Cutting the Necks of the Upstarts

feature image

The band is Stonehaven, the location is Kansas City, the style is black metal, the record label is Horror Pain Gore Death Productions, the album is Concerning Old-Strife and Man-Banes…and it is magnificent in terms of compositional depth, lyrics, and pure fucking sonic terror. Any questions? Now let’s get down to the nitty gritty of Stonehaven. We asked vocalist/lyricist Stephen Holdeman and guitarist Nick Van Walleghem to satisfy our curiosity and quench our thirst for knowledge in that regard.

How about some background on Stonehaven? When did you form, who has been (and is) in the band, and what had you released musically prior to this album?

Nick: Stonehaven was formed in 2003 in Kansas. The founding members are myself, Michael Van Walleghem, S., and J. Ferris. Shortly after that C. May joined the band. There have been two been two bassists since the parting of Michael. Our first release is known as the Hoarfrost EP. The release itself was very amateur, less than 100 copies exist, and it will not be printed again. Following that, Of Oak and Iron was self-released in 2010 and was limited to 200 copies. It is more or less a culmination of a few years of songwriting.

The title of the new album – Concerning Old-Strife and Man-Banes – is a kenning, which is something along the lines of a compound expression in Norse poetry, right?

Stephen: Yes, a kenning is essentially a compound word that both replaces and describes a noun, lots of times being a metaphor. Some kennings are easily understandable, like “sword-meeting,” which isn’t hard to translate into a battle or fight. Other times you must look through several layers before it is clear. Kennings allow the author put a number of unsaid descriptors together by forcing the connection between the two or so words of the kenning.

The costumes and corpse paint you guys wear on stage is quite powerful in terms of image with a look more nature based and pagan than some traditional black metal bands. And what is the fur being worn over the shoulders? 

Stephen: What we wear on stage is meant to give the audience a window into the time period that our music takes place in. Contrary to many other ‘viking,’ ‘folk,’ and ‘pagan’ bands that attempt capture the same setting, our attire is not just fantasy and romantic pomp; no, when the viewer watches us, they get the opportunity to see men dressed and armed in the very same fashion as the characters in our songs over 1,000 years ago. It might be surprising to some that an American band would be immersed in something so strictly non-American, but I feel we handle our topics and dress with more care and diligence than our European peers. You often will find bands with similar themes dressed in absolutely ridiculous fantasy attire, looking more like a high schooler’s Conan drawing than anything else. I can proudly separate us from them.

Did you all have an idea of the kind of black metal band you wanted to be and the music you wanted to play when you formed?

Nick.   Not necessarily. We had our favorite bands at the time, but none of which we intended to wholly mimic. Our motivation was, and is most of all, ourancestors. Stonehaven is a collective of ancestral spirits, its music is theaudible essence of the horrors which they portrayed and experienced.

I was very impressed at the tightness of your live performance at the CD release show at the Riot Room in Kansas City. Not an ounce of slop anywhere to be found! How often do you rehearse?

Stephen. We have a large amount of pride in our stage show. It is equally important to be physically and musically imposing when preforming live. In an age when practically any CD can be downloaded in minutes, listeners need to be able to take away something intimate when they become viewers. We must remember we are as much entertainers as we are musicians.

Nick. Thank you. We try to practice a several times a week; at times it could be more than that, and at others less. The quality of our live outings is very important to us.

Who would you say are the biggest influences impacting the music of Stonehaven, both as a band and you individually?

Nick.  The first song Stephen and I covered together in our early teens was Darkthrone’s “Transylvanian Hunger.” With that being said, the early Norwegian scene has been a great influence on the mode of our songwriting. Einherjar (NO), and Enslaved (NO) are perhaps the greatest of our early influences. Without being influenced by these bands early on, Stonehaven would currently be very different. As for my personal influences, I listen to a slew of different types of music, and each genre in which that music is categorized I could credit in sparking an idea in my songwriting. Those influences range from Russian Black Metal’s Walknut to Jean Sibelius.

How is Horror Pain Gore Death Productions treating you so far?

Stephen: I have to say that Mike Juliano at HPGD has been a pleasure to work with. So far everything has gone smoothly where they’ve been concerned.

Stephen, tell us about the lyrics you write. You really have a way with words and what you write/sing conjures images in the mind of the listener. For example, “I pulled back a molded cloth and whispered into his ear / I asked him what have you for me in there?” Great stuff!

Stephen: Thank you. When I write my lyrics I draw from many influences. I take care to capture the tone of many 12th century writers, as well as add my own horrible twist. I want to focus on the flaws of men; obsession, pride, greed, and lust all overcoming will and turning into monsters. It just so happens that all these real, human flaws are staged in 10th century Europe. Every one of my songs is a story. Each one is like the music that accompanies it, with multiple parts, perspectives, and in the end, each one ends in hopelessness. My words should be read in the same light that a saga must be read to truly tie together the pieces. At some point, I will release my notes, painting the entire picture for the listener.

Talk about the writing and recording process for this album. Nick, you are listed as “initiating” all the songs but the band is credited with writing the music.

Nick: The term “initiated” was used to signify that I set certain parameters and wrote the majority of the guitar work for the album. Now, I didn’t sit down and with J. and tell him each cymbal or drum that needed to be hit at each second of each song, so thusly, claiming to have “written” each song would be unfair to everyone else. Writing a song in our band doesn’t consist of sitting with feather and ink by candlelight and notating each note upon paper and calling it good. It is defined as conversing agreeing or disagreeing about the direction in which each riff that I write steers us to. Had I recorded all instruments myself with no input from the others, the album would be – as I say with other things – very different. Recording the album was done with some amount of ease in comparison to our first album. The studio we booked had it together in almost every aspect. Not a single moment of the album was recorded without a click track, and I think we’re all satisfied.

These are long songs with multiple movements, yet none of it ever gets boring. Talk about the band’s songwriting philosophy in this regard, especially as it pertains to music without conventional song structures.

Nick: Some of the songs’ lengths are intentional from the start. Others are completely random. The scale of each song and even the song’s mood isn’t realized until it is complete, usually. On the other hand, the formats of some of our songs are planned before the music is even written. Overall, our music normally is characterized by movements as one would see in a piece of classical music.

The album cover fits so well with the music and lyrics. Who is responsible for it and what is the story behind it?

Stephen: Some time ago we had decided we wanted to use the scene of the martyrdom of Raud the Strong as an image for use in the band. We’re very happy with how it manifested through our own C. May. It’s based off a style of art developed by a series of Norwegian artists for an 1800’s printing of Heimskringla. It’s very worth mentioning that scene shown; while a picture of Christianity triumphing over native culture is not a political or religious representation of our beliefs. Our theme is not about the forced conversion of Scandinavia. What the cover represents, as it pertains to us, is the sinister human nature present in our music; a spotlight on the odd cruelties exemplified in our songs.

Is Stonehaven the first purely black metal band to release an album on a label in the Kansas City area? I can’t recall any others, but I could be wrong.

Stephen: As far as I know, we’re the first strictly black metal act to come from our area to get any attention. It’s worth pointing out that both Order from Chaos and Samothrace have also come out of this region with record deals, and have been a ‘black’ band at one point or another.

Where has Stonehaven performed outside of the Kansas City metro area? Any band with whom you’d like to perform?

Stephen: We’ve made two tours in the Western half of the United States, up and down the coast, and in our neighboring states. Practically every city along the coast gave us great response. I’ve always particularly enjoyed our shows in Los Angeles, Portland, and Denver. In the next year, we have our sights set on a complete national tour. At some point I’d love to tour with another band, namely Valdur or Ritual Combat.

How would you describe the KC metal scene to those that haven’t experienced it? Any bands we should know about?

Nick. Since we have been familiar with it, it has been unstable. It is filled with bureaucracy, and is a revolving door. There are great bands that we have developed great friendships with, and they would all agree.

Who in your opinion are some of the most underrated black metal bands playing today?

Nick: It’s hard to distinguish between the term underrated and unknown in this genre that was intended by its creators to remain underground and somewhat clandestine on all planes of its existence. To call a band underrated in Black Metal is to suggest that it deserves more positive attention than it already has, which in most cases to the best of my knowledge, isn’t something that is regularly desired. A few of the best bands that I don’t hear about too often are ones like Walknut, Folkvang, and Tukaaria or anything from the Rhinocervs label for that matter.

What are some of your favorite black metal albums and why?

Nick: The number one for me would be Taake’s Dodskvad.There are riffs on that album that make mountains crash out from the Earth upon each listen. Track IV.

Are you fine with being called a black metal band or is it important to use terms like “Viking” or “pagan” as well when discussing the music of Stonehaven?

Stephen: While I am the theme’s main progenitor, I often worry that with our “Viking” mantle we will get lumped in with a whole group of misfits and fantasy, hipster-hammer wielding bros that seem to permeate that theme. As Nick points out, I think it’s important to brand us firstly as a Black Metal band, and secondly that our theme is “historically” oriented. While our characters in our songs are all typically Vikings, many are simply downtrodden men trying to survive at the end of the Dark Ages. It’s not the childish, swords-to-the-gods, honor and monsters fairytales and drinking songs that other bands typify. It is about the real horror and real emotions felt 1,000 years ago. People often detach themselves when they talk about Vikings and heroic tales…we want them to be very much involved. They are meant to realize that facing your death in battle can be far from glorious, that sometimes men crumple in a ball and scream like children in their death-cries for their wives and mothers. Yes, we sing of battles and war, but the true focus is on the nature inside those long-dead men, about how terrifying men can be when they lose control.

Nick: I find it to be quite important to be regarded as Pagan Black Metal. Although our music is, and is much more than just that, by being categorized as such we are likened to other artists of a similar caliber, as for years it has been a legitimate sub-genre of Black Metal. To any BM enthusiast it will be important to know whether or not a band speaks of the Devil and goat rituals, rather than Heathen mysticism and battle lore.

When does work on the next album begin and what might we expect to see and hear in Stonehaven’s future?

Nick: I never stop to take breaks from writing music. So for all we know it may have already begun. There is no schedule at this point however.

Purchase Concerning Old-Strife and Man-Banes at this location:



  1. Commented by: E. Thomas

    I should probably try and listen to this at some point

Leave a Reply

Privacy notice: When you submit a comment, your creditentials, message and IP address will be logged. A cookie will also be created on your browser with your chosen name and email, so that you do not need to type them again to post a new comment. All post and details will also go through an automatic spam check via Akismet's servers and need to be manually approved (so don't wonder about the delay). We purge our logs from your meta-data at frequent intervals.