The review I wrote of Die Entweihung's latest full-length “Strict Regime Country” examines the long and gradual process of your transition from raw black metal to blackened heavy metal with a variety of influences. The use of keyboards and divergent song structures was an important part of this process. How did you go about finding the sound you were looking for?
Actually, everything is simple here - my music is always changing (evolving, if you like) in accordance with my musical tastes in a specific period of time. By playing any of the albums, you can at least fragmentary determine which bands inspired me at the time of working on this or that music. If we go into specifics - for the first few years I was a fan of raw black metal, both fast and evil, as well as a slow direction, started on Burzum’s “Filosofem”, and subsequently called DSBM, so all musical research took place within the framework of this style - no matter what experiments I did conduct, anyway dirty black metal remained at the base. After a few albums, I felt cramped within the framework of black metal, and, to be honest, my interest in this music in general began to wane. Therefore, gradually the basis of my style began to move towards more classical metal, and black metal is now only a small part of the total mass of what constitutes Die Entweihung’s music. In 2015, with the album “Neverending Terrorism”, I came to what I called “Melodic Dark Metal” for simplicity, but in fact the current definition of “Blackened Heavy Metal” is much closer to all my music of recent years. The keys are still used, but also very fragmentary, and long compositions have given way to shorter ones - all these are consequences of changing one style to another (to give a specific music example, it's like to take the style of the “Filosofem” album originally, and, say, Rotting Christ’s “A Dead Poem” later).
Tell the readers why you decided to do Die Entweihung as a solo project instead of working with other musicians.
When I first started listening to heavy music, I, like most, dreamed that one day I would have my own rock band, with all the attributes - long hair, a cool image, concerts, etc. But life decreed otherwise - after moving to Israel, after a while I became a big fan of black metal, especially the depressive suicidal direction that was gaining popularity, as well as the raw “true” sound. Most of the formations playing such music, even then in the 2000s, were mostly either duets or one-man bands, without concerts and any signs of regular rock or metal bands. In general, my project at the start followed the same path - I composed, recorded, along the way gaining experience and learning sound recording, mixing, etc. by myself. Several times I had thoughts about finding additional musicians, a couple of times I was even invited to play in other bands, but nothing came of it. Well, after I started attending local concerts, I finally abandoned the idea of a real band - I came to concerts and saw guys who often traveled from the other side of the country to perform for fans, and as a result were forced to play for a couple dozen drunk or stoned pseudo-rock fans who don't give a shit about the background sounds for breaking each other's noses and waving their hair. This prospect did not suit me in any way, especially with music like mine, the way to the stage was closed to me, hehehe. After all these years, I feel like I made the right choice - I'm doing great on my own, although in the last few years I like to have guest musicians for solos, vocals, etc, but still 99% of the work is still on me. And yes, there is almost no freedom left in life anyway, I'm glad that at least I have the freedom to make my music the way I want it to be, without compromising with other musicians who see the picture differently.
In researching and experimenting with different subgenres of metal, did you make a conscious decision or did you gravitate towards what you felt and what spoke to you at the time? Are there different themes on each album as a result?
I don't think there were any conscious decisions. I have always composed music the way I felt, and basically all the experiments and attempts at something else happened spontaneously - while, as I said, the basis has always remained black metal (in the first period of creativity), or more oriented towards classical metal (modern period).
Do you mean themes of lyrics? In the first, more experimental period, lyrics were written under the influence of various things - everything influenced, films, lyrics of other bands, life itself, some pseudo-philosophical topics were going through as well... moreover, I also wrote both in Russian and English, and usually it was a spontaneous move; today it is written this way, tomorrow it will be different … The modern period has more order in this aspect as well – now all the lyrics are in English.
In what ways do classical inspiration and keyboards contribute to the malevolent theme of Die Entweihung's music, as they did on your earliest releases?
As for the keyboards, I was mainly inspired by keyboards in the spirit of the ambient works of classic black metal bands. In the 90s many bands added some kind of atmospheric pieces to this music, interludes, intros and outros ... some composed entire albums in this style (now people call it dungeon synth). I had at my disposal a virtual synthesizer, rather simple, but nevertheless, it served me well. On early albums I liked to mix live raw guitar sound with “virtual” electronic, in some compositions the electronic fragments were separate, in some they were a light background, and in some - and this is what, in my opinion, turned out most successfully - when the keyboards added real epicness to the overall metal component. In general, I never adhered to the point of view that “real metal should only be guitar-drums-oriented”. I think this is the style of music where you can successfully combine completely different, sometimes seemingly incompatible things, the main thing is to do it really with taste, rather than adding something without a specific purpose... In general, this is what I adhere to now, incorporating various not-quite-metal elements into my music.
You have shown that bands and solo projects can remain heavy/brutal/extreme while progressing. What is the importance of combining evil themes, heaviness, and depth in your work?
I would say it's a consequence of my background as a listener. I have always paid more attention to music (whether it's heavy or not), which was not only entertainment, but also made me find some serious or important ideas in it. One of the most important inspirations for me has always been Metallica (obvious/banal? I don't care!), the best albums of which embodied 100% everything that makes hard rock/metal so attractive for me - power, heaviness and drive, but at the same time a lot of melodies, drama, gloomy and serious themes in the lyrics. Perhaps this has always been the basis of creativity for me - not to torture the strings just for the sake of a wall of sound or to create an atmosphere, but to try to create a really interesting melody or riff. Although, I wouldn't say my music is that heavy - I've never lowered my guitar tuning, never played at super speeds, and even blast beats have only been used on a few songs. But the level of sound severity I need is always there.
I myself listen to a wide variety of music. It doesn't matter whether or not it’s “popular”; I listen to it if it speaks to me. I appreciate bands that progress naturally rather than forcing rock or pop into it to appear "open-minded" (including extreme metal bands finding new ways to express their brutality). Have you been inspired by the natural growth of any bands?
In general, I would not talk about direct inspiration in this case. My music changes purely by the way I feel. The main influence is just the music that I listen to in this particular period of time (I already talked about this at the very beginning of the interview), and it's quite possible that tomorrow I'll start listening to tons of black and extreme metal again and the new album will again be stuffed with raw guitars, and all the ballads and female vocals will be sent to the trash can (although the probability that this will happen is 0.666%). But if we take, let's say, indirect inspiration, it is definitely present. I mean those bands that I have been listening to for many years (so to speak, my personal classics) - the aforementioned Metallica, which only the lazy did not kick, for guys’ musical tricks since 1991. Or, for example, Paradise Lost, who at one time got even harder than Metallica during the period 1997-2002. Actually I can't be called an orthodox metalhead - as a rule, I like some kind of experimental or “non-classical” periods of many bands. For example, my two favorite Kreator albums are “Outcast” and “Endorama”. Tiamat - besides “Wildhoney” I like “Skeleton Skeletron” a lot, and all those of early doom/death albums don't impress me at all. If we take the classics of black metal and specifically, for example, Mayhem - my favourite album is “Grand Declaration of War”, which many people talk shit about, but for me this is one of the masterpieces of rock music in general, and Blasphemer for me is a really talented dude, with his composer’s thinking and technique, he’s much stronger not only than Euronymous but also many others into the BM circle. Summing it up - for me there are no problems with experiments, and I'm only happy when the next band tries something new, if they do it honestly, and not trying just to get into the trend.
There is an emphasis on keyboards and a sense of dark carnival in some of your albums. Can you tell me how much of those themes you are currently incorporating into your songwriting?
I think I understand what you mean by “dark carnival”, haha! Good definition... Well, the peak of my passion for, as you said, “carnivals” came in 2011-2012, when I wrote and recorded a whole album of such a carnival, it was “5 Circles Of Loneliness”, inspired not only by atmospheric black metal keyboard passages but by such projects as Enigma as well - this is an album on which in general there’s no metal or rock, just keyboards as I used them fragmentary on previous albums. After that, the work of Die Entweihung moved towards the guitar sound, and the carnival keys began to take up much less space. With the final style change in 2015, keys in any form are now exclusively a background tool (Although “Neverending Terrorism” had a couple of fully key fragments yet), and are used minimally. With the change of course, there was no place for atmospheric electronics, let's say so.
Describe the transition you took from depressive topics to more political topics as Die Entweihung progressed.
The early period did not have a clear lyrical concept, and the lyrics of the first albums carried the standard metal nihilism: death, depression, something like soul-searching, various dark things. In general, the lyrics then were written with meaning for sure, but I wrote it more for myself than for someone else. When Die Entweihung changed the musical direction, the lyrics also changed - firstly, I completely switched to English (before that, the lyrics were partly in English, partly in Russian), secondly, a clear concept of the lyrics was developed - a description of the darkness that is happening in the world, and politics in this case is only one of the topics, I have never been and will not be a socio-political artist, like, say, Napalm Death. One of the topics that I also touch on is the dependence of modern people on the Internet and all kinds of devices - what can I say, when now a pet or a newborn child has their own pages on social networks, like and repost have become the best reward for any creativity, and the best friend man has now is his hand in which he holds a smartphone. In short, the theme of the songs has changed, but it is only partly political.
Does the darker, more violent nature of your music reflect some of the topics you have written about, such as 9/11 and the Belarusian situation on which your latest album was based?
I must say that all the lyrics are written to ready-made music, but I don't really think about how the specific theme of this or that text corresponds to the gloom or heaviness of the composition... I guess that maybe some lyrics on a very gloomy theme are set to not-so-gloomy metal, how it could be done. I remember one of the reviewers lamented that the politically charged lyrics in “Death is Primadonna” (2015) don't go well with overt musical bass “buzz” (?) or something like that. That reviewer said the music was too “non-dramatic” for that text. But I don’t think that in my case, the topical text must necessarily be combined with some kind of musical drama - after all, I don’t propagandize, I don’t scare or scold - I just state my point of view on what is happening, or I just describe something what is happening, without any instructions from my side. It’s just something like “here we are, now the world is in such or such ass, guys, look at what is happening to us now”. But to instruct or teach - I do not have such rights, I am not a guru and not a philosopher. I just love music.
The 9/11 theme, as everyone knows it, was used only once on the album “Neverending Terrorism” (“What happened on September Eleven, soon it'll be going on twenty-four/seven” (c)), which was actually the encrypted title of the album, hehe. On the new album, dedicated to the events in Belarus, one of the composition is titled “Their Own Tragic 9/11” but it actually refers to the first three days of the protest, which turned life in Belarus completely upside down. On August 9, another “election” of the president took place, and on the same evening, the people went to protests, and it was those first three days that became, perhaps, the most brutal and bloody in the actual history of country, when people were en masse taken to the pre-trial detention center, and they left it as they were going through the real war: beaten, broken, raped, etc.
With the theme of Belarus, I’d say the situation is somewhat different: I decided to make an album about the events in Belarus, because this is actually the only way I can help my native country in this situation and musically the album can be said to live on its own - I wrote about these events in order just to attract the attention of at least those few fans who might read the lyrics of the album and be interested in the topic. Because if we now read the news, where Belarus is mentioned, most likely there will be something like “Lukashenko provided a place in Belarus for the Russian military, Belarus is an accomplice in war crimes in Ukraine”, etc. And no one will read/write now that in general, in Belarus itself, due to the fault of one bastard and his dogs, thousands of people are serving sentences in the country, many were forced to simply leave everything and go to other countries. Some received sentences simply for comments on the Internet, or for using the real symbols of Belarus, for example, the white-red-white flag, which is now banned and is equated almost to the swastika in Germany.
Does the political situation in Belarus play any role in your decision to relocate to Israel? How much of the violence did you witness firsthand? After you moved to a new country, did you begin writing lyrics to the new album?
I left Belarus in 2004, three years before the creation of Die Entweihung. At that time, life in Belarus was relatively good (not to say that it was really good, but then people still breathed relatively freely, and the economy was much better compared to what is happening now). The reasons for my family's departure were related to my eye problems, which could not be solved in Belarus even after two operations, and there was a chance that in Israel local medicine would save my eyesight in my eye. I myself did not directly see the violence in Belarus live, but I remember how every time I visited my friends in 2010s, I saw in the eyes of people more and more anger and fatigue from the whole situation, when you live and cannot change anything and there is enough money for less with every year…
The decision to write an album about the situation in Belarus came in the process of working on new music. After all the protests in 2020, which I followed almost all my free time, and after a while the country turned into a fucking concentration camp for all dissenters, I couldn’t not write about it. I hope that soon my friend, who was given a year and a half in prison for a couple of comments in a closed chat on a social network, will hear this album (this is just one example that specifically touched me - in fact, political prisoners and those who were forced to flee - thousands!).
It’s rare within music in general to present a socio–political situation without preaching or trying to sway listeners to one side or another. What is the importance of your listeners deciding for themselves?
I agree, almost any band that sings about this topic adheres to some specific views, trying to make their listeners follow them. But, as I said, I'm not promoting anything, in my case it's all... let's say, an “overview” of what is happening, although in some lyrics I add my opinion. But I think, in the end, everyone still has to think for themselves, and I'm sure that even 100 people will agree with me on some topic, there will be another 100 who will say that I'm a fool and don't understand anything. To be honest, I would be very happy if at least a certain number of people could be made interested in what is actually happening in Belarus (in fact, this is no longer politics, but something more terrible, I would call it a slow genocide of the population), it's important for me. Everything else is the personal choice of everyone, to be on the left or on the right, a Nazi, a fascist, a communist or a sympathetic Satanist - I do not urge anyone to anything. The only thing I urge you is to think with your own head.
Is the media accurately reporting the situation in Belarus, or are there many facts that are being overlooked for any reason?
After the protests and all those brutal events of 2020, in a matter of months, the government “cut off the oxygen” to all the media in Belarus, which at least somewhat truthfully covered what was actually happening in the country. Literally everything was shut down, and many of those journalists also received prison terms. To be honest, I have not been following the media that is physically located in Belarus itself for a long time and publish something there - all that is working now is pro-government media that cover only what is “allowed”. But, fortunately, many active journalists and bloggers who lived in Belarus now continue their work in those countries where they are now forced to stay, mostly either Poland or the Baltic countries.
As far as you know, how much awareness has been raised about Belarus by those journalists and bloggers you referred to?
I'm not sure that the awareness of the real state of affairs in Belarus in the world has radically increased thanks to these journalists and bloggers, especially now, when in the news Belarus is an accomplice of Russia, and all this nonsense about nuclear weapons that Putin handed over to Belarus, and so on and so forth. All independent media that cover the real state of affairs in Belarus and what is happening with Belarus people "in exile" is a kind of underground - information for those who want to receive information from alternative sources than the state media. In fact, everything is happening in Russia now according to the same scenario, many (or even all) independent media are closed, and now there is the same story as in Belarus - everyone who opposes is either in prison, or killed, or "in exile".
In addition to the situation in Belarus, would you write lyrics about other sociopolitical issues in the future? Which of these do you find yourself thinking about the most lately?
Oh... well, first of all, of course, the events in Ukraine have been in my head for the last couple of years, now this is the most important thing that is happening in the world, and not only because innocent people are dying there and the life of an entire state is being destroyed (although, of course, this is the main point). This is also important because it is possible that the outcome of this war will be decided to some extent by the future not only of Ukraine itself, but also of Russia and Belarus, which, as you understand, cannot but worry me. I really hope that Ukraine will win and in the near future I will see a new Belarus that will not be a puppet in the hands of the Russian government (and this is what it has been for many years). Although in my heart I understand that even if Ukraine wins and gets freedom (from the fascist oppression of Putin and his bastards), it’s not a fact that something will change dramatically in Russia, and, accordingly, in Belarus.
With all this, I'm not sure that the new lyrics will have the theme of Ukraine, as well as the coronavirus (which, fortunately, has come to naught). It's just that these are topics that are already on everyone's lips (were/are) 24/7, and I simply have nothing to add. But, most likely, at least one song will be dedicated to these events, but it will probably be not a socio-political topic, but more human, let's say so. Otherwise - I'm not thinking about themes for new lyrics yet, while I continue to work on new music (about half of the album is already composed). But I don't think there will be a problem with song themes, the world is in such a mess right now that all you have to do is turn on a news site and there are enough song themes for five double albums and limited edition bonuses.
Are you considering recording with other instruments that you have not yet recorded with?
Yes, sure. I have ideas to bring a real saxophonist on the next album, perhaps for a few solos or some separate melodic parts. I would also like to bring in a cello, for something in the spirit of Lake Of Tears’ “So Fell Autumn Rain” introduction. But it's all about attracting session musicians or sound programs - today I myself don't have time to learn any new instruments - for me to play guitar for half a day in the weekend now is already good. While I would certainly like to add something more Middle Eastern, in the vein of the bouzouki that I have for now, there are many interesting and original sounding instruments like Oud, Saz, etc. Well... life will show.
Are you seeking a saxophonist for rehearsals and recording sessions, or do you know any saxophonists you’d like to work with?
Usually I work out draft versions of instrument and vocal parts myself, so most likely, when I have demo versions of saxophone parts ready, I will either look for a musician among my friends, or (more likely) I will order work from a session saxophonist, since now there are enough freelance sites, and so on. “Just make sure you pay the money,” haha. In this regard, the Internet helps a lot.
If you were to compose new material with it, what characteristics of Middle Eastern music would you like to capture? Are you listening to any bands that incorporate that style effectively?
Middle Eastern music for me is mainly Orphaned Land, a kind of Metallica status for the Israeli metal scene. Since I have been a big fan of this band for many years, they are really inspiring to me and inspire me to use some kind of Middle Eastern elements. There are also such bands as Arallu (Jerusalem), Melechesh (once they lived in Israel, then they moved to Europe, a fairly well-known band I guess), if I remember correctly, local Salem also had elements of this music (one of the first metal bands in Israel), but in general I am not a particularly big fan of these bands, what really catches me I find only at Orphaned Land, the rest are not bad, but just... I don’t know, not really my music (not dramatic enough for me probably). Among other things, I should also note that since childhood I have been a fan of Belarusian folk metal bands, that folklore, of course, differs from the Middle East one, but for me bands like Gods Tower, Vicious Crusade, Znich, Apraxia and some others are still one of my favorites. You may not hear the direct influence of these bands in my music, but it definitely is!
I am familiar with Orphaned Land and have developed a liking for their work. What is it about their music and lyrical content that appeals to you? In the years since you first heard about them, have you corresponded with them?
Orphaned Land, in my opinion, is an outstanding phenomenon in the rock culture of the world. Honestly, I'm not a big fan of their first two albums, when they played more underground prog doom, although there are real masterpieces there as well. Different thing is what they have been doing since the album "Mabool" (2004). I'm not going to paint here how perfect everything is done there, how epic the arrangements, vocals, and so on. I would just recommend to every music fan to listen to at least this album, the rest are optional. The most important thing that has always fascinated me in their music is drama and sincerity, because these people do not sing about some kind of abstraction, they do not sing about Norwegian forests or corpse stench - they write and sing about what is actually happening on their land, and this is the rare case when a metal band not only does not promote violence or "death to Arabs", but calls for peace between Jews and Arabs! As far as I know, they periodically have concerts in Turkey, and this seems to be the only place where everyone gathers for their concerts: both Jews and Arabs, and everyone sings together. Unique phenomenon!
Yes, I will also note one thing, I remember some years ago I came across some kind of list of "the best metal albums of the 21st century" on one of the American sites. I was amazed that Slipknot came first (with all due respect to this really outstanding band) with the 2004 album (Vol. 3), and Orphaned Land with their masterpieces released since 2004 weren’t at list, and it feels like people have not heard about them at all.
I had a brief correspondence with one of the band's current guitarists, with the vocalist and bassist I managed to get a photo taken at a Paradise Lost concert in Tel Aviv a few years ago, plus the band's bassist runs a Metal Shop in Tel Aviv, so it's not a big problem to see him in person if you want. But if you are asking about some more serious communication, answer is no. And who am I musically compared to these guys?! In general, if you ask if there is anything I am proud of living in Israel, the only thing I can be proud of is that this is the birthplace of Orphaned Land.
You mentioned that half of the next album has been composed. Would you be willing to reveal anything about what it will sound like to your supporters, or will you have to compose the entire album?
It's hard for me to say how it will sound, since each of my albums has its own sound, and the search for the actual sound usually occurs during the recording process. But I think that the last two albums, which I am really proud of, will be the guideline (the previous album "Kings and Pawns" by the way was remastered recently and I hope that in 2024 it will be possible to re-release the album on CD, especially since the original is no longer available). Musically and lyrically, this is also a continuation of the last works, if you have heard my latest stuff, then you roughly understand what and how it can sound. I would like to bring in even more clean female vocals, but this will be decided closer to the recording itself. Well, as usual there will be experiments, there will be heavy guitars, bouzouki, saxophones, and a lot of different shit that most people will not like, hahahaha.