Pagan times have seen renewed interest over recent years. Perhaps it’s slightly one-dimensional with a wide range of Viking themed music, tv-shows and even fitness events. But for those willing to look deeper, there’s such a wealth of ideas and cultures to be found that inspired to this very day. That is a large part of Belgian band Theudho.
Band member and founder J.S. has been making music for many years and is inspired by that remote past as well as the extreme music scene. These two have always combined well and with Theudho, he recently released ‘De Roep van het Woud’, which translates as the call of the forest. He was also kind enough to tell us about his calling, inspiration and work, with some good advice for those looking to find their own green cathedral.
Pagan past, notorious music and wandering the verdant realm with Theudho
Hi, Could you kindly introduce yourself and tell us a bit about Theudho?
I initially planned to use the name þeuđo, as I originally spelled Theudho, for a keyboard/synth project back in 2002. Things rarely go as they are planned; guitars and drums were eventually introduced and the music shifted towards black/pagan metal.
The first demo was recorded as a one-man band and released in 2003. It was a fuzzy lo-fi ordeal that nevertheless resulted in a record deal. By the time of the second album, Theudho had become a band with a full line-up that also performed live. However, for the fifth and latest album, I decided to return to the one man band formula.
As for myself, next to a passion for music, I early on developed an interest in pre-Christian Germanic mythology and culture. Next, to the appeal of the rather notorious local music scene, this is the reason why I started to spend considerable amounts of time in Scandinavia since the latter half of the nineties.
What originally inspired you to create this type of music? Which bands would you consider your inspirators?
As strange as it may sound, I actually became inspired to play this kind of music again when a friend (my partner in crime in the neo-folk/industrial/martial project Weihan) and I were backpacking in Ireland back in 2002. We visited loads of Celtic and even some Norse sites in the south, but especially some of the landscapes we witnessed just breathed the imposing atmosphere that is synonymous with a lot of classic second wave black metal. I just had to do something with these impressions.
There were quite a few worthwhile examples when it came to this kind of music. The early albums of Blut Aus Nord, Falkenbach and of course Bathory and Burzum specifically because they were one man bands too (at least at some point), but there is a whole array of Scandinavian, Slavic and even some German bands that I would consider inspirational.
You’ve been active in a number of bands, lately also with a new project named ‘Slithering Decay’. Can you tell something about your musical endeavors and the latest projects you are working on?
I’ve been in quite a few bands and projects in the last 25+ years. The latest band SlitheringDecay is inspired by all those great albums that were released in the Stockholm scene in the early nineties. I was in a death metal band too at the time, but we honestly lacked the skill and knowledge to write and perform music that was even remotely listenable. So this is basically a second attempt to pay tribute to that sound and feel. We released our first demo (tape!) last year and are currently writing our debut album. Hopefully, we will be able to release it later this year. We’re also looking into releasing another Weihan album.
Over the years, Theudho would appear to have embraced different aspects and themes in the realm of paganism, history and aesthetic representation on the album covers. Has this been a journey for you in a sense?
The lyrics have been inspired by themes from all over the Germanic realm, from the Bronze Age to Medieval times; that’s indeed quite a broad range. One could say that the lyrical themes gradually became a bit more obscure as obvious sources of inspiration were depleted early on. The additional issue is that a lot of bands are fishing in the same pond as far as lyrical inspiration goes, so it is a necessity to dig a bit deeper.
As for the aesthetics of the album covers, I tend to prefer actual paintings instead of photographs or digital art. We couldn’t find a suitable historical painting for the “When Ice Crowns the Earth” album, so that is the only one with a photograph as cover art. Definitely my least favorite one.
You’ve recently released ‘De Roep van Het Woud’ on Heidens Hart. What can you tell about this record and its message or concept?
The new album might surprise people as it does sound quite different compared to the old albums. The actual material is constructed differently as far as the compositions go. I use different guitar tunings and the philosophy behind the mix has changed, too. It sure sounds more “black metal”; most people seem to agree that this is the best Theudho album so far.
This time around I also chose to change the way I approached lyrics. The big change obviously is that all the lyrics are in Dutch. Instead of merely re-interpreting known tales or myths, most lyrics were conceived outside in interaction with nature or historical monuments or sites; trying to see heathenism as a living, continued tradition rather than a dusty literary one.
As I understand, you’ve done most of the work for this album by yourself. What made you chose to do that? Is it really a practical choice or is there perhaps also a sense of craftsmanship and creativity involved?
The main reason is convenience, really. The guys in the last full line-up are great musicians and people and greatly appreciate their contributions, but in general, I like to rely on other people as little as possible. The time was right to return to the original one-man band incarnation of Theudho and just do everything by myself.
How did the whole recording process and writing of the album take place? Where did you do most of the work and what sort of resources provide you with inspiration and input for the creative aspect of it?
I recorded everything at my own place. The writing and demo process was one phase where songs would get written, revisited after some months and then subsequently tweaked, re-written or even discarded.
When I finished the demos, I basically only kept the tempo tracks/metronome settings and redid the whole thing with a tighter, smoother and more convincing performance. The actual inspiration comes from a few different places, both literally and figuratively. I travel quite a bit, so there’s always new locations that leave an impression. Next to that, I tend to read a lot, so that offers a lot of new information and insights as well.
The title translates roughly as ‘The call of the forest’. Now, this may be a metaphorical forest of in general the call of a forest, but do you have a specific forest in mind and what makes it call so strongly?
The title of the album is not really meant to be taken literally. It refers to the contrast between the urbanized, Christian world versus untamed nature, which was regarded as “pagan”. The latter was obviously demonized, but ultimately still is the natural habitat in which mankind evolved for millions of years.
You specifically use the term pagan to describe your style of music. How do you relate paganism to life in this day and age? Is it a look backward or a re-application of ideas and is it more to you than a thematic vehicle for Theudho?
It is a philosophical stance in life – I hate to use the word religion because people seem to define religion by the characteristics of the cluster of Middle Eastern religions that dominate large parts of the world today. In the West, the modern consensus seems to be that being religious is synonymous with being intellectually challenged, mentally weak and inept in science, technology, … One only needs to visit countries in the Far East (where people have the highest IQ in the world, after all) to see that this contradiction doesn’t make sense and is unnecessary. It did not exist in Europe in Classical Antiquity for that matter, either.
As you deal with themes of Germanic history and mythology, you are probably bound to be misinterpreted at times (as seems to be the faith of many bands doing this) or even lumped into the NS category. Has this happened to Theudho and how do you view this matter?
Trying to comply with the sensitivities or correcting the misconceptions of others is a Sisyphean task. A much wiser man than me, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, already advised: “How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.”
Are there still interesting things happening in the black metal scene today and how do you feel about the whole shift in sounds with more progressive bands moving in different directions?
I have to admit that I’m not really keeping track of what’s new and worthwhile. My tape trading days are long behind me, my shelves are bulging as is and I don’t have time to listen to a lot of music. If something survives the initial hype or buzz, I’ll get to hear it sooner or later anyway.
Which bands from your neck of the woods would you recommend at this time?
I coincidentally got the new album of Kludde last week and I would definitely recommend giving it a listen.
Do you have any advice for those wanderers who are feeling ‘the call of the forest’?
“Wit is needful
to him who travels far:
at home all is easy.
A laughing-stock is he
who nothing knows,
and with the instructed sits.”
What future plans do you currently have with Theudho?
I can’t reveal too much at this point in time, but a Dutch band and I are talking about putting out some music together later this year as a split release. Besides that, I’m working on new material for the next album.
If you had to describe Theudho as a dish, what would it be and why?
Well, that’s an original and unexpected question. I guess horse meat would be appropriate. Why? Christians outlawed the consumption of horse meat because it was a heathen custom. I’m sure it still offends a fair share of people even today.
Europe has a wealth of nations with separate identities and traditions, but in some occasions even between those countries, you find identities. The Basque country, partly in Spain and partly in France, is an ancient culture with a language that differs from anything else on the continent. Iluntze is a product and an expression of that identity.
Synder is the sole member behind the band and is currently (at the time of our contact) residing in the far another side of Europe, studying in Lithuania. He was kind enough to tell something more about his project, origin and the meaning behind Iluntze.
Iluntze from Basque Country
Tell me about Iluntze, how did this project get started?
Hello there! Well, Iluntze is a music project that helps me to elaborate my music ideas. I had some other music bands in the past, from high school rock covers bands to different failed projects, from Folk to Death metal. Mostly, the main problem was the coordination with band members and the different music perspective we had. When I moved to Bilbao in 2015 to start my university studies, my interested in black metal started increasing. This events mixed with my interest around Medieval-Ancient period and my craving to record my own creations gave birth to Iluntze. Going back to 2016, when I recorded my first demo, I realize that maybe I should have waited more and work more in the songs and process of recording. I didn’t have any proper equipment to record and my skills in this field were really low. This made me simplify my songs and to don’t allow me to record the lyrics of Ama Ilargia Ama Eguzkia (Mother moon, Mother sun) and Iluntze.
What does the name mean and what is its origin?
Iluntze means dusk. The root -IL is old, even found in inscriptions from Roman times, and it can be understood as ¨Night or Death¨. This word root is really interesting for me since many words have it, such as Ilargi (Moon), -IL (Night, death)+argi (light) or Hilerri (Graveyard), -IL (Death)+ Herri (Village). This interpretation of Night and death is really related to the Basque mythology, where the Day was the daytime of the living beings and the Night was one of the death spirits. So, Iluntze basically means ¨The process of turning night¨. I just liked the name and its sonority and I think I was right choosing it.
You identify as Basque musician with lyrics in this language as well, and themes derived from it. Can you tell me something more about this and what it is your music really is telling?
I really like this theory that explains how your main language influences your way of think thanks to how the language rules interact with your brain (Probably this is quite poorly explained haha). Well, besides I speak some few languages besides Basque, when I think about Iluntze and when I play music, my mind thinks in Basque. Since I was a child, I have been into European history (and Prehistory, Paleolithic times and so on), especially, into medieval years. The city where I come from (Pamplona-Iruña) and the landscapes surrounding it probably had some influence in my music but when I focus in the storytelling, my main inspiration is my own interpretations of Basque mythology and history. You can perceive some kind of nostalgia about old times attached to some rejection of the modern world. We also have auto-parody style lyrics like in Itziarren Semea (The son of Itziar- the name of my mother), where we see some kind of medieval parody of my character.
The artwork and whole style is very typical, what bands inspired you for your sound and the mood of Iluntze? I am mostly reminded of some of the French bands like Peste Noire on their La Chaisse-Dyable.
I am very happy with the overall result of the artistic part of the last demo. The Digifile edition released by Dawn of the Murk (Darkwoods) is really beautiful and the Illustrator, Alvaro M. Buendia did a splendid job. PesteNoire, musically, is one of my biggest influences and I kinda think that this influence can be perceived in my music. But mostly, depends in what I want to share when I think about making a new song. Sometimes, Dissection, Burzum or Isengard makes a big impact at the time of creating the song but when I’m in a rancid and musty mood, Peste Noire style arises. Their first works are masterpieces and I especially love ‘Ballade cuntre lo Anemi francor’, really nice artistic style and very melodic sounds.
You are currently located in Lithuania, has that made the desire to make music about your land of origin more strong? And how did you end up there?
Currently, I have been living in this country for almost a year, although I’m coming back to Basque Country in a few weeks, to finish my studies and continue working on Iluntze. Well, firstly I came here to continue my studies but it seems I have found a deeper feeling towards this country, its forests, and people. Lithuania is a big musical inspiration, by its landscapes, history, and culture. For future Iluntze’s work, I will try to reflect this influence, maybe with Lithuanian Folkish influences or even singing in the language.
Iluntze was born in Basque Country and developed in those lands full of mountains. But this time expended in Lithuania is understood as meditation and inspirational. In this time, even though I haven’t created any music for Iluntze besides a few lyrics, I’m trying to improve my clean voice and focus Iluntze’s future.
You’ve recorded 2 demo’s this far, Antzinako Oihartzunak being the latest. What can you tell me about this release and the effort behind finding your sound with Iluntze?
The effort given and done behind this last release has been much bigger than in the first demo. I think that I have evolved the quality of the composition and started defining a sound direction. I was lucky to made contact with the label Darkwoods who has supported me a lot. I wanted to work in a proper way the artistic part of Iluntze so I contacted with Alvaro for that. Finally, I tried to improve my skills with music production, so overall, I think that this last demo has been a big step for Iluntze. To summarize, better songs, better production, beautiful physical edition, and nice collaborations have been archived this year. I hope that my next demo will at least as big improvement compared with the previous one.
How do you go about the recording and writing process for these records? Do you do everything by yourself and is it in one session or over multiple? And how do you craft the songs?
Till this last demo, I have done everything, from playing to recording, besides the mastering of Antzinako Oihartzunak. First of all, I create the melodies and riff with the guitar and later I start with the drums (by computer), that helps me to give a structure to the songs. When the drums are done, I start making the bass line and recording it. Later, I record the final version of the guitars with a shitty microphone and my amp. In the meanwhile, I think and write the lyrics so when all the instrumental parts are recorded, I record the voice. Quite a lot of work, so for futures demos, EP or LP I will try to search for collaborations.
Can you tell me more about the Ignis Fatuus collective?
We are a powerful lobby with the only objective of world domination through money control. In our free time and good days, we just name our self as Ignis Fallus.
Regional identity in Spain is very important. As you identify as Basque can you tell me how you view this and how it works through in Iluntze?
Well, since my mother language is Basque, my culture and traditions are Basque and my ancestors were Basque I obviously identify myself as Basque. This does not mean I do not like Spain or France. Both are beautiful countries with many positive (and negative) things to say about them. Being part of the Spanish state, I should not be fool rejecting this fact and reality. Iluntze has received a lot of support from Spain and I really appreciate that. But, on the other hand, Iluntze’s reality is Basque, from the atmosphere I try to create to the message of the lyrics, and probably that’s one of the most important characteristics of the band.
Can you tell me a bit more about Basque metal? Particularly that which employs the Basque language. When did this get started and which bands were the first to do it?
I would say that the metal is still popular in Basque Country, probably by its side relation with the Punk. Personally, I don’t know much about the Metal status in the French Basque Country. I know that Gojira is from there but they may not identify themselves as Basques. Besides that, I know plenty of basque metal bands that sing in Basque. I’m not an expert on this topic but probably one of the most influential bands has been SU TA GAR, classic speed heavy metal. Taking it to my terrain -black metal- Triarchy of Vasconia split is really important. It was a nice collaboration in 2001 between 3 Basque Black-Folk bands –Ilbeltz, Adur and Aiumeen Basoa.
Which bands from your region should people really check out?
Since the beginning of the century, we still have other good black metal bands, as Nakkiga or Numen. From Iginis Fatuus we have Aehrebelsethe, who recently released its first work. And finally, last week I discovered a new death metal band that sounds really brutal, Bullets of Misery.
Going out from metal, I would recommend folk artist as BenitoLertxundi or Mikel Laboa. I cannot forget about other bands as Hertzainak or Kortatu. Well, thinking about this in a deeper way, there is a strong local music environment in the Basque Country so I recommend everyone to check it out.
What future plans do you have for Iluntze?
Exiting question! There are many plans going on. First of all, I will start recruiting members so we will be able to play live. Second of all, I’m coming back home in the following weeks so I will start creating Iluntze’s next demo. This demo is gonna be something big, some kind of double demo where we will find my own songs in one side and black metal covers of traditional Basque songs in the other one. In the meanwhile, I will probably record a couple of songs for a split between the bands of Ignis Fatuus. I will reprint the design of the first t-shirt due to its success and at the same time, work in a new one with the singer of No Sanctuary. Many more things are in my mind but probably it’s too soon to reveal them
If you had to describe Iluntze as a dish, what would it be and why?
Roasted chestnuts (and if there are worms inside, more protein for the body haha). Well, you need to fight to open them but once it’s done you find something really tasty and hot ;).
Band: Wrang Label: Tour de Garde Origin: Netherlands
With this album, Wrang is dedicating the music to their home city of Utrecht. It’s also known as the Domstad and as you can see, that’s what the title refers to. This is their first full-length, titled ‘ Domstad Swart Metael’. Truth be told, it’s quite the remarkable display of Dutch black metal!
Members from the group have also been active in Weltschmerz, Grafjammer, Nevel and IronHarvest, but of course many, many more. Their debut full length is only five tracks, but what a pummeling force of violence it contains.
Well, let’s destroy everything today with a wry smile on our faces, right? Wrang launches into the anthemic title track with gusto. ‘Domstad Swart Metael’ is an 8-minute show of force with an overwhelming opening and visceral patterns, all interwoven in violence. The music is particularly tight, with here and there some surprising chanting passages by the Utrecht black metallers. Singer Galgenvot is particularly present throughout the record, but on ‘Propaganda der Afvalligen’ we also hear some kick-ass guitar riffs with a bit of a classic heavy metal vibe coming on.
Regardless, the band sticks to doom and gloom, with heavy sizzling passages, like that fire and brimstone intro of ‘Stormend naar de Nietigheid’. It’s a song full of capturing melodies and darkness, delivered very meticulously once more. The driven pace is whipping the song up in a frantic bit of violence, but how good is that? The song builds to its rabid crescendo and then it simply falls apart. It’s only a prelude to the violent upheaval that is the final tune of the album. This record firmly establishes Wrang as one of the slickest and bad-ass black metal bands from the Netherlands, and that’s saying something!
Label: Independent Band: Realm of Wolves Origin: Hungary
‘Oblivion’ is the first full-length of this Hungarian trio, Realm of Wolves. Formed in 2018, the band has moved fast in their trajectory to create a debut after a demo and EP. The album comes in at the right point in between black metal and post-rock, so probably not suitable for hardliners.
It takes little effort to connect the band Realm of Wolves to what I should call, by now, my favorite Hungarian metal artist Ferenc Kapiller. You may be familiar with his work in VVilderness and Release The Long Ships. His participation definitely is partly responsible for the meandering, warm vibe of the sound and hallucinatory effect it has on the listener om this excellent post-black metal record. Members Stvannyr and Ghöul also play in BlackHill, SilentIsland, and Ephilexia.
As the melodic tunes open up on ‘Cascadia’, the title already tells us something of what to expect. Acoustic tremolo picking accompanies the swooning sound, which sounds warm and comforting. As we launch into ‘Ignifer’, we launch into something larger than life. The lyrics deal with the natural realm and clearly the Cascadian aspect runs deeper than aesthetics as the sonorous tune runs on. ‘Old Roots’ adds a bit more power to that whole sound, with some stomping rhythm and forceful delivery, but overall the listener can easily flow through this record as it just moves along.
‘Translucent Stones’ offers a beautiful little intermezzo of folkish music, with that melancholic yearning that permeates the music of Realm of Wolves. It’s all melody and storytelling, with here and there some gritty, gnarly vocals, as we hear on ‘Twelve Miles To Live’. All in all, this album is a pretty fantastic one, though there is the risk of just flowing away on the tunes. This is that ambient/post-rocky vibe in their music, which I love very much. An impressive debut for certain.
Band: Guðveiki Label: Fallen Empire Records Origin: USA/Iceland
A lot of stuff that comes out from Iceland is cool, but this band is partly American and that probably puts a little twist to the sound of Guðveiki. I’ve been trying to puzzle together how this group got together for their debut album ‘Vængför’, but I have to guess at that.
One of the few communal factors among the mountain of bands these gents have been involved in is Martröð, as this connects guitar player A.P. and Wormlust’s H.V. on vocals it seems. ChaosMoon then connects drummer J.B. and guitar player S.B., who both played in AccursedMoon. Other names on the resumés include Krieg, Skàphe, Vital Remains and much more. Oh, now I forgot Þ.I.from Endalok on guitar and atmosphere.
But really, nothing can quite prepare you for ‘Fóstureyðing stjarna’. The onslaught of death metal battery, unholy howling and barking are unlike anything. Solid death metal with a tinge of black and that creepy intro, it absolutely crushes! Vocally, you already know to expect utter madness with H.V. as he does with his own project. During ‘Blóðhunang’ it is almost as if his voice curls around the guitar riffs and binds them into a soggy swamp of sonic despair.
‘Hin endalausa’ continues the surge and I can’t really add anything to what I said before. The drum assault takes on a more cavernous and at times even industrial vibe as we progress into the title track. The singing almost feels like Attila Csihar’s ritualistic murmurings in some of his stranger projects. That is even more so the case on ‘Gullveigar sverðsins’, which has these claustrophobic melodies and ever encroaching riffs that make you feel trapped. We finally come to full release on the more traditionally laid out ‘Undan stormi eiturtára’, though that mad shrieking, the coiling sound is still there and, honestly, I’m almost happy to escape this utter madness. What a piece of sonic violence!
It seems that the creation of ‘Shrine of the Ancient Gods’ has been a process of multiple years for the Georgian band Iahsari. The first songs were released back in 2016 and without a labels backing the band steadfastly worked on the creation of their masterpiece. And what a grand piece of work it has become.
‘Shrine of the Ancient Gods’ takes a page out of the books of melodic death metal, folk, operatic metal and what not, to create an epic work of great proportions. Taking a number of musicians, guests and the old stories of their native land, they’ve created a piece of storytelling that can’t be denied. An album that captures, rocks and tells the story.
String instruments set an urgent intro to the record, connecting the vibe to the ancient lands they hail from with flutes and all. There’s a cinematic quality to the music of Iahsari, because after these three minutes you’re deep into the story already when the blaring horns welcome you to ‘Unbowed (Blood of Colchis)’, referring to an ancient Georgian kingdom from Hellenic times. It helps that the track stays in the flow of the intro for a while, before one tasty guitar lick and the synths take up the story. Operatic vocals are the surprising first singing entrance, with traditional drums following in the outro. By this point, I have to state that this record is something special.
As the journey continues with ‘Sirenum Scopuli’ and ‘Shatilis Asulo (Maiden Of Shatili)’an experience follows that most closely resembles the big, operatic performance of Therion on their Gothic Kabballah. Big vocal parts, choirs chanting and guitars that hark back to the traditional heavy metal days of IronMaiden and Saxon. The vocals of Marian Chakvetadze and the male backings do most of that, but the intricate melodies and complex musical structure add a layer of grandeur to that. Moving onwards, we go into more tempered waters with ‘Gelino’ up to ‘The Dream’. The music is simply soothing, the voice angelic and never is it really getting rowdy or more intense.
That greater flow of the record helps in the story, which climaxes with ‘Old Man’s Grief’. A gentle tune, that swells in intensity to operatic proportions and riffs that claw at the sky. The synths really do the atmospheric work here to get one final swing at eternity before it fades away.
Illuntze is a Basque black metal band, densely atmospheric and enriched with folky textures. ‘Antzinako Oihartzunak’ is the second demo by the band, released with a medieval-referring cover, featuring 6 haunting songs.
Sole member Synder is a member of the mysterious Ignis Fatuus Collective, which connects Illuntze to bands like Sepulchral, Arvalastra and Aehrebelsethe. Synder is currently staying in Vilnius, Lithuania. One of my favorite places in the world.
Iluntze immediately grabs the imagination on ‘Itziarren Semea’, with the odd folky texture, that at times, musically, resembles the work Peste Noire delivered in recent times. The traditional sounds and ramshackle black metal combine into a peculiar, migratory experience to the Basque origins int he music. Listen to the passionate intro of ‘Suaren Garrasia’ for example, to hear something very different than the rustic, static Scandinavian sound.
The jangling sound is unnerving and rather peculiar but also carries a power. The songs like ‘Goiztiri’ hit hard with that high-pitched tremolo riffing and edgy delivery. Razor-sharp to the point of painful. From the lo-fi quality to the ragged riffs, the whole record sticks to you with its mysterious uniqueness, much like the language used for the lyrics that simply eludes me at any turn. A great second outlet by Iluntze and I can’t wait for a full-length!
Label: Self-released Band: Himelvaruwe Origin: The Netherlands
Himelvaruwe is a Dutch band that has been around, releasing surprising material, over the past few years. ‘Hemelpoort’ follows in the wake of numerous EP’s and demo’s, shaping the sound to this piece of work, that captures what the project is all about.
The mastermind of the band is Tjalling Jansen, who under various monikers releases music as AncientMorass, Kaffaljidhma, Mirre, Olxane and, thus, as Himelvaruwe. It’s a particular project with a distinctly noisy/ambient sound, setting it apart. As the title translates as a gate of heaven, the keys depicted on the cover are a quite obvious reference.
Droning, doomy church bells open up the record with ‘Aanvang’. The sound captures some horrendous, abysmal voice, but never quite clarifies its reality as we roll into ‘Morgenster’. Crushing static is crackling in the speakers as a slow, mournful dirge unfolds. In a strange way, the sound distorts and muddles so much that the origin is impossible to determine and an aura of sheer mysticism is evoked.
By the point of ‘Onderwerping’, you’ve entered a state of mind, that is completely immersed in the music. The crackle of distortion and slow melodies become a warm bath. You submerge in a cloudy realm, very different to the one we normally inhabit. Ethereal chanting emerges from that fog, as the rhythm continues like a demented train with metallic clanging and hammering. It is there, you reached the ‘Hemelpoort’ as the album slowly falls apart into an exit tune after this long ascend.
Himelvaruwe does something exceptional on this album, both with the sound and the whole of the listening experience. I recommend putting it on, turning it up and submerging in it.
Label: Metal Blade Band; Downfall of Gaia Origin: Germany
Rarely does a band blow you away so much as Downfall of Gaia does. The Germans have just released ‘Ethic of Radical Finitude’ and its a towering piece of powerful black metal. Atmospheric doesn’t do it justice, because this record rocks with accessible, grand guitar play and convincing showmanship throughout its 6 songs.
As a band, this is their fifth full length since their inception in 2008. Though the base structure is very much lying on the foundation of black metal of the atmospheric type, the band leans outward to the post-metal and crust scene in their stylistic wanderings. In that sense, they’ll probably never really leave their roots behind. The result is a colorful piece of extreme metal, full of consciousness and meaning.
Lyrically, it’s abundantly clear that Downfall of Gaia focuses on more abstract and complex topics. It explains their wordy titles I suppose. The looming darkness descends as we start with the intro ‘Seduced by…’, setting the scene. But then the veil is lifted on ‘The Grotesque Illusion of Being’, with ascending black metal, that ever pulls you up higher onto your toes. The crusted, grimy vocals really add to the feeling of unworthy beckoning of the heavens, as crisp clear sound contrasts heavily with that hoarse bark. But the track to really fall in love with is ‘We Pursue The Serpent of Time’, with that tribal drumming intro, that just keeps going as the song slowly builds up. It turns violent and the guitars move faster all the time, but always it follows a wavering pattern, like that of mountain peaks in its brilliance.
‘Guiding Through A Starless Night’ is a whole different beast. Unleashing a torrent of tremolo guitars, it just rages on and on, till al lull in the sound comes on. Spoken word passages follow with dark, melancholic words. Spoken by a woman in clear tones, with a slight tremble. But it also has these uplifting waves, those sonic enhancers of your mood and state of mind. But there’s also definitely a romantic side to Downfall of Gaia. ‘As our Bones Break to the Dance’ captures that in lyrics, but also in its melancholic vibe. yet this is one hell of a track for the rhythm section, as the blast beats just reign supreme here with a pounding, pavement cracking intensity. Hell yeah! It even falls into some horrendous barking and shouting, like barren, blazing black metal for a bit there. Good stuff!
By the time you get to ‘Of Withering Violet Leaves’, you’ve been beaten up enough. You’d think, right? Sonorous singing and wavering guitar work, an ocean of sound to dwell in, to float away in as the music is gentle and swooping, slowly fading out. A beautiful record for sure.
Armenia is mostly known for things like the Kardashians and Dan Bilzerian. Yet it has a long and rich history to explore. Unfortunately, this is hardly known but if it’s up to bands like Ildaruni, that is about to change.
Situated near the cradle of civilization, at the crossroads of east and west, Armenia has a wealth of stories to tell. Bonding their talents into a force to be reckoned with, Ildaruni is here to illuminate the world.
I got in touch with Robert Melksetyan, Garbis Vizoian and Arthur Poghosyan II about their band, the history, and myths of Armenia, and playing black metal.
Ildaruni: into the depths of time
Can you tell me about Ildaruni and how you guys got together?
Robert: I have always wanted to have a band oriented towards a mix of both black and pagan music since I have always felt closest to these two genres. I had come to know that Arthur (drummer) and Garbis (bassist) were also interested in said genres; I also knew that Arthur had played before in some folk bands. We met and decided to form the foundation of our band. By that point, I had already known Arthur in person, but we have never had any experience playing together in a band.
Garbis: I met Robert back in early 2016 through a mutual friend of ours when I heard that he was looking for a whistle player for this very same project. We first met on that basis, but when upon discussing the nature of the band in more detail, we figured it was much more fitting if I joined in as a bass player and writer. At the time, I was searching for a band with folk and mythological influences in order to utilize and further develop my writing skills. Robert’s timing of this project was simply too good not to join in since the project thematically complemented my writing direction at the time. As such, I took the project as an opportunity to delve deeper into the more forgotten aspects of our ancient pagan culture, such as some of the lesser-known ritualistic and mystical sides of our culture, while also unearthing some of the very specific but generally forgotten events from our history. All the while, helping Robert lyrically and to some extent also compositionally, produce and play the songs that we have written so far.
Alright, so you did play in previous bands? Can you tell me which these were and what you played?
Arthur: I used to play in a couple of other bands before Ildaruni. It was ArborMortis(black metal project) and Araspel(folk/heavy metal). I also have another active band called The Windrose. There we play just pure Armenian and Celtic folk music
Can you tell me something more about the name of the band and what sort of music you make? What bands inspired you to go in this direction?
Garbis: Regarding the name of the band. Ildaruni is the ancient pagan name of the second largest river that flows through Armenia, currently known as Hrazdan River. As to why we chose Ildaruni as the band’s name, well more so than anything, it is a veneration of life and legacy. Hrazdan River or Ildaruni, has been flowing through our highlands since time immemorial. It has provided life to our people for millennia ever since civilization existed in these lands and as such, we wanted to extend our gratitude and potentially bestow Ildaruni the glorification it deserves. Also, one of the few ancient inscriptions that survived to this day, is a chronicling of the massive efforts spent by king Rusa II of the Van Kingdom (the time period our first length album is based on) in building canals along the Ildaruni River and all the perks that the river has bestowed upon his people. Taking into consideration the thematic focus of our songs around the Van Kingdom, it is only fitting that the name of our band is one of the most venerated and blessed sources of life during those pagan times. I guess Robert can talk more regarding the sort of music we make, since he composes the music.
Robert: In the genre that we play, the inspiration to compose has primarily been from bands like Enslaved, Rotting Christ, Nokturnal Mortum, Dissection and Drudkh. Those are all bands that were able to carve new paths and steer black metal in an unprecedented direction. Musically, they were able to reach new heights and retain compositional prominence. The compositions of said bands are so rich, both as a result of their unique atmosphere and their functionality as compositions, that I can listen to them constantly and still discover new aspects and details within their songs. I’m awestruck every time I think about the way these bands have created masterpieces so frequently and within such short amounts of time, that have such high values for the overall metal world.
Regarding the sort of music that we play, we generally compose within the Black metal genre, but naturally, just as with any metal band, we occasionally make use of compositional structure from other genres as well. For example, in our music you may notice the occasional influence from Thrash metal, just as in any other Black metal band. The core of our music also has folk music as one of our main influencers. The composing process of which has proved very difficult and lengthy endeavor, since it requires a lot of concentration and maximum attention to the composition at hand. But overall, the genre that we compose in when putting the music and lyrics together, could be classified as Pagan Black, which in reality is a much better genre than most people come to realize.
You mentioned that the inspiration for your pagan metal is the very much forgotten ancient pagan past of the Armenian highlands and the myths. As most people are probably unaware of those, would it be possible to tell more about this time and history? And how do you work them into your music?
Robert: Our paganism had a massive, undeniable presence within the daily lives of our ancient ancestors. Needless to say, as is the case in the ancient chronicles of most countries, Christianity took over with violence, killing en masse, the oppression of pagans. Setting aflame all the knowledge, temples, artifacts and every scroll, book and manuscript regarding our pagan past, which could have helped us massively to study and reveal more about our mythos and ancestors. Armenian paganism had a large number of gods and goddesses. It shares many similarities with the ancient Greek pantheon of gods, in terms of how deep and rich it goes.
Through the texts that we write, we touch on various periods of pagan Armenia. On subjects that revolve around not just historical events but also some of the hidden pagan cults who functioned during those times. Our songs mostly echo Van Kingdom’s struggles against the Assyrian Empire, retellings of warfare and also some unsung victories and struggles of certain kings. It is possible to find a lot of information through our songs, regarding some cults and certain hubs of pagan worship, which demands a lot of research, source gathering and textual refining to write about.
Garbis: Regarding how we incorporate the myths and history into our songs; it has all become quite systematic now to be honest, i.e. taking the concept from point A to point Z, regardless though, the process itself is where the art lies. It usually starts with a single event, concept, geographical location, a historical character, a pagan ritual that would pop up in our conversations. Usually, things that are quite vague and unheard of, quite the revelations even for us. Then comes the long and arduous section of research and source-hunting. Considering the unknown nature of these specific events and concepts, this step is usually one of the longer ones in terms of how long it takes to achieve, albeit one of and if not the most important step.
Afterwards, it goes either two ways, usually I take on the historical subjects, i.e. specific historical events or characters, study whatever sources we have gathered and by that point, I would already have the music composed and prepared by Robert. I repeatedly listen to the very early versions of whatever composition we are working on, while I write down the lyrics as I gather all the events and sources into a compositional retelling of sorts of said events. In a way that all the sources and facts connect and make sense. For the concepts and subjects that have to do specifically with the paganism and spiritual aspects of our culture, Robert lays down the overall groundwork after a thorough study and research of the subjects at hand then passes them down to me. I proceed by translating and writing them down in a lyrical format in order to keep a persistent lingual theme in between the rest of our compositions. Finally, it’s only a matter of working together in finalizing the editing in order to have the final lyrics fit the vocal range of our vocalist, alongside any necessary changes in order to have our lyrics and music complement each other, to best represent the specific concepts or events that we’re aiming to bring forward into public eye.
Am I correct in assuming you are talking about the kingdom now called Urartu? What time period are you talking about more precisely and can you maybe share a brief explanation about the pagan tradition, what its believes where and myths? What do these traditions mean to you and why did you chose to go this direction? Is it simply storytelling, identity or a source of pride?
Robert: Yes, that is correct. Urartu goes by different names; most historians call it Araratian or Van Kingdom. If you also check out some of the old Behistun inscriptions, you’ll notice that different nations at the time also called Urartu various other names. In our lyrics you can read specific events that occurred throughout different periods of the Van Kingdom, it’s derived from the entire historical timeline of Van Kingdom’s rule. There is no singular specific year or date that the demo album or the subsequent, potential full-length is based on but rather various specific events, dotted throughout the entirety of Van Kingdom’s history. Also, as mentioned before the lyrics don’t revolve solely around historical events but also conceptual ideas and representations of ancient pagan cults and rituals.
If I were to single out a single one, I find the myth regarding “Mher’s Door” or “Raven’s Rock” as it’s called, very attractive and interesting. It’s a sacred cave near the fortress of Van, where according to myth Little Mher, the final hero in the epos of “Daredevils of Sassoun”. He shut himself inside the cave as a furious retaliation against the world’s injustices. According to the sagas, Mher comes out of the cave atop his horse, traverses the earth but convinced that the earth could not possibly handle his weight and seeing the still prevailing injustices, he returns to Raven’s Rock. It is prophesized that one-day Mher will ride out one last time; to punish the enemies of his people and establish the justice he has long desired, thus will beckon the Day of Wrath. Speaking of Raven’s Rock, the artwork of our demo album, done by our own guitarist Mark Erskine, is a depiction of the legendary “Mher’s Door”.
Thank you, I would like to ask you then, as said above, what these traditions mean to you and why did you chose to go this direction? Is it simply storytelling, identity or a source of pride? In other words, I’m interested in your personal relation to this topic. Maybe to elaborate even further on this, very often any sort of ancestral themes or historic topics can be regarded as political. Perhaps that is something you’d like to respond to?
Robert: Our pagan history and traditions are a source of pride for us. Armenian’s rich ancient past tells of such glorious stories of our ancestral heritage, rich myths and important historical events that impacted greatly on the foundation of our country and defined Armenia and its people as we are today.
We do not consider our lyrics to be politically motivated and they have no reference to modern day or historical political events.
We want to showcase all aspects of ancient Armenia, especially the hidden and lesser-known aspects of our history to our Armenian audience as well as to people in other countries.
We have an interest in the Van Kingdom period which is often forgotten about as there is little information on the era. Writing and playing about our ancestors’ pagan beliefs, traditions, mythology and history is another way of preserving it and we aim to keep the period alive by mixing our ancestral roots with Black metal.
Garbis: I would say it’s all three in conjunction with one another, our identity is our source of pride and what better way to retain our identity and pride than with a little bit of good storytelling. We have taken this direction because there is a dire need of preservation, regarding these topics; especially the specific events that are generally overlooked and aren’t covered in your average school history book. In an increasingly digital world, historical texts are more and more left on the wayside. If our songs manage to instill interest and drives as many as a handful of people to conduct further research in extension to what our lyrics pertains, then I’d personally consider our project a success. Naturally, our ambitious scope is much larger than that.
No, I would consider our output to be completely apolitical. Certainly in this day and age, the political nature of any subject at hand has become a personal matter. Any subject may be wrapped with a political mantle, if the consumer of said subject wishes it to be so. Having said that, as artists we wouldn’t want that fact to hinder us from producing and achieving the primary objectives of our work, which is to unearth and preserve the lesser known parts of our rich and very ancient history. As such, as composers we steer away from tailoring our work to per consumer’s political standing or beliefs, just as well, we do not let our own personal beliefs or political ideologies tarnish the primary objective of presenting our history as accurately as possible.
I would like to continue to your music. Do you use any of the historic or traditional music or instruments in Ildaruni? And if so, what are these? If not, are you intending to do so?
Robert: I compose the majority of our music and we collectively add or remove certain parts of the composition during our rehearsal sessions. In our songs we use whistle and dap, which is a type of traditional Armenian drum. The whistle gives an eerie tone to the music to create an atmospheric ambience to our songs. In future recordings we are going to use a type of Armenian bagpipe called a parkapzuk, which differentiates from other instruments with its uniquely attractive sound. The sound transports you back to ancient life in the Armenian highlands.
Before writing the folk elements of our songs we invest time researching the traditional sound, trying to find ancient melodies to help us reconstruct the historical Armenian sound and to replicate the sound of the instruments we use in as close a way as possible to the music played by our ancestors. When it comes to the creative process of composing the music, we make the sound our own while using the influence of Armenian folk music.
Alright, so what can you tell me about the debut release ‘Towards Subterranean Realms’?
Robert: Towards subterranean realms had been set for release at an earlier date but due to some band issues, like a change of line-up, the release date had to be moved forward.
Our demo is a small taste of what to expect in our full-length album, we already have some great material written.
As we mentioned, the general goal of our music is to present lesser-known excerpts from ancient Armenian paganism and mythology, which are often overlooked or forgotten.
We have had a positive response following the release of our demo which makes us progress to reach new goals.
I wonder how your music, with its themes, is received in your country. Do you face any detractors like bands in Western Europe would have (often accused of nationalism or worse)?
Also how are those sentiments, since I learned that many Armenians live across borders (from my contact with the band Avarayr)?
Robert:Our music was met with positive feedback in both Armenia and abroad. Before we formed Ildaruni, there were other Armenian bands that played pagan black metal, so this genre was already known about and popular in the Armenian metal scene.
We haven’t received any problems as a result of our music. We try to deviate from politics or any kind of movements. Instead, our musical themes revolve around our culture, our pagan history, our ancestor’s beliefs, mythology and the historical representation of some aspects of pagan occultism.
Would you say that metal music is freely played? Or is there still a form of it being frowned upon. For example, metal has always clashed with religion.
Robert: Playing metal or presenting it to our audience etc. doesn’t cause any problems per say; but the scene in general is still considered deep underground. In Armenia, it is still I in the early stages of development. There are some good bands around who really deserve to receive some exposure abroad but there’s no real development or investment in the scene nor the existence of a big metal scene. I would say the reasons for all of that is, there is in general very little interest in metal from the general public and the overall belated introduction of the genre as a whole in the country. We don’t have any problems preparing and organizing concerts but the problem comes from the lack of valid places, venues or organizers in generals. Those are the core issues that present the real difficulties and barriers rather than any societal conflicts.
Alright, so I want to ask you also about the Armenian people abroad, as I mentioned before the interview I did with Avarayr. Does this impact the scene in any way, is it because of that more international (due to the cross-boundary population) or do you think it generally creates an open-mindedness?
Robert: Many Armenians living abroad bring the musical taste and influence of the metal scenes from other countries back to Armenia with them. Some of the bands living abroad making the most impact on the metal scene are Ambehr, Hexen, Highland and Avarayr.
Many people from diaspora returned to Armenia in the past 10 years and they bring new ideas and changes to multiple areas of our country including the music scene. It’s great to see new life and direction being brought into our country.
Armenians from the diaspora are helping to shape and develop the metal scene in Armenia by participating in concerts and adding a new taste and quality to their music. In general, the Armenian people in the metal scene are open-minded and we hope that the metal scene can progress by the organization of more gigs and influencing younger generations to take an interest in the scene.
So, tell me about the scene in Armenia. How did metal come to your country and which bands are the progenitors? What’s happening now and where is the scene happening? In the capital or are there local scenes worth mentioning?
Robert: The popularity of metal in Armenia has been fluctuating over the last 20 years or so. Some members of the local metal scene put in effort to develop metal bars and gigs but usually for little or no financial gain so there are also periods of stagnation in the scene.
During the Soviet Union, in the middle and late 80s, there were bands that impacted on the development of the metal scene and were known for their quality music. Two bands worthy of noting are Ayas and Asparez.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the people had more freedom and many started listening to metal and formed bands. Today, conditions have changed immensely compared with the past. Organising metal nights used to be a long and frustrating process but now many bands have clubs where they can host self-organized gigs and have studios where they can rehearse to improve their musical skills. Many bands were formed by our diaspora abroad which also impacted on the Armenian metal scene.
We have bands which are having regular gigs and it’s a good thing to see in Armenia. Unfortunately, there is no major interest in metal in Armenia compared to the scene in the US or Europe and that is the main reason why we don’t have so many bands, there is no demand or interest. I hope that over time this problem will be solved. Almost all metal events are happening in Yerevan because most metal bands and fans are centralized in the capital.
What future plans do you have for the band?
Garbis: Regarding the future plans of the band, we are hard at work to fulfill our most immediate plans for the time being, but we always have a one eye open towards the bigger picture in the future. Since we pretty much have all the material written and rehearsed for our first full-length album release (barring some minor additions and changes here and there), we are trying to figure out the best approach regarding the production of our album that would best represent the true vision that we have for the release.
Having said that, our plans further into the future is definitely to expand the range of our live performances. It is always a great pleasure and a collective challenge to provide an energetic and memorable live performance to our local audience. But we are definitely aiming at playing more shows throughout the year, so in order to do that we are hoping to take our performances to the neighboring country of Georgia to start with and then expanding into greater horizons, playing in some well-regarded pagan festivals. All in due time as we take one step after another.
Robert: There are some distinctive metal bands that have stood out in the past and present metal scene in Armenia, each with a unique sound and approach to their music.
I recommend that people check out atmospheric black metal band, Sworn. Unfortunately, they split up some years ago but they made a big impact on the local metal scene. For fans of raw blackened death metal, I recommend they check out Merial, their music is both aggressive and catchy. Lovers of folk or pagan metal should listen to Araspell or Vahagn, both are a mix of Armenian folk with heavy and unique riffs.
If you had to compare your band to a dish, what would it be and why?
Robert: Many different dishes come to mind considering the richness and uniqueness of Armenian cuisine, but if I had to choose, I would say traditional Armenian barbeque. Our music is like a well cooked meat with hidden spices and flavours which represent the folk elements in our music.
Thanks for the interview.