“We might be the most sympathetic black metal band from the Netherlands”
It’s a chilly autumn evening and we are sitting down in Café het Rozenknopje in Eindhoven with half of satanic sleaze rockers Heretic. The band has had a busy year behind them and its time to talk to the gents about their new records, shows, Ván Records and what it is like to be the most sympathetic black metal band of the Netherlands.
Slight shocker, Heretic has been around for 18 years already. Sure, there have been some breaks, but Thomas Goat has been playing dirty black metal under this name for 18 years. Fun fact also, is that this band only played their home town only once. That was in a support of the mighty Danzig in 2011 (in the Effenaar). That is one of the future goals for the band, according to drummer Tom Auf Der Axe: play an awesome show in Eindhoven. The drummer is keen to talk about the turbulent year Heretic experienced in 2014.
For Tom, it’s all still very new, even with all the events of last year: “I really was lucky to join Heretic at this time. I got talking to Thomas at a metal record fair. He needed a drummer for Heretic and asked if I was interested. I decided to say yes and three weeks later we did our first show together. Not a show in some bar, it was immediately a show on Roadburn!”. Tom learned enough songs for the show in a couple of weeks, where the band with a full line up had their big test. It turned out to be just the start.
“And then there was Hellfest on the agenda in France, which was another incredible experience. We went into the studio to record or new album and we have an agenda that is filled with cool stuff. As if that was not enough, we signed with Ván Records and booking agency District 19 (known as the organizers of the Eindhoven Metal Meeting). It’s been a great year this far!” tells Tom full of energy and enthusiasm. Its just as if everything the band touches turns to gold this year. Singer Thomas adds to Toms story, that is is definitely not just their drummer that was lucky, but the whole band. He chooses his words carefully, as if he only just started realizing that it all really happened: “Things started rolling for real this year for Heretic. We have a band, where all members want to go in the same direction. Adding Jimmy Blitzer (bass, also known from Urfaust) completed the picture. He thought it was cool to play second bass, which sounds odd, but really creates the sound we want. He also happens to be an excellent showman.”
Before we start looking at the successes from 2014, we should have a look at the past of Heretic. Founder Thomas always had an artistic drive with the band to express himself: “I wanted to satisfy an inner urge to create something, something new. The black metal scene was doing something that I wanted to go against, which is how Heretic started out, playing a different form of black metal.” That is the way the proces goes for Heretic, rebel against the image people create of them, but also against themselves according to Thomas: “Every record is a response to its predecessor for me. Everyone thinks they can label you and say what you are as a band based on your record, so the next one has to be completely different. Apart from that, I’m the biggest fan of Heretic and listen to the records time and time again. I then hear what I would like to have changed, what could be better. It’s a drive to develop. Every record is just a moment from what you do as a band, when one is released I’m already working on the next one. ‘Alive Under Satan’ is almost out now and I know how I want the next record to sound.”
The result of all those years of development yields its very own sound. “The black metal of Venom, sex drive like the Dwarves, punk vibe of Zeke and the sleaze of Mötley Crüe, that is the Heretic sound!” says Tom. “Thomas writes the songs, sings and plays guitar. Tony Hellfire does the bass loops over that, like our very own Steve Harris. Jimmy does another layer of dough on top of that and I can fill the gaps with my drums and make it into a whole. Because of the success and energy this year we’re all facing the same direction. Everyone has ideas, which keep on rolling and make nice things happening. It’s almost going automatically.”
A good example of these amazing things that happened to Heretic is their signing with German Ván Records, a label that also released music by The Devil’s Blood, Urfaust and Dread Soverign. The label is known for beautiful releases and special attention for the fans. “I knew Sven (owner Ván Records red.) from shows and of course Jimmy has been working with him through Urfaust for longer.”, Thomas chips in. “Sven thinks about releasing records, like a fan and an enthusiast, who wants to make it into something special. If we would want to release our record in a leather sleeve, he would basically be open to it. As soon as we would make a record that sounded like we do live, he would be interested. With ‘Alive Under Satan’, we have that record so the deal was soon made. Selim (Lemouchi, THe Devils Blood red.) told me a lot of good things about the label.” Live is of course still where it really happens for Heretic. This is obviously the place where Heretic is at its best, when the fans are right opposite the band.
The big similarity between Ván Records and Heretic is the love and respect for the fans. “We may be the most sympathetic black metal band from the Netherlands. We get so much respons from our fans, so we love giving them something in return.” Specially at the shows the band plays in Germany, the band has amazing experiences according to Thomas: “It’s amazing to play a show and see that the first rows of people sing along with every song, but it does happen to us. On the stage it’s all a big show, but after the show we are at the merch stand as soon as we can for a chat a beer or anything with the fans. I’m still a huge fanboy about the bands I love, so I know how important it is.” Tom agrees fully on that: “I’ve been touring with many bands, where I stood next to the stage, like Peter Pan Speedrock and Reverend Horton Heat. We get those same kind of responses, which is an amazing feeling. Sometimes its almost real!”
“Metal fans are, in my opinion, enormously dedicated. When I was nine years old I heard Iron Maiden for the first time. I still get chills when I hear that music. It sticks with you, that is what makes metal fans different, “ concludes TOm. “We played a show in Montbéliard in France a while ago. The support act was a band named Spermafrost. Before the show they came to see us, shake hands and tell us how cool it was for them to play with us. If you receive such dedication and responses, you have to give that back and we do that with all love.” This is part of the reason for the first uncommon release on Ván Records: a red flexi-disc with the song ‘It’s On!’. “That was one of those things, we made that single as a nice object. Then the Deaf Forever Magazine wanted a couple of thousand copies to send to their subscribers. A month later the release was totally sold out!”
The new album by Heretic, ‘Alive Under Satan’, is now out on Ván Records. The recordings were done in Eindhoven in three days and Thomas is looking forward to the next session: “It was a lot of fun in the studio and it turns out we have a great team with this little gang. I’m looking forward to making a full-length. Our previous record, ‘Angelcunts & Devilcocks’, was recorded at home with a drum computer. That is hard to compare with the raw, energetic sound that can be heard on the new record. You can hear that these are real, organic recordings. “Without changing the songs too much, there is much more dynamic in this new Heretic,’ says Tom. “We find a balance between the elements, which makes this a representation of the Heretic you can hear play live. If you manage to pull that off in the studio, then you’re doing the right thing.”
So the gang looks forward to the next record, for which Thomas has plenty of ideas already. The attention of all band members is with Heretic, playing live and enjoying the chemistry within the band. The new video is also out for you to enjoy.
The year 2015 might be the year of Heretic, including that long awaited show in Eindhoven.
It is always good to do something on your friday night. This friday I went to the Temporary Art Centre in Eindhoven for the fourth label night of Barreuh Records. A label that has found a spot somewhere on the line where art and music touch and get intertwined.
The label aims to release affordable and special products of music that is challenging and experimental. This is available on their quite intriguing label nights, usualy filled with strange happenings. Strange tunes are played in between and a small, but interested crowd gathers for this live experience.
There’s also the release tonight of the new Skymme record, that you can enjoy on bandcamp as well.
First up is the experimental electronics of Rumatov. Three guys molding a mixture of ambient sounds and blipping noise on a range of devices. This creates soundscapes that drone on for the length of the set. The trio manages to put a bit of humor in their preformance of intriguing sounds, that challenge the notiono of what music is.
Danielle Liebeskind is next up, playing a mixture of free-jazz postpunk jams, that frame the poetry of their singer. The explosive music offers a big contrast witht he stammered, flat spoken poetry lines that get spoken into the microphone in between. Though this is an interesting approach, it offers little in the way of harmony between the two elements and the poetry does not really appeal to me. Luckily there’s room for some respite in the cool venue, with some expositions open for visiting.
Final act of the night is Thaumaturgist, offering some bass driven beats. The music sounds old school, without the polished synthy stuff that you’re used to these days. Energetic and raw, the act captivates the audience in what seems to be a long, groovy jam.
Yes, I’ve returned from this ancient city that gave us democracy, a lot of statues and nightmarish traffic. Athens was a week of seeing and experiencing the city, but also good friends, good times, good food and a lot of laughter.
What you notice soon, when visiting Athens, is that the traffic is a nightmare. Not that it’s stuck or slow, it just is totally random. People try to get ahead, slip in between, pass another by and so on in a total random fashion with a certain disregard for life. Usually, this is done while holding a phone or helmet on the arm. Beware of the pizza drivers and the souvlaki delivery guys, they are even more dangerous.
Greece has a lot of old stuff, statues, buildings and such. They take pretty good care of it nowadays and a lot is behind fences or under lock and key in the museums. Some items are weirdly accesible though, like old statues and vases in the archeology museum. You almost feel tempted to touch stuff, like on the Akropolis.
The collections are vast and you will see pieces of art that you probably saw on the cover of a book on ancient history before. The halls may look minimal and in some ways not doing justice to the importance of its contents. In a way that gives the works exactly the attention they need: it is placed at the very centre.
Quite a drive outside of Athens, you’ll find the temple of Poseidon in Sounia. A much more romantic and less visited spot for those who dare to venture there. You follow a road by the sea side for kilometres, facing some moronic traffic to reach this spot. It’s location on a cliff top makes for great sunsets that bring back a feeling of a forgotten past.
Athens: The City
The city itself is not so filled with ancient history and what is there is carefully preserved. The town itself feels modern and mediterranean. For those willing to see it or learn about it, it is clear that the city tells its own tale of its recent histories. It’s protests all the way back to the Junta government and the conflicts with Turkey or even the independence.
The city is strewn with coffee shops and places where you can buy some souvlaki or other quick meals. Greeks like to eat and they like to get some take-away, particularly on football days.
Roads in Athens are not always of the greatest quality and when it rains, you better put on some rainboots. When the sun shines, that matters little though. If you like cats, you’ll enjoy the city even more, because there are cats everywhere! Also pigeons, which are less loved.
Most of all…
The most important thing is the warmth and hospitality I experienced. I stayed with my friend K. who took great care of me during this week. Everyone has been remarkably friendly and that is definitely something that deserves some pointing out.
It was great to hang out with old friends and in a way, finally meet up in this great city, sharing drinks and stories. I hope this won’t be the last time.
What we see in the media is angry protests, Golden Dawn radicalists and an unwilling government. That is not a story that just started, it is part of how modern Greece formed and shaped and grew in the last century. Protests have always taken place, for weeks sometimes. Golden Dawn is actually a marginal group that I have not seen a single sign of. Greece is a country with a heavy historic heritage, but a traumatic recent past. To understand that, visiting this country is a must.
Since I seem to be running behind on blogging about books, here the new reading sessions I had.
Cormac McCarthy – Blood Meridian
I think I actually promised Selim Lemouchi to read this book he was so very fond of. I finally did after I bought it a few months ago. This is not a happy book, nor an easy read. It’s a story, where the reader feels detached, dehuminized and lost in a desert where the sun and blood are all that matter. It’s the story of the kid, who goes with a band of ragtag outlaws to collect Apache scalps. When there’s no apaches they murder and maim whatever else comes in their path, looking for riches and excesses. The other figure is the judge, a bald, big man who seems to fulfill a more philosophical role if anything.
The book follows the kid through dark deeds, death and despair, all the way to a grim and confusing ending. People have been trying to analyze this book a lot, but I think it’s a story that works more on a conceptual level. It’s not the actual happenings in it, it’s the ideas that play out, the corrupting effect of power and lawless existence. I truly think this is an amazing book, but I don’t think I’d recommend it to just anyone to be very honest. It’s difficult and leaves you with an uncanny feeling. If you’re up for that, do pick it up.
Thich Nhat Hanh – The Heart of Understanding
I’m not what you would call a full-on Buddhist but it has become a huge part of what I consider my spiritual side in the last years. This book deals with the heart sutra, and like the heart sutra is thus particularly short. Short does not mean simple however, because no matter how clear Nhat Hanh is in his explanations, this is dense material. I also have to add that I greatly enjoyed listening to them.
Learn about the essence of buddhism with slow and deliberate explanations that seem simple but develop into ideas that captivate everything. Also enjoy the wit of this buddhist monk, who reads from this book to an audience and then really seems to get going with examples and jokes in between that keep everything light and open. I don’t think everyone should get into buddhism, but there’s practical lessons in this book that are a welcome thing in most people’s lives.
Paul Rodenko – Nieuwe Griffels, Schone Leien
I had doubts if I should mention this, since not only is it a book of poetry, it’s a book of dutch poetry. That means, pretty much no one else will be able to read it. I purchased this years ago, after I had my literature classes on the university. This was a significant book, because it truly displayed the revolution in Dutch poetry in the fifties. The new wave, you may say. I felt like I found a little treasure. It took me years to actually read it from cover to cover, but now I finally did.
The poetry in this book is material from the early 20th century up to it’s present day, which was the late fifties. In a way the book turned the free-form poetry into a part of the bigger avant-garde waves. I can’t say I enjoy everything as much to be honest. I’ve got my perennial favorite in the poet Lucebert. Still, it felt like a good thing to finally read it and try to imbibe the atmosphere and feeling of the words. Sometimes, when you read out loud, the words offer you flavors you wouldn’t have expected.
Mikael Bulgakov – Heart of a Dog (adapted BBC audioplay)
Bulgakov is a writer everyone seems to love but that I never actually read anything of. So time for that then, so I decided to check out ‘Heart Of A Dog’, which was kindly adapted to an audio play by the BBC. The piece is funny, but critical of some elements in Soviet society. It offers a lot of points to get into fo rthe reader and freedom for interpretation. The pace is high and the adaptation does a lot of justice to the work of this writer.
Bulgakov is a peculiar figure in Soviet literature, being banned and shunned, but also protected by Stalin (who in turn, personally banned his works). It’s intriguing in itself. This book is a very own version of the Frankenstein story, dealing with a dog who gets intestines of a drunkard that played Balalaika in a club. The dog becomes very human and loses its innocense and purity.
Another taste of the Underground with some new music, some unreleased stuff that promises a lot and so on, this time Urfaust, King Woman, Crowbar and Kjeld.
Urfaust – Apparations/Die Erste Levitation
I love Urfaust, it’s one of the strangest and most whimsical black metal bands around. Everything about them feels hardcore, unless when you look a bit closer and it becomes a big mockery of black metal traditions. Booze and half arsed German seem to be the overlying themes of their work. Because the album ‘Apparations’ is not out yet, I’d like to look at their latest 7″ and the just released track, titled after the album. ‘Die Erste Levitation’ is a haunting record, that seems to have some oriëntal influences in it (a bit like the mighty OM). The screams are the typical dolorous screams of their singer, while the sounds seem to rattle all around them.
The new track continues that feel of a strange ambient atmosphere, even making me think about the famous ‘Sylvester Anfang’ as used by Mayhem. Wavering rhythms and harrowing vocals are always present, while the song slowly builds up to its crescendo. Is this still black metal? I wonder if it should be called that. There’s a classical or folky atmosphere to it, that moves the duo away from what it originally sounded like. I’m quite excited about hearing the full album, can’t wait for that one.
King Woman – Doubt/’Dove / Fond Affections’
The most particular thing about King Woman are the vocals, which remind you of either Rabia Shaheen Qazi (as on Earth’s ‘From The Zodiacal Light’) or, as commonly used in reviews, PJ Harvey. Kristina Esfandiari truly carries the sound of this band, formed by languid vocal, doomy drones and spun out riffs. Add to that a dark, gloomy atmosphere that reeks of neo-folk, and you have something quite special brewing here.
Though I’d love to make this all about the forthcoming EP ‘Doubt’, I can’t because it’s not out yet. So luckily one can check some of the previous songs. Only then it becomes clear what a leap the band made in between, they really seem to have found their sound. The poppy, clean sound of their earlier songs definitely doesn’t live up to the shattering, gloomy impression of this new work. I’m eager to hear the whole thing to be honest.
Crowbar – Symmetry in Black
Crowbar has been around forever with their New Orleans sludge, but I’ve never given them much thought. Truth be told, I never gave any band from over there much thought until I started getting into EyeHateGod. The heavy, monolithic sound of the band around Kirk Windstein is quite awesome. Being so heavy, yet so calculated and intelligent is a gift not every band seems to have. Since 1989 the band has been blundering through the musical landscape with their peculiar sound. The pummeling sounds of songs like ‘Walk with Knowledge Wisely’ are impressive and still as convincing as all that time ago.
Clean guitar wailing pierces the sludgy rhythm section for some respite. The sheer brutality of a song like ‘Ageless Decay’ provides a whole other side to the balanced songs you hear. It’s for those that worship the riffs this album provides the tasty bits you need. It always seems to hang near bombastic, but stays earthy and organic. The roaring thunder of Windsteins vocals gives every song the effect of a wrecking ball, if not for the sheer impact of the heavy riffs that is. This album is thoroughly enjoyable and a steady homage to the southern sludge sound. Filled with elements of doom, punk and depressed violence, its one for the road.
Kjeld – Skym
While yesterday I struggled to put words to paper (screen..whatever) about the sludgers of Crowbar, today comes brimming with inspiration from my own country with black-metallers Kjeld from the north. They hail from De Wâlden, Fryslân, and their debut sounds like the finest majestic stuff from the north with grim battle-readiness. The sheer brutality of the blastbeats is overwhelming, but the band continually maintains a melodic structure in their songs. Filled with great passages and captivating sections of intensity, this is one hell of a record.
Songs like ‘Brek En Bran’ are hectic and wild, hardly easy to follow for a casual listener. ‘Stoarm’ feels like an actual storm, raging around you but following patterns, slowly descending to a short calm before launching once more to the heavens. On closer ‘Bern Fan Freya’ we can hear an outro that adds to the mythical elements in their music, the attention to atmosphere and feeling for the listener. A few times the band shows this side, the capacity to maximize on the minimal, like the break in ‘Gerlofs Donia’. This band is the kind that keeps proving to me that black metal is alive and kicking.
Romuvos is the kind of band you will find only when you start looking for it. Pagan metal, inspired by the ancient Baltic tribes that roamed the lands we now know on our maps as Lithuania and Latvia. One could include the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, though the Prussian Balts are long extinct.
Behind the band is one person who goes by the name Velnias, which is Lithuanian for Devil. Most pagan entities seem to have been taken over by devils, which is shown in the Žmuidzinavičius museum in Kaunas by a large collection of statues. If we look a bit further the name Velnias is taken from the Baltic god of the dead, similar to Odin in Norse mythology. A trickster of sorts, one could say.
I got in touch with Velnias and he was keen to tell us more about his music. Like the trickster he took his name from, there’s more to him than you would think. He doesn’t actually live in the Baltic region, but lives in Israel. He moved there as a child with his family and once in a while he returns to his beloved Lithuania. Because his father is Latvian, he has decided to represent in his music the Baltic tribes as a whole in their pre-Christian form. It’s only fitting then, that I write down these words in the heart of Samogitia, the last pagans to be conquered in Europe back in 1413.
Though Lithuania seems strongly Christian now, not surprising due to their long lasting union with devout Poland in the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, there are still plenty of traditions and customs here that remind you of a pagan past and the deep roots they have in both the people and the land. Velnias longs to move back to his beloved country, but feels like the viking warriors who got stranded in far of lands. But one day perhaps, he will return.
Who is Romuvos and how did you get started with this act?
Romuvos is my one man band, the operation is entirely in my hands. I started playing folk music after being part of various black metal projects. I started digging deeper for my roots and the folklore that I hold so dear and decided to dedicate a musical project to it.
Romuvos is music dedicated to the Baltic pagan traditions and way of life. It has always been in my heart, but only now I’ve come to the point where I express it in song. Thus Romuvos was created, a name that refers to reviving the religious practices and pagan traditions of the Lithuanians and Baltic people before their Christianization.
Did you play in other bands before Romuvos?
Yep, though its nothing worth mentioning. Nothing that got into thte studio or anything. Every band I played in had many rehearsals, worked on songs for a long time until it was time to record and then split up. Most of those were black metal bands with folk influences.
I’m not sure if this is interesting to mention, but I fought in the Israeli army. I fought wars and most of this music I wrote under threat of missiles and bombs. I’m not saying I’m a warrior of old or some brave knight, but I experienced war. Those were not my battles to fight though, not my wars. That however is a different story altogether.
Romuvos is clearly a reference to the pagan religion of Lithuania. Can you tell a bit more about what it entails and also the Durwi spin-off?
Well, Romuva is a way of life, tradition and belief. It’s rooted in every Lithuanian heart and deep in the history of the Lithuanian people. Romuva is the name of the most important sanctuary of the Prussians, which was destroyed by crusaders in the 13th century.
One of the most important aspects in the Romuva faith is respect for nature. There are many gods, rituals and festivals that take place and form a part of the yearly calender in the tradition. Many old folksongs teach us about the ways of the Romuva and pagan people fromt he past. Those are the Dainos (folk songs), which play an important role in the religion. They are ancient songs and hymns. There’s so much to tell you about this, fortunately the internet offers much resources for the audience to find out more about this. Im very proud to let people know about our Romuva traditions in my music.
Durwi in old Prussian means faith, its also a revival of the Baltic ancient religions. You can csee how the Lithauanians and other Baltic tribes are untill this very day connected to their traditions and pagan beliefs from before their christianization. I hope the movement will grow and get stronger.
Can you tell a bit more about these traditions, what would these be like?
The Baltic people have preserved their traditions through the ages and Romuva is a direct expression of these unique traditions. It gives a name to the folklore and beliefs that have existed for a long time in the region. I will give you some examples
This refers to the rituals surrounding birth. Before a child was born, the ancient Lithuanians believed in spirits that would influence the unborn child in a bad way. One never directly referred to someone being pregnant to safeguard the mother and the future child. Expressions are still being used in Lithuania, like “The oven fell apart at Petras” or “It’s joyfull at Antanas”.
Once the child was born, it would be inducted into the community. The christening was bound up with various ancient rituals, which tie the new-born to the world, his family and community. These would be performed either at home or in nature when it is the time of the full moon. The room would be decorated with plants and greenery, birds made of straw would be hung from the ceiling and in the middle of the room the hearth would be lit at all time during the ritual. Other materials were prepaired, a bowl of water, clean cloth and scissors. The room would be well lit with candles. In the ritual the mother, father, child, name-givers, relatives and other childern would be present, together with the priestess – Pribuveja (midwife), who would guide the event and take care of the child
The child is dressed in a festive linen shirt. A sash woven with folk decorations is used as a waist-band.
The feast is a cake, brought by the name-givers. The food upon the table traditionally includes eggs, scrambled eggs, bread, cheese, beer and such. Gifts are brought to the new-born and the mother. It’s all part of this important moment.
Vestuves is the word for a wedding, which was not just the concern for the young lovers. The entire community had an interest in the marriage and joining in the celebration. Weddings are so important in the ancient taditions, that there were over 100.000 dainos (songs) for Lithuanian weddings. There’s an extensive set of dances that represent the wedding – starting with the match maker introducing the young couple to each other, the parents agreeing, the young bride weaving her trousseau, and then the wedding ceremony.
There’s a myth of Perkūnas and the Heavenly Wedding: On his way to the wedding, Perkūnas strikes a gold oak – an exorcism to repel evil spirits (Velnias frequently hides under the roots of an oak). When a young bridal couple comes into their new home, before they enter it, the lintel is struck, leaving a “cross” – to ward off evil.
Funeral/Burial – the traditions surrounding funerals are fairly standard the world over. It is a time of mourning, and of friends gathering in support of the grieving family. But, there are some differences. In villages the coffin would lie in “state” for approximately 6 days, and in cities about 2 days. Every evening there would be the singing of laments, and prayers for the dead members of the family for three generations – each one mentioned by name. Every evening after the prayers a funeral meal is served, prepared by the best cook in the community. If the family has a pig, it is slaughtered for the occasion.
In villages the dead are usually buried in the morning, with final kisses being bestowed upon the loved one.
Velnias has given much more info on the pagan traditions in ancient Lithuania. For the sake of readability, you will find these at the bottom of this article. He mentions the yearly calendar, essential in the pagan rites, and the deities that the ancient Balts worshipped. One deity he goes into very elaborately, which I’m glad he did: Velnias.
In Lithuanian folklore Velnias is the character you will find most often, he originates from the god Velnias or Velinas. He has a relation to the animals, underworld, the dead, economy and magical things. In later Christian times Velnias became the devil.
The folkloric devil in the ethnic legends creates the world together, either alone or with God or only God (there are different versions). God is in some traditions his brother. They both have the same goals in creating the world, but also some opposingones, mainly all the bad things are explained by interference of Velnias. The God creates useful animals and the devil creates ones that harm people and are useless. Velnias is also connected with horses, oxen and cows, of which he would keep herds. In the legends he often harnasses and rides the horses. From the wild life, the wolf, rabbit and bear are closest to him and he assumes their forms.
Velnias is associated with low and wet locations, like moors and lakes, or he may appear in the forest. His dwelling is under the earth, inside the mountain, behind the water. He also may appear in the sky, flying or seen in a storm. The relation between Velnias and treesis also emphasized, he might be found sitting on tree stumps (the reference to the chtonic world, the lower part of the Tree of the World) or hiding in trees (like he hid from Perkunas). The fir tree and birch tree are his trees.
Velnias, also in later times as the devil, would often appears amongst women (at the village parties devils dance with the village girls or the devil would celebrate a wedding with a hanged woman and dances with her) and, in general, he is interested in the weddings and funerals. He often appears when a person dies to take his soul. The devil under the influence of christianity becomes the ruler of the hell (in lith. “pekla”) and there he rules the dead mostly in shape of the animals.
Generally Velnias is close to humans, it is not difficult to find him or call him he also comes without any invitation, let’s say if people decide to play ripka or other games. He often offers his services in farming, to clear the field and such. The manifestations of the devil have a sense of music, often they contract a violinist, play musical instruments themselves and dance. Both life and death are under the jurisdiction of the devil. He is an intermediary or guide for the living, but also was involved with the fertility of people and the land. The harvest was also his. He is inbetween the world of the living and the dead, between earth and the underworld. Therefor he received the patronage of the people who are connected to the both parts of this worlds (i.e. priests, magicians etc). Also, musicians, poets and artists, who are inspired by both worlds fall under this patronage, as they are set in an old Indo-European tradition that associates them with magic and the devil.
What are your personal beliefs when it comes to these traditions?
I can say that my beliefs are very similar to the beliefs of my ancient forefathers. It relies mostly on the pagan past, but I have to say that I walk my own path in this and I walk that alone. I am much influenced by the Romuva. The paganism is a big part of my life, but I follow the path I feel is right to take. I don’t want to impose chains on my life, that are in the hands of another. I will find the truth that is out there for me, which will bring me closer to enlightenment.
I appreciate nature and the pagan religion embraces those elements with deities that are the key to harmony or chaos in what surrounds us as humans. I tyr to represent that in my music, though in a smaller scale. When I use the word pagan in relation to my beliefs, my view is very much connected to those ideas that are part of the pagan traditions. I participated in rituals in the past, spending nights outdoors, camping and having a fire, getting inspired by the sound of the fauna and earth that I feel when I’m out there alone or with my wife. I try to put those experiences in my music, those are they keys or muses for the atmosphere I try to invoke.
I have mentioned my interest in the Baltic history and that is a big part of my music. It’s something I grew up with, the tales told by my grandmother, the sculptures and paintings in my childhoods home. Those inspired me since the day I was born. When I put this to song, the subject is a bit more general and I try to make it larger than life.
Lithuania is now one of the most devout Christian countries in Europe, though the pagan traditions can still be seen in a slightly mutated form. How do you feel about that?
Well, I think we can all agree that Christianity and other missionary religions have utterly destroyed native cultures around the world. I don’t hold any hatred towards them, but I draw strenght from this, deep emotions I can put in my music. Each religion seems to face the same stages and now the Islam has come to a point where people commit atrocities in its name. It led me to believing that one should shy away from crowds and mobs of people. I’m not a misanthrophist, but it gets close to becoming one. I like to be outdoors more nowadays, groups of people make me claustrofobic.
Many bands that pay homage to culture or country get lumped into the NSBM category rather easily. How do you feel about that and is there any political side to Romuvos?
I have no political views, nor do I think people are entitled to express such extreme political ideas as metal heads tend to do these days. Yes, everyone is born and living in a ‘country’, which we consider to be ours. That we think will stand by us and have our back when we need something. That country has been formed by past rulers and is governed by whatever government it currently has. They also have taught us to be proud of it and stand by its laws and order. Well, that is not for me. I can understand and respect other opinions about this topic, to each their own, but that crosses a border when people try to hurt or offend another.
The way I see it, I have no country. I don’t look at it that way atleast, which might be because I left my ‘homeland’ or maybe because I dont hold a vision like the common herd. Therefor I won’t see a country as a value to stand for. Countrys are owned by their governments, which might even be corrupt, and filled with people I can’t call my brothers, yet I would be expected to stand by it in war. The same people that will curse, violate, interfere with and disrespect you while living next to you, while sharing the land you should call ‘ours’ with them.
Yes, I will seek peace in my lasnd and I have the right as a human being to live on such a piece of land that I call home. I will raise a family and will seek friends, but also defend it from foes, but not as an act related to an old ideology and herd mentality that is alient o mine. I would do it as a person who wishes to be left alone by the brainwashing of society that surrounds him. I try to be free in my own space and accept no shackles from others forced on me. So NSBM? No, thats not for me. I would also not like to live in the old days under a man with a crown who can decide my fate, whitout me having any say in it. I dislike the ‘nazi’ ideas and steer clear of them. If others go there, its their choice.
Why did you chose to make music on your own?
I can’t say that I consciously made a choice to make music on my own. Because most bands I was part of ended up splitting up or just fading away, this was the easiest wat to go about things for me. I create music on my own terms, with my visions and no distractions.
Do you plan to play live? How would you go about forming a band?
Yes, I think that in the future I will gather few session musicians that I will play live shows with. Musically I will keep things in my own hands though.
What is the general idea you try to get across to your listeners? What story are you trying to tell?
In some of the songs I tell stories from the Lithuanian folklore, in others I make up a story myself based on my ideas. Sometimes I will use old folk songs from the old days, other times I will write songs that represent Baltic faith and traditions. With Romuvos I wish to represent Baltic history and the pagan beliefs of the people in close relation to the nature.
Your record has a very clear sound that is not typical. What inspired you to make this style of music? To mind comes a band like Glittertind, does that sound like a fair comparison?
Well, Glittertind is a great band and thanks for the comparison though they are not my main inspiration. I can say that Falkenbach is a big influence and one of my favorite artists for sure, Summoning, early Vintersorg, Storm, Hades, viking era of Bathory and few more…
Even today I mainly listen to black metal, it still is my favorite style of music. Obviously, it is not the sound I create in Romuvos, but that was never my goal.
How did you go about recording this record? How did your writing proces go? All in all, how did you make ‘Romuvan Dainas’?
I have my own studio at home, so I just go and write the music first. Then I take a classic guitar and start playing, sometimes it can start with keboards or electric guitar as well as for the harmonica. Either way, after writing the main theme, i start working around it and build up the entire song. The next step is writing the lyrics and few more adjustments for the song. Ivecord all on my own and when the recording part is done, I mix it and finally do the mastering as well.
What is the general idea behind the record, its story and message?
The idea behind Romuvan Dainas is to make a Baltic folk metal album. In some of the songs you can find old stories from the Baltic folklore and on others tales of heroic battles and myth that I mostly invented. I dont get to see these days many folk bands representing this great area that surrounds the baltic sea and I am happy to take that subject into my music.
You say you invented some stories. Do you feel you put a lot into this record emotionally?
I think I put a lot of emotion and care into my music, it’s as if it erupts out of me and when it does I cannot stop it. I invest a lot of time and effort in it, because I have no other way of doing it. I enjoy every moment of making music, it is a very fulfilling thing to do. When I finish one thing, my mind is already on the next creation.
You released the record through No Colours Records. What kind of label are they and how did you get in touch?
No Colours Records are a label that mainly releases underground Black Metal music, They have some releases that made it to the big pantheon. I just sent a youtube link with a song to Steffen, the AR of the label, and after few weeks he came back to me, expressing a great desire to put out my album.
What are, in your opinion, the best metal bands from Lithuania and are you in any way in touch with either the scene in Lithuania or Israel?
There’s a few great bands from Lithuania, like Obtest, Ha Lela, Peorth and Žalvarinis (though they are not that metal). There are also some great folk bands, like Rasa Serra, Gyvata and Ugniavijas. I’m not connected to any scene at the moment though.
A few people from the Baltics did buy the album and asked me some questions about it. It’s important to me that they feel connected to my music, but that goes for anyone who listens to my songs. I’m not trying to reach a specific audience or region with my music, but it is a confirmation for me when people from the region and cultural background appreciate the music though. It shows that my message of longing for the Baltic area and its nature and history is clear.
What future plans do you have?
I am planning to get session musicians for recording in a a big and high quality studio for my upcoming albums and live shows. Hope mainly to just make great albums!
Disclaimer: I share no views with No Colours Records or any of the artists. Pictures (except header) by Justina Lukosiute