Africa is the final frontier when it comes to metal, but something is definitely brewing with bands like Nelecc from Kenya, creating their very own brand of atmospheric black metal. But the local scene is small and mostly unknown, yet this gives it a unique flavor.
Kenya has been a country with a moving history but has also offered a relatively stable breeding ground for musicians. Unsurprisingly, this also has created bonds across boundaries and the one-man band Nelecc has seen new ties, as the artist, Nelecc himself has joined forces with Victor Rosewrath from Vale of Amonition (Uganda) and Noktal from Djibouti in the band Krummholz.
Also, he was kind enough to tell us some more about his music and vision.
Nelecc: Nature, Stars, and Inspiration
Hello, how is Nelecc doing?
Nelecc is doing great, thank you. 2018 was quite the year and I am happy with how it went in terms of music.
How did you get started with Nelecc and what does the name mean?
The idea of Nelecc was started while I was in high school. I had a strong will to make music, and get lost in it. Since Nelecc is part nature, part personal life experiences, and part fantastical themes, I decided to mix the real with the ethereal. Hence, the Nel(son)ecc(lesiastes).
Which music inspired you to pursue the path of black metal with your own project and did you have any previous projects or bands you were active in?
There is a lot of different music (even different genres) that inspired me to do black metal. I initially wanted to form a black metal band, but was not able to due to the fact that I grew up in a very remote town with barely four metalheads, and a really bad music scene. Since I was so far away from Nairobi, and couldn’t get in contact with the big city metalheads because of my high school, teen years shyness, I decided to just do it by myself. I hadn’t wrapped my head around the concept of having a solo project, but it grew on me faster than I expected. In Africa, the two bands that have influenced me to do black metal are: Absence of Light, and Wildernessking.
Can you share with us what sort of theme, message or idea you try to convey with Nelecc?
The themes are: Nature, personal life experiences, and fantasy. It is a blend of the three really. Like some sort of tale, but not really one, haha.
You’ve recently released the record ‘The Stars’ with Nelecc. A concept album it seems with a story to tell. Can you share what the story is on the record?
Opening: The Stars – This is practically an intro to the album, and the journey of a guy who seeks another world far from, yet in within this one. The other remaining tracks take you through a fantasy world, my world, and the natural world.
What was the process like of writing and recording the record?
Writing and recording the album was tedious considering how much I had to learn (and what I’m yet to learn) about mixing and mastering. But, as it didn’t seem to be sounding too good, Mike L. of Sojourner continually gave me incredibly important tips on how to get a much better mix. It was incredibly helpful for that process, and definitely boosted the release.
On the cover of your record ‘The Star’ you show, what I believe to be, a Kenyan landscape. The content of the lyrics is also referring to places and is partly in the native language. How important is your origin for your music?
The cover art is a picture of lower Rift Valley. Going to places like these as a child always took my breath away. I was always in awe of the enormity of it all. The peace, the cool breeze, the chirping birds, flowing streams, falling water… It is a place to become. And that is why nature is my greatest influence. Growing up in a small town surrounded by the wilderness definitely helped it. So, it is important how or where the ideas generate for one to come up with a project.
Would you say your music could be created anywhere else than in Kenya?
I believe music can be created anywhere (even Antarctica). It’s universal. Where you draw your inspirations from is what is really important.
Can you tell me if there is a black metal scene or metal scene in your country and how it started, which bands are important and where it is happening?
The main metal scene is in the capital city, Nairobi. There is a blackened death metal band that I mentioned earlier, who also influenced me to carry forth with black metal; Absence of Light. They have a full-length record out from 2013 (Vyom Chakra) and it’s absolutely magnificent.
Are there any bands you’d like to recommend from Kenya or neighboring countries?
I’d recommend my friend, and bandmate’s band, Vale of Amonition (doom metal, Uganda). Some other good bands from Kenya would be The Seeds of Datura (doom), Last Year’s Tragedy (melodic metalcore), In Oath (deathcore), and Mortal Soul (metalcore).
You’ve recently released a joint record with Krummholze, an international East-African project with Victor Rosewrath from Vale of Amonition from Uganda and drummer Noktal. How did this come into being?
It was pretty simple really, and a more than a pleasant surprise. Victor Rosewrath messaged me and proposed to start a band together with Noktal, since they had been acquainted before. As soon as I saw the vision that Noktal had for the soon-to-be band, I was immediately interested. So we joined forces and formed Krummholz.
Can you give me some background on Noktal, I can’t find anything as for where he is from, in which band he played etc.?
Noktal is from Djibouti, but he’s currently in the US. He’s been in multiple bands before, but he can provide more insight on that than I can.
Krummholz seems to have rapidly become your main focus. How does it relate to your Nelecc project and how did you get in touch with Naturmacht Productions, a fantastic label in my opinion?
Well, it would be a bit of a stretch to say that I have a main focus quite honestly. This is because you never know when inspiration is going to strike. So most times, I’ll find myself writing for Krummholz and Nelecc back and forth. Victor was able to get in touch in me because of my work in Nelecc, so there will always be a little bit of Nelecc in Krummholz: not in the sound, not in the lyrics, not in the themes, but in spirit.
Robert, of Naturmacht reached out to us and said that he really liked our sound and offered us a deal. It’s a great label, and we were thrilled to sign with him. The roster is incredible, and the commitment to his artists is real.
What future plans do you have for Nelecc and for Krummholz?
Writing and recording for the new Nelecc album that I’m hoping to release this year is more than halfway done, and the writing process for the debut Krummholz FL album is currently underway. We can’t wait to show everyone what we are brewing when it’s done.
If you had to compare Nelecc to a dish, a type of food, what would it be and why?
Rice and beans without a doubt, haha. This is because I AM rice and beans.
Pagan times have seen renewed interest over recent years. Perhaps it’s slightly one-dimensional with a wide range of Viking themed music, tv-shows and even fitness events. But for those willing to look deeper, there’s such a wealth of ideas and cultures to be found that inspired to this very day. That is a large part of Belgian band Theudho.
Band member and founder J.S. has been making music for many years and is inspired by that remote past as well as the extreme music scene. These two have always combined well and with Theudho, he recently released ‘De Roep van het Woud’, which translates as the call of the forest. He was also kind enough to tell us about his calling, inspiration and work, with some good advice for those looking to find their own green cathedral.
Pagan past, notorious music and wandering the verdant realm with Theudho
Hi, Could you kindly introduce yourself and tell us a bit about Theudho?
I initially planned to use the name þeuđo, as I originally spelled Theudho, for a keyboard/synth project back in 2002. Things rarely go as they are planned; guitars and drums were eventually introduced and the music shifted towards black/pagan metal.
The first demo was recorded as a one-man band and released in 2003. It was a fuzzy lo-fi ordeal that nevertheless resulted in a record deal. By the time of the second album, Theudho had become a band with a full line-up that also performed live. However, for the fifth and latest album, I decided to return to the one man band formula.
As for myself, next to a passion for music, I early on developed an interest in pre-Christian Germanic mythology and culture. Next, to the appeal of the rather notorious local music scene, this is the reason why I started to spend considerable amounts of time in Scandinavia since the latter half of the nineties.
What originally inspired you to create this type of music? Which bands would you consider your inspirators?
As strange as it may sound, I actually became inspired to play this kind of music again when a friend (my partner in crime in the neo-folk/industrial/martial project Weihan) and I were backpacking in Ireland back in 2002. We visited loads of Celtic and even some Norse sites in the south, but especially some of the landscapes we witnessed just breathed the imposing atmosphere that is synonymous with a lot of classic second wave black metal. I just had to do something with these impressions.
There were quite a few worthwhile examples when it came to this kind of music. The early albums of Blut Aus Nord, Falkenbach and of course Bathory and Burzum specifically because they were one man bands too (at least at some point), but there is a whole array of Scandinavian, Slavic and even some German bands that I would consider inspirational.
You’ve been active in a number of bands, lately also with a new project named ‘Slithering Decay’. Can you tell something about your musical endeavors and the latest projects you are working on?
I’ve been in quite a few bands and projects in the last 25+ years. The latest band SlitheringDecay is inspired by all those great albums that were released in the Stockholm scene in the early nineties. I was in a death metal band too at the time, but we honestly lacked the skill and knowledge to write and perform music that was even remotely listenable. So this is basically a second attempt to pay tribute to that sound and feel. We released our first demo (tape!) last year and are currently writing our debut album. Hopefully, we will be able to release it later this year. We’re also looking into releasing another Weihan album.
Over the years, Theudho would appear to have embraced different aspects and themes in the realm of paganism, history and aesthetic representation on the album covers. Has this been a journey for you in a sense?
The lyrics have been inspired by themes from all over the Germanic realm, from the Bronze Age to Medieval times; that’s indeed quite a broad range. One could say that the lyrical themes gradually became a bit more obscure as obvious sources of inspiration were depleted early on. The additional issue is that a lot of bands are fishing in the same pond as far as lyrical inspiration goes, so it is a necessity to dig a bit deeper.
As for the aesthetics of the album covers, I tend to prefer actual paintings instead of photographs or digital art. We couldn’t find a suitable historical painting for the “When Ice Crowns the Earth” album, so that is the only one with a photograph as cover art. Definitely my least favorite one.
You’ve recently released ‘De Roep van Het Woud’ on Heidens Hart. What can you tell about this record and its message or concept?
The new album might surprise people as it does sound quite different compared to the old albums. The actual material is constructed differently as far as the compositions go. I use different guitar tunings and the philosophy behind the mix has changed, too. It sure sounds more “black metal”; most people seem to agree that this is the best Theudho album so far.
This time around I also chose to change the way I approached lyrics. The big change obviously is that all the lyrics are in Dutch. Instead of merely re-interpreting known tales or myths, most lyrics were conceived outside in interaction with nature or historical monuments or sites; trying to see heathenism as a living, continued tradition rather than a dusty literary one.
As I understand, you’ve done most of the work for this album by yourself. What made you chose to do that? Is it really a practical choice or is there perhaps also a sense of craftsmanship and creativity involved?
The main reason is convenience, really. The guys in the last full line-up are great musicians and people and greatly appreciate their contributions, but in general, I like to rely on other people as little as possible. The time was right to return to the original one-man band incarnation of Theudho and just do everything by myself.
How did the whole recording process and writing of the album take place? Where did you do most of the work and what sort of resources provide you with inspiration and input for the creative aspect of it?
I recorded everything at my own place. The writing and demo process was one phase where songs would get written, revisited after some months and then subsequently tweaked, re-written or even discarded.
When I finished the demos, I basically only kept the tempo tracks/metronome settings and redid the whole thing with a tighter, smoother and more convincing performance. The actual inspiration comes from a few different places, both literally and figuratively. I travel quite a bit, so there’s always new locations that leave an impression. Next to that, I tend to read a lot, so that offers a lot of new information and insights as well.
The title translates roughly as ‘The call of the forest’. Now, this may be a metaphorical forest of in general the call of a forest, but do you have a specific forest in mind and what makes it call so strongly?
The title of the album is not really meant to be taken literally. It refers to the contrast between the urbanized, Christian world versus untamed nature, which was regarded as “pagan”. The latter was obviously demonized, but ultimately still is the natural habitat in which mankind evolved for millions of years.
You specifically use the term pagan to describe your style of music. How do you relate paganism to life in this day and age? Is it a look backward or a re-application of ideas and is it more to you than a thematic vehicle for Theudho?
It is a philosophical stance in life – I hate to use the word religion because people seem to define religion by the characteristics of the cluster of Middle Eastern religions that dominate large parts of the world today. In the West, the modern consensus seems to be that being religious is synonymous with being intellectually challenged, mentally weak and inept in science, technology, … One only needs to visit countries in the Far East (where people have the highest IQ in the world, after all) to see that this contradiction doesn’t make sense and is unnecessary. It did not exist in Europe in Classical Antiquity for that matter, either.
As you deal with themes of Germanic history and mythology, you are probably bound to be misinterpreted at times (as seems to be the faith of many bands doing this) or even lumped into the NS category. Has this happened to Theudho and how do you view this matter?
Trying to comply with the sensitivities or correcting the misconceptions of others is a Sisyphean task. A much wiser man than me, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, already advised: “How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.”
Are there still interesting things happening in the black metal scene today and how do you feel about the whole shift in sounds with more progressive bands moving in different directions?
I have to admit that I’m not really keeping track of what’s new and worthwhile. My tape trading days are long behind me, my shelves are bulging as is and I don’t have time to listen to a lot of music. If something survives the initial hype or buzz, I’ll get to hear it sooner or later anyway.
Which bands from your neck of the woods would you recommend at this time?
I coincidentally got the new album of Kludde last week and I would definitely recommend giving it a listen.
Do you have any advice for those wanderers who are feeling ‘the call of the forest’?
“Wit is needful
to him who travels far:
at home all is easy.
A laughing-stock is he
who nothing knows,
and with the instructed sits.”
What future plans do you currently have with Theudho?
I can’t reveal too much at this point in time, but a Dutch band and I are talking about putting out some music together later this year as a split release. Besides that, I’m working on new material for the next album.
If you had to describe Theudho as a dish, what would it be and why?
Well, that’s an original and unexpected question. I guess horse meat would be appropriate. Why? Christians outlawed the consumption of horse meat because it was a heathen custom. I’m sure it still offends a fair share of people even today.
Europe has a wealth of nations with separate identities and traditions, but in some occasions even between those countries, you find identities. The Basque country, partly in Spain and partly in France, is an ancient culture with a language that differs from anything else on the continent. Iluntze is a product and an expression of that identity.
Synder is the sole member behind the band and is currently (at the time of our contact) residing in the far another side of Europe, studying in Lithuania. He was kind enough to tell something more about his project, origin and the meaning behind Iluntze.
Iluntze from Basque Country
Tell me about Iluntze, how did this project get started?
Hello there! Well, Iluntze is a music project that helps me to elaborate my music ideas. I had some other music bands in the past, from high school rock covers bands to different failed projects, from Folk to Death metal. Mostly, the main problem was the coordination with band members and the different music perspective we had. When I moved to Bilbao in 2015 to start my university studies, my interested in black metal started increasing. This events mixed with my interest around Medieval-Ancient period and my craving to record my own creations gave birth to Iluntze. Going back to 2016, when I recorded my first demo, I realize that maybe I should have waited more and work more in the songs and process of recording. I didn’t have any proper equipment to record and my skills in this field were really low. This made me simplify my songs and to don’t allow me to record the lyrics of Ama Ilargia Ama Eguzkia (Mother moon, Mother sun) and Iluntze.
What does the name mean and what is its origin?
Iluntze means dusk. The root -IL is old, even found in inscriptions from Roman times, and it can be understood as ¨Night or Death¨. This word root is really interesting for me since many words have it, such as Ilargi (Moon), -IL (Night, death)+argi (light) or Hilerri (Graveyard), -IL (Death)+ Herri (Village). This interpretation of Night and death is really related to the Basque mythology, where the Day was the daytime of the living beings and the Night was one of the death spirits. So, Iluntze basically means ¨The process of turning night¨. I just liked the name and its sonority and I think I was right choosing it.
You identify as Basque musician with lyrics in this language as well, and themes derived from it. Can you tell me something more about this and what it is your music really is telling?
I really like this theory that explains how your main language influences your way of think thanks to how the language rules interact with your brain (Probably this is quite poorly explained haha). Well, besides I speak some few languages besides Basque, when I think about Iluntze and when I play music, my mind thinks in Basque. Since I was a child, I have been into European history (and Prehistory, Paleolithic times and so on), especially, into medieval years. The city where I come from (Pamplona-Iruña) and the landscapes surrounding it probably had some influence in my music but when I focus in the storytelling, my main inspiration is my own interpretations of Basque mythology and history. You can perceive some kind of nostalgia about old times attached to some rejection of the modern world. We also have auto-parody style lyrics like in Itziarren Semea (The son of Itziar- the name of my mother), where we see some kind of medieval parody of my character.
The artwork and whole style is very typical, what bands inspired you for your sound and the mood of Iluntze? I am mostly reminded of some of the French bands like Peste Noire on their La Chaisse-Dyable.
I am very happy with the overall result of the artistic part of the last demo. The Digifile edition released by Dawn of the Murk (Darkwoods) is really beautiful and the Illustrator, Alvaro M. Buendia did a splendid job. PesteNoire, musically, is one of my biggest influences and I kinda think that this influence can be perceived in my music. But mostly, depends in what I want to share when I think about making a new song. Sometimes, Dissection, Burzum or Isengard makes a big impact at the time of creating the song but when I’m in a rancid and musty mood, Peste Noire style arises. Their first works are masterpieces and I especially love ‘Ballade cuntre lo Anemi francor’, really nice artistic style and very melodic sounds.
You are currently located in Lithuania, has that made the desire to make music about your land of origin more strong? And how did you end up there?
Currently, I have been living in this country for almost a year, although I’m coming back to Basque Country in a few weeks, to finish my studies and continue working on Iluntze. Well, firstly I came here to continue my studies but it seems I have found a deeper feeling towards this country, its forests, and people. Lithuania is a big musical inspiration, by its landscapes, history, and culture. For future Iluntze’s work, I will try to reflect this influence, maybe with Lithuanian Folkish influences or even singing in the language.
Iluntze was born in Basque Country and developed in those lands full of mountains. But this time expended in Lithuania is understood as meditation and inspirational. In this time, even though I haven’t created any music for Iluntze besides a few lyrics, I’m trying to improve my clean voice and focus Iluntze’s future.
You’ve recorded 2 demo’s this far, Antzinako Oihartzunak being the latest. What can you tell me about this release and the effort behind finding your sound with Iluntze?
The effort given and done behind this last release has been much bigger than in the first demo. I think that I have evolved the quality of the composition and started defining a sound direction. I was lucky to made contact with the label Darkwoods who has supported me a lot. I wanted to work in a proper way the artistic part of Iluntze so I contacted with Alvaro for that. Finally, I tried to improve my skills with music production, so overall, I think that this last demo has been a big step for Iluntze. To summarize, better songs, better production, beautiful physical edition, and nice collaborations have been archived this year. I hope that my next demo will at least as big improvement compared with the previous one.
How do you go about the recording and writing process for these records? Do you do everything by yourself and is it in one session or over multiple? And how do you craft the songs?
Till this last demo, I have done everything, from playing to recording, besides the mastering of Antzinako Oihartzunak. First of all, I create the melodies and riff with the guitar and later I start with the drums (by computer), that helps me to give a structure to the songs. When the drums are done, I start making the bass line and recording it. Later, I record the final version of the guitars with a shitty microphone and my amp. In the meanwhile, I think and write the lyrics so when all the instrumental parts are recorded, I record the voice. Quite a lot of work, so for futures demos, EP or LP I will try to search for collaborations.
Can you tell me more about the Ignis Fatuus collective?
We are a powerful lobby with the only objective of world domination through money control. In our free time and good days, we just name our self as Ignis Fallus.
Regional identity in Spain is very important. As you identify as Basque can you tell me how you view this and how it works through in Iluntze?
Well, since my mother language is Basque, my culture and traditions are Basque and my ancestors were Basque I obviously identify myself as Basque. This does not mean I do not like Spain or France. Both are beautiful countries with many positive (and negative) things to say about them. Being part of the Spanish state, I should not be fool rejecting this fact and reality. Iluntze has received a lot of support from Spain and I really appreciate that. But, on the other hand, Iluntze’s reality is Basque, from the atmosphere I try to create to the message of the lyrics, and probably that’s one of the most important characteristics of the band.
Can you tell me a bit more about Basque metal? Particularly that which employs the Basque language. When did this get started and which bands were the first to do it?
I would say that the metal is still popular in Basque Country, probably by its side relation with the Punk. Personally, I don’t know much about the Metal status in the French Basque Country. I know that Gojira is from there but they may not identify themselves as Basques. Besides that, I know plenty of basque metal bands that sing in Basque. I’m not an expert on this topic but probably one of the most influential bands has been SU TA GAR, classic speed heavy metal. Taking it to my terrain -black metal- Triarchy of Vasconia split is really important. It was a nice collaboration in 2001 between 3 Basque Black-Folk bands –Ilbeltz, Adur and Aiumeen Basoa.
Which bands from your region should people really check out?
Since the beginning of the century, we still have other good black metal bands, as Nakkiga or Numen. From Iginis Fatuus we have Aehrebelsethe, who recently released its first work. And finally, last week I discovered a new death metal band that sounds really brutal, Bullets of Misery.
Going out from metal, I would recommend folk artist as BenitoLertxundi or Mikel Laboa. I cannot forget about other bands as Hertzainak or Kortatu. Well, thinking about this in a deeper way, there is a strong local music environment in the Basque Country so I recommend everyone to check it out.
What future plans do you have for Iluntze?
Exiting question! There are many plans going on. First of all, I will start recruiting members so we will be able to play live. Second of all, I’m coming back home in the following weeks so I will start creating Iluntze’s next demo. This demo is gonna be something big, some kind of double demo where we will find my own songs in one side and black metal covers of traditional Basque songs in the other one. In the meanwhile, I will probably record a couple of songs for a split between the bands of Ignis Fatuus. I will reprint the design of the first t-shirt due to its success and at the same time, work in a new one with the singer of No Sanctuary. Many more things are in my mind but probably it’s too soon to reveal them
If you had to describe Iluntze as a dish, what would it be and why?
Roasted chestnuts (and if there are worms inside, more protein for the body haha). Well, you need to fight to open them but once it’s done you find something really tasty and hot ;).
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.
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 ArborMortis(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.
Label: Sleaszy Rider Records Band: Voltumna Origin: Italy
I suppose it’s a first to really go underground with the band Voltumna, who are drawing their inspiration from the ancient Etruscans. The mysterious civilization was eclipsed by the Romans but left a peculiar and obscured footprint on Italy. This album is dedicated to the Dodecapoli, the 12 old cities of the Etruscans.
Wizardry, mythology and foggy history are what have been driving Voltumna for a couple of years now. With guest performances from Christian Borchi (Stormlord) and Anna Menicheschi on vocals and Thursen (Wolfingar) on ancient Italian instruments, the band aims to catch a shred of the past.
Voltumna plays a style, that reaks of old death metal, but holds on to its crisp vitality thanks to the smooth production. The sparse use of synths and other instruments helps with that on tracks like ‘Reading The Flames’, which spark the imagination of the ancient times. Haruspex on guitars, lets them weep and squeal at every opening, where Zilath Meklhum needs to take a breath with his biting and ghoulish vocals.
The mentioned odd instruments create a special vibe. For example, the song Fanum Voltumnae that moves into traditional sounds for a particular ambiance. These are mere intermissions though and while some peculiar movements are embedded in their music, all over a pretty solid and straight served piece of musical violence. Particular to the sound is the thunderous rhythm section, that hits it hard from start to finish. Bass player Fulgurator delivers excellently and Augur Veii hits the drums as if he intends to destroy them.
Waylander was one of the first bands to pioneer the sound of folk metal. They’ll refuse any credit for it though, nor for the movement it spawned. They are the real deal, genuine in their art, their expression and, as it turns out, their love for beer.
The band sparked my interest in the genre years ago and the fact that they’ve been around for 25 years now is a testament to the lasting quality of their work. Having seen trouble in the line-up through the years, the band has released a number of records and is working on the latest, following in the steps of 2012’s ‘Kindred Spirits’.
Hailing from Northern-Ireland, the band is relatively isolated. This has allowed them, and many other bands on the green island to develop their distinct own sound. This, and much more, I got to ask Ard Chieftain O’Hagan about. As founder, singer and original member, he was kind enough to answer my questions.
Pagan souls and ancient hearts: Waylander
I want to take you back to 1993 and ask how you came up with the musical direction and style that became Waylander. Where other bands inspiring the connection between folklore, folk music, and metal or was it something outside of music?
We certainly had no grand plan in the formative stages, I’d go so far as to say that, we didn’t have a plan at all. In retrospect, I might have named the band a tad prematurely as several months after stabilizing a working lineup the pieces of the jigsaw fell into place when Born to the fight was penned and we realized we’d perhaps stumbled across a path we could follow. Of course, mixing folk music with Metal was no fluke, it was in the subconscious of my brother. the guitarist and had been in my mind since I was 13 years old, when I first heard Horslips. They were a 70’s band who crossed progressive rock with traditional Irish music and used a lot of Irish folklore and mythology. Growing up, folk music was always on the radio in the house, even though by the age of 10 I only heard it when one side of my Metal vinyl had finished. I’d always had a huge interest in the folklore and history of my land, so you can see all the threads which later joined together to point us in a certain direction. In many ways, it was simply meant to be.
What do these legends and myths that you put in your music mean to you and how do you feel they are relevant today as topics for your music? I’ve also noticed you referring to traditional religious occasions, how deep does this run for you?
They mean everything to me, every time I write lyrics I bare my soul. I have been fascinated by the folklore of my land from a very young age and it certainly helps that Emain Macha [which features heavily in the myths and legends], is located a few short miles outside the city of my birth. When you have a background like mine I suppose it is inevitable that I write and have written about this particular subject matter. Of course, the stories and folklore are every bit as relevant today but I am definitely more into seeking out the hidden meanings than simply retelling the tales.
I began following the Druid’s path in 1996 so the references to the ancient festivals and religion run as deep as my soul. The new album, Eriú’s wheel, is actually a concept album incorporating the festivals and solar observances of the year, the four fire festivals the two equinox and the two solstices.
You’ve been active in the pagan metal genre for years now. Waylander is one of the early bands to pick up this style. How do you feel this genre has changed over the years, having started out with it, witnessed the popularity and peak with the Pagan Fest tours and its decline (where we also saw a lot of cheesy bands)? I’ve read some less than lofty thoughts from you on certain bands for example.
In the beginning, it seemed that the bands playing pagan and folk influenced metal were genuine and were doing what came natural to them.At that time there was no internet and bands were a million times more isolated than they are in this day and age, which meant that there was no trend to follow. To discover bands of a similar philosophy meant getting actively involved in the worldwide underground metal scene which involved a lot of letter writing, tape trading and no little expense. There was a lot of mutual respect around in those embryonic days. As time marched on some bands saw the opportunity to perhaps make a living from a genre that went from ridicule in the early years to quite well known by the 2000s. Did these bands sell out or compromise their sound? In many cases yes, the more ridiculous ones even being content to be some kind of joke bands which is anathema to someone like me. I’ve been told more than once that I cut off my nose to spite my face in this regard and maybe they are right but my response is, my nose is quite big enough to endure a few more cuttings yet. It was ironic that when the trend got huge that Waylander were more or less inactive at that time, due to a serious amount of lineup changes. My bottom line is that integrity can never be compromised, no matter what the reward but it’s down to individual choice really. There are so many bands now it would make your head spin, it’s hard to keep up.
Ireland, and in your case (Northern Ireland), appears to have been an early adaptor of the genre with bands like Primordial and Cruachan and yourselves. Why do you think it emerged so strongly there and not in a different country (for example, Greece, where black metal firmly took root, never had this folk tradition)?
There must have been something in the water in the early 90s. It’s no surprise really, Ireland has a folk and literary tradition, which is second to none and yes I am biased. To be honest, though, I remember in 1994 finding out about Pimordial and a little later Cruachan and I was initially unpleasantly astounded that other people on our small island had a similar vision to mine. The reality is that there is just so much history, folklore, literature and tragedy to supply 50 bands with inspiration and subject matter never mind the half dozen or so who have existed over the decades. As for Greece, I seem to recall a few bands who referenced Greek mythology, maybe they played black metal but at least it was there.
Also, being from Northern Ireland has your music ever caused controversy or mixed reactions in your home country, as it would appear it leans to Irish identity. Or have you ever been accused of any political sympathies of ideas? For example, the title of your debut record ‘Reawakening Pride Once Lost’ might in this day and age be lumped in a particular corner
Most of the controversy has been because we have the cheek to mix folk music into our sound. Suffice to say that folk metal wouldn’t be the most popular of genres in Ireland. There have been a few incidents, not all of them negative, over the years but they are a rarity, to be honest. If I’ve been accused of certain political leanings it is news to me, there isn’t a political party here who represents my views anyway. Reawakening pride once lost was more of an affirmation of my Pagan path and a dig at the Christian society we have endured over the centuries, so if that lumps us in a particular corner, well, quite simply, I couldn’t care less.
All your album titles seem to refer both the old and the new, what would you say is the overall message in Waylander’s music?
The message is straightforward enough, look to our past to learn how to live today, if you don’t know where you came from how can you hope to know where you are going.
I understand you are working on a new album. Can you tell something more about this and what has changed in your way of approach since 2012’s ‘Kindred Spirits’?
We’re just about to begin mixing the new album, Ériú’s Wheel. A decision was made to attempt a concept album incorporating the Fire Festivals, the Solstices and Equinoxes, each with their own piece of music and hopefully create something which does justice to the concept. It wasn’t as easy as we’d imagined, and a few false starts took place, but we’ve had the songs more or less ready for almost a year now. It’s been a different writing experience this time around due mainly to the fact there are 6 people in the band who all have lives outside of the band. Getting all of us together at the same time was quite difficult at times and impossible at other times. We had a member who had a serious illness and others who had work commitments but we somehow persevered and slowly pieced together this album. It will be a huge relief when it’s finally mixed and sent off to the Label.
You’ve had some struggles with the line-up through the years, particularly with one member. Now, I don’t mean to drag that up, but what is in your opinion key to keep a band running for such a long time?
I think the key is to be mentally unwell, why else would you put up with the heartache? It’s a very difficult question to answer as each problem scenario is unique.
As one of the ‘original’ wave of pagan metal bands, which acts do you currently see carry the torch for what the music originally meant and captured? What do you think it means to play extreme metal in 2018?
The likes of Saor and Skyforger and NeguraBunget are bands who immediately spring to mind. To be honest, I’m no expert on our scene at all, I’m much more likely to pick up a cd by a band we play with then use mailorder. Yes, I know I could use the internet but I don’t, I’m way too old school for that. Are you asking if the extreme metal is relevant in this day and age? I hope so, most of my musical tastes involve various levels of extremity and I see no signs of things being on the downturn.
I want to ask you about your albums and their separate identities, but in a way that is interesting to you. I read that you are fussy about your beers, so my question is this: If you had to compare each of your albums to a beer, which beers would they be and why?
Reawakening Pride once Lost – old school, yet novel, a beer that has lasted the test of time, let’s go for, OLD SPECKLED HEN
The Light, the Dark, and the Endless Knot – an attempt, though heartfelt maybe doesn’t have the subtlety or refinement to last the test of time, HOBGOBLIN
Honour Amongst Chaos – Has to be something strong, something that takes a bit of effort to appreciate but worth it in the long run, DUVEL
Kindred Spirits – Something more immediate but still packs a punch yet decidedly moreish – FRANCISCAN WELL REBEL RED
It’s too early to say about the new album, will know for sure after mixing
I wonder, would you make the same music, if you lived anywhere else than in Northern-Ireland?
I’d like to think if i lived anywhere on the island of Ireland a similar sound would emerge but living in the north and growing up during the dark days of the troubles has undoubtedly had an impact. For a band meant to be of the land it would be hypocritical not to be influenced by that land.
What future plans does Waylander have?
We plan to begin gigging towards the end of February 2019, i’m organising a uk tour at the minute and so far we have 2 festival confirmations, Celtic Transylvania in Romania and Dark Trolls in Germany. Hopefully, we get out on the road more often than usual, which is certainly the plan.
If you had to describe Waylander as a dish, what would it be and why?
We’d be that dish in your cupboard which refuses to break and becomes useful every now and again for lapping whiskey out of it like a dog.
YES YES, i cheated on a few but i hope you find the answers meet your requirements, amy thanks for the interrogation. All the best.
Georgia is one of those countries, you may not even be aware of. A state with a vast history and rich cultural traditions in the borderland of the former Soviet-Union, it is the home of Ennui, who play monolithic funeral doom in the most dark and melancholic traditions.
Partly untouched by time, the country has one of the lowest crime rates and visitors speak of the friendly reception they’ve had. Yet it also has the scars of the past, proven by the conflicts with Russia . The same goes for most countries in the Caucasus.
It’s not known for its metal scene, but it is there and shaping itself in a distincly own way. Ennui has been around since 2012, as it was founded by David Unsaved and Sergei Shengalia. Their latest work is ‘End of the Circle’, out on Non Serviam Records. Thanks to Qabar PR, I got to ask them some questions about this project and the monumental record.
Ennui: End of the Circle
First, can you introduce yourselves and how you got together? I understand the name Ennui is an old French word. Can you maybe explain why you chose it and how it has evolved with you through the years?
Yes, we are a funeral doom band from Tbilisi, Georgian Republic. Ennui is the band with only two permanent members: me, David Unsaved and Sergei Shengelia. Both of us write music for the band, we always work together on concepts for the songs, etc. We’ve founded Ennui together in 2012. So it happened that we both had ideas for this genre, we both were able to play on all instruments, and we decided to work together. The name of the band came to our mind almost immediately. I had a few propositions on the name, but we settled on Ennui. We liked the meaning of this word, because it perfectly described our spiritual state at the moment. Over time, we put more extensive sense into this word – Ennui is a state of melancholy, spiritual boredom and loss of any kind of vitality.
Do you guys play in any other bands or projects? And what bands inspired you to pursue the type of music you make?
Yes. Sergei is a veteran of Georgian metal scene. He is a front man of first Georgian technical death metal band Angel of Disease, also he’s guitarist/vocalist of his symphonic black metal band SIGNS. My biography is more modest, but I also have several side-projects in different genres. But none of them are released yet, actually it will happen in nearest future. Bands like Esoteric, Skepticism inspired us to make this music. These two bands were what introduced us to this genre very long time ago.
Where you inspired by bands from Georgia to make metal music or did it come from foreign bands? Are there aspects of your home country that shape the way you make the music you do?
No. We were never inspired by bands from Georgia. All influences and inspirations came from foreign bands of course. Also, you shall know that there are no other funeral doom metal bands from Georgia. It’s a little bit hard to name any particular aspect of Georgian culture which helped us in making this kind of music. You know, first of all, Georgia is not mentally a ”metal country”, and also Georgian culture has mostly a ”happy” mood in almost all of its forms. But working on our first album ”Mze Ukunisa” what means ”The Sun of Darkness” in Georgian, we indeed used some elements of Georgian culture, which perfectly suited atmosphere of funeral doom metal.
I want to ask you about the album ‘End of the Circle’. What was the creative process like for this record, did you do anything new or different this time and what roles do you both have in the process?
The songwriting principle was the same as always – we made individual songs independently from each other. But we’ve certainly changed the recording process as well as whole creative process in this album. Here I mean the whole approach to recording in the studio, getting the highest quality, real and ”warm” tube sound, all analogue equipment. This was first experience like this for Ennui. We’re very satisfied with the final result. I hope listeners will be happy with our new album as well!
As I understand it, in the past you’ve often used poetry for the lyrics and inspiration. Can you tell a bit about that and in what way you drew inspiration for ‘End of the Circle’?
The poetry of Terenti Graneli (Georgian dramatist and late decadence movement poet) was used as lyrics only for our debut album. After that, all lyrics are written by us. “End of the Circle” is conceptual work, inspired by some philosophical ideas about life and death, about principles of being and unbeing. We just imagined about what if there is some final point of everything? Final point of the endless. The End of the endless circle of life and death. Mostly these ideas inspired us.
Your record is in a sense such a huge slab of music, that it could easily be split into multiple releases. In fact, each of the 3 mammoth tracks feels like a separate journey. Was this your initial plan when you set out recording it or did it evolve to this enormous shape?
Oh, yes. The whole idea of this album was to write three huge songs with dynamic ups and downs in tempo and unorthodox melodies. First we had a plan to make an album with only two long songs, but later the idea evolved and we decided to split ”The Withering” in two parts to have two song conceptions reflecting each other. For example, the first part of ”The Withering” is about humanity which is lost under the vastness of starlit sky, and ”The Withering Part II” is about the lost and dead stars shining their ghost light upon us. But the title song is about death of whole Universe as it exists in our understanding and imagination.
Can you tell a bit about the start of metal in Georgia? How did metal music come to your country in the first place?
I guess first heavy metal bands in Georgia were formed in early 80-is. Heavy metal bands like Mtsiri (მწირი), Mekhis Kandakeba (მეხის ქანდაკება), also Heavy Cross (მძიმე ჯვარი). Their music was influenced by heavy metal and hard rock bands from all over the world, some records were rare, but still available to listeners in Soviet Union. Extreme metal was formed in Georgia much later, in 1990-is. It was influenced mostly by popular metal bands, because Georgia never had access to high-grade information sources about underground metal music. I mean no labels, no metal stores. Usually, records of new foreign bands were passing from hand to hand between metalheads. It was almost impossible to get tapes of rare bands. That’s why metal in Georgia was mostly influenced by mainstream bands from Europe. Nowadays, with development of social networks, metal is more available in Georgia then it was before. Here are some local metal bands, scene is has developed into different genres. Famous metal bands like Sepultura, Napalm Death, Sodom, Vader and many others played shows here. I hope that metal in George will keep progressing and in future will take its own place in Metal World.
What is the scene like these days and what bands would you recommend people check out?
Please, check out the band ComatoseVigil from Russia, I guarantee you the total desperation.
While your music and founding were rooted in sad emotions, you as a band appear to have embraced a positive life attitude in previous interviews I read. How do those two combine?
I think that such music does not oblige us to be constantly in a negative mood. And to be more precise, such music helps to get rid of the negative state of mind. It seems to me that you need to be able to treat everything with humor, even if it’s a black humor… Besides, I would not say that we are one of those people who are very open about showing everyone their inner state. Usually, we do not share everything with everyone around, but we channel everything into our music.
What future plans do you have for Ennui?
I think now it’s time to prepare for future live shows. We need to work more with session musicians and pay more attention to listeners from Europe.
If you had to compare the band to a dish, a type of food, what would it be and why?
I don’t know, maybe ”Shila Plavi” – this is a kind of Georgian dish made from rice and meat. Usually, here in Georgia this dish is served at a funeral feast in someone’s wake.
Anything I forgot that you’d like to add?
Well, I guess no! Thank you very much for conversation!
Dividing The Element hails from Zimbabwe and has been around for a while now, playing a modern style of metal with a lot of aggression and vitality. It’s a young scene, fresh in its infancy, but full of power and drive, which is mostly embodied by the band from Harare themselves.
The group has been around since 2012 and claims ‘From Zimbabwe, For Zimbabwe’. That’s a great sentiment in a world swamped with bands that sound like they were made in the same factory. Afro-metal is another term the band uses, as they implement parts of ethnic music and language into their sound.
In 2018, the band also dropped their debut record and I had the privilege to ask the band about making metal music in Zimbabwe, their self-titled debut and more, as Chris Van was willing to answer all my questions.
A positive outlook for the future
Could you start by introducing yourselves and your musical background? Do you have any other bands you are currently active in?
DTE is comprised of myself (Chris Van)- lead vocals and guitar, Archie Chikoti- guitar, Mat Sanderson- bass and backing vocals and Nick (Newbz) Newberry- drums. With the exception of Newbz playing percussion now and then for our friends Evicted, none of us are active in any other bands.
How did the band get started and how did you meet up?
Initially, the band, or rather the idea of a band was inspired by myself (Chris Van) and Sherlic White. Sherlic and I met online early in 2012 on a Facebook group called ‘Rock and Metal Lovers Zimbabwe’, which was in fact started up by a mutual friend of ours, Valentim Miguel Marques Pereira: another brother in arms hoping to kick-start a metal scene in Zimbabwe. Sherlic and I established a rapport with each other on the group and one day decided it was high time we met up to have a jam. From there, ideas began to flow and it got to the point where we thought it was time to get other people on board so we could execute the ideas in a band setting. Sadly though, Sherlic left the country to study in South Africa. He and I then agreed that I would continue pursuing the project without him.
I had played in previous bands with both Archie and Newbz and because of the long history I had with them, I asked them if they’d like to join.
At that point, we were one musician short so I decided to get an audition advert put up for a second guitarist. A while after that Mat came in to audition at Newbz’s house. Although, to this day I’m not sure Mat was ever aware that he was even in an audition because the setting was so informal – more like a jam session with more beers than any of us could justify than an audition. At some point, we ended up doing a switcharoo experiment putting Archie on guitar and Mat on bass. That arrangement seemed to work better, and it’s stayed that way ever since.
What sort of bands inspire you and are the basis for the sound of Dividing The Element?
For me, Metallica and Nirvana were big influences in my early teenage years, if you listen to our song Kumba Kumusha I’m sure you’ll notice the similarities in James Hetfield’s vocal style in places. System Of A Down also provided a lot of inspiration with the idea of vocal harmonies. When I discovered Numetal bands like Korn, Linkin Park, Disturbed, Limp Bizkit and Slipknot etc. that’s when I taught myself how to scream. As I got older though and discovered more music, my taste got a lot heavier. Discovering bands like Lamb of God, ParkwayDrive, As I Lay Dying and various deathcore bands like Suicide Silence and Carnifex inspired me to learn how to growl.
On an instrumental front though we like to experiment with fusing different styles of music so it’s quite hard to pinpoint the exact sources of inspiration because it can basically come from anywhere, but it always reverts back to some kind of metal sound at the core.
Which would you say is the core message behind Dividing The Element. As in, what do you want people to take away from your music?
I guess the most common theme in our music is that lyrically, we write about personal life experiences in Zimbabwe that either one of us or all of us have gone through. That said, it would be nice to know that there are other Zimbabweans out there who can relate to what we write about.
Can you tell me a bit about how you go about making your music? Is it a cooperative process, or does every band member have his own part to play?
Mostly it starts out with me writing the skeleton of a song and then the other guys come in to help bash it out and fill in the blanks at rehearsals. I’d say it’s both.
A few months ago you released your record, which was self-titled. What can you tell about the record, the process of writing and what inspired it?
As I mentioned before, the content of each song lyrically was inspired by life experiences, so the album is quite personal.
Some of the songs seem to contain traditional elements and language. Can you share a bit about that and why you’ve chosen to make this part of your music?
This was an idea my fiancee suggested to me prior to the conception of the band. It was done in order to help initiate a metal scene in Zimbabwe. There was once quite a big rock scene in Zim, especially in the 80’s. It seemed to die a slow, silent death though and then all of a sudden there was nothing left. So because I am a Zimbabwean and a metal head, the idea was to bring the two together and make a metal band in Zimbabwe for Zimbabwe. Using the local vernacular and incorporating traditional themes into the music was the best way to go about it as a means of identity. So when the band eventually formed there was already a direction and sense of purpose in mind.
What sort of scene is there in Zimbabwe and how big is it?
The scene is small. When we first started, metal heads were around, but few and far between. None of them seemed to know each other either, but it has grown in leaps and bounds from where it first started and seems to continue to grow. At every show we play we see new faces which is very encouraging.
Which bands brought the genre to your country?
As I mentioned, there was once a rock scene here in years past. I sadly did not have the privilege of experiencing it though. So I’m afraid I can’t accurately say to be honest, although I’m sure there are other more historically learned people around who are able to offer their opinions on the matter.
What sort of attitude do people have towards your music? Is it frowned upon, censored in any way or so?
No one’s censored us or anything like that but Zimbabweans can be conservative. So I’d say generally people who haven’t heard of us or the genre before approach it with caution, coz it’s new to them and people always seem to have preconceptions. But metal is mostly an underground thing anyway, it’s not for everyone nor is it meant to be.
I notice that a few African countries have a metal scene, notably South Africa and Botswana, with a few bands like yourselves in surrounding countries but then it would seem to simply dry up. Is that also the reality or do you connect with bands from Malawi, Tanzania, DRC etc.? How important are the cross-border connections for you?
Yes, we do connect with other bands, it’s very important. I think there’s always a chance that things could go wrong and all of a sudden the wheels stop turning. Cross-border connections are very helpful especially if we want to tour outside of our own country. Knowing where the scenes are and how big they are really helps. It’s also just a good support system to have, and provides a great opportunity to interact with other like-minded people, in some cases even make new friends.
How’s the availability for everything, like rehearsal space, instruments, music, venues to play at and so forth?
The Zimbabwean economy is still in a fragile state right now so it can be tough. Entertainment doesn’t fall high on the priority list, although there is a lot of optimism that things will make a change for the better, economically speaking. Hopefully, they will.
Which bands from Zimbabwe should people definitely check out and why?
Definitely check out Acid Tears, Chikwata 263, Evicted, Kamikaze Test Pilots, and an industrial melo-death project called Nuclear Winter. These bands range from hard rock to soft afro-rock to mbira punk. All of them have their own flair and character.
What future plans do you guys have?
Our plan is to promote our album in whatever capacity we can, so hopefully a few more shows in Zimbabwe this year. We’ve also been invited to a metal festival in Botswana next year and have committed to it. We’re very excited about it.
If you had to compare Dividing The Element to a dish, what would it be and why?
I’d say classic meat and potatoes with a hint of some kind of fish taste that you can’t pin point why it’s there or where it’s coming from. Reasons for that- we haven’t really reinvented the wheel but there are times where things can get changed up in a very unexpected way. That, and I really like fish.
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 ViridianRecords 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.
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 TheSword, 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 WaveringRadiant (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 InvertedCoffins and a stoner rock project called TrinidadGunfight. I’m also the official live drummer for the aforementioned FogLake.
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 AlexanderBay 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.