riga is tightly-knit so I believe people already knew about the project before the release. Of course, there will always be rock’n’roll traditionalists, but that is understandable and I do not really believe anything should be for everyone.

. What future plans are currently brooding for Pamirt? Are you planning to tour with this entity? Are there other release plans in physical formats?

We were planning a small release tour around Baltics but that is currently on hold. We will probably do a small show in Riga though when the lockdown ends and release limited edition cassettes. We’d also like to get our record on vinyl till the end of the year especially because it was mastered by James Plotkin. For that, we are still looking for partners.

And a second record perhaps?

Definitely, composing is already in progress.

Is there enough left in the well that ‘Mausoleum’ was drawn from?

It’s always a different well.

If Pamirt was food, like a dish, what would it be and why?

I know it’s not a dish, but probably red wine. Dry and heavy. For an acquired taste. I’m currently into Italian wines for no particular reason. Previously it was Portuguese.

Iron Void: True to Doom

header image: Stephen Walton

Metal music is always changing, ever since Black Sabbath hit those very first dark notes under the smoke of Birmingham in the late sixties. New genres and styles pop up like mushrooms and strange crossovers are doing well. Yet some things remain as they were and so they should. Iron Void is an example of that.

Doom, and particularly its classic, epic variation, are a reliable type of noble metal. Entire festivals are dedicated to the slower and darker brother of the heavy metal, a sound that remains loyal to the originators like Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus, Pentagram and Cirith Ungol. Iron Void, at the time of this interview, had just released an album that fits the swords & sorcery thematic the genre is known for. ‘Excalibur’ revolves around glory and decay, knights and damsel. Traditional material with a traditional sound.

Doom is thriving and bands that tweak and nudge the genre in new directions. Think of Pallbearer or Hamferð, yet bands like Pagan Altar and Solstice enjoy enduring popularity. There is even a book: Doom Metal Lexicanom (part II is being written). Luckily, the gents of Iron VOid found time to tell us about the enduring passion for doom. Band members Jonathan ‘Sealey’ Seale, Steve Wilson en Scott Naylor took time to answer my questions.

For the love of Doom Metal

How is Iron Void doing?
Jonathan ‘Sealey’ Seale: Very well, thanks! We’ve had a good start to the year playing our first two shows with our new drummer, Scott Naylor. We played at Siege of Limerick in Ireland and Little Devil Doomday, Tilburg in the Netherlands. Both shows were fantastic, the audiences were great and Scott has been very warmly received by our fans which is really nice.

You’ve just released an Arthur themed album, what made you go for this topic?
Sealey:  I’ve been fascinated by the Arthurian legends ever since I was a child. Around a decade ago I visited Tintagel Castle in Cornwall which is allegedly the birthplace of King Arthur. I was blown away by the breath-taking natural beauty of the place and felt very much inspired to write music based upon the legends. One of my favourite films of all time is also “Excalibur” by John Boorman which was released in 1981. I originally suggested doing a song about it to Steve, but I soon realised one song alone wouldn’t do the subject matter justice so the idea quickly developed into a concept album based on the film, the book “Le Morte D’Arthur” by Sir Thomas Malory (which the film is based on), “Idylls of The King” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and various other sources.

With Iron Void, this is, as far as I can tell, the first time you did an album on one topic. A concept album if we may call it that. What was it like to write and record such a connected piece?
Sealey: A lot of time on my part was spent reading Arthurian literature and researching every aspect of the myths. It took 10 years from initial idea to finished product. Once we started writing the music the album actually took shape very naturally. Recording it was the most challenging experience we’ve had in the studio so far. It was pretty straightforward recording the instruments. I know Steve really made a lot of effort with his guitar solos on this record. Chris Fielding (Engineer / Co-Producer) also wanted to push the vocals much more than on previous records and to explore the duel vocal attack. Steve and I were stretched to the limits of our abilities and we certainly gave our all during the vocal takes. We disagreed quite passionately on some things and Steve got so pissed off at one point that he stormed out of the control room! But you know what? That’s a good thing cos he believes so strongly in what we’re doing and just wants to make sure it’s the best it can be. Same goes for Chris and I. We’ll definitely be working with him again on the next record.

Steve: I did get frustrated recording vocals at one point, but later on we tried some more harmonies and it led to the “Lancelot” verses and some harmonies for “Dragon’s Breath” that worked a lot better than they had in rehearsals. It was a challenge. Some of the rhythm guitar parts that seemed easy during writing were actually quite tricky to play tight enough when it came to recording. We’re really happy with how it came out and it was enjoyable to record, just tough in places.

The fantasy/myth theme really fits your type of classical doom sound. Who would you consider the main inspirations for Iron Void?
Sealey: We’re influenced by films, literature, myths and legends and real-life subjects lyrically. As for our musical inspirations, we originally started Iron Void with the intention of forming a traditional Doom Metal band worshipping at the altar of Black Sabbath (in all their incarnations I might add!), Saint Vitus, Pentagram, Trouble, Cathedral, Sleep, the Maryland Doom scene and classic Heavy Metal such as Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy, Motorhead, Venom and others. Not much has changed since really, our approach is still the same nowadays but we’re better musicians and the sound is a bit more polished I guess.

Steve: I agree completely with the musical influences. We tend to draw lyrical inspiration from darker subjects. We have a couple of ideas lined up for new songs, too. It was a nice change to have a focused subject that we could stick to with “Excalibur”. We didn’t have the feeling of being stuck for ideas as we knew we were going to piece together the Arthur legend one song at a time.

Which album tracks are for you the highlights and why? And which were hardest to sing, because it does feel like a challenging album.
Sealey: Some of my personal favourites from “Excalibur” are “Dragon’s Breath”, “Lancelot of The Lake”, “Enemy Within” and “A Dream To Some, A Nightmare To Others”. I just really like these particular tracks, I love listening to the album in its entirety as that’s the way I intended it to be experienced when we wrote it but these songs stand out for me personally. “Avalon” is also a great way to end the album and Steve did an awesome job with this song. The hardest song to sing for me is definitely “Lancelot” as it’s at the top of my vocal range. As I said previously, we really tried to push ourselves on this record and I think that’s apparent to the listener with a keen ear.

Steve: “Avalon” was a challenge in that it was just me on my own – one guitar and then vocal tracks. Getting the guitar part right was tricky. I had to concentrate on finger picking and remembering how many times to play each section without vocals. There were a few takes involved but it was done in one early afternoon session. Vocals were actually easier than the guitar once I’d warmed up. I recorded a demo at home months before we recorded and it was very close except I used a clean electric guitar and the original lyric was “my children” which we changed to “my kingdom” on the album.

My favourite ‘heavy’ song would have to be “The Death of Arthur”. I’m really proud of the melody line that opens and closes the track. I wanted it to sound like a film theme tune to represent the final battle between Mordred and Arthur. I think we got it just right.

Scott: The most enjoyable songs to play in my short time in the band have been “Lancelot…” and “The Coming of A King” from the “Excalibur” release and a number of old fan, not to mention personal, favourites. Namely, “I Am War”, “The Devil’s Daughter” and “Gates of Hell’ from the self-titled debut and ‘Doomsday’ releases. I’m very much looking forward to getting my chops around more of the “Excalibur” material, giving these two reprobates further opportunity to air the tracks in a live capacity and creating and writing for the upcoming release, “IV”.

You’ve been active in the doom scene for a good two decades, has much changed in the scene?
Sealey: There’s more of an audience for it nowadays and there’s definitely more festivals dedicated to this style which is great. However, I do sometimes feel that some of the modern fans don’t respect the older bands and their legacies enough and as much as they should do and I’m not talking about us either. I don’t know, maybe I’m just getting bitter and jaded in my old age but that’s the way I feel. There’s too much focus on the ‘Riff’, effects pedals and amps and not enough focus on quality songwriting. It is good to know Doom Metal is finally being accepted and people actually do know what it is these days. When we first started even some hardened, dyed in the wool Metal fans were ignorant or blissfully unaware of what Doom Metal really was! Sad but true.

Steve: Very true. I didn’t really discover doom bands properly until the late ’90’s, early 2000’s via Corrosion of Conformity, Cathedral, Kyuss and Electric Wizard. They were always citing Sabbath as their main influence so I went back to their early albums and gradually moved onto Wino’s music (Spirit Caravan initially) which led me to Maryland doom. We mix that with heavy metal, classic rock and some more extreme metal influences.

Scott:  The last few years have seen a huge explosion of “doom” (using the monicker loosely to also include the retro/occult rock revivalists, ambient/drone wraiths, stoner/sludge swamp lurkers and old school/trad. heavy metal lifers occasionally omitted from such blanketing terms) bands worldwide. With many striving to create art inspired by and paying homage to those who’ve left their mark musically / artistically prior to now, in a notable number of cases, those who are still around continuing to do so with new releases. I won’t waste my time bemoaning such a thriving global “scene”, in that there continues to be so much genre-blending / innovation / variation on offer and stagnation is the eternal enemy, though it’s certainly far more time-consuming wading out to find the pearls in the murky seas of doom these days, heh.

Sealey, I’ve seen you perform with Arkham Witch in Malta. The year after you performed with Desolate Pathway, in which band you are now active if I understand correctly? I get the feeling there’s a small group of bands that does a lot together, now also considering the spoken word part on ‘Excalibur’ by Simon Strange. Can you tell us something about that?
Sealey: Yes, I am now the bassist and a full-time member of Desolate Pathway and I did help out Arkham Witch on bass for that one show at Malta Doom Metal Festival a few years ago. I’ve known Vince and Mags for a few years now and we first met when Iron Void played with Desolate Pathway in Stoke on Trent in the UK. I’m a massive fan of Pagan Altar and Vince used to play guitar for them before he formed Desolate Pathway. That drew me to them initially but I love the Epic Doom style they play and we’re currently in the process of writing a new album. It’s different to Iron Void but no less Doom. We’ll probably end up playing more shows together in future where I’ll be performing double duty on bass in both bands!

Steve and I have known Simon and Emma from Arkham Witch from when they were in The Lamp of Thoth, a band we had a lot of mutual respect for. Not only was their music top class arcane Doom Metal, they also featured Randy Reaper (a.k.a. Andy Whittaker, current Solstice guitarist) who also happened to be the guitarist in the original incarnation of Iron Void in the late 90’s. Iron Void also toured with Arkham Witch in the UK and Europe in 2013 and we’ve been good friends for a long time. So, you can see why there’s a special bond between us!

We needed someone to do the spoken word intro for Excalibur and we originally asked our good friend Luce Vee (Hooded Priest & King Heavy vocalist) to do it but his schedule was very busy and the clock was ticking for us as we needed to get the album completed and released. Our second choice was Simon Strange and he did an amazing job, he’s very theatrical so it suited the role perfectly as it’s Merlin in the film who is chanting the spell which is also known as “The Charm of Making”.

The music you make feels to me as a listener quite timeless. Its themes are not bound to the now, the sound is both classic and honest. What is it that attracts you as an artist to this genre so much? And what makes true doom true?
Sealey: I’ve been listening to Doom Metal since my mid-teens. The first bands I got into were Cathedral, Sleep, Saint Vitus and Pentagram as well as Sabbath. I love other styles of Metal such as Death, Thrash, and Black Metal but Doom is the purest form as it was the original style founded by Sabbath. There’s a real emotional honesty involved and it just resonates with me. In my opinion, True Doom has to be honest, brave, strong and emotionally heavy, it’s not just about distorted riffs and hard-hitting drums. Sometimes Doom can also be clean and quite fragile sounding too, it’s multi-faceted which I guess other forms of Metal fail to achieve for the most part. For example, thrash is all about aggression and speed if you can understand the point I’m trying to make?

What future plans do you have with Iron Void?
Sealey: We’re currently in the process of filming and putting together our first music video for “Lancelot of The Lake”. It’s taken longer than expected but there’s lot to it and we’ve had a line-up change and international shows to play which has slowed our progress a little. In our defense, we’re a Doom band, things happen gradually but it’ll be worth the wait, trust me! Ha, ha!

We’re planning on playing more UK and international shows with the new line-up and we’re starting to work on writing the follow up to “Excalibur” which will be entitled “IV”.

If you had to compare Iron Void to a dish, what would it be and why?
Sealey: Now, this is a strange question! Ha, ha! If I did have to pick one though, it’d probably be a Mixed Grill. The reason being, we don’t just play one style of Doom Metal, we do try and mix up our tempos and ensure each song has its own individual flavour if you will!

Steve: I could say simple meat and potatoes. I suppose it is simple, but as Sealey says, there’s something else that we do that gives us a unique sound.

Scott: I’d say a goulash or stew. An underrated dish, in that it can be both simplistic in its contents or very particular. It has a form of blanket appeal (in Europe at least, ha!) and is at its best when it’s a bit of a mixed bag of staple ingredients with a smattering of the more exotic and experimental.

 

 

 

Vaelastrasz: Azeroth Dungeon Synth Mastery

Dungeon synth is a music style, bubbling under the surface of contemporary music. Born from video game soundtracks, obscure synth music and black metal introductions, it has grown into a whole different underground world. Vaelastraz is one of the mysterious creators, offering his otherworldly sounds to the faithful.

Vaelastrasz is one of the acts that have expanded the scope of dungeon synth from dusky crypts, dusty tombs and crumbling ruins, to otherworldly phantasies. His special focus is on the famed Warcraft video game branch, but his music is much darker than the often light-hearted atmosphere of the game itself and delves deep into the mythopoeia of its universe.

Vaelastrasz has been kind enough to share more about his music, vision and genre, where he is one of the rare artists who actually play live and who has in fact performed at the first (as far as I’ve been able to discover) dungeon synth festival. Join us in the dark reaches of Azeroth.

I wanted to start by asking you who Vaelastrasz is and how the project got underway? How did you get into dungeon synth?

There’s a lot to unwrap with my origins. Referring to the character it’s based on, Vaelastrasz is a notorious raid boss from the classic version of World of Warcraft. Notorious in the sense that his difficulty was able to make raiding guilds disband, garnering the nickname “The Guild Breaker”. Lore-wise he was a member of the Red Dragonflight, a faction of dragons that wish to protect life on Azeroth, before being corrupted by the Black Dragonflight.

As for the person behind the project, well, I’m just a small musician from the suburban hellscape that is the Washington DC metropolitan area. I started toying around with making fantasy ambient music around early 2016 under a different name that housed basically any idea that I threw at the wall at the time. I didn’t think much of it until I got a message from a Dungeon Synth artist named “Shelter Ov Shadows” who encouraged that I release this music under a different moniker to garner more attention.

I picked Vaelastrasz for a couple of reasons. The main one being that within the world of “Dungeon Synth”, it astounds me how little to no representation Warcraft seemed to have back in 2016 and even now. How is it that one of the most popular fantasy-inspired Video Game franchises of the 21st century gets no love while there are projects for Elder Scrolls and Dark Souls? Maybe Warcraft isn’t “dark” enough for people to write music for, but nevertheless I’m still dumbfounded by its exclusion.

How I got into Dungeon Synth is oddly enough through my love for Drone Metal. I was familiar with the genre, but never really enjoyed most of the albums I’d listened to at the time. Whether it be Mortiis or Burzum’s prison albums, I never initially had a strong standing on the bigger hits of old school Dungeon Synth. It wasn’t until I discovered this duo from the UK, Trollmann av Ildtoppberg, that made me fall in love with Dungeon Synth. Their combination of deep bassy drones and minimalist synth work made me more immersed compared to any other Dungeon Synth album. Listening to “The Forest of Doom” for the first time was quite the experience.

What I got from that music is that you can create more by doing less. Trollmann were inspired by the Fighting Fantasy books but listening to that music made me think of different worlds, universes, stories, etc. I wanted to do something like that.

I was curious if you are still a Warcraft player, having myself played these games and read their books since the beginning. On the side, do you know Aardtmann op Vuurtopberg? 

I still like to play Warcraft 3 when I have the time. I am privileged enough to still have the original games and not have to look at the horrid remaster that Blizzard put out recently. As for World of Warcraft, I never cared for it after Wrath of the Lich King as the games had gone downhill since in my opinion. I try to play a little bit of each expansion for the sake of it. I thought Mists of Pandaria and Legion were fine, but the rest I can do without. Their recent expansion, Battle for Azeroth, is a boring heap of dogshit for all I care. I tried playing Classic WoW when that became an option, but I had become so encumbered with other events that the nostalgia quickly wore off by the time I reached level 11 or so on a character. You can’t relive the past.

Haha, yeah you’re not the first person to tell me of Aardtmann Op Vuurtopberg’s existence. I’ve only ever listened to one of their albums, “De Berg van Verdoemenis”, and didn’t think much of it. A nice little tribute if anything.

What do you think about the connection between DS and video games? Many people talk about the connection with black metal, which is obvious, but for me, the link to video games has always been the first thing that stood out. Yet, also here it is a matter of nostalgia for old RPGs.

I’ve always thought that it was very apparent with how Dungeon Synth and video games, especially video game soundtracks, tend to overlap. You listen to an older release like Middles Ages by Caduceus and you’d think it was some Black Metal fan trying to recreate the Donkey Kong Country soundtrack. I know a lot of non-Black Metal fans who enjoy Dungeon Synth because to them it sounds like a soundtrack to an unreleased video game.

Which always brings a hilarious crossroads within DS. There’s a lot of traditional people who vow against video games have it strictly be “Ambient Black Metal”. Then there are people who were raised by tabletop games and RPGs who would rather let the past be the past and let go of the Black Metal roots. It’s pretty funny. One should always find a balance between the two in my opinion.

What sort of equipment do you use to create your music?

I usually run rather cheap Casio keyboards that you can get at big retail stores and run it through a Hotone reverb pedal. Most of my albums were done with the CTK-1100, but now I have the CTK-2550 to mess around with. For live shows, I tend to have a couple more pedals with me, more notably a Ditto Looper and the Electro-Harmonix Freeze pedals to help me with loops and drones.

You are one of the few ds artists that play live. What made you decide to take it in that direction?

Initially, the first couple of live shows that I did around 2017 were at the request of my friends, but as my peers started to seriously get into performing live with their DS projects as well as the rise of the Dungeon Siege music festivals, I had a growing urge to really want to bring my music into a live setting. Dungeon Synth live is completely new territory for a lot of us in the Dungeon Synth scene and we have our own special ways of showing what can be done.

Over here, we have not had such events. Can you describe what a dungeon siege event is like? In general and what it is like when you perform?

Dungeon Siege, specifically Northeast Dungeon Siege as well as last year’s Dungeon Siege West, are these annual Dungeon Synth-oriented festivals in the US. A bunch of artists and fans from around the world come to interact with other like-minded DS fans. It’s truly an amazing experience to play with and hang out with other Dungeon Synth acts. I feel a lot more comfortable performing in front of people who truly understand the craft.

But these events are usually more than just music, right?

Yes, there’s also pre-show tabletop gaming sessions on some nights and an array of vendors and labels.

Do you think touring with a band in a different style would work? For example, a package with a black metal band, or is DS a different audience?

It really depends on the style. If it were a Dungeon Synth and Black Metal tour, which I believe Mayhem and Mortiis are planning on doing that exact thing in the future, then those would work fine with each other. I used to be in a Funeral Doom band and we toured with a Thrash Metal band. Suffice to say that there was at least one show where they definitely did not want us because we weren’t their thing.

I guess the best way to put it is that the two styles really need to have some sort of overlap. If you were to do a Dungeon Synth tour with some sort of Tech Death Metal band than people would probably eye the crowd and ask what the hell was going on.

Do you feel there are limits to what is dungeon synth and what isn’t? As an example, Fief sounds vastly different to me the traditionalists. I have seen many discussions on the ‘purity’ of the style. How do you feel about this?

In regards to experimentation or branching outside of the norm vs the pure, traditionalist, old school-inspired acts, I think there needs to be a steady balance between the two (just like what I said regarding Black Metal-inspired vs Gaming-inspired Dungeon Synth). I think there are many ways to experiment with Dungeon Synth, but some people are way too over their heads when it comes to seeing what other genres they can mash Dungeon Synth with. There’s this small thing brewing with people trying to combine DS with Hip Hop, calling it “Dungeon Rap” or “Crypt Hop”. I don’t think it’s Dungeon Synth, just people trying too hard to incorporate fantasy ambient melodies with poorly made Memphis Rap. I have some friends who dig it and create it though so more power to them, but it’s just not for me.

But pushing the limits is good. People want to keep at it with the old ways but by the time that you’ve heard the umpteenth Les Legions Noires ripoff or the same minimalist pad-heavy Winter Synth ambient tunes, then it becomes tiresome and boring. Something fresh needs to happen every once in a while. A lot of these purists have the right idea that we shouldn’t veer off from the path, but some of them have this inane unwillingness to accept even the slightest of change.

I agree that Fief is a fine example since they seem to play around more with folk influences compared to other bigger names in recent Dungeon Synth. It’s different enough to carve out its own little path within the genre, but not different to the point where self-indulgence takes hold on an artist. Mainly due to the fact that folk music and Dungeon Synth are extremely compatible with one another.

Can you define what DS is? What are its base characteristics?

What is DS? That’s the million-dollar question right there, haha. I guess my naive definition of what I think Dungeon Synth is is that it’s a branch of ambient music, whether it be fantasy ambient or dark ambient music, that has some sort of narrative or story behind it. You’re supposed to be immersed in whatever world that a Dungeon Synth album or song is trying to invoke, like an epic adventure to slay a dragon or being entrapped within a desolate cave.

Now how one goes about doing that is all up to them, whether it be artists inspired by Black Metal, Folk, Classical, Darkwave, etc.

DS has really emerged into daylight the last two years, and although events like Dungeon Siege have yet to make it overseas, how far do you think this can go?

How far will this go? We’re gonna get a Dungeon Synth act headlining Coachella. My money is on Diplodocus. But in all seriousness, there is a pessimist side of me that feels that the bubble will pop eventually and the general interest of this will wane down. However, the scene itself feels like a giant family. A really weird, fucked-up family mind you, but a loving and caring one too. I can’t predict the future of where Dungeon Synth is going to go, but if it does end up declining then I can at least say that I’ve met a lot of amazing people within it. The real Dungeon Synth is the friends we made along the way.

I wanted to take this back to your last album. Can you tell a bit more about The Birth of Naxxramas and the story this record shares?

The Birth of Naxxramas is kinda like a concept album where there’s a different melody representing a tier from the raid Naxxramas, as well as the last song being a call back to one of my earlier albums, “The Plaguelands”. On that album I had a song called “Naxxramas” but I thought that something as big as Naxxramas deserved something more than a song.

The melodies were leftover recordings I had made for the album before that, “Adventures of the Red Whelpling”. I wanted that album to be my big album, but it didn’t garner an immediate huge reception among people. As much as I love Birth of Naxxramas I don’t like the fact that the album was only really fueled by pettiness and anger that my previous album wasn’t as well-received. At the time it was much-needed motivation, but looking back my head was in the wrong space because of certain people saying that Whelpling was underwhelming to them. At the end of the day, I still have no clue what people want or expect from me when it comes to making music

The first track, Frostwyrm Lair, was originally a 17-minute track that was supposed to be on Whelpling, but I never liked the 2nd-half of the song. I thought the intro could lead to something better so I scoured through the remaining recordings that I had from the Whelpling sessions to see what ones I could work with. After that, it was sort of like playing a matching game. What goes next? Which melody should come after? Can I place this melody here? Once I got all the pieces connected everything else came naturally.

The ghostly crooning was provided by my dearest companion and fellow Dungeon Synth artist Mors Certa. I typically don’t collaborate with other Dungeon Synth artists mainly due to weird trust issues. Even though I mean no disrespect to them and I just said that some of them are like a family to me, there’s just a weird mental block that I have when it comes to working with other artists. Mors Certa and I, however, had grown really close at this point that I decided to ask if she’d be willing to provide her voice for a couple of parts on it. I didn’t want it to be anything big since she was busy with her personal life so I only asked her to provide a lovely little choral section for her parts and it turned out well.

Previously, there was a note with this album, stating it was possibly the last one. You’ve dropped two more since, what made you consider ending the project there?

At the time I felt like I just wasn’t good enough or on par with other artists. I’m a competitive individual that wants to strive to be better each time and when I see peers rise above and garner more love, it either lights a flame or makes me feel defeated. I’m easily influenced by what I see posted online and the less I see of me, the more I feel that people just don’t care about the project. Artistic fulfilment should be the goal, not whether you get more than 10 people supporting you on Bandcamp, but unfortunately, that was where my mindset was at the time and still goes to sometimes.

But I ended up making more music because melodies keep on springing up in my head. I don’t want to keep them in my head forever. I have the need to make music whether or not people are really listening to me. Truth be told, there’s no way I can ever announce an album to be my last album. If I ever do announce it, then my mindset that day was probably filled with the insecurities that I just vented about. If I were to ever release a final album then I would never announce it as such. I would just simply release it and quietly walk away

Well, you have announced a new record actually, so what can we expect from it?

The same meal with a little different seasoning. Keeping up with repetitive melodies and drone, but trying to experiment with a little bit more just like my previous releases. There’s a couple of songs that were mostly inspired by stuff like Om, which means I’m messing around with bass-driven melodies. My new album, “The Temple of Ahn’Qiraj”, is of course based off of the zone of the same name and trying to capture the atmosphere of a desert ruin with an ancient being inside of it all has been a challenging and fun task.

It’s definitely the most psychedelic album I’ve done, but it’s not like I’m making this acid trip-filled experience, haha. This project has always been an experiment of what I can do with drone and Dungeon Synth. This will definitely fit in well with the rest of my discography.

As the Warcraft storyline deepens and expands, do you find there is enough inspiration left for you there for more?

Absolutely. One of the reasons why I picked this project was because of my initial love for the Warcraft universe and lore. It’s deep and rich enough to make more music for. There’s a lot of areas and personalities that I haven’t touched upon yet that I would like to explore more of. I’ve made two albums concerning the Old Gods (Yogg-Saron and N’Zoth) which is about to be three upon the completion of my recent album and I’d like to make other “biographical” albums so to speak. For example, I’ve always loved Kael’Thas and would love to make an album about him. Arthas is an obvious choice as well, but I’ve already made the Plagueland albums and Naxxramas so I don’t want to go back to that well just yet. I’ve always wanted to do a piece about the history of the Defias Brotherhood, but can never get the feeling of it. There’s a lot more to explore and make with Warcraft.

So to close, what future plans do you currently have? Are you planning to tour when all of this is over?

The future is very unpredictable, especially now with the current pandemic. I am a rather spontaneous individual when it comes to what I want to do with the project, so, for now, my plan is to just focus on releasing the new album and see what happens. As for tours, I’m not entirely sure but I do hope other acts come through here sometime soon so I can have a chance to play with them.

If you had to describe Vaelastrasz as a dish, what would it be and why that?

Haha, I don’t know if I can think of any specific dish or meal to really describe what I do. You know what? I’m the stick of gum that doesn’t lose its flavour! You can keep on chewing and chewing, but I assure you I won’t turn into a soft, flavourless gob haha

Dylan Carson and Earth’s Universal Vibrations

Our world still holds plenty of mysteries. There are intricacies, complexities and connections, we can hardly fathom, all around us. Some people tap into the beyond, into the mystery of sound and vibration. One of those is Dylan Carson, a modern day musical shaman and explorer, who by that time had just released ‘Full Upon Her Burning Lips’ with his band Earth.

On this album, he is exploring a more feminine spirit, a sensuality that is almost transcendental. Carson has his roots in the grunge scene, has gone through the darkness of addiction, lost his good friend to suicide (yes, Kurt Cobain) and somehow has emerged as an icon in a musical style that is entirely his own.

Carlson is often called the father of drone metal. Not a moniker he would pick, but one he gratefully accepts. Currently, as we talk over Skype with a bunch of disruptions on the line as friends try to reach him, he is staying in Los Angeles. For the film soundtrack he is making, but also because he will be moving there in December. It’s a lot more sunny in L.A. he concurs: “It’s way warmer up here, nicer weather for sure!”, he chuckles.

We talk about the new album, Full Upon Her Burning Lips, which recently came out. But also about his solo record Conquistador, on which he collaborated with Emma Ruth Rundle. And Bagpipes.

Never Mind The Hype let me interview Dylan for last years’ Le Guess Who? festival, a fest I’ve never visited. I was happy to do so anyway.

Good vibrations and universal harmonies

What do you think about the Le Guess Who? Festival yourself?
“It’s one of my favorite festivals. I’m not crazy about festivals, but this one always has an interesting program and many people are there that I’d love to meet. Not that I get to usually, but last time I was there I saw jazz icon Pharaoh Sanders perform. That is really cool!”

How does Earth fit within the confines of a festival like Le Guess Who? And how did you end up playing there this year?
“Well, The Bug is one of the curators and we did an album together, so I think that’s how it went. But why we fit in is that even though people love boxing us into genres or microgenres, Earth has always tried to do something new, always pushed itself into new directions. That fits within the confines of this festival very well. As a musician, I don’t feel confined to microgenres. I make music, as best as I can, but I can’t affect the way people deal with that. But we play all sorts of festivals, because we are not limited to just heavy music. We’ve done Hellfest, Primavera, but also Le Guess Who? and Levitation festival. That’s a big range. Big Ears in Knoxville is another one of my favorites by the way. We’re not stuck in a corner, we can go many different ways with Earth.”

Is that what gives you more freedom in starting up collaborations?
“Definitely. I’ve done a lot of those and I’m always open for new opportunities. It’s all about being open to possibilities and look for that ‘common ground’. If that’s not there, it won’t work. Our collab with Kevin ‘The Bug’ Martin is a good example. Even though he grew up hating guitars, we have a lot of similarities in our taste for music and love for dub. Even though we come from opposite worlds, there was enough of a match to do something very cool. So kudos to Kevin for having the guts to do this.”

Do you ever worry if such a collaboration will work out?
“If it doesn’t work out, you just won’t release it. No one will have to suffer through it. I’ve had those in the past, where it just didn’t work out. But now, I think I’ve done this long enough to know early on if something will work or not, if the audience would like it or not. I believe in ‘happy accidents’, just letting things happen. If it’s a lot of work and effort, the magic just isn’t there.”

For your solo album ‘Conquistador’ you worked with Emma Ruth Rundle. How did that happen?
“She’s just fucking amazing. I seriously can’t praise her enough, both as musician and as a human being. I’m so happy to see all the recognition she is getting, because she deserves every bit of it. She is one of the few people I always love seeing perform. She is signed to the same label as us, Sargent House, though I met her earlier when we did a show with Marriages and Deafheaven in LA. I borrowed her amp and we’ve sorta become friends since. When I was working on ‘Conquistador’, our schedules matched and we met in the studio of Kurt Ballou to work on some music. So that’s what happened.”

How was it for you to create a solo record, instead of an Earth record?
“With Earth there are always multiple people involved, which makes the process more complex. Solo I simply have more freedom and a white canvas, possibilities for collaborations, but it also feels more free for me. Though Earth is not a formula, you always look for progress and continuity. Not that there’s a set course, but we don’t want to repeat ourselves while there may be directions I’d like to play with a bit more. The theme of an imaginary western you could here on ‘Hex, Or Printing in the Infernal Method’, so that was a done deal for Earth. ‘Conquistador’ allowed me to further explore that theme.”

“But what was also an influence, is that we had just left Southern Lord. I knew that finding a new label was going to take time and we had just toured intensively for our previous album Primitive & Deadly. There was need for a break, and I had all this music I wanted to work on. So I took the progressions I had and made my own songs with those. So it was a time of finding our bearings and experimenting.”

If I understand you correctly here, Earth is kind of your highway and solo work enables you to take all those interesting byways and explore, is that correct?
“That’s basically it. Earth is the main focus of my career, but there’s so much else I want to do. This enables me to do that and it helps my creative process. Making music is one of the few things in my life I haven’t had problems with. It helps me find the right flow, also in other aspects of my life. I feel very fortunate to be able to work on music all the time and I don’t want to waste any of that time. The fact that I once just… disappeared for 5 years, showed up again and was embraced, is something I’m very grateful for.”

But that’s also your own doing. You get called the father of drone for a reason.
“Well yes, that. The fact that people respect what I did so much and validate it, that’s an incredible honor. That’s what motivates me to try hard and keep innovating, not rest on my laurels. I could have made Earth 2 25 times, but that’s not how I want to be remembered.”

Does the solo work make you hungry for more?
“Definitely. I’m currently working on the soundtrack for the film From A Son and I hope this will be released as a solo album too.”

Conquistador (2018)

You’ve often said you’d like to make soundtracks and this is your second, right? How did this happen?
“I’ve made a soundtrack for a German film, called Gold. This is the second. The director of From A Son is Gilbert Trejo, son of Danny Trejo, who plays in the movie. His production manager Kyle pitched my music and Gilbert liked it. He tried what it would be like by using some Earth songs and music from Conquistador as place holders and it was a fit. Kyle happened to know my manager Cathy and contacted her. Long story short, I got to make a soundtrack.”

“The process itself has been pretty intuitive. I watched the movie, which gave me some ideas. We then played the movie and I basically jammed to it. Then it’s a whole process of cutting, pasting, filling, adding… Until you have it. Austin from Starcrawler added percussion to the recordings. All in all, this was a very straightforward process. Similar to Gold actually, though there they were shooting while I was composing, so I would get bits of the film sent my way. That was interesting.”

I’ve actually seen you play another soundtrack. In Ghent you did a live soundtrack for the 70’s psychedelic movie Belladonna of Sadness.
“Ah, but that was a different process. They actually expected us to play an Earth set, but instead we composed a whole soundtrack. We watched the movie a number of times, chose a number of themes and worked with that. That developed into what we played live that night and which has shaped part of the new album, like the song Descending Bella.

We actually should talk about your new album, but first, you did sign with Sargent House. What made you join their roster?
“Cathy Pellow was already our manager and that’s why my solo record is out on Sargent House. Going there with Earth was a natural choice. Cathy is fantastic, really good with artists, supportive and I like her way of doing business. We just click and Sargent House is a great label, with camaraderie between artists I haven’t experienced before.”

Full Upon Her Burning Lips is the first record you’ve done with Adrienne Davis as a duo. Why did you choose for that and how did it work out?
“I felt that on previous records, we had to give way to a lot of other instruments. That’s not a complaint, I worked with great people and I’m happy with those records. But I wanted to see if I could give more room for the essence. The drums also could do with more space I felt. By making this record with the two of us, we get to show what Earth sounds like at its core. And I got to play bass, which I like, so that is cool.”

“The process was very smooth. Most of the material was composed a month before we went into the studio, and there everything just got together naturally. It’s again a very intuitive process, where most of the overdubs, solo’s, and bass lines are improvised in the studio. The basis for the song was just there to complete.”

Did you have a clear concept for this record, like you did for previous ones?
“That’s actually one thing that was very different on this album. I had various ideas, but not one big concept. My wife, Polly, she’s a dancer and I thought a lot about music and dance, which are so separate in today’s world. I also read a lot of books from Tanith Lee, which have many sensual themes. I wanted to create a record that was more feminine, more sensual, as opposed to the hypermasculinity of heavy music, but also play with dance. Dance is not just for EBM, it’s a form of getting together, interacting physically, of ritual. It’s a communal thing that I find very important.”

I noticed that this whole record refers to that essence. Just the design of the cover, with its 70’s hardrock reference and the picture of you two, it really points to your roots.
“That picture was not intended for the cover, but when I saw it, I knew it was just right. It’s the band itself, and this design makes me think of classic albums like the debut by The Stooges. It was just right.”

Could you tell me what, in your view, is that core or essence of Earth. That which makes the band unique? Is that drone?
“I see drone as more of a technique. In music theory, it’s called an oblique motion and that can be found in numerous types of music. From Indian meditation, classical music, blues to even Scottish bagpipes. What attracts me to that sound is the open string you work with or against. I think that’s what I’ve always done in my music. Many people think of massive amps and volume when they hear drone, but there are drones in a hurdy gurdy or acoustic music. That’s what I love anyways. Tempo has always been less interesting to me so we’re sort of countering that, which was particularly interesting when we started out in a time when each band wanted to be the fastest in the world. Within those factors there are many directions to explore and as long as this is all in there, it’s Earth I think. Currently I’m using a lot of chromatic movements, which is something new in my music. But that’s still an oblique motion.”

All these examples you mention, like a hurdy gurdy and bagpipes, those create a sound that I think resonates with people. Isn’t that part of the charm?
“It might be my Scottish heritage, which makes me cursed with liking bagpipes. But did you know the bagpipe was really used everywhere until the accordion became available? I read somewhere the king of Hungary even burned all bagpipes then and forced people to buy accordions. Maybe that’s where bagpipes got their bad name, but it’s definitely a global instrument.”

“But I feel, making music, that I’m just a conduit for music that’s already there. Like a pipe, the way I’m shaped affects the final form. That vibration though, it’s already there, the universe is all about vibrations. Solid matter are standing waves and I like the idea of a sustained note, that is fed and keeps resounding, which touches us. It’s a shared, universal resonance. Music and dance are the original technologies for ecstasy and transcendence. When I play a really good show, I never remember it afterwards, I disappear into it. When I think too much, when it’s a lot of work, then I remember it. It’s still a good show, people enjoy it, but it’s where I don’t lose myself in that vibration of the music.”

Is that how you experience collaborations? Is there that shared resonance that you look for?
“I think so, but it’s also a form of synergy. The sum needs to be larger than the parts, if that’s all good, it’s going to work out.”