Dynamo Open Air is a festival that touched many, many lives, but also those of the kids who didnt make it. I was quite late coming to the metal world, but Dynamo has been a landmark, an iconic thing that put me on my musical path. I loved it.
Some kids are blessed with parents that hate their music. It’s glorious, because you know exactly what it is your opposing or rebelling against. I was not so fortunate. My mom would watch the big festivals on TV throughout the nineties and pointing out the cool stuff to me. So there was this Brazilian band I had to see, they were really special. There I was, gaping at Sepultura. I’ve always thought it was at Dynamo that year, but it was old footage from 1990 or somehing. Then there was this other funny band called the Heideroosjes, that I had to see. Suffice to say, my parents got me in touch with most of the music I listen to nowadays.
Looking back, it seems like a planned thing. There was a nudge here, an Iggy Pop album for that birthday, concert for the next… I would watch all the footage of these big festivals on TV and enjoy it, be amazed by the extreme music, the long haired people and the energy. I saw Sepultura again on Pinkpop and I always had a special place in my heart for that band. Truth be told, I didn’t get the music back then, I just knew it was cool. I guess you need that one band to hit you at some point to get into it. The prequel for me was Sepultura. It was much later that I got into metal seriously, through punkrock in fact. I read all I could and watched videos whenever there was something on TV. Dynamo was always there. Later, when I missed those last few editions, the old posters were my guide to what stuff was good and should be listened to. I will always regret not visiting it when I had a chance. Still, it was my guiding light into the world of metal.
So thats what I’m thinking today, when I’m riding my bike towards the Ice Sport Centre in Eindhoven. Lots of memories of that place, but I’m not thinking of any of them. I’m thinking back to what got me here, on my bike, going to my very first Dynamo Metal Fest (which feels like Dynamo Open Air). I’m thinking of how my mom stole my Finntroll CD and how my parents went to see Rammstein on Pinkpop. I’ve been enabled to explore and discuss music freely from childhood onwards and now I’m full of energy and excitement. I’ve left my meds at home and I am hoping my back is going to hold out today, but I’m going to be at my first Dynamo. This is awesome. It doesn’t even matter that I’ve seen pretty much all the bands on the bill play live a bunch of times.
The crowd at any metal festival is one big bunch of weirdos, strangers and mad men. It’s that strange bunch that makes me feel so much at home. I’ve tried the other stuff, the dance music, the indie crowd and even the scifi conventions, but this is my home. I’m anxious almost anywhere and big groups of people are a bit intense for me, but not here. Even though I have little friends in the metal scene as yet, I feel like I can relate to everyone here. In reality, sure, that is not true, but I like the feeling that it is. I’m just enjoying the atmosphere. Old friends meeting up, telling stories of the past. One guy is telling me how everyone had their hair cut or got grey and he cant recognize his old friends. Another tells me that they all got fat and bald (to which I go over my own head with one hand). It doesn’t matter though, the bands hardly matter (though I love the old thrashers from Nuclear Assault and Death Angel). It’s all about the community, the atmosphere and the guitars playing loudly somewhere. This is not just your next run of the mill festival, this is a festival with a whole lot of love for music and this city of Eindhoven.
Ok, I guess I’m being a bit too softy on this article. It would be so much more borin to put on those rational goggles and complain about the stuff that was not great. That would spoil my whole experience, though. I had an excellent time on this festival, because it felt like everything was done with love. The whole thing, it’s not about making money, it’s about this crazy music and everything attached to it. I got to enjoy this festival with my girlfriend and some real good friends, some I have not spoken to for too long. I heard stories, which were about Dynamo, metal and why it means so much to people. I’ve been in this thing for years now, mostly as a writer, but first and foremost as a fan. It’s all love, you know. I think that is the best review any festival can get.
Facelifter, Bodyfarm, Orange Goblin, Alestorm, Biohazard, Nuclear Assault, Death Angel, Arch Enemy (without Angela Gossow, it wasn’t the same for me*)
*Not that I think Gossow is hot, she just looked powerful and had a certain aura that this new girl doesnt have.
Metal arises in the most surprising places. One of the most unlikely locations for this kind of music to spring up is Iraq. Mir Shamal Hama-faraj is like a katalysator for metal in the country we know mostly for its dictator Saddam Hussain and the war-torn recent history of it.
The musician got into metal and started making music on his own, by himself. Metal in Iraq was the theme of a documentary, dealing with the band Acrassicauda from Baghdad. The band Cyaxares hails from Sulaymaniyah though, a predominantly Kurdic town in the northern part of the country. A region with a strong identity and historic awareness.
Mir Shamal Hama-faraj is thus pionering metal in a part of the world that this far has barely been touched by the genre. At this moment, his home is extremely close to the troops of IS and thus under threat. His other band, Dark Phantom, is from Kirkuk and has taken politics and religion as themes for their music. Unfortunately the contact with Mir Shamal Hama-faraj is lost at this moment. The last e-mail he wrote contained the following words: They Are Extremely Close, Neighbours With Kirkuk (Dark Phantom’s) And The Kurdish Peshmerga Is The Only Thing Holding Them Back.
All The Members Are Ok, For Now.
For the sake of getting his music out there, the interview should go out now. So enjoy reading about one of the most unlikely metal bands out there and be sure to check ou the music.
What does the name Cyaxares mean? Cyaxares was the third and greatest king of the Median, the most capable ruler and the Great Father of the Kurds. I chose this name, because it’s a proper name for this band and it matches what I do in my view.
The band started out as Voice Of Silence, with three members. We didn’t have any original tracks back then, because we just had gotten into metal. Some things then changed and we had a new name with three members, which was Beneath The Oceans Of Sands. Some of the swongs written for that band can be found on my album, namely ‘Whores Of Babylon’ and ‘Temples Of Fire’. Both songs where written by me.
After that I continued by myself as Cyaxares.
How did you get into metal music? It was in 2008, when I got into rock music and so I decided to get myself an album. I heard of a store that sells that kind of music, so I went searching for it to buy an album. My choise was: Iron Maiden. I bought the record A Matter Of Life And Death.
Listening to that record, I knew that this was what I wanted to do to. It actually took a while for me to learn that this music was called metal at this point, which was what I got more into. I moved on towards more extreme metal, after I started listening to Cradle Of Filth and Amon Amarth. They inspired me to do extreme vocals and music.
Do you do all the music yourself for Cyaxares? How do you go about recording stuff?
Indeed, I played and recorded everything on the album myself. As far as recording goes, I recorded it in my room without any professional or semi-professional equipment or what so ever.
Are there for you as an artist from Iraq any limits technically to what you can create? In fact I’m very limited to what I can do. It’s pretty much impossible to get good instruments and equipment let a lone a decent studio. I’m also not able to see a real live Metal concert or get a good teacher. I have to do everything by myself and the whole project rests on my shoulders. That means writing, recording, rhearsing, learning, funding and whatever comes with being a band.
Iraq is ofcourse for the ‘Western World’ (sorry for not being able to define this any better) one of the most unlikely countries to find metal. How do you regard this fact? Are there more metalheads and bands around?
True, metal is a very rare thing in Kurdistan and Iraq. The amount of bands from this region is in total six and thats it. The skills of most bands are limited, so they don’t really catch any attention, simply because they don’t live up to the global standard.
Is there any sort of repression you have to deal with, doing this in your country? How does being from Kurdistan matter? And how about your other band Dark Phantom?
Metal over here, like anywhere else, is fought by religious and old-fashionate people. As Dark Phantom, we’ve received multiple threats and Cyaxares is actually the only death metal band from Kurdistan, making it a band with ten times as much obstacles as bands in other parts of the world.
Is there anything typical for metal music from your country? Do you draw inspiration from where you come from that you put in the music?
Metal is a very obscure thing here, so there is too little to speak of typicalities. Yes, I have inspired others to start playing metal music, but it’s very limited at this moment. What I try to put in my music is the ideologies and mythic elements of my culture and I hope to make a difference and change things in this way.
Musically I draw inspiration from oriental music and the mythology. The metal influences, I would say, are mostly Behemoth and Lamb of God.
What are the main themes you try to weave into your music? The main themes are derived from ancient mythology and historical events in the Babylonian, Sumerian, Persian and ofcourse Median tradition. The call for leaving behind religion is a big theme in my music, but I’ve also put some classical poetry in there.
I’ve checked out your album ‘Whores of Babylon’. How did the writing and recording proces of that take place? What story are you trying to tell the listener on it? The writing process took me about four years, because I started from absolute zero. Actually I had to start by teaching myself all I needed to play this music, you know? It took me about three days to record everything by myself.
Every song has its own message, My message as Cyaxares is ‘Temples Of Fire’, a call for Zoroastrianism as an ideology. What I want to achieve is to make my culture known, to give the Kurdish people an independant voice and show its strenght as well. We are a people that have always managed to do so much with so little.
I did an interview with the band Melechesh a long time ago, who also indicated that they made ‘Mesopotamian/Assyrian metal’. Do you feel related to this band in any sense? “Melechesh” Is An Authentic Mesopotamian Metal Band, I Enjoy Most Of Their Work, But We Both Have Different Sound Of Our Own.
Would you be so kind to tell a bit about what ‘Mesopotamian metal’ is and what makes it so? Can you also elaborate a bit on the stories it involves and entities discussed in the lyrics? Mesopotamian metal is a combination of Arabic scales and rhythms in the music, combined with metal ofcourse. The oriental atmosphere in th esong and the lyrical themes then make up what I think is Mesopotamian metal. The themes should also incorporate mythology. A good example of a band playing this specific style of music is Aeternam.
What part does religion play in your music and are there dangers involved in it? I’m an atheist myself and my opposition to religion will always be a part of Cyaxares. It’s not a safe thing in this country to be an atheist but I will refuse any sort of religion, with or without music.
Can you also tell a bit about Dark Phantom, your other band? Dark Phantom is a thrash metal band from Kirkuk, that I joined last year on vocals and bass. We’re woking on an album right now. The main themes of the band ar war, and terror and it has five members. The situation in our country is part of the theme. I keep that out of Cyaxares though. [Video below – Dark Phantom]
What are your future plans for Cyaxares? The future plan for Cyaxares right now is a new album, titled ‘The House Of The Cosmic Waters’ and hopefully go abroad, get a label and create a full band.
The second album is progressing slow, three songs have been finished this far. I’m not sure how many songs will be on it, but it will probably take me about eight months to finish it. That’s mostly due to a lack of time and economic means to finish it faster.
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
In the mist dark figures move and twist
Was this all for real or some kind of hell
666 the number of the beast
Hell and fire was spawned to be released
– Iron Maiden, ‘The Number of the Beast’
I have started reading this book titled ‘The Happiness of Persuit’ by Chris Guillebeau. I have come up with a goal that made me get out of bed and excitedly start writing these words to you, my meagre set of readers. I plan to interview 195 bands from all countries in the world, that play metal. I’m not a pure blooded metal head, but this is what I’ve decided to do.
I’ve got one interview soon from Israel, one from Lebanon and I probably have one from the Netherlans. I’m starting work on one from Estonia and now I need more.
Think ‘World Metal’, like Sam Dunn presented it in the documentary, think global and world wide.
From the day Geezer Butler saw a looming dark figure at the end of his bed to the day we live in now, metal has been a genuine counter culture that is also a global tribe. We could shake hands anywhere in the world, when we share this music.
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.
A long time ago I did an interview with the band Melechesh. The group was originally from Israel, moved to Amsterdam in the Netherlands later for its political freedom, a bit like the golden age of philosophy. The band deals thematically with Assyrian and Armenian mythology. Add to that some Mizrahi rock and there you go: unique metal. This is the interview I did with Ashmedi, main man of the band, in 2010.
Could you kindly tell us who you are and where you come from (musicwise as well as lifewise)?
I come from Jerusalem my family are Armenian/Assyrian. Musically I come from the rock and metal background but I listen to any and every type of music as long as it is well done . Life wise I am a cosmopolitan who lived around the world and now settled in this nice , tidy and quiet corner.
You’ve moved the band from Israel to Amsterdam/France, how was that decision made and what were the reasons you had to move?
Well the reasons were several, many demographical and socio political reaons. Also we wanted to progress our music. The member who was in France is now doing his PHD in USA so he flies often here to writing sessions and rehearsals. Coming to Amsterdam was a coincidence actually , I was on my way to USA when my x bassplayer who was living here said Amsterdam got English language Universities, I thought ok its closer to Jerusalem .
Theres a mix of nationalities in the band, how does this influence your writing and creating process?
Well and it does not change our writing process. Though we got to learn that you should not make music at any cost like we used to believe in and was the way we work, but rather pay attention to personal convenience which comes first here. In Jerusalem there are many different people from all over the word , same as with Los Angeles where I lived as well so always managed well in cosmopolitan places.
Is there a political element to your music, and if so what is it? What were the comments when you released the ‘As Jerusalem Burns… Al’Intisar’?
NO , the middle east is much more than politics, it is a place were civilizations were born. We focus on this beyond the mundane but tragic drama . Politics are merely the art of lying and rationalizing human deaths. We don’t play that game, and we say our politics are simple we count the dead and we think everyone deserves to live in dignity. Can you imagine an entire region with many countries billions of people thousands of years of continuous civilizations is categorized by one cliché. We are critical and know what is going on there but we do not drag the mystical and spiritual artistic creation known as Melechesh in this.
When As Jerusalem Burns …Al Intisiar (by the way the title is meant metaphorically, as we love our home town ) was released well hell broke loose J we survived it. There many critical of us but in the end we make music with spiritual and mystical context so we did not hurt anyone. ( maybe the righteous can learn for this ). But such things made us appreciate making music and we are grateful to where we have reached today
Could you tell us what Mesopotamian Metal is, what it envelops and what it is you tell about? Obviously for us it’s a very strange and unknown world.
The style of music is already popular in the metal underground and there are several young bands adapting to it which is really cool. But for the readers Roarezine of let me elaborate more on this. When I started Melechesh the philosophy behind the music was to create not re-create. So we tried inventing the Middle eastern sound of Black/thrash metal. Which encompass hard rock and heavy metal as well but with an ethnic twist when it comes to guitar riffs and picking as well as at time, Middle eastern drum patterns. Lyrically we deal with Mesopotamian mythology near eastern mysticism .
Musically who are your influences, metalwise as well as traditional music wise?
I grew up on rock music at home with time I was drown into heavy metal and punk and got into various types of bands. As a musicians we are shaped by diverse music intentionally or unintentionally. From Metal music , I like the classics black sabbath, led zeppelin, rainbow also Mercyful fate some Metallica , Slayer , Bathory it is hard you know ! traditional musicians I am very much into Persian Indian cross over like Ghazal, Indian ragas , sufi music .
Your new album, The Epigenesis, is almost out. Can you tell us about the process and the record?
The album took a long time to write , almost three times to record. Its is a long album with diverse moods , from a 3 minute song to a 12 minute song. We decided to break the mold and we flew to Istanbul to record the album. Many here were surprised but the outcome spoke for itself . Istanbul was a unique experience and very inspiring one. The city is very inspiring for musicians, it is great for night life and culture, and very Metal. So many metal bars out there its crazy.
Everything worked out perfectly it was almost uncanny like how come every step every decision was fitting in like a piece of puzzle , it was quite mystical . It was also very practical to be there, as people were helpful no 9-5 mentality we did put in 16 hrs a day . Also the little things you know you want to order a meal at 3 AM while still recording , its possible. You can even order you wine and whisky at those hours. The little things helped keep the vibe positive. The weather was good too.
How has your work been received in Europe this far?
Well previous works always well received, we got fans across the globe, positive record sales and the fact most labels offered us a record deal was very humbling and a good sign. As for the new album the general press media is good. Topped various critics lists, several cover stories I cant ask for more and we are grateful for this.
Did starting a black metal band in Israel spawn a lot of followers? Are there other metal bands from the Middle-East that you would recommend?
You need to be able to differentiate the various parts of Israel. The fact that it was in Jerusalem was the issue. AT first people wanted black metal bands from Scandinavia , if the band was from there the fans show the horse teeth with unconditional smiles and frown on bands that had to fight to make music. But this changed. A lot of hard work development of a type of music eventually paid off. We had followers there, but our larger fan base is in USA and Europe. There are several talented bands in the middle east they work hard some even were jailed for doing the music they are passionate about. For sheer brutality check out Keaton, for Melodic doom check out Bilocate. There is a cool rock band called Khalas and so on.
Are there any bands that you would compare yourself to?
Blof (a rather cliché Dutch rockband, GS)
What influence does living in Israel have on your music and on your life and views?
Some people fight to have a decent life and when they get it they appreciate every second. Some have it all served on a silver platter and deep inside they are very unhappy. This is one thing I learned. I also learned how racist humans are. I personally believe in one race. Human race. And thankfully I am very color blind.
Where do you see Melechesh going in the future?
I don’t know really, just challenge ourselves and make credible music.
Are there anything you’d like to tell our readers, that they should know about your band?
Doe het normal is a bad thing for music and art but a good thing for accounting.
What Album should we start with?
The Epigenisis for sure not because it is the new one but because it represent us now and it has several moods.
If Melechesh would be some kind of food, what food would it be?
A healthy salad which has flavor ! and considered as soul and brain food.
Blaakyum has been around for a long time and has been instrumental in keeping the metal scene in Lebanon alive. Lebanon you say? Yes, Blaakyum plays a mixture of thrash metal and various elements from other styles and hails from the country near Syria, Israel and all those places where you think no one has even heard of metal. They proved me wrong.
Now for me the country was as unknown as this band, so logically I checked their music and wrote them a message. It turns out that Lebanon is, considering our general view in the west, a pretty liberal country on some fronts. Still, Blaakyum is not a band that enjoys the same liberties and possibilities as bands from over here and they have to face very different hurdles on their path.
They have been around longer than most bands, and it took a lot of effort from guys like Bassem Deaibess to keep this band and also the whole scene together. Anyways, enough introduction, best to hear the story from the horse’s mouth.
You guys are, as it stands, the oldest, active metal band from Lebanon. How did you guys get started on playing metal music and how did you get in touch with the style? Also, was it hard to find like-minded souls to form a band?
Bassem Deaibess: Well, If I wanted to answer that, it would take me probably around 20 pages. To make it as short as possible, I started learning guitar when I was around 15, and that lead me to look for guitar oriented music which lead me to Rock, Hard Rock and Metal music. Back in the 90s it was not hard at all to find that music since it used to be played on our Radios and we had Rock Shows on TVs, the major Metal bands were all over our radios and TVs such as Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Sepultura, Morbid Angel, you name it.
When I got introduced to this music mainly thanks to my cousins, it was love at first hearing. As a typical dream of a beginner guitarist I wanted to form a band, so I started looking for members, and surprisingly it took less effort than I expected. Although Metal was available and accepted it was never mainstream, so I won’t say it was hard to find like-minded people or more precisely like-music-tasted people, but when we would discover someone who listened to metal it was as if you have just discovered a gold mine… We would in most cases become instantly friends… From the time I set my mind of forming a band towards the end of 1994 untill Blaakyum was formed in summer 1995 it was a relatively short period of time. Sadly since 1995 untill today the line-up changes have been endless, so I cannot answer the question on behalf of the past members.
Rany Battikh: Back in the 1980s/early 90s, Metal was pretty big in Lebanon spawning a couple of popular dedicated radio shows. My older brothers recorded selected songs on cassette tapes off the radio for bands like Metallica, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Dio, Slayer, Iron Maiden etc. I would put those tapes on and listen to them all day long. I remember once my brother brought a video tape of a Judas Priest concert home and he made multiple copies of it so we won’t damage it by over watching it.
When I picked up the bass, Metal was an obvious first choice for me, before I got into funk, jazz and classical music later on (through my college studies).
Jad Feitrouni: My father was a hard rock fan, so he always put on Deep Purple, Rainbow … while driving us to school. He always insisted that we (my sister and I) play an instrument, so we had piano lessons at an early age. I kept listening to hard rock and rock bands till I met Rany (Blaakyum’s Bassist) at university. Rany was a huge Power Metal fan at that time and started giving me CDs for Rhapsody, Stratovarius, Gamma Ray, Manowar, Helloween (to name a few)… he tried to give me thrash CDs but I didn’t like the style at that time. Few years later (when my ears matured) I gave thrash a try and I have been a huge fan ever since.
Rabih Deaibess: My brother (lead vocals) was sick enough to put some Sepultura on my headphones when I was 6… When I grew up I started listening to Symphony X (Divine wings of tragedy). I was 9 years old, the only reason why I did was because I heard my brother saying to my other brother (Blaakyum’s ex-bassist) that this is too complicated, that he will not understand anything of it. Somehow it angered me and I wanted to understand that music. So I started to become fond of that style and love the sound of the guitar and drums. When I was 11 I started playing the guitar, but the song I learned to play to was ‘Hey God’, by Bon Jovi.
I have to ask, how was it to play the first Lebanese rock festival? What was that like for the crowd, the bands, the atmosphere…?
Bassem Deaibess: The first concert Blaakyum performed at was in 1996 at the Lebanese University, which was the first Metal concert to be organised after the civil war. It was interesting to see so many metalheads, and back then we had even media coverage. The first Major Rock festival was organised in 1997 in place in Beirut called “Beirut Hall” the festival held around 13 bands and it was dubbed simply Rock Concert!! It was thrilling to go on stage and see around 2500 people waiting to hear you, we were so young and amateuristic back then, and although I felt we did a horrible job as a band, the crowd was so supportive. We probably were among the least experienced bands, the other bands were seriously amazing. I never realised how high the standards of the Metal Scene were back then and the atmosphere was really extremely friendly, like a brotherhood. The next year Rock Concert II happened, but Blaakyum did not participate. We kept playing in one of the most famous 90s (up till 2005) Rock and Metal venues that hosted regular concerts on a weekly basis, it was called Peak Concert Hall. It had a capacity of 700 people and it was almost always full, up till 2001 where Blaakyum performed in the first edition of Rock Nation, a yearly Rock/Metal festival (though mainly Metal) that kept going till 2008. The scene during all these years had its ups and downs, but considering a country of 4 million inhabitants, the scene is extremely impressive here even in its down phase.
What bands were the ones that got you guys into metal?
Bassem Deaibess: For me personally it was Guns’N’Roses at first who got me into the whole Rock/Metal genre, followed by AC/DC. Then came Metallica’s ‘Black Album’ and Iron Maiden’s ‘Fear of the Dark’, from there on the snowball rolled.
Rany Battikh: Prior to Metallica’s self-titled album’s release (in Lebanon), ‘Master of Puppets’ was a game changer for me, definitely my Metal bible for a very long time alongside Black Sabbath’s Live Evil.
Jad Feitrouni: The bands that got me into metal where Manowar, Rhapsody (Now named Rhapsody of Fire), Gamma Ray, Hammerfall, Helloween, and many others…
Rabih Deaibess: bands that got me into metal: Symphony X, Dream Theatre, Rhapsody (now named Rhapsody of Fire), Evergey, Pantera, Testemant, Nightwish, Alter Bridge (those are part my inspiration as well)
Where do you get your inspiration from for your lyrics and music?
Bassem Deaibess: I must admit that the main source of my inspiration lately whether for writing lyrics or music, is my anger. Especially with what is going on lately in the region and the threat of Islamic fanaticism that is threatening my country, the incredible political and social corruption, and the intellectual struggle and the cultural terrorism we face on a daily basis because of religious and political dominance. There is always a social, political or socio-political message behind each song even those who seem to be more related to literature and arts (I am a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and fantasy novels as well as Edgar Alan Poe and thriller/detective novels e.g. Dan Brown) Musically I must say that the main influence from the Metal side is Thrash Metal, mainly Testament, Overkill, Sodom, Kreator, Onslaught, Metallica and Pantera. But I am also very fond of Classical music especially Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky and RimskyKorsakov. And traditional Lebanese folk like Lady Fairuz, Lady Sabah, Wadih El Safi, Marcel Khalife and TonyHanna, and Oriental Arabic folk such as MuwashahatAndalusia and RoudoudHalabia. I am so much in love with Celitc music.
As for Jad and Rany other than the bands they named that are a major part of their influences, I must say the Blaakyum Rhythm section is heavily influenced by Funk and funk fusion.
Rabih Deaibess: I was a Progressive and Power Metal fan for a long time, then I got a bit off track to bands like Creed and Nickelback, but then I heard 3 tracks that changed my life: Black Sabbath’s ‘Cross of Thorns’, Dio’s ‘Hide In The Rainbow’ and Pantera’s ‘I’m Broken’ and I went more into thrash stuff like Metallica, Megadeath, Testeman, Kreator and Exodus.
Recently you played two major festivals (as if you need reminding, right?). What was it like for you as a band to get to this international stage?
Bassem Deaibess: Well, it is a proof that even in the most unlikely circumstances and against all odds, if you work hard, you are good enough and you want something so bad, you can get it. Let us be honest, to have a tour on your own, without any label or management backing you up, would seem a normal thing from someone in Europe, it is not really that hard. But for us in the Middle East, it is equivalent to an eternity of hard labour!
First the dehumanizing factor of getting Visas (So many times we were about to cancel some dates because we weren’t sure we will get the Visas), the way we are treated in some embassies is almost inhuman, you feel you are an inferior race begging the White West supremacy for a chance to go to their countries. Applying for a Visa is such a stressful and anxious experience and you are totally helpless. Then comes the transportation, I mean again in Europe, you can simply rent a small van, get in there and drive to whatever country or town you want. Here we have to travel on our own; the economical difference is huge even with the crisis in Europe, what is considered affordable there cost us a fortune here, then the hassle to run from an airport to a bus station with all our equipment and luggage on our back, then from one train terminal to the other and try to do it without missing the train and without breaking any of the equipment… So by the time you reach the venue you are almost dead *laughs*. But then the moment you go on stage, and see the people actually digging our music and headbanging, it always pays off.
Rabih Deaibess: First time we played will be a memory I’ll never forget and tell my kids about if I ever have any. It made Rany, Jad and me become like brothers as we laughed and played together. That bond made our sound tighter as well.
Jad Feitrouni: Playing on the same stage as Testament, Overkill, Onslaught, Iced earth, Annihilator… was a dream comes true especially with Bassem, Rabih and Rany by my side. I listen to these bands every day and to be with them in the same room was simply amazing.
Rany Battikh: It feels great to reach that “international stage” as this was our goal since day one. We went through a lot of hassle to get there for sure, but hard work does pay off at some point and sacrifices trans-morphed into achievements.
What is the most common response that you get when people figure out Blaakyum is from Lebanon?
Bassem Deaibess: OWE DEATH AND DISPARE *laughs hard* actually we got mixed reaction, some do not even know where Lebanon is, some gets really intrigued, many ask us if Metal is accepted in Islam, which use to puzzle us since we are not an Islamic country, nor any of the current members come from an Islamic background. There is a lot of stereotyping that we face, which we actually understand. We would be surprised when we meet some people who actually have a very good idea about our country, but still they would be amazed that there is Metal there.
Jad Feitrouni: The most common response that we get when figuring out that Blaakyum is from Lebanon is a long silence. This is where we explain where Lebanon actually is on the map *laughs* But when people actually know where Lebanon is they get surprised to know that metal reached that little country in the Middle East.
Rani Battikh: People get pleasantly surprised when we reveal our country of origin. Some ask about the desert (we don’t have any!), some ask about religion (I was never tempted to discuss my Christianity in that case) and some just show how enthusiastic they are about eastern women!
Rabih Deaibess: We get the funniest reactions sometimes, people get more exited and curious about us once they know we are from Lebanon, some asks us about desert or camels, personally I have never seen one! Some get shocked that we even know what metal music is or that we drink beer!
I read in an interview that metal has been around in Lebanon since the seventies, but it struggled for acceptance. Most people, as you probably know, would not even think there’s heavy metal being played in Lebanon right now. Can you tell a bit about how metal arrived in Lebanon and how it developed further?
Bassem Deaibess: Ever since Lebanon was created in 1920 in it was open towards the west. Even in many cases half the Lebanese refused to identify to the Arabic world they are in. Western Culture was rarely viewed as an alien culture, but as part of the Lebanese culture, thus we always were a true mix of both oriental and western cultures. Whatever was mainstream in USA and Europe, was mainstream in Lebanon. So the underground scene in the west was established in Lebanon almost at the same time, even the counter-culture and youth movements such as the beat movement, and the hippies were here as well, so Metal came naturally. When Black Sabbath released their first album at the beginning of the 70s it was all over the place in Lebanon, Lebanese clubs and pubs were full of bands playing Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin,Yes and Deep Purple… even the quarrels between the Disco fans and the Hard Rock fans were as common here as in the west. When the punk movements in the mid-70s took over the streets of London it did so in the streets of Beirut… of course there were some cultural clashes but they were really kept at minimal. So during the 80s and 90s Metal was all over the radios and the TV rock shows… Till this day Metal has a strong presence in Lebanon, although at times it was under attack from either religious or governmental institutions. Although a big part of society is ignorant about what Metal is and not always accept it, it is fair to say that metal is as alive in Lebanon as in any other western country.
In Sam Dunn’s documentary ‘World Metal’ (if you haven’t seen it, I really recommend it) he shows that metal bands in the middle-east face a lot of adversity from their respective societies. In some countries it’s virtually impossible to be a metal fan on your own terms. How is the situation in Lebanon and how is it compared to surrounding countries?
In Lebanon Metal was very well established on the contrary of most other Middle Eastern countries, It wasn’t till the mid-90s, precisely 1996 that some Christian religious institutions started the “Hard Rock/Metal panic” after a tragic incident of a teenage suicide. This is also very similar to what happened in the west few years earlier, especially in USA. Because religious institutions in Lebanon had so much power, they were able to spread a kind of mass panic. Then the government took part and created a black list of bands and albums and banned some shows, so we had some trouble with the authorities.
All this calmed down by 1999. We even played in few mainstream festivals, but in 2002 a fiercer “witch hunt” was organized both by the church and the government and later the Islamic religious institutions joined forces. This kept going on until 2005, with the assassination of the business man Rafik al Harriri, a prominent political figure and former prime minister, the country went into an open revolution against the Syrian occupation of Lebanon and the Syrian presence was driven off, in the aftermath of this political uprising the country plunged into a long political crisis that is still present, and during all this they forgot about Metal. Every now and then few voices in the media or the Church are expressing some concerns of Satanism and drug abuse in Metal, but after the information age kicked in, these voices are quickly silenced.
The Lebanese Metal scene still has its ups and downs, mainly related to the economic and political situation, but I guess this is what gives the Lebanese bands who write original music the edge that puts them apart from the main western Metal scenes. Needless to say with all this, Lebanon is one of the very few Arab countries that has a freedom margin and were Metal is not utterly threatened, this mix of minimal oppression and margin of freedom makes Lebanese Metal able to develop and creates its own unique identity.
In an interview you describe the Lebanese metal scene and also discuss its better days in the past. Can you describe to an outsider how the Lebanese scene looks like? What kind of venues do you play shows at and is it easy to buy new records and such?
Bassem Deaibess: As I said, during the 70s, 80s and during the heat of the civil war, the clubs were full of bands playing and performing Rock, Hard Rock and Metal music. After the Civil war things were going well, many local town festivals like “Al Hamra festival” and “Féte de la Music” and others always had local rock or metal bands on the bill. Up till 1999 there were few “illegal” radio stations that were exclusively Rock and Metal, to name few we had Blue FM, Generation X FM, UFO, and Rock FM. We would look for big venues to organize our multiple band concerts and Rock fests, and we had a regular underground venue called Peak Concert Hall. Around the end of the old century we had few clubs that hosted Rock bands regularly such as “Mon General”, “The Irish Pub” and “Rio Grande” bar.
At the beginning of the new millennium, a new venue was available in a town called Kaslik part of the city of Jounieh, it was called Mad Wheels, where many underground and mostly low budget and poor produced concerts would take place. This was alongside Peak Concert Hall, which remained active till 2005. Also many summer festivals would take place, including the famous Rock Nation (from 2001 till 2008), featuring big stages and good production. At the start of the new millennium, Hard Rock Café Beirut opened and we also had many metal-friendly pubs. One was called “Purple Haze”, which was established by Rockers For Rockers. Sadly, it was short lived but started a tendency other bars and clubs followed. Next was “Kalinka Pub”, which hosted rock and metal bands from 2002 up to its closing date in 2005. Until 2010, the “Nova Club” was the hub of the scene, together with “Cherry’s Pub”, which was active from 2006 until 2009. It was a phenomenon in the scene and the beating heart in its short existence. A pub was started in the Hamra Street, named “Pavillion”, which was a new centre for the underground. For a while we had a big venue where bands could play, named Tantra (capacity: 1.500 people). It took over from Peak Concert Hall, when it closed down in 2004. That was the time we had the Rock and Metal organization to be established called Rock Ring.
Rock Ring took the Metal concerts and festivals to a new level, and organised a high profile events during the first decade of the new millennium, including the participation of Lebanon in the GBOB (Global Battle Of the Bands) twice as well as bringing the all-stars band called Hail to Lebanon twice. During those years few mainstream figures helped the scene by bringing some international acts to Lebanon, like Mr. Jyad El Murr (a rocker himself) who is the co-owner of a TV station and the owner of a Radio station in Lebanon. He was the one to organize the biggest Rock and Metal Festival in Lebanon known as Beirut Rock Festival, and brought bands to Lebanon such as: Anathema, To Die For, Catatonia, Moonspell and others. In 2009 individual efforts were made to bring Lake Of Tears, and the concert was a success. Blaakyum opened for them as well.
But things started deteriorating after 2010, Tantra the main Metal venue at the time, was demolished, Cherry’s Pub has closed down, many pubs such as Nova cut down on accepting Metal bands, but we still have few Metal friendly venues were we throw a gig every now and then such as Yukunkun Music Club, and Quadrangle Pub.
As for the stores, before 1996 Metal was available almost all around the country, but the place where we could find ANY metal new release and old albums was in Disco Rama in the suburbs of Beirut… That changed dramatically as Disco Rama was raided by the security forces and no longer offers Metal music. It has become extremely hard to get Metal albums except for the few very well- known Metal bands, and basically the only place I can think of is Virgin MegaStore, ironically it is not allowed to have the Label Metal, so the Metal albums are all there under the Label, Alternative/Pop-Rock. Mostly we get our music online these days.
We have a few instrument stores that sell good quality instruments, especially when it comes to Guitars and Drums and Amps and everything related to Metal. Those places are named Instruments Garage, and Mozart Chahin. We have few rehearsal studios, but there are no facilities for Metal Musicians in Lebanon, being one is simply choosing to live a hard and unrewarding life. Lately only one such facility exist and it is called LYC (Lebanese Youth Centre), but it is only accessible through subscription and is not open to the public.
I understand Lebanon has a great deal of religions that are officially recognized. I was wondering about the following: the devil is a common theme in traditional metal and the church as something to oppose, how do you guys deal with these themes?
Bassem Deaibess: Blaakyum actually do have Christian members, we all come from Christian backgrounds, although most of us are Atheists but we do have one member who is actually a Christian Believer. Some Lebanese bands tackled the traditional themes of devilry and very, very few were openly oppose the church. In our culture we learned to respect all forms of religions even if we oppose them. Blaakyum music can be described as anti-conformism; many of our song messages invite the listener to be free from dogmatic brainwashing. Personally I am against insulting religion, I find it really a cowardly act. I am anti-religious myself, but there is a difference between criticizing and pointing out the dangers of religion and being outright disrespectful. It is in our view everyone’s right to be religious as much as it is our right to criticize and expose religious bigotry.
What can you tell us about the Massacore incident? Is it exemplary for things you face as a band?
The Massacore incident was this: A live show took place in Lebanon and reporters made it out to be a satanic mass. This was mocked by the metal scene for all the obvious reasons. Then another reporter made things look even worse, claiming it was rituals in an old monastery, drug taking and the presence of kids of public figures etcetera. When Bassem Deaibess called in to the tv-program, it became more evident that it was an attempt to smear the metal scene with all sorts of accusations, which left a taint on the scene for times to come.
Bassem Deaibess: The Massacore incident came as a shock as we thought that the Lebanese society has moved forward and away from such claims. We have been relatively able to organise and play concerts without any such incident since 2009 when the General Secretary of the Catholic Schools issued a paper to the student’s parents warning them of the dangers of Metal and how it is a place for drug abuse and Satanism… That incident did not spread out of control as the organizer of the event is a very powerful public figure and has huge political support. But then in 2012 when the Massacore incident happened, we knew that things have not changed much, we did not face a similar situation as in 2009 after that incident though, but we know for a fact that whenever the Church or the uneducated population have a chance they will bring this subject up. They do it simply because they ignore what the hell is actually going on and they get shocked when they see us moshing, or when they hear someone growl. To be honest, this is nothing like the our “Dark Ages” between 1996 and 2005, that period was by far much more threatening to us as Metal fans, and I am sure that period is over… Or at least I hope so.
You live in the middle of a turbulent region of the world. Do you feel this has become part of your inspiration and your lyrical material?
Bassem Deaibess: Definitely, the situation that we are living in always is an inspiration, what better place to create Metal music than living in such a shit-hole, with political corruption, religious ignorance and war threats all around us. In fact, many of our songs are about such things, like the song ‘Cease Fire’ that talks about the 1996 and 2006 Israeli aggression against Lebanon. The same goes for the newly emerged threat of the so called Islamic State, which is today the biggest threat we face especially as non-Muslims. Thish as brought so much anger to our hearts, and that anger will always translate into Metal Music. The album we are currently trying to record has most of its tracks inspired by the events that followed Massacore concert, it is filled with anger but as well state how the Lebanese Metal Scene revolted against the faulty accusations… We already have some material prepared as well for the third album which in most part is inspired by the anger, fear and resentment we feel because of the threat of the so called “Islamic State” which is more known as IS.
So, what would you really like to tell about Blaakyum, that I didnt ask yet?
Bassem Deaibess: Blaakyum is but one example of the Lebanese Metal Scene perseverance an struggle against discrimination and cultural terrorism, be it religious or political. There are also many bands such as Kimaera, Inner Guilt, Kaoteon, Nocturna, and many more that are also here, and we will remain here. The Lebanese metal bands and fans are authentic, Metal was born in Birmingham from the voices of a neglected youth, that were under the stress of nuclear threat and industrial dehumanization, and Metal in Lebanon just like the majority of the Middle Eastern Metal scene. It is the product of the suffering of youth and generations who have been living for so long under horrible circumstances. In truth we do represent the authentic feelings of the Middle Eastern and Lebanese youth in all its forms and different points of view and when I say ‘we’ I mean the Lebanese Metal Scene and not the band.
As for Blaakyum, we have been around for a long time, and we are not going anywhere. We will remain a thorn in the side of bigotry and ignorance.
Where can people check out your music?
Well we are all over social media, on Facebook, twitter, myspace, Instagram… from there people can check out what is going on with the band, sometimes we release some footage or some music, as well our album is sold at various selling points in Lebanon and few points in Europe, but for anyone who wants to buy our album they can do it online through iTunes, Amazon MP3, 7Digital, Spotify and many online outlets.
So much good music, so little time. Let’s focus on some great underground metal that has been coming out lately. This time I listened to Winterfylleth, Alkerdeel/Nihill, Fogg and Goatwhore.
Winterfylleth – The Divination Of Antiquity
I first came across Winterfylleth in the most unusual way, through a scholarly article on black metal by Caroline Lucas. I have to admit, that I have since also read some work of Miss Lucas, who writes catching and academic pieces. At first I felt reluctant to listen to this band, due to the white supremacist link in the article, which is ofcourse mainly refuting it. After reading the lyrical words about the band in Metal Hammer, I checked out Winterfylleth. They paint the English country in sonic patterns, describing its inherent complexity and beauty.
There’s a touch of grey skies and misty forests in the dense sound of Winterfylleth, which feels a bit like Wolves In The Throne Room. Granted, they sound very little like them, but the same love for their surroundings and the earth they live on is totally there. Listen to a song like ‘Whisper Of The Elements’ or the warm tones of ‘A Careworn Heart’. This is not your ordinary grimdark black metal band. Recently they also released a split with Drudkh, which might tell a bit more about where this band comes from. It’s a love that drives these guys, not hatred and not death, to make beauty. Beauty that unfortunately very little people will ever fully understand.
Alkerdeel/Nihill – Split
The label Hypertension Records is releasing some excellent splits. They are named ‘The Abyss Stares Back series’ and this is prat IV. Combining the nihilistic onslaught of these two bands brings a record that is hard to listen to, but so rewarding in its ferocious katharsis. I mean, listening to this record feels like a journey through the dark pits of your own existence in some way. Facing the grim and dark reality of oneself through intensity and continuous sonic violence.
Alright, more detail to the two sides of this record. Dissonant tones anounce the start of Alkerdeel’s side. Threatening and dense atmospheric guitar sounds create a constant tension. The mad torrent of chaos that slowly envelops you is like the swirling chaos in which Azathoth dances according to Lovecraft. The wicked screams haunting you from all sides, while perpetual riffs seem to accelerate the speed in which you are flying about. Alkerdeel manages to sound both subtle and Celtic Frost-like blunt. The Nihill part contains swirling and intense black metal, so thick that it merges into a continuous swirling stream of sound. The songs surge ever onwards, creating atmospheric patterns woven through the pattern the rhythm spills out. The songs sound static in one moment and spiralling out of control in a wild crescendo on another. I can tell you its worth waiting for that new Nihill album in a few weeks.
With a title that leaves no questions, you’d expect something more intense, but the foggy, fuzzy psych-doom of Fogg is just fine the way it is. The Texans play a dirty bit of music on this new record, with a lot of eerie reverb and wooly sound patterns. They sound a bit like the general generation of hipster garage/psych bands that has been enveloping the world in recent years. The difference is that these guys sound creepy and slightly evil in thier songs.
The sound is a bit oldschool and reminds me as listener a bit of bands like Blue Cheer with the full on aural attack. Think of the primitive punk and metal sounds and that is somewhere in between where Fogg has its sound. Lazy, drugged out riffs swirl around in an attempt to grasp the spirit of the past. This is a perfect record for your friday afternoon, just to chill out and lean back a bit before the weekend finally hits.
Goatwhore – Constricting Rage of the Merciless
The raging sound of Goatwhore is one that combines black metal raw with rock’n’roll power. Think of Venom and pretty much that is the closest you get to what this strange NOLA band sounds like. Yes, the band from New Orleans was part of the recent documentary on Noisey that was aired online. The music is played in a high pace with understandable, but barked vocals. Blistering and grim guitars rage throughout the song.
There’s a particular swag to the sound of Goatwhore, that distinguishes them from others. They might have made the album here that even Darkthrone didn’t feel comfortable releasing. Atmospheric in darkness but always full of speed and energy, full of vile words and satanic praise. Oh, they were also pretty incredible live and such nice guys in person. That is the thing with this band, they are not being some strange act, just some guys playing some nasty metal.
For this edition of my look at new music I will go underground into the World of Warcraft and link to you the five records that made playing WoW most enjoyable. Therefor this post is dedicated to Kostas K.
Marduk – World Funeral
Some albums are good for grinding. The blundering force of the Swedish death metal band has some added razorsharp guitar work that goes well with slaughtering a lot of enemies in WoW. Specially fitting for those who play a melee class I always felt, or a fireballin’ M.A.G.E. The sheer fury might not matche the questing though.
The songs pound ever onwards, unrelenting and full of rage. The harsh, barked vocals add that warlike feeling to the songs. Marduk is one of a kind I always think. They mix the atmospheric elements of black metal with the devastation of death metal in a unique way. Live it was less impressive I have to admit, but this band is definitely one of my WoW soundtrack ones.
Keep Of Kalessin – Kolossus
With ‘Kolossus’, the band from Norway has unleashed a melodic and epic masterpiece on the world. The record came out in 2008 and struck me immediately. Perhaps in some ways it was the gateway record for me to get into black metal in the first place. Particularly the song ‘Ascendant’ is a perennial favorite for me. One of the characteristics of the album is the tight sound. The record sounds well produced and clean, which makes it rather accesible.
The second thing is the enormous amount of catchy riffs that keeps pouring out of the speakers. Layered songstructures give space for a lot of those, creating a semblance of the distorted sound commonly used in black metal. It helps that this band looks like a bunch of Elven warriors. I played this music while questing/levelling a lot. Epic black metal is best metal!
Therion – Gothic Kaballah
Hearing ‘T.O.F. – The Trinity’ the first time opened my mind to a whole unknown side of heavy metal music and to Therion itself. Soon after I downloaded this album and later purchased it. I have listened to this music so endlesly that I pretty much knew every song by heart. I’ve seen Therion live since then 3 times, unfortunately two of those were after the release of ‘Sithra Ahra’ and one after ‘Les Fleurs Du Mal’ (a record I can not love…sorry).
If this band had not been recommended to me, I would never have found them. I’m pretty sure I would not have gotten heavily into Celtic Frost either then and maybe a lot of stuff would not have happened then. The songs are full of occult references, mysterious topics and confusing wordings. My favorite, I guess, has become ‘The Perennial Sofia’. No band really sounds like Therion and Gothic Kabballah is the most unique work they produced.
This record is one of the few that really are essential to my record collection. Without Therion, I would have missed out on so much beauty. I know some people find it easy to hate on them now, but to me they’ll always be a bright light in the scene.
Bolt Thrower – Those Once Loyal
I guess the whole idea of recommending this record had a lot to do with our guild name. Titled ‘The Angels Of Death’, there was an obvious link to the universe of Warhammer 40k and thus to Bolt Thrower. Their specific brand of death metal has never ceased to amaze me up to a few weeks ago when I saw them live. They’ve only affirmed their greatness to me. Though my favorite song is ‘World Eater’ from one of their first albums, the record I started listening to was ‘Those Once Loyal’. For some reason the order of songs was messed up in my mp3 list, so first was always ‘Anti-Tank (Dead Armor).
The sound is rather clean, compared to their original work, and embraces a continuous, pounding sound that gives you the feeling that a tank is about to over run you. Powerful rhythms and churning bass sounds pave the way for the onslaught that is Bolt Thrower. Particularly suited for the heavy grinding work (with a higher level char).
Ensiferum – Victory Songs
Maybe the most WoW band out there, since their folk elements really have nothing to do with any folk music. A bunch of guys in kilts playing a blend of melodic death and power metal about wielding swords, drinking magic potions and sailing out to fight. We even had a tank called Ensiferum in the guild so that adds to the whole things. The epic songs with a big fun factor and not too much complicated elelements were great for a night of questing on your own and enjoying guild chat.
We also had a tank named Fluff, but that’s a whole different story… With this fun band I’ve come to the end of my WoW album list. When I started playing, I listened to a lot of shitty stuff during the levelling. I’m still levelling characters in WoW. Currently a Dwarf Shaman and a Night Elf Death Knight. Soon Warlords of Draenor will be out and I’ll level onwards alone.
But with these great tunes, perhaps more will join the cause.
In this little segment I review sounds of the underground, music you might not find unless you really go dig for it. From Nerdcore hiphop to depressive black metal, I love music. So check it out and maybe check the albums I checked out for you.
The Wolves of Avalon – Carrion Crows Over Camlan
So why pick their 2011 album over the 2014 release ‘Boudica’s Last Stand’? Well, I simply couldn’t get my hands on it. I’m sure this band of Britons had worries about becoming a laughing stock in the whole pagan genre. There’s a lot of things ‘off’ on this record, things that just don’t fit in with the regular sound of pagan black metal bands (under what banner they are apparently labelled). Firstly, the band is making more folk and epic orchestrated music than black metal. Secondly, vocalist Metatron (what???) has a bark that is more a raspy death grunt, like Skyforgers’ Peteris Kvetkovskis. It’s a bit not there.
Still the total package makes the band sound epic and daring. The vocals fit in with the different, folky sound. True, the bombastic sound is inevetably cheesy. The roaring orchestral sound reminds me of the records where Finntroll liked to use that as an intro (not as something to liven up their music). Metal is the one genre however, where cheesy is not a problem. These guys seem genuine, not a bunch of Paganfest wannabees. That makes their cheesy alright and interesting.
PS: There’s a hint of national prideand historical inaccuracy, so steer clear if these things make you edgy.
Ides of Gemini – Old World New Wave
I don’t know how to call the style of music that this the product of this LA trio. What tripped my sensors is participation of music journalist Jason Bennett in this and. It always is intriguing when elements meet and as a music journalist myself (I AM OPEN FOR YOUR PAYED JOBS! CALL ME!) I know how different my look at music is, compared to the one musicians themselves have. The sound is clearly occult, metal infused but also gently rubbing itself agains the cold wave bands of the 80’s, think Siouxi & The Banshees, Dead Can Dance and The Cure?
The slow pace and captivating vocals by Sera Timms are the red line throughout the hazy sounds of Ides of Gemini. Long flowing riffs and dreamy sounds. This is an intriguing record, but it might bore the metal fan who likes some sharper edges to his music a bit. The dreamy sounds for me do start being a bit difficult to stay focussed on after five or six songs. It has a certain static feeling to it, without much energetic moments. There is plenty of stuff happening in their music though, like the steady riffing with the wild drums on ‘May 22, 1453’ or the majestic opening of ‘The Adversary’. Oh, the song is not from the album but represents them well.
T.S. Eliot Appreciation Society – A New History
Seldom I have been so touched by music I picked up on Bandcamp, just because it has one of my favorite writers/thinkers in its name. The T.S. Eliot Appreciation Society is a one man singer-songwriter formation as it’s called. Organic, not entirely in tune, a bit too loud and a rough mix, together these elements make up for what is a warm and pleasant record with a melancholic feeling. It feels like the road, the traveller weary of walking and the heart tired of hurt.
Songs like ‘The Wicked Messenger’ and ‘Heydrich’ are my absolute favorites. I’ve been listening to the preceding EP’s ever since I first heard the music of Tom Gerritsen. Live they were delivered with the same passion that is tangible on the record. There’s a love and sincerity to the music that you can not fake or buy. I would really recommend this record to anyone who loves the guitar playing wanderer and authentic sounds.
Solstafir – Ótta
Sometimes it just takes a little more time for me to grasp the beauty of music that I hear. Solstafir is definitely one of those cases. I saw the band live a couple of years ago at Fortarock, which was a dreadful show. Every subtle element was blown away by the wind, the atmosphere was missing and the band never really connected with the audience. Their music on Ótta is made for autumn, to be listened to in a dark room, with the right lights and intimate atmosphere. Solstafir is a club band, not a outdoor fest group.
The music is not even that fierce and metal-like. There’s a subtlety ot it, a bit of mystery even. It’s as if the band sings about their land and has translated its unique qualities into song. Dreamy, organic and somtimes a little folky even, it’s as if the band has blended pagan metal with shoegaze or postrock, replaced the vocals and created a whole different beast. The more I listen to Ótta, the more lovely I find it. The Icelandic vocals I do not understand, but it is as if you feel them. The piano, the eerie sounds and misty clouds of sound, with Solstafir you enter a different world entirely and it is brilliant.