Botswana is a metal country and that is something most people will not know. The African continent is not known for their wide range of metal bands, but Botswana is the exception. And while some bands have ventured outside their native boundaries to play their music, none has seen so much as Skinflint.
The band hails from Gaborone and has been around since 2006. Having just toured the USA, the group found itself stalled by the global pandemic. Nonetheless, the spirits are ever high in Skinflint and they were glad to answer a number of questions I had and share why they feel African stories are well-suited for metal music, what it’s like to tour with Soulfly and what comes next.
How is Skinflint doing? Has the pandemic been hard on you?
It has affected us all. But fortunately, we are all fine and getting back to making music again.
What got you folks originally into metal music? What made it such fascinating music for you?
Metal is music that breaks stereotypes and pushes boundaries. It was the best platform for our artistic expression.
I’m curious as to how Skinflint started as a band and how you managed to keep a rather solid line-up for so long. Though there’s a vibrant scene in Botswana, finding the right chemistry would seem like a challenge. How is that for Skinflint?
It is hard to find like-minded musicians here in Botswana as even though there is a dedicated Metal following, the scene here is actually small and does not get much recognition locally. I met Kebonye at a festival in Lobatse many years ago. Cosmos I knew him from another band he played for called Amok which disbanded. When Alessandra left the band I thought of him and asked if he wanted to try for auditions.
Musically, you are hard to place in one stylistic corner. But what I find very fascinating is that you take African mythology as part of your themes and topics in the music. I assume these are regional stories, because saying African mythology is as wide-ranging as saying European or Asian mythology, obviously. Could you say something about this and perhaps give a bit of a background for those not in the know on these themes?
Africa is a continent rich in myths and storytelling. Much of which has not been covered by mainstream media. I thought of incorporating some these tales into the bands music. I believe this gives the listener a new perspective to listen to Metal, and also bring to attention some of these tales. Some are regional, some are inspired by true events and others I have played around with.
Why is it significant for you to use metal to tell these stories? What do you want people to take away from Skinflints music?
The stories are raw, dark and strange. It fits the kind of Metal we play well. I hope to see these tales told in other art forms too. I hope people can find some inspiration in them and even incorporate them into their own works. Furthermore, I would love to see more of it, in music, art, video games, comics etc as I don’t see much coverage for them. This is why I have been consistent with them throughout my career. They are important to me and most of it unheard of.
After your last record, the self-titled album from 2018, your drummer Allessandra left the band. You have a new drummer now, has this impacted the direction or sound from the band much?
It has. But not too much. But not just because of her departure, but we feel like it’s time to try something new while still retaining the identity of the band.
Before Covid-19 hit, you guys were touring with your new drummer in the USA. What was that like, playing with bands like Soulfly? And since you got home on the 3rd of March, was it tense towards the end?
Playing with Soulfly felt like a dream. Coming from Botswana, the only place we see these bands is on YouTube or videos. Next thing, we are sharing the stage with musicians we watched growing up. The tour was intense and a vital part of the bands’ growth process. These are the things you cannot teach but need to experience in order to achieve a higher level of playing.
You’re now getting work underway on a new album. What can you tell us about it? Has your creative process been different? What can we expect?
The new album is almost done. You can expect the same raw energy the band is known for but with a few surprises. The songs are heavier this time around, with a newfound energy and chemistry within the band. You can hear a band playing with hunger and heart here. I am confident in the new material.
When do you think it’ll be out, and what plans does Skinflint have for the future?
Early next year. We already have some festivals booked in Europe, and then we hope to confirm further dates in the USA too, hopefully.
Botswana is one of the few African countries with a metal scene that is globally known and seen. While it makes little sense to treat it as an oddity, it is very distinct, DIY and creative. How are things there? Which new bands are coming up that people should know about?
We are proud of the scene here. With Covid hitting and the scene being on hiatus for 2 years now, nothing new has come out. It’s still the same bands that I know of. Check out Overthrust if you like old school Death Metal.
Your local scene was subject to numerous articles and documentaries. In what way has that impacted the metal scene? Has it been positive or negative?
On the positive, it brought attention to a scene that may not have been discovered in the first place. Some of it was really good. But on the bad side some of the documentaries were all about the imagery and completely excluded the music/bands. Skinflint has distanced itself from those, as we felt it was more like a fashion show.
If you had to describe Skinflint as a dish (a type of food), what would it be and why?
Braii. Putting meat on a fire in the middle of the bush. The closer to the bone the sweeter the meat becomes. That is what Skinflint sounds like. In fact, we have braii every time the band gets together to rehearse or record.
For those eagerly awaiting the release of Wardruna’s ‘Kvitravn’, it’s not merely a record on the purchase list for this year. There’s a significance to Wardruna’s music to its listeners that borders on the spiritual. It makes sense, as that is where the music by Einar Selvik comes from. It hails from a deeper place, where we reconnect with nature, our past, and the sanctity of the earth. And through the years, the audience for the Norwegian group has grown and grown.
‘Kvitravn’, release date 22 January 2021, heralds’ new beginnings. It’s the first full-length album outside of the trilogy. It breaks with the original project yet is a continuation. Interestingly, the title is the same as the nom de guerre Selvik used in his black metal days, as part of Gorgoroth, Jotunspor, and other projects. Things come full circle, as it is often in our ancient traditions, which are closely related to the natural cycles. Birth, death, rebirth. We spoke with Einar Selvik on the latest album, or complicated histories, his creative process, the sanctity of nature, and the messages in Wardruna’s music. Enjoy reading this, and keep your eyes peeled for the white raven.
Thanks to Paul Verhagen for the pictures.
Wardruna: myth, mystery & natural harmony
First of all, how are you doing?
I’m doing good. Of course, it’s been busy times with the release coming in. That’s a positive thing in my line of work. I’m chronically busy, actually. Not being able to tour and stuff like that, is of course, sad and strange, but I’ve been busy in the studio working with the music for Assassin’s Creed: Walhalla and stuff like that. So it hasn’t been a downtime at all—more than enough work to do.
You have the new album out now. What has the trajectory been like since the trilogy (Runaljod – Gap var Ginnunga, Yggdrasil, and Ragnarok) and Skald to Kvitravn?
In a way, for me, it is hard to separate this from especially the trilogy. It feels like a continuation. During those 15 years, I was so focused on the trilogy, but there were some things I wanted to do that I put in the drawer for later. Revisiting a lot of these ideas and thoughts was part of the process after the trilogy when I was thinking about what comes next. So, in many ways, it is a continuation. Perhaps, on this album, I go more into the details, the specifics, and the human sphere of things, our relation to nature, and how we define ourselves as a species according to older traditions. It’s more complicated than our body and consciousness, or if you are a religious person, you also have a soul. But in the old ways of seeing it, it is much more complex. The album sort of explores some of these concepts in depth.
There was a series of brief documentaries as part of the album’s promotion, in which you touch upon topics such as animism, traditions, and history. Are these aspects you are referring to?
Animism has always been central to Wardruna and what our music is about. It has been so since the beginning. The topics in that documentary are definitely the backbone of this album, but also relevant to previous works, I would say.
The topics you are working with are incredibly complex and hard to digest in today’s world. I’ve just finished the book ‘Children of Ash and Elm’, which is an excellent resource about Viking history. What one learns is how complicated and multidimensional. We know so little, and there’s so much more than warriors there. As an artist, do you feel the desire to go beyond that simplistic view and be properly understood?
I have the book too. Well, first of all, I have to specify I never intended to replicate music from a specific time period. I use instruments and ideas that go back to the stone age, the bronze age, the migration period, the Viking Age, and even modern times. The idea is that it is kind of timeless and still has the potential to speak to us in the same manner it used to do.
Yeah, I do feel a responsibility. I always say, don’t climb into a tree without solid roots. Doing thorough research into the musicology and the themes I’m working with, approaching them in a scholarly manner… So I have solid ground before I go into these intuitive and creative processes. That’s very much at the core.
As you say, it’s so much more than warfare; that’s just a small part of it. That’s one of the many reasons why I never use the word Viking to describe my work. I prefer the word Norse or whatever. Because defining a whole culture based on what a small group of people did for a short time, that’s entirely wrong. On a personal level also, I’m not so fascinated with that whole era and that warrior culture. It is interesting, and I understand this big focus on Vikings and warfare because they were rulers of their times in many ways. But still… If you would make a series or a game that would be authentic, it would involve a lot of time farming, cooking, or spinning wool, and that’s not so sexy in a way. It’s understandable, but I don’t share that fascination. For me, there are so many things that represent this culture in a more complete way.
There are actually simulation games like that. Yet, you did make music for the Assassin’s Creed videogame and, of course, the TV-show Vikings, which both, in their way, represent that cultural snacking and enable people only to take that element from it. Is that why you get involved in these projects because there is a certain contradictory element in there.
Yes, well…. You have to take it for what it is. The Vikings TV-show or a video game like that, for example, is made for entertaining the masses. For it to be a success in the modern-day, it needs to play on historical correctness and balance it with the modern notion of what that time is. You need both to make it catchy, and with that in mind, you have to deem and judge it by what it is. My expectation is not that they should make a TV-show to entertain only history nerds like me; that would probably not be a very successful show in a broader perspective.
For me, it is, as you say, an opportunity to highlight certain things, like the poetic culture, which is one of the things I really wanted to get across in both my work with Vikings and Assassin’s Creed. Of course, it’s Assassin’s Creed, so you see a lot of the fighting element, but I think they did a great job in including a lot of other things. On the musical side, I really wanted to give voice to the oral tradition, the skalds, which we often forget but were so central for the people, their culture, and the courts. Even for the aristocracy, it was a central part. This allowed me to actually give voice to them and give voice to that and how that culture might have been. I understand the contradiction, but I don’t see it as one. My expectations are based on what they set out to do and what is logical in contemporary times. In any case, I think it is a step in the right direction because they are, of course, removing some stereotypes… and perhaps creating new ones. But also illuminating them and creating a more nuanced view of the times.
Over to ‘Kvitravn,’ can you tell me what the white raven is and what it means to you? Though you have stated there is no relation to your black metal nom de guerre as Kvitravn and this record, it tells us how close this theme is to you.
It is; it’s what inspired me to take that name in the first place. I have long been fascinated by ravens, and I have a form of totemic relationship. Of course, the raven itself is such a central animal in the Norse tradition and mythology. Not only in the north but globally, the raven is seen as a messenger between this world and the next. In the north, it is seen as the trickster, the animal embodiment of the human mind and memory. So, it’s almost seen as the human in nature, in animal shape. It carries a lot of meaning, and then you have these sacred white animals, which is also a global phenomenon. Whether it’s white elephants, serpents, lions, or reindeer, they often come with a prophecy of some form of change, renewal, enlightenment, etcetera. The image of the white raven, the coming or return, labeling an album that, to me, is a powerful symbol and perhaps even a hope and call for change.
If you would condense it in a way to a modern factor of change, what is it that you hope people take from this? Because through your words, also in talking about animism and your creative process, which is so tightly interwoven with the connection to nature, I detect an environmentalist viewpoint.
You are, of course, correct. But I hate preaching or claiming to know any truth, saying what other people should do… But if my music has some form of a message within it, it would be that I do think it would be beneficial if we all had a more animistic view of the world. What I mean by that is the idea that nature is something sacred, something we are a part of and not the rulers off. That doesn’t have to be a spiritual or religious thing; it’s an attitude. The second we took that sacredness out of nature and put it up in the sky or completely disregarded it, that’s when we got into trouble. I think it would benefit us all if we all had a more respectful view of nature as something we are the caretakers of in a way. It’s something we should respect, something sacred in a way.
It’s simple. I think it represents all of my music. You can look upon many of these things as spiritual things, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s something that is relevant, whether you are a spiritual person or not. It’s an attitude, a philosophy; it’s something beyond those things. Timeless, universal, and highly relevant to all of us.
You spoke at Roadburn a few years ago about your creative process and explained the deep connection to nature when you actually compose and even record your music. For the video of Lyfjaberg, you climbed up a mountain. How was that during the creation of ‘Kvitravn’?
The inspiration can come from many things. As you say, perhaps my main muse is when I walk; it’s when I see and hear things. Sometimes it comes from the instruments, poetry, or the themes I work with have such a strong image that I see and hear the sound of it, and then it’s about chasing down these things. This album follows the same kind of creative concept, where the themes themselves find the instrumental needs, where I record, what state I’m in when I record. I try and go as far as I can in interpreting the theme I’m working with on its own premise. Capturing it, if you will.
Some recordings on this album have been done in places that have a connection to the theme I’m working with, the time of day, or a state of mind. It’s hard to give you concrete examples of it, but I still work in the same way. There are quite some recordings in forests, sacred places, and on burial mounds.
While listening to it, I felt more buildup and cinematic quality, if I can use that term, compared to the previous records. Do you think your other projects affect the sound you create in that direction?
I don’t think there has been any conscious decision on changing it. Of course, in everything I do, every song I write, I learn something from and build on in my work. That goes for everything in my life. I guess I’m always chasing this soundscape; I feel I’m getting closer and closer to my visions. I get better at replicating what is in my head when I’m inspired, hearing, and envisioning these songs. That’s an ongoing organic process, but not a conscious process of decisions. I try to let the song go where it wants to go, rather than me trying to give it any kind of shape.
You mentioned before not wanting to preach anything, and I want to get back to that for a moment. When you started Wardruna, it was singular, unique, and a new avenue. By now, Wardruna is a global phenomenon with dedicated fans around the world. Listening to Wardruna for them is usually not ‘just throwing on a record’; it’s more than that. Has this in any way affected how you see yourself as an artist and how you approach your art?
No, I try not to relate to that part. Fame, the growth of the band, that’s something I try to keep a distance from, especially when I’m writing my music. I’m not writing music for anyone else; I’m writing it for me. That’s my perspective. I’m writing music I want to hear, and if anyone can enjoy it, that’s fantastic, but not the reason I’m doing it. Which, I think, is a healthy way of looking at it.
I don’t think it would be good if I felt pressure to create this or that, to adapt my art in any way. I don’t compromise. But, of course, it is challenging. You meet a lot of people, and I relate to the fact our music is growing. Yet, I try to keep a healthy focus on it and not feed my ego; it’s not about that. I try to distance myself from that side of it.
What are the best compliments for you that you receive from listeners?
I don’t know, but it is always special to hear that people connect to it, which I hear often. It gives them something and awakes something healthy on a very personal level. That’s, of course, more than anyone can hope for. Many of these songs live their own lives in the world and give meaning to people. That’s a special thing and overwhelming in many ways.
This album has been ready to go for a while. You mentioned you’ve been busy, so I’m curious if you’ve already started looking for future musical directions for Wardruna?
To be completely honest, actually no. I’ve been so busy on the Assassin’s Creed project, which is an ongoing project. I’ve been very occupied with that, and this period has allowed me to pursue that in a more healthy way without touring on top of that. But, of course, if this period continues putting limitations on what we can and cannot do what we normally do, I will remain productive.
I always think about where to go and what things I want to do and give voice to. On a certain level, that process is ongoing, but I haven’t started recording or planning yet. I presume that is to come.
So those are my questions, just a personal anecdote I wanted to share. A few years ago at Roadburn, a photo exposition was posted, which giant concert photos. One photograph (by Paul Verhagen) of you displayed there was given to me as a wedding gift and now hangs in my living room. My 5-month old daughter has her playpen right beneath it and stares up at you a lot, to the point I’m worried she may be unclear which face is daddy.
*laughs* I’m honored to take part of your home. Give my best to your family!
Thank you very much Einar, best of luck on your release, and let’s hope things turn to normal so we can see Wardruna live again!
Same here! We always love coming to the Netherlands. We’ve always been received very well there, and it’s become our second home in many ways.
Vietnam is a far-away place and often our perception is limited to cinematic exposure and (in my case) snack food. I’m not stating this to make light of it, just to illustrate how little we sometimes may know about the world around us. Vong is a black metal project, hailing from the South-East Asian nation, and its sole contributor Indigo Tongue weaves the history and culture of his country into the tapestry of its music.
Vong has released a debut, titled ‘A Wander in Liminality’, in 2019. A record that stands on its own, with a distinct flavour and identity. I was happy to find Indigo Tongue willing to fill me in on its contents, the Vietnamese metal scene and more.
A Wander in Liminality with Vong
How is Vong doing? How has the pandemic been treating you?
Greetings, it’s been an honor to represent my home country and take part in your project.
Aside from not being able to hang out with my friends or jamming with my bandmates, I’m not really affected by the pandemic. Normally I work from home and staying in means I get more time to finish my artworks, record new materials, or tend to my cat and my plants.
Your moniker is Indigo Tongue, can you tell me what that means for you?
It was an alias that I picked for my illustration projects. It came to me pretty randomly and doesn’t necessarily mean anything much, other than bearing a mystic vibe to it. I figured it had a nice ring and decided to adopt it for the black metal project as well.
What got you into metal music?
I couldn’t say much, other than the fact that I developed a taste for it in my teenage years, just like most people. It started with something like Metallica or Black Sabbath and got gradually more extreme down the line.
Can you tell me how you started the project (which I understand is a one-man band) and what bands inspired you to make this kind of music?
It’s not hard to point out that I was inspired mainly by several second wave Norwegian bands, or specifically, the most notorious one-man black metal project that I need not mention. It was their sound that bought me: raw, uncompromised and gritty, cold and grim like a rusty blade cleaving into your flesh. What fascinated me was the fact that they made do with whatever equipment they had at hands, which was a similar situation that I found myself in: I was in college studying fine arts, all equipment I had around the house was a cheap guitar whose neck had broken twice and got glued back, a combo amp, my cellphone which I used to record everything and my laptop. So me, being a DIY guy, decided that I’d try to make black metal with whatever I had lying around.
At the same time, I found black metal to be the subgenre that I’m most comfortable with, compared to other subgenres that I had listened to. I’ve always been drawn to themes like romanticism, occultism, nature, death, human emotions,… and dark medieval aesthetics. Black metal just happens to have most of them to offer.
You’ve released your debut in 2019, titled ‘A Wander in Liminality’.
What can you tell about the process of creating this record?
Like I’ve mentioned, it was all DIY, from the process of recording, mixing to the artworks. It was a fun experience, as I was new to songwriting and audio engineering at the time so I got to experiment recording with a cellphone and fooling around in the digital audio workspace.
I built a pillow fort around the amp and just stuck the phone in to record it, and samples on the title tracks were from creaking cupboard doors, amp static noises and me gargling water over the phone. For the intro of the track “Lệ Chi Viên”, I used the bell and mokugyo (or fish drum, a small wooden percussion typically used in chanting and ceremonies) from the family altar (probably without my ancestors’ permission).
The creation of the artworks was my favourite too. They were all hand-drawn and took many weeks to finish. But the end results were worth it, I believe they were the best artworks I’d ever completed up to that point.Overall, it was a fun experience as I learned a lot about songwriting and audio engineering from it, despite the horrible sound quality, which was a result of recording on a cellphone.
Some of your song titles are in Vietnamese, yet your lyrics are in English. Why did you choose this language and not your own? Black metal has never had an issue with different languages, it would appear, so it would be a valid choice.
Vietnamese is a complicated and colourful language that works very much different from Germanic or Latin. For example, there are dozens of different pronouns depending on age, genders, relationships and context of the speech, which makes wording a chore. If I were to write a romantic poem in Vietnamese, it would flow elegantly like a petal in the stream. But we are talking about black metal, so the lyrics tend to focus on sorrow, war and hatred,… you know, the whole nine yards. Writing about such matters in Vietnamese often feels kinda cheesy (to me, at least). It’s just really hard to explain to non-native speakers.
But the most important reason why I stick with English is that I knew the majority of listeners were going to be foreigners because I was pretty much unknown in the local scene back then. I’d spent a lot of time on the lyrics, so I wanted them to be heard and understood. At the same time, most Vietnamese metalheads (or the youths in general) are capable of understanding English since they are no strangers to Western culture, so it’s a win-win situation.
I understand you are inspired by literature and history, specifically of your home country of Vietnam. Can you say something about this? And can you give some insights into what sort of stories and writers those are?
History and culture have always been among my favourite subjects, and when I took a look at our own history and customs, I found a lot of aspects that would fit well in the context of black metal. For example, over the course of three millenniums of our recorded history, we had fended off foreign invaders numerous times, got subjugated and revolted again and again until we gained sovereignty, which inspired a patriotic theme (not to be confused with ultranationalism) similar to those observed in some of my favourite projects. When it comes to history, I often draw inspiration from tragic events (foreign oppression, famine, persecution of innocents…) or decisive battles that shaped the country. Sometimes it was wartime stories from family members who served in the army as well.
Asides from history, I took inspiration from folklore as well, most of which however are orally passed on from one generation to the next, so no one really knows the dates or who the authors were. Typically these stories either serve as explanations to origins of beings, or fables that reflect the perspectives and moral values of Vietnamese people.
Like most Oriental cultures, our customs and beliefs are heavily based on spiritualism and have a connection to death and the afterlife, with rituals and ceremonies involving the dead. Although Buddhism is the most popular religion in the country, people found ways to integrate folk religions into it, like worshipping ancient deities and saints alongside the Buddha, or ancestor veneration, which is considered unique to the Vietnamese culture, also inspired the themes of Vong.
Vietnam is a country which is to most, including to myself, known mostly for the Vietnam war, which I’m sure has its reverberations to this very day. As you intentionally chose themes from your culture and the English language, is it a purpose for you to change of at least affect that view?
You could say so. Southeast Asian countries have a rich history and cultures but they are often overshadowed by East Asian nations. It wasn’t until the 50’s that we were actually recognized as an independent country internationally when the French colonialism was put to an end, and not until the breakout of the Vietnam War that we were put on the map. Yes, the Vietnam War very much shaped the country as we know it today, but I wanted to point out that there are much more to Vietnamese history rather than the stereotypical “American PTSD experience”.
You’ve also been active in Elcrost, which would seem to focus on a more western romanticism in the lyrics and themes. How did you get into this project and how does it relate to the obvious other direction you embrace with Vong?
It’s a small scene. I’d known the guys from Elcrost before joining their live lineup and we have been good friends ever since. At that point, we were the only two active black metal bands with original materials in the North, they needed session members for live gigs because two out of three guys were abroad and I’d need live members since I’m a one-man project. So we formed up as a 2-in-1 kind of lineup, where we’d perform songs of both bands at gigs under Elcrost/Vong, featuring members of Vietnamese bands like Rot (black metal) and Cút Lộn (thrash/punk) at the time.
Well, just because Vong embraces national history and culture, doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy Western literature and arts. After all both projects are influenced by Western arts and music. The only difference is that I chose to integrate Vietnamese themes in the lyrics. So even if the themes or music of both projects contradict, we share quite some common interests in visual arts and Romanticism. I very much enjoyed their materials and it was a great experience playing in their live lineup and taking part in their EP “Foregone Fables”.
What is it like to make this kind of extreme music in Vietnam? Is there a connection with surrounding countries?
Like I’ve mentioned, the extreme metal scene in Vietnam is relatively small, so as soon as you drop new materials you will certainly get support from the Vietnamese metal scene, which I find rather wholesome.
I’m aware of black metal acts in neighbouring countries like Thailand or Laos and to a greater extent, the Southeast Asia region. I have made contact with the Thai black metal project กาฬพราย (Kanprai), but other than that I don’t know much about connections between bands within the region.
How free are you to explore darker themes in your music? Is there censorship to take into account?
To a certain extent, but in general, it’s rather easy to breathe. Most extreme metal bands are under the radar of mainstream media so most people don’t know or care if you write songs about butchering humans or burning churches. They would just call it noisy or unintelligible music and turn their heads. But of course, censorship is a thing here and there are certain parts where one should tread lightly if you don’t want to catch the attention of the authority, i.e. controversial topics like politics or history of the past 70 years.
Vong is associated with House of Ygra. What sort of cooperation is this and how did you connect?
House of Ygra is a new label based in Hanoi, founded by members of the local scene. Their specialities are black metal, melodic death metal, gothic and experimental stuff, so naturally, I was offered to join their roster, which I gladly accepted. Their role is to produce and distribute merch like CDs, shirts and art prints for bands as well as taking part in visual designs.
What are the future plans for Vong?
I plan to save money for a recording mic and a proper bass (the bass on the demo was played on a guitar pitch-shifted an octave down), finish the artworks for CD releases, record another full length or two, probably another EP or a split before retiring it and move on to other projects.
If Vong was a type of food, a dish, what would it be and why?
Not exactly a dish but I’d go with green tea mixed with passion fruit juice and a spoonful of honey, solely because it’s my trusty beverage during vocal sessions.
Indonesia is a hotbed for metal, though black metal is rarer so I was surprised to find the debut album of Glora Nexus in my mailbox. The band from Jakarta is a solo project from Svarte, who is determined to pave his own path in the genre. The debut, ‘A Grand Monument To Mortality’ is quite an engaging piece of work, that combines a raw approach with an atmospheric sound. On the album, there are some guests contributing. Alexander Lexy from Blodwen plays the guitars on a track, Ragnar Sverrisson from Helfró joins on vocals, Teguh Permana from Tarawangsawelas plays the tarawangsa and finally from death metallers Devoured, Ardian Nuril Anwar joins in. It ads to the result, because the downside of a one-man band is that it often gets to be much of the same. Also, it adds a little death metal groove to the sound I feel.
Svarte was kind enough to answer a bunch of my questions, that came up. Well, most of them, as is his right as an artist to keep holding on to a certain mysterious side of the band. More than anything, I encourage you to check out the music. After all, that’s what this is about.
Glora Nexus and Indonesian black metal
How is Glora Nexus doing? How has the pandemic been treating you?
Hi, I’m still fine even though sometimes it’s very annoying to be in a pandemic situation that has succeeded in limiting the space for human activities. Thank you very much for this interview, I had fun answering it! Also, a very personal thanks to you and I wish you live much luck, keep supporting the underground!
What got you into metal music?
To be honest, “Ascension of a Divine Ordinance” was the first metal song I heard when my uncle brought some CDs home. at least Messiah’s Rotten Perish album has made me familiar with the metal genre.
I felt that sense of pride and individuality that only true feelings for metal can give a person, I listen to metal because I truly love it with an undying passion, and I’ve always been so proud of that, I’ve never bowed to any trend or done anything because I was “supposed” to, and I’m very glad that I had the ability to become an individual instead of a mindless follower like how 99% of today’s society is, indeed. Just like any other human being, I grew up together in the good and the bad, it was good in a sense.
Can you tell me how the project got started, and what bands inspired you to make this kind of music? I understand Glora Nexus is a one-man project.
Previously I asked you, have you ever read the results of the interview answers about this question?. If you have found it, I will not rewrite it here. Sorry to say, I’m not really interested in this question. The music of a Black Metal band should be dark in some way. There is no law that would forbid growling from a Black Metal singer. And I’d like to see bands use more imagination, knowledge, and individuality in their lyrics. Could it be more pathetic?
(ed.) If the reader is interested, here is more to be found in the interview on Occult Black Metal Zine, which is the other interview I’ve found. A later interview sheds more light too, on Himnos Ritualis. I do feel the music sounds particularly as if it has been inspired by the Icelandic scene.
Before your EP, you released two singles, what has been the development like for you as an artist towards this EP?
I don’t think there is any clear and definite answer, but this is a philosophical statement using music as a vehicle and I think that is just plain foolish. From the song “Spiritual Havoc” to the release of the EP “A Grand Monument To Mortality” is that progression is simply exploring yourself because in the end music and all art is a reflection of the artist. As long as you explore yourself and use yourself to write music. Ultimately the quality of a musical work should reflect the musician’s confidence in his own abilities and his ambition to achieve the desired result.
You’ve just released your EP ‘A Grand Monument To Mortality’. What can you tell me about this record, your process in creating it?
From my own experience, I find that through the years I have become more comfortable and find myself trying out new things or trying stuff I could not pull off in the past. I have always held a certain philosophy behind songwriting. I like tempo changes and transitions to build up different moods and I think there needs to be a certain natural flow to how all the riffs come together and how the melodies float over them. I don’t think we have reached the ideal sound or style just yet, but I think that any active musician would say that it is just an ongoing process filled with development and experimentation. The composition of “A Grand Monument To Mortality” was really spontaneous, kinda comparable to how we did proceed with the debut track “Spiritual Havoc”. When I had the complete songs and their related lyrics we started to add this and that to melt each lyric to its own musical support. Everything went very fast a bit like if some force was just telling us what to do, it was quite intense and natural.
What sort of theme are you striving for with Glora Nexus? The artwork of the EP gives me very specific vibes that sort of click with dark romanticism, but maybe I’m completely wrong there.
I think people just got bored with their hollowness and started to look for something with a deeper meaning behind it. Our “imagery” is everything to us. My attraction to Black Metal has always been based on the combination of the raw primitive aggression with the melodic and atmospheric elements that come together to create such a cold and dark listening experience. We try to keep the Black Metal spirit alive with our vision. To me, our central theme has always been and will always be nihilism and Solitude is essential for keeping yourself balanced and healthy if you are unhappy being around most people, as I am. From my point of view, this is also beneficial as staying isolated keeps one’s ideas independent and free of any manipulating influence. That’s what I wanted to convey with Glora Nexus when we started out, and that’s the path we still tread.
What is it like to make this kind of extreme music in Indonesia? I know little about the scene there, apart from fragments displayed in the ‘Global Metal’ documentary, which is years old now. Can you say something about that?
To me, nothing surprising. Indonesia’s metal scene is one of the countries that attract the attention of death metal maniac audiences with all the positives and negatives that accompany it. I think that most Indonesian bands are original because of our national character. We have this inborn tendency to be very individual, to the point of being stubborn. Currently, the Indonesian black metal scene has also grown very significantly with the presence of several bands that have been able to attract international audiences to start paying attention to their existence. I think, “A Grand Monument To Mortality” has also helped strengthen us into the Indonesian metal scene further, at least I hope so.
Even if you are the reigning king of the universe, you have to bargain with people and deal with them in a proper manner. I think this is indisputable.
How free are you to explore darker themes in your music? Is there censorship to take into account?
Of course, I would never limit the theme, although there are also quite dark themes like you said. Glora Nexus is a means for me to externalize what I feel and spread it upon the world like a plague. I see Glora Nexus as the most important thing in my life right now. this musical project is a means for me to “unleash” the darkness within me. let me ask you something: how many people who listen to violent and extreme music are actually placid and harmless individuals in real life? We ought not to forget that music is an extremely powerful medium, with the capability to affect sensibilities in all sorts of unpredictable ways.
When I was reading up on you, I found an interview and you express the following sentiment: “The Spirit of Opposition is still very much alive & potent in the most obscure underground fanatical circles. Life is war, choose your side, stand for the underground.” What do you feel extreme metal in this time should be opposing? And where does Glora Nexus stand?
This is a good question, as it illustrates the way in which we humans unconsciously dress up the world to suit our needs and desires. It’s easy to extrapolate this further into other avenues of existence, and determines the structure of our awareness. Everyone ought to find his or her own path to happiness. I don’t believe in ‘utopian’ solutions if you have that in mind. When each individual lives for nothing but his own benefit then society cannot hold for long, at least when taking in mind the way most humans behave themselves. I think that as long as one is able to adapt, even if it’s a superficial adaptation and not a ‘real’ one, they will be able to survive. But this is not a simple process for them. Admit it, humans are anomalous creatures. Glora Nexus’ position is not to deny all forms of human existence, even the absurd ones. because reaching a compromise with another human being is almost impossible to avoid in real life. Even if you are the reigning king of the universe, you have to bargain with people and deal with them in a proper manner. I think this is indisputable.
You’re releasing your EP through Bhumidhuka Productions (Malaysia) and Harsh Production (Indonesia). How is the connection between local and national scenes in your region? As it surprises me your record is also coming out on a Malaysian label.
I think the Indonesian metal scene is still very solid even though there are some people whose passion lies more on an individualistic level who just want to be left alone with their creations. We’ve partnered with Bhumidhuka Productions and Harsh Production for the release CD and cassette so far, at the same time I’m happy that we’ve been able to at least have people interested in working with us.
What are the future plans for Glora Nexus?
The new record will be even more unholy than ever before!
My fascination for dungeon synth is a perpetuating occupation in exploring new artists’ work and locating unique creativity. I had not thought to find dungeon synth being produced on the island of Réunion, in the Indian Ocean. Aker Aeon is not an original inhabitant of the island, but it is where his memories of the beloved home turf in Occitania sparked the inspiration for his main project: Akerius.
Akerius is an oddity in dungeon synth for its location, but also a unique sound. At times foreboding, dark and full of alchemical mystery, at other times hints of pastoral landscapes ad to the colour of his sound. This October, he released his latest record, titled ‘Shadowed Paths Through Middle Earth’. A beautiful, Tolkienesque piece of art in shadowy times.
Though personal issues momentarily put the interview on hold, Aker Aeon quickly got back to me with a wealth of answers about his music, inspiration, and facing this pandemic in the most remote part of France.
Occitanian Nostalgia and Dungeon Synth with Akerius
Let’s start with a ‘How are you doing?’
I’m doing fine, had to fix some personal issues a few days ago but things are getting better now, and quicker than what I was expecting. I think my passion for music helped me to deal with stress and tiredness! Finally, this interview is a good opportunity to take my mind off things.
How has the pandemic affected your life on Reunion?
Quarantine, curfew, wearing masks,…etc. Our situation in Réunion is not so different than from other countries. But at the moment, we succeeded in maintaining an “acceptable” situation, for example, there is no confinement anymore (until when ?…) but more restrictions concerning liberty: always wearing masks, no gatherings with friends or family and so on…
The positive thing is that I can spend more time at home and I’m more focused on writing and playing music. But on the other hand, this pandemic situation can also affect you so deeply then making music can be the last of your preoccupations! We all clearly need escapism…
I understand you’re not native to the island, can you share a bit about how you ended up there?
Yes, I was born in Occitania, a place fantastic region full of history (medieval castles, legends, secret places…). I’ve grown with all this ‘background’ and my mother used to tell me stories about those places, especially Carcassonne and the legendary Cathar country. Of course, I feel very nostalgic about this period and this is one of the reasons I started my project ‘Akerius’.
I decided to move to Réunion island for professional and personal reasons. I studied sciences for years (Biology & Geology) and Réunion is a very attractive place when you are fond of science and biodiversity, but the one more reason why I moved is love…
How did you get into dungeon synth music and metal and which is the dominant style you enjoy? Which acts inspired you?
It all started with the “Norwegian black metal era” as I was a reader (and still I am) of a magazine called “Metallian” wich deals with extreme and underground music but also plenty of different styles like ‘avant-garde’ music…etc. I discovered this extreme music called ‘black-metal’ and it was so intriguing, mysterious, violent but also romantic. Of course, I think you cannot dissociate Black Metal from DS, I’m thinking about Burzum, Mortiis, Wongraven…but I’m not a ‘specialist’ of the genre then I won’t do more comments about it. I must say I enjoy listening to DS, Metal, Black Metal in an alternative way, it depends on the mood of the day. For example, a few days ago, I was even listening to some old VanHalen vinyl!!! Today I’m more into ‘Darkenhöld‘ and ‘Crepuscule d’Hiver‘ (french atmospheric/melodic black metal bands accompanied by a medieval universe). Inspiration comes in fact from many bands, many albums and many genres!
You have multiple projects going on as I understand it. There is Akerius, Aker (Aeon), and Nosferâ (am I missing any?). Can you tell a bit more about all these projects? I’m also curious about how they connect, particularly Akerius and Aker.
Nosferâ is a live metal band with some death/black metal influences that I created with my son who is a young drummer and also some good friends. We created this band for the pleasure of playing ‘live’ some compositions. Each musician puts his own influences in it, it’s a strong amalgam of genres, we’re having great fun playing together! Unfortunately, we were programmed to play for a festival here in Réunion island called “La Nuit de Kal” during the Halloween period, unfortunately, it has been cancelled because of the pandemic situation! But we’re still doing rehearsals, we try to keep it up!
AKER is an ‘instrumental’ metal project. Inspiration comes from all my musical influences, it’s very diverse, depends on what I’m listening at the moment, for example, the EP “Stellar Sacrifice” (featuring a track with Stuurm from Gargoylium/Crepusculed’Hiver) was written while I was listening to a lot to the THORNS VS EMPEROR album.
Out of curiosity, how do you create ‘dark’ music in a place that is, as far as I can tell, the opposite? Though I do see magnificent nature in photographs of your place of residence.
This dark ambient and medieval music come directly from my imagination after reading books, watching movies, listening to music… in fact, I am like most of the musicians who are writing their own music, so nothing special here… But I must say that Réunion’s landscapes are so fantastic that they can be a great source of inspiration! Especially the mountains, forests and volcanic areas! Nature can be ‘magnificent’ as you said but there are also some secret, mythical and ‘grandiose’ places that can inspire you in a way and feed your imagination if you’re receptive to it! For example, I explored months ago a lava tunnel that inspired me the music for ‘Inside The Trolls Cavern’ from my last album.
Is there any sort of scene there to speak of in darker music in the broadest sense of the word (metal, dungeon synth, or even punk)? yeah…metal, punk, rock, progressive/alternative rock…etc. Some very good local bands from Réunion are trying their best to export their music (not so easy when you’re isolated in an island!). Concerning DS, I did not hear from any other projects, it looks like I’m the only one, and let’s hope that in the future there will be more DS projects here…
Your latest album is ‘Shadowed Paths Through Middle Earth’. This is a Tolkienesque album, but that’s not your regular topic as I understand it. What are your inspirations for dungeon synth?
I’ve been listening to a lot to Mortiis, Summoning, Ulver, Emperor, Covenant, Satyricon, Wongraven, Evol, … just to name a few. Inspiration comes from music first (it can sound strange but I listen a lot to King Diamond or Mercyful Fate when I lack imagination), but of course also literature, movies or even paintings can inspire me in a way. For example, I particularly appreciate some drawings from John Howe but I also admire the work from other underground artists (Bard Algol, Corbac Lenoir).
On the other hand, you’ve now used Middle Earth. What are particular aspects that make Tolkien so inspiring for you? What are your favourite tales from his work and are there other fantasy writers you enjoy and would pay tribute to (I’m personally still hoping to find some Gemmell-inspired ds)?
Yes, S.P.T.M.E is a ‘special’ one in my discography as it’s the only album dealing with the Tolkien’s universe. Music was written during a period I was reading some tales about Middle-earth, the last one I read (once again) was ‘The Children of Húrin’ which I did not like a lot on first reading. Tolkien’s work deals with many themes and the world he has created is also made of drawings, songs and of course tales, all of this is incredibly rich and inspiring! Of course, there is also this atmosphere of melancholy and the struggle between good and evil that feeds many of his stories: definitively inspiring for writing music! I do not have favourite tales but let’s say I usually come back to ‘Bilbo The Hobbit’ and of course ‘The Lord of the Rings’ which is a much more complex and dark work. Because of its darkness, it is more appealing to me…I don’t plan to pay tribute to other fantasy writers for the moment but as you suggested I should start reading ‘LEGEND’ from David Gemmell, some friends always encouraged me reading it because the fantasy universe he has created is different and original. We’ll see…
What is your recording process like and what sort of equipment and instruments do you use?
The recording process is very simple: a DAW, a sound card, and an old Korg keyboard with enough presets to make some decent music but I do not use MIDI sequencing. In a way, my approach of making music is ‘old school’, the sounds & presets that I’m using are very simple and ‘ basic’ comparing to the 2021 audio technology (not to mention the ultimate quest to get a ‘wall of sound’ mastering). Maybe in the future, I’ll try to use more modern sounds but for the moment it’s ok, I’m not ‘disgusted’ with my recording equipment yet.
I also use electric and acoustic guitars and a ‘baglama’ when I want to add some special vibes or dark ambiences. I always liked the acoustic or clean guitar interludes you can find in metal, that’s why I tried to add some guitar parts in my DS compositions.
What are your thoughts on the phenomenon that is dungeon synth and modern offshoots like a comfy synth?
Don’t really know what to think about it, but all I hope is that the ‘dungeon synth’ revival stream will get stronger and will spread the world, lots of my friends who didn’t know this genre like it a lot now! I think it’s the kind of the music that is very appropriated to listen to when you are in isolation, and if you need to disconnect from reality, it can easily transport you to other places and time… This music is so deep and mysterious, I think this is why it attracts more and more people including musicians starting their new projects. Comfy synth is not music I’m used to listening to, any artists come to my mind right now but I will look forward to it!
This brings me to the question how do you define dungeon synth? Because opinions vary and for some, the definition is quite narrow, for others it’s very broad.
The origin of this music is very special and complicated, so many things have been said and everyone has his own explanations and arguments. I won’t try to give a definition as I’m not myself a ‘specialist’ of the genre. I think that Dungeon Synth is a “sub-genre” of black metal, but nowadays when you listen to the new DS scene you can easily notice that the music is ‘polished’ and clean when you compare it with the sound of the dark period of the ‘old school’ DS! It has evolved so much!
DS can deal with so many themes and ambiences: darkness, melancholy, fear, mystery, history (medieval times), paganism, sorcery, literature…etc. And the music can be mixed and recorded in so many different ways (lo-fi or a bright and powerful mastering with a ‘more modern vibe’). For all these reasons and different aspects, it’s so hard for me to define it!
What future plans do you have for Akerius, Aker and other musical releases?
I have no plans, I play what comes. I can write some music very quickly because inspiration is knocking at the dungeon door. And if I have enough energy to shape what I have in my mind, I motivate myself to start the recording process which can be a time-consuming thing if you’re a perfectionist like me. But during this pandemic period, creating music is a “mind healing”, so the more plans I’ll have the more it will be fine!
If you had to describe your music as a dish, what would it be and why?
If my music was a dish it would be a good « Cassoulet » with a glass of red wine or a glass of Hypocras (a medieval drink that I particularly like). Cassoulet is a speciality from the ‘Occitanian terroir’(the region where I was born). Sausages, confit (typically duck), pork, and white beans are used to cook this dish. An excellent option for entertaining especially on cold winter nights when the weather calls for a stick-to-your-ribs kind of meal. It’s a very ancient, authentic and generous dish. I would be perfect tasting it in an old tavern or inside a medieval castle! If you never tasted it, you should try one day 😉
But of course, music is the best food for the soul… Thanks for giving me the opportunity to do this interview Guido! Salut!
Taiwan is a strange country to most in the west, yet it has brought forth some fascinating metal groups. The small island state is also known as the Republic of China and Chinese Taipei. Its history and identity is complex, but bands like Bloody Tyrant take up the deep, cultural roots that dwell there.
Bloody Tyrant (暴君) has been around for 11 years and has released 5 full-length albums to this date. One of their topics is the Sun Moon Lake, where the band originates from and which inspires them to share the native stories of the island. The band was kind enough during this time to answer my questions and tell a bit more about metal in Taiwan and their latest album: ‘Myths of the Islands’.
Lords of the Isles: Bloody Tyrant
How is Bloody Tyrant doing?
We’re doing pretty well. Has the band suffered from the COVID-19 outbreak much? How has it hindered your efforts as a band?
A lot of shows were canceled, but we’re glad that Taiwan is doing a good job at handling the pandemic, and we’re getting more and more shows back on.
Please, tell me something about your background and how you got into metal music. I understand some of you also have different projects.
Most of us started with school activities back in the days, and started listening to heavier and heavier music, then started to get our own bands going.
Can you tell me something about the formation of Bloody Tyrant and how the band has evolved?
In the beginning, Bloody Tyrant was an extreme black metal band. But as time moves forward, and tastes and creative directions change, we are now more of a folk metal band.
Taiwan has a fairly lively heavy alternative music scene and a lot of bands merge folk with black metal, like yourselves. What made you choose to blend these styles and create a distinctive and unique sound for yourselves?
Actually, there aren’t that many bands in Taiwan like that, or I would say there aren’t that many bands in Taiwan.
What is the reason to make your country’s mythology part of your theme? How important is it that your music reflects something of your heritage?
Part of the reason why we started using those traditional instruments was that some of the members were in those Chinese traditional orchestras and studies traditional instruments back in the days.
On Metal Archives, special reference is made to Sun Moon Lake. Can you tell me more about why it is so significant and an important topic in your music?
Sun Moon Lake is located in the only county in Taiwan that’s almost next to the sea – Nantou, and that’s also where Bloody Tyrant started. So to have mythologies about Sun Moon Lake as our theme was a way to be connected to our land.
In the middle of this pandemic, you have released a new album, titled ‘Myths of the Islands’. What can you tell me about the recording and writing process of this record?
Actually, we started to work on this album back in 2018, where we started to look for those mythologies about the aboriginals. And just like the two previous albums, we tracked and mixed the album in 2019.
What story can listeners learn by listening to this album? Most songs you’ve shared are introduced as stories from your land. Can you provide a small introduction to these stories?
The stories from the album are all from the Taiwanese aboriginal mythologies, and just like many other cultures of religions, there are mythologies about the genesis, the flood, shooting the sun, and plague and that kind of story. Some of those mythologies are related to their rituals, totems, and such.
How has the reception of this record been this far?
Although the style is very different from our previous albums, for the folk metal fans they have been enjoying the album, and for some people who are into the Taiwanese aboriginal cultures, they are also happy to see a Taiwanese metal band promoting such stories.
What’s happening right now in Taiwan’s metal scene? What bands should people really check out today and what interesting things are happening?
There aren’t many metal bands in Taiwan, but slowing getting more. And since there aren’t that many metal bands, so the styles are very limited. Again, because there aren’t that many metal bands, so the bands with styles that aren’t as modern would be very interesting, such as melodic death metal band Sacrifice, Taiwanese folk style gothic band Crescent Lament, black metal band Efflore, symphonic black metal band Raven Skull, etc.
As an island nation, do you connect to scenes from neighboring countries?
Although we use the instrument that is commonly seen as a Chinese instrument – Pipa, a lot, and indeed the instrument was imported into China way back in the days and became populated by China, but this kind of instrument also got into Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Ryukyu, etc and they each became their own, so we just call it an oriental instrument.
Taiwan was ruled by Japan for a period of time, so not only the domestic development was influenced by the Japanese, but also culturally, even until this day, and that’s why we had the album HAGAKURE.
Politics are often involved when bands talk about their origins, history, and legends. Being a band from Taiwan, is that a part of what focus on as a band, especially today?
It’s actually kind of sad, as when rock n’ roll, metal, or the freedom movement were at their peak back in the 70s or 80s, Taiwan was actually under martial law, so that inhibited our cultural development by a lot. In order to have Taiwan be known in the global artistic field, Taiwanese bands would really have to catch up, and also we really have to have some political views to get rid of the old, outdated way of thinking.
Also, politics is about people, it influences how we live our lives, everything is connected to politics, every culture, every language, and every story is a byproduct of politics.
What future plans do you currently have and do you plan to tour Europe again?
We will be going into the promotion phase for our new album. We will definitely be planning to go back to Europe after the pandemic, as we received really good feedback from our European tour this year.
If Bloody Tyrant was a dish, a type of food, what would it be and why?
I’d say we would be Japanese style Naples pasta. Because Bloody Tyrant fuses different cultures together and it became its own kind, just like Japanese style western food, when different cuisines were imported to Japan, they became their own Japanese food.
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.
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
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 MoonOrchard, 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.
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”.
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.