Wartha from Belarus recently released the epic album “Azure Lakes” on Soundage Records. With a decidedly darker sound then previous releases, I was definitely interested in finding out why the change came about. Luckily, Oleg Zelyankevich (the main member of Wartha) was able to answer that question and a few others in great detail……
First off, congratulations on your epic new release “Azure Lakes”…have you been getting any feedback on how it has been received so far?
“Thanks a lot! Everything goes its way, nothing extraordinary happens. More people discover our band, the album is being decently sold and we are getting many good reviews. To my own opinion, “Azure Lakes” is much stronger than our previous album, it stands on higher level, you can see a certain progress in it and the progress is always good. It makes me strive for further progress for me and the music I create.”
There seems to have been some lineup changes in last couple of years….who left and why? What is your current lineup?
“We’ve had many people joining Wartha and leaving it afterwards. Sometimes the band consisted of no one but the core members only. One of them is, of course, me (Aleh Zielankievič – vocals, composer), the second guy is Gennadiy Kharitonov, the sound engineer. When we’d finished our 1st album, two guitarists left the band. We found a new one, Ian Machulsky, who is indeed a skillful guitar player. Together we began our work on “Azure Lakes”, wrote some singles. Unfortunately, lack of time and different views on the sound-recording process did not allow us to finish the work, so we had to look for help once again. And just when we were busy with looking for new guitars, our bassist (Zmitzer Pinchuk) decided to leave, too.
Summarizing the above said, in summer 2014 the band lacked 2 important members and so I was looking for some fresh blood. Not without any success, a young musician Yauhen Dashkevich joins Wartha. Right now he works on our future material. What is more frustrating in lacking band members, aside from looking for the new ones, is the stagnation. To avoid it we found a session musician from Russia (Uladzimir Klimau-Lekhtinen). It’s never a good deal to sit for half a year waiting for some miracle that would set things right for you. You need to write music that comes to you, you need to record albums. You need to express your current vision of music until you’ve outgrown it. It took us three years to finish “Azure Lakes” and that makes me really sad. That is the reason why I’m working on 2 projects at the same time. Both of them involve different musicians.”
There seems to have been a change in the overall Wartha sound…. was this a natural progression to a darker sound or was it born out of the lineup changes? Do you perceive that your sound has changed at all?
“Of course the sound has changed. I’ve made a few steps forward as a composer and writer; Henadzj has honed his sound engineering skills. Frankly speaking, when we’d finished our debut album we were quite disappointed in everything we had written so far. The music didn’t look sincere; it didn’t feel like a piece of art. It’s more like a bunch of random guys decided to play something. And that something was quite dull and terrible. After I’d realized that my philosophy changed kinda rapidly. And so did my music. Right now I believe Wartha is a true imaginary art unlike it was before. And that is cool.
Line-ups have almost no influence on our music. Some arrangements may change, true, and each musician has its own manner of playing which leaves its mark on solos and stuff. Wartha is some sort of factory where I bring some raw material and within that factory the whole bands makes all necessary corrections and polishing.”
Previous releases were all sung in your native Belarusian and you have now started singing in English on some tracks, was this a necessity to do in your eyes? Or just experimental? Do you find that English may be too limiting or simple for some song concepts/ideas?
“I simply wanted to make it easier for foreign listeners to understand the lyrics and song names. Since the texts are written in Belarusian Latin alphabet the google-translate is of no use here. And for people from abroad reading Latin alphabet is easier that reading Cyrillic. We know that Cyrillic for them is no easier than Egyptian hieroglyphs. We’d had a good latin alphabet in the days of yore so why not use it now to make texts more “readable”? But this is, you know, a two-edged sword. So, we’re also planning to make a good translation for other texts, to make them “singable” in English, too. I love many different languages and our future album is gonna be written in language of an old Finno-Ugrian tribe that lives at the territory of Russian Federation. That would be exotic, don’t you think?! And I can’t say anything about English language being limited and poor. It’s a good language and beautiful enough. And it’s used across the whole world which alone tells much of it. Classic Belarusian poems sound amazing in English. Track “Heritage” is written by Janka Kupala in 1922 and translated by Vera Rich. Kids learn this poem in play schools. Switching to English only would be hard for me. The main reason is that our native language is currently hanging on the edge of death. Many people can’t even read it, let alone speak Belarusian fluently so I can’t stop my attempts to spread my own language but I also like duplicating texts in English.”
You are now part of the Soundage label, what involvement did the label have (if any) in the recording of the new album? Any major changes in your recording process?
“The label never made any terms and conditions concerning the sound. They simply wrote us a letter after “Heritage” had been released. They said that we made a good music and they wanted to publish our albums. We gave them our answer during our work on “Azure lakes” and voila! We are being published. It’s sad that we didn’t manage to release it in 2014; we were really looking forward to it. But, it’s done when it is done and 2015 looks quite promising, too, if nothing nasty happens. And yeah, the label takes no part in recording process, we do it ourselves.”
There seems to be a huge number of bands in Belarus, specifically in Minsk, your hometown. How is the folk/pagan/viking metal scene there? What other bands do you tend to play with more often than not?
“There are some bands but they are few. Can’t say that we have a well-shaped folk metal scene. Each band is on its own. Of course some bands know each other, they cooperate, there are some organizers and bands receive some help from those. We have gigs, we have festivals but it doesn’t look like any of this would last long enough. There is a good festival which has been dead for some time, “Купальскае Кола”\”Kupalskaje Kola”\”Kupala Wheel”. It has become big enough to be held not in Belarus alone but in the Ukraine as well. I can name a few bands that indeed have great potential. Those are Litvintroll, Omut (released their debut album recently named “Ten paths through swampland”), Forodwaith. There is a good EBM band named Vapor Hiemis. Those bands are quite young. The older representatives of our scene are Gods Tower, Weeping Twilight, Znich, Sontsevorot (don’t mistake for Russian band with the same name).
We have some decent black metal bands as well. As for me, I feel myself most comfortable when I combine ethnic and black metal music. Ethnic songs are mostly sad, plaintive, that is why you often can hear something dark, deep in those. You can hear Doom.”
How important is it for Wartha to play live? Do you rely on it at all as part of your income and is playing music in general a main source of income?
“Right now live shows are not that important for us. First we want to bring to life some ideas, record some stuff to go live with. The money you make for selling your music you have to spend on recording more music. I know several people who can make some money for their tours but that can never be enough for the living.”
You have your discography available on Bandcamp for sale/listening. How has that been? Any other items to be offered on there such as band merchandise?
“We simply registered ourselves on Bandcamp. Our label allows us to sell our songs on different services. Bandcamp is the best there is. Plus sometimes people would make a donation. That also helps. There is currently no Wartha merchandise but it will appear one day. Perhaps we’ll be creating something unusual, handmade stuff.”
How much effort do you put into marketing Wartha and getting your name out there? Are you comfortable doing everything on your own or do you have others outside of the band to help?
“That kind of work we left on the label’s shoulders. I’ve never dealt with them myself but I think it might be an interesting experience. Hope they can make us a bit more notable.”
Did you have any favorite albums (metal or otherwise) in 2014? What albums are you looking forward to in 2015?
“It’s a hard question to answer. 2014 has been rich for good releases. The very first albums that enter my mind are: Metsatoll – Karjajuht, Kypck – Имена на стене, Kobra And The Lotus – High Priestess, Grand Magus – Triumph And Power, Rise in Rage – Серая кровь
In 2015 I’m waiting for new Nightwish, Amorphis and Skyforger releases.”
Aleh Zielankievič: “Be honest to others and to yourselves. Travel as much as possible, learn and always keep in mind the history of your land. And listen to you mothers. Žyvie Viečna!”