Alright! I’ll take another look at what comes up from the underground with some of the best black metal releases I’ve listened to this year. Voices, Primordial, Darkspace and NeObliviscaris, some of the best, really!
Voices – London
To present the world with an album in the extreme metal genre ont he topic of the city of London is daring and at the same time peculiar. Where bands that linger in the sphere of black metal, usually go for occultish and otherworldly themes, the men from Voices pay homage to their great city. Featuring ex-members of My Dying Bride, Akercocke and Dark Veil, that is clearly a step away from what the gang used to make. The result is breath taking though.
The music is sometimes quiet, calm and melancholic piano parts and then again furious and rugged black metal that has the urban rage of Godflesh tucked inside it. Then again the riffs are hectic and frantic like Devin Townsend Project in a way. Nor does the band eschew some funky lines here and there. All in all, this album has so much to say and so much diversity to offer that I’m literally astonished by it. This is not the London of the postcards, but the metropole with all its gritty underground and hidden charm. What an amazing display of musical prowess.
Primordial – Where Greater Men Have Fallen
It’s hard not to love Primordial. The Irish giants of black metal have never reached beyond their grasp, nor taken inspiration from the trodden paths and their new epic album is the latest proof of that. Biblical themes, heavy anthemic riffs and grandeur is a small bit of words to describe what the listner can expec to be bombarded with on this new album by the band around A.A. Nemtheanga. The soaring vocals of the frontman are what carries the true epic quality of this band.
Biblical themes are no strange phenomenon in the work of Primordial. Songs like ‘Babel’s Tower’ depict that in a iconclastic grandeur, where hopes crumble down in major melodic torrents of hefty guitar play. The apocalyptic foreboding and eventual fall that ‘Come The Flood’ predicts is even more powerful to behold. There’s the cold furious black metal, combined with haunting storytelling on ‘The Alchemists Head’ and creeping doom on ‘Ghosts of The Charnel House’. Still, this album might have too much of an accesibility for everyone to admire. Lovers of the sheer brutality some black metal has been displaying of late (check out that new Nihill album), will not be able to admire this new masterpiece.
One may also argue that the work of Alan Averill (aforementioned under his moniker) is letting a bit of Dread Sovereign and Twilight Of The Gods seep into this. I have no problems with that at all however, since it will only help the sound of Primordial to reach new depths and find new domains in which to shine.
Darkspace – Darkspace III I
Darkness… a concept so vast and impossible to grasp, that we give shape to it. To create creatures and elements of darkness makes it less frightning, tangible and less subliminal. So for a band to take the concept of the endless void as their topic, it makes their music something spectacular, specially when it comes to Darkspace. The band name came up in casual conversation and I was not familiar with the Swiss group. Switzerland does produce an amazing amount of spectacular bands and this one is definitely part of that. The latest record is one in roman numerals, like all their work.
What you get is a swirling mayhem of sonic space. Roaring vocals, arising from the depths of the void and industrial segments depicting the confusing last signals of life in space. The atmosphere is dark and cold, full of mystery and the listener gets sucked into the endless void immediately. Only three songs with a total time of over 70 minutes. This is quite the trip.
Ne Obliviscaris – Citadel
Holy shit! What the hell just hit my eardrums? It’s Australian bringers of mayhem Ne Obliviscaris. A mixture of jazz, avantgarde, thrash, death, black and all things extreme in one unholy package to bring you musical joy. This is one of the most impressive records you’ll hear this year and well worth your time.
Hectic, spiralling riffs emerge from the debts, where minimal drums overtake again. Violins wail and folkish melodies play before a new onslaught of brutallity arises. Classical passages and emotional cascading riffs clash in what can only be the sonic expression of the deepest despair. Then again you are surprised by what seems like acoustic gypsy melodies, weeping violins and calm singing. The combination is beautiful.
The band reminds the listener of the likes of Therion at times with a bit of Celtic Frost and the orchestral sensitivities of Opeth. Still that doesn’t do justice to the band from Oz, maybe the previous record would count as a good addition to the mixture. Soaring clean vocals bring a calm over the frantic rhythms and wild cacophony that starts to emerge, but the swirling melody holds on to all its elements in the vast sound of this group.
This is the record everyone should hear for sure, just as the other three. What a set of brilliant releases. The Underground has plenty to offer once again.
Blaakyum has been around for a long time and has been instrumental in keeping the metal scene in Lebanon alive. Lebanon you say? Yes, Blaakyum plays a mixture of thrash metal and various elements from other styles and hails from the country near Syria, Israel and all those places where you think no one has even heard of metal. They proved me wrong.
Now for me the country was as unknown as this band, so logically I checked their music and wrote them a message. It turns out that Lebanon is, considering our general view in the west, a pretty liberal country on some fronts. Still, Blaakyum is not a band that enjoys the same liberties and possibilities as bands from over here and they have to face very different hurdles on their path.
They have been around longer than most bands, and it took a lot of effort from guys like Bassem Deaibess to keep this band and also the whole scene together. Anyways, enough introduction, best to hear the story from the horse’s mouth.
You guys are, as it stands, the oldest, active metal band from Lebanon. How did you guys get started on playing metal music and how did you get in touch with the style? Also, was it hard to find like-minded souls to form a band?
Bassem Deaibess: Well, If I wanted to answer that, it would take me probably around 20 pages. To make it as short as possible, I started learning guitar when I was around 15, and that lead me to look for guitar oriented music which lead me to Rock, Hard Rock and Metal music. Back in the 90s it was not hard at all to find that music since it used to be played on our Radios and we had Rock Shows on TVs, the major Metal bands were all over our radios and TVs such as Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Sepultura, Morbid Angel, you name it.
When I got introduced to this music mainly thanks to my cousins, it was love at first hearing. As a typical dream of a beginner guitarist I wanted to form a band, so I started looking for members, and surprisingly it took less effort than I expected. Although Metal was available and accepted it was never mainstream, so I won’t say it was hard to find like-minded people or more precisely like-music-tasted people, but when we would discover someone who listened to metal it was as if you have just discovered a gold mine… We would in most cases become instantly friends… From the time I set my mind of forming a band towards the end of 1994 untill Blaakyum was formed in summer 1995 it was a relatively short period of time. Sadly since 1995 untill today the line-up changes have been endless, so I cannot answer the question on behalf of the past members.
Rany Battikh: Back in the 1980s/early 90s, Metal was pretty big in Lebanon spawning a couple of popular dedicated radio shows. My older brothers recorded selected songs on cassette tapes off the radio for bands like Metallica, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Dio, Slayer, Iron Maiden etc. I would put those tapes on and listen to them all day long. I remember once my brother brought a video tape of a Judas Priest concert home and he made multiple copies of it so we won’t damage it by over watching it.
When I picked up the bass, Metal was an obvious first choice for me, before I got into funk, jazz and classical music later on (through my college studies).
Jad Feitrouni: My father was a hard rock fan, so he always put on Deep Purple, Rainbow … while driving us to school. He always insisted that we (my sister and I) play an instrument, so we had piano lessons at an early age. I kept listening to hard rock and rock bands till I met Rany (Blaakyum’s Bassist) at university. Rany was a huge Power Metal fan at that time and started giving me CDs for Rhapsody, Stratovarius, Gamma Ray, Manowar, Helloween (to name a few)… he tried to give me thrash CDs but I didn’t like the style at that time. Few years later (when my ears matured) I gave thrash a try and I have been a huge fan ever since.
Rabih Deaibess: My brother (lead vocals) was sick enough to put some Sepultura on my headphones when I was 6… When I grew up I started listening to Symphony X (Divine wings of tragedy). I was 9 years old, the only reason why I did was because I heard my brother saying to my other brother (Blaakyum’s ex-bassist) that this is too complicated, that he will not understand anything of it. Somehow it angered me and I wanted to understand that music. So I started to become fond of that style and love the sound of the guitar and drums. When I was 11 I started playing the guitar, but the song I learned to play to was ‘Hey God’, by Bon Jovi.
I have to ask, how was it to play the first Lebanese rock festival? What was that like for the crowd, the bands, the atmosphere…?
Bassem Deaibess: The first concert Blaakyum performed at was in 1996 at the Lebanese University, which was the first Metal concert to be organised after the civil war. It was interesting to see so many metalheads, and back then we had even media coverage. The first Major Rock festival was organised in 1997 in place in Beirut called “Beirut Hall” the festival held around 13 bands and it was dubbed simply Rock Concert!! It was thrilling to go on stage and see around 2500 people waiting to hear you, we were so young and amateuristic back then, and although I felt we did a horrible job as a band, the crowd was so supportive. We probably were among the least experienced bands, the other bands were seriously amazing. I never realised how high the standards of the Metal Scene were back then and the atmosphere was really extremely friendly, like a brotherhood. The next year Rock Concert II happened, but Blaakyum did not participate. We kept playing in one of the most famous 90s (up till 2005) Rock and Metal venues that hosted regular concerts on a weekly basis, it was called Peak Concert Hall. It had a capacity of 700 people and it was almost always full, up till 2001 where Blaakyum performed in the first edition of Rock Nation, a yearly Rock/Metal festival (though mainly Metal) that kept going till 2008. The scene during all these years had its ups and downs, but considering a country of 4 million inhabitants, the scene is extremely impressive here even in its down phase.
What bands were the ones that got you guys into metal?
Bassem Deaibess: For me personally it was Guns’N’Roses at first who got me into the whole Rock/Metal genre, followed by AC/DC. Then came Metallica’s ‘Black Album’ and Iron Maiden’s ‘Fear of the Dark’, from there on the snowball rolled.
Rany Battikh: Prior to Metallica’s self-titled album’s release (in Lebanon), ‘Master of Puppets’ was a game changer for me, definitely my Metal bible for a very long time alongside Black Sabbath’s Live Evil.
Jad Feitrouni: The bands that got me into metal where Manowar, Rhapsody (Now named Rhapsody of Fire), Gamma Ray, Hammerfall, Helloween, and many others…
Rabih Deaibess: bands that got me into metal: Symphony X, Dream Theatre, Rhapsody (now named Rhapsody of Fire), Evergey, Pantera, Testemant, Nightwish, Alter Bridge (those are part my inspiration as well)
Where do you get your inspiration from for your lyrics and music?
Bassem Deaibess: I must admit that the main source of my inspiration lately whether for writing lyrics or music, is my anger. Especially with what is going on lately in the region and the threat of Islamic fanaticism that is threatening my country, the incredible political and social corruption, and the intellectual struggle and the cultural terrorism we face on a daily basis because of religious and political dominance. There is always a social, political or socio-political message behind each song even those who seem to be more related to literature and arts (I am a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and fantasy novels as well as Edgar Alan Poe and thriller/detective novels e.g. Dan Brown) Musically I must say that the main influence from the Metal side is Thrash Metal, mainly Testament, Overkill, Sodom, Kreator, Onslaught, Metallica and Pantera. But I am also very fond of Classical music especially Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky and RimskyKorsakov. And traditional Lebanese folk like Lady Fairuz, Lady Sabah, Wadih El Safi, Marcel Khalife and TonyHanna, and Oriental Arabic folk such as MuwashahatAndalusia and RoudoudHalabia. I am so much in love with Celitc music.
As for Jad and Rany other than the bands they named that are a major part of their influences, I must say the Blaakyum Rhythm section is heavily influenced by Funk and funk fusion.
Rabih Deaibess: I was a Progressive and Power Metal fan for a long time, then I got a bit off track to bands like Creed and Nickelback, but then I heard 3 tracks that changed my life: Black Sabbath’s ‘Cross of Thorns’, Dio’s ‘Hide In The Rainbow’ and Pantera’s ‘I’m Broken’ and I went more into thrash stuff like Metallica, Megadeath, Testeman, Kreator and Exodus.
Recently you played two major festivals (as if you need reminding, right?). What was it like for you as a band to get to this international stage?
Bassem Deaibess: Well, it is a proof that even in the most unlikely circumstances and against all odds, if you work hard, you are good enough and you want something so bad, you can get it. Let us be honest, to have a tour on your own, without any label or management backing you up, would seem a normal thing from someone in Europe, it is not really that hard. But for us in the Middle East, it is equivalent to an eternity of hard labour!
First the dehumanizing factor of getting Visas (So many times we were about to cancel some dates because we weren’t sure we will get the Visas), the way we are treated in some embassies is almost inhuman, you feel you are an inferior race begging the White West supremacy for a chance to go to their countries. Applying for a Visa is such a stressful and anxious experience and you are totally helpless. Then comes the transportation, I mean again in Europe, you can simply rent a small van, get in there and drive to whatever country or town you want. Here we have to travel on our own; the economical difference is huge even with the crisis in Europe, what is considered affordable there cost us a fortune here, then the hassle to run from an airport to a bus station with all our equipment and luggage on our back, then from one train terminal to the other and try to do it without missing the train and without breaking any of the equipment… So by the time you reach the venue you are almost dead *laughs*. But then the moment you go on stage, and see the people actually digging our music and headbanging, it always pays off.
Rabih Deaibess: First time we played will be a memory I’ll never forget and tell my kids about if I ever have any. It made Rany, Jad and me become like brothers as we laughed and played together. That bond made our sound tighter as well.
Jad Feitrouni: Playing on the same stage as Testament, Overkill, Onslaught, Iced earth, Annihilator… was a dream comes true especially with Bassem, Rabih and Rany by my side. I listen to these bands every day and to be with them in the same room was simply amazing.
Rany Battikh: It feels great to reach that “international stage” as this was our goal since day one. We went through a lot of hassle to get there for sure, but hard work does pay off at some point and sacrifices trans-morphed into achievements.
What is the most common response that you get when people figure out Blaakyum is from Lebanon?
Bassem Deaibess: OWE DEATH AND DISPARE *laughs hard* actually we got mixed reaction, some do not even know where Lebanon is, some gets really intrigued, many ask us if Metal is accepted in Islam, which use to puzzle us since we are not an Islamic country, nor any of the current members come from an Islamic background. There is a lot of stereotyping that we face, which we actually understand. We would be surprised when we meet some people who actually have a very good idea about our country, but still they would be amazed that there is Metal there.
Jad Feitrouni: The most common response that we get when figuring out that Blaakyum is from Lebanon is a long silence. This is where we explain where Lebanon actually is on the map *laughs* But when people actually know where Lebanon is they get surprised to know that metal reached that little country in the Middle East.
Rani Battikh: People get pleasantly surprised when we reveal our country of origin. Some ask about the desert (we don’t have any!), some ask about religion (I was never tempted to discuss my Christianity in that case) and some just show how enthusiastic they are about eastern women!
Rabih Deaibess: We get the funniest reactions sometimes, people get more exited and curious about us once they know we are from Lebanon, some asks us about desert or camels, personally I have never seen one! Some get shocked that we even know what metal music is or that we drink beer!
I read in an interview that metal has been around in Lebanon since the seventies, but it struggled for acceptance. Most people, as you probably know, would not even think there’s heavy metal being played in Lebanon right now. Can you tell a bit about how metal arrived in Lebanon and how it developed further?
Bassem Deaibess: Ever since Lebanon was created in 1920 in it was open towards the west. Even in many cases half the Lebanese refused to identify to the Arabic world they are in. Western Culture was rarely viewed as an alien culture, but as part of the Lebanese culture, thus we always were a true mix of both oriental and western cultures. Whatever was mainstream in USA and Europe, was mainstream in Lebanon. So the underground scene in the west was established in Lebanon almost at the same time, even the counter-culture and youth movements such as the beat movement, and the hippies were here as well, so Metal came naturally. When Black Sabbath released their first album at the beginning of the 70s it was all over the place in Lebanon, Lebanese clubs and pubs were full of bands playing Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin,Yes and Deep Purple… even the quarrels between the Disco fans and the Hard Rock fans were as common here as in the west. When the punk movements in the mid-70s took over the streets of London it did so in the streets of Beirut… of course there were some cultural clashes but they were really kept at minimal. So during the 80s and 90s Metal was all over the radios and the TV rock shows… Till this day Metal has a strong presence in Lebanon, although at times it was under attack from either religious or governmental institutions. Although a big part of society is ignorant about what Metal is and not always accept it, it is fair to say that metal is as alive in Lebanon as in any other western country.
In Sam Dunn’s documentary ‘World Metal’ (if you haven’t seen it, I really recommend it) he shows that metal bands in the middle-east face a lot of adversity from their respective societies. In some countries it’s virtually impossible to be a metal fan on your own terms. How is the situation in Lebanon and how is it compared to surrounding countries?
In Lebanon Metal was very well established on the contrary of most other Middle Eastern countries, It wasn’t till the mid-90s, precisely 1996 that some Christian religious institutions started the “Hard Rock/Metal panic” after a tragic incident of a teenage suicide. This is also very similar to what happened in the west few years earlier, especially in USA. Because religious institutions in Lebanon had so much power, they were able to spread a kind of mass panic. Then the government took part and created a black list of bands and albums and banned some shows, so we had some trouble with the authorities.
All this calmed down by 1999. We even played in few mainstream festivals, but in 2002 a fiercer “witch hunt” was organized both by the church and the government and later the Islamic religious institutions joined forces. This kept going on until 2005, with the assassination of the business man Rafik al Harriri, a prominent political figure and former prime minister, the country went into an open revolution against the Syrian occupation of Lebanon and the Syrian presence was driven off, in the aftermath of this political uprising the country plunged into a long political crisis that is still present, and during all this they forgot about Metal. Every now and then few voices in the media or the Church are expressing some concerns of Satanism and drug abuse in Metal, but after the information age kicked in, these voices are quickly silenced.
The Lebanese Metal scene still has its ups and downs, mainly related to the economic and political situation, but I guess this is what gives the Lebanese bands who write original music the edge that puts them apart from the main western Metal scenes. Needless to say with all this, Lebanon is one of the very few Arab countries that has a freedom margin and were Metal is not utterly threatened, this mix of minimal oppression and margin of freedom makes Lebanese Metal able to develop and creates its own unique identity.
In an interview you describe the Lebanese metal scene and also discuss its better days in the past. Can you describe to an outsider how the Lebanese scene looks like? What kind of venues do you play shows at and is it easy to buy new records and such?
Bassem Deaibess: As I said, during the 70s, 80s and during the heat of the civil war, the clubs were full of bands playing and performing Rock, Hard Rock and Metal music. After the Civil war things were going well, many local town festivals like “Al Hamra festival” and “Féte de la Music” and others always had local rock or metal bands on the bill. Up till 1999 there were few “illegal” radio stations that were exclusively Rock and Metal, to name few we had Blue FM, Generation X FM, UFO, and Rock FM. We would look for big venues to organize our multiple band concerts and Rock fests, and we had a regular underground venue called Peak Concert Hall. Around the end of the old century we had few clubs that hosted Rock bands regularly such as “Mon General”, “The Irish Pub” and “Rio Grande” bar.
At the beginning of the new millennium, a new venue was available in a town called Kaslik part of the city of Jounieh, it was called Mad Wheels, where many underground and mostly low budget and poor produced concerts would take place. This was alongside Peak Concert Hall, which remained active till 2005. Also many summer festivals would take place, including the famous Rock Nation (from 2001 till 2008), featuring big stages and good production. At the start of the new millennium, Hard Rock Café Beirut opened and we also had many metal-friendly pubs. One was called “Purple Haze”, which was established by Rockers For Rockers. Sadly, it was short lived but started a tendency other bars and clubs followed. Next was “Kalinka Pub”, which hosted rock and metal bands from 2002 up to its closing date in 2005. Until 2010, the “Nova Club” was the hub of the scene, together with “Cherry’s Pub”, which was active from 2006 until 2009. It was a phenomenon in the scene and the beating heart in its short existence. A pub was started in the Hamra Street, named “Pavillion”, which was a new centre for the underground. For a while we had a big venue where bands could play, named Tantra (capacity: 1.500 people). It took over from Peak Concert Hall, when it closed down in 2004. That was the time we had the Rock and Metal organization to be established called Rock Ring.
Rock Ring took the Metal concerts and festivals to a new level, and organised a high profile events during the first decade of the new millennium, including the participation of Lebanon in the GBOB (Global Battle Of the Bands) twice as well as bringing the all-stars band called Hail to Lebanon twice. During those years few mainstream figures helped the scene by bringing some international acts to Lebanon, like Mr. Jyad El Murr (a rocker himself) who is the co-owner of a TV station and the owner of a Radio station in Lebanon. He was the one to organize the biggest Rock and Metal Festival in Lebanon known as Beirut Rock Festival, and brought bands to Lebanon such as: Anathema, To Die For, Catatonia, Moonspell and others. In 2009 individual efforts were made to bring Lake Of Tears, and the concert was a success. Blaakyum opened for them as well.
But things started deteriorating after 2010, Tantra the main Metal venue at the time, was demolished, Cherry’s Pub has closed down, many pubs such as Nova cut down on accepting Metal bands, but we still have few Metal friendly venues were we throw a gig every now and then such as Yukunkun Music Club, and Quadrangle Pub.
As for the stores, before 1996 Metal was available almost all around the country, but the place where we could find ANY metal new release and old albums was in Disco Rama in the suburbs of Beirut… That changed dramatically as Disco Rama was raided by the security forces and no longer offers Metal music. It has become extremely hard to get Metal albums except for the few very well- known Metal bands, and basically the only place I can think of is Virgin MegaStore, ironically it is not allowed to have the Label Metal, so the Metal albums are all there under the Label, Alternative/Pop-Rock. Mostly we get our music online these days.
We have a few instrument stores that sell good quality instruments, especially when it comes to Guitars and Drums and Amps and everything related to Metal. Those places are named Instruments Garage, and Mozart Chahin. We have few rehearsal studios, but there are no facilities for Metal Musicians in Lebanon, being one is simply choosing to live a hard and unrewarding life. Lately only one such facility exist and it is called LYC (Lebanese Youth Centre), but it is only accessible through subscription and is not open to the public.
I understand Lebanon has a great deal of religions that are officially recognized. I was wondering about the following: the devil is a common theme in traditional metal and the church as something to oppose, how do you guys deal with these themes?
Bassem Deaibess: Blaakyum actually do have Christian members, we all come from Christian backgrounds, although most of us are Atheists but we do have one member who is actually a Christian Believer. Some Lebanese bands tackled the traditional themes of devilry and very, very few were openly oppose the church. In our culture we learned to respect all forms of religions even if we oppose them. Blaakyum music can be described as anti-conformism; many of our song messages invite the listener to be free from dogmatic brainwashing. Personally I am against insulting religion, I find it really a cowardly act. I am anti-religious myself, but there is a difference between criticizing and pointing out the dangers of religion and being outright disrespectful. It is in our view everyone’s right to be religious as much as it is our right to criticize and expose religious bigotry.
What can you tell us about the Massacore incident? Is it exemplary for things you face as a band?
The Massacore incident was this: A live show took place in Lebanon and reporters made it out to be a satanic mass. This was mocked by the metal scene for all the obvious reasons. Then another reporter made things look even worse, claiming it was rituals in an old monastery, drug taking and the presence of kids of public figures etcetera. When Bassem Deaibess called in to the tv-program, it became more evident that it was an attempt to smear the metal scene with all sorts of accusations, which left a taint on the scene for times to come.
Bassem Deaibess: The Massacore incident came as a shock as we thought that the Lebanese society has moved forward and away from such claims. We have been relatively able to organise and play concerts without any such incident since 2009 when the General Secretary of the Catholic Schools issued a paper to the student’s parents warning them of the dangers of Metal and how it is a place for drug abuse and Satanism… That incident did not spread out of control as the organizer of the event is a very powerful public figure and has huge political support. But then in 2012 when the Massacore incident happened, we knew that things have not changed much, we did not face a similar situation as in 2009 after that incident though, but we know for a fact that whenever the Church or the uneducated population have a chance they will bring this subject up. They do it simply because they ignore what the hell is actually going on and they get shocked when they see us moshing, or when they hear someone growl. To be honest, this is nothing like the our “Dark Ages” between 1996 and 2005, that period was by far much more threatening to us as Metal fans, and I am sure that period is over… Or at least I hope so.
You live in the middle of a turbulent region of the world. Do you feel this has become part of your inspiration and your lyrical material?
Bassem Deaibess: Definitely, the situation that we are living in always is an inspiration, what better place to create Metal music than living in such a shit-hole, with political corruption, religious ignorance and war threats all around us. In fact, many of our songs are about such things, like the song ‘Cease Fire’ that talks about the 1996 and 2006 Israeli aggression against Lebanon. The same goes for the newly emerged threat of the so called Islamic State, which is today the biggest threat we face especially as non-Muslims. Thish as brought so much anger to our hearts, and that anger will always translate into Metal Music. The album we are currently trying to record has most of its tracks inspired by the events that followed Massacore concert, it is filled with anger but as well state how the Lebanese Metal Scene revolted against the faulty accusations… We already have some material prepared as well for the third album which in most part is inspired by the anger, fear and resentment we feel because of the threat of the so called “Islamic State” which is more known as IS.
So, what would you really like to tell about Blaakyum, that I didnt ask yet?
Bassem Deaibess: Blaakyum is but one example of the Lebanese Metal Scene perseverance an struggle against discrimination and cultural terrorism, be it religious or political. There are also many bands such as Kimaera, Inner Guilt, Kaoteon, Nocturna, and many more that are also here, and we will remain here. The Lebanese metal bands and fans are authentic, Metal was born in Birmingham from the voices of a neglected youth, that were under the stress of nuclear threat and industrial dehumanization, and Metal in Lebanon just like the majority of the Middle Eastern Metal scene. It is the product of the suffering of youth and generations who have been living for so long under horrible circumstances. In truth we do represent the authentic feelings of the Middle Eastern and Lebanese youth in all its forms and different points of view and when I say ‘we’ I mean the Lebanese Metal Scene and not the band.
As for Blaakyum, we have been around for a long time, and we are not going anywhere. We will remain a thorn in the side of bigotry and ignorance.
Where can people check out your music?
Well we are all over social media, on Facebook, twitter, myspace, Instagram… from there people can check out what is going on with the band, sometimes we release some footage or some music, as well our album is sold at various selling points in Lebanon and few points in Europe, but for anyone who wants to buy our album they can do it online through iTunes, Amazon MP3, 7Digital, Spotify and many online outlets.
Who are Ensiferum and what does Ensiferum mean (not just literally)?
Ensiferum is a bunch of people who love to write good music and play their music live. And its the biggest thing in our lives; its our passion, hobby, work and in a way. Its also a family for us.
•What is the biggest inspiration for Ensiferums Music (influences, inspiration)?
Roots of Ensiferums music are in folk music (Scandinavian, Irish etc.) and melodic death metal. When Markus found Ensiferum 1995 he was very inspired by folk music and old Amorphis, Dark Tranquillity etc.
•Ensiferum has been rather succesfull and on the forefront of the pagan and folk metal success of recent years. What makes Ensiferum different/unique to any other band?
Our music and ass kicking gigs. Ensiferum is one of the oldest bands in this genre and we really focus when we write music and not just repeat what others have already done. We challenge ourselves to give our very best on every album and every gig.
•In what way do you think the band has grown from debut album Ensiferum until recent release Far Afar?
Obviously lineup changes have changed the atmosphere inside the band but in a good way. Our spirit is very high and Markus is the founder of the band and he has been the main songwriter so musically things havent changed so much as you might first think.
•Can you describe the process of writing a new album to us, for example the latest Far Away?
Like I said earlier, we really put our minds to it when we compose so the process is usually very long. We all bring ideas to rehearsal room and then we arrange songs together.
•How serious are you about the themes and imagery of Ensiferum?
With therecent increase of popularity of folk and pirate themed metal, do you thinkpeople get into it for the wrong reasons?
It depends. Of course we are very serious about making music but we can also laugh to ourselves and being serious doesn’t mean that you cant have any blink in the corner of your eye. I dont really care about whats going on inside the genre, eventually there will be too many copycats and overall too many bands and folk metal will suffer the same fate as trash, death and black metal. But Ensiferum is one of the oldest bands so we have nothing to prove, we love making this kind of music and we will continue making it even after the hype is gone.
•How do you feel of the stigma of being fascist, nationalist or racist that many folk or folk themed bands have been struggling with, such as Moonsorrow or Skyforger? Has Ensiferum had issues with it?
We havent had too much problems with that and thats good because we have no political or religious points in our music. But I have to say that I think it sucks ass that some people label other people as neo-nazis, facists etc. without any reason. Because that stigma might hunt you long time even you dont have anything to do with that kind of ideologies.
•What kind of booze does Ensiferum have on their rider and do you drink it from horns backstage as well?
Hehe, we use pints. Vodka and beer, thats it.
•What is your favorite touring destination?
Impossible to say, there are some many great cities on every continent.
•You played with quite some cool bands, so which were the favorite ones?
All the bands that we have toured and shared tourbus have been great people. But Tyr and Moonsorrow guys are one of the best people I know and I would tour with them anytme again!
•Ensiferum is playing Fortarock this year, any bands you are going to watch live there yourselves?
As much as possible. I love summer festivals!
•How do you feel about the dutch audience?
Its always been great!
•Last question, you’ve made some awesome video’s that suited the vibe of
Ensiferum perfectly. Would you be up for making a movie soundtrack if it could be like your video’s?
It would be nice challenge to write music to a movie, who knows maybe someday…
Thank you for your time. I hope these questions were interesting so you enjoyed this.
So much good music, so little time. Let’s focus on some great underground metal that has been coming out lately. This time I listened to Winterfylleth, Alkerdeel/Nihill, Fogg and Goatwhore.
Winterfylleth – The Divination Of Antiquity
I first came across Winterfylleth in the most unusual way, through a scholarly article on black metal by Caroline Lucas. I have to admit, that I have since also read some work of Miss Lucas, who writes catching and academic pieces. At first I felt reluctant to listen to this band, due to the white supremacist link in the article, which is ofcourse mainly refuting it. After reading the lyrical words about the band in Metal Hammer, I checked out Winterfylleth. They paint the English country in sonic patterns, describing its inherent complexity and beauty.
There’s a touch of grey skies and misty forests in the dense sound of Winterfylleth, which feels a bit like Wolves In The Throne Room. Granted, they sound very little like them, but the same love for their surroundings and the earth they live on is totally there. Listen to a song like ‘Whisper Of The Elements’ or the warm tones of ‘A Careworn Heart’. This is not your ordinary grimdark black metal band. Recently they also released a split with Drudkh, which might tell a bit more about where this band comes from. It’s a love that drives these guys, not hatred and not death, to make beauty. Beauty that unfortunately very little people will ever fully understand.
Alkerdeel/Nihill – Split
The label Hypertension Records is releasing some excellent splits. They are named ‘The Abyss Stares Back series’ and this is prat IV. Combining the nihilistic onslaught of these two bands brings a record that is hard to listen to, but so rewarding in its ferocious katharsis. I mean, listening to this record feels like a journey through the dark pits of your own existence in some way. Facing the grim and dark reality of oneself through intensity and continuous sonic violence.
Alright, more detail to the two sides of this record. Dissonant tones anounce the start of Alkerdeel’s side. Threatening and dense atmospheric guitar sounds create a constant tension. The mad torrent of chaos that slowly envelops you is like the swirling chaos in which Azathoth dances according to Lovecraft. The wicked screams haunting you from all sides, while perpetual riffs seem to accelerate the speed in which you are flying about. Alkerdeel manages to sound both subtle and Celtic Frost-like blunt. The Nihill part contains swirling and intense black metal, so thick that it merges into a continuous swirling stream of sound. The songs surge ever onwards, creating atmospheric patterns woven through the pattern the rhythm spills out. The songs sound static in one moment and spiralling out of control in a wild crescendo on another. I can tell you its worth waiting for that new Nihill album in a few weeks.
With a title that leaves no questions, you’d expect something more intense, but the foggy, fuzzy psych-doom of Fogg is just fine the way it is. The Texans play a dirty bit of music on this new record, with a lot of eerie reverb and wooly sound patterns. They sound a bit like the general generation of hipster garage/psych bands that has been enveloping the world in recent years. The difference is that these guys sound creepy and slightly evil in thier songs.
The sound is a bit oldschool and reminds me as listener a bit of bands like Blue Cheer with the full on aural attack. Think of the primitive punk and metal sounds and that is somewhere in between where Fogg has its sound. Lazy, drugged out riffs swirl around in an attempt to grasp the spirit of the past. This is a perfect record for your friday afternoon, just to chill out and lean back a bit before the weekend finally hits.
Goatwhore – Constricting Rage of the Merciless
The raging sound of Goatwhore is one that combines black metal raw with rock’n’roll power. Think of Venom and pretty much that is the closest you get to what this strange NOLA band sounds like. Yes, the band from New Orleans was part of the recent documentary on Noisey that was aired online. The music is played in a high pace with understandable, but barked vocals. Blistering and grim guitars rage throughout the song.
There’s a particular swag to the sound of Goatwhore, that distinguishes them from others. They might have made the album here that even Darkthrone didn’t feel comfortable releasing. Atmospheric in darkness but always full of speed and energy, full of vile words and satanic praise. Oh, they were also pretty incredible live and such nice guys in person. That is the thing with this band, they are not being some strange act, just some guys playing some nasty metal.
Ok, this title works, better than the 20 word one I had before. I want to write a bit about hiphop from cool places where you probably never knew they made some nor how it sounded. Seems cool? Read on please! Let’s talk Lethal Dialect, Silibil N’Brains, Llwybr Llaethog and MC Lars.
Ireland’s Finest: Lethal Dialect
Irish hiphop is not really something to write home about. In fact, it has not really managed to make a good name for itself, which is thanks to documentaries like that one of RTE & BBC (that you can watch down here. The general impression the rappers in this video make is far from the bitches and bling that they seem to aspire to. What it does speak of is a genuine honest passion for making the music against all odds.
I kinda felt attracted to the irish accent and the general poetic sensibilities of the green island, so checking out some hiphop was not a big step. The first one I found that really appealed to me was Lethal Dialect. Generally considered to be one of the better rappers from the area of Dublin, this guy manages to make rhymes that sound deep and honest. The beats he tends to use are calm, laid back and characterized by a certain serenity that I find really appealing. The track I’d like to share is titled ‘The Sermon’.
The beat is hectic and calm at the same time. The slow raps let the words linger in the air for a moment before they are replaced by the next ones. Lethal Dialect sounds like a preacher, giving you a peace of the truth. It is however up to you to take it up or not. Do you like the sound of this? You can download the album for free here. Or just share it, he deserves it.
Original Pranksters: Silibil N’Brains
The boys who conned the music industry. Two guys from Dundee, making excellent hiphop but just having been born in the wrong place. Damn, that sucked so hard that they came back to London with a vengeance. But let me not spoil everything about that story by telling you. Better watch ‘The Hiphop Hoax’. That as well, you can just watch on Youtube.
Now, we are a couple of years further and the boys have gotten back together to release some good jams that let you hear the passion for making real good hiphop the boys have. Their aim? To prove that their might have been a hoax, but that their skills were not a hype.
Packed with rude humour, hack’n’slash rhymes and funky melody lines, this is exactly what you’d expect from the dynamic duo. Self deflating, but never under achieving the song is just one of those on their debut LP ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’. Again, this is one to check out and yes, you can! Just not for free, unless listening to bandcamp is enough for you.
Call of the Wild: Llwybr Llaethog
Alright, contrary to the previous acts, this is one of the weirdest things I’ve ever heard. Imagine some Welsh dudes making hiphop over what sounds like Jean-Michel Jarre jamming out some tasty esoteric beats. All this is at the tea table, where biscuits are served. They have been around since 1984 however and come from the deep end of Wales, a town named Blaenau Ffestiniog. Once a thriving mining town, it was by then desolate and desperate. Surfing the waves of what may be called the Welsh cultural awakening, the band gained fame and a general series of confused looks.
So I don’t know if you should check this out. Fo rthe sake of giving them the credit they deserve, I think you should.
Nerdcore can rise up!: MC Lars
Ok, I’m a massive fan of MC Lars. His rhymes are out of this world intellectual and just supercatchy. Taking inspiration from third wave ska as much as he does from Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe, he is a unique rap artist that has released a big amount of records as yet. Being part of the Nerdcore movement, he put the Nintendo controller in the hands of MC’s. Did I mention he was in Nerdcore Rising? Check that documentary out!
Apart from being a nerdy MC, Lars is also an English major who studied the aforementioned writers. Ergo, he knows enough about them to lecture about hiphop and poetry at them TED talks.
Alright, so here a track of MC Lars, who worked with Weird Al Yankovic, cementing nerdcore as the ultimate music for nerds who also love some tasty rhymes and beats. There is a certain cool sound to his raps and an intellectual twist.
So, that was some weird hiphop for you. Thanks for reading!
For this edition of my look at new music I will go underground into the World of Warcraft and link to you the five records that made playing WoW most enjoyable. Therefor this post is dedicated to Kostas K.
Marduk – World Funeral
Some albums are good for grinding. The blundering force of the Swedish death metal band has some added razorsharp guitar work that goes well with slaughtering a lot of enemies in WoW. Specially fitting for those who play a melee class I always felt, or a fireballin’ M.A.G.E. The sheer fury might not matche the questing though.
The songs pound ever onwards, unrelenting and full of rage. The harsh, barked vocals add that warlike feeling to the songs. Marduk is one of a kind I always think. They mix the atmospheric elements of black metal with the devastation of death metal in a unique way. Live it was less impressive I have to admit, but this band is definitely one of my WoW soundtrack ones.
Keep Of Kalessin – Kolossus
With ‘Kolossus’, the band from Norway has unleashed a melodic and epic masterpiece on the world. The record came out in 2008 and struck me immediately. Perhaps in some ways it was the gateway record for me to get into black metal in the first place. Particularly the song ‘Ascendant’ is a perennial favorite for me. One of the characteristics of the album is the tight sound. The record sounds well produced and clean, which makes it rather accesible.
The second thing is the enormous amount of catchy riffs that keeps pouring out of the speakers. Layered songstructures give space for a lot of those, creating a semblance of the distorted sound commonly used in black metal. It helps that this band looks like a bunch of Elven warriors. I played this music while questing/levelling a lot. Epic black metal is best metal!
Therion – Gothic Kaballah
Hearing ‘T.O.F. – The Trinity’ the first time opened my mind to a whole unknown side of heavy metal music and to Therion itself. Soon after I downloaded this album and later purchased it. I have listened to this music so endlesly that I pretty much knew every song by heart. I’ve seen Therion live since then 3 times, unfortunately two of those were after the release of ‘Sithra Ahra’ and one after ‘Les Fleurs Du Mal’ (a record I can not love…sorry).
If this band had not been recommended to me, I would never have found them. I’m pretty sure I would not have gotten heavily into Celtic Frost either then and maybe a lot of stuff would not have happened then. The songs are full of occult references, mysterious topics and confusing wordings. My favorite, I guess, has become ‘The Perennial Sofia’. No band really sounds like Therion and Gothic Kabballah is the most unique work they produced.
This record is one of the few that really are essential to my record collection. Without Therion, I would have missed out on so much beauty. I know some people find it easy to hate on them now, but to me they’ll always be a bright light in the scene.
Bolt Thrower – Those Once Loyal
I guess the whole idea of recommending this record had a lot to do with our guild name. Titled ‘The Angels Of Death’, there was an obvious link to the universe of Warhammer 40k and thus to Bolt Thrower. Their specific brand of death metal has never ceased to amaze me up to a few weeks ago when I saw them live. They’ve only affirmed their greatness to me. Though my favorite song is ‘World Eater’ from one of their first albums, the record I started listening to was ‘Those Once Loyal’. For some reason the order of songs was messed up in my mp3 list, so first was always ‘Anti-Tank (Dead Armor).
The sound is rather clean, compared to their original work, and embraces a continuous, pounding sound that gives you the feeling that a tank is about to over run you. Powerful rhythms and churning bass sounds pave the way for the onslaught that is Bolt Thrower. Particularly suited for the heavy grinding work (with a higher level char).
Ensiferum – Victory Songs
Maybe the most WoW band out there, since their folk elements really have nothing to do with any folk music. A bunch of guys in kilts playing a blend of melodic death and power metal about wielding swords, drinking magic potions and sailing out to fight. We even had a tank called Ensiferum in the guild so that adds to the whole things. The epic songs with a big fun factor and not too much complicated elelements were great for a night of questing on your own and enjoying guild chat.
We also had a tank named Fluff, but that’s a whole different story… With this fun band I’ve come to the end of my WoW album list. When I started playing, I listened to a lot of shitty stuff during the levelling. I’m still levelling characters in WoW. Currently a Dwarf Shaman and a Night Elf Death Knight. Soon Warlords of Draenor will be out and I’ll level onwards alone.
But with these great tunes, perhaps more will join the cause.
Oh but once we were young, and we were crass enough to care
But I guess you live and learn, we won’t make that mistake again, no
Oh but surely just for one day, we could fight and we could win
And if only for a little while, we could insist on the impossible
– Frank Turner ‘Love, Ire & Song’
I’d like to tell you a bit about a place called OJC De Werf, where I used to dwell and that is closing down in a while after 40 years. I stepped in there shortly before its 30 year anniversary and a lot has changed. Last night I thought back of those times.
Last night was a night full of memories, of drinks and remniscing about a past that may never have existed with my two oldest friends in the pub where I practically lived for a couple of years. Friends I fail to tell how much I care for them every time I see them. I wake up in the morning to do what I do now and that is living an adult life. Washing my car on saturday morning. The only thing I carry with me is a headache.
There’s this phrase that has kept coming back to me for years, I guess it was title of a song or a film: ‘Things we lost in the fire’. We lose parts of what we are and leave behind bits of ourselves while we grow and change ever so slowly. We are all flames that burn and we burn away what has ran out of material to fuel us. So was this part something I’m slowly leaving behind. I have started setting my alarm clockin weekends, getting up early to do shopping or go to the gym. Life is no longer one long string of waiting for one party after another. In that pub I’ve learned the worst sides of myself and the, granted that this may be an opinion not everyone shares, better ones. Everyone did, in a way and looking around the empty place, the vacant bar chairs and the meagre amount of half full glasses on the bar I feel everyone is still there. Some part of them at least.
I miss them, all of them. Those people that challenged me with different views, attitudes and personalities. That were quick with a joke and getting you a drink when you were without one. We’ve all grown up, some of us into everything they wanted to be, some became everything they tried so hard not to be. I have to leave the answer to that for myself open for now, I’m not sure yet. What I am sure of is that this place had a huge influence on me and my personal development. Laughter, tears and everything else was there. Also some of the best live shows that probably pushed me to do the things I do in my spare time now, write about music (a lot, check out my facebook page).
It’s hard to convey to others what that feeling is that I recall when sitting there on my bar stool with my mates. We talk about jobs, relationships and average stuff. Back in the day, we spoke about videogames, music and our grand plans to change the world. We all were going to change the world, there was a lot of idealism there. I have loudly proclaimed to be a communist, an anarchist and something totally different the other day. I guess not everyone felt that way and links the place to all those dreams, but I think some will. It was our place, we belonged there and it was home away from home. I’m different there, then what I’m like when I go to a bar in Eindhoven. There’s a carefree and crass mentality, no longer fitting with my adult status (again, I’m washing my car on saturday morning… what more do you need?). Some part of me that I left behind there I suppose.
I think of great friends I made there. Friends I rarely see anymore, but that know things about me that no one else knows. Things we shared once upon a time and that still linger somewhere in the back of our minds. I miss everyone. I still do and I would love to hear from you all. Maybe not over a pint of beer, but with a cup of coffee. Talking about where we are now.
We did the things we used to do last night and when I closed the emergency door behind me for possibly the last time, I knew I left that part of my life behind. We’ll always have those wonderfull, insane and sometimes ridiculous years and the experiences we shared. Sure, I’m romantisizing, but that’s what people do. It’s part of being human and we all were very much human in those days.