Rugged Shores: Mistwalker & Viridian Records from Newfoundland

Metal pops up in many places, but it appears that the remote and cold has a particular attraction to many artists. It creates a specific kind of man, living in those places and that means a particular type of music. Mistwalker and the affiliated projects on the collective Viridian Records are such entities from the far north and distinct they are indeed.

Greg Sweetapple comes from the coast of Newfoundland originally but has since changed his native Glovertown for Montréal. The hard life and special nature of his home still affect his music though, and probably always will as the project shapes up and new creativity flows.

Greg was kind enough to answer some of my questions about his music and the place he comes from.

Mistwalker

Hello! Could you tell me something more about yourself?

Well, my full name is Greg Sweetapple (yes, that’s actually my real surname). I’m originally from a small town on the east coast of Newfoundland called Glovertown, whose population is only about 2000 people. In the summer of 2017 I moved to Montreal, Quebec and I’m still here at the moment.

How did you get into music and what projects are you involved in?

Believe it or not, my first musical love was ABBA, mostly because my dad used to listen to ABBA Gold in the cassette deck in our family car when I was a kid. But my first introduction to heavy music was “Iron Swan” by The Sword, which was a righteous kick in the ass if there ever was one for the pre-teen version of me. When I got older I started to mess around with drums, either in the music room at my school or at my friends’ houses, until eventually, I got my own. I played in a couple of bands during high school, but nothing too major. Then when I went to college I couldn’t bring my drums with me because I moved into a tiny apartment building and drums are way too loud for that sort of setting. So I brought my electric guitar with me and decided to learn to play that instead. After about a year I finally decided to try and record something with the serious intent behind it, thanks to my friend Aaron Powell (Fog Lake) who kept urging me to do it, and thus Mistwalker was born.

When it comes to other projects I have a two-person black metal project called Impaled Upon the Mountains with my friend Kristopher Crane (Nemophilist), though that one is kind of on hiatus right now since he recently moved to the UK. I’ve also got a neofolk project called Wavering Radiant (named after the Isis album), a hardcore punk project called Goddammit that satirizes Newfoundland politics and culture, an ambient project called Icefog, a drone project called Inverted Coffins and a stoner rock project called Trinidad Gunfight. I’m also the official live drummer for the aforementioned Fog Lake.

What’s the idea behind Mistwalker and can you share something about the background, moods, stories, and ideas that shape up the music you make with this project?

There isn’t really a consistent feeling behind Mistwalker, because the whole idea is that because it’s my flagship project I can do whatever I want with it. I don’t stick to one particular style of metal with it. There’s elements of black metal, death metal, thrash metal, hard rock, stoner rock and ambient to it. I can really make it whatever I want. But when it comes to what things inspire the music itself that can be anything as goofy as video games like Skyrim to serious personal feelings. For example, the album Strix Pantheon consists of instrumentals dedicated to some of my favorite female characters from fiction, while the album Alexander Bay was basically a loose concept album about my hometown. The last song on that album, ‘Willower’ is about the feeling of knowing that one day your parents are going to die and you’ll have to come to terms with that when it happens. So really I just write about whatever I feel like writing about, and that changes as frequently as the weather.

What sort of size group is associated with Viridian Records? And how did the label get started, how did you get together and what sort of cooperation do you have?

The thing about Viridian Records is that it isn’t really a record label, per se. It’s more of a name that’s used for a collective of artists to release music under. Mostly it’s just myself and Kristopher, though occasionally my friends Walter, Aaron, and Kenney will release music under the name too. Most of us just record music at home in our apartments/bedrooms, so it’s not really a professional setup. We’re just people who like to make music and put it out there for our own satisfaction, more or less.

Tell me about Newfoundland, what sort of place is it in your words and why does it inspire such a distinct sound?

I’ve heard people say before that Newfoundland is the Iceland of Canada, and I think that’s true. A lot of the landscape consists of rugged coastline, boreal forest, and dense bogs and the livelihood of the people there is really dependent upon the ocean. There’s a lot of respect for nature to be found there, and I think that really inspires the music that my friends and I make, though of course, I can’t speak for all of them. But aside from that, it’s also a hard place to live because right now the economy is suffering, which is part of the reason why I moved away. Making music was partially an escape from that atmosphere of living paycheck to paycheck. I guess when it comes to making black metal, or at least music that is heavily inspired by black metal, turning to nature is a form of escapism.

How do you approach creating music for various projects? Like, how do you know a song is particularly suited for Mistwalker?

That’s something I find a bit hard to define. Usually, it’s just some form of intuition. Like, I’ll come up with a riff and I’ll think to myself “Yeah, that’s a Mistwalker riff” and then sometimes I’ll say “Yeah, that’s more like an Impaled Upon the Mountains song.” With Mistwalker I like to experiment more because it’s my main project and I have complete creative control over it, so a lot of my weirder ideas find their way into that project more so than others.

As interest, you’ve listed quite some pagan and mythic elements on your Facebook page, could you tell more about that?

While I’m not a pagan myself, I do have an intense interest in mythology, pre-Christian religions, and folklore, especially when it comes to the Norse and Celtic variety. A lot of this comes from my love of the fantasy genre in fiction, which is obviously inspired by mythology and folklore. I’m a big nerd so I love all that stuff about elves, dwarves, magic, etc. I’m especially a big fan of The Lord of the Rings and The Elder Scrolls series so that often finds its way into my lyrics too. I aspire to be a fantasy author myself someday so naturally, my music is affected by that too.

What sort of recording and writing process do you follow to create music?

I don’t really follow any set process. It really varies. Sometimes I’ll write lyrics first and write something based around that structure and try to evoke the feeling of what I’ve written into the melodies. Other times I’ll compose the music first and record all the instruments before I even get into writing lyrics for it. When it comes to the actual recording I always lay down the drum track first, and then follow that up with guitar and bass, and vocals come last.

I‘m curious about the scene from a more ‘availability’ side, as in there’s a group of people creating works under the Viridian banner. Is that all very DIY? Or does Newfoundland have all the facilities like record shops, rehearsal spaces, venues etc. available in proximity?

When it comes to Newfoundland the metal scene really only exists in St. John’s. Sure there might be a band or two in other towns like Corner Brook or Stephenville, but everything is more or less constrained to the provincial capital. With record shops, the only one that exists is Fred’s Records, which does cater pretty heavily to local artists. Venues are pretty limited too, the only ones I can say for certain that cater to this style of music include CBTG’s, Distortion, Valhalla Tavern, The Rock House, Bar None, The Rose & Thistle and Factory, so you’re always going to the same four to five places every weekend to play and/or see metal and punk shows. These venues also sometimes double as rehearsal spaces in the daytime, and if not a band might just have to make do in somebody’s garage or basement. When it comes to Viridian like I mentioned before, it’s mostly just my friends and me recording stuff on our own time, more often than not in our bedrooms, and then self-releasing it on Bandcamp, so it’s definitely very DIY. There are professional recording studios in St. John’s but none of us really have the money for that.

Is it love for where you are from or loathing, that you feel when writing for Mistwalker?

Admittedly I laughed when I read this because honestly, it’s a bit of both. I love my home and I do miss it to an extent, especially living up here in Montreal where you have travel so much further to be immersed in nature. Back home I could go out into my backyard and ten minutes later I’d be in the middle of the woods on the top of a mountain. But like I mentioned before, living there is pretty difficult. It’s the reason why so many people who are my age have left to go work in Alberta’s oil industry. It’s just a better opportunity for them. Writing about Newfoundland in my music is equal parts love and loathing and I channel that respect for the land into it, while also expressing the frustration of the economic difficulty that rises from living there.

What future plans do you have and does Viridian have?

Mistwalker is a name that I plan to record under for as long as I live. Of course, things always change but I hope to be playing heavy music even as an old decrepit grandpa. Eventually, I’d like to get a band together and start playing shows here in Montreal, even go on tour if my music gets enough traction, but these things do take time. I can’t really speak for the other artists on Viridian, but I know that Kris records music sporadically under both of his projects: Acorn to Great Oak and Nemophilist.

If you had to compare Mistwalker our the whole Viridian roster to a dish or various dishes, what would it be and why?

That’s a hard question. I wouldn’t really compare the music to a specific dish, but rather a smell. The scent of evergreen trees, especially fir and spruce, combined with the smell of the ocean, really encapsulates the atmosphere of the island and the music that I try to create. Again I can’t really speak to the creative process of the other artists.

Thanks for the interview! I always appreciate opportunities like this.

Myth, dreams and the old forest

The colder days of January are always a time for contemplation. To dream, to wonder, to sleep and recuperate, as the icy cold takes hold of the land. It’s where you prepare and have time a plenty to fill your head with wistful memories of places never seen and myths never witnessed.

It’s also a time when the forest becomes more haunting, more dark in it’s slumbering days of winter. When leaves have fallen and the darkness descends earlier with a gibbous moon shining through the branches. It is at that time, when music can become ever so much more powerful. It can tell you of places untold and that is what these records do.

Holy Fawn – Death Spells

Origin: United States
Label: Whelmed Records

Nothing hits you quite as hard as some solid wall of sound delivered by Holy Fawn. The band may work with sounds that are both ethereal and translucent at times, the full wave of the shoegazy sound just slams into you on opener ‘Dark Stone’. Their tagline says ‘Loud heavy Pretty Noises’, and this is surprisingly apt. Perhaps you can compare the organic sound of the band with Icelanders Sigur Ros, who have that same mythical side to their sound. At times the shifts are very tangible, adding a little jolt to your experience in songs that feel oddly complex.

Holy Fawn is an immersion, a fall into the full sound of the Arizona group on a record that is enthralling to the listener from start to finish.

Dwalin – The Red Book

Origin: France
Label: High Cathedral Records

If you learned about Lord of the Rings in the post-movie age, you might not know what The Red Book is, but for those who do it is an instant gateway to adventure. No, thank you very much, good morning! Dwalin produces traditional dungeon synth of the more open and wavery kind, based on the works of Tolkien.  With sonorous passages and samples from the classical animated ‘The Hobbit’ film, it forms the narrative of this beloved work of literature. The long, meandering tracks offer a great backdrop for re-reading it actually, but also for your own exploration. It’s a narrative record, with one very notable and peculiar exception and that is the ‘bonus’ song ‘Dreams of Eschaton’, which is a Manilla Road cover. It only lasts 1,5 minute, but it completely takes you off guard with the dreamy vocals and acoustics.

Hiemal – The Wanderer

Origin: France
Label: self-released

Ever taken a walk on a stormy day in nature? This is the sound of wandering in the darkness when the trees become ominous and looming and every shadow lives life on its own. It is the music French dark ambient act Hiemal produces on ‘The Wanderer’ (and their extended work). The drones and eerie synths emulate the rain and the wind, as they slowly envelop you, unfolding and rolling out over the plains. At times the music just drifts away from you, only to return a moment later with force. Only rarely does the feeling arise of a sudden twist in the sound, rarely does it feel as if this record is man-made, that is what makes ‘The Wanderer’ so elusive, yet fascinating to listen to. In this, Hiemal is hugely successful in this single, over 25-minute long track.

Secrets of the Forest – The Amorphous Concept of Nature’s Essence

Origin: Norway
Label: self-released

The dungeon synth of Secrets of the Forest is another trek through the woods with eerie melodies in a haze of distortion. Is it the sound of the outdoors or is it actually the screaming of entities that dwell just outside the corners of your eyes? ‘Father Sun’ is a slightly warmer track, opening up the record with rays of light peeping through the hazy sky. ‘Mother Moon’ offers a similar warmth, but more cool and distant, which is the common emotional association with the two. The sound of the synthesizers feels almost brittle, so sensitive and peaceful, yet also steadfast in the middle of the bitter haze and stormy darkness. That’s what makes it so captivating to listen to this record, as it simply takes you to a different place, where the singular beauty is your only hold.

 

Underground Sounds: lcbrt – Incarnatie

Label: self-released
Artist: lcbrt
Origin: the Netherlands

Dutch black metal has started exploring the more recent cultural realms for inspiration and this is not without its benefits. lcbrt is the most recent of these acts, combining experimental black metal with the work and concepts of Dutch poet Lucebert.

Sole member Evio is also active in Morvigor from the city of Alkmaar in the Netherlands. With this act, he creates death-black metal. Also appearing on this record is the voice of the poet himself, who did a lot of recordings during his lifetime of his complex and bewildering works.

Raw black metal hammers on, much in the lo-fi veins of early Burzum, intermixed with samples of poetry. The dulled, flat spoken words resonate with the static riffing and metallic twang delivered by lcbrt. He simply picks up a riff and goes with it. Sometimes fast and bashful, at other times soothing and layered. As these parts continue, there are some tempo changes, but not too much. It just works, it delivers a straight-up piece of art with dissonant and confusing black metal.

As the main track ‘i t/mv’ lasts almost 15 minutes, the second song on this record only takes a little chunk of your time. ‘Incarnatie’ continues in the peculiar vibe and sound, that is lcbrt. It’s harrowing, cold and unpleasant, yet offering a warm bath to sink into at the same time with its haggard sound and feisty riffing. The ploinky outro is particularly enjoyable. Yet, at the same time, the guitars are sharp and almost cut your hearing. That is part of the delivery and particular concept behind the act. Curious to see where this moves from here.

Underground Sounds: Iskandr – Euprosopon

Label: Haeresis Noviomagi
Band: Iskandr
Origin: The Netherlands

Iskandr is one of the odd ones out in the Dutch black metal scene and on ‘Euprosopon’ they’ve made the next step in complexity, atmosphere, and mystique. The album deals with the topic of the impossibility of an ideal man and the value of strife and heroism in an age of loss. They aim for medieval symbolism on this record, that stands as a timeless piece of art.

Iskandr is a project by Omar K., who is also active in Galg, Lubbert Das, Solar Temple, and Turia. With this project, he explores more strange themes. The name itself is an eastern variation on that of Alexander the Great, which might explain some of that. This is the second album under this moniker.

The record opens much as a ritual, with slow, eerie passages and gentle prayer bells. Chanting emerges from the sides. Are we moving towards Clannad here? The guitars slowly turn dissonant, so I may be wrong as ‘Vlakte’ suddenly lunges into full speed with a remarkably melodic bit of riffing. There’s a subtlety to the sound, to the wavery riffing and the oft barely audible chants, woven into the texture of the songs Sure, there’s a working towards the summit of the song with violent turmoil and energy, but it is ever done with brute force, but smooth technical play. Much the same applies to ‘Regnum’, which contains some more mystique aspects and warm, upbeat sections. The vocals are commanding, but never full of venom, which is remarkably pleasant. I have to point out the Spanish guitar in the end as absolutely exquisite.

‘Verban’ is truly regal in its delivery. A slow-flowing tune, with grand movements and scapes, that lures you in effortlessly. The rattling drums emerge but sound as if covered by a blanket of atmospheric guitar play, dulling their crunch and submerging it into the overall shape of the song. Yet it is ‘Herlwalt’ that takes up that mysterious ending of ‘Regnum’ and weaves an oriental tune around it for close to 15 minutes, with an air of utter mystery and bewilderment for the listener. It is as if the band is taking you to a completely different place, with some truly abyssal black metal as an intermezzo of an obscure, religious meet. As if all fades, bewilderment remains.
Iskandr solidly establishes their name as a surprising obscure black metal band, paving their own way in the field with rich and atmospheric sounds, well worth checking out. ‘Eurposopon’ is a masterpiece in my book.

Underground Sounds: A Forest of Stars – Grave Mounds and Grave Mistakes

Label: Prophecy Productions
Band: A Forest of Stars
Origin: United Kingdom

A Forest of Stars has been wielding their very own style of black metal for years. Inspired by a mixture of the Victorian age, steampunk-ish aesthetics and the gloom of old spooky tales, they’ve been paving a singular path through the scene. What bands would be on par with them soundwise? Maybe concept-wise Arcturus? Anyways, they have a new record titled ‘Grave Mounds and Grave Mistakes’.

The group, which I’ve seen play the Little Devil in Tilburg with their large numbers, is a grand ensemble of musicians, all working to create a little bit of magic. They’ve been around since 2017 and this record is their fifth. The album tells a story, that is as bleak as the cover would make you expect. It’s mesmerizing, messy and different, but also captivating and creative. So let’s sink our teeth in that one now.

This album takes a moment to get into because it doesn’t really offer you the typical ‘handholds’. The soaring violin and keys are the overly present ‘Precipice Pirouette’, which is the first track of the record. The vocalist shouts and rants like a disgruntled noble, with stature yet fearful poignancy. Perhaps it is interesting to note that members also collaborate in other set-ups, like The Water Witch and Hryre, which probably explains how all comes together so well in the well composed and recorded music.

Yet the record is filled with notable songs that sound more folky, mysterious or even slightly industrial. ‘Premature Invocation’ is one of those, that I can hardly place, except when I compare it to Hail Spirit Noir with that woozy sound. My favorite track though is ‘Taken by the Sea’. The ethereal vocals opening the song are ones that cause a shiver to go down your spine. The weariness, the longing, it simply could not get better than this.

As the record comes to a close with ‘Decomposed Deity Dance Hall’, a macabre type of humor and wordplay, it is clear how exceptional A Forest of Stars actually is. Not just in their direction, but also in their wonderful sound as thudding blast beats and gentle whistles wave us away.