Apart from a specific enthousiasm about music, I’ve been a beer enthousiast for a long time. I’d like to share a bit about one of my favorite beers, namely Põhjala from Estonia. A wonderful little brewery.
It says a lot if a small brewery is willing to drop by in Eindhoven twice to give people a taste of their brilliant products. Põhjala dropped by the first time in Van Moll, the local brewpub where you could enjoy a wide range of beers from the Estonians. Lately they returned to hang out with beer lovers in the cosy beer shop DeBierbrigadier. These are also two spots that I really recommend if you drop by in my city and wish to try some beers.
Estonian Craft Beer
I’ve been to Estonia twice, to visit the capital Tallinn and Tartu. What was immediately noticable was the lack of traditional brews and the more flavorous products. What you’d find was pretty much the big brews like Saku, Alexander and the weirdly named A. Le Coq. There was also a beer named ROCK, but it didn’t really rock.
That is indeed the case, according to marketeer Peeter Keek, who dropped by in Eindhoven on the next tour of the young brand. It just wasn’t there: “When we started making beer with Põhjala, we really were the first. No one else was making craft beer in Estonia. Since, it really has exploded in our country.” It’s true, Estonia has really seen a brewvolution in the last years with with tons of brewers popping up and as a cherry on the cake there’s even the Tallinn Craft Beer Weekend (organised by Põhjala apparently). According to Peeter, the weekend is well worth the trip with a lot of beers to taste. The price is well worth it.
The secret ingrediënt of Põhjala brews is a very specific one. He’s called Chris Pilkington and he used to brew beers for no other than Brewdog, the pinnacle of craft breweries for many beer geeks. Where Brewdog is pushing out a stable series of high class beers, Põhjala started pushing the envelope on flavor with interesting, refreshing brews. The brewery was started by four entrepeneurs and a master brewer and clearly has their eyes set on the top, nothing less.
There’s a lot of experiment going on in their brewing, but also a lot of tweaking. What they don’t do is try to make crazy beers, they’re aiming for good stuff. I highly doubt that anyone will reinvent the drink in a radical manner, we already know what is good and so do these gentlemen.
Peeter informed the visitors at great length about the special flavors and unique beers the brewery is producing: “We are as a brewer focussing on the heavy, black beers. It’s our specialty, which you can also see in our range.” As he hols up a bottle of the brilliant Öö and the Must Kuld. The first is a imperial Baltic porter, offering the unique flavors of a Baltic porter with the dark nights and the unruly nature of these regions. The Must Kuld is more temperate, but a great porter that is the basis for various other great products, like a Kenya coffee porter and a cherry porter.
I have to mention one other variation of the Öö, named the Valge Öö, which is a white stout. Did you read that? A white stout! It’s a smooth flavoured, but potent drink that will set you back for a moment. The flavor is that of a stout, but the eye tells you differently. I can go on about their favulous beers, but I think this’ll do for now. Go try them yourself!
Ok, there’s this magic double IPA with ever changing hops, which makes the beer so surprisingly different. The edition I had to try was almost like liquorice hints in the beer, curious what you’ll get.
Põhjala doesn’t feel old fashioned like a folk band, it’s a bit like punkrock in my opinion. Going against the grain, but in their own respectful way. It’s not bottled violence, but it certainly is a beer that you won’t buy in a six pack and it will surely rise above others in the years to come. Starting a craft brewery in a country that has none is kind of saying: We’ll start our own scene, we’ll just do it ourselves. Which is… the punkrock ethos in brewing.
It has its very own scene, exploring new areas with familiar ingredients, trying to perfect their craft and beers along. They are in complete control of their very own product and I hope to get to try a lot of them. There’s a risky flavor to the beer, something edgy and it really speaks to me as a brewer I dig and a beer to enjoy in winter and summer alike.
(there’s an unnecessary amount of references in the last bit to punkrock)
The two song EP of Vanad Varjud from Estonia is a grim first encounter with the band. The songs last well over the 10 minute border and envelop you in depressive darkness. The slow starting ‘Tumm Rongkäik’ (Silent Procession) features silence and the occasional drum sound in the first ten minutes. Some eerie sounds can be distinguished, but are barely audible.
When the music starts playing, first there’s the cascading guitar riff, played in such speeds to create a static wave pattern. Slow drums are being played, as in a ritual setting. Slowly the sound becomes more menacing, more grim and full of cold hate. Like a torrent, the music drags you in, slowly nodding along, one barely notices the change where a melody is sounding through the layers of guitar, untill it gently comes to a close.
‘Absurdiinimene’ (Absurd Human) is the second track, which starts with the sound of an icy gale blowing. The sounds that seep through are ominious. Clean guitar tones are being played in the same minor setting as Metallica’s ‘One’. A thunderous drum sound reverberates though the air and in a flash the riffing starts. A furious roar and samples start playing in Estonian. `
The Estonian extreme metal scene is very hidden and mostly known through a few bands that have somehow captured the interest of the media, like their folk-metal outfit Metsatöll or the sludge duo Talbot. I talked to Sorts Aposta and Thon from Vanad Varjud about the underground in this far-off corner of Europe, where winters are long and cold and where faith is minimal.
Who are Vanad Varjud and in what other bands did you play?
(Sorts) Vanad Varjud is me, Sorts Apostata is the so called ‘main man’ of the band. The band was born in 2000. I was already far into other things, but this became the main project. Thon played the drums and did vocals, so the ‘main man’ started to become a bit blurrier. So far it’s my thing, but Thon is responsible for all the drumwork. We both have been around in the Estonian ‘scene’ for years, though it’s hard to still call it a scene. It might be just me, there are some new winds blowing.
(Thon) I have been in several metal bands over the years. For a list of all my bands and projects, you can check my bandcamp page (there is a lot to check out. ed). Most of the music can also be listened to there. There is a complete list of bands I was in or connected to.
(Sorts) I’ve been involved with Ignorabimus in the past. Also with the band Nihilistikrypt. The band Mass In Comatose is my brainchild, though we will have to see if it ever rises again. When it comes to the scene in Estonia, the best source to check is estonianmetal.ee, though it has moved more to facebook. What is happening and where the action is can usually be found there.
What does Vanad Varjud mean? What is the idea behind the band?
(Sorts) Vanad Varjud means in English ‘Shadows of the past’ (though there are multiple interpretations, literally Old Shadows, meaning that the night is a calm time). This is, as far as what I did goes, the crown jewel and my most important project. It is mostly mine, where I create atmosphere like I’ve never done before. It feels very natural to me to do this the way I feel like. Being free of dogmas is a theme, as in can we even do that? We move to live grabbing hold of these dogmas to give us meaning and answers. They prevent us from thinking and we obey them quite unquestioning instead of looking at ourselves and others as human beings.
The music needs to be slow. Watch a snowflake fall, watch how it rains and feel the beauty and eerie atmosphere, the timelessness… Think of the smell of old trees, the foggy moon and sunrise (don’t take this as sounding too much like hippie stuff). Whatever you believe is your way and yours alone. It is good to have some travellers with you though, maybe even to the end?
What is the general idea/thought you are trying to convey to your listeners?
(Sorts) I dont try to convey anything really. I give something and you can take from it what you want, like I take things from other artists in the same way. It’s a matter of sharing, growing and learning and always moving forward. This is not as easy as it sounds ofcourse, trying to be original and following your own parth. We all wear certain chains, though we link up and find connections, but that is not always easy. It can even be a painful proces, but through pain we might achieve even greater things and more happiness.
We obey others, we are mastering others, we enslave others and enslave ourselves. Who are these others though, what others are there and why don’t we try to master our own self first? I think that’s the hardest thing, to find meaning in all this. It’s not the most original dilemma, very Nietzschean…Take your pick: Socrates, Gailit, Tammsaare…
Where do you draw inspiration from?
(Thon) Inspiration is everywhere, in books, music, film and nature or wherever you look.
(Sorts) I can’t add much to that. Maybe what is inspirational to me is that feeling of pure loneliness that we humans feel. You are born alone and you die alone and in some way you always are alone. Growing is a solitary process, but we can try to share this maybe.
What is it like to be an Estonian black metal band. Does being Estonian have any influence on your music do you think?
(Sorts) There are bands here and some projects, but no tight knit scene in the way people would imagine. We meet, greeta nd have a drink now and then, but not too often I guess. Metal in Estonia, specially black metal, is quite underground. Everyone is doing their own thing in their little corner and I think that’s fine the way it is.
If you consider where and how Estonians have lived historically and geographically and what th weather is like, then the usic dfefinitely is influenced by being Estonian. Then again, it might be my thing, we are very closed off people.
I’ve listened to your 2 song EP. What can you tell about the writing and recording?
(Thon) The idea of VV has been growing in Sorts for years and it first came to life after we finished recording with a metal band. Me and Sorts had the studio to ourselves and started to record the dripping water from some pipe near the door. We messed around with effects and created this eeriesound that just needed some drums. We recorded those as well in some takes, then sorts did the guitars. We did the vocals in a second session, but the rest of it… It just happened.
(Sorts) In a basement in Põlva we built a studio. There were pipes all over the place, it was underground and you could hear people flush their toilets. For recording we had to predict when people were going to do their business… You never knew what you’d find in that place before you had opened the door. There was also a radiostation operating from there. It was a legendary and strange place with ice cold winters. When it started leaking one day we put a metal tub underneath it and started recording the dripping.
Thon was doing the editing for some other band and I was freezing, reading the book ‘Maagide Kool’ by Vladimir Weidemann (translation: School of Mages: Estonian Occult Underground 1970-1980 ). When ‘Talv’ for the band Sõjaruun was done, the drumkit was still there, so we did this basic stuff. It was spontaneous and pure joy to make and I wish every album could be done this way. The writing was done in my head and we had the basic recording. After that I spend some time to adjust things and do the vocals.
Is there a theme to it, do you chose specific messages for a release you make?
(Sorts) Its not like a story of any kind is integral to our music, there are themes that just follow and we pick up on what happens around us. The future material is planned to involve dark themes. It seriously will be very dark.
What are the samples from that are in the songs? Why did you chose them?
(Sorts) The ambient elements there are mostly recorded and modified by us. We chose those to creat a kind of eerie atmosphere, like a church/monastary atmosphere. These are things we just did, you know? It was very inspiring stuff to use and create. It was a cold november when this came from my mind, before I turned it into flesh.
The EP is out on Hexenreich records. How did you get on this label and why did you chose for tape as a carrier?
(Thon) I have known Volly (boss of Hexenreich) for many years. I talk to him almost every week, so it was quite a natural thing to happen.
(Sorts) Yeah, Thon did the talking on that one. I’ve known the same person for many years, but Thon was more on a business level with this I suppose. Hexenreich has been functioning as a label dealing with this music for a long time now and it’s not like there are that many places for our kind of music. He’s a good person to work with.
Actually we released a sort of split with Hexenreich and Eerie Moonlit Trees, which is a label I started to create an undergroundlabel. I have to see if that’s going to work out. Chosing the casette format is partly because it is simply very cheap. I would like to release material on cd, LP and MCD, but as long as we don’t have that kind of deal, we will work with what we have. Anyone who is interested in helping us forward is most welcome.
Can you tell us a bit about metal in Estonia and mainly extreme metal?
(Sorts) I don’t know that much of the new Estonian metal scene. There is stuff going on and if someone is interested in it, the best news source is estioniametal.com, though it doesn’t offer the most recent news right now. We’re simply outside of it I guess.
Some fresh things that are going on as far as I know, Ingmar Aasoja from Thou Shell Of Death has some interesting things going on. The bands Urt and Aghor are active and interesting, Tharaphita has some nice progress and Süngehel has new stuff going on that are worth checkin gout. Goresoerd you can look up on facebook, is definitely a cool band.
I’ve got a list of records that are, in my opinion worth checking out, which offer a good impression of the Estonian scene. My opinion also varies ofcourse, it depends on what I feel like.
Sõjaruun – Talv (2010) Mortified – Wilderness (1993) Tharaphita – All pool Lund Ja Jääd (1997) Aggressor – Legal Requirement (1993) Nihilistikrypt – I hate everything (2006) Skydancer – The Dawnhunter (1996)
Why do you think Estonia is the most atheistic country in Europe?
(Thon) I think it’s a good thing, it seems a natural fact to me really. Studies have indeed shown it’s the most non-religious country in the world and it feels like a good thing.
(Sorts) There are all sorts of studies, so I dont agree with Thon on this. Right, in reality we may not be on level with the classic religious countries, but we’ve been fucked by religion enough as a small nation. Religion in my opinion is like a slavery in the classic way. We are officially a Lutheran country in so far, but there is no official religion in our country. There are big churches and such, with big budgets, but where does that money come from? We live and believe in a more protestant way I think, more sober. I dont believe a God that promises good things for those that serve is a good thing, its a mental slavery, being fooled by these promises who tell us we are blessed if we obey. What bothers me most is why we behave like believers still, even when we claim not to believe.
Fun fact, the Lutheran church wishes to build a skycraper in Tallinn, which will be the biggest building in the city. What should we think of that?
Anything else you’d like to share?
(Sorts) Bottle of cheap whiskey and two dark beers? Thanks for this oppertunity and everyone, support bands that you enjoy and perhaps we’ll meet some day.
During answering these questions, I was listening to some old material and some weird stuff came to my ears. It feels like a great journey to answer this and get back into listening to old material.
This is the second sound of the Underground of 2015, with bands like Inquisitor, Odota, An Autumn For Crippled Children and Baptists. So much good stuff left over from last year.
Inquisitor – Clinamen | Episteme
The Lithuanian scene is a truly hidden gem and the band Inquisitor was recommended to me for listening. The band has been around for 12 years already and makes a dense combination of hard riffing and passionate melodies in what can be perceived as an organic whole. Funky, hectic grooves lace the song ‘Hearken, Memmius!’ that opens their new record. Soaring guitars. That playful weird sound is apparently their schtick, also the semi-clean vocals offer a new persective. ‘Hence The Mouthful of Time’ is full of progressive piano elements and peculiar elements.
Though progressive and embracing avant-garde, there is nothing tame about the groups sound. The album shows much variation, but also sheer brutality and grim atmospheres to the listener. The strenght however, is the detailed extremes the band seems to play with in their music, going from typical black metal to a form of jazz or funk and back again. The sound is always bleak and all you would expect from a band that labels as black metal. The intelligent sound of these guys is definitely worth the attention of the avid metal fan though and I cannot wait to hear more from them.
An Autumn For Crippled Children – try not to love everything you destroy EP
With probably the must fucked-up bandname in a long time of fucked-up bandnames, this group does make an extremely beautiful sort of post-black metal. Soaring film score elements accompany a layered, atmospheric barrage of guitar and sonic effects on the titletrack. There’s a warmth in the sound of this mysterious group from the Netherlands that has no equal. It’s the warmth of embracing a certain fatalism. Fun fact is the reference of the title to previous full lenght ‘Try Not to Destroy Everything You Love’.
The second song is ‘post war’, which has fierce guitar structures that even with their smooth effects sound like typical black metal riffing. The sound is rich and reminds the listener of obvious names like Deafheaven and Liturgy, but with a weird twist of their own. This is a band that has done amazing work this far and is worth recommending to anyone who is into this music, but also those outside of it.
Baptists – Bloodmines
Luckily, there are still good hardcore records coming out now and then and this new one by Vancouver residents Baptists is a true blistering masterpiece of what hardcore should be. A lot of squeeking guitar work and gritty rhythm combinations makes the sound of the Canadians agressive and controlled. Their aesthetic is something with man versus nature, which is displayed in the beautiful cover that expresses a dark perspective on this struggle. That darkness is taken into the sound of songs like ‘Vistas’ and ‘Harm Introduction’.
Grinding guitars and hectic breaks form the base of the raging songs the band keeps chugging out. The furious vocals are spat out at break-neck speed, furious at the world and followed by pounding drums. The sound is coherent and organic though, there is little artfical about this band and I guess that is one of their main charms. Hopefully they cross the ocean soon, so we can admire their live antics as well.
Odota – Fever Marshall
Jarmo Nuutre is a peculiar dude, who does fantastic tattoo’s and used to make mammoth-stomping sludge with Talbot. This is his new project and it is filled with a lot of awesome. Slow creeping sound, filled with strange atmospheric effects accompany the searing guitarwork. Black metal inspired, industrial tinged noise on a slow, doomy pace is what best captures the sound on this first release. The heavy distorted vocals and rest of the sound offer a sound that envelopes the listener. Tracks like ‘Bad Medicine’ stand out due to their dark and frightening atmosphere.
Strangely, a song like ‘Half Eagle’ feels more like a video game soundtrack mixed with an evil EBM song that you have to dance to in the intro. The sound samples Nuutre choses, betray an eclectic sound and a creative mind that is free of boundaries. Closer ‘Rattlesnakes Unfold’ is a tidal wave that keeps pushing you under in a dense rattling, drumming sound, waves of distorted guitar wafting over you, while vocals seem to just scream at the sky. This debut of Odota is an unholy experience of awesome and for those who like a little bit of experiment and doom in their blackened noise metal. Did I capture it there?