One of the greatest joys in life, in my humble opinion, is when you find an album with impactful and memorable cover art, and the music on said album is just as impactful and memorable. We all cross our fingers and hope that’ll be the case each and every time our eyes meet a new release, don’t we? Well, that was the case with Russian/Norwegian black metal project Bizarrekult and their debut album Vi Overlevde. The music, as the cover art did, floored me.
By the end of the second track on Vi Overlevde, I got that feeling, you know what feeling I’m talking about, the one that tells you you’ve discovered something extremely fucking special.
This year has been chaotic with staggeringly strong releases from the black metal hordes, though I know that for me (and from the looks of things, many others too), Vi Ovelevde is going to hold a place at the top of the mountain.
I had the good fortune of speaking to Roman, the mastermind behind Bizarrekult and picking at his brains a little. If you haven’t listened to Vi Overlevde, I hope that you come away from this interview and throw yourself at Bizarrekult’s Bandcamp page or click on the YouTube video in this post to listen to what the well and truly deserved fuss is all about.
Bizarrekult formed in 2005, though the project was ‘laid on ice’ a few years later after you released a demo and a split with Theosophy. Why did you decide to put the band to rest, and how did its resurrection come about?
Like many things in my life these were/are rather spontaneous, unpredictable and chaotic decisions, probably due to my kind of personality.
Bizarrekult was initially a side project ‘for fun’ as a break from my main band at that time (Dryados, you can check the EP from 2005 here and I recorded six tracks together with a drummer from Dryados without any plans or expectations at all. After that I graduated from university and the long and challenging process of relocating and finding my way in life started, so all musical projects were put aside.
Although I made a few tracks which were recorded as Join The Kult EP a year after, those songs were not shown anywhere until 2019. Between that time I had a short burst of creativity when I came to Bergen, Norway in 2009 – we built a line up together with a drummer from Gravdal and a few other guys.
The plan was to record an album and play live, but life took its toll – it was a challenging time with demanding workload, small kid and so on. I simply could not deal with it all at once and music was sacrificed as the least vital activity among all other time consuming tasks.
The resurrection was very spontaneous. I have a friend, Ignat Pomazkov, from Minsk, Belarus, whom I met through a different hobby – scale modelling. Once, during a chat at a scale modelling convention we started to talk about music and discovered that we have somewhat similar, yet different tastes.
He was rather excited when he learned from me that I had unrecorded material. We had so many conversations online about why I should record it and I had strong arguments against doing so. Do I have something to say or not? Is it worth spending time, and if yes, what for? Somehow, in the end it coincided with deeper processes inside my brain when I was at the edge of mental breakdown and I started to dig deeper into myself. Reading, analysing, reflecting.
So through this process I resurrected my inner poet and found topics I would like to take up in words that would go along with the music. And Ignat was there; ready to help with recording the music, having all the necessary knowledge and equipment. So we basically teamed up – together with my wife (Dina, she sings on the album as well) I refreshed the tracks that I created in 2010, added poetry, we recorded the vocals, Ignat recorded the guitar and came with some fresh and great ideas with regards to guitar lines and for drums with asked our good old friend – Alexander, who played drums in Dryados back in the days and have never stopped playing drums since then!
From what I understand, you formed Bizarrekult in Russia but are based in Norway nowadays. (I’ve done a little bit of Google searching of the landscapes of Altai Krai, and what I’ve seen looks spectacular. Some images, in fact, have it appearing very much like parts of Norway.) Could you talk about the re-location and the impact it had on your music?
I did not relocate directly to Norway, but had a few stops on the way and also inside Russia. It was a weird journey that ended up very nicely, while initially there were no such plans (to come to Norway). I am very grateful to the people that I met here and I am proud to say that Norway became my home.
I think it is rather difficult to judge if the relocation “per se” impacted the music…it is not possible to restart in a different place, live your life again and compare, so I don’t know to be honest. It is rather the general flow of life, the ageing, maturation and experiences that have the impact – the hardships, challenges, failures and success that I either had myself or can closely relate to.
Spotting the album art for Vi Overlevde on YouTube was my introduction to Bizarrekult. A gigantic moose shouldering a forest and making its way across a mountain range is precisely the kind of art that ropes my attention. I agree with Angry Metal Guy, who said it’s ‘one of the most original album covers of the year.’ How did the collaboration with Ivan Gladkih come about? I’m also very interested in the creation process. Was there a lot of back and forth between you and Ivan during the making of the art?
The collaboration was very cool and I am very pleased with the outcome. When the music and lyrics were ready my wife suggested that every song should be accompanied by an image that a listener would be able to use to extend their experience, even if they have no knowledge of Scandinavian. She even made a mock up using various photographs and art found online to explain the idea to me. I really liked this concept and then I started searching for artists that could fit the overall style and vision.
I can’t really remember how I came on his Instagram page, but I had a gut feeling that he would be a good candidate. So I wrote him a message, we had a good chat, I explained what the lyrics are about, showed one song and he agreed on creating something for us. First it was an owl that can be seen on the LP insert, MC package and CD slipcase and then he came up with that moose that is linked to the song Ensomhet (Solitude/Loneliness). That moose is a reflection of a tired lonely person drifting through the landscape.
Ivan has a great imagination and comes up with quality stuff even at early stages, so it was more like – wow, this is awesome, how about more art for the album? 😉 It all ended with one art per one song as my wife initially suggested, and everyone is happy about it. Ivan is also glad that we decided to go for such a visual extension, creating an additional dimension for the listener who has an LP or CD – turn on the music and study the art.
The album’s title Vi Overlevde (We Survived), is particularly poignant. What was the thought process behind this title?
While it is also related to the survival of the project itself, it is a rather personal title as well. We made it through all obstacles and are still standing regardless of challenges and hardships on our paths. I can suggest reading the lyrics that I added to Bandcamp page – it has both Norwegian original and English translation. Although it is always a mix of real life events with imaginatory framework.
A Bandcamp commenter called Progdolphin said the album ‘…plows through moods and styles…’ and he’s absolutely right. What thoughts do you have on the musical influences within Vi Overlevde, and which bands would you say impacted the writing and making of the album?
If we go back to the times when I initially composed the music I would say that it is the Norwegian black metal bands like Carpathian forest and Khold. They had a huge impact on me 20 years ago, however, I have always been a fan of more…if I could say…romantic and melancholic music like My Dying Bride and never limited myself to only metal. Plus my wife has a background in classical music, and I have been exposed to lots of it.
Then when it comes to “making” the album – the original tracks from 2009/2010 have been revisited based on the more mature emotions and I would say that French post-black metal had a huge influence on me (e.g. Celeste, Alcest, Regarde les Hommes Tomber). Further, Ignat has background from doom, sludge, post-metal, and his guitar playing style helped to shape the final picture where he extended and improved my initial thoughts with some great ideas.
The song For 1000 År Siden is impressively unpredictable, compelling and has substantial power behind it. Is it possible to get some background into this song? What was it like to create?
This was the very first track that I wrote when I came to Norway, created very quickly in an almost manic movement. Of course it did not have the female vocals in the original draft back in the days, but it is still rather close to the rehearsal demo from 209 that I have.
The final shape of the track as it is now came at the very late stage of working on the album, when we already recorded all instruments and harsh vocals. So I was listening to it again and the melody for the clean vocals came into my head, we tested the idea and decided to record it as it was fitting so well. The lyrics in this song are dedicated to my father who was battling colon cancer at the time I was writing the texts. But again, the words are a mix of reality with some metaphoric phantasmagoria.
The change of pace in I Trygde Hender is so effectively achieved; I have found myself listening to it over and over just so I can keep experiencing that shift that comes about in me as I listen. I feel I urgently need to know more about female vocalist Dina, who undoubtedly has some of the most ethereal vocals I’ve ever heard. How did you come to work together?
Thanks! Well, as I said I never limited myself to just one genre and like to play jazz chords on the guitar. Somehow it came to my mind to blend black metal with a jazzy-like piece and then I composed a melody for the vocals and asked my wife to sing it. Interesting is that this track is the most controversial for many – some people would have preferred it to be without that second part, while there are many that enjoy this diversity.
Each track on Vi Overlevde has its own spirit, but together, they work masterfully. The high quality of every aspect of the album gives the impression it took quite some time to make. As I’ve seen it, the response has been phenomenal, with good review following good review. How long did it take to complete this album, and what are your feelings about it now you’ve had time to sit back (I’m guessing!) and reflect a little?
Thanks! Am I allowed to say it took 10 years to make it happen? 😉 Or should we count actual time spent on it? I think it was beneficial that I did not record the original tracks back in 2010 because I was not mature enough, and probably did not have much to say back then. I had to live it through, had to survive, had to suffer enough through these years to be able to say the words that I put in these songs. And then if we would count from the moment we started recording to the moment we had an album ready for the publisher – around 1 year. But that would not be possible without those 9 years prior to the start of the recording.
Otherwise, I feel great about this album and this is probably one of the most important milestones in my whole life. The process that led to completion of the album had a healing effect on my mental and physical health; I basically changed my lifestyle and attitude to myself and others. I learned a lot and this all started another chapter in life…When it comes to reception of the album – it is simply overwhelming and I can’t believe it is happening. Super Happy to hear feedback from others that they can relate to the album, especially when people appreciate the lyrics as I put a lot of personal reflections into write-up.
Vi Overlevde is an enormously satisfying album, and to see it performed live would be one hell of an experience. Are there any plans for taking Bizarrekult to the stage?
Oh yes, there is a definite plan for playing live, although I can’t say anything concrete at the moment. It is work in progress…in discussion, planning. It all depends on many factors, including the current pandemic situation which will hopefully end rather soon.
Have you started working on new material – it’s early, I know, but I’m impatient after hearing the masterpiece that was Vi Overlevde – and any final words for those reading?
Not only started, but LP#2 is ready – eight tracks are recorded and will go to mixing and mastering studio later this year. It simply takes from where Vi overlevde leaves you, making a next step into another level of beauty. If one would call Vi overlevde as “me reflecting about the past”, the next album is “me reflecting on the present.” You will hopefully like it. I can’t speculate about the release date of course, but I hope somewhere mid 2022. Moreover, the pandora box is open and I am writing songs for the 3rd full length album!
Final words – thanks for this opportunity to talk about Bizarrekult and thank you for appreciation of Vi overlevde – it means a lot to everyone involved in the album, especially to myself as the mastermind behind it.