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