From the former Yugoslavian Republic hails the band Zvjer, a multi-national entity that brings a type of black metal that feels and tastes like its origins. Balkanian Barbaric Black Metal is what they like to call it themselves. The band has been going strong since 2013 and last year they released their second full length, titled ‘Navia (Zadah Jalovog Svijeta)’.
Zvijer is Serbo-Croatian for beast. The band is currently located in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Knjaz is the bandleader and founder, running the horde since its early days. It’s not his only project, he has many, and they cross borders. Yet, with a small scene, there are also many challenges. We discuss these at length, including the folklore and ideas that inspire the band in their unique brand of black metal.
Thanks to Knjaz and drummer Insanus for their time to answer my questions.
How is Zvijer doing? How has the pandemic affected you guys and your band? KNJAZ: Greetings. All is well. A new album is coming out soon and we are preparing some new songs. I would say that this pandemic has not changed many things in our work and attitude towards music, and life in general. We do our jobs, we play, everything is in the best order. Although you can’t travel abroad, it never meant much to us anyway.
First things first, how did Zvijer get started and what has been your path towards the style of music you play as individuals? You also have plenty of other projects, could you tell something about those? KNJAZ: The former guitarist and I started the band back in the summer of 2013. We wanted to make a band through which we would be able to deal with topics like the cult of night, Balkanian old funeral customs, the dark folklore of the Balkan countries, and so on. Then, in 2016 Insanus join the band and after the first album we continued as a two-man band. We work easiest when the two of us are alone, everything goes faster and without problems. Our music is a reflection of our thoughts and all personal attitudes that we express through words and tones. The basic motive and mover that fuel fires in us is freedom. The absolute freedom we have at work is all we need.
HIBERNUM is a death/black metal band that will release a debut album in the second half of 2021 in their 18 years of existence.
SUTON is a doom metal band that will also release a new album next year after a few years of silence.
BLACK CULT is the parental band of Insanus, it’s also a great black metal.
What does the phrase Barbaric Balkan Black Metal mean for you guys? How did you arrive at this definition of your sound? KNJAZ: “Balkanian Barbaric Black Metal” is a phrase that we have adopted as the best description of our music. We play black metal, our roots are in the Balkans, and our regions are known for a very cruel and barbaric history with a lot of bloodshed and dead people. It is one of the sources of our inspiration. Therefore, it was natural for us to take that determinant for our sound.
You are about to release a brand new album, titled Navia (Zadah Jalovog Svijeta)’. What can you tell about this album and its concept? KNJAZ: Yes, our second album “Navia (Zadah Jalovog Svijeta)” is officially out on December 4th, and it will be released by Seance Records from Australia.
The concept behind this material is human alienation from the world. It is possible to function “normally” among people, and at the same time be lonely and cut off from humanity. The idea is to evoke a feeling of isolation and enjoyment in solitude through music and lyrics. Musically, this album is quite different from the previous one, but for us it is a logical step forward. We evolved with sound, so this came to us quite normally, and it’s up to the fans to listen, compare and see if they like the new material or not.
What was the writing and recording process like? INSANUS: Before entering the studio we had some skeletons of the songs, but in the process of creating and recording songs those skeletons were changed almost to the point of unrecognizability, so we can say that we are creating our songs directly in the studio. Having in mind that we are a two-man band, and I’m responsible for all instruments, that proves for us to be the easiest and quickest way of creating music. I recorded all instruments in my own studio. Vocals were recorded at the peak of the first wave of COVID-19 and all studios around Knjaz were closed, so he did his vocals in an improvised studio in his room or attic, I’m not sure, with even more improvised equipment which gave us that raw sound that fits our music perfectly.
As I have not had the luxury to listen to it, can you tell what listeners can expect from this record and in what way your sound is changing from the previous album to this one? KNJAZ: I could not give an objective answer to this question. People will have to wait a little longer to listen to our album. The material will be available on most major streaming platforms but probably also on many pirate download sites very soon, so it will be available to everyone. In my personal opinion, the album is much better than the first one, but in terms of the evolution of the band. Every song we’ve done, I’m proud of it, but I think “Navia” is the current band’s highlight. I will enjoy it until we release the third album, with which I hope we will be able to surpass this one.
As I understand it, Zvijer is originally from Bosnia but currently ‘based’ in Serbia. Can you explain how that works? And as an outsider, what are the relationships like with other bands and artists from former Yugoslavian countries? KNJAZ: Zvijer was originated from Banja Luka (Bosnia), I am still in Banja Luka. Insanus is from Rijeka (Croatia), but currently lives in England. Honestly, I wouldn’t know. The internet has made it easier to interact, but we have a fairly small circle of people we work with and are in contact with.
What is the Black Plague Circle? KNJAZ: If you think of the Black Plague Circle; that is a group of people and bands like Obskuritatem Nigrum Ignis Circuli, Deathcircle, Niteris, Master’s Voice and Void Prayer.
How is the regional scene doing and what bands should people really check out? KNJAZ: There’s a few good bands in Balkan region; bands like Nadsvest, Arjen, Void Prayer, Old Night, Zlobnik, Zloslut. That is from the metal scene, but I am more into punk bands.
Is there a political component to Zvijer or the regional scene? I couldn’t help but notice some association to certain ‘politically inspired’ bands from a former band member. KNJAZ: Zvijer has nothing to do with politics. As I said above, all we are interested in the band is the history of Balkan, the concept of death, and dark folklore. We are not politicians but musicians, so there is nothing that would interest us in the world of political malarkey.
Yes, our former member is in NSBM. You see, generally, metal scenes in ex-Yugoslavia countries are quite small, and the black metal scene is even smaller. So at this or that moment, everyone will always be in touch, no matter if you are NSBM, Antifa, Satanist or pagan. So everyone does what they want, we don’t mind as long as it doesn’t touch us. Insanus and I know how we want our music to sound and what it should be inspired by.
What sort of concepts or stories inspire your music? As I understand it folklore is a part of it. I would love to get a bit more insight into what sort of dark folklore it is that inspires you, as it is obviously not familiar to me (and I’m curious). KNJAZ: These areas are rich in stories about werewolves, vampires, local demons, and also a large and rich part of our history is occupied by Slavic gods. It is all part of us, our origins, our pride and our history. We want our music, in its originality, to have authentic lyrics behind them in topics that are close to us and that are familiar to us. That is the main reason why we write about it. Every slightly larger village here and in rural areas surely has 10 or more stories of local demons, necromancy, vampirism, fear of the night, etc.
What are the future plans for Zvijer at this moment (if the pandemic lets us do normal stuff again)? KNJAZ: I don’t know what is meant by normal things. We are continuing our plans in this pandemic period as well. We are preparing new songs, we have some concepts that we want to materialize. One is sure, we have no plans of doing any live gigs in the near future.
If Zvijer was a dish, what would it be and why? KNJAZ: Probably pale white aged bone, torn from a bear’s carcass on mountain Kozara. Someone sees that as a dish.
e across an album that defies categorization, that simply is out there in a way little else is. Dordeduh released one of those albums this year, their sophomore release ‘Har’. It’s a celebration of Romanian culture, but also an embrace of the future and crossing over into new domains. It tells of deep history and myths yet opens its arms to whoever listens to it. It’s a statement and testament to what the band is about.
Dordeduh is often described as a project that sort of split-off from the well-known Negură Bunget . Yet, that does injustice to the people behind the project, their vision and creative drive. While the roots may be similar, Dordeduh has paved its own path. It did take years for the follow up to ‘Dar de duh’, which came out in 2012, but hey, here it is finally!
Though Edmond ‘Hupogrammos’ Karban is enjoying his time off outdoors, he did take time to talk about this new album and share some insights into the process behind the band and the album, the current state of the world, and playing Prophecy Fest (hopefully) where they’ll do a Negura Bunget set.
Hello Dordeduh, how are you guys doing?
Hello there. I am in vacation and I enjoy some free time in the wilderness of our mountains, with no internet and telephones and technology.
You’ve released the monumental album ‘Har’ this year, still in the midst of the pandemic. Did you consider not releasing it yet or had you already postponed the release?
We had the album ready already in July 2020. We had some chats with the label if it would be wise to release it in the winter of 2020, but in the end, they decided to have it in the late spring of 2021. But for me, seen from the artist’s perspective, I wanted it out asap, to see the album released and have it out of my hands.
Dordeduh was formed in 2009 and in 2012 you released your debut. We had a long wait for ‘Har’, so the question is; what took you so long? And what has driven you to create music again? I have read, for example, that you were never entirely happy with the ‘Dar De Duh’ sound. Does that have much to do with it?
It took so long because I became the father of 3 boys and family became the main priority in life. When kids started to grow, I started to feel more secure as a parent, I started to write music again. Regarding “Dar de duh” I think that it was never about not being satisfied with the result, it’s more about having a perfectionistic point of view. Judging the compromises we had made on that record, I think that the result is pretty good.
Har has two active concepts in the background. One is related to the title, which means “grace, or divine grace”. This aspect is important because, in order to have such a moment of epiphany where one feels that divine grace, one needs a specific inner balance, a specific openness and a specific state of mind. One has to be mentally and soulwise fit for such connections. And this leads to the second concept, the practical aspect that this album is talking about; more precisely it invites to undertake a journey into our own depths. This journey most of the time does unveil unpleasant aspects about ourselves. The things that we are confronted with during such a transformation process are related to trauma, to different contents that lie dormant or hidden in the subconscious mind. In order to heal all these aspects one needs to be confronted with his own darkness, but also with the craving for pleasant experiences. The wanted state is one of equanimity. It’s a very lengthy process and after the initial confrontation a long integration period is needed. This has to be part of our everyday life, of our routines, of our daily practice. Another aspect related to the conceptual background of this album is related to our lost and forgotten cosmic memory. I strongly believe that we have a cosmic heritage that lies dormant in us, way beyond what can we perceive in our normal state of consciousness. This heritage occasionally gets unlocked during the journey I mentioned before.
As a parent yourself, it’s a horrible question to be asked, but is there a song on this record particularly close to your heart?
Yes, “In vielistea uitarii”. Even most of the material I wrote for Negura Bunget and Dordeduh was always impersonal, this time there are personal touches in that whole impersonality.
You’ve stated that the recording process for the album was very relaxed, though under hectic circumstances. Can you elaborate on that and also share what the process was like for this particular record?
For me, the ideal environment for writing and shaping an album is to have an isolated place where I can freely work exclusively on the material. To be able to keep the focus and an appropriate mood for writing is crucial for me. Otherwise, every time when I turn back to the writing process I need some time to adjust and to create the right atmosphere to dive into the album. This time I did not have anything close to that. I wrote most of the things after 9 PM when I placed my kids in their beds. So the process probably took a bit longer.
But having our own studio allowed us to record some of the stuff already in the composing phase and allowed us to have some basic pre-production. I think the critical aspect for us while recording and producing our own album is that during this process we can’t work on anything else in the studio. And we rarely can afford that, because we also have to have our basic incomes. But we managed well all the things, made this record and we’re pretty happy about it.
I can’t define what style of music Dordeduh plays, but it hits all the right spots for people that love both folk, and metal music, with the mystery of ethnic elements. If any sort of umbrella term would fit its folk metal, yet I always feel that there’s a massive discrepancy between a band like Dordeduh and some guys in pirate costumes who happen to add a tin whistle. Your music feels like a whole, where you can’t separate the elements. Nothing is added. How do you realize that sound from songwriting to production, is it the original vision or do you layer the elements and ethnic instruments?
I think the key element in making all these materialize is to preliminarily have a vision of what one wants to achieve, as detailed as possible. Of course, while the process starts to form a body, the vision gets from the realm of the ideas to something concretely manifested and the image becomes clearer and clearer. At that stage sometimes an added element can improve and support the overall image.
On the other hand, this used to be the job of a producer for the cases of the bands that preliminarily had no vision, or had only a general vision about what they want the next album to sound like. The producer was the one that shaped the whole production in certain directions. Nowadays producers exist only in the area of a big-budget production. On the any other cases, this input could come only from sound engineers who are willing to dive into producing and mixing an album. In the underground scene, it’s close to impossible to find a good producer. And that’s because of a very simple and pragmatic reason: there are no budgets for producers anymore.
Can you perhaps tell a bit more about the instruments you use, such as the Tambal, toaca, tulnic, nai, dube and timbale (etc.) and what they mean or tell in your music? I read somewhere that there is a reflection of different places and regions in your music, which is hard to detect for those not in the know. Is that something you are willing to expand on?
I know that it’s probably hard to imagine, but we don’t use these instruments because we have to use them in order to be cool, different, exotic or name whatever other label. It’s used to enhance a different state, to put more emphasis on certain aspects and so on. We never planned anything regarding these instruments like: “this album should be more folkish”, or “this song should have more traditional instruments”. I want to keep a nice balance between the instruments. I only use them where they are relevant. I prefer to have a general vibe of good taste and not overdo them on the whole length of the album.
The “tambal” is a hammered dulcimer that is present in traditional cultures from all around the world from east to west. The instrument has some variations that varies from culture to culture. With the “nai” it’s the same story. The nai is a panflute that is found in different shapes, materials and sizes around the world. We also use traditional flutes that are pretty specific to our culture, but similar instruments are again found in many traditions. The “toaca” is a hammered wood that nowadays is used in orthodox churches. It’s not really known as an instrument, but it’s dated in ritual contexts for thousands of years. I remember that I envisioned having this instrument present in my music since the first album. I always found it’s percussive sound appealing with huge amounts of long reverb on it. The xylophone, the timabels or “dube” are usual percussion instruments. The types of “dube” we use come from Romanian oldschool fanfare kits. The “tulnic” is probably the most Romanian instrument we use. It’s originated in the Apuseni Mountains and initially, it was a tool to transmit different signals between the villages in different hills or mountains. It’s interesting that in our culture it’s attested that it was mainly used by women and it’s known through history that there were choirs of women who were playing these instruments. It’s the first instrument we used and again I always envisioned that image of a distant mountain where these beautiful songs were played on this instrument.
-The spiritual aspect is very important to you. You’ve also stated that in writing ‘Om’, you meditated a lot. I was curious what you talk about when you mention spirituality?
Yes, spirituality is important for me. I rather dislike using this term because it’s vague. Generally speaking, I prefer to keep this subject to myself. And I do it so because it’s really easy to be placed in contexts that I actually don’t belong. Considering the criticism and the opinion entitlement that everyone has these days it’s probably the worst environment to be mentioned with these kinds of subjects. For me this aspect is a private one, I don’t want to convince anyone to do anything, I don’t feel that I have to prove anything to anyone and I definitely don’t feel that by having a spiritual interest I have something more than other people have. Spirituality is not a virtue by default. It’s a predisposition like any other predisposition. But through practice one can make it a virtue. So, talking about this has no relevance; practice on the other hand has all the relevance.
The ethnic aspect of your music is another thing that fascinates me. As I perceive it, this is very much connected to the land itself, to regional identities and particularly to nature. I’ve read some strong opinions on the state of our world and nature and I wonder how important this is to you as an artist, but also in the music of Dordeduh.
Until I had kids I preferred to not have any kind of convictions concerning the outside world. Nowadays, having a family I started to form and voice my opinion towards different things that are happening in my country and around the world. At this very moment, the outside world got to be quite intrusive and started to affect more and more the inner world, especially with this pandemic context. All the artists around the world are strongly affected by this new context. Even before the pandemic, the artistic profession was already nearly impossible to be sustained, now anything related to arts is almost eradicated. And if I see it from a factual point of view, I can’t predict a bright future.
Your music breathes an identity of Romania, but how has your country changed since your previous record, and has it affected your music and perception?
Happily, we’re not very tuned with the social, cultural or political life of Romania. I admit that I live in my own bubble, secluded from most of the trends that apply to most of the people. This is a good and bad thing in the same time. It’s good because we’re dependent on very few things around us and it starts to be bad in the moments when we’re inevitably confronted with the reality we’re living in.
I’ve got my tickets for Prophecy Fest and I was happy to learn you are part of the Prophecy roster (which I had missed because I forgot Lupus Lounge is one of the iterations). I feel it is a great label and a perfect match for an artist that defies the definition. How is your relationship with the label?
Our relation is pretty straightforward, quite transparent and if there are any kind of misunderstandings or differences of opinions we found a pretty flexible team at Prophecy. Another aspect that I appreciate with them is the fact that they support “unusual” ideas. If we come up with a crazy idea they don’t dismiss it right from the start. They are willing to experiment and they are usually open to new ideas and weird projects. So, we can’t really complain about them.
I sincerely hope we can go enjoy the festival and I can finally hear Dordeduh live. You will also be playing Negura Bunget songs. What is it like to play music from that band for you now, so long after the split? And have you played in a cave before? Apparently, no one had asked Mortiis to play in one before the 2019 edition.
I look forward to the event especially because it’s going to be a special show for us, but also it will be an opportunity to meet up with friends that I wasn’t seeing for some time. Playing Negura Bunget songs seems to me a bit un-actual; it’s a part of our past that defined us for that time around, but not very representative for what I am nowadays. And don’t get me wrong: I love those songs, I even love playing those songs nowadays because I feel I can have an expression that is much close to the initial aim of the songs. It’s also a big and important part of me and my personal history. But nowadays I would like to focus more on the future and less on that past. I personally hope that this will be the last time I will play Negura Bunget songs. Unfortunately for me, my colleagues have a different opinion.
A hard question to answer, but what are your future plans?
Having close to no predictability for the future, all that we can do is to be prepared for any possible live activity. For that we prepared two possible sets, one with a reduced budget for promoters, where we offer a reduced travel party and we play with a minimal setup and line-up. The other one is a bigger production, with a larger travel party and with an extended setup and line-up for the shows. Another thing we can do is to prepare the work for a possible new album and start this process as soon as possible to have a minimal gap between the albums.
If Dordeduh was a dish, a type of food if you will, what would it be and why?
It would certainly be a simple dish with a lot of subtle colourful tastes Why? Because I think our message is simple and can be heartfelt, without falling into much intellectualization, but it contains a lot of layers that reveal a lot of details.
I always find Friesland a fascinating place. Perhaps it is a bit of jealousy of its own uniqueness, its cultural uniqueness. Maybe also a piece of provincial sympathy, I wish Brabant was such an island within our country. What I did not know is that Friesland crosses the border. And not only in the region called Ostfriesland, there is more and that brings me to Friisk. From Nordfriesland, and that’s about how far you can go and that it’s just not Denmark.
In 2018, the band came up with their own variant of black metal with the record ‘De Doden van’t Waterkant’. I listened to it, penned something on my blog and didn’t think anything else of it. Friesland, after all, has always been a healthy ground for Dutch black metal, although often overshadowed by the more central regions of the country. But with ‘…un torügg bleev blog Sand’ I got the band in my sights again. The language was fascinating and the band was, despite a busy time, willing to answer some questions. This busy time also had to do with a show in ‘our’ Friesland with Kjeld.
Anyway, enough introduction, time for the interview itself.
Northsea black metal from Friisk
How are you guys doing under the circumstances? Did the pandemic greatly impact your plans as a band?
Moin. Thank you for having us. Fortunately, we finalised the songwriting before the pandemic started to rage and we were also able to use the advantage of the relaxations in late summer 2020 to join up Andy Rosczyk in his studio in Cologne to record the album. Just before the “long lockdown” in late fall/winter… From this point of view, COVID-19 had not a really great impact on our record itself, but of course, we suffer from the actual circumstances and wish that we can overcome the pandemic and come back to normality.
How did you guys meet and get started as a band and what musical backgrounds do you have?
With the exception of J, we have known each other for many years and have made music together in other constellations before. But in the end we all share the same enthusiasm and passion for metal music, and so over the years we developed together the sound we play today.
You’ve released ‘…un torügg bleev blot Sand’this year, which is a fantastic piece of black metal, dense with atmosphere, yet never too dreamy. What can you tell about the recording process of this album?
We recorded ‘…un torügg bleev blot Sand’ together with Andy Roscyk (Ultha) in the Goblin Sound Studio, Cologne, which has been a great pleasure for us. Since Andy has already been responsible for the mix and mastering of our previous outputs ‘De Doden van’t Waterkant’ and ‘Kien Kummweer’, we intensified that cooperation this time and took a total of five-weekend sessions to ensure sufficient space for concentration and creativity.
You’ve specifically mentioned in the accompanying notes that the sound is deeply inspired by classic German black metal. Which bands are for you the inspirations for that sound? And what newer bands would you say are formative?
Every member has his own preferences, but I think that bands like Naglfar, Lunar Aurora, Secrets of the Moon, Helrunar and Nocte Obducta would fill a playlist that every one of us would feel comfortable with and which have been an inspiration for our current sound. Of course, a lot of “younger” bands or styles of Black Metal have influenced us too, but in this context, it is a little more difficult to highlight individual band names. Ultha certainly belongs to them.
What I find particularly interesting and what made me want to know more is your theme and origins. You use various languages to express yourselves, which in itself is interesting. Could you say something about that choice?
Among ourselves we usually speak German, but (almost) all of us are also able to speak fluent Low German, as the regional dialect is still very common here. And if you refer thematically to the landscape in your home region, nothing can be more authentic than your original language. Therefore, it was natural for us to write some lyrics in our native dialect. In addition, we would like to contribute to keeping our old tongue alive. The Seelterks lyrics go primarily back to T. This almost extinct dialect is a remnant of an original Frisian language which is spoken only by very few people in a small area in Northern Germany.
While black metal never suffered from interest due to inaccessibility due to languages, would you still be willing to express something about the nature of the stories you tell on the album?
There is a deep common understanding among us about what could be suitable for Friisk when it comes to lyrics. We try to keep away from simple or used-out allegories and want to tell little stories we can identify with. I think the German language offers a lot of stones that may let you quickly struggle into a cringe and disgusting direction, therefore we are very happy with the work of T. and the way our lyrics have developed over the years. Each song follows a lyrical theme, of course, but also leaves enough room for each listener’s own interpretation.
How did the concept of Friisk develop from the initial EP, which made me think you were a Dutch band, to the current album? It appears that the significance of the regional expression has grown. I’m also interested in how that impacted the music.
Already in the run-up to the songwriting it was an important concern for all of us to deliver with the first complete album a well-rounded and coherent body of work, in which every song has its raison d’être and doesn’t just “grind out a few minutes of additional playing time”. This was admittedly very ambitious and at times anything but easy. But all the work was definitely worth it, the feedback on the album is overwhelming. Even though in retrospect our EP may seem less regionally expressive because we worked less with different languages, but this time we bring ourselves to the level we focused on. In general I can say that our interest in regional history and culture is coming from heart to mouth. Nothing could feel more comfortable for us than bringing our Frisian mentality into music.
From this point of view, everyone here lives from and with the sea. Therefore it felt natural for us to use impressive but also oppressive paintings of the sea.
You guys hail from, according to the internet, the town of Leer, which is in the Saterland. I was vaguely aware, being Dutch, that Frisia didn’t end at the Dutch border (in fact there’s a whole province in between, but that’s another matter). I knew about the North-Frisian language group, but Seeltersk of Sater Frisian had escaped my attention. Would it be possible for you to tell me a bit about it, it’s history and why it’s so important for you to give these roots expression in your art?
The Sater Frisian lyrics and influences all come from our lead vocalist T., who has his roots in the municipality of Saterland, home to the smallest recognized language minority in Germany. Sater Frisian or Seelterks is the last variety of the origin East Frisian languages and until today still spoken in the Saterland, which once also belongs to the Frisian Sealands, a historical union of traders and chiefs that reigned the region politically. Except for T., we all originally come from different communities and counties of the region East Frisia, and for more than ten years the city of Leer has been the place where we meet, as it is somehow in the middle for all of us. Leer itself is located in the south of East Frisia, very close to the Dutch border (approx. 70 km east of Groningen). However, no origin Frisian languages are spoken in East Frisia today, they have been displaced by regional variants of the Low German over the centuries. But they still show characteristics of the previous languages and differ significantly from ordinary Low German. This probably explains why we use Low German in the first place. It differs a little bit from town to town and our version may contain influences from different regions in East Frisia. The Seeltersk dialect on the other hand is still even for the other members a challenge and until today something very special.
The Seelterks lyrics go primarily back to T. This almost extinct dialect is a remnant of an original Frisian language which is spoken only by very few people in a small area in Northern Germany.
Though Saterland lies inland, the artwork on your EP and LP depict the sea. Is this showing a broader interest in the Frisians and their connection to the sea?
The Frisian history generally connects you to the North Sea. It has always been above everything as a useful but also very unpredictable force of nature and has shaped the country and its people for centuries. While old seaport towns such as Emden or small traditional fishing towns such as Greetsiel have a direct connection to the North Sea due to their location, regions in the south like Moormerland or the Saterland, on the other hand, had to dig miles of canals to ship their goods like peat into international waters. From this point of view, everyone here lives from and with the sea. Therefore it felt natural for us to use impressive but also oppressive paintings of the sea. And in my opinion, the artworks have a very high recognition value, not least because of the chosen painting style.
Can you say a bit about this choice for the ‘sketched’ drawings, which are far from a cliche in the black metal scene, particularly since they don’t depict fantastic beings or so.
We are more than satisfied with the artworks of all three outputs so far. They all fit stylistically very well together, which was in a way intended. We all like this rather simple style of painting very much, as we think it has something attractive and oppressive at the same time. Something that can be transferred to the North Sea. At this point, we would like to take the opportunity to thank Chris from Misanthropic-Art, who has turned all our ideas into a set of unique artworks, far away from known stereotypes and incomparable in their own way. And this despite the fact that he works for so many other quite interesting bands.
Hopefully, you’ll be on the stage in October with none other than Kjeld from West-Frisia. Are you in touch with bands like them who also deal with Frisian language/culture in their work?
With our former band, we once played with Vike Tare from Wilhelmshaven, who deal with very similar topics. But they don’t use dialects or old languages as far as I remember. Nevertheless, we love to share the stage with bands that pursue similar interests, and we are all looking forward to that date. Evenings like the show in Drachten with Grafjammer and Kjeld offer a good opportunity to get in touch.
What future plans does Friisk currently have?
We’ve released three outputs so far and cannot wait to perform these songs on stage. We are open for requests and hope that we can have a good time together with people who share our passion for music. Currently, there is a lot of planning that happens in the background and we are optimistic that we can present our debut album with an appropriate number of shows in the next time.
If your band was a dish (a type of food), what would it be and why?
I would say we are a Queller, a grass that grows in the Wadden Sea. It’s something very natural that emerges from the sea, but not the first thing you associate with it.
I actually ran into Marton Saliba, the sole member of Saħħar, once upon a time during the Eindhoven Metal Meeting event. An event, where a small enclave of Maltese metalheads apparently sojourns to in order to get their fix of heavy music. Years later, I came across his latest album, titled ‘Tiġrif tal-Ġnus’, released in 2020. I felt the time was right to reach out and ask some questions. Though the album had been about for a while, time has stood still, so it’s fresh enough to dig into.
Maltese metal is a different beast altogether. It’s outward looking, diverse, inspired by the Brittish scene it would seem if you look at the heavy doom presence on the island. But Malta is a strange place, if you look beyond the touristy veil. It has a long history, a peculiar mixture of peoples and cultures, and an own tongue that is impossible to grasp. Interestingly, Saħħar chose to perform in that language.
Below you find the questions I asked and the answers given. Thanks to Marton for his time and make sure to check out his music.
Sonic Mirage of the Mind
Hails Saħħar, how are you doing? How has the pandemic treated you?
Greetings, I can’t complain at the moment, trying to keep my life in balance. Ironically, the pandemic gave me more time in my private life, with enough time to be creative, while my day job was unchanged, although it has been more stressful.
How did you end up playing and loving black metal? What was your musical path?
I’ve been classically trained in Piano and music theory since my childhood. But it was only after discovering metal in my early teens that my interest in writing music started to grow. By the age of 15-16, I already heard several black metal bands, and I also started learning the guitar, so I chose black metal as the genre to experiment on songwriting, and I haven’t looked back ever since. I tried other genres with varying personal satisfaction, but it’s black metal which I always return to.
You have two active projects, of which one is an international collaboration. You also had a project called Entität. Can you say something about what these projects represent to you, in particular Saħħar, of course?
They are all different creative outlets. At the same time, they all will probably bear some recognisable riffing style. Entität bears more melodic and progressive music, whereas Eerbaruh is relentless tremolo picking, with Saħħar being the more intimate musical outlet. I’m the guitarist in all three projects, with Saħħar being quite literally everything else. The additional projects also aid me in publishing more music that would otherwise make Saħħar’s discography more saturated than it already is. Finally, they serve as a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and see what our creativity takes us to.
Saħħar is me, and vice versa. Everything which comes out from Saħħar is always a reflection or sonic mirage of my mind.
What is it you draw your inspiration from?
When I’m in my songwriting phase, I try to avoid listening to other music because everything will become an aspect that could inspire my music. I’m musically influenced by a lot of factors to single out, but what inspires me is my drive to write music, my family and the need to explore more themes and topics and put them in more and more releases.
Having been to Malta for the Doom Days I noticed that the island has a vibrant and tight-knit metal scene. Yet, it focuses on classic heavy metal. Since you do Saħħar solo and perform in these international collaborations, is there no interest in black metal or what is that scene like in Malta?
Indeed, Black Metal is not the most popular sub-genre here. It’s not to say that there isn’t any contemporary interest either, but Saħħar takes up most of my creative time, and it’s not very easy to commit to other bands. That’s the reason for my relative absence from other local bands because international collaborations mean that I don’t have to leave my studio. There are other groups, with Martyrium actually achieving a decent level of success. But other BM bands have a more temporary project vibe, or they are run by one or two individuals, which severely limits their reach.
Before I ask you about your last album, I find it extremely interesting that you sing in Maltese. Using your own language is not an oddity in itself in the metal scene. Bands who use their native tongue have been known to thrive, but Maltese is a unique language. What made you choose this language?
Around the time I was scribbling my very first tracks, I was listening to several bands from the Norwegian Black Metal scene (as one does), and I noticed that most of these bands wrote most, if not all, their tracks in their own mother tongue, and I thought it would be a good idea, creatively speaking, to do the same with my project. I certainly was not thinking about future successes or failures when I chose so, but writing in Maltese was given its due recognition over the years, including award nominations.
Do you think other things that spring from being Maltese enter your music? Any myths, ideas or stories you have found shaping what you say with your music?
The very name Saħħar, was picked from local folklore, and there were other instances where I either wrote or was inspired by local myths. Themes vary quite a lot from release to release, but there will be a local mythology-inspired album in the future, I’m sure.
You’ve released ‘Tiġrif tal-Ġnus’ in 2020, your 6th full length, as I understand it. What are you telling on this album? What is its concept?
Its theme is Genocides and Massacres. I chose a few historical events, and I wrote the music’s words around these events. It was an attempt to show the true darkness in mankind. No occult, no magic, no religious mumbo jumbo, just the darkness plucked from our history itself due to mankind’s actions towards his own kin.
You also released a record with Eerbaruh. Would you tell us something about that?
It started as a happy accident, really, when I contacted a guy looking for a guitarist. It resulted in 4 guys pouring all their creative ideas into a short release to test the waters. The result was a really abrasive and intense release which I am very satisfied with the outcome… We are working on another longer release, but so far it seems to be a lot of hurdles in the way, which I hope we will overcome as a group soon. The same goes with Entität, to the point it seems that the band is disbanded, but that’s not the case just yet.
You released this record in the middle of the pandemic, was it on the shelf long before that, or did you create it during the problems? What were your process and creative trajectory like in this case?
Tiġrif tal-Ġnus was already in the works when the pandemic hit, and I simply stuck to a somewhat predetermined schedule. Truth be told, the creative process was not too different from previous releases, except for having more time to research the lyrics and less pressure in producing it, perhaps. With the exception of the second track, Nirien ta’ Smyrna, all the other tracks were written in roughly a short span of time. Then I focused on the lyrics and then spent the longest time producing the album while preparing the respective artwork in parallel.
Recently, you posted a blog about depression where you share your experiences in a pretty brutal and direct way. What made you open up like this, and do you feel that there may be a sort of suffering in silence thing going on in black metal?
I’m not quite sure why I opened up like that, but it certainly felt better doing so. I suppose I needed to clear the air after a hazy and dark chapter in my life. Kind of how one admits to himself that he has a problem in AA to help himself heal.
Yes, I have noticed that several one-man projects are being used either as a creative outlet or as a cry for help from people with mental health issues, and it has been occurring since the inception of the genre. Several individuals use the genre as an ‘edgy’ attempt, and unfortunately, that makes it hard to separate the bullshit from the ones with the real issues. My suggestion for anyone with depression or any other mental health problems is to seek help and not rely on music as a form of therapy. It can be quite effective in the short run, but otherwise, medical help will be needed.
I have this idea that most people who are into this kind of music are often in various gradations out of sync with the modern and fairly hegemonic world. It’s why there’s such a hunger for nature, spirituality, etc. What do you think about this?
That’s an interesting insight, one which I’m bound to agree with. Black Metal in itself is very individualistic, very close to the soul of who writes it, and has this Carte Blanche situation where anything you write about is fair game because it’s the individual expressing his deeper thoughts through the genre. Overall, Black Metal belongs to a world beyond (or beneath?) this one, where the petty, and weak whims of the contemporary human do not belong, and the genre actively opposes and rejects the notions. Unfortunately, that might also mean that some of us are somewhat detached from reality but, it is what it is.
What are your current future plans with Saħħar?
I have another album in the pipeline, already in its pre-production stage, as well as an EP or two. With the help of some friends, I am also laying down a script and plan for a proper music video, which will be a first for me, and hopefully, there will be some opportunities to return to the live stage.
If you had to describe Saħħar as a type of food, what would it be and why?
That’s an interesting question! I would consider it a Spaghetti Aglio Olio, Pepperoncino. Simple but not simplistic and great when done with passion with a lot of flavour and spice. I am biased, after all, being from the Mediterranean!
Vietnam is a far-away place and often our perception is limited to cinematic exposure and (in my case) snack food. I’m not stating this to make light of it, just to illustrate how little we sometimes may know about the world around us. Vong is a black metal project, hailing from the South-East Asian nation, and its sole contributor Indigo Tongue weaves the history and culture of his country into the tapestry of its music.
Vong has released a debut, titled ‘A Wander in Liminality’, in 2019. A record that stands on its own, with a distinct flavour and identity. I was happy to find Indigo Tongue willing to fill me in on its contents, the Vietnamese metal scene and more.
A Wander in Liminality with Vong
How is Vong doing? How has the pandemic been treating you?
Greetings, it’s been an honor to represent my home country and take part in your project.
Aside from not being able to hang out with my friends or jamming with my bandmates, I’m not really affected by the pandemic. Normally I work from home and staying in means I get more time to finish my artworks, record new materials, or tend to my cat and my plants.
Your moniker is Indigo Tongue, can you tell me what that means for you?
It was an alias that I picked for my illustration projects. It came to me pretty randomly and doesn’t necessarily mean anything much, other than bearing a mystic vibe to it. I figured it had a nice ring and decided to adopt it for the black metal project as well.
What got you into metal music?
I couldn’t say much, other than the fact that I developed a taste for it in my teenage years, just like most people. It started with something like Metallica or Black Sabbath and got gradually more extreme down the line.
Can you tell me how you started the project (which I understand is a one-man band) and what bands inspired you to make this kind of music?
It’s not hard to point out that I was inspired mainly by several second wave Norwegian bands, or specifically, the most notorious one-man black metal project that I need not mention. It was their sound that bought me: raw, uncompromised and gritty, cold and grim like a rusty blade cleaving into your flesh. What fascinated me was the fact that they made do with whatever equipment they had at hands, which was a similar situation that I found myself in: I was in college studying fine arts, all equipment I had around the house was a cheap guitar whose neck had broken twice and got glued back, a combo amp, my cellphone which I used to record everything and my laptop. So me, being a DIY guy, decided that I’d try to make black metal with whatever I had lying around.
At the same time, I found black metal to be the subgenre that I’m most comfortable with, compared to other subgenres that I had listened to. I’ve always been drawn to themes like romanticism, occultism, nature, death, human emotions,… and dark medieval aesthetics. Black metal just happens to have most of them to offer.
You’ve released your debut in 2019, titled ‘A Wander in Liminality’.
What can you tell about the process of creating this record?
Like I’ve mentioned, it was all DIY, from the process of recording, mixing to the artworks. It was a fun experience, as I was new to songwriting and audio engineering at the time so I got to experiment recording with a cellphone and fooling around in the digital audio workspace.
I built a pillow fort around the amp and just stuck the phone in to record it, and samples on the title tracks were from creaking cupboard doors, amp static noises and me gargling water over the phone. For the intro of the track “Lệ Chi Viên”, I used the bell and mokugyo (or fish drum, a small wooden percussion typically used in chanting and ceremonies) from the family altar (probably without my ancestors’ permission).
The creation of the artworks was my favourite too. They were all hand-drawn and took many weeks to finish. But the end results were worth it, I believe they were the best artworks I’d ever completed up to that point.Overall, it was a fun experience as I learned a lot about songwriting and audio engineering from it, despite the horrible sound quality, which was a result of recording on a cellphone.
Some of your song titles are in Vietnamese, yet your lyrics are in English. Why did you choose this language and not your own? Black metal has never had an issue with different languages, it would appear, so it would be a valid choice.
Vietnamese is a complicated and colourful language that works very much different from Germanic or Latin. For example, there are dozens of different pronouns depending on age, genders, relationships and context of the speech, which makes wording a chore. If I were to write a romantic poem in Vietnamese, it would flow elegantly like a petal in the stream. But we are talking about black metal, so the lyrics tend to focus on sorrow, war and hatred,… you know, the whole nine yards. Writing about such matters in Vietnamese often feels kinda cheesy (to me, at least). It’s just really hard to explain to non-native speakers.
But the most important reason why I stick with English is that I knew the majority of listeners were going to be foreigners because I was pretty much unknown in the local scene back then. I’d spent a lot of time on the lyrics, so I wanted them to be heard and understood. At the same time, most Vietnamese metalheads (or the youths in general) are capable of understanding English since they are no strangers to Western culture, so it’s a win-win situation.
I understand you are inspired by literature and history, specifically of your home country of Vietnam. Can you say something about this? And can you give some insights into what sort of stories and writers those are?
History and culture have always been among my favourite subjects, and when I took a look at our own history and customs, I found a lot of aspects that would fit well in the context of black metal. For example, over the course of three millenniums of our recorded history, we had fended off foreign invaders numerous times, got subjugated and revolted again and again until we gained sovereignty, which inspired a patriotic theme (not to be confused with ultranationalism) similar to those observed in some of my favourite projects. When it comes to history, I often draw inspiration from tragic events (foreign oppression, famine, persecution of innocents…) or decisive battles that shaped the country. Sometimes it was wartime stories from family members who served in the army as well.
Asides from history, I took inspiration from folklore as well, most of which however are orally passed on from one generation to the next, so no one really knows the dates or who the authors were. Typically these stories either serve as explanations to origins of beings, or fables that reflect the perspectives and moral values of Vietnamese people.
Like most Oriental cultures, our customs and beliefs are heavily based on spiritualism and have a connection to death and the afterlife, with rituals and ceremonies involving the dead. Although Buddhism is the most popular religion in the country, people found ways to integrate folk religions into it, like worshipping ancient deities and saints alongside the Buddha, or ancestor veneration, which is considered unique to the Vietnamese culture, also inspired the themes of Vong.
Vietnam is a country which is to most, including to myself, known mostly for the Vietnam war, which I’m sure has its reverberations to this very day. As you intentionally chose themes from your culture and the English language, is it a purpose for you to change of at least affect that view?
You could say so. Southeast Asian countries have a rich history and cultures but they are often overshadowed by East Asian nations. It wasn’t until the 50’s that we were actually recognized as an independent country internationally when the French colonialism was put to an end, and not until the breakout of the Vietnam War that we were put on the map. Yes, the Vietnam War very much shaped the country as we know it today, but I wanted to point out that there are much more to Vietnamese history rather than the stereotypical “American PTSD experience”.
You’ve also been active in Elcrost, which would seem to focus on a more western romanticism in the lyrics and themes. How did you get into this project and how does it relate to the obvious other direction you embrace with Vong?
It’s a small scene. I’d known the guys from Elcrost before joining their live lineup and we have been good friends ever since. At that point, we were the only two active black metal bands with original materials in the North, they needed session members for live gigs because two out of three guys were abroad and I’d need live members since I’m a one-man project. So we formed up as a 2-in-1 kind of lineup, where we’d perform songs of both bands at gigs under Elcrost/Vong, featuring members of Vietnamese bands like Rot (black metal) and Cút Lộn (thrash/punk) at the time.
Well, just because Vong embraces national history and culture, doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy Western literature and arts. After all both projects are influenced by Western arts and music. The only difference is that I chose to integrate Vietnamese themes in the lyrics. So even if the themes or music of both projects contradict, we share quite some common interests in visual arts and Romanticism. I very much enjoyed their materials and it was a great experience playing in their live lineup and taking part in their EP “Foregone Fables”.
What is it like to make this kind of extreme music in Vietnam? Is there a connection with surrounding countries?
Like I’ve mentioned, the extreme metal scene in Vietnam is relatively small, so as soon as you drop new materials you will certainly get support from the Vietnamese metal scene, which I find rather wholesome.
I’m aware of black metal acts in neighbouring countries like Thailand or Laos and to a greater extent, the Southeast Asia region. I have made contact with the Thai black metal project กาฬพราย (Kanprai), but other than that I don’t know much about connections between bands within the region.
How free are you to explore darker themes in your music? Is there censorship to take into account?
To a certain extent, but in general, it’s rather easy to breathe. Most extreme metal bands are under the radar of mainstream media so most people don’t know or care if you write songs about butchering humans or burning churches. They would just call it noisy or unintelligible music and turn their heads. But of course, censorship is a thing here and there are certain parts where one should tread lightly if you don’t want to catch the attention of the authority, i.e. controversial topics like politics or history of the past 70 years.
Vong is associated with House of Ygra. What sort of cooperation is this and how did you connect?
House of Ygra is a new label based in Hanoi, founded by members of the local scene. Their specialities are black metal, melodic death metal, gothic and experimental stuff, so naturally, I was offered to join their roster, which I gladly accepted. Their role is to produce and distribute merch like CDs, shirts and art prints for bands as well as taking part in visual designs.
What are the future plans for Vong?
I plan to save money for a recording mic and a proper bass (the bass on the demo was played on a guitar pitch-shifted an octave down), finish the artworks for CD releases, record another full length or two, probably another EP or a split before retiring it and move on to other projects.
If Vong was a type of food, a dish, what would it be and why?
Not exactly a dish but I’d go with green tea mixed with passion fruit juice and a spoonful of honey, solely because it’s my trusty beverage during vocal sessions.
Indonesia is a hotbed for metal, though black metal is rarer so I was surprised to find the debut album of Glora Nexus in my mailbox. The band from Jakarta is a solo project from Svarte, who is determined to pave his own path in the genre. The debut, ‘A Grand Monument To Mortality’ is quite an engaging piece of work, that combines a raw approach with an atmospheric sound. On the album, there are some guests contributing. Alexander Lexy from Blodwen plays the guitars on a track, Ragnar Sverrisson from Helfró joins on vocals, Teguh Permana from Tarawangsawelas plays the tarawangsa and finally from death metallers Devoured, Ardian Nuril Anwar joins in. It ads to the result, because the downside of a one-man band is that it often gets to be much of the same. Also, it adds a little death metal groove to the sound I feel.
Svarte was kind enough to answer a bunch of my questions, that came up. Well, most of them, as is his right as an artist to keep holding on to a certain mysterious side of the band. More than anything, I encourage you to check out the music. After all, that’s what this is about.
Glora Nexus and Indonesian black metal
How is Glora Nexus doing? How has the pandemic been treating you?
Hi, I’m still fine even though sometimes it’s very annoying to be in a pandemic situation that has succeeded in limiting the space for human activities. Thank you very much for this interview, I had fun answering it! Also, a very personal thanks to you and I wish you live much luck, keep supporting the underground!
What got you into metal music?
To be honest, “Ascension of a Divine Ordinance” was the first metal song I heard when my uncle brought some CDs home. at least Messiah’s Rotten Perish album has made me familiar with the metal genre.
I felt that sense of pride and individuality that only true feelings for metal can give a person, I listen to metal because I truly love it with an undying passion, and I’ve always been so proud of that, I’ve never bowed to any trend or done anything because I was “supposed” to, and I’m very glad that I had the ability to become an individual instead of a mindless follower like how 99% of today’s society is, indeed. Just like any other human being, I grew up together in the good and the bad, it was good in a sense.
Can you tell me how the project got started, and what bands inspired you to make this kind of music? I understand Glora Nexus is a one-man project.
Previously I asked you, have you ever read the results of the interview answers about this question?. If you have found it, I will not rewrite it here. Sorry to say, I’m not really interested in this question. The music of a Black Metal band should be dark in some way. There is no law that would forbid growling from a Black Metal singer. And I’d like to see bands use more imagination, knowledge, and individuality in their lyrics. Could it be more pathetic?
(ed.) If the reader is interested, here is more to be found in the interview on Occult Black Metal Zine, which is the other interview I’ve found. A later interview sheds more light too, on Himnos Ritualis. I do feel the music sounds particularly as if it has been inspired by the Icelandic scene.
Before your EP, you released two singles, what has been the development like for you as an artist towards this EP?
I don’t think there is any clear and definite answer, but this is a philosophical statement using music as a vehicle and I think that is just plain foolish. From the song “Spiritual Havoc” to the release of the EP “A Grand Monument To Mortality” is that progression is simply exploring yourself because in the end music and all art is a reflection of the artist. As long as you explore yourself and use yourself to write music. Ultimately the quality of a musical work should reflect the musician’s confidence in his own abilities and his ambition to achieve the desired result.
You’ve just released your EP ‘A Grand Monument To Mortality’. What can you tell me about this record, your process in creating it?
From my own experience, I find that through the years I have become more comfortable and find myself trying out new things or trying stuff I could not pull off in the past. I have always held a certain philosophy behind songwriting. I like tempo changes and transitions to build up different moods and I think there needs to be a certain natural flow to how all the riffs come together and how the melodies float over them. I don’t think we have reached the ideal sound or style just yet, but I think that any active musician would say that it is just an ongoing process filled with development and experimentation. The composition of “A Grand Monument To Mortality” was really spontaneous, kinda comparable to how we did proceed with the debut track “Spiritual Havoc”. When I had the complete songs and their related lyrics we started to add this and that to melt each lyric to its own musical support. Everything went very fast a bit like if some force was just telling us what to do, it was quite intense and natural.
What sort of theme are you striving for with Glora Nexus? The artwork of the EP gives me very specific vibes that sort of click with dark romanticism, but maybe I’m completely wrong there.
I think people just got bored with their hollowness and started to look for something with a deeper meaning behind it. Our “imagery” is everything to us. My attraction to Black Metal has always been based on the combination of the raw primitive aggression with the melodic and atmospheric elements that come together to create such a cold and dark listening experience. We try to keep the Black Metal spirit alive with our vision. To me, our central theme has always been and will always be nihilism and Solitude is essential for keeping yourself balanced and healthy if you are unhappy being around most people, as I am. From my point of view, this is also beneficial as staying isolated keeps one’s ideas independent and free of any manipulating influence. That’s what I wanted to convey with Glora Nexus when we started out, and that’s the path we still tread.
What is it like to make this kind of extreme music in Indonesia? I know little about the scene there, apart from fragments displayed in the ‘Global Metal’ documentary, which is years old now. Can you say something about that?
To me, nothing surprising. Indonesia’s metal scene is one of the countries that attract the attention of death metal maniac audiences with all the positives and negatives that accompany it. I think that most Indonesian bands are original because of our national character. We have this inborn tendency to be very individual, to the point of being stubborn. Currently, the Indonesian black metal scene has also grown very significantly with the presence of several bands that have been able to attract international audiences to start paying attention to their existence. I think, “A Grand Monument To Mortality” has also helped strengthen us into the Indonesian metal scene further, at least I hope so.
Even if you are the reigning king of the universe, you have to bargain with people and deal with them in a proper manner. I think this is indisputable.
How free are you to explore darker themes in your music? Is there censorship to take into account?
Of course, I would never limit the theme, although there are also quite dark themes like you said. Glora Nexus is a means for me to externalize what I feel and spread it upon the world like a plague. I see Glora Nexus as the most important thing in my life right now. this musical project is a means for me to “unleash” the darkness within me. let me ask you something: how many people who listen to violent and extreme music are actually placid and harmless individuals in real life? We ought not to forget that music is an extremely powerful medium, with the capability to affect sensibilities in all sorts of unpredictable ways.
When I was reading up on you, I found an interview and you express the following sentiment: “The Spirit of Opposition is still very much alive & potent in the most obscure underground fanatical circles. Life is war, choose your side, stand for the underground.” What do you feel extreme metal in this time should be opposing? And where does Glora Nexus stand?
This is a good question, as it illustrates the way in which we humans unconsciously dress up the world to suit our needs and desires. It’s easy to extrapolate this further into other avenues of existence, and determines the structure of our awareness. Everyone ought to find his or her own path to happiness. I don’t believe in ‘utopian’ solutions if you have that in mind. When each individual lives for nothing but his own benefit then society cannot hold for long, at least when taking in mind the way most humans behave themselves. I think that as long as one is able to adapt, even if it’s a superficial adaptation and not a ‘real’ one, they will be able to survive. But this is not a simple process for them. Admit it, humans are anomalous creatures. Glora Nexus’ position is not to deny all forms of human existence, even the absurd ones. because reaching a compromise with another human being is almost impossible to avoid in real life. Even if you are the reigning king of the universe, you have to bargain with people and deal with them in a proper manner. I think this is indisputable.
You’re releasing your EP through Bhumidhuka Productions (Malaysia) and Harsh Production (Indonesia). How is the connection between local and national scenes in your region? As it surprises me your record is also coming out on a Malaysian label.
I think the Indonesian metal scene is still very solid even though there are some people whose passion lies more on an individualistic level who just want to be left alone with their creations. We’ve partnered with Bhumidhuka Productions and Harsh Production for the release CD and cassette so far, at the same time I’m happy that we’ve been able to at least have people interested in working with us.
What are the future plans for Glora Nexus?
The new record will be even more unholy than ever before!
Metal pops up all around the world, but sometimes you find the scene can be surprisingly small in some ends of the world. Oman has a grand total of two metal bands. And yes, I asked my interviewee about it and he’s adamant that this is probably it. I’m talking about Shabeeb Al Haremi, frontman of Arabia.
Shabeeb currently lives in the UK, and he doesn’t make a secret of the fact that metal was the reason for him to move. Not that Oman is that strict, there was just no scene. He as eager to tell me about Arabia and though I’ve redone his words (Shabeeb has had a car crash and only has one functioning eye, so writing is a challenge), I hope his love for the music shines through in his words.
Get ready to dig into Oman’s very own Arabia.
Arabia, Arabian Blood, War, Metal
Hey, could you introduce yourself and tell me how Arabia got started?
My name is Shabeeb Al Haremi, frontman and founder of the black metal band Arabia from Oman. A nation in the Arabian Gulf and my bandmates names are:
Tarik Al HaremI – Guitar
Said Al Mahmoody – Keyboard
Tarik Abdul Rahman
What got you into metal music in the first place? Well, I used to be in boarding school when I was 13 years old, and one day I met a fellow student, and he made me listen to Iron Maiden. The music blew me away, and I never heard anything like it before. It gave me a crazy rush inside, and when I went back home to Oman, I tried looking for the record that I heard when I was in school, but at that time, metal music was not known that well. I had a friend who used to go to Europe for vacations, and he got it for me, so when I went back to the UK, I started just buying all sorts of metal bands, which is how I went deep in the music. I just wanted heavier music, and that’s how I got in extreme metal. I never used to know the styles. Anything heavy? Just buy it! I fell in love with it ever since.
Arabia has relocated by now; what is the main reason for this, and where are you currently? When we were here in Oman, I wanted to start a band, but there were no real metalheads at the time. So I tried so hard to find them, making flyers for in music stores and everyone who called me were into shitty stuff, like Bon Jovi and other bands that are nowhere near what I was looking for. Then I met Nasser Bahwan. At first, he liked things like Metallica, but I was trying to make music instead of playing covers, so we tried to do that, then my nephew got interested, and I started to teach him what I knew, and that’s the tritone, which others call the Devil’s note. When Said Mahmoody got amazed by the music, he wanted to try and join, and that’s how we first got together and just playing and nothing else than just making music. We got cheap recording equipment to build up the music and make a demo. It took so long to do, but we did it, and the recording was kind of fuzzy. After working so hard, we wanted to get gigs here in Oman, but everyone rejected us, claiming this is dark satanic music (Shabeeb finds this hilarious). We tried to send our stuff to local record labels and they rejected us too, so we had no choice but to leave Oman for the UK because we wanted to be heard. Anything to make that possible, so we left. That was in 2009. Now we are recording our upcoming album in Florida, ‘Where Evil Lies.’ The other three, we did those in England.
Various bands from the middle-east have moved abroad, and some, like Saudi Arabia’s Al Namrood, stay put and work in anonymity against the ruling forces from within. What do you think about this situation? Well, yeah. A lot did leave. It’s all because we are very passionate about music. Some bands from where I’m from had to do that. Others stayed in there because they couldn’t leave, such as Al Namrood. They’re good friends of mine. We met through the Internet, and they came over to see us for a couple of days. We had fun, but to me, they make their music by hiding and being low profile about it. But you know, metal is about standing your ground and doing whatever it takes to do what you love. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, it’s strict when it comes to metal, but it’s a risk you have to take and not get caught. In Oman, it’s cool, but you won’t get support from many people. I think Al Namrood is very brave to do this, but it’s a shame that you get arrested if caught. They are doing a great job by mixing our Arabic vibes with black metal.
Can you tell me what concepts and stories you deal with in Arabia and what your origin means to you in the context of your music? Well, the context of Arabia is based on Arabian wars. The past and the history of the invasions we had through the ages. This is basically what we sing about nothing against religion, or we would get in shit because we come from a Muslim country. Plus, we don’t believe in disrespecting any religion. Al Namrood is the opposite. They sing anti-Islam songs, and their music is about stuff from the Quran like their name. Namrood was the enemy of the prophet Ibrahim.
I understand in your music you put a lot of history and mythology. Can you tell me a bit about those stories or maybe give some examples for people like me not quite familiar with Oman and its past? Well, the songs that we have are about the past in Oman. Some are about when Portugal came and invaded us in the 1500s, and the mythology of our past was about the pagan gods the Arabs use to worship before Islam. The gods were kind of similar to the Vikings and the Romans. Not much difference, but they don’t have a real storyline, like how the other mythologies do. Stories, like Hercules and stuff. That’s different because we Arabs used to believe in a creator back in the day, but we used to worship God through idols. There were no temples like the Greeks had; they used to just put the idols around the Kaba which is the direction of the Muslim for worshipping the one true God, which is the holy city of Mecca i
Your last release was the album ‘Arabian Blood’. When was it released, and how did you record and create this record back then? ‘Arabian Blood’ was released in 2010 after the ‘Black Pearl’ in 2007. We made the album in Liverpool, UK. We did the start at home and then in the studio, making it sound better by mastering the music and mixing it properly. The demo of ‘Arabian Blood’ is on YouTube, just type: ‘arabia arabian blood album.’
How do you work when creating new music. Is someone taking the lead in it, or are their specific roles within the band? Well, it’s me who starts everything in writing the music, then the band follows what I made and add into it till we like what we made and take it from there. I write, then we record and experiment by recording at home. Finally, we hit the studio to do perfect the music.
Are you currently working on any new material, and where do you see this going in the future? We are now working on recording the upcoming album, ‘Where Evil Lies.’ Our label will handle where we will be after that. Arabian dark records, it is called.
They found us on the internet, the label did, but also through metal mags such as Zero Tolerance UK and Metal Hammer Germany and other metal mags that interviewed us.
I understand that there’s one other band from Oman, named Belos. They are still there, and I’m wondering how they are different and in what way there is censorship and the like in your country. Belos is a gothic metal band. It’s only us two from Oman who play metal. I heard them on the net, but here in Oman, you can play such music. It’s just that it’s not recognized. Not many people listen to this type of music. They are more into hip hop and all sorts of shit. Belos, I don’t hear much about them… and I don’t know much of them.
What was it like to start playing metal in Oman? Did you have things available, like instruments, rehearsal space, music, and all? What sort of response did you get from people?
Here in Oman, you can practice in places anywhere. Still, we prefer at home because we have more freedom to express ourselves, and playing here doesn’t lead anywhere, unless you are the type who just wants to stay in the same spot—just moving forward in improving the music without being heard being in the radio. They don’t care about metal music. If its the other stuff, you’d reach something, but not with metal, which is sad. We all want to have a metal scene here like in Dubai, but sadly it doesn’t work here.
Why not? There’s just not enough fans, too little support. I should be possible, but it has never worked out.
Are there any other bands, perhaps relatively unknown, active in Oman that make metal, which is currently not known? Or from neighbouring countries that you feel connected with? Well, in Oman, it’s just Belos and us. You have more in Dubai, where the most recognized band is Nervecell. They’re an awesome death metal band. I know them too. You should check them out, and there are a couple of them in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia also. I’m only friends with Al Namrood because we play the same kind of black metal music.
What future plans does Arabia have? The future of Arabia is just making music and playing around the world and in all kinds of places. Just keep making boiling metal music, bro!
If you had to describe Arabia as a dish, what would it be and why? A dish? Well, that would give people nightmares. Let’s just say lots of bashed up brains with metal music!
The world of dungeon synth is filled with remarkable individuals. One of those is Oytun Bektas, a musician with origins in Turkey, but currently residing ‘down under’. His music has been well-received in the world of synth lovers as being of remarkable, singular quality. Performing under the moniker Tir, Bektas has redone several of his albums in a quest for more perfection, exploring the ancient past, myths and the Cosmos.
Bektas was willing to tell more about his remarkable project, his journey to where he is right now and his vision of the sound he strives for. There’s a depth to his approach to music, but also a well-condensed form to his answers and explanations I found most enjoyable.
The dungeon synth experience of Tir
How are you doing?
Thanks. I’m pretty busy, but I’m fine.
How did you as a musician arrive at Dungeon Synth? What musical projects have you been in, who are your inspirations?
Actually, it wasn’t a special choice for me to meet DS music style. I think that the fact that I have been dealing with classical music since I was very young maybe the first factor in this situation. I believe that along with the education I have received, I have developed myself in the field of polyphonic music production. Of course, the bands and musicians I have listened to for the past 20 years have been the second-biggest influence in capturing this music. Wongraven, early Mortiis and Burzum to name a few. Of course, I also got inspiration from some neofolk, dark folk and ambient artists because I didn’t directly produce DS. By the way, I’ve never been involved in any projects before Tir.
For anyone not familiar with Tir, how would you introduce yourself?
A one-man project based on Dark Folk / Dungeon Synth, whose main theme since 2016 is the depiction of Cosmos, myths, history and nature. I think that’s the ideal definition.
How did you get to the name Tir? I was drawn to it as it has a meaning in Tolkien’s languages, but also refers to the Norse god of the sword. I read for you it has to do with the Turkish meaning, which is closer to solitude, can you tell more about that and what that means to you?
I know a lot of people were confused by that name when they first heard it. Tir is a word of Central Asian origin. It’s an old name of Turkish origin. So it has no relationship with Tyr.
Secondly, On my U.S.V. album, there were people who thought I was doing the Tyr song for my band name. But that song was only about the album’s depiction of Nordic mythology. In its clearest sense, Tir (not TIR) means alone and deserted. But I think it’s a very impressive detail that the language we use has taken on different meanings in itself.
When I found out about your music, at first I was under the impression Tir was a Scandinavian project. Only then I understood you’re located ‘down under’, but you are originally from Turkey. Can you tell me a bit how you ended up there and is there something of your travels that has seeped into your music?
This was a decision I made about the direction of the world I live in. Sometimes when you think you cannot solve something, you have to create a new path. Otherwise, you will start to rot. You can think of it in every sense. I have the same instinct in the art I have produced. While in Turkey, Tir’s adventure bore the traces of European folk, and on the other hand, the different effects of the dark geography. Now I feel like I am on a different planet here. I think this will improve Tir’s needs and orientations a little more.
When you moved you did a funding campaign for equipment. How come you didn’t have the gear anymore?
Yes, we were only able to bring a limited number of personal items of goods when we travelled to Australia. That’s why I created a charity campaign on this issue. Some followers, whom I’d like to thank again, helped me buy a midi keyboard. Later, I ended the campaign in order not to force more people on this issue. I continued to see my works with an old laptop 🙂 But now, those who want to help can reach me through PayPal.
You released an album titled Mountains, which you later gave a Redux version. As someone who loves mountains, I wanted to ask you what you find inspiring about them? What do they mean to you?
For me, mountains album was the artistic expression of my musical experience for so many years. It was a reflection of the books I had read until then, my communication with nature and perhaps more. Mountains were actually an image. I can say that the journey of man and nature was in a way the intersection of the universe. I tried to present this as minimally as possible. Redux was a move to further enrich this simplicity.
What do you mean when you talk about simplicity, which you describe as key to what Tir is and does not mean simple? Or in other words: what is your vision on the sound of Tir?
By simplicity, I mean, I have a completely dissimilar understanding of music. As I mentioned earlier, it is a wealth for me to produce a very vocal harmony. In other words, since I did not produce music in a narrow and routine pattern, Tir’s position in this genre is a little different. I would say, little intensifying the effect of dark art. Also, Tir basically intensifies its music without leaving the DS patterns. Even this detail keeps it away from its understanding of standard and simple composing.
Your recent album brings the theme of your music much closer to your region of origin. What prompted to switch from the Nordic darkness on ‘Nigritude’ to the mysteries of ‘Persepolis’? And can you say something about what you are telling on this album, what stories etc.?
In fact, there was no deviation in the depiction of dark art. Nigritude had a more edgy number of songs than just being an EP album. But the fact that the cover art was gifted to me by Markus Stock and the design was made by Peter Bursky (who also owns Brilliant Emperor Records) brought a lot of interest to this EP. Persepolis, on the other hand, was a rich serving of DS and Dark Folk art. During my visit to Iran many years ago, Persepolis left a very deep impression in my mind. In that red-painted land, I felt war, art and more with excess. I mean, in the middle of the desert, there was a source of life. I even felt the emotions of that period. I wanted to create a sound from ancient times on this album today. I’m happy to talk about the brutality of the old and bring history to life. Some places are ignored only for political reasons, but we have a detailed history that offers tons of importance.
For me, ancient history and the middle-east is a topic that is filled with mysteries. I believe you could build a whole body of art around this, expressing stories and ideas. Do you plan to continue with this?
In fact, not only men (I had made a type in my question, hence this reference, ed.), but for many women in the Middle East and Anatolia there are many heroism stories. The female warriors and the female hierarchy was much stronger than now. With religion, a regression and patriarchy began to emerge in this process. On the other hand, the most important bend of civilization’s crossing arms is in that land. Actually, I have the idea of continuing this depiction not through Tir but through my side project Ruins of Xibalba. My primary target is old Anatolia and Central Asia.
What is your process of writing and recording music like, particularly for your last album?
My musical composition processes are all about my visual experiences. I start to experience the subject I depict visually and start to read these details. Then comes the technical part of the job. Which is not a process that runs without any blockages. So I can say that it sometimes happens that I can finish a few songs on the same day.
So, what is the scope of topics for Tir and since you also have a side project, how do you decide what fits the Tir concept and what needs a different moniker? Also, can you tell me something about Ruins of Xibalba?
When I founded Tir, I decided to depict history, nature and war, as well as loneliness in nature. I think I’ve brought out these concepts through the music in a way I’m happy with, but of course, these depictions are also influenced by the dark face of Black metal. It is of course more symphonic, but it’s pure. When I founded Ruins of Xibalba, I wanted to shape the dark ambient elements in my musical understanding more. In other words, it is a circled state that imprisons the listener in it, and I wanted to draw the audience into the dark world of Xibalba. At this point, I’m trying to bring it back to the universe we live in a little bit. So, R.O.X.’s first album describes the Mayans. They are a unique civilization that is very difficult to describe. I still think the Mayans are World Masters. Without being changed by this truth, my side project will continue to process both the mysticism in history and the role of past civilizations in the universe. Maybe this project can connect cosmically outside this world? Cosmic Ambient, sounds good, doesn’t it? 🙂
You are one of the artists in this genre who have decided to perform live. What does it mean for you to perform live and what sort of vibe do you go for?
I’m not the kind of person who looks warmly at live performances. But after my concerts at festivals such as Peru and the Northeast Dungeon Siege, the positive feedback made me very happy. As I said before, listeners and viewers can feel many different effects due to my not performing standard and simple music. I think that makes Tir’s influence different. Sometimes the listener is comforted by melancholy, while on the other hand, they can imagine themselves in a different universe with a mythological breeze. I think the biggest thing about such activities is that they lead people to more collective unity, especially during the pandemic period. The texture of underground music brings together many different elements. If I can contribute to it as a Tir, it’s flattering for me.
Dungeon synth has become a genre dense with meanings and offshoots. Sub-styles (or genres) like comfy synth, winter synth and so forth are disrupting the definition of the genre. How do you feel about this?
It's certainly possible for music to diversify in itself. Each production and composition can have its own form of narrative. The most important point here is how much it retains the main theme. For example, how stupid and unnecessary it would be for a Black Metal band to give you pop tunes and images, wouldn’t it? Seeing Dungeon Synth only in the form of game fiction reduces its great
strength. I’ve always defended this. DS Black Metal’s backyard; symphonic face. There will always be differences, but basically avoiding anathema can be the biggest mistake.
Which artists are you currently listening to and do you think should receive more attention?
Although I listen to Black Metal with intensity, I devote time to other genres from time to time. If I have to recommend it, I think the She Past Away is very strong. Again, from the same musical genre
Oul is a very successful band. On the other hand, I am looking forward to the new Tenhi and Summoning albums with great curiosity!
What are your future plans with Tir?
Persepolis is the last album before we see a shift in direction for Tir. For my next album, I want to produce slightly different content with the main difference from the current style being that more live instruments will accompany it. I guess there is no need to give more details, let’s wait and see together.
If you had to describe Tir as a dish, what would it be and why that one?
It’s a point I never thought about. But I’d definitely say water. I think it’s the right match. It points to the plain and clear simplicity of Tir.
Distance may make the heart fonder, and when it comes to Svarrogh this seems to be the case. Multi-instrumentalist Dimo Dimov has been living in Germany for years now but returns to his native Bulgaria with his main project Svarrogh frequently. It’s not his only project, but perhaps the one closest to himself.
After a long time, this year finally saw the release of the latest record of Svarrogh, titled ‘Aether’. A record out of time and out of its time, but that’s in many ways what the band is all about. It’s the 6th full-length in the band’s 20-year existence and a true work of art for those who love pagan metal or folk metal with deeper levels.
Dimov is also a bit of an expert on paganism but turns out to not be a blind follower of stories from our past. His views are quite critical, in fact, spiced with realism and a sense of wit as I found out. We talked about his work, blending metal and folk, retracing your past and, most importantly, how to treat that past when we think it must have been better back then. Thanks to Dimo for his time and honest answers.
History, Folklore, Svarrogh
My first question would be, how are you doing and how has this pandemic been for you. Has it affected your artistic endeavours?
Hello! I am doing quite fine, but yes, the pandemic has affected plans for concerts (but not for Svarrogh, as we don´t have a live line-up, it affected the gigs of my other projects Alto Lago and 16 Strings Under) as well as personal travel plans very much.
Moreover, the administrative restrictions to combat the pandemic have proven that art and culture is very much system- and life relevant, and not just a “nice-to-have” side phenomenon of society. We need culture and art, otherwise, our life´s are reduced only to a very existential, almost survivalist form of being.
You released ‘Aether’ in February, I assume the follow up didn’t go as planned. Can you tell me a bit about his album and its creation?
The album “Aether” has been a long journey so far. I started recordings in 2009, then followed some turbulent years, Svarrogh also even seized activity – and finally, I decided to mix, master and release it in 2020, and to finally close this old chapter.
It is actually quite different than any other Svarrogh album. On the one side it goes back to the Folk/Black Metal roots, but also
merges the Neofolk/Post Folk phase (if I have to use categories), so it somehow closes the circle logically. Overall the production sounds raw, even after having put a lot of effort in the mix and especially in the arrangements of many different instruments, such as the drums and piano. Interestingly, this album contains much less Tamboura which is typical for Svarrogh and has been used extensively on every record since (and also on gigs).
Overall the release is a real relief. My ambitions to be recognized are however not very high and I am not part of a scene or community at all. I just want to do music for myself and when the feedback is good, I can´t complain. Many leftover ideas of the album were channelled 2012 into a side project called MoonOrchard, containing instrumental compositions, but they can be linked semantically and atmospherically to “Aether”. Because the music industry changed dramatically in the past few years, a digital release was primarily aimed for, however, a limited edition of 100 copies has just been printed and is available.
What can you tell me about Aether, and the stories shared on that record?
Aether is a conceptual album where everything revolves around a very aetherial, surreal and atmospheric perception of nature and natural mysticism combined with folkloristic motives and the amazing poetry of Ezra Pound creating unexplainable, naturalistic, eerie landscapes (somewhat Nietzschean as well) where you have to sleep with lynxes amid a moon orchard, where elm trees are from iron and marble or where the sun is dragging her stars among time and space – as Ezra Pound stated: “Moth is called over mountain, the stars are not in her counting. To her, there are just wandering holes.”
But in the same way, it is also a surreal depiction of Slavic mythology where you have a being like the firebird, where eerie forest creatures are trying to deceive your spaced out cognition and where apples are treated as gold treasures. So yeah, the lyrics are quite psychedelic although I am not a stoner dude.
On your earlier notion of culture: culture, to me, is a word that embodies much. I think. It’s an organic part of our ‘living together’, but also of where we come from. What is your view on this? And why is it important to you to share, through your art, the Bulgarian/Slavic culture?
Sorry, I was thinking in much simpler terms, in fact, your first argument was right. I mean, culture in its artistic, metaphoric, metaphysical, crea(c)tive and educational form. I didn’t mean culture as anything related to ethnicity or a nation. It is not important, I just view it as interesting to share my views and interpretation of Bulgarian history, ethnography and music, due to nostalgic reasons and to represent (in a way) a kinda under-represented nation, that is not very famous with its true beauties.
And of course, to present new paths of musical expression, by modernizing certain folkloristic elements and even creating some sort fusion with other musical styles coming back to your statement “where we come from”: Yes, I think it is in our very nature to seek identity (be it in culture, music, fashion, whatever), and especially in a very confused and globalized world, heritage and traditions play a very important role to a healthy personal identify development, but in the same time discarding the politicization, backwards mentality and right-wing romanticisms.
I like your notion of culture. Though I understand how you used it in the first answer, it made me immediately think about how it so much is a part of us organically. How it shapes us and is part of our daily lives. Hence my question. Your interpretation echoes how Einar Selvik often explains his work as not romanticizing, nor reviving the past, but taking lessons and inspiration from it for today. Is that your approach to Svarrogh too?
Yes, I like the explanation also. You have to keep in mind, that neopaganism and any yearning for a past that you have never experienced may come from the inability to cope with the modern world which itself, of course, is a confusing and disappointing (but then please give back your higher life expectancy and central heating). However, this inability reoccurs in almost every generation since the beginning of time. People who are dissatisfied with the present are either progressives or the opposite, and if you put them in a time machine 1000 years back, they will be still unhappy. People seek for peace and liberation, which is something that they don´t have and this is where romanticism and critique to the modern world start. But you can´t hide in your basement and read backwards ideology such as Julius Evola over and over again. To put it in very simple terms, Svarrogh itself, of course, was very different when I was younger and was engulfed by self-given constraints that had to fulfil a sort of neopagan romanticism, but now it matured and it acts even more as inspiration and as a bridge between timeless folklore and modernity. Especially Bulgarian folklore and mythology are very inspiring as they very often blend seamlessly with nature and i want to capture this specific yearning and folkloristic tragic which is rooted very deep in the Bulgarian soul, which had to bear a lot of suffering, hardship and scarceness. But on the other hand, folklore has always a fantasy or dream world aspect to it and acts as a temporary escape from everyday life.
On Metal Archives, I fond listed that you are inspired by Slavic heathenism, Bulgarian folklore and Tengriism. These are topics I know little about. Do you consider your this pure inspiration for your art or is your art a vehicle to share about these topics? And could you tell a little about these things? They are not well known to me and I’m interested in your view on these.
Tengrism is an Altaic, Mongolian religion whereas Tangrism is the naturalistic religion of the Proto-Bulgarians between the 6th and 9th century before Christianization. I was always very fascinated by the first Bulgarian (Danubian) empire which is a multicultural fusion of southern Slavs and Proto-Bulgarians. The difference is that the Slavic pantheon is polytheistic and can be somehow compared to the germanic or nordic one (Perun vs. Thor, Svarog vs. Odin, this, of course, may come from the Varyags) whereas Tangra itself is the ancient and eternal sky (the sky, not the sun plays the most important role) and embodies more shamanistic and ritualistic forms. However, I am not a neopaganist, nor is Svarrogh´s music. As I stated, I use these themes to create atmosphere.
So, just to get some clarity on this, the original religious views are much more in line with harmony with nature? It’s often hard to see that in the Germanic/Nordic pantheon and mythology, as the stories are now told through the lens of Christian writers. But I do know the Baltic pantheon is really very closely related to nature and the philosophy of it focuses very strongly on balance and harmony with all these elements. Embedded in daily life so to say, of our ancient ancestors. Is that how I should see it?
Maybe, I assume so. I am not a religious nor a very spiritual person, I just think that this earth has such amazing beauties, lakes, mountains, forests, meadows which are very related to our yearning for peace and liberation. Svarrogh also doesn´t have any religious aspect, if any, then rather a symbolist one related to folklore (which has pagan elements). And music can resemble feelings and thoughts which you can find in nature, by a particular atmosphere, for example, the Tamboura, reminding you of shepherds and meadows, guitar riffs which sound and smell like wind, rain or misty mountain valleys. Also, moving to Germany in 1992 as a child, created a sort of vacuum and nostalgia, that I tried to fill with Svarrogh ever since. A big inspiration has always been the Rodopi mountains in South Bulgaria, I really recommend you to visit this place that can be a journey in time. Germany itself offers also amazing landscapes (the Alps, Rhoen Mountains, Black Forest, etc.) and maybe a part of my mentality is already German in a sense.
When we played in Lithuania in 2007, I totally understand what you mean. Baltic people are very rooted in their culture. I just remember the performance of Kulgrinda and their evocation of the son “Saulala Motula, uztekek uztekek”.
How does the form of inspiration work in your writing and recording process? Where do you start and how do you create music for Svarrogh? I’m also curious how you got into this kind of music and how you transition between folk and metal styles in your work.
Well, I started listening Heavy and extreme metal as a kid and then Viking, pagan and folk metal, when I first heard Nokturnal Mortum´s ‘Nechris’t, I was blown away by the fusion of very harsh black metal and gentle Slavic folklore. Now, I know that NM are just a bunch of pathetic nationalist idiots, supporting Ukrainian terrorists.
The music for Svarrogh usually starts with the basic song arrangement, chords and guitar riffs and I try to do the combination of guitars, tamboura and bass as polyphone as possible without getting lost in complexity. Tamboura fits very well with electric guitar and adds a very folkish taste to a rock or metal riff regarding the non-metal phase of Svarrogh, the songwriting was much more difficult because it was non–conventional for me and although the musicality was simpler on ‘Balkan Renaissance’ or ‘Temple of the Sun’, you have to play much cleaner, there must be more room and space tones and keep the rhythm section as simple as possible on those two albums, as well as later with ‘Yer Su’, the Tamboura was the most important instrument, on ‘Aether’ it has less focus
Yet, I feel there is a clear balance in your sound now and to me, there is also a very natural connection between folk and black metal. How do you feel about that?
Thank you, this has always been my intention, although Svarrogh had a clear neofolk non-metal phase 2006-2010. In fact, I feel that most music styles are very interchangeable if you break down the songs to their baseline (especially in simple chord progressions). It just the different instruments which add colour and define a specific style.
Also, you have mentioned NM and regressive use of tradition by certain entities. Yet, you have founded a pan-European pagan magazine. I am curious about your take on how paganism fits in our modern world in a positive and perhaps progressive manner?
Yes, I found a Pan-European pagan magazine named Svarga in 2009 (but then had to drop it after 3 issues due to lack of time) but I can do that just out of interest for specific themes without supporting regressive ideas or the “conservative revolution”. In my view, there is no such thing as paganism and it wouldn´t fit. I regard that as a very symbolist idea in order to: preserve nature and the environment as well as to be aware of history, folklore and traditions (which would be a big pity if they were lost). But that´s it. Nothing more.
About traditions, I agree it is a shame we lose them but sometimes they just lose their relevance. I think it is like that with everything. If it doesn’t fit our worldviews, like a quite uncomfortable celebration we have in the Netherlands, it is time to let go.
Lets put it very frankly: This world is very dynamic and change is very often inevitable. Thus, in a very generalized way, we have the two antagonist powers which drive humanity forward (in some way you can put here Jordan Peterson vs. Slavoj Zizek). So change is important, but we have to be careful that this change doesn´t eradicate valuable things that have a high value for our minds as humans. Also putting a pantheon above your head is just another “holding-to-something”-mindset (but everyone should do whatever makes them happy, I just speak for myself).
Take the Bulgarian Kukeri for example: In the last 20 years, this tradition (the masked rites for the welcoming of spring originating from the Thracians) experiences a boost in terms of social attention and interest. That´s great, and it is mostly accredited to the fact of economic and cultural recovery in Bulgaria.
On the other hand – many paganists (especially in the metal scene) deny (or don’t admit) the influence of Christianity in Europe. So when you want to go back to some pagan fantasyland you forget the fact, that Christianity shaped not only the European continent (in negative as well as in positive ways) but also our society and mindset. To put it short: I am a strong opposer of fanboy-ideology, either this or that like in a football game. Live is too interesting
to be one-sided, it is much more of a fusion. By the way, Tangrism was the official religion in pre-Christian Danube Bulgaria (681-865) and of the ruling caste, whereas the Slavic polytheistic religion was not suppressed (there is a theory of relatively good religious freedom in the empire), but pushed away from public life.
What can I say else, I am a geoscientist and not dogmatic about this topic. It´s just very intriguing.
What do you hope listeners take away from the music you release with Svarrogh? Like, I feel your motivation to create now comes from a deeper drive.
Very simply, I want listeners to enjoy the atmosphere. I don´t have the motivation to persuade others from my worldview. 🙂
Are you much connected to the scene in Bulgaria at the moment? Are there bands you recommend?
Not so much, but I have some good friends that play in bands that i like very much. For example Demonism (Black Metal), Voyvoda (Post Punk), Dimholt (Black Metal) and Corvus Records from Sofia who releases very interesting stuff. What I can recommend else is: Khanъ (interesting folk metal), Kayno Yesno Slonce, Vrani Volosa, Kayno yesno slonce (atmopheric ambient folk music).
What are currently your plans for the future (in a virus-free future of course)?
I am working on new material right now, live gigs will be anyway impossible. Also, I am working with my 2 bands Alto Lago (Stoner Rock) and 16 Strings Under (Folk) – there I hope it will be possible to play live in 2021, post-covid tour.
Do you maybe want to share a bit more about these projects?
Alto Lago exists since 2013 and consists of Max Marquardt (formerly in the German Pagan Black Metal band Helfahrt) and Raphael Schütze (also known from the German atmospheric band Tav). We play a mixture of stoner punk rock, somewhere between Kyuss, Monster Magnet, Solstafir and Motorhead.
16 Strings Under is a side project, mainly based on 2 tambouras, and is basically a mixture of Balkan Folk, Folk and Americana.
My final question is: if Svarrogh was a type of food, what would it be and why? ( I have been told this is a difficult question haha).
Uuh that’s though! It would be a roasted goose or something. Haha.
Is there anything I should have asked but didn’t you’d like to share?
We live in digital times and the physical releases on CD have completely lost significance. Nevertheless, we decided to release. ‘Aether’ on CD, limited edition 100 copies. But from now on we will move to vinyl for the future releases. That is actually growing again, good to see. In this regard, I am super old-fashioned and I don´t think that all music should be digital. Moreover, it is a jungle nowadays and of course, digitization simplified processes of recording (which is good! although analogue technique and tapes have a great sound quality, nobody wants to cut and glue tapes) and publishing, but that generated a flood of music as musicians somehow have a narcissist notion which drives them to share their music. And unlike printed books, CDs are dying, because you would still rather read on real paper (which is good for the eyes), but most of the time you listen to music from your smartphone, Spotify and so on.
Life sometimes catches up with bands and writers alike. Automb split up shortly after this interview was completed. Danielle Evans is continuing with a solo project, named Stridskvinna. Serge Streltsov has started his own band, named Selfgod. Yet, the album ‘Chaosophy’ stands as a great record, unfortunately without a follow-up in the future.
Black metal is and always has been a genre revolving around the darker themes. Dark has many faces and by now we should know better than to consider the dark evil because some forces in the universe just are. Automb sees this clearly and pays homage to one of them on their album ‘Chaosophy’.
Without chaos there is no order and vice versa, it’s one of those facts of life we sometimes forget. Without restrain, there is no freedom either. Yet, limitations of our time hit bands hard and Automb is one of those. Their album is an absolute gem and worthy of recognition, but without the ability to tour and promote a record, not much happens. Luckily, I received a copy of the cassette release through Knekelput and discovered the powerful, yet compact and focused sound of this band. Originally a side-project next to Necrophagia for band member Serge Streltsov, now the band from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is the focus of him and comrade in arms Danielle Evans, supported by drummer Scott Fuller (MorbidAngel, Annihilated).
Even better, they were willing to answer some of my questions, which I hope you’ll enjoy. Thanks to Serge and Danielle for their time.
Automb and the Laws of Chaos
First, how is Automb doing and how have you been treated by the global pandemic? Did you have many gigs fall through or did you manage to salvage something from this period?
The pandemic has been tough for us the same way as it for any other band. We had to cancel tours, but luckily got to play 2 gigs during it. Other than that it’s been a very slow year for us. All the time went to writing the new album.
How did Automb get started and what are your musical backgrounds (and how did you arrive in the realm of black metal)?
Serge: Automb was originally supposed to be my black metal side project back when I was playing guitar for Necrophagia. I had all this material that was basically ‘too black metal’ for Necro and plus I always played stuff like that prior to Necrophagia.
I started playing guitar at 13 and drums at 16. I’ve been into metal since I was 8. I got into black metal in my mid teens after being into Death Metal for some time. It was the next logical step. Then years later me and Danielle wanted to make our own band so all the pieces fell into place. After the passing of Killjoy and Necrophagia being done, Automb became a full-time project.
Danielle: I started playing the guitar when I was 9 and fell in love with it. Then in high school, I went on to play in a program called “School of Rock” that had students learn classic rock songs and then perform them together at shows, which was awesome. That really gave me the confidence I needed in my guitar skills, as well as vocals. Then in college, I received a minor in music and learned tons of theory and classical guitar. Then in my second year of college, I met Serge and we formed Automb. I got into black metal in high school and Automb was the first band I was ever in so it was the first time I actually played black metal, aside from learning covers prior to that.
This year, you’ve released the fantastic ‘Chaosophy’ album, following the 2018 release of ‘Esoterica’. What happened in the time in between in ways of band development?
We wanted to progress and improve songwriting. Our goal was to focus on the aggressive side of the material that was successful on ‘Esoterica’. The objective is always to outdo the previous record. So we focused on the things we do best.
So, tell me about this album; its concept, creation, recording, warts and all?
The idea was to focus on the darker side of spirituality in this concept. We wanted to focus on one side rather than representing many points of view like on the previous record. But yet still within this concept which is ‘Chaos’ we got to include interpretations from many different cultures, For those of you that heard Dissection’s ‘Reinkaos’ know what we’re talking about. It’s our pagan take on those ideas.
Recording took place in two studios. Me and Danielle recorded in our home studio and Scott worked in his. We live very far from each other – he’s on the whole other side of the country. So it wasn’t possible to work physically together. We worked through demos and phone calls mostly.
One change is your label, how did you end up at Witching Hour productions and how’s that been for you?
Once our time was up with our previous labels we decided to seek a new one and Witching hour ended up being the best option plus we were already fans of the label and the bands that are/were on it.
You’ve also ended up releasing Chaosophy on cassette at Knekelput Recordings, which is what I have in my possession and it looks great. How did that come to be and are you pleased with the result?
We originally thought our previous cassette label was going to release but they went out of that sort of business and couldn’t do it. So we started looking around for the best cassette label we could find. After reviewing our options, Knekelput ended being the one. We were blown away by their cassette designs and thought it was very unique.
You draw inspiration from various traditions and cultures, you’ve said in other interviews. Can you tell me a bit about what you look for and maybe share some examples of ideas or philosophies you take with you into the songwriting of Automb?
Basically what we said in the previous question. Chaos philosophies from many angles of the world. Left-hand path side of paganism.
When I look at the lyrics, I see many cultural/religious references. In a way, it feels like a cultural-religious smorgasbord. How do you approach the process of using all these in your work and what is your method of gathering information? Are you avid readers?
A lot of it was stuff from commonly known mythologies from different cultures. Slavic, Germanic, Hindu, Egyptian etc. We are definitely big readers and researchers of all things ancient. For this particular record, it was focused on the destruction of the worlds and all creation and how those said cultures viewed that. Some songs are based on certain deities which happen to be gods of death and destruction. From a spiritual point, it was just a collection of Chaos Gods. There’s definitely a certain left-hand path Cult that follows exactly that. A lot of that is covered by, once again, Dissection. Who influenced that particular concept a lot and this record is dedicated to the memory of Jon Nödtveidt.
Your logo represents organic/natural forms, which were strongly represented on your previous album, yet this seems to be slightly different on ‘Chaosophy’. Is that still a part of your inspiration and in what form?
Everything we do is interconnected. The logo represents the world tree Yggdrasil and its roots which one of them is in Ginnungagap ‘Chaos’ There’s no Chaos without life. The logo represents life and death. Which in the songs ‘Trishula’ and ‘Ragnarok’ on the new record we talk about renewing the creation through destruction. Another meaning of the logo is the name Automb in general. It is a combination of the words ‘Autumn and tomb’ which represents the season of death that is Autumn. But it is a temporary death from which everything returns renewed.
There has been much ado in recent years about ‘female-fronted’ as a term to define certain bands. That has seen a major shift (for the better I think) where we stop segmenting in that way, how do you feel this has changed? And are there still struggles with acceptance for you as an artist?
Danielle: I personally do not mind that title so much because it is just a reality. A female-fronted band is still more rare than another band with all guys in it, which has usually been the case in metal, especially extreme metal. I think it becomes an issue when that’s the focus or the only reason why people listen to us. If a band is female-fronted and good, then awesome if there are male fronted and good, then awesome. It should not be completely about the gender of the vocalist, it’s about the quality of the content.
I very much enjoyed your album, so I’m curious what future plans there are, like tours perhaps across the pond? Obviously, as soon as this global pandemic allows us a semblance of normality.
Glad you enjoyed it! Right now we are in the works of doing a live stream. Besides that, we are also working on album #3 and yes once the pandemic is over we are going to tour. We already have plans for a North American tour to start. But obviously, no one knows when it’ll be allowed so everything is mostly ideas. For Europe, we already had a festival appearance rescheduled for summer 2022.
I enjoy asking this final one: If you had to describe Automb as a dish, what would it be and why?
We have no idea haha. Never thought of that before!