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Interview by Ed MacLaren
Exploding from Russia’s burgeoning metal scene comes Arcane Grail’s latest concept CD “Arya Marga: Ninefold Path to the Innocence”. Equal parts philosophy and spirituality, “Arya Marga” provokes the mind while assaulting the ears. In this interview, vocalists Demether and Natalie take us down the paths to innocence, divulge the secrets to a cohesive band and give us key insights into up-and-coming Russian metal.
Your new CD, “Arya Marga: Ninefold Path to the Innocence”, is lyrically and conceptually dense but it’s ultimately an extremely rewarding listen. Can you offer some insight into the concept behind the CD?
Demether : Yes, our second album is conceptually like the previous one, “Mysteries of the Ancient Charnel”. But if the first CD has the tale-like fairy story about ghosts, kings, inquisition and love in a King-Diamond-like style, the new CD is more serious and non-fairy. The lyrics of Arcane Grail are latently or directly connected nowadays with mythologems of Russian and Indo-Aryan heathenism. There are various themes on the second album but all of them are united in the uniform concept of finding the true Ninefold Noble Path of Life by the Man (“Arya Marga” in Sanskrit– an esoteric term in Vedism and Buddhism) – the revolt against the present and desire to be cleared from all nasty defects of modern human society. And first of all, returning to the sources of mankind, to cleanliness of soul, thoughts, to natural laws, to ancient beliefs, to wisdom of ancestors and to divine condition of human spirit. Musically, we name our style now – Symphonic Extreme Metal Art, which consists of sympho-black, melodic death, and gothic doom as well.
There are nine tracks on “Arya Marga: Nine Paths to Innocence”. Can you delve into the meaning of each path and what tracks are representative of each path? How does each track contribute to the evolution on the path to innocence?
Demether: Yes, nine songs and nine paths. The Ancient Ones said that men needed – in eight paths to the attainment of enlightenment and perfection – wisdom, morals, pure reason, labour, blood-vengeance, honour, kindness and love. The modern man, wallowed in weakness, idiocy, frights, countless diseases, betrayals and lies, is needed in another path, the ninth and the main path – fight! These nine paths can make the man – light and strong, great and wise! This is the path of warriors, the path of Thulean Legatee – Arya Marga, our trip to perfection, our ninefold path to the innocence. And our way to the gods!
About the songs: “Arcane Grail” – WISDOM. The song is absolutely not connected with the Christian concept of the Holy Grail or with the Arthurian legend-cycle about the search for the Grail. The Grail is a much more ancient religious pagan symbol of many Indo-Aryan nations. It is a sacred boiler, a cup, a receptacle of stars, honey of poetry, an elixir of an eternal life. It is created from the Father of All Stones (Alatyr in Slavonic heathenism). It is also a spiritual image necessary for the achievement of an eternal life (unessential, terrestrial), great wisdom, force and cleanliness. This song is devoted to the search of, by disclosing one’s own consciousness, finding a divine condition of the spirit.
“Of Snake and Raven” – MORALS. It is a song, a conversation of wise animals – a raven and the snake – as though occurring at the top of the Mother-Mountain of the World – Meru. They discuss people as they are weak and insignificant, actually. We from ourselves sing how it would be good to become strong, wise, fair, great and strict in the behaviour and principles of these ancient animals. I don’t think that man is the Tsar of Nature.
“Autumn Wed Us, Sinned and Lone” – LOVE. This song is about the love of a man and woman that even death could not separate. The present love is immortal! And that love is the main thing in the world – only with this feeling is there a world!
“Renaissant the Reverie” – LABOUR. A song about my dream of the revival of pagan consciousness in people. It’s about a great work of a body and soul that should be done in this way - revival! It’s about belief in saving love, in virtue of spirit. A song about the dirt of the modern world, perversions of people, about false monotheistic religions imposed on us by people, thirsted authorities and money. That each person can become the god himself, and the bearded dead man on a rotten cross actually is not necessary to anybody!
“Sorrow of Forgotten Pride” – HONOUR. A song about honour: to continue to be a beautiful, clever, perfect person in the modern world, to remember precepts of the ancestors, to love the native land and culture, and that you can die for beloved ones!
“Imprisoned in the Greatest War” – FIGHT. It is a revolution-song! A hymn to the revolt and revival of the old world on the ruins of the modern rotted bastard-society. Though, first of all, each person should win themselves!
“Die Sonnenhymne” – BLOOD-VENGEANCE. One more hymn - this time to Wotan, to the Sun, the Earth. It is an appeal to the old gods to return and take revenge for their desecration!
“Iniquitous Yoke” – KINDNESS. A song about the lot of the magician. About white magic, about the achievement of cleanliness of spirit. About full self-destruction up to a condition of ashes – then to revive like the sun in the universe. That we twirl the stars, instead they us. At least, it should achieve!
“Святой Грааль” – PURE REASON. On the one hand, it is simply a Russian version of the first song. But on the other, the lyrics differ practically on 70%. It is more about the full cleanliness of the mind from the matrix-perverted chains, about unlimited opportunities of sub consciousness of the person and that, eventually, inside of each person there can be a Sacred Grail!
The first track is titled “Arcane Grail”. How do the nine paths to innocence fit into the Arcane Grail world-view?
Demether : Personally, in my life I try to follow only the best roadsides of these paths. Self-perfection is the most important thing in the life of any person. And I do not sing without adducing any proof that does not interest me - by no means. All these ideas - not simply my ideas, but firm belief!
Is your attention to the lyrics primarily to entertain or educate? Perhaps a bit of both?
Demether : Now, only to educate, maybe, to give people some ways for reflection. I do not apply at all for any absolute truths, but all the same I think that I’m personally on a true way to knowledge – the sense of life, heh! Though, under the greater account, all of it is done for self-perfection - all these compositions of verses. But I shall be madly glad, if many of my ideas will be divided by people. It would be desirable that the music of Arcane Grail did people more purely a little bit, not only to release the thoughts from daily cares, but also to direct these thoughts to a channel of struggle with greyness, weakness and despondency.
Demether rips his throat raw alternating between vicious death- and black- metal vocals. Natalie provides soaring vocal lines and gets an excellent solo turn in “Die Sonnenhymne” in contrast with the brutal chaos of the music. How do you create your arrangements musically and vocally to achieve such a balance?
Natalie: I can’t say that we were especially trying very hard to reach such a balance. It happened somehow automatically. In the beginning (it was 2004), I was invited for only one song. The guys liked my voice and we decided to use it in more songs. On the first album, proposals of how better to include my voice were coming from both sides; I mean me and Demether with the band. On the second CD, it happened somehow easier. When we were making new material, we had to check through lots of pieces, samples and melodies which our musicians performed as the best ones for creating songs out of them. We were improvising a lot, trying to glue them all into a kind of composition. Somehow in this improvisation the right vocal lines came– and mostly they don’t need discussion. Mainly, in each song from the second CD, you hear the vocal parts of ours as they came from somewhere above! I can’t remember that we were seriously debating over “you sing here and I sing here”.
Demether: Hmm, in most cases, certainly, we try to transfer the necessary atmosphere of lyrics to various parts of songs. Certainly, all our creativity is deeply conceptual and we think over every second, each cry, and each note thoroughly!
How do you describe the evolution of Arcane Grail since its inception? Where do you see the group progressing musically as well as spiritually?
Demether: The band certainly has grown very much for eight years of existence both by way of music and by way of lyrics. I love our debut album – he’s very interesting and fine – but certainly “Arya Marga” is more skilful. The concept of lyrics now is pleasant to me much more now than with the entertaining Gothic fairy tale on the first. I wrote those lyrics at 19-years-old. For “Arya Marga”, I wrote the verses at the age of 23-25 years and it is a greater difference! Over the last years, Arcane Grail became a much greater and serious spiritual project – a part of my blood and spirit! And musically, let our listeners judge us. I think for myself we are needed to develop and develop, sure!
Several band members have recently left the band after many years of contributions to the Arcane Grail collective. How does this type of upheaval impact the collective and how does the group recover?
Demether : Yes, the truth is that during the release of an album some musicians left us because of our serious splits by the way of music. They did not wish to play neither metal nor death or black or sympho any more. Therefore, their dismissal, in any case, goes on to be an advantage to our band which is going to precisely continue to play the chosen stylistic direction. Unfortunately, because of their leaving there was some stupor in the concert activity of Arcane Grail while we searched for new musicians and we learned with them the songs and so forth. While we are just in this process, we will recover, and I promise, we shall soon return to kick all!
Natalie: Well, of course it made a kind of damage, we knew that the gone members had other projects, but never expected that they could leave us so suddenly. Demether started to search for new band mates on his own – I was quite far from this – and he never asked for any help. As a result there are new guys from Demether’s second band. I have to admit that the new line-up hasn’t performed the live performance yet.
Moving forward as a collective what are the key ingredients to successful group chemistry?
Demether: Certainly, I think there should be a friendship in a group, the general interests, and a necessary love of each musician for such music. In general, a mutual understanding.
Natalie: I think that it’s also the freedom for the demonstration of one’s own point of view for the music we make. Each member has to tell about any ideas, if he has them. And from the other side it’s pure diplomacy.
Arcane Grail is making an increasing impact outside Russian borders. How do you see your path to world domination?
Natalie: Since I’m married and mostly live in Germany, I guess Demether waits then I will find out how we get to Wacken Open Air or Summerbreeze and make everybody deaf with Demether’s loud and evil screams!
Demether: Seriously, we try as much as possible to promote ourselves in Europe and America so that we can go on a small tour in Europe in the near future. It would be desirable very much to win round some concert promoters. And we do not leave hope to be released on a European label. I think all will be ok!
What can you tell us about the current Russian scene and what other bands should we be looking out for?
Demether : In Russia, in the last five years, the dawn of metal has begun at last. There were enough very decent studios owing to which now it is easy to record at the European level. But the deal is not only in sound. Really, there were many of the most worthy bands playing high-quality, interesting, and original metal music. It would be desirable to name the following bands: Ambehr – Majestic ethnic melodic death with screaming and soprano; Blackthorn – All-female symphonic dramatic black metal, beautiful and haunting, with a unique soprano; Atoll Nerat – Unique epic sympho-black with an atmosphere of Indian Toltecs; Hieronymus Bosch – Smart progressive-death; Thelema – Jazz-death; Non Immemor Mei – Amazing original post-doom; Kartikeya – Brutal death on the basis of the Indian music; Dorgmooth – Superb melodic death; Astel Oscora – Beautiful and magic sympho-black with the atmosphere of Alice in Wonderland; Welicoruss – Magnificent epic sympho-folk-black; Tantal – They can easy out do Arch Enemy and The Agonist; Little Dead Bertha – Fine sympho-black/melodic-death with screaming and a stunning soprano; Wine from Tears – Excellent doom-death; Fferyllt – Celtic metal with the most powerful female folk-vocal; Id:Vision – Absolutely mad industrial-techno-black; Atra Mustum – Perhaps, one of the best representatives of gothic-sympho-blacks in the world; Skylord – My second band (If you don’t blow your own horn, no one will do it for you!), playing super-blasting and supermelodious sympho-black; Diathra – Excellent gothic metal band; Scrambled Defuncts – Improbable sympho-brutal-death; Crystal Abyss – Mystical sympho-black; Solerrain – Children of Bodoms, playing better than Laiho and company a hundred times; Zymotic Symphony – Original sympho-melodic death with an opera bass vocal and growling; Ruthless Order – An improbable mix of hard-rock and melodic death with one of the best vocalists in metal, five octaves with all possible variants in extreme and classical metal vocal-genres; Arcana Imperia – Very interesting avant-garde sympho-death; Ordalion – Original Russian sympho-black. And, certainly, it is possible to list much of our most interesting pagan metal bands, which similarities in the world are not present: Arkona, Butterfly Tempe, Nevid, Severnye Vrata, Smuta, Natural Spirit, Temnozor, Nebokray, Tverd, Svarga, Kroda and many others. As you see, many good bands. Besides it is not the full list. I’m really a patriot of our metal scene – over the last five years it deserves it.
Where does Arcane Grail fit into the current Russian metal scene? Do you consider yourselves veterans? What advice do you have for up-and-coming Russian bands?
Natalie : Well, from one side we’ve existed already for quite a while – after I joined in 2004 more than five years passed. The band started in 2001 itself. And we can really say that we are veterans, but from the other side there are bands which have existed much longer and play music which in some part touch our style. So, I even don’t know if we should or can say that we are veterans. About the new-comers, honestly, I have no positive thoughts. There are many bands (except the bands in “Demether’s List”) where each new one thinks it’s more cool than all the others, making fan clubs of the band and each member separately and without a shade of shame naming these people of 18- or 19-years-old “Keyplayer-Virtuoso”. Plus, they indeed pay for the possibility to warm up for such bands as Norther, Dark Moor and others. So, I would say to them – less words and more work on your own… But I’m sure they would not listen and will buy another possibility to warm up for next foreign band which will come to Moscow.
Demether : Heh, Natalie is right –but I think that it’s the same in other European countries too. But the real gold will be sifted in the sea of sand all the same – this is metal. So, to good young metal bands (and for some people we are valid veterans – though I do not consider us so) I advise more concentration, professionalism, a thirst to create something new. And still – when hiring designers of booklets, and in general record and cover-artwork, only hire known professionals!