Some more reading done, so new books that I have an opinion about. Good books, I might add.
Haruki Murakami – Norwegian Wood
Though probably the most well known book of Murakami, this novel is an actual ‘return’ to the popular style in his home country according to the added information in the book. It’s a dreary love story with some strange triangular relationships occuring. That seems to be the returning element in the story of Toru Watanabe, who is recollecting his past in the book. At a young age, his best friend Kizuki killed himself. A while after that he reconnected with the girlfriend of his best friend, who he took walks with. He then sleeps with her in a strange, emotion filled night, after which she runs away and signs into a sanatorium.
Watanabe falls into despair, hanging out with his friend Nagasawa, who strings him along in a quest to bed as many girls as possible. Nagasawa also has a girlfriend, which makes another triangle. Then Watanabe visits Naoko in the sanatorium and has a great time with her and her room mate Reiko. He also strikes up a friendship with live loving Midori, a girl from his drama classes. it all falls apart when Naoko kills herself as well. The interactions are complex and are presented in an order that might at times be confusing. It’s the story of a young guy who tries to do what is right, but also tries to live a life that is fullfilling. This struggle seems to be at the core of the book. The title is derived from the Beatles song, which is recurring element in the book.
Haruki Murakami – Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
This book follows the trials and tribulations of Tsukuru Tazaki. A peculiar person, who considers himself to be empty, like an unwritten sheet of paper. He only knows he really likes trainstations and like trainstations considers himself to have been the connecting factor in a colorfull group of friends in high school, who were a harmonious unit. One day he was cast out and almost driven to suicide, he changed completely in the way he looked and after half a year finally regained control of his life.
Now, years later, his girlfriend reminds him of the past and asks what happened that so shook him and limited him in connecting with others. He decides to revisit his old friends and find out what happened and find himself again. The story is laced with references to the past and future, there’s an element of mystery and dreams, like is common in the books of Murakami and we follow a person who is not in touch with himself, but seems to slowly gain a hold of the essence of his being. The musical piece ‘Years of Pilgrimage’ by Liszt is a recurring theme in the novel. It’s a powerful book that once more offers the reader a path to fulfillment and a coming of age story. In the typical Murakami fashion though.
Gavin Baddeley & Paul Woods – God’s Assassins: The Medieval Roots of Terrorism
I’ve read a book by Baddeley in the past, which dealt with the role the Devil has been playing in Rock’n’roll through the last couple of decades, back to it’s very start. Baddeley even harks back to bygone ages in that book, which is something he does in this book as well. Together with Woods, the writer traces an analogy of sorts throughout the ages with a critical view on terrorism and religion and it’s roots in the Assassin cult in the middle-east. A topic surrounded mostly with myth, magic and mystery. From the ‘Old Man Of The Mountain’, which must refer to either Rashid ad-Din Sina or Hassan Sabbah, the original leader of the cult, all the way to the Kennedy assasination and modern Islam terrorism and the books of William Burroughs.
This is not one of those typical self-explanatory obscurantist views on a past that is partly imagined, this is a critical reading of both facts and perception of the historical phenomenon that involves terrorism in the form the assassins preached. It’s arguably easy to draw a direct link between current day Islamic State/Al Quaida movements and their historical counterpart, but that is not what the authors do. They remain critical and rather trace this sort of terrorism to general means of indoctrination, threat and subterfuge as practised by superpowers. The book leaves the reader with questions and I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing.
Oswalt Patton – Zombie Spaceship Wasteland
Patton is a comedian and also an avid writer of books with a love for scifi and geekiness. In this book he writes down how his life unfolded and how his geekiness played a part in shaping and reforming his perceptions of his surroundings, dividing people into Zombies, Spaceships and Wasteland wanderers. It’s a good read full of fun but also with some lessons in life and what to do to get ahead.
There are curious elements of sudden empathy with other wanderers, disgust and lost cases along the path and a whole lot of self loathing and mockery happening in this book. Also song lyrics from REM come into play, which is cool I guess and read by Michael Stipe. Oswalt Patton is a hilarious dude, but also a person you might recognize if you’ve struggled with your inner and outer world and finding a place of peace for yourself and acceptance.
With the interview I did with Romuvos there came a whole appendix with further information about pagan traditions in the Baltics. I like to share them here.
Calendar Feasts of the Pagan Balts
Pusiaužiemis, January 25th
Mid-Winter Festival, though in some parts of Lithuania they celebrate Kirmeline instead, whcih means Day of Serpents. It’s the day when symbolicly the snakes wake up from their winter slumber. Food and milk is put out for them, and if it’s gone later it will be a good year.
Perkūnas Day, February 2 Gabija Day, February 5 Užgavenes, March 1st
The exit of Winter essentially waits for Spring and helps prepare for the new season. The holiday consists of processions, costumes, tomfoolery, games, and plays. The main parts are: receiving guests with treats; rides and races; processing the More statue and then destroying her by fire; plays with people costumed as animals, strangers and mythological beings; performing the war of Winter with Spring symbolized by the Lasininis (the bacon-being) with the Kanapinis (the hemp-being); portraying weddings or funerals; spraying people with water; fortune-telling.
Velykos, Spring Equinox
Christianity incorporated Lithuanian equinox traditions into Easter, and replaced the ancient Lithuanian name for the equinox with the Slavic word ‘Velykos’, i.e. Easter. ‘Pavasario lyge’, meaning Spring equinox, remains the only non-Christian name for the holiday. The week before equinox, called the Velykos of Veles (souls), concludes the annual cycle of commemorations of the dead. As during Kucios (Winter Solstice Eve), families remember their dead and leave their dinners on the tables overnight for the veles to eat.
Jorė, Spring Festival Samborai, Spring Festival
Sambariai, which names the ritual meal at the conclusion of sowing, or Paruges, which means the day by the rye. Households gathered on their fields with food and drink, where an open-air ritual meal was held. Households held the ritual separately; it was not a community rite. The ritual included ancient sacred songs called dainos and ancient ritual rounds or sutartines that blessed the grains. Families would prepare for Sambariai by stocking up on food, especially meats, and by brewing a special beer (traditional ritual drink and libation beverage). If the ritual was held at home, the house would be decorated with fresh-cut birch branches. Occurs at the end of May, after the planting of rye and other grains is finished and the seed has grown. This tradition survived undisturbed until the beginning of the 20th century in parts of Lithuania. Sambariai also once marked the start of the swimming season.
Rasa, Summer Solstice
Order of celebration: (1) dancing around the gates, (2) dancing around the kupolas, (3) misc. games, predictions, circle dance, (4) vaises (ritual meal), (5) greeting the setting sun, (6) lighting the bonfires and offerings, (7) visiting and blessing the fields and trees, (8) principal bonfire, burning of the More (straw doll symbolizing the old), circle dances around the bonfire, (9) swimming and bathing, a boat with a bonfire sails to shore, symbolizing the nocturnal trip of the sun, (10) casting the wreaths (11) greeting the moon and the stars, (12) worship of the rising sun and bathing in the morning dew.
Žolines, August 15
In honour of Žemyna, Earth Goddess. Associated with Rugiu Svente.
Rugių Svente, Rye Harvest
Beginning with the end of July and throughout August — depending on the growing conditions each year — the Lithuanian farmers start to harvest rye, the single most important grain cultivated in Lithuania. Rye is a divine grain; its fields are sacred. The harvest begins with the ritual Festival of the Rye, which expresses thanksgiving for the harvest. Women and men wear their finest white linen for the ritual, and harvest the rye in these clothes.
Dagotuves, Winter Rye Planting Finished Velines, All of October
Velines is in honour of the Veles, the shade of the ancestors – either of the family or the village. Because families would live in the same house/village for centuries, Lithuanians came to believe that the veles acted as guardians for the family and for the village. This is when the veles would enter the family home for the rest of the winter – leave at Velykos to go into the fields, to encourage the fertility of the land.
Kučios/Kaledos , Winter Solstice Eve – Beginning of the Year
Marks the end of the year, when the world returns to darkness and non-existence. However, as death begets birth, the two holidays also herald the rebirth of nature and the return of the sun. The Lithuanians distinguish the two subsequent days, now celebrated on the 24th and 25th of December, with a variety of ritual customs.
Here are the gods and dieties of the pagan Baltic people. Mind that the perception of Gods was/is different than that of current day Christianity.
Dievas: Supreme God
Lada: Great Mother
Perkunas: God’s Scourge, Sky/thunder
Patrimpas: Spring, joy, peace, earth
Pikulas/Velnias: God of the underworld
Sky Gods: Menulis: moon Saule: sun (the planets and stars are their daughters).
Zemyna: earth, birth, growth, ripening.
Domnestic Gods: Nonadieve/Dimstipatis/Zemepatis/Gabjauja
Laima: fertility, newly-born, pregnant women
Giltine: death, ordained the end of a life
Fertility Gods: Puskaitis: fruits of the earth and grains, lives under sacred elder tree. Pergubre/Pergubris: Goddess of blossoms and field work. Kupuole: Field vegetation, her daughter Rasyte would water the plants with dew. Vaisgamta: Stimulating growth.
Jurate: The queen of the Baltic Sea was a beautiful mermaid.
Kastytis: A son of the earth.
Siaurys: The North wind.
Aitvara: Considered to be divine creature, regulates relations and wealth
Pilnytis: The wealth god.
Kovas and Junda: War god.
Ausaitis: The health god.
Ganiklis: The schepherds’ god.
Keliukis: God of roads.
Milda: Godess of freedom.
Krumine: Godess of corn ears.
Nijole: Wife of the underworld god.
Medeine: The goddess of woods and trees.
Austeja, Bubilas: The goddess and the god of bees.
The two song EP of Vanad Varjud from Estonia is a grim first encounter with the band. The songs last well over the 10 minute border and envelop you in depressive darkness. The slow starting ‘Tumm Rongkäik’ (Silent Procession) features silence and the occasional drum sound in the first ten minutes. Some eerie sounds can be distinguished, but are barely audible.
When the music starts playing, first there’s the cascading guitar riff, played in such speeds to create a static wave pattern. Slow drums are being played, as in a ritual setting. Slowly the sound becomes more menacing, more grim and full of cold hate. Like a torrent, the music drags you in, slowly nodding along, one barely notices the change where a melody is sounding through the layers of guitar, untill it gently comes to a close.
‘Absurdiinimene’ (Absurd Human) is the second track, which starts with the sound of an icy gale blowing. The sounds that seep through are ominious. Clean guitar tones are being played in the same minor setting as Metallica’s ‘One’. A thunderous drum sound reverberates though the air and in a flash the riffing starts. A furious roar and samples start playing in Estonian. `
The Estonian extreme metal scene is very hidden and mostly known through a few bands that have somehow captured the interest of the media, like their folk-metal outfit Metsatöll or the sludge duo Talbot. I talked to Sorts Aposta and Thon from Vanad Varjud about the underground in this far-off corner of Europe, where winters are long and cold and where faith is minimal.
Who are Vanad Varjud and in what other bands did you play?
(Sorts) Vanad Varjud is me, Sorts Apostata is the so called ‘main man’ of the band. The band was born in 2000. I was already far into other things, but this became the main project. Thon played the drums and did vocals, so the ‘main man’ started to become a bit blurrier. So far it’s my thing, but Thon is responsible for all the drumwork. We both have been around in the Estonian ‘scene’ for years, though it’s hard to still call it a scene. It might be just me, there are some new winds blowing.
(Thon) I have been in several metal bands over the years. For a list of all my bands and projects, you can check my bandcamp page (there is a lot to check out. ed). Most of the music can also be listened to there. There is a complete list of bands I was in or connected to.
(Sorts) I’ve been involved with Ignorabimus in the past. Also with the band Nihilistikrypt. The band Mass In Comatose is my brainchild, though we will have to see if it ever rises again. When it comes to the scene in Estonia, the best source to check is estonianmetal.ee, though it has moved more to facebook. What is happening and where the action is can usually be found there.
What does Vanad Varjud mean? What is the idea behind the band?
(Sorts) Vanad Varjud means in English ‘Shadows of the past’ (though there are multiple interpretations, literally Old Shadows, meaning that the night is a calm time). This is, as far as what I did goes, the crown jewel and my most important project. It is mostly mine, where I create atmosphere like I’ve never done before. It feels very natural to me to do this the way I feel like. Being free of dogmas is a theme, as in can we even do that? We move to live grabbing hold of these dogmas to give us meaning and answers. They prevent us from thinking and we obey them quite unquestioning instead of looking at ourselves and others as human beings.
The music needs to be slow. Watch a snowflake fall, watch how it rains and feel the beauty and eerie atmosphere, the timelessness… Think of the smell of old trees, the foggy moon and sunrise (don’t take this as sounding too much like hippie stuff). Whatever you believe is your way and yours alone. It is good to have some travellers with you though, maybe even to the end?
What is the general idea/thought you are trying to convey to your listeners?
(Sorts) I dont try to convey anything really. I give something and you can take from it what you want, like I take things from other artists in the same way. It’s a matter of sharing, growing and learning and always moving forward. This is not as easy as it sounds ofcourse, trying to be original and following your own parth. We all wear certain chains, though we link up and find connections, but that is not always easy. It can even be a painful proces, but through pain we might achieve even greater things and more happiness.
We obey others, we are mastering others, we enslave others and enslave ourselves. Who are these others though, what others are there and why don’t we try to master our own self first? I think that’s the hardest thing, to find meaning in all this. It’s not the most original dilemma, very Nietzschean…Take your pick: Socrates, Gailit, Tammsaare…
Where do you draw inspiration from?
(Thon) Inspiration is everywhere, in books, music, film and nature or wherever you look.
(Sorts) I can’t add much to that. Maybe what is inspirational to me is that feeling of pure loneliness that we humans feel. You are born alone and you die alone and in some way you always are alone. Growing is a solitary process, but we can try to share this maybe.
What is it like to be an Estonian black metal band. Does being Estonian have any influence on your music do you think?
(Sorts) There are bands here and some projects, but no tight knit scene in the way people would imagine. We meet, greeta nd have a drink now and then, but not too often I guess. Metal in Estonia, specially black metal, is quite underground. Everyone is doing their own thing in their little corner and I think that’s fine the way it is.
If you consider where and how Estonians have lived historically and geographically and what th weather is like, then the usic dfefinitely is influenced by being Estonian. Then again, it might be my thing, we are very closed off people.
I’ve listened to your 2 song EP. What can you tell about the writing and recording?
(Thon) The idea of VV has been growing in Sorts for years and it first came to life after we finished recording with a metal band. Me and Sorts had the studio to ourselves and started to record the dripping water from some pipe near the door. We messed around with effects and created this eeriesound that just needed some drums. We recorded those as well in some takes, then sorts did the guitars. We did the vocals in a second session, but the rest of it… It just happened.
(Sorts) In a basement in Põlva we built a studio. There were pipes all over the place, it was underground and you could hear people flush their toilets. For recording we had to predict when people were going to do their business… You never knew what you’d find in that place before you had opened the door. There was also a radiostation operating from there. It was a legendary and strange place with ice cold winters. When it started leaking one day we put a metal tub underneath it and started recording the dripping.
Thon was doing the editing for some other band and I was freezing, reading the book ‘Maagide Kool’ by Vladimir Weidemann (translation: School of Mages: Estonian Occult Underground 1970-1980 ). When ‘Talv’ for the band Sõjaruun was done, the drumkit was still there, so we did this basic stuff. It was spontaneous and pure joy to make and I wish every album could be done this way. The writing was done in my head and we had the basic recording. After that I spend some time to adjust things and do the vocals.
Is there a theme to it, do you chose specific messages for a release you make?
(Sorts) Its not like a story of any kind is integral to our music, there are themes that just follow and we pick up on what happens around us. The future material is planned to involve dark themes. It seriously will be very dark.
What are the samples from that are in the songs? Why did you chose them?
(Sorts) The ambient elements there are mostly recorded and modified by us. We chose those to creat a kind of eerie atmosphere, like a church/monastary atmosphere. These are things we just did, you know? It was very inspiring stuff to use and create. It was a cold november when this came from my mind, before I turned it into flesh.
The EP is out on Hexenreich records. How did you get on this label and why did you chose for tape as a carrier?
(Thon) I have known Volly (boss of Hexenreich) for many years. I talk to him almost every week, so it was quite a natural thing to happen.
(Sorts) Yeah, Thon did the talking on that one. I’ve known the same person for many years, but Thon was more on a business level with this I suppose. Hexenreich has been functioning as a label dealing with this music for a long time now and it’s not like there are that many places for our kind of music. He’s a good person to work with.
Actually we released a sort of split with Hexenreich and Eerie Moonlit Trees, which is a label I started to create an undergroundlabel. I have to see if that’s going to work out. Chosing the casette format is partly because it is simply very cheap. I would like to release material on cd, LP and MCD, but as long as we don’t have that kind of deal, we will work with what we have. Anyone who is interested in helping us forward is most welcome.
Can you tell us a bit about metal in Estonia and mainly extreme metal?
(Sorts) I don’t know that much of the new Estonian metal scene. There is stuff going on and if someone is interested in it, the best news source is estioniametal.com, though it doesn’t offer the most recent news right now. We’re simply outside of it I guess.
Some fresh things that are going on as far as I know, Ingmar Aasoja from Thou Shell Of Death has some interesting things going on. The bands Urt and Aghor are active and interesting, Tharaphita has some nice progress and Süngehel has new stuff going on that are worth checkin gout. Goresoerd you can look up on facebook, is definitely a cool band.
I’ve got a list of records that are, in my opinion worth checking out, which offer a good impression of the Estonian scene. My opinion also varies ofcourse, it depends on what I feel like.
Sõjaruun – Talv (2010) Mortified – Wilderness (1993) Tharaphita – All pool Lund Ja Jääd (1997) Aggressor – Legal Requirement (1993) Nihilistikrypt – I hate everything (2006) Skydancer – The Dawnhunter (1996)
Why do you think Estonia is the most atheistic country in Europe?
(Thon) I think it’s a good thing, it seems a natural fact to me really. Studies have indeed shown it’s the most non-religious country in the world and it feels like a good thing.
(Sorts) There are all sorts of studies, so I dont agree with Thon on this. Right, in reality we may not be on level with the classic religious countries, but we’ve been fucked by religion enough as a small nation. Religion in my opinion is like a slavery in the classic way. We are officially a Lutheran country in so far, but there is no official religion in our country. There are big churches and such, with big budgets, but where does that money come from? We live and believe in a more protestant way I think, more sober. I dont believe a God that promises good things for those that serve is a good thing, its a mental slavery, being fooled by these promises who tell us we are blessed if we obey. What bothers me most is why we behave like believers still, even when we claim not to believe.
Fun fact, the Lutheran church wishes to build a skycraper in Tallinn, which will be the biggest building in the city. What should we think of that?
Anything else you’d like to share?
(Sorts) Bottle of cheap whiskey and two dark beers? Thanks for this oppertunity and everyone, support bands that you enjoy and perhaps we’ll meet some day.
During answering these questions, I was listening to some old material and some weird stuff came to my ears. It feels like a great journey to answer this and get back into listening to old material.
Again, some tunes to bop your head to in Sounds of the Underground! This time A Forest Of Stars, Woods Of Desolation, Shylmagoghnar and Promethean Horde.
A Forest Of Stars – A Shadowplay for Yesterdays
Yes, I know this is not the latest album of these Brittish troubadours. I listened to them before, but due to a friends enthousiasm I did so again yesterday. I was amazed. The band brings together sounds of despair, string sections in minor, gritty black metal and the carnavalesque in a blend that is wonderfully powerful. A track like ‘A Prophet For A Pound Of Flesh’ embodies that blend of epic doom, laced with twinkling folk passages and playful prog elements. The wailing ‘The Blight Of God’s Acre’ is another example of organic black metal embracing the play with elements.
Listening to this record brings memories of neofolk groups like Current 03, but also of doomers My Dying Bride. That has a lot to do with the Victorian charm of this league of gentlemen, as they describe themselves on their website. They don’t draw their inspiration from pagan Gods and nature, but from a time where romanticism and beauty was still something of importance. ‘Gatherer of the Pure’ is one of those unrelentingly beautiful tracks that display all elements in a blistering torrent of sound that has a warm, golden gleam to it. ‘Left Behind As Static’ lets you hear polished English and the ghost stories associated with electricity seem to be the inspiration for another magic song with static in the air. The haunting ‘Dead Love’ is the great closer of this magic album.
I can’t wait to check out the new one.
Woods of Desolation – As The Stars
The sound of Woods of Desolation is like the cold autumn sun, that caresses your face while your fingers feel frozen. The pain and beauty intermingle in a warm bath of nostalgia on this fantastic album full of post-blackmetal with static riffs and soaring elements in major, tremolo guitar picking and that unwavering cascade of atmospheric layers… I just want to rant about it, till I run out of breath. The song ‘Unfold’ is one of my favorites on this record.
I guess its the layers of ambient that make this record so alluring and filled with atmosphere that one can relate to. It has a simple beauty that still transcends the regular, the harmonies are just right. ‘An Autumn Light’ is another great track that seems to captivate exactly wht I said before. The vocals blend in with the rest of the music to create a unity. In a way they are the only dissonant sound in the music you can hear. These Australians did a wonderfull job in making this beautiful album, that still captivates the grim and cold of black metal. I could go on and on about it, but I feel that words fail to describe what my gut tells me while listening to this.
Shylmagoghnar – Emergence
I just happened to stumble across these Dutch prog-BM’ers on bandcamp. Clean sounding, technical and catchy are some keywords. Atmosphere does not need to be dense tapestry of tremolo guitar obviously. It can also be the clean, hard walls of riffs that these guys unleash on their 2014 album. The long opener ‘Abyss’ immediately lets you hear some classical influences as well, this is not easy metal. An approach that hits the listener in the gut can also be taken, like on ‘This World Shall Fall’ and ‘Squandered Paradise’.
‘The Cosmic Tide’ is a track that stands out due to its soaring sound, full of aventure and bravery. The music is on that Cosmic level, always maintaining a feeling of tension and intensity. ‘A New Dawn’ delivers another blistering track with classic elements and full of epic grandeur. The band is not afraid of implementing anything in their dense and straight forward sound. The magic is in the exectution this great collection of songs. I’m well impressed with the variation and the openness of their sound. Recommended material!
Promethean Horde – Ashes of the Empyrean
What an awesome find, these blackening death tyrants from the United States. I love the frantic sound of the riffs and dense walls of guitars. The vocals remind me of the cleanish sounding black metal, like that of Keep of Kalessin on this album filled with pagan black metal. I’m not sure how deep that pagan aspect runs, but just bear with me for a bit more, while these boys roll on. The epic riffs are quite impressive, though not too original. This band is definitely energetic and filled with rage, creating an impressive rolling sound.
The vocals are a hoarse bark, a bit like Abbath, but lacking the deep cutting gritty qualities. Many people are fussed about some clean parts on the album, but I find those very easy to ignore and forget. The coiling sound and sheer intensity makes up for whatever flaws it may have, like some out of place tremolo playing on ‘Ördögszereto’. I will admit that during the listening to this album, my enthousiasm startst to go down a bit. It’s not the most original release and might not really have that forwards move in its sound, which is so typical for USBM. Still, I enjoy this record.