"We continue to combat the rejection of metal music as the authorities and the media do not understand this style of music and view it as a part of the ideological weapon of the enemy of the north."
When you think of the Caribbean island nation of Cuba, you tend to think of the ever-lasting Cuban cigar, rum, Spanish-colonialism and the historical Cuban Missile Crisis; fronted by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. But beneath that is a metal scene that's practically built on a DIY attitude, just like our ancestors did when they first created the boat to enable voyages across the seven seas.
Perhaps it's then fitting for the quintet Mephisto to deploy their Latin-infused style of Black Metal, a sound that would rival the very ferocity of a barraging hurricane. For a band that has been around since 1996, a revolving-door of musicians coming and going and their debut album coming 20 years later, you would have thought it was curtains for the band... alas you'd think wrong, they are set to deliver their second opus in the form of "Pentafixion". It was therefore fitting for Global Metal Apocalypse to grill the quintet and find out info relating to the album, why you need a 'can do, will do' attitude just to survive in the Cuban metal scene and why bands (like Mephisto) look outwards to Europe (in their case) and the USA for exposure.
This culminated in them signing with Italian label WormHoleDeath. Now whilst Mephisto plans a national tour of Cuba (slated for mid 2021) and a run of dates later in the year in Nicaragua, check out the birth of "Latin Black Metal" courtesy of Cuba's veterans Mephisto.
Hi everyone, first of all tell us what is it like to sign with WormHoleDeath and what this means for the band?
"Signing with WormHoleDeath means a huge step forward for the band. The visualization of Mephisto in the European and Asian markets, where I am sure that people from those regions do not even know that there is even a small island called Cuba in the Caribbean and even less that European metal is made on that island. This exposure is important as it’s what Mephisto does, although future fans will notice that the influences of the Spanish and African mix of our culture are noticed in our music.
We have been ostracized for years due to the little attention that metal in general has in our own territory and the little we have achieved has been through perseverance, work and talent, so the opportunity to belong to the family of such a prestigious record company gives us a visibility on the map that we could not achieve with our own means or with the help of Cuban record companies that have little reach."
Not many people would associate Black Metal with the exotic climate of Cuba, what makes your style of Black Metal different?
"Not having contact with other leading bands of the genre worldwide, not having access to international festivals and due to the scarce exchange on stage with bands from other countries, means that we have few external influences that mould our music, so our Black Metal takes on a rare originality. That is the reason why several bands in the world, when they go to compose or record an album, isolate themselves in remote places, so that their product is genuine. It happens to us for reasons of force majeure.
The different musical tastes of each member also make a difference, the same in metal as in other musical genres, so do not be surprised if we are caught listening to Jazz. Also the amalgamation of Caribbean sounds that we are surrounded by influences us indirectly. In Mephisto you can find patterns that jump from 4/4 to 3/4 or 6/4 and 7/4, or the use of syncopations, Latin jazz patterns on the drums, and even the Cuban keys. Of course, deep down, if you know music you will notice."
Arguably, the Caribbean has some pretty good metal scenes, but those in Europe are often not noted, what do you think is missing or owed to those in Europe who don't explore Caribbean metal?
"Because death metal and brutal death abound. The consumption in Europe is mostly more in the symphonic styles, and even perhaps melodic or symphonic death metal. I think Europeans are more attracted to black, folk and death metal trends that I mentioned earlier. The metal market is in the USA, mainly Florida and New York, so the Caribbean bands try to enter that market. There is a rejection between both parties. In the case of Mephisto we have a special interest in Europe, because it is the market that suits us best. Although if we’d welcome success in America too."
Logistically, would we ever see a Caribbean Metal Festival take place? What is the general perception of metal music by the general public?
"If you mean Cuba, well ... there are about 9 metal festivals throughout the island, but only some have an international character and few bands from the USA and Europe have participated due to the poor logistics of each of them. It must be taken into account that the government of the island, of a socialist nature, is not interested in financing this type of event for ideological reasons and all are carried out by a small but strong non-governmental organization called AHS that puts its funds to carry out these events. International groups that have an interest in acting on the island must do so with their own financing, and not everyone does that because it is a great expense.
As for other regions, in Central and South America there are events that can afford to have first-rate bands, but let's bear in mind that they operate in a market economy where they invest and obtain benefits. That way everything can be done."
You are preparing to release your new album "Pentafixion", can you tell us what the album is about and how did you come up with the lyrics? Tell us about the process of recording the album.
"Pentafixion is composed of songs from different eras of the band. Songs that were collected in poorly recorded demos, with a sound impossible to commercialize. Due to technological advances in music production we managed to make this recording with a lot of effort and group work. The sessions were held in my house (Mole's Home Studio) with minimal conditions that will seem impossible when you listen to the sound of the album. The orchestration was done with Kontakt software without acoustic conditions of any kind. But I repeat, you will not believe it when you listen to the CD since the software, plug-ins, etc., have helped to clean up the mix and give it the professional studio environment that you will listen to. As we have had the need, we have become experts in these software programs and in sound engineering. What else could we do with no access to professional recording studio in Holguin?
Once the album was mixed, we took it to a private studio of another sound lover: Samuel P. Santiesteban (Botija Productions), who was in charge of the mastering. I was then charged to make the DDP file, guided by a YouTube tutorial. As I said before: necessity is the mother of invention. As for the letter of Pentafixion, it is simply the fact of the crucifixion on a pentagram for the performance of a ritual of evocation for the materialization of evil on earth (Mephistopheles). As for the other topics, I can summarize it this way:
Tell us what it was like to grow up as metalheads in Cuba, the challenges, the difficulties, how has COVID-19 impacted the country in general?
"Difficulties have grown perseverance. Necessity is the mother of invention, and surrender is not an option for Cuban metalheads. It is not new history, the metalheads and bands of Eastern Europe went through the same thing and bands like Behemoth and Vader did not see the light at the end of the road until the fall of the Berlin wall. We are in the same situation and we have had to invent our equipment and instruments until we had access to branded equipment with outside help. There has also been the production of t-shirts with their own means by fans and a thousand other curiosities.
We continue to combat the rejection of metal music as the authorities and the media do not understand this style of music and view it as a part of the ideological weapon of the enemy of the north. Of course, over the years some of these things have changed and there is some openness and some other space on radio and TV, but the anthropological damage has already been done in the population, so metal is still minority music.
The Covid-19 has achieved that in 1 year there are no metal events or concerts in the country except in our city, Holguin, where the rate of infected is lower, and there were a few months that it reached 0%. Of course, only groups from the city and other nearby cities have been able to participate, since the west of the country has not had respite from this new disease.
Under normal circumstances (i.e., without a pandemic), what sights / attractions would you recommend to metalheads visiting Havana?
"There is only one place: the Maxim Rock room on Bruzón Street, in Ayestarán corner, Plaza municipality. It's where the only metal concerts are held."
What are your plans for next year taking all things into account? Do you have any greetings or thanks that you want to send to friends, family, fans, etc.?
"We are preparing another album, this time a conceptual work on the myth of Dracula. It will be titled Carpathian Tales. It's more of a remake of an album that we recorded in Cuba but we couldn't do anything with it due to the sound quality. Later we will do the same with our first two demos and while this happens (in a space of two or three years); we will be composing a totally new album with unreleased songs. 5 songs out of 10 that are in process are ready but as you can see, there is work for a while.
Also, depending on the epidemiological situation, we plan to tour Central America and Europe, but we still have to wait to see what happens for now. It’s frustrating not being able to tour but we have the time now to effectively promote the Pentafixion album in all possible ways."
Official Website – https://mephistoband.com
Official Facebook Page - https://www.facebook.com/MephistoCubanMetalBand
"Slovenia is such a tiny country you could visit several places in one day, from the seaside to the mountains."
Marax are a Symphonic Black Metal band from Slovenia whose lyrics revolve around Satanism... now to most metalheads the response will be 'not another Dimmu Borgir surely?' Well to answer this in the most cliche of responses, no they are not, they are their own sound and own style... probably what makes Slovenian Black Metal so unique, so much so Marax could not even explain why this is and thus just confirms that there clearly is something special about the said geographical variation of said genre. They have managed to deliver their debut album "The Witch" even in these dark times with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc worldwide. Here they talk to GMA about the album, the Europe-wide reception, the Slovenian Metal scene and why (as said) it's hard to explain why Slovenian Black Metal is different to other geographical variations of Black Metal.
For those who have not heard of Marax, could you give us a brief history of the band? What does the band name mean?
"The band was founded in the winter of 2017 by guitarist Nord Slayer (Cordura, Cvinger, Cursed Be Thy Flesh), drummer Morgoth (Cordura, Cvinger, Kholn, Cursed Be Thy Flesh) and vocalist Anin Astaroth (Morana) to play extreme, symphonic black metal. They joined forces with violinist Žica for the first two EP's ("The Abyss Of Illusions" in 2018 and "Dance Within The Flames Of Burning Fire" in 2019). In late 2019, violinist Mors Violinis joined the band, and in April 2020 we released our first full-length album "The Witch". The name designates the daemon Marax (also known as Morax, Forfax or even Ma’at), who is, generally, the daemon of justice."
Symphonic Black Metal is such an overloaded genre, with that in mind how would you describe your sound without the use of genre tagging?
"We aim to compose and perform extreme metal music. The sound of the violin (or, in the future, of various bowed string instruments) is always present, as well as some symphonic elements. Otherwise, we are pretty open in style, there are usually some more death metal elements in our songs, and we create what we feel."
Regarding your debut album "The Witch", what was the reception like? Has anyone outside of Slovenia bought the album; any surprising places?
"In fact, even more people bought the album throughout the Europe (compared to Slovenia). For the digital format we cannot know exactly."
Talk us through the making of the album from the production to mixing and mastering, the whole process.
"For the latest album, "The Witch", Nord Slayer first composed all the songs, at least the foundations. He wrote and recorded the parts for the guitars, the bass and the keyboards. Next, Morgoth composed and recorded the drums, then Mors Violinis composed and recorded the violin parts. Lastly, Anin Astaroth wrote the lyrics and recorded the vocals. For some songs, the backing vocals were recorded by Anin Astaroth and Nord Slayer, as well as some additional “instruments”. Everything was recorded, mixed and mastered in Studio Toplica by Nord Slayer and Morgoth."
Slovenia seems to have a rather strong Black Metal (and related metal) scene, what is it that makes Slovenian Black Metal strong?
"The answer to this question is much more complex than we could explain here. We think it could, on one hand, be do to with the nature here, or on the other hand, with the historical background."
On a broader note what challenges do Slovenian Metal bands tend to face these days? (ignoring COVID-19)
"Probably it is relatively poor concert attendance, but still, it’s not so bad. There are approximately two million people in Slovenia, a minority of which are metalheads. In fact, there are a relatively large number of bands compared to the audience sometimes. But we don’t want to complain; as soon as this crisis is over, we cannot wait to perform again."
For metalheads visiting Savinjska Dolina, what sights / attractions and bars / venues could you recommend?
"Firstly, the members of Marax are not from this region only (contrary to what the internet says). They are from the mentioned valleys (the towns of Velenje and Šoštanj) and from Kranj and Ljubljana. In the surroundings of every town mentioned you could just encounter nature, there are some forests, lakes, mountains etc. Slovenia is such a tiny country you could visit several places in one day, from the seaside to the mountains. In the valley of Savinjska Dolina, you could visit venues like MC Šoštanj or any bar actually. In Kranj, the most “metal” or alternative venue is Trainstation Squat Subart, and in Ljubljana there are several places like Orto bar, Metelkova or Kino Šiška where the concerts are held."
Do you have any thanks or greetings you wish to send to friends, family or fans?
"Greetings to everyone who reads this! Keep supporting extreme metal \m/"
"The Welsh metal scene is doing well... we have quite a sense of community and comradeship, which is important"
It could well be that all Welsh metalheads have fire in their hearts and beer in their bellies, well they are of course from the land of the dragon, so it fits. However, Black Pyre bring to the fore the icy atmospherics of a snow-capped Snowdonia in their own brandished form of Black Metal. The quartet released their debut EP "The Forbidden Tomes" last year to international acclaim having scored coverage not only in the UK, but as far away as Australia and sold copies to metalheads across Europe and as far away as Brazil. GMA felt it was therefore only fitting we interrogated the spawn of Cymru and by this we don't mean the sheep or goats that marauder the hills (have you seen those horns?!?!?!?)... we simply mean Black Pyre.
For those who have not heard of Black Pyre, could you give us a brief history of the band? What does the band name mean?
"We originated from the dark realms (of Wales), forming aeons ago, and created a frosty EP by summoning a daemon and channelling his dark power into our music… We then walked the permafrost to find many other great bands to play with, such as Grá, Arvas, Uburen, Wolvencrown, Necronautical and many more, and even adding another wielder of strings along the way. What does Black Pyre mean? A pyre is a part of ancient funeral rites, whereby a body is burnt on a large pile of wood - the pyre is this fire."
You recently released your latest EP 'The Forbidden Tomes', what was the reception like? Did anyone download it from outside of the UK
"Our frosty little EP was well received, and had excellent reviews and coverage from several outlets, notably Metal Hammer, South Wales’ Musipedia Of Metal, and Australian extreme metal reviewer Kelly Tee. We also had purchases and plays of the EP from Germany, Austria, Norway, Brazil, and Poland. So yes, you could say it had some global outreach."
How would you describe your sound without the use of genre tagging, given you play Black Metal; such a broad genre?
"We take influences from the old school Norwegian sound, but also bring our own unique styles to the band. We all like a variety of subgenres of metal and other genres of music and so we like to allow that to influence how we write our Black Metal. Just think of what daemon shrieks harmonising with nails down a chalk board would sound like… That should give you a rough idea of our style."
What do your parents think of your music? Are any of your family members musicians?
"Parents? Ah you mean the elder daemons who spawned us. Yes they approve."
Tell us more about the Welsh Metal scene, what challenges do bands face, is the scene vastly different in the south compared to the north?
"The Welsh metal scene is doing well, both North and South. There are plenty of fantastic bands, and many of us know each other. We have quite a sense of community and comradeship, which is important."
Do you feel that British Extreme Metal is facing a massive revival or has it always been active in the background?
"The British Extreme Metal scene is definitely having a bit of a comeback, but as you mention, it has always been active in the background. It is great to be part of this scene with so many amazing bands and fans."
For metalheads visiting Cardiff, what sights / attractions and bars / venues could you recommend?
"In Cardiff there are many great places to visit. Fuel Rock Club is an amazing venue and bar which hosts some of the best underground and grass-roots metal gigs. Tramshed, and The Globe are both fine venues which put on excellent gigs for medium sized bands."
Do you have any thanks or greetings you wish to send to friends, family or fans?
"We would like to thank: Timothy Vincent, Naomi Sanders (and by extension Metal Hammer), Musipedia Of Metal, Gavin Davies (Welsh Hagrid), Carl & Zoe, Sepulchre, Deus Mori, Arvas, Tim & Alyn, Olly’s Big Beard (for being so nice), Chris Bowes, Adam Bell, Janice Clonefield, Papa Johns (for their delicious buttery dip), Ben Smith, Kelly Tee, Victor Marot (he’s the reason Dominus has to take cold showers every day), Marco Silva (for the toilet party), Lewis Read-Jenkins, Jack Wilson, Tabitha Attwood, Step-hen & Gregus Maximus, Kate (I’m not sure what you’ve done but thanks anyway), Sean Bean, Father Grimster, Everyone at Fuel Rock Club, The Gryphon, Global Metal Apocalypse (😉), all our fans."