"The 'Beautycore movement' - [is] kind of bringing more women into that metal genre."
Say the word 'Beautycore' and you probably would conjure up a centre or focal point of Ru Paul's Drag Race, place it into a metal context and you come up with arguably one of the most exciting metal bands to emerge from the United States since Lamb of God broke out. Their name? GFM, or as you might like to call them Gold, Frankincense & Myrrh.
They are not your average American teenage girls and certainly are not leftovers from the Camp Rock saga; we'll go with School of Rock as these girls 'pledge allegiance, to the band'. Having already played in Germany, GFM are gearing up in 2020 for a new EP and other ventures (COVID-19 permitting), but don't let their sweet, cute looks fool you... these girls bite, their music bites, they're ready to slaughter the world as they put pedal to the metal and let Beautycore smash the floor.
CJ, Maggie and Lulu were happy to speak to GMA about their humble origins, the challenges of being a teenage metal band and above all, why they are arguably a beacon of light for females to engage with metal music.
Could you explain what your genre 'Teenage Beautycore Metal' means?
"Beautycore Metal is something that we created on our own, we are all teenage girls and so growing up playing in the metal community, a lot of guys in metal bands didn't think that we were actually metal until they came down and checked us at a show and were like 'oh they can actually play'. We took into account all of the genres that we play in and some people got made with me calling us Metalcore, we didn't know what kind of metal genre to class ourselves as, so we started making jokes that we were 'Beautycore'; kind of poking fun at the feminine side of it, this resulted in some bands we played with saying it was cool and that we should really play it up.
So we started doing that, people really connected with it over social media and this lead to people saying they support the 'Beautycore movement' - kind of bringing more women into that metal genre."
And what do your parents think of your music? Are they music-orientated as well?
"They're very supportive, they're the ones who put us there and are basically our cheerleaders. They're very into the business kind of the world, so they're helpful in incorporating our business and we are super grateful for everything they do.
Our parents actually don't play music, which is why we thank god for our talent because they just grew up listening to music and the reason why we started was because our dad wanted us to cover some songs from his favourite bands... so we started to do covers; 80's 'dad rock', Skillet, etc., we did it just to be a kind of family band and then we started writing our own stuff; our parents are very fond of us and how far we've come."
What is the meaning behind your band name GFM - in full 'Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh'?
"It was actually our mum's idea, which was a little weird because we were trying to throw out names about what we could call our band. What we had come up with, although I cannot exactly remember what it was, was something like 'Firepower', but our mum was like 'hey why don't we call you Gold, Frankincense & Myrrh' - these were the three original gifts that Jesus was given at birth and she resonated in that we were three gifts given to her from God.
So we accepted it and made it our own, but we tend to go with the acronym GFM as it's easier having on our cheerleader uniforms, it's a really cool thing to have."
Maggie, at what point during your childhood did you figure that you wanted to become a bassist, keyboardist and vocalist?
"So at the age of 5 our parents said that we needed to take music lessons and then if we hit it after 2 years we could play, so they organised piano lessons and I stuck with it and so I was about 8, by that time CJ was playing guitar and Lulu was playing drums, so we kind of had enough people to start a band - we didn't really know what you could do with a keyboard player, a guitar player and a drummer. So our dad was like 'oh hey Maggie, you play piano so why not try play the bass as well?', so I started playing when I was around 8 / 9."
Being at such a young age, do you feel overwhelmed in any way? Given you've worked alongside the likes of Joey Sturgess?
"Yeah it's a really surreal thing because we grew up with the bands that he worked with - such as Of Mice & Men, Asking Alexandria, etc., we love that music and for him to work with us is such a surreal thing. When it came to having dinner with him it was like chilling with a friend, it was really cool to go from growing up listening to music that he produced to being there and listening to him in person."
When you played in Germany for the first time, you must have had a mixture of emotions? Not just for the gig, but being away from home?
"Our first time overseas was very nerve-wrecking and we didn't know what the reaction from the German audience would be like; because we're such a young band. But people were so sweet, they were sweet again the last time we visited... Jasmine, Julian, Simon, etc., they were always there to pick us up and took us everywhere because we didn't have a car. It was such a big fun time, we loved the feedback we received over there."
Outside of the band what hobbies / interests do you have?
"We all pretty much have the same interests, it's pretty much like we're different versions of the same person haha, when someone wants to do something everyone is pretty much down to do it. We're very adventurous and like to try new things, so now we're into video games, anime, different movies, we like to read, draw, a lot of your typical teenager kind-of-stuff. We like to go out and find new things to do, go to the arcades or find a couple of different spots.
We also like baking and cooking; we have a sweet tooth, it's cool that it's all the same because it's the three of us.
Maybe we should bake our own GFM cookies."
Seeing that more and more females are getting into metal music, this must be pleasing for you?
"Yeah it's such a cool thing because after our shows, we have little girls coming up to us and saying things like 'I didn't know I could listen to this type of music, I really like this' and so they come to realise that they can listen to things like this. It's great to see that we're bridging the gap in a lot of areas; we have families approach us and say that their children are getting into our music."
For metalheads visiting Jacksonville, Florida, what sights / attractions could you recommend?
"There's definitely a lot of great venues, so many to choose from. There's a few settlements nearby which have old original buildings still there."
Given you're reaching various places across the United States, have you had people get in touch outside of the USA?
"We definitely have a lot of fans all over the world which is crazy, we get messages all the time, things like 'Oh I'm listening from Australia', 'I'm listening from South America', 'Europe', Moldova to Sweden'. In Sweden have someone run a Facebook fan page, he actually came into America to come to a show that we were at last year.
We played in Germany for the first time a couple of years ago and that was crazy, because we didn't expect anyone to KNOW US and we got there, saw people with our shirts on and knew the songs - we are really worldwide and didn't even know it"
What was the outcome of your January tour?
"That was a really crazy tour because it was the first time that we've ever done a big tour, last year we only flew out to California and so this year we wanted to make our way there. We were kind of nervous about this tour as we've never done a tour like this before, but as soon as we started playing we got more comfortable on stage and so forth. We meet a lot of people we knew already, so we were able to draw out people who may not like heavy music but now they do."
What is your stage attire like and you have any props to use?
"So we actually perform in cheerleader outfits and it's something that our mum came up with, because when we started the band we were all at high school; I'm (CJ) still at high school, but we wanted to bring a fun aspect to metal and not be so serious, you know to have fun? You can enjoy life and enjoy yourself, we're kind of the cheer leaders for Team GSM which is our fan base, but aside from the outfits we have some statement pieces on stage - my drum kit is sponsored and has pink and black all over it."
All musicians have their own personalities, so CJ summarize Maggie, Maggie summarize CJ and both can you summarize Lulu?
"I [CJ] would say Maggie is very... kind of the head of the band, very hands-on with her time and she'll like grab you when you're going on stage, very leader-born."
"CJ is very energetic and a happy-go-lucky kind of person, so on stage you'll see the bond she has and in the music videos how strong she is, even in the behind-the-scenes stuff on tour... but in everyday life she's a very bubbly person, she will always try to make people laugh but not in a serious kind of conversation."
"Lulu is another energetic person, she's a hard-worker and makes sure she applies herself in every area."
Have there been any low points with the band among the high points?
"Life is like a roller-coaster and so we try to celebrate and highlight the high points, no matter how small the high points are. Meaning if there are low points, we can look back and see that we are still celebrating from all the high points that are happening, you need to focus on the high points instead of the low points."
What plans do you have for the rest of the year?
"Just to take over, because honestly, GFM, we want to really make this year our year and we're going to take GFM far, not rule anything out because at the end of the year, we want to be like 'yup we are so proud of everything that we done this year'. So our plan is to do everything we can, as best as we can and as much as we can do it, without obviously draining ourselves because we want to take time out for ourselves to make sure we don't burn out."
It's been 18 years since the Finnish Industrial Metal band ...And Oceans released an album and yet here we are, album number 5 'Cosmic World Mother' is due for execution on the 8th of May. There is a reason behind the lengthy period between albums and that is because the band was under another moniker for 8 years (2005-2013), the name being Havoc Unit. However the sextet from Pietarsaari are back with a new lease of life and are set to carry on from where they left off albeit with 2 members being from the original set-up. New vocalist Mathias Lillmåns and original guitarist Timo Kontio spoke to GMA about this change in name, the new album and the current health of the Finnish Metal scene.
So here we are album number 5, "Cosmic World Mother" - it looks like ...and Oceans are coming back with renewed vigour, what does it feel like coming back under your original moniker other than 'Havoc Unit'?
"Of course it feels great. We had such a great run with …and Oceans back in the day. We had thought of coming back a few times. Then we always thought that maybe it’s better to leave it to rest and not trying to force it and make a comeback for the sake of it. Then we had a couple of rehearsals and it was clear that we had to do this. We made a short rehearsal room video and put it online. Feedback was quite great. It gave more boost to that to happen. Soon we got some offers for gigs and festivals. After those we thought that it would be great to do some new music as well and here we are now.
Havoc Unit was totally different thing music wise and basically everything else as well. …and Oceans, Festerday and Havoc Unit have always been different units. It’s a known misinterpretation that we would have just changed names between them. For example Festarday and …and Oceans are both active now."
Could you give us a brief background behind each of the songs on the album itself? It must feel good to release a new album after 18 years since 'Cypher'?
"When I wrote the lyrics to this album it started to shape into a concept album and each song has it's own place and story within that concept. I will not at this time reveal any clues to unlocking each song, since I think that people should think for themselves and form their own vision of what the songs stand for. I can tell that much that this album is all about energy and how it transforms."
Do you feel there is a current lack of Industrial Metal bands? What is about the genre that captivates you and how does this filter into ...and Oceans?
"I don’t know about that. Don’t follow the current scene that much. Even less of industrial metal bands. My cup of tea is more of black metal and death metal. People might hear that on our new album as well."
Would you say the artwork can be interpreted in many ways? In the case of ...and Oceans perhaps shedding your old line-up away to be reborn anew?
"That can be one of way looking at it, yes. It would fit, but it's not my own interpretation. As I said before, I think everyone should form their own opinions. Don't wanna spoil too much here either, but it is very closely connected to the concept. In fact you when you will see the whole artwork of the album you can unlock everything that is "Cosmic World Mother"."
What were (if any) the more challenging aspects of creating the new album? Will there be a European tour (and overseas) in support of the album?
"There were thoughts not doing this like mentioned earlier. Reason was the doubt how it would turn out. Now when the album is ready those doubts were unnecessary. New riffs and melodies kept coming like it’s ’95 again, haha.
One challenge was the fact that we live so far away from each other and in several different cities. Arrangements and testing new stuff for example. That wasn’t possible at least not so often. It turned out great though.
We are working on a tour and a few nice possibilities is already there, but we come back to those when confirmed. European tour first."
What is the current state of the Finnish Metal scene? Is it still in the public domain or has it receded more to underground levels?
"Quite a lot new bands both in death metal and black metal scene. Almost like a 3rd or even 4th wave, haha. People seem to appreciate Finnish bands a lot and why not since quality stuff. Metal in general has been noticed quite well since that is the one thing people know when talking about Finland. Though there are only a few big bands coming from here. Most of the bands are in the underground willingly or forced to stay there for a reason."
For metalheads visiting both Pietarsaari and Vaasa, what sights / attractions could you recommend?
"Visiting Pietarsaari, hmmm. Not too much to see here. Hardly any live events at least not metal. Our band members live in four different cities nowadays. None of us lives in Vaasa any more."
What are your plans for 2020 post-album release? Are there any greetings you wish to send out?
"Of course we want to have a really strong coming with this new album. Loads of gigs/festivals, tour. A new video in the making. Hope to see new fans out there and also old fans from the old era of this band. See you on the road!"
It goes without saying that the Middle Eastern Metal scenes are bulging with brilliant talent, no matter how underground the bands are (and if we talk about Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria or Iraq then they have to be really quiet). One problem. It's apparent that there is a lack of support from the music industry in this region apart from Jorzine, those based in Israel and The UAE and of course a small contingent of loyal Middle Eastern metalheads. But even more pressing is there sheer lack of attention from western record labels towards the brilliance of these bands in the Middle East (you know who you are; because you don't have any bands from there on your roster).
One label from North Macedonia decided to do something about that and sign Jordanian Thrash Metal outfit Exile, in turn releasing an album and plan on expanding their music operations. Israel has Orphaned Land, The UAE has Nervecell and now Jordan has Exile. Vocalist / Guitarist Nader Elnatsheh filled in the details of this monumnetal event in the band's history, spoke about growing up in Jordan and spoke out against the major labels across Europe turning blind at the Middle East Metal contingent; albeit Nervecell (Lifeforce), Orphaned Land (Century Media), etc.
Nader on Exile signing with North Macedonian record label Darzamadicus Records:
For those who have not heard of Exile, can you give us a brief history of the band?
"Hi Rhys, this is Nader the guitarist and the vocalist of the band. First of all, thank you for interviewing us. Well, Exile was formed in 2008, I had a couple of songs so I started to look for members to join me, Hasan (former bassist) joined me and he introduced me to Tayyem (the drummer). The first EP (Dead Thrashers Rising) was based on aggressive riffs, the songs somewhat short but fast and it was released in 2009.
Afterwards, Hasan had to leave the band to pursue his career out of Jordan in 2010, so Ibrahim joined us right away and started to rehearse on our full length album which was releases in 2012. (Suspended Society... Mutilated Variety) was more technical as we musically evolved than the previous record. We did a lot of gigs in Amman promoting the album as well as playing in Istanbul and Cairo, of which these two events gave us a boost to continue. We have received a lot of positive feedback from all over the world, from reviews and interviews, and many radio stations all over the world played our album in their national stations.
The following years of 2012 we somehow lingered, both Ibrahim and I got married and during these years we were looking for a fourth member to join the band to expand the sound of Exile but we couldn’t find any, so we decided that we are going to continue like this. In 2017 I started to complete and shape the songs I had, to release a new record. In December 2018 we released a new record (Unveiling Insanity). The album is more melodic and technical and we have received and still receiving positive feedback.
Now I am writing new songs hoping to release something at the end of this year or the next one."
What is it like growing up as a metalhead in Jordan? Is the music frowned upon there?
"It’s difficult, because the majority of the Jordanian society is closed minded. They think that we are devil worshipers."
Jordan seems to have a good history of metal exports in Ajdath and Bilocate, what does the future hold for the Jordanian Metal scene?
"Yeah, we had a couple of good years when metal was thriving in general. We had gigs and bands, however, all of that ceased to exist. Most of the bands split up either to play Arabic alternative music which I despise or to play covers in bars which is sad. As far as I know Bilocate is one of these few bands that still active."
How does it feel to be signed to North Macedonian record label Darzamadicus Records? What are your thoughts of your label mates in the Syrian Death Metal band Absentation?
"It’s good; it’s a feeling of progress that we have achieved something since the major record labels are turning a blind eye on the Middle Eastern bands. We have a good deal with Darzamadicus Records but we are looking forward for a better one of course. Frankly, I haven't had the chance to listen to them yet but sure I will."
You recently had air play on a Guatemalan Metal radio station, do you feel metal music brings the world together in ways no other genre can?
"Of course, the internet is very important for new bands, it gives the exposure that none of the old bands had before. But it is also creates a competitive medium which in my opinion is a good thing to see where are you at in the metal community."
For metalheads visiting Amman, what sights or attractions can you recommend? Any good venues?
"For a normal tourist I would say, we have a lot of historical places in Jordan, such as Petra and Roman Ruins of Jerash and in Amman you can visit the Roman theatre in the downtown. For metalheads, hmm, nothing to see really, there are no record stores no metal bars no venues."
What plans does Exile have for the rest of the year?
"As I mentioned I am writing new songs hoping to release something this year and we are really looking forward to play the new songs live."
Do you have any greetings you wish to send out to friends, family etc?
"I would like to thank my family and friends. All the fans for their great support. Thank you again for the interview and cheers \m/\m/"
Interview Interrogation: Alexander "Aor" Osipov and Jane "Corn" Odintsova from Imperial Age (Russia)
Russia, the largest country in the world has throughout the decades (and centuries) played hosted in delivering some stellar musicians in all walks of life. As for metal, first it was Arkona and now the call for Russian Metal has been heard once again, this time in the form of Symphonic Metal sextet Imperial Age of whom have developed and brandished their own unique sound.
Set to embark on their forthcoming UK tour, GMA spoke to Alexander "Aor" Osipov (tenor vocalist) and Jane "Corn" Odintsova (mezzo-soprano vocalist) about said tour, the Russian Metal scene, the relationship between classical and metal music, as well as the ongoing discusssion surrounding sexism in metal; whether Symphonic Metal or in an overall purview with bands featuring female musicians.
"With the phenomena of reincarnation... everything evolves... Beethoven and Wagner would for sure be playing Metal today"
For those who are not aware of Imperial Age, could you give us a brief history of the band?
"Officially the band formed in 2012, though Aor and I had spent about 2 years preparing everything for the start. We work hard and the band is getting bigger with every year - slowly but consistently."
"We have 2 albums and 1 EP to date and we are working on the third album. If you want something to start with, go and grab 7 free songs from our website. If you like those, buy 'The Legacy Of Atlantis' - our latest album. If you like it - buy all the rest :)"
Arguably Imperial Age and Arkona are the most internationally successful metal bands from Russia, yet the scene is mightily huge, from your own perspectives, what are the challenges Russian Metal bands face?
"It is true about Arkona and us, and we are honoured to be spoken of in such a way. It's a dream come true. The scene in Russia is actually small and is dwindling every year. We are not putting any effort into there. Instead, we focus on the entire world, especially the West, where everything happens. 90% of our fans are from the US, UK, Germany and France. We also have a strong fan club in Portugal and (surprise) a lot of fans in Poland. Because we love and respect our Polish brothers and sisters and we are not some political jerks. We would also love to play in Ukraine, but we are not sure its safe for us there because not everyone understands that we have nothing to do with our (or their) government - we play metal and metal knows no borders and bows to no politicians. We get a lot of interviews from Australia and we have a license deal in Japan. Our distributor is Swedish. I dont think it gets more international than that :)"
"The biggest problems bands face in any country is their own laziness :) they think that it’s enough to just write an album. Then a fat guy called the “producer” should appear and make them the new Metallica. Most people (not only in Russia) are not ready to work hard, to put tons of their own money, time and energy into the band for many years before the band starts earning any cash. They are not ready to sleep in the van or not to sleep at all on the tour. They have a lack of persistence. They have too romantic a view on all this music business, thinking that its only about having fun - sex, booze and shows... forgetting that shows are very hard work, that there are tonnes of non musical work that has to be done in order to maintain the band. They are not serious enough about their intentions which means they don’t really believe in their own success. “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” (C) Darth Vader
Your tour in April will be the 5th time you've played in the UK, each time must have been more successful than the previous?
"Yes, this is our second headliner tour in the UK (previous times we played as support) and it has already sold twice more tickets than last year although last year it was 5 cities and this year its 4. It's going to be a fantastic tour and we will play songs from the upcoming album for the first time ever!"
With respect to your three vocalists in Alexander, Jane and Anna, did you have classical training in the past or did you master your vocal levels respectively?
"Jane & I have had no formal training but have been working a lot with vocal coaches over many years. Anna graduated from a classical music college. However, over time and while working with so many musicians, we have found that education is completely irrelevant and actually its not always good if you are in metal because more often than not it narrows people’s horizons and makes them think within set rules, while we need maximum creativity and artistic freedom.
Classical music was made 200-300 years ago, and everything has changed since that time. Unfortunately, many people just don’t want to acknowledge that. We are very lucky to have had a classical coach with a very broad and open mind who understands metal music, although she has never been a metal fan :)."
Would you agree that classical and metal music are very closely related?
"Despite what I wrote above, yes! But not all genres. For example Death, Thrash and Black Metal are built on harmonies which are prohibited in classical music. However, in Heavy, Power and of course Symphonic Metal, if you look at melody, harmony, rhythm – they are extremely closely related to classical music - especially the 19th century romantic period: Beethoven, Wagner, Tchaikovsky etc. There are also a lot of 17th - 18th century Baroque influences in metal as well, especially in progressive metal genres – just play Paganini or Vivaldi on an electric guitar and you will have your familiar Heavy Metal solos and shreds :)"
So much so would you say Mozart, Tchaikovsky, etc were metalheads of their time?
"Outside music, we work a lot with the phenomena of reincarnation and I have a very strong suspicion that some great modern musicians are the reincarnations of classic composers. Time flies by, everything evolves, and so do the people. I’m not sure about Mozart, but Beethoven and Wagner would for sure be playing Metal today. Can you imagine those guys doing pop or trance? I can’t."
Symphonic Metal at times is at the receiving end of sexist remarks; especially when female musicians are involved, is this something you've endured in Russia?
"This is a very good question. And I have quite a few thoughts on it. Why is Symphonic Metal associated with female singers so much? There are some really good bands with male vocalists, for example all three Rhapsodies :)
When we are talking about sexism, why is it always about women? How are women different from men in Heavy Metal? Frankly, I have never seen or received any sexist remarks from anywhere, but there is this ‘objectification’, sexualisation and feminist thing going on, not only in music but in the film and modeling industries as well. And I dont understand it at all.
They speak of equality, but for some reason it is ok for a man to use his sex appeal on stage and to promote the band and attract new fans through his looks, but if a woman starts doing it, it is called objectification and reducing her value to just her body. Why isnt anyone saying that Ville Valo was being reduced and oversexualized? His fans are mostly girls (myself included). Why is it ok for men to pump up their muscles and show off their bodies (Manowar, Rammstein, Misfits etc), and not ok for a beautiful woman to show off hers? For example I really respect Alissa White-Gluz for how she uses her appearance to promote Arch Enemy and herself, but some people critisize her for that. Why don’t they critisize her boyfriend Doyle, who plays half-naked and is a body builder? Alissa actually has much more clothes on!
I am not only a producer of art but also a consumer and I find it much more pleasant to watch shows or music videos which have attractive people in them, as opposed to unattractive... of course it's about the music, but if you are adding a visual part - and shows / videos are precisely that - then make it look good! It's like wearing clothes or wrapping up your product. Of course the inside is what its all about but if you are wrapping it, do it beautifully so that the outside reflects the inside! Otherwise just listen to the CD or Spotify. When I watch movies, I prefer those with handsome male actors. Is that sexism and reduction too?? Should I force myself to enjoy less attractive guys instead just so they dont get pissed off?
Most feminists whom I have seen are unattractive and unsuccesful in their love lives. I think that all this social activity, for example the ‘body positivity’ movement, is just an excuse for not starting to eat properly and start going to the gym. It's much easier to say “accept me the way I am” than it is to raise your ass and go pumping it in the gym. There are two types of people - those who blame others and those who blame themselves.
Why do they put warning pictures on tobacco but not on burgers? Obesity is much more dangerous than smoking - 60% of deaths in developed countries are from heart-related problems. Trust me I have a degree in medicine and worked 2 years at the hospital as a doctor. What is the point in promoting ‘plus size’ while banning the promotion of drugs, tobacco and alcohol? Its just as unhealthy.
Dont get me wrong - there is nothing wrong in being unhealthy. Actually there is nothing wrong with anything as long as its your conscious choice, you are ok with it and accept the consequences. Personal freedom is everything. But if you aren’t ok with what you have, don’t complain - go and change it! Make yourself what you want yourself to be! Become your better self! Thats what all our music is about. If you are doing something anyway why not try to do something great?
Yes, some people are luckier than others and have a better body or other talents such as a good voice presented to them on a silver platter. But it is also well known that talent is overrated (there is a book with the same name) and attributes to just 10% of success - the rest is hard work, blood and sweat. There are tons of people who look better than Bella Hadid and play guitar better than Paul McCartney, but we have never heard of them and never will. Why? Because talent alone is never enough and hard work always beats lazy talent.
For example - I'm too short to be a podium model. They only accept from 170cm and I'm 160cm. But I dont go around trying to change the modeling rules - because they are there for a reason! I'm also not trying to stretch my height. I'm cool where I am and with what I'm blessed to have and all I try to do is make the most out of it. I'm quite happy being a singer in my own metal band and occasionally a photo model (and I didnt get all of this from birth, I had to work my ass off for a decade and to limit myself in everything to get there, and this work will never stop), to tour the world and be able to answer this interview :)
And whats even more important, it's not enough to just be born lucky, it also takes a huge effort to maintain what you have. There are multiple examples of really talented people who didnt look after themselves and lost those talents, people with great gifts who have never developed them and have never benefited the world with them just because they didnt put in the required effort.
Also, if you have an asset, its stupid not to use it. If you have something to show - show it. Make people’s lives better.
So, in short, I don’t see any sexism. I see men liking beautiful women - and it has always been like that, and always will. There is nothing wrong with that, I also like handsome and clever men."
Would you ever be tempted to try and represent Russia at any Eurovision Song Contest?
"Imperial Age does not participate in any contests, just out of principle - we shall not bend to any rules and we shall not be judged, because who the hell are the judges to judge us? Only our fans are allowed to judge us. Thats their sole privilege and everyone else is welcome to f**k off. We are an acquired taste, not a $100 banknote to be fancied by everyone. The only ones who benefit from rules are the ones who make them. The house always wins. Rock is all about rebellion and we shall not comply. It is all totally rigged in this country and the state only supports the local pop culture which has zero chances to break internationally. TaTu were close to it but that was looong ago…"
Jane: "I’ve never been interested in any type of contests."
What are your thoughts on the ESC?
"Honestly, I have never watched it :) But I was happy when Lordi won it. That’s probably my only touch with this contest."
Jane: "No thoughts."
Should more metal bands apply for it?
"I think every band should maximize its chances for exposure, so yes, if they get this opportunity, why not? But be careful not to lose yourself. Metal is all about authenticity while the pop culture is refined and artificial."
For the year ahead, what plans aside from the UK tour does Imperial Age have in store?
"We have enormous plans, which we can’t reveal right now because we need contracts to be signed and confirmations to be made, but watch us closely – its coming soon! However, we can say that we will tour more than ever before and the new album will come out before the year is out!
Whenever South Africa is spoken about in a heavy metal context, the first band to spring to mind usually is Seether, regardless of the burgeoning scene this country has... yet bands like Wildernessking and Crow Black Sky have been leading the next wave onto the international stage. On a wider scope, African Metal has been discovering it's feet in the past few years and has seen success in the likes of South Africa, Botswana, Tunisia, etc to name but a few.
However refocusing back on the South African Metal scene and arguably one of the biggest success stories is that of Post Metal quartet Constellatia signing with French record label Season Of Mist. GMA spoke to the group (conceived by Gideon Lamprecht and Keenan Oakes of Crow Black Sky and Wildernessking fame respectively); Keenan took on the duties.
"We would absolutely love to play other parts in Africa, potentially Botswana, Mozambique, Egypt and Morocco."
Hi guys, for those who do not know who Constellatia are, please could you tell us how you came together as members from Crow Black Sky and Wildernessking?
"Crow Black Sky released 'Sidereal Light Vol. I' in 2018 after Wildernessking's dissolution at the tail end of 2017. I really liked the record and reached out to Gideon in July 2018 because I wanted to make heavy, visceral music again and thought that we would work well together. We had a meeting in August at a cafe in Kalk Bay and discussed our intentions for this potential new project. Gideon sent me two chord recordings a day or so later, and after a week of listening to it and coming up with some ideas for the song (what would later become "All Nights Belong To You"), we met up and had our first writing session together."
Growing up in South Africa, can you tell us about how metal came to arrive in South Africa? How did you get into metal?
"Metal has been here for a pretty long time. Napalm Death came here in the 90's, long before we were even teenagers, so I am not sure that we are the most appropriate people to ask. I guess what we are saying is that it predates us, obviously, so it's hard to answer and say exactly when or how it came to arrive here. Carcass have played here, Iron Maiden, Entombed and a slew of other extreme bands. How does metal get anywhere? Tape trading, magazines, TV, radio and eventually the internet."
Signing to Season Of Mist must be the highlight for the band thus far, but also for the wider South African Metal scene?
"A highlight definitely. It's a real honour to sign with a label we respect so much."
What are the day-to-day challenges South African Metal bands have to face? Is Witchdoctor Records still going? What about metal festivals?
"That could be reframed as the day-to-day challenges for any truly alternative or fringe music. Lack of venues, infrastructure, consistent support. Witchdoctor Records went bankrupt we think? There are like one or two festivals, but things weren't so dire a few years ago."
It would seem African Metal is picking up the pace in producing bands; have you had bands from other African countries come play in S.A.?
"There have been some other bands from other parts of Africa who have come to play here, but it is uncommon. It's important to note that South Africa is not like other African countries. We live in a very Westernized society, although dangerous in places, we have access to almost anything that European or American bands will have access to... The challenges include touring and the things we mentioned earlier."
What can fans expect from your debut album? Surely you will do a tour in promotion of the album, aside from the usual places in Europe, the USA, etc, are there any African countries you would like to play in?
"A romantic and nostalgic musical trip. We are hoping to tour Europe this summer and the USA in 2021. We would absolutely love to play other parts in Africa, potentially Botswana, Mozambique, Egypt and Morocco."
What do your friends and family think of your music? What were their perceptions of metal at first?
"The ones who listen to this kind of music like it, and our families don't understand it. But that's like asking a European metal musician what their parents think of their music. I don't think Dark Funeral's vocalist's parents are fans of their music."
Aside from the album release (and possible tour), what plans do you have for 2020? Are there any greetings you wish to send out?
"Tour, a new record and tour again. Lots of videos too. Thanks to everyone who has supported our band so far."
Follow Constellatia on Facebook and Instagram.
No one could have imagined that 30 years ago in the small village of Bielen in The Netherlands, that a very successful Black / Death Metal band would emerge. 30 years on and God Dethroned unleash a barrage of hellish brutality with their 11th album 'Illuminati' having completed their 'War Trilogy' (Passchendaele, Under The Sign Of The Iron Cross and The World Ablaze) with such aplomb, especially with the latter album being a struggle as Henri went on to explain in our interview with GD's front-man, he divulged into the challenges of music recording, the Dutch Metal scene and customs checks they had to face, when visiting the UK...
[The] 'Illuminati' were basically a secret society fighting for freedom, it's not so mysterious as it looks to many people."
Given God Dethroned's longevity and line-up changes, what in essence has kept the band going?
"It's because I like to play live and of course make new albums, but for me especially nowadays the reason to make new albums is to be able to play live. Recording an album is OK but it's not the thing that I like the most, I like to go out to play at festivals and shows at the weekend, some cool tours here and there... yeah that's the main motivation and that's still there after all these years"
Having completed the 'War Trilogy' (Passchendaele, Under The Sign Of The Iron Cross and The World Ablaze), what convinced you to shift away to different lyric topic entirely?
"Hehe well you know, back in the day I decided to write a concept album about WW1. I came to that idea because our guitarist Isaac Delahaye lives in a part of Belgium where a lot of the fighting went on; there's a museum, war cemeteries and monuments and things like that, it really intrigued me and so I decided to write 'Passchendaele'. That album was received very well by the media and fans alike, so I made the 'stupid' mistake to announce the fact that I would write a trilogy about WW1 and it all seemed to go very well. We did the second one 'Under The Sign Of The Iron Cross' and then I discovered it was a lot more difficult to write lyrics about WW1, because as you know most of the time people were just shooting from trenches to the enemy's trenches, so not much was going on.
So by album two I covered most of the topics that I could find and then I still had to do album number three, so it was really difficult to write lyrics for 'The World Ablaze' and I was really happy that I could finish that album... but in the mean time our fans started requesting that we would go back to the dark side so-to-speak, to write lyrics about religion, occult themes, etc, so it was a no brainer to do that again and it felt like a relief, to be able to write lyrics about said topics; one topic per song instead of one topic per album, let alone three albums."
With respect to your new album 'Illuminati', could you give us the backstory behind each song title?
"The track 'Illuminati' refers to the organisation from Germany, they were basically a secret society fighting for freedom, it's not so mysterious as it looks to many people. They were a society who wanted to read certain books that were forbidden at that time by other religious organisations at the time, they secretly fought against those religious organisations in the name of freedom in order to read those books that were forbidden, that's basically who the illuminati were. I created a story where it takes a mastermind to infiltrate and replace a new world without religion and that's the story I created around the illuminati."
What was it like working with artwork designer Michal Xaay Loranc (Nile, Evocation, etc), engineer Ortrun Poolman and Hugo Alvarstein?
"Oh yeah pretty good, I mean Ortrun is our live sound guy so he basically did the setup for the drum recordings. Michal Loranc is the Polish guy who did our album cover, the management sent me a list of artwork designers and I liked his the best, so I contacted him and he wrote back to me saying that he is a long-time God Dethroned fan... what an honour it is to ask me to do the album cover. So he came up with this album cover right away which is really beautiful and said 'Henri, this is possibly the most beautiful artwork that I have ever did in my life' and then Hugo is the guy who did the mastering, he is also one of our live sound guys and has his own studio which is really good; the mastering turned out really great."
Focusing on the track "Eye Of Horus", did you dabble in Egyptian mythology for it?
"Yeah I did, I read about the god or half-god Horus and basically the story is about the battle between good and evil, from which I made my own version of it. This is the song that our guitarist Mike Ferguson wrote and when I listen to the composition, it gave me this Egyptian feeling and I thought OK I'm going to write some lyrics that fit the feeling of this song that it gives me, that's how I came up with the 'Eye Of Horus'."
Out of the whole album 'Illuminati', was there any tracks that you could consider challenging and / or ambitious?
"When it comes down to recording drums, bass and rhythm guitars, all of the songs are really doable, I mean when we record the basics, they are finished within a couple of days no problem. But usually when it comes down to trying different things with the vocals, like this album we have of course my main vocals, Jeroen's backing vocals and then we have the choirs (something I did myself together with some other people); that was challenging, along with the grunting and singing at the same time which was challenging. So you have to try different things and that it's not that you don't know how to do it, but if it's something you haven't done before on the songs and you are trying so many different things, then it takes a lot more time.
It's the same with the keyboards, we decided to put a lot of keyboards in the music but not in the foreground, it's all in the background so to lift up the atmosphere and add more layers to the music; making the songs more interesting to listen to in the long term because you will discover more and more things in the music, again those are the challenging things because you're trying something and then you're trying something else here and there, and then decide what you're going to use, this takes a lot of time because this is something you cannot prepare beforehand."
Was the music video 'Spirit Of Beezlebub' easy to create and what is the story behind it?
"Well we wanted to do something different instead of just a regular band video, so we looked at the lyrics and looked at the songs... lyrics that would be easy to put into a music video, so we chose three songs: 'Illuminati', 'Spirit Of Beezlebub' and 'Book Of Lies', all of these have been released with the latter in conjunction with the album release.
What you see in the music video is a short movie which represents the lyrics of the songs and 'Illuminati' was already discussed earlier; in this case you see a priest who shows he wants to abuse children so we bring back to life a mummy who is going to kill the priest. 'Spirit of Beezlebub' is about trying to change and kill evil, but then it comes back to kill you. 'Book Of Lies' is more of a band video but features aspects of the illuminati and is more so about the bible."
Most bands form in either towns or cities, but for God Dethroned's origin is in the village of Beilen, what was it like in the beginning and what can metalheads do there?
"Haha, there's nothing to do there at all. I guess that's why it was so worthwhile playing in a band because nothing was going on there and yeah I found my first musicians back in the day in the area. Nowadays I have to drive all across the country because everybody lives in a different corner of the country, but that's what you get when you get bigger, you get better musicians who live in different places. But for me it was a relief to play in a band back in the day because for the rest, you have just a few pubs and that's it. You just start a band and are not that good in the beginning, finding musicians who are on the same level and from there it develops and along the way you find better musicians; resulting in travelling a bit further."
Regarding the Dutch Metal scene, would you say it's strengthened and grown over the years?
"Yeah I mean there are a lot of bands that are big, back in the day there was us, Asphyx, Sinister, Severe Torture and probably Pestilence, some of those bands sort of disappeared, are still on the same level or have gone up in the world. But in the meantime we have a new wave of bands such as Epica, of course they existed for many years but they grew slowly and steadily and now are a huge band. Another big export band so-to-speak is Within Temptation who are also huge, we have other bands like Carach Angren who play Symphonic Black Metal and are getting rather big at the moment internationally. So I guess we're doing quite well in this country and there's old bands and new bands, but luckily those new bands are getting big as well because one day they will need to fully replace the old bands. Overall I guess we have a pretty strong scene."
With regards to Brexit, are you concerned about the challenges you may face coming to the UK?
"No I'm not, I mean OK we will be checked by customs but that's also the case now, even though the UK is still a part of the European Union (EU). Last year when we visited the UK on tour with Belphegor, we had to go through customs so it was already the case. I guess if we were to go again after Brexit, nothing's changed and I'm not worried about you guys, I'm pretty sure that the UK will manage to get new trade deals with all the other European countries again, the USA and places like that. I think you guys will be fine, of course it will feel like a new beginning but after that it will be business as usual."
Are you surprised about the global impact heavy metal has made, seeing bands emerge from far-flung countries?
"No I'm not, you know in the past you wouldn't know if there were bands in Iran, Iraq, Indonesia or some other far away country from us. But of course there are people there who love to listen to and play metal, maybe for them in the past it wasn't a natural type of music to play... they have become modern societies, they listen to Western music and I guess as there are people who like to play metal, that's what they like now. I think it's great! Why not? You know the world has become smaller because of the internet and so I guess it makes sense."
Outside of God Dethroned do you have any other hobbies or interests?
"Yeah I build guitars through my company Serpent King Guitars, that's what I do most of the time I don't play (The song 'Serpent King' was taken from Henri's company name). One of my friends always called me 'serpent king' instead of Henri so he would be like 'hey serpent king how are you doing', this is what he has said to me for many years, so when I founded my guitar company I thought 'OK what am I going to call it?' and then I thought 'of course, I am the serpent king so it's going to be 'Serpent King Guitars'."
Are there any guitars that you have made that you're specially proud of?
"Basically all of them, but I have made some really special ones: one is called 'The Anubis', which is a really beautiful one... I play them all every once in a while and build a new guitar for myself, which I can show off by playing live and people see that, check out the website and give feedback and say they want to buy a guitar like that and that's how we do it."
Any finals words? Greetings you wish to send out?
"I just want to thank the fans in the UK for following God Dethroned all these years and hope they will check out the new album and hopefully we will be able to play in the UK soon again."
When it comes to the Hungarian Metal scene, despite it's flourishing there have been far too few bands breaking out into the wider metal world. Bands like Dalriada have taken around 10-15 years to get noticed by the European elite, alongside them are the wider-known Thy Catafalque, Ektomorf, Tormentor and the recent AWS; the latter being Eurovision finalists. But what does this say about the Hungarian Metal scene? The bands are great, but the lack of attention from the wider metal community (labels and all) needs to be addressed.
In spite of this, Hungary has given birth to it's own labels (most bands signed are Hungarian naturally) such as Edge Records, Hammer Music Prods, Hammer Records and Nail Records to name but a few.
Enter Mytra, a sci-fi themed Progressive Metal band of whom are set to release their second album "N.I.R.A." via Nail Records; their debut album "Beta" was also released through this label.
GMA spoke with Robert Hocza to find out more about the band's history, the state of the Hungarian Metal scene, their latest single and the industrialisation of their home town...
"Metal in the past, was completely suppressed in Hungary. Nonetheless, many people like it, although it has always been banished from the mainstream media."
For those who do not know who Mytra are, could you give us a brief background history?
"Hi Rhys and greetings to the readers of Global Metal Apocalypse! Our band was founded in 1996 in Kazincbarcika, a small town in the northeastern part of Hungary. Our name comes from the name of an ancient Roman god, written in a special way. Over the years, we've written songs in different musical styles, ranging from melodic, complex death metal to instrumental rock. Our primary musical goal has always been innovation and eccentricity. Essentially, our songs have a futuristic feeling with sci-fi themed lyrics. We have self-published three singles, and our first album titled "Beta" was released in 2014 by the Hungarian publisher Nail Records. Our second album is to be released in a few days, also by Nail Records."
You just released your new single "N.I.R.A", what was the response like and what does the song title mean?
"The feedbacks on the single are actually much better than we expected. It seems like our new album will reach out to a broader group of people. We will see this more precisely in a few months. The title of the song is an abbreviation for "neural intelligent research assistant". This is a fictive character who has already played a role in "Beta". In fact, it is a brain implant with advanced artificial intelligence. The theme of the song, in a broader sense, is based on an occurrence that emerged recently. It's called digital solitude, which will develop even greater dimensions thanks to more advanced technological tools.
People, as individuals, will seek the company of a submissive, personalized, well-programmed machine, rather than their fellow human beings, which can sometimes lead to serious conflict. This will result in complete alienation within our society."
Your second album "Logos" is due out next month, will you be doing a tour of some kind to promote it?
"We are aiming to distribute the album to as many places as we can, and make it available on as many platforms as possible, with the help of our publisher. Like most bands, we would also like to perform these songs at concerts, because we believe this is the best way for listeners to become acquainted with us. We know there is a lot of work ahead, but this doesn't pose any difficulties for us, because we love to play and deal with the band."
Is metal music popular in Hungary or is it still relatively underground given AWS going to Eurovision last year?
"Metal genre in the past, was completely suppressed in Hungary. Nonetheless, many people like it, although it has always been banished from the mainstream media. Fortunately, things have started to change in the last couple of years. You can hear rock and metal performances on radio and television more and more often, which is very encouraging for Hungarian artists. AWS is an excellent band and we were all very happy that they participated in the Eurovision Song Contest, showing the world that rock music is actually alive in Hungary!"
Do you feel there is a lack of 'Cyber Metal' bands these days? What influenced you in creating your 'sci-fi metal' sound?
"Honestly, I never followed the current trends in the world of metal music, and as to which sub-genre is favoured by more people at a certain time. I know a few bands, who write songs with a similar theme, but the work of the New Age composers such as Jean-Michel Jarre, Mike Oldfield, Vangelis, Enya had the greatest impact on our music. Old electronic artists: Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, and Aphex Twin also affected our work. Eternal favourites from the metal genre include Death, Cynic, Atheist, and Morbid Angel."
What is the Hungarian Metal scene like in terms of venues, festivals, media, etc?
"There are many metal festivals organised in the summer in Hungary, and these events attract large audiences. There are clubs nationwide, but these don't generally have many visitors. Fortunately for the media, things are getting better: there is press available in print and also on the internet, and we have internet based radio. There used to be a Rock TV channel, but if I'm not mistaken, it doesn't work any more."
For metalheads visiting Kazincbarcika, what sights / attractions could you recommend? Any favourite places of yours?
"We used to have favourite places... since the late '90s, things have been getting worse in our area. Poverty, desolation. These are the characteristics of our region for the most part. As a result, the clubs were closed down one after the other, and the audience slowly disappeared. The last club in town closed in 2018 on New Year's Eve. We were the last performers at the club. We are hoping that this downtrend will end one day, and that there will be active musical life in the city once again. "
What plans does Mytra have for 2020 after the album release? Are there any greetings you wish to send out?
"Organizing concerts, shooting a new music video, and writing new songs. Fortunately, we have collected plenty of ideas for the next album. And we'll see the rest! Thank you for the interview Rhys, and we would also like to thank Global Metal Apocalypse for the opportunity. Our special thanks goes out to the dear readers, for reading this, and devoting a few minutes of attention to us!"
Some people may remember the country as Swaziland, but for the past 2 years Swaziland has been known as Eswatini following the decision taken by King Mswati III to rename the kingdom; to reflect it's original name, the natives and in-part to avoid confusion with Switzerland.
So what about it's rock and metal scene... there is none except for one band looking to start one up. Out Cry are a Christian Alternative Rock / Metal band who present themselves with credentials, having played all over the world and released an EP, it was time for GMA to question the band on their origins, the power of music and how rock music is interpreted in arguably a heavily Christian country.
Their new music video 'Butterfly' drops on the 29th February and has a very emotional backstory as you will see later on as you read.
You read it here, Eswatini is embracing rock / metal and thus has become the latest to join the wave of emerging African scenes.
"Music is a universal language and there is nothing I love more than seeing people (everywhere) coming together to celebrate music and life.""
For those who do not know of Out Cry, could you give us a brief history of the band, what it stands for and what the name means?
"Almost 8 years ago now, Out Cry was formed in a tiny tin shack on the side of a mountain in Piggs Peak, Swaziland. I have no doubt you are aware of the of the HIV pandemic that has ravaged the country of the last few years, well this shack named Christian Life Centre Church provided a place for young people in the community to escape from the bad hand that life had dealt them to receive mentorship, food, aid and to connect with God. We as the young people from that little shack took it upon ourselves to spread a message of hope and acceptance, striving to connect people through music, a medium which transcends languages and culture barriers.
Now 8 years down the line and no longer the young boy I was back then, I am truly amazed to see how far we have come. In 2014 we won our first ever African Gospel Music Award held in London and in 2015 went on to be double nominated for the Crown Music Awards in South Africa and ended up performing in front of the President of South Africa. In 2016 we embarked on our first international tour to Nashville and Hyderabad, India of all places. If you have yet to go to India, I would highly recommend it for its rich culture and ability to give on an overwhelming sense of perspective, INSTANTLY! This message is not meant to brag about our achievements but rather aimed at giving context to myself and our story with Out Cry.
Story Behind our latest music video “Butterfly” due to be released on Feb 29th 2020:-
"In 2017, after receiving an opportunity to record with one of South Africa’s top music producers, Theo Crous, we faced a massive financial obstacle. Having started a crowd funding campaign to raise the needed amount, one of the rewards for donating the highest amount was that we would write the donor a personal song. Towards the end of the campaign we were stunned to find that one lady had done just that; and contacted her as soon as we could to thank her and to ask what we could write about with regards to her song. She went on to tell us that her daughter was far away from home and that their relationship had undergone a massive amount of strain in recent years to the point of disassociation. Definitely something we could write about…. 2 days and a big KFC bucket later, we had composed a song called, 'Butterfly'. A song is written from the perspective of a mother to a daughter, capturing all the unsaid words and placing them in an unspoken dialogue between these 2 individuals.
Song completed, and recorded I sent through the song to the mother confident and expectant for what her feedback would be. No immediate reply…. 3 days later I followed up with her asking, “Did you get the song? What did you think?’’ Her reply was that the song was great but there was only one problem. She couldn’t listen to it without crying…. The next day her daughter called me up out of the blue just to say, “Thank you. It was as if all the words were coming straight from my mum and I have never felt closer to her than I do now.” The two of them later reconciled their differences and it was an absolute privilege to have aided in their process."
You play Christian / Alt Rock, do you feel that rock and metal music specifically offers itself as a platform to sing about powerful topics such as religion?
"We are Christians in a band that love to create and play music that has substance, depth and meaning. What is the point of creating something if it doesn’t evoke a feeling within the listener. We therefore write about themes of love, struggle, acceptance, and perseverance. Themes which are at their foundation Christian but are universal in their dialogue."
Coming from Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), can you tell us more about the rock / metal scene out there and what challenges as a band you have to face?
"Swaziland has a predominantly African Gospel or Hip Hop music scene, Rock or even Indie is not widely accepted except at main stream big music festival like Bushfire."
Do you feel both music genres bring the world together (free of cultural / political differences)?
"Music is a universal language and there is nothing I love more than seeing people from different ethnicities, cultures, genders, income brackets and colour all coming together to celebrate music and life."
Have you performed outside of Eswatini?
"Yes, we have journeyed to Nashville (USA), London (England), India, Mozambique and all over South Africa as a result of our pursuit in music."
Outside of the band, what other hobbies and interests do you have?
"All of the band members are academically accomplished, all having minimum undergraduate university degrees and some having Postgraduate Masters degrees. I myself work part time as an architect and love 3D special design, a process very similar to that of the creation of music."
For the rock and metal music fans visiting Mbabane, what sights and attractions could you recommend?
"Malolotja Canopy Tour, Ngwenya Glass, House On Fire"
What plans does Out Cry have for the year ahead? Do you have any greetings you wish to send out to friends, family, fans etc?
"We have some massive shows in the pipeline and the release of our latest music video links to follow."
Kazakhstan has come a long way since the fall of the Soviet Union, generally it feels freed from the shackles of it's Communist past ruling within the dark days of the USSR. Now it stands tall and proud as a booming nation within the Central Asian region, exporting heaps of oil and other natural gases to the world. Yet culturally it's rock and metal scene is growing with renewed vigour and purpose, from the early bands of the 90's like Holy Dragons to the modern wave featuring bands like Zarraza; of whom released their third EP 'Rotten Remains' back in November last year.
With this in mind GMA spoke to Zarraza about the current state of the Kazakh Metal scene, their new EP, the challenges faced of being outside the European and American markets and how neighbouring countries such as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turmenistan fare when it comes to touring and having bands arrive from said countries to play in Kazakhstan.
"The [Kazakh] fans feel connected to a global scene! We are not isolated any more."
Guys for those who have not heard of Zarraza can you give us a brief history of the band?
"We are an Extreme Thrash Metal band from Kazakhstan. We released our debut album "Necroshiva" back in 2018 and our recent EP "Rotten Remains" last year – fully re-recorded songs from early demos. Both efforts received positive reviews from Metal Hammer, MetalSucks, AngryMetalGuy and other webzines all over the world. It helped us to step on stage as opening act for Sepultura, Ektomorf, Arkona, Tyr.
We cannot be labelled as Old School Thrash Metal because we added some other flavours to our extreme cocktail. Try to listen to just two songs to get an accurate impression - "150 words" and "Failed Apocalypse". Check out our video for "Apocalypse" on YouTube – it was filmed at an altitude of 3300 meters (10,826ft) in snowy mountains!
And last but not least — we practise tour trades and brought a lot of underground metal acts to Kazakhstan: Katalepsy (Russia), God Syndrome (Russia). I proud of it."
You released your new lyric video "Bullets & Beliefs'19", what was the reaction like, who designed it?
"Some people here in Kazakhstan never heard the story of what the song is about and won’t believe it. The song is not just about the first infamous robbery of bank collectors in Kazakhstan in 2001 - it's a song about people who do it for religion... back in the day, 19 years ago, it seemed nonsense in Kazakhstan - but today we live with it and call it "religious terrorism". Attackers claim they did it to finance some terrorist groups...
The lyric video was created by our good friend Nikita Cherevko. He is good friend of ours and filmed almost all our videos — Shadows, Necroshiva, The Grudge, Failed Apocalypse…"
In recent years it seems the Kazakh Metal scene has grabbed attention from people all over Europe, in your opinion, what changed? Would you say Holy Dragons were one of the early pioneers?
"Of course it is great! Metal fans here are proud of some bands — now they have the proof that Kazakhstan has some good metal bands and the fans feel connected to a global scene! We are not isolated any more.
As far as I'm concerned, the first real Kazakh metal band was Accent, formed by the Tarnovsky brothers in the middle of the 1980’s. The band played Heavy / Speed Metal — they not very active now but played some gigs recently. In the 90's there were many more bands – from classic Heavy Metal outfits to Death-Grind brigades. Izverg, Deathtrack, Requiem, Holy Dragons to name a few... the last one survived through all these years and are still active which is cool."
Tell us more about the Kazakh Metal scene, it's history, challenges, support (oppression?), festivals, venues etc.-
"Some people believe it does not exist at all but now we can perform with “Necroshiva”! The metal scene is very small and independent. We are outside of the mass media radar which is not so bad I think because the media is full of prejudice towards rock music in general. So we build the metal scene here by ourselves – it's not easy but I love it because it is our scene! We practice tour trades with bands from different cities and even countries and it works very well!
You can see – the scene is a wholly underground thing. As a result even the most active bands release one or two releases and then stop. Very few bands are persistent through time. My favourite band from Kazakhstan is Doubleface. Their “Falls and Decline” album is available on Bandcamp and it should be checked by every Chuck Shuldiner fan!
Another class act is Seven Sins – their latest Symphonic Black release is very impressive! And they worked through years of fighting all obstacles which is a great example of persistence. Metalcore band Tishina (inactive now) worked with producer Tue Madsen from Denmark and the result was good! I was happy when their bass player Eugene Hablack joined Zarraza in 2018 and helped to record “Rotten Remains”. Unfortunately he moved to other city and left.
I told you we are doing tour trades – and we also running our own metal fest. Metal Clan Fest was held in 2017 and united Kazakhstan's extreme metal acts. Then it was transformed into Hellmaty Metal Fest in 2018, headlined by Ektomorf from Hungary. Also we did a Metal United Worldwide (MUWW) gig in 2019 with Katalepsy (Russia) as headliner. MUWW is a special event which started a few years ago in Australia with one simple idea: different countries and cities, hundreds of bands but on the same night – we all performed metal as loud as possible!"
I assume you have bands from neighbouring countries come to play in Kazakhstan? Especially from the other 'Stan' countries?
"First of all let me speak of the misconception behind the "Stan". It’s just a word from a map of the world but in reality we don’t have a lot in common with other Stans. Kazakhstan almost doesn’t have any connection — political or economical — to Pakistan and Afghanistan. A wholly different culture, history, traditions, politics and economy. Relations with Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are not very active also, but Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan — yes, we have shared common history and heritage.
We played a lot with bands from Kyrgyzstan there, they play in Kazakhstan very often and I like a lot bands over there. Kashgar, Shahid, My Own Shiva to name a few. Uzbekistan just started to open for us — we played there twice, last time in May 2019. The gig and whole travel experience was great — you can find the video diary on YouTube. The rock scene over there is really strong and interesting. I hope they will come to play in Kazakhstan and we will go there again."
On that note on a larger scale, do you feel there is a gradual increase in attention being given to bands from Central Asia?
"Yes. We see that a lot people are surprised that a metal scene here is existing at all, haha. We have a lot of hungry active bands who wish to surprise metalheads all over the world and I hope you will hear a lot of new impressive releases from Central Asia."
What plans do you have for 2020? Are there any greetings or thank you's that you wish to send out to friends, fans, etc?
"Our main goal is a new release — we are demoing it right now. That’s why we don’t have any big plans about gigs — just a couple of local shows in mind. If you watched and liked our videos filmed in the mountains – stay tuned for more! We got some interesting ideas to be released as soon as new songs will be ready.
Just keep listening to some metal! The music erases borders created by politics, religions and other alienating cults – so keep it going!"
Watch the "Bullets & Beliefs 19" video here: https://youtu.be/Veif3-hBlkM
The Chinese Metal scene can be traced all the way back to the days of Tang Dynasty, which set the ball rolling for the metal scene to flourish. From the first wave of Chinese Heavy Metal spawned even darker and more extreme bands... the Black Metal sector for example is perhaps the darkest in the global metal community.
But China plays host to all metal variations and it's bands like Explosicum who keep the Thrash Metal alive in China... having signed to Italian label Punishment 18 Records this year, this could well be the dawn of China finally being accepted as a major player in the global metal scene. Qiu Jian Hua spoke to GMA about the band's history, the Chinese Metal scene and what it's like in the band's home city of Nanchang.
"The biggest challenge is how can we make music... without sounding like pure copying of classic bands."
For those who do not know Explosicum, can you give us a brief history behind the band and the name?
"We were founded in 2005 and in the same year, signed with Area Death Productions. The Chinese name "爆浆“ is from the Hong Kong movie "The God Of Cookery" which was directed by Stephen Chow, Our friend Guo Ya Fei helped us to translate it into English; he created the word "Explosicum" based on its meaning. In 2008, we released our debut album "Conflict" and released the second album "Raging Living" in 2014, we then released our third album "Living's Deal" in 2017.
How does it feel to be signing with Punishment 18 Records? This surely has to be one of the best moments of the band's career?
"Yes, we never thought we could sign with a European label. We know that Punishment 18 Records is a very famous label, and we feel excited and proud to achieve this. It was definitely one of the highlights of our band's career."
Talk us through your latest album "Living's Deal', what is the theme of the album and how was it received in China?
"Most of our songs are about our social environment, our feelings in life, our anger and helplessness, including the dark side of human nature, someone who knows China's history in recent decades can relate to this.
I don't know how to describe the word "received", after all, Thrash Metal is not a popular style now. But I think there are many people who like our album, they have their own views on society, and like speed and aggressiveness as much as we do."
What is the Chinese Metal scene like right now? What challenges as musicians do you have to overcome or have overcome?
"From what I've seen, there are many metal bands that are active in China, some for a long time, some for a short time. In China, metal music still has a large audience. It just can't become the mainstream of society.
We all have jobs, don't need to make money by playing metal music, so we don't need to do music just to please others. To us, the biggest challenge is how can we make music that we love and that thrashers love, without sounding like pure copying of classic bands and music."
Do you feel that more labels and media should pay attention to bands from that part of the world? Not just China but the Far East in general?
"Yes of course. We have been to other countries and regions in Asia, where there are a lot of good metal bands, I hope they will have more opportunities to let more people know."
For metalheads visiting your city of Nanchang, what sights / attractions could you recommend? What is the local metal scene like? Any bars, clubs?
"In Nanchang, rock and metal music has a big audience. Most metal shows don't have more than 500 people. The only place where rock music is regularly performed is the Blackiron Livehouse, which is run by our lead singer Tan Chong. Any metalhead visiting Nanchang should be there. It's one of most famous live houses in China, touring bands and artists perform every week, metal bands included of course."
What plans do you have for the rest of the year and leading into 2020?
"We don't have a specific timetable, we just take it step by step. We're working on the next album, we rehearse every week, the songs will be modified and improved during rehearsal. Unfortunately, we're very slow, so we don't know when the next album will come out. If we are invited by the organizer to perform, we are all happy to attend."
Are there any hello's, greetings, etc that you wish to send out to friends, family,
"Thank you to all our friends and family, including the directors of the various labels and all the organizers who invited us to the show. Without you, we might not have been able to make it this far."