Interview: Chris Kendell of Aklash

Interview: Chris Kendell of Aklash

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This autumn, Doom Over Kyiv festival will once again take place in Kyiv. It is going to be quite special for British blackend-metal project Aklash. First, it is their first live show outside homeland so guys hope it will start a new chapter in their history. Second, it is the first band’s visit to Ukraine – country, whose black metal they often mention as strong inspiration for their music.

Is it hard to invent something new in black metal? How does the band change between first and second album? How should ideal stage show look like? We discussed all of this and many more with Chris Kendell – Aklash bass player and big fan of Ukrainian black metal.

It is likely that Ukrainian audience is not familiar with Aklash yet. Can you please introduce yourselves and describe who you are?
We’re an atmospheric/melodic black metal band with some folk and progressive leanings, in the use of atypical instrumentation and long songs which span multiple phrases, development of themes which spans across multiple tracks. There’s a dynamic of heavy and soft parts and lots of interplay between the instruments.

What does the name ‘Aklash’ mean? What made you choose it?
It’s the Orc word for “music” – something from Tolkien which apparently wasn’t obvious enough to have already been used by someone else. A pretty good achievement considering if you look at a map of Middle Earth you’ll find about twenty band names in a matter of minutes.

How did Aklash start?
The band started in 2011 – we were all part of the same group of people affiliated by common interests. I joined the band as bassist four years ago, though myself and several others appear in the so-bad-its-good music video for “Solstice” you can find on Youtube.

5 years have passed between your debut, the self-titled album ‘Aklash’ and second full-length ‘ Where the Ocean Meets the Sky’. How do you feel about these two albums now? Do they have a different spirit? Did Aklash as an entity, or its members as individuals, change in the time between two releases?
The first one I think is already fairly developed sounding in terms of ideas despite the slightly lo-fi (not exactly “raw” as an aesthetic) production. The second album took a long time to be finished and is definitely a more mature, visionary and refined statement. It took a long time to achieve something we were all satisfied with and that presented the ideas and feeling that we all had in mind, in a manner that was as congruent as possible. Regardless, we’re satisfied with the end result given the time taken to complete it. The production is arguably quite slick but it still maintains immediacy and punch. The cover art (by an artist called Moonrot from Poland) is something we were all very impressed with, being very vibrant and surreal for black metal. It reminds me of Roger Dean’s classic psychedelic album covers for Yes, just in the frozen north. We’re all certainly nowhere near the same individuals we were five years ago: I know I’m not. I should hope not either – its good to be constantly evolving as a person, even if its not always an easy task.

Which process do you like more: songwriting, making studio records, or touring with already polished music material? Why?
Some of our material has grown and evolved live in a different way to how it was recorded – so my answer would be something inbetween those options. I think its too easy to stifle yourself by setting absolute boundaries on how something should be presented. The recorded version is the recorded version – fine, but playing it live it can take on a new life of its own, which is what art is really all about in my opinion, it’s a fluid thing. Obviously playing in a metal band is about being tight and working as an ensemble, but I don’t think any performance should be exactly the same every time. There should always be something unique to each one, even if only a small feature. Even with recording, you can lock yourself away and mess around with something indefinitely, its only “done” because you decide at that time that it is. How long is a piece of string? When you have all the possibilities in the world at your fingertips and as much time as you want. I think this can be a double-edged sword.

Are you trying to discover in your music something new, never heard before in Black metal?
I think we all have a wide variety of interests and influences that come into play and the end result is something coloured by all those influences, so at least it will be something idiosyncratic as a result of that. I really like goth rock and jazz, for example. We are not restricting ourselves purely to sound as much like this or that as possible. I think we have a fairly unique, recognizable sound which will continue to develop into multiple directions given time.

Is it hard to invent something new in Black metal nowadays? Or there are some other tricky or non-standart ways that band can follow to create music within a genre that will sound fresh and impressive?
Nobody’s obliged to reinvent the wheel, and if its not broken then you don’t necessarily need to fix it. What I like most about black metal is the dichotomy that, it’s a very purist style but also one of the most compatible for some quite wild experimentation – if you get it right. Many highly original developments were being made already in the mid-90s “second wave” e.g Ved Buens Ende or Dodheimsgard adding jazz and avant-garde/industrial influences. You could argue that traditional black metal is a done thing: does anyone really need another Under A Funeral Moon when the original did it so well? Even my (most likely) favourite black metal album of all time, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, was influenced by many non-metal approaches and yet literally defined the “atmospheric black metal” subgenre twenty-five years ago.

For Aklash, its enough for us that we are doing things our own way. If someone likes it then that’s great. Whatever end result will have our signature. We’re not the most accessible band despite not being the most extreme – but I think that’s a rewarding experience for someone who’s willing to invest the time and attention.

What is the strongest spiritual influence for Aklash’s music? Are there any ideas that you share and subscribe to completely? Are there any concepts you find disturbing or completely wrong, and does this mirror in your music?
Life, I suppose – Aklash is not spreading any spiritual or political message that we want anyone to subscribe to as if we were waving some flag. We just try to present something meaningful and relatable – albeit dressed up in a certain verbose manner fitting to the style. If someone can find some meaning in that, or something to relate to, then it works. Not to sound too ostentatious but we prefer to explore “real” themes and express more complex emotions than just Satan, forests, vampires or whatever, as much as those subjects have their time and place. It’s a similar reason to why we don’t wear corpsepaint – it wouldn’t fit with us, like we were trying too hard to be something we’re not.

There are plenty of things I find disturbing about reality – including reality itself, more often than not. Especially in the current era, as the simultaneous interconnection and atomization of individuals, and erosion of community and values continues to accelerate. To say nothing of the slowly increasing possibility of a new sustained global conflict or even total societal collapse, which will surely happen in the next half-century. What a time to be alive. Can you tell I’m an optimist? I would say “enjoy the decline”, depending on how absurd I feel at a given time, but sometimes the abyss stares back a little bit too much.

Once you were asked, between which 2 bands – one more popular and one smaller – you would like to play in a 3-band line-up. Then you named Wolves In The Throne Room and Negura Bunget. Has anything changed? How will you answer the same question today?
I think we could fit in well on a lineup of those two bands now as much as I did before. As much as I think something like Drudkh should maybe not be performed live, if that opportunity did magically appear and offer itself I highly doubt we would say no. Hypothetically speaking.

Once or twice you’ve mentioned Ukrainian band Drudkh as your strong influence. As a Ukrainian, I am very proud to hear that. What, in your opinion, is so special about this band?
I’m a big fan of Ukrainian black metal, Drudkh, Hate Forest, Nokturnal Mortum, Astrofaes and others. Its a really great sub-genre informed by the history and culture of Ukraine which lends its own unique feel. Drudkh, in particular, has been a big influence on this band. I remember their first four albums coming out – when nobody really knew who they were yet – and the inscrutable mystique surrounding them, the vivid artwork and not being able to understand the lyrics. Autumn Aurora is a perfect example of everything atmospheric black metal should be, it was rooted in the classic definitions of the style but still sounded fresh and contemporary and strikes a near-perfect emotional balance between the uplifting and the melancholy. They’ve done some great stuff since but nothing will ever top that classic run of the first four albums. Same goes for albums like Hate Forest’s “Battlefields”, Astrofaes “Dying Emotions Domain”, and Nokturnal Mortum’s “Goat Horns” – all high achievements of their particular style.

Today, after 2 full-length albums and several years together as a band, what can you say about your achievements? What’s next to conquer?
Fairly pleased – but there’s more to be done. I can say that coming to perform in Ukraine is a huge step for us as our first show outside the UK – hopefully the start of new things. Having played up and down the length of the UK, we’ve kind of “been there done that” in a sense – although a show is a show and we obviously wouldn’t turn down an opportunity unless we had to. Being in a band is a very different thing than it used to be – especially in today’s world, for someone who wants to do this for their life it’s not entirely realistic when you have a job and a “real world” to worry about and get in the way of your artistic flights of fancy. I’m not sure anyone could dedicate themselves 100% at this kind of level without a lot of undue sacrifice. However the shared awareness of this dedication in the extreme music world is quite unifying.

Can you briefly describe the ideal live performance of your dreams?
Call it a cliché but – having performed in a shed in the middle of a forest in the middle of nowhere in Cumbria, northern England, to a small audience – something like that evokes a very appropriate feeling. I’d like to do something like that again, on larger scale. We have no real “stage show” as such, for me I like to have lots of washes of static light and plenty of dry ice to get lost (or found) in. Less is more for a band like us, in terms of presentation.

What can we expect from your set on Doom Over Kyiv 2019?
As it should be – more aggressive, rawer and stripped down in comparison to listening to the album. I’ve always believed the live and studio incarnations of a band are their left and right hands, and should be presented accordingly as a different experience. Otherwise, who would go to concerts at all?

‘Doom Over Kyiv – 2019’ fest will be held on Saturday, 12 October – Sunday, 13 October, in ‘Atlas’ club, Kyiv, Ukraine

Buy tickets for event: https://karabas.com/en/tours/dok

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