Sidereal Fortress: Artistic Freedom & Dungeon Synth

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

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

Read on, and enter the world of Sidereal Fortress.

Sidereal Fortress – of crypts, forests and valleys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lóndrangar – Lóndrangar

Lóndrangar awakens from its slumber

How lovely it is to discover new dungeon synth artists emerging from a country not particularly well known for its imagination. It’s ok for me to say this, as it concerns an artist from the Netherlands itself. I’m not sure what it is – our lack of wild places, the country’s flat nature, or a simple disconnect with the mysteries of our past. All of these seem to be well part of the Dutch condition, yet here and there magic appears, for those willing to see it. Lóndrangar is a project that has been slumbering in the forgotten past but now has reawakened.

Toner Low might be the last band I’d associate with dungeon synth, but member Daan started Lóndrangar a lifetime ago, back in 1997. After only a short period of a year, it became dormant and had been until we had this global pandemic raging around our globe. And there, we have it, the self-titled debut after long last. The songs are completely new though. And if you were wondering, Lóndrangar is named after an eroded volcanic rock formation on Iceland’s west coast.

Though the songs are new, the feel is very old. Lóndrangar hits the right spot for the lovers of old-school dungeon synth. Repetitive, epic strings and a gloomy, melancholic atmosphere all the way. It really doesn’t take much for ‘Ruins Forgotten By Time’ to grip you, but with a title like that, what else did you expect? Yet, it takes us back to the earliest recordings of Mortiis and Cernunnos Woods, and I’d like to mention Wongraven here too as this is the same primitive sound I hear. Slowly the music waxes and wanes, with multiple layers working in harmony to set a mood more than tell a story. But that’s early dungeon synth for you, I believe.

‘Darkening Skies’ is a bit more threatening, slightly more urgent. There’s a swing in the sound, that allows you to imagine the fluttering on the wind, the meandering of rivers and the dripping of water over rugged rocks. The song becomes softer over time, as the synths take on an emulation of the wind, that wistfully blows over the land. It’s full of longing for a different time, now forgotten. ‘A Call Upon The Ages’ takes a darker route. It’s a more subdued swan song to a great debut album. Even if it was 23 years in the making, Lóndrangar makes it all worth it on this classic slab of DS.

Arka’n Asrafokor: Togo heavy metal warriors

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

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

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

Breaking the mold with Togo heavy metal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Botanist – Photosynthesis

Another offering is coming from the worshippers of the Verdant Realm that are Botanist. On this record, they delve into the mystery of photosynthesis with 8 tracks. Nature worship at its most pure and basic, I would say, with the ever-hammering dulcimers foregrounded and making the band still unwelcome on Metal Archives for some clouded reason.

It’s always been challenging to figure out what number this album is in the Botanist discography. We went from VI to IV, which were followed by the ‘Collective: The Shape of He to Come’ in 2017 and ‘Ecosystem’ in 2019. I suppose this is VIII… or VII. Regardless, a concept album about how plants convert sunlight into energy, how they transform carbon dioxide into the oxygen that all fauna need to breathe is a remarkable thing in itself.

What I like so much about the sound of Botanist is that you get the full intensity of black metal, but more smooth. It’s like adding milk to your coffee, a blasphemous act I never pursue myself, to take off the edge. The clear vocals on a song like ‘Water’ even so make it easier to take in the story of the song. I suppose this is also the aspect of Botanist you might object to from a purist point of view: no guitars = no metal. But that’s not a discussion I care for, because the music stands on its own, even if you start calling the genre wood instead of metal. I’m sure the band would like that in fact.

But that doesn’t mean the sound is mild, on tracks like ‘Bacteria’ we certainly get to experience eruptions and violence in the best black metal tradition. Or ‘Dehydration’, which definitely give s bit of a rough rubbing. But yes, all over the thing you easily notice about this record is how Botanist maintains harmony within the whole. That does fit in with the concept but has in my listening experience been the consistent factor in their music. Each record is one journey and filled with flourishes and nuances, but one flow to follow, as nature itself is. ‘Photosynthesis’ embodies that best.

 

Band: Botanist
Label: The Flenser
Origin: United States

Kadeem Ward brings psychedelica and black metal to Barbados

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

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

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

Capturing Caribbean Darkness with Conrad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Horizons for The Kadeem Ward Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What future plans do you currently have?

Accumulating money for the future of my musical journey.

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

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

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

Ifernach – The Green Enchanted Forest of the Druid Wizard

It’s been a while since I spoke to the man behind Ifernach, but the band’s intensity has not diminished. That’s a good thing since Ifernachis one of the torch bearers of traditional black metal, full of fury and hatred. It is radically opposed to all, defying mainstream appropriation. Yet, this album shows a gentler side of Ifernach as narrator and guide on a journey through his world.

I’ve seen some conflicting reports on the tracklisting of this album. For example, some reviews state that the song ‘A Cursed Spear…’ is an ambient track. I listened to the version on Bandcamp and have described songs thusly.

Ifernach is built on the Mi’kmaq heritage and the Irish roots of its sole member. We previously would mostly see the first; this album takes a swing for the second element. I think this is exemplified by the title ‘The Green Enchanted Forest of the Druid Wizard.’ though there are tons of cultural parallels. Yet, the folky part on this same track, after a good 6-minutes of eerie, melodic black metal, speaks for itself. It also fits the style of Ifernach, who never really sounded like your run-of-the-mill band in the first place. 

If that wasn’t surprising enough, now follows the fingerpicking, 9-minute acoustic ‘The Passage of Dithreabhach’. It’s of remarkable beauty and takes us deeper into the forest that is this album before we truly get hit with its force on ‘A Cursed Spear…’. It’s a solid track, meticulously rhythmic, filled with gurgling vocals and an abyssal, dark quality. That’s what you get for awakening the dark gods of the ancient forests, I presume. Under that skintight drumming and bass-ing, chanting and melodies weave and spread out, which add to the mystique. It’s really, really tasty, and as we then enter ‘In the Hollow of the Togharmach’, I’m sort of sorry for the break with this intermezzo track. I want more violence from Finean Patraic. 

And so, that is exactly what he provides on the two-part ‘Teinm Laida’, a reference to ritual practices banned by Saint Patrick. There’s a proper groove to the second part, actually, which really works in its favor. I’m surprised at the accessibility of these songs, which is not something I would say Ifernach is widely known for. It doesn’t take away from the ferocious nature of the barrage, the gritty hailstorm of the guitars and cymbals. The hammering fury of the blast beats; it’s all there. However, my favorite track must be ‘A Winter Tree Clad in Black Frost’. An almost Burzum-esque effort of a hypnotic journey through nature, amplified by synth elements hidden in the repetitive riffs’ haze. Ok, maybe there’s a bit of a mellow part to it, but I think it’s an apt description anyway. 

‘Hidden Palaces Under the Green Hills’ is the closing track on this album, another collection of nature sounds and ambient, heightening this record’s mystique.  

Artist: Ifernach
Origin: Canada
Label: GoatoaRex

Mileth: Galician Celts and Oral Traditions

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

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

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

Galician metallers Mileth

Hello, how are you doing?

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

How did Mileth got started? 

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

Where you in other bands before you started Mileth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mileth Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What future plans does Mileth currently have?

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

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

Mileth

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

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

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

 

Dwarrowdelf – Evenstar

Dwarrowdelf claims to be: “walking the utterly untrodden path of Tolkien-based epic metal”. A bold claim from the UK-based project, as Tolkien and metal have been bedfellows since the early days of the genre (the man himself had little to say about this I’m afraid). Think about Blind Guardian, who soar high to this day thanks to their themed records. Even if you want to ignore bands who on a few occasions used Tolkien material. As a worshipper in the waters of Summoning, one should tread carefully and even if that is considered a band with a sound that is slightly one dimensional, there’s epic black metal from the likes of Emyn Muil. In so far, alone, this one-man project is not, but that shouldn’t stop us from checking out ‘Evenstar’.

Dwarrowdelf: More Elvish Than Twilight Force

That doesn’t mean it can’t be good, however, and Dwarrowdelf is something else in the way of cinematic-sounding metal. I would not go so far as to call it overproduced, but the black metal element is dim and remote on this record. Though, you would probably not say so after the barked vocals and intro of ‘Estel’, opening track on this record that tells the story of Aragorn and Arwen (she being the titular ‘Evenstar’). Sure, there’s the soaring ‘reach for the heavens’ tremolo riffs, but they sound more heavenly than hellish. Not saying black metal needs to be evil, but none of the grim aesthetics remains. 

In a sense, Dwarrowdelf sounds like you would imagine white metal would sound. Full of epic moods, emotive guitars, clean vocals full of heroism and boldness, and of course richly decorated with synths, it is a clean record in the most complete sense of the word and I find myself warming to that. If Summoning is the best soundtrack for reading the books, this is probably what I would have preferred for the movies. I mean, if ‘The Eagle of the Star’ isn’t more elf-metal than even the faithful Twilight Force, I don’t know what is. Now, on this album O’Dell does ad more folk and melodeath to the sound, but I think for this genre of fantasy metal that doesn’t really fit one classic definition, that’s the way to go. More so, the vision of using guests on your solo project shows ambition and a high standard, which is admirable. It’s particularly in the details, like the fantastic ‘In Pursuit of Ghosts’, where the tin whistle from Kristoffer Graemesen adds a haunting element, that this shows itself. 

The following track, ‘The Three Hunters’, is also a more energetic gem on this record, where other songs may take the lamenting tone a bit much to my opinion. But that’s an opinion you can discard. Why? Because, as a whole, this album is a great listening experience and I highly recommend checking it out. 

Artist: Dwarrowdelf
Label:  Northern Silence Productions
Origin: United Kingdom

Dungeon Synth Digest: Akerius, Casio Tomb, Meadow Grove, Vale Minstrel

Welcome to another selection of tasty dungeon beats (not really, it’s not beats… I mean, that would be way to hipster) from Akerius, Casio Tomb, Meadow Grove and Vale Minstrel. As I listened to these, I was reading ‘The Dragons of Autumn Twilight’ by Weiss and Hickman. You know what I’m talking about. Anyways, pretty nice to have som good atmospheric tunes to go with that book. So here goes, enjoy these dungeon synth finds!

Header image: Partly broken tower in the Anacopia fortress in the hills above New Athos in Abkhazia. The fortress played an important role on the border between Byzantine Christendom from the Umayyad Caliphate. King Leon I of Abkhazia had his seat here. 

Akerius – Shadowed Paths Through Middle EarthAkerius - Shadowed Paths through Middle-Earths

Self-released
Artist origin: France (Réunion)

This is actually an oddity for Akerius, who normally is inspired by medieval/alchemic themes from his region of origin (Occitania). A Tolkien-infused dungeon synth album in the best tradition of this act, filled with mystery and subdued notes. Akerius stays true to the sound, with slow, steady rhythms and an all-together aura of mystery on this record.  The music is always sombre, which is pretty much the whole tone of Tolkien’s works when you are venturing outside of Valinor and the Shire. The droning sounds really give shape to that sense of dread and danger, while the higher notes weave their own patterns. At times, Akerius does the odd surprising thing, like the intense drumming on ‘The Malefic Fortress of Utumno’. It shakes you up a bit, and helps you keep your eyes on the road in this dark land.  I love how Akerius manages to make such small gestures in his music, but those small shifts take you to a whole new level of epic drama. ‘Shadows of Mordor is a prime example of how small nuances can make such an impact. As far as dungeon synth goes, for those who like to leave the cave for open-air threats, Akerius is as good as it gets for your personal peace of darkness descending.

Casiotomb – Exkursion in das Hügelgrablabyrinth

Casiotomb - exxkursion

Heimat der Katastrofe
Artist origin: Unknown

So, technically I’m out on a limb here listing this release in dungeon synth, but the vibe is there. Casiotomb just uses the sound of the 8-bit (or less) videogame soundtrack to emulate the feeling of a dangerous dungeon crawler. There’s a simple excitement that only those who played these ancient video games can really understand and this crawler-soundtrack captures perfectly what the vibe of those games was. A gritty bass layer, primitive, scratchy and not really heavy on the thudding keeps you on edge, as the spooky music beeps and blurps onward. In a way, it makes you wonder how with so little these composers managed to do so much.  I particularly love the spiralling sound on ‘Devoured By Vermin’. Seems like you just lost a life. The energy is high on this album, electric even. No time to stop, there’s a monster lurking around the next corner and each tick your supplies dwindle (remember that game aspect? I’ve never eaten a thing in Skyrim… pfff).  This record is fantastic.

Meadow Grove – The Exile of Lord BearstonMeadow Grove

Self-released
Origin: Finland

Meadow Grove is a Finnish dungeon synth project that focuses on the story of a  knight, named… as you may have guessed, Lord Bearston. The Lord refused to bow before the encroaching empire and is now on the run. The songs tell the story very precisely, step by step. Musically,  Meadow Grove is an artist that enjoys minimalism. There are rarely complex layers at work in the music, neither do the sounds wholly conform to the medieval setting of the story. At times, the synthetic nature of the sound is clearly audible, even a bit scifi in this form of audio-storytelling. Notably on ‘Reflections in Solitude’. That’s only odd if you have focused on the music and not the story because there everything makes sense for Meadow Grove. Having ordered the cassette, I was charmed by the DIY aesthetic, which also made me take a closer look at the story. This is a project in which you can hear (and see if you get a physical copy) the love for the art itself and that’s, to me, the coolest thing dungeon synth can do. It’s what makes it more real than any Netflix production.  Meadow Grove is definitely a project still developing and when the sounds are more tailored to an organic feel, this can go a long way.

 Vale Minstrel – Warden of the ValeVale Minstrel

Ancient Meadow
artist origin: USA

If you ever genuinely wanted to get the vibe of sitting down by the fire in a tavern, located in a beautiful, lush green valley, this is your chance. Vale Minstrel is encroaching upon the terrain of comfy synth with his ‘Warden of the Vale’ release. Call it medieval synth if you like, it strikes that bardic cord with simple flute-like synths and interwoven repetition. It’s what you imagine hearing in the background as you bend over that tankard of ale you wish to gulp down as you listen to a wondrous tale.  Only ‘A Minstrel’s Control Spell’ the sound goes a bit off as all the melodies spiral together. It’s an oddity on this otherwise perfect collection of medieval tunes. I can just picture the damsels curtsying and tip-toeing over the dancefloor. Somewhere in the back some dwarvish type shouts something incoherent and indecent but is further ignored. Peace, tranquil (like ‘Awoke! Near a Moonlit Grotto in the Glade of Green’), time to escape to the fantastic realms. In that case, Vale Minstrel is a worthy companion.  I do wish the songs on this 100th Ancient Meadow release were slightly longer. That way you could linger in their magic a moment more.

An Autumn For Crippled Children – All fell silent, everything went quiet

I’ve always found An Autumn For Crippled Children an odd formation, ever since they were introduced to me. Their music feels different, yet clicks with the essential vibes of black metal. Some outlets have described them as a pure proponent of blackgaze, which is a term that not everyone is equally excited about it seems. On ‘All fell silent, everything went quiet’, the band pushes further into the regions in which only a few bands dare venture. 

The new album is the eighth full-length release by the Dutch trio in their 10-year run, making them a very productive collective. The warm tones on this release make me think a bit more of Alcest than the scorned Deafheaven. The music flows like a warm bath, particularly the second track ‘Water’s Edge’ tells you everything you need to know about the sound An Autumn For Crippled Children is going for. The mellow vibe, the major key and gentle jamming contrast sharply with the raspy vocals. There’s an element of rawk and roll with that scrappy sound of the guitars as the two collide, but eventually, all flows together like a stream of sonic honey. 

I wouldn’t call the music joyous, but there is an exuberance in the sound of songs like ‘Silver’—a drivenness and burning energy. It struggles for release that never really comes. I find myself longing to the moments of release when the blast beats fall away, and the melody soars freely. The vocals are frequently buried in the sound frequency, allowing it to merge together. Check out, for example, the track ‘None More Pale’, which is what black metal sounds like when all sounds are clean. Or maybe I just imagine that. It has a certain pop-sensibility to it, but still carries the epic, dramatic movements I love so much. 

What may be an issue for those listening, is that its smooth sound may lack the fire that keeps you ‘onboard’ while listening to a record. To me, songs like ‘The Falling Senses’ work well, due to their relentless pace and energy, but others, like the title track, become hazy summer days. Where your vision becomes blurred, the heat plays tricks on your eyes and you slowly drift off. I think that’s the bridge with postrock, in a very complete and fully immersive manner, but it’s something you have to like and I happen to do. Which is why this is a great album in my book.

Band: An Autumn For Crippled Children
Origin: Netherlands
Label: Prosthetic Records