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X-Mantra from Nepal: Crying For Peace

Nepal has had a turbulent history and through those years, one band stood in defiance of the situation. Seriously, rarely will you find a band that has lived through so much. X-Mantra started playing thrash metal in 2000 and immediately was faced with realities that other bands in this genre merely fantasized about. Their album Crying For Peace stands as a testament to that era.

A little history of Nepal, which was already in the throes of a civil war around the time X-Mantra started out. More than 12,000 people were killed in this war that lasted from 1996 to 2006. This is the theme for the first album of the band. In 2001 the monarchy of Nepal started to go down in blood, after a massacre in the royal palace (an inner-family feud), which only heightened the tensions up to 2008. Since then the country has been struggling to become a republic, but that is easier said than done obviously.

Now, a little footnote to this interview. Unfortunately, in this project I get in touch with bands from various places in the world and sometimes language forms a barrier. I’m pretty sure in the e-mails sent between Eindhoven and the United States (the current abode of Rojesh Shrestha, founder of the band) some things got lost in translation. X-Mantra is currently on hiatus, but they’ll be back and are looking to spread their music outside of the mountainous nation of Nepal.

X-Mantra: Nepalese Thrash Gods

First of, can you introduce yourselves?

We X-Mantra and we are a Heavy Metal Band from Nepal..We play THRASH Metal. I, Rojesh Shrestha, am the founder of the band and I’m answering these questions.

The current line-up:

Current line-up: guitar: Rohitaj Hiring  Guitar: Ram K. Century  Drums: Bikram Shrestha, Bass/Vocal: Rojesh Shrestha

Do you guys play in any other bands or are you starting new projects now X-Mantra is on hiatus?

No, some of our members are out living in US and Australia so for time management we are on hiatus.

How did X-Mantra get started back in 2000? What made you guys get together and decide to make this kind of music?

We were in different bands. We all were sick and tired playing cover songs. As our musical taste wore the same we decided to form a new band and started playing original Nepali Metal songs in 2000. Actually we as a band were form to participate in national music contest.

Where you inspired by Nepalese bands to make metal music or did it come from foreign bands?

No, we all were inspired by foreign Metal bands then.

Can you tell a bit about the start of metal in Nepal and what that scene was like back in the days when you guys started playing? How did metal music come to Nepal in the first place?

For a decade there used to be metal scene here in Nepal. There used to be good bands like Dead Soul and other bands whom we adored. As I mentioned before we wore in different bands some glam rock, some rock and some from metal itself, we decided to come up with our original album so we gathered and started playing original songs.

Metal in Nepal started as by covering the greatest bands like SlayerMetallica etc.

You guys started playing metal music in what probably is the most turbulent time in recent History for your country. Can you tell a bit about that for people who are not familiar with it? And how did that impact you guys as a band?

We did Political lyrics then starting from our 1st album till the 3rd (2000-2005) As we had our own official legal advisor. The lyrics were too hardcore for that time being, which brought a revolution in Nepali Music Industry in 2000. The literature and the deep meaning took us to the place we are in still.

You guy’s have probably seen it all. The transition from a kingdom to republic, civil war… I think it’s reflected particularly in your early work that seems to be highly political. What was it you were trying to say with for example debut album ‘Crying For Peace’?

Our first album Crying For Peace represents the situation Nepal was in. That was something that no other musician tried to express at that time. We had our offensive lyrics and I think our music was too new for the Nepalese music industry. The album’s motto was to wake up people before it’s too late and kick some fucking ass of the politicians.

Since then, back in 2000, it was political crisis going on. There were no other bands or musicians who sang against the way things were going or dealt with politics and the suffering of people. We hired an advocate and started writing songs about that. But now things have changed, we can now hear many genres artists (from folk/rock/pop/hip-hop) are rebelling against the politics. We thought that it would be the same if we used such lyrics, we wanted to be different…. that’s all. Everyone is using the same words these days, but no voices are heard. So, it’s useless to repeat the same thing again and again.

How has the metal scene grown and developed since you guys started out?

We used to organize some underground gigs called Metal Mania which we continued till part-III. There used to be 50-60 people for our show, which was awesome at the time, but now it’s a different story. We have many shows, more than a pop or other musical shows… and it’s too good. Now, we have more than 5.000 people visiting an outdoor show. The new upcoming bands are growing day to day, and we are very satisfied with that!

Nepal is in a way an extreme country, with its mighty mountains, high located cities and such. Do you think there’s a connection between these extreme conditions and the booming extreme metal scene?

No I dont think it does, but it doesn’t harm the Metal Culture in Nepal either. Music has nothing to do with politics or a county’s conditions I think. Doesn’t make any connections within both. We did music in our location in even worst situations of the nation.

I’m intrigued by that history your band went through. In that tumultuous past, did you guys have to deal with controversies and censorship and the like? I imagine not everyone was appreciative of a band trying to get involved in the politics of the time.

Yes, our songs were not played in any radio and television stations then, they used to say “we don’t have the perfect show to play your songs”. But it’s the same problem even now, except 2-3 media houses. Censorship was one of main issues then. As I said, we even got together with an official legal advisor when we released our debut album….. as we were also prepared for all those circumstances. We were also ready in case we’d be send to jail, haha!

At some point you guys really got big in Nepal. I’ve seen footage where you’re working with a rapper and a singer. What was the mainstream appeal that you think X-Mantra holds?

Yes, we did some collaboration at a time that was due to our producers and record label. We were not allowed to release the music we liked and that really SUCKS. We used to be in no 1. charts for months then. We thought to do something new and secondly, those days, the record label used to decide which songs were to be finalized in that moment.

So, after 17 years of playing excellent music, you’re going on hiatus. Why did you guys make this choice and how long do you think the hiatus might last?

Overseas migration problems are the mean reason. Me, being frontman of the band, I continued the band for 17 years without any breaks. Due to my family problems I had to to move to the United States, so we are taking a break for maybe 2 or 3 years from now.

I just moved to here in America and most of our members are in Australia. The current members are in Nepal though. Since I am the founding member I am thinking to continue my band while staying in the US.

Having seen all these youngsters come up in the Nepali metal scene, which bands should people definitely check out and why?

Now every new bands are equally good in both their gear and they are musically strong. Everyone should check Nepali Bands these days without any doubts. All are freaking awesome in their own way.

What future plans do you guys have? Will there be an anthology of sorts of X-Mantra?

Yes we will be COMING with new videos yet to be released. And after 2-3 years we will be COMING out with our New album DEFINITELY.

If you had to compare X-Mantra to a dish (a type of food), what would it be and why?

We are the crab….. haha….. because we never decided to move on the fast track….let the time roll in its own pace and we’ll catch up with time again. That’s how we define ourselves.

 

Aramaic: Voice of the Levant

The phenomenon of global metal keeps being a point of fascination for me. In the most interesting places you can find bands playing this type of music. Most people might know that metal has a place in the United Arab Emirates, so finding the band Aramaic playing this music there is not entirely surprising.

In the documentary film ‘Global Metal’ by Sam Dunn and Scott McFayden the Desert Rock Festival finished up the film. It showed that metal was even finding its roots in the most unexpected places. For the guys from Aramaic this is as normal as it gets though. Aramaic has been going strong since 2011 and members of the band have worked with internationally known formations like Schammasch (German drummer Hendrik Wodynski joined the Swiss giants live) and Heavenwood (guitarist Fadi Al Shami did guest vocals for the Portuguese goth veterans), while singer Serge Lutfi moved with his other band Abhorred to London and back from the UAE.

Most interesting is that the members are all from neighboring countries (apart from Wodynski of course). Most band members answered these questions about their band, the concept and what it is like to play metal music in the United Arab Emirates. A country is known for its shining city of Dubai, but also with strong religious roots. Thanks to Fadi Al Shami, Michael Al Asmar, Ahmad Rammal and Serge Lutfi for taking the time to respond. Though none of them was born there, they all moved to the country for work and find music as well.

This article was originally published on Echoes & Dust.

Aramaic from the United Arab Emirates

Could you briefly introduce yourselves and Aramaic for those readers unfamiliar with your work?

Fadi: We are Aramaic hailing from the Levant region (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and neighbors), currently based in the UAE. If you were to describe our music, I feel we do not conform to a specific type of metal genre. We prefer to avoid restricting ourselves and having the classification done by our peers.

Michael: To give you a brief summary on the name, Aramaic is an ancient language spoken by nomadic tribesmen inhabiting areas around the Tigris River (the river flows south from the mountains of south-eastern Turkey through Iraq and empties itself into the Persian Gulf) dating back to the 700 B.C. the Bronze Age. It is from the Semitic family (Arabic, Hebrew, Syriac, Maltese & Ethiopian), and adopted by Assyrians (currently known as the Middle East, including Armenia, Cyprus, Iran & Turkey), parts of Babylonia (current day Iraq), even ancient Egypt and the Canaanites (Lebanon, Palestine and neighbors).

Serge: We, however, adopted the name to best represent our origins and expose the listeners to something that is not typical to modern discussions and music. History has always intrigued us, the more we researched the more fascinated and infatuated we became with this ancient civilization, it brought us closer to our heritage and we wanted to share this with everyone through our incantations and hymns.

How did you guys get into metal in the first place?

Serge: I have to praise my sister for introducing me to metal in 1991, started with Kiss & Danzig, moved to Testament, Anthrax, Metallica & Pantera then straight to Morbid Angel, Obituary & Entombed.
The most memorable albums that I grew up with were Testament’s The New Order, Metallica’s Master Of Puppets, Danzig’s  How the Gods Kill, Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power (I still have the tapes). I started playing guitar at the age 5 and by the time I was exposed to metal (as an 11 years old), my first electric guitar was bought. The rest is history.

Fadi: My first encounter with metal music was when I was 9 yrs. old by getting introduced to Metallica’s Black Album. Yet the reason I learnt guitar was Death’s Symbolic (such a master piece). I started playing guitar at a very late age (27) when I managed to spend 3 hours every day trying to develop better techniques as I moved forward in the music career.

Michael: I got into metal because I liked a girl who listened to Def Leppard and Europe and when I went to the record shop and asked for similar music the guy gave me Metallica’s …And Justice for All and Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.

What are your main inspirations for the sound of Aramaic? There’s a hint of some traditional music in your sound, how did you manage to create this mixture.

Ahmad: We all bring our experiences, influences and capabilities to the table whilst composing the music. That’s what makes it unique, from traditional Arabic music, classical progressions, instrumentals and hymns to extreme diabolical works.

Serge: The writing process takes a considerable amount of time, as we all come together to write the structure of a track and the more we embrace it, the more intense it becomes. We take our time making sure every person involved has his signature and seal on it. We also try and incorporate some native instruments to give a more distinctive element.The lyrical theme is based on myths, legends, deities & tragedies that befell the Aramaens and Assyrians during the ancient times.

Your name is derived from the ancient language, with that also bringing in a culture, history, and people. There are a lot of directions you can go with a name like that. How did that come about and what sources originally made you want to go in this direction?

Michael: Being from the Levant region, we wanted to represent our history & our people in an unorthodox way, completely straying away from religion (of any kind). We wanted to focus on apologues; documented works and myths from that era to expose the masses to our bright and rich past.

It compelled us to dive deep into the realms of these ancient civilizations to bring forth the knowledge bestowed upon us through materials lost in time.

I understand there are various mythologies you use as a theme in your music. Can you tell a bit more about that and maybe share a little light on what sort of stories you really take to put to music, since many people from other places might not be familiar with them?

Serge: The songs are all story-based; each journey talks about the plight and encounters of the protagonists (Sennacherib, Ereshkigal, Shamesh, and others) in our own interpretations. We will shed more light on these stories throughout the album’s artwork and lyrics. Footnotes will be provided for further explanations.  

We stress on this by saying that all the lyrics are based on stories we read and reinterpreted in our own way to suit the music & the image of the band.
We are also using the themes to reflect on the modern and current issues of the world, as the reoccurrence of these subjects happen throughout the millennia.

Your last record is from 2014, which is a great piece of music titled ‘The Fallen’. Are you working on something new now?

Fadi: We released a single called The King single in 2015. Currently, we are finalizing our debut album ( the title is also ready), an update will be given in due time!

How do you guys work on new music, do you start with music or a concept and how does the process follow from there?

Ahmad: We throw ideas around, and once a riff is liked by all the members, we start working on it and adding our styles and influences. The lyrics are usually written after the structure of the song is done. We research a certain topic and elaborate on it.

In a couple of weeks, you guys get to open for Paradise Lost in Dubai. How excited are you guys about this how and how did you end up filling this slot?

Fadi: We were contacted by JoScene, them being the organizers & promoters of the show, to take our place on the bill with Paradise Lost.

Serge: We had the seize the opportunity. They are one of the bands we grew up with and that influenced us musically. It is going to be a surreal feeling and one we have been looking forwards to since day one, even before the conception of Aramaic!

I would like to ask you some questions about playing metal in the United Arab Emirates. For example, I’m very curious what it’s like to make metal music over there? It seems there is quite a scene going on actually. So I guess there might be quite some misconceptions about that, right?  

Michael: Metal in the UAE has been around for 2 + decades (probably unexpected) but there has always been a following. From school kids to the older generation. Being a religious country, some might think that it is forbidden or frowned upon. The government does not seem to be particularly bothered by the music as long as its lyrical content does not offend a particular group or have explicit content. We have had many international bands coming through Dubai to play gigs, most without any issues.

Bands that have passed though the UAE: Nile, Mayhem, Hate Eternal, Katatonia, Obscura, Defiled, Metallica, In Flames, Testament, Sepultura, Iron Maiden, Mastodon, Opeth, Motorhead, Fleshcrawl, Megadeth, Korn, Machine Head, Arch Enemy, Yngwie Malmsteen, Epica, Anathema, Insomnium, Vader and countless others.

Do you have all the facilities available, like access to music, instruments and rehearsal spaces? Are there venues especially for rock/metal shows and do you get foreign bands over?

Serge: In our day and age, Internet made music readily accessible and available. There are a few decent rehearsal spaces in Dubai that are equipped with good musical equipment at reasonable prices (for this city).

Fadi: Not too many venues that appreciate this type of music. We do manage to play at various venues that are equipped to handle the heavy music.

Do you have to deal with any sorts of misunderstanding with what you are doing? Is there any form of censorship or anything?

Fadi: As long as there is no offense against a religion or faith, or against the government. No preaching about the devil, then we are all free to do what we do, within reason.

So, a bit of a history question, how did the metal scene in your country get started? Who were the pioneers?

Serge: Spyne, Eskimo Disco and Abhorred (Serge’s own band, ed.) were the pioneers (started in 1997) soon came Nervecell and we all know who they are \m/!

Nervecell is probably as big as it gets  when it comes to death metal in the UAE. The band was the first ‘local’ group to play at Deser Rock Festival and is signed currently to Lifeforce Records. You should probably check them out (particularly their latest album) (Ed.).

Any bands from your part of the world that other people really should check out (and why of course)?

Serge: Kaoteon – Extreme Black Metal from Lebanon, it is powerful, malevolent & heavy music!

Fadi: Kimaera – Death Doom Metal from Lebanon, heavy riffs, good song writing, catchy and heavy tunes!

Michael: Ascendant – Power & Heavy Metal from UAE, a great bunch of musician with exquisite taste in music

Ahmad: Blaakyum – Coz heavy fucking metal \m/

What does the future hold for Aramaic?

Ahmad: Releasing the long-awaited Aramaic album in the near future. Of course, play gigs, and hopefully, tour Europe in summer 2018

Is there anything you would like to add that I forgot to ask?

Michael: Catch us Live on the 8th of September at the Music Room supporting the almighty Paradise Lost and on the 3rd of November (venue still unconfirmed) supporting the doom legends Saturnus.

If you had to describe Aramaic as a dish, what would it be and why? 

Serge: Lasagna, its layers and layers of intense flavors soft, textured and velvety but certainly a deliciously heavy and intricate meal, full of spice.

 

Crossbones from Albania: Olsi Ballta speaks

Albania has started to emerge in the metal world in the middle of the nineties. The country had been in isolation for a long time and for me all I knew about it was the insane amount of bunkers that were built in this peculiar country on the Adriatic shores.

Though the country opened up in 1992 to an extent, it took till the turn of the millennium (including the Albanian Civil War in 1997) for the country to get the flow of information it has now. So metal music came to Albania and with vigour and fascination many people embraced the new music. The Albanian metal heads faced very different problems though, like a lack of instruments. This is where Crossbones emerges.

Crossbones has been around since 1996. Their album ‘Days of Rage’ was released in the troubled year of 1997 and maybe embraces something of the time and troubles the country was going through. I got founder Olsi Ballta to answer some question about metal in Albania and the history of the band, who have finally released a new record 20 years after ‘Days of Rage’. This one is called ‘WWIII’.

Crossbones from Albania

Hi, who are you guys and how did you get together as a band?

Our current line-up is:
Olsi Ballta – founder/vocals
The Napoloni – drums
Ben Turku – guitars
Klejd Guza – bass

We had a lot of line-up changes over the years. We came to a point where it was just just Klod (former and long-time guitarist of the band) and me. So we needed to revitalize the band. I got a call in 2010 from Theo (drums). We both studied visual arts at the Fine Arts Academy here in Tirana. So we met and started to rehearse. It seemed pretty good, the chemistry was right so he became the band’s drummer. His first official gig with Crossbones was in December 2010.

Ben (guitars) joined the band officially in 2014.  We previously invited him a couple of times as a guest guitarist for a few gigs. We also had a gig with his prog/metal band Inverse Horizon from Italy here in Tirana in 2011. So in April 2014, Ben took over guitar duties whereas Klod would play the bass because we had no permanent bass player. We continued like this until beginning of 2016 when Klod moved to Australia. So again no bass player. This is how Klejd joined the band and became our current bass player. He learned our songs pretty fast and gave the rhythm section a boost.

So this is how we got together in brief.

Tell us a bit about the history of Crossbones please.

Original official line-up:
Olsi Ballta – vocals
Arbi Xhelo – guitars
Klod Shehu – guitars
Alban Male – drums/keyboards
Redi Hasa – bass

It started as just a group of friends jamming together and learning to play some covers from bands we’d listen to. It was early 1996. Very soon we started to compose our own songs. That’s the idea of having a band. Writing your own music.

From there on the band prefers to refer to their bio. Due to the changes in the line-up it feels more fitting.

Crossbones is the most recognized metal act in Albania and the only band from the early days in the mid-nineties that kept going. Among countless gigs and performances, Crossbones have played aside Rock and Metal giants such as Ian Paice, legendary drummer of Deep Purple and as a direct support act for Greek Black Metal Legends of Rotting Christ.

How would you describe your sound as a band?

The sound has definitely evolved technically also due to technology and good equipment. We pay close attention to it and yet the DNA of it hasn’t changed. We care about it and of course the guys in their respective section is doing great on making the sound tight and genuine and also enriching it.

I understand that the Albanian metal scene developed quite late and that the period ‘85 – ‘90 was a period that was particularly hard in Albanian history when it comes to the conditions and poverty in the country. In what way did that affect and influence the way you guys started out? Was it hard to get your hands on stuff like instruments?

It is true that Albania was isolated for a long time. But as soon as the system changed, a whole bunch of rock/metal bands emerged almost instantly. It was like everybody was waiting for the iron curtain to fall. Rock was the means of expressing oneself. We were totally isolated and it was the time to scream and shout freely. And rock was the answer.

There was a lack of instruments and mostly everybody who was in a band would borrow an instrument from some other guy. And they were going around hand to hand. It was really difficult. Not to mention rehearsal places. We rehearsed in our friend’s basement in our early days. Everything was missing infrastructure wise… But not the will and passion to make music. They were really tough but great times.

What artists inspired you guys to start making metal music as, in a way, the first band in Albania ever to do so? Where there any other bands venturing towards metal in your country that inspired you?

We all have our favorite band and artists like Beatles, Stones, Doors, Hendrix, Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Megadeth, Dream Theater, Sepultura, Pantera, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Korn, RATM, RHCP, the list goes on.

We had quite a few names that started and belong to the first wave of Albanian rock/metal bands like Centaur, Thunderway, Megaherc, Shok, Akullthyesit and Djemtë e Detit just to name a few. So seeing bands like these emerging and writing rock songs, influenced us mostly like “why don’t we start a band?”

Your first album ‘Days of Rage’ is about to celebrate its 20th birthday. Even though you didn’t release any records since (as in albums), I understood that Crossbones remains an active band and looking to still grow and play outside of Albania. Why did you never release a follow-up?

Yes it’s true. “Days Of Rage” 20th anniversary is just around the corner. It is the very first rock/metal CD album released in Albania. We didn’t release any other official album mostly due to financial but also industry infrastructure. Still at this day, the rock scene in Albania is small. There is not too much attention to it. Anyway, there are festivals or events that dedicate time to rock music and even brought international names.

We are active. In fact we’ve always been active and present in the local metal scene as well as abroad. We are trying to play as much as we can in other countries where the rock/metal scene is bigger and the industry is present.

Here the band likes to refer to a bit of their bio:

Crossbones is the only metal band as well to ‘sell’ outside the Albanian borders and tour around and gaining international recognition. The band have played and headlined in many concerts and festivals in the local scene, as well as Italy, Greece, FYROM, Montenegro, Kosovo and recently toured in Baltics (Estonia and Latvia) 1-3 June 2017, organized by THP Production.

Looking back to that time, can you say a bit how ‘Days of Rage’ happened? How did you write the album and record it and how did that go?

We already had a couple of songs. So we decided to write more in order to have an album. And we did. We would go to the studio, rehearse, and record.1997 was a bad year for Albania and also international press was talking a lot about that. I took the title from a CNN TV report with the headline “Days of rage in Albania”.

It was a good title and the situation inspired a lot of the songs and not only those in the album. This record was a self-released album, but it was the first and a lot of friends and fans remember it. It was a really big deal to release that kind of product back in the day. I personally hand-painted the cover and the logotype and the whole production was handled by GEMA in Switzerland.

When we look back at this album, we go back in time and we can’t help but recall all that period of time, difficulties, laughs, and endless hours in the studio recording stuff for up to 3 songs in a day. It was like we had to do it fast otherwise we wouldn’t do it at all. It was this feeling of impatience to finish the record and send it to production. Every day we would ask about when it is going to come out and so on. It was a self-released record, a full album. And I would like to thank Arbi (former band member and co-founder) and his family for making this record possible. We released the first Albanian rock/metal CD album in Albania. This is really important because that album is a piece of Albanian rock history and this how we got recognition here but as well as outside Albania.

There are thrash songs, heavy metal, grunge, hardcore and alternative. It’s a mix but it was us (the original line up I mean). And we want and we definitely going to continue that. We are alive and kicking.

I understand most Albanian bands that wanted to record had to do so in Pristina or Skopje. How did that work out?

We were very lucky at that time because my friend and co-founder Arbi, had this home studio so we could do anything, rehearsing and recording. Other bands recorded there as well. The equipment used was really great for that period of time. But this was not so important to us. We were the first metal band to release a CD album in Albania. And this was big.

You’ve got a new album out. What are the plans for that and what can people expect?

We released our new album “WWIII” on January 13 2017 via Nadir Music Genova. It is a worldwide release, in stores and online, ITunes, Amazon etc. It is again, the first metal album from Albania released internationally and with a label. We are really proud of that. We want to present it in as many countries as possible. We’ve played it Greece and Italy beginning of this year and just had our first Baltics Tour with THP Productions from Latvia. We played in Tallinn, Narva and Riga.

It was great. International festivals are important as well so we are dealing with it. We are featured on Ultraje Magazine Portugal(hard copy) March-April edition CD compilation with “Gates Of Hell” and another compilation through Against PR Portugal which comes out on July 31 2017. We already have shot two music videos, one of them coming out shortly. Our new album “WWIII” is making quite a buzz since its launch in January 13, 2017. The news has spread throughout 3 continents, Europe, USA and Australia in about 50 webzines and portals with great reviews.

For this record we worked with the well-known producer and sound engineer Tommy Talamanca at his Nadir Music Studios who has mixed and mastered the album. The new record combines American thrash metal influences with a dark sound and typical East European sonorities. The result is an album created with the intention of hitting the ears hard without losing melodic passages and “catchy” riffs. An album where the recurring use of both English and Albanian languages marks a new way in the European post-thrash genre.

So how was the lead-up to releasing this album?

We were already writing new stuff in 2015 and we actually self-released a new EP titled ‘Alive’ on April 25, 2015. It had 3 songs and one of them was ‘Gjallë’ which means “alive”. The song is in Albanian language, so we decided to keep up and continue to write other new stuff. The new album “WWIII” was highly influenced by the recent events and conflicts. So the title and artwork clearly convey the intense violence and conflict of the recent times.

We sent a few demos from the new stuff at Nadir Music Genova in Italy and the guys decided to produce the whole album and also deal with its worldwide release. Our good friend Tommy Talamanca is the man behind the whole production of it. It came out really great. And this was pretty awesome because once again, Crossbones would be the first Albanian metal band from Albania releasing an album that anyone around the world could buy or listen to. It was a wider and broader representation of Albanian metal to the world. And we are really proud of it. Right now we are trying to expose it as much as we can through gigs or tours and of course reviews/interviews and also music videos.

Your country has been isolated for a long time, but after it opened up more it seems that you were in the middle of a high-tension zone with the wars in former Yugoslavia. How is the relation now with the metal scene in bordering countries?

In general mostly with Kosovo. But we have played in Skopje (FYROM) and Montenegro as well. I would love to play in all ex-Yugoslavia countries. We have no problem with that.

I read somewhere that there is very little physical music available due to a lack of means and the turbulent recent history of Albania. How do you feel about that?

It is the industry that is missing for rock/metal bands. This is important. And people don’t seem to care a lot about this. Maybe we are a very small market in terms of rock music. I hope it changes and improves.

Did you face censorship in the early days and how is that today? If someone would visit your country and was hoping to find some places that metal heads hang out, are there any bars, venues or record stores that are important to the scene?

We have played in many concerts and festivals, even those not related directly with music. No one ever told us “don’t do this or that”. Maybe censor is the part where we are not invited sometimes. Regarding places, we have a few good ones. You can either just have a beer or even listen a live band. Unfortunately mostly cover bands.

What is the secret to keeping a band together in such hard circumstances where bands usually seem to have come up in Albania only to fold after a couple of years. You guys have been together forever. How did you do it?

As I said before we had several line-up changes and this makes things difficult.

Actually I am the only original member of the band. But i think if there is a will, there is a way. I believe the best has yet to come and we are going to accomplish that together.

What future plans does Crossbones have?

To write a new album, tour around and gain more international recognition.

If you had to describe Crossbones as a type of food, what would it be?

Honestly, I don’t know how to answer this one but i can say it is east meets west, a mix of blends and flavours, musically speaking. I like to think that everybody who listens to our music can find one self. It’s all about connecting people and sharing your thoughts and emotions and be open.

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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.

Vaalghul Interview (Macedonia)

This is an interview conducted with Malthus from Vaalghul, originally published here on Echoes And Dust.

Metal is a many headed beast and mostly we hear about the bands that roam the western part of Europe or North-America. In the quest to find out what else is out there I stumbled onto the band Vaalghul from Macedonia. Now, just saying Macedonia causes bad blood, so usually the country is known as the Former Yugoslavic Republic Of Macedonia (FYROM). That depends on where you come from though.

I find that many people in my country don’t even know this place exists, which is quite interesting. It borders on Kosovo, which is another great unknown together with Albania. The main conflict concerning the countries name is with the southern neighbours, which is Greece. The country has bene heavily investing in its identity, even following a policy of antiquisation. Macedonian identity is a part of the music, Malthus readily admits, it seeps into things.

Vaalghul is a black metal band, which is currently unsigned. In 2014 the first EP was released and work is underway to fix the second release. Malthus answered them on e-mail and through the chat, because he’s currently residing in Australia.

Can you start with where the name comes from and how you started out with the band?
Vaal is the name of a demon, ghul is just an addition to give it a better sound. Vaalghul is the ‘Tyrant Overlord’ (God of Terror). The vocalist got that name when we were wondering about a band name a couple of years ago. There were some other options but we felt this fits pretty well. Back in those days we weren’t entirely sure if we would be doing something serious. Not that it was a joke of course. We came with some good ideas and then recorded the first demo. The production was very raw and almost impossible, but some people liked it.

We recorded the demo in the classic way with one guitar amp, a shit soundcard and then this is the result you get. There are many ideas behind this project, but one of them was making something different in our country. We wanted to be unique in our country with some extreme music.

The lyrics were satanic initially, but the point of them was to provoke people. Shake them up from their regular ways of drinking coffee on Main Street and gossiping. They enter the church when they have to and that’s that. We did enjoy writing the lyrics. I guess the Satanism is mainly provocative, but it also is a tribute to those who want to live free and do what feels good.

You’re using the name Malthus, can you tell me why you chose that name?

Source: Metal archives


In demonology Malthus is a prince of Hell and I liked the name. That’s why I took it.

Which are the bands that inspired you to get into heavy metal?
I’m not sure I remember what I was listening to, but I’m sure I listened a lot of Death, King Diamond,Psychotic Waltz, Iced Earth, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Dio and Slayer.

I read that you used to have some band members, what made you continue on your own? Which bands inspired you?
Yeah, I used to have some band members. We were three people in the band, but one of the members never had time to record, another had no time at all… It wouldn’t work out that way.

What made me continue was my passion for the music. I also had the time to write and record music. It’s not that I had big hopes, but I wanted to make everything more extreme and more provocative. I guess the biggest inspirations were Mayhem, 1349, Dark Fortress, Isegrim, Leviathan and Setherial for me.

How did you, living in Macedonia, get into metal music? Where there any local bands inspiring you?
I happened to have really good friends who were listening to all kind of metal music, when I was in my youth. My best regards to them! Actualy local bands were my inspiration and drive to record something new and more serious. There are lot of good bands though, but most are not my style but still unique in their own way.

Are you playing live shows?
Back in the early days we never had plans to play live. We did want to at some point, but we didn’t had a drummer who was up to the challenge. There are quite good shows in Macedonia though, even though most are hardcore shows. At least they’re very energetic.

I don’t think the hardcore scene is much bigger, but it’s just more acceptable to people. It’s hard to find a true black and death metal music fan…

I read you’re working on a new album. Can you tell a bit about the record, the artwork and the message you’re trying to convey?
It will take some time before I actually finish this album, it was supposed to be out a few months ago. It’ll be out sooner or later though. The vocalist of Septuagint (kick-ass band from Greece) will perform the vocals on the album as a guest musician. The artwork is going to be done by Gediminas Kiaunė (Manum Diaboli Art) from Lithuania. He is a really passionate artist, who makes the perfect artwork. If you need some artwork, he is your man. He just popped up on Facebook, which got my interest. I checked his work out and was amazed, so I got in touch and we struck a deal. I check his work again for new stuff every week.

source: band facebook

On the new release the lyrics will be more spiritual satanic, the message itself I’ll leave in the middle. Each can figure out their own from it.

What to you makes a band a black metal band?
It’s hard to give an answer to this that feels right. It depends, it can be thrashy, mixed with doom or anything these days. Many bands have been taking black metal to whole different levels. Look at bands like Dark Fortress mixing music but still good kick ass and still black metal maybe not pure like raw one line but still black metal. If you listen to the records ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ and then to ‘Ordo Ad Chao’, you hear two different worlds, but still both black metal. Both completely Mayhem. Uniqueness? I took these because of the good vocal range of the vocalists, Good “scream” “grim” cold evil vocals, good atmosphere in the music.

Can you tell a bit about the scene in Macedonia, its history and what bands are standing out according to you?
Sure, back in the 80’s it got serious here with bands like Orion and in the early 90’s. They played thrash/death metal with some excellent riffs and solo’s. On their tail followed bands like Dismay and Sanatorium. Later band like Arhont and Hall Of Sins rose up in the 00’s. Those are the most important names I think.

I also think they represent the spirit of metal in Macedonia. There’re only a few extreme metal bands, but they have a good history behind them. The same goes for most of these bands. When you have the time, take a listen to each one carefully.

I noticed there are more bands than I thought in Macedonia, but I hadn’t found them due to the Cyrillic writing. What makes bands chose either?
The Macedonian alphabet is in Cyrillic, so many bands just want to represent themselves in their own language, which is their choice. Personally, I prefer the English, because this way everyone can grasp your message, whatever the lyrics are. If you write in your mother tongue, it’s pretty hard for foreign listeners to get your lyrics and translating them is not really it I think. But what do I know, there are people who care nothing for the lyrics, so it doesn’t matter whatever language it is.

If I visit your country, what spots should I as a metal head definitely visit?
There are many great locations in Macedonia to visit, especially in Bitola. The city has a history behind it, but as a metal head I think only summer is a good period to visit. Usually people (metal heads) are gathering in the park, drinking a beer. A lot of people do that anyways.

There used to be some good places to hang out, but not anymore. The new generation of metal heads is trying to change that and I think they are getting there. There are no real record stores you could go to, the only choice is to buy music online or go to Thessaloniki in Greece. That’s an option since my city is close to it. There are gigs though.

I understood there’s quite a rivalry between Greece and Macedonia, based on a name and cultural dispute. Is that in any way tangible in the metal scene?
Yeah, a lot of people are curious and asking about that. For me, I have a lot of good friends in Greece here and there, these days not many people think the way about this as they did in the 90’s (when this was an actual political issue red.). Especially people involved in the metal scene and who don’t care or are against politics from both countries don’t care much for these issues. Governments are the problem I think, not the people.

Do you think anything of the Macedonian identity seeps into the music?
Yes definitely.

What future plans do you have with the band?
For now, it will be the new single that is going to be released. The album will be out later some time. Who know, for now when I think about the album release, I have no clue what’ll happen after.