Synth, wave and blackgaze from Iran you should hear about

Seena Arya is a musician from the unlikely location of Iran and specializes in otherworldly synth sounds. His various projects include Varkâna, Sun Addicted Family, Vanelikt, Driftwood, and Beam Keeper. All this is part of the Ardawahisht collective.

He has been kind enough to keep me up to date on his work, which has fascinated me from the start. It’s therefore important to share this and give you a little idea of what awaits you in the crypts. Or in the discotheque… or the forest? As it seems that Seena is working on all fronts to expand the reach of his musical vocabulary to express the harrowing silence and sadness of the world.

You gotta love that.
Header image from Varkâna Facebook page. 

Beam Keeper – Volume 1

Label: self-released
Beam Keeper is pure synthwave, but clearly steeped in the slow trod of dungeon synth where it originates in. If you imagine a dungeon synth project based on ‘The Neverending Story’ or another eighties-vibe movie (I know it’s a book first, I read it), this would be it. Slow, sonorous synths weave through the air, the beats come dully, indicating a slow pace and the vibe is more Blade Runner than happy Goonies. It’s dreamy, captivating and perhaps a bit too strangely droning to completely take you elsewhere and isolate you from your surroundings. For me, it is a perfect record to listen to at any time when I need to close myself into this pristine world that Beam Keeper creates. The throbbing bass lines of ‘Palm Trees Dream’. Please, if you dig synthwave, check this record out. You will not regret it.

Varkâna – Ahrimanic Chambers

Label: self-released
Ahriman is the entity embodied with destructive force in Zoroastrianism, and therefore a great topic for a dark, cavernous dungeon synth record, so that’s exactly how Varkâna follows up ‘Rite’ with ‘Ahrimanic Chambers’. The oppressing, grinding synths have a bit of that Burzum vibe, though that may be the dry tom sound that pops up. Slow drones, and that feeling of disturbing the dust in ancient crypts hardly touched by the sun. But these crypts are different, more ancient and unfamiliar to you and speak of an even older myth. Slowly, with a tinge of the oriental hidden in its notes, it sucks you further in, further down the dark tunnels with strange glyphs and carvings, unto the underworld. Varkâna provides a specific atmosphere, which is particularly captivating thanks to the vastness of the sound. It’s dark, without immediate threat, but always something is lurking, something older…

Sun Addicted Family – Solar Dreams

Label: self-releasedSun Addicted Family
It would be easy to start referring to Deafheaven here, but sonically Sun Addicted Family is far removed from the driven, grandiose sound of the vilified post-black act, yet there’s obviously a thematic connection somehow. This project relies on heavy sonic tapestries and keys to provide a sort of story anchorage throughout. The screamed vocals are intense within the frame of this blackgaze experience. It’s strange to have these sonic flares, chip tuney beats and mash it with that intensity. But that, to me, is exactly what makes Sun Addicted Family so enthralling, it’s otherworldliness, it’s weirdness in a way, blending synth-wave sentiment with black metal intensity and atmospheric black metal emotion. I mean, reading that sentence alone, how would you say that in a way that explains what you’re about to listen to. You should, by the way, do so. Listen to it and immerse yourself in irradiate sunlight, soak in solar dreams and drown in the astral driftways. Blissful forgetting, white light, white heat.

Varkâna – Cosmic Terror

Label: self-released

And here my own slow pace has caught up with me because Varkâna has released a new gem inspired by none other than the great H.P. Lovecraft himself. ‘Cosmic Terror’ is a much similar release, with the creeping, meandering synths taking the listener down aeon-old pathways, basking in the gloom of Eldritch things. Obviously, there’s a connection to the Ahrimanic Chambers record released before, both speak of unspeakable entities that dwell in the dark recesses of our minds. I do feel though, that this album clears up come of the eastern elements in the composition, but this may also just be my perception. More ritualistic even, it expands the realms of Dungeon Synth into more obscure territories, where a haze emerges as the sand and air hit. Nothing is certain, nothing is absolute when elder gods dance in madness in the maelstrom. From the malign and dreamy ‘Space Lord’, to the creeping madness that is ‘Nyarlathotep’. It’s full of foreboding of threat and terror.

From The Bowels of the Dutch Black Metal Scene II

So much darkness in the underground of our welfare state called the Netherlands, that I just have to keep going and share it. This time, the furious harpies of Asagraum, the gloom and doom of Dodenbezweerder, the aerial soundscapes of Nortfalke and the icy hailstorm that is Asgrauw.

Please, enjoy, listen and perhaps purchase some of these tunes.

Asagraum – Dawn of Infinite Fire

Asagraum
Edged Circle Productions

It doesn’t take long to stumble upon the combination of the name Asagraum and ‘all-female black metal’. It is an oddity in black metal for sure, but I can’t say it makes a difference in the sound. Perhaps in the pitch of the vitriolic screams of Obscura, also active in Draugur, Wolvenbloed, Gestalte, and Hekel (both live). She also played in Nargaroth live, which is cool. She runs the ship with A. who used to beat the drums in Sisters of Suffocation. Originally, it was a cross-continental band with T. Kolsvart on drums, and a number of international musicians involved, but now the core is Dutch. Jeez, what an intro, did I mention that they play some sick black metal in the traditional way we love and relish?

Asagraum can sound harsh and unrelenting, as they do on most of their songs. There is, however, a melodic streak in their sound. The excellent production (no necro stuff here) helps to let that musical side open up when you listen to it. Particularly the track ‘Guahaihoque’ does a great job at dragging you in with its sweeping flourishes. It’s really good stuff to take your mind off things, but we return to fire and brimstone with songs like ‘Dochters van de Zwarte Vlam’. An energetic rhythm, ominous, and just that right speed-up moment when we surge into a new vocal bit. Personal favorite though is the final track that also features clean vocals. ‘Waar Ik Ben Komt De Dood’ (where I am, comes death) is a mid-paced burner, moving along a mist of distortion. The chanted words emerge from that same fog, difficult to hear at first in the haze, but on the other hand clear within the production. This is a great black metal record, full of fire and fury. You might want to check it out.

Dodenbezweerder – Vrees De Toorn Van De Wezens Verscholen Achter Majestueuze VleugelsDodenbezweerder

Iron Bonehead Productions

I am in no way surprised to find the name Mories connected to this project. The brain behind Gnaw Their Tongues, Aderlating, Cloak of Altering, Capuut Mortem, and a hundred other bands never sits still. Santino van der Aa plays drums, which he also does in dsbm legends Hypothermia. Dodenbezweerder was launched in 2019 and the full length is listed as released in 2020. You just know it’s going to be good, but somehow this has remained under the radar up to this point for me. Might be because the releases followed each other at a rapid pace. The artwork already shows an artistic inclination to the classic black and white, so I expect a sound like that.

Which is an expectation soon to be fulfilled with atmospheric, lo-fi, distorted darkness. The title track is all hissing, crackling, and has that good old necro sound to it, but Dodenbezweerder never goes into screeching overdrive, but calls up a fog of distortion, that clouds a massive sound of slow, lumbering movement. The tracks are full of anticipation, foreboding of a lurking presence. From the fog, the vocals arise in gurgling, gibbering tones, as a ghoulish reminder that there is something coming at you. Shimmering comes to mind when you listen to ‘Glimmende Zwaarden Door De Mist Van Het Evangelie’, minimal yet, maximal impact. Spartan is a word the band uses in their bio and that makes sense as a duo, yet the wall of sound Dodenbezweerder unleashes is not to be trifled with. You want to hear this.

Nortfalke – Atmosfeer

Heidens Hart RecordsNortfalke

Is it dungeon synth? Not entirely, but there is something of that vibe in the Krautrock leaning sound of Nortfalke, which reminds you a bit of Jean-Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream with its spun-out, soaring electronics. Nortfalke is an alias of Swerc, who is known from bands like Tarnkappe, Gheestenland, Asregen and a dozen other fascinating projects. This one, however, explores the cryptic mysteries of dungeon synth with a classic approach that never fails. It’s the sort of sound that immerses you in mystery and dreams, particularly this thematic album, titled ‘Atmosfeer’ (Atmosphere).

Repetition is one of the key tools for dungeon synth acts. It has a meditative and hypnotic effect on the listener as it all sort of starts to melt together into one flow. We don’t descend into crypts though, but ascend to the clouds and explore the beauty of the heights on ‘Hoogten’. I particularly enjoy the krautrock vibe on ‘IJskristallen’, which translates as ‘ice crystals’. The looped keys resonate like he pristine, crackling of ice that would surround you in the upper atmosphere (that’s pure speculation, but the shimmering sound matches my imagination). And this is the true strength of Nortfalke, it catches the atmospheric elements it describes. The sensations, the perspectives, they’re all there within the sound. And then we fall into the depth on ‘Diepte’. It’s notable that the sound is more organic, natural, thanks to the use of actual synthesizers. The result is quite remarkable.

Asgrauw – IJsval

Death Kult Records/Pest Productions

I’ve commented before on the peculiar artwork of Asgrauw, but I have to admit that it does kind of grow on you. ‘IJsval’ is the fourth full length by the band from Groesbeek (the bad end of Nijmegen I’ve been told). Keeping a steady pace of dropping a record every 2 years, the band is on a roll. Members of Asgrauw are also active in Meslamtea. And that’s great stuff and only offers more promises for their latest release, that seems fitting in these times.

Asgrauw relies heavily on the tremolo guitar sounds, the trickling, cold melodic elements and double vocals. Not entirely uncommon, but in their synth-heavy sound more than welcome to offer depth and complexity to the sound. ‘Leegte’ instantly delivers, creating a lot of space to breathe and just wallow in the sound with melodic breaks. But there’s also violence and cascading, icy riffs that flow with a thundering roar. ‘Stortvloed’ is one of those tracks, that just keeps going. What I like so much about this record, is that the title just permeates every single track. ‘Ijsval’ translates as ‘ice fall’, and that cold hits you every tune again. Sure, a little warmth seeps in with that Iron Maiden-esque bass line in ‘Broeihaard’, but it’s back into the cold again a moment later. Asgrauw is like a bike ride through icy rain in late autumn. Dutch people know what I’m talking about.

More records Stranger Aeons missed out on…

Life is a curious thing, especially when it fills your time with work, hobbies, sports and other activities. And then, there’s this… A global pandemic that makes everything come to a grinding halt.

But it’s cool that it got me writing again because I have so much music I want to share with you. Here you have Vaelastrasz, Smear Ghost, Hiemis and Tarkin Turfer. Dungeon synth, ambient, dark electronics, all there.

Smear Ghost – Earth Is For God, Hell Is For Men

Moonworshipper RecordsSmear Ghost

A Smear Ghost is what occurs when a false image follows the image that you see on your telly. Like a shadow. It’s well creepy if you think about that. And rarely do I get properly creeped out by an intro, but ‘How Will You Be Seen In His Eyes’ does the trick, alright. You could call the sound of this act from Romania, something like electronic black metal and that would make sense. Or call it black ambient it both hits the mark of dark, atmospheric music with a hint of synth to it. I mean, how ‘hunted in the dark’ do you feel when listening to ‘Encroachment’ in the dark?

I find it uncomfortably fitting that I can’t find any information about this act. The sound becomes more ambient-oriented though on ‘Words Are Empty Without Belief’. Yet, you can sense the same tension you get from the ambient Ulver records, which to me are the summit of how dark electronics can get in the ambient area. But even when Smear Ghost picks up the pace, the sound remains fantastic. I mean, this is stuff I really can get into. Everything dark and grimy, but also stuff to move to at times, if you an get your Jack the Ripper groove on that is.

HIEMIS – ThuleHiemis

Gradual Hate Records

This project by Juan Carlos Toledo from Silent Love Of Death has a long story to tell with this record, which addresses the myth of Atlantis and Thule. Not always considered to be the same, but highly connected anyways. It’s a fascinating material in itself, but it made me curious about the music which even on the first track already shows a tendency to the megalomanic with an overwhelming of hazy noise. It’s all grandeur, but it works and that is the strength of this record. But it gets better all the time, in fact, I love the eerie tinkling sounds on ‘Wrath of the Gods’ that breaks with the tumultuous storm that keeps emerging.

But from there on the sound opens up, becomes more ethereal and wavery to my ears. Particularly ‘The Offering’ stands out in its evocative moods. ‘The Ten Kingdoms’ is another mythical reference, of which I have not found a particularly clear basis, but it appears to refer to ancestral realms. It’s an exemplary track in the work of HIEMIS, on mythologizing the past that is shrouded in shadows due to the lack of written sources. A grand basis for material that makes you think of forgotten places.

Tarkin Turfer – Old Finnbar Furrowbrow

Tarkin Turfer
Ancient Meadow Records

The pool of dungeon synth records to delve into is an ever-increasing well with a lot of interesting works and more and more mediocrity. That’s why I’m excited to find something like Tarkin Turfer, which moves away from the gritty, dusky, dusty sound with a more energetic and full type of music. It’s really the old PC RPG versus the SNES JRPG’s, but here in sound. More natural, full sounds, more feeling and depth. I love the classic sound though, but the expansion is where the novelty thrives. What’s even better about Tarkin Turfer is that this album follows a Dungeons & Dragons narrative.

What you immediately notice is the layers in the sound. Sure, they’re easy to distinguish and hardly complex, but there is more texture, more elements to the construction. Wood, stone, fabrics, glass, it feels more tangible as we follow Old Finnbar Furrowbrow on his trips. At times, like on the title track, it can even feel a bit synthwave-like. Which is cool, the styles are not so distinct, but it’s the melodies that follow that really kick it to a new level. Certainly, the basics are still there. As the narrative builds, we go to a darker, more gloomy place and the repetitive rhythms are always there on ‘The Staff of the Underworld’. But it’s always about going towards events, instead of the husky melancholy you are used to. Particularly fond of ‘Shadow Visions’ which is a quite different track again, I love sinking into this record and forgetting about the world for a bit.

Vaelastrasz – The Birth of Naxxramasvaelastrasz

Self-released

A release dedicated to vanilla World of Warcraft? Yes, that is of interest to me and particularly this one as I’ve actually never run it in my day. Naxxramas is one of the most daunting places in the original World of Warcraft and woven into the game lore with a lot of grief and sadness surrounding it. I mean, you can tell me fantasy is camp, but the level of emotion woven into the stories is often exceptional. Blizzard has been very, very good at this. Vaelastrasz has created a wide catalogue of recordings on the very topic of World of Warcraft. Where the game has gone slightly downhill in my opinion, this music just gets better.

The music unfolds in six pieces, that are slow, densely atmospheric and rich in their sound. No meagre synths with some gritty lo-fi sound, but a full immersion from the first piece onwards. The parts flow together smoothly, effortlessly. It helps the experience and immersion, as you drone along with the repetitive rhythms and circular melodies. What Vaelastrasz succeeds in, is evoking a much grander feeling with the music. Listen to the transition between part I and II (around 6-8 mins in) for that swelling sound. Part II is my favourite anyways, but Part III is even more loose and frivolous. I’m not certain if there are vocals or a semblance, but it works as a seductive lament, enticing the listener further into the adventure. In the final sections, we build towards a final moment, a crescendo if you will, where the story wraps up. It Is that I read about the six parts, but they work so well together. I would not change a thing about this fantastic piece.

Dymna Lotva: Belarussian pagan fires burning bright

Belarus, the last really mysterious place in Europe under the auspicious leadership of a president that seems to be boundlessly popular in a country that is prim and proper like you’ll never see a street in Western Europe. Belarus has a dark underside though, an underground scene full of exciting bands. One of those is folky doomsters Dymna Lotva.

The band has been quite prolific over the years and plays a very distinguished type of music. Their origin leaves a little in the way of the language barrier, but they were kind enough to answer my questions. This took some time, but I’m certain that it will provide you with many new insights on this exciting band.

Dymna Lotva might sound dark and misty, but also presents the listener with the other magic that is Belarus. A country with a long history and a mysterious past.  This is part of what Dymna Lotva is about.

From the fogs of Belarus

First of let me thank you for taking the time to do this. 

Thank you for the interview offer. We apologize wildly for the delay. We have been answering these questions for so long that during this time we have changed our lineup and had to start all over again.

First, can you introduce yourselves and how you got together?

Jauhien: Hi, I’m a Jauhien and I’m the father of Lotva 🙂
It all started with the fact that after writing about 5-6 demos, I made a post on a local music forum about the search for a vocalist to record an EP. Nokt wrote to me and we started to work on material. After the release of the single “A Solitary Human Voice” we began to receive proposals for the concerts and started thinking about a concert lineup.

Forladt: I am Forladt and I play guitar and do some back vocals in Dymna Lotva. For me, Dymna Lotva was the first and is still the only band I joined. I wanted to play in a band so I gave an advertisement on a forum and Nokt replied to me. We met, talked a lot about music and other things. Nokt and Jaŭhien were already making Dymna Lotva and she invited me to play with them. Since then I’m here.

Nokt: I am Nokt and I am the mother of Lotva. I work on vocals parties, lyrics, concept, costumes, etc. In short, in the band, I do everything except what is really important. And sing.

By the way, we were acquainted with Jauhien and played together for some time before Lotva. We just don’t usually mention it. That is why I immediately responded to his post about vocalist search. We got acquainted with Forladt on the topic of music and his own project (now this is Absence of Life), but I didn’t then consider him as a musician for Dymna Lotva because of a very young age. However, we quickly became best friends. And when Lotva began to look for a concert lineup, we listened to a lot of guitarists, no one approached us, and we still had to call Forladt. And I put him before the fact that he would sing (he didn’t know how to do it at all, but he had to learn quickly). Forladt brought us a young drummer, Shen. He played with us for 2 years, but recently our paths diverged. Now our drummer is Barmaley. We also couldn’t find a second guitarist for a long time, so our friends played at concerts like session musicians. However, a little less than a year ago, Igorr joined us.

Dymna Lotva

Do you guys play in any other bands or projects? And what bands inspired you to pursue the type of music you make?

Jauhien: I prefer to play my music, but recently Forladt asked to play in his band Absence of Life and I could not refuse. I was probably inspired by Mastodon, Amenra and Leprous.

Forladt: I have my own DSBM project Absence of Life. About the bands that inspire me… I listen to a lot of different music; it is difficult for me to highlight. But at the moment I joined Dymna Lotva, I listened mostly to DSBM.

Nokt: Everything around inspiring me. Singing is the most important thing in my life, so I’m ready to be involved in as many projects as I can. Unfortunately, free time is not as much as we would like. So besides Dymna Lotva I am the second vocalist in the Absence of Life. I also occasionally record guest vocals for various projects and prepare to start another project with my friends.

Barmaley: Darkthrone and Grazhdanskaya Oborona (seriously!) are my inspiration. I will not talk about playing in other bands, otherwise, it will be a too long interview. Favorite drummers are John Bonham and Buddy Rich.

Igorr: I play covers on Opeth, Tool, Lamb of God, Gojira, etc in a jam band.

Where you inspired by bands from Belarus to make metal music or did it come from foreign bands?

Nokt: I am fully inspired by Belarusian metal and folk scene. Unfortunately, it is not very well known in the world. And it is, even more, a pity that the negative towards all made in Belarus is very characteristic for our mentality.

Forladt: My first metal band ever was Accept, since I listened to lots of heavy metal, then it came to trash, death, black and so on. So I was inspired to start playing guitar and making music mostly from foreign bands.

Can you tell a bit about the start of metal in Belarus? How did metal music come to Belarus in the first place?

Nokt: We are not so old, so we did not see the start of metal in Belarus with our own eyes. The most famous of our group was and remains the Gods Tower, they have been playing since the 90s.

You’ve released the single ‘Трудна, нудна на сэрдуньку’. A collaborative effort with Andrei Apanovich. How did this come to be? And are you working on anything new?

Jauhien: It was a very funny story. In fact, this single is the result of losing a bet. In the Russian-language social network VK under one post with voting for the best folk metal band, there was a huge discussion with calls to vote for one or the other side, and we jokingly decided to support Apanovich with his band Trollwald. It was like this: “If Trollwald wins, Dymna Lotva will record folk”. As you can understand – they won.

Yes, at the moment we are working in parallel on several releases. The main one is the second full-length album.

How do you work on creating your music? Is it something you do together as a band or do you have divided tasks?

Jauhien: In general, we have divided the tasks. I write music, and Nokt writes lyrics. Also with the writing of music Forladt helps a little. Well, I hope our new guitarist Igorr will also join this process.

Can you tell a bit about the way you approach creating music and how that process looks like for you as a band? I feel there’s a very distinct feeling to your sound and I really wonder where you derive your inspiration from.

Jauhien: I cannot say that I am inspired by nature, books, films or other music. I am rather inspired by the process of creating music, the search for new sounds and interesting moves and combinations. But one cannot say that I am engaged in such a dry business, for I still write based on my inner feelings and mood.

 

What themes and topics do you put in the music, what topics do you address with your lyrics? The imagery and overall feeling hint at the land, mysteries, and folklore. Can you tell more about this and perhaps provide some examples?

Nokt: Our country has a very sad fate. So at this stage, all our lyrics are somehow about Belarus. This may be the tragedy of a particular person (as in A Solitary Human Voice I and II). This may be something more abstract, general view of the problem (for example, the total passivity of the Belarusians in the “Into the Swamp” track). Of course, in each text, my own history is also explicitly or implicitly present. They are just on different levels. This year we twice used non-original lyrics – the folk song text in “Sick at Heart” and the poem of the Belarusian poetess in “Dying” – however, the approach remains the same.

In pictures, some Dymna Lotva wears traditional clothing. How deep are these aspects connected to Dymna Lotva? Is there a pagan religious side to your work too?

Nokt: In fact, these are not exactly traditional clothes. In any case, not a reconstruction. But yes, Dymna Lotva deep inside is a pagan band. We do not stick it out clearly in the music and lyrics (at least now). But personally, I have long been deeply interested in Belarusian old traditions and mysteries and YES, I am pagan. I really want to work with folk spells as lyrics. I still do not know whether it will be in Lotva or in some kind of side project, but it will happen necessarily. As for the other musicians, they are all pagans to one degree or another.

Do you face any sorts of censorship in Belarus as a musician or are you free to do and say as you please?

Jauhien: Dymna Lotva is not threatened by censorship. We don’t go into political and social issues, we don’t praise Satan and we don’t incite hatred. But yes, there is a lot of censorship in Belarus. Often concerts are canceled, or musicians are simply not allowed to perform. For example, I am sure that in Belarus you should not wait for concerts of such groups as Batushka or Behemoth.

Nokt: I do not fully agree with Jauhien. Almost any band can have problems with censorship in our country. For example, a concert of the Belarusian group TT34 was recently banned. The band has been playing for many years, and as far as I know, they had no problems before. They do not touch dangerous topics in their lyrics. As regards DSBM, rumors have long been circulating about the adoption of a new law on the promotion of suicide in Belarus. Theoretically, then the problem can become much more serious than just canceling concerts. If we talk about the situation specifically now, for example, I cannot cut myself on the stage if I want to be able to perform here in the future. And more recently, our lightest sounding song was not taken on the radio (it completely fits the radio format) because of the lyrics. We used poem of the Belarusian poetess, the winner of one of the national poetry contests. The poem tells about dying and did not pass censorship on the radio. Our folk song was also not accepted because of the lyrics (despite the fact that this is a folk text).

By the way, Behemoth performed in Minsk about 6 years ago.

Which bands from Belarus should people really check out? And why?

Jauhien: Oh, we have such great guys as Nebulae Come Sweet. In my opinion the top 1 in Belarus. Make a unique mixture of Doom and post-metal. It seems to me that in terms of interesting arrangements, they surpassed even some famous groups in the genre.

Forladt: I do not listen to a lot of local scenes, but I think that my favorite Belarusian band is Nebulae Come Sweet. Their music is really deep, sensual and unique, especially for Belarus where most of the music is folk or black metal. They are definitely worth checking out.

Nokt: Of course Nebulae Come Sweet is also in my top. But I have to mention other bands. My favourite are: Pragnavit (ritual folk ambient), Vietah (atmospheric black with bright live image), Dzivia (epic orchestral folk), Vicious Crusade (folk trash), Medievil (black), Massenhinrichtung (melodic black with folk elements), Zaklon (atmospheric black), Re1ikt (post-rock with folk lyrics and really fantastic clean male vocals).

What future plans does Dymna Lotva have?

Jauhien: World musical domination, not otherwise.

Nokt: after the new album release.

If you had to compare Dymna Lotva to a dish, a type of food, what would it be and why?

Nokt: We are smoked roach. For Russian-speaking people, this is consonant with our name (do you know that in our homeland we are affectionately called “Plotva”?) And it is good with beer =)

Forladt: I can’t say properly why, but Dymna Lotva for me is associated with mushrooms. Jaŭhien, for example, is boletus, Nokt is death cap, Shen is amanita and Igor is armillaria.

Jauhien: Alcohol is a dish, right? Then we are absinthe. Hard, but it is not felt; smells like wormwood, and you will like it. 🙂

 

 

Zarraza: spreading the virus from Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan definitely got a bad rep throughout the years. The country became the but of the joke, thanks to the Borat film and that pretty much might be everything you know about the country. Zarraza might change that with their slabs of grooving, thrashing metal on their latest album ‘Necroshiva’.

Nick Khalabuzar is one of the founders of Zarraza and to say he’s a passionate metalhead would be a vast understatement. His energy alone when it comes to his band might push them to big things in the near future. Nick was kind enough to tell us something more about his band and playing metal in Kazakhstan.

Raising the flag for metal

Hello, how is Zarraza doing?

Great! We just get approval for two SEPULTURA shows in Central Asia. Our first full-length album “Necroshiva” is gonna be officially released in China on May 11 through MusicDish. After that there will be some special local gig in June – I am working on details now.

How did you get started with Zarraza and what does the name mean (why did you choose it)?

About the name – I did not want to create another SUPER-BLOODY-KILLER-TORMENTOR kind of name. I liked irony behind ANTHRAX name. So one of the options for me was Infection – Zaraza in Russian. The word has second meaning – unbearable and annoying but maybe a funny person. So I liked it. Only after I realize there was a Russian metal magazine ZARRAZA – it was published through 1990-1991. I decided to keep the name – for me, it looks like we raise a flag dropped on the battlefield by a fallen soldier – the founder of the magazine was very supportive about all kinds of metal and unfortunately died in the 2000s.

About the starting point… It was me and my friend Max Saklakov – we decided it’s not enough for us to go to bars together so we should start a band! For a couple of years, we were looking for a proper drummer – and found Ruslan Konon. Then bassist Alex Filatoff came in. But Max left after we recorded the first demo – and from then there were few guitar players. Every one of them brought something special to the band so we are thankful to them. Damir Yunussov, Vladimir Grigoryev, Daniyar Aktayev…

What bands inspired you to start playing metal music?

Before I start to drop big names like MEGADETH, SLAYER and SEPULTURA… I should say it was my mother – she supported my passion and bought me my first guitar. She was patient when I spent my last money on tapes discovering not only big bands but something special like ACID RAIN, LAWNMOWER DEATH, POLTERGEIST, THERAPY? etc.

Can you share with us what sort of theme, message or idea is behind Zarraza?

Musically it is about energy and adrenaline exported into sounds. We considered our role on a scene as shamans who twist your muscles with sounds and then release it helping your inner demons to go out in mosh and slam.

Lyrically it is about spreading the infection of sarcasm. Viruses of free thinking. The face of gods, idols, and politicians should be erodingafter this infection.

And on live performances, it is about having fun in a mosh and slam as much as possible.

Ok, lets talk about Necroshiva, your latest record. How did the writing and recording process go?

From the starting point of writing, I wanted a record full of fast songs hitting listeners in a face. When it was recorded I was a little bit disappointed – not all songs seemed fast enough to my taste. Then we started to play it live – and I see how the audience became too exhausted too fast. We tried to put slow songs among fast and… Realized that all songs are pretty fast. Some of them have slow parts but finally, all of the shit is fast enough. So… Mission complete!

We work on songs very hard and carefully. The first demo was recorded in 2015 – and most of it was butchered. Some songs were re-composed, some – erased. The only song that remains the same is “More Than Hate” – except the title and lyrics. Initially, it was called “Government hates you”. The idea stays the same – I just decided that the new title is a bit cooler. Too much politics make music boring.

We were happy to work on the album with Arkadiy Navaho from Moscow, Russia. He is famous for his work with KATALEPSY, SIBERIAN MEAT GRINDER and a lot of other bands. He understands our style, is very open to our ideas and last but not least – very patient. There were few strong arguments between me and drummer Ruslan during mixing. Arkadiy waited silently the moment when the storm weakened and then just asked: “so where do we go now?”

What sort of record is it, what does it tell the listener?

It is short – we prefer to make it with “All killer – No filler” formula. That’s why we cut one song off the record before starting mixing. That’s why “Shadows” was written for an album few days before recording started – we needed something stronger than the removed song.

Three pieces could be easily released as concept EP – “Abyss Above Me”, “Echo Of the Future”, “Dead Star”. These songs tell one story.

AAM is the first part – it’s about Giordano Bruno story with some quotes from his revelations about the infinity of the Universe and narrow-mindedness of human-made gods. First lines inspired by the poetry of famous Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov and it’s about the infinity of the Universe too. Two scientists from different countries and ages were talking about similar ideas… But story concentrated on Giordano Bruno – he realized he cannot be blinded anymore by church’s lies despite threats of inquisition. “Echo Of the Future» musically bonded with next song, “Dead Star”. «Echo» created on the same chord progression that you can hear in a middle part of “Dead Star” – but chords played backward with a different rhythm. It is the same but different. So the name for it was obvious – it’s like an echo of chords from song that will go next… Echo of the future.

«Dead Star” is lyrically the second part of Giordano Bruno’s revelation. But here listener will find him on his way to the inquisition’s stake. He is doomed but not broken still standing on his beliefs and visions of the future. Keeping in mind the picture helps me to perform the song with anger and emotions.

All three songs fit each other musically and lyrically. So I considered the triplet as hidden EP on the album.

As you can see from here it is anti-religious anti-state themes. “Shadows”, “More Than Hate” and “Necroshiva” follow the same agenda.

You guys have performed with bands like Arkona, Tyr and Ektomorf. Im particularly interested in the first two, is there an ethnic element to your music?

– No, but yes. No – there is no ethnic elements in our music except dombra intro on “wRRong Song” – you will hear it on upcoming release this year. Yes – I give you the names of our gods and you will give the name to my tribe: SLAYER, MEGADETH, NAPALM DEATH, DECAPITATED, CANNIBAL CORPSE, SEPULTURA… Probably you are one of us.

And how did you happen to end up performing with these groups?

About ARKONA and TYR it was as simple as that – I asked the local promoter to add us. He listened to our album before, he knew we were gonna play with EKTOMORF so the answer was positive. As far as I know, the promoter from Russia who was responsible for the whole tour attended our gig with EKTOMORF and agreed too.

Honestly speaking, ARKONA/TYR gig was worst gig of the year for me – I told it to my mates right after I came from the scene. My ear monitors went down, and I didn’t hear my voice, my amp had some issues and the whole day before was nervous. But the whole gig was ok. It was interesting to see ARKONA and TYR soundcheck.

There was a funny story. During soundcheck, we muffle a kick drum with a very old fur coat. Our drummer brought it from home – it was made from faux fur I guess. We need it to make drum kick resonate less. But TYR needs this resonance. Their drummer checked the kick drum and found our fur coat inside. He sighed very loudly – “OH MY GOD!” After he discovered it was very old fur coat he continued: “I will perform in this shit!” Other guys from TYR did not let it happen but during soundcheck, he was wearing our fur coat all the time. He really liked the old junk. Now, this relic is lying in our rehearsal room. Inside of the kick drum, of course.

And About EKTOMORF… I was impressed by their “Fury” album. I tolld my friend Arseniy from KASHGAR my desire to bring the band here with gigs. He contacts some promoters in Moscow and together we arrange a short tour for EKTOMORF and played with them.

Would you say your music could be created anywhere else than in Kazakhstan?

Definitely – yes. We don’t have any specific ethnic motives and I not fan of that kind of metal though I like a lot of ethnic music. I know it is possible, but it is not my way. Some people like to incorporate ethnic elements into metal, jazz etc. But it is not my way. No disrespect to others – I just don’t express myself this way.

Youve said on your website that you guys are on the wrong side of the planet. What is it like to be a metal band in Kazakhstan?

You are arrogantly ignored or someone is trying to make laugh of you. You are overdosed with boring revelations from neighbors, colleagues etc like “I used to listen to metal when I was a kid and then I grew up, so when will you grow up?” Never. Let me clarify that word. It is not me who will never grow up. It is you who actually never grow up. Never understand and never value metal music. It was a joke for you. Probably you were a joke. And still is. That is why you try to bring me down with these meaningless disrespectful words. My condolences to your betrayed and buried dreams and beliefs.

By saying “we’re on the wrong side of planet” I react to other kind of discussions and suggestions. “You should move with your music somewhere else, nobody listens to it here”. But somehow we gathered more and more people on our shows – from 100 to 250. Not bad!

Kazakhstan has 52 bands listed on Metal Archives. Now, I know this is not always representative of the actual scene, but how big is metal in your country and can you tell a bit about the history?

The scene is growing but it is not so big – local metal gigs are a pretty rare thing. One in two months approx. First metal bands started in the middle of ’80s. It seems strange but there are no proper releases from them like LP’s or CDs. Even a demo with good quality is a rare thing. Just total underground things.

One of the first important releases I like is tech-death band LEAD WEIGHT and their “Penetrator” album. As far as I know, it was the first album from Kazakhstan metal band officially released on a label outside the country – Russian “CD Maximum” is responsible for it.

Is your music socially accepted or not? Do you face any censorship?

Currently we out of sight of any censorship – probably we are too small for them. There is no official censorship in Kazakhstan but it exists In a form of oppression from so-called “Uyat” («Shame») groups – people who claim themselves as defenders of old traditions. They are very active against young girls wearing short clothes but never say anything against corruption which is really corroding the society. So, does it mean corruption is an important part of tradition or it is just a good way to finance these groups?

Beside that metal and rock in common are no strangers to the culture here in Kazakhstan. It is not so popular, but it is OK to wear metal t-shirts and long hair. Of course, some idiots can try to provoke you but if you can stand for yourself they will f- off.

Are there any bands from Kazakhstan or neighboring countries you feel people should really check out?

Kashgar, My Own Shiva and Shahid – all of them are from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Seven Sins and Tishina, Doubleface, ZeroVoid, Noise Execution from Kazakhstan. All these bands released full lentgh albums with good quality and you can easily listen to them on Bandcamp or Spotify. I believe we should call it new wave of Central Asian metal – and as for me those are the best releases from the scene in a whole time.

What future plans does Zarraza have?

Here is to-do list:

  • to release New EP this year;
  • to record a demo for the second full-length album for next year release. I got three new songs, Den bring another one so we are in the progress;
  • To film 2 new videos.

At the same time I’m trying to figure out the best options and headliner for second edition of Hellmaty Metal Fest – festival I started last year.

If you had to compare Zarraza to a dish, a type of food, what would it be and why?

Weak roasted meat with rings of red pepper or ginger. Because I like it, haha. And because I like music with blood, with adrenaline.

Pamirt – Mausoleum

Pamirt translates to ‘to die gently’ from Latvian and is an artistic project by Kristiāna Kārkliņa. It emerged from experimentation in Berlin in 2017, creating a different sort of expression than her black metal band Eschatos. The result is a stunning display of darkness, and it’s regal beauty in sound. Pamirt has now emerged as a trio, with Kārkliņa being supported by Edgars Percevs (Eschatos) and Edgars Gultnieks (Protean, Eschatos).

What you get in recording, is quite exceptional, but there is a place that can be ascribed to the music of Pamirt. To me, that is somewhere in between Diamanda Galas, Dead Can Dance and Lingua Ignota. For the sheer recklessness of combining classical sophistication and composition with meaty bass lines and darkness expressed in the vocal style. Listening to the album, it is evident that at the heart of each song is just the piano and voice, the other instruments serve to enhance, thicken, macerate and fortify the sound into what it is: Pamirt.

Mausoleum

The record starts off mildly, with the song ‘That Day’, which relies mostly on the basics, but when the sound does swell it is tumultuous, overwhelming. It’s there where the vocals pierce the haze of distorted guitars and mesmerizing keys. ‘Mausoleum’ as well, sticks to the more common sounds, with a doomy sound and sense of foreboding every step of the way, but towards the end, these notable sounds emerge in the noise. The voice whoops and soars, as Kārkliņa rides and tames the waves of sound.

The lyrics tell us stories, which are partly inspired by Pushkin’s ‘A Feast In Time of Plague’ and by own experience. The result, at times, is grotesque, confrontational and heavy. ‘This Dinner’ is a noteworthy track in that sense, with vocals that put us on the path of Diamanda Galas if I may be so bold to make that comparison. Banging sheet metals, diabolical laughter, unnerving…but bewitching at the same time in all its splendor. We slowly wander into ‘Early March’, an intermezzo instrumental track.

Whatever you may feel of this music, that radiates discomfort, the voice is ever-present. It’s multi-faceted, of many colors. It’s absolutely stunning in execution, wildly dancing through the songs. Though the piano is almost battered with the crushing sound on ‘Danube’, the singing is calm, measured and again has all the right ups and lows. “I flee the bright white fields, I once used to call home…”, Kārklina laments a few moments later, and the pace picks up into a marching rhythm.

‘Crazy’ is the only cover on the album, a classic by Patsy Cline. The song was recorded almost 70 years ago. Pamirt turns it into a dirge, with a trudging pace, that slowly swells. As the singing soars, the music reaches a grudging crescendo. On ‘Bloodletting’ you might notice more bass, which is the double bass from Stanislav Yudin (of H2O, not the hardcore band), a composer who has, in fact, won awards for his folk music. It adds more depth to the song, which already has some of the most gutwrenching vibes of the whole piece. The vocals provoke, gibber and taunt, but towards the end, there is merely repetition and surrender:

“…With the needles, we swallow.  You hold me on my death bed, baby. You hold me on my death bed baby… You hold me on my death bed baby….”

Mausoleum is a mighty piece of work. A record that stands on its own, it doesn’t need any of my references above to convey its meaning. It’s all there, in raw honesty and daring artistry. It’s an album bravely created by a bold soul, and this you feel every minute it lasts.

Records Stranger Aeons missed out on

Having major technical issues with what is already limited time, spare time project sucks. Thankfully, I had a friend help me fix the issues in the source code that emerged with the latest updates and the page is back.

But I missed a lot of records that are now basically too old to share, but I’m doing it anyway, albeit briefly. Let’s dig in, into cool stuff released in, I guess, the last year.

Misþyrming – Algleymi


Granted, my enthusiasm for Misþyrming may have started to dwindle after it seemed to take the Icelandic giant slayers forever to drop anything new. ‘Algleymi’ hasn’t really stuck with me, which is weird. All the goodness you hear on their debut is still there. Certainly, it has been polished and perfected, which results in a record that sounds a little too crispy for my tastes, but is full of the high-pitched tremolo riffs, lumbering passages and blast beat assaults. Maybe I just thought the t-shirts were ugly. I can be that kind of guy, but ‘Algleymi’ has a lot to offer for anyone exploring the realms of black metal. For me, this feels like Keep of Kalessin in the way it opens the doors for new listeners, and that can be a good thing. And it’s not out on one on Season of Mist, that surprises me a lot.

Lord Vicar – The Black Powder

Label: The Church Within Records
These Finnish geezers have not been around as long as I expected them to be. They sound like doom is supposed to sound and I know that this definition has been stretched far and wide. Yet, when you play some Sabbath, Trouble or Saint Vitus, you know what’s up. Right? Lord Vicar is like that, but even more Brittish sounding at times. These slow, cascading riffs have it all. It’s brilliant. The songs are compact, easy to get into and the sound oozes melancholy and straight-forwardness. Is it simplistic? By no means, it’s just really good doom!

Thronehammer – Usurper of the Oaken Throane

Label: The Church Within Records

Thronehammer

Can I just kick this one of by saying that Thronehammer is friggin’ awesome? I mean, the name alone makes the D&D geek inside me shiver with excitement about the potential of epicness that this doom band has to offer. Combining members formerly active in Obelyskkh, Uncoffined and Naked Star from Germany and the UK, it’s a showdown of megamassive riffing and tales of woe. And that’s just opening track ‘Behind the Wall of Frost’, a 17-minute megalith. It’s not just riffing, there’s plenty of grooves and punch to the sound too, with particularly powerful vocals that give the band just that edge that makes them feel different. Perhaps on ‘Warhorn’ you can hear it best, with the melodic, toned-down singing and smooth flow of sound. It still kicks ass, even at its most gentle. I want a t-shirt!

Woebegone Obscured – The Forestroamer

Label: Aesthetic Death
Many people will not have such a strong 1992 reference when they hear Danish Dynamite, but I have. Since then, I’ve hoped for something from Denmark to equally impress me and I think I’ve found it in Woebegone Obscured. Punishing funeral doom with a healthy dose of atmosphere added to this dangerous concoction. They’ve also split up again, and somehow I picked up on this record almost 2 years too late. But never has it been said that this should stop you from praising a band with a name that beckons obscurity, right? These Danes produce a harrowing sound, with clear nods to the natural realm in both artwork and band photos. This is also tangible in the music, which offers a lot of space, to be filled with your own experiences. Much like a dense forest, where the roof obscures the light from above. To just quote, from the title track:

In the mountains I belong
Caressed by far travelled air
I watch the woods from above
For this kind of peace I care

Says enough, right?

 

 

Underground Sounds: rāhha – Descension Ceremony

Label: Independent
Band: rāhha
Origin: Germany

I can’t tell you much about rāhha as of yet. Not that I don’t want to, but the German duo seems to come out of nowhere with this their destructive second EP ‘Descension Ceremony’. Their Facebook page made me none the wiser either so I’m just going to tell you how they sound instead.

So think Germany, think Nachtmysticum, think Mgła, think… well, listen. It combines the atmospheric, the raw and the haunting into one epic journey.

Fire and fury erupt when the EP kicks off with ‘Diocese of Endless Strife’. The sound is cavernous but full and immersive. The vocals are in your face, raw and passionate. They are in power, in control of the depths you’ve plummeted into as the thudding drum starts to hammer away. There is not even any noticeable shift when we move on to ‘Korpsgeist’. If you catch the wave, the sonic exaltation of their song, your in for a rapturous ride as the speed and rising cadence has a sweeping power. I just want to punch my fucking fist in the air and scream until I have the same rattling howl.

‘Empty Chalice of Life’ is another firebrand on the holy houses. Black metal in righteous opposition with all the anger and not a sense of compromise as we launch into the final tune. We delve into ‘A Waxen Image Ritual’, where the raspy voice barks and howls. An immersion into the purest darkness with rapid blast beats, tremolo guitars and and a remarkable portion of catchiness to it. Can’t wait for more from this duo!

Underground Sounds: Mortuary Punishment – Pride.Power.Punishment

Label: Independent
Band: Mortuary Punishment
Origin: United States

What if your wilderness is the streets you live in? That is what shapes the sound of Mortuary Punishment, who make music inspired by the violence on the streets in Pomona, C.A. It captures something much more raw and random than the wild forest, it captures human life on ‘Pride.Power.Punishment’.

Mortuary Punishment is Bigg o))), and the record starts with the Ghetto bird (the police helicopter) and news samples about the stuff that is going on there on this doom release. The music gently comes up and hits you in the face with a bit of that Latino SoCal Punk rawness to it. It tastes spicy as hell. Not surprising, because the creator is also involved with Xibalba.

‘The Streets I’ is an intro for the record, with all the samples, so we start with the punishing ‘Streets of Death’, which is raw and raucous death doom with a rather lively pace and gurgling doomy vocals. The lyrics offer a straight-forward doom stomper: “Angels marked for death. Weakness will be destroyed. Destroy the light.” Now that’s some heavy punching right there. Sure, musically it’s simplistic, but not less effective.

We soon turn to ‘Chalice of Suffering’. This track picks up the pace after a stop-go introduction song. The repetitive riffing keeps the tension up and you imagine the wall of death to break out any moment, but instead, we move towards a slow, grinding break before we launch into full speed. It’s just bad-ass all the way. Crushing riffs and gut-punching drums, it doesn’t stop. Mortuary Punishment really focusses on the cavemen simplicity. Effect. That’s all that matters. ‘Slaughter the Sheep’ is the crushing final chapter of this crushing, primordial release and what a record it is. Check out this punishing release and get smashed with this dangerous bit of death doom!

Underground Sounds: Vanum – Ageless Fire

Label: Profound Lore
Band: Vanum
Origin: USA

Vanum is a cooperation between members of Ash Borer, Yellow Eyes, Predatory Light, Vilkacis and Fell Voices (and 3 of these names apply to one man). That puts them in a particular bracket of black metal, with pure, undiluted fury. This is their second full length, following two years after the ‘Burning Arrow’ EP and it promises nothing but power.

Vanum is all about the grand gesture, the simplified sweep, over the miserly details. That, in itself, is a testament of their power and maximum delivery and I’m glad to have witnessed this life. ‘Ageless Fire’ is the title of this album and for me its an instant elevation to the status of modern-day black metal deity.

‘War’ is like a marching song, into the flames. Slowly, majestic and strong it comes on and delivers us to a mellow tremolo riff at its ending, which fades gradually. It hardly primes you for ‘Jaws of Rapture’, which follows on the heels of a church bell. Like a cold rain, the song hits you with a wall of contentious guitars. The sky is grey, the air cold, but fire burns behind the war engine that is Vanum.

What follows after that is the 10-minute epic ‘Eternity’, which feels like a long baptizing of fire. While furious in its delivery and barked vocals claw at you with maddening fervor, the melody is leading the track. When it drops back to a slower pace, you can even feel a bit of a rock groove emerge. Yet never does it relent as soaring guitar melody enters and carious onwards. By the time you reach ‘Under the Banner of Death’, you’re battered and tired. Yet this track, with its melancholic opening salvo, digs even deeper as we go into the trenches once more.

The music of Vanum always carries both. There’s an overly epic aspect to it, a grandeur and unmistakable beauty, as we hear on the title track. But it always carries the fires of war and the eternal fog arising from it. ‘Erebus’ is then the finalizing track, the last notes, where suddenly a blissful calm has been reached. Has the fire burned everything, or are we in the fire?

Neither flesh nor fleshless,
Neither from nor towards.
Spirit terror in the mortal abyss
Rise through the nexus as the wheel turns.

Music, Life, Everything