A bit more than a year ago I did an interview with Latvian black metal band Eschatos. It was published on Alternative.lv and can be found here.
I loved the sound of this band and their genuinely intellectual approach to the genre. This is the unedited version that I received, giving you the raw insights into this band, which I hope to see in action some day. Reading this interview again also gives me some insigths into my own journey. I really was not sure about the stance I was supposed to take, so rather than being inquisitive I might have seemed boastful to the band. Lessons to be learned I suppose.
What remains is my admiration for this band, who make amazing music and have received raving reviews from pretty much anywhere
What can you tell more about how you guys got together and formedup a black metal band by the name of Eschatos? What have you guysplayed in before apart from Grondh and Ocularis Infernum?
Jānis: The formation of Eschatos was a natural outcome of things. We all knew each other, we knew what we wanted to achieve and what to expect from one another.
If we talk about other bands, Edvards is playing in a prog/death metal band „Opifex”, I – Jānis, Edgars and Edvards played together in another black metal band, called „Velna Krusti”, back in the days.
Did you have other names in mind as well? What does the word Eschatos mean for you guys?
J: The name symbolizes many things for us. It’s the end of something and life after death. It is also the highest point. It came to us pretty naturally. Before that we did briefly pass some other names, but when „Eschatos” rose up, it cleared all the doubts.
What do you guys do in daily life?
J: I earn my daily hunk of bread by working as a graphic designer. It’s one of the things I don’t dislike a great deal amongst the rest useless shit.
Kristiāna: There are a very few things I do not.
I am studding theory of art, designing, taking pictures, painting, making movies, organizing exhibitions, etc.
Edgars is studying Theory of Culture.
Edvards: Most of my time is occupied with Social Anthropology studies, but I somehow always find myself to be immersed in a vast variety of things, ranging from playing music to doing graphic design, video or audio editing, building something, and learning every new thing that I come across.
I find it interesting that you call black metal music Art, can you elaborate on that? Do you approach it as making art in the sense of creating something with beauty? (I’m asking this, because early black metal musicians and many purists still heavily oppose the term art)
J: Art is not necessarily associated with beauty. Although that which is ugly and rotten to one, is beautiful to another. Art is a product of creativity and imagination that triggers an experience. We use the term to describe the passionate and majestic work of our creation.
For me black metal has always been a really deep form of art. I can understand, that some people don’t understand, how destruction can be labeled as creation, but you do create it, right?
K: Considering the fact that the essence of art is still in discussion among art critics and theoreticians, especially due to the strong conceptual tendencies in visual art emerged on the other half of 20th century, I will not argue the nature of it. There is one thing I can say for sure, in “Eschatos’s” case music as art presents itself as combined spiritual experience resulting in a birth of entity of autonomous existence – music.
Is Art something outside of the personal, a product or expression if you will, or is it a part of life as you lead it?
J: Art is always personal. It’s the expression and reflection of the artist. A little piece of the artist’s soul, if I may say so.
K: I would supplement that the true art always involves personal perspective whether it is a painting, sculpture, symphony or a black metal composition for that matter. Art is the only way to travel to whatever layers of consciousness you can endure.
What are your main inspirations, musically and otherwise?
J: It is hard to emphasize specific things, because there are so many things that inspire me. Mostly it is not music that lights something in me that I strive to manifest in our creations. These are experiences from meditations, visions and vivid emotional bursts I’ve had.
Musically, there is a broad variety of genres, that I listen to, starting from black metal, to experimental, progressive, classical, ambient and even some indie music, to name a few. What I do search for in music is strong atmosphere and artistic and ideological background, because without that the music is empty. I really admire the Swedish and French black metal scenes of nowadays. They kind of have these profoundly dedicated scenes with so many good bands, but, as I said before, many things inspire me, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s probably a lame question, but how’s having a female vocalist working out in a scene that is pretty much from its start been devoid of women?
K: I believe this question was not meant for me, but I will answer it anyway. At first, I think that women in black metal are not something entirely new. There are bands like “Darkestrah”, “Astarte”, and “Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult”, etc., but unfortunately none of these bands are amongst my favorites.
Secondly, I cannot start to explain the insignificance of gender when it comes to musical abilities, talent, if you will.
So, about the Latvian black metal scene. How is that, are there many bands that play black metal and does it have some typical sound or own identity to it?
J: There is no Latvian black metal scene. You can count the active bands on the fingers of one hand, if you skip all the bedroom projects. There have been many bands that come and go without leaving much legacy.
Skyforger is a great band, but they haven’t got much black in their metal anymore. Dark Domination are the sole survivors of Latvian black metal, as they are the only band that has lasted so long. Urskumug is a notable act, also I want to believe, that Ocularis Infernum and Grondh have left a mark of influence on the scene. The rest, for me at least, are just dust in the wind.
If you try to find parallels in the sound, I guess you can stumble upon few bands, that had something in common, but not enough to talk about typical local sound.
Can you give me an overview of how black metal came to Latvia and what developed there?
J: I think, that black metal is still „coming in”. Of course, we have our history that started in mid 90’s but I don’t feel that black metal in Latvia has strong foundation and dedicated scene.
Is the Latvian metal scene tight knit or divided into the different genres?
J: I would say, that it is pretty divided, with emphasis on some genres like death metal and alternative metal, where the last one is like a completely different scene. I’m glad that the last years have brought more tolerance and appreciation for more experimental and unorthodox music in the metal scene.
Edvards: I would like to add that the whole scene thing, while being much divided, maintains certain interaction, due to the fact that almost every metalhead plays some kind of an instrument and is usually involved in a number of different projects. There is a saying in Latvia that “where there are two guys – there are three bands”, or something like that. Everyone seems to know everyone. And in concerts, the genres are usually very inadequately mixed together, which results in the mixing up of the sub-scene representatives attending those concerts.
Black metal has been associated with Satanism, white supremacy but also paganism ideals. I’ve noticed that Grondh for example also mentions Satanist philosophy as one of their ideals. Do you feel confined by the overall black metal culture and the strict anti-attitude towards what is conventional and what do you consider to be the views that Eschatos represents?
K: As unconventional as it may seem there are no such boundaries to our art as traditional black metal ideals – Satanism, racism, paganism or any other “ism” for that matter.
At this point I believe black metal has grown to be more of a unifying phenomenon than restrictive bridle.
It is not our purpose to express absolute ideas. Our art is quite autotelic, but surely – one who is willing to listen, will find one’s own truths as well as ours.
Edvards: In a way, the black metal culture with its ideals can also be seen as the conventional black metal culture, which seems to be in contradiction with the anti-attitude towards the conventional. I do not believe it is wise to present our attitude through some already given instructions/manuals, like the above mentioned “-isms”, because it is often the case that those ideals become in themselves the main point, and not what they represent or were used for in the first place.
Where from do you get lyrical inspiration?
K: I have always believed that in art only pain, suffering and loss can awaken the true genius. For me to write, a strong trigger is required, and the last year has been just that. Of course, amongst the sources of my inspiration there are literature, philosophy, visual art, music and after all – a human being, concealing such a great variety of different self-destructive passions.
What is a show of Eschatos live, what do you try to give people and let them take home from a live performance? Do you prefer to record or to play live?
K: I can say for sure that those are both completely different experiences and both – vital. Record gives the advantage of perfectionism when one is needed. Live performance appeals to all the other senses. For me it is hard to comment on the last one due to the fact that during performance the bound with reality is quite loose.
Edvards: I do not prefer any one thing over the other. When we play music it is almost as a spiritual experience, and during live shows we provide the opportunity for others to immerse in it. That is a difficult thing to capture in a recording, but nevertheless it is an inspiring and a very creative activity, which provides many new insights and ideas.
What do you hope to achieve in the next few years as a band?
K: We have already achieved the only thing that truly matters – we create.
From the Green Island comes Raum Kingdom. They make bleak blackened doom that has little to do with any of the further stereo types that might pop up when you hear Ireland. The band released a refreshing album of material, that feels like a new wind breathing through what we know in this style. Inspired by the likes of Amenra and Neurosis, the band promises to be an interesting new act on the horizon. Time to check in with the guys from Dublin. Guitar player Andrew Colohan is keen to tell us more about Raum Kingdom.
Hello, yes we are all in good spirits, form and health and delighted to be doing this for the Sleeping Shaman.
Who are in the band and how did you get together, did you guys play in other bands before?
There are four of us in the band, Me (Andrew) -Demons Bow, Dave – Chant, Mark – Rattle and Ronan – Devils Bow. We have been close friends for a long time and big lovers of music and over the years have been in different projects with each other. The time came when we could eventually play together and this happened. We hope that real life can be kept at bay so we can continue with this for as long as we can.
As far as I can gather your bandname might be derived from the petty kingdoms of Norway, of which one was called Raumerike. Is that correct?
We have never heard of that place before, So sorry to say, but no. Sounds nice tho. Norway seems like a nice place. We were settled on just Raum but the name was taken so we added kingdom. It doesn’t really come from anywhere as such it was just trial and error.
What inspired you to that name?
We had ideas and a concept from the get go and even as we where progressing through creating the songs we didnt have a name. But the more we tried to find something the more it eluded us. The name eventually was found through trial and error and as everything else was taken. Raum Kingdom is supposed to stimulate the imagination of a place or earth with different values , principles and laws.
What can you tell us about your record, how did the recording and writing process go?
We had a blast writing this music and still are enjoying writing. The process is we basically say ” That’s to many notes.” Strip what we can back to the core, do a little shuffling and testers. When it fits the theme of what we want and are about, we take it from there. Recording is when we polish off everything, as we don’t know what it will truly sound like until then.
What is the general theme of the record?
We didn’t intentionality set out to have a theme for the EP but if we had to say there was one it would be Pain with a pinch of hope.
When I listen to it and also follow the lyrics, it feels like a story or like a stream of consciousnous from one person. Do you feel that would be in there?
Yeah for sure each song has it’s own story to tell.
What is in your opinion the best song on the record and why?
We all have different opinions about that and it changes with each of us as time passes. But it might be good to say that ” This Sullen Hope ” Could be generally considered one that we all go Yea thats what we want and are about as it has everyting in it.
The record seems to be generally well received, what makes Raum Kingdom stand out in your opinion?
We’re still a bit blown away at how good the response has been none of us really expected it. I don’t think there’s a lot of bands out there trying to do what we are doing.
What is the sludge/doom scene in Ireland like? What hidden gems does Ireland have to offer?
Being such a small nation and an Island. The scene is rather small, That’s not too say the ideals are small. It can get reptitive very quickly here. There are few gems we know of. Fuckhammer, Okus and Weedpriest. Just to name three. Some vile stuff happening there.
Are you going to tour for this release?
We would love too gig and tour and we will as much as humanly possible with the hopes that the numbers and tempo will increase in time. We are having our EP launch on the 05th Sep 14, Fibber McGee’s in Dublin Ireland, With a few other shows and surprises happening.
What future plans do you guys have?
As a unit we have many hopes and aspirations. But we gotta keep all that in check and be real. We are loving what we have at the moment and we are enjoying every moment of it. We are currently writing, gigging and hopefully playing in other countries soon. But we just gotta wait and see. There’ll be an album within a year called Raum Kingdom II.
Anything you would like to share?
In the absence of will power the most complete collection of virtues and talents is wholly worthless.
Raum Kingdom’s self titled debut is available through their Bandcamp profile http://raumkingdom.bandcamp.com/releases
A long time ago I did an interview with the band Melechesh. The group was originally from Israel, moved to Amsterdam in the Netherlands later for its political freedom, a bit like the golden age of philosophy. The band deals thematically with Assyrian and Armenian mythology. Add to that some Mizrahi rock and there you go: unique metal. This is the interview I did with Ashmedi, main man of the band, in 2010.
Could you kindly tell us who you are and where you come from (musicwise as well as lifewise)?
I come from Jerusalem my family are Armenian/Assyrian. Musically I come from the rock and metal background but I listen to any and every type of music as long as it is well done . Life wise I am a cosmopolitan who lived around the world and now settled in this nice , tidy and quiet corner.
You’ve moved the band from Israel to Amsterdam/France, how was that decision made and what were the reasons you had to move?
Well the reasons were several, many demographical and socio political reaons. Also we wanted to progress our music. The member who was in France is now doing his PHD in USA so he flies often here to writing sessions and rehearsals. Coming to Amsterdam was a coincidence actually , I was on my way to USA when my x bassplayer who was living here said Amsterdam got English language Universities, I thought ok its closer to Jerusalem .
Theres a mix of nationalities in the band, how does this influence your writing and creating process?
Well and it does not change our writing process. Though we got to learn that you should not make music at any cost like we used to believe in and was the way we work, but rather pay attention to personal convenience which comes first here. In Jerusalem there are many different people from all over the word , same as with Los Angeles where I lived as well so always managed well in cosmopolitan places.
Is there a political element to your music, and if so what is it? What were the comments when you released the ‘As Jerusalem Burns… Al’Intisar’?
NO , the middle east is much more than politics, it is a place were civilizations were born. We focus on this beyond the mundane but tragic drama . Politics are merely the art of lying and rationalizing human deaths. We don’t play that game, and we say our politics are simple we count the dead and we think everyone deserves to live in dignity. Can you imagine an entire region with many countries billions of people thousands of years of continuous civilizations is categorized by one cliché. We are critical and know what is going on there but we do not drag the mystical and spiritual artistic creation known as Melechesh in this.
When As Jerusalem Burns …Al Intisiar (by the way the title is meant metaphorically, as we love our home town ) was released well hell broke loose J we survived it. There many critical of us but in the end we make music with spiritual and mystical context so we did not hurt anyone. ( maybe the righteous can learn for this ). But such things made us appreciate making music and we are grateful to where we have reached today
Could you tell us what Mesopotamian Metal is, what it envelops and what it is you tell about? Obviously for us it’s a very strange and unknown world.
The style of music is already popular in the metal underground and there are several young bands adapting to it which is really cool. But for the readers Roarezine of let me elaborate more on this. When I started Melechesh the philosophy behind the music was to create not re-create. So we tried inventing the Middle eastern sound of Black/thrash metal. Which encompass hard rock and heavy metal as well but with an ethnic twist when it comes to guitar riffs and picking as well as at time, Middle eastern drum patterns. Lyrically we deal with Mesopotamian mythology near eastern mysticism .
Musically who are your influences, metalwise as well as traditional music wise?
I grew up on rock music at home with time I was drown into heavy metal and punk and got into various types of bands. As a musicians we are shaped by diverse music intentionally or unintentionally. From Metal music , I like the classics black sabbath, led zeppelin, rainbow also Mercyful fate some Metallica , Slayer , Bathory it is hard you know ! traditional musicians I am very much into Persian Indian cross over like Ghazal, Indian ragas , sufi music .
Your new album, The Epigenesis, is almost out. Can you tell us about the process and the record?
The album took a long time to write , almost three times to record. Its is a long album with diverse moods , from a 3 minute song to a 12 minute song. We decided to break the mold and we flew to Istanbul to record the album. Many here were surprised but the outcome spoke for itself . Istanbul was a unique experience and very inspiring one. The city is very inspiring for musicians, it is great for night life and culture, and very Metal. So many metal bars out there its crazy.
Everything worked out perfectly it was almost uncanny like how come every step every decision was fitting in like a piece of puzzle , it was quite mystical . It was also very practical to be there, as people were helpful no 9-5 mentality we did put in 16 hrs a day . Also the little things you know you want to order a meal at 3 AM while still recording , its possible. You can even order you wine and whisky at those hours. The little things helped keep the vibe positive. The weather was good too.
How has your work been received in Europe this far?
Well previous works always well received, we got fans across the globe, positive record sales and the fact most labels offered us a record deal was very humbling and a good sign. As for the new album the general press media is good. Topped various critics lists, several cover stories I cant ask for more and we are grateful for this.
Did starting a black metal band in Israel spawn a lot of followers? Are there other metal bands from the Middle-East that you would recommend?
You need to be able to differentiate the various parts of Israel. The fact that it was in Jerusalem was the issue. AT first people wanted black metal bands from Scandinavia , if the band was from there the fans show the horse teeth with unconditional smiles and frown on bands that had to fight to make music. But this changed. A lot of hard work development of a type of music eventually paid off. We had followers there, but our larger fan base is in USA and Europe. There are several talented bands in the middle east they work hard some even were jailed for doing the music they are passionate about. For sheer brutality check out Keaton, for Melodic doom check out Bilocate. There is a cool rock band called Khalas and so on.
Are there any bands that you would compare yourself to?
Blof (a rather cliché Dutch rockband, GS)
What influence does living in Israel have on your music and on your life and views?
Some people fight to have a decent life and when they get it they appreciate every second. Some have it all served on a silver platter and deep inside they are very unhappy. This is one thing I learned. I also learned how racist humans are. I personally believe in one race. Human race. And thankfully I am very color blind.
Where do you see Melechesh going in the future?
I don’t know really, just challenge ourselves and make credible music.
Are there anything you’d like to tell our readers, that they should know about your band?
Doe het normal is a bad thing for music and art but a good thing for accounting.
What Album should we start with?
The Epigenisis for sure not because it is the new one but because it represent us now and it has several moods.
If Melechesh would be some kind of food, what food would it be?
A healthy salad which has flavor ! and considered as soul and brain food.
Blaakyum has been around for a long time and has been instrumental in keeping the metal scene in Lebanon alive. Lebanon you say? Yes, Blaakyum plays a mixture of thrash metal and various elements from other styles and hails from the country near Syria, Israel and all those places where you think no one has even heard of metal. They proved me wrong.
Now for me the country was as unknown as this band, so logically I checked their music and wrote them a message. It turns out that Lebanon is, considering our general view in the west, a pretty liberal country on some fronts. Still, Blaakyum is not a band that enjoys the same liberties and possibilities as bands from over here and they have to face very different hurdles on their path.
They have been around longer than most bands, and it took a lot of effort from guys like Bassem Deaibess to keep this band and also the whole scene together. Anyways, enough introduction, best to hear the story from the horse’s mouth.
You guys are, as it stands, the oldest, active metal band from Lebanon. How did you guys get started on playing metal music and how did you get in touch with the style? Also, was it hard to find like-minded souls to form a band?
Bassem Deaibess: Well, If I wanted to answer that, it would take me probably around 20 pages. To make it as short as possible, I started learning guitar when I was around 15, and that lead me to look for guitar oriented music which lead me to Rock, Hard Rock and Metal music. Back in the 90s it was not hard at all to find that music since it used to be played on our Radios and we had Rock Shows on TVs, the major Metal bands were all over our radios and TVs such as Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Sepultura, Morbid Angel, you name it.
When I got introduced to this music mainly thanks to my cousins, it was love at first hearing. As a typical dream of a beginner guitarist I wanted to form a band, so I started looking for members, and surprisingly it took less effort than I expected. Although Metal was available and accepted it was never mainstream, so I won’t say it was hard to find like-minded people or more precisely like-music-tasted people, but when we would discover someone who listened to metal it was as if you have just discovered a gold mine… We would in most cases become instantly friends… From the time I set my mind of forming a band towards the end of 1994 untill Blaakyum was formed in summer 1995 it was a relatively short period of time. Sadly since 1995 untill today the line-up changes have been endless, so I cannot answer the question on behalf of the past members.
Rany Battikh: Back in the 1980s/early 90s, Metal was pretty big in Lebanon spawning a couple of popular dedicated radio shows. My older brothers recorded selected songs on cassette tapes off the radio for bands like Metallica, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Dio, Slayer, Iron Maiden etc. I would put those tapes on and listen to them all day long. I remember once my brother brought a video tape of a Judas Priest concert home and he made multiple copies of it so we won’t damage it by over watching it.
When I picked up the bass, Metal was an obvious first choice for me, before I got into funk, jazz and classical music later on (through my college studies).
Jad Feitrouni: My father was a hard rock fan, so he always put on Deep Purple, Rainbow … while driving us to school. He always insisted that we (my sister and I) play an instrument, so we had piano lessons at an early age. I kept listening to hard rock and rock bands till I met Rany (Blaakyum’s Bassist) at university. Rany was a huge Power Metal fan at that time and started giving me CDs for Rhapsody, Stratovarius, Gamma Ray, Manowar, Helloween (to name a few)… he tried to give me thrash CDs but I didn’t like the style at that time. Few years later (when my ears matured) I gave thrash a try and I have been a huge fan ever since.
Rabih Deaibess: My brother (lead vocals) was sick enough to put some Sepultura on my headphones when I was 6… When I grew up I started listening to Symphony X (Divine wings of tragedy). I was 9 years old, the only reason why I did was because I heard my brother saying to my other brother (Blaakyum’s ex-bassist) that this is too complicated, that he will not understand anything of it. Somehow it angered me and I wanted to understand that music. So I started to become fond of that style and love the sound of the guitar and drums. When I was 11 I started playing the guitar, but the song I learned to play to was ‘Hey God’, by Bon Jovi.
I have to ask, how was it to play the first Lebanese rock festival? What was that like for the crowd, the bands, the atmosphere…?
Bassem Deaibess: The first concert Blaakyum performed at was in 1996 at the Lebanese University, which was the first Metal concert to be organised after the civil war. It was interesting to see so many metalheads, and back then we had even media coverage. The first Major Rock festival was organised in 1997 in place in Beirut called “Beirut Hall” the festival held around 13 bands and it was dubbed simply Rock Concert!! It was thrilling to go on stage and see around 2500 people waiting to hear you, we were so young and amateuristic back then, and although I felt we did a horrible job as a band, the crowd was so supportive. We probably were among the least experienced bands, the other bands were seriously amazing. I never realised how high the standards of the Metal Scene were back then and the atmosphere was really extremely friendly, like a brotherhood. The next year Rock Concert II happened, but Blaakyum did not participate. We kept playing in one of the most famous 90s (up till 2005) Rock and Metal venues that hosted regular concerts on a weekly basis, it was called Peak Concert Hall. It had a capacity of 700 people and it was almost always full, up till 2001 where Blaakyum performed in the first edition of Rock Nation, a yearly Rock/Metal festival (though mainly Metal) that kept going till 2008. The scene during all these years had its ups and downs, but considering a country of 4 million inhabitants, the scene is extremely impressive here even in its down phase.
What bands were the ones that got you guys into metal?
Bassem Deaibess: For me personally it was Guns’N’Roses at first who got me into the whole Rock/Metal genre, followed by AC/DC. Then came Metallica’s ‘Black Album’ and Iron Maiden’s ‘Fear of the Dark’, from there on the snowball rolled.
Rany Battikh: Prior to Metallica’s self-titled album’s release (in Lebanon), ‘Master of Puppets’ was a game changer for me, definitely my Metal bible for a very long time alongside Black Sabbath’s Live Evil.
Jad Feitrouni: The bands that got me into metal where Manowar, Rhapsody (Now named Rhapsody of Fire), Gamma Ray, Hammerfall, Helloween, and many others…
Rabih Deaibess: bands that got me into metal: Symphony X, Dream Theatre, Rhapsody (now named Rhapsody of Fire), Evergey, Pantera, Testemant, Nightwish, Alter Bridge (those are part my inspiration as well)
Where do you get your inspiration from for your lyrics and music?
Bassem Deaibess: I must admit that the main source of my inspiration lately whether for writing lyrics or music, is my anger. Especially with what is going on lately in the region and the threat of Islamic fanaticism that is threatening my country, the incredible political and social corruption, and the intellectual struggle and the cultural terrorism we face on a daily basis because of religious and political dominance. There is always a social, political or socio-political message behind each song even those who seem to be more related to literature and arts (I am a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and fantasy novels as well as Edgar Alan Poe and thriller/detective novels e.g. Dan Brown) Musically I must say that the main influence from the Metal side is Thrash Metal, mainly Testament, Overkill, Sodom, Kreator, Onslaught, Metallica and Pantera. But I am also very fond of Classical music especially Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky and RimskyKorsakov. And traditional Lebanese folk like Lady Fairuz, Lady Sabah, Wadih El Safi, Marcel Khalife and TonyHanna, and Oriental Arabic folk such as MuwashahatAndalusia and RoudoudHalabia. I am so much in love with Celitc music.
As for Jad and Rany other than the bands they named that are a major part of their influences, I must say the Blaakyum Rhythm section is heavily influenced by Funk and funk fusion.
Rabih Deaibess: I was a Progressive and Power Metal fan for a long time, then I got a bit off track to bands like Creed and Nickelback, but then I heard 3 tracks that changed my life: Black Sabbath’s ‘Cross of Thorns’, Dio’s ‘Hide In The Rainbow’ and Pantera’s ‘I’m Broken’ and I went more into thrash stuff like Metallica, Megadeath, Testeman, Kreator and Exodus.
Recently you played two major festivals (as if you need reminding, right?). What was it like for you as a band to get to this international stage?
Bassem Deaibess: Well, it is a proof that even in the most unlikely circumstances and against all odds, if you work hard, you are good enough and you want something so bad, you can get it. Let us be honest, to have a tour on your own, without any label or management backing you up, would seem a normal thing from someone in Europe, it is not really that hard. But for us in the Middle East, it is equivalent to an eternity of hard labour!
First the dehumanizing factor of getting Visas (So many times we were about to cancel some dates because we weren’t sure we will get the Visas), the way we are treated in some embassies is almost inhuman, you feel you are an inferior race begging the White West supremacy for a chance to go to their countries. Applying for a Visa is such a stressful and anxious experience and you are totally helpless. Then comes the transportation, I mean again in Europe, you can simply rent a small van, get in there and drive to whatever country or town you want. Here we have to travel on our own; the economical difference is huge even with the crisis in Europe, what is considered affordable there cost us a fortune here, then the hassle to run from an airport to a bus station with all our equipment and luggage on our back, then from one train terminal to the other and try to do it without missing the train and without breaking any of the equipment… So by the time you reach the venue you are almost dead *laughs*. But then the moment you go on stage, and see the people actually digging our music and headbanging, it always pays off.
Rabih Deaibess: First time we played will be a memory I’ll never forget and tell my kids about if I ever have any. It made Rany, Jad and me become like brothers as we laughed and played together. That bond made our sound tighter as well.
Jad Feitrouni: Playing on the same stage as Testament, Overkill, Onslaught, Iced earth, Annihilator… was a dream comes true especially with Bassem, Rabih and Rany by my side. I listen to these bands every day and to be with them in the same room was simply amazing.
Rany Battikh: It feels great to reach that “international stage” as this was our goal since day one. We went through a lot of hassle to get there for sure, but hard work does pay off at some point and sacrifices trans-morphed into achievements.
What is the most common response that you get when people figure out Blaakyum is from Lebanon?
Bassem Deaibess: OWE DEATH AND DISPARE *laughs hard* actually we got mixed reaction, some do not even know where Lebanon is, some gets really intrigued, many ask us if Metal is accepted in Islam, which use to puzzle us since we are not an Islamic country, nor any of the current members come from an Islamic background. There is a lot of stereotyping that we face, which we actually understand. We would be surprised when we meet some people who actually have a very good idea about our country, but still they would be amazed that there is Metal there.
Jad Feitrouni: The most common response that we get when figuring out that Blaakyum is from Lebanon is a long silence. This is where we explain where Lebanon actually is on the map *laughs* But when people actually know where Lebanon is they get surprised to know that metal reached that little country in the Middle East.
Rani Battikh: People get pleasantly surprised when we reveal our country of origin. Some ask about the desert (we don’t have any!), some ask about religion (I was never tempted to discuss my Christianity in that case) and some just show how enthusiastic they are about eastern women!
Rabih Deaibess: We get the funniest reactions sometimes, people get more exited and curious about us once they know we are from Lebanon, some asks us about desert or camels, personally I have never seen one! Some get shocked that we even know what metal music is or that we drink beer!
I read in an interview that metal has been around in Lebanon since the seventies, but it struggled for acceptance. Most people, as you probably know, would not even think there’s heavy metal being played in Lebanon right now. Can you tell a bit about how metal arrived in Lebanon and how it developed further?
Bassem Deaibess: Ever since Lebanon was created in 1920 in it was open towards the west. Even in many cases half the Lebanese refused to identify to the Arabic world they are in. Western Culture was rarely viewed as an alien culture, but as part of the Lebanese culture, thus we always were a true mix of both oriental and western cultures. Whatever was mainstream in USA and Europe, was mainstream in Lebanon. So the underground scene in the west was established in Lebanon almost at the same time, even the counter-culture and youth movements such as the beat movement, and the hippies were here as well, so Metal came naturally. When Black Sabbath released their first album at the beginning of the 70s it was all over the place in Lebanon, Lebanese clubs and pubs were full of bands playing Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin,Yes and Deep Purple… even the quarrels between the Disco fans and the Hard Rock fans were as common here as in the west. When the punk movements in the mid-70s took over the streets of London it did so in the streets of Beirut… of course there were some cultural clashes but they were really kept at minimal. So during the 80s and 90s Metal was all over the radios and the TV rock shows… Till this day Metal has a strong presence in Lebanon, although at times it was under attack from either religious or governmental institutions. Although a big part of society is ignorant about what Metal is and not always accept it, it is fair to say that metal is as alive in Lebanon as in any other western country.
In Sam Dunn’s documentary ‘World Metal’ (if you haven’t seen it, I really recommend it) he shows that metal bands in the middle-east face a lot of adversity from their respective societies. In some countries it’s virtually impossible to be a metal fan on your own terms. How is the situation in Lebanon and how is it compared to surrounding countries?
In Lebanon Metal was very well established on the contrary of most other Middle Eastern countries, It wasn’t till the mid-90s, precisely 1996 that some Christian religious institutions started the “Hard Rock/Metal panic” after a tragic incident of a teenage suicide. This is also very similar to what happened in the west few years earlier, especially in USA. Because religious institutions in Lebanon had so much power, they were able to spread a kind of mass panic. Then the government took part and created a black list of bands and albums and banned some shows, so we had some trouble with the authorities.
All this calmed down by 1999. We even played in few mainstream festivals, but in 2002 a fiercer “witch hunt” was organized both by the church and the government and later the Islamic religious institutions joined forces. This kept going on until 2005, with the assassination of the business man Rafik al Harriri, a prominent political figure and former prime minister, the country went into an open revolution against the Syrian occupation of Lebanon and the Syrian presence was driven off, in the aftermath of this political uprising the country plunged into a long political crisis that is still present, and during all this they forgot about Metal. Every now and then few voices in the media or the Church are expressing some concerns of Satanism and drug abuse in Metal, but after the information age kicked in, these voices are quickly silenced.
The Lebanese Metal scene still has its ups and downs, mainly related to the economic and political situation, but I guess this is what gives the Lebanese bands who write original music the edge that puts them apart from the main western Metal scenes. Needless to say with all this, Lebanon is one of the very few Arab countries that has a freedom margin and were Metal is not utterly threatened, this mix of minimal oppression and margin of freedom makes Lebanese Metal able to develop and creates its own unique identity.
In an interview you describe the Lebanese metal scene and also discuss its better days in the past. Can you describe to an outsider how the Lebanese scene looks like? What kind of venues do you play shows at and is it easy to buy new records and such?
Bassem Deaibess: As I said, during the 70s, 80s and during the heat of the civil war, the clubs were full of bands playing and performing Rock, Hard Rock and Metal music. After the Civil war things were going well, many local town festivals like “Al Hamra festival” and “Féte de la Music” and others always had local rock or metal bands on the bill. Up till 1999 there were few “illegal” radio stations that were exclusively Rock and Metal, to name few we had Blue FM, Generation X FM, UFO, and Rock FM. We would look for big venues to organize our multiple band concerts and Rock fests, and we had a regular underground venue called Peak Concert Hall. Around the end of the old century we had few clubs that hosted Rock bands regularly such as “Mon General”, “The Irish Pub” and “Rio Grande” bar.
At the beginning of the new millennium, a new venue was available in a town called Kaslik part of the city of Jounieh, it was called Mad Wheels, where many underground and mostly low budget and poor produced concerts would take place. This was alongside Peak Concert Hall, which remained active till 2005. Also many summer festivals would take place, including the famous Rock Nation (from 2001 till 2008), featuring big stages and good production. At the start of the new millennium, Hard Rock Café Beirut opened and we also had many metal-friendly pubs. One was called “Purple Haze”, which was established by Rockers For Rockers. Sadly, it was short lived but started a tendency other bars and clubs followed. Next was “Kalinka Pub”, which hosted rock and metal bands from 2002 up to its closing date in 2005. Until 2010, the “Nova Club” was the hub of the scene, together with “Cherry’s Pub”, which was active from 2006 until 2009. It was a phenomenon in the scene and the beating heart in its short existence. A pub was started in the Hamra Street, named “Pavillion”, which was a new centre for the underground. For a while we had a big venue where bands could play, named Tantra (capacity: 1.500 people). It took over from Peak Concert Hall, when it closed down in 2004. That was the time we had the Rock and Metal organization to be established called Rock Ring.
Rock Ring took the Metal concerts and festivals to a new level, and organised a high profile events during the first decade of the new millennium, including the participation of Lebanon in the GBOB (Global Battle Of the Bands) twice as well as bringing the all-stars band called Hail to Lebanon twice. During those years few mainstream figures helped the scene by bringing some international acts to Lebanon, like Mr. Jyad El Murr (a rocker himself) who is the co-owner of a TV station and the owner of a Radio station in Lebanon. He was the one to organize the biggest Rock and Metal Festival in Lebanon known as Beirut Rock Festival, and brought bands to Lebanon such as: Anathema, To Die For, Catatonia, Moonspell and others. In 2009 individual efforts were made to bring Lake Of Tears, and the concert was a success. Blaakyum opened for them as well.
But things started deteriorating after 2010, Tantra the main Metal venue at the time, was demolished, Cherry’s Pub has closed down, many pubs such as Nova cut down on accepting Metal bands, but we still have few Metal friendly venues were we throw a gig every now and then such as Yukunkun Music Club, and Quadrangle Pub.
As for the stores, before 1996 Metal was available almost all around the country, but the place where we could find ANY metal new release and old albums was in Disco Rama in the suburbs of Beirut… That changed dramatically as Disco Rama was raided by the security forces and no longer offers Metal music. It has become extremely hard to get Metal albums except for the few very well- known Metal bands, and basically the only place I can think of is Virgin MegaStore, ironically it is not allowed to have the Label Metal, so the Metal albums are all there under the Label, Alternative/Pop-Rock. Mostly we get our music online these days.
We have a few instrument stores that sell good quality instruments, especially when it comes to Guitars and Drums and Amps and everything related to Metal. Those places are named Instruments Garage, and Mozart Chahin. We have few rehearsal studios, but there are no facilities for Metal Musicians in Lebanon, being one is simply choosing to live a hard and unrewarding life. Lately only one such facility exist and it is called LYC (Lebanese Youth Centre), but it is only accessible through subscription and is not open to the public.
I understand Lebanon has a great deal of religions that are officially recognized. I was wondering about the following: the devil is a common theme in traditional metal and the church as something to oppose, how do you guys deal with these themes?
Bassem Deaibess: Blaakyum actually do have Christian members, we all come from Christian backgrounds, although most of us are Atheists but we do have one member who is actually a Christian Believer. Some Lebanese bands tackled the traditional themes of devilry and very, very few were openly oppose the church. In our culture we learned to respect all forms of religions even if we oppose them. Blaakyum music can be described as anti-conformism; many of our song messages invite the listener to be free from dogmatic brainwashing. Personally I am against insulting religion, I find it really a cowardly act. I am anti-religious myself, but there is a difference between criticizing and pointing out the dangers of religion and being outright disrespectful. It is in our view everyone’s right to be religious as much as it is our right to criticize and expose religious bigotry.
What can you tell us about the Massacore incident? Is it exemplary for things you face as a band?
The Massacore incident was this: A live show took place in Lebanon and reporters made it out to be a satanic mass. This was mocked by the metal scene for all the obvious reasons. Then another reporter made things look even worse, claiming it was rituals in an old monastery, drug taking and the presence of kids of public figures etcetera. When Bassem Deaibess called in to the tv-program, it became more evident that it was an attempt to smear the metal scene with all sorts of accusations, which left a taint on the scene for times to come.
Bassem Deaibess: The Massacore incident came as a shock as we thought that the Lebanese society has moved forward and away from such claims. We have been relatively able to organise and play concerts without any such incident since 2009 when the General Secretary of the Catholic Schools issued a paper to the student’s parents warning them of the dangers of Metal and how it is a place for drug abuse and Satanism… That incident did not spread out of control as the organizer of the event is a very powerful public figure and has huge political support. But then in 2012 when the Massacore incident happened, we knew that things have not changed much, we did not face a similar situation as in 2009 after that incident though, but we know for a fact that whenever the Church or the uneducated population have a chance they will bring this subject up. They do it simply because they ignore what the hell is actually going on and they get shocked when they see us moshing, or when they hear someone growl. To be honest, this is nothing like the our “Dark Ages” between 1996 and 2005, that period was by far much more threatening to us as Metal fans, and I am sure that period is over… Or at least I hope so.
You live in the middle of a turbulent region of the world. Do you feel this has become part of your inspiration and your lyrical material?
Bassem Deaibess: Definitely, the situation that we are living in always is an inspiration, what better place to create Metal music than living in such a shit-hole, with political corruption, religious ignorance and war threats all around us. In fact, many of our songs are about such things, like the song ‘Cease Fire’ that talks about the 1996 and 2006 Israeli aggression against Lebanon. The same goes for the newly emerged threat of the so called Islamic State, which is today the biggest threat we face especially as non-Muslims. Thish as brought so much anger to our hearts, and that anger will always translate into Metal Music. The album we are currently trying to record has most of its tracks inspired by the events that followed Massacore concert, it is filled with anger but as well state how the Lebanese Metal Scene revolted against the faulty accusations… We already have some material prepared as well for the third album which in most part is inspired by the anger, fear and resentment we feel because of the threat of the so called “Islamic State” which is more known as IS.
So, what would you really like to tell about Blaakyum, that I didnt ask yet?
Bassem Deaibess: Blaakyum is but one example of the Lebanese Metal Scene perseverance an struggle against discrimination and cultural terrorism, be it religious or political. There are also many bands such as Kimaera, Inner Guilt, Kaoteon, Nocturna, and many more that are also here, and we will remain here. The Lebanese metal bands and fans are authentic, Metal was born in Birmingham from the voices of a neglected youth, that were under the stress of nuclear threat and industrial dehumanization, and Metal in Lebanon just like the majority of the Middle Eastern Metal scene. It is the product of the suffering of youth and generations who have been living for so long under horrible circumstances. In truth we do represent the authentic feelings of the Middle Eastern and Lebanese youth in all its forms and different points of view and when I say ‘we’ I mean the Lebanese Metal Scene and not the band.
As for Blaakyum, we have been around for a long time, and we are not going anywhere. We will remain a thorn in the side of bigotry and ignorance.
Where can people check out your music?
Well we are all over social media, on Facebook, twitter, myspace, Instagram… from there people can check out what is going on with the band, sometimes we release some footage or some music, as well our album is sold at various selling points in Lebanon and few points in Europe, but for anyone who wants to buy our album they can do it online through iTunes, Amazon MP3, 7Digital, Spotify and many online outlets.
Who are Ensiferum and what does Ensiferum mean (not just literally)?
Ensiferum is a bunch of people who love to write good music and play their music live. And its the biggest thing in our lives; its our passion, hobby, work and in a way. Its also a family for us.
•What is the biggest inspiration for Ensiferums Music (influences, inspiration)?
Roots of Ensiferums music are in folk music (Scandinavian, Irish etc.) and melodic death metal. When Markus found Ensiferum 1995 he was very inspired by folk music and old Amorphis, Dark Tranquillity etc.
•Ensiferum has been rather succesfull and on the forefront of the pagan and folk metal success of recent years. What makes Ensiferum different/unique to any other band?
Our music and ass kicking gigs. Ensiferum is one of the oldest bands in this genre and we really focus when we write music and not just repeat what others have already done. We challenge ourselves to give our very best on every album and every gig.
•In what way do you think the band has grown from debut album Ensiferum until recent release Far Afar?
Obviously lineup changes have changed the atmosphere inside the band but in a good way. Our spirit is very high and Markus is the founder of the band and he has been the main songwriter so musically things havent changed so much as you might first think.
•Can you describe the process of writing a new album to us, for example the latest Far Away?
Like I said earlier, we really put our minds to it when we compose so the process is usually very long. We all bring ideas to rehearsal room and then we arrange songs together.
•How serious are you about the themes and imagery of Ensiferum?
With therecent increase of popularity of folk and pirate themed metal, do you thinkpeople get into it for the wrong reasons?
It depends. Of course we are very serious about making music but we can also laugh to ourselves and being serious doesn’t mean that you cant have any blink in the corner of your eye. I dont really care about whats going on inside the genre, eventually there will be too many copycats and overall too many bands and folk metal will suffer the same fate as trash, death and black metal. But Ensiferum is one of the oldest bands so we have nothing to prove, we love making this kind of music and we will continue making it even after the hype is gone.
•How do you feel of the stigma of being fascist, nationalist or racist that many folk or folk themed bands have been struggling with, such as Moonsorrow or Skyforger? Has Ensiferum had issues with it?
We havent had too much problems with that and thats good because we have no political or religious points in our music. But I have to say that I think it sucks ass that some people label other people as neo-nazis, facists etc. without any reason. Because that stigma might hunt you long time even you dont have anything to do with that kind of ideologies.
•What kind of booze does Ensiferum have on their rider and do you drink it from horns backstage as well?
Hehe, we use pints. Vodka and beer, thats it.
•What is your favorite touring destination?
Impossible to say, there are some many great cities on every continent.
•You played with quite some cool bands, so which were the favorite ones?
All the bands that we have toured and shared tourbus have been great people. But Tyr and Moonsorrow guys are one of the best people I know and I would tour with them anytme again!
•Ensiferum is playing Fortarock this year, any bands you are going to watch live there yourselves?
As much as possible. I love summer festivals!
•How do you feel about the dutch audience?
Its always been great!
•Last question, you’ve made some awesome video’s that suited the vibe of
Ensiferum perfectly. Would you be up for making a movie soundtrack if it could be like your video’s?
It would be nice challenge to write music to a movie, who knows maybe someday…
Thank you for your time. I hope these questions were interesting so you enjoyed this.