Our Survival Depends On Us
By Niklas Göransson
Our Survival Depends On Us is the sonic manifestation of an Austrian art collective; drawing from archaic musical traditions in promoting inspiration and unity, the band serves as lodestar for spiritual resistance.
– The recording process began last year with intense rehearsals in the Salzburg mountains. Isolated from distractions, this was sheer contemplation for us and highly beneficial to the detailed arrangements of our new compositions. Earlier this year we recorded the tracks live at Rockhouse here in Salzburg and after that we had plenty of time for overdubs and additional recordings at Klangschmiede Norikum. The final step was post-production; in May we entered Woodshed Studios in Landshut, Germany, to arrange the recordings with Victor Santura (TRIPTYKON) and Michael Zech (THE RUINS OF BEVERAST). During one week of engineering, mixing and mastering they raised a massive wall of sound – and on top of that Victor performed a furious guest guitar solo. The album will be released by Vàn Records in February 2019.
Not only do OUR SURVIVAL DEPENDS ON US have three vocalists – one of which being my interviewee, guitarist Mucho – they’re also known for habitually recruiting hosts of guest singers. I’m curious if this routine stems from some kind of diplomatic compromise when they’ve been unable to reach an agreement on who gets to sing certain lines, simply outsourcing it instead.
– The band has been blessed with five guys who consent to sing but not everyone of us is a singer, if you know what I mean. From a fundamental point of view, everyone is capable of performing vocals in some capacity – it’s an archaic way of chanting and you just have to find your inner voice. We love the range of expressions brought out by the individual character of different singers. Thom and I conjure the main vocals while Barth provides backing screams. That’s the band’s strong suit, in my opinion. When arranging our compositions, we like to intensify the music’s emotions with multiple vocalists and the varying moods they bring – that’s why we often bring in guests. You never know what might come back, placing a piece of music in the hands of another artist. When Icelandic musician Steindór Andersen was invited to contribute, we were looking for a calm and wise voice – like the sound of Odin addressing his people. Mat ‘Kvohst’ McNerney (HEXVESSEL, GRAVE PLEASURES) gave us an incredibly passionate performance with his vulnerable lyrics. For the new album, we were looking for an epic and heroic vocalist – and who better suited than Alan Averill from PRIMORDIAL? His work on “Dissolving the Illusion of All Worldly Things” is nothing short of amazing. We’d organised to meet him after PRIMORDIAL played in Vienna a couple of months ago and managed to get the recording session sorted somewhere around 2am. In the very moment of recording, Alan immersed himself in the mood and forged an atmosphere of complete empathy and ferocity before all of us along with their entourage, using nothing but his voice. It was a blast! The man utterly merged into the music with pure passion and love.
As we shall soon discover, philosophies of collaborative artistry are woven into the very fabric of OUR SURVIVAL DEPENDS ON US. Inspecting the band’s website, one finds a variety of artwork created by what’s described as the ‘OSDOU art collective’.
– Art, especially music, is the world’s only universal language – one everyone understands no matter what. We prefer art unfiltered, employed as means of expression and tools for resistance. Music and its visual codes sometimes contain a secret language in and of themselves, if you’re able to decipher it. It’s a vision of bringing people together. We attract people who are involved with and study many different mediums of expression: photography, film, poetry, and so on. The band is just the collective’s musical manifestation, which is how it’s been ever since our early beginnings until this present day. We all have different artistic pursuits, no matter if I’m painting or Barth is carving. We have links to Iceland, to Scotland, to people all over the world. OSDOU has emotionally touched them, our songs act as beacons for people to bring their own art to us, so together we can strive for greater things.
I noticed that Thom is an author – what does he write about?
– He writes about working rights, though none of his thinking comes straight out of a purely academic position – where others argue with Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes and the fucked up-menace in our society, Thom uses references like Frédéric Beigbeder, Orson Welles, Hermann Hesse or Michel Houellebecq. This is less of an economic stance and more of a philosophic one.
In a prior conversation, Mucho mentioned ‘political examination’ as a potential discussion topic. As someone residing in contemporary Sweden, the mere mention of such a thing instils upon me a gnawing concern. Bear in mind that we are incapable of discussing such matters sensibly in this arctic asylum. However, despite reading previous interviews as well as plenty of material online, I was unable to identify any clear political stance from OSDOU. I’m starting to think they’re being intentionally ambiguous.
– Oh, there’s a clear political stance! But not everyone of us will go through the trouble of issuing statements at any given opportunity. We might not have a political agenda but all of us carry deep-set ideological convictions. How nuanced and specific the communication is depends entirely on our counterpart; dealing with die-hard preconceptions and other ignorance when it comes to debating, then it’s better to practice development efforts. Look at our festival for example, it’s a moving community-experience and also a recurring development effort. The human being is in root and base a social creature. Let’s not forget the large number of people who are activists in their communities and workplaces – these individuals are the beating heart of our post-modern society, carrying out the only stable evolutionarily survival strategy. Individualism is no contradiction to pluralism; individualism isn`t even a sign of independence. It’s a sociological process stronger than inherited norms and ideologies, we call it ‘human liberation’.
The festival Mucho refers to is called House of the Holy, an annual event he co-founded with Barth back in 2012. He explains that the initiative came to be through shared visions of a place where modern ceremonies could be cultivated, with music acting as conduit for energy and power.
– We built our Cromlech on the mountain to serve the function as a temple. Barth is the face of the festival but everybody in OSDOU and the collective is involved in some capacity. It is Barth’s main project besides the band. The festival used to be called Funkenflug but adopted its new moniker to reflect the possibility of new people becoming involved. House of the Holy is more than just a music event, it’s a gathering for families and friends from across the world and, most importantly, for different types of people. Everyone – crew, bands and festival-attendees – is involved in the ceremony. The stylistically diverse line-up, featuring everything from GOAT TORMENT to DOOL and HEXVESSEL, creates a different atmosphere for each band taking the stage. Emotions change with the concerts and even the records we play during changeover, which is mostly old hippy and ambient music nobody knows, are tailored to create respite and peace. House of the Holy is more than just a festival, it’s highly important for everyone involved. People were sceptical in the beginning but now everything has changed.
At House of the Holy, the collective seeks to establish a platform where guests harbouring fundamentally different outlooks can interact and realise their similarities – then find a way to join together.
– Like when, for example, left-wing punks and right-wing black metal guys meet. Damn, we offer both vegan food and roast suckling pig! In a different environment, they’d have no time for exchanges because they haven’t yet realised how both sides are losers to the upper classes. They are against each other when in reality they should be unified and fighting the real evils. But when meeting on Neudegg Alm, everyone respects the festival rules and they talk and socialise and realise their similarities. We must also remember the two sides of politics: either solving problems or creating even more unrest. There’s so much good that can be done with politics if you’re strong-minded and have a pure heart but control and power always present the risk for corruption. As musicians, there’s no point in giving the audience what they want – we give them what they need.
So, do you think politics have a place in metal?
– Saying metal shouldn’t be political is certainly wrong because everything is politics. You talk about the record industry? That’s politics. Arguing about artist credibility? Politics again. You wear an inverted cross? Politics, mate! Political opinions are always the result of extraordinarily personal experiences, call it socialisation if you want. Following these thoughts, nobody is strictly wrong or right and this is where dialogue starts. This is how the Enlightenment brought democracy to our Western society during the last century. Unstable economic conditions arose as humans were downgraded to production factors and consumers, with the worth of a person defined by his or her economic value. In order to properly distribute resources, the government assumed a position of greater involvement – now they’ve changed and begun abusing power, and not for the prosperity of society. Their propaganda says that the world will hit a point where it cannot possibly function as a democracy due to lack of resources and overpopulation, which leads us to this emerging ‘Brave New World’ society.
The term Brave New World was coined with the 1932 novel bearing the same name, written by British author Aldous Huxley. The book imagines a dystopian future where the World State reigns over a genetically modified populace neatly structured in an intelligence-based social hierarchy. Through its pages, Huxley offers a gloomy prediction over humanity’s future – envisaging major scientific breakthroughs in sleep-learning, psychological control, and reproductive technology combined with classic social conditioning to play a huge role in shaping the humanity of tomorrow.
– We already see a dismantling of the social welfare state and national health services while the surveillance apparatus steadily grows. Many seem proud to be part of the so-called powerful winners, the top performers. They are deceiving themselves. We’re all losers in this foul play! Students, workers, artists, mothers, fathers, and breadwinners – we all get ripped off, and this is where our acceptance ends and actions starts. Gather your community, create your own label, organise a non-commercial music festival; demand the public space, or join the Union. Whatever you prefer. Is this an offensive attitude? I don’t think so. This is collective autonomy or, at worst, self-defence.
During my research inquiries for this interview, I found there to be a relative consensus that OSDOU live shows are something out of the ordinary.
– It’s hard for me to say if we’re an interesting or even special live-band since we don’t see ourselves – that can only be determined through the eye of the beholder. There’s one energy-field on stage and another in the audience; a link is established by the way we convey our tunes, in the movement of rhythm. As a band, we’re different. Our live shows are all about breaking the third wall, which a lot of bands fail to do. We believe in authenticity and interaction with the audience and are not one of those typical heavy metal bands with gimmicks. So many bands believe themselves to be doing ‘shows’ or ‘rituals’ for entertainment purposes but music is so much more than entertainment; it’s stored deep within us, surging through our flesh in waves, helping us to open up.
Mucho says that music is the purest of art forms since everyone carries it inside.
– Every culture, even ones whose language is forgotten, have preserved their tunes. Only the styles change. As a band, we’re seeking a return to this state where music was more of a communication tool or an exchange of sentiment – not to entertain or for amusement purposes. I don’t especially like the term ‘ritual’, I prefer ‘ceremonies’. For us, it’s very profound to see our audience open their hearts to us and feed off our emotions. Even those who aren’t into our music always take something away from seeing us live; they’re deeply touched and sometimes that’s so strange. In a way what we do on record, but especially live, is definitely more an outpouring of impulse rather than just a show.
Besides the traditional metal elements, OSDOU also incorporate tribal percussion and chanting. I’m wondering if this is implemented mostly to give the soundscape a more ritualistic flair, or if they in any way rely upon either to attain altered states of consciousness.
– Maybe both! But ritualistic flairs are subjective results in the perception of single attendants. Drums and voice were the first instruments involved in ritual and ceremony. Ever since the very first time bone hit an outstretched animal skin, the drummer has been the most important member of an ensemble. I know, there’s so much focus on the guitars but how can this be when percussion is the very heartbeat? Tribal drumming is the most natural way of setting the atmosphere, body, and spirit in wild and archaic vibrations. Like a mantra, it focuses the deepest and oldest inner flow of energy to reach the next level of consciousness. Also, tribal drums are needed to create timeless space throughout our arrangements – every single instrument is linked in a very special and strong way. This connection lasts as long as need be, building to an explosive climax. This is why we improvise these parts when performing in concert; every show is different due to interaction with our audience and the environment, we follow the flow as long as it’s necessary. Drumming at the Edge of Magic, for example, is a fantastic book written by Mickey Hart of GRATEFUL DEAD; it references and explores the spiritual and mantric aspects of drums.
Do you think a ceremonial approach to one’s music can bestow upon it additional dimensions?
– Well, our main priority was never just being musicians but also to bring out what’s inside us. That’s a must for us. We have no interest in becoming famous or joining this typical musician-thinking. Of course there’s a ceremonial approach, because life is sacred and holy. Music is the main tool of bringing this out of us, to transform and create and feel emotions, for the music to be as beautiful as possible. It can be an obsession in a way. Artists always walk this thin line between insanity and wisdom, genius and crazy. In a way, there’s always a balancing act between perceiving oneself either as this low-class fucked-up person who never accomplished anything in life or a content man with his art and a collective that inspires him. Listeners enjoy this ceremonial approach of ours – it adds something many can relate to whether they like our music or not. There’s more than one reality and one truth. We live in this money-oriented world where it’s drilled into us from the time we’re in school to be a functional part of the system. The ceremonial approach is what makes the band real.