Intense lullabies and cathartic infernos: interview with SIBERIAN HELL SOUNDS
The show of SIBERIAN HELL SOUNDS in Vilnius on May 2nd crowned the band‘s 2017 European tour with their fierce Danish allies HEXIS. Just before the rewardingly dark and aggressive in-your-face (literally) hardcore performance, I had a rare honor to do my first ever outdoor interview with guitarist Dan and vocalist Matthew of this marvelous Australian band that you need to check out if you haven‘t already. I say “rare” because it‘s probably the first proper SIBERIAN HELL SOUNDS interview even though they keep roaring since 2013. Rare was also the spring warmth that evening we had this extensive talk about the band‘s latest release “Svengali”(2016), blackened hardcore and all sorts of musical and emotional quicksands and pandemoniums.
This is your last show on this European tour. How was it, was it more enjoyable or troublesome experience?
Matthew: Super enjoyable! And for the most part, it‘s been pretty trouble-free.
Dan: Very much fun. I like the Baltic states very much.
When did you first find out about this legend about sounds of hell coming from a borehole drilled somewhere in Russia (not in Siberia but on the Kola Peninsula, as it turned out) and why did you decide to use it as a name of your band?
Dan: I think it was one of those articles like “Ten creepiest recordings ever” or something. There was one about those Siberian hell sounds and I was like “Fuck, that would be a good band name”. So we made it a band name and everyone has been very confused ever since: “So you‘re not from Siberia?”, “No, we‘re from Australia”, “Oh, ok”.
So I guess your music could, in general, be called a sonic interpretation of hell. Could you give a visual description of hell, how do you imagine hell looks like?
Dan: When I think of hell, I‘m especially influenced by Gustav Doré and his interpretation of Dante‘s “Inferno” and different levels of hell. My parents were very Christian and they had Christian comic books that were supposed to kind of scare you into being a good person, that‘s why they would always have very dramatic representations of hell in there. But I read them because I liked the representation of hell. My parents bought me all these things trying to make me more Christian but I just really liked, you know, pictures of Satan and pictures of Hell.
Talking about the visuals, in a couple of music videos that you have there are clips taken from old horror movies, you have t-shirts with an image from Lynch‘s “Blue Velvet”, in the introduction of your latest record you use the sample from an old American movie “Svengali” (1931). Is watching movies an important part of your creative process, are they the big inspiration for you?
Dan: Absolutely. We both watch a lot of very strange films that our girlfriends don‘t want to watch with us. I think everything you watch or listen to influences you in some way, even if you‘re not conscious of it. Even if you‘re watching old horror movies they will still affect your attitude or something, on some subconscious level.
It was actually because of your latest album, “Svengali”, that I‘ve decided to watch that old American movie also called “Svengali”.
Dan: Yeah, for a super old movie it‘s pretty good. I actually found that movie after we came up with the title. I‘ve heard some audio clips before that and just knew about the concept of svengali and then we watched the movie afterwards. So I didn‘t even know that existed until we had the name.
Talking about “Svengali”, it is a concept album. Can you elaborate a bit on this concept you‘re presenting because I think that your interpretation of what svengali is, is more sophisticated than the original one: you talk not only about the emotional or psychological manipulation but also touch on themes like survivalism and the defining of things.
Dan: I didn‘t write the lyrics for the EP but they‘re all the explanation of the concept of our vocalist who wrote the lyrics. So I‘m not sure of the very fine nuances in his lyrics. For me the decision to name the EP that way kind of changed the way we wrote songs. Before it was like that: I would write the whole song and then take it to the rest of the band so that we would have some kind of skeleton on which we would work. Whereas with “Svengali” it was different: we jammed a lot more and let things flow more naturally, we all felt when something was good. The other meaning of svengali for me has to do with modern life in general. Even by just working a job for some corporate company you allow someone else to take over your actions for a reward. And you let your body and your mind to be used and manipulated by all this nonsense for some money, basically. I think what is wrong with the world is that people have such focus on the money and the fame and just let themselves become something else rather than do their own thing and not worry about that.
The cover art of “Svengali” is done by the artist Dame Dismember. I found this picture on her facebook page and it‘s entitled there as “Vladimir Putin portrait no’ 2”. Are there some political connotations on this album?
Dan: No, there actually isn‘t. But it‘s funny because there‘s portrait of Putin for SIBERIAN HELL SOUNDS. The artist, Dame Dismember (I don‘t think she would like it if I said her real name because she likes to be kind of anonymous) actually came into my work, I work at a liquor store at the moment. She came in wearing a SATYRICON shirt and then we kind of became friends. She showed me her art and I asked her if we could use this piece and she loved it. I think she‘s a very very cool artist who does these crazy collages that involve blood and meat and all this gory stuff which I think is very cool. I was super stoked that she let us use that piece because I think it‘s perfect for the release. It was funny because Dame brought me her folio and let me pick whichever piece I wanted. She had every piece of the original in there except for that one. So we had to take it off the facebook and it‘s not the best image but… It was almost like a sign that we had to have that one.
What music did you grow up listening to?
Matthew: I used to be really into rap when I was very young. That progressed into the standards of pop punk and from there things got heavier and heavier until I was listening to metalcore when I was like thirteen. That progressed further and further until I met Dan – he started showing me the darker spectrum of heavy music and it really encapsulated me. My early influences don‘t come out too much into music that I listen to now, but I‘ve continuously been progressing with my music choices and over the last five years it‘s become a lot darker and heavier.
Dan: I started off listening to Christian music until I was in high school or something. Then I started learning guitar, I basically did that because of TOOL and METALLICA, and that was kind of my first experience with darker music. From there I went to post-metal, ISIS, CULT OF LUNA and that kind of bands, then got into black metal and all the other genres – grindcore, sludge, doom and so on.
Is music of SIBERIAN HELL SOUNDS only “exhalation of death” or do you inhale something with it as well?
Dan: Well, we‘re taking something back from our music as well. While writing “Svengali”, we sometimes had to put ourselves in a bit of a bad place to be able to effectively write better music. And I think that could especially be said about our release before “Svengali”, which we call “The symbols EP”. It was done during a very bad period of my life which, I think, had a quite big influence. A lot of people say how bleak it sounds whilst I thought I was just writing the same guitar parts. But it seems to have affected the music and something darker got translated through that, somehow. I don‘t like the production in some parts on that “symbols EP”, I really wish it was better. It was very torturous to make that one, actually. But we got there.
Dan: I think it is. A lot of the time when everything starts off, it‘s not quite as intense and it‘s about purposefully channeling as much intensity into the music as you can. You can sometimes write music and realize that it needs to be “more” and that you don‘t put as much into it as you would like to. Especially with our song “Svengali”, when we first started writing it, it was nowhere near as intense as it is now – we had to keep pushing, pushing and pushing it to make it as intense as possible.
What is your relation to silence?
Dan: That‘s a very good question. I think if you‘re living in the city, the silence is basically impossible. And when you get somewhere that‘s actually silent then it gets so silent that it‘s loud. People often say that silence is deafening. I think it‘s just some kind of full circle. I think silence and noise are exactly the same things. But I find noise kind of more suiting than silence.
Matthew: I personally hate silence. I can‘t stand silence, I always have to be listening to something or doing something.
Dan: When I go to sleep I listen to pretty intense stuff most of the time, it helps me to fall asleep, actually. DARK FORTRESS has been my “sleeping band” for the whole tour (laughing).
DARK FORTRESS lullabies, I see… There were some doom and stoner metal hints on earlier SHS records, but it seems as if with “Svengali” this doomy element has disappeared. Did it feel irrelevant or inappropriate to include it this time?
Dan: I don‘t think we‘ve ever really consciously incorporated any kind of doom influences but they were present because that was what we were listening to at the time. There‘s a little bit of that on the “symbols EP” and our split with NØNE has some definite sludge and stoner riffs as well. But we were influenced by the nastier doom bands like EYEHATEGOD or something like that. Not SLEEP or HIGH ON FIRE or that kind of smoother sounding bands but that very embracing doom is what I like. On the other hand, I think that some of the riffs we play, if you play them slower, then they sound like doom riffs, doom riffs played fast. Especially AMENRA is a massive influence on us and a lot of the time if you play our songs slower they sound kind of like AMENRA songs. I take a lot of influence from them for the guitar parts which are kind of that but sped up.
It feels like with every record SHS gets darker and darker or I‘d rather say blacker and blacker. I think especially after the release of “Svengali” you could be included in what seems to be a new trend/movement or even new genre called “blackened hardcore”. We all know that black metal has its strong punk rock roots, but this combination of hardcore and BM is a totally different thing. I didn‘t really succeed in tracing the origins of this new phenomenon, do you know which bands were among the first to try to combine these two genres?
Dan: I think definitely HEXIS, they were not the first but they are one of the big bands that really defined this genre in terms of how it‘s presented. I think CELESTE were one of the first, actually. Older bands like ZAO were mixing metalcore with black metal which was maybe how it all started – more metalcore and black metal stuff. I would mention ARKANGEL from Belgium, even a band like BEHEMOTH has a lot of hardcore influence, they say they‘re fully death metal but I get a lot of hardcore influence from there. BOLT THROWER is a pretty big influence. Yeah, I‘m not very sure, I remember there was an article that got written about blackened hardcore by Heavy blog is Heavy where they were talking about HEXIS, RAMLORD, YOUNG AND IN THE WAY, us and a band from America called WILDSPEAKER. It was them presenting the start of this genre, I guess, but I don‘t know. Maybe we are still at the start of it?
Matthew: I personally get a lot of influence from modern bands that are still active now and that are releasing their stuff at the moment. I‘m one of those people, when I find something that I like, I can‘t help but keep listening to it. So if I stumble upon something now it can very quickly become one of my favorite bands at the time. IMPLORE, TRAP THEM, BLACK BREATH, YOUNG AND IN THE WAY. Same with HIEROPHANT and THE SECRET.
Dan: I used to play in a dark hardcore band which was, you know, just d-beats and things. But I had this wish to combine bands like MAYHEM, BURZUM and DARKTHRONE, that kind of classic black metal riffs with d-beats, it was like “man, it would be so awesome” and… it is!
There‘s a question that I wanted to ask some band for a while now. If you read about metal music these days, especially the most extreme part of it, there‘s an everflowing stream of adjectives like “angry, violent, dangerous, oppressive, offensive, evil” and so on with which people try to describe it. These are all very appropriate words in the context but I think some of the most important ones are often forgotten. I would say these words are “disappointment” and “discontent”. I think in all that musical and visual offense and anger there‘s a lot of disappointment if not despair over… everything. Do you agree on that?
Matthew: Yeah, definitely. I think hopelessness is a very a very big emotion that goes into blackened hardcore. That empty feeling you have.
Dan: Yeah, I do agree on that. I think especially with blackened hardcore music, there‘s none of these proclamations about Satan and all the traditional black metal things. Most of the people that are playing this music are generally atheist or agnostic, they are expressing their own emotions instead of saying they are making songs to glorify Satan as black metal bands do. It‘s more like a catharsis than some sort of tribute, which I think is more important because Satan doesn‘t exist (laughing).
After watching a short movie made for your songs “By The Voice Of His Master” and “A Cult Will Rise” combined together, I imply that you see human existence (or at least our everyday life) as hell. What is the worst part of it?
Dan: There‘s so many different things that I‘ve been thinking about a lot lately. Very recently I even stopped looking or reading the news. 200 years ago or maybe even 100 years ago the possible amount of bad news you could hear in one day would have been from maybe one or two people at the most. Whereas now you go on the internet and immediately have everyone‘s bad news from the entire world and it makes everyone so scared. It makes people scared of each other. I think there‘s just this human tendency to be sheep with things like that. And especially in Australia, where we are from. Because we‘re so isolated a lot of people are very scared of different cultures and different experiences. At the moment problems with Syrian refugees and problems with Islam are very very prominent in Australia. There are people who instead of trying to help are just trying to make it worse. This is very sad because I think two years ago that wouldn‘t have been possible, people would have been a lot kinder to each other. I think that is one of the most upsetting things really.
I think music is the most affecting and addictive form of art. Would you agree on that and if yes what do you think that depends on?
Matthew: Mood and environment. On who you‘re with and where you are in your life. If you‘re going through something pretty rough in your life then something dark and bleak might speak to you on higher volumes than it would if you‘re going through something very positive. I think that‘s something very important about the music. It always spoke to me on a very personal level.
Dan: I think music is the only art form that everyone likes in some capacity. I refuse to believe that there‘s people (well, I guess there is…) that don‘t like music at all. But I think it would be very rare with, let‘s say, paintings or poetry. Whereas with music – everyone likes music. And everyone‘s got the thing they like whether it be Justin Bieber or whether it be DARKTHRONE.
Matthew: Something speaks to people on their own level and some may like both of those things on completely different occasions. As we‘ve experienced on this tour! (laughing)
Dan: When you go touring in a van with two bands full of guys that really like black metal and grindcore all you listen to is Justin Bieber and trap music and this stupid Italian rap music… You think you would be listening to black metal all day, but you‘re not.
Matthew: I like it, actually. When I was coming on tour I‘ve never met these HEXIS boys before and I‘ve sort of assumed it‘s going to be that way. And it was complete opposite – very happy boys listening to very happy music a lot of the time.
Dan: We‘ve been making a lot of fun of that new BÖLZER album. We had this driver for the start of the tour, later he left all his CDs for us that he had brought with him on tour. One of them was a new BÖLZER album and I just think it’s so funny. Vocals on that are very hilarious and we’ve just been making jokes about it. Every morning someone comes in and turns that BÖLZER album in the van and everyone goes “oh no, not again!”
Matthew: That’s the thing – even music that you hate can make you feel happy because of personal jokes and things. It speaks to you on so many spectrums and I love that about music.
Your music brings me personally into some kind trance state, both physically and emotionally. What is your personal experience of your music (both while rehearsing/recording and during live performances)?
Dan: There was one particular time when we played in Adelaide with HEXIS. I had a full out-of-body experience while playing. It was looking at myself, playing guitar but I was just… still just playing but without any sort of conscious thought. And that‘s totally what we intend to happen. I think a lot of grindcore music is very disjointed and is meant to have a little break and then just snap you out while we want to make something rather opposite – something that‘s full and got that very flowing nature to it, something that totally sucks you in and keeps pulling you only deeper. I really like seeing people go somewhere else while we‘re playing. When they go into some sort of other state. That‘s really rewarding. So I‘m glad that you‘ve felt that as well because it‘s very intentional.
Matthew: I definitely feel the same way about it. In everyday life, I‘m very calm and happy person but when we play I get the anger and the evil out of me. It feels good. It‘s a very different experience from the rest of my life. People often say to us afterwards: “You guys are very nice people but you make some very angry music“. And that‘s sort of what I want to convey. I like that. I like being on those two spectrums. It‘s a very good outlet, enjoying some heavy music during the day can make you a happier person.
What‘s your favorite Australian band (or bands)? Can you recommend some Australian underground acts that we should check out?
Matthew: I personally go for SHACKLΣS, they‘re so hard and so angry. They really convey what I want to hear in music. I really enjoy SCUMGUTS as well, they‘re a great local band from our hometown.
Dan: Yeah, SHACKLΣS are very good, they are more like a power violence band. EXTORTION is a legendary power violence band. Australia has so much good music. Very good doom bands like DROWNING HORSE and SPACE BONG. We have some great black metal bands like FUNERAL MOON, HORDES OF THE BLACK CROSS, GRAVEIR, MOON, SPIRE, PORTAL. Now there‘s a couple of great grind bands like BLACKWOUNDS and LOATHER, they are really awesome. But there‘s really not many blackened hardcore bands, as far as I‘m aware. Maybe just us. There are some other bands that are kind of similar but either more black metal or more just hardcore/grind bands. But I feel like I‘m missing someone important.
Matthew: We‘re probably missing heaps of important bands. There‘s so many great Australian bands, we‘re very blessed to have this.
I think SIBERIAN HELL SOUNDS are bound to be underground just because of the name, but doesn‘t this tour with HEXIS feel like a next step (maybe a big one)?
Dan: I hope so, that would be fantastic if it was. The response here has been so awesome. You spend a lot of money on plane tickets to come somewhere like this, hoping that people will come to the shows and worrying and stressing about all the practical things. But then you have shows like we had the last two nights in Tallinn and Riga (I think Tallinn-show was the best show I‘ve ever played, it was absolute chaos) and all the stress goes away. It‘s totally just about the music which is awesome.
Matthew: It‘s been a very positive experience. Not too many people normally move to SHS because it‘s quite dark, people just normally stand in their trance but last two nights have been proper hardcore shows with kids kicking roofs and crowd surfing and ripping everything out. That means a well to us. To travel that far and see kids losing their minds halfway across the world means a lot, it makes all the money you save up trying to get here to project what you want to do is 100 percent worth it.
Matthew, Dan – a huge thanks for the interview and for the show!
Listen, support and keep your hellmouths roaring and your hellhearts beating!