Nobody expected that, a group from the Southwestern Pacific Island known as New Zealand, becoming one of the most influential hordes in the current wave of black/death/doom… Forging a sound that would later be defined based on their geographical bearings, Vassafor has also gained international status. The following interview was conducted between JH and the main-man Himself, VK.
Hails VK. Vassafor has been around for more than twenty years, what has kept the flame burning after all these years? And what would you regard as one of the definitive highlights throughout its journey?
VK: Hello James. The fuel for the fire is in plentiful supply it seems, cause we are burning stronger than ever. Theres no question the most important highlight of the journey so far was Ben joining during the period after self titled release came out. That was the turning point for us to become what we are now….all things now have come from that piece of the puzzle falling into place
Musically, which bands would you cite as influences regarding the fundamental development of Vassafor’s sound/dynamics? Has the influences changed much over time or remained the same?
VK: I was teaching myself to play guitar the same time as I was writing the first Vassafor songs in that period and listening to a lot of Necromantia, Blasphemy, Master’s Hammer and Beherit (among many, many others) of the contemporary bands, but still obsessed with Mercyful Fate, Sodom, Frost, Voivod & Candlemass records of the 80s. The first band I played bass in was a fairly tech Death Metal band in the early 90s so I could play much more complex material but I wanted to regress to a more primitive style as many of the records I went back to listening too were things like Bathory the Return or Obsessed by Cruelty rather than the shitty life metal Swedish and Finnish “DM” bands which were all selling out and being boring clean rock music, but not even good at that! Thats when I really became possessed by the real underground and started digging properly and I guess I still am 20 plus years later.
In your own words, how would you encapsulate or describe the music of Vassafor?
VK: Dark Satanic music, i.e.- Black Metal. I don’t consider Black Metal to be a production aesthetic or guitar sound or vocal style. Its content based, that is the only requirement. For us it is venerable music of worship to our Patron, Vassafor.
You’ve had various members come and go, is the current incarnation a stable one or more like a session collaboration? Is it hard for you to find suitable recruitments to follow your vision exactly as you wish to convey it?
VK: It certainly has been the hardest part of Vassafor’s history, but I think the first era of the band with my original partner in crime Dan Lomas which gave birth to the band and the modern era that started when Ben joined the fold are essentially the same. Both are less me only contributing and writing. Ben and Dan both are creative and contribute plenty to all aspects of the band. It has been a challenge over the years to find people, especially here in New Zealand, that appreciate the nuances of the style and aesthetic. But we have been fortunate to have some incredible musicians help us with our live aspects. The touring lineup we were able to take through the European tour in Feb MMIV was perfect. Ben and I were joined by Vince and Kevin from NW bands Weregoat, Ritual Necromancy, Anhedonist, among many others. Back here in NZ and Australia we are still looking for the final member to join us for live shows. We plan to have NZ and Aus dates around April MMXVII
Well I certainly am a tyrant about how it has to be…but Ben is probably worse! So yeah, we are fussy, but thats because when we play live we are attempting to open the gateway….and that takes the right people. Theres no short-cut!
The sonic darkness of Vassafor sounds most potent during the slow, mid-tempo alterations, with an oppressively dark, doomy feeling. Would you say that the slower tempos present a difference when it comes to playing these parts in comparison to the more standard fast tempo?
VK: Yeah, I want the feeling to be oozing from each note coming out of the speaker. Dynamic range gives you that opportunity to ensnare that way. Almost lull someone into the folds of the music, and then squeeze tight and crush them with the next part. At times soothing, at times oppressive…a great example of a band doing that with slow shifts of gear is Esoteric. They realy are the masters of that.
Should music and words be seen as separate segments or should they be linked as a complementary unit?
VK: Absolutely fused together so that there is no way to separate one from the other. It should be impossible to work out which was written first cause both should serve each other in the song.
There seems to be a lot of divided opinions regarding nowadays black metal, with some veterans stating that black metal is dead and that the quantity has exceeded the quality. Do you agree with this sentiment? Or do you think there’s always “gems” to be found for those who are willing to find them?
VK: I really can’t understand people who’s ears have obviously stopped listening. There is so many interesting and worthwhile bands infesting the underground in most corners of the globe. Sure theres plenty of shit bands, but there always has been since I’ve starting listening. Thats never going to change. But there are some really incredible young bands absolutely hammering it out right now. Qrixkuor for a start. I’m really looking forward to that band’s debut album…
As a sound engineer/producer, how integral is the process of achieving the desired effect sound-wise and still sound organic? Have you had any encounters with people who have misunderstood your vision? What do you think of a lot of modern bands over compressing their instruments to the point of sterility?
VK: Well it doesn’t even have to sound organic as such, just that the band sounds like its on the same page as each other. My biggest issue with separately recorded, click tracked perfectionism in recordings is that it is the enemy of spontaneity or feeling or dynamics generally. It sounds machine like, which is fine for technicians but is incredibly boring to listen too. I don’t want an album of mine to have identical rhythm guitar sounds for 45 minutes, thats an incredibly boring way to make a record. I like to write songs as individual pieces, and record them as individual pieces, then once I’m finished on that one, I move onto the next. There fore, on our records its perfectly obvious when the next song starts because they all have a sound specific to the song. So doom tracks have heavier and denser guitar tones because its not as much trem picking perhaps, where as a violent, chaotic song needs a different kind of production aesthetic to bring out the mood and spirit of the song.
My style definitely isn’t for everyone, and plenty of bands I have been in may not have liked it even and run towards mainstream thinking and conventional productions. But fuck all of them, I’m doing this cause its how I like to listen to music on my stereo, and if people are into working with me its because they have similar thoughts. So its really satisfying when great bands hit me up to mix a record for them as well. Recently finished the Bestial Raids new record and that was a brilliant experience to work with guys that know exactly what they want and recorded a punishing onslaught that I could sink my teeth into. They wanted it even harsher than I was going towards haha, brilliant! I always try to give bands like that exactly what they are after because its the vision of the band. I respect those kinds of bands a lot.
Can you comment on the mic stand with goat skulls and barbed wire which you employ for live rituals?
VK: The mic stand itself is a welded piece with the sigil in the design done by a flatmate the night after we supported Mayhem some years back. He was possessed after our gig to go loose at his workshop for the rest of the night! And we have always had tons of skulls around us since the begining so it seemed appropriate to construct the proper pulpit of invocation in a more solid form. I track all my vocals through the mic stand as well, so its not just for stage. It’s the appropriate tool for communicating our message
As a musician, how mandatory is the process of coming up with new ideas or incorporating new influences as opposed to staying within the style you are known for or that you are most familiar with?
VK: I don’t think its very important at all actually. Much more important to be sincere and passionate than redefine the guitar or whatever instrument it is. They are just tools, but the music is communication. If the song takes us down a pathway we haven’t been on before then great, but if its just to try and show off our “musicianship” then its worthless ego driven garbage. And I’m trying to get rid of those things in my music. I can’t really see us straying too far from our formulae and spells. We are trying only to get darker and more pure, not become more popular of standardised. I guess once people hear the next record they can decide for themselves whether we were/are successful or not at that
Most people would figure metal musicians generally listen to the ‘truest’ of extreme metal only, or are closed to outside genres. However, I have learned from various people in bands that many musicians don’t listen to just metal. Where do you stand on this issue? Do you let outside genres influence your musical output in any way? Or do you prefer to stay strictly within the confines of the genre as is?
VK: I’m probably atypical in that I used to have a much wider range of influences in my teens and 20s, but since my 30s I have become far more narrow minded and focused on what in metal it is that I like. I still listen to martial/industrial music, (just listened to a Nordvagr project yesterday that was superb) and still have a segment of classical music in my collection as well that gets listened to, but its mainly metal. Especially the ugly shit!
With “Obsidian Codex” it felt like you were expanding your sound to the next level. The compositions are darker, more evolved and dynamic. How long were you working on the material and what inspired the idea to write a double LP? How much of a challenge was the overall process?
VK: Obsidian Codex did spiral out of control a bit. I knew it was going to be a lot of music, and it was designed from before the songs were written (in most cases anyway) to be 4 sides of vinyl. So each side had to be enough as a piece of music on its own terms, and then make sense to each other in context. Nemesis and Makutu were the last 2 songs completed and by far the hardest to track. The mixing of both was difficult as well as the subject matter has a lot of power and resonance, esp with the lyrics reflecting reality rather than conceptual possibilities. The mix in Nemesis was gruelling. I have no idea about how many little guitar overdubs and layers there is on that final mix…but theres a lot of buried horror within it. Finishing the master and sending it off was a pretty satisfying day…now its 4 years later and I’m nearly at the same stage with out 2nd full length. At least this one is only a single LP!!
Tell us a bit about the themes addressed on “Obsidian Codex,” particularly the māori reference on tracks like ‘makutu.’ You are one of the first bands I can think of that makes reference to māori mythology. Were you doing a lot of research in regards to the themes? It’s quite refreshing to see a New Zealand band acknowledging their country’s culture.
VK: Each song has a united concept but (hopefully) its own individual character. The ones most obviously born from NZ soil would be Makutu and Nemesis as each reference actual events in their own way. Nemesis from the perspective of a vengeful warrior whose Utu (sworn revenge) transcends death, Makutu from the perspective of a Magician’s curse that destroys its intended target over a brief period of time. But the other tracks are all birthed from NZ blood and dirt as well. Craft of Dissolution was conceived in a rural area of NZ during a period of almost total isolation with only a guitar and shitty practice amp and pen and paper to write with. Theres all kinds of spirits and taniwha out in the wilds of this country, if you can switch off and have the eyes to see & ears to hear
Some write about middle eastern or Vedic spiritualism, but that has no relevance to me. This has relevance, and this is where our gods live…
If anyone has any inquiries and would like to get in touch, how should they do this? Furthermore, what does the future hold for Vassafor?
VK: Easiest way for people to contact is via our email vassafor[@]gmail.com The future holds nothing but Death….and as its inevitably creeps closer we will continue to create a soundtrack for it…to the Death
Thanks a lot for your time! The last words are yours.
VK: Hail Satan!