Tag Archives: Iran

From The Vastland: The Haft Khan and Blackhearts

Perhaps you’ve already watched the documentary film ‘Blackhearts’,  which tells us about the global phenomenon that is black metal and the love of musicians around the world for the nation of Norway, where it all began. One of the bands featured in the film is From The Vastland and I got to ask Sina a bunch of questions about his latest album and the film.

From The Vastland is from Iran, a country known for its strict regime and limitations in expression. That is, of course, an oversimplification about a nation with a rich, long history and a situation much more complex than I could ever do justice to in a few introductory lines over here. The movie was filmed a few years ago, and by now Sina lives in Norway and is at liberty to explain a bit about that mysterious place he is from and why it still colors his music so deeply.

Here is From The Vastland

From Iran to Norway: Sina from From The Vastland

How is From The Vastland doing?

Doing good! Earlier this year we released the new album “the haft khan” and the feedback from the community has been great! Well, due to the pandemic situation we had to change/cancel some of our plans but still, everything is going good. And as always I’m also working on some new material for the next release plus slowly working on some other plans for the band. So, all very good.

I’ve always wanted to ask you about the name of your project. Could you tell me more about its origin?

Sure! Well, it took me a while to choose this name, was thinking about it a lot back in the days when I wanted to start the band. there were several different reasons that I chose this name. One of the most important ones was because I wanted the name of the band also represents the concept of the music. So, let’s put it this way that I am from Iran and all the lyrics are about the ancient Persian empire era (one of the biggest empires in history), Persian mythology, and history. So, like the music comes from the vast land of Persia…Well, there were also some other reasons which together made me think this is a perfect name for the band.

You’ve just released your new album ‘The Haft Khan’. I understand it’s a Persian myth, but it also is the name of a high mountain in your country of birth. Can you share the significance of this story and why you chose it for your album theme?

Right. Well, The Haft Khan is a Persian myth but not the name of a mountain. This is a very specific name that has a specific place in Persian mythology. It’s based on one of the stories from the great epic masterpiece poem, the most notable piece of Persian literature, “Shahnameh” (The Book of Kings – One of the world’s longest epic poems) which was written by the poet, the world-known “Ferdowsi” between c. 977 and 1010 CE.

“The Haft Khan” story narrates seven difficult challenges of a national hero, the greatest of the Persian heroes, called Rostam on his journey by his legendary horse “Rakhsh” towards the land of Mazandaran, to save and free the king “Kei Kavus” and his army who have been captured and blinded by a spell of the White Demon.
In the story, Rostam passes seven stages and fights against natural difficulties, fierce animals, demons, and at the end, the white demon. finally, by dropping the blood of the white demon’s heart in the eyes of Kei Kavus (the king) and his army, sight returns to their eyes again.
The story of “the haft khan” is full of metaphors and symbols and represents some of the most important characters, legends, and myths in ancient Persian mythology and history. So, I found this epic story a perfect theme for a concept album that I was thinking about for a long time.

What can you tell me about the creative process behind the creation of the album? Did you work together with other artists?

This time again I worked on the album for almost 2 years and I did my best to make the atmosphere of the album exactly as I had it in my mind, which was based on the picture you get from reading the real story in the book. Starting a song was more based on the visuals I had in mind but of course, I was taking care of everything with precision when it comes to the song structure, the arrangement, lyrics, etc. to make it a perfect fit for the style.

You know, as always I wrote all the songs and recorded the demo album first and I sent it to my bandmates to practice and record their lines. That’s how we always record the albums but at the same time, I also ask them to use their own creativity on their lines and let me know if they have any suggestions. So, usually, the final result is not far from the demo I have recorded as we are all on the same page and it’s more like they just have a little bit of their own touch in the album too.

From The Vastland

I was listening to the songs over and over again to make sure everything is exactly as it should be. When it comes to the sound of the album, I would say over the years, it got more mature but at the same time more aggressive and darker, still emotional and with the same style. And I believe it’s also a matter of experience, the way I write the riffs and how to make them sound richer, you know.

What makes it important for you to include these themes from your roots in your music, particularly within the framework of black metal?

You know, from many years ago I’ve been always very interested in mythology and history. I read about myths and ancient stories, not just Persian but also Scandinavian, Egyptian, Mayas, Greek…but then when I was growing the idea of my project, I found this combination perfect to make BM music with this epic, mythical theme. It is actually what some other bands in other countries are doing with their own but not about Persian myths.

You know, ancient Persian history and mythology are full of epic stories of the legends, the gods and demons, and the eternal battle between darkness and light.

So, not only I found this a perfect fit for black metal but also I wanted it to represent something from my homeland, a part of world history that goes back 7000 years or more. Something that even a lot of Iranians have forgotten about it. That’s also why I chose the “Rising from the ashes of the legendary past” slogan for the band.

The album, of course, landed in the middle of the pandemic. How has this impacted its release and you as an artist? Did you have many plans to cancel?

Yeah, definitely it was not the best time to release an album but you know, everything was already planned and I just thought it’s better to keep it instead of changing everything as we were already in the middle of the process. But yeah, of course, we had to change and cancel some of the plans like the concerts we had around the release time (which suppose to be the release concert for the album) here in Oslo and in another festival called Garasjefestival.

I was also preparing some more merch and just about to start making the cassette tape format of the album to release at the same time with the CDs but then everything was canceled or better to say postponed as they are still in the plan but let’s see how it will go…

Sina from From The Vastland

Obviously, I have to ask you about the Blackhearts documentary. How impactful has this been for your career?

Of course, Blackhearts had a big impact on my career in a positive way, you know. Just imagine all the attention my band and music got because of the film, especially during the releasing period of the film. And then afterward when the film was released and they were screening it on the festivals all over the world, in cinemas and different types of events. You know, in the first place it was my music that made the producer discover me and my band but then afterward it was the film helping me to spread the words about my band and music. Especially here in Norway, it was so helpful for me to keep on doing what I’m doing. Being known in the scene and making friends is always great and can make things easier, you know. So, really glad and thankful for that!

I didn’t know until recently about the Blackhearts EP you did, following the film. What can you tell me about this project? Did you try to get guys from Naer Mataton involved too?

You know, back in the days I got this idea since I was one of the main characters in the film; so, thought to record some music specifically for the film with the cooperation of other musicians who are also involved in the film. So, I wrote the music and for the recording, “Vyl” (Drums – Keep of Kalessin/Gorgoroth) and “Nul Blackthorn” (Bass – Luciferian), 2 of the other characters in the film, joined me. And since it was recorded specially for the film so, I called it “Blackhearts” and then it was also used for the ending title of the film.

And I was thinking to ask them too but we were in a really short time, I mean everything happened real quick from the time when I decided to do it until we were already in the studio. So, we couldn’t…

What must have been most impactful was your move to Norway. How do you feel about this now? And have you been back to Iran? How did this impact your family? 

True! Moving to Norway changed my life completely and I’m really glad it happened! I mean from many years ago I had the dream of moving to Norway and then finally it did happen. So, still today after all these years it seems unreal to me, the whole story and everything that happened in a really short time and changed my life, in a good way. I mean there was no doubt and still, today if I go back, I would do the same!

I haven’t been back to Iran since when I moved to Norway and probably it’s not a smart thing to do after all the threats I had (both back when I was in Iran and even later the first 2-3 years here in Norway). So, haven’t seen my family for the last 7 years which is not easy as you can imagine. So, I just talk to them on phone and sometimes we do video calls but it’s not the same, you know.

The documentary speaks about freedom/censorship you didn’t experience back in Iran. Yet, I’ve heard conflicting stories about that concerning metal music. There are quite some metal bands in Tehran and Iran according to Metal Encyclopedia and the band Avarayr (who are Armenians, living in Iran) stated they felt quite free to do what they pleased when I interviewed them. Could you respond to that and perhaps explain how we should view this? (because I must be wrong somewhere here).

Right, I understand that is kind of confusing for people outside Iran, and to be honest, it’s even hard to explain but OK, I try to explain it as short as possible…of course that’s true there are some other active metal bands in Iran but most of them are like real underground and since we don’t have any official metal scene, no record label to release the metal albums, no record store, festival or something; so, probably you never hear from them. Even though today it’s a bit easier to discover the bands because of social media but still…and regarding the Metal Encyclopedia, I can tell it’s really not updated and a good source to get the right info (…for Iranian bands). I know some of those bands in person! And the info there is not correct. Even the info regarding “From The Vastland” and my previous band “Sorg Innkallelse” is not right. Some of those bands are just a name, a one-man-band project with no release and at the same time there are bands which you can not find there but you know, that’s because there is no official scene going on.

Metal music in Iran is banned and the authorities consider it blasphemy but there is no official law about that. That’s when things get complicated, for example, if you want to release an album or play a metal gig you need to get a permit from the ministry of culture. First of all, they don’t give you a permit for a metal album and even if you get it, still it doesn’t mean you can do it! There are groups related to the revolutionary guard, religious groups, and different governmental organizations that easily can arrest you. They don’t need any permit or something to do that, they have guns and power! And that’s enough.

The thing is the regime pressure the artists whenever they feel like they should, every now and then. So, you never know when or how! it’s about their priorities. I myself at least know 3 metal musicians who had to run out of the country because of their music. probably you have heard about the Iranian band “Confess” and their story. That’s a good example of how things can go for metal musicians in Iran…

In your music, you tell about the legendary past. Extreme metal and tradition have a connection that is at times difficult. Many artists have at one point or another faced accusations of racism, spreading hate, etc. Often wrongfully (though there is the NSBM thing). I wanted to ask you how you feel about this from your perspective and what role does metal have when it comes to our past and identity?

You know, I think we should not forget that there is (or used to be) a strong family kind of feeling in the metal community, no matter who you are, where you come from, your race, skin color, personal preferences…That kind of freedom without feeling being judged or anything. I know in reality it’s not exactly like that or at least not today but we all share the same passion for the music we love and that’s what makes us connected. And when it comes to extreme metal or even metal in general, I think it’s is all about being true to yourself. it’s more than just music, it’s our identity. It’s the music that makes you think, to not forget and keep your roots, to break all the chains and fake rules that limit you. that’s the role it should play and that’s how it gets connected to your past, to your true self, I believe.

We see you walking a lot in the forests and nature in the documentary. How important are these to you and do you have special places you go for inspiration or that connect you to the past?

Nature is also where I get the inspiration for creating the music (one of the inspiration sources for me, you know). Especially mountain which brings back all my memories from childhood when I was going to the mountain around Tehran every weekend with my dad and that actually remained with me until today. And of course, the beautiful nature here in Norway which usually includes mountain and forest together is where makes me calm and inspires me a lot.

For the first four years of my life here in Norway I was living in a very small village outside Trondheim (up north Norway) and the nature in that area is spectacular. I had some favorite places where I could spend hours and hours just to relax, fresh my mind or listen to music. From the time when I moved to Oslo, nature is not that far but still, you need to get out of the town a bit, So, I usually just go for a walk by sea which makes me really calm and relaxed.

As I understand it, your inspiration was Marduk, Belenos, and Gorgoroth. What are you listening to now and would you recommend to others?

True! Well, there are tons of good bands from all over the world and still today I enjoy discovering new, unknown or less known bands. So, it’s a long list but if I would mention just one that I listen to these days then it would be Selbst!

From The Vastland Band

Are there any Iranian metal bands people should really know about?

Well, there are very good bands, especially death metal bands! but you know, as I said, the problem is that the metal scene in Iran is really underground and there is nothing like anything official going on. So, it’s really hard to keep up with the activities. I still have an eye on the scene and check with my metal musicians friends and their bands in Iran but probably I’m not so updated.

What future plans do you currently have for the band? Implied that the world turns back to normal.

Well, I’m working on some new material for the next album, however, I’m not sure if I’m going to release it next year. It all depends on how the writing process will go. I never plan a release an album before I’m 100% satisfied with the material. And when it comes to live shows, I would wait a bit and see how the situation is but I’m thinking about at least a show here in Oslo later this year but if not then maybe we can plan to stream live…Hard to say now when everything is uncertain. The music scene was hit strongly by the pandemic situation and changed all the plans for almost everyone but hopefully, things will get back to normal, slowly and we will see more and more activities.

If you had to compare From The Vastland to a dish, what would it be and why?

Hehe That’s a weird one! Never thought about it before. Well, let’s say “ghormeh sabzi” because it has a lot of ingredients, mostly herbs and even though not all of them are used only in this Iranian dish (well, some of the herbs are) but the taste of the food is so Iranian (I mean, this is a traditional Iranian dish. So, obviously)…Yeah, maybe I can compare my music to that! I don’t know…hehe

Underground Sounds: Garhelenth – About Pessimistic Elements & Rebirth Of Tragedy

Label: Satanath Records/The Eastern Front
Band: Garhelenth
Origin: originally Iran, now Armenia

Garhelenth must have a story to tell, since the band is on its third run, currently residing in Armenia after a spell in Georgia. The band now comes on with their latest record ‘About Pessimistic Elements & Rebirth of Tragedy’, which is quite the charismatic release if I may say so.

This is only the second full length for the band, which has been active since 2010. The duo is dedicated to creating true black metal, devoid of any trends or cool sounding niches like DSBM or blackgaze, yet they’ve been lumped in the depressive corner fairly regularly with their dark lyrics concerned with themes of morals and mental states.

An ominous, dark ambient intro with mad, cackling laughter welcomes the listener to the strange realm of this band. After that reception, we launch into it with the song ‘Destruction of the Will’, which sounds quite mellow in a sense. The music forms a continuous flow of ripping riffs that fit together as a fish’s bones in rapid succession. The peculiar chanting is a noteworthy feature, but almost every song has some oddity happening. It’s exactly that, which makes the band stand out a lot.

The barked vocals work well with the particularly melodic and emotive songs and the harrowing riffs on tracks like ‘To Impersonal Mankind’ really do their job. The almost whiny noise, sustains the negative that permeates the sound completely. I particularly enjoyed the slow, threatening pace of ‘Perspective of Exorbitant’, which is strong, powerful, but also on a steady pace full of lumbering drums and grand movements. Even some operatic singing is added to the mix in granting the duo an even more strong sound. An exceptionally strong record, with strong emotional overtones in a classic jacket.

Underground Sounds: Akvan – Forgotten Glory

Label: Shaytan Productions
Band: Akvan
Origin: Iran

Some metal is created in corners of the world that seem much more surreal than hell. Akvan is one of those acts. Though Iran apparently has a certain tolerance when it comes to metal (read this article for example), Akvan remains an oddity in the strict country, particularly due to the content of his music, which is strongly anti-Islam. Contrary to the Norwegian teenagers, the price for iconoclasm is a lot higher in his home country.

Akvan started his quest of provocative musicianship in 2015 under the moniker Dominus Vizaresa (as artist name). He’s been extremely prolific in his output and that eventually led to his signing with Shaytan Productions, where the music is released right next to Al-Namrood. A fitting label for an artist that defies normal definitions with music that really makes for something special on ‘Forgotten Glory’.

The intro of ‘Path to Chaos’ instantly takes you to a different place. As the odd radio-samples come in, the pace picks up and the intensity really makes your heart beat faster as the drums rattle and the rambling instruments clang. The vocals cut right down to your bone marrow with a jagged, piercing quality. It’s the use of the setar and tar, that really creates the otherworldly spirit of Akvan. Its primitive fury is evident on ‘King Ov Kings’, with the vocals that must be derived from the ghastly and cruel djinn’s that roam in these realms.

I love how there are these samples and folkish parts interwoven in the structure of the album. It helps to create that magnificent atmosphere of the Orient, while never becoming gimmicky. Akvan pulls of what most artists fearfully steer clear of in that sense on tracks like ‘Realm ov Fire’, not shirking to really ride the mood and implement it into the black metal parts of the songs too.

I could go through this album track by track, but it would be better if you give it a spin yourself. Akvan truly opens the gates to a different world with black metal that embraces a raw and unpolished sound, while completely giving a very own flavor to it. It works through in the bareness of the sound, the rough distortion, and color in the atmospheric elements in the sound. Just let a song like ‘Legacy’ truly drag you along for a moment. Experience how the rooftops look different and even the sky has an aura of elsewhere. To a forgotten past, but not that of a Viking boat and northern gods, but a land which past has been clouded by recent history and wrong perceptions. I would love to learn more from Akvan.

Avarayr: Upholding the Armenian identity

I got in touch with Avarayr and was under the impression that the band was Armenian. I was right, but the band is located in Iran. Getting in touch with bands from these various places in the world, is often a learning experience in itself. Avarayr is thoroughly Armenian, but part of the Armenians that live in Iran. They were brought there 300 years ago by King Abbas and ever since, Armenians have lived in Iran.

The Armenians as a people have been around for a long time. In antiquity, the Armenian Empire was one of the first nations to adopt Christianity and due to its wide spread territories, we can still find Armenians far out of the region that is currently the country named Armenia. This old part of the world has seen much of history and is therefore rich with stories, fables and tales to tell. The perfect soil for a great metal project that Narek Avedyan started back in 2013.

I got in touch with Narek to talk about making metal music in Iran, Armenian identity, System of a Down and much more. He was kind enough to give open and clear answers to my stream of questions so thanks to him for his time.

Upholding Armenian tradition in Iran

How are you doing?

Barev! Doing fine, hopefully everyone else is as well. Surviving, dealing with the occasional existential crisis. The usual, I guess!

Can you tell me how Avarayr got started and what inspired you to go in the musical direction you’ve taken? Which bands inspired you musically?

Avarayr started in late 2012. I kind of got tired from doing what I was doing musically at that time and decided to take things in another direction. Having a keen interest in Armenian/Persian folk music and folk music from different countries in general led me to the direction the band is currently in. There are a lot of inspiring bands and artists I guess. The classic metal stuff we all grew up with. But for Avarayr specifically, the German band Empyrium and their album ‘Songs of Moors and Misty Fields’, as well as Armenian black metal band Vahagn and of course, Armenian folk music. Particularly the works of Komitas.

What does the name Avarayr mean?

Avarayr is historically the name of a battlefield in which a battle of the same name took place between Persian and Armenian forces. It also represents the dilemma a Diasporan Armenian faces. In this case, an Armenian like myself who is born and lives in Iran, but considers himself an Armenian. It represents a clash. A battle, if you will.

As I understand you started out under the name Symphony of Silence, but in 2013 you switched names. Why so? Was this also the point where you decided you wanted put Armenian folklore in the themes of your music?

SOS ceased to exist as a project. The members took different directions and everyone except myself left Iran for good. That was the main reason. Another reason was that I thought SOS would not be an appropriate title for the direction I was about to take musically. I had always wanted to mix Armenian folklore and actually did with SOS (the only EP features renditions of two Komitas pieces, albeit horribly executed) but this time it was the main focus of my path. Finding out that there was another band of the same name out there as well as the Facebook page being hacked were the final nails in the coffin of SOS.

Avarayr is in essence your solo project. How do you go about writing and recording your music, do you get musicians to help you or is it a full solo endeavour?

I compose everything for Avarayr. There are two songs on the full-length which were written by ex-Avarayr guitarist Emin Khechoomian, but other than that everything is on me.  As for recording, the first EP had sampled drums while I handled everything else. The ‘Rituals’ single also had sampled drums, while Emin did guitars and handled bass and vocals.The full-length is a bit different. It features many musicians. Armen Manukyan (who also plays for Avarayr live) handled all of the electric guitar work beautifully. My friend Peter handled drums and percussion. The bass was handled by my friend Narbe (ex-SOS) and I did vocals, acoustic guitars and keys. Additional vocals were provided by my friend Armen Shahbegian and additional winds were performed by my friend Judie (also ex-SOS). Some traditional instruments were handled by some of my Persian friends. Including the Daf, an Iranian percussive instrument performed by my friend Mehdi. By the way these are all our real names. We have names that sound weird to people from other countries anyway, so we didn’t really choose kvlt black metal nicknames.

There is a full band for live shows. Is that something you initially wanted to do with Avarayr or did it evolve?
I did not intend to perform live shows with Avarayr. I kind of dread the “getting-ready” part of doing live shows, but I do love to perform on stage. It just happened by sheer chance. I found two Armenian musicians, Emin and Ervin, in Tehran who were into black metal and tried Avarayr live. I guess it went on from there.

 

Can you tell a bit about the folktales you use. Most people are probably not familiar with these tales, so perhaps you can share a bit about them?

Sure. I mean, the point of using those folktales is to generate interest in Armenian folklore. Which might be a bit naive, cause very few people are into that these days, but it is still important to me. For example, there is a song on the full-length titled Vahagn, which is about the Armenian pagan deity of the same name. Vahagn is the Armenian counterpart to Heracles and is the god of the Sun, fire and thunder. The song itself uses lyrics from Armenian poet Yeghishe Charents, who laments the death of Vahagn, hinting that the traditional values of a nation die with the death of their gods, who are national symbols to many. Another song is called Gelkheght which is about the Gampr, a breed of dogs unique to Armenia. The song tells the tale of a Gelkheght (roughly meaning “it who suffocates wolves”) who descends from Mount Ararat (national Armenian symbol currently in Western Armenia, or modern-day Turkey) to devour the usurpers who are driving Armenia to ruins. Pretty cool stuff, eh?

As I understand it you currently are working on new music with ‘A Symphony Carved in Stone’? And what can the world expect and what is the concept and story on this album? I’m also interested in your recent live album.

Yeah, progress on the full-length is slow but relentless. It was stuck in “production hell” but friends, especially Armen Manukyan, helped it get back on track. I am busy with my studies and have little time to work on it, but it is almost done. Two years in the making! The world can expect an interesting album because there’s everything on it. From black metal, to acoustic ballads and Wardruna-ish folk pieces, all with a specific Armenian twist. It covers a lot of ground. The concept was born naturally from my ancestral Armenian heritage, countless wanderings in nature and wanting to create something new, if not original. It is an album which sprouts from the Armenian highlands and is dedicated to Armenia, hence the name. As for the live album, it was a sentimental release to celebrate the first (and now defunct) Avarayr live line-up. It includes music which will be released as studio versions both on the full-length and future releases.

I saw on your Facebook page that you’re looking for a drummer in Iran, how so?

I’d really like to have a stable band in Tehran which can always rehearse and be ready for shows in Armenia (and in Tehran, in case of a miracle). Most of the live line-up resides in Armenia and we have little time to rehearse for shows. Everything works out great every time, but having at least a stable drummer would be pretty cool. Shout out to Arthur, our lovely drummer from Armenia and Astghik, our keyboardist. They always managed to help the band put on a kickass show. Double horns to Emin Aghajanian from Outcast Minority, Mher Azizbekyan from Araspel and Side Project (yes, that’s a band name!) and my brother Christopher Amirian for filling in on bass.

What is it like to play metal in Iran, are you allowed to play metal and isn’t it lonely as an outsider?

Well, we can play metal here, but only if concerts are performed with clean vocals or only instrumental. You also need to have permission from the ministry of culture. It’s all quite strictly regulated and people must remain seated at the show. Personally, I don’t associate much with the Persion metal scene, but I do know almost every act there is from Iran. I’m not in contact with most of them though, but one act to look out for is From The Vastland. The story of Sina’s music is quite remarkable, you can see it in the Blackhearts documentary film.

What is the metal scene like in Armenia? It seems that it’s quite a thriving scene, can you also tell a bit about its history and which bands started it?

Armenia is a small country. Hence, the metal scene is also small. Nowadays it consists mostly of teenagers and young adults who like going to shows and having a great time. My love to them all, because they truly support my music. As for the history, the origins are somehow obscured. Many consider the band Apostles (from the 70’s) to be the first Armenian rock band, and I agree.

The band Ayas was definitely one of the first metal ones. Think thrash mixed with classical and King Diamondesque vocals. There was also Asbarez. This was in the 80’s. The 90’s had bands like MDP. Progress was slow because of this little annoyance called the Soviet Republic (until Armenia gained independence in 1991) and that’s why not a lot remains of the early years except some low-quality cassette/vinyl rips on Youtube. In the 2000’s, the scene grew because of two main promoters. MetalFront (now defunct; they brought the likes of Melechesh and Arkona) and Zhesht Events (who would go on to bring giants such as Sepultura and Napalm Death). Zhesht still regularly organizes underground shows in Armenia. Some of the prominent bands of this new era were Sworn, Sadael, Aramazd and Dogma. A company called Vibrogreipus (I probably butchered the name) has brought the likes of Jethro Tull and Ian Gillan to Armenia. Interest in rock and metal grew a lot in 2015, when all-Armenian band System of a Down performed in Armenia for the first time, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.

How significant is System of a Down for you and for metalheads in Armenia?
Almost every Armenian metalhead loves at least one song from System of a Down. For me, they are idols and I think the same goes for many other Armenians. I grew up listening to their music and they inspired me in countless ways. Meeting them in Armenia was surreal. They are such humble guys man. They do and have done so much for Armenia and the Armenian cause. That’s why people react to them in such a strong way. In a world where people like Kim Kardashian are the ones representing Armenia globally, System of a Down are like gems. They have become part of our national identity.

Is everything readily available to you, like rehearsal spaces, instruments, music and places to play gigs at?

In Tehran, almost everything is available. Avarayr has always had its own rehearsal space. I also have access to a recording space, though I do most of my work from my bedroom. Places to play gigs at in Iran are very, very limited due to metal being illegal in the country. Hence why Avarayr doesn’t play in Iran that much. We can only play shows in Armenian centers for Armenian audiences only. Outside of that, you could secure gigs for a Persian audience, but with no harsh vocals. It’s a bit complicated and anticlimactic for me. Which is why I prefer to perform in Armenia.

In many places, playing black metal brings with its risks and taboos. I’m talking about censorship, politics, religion etc. Is there anything like that you have to deal with?

Well, I never add any political/religious message to Avarayr. Because let’s be honest, one wrong move in Iran and you’re done for. People might call me a coward for not speaking on taboo subjects, and I probably am. But to me, music comes first and foremost. Even though almost all metal bands from Iran are underground, and quite frankly nobody cares about what they do, even underground bands can get into trouble for crossing the line. I like being behind the line. It’s comfortable. It’s cozy!

Which bands from Armenia should people definitely check out (and why)?

Oh gods…so many to name! Off the top of my head, I’d go for Sworn, Vahagn, Dogma, Aramazd, Unaesthetic, Divahar, Eternally Scarred, Ildaruni, Symmetria, Aralez (based in Germany), Araspel, Nosferatu, Highland (based in the US), Odz-Manouk, Tork Angegh, Ghoulchapel, Sickdeer and Vox Clamantis (also from the US) and many more. Why? Because they are amazing. And you can find some very refreshing ideas in the Armenian music scene. I also recommend non-metal acts such as Hogh, The Clocker, Miqayel Voskanyan and Tigran Hamasyan.

Is there a political aspect to Avarayr? You’ve recently put out a live album titled ‘Echoes From the Diaspora’ and covers of Inquisition and Burzum that might hint to a political agenda.

The answer to that is definitely a no. I do have my political ideas, but I keep Avarayr (and most of my music in general) apolitical. I focus mostly on preserving Armenian culture. People may call that nationalistic, and it might be. I don’t think it is. I don’t put Armenian culture above any other culture. It’s just highlighted in my music because that’s what I enjoy doing. I believe in the promotion and preservation of national history and heritage, but not at the cost of belittling other cultures. Cultures and races are different and that difference is what makes this world exciting.

As for the Burzum and Inquisition covers. The first Burzum cover was done simply to promote the band. It was an easy cover to do. The rest were done for the sole reason of myself being a huge fan of Burzum’s MUSIC, not the ideology behind it. I do not support nor condone the non-musical ideologies of Varg Vikernes. As for the Inquisition one, it was simply done to test my recording equipment. I needed a simple song. That one only has 4 chords which are repeated again and again. As for the ideology, I again am not in line with whatever those guys believe in. I’m just a fan of their music. In retrospect, if I could go back in time, I probably wouldn’t choose that song because a lot of people misunderstood it and misunderstood me. But what’s done is done. No point in regrets. I am, however, fond of it because it brings back a lot of great memories. The recording process for that cover was frigging hilarious.

What future plans does Avarayr have at this point?

The release of the full-length is definitely a priority. After that, a hiatus from playing live is probably inevitable. Our guitarist Armen is going to serve at the Armenian military for two years and I kind of need a break to get back into composing mode. Avarayr will definitely be active in the studio.

If you had to compare Avarayr to a dish (food), what would it be and why?

Chalaghach (Armenian pork dish), with a side of Tolma (a common dish in countries from the region) and a pint of Armenian Kilikia draft beer. If you haven’t had any of these, then I’d say a visit to Armenia is long overdue! Thanks for this interview! Let the metal flow!