Category Archives: Music

Dungeon Synth: bedroom dreaming

Dungeon synth is probably not something you’ve heard of if you are anywhere near the cool kids. If things like Dungeons & Dragons, books like Lord of the Rings and other nerdy things are an instant ‘turn back’ for you, you probably should now as well. Unless there’s inside you an unappreciated geek with a liking for black metal and classical folksy, dreamy music. Perhaps this is more for you.

This article is highly speculative, based on what I’ve read and perceived as dungeon synth. Reading about it, I found out there was really very little concrete mentioning and attention for the phenomenon, so it’s merely an attempt to create a basis of a description.

What is the charm of Dungeon Synth?

Are you someone who thinks back with remorse to those oldschool dungeon crawler video games and RPG’s? You might really be into dungeon synth.Dungeon synth is much a hidden genre, a special gem only for those who seek it. A great quote describing it by Tiwaz from band Gvasdnahr:

I kind of think of dungeon synth as a lone, ancient castle, hidden in a dark desolate corner in the shadow of black metal. Only a few knows it’s there. And out of those few who dares to enter, only a few is capable of finding it’s treasure.

Tracing its roots, its boundaries and offspins is noteworthy hard because of this. The dark tower is an image born out of dreams and fantasy, it’s why I titled this article bedroom dreaming. Much dungeon synth probably never left bedrooms of D&D loving, black metal spinning people.

Dungeon synth has been mocked nad misunderstood a lot. This picture probably illustrates the narrow view of its broadness, its fans and its artfulness. It also holds some truths about the genre. Mortiis is pretty much the Sabbath of the genre. Its roots are very steeped in black metal and there’s a lot of atmosphere and geeky themes to it. But those are things I love. So I’m just trying to convey that

As the quote above says, it’s a very hidden corner of the music world, hardly understood by people who haven’t travelled there on their own. What I mean by travelling there, is either through ambient, soundtracks, game tunes or black metal, but preferably a combination, you come to like, appreciate or even love this sound. It’s not an easy starting point. Not that dungeon synth is complex stuff, but its appeal is rather narrow.

“The door of the tower swings open… A breeze of undisturbed air escapes and the darkness beckons as much as it repels you. The unknown awaits in the dark. What do you do?”

This sort of lines always give me that shiver. If it doesn’t do that for you, return to the tavern and just stay there, you common NPC.

What is Dungeon Synth?

Dungeon synth can be a lot of things and a lot of things aren’t dungeon synth. Dungeon synth, has been described as the ‘pinnacle of basement music dorkery’ by the kind people at Toilet Ov Hell. They also describe it beautifully in the following passage, as a style that is inspired by the mystery and awe of high fantasy or dark dungeons as you explore them in role playing games. Oh, and it doesn’t get you any chicks (though that article was probably published early in the wave of the geek as hot, so it might be different). So what is it like? Let’s look at some cases that might make up what it is.

Theme

It really seems that J.R.R. Tolkien finally has a genre dedicated to him. But not completely, the themes of dungeon synth are… dungeons! But more generally it’s fantasy, though I think it could very well fit in science fiction themes too. It relies on repetition and works great as a sort of background music. Knights, dragons, but also unspoilt nature work pretty well. In it’s origins there’s also the black metal aesthetic, so that is still present now and then and probably shaped the dungeon aspect. As we know, the early black metallers were quite a bunch of geeks and most released records that are the foundation of dungeon synth (like dungeon synth god Varg).
This is not the limit for dungeon synth. Specially in its original form it could embody any theme. Nowadays more realistic themes are often put in the dark ambient category though.

Sound

The nicest way to describe the range of sounds is to go from old DOS video games to something akin to dark ambient or a completely stripped down version of a musical piece with just synths. There’s quit some room for other additions though. Vocals, instruments and effects are all more than welcome in the dungeon synth style.

It’s often very much ‘out there’ music, as in it doesn’t feel like a part of the daily world. I’m switching to a more ‘experiential’ description here. The music is a way of evoking feelings, imagery and situations that are ‘different’. This can be done with film score like tapestries of sound, but it can also be more ambient or more folky.

Roots

The roots of Dungeon Synth are hard to trace, but think synthesizers, atmosphere and black metal. Think of folk meeting black metal in a more movie/game-like setting. So the clearest way to say this is to put its roots somewhere in the early black metal scene in Norway. Inspired by the evocative sounds of their bands, some artists started to search for that sound in synths. Think Jean Michel Jarre, think filk, think Vangelis, think soundtracks to video games. Oh… and Burzum. No Clean Singing definitely puts the roots of the style in black metal. Mortiis is often considered fundamental.

Origins of Dungeon synth

There’s different readings of how dungeon Synth came to be. One would cite black metal as the main driver, the other would focus on the film scores. It’s hard to tell, but what can be told is that there’s a definite wish to bring something to life in the music. The name of Tolkien gets mentioned pretty much anywhere when it concerns dungeon synth.

Norway

Mortiis is generally considered to be the founder of the genre or atleast the first moving in that direction, particularly with ‘Født til å Herske’. The former Emperor member really made a carreer out of Dungeon synth and probably is the most familiar face and master of the genre. Originally he started out with four projects in this direction, which seem to have converged into Mortiis later: Mortiis, Vond, Cintecele Diavolui, and Fata Morgana.
Burzum did some synth albums, of which ‘Hliðskjálf’ to me is the best, while Vikernes was in prison. His influence on the genre is much more profound and the track ‘”Rundgang um die transzendentale Säule der Singularität’ is key listening (on the ‘Filosofem’ album).

Around that time Satyr (Satyricon) did an album with Wongraven, a keyboard based medieval project. Fenriz from Darkthrone contributed with Neptune Towers. Though there’s probably some more influential artists to the dungeon synth genre, these black metal-known faces helped propell it into the world.

Austria/Germany

A part that can’t be overlooked when it comes to the roots of the genre is the follow-up the genre had in Austria. The band Summoning, known for their atmospheric Tolkien-inspired black metal is definitely a massive catalyst for the genre thanks to their synth heavy sound. Directly linked to this group is the act Pazuzu, who’ve definitely left an impact on what has become. German act Depressive Silence should also be mentioned for their pioneering work in the genre and possibly its connection to the DSBM genre later. There’s a logic to the German connection. Dark music, synths and such you see in the kraut movement already, which was moving into realms of fantasy and mystery. Acts like Bethlehem embraced the depressive side. Gothmog ‘s ‘Medival Journeys’ is considered a key work in the genre.

Edit: Two names that I have to add to that are those of Grimrik and Murgrind, two current dungeon synth artists from Germany, who have released influential records. You will find their work linked at the bottom with suggestions for listenig.

Other origins

Looking at early releases in the genre, it’s clear that countries that adopted black metal were quick to sprout dungeon synth acts. Greece (Erevos), France (Moevot), Sweden, Finland, England, the Netherlands and ofcourse the United States (Cernunnos Woods) soon sprouted their own acts. Russia has given the genre a spin of its own and it seems to be one of the most active scenes out there. To really put your finger on origin stories is hard, because dungeon synth by its essence is a hobby project, it’s bedroom dreaming at best and much stuff might have never come out.

Games

Dungeon synth now

As a genre, dungeon synth is rather limited in what directions it can move in. Experimental acts like Trollmann av Ildtoppberg (check them here) get lost in a drone/doom environment, where others slide back into minimal black metal or simply ambient. A noteworthy act for me is Fief, who seem to have found a more lighthearted sound away from the oppressive, dark dungeon sound.  Til Det Bergens Skyggene is another remarkable act, who’ve veered into experimental electronics in the ’70s it seems. This list of records really gives a good feel of the scope of the genre.

So Dungeon Synth hasn’t got that much room to grow or develop. On the other hand, acces to things like bandcamp or other free sharing services does allow for the genre to really become an online phenomenon. It is clear from my explorations that lovers of the genre, to which I like to subscribe, are a global group. Listeners in the direct region of the artists might not be enough to sustain production, but the global reach of internet makes it possible for this to really become a thing. The 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons is probably a great help as well.

Some very productive acts, that seem to thrive in this day and age:

Рабор

This Russian act has really captured an audience with their combination of synth and Slavic folk tunes. The fact that everything is in Russian ofcourse adds a flavor of mystery to the whole thing. Even their merch comes with hand-painted cards and traditional dolls. That sort of immersion is what makes this genre tick. The folk parts are mellowed down in the mix, which makes it easy to acces.

Sequestered Keep

This act from Utah in the US is one of the most insanely productive ones out there. The music of Sequestered Keep is simple, catchy and melodic. Though it works for fantasy, it seems to have more roots in the real world, maybe referring the lost magic that our lands had before the industrialization and such. This depends on which of the many records you listen to ofcourse.

Ranseur

I wasn’t sure about including Ranseur from New Jersey at first. The sound here is much more 8-bit oriented, simple and functions more as an ambiance sound when gaming. It really fits the bill as a soundtrack. Molding that out of padding drums, noise and synths is a craft, the artwork is also something quite special. The idea of this record is Goblins playing and dancing. I get that.

Elric

Another interesting adition is Elric from the United Kingdom. Elric is a character from the Michael Moorcock books. I’ve not read them, but I get how personal and direct inspiration can be. Swooping synths are the soundtrack for that inspiration in the work of Elric. It’s strangely minimalist, but doing exactly what it needs to; create that aura of the fantastic (but remaining warm).

Barak Tor

Greek artist Barak Tor is one of the more polished acts and sounds much closer to an actual soundtrack on this album of barbarian dungeon synth. It demonstrates how far you can push it when it comes to quality with this music. Though I’m personally a fan of more simple and dark sounds, this is a pleasant intro to the genre and good soundtrack to roll dice to.

Nazgal Dracul

What if you add to the game sounds, that remind me of Final Fantasy to be honest, some proper beats. This Norwegian act is as diverse as it gets in the genre and well worth a listen. I like the black and white artwork a lot.

Mystic Towers

Well, this is a lot of purple, but the whole look and feel of the work by Mystic Towers evokes images of early day D&D game play and adventure modules. The slow pace and long tracks make for a fine soundtrack for things that take time, like reading.

Erang

Erang from France is to me one of the current day high rollers in the genre with sublime quality, top class production and an expensive thematic reach. Their recent ‘Anti-Future’ even delves into the blossoming synthwave movement of Perturbator and Gost. Still, their sword and sorcery stuff rules.

Grimrik

German artist Grimrik is staying close to the Burzum-esque sounds of dungeon synth with his ‘Eisreich’ album. A release from 2014, but a great introduction to the music genre. Grimrik also runs the Deivlfrost Label.

Murgrind

Collaborator of Grimrik, with a series of fantasy inspired releases that maintain a black metal feeling to it. Music to completely submerge into, to forget yourself for a little while. The production is really good and creates an almost filmic effect.

Heading out to Kilkim Zaibu

At the moment I’m packing up my gear to head to Lithuania for the festival Kilkim Zaibu. A combination of metal, folk and  re-enactment all in a package near a lack in Varniai. I’ll be reporting for Echoes & Dust on this fest and I’m extremely excited about it.

Now, since I don’t have too much knowledge about re-enactment, let me give a little prelude to the music program Kilkim Zaibu has to offer and why it is so exceptionally awesome.

Headliners

A festival is often judged by its headliners and on that front Kilkim Zaibu has a treat in the mighty Abbath as a headliner on the main stage on saturday. The former frontman of Immortal might not be the force of the past on some levels and true, his shows are not always great… but when they are great, they are awesome. I had the pleasure of seeing Abbath play at Netherlands Deathfest this year, where hey was supreme.

For the other days, the program is slightly different. On thursday we have a folk day, with Skyforger sort of headlining the event with a folk set. Now, those acquinted with the Latvian folk metallers know that they have mastered that craft well enough, having even done an album of folk. On friday, we have Mgla from Poland taking the honours, which is since ‘Excercises in Futility’ nothing else but very well deserved.

Baltic Connection

The paricularly interesting thing for me is the Baltic line-up. Having bands from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania filling the bill is a joy, because there’s some excellent material available to see, whether it is folk or metal.

Ūkanose from Lithuania is one of the latest additions to the Baltic folk metal pantheon, with their self titled debut album having come out in 2016. Bridging between folk and metal and truly meeting half way, they are an excellent listen. Loits from Estonia may have caused controversy in the past, mainly based on misunderstanding the artistic vision the band had and the stories they wanted to convey, but is one of the best black metal bands out there as far as I’m concerned.

On the folk end I’m overjoyed to see that Ugnivijas is playing as well as Romuwe Rikoito. Two excellent formations, breathing life into the ever simmering folk traditions on a biggers stage.

Light a Pagan Fire

A festival is more than just the bands lined up on stage, it’s a complete package and the wrapping is the atmosphere. Kilkim Zaibu aims to offer a modern pagan experience, which works extremely well in a country where the roots are so important and appreciated. The combination of black metal and folk is in fact a great combination and I for one am extremely excited about it.

There’s a lot of ritual and tradition to be found at the fest and a lot of work goes into it. Great artwork by the way, which puts it on par with the more cultish festivals around Europe.

I can’t wait and I hope to see you there. Don’t be a stranger and say hi!

Underground Sounds: Pillorian – Obsidian Arc

Label: Eisenwald Tonschmiede
Band: Pillorian
Origin: United States

On Roadburn this year, Pillorian was well impressive. The sound of the group is densely atmospheric, but also heavy and very much something that grabs you as a listener. The group from Portland, Oregon in the States is ofcourse the group of John Haughm, who we know from Agalloch.

Haughm gathered some experienced musicians to form Pillorian after Agalloch split. Members have gained experience in groups like BanewreakerUada and Maestus. Soundwise, the group goes in similar directions as Agalloch, but just darker and more heavy in my opinion. The complex poetry in lyrics and titles is still there though.

On opener ‘By the Light of a Black Sun’ the ingredients are immediately employed. An epic intro, with a majestic intro leads us to a song that feels a lot like the bombastic, iconoclastic sound of the great Primordial. From those big, moving intro’s, the songs move towards a frantic, high-paced black metal sound with rapid barked vocals, creating a sharp sound. There’s an urgency to the sound of Pillorian that is very noticable. The voic drags you into a narrow tunnel of sound for a moment, only to throw you out into the big chorus again.

The production is rather clean, so every aspect of the music is audible. It allows the listener to hear the tight and merciless precision of the band, not a blanket of distortion. ‘Forged Iron Crucible’ moves to a more traditional sound, but really all the effort again is in the build up, the dense atmosphere and grandeur of the music. That is the absolute strength of Pillorian, to really get the listener to immerse and be touched by the profundity and heaviness of their expressions. A bit of clean vocals would not have been amiss here, to create even more of that feeling.

Pillorian is a band that delivers black metal in a majestic manner. Everything is well balanced, polished and tells a story if the listener is willing to hear it. John Haughm is a creator of beauty, even when that beauty is grim and bleak. That is what makes Pillorian so good.

New Wave of Dutch Black Metal Part 2

The New Wave of Dutch Black Metal was coined by Never Mind The Hype and I was amazed by the sudden realization that we have so many good bands in the Netherlands.

This is my attempt to give you an overview of the amount of stunning bands that the Netherlands has to offer, but there is more in part 1.  I have to say though, the more I’m looking into it, the more I seem to find!

Black metal fury with Cirith Gorgor, Tarnkappe and Turia

Some bands stick to the fierce sound that characterizes the original outlets of black metal. Almost unrecognizably mutated from the Venom-roots, the sound is furious, overwhelming and battle-ready. These bands to my experience hold the fort, while adding distinct own aspects to it.

On their last album, ‘Visions of Exalted Lucifer’, the band Cirith Gorgor pretty much showed that they are one of the most esteemed black metal bands from the Netherlands, producing a sound very close in praise of the traditinol, thunderous black metal from the nineties. Their latest offering is an EP titled ‘Bi Den Dode Hant’,  a reference to the infamous ‘Bokkenrijders’ from my parts of the world in the older days. Their four track EP has two absolute gems on it, but also one of the songs from the previous album. Bummer, because I knew it already. On ‘The Luciferian Principle’ we actually get a bit of a weird atmospheric outro, which is pretty cool. It’s the title track though that completely takes the cake here, a blistering surge of hatred. A continuous abyssal assault, lead by singer Sathanael and the vicious guitar assault.

Tarnkappe was featured earlier on my blog, but this band really fits in that traditional black metal framework. Maybe a bit towards the natura-inspired sound, but the artwork and vibe is staying close to the core. The band name means something akin to ‘Wizard’s hat’ in the old tongue of these lands. Looking at the cover and the landscape depicted there, you might easily link this band to a Burzum, but their sound is much less hazy and dreamy, filled with repetition and firm waves of guitar sounds. The vocals really speak to the listener in my opinion.

When it comes to unleashing minimalist fury, the band Turia needs to be mentioned here. I’ve seen them play at Roadburn as a three piece act and there is just something completely desparate about their flow of misery that takes you to the vast desolation that only black metal can evoke. Their album ‘Dede Konde’ is a steady swirl into darkness and well worth listening to. Every sound on this record is measured, directed and controlled to evoke the maximum of feelings from the listener.

Outsider music with Iskandr, Kjeld, Folteraar and Fluisteraars

Black metal is an expression of the individual, of that which makes us distinct from others. These groups clearly have found a way to give shape to their own identity and place in the world, wether it is with language or other elements.

There are some bands that I find hard to place, though everything above is done on an overall feeling and emotion it evokes with me as a listener. A band I find harder to really put somewhere, but would not want to set apart is Iskandr, which hails from the Nijmegen area like Turia. Iskandr feels much more atmospheric, almost filmic in the tragic, impressive melodies the band uses on their album ‘Heilig Land’. Iskandr is also a one man band, with just O making the music, which is something you can sort of hear in the focussed stream of energy in the music. O also plays in Turia, Lubbert Das and Galg, some pretty great bands. The sound is so immensely tragic and harrowing, I love it.

The Netherlands has a second language, which you may or may not know, namely Frisian. One of the best bands to come out of the wood work in recent years happens to sing in that language and that band is Kjeld, who truly hit a high note on their album ‘Skym’ from back in 2015. The production of this band sounds a bit cleaner and more focussed, but remains firmly rooted in the Northern tradition. The musicianship is one of the claims to fame from this group  of four with much experience in other ensembles (like Asregen, Krocht, Kaeck, Gheestenland and many more).  Though the band has been in existence since 2003, the last few years saw them at their most productive, releasing a split with Wederganger recently.

Folteraar is another gritty project of excellent noisy, fierce black metal. It seems that this duo leans towards a bit of an industrial approach to the musical expression. With a thick layer of distortion and a gritty sound with low paced rhythms and grim barks this is some intense stuff. It seems there’s even a mild death metal influence to create the severely intense sound this duo produces. Originally the releases came out on an own label of bandmember K., namely ‘The Throat’, but now Iron Bonehead has picked up on this excellent band.

Folteraar is not for the fans of catchy melodic or atmospheric black metal, their sound is harsh, repetitive and ugly. The delivery is excellent though, offering a rather different take on the genre.

From there on, we move to Fluisteraars, who’ve done a magnificent job on their EP ‘Gelderland’ to create black metal that sometimes almost feels like indie rock. That’s how streamlined the riffs are, with a strange, playful melody in there. I wouldn’t go so far as calling them a gentle sounding band, but the strength of Fluisteraars is the use of melody and catchy hooks, while remaining loyal to the grim and black sounds. The 7″ is out on Eisenwald Tonschmiede in Germany, a label that knows how to deal with the narrative, gripping sound of bands like Agalloch. Fluisteraars fits in there somehow, though they can also unleash hell if they need to.

Into the underworld with Lubbert Das and Wederganger

Two more names that have a sound that is particularly haunting to round up this second installment, two names that are definitely worth checking out.

Lubbert Das is an odd reference to the work of Jheronymous Bosch, in which we find a painting, titled “Cutting the stone’. A text surrounds the painting in golden letters, saying: “Master cut away the stone, my name is Lubbert Das”. So, there the band found their name and a logo. The sound of these guys is really a lot of doom and gloom, with long, repetitive passages. The cavernous sounding guitarplay and drums really makes you feel that the sound is all submerged, under the earth’s crust where madness reigns. Tumultuous and unrelenting, this is some bad ass black metal.

Born out of some of the best bands in the more Folky corner that the Netherlands have on offer, namely Mondvolland, Heidevolk and more, Wederganger is one hell of an outfit. They combine theatrical swagger with dark, gloomy black metal. Clean vocals and ghoulish barks and howls work in concert to create a special eerie atmosphere. Wederganger translates as ‘one who walks again’, and their debut album is titled ‘Halfvergaan ontwaakt’ (‘Half decayed, awakened). After the succesful release of that album and numerous really cool live shows, the band has unleashed splits with LasterKjeld and Urfaust. This group definitely is part of the elite of the dutch black metal scene witgh a well thought out act.

 

 

Interview with Harmasar, Moldavian warriors

This interview with Harmasar was originally published on Echoes and Dust.

In the furthest, forgotten corner of Europe, in between Romania and Ukraine, you can find the country Moldavia. You might know the country, because in some strange twist of faith, your local football team ended playing a team from there or even your national football team. It’s there where most people’s knowledge of Moldavia ends.

Moldavia became a country on its own in 1991, but historically it’s been a turbulent region. Inhabited by the Dacians in the ancient past, it is said the region gets its name from a combination of the words ‘many’ and ‘fortress’, which would be along the river. Part of the historical, often overrun Moldavia is now part of Romania, the other part being the independent Republic of Moldova.

Moldavia is historically intertwined with Wallachia, Transylvania and Bucovina, all parts of Romania. The historical connection runs deep, even to this very day. The flags are not very different even and there’s talk of unity. On the other hand there’s a pull of Russia on certain autonomous regions. In between, Moldavians find out that they also have their own identity. Harmasar is a band that expresses that nationality and identity through their music and art.

I got to have a chat about this with the band.

Hey, could you kindly introduce yourselves to the readers?

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, greetings! We are HARMASAR and we’re a Folk/Pagan Metal band from the Republic of Moldova.

How did you get together as a band and started out making music? Have you guys played in any metal bands before Harmasar?

The legend says that as a band HARMASAR was born in September 2013 (the day of our first concert), the founding member being Mircea (the drummer). Most of us had some experience of playing in a band before Harmasar, but the majority of these bands were popular and known only among its members.

Tell me about Harmasar? What does the name mean and what is the concept or story you are telling with this band?

Harmasar in Romanian stands for stallion (you know, the one with balls, with testicular integrity). The main message we are trying to present is the one of ‘knowing your roots’, remembering the great and heroic deeds of your ancestors, as well as the idea of conservation of the traditional values.

Our inspiration comes from ancient Moldovan/Romanian folk tunes and music, like doina’s and hora’s. As for bands, we find inspiration in the like of Eluveitie, Arkona, Korpiklaani, Bucovina.

You’ve recently released your debut album ‘Din pământ’. A thunderous folk metal album, that seems to lean close to the more folkish expressions with peculiar traditional instruments and elements. What is the story you are telling on this album?

The closest translation of the title ‘Din pământ’, we guess will be ‘From dirt’ or ‘From dust’, with the meaning of roots, origins. This is also what the album is about.

For people, like me, who know little about the past history of Moldova, can you introduce us into the material. What are the elements you are singing about?

Well, in this album we mostly sing about great battles, fought by our ancestors, so the songs ‘Daoi’ , ‘Tapae’ and ‘Moesia’ are about the war between Dacians and The Roman Empire. ‘Vaslui 1475’ tells us the story of the war between The State of Moldova ( Tara Moldovei ) and the Ottoman Empire and particularly The battle of Vaslui. On the other hand there are also songs that criticize human vices and corruption such as ‘Națiunea’ and ‘Porcu’.

Well, the main messages in ‘Natiunea’ is to stand for the ideas you believe in. People should always remember who they are and where they are from: standing for the ideas that you believe in and always remembering who you are and where you do come from. In ‘Porcu’ the idea is to not let yourself be manipulated by anyone, especially by political forces and other empowered entities. Literally, it tells about not becoming a pig, a creature that is raised without values to be killed and eaten at a whim.

Harmasar, source Facebook band

Can you tell us more about the writing and recording process of your album? Is everyone equally involved or is there a clear division of tasks?

Yes, we find it more productive to have a good division of labour and tasks in the band. So the song writing process is performed by Max (the vocalist) mostly, band promotion and graphic design by Ștefan (the bass player) and the events, concerts organisation by Mircea (the drummer).

What sort of traditional elements do you put in your music and which instruments do you use for this?

Well for the rhythmic part we used such elements as Sârba and Hostropăț wich was also used as a traditional tune for panflute as well as ”Ciuleandra”. In addition to the panflute (Nai) we recorded also some flutes (fluier, caval), violins and an accordion.

Let’s discuss the art work, can you say a bit about the artwork you use and the visual aspects of the band? I understand you guys perform also in a traditional outfit?

The artwork was made by our friend Octavian Curoșu with our suggestions, it’s our vision on the album name “Din Pământ”. As our songs are about our ancestors we have decided to wear similar outfit inspired from them with some elements created by us.
The artwork of the album is open for interpretation, we like to see that people find different things in it. In our vision it is a conglomerate, a synthesis of ideas. In Moldova we have a natural reservation called ‘One hundred Hills’ or ‘Suta de Movile’, which consists of a large group of hills of different sizes. According to the legends these are considered to be ancient warrior’s tombs. So basically the hill on the picture has the signification of an ancestral grave, a tomb representing at the same time: the end, the past, our history and roots. On the other hand this hill is also a mother’s womb, with a child to be born, the foetus representing the future, the birth of a new generation. So essentially it is like a synergy between these two ideas, past and future, like the Phoenix rises from its ashes, the child is waiting to be born from the grave of his ancestors.

Can you tell me a bit about metal in Moldova? How did it get started in your country and which bands pioneered the genre?

As we know, till this time there were and are a lot of metal bands here in Moldova, but the most remarkable one was Accident (Death/Thrash Metal) that was formed in 1988.

 What is the scene like now? Where is it centred and do you guys have relations with bands from neighbouring countries?

​The scene is centred mostly in Chisinau, the capital of RM, where you can find several places for bands to play live, and also some open air festivals during the summer. We have some good friends in Romania and Bulgaria playing in a well-known bands there with witch is always a pleasure to hang out and play some shows together.

Which bands from Moldova do you think people should check out and why these ones?

You can check out ABNORMYNDEFFECT – this is a Polyrhythmic Grindcore/ Death Metal band that is one of the most appreciated of its style in Europe. Their songs are about our social and political problems.

What future plans does Harmasar have?

The most primary for us now is to have a tour for supporting our debut album in Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and other countries. To meet with our great fans from there and to reach a new audience.

About other plans we cannot tell, yet…

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

I don’t know any dish that I can compare to our music, but probably it would be a Grilled Ottoman with some bloody sauce, but we haven’t tasted it yet. (joking, referring to the bloody history in wars with the Ottoman empire)

The first dish that came up in my mind is Ciorbă de Văcuță (beef broth), it helped us a lot to survive tough mornings during the past tours.

Underground Sounds: V.A. – Drums in the Deep

Label: Bad Omen Records
Band: Wretch, CC Company, Satan’s Satyrs, Wytch Hazel, Spell, The Tower, Asomvel, Flight
Origin: United Kingdom

Using classic imagery from the original Lord of the Rings films (yes, you muggle, there’s an original film with cutting edge animations in its time), the label Bad Omen Records from London presents some of its finest cuts and slices of doom metal to the peoples. A sampler then, with special attention for Wretch.

Bad Omen Records is a small label, with a particular taste for things heavy and classic. Their roster doesn’t focus on much extreme metal but sticks to the more traditional formats, which I think works perfectly fine, It gives an identity and core to the label, which is in this day and age nice and recognizable for fans. Go here for your doom, folks!

Opening up is an exclusive track by Wretch, titled ‘Sweet Revenge’.  The song sounds as if something wicked this way is coming, something just outside the door threatening the listener. The voice of Karl Simon sounds like mixture of Ozzy and Lemmy, evil and seductive. CC Company follow with a supertight, 80’s vibe track. Th rhythm is like a tense cord, with mildly raw vocals by the Swedes. Catchy as hell, this tune! Not sure if ‘World Domination’ will achieve its goal, the sound is a bit dated, but lovable nonetheless. Following that we have Satan’s Satyrs from Virginia, with fuzzy distortion and demented vocals. An change from the tight tracks before, but very welcome.

Wytch Hazel is a surprising next one, with their self titled track. It reminds me of Iron Maiden in the Blaze Bailey days (around Virtual XI). Mellow, clean sung and quite endearing to the listener. You almost want to go back when the biting vocals of Wretch follow this track on ‘Running out of Days’. A really big stadium sound can be heared when the tune ‘Dark Desires’ by Spell is unleashed. Again, Maiden… Saxon.. it has that typical NWOBHM feel to it. The vocals even feel like they’re from that era, though a bit too slick for my tastes. The same goes for the exclusive Wytch Hazel track ‘Surrender’ that follows and Flight‘s ‘Escape’, though its some mellow listening. and quite energetic stuff.

Ansomvel from England plays some sleazy, agressive heavy metal the way you know and love. ‘Shoot Ya Down’ is not a complex track, but a show of force with a Venom/Motörhead-like bite to it. Good stuff! Swedish The Tower follows with a ripping track titled ‘Wounds’. A solid boogie tune with some strict but strangely fitting vocals. There’s a solidity in the flow of the song, which I love and that peculiar vocalist really completes it.

This cool collection ends with ‘Die Screaming’ by Satan’s Satyrs. Screams of despair over a slowly progressing track, that sounds as if it is sliding down into a pit of despair. Wow, just wow this stuff. Bad Omen really wove together a collection that ignites the imagination with an oldschool feel, exactly what you’d take from the cover. Drums from the deep!

 

New Wave of Dutch Black Metal Part 1

Granted, I’m not the first one to coin the phrase ‘New Wave of Dutch Black Metal’, but Dutch black metal music is definitely on the rise as was shown by the Roadburn line-up this year (2017) with many of the better bands from this country.

Though the scene is rather small, there’s a quite some high-quality output by bands like LasterNihillCirith Gorgor and many more. They represent different aspects of the black metal spectrum, so I wanted to look at some releases in that light in this article. I chose some releases that came out recently and that I would like to cover. This way I can put them in a slightly different light of the new wave of Dutch black metal, because I think there’s a lot of amazing homegrown music coming out.

Into the Out there with Dodecahedron, Laster, Terzij De Horde and Gnaw Their Tongues

Dodecahedron has recently released their second album, titled ‘Kwintessens’. A philosophical concept about the essence of things, the band moves in the footsteps of other acts for the thinking man like Laster, Nihill and Terzij De Horde. Inspired by literature and philosophy, amongst probably many other things, they deliver a type of black metal that moves beyond it’s common boundaries.

Doing this in a most effective and musical way, we find Terzij De Horde as one of the leading Dutch acts when it comes to stage performance, solid shows and captivating music. Sure, their music is not breaking the bonds of genre definitions, but definitely moves away from the traditional subject matter and has no need for frivolities. Their album ‘Self’ from 2015 showed the band shedding a former skin and for future music I expect nothing less from this band. Also, they are known for their distinctly awesome live performances, in which they surely deliver the quality that you would wish for (not a regular thing in the black metal world sadly). Bravely the band also went in the direction of literature, with a tribute release for the poet Henrik Marsman, who passed away 75 years earlier.

Laster is a band that you can find plenty of information about. Their music is a torrent of the absurd. Playful and somewhere touching upon the Carnavalesque in a Rabelaisian sense. Masked men deliver some of the most beautiful, peculiar sounding black metal in a long time. Surely the dissonance and harrowing screams are still there, but encapsulated in sounds that are pleasant, meandering and more accesible. It keeps surprising you, particularly the latest album ‘Ons Vrije Fatum’.

Grotesque at times, but also dauntingly experimental, the record of Dodecahedron incorporates various elements to create a mesmerizing display of force. Fronted by the legendary Michiel Eikenaar from Nihill, they have a confrontational and powerful live presence.  Acts like these, with elements of experimental music, postrock and even jazz really show the far extents toward which black metal can still grow. Nihill did it with noise and industrial, Terzij de Horde used screamo. Long live the experiment.

Beautifull arches and passages are painted with sound, but tormented vocals with a demented urgency draw the listener away from the splendour into blast-beat-ridden turmoil only to wash up on beaches of ambient sound later. Call it avant-gard, call it progressive, it definitely pushes the boundaries.  Fun fact is that part of Dodecahedron plays in Ulsect, a band playing a much more controlled and structured form of music. That contrast is one of the flattering things of the genre.

When we talk about acts that push the boundaries on the black metal genre, you have to talk about Gnaw Their Tongues and related projects by multi-instrumentalist Mories. If you take black metal and really distill it down to its essence, you pretty much get the music Mories produces. Eclectic, wild and horribly frightening, the use of samples, electronics and guitars becomes a very open field. The last album by Gnaw Their Tongues is a harrowing journey. ‘Hymns for the Broken, Swollen And Silent’ is the soundtrack to your nightmares. Musically this record shows the lack of boundaries for this musician. Interested? Check out his other projects Pyriphlegethon, Aderlating, Seirom and many, many more.

Sinking into the misery with Verwoed, Orewoet, Urfaust

Sometimes I like nothing better than to just sink into the layered swamp of sound that is atmospheric black metal. For me Verwoed is one of the best bands coming out of the woodwork in recent times. From the dissonant, bone-chilling opening riff onward, their album grabs you by the feels.

Amidst the whole waves of post black-metal and other deviations from the genre roots, it’s extremely comforting to have a band like Verwoed out there, playing music that is close to the wonderful original experience of black metal music (or atleast the one I had). It’s a feeling akin to much of the bands in the Cascadian corner (or whatever nice term they’ve conjured up these days for it), but lacks the focus on the natural realm. Verwoed focusses on the inwards emotions.

Another band I find is really similarly bewitching with beautifull riffs, swooping passages and an ethereal feal to the overal sound is Orewoet from the North of the Netherlands. Orewoet is  a relative new player in the Dutch scene, who released ‘Afrodisiacum der Vroomheid’ last year, an EP that is worth your listening time for sure. Waves and waves of distorted black metal fold into eachother to create dreamy soundscapes to just surf away with.

To me the masters of the atmospheric sound and not just in the Netherlands are the drunkards of gloom, the clochards of Urfaust themselves. This band might be one of the most respected ones out there. The two member formula doesn’t allow for much intensity and complex layers, but does open a path to purposeful, fervent and incandescent sound. Their live performances are a stream of music, a wallowing experience for the listener, where immersion is like sinking into a swamp of debauched despair. On their last labum ‘Empty Space Meditation’, the duo pushes that envelope even further.

More soon in part 2.

Underground Sounds: Fen – Winter

Label:Code666 Records
Band: Fen
Origin: United Kingdom

On Winter the band Fen is trying to really create a record that expresses their identity as a band. This is one of the reasons why this record turns out as the great piece of music it is. Perhaps the best record Fen has made this far, though that is always a matter of taste.

The story on ‘Winter’ is that of the season, as told through atmospheric black metal. That immediately sounds like a match made in heaven. Throwing different styles in the mix, the Britons have crafted a great fifth album in that English tradition. Intrigued about the name, I wanted to mention that the group is named after a region called ‘The Fens’, a flat land full of bogs and marshes with a sense of mystery. That is also something that is put in the music.

The album opens with a slow piece of music, titled ‘Pathway’, which is expressing the atmospheric postrock influences the band wishes to display on this album. Creating a long and slow build-up, the track really allows you to slide into the album gradually. Once the vocals kick in, you’re already under its spell. Peculiar is how gentle the music is at this point, even with the screams of vocalist Frank Allain. The band pulls of a grander sound on ‘Penance’, where mighty cascades of guitars push outward and expand their reach. For me their sound is close to that of an Agalloch, but also Island-buddies Saor comes close. There’s something to the sound that tells you of its origin.

Big parts of the record feature shoegazy, dreamy passages. In that sense, Fen really goes for the feeling more than the power. It gives a warm sound, remniscent of sunrays and the tremble in the air on a nice summer evening. The music paints in different colors and moods, working with long songs and complex meandering passages. The song ‘Internment’ for example offers a gentle, folky intro that lasts for minutes and could last forevermore for all I care. This record is one hell of an album, clocking over 70 minutes over six tracks.

This might actually be some of the best work that Fen has delivered. It’s warm and conveys an abstract image of the nature and land it comes from. Beautiful stuff.

Underground Sounds: Ūkanose – Ūkanose

Label:Soundage Productions
Band: Ūkanose
Origin: Lithuania

Folk metal ain’t dead, y’all! Sure, Finntroll has become a joke, Alestorm has descended into madness and I don’t even know what happened to Turisas, but there’s still hope. From countries you might not even know about great tunes are coming forth. Ūkanose is one of those bands from Lithuania who create some waves with the self-titled debut.

Lithuanian folk music is heavily characterised by ritualistic chanting and war songs, they have a special quality to them. They feel outlandish, magical and somewhat overwhelming at times. Ūkanose manages to incorporate that into their metal music. So we don’t have a band playing metal with some fiddles, but a genuine blend and that for me is the magic of folk metal.

The songs of Ūkanose offer a specific sadness, a weariness of live and look to the past you also find in Slavic bands like Drudkh. An accordeon gives a bit of a jolly feel to some of the songs, but what really it does is create that continuous flow that is so important in the Baltic music. It makes it also very easy for a listener to jump into their music and feel the passage of time in a more calm and natural way. There’s a closeness to nature in the sound, to tradition and folklore. You don’t even need to understand the lyrics for that.

Ūkanose translates as fog, which is a good metaphor for the sound of the band. The pace is slow, but constantly progressing. The vocals are easy, chanted and often in multiple voices. All in all it’s an album that is much closer to the volky sound of Ugniavijas. A favorite track for me is ‘Skrenc bitela’. The calm repetition of the vocals on such a flat tone is hypnotizing but catching. The guitars merely serve as a heavy fundament to build up the song upon.

This record is one that takes you to a different time and age. It takes you to dancing around the fire in praise of forgotten gods. Noteworthy is the song ‘Gerkime’, a Corvax Corax cover. This music comes from a genuine place, not just one where you raise drinking horns wearing a kilt. Well worth a listen.

Shamanic hunters: Hounds of Bayanay from Russia

Metal music has found its way to remote parts of the world, but rarely to ones so isolated as Yakutsk. Yakutsk is the capital of the Sakha Republic, an autonomous region of Russia that covers about as much ground as India, but has only one million inhabitants. This article was originally published on Echoes & Dust.

A thinly populated region, covered in ice and snow, and inhabited by the Sakha people gave birth to the band Hounds of Bayanay. Modern technology allows the band to create music an unleash it onto the world, but it’s really a complete DIY mentality that the group has. But what a place to make metal music. A land so heavily under the elements, with a people that live far away from any real bustling region.

In a way that is something you can find in the sound of Hounds of Bayanay. They’re eclectic and unique, finding their own sound in the city of Yakutsk, which has virtually no music industry present to speak of. Listening to bands they love, they created a sound so distinct that it truly represents their place in the world. I was fortunate to get in touch with the group and have a chat about that.

Can you kindly introduce yourselves and your band? Where does the name Hounds of Bayanay come from?

The band has been in existence since 2014, when Alex Yakovlev ‘Red Hat’ (rhythm guitar), Gregory Grigoriev ‘Klath’ (drums) and Slava Sivcev ‘Sleeva’ (bass/vocals) decided to start a ‘Sakha’ ethno-metal band. The previous band, Fahrenheit, had collapsed. Vocalist Aina Egorova ‘Keres’ and solo guitarist Michil Mekumyanov ‘Chillet’ joined the band as well and so Hounds of Bayanay was formed.

About the name, it may sound a bit silly but it started as a joke. Imagine how the media would call a Sakha terrorist group? But the name sounded hilarious and bad-ass at the same time. Bayanay – in sakha mythology –  is a spirit and master of nature. He is considered the patron of hunters. The Cult of Bayanay still exists today and hunters in Sakha still pray to Bayanay to ask for favor before the hunt. Though our songs and music are not about Bayanay and the hunt themselves, it connects us to the themes of mythology and folklore of Sakha. Legends and forgotten tales of our people and the greatness of the northern nature.

How did you guys get into making metal music? What bands originally inspired you to make this sort of music?

Each of us have been listening to metal since we were young, but our inspiration is very different. Bands like Metallica, Nightwish, Behemoth, System of a Down and even The Red Hot Chili Peppers are part of that inspiration.

Yakutia already had many folk bands since the eighties. An example is Cholbon, who are considered the Siberian Pink Floyd and had success in Russia. The band has even been on a world tour. In 2003 a band named 103 emerged as the first folk metal band. They are huge in Yakutia now.

What are your inspirations for starting Hounds of Bayanay and choosing the lyrical themes you have picked? I find when listening to the music, that there’s a unique, ethnic element to your sound. How did you shape that?

What we wanted to create is something heavy, dark and wild, but at the same time it must contain chanting and feel festive like old Sakha folk songs and shaman ritual chanting. The band 103 was a huge inspiration, but we wanted something with more aggression, more blood and gore. The lyrics needed more pathos and mysticism. I suppose that through this our band was born.

In 2016 we started to find out that our music was not only beloved in our native Yakutia. It was then we started to connect and communicate with people from abroad, who loved folk metal music. They told us to spread our music even further. We had been playing live shows in our home town mostly. We were playing new songs at gigs and recording was put second. In 2016 we had also changed some band members. Before we didn’t have big plans, but that changed everything. We had a goal to record our first album, so that’s where we started on our EP ‘MYYC’.

You’ve released your EP Myyc. Can you tell us how the writing and recording process looked like? What sort of facilities did you use and what sort of process do you take in making your music?

We actually wrote and recorded the music in our garage during very dark and freezing evenings. All we had really was a few laptops to work on and USB-audio interfaces. After recording the vocals and the guitars, Alex and Gregory made the other music stuff.

I find, when I listen to your music, that in there you have something rather unique, it feels very ethnic and different. Are there specific bands that you feel inspire your folk metal sound?

The band 103 might be the closest inspiration we have.

In 2016 you’ve not just released your EP, but also dropped 2 demo’s. What was the motivation behind unleashing so much material in such a short time?

Well, one EP and two demo’s… We’d do more if we had the time for it.

On metal archives your lyrical theme is listed as ‘Yakut folklore’. I find that this otherness, this different cultural background is very tangible and strongly expressed in the music youe been making. Can you tell us a bit about that Yakut folklore, what is it about, what sort of elements return in it?

Yakut folklore is based on the pagan beliefs and ther epos “Olonkho”. Briefly described, there are three worlds: Upper, Middle and Lower. All of them is connected by giant tree “Aal Luk”. The upper world is world of Gods “Ayii”(Айыы), the ,middle world is settled by humans and the Lower world is full of demons “Ajaray”. In the epos, often, demons capture woman and the humans then will have to send one of hteir legendary heroes to rescue her. The hero will ask for the help of the Gods and must succeed to protect his people.

There also some more realistic folklore of yakutian people. Folklore of forgotten times when vast clans and tribes waged endless wars, powerfull shamans who gathered armies to destroy other nations and heroes who fought and sacrificedthemselves for justice. All of this is inspiring to many poets, writers and ourselves

Do you also put something Yakut, something typical, in your music?

Sometimes we put throat singing and we sometimes use the Khomus (something like jew’s-harp).

You’re making music very far from Moscow, far from any place commonly known as a centre for metal music. What is it like to make this sort of music in Yakutsk? Are there venues, record shops, studio’s and rehearsal spaces there? Do you lack any means to make music?

Yakutsk is a relatively small city and if you take a look at the map you’ll find that it is positioned in the middle of non-settled lands. Most of these lands are covered with snow and ice. This means we lack the professionalism in metal, we have no specialised sound people, there are no huge stadiums or arenas filled with metalheads…

What we do have are talented musicians. People with a will to create something original. We have willpower and it seems like we’re slowly getting something done. The population is not huge here, so there’s also no big amount of metal heads. There are no venues, no record shopws, no studio’s and no rehearsal spaces. All we have is unbreakable enthousiasm and metal unity.

There are atleast two or three annual music festivals for bands to perform at. Gigs are organised in local bars by enthousiasts and musicians themselves.

What sort of scene exists where you are from, are there other bands you think people should check out? That you’d recommend (and why?)?

People should check band “103” they sound very hard and very folklorish. Just check it out!

What future plans do you guys have at this point?

For now we are fully concentrated on recording our first album this year, it already took long enough now.

If you had to describe Hounds of Bayanay as a dish (food) what dish would it be and why this particular one?

If Hounds of Bayanay was a dish it would be elk cooked in a cauldron on a campfire. It would be a sign of Bayanay’s blessings after a hunt, when the hunter can reward himself with this delicious meat and drink some kymys. It is the real happiness for a sakha hunter: campfire, smell of cooking meat, taiga which surrounds you and not single soul for hundreds of kilometers.