by Niklas Göransson
Sargeist founder and guitar player Shatraug discusses their new mini-album, Death Veneration, as well as the origins of a sound which has been widely influential on Finnish black metal.
– These four tracks were originally intended for two separate split releases but, last week – after years of waiting without anything happening – I proposed the idea of a mini-album to W.T.C. and within the spur of the moment it had already been sent to press. This material was all recorded, mixed, and mastered during the “Unbound” (2018) album session, so we didn’t really have any time-consuming mandatories to deal with. Even so, it was mostly chance as the whole thing came together suddenly and spontaneously, and by pure luck we already had suitable artwork available. It feels good to get some form of closure; we needed to have these songs released before recording something new.
So, there are more releases in the works?
– Oh yes, I certainly haven’t been idle. In fact, I’ve never known how to be idle so we already have enough songs for the entire next album – or, if we’re not being too picky, easily more than one full-length. I simply keep writing new material without really paying much heed to which band or project it might be used for. Everything I compose ends up quite dated once it’s finally recorded, let alone released, but I’ve found this method to be the most gratifying since all material is put through the test of time as the months pass by, or it will be discarded. I never had any conscious plans of doing things this way, yet somewhere along the line I realised what was happening. There are obviously exceptions to the rule, but this process generally applies to all my active bands.
“Death Veneration” contains the first song Shatraug ever wrote for SARGEIST, a piece from 1998 called “Lunar Curse” It makes for an interesting listen, as one can see a primitive blueprint of the style he’d go on to gradually develop and expand upon through his now-massive body of work – an approach which would also come to exert a great deal of influence over the band’s domestic scene.
– Despite the twenty years that have now passed, I still feel this song is able to stand on its own merits – even if it, to my ears, shows clear traces of various Norwegian influences which were all purposely purged as my vision was refined into another form. I’m well-aware of how these ideas turned into an entire sub-genre definition – the so-called ’Finnish black metal’ sound – but to me, the real charm of this country was always the enormous difference in the bands from here.
Surveying SARGEIST’s discography, I noticed that they released splits with two bands from France early in their career – TEMPLE OF BAAL and MERRIMACK – which got me thinking. By no means am I implying plagiarism here, but I’m wondering if he was in any way influenced by the old French scene? Certain projects affiliated with Les Légions Noire come to mind, but even more so acts like SEIGNEUR VOLAND.
– Yes, absolutely. I’ve always been a fan of the way 90s French black metal bands incorporated elements from both classical music and traditional heavy metal and this, in turn, inspired me to focus far more on dual guitar harmonies than I otherwise might have done. Sadly, not much of that past glory remains and while there are great French bands even now, almost none of them have retained that trademark riffing style. Actually, L.F. of SEIGNEUR VOLAND fame wrote a couple of songs we recorded with SARGEIST in the past years. Another thing I like doing is hiding more or less obvious ‘Easter eggs’ in song melodies – subtle at first, but once discovered you’ll never be able to forget them. Seen through puritan eyes, the more obvious ones probably border on plagiarism; that much I can freely admit.
Can you mention any examples?
– Hmm, the most recent is on the title track of the “Unbound” album; it’s essentially only a few chord progressions amongst all the other riffing and, as nerdy as it may be, it’s a reference to the classic Nintendo game Castlevania. There have also been small hints at different QUEEN songs, for example, and one riff that’s practically the same as a classic HELLOWEEN tune… such things. Usually, nothing to do with other black metal bands.
The evening we converse, December 18, Shatraug and the rest of SARGEIST are preparing to embark on a Scandinavian tour with label mates VALKYRJA and MORTUUS.
– Ah, yes, Norway and Sweden are receiving a rare treat from us, so let’s see how that goes. We’ve never played any club gigs in either country; only as part of various festivals, which guaranteed a broader audience. This time, we’re going to be face-to-face with people who aren’t there for any other bands. I’m sure some form of chaos and madness will emerge during this short trip, but it would be quite amazing – shocking even – if it came close to the recent South American tour.
You are referring to the HORNA campaign in October – was that your first time?
– This was nowhere near our first time in Latin America; by now, it must be well over a decade since we began playing over there. Time seems to fly by so fast I can barely keep track anymore! However, this was the first time we did a full tour, and it was every bit as stressful as expected. It certainly takes a heavy toll on everyone involved, – just the amount of flights required to pull off a schedule like that was insane. Unlike Europe or USA, it would be downright suicidal to travel around with vans or a nightliner bus. However, as taxing as it might have been, playing night after night when you could clearly sense the Devil in the air was highly rewarding.
You’re quite the underground black metal touring veteran by now – do you still enjoy it?
– The only reason I willingly endure all the hassle associated with playing live is the simple fact that there’s nothing else capable of giving me the same sensation as being on stage. So, yes, I still enjoy it; quite possibly even more so than in the past. It’s become ritualistic in many ways, and I don’t mean the visual aspects here – more in terms of finding myself in a trance state, barely noticing that I’m playing before an audience. I’ve come far from the headbanging days, that’s for sure.
I recall hearing a story about one of HORNA’s early live shows, where they supposed were not only billed to play alongside the mighty AZAZEL but also almost ended up lynched by the local peasantry who thought they were going to burn their church.
– All true! Saarijärvi, 1996. This was the debut live show we ever did, although I wouldn’t exactly term it as such since we only managed to play three or four songs before officials shut it down due to OUR lives being threatened. It’s quite funny, looking back, but at the time we were literally facing a lynch-mob and ended up escorted by police all the way to the county line; still wearing corpse paint. We had to drive to the first gas station we could find to clean up a bit. The police literally gave us no choice in making sure we got out of there, likely more from hopes of not having to arrest any of their redneck friends than for concern over our wellbeing. Back in those days, black metal was looked upon as the dangerous plague it should’ve remained as – for the few, rather than the most.
So you never got to see AZAZEL?
– No. Actually, just like this Saarijärvi adventure, the second gig – what became our real debut performance – was supposed to be with AZAZEL. They never managed to play either date; it took almost two decades before these guys finally managed to get that far and make it up on stage, all of which is a completely different story…
When I have more than an hour to prepare and Shatraug isn’t half-way out through the door, SARGEIST will return to Bardo Methodology for a more in-depth conversation.