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A Taste of Siberian Steel….Interview with Alex Avdeev of Russian Metal Band, “Blacksword”

Posted in Interview, metal with tags , , , , , on April 22, 2010 by Eric Stevens


The other day I was able to interview Alex Avdeev, a member of the Siberian metal band Blacksword (formerly known as Stormbringer). Alex is their guitarist, and formerly was their vocalist, but now they have a more traditional metal singer by the name of Serge Konev. Ivan “the Viking” is the bassist, and he does acoustic guitars as well; Artyom Omelenchuk also plays guitars, and Vyacheslav Aparin plays drums.

Blacksword is an excellent traditional styled metal band that plays in an area of the world where playing their style of music involves commitment and sacrifice. They are dedicated to their craft, and for those unfamiliar with their music, you should check it out. There is a link to their official website as well as their myspace page at the end of this interview. Thanks again to Alex for agreeing to take the time to do this.

Here is the interview:

For those who are unfamiliar with your music and what you are about, would you mind describing the style of metal that you, guys, play?

The genre is Traditional US Power Metal-influenced Heavy Metal, where an intricate bass line goes into a powerful riff, while the vocals employ their wide range, and the drummer puts to use both of the bass drums. The lyrical content is inspired by Dark Fantasy (Sword & Sorcery) literature.

In the earlier days of the band there was a notable difference in your sound, with you doing the vocals—which were more of a death/black metal style if I remember correctly. Would you mind talking about some of the changes you, guys, have underwent, and how the current sound and vision for the band came about?
Ivan (the bass player and the founder) was desperate to start the band and find a vocalist. He just decided to commence playing, taking me from a local Death Metal band as a vocalist, thus setting off with a blend of Thrash and Death Metal genres. He tested the waters by changing guitarists, placing me at guitars and vocals, then, adding an extra guitar player, and eventually, a real singer came to our rehearsal one autumn day in 2007. Both Ivan and I were anxious to have him in Blacksword (Stormbringer then). That’s how we got to the current vision of Blacksword.

The philosophy of the band is the devotion to the genre. We’ve been trying to achieve something unique and effulgent that projects us from the other bands. The harsh Siberian environment has put a certain mark on our music as well (just for example, imagine yourself standing for forty minutes straight out in -27F waiting for a bus to come to get home and practice guitar).

You have a new album on the way, “Sword Accurst”. From what I have heard so far, this sounds like the best music you, guys, have done so far. This will be the first full-length album you, guys, have recorded, and will be released on the new American-based metal label, Echoes of Crom. When do you think we can expect this release, and what are your thoughts about it being released on this label?

Thank you very much, Eric! There’s nothing better than to be among the people you love to be encompassed with, a company of individuals sharing your thoughts and approving your decisions. The same is with Echoes of Crom, a label run by Howie Bentley, where only true metal bands are signed. You can talk to the label representatives without unpleasantness of being deigned upon and without having even the slightest chance of derided with being called “closed-minded” (which is actually a synonym for “focused”, whilst “open-minded” equalizes to “absent-minded”, so people don’t really take offense in that). These are my thoughts.

A person who is truly in metal, would have no trouble thinking whether he needs to buy a new release of Echoes of Crom, since the owner, Howie Bentley, has an elite taste in music, smiting away cross-genres like Groove, Folk, Nu, Alternative, Grindcore, and other unwanted material. You’ll most likely find Doom Metal, NWOBHM, Heavy Metal, US Power Metal on his label.

The street date will be soon after our artist, Lionel Barker, finishes the cover artwork for the album – he has been busy with it for weeks.

Your band has been compared to US power metal by some—do you like this comparison? What are some similarities (and differences), in your opinion, between US Power Metal and Blacksword’s music?

Certainly! We love it! We always admired the US culture, its music, literature, and amiable attitude to the others. Britain has invented the Heavy Metal genre, and the US took it to immeasurable heights. Ivan the Viking writes some elaborate and intricate instrument parts that you may find in US Power Metal, and at the same time, our vocals would remind you of the ‘80s US bands – those vocals that you’ll hear on Jag Panzer’s debut record, or all over the Attacker and Metal Church records.

We tried moving all the instruments in “the front row”. The difference with US Power Metal is, most noticably, that we are from the 21st century, and we are located in the middle of nowhere – that is, Siberia. I challenge you, the reader, to search for an outline of Siberia to find out where we live. (A tip: just search for “Siberian Federal District” on images.google.com.)

What are your thoughts on the current state of metal music—particularly in your area of the world?

There are many wonderful acts across the world, I could name a dozen off the top of my head; but there are, sadly, none in our area. I discover new great metal bands in many countries almost once a week – my friends and acquaintances on IRC and forums help me with that much, and I must thank them for that!

The other side of the coin, even with those bands, is that with so many people discovering torrents, social networks and file sharing services, the music industry is collapsing slowly, closing its portal to success for many bands that opt for quitting before even recording anything past a demo EP.

What is worse is that someone who listens to metal music would deride you if you say that you had bought a CD, or one would spew forth despicable gibber at a band that had asked the aforementioned person to take off lyrics or a song of theirs off their blog, social network page, or site. They think that they are sharing others’ property for pure advertisement purposes. Come to think of it: would you pilfer insignificant sums from a local small bank to give out the money to common folk, thus trying to attract more clients to the bank? That is not a laughing matter.

What does it mean to be a true metal band in your opinion, and what is it like being such a band in Russia? What have some of your experiences been?

Take a look at bands of the ’80s era, for example: Black Sabbath, Dio, Deadly Blessing, Trouble, Iron Maiden, or Helstar and you’ll see and hear the answer – the dark imagery, long hair, spikes and chains, attitude of rebellion, and natural philosophy of submerging into the atmosphere of such imagery with pleasure – try to put on a Heavy Metal record to someone who is into other kind of music, and he will flake out, ask you to turn it off and slide into spiteful depression from “hearing too much noise”.

Metal itself is prominent above anything else – its ingenious combination of lyricism and music, each of the highest quality, acquires its own entourage, a small retinue that venerates it, never giving up the respect. Let’s just say that when lyrically any other music restricts itself, metal is free from such fetters. Metal is a lot like English language – you spend your lifetime studying and listening to it, but you keep getting to the ultimate knowledge till the day you die.

Being in such a band is not quite too easy, but you always reap pleasure from the results, and I don’t even know how it’s possible to survive with it in Russia *laughs*. You can perpetrate Russian laws by wearing a shirt with Pagan symbolism, or, if someone reads a translation of your lyrics, your show can get banned, all the attendants might get searched for any sect paraphernalia. People in Siberia enjoy Russian lyrics in their metalcore, hardcore, grindcore, punk rock, folk rock, and symphonic -core bands. There’s no place for heavy metal music in the area filled with balalaikas, domras, xylophones, and saxophones.

Siberia itself would strike you as a place of the opposites: you get from -40F to 115F throughout the year, torrents of rain are taking turns with dry weather, snow covered with the wastes from the factories near rivers that doesn’t prevent us from swimming and swallowing the radioactive water there (I saw fish with exoskeletons and dandelions as large as a bobcat’s head!) The same goes to the world of music – a person here might listen to pop-rock and Death Metal and speak highly of both genres. Imagine playing something that sticks to one thing in these conditions while everyone around you tries to urge you to “try something different for a change”. That’s how we feel.

Recently you have changed your name from Stormbringer to Blacksword. Why the name change? Blacksword and Stormbringer are two different names for the same sword, as written about by Michael Moorcock in his sword and sorcery brand of fantasy, correct? What is the significance of this particular sword, and how does it relate to your music?

You are correct, Eric, it’s a direct synonym. We’ve been deciding changing our old name to something else for a long time. We did that not to disappear among all the other “Stormbringer”-named bands – we even had another local Stormbringer. One of those might eventually demand us or the label to drop the name.

The significance obviously lies in lyrical content, its Sword & Sorcery atmosphere.

Describe (briefly) your lyrical influences as well as your musical influences as a band—not necessarily who you might sound like, but rather—who has inspired you, guys.

Ivan wrote lyrics for two songs on the record, and I can tell you that he was influenced by M. Moorcock himself. I don’t have much influence from the world of music – I mostly have gathered my inspiration in stories written by Clark Ashton Smith and David C. Smith.

Musically, Attacker, Cauldron Born, Witchfinder General, Black Sabbath, Metal Church, Helstar, Manowar, Iron Maiden, Agent Steel, and Judas Priest have been our muse.

What are some of the themes you, guys, address with your music in terms of your lyrics and song content? Are there any dark themes or subject matter which characterizes any of your songs? Obviously Moorcock is an influence on your band’s name—so I am assuming your music is to a certain degree inspired by such literature. Would you care to elaborate?

In “Sword Arm”, for instance, the inspiration lies in David C. Smith’s work, “Engor’s Sword Arm”, which reveals the world of grim and dark atmosphere, as it commences to speculate on Bilitu, a vile wizard who takes a woman by force as his bride. Engor, a soldier of great strength, who misses one arm, comes to the rescue and steals away the girl only to have all his hopes shattered as the wizard traps his soul into his slave-bird ever making circles above his chateau.

But at the same time, “Hovering Plague” or “The Predatory Divine” speculates on the social and esoteric sides of humanity – the lyrics are original and almost independent of the aforementioned writers.
Ivan has written songs inspired by Moorcock’s writing, “Stormbringer” and “Elric’s Pride”, in a more straightforward approach, filling it with gloomy pathos.

Other songs were mostly influenced by C.A. Smith’s “Tales of Zothique” collection of stories.

Many metal bands often bring spiritual, religious or occult themes into their music, whether they are talking about Satanism, demonic rituals or whatever, or maybe speaking ill of organized religion. Is religion or the occult a theme that is ever addressed in any of your music?

Esoterica, as opposed to pragmatic things, were always a pivotal theme keeping Heavy Metal bands going on. When you read Sword & Sorcery literature, you always find wizards, ancient rites, denuciations of gods, and witches’ covens – I am sure this reflects in our music as well.

Do you have any favorite songs on the forthcoming album? And if so—describe what you like about them.

The favorite song depends on one’s mood – I can tell you that if you ask someone in our band about his favorite song at the moment, and ask him again in a day, you’ll get twain different replies. The key lies in the time Ivan put in composing the music – each track is like a whole new world!

What are some of the things which influenced you personally to play guitar, and what caused you to get into heavy metal particularly?

Near the time of my birth, I listened to various vinyl records at home, always favoring something, as I have perceived it as a boy in the period before puberty, with “screaming vocals drowning in loud guitars”. I had a long break from music in 1992 to 1996; but, as soon as I found at home a tape with Black Sabbath songs off their various albums at home, I started falling in real love with metal, resulting in an urge to pick up the guitar back in 1999. I was proselytized by Black Sabbath.

Are you or anyone else in Blacksword at all inspired by any non-metal bands or any other musical genre such as classical music or rock?

I am a metal purist, so you won’t find any non-metal CDs in my collection. Medieval music attracts Ivan the Viking, and he considers traditional English songs as masterpieces. Sometimes, he writes something in this direction, but that’s not for Blacksword.

I’ve noticed in one of your band pictures that you and Ivan seem to be flexing for the camera—who is stronger? I assume you guys have other hobbies such as weightlifting when you are not playing metal—what are some of these hobbies?

Ivan is the backbone for the band, and he needs to look that way to survive in the land where someone might endeavor to hurt you for long hair or loving metal. Ivan’s time all goes to composing songs and practicing his bass guitar, I think he’s good at girls and lifting weights too. My hobbies include reading Gothic literature of such writers as H. P. Lovecraft and E. A. Poe, reading Dark Fantasy (I’ve mentioned some authors previously in the interview), photography, the English language, and writing poems. The singer is sometimes busy with designing web pages, while all the remaining people are deeply submerged into practicing their instruments.

Do you guys currently play any shows around Siberia or anywhere else? If you could play shows anywhere you wanted to, what are some of the places you would play at?

Siberia is a poor Federal District, and we cannot afford going farther than our small part of the world. We’d love to play shows in Germany, Greece, the US, and many other countries. We need to release our CD first before thinking of any tours, and, of course, we need support to travel to play shows across Russia and the rest of the world.

Thanks for taking the time to do this interview, Alex. I wish your band the best and can’t wait for the new album to be released. Is there anything else you would like to add here—such as contact info or band news or anything else?

Thank you very much, Eric for the detailed interview! I hope you’ll like the CD!

If you wish to leave feedback, watch latest picture galleries, or read news, please visit our band website at http://blacksword-metal.com. My email is lunasyl@gmail.com. Or alternately, you can go to http://www.myspace.com/blackswordmetal and listen to our music before you buy the record! Feel free to add us.

Keep it metal guys, don’t forget to check Echoes of Crom (http://www.myspace.com/echoesofcromrecords) or our pages above for the further announcements!

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Interview with Howie Bentley of Briton Rites

Posted in doom metal, Interview with tags , , , , , , , on March 20, 2010 by Eric Stevens

Howie Bentley, mastermind behind Briton Rites

I recently was able to do an interview with Howie Bentley, who is the creator and mastermind behind two awesome metal bands actually: Cauldron Born (epic/technical metal), and more currently, a traditional doom and British-style metal project, Briton Rites. Briton Rites features Howie Bentley on guitars and bass, Phil Swanson on vocals (Hour of 13), and Corbin King on drums (of Vainglory). Howie himself, like with the Cauldron Born material, has pretty much written all of the music and lyrics behind Briton Rites. He hails from north Georgia, the state where I also currently reside–where there has also not been much of a metal scene for years. The fact that he is a metal musician in this state is proof alone of his commitment to playing metal music.

Under the band Cauldron Born, he has released two demos (which have been compiled into one CD known as “God of Metal”) and two full studio albums, Born of the Cauldron and …And Rome Shall Fall. It has been about 8 years since the last Cauldron Born CD, however, and many were beginning to wonder if and when he would release any new material. Now we won’t have to wait much longer…Howie has written some new material with a slightly different direction, and this new metal project is known as Briton Rites. I have asked him a few questions regarding himself and his view of metal music, and also a few questions about this new material. Here is the interview:

How did you get into playing metal music?

My father played guitar and he encouraged me to play. I had a guitar when I was a kid but I wasn’t much interested in it. When I was around fourteen, a cousin called my attention to an Ozzy song on the radio. A little while later I heard the Black Sabbath album, Paranoid. I was really just pulled in by the sound and atmosphere of Black Sabbath. I picked up the first Ozzy album and some Black Sabbath. Then I started reading magazines about these bands and learned that this is Heavy Metal. So, I started trying to get my hands on any Heavy Metal that I could find: Priest, Scorpions…a little later on I got Iron Maiden’s Killers album. I t just took off from there. It wasn’t long before I was a full fledged Metal Maniac! This was the early ‘80s, the Golden Age.

What constitutes “real” metal in your opinion—what is your philosophy of metal if you will?

Real Metal is dark, ominous and speaks to your mind on a primal level. The roots are in the British bands: Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest. It is not “crotch rock” like Def Leppard, Van Halen and Motley Crue. Heavy Metal lyrics are about witches, black masses, demons, Atlantis, barbarians, wizards and so on. Even if it weren’t for the lyrics, the music would still give you this sort of feeling like you have escaped into this really cool, fantastic world for awhile. Heavy Metal is not about partying, relationships or whining (like some hippies and grunge bands do). This has always been a hard question for me to answer. I suppose I can better tell you what it is not in an effort to define it.

Do you have any non-metal influences, such as any classical music influences perhaps?

I do like a little classical music, though I used to listen to it more than I do now. I enjoy the standard stuff like Bach, Beethoven and Mozart but I prefer more dissonant classical music from composers like Stravinsky, Bartok and Holst. Outside of classical music, I don’t listen to anything but Heavy Metal on my own time. I will say that I am really tired of all of these guitar players who fancy themselves modern day Mozarts with electric guitars. This kind of music has gravitated so far away from the roots of British Heavy Metal and the guitar riff, and closer to pop music like Abba and pretentious “classical” influences. When the keyboards become more important than the guitar riffs, it is time to go.

What are your current thoughts on the state of metal music?

It is much better than it was a few years back. I think that Metal has become more refined in that most of the people who now play it really love it. There is no next level to go to with it aside from the Underground, so this pretty much shuts the opportunists out. The lack of support for Metal is so bad sometimes that it almost shuts out those who really want to play it, though. It is a good time for fans of True Heavy Metal music, but maybe not so good for those who want to play it, as it is little more than an expensive hobby for the musicians.

Let’s talk about Briton Rites. I have heard two songs from album so far, Carmilla and a Meeting in the Woods. This material seems much different from the Cauldron Born material…not quite as fast-paced and complex as CB, with more of a primitive metal sound. Whereas I can hear influences like Helstar/Iron Maiden in Cauldron Born, Briton Rites sounds more influenced by stuff like early Black Sabbath—can you elaborate on this change? What was your vision behind Briton Rites?

I like the same stuff I always have: Sabbath, Maiden, Priest, Venom, Mercyful Fate and so on. But in the last few years I have been on a big Doom kick. I read that one of the guys in Candlemass was really high on a band called Reverend Bizarre, so I picked up Reverend Bizarre’s CRUSH THE INSECTS album. At first I wasn’t sure if I really liked it, but sometimes you have to have repeated listenings of a good Metal album to really appreciate it. After awhile I got really hooked on it. That song “The Devil Rides Out” reminded me a lot of an old favorite band of mine-Witchfinder General. So I dug out my Witchfinder General albums and that got me missing early Black Sabbath. Even though I grew up listening to early Sabbath as well as the post Ozzy albums, for a long time I just gravitated away from Ozzy-era Sabbath. I think it might have been because a lot of grunge bands (my enemies) were citing Ozzy [era] Sabbath as an influence, which none of them really sounded anything like. Anyway, that was a very superficial reason for me to lose touch with an old favorite. It was a combination of the Witchfinder General influence and rediscovering those first eight Sabbath albums that made me decide on this new musical direction.

Backtracking a little, I was reading Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Gothic Horror novelette, CARMILLA, a few years back. CARMILLA is a story about a female vampire who preys on young girls. That story made such an impression on me that I thought, “I have to make some music that makes me feel like this story does.” I didn’t think the style I was doing with Cauldron Born really embodied that aesthetic properly, and I had been listening to early Sabbath, Witchfinder General, and Trouble a lot, so things just naturally started to go in that direction.

I really enjoyed the short story “Young Goodman Brown,” which is what your song meeting in the woods reminds me of—except it’s like Hawthorne meets Lovecraft. What was your idea behind this song? What are some of the other themes that are explored on this album?

I read “Young Goodman Brown” back when I was in high school, and it left a lasting impression on me-the protaganist coming upon a witches’ sabbath in the woods. I really like the atmosphere of that story, how Hawthorne seems to see the Devil everywhere he looks. I was looking back on that story with my vision tinted by Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. It was perfect subject matter for Briton Rites lyrics.

Other themes: Vampirism, witchery, and demonic possession with a twist.

I like how you also draw influence from obscure horror films, as on the song Carmilla. What are some other movies or books that have been influential in your music, particularly in your Briton Rites material?

Well, my favorite authors are a constant source of inspiration: Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft ,Clark Ashton Smith, Richard L. Tierney, David C. Smith and Karl Edward Wagner. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” novelette is really what inspired me to start writing this kind of music, though. Also, reading “Carmilla” got me watching all of those old Hammer films again, which in turn inspired me even more.

I have noticed, both with the Cauldron Born material and with the Briton Rites material I have heard so far, that some of your lyrics have some pretty dark themes. I like the fact that you draw upon many different sources and influences when writing about these subjects, whether these sources and influences are mythological, literary, historical or even sometimes religious. It seems that a lot of modern bands, rather than being creative when exploring such themes in their music, usually just jump on the satanic bandwagon, since it seems to be a quick way to get attention. Just paint a pentagram on the album cover, have a couple of song titles with 666 in the name, and since about satanic stuff. It really does seem to me, however, that this has become quite trite and does not take much imagination….it seems like a lot of these bands are just posing. What are your thoughts on this? Also, do you think exploring “dark” subject matter is something that is indispensable to writing metal music, or is it merely indispensable to your style of metal?

I am sure there are some bands who just throw these things around for attention, but there is also a reason that Satanic imagery is such an important part of Heavy Metal music. Satan, as a mythological character, is probably the most powerful symbol of rebellion in Western culture. Heavy Metal is the music of true rebellion so it is just natural that it would embrace the image of Satan as a figurehead. A lot of Satanic imagery and dark occult symbolism reach the mind on a subtle level and excites it-so does Heavy Metal music. People who perceive this feeling usually react one of two ways: metalheads enjoy and embrace this feeling. The other people are disturbed by it. So when you see pentagrams, inverted crosses, goat-headed images, Baphomet and so on…these things are staples of Heavy Metal music, just like long hair, black leather, spikes and wild, pointy- shaped electric guitars.

Exploring dark subject matter lyrically is indispensable to making real Metal music and certainly has always been a part of my music. These dark themes are what originally drew my attention to Heavy Metal. I see all of these guys playing all kinds of music making the horned-hand sign. I say they have no business throwing the horns unless they have at least one song about the Devil.

What is the degree to which religion (whether pagan, Christian, or otherwise) plays a part in your music and lyrics?

Heavy Metal is my religion, but I really enjoy using different types of mythology to tell stories in my lyrics. A lot of guys in Black Metal bands [condemn] Christianity, not realizing we have all of these wonderfully macabre stories and legends that are a byproduct of the religion. Powerful stuff! Same thing with Paganism. Supernatural horror is one of my favorite topics, lyrically, and if it wasn’t for Christianity, these stories of witches, warlocks, demons and lamiae wouldn’t exist, at least not in the potency that we know them today.

None of the Cauldron Born albums featured any instrumental songs….have you ever thought about writing a song that is purely instrumental?

At one time I wanted to do some instrumental music. I think instrumental music is more for guitar players to show off. I am kind of past that now. I am more into just creating a particular atmosphere with the music and lyrics. I have such a great time writing lyrics that I get much more satisfaction out of that than just wanking endlessly on the guitar. Now, if there are any future Cauldron Born albums, there may be some long instrumental passages in context of some vocal songs, but they will exist to create that atmosphere that I spoke of instead of being there to say”look what I can do!”

Will you attempt to play any live shows if the fan response to Briton Rites is significant enough?

Sure. If the other guys are up for it, then I am.

What is your favorite song from the forthcoming album? Can you describe what it’s like and why you like it the most?

That is too hard of a question. I think that there isn’t a weak song on the album. Karnstein Castle means a lot to me. I got an immense sense of satisfaction from writing that one. There is a little surprise there. I can’t say what it is yet.

How are things coming with your record label, and what can we expect regarding the release of the new album? Is it going to be released under your own label still? I know there have been a few snags along the way of the album’s release—will it be released soon?

So far, so good. There were some delays, mainly due to the artwork. We are almost finished with everything and the album will be going to the manufacturer in the next few days. The album will be released on my label, Echoes Of Crom Records. For those who have yet to hear Briton Rites you can listen to a couple of songs here:

http://www.myspace.com/britonrites

I will also be releasing a band called Blacksword. They are a phenomenal band from Siberia but they sound like good ol’ USPM. They have a rare and original sound. I think this is partly due to where they originate from. Nice Sword & Sorcery lyrics inspired by the likes of Michael Moorcock and Clark Ashton Smith(they sing in English, of course). Their debut album is called “The Sword Accurst”, and you can check them out at:

http://www.myspace.com/blackswordmetal

Thanks for taking the time to do this interview…it is a pleasure to hear from you, and it is always exciting anticipating another album from you. Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Thanks to you, Eric, for your support and the opportunity to talk about my new band and my label. To all of you who are into traditional Doom Metal and/or NWOBHM, buy the album(don’t download it), so I can afford to keep putting this stuff out. You can contact me at: mail@howiebentley.com

mail@britonrites.com

echoesofcromrecords@yahoo.com