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Underground Metal Special: Ukraine

Underground Metal Special: Ukraine

by Luxi Lahtinen



Ukraine may not be a country that’s known for their underground metal scene, but the country has produced many promising metal bands that deserve your attention. Hence we thought it would be a great idea to contact a bunch of bands from the current Ukrainian underground metal scene to ask them about their bands and give us a better insight into the country’s vivid yet still relatively obscure metal scene. Thankfully, many Ukrainian musicians were more than willing to share a lot of information, so fasten your seat belts, sit comfortably and let them be your guide through a small part of the country’s underground metal scene.

Thanks to everyone who participated in this special feature.

When you decided to form/join your band, did you have any personal goals as far as the band’s comings and goings were concerned?

Sergestus Baytalaal (LAVA): I decided to create the LAVA project about a year ago but the idea for it was born gradually starting quite a long time ago.

Before that, I had been playing and writing music on the outskirts of death metal, almost without a mixture of black, for about 15 years but now I decided to create a separate project with no framework for these two extreme styles.

Lord Hastner (DEVIATOR): I have been the founder and main creative force behind Ukraine’s Deviator since 2007. Around 19 or 20 years ago, I had a strong desire to embody my soul’s reflection in the form of gloomy, dark music. At the beginning it was raw black metal, dark synth/ambient project then the style of Deviator changed and developed into a heavier and atmospheric metal sound. Now I can define it as heathen epic black/death metal with a strong heavy/doom/dark ambient influence.

Andzhey Jastremski (STREAM CHANGE): I don’t remember when I decided to form this band, but I remember I always believed this is my passion and that’s why I formed the band. My goal is to write good songs, with meaningful lyrics and feelings reflecting what we are going through.

Ercld (ATRA MORS KVLT): We formed the band with the goal of creating black art. Time added a few goals more like making money from our music but not pathetic reasons like "glorification of our lord Jesus/Allah/Buddah/Satan/Saddam/whatever.

Vladyslav Korobov (DOOMDOZER): Doomdozer is a Ukrainian industrial/post-metal/dark ambient/band. The name of the band consists of the English words "Doom" – death and "dozer" - dispenser (dispenser of death). The band was formed in 2004 by musician and composer Vladyslav Korobov. Our debut album, Decomposition, was released in May 2005 on Moon Records, and literally from the first week of sales attracted the attention of metal fans. The album has been successfully distributed in the Baltic States, the CIS and Eastern Europe.

Within two years, we decided to create our own label, XLM Music, and recorded the second album, Soul Solution. We were unwilling to work for any large corporations (due to the difficult situation of metal music development in Ukraine, as well as the semi-shadow market of audio products) so we released our new album on our own.

In 2012, the third album called Internal Impact was finally released. The album included nine tracks, including a cover version of the Nine Inch Nails song "Hurt." The track "R.T.S.D.S." from that album was based on the poems of Taras Shevchenko and, in particular, the chorus used lines from the poem "The Dnieper Roars and Groans Wide." The album was highly praised by fans of the industrial, post-metal style. Then in 2016, our next album Nucleation Reversed was released.

Today, all digital copies of our albums are distributed free of charge on the Internet. Since 2021, the album Internal Impact has been available in Apple music and Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/album/6GO12vf42gb0bnurX6aqyQ)

Also, albums can be purchased from the official Doomdozer page (https://doomdozermusic.wixsite.com/doomdozer/albums).

Dredmor (NORTHREND): Music is the medium to share your views and personal beliefs. Sometimes it is much more appropriate than spoken words. So, the main personal goal for the band was to transfer certain views through this channel. This is what lies beyond the emotional and artistic part of creation.

Vladymyr Rundin (PRAGMATIK): I think we formed Pragmatik at the beginning of 2006 or something, or hell, maybe even in 2007, I can’t remember (as it often happens to me). Our main goal was to come up with nice musical ideas, to write some cool riffs, melodies and stuff, hoping to get enough good material recorded, which we did eventually, resulting in our debut album, titled Ghost of Light, which was released in 2012.

I believe almost everyone who wants to start a band (well, perhaps not black metal musicians so much), wants to achieve some fame, money, do a lot of touring, preferably around the world, like Metallica have done, hehe! Okay, I am, of course, joking! Seriously speaking, I guess we just want to play music that we like and hope that our songs are interesting enough to other people so that they will check them out.

DYING GROTESQUE: Dying Grotesque dates back to 2018, when the Hunter’s Daughter demo was released. From the earliest period, it was a one-man band until 2020, when the full lineup was assembled.

The main goal of the project was to create old-school death metal in the best traditions of the genre, as it has not been present in the Ukrainian metal scene for a long period of time. Our plans from the start were to preserve the traditions of the genre and refresh it, developing our own style and creative writing, while not losing face and not becoming a typical representative of modern trends.

Zymobor (ESKAPISM): There were no plans for starting Eskapism as a project or a band, it happened spontaneously when my buddy Dyvozor (keyboardist) came to join me and play keyboards for another (not black metal) project we have. We decided to improvise a bit and all of a sudden we found some very nice melodies, but they were atmospheric and blackish, so to speak. The same day we collected some riffs and harmonies and just recorded it and later came some lyrics and I recorded vocals. That was only one song for a project which still didn’t exist. Later, maybe the next two or three months we came up with another song and then another. At this point we decided that we can make it a studio project. Years before I had this word in my mind, "Eskapism" that was waiting for this moment. Eskapism, what a beautiful name for the music we create. Sometimes our music is aggressive, sometimes dreamy and melancholic, but the main thing our music is atmospheric.

We had no goals with Eskapism, we were just two guys creating music without any timetable, so it took two years before our first album was done.

At the moment, we are working on our third full-length album, and we are really thinking about Eskapism as a full lineup live band based in Germany, because I moved to Germany in 2020.

Andrii Klymenko (WOLFANGER): Wolfanger was born in December 2016 when the majority of our bandmates left another band we were all part of. The goal was simple; to create the music we like the most.

Alex Pasko (HELL:ON): Hell:On has existed for 16 years and when we started it I was very young. It is quite difficult for me to say or remember what I thought about our goals back then, but I can definitely say, "This is rock and roll." This is part of me, it is in my blood. When I am asked now why I do this, I answer that I just can’t live without my music.

Lilita Arndt (IESCHURE): Ieschure is one-woman project. I think that one-person projects are very different from bands in the "usual" sense. I had no need to have a goal or any outside motivation to create music. It was based on inspiration, on desire to embody ideas and express my emotions in melodies, vocals and lyrics. So, I can say I had no concrete goal. I started my project because I saw that I can do this when I felt that my skills in instruments/vocal record and mixing were enough to create my own songs.

Cornelius (CASTRUM): Castrum was formed in the fall of 1994. I always focused on creating unique music and tried to play with the best musicians around me.

Sergey Korolev (TORRENS CONSCIENTIUM): I fell in love with metal when I was at school, especially doom metal. I really liked the music of bands like Saturnus, My Dying Bride, Shape of Despair, Anathema, Draconian, etc. Quite soon, I wanted to play like them.

My friend Vlad Skaldin, who lived next door and also loved this kind of music, had just started to play drums. One day I invited him to play together. In the spring of 2009, we began to gather and replay our favorite compositions.

Over time, our own ideas began to appear, which eventually turned into whole compositions.

A little later, bassist Sergey Rachinsky and guitarist Alina Tishchenko joined us, and so the lineup was established.

Yulia Lykhotvor (SIDUS ATRUM): When I formed Sidus Atrum my personal goal was to create a band with which to express my ideas, feelings, emotions, experience and to share it with others.

How do you see your band’s position in the Ukrainian underground metal scene and outside the country’s borders? Do you think you are more respected abroad than in your home country?

Sergestus Baytalaal (LAVA): I constantly hear positive reviews on the Internet from all over the world, but since the project was just born and I created the material myself and recorded it with the participation of my good friend Mike, we need to recruit a lineup for live performances and compare the reaction of fans both in Ukraine and outside her borders.

I believe that such music has no nationality, it just needs to be understood, or it is already part of you from the very beginning. Craving for it comes from the soul in a way that does not communicate verbally.

Lord Hastner (DEVIATOR): I do not think that my opinion on this issue is more important than other fans of underground metal. However, I believe Deviator has made a substantive contribution to the development of Ukrainian black metal. We have four full-length albums and two compilations released by various European labels on CD. There are different versions released by many other labels. I agree with the opinion that support comes more from abroad than among native black metal artists, but there are, of course, close people who support me as well as from persons who are owners of Terroraiser ‘zine and Vacula Prod.

Andzhey Jastremski (STREAM CHANGE): We always wanted to play everywhere, and we can do that because we love what we do.

We are eager to finish a couple of singles and then record our second album and share them with the whole world. I’m currently working on new material and have around 14 rough versions of new songs; guitars done, some bass, and drums, too.

Here’s a link for a ballad with guitar and fretless bass but no vocal lines or drums yet because we are currently working on them and have some ideas for the lyrics, too:

https://youtu.be/nLThSk1yWa8

As for your question about whether we are more respected in other countries, I simply don’t know. I hope we are (or will be), but I believe if band members truly love what they do, people can sense that, no doubt.

Ercld (ATRA MORS KVLT): It looks like we are deep in the underground, considering Atra Mors Kvlt is one of the few bands (not fruity loops one-man project) playing black metal without the prefix "atmospheric," "post," "pagan" or "melodic," at least in the western part of Ukraine. Ukrainian black metal is flooded with atmospheric copycats of Drudkh and Khors. We rarely perform and haven’t played abroad yet. Watching our Bandcamp stats I see nearly half of the purchases are from abroad, half from Ukraine. I don’t know how I can choose between a "respected band" and an "underground band." Talking about the "scene," there is no such thing as an "all-Ukrainian scene." There is only Kharkiv-clique that looks something like a "scene." In general, Ukrainian black metal is more appreciated abroad. Just look at any European festival and you will see a significant number of people in Drudkh t-shirts. You can’t live in Ukraine just making music and playing gigs, that’s why we all try to make it in other countries in Europe.

Vladyslav Korobov (DOOMDOZER): Unfortunately, the Ukrainian metal scene is going through hard times. And yes indeed, our main target audience is mostly abroad.

Dredmor (NORTHREND): Honestly, I’m not following any scene, underground or not. Perhaps other band members can say more about it. I just do what I am supposed to do, composing tracks, writing lyrics, transferring particular ideas. There are definitely countries which are much more into extreme music than Ukraine. Sometimes their representatives contact us, but it is due to personal preferences in music. There are some agencies in our country who support Ukrainian music, but you should write lyrics mainly in Ukrainian if you want their support, while we focus mainly on an English-speaking audience.

Unholy (NORTHREND): It’s a complicated question. Initially we were eager to show our musical ideas to the world. Then we faced the issue that there is weak support in terms of clubs, studios, etc. for our style of music in our country. And by the way, there weren’t too many places for performances, which prompted the thought, "why are we worrying if no one sees or hears us?" And it grew to where we stopped worrying about the quality of the albums and the sound and general performances at gigs. Thus, the band and its ideas were threatened. If we assess our position on the stages in Ukraine and beyond its borders, up until 2019 it was very weak, then after 2019 we were inspired by our new manager and can say that we have occupied a small niche inside the country. Abroad, alas, we do not have much information, although since 2019 we have received letters from Poland, Brazil, Malaysia and others and have nice support from all over the world. The events of recent years prompted thoughts that it would be nice to re-record our early albums and play a large-scale show for the 10th anniversary of the band in 2022.

Vladymyr Rundin (PRAGMATIK): That’s a very good question. In fact, this question makes me smile, quite honestly. I’d say that our current position in the Ukrainian scene is pretty much absent because we do not play any shows due to several reasons and have only one album released so far. That’s unfortunately not enough to put our band in a remarkable position in any underground metal scene, really.

However, I do assume that our band is kind of known abroad due to the fact some of our band members, who played bass and drums on the Ghost of Light album, also well-known members of many projects in the Ukrainian black and death metal scene nowadays.

As for guessing whether we are more respected abroad, I simply do not know. Maybe or maybe not.

DYING GROTESQUE: Dying Grotesque is currently an independent, rapidly developing band, known not only by the local audience, but by broad-minded metal enthusiasts worldwide.

From the very beginning of the band, we have focused on foreign audiences. Due to our bold ideas in composition and musical production, we were not fairly appreciated by the conservative community of Ukrainian metalheads. However, after the release of the critically approved debut album, Sunflower Tide, we acquired a small yet highly dedicated and sincere fan base, which inspired us to keep working. Finally, in 2021, after the first Ukrainian mini-tour "Sunflower Death Madness" with the new fully assembled lineup, the demand for the band from a wider range of Ukrainian listeners became evident.

It is worth mentioning that the majority of purchases of our releases in both digital and physical formats, as well as merchandise, are still made from abroad, namely the USA, South America, Europe (especially the Scandinavian countries), and Asia.

Zymobor (ESKAPISM): I know there are people in Ukraine who like Eskapism, we are always on Ukrainian underground radio. However, we get much more support from abroad. In Ukraine, sadly, it’s way more complicated with these kinds of things.

Andrii Klymenko (WOLFANGER): Well, even though next spring Wolfanger will turn five years old we still consider ourselves a young band.

We still have a lot of steps to take to gain more popularity in Ukraine and beyond it.

Alex Pasko (HELL:ON): I am sure that we are quite well known in the metal scene of Ukraine. We are one of the old-timers as there are only a few bands in Ukraine who have had at least a 10-year existence. We still produce albums and play concerts, and this is a rarity here. We have a huge fanbase here, the guys who collect all our albums, even the EPs, and that is great, of course! As for Europe and the rest of the world, the fact that I am talking to you now says that somewhere we are a bit known. Judging by Facebook statistics, for example, we have fans in Poland and Germany, probably because we toured there a lot. With the latest album, we had a lot of reviews and streams from the United States.

Lilita Arndt (IESCHURE): What I can say exactly it is that abroad my music and merch sells better than in Ukraine. About the love of the listeners, I cannot say. In Ukraine it is typical to download and listen to music from "bootleg" websites for free. At the same time, I saw good opinions about my music by Ukrainians, too. So, I am not sure that I know the situation, but I would guess my music is more interesting for listeners abroad, because Ieschure is the kind of projects that are not oriented to standard, black metal clichés and copy/pastes of popular black metal bands. I go my own way and such an approach to music writing is more appreciated abroad.

Cornelius (CASTRUM): We are a death metal band, so we are meant to stay forever underground. Nevertheless, we have a small fan base everywhere, be it Ukraine or other countries of the globe. Well, there are definitely countries where we are more respected than in Ukraine and that’s cool, of course!!

Sergey Korolev (TORRENS CONSCIENTIUM): The question is complicated. Since we are based in Crimea, the political events in 2014 had a negative impact on our development. For a while, there was no time for music. We have had very few live performances in recent years, the latest two were in Kyiv in 2013 and in Moscow in 2015.

Accordingly, most people learn about us from social media and streaming services. It’s hard to speculate about the position of the band, but more often we get questions like "when will the new album be released" by fans from Western Europe and South America.

There is a feeling that more people listen to our music abroad. It seems there are more people who like this genre, but we don’t have exact data.

Yulia Lykhotvor (SIDUS ATRUM): Sidus Atrum is a rather young and not well-known project in Ukraine or the world. Perhaps this will change in the future. I will release a new album in a few months, and I hope it will find more listeners. I think that my project is better known outside of Ukraine than in my home country and this is related to my collaboration with Clouds band.

What are you most proud of regarding your band so far and why?

Sergestus Baytalaal (LAVA): Since the project is very fresh, it’s too early to talk about achievements. Nevertheless, we recorded a great album and shot an effective music video.

At the moment, there are already sketches for new material and I hope in the near future we will publish some kind of teaser for it.

Lord Hastner (DEVIATOR): Honestly, I can’t call all my releases successful, but I am really happy with such albums as Voice of the Native Blood, Fehu Fohat Fire, Uruz, Mors Janua Vitae and, of course, the latest full-length album called Might ov Ancient which I consider original, dark, emotional, and musically varied. It’s also great that this year we finally managed to create the first official music video for the song "Undying Darkness." I hope one day Deviator will have a full, stable lineup so we can play nice metal gigs!

Andzhey Jastremski (STREAM CHANGE): What we are proud of is the fact we can do music together and remain positive no matter what’s been going on in our lives.

We are trying to develop, both as musicians and as a band, and in the future, write some solid material and try to enjoy playing live as much as we can.

Ercld (ATRA MORS KVLT): Answering your question, we’ve released our debut album this year, and it sounds good. I believe it is the kind of achievement we are proud of. The future will bring us more things to be proud of for sure.

Vladyslav Korobov (DOOMDOZER): We are not proud of anything; we just write and play music.

Unholy (NORTHREND): Since 2019, thanks to the enthusiasm of our manager and NVY Metal Promotion, we had a great tour in Ukraine. Also, the Unser Blut album was well received. From its sales we were able to start recording the next album. We have also received rotation on the Ukrainian Internet radio RadioGarta, rotation on National FM radio RadioRoks, and a broadcast about our music on the air at RadioRocks.

Vladymyr Rundin (PRAGMATIK): So far, we have released just one album. I know that a bunch of people loved it and we are proud of that achievement as a band. Despite some setbacks with ex-band members, especially drummers and bassists, we are still active and are planning to record a new album. It will have seven or eight tracks and overall the songs will be heavier and more brutal-sounding, but still have some progressiveness and even some influence of fusion jazz.

Troubles with this Covid-19 pandemic, having affected our jobs, families, health and so on, are not stopping us from making more music because it’s more than a hobby for us. It’s more than just self-expression to us, with many thoughts and emotions wrapped up in it. Our music represents a fusion of freedom and pragmatism in our songs and lyrics. Well, something along those lines anyway.

DYING GROTESQUE: We are generally satisfied with our live shows. Each performance is a total blast, and we just love to see the fans slamming and moshing like it is the last time in their lives, attempting to smash the club up. We are also glad that our album, Sunflower Tide, is widely appreciated worldwide. It has gained such a lot of positive feedback and is currently sold out on CD. We have managed to make a worthy music video for the eponymous song from the album, which is still gaining views and receiving favorable comments. We are also pleased with the fact that the Ukrainian mini tour, which we organized and ran completely by the own forces, paid off and appeared to be quite successful for the band in many senses.

The latest object of our pride is the upcoming EP, Before the Imminence, on which we made quite a big step forward in terms of composition and technical performance. We hope the listeners are going to be satisfied with its quality and our creative approach. The EP came out on December 8, 2021, and is available on all of the most popular streaming services.

Zymobor (ESKAPISM): I’m proud that the Ukrainian black metal scene is gaining value in the bigger world scene. Ukraine has a lot of really good bands and more people in the world are getting interested about Ukraine as a country with its high level of art culture and not because of corrupted politics or some other negative things. I am glad, because people around the world know that Ukraine has its own language and culture, people can hear in our songs how beautiful our language is. I am glad Eskapism is part of this, and I am glad I’m Ukrainian.

Andrii Klymenko (WOLFANGER): As it was mentioned above, we still think that Wolfanger is a young band, but we’ve released our debut album Ancients Call in 2019 (available on Spotify and other platforms) and a couple of singles that will be included on our next album.

Releasing an album is a great thing but last year something even bigger happened. We participated in the Wolfheart cover contest and took third place with our cover of "Ashes." That cover impressed Wolfheart’s leader, Tuomas Saukkonen, and our vocalist Petro Solovey was invited to record guest vocals for Wolfheart’s single "Skull soldiers." That’s probably the thing that makes us most proud so far.

Alex Pasko (HELL:ON): You know, the subject of real pride is that we are still alive as a band and continue to play. I am proud of every album that we released and we are still growing as performers and as composers. It’s great and I am sure we will continue to do it until death (metal), hehe!

Lilita Arndt (IESCHURE): Usually I avoid feeling of pride toward my achievements because each of them are just steps from the past to the future. And each step is very important even if its reason is visible only to me and not to the public. I love my project, I am sincere in my music, I like it by myself. I feel pleasure when other people like it and listen to it. That’s enough to me for being proud of the past and present of my project in the same degree.

Cornelius (CASTRUM): Despite the rough circumstances we faced at the very beginning of our career, we managed to record our first demos and to evolve with each subsequent record. Besides all the records we’ve done, I am also very proud that I shared the stage with such beloved bands of mine as Vader, Krabathor, Dementor, Nile, Gorguts, Kataklysm, Decapitated, Krisiun, Fleshgod Apocalypse, God Dethroned and Mental Demise, just to name a few.

Sergey Korolev (TORRENS CONSCIENTIUM): We have the material ready for the new album, recording is in progress. It wasn’t possible to do it earlier.

As for achievements and significant moments, we think our previous album, All Alone With the Thoughts, turned out pretty well and sharing the stage with our idols Draconian and Esoteric at the "Doom Over Kyiv 5" festival in 2011 was awesome. The sound and the organization, in general, were on top. It was unforgettable!

Yulia Lykhotvor (SIDUS ATRUM): I think that the best achievement of Sidus Atrum is bringing some relief to suffering souls. I’m really happy to receive positive feedback from my listeners saying that my music helped them to find the strength and energy to go on. For me it means that my art makes sense. One more thing I consider to be awesome is collaborations with other bands and musicians. It can always give some new breath and experience. I had a wonderful collaboration for "Ghost Song" with Margarita Arabadzhieva and on my new album you will hear me singing in a duet with Daniel Neagoe.

Links:

ATRA MORS KVLT: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRKEEyONvNvdBSIm_TXRlJQ

CASTRUM: https://castrum.bandcamp.com

DEVIATOR: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCT-KNm_Obc5WGpCZ-3J06Jw

DOOMDOZER: https://doomdozermusic.wixsite.com/doomdozer

DYING GROTESQUE: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1EnKjVtTwXOos5vbK4sQDA

ESKAPISM: https://eskapism.bandcamp.com

HELL:ON: https://www.youtube.com/user/hellionUA

IESCHURE: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCK1chWPrWYKvYYFYEG0kXKA

LAVA: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCKTH3thE1f0JmhYFd0qcBQ

NORTHREND: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8WHRYkyOnCCJLvE9VNF3Ng

PRAGMATIK: https://pragmatik99.bandcamp.com

SIDUS ATRUM: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCf_SULBUthDDi01yRi5flIQ

STREAM CHANGE: https://www.youtube.com/user/StreamChange

TORRENS CONSCIENTIUM: https://torrensconscientium.bandcamp.com

WOLFANGER: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFjA-pP82MtU9BW60MUFkZw




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