Underground Sounds: Drudkh – They Often See Dreams About The Spring

Label: Seasons of Mist
Band: Drudkh
Origin: Ukraine

Into the vast east with Drudkh

I have little understanding for the way many Ukrainian bands seem to be disregarded. Drudkh is amongst those that are often shunned, due to alleged politics. It is true that Roman Saenko, the brain behind the band, was once a part of Hate Forest. A band now considered problematic in certain circles. But perhaps, metal should not care about that kind of circles anyways? I don’t have the answer to that, but I can tell you that this record is great.

Drudkh may be one of the best atmospheric black metal bands in the world and would be lauded for that if not for these politics. That means they technically are according to me. This is the eleventh album by the band from Ukraine in their existence and production remains high and qualitative as ever on this fine record. Notable is the cover, that shows an urban environment and not the traditional type of art the band uses. It perhaps embodies a slight shift in its course, but it’s definitely not to the detriment of the music.

The opening riff grabs the listener instantly. The dark melancholy, weary expression and torment in the vocals all pull at the heartstrings instantly. It hits where it hurts, right in the heart. ‘Накрита неба бурим дахом…’ clocks about 10 minutes of music that defies words. Ever stood in the cold wind, at precisely the moment when the cold breaks through your warm coat? That shiver is where the piercing voice, the swooping guitars and rattling drums come from.

The sharp guitars lace the songs, particularly on a track like ‘Vechirniy Smerk Okutuye Kimnaty…’, where meandering melodies take the listener along on the path Drudkh walks. Most remarkable to me is always how the flow really keeps you into it. Listening to the band is like taking one of those theme park rides, where you are constantly filled with wonder and awe as your ride takes you from section to section. When the vocals come in, the flow opens and gives space for the words to be uttered clearly (though in guttural vocals obviously), before closing once again. The final track resounds strongly. ‘Bilyavyi Den’ Vtomyvsya I prytykh…’ feels like a continuous progression to the summit, the peak of the album.

A mighty endeavor by Drudkh. An amazing band.

The Final Frontier: what makes scifi work

But I’m not because Doctor McCoy is right in pointing out the enormous danger potential in any contact with life and intelligence as fantastically advanced as this. But I must point out that the possibilities, the potential for knowledge and advancement is equally great.
Risk.
Risk is our business.
That’s what this starship is all about.
That’s why we’re aboard her.
– Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek TOS ‘Return to Tomorrow’

Watching sci fi, then and now

I watched scifi tv-shows and read fantasy. As a small boy, my options were limited and from a very young age onward I enjoyed whatever was available. Some of it, admittedly, was pretty horrendous. As the amount of tv-channels expanded, I was able to watch dinner-time tv-shows like Xena, the X-files and Angel at some point. You can tell from the titles I’m listing, that it wasn’t all gold at the end of the rainbow.

Now, many years later, the choice is endless. It’s amazing how many shows are available and some of it is really good. I was really excited about a show like Stranger Things for example. Revamps hit the screen, like there’s no limit to available budgets and potential comebacks. That is clearly not always worth your time either. Even the new Star Wars films apparently rely on paper thin storylines and badly suggestive futurism (I have to add that I think Star Wars by now hardly fits underthe sci-fi umbrella, since it has really become knights in space). So what is it, that makes sci-fi attractive? Why is an episode from, what has become my favorite, Star Trek , so much more on point? Why are you on the edge of your seet for the X-files? What makes Asimov’s books still superb?

The three pillars of sci-fi

There’s probably enough written about what makes something sci-fi, but I’m more concerned with what makes it work. For that, I’m relying on a speech by the one and only Capain James T. Kirk. Granted, I grew up in a time, when Star Trek was Jean Luc Picard, but watching the show as a kid on the BBC at a very young age, was what made me fall in love with it (even though I understood little).

It’s about the potential, the possibilities and, obviously, the danger.

Source: thecoolector.com

The potential

One of the key elements of scifi, is its ability to show the potential of what we can be as human beings. Not just that though, it can show us a tiny thought and then inflate it to enormous proportions. It starts with a very simple, basic thought. A suggestion if I may, like the idea of a non-violent society that seeks harmony. Not such a far-fetched idea, we have plenty of examples in our world even. But what if you really let the potential of that sink in. Not the half-arsed attempts that we see in our modern-day politics, but the fully expanded, enormous potential of the United Federation of Planets. What could it mean, if there was a vast conspiracy to hide alien life from us? What potential do interstellar gateways have for us? What if artificial intelligence can truly be achieved?

These are not just phantasms, these are ideas that already exist, which are taking shape as you are reading this (well, you know what I  mean). That’s where the potential lies, in these suggestions, humble beginnings we can instantly relate to. Because that’s what this starship, gateway, android a galactic empire and so forth is all about. It’s why they are there, to allow our minds to explore the potential of our ideas.

The possibilities

You would think that the potential and possibilities are the same, but the potential works through in the imagination of the receiver. To help that along, you need to show the possibilities. For example, Star Trek shows the concept of an intellectual, advancement-pushing civilization that seeks to coexist. That is the meta-narrative, the big idea, but what does that entail? It would be easy to simply shrug and say ‘if only it could be!’ and go on with your life. You need the possibilities, the concrete elements to help you along. What if you could make a machine that replicates whatever you need from basic materials? What would that do? If we could travel at warp speed, where would that lead us and if we could predict the future, where would we end up. Is artificial intelligence life too, but what does it even mean then to be alive?

Questions, that allow us to grapple with the very real consequences of realizing the potential. This is a key element of science fiction because it makes it fully tangible for us. Not just abstract idealisms or imagination, but very concrete examples. This is what makes it fully real to us.

Risk

As said by the exceptional Captain Kirk, the risk is our business. It’s in that boldly going where no one has gone before and even ‘may the force be with you’ has a taste of diving into the unknown to it. Risk or high stakes make it worthwhile, it gives meaning to the story and actions of the characters and gives tension to the experience for you as reader or viewer. It can strangely be in the small things. Star Trek was always a very human series, with analogies to reality taking place in the episodes. Sometimes the whole stream of time is at stake, other moments it is about one single life.

Whatever scifi you check out, if there is no stakes, there is no adventure. If there is no meaning, why would you watch? It may seem redundant info, but nonetheless one of the essential elements.

So keep going beyond…

… keep exploring new things and discovering new stars and let the beauty of this genre of fiction inspire and bewilder you. It’s not without reason we have certain inventions now, that was conjured in tv studios or on typewriters in the past. It’s because people boldly envisioned the possibilities and potential of the future and reasons why we needed to explore those. Risk of confinement perhaps? Anyways, keep dreaming!

Hades Ghosphell: Laotian metal upstarts

The land-locked nation of Laos, or in full ‘Lao People’s Democratic Republic’, is not a place known to be brimming with heavy metal artists. There is a thriving underground scene happening and interaction between the south-east Asian countries occurs often. One of those bands is Hades Ghosphell.

The band plays black metal, which does make them stand out a scene that is overwhelmingly death metal of the more brutal kind. The band was kind enough to answer some of my questions about playing metal in Laos.

Photo credits: 906 Photography

Hades Ghosphell

Could you start by introducing the band? How did you guys get together, can you give me a bit of a history of the band?

The current line-up consists of Lounty (Drums), Tun (Bass), Ben (Guitar) & Aof (Vocals).

Ben: the band was initially formed by Aof and me. I was in Laos for 2 years already and was desperately looking for an underground scene, to no avail. One day a friend brought me to a fun little bar, where there was an acoustic duo playing covers. The singer went on break, grabbed a beer at the counter and asked the owner to play some heavy shit. That was Aof. We spent the rest of the night gulping beers and talking about metal, about the local scene, and how we definitely had to start a band. That’s how Hades Ghosphell started.

We struggled a bit to recruit a drummer and a bassist but eventually managed to cover a couple of classics and organized our first concert (and the first black-metal concert ever in Laos!) in October 2010. I then moved to Thailand for 3 years and our vocalist has had some serious health issues. But we are now back in full force, with a new line-up ready to lay down some devastating shit!

Do I understand correctly that you are French? So how did you end up in Laos?
You understood correctly indeed, je suis Français. I came to Laos 10 years ago as a Trainee for 2 months (on a hydropower project), as part of my university graduation in Supply Chain. The Project then proposed me a 2-year contract at the end of my internship, which I immediately accepted. I joined a logistics company afterward, moved to Thailand for 3 years, then moved back to Laos 3 years ago and here I am!

What made you guys get into metal music and which influences do you consider your most important ones for the sound of Hades Ghosphell?

Morbosidad, Proclamation, Black Witchery, Archgoat, Blasphemy, Tsjuder.

Where does the name Hades Ghosphell come from?

It was proposed by our singer, Aof, and it was immediately adopted. We liked how the imagery of ritual chants in honor of the Underworld could be interpreted in several ways, both literally and figuratively, as our humble and dedicated contribution to the underworld that the metal scene is.

Did you play in other bands before Hades Ghosphell?

Aof: no
Ben: DCS (punk-HxC) back in France, Sapanakhith (brutal death metal) in Laos, REMAINS (thrash metal) in Thailand, Dissevered (brutal death metal) in Laos.
Tun: Acclaim of Sinner (slamming death metal), Rotkin (brutal death metal), Buddhlust (brutal death metal), Dissevered (brutal death metal) and another dozen bands. This guy is everywhere!
Lounty: Morrana (brutal death metal), Killerz Virginal (grind/death)

What story does Hades Ghosphell tell in the music? What sort of themes do you weave into your own works?

The main themes are centered on the denunciation of religious fanatism, the deceptive and manipulative aspects of any religion under their great holy truths. Desecration, basically.
We will talk a bit about our personal battles, as a band, in our future works as well.

Are you currently working on any releases? If so, can you tell more about it?

We are currently preparing a demo and should start recording real soon. We are truly itching to record our first material after so many years and so many struggles. The current line-up is working very well, we have a good alchemy and shitloads of energy to insufflate in our songs.

What is available from you guys this far, is a couple of covers of true originators of black metal. Darkthrone, Burzum, Mayhem. You even have the pigs heads on stage. Are these bands your main inspirators and how far will Hades Ghosphell emulate that sound and feel in their music and live shows? Or are you intending different directions?

These classics are undeniably a special influence, among many, many others. But as said, we now have a solid line-up and are more able (and inclined) to pursue our own sound, our own style. We have been and will continue going for an even rawer sound, more black/death vocals, war drums and incisive riffs.

The original black metal wave fiercely rebelled against Christianity. In your country, Laos, the dominant religion is Buddhism followed by Laotian folk religion. There’s hardly any Christianity to rebel against. How do you look upon these religions in relation to the satanic and profane in your music?

There is a quite consequent Christian community in Laos, but nowhere near important or influent as the Buddhist main base. We are more in an open rejection of the holy, the sacred, and all the deviances it brings and justifies. Buddhism here is very much tainted with Animism, which is more a belief, than a religion as such.
It’s an acceptation that spirits exist in all things and that they can manifest or that you can interact with them. Ethnic animistic ceremonies are more rituals, animal sacrifices are pretty common and it can sometimes be related to black magic. There are a lot of folk’s tales about ghosts, evil spirits and it really can make a good inspiration or base for our materials, as the underworld, the dark and incomprehensible side is omnipresent.

I’m curious about the metal scene in Laos. How big would you say it is and where does it center mostly? What sort of styles are dominant in your country?

It’s definitely still a small scene, with its positive and negative sides, gathering around 30-40 core members. Everything metal happening is in the capital, Vientiane. The good thing is that it is pretty much united, there is no segregation between genres, as soon as it remains underground enough. Everybody knows each other and each concert is like a kinda family reunion hahaha.

But that also means a limited musician pool, with many bands sharing the same guys. Our bass player, Tun, is playing in almost all the bands here! You always have some bitching, people that used to play together and for some reason came to hate each other’s guts, but all in all it remains a very united scene. Brutal death metal is big here, there is also a bit of thrash and Hades Ghosphell for black metal. People do listen to quite a wide spectrum of underground music and usually know their stuff, just not enough musicians to represent more styles.

Can you give me a bit of history of metal in Laos. How did metal come to the country, which bands pioneered the scene, are there any important venues or festivals?

There are some old-schoolers, like Sapphire and The Exile (Canada & US), who played during the 90’s and are actually considered the pioneers of the heavy stuff here. It’s more heavy-metal, but all generations of metalheads here acknowledge and respect them.
Very few die-hard metal fans at that time but they never gave up and although not playing music themselves, they always supported and continue to support the scene. Big Joe is the most prominent figure in this respect.

Then came the next wave circa 2005 (Sapanakhith, Hades Ghosphell, Dictator, Awaken the Dreamer…) and the beginning of the Metal Destruction shows (THE metal event in Laos), organized every year by Big Joe.

Today there are 6-7 active bands, including some youngsters from the new generation who are willing to take on the torch. The Vientiane Death Fest was introduced in 2016 and a new 2018 edition is under preparation, mostly for brutal death. All concerts are organized at bars/discos/restaurants, whose owners are somehow related to the metal scene and are willing to sponsor the gigs.

Do you face any sort of censorship in Laos by the government or other institutions? And how does society look at metal music?

Censorship is real in Laos but luckily the metal scene is not big enough to attract Big Brother’s eyes, so we are not exactly bothered by the communist institutions. We don’t have issues with gigs either, as it is always very friendly. There is, however a strong societal weight on anything or anybody not going with society’s flow.

As you may know, the weight of social rules and regard is pretty important in Asia as a whole, and Laos is no exception. Losing face or appearing shameful to the eyes of society is a much greater humiliation or failure than breaking the law for example. In this context, the external appearances and the musical violence of metal in any form do stand out. As a result, a lot of kids actually stay away from the scene, precisely not to stand out. I personally believe it takes a lot more balls and commitment for Laotian kids to get and stay into metal than, say, in Europe or in the US.

Perhaps a weird question, but is everything easily available to you? Like music, instruments, rehearsal space, recording studio and venues to play live?

Music and merch are now easily available thanks to online stores and it’s really easy to import from neighboring countries, Asia or even internationally. Instruments are another story: there are very few shops and they usually don’t carry a lot of stuff designed for metal musicians. There again we have to rely on import, but it’s always tricky to purchase an instrument/parts without testing beforehand.

The one thing that is easily found in Vientiane is rehearsal studios. There are quite a few and it’s pretty cheap (~5 $ / hour). The equipment provided is crap, but as soon as you have your own gear, no problem. The recording is not an issue either, with a couple of really talented guys for recording & mixing. We are very lucky to have our own rehearsing & recording space with my other band, Dissevered, so we can take all the time needed for practice and recording, it really is super convenient! We plan to record there with Hades Ghosphell, maybe even mix ourselves.

As said previously, all the concerts are organized through connections with bars or discos. They mostly lent us the venue for free, with a percentage of the entrance fees. Plus they are guaranteed to sell quite a nice amount of beers.

Are there any bands from Laos that people should really check out? Can you name them and explain why?
Dissevered (brutal death metal). It’s the first Lao band to sign & release albums on an international label (New Standard Elite, USA). Both Tun (bass) and Ben (guitar) play in this band. Straightforward, ultra-brutal stuff!

Buddhlust (brutal death metal). Another spearhead of the brutal scene here, they just recently joined Reality Fade Records (Ukraine) and are to release their debut album in 2018.
Rotkin (brutal death metal). With just a demo available for the time being, they are the youngsters of the metal scene. Great dudes and tracks, a debut album should be released soon.

What sort of connection do you have with the metal scenes from surrounding countries? Is there any sort of contact and cooperation happening?
Most definitely, we are in touch regularly with the neighboring metalheads, especially in Thailand. No language barriers as Lao people all understand the Thai language. Metal shows in Laos will always see Thai counterparts joining the party and Lao metal heads regularly attend major shows in Thailand. But we also have good friends and contacts in Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia…

It’s a small scene everywhere (except in Indonesia where metal, especially death metal, is huge) so it is pretty common to have gigs with regional bands.

I’m interested in what the connection with Thailand in general is. I’ve noticed that a lot of metal musicians from surrounding countries have moved there. Has this got to do with liberties?
On paper, it is not exactly a good time for liberties in Thailand with the current regime. But in reality, nobody really gives a fuck if you play in a metal band or organize metal gigs, it is just another form of music. So yes, unless you criticize or instigate hate towards the monarchy (which is really not recommended), I would say that the freedom of speech and of being yourself completely is better in Thailand, compared to most of its neighbors.

Plus the scene is good, the public is good, there are some really active organizers who manage to book great international bands…
Traveling to Bangkok from surrounding countries is usually pretty cheap and easy, and staying there for a couple of days will not bleed your bank account dry. You will not have any visa/immigration issues on arrival even if you carry your whole drum set with you.
So yes, all-in-all, Thailand is an easy place to go or to be for underground musicians.

What future plans does Hades Ghosphell have?
A demo very, very soon. Then more composing, more shows too if possible and why not a debut album within early next year… we are back from a long slumber and more eager than ever get things moving forward!

If you had to compare Hades Ghosphell to a dish, a type of food, what would it be and why?
A cured ham. One that you forgot you had, until the day you discover it hidden in a dark corner your fridge and devour it with tears of joy in the eyes.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Thanks for the interview man, and keep an eye (and an ear) on the growing Laotian Metal Scene!

Underground Sounds: Is – Into my Own

Label: Wolfspell Records
Band: Is
Origin: Russia

Towards Karelia

Karelia is a fascinating part of the world for me and hearing bands from there, it always evokes a certain imagery. This goes as well for Is, who hail from these northern realms. They captivate their homeland in atmospheric black metal on the album ‘Into My Own’

Is revolves around the sole member and creative mind behind the project, named Nøkken (a reference to a mythic water spirit). In the four year existence of the band, he has produced an immense load of music in various formats. Always the theme revolves around life in the far north, nature and all that it embodies, since that is the magic of Karelian life.

Slowly the music oozes out, with big, lurching movements and a minor melancholy in the guitar arches. Immediately, clouds block the sun as Is delivers their atmospheric black/death. Guttural vocals come up as if rising from the Karelian bogs. On ‘Into My Own’ you really hear the different sides of the band. A clean guitar part, soaring and speaking in its own distinct voice, yet clashes with the heavy battery of blast beat drums and roaring vocals. The guitar-play in an intermezzo even has a bit of jazzy groove to it, which makes these guys so interesting, because at the same time they throw in these eerie synths. Full on contrast, that seems to be the thing for Is.

‘All that is Gold’ takes us into the Opeth realms, with the intro full of feeling. The guitar really becomes the sentimental instrument in the work of Is, where the rhythm section and vocals offer sheer brutality, with again grooving riffs that almost hark to Pantera if the endings were less stiff. But there’s the peculiarity about their sound, it’s very accessible. It flows quite casually, due to an excellent production and now hooked corners to it. Yet you could at some times even lump it into the post-black metal corner, if it wasn’t for the blunt beating of the drums and concrete-grinding roars of the vocals, who take it back to a rougher corner.

Is holds a very own regal beauty, and that’s why you should listen to their music.

Underground Sounds: Sequestered Keep – Wandering Far

Label: Out of Season
Band: Sequestered Keep
Origin: United States

Magical sounds, lost keeps

Like most dungeon synth artists, the man or woman behind Sequestered Keep remains a mystery. What I managed to find out, is that he/she is a metal music as well. This Barbarian Skull interview is probably the most information available. Check it out, they do great stuff. Anyways, the moniker Wanderer is used for the genius behind the project.

The logo of ‘Wandering Far’, designed by Dan Capp from Wolcensmen, and all previous records since ‘Might of an Ancient Tale’ looks very fitting. Sequestered Keep hails from Salt Lake City in Utah, so that much is clear. Remarkable, since the music reminds me of lush forests in ancient England more so. The artwork as well, though that is in Germany… A rocky ruin, called Drachenfells, painted by Caspar Scheuren in 1852. A fitting cover.

The sound of Sequestered Keep is clean and regal. Calm tones, that are more used like a paintbrush, than the angry sketching of a pencil. Everything smoothly flows into one another, from ‘Once a Warrior of Forestcloaked Mountains’onwards. This one feels like an indoor song, near a fire in ancient stone chambers of old castles. The gentle picking of a harp resounds, as the wavery synths come in. By the time you get to the title track, the sounds resonate in sonorous harmony and connect smoothly to display the outdoors, the wide-open world.

In a similar manner, the booming effect on ‘Firelight Swordshadows’, feels as if the darkness obscures the sound, hies it from a clear perception in shadows. We get more light-footed on ‘Elvenwoods’, where light pierces through the leafy, natural roof. One imagines as if here the gentle flutes are playing, in a bright mood. The next dish serves melancholy on ‘Battles in Falling Mist’, a slow and gentle tune with a certain calm grandeur to it, while never really expressing fierce clashes. Now we come to the special part, with a dungeon synth Bathory cover. ‘Hammerheart’ achieved a special place in many metal-fan hearts, therefore this version brings it to the very essence.

Loose yourself in the woods with this record.

Kazar: Madagascar’s metal fathers

Madagascar probably invokes very different images, but metal has been on the island for decades and Kazar are one of the first bands on the African island. Center of the band are Lallah and Milon Kazar and have been since the start.

I got in touch with Nix Adkin, the latest addition to the band that is still growing strong. With only two albums in their decade-spanning carreer, the love has not diminished for the music genre that caught their attention back in the eighties.

Nix was kind enough to answer my questions about metal on tropical Madagascar.

Kazar

How are you guys doing?
First, we are full well!!

How did you guys get into metal music? What bands inspired you to make this music?
We got heavy metal through Iron Maiden’s songs! that’s our first influence and by the time, we discovered Slayer, Coroner, Metallica, Overkill

Lazar was started by the high school classmates! they have seen Lemmy (Motörhead) so, the band began to play. In the band, we’re not a really a family but we act like a true family.

Kazar is probably the oldest active band on Madagascar, is that correct? What is your secret recipe for staying together this long?Yes, Kazar is one of the oldest active metal band from Madagascar, the secret is just the mutual understanding and respect! It’s a Malagasy wisdom

You’ve released, as far as I understand two full length albums, one in 2002 and one in 2004 (titled ‘Two’). What was the reason that your production in 30 years is so limited and yet both albums came out very short after each other?
Kazar has 2 albums since 30 years. The reason is just that in your country, Madagascar, heavy metal can’t be considered as a job (showbiz) so the production wasn’t the priority.

What stories are you telling in your music? What messages and such do you try to put in your lyrics?
Kazar often tells scared scene, in order to encourage people to be brave to face fear.

When I listen to your music I hear thrash, power, and prog all in one. Would you say that describes the sound of Kazar adequately?
Thrash, prog, speed… Let’s be cool and just say “heavy metal”.

Madagascar as a country is a francophone nation from the past and now Malagasy is the dominant nation, your musical tradition has had influences from all over the place, how did metal come to Madagascar? Was it through French metal music or English? 
Metal came to Madagascar through English music. After the discovery of glam, metal came to Madagascar around the 80’s under the influence of Motörhead, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden… Different metal Malagasy bands were formed such as Green, Red MetalLokomotiv, Martù Gass, Kazar, Apost… The main metal genre at this time was heavy and thrash.Those groups often gave shows together through festivals such as Tohivakana metal and Big Rock.

Having your own traditions in music, is there anything of Malagasy musical tradition, instruments or songs that you use in heavy metal? Do you find there’s anything typical about Madagascar metal music? I have the feeling there’s something there.
You are right! We use Malagasy roots music with heavy metal! check the song titled “Mmpangalatr’omby” on YouTube.

How big is the metal scene in Madagascar and how did it get started? Can you give me a bit of history on it and your place in it? What bands pioneered the genre?

Big rock festival was one of the biggest Malagasy metal moments! It was started in the middle of the 90’s. This festival was conceived by some Malagasy journalists, the latest date was in September 2000… The reason was just no more promoter.

Are there any problems in acquiring instruments, rehearsal space, a place to perform etcetera? Do you face any limitations being from a country like Madagascar?
In Madagascar, metal is still an underground music genre! we really have problems with instruments, music tech, promoters, sponsors,…

Is there any censorship on music, any form of repression in your country? Do people understand what you guys are doing?
There is no censorship nor repressions but with the trunching-system (marketing system based on giving money to radio an TV tech to broadcast songs and video clips) tropical Malagasy music overruns all places on radio and tv.

Which bands from your country should we be checking out? And why? Have you seen a lot of them come and go?
About other bands, let me suggest you some young guys such as Behind the Mask, Beyond Your Ritual, Urban X Tribe(UXT Mada).

What future plans does Kazar have?
For the future, Kazar hopes to go abroad to participate in metal festivals.

If you had to compare your band to a dish (food) what dish would it be and why?
You make me laugh with this last question,😄…if we compare Kazar with a dish, it will be a Malagasy sausage + beens+ tomato sauce!!

Underground Sounds: Akvan – Forgotten Glory

Label: Shaytan Productions
Band: Akvan
Origin: Iran

Some metal is created in corners of the world that seem much more surreal than hell. Akvan is one of those acts. Though Iran apparently has a certain tolerance when it comes to metal (read this article for example), Akvan remains an oddity in the strict country, particularly due to the content of his music, which is strongly anti-Islam. Contrary to the Norwegian teenagers, the price for iconoclasm is a lot higher in his home country.

Akvan started his quest of provocative musicianship in 2015 under the moniker Dominus Vizaresa (as artist name). He’s been extremely prolific in his output and that eventually led to his signing with Shaytan Productions, where the music is released right next to Al-Namrood. A fitting label for an artist that defies normal definitions with music that really makes for something special on ‘Forgotten Glory’.

The intro of ‘Path to Chaos’ instantly takes you to a different place. As the odd radio-samples come in, the pace picks up and the intensity really makes your heart beat faster as the drums rattle and the rambling instruments clang. The vocals cut right down to your bone marrow with a jagged, piercing quality. It’s the use of the setar and tar, that really creates the otherworldly spirit of Akvan. Its primitive fury is evident on ‘King Ov Kings’, with the vocals that must be derived from the ghastly and cruel djinn’s that roam in these realms.

I love how there are these samples and folkish parts interwoven in the structure of the album. It helps to create that magnificent atmosphere of the Orient, while never becoming gimmicky. Akvan pulls of what most artists fearfully steer clear of in that sense on tracks like ‘Realm ov Fire’, not shirking to really ride the mood and implement it into the black metal parts of the songs too.

I could go through this album track by track, but it would be better if you give it a spin yourself. Akvan truly opens the gates to a different world with black metal that embraces a raw and unpolished sound, while completely giving a very own flavor to it. It works through in the bareness of the sound, the rough distortion, and color in the atmospheric elements in the sound. Just let a song like ‘Legacy’ truly drag you along for a moment. Experience how the rooftops look different and even the sky has an aura of elsewhere. To a forgotten past, but not that of a Viking boat and northern gods, but a land which past has been clouded by recent history and wrong perceptions. I would love to learn more from Akvan.

Underground Sounds: Astral & Shit – Divo

Label: Black Mara Records
Band: Astral & Shit
Origin: Russia
Astral & Shit is not a band name I recommend if you want to make it big, but for an underground ambient project, it works to get the interest peaked and look a bit odd in the big mass of releases. This is their latest release on one of my favorite ambient labels, titled ‘Divo’.
The act in fact only contains one member, namely Ivan Gomzikov, who hails from Nevyansk, a town north of Yekaterinenburg deep into mother Russia. Astral & Shit is extremely productive and releases records by the month it almost seems.
The record opens with ‘Riphean Mountains’, which opens up like the sun going under over a rocky facade. First gently cresting the edges, before becoming fully removed from your vision. Then every sound intensifies, with the nightly sounds and rumblings of the earth around you. Repetitive chirps accompany the droning sounds produced by Gomzikov, enhancing the nightly aura. But the drones keep swelling. The concept of the album revolves around an alien entity, that once came out of the earth. That is Divo, dangerous, but mostly not understood by us.
The drones turn very heavy at times, almost taking up the whole of what you hear, for example on ‘Polota Crossing’, where it simply seems to surge and pulsate as crackling or breaking sounds fill up the sonic gaps. It’s powerful, looming, but most of all fully submerging the listener. It’s the sound of nature, the silent droning you only hear when you are really, really quiet yourself for a moment. That’s the beauty of it.

Underground Sounds: Koniec Pola – Cy

Label: Devoted Art Propaganda
Band: Koniec Pola
Origin: Poland

Something is stirring in our urbanized habitats. She’s calling us again, mother nature. The mountains, the oceans and the fields, we feel that disconnect deeply and profoundly. In black metal and spirits akin, this movement has been visible for a while. From the nature-inspired dark ambient to the regal black metal and the farmer metal from the countryside. And that… is exactly where Koniec Pola hails from.

The name Koniec Pola translates as ‘the end of the field’. Their music is a clash of postmodernist rock and countryside tools, trying to capture the sound of the imaginary farm village. Their setting, though consciously vague, is the area of the Polish village Zalesie, near Kozienice forest. The title of this second endeavour, after their 2017 ‘Mrzyglód’ is simply ‘Cy’.

From the chiming of bells to the beating of tools, the bustling of the village is evident on the first song instantly. Titled ‘I’, it offers a gloomy sound with a warm voice offering what feels more like a voice-over than singing, relating the story in a story teller’s voice. Musically the band seems to linger somewhere in the realm of Furia, with the provincial brashness of certain French black metal bands. It’s music with the spade, not with the genteel pencil. At times a bit quirky, but when the music unleashes it’s dirty and gritty, dissonant and filled with muck. This is not the ball anymore, Cinderella.

There’s a simplicity to the sound, a lack of complication and subterfuge. Words are spoken plainly and the music casually frames the rural life. The mellow pace of the record and earthy gloom is somehow comforting. An odd folk instrument here and there put a different spell on the narrative, which is, unfortunately, all in Polish.
It’s a particular bit of music, hard to qualify as any specific genre. Often more leaning to ambient experience meeting postrockish liberties. It’s well worth a spin though.

Underground Sounds: Tannöd / Rauhnåcht / Hanternoz – Tannöd, Rauhnåcht – Anciennes Légendes Des Alpes

Label:Percht Records/ ANTIq Records
Band:Tannöd / Rauhnåcht / Hanternoz
Origin: Germany / Austria / France

‘Spukgeschichten – Anciennes Légendes Des Alpes’ is a very peculiar release. Four sides, but a 3-way split release from the bands Tannöd, Rauhnåcht, and Hanternoz. Every band gets a side, and Rauhnåcht filled side D with field recordings from the Alps and a joint rehearsal.

Let’s start introductions with Rauhnåcht, which is a one-man enterprise by excessively productive Stefan Traunmüller(Golden DawnThe Negative Bias, Wallachia), who focusses on Alpine legends and heathenism. Tannöd is a mysterious collective that plays Alpine black metal. This is actually their first release. Hanternoz from Angers expresses Breton and French legends in their Celtic black metal.

After the gentle intro ‘Höhlenzauber’, Tannöd really bursts loose with an almost Burzum-like screech on ‘Die Schwarze Wolke’, accompanied by the screeching, eerie guitar play that almost feels like it cracks and breaks at the edges. The thin sound grabs you by the throat, with its unrelenting battering, particularly on ‘Schicksalsschlacht’, where Tannöd really excels with their cold and anguished sound, truly taking cues from some of the best aspects the genre has to offer in my humble opinion. Their sound can also be a bit more polished, edging more towards the sound of Equilibrium. Definitely, a band that impresses here on side A.

Rauhnåcht comes in on side B with ambient nature sounds and a slowly progressing guitar and drum intro, on ‘Der Einsiedler’. Chanting accompanies the gentle intro, which immediately sets the calm, majestic mood of the Alpine peaks. The atmospheric black metal progresses slowly, with a particular melancholy and humility among the rising peaks. The chanting and booming drums evoke imagery of ancient inhabitants of these regions. The sound whips around you, like the eternal gale. Full of mystery, the music of Rauhnåcht is a spectacle in itself.

‘Le Baron Des Adrets, 1513-1587 : La Légende Noire Du Dauphiné’ is the first track on the C-side by Hanternoz, a story of a notorious character during the reformation. The track is notable, because it contains a lot of spoken word, together with rich sounding folk metal. The tormented vocals hit you even harder when delivered through a blast-beat induced fog. What I find peculiar about their sound, is how open it is. It feels a lot like Enslaved, but then clashing in mid-air with Peste Noire thanks to the raw, barked vocals. Smooth production, big stories, it makes Haternoz a pretty exciting band to listen to. Tracks like ‘Diables Des Cloîtres Dans Les Monts Du Matin’, show a band that really fits in with the rural French rebellious sound.

The D-side is utilized by Rauhnåcht, with a collaborative rehearsal of the title track. It’s a jagged endeavor, full of fury and rage. The sound batters you like an alpine hailstorm, while the vocalist barks at you a demon of the night. Sharp, snappy words snap like a whip. This is some other side of the band, which completely turns around again with ‘La Voix Des Alpes’. For a bit over 11 minutes, simply field recordings from the alps, offer you a peaceful outro.
This record is peculiar, to say the least. The bands are vastly different. Tannöd has a very classic, eerie feel, while Rauhnåcht excels in the atmospheric and essentialist sound. Hanternoz is where the French farmland meets the soaring peaks, captured in notes. The exceptional material on this record, is well worth adding to your collection!