Category Archives: Interview

Blasphemer praising their Paraguayan Roots

Paraguay is one of those places that you can truly consider the South-American heartland. Full of hints of ancient civilizations, strange traditions and a spiritual mystique. It’s also one of those nations subjugated under colonial rule for centuries, and having walked the long road to democracy since 1811’s independence.

It’s also a rare country that has kept its original language. Guaraní is still spoken and at the core of the band Blasphemer. A once-upon-a-time studio project, now a full band that flies the Paraguayan flag proudly.

Band founder, leader, and around grateful dude Luis Battilana was happy to tell me more about his project, country and metal music.

Positivity, past and present

How is Blasphemer doing? How have things been going for you during this global pandemic?

Hello Stranger Aeons, a pleasure to be here, because here in Paraguay as in the whole world it has been quite difficult, so we have dedicated ourselves to rewriting the second album, but always keeping the Guarani stamp, in our Latin American countries it is very difficult conceiving a metal band but I think that is what gives it the magic of passion for what we do, on the other hand, what we have done is to go out more and it is about knowing our art more.

How did you guys get together and get started as a band and what are your biggest inspirations? 

It all started in 2011, my person here is the one who answers the interview (Luis Battilana). Guitarist and founder of the band, I wanted to play extreme metal so I decided to get together with session musicians to carry out this, the name came from the Sodom ep ” in the sign of evil “because at first, we were doing black-thrash metal, but over time I decided to talk about the history of my country, so the musical line also changed to melodic death metal because I considered that the melody with something extreme was a good driver to take our history as a country everywhere.

And the aspirations I believe that every band that considers their art for real and loves what they do, reach all possible places and that the message of music and visual concept reaches as many people as possible that translates into fans, and economic profit that In the case of Blasphemer I would like to continue offering better things with higher quality because joining an ancestral language with metal is a titanic challenge that requires hours of practice if you are not going to do it well better not do it, those are the aspirations of Blasphemer and continue in Europe shortly already.

You mention that Blasphemer started with session musicians, but now it’s a band that works together. When did it become that way and how did you meet like-minded musicians? 

In the middle of the pandemic haha. As the Chinese say: ‘crisis is equal to opportunity’. Everything became more about streaming and it was used to expand the music of Blasphemer more. I just got to know more people from different countries and that coincided with a band from Colombia, Fernando from Altars of Rebellion and another from Italy, Andrew Tower from Lahmia who really liked to join my ship. So this is 2021 and I already hope and I’m sure the album will come out, it will also attract a lot of attention that comes with being a band that sings in the original language. I managed to unite people from other countries.

Which bands inspire your sound as Blasphemer?

Many really, any band from classical music or rock and roll to the most brutal that can be, if it has a melody, vocal line, or arrangements that catches my attention, it is a direct source for me of inspiration for the music that Blasphemer develops, But always keeping in mind that you are looking to compete with other bands, to show that you also have your own essence and vision without copying anyone.

So Blasphemer sings in Guaraní, even calling your style thus, can you tell me what using this language means for you as a band? And can you give some background on it and where you guys are from?

Of course, first, we must start with the name. Many wonder, hey, why is the name in English, if you sing in Guarani? and I understand it but the public must also understand that artists or bands have a philosophy and why we put this or that name to the things that surround our art, the name was not only because of the EP by Sodom, but also because in 1767 the Jesuits were expelled from our country by the Spanish crown and it was forbidden to speak Guarani, leaving the person who will speak it as a heretic and a blasphemer before the church, so the name also evokes that rebellion against the dogmas or impositions of other people in the case of religions and politics that are a pest.

We call our style Guarmetal because of the fusion of Guarani with metal, we really want to be that 1% of bands within metal that come with a musical proposal that is different from the rest, so we decided that Guaraní is our seal and also carry our culture to all possible places, coming from the heart of America such as Paraguay, we were already tired of having to sing in English as everyone else does, so we value and respect the bands that break that mold and do it in their local language. Where do they belong because that means having a personality and above all their own identity, even more so if one talks about what concerns that country or area such as its history or important historical events, the history, and traditions of a people is the hallmark of one before the world.

You’ve released a full album in Guaraní, titled ‘Arasunu’. I’m curious what tales you tell about on this record?

In the first album Arasunu, historical events are recounted from the colonization to the last war we had as a Nation, which was the Chaco War that happened in the 30s, there was no line even when it was well defined of what historical line we wanted to handle because We really like our story so we choose the most important events in our opinion.

Now, that was 5 years ago when it was released and this year you released a new single. What can you tell me about that? 

It has been difficult jajajaja, as I said at the beginning of the interview it is our case coming from a country with many difficulties like Paraguay one of the things that delayed us the most to be able to create new material was that we had to prioritize work and academic issues for which to write material was made slowly, ‘Vapor cue’ was the first advance of ‘1811’, the second album, and it was a surprise that it was chosen in several countries, quite a liking for what we could notice, that song speaks of one of the most important naval battles of the Great War against the Brazilian Navy so I think we did a good job

What is the writing and recording process like for Blasphemer, does everyone have a specific role?

Well, all part of the guitar, when I create a melody or structure that I like, the next thing is to unite and polish it with the ideas of others to finally give it the body, then when the theme is ready, it is to take the history books and looking for an echo that we consider is in accordance with what we hear, sometimes it is quite difficult because there is a lot of material from our history but I always think we choose the best and it is according to the theme, I am in charge of creating the themes, the lyrics, and the concepts the other musicians who accompany me what they do is help me to refine the ideas, and it is recorded in our home studio and then they take everything to the studio where they are finally given all the necessary adjustments to be as it should be with our producer.

I’ve noticed that there are other bands playing Guarmetal. Which bands should people really check out?

If so, well for the moment, as far as Paraguay is concerned, we are the only ones who have released an album so far and soon the second one in Guarani, but other bands use our language but very timidly, because as I also mentioned above it is a titanic effort that requires hours to be able to merge both concepts and well to achieve a well done and interesting music, many use a maximum word or phrase, where there are other bands that also do everything in Guarani but from the Tupi branch, which is in Brazil, where there are like 2 or 3 very good exponents of the Truth. What people should hear or see I think that depends clearly and exclusively on how one’s art reaches people

I always believe that the most important thing is to achieve in the instrumental field the correct fusion of technique and melody more united to a lyrical concept that people grasp that is what makes it good, and secondly, to make that art reach people by moving one too. Today,  we have a great opportunity, which is that the networks allow us to reach many places, which was unthinkable in previous times. If you did not have a label, you had nothing and it was thrice as difficult today so I think we are in a pretty good time. It costs a lot, yes. But what doesn’t cost in this life, right?

So, I understand there are ‘Guarmetal’ bands from Brazil, correct? Which are they? 

That’s right, there are 2 that I know of, which is Arandu Arakuaa, who are great brothers of us, they make a metal groove but in Tupi Guaraní with highly recommended Brazilian folk elements, and the other is more of the Black metal line than It is Corubos that is more for people who like the more environmental Burzum, those 2 only bands are the ones that follow the line of metal in Guarani.

What sort of reception do you get in your own country? Is metal generally accepted and respected? Is there any form of censorship you have to take in account? 

Ough, quite difficult, when the first singles began to be released, I liked it a lot but also many people did not accept the fact that other people wanted to get out of the mold that the rock or metal that is made here is not in English, but that always was the case. There will be the passion and magic of the art that one makes depends on not listening to those opinions and always following what one’s heart and soul dictates to the music that one makes the more you show that you are genuine and love your art, the more true the purpose will be, If it is true, there will be moments that you do not believe to continue but when you start to see that it travels countries or more people share your art, there you will know that your effort and love of what you do is true and genuine. If not, focus on art.

Is there any censorship in Paraguay, can you sing about anything? 

No, that is the good thing where we are, nobody censors us in what we do or what someone here wants to speak in their art or music, what there is not is diffusion and support that is the most difficult thing in Latin American countries they see culture as something Without meaning or value in part it is due to the military dictatorships that existed from the 50’s until relatively recently that were the 90’s, some even still do not need to be a political scientist or specialist in politics to see the situation in Venezuela and Cuba. They are in a hole, the Latin reality for the subject of culture is really difficult because it has been implanted that it is unnecessary and also that it will never be of benefit to anyone.

What are the future plans for Blasphemer? 
Future plans are to go to Europe to continue with this, but the first thing is to release the second album, promote it to all possible places and see the reaction outside, we know that it is difficult but not impossible when one sets goals and objectives and pursues dreams. You fight for them, you don’t expect things to fall from the sky because I’m a good person or because I deserve it, no, if you deserve it, earn it based on effort, dedication, and goals, I’m going and the important thing is to finish this second album and come out now. 

Your next album is 1811. You mention a war against the Brazilian navy. Can you tell a bit more about this, because like the Chaco war, these are stories I simply don’t know about. I think many readers may also be unfamiliar with these events. Please, could you give some insights? 

This is the naval steam battle of vapor cue, that was the bloodiest battle against Brazil where our navy was unfortunately outnumbered by the Brazilian, and in order not to be taken the Paraguayan ships decided to sink them, the 2 wars that our Country had simply were epic, and with courage the battle of curupayty for example with 5,000 Paraguayan men fought against 20,000 allies and won, imagine they are stories and events that unfortunately our country and government is not interested in telling the world that is why nobody knows them if we had the gigantic entertainment infrastructure like hollywood there are thousands and thousands of stories and feats that it would take at least 30 years to cover even 40% of both wars.

If Blasphemer was a food, what would it be and why? 

jajaja this question is great !! I do not know if food, but if I would like it to be an energy bar, for when someone feels that they can no longer continue, they decide to eat a Blasphemer energy bar and say hey, I don’t have to abandon my dreams and goals by eating this I feel that I have the strength to continue more and more it is time to continue and not give up.

 

Arabia – Oman’s metal warriors

Metal pops up all around the world, but sometimes you find the scene can be surprisingly small in some ends of the world. Oman has a grand total of two metal bands. And yes, I asked my interviewee about it and he’s adamant that this is probably it. I’m talking about Shabeeb Al Haremi, frontman of Arabia.

Shabeeb currently lives in the UK, and he doesn’t make a secret of the fact that metal was the reason for him to move. Not that Oman is that strict, there was just no scene. He as eager to tell me about Arabia and though I’ve redone his words (Shabeeb has had a car crash and only has one functioning eye, so writing is a challenge), I hope his love for the music shines through in his words.

Get ready to dig into Oman’s very own Arabia.

Arabia, Arabian Blood, War, Metal

Hey, could you introduce yourself and tell me how Arabia got started?

My name is Shabeeb Al Haremi, frontman and founder of the black metal band Arabia from Oman. A nation in the Arabian Gulf and my bandmates names are:

Tarik Al HaremI – Guitar

Said Al Mahmoody – Keyboard

And ex-members:

Nasser Bahwan 

Tarik Abdul Rahman 

What got you into metal music in the first place?
Well, I used to be in boarding school when I was 13 years old, and one day I met a fellow student, and he made me listen to Iron Maiden. The music blew me away, and I never heard anything like it before. It gave me a crazy rush inside, and when I went back home to Oman, I tried looking for the record that I heard when I was in school, but at that time, metal music was not known that well. I had a friend who used to go to Europe for vacations, and he got it for me, so when I went back to the UK, I started just buying all sorts of metal bands, which is how I went deep in the music. I just wanted heavier music, and that’s how I got in extreme metal. I never used to know the styles. Anything heavy? Just buy it! I fell in love with it ever since.

Arabia Rocks

Arabia has relocated by now; what is the main reason for this, and where are you currently?
When we were here in Oman, I wanted to start a band, but there were no real metalheads at the time. So I tried so hard to find them, making flyers for in music stores and everyone who called me were into shitty stuff, like Bon Jovi and other bands that are nowhere near what I was looking for. Then I met Nasser Bahwan. At first, he liked things like Metallica, but I was trying to make music instead of playing covers, so we tried to do that, then my nephew got interested, and I started to teach him what I knew, and that’s the tritone, which others call the Devil’s note. When Said Mahmoody got amazed by the music, he wanted to try and join, and that’s how we first got together and just playing and nothing else than just making music. We got cheap recording equipment to build up the music and make a demo. It took so long to do, but we did it, and the recording was kind of fuzzy. After working so hard, we wanted to get gigs here in Oman, but everyone rejected us, claiming this is dark satanic music (Shabeeb finds this hilarious). We tried to send our stuff to local record labels and they rejected us too, so we had no choice but to leave Oman for the UK because we wanted to be heard. Anything to make that possible, so we left. That was in 2009. Now we are recording our upcoming album in Florida, ‘Where Evil Lies.’ The other three, we did those in England.  

Various bands from the middle-east have moved abroad, and some, like Saudi Arabia’s Al Namrood, stay put and work in anonymity against the ruling forces from within. What do you think about this situation?
Well, yeah. A lot did leave. It’s all because we are very passionate about music. Some bands from where I’m from had to do that. Others stayed in there because they couldn’t leave, such as Al Namrood. They’re good friends of mine. We met through the Internet, and they came over to see us for a couple of days. We had fun, but to me, they make their music by hiding and being low profile about it. But you know, metal is about standing your ground and doing whatever it takes to do what you love. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, it’s strict when it comes to metal, but it’s a risk you have to take and not get caught. In Oman, it’s cool, but you won’t get support from many people. I think Al Namrood is very brave to do this, but it’s a shame that you get arrested if caught. They are doing a great job by mixing our Arabic vibes with black metal. 

Can you tell me what concepts and stories you deal with in Arabia and what your origin means to you in the context of your music?
Well, the context of Arabia is based on Arabian wars. The past and the history of the invasions we had through the ages. This is basically what we sing about nothing against religion, or we would get in shit because we come from a Muslim country. Plus, we don’t believe in disrespecting any religion. Al Namrood is the opposite. They sing anti-Islam songs, and their music is about stuff from the Quran like their name. Namrood was the enemy of the prophet Ibrahim.

I understand in your music you put a lot of history and mythology. Can you tell me a bit about those stories or maybe give some examples for people like me not quite familiar with Oman and its past?
Well, the songs that we have are about the past in Oman. Some are about when Portugal came and invaded us in the 1500s, and the mythology of our past was about the pagan gods the Arabs use to worship before Islam. The gods were kind of similar to the Vikings and the Romans. Not much difference, but they don’t have a real storyline, like how the other mythologies do. Stories, like Hercules and stuff. That’s different because we Arabs used to believe in a creator back in the day, but we used to worship God through idols. There were no temples like the Greeks had; they used to just put the idols around the Kaba which is the direction of the Muslim for worshipping the one true God, which is the holy city of Mecca i

Your last release was the album ‘Arabian Blood’. When was it released, and how did you record and create this record back then?
‘Arabian Blood’ was released in 2010 after the ‘Black Pearl’ in 2007. We made the album in Liverpool, UK. We did the start at home and then in the studio, making it sound better by mastering the music and mixing it properly.  The demo of ‘Arabian Blood’ is on YouTube, just type: ‘arabia arabian blood album.’

How do you work when creating new music. Is someone taking the lead in it, or are their specific roles within the band?
Well, it’s me who starts everything in writing the music, then the band follows what I made and add into it till we like what we made and take it from there. I write, then we record and experiment by recording at home. Finally, we hit the studio to do perfect the music. 

Are you currently working on any new material, and where do you see this going in the future?
We are now working on recording the upcoming album, ‘Where Evil Lies.’ Our label will handle where we will be after that. Arabian dark records, it is called.

They found us on the internet, the label did, but also through metal mags such as Zero Tolerance UK and Metal Hammer Germany and other metal mags that interviewed us.  

I understand that there’s one other band from Oman, named Belos. They are still there, and I’m wondering how they are different and in what way there is censorship and the like in your country.
Belos is a gothic metal band. It’s only us two from Oman who play metal. I heard them on the net, but here in Oman, you can play such music. It’s just that it’s not recognized. Not many people listen to this type of music. They are more into hip hop and all sorts of shit. Belos, I don’t hear much about them… and I don’t know much of them. 

What was it like to start playing metal in Oman? Did you have things available, like instruments, rehearsal space, music, and all? What sort of response did you get from people?

Here in Oman, you can practice in places anywhere. Still, we prefer at home because we have more freedom to express ourselves, and playing here doesn’t lead anywhere, unless you are the type who just wants to stay in the same spot—just moving forward in improving the music without being heard being in the radio. They don’t care about metal music. If its the other stuff, you’d reach something, but not with metal, which is sad. We all want to have a metal scene here like in Dubai, but sadly it doesn’t work here. 

Why not?
There’s just not enough fans, too little support. I should be possible, but it has never worked out.

Arabia band metal

Are there any other bands, perhaps relatively unknown, active in Oman that make metal, which is currently not known? Or from neighbouring countries that you feel connected with?
Well, in Oman, it’s just Belos and us. You have more in Dubai, where the most recognized band is Nervecell. They’re an awesome death metal band. I know them too. You should check them out, and there are a couple of them in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia also. I’m only friends with Al Namrood because we play the same kind of black metal music.

What future plans does Arabia have?
The future of Arabia is just making music and playing around the world and in all kinds of places. Just keep making boiling metal music, bro!

If you had to describe Arabia as a dish, what would it be and why?
A dish? Well, that would give people nightmares. Let’s just say lots of bashed up brains with metal music! 

Maalstroom Interview

In recent years, the Dutch black metal scene has shown a number of prodigies. Young acts with a fresh approach to the iconoclastic genre, with little regard for purism and conservative views. During Roadburn, you’ve already been able to sample their wares throughout recent editions, but this year on Roadburn-Saturday (13th of April) they will unleash their full creative force with Maalstroom in the Patronaat.

Maalstroom, which translates as… well, maelstrom, is a cooperative piece, especially done for Roadburn, with band members from Terzij de Horde, Fluisteraars, Turia, Laster, Verwoed, Grey Aura, Witte Wieven, Verval, Nevel, Project Nefast, Svartvit and Hadewych. During the day you will first witness rituals by a number of these bands, followed by the commissioned piece itself. We had the pleasure to ask O. (Turia, Iskandr, Galg, Nusquama and others) and C. (Witte Wieven) about the project, the group of artists and what we can expect at Roadburn 2019.

Originally published and edited by Never Mind The Hype

Into the Maalstroom

How did the whole Maalstroom concept take shape?
O: Maalstroom sprung from an idea that Walter proposed. He felt that there’s a lot happening creatively with a group of relatively young bands and musicians, who are all creating ‘black metal’ in their own image. He then contacted Johan van Hattum (Terzij De Horde, red.) to address and connect a number of people with the question if they considered it possible to create a unique piece of music together for Roadburn and perform that during this edition. This happened last summer and obviously we were all interested.

It’s an enormous honour and privilege if a festival of such importance and renown gives you full confidence and the liberty to do this, even though it’s a young group of musicians. So we’ve been working on it ever since. Conceptually it is, at least to my eyes, a non-linear narrative about the conflictive nature between the monotonous life in a small town and the chaotic upheaval of living in a city, including all conflicting emotions this brings.

How do you even start realising something like this? And was the group of involved artists determined from the start?
C: Working with a larger group of musicians is obviously not the most practical format during writing, so we formed smaller groups and duos to start working on the core ideas of the piece, which we later connected. We found our inspiration in a fictional tale created by the more literary minds in our company. Based on musical ideas, we gathered some additional musicians to complete the formed groups. These are all people from the Dutch black metal scene, who are now involved in the execution of the piece.

New release by Laster:

Who exactly is involved in the project and how did you work on connecting the separate pieces of the performance into one? And do I understand correctly that part of the group has created it and part is involved purely for execution?
C: Some members of Turia, Terzij de Horde, Fluisteraars, Laster, Verwoed, Grey Aura, Witte Wieven, Verval, Nevel, Project Nefast, Svartvit and Hadewych are involved in Maalstroom. I think in the end, we’re all contributing to this project in a creative manner, whether that’s musically or visually. We did invite some guest musicians, of whom we are convinced they fit in well with this piece. Some people have been appointed to really watch the whole and the tension throughout the piece, though we took each other’s work into account during writing. This has worked out pretty well and I believe the four parts of the piece flow together seamlessly.

Turia

Turia

All of this actually sounds like it requires some serious project management. How do you get all of this coordinated?
O:
Yes, this was indeed quite some project management. That’s of course always the case with bands, but on a smaller scale. Some people take the lead in planning and coordinating, others are more involved with the contents and musical execution. It really requires a lot of talking, meeting, and organizing.

Could you share a bit more about the theme and how it all connects?
O: 
As C. explained already, we started from a sort of narrative, a text that was written on beforehand by a couple of members. The musical whole follows this as a non-linear narrative, which makes it easier to make choices in music and visual design. More might be announced beforehand, but I would prefer not to give away too much at this point. The continuous theme is the process many of us have experienced: moving from a smaller village or municipality to a larger city or instead, moving back. The peculiar interaction between the boring familiarity of the known and the overstimulation of being in an anonymous mass. This may sound a bit pretentious now, but I think it will be pretty recognizable when it is combined with the lyrics.

Recent release by Grey Aura:

Was the choice for Patronaat one you made or was it simply practical?
O:
 After Walter initiated this project, it was pretty soon clear that this would take place in the Patronaat. That’s the choice made by Roadburn, so it’s not like we asked for it. But obviously, this is something we are quite happy with: it’s a beautiful and intimate venue and it will be the last time Roadburn uses it. That makes it an even greater pleasure for us to be able to play there.

Now, Roadburn has a pretty open-minded audience that appreciates innovation. Is the response positive to the project elsewhere, for example in the black metal scene itself, which is not always as tolerant of innovation?
O:
The response we’ve received has been supportive and positive, at least everything that I did hear about. The project consists of people who’ve released plenty of records and played numerous shows, so the connection to the black metal scene would appear evident. It is important though to state that we do not intend to represent the Dutch black metal scene in any way. We’re not ‘the definite product’ or ‘best of’, but a group of artists that follow their own artistic vision. If people feel that this music should be different, we can only encourage them to pursue their vision. But a backlash? I don’t think so.
C: I feel the same way. The project is definitely not meant to be a showcase of the Dutch black metal scene or to be representative of it, but rather intended as a performance that shows a new branch of the genre.

I would like to ask you what connects you as a group, apart from the project and playing a form of black metal. What are your common grounds?
C:
I honestly can’t put my finger on what our ‘common grounds’ are, but I think we all have a knack of experimentation within the music. Whether that’s in sound, song structure or themes, and unorthodox instruments.
O: I think it’s what C. says, that we mostly find each other in the far corners of what can be called black metal. There are the clear black metal elements, such as tremolo picking and blast beats, but also influences from psych and post-punk show-up. This open attitude enables us to be pretty liberal in our creativity, even though some of us only just met.

I mentioned the black metal scene before, and whether intended or not, Maalstroom is affecting its definition. How could you capture what black metal is or what it means in this context?
O:
 Black metal is very important as a musical tradition to each and every one of us. Most of us have grown up listening to it and each is active in the scene in one way or another in the Netherlands, which I think is currently a very healthy scene. I don’t think Maalstroom really shapes or impresses on that genre in any way. Apart from, maybe, the fact that these are all young bands with individually different approaches to the genre. If you happen to follow some of these bands for a longer period of time, you’ll probably appreciate it. And if you don’t, you should probably see something else. We’re not there to fill in anyone else’s expectations or direct them, that conformist idea conflicts with what black metal means to me.

As artists, you mostly knew each other before you started. Has working together and finding inspiration changed something in this group? Do you inspire or influence each other in some way?
O:
 The cooperation is working very well so far. I think that in itself is an inspiring way to bring people together. In the end, we’ll be getting on the stage together and everyone will do their part to make this a special occasion. That ensures a connection and I’m certain this will persevere after Roadburn as well, even though it was already there before. If this will take other shapes or forms in the future, time will tell.
C: I really enjoy working with this group. It has really helped me find a lot of creativity within this project and I’m really proud of the piece I’ve been a part of, musically and thematically. What I can say about that is: expect something atmospheric. We’ve all experienced each other’s creative process, so I expect some of us will explore this further, perhaps in a different form, after Maalstroom.

Will Maalstroom be a one-time thing?
O: 
This project will be a one-time affair, because it’s a massive challenge to turn this into something beautiful for Roadburn. I think that will be enough…

Can you maybe share a little bit of what visitors can expect during Roadburn?
O: 
What visitors can expect is an hour of high-quality black metal, approached in different forms but very consistent in itself and with the style of music the joint bands represent. At least, that is what we strive for. The rest of the day is very self-evident; all Dutch black metal bands, one after the other. The rest visitors will have to see during the day for themselves.

So what about the Maalstroom beer that will be available at Roadburn?
O:
I’m afraid I can’t say much about the beer yet, as I haven’t tasted it yet. But the brewery that made it, Nevel, produces numerous fantastic beers so our expectations are high. It’s made with herbs grown locally, so in that sense, it connects to our background: from the villages and towns to the big city from the farmlands to the cups of Roadburn visitors. Pretty cool.

What acts do you hope to catch during Roadburn?
O:
Personally I’m really looking forward to seeing Triptykon with a full orchestra, Pharmakon, Have a Nice Life, and Peter Brötzmann.
C: I would love to see Molasses, Anna von Hausswolff, Heilung, Lingua Ignota, Treha Sektori, and Craft. But of course, I’ll be heading to see Drab Majesty for some dancing, yet mostly I will just enjoy what I run into.

Svarrogh: Bulgarian folklore, history and ways of looking back

Distance may make the heart fonder, and when it comes to Svarrogh this seems to be the case. Multi-instrumentalist Dimo Dimov has been living in Germany for years now but returns to his native Bulgaria with his main project Svarrogh frequently. It’s not his only project, but perhaps the one closest to himself.

After a long time, this year finally saw the release of the latest record of Svarrogh, titled ‘Aether’. A record out of time and out of its time, but that’s in many ways what the band is all about. It’s the 6th full-length in the band’s 20-year existence and a true work of art for those who love pagan metal or folk metal with deeper levels.

Dimov is also a bit of an expert on paganism but turns out to not be a blind follower of stories from our past. His views are quite critical, in fact, spiced with realism and a sense of wit as I found out. We talked about his work, blending metal and folk, retracing your past and, most importantly, how to treat that past when we think it must have been better back then.  Thanks to Dimo for his time and honest answers.

History, Folklore, Svarrogh

My first question would be, how are you doing and how has this pandemic been for you. Has it affected your artistic endeavours?

Hello! I am doing quite fine, but yes, the pandemic has affected plans for concerts (but not for Svarrogh, as we don´t have a live line-up, it affected the gigs of my other projects Alto Lago and 16 Strings Under) as well as personal travel plans very much.

Moreover, the administrative restrictions to combat the pandemic have proven that art and culture is very much system- and life relevant, and not just a “nice-to-have” side phenomenon of society. We need culture and art, otherwise, our life´s are reduced only to a very existential, almost survivalist form of being.

Svarrogh's Dimo Dimov

You released ‘Aether’ in February, I assume the follow up didn’t go as planned. Can you tell me a bit about his album and its creation?

The album “Aether” has been a long journey so far. I started recordings in 2009, then followed some turbulent years, Svarrogh also even seized activity – and finally, I decided to mix, master and release it in 2020, and to finally close this old chapter.
It is actually quite different than any other Svarrogh album. On the one side it goes back to the Folk/Black Metal roots, but also
merges the Neofolk/Post Folk phase (if I have to use categories), so it somehow closes the circle logically. Overall the production sounds raw, even after having put a lot of effort in the mix and especially in the arrangements of many different instruments, such as the drums and piano. Interestingly, this album contains much less Tamboura which is typical for Svarrogh and has been used extensively on every record since (and also on gigs).

Overall the release is a real relief. My ambitions to be recognized are however not very high and I am not part of a scene or community at all. I just want to do music for myself and when the feedback is good, I can´t complain. Many leftover ideas of the album were channelled 2012 into a side project called Moon Orchard, containing instrumental compositions, but they can be linked semantically and atmospherically to “Aether”. Because the music industry changed dramatically in the past few years, a digital release was primarily aimed for, however, a limited edition of 100 copies has just been printed and is available.

What can you tell me about Aether, and the stories shared on that record?

Aether is a conceptual album where everything revolves around a very aetherial, surreal and atmospheric perception of nature and natural mysticism combined with folkloristic motives and the amazing poetry of Ezra Pound creating unexplainable, naturalistic, eerie landscapes (somewhat Nietzschean as well) where you have to sleep with lynxes amid a moon orchard, where elm trees are from iron and marble or where the sun is dragging her stars among time and space – as Ezra Pound stated: “Moth is called over mountain, the stars are not in her counting. To her, there are just wandering holes.”

But in the same way, it is also a surreal depiction of Slavic mythology where you have a being like the firebird, where eerie forest creatures are trying to deceive your spaced out cognition and where apples are treated as gold treasures. So yeah, the lyrics are quite psychedelic although I am not a stoner dude.

On your earlier notion of culture: culture, to me, is a word that embodies much. I think. It’s an organic part of our ‘living together’, but also of where we come from. What is your view on this? And why is it important to you to share, through your art, the Bulgarian/Slavic culture?

Sorry, I was thinking in much simpler terms, in fact, your first argument was right. I mean, culture in its artistic, metaphoric, metaphysical, crea(c)tive and educational form. I didn’t mean culture as anything related to ethnicity or a nation. It is not important, I just view it as interesting to share my views and interpretation of Bulgarian history, ethnography and music, due to nostalgic reasons and to represent (in a way) a kinda under-represented nation, that is not very famous with its true beauties.

And of course, to present new paths of musical expression, by modernizing certain folkloristic elements and even creating some sort fusion with other musical styles coming back to your statement “where we come from”: Yes, I think it is in our very nature to seek identity (be it in culture, music, fashion, whatever), and especially in a very confused and globalized world, heritage and traditions play a very important role to a healthy personal identify development, but in the same time discarding the politicization, backwards mentality and right-wing romanticisms.

I like your notion of culture. Though I understand how you used it in the first answer, it made me immediately think about how it so much is a part of us organically. How it shapes us and is part of our daily lives. Hence my question. Your interpretation echoes how Einar Selvik often explains his work as not romanticizing, nor reviving the past, but taking lessons and inspiration from it for today. Is that your approach to Svarrogh too?

Yes, I like the explanation also. You have to keep in mind, that neopaganism and any yearning for a past that you have never experienced may come from the inability to cope with the modern world which itself, of course, is a confusing and disappointing (but then please give back your higher life expectancy and central heating). However, this inability reoccurs in almost every generation since the beginning of time. People who are dissatisfied with the present are either progressives or the opposite, and if you put them in a time machine 1000 years back, they will be still unhappy. People seek for peace and liberation, which is something that they don´t have and this is where romanticism and critique to the modern world start. But you can´t hide in your basement and read backwards ideology such as Julius Evola over and over again. To put it in very simple terms, Svarrogh itself, of course, was very different when I was younger and was engulfed by self-given constraints that had to fulfil a sort of neopagan romanticism, but now it matured and it acts even more as inspiration and as a bridge between timeless folklore and modernity. Especially Bulgarian folklore and mythology are very inspiring as they very often blend seamlessly with nature and i want to capture this specific yearning and folkloristic tragic which is rooted very deep in the Bulgarian soul, which had to bear a lot of suffering, hardship and scarceness. But on the other hand, folklore has always a fantasy or dream world aspect to it and acts as a temporary escape from everyday life.

Dimo Dimov banging out some Svarrogh tunes

On Metal Archives, I fond listed that you are inspired by Slavic heathenism, Bulgarian folklore and Tengriism. These are topics I know little about. Do you consider your this pure inspiration for your art or is your art a vehicle to share about these topics? And could you tell a little about these things? They are not well known to me and I’m interested in your view on these.

Tengrism is an Altaic, Mongolian religion whereas Tangrism is the naturalistic religion of the Proto-Bulgarians between the 6th and 9th century before Christianization. I was always very fascinated by the first Bulgarian (Danubian) empire which is a multicultural fusion of southern Slavs and Proto-Bulgarians. The difference is that the Slavic pantheon is polytheistic and can be somehow compared to the germanic or nordic one (Perun vs. Thor, Svarog vs. Odin, this, of course, may come from the Varyags) whereas Tangra itself is the ancient and eternal sky (the sky, not the sun plays the most important role) and embodies more shamanistic and ritualistic forms. However, I am not a neopaganist, nor is Svarrogh´s music. As I stated, I use these themes to create atmosphere.

So, just to get some clarity on this, the original religious views are much more in line with harmony with nature? It’s often hard to see that in the Germanic/Nordic pantheon and mythology, as the stories are now told through the lens of Christian writers. But I do know the Baltic pantheon is really very closely related to nature and the philosophy of it focuses very strongly on balance and harmony with all these elements. Embedded in daily life so to say, of our ancient ancestors. Is that how I should see it?

Maybe, I assume so. I am not a religious nor a very spiritual person, I just think that this earth has such amazing beauties, lakes, mountains, forests, meadows which are very related to our yearning for peace and liberation. Svarrogh also doesn´t have any religious aspect, if any, then rather a symbolist one related to folklore (which has pagan elements). And music can resemble feelings and thoughts which you can find in nature, by a particular atmosphere, for example, the Tamboura, reminding you of shepherds and meadows, guitar riffs which sound and smell like wind, rain or misty mountain valleys. Also, moving to Germany in 1992 as a child, created a sort of vacuum and nostalgia, that I tried to fill with Svarrogh ever since. A big inspiration has always been the Rodopi mountains in South Bulgaria, I really recommend you to visit this place that can be a journey in time. Germany itself offers also amazing landscapes (the Alps, Rhoen Mountains, Black Forest, etc.) and maybe a part of my mentality is already German in a sense.

When we played in Lithuania in 2007, I totally understand what you mean. Baltic people are very rooted in their culture. I just remember the performance of Kulgrinda and their evocation of the son “Saulala Motula, uztekek uztekek”.

Dimo in an acoustic setting.

How does the form of inspiration work in your writing and recording process? Where do you start and how do you create music for Svarrogh? I’m also curious how you got into this kind of music and how you transition between folk and metal styles in your work.

Well, I started listening Heavy and extreme metal as a kid and then Viking, pagan and folk metal, when I first heard Nokturnal Mortum´s ‘Nechris’t, I was blown away by the fusion of very harsh black metal and gentle Slavic folklore. Now, I know that NM are just a bunch of pathetic nationalist idiots, supporting Ukrainian terrorists.

The music for Svarrogh usually starts with the basic song arrangement, chords and guitar riffs and I try to do the combination of guitars, tamboura and bass as polyphone as possible without getting lost in complexity. Tamboura fits very well with electric guitar and adds a very folkish taste to a rock or metal riff regarding the non-metal phase of Svarrogh, the songwriting was much more difficult because it was non–conventional for me and although the musicality was simpler on ‘Balkan Renaissance’ or ‘Temple of the Sun’, you have to play much cleaner, there must be more room and space tones and keep the rhythm section as simple as possible on those two albums, as well as later with ‘Yer Su’, the Tamboura was the most important instrument, on ‘Aether’ it has less focus

Yet, I feel there is a clear balance in your sound now and to me, there is also a very natural connection between folk and black metal. How do you feel about that?

Thank you, this has always been my intention, although Svarrogh had a clear neofolk non-metal phase 2006-2010. In fact, I feel that most music styles are very interchangeable if you break down the songs to their baseline (especially in simple chord progressions). It just the different instruments which add colour and define a specific style.

Also, you have mentioned NM and regressive use of tradition by certain entities. Yet, you have founded a pan-European pagan magazine. I am curious about your take on how paganism fits in our modern world in a positive and perhaps progressive manner?

Yes, I found a Pan-European pagan magazine named Svarga in 2009 (but then had to drop it after 3 issues due to lack of time) but I can do that just out of interest for specific themes without supporting regressive ideas or the “conservative revolution”. In my view, there is no such thing as paganism and it wouldn´t fit. I regard that as a very symbolist idea in order to: preserve nature and the environment as well as to be aware of history, folklore and traditions (which would be a big pity if they were lost). But that´s it. Nothing more.

About traditions, I agree it is a shame we lose them but sometimes they just lose their relevance. I think it is like that with everything. If it doesn’t fit our worldviews, like a quite uncomfortable celebration we have in the Netherlands, it is time to let go.

Lets put it very frankly: This world is very dynamic and change is very often inevitable. Thus, in a very generalized way, we have the two antagonist powers which drive humanity forward (in some way you can put here Jordan Peterson vs. Slavoj Zizek). So change is important, but we have to be careful that this change doesn´t eradicate valuable things that have a high value for our minds as humans. Also putting a pantheon above your head is just another “holding-to-something”-mindset (but everyone should do whatever makes them happy, I just speak for myself).

Take the Bulgarian Kukeri for example: In the last 20 years, this tradition (the masked rites for the welcoming of spring originating from the Thracians) experiences a boost in terms of social attention and interest. That´s great, and it is mostly accredited to the fact of economic and cultural recovery in Bulgaria.

On the other hand – many paganists (especially in the metal scene) deny (or don’t admit) the influence of Christianity in Europe. So when you want to go back to some pagan fantasyland you forget the fact, that Christianity shaped not only the European continent (in negative as well as in positive ways) but also our society and mindset. To put it short: I am a strong opposer of fanboy-ideology, either this or that like in a football game. Live is too interesting
to be one-sided, it is much more of a fusion. By the way, Tangrism was the official religion in pre-Christian Danube Bulgaria (681-865) and of the ruling caste, whereas the Slavic polytheistic religion was not suppressed (there is a theory of relatively good religious freedom in the empire), but pushed away from public life.

What can I say else, I am a geoscientist and not dogmatic about this topic. It´s just very intriguing.

What do you hope listeners take away from the music you release with Svarrogh? Like, I feel your motivation to create now comes from a deeper drive.

Very simply, I want listeners to enjoy the atmosphere. I don´t have the motivation to persuade others from my worldview. 🙂

Are you much connected to the scene in Bulgaria at the moment? Are there bands you recommend?

Not so much, but I have some good friends that play in bands that i like very much. For example Demonism (Black Metal), Voyvoda (Post Punk), Dimholt (Black Metal) and Corvus Records from Sofia who releases very interesting stuff. What I can recommend else is: Khanъ (interesting folk metal), Kayno Yesno Slonce, Vrani Volosa, Kayno yesno slonce (atmopheric ambient folk music).

What are currently your plans for the future (in a virus-free future of course)?

I am working on new material right now, live gigs will be anyway impossible. Also, I am working with my 2 bands Alto Lago (Stoner Rock) and 16 Strings Under (Folk) – there I hope it will be possible to play live in 2021, post-covid tour.

Do you maybe want to share a bit more about these projects?

Alto Lago exists since 2013 and consists of Max Marquardt (formerly in the German Pagan Black Metal band Helfahrt) and Raphael Schütze (also known from the German atmospheric band Tav). We play a mixture of stoner punk rock, somewhere between Kyuss, Monster Magnet, Solstafir and Motorhead.

16 Strings Under is a side project, mainly based on 2 tambouras, and is basically a mixture of Balkan Folk, Folk and Americana.

My final question is: if Svarrogh was a type of food, what would it be and why? ( I have been told this is a difficult question haha).

Uuh that’s though! It would be a roasted goose or something. Haha.

Is there anything I should have asked but didn’t you’d like to share?

We live in digital times and the physical releases on CD have completely lost significance. Nevertheless, we decided to release. ‘Aether’ on CD, limited edition 100 copies. But from now on we will move to vinyl for the future releases. That is actually growing again, good to see. In this regard, I am super old-fashioned and I don´t think that all music should be digital. Moreover, it is a jungle nowadays and of course, digitization simplified processes of recording (which is good! although analogue technique and tapes have a great sound quality, nobody wants to cut and glue tapes) and publishing, but that generated a flood of music as musicians somehow have a narcissist notion which drives them to share their music. And unlike printed books, CDs are dying, because you would still rather read on real paper (which is good for the eyes), but most of the time you listen to music from your smartphone, Spotify and so on.

 

Lovidalf Ranemmak VI about his creation: the genre of Ordo Fantet

Music is a world of visionaries, and some of them are wildly misunderstood or not even seen.  Blame it on convenience or simple algorithms that guide us through the online wasteland, it does let a lot of great stuff go to waste. Call it outsider music if you will, but the most fascinating sounds can be found by those who look a bit deeper. Through thematic digging in online archives,  through one of his projects, I found one of those exceptional musicians. Lovidalf Ranemmak VI is one of those projects that are hard to understand. Lovidalf is an individual, but to be honest it’s more an artistic entity… The man who created his very own music genre called Ordo Fantet.

Now, Lovidalf has many projects and for the sake of mystique, we shall refer to him by this alias here. Inspired by game music, but more so by a classical training in music and fascination for bygone times, he created a style that may be closest related to dungeon synth and renaissance music. And to provide a corpus to this style, he has started a range of projects so numerous that one would be challenged to list all of them (he insists he has no problem with that).

Lovidalf is convinced it seems, as I conclude from our interactions online, that his style is not particularly interesting. Neither is he. He is wrong, but it speaks about intent that he’s doing it all anyway, dedicating his life to a remarkable creation.  I want to thank him for his time and hope that this interview will shed some light on his voluminous work. Enjoy!

As I had published this on Echoes & Dust I received some messages from the artist in question, due to a statement I made regarding the number of projects. I considered, based on his words, he would not have a full overview. He disagreed heavily with that tongue-in-cheek remark. Also based on a typo, the term ‘Fantet’ was exchanged with ‘Cantet. I hope to have rectified these here. I also would like to state that, going through many of the pages and identities of the artist, I have not been able to verify many of the statements made. Not only does the artist have many fictional identities, a lot of band members appear to be fictional too.  Due to the elaborate nature of this invented narrative, I have some reservations about how ‘natural’ this is. I decided the music is worthy of attention. 

Escapism, Ordo Fantet and Happiness

How are you doing? How has the pandemic been for you as a Polish artist abroad? 

The pandemic was very epic for me. At the beginning, back in 2019, I had to leave France, back to my parents in Moscow. Also, I had to postpone many of my projects, because my studio was closed for quarantine. I am not allowed to be in my studio, but I am very much allowed to pay taxes on it… In general, I am bankrupt this year.

So, I’m particularly curious about your path towards the artist you are now. The person behind a variety of projects and a whole genre, if I may so. How did you get so interested in this style and medieval times? 

I became interested in the Middle Ages at the age of seven or eight, when my grandmother brought me to her homeland in France. My grandmother has a dad from France (Aquitaine), a mom from Poland. In this story, there is a whole historical novel that stretches from the time of the Napoleonic wars. As a result, for the fact that my Polish ancestors fought on the side of Napoleon against Russia, they were arrested and sent into exile in Russia. So, my genealogy ended up in the land of bears and vodka. On my mother’s side, my German, Swedish and Finnish origin.

Therefore, as a child, I travelled with my parents to many places of their birthplace. I was in France when I saw ancient castles, especially Aquitaine, but not far from Paris there are mesmerizing, beautiful places. 

Who are your musical inspirations? And what instruments do you actually play yourself? 

In Poland, at the age of five, my parents sent me to a music school, violin class. A little later, I myself entered the classical guitar class, and from the age of eleven, I became interested in old stringed instruments such as gittern, viele, rebec, citole, medieval harp and all kinds of lutes. Now, I have dozens of medieval instruments in my collection. 

When I found myself in Russia and transferred to a Russian music school, I became interested in orchestral classical music, especially the Russian school of the “Mighty Handful” represented by César Cui, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. So at the age of eleven, I was already composing an incomprehensible symbiosis of medieval and orchestral music, which I later named Ordo Fantet.

I have always taken inspiration in music from books. At about 10 years old I began to write small stories and poems myself. And after reading a series of books by David Eddings, the Elenium, I myself have already invented my own fantasy universe, which was more like a real historical novel than, for example, Tolkien’s. By the way, I read Tolkien much later.

Regarding musical instruments, I don’t really like the word “multi-instrumentalist”, but I have to write it in the description, because it takes a very long time to list all the instruments I play;) My whole life is music, I wake up in the morning and instead of weights I take guitar or lute, or sit down at drums with tambourines … And then grab kettlebells and swords … ahaha

Ok, so tell me about Ordo Fantet. What is its musical origin and what is the relation to the dungeon synth genre?

Ordo Fantet is symbiotic. A symbiosis of medieval music and orchestral symphonies. Fantet can be in minor (sad) and major (funny). The main difference from other existing genres is the fantasy context. Both in music and poetry. There are huge differences from dungeon synth, or rather the only thing that makes Ordo Fantet in common with dungeon synth is the use of a synthesizer on some compositions. But mostly, Ordo Fantet is performed on live medieval and orchestral instruments. Plus, Fantet uses vocals, both growling and pure male and female.

How big is this genre? You told me that this is really a micro-genre, but what other artists should people check out for example? 

The Ordo Fantet genre mainly consists of my side projects or projects with a girlfriend of mine, a minstrel from France. For example, if in a true Ordo Fantet, no electric guitars with distortion or other overdrive are acceptable, then we have projects where, for example, I mix symphonic black metal with elements of Ordo Fantet, or funeral doom. Most of the artists in this underground genre can be found by the #ordofantet tag for example on the same bandcamp.

You work with numerous alter egos, which fits with the roleplaying that clearly is a big inspiration to you. Is Lovidalf Ranemmak your primary one, and can you tell me a bit more about him? 

As for my large number of projects, with my alter ego, everything is simple. Each of my projects contains some differences. For example, somewhere it is musically, somewhere it is pure ordo fantet, somewhere mixed with dark ambient, somewhere there is a lot of medieval folk, and somewhere it is only in a different conceptual approach. For example, will a dungeon synth on the Elder Scrolls, or other game universes. Or space synth, or the eclecticism of the 60s of America, etc. That is why I always create a new project for my new ideas. I’m a non-commercial, I don’t need all these bureaucratic contracts with labels, and other freeloaders, I work for music, not money.

And I object to sculpting a new genre on each album, like Mortiis, when he had dark dungeon music, and after that there was a pop disco for drug addicts;) I don’t accept that! Therefore, many, including my iconic ones, call me Alexander Dumas in the world of music, because he had an incredible number of books, and I have an incredible number of albums and projects! 😉 ahahah

Lovidalf Ranemmak VI is my main pseudonym, my main character. Here, too, everything is simple, Lovidalf is the name of one of the NPCs from the Elder Scrolls, from the very first part, which is called Arena, I received this game as a gift at the end of 94, from my first computer. Arena is my first love and the first RPG game in my life. Ranemmak, this is my mother’s transformed surname, Reinecke, in my made-up language (Kell-Galluish from my fantasy universe, the main dialect of the inhabitants of Fractria).

Going further on that, I feel by checking your socials, that your commitment to Ordo Fantet goes beyond music to a lifestyle. You seem to really embrace this identity in a day-to-day approach? 

In fact, Ordo Fantet is just music, strange, incomprehensible to many, but it’s just music. But my way of life, yes, maybe it’s already epic! 😉

Maybe I’m crazy, but I live according to the principles of LCSO – (Le Chevaliers Scolastique Ordre) I live in poverty, I don’t pursue fame, I don’t do PR and advertise my work, I just live like a knight-monk, I do reconstruction, sword fencing, I write books and music and play computer games. I don’t need rich apartments, a cool car, I don’t have a car at all, for that I have a gorgeous collection of swords and musical instruments, and this is quite enough for me for my happy life. I’m an escapist.

Which games do you primarily derive inspiration from? 

About computer games. Until 2014, I just adored The Elder Scrolls and the entire universe. But after working a little at Bethesda as a writer for lore, I realized that a lot would change in the future game and I didn’t like it. Therefore, gradually, very slowly, I began to work on my role-playing game, which will be in my fantasy universe – Codex Draggriffe.

You make a lot of music, so how does your creative process look like and what is your way of determining what fits into which project best? 

I write music every day, practically I record only when the material is going to be a full or mini album. It all depends on my mood and state of health. Here, the thing is that earlier for the cover of my albums I had to ask permission to use the art I liked, now from January 1, 2020, when my parents presented me with a graphic tablet, I have been drawing covers for my already released albums.

So now, I draw a lot, although I don’t know how to draw, and the last time I painted was at school. Although, at school, my knights and dragons liked a lot …

I understand you also produce black metal and other types of music, what other projects are you working on and what is currently your primary focus?

Black metal, but not all. For example, for me this genre was the personification of non-commercial and original music. Unfortunately, today this genre has turned into a pile of dung, with its posers and merchants who write music not for the sake of music, but for the sake of populism and money. Unfortunately.

I, on the other hand, stick to rawness and originality in my black metal projects. Landmarks for the black 90s, when there was still gunpowder …

You also frequently address your writing. What sort of writing have you one and where can one find your work? Do you consider your music and writing a ‘united piece of art’?

Yes, my music comes entirely from my books, my universe. But, at first, I still tried to write in French, when in my childhood I lived with my grandmother in France, but later I gave up this idea, because I wrote with a lot of mistakes, to be honest, and now I do not speak French very well, although I know German well and Latin. At one time, I was very fond of studying the Old French language, as well as Hochdeutsche Dialekte. Now all my books and stories are written in Russian and Polish. I still have to print, there is not enough money for this, sponsors are needed. But I myself read my books on my YouTube channel.

You also mention a lot of cooperative works, for example with Swiss musicians on the project Trobar Clus. Do you travel a lot or how do you realize this sort of projects? Can you tell me about your collaborations?

Trobar Clus is one of the projects in which I am introduced as a session musician. In fact, I don’t have as many projects in metal music as it might seem. I can name it.

Ok, so my biggest question is how you maintain all of this. All the pages, all the socials, all the projects. Like, how do you get the time for all this? 

I don’t have enough time. Therefore, I have a work schedule for every day. I have not officially worked for a long time, as is customary for normal people. In my life I worked as a music teacher at a state music school, I was also a teacher at home, for a long time I worked in music stores, where I sold classical musical instruments as well as guitars and synthesizers. I even worked for Bethesda, the one that produced the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series of games.

Now, I will never go to work for the “owner” who has the right to humiliate you, having only the status of the employer, but not the name of the crown or the rank of lord, in Russia, unfortunately, the law on employment is very clumsy, and there is a lot of injustice with regard to payment wages and working day. Therefore, I put all my savings into my studio. Unfortunately, for a year now, my studio has not been working, and now I have really very difficult financial days. Nevertheless, I compose music, drink cheap wine, write book material, wave a sword in the forest and play various role-playing games, I am happy in my own way! 😉

What are the future plans for you as an artist?

I have plans, all the same that have always been. Compose material, for books, for musical projects. And I will continue to draw covers for my albums. I have a lot in my book, taken from medieval and renaissance poetry. Including Dutch legends like Vrouwtje van Stavoren or Beiaard and Grutte Pier! But basically, my main character is a knight monk, his guardian angels in the form of generous hares and Reintje de Vos! 😉 ahahah

If Lovidalf Ranemmak VI was a dish, what would it be and why that?

As for the dish, I can’t even think of anything. But I really love venison meat on a fire under wine sauce with garlic and a lot of French oak wine !!! ;))

Thank you Guido Segers! For your attention to my unpopular person.  For your interview.Take care of yourself from any illness, all the best!

 

 

 

 

Automb pays homage to the dark on Chaosophy

Life sometimes catches up with bands and writers alike. Automb split up shortly after this interview was completed. Danielle Evans is continuing with a solo project, named Stridskvinna. Serge Streltsov has started his own band, named Selfgod. Yet, the album ‘Chaosophy’ stands as a great record, unfortunately without a follow-up in the future. 

Black metal is and always has been a genre revolving around the darker themes. Dark has many faces and by now we should know better than to consider the dark evil because some forces in the universe just are. Automb sees this clearly and pays homage to one of them on their album ‘Chaosophy’.

Without chaos there is no order and vice versa, it’s one of those facts of life we sometimes forget. Without restrain, there is no freedom either. Yet, limitations of our time hit bands hard and Automb is one of those. Their album is an absolute gem and worthy of recognition, but without the ability to tour and promote a record, not much happens. Luckily, I received a copy of the cassette release through Knekelput and discovered the powerful, yet compact and focused sound of this band. Originally a side-project next to Necrophagia for band member Serge Streltsov, now the band from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is the focus of him and comrade in arms Danielle Evans, supported by drummer Scott Fuller (Morbid Angel, Annihilated).

Even better, they were willing to answer some of my questions, which I hope you’ll enjoy. Thanks to Serge and Danielle for their time.

Automb and the Laws of Chaos

First, how is Automb doing and how have you been treated by the global pandemic? Did you have many gigs fall through or did you manage to salvage something from this period?

The pandemic has been tough for us the same way as it for any other band. We had to cancel tours, but luckily got to play 2 gigs during it. Other than that it’s been a very slow year for us. All the time went to writing the new album.

How did Automb get started and what are your musical backgrounds (and how did you arrive in the realm of black metal)?

Serge: Automb was originally supposed to be my black metal side project back when I was playing guitar for Necrophagia. I had all this material that was basically ‘too black metal’ for Necro and plus I always played stuff like that prior to Necrophagia.

I started playing guitar at 13 and drums at 16. I’ve been into metal since I was 8. I got into black metal in my mid teens after being into Death Metal for some time. It was the next logical step. Then years later me and Danielle wanted to make our own band so all the pieces fell into place. After the passing of Killjoy and Necrophagia being done, Automb became a full-time project.

Danielle: I started playing the guitar when I was 9 and fell in love with it. Then in high school, I went on to play in a program called “School of Rock” that had students learn classic rock songs and then perform them together at shows, which was awesome. That really gave me the confidence I needed in my guitar skills, as well as vocals. Then in college, I received a minor in music and learned tons of theory and classical guitar. Then in my second year of college, I met Serge and we formed Automb. I got into black metal in high school and Automb was the first band I was ever in so it was the first time I actually played black metal, aside from learning covers prior to that.

This year, you’ve released the fantastic ‘Chaosophy’ album, following the 2018 release of ‘Esoterica’. What happened in the time in between in ways of band development?

We wanted to progress and improve songwriting. Our goal was to focus on the aggressive side of the material that was successful on ‘Esoterica’. The objective is always to outdo the previous record. So we focused on the things we do best.

So, tell me about this album; its concept, creation, recording, warts and all?

The idea was to focus on the darker side of spirituality in this concept. We wanted to focus on one side rather than representing many points of view like on the previous record. But yet still within this concept which is ‘Chaos’ we got to include interpretations from many different cultures, For those of you that heard Dissection’s ‘Reinkaos’ know what we’re talking about. It’s our pagan take on those ideas.

Recording took place in two studios. Me and Danielle recorded in our home studio and Scott worked in his. We live very far from each other – he’s on the whole other side of the country. So it wasn’t possible to work physically together. We worked through demos and phone calls mostly.

One change is your label, how did you end up at Witching Hour productions and how’s that been for you?

Once our time was up with our previous labels we decided to seek a new one and Witching hour ended up being the best option plus we were already fans of the label and the bands that are/were on it.

You’ve also ended up releasing Chaosophy on cassette at Knekelput Recordings, which is what I have in my possession and it looks great. How did that come to be and are you pleased with the result?

We originally thought our previous cassette label was going to release but they went out of that sort of business and couldn’t do it. So we started looking around for the best cassette label we could find. After reviewing our options, Knekelput ended being the one. We were blown away by their cassette designs and thought it was very unique.

You draw inspiration from various traditions and cultures, you’ve said in other interviews. Can you tell me a bit about what you look for and maybe share some examples of ideas or philosophies you take with you into the songwriting of Automb?

Basically what we said in the previous question. Chaos philosophies from many angles of the world. Left-hand path side of paganism.

When I look at the lyrics, I see many cultural/religious references. In a way, it feels like a cultural-religious smorgasbord. How do you approach the process of using all these in your work and what is your method of gathering information? Are you avid readers?

A lot of it was stuff from commonly known mythologies from different cultures. Slavic, Germanic, Hindu, Egyptian etc. We are definitely big readers and researchers of all things ancient. For this particular record, it was focused on the destruction of the worlds and all creation and how those said cultures viewed that. Some songs are based on certain deities which happen to be gods of death and destruction. From a spiritual point, it was just a collection of Chaos Gods. There’s definitely a certain left-hand path Cult that follows exactly that. A lot of that is covered by, once again, Dissection. Who influenced that particular concept a lot and this record is dedicated to the memory of Jon Nödtveidt.

Your logo represents organic/natural forms, which were strongly represented on your previous album, yet this seems to be slightly different on ‘Chaosophy’. Is that still a part of your inspiration and in what form?

Everything we do is interconnected. The logo represents the world tree Yggdrasil and its roots which one of them is in Ginnungagap ‘Chaos’ There’s no Chaos without life. The logo represents life and death. Which in the songs ‘Trishula’ and ‘Ragnarok’ on the new record we talk about renewing the creation through destruction. Another meaning of the logo is the name Automb in general. It is a combination of the words ‘Autumn and tomb’ which represents the season of death that is Autumn. But it is a temporary death from which everything returns renewed.

There has been much ado in recent years about ‘female-fronted’ as a term to define certain bands. That has seen a major shift (for the better I think) where we stop segmenting in that way, how do you feel this has changed? And are there still struggles with acceptance for you as an artist?

Danielle: I personally do not mind that title so much because it is just a reality. A female-fronted band is still more rare than another band with all guys in it, which has usually been the case in metal, especially extreme metal. I think it becomes an issue when that’s the focus or the only reason why people listen to us. If a band is female-fronted and good, then awesome if there are male fronted and good, then awesome. It should not be completely about the gender of the vocalist, it’s about the quality of the content.

I very much enjoyed your album, so I’m curious what future plans there are, like tours perhaps across the pond? Obviously, as soon as this global pandemic allows us a semblance of normality.

Glad you enjoyed it! Right now we are in the works of doing a live stream. Besides that, we are also working on album #3 and yes once the pandemic is over we are going to tour. We already have plans for a North American tour to start. But obviously, no one knows when it’ll be allowed so everything is mostly ideas. For Europe, we already had a festival appearance rescheduled for summer 2022.

I enjoy asking this final one: If you had to describe Automb as a dish, what would it be and why?

We have no idea haha. Never thought of that before!

Varkâna: Iranian Underground Dungeon Synth

Music is what connects us from the far ends of the earth. No community embodies that as strongly as the dungeon synth community, which interacts through online platforms, enabling acts from far away places to emerge. Varkâna is one of those unlikely acts to find on your path, experimenting with dungeon synth and its cousin dark ambient to create sonic experiences from his homeland Iran.

Now, the freedom to make music is different in some places. Varkâna may hardly deal with themes and subject matter that is controversial in the Persian realms, yet creating music is an act of rebellion in itself I found out. We spoke, at length, about dungeon synth, the underground and his own projects (find out more here).

Dungeon Synth from the Persian Realms of Djinns and mysteries

First, how did you get in touch with dungeon synth music? And what was it that made you fall in love with it?

My first exposure to Dungeon Synth was Mortiis, I used to be an avid Black Metal fan and it was around 8, 9 years ago that I stumbled upon Mortiis and Summoning of course as a teenager and I just fell in love with the way it sounds and the amazing use of synths, I remember I always wanted to hear more keyboard and synths in Black Metal and here it was the perfect creation.

Later on, I found Depressive Silence and fell in love with it immediately, Forest of Eternity is definitely one of my favourite DS tracks of all time and a huge influence to me, alongside Paysage d’Hiver‘s Die Festung the use of synths in that record is just mesmerizing.

What I love about Dungeon Synth is first of all the amazingly supportive community which I’ve not seen in any other scene, also as a musician I always looked for a platform to make a certain kind of ambient ritualistic music and I think that would be impossible without incorporating Dungeon Synth elements. There’s this thing about DS that makes it distinctive from any other genre, the fact that this wide range of sounds from video game music to dark ritualistic drone music unifies under the same banner as Dungeon Synth is just amazing and it’s something you don’t always get when dealing with other genres.

Ok, based on your answer I want to back up a little because I hear a lot of conflicting stories about music accessibility, censorship and metal from Iran. How available is extreme metal to you and how much freedom do you have to create your own?

So let me put it this way. You need a VPN-connection. A lot of stuff is censored here and if you use your regular connection, it just doesn’t work and you get nothing. There’s that, but once you have VPN you can use Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music… Whatever. You can’t buy music though, you can’t do that. You can pirate music though, and listen to it and that’s still good. 

When it comes to making music, you can probably get away with it. You can’t release music though, especially if it’s extreme metal. You can’t have a gig like play live music. You can record though, there are many studios. These are home studios because there is a massive underground in Iran. It ranges from hiphop to black metal, but it’s all underground because it is not allowed. Yet, you do it anyway, because you don’t give a fuck. 

You mentioned the singer of From The Vastland, who left the country due to a lack of freedom (ed. though not listed in the question, I mentioned my interviews with From The Vastland and Avarayr). He is right, freedom doesn’t exist here. You’re constantly exposed to propaganda and surveillance. But it’s not like 1984 here, they are not constantly on top of you. You can still make your music in your own house. Most artists I know do it this way, which is why all my projects are either duos or solo projects. It’s hard to get a band together. 

What is it that defines dungeon synth for you, as in if the style had borders, where would these run?

There’s a couple of things that make dungeon synth what it is and are inseparable from the genre. The first one is the extensive use of synthesizers and keyboards which the familiar atmosphere of the genre is shaped around that. The other thing is the DIY aesthetics that are all over the place.

Musically, to me, anything from the 90’s RPG video game soundtracks to Old Sorcery and Varkâna is considered Dungeon Synth although I wouldn’t consider Varkâna pure Dungeon Synth, it’s something more like post Dungeon Synth (of course that’s not a term) but you can get the general idea. 

To me, original pure  Dungeon Synth is Depressive Silence and Mortiis and then comes stuff like Old Tower which is newer but it’s definitely still Dungeon Synth. I have no opinion on the new Comfy synth stuff that recently appeared, I haven’t really listened to it.  

But yeah I think Dungeon Synth is really a vast genre and isn’t limited to just a few things like other genres there’s really no defining exactly what is considered Dungeon Synth although it’s easier to classify some stuff than the others.

Where does it originate from and can you tell me a bit more about what it is that makes this genre so compelling to you? What is its charm?
As you may know, dungeon synth has roots in black metal and dark ambient. This happened in the late eighties and nineties, like Mortiis. There’s also this label from Sweden called Cold Meat Industries, which signed acts like Mortiis and Aghast. They had a significant impact on forming the genre. And Burzum, the first two albums Varg recorded in prison are also are very big.
What is compelling to me… As a teenager, I listened to a lot of folk and metal music and when I found out about dungeon synth, I was blown away by the way it sounds, artists like Depressive Silence and Mortiis. Not just because it was medieval, but because it’s the only synth. The atmosphere the synths create is something so different to anything else. There is other medieval music you can listen to, but none has the charm that dungeon synth music has. It’s very graphic, and you can picture yourself in its setting and it seems it is meant to be that way.

Varkâna hails from a land of beauty

You’ve mentioned community. I’m curious about what makes the community so special. As I’ve been a member of the Facebook group, I’ve noticed for example that it sort of ‘self polices’, but in a democratic way. It has its little upheavals, but everyone is very involved and the focus is also very much on being non-political.

The great thing about the community is how close everyone is to each other, everybody supports each other’s projects and are willing to do all they can to keep the genre going. 

Also, I think everybody tries their best to keep the drama to a minimum but of course, it’s inevitable at some points.

The DS scene uses the possibility of online in combination with that small scale. There are clear ‘boundaries’ on what fits in and what doesn’t. Or do you feel that’s a wrong assumption? I mean this in both genre stylistics as well as things like politics and ideology.

In terms of politics and ideology, I think you will find that artists’ beliefs vary like in any scene (such as hardcore punk) and I’m sure there are artists and fans out there with some unsavoury beliefs, but they wouldn’t be accepted into the wider community of the scene like most DS artists. For the most part, it’s about the music and the general atmosphere we want to portray/embody. Honestly, DS has no agenda in terms of a united opinion on politics or political ideology. The community is open to all kinds of people and is very open-minded, freedom of expression is generally encouraged and artists’ interpretation of what DS is, or can be, can vary greatly like any genre.

Well, in terms of the music, I think it’s a positive thing that the music is filtered and the community is mainly focused on the actual genre. In the case of the next topic, I think being “PC” is a new trend in media that you can see everywhere with the DS community being no exception. Whether it’s a good thing or not, I’m not in a place to say but that doesn’t make it necessary for individuals and artists to be an advocate for such destructive ideologies as Nazism. Naturally, many only want to cause controversy and stir the pot and don’t actually subscribe to the beliefs they “promote” in actuality.

When you discovered all this music, how did you convert it to something that is your own? You’ve had quite a few projects going, most notably Varkana, which taps into something distinct.

I have lived in Iran for my whole life, so naturally, I have been exposed to Persian folklore, mythology, traditional music since birth. Thanks to this, I feel like it subconsciously influences my music, most notably Varkâna. I use thematically Persian elements in my album/song titles and themes, but this just flows naturally from within me without being forceful. I have always listened to a wide range of eclectic music, so I have drawn inspiration from everything from film scores, Mortiis and Depressive Silence, early electronic and synthesizer music, hardcore punk, shoegaze, post-rock, classical music, synthwave and so on. Similarly to how my “Persianness” is expressed in my music, my music taste also presents itself in my music very organically and the influence is most definitely the foundations of my music.

Had dungeon synth in some ways helped you to explore your ‘roots’ if I can use that word? And how did you figure out in what way you could implement them in your music?

I must say that I was always a massive mythology nerd and read about Persian mythology, history and Zoroastrianism well before I got into DS. but for me, DS and Black Metal are the most fitting ways to incorporate all these readings and concepts into music.

To me, it seems that what you put into the music thematically will dramatically change the way music sounds. Most DS is originally heavily reliant on Tolkienesque, western high-fantasy and RPG’s, so to me, there’s a different flavour to your music. I would argue it’s similar with black metal, where the feisty Norsemen or Celt fantasy (I even heard a Viking metal band from Tunisia) has been sort of played out. How do you feel about the idea of bringing something new to the genre and shifting the frontier as a way of saying?

Well, personally I really enjoy the fact that my music is unique and this approach to DS is not commonplace. But also there are some people who believe this is inferior (especially Cosmic Terror) to the original sound that you’re expecting to hear when you have DS in mind. Again one should keep in mind that DS is a cluttered genre as I mentioned before so it’s kind of hard to keep track of what “true” DS is.

I would like to ask you something more about which different projects you’ve got going on now and what each of them is about.

I’d say Varkâna, Sun Addicted Family and Beam Keeper, but SAF and Beamkeeper are kind of on hold right now and Varkâna is my main project. I’d say Varkâna is a form of extreme transcendental music that relies heavily on being “Iranian” and delves into Iranian mythology and theology. SAF is a more modern approach to black metal and shoegaze and is heavily influenced by Surrealism, Space and our very own existence and at last Beam Keeper is a form of appreciating the 80’s films and music.

With Varkana, you’ve just taken a different turn with a Lovecraft inspired record. Where’s the connection thematically there? 

Well, I always really liked Lovecraft and his writings and I thought maybe I can turn them into a Varkâna album, I felt like the atmosphere would be perfect for a new and different release something that still sounds like Varkâna but it isn’t, thematically to me this is the most experimental Varkâna album and I don’t think anything like this is gonna happen any time soon. But musically there’s new stuff coming that I think will appeal to both new and old Varkâna fans.

Varkana logo

How would you define dungeon synth, if any definition can be made? 

In my opinion, Dungeon Synth can be found in many things (film scores, retro video game music etc) as long as there is a certain feeling, sound or aesthetic quality to it. It is not so much about there being a checkbox per se, but more a general ‘vibe’ or atmosphere.

This means that there is a great deal of creative freedom allowed in the genre, with little to no pigeonholing in what defines something as being DS or not. There are all kinds of Dungeon Synth being made all the time in different themes, from Dinosaurs to Space for example.

Looking at contemporary DS, you can see a lot of growth and expansion in terms of the different branches of the genre, There are noticeable differences in the subgenres within, with the original medieval/ dark ambient sounding DS, rooted deeply in Black Metal only being the starting blocks. Many acts don’t even subscribe to the traditional notion of BM style DS, and nowadays more and more fans are coming to the DS scene without prior interest or exposure to BM. Over time, Dungeon Synth has changed from an offshoot of Dark Ambient and Black Metal into its own distinct genre with its own intricacies and varieties within itself.

What future plans do you have currently as an artist? And are you willing to shed some more light on those hinted-at releases?

Well, I’m currently recording a new atmospheric black/doom album with Eve Hodgkins of Eternal Obsession on guitars and some other musicians including my old friend Harpag Karnik, the album is thematically similar to Ahrimanic Chambers and Rite.

If Varkâna was a dish, a type of food, what would it be and why?

This is a very tough question, I think it would be Persian but something that’s a bit more westernized haha. Like some sort of chicken kebab maybe?

 

Lasher – Unleashing Kuwaiti black meal

For many, the first association that springs to mind when you hear Kuwait is not metal music. For me, it is the Gulf War, which I remember following on television as a kid. Luckily, those days are behind us and currently, it’s known for its export of culture. Metal is not really a part of that, but it’s happening and in the case of Lasher deeply underground, in anonymity.

The state of Kuwait is notably more tolerant. You’d think it has to be, since 70% of the current population are expatriates, vastly outnumbering the 1.2 million Kuwaitis. Adam, which is a moniker to hide his identity, is the sole creator of Lasher – a project that navigates somewhere between black and death metal. He prefers to keep anonymous because it’s merely safer regarding his artistic expression and content discussed in his lyrics. Luckily, he was willing to share a lot about his music, the record ‘Futile Endeavours To Transcend The Bestial Vessel’ and a lot more. Ready for Kuwaiti black metal?

Kuwaiti black metal unleashed by Lasher

Hello Lasher, so how are you doing? How has the pandemic been for you?

Hello, I’m doing alright. Thanks for reaching out to me for an interview. I’m managing with the pandemic.

How did you get into metal music and what is your musical background?

In terms of my musical background, I grew up in an environment where a couple of my family members played musical instruments and I’ve taken some music classes as a kid in school (piano mostly). But haven’t really started playing guitar until my college years. The main band that got me into metal and made me want to explore the genre more and more was Iron Maiden. I remember just getting blown away listening to Hallowed Be Thy Name for the first time and the whole Number of The Beast album in general. I just fell in love with the dark lyrical themes mixed in with the fast relentless riffing and the absolutely wonderful melodies. I believe Maiden was the turning point for me. Then I think it was just a natural transition into the more and more heavy and extreme metal stuff after that.

Lasher is a solo project. What bands inspired you to create this music and particularly, why did you choose to go at it alone

Iron Maiden for sure has a very big influence on my music as I’ve mentioned earlier in addition to the many other classic heavy metal acts including Motorhead and Pentagram. In terms of the more extreme and specifically black metal bands, I believe early Burzum has influenced me a lot. As well as Bathory, Emperor, Varathron, and Immortal. Pretty much a lot of the classic black metal acts. Of the more relatively newer bands, I’d mention Shining and Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult. And I’ve always been a big fan of the attitude and rawness of German thrash and Swedish death metal. Bands such as Kreator, Sodom, Grave, and Hypocrisy.

Regarding why I’ve gone at this project solo, it’s very hard to find individuals who are into black metal and who could play extreme music well over here. And also, of course, this type of music is not generally accepted and is frowned upon at times. So, privacy and discretion are preferable to me.

You released the debut album with Lasher in 2020. What can you tell about ‘Futile Endeavours To Transcend the Bestial Vessel’?

I started the active process of writing Futile Endeavours To Transcend The Bestial Vessel sometime after receiving news of the sudden death of a very close person to me. So, this album is basically me coming to terms with loss, the futility of life, and the inevitable death that awaits every man. I drew a lot of inspiration from a book called The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker in terms of the general theme and lyrics of the album. The book explores the existential problem of man and discusses the futile things people do in order to transcend themselves and achieve a false sense of immortality. The book concludes with the statement that true and genuine transcendency could only be achieved through religion. In the album, I also explore religious themes, I deal with misanthropy, desperation, insomnia, and self-destruction.

The song ‘Depraved Visions of An Ancient Fiend’, however, I actually wrote about a fictional character called Nadine Cross from the novel The Stand by Stephen King. I found that character very intriguing with the way she dealt with her religious turmoil. And so, I attempted to explore the character’s life in short form birth to death and attempted to interpret her actions and emotions.

What is your process like in writing and recording your music? 

I don’t think I have a formula I stick with to write music. I come up with a riff or a general motif that I find interesting and then start to build on it. I record it and then write a second guitar and other instruments like drums and synth. I record everything at home and then send it in for mixing and mastering.

As I understand, you got a Ukrainian studio to mix and master the record, and it was released by Depressive Illusions Records from the same country. How did you hook up with those and what has it been like to work with them?

Yes, I reached out to Chernobyl Studios for mixing and mastering. I read about the studio on the web, listened to some of their mixing/mastering work, and just decided to contact them. It was an absolute blast working with them on the album. Very professional and understanding. I’m very pleased with how the record turned out.

The album was released as a limited edition by Depressive Illusions Records, yes. They actually reached out to me and offered me to release the album with no strings attached and I took the offer.

Black metal is traditionally focused on themes like anti-Christianity, satanism, etc. That has changed and many bands infuse the style with their own backgrounds (history, religion, etc.). Is there anything typical you put into your music?

The main theme of the album as I mentioned earlier is existentialism. It is a subject that is not tied into a specific heritage or background and it draws from philosophy a lot. With that said, existentialism does tie in with religion in general, yes, and I believe I couldn’t help but to express that aspect through my own background and heritage. I do touch on politics quite a bit as well. I speak about the wars and conflicts that’s been plaguing the middle east for the longest time.

What is the metal scene like in your country? I did see that there’s a number of acts active. 

There are only a handful of metal bands in Kuwait and most of them, if not all, are inactive at the moment. I would say that the metal scene is non-existent over here.

You’ve mentioned that metal is not wholly accepted in your country, and obviously, there are places in your region that are even more strict on it. Can you tell a bit more about how that is for you?

Kuwait is a country that has always cared about art and artists and it is known for that. The art movement in Kuwait started in the ’60s and it was something unheard of in the Gulf region at the time. The country still puts out copious amounts of TV dramas and a lot of comedy/horror plays are performed on regular basis. Many Arabic music concerts are held here as well.  So, art is not something foreign to the country, however, extreme metal is still seen as something foreign and is frowned upon since it touches on taboo topics.

Are there any topics that you have to be careful with, particularly playing black metal? 

Certain religious and political topics are not spoken about publicly or openly over here. There are many restrictions on what you can and cannot say. This is something that is common in most of the countries in the middle east. However, there’s been a rise in the liberal ideology in Kuwait for the past 2 decades or so and a lot of people are trying to break the mold.

What are the future plans for Lasher?

I plan on making more music for sure. Whether I’d continue on as a solo act or not, only the future can tell. But yes, I plan on putting out more music.

If you had to describe Lasher as a dish, a type of food, what would it be and why?

I guess I’ll go with oatmeal and some peanut butter on the side. Unsalted oatmeal has a very earthy taste. Simple and clean yet not bland. The peanut butter adds some flavour to that simple earthy taste without overwhelming it. This is how I’d describe Lasher. Straight forward raw riffs mixed in with some melodic and clean moments. The melodies do not overwhelm the music, they have their own place and they add some flavour and tie everything together.

Sidereal Fortress: Artistic Freedom & Dungeon Synth

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

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

Read on, and enter the world of Sidereal Fortress.

Sidereal Fortress – of crypts, forests and valleys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Arka’n Asrafokor: Togo heavy metal warriors

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

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

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

Breaking the mold with Togo heavy metal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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