Although emo isn’t a genre that we typically think of when talking about black metal and metal in general, they have many shared themes and elements. Both genres often deal with darker lyrics and imagery as well as highly emotional contexts for the creation of the music, whether that is rage, frustration and/or sadness. This can especially be said of sub genres like DSBM, which is a more “emo” offshoot of black metal (one could argue, anyway). Voidbringer helps bridge the gap by combining and blending all these genres into their music, and bringing a fresh take on a lot of sounds.
Can you elaborate about how and when you started your musical project and what inspired you to create it?
Voidbringer started officially in 2015. I was never really an acoustic person, but I started to get into it and wanted an outlet for my ideas that wouldn’t fit in with my heavier bands at the time. Around then was also when I started to get more confident in my clean singing abilities and Voidbringer seemed to just develop naturally. First as a much more metal-inspired acoustic project, and later dropping a lot of the metal elements and shifting to a lighter, more atmospheric sound.
What are some of your musical influences for the music you create (bands and genres)? Do you feel you blend any genres together? (And if so, why did you think they’d be a suitable fit?)
I often don’t know what genre to call Voidbringer, but it’s really based in a mix of Midwest emo, black metal, and lo-fi/atmospheric. While these are 3 very different styles, I feel that they all have common themes and emotions that both clash and blend nicely. I take a lot of influence from Owen, American Football, Wolves in the Throne Room, and A L E X (Alicks).
You describe yourself as occult emo, what aspects of the occult inspire or interest you?
I’ll always be a black metal nerd at heart and I know that spills over into everything I ever write, haha. I’ve always taken an interest in witchcraft and grew up around it, and I’ve always been drawn to darker themes. To say my lyrics can get spiritually dark at times would be an understatement.
How does the environment of where you live or where you’ve grown up influence your music? Do darker times (such as long, bleak winters) assist with the emotional expression in your work?
For sure, both where I grew up in the Boston, MA area and where I’ve lived since the age of thirteen in Central Illinois definitely influence my work. The harsh Midwest winters were a pretty big theme in my last release (Drowning in the Stars). The winters here are brutal and incredibly cold and the summers are long and excruciatingly humid, and for the most part the area is desolate for over half the year. Endless cornfields and isolation can be great inspiration.
How did antifascism become meaningful to you? What are some of your life experiences and/or perspectives that led you to value antifascism?
Growing up poor in the city and seeing the darker side of life at a young age always played a big part in my views. Once I really started paying attention to what my views aligned with, it became clear to me that I was definitely very much against fascism and far-right ideology.
Are there other antifascist or leftist projects/artists/bands that you can recommend?
What can other musicians do that can help themselves become more antifascist or become allies for the cause?
Stay informed and seek out information! Do your research and urge others to do the same. Perhaps look into joining a local organization if there are any in your area.
What plans do you have for the future regarding your music (recording/shows/collaborations/etc.)?
I’m going to try to start playing live again soon, as well as work on putting together a proper full-length album to release in early 2022. I’m also working on new music for my black metal band, Pestilent Creation; I’m definitely not subtle about my views there either.
What made you decide to produce lo-fi music? Are you a fan of lo-fi sounds and musicians? Will your music stay in this type of style?
While I’m a fan of high quality production, I feel that some music is delivered best in a more raw form. I’m both a huge black metal nerd and a huge vaporwave nerd so I’ve always been drawn to lo-fi styles, and for the most part I see Voidbringer staying relatively lo-fi. It fits the vibe I try to create perfectly, as a mainly acoustic-based project.
What are some of your passions and hobbies outside of writing and recording?
Outside of writing and recording, l spend a lot of time repairing and modifying guitars. I’ll never understand why I love guitars so much, but to me they’re the coolest thing in the world.
Make sure to check out Voidbringer at Bandcamp. We have added one of their tracks to our Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify and on our upcoming grindcore playlit as well.
Rost und Knochen from Cologne, Germany hit our radar with their inclusion on the last Left/Folk compilation project, which was raising money for the Kurdish Red Crescent in Rojava. Rost und Knochen is a brilliant mix of a nature-centric folk, combining natural tones with a minimalist combination of strings. The most recent EP, Virus, has a red spiral of violent far-right figures who propagate lies about supposed “white genocide,” setting the tone for what the real virus is and bringing them into the growing canon of antifascist neofolk.
We joined with Rost und Knochen members Chris and Marco to talk about how this project, which is still pretty new, evolved, where the inspirations came from, and how they became a clear voice of antifascism for the genre.
How did your project first come together?
Chris: I used to play in a postmetal band for 8, 9 years or so where I got more and more unhappy. Everything seemed to be complicated and full of childish arguments. In the last year of the band i had a breakdown for different reasons. I started writing songs on my acoustic guitar, using my voice for the first time. The band broke up and Marco, who had joined that band two years earlier took part in the project with his viola. It felt great to play just with our instruments in a small room, with less effects and amps and being able to drive by bus to our concerts. That`s Rost und Knochen.
What really inspired your project?
Lo Fi depressions and high end humour.
What kind of bands, or traditional music, influenced you?
Marco: Classical music like Beethoven, Brahms and Hindemith. Oh, and John Cale as well as Holger Czukay.
Chris: My parents used to listen to Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens. That certainly influenced me. Then came German punk like Razzia, Aufbruch and Slime. Subsequently electronic music, noise, experimental hip hop and Doom. Especially the repetitive stuff had an influence on my songwriting. But I also like rock stuff like Rio Reiser’s music (Ton, Steine, Scherben). He wrote some of the finest lyrics in German language in my opinion.
What about non-musical art?
Marco: I`m really into painting. I love post-impressionism like Van Gogh and expressionistic art.
Chris: I love poetry, i. e. Bertolt Brecht, Mascha Kaléko, Christian Morgenstern and Sarah Kirsch. Right now I am reading the poems of Semra Ertan.
Could you walk us through your songwriting process?
Chris usually writes the lyrics and harmonies and takes them to our rehearsal room. Then we work on it together, changing this and that, writing melodies, etc. Sometimes we break with our routine and just jam, or Marco brings some ideas into the band from where we start a song.
How does the recording take place?
Bedroom style. There we recorded the instruments. The vocals were recorded in our friend Andi`s studio, called Pulsar Studio in Brühl. Virus was the first thing we did during the (first) lockdown in Germany.
Where do your lyrics come from?
Chris: Most of them are very personal, I think they come straight out of my life. They come from my inward gaze. The political songs are a look at the world and how I see it. But from time to time, we talk about the lyrics, and sometimes some lines change because of this exchange.
Marco: I agree.
What’s the concept behind Virus?
The concept of the lyrics and the thoughts behind VIRUS are visualized on the front cover. You can see a virus built from the heads of right-wing “philosophers,” politicians and mass murderers. They have a glue which binds them together, i.e. the myth of the “great replacement,” an antisemitic conspiracy myth which is about “Christian Europe people” getting replaced by muslims. This replacement is funded and planned by Jewish “big money players” like George Soros. This myth was invented by Renaud Camus, who is also shown on the cover. The fear of “getting replaced” was spread by the people of the Identitarian movement for example, but by politicians as well who are sitting in the German Bundestag right now. They are in the picture, too – just like the assassinators of Christchurch, Utøya, Halle and Hanau. Together they build this Virus.
How do you think ancestral traditions can influence music today?
Well, people do what people do… Hopefully they are not just stealing culture and know where their stuff comes from, when they are doing it. The way we make our music is in the tradition of black music as it was invented by Robert Johnson.
One thing we tried was to use 432 Hz for our tuning. This frequency is described as a frequency for a “healthier world.” Just playing acoustically it worked out very well, but since we started using some electronic elements, from which some could not be tuned from 440 Hz to 432 Hz, this “healthier world” sucked a little in our work routine.
How does spirituality influence you project?
We would not do what we do, if we weren`t looking for a meaning in it.
How do you consider yourself politically?
We try to live our lives socially, ecologically, anti-racist, standing against antisemitism and sexism . That`s our aim in short, but to be honest, we are failing sometimes. We are white men in a white world which gives us privileges that other people do not have. But it`s easy to drop beautiful-sounding words like these, when you are not directly threatened by racism, for example. So, we try to listen and learn to grow over this discrepancy.
Why is antifascism important?
Because many places in this world are turning to a far right-wing side. For example, here in Germany we have a fascist party and its leader argued in 2016 that it was okay to shoot illegal migrants on Germany`s borders. Today there are shooting, and brutal, illegal pushbacks against migrants. The party leader`s words came true within just four years. What will happen in another four years? And don`t forget the EU-Turkey refugee agreement with the Turkish president Erdogan… Germany is also full of Nazism and the legacy of colonialism continues. Why should it not be important to fight against this fucked up „normal condition“?
How do you bring antifascism into your music?
We have a limited range, but we try to support antifascist projects and other anti-fascist artists. Last year we made a small sampler to raise some money for Médecins Sans Frontières. And of course, our lyrics and the way we interact with our audience are ways of incorporating anti-fascism into our music.
What’s next for you?
Hopefully a live concert, somewhere, sometime. Oh, and we are about to make a hardcopy of “Virus” on a tape together with Tito Bazilla. It will come out in the next few months via Zustandsaufnahmen a micro label for tapes and digital prints.
What other bands would you recommend for antifascist neofolk fans?
It is more Folkpunk but I highly appreciate TITO BAZILLAs music. Great lyrics, fantastic guy!
And BEETHOVEN. This dude was a rebel, against the establishment.
And if your are into neoclassical, experimental stuff – check out Marco`s old project DIE TOTEN MÄUSE
When one thinks of devotional music there are specific images that come to mind. For me the full immersion Baptism scene from O Brother Where Art Thou comes to mind instantly – the music beckoning the listener to join the prayer. Finnish artist Joonatan Aaltonen has a different vision, as he looks inside himself and to the world of nature towards the future. There is a sacredness to his work superseding creed and tradition and engaging with cosmopolitan influences. A multifaceted artist, his evolving discography from Aura Shining Green to Kiiltomatolyhty at present captures the changes in outlook from youth to adult, a longing to communicate universal themes, and evolution from the personal introspection of singer-songwriter to a multidisciplinary performance engaging the audience.
When did you start playing music and how did you decide to become a musician?
I believe my first influence in the world of music was my elder brother, who educated me in the world of good music at the ripe age of 5 or so. I remember listening to some of the more ambient sections of early Pink Floyd albums on c-cassettes, rewinding back to the parts with interesting synthesizer parts and effects, completely transfixed by the hypnotic quality. My uncle is also a well-known and loved musician in Finland, and I remember that in my early days I was intrigued by this, too, that one can actually make a living by playing music, although my own story seems to be quite a different one. I also remember the old songs I heard in my youth. Due to family reasons, I spent a lot of time in Yorkshire when growing up, and I believe it was during those extended stays that I became completely infatuated with some of the songs my mother played to me – I believe there was a lot of war-time music, light and easy listening, jazz, Shirley Collins singing rural ballads etcetera. Leonard Cohen came soon after, and he was probably the biggest influence on the songs I would write decades later.
These would not immediately make me pick up an instrument, but later would have a lasting impact. The instrument, however, was picked up for me by my parents, I started learning piano at the age of 6, I believe – and stuck with it for many years. I think it was around age 9 or 10, so that would be around the fall of the Soviet Union, after listening to music obsessively for some years already, when I started to discover interesting music on my own – Commodore Amiga tracker music, and I remember loving the “80s sound” – 80s movie soundtracks, Tangerine Dream soundtracks, Pet Shop Boys etc, anything with big reverbs and pompous production. It was also around this time I realized that I enjoyed playing the guitar more…so out went the piano.
At around age 15, I was listening and collecting mostly “darker music” – at this time the second wave of black metal had hit Finland, and of course I loved that stuff back then. However, that was a brief dalliance, which soon was replaced by love of krautrock and 60s and 70s music, and a lot of goth and post-punk bands too, which were easily available by using the brilliant library system in Finland (remember, I was mainly brought up in a culturally limiting rural environment in the north of Finland). Around this time, I also played in some local bands which shall remain unnamed. I went through a really intense Goa Trance phase at the same time, and spent more time having fun than sulking around. I am a total hippy at heart, and always will be.
Personally, I consider that my path as a “musician” started when I was 17. Through my library explorations and early internet, I had discovered music such as The Incredible String Band, Clive Palmer, Hamza El Din, John Dowland, Bill Fay, Pekka Streng, Haikara, Wigwam, Cluster, Amon Düül II, Ash Ra Tempel, The Wicker Man OST, Exuma, William Lawes, Red House Painters, Donovan, Vashti Bunyan, Nick Drake, Sandy Denny, Pearls Before Swine, The Zombies, Love, Popol Vuh, Klaus Schulze, Harold Budd, The Moody Blues, Gene Clark, Townes Van Zandt, The Green Pajamas, Trees, Fairport Convention, Mahavishnu Orchestra, John Renbourn, Roy Harper, John Martyn, Bert Jansch, The Pentangle, and so many more… At around this time I started writing some songs, which I still have on tapes somewhere.
It was not until 2002, when I had the first tape & cd-r releases of Aura Shining Green ready – these have probably been lost to time, since there were only tens of copies handed out to the audience wherever I played a set. I was deep in the lo-fi rabbit hole by that time, and was mostly interested in creating these impromptu session recordings, some of which are documented on the “East of the Sun & West of the Moon” 2cd compilation released by Anima Arctica years later.
During 2003-2008 I was working on my master’s thesis in the university in Finland and Scotland, and I had no time to actually work on recorded music, other than live sessions and busking. During these years I was mostly interested in ethnic music of different regions – and playing live. It was around 2005 I think when the “free folk” scene in Finland happened – I wasn’t living in Finland at the time, I was in Glasgow, studying philosophy for my degree. Later on, I can really appreciate Paavoharju’s “Yhä Hämärää” – but did not listen to it back then. I also met some like-minded musicians during these years, some of which I still consider friends. I was never active in any “scene” or genre, it’s just not who I am.
I was traveling a lot between 2007-2010, and during an extended stay in India – and when eventually settling down in Portugal, I wrote most of the material which turned up on the first 3 proper albums of songs I made under my own name – although rather unpolished, the songs were carefully written. It was also during these years that we played the first “proper shows” with Mossycoat (who was also my life partner during most of the early years). I think it was around this time I realized that I might be able to call myself a “musician” – yet I feel a bit uneasy with the label even nowadays. I never had the ambition to become one, but some people think that I am one. Personally, I’m still on the fence.
And in terms of exposure as a musician, I think the audience for my own projects has always been smaller than for example, Oulu Space Jam Collective – the krautrock cosmic-improv band I’m a founding member of – I actually prefer to just have my own music as a sort of “hobby” which I am funding through participating in society in more concrete ways. Not sure if I ever wanted to be a musician, rather an artist in the wider sense of the word. I love painting, poetry, photography, film, theatre and dance, perhaps more than music.
You currently record as a member Kiiltomatolyhty, but I first became aware of your music through the Aura Shining Green project which concluded in 2018. How did these projects come to be?
Aura Shining Green probably started as a loose collective of sorts in 2002, recording half-improvised songs with a circle of friends who had similar interests. Most of the early recordings of ASG were never intended as “albums”, but just something which can be handed out to the audience. I consider “Mushroom Heart” to be the first proper album I made, and that came out in 2008 (it was ready by 2006, but we had some label issues) and even that is heavily improvised on spot, as is the rest of the ASG catalogue. Although there have been many people involved in ASG, the writing has primarily been my work – and slowly the writing became more and more personal, shifting from the naive imagery of the early years into this extremely personal project. I think I was mostly influenced by Christina Rossetti’s poetry, Leonard Cohen’s first four albums, Red House Painters, and The Green Pajamas’ Jeff Kelly’s solo albums by then, but, to be honest, ASG has always been influenced more by everyday encounters than anything else. I have no interest in making music which has been done before.
By 2013, I had moved to Amsterdam & was working on “The Tower & The Hanged Man” while my personal life was gradually unraveling due to various reasons – and this was to be reflected in the music. The collections of songs which are also available in Bandcamp from years 2013-2016 document the unraveling. The biggest shift in my musical output probably after I met my future wife in Amsterdam, spring of 2014. I was living in a commune of artists, and had over time developed a taste in contemporary dance and performance art.
Matilda, whom I later married, is an academy-trained dancer and choreographer, and through her influence I realized that the audience-artist relationship I had been searching for can probably not be found in the “music scene” format alone. To be brutally honest, I have never liked the image building and cheap mystical qualities of bands and the scene in general – it was probably cool when you’re 14, but not so later. In the end it all boils down to the audience-artist relationship.
The live recordings as Aura Shining Green after 2014 were combined with performance art & contemporary dance, and I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed making music more than during those sets. I moved back to Finland and decided to pull the plug on Aura Shining Green for good after two carefully constructed albums, sung mostly in Finnish. At the same time, a Russian label put out “The Green Man & The White Witch” (which is probably the reason why the music of ASG has been thought to be “Neofolk”, which it is not, and never has been). The Green Man was based around a long poem, “Refuge in the Triple Gem”, which I wrote when I became a student in Buddhism under a Tibetan teacher a couple of years back, and rest of the songs were old texts recited around a campfire long time ago. I think that album is undercooked and was supposed to be a mere addendum to the more fleshed-out The White Witch, but the label turned the order around. The White Witch was a drill for the two final albums, and a good album in its own right too, I think.
Suomenlahden Aarteet & Kuumusiikkia (and the accompanying EP, Keväänsäde) are the final works as ASG, and to me, they represent all the romantic and spiritual qualities which were present in the music during all the formative and later years.
The path that I had been on with ASG had led to the formation of Kiiltomatolyhty. The name translates as “a glow-worm lantern”, and for me it represents a guiding beacon of light in Maya, the darkness of pretense and deceit. The project started with 4 album-length recitations collated from my dream journals, which were not intended for any sort of release, just personal trinkets. At the same time, I had gone completely synthesizer-mad – I have slowly built a mostly-analogue synth arsenal which I have been using in my artistic work as a sound worker and in contemporary dance.
The first release as Kiiltomatolyhty is Kalastajakuningas (The Fisher King) which we performed live at an animal rights conference. The first “album” is Kultasarvi (Gold-antler).
So, what is the difference between ASG and Kiiltomatolyhty? ASG was a project which was mostly concerned in delving deep into the personal, while Kiiltomatolyhty exists as a polar opposite: the journey into the universal. Also, Kiiltomatolyhty will probably never perform live in a purely musical context. ASG was probably also the playful and youthful romantic-idealist project, and Kiiltomatolyhty is the more thoughtful. I’m 40 now, so I really can’t be fucking about anymore. The time is running out!
You have an album of covers from busking in Amsterdam and clearly have been influenced by a variety of songwriters. Are there any that you feel particularly influenced your work?
Yes, definitely. I need to check who I covered there…yeah, there’s a Cohen song there, his 4 first albums are definitely an inspiration for much of the later work as ASG. And it seems I also covered Tom Rapp of Pearls Before Swine – one of my all-time favourite groups. There’s also a Jeff Kelly tune there, he’s one of my big influences – a criminally underrated artist. To me, he is bigger than all of the Beatles combined. There’s also “Jerusalem” by Simon Finn, a song which I hold very dear. That first Finn album has a magical quality – I really love how rough it is yet filled with vision and fire. There’s some bluesy stuff there too, I think around that time I was really into Lightning Hopkins.
But most of all, I think Townes Van Zandt’s ghost hovers over that era…as I mentioned earlier, I was in a downward spiral sound-tracked by Townes’ songs. I am unable to listen to those recordings nowadays, except A Secret History, which is a great album – I wish some label would put that out. Thinking back now, those years in The Netherlands seem like a youthful golden dream. It didn’t seem like it at the time.
Another big influence has always been Pekka Streng, a Finnish artist who died young – shortly after releasing one of my favourite albums, “Kesämaa”. I’ve never had the guts to try to touch any of his songs. I need to add that I have always loved the 60s-70s Finnish bands, progressive rock and folk mostly – not namedropping that bunch here – but if anyone wants to go digging around, it is a treasure trove. Try Wigwam’s “Being” for starters, or Haikara’s first album. The first two Hector albums, “Nostalgia” and “Herra Mirandos” have always been a huge influence. He is kind of the Finnish Donovan.
I first encountered Aura Shining Green on an acid folk sampler, but on Bandcamp the one tag that is consistent for your breadth of work is devotional. How would you describe your music? Is there a spiritualism that informs your work?
Yes, definitely. I think it is impossible to separate what we are from the art which we create, so there’s always parts of you seeping into the work even though you do not intend the work to be spiritual per se. However, I have no intention of creating art which requires a spiritual outlook from the listener – and my personal spirituality is not of the religious kind, as I don’t follow any specific creed.
When describing my music, I need to draw a line between ASG and Kiiltomatolyhty, as the initial spark for creating music for the two projects is fundamentally different. ASG was highly personal music which was distilled from my diary entries and life experiences, sometimes veiled behind clever use of images and language – but in the end it was very down-to-earth and reality-based. So, I would perhaps describe ASG as highly personal songwriting-based project. A reality show of sorts, haha.
Kiiltomatolyhty on the other hand operates on a highly symbolic level, and is much more composition-based music, which has a meditative quality. The lyrics are more evocative and universal – the lines on Kultasarvi touch animal rights, ecological and eschatological themes, space travel, and animistic, almost Shinto-like reincarnation and regeneration as a part of the cycle of life.
The composition process for both projects relies heavily on meditative improvisation and “first take is the best take”-philosophy. The process for me is a 50% improvisatory thing. I might have an idea what the track should sound like, but then as I’m adding elements, the goal tends to shift away from the original idea. I might have an idea imprinted in my mind, and throughout the creation process I’m just picking up the pieces and “channelings” in order to come up with the finished song. During my years working as ASG, I never had the gear or the room to actually polish the recordings in any way, so they are very barebones and lo-fi in parts – but that was the intention all along, to keep things spontaneous. Kiiltomatolyhty is a much more curated and controlled affair, but there’s way less songwriting involved. It is more evocative and spacious, with less focus on the songs. This kind of approach makes it even more important for me as an artist to just add elements which manifest spontaneously.
So…excuse me for rambling…what I tried to describe is the fact that the creation process is in a way informed by a “spiritual” approach – the spontaneous channeling of music has a quality to it which can be experienced as something resembling spiritual practises, such as meditation, where initially you let the ideas flow – if they need to, in order to clear the mind. Only now you are recording the ideas on tape, and afterwards you deem whether the idea was good enough to form the basis of a song.
To me, devotional music is the purest form of music – I have an unending passion for field recordings of communal devotional music and such, and as an artist I can respect the power one can tap into by just opening yourself up for improvisation and acting as a conduit for all your material which exists in your head, yet to be recorded.
There bits in some of your English songs that feel like echoes of traditional ballads, but you’re also not afraid to add synthetic and natural sounds or delve into the electronic. What role does folk tradition, Finnish or other, play in your songwriting and what inspired you to incorporate these diverse elements?
Musically speaking, I think I have always been intrigued by traditional ballads – and as I stated earlier, the English ballad form is probably one of my earliest musical influences. I can also appreciate the cultural aspect of Finnish traditional song. I have Roma blood, and at some point, I was really into Romani music, but have no idea about the traditions. However, I don’t consider the music of ASG or Kiiltomatolyhty to be “folk” in any sense – it is music composed and performed mostly by people who have little connection to any tradition. Myself, I’m a thoroughly urban IT professional from a non-working-class background with an university degree, born with a silver spoon in my mouth – never had to even endure manual labour – completely out of touch with any kind of authentic folk tradition. Also, I don’t really have any interest in reviving any traditions – or to claim to be a representative of one. I tend to prefer the future, not the past. The disconnect from any sort of tradition is a natural process for someone with a background like my own – I have no interest of trying to reclaim something which was not there in the first place.
Hence, I find it interesting to mix up a lot of the elements I love in the world of music – the electronic and the acoustic, the compositional and lyrical, the traditional and the avant-garde, the melodic and droning, the popular and the experimental.
With Kiiltomatolyhty, the intent to incorporate the more droning, experimental elements was there in the beginning. I have learned from working within the performative arts scene that the subdued and non-defining elements usually are the elements which are more easy to work with, for they do not define the mood so strongly – yet they can “tie” an album or an performance together more effectively. There was a time when I could listen to or play a show with only guitar + vocals, but gradually I fell out of love with such a straightforward approach. I don’t mean I disown the music I did in the past, but I really can’t see myself playing a “singer-songwriter” show in the near future.
Kiiltomatolyhty also performed live in support of the Finnish Animal Rights Party (EOP), how did this come to be?
I have been an animal rights advocate/activist since the 90s, and a proponent of a vegan way of life from an early age. We were invited to perform at the event because when representing the Kiiltomatolyhty project, I have been openly discussing and promoting these values in public – and also promoted the new political party which we certainly need in this country. We are one of the last countries to allow the exploitation of animals in the fur trade, and a country where the meat-industry corporations have a firm grip on public propaganda channels. The public image of Finnish factory farming has been effectively whitewashed to appeal to the masses as more “ethical” than factory farming abroad. This is the greatest lie, which has been echoed for decades, and people are still buying it.
As an art project, Kiiltomatolyhty is unapologetically in opposition of the murder and exploitation of sentient beings and will not stay silent about this stance. Matilda, who is also a member of Kiiltomatolyhty, now serves as the vice-chairperson of EOP. Since then, I have also composed background music for the party’s campaign video.
How does antifascism inform you politically and as a musician?
I think it is absurd that in the modern world one needs to specify that they are antifascist – fascism reared its ugly head not so long ago, and where did it lead to? It is a failed ideology. A thing of the past – and if you feel the need to dig it up from its grave, something has gone wrong at some point – not with the world, but with you. If there is anything good in it, it is poisoned by the inherent rot at the heart of it. I think we should learn from the past and discard the things which did not work. I don’t want to go about declaring that I am an antifascist, but the sad state of affairs leads to situations where I actually have to do that – and that is really fucked up. I don’t want to use my music as a vessel to state this – however, I am unable to separate the music from my person, so the stance is there in music, stealthily.
Politically, I think that animal rights and antifascism go hand in hand. Add equal rights and intersectional feminism on top of that, and zoooom, you have just become enlightened, a real thinking human being. From there on, you are able to concentrate on the ultimate goal – to end speciesism for good, and usher in an eco-conscious golden age of rationalism, re-vitalized ambition and purpose.
Kiiltomatolyhty just released an album, Kultasarvi, in November. Would you like to say something about the album and what’s coming up next for you?
Kultasarvi the idea and Kultasarvi the album had a very different sorts of genesis. The idea was to record the album at Viitala, our cabin in the woods of southern Finland – where I also wrote the lyrics for the album. However, it was originally coined as a sparse, acoustic album, but I just wasn’t happy with the recordings. There are hours and hours of the acoustic versions of the songs stashed away on tapes somewhere. Once I started adding in more and more of the electronics, and Iina joined the project (on this album I was mostly working alone before that), the proper end result was starting to materialize. I also didn’t want the first release as Kiiltomatolyhty to sound like ASG, so I had to be careful about that.
Personally, I think it is my favourite album, and since I was so harsh with the cutting of the final tracks, there is absolutely no filler on the album. I don’t think it has any songs which pop out of the context, but as a whole it is the best I’ve done so far. Of course, compared to Suomenlahden Aarteet, which has some of the best songs I have written, the competition is unfair.
The album itself is a sort of prayer or meditation on the preciousness of the ecosphere, the life of sentient beings, guided by our totem animal, the badger, and the hundreds of birds who sing in the orchard of Viitala. It is a spiritual album, completely devoid of any sort of religion, a scientific-pantheist devotional album for the new age.
Kultasarvi was ready in early spring 2020. Then COVID-19 hit. It was supposed to come out on vinyl this year, but the plans fell through. It is currently available from kiiltomatolyhty.bandcamp.com, and from the UK label Reverb Worship as a limited physical edition. I am now slowly working on Valonkajo (“a faint shimmer of light”, hard to translate…) exploring and expanding the sound of Kultasarvi further.
COVID-19 has pretty much decimated my creative output – and as an artist I am “out of work” right now. I am able to work on my own music, but I have been paralyzed creatively of late, since I draw a lot of inspiration from being out there. And I can’t really be out there. Also, my work with synthesizers in performance arts is on hold, as is the work with the krautrock collective. Let’s hope 2021 will be slightly better.
Are there any metal, folk, or other bands you could recommend to Antifascist Neofolk fans and fans of your work?
At the moment I’m thoroughly in love with Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, but I could also recommend something like Ali Farka Toure’s “Niafunké”, Harold Budd’s “Avalon Sutra”, Georges Moustaki, Mark Fry’s “Dreaming with Alice”, Perry Leopold’s “Christian Lucifer”, Fela Kuti, Fall of Efrafa’s trilogy of albums (Owsla, Elil, Inle), Luzmila Carpio’s “The Song of the Earth and Stars”, anything by Popol Vuh, Pearls Before Swine, United Bible Studies, David Colohan’s solo work, Bob Theil’s first LP, Clive Palmer’s COB (Moyshe McStiff & The Tartan Lancers of the Sacred Heart + Spirit of Love), Hamza El Din, Jackson C. Frank, Pekka Streng, Renaissance’s “Scheherazade and Other Stories”, first four Red House Painters albums, Jeff Kelly’s “Coffee in Nepal” and “Portugal”, Hildegard von Bingen, Yndi Halda’s “Enjoy Eternal Bliss”, Marja Mattlar, Townes van Zandt, John Dowland, Vashti Bunyan’s first album, William Lawes, Henry Purcell’s “Music for a While”, Roxy Music’s “Avalon”, and of course The Incredible String Band, Coil’s lunar phase albums, Bill Fay, and Gene Clark’s “No Other”.
In just a matter of months really, Ashera has become one of the defining bands of a new wave of explicitly antifascist neofolk. It is hard to call this a genre since what binds it together is largely not based in the actual sound of music, it is more in a type of negative space. If neofolk has so often been ceded to the far-right, assumed to be a romantic nationalist artform created by and for racists, the very existence of an antifascist neofolk that rejects that world had the effect of being a novelty. Ashera was one of the bands that helped move the concept from a curiosity to a new operative principle. We are now entering an era where hundreds of bands are taking on this mantle, bringing in a massively diverse wave of neofolk, black metal, and intersecting types of music all brought into a kind of (dis)harmony by its disallowal for fascist politics.
Instead, Ashera’s romanticism can be said to be grounded in a type of anticapitalism. Deborah and Justin Norton-Kerston, the two members of Ashera, are both organizers, grounded in the world of labor strikes and eviction defense, so this energy pervades everything they have produced, which has been a lot.
In a lot of ways their new album Rob the Rich shows that neofolk was really just a starting point as they push their way into everything from psych and prog rock to Appalachian hill folk. Genres have a utility, they give us starting points and can spark creativity by allowing a common musical language, but they can also create boundaries that are best when broken. The new 10-song release is a wonderful extension past the limits of antifascist neofolk, which has the effect of both expanding what we could expect from the band and the genre itself. One of the featured tracks, “The Battle of Portland,” is a seamless mix of the noise of the protest confrontations that converged on Portland in the summer of 2020 and the fluid, synthesis driven sound that was the foundation of their first EP, Antifascist Lullabies. Other tracks, such as “All Cops Are Bastards,” feels more like the acoustic “singer-songwriter” melodies that mark the soundtrack for summer hippie festivals and jam-band revivals. Antifascist neofolk is starting to stake its claim not just on a particular lyrical or ideological frame, but also its own distinct relationship with folk music and how it wants to create a 21st century synthesis. Rob the Rich is a vital part of that process.
We interviewed the band about this new release and are happy to embed it here for the first time so that those who have made A Blaze Ansuz something special are able to hear it first. We have also added several tracks to the Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify, which we will continue to update to allow it to remain an ever-growing space for building the space. Ashera has never shied away from a “contested space,” to be open about who they are in a genre that was not immediately welcoming. That principle-first approach helps to drive the space open for all of us, and we need more bands that will follow Ashera’s example.
What was your thinking going into this new album? How did it evolve from your earlier work?
In terms of thematic concepts, Rob the Rich shares a focus on antifascism with our first EP. The idea here though was to explore some aspects of fascism such as white supremacy, privilege and patriarchy more closely, whereas the Antifascist Lullabies EP was kind of more just revolt and burn it down. I mean that stuff is still there in Rob the Rich too, but that ‘fight the war’ aspect takes a little bit more of a backseat on this album to exploring different aspects of fascism, how they are used, how they affect society, and how we can fight back against them aside from, and in addition to, going out and punching Nazis.
You seem to be branching out past the narrow focus on neofolk. How do you think about genre in the project, and do you feel held back by it?
I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about it as being held back by genre. I love neofolk music and our roots as music collaborators goes back to the first band we were in together, The Cloverfields, which was a pagan neofolk band that played the pagan festival circuit in Southern California. But it has always been hard for me to stick to any particular genre, and I went into writing Rob the Rich with the idea that I wasn’t trying to force it to be a strictly neofolk album. So I just went with it when other stuff like blues, shoegaze, psychedelic, and classical influences started weaving their way in.
There are still some strong elements of neofolk throughout the album that are meant to help keep it in the family, so to speak. The vocals have a lot of reverb on them, for example, and the whole album has a dark folk kind of atmosphere. “Eat Your Landlord” is a good example of a song on the album that has a lot more of a traditional neofolk sound than some of the other tracks. So I guess if I think about it in those terms. I do feel like genre is a bit confining in terms of the art of creating music, at least that’s true for my creative process and direction. It may be helpful for other people and their creative process and that is totally fair and valid too.
How does the year (2020) play a role in the album? It seems like it is a major character in the story.
This album wouldn’t be the same if it hadn’t been composed and recorded in 2020. I started composing the album in late April 2020. Breonna Taylor had been murdered by police in Kentucky the month before, and it was only a few weeks later that police in Minneapolis killed George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement erupted again, and the Portland uprising began. All of that played a big role in the album as we explored themes like white supremacy, institutional racism and police brutality, the revolt against capitalism, the growth of anarchism and socialism, and the disturbing spread of neo-fascism. Musically, a lot of the harmonic dissonance in the album is designed to convey the tension and anxiety that I think we’ve all felt this year as a result of the pandemic and all of the socio-political stress around the protests and the election season. Walk us through your production process.
How do you write music and what does recording look like?
A song usually starts as an idea for lyrics, whether it’s a line of verse or just a general theme. Then I’ll sit down with an acoustic guitar and start toying around melodies. Every once in a while a composition will start musically with some sort of hook that I have running through my head.
The title track on Rob the Rich is a good example of that where I had the idea for the guitar hook before the lyrics. Most often though, some of the lyrics come first, and then I sit around humming a line of lyrics while noodling around on the guitar trying to find the right melody and chord progression for the ideas and feelings I want the lyrics and the song to convey.
Once a song is written, the recording process always starts with the ritual of laying down a kick drum beat that I use as a metronome when recording the other instruments. That happens even if the song isn’t going to have any percussion in it. From there I’ll build the song by recording the rhythm section: acoustic guitar, bass, maybe piano. After that I record at least a scratch vocal track of the lyrics and basic vocal melody, and then I build other instruments like lead guitar, banjo, mandolin or baglamas on top of that. If there is any percussion other than the kick drum it usually gets created toward the end, and then once all of that is there we record vocals over it.
Recording vocals always starts with getting a good take for the main melody vocal. Then we play around with different ideas for harmony vocals. We generally record quite a few different harmonies for each song and then decide what we like and want to use later on during mixing. For this album we had a good friend and old bass player of ours at Unit-42 do the mix. So that process was a lot of fun sending tracks back and forth, talking about the songs and shaping them together. And there is a lot of clean up that takes place during the mixing process too. They come back and say hey I want more of this, or you should re-record that, or you know you can do it better. I really enjoy the collaborative aspect of creating music.
How does anticapitalism inform your creative mission? An anticapitalist vision has always been central to Ashera’s music and the kind of culture that we’re trying to foster through the music. It’s the soil that project germinates in. Anticapitalism was certainly a theme of our first EP, and on this new album songs like “Eat Your Landlord” and Rob the Rich are steeped in everyday folk resistance to the forces of capitalism. Even other songs like “Consequences,” “Betray Whiteness,” or “All Cops Are Bastards” explore things like patriarchy, white supremacy, and police violence that are all used, shaped, and in some cases even created by capitalism as tools of oppression that serve to maintain the status quo and ensure its continuance. So in a lot of ways anticapitalism has a strong influence on our creative mission.
Check out the full album here, and their music video for “All Cops Are Bastards” above.
Cinder Well is one of the most well centered projects in the emerging world of left and antiracist neofolk/dark folks/traditional folk, being made up of musicians from a range of projects coming together to riff on regional folk music. Emerging from the songwriting of Amelia Baker, now based in Ireland and studying/teaching Irish fiddle, the music is a haunting blend of styles that feels draw from the stories of communities often forgotten.
In this interview with Amelia Baker, we talk about how Cinder Well came together, how its instrumentation developed, and why they have made it a priority to speak up against white supremacy.
How did your project come together? Is it the first musical project you have done?
I started writing music under the name Cinder Well to have a solo project that could evolve over time. I wanted to be able to perform solo, but also collaborate, perform and record with other musicians. The first Cinder Well EP and early shows were mostly solo – but tours have happened in many configurations. The Unconscious Echo was a collaboration with a full band – several members of Blackbird Raum, and members of Vradiazei were in the mix.
I’ve been writing music since I was a teenager – at first for no one, then for myself, and then for various projects in Santa Cruz. There was a really active, creative and supportive music scene when I lived there around 2008-2013. Playing and touring with Gembrokers and Blackbird Raum was hugely formative for me, and Cinder Well definitely grew out of that same vein of music, ideology, and community.
Cinder Well feels like a story that’s unfolding and being told from many angles and I’m there to kind of guide it along.
How do you go about songwriting? What instruments are involved?
A song usually starts with a melody in my head that is so gloriously satisfying that it needs to have something built around it. I start singing the melody, or playing it on something, and then words fill in. Sometimes I have a really clear image or story that I’m trying to portray, but other times the words just come out and create images and concepts that may end up making more sense to me later on.
I use lots of different instruments while I’m writing music. Often I’ll switch between them to get ideas for chords, harmony, and melody, and to find the right groove. Many of the songs that I play live on my resonator guitar were written on other instruments (banjo, piano, bouzouki) that I don’t bring around on tour.
I wrote a lot of the string parts on The Unconscious Echo, but more recently, I bring the bones of a song to my bandmates, we all talk about the concept, and we collaborate on where it goes. On this recent tour, Marit and I rearranged some of the songs to play as a duo that we had recorded as a full band, which was really interesting and exciting to see how the songs could continue to evolve and feel new to us again.
Strangely, when I try to remember where and when I wrote a particular song, I often find that I have no memory of it. I have found that the best songs come out almost all at once. When I find myself meddling, overthinking, theorizing with a piece of music, its usually not going to make it out of the mill.
What genre do you consider your music? Do you see yourself as a part of the larger neofolk scene?
I guess I consider it original folk music because I am so completely immersed in folk and traditional music, but the majority of the material we record and perform live is original.
I live in Ireland, where I study and play traditional music and ballads, and Mae and Marit play Klezmer and Scandinavian music (check out their string duo, Varda). But myself and everyone who plays/ has played in Cinder Well started playing music not really in folk scenes but rather in DIY, punk, anarchist crossover communities that was Santa Cruz and the West Coast in the first, say, 15 years of the 2000s.
I don’t at all consider Cinder Well to be a neofolk band or as part of the neofolk community (other than, by some fluke, Cinder Well being tagged as neofolk on Google, and I don’t think this interview will change that algorithm!). I’ve never entirely understood what neofolk music is, but I do know that many of the pioneers of the genre (i.e. Death in June) experimented with fascist aesthetics. Therefore I’ve had zero interest in personally trying to identify with the genre and redefine it as antifascist. I suppose the genre of neofolk was born out of punk and folk elements from a certain era, and so was Cinder Well, but a different era altogether.
Why is it important to be an antifascist band?
It’s important to be an antifascist band because it’s important to be antifascist – and for that to be 100% clear. I used to be somewhat “benefit of the doubt” when it came to bands that “seemed cool” but used maybe kind of sketchy imagery. But I had some experiences in the past few years with people and bands who use mysteriously fascist imagery, that as a Jewish person, I found to be terrifying and invoking of generational/historical trauma that I didn’t know I even had. The Unconscious Echo really came out of that process; the album as a whole and especially the title track. The experience of the irrational fear that arose in me in the presence of that symbolism, while being told it isn’t fascist, made me realize that NO ONE should have to be made to feel unsafe like that.
I am a white, Jewish, cis-gendered woman. And as white people we are all complicit, consciously and subconsciously, in white supremacy in the way that it benefits us. It is only with white supremacist privilege that a white person can use a symbol that looks like a swastika and redefine that meaning for those it was used against. For Jewish people. People of color. Queer and trans people.
When a swastika is used by a white person “not in a Nazi way” it can provoke a huge amount of fear and panic in people who have a deeply engrained story of what a swastika means. So if you’re antifascist just fucking say it and BE antifascist, to provide solace and clarity for everyone who is seeking that in art.
Music creates vulnerable spaces for both musicians and listeners. All I can ever hope to do with my music is to provide an environment where people can safely feel all the things they need to feel, and have a moment of reflection from the world we live in. Safely, without question.
What is coming next for you?
We have a tour coming up in October on the West Coast, and there’s an album in the works. In the meantime I’ll be playing some solo gigs around Ireland and the UK.
We recently had two amazing tours in Europe and the UK that have left us feeling excited and encouraged about what we’re doing. We’re just going to keep writing, playing, and recording, because we love it, and see what comes our way.
The soul of antifascist neofolk came from bands who already were connected to the genre, but had a different starting point. For the people of the country, who were resisting encroaching empire or, later, fascist dictatorship, folk music was a type of cultural struggle that helped to remember who they were in the face of total erasure. In Galicia, the regional language and cultural practices, the strength of women and the diversity they respected, was crushed as Francisco Franco’s nationalist regime banned the language and expressions of tradition.
This is what has driven Galician neofolk giants Sangre de Muérdago to focus these folk traditions, handed down by families in their homes and pubs, alive in modern concert halls. A mix of romantic folk revival, traditionalist instrumentation, and a musical drive from the punk and metal world, Sangre de Muérdago has become one of the most defining crossover bands of the neofolk scene and have bucked the perception of the genre as solely owned by the far-right. Instead their anarchist inspired music has pushed back on bigotry and oppression, that was the role of the music from the start.
We interviewed Pablo C. Ursusso, who plays classical guitar and writes much of the music, about how they came together, what role Galician music has in fighting fascist oppression, and why they are taking a stand.
How did Sangre de Muérdago first come together?
Hard to describe, the winds brought us together, and then they separated us again, and then the long journey began… Sangre de Muérdago is an attempt to capture the essence of the wild spirits and translate them into our language through music, and I think this idea is what in first place brought us together.
The sound is firmly based in the Galician folk tradition, why do you focus on reviving Galician music? Did this come from your own family traditions?
The sound is based in Galician tradition but also in many other fields. I think we are more focused on reviving the spirit I mentioned before, but we definitely have a compromise with Galician music and folklore.
I’ve grown up in a relatively undeveloped area and I still absorbed many old ways that were, and in some areas still are, alive.
What role did Galician music and culture play in resisting Franco?
The role it played during the war and the dictatorship was mostly to be in exile, hidden in the villages and the taverns, where people sang and played percussion with spoons and gardening tools.
Franco prohibited Galician language, and he was a Galician himself (only geographically speaking), so it is not only that it was forbidden to sing in Galician, but even to speak it.
Galician teachers were sent to the south of Spain, while southern teachers were sent to Galicia, in order to prevent the children to even learn the proper grammer, because at home, the Galician language was alive, but the blow that the language and culture suffered back then still has effects today.
Where do you find lyrical inspiration, and how does the writing process happen in the band?
I try to dig it up from my own most of the time, but of course I get a lot of collateral inspiration by countless sources. I don’t think I can name a specific tangible something from where I find most of my inspiration.
The writing process is on me, and often we do arrangements together. The process happens usually by surprise, but you know as Picasso said, “inspiration always catches me at work.” With this I mean that I play my instruments a lot, and when not, I sing to myself and my dog very much too, so I think that sentence applies very much to the creative process, and inspiration catches you often with the brush or the instrument or whatever is your tool, in hand.
You play in a huge range of venues, from opera hall to metal venues, why have you chosen to have such a diverse community?
That is something not chosen at all, it just happened and it is something I’m very glad about. A beautiful diversity of people in front of the stage feels very good.
I don’t really know, but after all, we are people that come from many little corners of the musical and cultural world, and some of us have been active for a long time.
I myself grew up with a lot of folk around me and at the same time deep into the anarcho/punk/diy community of music and counterculture, which in the 90s offered some of the most eclectic and interesting music that a scene had to offer, from metal to rock to experimental music. Georg comes from a more metal background, and Erik from a lot of rock and psychedelia, for example, just to mention some of us… and after all, we play folk music!
How do you see the band relating to the struggle for liberation and autonomy?
I sing with all my heart for liberation and autonomy. And at a personal level, the band exists as a product of the struggle for liberation and autonomy.
Do you think it is important for bands to create an inclusive space and stand against bigotry?
Yes. Very much. Bands and everyone in general.
What’s coming next? What tours, albums, collaborations or anything should people be looking out for?
Next is a good winter solstice ritual of magic and music.
We are as well working on our songs for our next album, which will be recorded in February 2020, then on tour through Europe in March, and hopefully for that time we will have in our hands our next release which is a Split Lp with Monarch. We have also some single shows popping up here and there… stay tuned.
We feature Sangre de Muerdago heavily on the Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify, and will continue to add more tracks as they are released. Below are several albums from their Bandcamp, and stay tuned as we spotlight upcoming releases, tours, and collaborations!
Cinder Well’s music is a beautiful, dreamlike synthesis of dark folk, Americana, Southern Gothic, and neofolk, all drawn together by a profound introspection and commitment to justice. She is playing multiple dates up and down the West Coast over October, including several appearances with other antifascist neofolk musicians such as Anna Vo in Portland.
Check out these dates below and come out to one of the shows!
10.12 Sugarloaf Center Williams, OR
10.13 Black Butte Center for Railroad Culture Weed, CA
There is a sonic simplicity to Aerial Ruin, the solo neofolk project by Erik Moggridge, also known for his work in metal bands like Epidemic and Bell Witch. Like with a lot of layered neofolk, it starts with a singular acoustic guitar and then paints tracks with an overwhelming cascade. It is uniquely of the Cascadian neofolk scene that it comes out of, where you almost expect the mountains and forests will inspire this kind of quiet introspection (or blood curdling black metal, but that’s the other side).
We interviewed Moggridge about how Aerial Ruin came together, how Cascadian neofolk is growing in the Pacific Northwest, and why there should be no question when it comes to racism in the scene.
How did you first start playing music?
I started playing guitar quite young and had a band in junior high playing Sabbath and Priest covers and then started my first proper band Epidemic with friends in high school. We were thrash/death metal band that had some underground demo success and eventually did two albums on Metal Blade in the early-mid nineties.
What led into Aerial Ruin?
After Epidemic I formed another metal/rock band (which has recently reunited) called Old Grandad in San Francisco. We were much more experimental than Epidemic and had melodic and harsh vocals performed by all three members. We had a lot of different styles including more melodic psychedelic Pink Floyd influenced stuff that I would sing. You can see a thread from that material to Aerial Ruin although the two projects are very different overall.
This feels like an intensely personal, and solitary endeavor. What is the core inspiration for your music?
In some ways it could be said that Aerial Ruin grew out of becoming a more spiritual person. And yes it is a solitary and personal project but in a sense it is sub-personal, as it could be said to be about the loss of the self, or the fine line between the intensely personal and vaporizing the ego .
I have always been a very detached and dreamy individual and as a result have gravitated towards altered states of consciousness and extreme psychedelic experiences coupled with a fascination with death and mortality. My agnostic spiritual perspective gave way to a series of intense spiritual experiences. Not religious mind you, more of an impossible to define but very strong connection to something that eclipses our conscious human experience that it perhaps stems from. After that experience metaphor and symbolism took on new strength and meaning to me and I started writing and recording the earliest Aerial Ruin material as an attempt to express all this.
Of course experiences of transcendence and spirituality have always inspired art and music. What is magical to me is how unique and individual a perspective can feel on something that is perhaps so universal. Every individual can see or perceive something from a perspective that only they hold.
Dynamically it also made sense to do something quiet, minimalistic and personal where my voice does not have to compete with a hugely loud drummer and ever expanding amplification that Old Grandad had.
How do you define the sound of Aerial Ruin?
I usually quote other people by saying “some people describe it as dark folk” or “it’s acoustic guitar and melodic vocals but it’s dreary with residual metal qualities”. I don’t really have a definition for it myself outside of “my mostly-acoustic solo project”.
The term folk music to me implies the continuing-of or inspiration-from tradition. So in a sense that does not describe Aerial Ruin as my inspirations are so detached and personal. But I like folk music and there is enough sonic similarities that I don’t feel it is a bad description when people describe me as folk, dark-folk, neofolk, freak-folk etc. People who enjoy these genres often like my music so it is helpful to talk about it this way.
Is there a growing neofolk scene in the Pacific Northwest?
Syd Barrett and Mark Lanegan are definitely influences. I think the musical influences were much more obvious in my louder bands though. I am an absolute Elliott Smith fanatic but I became a fan after Aerial Ruin started so his music is not really an influence but definitely and inspiration. The same could be said for certain Cat Power albums – the 1998-2003 era. Radiohead too. In more recent years I have discovered lots of more underground music that may not be a musical influence per se influence but is definitely inspiring, I’ve listed many of these bands elsewhere in this interview.
Why do you think it is important to stand up against racism and fascism in the music scene?
It is always important to stand up to facism and racism. I am thankful that the people I have met in the underground community, both here at home and on tour are consistently anti-fascist, anti-racist and embracing of all kinds of diversity. Of course sensitivities differ but musicians I know seem to be, as a whole very left wing, distrusting of authority and completely intolerant of any form of discrimination or prejudice.
These days I tend to discover new music through touring and playing shows with bands and don’t always pay attention to what’s going on in the larger scene. Obviously I am aware that facism and racism do exist in the music scene but they are not in my record collection. It is alarming to me that white supremacy and racism are emboldened here in the US by the absurdity of the Trump era but thankfully I do not see this manifested in the underground circles I move in.
What’s coming next for you?
The next release is a fully acoustic split full-length with Panopticon coming out on vinyl courtesy of Bindrune Recordings. It has just been mastered so hopefully it will be out in a few months. Panopticon is such a brilliant and unique one-man band and I am honored to be able to share wax with him. The way he and I approach acoustic music is also very different so the two sides are an interesting contrast.
In September I begin recording a collaboration album with Seattle doom-duo Bell Witch. I have been an auxiliary vocalist/collaborator on all their albums and select live shows and tours but thus-far have only contributed to certain songs or parts. On this album I am singing, co-writing and also playing guitar on the whole thing. This is why it is being presented as a collaboration by Bell Witch and Aerial Ruin as opposed to me just being listed as a guest vocalist like before.
On September 28 I begin a European tour centering around a show hosted by BE Metal at Amuz, a beautiful church turned concert hall in Antwerp, Belgium. It is a great line-up featuring Austin Lunn playing solo acoustic Panopticon songs, Don Anderson playing Agalloch songs also solo on acoustic guitar, plus Andrew Marshall of Saor, Kathrine Shepard of Sylvaine and Marisa Kaye Janke of Isenordal all doing acoustic performances. After that show Aerial Ruin will be doing touring through France and Switzerland with Iffernet, a new two-piece black metal band featuring David, the drummer from Monarch and Sordide. The vinyl version of my “Nameless Sun” album came out recently as a split release by Caustic records and Musica Maxica so this tour will allow to get my copies of this which I look forward to. in 2020 I plan on touring heavily as Aerial Ruin and hopefully in collaboration with Bell Witch as well.
What bands would you recommend to an antifascist neofolk fan?
Well certainly Panopticon and the Northwest acts I mentioned earlier in this interview. Sangre de Muerdago, Nebelung, Nest, Aelter, Divine Circles, Worm Ouroboros, Musk Ox, Destroying Angel, Foret Endormie, Isenordal, Witch Bottle come to mind too.
There is a magickal experimentation in Anna Vo’s twelve-string guitar, a mix of chimes and voices and echo and wind. The tapestry they brings together is a form of circular and rythmic narrative, part of personal inspiration and the influences of the Vietnamese diaspora, Buddhist prayer traditions, and a well of energy from around the world. There is often a high-concept at play in their work, such as the cycles of grief and mourning, but it never strays from the deep emotional fountain that feeds it.
We spoke with Anna Vo about their work and the antifascist label they has started developing to create an intentional counter-culture for marginalized artists to emerge in.
How did you first begin as a musician, how did your creative space come together?
I was bed-bound with a spinal injury for many months, which gave me the perspective of finally doing something that mattered to me that I had previously stifled.
Due to how I was socialized, I had centered my work and output around other people (like my record label) and deferring to their creative control (playing in anarcho-crust bands with white dudes) and it took this injury for me to take steps towards centering my own voice and creative desire. For example, I borrowed my housemate’s janky laptop and ordered two pedals online and when they arrived I started writing music horizontal, playing guitar from bed.
How did your current musical project come together? Is it mainly just you as a solo performer, or do you work with collaborators?
It is a solo project that I have been tinkering with for several years, each person I’ve invited as a collaborator, usually about a week before the recording dates, and usually without any pre-writing or rehearsal. My work is largely improvisation-based, and I field record things that interest me in my environment for textures.
What bands inspired you in doing the work?
The only band or person that I had heard of that plays guitar in a similar fashion is John Fahey. I only play 12 string guitar, and he is definitely my primary role model in that regard. He also writes pretty far out, honest, cool short stories. I’m self-taught, I have no musical schooling, and I purposely sing “kind of badly”/discordantly. I was not permitted to play music growing up as a teenager, so my time bed-bound was the most formative in my music practice.
How did you develop your sound, and how do you define it?
I would say I’m accidentally influenced by the circular, meditative structures of Buddhist prayer that I was exposed to by my grandmother taking me to temple, and the Vietnamese pop music my parents listened to, which was predominantly formulated after US troops exposed Vietnamese people to 60s rock and folk. There are parallels between artists like Simon and Garfunkel, and Vietnamese popular music. Sadness was and is a common tone for the Viet diaspora, whether we are talking about “post-war” music, or other inter-generational Viet art.
You live in the Pacific Northwest now, does that region influence your music, or is it pulled together from international spaces?
I’m from New Zealand, and my albums were mainly in places outside of the PNW. I’ve only lived in the States a few years, and actually found it more difficult to find places to play given that my music doesn’t clearly fit into the “noise” scene, or the neofolk scene. Being from Aoteoroa (NZ) has aesthetic relations with living in the PNW (and its associated localized patriotism): namely majestic landscapes and lush woodland.
What does the album The Condition come from, what’s the overarching theme?
It is made of of 9 songs, 3 x 3 songs, 3 parts or movements with afore-mentioned circular structure. The first refers to a mourning period, reflection and scrutiny. The second part is a zooming out of time and space, looking at the scale of a lifetime; and the third continues to zoom out and considers intergenerational ramifications beyond smaller incidents of trauma. The last track is designed to play into the first track again, aesthetically and thematically, and the record works as a 9 track prayer or meditation on the nature of the human condition.
There is a strong sense of anti-patriarchal spirit in the work, what issues and forces inspire the music?
I’m not sure how that spirit is evident, but I appreciate the observation. I’m non-binary, and like most categorizations I believe gender is restrictive in our we conceptualize our experiences and knowledge. Perhaps inherent in the work is *my* spirit, which is outwardly not patriarchal?
How has your music changed over the years? What instruments do you regularly use?
I mainly use 12-string guitar, and a collection of field recordings I have made in different spaces – the ocean, the city, on volcanoes. I play in bands, which is separate from this project- where I use my body/voice/presence, and also electric guitar, drums and several instruments I have built.
Your lyrics and singing border on spoken word poetry at times, what themes draw you together and how do you write your songs?
I think of music as collage, and I don’t know much about songwriting or classically structured musical works, so I would say that my approach typically looks like layers being placed adjacent and over one another until there is a narrative of some sore. Each layer or piece can be the chirping of a cricket, the chatter of children, or my mumbling something about whatever is on my mind at the time.
What drives your commitment to antifascism? Have you experienced a lot of white supremacist attitudes in the pagan and neofolk scene?
I started my label as a black metal and doom label in Australia over 10 years ago because the metal scene there defaults to white supremacy, which culturally invisibilizes the conversation. I wanted to visibilize the dichotomy, whilst creating visible space for people with similar tastes in music, who did not want to actively participate in what was an automatic state of white supremacy. That’s the cultural answer to your question. The personal answer is that through my lived experience, through myself and my parents/family being targeted daily, and through us being immigrants and refugees, we are not given a choice in being anti-racist and anti-fascist. To not make that choice, to default to dominant culture, and shrug my shoulders and promote hipster apathy is antithesis to my existence, and betrays my being.
The answer to the second question is yes. In various continents, and in ways that include and extend beyond militarized fascism. The obvious is that there are people present at shows and in music scenes who are parts of organized groups of people who work to intentionally and violently vicitimize people of color and queer people. The less obvious is when those same people go under the radar. Specifically I would like to call to attention the scenes I have been a part of where the very existence of punk or metal are politically suppressed – and going to a show and playing in a band means staring down the barrel of a rifle held my military government officials. My point is that fascism is a broad term that defines many states (as you know) including racism and including dictatorship, and I want to be clear that I am referring to a broad range of types of fascism, and its presence and relationship to music (and art).
Why is it not enough to be “not racist” or “not fascist?”
I believe you already know the answer to this question. Mainly that it is not a choice for me to not be anti-fascist.
Why do you think it is important to be a publicly antifascist band? How does antifascism inform your music?
See above re: the formation of the label. As a person I was silenced through my formative years when in punk and metal scenes attempting to address racism and casual fascism in music communities. So instead of trying to be heard or validated by others, I made clear and public my stance, in order to attract like-minded people to me. Which worked.
What’s coming next for you?
I’m releasing an anti-fascist Swedish band called Lands Sorg in August, and I hope to record a new solo album this coming winter: if grad school and my visual art career allows.
I also am in a duo as drummer and co-vocalist with Marit on viola. Marit also plays in Sangre De Muerdago, Cinderwell, Ekstasis and a billion other bands. We haven’t named the project yet.
What other bands do you recommend for antifascist neofolk fans?
What kind of bands are on the label and how are they strung together?
There are 33 releases on the label, and they are from 5 continents, and anti-fascist. They comprise of some established and well-known bands, and include lesser-known bands as a platform for them. The label highlights and seeks to include anti-fascist queer and trans people, people of color, women internationally.
Anna Vo’s label is An Our Recordings, and hosts many antifascist doom/black metal/neofolk bands like Ragana, Thou, and Nightwitches. We are putting some of their releases below, Vo has been incredibly prolific and has ten releases on their Bandcamp. Anna is unfortunately not on Spotify yet so we cannot add them to the Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify, but we are adding several other great tracks (and have added some recent ones, like Elk), so you should check it out!
What does it mean to build an anti-colonial dark folk sound in the heart of a colonial empire?
Byssus is a two piece, Burl Wood and Taylore, using their guitar and accordion to paint a dark melody that is equally sun drenched and spiked from the cold of the woods. There is an incredible simplicity to Byssus that also hails to the synthesis that their music provides, equal parts folk melody, singer-songwriter storytelling, and the dark hum of an accordion.
We interviewed Byssus about their history, how anti-colonialism drives their music, and what antifascism means to this ghost of a neofolk genre (which they may or may not really be a part of).
How did Byssus come together? Was this your first project?
Prior to the formation of Byssus, we played in a similar project called Inle Elni. We picked up some of the most resonant threads and wove them into a new incarnation, with similar themes of grief, celebration, and resilience. We have been members of many different music projects and musical communities throughout the years across genres and subgenres: folk (traditional, dark folk, and folk punk) hardcore, crust, etc…
What does the name Byssus mean?
Byssus is the name of a type of traditional weaving that uses gold threads from the mussel species Pinna nobilis, which involves maintaining a relationship with the mussel sea beds and diving hundreds of times to collect sea silk for a single woven piece. There is only one known remaining byssus weaver in the Mediterranean that continues this art. In a recent interview she spoke to the impossibility of this practice being commodified. It is not scalable and it is not practical. The art of byssus weaving is a beautiful example of devotion to deep connections with other species, and with the sea, which involves slow, painstaking care, and a refusal to be alienated from ones creations.
How do you write songs? Where do the lyrics come from?
Most often, we will independently bring ideas to one another, stories with melody in an almost complete song-form, and then invite new layers and directions from one another, resulting in an ultimately co-created song.
Taylore: The lyrics to many of the songs I’ve brought to the project emerge from states of grief and wonder, and often involve some kind of invocation or invitation. They are songs for healing, courage, defiance, and steadfastness in a simultaneously horrifying and beautiful world. I’ve used song-writing to bolster my own discouraged spirit, to collect fragmented parts of myself and tie them back into the natural world, and to share the strength I found in that deeply personal process.
Burl: I start most songs on the piano or guitar, and often write words later that layer over the main melody. For this album, a lot of the lyrics were inspired by anthropological works about mutualistic species networks of survival and the possibilities revealed by acknowledging that the earth is not made up of individualist competing species, but made possible only through the ingenious relationships between living beings. Our forgetfulness of these intrinsic ties (often obfuscated by imperial propaganda) is something that has been termed as our “amnesia”, whereby the cultural memory of these sacred and vital relations to one another is either immediately lost because of our forced severance from the land, or systematically written out of history through what we are taught. I guess a lot of the words in these songs were informed through a deep listening to the landscape and what has happened here, and how life finds a way in the midst of disaster.
What instruments are you working with? There is a strong guitar core, but you seem to layer sounds, how does that usually come together?
Resonator guitar is present in all songs, accordion most. Songs begin with and are either led by guitar or by accordion, and we very much center our voices. We’ve both been involved with very vocally driven projects in the past including choirs. The most ecstatic part of crafting and playing the songs is harmony. The droning and bass is held in most of our songs by the accordion, played in a fashion unlike the jaunty or bouncing stylings of accordion, more like an organ. We usually bring a series of parts (often without a clear chorus-verse song structure) to one another and then accompany and support the core with harmony and complimentary melodies.
There is a strong sense of anti-colonialism in your work, how does that inform the music?
Our songs are written from the relentless grief and terror that results from disconnection and also from the desire to be woven into deeper relationship with the natural world. It all starts with a recognition of the story of the land, and the ongoing effort to displace people from it. We write from occupied Ohlone territory, where many waves of colonization have brought dramatic and horrific assaults to the Indigenous communities that have been living here since time immemorial. Despite this, there are incredible and resilient efforts on the part of native peoples to protect and restore their cultures, traditions, and the land. We believe that knowing this ever-unfolding story, what has happened and is happening, and how that shapes everything around and inside us, as well as contributing to a culture of solidarity and responsibility is integral to our work as musicians, story-tellers, inhabitants of this place. Empire is insidious, the experience of dispossession, disconnection, and disenchantment is what we are trying to undo.
There is also a persistence to survive in the face of ecological collapse, how does this spirit inspire the music?
We turn toward the wisdom and creativity of other species and the bonds between them (both obvious and subtle) that are enduring this time of ecological devastation and loss. We also believe that through turning toward grief, rage, and wonder we find hidden reserves of strength and the motivation to keep moving.
Our album is dedicated to the resilient interspecies entanglements that defy the logic of empire by their very existence. This is where we draw strength and inspiration. We learn about interdependence, mutual aid, solidarity, seasons, cycles, and larger time and it helps us understand what is needed to outlast and dispel the global industrial society of alienation, extraction, and domination.
Why is it important to be an openly antifascist band?
Colonialism, nationalism, fascism, racism and the industrial growth societies that requires them to keep growing, effect everything, all of us, all species, restricting migration patterns, destroying habitat, while disrupting traditional ties between people and their ancestral land and driving police violence and murder on the border and in the cities. We live in a country that was built through genocide, slavery, and ecocide. The white supremacist and neo-fascist ideologies that have always festered below the surface or behind the smoke mirrors of politics, have been emboldened as of late, and to outwardly express opposition to them, to refuse them at every turn and in every form, shouldn’t even be a question, when their creeping tentacles are searching for whatever population, whatever subculture will let them take hold and strangle any life worth living out of existence.
How does antifascism inform your music?
We need beacons of strength and solidarity. We need art and music made in defiance of fascism and empire. We need art in celebration of life and the legacy of resistance the precedes us and will live after us. These sentiments imbue everything we do. What feels important is telling the stories that have brought us here and what realities are possible when we are connected to each other, dreaming something else into existence.
Have you experienced white supremacy in the neofolk music scene?
Taylore: I wouldn’t necessarily call our project “neofolk.” But in terms of the overlapping dark folk, neofolk, black metal, doom, and punk scenes, I have witnessed at times a disturbing tendency to reject any sense of social responsibility. Beyond complacency, people sometimes adopt an attitude of hipster anti-morality, which is fucking dumb, and very obviously stems from both benefiting through and having distance from the very real and violent consequences of racism and white supremacy. I think when people begin to flirt with ideologies of a crypto-fascist sort or anything with racist over or undertones, or are producing nothing other than masturbatory shock-value experiences, then it is undeniable that white supremacy is at play. I’m unimpressed with and uninspired by the edgelords out there, which isn’t to say that music and art can’t be brutally provocative and interesting but it’s pretty obvious when people aren’t being sincere and performances are not connected to anything real or meaningful.
I think people can create music that is inspiring and moves people to lead deeper lives and they don’t always have to have the same political identity, subcultural references, or alignment with a particular scene. We don’t have to deliver identical tropes but I do want to know what people are about. I haven’t felt the need in general to pigeon hole this music project with a genre. My music has personally been influenced by punk (and the ethos that comes with it,) crust, metal, Eastern European polyphonic music, Americana, and heavily by the experimental/chamber/post-rock bands like A Silver Mount Zion and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Not to mention all the misfits and freaks with their lovely spirits that I have played with throughout the years.
Ao to sum it all up, I just want to know what drives people and if a part of that isn’t liberation for all peoples and the earth then, well…that’s pretty pathetic and uninspiring.
What can fans and musicians do to stand up to fascism in the scene?
Don’t be a hipster edgelord. Give a shit about the people and land around you and participate in the struggles for liberation that exist everywhere. Live a big, beautiful, engaged, and defiant life, and don’t settle for anything else…don’t be seduced by false power or cling to statuses, don’t buy into the illusion of hollow belonging offered by insular scenes. To participate in the old and ever-unfolding story of resistance to empire, civilization (whatever you call this thing we are undoing) will inevitably involve acting in solidarity with those who suffer the most at the hands of it. Make being a part of this story your everyday goal and you will see where things need to be rooted out, inside and outside yourself, then root them out, however slow, and painstaking that process is. Write and share music that inspires resistance and fierce love and make your whole life about bringing something better into being, you’ll have to fight for it, so find the people who are down for that.
What’s coming up for the band? Any tours or releases in the works?
Another album in the works. A West Coast tour (this summer.) A Violin (we hope, we are looking.)
What bands do you recommend for antifascist neofolk fans?
There are too many dear, sweet people out there to name…really.
Along the lines of dark folk projects, we really appreciate Sangre de Muerdago, Latona Odola, Organelle, and Vradiazei.
Ragana (Oakland, sludge/punk) and Divide and Dissolve (Melbourne doom/drone) aren’t folk at all but are excellent and not shy about their ideas. And so is Thou (Baton Rouge, doom).
Taylore: I’m pretty excited about Vouna, a black metal/doom band from Olympia with members of some of the bands listed above.
I also gotta say. I got records by Ludicra (Another Great Love Song) and A Silver Mount Zion (This is Our Punk Rock) when I was 17 and it changed my world forever. So I recommend them, just cause.
Burl: Lankum (anarchic-folk/traditional) out of Dublin, Ireland, the Warsaw Village Band (traditional choir-esque) from Poland, and the Cranberries (obviously).
We are embedding Byssus’ latest album below from Bandcamp, but they are unfortunately not on Spotify yet so we cannot add them to the Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify. Stay tuned because we are going to be adding a huge number of tracks to the list in the next few days!