In the far north, metal has found fertile soil through the years. Finland was late to the party, but is pretty much the most metal nation in the world these days. Just across the Russian border though, a small scene has been brewing in Karelia. A prominent band in these parts is СатанаКозёл, which translates as Satanakozel (Satan’s Goat).
Though the band seems to be mostly having a good time, there’s a deep appreciation for nature, their lands and traditions inherent to Satanakozel. Their last album, titled simply ‘Север’ (North) is a testament for that. Though never very prolific due to their inherent issues (you’ll read about that soon), the band has been a staunch touring group and loves their metal.
I found drummer NicolaiKuskov willing to answer some of my pressing questions about making music in Karelia, touring, the relation to Finland and how reverence for the nature goes together with good old fun.
Can you kindly introduce yourself and tell us a bit about how Satanakozel got started as a band?
Hello! I’m Nickolai Kuskov, the drummer and the co-founder of Satanakozel. Me and Vasiliy Kozlov started the band in 2002 as a nameless duo, in 2003 we have got the first full line-up and started to rehearse as SK. Nowadays SK is a 5 piece band:
Vasiliy Kozlov – guitars, vocals, folk instruments
Nickolai Kuskov – drums
Dmitriy Dobrynin – guitars, vocals, keys
Vladimir Savvateev – guitars
Dmirtiy Makarov – bass
I must mention that we never thought that it could grow bigger than just another garage band, we never had any special goals, we played music only for our own good, nothing more, nothing less. Great that it grew in a something bigger.
What bands influenced you and made you want to make this type of music?
I suppose most of the readers can recognize these influences, the bands from Finland, Scandinavian bands had a huge effect, also the folk music from our region did the job!
I can definitely hear some Finnish influences in your folk metal sound, would you say that is correct and is there a connection between bands from Karelia and Finland?
Yep, you’re right, we are impressed with the Finnish and Karelian folk music, which are quite similar. We share our myths and legends with Finns and, that is why there’s a connection. We do not have a lot of metal bands from the Russian side of Karelia, so I do not know about the rest.
How would you describe the message that Satanakozel has for the world? In biographies you’ve written you’re free from politics and that the band is about nature worship and fun. How do you bring those together?
Well, one would think that our lyrics are full of humor, jokes and so on, but the serious meanings are hidden under the mask of fun. The song ‘Pivovar/the brewer’ is an example, it may sound like the song about how good is to drink beer 24/7 but the real meaning is telling the listener that heavy drinking leads you to death. With the latest album we did a few serious lyrics, the topics are WWII, North and its power, but still we have enough humor.
How did you guys come up with the name? I understand it’s a silly sounding name in Russian and it started as a joke, but how did it stick with you for a good 15 years?
It was a local joke. The ex-keyboard player put our band on the roster of the festival under that name, because we had no other ideas how to name the band. I think we didn’t even think about it. We wanted to change it, but we never came up with anything better, haha.
So what is Satanakozel up to these days? It’s been awhile since ‘North’ came out. Can you tell me a bit about what direction you guys are planning to go in?
We are looking forward to start composing the new album. The biggest problem is Vasiliy Kozlov, our main composer, lives about 400 km from us. It is quite hard to get in touch with him because there’s no mobile coverage, internet or even basic phone in his village.
We tried to gather together at his place to compose something, but it all ended with a vodka and beer party… Still, we have a lot of ideas for the future songs, looks like it will be even more “metal” than “folk” as we did on the last album. Personally, I’m tired of all these shitty pseudo-folk metal bands with the same melodies, same sound, same lyrics.The style itself became too boring, there are no great newcomers and the veterans do not care about the quality of their music.
Also, we would like to have as many gigs as we can. We already did a few tours in Europe, this summer we’re going on the road again.
You clearly identify as a band as being from Karelia or being Karelians. How important is this identity for you and in what way does this appear in your lyrics as it is written that you guys use Karelian folklore in your lyrics.
It is very important for us, especially for me and Dmitriy Dobrynin because we both have Karelian roots. Our cultural heritage gives us a lot of inspiration to compose the music and the lyrics, we have lyrics about characters from local folk tales and legends such as Priest Sivolday, Kullervo from the mighty Kalevala Epic.
We identify as Karelian, though that doesn’t mean we don’t like our mother Russia, it’s just simply closer to our hearts and spreading our culture is important.
Since most people don’t know much about your part of the world, can you give some general outline of what the folklore and mythologies are like from your region?
Is mostly the same as in Finland, it is based on Kalevala Epic, also we have Russian folklore.
What does nature mean to you? Is it something that is generally a large part of your lives?
Northern nature is definitely a big part of us, we spend a lot of time in the forests. Vasiliy Kozlov earned his living for a few years in hunting and fishing, so you may guess that nature and its gifts are the most important part of his life. It always will be the biggest influence and inspiration for us.
It appears that there’s quite a little metal scene in Petrozavodsk. Can you tell a bit about that? You have described yourselves as a DIY band, is that what the scene is like there as well?
There’s no metal scene, Petrozavodsk has been mostly punk/hardcore town, just 2-3 bands and these bands are the side projects of SK members. I can mention only heavy metal band Aspaziya, great USSR metal style!
From the very beginning, we’re trying to do everything without any interference from aside. I run my own recording studio, where we record our music and I do the graphic design for the band. Dmitriy Makarov is in charge of the mixing and mastering process (he did the sound of the “North” album)… I think the DIY thing is the best way for independent musicians, go DIY now!
What bands should people really check out from your region (and why)? Antimelodix, Minuala, OrkBastards, SoliDiabili Gloria, Meti Bhuvah, Sattuma, Santtu Karhu& Talvisovat, Myllarit, Toivefolkensemble, Kantele state folk ensemble.
In a sense Karelia is a remote part of the world. The only way to go farther north is Murmansk. How do you think this shapes the music and words that you use?
As I said before the nature of Karelia is the main influence for our music & lyrics. I have nothing to add, just turn the latest SK album on and try to feel it. I highly recommend you to visit Karelia, especially the Paanajarvi national park.
You’ve chosen to be a-political as a band. How did you get to this decision in a world that is so overly political these days? Especially living in such border region. Is this a decision as a band or are you guys also not interested in politics as individuals?
Yep, we are a-political band and it was our choice since we started SK. We all know what is going on in the world, but we never trust the news from the state TV channels, even the independent media became corrupted. Seems like most of the people in Russia are completely brainwashed about the rest of the world. I’m traveling a lot and talking to the people from different countries, that’s how I make my conclusions.
So, what does the future have to offer for Satanakozel?
We’re planning a summer Eurotour with Grai & Gjeldrune, also we will try to get together to start working on a new record. I think that’s it, no special plans.
Final question, if you had to describe yourself as a dish, what dish would it be and why?
Lohikeitto, fish boiled in milk, sounds weird, but the taste is awesome! Try it once.
It’s a rainy day in Varniai and we’ve found a dry spot for a chat with Lithuanian folk-metallers Ūkanose at KilkimŽaibu festival. The band has been around for a little while and released an absolutely great record with classic sounding songs. We’re sitting down with guitar players RobertasTurauskas and LinasPetrauskas to discuss the band.
The sound of the band is a complex matter. It’s not full on metal, but it also isn’t rock. The songs are almost purely folk though, which all the force and bombast merely support. It’s as if the band tries to make the songs more vitalic, more powerful, without losing any of their integrity.
The group has six members, who have all been active in some form in the metal scene. They’re currently changing drummer, so half their set at Kilkim Žaibu festival was played by Vilius Garba (who also plays in Sagittarius) instead of ViliusPanavas. It turns out it’s not the first shift in the band’s line-up since 2012.
I just think that if you want to say you are a warrior, if you want to sing about being a warrior, you can’t be some lazy guy just blathering about this while smoking your cigarettes. You have to be what you preach. – Martynas Švedas
Q: Can you tell me a bit about the origin of Ūkanose?
Linas: Well, I started the band back then together with our accordion player Tadas (Survila red.). We both had a love for folk music and wanted to do something together. We wanted to be like folk music, but heavier and for that, we needed a drummer and so on. So we got a band together and played our first show in Trakai back in 2012.
Mind, back then we were a very different band, we had a girl on vocals next to the male vocals and the line-up was vastly different.
Robertas: When I joined the band 1,5 years ago, there were seven members. Some of those were dropped, it was simply not working. We also decided to not have any females in the band. No, I’m just kidding about that, but the singer was just not fitting in with the sound we wanted to attain. We wanted to play, as a band, a much heavier sound so some members left at that time. We were simply not on the same line and that showed in the productivity in songwriting. By that time the band had written 5 songs in 4,5 years. In just 1,5 year we wrote 6 songs now and we’re working on more.
At this moment singer Martynas joins.
Martynas: Songs that I actually can sing!
Q: It seems to me that this addition was very significant for the sound of Ūkanose?
R: The thing with Martynas is that he doesn/t play anything, but he listens very well and has a good overview of things. Het looks at it as an outsider.
M.: You really have to take your time for the songs to come together and keep an eye on the theme and topics. For example, we did a song about Viking raids and the Curonians, a tribe from current day Latvia.
R: We have to make the songs relevant to what we want to communicate. We take inspiration from the partisan songs during the Soviet occupation, we make resistance metal!
L: What we write about comes from the inside.
Q: What sort of reception did your music get at first?
R: A friend in Poland, named Leopold, said that we sound like an amazing folk punk band. I guess we have a mixture of punk, metal and folk going on. This is also because Tadas is the punkrock guy, so I think that also helps with a unique sound.
L: There’s something in there for everyone, even for the people in the small villages there’s something to be found in our sound.
M: We want to do a lot of things with our music, it has to be as Linas says something we truly feel like. For example. today I have three events to partake in. Participation is essential to feed the base. You have to be there to make it genuine. But we play only to please ourselves in the end.
R: We participated in a band contest a while ago, where everyone gets to play three songs. For some reason, the judge of that contest decided to say we were Nazis. That makes no sense at all. They decided that our music and message was in that spectrum somehow. That sort of crap comes easily if you try to be different.
Q: So how did that work out? That sort of accusation can really be damaging for a band.
R: It happens a lot here. Maybe itś something political, but there’s a lot of generalization involved with it. Folk metal would automatically be nazi, even though these bands, like ourselves, rarely have any political content.
L: We shouldn’t care about this, but it ruins our reputation.
R: What we did after that is share that information as a video online and asked people this: “These people think we are nazi’s, what do you think?”. No one agreed with the jury…
M: I think these were just very narrow-minded people, who have no clue about music. They are only focussed on that mechanical music and disrespect attempts at making something genuine. They miss the effort that goes in it, the lyrics and the message of a band.
Q: Since you guys sound so different, what sort of reception did you get from the metal crowd?
R: There was this German guy who kept writing to us to tell us that Martynas sucks, he made a whole study of why and how he sucked and kept telling us about it. Unfortunately, there’s always a bit of a negative response from the metal crowd.
Thereś a huge divide between the pop audience and metal crowd I suppose. Metal really resists societies norms, wants to be evil and about satSatand stuff… Though I think it is not as bad in Lithuania.
Q: So what I’m getting is that you guys are about the past in a sense, but is it to reinvoke or reimagine the past or to take from there and be in the now?
R: I think we are a modern band, we are a continuation of that past. There’s something to take and learn from that past. You see Martynas and Linas here, they are real. Let me explain, Martynas for example plays three shows today and takes part in the viking reenactments. Martynas makes things like this leather satchel he is wearing, because he learned how to craft that. Linas is a shieldcrafter and also a reenactor. They are living the things we sing about. Martynas can just live in a forest and be happy there, you know? That makes what they do come from a real place.
M: I just think that if you want to say you are a warrior, if you want to sing about being a warrior, you can’t be some lazy guy just blathering about this while smoking your cigarettes. You have to be what you preach.
Q: Are there any bands you look to as an inspiration for the sound of Ūkanose?
L: When I started shaping this band and its sound, I didn want to sound like anyone else really. I wanted to sound like Ūkanose. Something that wasn’t around at that time and I think that is what we are now. I guess there is some black metal inspiration in the sound though.
M: I wanted this band to sound like Martynas…
R: I think Skyforger would be an automatic inspiration for us, we even covered one of their songs. To me thereś even something of power metal in the music, which is partly the ideas and context it invokes, like Sabaton does.
Q: How do you create your songs as a band?
R: We really start with one idea that comes to the table. We get on top of that with the whole band as a team. In a band like ours, you sort of have to. For example, I can’t write the melodies for the accordeon. We can help eachother add things, change things that don’t work, but we have to work together on that. We make a lot of changes. An then we have to make the songs a lot shorter every time…
Q: Ok, so let us talk a bit about your album that came out last year, the self-titled release. What can you tell me about it, how was the response?
R; The overall response we got was quite positive. We were quite happy that it finally got released actually. The original line-up of Ūkanose couldn’t do all these songs, this one can. Martynas sings all the songs and they are some great songs. Unfortunately the mix was done by someone with a metal background, so the folk is a bit missing when you listen to it.
L: It’s a good start, I give it a 7.
R: I think the album gives a good picture of what we are about, what we try to express and is a great way of saying to the world ‘here we are’! This is us coming out of the mist, as a band and a message. This is what the word Ūkanose actually means; ‘out of the fog’. I also feel it shows artistic integrity, it feels like an honest record to me.
L: For me Ūkanose has a lot of meaning to it, it is about life and death, being between the sky and the earth, it is the connective tissue that binds all of this together. I think the album captures that.
All money was put into this record and it was released on a Russian label. That was not the best idea I think, we should have done that part different. I have nothing against Russia, but with everything going on it may not be such a good thing.
Q: I just watched you guys play live. It’s a great experience with a sound, you can’t really compare to other bands. How would you describe your live show?
M: Well, I like to play as offten as possible actually… I want people to feel welcome at our shows. But now I have to go for the next act of the day. (red. Martynas plays later with Ukanose, a folk project and with Lithuanian black metal legends Obtest).
R: I think it’s a very genuine experience. Martynas is a great frontman for us live, he is just very authentic. I never was into this folk metal sound myself, but I think we sound very speial. Our music is different, it stays closer to something authentic, but it also has something spiritual to it for me.
L: I think we have a bit of a classic rock feel on stage, but itś also really metal to me.
R: The message is to express yourself, like we need to express this in Ūkanose. Don’t let the constraints of society stop you from sharing your message. Just play!
M: But make sure that you have a message!
Q: If you had to compare Ūkanose to a type of food, what would it be and why?
R: Well, that is sort of cheating, but it fits. Mead can be sweet and spicy, but not too shy. We drink mead to Perkunas. We would be a good honey mead of 14,5% alcohol.
M; It’s a celebratory drink.
L: It’s a drink that expresses strong friendship and praise of the bees and honeys, that’s us.
‘Tusmørke’ translates as twilight and I think it’s the perfect word for this mysterious time when the strange things happen. It’s a time of folkore and magic, which is precisely the fit for the music of folk metallers Huldre.
Soundwise the only band I could place them near to is Eluveitie. More heavily on the folk with metal more or less an electrical boost to the impact of the sound, the group has a distinct flavor and unique appeal to them with their Danish folkloristic themes and stories. The vocals really take the center spot for this act, which I always enjoy thorougly. The songs are in Danish and I haven’t found the lyrics yet, that is a shame.
There is a lot to like about the music of Huldre, but for me it mainly is the vocals of Nanna Barslev, which are everything you’d want of a mystical northern lady on vocals. Yodeling away, but also masterfully crafting eerie lines, the vocalist is central to the folky sound of the band and to its mystic aura. That and ofcourse the string instruments that capture your heart and mind instantly.
Those are most prominent on tracks like ‘Jagt’ and ‘Varulv’ in the more melodic parts. Guitars really just serve to buff up the sound when a more powerful passage needs to sweep the listener of their feet. On a rare occasion we even hear Barslev scream her lungs out, for example on ‘Hindeham’. When the band choses for a more metal-like sound, on ‘Underjordisk’ and ‘Skifting’, their sound becomes a very typical expression that I can only compare to the experience of Skyforger, Metsatöll and maybe even some Slavic groups. The hurdy-gurdy and flutes add a distinct spice to the sound, that sets the group apart.
Folk metal is not just drinking horns and shouting. Folk and metal can create a new sound, beautiful and melancholic. Huldre does exactly that on this record, using both in full force. Folk is not a decoration of the metal here, nor is it the other way around. A great record indeed.
Origin: Australia Label: Independent Bands: Wrath of Fenrir, Stormtide, Saralisse, Trollgasm, Enviktas, Beast Impaler, Pagans Realm, Tomes Of Ruin
An album full of Australian folk metal, imagine that? Well, it exists and under the title ‘Tales From The Southern Realm’. Eight bands with varying sounds, so time to check out what Australia has to offer in a genre riddled bands that stick close to the sound of Finntroll and Ensiferum. Let’s be honest, folk metal is a genre of clichés, where a sincere and different sound is a reare found. Am I doubting this record in advance? No, because folk metal is one of my favorite genres and is often delivered with an honest love for the music. The hype around the stylistic direction has been a true catalyst for a swarm of mediocre acts in the past though.
Wrath of Fenrir – Awaken The Frost
The first track on the record is by Perth inhabitants Wrath of Fenrir. The band mixes folk and black, drawing inspiration from… the far, far northern Viking culture and the Edda. The group has released one EP and apart from that is not one you’re likely to have heard of.
Thougho offering a clean production and some tight rhythm, the screams and grunts exchange a bit too regularly. The whole thing feels a bit too formulaic. Regardless, it sounds brutal and I guess that there’s some potence here.
Stormtide – As Two Worlds Collide
Though at first I though it would go in an Amon Amarth direction, thanks to the intro, the more Equilibrium-like keys quickly followed. I don’t know if I like it better after hearing it a bunch of times yet. There’s a lot I like about both those bands, but the combination is a bit odd to me.
The band from Melbourne has by now released their full length. That puts these guys on the map, having signed to Metal Hell Records. The synths make this song incredibly catchy and cinematic, but I wonder if they really need them. Personally I dig this German approacht to the genre. A good track by Stormtide!
Tomes Of Ruin – A Knights Regret
Now, there we go with some more Amon Amarth sounding death metal, including the swooping riffs and some actual story telling. The music is tight, but stays a bit flat so to say, really sticking to that riff and running with it all the way to the end. There’s another reference that is eluding me at the moment, but this band definitely fits in with a certain style. Maybe some Svartsot is in the mix.
The vocals are quite tight, but when it’s not guttural the barks seems strangely out of place in contrast with the clean production. The distinct vocal style is that of a story teller, but with a bit of a black metal bark to it. The continuous pumping rhythm even has a bit of BoltThrower to it. Peculiarly enjoyable.
Enviktas – Skinwalker
Blending their extreme metal with medieval elements and segments of world music, the band Enviktas from Newcastle has a peculiar sound. The intriguing intro immediately sets the band apart from their peers. Strange sounds set a nervous mood of threat and danger. There are a lot of sounds that are tricky to place, but what is most noticable is the lack of filling. Enviktas makes the most of their instruments.
How they do that? Rhythm takes an important roll in the sound of Enviktas. Wether it’s the primitive drums or the pulsating dideridoo sound, it can stand on its own, while riffs create spaces where just rhythm is there. There’s a lot of space in the sound of this group, which allows for a peculiarly effective and different vibe.
Trollgasm – Quest For Glory
Though the name suggested a more fun sound, but this band fully embraced the more folk-oriented Scandinavian sound. Though the group has split up, there’s a good grasp of the epic and mystical to their sound with well placed keys and big guitar archs. An added value to the track are the vocals of Wulfstand from English band Forefather. His clear chants give the tune a more authentic vibe (though more British obviously).
The track is definitely one of the more reverential and grand of this compilation. I must say I didn’t expect this from a band with ‘gasm’ at the end of their name. Specially the folky instruments are well placed and balanced with the music.
Beast Impaler – Community Dinner
There we have the funny bit of the recordw, with a group that sounds a bit like Finntroll in their early days, with the party streak of Trollfest. A beat that seems to derive from polka is excellent if you need your listeners to move. The jagged pace keeps it agressive and ‘trollish’.
The sound of Beast Impaler is heavy with synths and to me sounds a bit dated. Though I enjoy the time travel back, it doesn’t really stick that long in your head. Again, highly unlikely to hear something like this from Australia.
Pagans Realm – March of the wolfs head bannerman
These guys were a bit harder to trace, but they clearly take to the more showy parts of the genre, judging by their live pictures. What you hear is more a kind to Amon Amarth meets Turisas. The light instrumentals are in sharp contrast with the roared vocals.
Though I don’t entirely feel the balance between the music and vocals, I feel the energy of this band. Like AA, this is a band that you’d like to see live. The galloping rhythms and well timed breaks keep things catchy. Unfortunately this band also called it quits this year. A shame for that scene in Australia.
Saralisse – Into the sky
Closer of this collection is the Group Saralisse, who are indeed closer to the more theatrical power metal approach to the folk genre. Though that is only the opening part I found, once the track gets rolling we really more into the Ensiferium spheres of catchy, keyboard filled melodic death riffing.
Though the band has only released an EP, the group seems to still be rather active. The recording and production of this track are awesome in my headphones and feel like something that could appeal to a broad range of people. Cool!
I started writing this review with the wish to do a track by track of something peculiar: folk metal in Australia. It’s great to see that the country has a fascinating scene going on there, with interesting acts and good tunes. Only goes to show that metal takes root in all forms. It seems that the folk metal harks back to Europe and a fantasy-like image of the continent in ages past. This is a peculiar thing, perhaps the distance has changed the emotions attached to these images, but it’s fascinating to hear these bands do their thing in an own way, with some fresh and free aspects to it.
Sounds from that ol’ Underground, this time with black metal from Grima, Ancestors Blood and Bucovina. Also in this is In Gowan Ring who add a bit more folk after Bucovina’s folk metal. Enjoy reading and listening please.
Grima – Devotion to Lord Naturmacht Productions
No, this ain’t no unblack metal band, this is nature worshipping, organic sounding intense Siberian black metal. This duo from Russia might be that answer to the Cascadian wave from the USA from the frozen wastes of the tundra. Ok, I’m romanticizing the whole thing now, but there’s s a truth to it. Naming it atmospheric BM, Grima could have just as well decided n the post-black metal description, because their sound is far removed from the fire and brimstone roots of black metal.
The shades of trees, the stingy needles of pines and the cold fog on the floor level are not hard to picture when listening to the music of Grima. Bewildered and lost in the middle of a primordial forest, one finds quiet and peace, but also the full intensity of nature as blistering salvo’s of guitar play imitate wind, water and earth in its full majesty. The music can be beautifull, but also cold and biting, with long, wavy passages of guitars and the drums brought really back in the mix. A great record for those who love the BM nature worship. Props.
Bucovina – Nestramutat Lupii Daciei
Hailing from the Carpathian mountains, this folk metal band from Romania has been around for 15 years now. This is their third full length, and it’s a special one at that. They demonstrate that Romania has more to offer than Negura Bunget, who used to be on the same label actually. Bucovina now operates through their own label Tara de Sus. The band explores in their music the ancient Dacian heritage and Romanian lore in a romantic fashion. The band implements folk influences and storytelling into their sound.
That results in a truly stunning album, where the vocals actually take a main role in it. While blistering blast beats bludgeon their way forward, the band also has melancholic singing, which appears to lean close to spoken word and chanting at the same time. The music is epic, but never bombastic and has interesting structures in its build up. The timbre of the sound is very earthy and at that also rather catchy I’d say. It results in distinct sounding album, that reminds me most of the likes of Dalriada. Recommended listen.
Ancestors Blood – Return of the Ancient Ones Heidens Hart
The unmistakable cold sound of this band reveals the Finnish origin instantly. Cold, harsh Finnish pagan metal, paying homage to the forefathers of the ancient times with magic and rituals and all. The album counts 50 minutes of dense, atmospheric black metal to commemorate the pagan times in a glorious manner. The band themselves describe their sound as Esoteric Heathen Metal. A fine description I would say, for a rather particular sound that the band embraces.
The sound of the Laitila band (that’s a town, not a weird spelling of Latino) is landing on you like showers of rain in a gale of wind. Continuous, gracefully waving windows of sonic distortion, combined with atmospheric synths that give an almost sacral, ritual aura to the sound. The vocals are wild howls, a deep despair oozing from, in the same way the rest of the sound envelops you, slowly bathing you in grief and mournful rememberance. There’s definitely a lot of emotion in the sound, without ever trying to really seem grim and dark. In a sense the comparison with Summoning makes a lot of sense to me when listening to the record. The way the keys and guitars work together, offers an epic bit of black metal, but without any sort of hope. The record has been out since 2007, but has been put out again. A good choice I’d say for the label.
In Gowan Ring – The Serpent and the Dove Les Disques du 7eme Ciel
Music does not need to have full on blast beats and bleating vocals to overwhelm. Music can be quiet, gentle and measured to achieve maximal impact and that is exactly what In Gowan Ring aims to do. This is the first album in a long, long time. Poetry, nature and folk instruments and stories of both stoens and angels, as the description states. This is an album to dream away with on these long, cold winter nights.
Gentle music trickles out of the speakers, with minimal sound and therefor so much more power. The opening strings immediately evoke the autumn. Wind swept fields and a rainy sky, with trees on the horizon. Then the clouds break and the tranquility of ‘Thousands of Bees’ is like a warm sun beam on your face in a dense forest. The beautiful words strung together warmly by the American B’eirth. His vocals lull you into dreamy realms of a different, other world that once was and maybe once may be.
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
The first Sounds of the Underground of 2015 and the section of my blog seems to gather some attention. Thank you for this. For this edition I checked out The Glitch Mob, Cruachan, The Hyle and Chthonic.
The Glitch Mob – Love Death Immortality
So it would appear I like a lot of metal and truly, it is the main thing I listen to these days. I have a huge weakness however for the Glitch Mob. I like electronic music that is heavy on the bass, layered and telling a story in itself. The debut of this group from 2010 was quite amazing and captivating. It had that same mystery I find in postrock and some black metal. On their 2014 release the band takes a different approach.
The feel of the sound is much more dance-oriëntated, high on energy and with a faster pace. Fleet footed and lightweight would also be terms, but they might feel a bit negative. Songs like ‘Skytoucher’ still captivate the feeling I loved so much on their debut, but in general the album is more directed at selling and being something the kids can dance to. Not sure if that’s a good thing, for me ‘Drink The Sea’ will remain the favorite and I’ll check in with these guys again when a new record comes around. Though their ‘glitch’ may be less attractive to me, the group still makes brilliant music. Don’t take me wrong on that.
Chthonic – Bù-Tik (武德)
Since the album that is released on 29 december is a full acoustic one, I thought it fun to look back at the previous release of Taiwanese melodic death metal giants Chthonic. The band plays with folk elements and structures in a complex sort of work, that relates closely to the atmosphere of black metal in my opinion. The hectic sound is typical in most Asian metal bands I’ve heard, also the clean sound and the polished production. The band manages an accesible sound, while retaining their identity.
The narrative is that of the foundation of what became Taiwan, told in the native tongue. That shouldn’t prevent you from listening to it. The beauty of this record is it’s way of sounding like a metal band in a clear cut manner, but implementing the narrative of Taiwan by using folk elements and mythology to create distinctness. Anyone hearing this will look up in surprise to check what it is they’re listening to, but still feel it relates to them. Though the sound is rooted in the more extreme styles, the grandeur of power metal is definitely present int he riffing and huge arches of vocals and synths. It doesn’t surprise me that Spinefarm signed them. The acoustic album that is coming out is promising to be another revelation and a rare insight for many metalheads in Asian traditional music.
The Hyle – Demo
The Danish band has a wonderful sound that combines doom with a stadium rock-like swagger, without losing any of their credibility. This demo was not without reason so well liked by Cvlt Nation out of what they picked up this year. The slow, foreboding sound of ‘Lucifero’ sounds weary and whispers a certain despair. The clean vocals are warm and caring, but hollow somehow. Slowly the song runs its course, untill twangy bass sounds support samples and harrowing riffs continue the brooding sound onto the ritualistic sounding ‘Serpent King’. I feel a bit reminded of Electric Wizard meeting up with Witchcraft when listening to this record.
The second half of the record opens very slowly with ´Spiritual Sacrifice´. The spun-out track wavers on for a couple of minutes, when silence descends. The final song is ‘Children Of The Divine’, which is also a dark tune with the sense of ritual and pagan magic to it. The band creates a sound that feels like retro, but also distinctly now. The record is captivating and if these Danes call this a demo, I’m eager to hear the debut.
Cruachan – Blood For The Blood God
The Irish folk metal band Cruachan is pretty much one of the first of its kind. This year I saw them play live, finally, at the Eindhoven Metal Meeting and experienced a lot of their new songs. The work seems raw, honest and direct, but also a bit amateuristic sometimes and a little odd. The vocals of Keith Fay are very peculiar and the man is simply not the most talented singer. Still, the blend of folkish traditionals and raging metal works quite well for the group that has released it’s seventh album on Trolzorn records. The song ‘Born For War’ is representative for the epic sound and feeling this band wants to invoke.
Noteworthy is the song about ‘Beren And Luthien’, which departs from the Irish mythology and picks up a little Tolkien along the way. The band seems to have two gears, of which one is a slow, melancholic pace and the other the frantic one-two-one-two primitive death metal roll. Both are implemented in different ways, but it tells the listener a bit about this band. Cruachan feels like a band on form, enjoying what they do once more, but also stuck in thier own sound. Change is a difficult thing and this record doesn’t sound in any of it. One could argue that this is the reason the whole folk metal movement passed the Irish group by. I don’t know, perhaps they are comfortable in their own little niche. Songs like ‘Gae Bolga’ and ‘The Arrival of the Fir Bolg’ are both well constructed and atmospheric and display the strenght of Cruachan. I worry that they will remain an anachronism in a genre that moved far beyond the primitive sound of this group.