Zaragil Of Ophidian Forest Talks War, Christian Metal, And More
Update: the editorial dealing with Christian unblack metal is now online here.
Metalunderground recently took a dive into black metal bands with pro-Christian themes in the Unearthing the Metal Underground column. Our upcoming companion editorial on Christianity in black metal is almost here, but in the mean time we've still got a few interviews to share from the musicians we polled on the subject on "unblack" metal.
Our next interview can be found after the jump and comes from guitarist Zaragil of Ophidian Forest, who hails from Croatia.
The earlier interviews on the anti-Christian side of the debate came from Plaag, Dehumanation, Frames, and Throne of Malediction. You can check out the answers from the pro-Christian musicians from Diamoth, Elgibbor, and Winter's Dawn. The band Nierty took a more neutral approach, defending the right of Christian musicians to make black metal, even while not agreeing with Christian beliefs.
xFiruath: What does black metal or extreme metal personally mean to you, either as a musical style or a philosophy?
Zaragil: It's not really extreme to me, it's just natural. And black metal, if done right, is the most natural music I can imagine. It feels spontaneous, fluid, as if reflecting the sounds of nature, the beauty and the dangers of it. It evokes the sounds of rain, wind, waves, rustling of leaves, distant echoes across the mountains and, naturally, beasts lurking in dark places. Might be too loud for some people to notice, but it's their problem, not mine. I think of myself as a rational human, but of course we all have feelings and instead of looking for supernatural explanations, it all lies within the nature. For example, the philosophy of pantheism (which is basically a broader definition of paganism) doesn't really differ much from science. As Dawkins said it's "sexed up atheism" and it caters for both aspects of humanity, the rational and the spiritual, without conflicts.
xFiruath: Do you personally see a distinction between unblack metal bands and black metal bands? That is to say, do you think bands with religious members and religious lyrics should be categorized differently?
Zaragil: Well, it's nice to know those people, unblack bands, have hobbies such as trying to make music, but I hope for their sake that they don't see themselves as artists or anything more serious than entertainers. Yes, they should be categorized differently as their basic approach is contradictory. Monotheistic religions are anthropocentric, as you can see from the Pope's recent attack on the movie Avatar and what it stands for, for example, so any music they are likely to make would be too narrow-minded to be of real importance. In other words, most often you will hear them displaying the sound, the playing abilities and the rhythms, but not much real substance. Which is not to say that many "true" black metal bands nowadays don't miss the point as well.
xFiruath: There's no question that black metal saw its major awakening with Norwegian bands that either had anti-religious sentiments or had members who were themselves involved in anti-religious activities. Do you think that black metal can be separated from its beginnings without becoming something else entirely?
Zaragil: Actually, from what I remember, black metal had a spontaneous awakening all over the world, not just in Norway. There were bands everywhere discovering this new sound, especially Sweden, Finland, Greece, but fast forward 15 years and people are only talking about Norway even though most Norwegian bands turned into fat rock stars, while the Greeks were continuously releasing a stream of solid albums all this time and somehow became ignored. The same can be said for French or German or bands from ex-Soviet countries. Although Norwegians released a few highly influential and downright amazing albums, the credit they get these days is not really in proportion to what they were doing all these years. Of course, some teenagers back then burned some churches, but from what I've heard about Norwegian prisons I'm surprised more people didn't grab a torch and "just do it." Try to burn a church in some other country and see if you can write books, make kids, finish a college and record albums while in prison, haha. I remember Swedish bands like Sacramentum saying how they had to work hard to get a record deal while all Norwegians had to do was to send a photo of a corpse painted band standing in a forest to a label and they would immediately get signed, released and sell 5000 CDs.
To answer the second part of your question, no. Black metal is constantly evolving but the masses are too lazy to notice. It's not pop music where you have the same song structures and only improve or change the sound to make it more fresh or apparently modern. With black metal, the sound is already there, and you have to make different and innovative music to stand out. Most people only bother to listen to a few seconds and say it's "all the same" - which they would probably say about classical music as well. It's not meant to be music for everyone, anyway.
xFiruath: How do lyrics influence your decision to listen to a band? If you heard an amazing black metal band you loved, but later discovered the lyrics were pro-Christian, would you continue listening to them?
Zaragil: There are many Satanic bands around, even in Europe, and they still acknowledge Christianity by singing about biblical Satan. Christianity is, at least on this continent, a foreign religion and belongs in the Middle East. We have snow, trees, rivers and seas here and Christianity doesn't tell people how to relate to that, so in this area it's a pretty worthless religion. Our ancestors weren't exactly peacefully converted either, at least not in Croatia, it was Charlemagne and his army who did that, and the old religions we had were better suited for intelligent and creative people, with less contradictions and pointless rules. Admittedly, I can still enjoy some Satanic bands as an entertainment, but for example I can't really listen to Deathspell Omega as their brand of Satanism is theistic – as if they really believe in all this and actually want to burn in hell. I find that laughable. Why not sing about your own Gods, if you actually have to sing about deities at all? Are imported myths somehow better? Also, the Church is a multi-national multi-billion criminal business organization with billions of followers - how rebellious, individual or artistic would it be to promote it by singing about it? It's like singing about how much you love video games, basketball, soap operas, cars or hamburgers... So. If I really discovered an amazing band - which doesn't happen too often - and realized they are Christians? I tend to check out the song titles, the lyrics, especially if there is something smelly about song titles or the artwork, so I guess I would notice straight away. If they really made that amazing music I'd listen to them a few more times, but something like that has not happened yet. Which is strange since demented people tend to make good music, but I guess Christianity doesn't go well with black metal. It might be more suitable for Goth bands and all that fallen angels, candles, sins and redemptions stuff they are singing about. Put a Christian in a forest and he'll only seek profit or exit from it, while not noticing anything inspiring or breathtaking around him.
xFiruath; After listening to a lot of Christian rock and metal bands, I've found they tend to segregate out based on lyrical content. Would you be more open to listening to an unblack metal band that used gore and war themed lyrics, or lyrics about the times God kills people throughout the Bible, as opposed to a stereotypical positive and uplifting lyrical style?
Zaragil: I could provide you with a list of massacres and murders done by Christians throughout history and I think they would have plenty of material. However, with 6.8 billion people on this planet, it's overpopulated anyway, so I'm not entirely opposed to wars. However, I think it would be better, less violent and more ecological if they simply made songs about not having children. If they actually made lyrics about those massacres, I have a feeling that the mainstream audiences in some Western countries would be very glad to have, say, "pro-Christian anti-Muslim" band to listen to. I wouldn't. Even lyrics about God killing people in the Bible... what kind of people did he kill? Heathens? Unbelievers? People like me? No thanks.
xFiruath: How would you feel about listening to a pro-Muslim black metal band with all Islamic members (or a pro-Jewish black metal band, or pro-Scientologist black metal band, or pro-Mormon black metal band, or so on...)?
Zaragil: As Striborg would say "black metal is the forest calling,” and as anyone else would say, monotheistic Abrahamic religions are man-centered. So I would feel irritated just the same, be it Christians, Muslims or Jews. They are all shallow, materialistic, egotistical, brainwashed scum. But if it was a Native American or a Buddhist or an animist band, yeah, absolutely. And of course there are pagan bands with all pagan members, be it Slavic, Greek, Roman, Nordic or any other kind of polytheism, and they are all welcome. Not all religions are the same, and until I see programs about Slavic paganism, atheism or pantheism on TV along with the already existing Christian and Muslim programs, I refuse to become open minded. It's self-defense.
xFiruath: What specifically in your life led you to either believe or disbelieve in ideas like God and the supernatural?
Zaragil: Probably the bit where I was sitting in a bomb shelter as a teenager while, outside, the Orthodox Christians were trying to obliterate the Catholic ones during the war in Croatia. I've never been religious, never felt a need for it, but I've certainly seen what slight religious differences can make people do.
xFiruath: What's going on with your band these days?
Zaragil: We, Ophidian Forest, have just released our second CD called "Plains" which has already received some really enthusiastic reactions. We also have another CD to release, probably this time next year, and in the beginning of 2011 we're expecting the release of our split with an excellent Greek black metal band called Pyrifleyethon. So, there's always something to take care of and even though we're not a rehearsing band, with members from USA, The Netherlands, and Croatia exchanging recordings via email and regular mail, we always have too many things to take care of at once. You are welcome to check us out at http://www.myspace.com/ophidianforest or http://www.ophidianforest.com - unless you are a monotheist. For dummies - this means that if you are a Christian, a Jew or a Muslim, I don't want you listening to my music. Thank you.
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