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Smohalla

Er is al veel gezegd over muziek en meer nog over goede muziek. Daar ik geloof dat dit een persoonlijke zaak is, zal ik proberen uit te leggen wat ik versta onder goede muziek. Goede muziek moet in staat zijn om je emotioneel te bewegen en op muzikaal gebied uitdagend zijn. Ik hou in het bijzonder van complexe muziek, waaronder ook de post-black metal van het Franse Smohalla. Naar aanleiding van hun hun nieuwe album Smolensk Combustion had ik een goed gesprek met woordvoerder Slo.

Door: Carl | Archiveer onder black/pagan metal

Smohalla was a chief of the Wanapum tribe of North American Indians who founded the Dreamers religious sect. Is this where your band's name originates from? Could you give our readers a short introduction of the band?
The Chief of the dreamers' tribe appeared to us as the perfect emblem since our music is very subtle, very atmospheric, and quite psychedelic. Our music belongs to a dream world and has a spiritual quality that needed to be represented by a similar and strong entity. I'd advise everyone to read as much as possible about this prophet's life because what he originated is much more than a mere cult. He's the symbol of the blend every human being wants to become, a kind of hybrid between modernism and spirituality. As you probably already know, technology and science gradually annihilate everything human beings could beforehand see as magical or spiritual. Smohalla succeeded in blending modernism and paganism by introducing into his cult religious rites that were modern for Indians at the time and by mixing them with a point of view that was more peculiar to his people. That's what we try to achieve musically speaking. We try to create a kind of music that belongs both to the past and to the future.

Smolensk is a nice mediocre town in western Russia, particularly noted for electronics, textiles, and food processing. Combustion or burning is a complex sequence of chemical reactions between a fuel and an oxidant accompanied by the production of heat or both heat and light in the form of either a glow or flames. Combining these two words, we end up with the title of your debut. Could you explain a bit about that name? Are you satisfied with the results and how have been the reactions so far?
The title of our first demo is not to be taken literally. It refers to a time when France was at war, more precisely during Napoleon Bonaparte's campaign. Russians used to burn down their own cities after battles to prevent the invaders from enjoying the food and weapon supplies. Even though our lyrics have nothing to do with the military, nor even with war, I thought that this spirit, lost between sacrifice and suicide, was perfect to describe our demo. There is a very proud, strong and assertive side to this; never admit defeat, not even when you're defeated. An image that would very well fit our music is a city on fire in the middle of a huge expanse of snow. Such a contrast perfectly illustrates the different features of our sound. As to the reactions on our demo, we are very pleased so far. We've had almost no negative feedback; people were pleasantly surprised by our music. Of course our style can't be appreciated by everybody, but to tell you the truth, we've had very few negative feedback for the moment. However, everybody agrees on the fact that one needs to be relatively open-minded to like our songs.

'Smolensk Combustion' contains some intricately structured music. How much effort went into writing it or is this the music you compose without thinking about it?
In spite of our structures being quite progressive and intricate, everything was composed instinctively. Structures are only the outline of our music, and we did not want to base them on something mainstream. We needed a weird and twisted basis, a miserable and hunchbacked outline to fit our peculiar melodies and atmospheres. But this outline was created naturally, bit by bit, thanks to improvisation and special arrangements.

As your music is so multifaceted and the band relatively small, how will you ever play this music live?
We don't plan on playing live anytime soon because it's technically and geographically impossible for the moment.

band image


Smohalla is generally regarded as a black metal band, although I consider this selling you guys short. How do you feel about this unending need of us human beings to register everything into genres or categories?
In fact people don't really see us as a black metal band because -except for some of our influences- we're quite far from being one. That's the reason why we label ourselves a “post black metal” band, because we feel more closely akin to bands such as Ulver, Ved Buens Ende or Organ. But then again, this wouldn't be a perfectly accurate definition. I can understand that people need references in order to describe or talk about certain bands, but in a perfect world each band should have a name for their own particular style. Sadly, there are so many bands that play the exact same kind of music that the basic labels such as “black metal”, “death metal” and so on are often sufficient.

The influence of black metal is certainly discernable in your music. Which bands in particular have shaped your musical senses? Probably even non-black metal bands?!
As I was saying before, we are more influenced by untypical black metal bands than by « classical » ones. We are also influenced a great deal by bands such as Abigor, Golden Dawn, Asmodée, and early Emperor, Borknagar and Arcturus. And even aside from black metal, many bands belonging to many different styles have shaped our sound, bands such as Lvmen, the great Pink Floyd, Old man Gloom, Tarantula Hawk…

You have a very beautiful website, but, by the looks of it, that horse should not be able to stand up at all, let alone carry that nude woman on his back. Who has created the art on your site, and why did you art like this?
The art is by a polish artist named Beksinki who died about a year ago. All his drawings are wonderful, and we recognize ourselves in his style that is a mix of grim, fantastic and ethereal elements. His style was very lyrical and yet very pure; he developed something like a really dark and intellectual kind of surrealism. His world is perfectly adequate as a visual echo of our songs.

In your bio you correctly explain your music as "based on progressive structures". A lot of bands today tend to mix up the genre progressive rock with symphonic rock. What are your thoughts on this?
Progressive music is timeless; as soon as the 50s or 60s, some rock bands sought to break away from too conventional structures. I would agree with the people who say that the term “progressive” is way too vague to represent only a will to create songs with original structures. It is very important to notice that when associated with metal or more generally with rock, this term implies innovation, musical experimentation, and a thirst for discovery and sheer creation. When it comes to the association between symphonic and progressive, I have no real opinion about that. Some bands that mix the two are really interesting, others try but can't get to make touching music.

I would like to ask you some personal questions. What are your deepest fears and desires?
It depends on the day, or even on the moment. Non-existence is my worst nightmare. In other words, I'm not too impatient to die! And my most overwhelming desire is to be able to devote the biggest possible amount of time to creation/being creative.

What keeps you awake at night?
A weird dream, a heat-wave, an erection, a mosquito, continuous noise, or gloomy thoughts.. I'm a light sleeper, so I could go on with the list like forever.

How do you deal with eternity?
Eternity is the most beautiful chimera mankind was able to come up with.

The French Republic is often referred to as the Hexagon. Are you proud of being a part of this geometrical shape and do you subconsciously feel the immense historical heritage? I.e. what is it like living in France and playing in a black metal band?
To tell you the truth, I'm not very keen on history. I'm happy to live in France because we're lucky to evolve in a rich, modern and developed country. Of course, the cultural and historical background of France is very substantial, and I'm proud of it. Yet, I've always been more concerned with the present and with hidden/unknown worlds than with historical facts. A.L., on the other hand, is very keen on history, and not only on French history.

Thank you for your time and energy. I will leave the final words to you.
Thanks a lot to Lord of Metal for this interview. I hope the metalheads who are more often than not close-minded will try to open their minds to the possibility of discovering and creating new musical perspectives. And I know that nowadays many people have this thirst for avant-garde! Thanks again, STAY PREGNANT!

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