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.

Underground Sounds: Häive – Iätön

Label: Eisenwald Tonschmiede
Band: Häive
Country: Finland

Janne Väätäinenis clearly not a man that allows himself to be rushed with things. His project Häive has been around for 15 years and this is the second album. A noteworthy fact is that the predecessor to ‘Iätön’ came out 10 years ago. Well, good things take time and that’s definitely the case with this release.

The theme Häive uses is mostly nature, which can be deduced from the great record cover. Väätäinen hasn’t been sitting still for the last 10 years either. The last thing this band did, was contribute to a compilation with bands like WinterfyllethPrimordial, and Drudkh. In the meantime, the musician juggles projects like Antabus, Auringon Hauta, My Blood and Tevana3. Well, enough banter, let’s get to the music.

Iätön opens with an intense bit of Iron Maiden-esque guitar work, which is immediately catching on. The title track opens (which translates as ‘Ageless’ by the way), with 2 minutes of fine screaming guitars, before we launch into ‘Turma’ (translates as Ruin). The sound of Häive is big and open, with a lot of that grand riffing. A folky vibe is in there, when the sound evokes vistas of valleys, mountains and rough, unscathed nature in all its splendor. The cover of the record, of course, stimulates that sort of imagery as well, but I think the spacious sound helps.

A grand sound is constantly present, even on the doom-laden ‘Kuku, kultainen käkeni (Sing my Golden Bird)’, with its slow procession and those laborious guitars. It’s a dense atmosphere that the band sets out and most praiseworthy is that it never feels like most one-man bands with that one-dimensional sound. The layered elements create something spectacular. A rare acoustic bit fits nicely in the mix, like on ‘Tuulen Sanat (The Spell of Wind)’. Truly, this record reminds me of some older Moonsorrow stuff.

There’s no typical folk metal vibe here, but the essence is present. Not the type where you bring your kilt and a drinking horn for a dress-up party, but something more deep and meaningful. I really enjoyed this record because of that and the particular attention to the composition.

Underground Sounds: Jassa – Incarnation of the Higher Gnosis

Label: Fallen Empire Records
Band: Jassa
Origin: Russia

The Russian band Jassa hails from the St. Petersburg region. They’ve released three albums thus far, dealing with pagan themes of chthonic deities. These deities are, frankly said, quite unknown to me, but that hardly diminishes the force and grandeur of this pagan black metal band. They’re entities that are hinted at in archeological finds and myths but elude our knowledge. Jassa is a deity worshipped by the ancient Novgorod Slavs. That makes for a great mythical theme obviously for ‘Incarnation of the Higher Gnosis’.

Jassa has some experts in their ranks, who honed their skills in some fantastic bands before. Guitar- and bass player Vladimir and drummer Aeargh are mostly known for their project Sivyi Yar, where they create magnificent atmospheric black metal. The drummer additionally hits the skins in Zoebeast, Toxic Bleat, and Death Rattle. Singer Erier has tons of projects, was active in Fimbulwinter, but now is active in Khashm, Bestial Deform and Septory and more.

The bluster and rage in the sound of Jassa are quite overwhelming. From the opening track of ‘Beyond Time, Shapes and Names’ it is a pure onslaught of obliterating drums, massive riff-work, and unearthly vocals. It matches the name of the band in its subterranean cavernous darkness. This is the pagan rage at its best, bestial and abhorrent in it’s thrashing and punching. The way the drums are applied is really quite the captivating part. From a wild battering to the fierce rhythms that give the sound its backbone, Jassa keeps you hanging on for your life.

Oh, there’s also a mouth harp in there somewhere, which to me has been a great piece of instrumentation in black metal ever since Moonsorrow did it. I particularly enjoy the vocals of Erier, who has embraced a vocal range for this record that truly compliments the whole compositions. These are dense and heavy as fuck. On ‘Incarnation of the Higher Gnosis’, we hear something different though. Eerie, thin guitar lines pierce the hazy sounds and offer a base for murmured, deep spoken word passages. It offers a rare calm to the listener, with a ritualistic atmosphere that envelops you as a listener.

Another particular song is ‘Shadows Glide Quietly Among the Trees’, which has a particular sound in certain passages. They seem to drop into a more mechanic sound, more condensed and pushed together. The intensity of the sound increases as it slithers and merges. It brings you to the climax of what can only be called a fantastic record of pagan black metal.

Reading of Books #33

A bunch of books I read, with Elaine Pagels, Teresa Iezzi, William Shatner and Aaron Mahnke. Satan, lore, Leonard Nimoy and copywriting all in one post.

Elaine Pagels – The Origin of Satan

Elaine Pagels had previously written about Gnosticism and therefore has e wide and deep knowledge of the early history of the Holy Bible. I’ve always found it very interesting how the Christian faith supercharged a Manichean worldview thanks to their black and white view of the world. You have people that are saved and people that are doomed, which is pretty much how Judaism and Islam view the world too. This was not an unheard of concept, the ancient Greeks viewed everyone who didn’t speak their language as inferior and barbaric, but even that was not to the same extent as the Christian faith changed the way we look at the world.

Satan embodies the other half of the dichotomy in Christianity, raised from a more pagan-like spirit to God-sidekick, he was cast as the opposing force. There’s a lot Pagels has to say about this, pointing out the incongruities of that whole viewpoint, but its shaping by human intervention in the teachings of Christ really has influenced our worldview and the complete dominating nature of these Semitic religions. I was mildly disappointed by this book, simply because most of it is not dealing with the name of Satan itself or its conceptualizations, but its socio-political meaning. This is highly interesting, but the book is mostly a critical reading of Biblical formation and censorship. A topic that can’t be highlighted enough in this illuminated world.

William Shatner – Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man

The passing of Leonard Nimoy hit sci-fi fans around the world hard. I still tear up at certain fragments in the new Star Trek films, like the brief scene where Zachary Quinto’s Spock receives word that Nimoy-Spock (time-loop thing, use google) has passed away. There was much ado about the fact that at the funeral one guest was sorely missing. That was William Shatner. His two daughters were present though and Shatner did have a huge event to attend. Though the two grew apart in their later years, Shatner probably felt the hurt of this sudden gap Nimoy left more than anyone else. So then he answered with this book.

The book is the life story of Spock and Kirk, of the men behind them and their long-lasting friendship. The story tells about elements of both their lives, the connective pieces and the discrepancies in the context of busines where friendships are rare. It’s a heartfelt story that includes a lot of painful moments that both men shared. Some moments are quirky and at times there’s a little too much Shatner in the story and too little Nimoy, but friendship is a process and feeling at the same time that is highly personal. It’s a good book, a pleasant read for those that want to experience that remarkable man through the eyes of his remarkable friend. Probably as close as you can get.

Aaron Mahnke – The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures

Aaron Mahnke has been hosting an amazing podcast for a while now and I had never heard of it until I came across this book. Lore is a rather complex term, that involves an element of common knowledge, mystery and its embeddedness in general consciousness. In the podcast, and obviously in the book as well, Mahnke explores the world of mystery and stories that fill our daily lives. Old superstitions are a big part of the book, for example, the story of where the vampire myths come from. The way they shaped and merged into the modern Bela Lugosi-esque view on the mythical being, illuminated through stories of vampire hunters, frauds, and very suspicious happenings.

But Mahnke uses the term Lore very broadly. Modern-day myths also are a part of the book. What you get is a collection of remarkable stories with dubious truths, that put a bit of mystery back into the world we live in. I became aware of the podcast and surrounding outlets during the book, so there’s a tendency in the writing style of short, bite-sized internet communication. You know, sometimes a bit too much suspense and almost sensationalist cliffhangers are a part of the way the stories are brought to you. But that’s what makes them so appealing, the way they often are told. In that sense, this is a great book for those who love the strange and weird.

Teressa Iezzi – The Idea Writers: Copywriting in a New Media and Marketing Era

As someone who has been involved with professional writing for most of my working career (and recently have started to work as a copywriter), I have a constant interest in the field and its development. I have a particular love for language, for the way it captivates us and how we gravitate to good storytelling. Even the opening line of my beloved Star Trek is an example of that: “Space, the final frontier…”. That’s still copywriting in an age where we have a different landscape of media. Advertising has changed a lot through that and Teressa Iezzi brilliantly outlines this in her book.

The best part about this book is that it’s not trying to summarize or conceptualize this new way of advertising. Iezzi tells it, the way it should be told: with stories. The book describes the heroic tales of new advertisers, innovative products, and daring ventures to tell the world about a product. Mostly without talking about the product. It aptly describes the heavy kind of jobs copywriters face and how their job has changed in these recent times to a more and more art-director-like position. A thoroughly enjoyable work, that builds up my enthusiasm more and more for the way words still carry magic as we used to believe.

Underground Sounds: Rebel Wizard – The Warning of One

Label: Prosthetic Records
Band: Rebel Wizard
Origin: Australia

Yeah, yeah… I’m late to the party again, but I’ve been following the Rebel Wizard for a bit now and I actually published an interview with the Australian negative anti-shamanic black metal artist before. So ‘The Warning of One’ has been an EP I’ve listened to regularly for a while, but the words just never came.

First thing you notice is the oddly colored cover. This is highly personal, but for me it strongly stands out. All songs follow a similar pattern of title and are short bursts of frantic energy and ‘wizardly’ negativity. This Nekrasov side project (if I may call it that, because Rebel Wizard seems to have become more active) is definitely not for the fans of traditional black metal. Then again… in a way it really should be.

The opening track ‘ The One I seek’ immediately rips everything apart with furious barks and screams and some of those insta-violence riffs that you’ve come to know the wizard by. The Teutonic thrash vibe with lo-fi recordings creates this gritty, raw feeling that so befits the project. Soaring guitars just hit that nostalgic passion for what makes metal so cool in the first place.
Often that’s the big contrast in the sound; the accessible and catchy riffing combined with the dirty blast beats and raspy snarls of black metal. We stay on that for the duration of ‘One I Know’. After an almost ballad-like intro on ‘One I See’, we get the full brunt of that black metal end of the stick. A distorted, hazy pounding of about 5 minutes follows, with NKSV’s voice that feels like it’s been stretched out with painful methods for an extra grim effect. We end the EP with ‘The One I Call’, which is a demonic track full of turbulent heavy black metal that keeps firing at you. With a crushing climax, this peculiar EP ends and once more Rebel Wizard delivered one hell of a tasty, rifftastic record.

Avarayr: Upholding the Armenian identity

I got in touch with Avarayr and was under the impression that the band was Armenian. I was right, but the band is located in Iran. Getting in touch with bands from these various places in the world, is often a learning experience in itself. Avarayr is thoroughly Armenian, but part of the Armenians that live in Iran. They were brought there 300 years ago by King Abbas and ever since, Armenians have lived in Iran.

The Armenians as a people have been around for a long time. In antiquity, the Armenian Empire was one of the first nations to adopt Christianity and due to its wide spread territories, we can still find Armenians far out of the region that is currently the country named Armenia. This old part of the world has seen much of history and is therefore rich with stories, fables and tales to tell. The perfect soil for a great metal project that Narek Avedyan started back in 2013.

I got in touch with Narek to talk about making metal music in Iran, Armenian identity, System of a Down and much more. He was kind enough to give open and clear answers to my stream of questions so thanks to him for his time.

Upholding Armenian tradition in Iran

How are you doing?

Barev! Doing fine, hopefully everyone else is as well. Surviving, dealing with the occasional existential crisis. The usual, I guess!

Can you tell me how Avarayr got started and what inspired you to go in the musical direction you’ve taken? Which bands inspired you musically?

Avarayr started in late 2012. I kind of got tired from doing what I was doing musically at that time and decided to take things in another direction. Having a keen interest in Armenian/Persian folk music and folk music from different countries in general led me to the direction the band is currently in. There are a lot of inspiring bands and artists I guess. The classic metal stuff we all grew up with. But for Avarayr specifically, the German band Empyrium and their album ‘Songs of Moors and Misty Fields’, as well as Armenian black metal band Vahagn and of course, Armenian folk music. Particularly the works of Komitas.

What does the name Avarayr mean?

Avarayr is historically the name of a battlefield in which a battle of the same name took place between Persian and Armenian forces. It also represents the dilemma a Diasporan Armenian faces. In this case, an Armenian like myself who is born and lives in Iran, but considers himself an Armenian. It represents a clash. A battle, if you will.

As I understand you started out under the name Symphony of Silence, but in 2013 you switched names. Why so? Was this also the point where you decided you wanted put Armenian folklore in the themes of your music?

SOS ceased to exist as a project. The members took different directions and everyone except myself left Iran for good. That was the main reason. Another reason was that I thought SOS would not be an appropriate title for the direction I was about to take musically. I had always wanted to mix Armenian folklore and actually did with SOS (the only EP features renditions of two Komitas pieces, albeit horribly executed) but this time it was the main focus of my path. Finding out that there was another band of the same name out there as well as the Facebook page being hacked were the final nails in the coffin of SOS.

Avarayr is in essence your solo project. How do you go about writing and recording your music, do you get musicians to help you or is it a full solo endeavour?

I compose everything for Avarayr. There are two songs on the full-length which were written by ex-Avarayr guitarist Emin Khechoomian, but other than that everything is on me.  As for recording, the first EP had sampled drums while I handled everything else. The ‘Rituals’ single also had sampled drums, while Emin did guitars and handled bass and vocals.The full-length is a bit different. It features many musicians. Armen Manukyan (who also plays for Avarayr live) handled all of the electric guitar work beautifully. My friend Peter handled drums and percussion. The bass was handled by my friend Narbe (ex-SOS) and I did vocals, acoustic guitars and keys. Additional vocals were provided by my friend Armen Shahbegian and additional winds were performed by my friend Judie (also ex-SOS). Some traditional instruments were handled by some of my Persian friends. Including the Daf, an Iranian percussive instrument performed by my friend Mehdi. By the way these are all our real names. We have names that sound weird to people from other countries anyway, so we didn’t really choose kvlt black metal nicknames.

There is a full band for live shows. Is that something you initially wanted to do with Avarayr or did it evolve?
I did not intend to perform live shows with Avarayr. I kind of dread the “getting-ready” part of doing live shows, but I do love to perform on stage. It just happened by sheer chance. I found two Armenian musicians, Emin and Ervin, in Tehran who were into black metal and tried Avarayr live. I guess it went on from there.

 

Can you tell a bit about the folktales you use. Most people are probably not familiar with these tales, so perhaps you can share a bit about them?

Sure. I mean, the point of using those folktales is to generate interest in Armenian folklore. Which might be a bit naive, cause very few people are into that these days, but it is still important to me. For example, there is a song on the full-length titled Vahagn, which is about the Armenian pagan deity of the same name. Vahagn is the Armenian counterpart to Heracles and is the god of the Sun, fire and thunder. The song itself uses lyrics from Armenian poet Yeghishe Charents, who laments the death of Vahagn, hinting that the traditional values of a nation die with the death of their gods, who are national symbols to many. Another song is called Gelkheght which is about the Gampr, a breed of dogs unique to Armenia. The song tells the tale of a Gelkheght (roughly meaning “it who suffocates wolves”) who descends from Mount Ararat (national Armenian symbol currently in Western Armenia, or modern-day Turkey) to devour the usurpers who are driving Armenia to ruins. Pretty cool stuff, eh?

As I understand it you currently are working on new music with ‘A Symphony Carved in Stone’? And what can the world expect and what is the concept and story on this album? I’m also interested in your recent live album.

Yeah, progress on the full-length is slow but relentless. It was stuck in “production hell” but friends, especially Armen Manukyan, helped it get back on track. I am busy with my studies and have little time to work on it, but it is almost done. Two years in the making! The world can expect an interesting album because there’s everything on it. From black metal, to acoustic ballads and Wardruna-ish folk pieces, all with a specific Armenian twist. It covers a lot of ground. The concept was born naturally from my ancestral Armenian heritage, countless wanderings in nature and wanting to create something new, if not original. It is an album which sprouts from the Armenian highlands and is dedicated to Armenia, hence the name. As for the live album, it was a sentimental release to celebrate the first (and now defunct) Avarayr live line-up. It includes music which will be released as studio versions both on the full-length and future releases.

I saw on your Facebook page that you’re looking for a drummer in Iran, how so?

I’d really like to have a stable band in Tehran which can always rehearse and be ready for shows in Armenia (and in Tehran, in case of a miracle). Most of the live line-up resides in Armenia and we have little time to rehearse for shows. Everything works out great every time, but having at least a stable drummer would be pretty cool. Shout out to Arthur, our lovely drummer from Armenia and Astghik, our keyboardist. They always managed to help the band put on a kickass show. Double horns to Emin Aghajanian from Outcast Minority, Mher Azizbekyan from Araspel and Side Project (yes, that’s a band name!) and my brother Christopher Amirian for filling in on bass.

What is it like to play metal in Iran, are you allowed to play metal and isn’t it lonely as an outsider?

Well, we can play metal here, but only if concerts are performed with clean vocals or only instrumental. You also need to have permission from the ministry of culture. It’s all quite strictly regulated and people must remain seated at the show. Personally, I don’t associate much with the Persion metal scene, but I do know almost every act there is from Iran. I’m not in contact with most of them though, but one act to look out for is From The Vastland. The story of Sina’s music is quite remarkable, you can see it in the Blackhearts documentary film.

What is the metal scene like in Armenia? It seems that it’s quite a thriving scene, can you also tell a bit about its history and which bands started it?

Armenia is a small country. Hence, the metal scene is also small. Nowadays it consists mostly of teenagers and young adults who like going to shows and having a great time. My love to them all, because they truly support my music. As for the history, the origins are somehow obscured. Many consider the band Apostles (from the 70’s) to be the first Armenian rock band, and I agree.

The band Ayas was definitely one of the first metal ones. Think thrash mixed with classical and King Diamondesque vocals. There was also Asbarez. This was in the 80’s. The 90’s had bands like MDP. Progress was slow because of this little annoyance called the Soviet Republic (until Armenia gained independence in 1991) and that’s why not a lot remains of the early years except some low-quality cassette/vinyl rips on Youtube. In the 2000’s, the scene grew because of two main promoters. MetalFront (now defunct; they brought the likes of Melechesh and Arkona) and Zhesht Events (who would go on to bring giants such as Sepultura and Napalm Death). Zhesht still regularly organizes underground shows in Armenia. Some of the prominent bands of this new era were Sworn, Sadael, Aramazd and Dogma. A company called Vibrogreipus (I probably butchered the name) has brought the likes of Jethro Tull and Ian Gillan to Armenia. Interest in rock and metal grew a lot in 2015, when all-Armenian band System of a Down performed in Armenia for the first time, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.

How significant is System of a Down for you and for metalheads in Armenia?
Almost every Armenian metalhead loves at least one song from System of a Down. For me, they are idols and I think the same goes for many other Armenians. I grew up listening to their music and they inspired me in countless ways. Meeting them in Armenia was surreal. They are such humble guys man. They do and have done so much for Armenia and the Armenian cause. That’s why people react to them in such a strong way. In a world where people like Kim Kardashian are the ones representing Armenia globally, System of a Down are like gems. They have become part of our national identity.

Is everything readily available to you, like rehearsal spaces, instruments, music and places to play gigs at?

In Tehran, almost everything is available. Avarayr has always had its own rehearsal space. I also have access to a recording space, though I do most of my work from my bedroom. Places to play gigs at in Iran are very, very limited due to metal being illegal in the country. Hence why Avarayr doesn’t play in Iran that much. We can only play shows in Armenian centers for Armenian audiences only. Outside of that, you could secure gigs for a Persian audience, but with no harsh vocals. It’s a bit complicated and anticlimactic for me. Which is why I prefer to perform in Armenia.

In many places, playing black metal brings with its risks and taboos. I’m talking about censorship, politics, religion etc. Is there anything like that you have to deal with?

Well, I never add any political/religious message to Avarayr. Because let’s be honest, one wrong move in Iran and you’re done for. People might call me a coward for not speaking on taboo subjects, and I probably am. But to me, music comes first and foremost. Even though almost all metal bands from Iran are underground, and quite frankly nobody cares about what they do, even underground bands can get into trouble for crossing the line. I like being behind the line. It’s comfortable. It’s cozy!

Which bands from Armenia should people definitely check out (and why)?

Oh gods…so many to name! Off the top of my head, I’d go for Sworn, Vahagn, Dogma, Aramazd, Unaesthetic, Divahar, Eternally Scarred, Ildaruni, Symmetria, Aralez (based in Germany), Araspel, Nosferatu, Highland (based in the US), Odz-Manouk, Tork Angegh, Ghoulchapel, Sickdeer and Vox Clamantis (also from the US) and many more. Why? Because they are amazing. And you can find some very refreshing ideas in the Armenian music scene. I also recommend non-metal acts such as Hogh, The Clocker, Miqayel Voskanyan and Tigran Hamasyan.

Is there a political aspect to Avarayr? You’ve recently put out a live album titled ‘Echoes From the Diaspora’ and covers of Inquisition and Burzum that might hint to a political agenda.

The answer to that is definitely a no. I do have my political ideas, but I keep Avarayr (and most of my music in general) apolitical. I focus mostly on preserving Armenian culture. People may call that nationalistic, and it might be. I don’t think it is. I don’t put Armenian culture above any other culture. It’s just highlighted in my music because that’s what I enjoy doing. I believe in the promotion and preservation of national history and heritage, but not at the cost of belittling other cultures. Cultures and races are different and that difference is what makes this world exciting.

As for the Burzum and Inquisition covers. The first Burzum cover was done simply to promote the band. It was an easy cover to do. The rest were done for the sole reason of myself being a huge fan of Burzum’s MUSIC, not the ideology behind it. I do not support nor condone the non-musical ideologies of Varg Vikernes. As for the Inquisition one, it was simply done to test my recording equipment. I needed a simple song. That one only has 4 chords which are repeated again and again. As for the ideology, I again am not in line with whatever those guys believe in. I’m just a fan of their music. In retrospect, if I could go back in time, I probably wouldn’t choose that song because a lot of people misunderstood it and misunderstood me. But what’s done is done. No point in regrets. I am, however, fond of it because it brings back a lot of great memories. The recording process for that cover was frigging hilarious.

What future plans does Avarayr have at this point?

The release of the full-length is definitely a priority. After that, a hiatus from playing live is probably inevitable. Our guitarist Armen is going to serve at the Armenian military for two years and I kind of need a break to get back into composing mode. Avarayr will definitely be active in the studio.

If you had to compare Avarayr to a dish (food), what would it be and why?

Chalaghach (Armenian pork dish), with a side of Tolma (a common dish in countries from the region) and a pint of Armenian Kilikia draft beer. If you haven’t had any of these, then I’d say a visit to Armenia is long overdue! Thanks for this interview! Let the metal flow!