On this years Kilkim Žaibu festival I saw the group RomoweRikoito play live and it touched a nerve in me. Almost with tears in my eyes I listened to their captivating folk songs. I would like to talk a bit about that here.
Language, it’s a peculiar thing and often too easily put aside as something irrelevant. Language is a tool, we use almost daily in a peculiar manner and it is shaped by the peculiarities of our daily lives. I never reallly realized the importance of language, I have to say, untill later in my life, after I read a peculiar story.
In a school book, not sue for which subject, I read about a place called Sakhalin. A peninsula on the far side of Russia, At some point in time, I think it was around the year 1900, researchers went there to meet the last speakers of a regional language. They recorded these speakers on wax rolls (that was the thing way before records). So there was some form of preservation, but a while later those last speakers had all passed and at that point we call a language extinct. Peculiar, is it not?
The disappearance of a people
There’s something so incredibly sad to me about that story. There were people there, with a language, culture and history. With the end of their language all of that is gone, it has passed away with the last words. When a language dies, a bit of our humanity dies… that’s the way I see it. No one remembers the words and the lives of those people.
It seems like something from the past, but even in Europe languages die. The Livonian language has about 10 speakers left they estimate. Tsakonian (a Greek dialect) is almost gone and Prussian (an old Baltic language) only exists because some stubborn ethnic Prussians try to revive it. One Saami language will probably be extinct as well in 50 years (Pite Saami has 20-40 speakers left). Outside of Europe, the Yaghan language of the most southern part of Chile has one speaker left, who is 89. The language is an isolated form, so nothing will be left soon. There’s a few more examples and luckily most are documented now… Still, something ends.
Our words are very precious, they are shaped by the way we live and how we interact in our culture and part of the world. Our language is our testament to whoever comes after. I think we should cherish it more. English is great, I write in that language to reach more people. But that shouldn’t become our only tongue. We’ve lost so much already of who we are.
So no language is better than the other, but every language is owned by the people who speak it. It’s a part of you, of who you are and where you come from. That matters.
This is in no way intended to support any political agenda’s.
I dislike the idea of anything being hipster. Unfortunately that means I’ve become victim to the hipster virus, where anything gaining popularity demands you to look onto others as hipsters.
Any semi-homogenous crowd, except that on the weekly market, that seems to conform to any fashion/aesthetic standards that are slightly popular is nowadays dubbed hipster. Fashioncore was the equivalent in the hardcore/metalcore corner. It seems to be the origin of the hipster curse for the heavy underground. At first you were fake or real (or trve if you’re more into the black metal section). Hipster sounds slightly better than fake, but no one will ever call themselves a hipster.
The term hipster has been the topic of discussion on many levels. In 2008 one magazine declared this to be the dead end of western civilization (a nice reference to the Spheeris films), by becoming an aesthetic vacuum in the counter culture. Some sources, like NY Mag seemd to have lost the plot totally in 2010 and Rob Horning suggested the death of the hipster in 2009. Around that time, the turning point seems to have arrived: the hipster was a demon, taking away the particular from our favorite elements of counter cultural rebellion. At the same time it became an aesthetic, a way to define what was basically just current fashion and trend when applied to an alternative image. Hipsters still provide an outlet for an alternative-styled elitism (like NOFX even demonstrated) and a scape goat, even by the Guardian.
I certainly don’t feel I’m a hipster, but I do have one of those single-speed bikes, fashionable boots and I tend to wear the flanel shirts, which I guess I’ve been doing since the late nineties (I was too young for the grunge hype). I’m not into the more hip alternative stuff though, don’t go to the right parties and rarely hang out in coffee bars (though I love coffee, but then again, I did for half my life). I did recently figure out that I do listen to some of the wrong bands in the heavy alternative spectrum. Not the fashioncore of hardcore, I listen to the true stuff there and my Black Flag tattoo is big enough to show it ain’t a ‘once upon a time, while sipping my vegan late’ thing. I was listening to hipster metal bands like Wolves In The Throne Room, Krallice, Deafheaven and Altar of Plagues.
The metal subculture has always been obsessed with being genuine, authentic as Kahn-Harris (2007) is keen to point out in his book. There’s an almost fundamentelistic nature to the more extreme genres and for none it’s as strong as that of black metal. Honestly, to describe a genre so remote from anything mainstream as ‘hipster’ seems to be certainly far fetched, but it is true… And it has some definite roots according to black metal scholar Dayal Patterson (2013), who starts the history of post-blackmetal with Lifelover. Bands that take a new approach to the genre and changing it, challenging its norms.
The origins of the term are a bit vague, but to me postrock, post-metal and so even post-blackmetal are styles that take a different approach to the core aesthetics of the respective genres and taking inspiration from others. The focus is more on dynamics, repetition and timbre, moving away from the traditional style. Ironically, the same thing happened when black metal moved towards the SDBM or DSBM style (Depressed Suicidal Black Metal), which has always been accepted. Stylistically, they are not so different. On the other hand, bands like Manes, Fleurety and even Arcturus could be seen as an affront to the conservative element in the scene, but apparently they’re fine.
True Traitor, True Whore
Yes, the Leviathan album title seems to be apt to come to the true traitor of black metal (in the eyes of some). Leviathan is true, though I’m not sure how his (it’s after all Jeff Whitehead’s one man band) ‘Scar Sighted’ goes down with part of the crowd. “Why not?”, you may ask. Well, because the record pushes out the boundaries of the genre, it changes the aesthetic approach and that is exactly why a band like Deafheaven is so reviled by the purists. In an AP article on the hipster metal phenomenon, they are the first band to be mentioned. Now, why are they the great Judas, the Varg Vikernes in the story of true and false black metal? (you know, like the band that did everything wrong, like Burzum, who are now also kinda hip).
The album cover
Deafheaven in all their infernal badness, their disregard for all that is trve and kvlt, released an album with a pinkish cover. PINK! In a genre that wishes to shock and cause controversy, this is just pushing it one step too far (for the scene itself apparently).
The music is not grimdark frostbitten cold
There’s a big myth about the early black metal bands and the necro sound. The idea is that this was the true (sorry, trve?) sound, but it basically was due to money and resources. Many current albums have great production, though perhaps retaining more of the cold sound usually. Still, you can hardly call the last two Enslaved albums unaccesible thanks to a more open polish.
Too many shoegazes and postrocks
Yeah, there is a whole subgenre called eatmospheric black metal, which utilizes the same techniques, just like the ambient black metal genre, but Deafheaven sounds almost pleasant. Anyone ever listened to Woods Of Desolation or A Forest of Stars. Even Winterfylleth retains some warmth and dreamy aspects in their sound. Anyways, the fucking problem is that this album does not sound like either ‘A Blaze In The Northern Sky’, nor as ‘In the Nightside Eclipse’. Shame on you! But seriously, the genre has such a rich range of sounds, why refuse to change?
The band doesn’t like/isn’t/hates/can’t be metal
The dumbest argument for hating Deafheaven is that somehow they would not be metal. Play this album for your mom and see how she feels about that. Well, my mom probably digs it so I’m not sure if that’s representative, but this band is totally a metal band. The fact that they might listen to other music, as said in this interview, doesn’t take anything away from that.
They don’t look metal
A lot of bands don’t do. What is looking like metal exactly? Isn’t that the complete form of conformism that metal despises? I have no clue what, apart from the obligatory preference for black (check for Deafheaven) and the bandshirts (check again) would compromise a metal outfit. It sure as hell isn’t spandex and corpse paint any more, who the hell still does that?
So yeah, Deafheaven isn’t like the past five decades of metal, just like any band from the nineties didn’t look like the eighties nor sounded like it. Maybe it’s an entry level band for kids looking for something more dense and mysterious, which you may find in black metal. Does that make them bad? The black metal fans who trade cassettes of which only 5 are released from bands using My First Sony equipment are few and not even touched by this kind of audience. Wouldn’t it be cool though if you could release 10 cassettes?
Kick in the arse of stale elitism
Why all this fuss about an album that came out a year ago? Well, that is true. ‘Sunbather, may its infernal name be wiped from the histories, has been out for a year or so. The thing is that the band just released a new song and the hipster metal debate is in full swing again, because all this progression of the genre, we can’t have it.
The Deafheaven debate is part of a bigger discussion on metal and its health. The articles asking if metal is dead have started popping up and with good reason. What great bands have arisen in recent years that everyone knows and discusses? Very little, we only have bands that are reviled, like Deafheaven. There’s a vacuüm in heavy metal in general, which is illustrated by the fact that Slayer, Iron Maiden and Metallica are still the perpetual headliners. What else sticks? Babymetal?
The elitist conservatism is slowly killing black metal, once one of the most creative, subversive and exciting genres out there. Embrace the changes or leave them be, but stop putting everything down. Metal needs to breathe, develop and be allowed to find new avenues. With even the mighty Lemmy Kilmister slowing down, it’s high time for some growth and renewal. Even Lemmy can’t carry this torch any longer. The elitism in metal is killing it, like it does with the French language.
As for hipsters, how was metal ever a genre for people that are hip and happening? Aren’t hipsters slowly becoming the social outcasts anyways? The outsider position of metal fans is not going to change, not even by Deafheavens ‘Sunbather’ or a new album, which I think might be a very good one.
Kahn-Harris (2007) Extreme Metal Horning (2009) The Death of the Hipster. Pop Matters Patterson (2013) Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult Stewart-Panko (2015) Debunking the ‘hipster metal’ myth. Alternative Press
Romuvos is the kind of band you will find only when you start looking for it. Pagan metal, inspired by the ancient Baltic tribes that roamed the lands we now know on our maps as Lithuania and Latvia. One could include the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, though the Prussian Balts are long extinct.
Behind the band is one person who goes by the name Velnias, which is Lithuanian for Devil. Most pagan entities seem to have been taken over by devils, which is shown in the Žmuidzinavičius museum in Kaunas by a large collection of statues. If we look a bit further the name Velnias is taken from the Baltic god of the dead, similar to Odin in Norse mythology. A trickster of sorts, one could say.
I got in touch with Velnias and he was keen to tell us more about his music. Like the trickster he took his name from, there’s more to him than you would think. He doesn’t actually live in the Baltic region, but lives in Israel. He moved there as a child with his family and once in a while he returns to his beloved Lithuania. Because his father is Latvian, he has decided to represent in his music the Baltic tribes as a whole in their pre-Christian form. It’s only fitting then, that I write down these words in the heart of Samogitia, the last pagans to be conquered in Europe back in 1413.
Though Lithuania seems strongly Christian now, not surprising due to their long lasting union with devout Poland in the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, there are still plenty of traditions and customs here that remind you of a pagan past and the deep roots they have in both the people and the land. Velnias longs to move back to his beloved country, but feels like the viking warriors who got stranded in far of lands. But one day perhaps, he will return.
Who is Romuvos and how did you get started with this act?
Romuvos is my one man band, the operation is entirely in my hands. I started playing folk music after being part of various black metal projects. I started digging deeper for my roots and the folklore that I hold so dear and decided to dedicate a musical project to it.
Romuvos is music dedicated to the Baltic pagan traditions and way of life. It has always been in my heart, but only now I’ve come to the point where I express it in song. Thus Romuvos was created, a name that refers to reviving the religious practices and pagan traditions of the Lithuanians and Baltic people before their Christianization.
Did you play in other bands before Romuvos?
Yep, though its nothing worth mentioning. Nothing that got into thte studio or anything. Every band I played in had many rehearsals, worked on songs for a long time until it was time to record and then split up. Most of those were black metal bands with folk influences.
I’m not sure if this is interesting to mention, but I fought in the Israeli army. I fought wars and most of this music I wrote under threat of missiles and bombs. I’m not saying I’m a warrior of old or some brave knight, but I experienced war. Those were not my battles to fight though, not my wars. That however is a different story altogether.
Romuvos is clearly a reference to the pagan religion of Lithuania. Can you tell a bit more about what it entails and also the Durwi spin-off?
Well, Romuva is a way of life, tradition and belief. It’s rooted in every Lithuanian heart and deep in the history of the Lithuanian people. Romuva is the name of the most important sanctuary of the Prussians, which was destroyed by crusaders in the 13th century.
One of the most important aspects in the Romuva faith is respect for nature. There are many gods, rituals and festivals that take place and form a part of the yearly calender in the tradition. Many old folksongs teach us about the ways of the Romuva and pagan people fromt he past. Those are the Dainos (folk songs), which play an important role in the religion. They are ancient songs and hymns. There’s so much to tell you about this, fortunately the internet offers much resources for the audience to find out more about this. Im very proud to let people know about our Romuva traditions in my music.
Durwi in old Prussian means faith, its also a revival of the Baltic ancient religions. You can csee how the Lithauanians and other Baltic tribes are untill this very day connected to their traditions and pagan beliefs from before their christianization. I hope the movement will grow and get stronger.
Can you tell a bit more about these traditions, what would these be like?
The Baltic people have preserved their traditions through the ages and Romuva is a direct expression of these unique traditions. It gives a name to the folklore and beliefs that have existed for a long time in the region. I will give you some examples
This refers to the rituals surrounding birth. Before a child was born, the ancient Lithuanians believed in spirits that would influence the unborn child in a bad way. One never directly referred to someone being pregnant to safeguard the mother and the future child. Expressions are still being used in Lithuania, like “The oven fell apart at Petras” or “It’s joyfull at Antanas”.
Once the child was born, it would be inducted into the community. The christening was bound up with various ancient rituals, which tie the new-born to the world, his family and community. These would be performed either at home or in nature when it is the time of the full moon. The room would be decorated with plants and greenery, birds made of straw would be hung from the ceiling and in the middle of the room the hearth would be lit at all time during the ritual. Other materials were prepaired, a bowl of water, clean cloth and scissors. The room would be well lit with candles. In the ritual the mother, father, child, name-givers, relatives and other childern would be present, together with the priestess – Pribuveja (midwife), who would guide the event and take care of the child
The child is dressed in a festive linen shirt. A sash woven with folk decorations is used as a waist-band.
The feast is a cake, brought by the name-givers. The food upon the table traditionally includes eggs, scrambled eggs, bread, cheese, beer and such. Gifts are brought to the new-born and the mother. It’s all part of this important moment.
Vestuves is the word for a wedding, which was not just the concern for the young lovers. The entire community had an interest in the marriage and joining in the celebration. Weddings are so important in the ancient taditions, that there were over 100.000 dainos (songs) for Lithuanian weddings. There’s an extensive set of dances that represent the wedding – starting with the match maker introducing the young couple to each other, the parents agreeing, the young bride weaving her trousseau, and then the wedding ceremony.
There’s a myth of Perkūnas and the Heavenly Wedding: On his way to the wedding, Perkūnas strikes a gold oak – an exorcism to repel evil spirits (Velnias frequently hides under the roots of an oak). When a young bridal couple comes into their new home, before they enter it, the lintel is struck, leaving a “cross” – to ward off evil.
Funeral/Burial – the traditions surrounding funerals are fairly standard the world over. It is a time of mourning, and of friends gathering in support of the grieving family. But, there are some differences. In villages the coffin would lie in “state” for approximately 6 days, and in cities about 2 days. Every evening there would be the singing of laments, and prayers for the dead members of the family for three generations – each one mentioned by name. Every evening after the prayers a funeral meal is served, prepared by the best cook in the community. If the family has a pig, it is slaughtered for the occasion.
In villages the dead are usually buried in the morning, with final kisses being bestowed upon the loved one.
Velnias has given much more info on the pagan traditions in ancient Lithuania. For the sake of readability, you will find these at the bottom of this article. He mentions the yearly calendar, essential in the pagan rites, and the deities that the ancient Balts worshipped. One deity he goes into very elaborately, which I’m glad he did: Velnias.
In Lithuanian folklore Velnias is the character you will find most often, he originates from the god Velnias or Velinas. He has a relation to the animals, underworld, the dead, economy and magical things. In later Christian times Velnias became the devil.
The folkloric devil in the ethnic legends creates the world together, either alone or with God or only God (there are different versions). God is in some traditions his brother. They both have the same goals in creating the world, but also some opposingones, mainly all the bad things are explained by interference of Velnias. The God creates useful animals and the devil creates ones that harm people and are useless. Velnias is also connected with horses, oxen and cows, of which he would keep herds. In the legends he often harnasses and rides the horses. From the wild life, the wolf, rabbit and bear are closest to him and he assumes their forms.
Velnias is associated with low and wet locations, like moors and lakes, or he may appear in the forest. His dwelling is under the earth, inside the mountain, behind the water. He also may appear in the sky, flying or seen in a storm. The relation between Velnias and treesis also emphasized, he might be found sitting on tree stumps (the reference to the chtonic world, the lower part of the Tree of the World) or hiding in trees (like he hid from Perkunas). The fir tree and birch tree are his trees.
Velnias, also in later times as the devil, would often appears amongst women (at the village parties devils dance with the village girls or the devil would celebrate a wedding with a hanged woman and dances with her) and, in general, he is interested in the weddings and funerals. He often appears when a person dies to take his soul. The devil under the influence of christianity becomes the ruler of the hell (in lith. “pekla”) and there he rules the dead mostly in shape of the animals.
Generally Velnias is close to humans, it is not difficult to find him or call him he also comes without any invitation, let’s say if people decide to play ripka or other games. He often offers his services in farming, to clear the field and such. The manifestations of the devil have a sense of music, often they contract a violinist, play musical instruments themselves and dance. Both life and death are under the jurisdiction of the devil. He is an intermediary or guide for the living, but also was involved with the fertility of people and the land. The harvest was also his. He is inbetween the world of the living and the dead, between earth and the underworld. Therefor he received the patronage of the people who are connected to the both parts of this worlds (i.e. priests, magicians etc). Also, musicians, poets and artists, who are inspired by both worlds fall under this patronage, as they are set in an old Indo-European tradition that associates them with magic and the devil.
What are your personal beliefs when it comes to these traditions?
I can say that my beliefs are very similar to the beliefs of my ancient forefathers. It relies mostly on the pagan past, but I have to say that I walk my own path in this and I walk that alone. I am much influenced by the Romuva. The paganism is a big part of my life, but I follow the path I feel is right to take. I don’t want to impose chains on my life, that are in the hands of another. I will find the truth that is out there for me, which will bring me closer to enlightenment.
I appreciate nature and the pagan religion embraces those elements with deities that are the key to harmony or chaos in what surrounds us as humans. I tyr to represent that in my music, though in a smaller scale. When I use the word pagan in relation to my beliefs, my view is very much connected to those ideas that are part of the pagan traditions. I participated in rituals in the past, spending nights outdoors, camping and having a fire, getting inspired by the sound of the fauna and earth that I feel when I’m out there alone or with my wife. I try to put those experiences in my music, those are they keys or muses for the atmosphere I try to invoke.
I have mentioned my interest in the Baltic history and that is a big part of my music. It’s something I grew up with, the tales told by my grandmother, the sculptures and paintings in my childhoods home. Those inspired me since the day I was born. When I put this to song, the subject is a bit more general and I try to make it larger than life.
Lithuania is now one of the most devout Christian countries in Europe, though the pagan traditions can still be seen in a slightly mutated form. How do you feel about that?
Well, I think we can all agree that Christianity and other missionary religions have utterly destroyed native cultures around the world. I don’t hold any hatred towards them, but I draw strenght from this, deep emotions I can put in my music. Each religion seems to face the same stages and now the Islam has come to a point where people commit atrocities in its name. It led me to believing that one should shy away from crowds and mobs of people. I’m not a misanthrophist, but it gets close to becoming one. I like to be outdoors more nowadays, groups of people make me claustrofobic.
Many bands that pay homage to culture or country get lumped into the NSBM category rather easily. How do you feel about that and is there any political side to Romuvos?
I have no political views, nor do I think people are entitled to express such extreme political ideas as metal heads tend to do these days. Yes, everyone is born and living in a ‘country’, which we consider to be ours. That we think will stand by us and have our back when we need something. That country has been formed by past rulers and is governed by whatever government it currently has. They also have taught us to be proud of it and stand by its laws and order. Well, that is not for me. I can understand and respect other opinions about this topic, to each their own, but that crosses a border when people try to hurt or offend another.
The way I see it, I have no country. I don’t look at it that way atleast, which might be because I left my ‘homeland’ or maybe because I dont hold a vision like the common herd. Therefor I won’t see a country as a value to stand for. Countrys are owned by their governments, which might even be corrupt, and filled with people I can’t call my brothers, yet I would be expected to stand by it in war. The same people that will curse, violate, interfere with and disrespect you while living next to you, while sharing the land you should call ‘ours’ with them.
Yes, I will seek peace in my lasnd and I have the right as a human being to live on such a piece of land that I call home. I will raise a family and will seek friends, but also defend it from foes, but not as an act related to an old ideology and herd mentality that is alient o mine. I would do it as a person who wishes to be left alone by the brainwashing of society that surrounds him. I try to be free in my own space and accept no shackles from others forced on me. So NSBM? No, thats not for me. I would also not like to live in the old days under a man with a crown who can decide my fate, whitout me having any say in it. I dislike the ‘nazi’ ideas and steer clear of them. If others go there, its their choice.
Why did you chose to make music on your own?
I can’t say that I consciously made a choice to make music on my own. Because most bands I was part of ended up splitting up or just fading away, this was the easiest wat to go about things for me. I create music on my own terms, with my visions and no distractions.
Do you plan to play live? How would you go about forming a band?
Yes, I think that in the future I will gather few session musicians that I will play live shows with. Musically I will keep things in my own hands though.
What is the general idea you try to get across to your listeners? What story are you trying to tell?
In some of the songs I tell stories from the Lithuanian folklore, in others I make up a story myself based on my ideas. Sometimes I will use old folk songs from the old days, other times I will write songs that represent Baltic faith and traditions. With Romuvos I wish to represent Baltic history and the pagan beliefs of the people in close relation to the nature.
Your record has a very clear sound that is not typical. What inspired you to make this style of music? To mind comes a band like Glittertind, does that sound like a fair comparison?
Well, Glittertind is a great band and thanks for the comparison though they are not my main inspiration. I can say that Falkenbach is a big influence and one of my favorite artists for sure, Summoning, early Vintersorg, Storm, Hades, viking era of Bathory and few more…
Even today I mainly listen to black metal, it still is my favorite style of music. Obviously, it is not the sound I create in Romuvos, but that was never my goal.
How did you go about recording this record? How did your writing proces go? All in all, how did you make ‘Romuvan Dainas’?
I have my own studio at home, so I just go and write the music first. Then I take a classic guitar and start playing, sometimes it can start with keboards or electric guitar as well as for the harmonica. Either way, after writing the main theme, i start working around it and build up the entire song. The next step is writing the lyrics and few more adjustments for the song. Ivecord all on my own and when the recording part is done, I mix it and finally do the mastering as well.
What is the general idea behind the record, its story and message?
The idea behind Romuvan Dainas is to make a Baltic folk metal album. In some of the songs you can find old stories from the Baltic folklore and on others tales of heroic battles and myth that I mostly invented. I dont get to see these days many folk bands representing this great area that surrounds the baltic sea and I am happy to take that subject into my music.
You say you invented some stories. Do you feel you put a lot into this record emotionally?
I think I put a lot of emotion and care into my music, it’s as if it erupts out of me and when it does I cannot stop it. I invest a lot of time and effort in it, because I have no other way of doing it. I enjoy every moment of making music, it is a very fulfilling thing to do. When I finish one thing, my mind is already on the next creation.
You released the record through No Colours Records. What kind of label are they and how did you get in touch?
No Colours Records are a label that mainly releases underground Black Metal music, They have some releases that made it to the big pantheon. I just sent a youtube link with a song to Steffen, the AR of the label, and after few weeks he came back to me, expressing a great desire to put out my album.
What are, in your opinion, the best metal bands from Lithuania and are you in any way in touch with either the scene in Lithuania or Israel?
There’s a few great bands from Lithuania, like Obtest, Ha Lela, Peorth and Žalvarinis (though they are not that metal). There are also some great folk bands, like Rasa Serra, Gyvata and Ugniavijas. I’m not connected to any scene at the moment though.
A few people from the Baltics did buy the album and asked me some questions about it. It’s important to me that they feel connected to my music, but that goes for anyone who listens to my songs. I’m not trying to reach a specific audience or region with my music, but it is a confirmation for me when people from the region and cultural background appreciate the music though. It shows that my message of longing for the Baltic area and its nature and history is clear.
What future plans do you have?
I am planning to get session musicians for recording in a a big and high quality studio for my upcoming albums and live shows. Hope mainly to just make great albums!
Disclaimer: I share no views with No Colours Records or any of the artists. Pictures (except header) by Justina Lukosiute