Kyrgyzstan, the name alone beckons with mystery and a peculiar allure. Most people only know it as one of those odd country names, but Khashgar has the potential to change that with their crushing death metal. Time to catch up with them.
The country has a millennia long history and turbulent recent years with clashes within its borders. It is all part of a complex country with many ancient identities and cultural elements. Metal has found its root there too, with the most well-known band being Darkestrah. Kashgar is setting out to play some destructive tunes now.
Guitar player Ars found some time to answer some questions about the band.
From the Ancient Realms
Hello Kashgar, how are things going for you?
Hail, Guido! Many thanks for your interest. Things are well and busy enough – we’re writing songs for the second album, playing shows and organizing our own metal fest.
Can you tell me how the band started and about the history of the group?
Warg, Blauth and I decided to join forces and try to revive the stagnant local extreme scene. There were no active metal bands at the moment and just a couple of metalcore bands. We simply wanted to have some good old heavy live music in town, music that we ourselves would enjoy listening to. It took us a while to find a stable line-up and to write and record the first album. We’ve played quite a few shows over these 4 years and toured the neighboring Kazakhstan several times as well as Moscow and Siberia. Blauth left the country in 2017 and our paths parted. However, we continue to infect the souls around with our mixture of various metal genres and dark sonic rituals.
How did you guys get into metal music and what bands inspired the sound of Kashgar?
We all come from different backgrounds, and maybe that’s why our music is so eclectic at times. I’ll speak about the current line-up further on because things have changed dramatically since the first album. I grew up listening to classic rock’n’roll and hard rock bands, and later I discovered great albums by Death, Samael, My Dying Bride, Anathema, Sepultura, Mayhem, and early Metallica. I think a couple of great Oriental bands like Orphaned Land and Salem influenced me as well. But my inspiration comes mostly from prog pearls like King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Al Di Meola, as well as Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Tool.
Warg was always a strict metalhead; he usually searches for something melodic but wild: bands like Sargeist, Satanic War Master, Obed Marsh, and Gaerea truly please his ears. He and Alfer are also big fans of old-school black metal like Bathory, Gorgoroth, Emperor, and Immortal, and it’s impacted our sound a lot. Const adores classic music and such bands as Death, Marduk, and Obituary. Warg and I have played in dozen of different bands before, but Kashgar turned out to be the first serious and long-term metal project for both of us. Alfer and Const are rather young fellas; they played together before, but Kashgar is their first real band.
Your themes are listed as folklore and the occult on metal archives. Can you tell me what stories of folklore and occult themes you tell and where they come from? An example would be great for people who are unfamiliar with your folklore.
For the debut album, Blauth used dark themes from Tengrizm and the history of the region, as well as local superstitions. Erlik is Tengri’s evil creation who is responsible for all the horrors of the world. Albarsty is a female demon that steals your breath when you are sleeping and has a yellow twin that steals your life if you marry her. “Scent of Your Blood” is about Konurbai, an antagonist of epic Kyrgyz hero Manas.
In the new songs, I also explore local nature, literature, traditions, and myths. One song is dedicated to our mountains: it’s about Kumtor, a gold mine located in a distant area at an altitude of 3700m. The lyrics are like a painful scream of the land whose insides are being scrapped out. They have destroyed a huge glacier almost completely and are planning to start with a neighboring one. I worked there with a group of glaciologists, studying the mine’s impact on the neighboring glaciers and the horrendous views inspired the text.
Another song is about an ancient Asian way of making human zombies. This terrifying process is described in a legend told by famous Kyrgyz writer Chyngyz Aitmatov. The zombies, called Mankurt, became mere slaves, silent and obedient to the extent that they would kill even their own mothers if ordered to do so.
We wrote a song about a terrible local “tradition” of bride kidnapping, called Ala-Kachuu, and another song depicts a nasty two-faced creature whose real appearance is only revealed at night. The Central Asian culture and history is an endless well to draw from.
What is, in the end, the big idea or message in your work?
We simply try to create music with a soul and energy in it and mix in a lot of anger that we accumulate thanks to all the craziness and dumbness of today’s world. That’s why we play grim oldschool metal as opposed to all the happy-jumpy modern stuff. We don’t have a message for you: you’ve got enough messages from everywhere every second of your life to make you feel overwhelmed by useless info and products. Just listen to the music and if it helps you feel a primal fear or even make a step or two back to your roots, we are doing the right thing.
What does your home land mean to you both in and out of the musical part. What makes it important?
It’s a bit complicated since all of us are not ethnically Kyrgyz. We’re usually not considered real Kyrgyzstani by Kyrgyz people. But we were born and raised here. We believe that this land is our motherland and we all love and deeply respect the nature and the spirit of the place. It’s enough to spend a day in Kyrgyzstan’s mountains to understand that it is a place of endless power and glory. Kyrgyz ethnic music is something very original and special too. I will never stop gaining huge inspiration from our nature and rich culture! But it’s very sad to see what many people do to their own land. Tons of garbage, cut woods and hunted down rare animals, corruption, police and officials trying to rip you off, lousy infrastructure… This is what Kyrgyzstan looks like for many people today.
How so you go about creating music. Is it a collaborative effort or do band members have their own separate roles? Do you start with lyrics or music?
We always start with music. Sometimes we invent something together and sometimes we arrange a riff or a song written by one of us. Lately ,Alfer has been bringing a lot of material, and we re-arrange some parts and polish it together, working out the rest of the instruments. In the end ,I write the lyrics and arrange vocals.
It’s been 2 years since your last album. Are you currently working on anything new? What direction are you taking Khasgar in?
It’s been 3 years since we recorded it, to tell the truth. Yeah, we’re very slow as all of us have day jobs and up until 2018 we experienced constant line-up changes. But now almost all of the songs for the new release are arranged and we’re finally planning on recording them in February. So let’s hope the album is out by June. As for the direction, Warg keeps trying to drive us into true black metal, me and Alfer keep implementing weird proggy riffs and time measures, and Const keeps gluing all that with mid-tempo blast-bits and straight patterns. I’m also thinking about collaborating with several interesting folk musicians on a couple of songs. After all, we never cared about sticking to strict genres; we just try to make proper metal.
What can you tell me about the debut record? To me, it has a very distinct feel and it’s hard to really categorize it. How did you shape its sound, what story does it have?
The recording itself was a painful experiment involving lots of months of hard work, different drummers, guitarists and booze to ease the stress. After I finally finished recording everybody in my studio, I decided to mix it on my own, and it took quite some time, which was really pissing Blauth off. He wanted to do it the punk-rock style and to release a lo-fi raw material; he simply couldn’t dig what all this “mix wankering” is about. I insisted on better production. In the end, the record came out something in-between, I suppose. And our friend Achilleas C. did a great job mastering it in his Suncord Audiolab in Greece. The sound might still be a bit strange, but at least we did everything by ourselves, using great equipment like Yamaha Tour Custom drums, Peavey heads and Marshal 4×12 cabs. Today most starting bands record the direct signal with plugins and program or trigger the drums, but we wanted it all to feel and sound real.
You had various guests on the album, can you tell me why you chose them and how it materialized?
As I mentioned before, we had lots of line-up changes, so some of the guys were already not in the band when we released the album. We decided to name them as guest musicians.
How did metal music originally come to your country Kyrgyzstan? What bands pioneered the genre in the country?
It started in the 90’s. Up until early ’00s, we had three rock-clubs and many metal bands like Necronomicon, Neocrima, Odyn’s Nocturnal North, Extremistic Negative Clan, Infernus, and Ellodia. Warg was one of the pioneers and played in several of those bands. You could attend a good metal show almost every week. Much has changed since then, but we’re working hard to improve the situation and revive the extreme scene. In 2017 we founded the first international metal festival in Kyrgyzstan – Kuturgan Fest (kyrgyz: “savage”) and we keep developing it by booking world-famous headliners. For our audience, it is a chance to see the metal legends live, and for our bands, it is a chance to perform at bigger venues and for larger crowds. In 2018 I brought in Hungarian groovers Ektomorf and in 2019 the one and the only Sepultura is going to head-line the show! And one day I hope to move the fest to a beautiful open-air location and hold it for a few days like Brutal Assault, which really captured my soul in 2015.
I read that the most well-known metal band from your country, namely Darkestrah, moved away because of the lack of means to make the music. How is it now in Kyrgyzstan with facilities like recording studios, rehearsal space, and availability of instruments etcetera…?
What “means” does one need to make music? You just do it because you can’t be NOT doing it. I know Asbath; they are good friends with Warg. I believe he and Kriegtalith simply took the chance to move to Europe because they could and wanted to. If they had stayed, I’m sure they would have continued to play black metal here. Of course, it was much harder to make a record in the late 90’s, and you still don’t have real options to tour locally. As for the facilities… there are still no labels, booking agencies, promotion companies – nothing for rock and metal. We don’t have even a single rock radio in the whole country. There are some recording studios, but local sound engineers have no idea how to record and produce metal. I have a project studio/rehearsal base and I support underground bands (most of them play rock) by inviting them to practice on high class equipment and sometimes recording them for a low price. There are a couple of other rehearsal spaces around town. Instruments are available to purchase from China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Europe and US, but we have a very limited choice in local shops and the prices are very high.
Do you face any form of censorship, either institutional or social?
Institutional – no as our government tends to preserve the democratic image of the state. However, most people still consider any music with distorted guitars and vocals an “evil” and “unholy” “shaitan” music while others think we’re all alcoholics and drug addicts. They refuse to believe the fact that there is much more trouble at a regular disco club party than at a metal show. Even though we do not experience any direct censorship, it is basically impossible to make it to a local radio or TV show or organize a metal concert in most local venues.
What are the most metal places in your home country?
Outside Bishkek, there are even almost no rock bands, and I’ve never heard of a metal band from other cities. However, people come to Kuturgan Fest from the surrounding towns and even distant cities like Osh.
Which bands from Kyrgyzstan should people really check out and why?
Check out Ordo Sakhna to feel the spirit of Kyrgyzstan – they play great ethnic music. If you like modern nu-metal and death-core, My Own Shiva and TLDOS bands do it fine. Check out Shahid if you feel like listening to some modern hardcore.
What future plans do you currently have with the band?
Besides recording this winter and opening up for Sepultura in April, we’re planning a joint European tour with our brothers Zarraza from Kazakhstan. Hope we can do it autumn 2019. Promoting the album, as well as arranging such a tour, is going to take a lot of time and energy. We’re also looking for a label to release the record and for a manager to promote it.
If you had to describe Khasgar as a dish, what would it be and why?
It would be fried eggs with a wild mixture of everything you find in the fridge. You can literary fry anything not sweet with eggs, add some tomatoes and spices, and get a perfect Shakshuka. That’s my favorite way of arranging breakfast and that’s also our favorite recipe for arranging songs.
Is there anything you’d like to say that I forgot to ask?
Just a word for the readers. We still have a few CDs, LPs and t-shirts left. If you want to support our work, please order it at our kashgar1.bandcamp.com page.
Tons of thanks for the exposure!