From the Vastland (Iran) 03/02/2021

I was introduced to From the Vastland with their latest full-length album, The Haft Khan, and if you read my review, you already know that I was really impressed by their album and excited to discover them. There are a lot of things that intrigued me and wanted to ask Sina, the composer, lyricist and creator of the band, as his journey into music begins back in 2003 in Iran, something not so easy. As you will understand bellow, Sina is not only a great composer and musician but also a very nice guy who want to discuss various things openly and with respect to the audience. That kind of musicians deserve our support and praise. Thank you for the nice interview.
1. Hails Sina. I hope I find you well, both physically and mentally, because of all this covid frenzy. How are things in Norway? Have they taken strict measure to confront this situation? What is your opinion in all this frenzy?
Sina: Hails! Thank you, all good here. Hope you are also doing well. Well, regarding the covid situation here in Norway I would say it’s much better compare to a lot of other countries in Europe but still far from good. Earlier last year it was getting better but all of a sudden, the number of the new cases started to raise and closer to the Christmas it was at its pick. So, came the new stricter restrictions. Here they decide about the restrictions almost every 2-3 weeks based on the situation. So, later this week they will decide either it should remain the same or if it’s possible to lift some. All in all I think we are living in a really strange time when the life has changed drastically the way we knew it but I guess or at least I hope things will get better as the vaccination program has already started in many countries, even though it’s gonna take a while until we see the result.
2. Let’s begin talking about From the Vastland. You formed the band in 2010, so after ten years, the band has passed through a lot of different phases. Would you like to tell me which urge pushed you to create a band and write music? What From the Vastland mean to you and why you chose that name?
Sina: Right! Well, you know I started my music career with my cousin in 2003 by our first black metal band back in Iran and it was active until 2009. We had over 10 releases with the band but then it was the time to stop the project (for different reasons). So, I already had the idea of forming a new band with the concept (Ancient Persian mythology) for a while and since I couldn’t stop myself writing music so, I started From the Vastland as a one man band project in 2010. It’s my passion, more than just music, I would say. It took me a while to choose this name, was thinking about it a lot back in the days. There was several different reasons that I chose this name. One of the most important one was because I wanted the name of the band also represent the concept of the music. So, let's put it this way that I am from Iran and all the lyrics are about the ancient Persian Empire era (one of the biggest empires in the history), Persian mythology and the history. So, like the music come from the vast land of Persia. And I found the theme a perfect fit for black metal as the ancient Persian mythology is full of stories about demons and gods, legends, the battle between light and darkness etc., plus it was something new.
3. A question I guess you receive too often is about your origin. I read that you come from Iran, a strict country regarding music and generally regarding different views. Please tell me more about your life in Iran. How difficult was to write and record Black Metal there?
Sina: Yeah, that’s true. Well, it’s not easy to be a metal musician in Iran. Even though we have a lot of metalheads and metal bands (especially death metal bands) but there is no any official metal scene as it’s banned by the regime. So, basically everything happens like real underground. You have to keep everything like a secret, otherwise you are in trouble. So, it means your very own home studio or an underground one is what you have to record your music. Releasing your music or promoting it is also another story… There are a lot of limitations regarding the music (or generally art) in Iran because of the strong censorship by the regime but when it comes to the metal music, it’s even harder. There are a lot of metal musicians who got in trouble because of their artistic activities (including me) in Iran and some of them were pretty serious. So, yeah, not easy at all. You know, with all the challenges and problems you face as a metal musician, you have no any other choice than either give up or find a way to get out of the country.
4. Since 2013 you moved to Norway. How and why did you get that decision? How is life there? I mean there is a huge difference in every aspect of life between Iran and Norway, even in weather. Was the adjustment easy?
Sina: Well, long story but to make it short I can tell it all started from a couple of years back when one of my albums with my old band was released here in Norway by a Norwegian label company and then a film maker contacted me regarding his documentary project (Blackhearts – Which was released in 2016, featuring me and my band) and then later when I got involved in the project, I also got the chance to play at the Inferno Metal Festival in 2013 but I just had a tourist visa for a week and had to go back which made the situation even more risky for me in Iran because of all the attention I got from the newspapers and media here after the gig. I was getting more serious threats and I had no any other choice than leaving Iran. So, by help of some friends and other people in Norway after a few months I could make it here to Norway to continue my music works (which of course was a dream for me as a black metal musician, you can imagine). Of course life is pretty different here, especially when we talk about the music scene. Everything is official here and I’m completely free to be myself and follow my passion with no limit. I don’t have to hide myself and I’m able to express myself through my music. So, the adjustment was not hard for me. Even though moving to another country brings you a lot of new challenges but still it was all for better. Well, I’m told that I’m more Norwegian than some of my Norwegian friends! Hehe…
5. I guess that the movement to Norway helped you find other members and transform From the Vastland into a complete band. Would you like to present to me the other members of the band?
Sina: Yeah, actually I was really lucky to have some of the best Norwegian black metal musicians for my gig at Inferno festival and then later when I moved to Norway we kept on working together plus I had the chance to work with some other musicians as well. Back then it was Tjalve (Ex-1349/Den Saakaldte/Horizon Ablaze), Vyl (Ex-Keep of Kalessin/Whordom Rife) and Destructhor (Ex-Morbid Angel/Myrkskog/Nordjevel) who joined me for the gig. Same team we worked together for some of our albums and gigs and now it’s Tjalve who is still with the band on bass and Spektre (Gaahls Wyrd/Horizon Ablaze) has joined us on Drums from 2015. I’m super happy to work with these great, professional and talented musicians.
6. As I wrote in the recent review for “The Haft Khan”, this is the first time I listen to your material and I have to congratulate you for the result. How do you feel about this release? Do you still like it the way it was released or if you could, you would have done anything differently?
Sina: Thank you! Indeed I’m pretty happy with the result and even though we released the album right in middle of the pandemic which is probably not the best time to release an album but everything was already planned and I got extremely great feedback and support from the fans plus a lot of good reviews on websites and magazines. You know, when it comes to the album itself, I wouldn’t change anything but of course we had some more plans like a release concert, confirmed gigs or releasing the album on a different format that were cancelled because of the situation and there was nothing we could do about them.
7. As I haven’t listened to any of your previous releases, I don’t know if you have evolved your style and your music release by release. Frankly, what do you think about the evolution of the band all these years and how do you imagine its future?
Sina: Well, The haft khan is in continue of all my other works but I would say this is my most mature album so far. It keeps all the elements of the band’s style but at the same time I have added some new stuff, like spicing things up with just a bit more Persian melodies and the atmosphere on some of the songs plus the intro/outro of the songs... You know, “The Haft Khan” is a concept album. So, I tried to make the whole image representing the concept and make everything a perfect fit together. And now when I listen to the album the story passes through my eyes, it’s like a movie for me. I would continue the same style when it comes to the music and I would not make any drastic changes. That’s the music I love, that’s the style I listen to but of course I always try to write better music. It’s very important for me to not repeat myself, get new ideas and inspirations… I’m eager to learn more and always want to progress and evolve, you know.
8. What inspires you to write music? What kind of feelings or images are you trying to express through your music?
Sina: You can get the inspiration from anything, like in everyday life, whatever happens to you by the time, what you see etc., but I would say mostly I get the inspiration from the stories I read or the music I listen to. You know, it’s all about the inner feelings at the moment when you take your guitar and start playing. I always let it go by my feelings and never force myself to write something. Of course I use my experience to direct the song but that’s mostly about the song structure or the arrangement. I always have an image in my mind when I start to write a song. It’s like a still image, not always so clear but it becomes clearer as I’m working on it. You know, it’s even hard to describe how it is exactly when you are talking about your emotions and feelings, your very deep inner feelings. Kind of unknown to me myself which makes me to feel like discovering it every time I’m working on some new material.
9. The lyrics of “The Haft Khan” are inspired by a poem from Iran. Would you like to give me more information about it? Are the subjects in your previous albums inspired by similar subjects?
Sina: Yes, it’s inspired by a book called Shahname (The Book of Kings), it’s a great epic masterpiece poem, the most notable piece of Persian literature, one of the world's longest epic poems which was written by the Persian poet, the world known "Ferdowsi" between c. 977 and 1010 CE. The story narrates seven difficult challenges of a national hero, the greatest of the Persian heroes, called Rostam on his journey by his legendary horse “Rakhsh” towards the land of Mazandaran, to save and free the king “Kei Kavus” and his army who have been captured and blinded by a spell of the White Demon. In the story, Rostam passes seven stages and fights against natural difficulties, fierce animals, demons and at the end, the white demon. Finally, by dropping the blood of the white demon’s heart in the eyes of Kei Kavus (the king) and his army, sight returns to their eyes again. As the concept of the band is the Persian mythology, so, all of my other albums are also inspired by similar subjects. The epic stories of battles between demons and gods, the legends and myths.
10. The CD version of “The Haft Khan” was co-released by Satanath Records and Iron, Blood and Death Corporation. Are you satisfied by the result, the promotion that they do for the band and generally by the overall cooperation with them?
Sina: Yes. You know, I have released 2 more albums with Satanath records and I’m pretty happy working with them. During the past years I have worked with several different label companies, big and small ones, they all almost give you a same offer but with Satanath records I have more freedom and that’s important for me. They don’t tie or limit the musicians by taking all the rights for years plus Aleksey (the owner of the album) is a musician himself and a really nice guy. So, it’s easy to work with him as everything goes friendly. He is also so passionate about his releases and puts a lot of effort on promoting them.
11. Let’s talk about the country of your origin, Iran. I have discussed with other musicians who come from a middle eastern country too and I have gotten the impression that it is almost impossible to be a Metal artist there. Please share with me your experience in Iran?
Sina: You know, the difficulties you face as a metal musicians in Middle Eastern countries are a bit different. For instance the problem in Iran is mostly just the government that makes it so hard, not the people but then we have some other countries in Middle East where there are not much strict rules by the government when it comes to metal music but just because of the culture it’s not accepted by people, especially in smaller countries. So, you face different challenges and that’s why you better or let’s say you have to keep everything personal or private otherwise it just makes your life very hard even if you don’t get trouble by the authorities.
12. The image that the western world has about Iran is that the people there are ruled by Islam, either by the fanatism in the Islamic rules, either by the fear of the consequences if you oppose them. Is that simplistic approach that I present you, near the reality there?
Sina: The Islamic regime in Iran is the main source of problem. For over 40 years (form the time when they took over) they are trying to give a wrong image of the country to the world. That’s basically what you see in the mainstream media, TV channel, newspapers etc., all the time but that’s the surface and the real life of people in Iran is quite different. Of course, the authorities are doing all they can to force people to follow the Islamic rules, at least in public! for example with the Hijab for women or Alcohol rules and things like that and people have to follow, otherwise they are in a serious problem but at the same time if you see people in their private life, it’s a completely different world! Like all the other countries in the west, people drink alcohol or the majority of people don’t care about the hijab at all... You know, now with internet and the social media you can not hide anything from people, especially the young generation who are in touch with the world and I mean people just want to have a normal life like everywhere else. So, there is always a big contrast between what people want and what the regime is trying to force them to do which bring a lot of conflicts between them, especially in the recent years and it’s getting more and more as people are tired of all this, you can imagine. Another thing we should not forget is that the Iranians were not Muslims in first place, they became Muslims by force and today even after hundreds of years most of people are not true believers, you know.
13. I see that since you gathered a complete band, you have been very active in performing live. Have you played outside of Norway and in which countries? Which one is the gig that you will never forget?
Sina: Right! Well, for several different reasons, unfortunately we haven’t played any gig outside Norway yet. Actually it happened a couple of times when I got the offer or in one case I was almost done with a tour deal here in Europe or confirmation for some gigs in South America but unfortunately because of the uncertain situation of my visa here back in the days I couldn’t make it. It was almost impossible to sign any contracts when I was not sure about my next visa but luckily now there is no problem and hopefully we will make it to some other countries to play gigs in the future, if everything goes OK! But here in Norway we have been active when it comes to live performances and for me personally beside my first gig at the Inferno festival which I never forget, the gig we played 3 years ago in Trondheim is one of the highlights. One of our sold out shows where people were standing on the stairs to see our show and then the whole crowd during the gig was amazingly wild! Hailing us, banging their head and even had a mosh pit! It was a great atmosphere at the venue.
14. Have you planned any gigs for promoting the latest album? I guess that playing live is restricted at the moment in Norway too, isn’t it?
Sina: Yes, that’s true. Well, we had a couple of gigs to promote the album last year. One was here in Oslo as a release concert and the other one was in a festival but of course they both were cancelled and since the situation remained the same we didn’t get the chance to arrange other gigs. We got a couple of offers to play a streaming concert but I would prefer to play a gig where you are able to see the audience, to get their reactions, feel the atmosphere… It’s pretty different, so, I just thought it’s better to wait and see how things are going this year and hopefully at some points we will be able to play a gig in a “normal” situation again!
15. What kind of music do you like to listen to? Are there any bands, musicians, music or artistic movements that have influenced you both as an artist but also as a person, in general?
Sina: I would say there are a lot of bands that have influenced me as a person and formed my music taste during the years, especially some of the classic heavy metal albums back in the old days and those thrash, death metal albums of 90’s but when it comes to black metal I would say Darkthrone, Gorgoroth, Enslaved, Marduk, Enthroned and Belenos are some of the bands that influenced my music taste the most... You know, there are also a lot of newer bands from the other BM scenes, like Finland or Germany also some in South America! They are doing great. I still enjoy discovering new bands and check new music.
16. Have you started composing music or writing lyrics for your next release? Describe me your process of creating new material. When do you plan to have a new album ready to be released? Will it be another full length?
Sina: Yes, I have. I mean for me writing music is a constant job! Just naturally I always have some material to work on but now I have final material for a new album and soon I’m gonna start working on the lyrics and more details about the titles, orders etc. I haven’t decided about the time for releasing it. Especially now in this situation it’s hard to plan anything but soon I will talk to my band mates and see if we can make a concrete plan for that. So, not sure if it’s gonna be released this year or next! But sure it’s another full length album. You know, since guitar is my main instrument so, usually I start by writing a riff and then I develop it to a song but as I said I always have like an image in my mind when I want to write a song, which comes from an inspiration. There was also cases when I start a song based on a myth’s story, lyrics that I wrote before or even by a drum pattern, you know. So, I always let it go by my feelings, what comes from my heart. And then step by step I make it more and more completed by adding riffs or other lines and make all the changes until finally I am satisfied with the result. Sometimes everything goes very fast and sometimes it takes time.
17. Thank you for the interview. Would you like to add anything for a conclusion?
Sina: Thank you so much for the good interview and this opportunity to talk to the fans. I appreciate your support and wish you all the best. And special thanks to all our dear fans! Your support means a lot and it always brings me more motivation and energy to keep on going. Stay true and metal!