Stonehaven Talks New Music, The Black Metal Scene, And More
U.S. black metal act Stonehaven recently released a new demo, and will be entering the studio again this winter to record a sophomore full-length album. With the band in-between releases, the members of Stonehaven caught up with Metalunderground.com to discuss avoiding current musical trends, the in-fighting between black metal groups, and the dream of being on stage covered in corpse paint with an erect bloody phallus.
To experience the terror of old world Europe through a black metal lens, head over to the Stonehaven Bandcamp page or check out the full interview with members Stephen Holdeman, Nick Van Walleghem, and Jackson Ferris below.
xFiruath: When did Stonehaven originally form and how did the members meet?
Stephen: Stonehaven formed in 2005, the fruits of several years playing with each other before hand in a black/thrash band called Witchlord. As our music and sound matured, we took up the new name to distance ourselves from our fledgling project. Our intention with Stonehaven was to recreate the type of Viking and black metal that we loved, but to our knowledge at the time didn't exist in the U.S. We met each other through a combination of school and historical reenactment. The core of our band has stayed the same since its founding, though we've gone through a few different bassists over the last years.
xFiruath: How would you describe your music and your particular take on black metal to someone who hadn’t heard the band before?
Stephen: We've been compared to a combination of Taake and Enslaved to Walknut and Drudkh. With most of our songs having multiple parts and clocking in around seven minutes, we've rightly been called “epic” Viking/pagan metal, though I shy from that word these days. What can be found are soaring Viking melodies tempered with aggressive punk-beat black metal, and vocals ranging from the typical black metal fare to howling cries of lunacy.
xFiruath: Tell me a bit about your latest demo and how the music has changed.
Stephen: The songs on our recent release are the culmination of years of work. Those who have heard our previous releases have heard our music progress through many different forms; from heavily Viking metal influenced riffs and vocals, to a thrashier black metal state with folk influence, then finally what you hear now. I believe this demo is a fine showing of the palette we are working with now.
xFiruath: What is the Stonehaven writing process like?
Nick: Generally, but not exclusively, I develop the primary direction and basis of a given song. When I feel that a collection of guitar parts have the potential of birthing a song that meets the standards of Stonehaven I then submit it to the others in the band for their input, suggestions, etc. A work of music in Stonehaven notoriously strays from its intended theme, which of course is always thrilling. Only when each member provides his imagination, does such an evolution occur. Whereas in my opinion the most current "cutting edge" and avant-garde ideals and stylings seem to manifest themselves in mainstream USBM, I for one have no intention of procuring the slightest air of new wave in our music. While it's nearly impossible to be trendless in one's writing ethic, any likeness of Stonehaven music to a modernistic approach is merely trivial.
xFiruath: Who handles your artwork and how does it tie into the themes of the album and demo?
Stephen: Nick did the artwork for our demo, and designed our logo, but we don't have a specific band "artist," as multiple members are talented. The sinking ship in the demo's artwork is meant to inspire a sort of hopelessness found in themes of our music, while the lights above represent valkyries or other supernatural sources taking interest in the scene.
xFiruath: What do your lyrics deal with and where do you draw lyrical inspiration from?
Stephen: My writings are meant to encompass the horrors of Viking Age Europe. Many other bands with similar themes have lyrics that are heroic or "mighty" in nature, while I've chosen a different route, to reveal the sorts of Nordic-themed atrocities found in the Saga's, and show a gritty realism in living in these woeful times, splashed with an appropriate amount of Nordic mysticism. The hot shit streaming down the leg of the terrified man on the shield wall. The starving father freezing to death in his home while clinging to the hope that his brash son will return from adventures to tend to him. The boasts of murderers and killers. The hallucinations of men falling into lunacy. Then there are themes less complex, such as the violent sexual sadism found in “Sword-Rape.” My lyrics are written to mirror the skaldic writings of the various Sagas, keeping true to proper kennings and meter. Some songs, such as “Observe the Symbol,” cannot be truly grasped without oral explanation, a solid knowledge of near-medieval Scandinavian writing, or foot notes. I plan to release such details, the tools to unwind my walknut if you will, either in an online release coinciding with our next full-length, or in a lengthy insert.
xFiruath: What’s your history in music like and was there any one particular band or musician who made you want to be in a metal band?
Stephen: Nick and I have been playing music with each other since 2003, but I didn't have any sort of musical background before hand. As to bands that inspired me to want to be in a band, it was definitely either Carpathain Forest or Einherjer. Their influences to my "metal" identity are still quite apparent; a fine mix of "Fuck you!" and triumphant Viking spunk. I thought as a teenager the greatest thing I could be was a foul Nattefrost style front man, covered in chainmail and corpse-paint with an erect bloody phallus. I still do.
Nick: Aside from my aforementioned writing history with Stephen, I've been playing the guitar since the age of 13. From the same age I've considered metal in general to be the focal point of my musical interest. I started by learning riffs from Metallica's "Ride the Lightning," and Blind Guardian's "Somewhere Far Beyond," before I became intensely interested in classical music to a point in which I began to study it on a regular basis. I would say the first musician that inspired me in regards to making my own music would be Mikael Akerfeldt. When I heard Opeth's "Morningrise" as a young lad I had always seen myself as making music of a similar caliber in my later years. I saw in Akerfeldt a deeper intuition of music altogether than I had in any other figure in my adolescence, and have since strived to incorporate such a thing into my own work.
xFiruath: What’s in store for Stonehaven in the near future?
Stephen: Currently we're excited to be in contact with a few PR firms that look to help us get our music into the hands of those that appreciate it. We're also headed back into the studio this winter to finish our second full-length album. I personally believe the album is going to be a beautiful fruit grown from years of work.
xFiruath: What’s been your favorite album so far this year and what style of music do you generally listen to?
Jackson: This year has been a pretty good for new music. I really enjoyed the new Folkvang album called “Six Stories Without Keys,” and the Blood Red Fog/Cosmic Church split as well. I can't speak for the rest of the band, but I generally listen to black, pagan, folk, and atmospheric metal.
Nick: I've thoroughly enjoyed the many releases from the Black Twilight Circle as of lately, namely the "Bloodflower" EP from Blue Hummingbird on the Left.
xFiruath: How is your local metal scene these days?
Stephen: Our scene in Kansas City has never been for black metal. While it used to be a big punk town some years ago, we have the usual mix of pathetic death/core/rethrash found in most cities cut off from the usual tour routes of major bands. The supporters are quite loyal to their bands, and in truth there is a large amount of talent, it's just not the type of music that I'm usually interested in. Shows usually have good turnout, but the notions of "metal brotherhood" that often float in the air in this tight knit community usually make me sick to my stomach.
xFiruath: How do you feel about the global black metal scene in general these days? Are there any groups that still get you excited about new releases?
Stephen: I think the idea of a global black metal scene is ludicrous, in general. It's all fragmented into mini-cliches that all stare down their noses at the other, all trying to fit their new sounds and ideas under the giant umbrella of "black metal." Honestly, I love it. I enjoy how much everyone in this scene hates each other. It's a beautiful counter-action to the above stated "metal brotherhood." Most new American black metal disgusts me. From Cascadian flower-picking black metal to New England "transcendental" black metal, it's all something I want nothing to do with. We choose to separate from these "hip" movements, but quite hypocritically it makes us the very same sort of elitist...and I DO love being an elitist.
Jackson: Lots of bands are still coming out with great new material, as Nick stated the Black Twilight Circle is and has been releasing really great material. Other bands such as Urfaust, Inquisition, Satanic Warmaster, Enslaved, Leucosis, and Sargeist have released stuff fairly recently that I really enjoyed.
xFiruath: Have you personally been to any great shows lately or seen anything interesting at a concert in recent memory?
Stephen: On our recent tour, we played a show with L.A. greats Conjuror in a tiny art shop in Hollywood. The venue turned out to not have a PA, but Edward Appleson, their frontman, had little care. He belted out his vocals like a fucking lion, overpowering their amps and drums, and could in fact be heard outside the venue. It was awe inspiring, really. There was so much energy packed into that tiny shop, it was an amazing performance.
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