Tucked alongside the Voronezh River in Russia lives a shaman. This particular shaman is also an artist, musician and the driving force behind a small publishing house. With an independent ethos and strong creative flair, the impact of this discovery has been considerable. Deep. Stirring. Personal. Enter our guide, Ord Err, as we walk the paths of old together…
Pariah Child bids you a hearty warm welcome! As the sun sinks lower in the autumnal sky, leaves are falling thick and fast here. Has Winter’s cold grip already taken hold in your land?
Good time of a day, Pariah Child, on behalf of the Status Prod label, Mist over Wormwood, Voronezh land and me personally, Ord Err! In the Voronezh lands, autumn is in full swing. The leaves have already covered us with a golden veil, but the cold fingers of winter have not yet squeezed into an ice hoop. Autumn in Russia is beautiful and inspiring. The rivers are not yet covered with ice, the trees have not lost their luxurious hair, melancholic rains are interspersed with a bright, warm sun, and the autumn smell raises from the depths of the soul something exciting, agonizing, with notes of longing for the outgoing warmth. Of course, winter is approaching, but for now we enjoy the last days of still awake nature…
How and when were you first touched by the spirits, forces and energies in the world around you?
When I was very young, I began to pay attention to the events taking place in my life, which I could not explain logically and, accordingly, understand their nature and regularity. Over the years, these events have increased, and understanding came from a completely different side. The acceptance of myself and the forces around me, communication with them, the exchange of energy came. There is no doom or backbreaking work in this. You talk to them – they talk to you.
Please describe the wider region of Voronezh where you live. Have you discovered inspiring sacred sites in the locality or is the gift to connect carried deep within?
It’s worth starting with the fact that the Voronezh region is at the junction of two tectonic plates, we have practically no earthquakes, but from the point of view of energies, this is not fun at all.
Officially, the city of Voronezh was founded in 1586 as a guard post, although people lived here before, since the 1st Millennium BC. And from that time, they almost continuously fought for territory. With the advent of the sentry post, the situation has improved, but not much.
In 1695 Voronezh became the cradle of the Russian Fleet. The fleet was built heavily and not without losses.
The history of Voronezh from the time of Peter I to the Revolution of 1917 is full of numerous events such as the city being destroyed by fires several times. There was a drought and famine too.
During the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945), the front line passed through the centre of the city, residents were killed by invaders, 92% of houses were destroyed. Death was everywhere. The city, literally, was rebuilt on bones.
We live in these energies, with our centuries-old history of death and rebirth. Everywhere there are stories of ghosts, anomalous stars, places as sacred and black as night itself.
The gift of communication is something difficult to describe and comprehend; it is rather another way of obtaining information.
Earlier in this issue, Tony Tears testified to creating and wearing specific masks in different phases of his esoteric journey. What role, if any, do masks play in meditative practice for you?
The mask is a significant element of strength in many cultures and traditions. It serves as an expression of the shaman’s inner potential, a means of union with the spiritual essence depicted on the mask. The mask is a merger with the gods, with all the powerful spirits of this cult. This is a unity with the cult, with the spirit of the mask, an appeal for his help and support.
But, most importantly, the mask is also the main protection. It makes it possible to appear in a modified image, if you need to be invisible. The mask allows you to travel into the world of spirits, and when you return, remain unrecognized by them. This makes it possible to endow yourself with superhuman qualities that cannot be achieved in ordinary life.
The mask should not be worn for fun or decoration though. This is a cult aspect that requires respect and appropriate treatment. That is why images of masks are created. They can be painted, carved from stone, from wood or other natural materials. Such masks can be worn directly on the body, or be located in the house, however, they are the subject of a cult, retaining the ability to protect their owner and the ability to merge with the spirit.
Your ability to craft talismans and amulets is uncanny. An art form almost forgotten. Where do you source these materials? Do you have a sense of the face you will carve from the outset or is each revealed gradually during the process? And do you need specific circumstances, say smells, sounds or lighting, to achieve the optimum results?
Thank you for your kind words. Initially, I cut in stone. For example, I made candlesticks in the ORD album “Sacra Mental Hypno Drone: Rituals, Revelations & Purification” (deluxe edition) myself. There are only 40 of them. Once I was presented with deer antlers, and when I was finishing the candlesticks, I already knew that in future I would cut on the bone and horn. All the material I order in Siberia, where they undergo a special antiseptic treatment, and come completely ready for carving. I cannot say that I know the face that I will cut. It is unfamiliar to me. It appears gradually, tells his story – who he is, where he came from and why. This process does not depend on me. I would say that the faces of the spirits control my hands so that I can manifest them.
When there were a large number of artefacts, we created the workshop Mist over Wormwood together with Darina Voinova, the co-owner of our Status Prod, label.. Darina is responsible for the design and planetary matching of faces, as well as the creation of jewelry that has a practical and esoteric meaning; I am responsible for the carvings. This creative workshop is now an integral part of the label.
A month ago, to coincide with the Autumn Equinox, you held an exhibition of striking paintings. Named “Spirits Who Wear Masks” the recurring theme of faces was present again. Some skeletal, others ghostly and all rather impressionistic. Over what length of period were they created? Would you elaborate on these visions given form in this body of work and any accompanying themes buried within?
All paintings were created this year, in a fairly short period. In fact, they were created in the same way as amulets. It’s just a different form of display. The picture is a container of the spirit for communication, an amulet for daily help. The spirit manifests itself in the process of work, sometimes others appear behind one face, and then the picture displays many faces. It was not easy to have time to display them all, but I think I did a good job with this task. An exhibition of my works took place in one of the oldest galleries in our city on the day of the Autumn Equinox. Within the framework of the exhibition, I conducted three performances: “Revitalizing the Mask,” “Meditation with Spirits” and “Letting go” – a musical act, revitalizing and revealing each picture, combining a sound canvas with an artistic canvas. The fusion of sound and visual images breathed life into each of more than 40 paintings and miniatures, manifesting its essence, making the viewer see, hear and feel.
During the exhibition, people wanted to buy my paintings in private collections. Therefore, after its completion, I put my paintings up for sale. So, now I am releasing not only music albums, but also my own paintings under the ORD brand.
Can you describe the emotions you channelled at the installation or how the intimate audience reacted to the experience?
As an ORD artist and ORD musician, each performance was a ritual, creating a space outside of place and time, where each external image served as a reflection of the internal, and hidden desires taking on their physical form. Without which the physical body can neither exist nor move, the beginning of a dialogue with the Spirits, the manifestation of the essence of the Mask.
The audience reacted in different ways: someone looked for their images and found them, someone else simply fell into a state of trance, and for others, sounds and images showed the intimate that is usually hidden in the most secret corners of the soul. So the reactions were different, yet no one remained indifferent.
ORD resides at the very core of your being. Ritual sounds, shamanic rhythms and traditional instrumentation blend to create an otherworldly impression. Time out of time. In a bid to better understand your roots, how, where and when did this musical journey begin?
I have come a long way from gothic, through martial to ambient. This is a long, necessary, but difficult path to overcome oneself, experience and spiritual maturation. ORD is a kind of cleansing, a withdrawal into oneself, an opportunity to show the world what am I, of what I am. Of course, the ritual part was always with me, but did not find such full expression in music. When I began to collect musical instruments, from Tibetan singing bowls, bells, overtone flutes to Yakut ritual instruments, when I began to order a variety of modular synthesizers and other noise boxes, then that ORD, which you can see now, was born. Of course, I change, like everything around me and my music with me, but as you very accurately said, ORD is the very core of my being, this is me.
For some eighteenth months now, “Sacra Mental Hypno Drone” has resounded in my home. Early in the morning. Late at night. Often on repeat. Its magnetic pull difficult to describe. Given that it was your first opus, what framework, if any, did you apply in order to achieve maximum impact?
Thank you, I am pleased that you are so hooked on this album. Hope your family doesn’t mind!
If only you knew in what conditions and how this album was created! It was an impulse of the soul, which I tried to express with the help of everything that came to hand and whenever I could, I extracted sounds and recorded them. In the middle of working on the album, I had a heart attack and ended up in the hospital, but even there I was recording sounds and writing poetry, which was very frightening for the staff. Of course, I continued working on the album as soon as I got home. I was carried away and couldn’t think of anything else.
Two versions exist. The second, considerably more limited than the first, contains another disc amongst other bespoke artefacts. Can the primary album be fully understood and appreciated without the latter?
The second version is deeper, even more intimate and fuller. Of course, handmade ritual artefacts: ashes of a ritual fire, stone candlesticks, pine needles are elements of spiritual cleansing, an opportunity to make your journey into the depths of consciousness, understand your essence, understand where to expect help from. The limited edition bonus disc “Rituals & Purification” was written by me at the hospital and is an addition and explanation to the first disc. Now that the limited edition is completely sold out and I’m looking forward to release “Rituals & Purification” as a separate edition in the future.
Ironically enough and quite by chance, it appears that I have been exclusively listening to “Purification’ rather the “Revelation” session that precedes it! Why I was drawn to the omega disc in the first place I cannot say. But given the cyclic nature of these inner journeys do you think my inverse experience of the double album matters?
Apparently, you need more Purification than Revelation. Literally. This is how the world works – we have what we want most, what we need. The wave of liberation and transition to another level of yourself turned out to be more in tune with you now. It makes no difference which path you go; the main thing is that this path leads you to yourself.
Belatedly beginning at the beginning, my impressions are now quite different. Whilst the first movement carries a solemn air, the intensity after the second narration was unexpected! Each consecutive “Revelation” comes in comparable waves. Meditative trances mingle with a medley of arcane instruments Some spells more hypnotic than others. Presence is strong. At the fore and all around. By the fourth piece, it feels like the ritual has moved outside. The flames licking the night sky. If indeed we left the temple at all. Come the fifth and final stage, the wind is howling, the mountains vibrate and it feels like the world will come crashing down to engulf life itself. Would you care to comment on the structure of the compositions and where they were executed?
I recorded sounds at rituals, supplemented and expanded with live musical instruments, and we can say that the structure of the compositions corresponds to the structure of the rituals conducted, but it largely depended on what I played live in the studio.
Often printed lyrics are excluded. But you went a step further to present the beautiful Russian texts in English. Why was it important to reach out to the audience with a glimmer of meaning?
It was important for me to convey the meaning, I wanted the audience to be able to penetrate, immerse themselves and think over. Agree or disagree with me. Much can only be thought about by reading. Then the meaning of what is heard can change, be supplemented by something, or, conversely, purged of what the imagination had attributed to it. All this action is a search for truth, and each has its own process and the truth is also its own. My path can be described with the words that you can read in each edition. Maybe we are going the same way.
Returning to the familiar slopes of “Purification” and the lungful of air being released again and again to the beating drum, there is a palpable freedom of spirit. Restless or rallying. The bells and tambourines coaxing, enticing, encouraging flight through the forest then high above its leafy roof. The shamanic call from below exhilarating. Hear us! See us! What did you feel?
I felt inspiration and decline, a surge of energy and complete disappointment, a rise and fall of the soul. A state of mind that cannot be described in words. How impossible it is to describe in words what the shaman feels during the ritual. You know your path, but until you understand how to go through it, you fall and get up, rejoice and grieve, but you move. Lack of movement is death.
Why were the second, third and fourth movements not directly acknowledged on the double album? Are they some form of earthy post script to the rite of purification?
As I mentioned previously, during the recording of the first album, I had a heart attack. It hurt my health, but it also gave an impetus to the development of my creativity, so I left the hospital with new texts and new ideas.
And in the end, instead of one album, it turned out to be two. It would be strange to release two albums in a row, so we decided to add the songs as a bonus to the deluxe edition of the first untitled album to keep the intrigue. In the future, as I said, we are going to release “Rituals & Purification” as a standalone release.
One of my favourite sequences of the album is a whispered passage set against raging fire and a gentle rhythmic pulse that punctuates the flames. It is particularly potent. Awe-inspiring. Any comments?
Perhaps you mean just that very personal moment of my experience of the process of purification, the transition to a new level? Cleansing is not as deliverance, but as a moment of salvation. The moment, when any person, whoever he is, feels the essence of life.
This was the fourth album released by the fledgling Status Prod. It remains the most daring in aesthetic presentation. Explain the motivation to remove your creations from common industry and instead invest so much personal handicraft to the finished article?
For those who want to dive deeper into the ritual, follow the same path as me, perhaps it might be interesting to have not only the disc, but also those items that I used during the ritual. By the same principle, the album “Live Fire Meditation” was released with this personal touch. Each handcrafted investment is designed to complement the musical component. Conduct your ritual and draw your own conclusions. For those who like music, but are not interested in the ritual aspect, we made a regular edition that does not involve such investments.
What sacrifices were made to shape and share the forty signature stone candle holders?
The album artwork was, of course, colossal. For several months I carved the candlesticks, then we performed rituals and then spent a month just packing. It wasn’t easy, but the result is worth it. Any creativity is a difficult job, but it brings the deepest sense of satisfaction.
Given the dual format of the album, as soundtrack and art piece suitable for meditation, what level of feedback have you received to date? How much of that comes from inside Russia and beyond?
At first, this album was not very popular, and this is perfectly understandable. A debut by a new and unknown musician released in a luxury edition. But, over time, almost everyone began to order it. Almost a year ago, we gave you the last copy of this edition and took it off sale as sold out, yet orders still continue to come…
The feedback we have begun to receive, only now, has come from completely different people and mainly from abroad. I am very pleased that the audience likes what I do and this, of course, inspires me in my work.
From the outside looking in, 2017 seemed to have been a pivotal year in the development of Status Prod. The roster has been expanding with two or three handcrafted albums presented annually. What was the agreed premise of providing a home to other artists such as Lemna and When The Moon Is In Her Second Quarter? What more can you share about these shadowy entities?
Until 2016, the label was an auxiliary platform for the implementation of our own creative experiments, and since 2017 we decided to approach the work of the label more seriously. At the same time, we began to look for and release third-party musicians. As in any work, there are overlaps and difficulties and several releases never saw the light of day, but the work with the others was quite productive. For example, the leader of the Lemna project was so immersed in creative experiments that he closed the project. So, there will be no more Lemna albums, unfortunately, and now we only have a very small number of copies of this author. WTMIIHSQ, on the other hand, is preparing a new album with me as a guest musician, which will be released very soon. The WTMIIHSQ project is anonymous and even we did not know these ghostly entities for a long time, and I, perhaps, will keep them incognito.
But, in general, we are always open for cooperation with musicians in the genre of dark-ambient, ritual, death-industrial, black-industrial, atmospheric black metal, anything that coincides with the label’s theme.
Hladna was unknown to me yet their back catalogue appears colossal. How did that particular collaborative session happen with ORD? Did you lure this icon out of hermitage for the occasion? Having listened to the session many times, I’m curious to hear any memories you recall from in or around it…
With Koloyar Dreved, the leader of Hladna, we had known each other for a long time in absentia, but met in person shortly before the performance. The idea of a collaborative session came up suddenly, almost before the performance, so the whole session is improvisation. Koloyar took the lead throughout the performance and carried out the ritual, I was more likely an assistant, but this performance, surely, had not to be only heard, but also seen. The audience was in complete trance during the whole session. Then when everyone came to their senses, they did not let us go for a long time, asking questions to delve into the essence of what had just happened to them. Of course, it was a wonderful experience, which I hope Koloyar and I will repeat it again.
Status Prod. has a distinctly customised sound and style. What are your aspirations for the years ahead if indeed you plan so?
The label has a lot of plans, really. However, the situation in the world is making its own adjustments. Let me tell an open secret: in 2020, the pandemic greatly affected the work of all labels, regardless of their focus and standing. The plans have already had to be adjusted, but we will fix the situation. Now there are plans for three new releases in 2021, not only Russian, but also foreign musicians. We are superstitious people, so we will not name names or guess the exact dates. We will, of course, make an announcement in advance when the time is right…
ORD remains very much at its core. Whilst I have not yet absorbed all albums or even approached them chronologically, do you sense any arcs of development, shift in direction or intensification of specific elements over these three or four years? For example, “Avalokiteśvara“ is an intrinsically gentler journey than “Sacral Mental Hypno Drone” albeit undoubtedly created by the same hand…
Yes, of course I do. Life flows, changes and I move with this flow. New stories appear and I try to voice them. This is how albums are born. On the “Kamadarshana” EP, for example, you probably noticed that tribal elements appeared there. I have something else to pleasantly surprise you musically. But, in general, it will be the same ORD, with its own handwriting and its own unchanging rituals.
My copy of your stunning new album came with a cutting of lavender. Its fragrance lingered on my fingers and around my nostrils during that first sitting. Even now, I can recall its aroma. Would you share some reflections on its symbolic significance?
Surely! When we created “Mist over Wormwood,” we already knew that we would use in our work everything that nature gives us. Lavender is the symbol of the Mist, in this case. Thick, sticky, pre-dawn fog, passing through which you gain clarity and purity. Since we make our amulets only from natural materials and in strict planetary conformity, we attach a corresponding plant to each product. It is both a ritual and a kind of signature of our workshop.
That brings us full circle to Mist Over Wormwood. The poetic name given to a sacred place where we experience the unknown. Also a virtual rallying point to reflect upon and celebrate the Wheel of the Year. That ethos has underpinned this very discussion and the life you lead. How significant is this wider community or movement as a gateway?
Of course, Mist over Wormwood is a reflection of the lifestyle that we adhere to. When you enter the ritual of being, you can no longer not be there. We adhere to shamanic rituals, nevertheless, and the Wheel of the Year, in this case, is just a word that names the main milestones of the year so that it is clear what they mean. Some sort of symbol of paganism in the modern world. MoW is a way of broadcasting to the world the way we are going. And a workshop. We make not only amulets, talismans, amulets from bone, horn, stone, but also dream eaters, ritual candles and just jewelry from natural minerals. We write texts and articles, maintain our own lunar calendar, make rituals. So our interests are very broad.
Thank you kindly, Alexey, for taking the time to cast perspective on your many activities. They have stirred forgotten memories and enriched my life. The parting words are yours…
Thanks Danny. I am very pleased to talk to you. I’m glad that I could to tell my story and I hope it was interesting for you. Take care of yourself in any circumstances and look for positive aspects even there, where, it seems, they can no longer be found.
Danny Angus (October 2020 / January 2021)
This interview was originally conducted as part of a previously unpublished series. To be continued…
Sometimes, playing it straight with strength and conviction is all that a band needs to do to successfully win you over. A few years back at Keep It True, Emanes Metal recommended their “Throat Attack” LP for its catchy NWOBHM sensibilities. True enough, it hit the spot. But their new record hit the spot even harder. Easily one of the highlights from 2016, it should go down very well with Saxon and Judas Priest devotees. I’m just not convinced that many have heard the band or their story. This is it…
Welcome Reno, how the hell are you?
Hi Danny! I’m very fine! Appreciate your interest in our band.
The “Digital Overload” LP has been cranked up high here since it was released a few months back! It’s a feel good, full throttle, Heavy Metal record. Did you capture the vibe you sought when conceiving it?
Yes, we are incredibly happy with this album. Probably the first time that the production gives the songs the penetrating power they deserve. It’s definitely a no- bullshit Heavy Metal album, straight, catchy and heavy… sounding exactly as we wanted it!
My introduction to the band came via its predecessor, the “Throat Attack” LP, and as much as I enjoyed its honesty, the new album feels more compact and infectious. Did you approach either the composing or recording sessions differently?
For the last album, the “Throat Attack” LP, the approach was more spontaneous. Many songs were not even finished when we started the recording sessions. But this time, we paid a lot more attention to details such as vocal arrangements and guitar solos. Especially the vocal lines and refrains are much more memorable compared to the last output. Although the new songs are more refined on this one, we tried to remove any unnecessary ballast from the songs before we started recording them, leaving only the essence of steel…
So perhaps it’s not only my imagination! Would you agree that the record is stronger?
We feel the same! The new record is definitely stronger. The songs are better and more versatile.
Scratching below the surface, the lyrical themes are often darker than the upbeat mood. Religion, technology and war. The need to break free. Universal social issues. Is that the current climate? The world in a sorry state?
It’s great to see that you took a closer look at the lyrics. The need to break free is one of the cornerstones and a central statement of Heavy Metal, the fuel that keeps us going.
Some of the lyrics are pretty simple, dealing with the daily issues we are facing in this modern world. Others are telling stories of a not so distant, post-apocalyptic world, where technology is the master and people are the slaves. The digitalization of our daily life and the technologisation of complete economic sectors is a thing that really scares me. Our system is attackable and fragile. One day we will pay the price for it…
Beginning with the b-side, “Savage Nightshifts” is an odd title. The song itself could certainly be about any religious fanatic. But is the focus a suicide bomber?
Yes, you are right, the lyrics are written from the perspective of a suicide bomber. It’s a topical subject, and we always wanted to write a song about it. The original title for the song was “Arabian Nightshift” but we modified it to make it sound more universal and less political. Not to mention that the original title would probably not be helpful while planning our upcoming Arabian tour… Ha! Ha! No, just joking…
“Righteous Saviours” takes an alternative angle to criticising conflict. The invading force may appear to be defending foreign liberties. But are the motives genuine? Was there any particular war in mind?
That’s an interesting interpretation. To be honest, the words to this song just came into my mind when I heard the riffs. I wasn’t the intention to tell a concrete story, but the stompy rhythm of the song just required some kind of martial-military lyrics. So it’s basically just about soldiers going to war in a foreign country… Not meant to be judgmental or anything like that!
Again, “Sideway Warriors” is such an unusual phrase I’m left scratching my head! What do you mean? How does it link to being the outlaw or a drugs-tested soldier in the song?
Ha! Ha! Yeah, it’s indeed an unusual phrase… We like these contrasting song titles a lot. Maybe I was inspired by Riot’s “Swords & Tequila!” I’m really into these kinds of song titles that combine the classic cheesy barbarian Metal vocabulary with ordinary things. It’s like bringing Swords & Sorcery lyrics back to the street. That’s where Metal belongs anyway… Ha! Ha!
But “Sideway Warriors” is basically about drug-addicted, homeless people who have nothing to lose. The violent revolution of the junkie-outlaws…
Perhaps I’m reading in too much. But does “The Last Straw” describe living with the horrors of war when a soldier returns to civilian life?
No, this song is dedicated to our first drummer Dany “King” Schilliger, who commited suicide in 2007. He’s still the invisible, sixth member of the band; and we wanted to write some kind of Power Ballad ever since he passed. The lyrics are trying to describe his thoughts just before he decided to take this path. It was some kind of psychological purification to write this song.
Okay, flipping back, please would you elaborate on the double whammy of “Electric Expander” and the title track? They appeared together as the 7″ single teaser as well as holding prime position opening and closing the a-side…
These were the first two songs that we finished for this album and I still think these are the strongest tracks on it. That’s why we decided to release them as an appetizer before the album came out, as I think these compositions bundle the strengths of Sin Starlett in a perfect way!
They tap into the technological themes and computerised presentation of the record. For me though, “Electric Expander” seems more indebted to Priest’s classic cosmos. Was that deliberate?
Yes, the lyrics of both tracks handle with technological themes…”Digital Overload” in a more personal, profane way while “Electrical Expander” draws a picture of a technological invader that enslaves humanity. Some kind of a “Judge Dredd” sequel! Musically and lyrically, “Electric Expander” is totally inspired by Priest, no reason to deny that. They perfectionized this kind of song writing long before we started to make music, but we are trying to carry on the flame and add our personal stamp to it.
“Digital Overload” carries that old sci-fi fear that machines will enslave the human race. It’s frightening how we have become glued to computers and mobile phones in the past 15 years. An unhealthy compulsion. But can we still put them to good use and think for ourselves?
It’s very frightening, and I’m really concerned about the direction our society is going. I really hope that the newer generation has competence to deal with these things in the future. But I’m afraid they can’t. The whole technological process has moved so quickly in the past ten years. I think things are going too fast for us to deal with it. But I wouldn’t say that everything is bad about this digital evolution. If you use computers and Smartphones as an instrument of communication, it can make things easier. Especially for an underground scene such as Heavy Metal. It can open up new possibilities, for example, to get in touch with Metalheads all over the world.
“Force and Thunder” challenges conformity. How do you apply that as a band?
The song is indeed about breaking the chains of conformity, to find complete expression and not to care about expectations from others. As a band, it’s definitely not our main goal to strive against the stream and maybe this makes us some kind of rebels within the Metal scene? We don’t have any Satanic image and we are not an over the top retro band that tries to sound exactly like Maiden anno 1982… We are just trying to write perfect Heavy Metal songs based on passion and dedication to this music. This may sound unspectacular, but in the end this is what sets us apart from many current traditional Heavy Metal bands.
Have to commend your honesty! Now lyrically speaking, “Tear Down the Halls” stands out as the simplest upfront rocker! An ode to Saxon and Priest? Is it escapist or giving expression to how you live or a little of both?
Ha! Ha! Yes! Simple but effective. We tried to capture the feeling before we hit the stage. The song has some kind of feel good vibe in it that brings you into a rocking mood. Lyrics for such a song have to be a simple and memorable.
If we talk about the cover there’s no escaping Priest again! How did you meet the artist and had you asked Jaron to paint with the “Ram it Down” meets “Painkiller” hues when explaining the brief?
Jaron Gyger was already responsible for the artwork of our last long-player “Throat Attack” and we basically told him about the main theme of the record.
The antiquated computer design throughout the sleeve makes sense. But where does the robotic hand fit in the concept?
We already had the idea that the claw of “The Punisher” (which also appeared on the last two album covers) should play an important role. Jaron came up with that idea that he could form a whole mountain range out of electrical and digital trash then let the claw appear as a pneumatic gripper! It makes for a post-apocalyptic scenario and the robotic arm is digging deep into the relics of a digital world…
Well, I must congratulate you! It’s a thoroughly enjoyable record. It screams classic without being a soulless copy like so much revivalist crap nowadays. Age sometimes has its benefits, eh?
Ha! Ha! Thank you! We really think it’s a great record and hope it doesn’t get overlooked between the numerous new releases these days. As for age, yes, it has some benefits, but getting up on Sunday morning after a night of headbanging and partying is definitely not one of them…
Don’t we all know it?! How have you launched and celebrated “Digital Overload” on stage?
We played a release show at our hometown Lucerne with our friends Ruler from Italy and High Heeler from Austria. Check them both out if you are into classic Heavy Metal!
It was an outstanding evening! We played all songs from the new album & some old evergreens we haven’t played for a long time. I think it was our longest show ever lasting about 2 hours! Our producer, Many Maurer, (ex-Killer, ex-Krokus) joined us on stage and played one of the new songs with us, which was for sure a memorable moment.
Any tours in the works or new places you would like to reach with your music? Somehow I imagine that the energy could be all the more infectious in the flesh!
A small European tour would be a nice thing for sure, but it’s already quite a difficult thing to coordinate the gigs we have on the weekends. All of us have regular full-time jobs and some of us have families, so at the moment, we’re focusing on single gigs in the countries nearby and maybe a few gigs in a row within Switzerland. But we’ve already played in Greece (Up The Hammers), Italy (Play it Loud) and Spain (Pounding Metal Fest). We’re always open to such adventures and we hope that this kind of intercultural-exchange will intensify in the future!
Is it safe to say that Christoph Widmer has settled in as your new bassist?
This is correct! Our old bass player, Lukas “Grounder” Marti, had to leave due to job- related circumstances. We’ve already been practicing several times with Christoph “Stopf” Widmer so he’s now officially part of the gang. He’s one hell of a bass player and we are all excited to hit the stage soon with our new comrade in Metal.
So what are the band’s priorities going forward? You’ve already enjoyed reasonable longevity albeit with a low profile so I wonder if that’s enough…
Playing live, convincing people of our qualities and spreading the Heavy Metal madness!!! That’s basically it. We buried the dream of being rich and famous the moment we decided to play classic Heavy Metal. Ha! Ha! Of course, it would be great to bring the band to a higher level, to receive more support from the scene and being booked for the important festivals. But in the end we are doing this because of the passion and the thrill for the music itself. The existence of this band is not dependent of any success. As long as we feel the inner fire burning, we will keep on writing new songs.
Respect! How do you view our beloved Hard Rock and Heavy Metal in 2016? Many of the original bands and musicians are literally dying out. Music has become fragmented into infinite genres. The whole industry has become decentralised. Perhaps it matters not and bands should build gradually from the grass roots with a diy attitude if they deserve to be seen or heard…
It’s a shame that good music is almost not supported these days. It’s almost impossible to pay your bills just by playing in a (Metal) band. Many talented bands split up because they are facing the problem of being on tour all year and not being able to cover their living costs in the end. That’s sad. Good music should be heard, and especially in these times of media overkill, labels should make sure that good bands are heard. But of course, Heavy Metal is made for a niche audience and the times have changed. So let’s be just happy with the current situation that the (underground) Heavy Metal scene is active and vital.
Final question. Some have expressed confusion or disdain at your name. Personally, I like it! But why Sin Starlett? And why should they care or give the band a shot?
It’s the question that must be asked in every damn interview! Ha! Ha! We were looking for a name that separates us from the nun-slaying, witch- killing competitors in the Metal scene. A name made out of two terms that makes no immediate sense, but is memorable and unique. Just in the tradition of Thin Lizzy, Def Leppard or Van Halen… Well, they make sense actually compared to our name! Of course the name also refers to our main lyrical topics in our younger days, such as damnation in hell, sin itself and judgement day. Looking back, choosing another name would made it probably easier for us to gain more listeners so maybe we should move to a small Swedish town, change our name to “MERCILESS STEEL” and have a new start?
Never! It has been a pleasure, Reno! Hope to see you on stage, preferably in Ireland, one of these days…
Danny, thank you very much for the interview! We would love to come to Ireland one day! Spread the Heavy Metal Decadence all across the globe, stay löud & keep the Hard ‘n’ Heavy Cult alive!! If you want SIN STARLETT to tear down the walls at your hometown, drop us a message on email@example.com and we’ll get back to you!
Danny Angus (July 2016)
In the seven long years since “Digital Overlord” was released, the band has released another 7″ single and the crushing “Solid Source of Steel” LP. Show them support and buy direct! https://sinstarletthardandheavy.bandcamp.com/album/solid-source-of-steel
Very much keeping themselves to themselves, the Maine power trio makes little fuss and seems to have even less impact on their wider environment than their deft club-wielding talents deserve. Such is life. Nonetheless, curious as I was to hear the ins and outs of their last record, I lit a large fire on a nearby hill and lured them out of hiding for a rare collective conversation…
You’re welcome, welcome and thrice welcome! How’s life in the Maine Cave? Are you OGREs still keeping society at arm’s length?
ROSS: Still staying locked down, listening to tunes, playing guitar, and reading lots of sci-fi novels. Really, nothing has changed in my life.
WILL: Same here. Lucky to be an essential worker!
ED: Still working. Apparently landscaping is essential.
What impact has lockdown had on the band? Has the time and space alone provided a fresh perspective on how you want to move forward?
ROSS: Well, we have long used the metaphor of “going back into the cave” whenever we have taken a hiatus from the band, so I guess you could say that, this time, we were forced back into the cave. The marauding villagers (maskless, of course) were too much for the beast, so apparently it was time to hibernate. Don’t worry, though – you can’t keep a good Neanderthal down, so I’m sure you’ll hear from us again.
WILL: It would have been great to have played some shows to promote the new album, but obviously that wasn’t a possibility. Hopefully there is still a future for live music! The uncertainty of everything is crazy.
ED: Ya, we had a couple of cool shows planned….but, of course, all cancelled!
It’s hard to believe that the populace had to wait for a whopping five years for your fifth album. How did the preparation differ to “The Last Neanderthal” preceding it?
ROSS: In a lot of ways, the process was similar – after a bit of a break, we started jamming again in Will’s basement and, once the ideas started to flow, we realized that we were soon approaching an album’s worth of material. The ultimate catalyst for what came to be “Thrice as Strong” occurred when we were invited to Arkhangelsk, Russia to play a festival there. One night, we got in a long conversation with one of our translators about Putin, Trump, and their autocratic ways, and before we knew it, the concept of the “Cyber-Czar” was born. When we got back home, we started writing that song and realized that it would be a key track on what would eventually be “Thrice as Strong.”
“Thrice As Strong” has an honest, stripped back and laid bare vibe. How much of that comes down to regular gigging versus old friends comfortable in their own skin?
ROSS: I would say the latter, for sure. While our gigs certainly are where we shine as a band, I think our albums definitely reflect that “friends jamming in the basement” vibe that we all love. “Thrice As Strong”, in particular, is less “produced” than our last couple of albums (not that anyone would ever describe any of our albums as being particularly glossy!). I think that stripped down vibe fits the material, which is definitely more varied this time around while still embracing that “comfortable” OGRE sound.
That said, those wooden stakes look anything but! Would you perhaps care to elaborate on how or why your hard rock crimes against humanity made you wanted men? Dead or alive…
ROSS: Well, that’s what happens when you let the beast out of the cave! This time around, the last Neanderthal turned on his masters, who apparently were not so strong after all…
How much of an undertaking, Will, was the painting? If I understand correctly, the heads were brushed to scale.
WILL: Ross came up with the concept being a fan of the horror novels from the ‘70s with the die cut covers. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get the circles cut out on the final version so the concept kinda got lost, but the spirit is there. Once he had the idea, I ran with it. I knew I wanted to do a real painting for this one. To me, a painting is the true test of an artist. Just you, the colors and a brush. No digital effect to hide behind. Anyway, it was a big project for me over the winter of 2018/2019. Blood of Winter, indeed! The panel I painted on is pretty big, so the heads are a little smaller than life sized as you mentioned. I don’t feel like I 100% nailed Ross’ likeness but the time was winding down and needed to wrap it up, although I think it looks more like him when you can see the full piece with his hair. I’m mostly happy with the results, although there were a couple printing errors on the vinyl that will forever drive me crazy, but that is the case for every cover I’ve done. Nothing will ever be perfect!
ED: Will had this gigantic painting of us in his house. It was pretty weird going up the stairs and being confronted by your head on a stake… weird, but cool!
And the reactions? The sleeve seems to have split readers into two camps. Have to say, I love the execution.
WILL: Thanks! I have read some reviews online that were pretty critical of it. As I said before, if we were able to pull off the die cut effect I think people would have understood the creative decisions I made a little better.
ROSS: Though I certainly wish we could have done the die-cut cover, as I originally envisioned, I think Will’s artwork on this album – right down to details like font style –is masterful. As to the criticisms, I think some metal fans are so caught up in the idea of what a metal album cover “should” look like that they would rather embrace clichés than originality.
Too true, Ross! Now “The Future” was a striking way to open the album. Very catchy, like the pandemic, the latest unknown to sweep across the planet. Do you think that this shared threat to life has brought communities and countries together? Will there be any lasting positives from the experience or are we destined to forget the common good as soon as it passes?
ED: Hmmm, I’m gonna have to go with the “forget and not learn anything” option. I feel more and more that humans can’t really handle the modern world… too complicated. We need to be ruled by algorithms.
ROSS: While the three of us tend to lean towards a more cynical, pessimistic, even misanthropic world-view, I’ll admit that this pandemic has brought out some of the best in many humans. Unfortunately, it also has highlighted the very worst in the powers-that-be, so I fear that, in the end, this very well could be a zero-sum game. I sure hope not, but we’ll see what happens in the coming months.
When I think hive mind, I think of the mighty collective consciousness of the Borg in Star Trek. But your song takes a different angle. In our current isolation, technology has been a blessing for the vulnerable. But have we gone too far and forgotten the simple art of conversation with those around us?
ROSS: Since you mentioned Star Trek, I will hand this one over to Will and/or
WILL: I can’t speak to Ed’s influence in writing the lyrics, but we are both big Star Trek fans. We even were working on a song for the album that we didn’t finish that was about a specific episode of the original series. Hopefully we can get back that one again one day. Anyway, the real issues involved in the song can certainly bring to mind the Borg. If you go against the collective consciousness of the social media mob, your life could be ruined. Resistance really is futile!
ED: Exactly. Social media is literally driving us all crazy.
Was “Big Man” inspired by anybody in particular?
ROSS: I’ll let Ed speak to this one, but whenever I hear this song, I have in mind one particular politician, who fancies himself a “big man” but is anything but. (Hint: His name rhymes with “dump”).
WILL: I always think about Andre the Giant’s match with Hogan at Wrestlemania III when playing it.
ED: Andre was awesome!
“Cyber Czar” is classic OGRE through a Judas Priest prism. But is the tyrant that different to your deluded and menacing president?
WILL: Going back to the conversation that we had in Russia, the initial idea was about Putin downloading his consciousness into a satellite so he could keep everyone and everything under surveillance. But a dictator is a dictator. You can really plug any power tripping bully into that role and have it work. I don’t really consider our music political, but you can get away with it, as Star Trek did, through the prism of science fiction. Our album “Plague of the Planet” was kinda influenced by living in a post 9/11 America, and “Cyber Czar” addresses issues that have cropped up since.
Keeping it local, talk to me about your love of Maine man Stephen King. Have you ever met him? Do you think he differs to his pen persona?
ROSS: I have met King a couple times in slightly more formal settings. The first time was at a book signing – I was wearing a Herschell Gordon Lewis t-shirt, which he commented on. I met him a few years later at a writing awards ceremony and got to talk to him a little more. He definitely seemed like a down-to-earth guy, at least in those two encounters. We are still trying to get him a copy of the album so that he can hear “King of the Wood” – and maybe play it on his radio station!
Class! Which is your favourite story that he has written? Which film adaptation do you think missed the point? If there is one of his creations that you feel has been overlooked, which one would you recommend?
ROSS: My favorite King novel, hands down, is “The Shining”, which scared the crap out of me when I was a kid and still freaks me out when I re-read (which seems to happen every few years). In terms of short stories, I’ve always loved the “Night Shift” collection – “The Boogeyman,” “The Mangler,” “Jerusalem’s Lot,” “Gray Matter,” “Sometimes They Come Back,” and the list goes on. One overlooked story from that collection is “Strawberry Spring,” which is one of the creepiest stories about a serial killer that I have ever read. I don’t think too many of his novels could be considered “overlooked”, but I do think “Gerald’s Game” is a good one that might fit that bill. I also love “Hearts in Atlantis” and its interesting take on the Vietnam war. In terms of films, there have been so many awful ones – as well as some real gems – but I will go on record saying that I did not like the new “IT” films! The kids were great, but Pennywise and all those lame jump scares – ugh. “Misery” and Kubrick’s “Shining” are two of my favorite King film adaptations.
WILL: I like all his classics: “The Stand,” “Salem’s Lot” and “Misery.” I think most of his film adaptations miss the mark. His novels are so dense with details and backstory that I can see why they are difficult to adapt. In terms of lesser known works I enjoyed, I really enjoyed “Cell,” the one where cell phones turn everyone into zombies. It was a short and to the point and was a fun genre piece. He can kinda meander in his longer works but this was right to the point. I love time travel stories and am interested in the theories around the assassination of JFK, so I also liked “11/22/63.” Although I was disappointed that it did not go against the official narrative, it was still well written and very suspenseful. I just read it thinking the main character not only travelled through time, but also through an alternate universe in which all the bullets came from the book depository.
ED: Agree with most of the above, but there is one short story that has always stuck with me. It was in his second collection, “Skeleton Crew.” It’s about a doctor who is marooned on an island with a suitcase full of heroin and his operating tools. He ends up slowly eating himself.
ROSS: “Survivor Type”! That is one of his sickest stories of all time. “Skeleton Crew” has some fantastic stories in it.
At the heart of the album, “Judgement Day” feels like the odd tune out. Was it intended to be a homage to Metallica or did it happen unexpectedly?
ROSS: The main riff has been floating around the OGRE jam room for a few years, and to be honest, I wasn’t initially that fond of it, for the reason you mentioned – too Metallica-inspired. Now, I love classic Metallica, but I never really imagined them to be an influence on the OGRE sound, so it just didn’t feel right for the band. However, with some arranging and a few doomy riffs to balance out the chug of the main riff, I think it all came together well. In fact, it turned into one of my favorites on the album!
ED: Pretty sure the riff came off of a week where I relistened to “Ride the Lightning.”
Have to say, I love the idea of the human race as a computerised science project from the future! Do you have a strong sense of purpose in this life? Where are you going?
ED: Well, I think in the future, conscious life could very well migrate to a different form. Biological intelligence may have reached its peak and be displaced by something else in the next evolutionary step.
ROSS: It’s clear that Ed reads a lot of sci-fi novels.
We all know 2020 is a write off for international travel. But what about 2021? Have you had any serious discussion with Enrico / Cruz Del Sur Music about making that long overdue European live debut?
ROSS: Nothing yet, but that’s a conversation that we’d love to have whenever we can extricate ourselves from this COVID nightmare.
If you had a free hand, where would you like to play? Hint: Ireland is the correct answer!
ROSS: Umm, Ireland? Actually, we would love to play your home country and hang out in person with the one and only Danny Angus!
WILL: A European tour, including Ireland for sure, is the last unfulfilled dream for me so I really hope we can do it one day.
ED: I wouldn’t mind playing in Germany or the Scandinavian countries.
Looking back, please share some memories from your Japanese and Russian tours. How did the appetite of the local audiences compare to back home? Did you have much of an opportunity to soak up their respective cultures?
ROSS: Oh man, we could write volumes about our experiences in Japan and Russia. To address your final question first, I would say that “soaking in culture” was far more meaningful for me than the music we played (which I still loved, of course). In Japan, we had the most amazing host and tour guides, Toreno Kabayashi and his girlfriend Mai, so we really felt like we got an insider view of life in Tokyo and beyond. Hanging out before and after gigs with the guys and gals in Church of Misery, Eternal Elysium and Blood Farmers were some of the greatest moments in my life. And playing on stage in front of crowds that actually came to listen to your music was just amazing. I also loved the fact that, in Japan, gigs were generally over by 10pm, rather than 1am like they are here in the States. I think they’ve got a perfect system for live music over there. Russia was a different experience for sure, but just as amazing. In Arkhangelsk, we met some of the kindest, most open-hearted people we have ever met – people who remain friends to this day. Despite all of the mess created by the leaders of our two countries, the people we met in Arkhangelsk were no different from the people who go to our shows here in Portland, Maine. And the response to our music was fantastic!
WILL: Cultures like Japan and Russia are so vastly different from my white bread small town upbringing. It was really like entering into alternate realities. Those are the experiences I will always treasure and remember. We might not have been able to get rich from our music, but I feel rich from the life experiences we had. Japan was just complete sensory overload at all times and some of the coolest music stores ever. I felt like in Japan, everything kinda got to us and we didn’t really play all that great aside from maybe one night. But we redeemed ourselves years later in Russia, where we kicked ass. Going from the plane to the hotel in Russia, seeing all the buildings still blown out from WWII and the general state of the city, my initial feelings were like “what the F are we doing here?” But then meeting our hosts and translators and handlers, as well as the folks at the shows, like Ross mentioned, these people couldn’t have been more warm, friendly and welcoming. They treated us like the Rolling Stones! The dude who ran the festival was named Aleksandr Mezentsev and he was a total sweetheart and one of the biggest characters I’ve ever met. Dude can put down some vodka, let me tell you. I loved the warm sake in Japan, but that Russian vodka is the smoothest stuff you’ll ever have. And there was never any shortage of it. I only blacked out one night.
If you had a time machine, where would OGRE go and why?
ROSS: Ancient Rome in the time of Augustus Caesar. Either that or Leeds University, February 14, 1970 to watch The Who perform the greatest live album in history. Maybe we could open up for them.
WILL: I would go back to the ‘60s and buy every comic book I could for my collection. And then maybe go check out what was going on on that grassy knoll…
ED: Prussia of the 1700s if I could be Frederick the Great. He put the Absolute in Absolute Despot.
With twenty years behind you, is there anything else the band needs to say or do before it’s too late?
ROSS: I’ve got big ideas for another album concept, but I need to convince the guys that it’ll be worth our while…
WILL: It’s been a long time. We’ve seen so many trends come and go in music. Some may even think we have worn out our welcome. It seems unlikely that we will ever level up to Witchcraft or The Sword status, but I don’t care. I love playing music with these dudes and I think we will always have something to say!
ED: I think another concept album might be a possibility. Sure is a lot to comment on…
It’s time for this hermit to take my leave. Any parting pearls of wisdom?
ROSS: Get back in the cave. And wear a mask!
WILL: Have a good time… all of the time!
Danny Angus (June / July 2020)
Twenty years? Twenty fucking years! I had no idea that the band was celebrating their anniversary today, this very afternoon, when I had an impulse to dig up all four full-length studio albums and crank them up louder than my neighbours would have liked. Here I am, grinning from ear to ear, dreaming of them lifting the roof off a local venue…
That sentiment was true of November 2013, when I originally prepared this interview. Almost another decade has passed since then. But I still dig the Swedes regularly. Furthermore, there are now five albums to enjoy. If you missed “In The Shadow” LP (circa 2017) copies are still available via Artefacts at Pariah Child! Now back to the main event…
So how did celebratory gig go in The Liffey, Jocke? The lowdown please including the setlist, atmosphere and any other memories of the evening if that special patent beer did not wipe you out altogether…
Well, we tried to gather as many ol’ members as possible, there been some as you might know… Ha! Ha! But as we had a really short time to get it all together we had not the opportunity to have everybody. That said, original guitarist Fredrik Gleisner and his predecessor Fredrik Finnander showed up and played on some tunes. Actually this was the first time I’ve seen the band play. Eric our second drummer drove all the way from Amsterdam where he lives nowadays to play on two songs. He also provided our beer. He runs a brewery in Amsterdam. The beer was no kidding one of the greatest tasting beers I ever had. The atmosphere was really good at the Liffey (yeah Irish sports pub, those are very popular in Stockholm) even had a friend from Berlin coming for the gig. Dennis, our ex-bassist, was absolutely pissed and made a fool out of himself… Again. Ha! Ha!
The Setlist: “Break the Chains of Time” (current line-up) “My Day of Tomorrow” (Finander instead of Daniel) “I’m Sinking” (Finnader and Gleisner on guitar instead of me and Daniel) “Danish Denim” (current line-up) “Childhood in the Shadow of the Bomb” (current line-up) “Bring me the Fire” (current line-up) “Roadflower” (Eric on drums, Tomas Bergstrand should have played guitar instead of Daniel but was ill and couldn’t do it) “My Sacrifice” (Finnander instead of Daniel on guitar) “I Don’t Belong” (Dennis on bass instead of Jens) “Time is Running Away” (Gleisner on guitar instead of Daniel, I played until the end of the first guitar solo part then Finnander took over).
Would it be fair to say that this birthday bash was as much about looking forward to another ten or even twenty years together as it was about celebrating how far you have come?
Hmm, it is hard to say. At the moment we are very inspired to go on with new songs and gigs. Me personally, I’m not very fond of rehearsing old songs, you know. I don’t mind playing them live but at the rehearsal I like to have something new to try out to stay out of boredom. Twenty years sounds very loooooooooooong, but another ten should not be impossible. As we never had any success with the band (at least not in the commercial way) we have never really gone backwards. We’ve been on the same underground level since our first record really. With maybe a slight touch of progress. If we have had some success then gone back to being not successful one might have been disappointed. Now we’ve been disappointed for twenty years and can’t tell the difference! Ha! Ha! Ha!!!
Well, I think you have written consistently strong yet quite diverse material across your respective records over considerable gaps in time. What do you think it is that makes the Knutsson / Leidi song writing partnership special?
You mean the Lennon / McCartney of Swedish Flowerpowermetal? Ha! Ha! Well first the songs aren’t always written the same way. Sometimes we actually do them together. Sometime one does the music and one the lyrics. Sometimes one of us has a quite clear idea of a song and the other one contribute with some new parts. Some songs are written by just one of us. If you for some reason think we agree and do not have fights over songs, arrangements, lyrics and even lay out of record covers you are wrong. We argue all the time. But sometimes we are very consistent. As I play guitar (Josa can play guitar as well but you know what I mean) I tend to come up with more riffs of course. But actually I am very fond of songs that Josa made with quite simple riffing and arrangement. About the diversity of our music I think it we have a broad musical interest. I personally listen to almost all kinds of music. During periods when I write music I try to listen to non-metal music. I do not want to copy things from similar bands by mistake (happens anyway) and I think other music can give you some cool ideas. Another thing about the diversity is that we actually sometimes put the live set list together to suit the audience. If we just play a regular rock club we might do faster and shorter rocking tunes than if we play on a dedicated doom festival for example.
And no other changes in personnel lately, I hope?
Well, you got a hint in the first question. Dennis who came along already for the first demo left the band the autumn of 2012. Let me put it this way, I really like Dennis but he likes beer more than likes me… and music! Ha! Ha! He made some really bad gigs and finally we couldn’t have him any longer. Now we have Jens Sidegård who we’ve known for a long time. He is also a beer drinker! Ha! Ha!
Tell me about your frame of mind when writing “Empty Hand” as the lyrical tone of the record seems to be more downbeat and frustrated than usual yet still inherently defiant. What have been the biggest challenges you faced along the road? And what inspires you to keep plugging away?
Oh dear, is it really that way? Well actually, for me, that record is so long behind me. You know some songs were made close after the “Roadflower” record which was recorded in 1999, which should give some perspective. Right now, I’m not really focusing on our new record “In the Shadow” and I have my sight on writing songs for the album after. That’s how I am. About the gloomy “Empty Hand” I will have to check the lyrics. Hang on a minute… Okay, I see what you mean! I can’t guarantee that the new one is much brighter! Ha! Ha! As you might understand, we do not write nonsense lyrics. We write about our lives and how we feel. I wouldn’t say we are cynical but I do think it has to do a bit with our northern heritage. We are quite fortunate in many ways but we are a bit melancholy you know. Long dark winters with only the famous bottle to find comfort in.
It’s great to see the band back on vinyl! Given that you tend to keep to 40-45 minutes I wondered if you write records with the format in mind?
Yes, no doubt about it! I do not like the CD era when all bands did 70 minute records with 30 minutes of shit.
The shape of the opening half of the album is rather interesting with the slow burning title track and slower “Empty Words” then building up pace “In The Arms of Death” and through the downright infectious “I Don’t Belong” before the ‘80s Metal explosion of “Somebody Else‘s Share”… How much time do you deliberate on running order? And what do you think makes a good record great?
I/we are really accurate when putting the record together. We think A and B side and how we want to build the flow through the record.”Ghosts of the Past” had a quite different opening. But actually, as we will not sell millions of records anyway, we don’t have to think in the traditional way when it comes to the order of the songs. We can afford to be arty farty!
How come “Somebody Else’s Share” and “Harmony and Noise” were not included on the last album given that they were written way back then? Do you think they did not fit the mood or had you simply too much material to include it all?
A bit of both and we did not nail the songs on that recording. We also got the feeling we could do them better. I had a fantastic rehearsal shitty recording of “Someone Else’s Share” and the one we did during the “Ghosts of the Past” recording felt lame to that one. The “Empty Hand” version is more gutsy.
What is your favourite song on the latest record? Why?
Hard to say actually… I like them all. I love to play “Someone Else’s Share”, “In the Arms of Death”, “I Don’t Belong” and “King Cliff”, that doesn’t make ‘em the best but they are fun to play. We got some real killer ones on the forthcoming album which I am really excited about too.
I really enjoy the sequence of the closing three tunes too although find the end comes too soon (in a good way)! Fortunately, you vowed after the release of “Empty Hand” that there would not be another five or six years until the next album. Apart from the Venom single I missed, how has the new material been brewing? Any speculative release dates or label plans?
We recorded during Easter 2013. We’ve been in contact with some labels and with a bit of luck the record will be out really soon. A guy is working on the final mix at the moment and I am working on the cover. The record will be called “In the Shadow” this time around.
Freedoom Records needs to be reborn! Any chance of another string of classy singles on coloured wax? And some more cartoon portraits by Oskar Kristiansen?
I have resurrected Freedoom Records and released a 7” with Atlantic Tide a couple of months ago. By the way, did you know Oskar played guitar on the very first Rise and Shine rehearsal? I played bass and came up with the riff for “I’m Sinkin”…
I really want to see the band play! Am I gonna have to travel to your home town or can you be lured to Belfast?
We will come to Belfast if there’s an opportunity!
Is touring important? I appreciate it is expensive and the band is to some extent dependent on opportunities. But I had at least half-hoped Doom Shall Rise, if not Roadburn, would have offered you a slot ten years ago after your then drummer, Eric Nordin, passed me the “Break the Chains of Time” EP in the Chapel back in 2003! (See my enthusiastic review in #1…)
So do we but I don’t think we are hip enough, at least not for Roadburn.
Me neither! But there are a handful of old promotional videos available for streaming on YouTube, which I assume were on your homemade video back in the mid ‘90s. Have you ever considered transferring that material for a DVD edition, with more good quality live footage and any other archive material of interest?
There are loads of shit music films from the ‘90s. I worked with stuff like that and could borrow cameras. I think material will be on YouTube in a near future. Both new and old material…
There are also two or three songs from the first two demos that never made it on to the singles or albums that I need to hear as well as the excellent exclusive cuts “Man’s Best Friend” and “Into The Fog” that everybody should here. Again, will you be compiling this rare studio material in any shape or form?
If someone would be interested in releasing it we would. There’s a whole album recorded as well. The record was never released for different reasons. Most of the songs (if not all) have been released on other records. But I am a bit worried that if I listen to it now it may sound too bad.
Okay, clearly you still love the old bands you always did. But what about your contemporaries? Do you still feel a kinship with peers inside and beyond Sweden from back then or these days?
I can only speak for myself. With some bands I keep in touch. Like the ex-Terra Firma guys, ex-Norrsken, Grand Magus and so on. I have a bit problem with some of the new bands. Some of them don’t seem to have the heart in what they are doing. In Sweden for some reason a couple of years ago everyone loved Pentagram. The same suckers never heard of Trouble, come on give me a fuckin’ break! And to get back to an earlier question, I would not be able to live with myself if I for some reason accidently copied one of those new bands. That’s another good reason to not listen to them.
To what extent do you think it is more or less difficult for a band to make an impact nowadays? Are we surrounded by too much cynicism and apathy with swathes of music at our fingertips?
I of course listen to music on the net. If something is good and is released on a vinyl I might even buy it. For some reason, I think if let us say I should start another band now it would be easier to sell it nowadays with the fortunes of internet, Spotify and YouTube. With a band that’s been in the shadow for twenty years it seems to be a disadvantage with the same fuckin’ shit! Ha! Ha!!!
Well, regardless, the phoenix has risen again. I hope the ethos of “Too Much, Too Fast, Too Loud” carries you on for many years to come! I’m waiting for my invite to the next Deadringer party…
Thanks! See you in Belfast or Stockholm soon…
Danny Angus (December 2013)
Ever since discovering her beautifully haunting voice in the 1990s via Paul Chain singles, albums and live performances, I have imagined a charismatic poet, performer and singer captivating audiences from the stage of intriguing Italian clubs. Curious to hear how her artistic journey began and keen to explore the role collaborative music continues to play in her life, she was invited to share that story. It also coincides with the recent launch of “The Atlantean Afterlife (…Living Beyond)” by Tony Tears on 26 March 2021, where she provides lead vocals alongside her male counterpart, David Krieg.
Pariah Child bids you enter, Sandra! Make yourself at home.
Hello to you Danny and all friends who follow Pariah Child…
Knowing very little about your roots, what are your earliest memories of performing arts?
I was a very introverted child and already at an early age I felt different from my peers. I knew that life was not like fairy tales and I locked myself up in an imaginary world, where the imaginary friends were my deceased grandparents and I deepened them from there through the art of Spiritism.
Did you have a burning passion for music, poetry, drama or art from a young age?
In adolescence, I felt the need to express my emotions with dance and song yet always in solitude.
What were your personal favourites from these mediums? Why?
When I reached adulthood, I started attending concerts by Goth and Punk groups. From that point in time, I started moving deeper into dark genres, where I became lost in my emotions.
How did you explore and nurture this creative spirit within as you grew? Was it slow and gradual or was there an urgency to express?
From Goth, I listened to The Damned and The Sister of Mercy. In Punk, it was The Sex Pistols, as well as Italian bands (always in these same genres), right up to Paul Chain Violet Theatre. Of the latter, I was a big fan and in the ‘90s I became his partner.
What about the wider impact of your homeland and culture?
Each experience was a stage, another piece in my continual growth. Whilst I sing in the genres I discovered through Paolo and Antonio, the Italian Dark Sound, in reality, I love all styles of music. I love Italian music, especially the one contaminated by the New Wave like Matia Bazar, or even ‘70s and ‘80s Pop like Kate Bush. In fact, in some concerts other than Tony Tears, I played cover songs by both of these artists.
When was your first experience on the stage? What was your role in the performance? Looking back, how did it feel?
My stage debut as a live performer was in 1990. I had no idea what to do. I simply interpreted what I felt by improvising my emotions…
Have you encountered the same stirring sentiments each time you perform? Or does the environment alter the experience in any way?
Certainly the environment helps to find the right atmosphere. The same can be said for the mood of the audience. However, I always focused intently on my emotions, in the moment, throughout my performance.
My introduction to your singing voice came via Paul Chain albums. How and when did you meet? Was the “Sangue” 7” Single your first creative collaboration in a studio setting?
As I already mentioned, way back in 1990, I met Paolo at a concert. It took place in a former slaughterhouse. Shortly after that experience, I found myself in another world. I began appearing in a few concerts as a live performer. Believe it or not, “Sangue” was not the first vocal collaboration. It was, in fact, “Presence of the Soul’s Forest” when, one day, I found myself in the studio house, a huge room in front of a microphone, which I still remember vividly. Paolo, he placed me on a platform (figuratively speaking), I started improvising for the first time on an unknown (musical) base in a phonetic language. I was in some form of trance. I didn’t have the faintest idea what I had done in the “Presence of the Soul’s Forest” yet this song marked the beginning of my vocal collaboration.
Returning to the single, please talk about this particular song and your approach to it. As no lyrics were printed on the sleeve, to what extent did you prepare melodies or phrases beforehand versus improvising on the day?
Okay, coming back to the split with our friends in Eversor, yes, “Sangue” was my first experience in our native language. For some strange reason, I don’t remember the experience well, but it seems to me that I wrote the text and enjoyed doing it. Honestly, I’m not a lover of patterns.
Come the following year, the album, “Dies Irae” was very much you, as the voice, and Paul Chain providing the instrumental canvas. How do you remember that period? Do any songs, in particular, still inspire strong feelings?
Personally speaking, I am very attached to the “Dies Irae” album. It was the first real step in the use of my voice. Certainly the piece I am most fond of is the “Presence of the Soul’s Forest” because I still remember the emotion in resenting myself and recognizing myself. I do not deny the amazement I felt. Who was I?
“Emisphere” was a daring double album. A conceptual piece. A spiritual journey. Would you elaborate upon the themes?
I perceived “Emisphere” as a continuum of “Dies Irae” – an atmosphere that is felt, lived and Interpreted. I state that, as per the “Dies Irae” recordings, I did not know the musical bases upon which it was built. Once again, “Emisphere” was completely improvised.
This recording, to me, could be described as performance art. The vocal layers you provided in “I Want You” are disturbing. Almost like a traumatic scene from a play. Like Moorcock reading Macbeth. “Transformation” also feels lived, rather than sung, the change real. What do you think about my reading?
Do you think that I lived in Paul Chain’s home studio and I even recorded my voice in the kitchen or bathroom? Ha! No. For this reason, I agree with your observation.
Which is your favourite piece? Why?
“I Want You” because it is absolute madness! “I Want You” is also the piece that best represents me.
Without you, “Emisphere” would have lost much of its haunted, anguished and beautiful flavour. How much energy and direction did you invest in the process? Did you achieve everything you had hoped to capture?
Honestly speaking, in my interpretations, I have revealed between the lines what I am, what we are, and I have never set myself a goal or at least one of pleasure. I lived the moment with my emotions. No expectations. I did it for the simple need of giving and giving myself.
I imagine that your live band experiences with Paul Chain were numerous and diverse. Were you more at home on or off stage? Do you still cherish any memories from “In Concert” (1993), where you were credited as a performer or “Official Live Bootleg” (1999) as the singer in the red cape?
If the formation was comprised of Jazz musicians and the concert assumed a Jazz setting, I adapted and improvised. If the formation centred on Classic Rock and then on Doom, I sang some pieces, like Jimi Hendrix and I was a performer. Always fluid and in the moment…
Have you any sense of how many concerts you played in the ‘90s?
Well, many years have passed and I honestly cannot remember exactly how many concerts I did with Paul Chain. Perhaps dozens and dozens throughout Italy and with many different formations…
Close your eyes and describe the most intense aspect of any performance you recall? Why were you so deeply moved in that moment?
Each and every shred of my memories contain emotions. It is truly impossible to choose just one. Each concert gave me something different.
The last three songs captured from this era were presented on “Unreleased Volume 1” collection. My cousin used to play “She Tomy My I” on repeat whenever I visited! Presumably they were recorded before 2003? Do any other significant memories from these sessions coming flooding back?
“She Tomy My I” was certainly recorded well before 2003 given that I left Paolo in 1998/99 (for many reasons). To this day, however, I remember several musicians with fondness. There was a genuine friendship, and from time to time, we still hear from them.
The curtain (apparently) fell for many years in the new millennium. Well, until the Italian Dark Sound of Genova invoked your ghost circa 2017/18… Where did you go? Were you pursuing other interests outside of this movement? Ultimately, what was it about Tony Tears (and to a certain extent Abysmal Grief) that resonated with you to make a return?
Leaving the Paul Chain project out of necessity, I took a couple of years off. Then I rediscovered writing in poetry. I ventured deep into myself, to get to know myself better, thanks to, and through, esoteric techniques.
Since then, you have already dedicated energies to two Tony Tears records and performed a number of concerts with the band. How has your relationship evolved and deepened during such a productive period?
The meeting with Antonio (my current partner) in 2016, was like dusting off my ancient vocal arts, which, thanks to greater technique and spiritual growth, allowed me to pick up and develop my expression in “Demons…” and the “30th Anniversary EP” that followed it. As already hinted, there was also a short collaboration with my friend Roby from Abysmal Grief on the “Blasphema Secta” LP…
In the context of Tony Tears, how important is your vocal partnership with David Krieg? Sometimes you play separate roles. On other occasions your voices overlap. So how intuitive are you musically, emotionally and spiritually as a pair?
The collaboration with Davide is very important. We understand each other and are tuned to the same wavelength. We both have our spaces of expression and there is a good feeling between us. In short, we have a good time!
In spite of time passing, I’m delighted to hear that your voice has not diminished in presence! Whether spoken or sung, it still sends shivers down my spine. Do you feel the same spark of artistic youth in your belly or has experience brought deeper conviction?
Over time, I can tell you that I have acquired a vocal technique that allows me to be even freer than in the past and for me this is fundamental. Belief undoubtedly follows my artistic path and spiritual growth.
“The Atlantean Afterlife (…Living Beyond)” will be released at the end of this month. Given that the album was only recorded, mixed and mastered over the summer and autumn months of 2020, are you still living and breathing its exotic atmosphere?
I think this new album is a blend of deep emotional experiences where each and every one of us gave our best.
If our readers had never engaged with a Tony Tears album before, how would you describe it?
A journey, a communication beyond reality, and I mean that sincerely without diminishing the previous works of Tony Tears.
The album is rooted in Egyptian iconography. Why is this landscape and ancient culture integral?
Regarding the themes of our works, Antonio always takes care of them. He follows a personal path, one that he lives in reality, beyond any simple presentation of themes, which of course he know intimately. This album is no exception.
The album is presented in two halves, in the Italian language first and the English language second. This balance seems significant rather than convenient. What was the band’s intention?
Antonio always wants to be free and the same goes for the band. Avoiding easy labels, he does what he feels right. If that means making a song with an Italian text, he does just that. Should he be more inspired by a song in English, he adapts. He sets no limits. Convenience zero. Naturally, two genres blend in Tony Tears: ‘70s Dark Sound music strongly inspired by Italian bands, such as Jacula and Goblin (Antonio mentions this pair most often to me). Often for this style he prefers that they are sung in our mother tongue. Then there is Metal (by which we mean 360° of Metal), where he prefers to have an international aspect, and therefore, over these compositions, he opts for them being sung in English.
To what extent did you write or shape the lyrics and their corresponding melodies? Or did Antonio, as master of ceremonies, devise the respective parts in entirety for Davide and your good self?
Davide and I applied our vocal interpretations to the new album and were free to do so. As far as I’m concerned, whether I sing in Italian, English or phonetically, my style remains improvised even if in a musical context it is not.
Out of interest, do you have a personal preference for the Italian mother tongue, English or wordless harmonisation when you sing?
I was born from improvisation and honestly I feel more fluid expressing myself with the phonetic approach. But I disdain neither our mother tongue nor the English language. I would add, however, in addition to singing in Italian and sometimes in English with Tony Tears, I use phonetics and have customized my style a lot. Perhaps it appears more like a song in a real language even if it is invented. Initially, Antonio encouraged me to develop it and nowadays I’m comfortable with this approach. I have to say, he was right. This new way of personalising phonetics makes everything unique, for both me and also for the band.
Tony Tears, as I understand, deliberated long and hard on the striking artwork that binds the new opus. Would you please elaborate on its significance?
Antonio has explained to me that the concept is about a Cult that originates from a time before the Egyptians (dating back to Atlantis). However, the Egyptians are the ones from whom we can gain the strongest sense of this Cult. Antonio told me that for a variety of reasons, calculations, and more, this Cult (linked to Magic and Reincarnation) is destined to return. It’s a very profound topic and no doubt he will answer more fully in the future…
Masks, also remain at the beating heart of Tony Tears! A certain symbol, an Egyptian cross, is repeated on each mask with a different colour in the background for band members. Any comment on these designations?
Even these living masks, as Antonio likes to call them, have an Ankh on them to represent the origin of the Cult. The Ankh, according to him, is not the Egyptian key but rather the key of the one who taught us everything on earth. The colours in the background are the Entities of each of us, without which every effort of will would remain in vain. To keep it brief and to the point, each colour is the essence and the cross the quintessence, the effort and origin bound together.
Why do you not wear a mask or appear together in the band photograph by the burning altar?
I don’t wear the mask out of personal choice. I prefer facial expressions while also respecting the Tony Tears principle. But you must understand that we, the band and I, live in different cities and it was not practically possible for pandemic reasons to move from Rimini to Genova, and therefore, for this album photo shoot I was forced to do mine alone in my city.
As there may be no (or only very limited) opportunities to celebrate ‘The Atlantean Afterlife (…Living Beyond)” on stage, how do you intend to spend 2021?
It’s difficult to say. Things can change from moment to moment. I will certainly find freedom of expression in other objectives. I’m always looking for something new.
Any other burning ambitions at this point in your life?
It is forbidden to stop. You can evolve in a thousand ways, just look for, and feel other ways. The important thing is to go beyond yourself and learn.
Thank you for sharing, Sandra! Do you have any parting messages for our readers?
Thank you Danny for giving me the opportunity of this interview. The only thing I can say to every one of you is this message: Always be true to yourself and always pursue your dreams. Hugs to all!
Danny Angus (March / May 2021)
Even if armed with a reflective shield, curved sword and other aids of divine origin, would you have had the courage of Perseus to face Medusa? One of three winged women with large staring eyes, gaping mouth, lolling tongue, flared nostrils and serpentine locks of hair. Your first look would be your last! Perching my hand on Mario Di Donato’s stone shoulder I wonder why he had been captivated so…
Some six stiff years in the Underworld, The Black emerged with another mammoth double album. Why was it so long in the making?
The members of the band have had a bad time due to personal problems. So, none of us, had the mood to compose. Fortunately, over time, we have left behind these difficulties and we have found the will to enter the studio to record our last album “Gorgoni.”
Please explain your fascination with the Gorgon that led to this dedication of musical and brush strokes…
The Gorgons have fascinated me ever since elementary school. Especially Medusa! They are creatures who represent the evil in man and at the same time his punishment. If you look at Medusa, for example, you can remain petrified! In my music, as in my painting, I often speak of the struggle between good and evil. For these reasons, I have represented Medusa in my music and in my painting.
If she represents the female genitalia and the devouring urges of female sexuality, do you share Freud’s view that the terror of Medusa is the terror of castration?
I can say that I share the point of views of Freud. Medusa is the fear of the male before the discovery of female sexuality. The decapitation of the Gorgon can be seen as an attempt to suppress this sexuality. Woman, over the centuries, has often been the object of this attempt.
The soundtrack is suitably dark and diverse. From the very beginning, it conjures creepy visions and the terror takes different forms as the story unfolds. How do you think it feels compared to previous albums?
“Gorgoni” is the album that has the best production of my entire discography. We were able to take advantage of cutting-edge recording techniques thanks to a higher budget. This has allowed me to develop my typical sound.
Three years on, it is rumoured that the band has another two albums in the making! Centred on human phobias, “Metus Ostilis” seems to slot in well the seven deadly sins of “Peccatis Nostris” and the fear of the “Gorgoni” so why is the human psyche endlessly alluring?
I am interested in the fears of man, his phobias and his weaknesses. I watch with great interest at everything that revolves around these topics. I try to convey the emotions I get from these observations in my music and in my painting.
Boccaccio’s “The Decameron” sounds like a deep well of recounted fables through a 14th Century Italian filter. Of the hundred tales told by ten characters, which is your favourite and why?
I like all stories of “Decamerone.” It’s not easy to choose a favourite though. I can tell you that I’m working on new material, which is inspired by 10 stories from it. But I can’t tell you what these stories are, for the time being, it is still Top Secret!
Did you pen the music with a tale in mind or vice versa? And have used quoted Boccaccio’s language in the lyrics or retold them in your Latin metre?
This is my sequence: history, texts and music. I use Latin for texts. The language of “Decamerone” is the language of so-called “volgare” and it represent the Italian language of the 1500s.
Was it difficult to condense the essence of the whole into an album? And at what point did you decide enough ground had been covered to make it complete?
The subject is very vast. It was not easy to compose the lyrics and music. As I told you before, however, this is a topic that fascinates me and affects me a lot. For this reason, I also had great fun doing it! Before entering the studio to record the album there were some things that did not satisfy me and I had to see them together with the other members of the band. Now I think this one of the best albums of The Black!
The Black does not appear to be a prolific live band although did play the Metal Magic festival in Denmark this summer! Please describe your performance, the songs included and atmosphere throughout. Was The Black represented as it should have been in your eyes?
You’re right. The Black plays few concerts. We try to play only in the best places and to select those dates that really offer anything interesting. For this reason, The Black has played at the Malta Doom Metal Festival in 2012 and at Metal Magic in 2013. In both cases, we were very good. Regarding Metal Magic, Denmark is a great place and the people were very warm and welcoming! I was treated like a King and I hope to come back soon to play in those parts. In this particular concert we played songs from “Gorgoni,” “Reliquarium” and “Peccatis Nostris.” Our performance was much appreciated by the public and supported us from the beginning to the end of the concert. I can honestly say that things have gone beyond expectations!
You have also been billed to play with Misantropus at Halloween! Who booked the concert and will you be adapting your set to suit the festivities?
The date of Halloween has been organized by Misantropus. It’s an Italian group that plays a great Doom Metal. They are our fans by many years. They have all my records and our t-shirts. We have become good friends. Long ago I was their guest in Sermoneta (Latina) and they made me visit the artistic treasures of their city. Everything is ready for the concert to celebrate Halloween, a magic night with a religious significance very strong. Our obscure music is very suitable for situations like these.
When not writing and playing music, how much of your days are spent painting? Is oil on canvas your preferred medium?
Music and painting are two complementary aspects of my personality. The two are not mutually exclusive but co-exist. My favorite technique is oil on canvas but I also use many other techniques such as acrylic and tempera… I really like using mixed techniques for painting. This I was also taught at the art school.
I love your style, colours and particularly the darker themes explored. “Dies Irae,” “Infernal Moat” and “Hell” were all crafted in 1980. What are your memories from the times when you were composing them?
All my paintings are a figment of my imagination. I have certainly been impressed by other works of art but I don’t let them inspire me consciously. So when I paint I’m not surrounded by books, paintings or other artefacts. Work only fancy. My inspiration has remained unchanged over the years. Certainly in the ’80s I have made some very important works, but my art has always been very much alive also in later years.
Tell me about your self-portrait! Is your heart in the past or are you a knight of the present?
Metalheads are the warriors of the present! Despite society usually thinking that Metalheads are like criminals, we are culturally and humanly valid people that very often fight for the good ideals.
Looking back over your career, what is your proudest accomplishment to date?
My preferred painting is “Inferno” (1974) because I had opportunity to expose my opera at the famous exhibition F.P.Michetti. I don’t have a preferred album. But if I have to tell you a preference it might be “Infernus, Paradisus et Purgatorium” (1990).
As a man of culture, please describe some of your favourite pieces…
My preferred song is “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin. This song has broken the wall between Rock and Heavy Metal.
My favorite book is “Pinocchio” – the story created for children by Colllodi, an Italian writer! Pinocchio represents the contrast between good and evil. He is a cunning character, a liar but at the same time with a heart of gold and a large humanity. Then he never gives up. It is very strong and in this looks like me. I have a large collection of books and puppets of Pinocchio and I have organised also an exhibition in my city Pescosansonesco…
My favourite work of art is the “Gioconda” for its beautiful shapes and geometries. But I also love a painting less known called “Madonna col Bambino” by Filippo Lippi. This painting was made with oil on canvas. It’s fantastic because the image seems alive!
If you were to design your own coat of arms, what would be depicted, with what motto and why?
The badge should be a wolf’s head in the centre with four lions at the corners. The lion is the symbol of my city, Pescosansonesco. The motto should be “Nunc Et Semper” (Now and ever shall be…)
I have intruded long enough and must let you return to your studio! Thank you Mario. Looking forward to gazing into The Black again soon…
Thanks for the interview! A salute to the readers of your magazine! Metal will never die…
NUNC ET SEMPER!!!
Masters of the Pit #2 (September 2013)
Common Eider King Eider invokes the spirits of long ago. Solemn and cloaked, their ceremony takes shape slowly. The ceiling of the cave is certainly rather high, given the droning passage of the wind, with stick and bone piercing those gusts at intervals. Come “The Dark Winter” and the intensity is magnified a hundred fold. Cymbal splashes and the rapid rattle of wood against taut skin lend a manic edge. The monks become one with icy draughts, the choral vibrato summoning “Litha” for the final rite. Bowed strings bring a beautiful melody. But the atmosphere is fraught. A snarling man beast struggles to purge the demons within. Despair. Anguish. Time suspended. The choir steadfast. On hanging notes, that tension dissipates. Respite for the cast aside?
Enter Rob. You are very welcome in the world of Pariah Child. How are you keeping? Where have you been?
Hello, and thank you for talking with us! I think this year has been challenging, and revealing for all of us. There has been hope, and there has been devastating disappointment. The old world is being challenged, and the new world while embraced by many, is being attacked by those in power. We are being attacked. We are being left to fend for ourselves. We are being left to die.
No doubt this calendar year has not gone quite according to plan. What impact has the pandemic had on your lives and how have you made the time out of time count since lockdown began?
The lockdown has been hard for me and other people who struggle with depression and substance abuse. I don’t think I have made this time in lockdown count, because it has been more about survival. It has been more about self-care and not spiralling out of control into depression and self-isolation.
Please elaborate on your relationship with animism. How does this belief inform your living breathing sound?
Animism informs all that we do. It is the very foundation of our spiritual understanding and practice. Sonically, we channel spirits present during gatherings. We aim to give some sort of voice to those without voice.
Your albums defy convention. For me, they are an experience rather than a collection of songs. So what framework, if any, do you apply to creating music?
We come up with meditative or intentional titles, and build from there. It provides a very intimate exploration of the subject for both Andee and I. We each come to topics with our own unique experience, hopes, and truths, and if we have our own intimate reasons for invoking a piece, it seems more accurate and present. This is true in recording and in live situations.
Vocal elements are woven throughout your work. But my impression is that they are largely wordless. Why is that? Do you find language too limiting? Is sound more all-consuming without the distraction?
If we aim to channel, and we are successful in any way, we feel the meaning and voice, and intention or message will be heard without words. I think what comes out is a type of language, so I what comes out might not be words but transmissions are being made.
You have spoken about striving for simple titles, ones that channel and reflect personal experiences. Dare I say that the poetry of “Shrines for the Unwanted…” almost contradicts that simplicity even if the sentiment is true! Given that this album moved me deeply, would you share its story?
That album came from our first European tour. When we would arrive at a location, we would find sticks and rocks and branches to use as sound sources from the place we were performing that night. During the performance, the branches would break, rock used, dirt… At the end of the night we would sneak away to a quiet spot outside with all of the pieces used and build a shrine in the shadows for all of these spirits forgotten or cast aside… voiceless… unconsidered. We documented all of the shrines in a book. I think we built 25 shrines on that our, hidden all over Europe. I hope some are still standing somewhere, unfound.
For every species of bird, Common and King alike, the nest is paramount. Talk to me about the importance of location. Where is your ancestral home? Or as a shaman leading a nomadic existence does it really matter if you can communicate with spirits wherever you go?
I am a ghost with no one and nothing.
I imagine that the Pyrenees now hold a special place in your heart. Any impressions or memories you would like to share from your time spent deep in the mountains?
Hearing red deer rutting just out of sight in the late afternoon sun…
As “Égrégore” is an occult concept representing a thought form or collective group mind it seems an apt title for the first of two collaborative albums. To what extent did you achieve that elemental goal with Yan?
Collaborating with Yan is simple and easy and natural. I think that we both come from such similar foundations, that intention wise, it was effortless and fluid. We didn’t talk much beyond the initial framework of the concept for this recording. We would meet late at night after his family had been put to sleep… sit in silence for some time… and then start recording.
My copy of “Palimpseste” is in the post so I cannot compare the two movements. From your perspective, how would you describe these differing creative journeys? Has the emphasis shifted somehow with Cober Ord’s participation now more pronounced?
As it is true both Yan Arexis, and Yan H. both originally comprised Cober Ord, it is currently the solo project of Yan H. “Égrégore” sounds more like the creative / ritual / sonic process of sitting still in a space and letting the voices be heard on a slow unfolding time scale. “Palimpseste” correlates to driving all throughout the Pyrenees and exploring caves and streams and forests and Neolithic sites and assembling field recordings and moments much in the vein of musique concrete. I have so much trust and admiration and inspiration for both of those individuals that they will both stay with me and influence me musically and ritually moving forward.
Having never had the pleasure of communing with your live aura, what do you consider essential instrumentation to be able to perform? The bare bones of your craft if you will. I have had a vision that you brought an empty suitcase on tour. Before playing any given gig, you would explore the surroundings and gather together natural elements of the district: sand and shells, soil and leaves, bark or pine needles to sprinkle over the stage, your altar, then played barefoot, grounded in nature, in the moment. Might it work?
That is actually exactly what we do… Ha! I think this concept will be unfolding exponentially in the future into creating total environments or installations for both ourselves and the participants.
Have you a favourite plant?
To what extent do you improvise on album themes on stage? Is there a push pull relationship between channelling and recreation?
All of the arrangements we perform live are actually quite strict as far as framework goes. Framework as skeleton… as the structure that all else clings to for support. There is improvising, and there is being taken by the spirits present. I think the most exciting moments are when we try weaving different themes or sections together and experimenting with overlapping intentions and sonics….
Leaving yourselves open and vulnerable in the moment, have you experienced strange or hostile moods, with or without an audience, when playing? How do you cope with that danger?
I think that when working magic, one should have a framework to operate in that offers the necessary protection. I have my personal system and ritual framework that seems to work for me. With that said, there have been some very intense experiences both live and in private that have opened doors, perspectives, emotions, wounds, both for Andee and myself, and for the participants. I kind of measure the “success” of a gathering by the types of conversations we have with participants afterwards. What went on for them. What opened up for them. Where they went. What was present for them spirit wise…
Returning to the theme of animism, I imagine that you have played in some natural spaces. But how do those energies contrast to the urban environment?
I feel that there are just as many spirits present in urban environments and natural environments… Maybe some are of the same family or clan, and others are unique to location. I feel it is important when going into a situation of channelling or spirit communion to not bring your own expectations or spirits that you work with or spirits from your own place… You have to be totally open to what is going to happen. You have to be totally open to the spirits of that place that want to interact with you. I feel in both places there is sadness and loss and warning.
What was your most striking live experience to date?
L’Homme Savage Festival 2018. The most amazing (festival) experience I have ever been witness to. When we got done playing, I looked up and 300 people were in various states of trance… sitting… lying in the grass…. a fire built in the middle of the audience. One of the most beautiful experiences of my life.
There must be more ideas, perhaps even fully formed albums, bubbling towards the surface. Where will you go next?
Live installations…. 10 hour overnight dream performances where as people sleep, we try to influence their dreams.
Have you been reading much lately? Enlighten us!
Cormac McCarthy, Georges Bataille. Also the Baedan Journals.
We have come full circle. If you can find the words to express your parting thoughts cast them now…
Thank you for taking the time to present us with such thoughtful questions! May these times bring about community which we never imagined. May it open our eyes to the care we might give outside of ourselves. May it expose those who would do harm. And may it shine light on all we take for granted, so that we move forward in a different manner.
To be expanded in tbe next print publication of Pariah Child…
Released way back in late 2011, “The Ninth Hour” should have already been heralded as the return of a legend. Led by Death Row & Pentagram sticksman and multi-instrumentalist, Joe Hasselvander, with old comrade in arms, Martin Swaney on bass, everybody should have been quaking in their boots. This is heavy. This is dark. This is inspired. Why you did not purchase it as quickly as Pentagram’s “Last Rights” or Victor Griffin’s “In-graved” remains a mystery. But it is never too late for redemption….
Welcome Joe to the realms of Pariah Child. Thank you for taking the time to grant us audience. What have you been doing since “The Ninth Hour” tolled?
Well, as a lot of people know, I have been on an extensive North American Tour with Raven supporting our long awaited DVD documentary, “Rock Until You Drop (A Long Day’s Journey)” chronicling the band’s rise to fame in the 1980’s and it’s new found resurgence today. I am also heading up a few new projects with other people set for release in the near future. I love keeping busy.
When speaking to Cosmic Lava last year, you described how you were now painting with much broader musical strokes and it would be difficult to argue that the latest album was neither diverse nor captivating yet still wholly cohesive. So how has your approach changed? Why do you think you have achieved so much here and now? Experience? Hard graft? Undiluted vision?
From all of my playing with different bands and years of vinyl archeology, I feel that I’ve tapped into the real essence of what makes real Heavy Metal tick. It has its roots in so many things musically and emotionally. A lot of tragedy, high strangeness and triumph. It’s much easier to create when you have thrown off the shackles of popular opinion and just rock with the truth that is in you.
While the album was recorded by a band and the sound is undoubtedly rich I still find it fascinating that you handle all of the song writing as well as the lion’s share of the roles as singer, guitarist and drummer. Does this ever pose problems? Do you never get stuck?
No, actually it is much easier that way as I hear in my head, the whole band while I am writing the music on guitar. I can produce an album much faster that way as I already have all the various parts of the rhythm tracks mapped out. The overlaying stuff I save for discovery towards the end of the session. That is often times where the magic happens.
Who was responsible for the cover and how do you feel it captures the mood of the album? For me, there are echoes of the debut Black Sabbath album with the thick undergrowth suggesting the passage of time and the lonely figure in black an omen…
The cover came from a group of photos that were taken next door to the studio where I was recording. There was a group of old tobacco barns and an old imploded house. I was seriously worried at the time about a proper title for the album and a correlating image for the cover. When we reviewed the shots at the end of the day, this image stood out like a sore thumb and said “Use me”. Originally it was black and white and at first just looks like an old decayed structure when suddenly your eye is lead to my figure behind the old vines and scrub grass like the sudden sighting of the ghost of the person that once lived in this ramshackle heap of weathered wood. Quite freaky, actually. When I saw the job Black Widow did in augmenting it, I also caught the first Sabbath album vibe. I like ours a lot better. It also represents the bumpy road I had been on for a few years where the struggle was hard without much return. It kind of says, “Here’s my empire of decay”. Ah, but that’s Doom.
Delving into the lyrics, there is not a strict story from start to finish yet the songs are bound by recurring themes of doom and redemption. The title track warns of time passing and the impending Armageddon. But not without hope, given the tone of “Restless Soul” and “Coming of the King” so ultimately would you consider it to be an honest, reflective and uplifting record?
The lyrics are from my observations of the way society has gone into a hyper-drive tail spin because of its money, sex and power fetish. Sexy is no longer about sex and money is all about who you can bribe. The people who don’t think inside this narrow box are usually seen as throwaway and outdated by the rest of the world and shunned for actually having integrity. It’s a true Twilight Zone episode in real time. I had no shortages of lyrical content.
“Suburban Witch” and “Salem” share a different theme in common. Given that the latter most be relatively close to your Massachusetts’ home, have you a burning interest in the history and folklore?
There is always a grain of truth in all folklore. Sometimes you find that it’s no exaggeration and things can get dangerous if you pursue it too closely as I have learned from personal experience.
“Heavier Than Thou” is a feisty anthem! It could equally apply to any number of relationships or rivalries. Was it written with anybody particularly in mind?
It was originally about my days with Pentagram and a few other so-called employers who secretly hated me and were trying to discredit my work and my personality. I never realized how jealous they were of me. They read me wrong because they wanted to, because I had become some kind of threat to them which was totally fabricated or imagined. I have always worked with people fairly and they know this but you can’t argue with a narcissist nor expect them to have any of your interests at heart. Karma’s a mother and this is what the song is about.
Your rousing rendition of “Don’t Look Around” slots in rightly in to the album proper! I like it when a cover feels at home within a body of work rather than an awkward spare part tagged on to the end. But why this song? Does it capture the wild untamed side of your youth as a musician on the road?
It does capture that in a nutshell. I also once played with Leslie West back in the 1970’s and he truly gave me my first big break. He was a consummate professional despite his career setbacks. He is a very strong willed man that you can’t keep down for long. He has proven that over and over. This was my tribute to him and my favorite song by Mountain.
Now if I understand correctly, “Ancient Rocks” was recorded in tandem with “The Ninth Hour” yet it is wholly a covers album dedicated to the early ‘70s Hard Rock like Jerusalem and Bang. I find it strange that in your youth you fought so hard to break free from the limitations of the covers circuit yet would dedicate such time and energy to this pursuit all these years later! What has changed? What was the motivation? Old friends, comfortable in the skin, knocking out classics for fun?
These were the songs that defined my teenage years and had me perfectly aligned to go forward on my own journey through song writing. These bands were a tremendous influence on how my taste developed in music and they were the best in my estimation. They were all pretty famous in their time but have been all but forgotten today. My parents were both teachers and I think a lot of that rubbed off on me. I find myself constantly educating people that there was life before Metallica. A lot of my efforts have paid off especially with my large Facebook crew who are for the most part, light years younger than me. Did I also do it for fun? Absolutely!
Judging by the artwork released by Black Widow Records, “Ancient Rocks” will be represented by a mysterious old stone structure. Fitting themes. Was that your idea? Given that you had thought it would have surfaced by now, what is the revised timescale?
I toyed around with a few ideas with the title in mind and was one day contacted by a man who was selling artwork for album covers. The first one I saw was called “Ancient”. It has an old stone abbey with a Druid elder standing among the fallen columns looking out upon the remnants of a war torn world.
There had been talk that you would tour to promote “The Ninth Hour” on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean with Martin Swaney, Russ Strahan and T.C.Tolliver. Did either happen last year? If you intend to hit European shores, will you give me enough warning to save up a few pounds for my flights, unless, that is, Ireland is on your itinerary?
I had fully intended to tour with that line up but no one could pay enough for us to make a buck or even cover expenses. I don’t perform for free and never have unless it is a benefit for a worthy cause. The other guys in the band also have to be paid as they are old hats at this. These things happen because there are at times, too many bands out on the road. They would rather book something that has been around a very long time I think. The Hounds are relatively new. If an adult-minded offer comes, we are there.
Given how vast your musical legacy has been to date and that it is still expanding, without any sign of the threatened autobiography, please would you recall and explain the following choices:
My favourite instrument to play is drums.
My favourite line up I have played with is the current line-up in Raven.
My favourite album I have had a hand in writing and recording is The Hounds Of Hasselvander’s debut album.
The song that most captures who I am is “Pull The Switch”
Thank you Joe for so much top class heavy music over the years! I’ll see you in Manchester with Raven in November for my birthday bash. The final words are yours…
Well folks, I’m not likely to stop creating the very best and heaviest music I can for you. This is a life journey that doesn’t stop until the engine seizes up. Rock Until You Drop!!! Cheers.
And Manchester was flattened! What a killer band. For all manner of vivid memories from the man himself, you would do well to set some time aside to read http://joehasselvander.blogspot.com
To celebrate the launch of the “Initiatio” LP, Pariah Child has dug deep in the vaults to exhume an old conversation. Ever since indulging in the “Alchimete” EP and an intriguing interview in Devilment Zine, I knew this would be a band to hold close to my heart. Six summers later that sentiment remains unchallenged. With a haunting, resonating, and almost funereal atmosphere, Ysengrin conjures up images of Abysmal Grief in a parallel plane, inspired by similar sources yet pursuing a different destiny. Base Metal has been transformed into Gold…
Greetings Guido! How’s life in your neck of the Normandy woods?
Greetings Danny! Life is going pretty well with our new house in these old woods, amongst elemental powers and messengers of God… A great place to compose new anthems for the Beast!
Please elaborate upon your motivations to form a band under the banner of Ysengrin! It bears medieval and mythical marks that recall the figure of the wolf…
I raised YSENGRIN from dark and dusty rooms, praising the fantastic writings of Lovecraft and Poe. The wolf was already born since many years in the womb of putrefaction and stench. Death is the constant tendency, from the beginning to now. You cannot find any Ysengrin release without a drawing and so related to Death. “Despise not the ashes as they are the crown of your heart…” had said Morien.
When I said band, you really are the heart and soul of Ysengrin. Do you consider it a solitary venture? How much do you compose, create, play and illustrate alone? Are the current session and guest musicians (or were those in the past) integral to this quest?
Not a solitary venture but more a guild with different individuals gathered together under the sign of the wolf. That’s the reason why other members, be session or guest, are really important! Still most of the riffs come from me. I’ll always be the master (if the word is not too pompous)! I cannot see Ysengrin nowadays as a one-man band…
Given that our readers may be wholly unfamiliar with the band how would you expand upon the sound you have forged? To my ears, it is distinct and whilst I could attempt to draw broad parallels with the untamed spirits Necromantia, Abysmal Grief and Necros Christos would it really be enough to understand Hermetic Dark Metal?
I’m mostly influenced by old music from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. I don’t really like etiquettes, but Hermetic Dark Metal is really the perfect description of what Ysengrin stands for! Of course, I share lots of things with the bands you quoted. You can also add to that list MORTUARY DRAPE, MYSTIFIER, UNHOLY, NEGATIVE PLANE, AFTER DEATH and a few more…
To your credit, Ysengrin has been fairly prolific and incredibly consistent over the years spawning essentially five distinct EPs (of sorts) and two full-length albums. Having had a little time to reflect, how do you review this trajectory?
Well, it’s not really 5 EPs… Anyway, “To Endotaton” is really a peak of what I have accomplished and for the moment, I cannot think of a third album! I don’t really see any trough, but the track “La Procession Noire” on the 4 way split CD suffers a lot from a bad mix in my ears now…
The only composition I have not yet sourced! Anyway, your latest offering, the self-released “Palimpseste” MLP is a revamped version of the split recording with Borgia. Whilst the remastering for vinyl was essential, what I find particularly interesting is that that was only one of the many steps taken to enhance its personality…
I decided to change to running order to fit the 45 RPM vinyl, and also I prefer how it sounds now! It’s definitely a good opportunity to seal on wax, with a proper sound, those old tracks in the YSENGRIN quest…
The name, although obscure, is very fitting! In this case, it’s a musical recording rather than an original manuscript that has had content superimposed. Given your vocation and personal studies, was it only a matter of time before you applied the concept to your artist work?
Before I started to play music as a teenager, drawing and reading were my main distractions since my childhood. Even I was (and still am!) a bad drawer, I tried to put into reality what I had in mind. I would say that the artistic streak was already in me!!! But music is really the best way to express my feelings…
The new artwork is reminiscent of your back catalogue. A trademark touch. But would you expand upon why you used this particular image here and now?
The hooded monk is definitely a trademark. If I do another album, there will be for sure another hooded monk on the cover! This XIXth Century etching (which I reworked a lot by the way) was perfect to reflect both title and music, and as I self-financed the MLP, I cannot afford to pay an artist for the artwork. Money is always a pain in the ass…
Speaking of asses, would you be willing to elaborate on your lyrics? Whilst the particular brand of French is often beyond my comprehension I was surprised by how crude “Abîmes de Joie” reads!
Not all the YSENGRIN lyrics are about assholes! Ha! Ha! Anyway, yes, “Abîmes de Joie” mostly deals with women, associated with lust and blasphemy, all daughters of Eve, sin of flesh… I’m particularly proud of the sentence about a parallel of the fall of the Lucifer emerald to an anal plug (from wisdom to decadence). A pure piece of poetry!!!
“La Soif de Vulcain” on the other hand is much more poetic, which appears fitting for the themes contained within…
That’s right, on the contrary, the lyrics of “La Soif de Vulcaïn” is definitely more male dealing, like an overview of Alchemy (yes, mostly a male science), something more solar and luminous. Both tracks can be seen as the two sides of the head of the god Janus. Nothing is purely black or white you know…
And what do you share in common with the infamous François Villon so that he became the thrust of “Frères Humains”?
This poem is probably the most famous French medieval poem (Villon, by the way, is really a reference in this domain). There is something already very contemporary in Villon words, also a vanguard of the magnificence of the poetry of Charles Baudelaire or Gérard de Nerval. I choose Villon because he fit totally with Metal in the darker form, with a medieval touch of course!
Are these his words? Any recommended further reading?
Yes “Frères Humains…” is really his best poem. I’m pretty sure there are some English translations of his whole body of work. Then you can feel pure French poetry of the XVth Century, from the end of the Middle Ages!
Having not heard any material prior to “Archivum MMV-MMX” and “Alchimëte” EPs when the vinyl landed I was pleasantly surprised by how much it carried a harsher cavernous sound. It reinforces that sense of trajectory we discussed previously as both “Tragédies” and “To Endotaton” have been considerably more refined and feel expansive with, for example, the medieval elements and acoustic interludes. Will you continue to move away from this rough and ready approach or is anything possible along the hermit’s path?
So I guess you still missed “T.R.IA.D.E”, the first opus?!
I have since purchased what appeared to be the last of the cassette copies available in England, Guido. However, I have not yet immersed myself in those hymns…
When you do, you’ll hear some great acoustic interludes too! Well, as a worshipper of old vintage sound, I cannot see Ysengrin adopting a clinical polished one. By the way, the two full-lengths are still quite raw in the guitars and bass sound…
I agree wholeheartedly! It’s a subtle evolution I speak of in terms of song writing as well as the impact of opening up the guild to aid the recording process. Now if I remember correctly, you vowed to drop lead guitar, focus on bass and possibly adopt (again) two basses! I cannot help but recall the glorious sound of Necromantia. However, I should ask why deny the guitar a role?
In the past, I once used two bass guitars, the track “Abstinence” that can be heard on the “Archivum MMV-MMX” compilation tape. No Danny, it’s clearly not a denial of the guitar (whether it be lead or rhythmic), but more a necessary rebirth! Guitars will be used here and there, as acoustic or lead, but bass guitars will dominate proceedings. That’s in evidence! Riffs, words on paper, ideas and improvisations… Always the same shit of development and not prefabricated or so…
Only today, you revealed that there are a further four split vinyl releases in the works that will be coloured to match an alchemical path or process! What can you reveal about the material scheduled for each? And why have you taken this communal approach rather than a single full-length album?
The first split 12” will be with my Chilean mates of BLACK GRAIL! They already released two tapes and soon an album will surface (on which I played guest piano!). They are really one of the best bands coming from their country! Awesome Black Metal, the way it should be! The second split 12” will be with Spanish band SARTEGOS! Their name is starting to become known as another great purveyor of Death/Black Metal! The two other split 12” vinyl are with an Australian Death Metal band and a Hellenic Black Metal band! I cannot say more for the moment..
Each of these splits will be in relation to the alchemical process, from nigredo to rubedo, so the whole thing is a concept and will also be put into both CD and cassette (so a bit like the full-length you described), hopefully when all the aforementioned splits will be out! But nothing before fall 2015, I imagine…
How would you actually describe your music intended for these respective EPs? Single longer compositions for each, comparable to the Ysengrin back catalogue?
There will be four tracks for the first split: two quite short and two at a normal length with a total running time around 13 minutes. For the second one, there will be three tracks including one short interlude with around 14 minutes of music. Don’t worry Danny! The music cannot be more fucking Dark Metal! Mostly mid-tempo, obscure keys and mystic riffs! The only difference is that there are no rhythmic guitars on the split with SARTEGOS whilst there are still guitars on the split with BLACK GRAIL so it’s the last YSENGRIN release with rhythmic guitars…
With different bands and presumably labels involved, how will these split EPs be bound by fitting artwork?
NUCLEAR WAR NOW! And I,VOIDHANGER RECORDS will co-produce all the four split 12” LPs and yes, there will be only one artist involved, my Croatian mate, Marko Marov. I already worked with him for the poster of tape version of “Tragédies…” album.
Then we are in safe hands on a steady path! The last matter of concern is if, how and when the music would be performed live? What circumstances would be required?
Hopefully, for 2016… But first and foremost we have to rehearse! There won’t be any tour or the like. But a few gigs with selected bands. I really hope our rituals will be something intense and refreshing.
If Ysengrin was a book, painting or tapestry, what would it be?
Very interesting question but difficult as well! Please let me choose one of each (in a non-exhaustive way).
The book would be mixture of “The Monk” of M.G. Lewis, any of Lovecraft’s novellas, and René Guénon’s books on Symbolics…
The painting, hard choice again, would be another mixture with a gothic medieval miniature from Limbourg brothers, a hermetic woodcut between XVIth and XVIIIth Centuries, and a German Romantic painting from the XIXth Century.
The tapestry would have to be “The Apocalypse” Tapestry from Angers.
Without further ado, Guido, thank you for taking the time to shed a little light on your obscure laboratory. If anything left unsaid should be spoken let loose your tongue…
Thanks a lot for your interview and I hope more Irish folks will taste the occult world of YSENGRIN! “Regnum Dei intra vos est”. Luc, XVII, 21.
Many years have passed since. Stream the latest and final studio album…
With their “Different Dirges” demo collection pending imminent release, it seemed timely to dust down this special old feature from the vaults…
England boasts a proud history of bands cutting across many genres. Sadly, in years past, there has been a discernable decline as the greats lapsed into inactivity whilst those that remained failed to rise above mediocrity. However, there are now stirrings in a number of camps that will surely fill said void and put the island back on the map. One such contender is The River. The young quartet released its latest demo earlier this spring prior to embarking on the first foreign live appearance at none other than the prestigious Doom Shall Rise festival. Both their studio and live exploits to date herald a promising future. But now a vacant drum stool threatens to stall their gathering momentum. Curious to discuss the dynamic new material, their burgeoning popularity and where they go next I went in search of the remaining trio.
Vicky, Christian and Stephen you are all very welcome. Tell me, how has life been treating you since we last met? Back to porridge, as they say…
Stephen – Life has been good! Obviously there have been a few down points along the way such as Jon leaving and the search for a new drummer. But apart from that, it’s been cool. We are now just concentrating on the next release and wandering the demo band desert looking for that elusive label.
How did you find Doom Shall Rise III as a musician and fan? What were the highs and lows?
Stephen – I would have to say that Doom Shall Rise III was the best festival I have ever been to. On many different levels, it was a joy to be a part of it, the bands, the people we met, the organisation from all the staff and we can’t leave out the beer!
As a musician I found it amazing, to play to such a crowd where everyone was there for the same reason, the love of all things Doom. Before we played, I was very nervous. But as the set began I got into the swing of things. I’d have to give it to the Germans. They know what they’re doing. If there was a problem the guys backstage were on it straight away.
Obviously there were a few hitches with our performance including the unfamiliar equipment and Chris being ill. But on the whole I think we gave a good account of ourselves. The only low point was it was Jon’s last gig with us. Apart from that, it was a fantastic time had by all!
Did the experience differ significantly to a typical gig in England? Crucially, the festival will have introduced the band to a wider audience. But what kind of feedback did you receive over the weekend and have you had much since?
Stephen – I think the main difference was the crowd numbers. In England, the crowds can be very fickle. You do get your die-hards, who always make putting on a gig worthwhile. But it’s a real shame when you get someone like The Gates Of Slumber or Slough Feg coming over to play to small crowds.
In Germany, we made a lot of new friends, sold a lot of demos and got a fair amount of good reviews from our performance so we were happy with that!
For those less fortunate souls, The River is still relatively unknown at this early stage in your career. Please introduce the band as you see fit. How and when did you come together? Did you have a specific vision you intended to explore? Has it changed since you embarked on this journey?
Chris – We actually formed in 1999 as a continuation of a friend’s band that Steve and I had played in, which split when the singer joined the army. We recorded two demos between that date and 2002 although they were not spread too far outside our community of friends for various reasons. The band members at the time, unfortunately, were happier playing music that sounded exactly like their favourite bands without any of their own identity and didn’t really care for putting in any hard work to promote The River. So after they left, Steve and I set about recording ‘Oneiric Dirges in Mono’ in 2003 with myself handling drums and guitars, and Steve handling bass. We roped in my friend Vicky to do the vocals and thus The River of today was born! We found Jon to play the drums after he left Unsilence and moved south. We then began playing live in 2004. We played some very good gigs and spread the name very far in a very short space of time. However, Jon had to leave after recording ‘Different Ways to Be Haunted’ due to family commitments, leaving us as a trio again.
We’ve never really had a vision of that we wanted to explore. Our intention was simply to be a seriously heavy Doom band but not at the expense of writing a decent song. Sonically, we love low-tuned guitars and feedback. But we also adore a beautifully sung lyric & melody so I guess if The River did have a vision to explore, the juxtaposition of brutal riffs and tender harmonies would be it!! We haven’t changed our outlook at all since we started. With a bit of luck, hopefully, we’re improving!
The River is an intriguing name. It suggests motion and perhaps life-giving properties. How does this natural symbol represent the band?
Chris – There was no other reason to name the band The River than simply we liked it. It also had no connotations. Therefore, people would judge the music after hearing it rather than having a preconceived idea of what we’re about. Having thought about it a bit though, it does suit us fairly well. A river can be dirty and brutal yet it can also be clear & beautiful. It’s sometimes slow yet sometimes fast moving. It’s constantly progressing yet it’s never unrecognisable as a river. These are traits we try to include in our music as well so in that respect I guess it represents the band quite nicely!
There is also an inherent connectivity between a source and a destination. Where do you think The River fits in the grand scheme, if indeed there is one?
Chris – In a physical sense, as you say, a river always has a source and a destination. It provides home and security to a wide array of wildlife, which is very important to the grand scheme of things. Whether, as a band, we could ever hold such a lofty position and be seen as that vital or important to the music world as our namesake in the natural world I don’t know!
Well, my congratulations! Your current offering, “Different Ways To Be Haunted” is a refreshing slab of music. The signature touches are developing. The song writing and performance certainly strike me as more confident. How then do you rate demo? Do you feel that you are now beginning to realise that vision?
Chris – Ta very much! We’re all still very proud of the demo as we are of everything we’ve recorded. There are obviously things we would change given more time and money. But that’s just nit-picking on my behalf! The main reason we came on so well between “Oneiric Dirges…” and “Different Ways…” was that we had Jon on drums. Being able to play live and actually rehearse as a proper band rather than being the doom skiffle band we were before he joined meant we had more time to work on arrangements and melodies than we were previously used to. Certainly having the experience of being a full band meant that we were definitely more confident when writing and recording “Different Ways…” no doubt about it! Although Jon is no longer part of the band, his contribution has been invaluable and we’re at a stage now where we have a very strong musical vision and know exactly where we’re headed. I believe we’ve pretty much got ourselves The River sound and we just need to work on continually improving it.
In my eyes, the three songs form a cohesive unit without lacking diversity. But I have a sneaking suspicion that “Broken Window” was penned first as it seems more in keeping with “Oneric Dirges In Mono”… Is there any truth in that or is it merely coincidental?
Chris – Yep, “Broken Window’” is the oldest song on “Different Ways…” and it just missed being recorded for “Oneiric Dirges..” which I’m now quite glad of as it has changed a fair bit over time before getting to the stage it’s at on “Different Ways…”. The vocal lines and first two riffs are pretty much the only things that stayed the same. “White Library” was written not long after it and “A Close Study” was the newest song. It was only finished about a month before we recorded it. We put them on in newest to oldest order because “Broken Window” was the out and out Doom one whereas “White Library” was the more left of field one. “A Close Study” has some outright Doom riffs but also something a bit different in it. We put it first to set the tone for what lay ahead basically!
On the previous outing, Chris penned the lyrics and Vicky sang them. Has that formula remained as it was? Vicky, will you be playing an increasingly larger role creating as well as performing them as your confidence grows?
Vicky – Chris is still writing the lyrics, mainly because he’s far better at it than I am! It’s not a lack of confidence that stops me. It’s just there’s a better man for the job.
Each of the new song titles hinge on physical space. Is that emphasis deliberate?
Chris – Not really, it’s just a co-incidence! Thinking about it, it is easier to pinpoint something you can physically see to get a point across than to get all wordy and have people not understand what you’re getting at. It also helps to set up a story and set a scene when you’re writing I guess, be it lyrics, poetry or the chapters of a book. In all honesty, I hadn’t spotted it until you mentioned it!
Loneliness, heartache and a lack of confidence figure quite prominently in the lyrics. Are they intended to be universal or do they relate to specific experiences? Do you find singing about them to be cathartic?
Chris – A bit of both! “A Close Study’” and “Broken Window” have elements of loneliness and a lack of confidence in them as they are definitely things I suffer from at times although I see them as obstacles to overcome rather than things to whinge about and hopefully the lyrics come across in this way. The heartache end of it I presume you’re thinking “White Library” specifically. The lyrics were written simply because Vicky said she enjoyed lyrics about relationships. They’re actually my least favourite set of lyrics I think they’re too wimpy although Vicky makes them sound better than they are. They are definitely not about any of my ex-girlfriends! I would not flatter someone I’ve split up with by writing a song about them! However, a lot of people really like them and reckon they can relate to them so they’re good in that respect. On the whole the lyrics are based mainly on my own specific experiences but hopefully written in such a way that people can relate them to anything they want!
Vicky – It’s not quite cathartic for me, as they’re not my words. I can relate to them, understand them and I certainly enjoy singing them But I’m not so much getting things off my chest as helping Chris get them off his!
Ever since I first heard mention of The River emphasis has been placed on your vocals and there have been frequent comparisons to Mourn. But bar gender and nationality, I think there is probably little common ground. Mind you, it must help distinguish the sound of the band in a predominantly male genre. What do you think?
Chris – Mourn was a great band and in actual fact, their “For Evermore” cassette was the first demo I ever bought. However, I agree with you that there are very little similarities in the sound and if the only reason we get compared to them is the fact we have a female singer it shows how naïve some people can be! Caroline Wilson and Vicky have very separate singing voices in my opinion. Besides, you wouldn’t compare Wino to Messiah Marcolin just because they’re both blokes, would you?! Having said all that, there are far worse bands to be compared to. I’d just rather we were both in the category of good music than the category of Doom bands with bird singers!
Unfortunately, you were unable to record a fourth song, “A Relation To Absence” that was intended for the demo as you ran out of time, and presumably money, in the studio. Would you be able to give us an insight into the lyrics and music?
Chris – “A Relation to Absence” is actually a three minute song with no distorted guitars on it! It’s kind of up-tempo by our standards and quite different although ultimately still The River. It will be recorded in the near future, have no fear! Lyrically, it’s about missing out on life’s simple pleasures through no fault of your own but trying to plough ahead regardless.
It was no secret that Jonathan would be vacating the drum stool after Doom Shall Rise III due to changing family commitments. In one sense, it is a shame as his drumming helped define the new songs and his talents will be missed. How is he settling in up north and how is the band coping without having him around?
Stephen – Jonathon is now the father of a baby boy named Sammy. He and Regan are very happy and proud parents. We wish them nothing but the best for the future.
We’re coping at the moment with rehearsals and recording. Mind you, it was a hell of a lot easier when he was here. We’re missing playing live! Hopefully, someone will turn up soon to fill the empty drum stool.
The band appears undeterred, as you have already confirmed that the debut album will be recorded early next year even if you have not recruited a full-time drummer or secured a label deal. The latter is certainly not as crucial as it once was. Please elaborate on your plans. Do you then have a sense that the timing feels right?
Chris – We’ve been going for six years now and have recorded four demos. We pretty much feel it’s time to get off the pot now if you know what I mean! Enough people have shown an interest in hearing an album and one of the nicer criticisms we generally get is that the demos seem to leave people wanting to hear more. I think we’re at a stage now where we need to do an album because recording another demo would seem almost like admitting defeat or showing we don’t have enough faith in our music. If we haven’t got a new drummer by the beginning of next year I’ll play the drums and guitar again like I did on “Oneiric Dirges…” Finding a label is going to be the hard part, particularly if we still haven’t got a drummer by then, as we won’t be able to promote the recording by playing live. We are actively searching for a label at present though and hopefully it will all come into place sooner rather than later. We’ve had a bit of interest even though we haven’t finished sending “Different Ways…” to the various labels out there so time will tell I guess! Whatever happens, the album is going to be recorded in the first few months of 2006 and will be titled “Drawing Down The Sun”. It’s going to have seven songs on it and is pretty much a continuation of “Different Ways…” with some new ideas chucked in for good measure!
Whatever happened to the proposed split 7” with Cambian Dawn? When do you foresee your songs making their way on to hallowed wax?
Chris – The split was due to be released via COTD records but unfortunately the funding wasn’t there to get the singles pressed. 7”s are bloody pricey it has to be said! Again though, we’re looking for a label to release it as we speak and if the worst comes to the worst, we’ll probably have a whip round between the two bands to get the money together and release it ourselves. I think both songs are too good to waste and the opportunity to release a vinyl is not one I’m passing up! As to when it is released, the sooner the better I reckon!
Given that the band has enjoyed a progressively higher profile live in the past twelve months do you foresee it continuing as an integral part of your development? If you had a free reign, where would you like to play and with whom would you share the stage?
Chris – As far as I’m concerned, you’re not a proper band unless you can get out there and play live. It really breaks my heart that at the moment we can’t do it! We were flying high with the amount of gigs we were being offered and it’s such a shame that we’re no longer in that position. We’ve been very lucky with the gigs we have had. Our profile and demo sales were getting higher all the time. We definitely became a much better band from gigging it has to be said. Until we get a new drummer, though we’re knackered on the live front! If we had the choice, it really wouldn’t matter where we play although I have to say I like travelling abroad! At Doom Shall Rise we played with a lot of bands that we would have loved to have seen let alone shared a stage with! Mirror Of Deception, Warning, Isole, The Gates Of Slumber, Pale Divine and Place Of Skulls are all bands I’d gladly share a bill with again! Actually when we do get the drummer situation resolved, the first shows we’re likely to play are with Warning, which is something we’re really looking forward to. We’ve also played with Reverend Bizarre and would like to do so again. As for bands we haven’t played with, there’s Orodruib, Solstice, Revelation and Thee Plagure Of Gentlemen… The list is endless! There are bands outside the Doom & Metal scenes that I personally would love to play with but I can’t see the proposed Lynyrd Sknyrd, PJ Harvey and The River bill ever going ahead!
How would you describe the atmosphere amongst English bands, the press, promoters and the general punters? Is there a tangible scene? Have you noticed any significant changes in the underground over the past five to ten years?
Stephen – The atmosphere amongst the English scene is good. It’s difficult in London because there’s an “in” crowd but the rest of the country’s fine. The bands help each other out when they can with gigs, promoting and information, which is a healthy attitude to have when the scene is not as big as others. The up side is you don’t get as many arseholes and fakes as other scenes.
Some people in the press will highlight Doom bands but they are few and far between. There was a Doom special in a new UK magazine called Zero Tolerance which featured bands like Black Sabbath, Revelation, The Gates Of Slumber, Reverend Bizarre, Centurion’s Ghost amongst others, which is quite unheard of these days. The crowds can be hit and miss but those who do show up make it worth while.
There are a few new bands breaking through such as Iron Hearse, Cambian Dawn, Centurion’s Ghost, and our good selves of course, and there are bands that have established themselves already, namely, Solstice, Warning, Pagan Altar, Solomon Kane, Unsilence and Tefra. Hopefully there will be more in the future.
Do you hold a wider interest in the performing arts or culture? Do you think alternative movements have an impact on the band?
Chris – Not to any great extent really. I’ve only ever been to the theatre when I was on school trips but that was a long time ago now! Museums and the like get visited occasionally but not with any sort of regularity. It’s not that we don’t have any appreciation for the more cultured way of life. It just rarely crops up on our things to do list. We’re not particularly refined I’m afraid. We’re a pork pie, beer, football and game of darts down the pub kind of band!
There is a somewhat foreboding yet subtle atmosphere at the very core of your creation. Have any such legends or folk tales been absorbed into your collective persona? If so, are there any you would recommend as an accompaniment to the music?
Chris – Again, not really! There are plenty of myths and stories in English folklore that are interesting, whether it be the Druids at Stonehenge, King Arthur, the witches of the Middle Ages or the haunting of Borley Rectory and we do have an interest in such things. However, I doubt we would ever represent anything like this with our music simply because we prefer to write about more personal issues. But I do agree that our music would lend itself favourably to such topics though.
If The River was a painting what would it represent?
Stephen – It would be a picture of dogs playing snooker in a pub with a dartboard in the background and some pints of bitter on the bar! That is after all pretty much the natural environment for members of The River!
Please share your thoughts on the following:
Death: Chris – I grew up listening to “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Human” and was definitely a bit upset when Chuck left us. It comes to us all I guess!
Atheism: Stephen – I think it’s a bit of a cop out really. It’s like waiting to see who wins the FA Cup before you support them! Although I don’t really believe in most organized religion anyway, I do respect them apart from any type of extremist and born-again Christians who are just wrong in general! In my view, you have to stick with something to make it worth while.
Reincarnation: Chris – Sometimes when you’re having a hard time of it you do tend to wonder about karma and what you did in a previous life it has to be said! But I’m not sure about the spirit finding a new home as it were although I do believe in & have an interest in ghosts and ghouls. If I was reincarnated, knowing my luck I’d come back as me!
Agnosticism: Stephen – I think you’ve got to have something to believe in. Whether it’s a God or an idea of a higher power you would think there’s more to life than what can be scientifically or physically proven. At the end of the day, I think we do go on to a better place otherwise the human race would be a right shower of bastards with no consequence to their actions.
Eternity: Chris – It doesn’t have the same effect on the ladies as a splash of Brut, in my experience!
Finally, if you could ask me a question, what would it be?
Chris – Lemmy & God are having an arm wrestle, who wins?! Just kidding!
Trick question! Lemmy is God…
What is your opinion on the current glut of bands, not just in the Doom scene, but in Thrash, Death and Heavy Metal in general that are reforming? Is it a case of the time being right for these bands or are they just riding the nostalgia wave to increase their bank balances, pay for the divorce and put the kids through college?
Yes, it certainly has become commonplace and I must admit that I have half been expecting some bodies to be exhumed in a bid to restore original line-ups. Perhaps the science is not there just yet. Anyway, timing is everything and who knows what really motivates folk to come out of retirement. It happens in all professions. I remember a vice principal retiring three times over and he kept coming back on a voluntary basis. If it’s in your blood it’s in your blood. The same is true of music and the frauds will stand out like a sore thumb. The unexpected return of Count Raven was a real godsend. Their moving performance at Doom Shall Rise remains a cherished memory. It is also marvellous to see Elixir and Pagan Altar back where they belong. They sound fresh too! As for the rest, time will tell…
The time has come to depart. Thank you for your presence at this sacred place. May your path be clear and bright! The closing words are yours…
Chris – Thanks for the interview and all your help thus far. Hopefully the answers we’ve given aren’t too boring in comparison to the well-thought out questions! Keep an eye out for the new material around the first half of next year. If anyone hasn’t heard us before and wants to buy or trade demos then please get in touch. T-shirts are available too!