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.
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 CirithUngol. 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 PaganAltar 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.
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 MorsCerta. 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
Our world still holds plenty of mysteries. There are intricacies, complexities and connections, we can hardly fathom, all around us. Some people tap into the beyond, into the mystery of sound and vibration. One of those is Dylan Carson, a modern day musical shaman and explorer, who by that time had just released ‘Full Upon Her Burning Lips’ with his band Earth.
On this album, he is exploring a more feminine spirit, a sensuality that is almost transcendental. Carson has his roots in the grunge scene, has gone through the darkness of addiction, lost his good friend to suicide (yes, Kurt Cobain) and somehow has emerged as an icon in a musical style that is entirely his own.
Carlson is often called the father of drone metal. Not a moniker he would pick, but one he gratefully accepts. Currently, as we talk over Skype with a bunch of disruptions on the line as friends try to reach him, he is staying in Los Angeles. For the film soundtrack he is making, but also because he will be moving there in December. It’s a lot more sunny in L.A. he concurs: “It’s way warmer up here, nicer weather for sure!”, he chuckles.
We talk about the new album, Full Upon Her Burning Lips, which recently came out. But also about his solo record Conquistador, on which he collaborated with Emma Ruth Rundle. And Bagpipes.
Never Mind The Hype let me interview Dylan for last years’ Le Guess Who? festival, a fest I’ve never visited. I was happy to do so anyway.
Good vibrations and universal harmonies
What do you think about the Le Guess Who? Festival yourself? “It’s one of my favorite festivals. I’m not crazy about festivals, but this one always has an interesting program and many people are there that I’d love to meet. Not that I get to usually, but last time I was there I saw jazz icon Pharaoh Sanders perform. That is really cool!”
How does Earth fit within the confines of a festival like Le Guess Who? And how did you end up playing there this year? “Well, The Bug is one of the curators and we did an album together, so I think that’s how it went. But why we fit in is that even though people love boxing us into genres or microgenres, Earth has always tried to do something new, always pushed itself into new directions. That fits within the confines of this festival very well. As a musician, I don’t feel confined to microgenres. I make music, as best as I can, but I can’t affect the way people deal with that. But we play all sorts of festivals, because we are not limited to just heavy music. We’ve done Hellfest, Primavera, but also Le Guess Who? and Levitation festival. That’s a big range. Big Ears in Knoxville is another one of my favorites by the way. We’re not stuck in a corner, we can go many different ways with Earth.”
Is that what gives you more freedom in starting up collaborations? “Definitely. I’ve done a lot of those and I’m always open for new opportunities. It’s all about being open to possibilities and look for that ‘common ground’. If that’s not there, it won’t work. Our collab with Kevin ‘The Bug’ Martin is a good example. Even though he grew up hating guitars, we have a lot of similarities in our taste for music and love for dub. Even though we come from opposite worlds, there was enough of a match to do something very cool. So kudos to Kevin for having the guts to do this.”
Do you ever worry if such a collaboration will work out? “If it doesn’t work out, you just won’t release it. No one will have to suffer through it. I’ve had those in the past, where it just didn’t work out. But now, I think I’ve done this long enough to know early on if something will work or not, if the audience would like it or not. I believe in ‘happy accidents’, just letting things happen. If it’s a lot of work and effort, the magic just isn’t there.”
For your solo album ‘Conquistador’ you worked with Emma Ruth Rundle. How did that happen?
“She’s just fucking amazing. I seriously can’t praise her enough, both as musician and as a human being. I’m so happy to see all the recognition she is getting, because she deserves every bit of it. She is one of the few people I always love seeing perform. She is signed to the same label as us, Sargent House, though I met her earlier when we did a show with Marriages and Deafheaven in LA. I borrowed her amp and we’ve sorta become friends since. When I was working on ‘Conquistador’, our schedules matched and we met in the studio of Kurt Ballou to work on some music. So that’s what happened.”
How was it for you to create a solo record, instead of an Earth record? “With Earth there are always multiple people involved, which makes the process more complex. Solo I simply have more freedom and a white canvas, possibilities for collaborations, but it also feels more free for me. Though Earth is not a formula, you always look for progress and continuity. Not that there’s a set course, but we don’t want to repeat ourselves while there may be directions I’d like to play with a bit more. The theme of an imaginary western you could here on ‘Hex, Or Printing in the Infernal Method’, so that was a done deal for Earth. ‘Conquistador’ allowed me to further explore that theme.”
“But what was also an influence, is that we had just left Southern Lord. I knew that finding a new label was going to take time and we had just toured intensively for our previous album Primitive & Deadly. There was need for a break, and I had all this music I wanted to work on. So I took the progressions I had and made my own songs with those. So it was a time of finding our bearings and experimenting.”
If I understand you correctly here, Earth is kind of your highway and solo work enables you to take all those interesting byways and explore, is that correct? “That’s basically it. Earth is the main focus of my career, but there’s so much else I want to do. This enables me to do that and it helps my creative process. Making music is one of the few things in my life I haven’t had problems with. It helps me find the right flow, also in other aspects of my life. I feel very fortunate to be able to work on music all the time and I don’t want to waste any of that time. The fact that I once just… disappeared for 5 years, showed up again and was embraced, is something I’m very grateful for.”
But that’s also your own doing. You get called the father of drone for a reason. “Well yes, that. The fact that people respect what I did so much and validate it, that’s an incredible honor. That’s what motivates me to try hard and keep innovating, not rest on my laurels. I could have made Earth 2 25 times, but that’s not how I want to be remembered.”
Does the solo work make you hungry for more? “Definitely. I’m currently working on the soundtrack for the film From A Son and I hope this will be released as a solo album too.”
You’ve often said you’d like to make soundtracks and this is your second, right? How did this happen? “I’ve made a soundtrack for a German film, called Gold. This is the second. The director of From A Son is Gilbert Trejo, son of Danny Trejo, who plays in the movie. His production manager Kyle pitched my music and Gilbert liked it. He tried what it would be like by using some Earth songs and music from Conquistador as place holders and it was a fit. Kyle happened to know my manager Cathy and contacted her. Long story short, I got to make a soundtrack.”
“The process itself has been pretty intuitive. I watched the movie, which gave me some ideas. We then played the movie and I basically jammed to it. Then it’s a whole process of cutting, pasting, filling, adding… Until you have it. Austin from Starcrawler added percussion to the recordings. All in all, this was a very straightforward process. Similar to Gold actually, though there they were shooting while I was composing, so I would get bits of the film sent my way. That was interesting.”
I’ve actually seen you play another soundtrack. In Ghent you did a live soundtrack for the 70’s psychedelic movie Belladonna of Sadness. “Ah, but that was a different process. They actually expected us to play an Earth set, but instead we composed a whole soundtrack. We watched the movie a number of times, chose a number of themes and worked with that. That developed into what we played live that night and which has shaped part of the new album, like the song Descending Bella.
We actually should talk about your new album, but first, you did sign with Sargent House. What made you join their roster? “Cathy Pellow was already our manager and that’s why my solo record is out on Sargent House. Going there with Earth was a natural choice. Cathy is fantastic, really good with artists, supportive and I like her way of doing business. We just click and Sargent House is a great label, with camaraderie between artists I haven’t experienced before.”
Full Upon Her Burning Lips is the first record you’ve done with Adrienne Davis as a duo. Why did you choose for that and how did it work out? “I felt that on previous records, we had to give way to a lot of other instruments. That’s not a complaint, I worked with great people and I’m happy with those records. But I wanted to see if I could give more room for the essence. The drums also could do with more space I felt. By making this record with the two of us, we get to show what Earth sounds like at its core. And I got to play bass, which I like, so that is cool.”
“The process was very smooth. Most of the material was composed a month before we went into the studio, and there everything just got together naturally. It’s again a very intuitive process, where most of the overdubs, solo’s, and bass lines are improvised in the studio. The basis for the song was just there to complete.”
Did you have a clear concept for this record, like you did for previous ones? “That’s actually one thing that was very different on this album. I had various ideas, but not one big concept. My wife, Polly, she’s a dancer and I thought a lot about music and dance, which are so separate in today’s world. I also read a lot of books from Tanith Lee, which have many sensual themes. I wanted to create a record that was more feminine, more sensual, as opposed to the hypermasculinity of heavy music, but also play with dance. Dance is not just for EBM, it’s a form of getting together, interacting physically, of ritual. It’s a communal thing that I find very important.”
I noticed that this whole record refers to that essence. Just the design of the cover, with its 70’s hardrock reference and the picture of you two, it really points to your roots. “That picture was not intended for the cover, but when I saw it, I knew it was just right. It’s the band itself, and this design makes me think of classic albums like the debut by The Stooges. It was just right.”
Could you tell me what, in your view, is that core or essence of Earth. That which makes the band unique? Is that drone? “I see drone as more of a technique. In music theory, it’s called an oblique motion and that can be found in numerous types of music. From Indian meditation, classical music, blues to even Scottish bagpipes. What attracts me to that sound is the open string you work with or against. I think that’s what I’ve always done in my music. Many people think of massive amps and volume when they hear drone, but there are drones in a hurdy gurdy or acoustic music. That’s what I love anyways. Tempo has always been less interesting to me so we’re sort of countering that, which was particularly interesting when we started out in a time when each band wanted to be the fastest in the world. Within those factors there are many directions to explore and as long as this is all in there, it’s Earth I think. Currently I’m using a lot of chromatic movements, which is something new in my music. But that’s still an oblique motion.”
All these examples you mention, like a hurdy gurdy and bagpipes, those create a sound that I think resonates with people. Isn’t that part of the charm? “It might be my Scottish heritage, which makes me cursed with liking bagpipes. But did you know the bagpipe was really used everywhere until the accordion became available? I read somewhere the king of Hungary even burned all bagpipes then and forced people to buy accordions. Maybe that’s where bagpipes got their bad name, but it’s definitely a global instrument.”
“But I feel, making music, that I’m just a conduit for music that’s already there. Like a pipe, the way I’m shaped affects the final form. That vibration though, it’s already there, the universe is all about vibrations. Solid matter are standing waves and I like the idea of a sustained note, that is fed and keeps resounding, which touches us. It’s a shared, universal resonance. Music and dance are the original technologies for ecstasy and transcendence. When I play a really good show, I never remember it afterwards, I disappear into it. When I think too much, when it’s a lot of work, then I remember it. It’s still a good show, people enjoy it, but it’s where I don’t lose myself in that vibration of the music.”
Is that how you experience collaborations? Is there that shared resonance that you look for? “I think so, but it’s also a form of synergy. The sum needs to be larger than the parts, if that’s all good, it’s going to work out.”
Most of the interviews with an artist are because of the release of an album, or relevant news that involves the band. But, sometimes there is an artist that just that never sits still, continuously working on a total of fourteen projects at the same time. Krigeist, also known as Andrew Campbell, plays in Barshasketh, Brón, Belliciste, Dunkelheit and who knows what other musical project he is involved in…
Andrew carries out everything he does with enormous passion and dedication. This is very fascinating if you keep in mind these are not only studio projects. Barshasketh visited the Netherlands several times. Andrew found some gaps in his busy schedule for us to answer questions about his music, inspiration, and how he keeps everything in balance, whilst traveling the world.
Interview originally published on Never Mind The Hype.
Header: Krigeist in Tampere, foto Porta Atra (Source: Facebook page Barshasketh)
Following the Left Hand Path
I was wondering if you could tell me about yourself. Where you originally are from and how you got involved with black metal and in so many projects.
I’m originally from New Zealand, but I’ve not lived there in almost a decade now. I’ve relocated several times since I left, but I’ve now been based in Serbia for a few years.
Since a young age, I’d been looking for a type of music that fits with what I had in my mind and went through many phases searching for it, until I discovered Black Metal, which was everything I’d been searching for, both musically and ideologically. I got into the genre quite late I suppose, when I was around 18 or 19 years old. I think it was Dissection first, followed by Gorgoroth, Emperor, Mayhem as well as newer bands, such as those on the NoEvDia roster. From there it spiraled out of control until I was utterly consumed.
Most of my own projects outside of Barshasketh started due to the fact that the material I had written didn’t suit any of my existing projects, so new ones were needed to accommodate them. The other projects I am involved with were a result of strong connections with other individuals. As well as the projects I’m involved with that already have releases, I’m working on a multitude of others which should see releases in the near future.
How did Bashasketh get started and how would you describe the concept and idea you are expressing?
For me, it feels like your themes and lyrics hold a high level of complexity, though the words themselves are very direct and strong.
I started the band as a solo project around 12 years ago, almost concurrently with my discovery of Black Metal. Since then a number of members have come and gone, but the current lineup of GM, BB and MH and myself has become a lifetime brotherhood. When I started the band, it was a vehicle for me to explore and understand my spirituality and now it serves the same purpose for all four of us. As it’s a natural exploration of our paths through this sphere and beyond, it’s inevitably complex, as these things are never straight forward.
I’m very curious about what that spiritual aspect entails and what directions it has grown into. Could you tell me more about what inspires you? And would you say other projects have sort of grown out of that personal journey?
In the simplest terms, it’s an exploratory approach to the Left Hand Path. We don’t adhere to any specific school of thought, but rather use our own experiences, which we make sense of through our music and lyrics. With the creation of the last album, we have come to realize that this involves a continual cycle of destruction, purification and rebirth. Each time we throw ourselves deeper into the pit and the spirit is reborn in a stronger cast, with more knowledge and more certainty.
The inspiration behind what led us to choose this path is something difficult to pinpoint, however, the reason we have chosen to follow it purely through our own experience was that it seemed to be the only honest way for us to do so. We believe that spiritual growth must come from within, hence we have shunned extraneous influences for the most part.
I wouldn’t say this path has had a direct link on my other projects, although it has an effect on my existence as a whole, so there is undeniably some underlying influence on my other endeavors.
You mentioned that the band is now a whole as such. Does this mean the creation of this latest album was more of a cooperative effort? And can you tell me more about the process?
It was definitely more of a collaborative effort in some ways. As before, either GM or I would write all the guitars for a song, but this time BB and MK were left to write their own parts and put their own stamp on songs-so basically less dictation from our part. All members put forward ideas that were considered and taken on board. MK also contributed some synth parts and provided backing vocals, which was a first for us. Lyrically, I was responsible for the entirety of the lyrics (except for the Latin phrase in Recrudescence, which was the work of GM), but it was something that was discussed and reflected all of us.
BB and MK have also led GM and I to feel less restricted in our songwriting, as they are more than able to handle anything we throw at them.
As for the creative process, it was quite drawn out, with some of the songs being completed in their larval stages even before the release of Ophidian Henosis. As we are all separated geographically, there were months of sending material back and forward in various demo forms. If I recall correctly, the four of us were never in the same room during this process, but we did have one or two occasions with most of the members present to work out the finer details and experiment with structures.
The lyrics came last and were a much quicker process, as the concept was firmly in my mind when I began writing. I feel I should say that a lot of the lyrics were written while in Hungary with the Inner Awakening Circle, so I must thank them for their inspiration.
Can you tell me anything about the Inner Awakening Circle? And what made them so influential.
The Inner Awakening Circle is a Hungarian group of individuals and bands including Lepra, Niedergang and Dunkelheit (who I’m now playing guitar for). They’re very serious about what they do and there’s absolutely no bullshit. The experiences I had with them pushed me out of my comfort zone and pulled me further down, and solidified my conviction that I’ve chosen the right path for me.
Do you believe that this exploration, leaving the known behind, is essential for your art form as much as for personal growth? And are there instances you can describe to clarify how this has impacted your art and person with an anecdote?
Yes definitely, the two are completely intertwined. The personal growth from these experiences is reflected in the music. The music is the medium through which we make sense of the exploration and experiences.
As for specific instances or anecdotes, these are our own. All the things that we want to share in a public forum can be seen in our music and lyrics.
So you said that during the creation of your latest record under Barshasketh, you were never together in a room. But then I’m really curious how the process took place and how you arrange things. I also was wondering what makes you as a person so unbound by a place and how you relate the change of home perhaps to the music or vision you describe. As I see it, this could be a form of exploration too.
For the creation of the Barshasketh album, either GM or I would write all the guitars for a song, then we would send it to MK and BB to work out their drum and bass parts respectively. This involved a lot of sending demos back and forth until we were mostly satisfied. After that, when some of the members were able to get together, they would iron out details and small structural changes. It was quite an interesting way to do things as I’d often get one of my songs back sounding a lot different than I had originally had in mind.
When it comes to the various changes in location, it was all circumstantial really. It was mostly moving from place to place in order to stay in Europe so that Barshasketh could remain active, just keeping my head above water. The places themselves never had an influence on Barshasketh, but I think the upheaval of having to leave certain places without much warning did. The various places I’ve lived is something that is expressed more through Brón than any other of my projects.
Yeah, I was sort of steering in that direction because I’m very much fascinated by Bròn. Can you tell me how that entity came into being and how it has shaped up to be as diverse as it is?
As with all ‘side’ projects, Bròn came out of writing music that didn’t fit with any of my existing projects, both musically and thematically. Fògradh was written after I found out I would have to leave Scotland and it was inspired by my experiences living in that country. It was intended to be a one-off, but while living in Slovakia, shortly before moving to Serbia, Ànrach was written. The three songs deal with the influence that the natural environments of Scotland, New Zealand and Serbia had on me. It became clear at this point that this was a project dealing almost solely with the place.
I think I’ve reached something as absurd as 14 individual projects now – Krigeist
The diversity in material is due to the environment and the relationship to that environment that I’m expressing with each release. For example, the White City releases deals with Belgrade and day to day living in a huge urban expanse, which is quite far outside of my comfort zone. Black metal of any sort would simply have been an inappropriate medium to express those feelings. Ruins was unsurprisingly influenced by various ruins I have visited throughout Europe. Coming from New Zealand where such structures don’t exist, they had a profound impact on me. Again, black metal felt inappropriate, so a more folkish approach was taken. The black metal releases are invariably influenced by nature and an absence of human life, whether it be in New Zealand, Serbia or elsewhere.
I always feel that Bròn is a very personal project, because it just feels very well-conceived and every release is very cohesive and ‘whole’. Is that how you envision it and how do you feel about the term side project, because I don’t feel that any of this is done with a lesser form of commitment and passion?
All my projects are personal in their own right, they just express different aspects of myself. I have no problem with the term ‘side project’ as Barshasketh is more of an expression of my entire being and my perception of this sphere, whereas the other bands are intended to express one specific thing. Perhaps the fact that I share Barshasketh with people who are very meaningful to me makes it a more personal too.
How does Belliciste fit into this whole world as well? As that does seem to stick more northernly, in language at least.
As for Belliciste, this band also has no relation to place. It is an outlet for pure animalistic, reckless hatred with no bonds to anywhere in this world.
The lyrics deal with the filthiest side of my spirit. Absolute misanthropy, apocalypse and the eradication of all life in this world. There are numerous references to deities from various mythologies, but these are not limited to those from the North. There are also many references to the Maori pantheon, most specifically Whiro, but I believe these all to be some sort of archetypes of the Devil, just through a different linguistic lens.
Do you feel that your current projects and themes are for now it, or are you constantly finding new inspiration as you travel and explore and will new entities see the light of day?
I think I’ve reached something as absurd as 14 individual projects now, so there is a lot of new material on the horizon. Some are black metal, others are not. Some are solo projects, some are with other people I’ve met over the years.
These projects all stem from internal exploration and even just musical exploration, rather than anything geographic.
Ok, so I’d like to ask you if there are any ties you still have to the black metal scene in New Zeeland and if there’s anything happening that you’d like people to be aware of.
I never really had very strong ties to the NZ black metal scene, even while I lived there. I only knew and associated with a small handful of individuals, but I am still in contact with most of them and I’m even working on material with some of them. As for things happening within the NZ scene that people should be aware of, I guess most would already be familiar to those into black metal. Bands of note include Vassafor, Heresiarch, Vesicant, Ulcerate, Diocletian, Creeping.
Lesser known bands include Winter Deluge, Exaltation, Vicissitude. I’m surely forgetting a few more…
So what future plans do you currently have with your projects? What’s coming up next?
A lot at the moment. I’m currently working on two Brón releases. One will likely be part of the White City series and the other is back to the black metal style, but this time features a real drummer. It’s being done in a proper studio setting, so things are moving slower than usual.
Other than that, a few Barshasketh and Belliciste releases are in the works which should see the light of day soon. Dunkelheit and Svartgren albums have been finished and shouldn’t be too long either. The other projects are still being worked on, so news about those will follow.
We have some exciting performances lined up for Barshasketh and Belliciste is also becoming more active in the live arena again.
The primal movements of the earth can be felt when Bismuth plays its second set at the Ladybird Skatepark at Roadburn 2019. Slow, purposeful drone doom, delivered with a mantra-like repetition over a fundamental groundwork of drums by Joe Rawlings. The guitars produce a growling, textured sound that hits you like sonic waves with full force.
On guitar is Tanya Byrne, who also plays in Monoliths, Nadir and Dark Mother. Having been pummelled by the live delivery by the band, I wanted to know more about the duo from Nottingham and contacted Tanya to ask her some questions about Bismuth, sound, studying the environment, gear and, of course, playing Roadburn.
Interview with Tanya Byrne from Bismuth
I understand you are originally classically schooled, if I may use that term. How did you move from that to the music you create now?
That’s right. I play the piano, played clarinet in an orchestra and studied music theory and composition. I think I moved to drone when I discovered minimalism. Artists such as Arvo Pärt and Terry Riley. Space is an important feature of that, and I wanted to see if that could be explored within the sphere of heavy music. So much metal tries to bludgeon with riffs, but I feel contrast, space and dynamics are needed for something to remain heavy. That’s why I loved Lingua Ignota so much. It has a weight to it, without the usual metal and noise tropes.It would seem that this background really shapes your approach to music than, which is not based on, let’s say, the pop format songs. So where in this development did feel you transitioned that classic approach into a metal framework?
It happened when I was around 25. Through minimalism, I started to discover bands like Khanate, Asva and Sunn O))). For the longest time, I found guitar-based heavy music boring, but these bands showed me that heavy music could be interesting.
I like your mention of Arvo Pärt, because his music is for me essentially attentive listening and very heavy in its intentional nature, as every note has meaning… What attracts you to the minimalism and more so the slowness in music (as you play ‘very slowly’)?
The focus of minimalism is what drew me to it. You have to give each note your full attention. Playing slowly helps with that. Nothing can be rushed and you have to exist in the sound. Everything else falls away as the sustaining of the music becomes everything.
What does heavy mean to you and what role does volume play in that, which is what most people would assume to represent heavy?
Heavy is more of an emotional response. Volume can be helpful in reaching that intensity, but for me, the intensity in performance is so much more important. I’ve seen bands that are quiet in volume, but their music has a connection that makes it truly heavy.
I’ve seen you perform, but I wonder how you feel you put the heavy in the performance you deliver with Bismuth. Is it physical or in your own experience of the meaning and voice of the music?
A lot of my lived experience comes out in the music. Obviously, both Joe and I are fans of volume to add to this, so that comes out too. When we play, nothing else exists. I see nothing and just share what is normally hidden.
Is the meditative aspect of that sound on some level relevant to what you do? And by that, I mean the ritualistic or even religious aspect of music, but also may be a connection to your academic field?
Very much so, yes. Becoming lost in the sound is a form of meditation. It not so much religious for me, but I definitely think that playing so slowly helps me feel connected to the deep time of the geological record, in a small way. People need time and space to contemplate processes that take millions of years, and I think the state of feeling nothing but sound and time can tether me to that. Day to day worries fall away, and for a time, notes seem like infinity.
I am intrigued by the connection though, between your academic interest and music. Which came first and when did you first connect them like they are on ‘The slow dying of the great Barrier Reef’?
I’ve been playing music since I was five, but I only started studying environmental science within the last 6 years. Barrier reef was the first time I attempted to connect the two. The music and themes arose due to my increasing frustration with the world government’s inaction on climate change. I read journals pretty much every day showing the way in which humans are degrading our environment, and I can’t believe the inaction of governments around the world.
There’s a lot of disinformation going around, or fake news as we call it today. Was that attitude, the inaction, was it a driver for you to connect these two?
Or was it something brooding already to make this connection and just got this push here.
Both. As a scientist, it’s very frustrating to hear talk about ‘beliefs’ when there is solid evidence that climate change is happening, and that our species is causing it.
For you as a person, what does it mean to bring these two together? Is this a platform?
I’m not sure if it’s a platform so much as me trying to process the thoughts I have around this subject. It’s great if others are prompted to research, but joining music with this subject matter helps me deal with the anger and despair that I feel at times. It’s difficult to maintain hope when all you read about is destruction and death, but we must hold on to hope and work together.
For me, as a listener, your performance felt very cathartic too, as the music is delivered with a certain laborious effort. It helped to connect, to move in harmony with you as artists. Is that something you feel is important, this connection through the music?
The connection is one of the most important aspects. When you are playing with others, it’s important to get into the same space. I’m not very outgoing in real life, and the way I connect the most is through playing music.
How big is the role of your equipment when you play music like yours?
Very. Very important. I use multiple amplifiers set up so I can use each amp to cover a different frequency range.
Coming back to your approach of music not as simply bludgeoning with riffs, is this an example of your way of creating this heavy effect?
For sure. Cutting the bass amp and reintroducing it later can help add heaviness. I also run different effects chain for each amp. It’s important to have different amps for different tonalities.
So what is your process when creating music, because by what I read about your gear expertise it feels like an engineering job, so I was wondering if you could describe how that happens?
Generally, Joe or I will have an idea, a riff or a drum beat. We then work in that for a while and see if it’s something we can expand on. Vocals are always written secondary to this, as layers of sound are very important to us.
Is there a lot of tinkering with the equipment involved?
Yes…I tend to have a pretty precise idea of the sound in my brain. There have to be lots of playing around with pedals to match up the sound I am aiming for.
Do you consider yourself a bit of a gearhead?
Yes, in other aspects of my life I work as a programmer, so I get really interested in tech of all kinds.
Now, this is usually a pretty male-dominated terrain. Is that something that ever came across your path of an artist and do you notice the shift that’s happening and was very visible at Roadburn this year?
Yes, I have had a couple of amps and pedals custom made for me, and only I and the person that built it knows how to work them. This still hasn’t stopped some guys trying to tell me how to use my own equipment (they usually shut up after they see us play). Sometimes I feel like I need to be super nerdy about it so I can stand my ground in male-dominated spaces. It was very heartening to see that Roadburn is showing that creating experimental music is not just the domain of men.
So, can you tell me about your Roadburn experience and history?
Both Joe and I are so overwhelmed by our experience of Roadburn. Becky, Walter and the rest of the Roadburn crew are amazing. When they asked us to play a second set in the skate park. We couldn’t believe it. I watched the Lingua Ignota show there and it was amazing.
Bismuth started 8 years ago and we’ve recorded two albums and a few splits and EPs., but this was our first performance at Roadburn, yes. We’ve done a few tours in Europe and the UK. We have always wanted to play Roadburn and were so so excited to be asked.
But then to get a second set, what was that like?
Disbelief! When my friends told me about the queues for the first set, I really didn’t know what to think. It was a great honour for us.
Did the second one feel different?
Yes. I think we were both more at ease. I’m not sure why, perhaps it’s because it’s more similar to the usual places we play? I think its because its closer to the DIY spaces a lot of the bands are used to normally play. I definitely felt more comfortable there
Do you think Roadburn is a different place to play?
Definitely. I think many bands aspire to play there. The friendship and open-mindedness of the people that attend is something I’ve never experienced at any other festival. It’s really special.
What does the future hold now for Bismuth?
In the next couple of weeks, we are playing Northern Discomfort fest in Copenhagen, DIY fest in Nijmegen and Raw Power fest in London. We also have a show in Leeds with Thou and Moloch. That should be fun. After that, we are going to take a little live break to focus on writing for our third album and a few splits.
If your band was a dish, what would it be and why?
Hmmm well, it depends who you ask! Joe would definitely say kebab. However, I would say tasty lentil dahl, with rice and chipati. We would both agree on tasty Oreo brownie though.
Is that because you both like it or is there a more complex idea?
Haha nope, we both just think it’s tasty. I think it would match is as it appears sweet but can be intense.
Belarus, the last really mysterious place in Europe under the auspicious leadership of a president that seems to be boundlessly popular in a country that is prim and proper like you’ll never see a street in Western Europe. Belarus has a dark underside though, an underground scene full of exciting bands. One of those is folky doomsters Dymna Lotva.
The band has been quite prolific over the years and plays a very distinguished type of music. Their origin leaves a little in the way of the language barrier, but they were kind enough to answer my questions. This took some time, but I’m certain that it will provide you with many new insights on this exciting band.
Dymna Lotva might sound dark and misty, but also presents the listener with the other magic that is Belarus. A country with a long history and a mysterious past. This is part of what Dymna Lotva is about.
From the fogs of Belarus
First of let me thank you for taking the time to do this.
Thank you for the interview offer. We apologize wildly for the delay. We have been answering these questions for so long that during this time we have changed our lineup and had to start all over again.
First, can you introduce yourselves and how you got together?
Jauhien: Hi, I’m a Jauhien and I’m the father of Lotva 🙂
It all started with the fact that after writing about 5-6 demos, I made a post on a local music forum about the search for a vocalist to record an EP. Nokt wrote to me and we started to work on material. After the release of the single “A Solitary Human Voice” we began to receive proposals for the concerts and started thinking about a concert lineup.
Forladt: I am Forladt and I play guitar and do some back vocals in Dymna Lotva. For me, Dymna Lotva was the first and is still the only band I joined. I wanted to play in a band so I gave an advertisement on a forum and Nokt replied to me. We met, talked a lot about music and other things. Nokt and Jaŭhien were already making Dymna Lotva and she invited me to play with them. Since then I’m here.
Nokt: I am Nokt and I am the mother of Lotva. I work on vocals parties, lyrics, concept, costumes, etc. In short, in the band, I do everything except what is really important. And sing.
By the way, we were acquainted with Jauhien and played together for some time before Lotva. We just don’t usually mention it. That is why I immediately responded to his post about vocalist search. We got acquainted with Forladt on the topic of music and his own project (now this is Absence of Life), but I didn’t then consider him as a musician for Dymna Lotva because of a very young age. However, we quickly became best friends. And when Lotva began to look for a concert lineup, we listened to a lot of guitarists, no one approached us, and we still had to call Forladt. And I put him before the fact that he would sing (he didn’t know how to do it at all, but he had to learn quickly). Forladt brought us a young drummer, Shen. He played with us for 2 years, but recently our paths diverged. Now our drummer is Barmaley. We also couldn’t find a second guitarist for a long time, so our friends played at concerts like session musicians. However, a little less than a year ago, Igorr joined us.
Do you guys play in any other bands or projects? And what bands inspired you to pursue the type of music you make?
Jauhien: I prefer to play my music, but recently Forladt asked to play in his band Absence of Life and I could not refuse. I was probably inspired by Mastodon, Amenra and Leprous.
Forladt: I have my own DSBM project Absence of Life. About the bands that inspire me… I listen to a lot of different music; it is difficult for me to highlight. But at the moment I joined Dymna Lotva, I listened mostly to DSBM.
Nokt: Everything around inspiring me. Singing is the most important thing in my life, so I’m ready to be involved in as many projects as I can. Unfortunately, free time is not as much as we would like. So besides Dymna Lotva I am the second vocalist in the Absence of Life. I also occasionally record guest vocals for various projects and prepare to start another project with my friends.
Barmaley:Darkthrone and GrazhdanskayaOborona (seriously!) are my inspiration. I will not talk about playing in other bands, otherwise, it will be a too long interview. Favorite drummers are John Bonham and Buddy Rich.
Igorr: I play covers on Opeth, Tool, Lamb of God, Gojira, etc in a jam band.
Where you inspired by bands from Belarus to make metal music or did it come from foreign bands?
Nokt: I am fully inspired by Belarusian metal and folk scene. Unfortunately, it is not very well known in the world. And it is, even more, a pity that the negative towards all made in Belarus is very characteristic for our mentality.
Forladt: My first metal band ever was Accept, since I listened to lots of heavy metal, then it came to trash, death, black and so on. So I was inspired to start playing guitar and making music mostly from foreign bands.
Can you tell a bit about the start of metal in Belarus? How did metal music come to Belarus in the first place?
Nokt: We are not so old, so we did not see the start of metal in Belarus with our own eyes. The most famous of our group was and remains the GodsTower, they have been playing since the 90s.
You’ve released the single ‘Трудна, нуднанасэрдуньку’. A collaborative effort with Andrei Apanovich. How did this come to be? And are you working on anything new?
Jauhien: It was a very funny story. In fact, this single is the result of losing a bet. In the Russian-language social network VK under one post with voting for the best folk metal band, there was a huge discussion with calls to vote for one or the other side, and we jokingly decided to support Apanovich with his band Trollwald. It was like this: “If Trollwald wins, Dymna Lotva will record folk”. As you can understand – they won.
Yes, at the moment we are working in parallel on several releases. The main one is the second full-length album.
How do you work on creating your music? Is it something you do together as a band or do you have divided tasks?
Jauhien: In general, we have divided the tasks. I write music, and Nokt writes lyrics. Also with the writing of music Forladt helps a little. Well, I hope our new guitarist Igorr will also join this process.
Can you tell a bit about the way you approach creating music and how that process looks like for you as a band? I feel there’s a very distinct feeling to your sound and I really wonder where you derive your inspiration from.
Jauhien: I cannot say that I am inspired by nature, books, films or other music. I am rather inspired by the process of creating music, the search for new sounds and interesting moves and combinations. But one cannot say that I am engaged in such a dry business, for I still write based on my inner feelings and mood.
What themes and topics do you put in the music, what topics do you address with your lyrics? The imagery and overall feeling hint at the land, mysteries, and folklore. Can you tell more about this and perhaps provide some examples?
Nokt: Our country has a very sad fate. So at this stage, all our lyrics are somehow about Belarus. This may be the tragedy of a particular person (as in A Solitary Human Voice I and II). This may be something more abstract, general view of the problem (for example, the total passivity of the Belarusians in the “Into the Swamp” track). Of course, in each text, my own history is also explicitly or implicitly present. They are just on different levels. This year we twice used non-original lyrics – the folk song text in “Sick at Heart” and the poem of the Belarusian poetess in “Dying” – however, the approach remains the same.
In pictures, some Dymna Lotva wears traditional clothing. How deep are these aspects connected to Dymna Lotva? Is there a pagan religious side to your work too?
Nokt: In fact, these are not exactly traditional clothes. In any case, not a reconstruction. But yes, Dymna Lotva deep inside is a pagan band. We do not stick it out clearly in the music and lyrics (at least now). But personally, I have long been deeply interested in Belarusian old traditions and mysteries and YES, I am pagan. I really want to work with folk spells as lyrics. I still do not know whether it will be in Lotva or in some kind of side project, but it will happen necessarily. As for the other musicians, they are all pagans to one degree or another.
Do you face any sorts of censorship in Belarus as a musician or are you free to do and say as you please?
Jauhien: Dymna Lotva is not threatened by censorship. We don’t go into political and social issues, we don’t praise Satan and we don’t incite hatred. But yes, there is a lot of censorship in Belarus. Often concerts are canceled, or musicians are simply not allowed to perform. For example, I am sure that in Belarus you should not wait for concerts of such groups as Batushka or Behemoth.
Nokt: I do not fully agree with Jauhien. Almost any band can have problems with censorship in our country. For example, a concert of the Belarusian group TT34 was recently banned. The band has been playing for many years, and as far as I know, they had no problems before. They do not touch dangerous topics in their lyrics. As regards DSBM, rumors have long been circulating about the adoption of a new law on the promotion of suicide in Belarus. Theoretically, then the problem can become much more serious than just canceling concerts. If we talk about the situation specifically now, for example, I cannot cut myself on the stage if I want to be able to perform here in the future. And more recently, our lightest sounding song was not taken on the radio (it completely fits the radio format) because of the lyrics. We used poem of the Belarusian poetess, the winner of one of the national poetry contests. The poem tells about dying and did not pass censorship on the radio. Our folk song was also not accepted because of the lyrics (despite the fact that this is a folk text).
By the way, Behemoth performed in Minsk about 6 years ago.
Which bands from Belarus should people really check out? And why?
Jauhien: Oh, we have such great guys as Nebulae Come Sweet. In my opinion the top 1 in Belarus. Make a unique mixture of Doom and post-metal. It seems to me that in terms of interesting arrangements, they surpassed even some famous groups in the genre.
Forladt: I do not listen to a lot of local scenes, but I think that my favorite Belarusian band is Nebulae Come Sweet. Their music is really deep, sensual and unique, especially for Belarus where most of the music is folk or black metal. They are definitely worth checking out.
Nokt: Of course Nebulae Come Sweet is also in my top. But I have to mention other bands. My favourite are: Pragnavit (ritual folk ambient), Vietah (atmospheric black with bright live image), Dzivia (epic orchestral folk), ViciousCrusade (folk trash), Medievil (black), Massenhinrichtung (melodic black with folk elements), Zaklon (atmospheric black), Re1ikt (post-rock with folk lyrics and really fantastic clean male vocals).
What future plans does Dymna Lotva have?
Jauhien: World musical domination, not otherwise.
Nokt: after the new album release.
If you had to compare Dymna Lotva to a dish, a type of food, what would it be and why?
Nokt: We are smoked roach. For Russian-speaking people, this is consonant with our name (do you know that in our homeland we are affectionately called “Plotva”?) And it is good with beer =)
Forladt: I can’t say properly why, but Dymna Lotva for me is associated with mushrooms. Jaŭhien, for example, is boletus, Nokt is death cap, Shen is amanita and Igor is armillaria.
Jauhien: Alcohol is a dish, right? Then we are absinthe. Hard, but it is not felt; smells like wormwood, and you will like it. 🙂
Kazakhstan definitely got a bad rep throughout the years. The country became the but of the joke, thanks to the Borat film and that pretty much might be everything you know about the country. Zarraza might change that with their slabs of grooving, thrashing metal on their latest album ‘Necroshiva’.
Nick Khalabuzar is one of the founders of Zarraza and to say he’s a passionate metalhead would be a vast understatement. His energy alone when it comes to his band might push them to big things in the near future. Nick was kind enough to tell us something more about his band and playing metal in Kazakhstan.
Raising the flag for metal
Hello, how is Zarraza doing?
Great! We just get approval for two SEPULTURA shows in Central Asia. Our first full-length album “Necroshiva” is gonna be officially released in China on May 11 through MusicDish. After that there will be some special local gig in June – I am working on details now.
How did you get started with Zarraza and what does the name mean (why did you choose it)?
About the name – I did not want to create another SUPER-BLOODY-KILLER-TORMENTOR kind of name. I liked irony behind ANTHRAX name. So one of the options for me was Infection – Zaraza in Russian. The word has second meaning – unbearable and annoying but maybe a funny person. So I liked it. Only after I realize there was a Russian metal magazine ZARRAZA – it was published through 1990-1991. I decided to keep the name – for me, it looks like we raise a flag dropped on the battlefield by a fallen soldier – the founder of the magazine was very supportive about all kinds of metal and unfortunately died in the 2000s.
About the starting point… It was me and my friend Max Saklakov – we decided it’s not enough for us to go to bars together so we should start a band! For a couple of years, we were looking for a proper drummer – and found Ruslan Konon. Then bassist Alex Filatoff came in. But Max left after we recorded the first demo – and from then there were few guitar players. Every one of them brought something special to the band so we are thankful to them. Damir Yunussov, Vladimir Grigoryev, Daniyar Aktayev…
What bands inspired you to start playing metal music?
Before I start to drop big names like MEGADETH, SLAYER and SEPULTURA… I should say it was my mother – she supported my passion and bought me my first guitar. She was patient when I spent my last money on tapes discovering not only big bands but something special like ACID RAIN, LAWNMOWER DEATH, POLTERGEIST, THERAPY? etc.
Can you share with us what sort of theme, message or idea is behind Zarraza?
Musically it is about energy and adrenaline exported into sounds. We considered our role on a scene as shamans who twist your muscles with sounds and then release it helping your inner demons to go out in mosh and slam.
Lyrically it is about spreading the infection of sarcasm. Viruses of free thinking. The face of gods, idols, and politicians should be erodingafter this infection.
And on live performances, it is about having fun in a mosh and slam as much as possible.
Ok, let’s talk about ‘Necroshiva’, your latest record. How did the writing and recording process go?
From the starting point of writing, I wanted a record full of fast songs hitting listeners in a face. When it was recorded I was a little bit disappointed – not all songs seemed fast enough to my taste. Then we started to play it live – and I see how the audience became too exhausted too fast. We tried to put slow songs among fast and… Realized that all songs are pretty fast. Some of them have slow parts but finally, all of the shit is fast enough. So… Mission complete!
We work on songs very hard and carefully. The first demo was recorded in 2015 – and most of it was butchered. Some songs were re-composed, some – erased. The only song that remains the same is “More Than Hate” – except the title and lyrics. Initially, it was called “Government hates you”. The idea stays the same – I just decided that the new title is a bit cooler. Too much politics make music boring.
We were happy to work on the album with Arkadiy Navaho from Moscow, Russia. He is famous for his work with KATALEPSY, SIBERIAN MEAT GRINDER and a lot of other bands. He understands our style, is very open to our ideas and last but not least – very patient. There were few strong arguments between me and drummer Ruslan during mixing. Arkadiy waited silently the moment when the storm weakened and then just asked: “so where do we go now?”
What sort of record is it, what does it tell the listener?
It is short – we prefer to make it with “All killer – No filler” formula. That’s why we cut one song off the record before starting mixing. That’s why “Shadows” was written for an album few days before recording started – we needed something stronger than the removed song.
Three pieces could be easily released as concept EP – “Abyss Above Me”, “Echo Of the Future”, “Dead Star”. These songs tell one story.
AAM is the first part – it’s about Giordano Bruno story with some quotes from his revelations about the infinity of the Universe and narrow-mindedness of human-made gods. First lines inspired by the poetry of famous Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov and it’s about the infinity of the Universe too. Two scientists from different countries and ages were talking about similar ideas… But story concentrated on Giordano Bruno – he realized he cannot be blinded anymore by church’s lies despite threats of inquisition. “Echo Of the Future» musically bonded with next song, “Dead Star”. «Echo» created on the same chord progression that you can hear in a middle part of “Dead Star” – but chords played backward with a different rhythm. It is the same but different. So the name for it was obvious – it’s like an echo of chords from song that will go next… Echo of the future.
«Dead Star” is lyrically the second part of Giordano Bruno’s revelation. But here listener will find him on his way to the inquisition’s stake. He is doomed but not broken still standing on his beliefs and visions of the future. Keeping in mind the picture helps me to perform the song with anger and emotions.
All three songs fit each other musically and lyrically. So I considered the triplet as hidden EP on the album.
As you can see from here it is anti-religious anti-state themes. “Shadows”, “More Than Hate” and “Necroshiva” follow the same agenda.
You guys have performed with bands like Arkona, Tyr and Ektomorf. I’m particularly interested in the first two, is there an ethnic element to your music?
– No, but yes. No – there is no ethnic elements in our music except dombra intro on “wRRong Song” – you will hear it on upcoming release this year. Yes – I give you the names of our gods and you will give the name to my tribe: SLAYER, MEGADETH, NAPALM DEATH, DECAPITATED, CANNIBAL CORPSE, SEPULTURA… Probably you are one of us.
And how did you happen to end up performing with these groups?
About ARKONA and TYR it was as simple as that – I asked the local promoter to add us. He listened to our album before, he knew we were gonna play with EKTOMORF so the answer was positive. As far as I know, the promoter from Russia who was responsible for the whole tour attended our gig with EKTOMORF and agreed too.
Honestly speaking, ARKONA/TYR gig was worst gig of the year for me – I told it to my mates right after I came from the scene. My ear monitors went down, and I didn’t hear my voice, my amp had some issues and the whole day before was nervous. But the whole gig was ok. It was interesting to see ARKONA and TYR soundcheck.
There was a funny story. During soundcheck, we muffle a kick drum with a very old fur coat. Our drummer brought it from home – it was made from faux fur I guess. We need it to make drum kick resonate less. But TYR needs this resonance. Their drummer checked the kick drum and found our fur coat inside. He sighed very loudly – “OH MY GOD!” After he discovered it was very old fur coat he continued: “I will perform in this shit!” Other guys from TYR did not let it happen but during soundcheck, he was wearing our fur coat all the time. He really liked the old junk. Now, this relic is lying in our rehearsal room. Inside of the kick drum, of course.
And About EKTOMORF… I was impressed by their “Fury” album. I tolld my friend Arseniy from KASHGAR my desire to bring the band here with gigs. He contacts some promoters in Moscow and together we arrange a short tour for EKTOMORF and played with them.
Would you say your music could be created anywhere else than in Kazakhstan?
Definitely – yes. We don’t have any specific ethnic motives and I not fan of that kind of metal though I like a lot of ethnic music. I know it is possible, but it is not my way. Some people like to incorporate ethnic elements into metal, jazz etc. But it is not my way. No disrespect to others – I just don’t express myself this way.
You’ve said on your website that you guys are on the wrong side of the planet. What is it like to be a metal band in Kazakhstan?
You are arrogantly ignored or someone is trying to make laugh of you. You are overdosed with boring revelations from neighbors, colleagues etc like “I used to listen to metal when I was a kid and then I grew up, so when will you grow up?” Never. Let me clarify that word. It is not me who will never grow up. It is you who actually never grow up. Never understand and never value metal music. It was a joke for you. Probably you were a joke. And still is. That is why you try to bring me down with these meaningless disrespectful words. My condolences to your betrayed and buried dreams and beliefs.
By saying “we’re on the wrong side of planet” I react to other kind of discussions and suggestions. “You should move with your music somewhere else, nobody listens to it here”. But somehow we gathered more and more people on our shows – from 100 to 250. Not bad!
Kazakhstan has 52 bands listed on Metal Archives. Now, I know this is not always representative of the actual scene, but how big is metal in your country and can you tell a bit about the history?
The scene is growing but it is not so big – local metal gigs are a pretty rare thing. One in two months approx. First metal bands started in the middle of ’80s. It seems strange but there are no proper releases from them like LP’s or CDs. Even a demo with good quality is a rare thing. Just total underground things.
One of the first important releases I like is tech-death band LEAD WEIGHT and their “Penetrator” album. As far as I know, it was the first album from Kazakhstan metal band officially released on a label outside the country – Russian “CD Maximum” is responsible for it.
Is your music socially accepted or not? Do you face any censorship?
Currently we out of sight of any censorship – probably we are too small for them. There is no official censorship in Kazakhstan but it exists In a form of oppression from so-called “Uyat” («Shame») groups – people who claim themselves as defenders of old traditions. They are very active against young girls wearing short clothes but never say anything against corruption which is really corroding the society. So, does it mean corruption is an important part of tradition or it is just a good way to finance these groups?
Beside that metal and rock in common are no strangers to the culture here in Kazakhstan. It is not so popular, but it is OK to wear metal t-shirts and long hair. Of course, some idiots can try to provoke you but if you can stand for yourself they will f- off.
Are there any bands from Kazakhstan or neighboring countries you feel people should really check out?
Kashgar, My Own Shiva and Shahid – all of them are from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Seven Sins and Tishina, Doubleface, ZeroVoid, Noise Execution from Kazakhstan. All these bands released full lentgh albums with good quality and you can easily listen to them on Bandcamp or Spotify. I believe we should call it new wave of Central Asian metal – and as for me those are the best releases from the scene in a whole time.
What future plans does Zarraza have?
Here is to-do list:
to release New EP this year;
to record a demo for the second full-length album for next year release. I got three new songs, Den bring another one so we are in the progress;
To film 2 new videos.
At the same time I’m trying to figure out the best options and headliner for second edition of Hellmaty Metal Fest – festival I started last year.
If you had to compare Zarraza to a dish, a type of food, what would it be and why?
Weak roasted meat with rings of red pepper or ginger. Because I like it, haha. And because I like music with blood, with adrenaline.
Africa is the final frontier when it comes to metal, but something is definitely brewing with bands like Nelecc from Kenya, creating their very own brand of atmospheric black metal. But the local scene is small and mostly unknown, yet this gives it a unique flavor.
Kenya has been a country with a moving history but has also offered a relatively stable breeding ground for musicians. Unsurprisingly, this also has created bonds across boundaries and the one-man band Nelecc has seen new ties, as the artist, Nelecc himself has joined forces with Victor Rosewrath from Vale of Amonition (Uganda) and Noktal from Djibouti in the band Krummholz.
Also, he was kind enough to tell us some more about his music and vision.
Nelecc: Nature, Stars, and Inspiration
Hello, how is Nelecc doing?
Nelecc is doing great, thank you. 2018 was quite the year and I am happy with how it went in terms of music.
How did you get started with Nelecc and what does the name mean?
The idea of Nelecc was started while I was in high school. I had a strong will to make music, and get lost in it. Since Nelecc is part nature, part personal life experiences, and part fantastical themes, I decided to mix the real with the ethereal. Hence, the Nel(son)ecc(lesiastes).
Which music inspired you to pursue the path of black metal with your own project and did you have any previous projects or bands you were active in?
There is a lot of different music (even different genres) that inspired me to do black metal. I initially wanted to form a black metal band, but was not able to due to the fact that I grew up in a very remote town with barely four metalheads, and a really bad music scene. Since I was so far away from Nairobi, and couldn’t get in contact with the big city metalheads because of my high school, teen years shyness, I decided to just do it by myself. I hadn’t wrapped my head around the concept of having a solo project, but it grew on me faster than I expected. In Africa, the two bands that have influenced me to do black metal are: Absence of Light, and Wildernessking.
Can you share with us what sort of theme, message or idea you try to convey with Nelecc?
The themes are: Nature, personal life experiences, and fantasy. It is a blend of the three really. Like some sort of tale, but not really one, haha.
You’ve recently released the record ‘The Stars’ with Nelecc. A concept album it seems with a story to tell. Can you share what the story is on the record?
Opening: The Stars – This is practically an intro to the album, and the journey of a guy who seeks another world far from, yet in within this one. The other remaining tracks take you through a fantasy world, my world, and the natural world.
What was the process like of writing and recording the record?
Writing and recording the album was tedious considering how much I had to learn (and what I’m yet to learn) about mixing and mastering. But, as it didn’t seem to be sounding too good, Mike L. of Sojourner continually gave me incredibly important tips on how to get a much better mix. It was incredibly helpful for that process, and definitely boosted the release.
On the cover of your record ‘The Star’ you show, what I believe to be, a Kenyan landscape. The content of the lyrics is also referring to places and is partly in the native language. How important is your origin for your music?
The cover art is a picture of lower Rift Valley. Going to places like these as a child always took my breath away. I was always in awe of the enormity of it all. The peace, the cool breeze, the chirping birds, flowing streams, falling water… It is a place to become. And that is why nature is my greatest influence. Growing up in a small town surrounded by the wilderness definitely helped it. So, it is important how or where the ideas generate for one to come up with a project.
Would you say your music could be created anywhere else than in Kenya?
I believe music can be created anywhere (even Antarctica). It’s universal. Where you draw your inspirations from is what is really important.
Can you tell me if there is a black metal scene or metal scene in your country and how it started, which bands are important and where it is happening?
The main metal scene is in the capital city, Nairobi. There is a blackened death metal band that I mentioned earlier, who also influenced me to carry forth with black metal; Absence of Light. They have a full-length record out from 2013 (Vyom Chakra) and it’s absolutely magnificent.
Are there any bands you’d like to recommend from Kenya or neighboring countries?
I’d recommend my friend, and bandmate’s band, Vale of Amonition (doom metal, Uganda). Some other good bands from Kenya would be The Seeds of Datura (doom), Last Year’s Tragedy (melodic metalcore), In Oath (deathcore), and Mortal Soul (metalcore).
You’ve recently released a joint record with Krummholze, an international East-African project with Victor Rosewrath from Vale of Amonition from Uganda and drummer Noktal. How did this come into being?
It was pretty simple really, and a more than a pleasant surprise. Victor Rosewrath messaged me and proposed to start a band together with Noktal, since they had been acquainted before. As soon as I saw the vision that Noktal had for the soon-to-be band, I was immediately interested. So we joined forces and formed Krummholz.
Can you give me some background on Noktal, I can’t find anything as for where he is from, in which band he played etc.?
Noktal is from Djibouti, but he’s currently in the US. He’s been in multiple bands before, but he can provide more insight on that than I can.
Krummholz seems to have rapidly become your main focus. How does it relate to your Nelecc project and how did you get in touch with Naturmacht Productions, a fantastic label in my opinion?
Well, it would be a bit of a stretch to say that I have a main focus quite honestly. This is because you never know when inspiration is going to strike. So most times, I’ll find myself writing for Krummholz and Nelecc back and forth. Victor was able to get in touch in me because of my work in Nelecc, so there will always be a little bit of Nelecc in Krummholz: not in the sound, not in the lyrics, not in the themes, but in spirit.
Robert, of Naturmacht reached out to us and said that he really liked our sound and offered us a deal. It’s a great label, and we were thrilled to sign with him. The roster is incredible, and the commitment to his artists is real.
What future plans do you have for Nelecc and for Krummholz?
Writing and recording for the new Nelecc album that I’m hoping to release this year is more than halfway done, and the writing process for the debut Krummholz FL album is currently underway. We can’t wait to show everyone what we are brewing when it’s done.
If you had to compare Nelecc to a dish, a type of food, what would it be and why?
Rice and beans without a doubt, haha. This is because I AM rice and beans.
Great Grief plays hardcore, but not with camo shorts and baseball caps. It’s hardcore of the heart and soul, wide open and full of fire. During Roadburn 2019, the band played an added slot on Friday in Ladybird Skatepark. They had already played two shows. It was a tense set, hard and overwhelming for band and audience alike. But those are the shows where chemistry happens, where everything becomes magical and overwhelming.
I got in touch with singerFinnbogi Örn Einarsson, to ask him about this performance, but also about Great Grief. A band that has been around since 2013, has toured in the US and Canada. We talked about hardcore music, the troubles in his native Iceland and finding oneself. Partly through Great Grief and the catharsis of the stage of which the Roadburn show was as raw as it could get for the band from Reykjavik.
This interview was conducted over Facebook Messenger in the wake of their show during Roadburn 2019 in the Ladybird Skatepark. I was absolutely blown away. Original publication can be found here. Hope to see these gents again. In the meantime, let’s keep setting fire to fortresses of small-mindedness, break down those walls and open our hearts
We never get warmth, we just get “gluggaveður” (window weather) – it’s cold, it’s chilly, it’s rainy, windy and shitty.
I wanted to ask you how Great Grief started and how it became the tour of force it is now.
Great Grief first started in 2013, but under the moniker “Icarus”. We wrote, played, and released material under that name both in Iceland and North America until fall 2015.
We finally decided to take on a new name, Great Grief, and released a split with a band called Bungler and played a run of shows in the States. After that, we have spread ourselves quite thin and decided it was best to take a break from touring, so we could focus on things like mental health, rest, work and education.
During this rest, we wrote the material for our LP “Love, Lust and Greed” and worked on it for over a year. In 2017, we worked out a deal with No Sleep Records, and Dillinger Escape Plan guitarist Ben Weinman’s management company Party Smasher Inc. We’ve now been a band for over 6 years, with three releases in our arsenal, and now we finally made our mainland Europe debut at this year’s installment of Roadburn.
Was there a reason, in your perception, that your music caught on in America and Canada earlier? Or is this really a logistic thing perhaps?
Really, it was just where we found the opportunity at the time. But now that has changed of course, since we have finally broken ground in mainland Europe.
Do you think the audience is different though?
After this week, I’ve learned that. European crowds react much differently to things than an American audience. There seems to be much less need for radical self-mutilation to get the crowd going, along with many other things. It seems like a European audience reacts differently. Like an American audience is loud, but when we played Belgium for example, kids stood still, but then afterward told us it was an absolutely crazy show.
You now played in Europe with your album ‘Love, Lust & Greed’. When I look at this release (aesthetically) compared to the previous releases, it looks quite different. Am I correct?
Yeah, absolutely. We were a lot younger when we made ‘Ascending // Descending’, so there is a different message that we were trying to convey. But the two pieces of artwork are still actually very connected in a weird way.
Could you explain that connection?
I’d very much rather not explain it. We’d prefer to let the listener try and unfold that one.
Fair enough!Well, what I find notable is that ‘There’s no setting sun where we are’ is a very clear Iceland reference. Yet the new album feels very universal. Would that be along the right track?
The funny thing about that title is that it came from a Bungler song. They thought of it! But it’s a killer title, so we were happy to have it be the name of our release. It definitely makes sense in context to us being a troupe of misfits from a miserable nation with either no sun, or no sunset.
How much does coming from Iceland shape your music?
There’s definitely a distinct part of Iceland’s music scene that has and will always be a big influence on us, and lyrically it’s a big part of us.
You do touch upon issues you find in your home country, like the church-funding through state money. What sort of stuff is it that vexes Great Grief?
We definitely find it important to tackle the issues regarding Iceland and the lack of separation of church and state. This is because the media tends to portray Iceland as some sort of utopia. This is of course just the tip of the iceberg regarding our band. There’s mental health, personal struggles, political issues, and a myriad of other things. I’d go into depth, but I feel we’d spend the entire day going over it.
That being said, there is an interview online where I do explain each track off our new album in depth (Ed. You can read that article on The Reykjavik Grapevine, right here).
Do you think people idealise Iceland too much?
Absolutely. A lot of it is to blame on the tourism industry trying to paint the perfect picture.
There is surprisingly little talk of the way people live and what social issues Iceland faces. Seeing you play, also last year with Une Misère, that was quite confrontational regarding some of the issues addressed. Then in Iceland, I went to Lizardfest and again the topic of depression and mental illness came up. Can you say something more about this?
Lizardfest was a good time. Lots of moshing during Grit Teeth. In what seems to be no surprise; people think that a beautiful landscape is enough to combat crippling depression. This country is so incredibly isolated, there is a small town aspect even in our largest city.
In the winter, the daylight is limited to approximately 2-3 hours, and during the summer, it’s all we get. We never get warmth, we just get “gluggaveður” (window weather) – it’s cold, it’s chilly, it’s rainy, windy and shitty. It may not sound awful, but it fucking gets to you when you’ve begun to experience the world. The opportunities found when you could be touring in a van, driving from town to town and playing shows, but your home is in Iceland, where it’s just one scene, a few venues, and not much else.
I’ve noticed in other ‘northern’ places is that it usually brings a certain closed-off attitude. So people socialize even less. Is that something your band and other bands from the Iceland hardcore scene are sort of countering? I mean, as your bands are openly discussing these issues.
I believe it’s always been rooted in this scene. But when we started playing 6 years ago, it was taboo of me to be expressive on stage. I was an emotionally troubled 17 years old who didn’t find a place in the world and when I got to grab a microphone, I’d bash myself with it repeatedly and go into this state of euphoria where all my emotions were laid out there for the listener.
A lot of the bands at the time were weird about it, because it wasn’t manly. I could not care less about their preferred sense of masculinity back then, and still now. I’m just grateful that we get this platform to express this side of our brain that stays quiet during our normal lives.
But to me, that is what initially Une Misère, but maybe even more so Great Grief hit me so hard with expression and vulnerability. Where a lot of the hardcore scene sticks to the tough-guy image, where it’s all about being a hard man. It takes incredible guts to do that differently in my perception.
As much as I appreciate the era of NYHC and the stuff it has influenced. I’m just not the type of person to talk with their fists. Have Heart said it best “Armed With A Mind”. That being said, I love moshing, hardcore dancing, all of it. It’s an integral part of the community. I wish more people would stage dive, however.
In that sense, perhaps you’re connecting more to that original strain of hardcore without the codes and cargo shorts?
Maybe, really I just see it as a free form of expression, where diversity should be celebrated, but there’s no place for oppressive behavior.
Your show at Ladybird Skatepark to me was musically great, but you speaking about these issues was what really struck me (and clearly some other people). What did it take for you to stand up there and say this to a crowd of strangers? Because most hardcore shows feel like they challenge and confront the listener, where yours was embracing.
That gig was the one, the one where everything came together. It didn’t have to be the biggest crowd, and it didn’t have to be the nicest stage. We had the right people at the right time, and it left me incredibly thankful and full of love. This industry catches up to you, and for an anxious person like myself, I had an incredibly tough time with the first two shows because of it. When I go to shows, I’m not always in the best mindset, and sometimes I’m even trying to disappear.
For me to open up, it’s very natural now. But it took time to get to this place. I remember the first time I cried in front of an audience, I was called names. I felt weak. You can consider these shows and the banter between the songs a dialog between myself and me, as it seems to be universally accepted that at least person in a crowd of people might be having a rough time.
So to say that it is embracing is a good way to put it. I consider Great Grief a celebration of life. Even when I’m feeling like absolute death up there. And I want the crowd to feel the same.
How did this gig actually happen? Was it planned on beforehand? And did you as band pick the spot?
Walter offered us the slot, and we instantly said yes. It was an absolute no brainer. He picked the spot and we did it. It’s not the first time we play a skatepark, and it won’t be the last.
How was the process for you guys to end up at Roadburn in the first place? And particularly for you guys having played there before with Une Misère, what was that journey like?
This actually starts at the wonderful DIY fest Norðanpaunk in Iceland, last year. Walter saw Great Grief and said he loved it. We got offered to play and jumped at the chance since it is the best thing to come out of Europe since Speculoos spread.
I love that you mention Speculoos. It is the best, isn’t it?
The absolute greatest.
So how did you enjoy Roadburn itself as an artist? What was the experience like in such an immersive festival where the boundary between artist and visitor is pretty much non-existent?
I love it. I find the relationship between the listener and the artist to be a very big part of how a band is perceived. Don’t get me wrong however, bands don’t need to be anyone’s best friend, but I do like when I get to have a chat with someone I look up to.
The only negative listener experience I had at Roadburn this year was with the gentleman who kept spilling drinks on me and trying to untie my shoes as I was performing at the Green Room, I ended up slapping the drink out of his hand. Not my proudest moment. I hope he wasn’t too mad. Lex from Daughters said it best this weekend as I spoke to him backstage. “We’re all just a bunch of dicks, no one is better than anyone”
I personally enjoy that you can have a chat with artists you like as a visitor. But there’s no entitlement so I’m already happy if I can stammer a thank you to an artist whose work matters to me.
I get that. I have had nice chats with some members of my favorite bands and it’s always an absolute thrill ride. Even when talking about the most mundane shit on earth.
Why do you perform wearing make-up and dressed up? And have you always done so in Great Grief?
I haven’t always done it. It was a part of me getting to know myself better in 2016. It’s how I feel most at home in my own skin. Think of it like a pair of sunglasses. Some people feel more comfortable among crowds as they wear sunglasses, as it leaves more to be seen. The same goes for me, my makeup and clothes leaves on a nice shade of confidence and appeal that no one can take away from me. I like to feel pretty – It’s me and my expression in its purest form.
Isn’t that in a way contrasting with the raw openness you display on stage?
I guess so. It’s also very simply a celebration of my queer identity.
And in that way perhaps also confrontational for some, as much as the openness is?
People may not be used to our kind of live show, and I can only hope that they are understanding and open-minded.
So a lot of your performance is part of you as a person, as you said it’s also part of your queer identity. But how are you doing now? Has Great Grief helped you to find yourself?
If it wasn’t for me being in this band since I was 17 years old, I would be very lost. For a while, this band sort of became my identity, which isn’t necessarily positive. But suffice to say, it has helped shape me into a better and kinder person.
I’m stressed out daily, being in two bands can be exhausting, but I’m incredibly grateful that I get to play music and have this platform to express myself. I really make sure not to take it for granted. I’m surrounded by amazing people, without them, I wouldn’t have much.
What future plans does Great Grief have at this point?
Create, play and prosper. Oh, and tour more.
To what dish (type of food) would you compare Great Grief, and why?
Oh, curry. A nice blend of spices, something sweet on the side, some brightly colored peppers, and a brick of dense tofu in there, well marinated in flavor. Chickpeas? Some real layers of flavor. And spicy enough to make one shit their innards out.