All posts by Guido

I'm just a geek.

In Medieval Dreams and Pagan Hearts: Fief, Zāle, Bellkeeper, Jozef Van Wissem

Once more I delve into the fantasy music I’ve come across and that helps me divert my thoughts and dream away. This time I listened to the dreamy medieval ambient of Fief, the …

So grab an ale, stoke the fire, as darkness is clouding the world around us. Be at ease and grab a book with these tunes and simply zone out.

Fief – IV

United States, independent release

Where Fief on the first three releases, which I much loved, was still very much a dungeon synth act, I’m not so sure about ‘IV’. The cover itself is the setting, we’re in the head of a watchman, dreaming away on ‘A Daydreaming Sentry’. Every title evokes a vista that this sentry may behold, or imagine as he stands there on dreary watch duty. But what I mostly like to say is that Fief has moved on to medieval ambient. The music holds little of the droning, synthy vibes, but feels absolutely tranquil and appeasing in its simple beauty. Sure, it’s probably synth-craftsmanship, but it feels like my old video games, where I could get lost for hours in a fantasy. I envision ‘Medieval Skies’ or gaze upon the ‘Evening Market’, all is well. Fief is one of a kind and this album only underlines the singular path the mysterious artist is trodding. I will follow.

Zāle – Vina

Latvia, Nabakmusic/Melo Records

This Latvian group started as a duo but developed in a full band with a wide range of sound, yet all of it connects to something ethnic and pure. From the opening track ‘Smilšu Laiva’ on, we start with ritualistic singing in mild, droning voices. It’s something that instantly grips you with an innate magic and wonder, and I keep thinking of a Latvian Clanned perhaps. The vocals are soothing and timeless, while the instruments only emphasize the gentle nature of the music throughout the album. But part of that charm comes from the interaction between the male and female vocals, both focussing on that particular timbre and repetitive vibe, so much a part of the ritualistic side of traditional folk music. Zāle however, keeps heaping layer upon layer in a complex and beautiful piece of music, that works as a pleasant blanket after a long day.

Bellkeeper – The First Flame of Lordran

United States, Dungeon Deep Records

Rolant the Recluse is the man behind Bellkeeper (I hope I’m not presumptuous, but I assume Rolant is a man). A dungeon synth project with the classical dusky and dusty nature that evokes images of ancient tombs and dungeons. Though there’s an instant intensity to the track ‘Rekindled’, with a vitality unlike your run of the mill DS sounds. It’s slightly more what you’d expect from a high-end game soundtrack of now… or maybe a few years back. I’m not super up-to-date. Though as we progress to songs like ‘A Sanctum of Ash and Ember’ I’m getting those eerie dungeon vibes, thanks to the languid tones and slow, meandering sound. But what Bellkeeper adds is some ambiance with dripping sounds and pebbles rolling over the floor. It boosts the mystique and immersive quality of the song. On ‘Uchigatana’ we even have a little eastern vibe going, which also sounds mildy unorthodox, but captivating. Though after its energetic start, Bellkeeper sticks to traditional DS, it is an album that carries a promise of something new and exciting. Looking forward to more!

Jozef Van Wissem & Jim Jarmusch – An Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil

Netherlands/USA, Sacred Bones Records

It’s a peculiar combo of musicians. One is a weaver of mysteries in tone, the other in film. Yet together, they create magic with droning guitar tones and a slowly emerging theme through the heavy and sparse drums accompanying the sound. On this record, the duo explores the theology of William Blake and Emanuel Swedenborg, this time including Blavatsky in the mix. The music sort of merges slowly into this wall of sound, slowly blocking out everything as it gradually unfolds. It’s almost a sound of mystique unfolding, with the gentle lute and movie-soundtrack like ambiance. Half way between folky melodies, religious music and sturdy experimental doom music, it’s a record that drags you under its spell.

Underground Sounds: Iahsari – Shrine of the Ancient Gods

Label: Independent
Band: Iahsari
Origin: Georgia

It seems that the creation of ‘Shrine of the Ancient Gods’ has been a process of multiple years for the Georgian band Iahsari. The first songs were released back in 2016 and without a labels backing the band steadfastly worked on the creation of their masterpiece. And what a grand piece of work it has become.

‘Shrine of the Ancient Gods’ takes a page out of the books of melodic death metal, folk, operatic metal and what not, to create an epic work of great proportions. Taking a number of musicians, guests and the old stories of their native land, they’ve created a piece of storytelling that can’t be denied. An album that captures, rocks and tells the story.

String instruments set an urgent intro to the record, connecting the vibe to the ancient lands they hail from with flutes and all. There’s a cinematic quality to the music of Iahsari, because after these three minutes you’re deep into the story already when the blaring horns welcome you to ‘Unbowed (Blood of Colchis)’, referring to an ancient Georgian kingdom from Hellenic times. It helps that the track stays in the flow of the intro for a while, before one tasty guitar lick and the synths take up the story. Operatic vocals are the surprising first singing entrance, with traditional drums following in the outro. By this point, I have to state that this record is something special.

As the journey continues with ‘Sirenum Scopuli’ and ‘Shatilis Asulo (Maiden Of Shatili)’an experience follows that most closely resembles the big, operatic performance of Therion on their Gothic Kabballah. Big vocal parts, choirs chanting and guitars that hark back to the traditional heavy metal days of Iron Maiden and Saxon. The vocals of Marian Chakvetadze and the male backings do most of that, but the intricate melodies and complex musical structure add a layer of grandeur to that. Moving onwards, we go into more tempered waters with ‘Gelino’ up to ‘The Dream’. The music is simply soothing, the voice angelic and never is it really getting rowdy or more intense.

That greater flow of the record helps in the story, which climaxes with ‘Old Man’s Grief’. A gentle tune, that swells in intensity to operatic proportions and riffs that claw at the sky. The synths really do the atmospheric work here to get one final swing at eternity before it fades away.

 

Underground Sounds: Iluntze – Antzinako Oihartzunak

Label: Darkwoods
Band: Iluntze
Origin: Spain (Basque Country)

Illuntze is a Basque black metal band, densely atmospheric and enriched with folky textures. ‘Antzinako Oihartzunak’ is the second demo by the band, released with a medieval-referring cover, featuring 6 haunting songs.

Sole member Synder is a member of the mysterious Ignis Fatuus Collective, which connects Illuntze to bands like Sepulchral, Arvalastra and Aehrebelsethe. Synder is currently staying in Vilnius, Lithuania. One of my favorite places in the world.

Iluntze immediately grabs the imagination on ‘Itziarren Semea’, with the odd folky texture, that at times, musically, resembles the work Peste Noire delivered in recent times. The traditional sounds and ramshackle black metal combine into a peculiar, migratory experience to the Basque origins int he music. Listen to the passionate intro of ‘Suaren Garrasia’ for example, to hear something very different than the rustic, static Scandinavian sound.

The jangling sound is unnerving and rather peculiar but also carries a power. The songs like ‘Goiztiri’ hit hard with that high-pitched tremolo riffing and edgy delivery. Razor-sharp to the point of painful. From the lo-fi quality to the ragged riffs, the whole record sticks to you with its mysterious uniqueness, much like the language used for the lyrics that simply eludes me at any turn. A great second outlet by Iluntze and I can’t wait for a full-length!

Underground Sounds: Himelvaruwe – Hemelpoort

Label: Self-released
Band: Himelvaruwe
Origin: The Netherlands

Himelvaruwe is a Dutch band that has been around, releasing surprising material, over the past few years. ‘Hemelpoort’ follows in the wake of numerous EP’s and demo’s, shaping the sound to this piece of work, that captures what the project is all about.

The mastermind of the band is Tjalling Jansen, who under various monikers releases music as Ancient Morass, Kaffaljidhma, Mirre, Olxane and, thus, as Himelvaruwe. It’s a particular project with a distinctly noisy/ambient sound, setting it apart. As the title translates as a gate of heaven, the keys depicted on the cover are a quite obvious reference.

Droning, doomy church bells open up the record with ‘Aanvang’. The sound captures some horrendous, abysmal voice, but never quite clarifies its reality as we roll into ‘Morgenster’. Crushing static is crackling in the speakers as a slow, mournful dirge unfolds. In a strange way, the sound distorts and muddles so much that the origin is impossible to determine and an aura of sheer mysticism is evoked.

By the point of ‘Onderwerping’, you’ve entered a state of mind, that is completely immersed in the music. The crackle of distortion and slow melodies become a warm bath. You submerge in a cloudy realm, very different to the one we normally inhabit. Ethereal chanting emerges from that fog, as the rhythm continues like a demented train with metallic clanging and hammering. It is there, you reached the ‘Hemelpoort’ as the album slowly falls apart into an exit tune after this long ascend.

Himelvaruwe does something exceptional on this album, both with the sound and the whole of the listening experience. I recommend putting it on, turning it up and submerging in it.

Kashgar: Nature, History and Tradition from Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan, the name alone beckons with mystery and a peculiar allure. Most people only know it as one of those odd country names, but Khashgar has the potential to change that with their crushing death metal. Time to catch up with them.

The country has a millennia long history and turbulent recent years with clashes within its borders. It is all part of a complex country with many ancient identities and cultural elements. Metal has found its root there too, with the most well-known band being Darkestrah. Kashgar is setting out to play some destructive tunes now.

Guitar player Ars found some time to answer some questions about the band.

From the Ancient Realms

Hello Kashgar, how are things going for you?
Hail, Guido! Many thanks for your interest. Things are well and busy enough – we’re writing songs for the second album, playing shows and organizing our own metal fest.

Can you tell me how the band started and about the history of the group?
Warg, Blauth and I decided to join forces and try to revive the stagnant local extreme scene. There were no active metal bands at the moment and just a couple of metalcore bands. We simply wanted to have some good old heavy live music in town, music that we ourselves would enjoy listening to. It took us a while to find a stable line-up and to write and record the first album. We’ve played quite a few shows over these 4 years and toured the neighboring Kazakhstan several times as well as Moscow and Siberia. Blauth left the country in 2017 and our paths parted. However, we continue to infect the souls around with our mixture of various metal genres and dark sonic rituals.

How did you guys get into metal music and what bands inspired the sound of Kashgar?
We all come from different backgrounds, and maybe that’s why our music is so eclectic at times. I’ll speak about the current line-up further on because things have changed dramatically since the first album. I grew up listening to classic rock’n’roll and hard rock bands, and later I discovered great albums by Death, Samael, My Dying Bride, Anathema, Sepultura, Mayhem, and early Metallica. I think a couple of great Oriental bands like Orphaned Land and Salem influenced me as well. But my inspiration comes mostly from prog pearls like King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Al Di Meola, as well as Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Tool.

Warg was always a strict metalhead; he usually searches for something melodic but wild: bands like Sargeist, Satanic War Master, Obed Marsh, and Gaerea truly please his ears. He and Alfer are also big fans of old-school black metal like Bathory, Gorgoroth, Emperor, and Immortal, and it’s impacted our sound a lot. Const adores classic music and such bands as Death, Marduk, and Obituary. Warg and I have played in dozen of different bands before, but Kashgar turned out to be the first serious and long-term metal project for both of us. Alfer and Const are rather young fellas; they played together before, but Kashgar is their first real band.

Your themes are listed as folklore and the occult on metal archives. Can you tell me what stories of folklore and occult themes you tell and where they come from? An example would be great for people who are unfamiliar with your folklore.
For the debut album, Blauth used dark themes from Tengrizm and the history of the region, as well as local superstitions. Erlik is Tengri’s evil creation who is responsible for all the horrors of the world. Albarsty is a female demon that steals your breath when you are sleeping and has a yellow twin that steals your life if you marry her. “Scent of Your Blood” is about Konurbai, an antagonist of epic Kyrgyz hero Manas.

In the new songs, I also explore local nature, literature, traditions, and myths. One song is dedicated to our mountains: it’s about Kumtor, a gold mine located in a distant area at an altitude of 3700m. The lyrics are like a painful scream of the land whose insides are being scrapped out. They have destroyed a huge glacier almost completely and are planning to start with a neighboring one. I worked there with a group of glaciologists, studying the mine’s impact on the neighboring glaciers and the horrendous views inspired the text.

Another song is about an ancient Asian way of making human zombies. This terrifying process is described in a legend told by famous Kyrgyz writer Chyngyz Aitmatov. The zombies, called Mankurt, became mere slaves, silent and obedient to the extent that they would kill even their own mothers if ordered to do so.
We wrote a song about a terrible local “tradition” of bride kidnapping, called Ala-Kachuu, and another song depicts a nasty two-faced creature whose real appearance is only revealed at night. The Central Asian culture and history is an endless well to draw from.

What is, in the end, the big idea or message in your work?
We simply try to create music with a soul and energy in it and mix in a lot of anger that we accumulate thanks to all the craziness and dumbness of today’s world. That’s why we play grim oldschool metal as opposed to all the happy-jumpy modern stuff. We don’t have a message for you: you’ve got enough messages from everywhere every second of your life to make you feel overwhelmed by useless info and products. Just listen to the music and if it helps you feel a primal fear or even make a step or two back to your roots, we are doing the right thing.

What does your home land mean to you both in and out of the musical part. What makes it important?
It’s a bit complicated since all of us are not ethnically Kyrgyz. We’re usually not considered real Kyrgyzstani by Kyrgyz people. But we were born and raised here. We believe that this land is our motherland and we all love and deeply respect the nature and the spirit of the place. It’s enough to spend a day in Kyrgyzstan’s mountains to understand that it is a place of endless power and glory. Kyrgyz ethnic music is something very original and special too. I will never stop gaining huge inspiration from our nature and rich culture! But it’s very sad to see what many people do to their own land. Tons of garbage, cut woods and hunted down rare animals, corruption, police and officials trying to rip you off, lousy infrastructure… This is what Kyrgyzstan looks like for many people today.

How so you go about creating music. Is it a collaborative effort or do band members have their own separate roles? Do you start with lyrics or music?
We always start with music. Sometimes we invent something together and sometimes we arrange a riff or a song written by one of us. Lately ,Alfer has been bringing a lot of material, and we re-arrange some parts and polish it together, working out the rest of the instruments. In the end ,I write the lyrics and arrange vocals.

It’s been 2 years since your last album. Are you currently working on anything new? What direction are you taking Khasgar in?
It’s been 3 years since we recorded it, to tell the truth. Yeah, we’re very slow as all of us have day jobs and up until 2018 we experienced constant line-up changes. But now almost all of the songs for the new release are arranged and we’re finally planning on recording them in February. So let’s hope the album is out by June. As for the direction, Warg keeps trying to drive us into true black metal, me and Alfer keep implementing weird proggy riffs and time measures, and Const keeps gluing all that with mid-tempo blast-bits and straight patterns. I’m also thinking about collaborating with several interesting folk musicians on a couple of songs. After all, we never cared about sticking to strict genres; we just try to make proper metal.

What can you tell me about the debut record? To me, it has a very distinct feel and it’s hard to really categorize it. How did you shape its sound, what story does it have?
The recording itself was a painful experiment involving lots of months of hard work, different drummers, guitarists and booze to ease the stress. After I finally finished recording everybody in my studio, I decided to mix it on my own, and it took quite some time, which was really pissing Blauth off. He wanted to do it the punk-rock style and to release a lo-fi raw material; he simply couldn’t dig what all this “mix wankering” is about. I insisted on better production. In the end, the record came out something in-between, I suppose. And our friend Achilleas C. did a great job mastering it in his Suncord Audiolab in Greece. The sound might still be a bit strange, but at least we did everything by ourselves, using great equipment like Yamaha Tour Custom drums, Peavey heads and Marshal 4×12 cabs. Today most starting bands record the direct signal with plugins and program or trigger the drums, but we wanted it all to feel and sound real.

You had various guests on the album, can you tell me why you chose them and how it materialized?
As I mentioned before, we had lots of line-up changes, so some of the guys were already not in the band when we released the album. We decided to name them as guest musicians.

How did metal music originally come to your country Kyrgyzstan? What bands pioneered the genre in the country?
It started in the 90’s. Up until early ’00s, we had three rock-clubs and many metal bands like Necronomicon, Neocrima, Odyn’s Nocturnal North, Extremistic Negative Clan, Infernus, and Ellodia. Warg was one of the pioneers and played in several of those bands. You could attend a good metal show almost every week. Much has changed since then, but we’re working hard to improve the situation and revive the extreme scene. In 2017 we founded the first international metal festival in Kyrgyzstan – Kuturgan Fest (kyrgyz: “savage”) and we keep developing it by booking world-famous headliners. For our audience, it is a chance to see the metal legends live, and for our bands, it is a chance to perform at bigger venues and for larger crowds. In 2018 I brought in Hungarian groovers Ektomorf and in 2019 the one and the only Sepultura is going to head-line the show! And one day I hope to move the fest to a beautiful open-air location and hold it for a few days like Brutal Assault, which really captured my soul in 2015.

I read that the most well-known metal band from your country, namely Darkestrah, moved away because of the lack of means to make the music. How is it now in Kyrgyzstan with facilities like recording studios, rehearsal space, and availability of instruments etcetera…?
What “means” does one need to make music? You just do it because you can’t be NOT doing it. I know Asbath; they are good friends with Warg. I believe he and Kriegtalith simply took the chance to move to Europe because they could and wanted to. If they had stayed, I’m sure they would have continued to play black metal here. Of course, it was much harder to make a record in the late 90’s, and you still don’t have real options to tour locally. As for the facilities… there are still no labels, booking agencies, promotion companies – nothing for rock and metal. We don’t have even a single rock radio in the whole country. There are some recording studios, but local sound engineers have no idea how to record and produce metal. I have a project studio/rehearsal base and I support underground bands (most of them play rock) by inviting them to practice on high class equipment and sometimes recording them for a low price. There are a couple of other rehearsal spaces around town. Instruments are available to purchase from China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Europe and US, but we have a very limited choice in local shops and the prices are very high.

Do you face any form of censorship, either institutional or social?
Institutional – no as our government tends to preserve the democratic image of the state. However, most people still consider any music with distorted guitars and vocals an “evil” and “unholy” “shaitan” music while others think we’re all alcoholics and drug addicts. They refuse to believe the fact that there is much more trouble at a regular disco club party than at a metal show. Even though we do not experience any direct censorship, it is basically impossible to make it to a local radio or TV show or organize a metal concert in most local venues.

What are the most metal places in your home country?
Outside Bishkek, there are even almost no rock bands, and I’ve never heard of a metal band from other cities. However, people come to Kuturgan Fest from the surrounding towns and even distant cities like Osh.

Which bands from Kyrgyzstan should people really check out and why?
Check out Ordo Sakhna to feel the spirit of Kyrgyzstan – they play great ethnic music. If you like modern nu-metal and death-core, My Own Shiva and TLDOS bands do it fine. Check out Shahid if you feel like listening to some modern hardcore.

What future plans do you currently have with the band?
Besides recording this winter and opening up for Sepultura in April, we’re planning a joint European tour with our brothers Zarraza from Kazakhstan. Hope we can do it autumn 2019. Promoting the album, as well as arranging such a tour, is going to take a lot of time and energy. We’re also looking for a label to release the record and for a manager to promote it.

If you had to describe Khasgar as a dish, what would it be and why?
It would be fried eggs with a wild mixture of everything you find in the fridge. You can literary fry anything not sweet with eggs, add some tomatoes and spices, and get a perfect Shakshuka. That’s my favorite way of arranging breakfast and that’s also our favorite recipe for arranging songs.

Is there anything you’d like to say that I forgot to ask?
Just a word for the readers. We still have a few CDs, LPs and t-shirts left. If you want to support our work, please order it at our kashgar1.bandcamp.com page.

Tons of thanks for the exposure!

Underground Sounds: Akitsa – Credo

Band: Akitsa
Label: Tour de Garde
Origin: Canada

Akitsa is considered a controversial band by some. Now, I’m really not going into that whole debate nor do I want to separate art and artist, but ‘Credo’ is simply a record that can not be denied. It’s a tour of force that rekindles the flames of what it means to create black metal, what it means to stand in defiance.

The band is part of the Quebec metal scene, hailing from Montréal, which has been rapidly gaining attention thanks to its barren, cold sound and primitive aesthetics. Band leader O.T. is also known as owner and founder of the Tour de Garde label. Het notably also sang on a Kickback album, which is pretty badass in itself. But those punk aesthetics carry deeper than that.

‘Siècle Pastoral’ has that nerve-rending buzzsaw guitar, which keeps grinding down with chilling effect. Choral singing finds harmony with that noisy sound and we’ve launched fully into the almost 10-min opening track of ‘Credo’. Slow, creepy and eerie, this is the Darkthrone-ish sound you got to love as a black metal fan. My favorite track though is ‘Voies Cataclismiques’. The bleak buzzsaw, choppy rhythm and primitive force of the song are just pure excitement and raw energy. This is pure black metal warfare, but at times it feels almost joyous in its bouncy rhythm. I don’t want to say it, but it does make you move.

The gritty, distorted sound is one of the key features of this record. Dissonant, gnashing riffs are all over the album, like on ‘Le Monde Et Ma Bile’ and ‘Espoir Vassal’. Here we really pick up the pace with some shuddering blast-beat rhythms and a surging, blurry sound. The commanding, barked vocals seem to almost disconnect from the dense structure, but the train ride remains intact and keeps barreling on in its unrelenting fury on ‘Vestiges Fortifiés’.

We say goodbye to this record of destructive, cornerstone black metal with the title track. Akitsa definitely puts their own flavor in the mix here, but it all returns to the roots of the genre. Furious, distorted music, grim sounding and icy cold, but with an atmosphere and vibe that is undeniable. It’s music for the opposition, for otherness and anger. That’s ‘Credo’, start to finish.

 

Underground Sounds: Downfall of Gaia – Ethic of Radical Finitude

Label: Metal Blade
Band; Downfall of Gaia
Origin: Germany

Rarely does a band blow you away so much as Downfall of Gaia does. The Germans have just released ‘Ethic of Radical Finitude’ and its a towering piece of powerful black metal. Atmospheric doesn’t do it justice, because this record rocks with accessible, grand guitar play and convincing showmanship throughout its 6 songs.

As a band, this is their fifth full length since their inception in 2008. Though the base structure is very much lying on the foundation of black metal of the atmospheric type, the band leans outward to the post-metal and crust scene in their stylistic wanderings. In that sense, they’ll probably never really leave their roots behind. The result is a colorful piece of extreme metal, full of consciousness and meaning.

Lyrically, it’s abundantly clear that Downfall of Gaia focuses on more abstract and complex topics. It explains their wordy titles I suppose. The looming darkness descends as we start with the intro ‘Seduced by…’, setting the scene. But then the veil is lifted on ‘The Grotesque Illusion of Being’, with ascending black metal, that ever pulls you up higher onto your toes. The crusted, grimy vocals really add to the feeling of unworthy beckoning of the heavens, as crisp clear sound contrasts heavily with that hoarse bark. But the track to really fall in love with is ‘We Pursue The Serpent of Time’, with that tribal drumming intro, that just keeps going as the song slowly builds up. It turns violent and the guitars move faster all the time, but always it follows a wavering pattern, like that of mountain peaks in its brilliance.

‘Guiding Through A Starless Night’ is a whole different beast. Unleashing a torrent of tremolo guitars, it just rages on and on, till al lull in the sound comes on. Spoken word passages follow with dark, melancholic words. Spoken by a woman in clear tones, with a slight tremble. But it also has these uplifting waves, those sonic enhancers of your mood and state of mind. But there’s also definitely a romantic side to Downfall of Gaia. ‘As our Bones Break to the Dance’ captures that in lyrics, but also in its melancholic vibe. yet this is one hell of a track for the rhythm section, as the blast beats just reign supreme here with a pounding, pavement cracking intensity. Hell yeah! It even falls into some horrendous barking and shouting, like barren, blazing black metal for a bit there. Good stuff!

By the time you get to ‘Of Withering Violet Leaves’, you’ve been beaten up enough. You’d think, right? Sonorous singing and wavering guitar work, an ocean of sound to dwell in, to float away in as the music is gentle and swooping, slowly fading out. A beautiful record for sure.

Ildaruni: Myth and legends from Armenia

Armenia is mostly known for things like the Kardashians and Dan Bilzerian. Yet it has a long and rich history to explore. Unfortunately, this is hardly known but if it’s up to bands like Ildaruni, that is about to change.

Situated near the cradle of civilization, at the crossroads of east and west, Armenia has a wealth of stories to tell. Bonding their talents into a force to be reckoned with, Ildaruni is here to illuminate the world.

I got in touch with Robert Melksetyan, Garbis Vizoian and Arthur Poghosyan II about their band, the history, and myths of Armenia, and playing black metal.

Ildaruni: into the depths of time

Can you tell me about Ildaruni and how you guys got together?
Robert: I have always wanted to have a band oriented towards a mix of both black and pagan music since I have always felt closest to these two genres. I had come to know that Arthur (drummer) and Garbis (bassist) were also interested in said genres; I also knew that Arthur had played before in some folk bands. We met and decided to form the foundation of our band. By that point, I had already known Arthur in person, but we have never had any experience playing together in a band.

Garbis: I met Robert back in early 2016 through a mutual friend of ours when I heard that he was looking for a whistle player for this very same project. We first met on that basis, but when upon discussing the nature of the band in more detail, we figured it was much more fitting if I joined in as a bass player and writer. At the time, I was searching for a band with folk and mythological influences in order to utilize and further develop my writing skills. Robert’s timing of this project was simply too good not to join in since the project thematically complemented my writing direction at the time. As such, I took the project as an opportunity to delve deeper into the more forgotten aspects of our ancient pagan culture, such as some of the lesser-known ritualistic and mystical sides of our culture, while also unearthing some of the very specific but generally forgotten events from our history. All the while, helping Robert lyrically and to some extent also compositionally, produce and play the songs that we have written so far.

Alright, so you did play in previous bands? Can you tell me which these were and what you played?
Arthur: I used to play in a couple of other bands before Ildaruni. It was Arbor Mortis(black metal project) and Araspel(folk/heavy metal). I also have another active band called The Windrose. There we play just pure Armenian and Celtic folk music

Can you tell me something more about the name of the band and what sort of music you make? What bands inspired you to go in this direction?
Garbis: Regarding the name of the band. Ildaruni is the ancient pagan name of the second largest river that flows through Armenia, currently known as Hrazdan River. As to why we chose Ildaruni as the band’s name, well more so than anything, it is a veneration of life and legacy. Hrazdan River or Ildaruni, has been flowing through our highlands since time immemorial. It has provided life to our people for millennia ever since civilization existed in these lands and as such, we wanted to extend our gratitude and potentially bestow Ildaruni the glorification it deserves. Also, one of the few ancient inscriptions that survived to this day, is a chronicling of the massive efforts spent by king Rusa II of the Van Kingdom (the time period our first length album is based on) in building canals along the Ildaruni River and all the perks that the river has bestowed upon his people. Taking into consideration the thematic focus of our songs around the Van Kingdom, it is only fitting that the name of our band is one of the most venerated and blessed sources of life during those pagan times. I guess Robert can talk more regarding the sort of music we make, since he composes the music.

Robert: In the genre that we play, the inspiration to compose has primarily been from bands like Enslaved, Rotting Christ, Nokturnal Mortum, Dissection and Drudkh. Those are all bands that were able to carve new paths and steer black metal in an unprecedented direction. Musically, they were able to reach new heights and retain compositional prominence. The compositions of said bands are so rich, both as a result of their unique atmosphere and their functionality as compositions, that I can listen to them constantly and still discover new aspects and details within their songs. I’m awestruck every time I think about the way these bands have created masterpieces so frequently and within such short amounts of time, that have such high values for the overall metal world.
Regarding the sort of music that we play, we generally compose within the Black metal genre, but naturally, just as with any metal band, we occasionally make use of compositional structure from other genres as well. For example, in our music you may notice the occasional influence from Thrash metal, just as in any other Black metal band. The core of our music also has folk music as one of our main influencers. The composing process of which has proved very difficult and lengthy endeavor, since it requires a lot of concentration and maximum attention to the composition at hand. But overall, the genre that we compose in when putting the music and lyrics together, could be classified as Pagan Black, which in reality is a much better genre than most people come to realize.

You mentioned that the inspiration for your pagan metal is the very much forgotten ancient pagan past of the Armenian highlands and the myths. As most people are probably unaware of those, would it be possible to tell more about this time and history? And how do you work them into your music?

Robert: Our paganism had a massive, undeniable presence within the daily lives of our ancient ancestors. Needless to say, as is the case in the ancient chronicles of most countries, Christianity took over with violence, killing en masse, the oppression of pagans. Setting aflame all the knowledge, temples, artifacts and every scroll, book and manuscript regarding our pagan past, which could have helped us massively to study and reveal more about our mythos and ancestors. Armenian paganism had a large number of gods and goddesses. It shares many similarities with the ancient Greek pantheon of gods, in terms of how deep and rich it goes.

Through the texts that we write, we touch on various periods of pagan Armenia. On subjects that revolve around not just historical events but also some of the hidden pagan cults who functioned during those times. Our songs mostly echo Van Kingdom’s struggles against the Assyrian Empire, retellings of warfare and also some unsung victories and struggles of certain kings. It is possible to find a lot of information through our songs, regarding some cults and certain hubs of pagan worship, which demands a lot of research, source gathering and textual refining to write about.

Garbis: Regarding how we incorporate the myths and history into our songs; it has all become quite systematic now to be honest, i.e. taking the concept from point A to point Z, regardless though, the process itself is where the art lies. It usually starts with a single event, concept, geographical location, a historical character, a pagan ritual that would pop up in our conversations. Usually, things that are quite vague and unheard of, quite the revelations even for us. Then comes the long and arduous section of research and source-hunting. Considering the unknown nature of these specific events and concepts, this step is usually one of the longer ones in terms of how long it takes to achieve, albeit one of and if not the most important step.

Afterwards, it goes either two ways, usually I take on the historical subjects, i.e. specific historical events or characters, study whatever sources we have gathered and by that point, I would already have the music composed and prepared by Robert. I repeatedly listen to the very early versions of whatever composition we are working on, while I write down the lyrics as I gather all the events and sources into a compositional retelling of sorts of said events. In a way that all the sources and facts connect and make sense. For the concepts and subjects that have to do specifically with the paganism and spiritual aspects of our culture, Robert lays down the overall groundwork after a thorough study and research of the subjects at hand then passes them down to me. I proceed by translating and writing them down in a lyrical format in order to keep a persistent lingual theme in between the rest of our compositions. Finally, it’s only a matter of working together in finalizing the editing in order to have the final lyrics fit the vocal range of our vocalist, alongside any necessary changes in order to have our lyrics and music complement each other, to best represent the specific concepts or events that we’re aiming to bring forward into public eye.

Am I correct in assuming you are talking about the kingdom now called Urartu? What time period are you talking about more precisely and can you maybe share a brief explanation about the pagan tradition, what its believes where and myths? What do these traditions mean to you and why did you chose to go this direction? Is it simply storytelling, identity or a source of pride?

Robert: Yes, that is correct. Urartu goes by different names; most historians call it Araratian or Van Kingdom. If you also check out some of the old Behistun inscriptions, you’ll notice that different nations at the time also called Urartu various other names. In our lyrics you can read specific events that occurred throughout different periods of the Van Kingdom, it’s derived from the entire historical timeline of Van Kingdom’s rule. There is no singular specific year or date that the demo album or the subsequent, potential full-length is based on but rather various specific events, dotted throughout the entirety of Van Kingdom’s history. Also, as mentioned before the lyrics don’t revolve solely around historical events but also conceptual ideas and representations of ancient pagan cults and rituals.

If I were to single out a single one, I find the myth regarding “Mher’s Door” or “Raven’s Rock” as it’s called, very attractive and interesting. It’s a sacred cave near the fortress of Van, where according to myth Little Mher, the final hero in the epos of “Daredevils of Sassoun”. He shut himself inside the cave as a furious retaliation against the world’s injustices. According to the sagas, Mher comes out of the cave atop his horse, traverses the earth but convinced that the earth could not possibly handle his weight and seeing the still prevailing injustices, he returns to Raven’s Rock. It is prophesized that one-day Mher will ride out one last time; to punish the enemies of his people and establish the justice he has long desired, thus will beckon the Day of Wrath. Speaking of Raven’s Rock, the artwork of our demo album, done by our own guitarist Mark Erskine, is a depiction of the legendary “Mher’s Door”.

Thank you, I would like to ask you then, as said above, what these traditions mean to you and why did you chose to go this direction? Is it simply storytelling, identity or a source of pride? In other words, I’m interested in your personal relation to this topic. Maybe to elaborate even further on this, very often any sort of ancestral themes or historic topics can be regarded as political. Perhaps that is something you’d like to respond to?

Robert: Our pagan history and traditions are a source of pride for us. Armenian’s rich ancient past tells of such glorious stories of our ancestral heritage, rich myths and important historical events that impacted greatly on the foundation of our country and defined Armenia and its people as we are today.
We do not consider our lyrics to be politically motivated and they have no reference to modern day or historical political events.

We want to showcase all aspects of ancient Armenia, especially the hidden and lesser-known aspects of our history to our Armenian audience as well as to people in other countries.
We have an interest in the Van Kingdom period which is often forgotten about as there is little information on the era. Writing and playing about our ancestors’ pagan beliefs, traditions, mythology and history is another way of preserving it and we aim to keep the period alive by mixing our ancestral roots with Black metal.

Garbis: I would say it’s all three in conjunction with one another, our identity is our source of pride and what better way to retain our identity and pride than with a little bit of good storytelling. We have taken this direction because there is a dire need of preservation, regarding these topics; especially the specific events that are generally overlooked and aren’t covered in your average school history book. In an increasingly digital world, historical texts are more and more left on the wayside. If our songs manage to instill interest and drives as many as a handful of people to conduct further research in extension to what our lyrics pertains, then I’d personally consider our project a success. Naturally, our ambitious scope is much larger than that.
No, I would consider our output to be completely apolitical. Certainly in this day and age, the political nature of any subject at hand has become a personal matter. Any subject may be wrapped with a political mantle, if the consumer of said subject wishes it to be so. Having said that, as artists we wouldn’t want that fact to hinder us from producing and achieving the primary objectives of our work, which is to unearth and preserve the lesser known parts of our rich and very ancient history. As such, as composers we steer away from tailoring our work to per consumer’s political standing or beliefs, just as well, we do not let our own personal beliefs or political ideologies tarnish the primary objective of presenting our history as accurately as possible.

I would like to continue to your music. Do you use any of the historic or traditional music or instruments in Ildaruni? And if so, what are these? If not, are you intending to do so?
Robert: I compose the majority of our music and we collectively add or remove certain parts of the composition during our rehearsal sessions. In our songs we use whistle and dap, which is a type of traditional Armenian drum. The whistle gives an eerie tone to the music to create an atmospheric ambience to our songs. In future recordings we are going to use a type of Armenian bagpipe called a parkapzuk, which differentiates from other instruments with its uniquely attractive sound. The sound transports you back to ancient life in the Armenian highlands.

Before writing the folk elements of our songs we invest time researching the traditional sound, trying to find ancient melodies to help us reconstruct the historical Armenian sound and to replicate the sound of the instruments we use in as close a way as possible to the music played by our ancestors. When it comes to the creative process of composing the music, we make the sound our own while using the influence of Armenian folk music.

Alright, so what can you tell me about the debut release ‘Towards Subterranean Realms’?
Robert: Towards subterranean realms had been set for release at an earlier date but due to some band issues, like a change of line-up, the release date had to be moved forward.
Our demo is a small taste of what to expect in our full-length album, we already have some great material written.
As we mentioned, the general goal of our music is to present lesser-known excerpts from ancient Armenian paganism and mythology, which are often overlooked or forgotten.
We have had a positive response following the release of our demo which makes us progress to reach new goals.

I wonder how your music, with its themes, is received in your country. Do you face any detractors like bands in Western Europe would have (often accused of nationalism or worse)?
Also how are those sentiments, since I learned that many Armenians live across borders (from my contact with the band Avarayr)?

Robert:Our music was met with positive feedback in both Armenia and abroad. Before we formed Ildaruni, there were other Armenian bands that played pagan black metal, so this genre was already known about and popular in the Armenian metal scene.
We haven’t received any problems as a result of our music. We try to deviate from politics or any kind of movements. Instead, our musical themes revolve around our culture, our pagan history, our ancestor’s beliefs, mythology and the historical representation of some aspects of pagan occultism.

Would you say that metal music is freely played? Or is there still a form of it being frowned upon. For example, metal has always clashed with religion.
Robert: Playing metal or presenting it to our audience etc. doesn’t cause any problems per say; but the scene in general is still considered deep underground. In Armenia, it is still I in the early stages of development. There are some good bands around who really deserve to receive some exposure abroad but there’s no real development or investment in the scene nor the existence of a big metal scene. I would say the reasons for all of that is, there is in general very little interest in metal from the general public and the overall belated introduction of the genre as a whole in the country. We don’t have any problems preparing and organizing concerts but the problem comes from the lack of valid places, venues or organizers in generals. Those are the core issues that present the real difficulties and barriers rather than any societal conflicts.

Alright, so I want to ask you also about the Armenian people abroad, as I mentioned before the interview I did with Avarayr. Does this impact the scene in any way, is it because of that more international (due to the cross-boundary population) or do you think it generally creates an open-mindedness?
Robert: Many Armenians living abroad bring the musical taste and influence of the metal scenes from other countries back to Armenia with them. Some of the bands living abroad making the most impact on the metal scene are Ambehr, Hexen, Highland and Avarayr.
Many people from diaspora returned to Armenia in the past 10 years and they bring new ideas and changes to multiple areas of our country including the music scene. It’s great to see new life and direction being brought into our country.
Armenians from the diaspora are helping to shape and develop the metal scene in Armenia by participating in concerts and adding a new taste and quality to their music. In general, the Armenian people in the metal scene are open-minded and we hope that the metal scene can progress by the organization of more gigs and influencing younger generations to take an interest in the scene.

So, tell me about the scene in Armenia. How did metal come to your country and which bands are the progenitors? What’s happening now and where is the scene happening? In the capital or are there local scenes worth mentioning?
Robert: The popularity of metal in Armenia has been fluctuating over the last 20 years or so. Some members of the local metal scene put in effort to develop metal bars and gigs but usually for little or no financial gain so there are also periods of stagnation in the scene.
During the Soviet Union, in the middle and late 80s, there were bands that impacted on the development of the metal scene and were known for their quality music. Two bands worthy of noting are Ayas and Asparez.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the people had more freedom and many started listening to metal and formed bands. Today, conditions have changed immensely compared with the past. Organising metal nights used to be a long and frustrating process but now many bands have clubs where they can host self-organized gigs and have studios where they can rehearse to improve their musical skills. Many bands were formed by our diaspora abroad which also impacted on the Armenian metal scene.
We have bands which are having regular gigs and it’s a good thing to see in Armenia. Unfortunately, there is no major interest in metal in Armenia compared to the scene in the US or Europe and that is the main reason why we don’t have so many bands, there is no demand or interest. I hope that over time this problem will be solved. Almost all metal events are happening in Yerevan because most metal bands and fans are centralized in the capital.

What future plans do you have for the band?
Garbis: Regarding the future plans of the band, we are hard at work to fulfill our most immediate plans for the time being, but we always have a one eye open towards the bigger picture in the future. Since we pretty much have all the material written and rehearsed for our first full-length album release (barring some minor additions and changes here and there), we are trying to figure out the best approach regarding the production of our album that would best represent the true vision that we have for the release.

Having said that, our plans further into the future is definitely to expand the range of our live performances. It is always a great pleasure and a collective challenge to provide an energetic and memorable live performance to our local audience. But we are definitely aiming at playing more shows throughout the year, so in order to do that we are hoping to take our performances to the neighboring country of Georgia to start with and then expanding into greater horizons, playing in some well-regarded pagan festivals. All in due time as we take one step after another.

Robert: There are some distinctive metal bands that have stood out in the past and present metal scene in Armenia, each with a unique sound and approach to their music.
I recommend that people check out atmospheric black metal band, Sworn. Unfortunately, they split up some years ago but they made a big impact on the local metal scene. For fans of raw blackened death metal, I recommend they check out Merial, their music is both aggressive and catchy. Lovers of folk or pagan metal should listen to Araspell or Vahagn, both are a mix of Armenian folk with heavy and unique riffs.

If you had to compare your band to a dish, what would it be and why?
Robert: Many different dishes come to mind considering the richness and uniqueness of Armenian cuisine, but if I had to choose, I would say traditional Armenian barbeque. Our music is like a well cooked meat with hidden spices and flavours which represent the folk elements in our music.
Thanks for the interview.

Underground Sounds: Witte Wieven/Reiziger – Vlucht

Band: Witte Wieven / Reiziger
Label: Babylon Doom Cult
Origin: Netherlands

Witte Wieven refers to ghostly apparitions of wise women, their lamenting ghosts. They are incorporeal, but overwhelming when in presence and so is the music from Sarban and C. on this split. The duo has released one EP before, but ‘Vlucht’ is the first majorly grasped release by the band and it is a truly strong debut.

‘Met beide benen in het niets’ is a good match with the cover, of a classical attempt at flight. The music is silky, tender at times, in particular when the vocals of C. are clean and in harmony with the tremolo riffing. Densely atmospheric, as falling into a warm bath, the music just flows on beautifully. Never rushing, never forceful, but always sounding natural and pleasant even at its most harsh and violent.

Not to be confused with a different band named Reiziger, this band hails from the Netherlands and its name translates as ‘traveler’. It’s a project by N. from Laster and a much more liberal, freespun project, though also rather unknown till this point. Hopefully, the split changes this, because the contribution on this record is excellent in my humble opinion.

Though the fundament of drums is heavy and dense, the melodies are free-soaring and tender. There is a sense of sophistication int he music. Yet, it also sounds cavernous and dark, shy of light and air. Never really bombastic, though there are some signs of grandeur in the underground realm. The nothingness here is bottomless and deep, cold and unforgiving, but even more so uncaring. Abyssal howls chase you through the darkness on a song that does not relent.