David Rovics is a popular left-wing folk musician who has been collaborating with a number of people associated with white nationalism, Holocaust Denial, and antisemitism, relationships he has doubled down on. As antifascist musicians, fighting back against entryism and fascist creep in ostensibly left spaces has to be a priority.
Editors’ note: Ideological hatred of Jews is centered in the far right, yet too many leftists continue to tolerate and even promote antisemitic themes when they’re packaged to look and sound radical. For decades, supporters of the Israeli state have falsely claimed that any critique of Zionism is anti-Jewish. Mirroring this lie, many antisemites falsely claim that any criticism of their anti-Jewish beliefs aids Israeli oppression of Palestinians. For both of these reasons, it’s critically important that we learn to delineate between anti-Zionism that embodies liberatory principles and anti-Zionism that embodies anti-Jewish scapegoating, such as the false claims that Jews control U.S. foreign policy or that Judaism is inherently oppressive and violent.
In this guest post, anti-fascist writer Shane Burley analyzes the antisemitic views of Israeli-born musician and writer Gilad Atzmon, and the support Atzmon has received from leftist musician David Rovics despite criticism from Burley and others. Three Way…
There is a narrative quality to the plucking strings of the Canadian neofolk band Ulvesang, something that binds it to its European folk musical roots and the echoes of a pagan past. Like many of the central European neofolk bands from labels like Prophecy Records, typified by influential projects like Empyrium, Vali, and Neun Welten, Ulvesang brings a more traditionally melodic tone to their music than the industrial influenced neofolk bands so typical of the genre. Vocals echo rather than sit on top of the instrumentation, making it feel like an avalanche of sound, taking you into a memory of a music that feels eerily familiar. Like much of the nature infused neofolk we have covered, Ulvesang is best heard outdoors, with rain tracing an ambient track as an uncredited collaborator.
There is a deep well of power to Ulvesang, which is more heart than historic exercise, which makes it a piece of the vital resurgence of revolutionary neofolk taking place right now. Along with bands like Nevelung and Aradia, they prove there is no contradiction in terms when traditionalist folk revivals meet a liberatory vision: we are here to create a synthesis between pieces of the past and a well crafted future. In that Ulvesang is more than a soundtrack, the cresting guitars beg your attention on each track. This is especially true of their 2018 album The Hunt, which takes up the tradition of forest ritual and let’s the sound rather than lyrics set the tone.
Ulvesang has become a key part of the antifascist neofolk movement, and is working on a split with Ashera. We interviewed Alex from Ulvesang about their musical vision, how folk traditions can be a part of the struggle against oppression, and how they are helping to lead a revolutionary sea change in neofolk.
How did Ulvesang come together? Who were your influences?
We had been part of the same group of friends for a number of years and realized we shared some common musical interests. We ended up talking about starting to jam and write neofolk/darkfolk music together.
Our influences are harder to pin down as we both have similar, but also diverging influences. Overall though, Ulvesang is influenced by SWANS (although it’s arguable that there isn’t much reflection of that in the music), Michael Cashmore’s work with Current 93 and Nature and Organisation, Agalloch, Ulver, Nebelung, and Empyrium (among other bands and genres).
There is almost a cold in the music, a sense of solitary meditation. How does the region you’re in influence your music?
Nova Scotia is a province of extremes in some senses. Outside of Halifax it is quite rural, economically deprived, and encompasses a variety of naturalistic conditions within a fairly small area. There are highlands in Cape Breton, farming valleys approximately an hour outside of where we are, many areas of undeveloped woodland and we’re almost entirely surrounded by ocean. These elements certainly help drive the sense of atmosphere. Some of the more “cold/meditation” vibes you mention are more internal for both of us and probably gets reflected in the music that way.
Melancholy is a full character in your music. How do these emotions play a role in your songwriting?
We both have our struggles with mental illness and are fairly open about that in an effort to reduce stigma. Depression, anxiety, among other issues play a substantial role in our day to day lives and consequently impacts the type of music we write and play. There is not a lot of genuinely “upbeat” music either one of us turns to, particularly if we are not feeling fantastic. Both of us are people who, while easy to get along with, don’t tend to have a lot in common with most other people and we have few genuinely close friends who are from overlapping groups. That sense of isolation is often present when you struggle with mental illness, often just as a symptom of the illness itself really. Late stage capitalism and social media (and COVID-19) also have many ways of isolating people, but that’s a lot to get into here.
What is your writing process like? How do you pull together the layers that end up on the final track? What instruments are involved?
The instruments involved are mostly guitars, bass, synth, samples, and vocals. Then there are some other random instruments we put on the tracks depending on what we want to go for. The writing process usually involves trying to put into music an idea we have in mind, and if that sounds good we try and build upon it. Usually you start off with the foundational riffs and tones and then from there you can move onto some accent notes, harmonization, and additional layers of guitars or vocals, etc.
What role do ancestral traditions and spirituality play in the music?
Difficult to say. When we started Ulvesang I (Alex) was active in a number of occult/spiritual communities. Among them was a lot of work with Northern mystic traditions. I am fond of the iconography of my Celtic background and Ana’s Slavic and Central Asian history.
However, I feel some of those elements have been irreparably damaged by their co-option by right-wing elements and consequently they play very little role in anything we do any longer. I specifically walked away from any open involvement with Norse mysticism because far too many of its adherents are exactly what their critics claim they are, which is a shame because it is a fascinating and functional spiritual tradition and it should never have been poisoned in that way. I lost interest in associating with the broader occult scene for the most part as well. People can strangle life from just about anything, so I’ve since chosen not to associate with any of it.
What was the concept behind your album The Hunt? There is almost a prose sensibility to the music, as if it’s taking the listener into a painfully intimate struggle.
The Hunt was written during a process of personal struggles and hardships. We don’t want to get into too many of the details as they are private to some extent, but we hope listeners can get their own meaning from it or even possibly relate.
How does antifascism drive your music?
Ana and I have always been politically progressive people, but I think when we began as a band, there was less of a direct intention to be involved with formal political affiliation at the time. Our politics over the last handful of years have intensified and become more outwardly and aggressively left. That aside, there was a change in the fringe music scenes we grew up loving a few years back that saw an immense increase in right-wing and fascist aesthetic and intentions (or at least it was more easily detected). It became cool to be a fascist, rather than just flirt with the “edginess” of it (granted, that’s still highly problematic for a lot of reasons). It felt like everything at all times became about rejecting any sense of progressive change and equality and instead was an attempt to use music as a recruitment tool for hate and regression. Not a vague hate like in the sense of rage against religious institutions, or against systems of oppression, but a hate that was manifested on an individual level. People hating each other in a way that was just oppressive in and of itself, and the scene is/was fucking proud of it. Antifascism became a much larger piece of our band identity in the wake of this because we were revolted by these people and the scene’s embrace of right-wing political posturing, or at least refrainment from denouncing it.
What does it mean to take an antifascist stance from within the neofolk scene?
Neofolk, all “post-industrial” music really has always had a touch of traditionalist/fashy aesthetic. There were always bands who were outright fascists or hardcore right-wingers and there were a lot of artists who liked to flirt with the aesthetics for shock value. Or to be transgressive. But transgression has a shelf life. Throbbing Gristle in the 70’s using fascist aesthetics while satirizing the government and religious institutions of the time was transgressive. Some asshole in his basement branding his albums with “cleverly placed” Tiwaz runes and claiming he’s been “mislabeled by the left” in the late 2010s is not transgressive. These people know what they are doing and know what they are affiliated with. Most of the rest of the scene became dominated by the “apolitical” who only ever seemed to have an opinion when “muh speech” seemed to be threatened, generally mocked progressive goals and seemed to have no problem associating with the genuine fascists.
Establishing ourselves as openly, actively Antifascist in this climate lets new listeners, or listeners who are frustrated by the ever present right-wing element, know that there are left-wing bands who oppose fascism while still writing objectively good music. We need more artists involved in these sorts of fringe communities to take that stance. We’re roundly mocked by nazi chuds anytime we openly discuss progressive ideals on our social media, but we just laugh and bully them off. And the more we’ve done that, the more we’re finding our audience is filling up with people who are thrilled to see us doing it and want to be a part of it.
Tell us about the split you are doing with Ashera. How did you come together? What’s the concept behind the collaboration?
We are friends with Ashera and met through antifascist networks among neofolk/darkfolk bands. Due to this shared genre style and values, we thought it might be cool to do a split together. On top of that we have other commonalities as well. It seemed like a good fit.
What’s next for Ulvesang? What other bands would you recommend to antifascist neofolk fans?
We’ve got a couple of small collabs (the split above being one of them) on the go and we are finally in the process of working to record our third album. Executive dysfunction largely erased our capacity to do much of anything outside of work for most of the last couple of years. Some other antifascist neofolk bands are the ones we have actually met online through A Blaze Ansuz and LEFT/FOLK. We can recommend Ashera, Nokken + the Grim, The Serpent and the Light, Autumn Brigade, Sieben, Alsarath, and more.
How can we build an antifascist neofolk scene?
More bands making more music under the banner while not being afraid to hold left wing and antifascist ideals. Our music is largely instrumental and is more emotional than it is anything else… so it’s hard to call our music itself an “obvious” antifascist statement, especially where we don’t usually have lyrics at all. We do that by how we project our personas online and how we interact with our environment and our daily lives, and networking with other like-minded individuals. Complain to your labels if they’re printing fascist or cryptofash material, message bands and hold them accountable or ask them point-blank questions about some iffy content they might be putting out or associating with. Avoid working with fascist artists, research bands and labels, and build up the voices of marginalized people while doing so, especially those who are part of the scene. Promote things that are obviously against right wing ideals, etc. In short, there are a lot of ways to be an antifascist artist without feeling like you have to write covers of “Nazi Punks, Fuck Off!” or something very direct like that. We applaud all of the folks who are not afraid to stand up to Nazis and challenge them, whether it’s something big or small.
We are excited to bring an interview with BloccoNero right at the release of this new single, the first widely available. As a cover of “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes, this is the perfect 90s nostalgia meets melancholic dark folk, our perfect neofolk formula. We talked with them about the influence of anarchism on the project, why this single, what their name even means, and why antifascism is on the tip of our tongue.
How did BloccoNero come together? Is this your first band? BloccoNero was born from the need we felt, as a neofolk fan, to fight the political asphyxiation of a scene increasingly turning towards the far right and the continuous admiration (more or less evident) of the fascist totalitarianisms that devastated Europe during the 20th Century. In a genre that more and more in its history has abandoned the complexity of political symbolic references to adhere to sinister right sympathies, we have decided to completely overturn the point of view and re-appropriating of what is for us the music of defeated, of the people and of the rebellion. BloccoNero is more than a musical project, BloccoNero is a common political vision among those who participate in it, which derives from the personal political experiences of the musicians themselves.
We come from different experiences and everyone was part of political and musical projects before. Our previous projects came from different areas of the underground and experimental music: from improvisation (Derma) to the post industrial metal (Scum from the Sun), from alternative metal (Neurodisney) to electronic music (Filthy Generation). And as mentioned before, we all come from Antifa and squatting movements mostly operating in the North of Italy.
What does your band name mean?
BloccoNero is italian translation for Black Bloc. Considering our militancy we decided to declare our closeness to the ones actively fighting fascism and capitalism in the street. We wanted to use italian language to keep in our musical project the important history of the leftist and anarchist movements in the story of our country and the peculiarity of italian revolutionary struggles.
Tell us about this new single. Why did you choose this song in particular?
As fans of the early industrial music and experimentation, we decided to realize our first experiment with a singing voice using the tactics and tools of the first european industrial bands. So taking a mainstream song of the 90s like “What’s Up” and trying to get it out of a comfort zone and giving it a completely different mood and meaning. The original song starts with “25 years and my life is…” and we wanted to transfer it 20 years later in the life of the protagonist (so “45 years…”) and switch from what was an hymn to react and growing up to the desperation and surrendering feelings of a person in the middle of his life that understands his being completely unfit for this capitalistic society. Adding a Stieg Dagerman, swedish anarchist activist and journalist who committed suicide at 31, voice recording at the end of the song just wants to reinforce the feeling of estrangement and loneliness of being out of the society you are obliged to live in.
Your project seems to have anarchist influences, what does anarchism mean to you?
We intend anarchism in the most open way possible. Including all political ideas and experiences starting from the 18th century and arriving to squat, TAZ and rave culture. Including the communitarianism of Malatesta and Kropotkin, the anarchist individualism of Max Stirner, the political and cultural view of Situationism and other form of avantgarde art, the importance of revolutionary and insurrectionist actions from people like Buenaventura Durruti or Alfredo Maria Bonanno in a unique ideal of freedom and complete realization of the human being.
Even if not completely anarchist, we also add to our influence the experience and the internationalist view of armed struggle between the world especially in the 60s and 70s and the attitude of all the revolutionary movements in World history.
What are you hoping to achieve with this band?
Our idea of BloccoNero music is to open a breach in a scene in which what was shock tactic and a provocative way to make people thinking has become a complete leaning to far right and fascist ideas. What we would like to achieve is to offer a different interpretation of neofolk music, giving it back to the real losers and disinherited of history: revolutionary philosophers, working class people, prisoners and underclass in general.
Since the beginning the neofolk scene has been fascinated by the aesthetic of the defeated and what we want to stand against is this idea that it’s cool to glorify the dead empire, dictatorship, nazi and fascist imaginary, right and far right philosophers as the victims or to lament for the lost European glory. The real defeat is the one of the working class, of the revolutionary struggle and of the radical thinking and looking at the political situation nowaday it’s even more evident.
Why is antifascism important in the neofolk scene?
It is incredible that a music genre deriving from industrial music and culture and from the freedom of experimentation/avantgarde has ended up being just a propaganda channel for far right and fascist ideas. The origin of folk and folk music in general is to give voice to the ones who usually don’t have a voice. Since the beginning folk was the music of the oppressed against their oppressor and it’s really difficult for us to understand how possibly neofolk became the voice of false rebellion and elitist thinking. So we think that antifascism is the way to take neofolk back to it’s own origin and meaning and to use it again against the oppressor.
What other bands influenced you? What bands would you recommend to antifascist neofolk fans?
Coming from really different backgrounds and listenings, our influences are really different too. For sure one of the most important influences is the apocalyptic folk of the 80s and 90s, but also the psychedelic music and in particular folk of the 60s and 70s and going more noisy the industrial music of the beginnings. Another common influence is extreme metal in all it’s genres from doom to black metal and punk and hardcore from our youth especially for the political attitude.
Considering we started as an only instrumental act our sound has been influenced by many soundtracks and movies and in particular political movies of the 70s (fundamental directors like Elio Petri and Giuliano Montaldo). As for movies, we also were influenced by italian anarchist and lefist bands and political italian songwriters from the 70s and in general all the partisans, anarchist or communist popular songs. There’s a lot of these songs in the tradition of Italy from the Risorgimento to the 70s!
Looking specifically to Italy, we would like to recommend some of the most interesting acts (political or not) that are or were part of our listenings or really good friends or direct inspiration to BloccoNero music. Acts like OvO (extreme metal since 20 years) or Larsen (emotional music from Turin with tens of collaboration with artists all over the world) or Northgate (one of the most important goth-industrial underground act in Italy) or Sigillum S (prime mover of the Italian Industrial scene in the 80s) or the great Italian hardcore music scene from the 80s and the 90s (Kina, Negazione, The Wretched just to pick some bands). Going back to more traditional folk acts we strongly recommend Rella the Woodcutter (unluckily on hold at the moment) or Silent Carnival (his last work is really great).
What’s coming next for you?
We just included a third effective member to BloccoNero and we will share on the 7th of November our second EP inspired by the movie October (1928 – directed by Sergej Michajlovič Ėjzenštejn), about the Soviet revolution in 1917. This new album (part of a collaborative project with other bands and artists) will have a more noisy and industrial attitude than what we have produced since now.
There is revival of eclectic pan-folk ensemble happening, drawing together traditions and modernity into an exciting fusion of genres. Part of this is the impulse to build something new, but it is also to rediscover ancestral art traditions that have been crushed by consumer capitalism. One of the most unique aspects of the folk fusion has been the intersection of electronic production and traditional instruments, a strange crashing of worlds that has produced some of the most inspired music.
Dandelion Wine is one of these ensembles that does the difficult work of avoiding the tired cliches of ethereal projects of the past (let Enya die) by creating incredibly complex productions that feel imminently present. They reached out to us, wanting to speak out against the current rise of the far-right and to share their music with a new generation of fans. We talked about their revival of medieval European music styles, their collaborations with bands like Faun, the musicians who inspire them, and why they are speaking out.
How did Dandelion Wine first come together? What was the background of all the members? Was this their first band?
Nicholas: I was in a couple of inconsequential local bands but Dandelion Wine is the first worth mentioning – haha! When we were based in Europe I was also a member of the French post-punk band Object and after that I also played with the Australian psych-folk band Trappist Afterland. I’ve done some guest spots playing various old instruments with a few others and work with ethereal faery singer Louisa John-Krol semi-regularly.
Naomi: Dandelion Wine is my first band! I had never thought of this before… basically the band came together one day when Nicholas and I were hanging out and he was playing guitar. (even now he always has a guitar or other instrument within easy reach) I was just singing along, as one does, and we realised that what I came up with against his guitar noodlings was actually pretty good… perhaps better than the other music he was involved with and we decided to start a band. I had learnt flute at school and our family had a tradition of singing songs around the guitar or the pianola at my grandmothers house, but I wasn’t really pursuing a musical career at that point, it was just something that I enjoyed doing. My real passion at the time was acting, but I seemed to be getting further in the first 6 months of Dandelion Wine, than in years of pursuing acting so that really took over! Obviously not being afraid of being on a stage in front of people was a transferable skill though.
I think initially we poached the drummer from one of Nicholas’ old bands and advertised for a bassist. That was a long time ago now and the band has been through many forms since. The other most notable point in time was when one of our (many) drummers decided to leave the band just before we opened for Canadian folk-punk artist Ember Swift! Not wanting to cancel at the last minute and seem unprofessional, Nicholas programmed a sampler to replace him. Conscious that drum machines often sounded naff, we tried to compensate for it by using unusual sounds and not making any attempt to try to make it sound like a real drummer… the response was quite positive and it became the beginning of our development into a more electronic sound.
Nicholas: we had dabbled with adding electronics to things previously but this pushed us further down that path and we haven’t looked back. The melding of acoustic and human with the synthetic and mechanical has become central to what we do.
What drove you to such an eclectic mix of medieval instruments?
Nicholas: That was probably my doing in a lot of ways – I have always been fascinated by all things medieval – I remember in primary school we had an art project where we had to make a marionette; other kids were making firemen and stuff and I made a Templar – haha! I’ve played guitar for a billion years and always wanted a lute – it took a long time before I finally got my hands on a lute but along the way I started picking up other instruments – first mandolin and then Appalachian dulcimer, hammered dulcimer and bell cittern. I have a bowed psaltery too but these days we usually give that to Francesca to play because she’s the one with the bow skills.
Naomi: We come from a country with a relatively young history. So for me, seeing anything that’s really “old” (remembering that most of the castles and old towns in Europe are older than the non-indigenous settlement in this country) is intriguing and special. Aside from the land itself, there is nothing that old here that isn’t in a museum!
Why do you think medieval music is still so resonant today?
Nicholas: I think it’s partially about evoking a world without the digital distractions of now – there’s absolutely a magical component inherent in these kinds of instruments that is different to what can be achieved with modern instruments. I think that part of it is that medieval music is the root of most European music. Of course, you can trace it back even further, especially to the middle east, but the roots of modern folk and classical and by default rock and electronica are all there (of course rock also has a huge debt to blues and African music as well). I always laugh when I see festivals or publications about “roots music” – Roots? Pffft… There’s nothing on that bill that sounds like it is earlier than the 20th century, and most of it sounds like the 1950s or later! Haha!
Naomi: I think we were quite surprised by the discovery of the medieval music scene in Europe. There’s not much equivalent to this in Australia… again, because the modern culture here is quite young comparatively, it’s not something that exists here. I do wonder if it’s peoples way of staying connected to the past and the history of their people. It also just has an energy that’s more organic and grounding than other styles of music.
What does the work of Robert “Bo” Boehm mean to you, and why did you include a tribute to him on the new album?
Naomi: Bo was a friend of ours who passed away about 6 years ago. He was one of the few sound engineers that “got” us. His regular gig back in the late 90’s/early 00’s was doing the sound at the legendary Punters Club hotel in Melbourne. The first time he mixed us, he gave us feedback on our music that wasn’t just “you should sing louder” or ” you have too many instruments” *rolls eyes*. He seemed to understand what we were aiming for and complemented it beautifully in the way he mixed us.
He was also a great musician in his own right. His band Clown Smiling Backwards was doing really well at the time and then later his work with Wind Up Toys was also ground breaking as well.
Nicholas: The Winduptoys albums was one of the few 21st century electronic albums that was made without MIDI and without a computer – you have to love that. Bo was such a pioneer in industrial, psychedelic and shoegaze music in Australia and was a superb human on top of that. Aside from his formidable talent and knowledge, he was also the nicest person you could hope to meet and became a good friend over the years. We initially covered “Persistence Of Vision” at a tribute gig for Bo that happened right after he died. We were organising the show as a benefit to help cover his expenses while he was in hospital but sadly he passed away before it happened. We were all absolutely crushed, as were many people in Melbourne.
What was the conceptual idea behind Le Cœur?
Naomi: We began writing and recording this album not that long after we returned from a year living in Berlin. We thought we would finish it before our first child was born. He is now 9 years old! To be honest, there’s only a few songs that continued on to be on Le Coeur. At some point we threw out a lot of material that was left sitting half finished and started on new things. The energy and impetus had died on these tracks. We also had the addition of Francesca to the band around 4 years later so it seemed to make sense to start again in some respects- bar the songs that were finished and we were happy with.
We took the opportunity to do a photo shoot for the album cover when I was pregnant for the second time. I’d had this idea of re-creating Salvador Dali’s ‘Desirable Death’ with pregnant bodies. (the work is six naked females photographed in such a way that they form the shape of a human skull) I thought it would be a really interesting comment to illustrate death with women literally teaming with new life inside them. As it turned out, I could only find two other women that were pregnant and were happy to be involved, so we didn’t quite have enough bodies to make a skull, (how we would have done that anyway, I’m not quite sure… the shapes are quite different!) but we did make some great shapes that were reminiscent of the patterns that are found in nature, still continuing with the life theme. This is where the concept behind the album began to form.
We had also recorded the sound of our son’s heart beat while he was still in utero, thinking that it might make a pretty cool rhythm track on a song. We did the same with our second child and we suddenly realised that the theme of things coming from the heart, the fear the heart has of losing things and needing a physical heart to beat to make us exist, were present throughout all the songs in some form. That’s when we came up with the name Le Coeur (the heart) for the album.
What bands have influenced you? What influence does Faun have on your work?
Nicholas: we were a lot less folk based when we started – we were more influenced by the likes of Jane’s Addiction, NIN, Smashing Pumpkins or shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine but the folk elements just started creeping in. In particular, there was an Australian band in the 90s called Lothlorien that were hugely influential. They fused Celtic melodies with African rhythms and the album Aurelia was absolutely incredible. Naomi and I used to go see them all the time and that was the first time that I really started to realise that folk music wasn’t just baby boomers trying to be Bob Dylan with generic predictable three chord songs – it opened up a big world for me. Of course, with us it naturally ended up being much darker, more along the lines of Dead Can Dance. Also, their singer/guitarist Nic Morrey built my Appalachian dulcimer, hammered dulcimer and bowed psaltery for me.
I remember when a goth DJ from a club we played at in Germany gave me a copy of a magazine that had a disc of music and videos which had an early Faun song on it. Most of the other music wasn’t that interesting but the Faun video was a great moment of discovering someone else who was combining old folk with dark electronica in a way that was really intriguing. Since then we have played a few festivals with them and had some good times together. They have been really supportive and it was great that Rüdiger from Faun played percussion on “Hall Of Leaves.” I originally did some percussion on that but I’m not a percussionist and we really felt it needed something better. We kept hearing Rüdiger’s playing on it so we asked him and within a few days it was done. He is one of those people that lives and breathes drums and is an absolutely phenomenal player – it really lifted the song and made it exactly what we were striving for. I think part of Faun’s influence is just how encouraging it is to see a band with electronics, hurdy gurdy, harp etc become a platinum selling band that sells out huge venues – not that we’re about to have a platinum record any time soon (haha!) but it’s great to see a band of really great people playing great music and doing so well with it. The integrity and quality they approach everything with is really inspiring.
There is an eclectic, international approach to the music. Talk about that synthesis, why have you intermixed cultural influences?
Nicholas: It has always seemed like a natural thing to do, rather than a thinking “wouldn’t it be cool if we mixed this with this” kind of thing. Melbourne is a very multicultural city and we grew up with that around us all the time. My background is half Greek and half garden-variety-Anglo so there’s also that mix of tonalities but I think ultimately we just gravitate to things that resonate with us. If things really click and resonate they will ultimately find their way into your own art subconsciously but it has to happen naturally – we’re not trying to be some cheesy “world music” project.
There’s also the elements that some of our guests have brought to the album – for example, none of us are about to take up Erhu (two string Chinese fiddle) but our friend HakGwai Lau from Hong Kong is a great erhu player and also comes from a metal and post-rock background so his style fitted perfectly on “One Of My Friendly Days”. Phil Coyle has studied Persian frame drumming for years and his playing completely captured the atmosphere we were going for on “Pilgrimage”.
Naomi: I think our mix of cultural influence really comes from our curiosities about sound and instrumentation and a love of the unusual. We are the kind of people that are really excited by seeing a new instrument in the flesh! We are attracted to unusual things and different sounds and tones, we appreciate the craftsmanship in an instrument and the time and energy spent creating these things.
I saw a Jouhakko for the first time the other day played by Songleikr (Norway/Denmark) at the Faiere Worlds online festival and straight away I was curious to know about this beautiful instrument and what it was, where it came from, how the sound was being made.
Again, living in Melbourne, we’ve always had the chance to see a lot of different styles of music, or at least been able to find them if we sought them out. The inclusion of various instruments in the band was firstly a matter of interest, then secondly a matter of coming across them for sale or knowing someone who made them.
Nicholas particularly has really fallen in love with each instrument he has ended up buying. A great example of this is the Bell Cittern which we found on tour in London. A friend had taken us to an amazing music shop called Hobgoblin Music and Nicholas sat for a whole hour playing this Bell Cittern – Kirstin (our accordian/synth player on that tour) and I had gone through playing dozens of instruments in the shop in that time. We actually left the shop empty handed, it wasn’t until we had gotten home after the tour that Nicholas realized he was pining for that instrument. When he rang the shop to see if it was still there and if it could be sent over, the guy in the shop remembered him immediately and made some comment about being surprised he hadn’t come back for it already! It’s a love affair, mainly Nicholas and his instruments…. ;-p
Walk us through the music writing process. How do you mix organic instrumentation with electronic sounds?
Nicholas: In the studio it is always about what serves the song and what best conveys the atmosphere and emotion we’re trying to create. These days we tend to write as we record but the initial idea is usually sparked with a riff or melody on an acoustic instrument and then we build around that. When we are layering things up we approach it the same way you would approach an orchestra: each instrument has it’s own range of colour and frequencies so we use each one to fill in that particular part of the sonic spectrum.
Naomi: That love of the instruments and sounds we have really come to the fore in this process… we really just like using instruments with sounds that we love to create our music, whether it’s a fat synth sound Nicholas has created or a riff on the sansula. You’d be surprised sometimes how these disparate instruments can really compliment and contrast each other so nicely and work together to create a mood or convey a feeling.
Nicholas: Live is a totally different story though – we usually choose the parts that are the most central to the song and go from there. We don’t try and make it sound like the album but we try for the right impact for the song. Sometimes that means I’m playing dulcimer and guitar in the one song, maybe using extra delays and things to suggest the layering on the album or Francesca will loop certain cello parts live. We do use a laptop live for the beats and synthetic elements but we don’t want to do some cheesy karaoke version of it – it’s important to us that the bulk of it is still performed live by actual humans and we are just using Ableton for beats and synthetics.
What drives most of your lyrics?
Naomi: My lyrics are usually driven by personal experiences. With the odd fairy tale or myth thrown in. Most of my lyrics are about dead people actually! (Or the fall out thereafter) This is probably the first album that is more about life than death, with two of the songs being literally about the birth of our children. And even then there’s still a ghost on the album with the inclusion of a cover by the late Robert Bohem.
I often write lyrics that are about deeply personal things, usually buried in metaphor so as not to be too exposed and also to allow interpretation and relation to the listener. I’m a fan of multiple interpretations and meanings in art, so I think being aware of that sometimes drives the lyrical style.
For example the song “Stable“ had once been interpreted to be about being repressed by a partner, but the song is actually about a friend who had a mental health episode one day, it was written in first person. I was so pleased that there could be a totally different meaning in the song for someone else and I suspect that this person related to that idea because it was how they felt.
Nicholas: There was someone else who messaged us and told us that that song had helped them through a rough breakup – again, its not what the song was intended to be but it’s great that it was interpreted in a way that helped them.
Naomi: I think it’s really important that music can show that other people have felt as you have. There’s nothing more isolating than to think you are the only person to have ever suffered like this, it’s a real comfort to be able to relate to heavy emotions in a song (and art in general) to help us through sad and difficult times. It’s funny, we hesitated to release this album when Covid19 hit. But I went for a walk one day listening to Le Coeur and realised that there’s so much in it that relates to this current world situation and how comforting it was to be to listen to this album right now. The themes of struggling past depression to get on with it, of being scared that things won’t work out, but the hope and beauty in contrast of birth and renewal and hope, these matters of the heart, were actually quite appropriate right now. So here we are!
What role does ancestral or pagan spiritual traditions play in the music?
Nicholas: It’s funny, I have always been drawn to scales and tonalities that are a bit different to the standard western major and minor scales but I didn’t really know where that came from. It was only when I was working with a friend who plays Greek Rebetika that I found out that the scales I was using were actually Greek scales – he gave me a print out of a list of Greek scales and I recognised them as being present in my music for years. I found it really interesting that my Greek heritage was coming through in ways I had never expected – I’ve only recently started learning the Greek language but the Greek musical language was sort of innate. Since discovering that, there are more overtly Greek aspects coming through, such as lute and guitar solos in “Hall Of Leaves” and the rhythms in “Too Late She Cried”. Thematically, there’s always an undercurrent of various alchemical and pagan ideas but again, it’s more of a subconscious thing – an example of general interests and worldview being present in the music without trying to deliberately encapsulate those ideas.
Naomi: Lyrically I’ve sometimes drawn from fairy folk lore and myth. When I’m tired of singing “woe is me” (haha!) it’s a rich world of images and strong archetypal characters to delve into. Like so many classic stories that have been around for so long, there’s something in them that still seems to somehow apply to our modern lives. Our base human endeavours and needs seem to still be the same somehow.
Why have you chosen to take a stand against the far-right? Why do you think it is important to be antifascist?
Nicholas: Largely because it’s the decent thing to do. Unfortunately we’ve reached a point now where the far-right can’t be dismissed as just a few random hicks that are annoying but fairly inconsequential. The rise of these repulsive populist leaders that deliberately cultivate far-right bigotry and steps toward authoritarian regimes has really made the need to stand up against it more urgent. We have the benefit of 20th century history to see where this paths leads and to wilfully turn a blind eye to that is just not an option. We now see a country that was seen as a pillar of democracy that is now using military personnel in unmarked vans abducting people on the street, we see idiots all around the world in pseudo-third reich regalia chanting hatred and bigotry and the list goes on and on. I feel like we have direct evidence of the 1930s and 40s to warn us – we can see the signs and it’s absolutely imperative that we heed them. I don’t really care how left you are – we can debate the pros and cons of capitalism all day but fascism is not something to be debated. It has no place in a civilised society.
Do you feel like there is a growing circle of folk inspired musicians who are building their own scene?
Nicholas: Yes, definitely. It is of different size and scales in different regions but it is definitely there. A lot of our touring is done in Europe and the explosion of medieval and related bands there is incredible. Festival Mediaval in Germany is a perfect example: thousands of people over three days of everything from traditional medieval, to medieval metal, Celtic folk, electronic hybrids, Balkan music etc… all folk inspired but taken to so many different directions. Menuo Juodaragis in Lithuania is another one – it is heavily centred on Baltic pagan traditions but is very musically diverse within that. We are lucky enough to have played that a couple of times and made great great friends and discovered great new bands.
What’s coming next for you?
Naomi: Well, we are still in stage 4 lock down in Melbourne for another 3 weeks at least, so no concerts for us just yet. We did manage to record a video of a (no audience) live performance in between lock downs that’s just gone up online! That was a great bit of luck that we had planned it for that particular day… if we’d planned it a day later we would have had to have cancelled it! But we do have two future concert bookings – one on Australia’s winter solstice in June 2021, and one in 2022 at a festival in Germany.
We had hoped to be touring the show we did in Melbourne Fringe Festival last year through Australia. It involved having a choir and puppeteers performing with us. I hope that we will eventually be able to do that run of shows and have a kind of post-covid belated launch tour of Le Coeur next year. There’s a bit of catching up to do before we move onto the next phase of writing and recording the next album… although if things continue as they are and live performance and touring is not viable, that actually might be the next thing to start thinking about!
What bands would you recommend for antifascist neofolk fans?
Nicholas: I’m never quite sure where the lines between neofolk, psych folk, neomedieval, pagan folk etc are but some of our friends that I’d highly recommend are Wendy Rule (US based Australian pagan folk), Garden Quartet and ZÖJ (Australia, traditional Persian mixed with post rock influences), Irfan (Bulgarian ethereal), Louisa John-Krol (Australian faerie folk), Undan (Lithuanian folk released by Dangus, the label that released the limited edition CD version of Le Cœur) Faun, Sieben, Kelten Zonder Grenzen (Netherlands)… and for the times when you just want to drink a bunch of mead and jump about you need La Horde from Belgium. All are great artists that are all on the good side 😉
The misappropriation of Nordic images and spirituality by the far-right has created a revolt inside heathen circles, but it also erases the anti-racist scene of Nordic folk musicians who draw on the Viking Age in creating integrated tapestries of sound. The new solo project Wåhlin is one of these, exploring the ancestral Nordic traditions and using modern recording tools to create a revival of cultural music. We interviewed Stuart Wahlin of this project, which has just come out of the gate with his first track, about what drove him on the project and why standing up against fascism is a top priority.
How did Wåhlin come together?
I’ve been kicking around some ideas for this project for the last couple of years. When I first began seriously exploring my Norse ancestry, it was around the time Wardruna’s first album was released. I, of course, was already familiar with Gaahl and Einar from their days in Gorgoroth, and I was really intrigued by this shift from metal to more traditional roots—something I felt I was also being called to.
I never really planned for this to be anything more than a solo project, but the thought of performing this music live someday is kind-of exciting, so I imagine the universe will connect me with collaborators when the time is right. It’s already begun, in fact, and you’ll hear some amazing female vocals on subsequent tracks.
Was it your first musical project?
No, it’s been a pretty circuitous journey to get here. I’ve been in bands off-and-on since I was in high school. My musical background, at least as an adult, is mainly as a vocalist and guitarist, though I’ve also done some instrumental work for films. I’ve always been into trying new things, whether it’s the didgeridoo, theremin, analog synth, or whatever I can get my hands on. If it makes a sound, I’m interested in it.
But I think the common thread in all the musical endeavors I’ve been involved with—the ones that really matter to me—is the use of music to reach an enlightened, ecstatic, or trance-like state. Shamanism, I guess, tends to play a major role in the way I write, whether it’s as a member of a band, or as someone who’s piecing everything together on his own. Each album and song should be a journey for both the composer and the listener.
As awful as COVID-19 is, one silver lining is that the quarantines have afforded a lot of nine-to-fivers the opportunity to pursue passions they might not ordinarily have the time for. It’s certainly accelerated the process in my case, and I suspect the pandemic will ultimately be looked back upon as a renaissance of sorts.
What is your production process like?
Sometimes I have a specific idea or melody in mind, other times the song winds up being written entirely in the recording process. From a fundamental standpoint, the drums typically come first. They’re the bones that hold the flesh together. Though electronics are an element in the music, I think it’s the acoustic drums that are probably most essential to achieving the shamanic state in any ritual. Vocals are important, too, but drums are quite literally the heartbeat that centers us.
And it’s really satisfying to build-out from there, layering in additional acoustic and electronic instruments to widen the soundscape. Vocals typically come last in my tracking process. Then, of course, the filmmaker in me feels compelled to add some cinematic sounds to help set the scene or mood. In the case of “A Toast Of Ravens,” the first moments reveal a shoreline, ships landing, war horns, and suffering.
What instruments are you using?
On “A Toast Of Ravens,” the instrumentation is pretty minimal. We’ve got a lot of drums, some lur and bukkehorn, electronics, and vocals. There’s some didgeridoo in there, too. Though it’s not a Norse instrument, I think it sounds like it should be! With throat-singing having become a staple for many of us, I think the didge compliments it really well.
As for the rest of the album, the acoustic instrumentation broadens a bit. There’s some fiddle, dulcimer, lyre, jaw harp, flute. I’m hoping to work some nyckelharpa or tagelharpa in there, too.
What is Darraðarljoð, and how did it inspire your song “A Toast Of Ravens?”
Darraðarljoð comes from Njal’s Saga, and it’s essentially about Valkyries crafting the outcome of a battle on a weaving loom, deciding who would live and die. The lines I use in the song are my own amateur translations from Old Norse to English, but I tried to retain some of the alliteration that skaldic poetry is known for.
Darraðarljoð is absolutely the inspiration for the music itself, too. Vocals in this song are pretty limited, and I wanted the music to tell most of the story. The first half depicts the fateful battle, and the second half represents the Valkyries exploring the aftermath, choosing from the fallen, deciding who would go on to Valhalla.
In this second half, I really tried to focus on what those first moments after a glorious death in battle might feel like as a warrior transitions into this strange, new afterlife. In Viking culture, you didn’t fear death. The only thing you feared, really, was dying dishonorably. The belief is that everyone has a predetermined moment to die, though you never know when that’ll be. So when you’re going into a battle, for instance, you take courage in knowing it’s a good day to die. But I find this mindset is less about death, and more about how to live one’s life.
How did Nordic folk music traditions inform your songwriting?
Let me put it this way: I’m closer to the beginning of this journey than I am to the end. It was only in the last decade or so that I really began digging into my Scandinavian roots. My grandfather was a violin virtuoso who immigrated from Sweden, though most of my ancestry seems to come from Norway. Unfortunately, I never got to know him because he died before I was born. All I had to go on for the longest time was my mom’s and grandma’s memories of him. His was a pretty sad story in a lot of ways. His heart was really in his homeland, but he stayed here because he loved his wife and daughter very much. But he died longing to return home.
Once I got my hands on some of his published sheet music, though, and was actually able to hear the music he created, that was really life-changing for me. It was absolutely beautiful, romantic, and moving, and ever since then, I do feel like he’s present in my life, encouraging my musical pursuits in particular.
As far as Norse music traditions are concerned, I don’t rely on the true folk instrumentation as heavily as others do, but I do like to sprinkle some in. For me, the focus is less about adhering to the authenticity of Viking Age instrumentation, and more about preserving the character through storytelling with themes from the Eddas and Sagas, for instance.
You mention that this project is influenced by shamanism. How does the seiðr tradition of shamanism influence the project?
I’ve practiced a sort of eclectic—or mutt-shamanism, as I call it—for decades, really just focusing on the universally-accepted principles from a variety of cultures. Here in the states, I’ve had the privilege to take part in several Native American rites, which were a big influence early on.
But as I was quite-literally called to—or by—my Norse ancestry, I did eventually find a home in seiðr. And it really did feel like coming home. Seiðr is often associated with the female practitioner, a völva or seiðkona, but it probably wasn’t always this way. I think there’s been a lot of misunderstanding about that. To me, seiðr is perhaps most effective with a balance between the feminine and the masculine. That’s why I’m really excited about the tracks integrating some female vocals.
There are many aspects to seiðr, but I limit myself mostly to the shamanistic side of things—transformation, trance-state visions, mostly-ancestral spirit communication, healing, and some galdr and runework. Music, of course, is also a big part of it, which is why I feel it’s a perfect medium for helping produce these mystical states of consciousness.
Do you think it is important for Nordic folk bands to stand up to the misappropriation of Heathenry by racists?
The short answer is, it’s absolutely of critical urgency and importance that all artists denounce racism. Unfortunately, racists do continue to gravitate toward Nordic music. It’s a shame that we should have to preface our art with a disclaimer—asserting no affiliation with religious or political ideologies—but I’m glad to make that distinction. Still, I’m not sure it makes much of a difference to someone who’s made up their mind that your song is somehow an anthem for their misguided beliefs.
If you’re familiar with Heilung, for instance, you know their social media is peppered with reminders that they want nothing to do with these types of agendas. And every performance begins with the group emphasizing in unison that we all come from the same cosmic source. But when I went to their ritual in Chicago back in January, there were still a few idiots in the crowd exuding that whole master-race mentality.
We’ve seen a lot of ugly changes in America under the Trump regime, and it’s shameful. I hate that the rest of the world probably thinks we’re all idiots. A lot of us here were taken by surprise, though—even in the artist community. People we thought we knew in our personal lives suddenly became strangers when a TV character successfully ran for president, essentially on a white-is-right platform. I think that emboldened a lot of people who’d been harboring racist thoughts, silently only until someone as ignorant as them became president. Again, that caught many of us, myself included, a little off-guard. I think most of us believed that, for the most part, the last remnants of racism in America really only survived in the South, but we now know that’s just not the case.
As for the misappropriation of Heathenry, that’s been going on for a very long time—well before Hitler came along. But today we’ve got people like Varg [Vikernes] perpetuating this ideology to a whole new generation of kids who are maybe discovering 90s black metal for the first time. And as someone who’s also involved in filmmaking, it’s particularly troublesome that a movie like “Lords of Chaos” should come along and, intentionally or not, glorify a lot of bad behavior. I mean, I can watch the movie as a sort of a walk down “Memory Lane,” having lived through the church burnings, Euronymous’s murder, and the like.
The problem is that—and I don’t think there’s any denying it—most of the people interested in watching the film are just kids, and they’re gonna think these sorts of things are acceptable. They’re gonna watch the movie, then go Google all the players, and think Varg is some sort of hero. Anytime someone like Varg mixes racism in with Heathenry, or any other belief for that matter, it’s both dangerous and disappointing. And we do need to push back. That means not just paying lip service, but showing you’re serious about it. In the case of musicians, for instance, it should mean refusing to be on the bill with other performers who may embrace these bad ideas.
What’s coming next for you?
The first thing is to complete and release the Ginnungagap album. As this is unfolding, I am finding that it’s becoming less of a solo act. My hope is that once it’s finished, there will be some sort of a demand for live performances. I really look forward to designing a live ritual that an audience will be a part of, and not just witness.
In our effort to build up the sphere around antifascist neofolk, this has included a lot of black metal (or adjacent) artists who are a part of this growing antifascist dark music scene. We came across Ecologist while doing this, a blackgaze/black metal drone project out of Chile based on the aggressive response to environmental destruction and the revolutionary experimentation of building an ecologically sustainable future. We caught up with Vincente, the solo musician behind the project, while he is working on his two upcoming albums (right now he only has two introductory songs available on Bandcamp). We discuss the environmental crisis in Chile that has motivated Ecologist, how he builds a layered sound of noise drone, and how he handles fascists in his midst.
How did Ecologist come together? Was this your first project?
Ecologist, such as many other solo projects, was created for a musically spontaneous reason. A musically inspired momentum that generated all the projects that I’ve been consolidating since I was an adolescent. Ecologist, unlike others, is perhaps the one that I’ve appreciated most of all because of the concept of the band, which is nature, environment, it’s degradation and earth ecosystems. Ecologist is where I decided to unwrap all my work related to purely black metal.
Ecologist was born officially in 2017 because of very curious and even absurd reasons, but when I started developing more lyrical and conceptual ideas, I got really motivated.
Ecologist is not my first project. When I was a pre-adolescent I tried to be a noise artist and released some stuff in other names in international small labels, but that’s not worth talking about. However, I have bands that are very meaningful in a musical way to me and I put all my musical and creative effort in those. My main band is Arrebol and we released an album this year and we’re still looking for a label to produce it. I really recommend this project to anyone interested in Ecologist’s music as it is where I did my best performance.
Who is all in the band? What instruments are you playing? What’s the recording process like?
The band is only me and no one else. For the second album (yes, I am already working on a second album even though I haven’t released the first one) I’ll be working with another vocalist because I’m changing the style of the original project into a more psychedelic atmospheric death/black metal with many drones in it. I play guitar, bass, electric drums and I do vocals and lyrics in the project. I have a small home-studio that consists of an interface, my computer and my DAW and most of all the recordings are digital, just how I did for my EP and for the first album that I’m working on, but I’ve experimented more for the second one. Most of the songs are old, recordings that began in 2017 that I’m still working with. Since then, in the experimental phase, I started to improvise and add different sound effects, sounds, plugins, added more leads and ornamenting all the songs.
Where did the name Ecologist come from?
The idea of the name of the band came as an inspiration for the name of the band Botanist (a very interesting project that philosophy I enjoy) but with the theme of ecology: Ecologist. The discipline of biology, biochemistry, study of nature and ecological systems have been very influential in my appreciation of the environment, but not as much as seeing and feeling in real life the ecosystems developing: observing rivers and its fauna and flora, the woods, growing of plants, relations between species, etc. Experiences as subtle as growing your own plants can be as meaningful to appreciate something so essential as the biodiversity and the use of natural resources in human life. Al the end, Ecologist was born as a manifesto on environmental degradation and the overuse of natural resources, destroying essential life, which eventually will lead us to a crisis in which human life will also be endangered, something that will expose us because of our economic systems and politics.
The releases are inspired by the Loncomilla River in Chile and its pollution. What is the situation with the river and how did it inform your album?
I’ve visited the Loncomilla River since I was a kid because of all the times I’ve visited my grandfathers that live in San Javier at the south of Chile. As I’ve been so much time going and observing, I know how notorious the accumulation of garbage and residues in the shores of the river has been, mainly because of human activity. People use the river as a landfill, leaving bags, paper, plastic bottles, food wrappers, electro domestics, chairs, furniture, etc. I have seldom seen a decrease in trash and I’m also ignorant about the effectiveness of the organizations that educate and do cleaning of the rivers, and in the end the garbage affects people near the river and its ecosystem. I’m not blaming everyone, most of the houses in the river are a result of bad urban planning and the poor education that Chile gives to its citizens and specifically in environmental action.
There are also agriculture companies that contaminate the river. I have a personal experience where I was walking through the shores near an agricultural field along my cousin and we encountered tons of rotting potatoes near the river, something that’s not only illegal, but very contaminating. At the end, everything resumes to the few develop necessary changes to the wellbeing of the zone. I don’t live in San Javier but it is the lack of vocalization in support of this region is unacceptable.
How does environmental consciousness drive your creative process?
Mainly through fantasy, imagining in a certain way the spiritual existence of nature and about its consummation. I feel more like hopeless for the voracious destruction of the environment in the hands of the capitalist system, but when I start to fantasize about it I tend to imagine crazier things, almost like a total and abominable destruction taken from a tale of Lovecraft. At the same time, this image of nature makes me think of the homeostasis process that develops in the ecosystems, such as cycles and natural phenomena, admiring its complexity and study. The first album will be about an admiration about nature and the second will be more about its genesis and destruction.
What can be done to confront the epidemic of pollution you’re writing about?
It is hard to answer this because I am not an academic or even student of environmental themes nor its applications to mitigate environmental contamination, but I definitely consider the act of mitigation as fundamental rather than just adapting to the excessive politician, and this is hard in a capitalist system and under the “free market.” The system we need to confront epidemic pollution is one where education of individuals is based on a perspective respectful of renewable uses of resources, environmental care and sustainability, real sustainability, not the one that capitalism sells. A system where legislation is efficient in terms of control, fiscalization and limitations, one that considers opinions of experts and academics over anti-intellectuals, so pollution can be minimized. Further, in our activism and how we want to order society, we believe that informing ourselves and attacking strategic points is where we can have the most influence over the minimization of pollution.
How would you describe your sound?
Hmmm…. it has varied over time, I would describe it as a cold breeze hitting from the shores of a river or the sea. A black metal that uses many drones and layers of sound to be immersive, still being a bit lo-fi, but very immersive.
What bands have inspired you?
Principally, Lurker of Chalice. Other great influences in my sound are from Blut aus Nord, The Ruins of the Beverast and Thcornobog. The first album that I’m working in is inspired in the Memoria Vetusta saga from Blut aus Nord.
Have you encountered any racism in the black metal scene?
In the most intolerant genre of metal, how could I not? In the scene I’ve encountered many artists that I enjoyed for a long time that have fascist or national socialist tendencies, which have racists, individualistic, conservative and intolerant ideas that hide in apolitical discourses so they will not scare away listeners with its true essence. I can see that this is being disputed, almost like show business, but I think it’s reasonable because many people don’t know that they are supporting (and I mean in financial terms) those artists and it turns necessary to expose. Making a call that to anti-totalitarism and anti-fascism almost turns necessary to be separated from groups in the black metal scene. For example, in Chile, one can see a great support for the national socialist writer Miguel Serrano.
Why is it important to stand up against fascism in the black metal scene?
For the same reason that one should stand up against it in any situation. No authoritarian ideology that makes us less free, censors our opinion, discriminates for absurd reasons, stands against minorities, other cultures, origins, skin color, sexual orientation, should be tolerated.
It is understandable that maybe there cannot be ethical consumption in a capitalist economic system, as for the consumption itself, only through self-management can one avoid consuming products that had a certain grade of labor exploitation or that caused a bigger externality. Then, I think that if someone is going to appreciate a musical piece that is problematic, just the music itself, at least one should download illegally for its own enjoyment and not support fascist artists by directly contributing any coin, but even doing that, one couldn’t just simply ignore the weight of the lyrical and conceptual concept. For me, it gives me a disgusting sensation. For example, I wouldn’t enjoy playing a streaming of an album from M8l8th knowing that they’re receiving a % of royalties and you are de facto support their behavior and their manifesto. I suggest taking a look and not supporting bands that one knows supports national socialism, white supremacy, nationalism, racism, intolerance against migration, and others.
What bands would you recommend for antifascist neofolk and black metal fans?
Lately I’ve been listening very few black metal, but I would recommend a record from friend Téleos that has a demo done in 2017 “Empeira, Scienta” or the most recent album release from another friend with his project Mutterings called “Room”. Stuff I’ve enjoyed very much this quarantine are the Duster discography, Hell III from USA and the split from Spectral Lore/Mare Cognitum.
What’s coming next for Ecologist?
Well, I am actually working on two releases at the same time and I hope to be signed to a label soon so I can release everything on a physical format. Ecologist will remain alive till the extinction of humanity.
We are adding Ecologist’s two tracks below, and will add their full length albums when they are available. They are not on Spotify yet, but make sure to add the Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify.
Crown of Asteria draws on the animism of the pagan spiritual traditions, which see sacredness in the cycles of the seasons and the spirit of animals, people, and the physical world. We first encountered Crown of Asteria in the split they did with Vetten Runotar, who has vocals from Finnish nordic folk artist Amanda Aalto. This unlocked a truly prolific series fo releases going back to 2013, with a sound ranging from the bleeding textures of black metal to the quiet, acoustic meditations of her recent nature inspired recordings.
We were able to interview Meghan Wood, the singular artist behind Crown of Asteria, about how this project came together as a focal point for her spiritual journey into the ghosts that animate our natural world.
How did Crown of Asteria come together?
I had been in and out of bands for a couple years, but it wasn’t personally fulfilling. That’s when the idea formed in the back of my mind to do my own project because I just really had a need to create something during this intense period of life I was experiencing. I was doing traveling at the time, through the wilderness and overseas. There was a lot of self-discovery going on and reflection. Something just clicked. Dealing with losses, and painful transitions at the time Crown of Asteria became my anchor to ground myself when things were falling apart and changing. It really gave me something constructive to pour my energy into. Not to mention explore the themes in the music that I found interesting.
Was this your first project?
Is this entirely a solo project?
For the most part. Sometimes guests are involved.This is incredibly intense and layered music, melding genre into these ornate tracks.
How does the recording process work?
I usually start with guitars and drums. Guitars take up most of the time, naturally. Layering them with melodies, leads, solos. Cleans, harsh and reverb effects takes quite a bit of time. When I have a significant amount of the structure done I go back several times and just keep layering bits and pieces. Vocals take up a significant chunk of time layering the chanting and such. More recent releases have been much more involved. Ire of a Bared Fang is probably the most defining when it comes to how much is involved recording wise. It’s a lot, haha.
What instruments are being used?
Guitars, bass sometimes, keyboards, hand drums, flutes, Jouhinnka, Kantele, Acoustic guitar, shakers, bones, field recordings. You’ve been incredibly prolific, what is your writing process like? A mess usually. inspiration and ideas strike and I get to recording as quick as I can to capture it. Much of the time it’s like a mad scientist experimenting. Not as cool though.
Which albums were the most personal to you?
North, Karhun Vakat, Hjem Blant Skyene, Arctic Fever.
Tell me a bit about the mystic path that brought you into Crown of Asteria?
I’ve always been a deeply connected person to the subtleties of nature. By that I mean, empathetic allegiance with animals and plants and the primitive temperamental laws in which they engage. Animism. My path is one of balance and understanding. I see the nobility in the way in which nature performs in our existence and it’s perfect construction. The cycles, transitions, all come together as a force we must live with and respect. Crown of Asteria became a sort of mixing pot of earth based mysticism, ecological philosophies, universal laws and myths. Which I humbly try to convey in a way unique to my own understanding and seeking.
How did you start working with Realm and Ritual (who we also interviewed)?
That was actually through Nodus Tollens and the split we released together. That’s the only thing I’ve worked with them on.How do you classify the genre of your music?Blackened Folk Ambient I guess.
Do you draw on any folk traditions in your music?
Yes, belief in animism, honoring seasons, wilderness, solstices.
How about folk spiritual paths?
Yes, mainly earth based folk paths. Ones that consist of attuning to moon phases, changing seasons, and communing with the natural world in general.
Why do you think its important to stand up to fascism in the neofolk and metal scene?
It’s important because they sew seeds of their hate and prejudice wherever they go and taint scenes then instead of your interest in music being your passion it now is exhausting and you begin to question projects and individuals In the back of your head whenever you find something new to listen to. That’s what they have done. They give folk and metal more stigmas to contend with. They need to know their rhetoric will not be tolerated. They are driven by their own stunted misguided philosophies. It’s dangerous, cowardly, and creates divisions when people just want to enjoy music.How do you think of your own politics or social beliefs?Do what you want unless you are harming/disrespecting others. In any way.
What’s coming next for you?
Working on the Enon Chapel full length and a split collab with a band.
What metal, neofolk, or similar bands do you recommend for antifascist neofolk fans?
We are embedding one of her most recent release, a four-track EP that she did in collaboration with Vetten Runotar that tracks the four seasons. Even more of her work is available on Spotify, so we have added several of her tracks to the Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify.
The Spanish neofolk scene is producing some of the most engaging bands of the last decades, creating massive ensembles with an orchestral feel that is constantly looking to reinvent their sounds. This is how we found the band Vael, a collection of seven musicians who create a rich sound that alternates between ecstatic frenzy and quiet meditation, all while drawing on a range of traditional instruments and international inspirations.
We interviewed Vael about the band’s history, how they draw on folk traditions, and how they took a stand in the neofolk scene.
How did Vael come together? Were you involved in any other projects before?
We were just a group of friends that wanted to play together and have fun. The band was born that way, and over the months we recruited some more friends to complete the formation. In the beginning we just wanted to have a good time and play covers from our favourite bands. We decided to make our first song together, “The Hunt”, which we started being five people but finished as seven. That was the moment when Vael was born as it is today. Most of us had been previously involved in other bands from the folk or folk metal scene, such as Ocelon or Cuélebre. Some of us are involved in other projects from different scenes, like our guitarist José, who plays in Abÿfs and some other Spanish metal bands, and Teresa, who collaborates with the project Bear, the Storyteller.
What bands were an inspiration to you in Vael?
Each member of Vael has very different influences and inspirations, which come together in our creative process. Some bands that we have in common and we really love are, for example, Sangre de Muérdago, Percival or Faun, but we think that we are more inspired by sounds, rhythms and cadences from folk music all around the world in general than by bands in particular. We listen to a lot of world music, ethnic and neofolk, but we also like to listen to rock, metal, electronic, punk, soundtracks, classical and much more. Putting it in that way, we can say that Vael is a mix of everything we like, to honour everything we respect and value as humans. We really have some very actual references in terms of music, instead of tying us too much to the past (which is very normal with folk music), making our music also for today’s ears.
How do natural rhythms and cycles inform your music? How has Vael channeled this natural energy?
We are not very aware of those things in our daily lives, to be honest. We live mostly in the big city and so we are affected by very prosaic things like workdays or public transport and that kind of “urban” things. But we are affected by seasons, for example. We get more productive at certain seasons, sad songs born usually in autumn and winter mostly. Also we believe in natural cycles, which play an important part in human life so we talk about those movements inherent in nature, its forces and how humanity is part of it in our songs. For doing that, we use rhythms that imitate waves like in our song “Nana” or “Nimue,” percussion that reminds us of heartbeats and things like that.
The concept of cycles is deeply rooted in our album “Kairós” since its very conception, and we have manifested it with the first and last song in the album. Those pieces are built upon the same harmony, but phrygian dominant in “Caravanserai”, which is about beginnings and travels, and minor at the end in “Vesna,” which talks about farewells.
So, maybe yes, we are more influenced by those rhythms than we think, hahaha.
There is a strong mythic sense in your work, what myths and folk traditions inform Vael’s creative vision?
One of the aims of the project is to find topics present in different cultures and try to bring them together. We create music inspired by myths from western and Mediterranean Europe to Nordic and Slavic culture, but we also look for inspiration in cultures from other parts of the world, such as the Middle East or East Asia. We are also starting to explore American sounds. This, all together with our own tradition as the crossroad of cultures that is the Iberian Peninsula, tries to address certain topics from a “human” point of view focusing on the beauty that lies in diversity. After all, we are all human beings with our own myths and our own cultural memory, which in many cases share much in common.
Specifically, we have explored several myths in our songs: the myth of Prometheus, the legend of the Wild Hunt and also the abstract image of those old deities from nature (which are still present but forgotten) in our song “Mil ecos” (Thousand echoes). In our future work we’d like to explore myths from other parts of the world. Regarding traditions, the essential folk tradition behind Vael is the primitive and universal act of joining all together and making music for feeling good and being connected. That’s the “folkiest” thing that you can find in our music and in music in general.
How does the songwriting and recording process work? What instruments are you using?
Actually, we don’t have a regular pattern for composing. Sometimes one of us brings a melody or a chord progression and we start adding and changing things, but we also like to songwrite when we are all together in our rehearsals. We start jamming and music flows from us. Both methods work for us.
We try to use every instrument that falls in our hands. Sometimes that’s a problem because we are seven members plus our instruments. We look like the philharmonic orchestra of an anthropological museum, so we need big stages to play (and also big cars to travel). In summary, the instruments that we use most are davul, cajón, darbuka, bodhran, some small percussion, spanish guitars, baglama, hurdy gurdy, nyckelharpa, guzheng, violin, different flutes, bagpipes… and also our voices.
You aren’t afraid of the quiet moments, or moving slowly, how does this space of simplicity play into your vision?
Being seven people in the project, sometimes is complicated to achieve balance and things get a little bit messy, because we all want to contribute to the creative process. We like to get intense and powerful in some of our songs, but we like introspection too and some of the themes we address such as death, melancholy or loss are particularly delicate. So there are these moments when we become more careful, or conscious maybe, and we try to slow down and just make something that simply works well and is not as full of melodies and rhythms, kind of more quiet. Silence is an important part in music too and in this kind of songs we try to give more space for simple melodies and silences also.
Why do you think it’s important to stand up against racism in the music scene?
Entering the music scene is very much like giving someone a speaker. It could be a bigger or smaller one, but is up to us choosing what we say through it. So if we have that responsibility, we should use it to try to make the world a better place.
Starting from our statement and the concept of our band, Vael stands for the defense of every cultural manifestation from every part of the world and every culture, no matter the skin colour, gender or age. We want to break the barriers that separates us and search for what brings us together. So, according to this, we don’t tolerate racism, fascism, or whatever demonstration of discrimination based on the ethnicity, nationality, religion or identity.
Sadly, in the neofolk scene there’s a bunch of examples of overt racism and white supremacism. We believe that bands like us have to create a scene where everyone is welcomed and united by music, not for other irrelevant reasons which excludes the others.
How do you define “community” and how does that play into your creative vision
We think of community as a gathering of people that supports each other and works together. Each member has his/her own weaknesses and strengths that shape the way the community faces day-to-day challenges. We are, indeed, a little community and what we do is a reflection of how we care for each other and how we have held on together when we have been through difficult situations. This is why our music talks about caring for the others and the world we live in, and the global community we are as living beings experiencing the same things even if those experiences appear in different forms, colours or cultural concepts for each one of us.
There is also another important dimension of community, and it’s the one that we form with the other fellow artists, fans and folks who share our passion for music. The European folk scene is very rich and full of endearing people. Friendly mates willing to give everything to help, collaborative artists and a very supportive public. We had experiences in other musical scenes, and when we met the beautiful people who make up this community we felt very happy and surprised. We cannot conceive our work and our context today without thinking about all of them.
What’s coming next for Vael?
Our plans are to continue exploring the musical possibilities that can be developed, mixing new harmonies and sounds, researching other musical traditions from across the world… just let flow the way we feel and think through the music and keep open minded. We are forced to have a “gap year” due to the unfortunate events of the Covid-19 pandemic that has also changed some of our plans, but we are looking forward to playing in Portugal this fall, and maybe recording a EP with songs that we have recently composed.
What other bands would you recommend to antifascist neofolk bands?
Here in Spain we have some bands such as Ignitia, an emerging pagan folk band with influences from Wardruna, and Aegri Somnia who mixes traditional work songs and chants from iberian villages —and spanish Civil War songs too— with some metal. Not from Spain but in Spanish we have Emerson Dracon, an Argentinian artist who creates industrial martial neofolk with an antifascist background.
In the global scene, we recommend Rome, since some of us are very fond of Jerome Reuter’s work. Matt Howden with his project Sieben is a very interesting artist too, very talented and full of great ideas and very provocative. We had the opportunity to be part of a Q&A at Castlefest with Waldkauz, Rastaban and La Horde, three bands that one shouldn’t miss, and we were talking about some of the inclusive values that folk music should carry. SeeD is another project formed by very lovely people with a great spirit of union and friendship through nature and tales. We also have Cinder Well, a dark folk band which you have already interviewed, and some other projects where Amelia Baker has been involved, such as Gembrokers and Blackbird Raum, and similar to those ones, we have Mama’s Broke, two women from Canada making “dark” americana music. Lankum is another interesting project, making their own doomy version of irish music.
Finally, we will always recommend Sangre de Muérdago, ‘cause we love their music and all the magic that they create. We had the chance of being together at La Noche de los Candiles in 2018, a really cool festival in southern Spain. They are such wonderful people and one of our most important references in the scene.
The Belgian neofolk project Awen is the perfect culmination of their history mixing the traditional with popular folk into one of the most challenging ensembles of the decade. Their latest album Chosen Cards is built around the Tarot, each song representing a card in the deck and a guided path of possibilities. The word “Awen” itself means inspiration in Welsh and Breton, what inspires the bards and those who string words and sounds. There couldn’t be a more perfect word for what they are building.
Bart Deruyter from Awen actually reached out to us directly to share the dismal experience he had recently seeing neofolk being associated with fascism. “I explicitly want to ‘out’ we’re anti-fascist,” he said, mentioning that his vision of the new album ran completely at odds with these kind of ideologies. “I have played in a regular folk band in the past (+/- 15 years ago) and yes, then too some folk communities were associated with extremism. I always hated the implicit association and I see it is the case again!”
We interviewed Bart Deruyter about Awen, how it came together, what the concepts behind the new album are, and how traditionalism and paganism inform their development.
How did Awen come together? Were you all in bands before this?
It was in a time when I had changed jobs, when me and my girlfriend had moved away and when I just had quit previous bands, ‘Pia Fraus’ (electro/noise/industrial/experimental), ‘Onder Invloed’ (‘roughly translated as ‘under the influence, playing folk’) and ‘Tana’(piano/vocals). Lieselot, as one of my best friends and of my girlfriend, had been visiting the rehearsals and shows of Pia Fraus and also the shows of Onder Invloed. We already had been discussing the possibility of having her joining Pia Fraus with her accordion, but when I quit and the band subsequently split, it didn’t happen of course.
But we kept in touch. After some talking about how hard it was to start something new, getting to know people and keeping friendships alive over longer distances, we then asked ourselves why we wouldn’t make music together. We decided we better would. Awen was born.
How do you describe your sound? Have you ever avoided using the neofolk label because of the right-wing connotations?
It is pretty hard to describe our sound. Given my past in music it has become a mix of a lot of influences. I’ve got a partly classical education, so there’s a lot of classical, even orchestral sound. But then again I have played bass and guitar in a folk band, so the sound became influenced by it too, and in the use of electronics and samples you can hear Pia Fraus reaching out. Some say the end result is much like film music.
A colleague of mine described it wonderfully. Awen is a house with many, many rooms.
When we finished our album ‘Chosen Cards’ we started thinking ‘What genre of music do we actually make?’ We had no clue. Then a friend of mine pointed us in the directon of Neofolk/Dark Folk/New Folk. We actually googled it and discovered there’s indeed this genre. We also discovered it can sound completely different across the globe. Even today I have no real idea on what it is that keeps it together as a genre. But when you hear it, you kind of know it is Neofolk.
So imagine my surprise when I read about the association between neofolk and fascism. No, I don’t want us to be associated with fascism in any way. It is against the very nature of the music. The music itself is multicultural so how can it ever be fascist? Since we didn’t know about the ‘right-wing connotation’ in the first place, there was no reason to avoid the label. Even knowing it I don’t see why I should avoid it, it’s about describing a type of music, not politics.
What does it mean to be an antifascist band for you?
It is very simple: not being a fascist band. I’ll go even further, we are not an antifascist band because we should not be. We are not an activist band, we’re making music, not politics. To be clear, we don’t consider ourselves to be ‘anti’ anything in the first place. All we do is make music. We simply don’t want to be associated with fascism in any way.
Let’s be honest, there should not even be a channel like this to show one is ‘not fascist’ in the first place.
How do folk traditions play into your music? How about myths, legends, and pagan spirituality? What traditions do you pull from?
There are quite some folk elements. It is undeniable that the accordion is associated with the sound of folk music. But this is not by choice. Lieselot wanted to have a different way of playing her instrument, not the ‘traditional’ way in which it is being used. I think we succeeded at that, but the sound itself is enough for many, to make the link with folk.
I use a lot of unusual rhythms and sometimes even mix musical meters within the same song, which is used a lot in traditional folk music. I’ve used samples of a friend playing the djembe, which brings us to folk music yet again. I think most of the folk traditions have slipped in unconsciously because I have been playing in a traditional folk band for about five years. It’s simply in the way I play.
An important tradition we have used, are the Tarot Cards. The topic of our album, are ‘chosen cards’. We’ve chosen twelve cards from the Tarot deck and interpreted them in our own way. We have lined up these cards so they could form a story. It’s up to the listener to make their own interpretation of it, to invent their own story. To start with, we used a story I have been writing for a long time, but writing it is on a pause for a few years because I’m too busy with music. That story is influenced by Wiccan and Pagan spirituality in several ways, ranging from the five elements , the elements of nature to symbolism and numerology. Again, it is not our intention to direct the listener to this story, but to their own. It was only a means for us to find an order.
How can using traditions from the past help liberate us now?
For me there are in essence two ways to deal with traditions. One is to follow them and the other is to rebel against them. But of course there is the gray zone, where you can mix and match between rebelling and following elements of a tradition. You follow what you like and rebel against what you dislike.
But basically we all are someone’s children and we’ve been growing up with certain traditions, we can only build upon what we know and enrich it with what we learn from others. Knowing and understanding other traditions helps us to know and understand our own traditions better and it helps us criticize our own traditions too. In short, only by knowing other traditions you can evaluate your own traditions and try to get to the best possible result for yourself.
You could then say it is not the original tradition anymore. That is true of course, but I’ve always been told, and I agree with it: when something does not evolve anymore, it is dead.
I think with our music and lyrics we have accomplished an evolution for our own. We have used and mixed classical, folk, current techniques and traditions and created something which ‘liberates’ us from them by using them. Fascism locks in a fundamental set of traditions and doesn’t allow change. There is ‘neo’ in neofolk, which more then hints to ‘new’, or ‘renew’ which is a strong indication of ‘evolving’, ‘changing’, the opposite of fascist thinking.
How does songwriting work? Is it collaborative?
Yes, it is collaborative. It is true that I do most of the technical stuff, the technical ‘music-writing’ and ‘theory-thinking’ to make it fit, this certainly was my task when expanding from only ‘guitar and accordion’ to the use of samples and virtual instruments, but the basic songwriting is collaborative, because we write the lyrics together by discussing the topics very intensively and by listening and commenting on what we play. I can suggest a chord, then she agrees or disagrees to use it, or to abandon the idea. Then follows the way it is played, the voicing, the rhythm etc. it is all done collaboratively.
What can bands do to push back on fascists in the scene?
Well, when I played in ‘Onder Invloed’ we once performed in the region near Brussels, where the discussion about using ‘Dutch’ or ‘French’ often becomes explosive. The village is officially Flemish, so all official documentation, schools, streets are Dutch, but the majority speaks French. Being from Flanders we were associated with the Dutch speaking side, while we were not taking any side. We played music from Flanders, Wallonia, France, Sweden, Iran, England, Ireland, Scotland, etc… in an empty hall. Sure, we were not a ‘famous’ band, but nobody showed up, afraid of possible conflict. Which is a shame of course, sharing cultures is the best way to learn from each other.
So, what we can do as bands? We can only play music.
What’s coming next for you?
Our album is ready, we have done a few performances, now we would like to do more, many more. We have grown as a duo, in our music, we now need to grow as a live band. The only way to do that is by doing shows. We want to play! We want to lay our cards for our public and let them tell what’s coming next 🙂 .
What bands would you recommend for antifascist neofolk fans?
As I described earlier we were not aware we were making neofolk in the first place, so we don’t really know much about other ‘neofolk’ bands apart from what we researched to figure out what we do. We would love to find our way in the scene, so I’ll return you the same question, what bands would fit with us? Maybe us ‘matching’ bands could help each other by being each others ‘supporting acts’ on shows or Neofolk festivals etc.
Secondly we were not aware there actually is something as ‘fascist neofolk’, it only showed up while researching the term ‘neofolk’, so we cannot (yet) recommend ‘antifascist’ bands. Fascist or antifascist never showed up on our radar since we even didn’t ever expect it to exist in the first place.
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