I got in touch with Turkish metal band Seal of Solomon. The band hails from Istanbul, which is often described as the ultimate bridge between Europe and Asia. Geert Mak described the city as a metaphor for exactly that in his book ‘The Bridge: A Journey between the Orient and Occident’.
This is also found in the band name. Solomon is not only a biblical figure, but also a prominent feature in the Qu’ran. Something I was quite unaware of in fact. The seal of Solomon is also known as the star of David in modern use. It does sound a lot more brutal when you regard it as a means to control demons through this very seal. Stripping away the religious components, what remains is the story of a king that is totally metal.
Answering questions are the three main members of the five piece, Can Berk Öcalır (vocals), Ozan Murat Özfen (rhythm guitar) and Önder Dülger. We conducted the interview over a period of time over e-mail
How did you guys come together as a band? Have you played in other bands before?
Önder: We’re all active members of the Turkish metal scene. In fact, that’s one of the reasons we were able to get together in the first place. I met Ozan during a Undertakers gig. We were both in the audience back then. After I started playing with Undertakers, I started to see more of Ozan. We even fought together in the Turkish resistance Occupy Gezi Movement. After the resistance he invited me to join the Seal of Solomon project.
Ozan: Me and Can Berk (we are cousins by the way) wanted to work on a joint project for a long time. One day we decided to form a band. Other members as drummer and guitarists are people we used to or still work with on other projects, so it was not hard to gather a band. I played in plenty of bands (Nefas Lacus, Blaspheron, Razor, Yabgu, Furtherial) in the past and I still play in another band called Magilum.
Can Berk: We were in a band called Aggregate Pain, which played blackened death metal. Most of the current members of Seal of Solomon played together in that band until 2010, when it split up. While we played together, I established a band named Unfurling, which became Seal of Solomon. It was formed with the current members, except for one guitarist.
Can you tell me a bit more about this Occupy Gezi movement and what it meant?
Önder: Occupy Gezi actually started with 50 peacefully protesting environmentalists, trying to stop the demolition of one of the last green areas in our hometown Istanbul. That 50 people got brutally attacked by the cops (their tents were burned while they were sleeping in them) Ozan and I went there the next day to protest with maybe another a few thousand people.
And the riot force cops came to kill that day… We were stuck in the park with all 3 sides barricaded by the Special Forces aiming our heads with teargas grenade guns, shooting to kill. How we made out of there alive is a whole other long long, LONG story.
In May 31st, MILLIONS (literally) of people came out to the streets to avenge our asses. And to this day, I still feel like they’ve all came to save MY ass. We took over the Taksim Square with them and fought for almost a whole month to keep the cops out.
So I feel responsible for all 11 deaths and more than 8000 injuries caused by the fight we started there that day. Some were tortured, some are still missing. It’s not something you can forget or not be inspired by, when people you don’t even know stands up to guns with bare hands, ready to die, just because they think what was done to YOU was wrong. I don’t have the words to describe the terror we’ve been through together with those brave people for the whole month. I can say that i lived the best days of my life in that period. (Especially June 2nd).
I saw for the first time that I was not alone in what i’m standing for here in Turkey. Nietzsche said that, “Weak people won the fight when they made us feel ashamed of our power”. Ignorant people won it when they’ve made us feel ashamed of our knowledge. But the Gezi Park protests were the explosion of the anger of every silent fed up intellectual in Turkey. It was the beginning of the days we begin to finally win. And we were able to made it with the help of our foreign friends and fans we we know, with our instagram, facebook etc. pages, while our own media was ignoring the terror we were facing on a daily basis.
Where does the name ‘Seal of Solomon’ originate from? The concept has complex roots and connotations that can be found in various religions.
Ozan: Metaphysics and demonology are some of my personal interests. King Solomon is one of my idols in a way, who I feel envious of. I’m sure that people who share these interests will understand where this comes from, but the reason for choosing this name has nothing to do with religions.
We have all grown up with tales and stories of demons and djinns, which are a huge part of our culture and religion (for some of us). For the concept of our band, we didn’t need to do too much research, because we were raised with this.
Can Berk: The Seal of Solomon was the enchanted ring of Prophet Solomon. One day Ozan came up with the concept for this band and the name Seal of Solomon with it. The name was about the magical rituals, performed by the prophet Solomon, where he made demons his servants. We liked this idea and decided to keep it as a band name. When we reflect on the ideas about Solomon, we are not trying to use the religions that implement this figure in their stories. Still, the religions are part of the world, but we try to keep our own perspectives.
What inspires Seal of Solomons music? What themes do you put into your sound?
Can Berk: The concept is growing day by day, and includes things like the magical rituals and demons. We compose our music over a certain time, to evoke the right feelings. The notes must feel like complex algorithms in our minds.
Önder: We all have our own instincts to what we serve up musically. Speaking for myself, I was in a dark period of my life during our pre-production and recording sessions, which led me to contribute a bit aggressively I guess. One of the songs I wrote was “A Leader’s Indignation”, which helped me a lot to express myself lyrically at the time. “Leader” translates literally to my name “Onder” in Turkish, and all my inspiration came from the indignation I felt during that time.
Other than that, I worked on the pretty much completed guitar parts and lyrics, mostly written by Can Berk. He told me to feel free to change and even re-write parts as I saw fit. I tried to stay true to the blackened death metal roots of the band, while representing my own hardcore-based playing style.
The most signature sound of the album I think is what I called “Hell’s armies”.
Which is an octaved, ethnic slow guitar groove on a palmed hardcore guitar riff. Literally sounds like armies of hell are marching in. It can be found in songs like “Providence” and “I The King v2”.
You’ve released your album ‘I the King’ in 2014. Can you tell us more about the contents and story of this record? Did it grow from your EP, which contains some of the songs on it?
Önder: The idea of writing a tribute LP album to King Solomon was always an idea Ozan and Can had in mind. It has all the songs in the previous EP and much more new ones. I believe the album speaks well for itself.I feel like, it is a solid “Fuck You!” on both personal and general levels.
Can Berk: We released this full length with some doubts at first, but after a short time the comments and reviews came in and were quite amazing. I think this is only a taste of what’s to come. Our new single and second full length are on their way and I think they completely convey the idea behind our music. You’ll know what’s going on behind the curtains in our lives and the place where we live. We will all put something from there in the music.
What was the writing and recording process like?
Önder: It was therapeutic, for me at least. It helped me to cool down and channel my anger into more productive things. It gave me a routine to follow. Wake up, get to the studio, start writing, and start playing. Play again, again, again and again. And since the recording studio was our own, we’ve played and hung out there for hours and hours a day.
Ozan: Can Berk recorded the guitar demos, then we get together with Önder and retouch the sounds and shape the songs into some final demo recordings. After that, they are shared with the other band members, who then write their own instrumental parts. Can Berk and Önder do most of the work on the lyrics. When all this is done, we get to the studio and record our parts.
Can Berk: It’s not complex, but a little complicated to explain. Önder writes the lyrics together with me, but the music is composed by everyone together. I establish the general structure of the songs, but everyone adds a bit of themselves to them. We have the luxury of recording in our own recording studio, so there’s no hassle with time and money when it comes to recording.
Musically, what are your biggest inspirations as ‘Seal of Solomon’?
Ozan: As you probably can hear in our music, the texture of the sound contains a lot of Turkish folk music. In Metal I think Behemoth is out biggest inspiration, because Behemoth brought, as you heard, texture of our sound contains a lot of Turkish folk music. In metal, Behemoth is out biggest Inspiration. Behemoth is one of the most successful bands which brought oriental music and metal together.
Can Berk: Behemoth and Dark Funeral are our biggest metal inspirations, but the local music is the most important. Our country has a wide range of oriental music with a long history and profound culture. We build every note on that cultural heritage.
What is the perception of extreme metal music in Turkey? Is there any censorship you have to deal with?
Ozan: I don’t think the scene is as big as it is in Western and Northern Europe, but it’s also not as small as in in Asian countries. The late 2000’s were probably the golden years for metal in Turkey. We had plenty of festivals, even Sonisphere was organised in Istanbul twice. It would be better if Erdogan was not ruling the country, but the metal community is getting stronger. It may take a bit of time. We’re still flexing with 1KG dumbbells, but at least it’s better than none at all.
If you don’t have Turkish lyrics or a bizarre stage show, you don’t have to worry about censorship. The majority of society won’t understand the lyrics.
Önder: Television and radio are mostly scared of anything that comes from the heart in Turkey as well as anywhere in the world. I think that we’re all okay with that. I don’t think any of us would want to play to a daytime TV crowd. I’ve played in pop music festivals or contests with my other metal bands a few years ago and it’s not really a good scene when your audience looks at you like a dog that’s just been shown a card trick (lovingly stolen from Bill Hicks).
Most people who would want to censor our lyrics in Turkey are ignorant scum, who don’t know shit about English. So we didn’t really have any problems with that in Turkey.
Can Berk: The metal scene is still very underground, so there’s no real control mechanism dealing with extreme metal in Turkey. It’s relatively unknown this far, so we try to be friendly and accomodating, so extreme metal can have its place in Turkey.
Can you tell a bit about the general metal scene in Turkey and what the key bands or places are for its development?
Önder: There are a few metal bars and venues to follow, like Dorock Bar, Rasputin Live etc. that only put on metal bands and supports them. University gigs like Ege Rock Fest and Uludağ Music Festival are also about as good as it gets for a metal band, in terms of stage and crowd quality.
Ozan: Metal came up in the nineties here and got itself a bad name. A few people called themselves Satanists and in 1999 a girl was raped and killed by this group. This really put the focus on this subculture and the following years were hard for metalheads. We were harrassed throughout the country.
In the middle of the 2000’s, some alternative rock bands popped up on Turkish TV and people got more familiar with rockers and metal heads. We have one or two metal fests happening during summer and plenty of rock bars in Istanbul, though only few have a stage. Dorock bar in Istanbul is probably the best known rock bar of Turkey. It’s still hard for local bands to get on the stage. There are however the spring festivals at universities that offer a great opportunity for local bands, even if they only get to play in front of 20 people there.
The heart of the metal scene is Istanbul, smaller cities have very little. I can mention a band like Pentagram as a key player in the Turkish metal scene. There is also this one guy, who is not a metalhead, but really important for Turkish metal music. His name is Hayko Cepkin, who is one of the mainstream rockers that makes a living with his music. He is also the first person with screamed vocals, so even a peasant in the small villages of rural Turkey has heard this weird kind of singing.
Can Berk: There are some main places to play live, but they are limited. We are trying for a metal revolution in Turkey in the close future.
Many extreme metal bands in Western Europe have in some way or another opposed religious establishment. Is that something you let enter in Seal of Solomon too?
Ozan: Not really.
Can Berk: We are not especially opposed to any of the religious views but Seal Of Solomon always will have its own perspectives, which will be more clear on future albums. We’re not opposing religion, but we do oppose religious pressure and brutal religious ideas. In our band some of us believe in God and some do not. The conclusion is that this is not a problem, while it does feed and affect our concept and musical sound.
What intrigues me is that the name of your band takes a figure from Biblical/Abrahamic religions as the name. For a band from a country that is 96% Muslim, that strikes me as peculiar. Can you say something about that?
Önder: First of, I’m glad to say that this 96% is an overstatement by the government. A recent study of the Presidency of Religious Affairs of Turkey showed that 20% of a test group of 22.000 people have never even touched a Qu’ran and 60% of them haven’t read it in Arabic (they don’t know the language). Even if 80% still considers themselves Muslim, they hardly know the texts well enough to either like or dislike Solomon as a figure. The same goes for any other character.
King Solomon, as you know, is kind of a unique character in history. He’s also largely mentioned in Qu’ran too. Everything about him sounds quite dark. The band choose to tell a post-biblical, fictional story about this king, losing faith in humanity and gathering an army of djinn to fight them.
Can Berk: That 96% is indeed not a measurement that corresponds with the actual views of every person. Also, if you think you’re a real Muslim, you shouldn’t close your eyes and mind to other ideas from the world.
Today’s problem is that people don’t think about where the borders are for what the holy books contain. Whether you are a religious person or an atheist, you’re free to think about things and have your own way of figuring things out. Solomon is a historical figure you can make up your own pros and cons about. Ideas can be held against other ideas, just uttering bad words makes no sense.
Ozan: Can Berk and Önder said enough about that percentage. About the main question, I can say this: Muslims accept all prophets of the four holy books, so Solomon is as much our prophet as Jesus, Moses and David. According to my own view, we are all playing in the same man’s garden.
What bands from Turkey should people really be checking out and why?
Önder: I’d say Furtherial is one to watch, along with TEC and Seth Ect.
Ozan: Pentagram (a.k.a Mezarkabul), Raven Woods, Furtherial, Baht, Soul Sacrifice, UCK Grind, Pagan, Infected, Mekanik, Thrown To The Sun.
Why? Because I like their sound hehe.
What future plans do you guys have as a band?
Can Berk: We hope to get more well-known in the future and make sure people have heard of us. At least everyone who likes extreme metal. We’re trying to get more support from local communities and hope to play around the world or at least Europe. I also see it as one of our main tasks to kick off the metal revolution in our own country.
Any things you’d like to add?
Ozan: Thank you for the interview and thanks to everyone who is reading it.
Can Berk: This was a great interview. Wish to talk again.
On behalf of the band: Check out our new album when it comes out in the late summer or early autumn of 2015. We’ll release a single before the EP, follow us for any news on our website and facebook page.