"[to tour] you need to get a tour permission, which is issued by a commission (none of its members have any relation to music). And they can refuse to issue it because of “low artistic level”, even if your music is literally a masterpiece"
Whilst most of Europe's metal listeners are so transfixed on what's happening in the metal scenes within Western, Northern and Southern Europe, on the other side of Europe a handful of countries often get forgotten. OK so The Ukraine has Jinjer and Moldova has Infected Rain leading their respective scenes charge, but how long did it take for those metal scenes to receive widespread acknowledgement from the metal masses? Exactly. Well now it's the turn of the Belarusian metal scene to stake it's claim on European soil, the band leading the charge and flying the flag for Belarus is Belle Morte. The symphonic metal quartet are set to unleash their mastery through their debut album "Crime Of Passion", which will be released through Italian label Wormholedeath sometime in 2021.
GMA spoke to 4 of the 6 members about the debut album, how Belarus has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, what it was like growing up as metalheads and why people should check them out... discussing their unique take on the symphonic gothic metal sound.
The two guitarists who did not answer questions are
What does it feel like signing with Wormholedeath? You must be excited seeing your debut album being released internationally?
"It feels like we are starting a new chapter: very thrilling and we can hardly wait till the album is out :). Signing with Wormholedeath is a huge step forward and it gives us more confidence in what we are doing."
SB: "This is definitely really cool and we have high hopes for this collaboration!"
Your debut album "Crime Of Passion" is based on the John Fowles novel "The Collector", how did you get into his writings and what aspects of the novel inspired the album?
"It happened literally by chance. My mum’s best friend lent her this book, I was hooked by the cover and annotations, and read the whole book in one night. If I say this book became my fav, that would definitely be an exaggeration, but it was really exciting to read the same story told by both sides, to know how they both felt towards the same events. Besides, to me it was interesting to try to get into the main character’s shoes and think the way he did. To feel this boundless desire, this need in possessing someone, which goes beyond any logic, ethics, or human law. That’s how the song 'To Get Her' appeared, consequently other tracks followed. By the way, I was surprised and happy to find out Sergey read this book too, because it made our work easier - I didn’t have to explain the feeling each song should trigger."
"That’s true :) besides, it made things easier for me as well: I had no troubles telling Belle what I wanted her to sound like when we recorded vocals. Something like “this verse should sound like you are an arrogant moron, whose one and only skill is butterfly collecting”. Speaking about the novel, I read it in 2005 and it left quite an impression on me. This struggle between sophisticated and straight-forward personalities, sharp minds and blindness, inner freedom and narrowness. My main criterion of whether the book is good or not, is whether I have thought “it would be nice to compose a rock-opera or at least a song based on this” during reading. I had this thought :) so I was really enthusiastic towards the idea of having the whole album inspired by "The Collector"."
Would you say your album is more of a story than simply just a collection of songs? Which aspects of the album are your favourite?
"It’s definitely a coherent story, chapter by chapter. From the very beginning we had this theme, and all we did was setting about filling the gaps and finding the correct means to tell this story. One of my favourite aspects is definitely leitmotif usage. For example, the instrumental part in 'Lace' has a battle of the 'To Get Her' theme (which is obviously the main theme of the murderer) and the 'My Legacy' theme (which is the girls’ response) - and we have lots of such Easter eggs here and there."
"I really like the fact this album is close to a mono rock-opera. We used the leitmotif component, which Belle already mentioned, starting from 'Overture' and till the very end; the plot can easily be grasped without any synopsis; we have a fully-fledged duet between the abductor and his victim, besides, it’s not just some abstract exchange of characters’ emotions turn by turn (how it often happens). It’s a dialogue, turning into an argument in the end. Besides, we gave a lot of thought in how to craft the choral parts and backing vocals (for instance, in 'Beauty and the Beast') and orchestral parts, where they fitted.
Given the glut of Symphonic Gothic metal bands worldwide, how does your music distinguish itself from the rest? Where do your music inspirations come from?
"I think our most distinctive feature is balancing between genres, augmenting symphonic metal with different elements, such as progressive, industrial, black, rock opera, Celtic music, Argentinian tango - whatever we feel is appropriate for a particular track. We are not really bonded by any genre strict rules, we focus on “music first” and see where inspiration takes us. Besides, we combine catchy and easy to remember melodies and complex multi-layered orchestral arrangements."
Tell us what it is like growing up as metalheads in Belarus? What challenges do you face within the Belarusian Metal Scene?
"I have nothing to compare with, but from my personal perspective Belarusian metalheads are the nicest people, they are super friendly and helpful. I wouldn’t say I faced any significant challenges with the local scene. Unless we count the fact that it’s almost impossible to make a living doing music here, most musicians have to combine their “hobby” with a job where they get paid. It does lead to certain limitations."
"It’s complicated :) there are a lot of metalheads here, but in general society perceives them as somewhat marginals. Government doesn't embrace the fact that metal music has the same rights to exist as music of the other genres. Soviet legacy is still very prominent here. On the other hand, it’s getting better and during past years we have had a lot of great bands come here. But organizing a gig is still a very stressful and complex thing to do. For example, you need to get a tour permission, which is issued by a commission (none of its members have any relation to music). And they can refuse to issue it because of “low artistic level”, even if your music is literally a masterpiece :).
Local gigs are like swings. We used to have pretty wild underground gigs; then everything died out for a while. Then there was a period when we had great concert organizers, who put in a lot of effort and their own resources in holding top-level concerts. And then the pandemic happened. The bands also suffered from missing quality booking agencies, labels etc. The majority have to work somewhere else to make a living, and take care of organizing concerts, printing merch, releasing albums etc. on their own. We have many talented musicians, but not all of them are ready to deal with all of that, and it’s sad."
How has Belarus coped with the COVID pandemic; what restrictions / lockdown protocols were put into place?
"There is a huge difference in answer depending on whether we talk about the Government or people living here. The Government shamefully failed to take any measures at all. We didn’t have any restrictions, all the borders were open, the severity of the pandemic was denied and laughed at in official media. Medical workers were not provided by appropriate protection means. And real numbers of those who got infected and those who died, were concealed. Medical workers, who had courage to tell publicly how bad the situation was, got fired and repressed.
On the other hand, Belarusian people have shown the level of solidarity we didn't see here before. They created special funds to help medical workers and provide them with protection means, food and other supplies. They distributed printed instructions telling older people how to protect themselves, and again - helped with delivering foods and medicines. Although officially there were no protocols whatsoever, people started following WHO recommendations by their own initiative."
For metalheads visiting Minsk, what sights or attractions would you recommend (in a normal world)? What bars, venues, festivals are there?
"TNT club (which might appear very ordinary if you don’t live here) :). The biggest festivals are Kupalskaje Kola, Our Grunwald, UMF (United Metal Festival)."
"In good old times when we went to bars and clubs, if I wanted to hang out in a friendly atmosphere, I went to TNT club. You could always meet someone from your mates there!"
"In addition to what Rostislav already mentioned, Brugge club. But it looks like it didn’t survive the pandemic…"
Aside from the album launch, what plans do you have for the year ahead and do you have any greetings or thanks you wish to send out?
"We try to stay positive regarding the COVID situation and prepare ourselves for a productive year. For sure we’d like to have the album presentation (hopefully not just online, and hopefully more than one gig). Besides, we are doing a lyric video for 'Broken Things'. In the parallel we still have a lot of work in the studio, as we want to record our second EP this year. We have a very clear concept for it, and expect it to have a lot of unusual collaborations and musical instruments we haven’t used before. Last but not least: we are thinking about shooting our third music video."
"I am very grateful to Kirill and Arthur, who helped us with guitars’ recordings at the times when we didn’t have a permanent line-up, long before Ilya joined us. And we are thankful to our families and friends for their support during the whole time!"
Like most of the countries in Eastern Europe, the metal scenes are thriving and delivering some remarkable talent, yet they get largely ignored by the West. Take for example Belarus, the Extreme Metal scene there is extraordinary and yet can you name one band from there without googling? No? Then the point just made is well and truly proven. Hoping to shake the foundations of metal is Pagan Black Metallers Massenhinrichtung, sure the band has been around for 15 years but they've steadily been gathering a following in the underground and have landed a deal with Darker Than Black Records 4 years ago.
Rest assured they are NOT a NSBM band (said record label has some bands associated with the genre on their roster), they may show Belarusian patriotism but let's be honest, aren't we all patriotic at times? Massenhinrichtung's drummer Ksaltone spoke to GMA about their national scene, their new music video and the sights of their capital city Minsk and other places in Belarus.
"I could say that Belarusian Metal becomes stronger with every year."
Firstly could you tell us how Massenhinrichtung came about, who came up with the band name and what it means? Also why a German name and not a Belarusian name?
"Hello! I created Massenhinrichtung in 2004 when I was extremely influenced by horror and wild Pagan culture. I decided to name that project as “Massenhinrichtung” (mass execution) because I saw it as the most extreme form of protest against the modern abutments. In my opinion, nothing is more cruel than mass killing. Why German? German sounds tough, while Belarusian sounds soft and melodic."
How would you describe your sound without the use of genres and what influences do you look towards for your music?
"I would describe the sound of Massenhinrichtung as a reflection of deep emotional crisis and a hurricane of sad and aggressive energies. We just erupt tons of feelings via such kind of aggressive but eclectic songs. And yes, we are not into any genre, I think. It’s some kind of authentic metal from Belarus with blackened basis and surface. What about influences, so I take my inspiration from perfect nature and idiotic society."
You filmed your 'Distances' music video at some Orthodox locations in Belarus, how challenging was it to secure the permission to film at such sensitive sites?
"We didn’t get any permission from anyone. We came and filmed our background for a video boldly, without asking any kind of authorities. But we don’t have to do it, actually! It’s ours, hehehe. Those places are symbolic to me so I decided this lyric video must reflect the atmosphere of ascetic Belarusian vast land as I imagine it."
Can you tell us more about the wider Belarusian Metal scene? What the challenges are, are there any festivals, venues or bars you could recommend?
"To be honest, nowadays I have a little contact with metalheads, just with my teammates and old friends. We have been introverts for a long time. But anyway I could say that Belarusian Metal becomes stronger with every year. We have a small amount of annual festivals here, only 1 open-air fest, but almost every month we have there a gig of famous metal bands from EU and USA. Metal music has no cultural support here so every f*****g thing here is made by enthusiasts. Ideological enthusiasts. I could recommend you to listen to the bands Extermination Dismemberment and Serdce."
Outside of the band what hobbies or interests do you have?
"My main and only hobby is music. Making / listening to / composing – everything. And maybe travelling, but fortunately we united that with my music hobby, when we had started playing gigs outside our country. And every one of us have, of course, has constant work to earn for a living."
For metalheads visiting Minsk, what sights or attractions could you recommend in seeing? Is it relatively easy to navigate Minsk?
"I would recommend them to visit some calm Belarusian picturesque historical places instead of Minsk's stone jungle. Minsk is a big and wonderful city with plenty of attractions for the young blood, but personally, I like quiet places like ruins of castles (for example Novogrudok and Ruzhany) and lakesides like Braslav. I think metalheads will rate them better that our capital city. Minsk was destroyed during WWII, so all of the buildings are new and not prayed yet."
What plans does the band have for the rest of the year and leading into 2020?
"Now we are in the progress of making a new record, we’ll do our best to release it in summer 2020. We will show some changes and refreshments in Massenhinrichtung and will film one or two music videos. Follow us on any social network, soon we’ll put out the fresh news."
Do you have any greetings, thank you's, etc., that you wish to send out to friends, family, fans, etc?
"First of all a big thank you to Global Metal Apocalypse for an idea of making this interview! I’m sure European metalheads could be interested in discovering something new and extraordinary. In Belarus we have plenty of good music, so I recommend you to get to know the Belarusian Metal dialect. And of course cheers to all people in the EU who know us and support us! We appreciate it very much!"
Tucked away in the Eastern corner of Europe is Belarus, a country born from the ashes of the former Soviet Union. Belarus in it's literal translation means 'White Russia', but the metal music scene it has is far from white, in fact it's rather dark, bleak and atmospheric. Enter the Atmospheric Black Metal band known as Raven Throne and their sixth album "I Miortvym Snicca Zolak", which focuses on Slavic poetry as it's main topic and delves into the Belarusian poetics of yesteryear. GMA spoke to Raven Throne about the challenges faced as a metal band in Belarus, the new album and how they came to use their mother tongue as choice of language for the songs.
"Our late lyrics are in Belarusian, so we are definitely in the segment of Slavic culture"
How did Raven Throne form and what do your parents think of your style of music?
"Raven Throne was formed in 2004 in the town of Polotsk, Belarus, by the people who are keen on the philosophy of black metal. The line-up has changed many times since that time, but the band has been moving forward making records and playing concerts."
Will you be doing a tour in support of your impending new release - "I Miortvym Snicca Zolak"?
"Yes. We are going to play some gigs in support of the new album. Details will be later."
For those who cannot read Belarusian, could you give us a break down of what each song means?
"It was always difficult for me to explain or interpret my own lyrics. There are many personal, many things I have experienced, many images and metaphors in my lyrics. I like the flow of consciousness, images from the subconscious. I can quote Sergey Dovlatov on this subject “I thought I was writing a history of the human heart”.
If we talk about the new album lyrics, then the songs were written based on the poems of Belarusian poets who worked during the most terrible and merciless years for individuals. That’s why the key for understanding should be found in those years."
What is it like being a metal band from Belarus? Easy? Difficult? What challenges are there?
"It happened that Raven Throne was always in certain isolation from the community, hangouts, etc. Is it difficult to be a metal musician in Belarus? Now it is much easier, but there are fundamental differences with Europe still."
For those metalheads visiting Minsk, what sights and attractions could you recommend?
"There are many examples of Soviet Empire architecture style in Minsk. There are some more ancient monuments and very clean streets in the city. Minsk is a very organized. It is not much inferior to other European capitals."
Would you prefer your music to be called Atmospheric Black Metal or Slavic Metal? What are your thoughts on sub-genres?
"We do not attach much importance to genre frames, cliché, labels and titles, etc. Traditionally this is called atmospheric metal but historically our roots are in black metal. The forms of our music may differ from the canons of the genre, but this is the result of our natural evolution and development only. Our late lyrics are in Belarusian, so we are definitely in the segment of Slavic culture.
Who designed your artwork and did you have any input into the design e.g. ideas for it?
"The ideas for the artworks belong to us. Sometimes our friends help us. The label also participates in the realization of the final result."
What plans do you have for the rest of the year? Are there any greetings you wish to send out to fans, etc?
"We have many plans. These are creative ideas, writing of new material, preparation for the future gigs. Stay true, be yourself. Improve yourself in everything."