When you think of countries or regions with either semi-autonomy or partial-recognition as being independent, you tend to think of unstable politics, poor societal constructs or peoples seeking to establish their own identity on the world stage. Kosovo is one example where only around half of the world recognizes it as it's own country, without going into the politics of why this is GMA spoke to Ardit Sheholli, vocalist of the Groove / Death Metal band Krieg about the Kosovar Metal scene, it's struggles (both past and present), the bands activities and relations with neighbouring metal scenes.
"We have that stereotypical thing that being a metalhead, you're a junkie, a criminal, you're covered in tattoos and you're just dangerous"
Hi Ardit, could you tell us how the Groove / Death Metal band Krieg formed?
"It all started around the year 2011 where there was just the guitarist and drummer, doing covers of Lamb Of God, Rammstein and those kinds of bands. Later on the other guitarist and I (the vocalist) joined, then we started doing cover songs of bands we liked and shortly after that we started making our own music, which years later led to this album."
How did you get into listening to and playing metal music?
"I got into metal music through Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and I got into heavier music by, I think kind of by accident. I was searching for a South Park episode which Kenny I think played some part of Lamb of God, I couldn't remember the title of the episode so I just googled Lamb of God, and Lamb of God showed up and that's when I really got into heavy metal. Other than that I was listening to rock and that kind of stuff."
What do your parents think of your style of music? What emotions do you get from being in a metal band?
"They don't understand it so that's why they don't like it, they don't even try to understand because it's not mainstream and it's not easy for the ears. So I think people have to give it a real shot, other than criticizing it without even knowing what they're listening to.
It's the adrenaline, it's so intense it's like, when I sing I push my body to it's limits where the day after I cannot feel any part of my body, everything hurts and it's just pure energy. It's amazing, it's just a very good place to escape both for writing and singing, kinda where I let everything out."
As a metal band from Kosovo, Is it hard grabbing attention from Western Europe in terms of fans and media coverage?
"It's hard to get exposure in Western Europe for many reasons, one of them is because we're a very small country; only nearly 2 million people, another reason is that metal here is still very underground, and the other is that Western countries just have more and more bands, more opportunities to get exposure. I don't know I think just it's this place that has stuck where we are."
Can you tell us more about the Kosovar Metal scene, what venues are there, how long has it been going, etc?
"For a short amount of time, as far as I can remember like four to six, seven years, there were plenty of metal bands, by plenty I mean like 10-15 metal bands; that's how much plenty is for us. So the metal scene here is relatively young, around 20 years since people started making this kind of music. It's all because of war that they couldn't do it earlier, because of the regime, but metalheads have been around since forever as the older generations tell them."
Has any media attention been paid towards the metal scene in Kosovo?
"No, metal music gets the attention I guess once or twice a year maximum, there's a show that's been going on for 13 years in a row that's called 'Rock Per Rock', it's a competitive show with usually 10-12 bands, rock and metal, so that's pretty famous where we live in. Other than that only a huge concert is around, but no, rap gets the most attention here."
The Albanian Metal scene doesn't seem to have been going long either right?
"Hmm, Albania has now more rock bands, it had a few great metal bands... it's pretty much dead, so it has like two bands that are still active and playing really good music, but other than that it's pretty much dead."
Since Kosovo is celebrating 10 year of independence, have there been any parties or celebrations?
"We have major celebrations every year, but the music is always the same, it's always mainstream music and folk music, so if you're asking about big celebrations with rock and metal, I don't think that happened before. But yeah our people really know how to party, yeah I mean the atmosphere is good and it's great, it's a lot of fun but not my taste in music you know?"
What sights or attractions would you recommend for metalheads visiting Kosovo to check out?
"I'd recommend the national museum, other than that we have the best bars ever, anybody who can imagine any style we have them. So yeah the nightlife here is amazing. I mean most of the population here is youth, from 20-30 years old so nightlife is great wherever you go."
Is it easy or hard buying gear and instruments in the capital city Pristina?
"No we have like, I mean like Pristina is really a small city comparing it to other places, but we have I think 4 or 5 music shops, most of the people I know who own guitars, basses or drums have ordered them online. So not it's not really a problem, it's just everything here is so expensive for no good reason, so it's just better to order them online; it feels like ordering them with a discount.
Most of the equipment is imported, we don't have like a factory that makes equipment here so everything is imported from China or Japan."
Have you had anyone outside of Kosovo get in touch with the band (aside from us)?
"We have been contacted by fans outside of Kosovo, like some guys from Norway and from Sweden, but they were Albanians, they were Kosovars. So it wasn't from people who were truly Norwegian or Swedish, they were the same people as us just living in a different country. Other than that, no."
What does the average person in Kosovo think of metal music? What is the public & governmental perception?
"Hmm, we have that stereotypical thing that being a metalhead you're a junkie, a criminal, you're covered in tattoos and you're just dangerous. That's wrong because the metalheads I know that live in the city I do are the nicest people I've ever met, so it's really important for us to break this chain of misunderstanding on our society.
Most of them just don't get interested in at all, it's not like they oppose it they just ignore it I guess. It's a thing that most of the metalheads I know are very open-minded music-wise, so like myself I listen to any kind of genre there is but the people who are so much into the mainstream music are so close-minded and won't even give it a chance, that's why we have such a big gap and different subcultures."
Would you say metal music is a safe and creative way of expressing anger or discontent?
"Hmm, I think every member in the band has a different answer to this, I don't think like it's expressing anger through metal, because the lyrics I write are mostly about life itself, the universe and why we are, how we are, about humans not just war in particular. I guess overall metal is a safe side for every kind of topic you'd like to sing or write about, not just war, not just anger - that's the beauty of metal."
With the album you're working on, is there a specific theme you're going for?
"The theme, or the lyric theme kind of evolved from time to time because there are a number of songs which are older, like three or four years older and there are new songs, it's just that continuous flow from theme to theme that you can't really distinguish, only if you go really deep enough. Like the first songs are about war but not directly about war, it's more about the feeling of humans being so bad to each other. The new songs, the theme is about humans and the way we are, about life, about feelings and these just tie up together. So, I think it's just one big theme."
We're over halfway through 2018, what was the first half of the year like for Krieg?
"The first half of the year was mainly us in the studio making two or three new tracks, recording all of our songs that we meant to put on the album, having band practice right before the show and the promo gig of our album so yeah that was that part of 2018. We plan on going to Macedonia later this year, maybe Albania too, don't when so let's see what that brings for us."
Would that be the first time you've performed in Albania and Macedonia? Would you look to play other countries?
"With Krieg yes, but I myself have performed once before in Albania with another band which I had a guest track with. So I'm really stoked to play with Krieg because it's our band, we put a lot of effort into what we do, so it would feel kind of rewarding to have a mini-tour around this region.
I'd love to play in England, I love those underground hardcore shows, they're just amazing and I'd love to play in Germany too, I hope we can get shows there sometime."
If you were to play in Serbia, with the past history between the two countries, would you be anxious as to what could happen?
"Hmm, I don't think so, I've had a lot of friends who went there to see Iron Maiden and Rammstein, they all spoke Albanian there and all the Serbians knew they were Albanians, but they were just there for the music and no political drama whatsoever. So I still think we would have a good time unless someone provokes or whatever, but all of the metalheads I know and in my band are very peaceful dudes, so we would just be there for the music and hope the audience would just be there for that too."
For the rest of the year, what other plans have you got other than gigging? Are there any greetings you wish to send out?
"For the rest of the year, we're planning on to make new songs, to write new songs and to revisit some older songs that didn't make it on the album, because we had a lot of tracks and had to choose which songs to make up for an EP or album. For every song we have there's a certain hidden gem to it, like some riff or breakdown, or some point that was really good and it would be a waste not to clean that up more, to make a whole song out of it. So yeah basically just refining our old material and planning to do new stuff.
I'd like to thank M&A recording studio for supporting us since day one, we recorded our album there, most of the band practice we did it there and for this album I'd like to thank the Ministry of Culture, Music and Youth for giving us a grant with what we recorded the album. Of course our fans for supporting us at every show, they're amazing and so of course are the moshpits."