Gjallarhorn Into Poetry
Ukraine’s Gjallarhorn have made an epic comeback of sorts in 2019 with a brand new concept EP called “The Black Tower”. This is their first new music in a few years (not including singles) and they have picked up where they left off with a contender for EP of the year for me. We were lucky enough to have 3 member answer questions for us in Onswar, Nameless and Doomor regarding their “return”, the new EP and the concept behind it, the latest from Ukraine and a few other things…check it out….
How has your epic new EP “The Black Tower” been received so far?|
Doomor: “That is as usual – the fans like what we’re making, but the most important thing is that you should get a satisfaction of what you’re doing.”
Onswar: “At the moment, we’ve got very positive reviews. This deals with both the musical and the visual content. It was not without remarks, yet the material was accepted very much warmly. It seems that this kind of our sound has quite many fans.”
Prior to the release of the EP it has been 4 years since we heard some new tunes from Gjallarhorn…. what has the band been doing since 2015?
Nameless: “Almost the same we are doing now. We had been playing and working over the material. Another thing is that this process was being suspended much due to Doomor’s and my job timeline. Yet this turned out for the best for all of us, for we have reconsidered the way and concept of creating and recording of the music.”
Doomor: “Our music and art in general are not the means of profit or the way to get somehow benefit. This is more like a hobby, or the work we love to switch off from everyday life. We have families and the main job besides. So, we don’t tend to write music just for profit. That’s why we had some “break” during that period of time. We had to gain strength and get some new inspiration.”
Onswar: “Indeed, Gjallarhorn hasn’t been releasing any full-length works during this period of time. Yet we have taken part in few compilations: in 2016, the compilation and tribute to Nokturnal Mortum “22 Years Among The Sheep”, which includes our cover version “As the Steel Eagle into Golden Svarga” and “Hammerstorm vol. VII” compilation with our composition “The Crimson Grain of Gore Epoch”, which is dedicated to the memory of the warriors of Ukrainian Eastern Front. Besides, in 2018, the lyric video for our new song “The Hangmen’s Hill” after the same name poem by Georg Heym was presented.”
“The Black Tower” has some distinction in being a concept EP in my opinion. Did you have some discussion beforehand on doing a concept-based release?
Onswar: “It’s been quite long ago that I had referred to the poetry of different authors for the lyrics for our compositions. This is connected directly to my own interest in translations, and to be precise – in practice of close translation. It began with cover versions of Immortal and Absurd songs in our work. Also, our recent track “The Hangmen’s Hill” appeared as example of such an approach, where the poem by Georg Heym “Der Galgenberg” was used for the lyrics. During the work under the songs, composed by Doomor, it was decided to unite them in the aspect of the lyrics, since the musical connection between them was strongly felt. The poem by William Butler Yeats was chosen as for the uniting element. And so “The Black Tower” was born as the complete musical composition.”
The EP concept is based around a poem by Yeats. What made you gravitate towards this as the basis for the EP? What ideas/concepts did you derive from the poem that made for a musical release based on it?|
Onswar: “Our friend Bohdan (it is him, whom you can see on the front cover of “The Black Tower”) had long ago offered us to relate to the Celtic legacy in the art of Gjallarhorn. Together with my interest in Ireland poet, step by step, this idea began springing to life. For me personally, the ideas, put within “The Black Tower” poem of Yeats, have the outspoken analogies to events which took place in Donetsk airport in 2014-2015 and, first of all, to the courage of its defenders. I am referring to the fierce battles between Ukrainian Armed Forces and the volunteer squads on the one side against pro-Russian separatists and Russian occupation forces on the other side to control the Donetsk International Airport; Ukrainian fighters had been holding the defense during 242 days. As we can see, among the great creative heritage of this author, it is this connection that became a reason to choose this exact poem of all others.”
I would still consider you a pagan black metal band. Does this description still fit musically/idealistically for you? Are there limitations for being tagged so specifically in terms of musical direction?|
Nameless: “In my opinion, we do not play pagan black metal, rather pagan metal with some elements of black metal. However, one should better ask Sam Dunn about, he is well-versed in this stuff. As for me, the “pagan” tag is intended to identify the conception, yet not the style of performing of the music.”
How does your musical writing process work? Is it everyone brings parts in or does one band member drive the sound/style/lyrics?
Nameless: “It happens in different ways. While working under “The Black Tower”, Doomor composed the main themes and I made the arrangement, and Onswar, as always, created lyrics and cover design. Now everyone does his work. Although this does not mean we’re not asking each other’s advice.”
Doomor: “For the matter of that, if to allocate the responsibilities, Onswar is our main creator of the lyrics and the ideologist of Gjallarhorn concept entirely. I suppose Nameless is rightfully considered as the main composer, for the music is bursting out of him literally. : ) Though I’m an idler, yet I’m trying to nose into the music or covers.”
Lyrics are in Ukrainian on the new EP but you have done English lyrics… does the music dictate which direction you take the language? Is the accessibility of the lyrics as important to reach a wider audience or of no concern?
Nameless: “Indeed, in most of cases, to widen the audience, one should sing in English. Yet we do not play for commerce, so we sing in our native language. Along with Ukrainian variant of lyrics, we always add English translation for our fans from other countries so that they could find out what’s all about in our texts.”
Doomor: “As I’ve mentioned in previous question, we do our work not for money, but for our own satisfaction. And yes, in the early time of the band’s existence, when I did not yet take part in it, the most of the lyrics was in English. And I’m glad Onswar have changed the direction and started to write Ukrainian lyrics, especially, in consideration of current events which take place in Ukraine during the last few years. I hope our work makes some kind of contribution in the development of Ukrainian culture broadly and of the language in particular.”
Onswar: “Exactly, in our early releases, the lyric was written exceptionally in English. It was considered as something traditional in metal music at that moment. The bands, by which we were inspired (i. e. Scandinavian black metal scene), were creating lyrics mostly in English, so this seemed a quite logical decision. Although on the “Awakening” album, a song in Ukrainian appears. And then we switched to Ukrainian language almost entirely. On the one hand, this makes the art more authentic and nationally determined, yet on the other, and this is very important part, – the work with lyrics in native language, for me, is much more exciting process. However, English language lyrics are still present in our art. Indeed, sometimes the compositions demand exactly such a choice, or sometimes wonderful poetry, which is worth to be put on use in original, can be found. Actually, I haven’t written in English quite a long time, and all the English lyrics, which will be presented in our forthcoming releases, issue from comrade R. W’s pen. As for the choosing of language for the widening of audience, I personally never considered this in such a sense.”
I would think most would hear your name and think you have a major Viking influence. Is there some Viking attachment in your music/lyrics? Are you more inclined to add in Slavic myths/folklore instead as they are more familiar?|
Doomor: “Onswar will answer this question the best way. Yet as for the name of the band, I suppose, this is the legacy of beginning of band evolvement. As far as I remember, Onswar was really inspired by Scandinavian mythology at that time, and so this became a huge impulse for the choice of the band name. However, we’re still staying up to date with the northern black metal scene and with black metal scene entirely, always learning something new.”
Onswar: “At the moment of Gjallarhorn creation, Scandinavian mythology was a huge source of inspiration for me. You can find number of references to this in our early works. The lyrics for “On the Stairs to the Hall of the Dead” was written using the kennings, and this is undoubtedly our “most Scandinavian” song. It’s quite ironically that this very song symbolizes the closing of our “northern” period in art, and at the same time, closing of period of English language using as the main one, because this composition is our first Ukrainian-language track. I must admit, the digression from this subject was connected with entire popularization of this genre; my interest for this theme hasn’t disappeared, yet it was decided to distance from this theme within the context of our band. Scandinavian mythology presents still in our lyrics, but not so obviously, as it was earlier. It’s more like metaphorical images, than the direct adoption. As for Slavonic folklore, it started to appear on our second album. The composition named “The Return of the Spring” is perfect example. However, it must be admitted, that particularly mythological lyrics are not our main focus. It would be correct to state that such lyrics are present within the context of spreading of pagan world view. Two songs, mentioned above, are uncommon examples of particularly mythological lyrics in our discography.”
Programming and Bathory
Who are your biggest musical influences whether in metal or other styles?
Nameless: “It’s difficult question for me, because some bands or other have influenced me in different periods of my life. There are too much bands, for every moment has its own music.”
Doomor: “I would not mark any particular band or artist, because I’m inspired by not only metal scene, genius people, from whom we can learn something, can be found everywhere. For example, I’ve learnt insistence from Brad Traversy, who does not deal with music at all. He is programmer and programming is some kind of an art. : )”
Onswar: “As it can be seen from stated above, in the beginning of our creative work we were inspired by Norwegian black metal scene of the early 90’s in musical and lyric aspects. As for me personally, I should mark three bands: Bathory, Primordial and Agalloch. And also Ukrainian folk music and epic tradition (the works of Chorea Kozacky band particularly) also left its imprint in our art, our work in this field embodied in our collaborative album “Legacy” together with Yevhen Vetruk.”
Besides the poetry, what other hobbies/interests outside of music influence you? Movies, books, art, etc?
Nameless: “Powerlifting is among the significant hobbies. Also there are many other hobbies of no great concern, to which I return time after time. Yet this is more like free time spending not to feel sad, but not something serious to work further on.”
Doomor: “My profession is one of my main hobbies. It’s programming. I like science and modern technologies, yet also I don’t disregard a good movie or book. Unfortunately, there is always lack of free time to enjoy a paper book, so audio books, – indispensable helper to lose oneself in some good story, came in useful.”
Onswar: “The Nature. In contemplation and integrity. In the Seasons and its changes. In the new Harvest and the Gratitude Celebration for this. The evening Glow and the Moon silver. The Birth of the New Sun.”
Ukraine has an incredible history of extreme music from Nokturnal Mortum, Drudkh amongst many others. What is the scene like there? Why do you think there is such an abundance of extreme acts there?
Onswar: “I would say Ukrainian Black Metal scene does not lose traction. Somebody retired, and somebody closed one project yet created the new one, somebody continues working as before. Musicians collaborate and create new bands. And, of course, new faces appear. Why our scene is like it is? It’s difficult to answer for sure, yet the fact is, this genre, in all its variety, is very popular here. In other genres, only the cult bands can compete with this, yet not in every instance. And it’s not connected with some kind of ideological opposition. In Ukraine, there is no real pressure from the side of the church. Apparently, people just like this style, all its musical and, for some time now, conceptual variety, and its remarkable history and legendary personalities.”
How do you feel about playing live? Is it fun and something you want to do more of or not something that is a big deal for you? Would you want to do more extensive touring?
Nameless: “We are not a concert band now. I hope, this is just for now. There are many different reasons for that, one of them is quite trivial – it’s our work. I suppose, we should work not under the increasing of number of live performances, but over the quality of performances and the significance of the concerts.”
Doomor: “For me, live performance is the way to step out of the comfort zone. In other words, it’s one thing to play at the rehearsal, yet it’s completely another thing to play for the audience, where you must do everything right. This disciplines you. And as a result I get some satisfaction of that, especially if the audience is active and its support inspires very much. I’d like to mention our last performance in our native Kherson town, where, to my surprise, we’ve got huge support and boost of energy and positive from the local metal music fans.”
The EP is out independently on Bandcamp… is being independent better or worse than being associated with a label? Pros and cons?
Onswar: “As before, we remain the adherents of the physical releases at the real labels. And here the question is, rather, in the timeline. The material for “The Black Tower” was ready few years ago and the recording was finished long time ago, yet the mastering and cover design lasted quite long. That’s why it was decided not to lay the release on a shelf and publish it on our official Bandcamp page. Sometime later, we got the proposition from the label regarding the CD release. So the work under the booklet design is being held now.”
Favorite music from 2019 so far?
Nameless: “Have no such. I’m looking forward to new White Ward.”
Doomor: “Allegaeon “Apoptosis”.”
Onswar: “Darkthrone “Old Star”, Enforcer “Zenith”, Mgła “Age of Excuse”, Sabaton “The Great War”, RAM “The Throne Within”, Der Weg Einer Freiheit “Live in Berlin”, Khorea Kozatska “Songs of Ukrainian Revolution”. And also Drudkh “A Few Lines in Archaic Ukrainian”, though it’s compilation of already released tracks. Looking forward to Blind Guardian “Twilight Orchestra: Legacy of the Dark Lands” and the new album of Musk Ox.”
Onswar: “Thank You for interesting questions and the opportunity to get our message across the audience! We wish Your issue luck! In the near future look forward to another our very interesting release.”