DATE OF INTERVIEW: 28th July 2019
Commencing life as a band in 1989 under the moniker of Ad Maiorum Satan Glorium, 1993 saw the Russian black metallers change their name to Satarial. And it's under the Satarial banner they've continued to evolve and progress beyond their black metal roots, both musically and philosophically. Defying any obvious genre classification, their organic, folk-infused music, sometimes characterised by mesmeric mantras, and other times by bursts of metal extremity, is best described as simply "Satarial". And it's the perfect sonic accompaniment to their explorations of nature and mysticism.
Ahead of a late-August/early-September 2019 UK tour, Metal Discovery quizzed the band about their music, the cognitively and emotionally nourishing live experience of a Satarial show, as well as the censorship, persecution and harassment they've suffered over the past three decades, at the hands of religious fanatics, authorities, and general idiots. As they explain, though, all this adversity has only made them stronger and more determined to follow their own artistic path. It seems their steadfast freedom of expression ethos has never been more robust...
METAL DISCOVERY: The band began life as Ad Maiorum Satan Glorium (“The Greater Glory of Satan”) in 1989, so 2019 is kind of your 30th anniversary. Three decades! Has your general philosophical outlook changed and evolved during the last 30 years in any way, or is the core essence of Satarial as it always was when you started as A.M.S.G.?
SATARIAL: Yes, it is natural that people change their views on certain things. If a person does not make mistakes (every person makes a mistakes, the point is whether he admits his mistakes or not), then he does not learn from his mistakes; that is, he does not learn the world, and it means that a person does not move forward. We started off as a black metal band with the ideas of nihilism, anti-Christianity, Satanism. Now we have a more philosophical approach to the whole world; we look more deeply at mysticism, shamanism, etc., but through the prism of the achievements of modern science. Yes, and musically we have gone far from the original style framework. We like experiments in our music more than any particular style.
(Satarial on the uniuqe sound of their music, and following their self-styled sonic path)
"We want to play something that was not played before us. If we would listen to advice by the labels and start playing in borders of one style, then our creativity would become a routine work, and we don’t want it. This is our path and we will continue on it."
Photograph copyright © 2014 @lker
Interview by Mark Holmes
MD: I gather you recorded a demo under the A.M.S.G. name in 1989, so will this ever see the light of day? Do you still have those recordings in one form or another?
SATARIAL: The demo was released in 92-93 in the MC format; we have some copies of this edition in our collection. But we have not yet implemented this demo in digital format.
MD: You changed the name to Satarial in 1993, of which you’ve said in a previous interview, “The name seemed to us the best fit to our music.” In what ways does the name Satarial reflect your philosophies, beliefs and emotional outlook?
SATARIAL: "Satarial" has a lot of meanings in the mystical plane. But the meaning of "Satarial" in our world as the murderer of a demiurgic god in the physical world, I think, suits us if we look at our history.
MD: It states in your bio that “Satarial is the first black metal project of Russia.” Did you feel like you were paving the way for other Russian extreme metal bands to be able to follow their own paths?
SATARIAL: In the late 80s, we just began to play music in the style of Hellhammer and Bathory. Black metal was not popular in Russia at that time and was not played by someone then. But in the late 80s and early 90s there were many Russian bands in the style of thrash, death and doom metal. Bands were guided by these styles, and not by us and black metal. Black and pagan received distribution in Russia by the end of the 90s, but at that moment we were no longer playing pure BM.
MD: Did you pay much attention to the wider black metal scene back in the 90s, particularly over in Norway, with the church burnings; rivalries; murders, etc? It’s a morbidly fascinating history that seems to be back at the forefront now, what with Jonas Åkerlund’s ‘Lords of Chaos’ movie, as accurate or as inaccurate as the film actually is.
SATARIAL: Yes, of course, we knew about what was happening in Norway. In Russia, there was a similar situation at the end of the 90s, and even now many BM and pagan metal bands hate each other and accuse of posturing, spread bad words about competitors and try to interfere with each other. Many also say bad about us. We try to pay less attention to it, but when we meet face to face with them, then lot of them received from us in the face. We are trying to stay away from all of this. We don’t have many concerts in Russia, since most of our concerts are banned by the government and the church.
MD: Talking of Jonas Åkerlund, I gather you were massive fans of Bathory back in the day. A big influence when you started out?
SATARIAL: Yes, Bathory was a real revelation to us; these were real hymns to darkness. This music completely coincided with our inner world. We started with the cover versions on Bathory and Hellhammer, and then we started writing our own songs in the same style.
MD: Your music is uniquely Satarial, and instantly identifiable as such. However, people are generally obsessed with pigeon-holing everything with genre labels, so folk/black metal seems to be the common one that’s used a lot. Does it frustrate you when people use potentially delimiting labels when describing your music, rather than just enjoying the emotional and spiritual experience of listening to your albums, free from any kind of desire to classify what they’re hearing and experiencing?
SATARIAL: Yes, it certainly gives certain difficulties. On the Russian metal scene it is very difficult to succeed by playing some kind of original style. For the Russian listener it is more acceptable if the band is similar to the well-known metal bands of England and America. Of course, I think it kills the Russian metal scene. We want to play something that was not played before us. If we would listen to advice by the labels and start playing in borders of one style, then our creativity would become a routine work, and we don’t want it. This is our path and we will continue on it.
MD: You’ve previously said in an interview that your lyrics centre around the fact that “nature cannot be divided into black and white”. I’ve always been a big admirer of the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin and his dialogic theories, which allow for an infinite number of interpretations for anything, rather than reducing everything to either/or considerations. It seems to me that your philosophical outlook might be infused with a bit of Bakhtin? Are you familiar with his writings?
SATARIAL: Unfortunately, we are not familiar with his works. But one of the main tenets that we are trying to convey to people - the truth is that there is no truth. The world is unlimited and it is not necessary to limit it to the mind or religions. After all, the age of mankind compared to the age of the universe is negligible.
MD: The visual side of the band has always seemed to be an integral part of what you do, so has it always been important for you to represent Satarial in a kind of theatrical way, with the costumes etc, rather than just wearing jeans and t-shirts or whatever? I think the costumes and general band image undoubtedly help convey and contextualise the nature and mystical aspects of the music itself, so is this the intention?
SATARIAL: For us, this is really important. Music creates visual images, and visual images complement music. Unfortunately, we now cannot do great performances like the 90s, when we had about 20 actors and a lot of classical and folk instruments. After the banning of our concerts in Russia, we cannot afford to have a big line up. But we still continue to do performances now, just more atmospheric, reconstructing the ancient pagan, shamanic and sorcery rituals, using witchcraft incenses and subconscious energy.
MD: I gather you’re not fans of digital technology at all, and avoid the likes of Pro Tools, in favour of recording everything via analogue means. And, I have to say, the last two albums - ‘Lunar Cross’ and ‘Blessed Brigit’ - both sound absolutely fantastic. Very raw and organic, but with a beautifully warm, resonant sound. Is analogue important for you to preserve the essence of the music as much as possible, in helping to reflect your outlook on nature, etc.?
SATARIAL: Yes, we do not prefer tuning and cutting tracks, we are trying to record a song from beginning to end. Everything should sound when you lay tracks. And on the mix, we only need a little equalization and compression. So we can keep alive the breath and energy of the track. In concert work, we also try to have our own sound, so we have a long sound check. Since we use a lot of analog sound processing and analog synthesizers. We use digital technology only to manage analog devices. The guitar simultaneously plays the role of both metal guitar, and bass, and orchestral synthesizer. Similarly, the other musicians in the group combine several instruments and vocals.