I actually ran into Marton Saliba, the sole member of Saħħar, once upon a time during the Eindhoven Metal Meeting event. An event, where a small enclave of Maltese metalheads apparently sojourns to in order to get their fix of heavy music. Years later, I came across his latest album, titled ‘Tiġrif tal-Ġnus’, released in 2020. I felt the time was right to reach out and ask some questions. Though the album had been about for a while, time has stood still, so it’s fresh enough to dig into.
Maltese metal is a different beast altogether. It’s outward looking, diverse, inspired by the Brittish scene it would seem if you look at the heavy doom presence on the island. But Malta is a strange place, if you look beyond the touristy veil. It has a long history, a peculiar mixture of peoples and cultures, and an own tongue that is impossible to grasp. Interestingly, Saħħar chose to perform in that language.
Below you find the questions I asked and the answers given. Thanks to Marton for his time and make sure to check out his music.
Sonic Mirage of the Mind
Hails Saħħar, how are you doing? How has the pandemic treated you?
Greetings, I can’t complain at the moment, trying to keep my life in balance. Ironically, the pandemic gave me more time in my private life, with enough time to be creative, while my day job was unchanged, although it has been more stressful.
How did you end up playing and loving black metal? What was your musical path?
I’ve been classically trained in Piano and music theory since my childhood. But it was only after discovering metal in my early teens that my interest in writing music started to grow. By the age of 15-16, I already heard several black metal bands, and I also started learning the guitar, so I chose black metal as the genre to experiment on songwriting, and I haven’t looked back ever since. I tried other genres with varying personal satisfaction, but it’s black metal which I always return to.
You have two active projects, of which one is an international collaboration. You also had a project called Entität. Can you say something about what these projects represent to you, in particular Saħħar, of course?
They are all different creative outlets. At the same time, they all will probably bear some recognisable riffing style. Entität bears more melodic and progressive music, whereas Eerbaruh is relentless tremolo picking, with Saħħar being the more intimate musical outlet. I’m the guitarist in all three projects, with Saħħar being quite literally everything else. The additional projects also aid me in publishing more music that would otherwise make Saħħar’s discography more saturated than it already is. Finally, they serve as a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and see what our creativity takes us to.
Saħħar is me, and vice versa. Everything which comes out from Saħħar is always a reflection or sonic mirage of my mind.
What is it you draw your inspiration from?
When I’m in my songwriting phase, I try to avoid listening to other music because everything will become an aspect that could inspire my music. I’m musically influenced by a lot of factors to single out, but what inspires me is my drive to write music, my family and the need to explore more themes and topics and put them in more and more releases.
Having been to Malta for the Doom Days I noticed that the island has a vibrant and tight-knit metal scene. Yet, it focuses on classic heavy metal. Since you do Saħħar solo and perform in these international collaborations, is there no interest in black metal or what is that scene like in Malta?
Indeed, Black Metal is not the most popular sub-genre here. It’s not to say that there isn’t any contemporary interest either, but Saħħar takes up most of my creative time, and it’s not very easy to commit to other bands. That’s the reason for my relative absence from other local bands because international collaborations mean that I don’t have to leave my studio. There are other groups, with Martyrium actually achieving a decent level of success. But other BM bands have a more temporary project vibe, or they are run by one or two individuals, which severely limits their reach.
Before I ask you about your last album, I find it extremely interesting that you sing in Maltese. Using your own language is not an oddity in itself in the metal scene. Bands who use their native tongue have been known to thrive, but Maltese is a unique language. What made you choose this language?
Around the time I was scribbling my very first tracks, I was listening to several bands from the Norwegian Black Metal scene (as one does), and I noticed that most of these bands wrote most, if not all, their tracks in their own mother tongue, and I thought it would be a good idea, creatively speaking, to do the same with my project. I certainly was not thinking about future successes or failures when I chose so, but writing in Maltese was given its due recognition over the years, including award nominations.
Do you think other things that spring from being Maltese enter your music? Any myths, ideas or stories you have found shaping what you say with your music?
The very name Saħħar, was picked from local folklore, and there were other instances where I either wrote or was inspired by local myths. Themes vary quite a lot from release to release, but there will be a local mythology-inspired album in the future, I’m sure.
You’ve released ‘Tiġrif tal-Ġnus’ in 2020, your 6th full length, as I understand it. What are you telling on this album? What is its concept?
Its theme is Genocides and Massacres. I chose a few historical events, and I wrote the music’s words around these events. It was an attempt to show the true darkness in mankind. No occult, no magic, no religious mumbo jumbo, just the darkness plucked from our history itself due to mankind’s actions towards his own kin.
You also released a record with Eerbaruh. Would you tell us something about that?
It started as a happy accident, really, when I contacted a guy looking for a guitarist. It resulted in 4 guys pouring all their creative ideas into a short release to test the waters. The result was a really abrasive and intense release which I am very satisfied with the outcome… We are working on another longer release, but so far it seems to be a lot of hurdles in the way, which I hope we will overcome as a group soon. The same goes with Entität, to the point it seems that the band is disbanded, but that’s not the case just yet.
You released this record in the middle of the pandemic, was it on the shelf long before that, or did you create it during the problems? What were your process and creative trajectory like in this case?
Tiġrif tal-Ġnus was already in the works when the pandemic hit, and I simply stuck to a somewhat predetermined schedule. Truth be told, the creative process was not too different from previous releases, except for having more time to research the lyrics and less pressure in producing it, perhaps. With the exception of the second track, Nirien ta’ Smyrna, all the other tracks were written in roughly a short span of time. Then I focused on the lyrics and then spent the longest time producing the album while preparing the respective artwork in parallel.
Recently, you posted a blog about depression where you share your experiences in a pretty brutal and direct way. What made you open up like this, and do you feel that there may be a sort of suffering in silence thing going on in black metal?
I’m not quite sure why I opened up like that, but it certainly felt better doing so. I suppose I needed to clear the air after a hazy and dark chapter in my life. Kind of how one admits to himself that he has a problem in AA to help himself heal.
Yes, I have noticed that several one-man projects are being used either as a creative outlet or as a cry for help from people with mental health issues, and it has been occurring since the inception of the genre. Several individuals use the genre as an ‘edgy’ attempt, and unfortunately, that makes it hard to separate the bullshit from the ones with the real issues. My suggestion for anyone with depression or any other mental health problems is to seek help and not rely on music as a form of therapy. It can be quite effective in the short run, but otherwise, medical help will be needed.
I have this idea that most people who are into this kind of music are often in various gradations out of sync with the modern and fairly hegemonic world. It’s why there’s such a hunger for nature, spirituality, etc. What do you think about this?
That’s an interesting insight, one which I’m bound to agree with. Black Metal in itself is very individualistic, very close to the soul of who writes it, and has this Carte Blanche situation where anything you write about is fair game because it’s the individual expressing his deeper thoughts through the genre. Overall, Black Metal belongs to a world beyond (or beneath?) this one, where the petty, and weak whims of the contemporary human do not belong, and the genre actively opposes and rejects the notions. Unfortunately, that might also mean that some of us are somewhat detached from reality but, it is what it is.
What are your current future plans with Saħħar?
I have another album in the pipeline, already in its pre-production stage, as well as an EP or two. With the help of some friends, I am also laying down a script and plan for a proper music video, which will be a first for me, and hopefully, there will be some opportunities to return to the live stage.
If you had to describe Saħħar as a type of food, what would it be and why?
That’s an interesting question! I would consider it a Spaghetti Aglio Olio, Pepperoncino. Simple but not simplistic and great when done with passion with a lot of flavour and spice. I am biased, after all, being from the Mediterranean!