Friday, 15 March 2013

STILLA - Along Shadowy Trails

STILLA immediately became something special to me, ragardless of whats, wheres and whos... It makes an overwhealming listen, one which I shall not tire of easily. Secular Black Metal represents for me the pinnacle of beauty in this form of extreme music.

Till Stilla Falla, the title track, convinces me that Stilla represent the most powerful dichotomy between the frightening supernatural and the despondently earthly. The lyrics might disprove me, but the eeriness of the music feels bravely, tenaciously human. Perhaps the grim, insane ghosts that haunt the entire album are that of the subconscious mind loaded with ancestral fears and insecurities. Stilla does not seem to look for false solace and protection from imaginary gods but rather it stands bravely on its own, facing the freezing darkness and the loneliness with pride.
Solace and pride are the keywords. The one mind standing resolutely, on its own, in the abandonment of wilderness.  I see no dichotomy or discrepancy between the supernatural and the earthly – it is the rational, secular, “enlightened” which have left the earth behind, where also the supernatural resides. It is human, but it is most importantly solitary, solipsistic – one mind, away from all others. No false theology or ideology to grant a safe passage to the warm embrace of life (or death), but rather choosing a darker path towards our own ends (endlessly marching towards the cemetery gates). 

This track is, in its more atmospheric parts, very reminiscent of Fen at their most haunted, and it is not surprising Frank Allain has become in time a collaborator of Andreas Pettersson: the two artists appear to be on the same wavelength.
Our connection to Fen is in itself somewhat incidental - though perhaps predestined from the nature of our collective souls – as the tracks themselves where written before the Northern half of the band (A. Pettersson and J. Marklund, vocals and drums respectively) were initiated and Stilla became the ultimate entity it is today and shall remain. What you allude to is however correct: though I'm unacquainted with Fen's music, there is a certain resemblance in their aesthetics to what Stilla is about. It is the lure of the unknown hiding in the mists, soaring over the marshland, between the tree trunks or across empty dead fields. The immensity of desolation that is the basis of Andreas' work with Nordvis, where we happen to unite. 

The presskit describes the album as strongly individual yet “continuing the spirit of old bands like…”: absolutely true for once, the glacial grimness of Isvind, the twisted lunacy of Tulus and the feral force of DHG are all there in some form or other, but the songwriting and the individual rendition by each collaborating musician conjures up a captivating style of its own: how long did it take to Stilla to find its sound, in the preliminary phases were there as many debates as rehearsals?
As Pär Stille has said – this is the album he would have wanted to create when he was 15; at an age of exploration, knowing only of the proud heritage of the Norwegians. The sound was there from the start, emanating from our minds; the ideals and symbols we grew up with, it was there all along, waiting to be set free. The specific names you drop are certainly central. Except a few changes, the songs heard on the album are the same as the demos invoked only a year before it was recorded. The inception of Stilla was somewhat in reverse – it began as an idea between me (bass) and Pär (guitars), which we developed, Pär writing the music and I responding to them, adding lyrics, without any proper line-up – nothing more than a vague ambition to simply do something with the music, just to get it done. As things developed, we ended up in Nordvis Ljudstudio a year after the genesis of the Stilla concept, recording the album with Johan and Andreas and in the end deciding that this was a completed line-up. So there were initially only debates, I should say: we have never rehearsed as a four piece. Yet! 

 How did it feel when a long composition such as Aldrig Döden Minnas.. (but I could frankly mention any of the titles here) came to life? The end product that the listener is confronted by is nothing short of  mind-blowing, but how was it for you to see the music grow day after day?...
That song in particular was difficult – initially it had a completely different sound and attitude that never really got off the ground, but it has kept growing from day one and now it is one of my favourites (and a bitch to play). As for creating the whole album: over the course of one week we travelled from a demo project without a vocalist or even an envisioned future, to a fully lined up band with a finished full-length in our hands. It was intense, and immense – a parallel universe we entered where the embryonic songs came to a life of their own. We had honestly not expected such an outcome when we got on the northbound flight to the Nordvis abode.

Fans of Par (Bergraven) and A. (De Arma, Armagedda, Lönndom, Whirling) will be delighted to hear their personal style come through. Can you explain what these two artists represent in the Swedish black metal/underground context?
 In several senses, they represent ideals and attitudes to music that are seldom seen or heard in Sweden. There is an innate darkness in their creations that come from the deepest regions of the soul/forest. What Andreas has created with Graav (of LIK infamy) with Armagedda and Lönndom is completely from another world (Ond Spiritism is one of the greatest black metal albums recorded, in my opinion), as are the recordings of Bergraven. As for their credibility – they are well respected, though I think it's unfortunate how Bergraven has more or less dropped below the radar of the “mainstream” metal consciousness, as it/he deserves much more attention. Armagedda did well to leave the satanic underground circles the minutes before that scene exploded and became a trend, with the W-boys winning Grammies and whatnot. What they ultimately represent is individualism and isolation, and the strength that brings.

You have been playing bass for the infamous Deranged, something I know you enjoy very much, but at the same time it must be extremely satisfactory to be part of Stilla, given your love for black metal in its purest AND most avant form. Your performance is one of the outstanding elements that make this album so good: spill the beans on your interpretation of the incredible Bergraven!
My work with Deranged is definitely all together separated from Stilla, in several dimensions: the purpose of the music, methods of creating and working with it... Any idea of Stilla performing live lies in the deep and hypothetical vaults of the future, whereas Deranged's near-sole purpose is to go on tours and wreck festivals. And as you say, while my blood is stained by death metal, my heart most of all pumps for all forms of pure black metal – be they the ancient masters or the modern and future revolutionaries. On Bergraven IV: after years of silence, things are finally brewing. It will be recorded, but I will not say anything certain yet as for when this may happen. At the moment the discussions are which album we (that is, the members of Stilla, who are all involved in the coming of Bergraven in some way) should focus on. The songs Pär has prepared are superior to all his earlier work with Bergraven, and like a fine ale they have been fermenting for ages now, and are ready to be consummated and consumed.

Stilla stands now proud amongst the old glories of black metal BUT, if one believed in the spinning wheel of karma, one might not be surprised that the culprits of resuscitating the true spirit of black metal are in fact… a bunch of Swedes!
Well, I'm not certain we are actually resuscitating any true spirit: if you look to our immediate west, there are still musicians that manage to recreate what they do best, see for example Nettle Carrier or Burzum. I find the phrase “true spirit of...” quite dubious – according to who is this true? In these days of theological and ideological confusion, everyone holds their truth to be superior, and we have little interest in doing a similar claim. (Note: According to ME this is within the  embrace of “true BM”, Andreas! We are not talking “W-boys” here are we? ;-))

There is a Swedish style that is fully recognizable from the outside which Stilla also carries.  There are parts where the guttural vox with the end-tail echo, and even some of the keyboards’ more deranged playfulness, that take me to other known Swedish bands, which I won’t mention in case you might decide to blacklist me ;-) It is great how different nations and cultures come out with their own individuality in spite of the speedy globalization: I presume that those who feared the leveling of culture to one same melting pot have also undervalued the very essence of art, which is extremely fluid but always a mirror of reality even as a form of escapism.
 I think that what is fascinating, from a sociological and musicological stand-point, about extreme metal, is how it reacts to being globalized. On the one corner you find death metal, especially in its more brutal forms (a scene I've been thrown into via my other occupation), where you can find a band in every semi-industrialized country who sound exactly like thousands of other bands across the globe. You see the same shirt prints and hear the same riffs in Indonesia, Ukraine, Malta and Mexico. And on the other hand, you have black metal, which in its essence draws upon certain regional traditions or mindsets: singing in peripheral languages as Swedish or Romanian et c. As global culture is mainstreamed and commercialized, I think it's natural to invoke alternatives, and also to see how the same type of cultural expression, as it travels across the globe, takes on regional expressions. Of course, it's a special thing to join a subculture when you know it holds up the same values and ideals across the globe. Wasn't Euronymus himself famously eager to connect with comrades from all over?
To return to your (un)question, what is in our music that is particularly Swedish, except of course the lyrics, I will leave for the listener to evaluate. I would go as far to say that we sound Scandinavian.

 Huge kudos go to the production work: the mixing is absolute perfection! Every instrument is clearly heard, and comes forth furthermore at the right time to accentuate moods and passages. This a one of the cleverest black metal albums I have had the pleasure to be captured by, as the “olden spirit” is captured with such passion, skill and intelligence to sound incredibly “new” (given the fact that releases like this come by every few years!).
Well, the goal was for the album to sound like a production from Endless Studios in 1996 – raw and open without losing depth or weight. And I think we managed to get it right: all credit to Andreas and Pär for realizing it.   

The only “flow” for me: initially, the freaky jazzy squirt in Hinsides Dagen. It felt as if it broke the intense, magic flow of that “down to earth” cleverness, which is, in my opinion, one the exceptional marks of this album, embodying  the Scandinavian directness and “uncompromising hardiness” (to steal Frank Allain’s words) - very much the essence of true Nordic black metal. As an early fan Atheist, the first band which brought jazz into extreme metal, I read it as some sort of a “stunt” (no offence), although somehow, like all challenging art, it forced me to make up my own personal reason for it within the context of the narrative… but now I demand the real story! ;-)
You're referring to the acoustic guitar solo, where the electric guitars fall away and only hammering bass and drums remain the foundation, no? This is first and foremost a direct reference that we will leave to listener to decipher. It is indeed a break from the regular flow of the album, but in our ears a needed one. How tiresome aren't albums that keep the same level of intensity throughout? Great music need dynamics, both in timbre, volume and musical approach. As you say, it might challenge the listener, and if it does, that is good. Also, that particular song (title roughly translated to “Beyond the day”) retells of a man haunted by entities from his past: at night, the unexpected and unseen are as natural as anything; the delirious becomes rational. There is the proper place in the narrative for that particular section! 

A.’s vocals are simply outstanding, as all the performances of the individual musicians). I am keen to explore Stilla’s lyrics, if I get the chance, but perhaps you can give us an idea… The song titles are straight to the point, giving an indication of the themes: is there a song that you feel particularly close to in this album because of the lyrical content and why?
It should be noted then that this is Andreas' first proper harsh vocal recording: we hadn't even considered him doing the vocals when we entered the studio, but he tried, and pulled it off without any preparation. The vocal track on “Allt är åter” is more or less a first take. As for the lyrics, let me roughly translate sections that might reflect and relate the higher meaning of not just the album, but the existence of Stilla:
“A dullness in life you cannot escape / A dusky haze along every horizon / Where are roads lead / And dissolve into sand”
“Endless vistas where the contours of reality have been erased / The longing for oceans or mountains where the monotony shall finally be broken”
“Wandering listless, lifeless / Along shadowy trails / Uninvited guests at her court / Hear the laughter of the autumn witch / A smile you will never understand / Woven by a thousand dead trees […] Darkness reigns piously / On the broken throne of life / And everything is once again / Everything is once again silent” 

The monochromatic artwork and its simple, direct content reflects the music to perfection. As I mentioned before, there is a directness and a realism that it is rarely seen in black metal artworks, where you either have the complex and detailed drawings or the classic image of a harsh, majestic landscape. Is the gray wooden house standing strong in the snow a metaphor of the human condition, and what’s inside its external frozen, still walls? Hopefully a warm fire?... 
We wanted something simple and clear. There are no lofty ideologies or fantastic concepts behind the album, simply an emotional state, which the building relates to. That certain house is the fifth member of the band, the vessel in which we created and transformed. And you will find no warm fires there... only harsh desolation and darkness. And empty bottles!

Talking of hope, I am curious to hear from a young, intelligent and cultured member of one of the most civilized societies in the western world if in Sweden there has been an echo of the events that shocked the corrupted political establishment at the recent Italian elections. More than a quarter of the population voted for a brand new movement (not a party) that aims at bringing back democracy and changing a dying capitalistic system by electing “normal citizens” (mostly young and with a degree) in Parliament. Like in ancient Greece, they want civism, not political factions, to be in charge, taking turns through short mandates, with low wages and no privileges. It might sound perfectly obvious to you, but surely also in Sweden politics must have become “a useful career” that must be done within the putrescent parameters of a failed Left / Right ideology not capable to defend the “real economy” (meaning life of a normal family)?... How does a wealthy and fairly just society (not to mix you up with other wealthy but unjust ones) like yours understands and interprets events like this, or the terrible situation that the Greeks are battling against right now, unable to bring food to the table or keep warm during the winter?
 Most civilized? Well if you say so, guess that's the common idea outside of Scandinavia. As for the political situation in Sweden, there is a growing unrest, but after living in wealth and priding (and deluding) ourselves of our dignifying levels of justice and equality in more than half a century, I think what is most obvious is a sense of disconnection from real development and cause/effect in the world. We have our simulacra that we embrace on our expensive screens that we believe show us the world (though that confidence is of course crackling and dissolving, leaving us nervous and all debates extremely polarized and superficial). We really don't have to bother that much, besides about our own problems. Which is very convenient. The social welfare system is becoming more and more privatized and commercialized, as is natural in a system where material wealth is prioritized and human life is measured solely in abstract numbers, and I think more and more are realizing that this might be a problem. But these are my far from erudite personal opinions, which may or might not be echoed within the band, so let's leave the politics for wine-fueled late night debates shall we?

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