Norwegian band Wallachia have recently released a new album “Monumental Heresy” that will definitely put this band’s name on the map once and for all. After some setbacks, Lars has finally managed to pick up the pieces and create something unique… he told Pest Webzine all about it.
The band has two separate phases... from 1992 to 1999 and from 2004 up to the present days… what caused this hiatus?
When our debut album came out in the autumn of 1999 I had just entered my service in the military, and in the following year I took several exams related to my work in the cinema business, so I was pretty occupied with those things first of all. And with the demise of the record label we were signed to, I found myself in the process of starting the band all over again and knew that I wanted to come back more strong and focused. My personal (family) life was pretty chaotic and reached a peak in those times, so I wasn't in a good place in those years.
I know one of the causes was the demise of your label Velvet Music International back in 1999. Why did you think it was best to put the band on hold as well?
I kept working on the music and had written mostly all the material for the 2nd album by the end of 2001, and it was a long process of getting the band active, since it was just me and no other members at that time. In 2004 the debut-album was re-issued on cassette first, and about a year later also on CD, so that pretty much marked our return from the 5 years of silence. Also, I put some new demo tracks out on Myspace in the time that followed, and it was from this that I ended up co-working with Stefan Traunmüller and Thomas Kocher in Austria. And we recorded the album in two sessions during 2007 and 2008 at Stefan's studio. I financed the whole recording myself and sent the album to a few of the labels that I liked myself, and we ended up getting signed with Twilight Vertrieb in Germany. And from this point on everything has been a lot smoother, working with some dedicated and great musicians for these past 3 albums we've done by now.
Do you think the band has some kind of curse?
No, I wouldn't say so, but I see your point. We experienced the exact same thing with Twilight Vertrieb too, as with Velvet Music International, as Twilight had to shut down their business just a few months after our album was released. Sadly, because they were a good label. But this was purely due to how the music industry started to suffer the effect of the digital format and the huge problem with illegal downloading. Even though we have been around for a long time, we are still very much rooted in the underground. I would say that we are lucky to have the freedom we have as artists to do what we want with our music and have a solid backing from our label.
The band has been around since 1992 but only in 2015 did you play the first concert… 23 years later… had you given up hope of playing live by then?
Since Wallachia never has been a full line-up band in the traditional sense, playing live was never really something I considered would ever happen. But then we started to play around with the idea after we got some offers to play some shows, and when we got this concrete offer from Dark Bombastic Evening in Romania, it was pretty much a perfect place - an old fortress site in the heart of Transylvania. It was a lot of effort and preparation just for this gig, with us two guys here from Norway and the other 3 in Austria and Germany. We rehearsed as a full band for no more than two days just before catching the flight to Romania, and it was both fun and nervous experience. But for a first gig under these circumstances, I think it was a great and new experience. At least we know what to dive into in case we'll ever do something like this again.
According to your official Facebook, the band should have released an album titled “Path of Satya” in 2015, which would supposedly be the longest, most epic and savage recording you could do. It didn’t happen though. Why?
Path of Satya was the original title intended for the 4th album, as we started the recording process in early 2014, but then the whole concert thing came up by the end of that year, and thus the album was put on hold for a while. I chose to change the name of the album as I wanted to have a more appropriate title. Satya translates from Sanskrit language as "absolute truth", and since some of the songs are a natural continuation from the concepts of Shunya (2012), another Sanskrit word meaning "Empty" or "Void". But I didn't want to end up sounding like some Buddhist Yoga type of band. Monumental Heresy sums up the general concept of the songs very well, I think. The description from your question fits to what became Monumental Heresy, which is our longest album so far. And it contains our most dynamic and epic material, and we also pushed the intensity level with a couple of the songs.
Is your album “Monumental Heresy” the album “Path of Satya” under another name?
Yes, as told above it is the exact same material that we started to record in 2014 and it was just a change of the title.
On April 13th you released your fourth full-length “Monumental Heresy”… was the date carefully chosen in order to give you some luck as opposed to the bad luck usually associated with that number… or was it just a random date?
I'm not superstitious at all, so Friday the 13th of April was just a random day for me personally. The release date was decided by our label to fit into their schedule. April 13th is also known as Cristopher Hitchens' Day (R.I.P.), who was a brilliant writer, journalist, well-known atheist and also a person who dared to challenge and question a lot of the theocracy (or I should perhaps say hypocrisy) governed states and people. I found it very fitting to put out “Monumental Heresy” on this date.
Why the title “Monumental Heresy”?
Because it fits to the general lyrical concept, and for me the meaning of heresy in our music is related to mother nature as the only spiritual force as something being worthy of worship. And as the cover artwork shows a monk figure that abandons his faith and walks away from the monastery left in ruins. On the actual disc itself you see the opposite angle and how nature, plants and trees have found their way and grows inside from the ruins. It's has a nice symbolic value related to the music itself.
Who writes the lyrics and what topics do they deal with?
I write all the music and lyrics in Wallachia, and the songs are all written from a personal point of view. Be it experiences from my own life, traumas from the past that you manage to heal and close by turning those thoughts and emotions into words and tunes. And for the most part on “Monumental Heresy” the songs deal with my stance towards religion and how still in this day and age it affects the world in so many negative ways. A song like “Heathen Shores” speaks about the timelessness and majesty of our beautiful nature, and how it stands rough and unshaped since before the spiritual plague came sweeping into our land a millennia back. I like the quote by filmmaker Woody Allen who said that "we all know the same truth, and our lives consists of how we choose to distort it", and this pretty much sums up religion to me. A song like “Returned Favor of Abandonment “speaks about how I at a very young age turned away from a God who wasn't there when I needed him the most, when I saw my life fall to pieces from what my own father did towards my mom and myself. So that song is very personal and it's about turning away from the fatherly figure that wasn't there, in a double sense. The song called “The Prophets of Our Time” celebrates musicians, poets, painters, filmmakers, freethinkers and those who dares to seek, question, challenge and bring a creative diversity into our ever-expanding world. The social control and surface bullshit "rules" that comes from religion is a mental prison that limits the possibility of personal growth and happiness in life. I am so thankful that I have grown up in a way that I have had absolute freedom to become the person I am today. So, the main thread throughout “Monumental Heresy” is about having that personal freedom, and that it's highly about time to put away the dusted, backwards and hostile religious scriptures. I ask in The Prophets of Our Time "where are the miracles of our time and age?", as nowadays for some strange reason we don't see anything on a scale of what happened in the days of Moses, Noah, Muhammad, etc. There are a thousand ways to God(s), but we walk the one and only path of Satya - away from it all and into the freedoms of the real world.
How are people reacting to the album?
All in all, it seems like people have embraced the album well, and I'm especially happy to get the good feedback from those who have followed our musical journey for a while, and that they feel that we are stronger back on track towards the more epic and raw sound from the early days. Our music is, as always, a bit eclectic and diverse, and we pushed it even further this time with having a song with female vocals for instance. It seems like the more epic pagan influenced songs are what people like most in our sound, and that is also the core direction of what we do. So yeah, I'm happy with the feedback we've been getting so far. I feel that those who really enjoy our stuff are passionate fans of music, collectors and that they embrace the whole experience with the artwork, the concepts and so forth.
The design has a very Van Gogh vibe… was it your decision or was it the artist’s own idea? How did the idea of using Lucile come up?
The Van Gogh touch to the background was Lucile's own idea, as she suggested that it would be very fitting to the image. We had a very good co-operation with her and she fully understood our concepts and ideas for this album. And as it turned out we were quite similar in the ways of how we lead our lives. We approached Dehn Sora who did the design for our Carpathia Symphonia release, and since he was way too busy with his own band, playing live and stuff, he suggested that we could get in touch with Lucile. And via our label I got in touch with her, and it all happened very smoothly. I really love the handcrafted style of the whole artwork and booklet design she did. She applied her technique of being a tattoo artist in the way she made the artwork.
The band is now signed to Debemur Morti Productions… what does the future hold in store for Wallachia?
As I am writing this I'm just two days away from going back into the studio with the band to record something brand new for a special release coming later this year. And you will see more news about this later from our label. So, basically, what lies ahead for us now is to complete the album I have been working on since a while. We have some offers to play live in the fall, so we will see how this turns out. Since we are a long-distance based band we need some time for preparations, and of course have the travel costs and all too. The main focus is as always to work towards a new album.
The reviews have been awesome… does it make you feel proud for not giving up and following your dreams?
I would say that with this album it's the first time I feel really proud and accomplished with a Wallachia recording. Before there were always things I wished I had changed or done better when it comes to my own performance. This time we recorded as a full band and it made it way more fun for me as the creator of the material to have the inputs and added arrangements from the other guys. Having a creative outlet such as music, which also involves writing and a lot of thinking over the subjects, it makes you grow a lot as a person. So, each album is like a diary of where you are at the moment. It has been a long and bumpy road with lots of challenges, but I am glad I have persisted and sacrificed a lot to make music.
The band believes this is their most accomplished album so far… what do you mean by this? Did everything work out the way you had imagined?
By this I mean that it's our most accomplished work as far as how the songs themselves turned out, by our own performances, the guest artists we invited into the recording and also I think this is our best production and sound so far. We approached the recording differently this time and tracked all the guitars and bass ourselves here in Norway, which was a much better way for us to work. We kept the recordings very natural, real and raw, and I feel there's much more energy in the sound compared to the previous album. We have now found a very good formula for how to work and record.
“Monumental Heresy” was released a few months ago and Wallachia are already mentioning the upcoming album on Facebook posts… are you working on it already? Are you “revenging” yourselves from all the time you were at a standstill?
We had a 3-year gap between the 2nd and 3rd album, and normally it would have been the same for this album too, but as I already mentioned with the concert in Romania taking much of our time and my personal budget, we had to postpone the release until 2018. And, actually, I think it was good that we had this extra time and I am sure we made a better album since it allowed us to include the guest artists that really put an important stamp to the sound. And I have been working on new material since 2014 and I am on a good way into what will be the next album. As always, I let the songs sort of create themselves over time, and individual pieces become connected with lyrical ideas. So most likely we'll have an album out a lot sooner next time than the six-year gap we had until Monumental Heresy.
Are you planning on playing live in order to promote the new album? Any dates you can announce already?
We have some offers for the Autumn this year, but nothing is concrete and sure as far as dates and number of shows. But we hope to know soon in case we'll jump into this, because we need some weeks of planning and rehearsing in our separate camps. But yeah, it would of course be fun to play live again, and in a more proper way now that we are the full line-up from the latest album.
Being a Norwegian Black Metal band do you feel pressured to do a great album considering the history of your country when it comes to the mentioned genre?
I wouldn't say I feel pressured by it, and we come from the central region of Norway where there was never really a scene for this form of music, compared to the bigger cities such as Oslo and Bergen where a lot of the great Norwegian bands have their roots. I guess the pressure mostly comes from our own musical past and the shortcomings and flaws with the 1st album in particular. I had a lot to prove for myself with the 2nd album, and I think I have gradually evolved with these past 3 album recordings. I am very much inspired by the Norwegian Black Metal scene in the years 1992 - 1999, and I want our sound to have the epic qualities of the late nineties Norwegian Black Metal, with the keyboards and everything. There's a lot of nostalgia within our sound.
Why are you so fascinated by Transylvania?
It comes from my childhood and my interest in the mythical Dracula and learning to know the real origin with the historical Vlad Draculea Tepes from the 15th century. Just the name Transylvania invokes a sense of mystery, and I immediately get pictures of foggy landscapes, majestic peaks and vast forests. When I finally visited Romania the first time in the summer of 2014, we spent a week traveling through most of the Transylvania region, and it was an amazing experience. Beautiful towns and villages, and it was particularly great to visit the places we have used photos of for our album covers in the past. And in 2015 with our concert there, we landed in Bucharest and were able to travel through the vast plains of Wallachia itself, crossing the Arges river, and naturally I need to see more of this region - of my other home, so to speak.
Interview by Sónia Fonseca