What once happened to the mighty Death Metal underground, nowadays seems to be the case with the extremely strong Black Metal force of the early 90’s. Most of the bands from that period unfortunately changed their style and attitude in such a drastic way by now, that the original feeling totally got lost along the way. So it’s always kind of interesting to discover "new" bands that try to continue on with the grim and hateful style that Black Metal originally got famous for. Germany’s GRAVEN is such an example. These guys deliver Black Metal in its purest and most traditional form and their recently released Undercover Records debut full length “Perished And Forgotten” is a really strong statement in a scene that mainly seems to be filled with trendies and bandwaggon hoppers. Due to the fact that GRAVEN didn’t care about massive self promotion yet, this following interview with drummer Vronth is almost a kind of an exclusive one in order to learn more about these hopefuls…
Ok, I suppose first of all we should go back in time a few years in order to talk about the origin of the band a bit more… In 1995 Orkrist founded a band called TOTENREICH. What can you tell us about this band? Was that his first band ever or did he play in any other projects before already?
“Well, Vargsang (Orkrist) originally came from the Death Metal scene. He played ’til 1997 in a Death-Grind act called AZATHON. But he was definitive really pissed-off ’bout that Death Metal stuff, so he looked for a more uncompromising, hateful and uncommercial way of music – (early) BLACK METAL!! Around 1995 he founded his own Black Metal band – TOTENREICH. He started to write some lyrics and musicial concepts. But not enough for a first release. In autumn 1997 his band AZATHON split up and he joined my former band NOCTI VAGUS (ex-NORDWIND) as a bass player. Until summer 1998 he supported my band. But he wanted to do his own stuff. So he left the band and recorded the first TOTENREICH demo-tape "Requiem Aeternam".”
Was TOTENREICH just a one man project or have there been any other members involved as well?
“In the former days TOTENREICH was of course a one-man project. There ave been no other members, ´til autumn 1998.”
Why did it take Orkrist three long years until the first demo “Requiem Aeternam” finally saw the light of day? Which songs were actually on that tape, how many copies got spread around of it and was it musically already any close to GRAVEN?
“Cause he made his way with AZATHON ´til they split up and then he joined NOCTI VAGUS (ex-NORDWIND). On "Requiem Aeternam" were the following songs: Intro – Dies Irae / Forestgrave / From The Thousand Sins / Das Licht Das Einst War / Outro – Aases Tod. I think not more than 50 copies were spread around from that recording. Because Vargsang (Orkrist) was not interested to sell many demos. In the first place it was a recording for himself. Musically this demo was on the right way to get the status, that GRAVEN stands for today – hateful, uncompromising and grim Black Metal.”
In the same year (1998) you joined Orkrist and another demo (“Peststurm”) followed pretty quickly. Was the material, that ended up on “Peststurm”, already written by the time you joined TOTENREICH or did you still have any influence on the writing in any way? Tell us a bit more about those songs as well.
“The material for "Peststurm" was composed together, which means Vargsang (Orkrist) asked me, if I could help him for the new demo. I heard the riffs and stuff and found it really brilliant. So we started recording the second TOTENREICH demo "Peststurm". The new material was a lot more varied than the songs on "Requiem Aeternam.”
Where do you see the main difference between “Requiem Aeternam” and “Peststurm”?
“Well, the main differences between both recordings is definitive the drum-computer on the first demo "Requiem Aeternam". On the second one my drumming is more varied, than that fuckin’ machine from the first recording.”
About a year later a third demo, simply entitled “Demo ‘99”, got released and you changed the band’s name into GRAVEN… Did that demo still come out under the TOTENREICH moniker or was it already a GRAVEN release? Feel free to introduce the material on this release in a few words as well
“No, we still released that demo under the TOTENREICH moniker. But after a while we thought that this material has nothing more to do with the earlier material from TOTENREICH. So we changed our band´s name into GRAVEN (I think, a lot of bands today should think about a "name-change". First of all some of the Scandinavian bastards).”
What actually lead to the name change from TOTENREICH into GRAVEN? Weren’t you satisfied with your old moniker anymore or did you change musically in such a drastic way at the time that a new name was simply needed in order to separate yourselves from the old TOTENREICH period?
“Well, like I said before: the new material (songs, lyrics) had nothing to do anymore with the TOTENREICH era.”
The first time I personally heard about GRAVEN was when you were heavily promoting your demo CD “Of Misanthropic Spirit” in 2000. At the time you were a three piece band, so who was the third member, when did he join and why didn’t he work out in the end?
“Our third member was only a session member. He joined the band only for live shows. He had his own projekt / band called VINTERRIKET. Perhaps you heared about it…”
Why didn’t you promote your previous releases in a similar massive way already?
“I also said it before: in the first way we recorded the whole shit for us. We were not interessted to promote our stuff and sell many copies.”
This demo CD of yours comes across very professional, but without any connections to the mainstream market. How did you achieve this good quality? Was it simply because you already had gained enough experiences through your past activities or did you work with people in the studio who really understood your music?
“We recorded our "Of Misanthropic Spirit" demo CD on eight-tracks in our rehearsal-room. We had the practise from our earlier demos to do that stuff on our own. I don’t think that there is anyone outside in a studio in Germany, who can catch this cold and hateful atmosphere.”
Unlike many other die hard underground Black Metal acts you didn’t seem to have any problem at all to appear in the infamous Ablaze magazine… Weren’t you afraid that this attitude could destroy your reputation in the underground quite a bit, especially considering the fact that you were featured with an ad, an interview and a track on the magazine’s compilation CD in one of their back issues?!
“It was a thing from our session guitarist. One day he said, if we would be interested in a "demo- feature- interview- whatever…", for ABLAZE magazine. What can I say, we made it. That’s it. Why should I think about any others reason. I give a damn shit ’bout those plate-monkeys.”
Did you get bigger features like that in any other (smaller) zines as well?
“No, cause we had no other features in any magazines.”
When and why did Orkrist actually change his name into Wolves and later once more into Vargsang?
“I’m really the wrong person to answer that question. The only thing I can say is, as we changed our band’s name, he also wanted to do that. And after a while he was dissatisfied with his first choice Wolves. So he changed his name again into Vargsang.”
At the time of your demo CD you were still using the keyboards a lot more than on your just released debut full length “Perished And Forgotten”, so does that mean that your influences had changed ever since?
“There’s no typical reason for that. As we composed the material for our debut CD "Perished And Forgotten", we thought that there is no space for more keys on each track. Perhaps on future recordings there will be more keyboard parts again. I don’t know. It’s an instrument, which should underline and emphasize the dark atmosphere. If it’s not, then we don’t use it.”
Talking of influences – it’s quite obvious that you are heavily rooted in the traditional Black Metal sound of the early 90’s, when bands were still playing this form of music from the heart and not from any commercial aspects. A lot of things have changed (for the worse I must say), so are there any bands left from those days that you still respect?
“Not really! Each band I liked in the early 90’s is dead (IMMORTAL, MAYHEM, EMPEROR,etc.). There are no bands left from those days that I respect in any way.”
Three of the songs off the demo CD (‘Land Of Thousand Sins’, ‘The Ruins Of My Lost Kingdom’ and ‘Horde Of The Darkened Forest’) also appeared on a split release with BARAD DÜR, that came out in 2001. As I don’t know any further details about this, it would be helpful if you could tell a bit more about how it came together, which label it came out on, in which format (s) and maybe some words about BARAD DÜR as well
“A guy from BARAD-DÜR (I think it was the drummer) ordered our "Of Misanthropic Spirit" demo CD and wrote, if we would be interested to do a split CD with his band. We said okay and that’s it. The split CD came out on their on label (I think) called Pesten Production, limited to 500 copies. In spring 2002 Christhunt Productions asked me, if it’s okay to make a limited LP version from that split release (350 copies). So I hope it will come out soon. So, what can I say about BARAD-DÜR? I like their "Dunkelheit" CD, of course. I don’t know the members behind BARAD-DÜR personally. It’s each persons personal thing, what they think, do or whatever. And I know that BARAD-DÜR are once of those "patriotic" bands. But it’s not my cup of tea. Their CD "Dunkelheit" is very good and I needed no other reason to do that split release.”
When and how did you hook up with Undercover Records for the release of your debut album? Was it important for you to completely stay underground by signing to a rather small label or would you have accepted offers from bigger companies as well?
“Undercover Records was the first label, which get in touch with us after he heard our demo CD. We had 2 or 3 other labels, which sent us their contracts. But Undercover Records showed the most interest. So we signed a contract with them for 3 releases.”
Have you ever played any live shows with TOTENREICH or GRAVEN? What kind of experiences did you make at the gigs?
“We played one show in the year 2000. On a release party from the mighty, German Death Metal maniacs FLESHCRAWL. It was the first and only gig with GRAVEN. There was no special experience, that we made on that show.”
Two of the songs on the album (‘Of Misanthropic Spirit’ and ‘Nightwinds Lead My Sword’) are re-recorded versions of songs from the demo CD… Were those two your personal favourites from the past or was it more like they had to be re-done in order to still satisfy you?
“Even four songs were re-recorded from the demo CD. ‘Of Misanthropic…’ / ‘Nightwinds…’ / ‘Fullmoon Rites’ and ‘The Ruins Of My Lost…’. We re-recorded those songs, because we thought that these songs are too good only for a demo version. But we kicked two of them from the CD, cause we had problems with the playing time on the vinyl version. So we will use them for future releases or bonus stuff on vinyl versions.”
Where do you lyrically draw your main influences from? Do you think that Black Metal needs Satanic lyrics?
“Vargsang did most of the lyrics on our debut CD. All I can say is, that they’re dealing with dark visions and dreams in a really misanthropic way, very hateful and uncompromising against our present mankind. Black Metal needs dark lyrics. It’s not a must to talk about satanic stuff. There are many other dark subjects and misanthropic feelings, which fit the music in a really perfect way.”
You are also using corpse paint, but unlike many other bands, you seem to have the right feeling to do this with class. What do you think is the reason that there’s so many ridiculously looking painted faces out there?
“Corpse paint is inalienable for GRAVEN. It’s like a mask for us to emphasize our dark side. The most ridiculous fools out there have no feeling for that kind of extreme art. They think, let’s wear some fuckin’ corpse paint and start an evil band. That’s it. I think you know what I mean (for example, look back to the former days of Mystic Circle!!).”
After the recordings of “Perished And Forgotten” Vargsang left the band, leaving you as the only remaining GRAVEN member… What was the reason for him to leave and will you continue on with the band now or is the chapter GRAVEN closed forever?
“It’s a bad chapter in the history of GRAVEN. Until that day he was the main-influence for our songs. He is really obstinate. He was disappointed with the whole situation around GRAVEN and wanted to do his own thing again. And that’s, what he does again. And now it’s my own part to keep the flame alive. And that is, what I do!!!!!!! GRAVEN stands for apocalyptic Black Metal in the vein of the early 90’s!!!!! And nothing else.”
Ok, that’s all for now – thanks a lot for taking the time and all the best for your future activities. If there’s anything else we might have forgotten, feel free to ad that now
“Thanks a lot for doing this interview. Keep the underground-scene alive. Watch out for our future releases. Thanks to everyone, who supports us. Stay sick!!!“