"Many expats from Germany and the US turned up at our shows and became supporters. They probably could relate to the [music] style much more than the locals."
It goes without saying that Arcana XXII was not just another metal band, they were creating their own metal music and presenting it to a country whose scene was non-existent, let alone not having any appreciation for metal music.
The flag-bearers of the Namibian metal scene (no matter how small it is) have dived head-first into the archives and have amassed a collection that despite covering only a 5-year period, has the indisputable honour of being an important piece of metal music history, having been the very first Heavy Metal songs to be released in Namibia... possibly the earliest on the entire African continent.
They epitomised the very essence of what it was to be a D.I.Y. band, sure there will be bands in Europe and the USA who have this view on their work... but they will never be in the same league as Arcana XXII as the band explained in our interview with them.
Johan, Sven and Johann Smit explained all.
Would it be fair to say that the Namibian Metal scene is a cursed one? It seems that only Arcana XXII and subMission existed. Could you tell us the history of the metal scene, what the current situation is in general and where you personally see it going in the years ahead?
"There never really was a scene in Namibia. After we started there were a few acts (probably fuelled by what we had done) but none of them made a lasting impression in terms of releases or longevity. So as for the future I can’t really say that anything will happen there. Sven started subMission and I continued with projects like D.O.G. or Lockjaw, before moving to Germany.
South Africa is different, with numerous acts coming out or being around for many years. Examples are Bulletscript, LA Cobra, Mind Assault, Abaddon, Woltemade etc. Then of course there is neighbouring Botswana with bands like Overthrust or Wrust, which go into more of a death metal direction.
What was it like growing up as metalheads in Namibia, forming the first metal bands nationally and arguably providing the foundations for African Metal to grow upon?
"We had very little access to metal, be it in the form of LPs or live shows, so tape trading was huge. Every time someone went to Europe, they brought back cool releases which were transferred onto tape and shared. That’s how we got to know more bands and new genres. The only releases you could find in local record stores were bands that had major label deals. Like Def Leppard, AC/DC or Van Halen etc. This made us appreciate every piece of music we could get our hands on. Even a poorly dubbed cassette copy of Accept or Exodus was considered holy.
As for the band, it was fun but also hard work to start something in a market where the majority of the population is African and listens more to hip hop, kwaito or rap. There were no other musicians that could boost your enthusiasm in a healthy sort of rivalry. Nevertheless, I think it is exactly what made us stand out more. Since there was little happening, and no acts would visit Namibia, we motivated ourselves to create our own music. Our shows always had a high attendance, with people from different walks of life often coming for the pure energy of the live experience."
Some would see metal as purely a white person's music, but as we've seen this is untrue, surely it must be exciting to see other ethnicities across the world engage in metal music? On that note, do you feel metal music has helped to breakdown racial connotations that otherwise exist in the mainstream?
"It’s definitely exciting. I really enjoy seeing that, especially Botswana bringing out bands that are so devoted to metal. I think music has always been the universal language, but I don’t know if metal is really having that kind of impact on the mainstream in Southern Africa as you mentioned."
"I think many black Namibians regarded us as some kind of freak show, harmless but strange :-). A large part of the conservative white establishment definitely did not like us, which we were perfectly fine with. Many expats from Germany and the US turned up at our shows and became supporters. They probably could relate to the style much more than the locals."
Surely you must be pleased to be releasing this historic compilation in "Return To The Darkland"? Will it be released on vinyl in the future alongside a digital and CD release?; Can you tell us more about the DVD from the physical version, what does it cover?
"We're really excited about the historic compilation release of "Return To The Darkland". It would be totally awesome to see this release on vinyl in the future, alongside the CD and DVD. That would just complete the set. The DVD is presented in a documentary style, from within three timespans in which Arcana XXII was active, i.e. circa 2001. Narrated by Namibian musician and TV personality, Boli Mootseng, it includes interviews, live clips and 5 full length music videos (And who knows, maybe the last 3 music videos, 'Remember Forever', 'Untold' and 'Breathing In Me', would be included)."
Do you feel as a whole that African Metal for years was largely ignored or not taken notice of by metal media in Europe? Could you envisage years down the line a festival much like Bloodstock Open Air, but based in Africa?
"Absolutely, I think metal from Africa has indeed been largely ignored. But I also think that African acts haven’t really done enough to achieve that acclaim either. It would require touring and frequent solid releases. The first band that ever set foot on European soil in terms of touring and playing live, was my ex-band Voice Of Destruction. Then there was Groinchurn also. But there were never follow up tours etc to stay in the game."
"In my time with subMission I organised the annual Windhoek Metal Fest where we invited bands from neighbouring countries, that worked really well and contributed to the unification of the scene on the subcontinent, at least a little bit. We had three editions, all sold out. We also had requests from international bands, like Heaven Shall Burn, Tankard and Orden Ogan. We couldn't find sponsors for flight tickets, so that was it."
For metalheads visiting Windhoek, what sights / attractions and venues / bars could you recommend (under normal circumstances)?
"Oh wow, I think those would be purely from a tourist point of view. I would definitely recommend Namib Naukluft Park and the Namib Desert, which offer vast landscapes and really take you out of the rat race almost instantly. Also interesting is the coastline. Skeleton Coast has many historical ship wrecks, and the name says it all. A really treacherous and rough coastline."
"The first and only metal pub in Windhoek "Blitzkrieg Bunker Bar" died at the same time as subMission did, around 2010. So visitors are left with the usual tourist traps, like Joe's Beerhouse. Or some nice beach bars at the coast. I would recommend the Desert Tavern in Swakopmund."
What are you plans for the year ahead and leading into 2021?
"We view "Return To The Darkland" as a sort of retrospective view on all the material we have written and also a the closing chapter of the band. There will be no further music or live appearances as all the members have their own lives now in different parts of the world. Logistically it just would not work. Perhaps only with a new line up, if at all."
Do you have any greetings or thanks that you wish to send to out to friends, family and fans?
"Really only to the fans who show support to this day and of course Einheit Produktionen for making "Return To The Darkland possible."
Arcana XXII – “A Return To The Darkland / Untold” Digi CD+DVD expected to released 25.02.2021.