Hanal Pixan: The Mayan heritage of Belize

There’s a chance that you’ve never heard of Belize. It’s a small country in Central America, bordering on Mexico and Guatemala. It’s surprisingly very thinly populated. Pictures make it look like a paradise, with beautiful nature, green forests and sandy beaches. The ruins of the ancient civilizations are also an attractive element. As a small country, Belize also has a metal scene and Hanal Pixan is as Belizean as it gets.

In a country that has only been independent since 1981, the search for roots is still going on. The cultural diversity in Belize makes it probably even more tempting to find out more about this now before tourism and migration completely ruin the artifacts of the past. This pre-Hispanic past is what Hanal Pixan explores in their lyrics. It’s what I am most curious about and Halach Uinik Chuc is willing to tell more about this.

Most fascinating to me is that for Halach the Mayan civilization is not something of the past. It’s still there and deeply embedded in the history and culture of Belize. We keep learning.

How is Hanal Pixan doing?
First of all, thank you for the interview, Hanal Pixan is doing good.

How did you guys get started as a band? You are all active in various other bands. Can you tell a bit about that?
The band started in 2013 as a one-man band to play extreme metal with lyrics based on the Yucatec Maya culture. As time went by, I wanted to expand so I invited Nojoch Brujo to join the project in 2015. Later i invited Thiago C. We all meet through internet as they are members of other bands and they liked the idea of Hanal Pixan. Nojoch Brujo plays in Flames of Apocolypse (melodic death metal) and Down in Flames (metalcore). Thiago C plays with Neverchrist (black metal), Crepusculic Shadows (black metal) and we both play together in Kill The Whore (goregrind/brutal death metal). I also have other projects like Sick Mutation.

The name Hanal Pixan is derived from a particular tradition in your part of the world. Can you tell us about that and why you chose it for your band?
Yes, Hanal Pixan, which is pronounced as “Hanal Pishan”, is a tradition which is practiced in Belize by people of Yucatec Maya descent. I am a Yucatec Maya of Belize and Hanal Pixan in our native language means “Food for the souls”. It is a tradition done to honor our loved ones, who have left this world and now are the spiritual one. I chose the name because I thought it would go well with the band’s theme. In other words, Hanal Pixan is a tradition to honor the dead.

In Hanal Pixan you express through your themes and lyrics Mayan history and culture. How do you go about this and can you tell a bit about those themes for people not familiar with them?
The lyrics are mostly based on the history of my people. Stories of war, which were told to us by our grandparents, about the Maya Social War from 1847-1930’s. This is more commonly known as the Caste War. Also about how the culture is today, the traditions, folklore and our daily struggles etc. So it is basically what I see every day and what our grandparents have told us.

Hanal Pixan’s music is mostly based on the last rebellion of the Yucatec Maya from 1847-1930’s to retake their lands which were stolen by the Spanish. This rebellion happened 300 years after the conquest when the Spanish reached the Yucatan peninsula. The Maya were able to put a Maya state in modern times called Chan Santa Cruz and were able to control territories in Northwestern Belize and southern Mexico. It was one of the most successful indigenous uprisings in the Americas. My great grandparents were Maya rebels who fought during that war also. So it is a way of telling my people’s history and struggle.

When you make an album, do you take specific themes and concepts to build them around? For example, your recent album. What story does that revolve around?
Our recent album name is U K’aayo’ob K’uyo’ob which in our native language means ‘The Singing of the Gods’. This album was more based on the modern Yucatec Maya culture of Belize. While our past album In Lu’umil Belice which means ‘Our land Belize’ was more based on the history of the Conquest of this region.

How do you go about making music as a band? Do you start with music or words and what roles does everyone have in creating the music? As I understand, Hanal Pixan was originally a solo project, has the process changed as a band?
Well, the band started as a one-man band but it has changed. In Lu’umil Belice was composed entirely by Nojoch Brujo except the lyrics. Our latest release U K’aayo’ob K’uyo’ob was done differently. The music was composed by Thiago C and myself. For both the albums, I wrote all the lyrics. First, we do the music and then by how the music feels we decide what name to give it.

What is your message on the Mayan themes? Is it simply interest in the past or a resurgence of awareness?
First of all, we want to show our Maya youths that we can still use our culture in the modern world and preserve our Maya identity. Also, it is a reminder of the struggle of our people. Many of our themes are basically ignored in Belizean schools. Belizean schools do not teach our history. It is a resurgence of awareness among the people of Yucatec Maya descent from Belize of their heritage since many do not know our history. To be honest, it is a resurgence of awareness happening right now for our people, who want to preserve their Maya identity in northern Belize.

How does a live show of Hanal Pixan look like?
Sadly, because we have other musical projects, distance and other responsibilities we have not played live. We have been planning to though…

I would like to ask you about the metal scene in Belize. What is the scene like there? And how did metal come to your country, what bands pioneered it and shaped the scene of Belize?
The Belizean metal scene is small and very underground. There are Metal concerts two or 3 times a year. The most known Metal shows are Metal Mayhem in Corozal and Metal Haven Bash in Cayo. Metal was brought by those who traveled to the USA in the late 1980’s. When they came back they brought the music and the dressing style. Also, MTV in the 1990’s helped the scene develop. Those were the days when MTV use to put Metal music videos, not like today. Also, our contact with Mexicans influenced us. I would say that two bands who are pioneers in Belize were Of the Fallen and Lasher Zombie.

Do you as a band face any sort of censorship or restrictions? And is everything like instruments, rehearsal space, music and venues to play in available to you easily?
Most of the scene is underground and seems like we do not exist. We do not have any censorship except in the mainstream media. Bands like Lasher Zombie, being a death Metal band, have been played for a rock special on mainstream Belizean Radio but most of the time the radios ignores the Metal bands. Most Belizean radio stations will not play metal music. Most instruments are purchased from mostly Mexico or the USA.

Space to rehearse is a problem, because of many people, especially religious groups, condemn this kind of music, labeling it Satanic. Venues are also a problem because many do not want Metal bands to play in their venues. Most Venues used are from family members of Metalheads, who are willing to give us our space to make shows. Religious groups have complained to the authorities about our music being too loud and crazy etc. Anyhow, we are still here, doing what we love.

Are there places in Belize that a metalhead should definitely visit?
Of Course, The metal events like Metal Haven Bash that takes place in October and Metal Mayhem in December.

Which bands from your part of the world should people definitely check out (and why so)?
I would recommend the Belizean Metal bands, so people hear how these bands sound in a country so small and with little support. My list is Kill the Whore(goregrind), Flames of Apocalypse (melodic death metal), Verge of Umbra (rap metal), Lasher Zombie (death Metal), Death Supressor (deathgrind), Of the Fallen (melodic death metal), Sick Mutation (grindcore), Hypnopompia (death thrash) and Zro Dclpine (hard rock).

From your social channels it seems that even though you are dealing with history, the band is very much in the present and politically aware too. Can you elaborate on that and is there to you a connection between the two?
We try our best to keep away from Politics in Hanal Pixan and just focus on our Maya history. Sometimes it is difficult to ignore politics because they get involved in everything!

What future plans does Hanal Pixan have?
Play live is one and the other record a third album. We want to continue doing what we love Musically and culturally.

If you had to compare your band to a type of food or a dish, what would it be and why?
I would compare it to Pib. Pib is a traditional Maya foodstyle, where it is cooked underground. Why? Because it is a food done for the Hanal Pixan tradition. Pib is very nice, just like our band sound!.

In kaaba’e‘ Halach Uinik Chuc ,Jach yuum bo’otik ,Kanantabaa( Yucatec maya language)
Translation: My name is Halach Uinik Chuc, Thank you so much , take care (English translation)

Underground Sounds: Year of the Cobra – Burn Your Dead

Label: Magnetic Eye Records
Band: Year of the Cobra
Origin: United States

I like that Year of the Cobra is not a regular band. It’s a duo that also is in a relationship with each other. That sounds pretty weird, since relations are always an intense form of being together. To add a band to that, jeez… the fights they must have in the Barrysmith home in Seattle. I would prefer not to get caught up in that. It does result in ample releases though.

But without making light of it, for these two it works and it produces beautiful, harmonious music. The full length is already a little behind us, so ‘ Burn Your Dead’ is a welcome bit of new material after the success of ‘…In the Shadows Below’. The theme seems to linger in warrior/Viking imagery and occult feeling songs, with that typical crawly vibe to them. Now, maybe I’m mythicizing the place a bit, but it’s so typical that a unique sound like this comes from Seattle, isn’t it?

It felt a little quiet around this band, but Year of The Cobra easily regains their status with this new EP. From the first notes of ‘Cold’, the foreboding sound of their psychedelic doom grabs you. The seductive, slivering sound of the bass/drum combo heavily relies on the husky voice of Amy Barrysmith, who can also wail like a banshee if need be. A chill runs up your spine when she wails the words to the songs.

The music moves with the grace of a cobra. Slow and deliberate towards its goal with an almost slithering smoothness. Sometimes, the intensity increases. This happens on ‘Burn Your Dead’, the title-track, where the vocals are filtered through (I suppose) a megaphone, has a frantic pace and energy to it. What is particularly enjoyable about Year of the Cobra, is how there’s a certain kind of groove in their sound. It feels warm, immersive and pleasant to sink into. Check out, in particular, the bewitching ‘The Howl’, which will totally drag you under. Good stuff, so looking forward to the next full length.

Underground Sounds: Summoning – With Doom We Come

Label: Napalm Records
Band: Summoning
Origin: Austria 
Summoning is a must-listen band for anyone who feels strongly about black metal and Tolkien, but Silenius and Protector have long since left behind their musical roots. The band stands apart, thanks to their programmed, composed sound. On ‘With Doom We Come’, that is once more extremely clear and within the dungeon synth world the band is hailed as if they’re venerated, liberators. Unfortunately, the biggest impact this far from their new album came through an interview with Noisey. Well, as long as they talk about you.
Summoning was born out of musicians from Abigor and Pazuzu (and many others), started out as a fourpiece playing black metal, but switched to their current approach in 1995 (two years after starting). Since then the members Protector and Silenius are responsible for the sound of Summoning, which is much more sountrack-like and composed rather than created in a rehearsal space. On the side they duo occupies themselves with some side projects. Silenius plays black metal with Amistigon and industrial with Kreuzweg Ost. Protector occupies himself with Ice Ages, creating EDM.

‘Tar-Calion’ is the epic story of the last king of Númenor, told in solumn progressing tones. Spoken passages and grunts illuminate segments of the tale. The song is highly repetitive, which immerses the listener into the unhindred and fatalistic path of this Tolkien-saga figure. A journey towards ultimate doom. That is the overlying theme for this record, the doom-laden parts of the Silmarillion and other writings, with electronically enhanced music, featuring flutes and heralding trumpets. The music is sonorous, slow and never really building to any sort of climax. Vocals are hoarse whispers, grittedly spat at the listener on tracks like ‘Silvertine’ (a reference to the place where Gandalf battled the Balrog, that even movie watchers must know) or ‘Carcharoth’ (Silmarillion).

A swelling sound can be heard on ‘Herumor’, where a choir appears to sing over the meandering, ambient-like metal of the Austrian band. It’s a noteworthily more expressive part of the record, amidst the static sound of the group. They never seem to really waver much from their flowing music. Generally, the atmosphere oppresses and sounds dense and hazy. This is of course one of the main reasons why this band appeals to the dungeon synth genre-fans so much because it clearly bridges between the two worlds. Playful melodies now and then create interesting nuances in the songs, filling the gaps between the vocals on a tune like ‘Night Fell Behind’.
On ‘Mirklands’ we get a bit grimmer, mostly thanks to the vocals, but the song stays synth heavy. With over 10 minutes of music, both this tune and the title track are powerful compositions that evoke Tolkienesque visages and imagery. ‘With Doom We Came’ offers the doomy, grand finale of the album. The voice is raspy, but clear, a bit like Rob Miller from Amebix/Tau Cross. The highlight of the album for sure.

Black Kirin: Chinese metal on the rise

We all have our perception of China. It’s a vast nation, that has spread over the world and seems to hold many mysteries for us. What most people don’t know, is that it’s also a great place for some good metal music, which started back when Tang Dynasty (not the actual dynasty, but the band), brought the sound to the land of the Red Dragon.

One of the bands, that have been pushing the sound further than ever and also across the boundaries of the nation is Black Kirin. The band revolves around guitarist and songwriter Sen Fang, who started the project back in 2012. He’s been vigorously producing music since, which has yielded 3 full-length albums, 2 EP’s a live record and a series of singles. Black Kirin is now a full-fledged live-band and touring the country. Their last album, named after the ‘Nanking Massacre’, made me want to know more about the group. The album deals with atrocities committed in the city of Nanking, during the second Sino-Japanese War, a black page in history for sure.

Getting in touch with the band was no easy task, but thanks go out to Jiayu for translating and mediating between myself and the band. Also thanks to Sen Fang answering these questions.

Black Kirin from China

Could you tell me a little more about Black Kirin? How did the band get started and how did you guys get into metal?

Black Kirin started as my personal project. It became a formal band in 2015. We mainly just write songs and release them, Black Kirin doesn’t even play lots of shows. Like other people, we know that’s what we wanted when we first heard the metal music.

What bands inspired you to make this sort of music?

We’re happy to use  a variety music (not limited in metal stuff) to describe BK’towork. Besides traditional metal music, Chinese music influences me a lot. The track “Da Qu”(the Great Song) from our latest album is adapted from the work of Chinese folk music composer Jiang Ying. We hope that our music helps draw people’s attention to traditional Chinese music and culture.

What does Black Kirin mean?

Kirin is the name of a patron saint/beast in Chinese Myths, “Ki” refers to the male one and “Rin” refers to the female one. Our materials are based on Chinese history and culture, so here comes the name.

What inspires your music? I hear the metal elements, but it’s so totally different and often so reminiscent of traditional musics. So where do you get all this from?

Our aesthetic and way of thinking about music may be different from traditional metal music. As the traditional music you mentioned, or the folk music, world music, these are all crucial element forming our music.

Do you use any special instruments?

I am good at composition myself, rather than instruments. Besides the “Guzheng”(古筝) and “Erhu”(二胡) we used in our debut album, this time we add “Xun”(埙) in the track “Wangchuan River”. It is a kind of old wind instruments which makes the fantastic feeling we want to put in our music.

To me, when I listen to your music, in particular, your acoustic record, I think its very different and very (if I may be so bold to say it in this manner) Chinese. Can you tell me a bit more about those elements and how you combine them with metal?

When composing, Chinese music elements are avoided to be used as the conventional way in orchestration, otherwise, it will make it stagnated in fusion. Usually, we make it back to our linear music thinking, which we are good at, and then we can make sure any instruments what we use can produce perfect Chinese music. Acoustic instruments appears more like the bridge in our latest album, making the album more complete.

So how do you guys go about making new music, for example, the latest one, titled ‘Nanking Massacre’. How do you start and work together in the writing and recording process?

The project of our latest album started from early 2017, including MIDI, tracks and project management, then we began recording. This album is mainly made by me and the drummer (Sicong Du), I took part of harmony and frame then Sicong improved them. In the end, other members complete their parts.

What can you tell us about the album, its theme, and subject?

Our debut EP album “Nanjing” and two full-length albums are all related to Nanjing Massacre. We would like to pay tribute to victims rather than spread hatred. We also hope that more people will know what happened in Nanjing and understand the meaning of peace.

You’ve been taking a lot of topics from national history. What sort of message are you trying to bring across? Is it simply telling about history, or is there more to it?

Human nature is truly shown in the war environment. So we want to relate to the victims as well as tell the history.

I’ve always understood that there’s quite some censorship in China. Do you guys have to deal with that as a band? Can you freely sing songs about whatever you want? It’s often suggested that China is very closed of from the outside world. Is that so?

Yes, I can. Fortunately, that has changed a lot and it doesn’t have a negative impact on our band operation. It doesn’t seem that hard to spread our music, we are looking forward to making our releases available for fans overseas.

I’m interested how black metal, like the style you’re playing, came around and which bands made it into what it is today.

Strictly speaking, we are not black metal. There are many kinds of metal bands in contemporary Chinese metal scene, each of them has their own style. I would say we are learning from each other.

What future plans does Black Kirin have?

We hope we can arrange more performances and shows, meeting our overseas fans.

If you had to compare Black Kirin to a dish, what would it be and why?

Hot pot, I love it.

Underground Sounds: Kurse – Tales of the Wizard

Label: Independent
Band: Kurse
Origin: Canada

In the Marvel Universe, Kurse is a dark elf, named Algrim the Strong, who becomes the champion of the dark elves in the overpowering armor of Kurse. You can see him in the Thor film, he’s quite bad-ass. It’s where the band Kurse takes the name from for their debut EP ‘Tales of the Wizard’.

The Québecois group is a newcomer to the doom/stoner scene. They’ve definitely has taken a good look at the more melodic bands in the genre, that focus more on the emotional sound. The threesome from Montréal has not got any particular band history to point to. Judging by this record, that is quite a surprise. The debut sounds stunningly good.

The opening of ‘Antagonism’ has the magical beauty and simple joy of an Opeth acoustic. That takes almost five minutes to be dispelled by one of those surging riffs that you just have to surf along on. The harsh vocals of Felix Pageau are a bit lower in the mix, but the sharpness of his bark really makes it break through the tide. By the time ‘The Giant’ kicks in, the band has a full-on groove going, with cascading mega guitars and that typical hazy sound.

It’s that psychy haze that really makes Kurse stand out. With the cover and band name, you expect the sort of cool, epic sound, but the band really goes into a more dreamy direction. Vision becomes blurry, as the drums just keep hitting and hitting. ‘Mythos’ really turns into a bass-heavy, gritty onslaught. Think of Sleep, Electric Wizard, and Ufomammut and you’ll get the gist of things. I keep returning to those cool vocals, which sound a bit choked off, but always right on track on ‘Four Princes’.

Kurse sounds quite promising on this EP and a full length may be what they need to really craft something amazing.

Reading of Books #34

Some reading done in the recent days with the Elminster Series by Ed Greenwood, Cleric Quintet by R.A. Salvatore and the zines Bardo Methodology and Forgotten Path. Sometimes I feel that my way of grouping books is perhaps odd, but that’s just the order in which I’ve been reading them.

Ed Greenwood – Eliminster Series (titles grouped as main series fo first five novels): 

Elminster: The Making of a Mage
Elminster in Myth Drannor
The Temptation of Elminster
Elminster in Hell
Elminster’s Daughter
Elminster is a creation of Ed Greenwood. A bearded mage, with a sarcastic kind of humor, a kind heart and powers beyond anyone else. He is known as the great meddler, the storm bird and worse by his enemies. He’s also great with women. If you google Ed Greenwood, you might thing he idealized himself in one of his characters actually, so that’s a bit odd. As a D&D player myself, I read these books with great interest, but found them often complex, unnatural and slightly unhinged. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great works of fireball-throwing-blood-gushing-damsell-seducing-divinely-inspired-dragons-swords-and-whatnot fantasy. They’re not very much to my taste, let me tell you why. I read it with enjoyment at times, but never worried about any outcome. Sure, this happens a lot in fantasy, but it doesn’t have to be so bloody obvious.

As a player, there’s one pitfall and that is loving your character too much. Elminster is as close to unfallible as any character has ever gotten. I mean, Gandalf and Dumbledore have nothing on this guy, who keeps defying death, withstands the most extreme torture and if all else fails just fucking fireballs himself out of any sort of trouble. It becomes rather boring if every rising action in your story, is a mere hick-up for the protagonist, so while the first book is very satisfying, it soon becomes a bit of a bore. I know there is more, but I feel sort of reluctant to start reading those, for exactly that reason. Another point is that Elminster seems to be a singular shining light in a world populated by cardboard characters. Every other player in this game is pretty much insignificant or very one dimensional. That and the fact that Gods tremble when He Who Walks passes makes me less fond of the books. Sometimes, I completely got lost in the woolly, jumpy descriptions. Sorry.

R.A. Salvatore – The Cleric Quintet

Canticle, In Sylvan Shadows, Night Masks, The Fallen Fortress, The Chaos Curse
The Cleric Quintet takes us back to a more simple and pleasant Forgotten Realms, where not Goddes-infused Elminster blasts his way through the world or the troubled Drizzt cuts and slices through the underdark. Salvatore started on the quintet after a couple of Drizzt series, in an attempt to start something new. In future series, the cast of both books would meet. That to me, was a greatly positive thing for the Drizzt series, which went on for a good run more afterwards. The quintet takes place in a region, dubbed the Baronies, where Cadderly is a student at the Efidicant Library. The library shines as a light of intellect and knowledge in the realms and draws visitors from far and wide.

At the side of Cadderly Bonaduce is Danica Maupoissant, a monk of a peculiar order with an uncanny strength and agility. Their adventures start, when an evil trinity of forces plans to take over the Baronies with an evil curse. To defeat their enemies the duo, who are playful lovers from the start, team up with the fantastic dwarven brothers Ivan and Pikel Bouldershoulder. The second wishes to be a druid and speaks only in affirmative or negating sounds. It makes for a fun and loose party, which is a nice change from the serious and dour group around Drizzt. Together they are going to have some great adventures. R.A. Salvatore pushes in some new directions with these novels, in a realm that feels cleaner and simpler in a sense. More warm and welcoming, which for me felt liek an interesting exploration.

Niklas Göransson – Bardo Methodology #2

Some magazines simply go beyond mere magazine-form. Bardo Methodology definitely counts as one of the favorite things I’ve read in a long time. Not only does Göransson pick some extremely interesting interviewees, but he never goes for the low hanging fruits with his questions. There’s a refreshing honesty to his writing, also when things don’t seem to go his way. At some point during one of the interviews, it seems that a conflict starts to rise. As the interview cuts up here, the author explains what happens in a neutral manner, making the reader feel even more like a fly on the wall during the interview. That is one of the things that makes this zine so remarkable.

The depth of questioning and of the authors knowledge is astonishing to me. Questions really dive into the deep end with most of the characters, though here and there this means unmasking the pretenders it seems. One or two interviews really illuminated some charaters for me in a way that also dispelled the magic these figures once held. That’s the way of things, but also proof of skill from the one asking the questions. I’m looking forward to #3. Maybe it’s also interesting to mention that ‘bardo’ is not derived from bards. The word refers to the transition between life and death, where much extreme metal holds sway.

Various authors – Forgotten Path #6

Again, not that I’m in the habit of reviewing zines, but these thick slabs of metal history/journalism are well worth mentioning. Though Forgotten Path is not a one man operation, it seems that Odium, the main author, has an obsessive urge to put words on paper. The amount of pages in this edition astonishes me, the same goes for the wide range of bands covered. Pages full of miniscule font cd-reviews, dense interviews and here and there an opinion piece, make for a read that fills up multiple evenings and rarely starts to bore.

Opinionated is something that definitely applies to Odium. He has a very clear artistic vision and view on the world, which shines through in his introductions, questions and most of all opinion pieces. This is not a bad thing, unless there was any pretense of being the objective writer. A zine is always personal and shaped by the authors. That is for me one of the main charms of Forgotten Path. Apart from that, they also do a great job at writing in a way that feels very natural, using speaking language instead of complex, intellectual swivel. A joy to read.

 

Underground Sounds: Sutrah – Dunes

Label:  Independent
Band: Sutrah
Origin: Canada

Eastern promises come from far off places sometimes. Sutrah found inspiration in the oriental mysteries all the way in the northern land of Canada. In a period of 7 years the band crafted their debut album, which is out now, titled ‘Dunes’. An album inspired by esoteric thoughts, metaphysics and oriental folklore.

Drawing inspiration from bands like Lykathea AflameMartyr all the way to Cocteau Twins and Oliver Messiean. Members of the band have also been active in Chthe’ilist. Sonically the band seeks to bridge the wide gap between the turbulence and ferocity of death metal and inner calm that comes from the eastern philosophies and thoughts. They’ve tried to capture this idea and fight in their artwork.

After a moment of meditation, the album launches in full force with the title track. The tremolo riffing and high paced drums sweep in, but soon find a tranquillity in harmonious unity. Like a tapestry, all feels whole. That lasts usually up until the breaks, where a moment of chaos and doubt tear these turmoils apart into a chaotic shredding explosion. The constant search for balance results in an album that truly has two faces.

The album sounds absolutely pristine in production. Sometimes it lacks therefore a certain organic quality I’d say, but that’s a general death metal ailment in my ears. I love the intertjection of strange elements, like the bells on ‘Effervesce’. Though their balance with the music can be extremely weird, it does give that extra thing to the music. When they fade away tight waves of guitar riffs take over again. Sometimes those soar away in wild, brief solo’s. It breaks that steady flow of the sound, which you’ll find if you can transcend the frantic pace and precise cuts.

The vocals are deep growls, barked on cue with the melody of the all over sound. At times the band can sound quite complex, but that technicality and the calm in there is the charm of this Canadian band for sure. I don’t see anyone getting their meditation groove on to Sutrah for now though.

This offers great hopes for the future though.

Batushka, Schammasch, Trepaneringsritualen @013

On a rainy wednesday night I headed to 013 in Tilburg. Originally I scheduled  an interview singer and composer Chris S.R. from Schammasch for a chat about their music. Thee insanity of modern day touring made an interview simply too much for the Swiss artist. Still, I went to check it out, because Batushka is always a charm and I’ve never seen Trepaneringsritualen before.

Trepaneringsritualen

Opener is that act from Göteborg, which uses beat driven industrial to bark defiance at the gods over. It’s a strange act in this line-up, but thanks to the dark, gloomy atmosphere it just works. The sole member on stage generates a sense of magic with a performance that is as much a ritualistic experience as a commander barking words at you. Yeah, that works together actually.

Schammasch

Then we await the mighty Swiss band, who have just released their latest record ‘The Maldoror Chants: Hermaphrodite’. The EP format puzzles me since it seems to simply be a value judgment these days, more than a length indication. Regardless, a great listening experience after the opus magnus that is ‘Triangle’, with its 100 minutes of music over three records.

Schammasch starts of with drumming, setting the atmosphere of bombastic, grand music that combines black and doom elements with ambient and simple spoken word. Frontman Chris is adorned in a ritual garb and has his face painted black with gold. Call it an act if you will, it is more part of the message of spiritualism and art the band offers. Within the void of doom driven, rhythmic frames, the singer proclaims the words of Maldoror, with wide open eyes. The music stimulates your imagination, engages your body with the poetry of the Comte de Leautremont. The music simply immerses the listener, like a warm bath. As a frontman, the presence of Chris S.R. radiates conviction and strength, but also a remarkable absence of ego.

The set leaves you with an altered state of mind.

Batushka

Then we head for the traditional orthodox mass, but turned onto its head. Batushka seems to struggle with some parts of the set-up but almost on time the band gets on the stage. Unfortunately, a draft blows out candles on one side of the stage, which the nameless priest tries to light anew a couple of times with no success. A guitarist gets stuck in the banner but once the band is settled, all that evaporates like snow in the burning fires of hell.

The sound of Batushka seems to have become more harmonious through the constant touring and the chanting has merged more and more with the black metal. That is good news because it makes the show even more captivating and removes the feeling that some moments are mere gimmicks. As a listener you simply allow the flow of the mass to carry you, with the bulky frontman as your impressive and confident guide.

In a haze of torrentous, though melodic black metal, Gregorian chanting and the smell of incense, one can truly experience the music of this Polish group of mystery man. The experience is good and complete, even with half the candles out.

Underground Sounds: Scriptor Hiberniae – The Manuscript

Label: Celtic Wraith
Band: Scriptor Hiberniae
Origin: Ireland

In a magical story, the record ‘The Manuscript’ sprang from a magical manuscript, found by Scriptor Hiberniae. It’s marvelous layout and caligraphy fascinates him, but when it is taken home it starts to glow, transforms into a humanoid creature and leaves to cause mischief. After an investigation, it turns out that a pagan chieftain had himself resurrected into an ecclesiastical script of gold. Maybe Satanic interference is at work? The scholar never manages to work further on his research, as he is apprehended and burned at the stake under suspicion of sorcery.

This is the wild story for this record of gloomy dungeon synth from the Irish island, but it can hardly be left out. The label Celtic Wraith, that released this happens to be from the same artist (whose name I have not been able to deduce). Regardless, this is some fine dungeon synth for you to admire.

There are light-hearted tones, giving the pixie-like light step to the sound (like the intro of ‘Magical Manuscript’), but it’s only for brief moments that it is the more illuminating factor for the Scriptor Hiberniae’s overgrowth and dark, dusty libraries of ‘Scriptorium’. Relying heavily on bass tones, the sound has a dark and foreboding atmosphere, which is befitting of the traditional dungeon synth sound. What really sets SH apart, is the attempt at storytelling through the minimal means of the genres instrumentarium.

At times the record embraces dark and gloomy sounds, almost pounding heavily when the somber and dark parts of the story come by. On ‘Kept Records of Activity in this Area’, the lighter tones take on a more frantic pace. Effects enrich the sounds to create an atmosphere of upheaval and nervousness. The record ends with the grim ‘Infernal Burning’. Finality to the story is given with the crackling sound of fire when the scriptor ends up on the pire.

Underground Sounds: Alda – Passage

Label: Bindrune Records
Band: Alda
Origin: United States

Can someone tell me what they put in the water in Seattle and surroundings? It seems like excellent music flows from the city like the rain pours down on it. Alda is my latest discovery, with their weary autumn sound. Their album ‘Passage’ feels like a sullen autumn day set in music by the fourpiece. It’s their third full length and it’s a remarkably beautiful album. The music just immediately hits me due to its calm, soothing warmth.

The catchphrase for this record on the bandcamp tells you, that if Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room and Ulver ever stirred something in you, that this is your album. I must add one more name to that. The first thing the vocals reminded me of is  a certain aspect of Opeth when listening to this album. The calm voice reminds me of tunes like ‘To Bid You Farewell’. Inspired by the rugged nature that fills the region, is this the contribution of Alda to current day American black metal.

I think this already pretty much covers opening track ‘The Clearcut’. The clean vocals are captivating in a very special way, but the melody lines woven into the more eruptive parts are equally mesmerizing. The music of Alda is densely atmospheric and very much made to just wallow in, particularly when those guitars create a sliding feel in their cascading salvos. Even though Alda clearly plays black metal, every sound feels full of something soothing.

Songs really weave together very easily, flowing like rivers in a particularly organic manner. In that sense I’m now and then reminded of some Ukranian bands actually. The song ‘Passage’ itself is an almost meditative journey of repetitive riffing. Closer ‘Animis’ offers the grand finale that the album requires, after a wonderful journey. The acoustic aspects with fresh black metal are a joy to the ear.