Another session of delving into the underground, with Bong, Deuil, Wiegedood and Suðri. Great releases and great fun listening to them. I’m always eager to hear more new things ofcourse.
Bong – We Are, We Were And We Will Have Been
A new album from the arch-stoners Bong. Drugged out, stretched out like lukewarm tar and always so hypnotic, this album is not a shift of pace in any way for the Britons. Basically the albums opens with a drone, that seems to go to infinity and beyond. For seven minutes it’s just that with a minor bit of percussion going on. Suddenly a dark voice launches itself, proclaiming dark words, like a high priest of an occult, old ceremony. This ends a couple of minutes later, leaving you to drift of on that same drone for the rest of opening track ‘Time Regained’.
‘Find Your Gods’ starts with a spoken word element, but from there on it slowly rund away in a long, reverberating drone that takes you to far of places. Hypnotic and transcendent, this record is definitely a work of art from the masters of its kind. I have to admit that I’m impressed with this band and I might be willing to check some more of their stuff later on. Later… I ‘m comin back to earth now for a bit.
Suðri – Reise
Ukrainian DSBM that sounds a bit Burzumesque, well I’m going to give that a spin. I know nothing of this band, just that this came out yesterday. Turns out this is a Ukrainian label with a Chilean band, a one man project. That is surprising, because from the whole aura of this release, you expect it to be continental stuff. The opener ‘Die Reise’ is one of those minimal, quasi-acoustic dreamy tracks that prompted me to use the Burzum reference. That slow, atmospheric feel remains throughout the four track record, but its always nice to find that Burzum inspiration again with bands playing this niche sound.
The depressed element becomes clear rather quickly with ‘Ashes and Solitude’, a seven minute lasting drag with barked vocals that convey the despair. The creeping tone is that of a desperate, malformed being clawing at the light. Wafting riffs are like a cold rain. ‘Im Regen’ utilizes the piano for its intro, creating the ambiance suited for this kind of muic. It’s surprising how powerful these elemetns are on a record like this, the acoustic part. ‘An Endless Journey’ wraps it up with tha typical barrage of layered, tremolo guitar and the hoarse vocals. An impressive record, using the interplay between two very different sounds with succes.
Deuil – Shock/Deny…
Only two songs, but for some bands that is more than enough to convey the message. These Belgians from Liegè combine doom, sludge, drone and stoner to a potent brew of fucking sonic magma. Screeched vocals, landslide riffs chugged out and a constant feeling of discomfort is what ‘Shock’ opens with. Blast beats keep slapping you in the face later in the song, while the guitars are crying out in despair. Around the seven minute mark, the sound gets lighter, warmer as if the sun gets a moment to illuminate the blackness, reminding you more of post-rock. Then the door shuts and dark, looming riffs fall like curtains. From there on its a dark way down.
‘Deny’ is the frenzied twin brother of the opening track. Furious riffs and pummeling drums create a more black metal atmosphere on this track with continuous blast beats and atmospheric density. Eerie tones fill the air and the band drudges on in their typical way to construct a big song with some, epic passages. A whispering female voice enters the fray, speaking mysticly over the churning bass lines. The song slowly fades out with only buzzing and then only whispering. A great record for those who love the dirty, dark Roadburn sound.
Wiegedood – De Doden hebben het Goed
Yeah, that name means ‘crib death’, the word for parents finding their child in the crib deceased, after being apparently healthy. It’s a cruel and sad thing, but also a great name for a black metal band. These Belgians from Ghent picked it up and made some intriguing music on their debut ‘The Dead are doing well’ (losely translated). The opener ‘Svanesang’ (Swan Song) is a burst of flurried riffing and tremolo guitarplay, that seems to shift between minor and major at some points, leaving behind a trail of ice and fire.
The 13 minute epic dwindles down for a minute, but then ‘Kwaad Bloed’ (Evil blood) launches again, with those particular sunny passages and the screamed vocals (which are very tight btw). This song sinks away in a swamp of distortion and guitar picking notes, gently ending the suffering. There the slow-paced, gloomy title track starts, with an eerie, meandering riff soaring high above. Super fast tremolo gives it that gloomy feel. Its doom pace makes this a slow descent into hell, depicted by the creeping rhythm section. Final track ‘Onder Gaan’ (going under) picks up the blistering riffing and majestic sound again.
I’m revamping and reinvigorating my sounds of the underground with cool releases in different genres. This time I’m presenting you Oake, Robyn Cage, L’Enfant De La Forêt and Nordic Giants.
Oake – Auferstehung
I’ve been reading a new magazine and it is exposing me to a lot of new music, that I wasn’t familiar with before. I’ve started listening to Oake, a duo that just happened to stumble upon cold electronics and industrial through a shared passion for the sound. Clinging to their hardcore and metal roots, they created a sound that has an uncanny resemblance to early industrial bands, adding a clear cut clean sound to that vibe.
The result is bleak and atmospheric industrial, leaning towards the experimental with scraping, slow elements but also the vocals of Bathseba Zippora adding an eerie vibe to the songs. The music is made by Eric Goldstein, who’s been around the scene for years. The music is repetitive, but always foreboding, creating a tension that feels like the climax is never far away. Pounding and splashing beats give that cold industrial feel to it that reminds you of Cocteau Twins and Coil, though the band claims to not have known about these groups. They evoka a mythic feel and organic vibe with their industrial sound, which is helped by the mysterious titles and vocals. A pleasure to listen to.
Robyn Cage – Tales of a Thief
Robyn Cage is a singer-songwriter from Utah, with a pleasant sound and nice voice. This EP has a thin layer of fantasy weaved in the lyrics, Generally the feeling of the music is mellow and folky. Then again carnavalesque and slightly haunting. This is not an album for singer-songwriter fans, but lovers of stories in song, because that is what Cage is doing on this record. Telling small stories in a theatric manner, showing of her voice at times.
Personally, songs like ‘Theatre Noire’ don’t appeal to me in that. For me ‘The Arsonist & The Thief’ is the nicest song, due to its wordplay. It’s very enjoyable. Somewhere this nice lady reminds me of the stuff I used to listen to, with the playful vibe of Regina Spektor and a dab of Florence and the Machine. Quirky yet never a joke, this is definitely a nice record to listen on your own when you need to relax to some Vaudevillean tunes.
L’enfant De La Forêt – Abraxas
Dark ambient filled with plenty of other influence, Abraxas is a dark entity. I picked this up as a random bandcamp I hit on the search field and this new release seemed to embody a bit of the black metal exterior that I enjoy. Found at the crossroads between industrial, trip hop and noise, this is an interesting find indeed. The man behind L’enfant Du Forêt is James Kent making this a one man project, which in a way even surprised me regarding the variety on the record.
I feel the vibe of some old, darker dubstep stuff and mayb a bit of that first the xx record in the laid back, throbbing vibe of the tracks. Ok, I did expect for a moment during the song ‘Pessimist’ to hear Falco start his ‘Jeannie’. The play with the quality is quit interesting in that track, taking it back to a bare sound, before launching into a fuller atmospheric sound with. The atmosphere at time is like that on the Burzum prison albums. That sound of desolation and mystery is quite amazing and captivating. Surprising finisher is ‘The Rope’, a bleak, soundscape twisting doom track with a blackened taste to it.
Nordic Giants – A Séance Of Dark Delusions
When a band can make you taste the Nordic wastelands, they are surely doing something right. It’s a part of their total art product, combining, film, performance, sound, costumes and vibe to a complete experience and I had never heard of them before. The duo hails from England and has been slowly conquering souls and minds with their amazing postrock albums since 2010. This is the most recent accomplishment, to be streamed on the more popular stations.
Orchestral and big, illed with detail, atmosphere and rising patterns, the vocals are samples that usually convey messages. It adds a layer of intensity, due to the nature of these samples. If they wouldn’t be there, the music still would be beautiful though. When the band does use vocals, they offer a whole new spectrum to the organic sound. Like on ‘Rapture’, which can be considered the peak of the mountain that is this record. Think Sigur Rós, think Explosions in the Sky and add a bit of Sólstafir to that mix and you have this excellent band. So when are they playing nearby? The album is one long journey through wide and spacious lands, haunting, impressive and beautiful. Don’t miss out on it.
Metal arises in the most surprising places. One of the most unlikely locations for this kind of music to spring up is Iraq. Mir Shamal Hama-faraj is like a katalysator for metal in the country we know mostly for its dictator Saddam Hussain and the war-torn recent history of it.
The musician got into metal and started making music on his own, by himself. Metal in Iraq was the theme of a documentary, dealing with the band Acrassicauda from Baghdad. The band Cyaxares hails from Sulaymaniyah though, a predominantly Kurdic town in the northern part of the country. A region with a strong identity and historic awareness.
Mir Shamal Hama-faraj is thus pionering metal in a part of the world that this far has barely been touched by the genre. At this moment, his home is extremely close to the troops of IS and thus under threat. His other band, Dark Phantom, is from Kirkuk and has taken politics and religion as themes for their music. Unfortunately the contact with Mir Shamal Hama-faraj is lost at this moment. The last e-mail he wrote contained the following words: They Are Extremely Close, Neighbours With Kirkuk (Dark Phantom’s) And The Kurdish Peshmerga Is The Only Thing Holding Them Back.
All The Members Are Ok, For Now.
For the sake of getting his music out there, the interview should go out now. So enjoy reading about one of the most unlikely metal bands out there and be sure to check ou the music.
What does the name Cyaxares mean? Cyaxares was the third and greatest king of the Median, the most capable ruler and the Great Father of the Kurds. I chose this name, because it’s a proper name for this band and it matches what I do in my view.
The band started out as Voice Of Silence, with three members. We didn’t have any original tracks back then, because we just had gotten into metal. Some things then changed and we had a new name with three members, which was Beneath The Oceans Of Sands. Some of the swongs written for that band can be found on my album, namely ‘Whores Of Babylon’ and ‘Temples Of Fire’. Both songs where written by me.
After that I continued by myself as Cyaxares.
How did you get into metal music? It was in 2008, when I got into rock music and so I decided to get myself an album. I heard of a store that sells that kind of music, so I went searching for it to buy an album. My choise was: Iron Maiden. I bought the record A Matter Of Life And Death.
Listening to that record, I knew that this was what I wanted to do to. It actually took a while for me to learn that this music was called metal at this point, which was what I got more into. I moved on towards more extreme metal, after I started listening to Cradle Of Filth and Amon Amarth. They inspired me to do extreme vocals and music.
Do you do all the music yourself for Cyaxares? How do you go about recording stuff?
Indeed, I played and recorded everything on the album myself. As far as recording goes, I recorded it in my room without any professional or semi-professional equipment or what so ever.
Are there for you as an artist from Iraq any limits technically to what you can create? In fact I’m very limited to what I can do. It’s pretty much impossible to get good instruments and equipment let a lone a decent studio. I’m also not able to see a real live Metal concert or get a good teacher. I have to do everything by myself and the whole project rests on my shoulders. That means writing, recording, rhearsing, learning, funding and whatever comes with being a band.
Iraq is ofcourse for the ‘Western World’ (sorry for not being able to define this any better) one of the most unlikely countries to find metal. How do you regard this fact? Are there more metalheads and bands around?
True, metal is a very rare thing in Kurdistan and Iraq. The amount of bands from this region is in total six and thats it. The skills of most bands are limited, so they don’t really catch any attention, simply because they don’t live up to the global standard.
Is there any sort of repression you have to deal with, doing this in your country? How does being from Kurdistan matter? And how about your other band Dark Phantom?
Metal over here, like anywhere else, is fought by religious and old-fashionate people. As Dark Phantom, we’ve received multiple threats and Cyaxares is actually the only death metal band from Kurdistan, making it a band with ten times as much obstacles as bands in other parts of the world.
Is there anything typical for metal music from your country? Do you draw inspiration from where you come from that you put in the music?
Metal is a very obscure thing here, so there is too little to speak of typicalities. Yes, I have inspired others to start playing metal music, but it’s very limited at this moment. What I try to put in my music is the ideologies and mythic elements of my culture and I hope to make a difference and change things in this way.
Musically I draw inspiration from oriental music and the mythology. The metal influences, I would say, are mostly Behemoth and Lamb of God.
What are the main themes you try to weave into your music? The main themes are derived from ancient mythology and historical events in the Babylonian, Sumerian, Persian and ofcourse Median tradition. The call for leaving behind religion is a big theme in my music, but I’ve also put some classical poetry in there.
I’ve checked out your album ‘Whores of Babylon’. How did the writing and recording proces of that take place? What story are you trying to tell the listener on it? The writing process took me about four years, because I started from absolute zero. Actually I had to start by teaching myself all I needed to play this music, you know? It took me about three days to record everything by myself.
Every song has its own message, My message as Cyaxares is ‘Temples Of Fire’, a call for Zoroastrianism as an ideology. What I want to achieve is to make my culture known, to give the Kurdish people an independant voice and show its strenght as well. We are a people that have always managed to do so much with so little.
I did an interview with the band Melechesh a long time ago, who also indicated that they made ‘Mesopotamian/Assyrian metal’. Do you feel related to this band in any sense? “Melechesh” Is An Authentic Mesopotamian Metal Band, I Enjoy Most Of Their Work, But We Both Have Different Sound Of Our Own.
Would you be so kind to tell a bit about what ‘Mesopotamian metal’ is and what makes it so? Can you also elaborate a bit on the stories it involves and entities discussed in the lyrics? Mesopotamian metal is a combination of Arabic scales and rhythms in the music, combined with metal ofcourse. The oriental atmosphere in th esong and the lyrical themes then make up what I think is Mesopotamian metal. The themes should also incorporate mythology. A good example of a band playing this specific style of music is Aeternam.
What part does religion play in your music and are there dangers involved in it? I’m an atheist myself and my opposition to religion will always be a part of Cyaxares. It’s not a safe thing in this country to be an atheist but I will refuse any sort of religion, with or without music.
Can you also tell a bit about Dark Phantom, your other band? Dark Phantom is a thrash metal band from Kirkuk, that I joined last year on vocals and bass. We’re woking on an album right now. The main themes of the band ar war, and terror and it has five members. The situation in our country is part of the theme. I keep that out of Cyaxares though. [Video below – Dark Phantom]
What are your future plans for Cyaxares? The future plan for Cyaxares right now is a new album, titled ‘The House Of The Cosmic Waters’ and hopefully go abroad, get a label and create a full band.
The second album is progressing slow, three songs have been finished this far. I’m not sure how many songs will be on it, but it will probably take me about eight months to finish it. That’s mostly due to a lack of time and economic means to finish it faster.
Most people probably figured out what festivals they’re going to visit this summer months ago. Some buy them before the year start. I’ve not been going at it that way this year. It’s all a bit last minute and random.
I did buy Roadburn tickets in October, which I did not regret at all. The festival had been on my list as one of the few I really wanted to visit and behold, I succeeded. I had a great time, experiencing the thing I value most about festivals these days: immersing myself in the scene and vibe that I adore. It’s a matter of a certain feeling and outlook that connects the Roadburn bands, not their genre, style or look. It’s a complete experience.
My first festivals were Parkpop and Pinkpop in the Netherlands. Both massive, multi-genre, highly commercial festivals. Still, this was awesome because I was in my exploring fase. Gobbling music up by the gallon, whatever styles I came across. I loved punkrock, but also stadiumrock, funk and the great pop groups of the nineties (you know, the ones you heard on the radio all the time, also from the eighties). It felt a bit like Roadburn in the sense that I was dipped into a full pool of that musical world I was so attracted to. I guess there was no scene yet I felt part of.
Now, by this time I’ve moved far away from that. I guess I am to a certain extent a music elitist. I only feel that same buzz when I join festivals that are for a narrow niche of fans. I don’t think its necessarily my own fault, it might come with the way I enjoy music. I need to figure out a lot about the scene and what moves it and makes it thriving. Black metal is very interesting, mainstream pop music not so much. That still sounds elitist, but to me explains a thing or two.
Roadburn is in that way an epic festival. It fully embodies a culture, a feeling and a scene in the broadest sense. Not just doom or stoner, it incorporates bands with a certain feel which happens to match my regular modus operandi. I’m not a sunny person, I’ve got a lot of demons in my head and in general I’m on the depressed/pessimistic side of things. Experiencing a festival that embodies art with that vibe to it, to me is excellent. It might not be that way for all visitors but it makes sense to me.
That immersing yourself, it remains the best part about any festival. I’m sure it is the same for the anime people, car lovers and so much more. What you need to have for some is your own niche, your little obsession. I’ve got plenty of those. I guess that’s why I like festivals, because I surround myself with the stuff that I love and people that understand why I’m so obsessed with that stuff. The festival is a microcosmos of that scene you’re part of. The fact that you are there makes you part of it. More and more I’m trying to embrace that as well. The problem of an elitist outlook is that you judge people for not being good enough to be part of it. That’s something Iyou’ll always see. I guess it’s the conservative element that makes any scene remain whole, it is essential for the festival to hold on to its identity. Even a peculiar one like Roadburn.
So what else is on my list? I went to Psych Lab, going to Incubate maybe, Dynamo Metal Fest and Malta Doom Days (yes!). Maybe you’ll be there too. Not for you? Look for your festival and experience that bliss that comes with it. You won’t regret it.
I’ve been puzzled by this question, what happened to the underground? Is the underground still there in music or how does that whole thing work nowadays? Ofcourse theres something outside of the mainstream, but the old implication of the underground being what the mainstream should be is long gone.
I’m nothing, I should be everything Yes, I did just quote Marx. The underground, it used to be the area of hard working bands, hoping to achieve mainstream succes with their unique sound. Perhaps some of them were a bit head strong or just weird, but they all had the same goal in common. That goal would be, becoming big and playing stadiums, you know… the rockstar life. Ofcourse, this still happens, bands playi in tiny, sweaty venues, hoping to be the next name in the charts. It doesn’t matter if you play hiphop or hardcore punk.
Not all bands have that goal in sight though. If you start playing death metal, the days of glory are long past. You are not hoping to achieve succes anywhere outside of your scene. The scene is a closed community, surrounding a genre. It’s become a thing like a niche, a rarity. Musicians realise that too, if they commit to a style, the mainstream is as far away as ever from them. Is that scene still underground? Perhaps, maybe the underground just has accepted it’s never going to become mainstream. The same thing as that a death metal band accepts they’ll probably never draw that punkrock crowd to their shows.
Hipster Girl! That brings me to the next issue with this story, what is that thing with hipsters. Can something be hipster and still be underground? Not every band that is appreciated by what is considered the hipster crowd, ever really surfaces in the mainstream, but it starts to feel like whatever scene is involved with the hipster scene, ends up being in a transferral zone, between underground and mainstream. Neither accepts this music to the fullest. Look at a band like Deafheaven, from my black metal world. They have become a hipster band, meaning black metal has spat them out. Still, they are stuck in limbo, neither here nor there. When the scene spits you out, you can barely get back in.
A third way or any way I’m not sure what state the world is in. Do we still do justice to the dense system, by using such generic terms like mainstream or underground? A middle way seems to not really resolve anything, but there’s a clear scene in between that is neither one nor the other. It’s peculiar enough to be called a third way, but it only shows the variety that actually exists and is going in all directions. The new music landscape seems to be one of pluralism, anything goes. It’s the postmodern condition in pop form.
The mainstream is still, there, but it’s hardly something that plays a part in the deep, dense underground that shows itself in many guises, sometimes even that of mainstream. Maybe the underground never was something that could be united by any general terms. It seems that nowadays it just happens to be confident where it is, whether its embraced in its scene, the general underground or just in its small, weird hipster niche.
There’s still plenty of sound from the underground.
With the interview I did with Romuvos there came a whole appendix with further information about pagan traditions in the Baltics. I like to share them here.
Calendar Feasts of the Pagan Balts
Pusiaužiemis, January 25th
Mid-Winter Festival, though in some parts of Lithuania they celebrate Kirmeline instead, whcih means Day of Serpents. It’s the day when symbolicly the snakes wake up from their winter slumber. Food and milk is put out for them, and if it’s gone later it will be a good year.
Perkūnas Day, February 2 Gabija Day, February 5 Užgavenes, March 1st
The exit of Winter essentially waits for Spring and helps prepare for the new season. The holiday consists of processions, costumes, tomfoolery, games, and plays. The main parts are: receiving guests with treats; rides and races; processing the More statue and then destroying her by fire; plays with people costumed as animals, strangers and mythological beings; performing the war of Winter with Spring symbolized by the Lasininis (the bacon-being) with the Kanapinis (the hemp-being); portraying weddings or funerals; spraying people with water; fortune-telling.
Velykos, Spring Equinox
Christianity incorporated Lithuanian equinox traditions into Easter, and replaced the ancient Lithuanian name for the equinox with the Slavic word ‘Velykos’, i.e. Easter. ‘Pavasario lyge’, meaning Spring equinox, remains the only non-Christian name for the holiday. The week before equinox, called the Velykos of Veles (souls), concludes the annual cycle of commemorations of the dead. As during Kucios (Winter Solstice Eve), families remember their dead and leave their dinners on the tables overnight for the veles to eat.
Jorė, Spring Festival Samborai, Spring Festival
Sambariai, which names the ritual meal at the conclusion of sowing, or Paruges, which means the day by the rye. Households gathered on their fields with food and drink, where an open-air ritual meal was held. Households held the ritual separately; it was not a community rite. The ritual included ancient sacred songs called dainos and ancient ritual rounds or sutartines that blessed the grains. Families would prepare for Sambariai by stocking up on food, especially meats, and by brewing a special beer (traditional ritual drink and libation beverage). If the ritual was held at home, the house would be decorated with fresh-cut birch branches. Occurs at the end of May, after the planting of rye and other grains is finished and the seed has grown. This tradition survived undisturbed until the beginning of the 20th century in parts of Lithuania. Sambariai also once marked the start of the swimming season.
Rasa, Summer Solstice
Order of celebration: (1) dancing around the gates, (2) dancing around the kupolas, (3) misc. games, predictions, circle dance, (4) vaises (ritual meal), (5) greeting the setting sun, (6) lighting the bonfires and offerings, (7) visiting and blessing the fields and trees, (8) principal bonfire, burning of the More (straw doll symbolizing the old), circle dances around the bonfire, (9) swimming and bathing, a boat with a bonfire sails to shore, symbolizing the nocturnal trip of the sun, (10) casting the wreaths (11) greeting the moon and the stars, (12) worship of the rising sun and bathing in the morning dew.
Žolines, August 15
In honour of Žemyna, Earth Goddess. Associated with Rugiu Svente.
Rugių Svente, Rye Harvest
Beginning with the end of July and throughout August — depending on the growing conditions each year — the Lithuanian farmers start to harvest rye, the single most important grain cultivated in Lithuania. Rye is a divine grain; its fields are sacred. The harvest begins with the ritual Festival of the Rye, which expresses thanksgiving for the harvest. Women and men wear their finest white linen for the ritual, and harvest the rye in these clothes.
Dagotuves, Winter Rye Planting Finished Velines, All of October
Velines is in honour of the Veles, the shade of the ancestors – either of the family or the village. Because families would live in the same house/village for centuries, Lithuanians came to believe that the veles acted as guardians for the family and for the village. This is when the veles would enter the family home for the rest of the winter – leave at Velykos to go into the fields, to encourage the fertility of the land.
Kučios/Kaledos , Winter Solstice Eve – Beginning of the Year
Marks the end of the year, when the world returns to darkness and non-existence. However, as death begets birth, the two holidays also herald the rebirth of nature and the return of the sun. The Lithuanians distinguish the two subsequent days, now celebrated on the 24th and 25th of December, with a variety of ritual customs.
Here are the gods and dieties of the pagan Baltic people. Mind that the perception of Gods was/is different than that of current day Christianity.
Dievas: Supreme God
Lada: Great Mother
Perkunas: God’s Scourge, Sky/thunder
Patrimpas: Spring, joy, peace, earth
Pikulas/Velnias: God of the underworld
Sky Gods: Menulis: moon Saule: sun (the planets and stars are their daughters).
Zemyna: earth, birth, growth, ripening.
Domnestic Gods: Nonadieve/Dimstipatis/Zemepatis/Gabjauja
Laima: fertility, newly-born, pregnant women
Giltine: death, ordained the end of a life
Fertility Gods: Puskaitis: fruits of the earth and grains, lives under sacred elder tree. Pergubre/Pergubris: Goddess of blossoms and field work. Kupuole: Field vegetation, her daughter Rasyte would water the plants with dew. Vaisgamta: Stimulating growth.
Jurate: The queen of the Baltic Sea was a beautiful mermaid.
Kastytis: A son of the earth.
Siaurys: The North wind.
Aitvara: Considered to be divine creature, regulates relations and wealth
Pilnytis: The wealth god.
Kovas and Junda: War god.
Ausaitis: The health god.
Ganiklis: The schepherds’ god.
Keliukis: God of roads.
Milda: Godess of freedom.
Krumine: Godess of corn ears.
Nijole: Wife of the underworld god.
Medeine: The goddess of woods and trees.
Austeja, Bubilas: The goddess and the god of bees.
The two song EP of Vanad Varjud from Estonia is a grim first encounter with the band. The songs last well over the 10 minute border and envelop you in depressive darkness. The slow starting ‘Tumm Rongkäik’ (Silent Procession) features silence and the occasional drum sound in the first ten minutes. Some eerie sounds can be distinguished, but are barely audible.
When the music starts playing, first there’s the cascading guitar riff, played in such speeds to create a static wave pattern. Slow drums are being played, as in a ritual setting. Slowly the sound becomes more menacing, more grim and full of cold hate. Like a torrent, the music drags you in, slowly nodding along, one barely notices the change where a melody is sounding through the layers of guitar, untill it gently comes to a close.
‘Absurdiinimene’ (Absurd Human) is the second track, which starts with the sound of an icy gale blowing. The sounds that seep through are ominious. Clean guitar tones are being played in the same minor setting as Metallica’s ‘One’. A thunderous drum sound reverberates though the air and in a flash the riffing starts. A furious roar and samples start playing in Estonian. `
The Estonian extreme metal scene is very hidden and mostly known through a few bands that have somehow captured the interest of the media, like their folk-metal outfit Metsatöll or the sludge duo Talbot. I talked to Sorts Aposta and Thon from Vanad Varjud about the underground in this far-off corner of Europe, where winters are long and cold and where faith is minimal.
Who are Vanad Varjud and in what other bands did you play?
(Sorts) Vanad Varjud is me, Sorts Apostata is the so called ‘main man’ of the band. The band was born in 2000. I was already far into other things, but this became the main project. Thon played the drums and did vocals, so the ‘main man’ started to become a bit blurrier. So far it’s my thing, but Thon is responsible for all the drumwork. We both have been around in the Estonian ‘scene’ for years, though it’s hard to still call it a scene. It might be just me, there are some new winds blowing.
(Thon) I have been in several metal bands over the years. For a list of all my bands and projects, you can check my bandcamp page (there is a lot to check out. ed). Most of the music can also be listened to there. There is a complete list of bands I was in or connected to.
(Sorts) I’ve been involved with Ignorabimus in the past. Also with the band Nihilistikrypt. The band Mass In Comatose is my brainchild, though we will have to see if it ever rises again. When it comes to the scene in Estonia, the best source to check is estonianmetal.ee, though it has moved more to facebook. What is happening and where the action is can usually be found there.
What does Vanad Varjud mean? What is the idea behind the band?
(Sorts) Vanad Varjud means in English ‘Shadows of the past’ (though there are multiple interpretations, literally Old Shadows, meaning that the night is a calm time). This is, as far as what I did goes, the crown jewel and my most important project. It is mostly mine, where I create atmosphere like I’ve never done before. It feels very natural to me to do this the way I feel like. Being free of dogmas is a theme, as in can we even do that? We move to live grabbing hold of these dogmas to give us meaning and answers. They prevent us from thinking and we obey them quite unquestioning instead of looking at ourselves and others as human beings.
The music needs to be slow. Watch a snowflake fall, watch how it rains and feel the beauty and eerie atmosphere, the timelessness… Think of the smell of old trees, the foggy moon and sunrise (don’t take this as sounding too much like hippie stuff). Whatever you believe is your way and yours alone. It is good to have some travellers with you though, maybe even to the end?
What is the general idea/thought you are trying to convey to your listeners?
(Sorts) I dont try to convey anything really. I give something and you can take from it what you want, like I take things from other artists in the same way. It’s a matter of sharing, growing and learning and always moving forward. This is not as easy as it sounds ofcourse, trying to be original and following your own parth. We all wear certain chains, though we link up and find connections, but that is not always easy. It can even be a painful proces, but through pain we might achieve even greater things and more happiness.
We obey others, we are mastering others, we enslave others and enslave ourselves. Who are these others though, what others are there and why don’t we try to master our own self first? I think that’s the hardest thing, to find meaning in all this. It’s not the most original dilemma, very Nietzschean…Take your pick: Socrates, Gailit, Tammsaare…
Where do you draw inspiration from?
(Thon) Inspiration is everywhere, in books, music, film and nature or wherever you look.
(Sorts) I can’t add much to that. Maybe what is inspirational to me is that feeling of pure loneliness that we humans feel. You are born alone and you die alone and in some way you always are alone. Growing is a solitary process, but we can try to share this maybe.
What is it like to be an Estonian black metal band. Does being Estonian have any influence on your music do you think?
(Sorts) There are bands here and some projects, but no tight knit scene in the way people would imagine. We meet, greeta nd have a drink now and then, but not too often I guess. Metal in Estonia, specially black metal, is quite underground. Everyone is doing their own thing in their little corner and I think that’s fine the way it is.
If you consider where and how Estonians have lived historically and geographically and what th weather is like, then the usic dfefinitely is influenced by being Estonian. Then again, it might be my thing, we are very closed off people.
I’ve listened to your 2 song EP. What can you tell about the writing and recording?
(Thon) The idea of VV has been growing in Sorts for years and it first came to life after we finished recording with a metal band. Me and Sorts had the studio to ourselves and started to record the dripping water from some pipe near the door. We messed around with effects and created this eeriesound that just needed some drums. We recorded those as well in some takes, then sorts did the guitars. We did the vocals in a second session, but the rest of it… It just happened.
(Sorts) In a basement in Põlva we built a studio. There were pipes all over the place, it was underground and you could hear people flush their toilets. For recording we had to predict when people were going to do their business… You never knew what you’d find in that place before you had opened the door. There was also a radiostation operating from there. It was a legendary and strange place with ice cold winters. When it started leaking one day we put a metal tub underneath it and started recording the dripping.
Thon was doing the editing for some other band and I was freezing, reading the book ‘Maagide Kool’ by Vladimir Weidemann (translation: School of Mages: Estonian Occult Underground 1970-1980 ). When ‘Talv’ for the band Sõjaruun was done, the drumkit was still there, so we did this basic stuff. It was spontaneous and pure joy to make and I wish every album could be done this way. The writing was done in my head and we had the basic recording. After that I spend some time to adjust things and do the vocals.
Is there a theme to it, do you chose specific messages for a release you make?
(Sorts) Its not like a story of any kind is integral to our music, there are themes that just follow and we pick up on what happens around us. The future material is planned to involve dark themes. It seriously will be very dark.
What are the samples from that are in the songs? Why did you chose them?
(Sorts) The ambient elements there are mostly recorded and modified by us. We chose those to creat a kind of eerie atmosphere, like a church/monastary atmosphere. These are things we just did, you know? It was very inspiring stuff to use and create. It was a cold november when this came from my mind, before I turned it into flesh.
The EP is out on Hexenreich records. How did you get on this label and why did you chose for tape as a carrier?
(Thon) I have known Volly (boss of Hexenreich) for many years. I talk to him almost every week, so it was quite a natural thing to happen.
(Sorts) Yeah, Thon did the talking on that one. I’ve known the same person for many years, but Thon was more on a business level with this I suppose. Hexenreich has been functioning as a label dealing with this music for a long time now and it’s not like there are that many places for our kind of music. He’s a good person to work with.
Actually we released a sort of split with Hexenreich and Eerie Moonlit Trees, which is a label I started to create an undergroundlabel. I have to see if that’s going to work out. Chosing the casette format is partly because it is simply very cheap. I would like to release material on cd, LP and MCD, but as long as we don’t have that kind of deal, we will work with what we have. Anyone who is interested in helping us forward is most welcome.
Can you tell us a bit about metal in Estonia and mainly extreme metal?
(Sorts) I don’t know that much of the new Estonian metal scene. There is stuff going on and if someone is interested in it, the best news source is estioniametal.com, though it doesn’t offer the most recent news right now. We’re simply outside of it I guess.
Some fresh things that are going on as far as I know, Ingmar Aasoja from Thou Shell Of Death has some interesting things going on. The bands Urt and Aghor are active and interesting, Tharaphita has some nice progress and Süngehel has new stuff going on that are worth checkin gout. Goresoerd you can look up on facebook, is definitely a cool band.
I’ve got a list of records that are, in my opinion worth checking out, which offer a good impression of the Estonian scene. My opinion also varies ofcourse, it depends on what I feel like.
Sõjaruun – Talv (2010) Mortified – Wilderness (1993) Tharaphita – All pool Lund Ja Jääd (1997) Aggressor – Legal Requirement (1993) Nihilistikrypt – I hate everything (2006) Skydancer – The Dawnhunter (1996)
Why do you think Estonia is the most atheistic country in Europe?
(Thon) I think it’s a good thing, it seems a natural fact to me really. Studies have indeed shown it’s the most non-religious country in the world and it feels like a good thing.
(Sorts) There are all sorts of studies, so I dont agree with Thon on this. Right, in reality we may not be on level with the classic religious countries, but we’ve been fucked by religion enough as a small nation. Religion in my opinion is like a slavery in the classic way. We are officially a Lutheran country in so far, but there is no official religion in our country. There are big churches and such, with big budgets, but where does that money come from? We live and believe in a more protestant way I think, more sober. I dont believe a God that promises good things for those that serve is a good thing, its a mental slavery, being fooled by these promises who tell us we are blessed if we obey. What bothers me most is why we behave like believers still, even when we claim not to believe.
Fun fact, the Lutheran church wishes to build a skycraper in Tallinn, which will be the biggest building in the city. What should we think of that?
Anything else you’d like to share?
(Sorts) Bottle of cheap whiskey and two dark beers? Thanks for this oppertunity and everyone, support bands that you enjoy and perhaps we’ll meet some day.
During answering these questions, I was listening to some old material and some weird stuff came to my ears. It feels like a great journey to answer this and get back into listening to old material.
Again, some tunes to bop your head to in Sounds of the Underground! This time A Forest Of Stars, Woods Of Desolation, Shylmagoghnar and Promethean Horde.
A Forest Of Stars – A Shadowplay for Yesterdays
Yes, I know this is not the latest album of these Brittish troubadours. I listened to them before, but due to a friends enthousiasm I did so again yesterday. I was amazed. The band brings together sounds of despair, string sections in minor, gritty black metal and the carnavalesque in a blend that is wonderfully powerful. A track like ‘A Prophet For A Pound Of Flesh’ embodies that blend of epic doom, laced with twinkling folk passages and playful prog elements. The wailing ‘The Blight Of God’s Acre’ is another example of organic black metal embracing the play with elements.
Listening to this record brings memories of neofolk groups like Current 03, but also of doomers My Dying Bride. That has a lot to do with the Victorian charm of this league of gentlemen, as they describe themselves on their website. They don’t draw their inspiration from pagan Gods and nature, but from a time where romanticism and beauty was still something of importance. ‘Gatherer of the Pure’ is one of those unrelentingly beautiful tracks that display all elements in a blistering torrent of sound that has a warm, golden gleam to it. ‘Left Behind As Static’ lets you hear polished English and the ghost stories associated with electricity seem to be the inspiration for another magic song with static in the air. The haunting ‘Dead Love’ is the great closer of this magic album.
I can’t wait to check out the new one.
Woods of Desolation – As The Stars
The sound of Woods of Desolation is like the cold autumn sun, that caresses your face while your fingers feel frozen. The pain and beauty intermingle in a warm bath of nostalgia on this fantastic album full of post-blackmetal with static riffs and soaring elements in major, tremolo guitar picking and that unwavering cascade of atmospheric layers… I just want to rant about it, till I run out of breath. The song ‘Unfold’ is one of my favorites on this record.
I guess its the layers of ambient that make this record so alluring and filled with atmosphere that one can relate to. It has a simple beauty that still transcends the regular, the harmonies are just right. ‘An Autumn Light’ is another great track that seems to captivate exactly wht I said before. The vocals blend in with the rest of the music to create a unity. In a way they are the only dissonant sound in the music you can hear. These Australians did a wonderfull job in making this beautiful album, that still captivates the grim and cold of black metal. I could go on and on about it, but I feel that words fail to describe what my gut tells me while listening to this.
Shylmagoghnar – Emergence
I just happened to stumble across these Dutch prog-BM’ers on bandcamp. Clean sounding, technical and catchy are some keywords. Atmosphere does not need to be dense tapestry of tremolo guitar obviously. It can also be the clean, hard walls of riffs that these guys unleash on their 2014 album. The long opener ‘Abyss’ immediately lets you hear some classical influences as well, this is not easy metal. An approach that hits the listener in the gut can also be taken, like on ‘This World Shall Fall’ and ‘Squandered Paradise’.
‘The Cosmic Tide’ is a track that stands out due to its soaring sound, full of aventure and bravery. The music is on that Cosmic level, always maintaining a feeling of tension and intensity. ‘A New Dawn’ delivers another blistering track with classic elements and full of epic grandeur. The band is not afraid of implementing anything in their dense and straight forward sound. The magic is in the exectution this great collection of songs. I’m well impressed with the variation and the openness of their sound. Recommended material!
Promethean Horde – Ashes of the Empyrean
What an awesome find, these blackening death tyrants from the United States. I love the frantic sound of the riffs and dense walls of guitars. The vocals remind me of the cleanish sounding black metal, like that of Keep of Kalessin on this album filled with pagan black metal. I’m not sure how deep that pagan aspect runs, but just bear with me for a bit more, while these boys roll on. The epic riffs are quite impressive, though not too original. This band is definitely energetic and filled with rage, creating an impressive rolling sound.
The vocals are a hoarse bark, a bit like Abbath, but lacking the deep cutting gritty qualities. Many people are fussed about some clean parts on the album, but I find those very easy to ignore and forget. The coiling sound and sheer intensity makes up for whatever flaws it may have, like some out of place tremolo playing on ‘Ördögszereto’. I will admit that during the listening to this album, my enthousiasm startst to go down a bit. It’s not the most original release and might not really have that forwards move in its sound, which is so typical for USBM. Still, I enjoy this record.
“We might be the most sympathetic black metal band from the Netherlands”
It’s a chilly autumn evening and we are sitting down in Café het Rozenknopje in Eindhoven with half of satanic sleaze rockers Heretic. The band has had a busy year behind them and its time to talk to the gents about their new records, shows, Ván Records and what it is like to be the most sympathetic black metal band of the Netherlands.
Slight shocker, Heretic has been around for 18 years already. Sure, there have been some breaks, but Thomas Goat has been playing dirty black metal under this name for 18 years. Fun fact also, is that this band only played their home town only once. That was in a support of the mighty Danzig in 2011 (in the Effenaar). That is one of the future goals for the band, according to drummer Tom Auf Der Axe: play an awesome show in Eindhoven. The drummer is keen to talk about the turbulent year Heretic experienced in 2014.
For Tom, it’s all still very new, even with all the events of last year: “I really was lucky to join Heretic at this time. I got talking to Thomas at a metal record fair. He needed a drummer for Heretic and asked if I was interested. I decided to say yes and three weeks later we did our first show together. Not a show in some bar, it was immediately a show on Roadburn!”. Tom learned enough songs for the show in a couple of weeks, where the band with a full line up had their big test. It turned out to be just the start.
“And then there was Hellfest on the agenda in France, which was another incredible experience. We went into the studio to record or new album and we have an agenda that is filled with cool stuff. As if that was not enough, we signed with Ván Records and booking agency District 19 (known as the organizers of the Eindhoven Metal Meeting). It’s been a great year this far!” tells Tom full of energy and enthusiasm. Its just as if everything the band touches turns to gold this year. Singer Thomas adds to Toms story, that is is definitely not just their drummer that was lucky, but the whole band. He chooses his words carefully, as if he only just started realizing that it all really happened: “Things started rolling for real this year for Heretic. We have a band, where all members want to go in the same direction. Adding Jimmy Blitzer (bass, also known from Urfaust) completed the picture. He thought it was cool to play second bass, which sounds odd, but really creates the sound we want. He also happens to be an excellent showman.”
Before we start looking at the successes from 2014, we should have a look at the past of Heretic. Founder Thomas always had an artistic drive with the band to express himself: “I wanted to satisfy an inner urge to create something, something new. The black metal scene was doing something that I wanted to go against, which is how Heretic started out, playing a different form of black metal.” That is the way the proces goes for Heretic, rebel against the image people create of them, but also against themselves according to Thomas: “Every record is a response to its predecessor for me. Everyone thinks they can label you and say what you are as a band based on your record, so the next one has to be completely different. Apart from that, I’m the biggest fan of Heretic and listen to the records time and time again. I then hear what I would like to have changed, what could be better. It’s a drive to develop. Every record is just a moment from what you do as a band, when one is released I’m already working on the next one. ‘Alive Under Satan’ is almost out now and I know how I want the next record to sound.”
The result of all those years of development yields its very own sound. “The black metal of Venom, sex drive like the Dwarves, punk vibe of Zeke and the sleaze of Mötley Crüe, that is the Heretic sound!” says Tom. “Thomas writes the songs, sings and plays guitar. Tony Hellfire does the bass loops over that, like our very own Steve Harris. Jimmy does another layer of dough on top of that and I can fill the gaps with my drums and make it into a whole. Because of the success and energy this year we’re all facing the same direction. Everyone has ideas, which keep on rolling and make nice things happening. It’s almost going automatically.”
A good example of these amazing things that happened to Heretic is their signing with German Ván Records, a label that also released music by The Devil’s Blood, Urfaust and Dread Soverign. The label is known for beautiful releases and special attention for the fans. “I knew Sven (owner Ván Records red.) from shows and of course Jimmy has been working with him through Urfaust for longer.”, Thomas chips in. “Sven thinks about releasing records, like a fan and an enthusiast, who wants to make it into something special. If we would want to release our record in a leather sleeve, he would basically be open to it. As soon as we would make a record that sounded like we do live, he would be interested. With ‘Alive Under Satan’, we have that record so the deal was soon made. Selim (Lemouchi, THe Devils Blood red.) told me a lot of good things about the label.” Live is of course still where it really happens for Heretic. This is obviously the place where Heretic is at its best, when the fans are right opposite the band.
The big similarity between Ván Records and Heretic is the love and respect for the fans. “We may be the most sympathetic black metal band from the Netherlands. We get so much respons from our fans, so we love giving them something in return.” Specially at the shows the band plays in Germany, the band has amazing experiences according to Thomas: “It’s amazing to play a show and see that the first rows of people sing along with every song, but it does happen to us. On the stage it’s all a big show, but after the show we are at the merch stand as soon as we can for a chat a beer or anything with the fans. I’m still a huge fanboy about the bands I love, so I know how important it is.” Tom agrees fully on that: “I’ve been touring with many bands, where I stood next to the stage, like Peter Pan Speedrock and Reverend Horton Heat. We get those same kind of responses, which is an amazing feeling. Sometimes its almost real!”
“Metal fans are, in my opinion, enormously dedicated. When I was nine years old I heard Iron Maiden for the first time. I still get chills when I hear that music. It sticks with you, that is what makes metal fans different, “ concludes TOm. “We played a show in Montbéliard in France a while ago. The support act was a band named Spermafrost. Before the show they came to see us, shake hands and tell us how cool it was for them to play with us. If you receive such dedication and responses, you have to give that back and we do that with all love.” This is part of the reason for the first uncommon release on Ván Records: a red flexi-disc with the song ‘It’s On!’. “That was one of those things, we made that single as a nice object. Then the Deaf Forever Magazine wanted a couple of thousand copies to send to their subscribers. A month later the release was totally sold out!”
The new album by Heretic, ‘Alive Under Satan’, is now out on Ván Records. The recordings were done in Eindhoven in three days and Thomas is looking forward to the next session: “It was a lot of fun in the studio and it turns out we have a great team with this little gang. I’m looking forward to making a full-length. Our previous record, ‘Angelcunts & Devilcocks’, was recorded at home with a drum computer. That is hard to compare with the raw, energetic sound that can be heard on the new record. You can hear that these are real, organic recordings. “Without changing the songs too much, there is much more dynamic in this new Heretic,’ says Tom. “We find a balance between the elements, which makes this a representation of the Heretic you can hear play live. If you manage to pull that off in the studio, then you’re doing the right thing.”
So the gang looks forward to the next record, for which Thomas has plenty of ideas already. The attention of all band members is with Heretic, playing live and enjoying the chemistry within the band. The new video is also out for you to enjoy.
The year 2015 might be the year of Heretic, including that long awaited show in Eindhoven.
It is always good to do something on your friday night. This friday I went to the Temporary Art Centre in Eindhoven for the fourth label night of Barreuh Records. A label that has found a spot somewhere on the line where art and music touch and get intertwined.
The label aims to release affordable and special products of music that is challenging and experimental. This is available on their quite intriguing label nights, usualy filled with strange happenings. Strange tunes are played in between and a small, but interested crowd gathers for this live experience.
There’s also the release tonight of the new Skymme record, that you can enjoy on bandcamp as well.
First up is the experimental electronics of Rumatov. Three guys molding a mixture of ambient sounds and blipping noise on a range of devices. This creates soundscapes that drone on for the length of the set. The trio manages to put a bit of humor in their preformance of intriguing sounds, that challenge the notiono of what music is.
Danielle Liebeskind is next up, playing a mixture of free-jazz postpunk jams, that frame the poetry of their singer. The explosive music offers a big contrast witht he stammered, flat spoken poetry lines that get spoken into the microphone in between. Though this is an interesting approach, it offers little in the way of harmony between the two elements and the poetry does not really appeal to me. Luckily there’s room for some respite in the cool venue, with some expositions open for visiting.
Final act of the night is Thaumaturgist, offering some bass driven beats. The music sounds old school, without the polished synthy stuff that you’re used to these days. Energetic and raw, the act captivates the audience in what seems to be a long, groovy jam.