Zemial (Greece) 21/03/2011
Introductions, prologues and giving information for a group so legendary for the Greek and the worldwide scene are really useless and unnecessary. I contacted Vorskaath, the mind all those years behind ZEMIAL and gave me reasons to appreciate and admire ZEMIAL except of their music: Both for their personality, character and the way they face music and generally art. But finally that’s how the bands have duration, are distinguished from the mass and they become legends… Such as ZEMIAL!
1. Good evening Vorskaath thanks for the interview. Do you want to give me some information about Zemial and their long history?
Vorskaath: Thank you for your interest xDemoNx. Zemial begun in Athens- Hellas in 1989. After various line-up changes and some promo recordings circulated, we released Sleeping Under Tartarus EP through Gothic Records (USA) in 1992. In 1994 I relocated to Australia where I continued to work with Zemial and released For the Glory of UR, Necrolatry, ΔΑΙΜΩΝ, Face of the Conqueror and In Monumentum. In 2001 I finally decided to begin performing live and a number of European tours ensued. In 2006 I moved to Germany to work as a musician and this gave me the opportunity and time to do some more work and touring with Zemial. After a short 20 year Anniversary European tour in 2009 I announced the end of Zemial live performances for the present and begun the recording of the long awaited album NYKTA which is still in the works and due for release in 2011 In the meantime, I have recorded a single titled DUSK which will be released by Hellas Headbangers in the coming months.
2. Was Zemial a one-man band from the start? Is that your personal choice in order to have absolute control or was it difficult to find permanent members?
Vorskaath: For the first 3 years or so Zemial operated as a collective and went through various line-up changes. Finally, in 1992 I decided to continue alone. At the time it was quite challenging to find people who shared my musical vision so it was actually a matter of assuming absolute control because it was so difficult to find the right permanent members. As of 1994 my brother Eskarth rehearsed with me occasionally (Zemial rehearsals are very rare occurrences) and became the band’s live guitarist. He also contributed to recordings with solos and various other guitar and backing vocal parts. I still consider Eskarth the Zemial concert guitarist. As of 2009 I have been working with bass player Scorpios who is also featured on one track in the upcoming single. With the notable exception of Eskarth, this is the first time since 1992 that I have worked with another musician for a Zemial release. Though Zemial remain a one man project, if any live appearances were to be considered for the future this is the core line up that I would consider performing.
3. The name of Zemial is a legend in the Greek Black Metal scene. However, especially the first decade, you had released only 2 EPs and 1 demo. How do you explain the fact that Zemial became legends?
Vorskaath: Thank you for your kind words. I would like to say that at approximately 26 minutes and featuring 7 pieces, the original – shorter - version of For the Glory of UR is actually an album, not an EP. Anyway, I am really not sure how our reputation grew as it did. I can only hypothesize. Every time I released something it seemed to be embraced by the scene worldwide, so that when I arrived in Australia in 1994 there were already people that contacted me knowing about Zemial – I had no idea that would be the case. We had only done a couple of promo tapes before I released Sleeping Under Tartarus in 1992 and the next thing I know is that Gothic Records/Torched Records have sold out all 1000 copies in zero time and I had offers from other bigger labels. I suppose people liked the music and the honesty behind it. I never made music to fit in or to appeal to other people. I wrote music and lyrics that represented my feelings and views regardless of what others thought about them. This non-conformity continues to be the driving force behind this band. That is also why I am no longer connected to this “scene”. I am not interested in the latest trend with regards to writing, production, image, statements, etc. I prefer to do my own thing and I think Zemial fans have understood that and trust that each time I decide to release something it always comes from the heart and is honest. No matter what we are presented with in all fields of life, sooner or later, we want to look behind it, to find how it was made and that makes us review our idea of something. Perhaps this originality and this step away from the norm resonates with peoples’ conception of being honest and free rather than enslaved and directed. Perhaps.
4. Continuing from the last question, why you didn't sign a contract with a big label as other bands of that era did? Why didn't you release more material?
Vorskaath: Because as I said, I did not want to jump on the bandwagon and become another number. When Osmose approached m in 1992 for releasing the “Sleeping Under Tartarus” single in unlimited quantity, I said no. I told them that I wanted my music to remain underground. Sensing that they were in it just for the cash, I rejected their other offers as well. My romantic view of underground music at the time excluded merchants and money making. Much later, I realised that there was money in the underground anyway, only that there were other people making it from my music instead. At that point I got into the game aggressively and managed to control rights to every single Zemial release out there. Back to the early days however, the underground had a very pure feeling and I wanted to keep that as long as possible. That is why, after having released the successful “Sleeping Under Tartarus” and “For the Glory of UR” I decided to record and release a cassette demo (“Necrolatry”). I wanted to keep things underground for this group and was not concerned with regular output of releases for satisfying labels, fans or the established tradition. If I had something good to offer and felt ready to offer it I did. Otherwise I waited. I still do it that way.
5. You have participated in some Greek bands but what impressed me was the participation in the American Equimanthorn. What kind of relation do you have with them? What kind of relation do you have with the U.S.A. in general?
Vorskaath: Equimanthorn for those who know not (shame!) is originally a project of the members of Absu. Now Zemial and Absu have a very long history of friendship and collaboration. It was Absu that arranged the release of Sleeping Under Tartarus via Gothic Records, with whom they were also signed to at the time. The Zemial logotypes and some of the artwork is the product of my friend Equitant of Absu. In 1994 we discussed the possibility of my relocation to Texas to join Absu. Instead I went to Australia. Later, when Proscriptor was left alone with Absu, he wrote to me and asked if I would join. We share many common interests and share a strong connection regarding cosmogenesis and the traditions of Sumer. Our brotherhood is deep and strong. It seemed therefore natural that we extend this relationship into the realms of Art and I was asked to contribute to the Magic of Equimanthorn - which I gladly did. The connection remains. The USA was one of the first territories to support Zemial from the very beginning and we have a steady fan base there. Our current label is based in the USA and I continue to receive mail from fans from the US regularly, particularly on MySpace. Unfortunately, though I have visited the USA for performances with other bands I did not manage to get Zemial there. Not yet.
6. In Zemial you play all instruments, in live shows you play the drums, in Varathron you played the guitar... Which is your main instrument and what is your knowledge of the instrument? Have you had studied it formally?
Vorskaath: I am primarily an autodidact musician on all instruments I play, but I did also have the opportunity to study drum-set and orchestral percussion for a short time. As a musician, but particularly as a drummer, it was important for me to escape the limits of standard metal and to understand music from a broader point of view. Therefore, I played in as many and varied situations as I could. I played and toured with an orchestra for 2 years and I learned so much during that time. I also explored experimental rock and improvisation which I love. For the past few years I have been working a lot on asymmetrical rhythms and free improvisation and I have been very fortunate to travel, give concerts and record with some amazing jazz musicians from around the world. The journey to learning Music is of course endless and I remain a humble student.
7. What do you do apart from music?
Vorskaath: I really love reading and enjoy good food & wine. I am also an avid instrument collector. Yet, most of my time is occupied with music. Teaching, playing, recording, producing, practicing… educating myself.
8. The fact that you play the drums in live shows and you are also responsible for the vocals aside from being unique must also be difficult I suppose. Why did you take that decision? Don't you think that the band loses something in stage performance?
Vorskaath: It is not really difficult for Zemial – no. Sometimes it can be challenging because of having to play fast or physically demanding drum patterns and combine them with long vocal phrases. That has much to do with good breath control and the right physical condition. Aside from that, it is not really as difficult as it looks. I mainly treat the vocals as a “fifth limb’ that adds its part to the overall rhythm I produce with my body.Metaphorically speaking it is just like another hand or foot. That is all. I took that decision because I had no other option. I found no other drummer that could play the parts as I do and it was easier to show guitarists the guitar parts I play. I recognise that being the drummer/vocalist means that I am the “front man at the back” and that can be hard. Some years ago, in total frustration with this situation I thought I would start looking for a live vocalist. Whenever I announced my intention to do so, I was told by friends and fans that that would be the worst thing I could do to the band and in that particular case, I listened to the feedback. However I know that most fans enjoy this spectacle from Zemial and have come to expect it. A good Zemial live show has much to do with how good the front men are (guitar and bass), in order to keep the audience excited. Eskarth is generally considered to be the best live Zemial guitarist exactly because he is so good on stage and commands a lot of attention.
9. You are in the Greek scene for 20 years and you have seen and experienced a lot. Is there a difference between the underground of the past with that of nowadays?
Vorskaath: The truth is that I am not connected to the scene anymore so I don’t really know. I doubt anything would be the same. The world changes every moment. In so far as I can experience from this outsider position, the feeling (and the music consequently), is not as interesting or exciting as it once was when all of this was starting. There seems to be a lot of recycling.
10. What do you think about the Greek scene? Are you in contact with any bands? Do you want to suggest a band that caught your attention lately?
Vorskaath: I think the Greek scene is much underrated. In the early times of the second wave of black metal most countries globally had something to offer but it was Norway and Hellas that were leading the way. Clearly. Norwegian bands offered some outstanding ideas. Indeed. However, indisputably, a great deal of their popularity was based on the image that was sold more so than the music. The murders, church burning stories, etc. That impressed a lot of people understandably, and set Norway on the forefront of the new music that was being created at the time. Hellenic bands did not get that kind of media attention at all and the scene, regardless of its incredible output, remained but a name. However the facts remain; some bands from that time produced amazing music that was very authentic. Though I am not in contact with bands as I once was, I still keep in touch with bands but more in terms of friendship and acquaintance rather than connecting musically. A newer band that I highly recommend is Dirty Granny Tales.
11. By the tracks that I listened to on your MySpace page, I understood that your sound has changed o lot. Why did that happen?
Vorskaath: Maybe the question should be reversed: why should the sound NOT change after so long? You see, the music that interests me always had something new to offer. In terms of Black Metal, consider Master’s Hammer – Ritual. Those vocals and arrangements were unknown. The theatricality was unprecedented in the genre. Varathron – Genesis of Apocryphal Desire. Those solos were unknown in this scene terms of technical ability and musicality. I mean the list goes on: Rotting Christ – Passage to Arcturo, Darkthrone Under a Funeral Moon, Agatus – Night of the Dark Ages demo, Mayhem - De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Absu – The Sun of Tiphareth… They all had something new to give in terms of sounds, of ideas, of production. That is the reason it was so damn good! It was new and had something different to offer. It was change that brought those bands to prominence. That aside, it is part of my enjoyment of music to keep trying new things; to experiment. In Monumentum was the great catalyst for change in Zemial, though it was entirely unplanned. I just had to do it for myself as a homage to Quorthon. It was just pure feeling with no regard to what people will think. After the surprisingly huge reception, I realized that the people that listen to Zemial and watch our shows have understood that despite some of my more conservative pieces, I will always push the limits and try new things. I decided to let go of the standards I had previously set for Zemial. I am not sure where it will go in the future but I will only go on if I have something new to offer. If not, then I will stop.
12. How would you describe the sound of Zemial to someone who hasn't listened to your later material?
Vorskaath: There is no point. I would just suggest that he/or she listen and make up their own mind.
13. Are you writing a new album at the moment? How is the sound of the new material? When will you release it?
Vorskaath: I am recording a new album, at the moment. There have been delays because of moving my studio but that is what I am working on presently. The album is titled NYKTA and should be released sometime in spring to coincide with the melting of the snow. In the meantime, I have already started collecting ideas for the next album which are very different, to say the least.
14. What kind of music do you listen to in general?
Vorskaath: These days a lot of jazz and fusion as well as a lot of 70’s prog as usual, classical music, soundtracks, Greek music, World Music, electronic rock, heavy metal, some funk and blues and the list goes on. I am learning from everything.
15. Are there any bands that you respect for their attitude and/or music?
Vorskaath: Yes there are. I assume you are referring to black metal here right? If so, then here are just some: Darkthrone and Rotting Christ for being honest to themselves, Absu and Melechesh for being our brothers and travelling the same Sumerian path and Master’s Hammer for remaining opposed.
16. I think that your lyrics deal with the occult-paganism-ancient Greece. Which is the philosophy that you follow and that affect your lyric-writing?
Vorskaath: My lyrics are influenced and inspired by a many things, Hellenic history and mythos included. Sumer, Babylon, Dreams, philosophy, fantasy, the vastness of Space, the writings of Lovecraft and Poe… Above all, lyrics serve to focus and direct the listener. To create a series of mental images that focus the sound and speak to the mind. You live once that you know of. Make the most of it, succeed, Dream and live your Dreams. Enjoy the moment. All of this is inspiration enough.
17. Which is your opinion about the increase of the bands in Greece with ns content? What is your opinion about this scene generally? I ask you because on one hand I like this question, on the other hand for you sort comment in your MySpace. Have you been approached by right-wing extremists maybe because of your references in ancient Greece?
Vorskaath: I am completely opposed to racism. I judge people not by the colour of their skin or their culture but by their actions. Most racists have never left their country to experience the world around them. You don’t have to like everybody, but it certainly makes sense to watch and listen before concluding. Besides, how can a musician be truly racist??? Music is a language that we speak with people all over the world. Music comes from the Gods and is not the gift of any one man or race. One of my most cherished performances was when I went into a studio and recorded some free improvisation with a German a Lebanese and an Indian. There were no words and no introductions. We began playing and the Music spoke. I realised my connections to East and West by hearing these people play and ‘speak” of their culture. I spoke to them of our culture. No words just music. THAT is magic. But of course the people you are referring to don’t even know what 5/8 or A-Aeolian means. “Musicians”…
18. Have you scheduled any live shows? Do you want to tell me where and when? In Greece?
Vorskaath: I have an offer as headliner in a festival in the USA which I want to take because we have never presented our music to our considerable fan base there. Aside from that, no other performances scheduled at this point.
19. Tell me about your near future plans and if you want to add something for the ending?
Vorskaath: The new single DUSK should be released anytime now and following that I plan on finishing NYKTA as soon as possible Then I will meet with Scorpios (bass), do some jamming and explore some new places for Zemial. The future is as much a surprise for me as it is for you and that is the way I like it. Thank you for the questions and for your support. Χαιρετώ τους Έλληνες φίλους και οπαδούς!Forever, Vorskaath