In 2000 the epic/folk black metal horde Avathar was born leading to numerous outstanding releases. I’ve had the opportunity to inquire 3 of the members who share an in-depth introduction of their craft. Meet Witch King (vocals), Scatha (keyboards & vocals) and Ar-Pharazôn (wind instruments).
It’s been around 6 years since the release of your latest demo “Dark Paths.” How have you been doing during this extensive period of time?
Scatha: Where should I start… We’ve been working on our upcoming release, more or less. There has been lineup changes etc. and life in general has “slowed down” our stride. Nevertheless, during this period we have developed as musicians in other projects and been digging deeper in the essence of sound. I think this progress will be present in the upcoming releases.
Have you had any major changes as to Avathar’s lineup, musical directions and overall plans?
WK: Well. We had the first major change in the lineup from the beginning when our female vocalist and second keyboardist left the band. After that things were OK for some years. Then, there was the departure of our long-time drummer Daeron and female singer Miriel. We found ourselves in a situation where we had no drummer, no female vocals and no plans how to continue, so we decided to take a break from it all. Six months later it was becoming unbearable to stay away from something that has been such an essential part of my life for decades. The hunger drove us on and we recruited a long time friend and ally Dim to play drums for Avathar. It took some time but slowly we got things in shape doing even some smaller gigs as a test of our live condition.
The band decided that it was time to record all the new songs and even some older ones. Some time after the recordings and a few small gigs Dim decided that he wanted to leave the band. Luckily, we soon found an excellent replacement drummer called Khamul. Soon after Ar-Pharazon joined to enhance the sound to new levels with his expertise with wind instruments etc. But in general the band has been in constant state of flux i.e. starting as a 2-man project and from there the first live lineup. In our live lineup there has been changes in guitarists, bassists, drummers etc. and of course it affects the musical directions, because everyone sounds different and has different approaches, talents and ideas.
Scatha: New members always bring something new to the table, so the musical directions change due to that. It all depends on our capabilities as individuals and as a band. After the release of “Dark Paths” we don’t have to make so much compromises and the direction is clearer. We as a group don’t have to spend time thinking “how”, but rather “when”. The time available is very limited, due to daytime-jobs, families etc. all that western nonsense… If you know what I mean, so it must be spent efficiently and wisely. Still, regardless of all this madness, it feels that now we are approaching the essence of what Avathar was originally set out to be. Sort of a collective understanding.
Recently, you’ve unveiled a new track, which I personally enjoyed quite a lot. I did notice a slight shifting towards a rawer sound unlike “Forlorn’s” production, for example. Could you share more of what you are currently forging and should we expect a new record in the near future?
WK: The new track begun as a jam session and all the members contributed in the making process, so it was a new approaching style. As said in the previous question, we now have talented members that can express their own ideas and realise each other’s capabilities. “Forlorn” on the other hand was made in a very different era. We were still looking into different possibilities in making things back then. Now the lineup is more or less solid like the original and all members are contributing in the creation process.
During “Forlorn” we had a female vocalist and many things were different, so the songs were composed with that in mind. Everything is a bit darker now in reality as well, so that reflects in the outcome. As for the new record, we are releasing it soon. It will be a digital release, in the spirit of “Pay what you can” and after that it might be possible to release a physical version, depending on the funds we gather from the digital version or if someone interested in releasing it comes along.
Ar: There is a trove of material that we will be attending to as soon as the album has been released. So keep your eyes and ears peeled…
Speaking of inspiration, J.R.R Tolkien has been a fundamental element in the themes you create through your music. Will you continue to draw essence from his worlds and apply it in your upcoming works?
Scatha: It has always been the main influence in our production and it shall always be that way. Otherwise we couldn’t be Avathar. In the beginning the songs were more or less story-driven. Nowadays we incorporate more of the philosophical aspects and ideas presented in those stories. There’s so much stuff involved, that it is impossible to run out of material.
In addition, how does the writing process go for you in terms of lyrics? Is it like a spontaneous surge of ideas coming together in the moment or you prepare well in advance?
WK: Sometimes it really comes as a surge of ideas and visions, totally spontaneous. For other songs it really needs to ripen up and form around the music. Usually, I first compose up with the music, then I take the mood and make up a title for it. After that the lyrics almost create themselves once the idea of the song is clear. Sometimes, I do it the other way around composing the music to ready lyrics. The only general rule is that there are no rules.
As to the music itself, I cannot bypass the strong influence by Summoning here and there. Apart from it, what other bands played a major role in molding the sounding of Avathar as it is today?
WK: Summoning and many others were an inspiration to starting this project. As for other influences we could name hundreds of other bands that create similar aura and atmosphere, like we are trying to achieve. The influences are not drawn from metal music alone, or even music for that matter. Our stuff was and is influenced heavily by our roots in 90’s black metal and bands such as Bal-Sagoth, Abigor, Enochian Crescent and of course bands that bursted out in the Scandinavian scene.
Currently there are many interesting “new” acts like Wardruna, Myrkur and Urfaust, just to name a few.
When it comes to live performances, many underground bands have chosen to stay away from the scene due to a number of challenges concerning rehearsals, lineup, organization etc. Amongst your plans, have you brought to discussion hitting the road and playing outside Findland in the future?
WK: We understand the difficulties in putting up a show for something as massive as our soundscape and performance. So it’s kind of an endless bog of adversities. That said, we won’t be hitting the road in the near future, unless we can make it work in a way that we are happy with.
Scatha: Witch King has worked in various mixing and other projects, so getting a group like this on stage on acceptable level is an immense undertaking. So many things that could go wrong, compared to your average local beer-trash band with three players.
Ar: It would be awesome to play abroad, but due to current circumstances it might not happen anytime soon.
According to Metal-Archives, the majority of your releases appear to have been released independently. What has led you to opting for handling everything by yourselves rather than relying on a record label?
Scatha: First and foremost, we don’t like anything interfering with the creative process… nor interfering at all. The magick involved in creating this sort of music does not and should not have definitive deadlines nor restrictions of any sort. There’s a saying in Finland “Juosten kustu” which roughly translates “Pissing as you run” and we don’t intend to. We’ll leave those things to the money-hoarders and people that are mostly in for the profit. Simply put: Music and money are not good bedfellows.
WK: I must state that though that at the moment we are not actively searching for a label, but if a deal reasonable enough comes along, we might be interested. Maybe with the right people that aren’t interested on playing games instead of holding a true love to the art itself.
Outside your work with the band, do you have time to observe how extreme metal or black metal in particular is developing nowadays? Some boldly state that this genre has been dead for years. On the other hand, others think it is at its peak. What are your thoughts on this matter?
WK: There are no genres anymore, or at least they’re not so clear as they were before. People are mixing and incorporating all kinds of weird and interesting shit to their music and in a way the genre is flourishing. There are more bands than ever. Some of them are not so great, but you got to praise the effort. A big factor in this are the mediums such as the internet. Due to this the big labels and the old industry are losing their grip and the field is going to change radically in the next 20 years, so we’ll see what is to come.
You also have to keep in mind that, at least in our opinion, black metal is not black metal without at least the essence of satanic imagery and philosophy.
By the way, it’s been a very pleasant surprise to see you on Facebook, so welcome! Nowadays, it is a must for an artist to be on social media, which could be a time-consuming job. How is it working out for you?
Ar: Thank you. We’re just getting started, but we have reached more people in the first couple of weeks than we expected. We all are doing our part in this area and although it is time-consuming, we do not tend to stress over such trivial matters as social media. We don’t have to update our shit on a daily basis as some people, who tend to advertise in social media more than concentrating on the music itself. Such a pity.
There is a lot at stake as to being an artist and despite the hardships, you’ve managed to pull it off with all the work you’ve accomplished so far. What is the driving force that keeps you moving forward steadily no matter what’s ahead of you?
Scatha: Making music, at least to us, is a way to express oneself. Originally Avathar was founded on the idea of creating music and soundscapes that we’d enjoy listening to. It’s more of a way of life than anything else. After these 16 years, Avathar has grown to be a very significant part of who we are.
Ar: For us, the music IS one of the driving forces for our own general well-being. We’ve never needed anything particular in expressing ourselves.
Beyond your involvement with extreme metal, do you express your creativity in a different artistic form?
WK: Not really so much outside of extreme metal but I run my own small studio and also do live mixing for numerous bands. I Would definitely like to do more on that area, but there are certain obstacles, like my daytime job.
Scatha: I have a training in metalsmithing and have always been interested in all sorts of arts and crafts. I also have couple of electronic music projects going on. But they also have a tendency to delve in the darker side. Always on the look out for new ways of expression.
Ar: I used to paint and draw, mainly for my own enjoyment. After numerous failures (in my own accordance, perfectionist that I am) I decided to focus on the only artistic virtue I was ever even moderate at, music. I’ve always been interested in woodsmithing and with having some interesting conversations with Scatha concerning metalsmithing, I’ve began to gain more interest in that as well. At the moment I don’t have any means to exercise neither of them, but we’ll see what the time brings in the future.
Given your long-term experience, there must be a lot to be told about Avathar. Could you recall some of the best memories you’ve had?
WK: It has always been an interesting ride and hopefully will continue as such. I really can’t recall any particular event or moment. Maybe the warm-up gig with Bal-Sagoth and Battlelore in 2008 would be one of the highlights. There is something better to be shrouded in mystery.
Ar: As I’ve only been on the band for such a brief moment, I really can’t say anything about the previous gigs etc. but that doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t have anything to say. For example the choir-recording sessions for the upcoming release left a permanent effect on me and they still send chills down my spine. You’ll hear what I’m talking about when the time is ripe.
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions. As a final one, please share how you perceive the world today?
Ar: The world we live in is corrupt, evil and unjust. With that being said, I still find little things in life, now and then, that sparkles new hope for humanity. We tend to please others and pursue irrelevant dreams and objectives, although we could have potential nearly for anything. This isn’t necessarily the fault of an individual as we are a product of our environment.
WK: This game of lunacy called the modern society is slowly breaking of its joints. Everywhere you look the fight for the breadcrumbs dropped off the table in pure ill will, is still going on like it has in centuries past. The rats are leaving the sinking boat trying to hoard all they can before the shit hits the fan. So no…I think the light at the end of the tunnel can not shine upon mankind for very long. Not in the way we are familiar with anyway.
Scatha: Humanity is on the fast lane to total misery. Might as well sit back and enjoy the show.