Interview with Vadim Kotov of Renunciation by Dave Wolff
As latecomers to Russian extreme metal, Renunciation formed in 2019 after extensive experience as musicians. This band was formed with the intention of combining various subgenres of metal, especially death metal and black metal. In your compositions, what elements of each genre do you mix and how far back does the band's experience go?
All musicians in Renunciation have more than ten years of band experience and our vocalist Demether began his music career back in the last century, he performed in dozens of bands. The band members played everything from alternative rock to brutal death metal. As regards mixing of styles, for example, we use technical death metal riffing and arrangements over black metal harmonies, it's different from what most death-black metal bands do. You will rarely hear shredding 250+ bpm 16th notes in such music. Also, our chord progressions are often more prog than extreme metal. Moreover, some people see elements of thrash metal and even grindcore in our music. Indeed, some of our riffs are inspired by bands like Sepultura or Napalm Death. It turns out that the label 'melodic black/technical death' is just a simplification but we never intended to do a musical revolution and create a whole unique genre. We just play what we like and don't limit ourselves to clichés and standards.
What inspired you to name the band Renunciation? Is there a meaning the name is meant to put across?
We searched for a word that contains great rebellious potential and is at the same time not too forthright or hackneyed. And of course, this word should have reflected the lyrical concept of the band: rethinking and denial of metaphysical ideas and thought patterns that spoil our consciousness.
Have the members of Renunciation experimented with extreme music before, or is what you’re doing a new approach? How do you make Renunciation unique among other bands in your country?
The musical backbone of Renunciation is from two brothers, Alexey and Vadim, who play also in the technical/progressive death metal band Humaniac for ten years. And the approach in both bands can be called systematic chaos (hello to Dream Theater). The main difference is that in Humaniac chaos>system, in Renunciation it is backward, the system is over chaos, and every song can be called a calculated construction. And this is what distinguishes Renunciation not only from other Russian bands but from most bands all over the world (how often do you hear about calculation and rationality in interviews?). Every note or stroke in our songs exists according to an inner logic that connects seemingly dissimilar elements. It doesn't mean that Renunciation’s music is artificial or soulless. Any cool song in any style is logically perfect, the matter is how this logic is achieved. Most musicians rely on feelings and consistency is a consequence. But we go the other way, first of all, we use logic and the emotional intensity comes after. And we are sure this approach has a right to exist: for example, Rachmaninoff or Beethoven used a lot of rational thinking while composing. It would be ideal to combine logical and emotional approaches and we strive for it. Also, to prove our statement about the uniqueness of Renunciation we can say that targeting in social media was a real challenge for us. Although our music consists of well-known elements, we couldn't find anything that sounds likewise. In Russia for sure.
Name some of the bands you were involved in before Renunciation was formed. Can any albums, EPs, or singles by those bands be found on the web?
The Kotov brothers (Alexey and Vadim) play in the technical/progressive/symphonic death metal band Humaniac, songwriting approach in Renunciation and Humaniac is similar. Polina's main project now is Blackthorn, a quite well-known all-female extreme metal band, and Instorm (melodic death metal). Demether played in dozens of bands, most actual of which are Zmey Gorynych (folk metal/deathcore) and БѢСЪ (Bes, pagan black metal). We'll share only Bandcamp links, all these bands are rather active on the internet and their other stuff can be easily found.
How do you and the band distinguish technical/progressive death metal from brutal death metal?
In theory, we see technicality, progressiveness, and brutality as independent characteristics, that can be mixed in any proportion and there are no borders between them, they are just on different coordinate axes. But only in theory, I repeat, in practice, it's not that simple. I think the main difference between progressive/technical and brutal death metal that we see now is that in the first genre tonal approach is widely used, and in the second one music is more modal (sorry for being nerdy). In other words, progressive/technical death metal bands often utilize 'regular' chord progressions that can be acknowledged even by non-metalheads and sound harmonic despite of complexity. Brutal death metal guys use this much less often, their music is based on weird scales (often simple chromatic), that sound absolutely cacophonic to unprepared listeners (for prepared often too). But of course, there are exceptions to this explanation.
How do you balance inner logic and rationality when composing by the process you described?
We always look at the final result, how it sounds and how the people will perceive it, Renunciation doesn't want to be ‘only for internal use’. We have rather big life and music experience and take care of many aspects from listeners’ point of view. In any case, that's what we're aiming for, but of course, we have a lot to work on. And we are waiting for feedback on our album, criticism is crucial for becoming better.
How do you tell criticism that’s genuinely constructive from criticism designed to slam what you’re doing without understanding?
Of course, we don't have a standard working algorithm, but what we pay attention to is the manner of speech, how deep the person understands such music (this is of course personal value judgment), and how detailed and reasonable the criticism is. Minimum useful conclusions can be drawn from phrases like "Sorry, I don't like this".
Is there any musical or aesthetic similarity between Renunciation and Dream Theater?
Reference to Dream Theater in one of our previous answers was just because of their album title, Systematic Chaos. As regards DT itself, they of course made an impression on us at one time: for example, our guitarist shredding style is under the strong influence of John Petrucci. Personally I (Vadim Kotov) still listen to them (even to new stuff), but when it comes to aesthetics... let's answer this way: we are an extreme metal band, we are 100% on the dark side, Dream Theater is definitely not.
What led to the band deciding to write in such a meticulous way and stand out from other bands in Russia? Did you see some sort of stagnation in extreme music at the time? Or were there too many bands that sounded similar due to streaming platforms?
It happened just naturally, there was no intention to do it in a way nobody does. Only many years later we realized that our approach is very different from what others do. But, as we said, there was no conscious decision to do something very special and in a special way. As regards the extreme music, we don't think that there's stagnation right now. If you compare the heaviest bands in 1981 and in 1991 and then the heaviest bands in 2012 and 2022, it would be obvious that the evolution of metal nowadays goes much slower than several decades ago, but such jumps as in the 80's cannot appear constantly. We see many experiments and attempts to extend the borders of the genre now. Will it cause significant changes and shifts or not - let's wait and see. And that all to the third question: yes, there are many similar-sounding bands now (not only because of streaming platforms), but the number of bands has also increased. And there came into sight more interesting bands too. How has the percentage of 'good' or 'bad' bands changed? It's hard to say, let it to the researchers of the future.
How is underground music in Russia viewed in Russian society? I’ve heard of punk bands having to leave the country due to their lyrics. Do metal bands have the same experiences?
Almost all styles except pop music, hip-hop, and old school Russian rock are underground in Russia today. Metal music especially. Despite the relative success that some Russian metal bands have gained in the world (Arkona for example), heavy metal here is considered something strange and outdated: in stupid TV parodies, metalheads always appear as weird guys with unwashed hair in Metallica T-shirts and leather pants. Philistine ideas about this culture remain at the level of the 90s. Apparently, the situation with other styles like electronic music or indie rock is similar. That's one of the reasons why the underground has almost no problems with police and FSB (Russian FBI) - they are just not interested in us, we are too minor for them. Unless it's not about the drugs...
There were some conflicts with Christian activists and petty tyrant local officials, but these cases remain episodic. We can expect the situation to become worse because of the war in Ukraine, but we don't see any reprisals against musicians so far, only sporadic restrictions to perform specific songs appear sometimes. As regards punks that had to leave Russia: as far as I know, the only one who emigrated was the guy from Тараканы! (The Cockroaches), and it was his deliberate decision. I didn't think I'd ever say this, but our authorities are now quite tolerant of dissent.
Describe the conflicts the band had with Christian activists and local officials. In what ways has the Ukraine war affected the band?
Specifically, our band had no conflicts with Christian activists or authorities. Speaking of others, there was a trial against Pussy Riot, who were imprisoned for their dance in a temple, but it was long ago and they can hardly be called musicians. Nowadays the only problems the bands can face are activists with placards near the venue and some talks with the police. Very rarely you can be banned from performing some songs with extremist or abusive lyrics by the tribunal's decision. As regards Ukraine, it's much harder to ship merch and to do money transactions now. Also, targeting in social media became very ineffective. But we will surely find a solution.
Besides the subject matter you hinted at, has Renunciation written any lyrics about the incidents we discussed happening in Russia? Also, do you think media in other countries accurately describes said events concerning Pussy Riot and The Cockroaches?
It doesn't correspond to our lyrical concept. Singing about current social or political events - in our case this would look like a cheap and inappropriate attempt to hype, we are not punks nor Roger Waters. As for the situation with the mentioned bands, I didn't follow foreign media in this case. I don't think that these events seriously affected the attitude towards Russia in the world.
Why do you think that attitudes toward metal and other forms of underground music have remained the same in Russia for so long?
Contemporary Western music was really popular in Russia after the fall of the iron curtain, in the late 80's and 90's, metal of course too, and all the stereotypes are inherited from this period because it was the only time when underground received coverage in mass media and on TV. Then, when capitalist paradise never came, interest in 'peregrin' culture subsided, and only styles with a focus on lyrics remained really popular (majority of people in Russia always thought that lyrics are more important than the music itself). Moreover, hip-hop received governmental support in the 00's. That's how it is in general terms, without digging into historical details.
You mentioned something about the rethinking and denial of metaphysical ideas and thought patterns. What did you mean by this and how did you come up with this concept for your lyrics?
It may sound vague, but the themes we cover in our songs are quite specific: criticism of monotheism (not only organized religion) and anthropocentrism, rethinking the concepts of Satan and evil, unveiling some logical misconceptions (for example, many people think that atheism is believing in that there's no god. In fact atheism is about not believing in god, that's a big difference). The songs in Russian are about more down-to-earth things like fate and personal choice. As regards the concept in general, we all like the idea that science and occultism may be united in the future when there will be a breakthrough in neurobiology. That's why we show a 'more scientific' approach to classical black metal themes in our lyrics.
In 2020 you released two versions of your EP “The Terminal Archetype”, one with vocals and one without. What shaped your decision to release it in two formats?
It's a common practice now, isn't it? We immodestly think that our music is quite intense and interesting even without vocals. Anyway, we released the instrumental version only on platforms, where our main fan base is.
“The Terminal Archetype” contains two previously released singles, “Arrogance of Worms” and “Deliverance From God”. Were those songs meant to preview your EP when they came out?
Sure, plus we wanted to test our stuff and see the audience's reaction. As a result, the EP versions of these songs differ from the singles ones, we have upgraded some riffs.
What are your personal views about monotheism, satanism, atheism, and anthropocentrism, and what aspects of those views you hold are specifically discussed in your songs?
To be brief, we are against monotheism in all its manifestations. And also against theistic satanism and the idea that Satan is an 'evil' god and needs worshipping. Atheism - that's ok, but it's just a point of view, that's not enough to form an ideology. If someone really wants to know our views better, he can just read the lyrics, it's quite concrete.
How are your attitudes concerning fate vs personal choice expressed by the band? Why do you think people hold such a strong belief in fate as opposed to taking responsibility to make personal choices?
We don't believe in predestination and think that anyone has a choice in any situation. It doesn't mean that the choices are equally reasonable, but any choice is your responsibility. And of course, this is unacceptable for the majority because it needs to be 100% honest and even merciless with yourself.
What connections do you see between science and occultism? In what ways will a future breakthrough in neurobiology help to unite the two?
The main problem is that magic and occultism refers to subjective experience that cannot be reproduced in an experiment. They deal mostly with subconsciousness, a very poorly understood part of our psyche. Probably studies in neurobiology will change it and help to interpret personal experience and make it look more scientific. Or the opposite, issues with interpretation will lead to changes in epistemology.
Which of your songs most accurately put across your religious (or non-religious) views?
Probably “Deliverance from God” and “Empty Hell for Empty Shells” from the upcoming album. Verses in the last one contain many statements to think about. Also, we note that none of us consider ourselves satanists and there is no overtly satanic propaganda in our songs.
Is the band gaining more of a following outside Russia? Which countries have you been reaching through social media and streaming sites?
We are happy with listeners from all countries and did social media campaigns to cover the whole world. Our band is still small and we don't think that we have countries with big fan bases outside Russia, but we do ship merch and CDs and get positive comments from all over the world: Australia, USA, France etc. We hope that connection with them won't be lost in these difficult times.
Is it becoming harder to ship merch outside your country these days?
Shipping in several countries is almost impossible now. In some, it is much more expensive, but we don't feel that we are isolated from the world. Anyway, we here in Russia are used to overcoming obstacles and restrictions.
Is there subject matter you haven’t included in your lyrics that you would be interested in writing about for future releases?
A difficult question, we'll think about it later. Although I write the major part of the lyrics, I don't like it too much. Probably lyrics for new releases will mostly be written by our vocalist Demether. This could lead to some shifts in lyric themes, but that's okay; we are musicians, not preachers or ideologists.
Tell the readers about your most recent single and the new album you’re working on? Will the new single also be included on the album?
The upcoming album continues the course taken on the EP: a combination of elements from different heavy metal subgenres but without being totally avant-garde and experimental. This record will be more complex than the EP but also more solid at the same time. And the single from the LP called "To Separate the Soul from Flesh" is a good example of what has been said: this is our longest song with some insane guitar parts but also with a clear structure.
This far you have released all your material independently. Are you seeking a label to distribute your upcoming album to wider audiences? Are any labels interested at this point?
We have released the EP via the Portuguese label Brutal Cave, and the album will be out with help of the Russian label Sound Age. But both contracts are just revenue-sharing agreements with limited distribution, we are too underground to be signed on more favorable terms now. But we plan to dedicate more time to the band to make Renunciation, not just a side-project. I hope this will help us to get better contract offers too.
Is there anything else you want to plug on the band’s behalf before signing off?
Thanks for the interview and unfeigned interest in us and our music. Hope you'll like our new album and see that even in Evil Empire there are people passionate about extreme music.