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Interview

1914 Vocalist Dmytro Kumar Discusses New Album "Where Fear And Weapons Meet," Working With Nick Holmes And The Battles On The Eastern Front

Heavy metal has long had a fascination with history. Whether it's ancient Egypt, Greece & Rome, the medieval kings of Europe, feudal Japan or the two world wars, metal has always studied these people and events and documented them through their music. Of course, World War 2 gets plenty of attention, it being the biggest war of all time, but if one looks at the war which preceded it, a four year tale of suffering, violence and fear is in store. Bands such as Iron Maiden, Metallica and Sabaton have all dedicated songs to the subject, but one band from Ukraine, who are quickly making a name for themselves, focus entirely on the global conflict. Appropriately enough, the band in question is 1914.

1914 were formed in Lviv, the largest city in Western Ukraine which itself has a very interesting history, the quintet combine black, death and doom metal perfectly to tell stories from the Great War, from the famous battles of Verdun and Paschendale to personal dramas faced by everyday privates. In two weeks (October 22nd,) 1914 will unleash their third album, "Where Fear And Weapons Meet," which is as dark and brutal as ever, but also contains a theme of hope. To find out more about the album, and to be schooled on the Eastern front of the war, we spoke with the band's vocalist Dmytro Kumar. You can watch the interview in full below.

Diamond Oz: The new album, “Where Fear And Weapons Meet” is out this month. I find 1914 to be a very interesting band because it grabs the listener’s attention for all manner of reasons. So with that being said, how is “Where Fear And Weapons Meet” different from “The Blind Leading The Blind”?

Dmytro Kumar: First of all, “Where Fear And Weapons Meet” is totally about hope. It’s not about death. It’s not about mud or suffering, it’s totally and completely about hope. Every soldier, while they were in the trenches, only had one thing: hope. If you compare these two albums, “The Blind Leading The Blind” was totally about the shitty mud in the trenches, about death and suffering, so everyone on every track had died.

On this album, you get a lot of stories about heroes who survived, became a hero and went back home. So that’s the main difference, it’s not about death. Even our art, where a wounded soldier is reaching out for Death, covered in blood and having lost some of his body parts, but Death refuses to take him. He wants to die but Death looks at him and says, “No. You deserve to live.” I have some other stories that go from the first album to the second and then to this one, but I don’t want to spoil it before the album is released because it won’t be interesting!

Oz: It’s interesting that hope is the theme, or the driving force behind the album, because when you have a subject like the Battle Of Messines, which is a horrible, horrible situation…

Dmytro: All of the Great War was a horrible situation!

Oz: True, and I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that we didn’t learn about that battle in school. I guess they don’t want us to learn about it because it’s almost like an act of terrorism.

Dmytro: I do not accept that, but it’s your opinion. It was war. Everyone tried to stop it. Everyone tried to stop it in different ways and everyone tried something new to finish this war so they thought, “If we need to devastate one thousand Germans, let’s do it and we’ll finish it.” I’ve learned from a lot of memories of it and books that every opinion was like, “Fuck. We will do it and after this, the war will be finished and they will raise a white flag” but unfortunately not. So I don’t use terms like “terrorism” because it was a great war between all countries and all nations. A lot of Indians suffered, a lot of Africans suffered, people from New Zealand, Canada… Everyone! So if we try to talk about terrorism, then it’s a little bit complicated in this case.

Oz: Yeah. The thing about the Great War is that it is very complicated. It’s not like the Second World War where you have defined good and bad guys. With World War One, it was basically a fight between cousins and millions of people died as a result, so it’s really hard to pick a hero and a villain in that situation.

Dmytro: That’s why we’re not about the glorification of war. We are totally, one hundred per cent, anti-war. I came from the punk movement. I spent over twenty years playing hardcore punk and for me, an anti-war position is my main position.

Oz: And given how savage and how brutal it was, the Great War is a great warning about the horrors of war. While we’re on this subject, why is it that the Great War interests the band so much? As you said, it’s such a grey area and also, for a band from Ukraine, which was mostly in the Russian Empire, though I believe there was around two hundred and fifty thousand Ukrainians who fought for the Austro-Hungarian Empire as well, but it’s not an area which gets a lot of attention when it comes to the Great War.

Dmytro: No. Sorry, but you’re wrong. It’s OK, because British, French and German people focus on the Western Front, but you know nothing about the Eastern Front. You didn’t learn about it in school, because the Soviet Union just declined it and any information about it because it was an imperialistic war and shit for their propaganda. That’s why they declined it and everyone, even here, just forgot about it but we come from the Western part of Ukraine. Where we come from, Galicia, a lot of people compare us to Scottish people, because we were always fighting for freedom and against empires and built our own independent country, towns, that’s why we joke that we are Galician Scottish people.

Historically, for a hundred years, Galicia was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. So, my great grandfather was an Austro-Hungarian soldier, he even got an Iron Cross for bravery, so I grew up with all these stories, it was a part of my family story, I saw the pictures of my great grandfather in German uniform, so for me and thousands of people who grew up here, it was just a part of family stories. Like for British people, Paschendale or the Somme is a part of their family stories. A horrible part, but a part.

About fifteen years ago, I became a world archeologist. So, I’m always digging in the Carpathian mountains and forests and I find these dead soldiers. We bury them and I find a lot of artefacts and remnants, a lot of shells, bombs, grenades, which I deactivate myself and I’m a military collector so I have a lot of helmets, belt buckles and all that stuff. Here in the Western part of Ukraine is where the main battles of the Eastern Front took place. The Carpathian Winter Operation, if you look that up, even on Wikipedia, you’ll find that two million people were lost. The second one, the Brusilov Offensive, again, over two million lost. One of the biggest, most brutal and bloodiest battles in the whole Great War but no one knows about it, no one talks about it. Who gives a fuck about some Ukrainians, Polish, Romanians or Russians? Nobody gives a fuck.

That’s why no one in Europe knows anything about this part of history. Try to find some information about the Brusilov Offensive and Carpathian Winter Operation and you will find a lot of interesting stories. Millions and millions of people died there over a hundred years ago and I’m digging up those dead soldiers, those skeletons and it’s weird but I talk with them. Say I find a Russian cossack, I say, “OK, where do you come from? You come from three thousand kilometers from here. Why are you here? I don’t understand it.” I’m trying to, but I don’t understand why people are always fighting and why they came from thousands of kilometers to die here.

Oz: Honestly, I feel guilty learning this. Being a Western European and not knowing that at least four million people died there.

Dmytro: And they’re still lying there and we dig them up. It’s the same problem as Verdunne, Paschendale, the Somme... Every time they dig, they find new buried soldiers. That’s why I’m passionate about the Great War, why I became an archeologist. I dig a lot, I travel across the battlefields of Europe, I’ve visited Verdun, the Somme, Paschendale, Ypres, Marne, Argonne Forest, all of these places. Even Normandy! I love this part of history. Not the mass killing or the mass graves, but the stories. I love to talk about the fate of the privates. Not the generals, fuck generals, just the typical people like you and me, who suffered a lot because of empires.

Even our first single (from “Where Fear And Weapons Meet”) was about a British private: A.G. Harrison. Just a typical Commonwealth casualty. One of thousands upon thousands who died in the name of an empire, in the name of the British empire. For me it’s horrible and it’s hard to read it when you try to imagine how you would feel when receiving those types of letters. Your son died when a shell fell on him. You can imagine what that would be like; a shell from a big gun landing on one person. There is nothing, just a shell hole and a small piece of meat. That’s all.

Us Ukrainians, we’ve been in a war with Russia for seven years. Every day I saw it on TV, I know a lot of guys without legs, without arms. A lot of my friends died on the border, so we know how it looks when people have suffered from guns, from big shells, from tanks. We’re living inside one war, but we’re singing about another war! It’s complicated, but I’m still alive.

Oz: I would hope that with this album and with a label like Napalm backing you, that you’re able to get out of Ukraine for a little while and play across the world. Because the music is so good and it needs to be heard by more people, especially when you have a message as strong as this. To be honest, I thought we’d be mostly talking about the album and a little about the war and instead I’m totally stunned.

Dmytro: I understand. I can speak about this for hours and hours! I can speak about how we dig and discover the bodies and contact their living family if we find a medallion with his name, regiment number, even blood type. Sometimes we actually find living family members. The first time, it was like, “Fuck yeah! I’ve found these human remains” and I found his grand, grand, grand daughter. She was just a typical German lady but she came to Ukraine and she was standing there crying and it’s a huge amount of emotion, so it gives you the inspiration to do this again and again. So the main thing for 1914 is not playing the music, or being part of some black/doom thing, we tell the stories. That’s the main reason for this band.

Oz: OK… But it is good music!

Dmytro: (laughs) But music second. The story first.

Oz: I think that kind of goes back to what you were saying about being rooted in the punk scene. Punk has always been more about the lyrics and the message than the music. But with regards to the album, you have a guest appearance from Nick Holmes of Paradise Lost. How did this collaboration come to be?

Dmytro: OK, so I found this letter in the British Imperial War Archives. I spent a lot of time there and they gave me some privileged access. I explained that I’m a historian from Ukraine. They said, “If you are an historian, show us your book.” I replied, “I can’t show you my book but I can show you my albums!” (laughs) But it worked for them and they gave me access. So I was digging through a lot, thousands and thousands of telegrams, letters, pictures that soldiers sent home, stories… I’m just sitting there reading a lot and then one day I just read this letter, which began, “Dear Mother, I regret very much to inform you that…” So as I’m reading this letter, I try to sing it. I don’t know why. I don’t know why but as I was reading it, I thought, “Fuck. This can be a song.” So I got my guitar and began playing a riff, thinking, “OK, it sounds like it can work” but for me it had a totally Paradise Lost vibe.

When we were working on the song, I heard these gloomy and dark riffs, slow and deep, for me it was totally like early Paradise Lost. Even on the verses,I tried to sing with a clean voice. It was totally nonsense for 1914 but it was the first song where I tried to sing with a clean voice and after that I understood that in my head it sounds like Nick Holmes and I’m a huge fan of Paradise Lost. I’ve collected all their vinyls, tapes, CDs… I grew up on their music, so I asked Napalm Records, “I want to try and get a collaboration with Nick Holmes. Can you help me?” They said, “Forget it about. You are just a small band from Ukraine.”
“OK, but maybe you can give me his e-mail?”
“Fine, but still… Forget about it.”

So I sat down with the letter and explained everything, “Nick, here are the lyrics, it’s an original letter which a British mother received about how her son died and I can hear your vocals here and for us it would be the biggest honour if you accept it, because you understand these vibes.” So I received a letter, “I’m interested. Show me a demo.” I’m sitting there like, “What the fuck!? Impossible!” but we recorded a demo, which I sent him, then I’m just saying, “Please, please please…” because it’s fucking Nick Holmes! He’s a legend! A few days later I received a reply, “I like it. I’m in.” Even now, I listen to the song I can’t believe it because he is such a legend and he thinks our music is OK and he accepted and he understood our vibes and the message… It was great!

Oz: And it’s a great result. Like you say, he obviously understood it.

Dmytro: Even our manager, when I told him that Nick Holmes was in, he was like, “What!? How did you do it!?”
“I just asked.”

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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