A Tribute to Our Glorious Dead

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After two excellent splits, UK-based pagan black metal outfit Wodensthrone has delivered one of the most impressive debut albums I’ve heard in years. Grand, savage, epic and beautiful, Loss has not only found itself high on my year-end list, but it’s also quickly become one of my favorite albums in the genre. Much of this has to do with the sweeping songcraft, but it’s the evocative, atmospheric nature of the music that really transports the listener. No surprise, given that these guys take their history, their heritage and their philosophy quite seriously. Read on and you might even learn a few things…

Let’s start with a British pagan history lesson. What period of time do you portray with Wodensthrone, and what political, societal and religious changes do you depict in your lyrics?

Wodensthrone: We focus on the Anglo-Saxon era of England’s history on the new record and indeed our band name is in reference to this period. Wodenism was the folk religion of the period in question before it was usurped by the Romans, who brought Christianity to our shores.

Lyrically, we’re not stuck in the past, however. We allude to the past but we’re not offering a kind of history lesson to the listener or trying to lecture people about how great this period in time was. We’re concerned with looking at the world we live in now through the eyes of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors and, being from the North East, we feel we have a certain geographic and ancestral connection with the people and spirit of that time.

Our struggle to preserve our identities, culture and individualism in the age of Globalisation very much mirrors that ancient struggle against the invading hierarchy posed by the Romans. Also, Sunderland was a stronghold for these Pagan beliefs and the tribulations of the times were documented by Bede, himself a native of the region. We pay little attention to the political milieu of the time and focus more on the spiritual traditions, which were perniciously repressed by an alien dogma seeking to control mankind under the auspices of religion.

We obviously rely on the knowledge that has filtered down through the ages to give credence to these ideas we present, and we’re very firmly rooted in understanding what’s happening now in the world instead of turning away from modernity in search for truth. It’s no use railing against the oppressors of ancient times if you can’t see the same tyranny in front of your eyes right now in the world.

How did you become interested in this subject? Any interesting travels or sites around the UK that are close to your heart?

The interest in Anglo-Saxon England is chiefly Hréowsian’s passion and something he has studied more than the rest of the band, but it’s fair to say that heathenism is something we can all relate to even with a basic understanding of the conflict between Paganism and Monotheism and the tragic legacy of the betrayal of our folk traditions.

Perhaps the most noteworthy site in the North East of England is Bamburgh Castle, which was first referenced in the 547 AD as the seat of King Ida of Bernicia. The site was chosen due to its formidable position above the coastline, and it still stands today, although obviously in a restored condition.

Another relic of the period – again still standing to this day – is St Peter’s church in Monkwearmouth, built in 674 AD, which is one of the oldest stone churches in England. This is an important site because it is one of the earliest Christian churches built in our country and serves as a reminder of Rome’s influence on our land even after their imperial conquest had ended over two centuries previously. We know that orders were sent from Rome to convert the ruins of heathen temples into Christian churches in an attempt to overshadow the ancient places of worship that threatened their religious monopoly.

As a metaphor, Anglo-Saxon England is relevant to what we’re trying to convey through our lyrics, but beyond that, the historical aspect of the period is really not that important. Again, there are crucial lessons to be learnt from this period in England’s history, but they are often timeless, recurring struggles that persist to this day because of a lack of awareness within man. So we’re trying to redress this imbalance as well as invoke the more apparent historical conflicts the history books deal with; the missionaries arriving to replace the folk traditions, the battles and so on.

Therefore we’re very keen to point out that one cannot understand the disastrous effects of human conflict without contemplating the microcosm of man himself; the fragmented consciousness, the role of the ego in determining one’s belief system and so on. The ways in which we defile our inner republic, either through the absence of truth or proper spiritual leadership, inevitably leads to a lack of awareness which can then be preyed upon by establishments with pernicious agendas that seek to divide, control and exploit humanity as a resource.

Moving onto the music itself – can you talk about your goals in evolving your sound from the Niroth and Folkvang splits to the writing and recording of Loss? What was the writing process like?

For Wodensthrone, it has always been something of a natural progression as far as the writing process is concerned. We find ourselves evolving as musicians, evolving spiritually, and in turn our sound and atmosphere has developed and matured over our three releases.

The timeframe in which Loss was written was roughly one year. We did not rush any of the songs; we took as much time as we needed to compose the music and write the lyrics, as we had no particular deadline to work towards. The concept of Loss is not focused on one narrative of perspective. Lyrically, as well as the metaphorical aspect, there also a journey through personal experiences we have all faced over the years, as well as playing together as a band.

Some of the songs were written at home, some written together in the rehearsal room, but I feel that the songs on Loss are consistent throughout and integrate together well as a full length. For future releases, I am sure we will work in a similar way. Indeed, the writing for the next album has already started.

You performed with Negura Bunget and Fen in 2007 – a show that I’m sure many black metal fans wish they’d been to – myself included. How did you hook up with those bands, and what led you to record Loss in Romania?

The opportunity to work with the guys from Negura Bunget came when we played a show with them in Sunderland in 2007. This was before I joined the band, though I was one of the many enraptured fans in the audience that night. I think we were all fans of what each other were doing musically and then we quickly bonded with Edmond and Michael (ex-guitarist/vocalist and bass player, respectively), who then suggested we contact them when we were ready to record the debut album and welcomed us to do it at Negura Studios.

There was some time between this initial idea and the plans being realised, but all the time it was in the back of our minds that we had this incredible offer on the table. Put simply, we couldn’t turn down a visit to Romania, where we could enjoy the culture, take a holiday as a band and come back with the album finished. So when Marty at Bindrune offered to pay for the studio time if we could fund the rest, we found an affordable apartment, paid for six flights and soon after began the journey to Timisoara.

How did you enjoy your time in Romania – what are your impressions of the country? (Curious just from a traveler’s perspective). Did your time there or your connection with Negura Bunget affect or influence the recording process for Loss?

Our time in Romania was very special to us, not only because we were working with our friends in Negura Bunget, but also because it was an opportunity to visit them in their homeland this time. We spent most of the fortnight in sweltering conditions at the studio in Timisoara (temperatures in July tend to be in the 30s Celsius), but we did manage to spend some time in the city and at our apartment, which was a few kilometres away from the studio itself.

The overall impression I came away with was that the Romanian people are enjoying their independence and are adapting to a more Western style of life after the fall of Communism, the relics of which are identifiable amongst the newer developments. It’s not uncommon to see bullet holes in building walls; more poignant reminders of the struggle to overthrow Ceausescu.

Timisoara seems to embrace the kind of consumerism that we are familiar with in Britain, only perhaps maintaining their cultural efficacy more in the presence of such corporatism. A proud and defiant independence was also noticeable in the cafes and restaurants in the city, which collectively ignored the newly-imposed the smoking ban. The historic city centre itself was beautiful, featuring the famous Orthodox Cathedral and many other buildings reminiscent of the architectural style found in Vienna, not to mention the quaint tram system that runs throughout Timisoara. So we found Timisoara to be a place of amazing cultural distinction, but in terms of its influence on the record, that’s hard to put into words.

Certainly working with Edmond Karban and Michael Zech (the former members of Negura Bunget who have gone on to found Dordeduh) was a unique experience. Their vision, in terms of what they could bring to the music in terms of the mixing and mastering, contributed a great deal to the impact that Loss has had. Edmond spent quite a long time on achieving the right guitar and bass tone, not to mention endless tweaking of the microphones around the drum kit. Edmond also insisted that we record the drums to a click track, which was a new experience for Hréowsian, albeit one that he saw the benefits of after hearing the subtle difference the metronome made to his performance. Since the release of the album, many reviewers have commented on the ‘Negura sound’ qualities of Loss and I think that’s most evident in the production, which does suit a band like ours making this kind of record.

Most of the music was written before we arrived in Romania, but there are moments on the album where spontaneous ideas were worked into the original compositions to create some special moments on the album. This is probably most noticeable on “Pillar of the Sun,” where we had to learn some new techniques for recording the acoustic instruments and then crafted the song in the studio. And since our session player, Padraig, was in France, we had to email him the tempo for the song and wait for him to send his files back. So this track was pieced together quite differently to the others.

For the most part though, aside from the diligent work of Edmond and Michael on the mix and master and their input as engineers, the album is exactly what we imagined ourselves capable of as a band. We only hope we can work with experts of such calibre again when we are ready to record the next opus. And in fact, Michael has already put ideas into our heads by saying we’d be welcome at his studio in Munich. Perhaps another Wodensthrone recording adventure awaits us in 2010.

It’s easy to be transported back into time with your music, provided you have the proper imagery to fill your imagination. Can you describe a scene that plays in your head when you write or perform this music?

The appropriate imagery to accompany our music would be heathen landscapes, far removed from the sprawling urban setting we find ourselves amongst on a daily basis. Black Metal has always been an artistic mode that shuns the crowded cityscape, seeking refuge in the natural world, and we embrace this both lyrically and visually.

Our impulse is to transport the listener back to a time when man relied on the land for all his needs, before that moral and spiritual connection was replaced by the hollow pursuit for materialism, before technology presented us with a means to make our lives comfortable at the expense of tearing up the earth for profit. Even we are guilty players in these tragic circumstances (we all live in the city), so the escapism the music provides us with is crucial as a kind of protest – as well as an expression of our lost culture and semblance of selfhood.

The importance of nature in Black Metal cannot be understated. As a Heathen band using the Anglo-Saxon framework, the natural order and our spiritual place within it is of the utmost importance. Nature is something we are part of, no matter how much we are led to believe otherwise by religious and political demagogues who present a skeptical view of it and tell us it’s something we should be fearful of. This happens, of course, in many subtle ways through the mass media, as well as in more obvious ways, through religious dogmas and collectivism. Not only do we defy these false ideologies in our lyrics, but we try to conjure scenes that uplift the listener and take them on a pastoral journey.

The other side of our music leans towards the martial aspect of England’s history, so images of ancient battles would be the suitable visual overlay to mirror those particular moments. However, we are quite content with the listener creating their own landscapes and feel that it’s more important that they bring their own individuality to the music than embrace any pre-ordained view of it. This should be the focus of all serious art and not on the intentions of the creators, which are mostly irrelevant to its appreciation.

Given how rich and atmospheric the music is, how do you carry over those elements to a live setting? In other words, what should we expect from a Wodensthrone show? Any plans to tour outside of Europe?

Our live performances re-frame the recorded songs in a way that doesn’t betray the original atmosphere, instead adding to it in terms of the intensity of our playing. This is amplified by a loud but clear mix where all the instruments are present. The more subtle qualities on the new record tend to get lost in the live setting because of the sheer volume, though we still retain some of the dynamics during the calmer moments.

Visually, we’re known for wearing blue Woad paint striped over our left eyes, which is again a nod to the martial aspect inherent in our music; a symbol the Northern tribes of old wore when going into battle. Recently, we’ve also started to incorporate video projections into our live performances after having the opportunity to display visuals for a gig we did in Derby. The venue there had a screen behind the drum kit, so I put together a video incorporating some of the high resolution album art photos that Moga of Kogaion Art manipulated, as well as some impressive time lapse nature footage that I found on the internet. Although for this particular video montage I relied on other people’s work (with permission from the respective artists), I intend for the band to journey to our surrounding Lake District and Northumberland hills to record our own footage so that we can then think about making an official video for at least one of the songs on Loss.

In terms of where this band could play live, at the moment, the furthest Wodensthrone has been from home has been London, but we are hoping to get over to Europe and further afield in the coming months. We’re on the verge of a big announcement that will hopefully make those plans easier to achieve in due time. We also hope to do a few dates in Germany with Odem Arcarum, who our friend Michael Zech is involved with, since plans to do a few dates together fell through earlier on in the year.

We also had tentative plans to tour the UK with Cold Northern Vengeance, who are of course our label mates in the USA. While that hasn’t happened yet, we’re eager to get over to the States instead as we seem to have a good following there judging by some very positive album reviews.

We’d also use that opportunity to visit Marty Rytkonen, our label boss, who has had as much faith in Wodensthrone as we have ourselves. Since we’ve only talked on the phone and via email, we’d love to meet the man who gave us the opportunity to record Loss in such a memorable setting and to thank him personally, and if that involves touring at the same time, all the better.

Last question – what are you guys currently listening to?

Rædwalh (guitar, vocals):

  • Absu – Absu
  • Pink Floyd – Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd
  • Nile – Those Whom the Gods Detest

Wildeþrýð (guitar, vocals):

  • Prurient – The Black Post Society
  • The Most Relaxing Classical Album in the World… EVER!
  • Swallow the Sun – New Moon

Gerádwine (bass):

  • Absu – Absu
  • Neurosis – The Eye of Every Storm
  • Aura Noir – Increased Damnation

Hréowsian (drums, percussion):

  • Absu – Absu
  • Weakling – Dead as Dreams
  • Envy – Abyssal

Brunwulf (vocals):

  • Katatonia – The Great Cold Distance
  • Immortal – At the Heart of Winter
  • Behemoth – The Apostasy





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