Uganda’s Vale of Amonition Interview

Metal’s final frontier lies in Africa and Uganda is one of the unlikely places where something is brewing. Although the scene is extremely tiny and unknown, the passions run deep with artists like Victor Rosewrath. Victor was kind enough to tell a bit more about his band Vale of Amonition.

Most will know Uganda because of General Idi Amin, who was the topic of wide speculation and even the film ‘The Last King of Scotland’. Though that lies in the past, Uganda has troubles of its own like high corruption, severe limitations of LGBT rights and Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. Still, metal music flourishes here and together with Threatening the Vale of Amonition is paving the way for other artists.

Victor Rosewrath is a man of words and he has plenty to offer for people interested in his work. He’s been playing with poetry and various music styles to express what is inside of his mind. Victor has a romantic soul, clouded with dark visions as you will read here below. Thanks to Victor for his time and words.

The Vale of Amonition is very real…

So first off, thanks for your time. Can you kindly introduce Vale of Amonition to the readers? How did your band get started?
Hello Guido, this is Victor Rosewrath. Thank you for this opportunity. Vale of Amonition is very old…thematically at least. I have been conscious of the Vale since I was a child and I have the sense it existed way before I did. But as for its incarnation into a doom metal band; it started in May 2009 in Uganda where I was living at the time. I needed to tell stories about the Vale and music seemed a good medium for that at the time.

How did you guys get in touch with this music, what bands inspired you to start making music yourself?
The band Queen was my first love and my introduction to heavy music. Now you may argue that they weren’t heavy but I’m familiar with their discography well enough to prove you wrong. They were really the first band I ever truly loved when I was young and just understanding music. All other things came later. Black Sabbath came later. Mercyful Fate came later. Celtic Frost came later, and when I heard Candlemass and Type O Negative, I knew I wanted to create a similar kind of music. Solitude Aeturnus is my biggest influence. Solomon Dust likes Insomnium, Katatonia, Swallow The Sun and My Dying Bride.

Uganda has very little metal bands, but you guys have been around for a while and you are also surprisingly productive, releasing quite a bit of music. How do you guys go about writing your music, who is responsible for what and can you describe how you get new material out so often (particularly in the starting period of the band)?
The metal scene in Uganda is indeed quite poor…we are simply driven by the need to express ourselves as artists. We have never really cared for the absence or presence of a metal scene where we’re from as long as we could create and just be ourselves. I wrote most of the music in the early days. I was progressively inclined. Listening to a lot of bands that could be described as innovative and progressive.

I felt weird as a songwriter because nothing I could come up with could be considered a “song” in the conventional sense. ‘Black Cathedral’ for instance was initially a 23 minute song. We get out material so often because there’s a need for it. I think of the metal scene here as the African metal scene, it makes sense that way…and more and more people are interested in hearing metal from Africa. But we’ve had a bit of time off since our last major release.

I understood that your name refers to a valley of warmakers, but there’s also a lot of occult titles. I’m very curious to learn about the themes and topics you put in your music. Can you describe those and explain your choices? How real is this place to you?
Vale of Amonition is a very real place. I go to sleep there and I wake up there. I can’t escape it so I’ve given up trying. It is both a frame of mind and a real place that I take with me wherever I go or that follows me around until I tell its stories and get them right. There’s no point wrestling with demons; you just have to open the door and let them in. My relationship with demons has been very fruitful so far. The lyrics I write have to do with that relationship; with the general relationship with the darkness that most people find themselves cultivating.

So Victor has just worked on the project Doomcast and in general, you guys seem to have some following abroad, but what is it like in Uganda itself? Is there actually more of a scene than outsiders know or are you sort of a lonely band in your own country (together with Threatening)?

We are a lonely band and we are very lonely people. Also, we haven’t heard from Threatening in ages.

So can you tell a bit how the collaboration with Doomcast came together?
Doomcast came from a conversation between me and Tim Salter, Doomcast’s main composer and guitarist. I have known Tim for years and he really is a fan not just of Vale but of the whole African metal scene. He was working on a black metal project with a friend from Angola that was going nowhere and nothing I was doing with Vale of Amonition and African Doomhammer was going anywhere either so out of mutual frustration, we decided to work together. But Tim is a fan of my style, my whole weirdness and I am an absolute fan of his guitar playing so really we just had to work together. Paulo Bucho who Tim knew joined later on drums and we became fast friends.

Can you tell a bit more about African Doomhammer, I didn’t hear about that?
African Doomhammer is a Namibian project I have been involved with since its inception. I have written music and co-written lyrics for African Doomhammer. They released one E.P. in 2014 and are working on some new music. I have a few ideas that I feel fit more with AD than VoA and I look forward to future collaborations.

I understood that you also started a progressive rock project named Otheorem. You’ve read poetry on video (Poe). Do you feel a strong need to express yourself in many ways and what other things would you still like to do?
Thank you. Yes. I need to express myself in a lot of ways and really I haven’t even done half as much as I know I am capable of. One night I read poetry for a bunch of stoners and they liked it. I was a classic literature scholar so I knew a lot of the old stuff and how to relate it to people and make it interesting. I ended up writing a bunch of poetry with respect to the old rules of meter and precision and a lot of stuff later that didn’t care for any rules. I always want to be able to express myself in both a traditional manner and in an iconoclastic format that shits on the rule-book. But Otheorem was the brainchild of Jon Xarg, Vale ‘s old drummer. He was the one who was tired of all the doom and gloom and wanted me to play with him in a more exuberant band so we did that song and then we argued about music and a lot of other things and we never picked it up again.

Listening to your music, I can’t help but hear a connection between heavy, theatric doom and poetry, how did you develop this unique style of music?
I’m into poetry and I love the theatrical bit of artistic expression so it has always been bound to happen as far as how I write and perform with Vale of Amonition.

Do you feel there’s something that you put in your music that is typical for the place you are from; Uganda? Any sort of music writing, topics, words…? Could your music be from anywhere else?
I don’t think at this point Vale can go into a strictly Folk direction but we’ve always had that as part of our identity. There’s still time enough to find out though. But no, I don’t think this band could easily be from anywhere else.

What does it mean for you as a musician to be where you are and how do you feel that shapes your art in the broadest sense?
I have felt frustrated and limited as an artist in Uganda. I feel the scope of what I can do on a day to day basis is constricted by my environment but long-term projection allows me to view this as meaningful and essential to the creative process…and the fact that I am reaching way beyond my location continues to be a great motivation.

Uganda has been in the news for restrictive policies in the past. Regardless of those, I was wondering how free you are as an artist to express yourself. Can you sing whatever you want? Is there any form of censorship?
I can sing about whatever I want. We wrote a song called “Don’t Tread On Me (In Our Darkness Defiant)” particularly about our president signed into law the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. It was my big FUCK YOU! to him. I’ve really never worried about censorship and I’ll never censor myself. We are not a political band by any stretch and even that song had a lot of other themes running through it but we’ve never shied away from controversy either. If we want to say something, we’ll yell it. I’m very fond of Wolves In The Throne Room. How they maintain their mystique while being conscious about the things that matter to them as well.

Seeing you guys are very prolific in creating music, do you have everything available like recording equipment, instruments, rehearsal places and venues or is it a lot of DIY?
Yes, we have instruments. Rehearsal space is also actually easy to find, you’d be surprised. Uganda and Kenya are not some holes where you can’t access things. Good equipment is definitely accessible and studios and producers who actually know what they’re doing can be found. It is not really DIY, I’m afraid. We actually work with producers but we play our own material and write it and perform it but we don’t own a studio. We’ve recorded both in Uganda and Kenya.

I understand that you have a lot of facilities. Does that mean you share those with rock and pop groups and do you take any influence from different music styles?
Yeah, we do share space and facilities with all kinds of artists and performers. Do they influence my art? Not at all. I am not easily influenced. I am very specific about what moves me but most of it can’t adequately be defined by words… but when something connects with me, it just does.

So, this question might be a really simple one, but is there a metal scene in Uganda. If so, how did it get started, are there and were there other bands active?
There’s a metal scene in Uganda. Absolutely. It is mostly made up of fans more than bands. Threatening who you mentioned earlier were probably the first band on the scene. They used to be known as Perfect Strangers. The scene developed out of the larger rock scene that was a culmination of expatriates opening radio stations and bars that strictly played rock music and Touch FM becoming a pioneering everyday man’s rock station and then from the woodwork came the metalheads who had always been silent and waiting, I guess for some sort of union to happen. I’ve never really cared for the scene enough to explore its origins but that’s about it.

I notice that there are a few centers for metal on the African continent, but for people from outlying places, like yourselves, it seems that you might have to travel a lot to play or meet like-minded souls. How do you deal with that?
We travel when the opportunity presents itself. Thanks to the internet, there’s so many ways you can connect that don’t need your actual physical presence. It’s all good.

Are there any bands from your part of the world that you’d like to recommend? (and why are they cool)
I like Crystal Axis. They’re really cool. They are a punkish/alternative band based in Nairobi and they write some really cool songs. I have a friend, Peter Larson who is American but really spends a lot of time in Kenya and he’s doing this fusion thing with a local instrument, the Nyatiti on which he plays all manner of things. He has a band called Ndio Sasa. You should absolutely check them out. My friends The Seeds of Datura are also amazing performers. They’re doing some kind of extreme progressive metal type thing.

What future plans do you have with Vale of Amonition and other projects?
Vale of Amonition plans on having some music out soon, I’ve been told. Right now Solomon Dust holds the reins. I am working on my own stuff for Victor’s Death. More poetry and madness.

Isn’t it hard to hand over the reigns for you?
I’ve not handed the reins over. I think we are co-creators, really. That is more apt. It’s just that Dust writes a bulk of the music now. In a certain sense, our current sound has been shaped by his guitar playing and modified by my personality.

If you had to describe your band as a dish, a type of food. What would it be and why?
It would be Mushroom soup with a lot of indefinable, alien ingredients. It would be thick but it would disappear easily in your mouth. I think that is apt because Vale of Amonition music is rather astounding to get into (so I’ve been told), but when you do listen, it connects with some primal darkness within you and yet it never loses its strangeness.


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