Mongolia is an unfamiliar place to most of us. Vaguely known through historical references, such as the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan. Even longer ago, the place where the Xiongnu people lived, the likely ancestors of the Huns who burned Europe under Attila (with the same surname). Currently it is a remote land we know little about, Yet metal appears to have deep roots in Mongolia. Everyone knows The Hu, with their mix of tribal music and metal, but there is much more. We talk to one of the bands representing Mongolia in metal: Aravt.
A vast country with vast steppes and farmlands, perhaps the most sparsely populated country in the world (according to some sources, that’s not a maybe). Thanks to a band like The Hu, the country is back in our sights, and despite being sandwiched between China and Russia, it has its own identity, history and sound. And you can hear that in Aravt’s music.
A vast land for heavy metal
How is Aravt doing after the pandemic?
Not too bad, we have completed recording our third album and preparing for its release.
Can you start by introducing yourself or yourselves? How did you guys get into metal music? What was the album that started it all?
Frontman – Nyamaa
Lead guitar – Tugsuu
Guitar – Orgil
Bass – Bayart
Drums – Ganaa
Everybody has a different story. Some of us started in high school, and some of us just started recently. You can notice some influences from Amon Amarth and Arch Enemy in our music. Most commonly, we were listening to Children of Bodom, Slipknot, Cannibal Corpse, early albums of Immortal, Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth.
Can you tell me more about the band’s origins and how you guys got together? Do you have any other musical projects going? What does the name mean?
Our band was formed back in 2014 with Tugsuu, Ganaa, Nyamaa and two previous members Voovka and Battur and we released our first album, ‘Nomadic warriors’. This album is about legendary warriors of the old times, great battles, historical events, and nomadic culture. You can find a music video for the song ‘A Plea’ online. After former guitarist Turuu was replaced by Orgil, we released a second album called ‘Empire’ – the concept is the same. The ‘Last Light’ music video was released from this album. The third album was recorded with new bass player Bayart, our newest member of the band in its current form. The writing of this album was much different than the other two melodic death metal albums. This time you will hear more riffs, death metal, brutality, and aggression in it. These are the only projects we are working on as musicians. The meaning of The Aravt is the system of 10 soldiers of Chinggis (Dzjengis, ed.) Khan. This is a war management system that divides the army into ten units.
In your music, you make some references to Mongolian history, for example, in the artwork. Why is this important to you, and what are particular aspects you find inspiring?
One of our friends is an artist. His name is Abo. We asked him to draw us a warrior for the album cover. He did a great job, and it goes well with the album theme. Everybody has his imagination of Mongolian warriors, we liked his perspective.
Your last album ‘Guren’ was released in 2017. What is your process like as a band when writing new music? Are you working on something right now?
Tugsuu composed everything on both albums. Then the rest of the band reviews it, and makes a few minor changes before recording. At the moment, we are focused on the third album release, we haven’t yet agreed on the final mastering, but we are sure it will be ready near future.
On the third album, we mainly focused on ourselves, i.e. we played everything that we wanted. It doesn’t have a single concept or theme. It is different from the two other albums, but we tried to keep the atmosphere of Aravts metal music perception. It has many different contrasts in every song. Furthermore, it might sound more death metal than melodeath.
What do you hope people take away from your music? Do you have a specific message or theme you want to convey, and what do you hope people will learn after listening to Aravt?
Our music is straightforward, true, and honest, with no hidden messages. It is exactly what you hear and feel – pure flow of energy, sacrifice, raw power of warriors clashing on the battlefield. It is about brotherhood, honesty and dedication. It is about great times when kings and generals ruled the world.
What are, according to you, the most important bands from Mongolia that we may not know about?
If we represent outer Mongolia Altan Urag was the first band to embrace national folk style with metal music. Ayasiin Sallhi is the first death metal band, who started from 1985 – they made extreme metal available in Mongolia. Nisvanis are other pioneers of rock music, which made it mainstream in our country. Growl of Clown is currently a growing metalcore band. Karmatic is one of the finest black metal groups from Mongolia. I haven’t mentioned inactive bands – which are also as important as currently active bands and play a crucial role in passing on metal music to the next generation. Unfortunately, many had to break up for their own reasons.
There are a few bands that are frequently mentioned that use Mongolian influences in their music, such as The Hu, Tengger Cavalry and Nine Treasures. Only the first one is actually from Mongolia, the others from Outer Mongolia. How has the success of these bands influenced the Mongolian metal scene?
They are all Mongolian bands, but divided in inner and outer Mongolia. We appreciate “the Hu” for evolving the Mongolian metal scene concept to the world.
That is the reference that Mongolians use: we are Outer or north Mongolia. Nine Treasures visited us several times before during the music festivals. It is our privilege to play with fellow Mongolians on the same stage.
What is the scene like for you? Is it centred in Ulaanbaatar or is it more widespread? Is metal accepted in your country as an art form?
It is still growing in our country. At this stage, it is a genre of music that you can find mostly in the capital of the country; still, you can find some metalheads in other towns but not as much as in Ulaanbaatar.
Do you use any special instruments or traditional music elements in the music of Aravt and if so, what are they?
The horse fiddle was used on both released albums. “Nuudliin daichid” was the song from the first album where it was used; however, the goal was not to use national music elements but to go with the music the way it sounds. Outro from the second album, which also used this instrument, might have some traditional feelings to it. You will understand once you hear it.
Metal music faces a lot of oppression in some parts of the world. Do you face any censorship or oppression of metal culture and music in Mongolia?
Fortunately, we passed the phase where this type of music was oppressed and prohibited a few decades ago. We do whatever we want and never have problems with that.
Are you or any members religious?
Every single one of us is atheist; we are not religious at all, especially in Buddhism. Our song from the first album, called “superstition” or “suseg” defines what the relation of Aravt to any kind of religion is. It is referred to as blindfolded by religion, you will never see the truth.
What future plans do you currently have as a band?
Sustain and survive the financial disadvantage in the metal music scene of Mongolia, convey metal culture to the next generation, spread metal in our country and enjoy metal ourselves.
If Aravt was a type of food, what would it be and why?
Interesting reference; it must be something raw, bloody with a high amount of caffeine.
Slovenia is a country in the south-east of Europe, one side facing the Alps, the other facing the Adriatic sea and the Balkan. Seceded from Yugoslavia early in the turmoil that tore the rest of the federation apart, Slovenia is a bit of a story on its own, having had independence since 1991 and paving its own way to be named the most sustainable country by 2018. Pretty rad if you ask me.
Malorshiga is a band, playing Istrian ethno black metal, by their own accounts. They hail from the area of Slovene Istria, which is the coastal part of the country. Their music explores deep emotional journeys, against the backdrop of the country’s long history which goes far beyond the federal and communist days to ancient times.
Having released their debut in 2019, Malorshiga reminds the listener of a bridge between the Greek masters of Rotting Christ and the Alpine bands from up north. Yet distinct sounding, Malorshiga is a force onto themselves. While the pandemic has severely hampered their rise, the band are now getting back on track and are willing to share something about their illustrious background. Dizghrazia (drums) and Oelka (vocals) provided answers, with additions from Mizheria (bass), Verghogna (guitar) and Dishpiazher (guitar). Where sometimes an interview is like pulling teeth, that was not the case here. Malorshiga goes deep. Thanks to them for their time and detailed response.
Hails Malorshiga! It seems it has been quiet for you since the release of your album. How are you guys doing?
Hello Guido, first of all, thank you very much for reaching out and for your patience whilst waiting for us to put this together. Really appreciated. It’s been an interesting period since release to say the least. After releasing the album (October 2019) we managed to play a couple of headline shows, a festival and pulled off a weekend trip to the Czech Republic.
Things changed in mid-February for well-known reasons. It seems like we as a society seldom remember how the world got very confusing very fast.
We took the concerns pretty seriously – limiting social contact and therefore not practising as a band for the better part of 2020. We decided to end the cycle for Kvlt of Vitis et Olea on its first anniversary – instead of “pissing against the wind” and trying to book shows in an ever-changing intricate bureaucratic reality, we decided to lay low and focus on our sophomore release.
Most of the band is concerned with the initial phases of their professional careers, while Dishpiazher, the one who’s probably having the most fun of all of us right now is exploring the Baltic while wrapping up his studies.
Can you tell me a bit about Malorshiga, how the band started, the origin of the name and why you chose this musical direction and theme?
Dizghrazia: The beginning of the band was a bit hectic since everything happened very fast. My family is pretty active in their home community and has been part of the core organization team of a yearly event called “šagra”. A šagra is, traditionally, a festivity held in villages where people gather on a dance while an ensemble performs old-people music. They take place every summer on the name day of the local church’s patron saint. As you can see, it’s very old-school.
The 2017 šagra was right around the corner when the organization team decided that they won’t be doing a 2-day event, as they usually did, and that they would like to have the younger generation curate the Friday program with something … a bit different. That’s when things just clicked.
Me and Oəlka fantasized about starting a project for a couple of years beforehand, developing a rough conceptual framework around Istria, our place of origin. We took that opportunity to start that project and have our debut performance on that year’s šagra, which would be a black metal concert. When we presented this idea to the organizational committee they first though we were kidding, but as they realized we were actually serious and we explained how tough it is for newer generations to experience this kind of music being performed live in our region, due to clubs being very hard to approach regarding the organization of metal gigs, they had our back.
We formed a lineup on the same day since we are all basically a collective of buddies who hanged out quite regularly and went to gigs together. It was a pretty incestuous thing, since some of us has had other projects with someone from the band in the past – we always mixed and matched in various occasions but never managed to play all together. The lineup was thankfully on board basically instantly, which was the best possible thing at the moment because there was a far more pressing issue – we had two weeks to organize the whole event and prepare our set.
All except 2 songs from Vitis were written in that period, hence you can fairly say that they are not the most prolific of musical compositions. However, we kind of wanted to keep them as a reminder of that moment.
Regarding the name – we actually can’t remember how the name was chosen, we just needed to put a logo together in order to print the posters and create the promotional material for the event, so it basically just happened by itself. Malorshiga is a compound word. Malora means somethingreally, really bad – from an etymological viewpoint it is itself a compound made out of male (bad) and ora (hour) in Italian. The suffix shiga is invented – it is used to give emphasis on the word’s root, while also achieving an interesting phonemic effect in our dialect – the word sounds like something animate because of it, so you could say that Malorshiga means dread incarnate or misfortune materialized.
The musical direction was a byproduct of the theme and the idea for the live performance – something theatrical, dark and with a possible mystic, primal undertone. We have a pretty varied music taste, but we’ve somehow decided that black metal could be a great foundation to experiment on. The project served as a vessel to venture into the Istrian history, explore what shaped this corner of the Earth and what hardships the people who inhabited this beautiful region endured.
Can you tell me a bit more about your origins in Slovene Istria? Most people will know Istria for its Croat part, so for me, there is little known about your particular region. It would seem that it is distinct from the rest of Slovenia?
Dizghrazia: Geographically, Istria is a peninsula at the northernmost part of the Adriatic Sea in the Mediterranean. It has a distinct climate, soil, vegetation, and culture. Politically, in the past this territory was under foreign rule and as empires came and went, we now find Istria divided between Slovenia and Croatia. It is in itself a very varied and colourful place, with many different dialects, many different traditions and many different people.
People from the Slovene Istria usually (somewhat jokingly) like to think of themselves as not really Slovene, since “whoever lives above the Karst edge (the geological border between the flysch coast and the karstic regions of continental Slovenia) is Slovene, we are Istrian”. It’s a common way to jokingly express a deeper connection with people who have the privilege of inhabiting this beautiful region.
Otherwise, the people are very warm, welcoming, friendly, and open. We are used to being surrounded by many different cultures, especially given the proximity of Trieste, which was a very cosmopolitan multicultural hub during the Austro-Hungarian rule. But the thing that really sets Istria apart from the other parts of Slovenia is the climate and the vegetation. To be honest, Slovenia in its entirety seems like something straight out of a fairytale – nature is just mesmerizing, but Istria, especially in the more rural areas, still untouched by modernization and over-building that characterizes the coast, is full of vineyards and olive groves.
We have been the only part of the country that has no snowfall in winter (well, by the looks of it, sadly this won’t be something exclusive to us in the future) and the quality of the air is something on a whole other level.
We are the seeds the gods planted in this soil, our home is this land and the skies above …
Istrian folklore is a big part of your thematic content. I, and probably many others, am not familiar with any of this. Can you shed some light on the basics of this folklore and how it translates to your art? Do you recommend any books or resources for those who want to know more?
Dizghrazia: The basis for everything is the sea, olive groves, vineyards and the people that work the land. The past has obviously been dominated by agriculture. However, the Istrian people had different “specializations” to say, compared to the classic agriculture and livestock common in the continental areas. They also engaged in fishing, saltworks, viticulture and olive growing, just to name a few. The folklore revolves around the hardships of working the land, everyday survival without all the gadgets we take for granted today, nature and people. We try to explore these feelings and capture them in our music and lyrics.
Oelka: We must mention the legend of Aepvlo, the last king of the Histrii tribe, to whom our upcoming song is dedicated. After being defeated by the Romans, he fled to Nesactium, the Histrian capital at the time. Before conquering Nesactium, the Romans destroyed other important Histrian cities. Later on, in 177 BC, the siege of Nesactium happend. The Histrians, of course, decided to fight, rather to surrender – hence the Istrian saying ’’Krepat ma ne molat’’ (To die, but never surrender). They killed their women and children and threw them from the city walls, so they wouldn’t be killed by the Romans. When Aepvlon realised they had lost, he is believed to have committed suicide by stabbing himself with a sword to avoid Roman captivity.
Dizghrazia: The problem with books is the fact that the majority of the material written in English or translated is focused on tourism. You may find bits of information with the general descriptions of the landmarks and some brief excerpts of history, but, to the best of our knowledge, there are not many books in English with any in-depth content. The best way to learn more about Istria is to come here explore and visit museums in Slovenia and Croatia, with a competent knowledgeable guide that will be happy to answer any questions.
You’ve released ‘Kvlt ov Vitis et Olea’ a while ago. Can you tell me more about the story you are telling us on this album?
Dizghrazia: It’s a collection of vignettes, of moments and feelings, as expressed above. The stories are based in reality, dealing with real-life issues, but the content itself is a product of our imagination. Each song presents a story, all of them are dealing with dark subjects, let’s say, a person sitting under a pergola, utterly broken because his wife and child were killed during a raid, or a person dealing with the thoughts of suicide ultimately deciding to hang himself off a branch of an olive tree sitting on top of a cliff. The title song is an introductory piece to our little universe, being the only song with lyrics in English: We are the seeds the gods planted in this soil, our home is this land and the skies above …
What was the process of writing and recording the album like? Do you have a cooperative approach as a band, or does everyone has their part to play in the creative process?
Dizghrazia: As we said before, all but two songs were written in the two weeks before our debut performance. The music for Vitis was written by me and the lyrics were written on a hot summer night with some glasses of wine at Oəlka’s home by the two of us, while laying out the plan for Črna Šagra. The other songs were made on the spot in the rehearsal room, Verghogna laid out the guitar riffs and gave direction for Mizheria’s bass lines, while I handled the drums and Oəlka the vocals. We discussed possible hooks and improvised, but at the end we did what felt most natural in the spur of the moment.
Dishpiazher joined the band sometime in the future. Funny story – on the way to the rehearsal room he and Verghogna had a minor vehicular mishap – he was trying to give way to a guy in a jeep on some very narrow country roads and was not aware that there was a small ledge just at the edge of the road. They ended up stuck there, but the jeep guy managed to get them out. Meanwhile, Oəlka and Mizheria were already at the destination, I called with the heads up of what happened and Oəlka wrote the lyrics about how an old cart fell off a cliff, Dishpiazher came out with some riffs and that’s how the song (and the alter-ego) Dishpiazher was born.
The album recording itself was also pretty hectic. We were on a tight self-imposed schedule timed in conjunctions with some headline shows. Verghogna recorded guitars at home, while I crashed at his place clicking drums and getting everything ready for the mix/master, Mizheria sent the bass DI’s, and Oəlka recorded the vocals at our former rehearsal studio. Dishpiazher was not actively involved in the recording process, being a relatively fresh member and not yet knowing the ins and outs of the other songs. We sent the recording for the mix/master to Jan Bajc Funa and provided feedback. We made the graphic layout while the artwork itself was commissioned to a dear friend of ours, Urška Vidmar.
Otherwise, the songwriting for the sophomore release has been way more relaxed, very cooperative and methodological. We are quite excited in seeing how things are shaping up.
I’ve seen some pictures of your live performances emerge, which seem to have multiple ethnic/ritual elements it seems. You raise horns in a symbolic gesture, which is as far as I know, something that ties into deep mythology around the Mediterranean. There are also masks that evoke an idea of other ‘cultic’ movements that predate or Christian past. I would love to know more about these elements of your show and why you choose to include those.
Oelka: The horns I raise during our live performances are boškarin’s horns. Boškarin is a famous Istrian cattle, one of the oldest and largest cattle breeds in the world. For me, personally, the act of raising its horns symbolizes the grandiosity of nature and its ability to overpower mankind.
The mask wear is ornamented with drawings of olive branches and tree roots, which symbolize sempiternity, immobility of the olive trees and impregnability of the Istrian consciousness.
We also cover the stage with fishing nets. Besides the aesthetic purpose, the nets indicate the feeling of being trapped and powerless in the grip of eternal pain.
The olive branches, on the other hand, symbolize the sublime beauty of mother nature.
I’ve always, personally, found it difficult to deal with our history in the right way. The past is like one’s roots, you can’t change them and yet they play a big part in who you become, yet you didn’t earn any of them. I’m Dutch, which entails a rich heritage but also many atrocities. Our past, in a way, is, but it does cast a shadow. Istria similarly has a complicated and complex history. It’s been a cultural melting pot, but it also has seen an exodus not even a century ago. What does it mean for you to be Istrian? Why is it important to you to translate this heritage into your art?
Dishpiazher: I haven’t really thought about what being part of Istria, geographically and culturally, actually meant to me prior to becoming a member of Malorshiga. I suppose I always felt a slight, yet subconscious, belonging to the region. However, I haven’t actively explored these feelings. Now, I think I can cherish our dialect, cultural influences, natural landscape and the Istrian outlook on life and its challenges a lot more. To me, that is what being Istrian means. Through art we keep such heritage alive and perhaps even rejuvenate it.
Dizghrazia: No one gets to choose their own heritage, and this is what makes it hard to develop a healthy conception of it. Some people will feel ashamed of the privilege they are given, others will feel shame because of the very difficult living conditions they have been cast into. There is no denying that Europeans, regardless of class, are some of the most privileged human beings to ever have wondered about the Earth. Regardless, we, as we dare say the majority of people, always felt a slight, yet subconscious, belonging to the region, given that your outlook gets influenced by the space and people surrounding you. There always was a sense of community, of helping your own neighbour, of sharing a dialect and cherishing the cultural influences, natural landscape, to live in harmony with the people who inhabit the same space and to be mindful of the nature that enables all of this.
There is an increase of right-wing thought in Europe, which has had a big presence in many parts of the continent for years. How is that in your country and does it affect the music and music scene? Have you as a band dealing with ethnic elements ever faced trouble being misunderstood?
Dishpiazher: Our current government is quite right-wing and the political landscape has remained populated by the same old, obsolete and backwards people since Slovenia’s independence. There exists a left-wing opposition, but it is too fragmented and not unified enough. I feel that the most politicised section of the music scene resides in the underground, both the right-wing and left-wing currents. I suppose this is nothing new, for the underground has always been a place of activism, radical ideals and unmitigated expression. Unfortunately, right-wing ideology has found its medium even in our small extreme music scene. That is why I am very conscious of the fact that we are a Black Metal band. It seems that there is an automatic connotation attached to this genre that evokes the worst kind of stereotypes and misconceptions. That is why I think some people may erroneously perceive us as right-wing or just put us in the generic category of Slavic Black Metal bands with lyrics about nature, folklore, paganism and hateful politics.
Mizheria: I think that one of the reasons for connecting black metal to the far-right political ideology is that many NSBM bands ironically come from Slavic countries (Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, etc.) and many of them share the folkish elements in their music. Because of the small size of the black metal scene in those countries, some members of the far-right scene may be involved with other bands that are not necessarily political. Those kinds of bands then usually perform at the same shows/festivals as NSBM bands so they are also treated as such. This is why we are careful when choosing who to get involved with regarding live shows since we obviously don’t support any kind of extreme ideologies. Luckily we don’t have any well known NS metal bands, record labels or events – our metal scene is predominantly apolitical or left-wing in some cases.
Dizghrazia: We’ve heard rumours of being blacklisted by certain organizers, since, according to certain individuals who’ve got no idea about what we’re trying to communicate, we are supposedly right-wing, so … yes, we’ve been misunderstood, but that’s the stigma that comes with performing black metal. We write songs about olives and vines. The sea. The challenges of the everyday struggle for survival and the mental torture that accompanies such efforts.
Right now, Slovenia is being ruled by a right wing “coalition” which is composed of the biggest Slovene party and some other poor souls, who joined the coalition in order to keep receiving a paycheck until the next election. All they have to do is not oppose the main party, which stands for some pretty radical policies. This can be seen as an increase of right-wing policies, but it can also be seen as a natural reaction to a very vocal, and sometimes even aggressive, left-wing. The issues being debated are some of the biggest non-issues you can possibly imagine. Same rights for all individuals? Sure bet. But somehow there’s a big enough chunk of the demographic that opposes such changes. You may demand things to be changed as of right now, and the older, more conservative generation’s perception to shift immediately, but it is simply not possible. The left gets impatient, the right reacts. Reaction – counter-reaction. It all leads to a bigger gap and more radicalization – extreme left vs extreme right, with a desensitized silent majority quietly observing, not really caring about anything.
The whole point of a democracy is to communicate, share opinions and tackle issues together, but one side does not understand that it is very hard to change an old person’s conception of the world if said person has survived for this long despite this outlook and no change is really needed in their eyes. The same applies to not really self-aware individuals, who take pride in something like their nationality, which is literally the thing they needed to work for the latest.
Impatience is driving radicalization and if this is the way we are a collective are going to approach future challenges … there won’t be much of a future ahead of us.
What are other bands from your region people should definitely check out and why?
Elvis Šahbaz – he is just one man playing the classical guitar, but he is nonetheless amazing, expressive and authentic in the most relaxing way possible
Spiral Mind – a group full of young musicians who are pushing the boundaries and simultaneously mixing so many genres, layers and ideas without sounding tedious
Guattari – groovy, chunky and slightly off-kilter metal that makes you move whether you want it or not
Jan Sturiale – a very competent fusion guitarist worthy of much more attention for his intricate playing
Marko Brecelj – a veteran activist, performer, musician and overall oddball who despite his advanced age is able to capture the nonconformist spirit like few young artists can
Hei’An – a group of young, but experienced musicians, mixing progressive metal with some modern, black metal and electronic elements.
Spiral Mind – started off as an experimental project, but turned out to be so much more than that. The name says it all.
Second Chance Blown – melancholic industrial band that started flirting with dirty electronics and low frequencies, but then got strangled with the rusty guitar strings.
Guattari – the angriest band in the universe. Period.
Ater Era – Koper based black metal band with an unusual tendency towards psychadelic interferences.
NoAir – heavenly soudning alternative pop quartet
Omega Sun – weed and riffs
Zmelkoow – old local legends
Everything that was already mentioned, otherwise, in the broader Slovenian region, I’d warmly recommend Srd, Morost, Snøgg, Valuk, Grob, Agan, Kholn, Dekadent, Noctiferia, Mephistophelian, Within Destruction, Negligence, Teleport and Space Unicorn on Fire amongst others very hardworking bands. There are also other bands from the coast, which were active in the past, but are sadly disbanded, like Somrak, Grimoir, Krvnik and Torka.
There’s the perennial discussion of what black metal actually means. To me, it is about tapping into the mysteries that elude us in this hypertechno world, about finding connections to a greater whole and Malorshiga fits into that with the ethno element. Yet, others will say that if Satan is not a part of it, it’s not black metal. What is your opinion on this?
Dishpiazher: The clichéd and shallow representation of Satanism in Black Metal, or any type of music for that matter, has been irrelevant for decades and I don’t understand the appeal of it anymore. Its initial shock value has worn off and all that is left is a parody of a once rebellious answer to the Christian mainstream. To me, Black Metal can function as the sonic manifestation of certain feelings which dwell inside me and need to be released. Somehow, it is easier to accept and overcome periods of sombreness and numbness when you have their musical equivalents to listen to. That being said, I don’t really listen to such music regularly.
Mizheria: As Dishpiazher said – Satanism’s “shock value” kind of worn off through the years. Many new genres and mixtures of different genres came to light and the majority of them don’t involve Satanism. People started to enjoy different kinds of metal music thus distancing themselves from satanic themes. While I still respect old-school satanic metal bands (also those who still hold to the satanic imagery), I’ve outgrown the “rebellious satanic” phase and I wouldn’t include Satanism in my band.
Which bands do you feel take a similar approach and do you admire? Oelka: I am compelled by my heart and soul to mention Der Weg einer Freiheit, Schammasch, Bölzer and Mgła, the four bands that have influenced me the most in the past few years.
Dizghrazia: The bands listed by Oelka are the exact same that I hold in really high regard. We went to see all of them on different occasions and each experience was something that completely shattered our perception of music, expanding our horizons and giving us a very strong motivation to be able to convey such strong feelings and atmosphere. I’d add Ulcerate to the list and I think Oelka’d strongly agree, but we hadn’t had the privilege of seeing them perform yet.
It also needs to be said that all the band members have a pretty wild taste in music, which encompasses many genres that have nothing to do with metal. We all draw inspiration from very different sonic worlds, which can be somewhat felt as being limited by the context of having a black metal project. In the end, it comes down to the mutual process of creation, where everyone brings their own ideas, which are in turn shaped by everything we “consume” as listeners.
What future plans does Malorshiga have at the moment?
Dishpiazher: We are writing a new album.
Dizghrazia: … vir prudens non contra ventum mingit.
If you had to describe Malorshiga as a dish (a type of food) what would it be and why?
Dishpiazher: Pasta with truffles and olive oil. It looks like a simple and straightforward dish yet it has a distinct and slightly funky taste. Olive oil is the life force that runs through our veins and pasta is the fundamental building block of every living entity in this region.
Verghogna: Ombolo v testu z gobovo omako, I refuse to elaborate further.
Mizheria: Cherry tomatoes and mozzarella cheese with olive oil and basil served in a skull of boshkarin. Nice taste but frightful yet interesting appearance.
Oelka: Every nonna’s bobići.
Dizghrazia: An empty plate. Glad and mižerja – hunger and poverty.
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.
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.
Nepal has had a turbulent history and through those years, one band stood in defiance of the situation. Seriously, rarely will you find a band that has lived through so much. X-Mantra started playing thrash metal in 2000 and immediately was faced with realities that other bands in this genre merely fantasized about. Their album Crying For Peace stands as a testament to that era.
A little history of Nepal, which was already in the throes of a civil war around the time X-Mantra started out. More than 12,000 people were killed in this war that lasted from 1996 to 2006. This is the theme for the first album of the band. In 2001 the monarchy of Nepal started to go down in blood, after a massacre in the royal palace (an inner-family feud), which only heightened the tensions up to 2008. Since then the country has been struggling to become a republic, but that is easier said than done obviously.
Now, a little footnote to this interview. Unfortunately, in this project I get in touch with bands from various places in the world and sometimes language forms a barrier. I’m pretty sure in the e-mails sent between Eindhoven and the United States (the current abode of Rojesh Shrestha, founder of the band) some things got lost in translation. X-Mantra is currently on hiatus, but they’ll be back and are looking to spread their music outside of the mountainous nation of Nepal.
X-Mantra: Nepalese Thrash Gods
First of, can you introduce yourselves?
We X-Mantra and we are a Heavy Metal Band from Nepal..We play THRASH Metal. I, Rojesh Shrestha, am the founder of the band and I’m answering these questions.
The current line-up:
Current line-up: guitar: Rohitaj Hiring Guitar: Ram K. Century Drums: Bikram Shrestha, Bass/Vocal: Rojesh Shrestha
Do you guys play in any other bands or are you starting new projects now X-Mantra is on hiatus?
No, some of our members are out living in US and Australia so for time management we are on hiatus.
How did X-Mantra get started back in 2000? What made you guys get together and decide to make this kind of music?
We were in different bands. We all were sick and tired playing cover songs. As our musical taste wore the same we decided to form a new band and started playing original Nepali Metal songs in 2000. Actually we as a band were form to participate in national music contest.
Where you inspired by Nepalese bands to make metal music or did it come from foreign bands?
No, we all were inspired by foreign Metal bands then.
Can you tell a bit about the start of metal in Nepal and what that scene was like back in the days when you guys started playing? How did metal music come to Nepal in the first place?
For a decade there used to be metal scene here in Nepal. There used to be good bands like DeadSoul and other bands whom we adored. As I mentioned before we wore in different bands some glam rock, some rock and some from metal itself, we decided to come up with our original album so we gathered and started playing original songs.
Metal in Nepal started as by covering the greatest bands like Slayer, Metallica etc.
You guys started playing metal music in what probably is the most turbulent time in recent History for your country. Can you tell a bit about that for people who are not familiar with it? And how did that impact you guys as a band?
We did Political lyrics then starting from our 1st album till the 3rd (2000-2005) As we had our own official legal advisor. The lyrics were too hardcore for that time being, which brought a revolution in Nepali Music Industry in 2000. The literature and the deep meaning took us to the place we are in still.
You guy’s have probably seen it all. The transition from a kingdom to republic, civil war… I think it’s reflected particularly in your early work that seems to be highly political. What was it you were trying to say with for example debut album ‘Crying For Peace’?
Our first album Crying For Peace represents the situation Nepal was in. That was something that no other musician tried to express at that time. We had our offensive lyrics and I think our music was too new for the Nepalese music industry. The album’s motto was to wake up people before it’s too late and kick some fucking ass of the politicians.
Since then, back in 2000, it was political crisis going on. There were no other bands or musicians who sang against the way things were going or dealt with politics and the suffering of people. We hired an advocate and started writing songs about that. But now things have changed, we can now hear many genres artists (from folk/rock/pop/hip-hop) are rebelling against the politics. We thought that it would be the same if we used such lyrics, we wanted to be different…. that’s all. Everyone is using the same words these days, but no voices are heard. So, it’s useless to repeat the same thing again and again.
How has the metal scene grown and developed since you guys started out?
We used to organize some underground gigs called Metal Mania which we continued till part-III. There used to be 50-60 people for our show, which was awesome at the time, but now it’s a different story. We have many shows, more than a pop or other musical shows… and it’s too good. Now, we have more than 5.000 people visiting an outdoor show. The new upcoming bands are growing day to day, and we are very satisfied with that!
Nepal is in a way an extreme country, with its mighty mountains, high located cities and such. Do you think there’s a connection between these extreme conditions and the booming extreme metal scene?
No I dont think it does, but it doesn’t harm the Metal Culture in Nepal either. Music has nothing to do with politics or a county’s conditions I think. Doesn’t make any connections within both. We did music in our location in even worst situations of the nation.
I’m intrigued by that history your band went through. In that tumultuous past, did you guys have to deal with controversies and censorship and the like? I imagine not everyone was appreciative of a band trying to get involved in the politics of the time.
Yes, our songs were not played in any radio and television stations then, they used to say “we don’t have the perfect show to play your songs”. But it’s the same problem even now, except 2-3 media houses. Censorship was one of main issues then. As I said, we even got together with an official legal advisor when we released our debut album….. as we were also prepared for all those circumstances. We were also ready in case we’d be send to jail, haha!
At some point you guys really got big in Nepal. I’ve seen footage where you’re working with a rapper and a singer. What was the mainstream appeal that you think X-Mantra holds?
Yes, we did some collaboration at a time that was due to our producers and record label. We were not allowed to release the music we liked and that really SUCKS. We used to be in no 1. charts for months then. We thought to do something new and secondly, those days, the record label used to decide which songs were to be finalized in that moment.
So, after 17 years of playing excellent music, you’re going on hiatus. Why did you guys make this choice and how long do you think the hiatus might last?
Overseas migration problems are the mean reason. Me, being frontman of the band, I continued the band for 17 years without any breaks. Due to my family problems I had to to move to the United States, so we are taking a break for maybe 2 or 3 years from now.
I just moved to here in America and most of our members are in Australia. The current members are in Nepal though. Since I am the founding member I am thinking to continue my band while staying in the US.
Having seen all these youngsters come up in the Nepali metal scene, which bands should people definitely check out and why?
Now every new bands are equally good in both their gear and they are musically strong. Everyone should check Nepali Bands these days without any doubts. All are freaking awesome in their own way.
What future plans do you guys have? Will there be an anthology of sorts of X-Mantra?
Yes we will be COMING with new videos yet to be released. And after 2-3 years we will be COMING out with our New album DEFINITELY.
If you had to compare X-Mantra to a dish (a type of food), what would it be and why?
We are the crab….. haha….. because we never decided to move on the fast track….let the time roll in its own pace and we’ll catch up with time again. That’s how we define ourselves.
The phenomenon of global metal keeps being a point of fascination for me. In the most interesting places you can find bands playing this type of music. Most people might know that metal has a place in the United Arab Emirates, so finding the band Aramaic playing this music there is not entirely surprising.
In the documentary film ‘Global Metal’ by Sam Dunn and Scott McFayden the Desert Rock Festival finished up the film. It showed that metal was even finding its roots in the most unexpected places. For the guys from Aramaic this is as normal as it gets though. Aramaic has been going strong since 2011 and members of the band have worked with internationally known formations like Schammasch (German drummer Hendrik Wodynski joined the Swiss giants live) and Heavenwood (guitarist Fadi Al Shami did guest vocals for the Portuguese goth veterans), while singer Serge Lutfi moved with his other band Abhorred to London and back from the UAE.
Most interesting is that the members are all from neighboring countries (apart from Wodynski of course). Most band members answered these questions about their band, the concept and what it is like to play metal music in the United Arab Emirates. A country is known for its shining city of Dubai, but also with strong religious roots. Thanks to Fadi Al Shami, Michael Al Asmar, Ahmad Rammal and Serge Lutfi for taking the time to respond. Though none of them was born there, they all moved to the country for work and find music as well.
Could you briefly introduce yourselves and Aramaic for those readers unfamiliar with your work?
Fadi: We are Aramaic hailing from the Levant region (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and neighbors), currently based in the UAE. If you were to describe our music, I feel we do not conform to a specific type of metal genre. We prefer to avoid restricting ourselves and having the classification done by our peers.
Michael: To give you a brief summary on the name, Aramaic is an ancient language spoken by nomadic tribesmen inhabiting areas around the Tigris River (the river flows south from the mountains of south-eastern Turkey through Iraq and empties itself into the Persian Gulf) dating back to the 700 B.C. the Bronze Age. It is from the Semitic family (Arabic, Hebrew, Syriac, Maltese & Ethiopian), and adopted by Assyrians (currently known as the Middle East, including Armenia, Cyprus, Iran & Turkey), parts of Babylonia (current day Iraq), even ancient Egypt and the Canaanites (Lebanon, Palestine and neighbors).
Serge: We, however, adopted the name to best represent our origins and expose the listeners to something that is not typical to modern discussions and music. History has always intrigued us, the more we researched the more fascinated and infatuated we became with this ancient civilization, it brought us closer to our heritage and we wanted to share this with everyone through our incantations and hymns.
How did you guys get into metal in the first place?
Serge: I have to praise my sister for introducing me to metal in 1991, started with Kiss & Danzig, moved to Testament, Anthrax, Metallica & Pantera then straight to MorbidAngel, Obituary & Entombed. The most memorable albums that I grew up with were Testament’s The New Order, Metallica’s Master Of Puppets, Danzig’s How the Gods Kill, Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power (I still have the tapes). I started playing guitar at the age 5 and by the time I was exposed to metal (as an 11 years old), my first electric guitar was bought. The rest is history.
Fadi: My first encounter with metal music was when I was 9 yrs. old by getting introduced to Metallica’s Black Album. Yet the reason I learnt guitar was Death’s Symbolic (such a master piece). I started playing guitar at a very late age (27) when I managed to spend 3 hours every day trying to develop better techniques as I moved forward in the music career.
Michael: I got into metal because I liked a girl who listened to DefLeppard and Europe and when I went to the record shop and asked for similar music the guy gave me Metallica’s …And Justice for All and IronMaiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.
What are your main inspirations for the sound of Aramaic? There’s a hint of some traditional music in your sound, how did you manage to create this mixture.
Ahmad: We all bring our experiences, influences and capabilities to the table whilst composing the music. That’s what makes it unique, from traditional Arabic music, classical progressions, instrumentals and hymns to extreme diabolical works. Serge: The writing process takes a considerable amount of time, as we all come together to write the structure of a track and the more we embrace it, the more intense it becomes. We take our time making sure every person involved has his signature and seal on it. We also try and incorporate some native instruments to give a more distinctive element.The lyrical theme is based on myths, legends, deities & tragedies that befell the Aramaens and Assyrians during the ancient times.
Your name is derived from the ancient language, with that also bringing in a culture, history, and people. There are a lot of directions you can go with a name like that. How did that come about and what sources originally made you want to go in this direction?
Michael: Being from the Levant region, we wanted to represent our history & our people in an unorthodox way, completely straying away from religion (of any kind). We wanted to focus on apologues; documented works and myths from that era to expose the masses to our bright and rich past.
It compelled us to dive deep into the realms of these ancient civilizations to bring forth the knowledge bestowed upon us through materials lost in time.
I understand there are various mythologies you use as a theme in your music. Can you tell a bit more about that and maybe share a little light on what sort of stories you really take to put to music, since many people from other places might not be familiar with them?
Serge: The songs are all story-based; each journey talks about the plight and encounters of the protagonists (Sennacherib, Ereshkigal, Shamesh, and others) in our own interpretations. We will shed more light on these stories throughout the album’s artwork and lyrics. Footnotes will be provided for further explanations.
We stress on this by saying that all the lyrics are based on stories we read and reinterpreted in our own way to suit the music & the image of the band. We are also using the themes to reflect on the modern and current issues of the world, as the reoccurrence of these subjects happen throughout the millennia.
Your last record is from 2014, which is a great piece of music titled ‘The Fallen’. Are you working on something new now?
Fadi: We released a single called The King single in 2015. Currently, we are finalizing our debut album ( the title is also ready), an update will be given in due time!
How do you guys work on new music, do you start with music or a concept and how does the process follow from there?
Ahmad: We throw ideas around, and once a riff is liked by all the members, we start working on it and adding our styles and influences. The lyrics are usually written after the structure of the song is done. We research a certain topic and elaborate on it.
In a couple of weeks, you guys get to open for Paradise Lost in Dubai. How excited are you guys about this how and how did you end up filling this slot?
Fadi: We were contacted by JoScene, them being the organizers & promoters of the show, to take our place on the bill with Paradise Lost.
Serge: We had the seize the opportunity. They are one of the bands we grew up with and that influenced us musically. It is going to be a surreal feeling and one we have been looking forwards to since day one, even before the conception of Aramaic!
I would like to ask you some questions about playing metal in the United Arab Emirates. For example, I’m very curious what it’s like to make metal music over there? It seems there is quite a scene going on actually. So I guess there might be quite some misconceptions about that, right?
Michael: Metal in the UAE has been around for 2 + decades (probably unexpected) but there has always been a following. From school kids to the older generation. Being a religious country, some might think that it is forbidden or frowned upon. The government does not seem to be particularly bothered by the music as long as its lyrical content does not offend a particular group or have explicit content. We have had many international bands coming through Dubai to play gigs, most without any issues. Bands that have passed though the UAE: Nile, Mayhem, HateEternal, Katatonia, Obscura, Defiled, Metallica, InFlames, Testament, Sepultura, IronMaiden, Mastodon, Opeth, Motorhead, Fleshcrawl, Megadeth, Korn, MachineHead, Arch Enemy, Yngwie Malmsteen, Epica, Anathema, Insomnium, Vader and countless others.
Do you have all the facilities available, like access to music, instruments and rehearsal spaces? Are there venues especially for rock/metal shows and do you get foreign bands over?
Serge: In our day and age, Internet made music readily accessible and available. There are a few decent rehearsal spaces in Dubai that are equipped with good musical equipment at reasonable prices (for this city).
Fadi: Not too many venues that appreciate this type of music. We do manage to play at various venues that are equipped to handle the heavy music.
Do you have to deal with any sorts of misunderstanding with what you are doing? Is there any form of censorship or anything?
Fadi: As long as there is no offense against a religion or faith, or against the government. No preaching about the devil, then we are all free to do what we do, within reason.
So, a bit of a history question, how did the metal scene in your country get started? Who were the pioneers?
Serge: Spyne, EskimoDisco and Abhorred (Serge’s own band, ed.) were the pioneers (started in 1997) soon came Nervecell and we all know who they are \m/!
Nervecell is probably as big as it gets when it comes to death metal in the UAE. The band was the first ‘local’ group to play at Deser Rock Festival and is signed currently to Lifeforce Records. You should probably check them out (particularly their latest album) (Ed.).
Any bands from your part of the world that other people really should check out (and why of course)?
Serge: Kaoteon – Extreme Black Metal from Lebanon, it is powerful, malevolent & heavy music!
Fadi: Kimaera – Death Doom Metal from Lebanon, heavy riffs, good song writing, catchy and heavy tunes!
Michael: Ascendant – Power & Heavy Metal from UAE, a great bunch of musician with exquisite taste in music
Ahmad: Blaakyum – Coz heavy fucking metal \m/
What does the future hold for Aramaic?
Ahmad: Releasing the long-awaited Aramaic album in the near future. Of course, play gigs, and hopefully, tour Europe in summer 2018
Is there anything you would like to add that I forgot to ask?
Michael: Catch us Live on the 8th of September at the MusicRoom supporting the almighty ParadiseLost and on the 3rd of November (venue still unconfirmed) supporting the doom legends Saturnus.
If you had to describe Aramaic as a dish, what would it be and why?
Serge: Lasagna, its layers and layers of intense flavors soft, textured and velvety but certainly a deliciously heavy and intricate meal, full of spice.
Albania has started to emerge in the metal world in the middle of the nineties. The country had been in isolation for a long time and for me all I knew about it was the insane amount of bunkers that were built in this peculiar country on the Adriatic shores.
Though the country opened up in 1992 to an extent, it took till the turn of the millennium (including the Albanian Civil War in 1997) for the country to get the flow of information it has now. So metal music came to Albania and with vigour and fascination many people embraced the new music. The Albanian metal heads faced very different problems though, like a lack of instruments. This is where Crossbones emerges.
Crossbones has been around since 1996. Their album ‘Days of Rage’ was released in the troubled year of 1997 and maybe embraces something of the time and troubles the country was going through. I got founder OlsiBallta to answer some question about metal in Albania and the history of the band, who have finally released a new record 20 years after ‘Days of Rage’. This one is called ‘WWIII’.
Crossbones from Albania
Hi, who are you guys and how did you get together as a band?
Our current line-up is:
Olsi Ballta – founder/vocals
The Napoloni – drums
Ben Turku – guitars
Klejd Guza – bass
We had a lot of line-up changes over the years. We came to a point where it was just just Klod (former and long-time guitarist of the band) and me. So we needed to revitalize the band. I got a call in 2010 from Theo (drums). We both studied visual arts at the Fine Arts Academy here in Tirana. So we met and started to rehearse. It seemed pretty good, the chemistry was right so he became the band’s drummer. His first official gig with Crossbones was in December 2010.
Ben (guitars) joined the band officially in 2014. We previously invited him a couple of times as a guest guitarist for a few gigs. We also had a gig with his prog/metal band Inverse Horizon from Italy here in Tirana in 2011. So in April 2014, Ben took over guitar duties whereas Klod would play the bass because we had no permanent bass player. We continued like this until beginning of 2016 when Klod moved to Australia. So again no bass player. This is how Klejd joined the band and became our current bass player. He learned our songs pretty fast and gave the rhythm section a boost.
So this is how we got together in brief.
Tell us a bit about the history of Crossbones please.
Original official line-up:
Olsi Ballta – vocals
Arbi Xhelo – guitars
Klod Shehu – guitars
Alban Male – drums/keyboards
Redi Hasa – bass
It started as just a group of friends jamming together and learning to play some covers from bands we’d listen to. It was early 1996. Very soon we started to compose our own songs. That’s the idea of having a band. Writing your own music.
From there on the band prefers to refer to their bio. Due to the changes in the line-up it feels more fitting.
Crossbones is the most recognized metal act in Albania and the only band from the early days in the mid-nineties that kept going. Among countless gigs and performances, Crossbones have played aside Rock and Metal giants such as Ian Paice, legendary drummer of DeepPurple and as a direct support act for Greek Black Metal Legends of Rotting Christ.
How would you describe your sound as a band?
The sound has definitely evolved technically also due to technology and good equipment. We pay close attention to it and yet the DNA of it hasn’t changed. We care about it and of course the guys in their respective section is doing great on making the sound tight and genuine and also enriching it.
I understand that the Albanian metal scene developed quite late and that the period ‘85 – ‘90 was a period that was particularly hard in Albanian history when it comes to the conditions and poverty in the country. In what way did that affect and influence the way you guys started out? Was it hard to get your hands on stuff like instruments?
It is true that Albania was isolated for a long time. But as soon as the system changed, a whole bunch of rock/metal bands emerged almost instantly. It was like everybody was waiting for the iron curtain to fall. Rock was the means of expressing oneself. We were totally isolated and it was the time to scream and shout freely. And rock was the answer.
There was a lack of instruments and mostly everybody who was in a band would borrow an instrument from some other guy. And they were going around hand to hand. It was really difficult. Not to mention rehearsal places. We rehearsed in our friend’s basement in our early days. Everything was missing infrastructure wise… But not the will and passion to make music. They were really tough but great times.
What artists inspired you guys to start making metal music as, in a way, the first band in Albania ever to do so? Where there any other bands venturing towards metal in your country that inspired you?
We all have our favorite band and artists like Beatles, Stones, Doors, Hendrix, Sabbath, LedZeppelin, PinkFloyd, DeepPurple, IronMaiden, Metallica, Megadeth, Dream Theater, Sepultura, Pantera, AliceInChains, PearlJam, Soundgarden, Korn, RATM, RHCP, the list goes on.
We had quite a few names that started and belong to the first wave of Albanian rock/metal bands like Centaur, Thunderway, Megaherc, Shok, Akullthyesit and Djemtë e Detit just to name a few. So seeing bands like these emerging and writing rock songs, influenced us mostly like “why don’t we start a band?”
Your first album ‘Days of Rage’ is about to celebrate its 20th birthday. Even though you didn’t release any records since (as in albums), I understood that Crossbones remains an active band and looking to still grow and play outside of Albania. Why did you never release a follow-up?
Yes it’s true. “Days Of Rage” 20th anniversary is just around the corner. It is the very first rock/metal CD album released in Albania. We didn’t release any other official album mostly due to financial but also industry infrastructure. Still at this day, the rock scene in Albania is small. There is not too much attention to it. Anyway, there are festivals or events that dedicate time to rock music and even brought international names.
We are active. In fact we’ve always been active and present in the local metal scene as well as abroad. We are trying to play as much as we can in other countries where the rock/metal scene is bigger and the industry is present.
Here the band likes to refer to a bit of their bio:
Crossbones is the only metal band as well to ‘sell’ outside the Albanian borders and tour around and gaining international recognition. The band have played and headlined in many concerts and festivals in the local scene, as well as Italy, Greece, FYROM, Montenegro, Kosovo and recently toured in Baltics (Estonia and Latvia) 1-3 June 2017, organized by THP Production.
Looking back to that time, can you say a bit how ‘Days of Rage’ happened? How did you write the album and record it and how did that go?
We already had a couple of songs. So we decided to write more in order to have an album. And we did. We would go to the studio, rehearse, and record.1997 was a bad year for Albania and also international press was talking a lot about that. I took the title from a CNN TV report with the headline “Days of rage in Albania”.
It was a good title and the situation inspired a lot of the songs and not only those in the album. This record was a self-released album, but it was the first and a lot of friends and fans remember it. It was a really big deal to release that kind of product back in the day. I personally hand-painted the cover and the logotype and the whole production was handled by GEMA in Switzerland.
When we look back at this album, we go back in time and we can’t help but recall all that period of time, difficulties, laughs, and endless hours in the studio recording stuff for up to 3 songs in a day. It was like we had to do it fast otherwise we wouldn’t do it at all. It was this feeling of impatience to finish the record and send it to production. Every day we would ask about when it is going to come out and so on. It was a self-released record, a full album. And I would like to thank Arbi (former band member and co-founder) and his family for making this record possible. We released the first Albanian rock/metal CD album in Albania. This is really important because that album is a piece of Albanian rock history and this how we got recognition here but as well as outside Albania.
There are thrash songs, heavy metal, grunge, hardcore and alternative. It’s a mix but it was us (the original line up I mean). And we want and we definitely going to continue that. We are alive and kicking.
I understand most Albanian bands that wanted to record had to do so in Pristina or Skopje. How did that work out?
We were very lucky at that time because my friend and co-founder Arbi, had this home studio so we could do anything, rehearsing and recording. Other bands recorded there as well. The equipment used was really great for that period of time. But this was not so important to us. We were the first metal band to release a CD album in Albania. And this was big.
You’ve got a new album out. What are the plans for that and what can people expect?
We released our new album “WWIII” on January 13 2017 viaNadir Music Genova. It is a worldwide release, in stores and online, ITunes, Amazon etc. It is again, the first metal album from Albania released internationally and with a label. We are really proud of that. We want to present it in as many countries as possible. We’ve played it Greece and Italy beginning of this year and just had our first Baltics Tour with THP Productions from Latvia. We played in Tallinn, Narva and Riga.
It was great. International festivals are important as well so we are dealing with it. We are featured on UltrajeMagazine Portugal(hard copy) March-April edition CD compilation with “Gates Of Hell” and another compilation through AgainstPR Portugal which comes out on July 31 2017. We already have shot two music videos, one of them coming out shortly. Our new album “WWIII” is making quite a buzz since its launch in January 13, 2017. The news has spread throughout 3 continents, Europe, USA and Australia in about 50 webzines and portals with great reviews.
For this record we worked with the well-known producer and sound engineer TommyTalamanca at his Nadir Music Studios who has mixed and mastered the album. The new record combines American thrash metal influences with a dark sound and typical East European sonorities. The result is an album created with the intention of hitting the ears hard without losing melodic passages and “catchy” riffs. An album where the recurring use of both English and Albanian languages marks a new way in the European post-thrash genre.
So how was the lead-up to releasing this album?
We were already writing new stuff in 2015 and we actually self-released a new EP titled ‘Alive’ on April 25, 2015. It had 3 songs and one of them was ‘Gjallë’ which means “alive”. The song is in Albanian language, so we decided to keep up and continue to write other new stuff. The new album “WWIII” was highly influenced by the recent events and conflicts. So the title and artwork clearly convey the intense violence and conflict of the recent times.
We sent a few demos from the new stuff at Nadir Music Genova in Italy and the guys decided to produce the whole album and also deal with its worldwide release. Our good friend Tommy Talamanca is the man behind the whole production of it. It came out really great. And this was pretty awesome because once again, Crossbones would be the first Albanian metal band from Albania releasing an album that anyone around the world could buy or listen to. It was a wider and broader representation of Albanian metal to the world. And we are really proud of it. Right now we are trying to expose it as much as we can through gigs or tours and of course reviews/interviews and also music videos.
Your country has been isolated for a long time, but after it opened up more it seems that you were in the middle of a high-tension zone with the wars in former Yugoslavia. How is the relation now with the metal scene in bordering countries?
In general mostly with Kosovo. But we have played in Skopje (FYROM) and Montenegro as well. I would love to play in all ex-Yugoslavia countries. We have no problem with that.
I read somewhere that there is very little physical music available due to a lack of means and the turbulent recent history of Albania. How do you feel about that?
It is the industry that is missing for rock/metal bands. This is important. And people don’t seem to care a lot about this. Maybe we are a very small market in terms of rock music. I hope it changes and improves.
Did you face censorship in the early days and how is that today? If someone would visit your country and was hoping to find some places that metal heads hang out, are there any bars, venues or record stores that are important to the scene?
We have played in many concerts and festivals, even those not related directly with music. No one ever told us “don’t do this or that”. Maybe censor is the part where we are not invited sometimes. Regarding places, we have a few good ones. You can either just have a beer or even listen a live band. Unfortunately mostly cover bands.
What is the secret to keeping a band together in such hard circumstances where bands usually seem to have come up in Albania only to fold after a couple of years. You guys have been together forever. How did you do it?
As I said before we had several line-up changes and this makes things difficult.
Actually I am the only original member of the band. But i think if there is a will, there is a way. I believe the best has yet to come and we are going to accomplish that together.
What future plans does Crossbones have?
To write a new album, tour around and gain more international recognition.
If you had to describe Crossbones as a type of food, what would it be?
Honestly, I don’t know how to answer this one but i can say it is east meets west, a mix of blends and flavours, musically speaking. I like to think that everybody who listens to our music can find one self. It’s all about connecting people and sharing your thoughts and emotions and be open.
In the furthest, forgotten corner of Europe, in between Romania and Ukraine, you can find the country Moldavia. You might know the country, because in some strange twist of faith, your local football team ended playing a team from there or even your national football team. It’s there where most people’s knowledge of Moldavia ends.
Moldavia became a country on its own in 1991, but historically it’s been a turbulent region. Inhabited by the Dacians in the ancient past, it is said the region gets its name from a combination of the words ‘many’ and ‘fortress’, which would be along the river. Part of the historical, often overrun Moldavia is now part of Romania, the other part being the independent Republic of Moldova.
Moldavia is historically intertwined with Wallachia, Transylvania and Bucovina, all parts of Romania. The historical connection runs deep, even to this very day. The flags are not very different even and there’s talk of unity. On the other hand there’s a pull of Russia on certain autonomous regions. In between, Moldavians find out that they also have their own identity. Harmasar is a band that expresses that nationality and identity through their music and art.
I got to have a chat about this with the band.
Hey, could you kindly introduce yourselves to the readers?
Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, greetings! We are HARMASAR and we’re a Folk/Pagan Metal band from the Republic of Moldova.
How did you get together as a band and started out making music? Have you guys played in any metal bands before Harmasar?
The legend says that as a band HARMASAR was born in September 2013 (the day of our first concert), the founding member being Mircea (the drummer). Most of us had some experience of playing in a band before Harmasar, but the majority of these bands were popular and known only among its members.
Tell me about Harmasar? What does the name mean and what is the concept or story you are telling with this band?
Harmasar in Romanian stands for stallion (you know, the one with balls, with testicular integrity). The main message we are trying to present is the one of ‘knowing your roots’, remembering the great and heroic deeds of your ancestors, as well as the idea of conservation of the traditional values.
Our inspiration comes from ancient Moldovan/Romanian folk tunes and music, like doina’s and hora’s. As for bands, we find inspiration in the like of Eluveitie, Arkona, Korpiklaani, Bucovina.
You’ve recently released your debut album ‘Din pământ’. A thunderous folk metal album, that seems to lean close to the more folkish expressions with peculiar traditional instruments and elements. What is the story you are telling on this album?
The closest translation of the title ‘Din pământ’, we guess will be ‘From dirt’ or ‘From dust’, with the meaning of roots, origins. This is also what the album is about.
For people, like me, who know little about the past history of Moldova, can you introduce us into the material. What are the elements you are singing about?
Well, in this album we mostly sing about great battles, fought by our ancestors, so the songs ‘Daoi’ , ‘Tapae’ and ‘Moesia’ are about the war between Dacians and The Roman Empire. ‘Vaslui 1475’ tells us the story of the war between The State of Moldova ( Tara Moldovei ) and the Ottoman Empire and particularly The battle of Vaslui. On the other hand there are also songs that criticize human vices and corruption such as ‘Națiunea’ and ‘Porcu’.
Well, the main messages in ‘Natiunea’ is to stand for the ideas you believe in. People should always remember who they are and where they are from: standing for the ideas that you believe in and always remembering who you are and where you do come from. In ‘Porcu’ the idea is to not let yourself be manipulated by anyone, especially by political forces and other empowered entities. Literally, it tells about not becoming a pig, a creature that is raised without values to be killed and eaten at a whim.
Can you tell us more about the writing and recording process of your album? Is everyone equally involved or is there a clear division of tasks?
Yes, we find it more productive to have a good division of labour and tasks in the band. So the song writing process is performed by Max (the vocalist) mostly, band promotion and graphic design by Ștefan (the bass player) and the events, concerts organisation by Mircea (the drummer).
What sort of traditional elements do you put in your music and which instruments do you use for this?
Well for the rhythmic part we used such elements as Sârba and Hostropăț wich was also used as a traditional tune for panflute as well as ”Ciuleandra”. In addition to the panflute (Nai) we recorded also some flutes (fluier, caval), violins and an accordion.
Let’s discuss the art work, can you say a bit about the artwork you use and the visual aspects of the band? I understand you guys perform also in a traditional outfit?
The artwork was made by our friend Octavian Curoșu with our suggestions, it’s our vision on the album name “Din Pământ”. As our songs are about our ancestors we have decided to wear similar outfit inspired from them with some elements created by us.
The artwork of the album is open for interpretation, we like to see that people find different things in it. In our vision it is a conglomerate, a synthesis of ideas. In Moldova we have a natural reservation called ‘One hundred Hills’ or ‘Suta de Movile’, which consists of a large group of hills of different sizes. According to the legends these are considered to be ancient warrior’s tombs. So basically the hill on the picture has the signification of an ancestral grave, a tomb representing at the same time: the end, the past, our history and roots. On the other hand this hill is also a mother’s womb, with a child to be born, the foetus representing the future, the birth of a new generation. So essentially it is like a synergy between these two ideas, past and future, like the Phoenix rises from its ashes, the child is waiting to be born from the grave of his ancestors.
Can you tell me a bit about metal in Moldova? How did it get started in your country and which bands pioneered the genre?
As we know, till this time there were and are a lot of metal bands here in Moldova, but the most remarkable one was Accident (Death/Thrash Metal) that was formed in 1988.
What is the scene like now? Where is it centred and do you guys have relations with bands from neighbouring countries?
The scene is centred mostly in Chisinau, the capital of RM, where you can find several places for bands to play live, and also some open air festivals during the summer. We have some good friends in Romania and Bulgaria playing in a well-known bands there with witch is always a pleasure to hang out and play some shows together.
Which bands from Moldova do you think people should check out and why these ones?
You can check out ABNORMYNDEFFECT – this is a Polyrhythmic Grindcore/ Death Metal band that is one of the most appreciated of its style in Europe. Their songs are about our social and political problems.
What future plans does Harmasar have?
The most primary for us now is to have a tour for supporting our debut album in Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and other countries. To meet with our great fans from there and to reach a new audience.
About other plans we cannot tell, yet…
If you had to compare your music to a dish (food), what would it be and why?
I don’t know any dish that I can compare to our music, but probably it would be a Grilled Ottoman with some bloody sauce, but we haven’t tasted it yet. (joking, referring to the bloody history in wars with the Ottoman empire)
The first dish that came up in my mind is Ciorbă de Văcuță (beef broth), it helped us a lot to survive tough mornings during the past tours.
This is an interview conducted with Malthus from Vaalghul, originally published here on Echoes And Dust.
Metal is a many headed beast and mostly we hear about the bands that roam the western part of Europe or North-America. In the quest to find out what else is out there I stumbled onto the band Vaalghul from Macedonia. Now, just saying Macedonia causes bad blood, so usually the country is known as the Former Yugoslavic Republic Of Macedonia (FYROM). That depends on where you come from though.
I find that many people in my country don’t even know this place exists, which is quite interesting. It borders on Kosovo, which is another great unknown together with Albania. The main conflict concerning the countries name is with the southern neighbours, which is Greece. The country has bene heavily investing in its identity, even following a policy of antiquisation. Macedonian identity is a part of the music, Malthus readily admits, it seeps into things.
Vaalghul is a black metal band, which is currently unsigned. In 2014 the first EP was released and work is underway to fix the second release. Malthus answered them on e-mail and through the chat, because he’s currently residing in Australia.
Can you start with where the name comes from and how you started out with the band? Vaal is the name of a demon, ghul is just an addition to give it a better sound. Vaalghul is the ‘Tyrant Overlord’ (God of Terror). The vocalist got that name when we were wondering about a band name a couple of years ago. There were some other options but we felt this fits pretty well. Back in those days we weren’t entirely sure if we would be doing something serious. Not that it was a joke of course. We came with some good ideas and then recorded the first demo. The production was very raw and almost impossible, but some people liked it.
We recorded the demo in the classic way with one guitar amp, a shit soundcard and then this is the result you get. There are many ideas behind this project, but one of them was making something different in our country. We wanted to be unique in our country with some extreme music.
The lyrics were satanic initially, but the point of them was to provoke people. Shake them up from their regular ways of drinking coffee on Main Street and gossiping. They enter the church when they have to and that’s that. We did enjoy writing the lyrics. I guess the Satanism is mainly provocative, but it also is a tribute to those who want to live free and do what feels good.
You’re using the name Malthus, can you tell me why you chose that name?
In demonology Malthus is a prince of Hell and I liked the name. That’s why I took it.
Which are the bands that inspired you to get into heavy metal? I’m not sure I remember what I was listening to, but I’m sure I listened a lot of Death, King Diamond,Psychotic Waltz, Iced Earth, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Dio and Slayer.
I read that you used to have some band members, what made you continue on your own? Which bands inspired you? Yeah, I used to have some band members. We were three people in the band, but one of the members never had time to record, another had no time at all… It wouldn’t work out that way.
What made me continue was my passion for the music. I also had the time to write and record music. It’s not that I had big hopes, but I wanted to make everything more extreme and more provocative. I guess the biggest inspirations were Mayhem, 1349, Dark Fortress, Isegrim, Leviathan and Setherial for me.
How did you, living in Macedonia, get into metal music? Where there any local bands inspiring you? I happened to have really good friends who were listening to all kind of metal music, when I was in my youth. My best regards to them! Actualy local bands were my inspiration and drive to record something new and more serious. There are lot of good bands though, but most are not my style but still unique in their own way.
Are you playing live shows? Back in the early days we never had plans to play live. We did want to at some point, but we didn’t had a drummer who was up to the challenge. There are quite good shows in Macedonia though, even though most are hardcore shows. At least they’re very energetic.
I don’t think the hardcore scene is much bigger, but it’s just more acceptable to people. It’s hard to find a true black and death metal music fan…
I read you’re working on a new album. Can you tell a bit about the record, the artwork and the message you’re trying to convey? It will take some time before I actually finish this album, it was supposed to be out a few months ago. It’ll be out sooner or later though. The vocalist of Septuagint (kick-ass band from Greece) will perform the vocals on the album as a guest musician. The artwork is going to be done by Gediminas Kiaunė (Manum Diaboli Art) from Lithuania. He is a really passionate artist, who makes the perfect artwork. If you need some artwork, he is your man. He just popped up on Facebook, which got my interest. I checked his work out and was amazed, so I got in touch and we struck a deal. I check his work again for new stuff every week.
On the new release the lyrics will be more spiritual satanic, the message itself I’ll leave in the middle. Each can figure out their own from it.
What to you makes a band a black metal band? It’s hard to give an answer to this that feels right. It depends, it can be thrashy, mixed with doom or anything these days. Many bands have been taking black metal to whole different levels. Look at bands like Dark Fortress mixing music but still good kick ass and still black metal maybe not pure like raw one line but still black metal. If you listen to the records ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ and then to ‘Ordo Ad Chao’, you hear two different worlds, but still both black metal. Both completely Mayhem. Uniqueness? I took these because of the good vocal range of the vocalists, Good “scream” “grim” cold evil vocals, good atmosphere in the music.
Can you tell a bit about the scene in Macedonia, its history and what bands are standing out according to you? Sure, back in the 80’s it got serious here with bands like Orion and in the early 90’s. They played thrash/death metal with some excellent riffs and solo’s. On their tail followed bands like Dismay and Sanatorium. Later band like Arhont and Hall Of Sins rose up in the 00’s. Those are the most important names I think.
I also think they represent the spirit of metal in Macedonia. There’re only a few extreme metal bands, but they have a good history behind them. The same goes for most of these bands. When you have the time, take a listen to each one carefully.
I noticed there are more bands than I thought in Macedonia, but I hadn’t found them due to the Cyrillic writing. What makes bands chose either? The Macedonian alphabet is in Cyrillic, so many bands just want to represent themselves in their own language, which is their choice. Personally, I prefer the English, because this way everyone can grasp your message, whatever the lyrics are. If you write in your mother tongue, it’s pretty hard for foreign listeners to get your lyrics and translating them is not really it I think. But what do I know, there are people who care nothing for the lyrics, so it doesn’t matter whatever language it is.
If I visit your country, what spots should I as a metal head definitely visit? There are many great locations in Macedonia to visit, especially in Bitola. The city has a history behind it, but as a metal head I think only summer is a good period to visit. Usually people (metal heads) are gathering in the park, drinking a beer. A lot of people do that anyways.
There used to be some good places to hang out, but not anymore. The new generation of metal heads is trying to change that and I think they are getting there. There are no real record stores you could go to, the only choice is to buy music online or go to Thessaloniki in Greece. That’s an option since my city is close to it. There are gigs though.
I understood there’s quite a rivalry between Greece and Macedonia, based on a name and cultural dispute. Is that in any way tangible in the metal scene? Yeah, a lot of people are curious and asking about that. For me, I have a lot of good friends in Greece here and there, these days not many people think the way about this as they did in the 90’s (when this was an actual political issue red.). Especially people involved in the metal scene and who don’t care or are against politics from both countries don’t care much for these issues. Governments are the problem I think, not the people.
Do you think anything of the Macedonian identity seeps into the music? Yes definitely.
What future plans do you have with the band? For now, it will be the new single that is going to be released. The album will be out later some time. Who know, for now when I think about the album release, I have no clue what’ll happen after.