The Ash of Nargaroth
By: Tal Zaccai
With:Ash - Nagaroth
First of all, I would like to express what a privilege it is to conduct this interview with you; the groundbreaking and yet simplistic music of Nargaroth has always inspired me throughout my life. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
I’d like to start with some background before we get to the more current events. Can you tell me about the concepts that have led the music of Nargaroth throughout the years?
NARGAROTH exists now a lot of years. And with the years passing, I changed. And with me, the musician behind NARGAROTH, also the topics and the meaning of NARGAROTH changed. In the beginning I was driven by more juvenile thoughts and topics which found place within the lyrics and the presentation of NARGAROTH. But after my rejection of the Black Metal scene in 2000/2001, my lyrics became more self-reflective, analytic. And along my psychology profession and my education to psychoanalyst and the five-year-psychoanalyze I made on my own, NARGAROTH became the instrument to communicate with myself. Others, the listener, are just visitors of this communication and the self-reflective dialogs. And those who find themselves within my lyrics are those, who can be labeled as my followers worldwide. NARGAROTH shares passion. No matter what kind of.
I’ve noticed that you’re very involved in the military world, being once a soldier yourself; you seem to have a very different view of this world than most Metal band members nowadays. Being an army officer myself, I’d like to hear more about your views in this subject and how it interacts with your life.
Also this developed over the years. As Teenager I was more affected by military instruments and fantasies of courage. But the basic-training of the military service let you know you are awoken from that fantasy, when you run dog-tired after a 2 week field-trip in a column, a 30kg backpack on your already worn out shoulders and the weapon straight forward 3km uphill an endless seeming road with a furious drill sergeant scream in your ear. Already before I joined the military forces, military was around me.
In my former socialist country armed forces been every where. Idealized on big wall paintings that you already saw as little child in the kindergarten. And in real on the streets or, when you came from the country side as me, in the field right behind your grandparents farm, where they created a field-camp during some maneuvers. My whole family was in the army too. So I grew up with this kind of discipline – what I as kid not always appreciated. But after my country fell and we joined the “other” Germany, suddenly my grandparents talked about family members I never heard before. I found hidden old photos that showed young people, almost my age, in uniforms of the last two world wars. The fallen members of my family who died in 1st and 2nd world war. I had suddenly a lot of questions in my head. Why I never heard of them before? And – and this was the most heavy question for me – why they do not look like “animals” or “monsters”? I want to explain the last question.
I grew up in a socialist country. Since I could remember, I heard of the great Soviet Union with her Red Army who liberated and saved us from the Nazis. When teachers or historians spoke about those “Nazis”, they spoke about them like speaking about a thing, something unlife. An unspeakable creature of monstrosity. And as kid you create with your fantasy a gruesome picture of a “human monster” deserving no mercy. But as I saw these photos of my family relatives I couldn’t see any “monster” at all. I saw for example a 17 years old boy in front a big painting in his too huge uniform, writing his mother praying for a save home coming. He died shortly later in the nowadays Estonia, burned to death in a tank. Together with television documentaries about this time who been not ideological distorted as in my former country, I saw old men crying in front of the camera, weeping their un-worked-through traumata of these wars. And I couldn’t see any difference in their tears to any other tear I knew or I shed in my once young life.
From this time on I refused to behave as the most people did towards them. Suddenly I saw this “hidden” generation, which was once forced to silence and repress their pain, everywhere in my country. I saw them sitting in the park of my city in front of an old people’s home. And with the time, I took myself moments to talk to them. Listen to them. And so I totally changed my picture of German soldiers and soldiers at all. I tried them to understand as “children” of their time. It’s easy to judge from our nowadays freedom of speech and thoughts about a time of chaos and fear. I don’t want to justify anything that happened in these wars! I tried to understand the things. And I broke the base of my judgment down to the very personal, individual level of every single soldier. With all his fear, love, desire and dark depts.
And as I was in my 2 weeks military-examination-maneuver in the end of my basic-training, sitting on night watch in a forest in my self dug dugout, aside my machinegun MG3 in the winter of 1994, at minus 24 degree of damn freezing cold, which ate herself through by boots until my toes changed colors into bloodless white, empty stomach since 3 days – I god damn longed for my home. And in this strong desire to get home, a warm mother cooked meal and the own comfortable bed, I could lightly imagine what a soldier in war, beloved ones at home, in desperate, lonely moments in the long nights must (have) suffer(ed). And from this human point of view, it was hard for me to keep a generalized the negative picture of the German soldiers. Parallel I was very deep into the history of the Viet Nam war – but that another long story.
My view on all this is that when we start to judge, we have to consider the personal life-reality of these soldiers. And, when we wish, and I do so, we can honor done sacrifices. Until today I am in contact with soldiers and their families worldwide. I made a memory shirt for the nowadays German Soldiers in missions abroad, I clean and take care of soldier (all nations) monuments in Germany and I protest whenever it’s needed against small minded negative judgments made against soldiers.
Regarding my profession as psychologist, I work often with soldiers who suffer under nightmares, flashbacks and stress disorder syndromes, with adaption problems after being back “in the world” after their assignment and in order with different addictions to alcohol and drugs. Their knowledge about my service in the armed forces, helps them very often to find trust and talk openly, cause it gives them a feeling of appreciation what they very often miss among the society or even among their family, for whom war is a thing which is far away or just on television news. There are many other things but for now, it’s enough.
Continuing this topic, I’ve noticed also that the concept of soldiers fallen in war is very close to your heart and is expressed in your music. Can you explain the importance of this topic to you, and the connection it has with your music?
I am a member of the “German War Graves Commission”. It’s an international working organization, who takes care of soldier cemeteries. Furthermore they plan, organize and accomplish projects that improve the young generation’s knowledge of war grave sites and personal soldier fates. The German War Graves Commission is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of German war graves in Europe and North Africa. Its objectives are acquisition, maintenance and care of German war graves; tending to next of kin; youth and educational work and preservation of the memory to the sacrifices of war and despotism.
To honor or remember the dead and fallen soldiers is an act of respect. For this, I traveled a lot to places and countries, in order to fulfill my inner desire to show this respect. I also dedicate albums of NARGAROTH to the commemoration of soldiers and actual forces. On my homepage, you find in the German and English version a button called “Edelweiss”, who is strongly connected to this. Just as the Button “USMC”. In France and Italy soldiers come to my concerts. We speak together, share memories and experience and some find a relief in talk about recent lost ones. I often get presents sent from worldwide. Soldiers of different nations, who are on mission abroad, send me flags of their units, symbols of their class, country insignias, uniform parts or whole uniform. And as former machine gunner and later sniper in the infantry, that highly gratifies me.
I’ve heard many times your views about Black Metal being dead for a long time. Could you elaborate on that? Also, are there any current Black Metal bands that fit the exception?
The degeneration you can notice in our western societies affects automatically Black Metal, as he is a product of society members. Take just some hours and watch television. Look the program quality. Look what topics gets implanted in the peoples head. Every kind of idiocy gets transferred in the mind of people, although much of this gets created in peoples head before. We rise (in Germany) a new generation which is highly insufficient in values, grace, morality, behavior and responsibility. The consume behavior is dominated by immediately availability of the goods and all in the same time. These consume behavior you find also in the Black Metal community. Black Metal gets consumed like fast food. Internet delivers Black Metal in every “Kids Room”. Within minutes you can download a complete Black Metal history or band discography without growing with this band or develop aside their changing. Often the song names don’t matter too.
Black Metal or the creating generation in the early 90s made it to be different. To separate from the metal part we all been disappointed of as they started to soften or enter the stage in jogging suits or jams. But also then – Black Metal got infiltrated by too much crap. Be it bands or people! But even then it needed a special personality to find BM.
Today it’s not needed anymore. Even techno idiots know “Black Metal ist Krieg”. The nowadays scene even accepts inacceptable sexual deviations. Today people visit BM concerts that we would have beaten out of the club in the 90s! And nowadays BM members don’t understand these thoughts and attitudes. They found our old values and thoughts inadequate or antiquated. Black Metal is played everywhere – but he isn’t alive anymore. It’s more like a shadow of an old spirit. And nowadays people only use the attributes of it. There is nothing that isn’t heard already. There is nothing that isn’t made already. If I had the power, I’d erase them all and take the memories and the awareness of BM out of their minds.
How do you feel Nargaroth differs from other current Black Metal bands?
Regarding what people tell me, NARGAROTH is more personal, more private and more realistic than most of the other bands who sing merely about magical or mystical topics. And that element of life reality I put in my lyrics allow them the re-feel it by situations in their life. They feel understood by my songs. That’s at least what people tell me.
And I go my path since many years straight! I never gave up or complained about the gossip talkers. I kept going and let the idiots talk. And that hint of “old” that surrounds NARGAROTH gives many in the scene a feeling of stability and continuance, which is so much lost in the nowadays fast times. And so much desired by many in the scene.
Considering you feel so strongly against the current Black Metal scene, what is the kind of people you dedicate your music to, and would like to call “fans”?
To people who are strong enough to walk with me. People who aren’t afraid of wearing a NARGAROTH shirt and stand up for in moments of danger and critic. People who dare to self-reflect the way I show them and who are never afraid to try it better every day – so that in the end of their lives they have more to prove than a pile of empty beer cans.
I actually find it quite surprising that you perform live with Nargaroth so much. Do you think the live performance lets one view your music in a different aspect?
My desire is my mission. I want to remember! I want to remember what BM once was, how it can be. And during (most) of my performances I can transform some of my visions. And the way I perform, limits the mental freedom of own ideas to my songs.
Where do you enjoy performing most and why?
Latin America. Their fever and passion kept me going on in a difficult time. Within Europe its Italy, because even in hard times, Italy never failed me, never abandoned me! And – in Italy the fans bring me always food. Specialties of their region. It is based on some interviews I made in the past as I said I prefer Mediterranean (Italian) food. Since then I go home with plenty of special bacon, salami or cheese. And as I enjoy food – it pleases me!
What do you think about the German Black Metal scene specifically?
The old scene, the one I grew up in, was a magical place to dwell in Black passion. Nowadays? Makes me lifeless.
Do you miss earlier times in Black Metal history? Which period of time and which bands or musicians did you connect to most?
I miss it very much. I miss the old concerts, the old meetings with the early sub-organizations as the Teutonic or the Satanic Brotherhood or the TTF and many others. I miss the meetings in a special place in East Germany called Annaberg. I miss that passion. My (favorite) time was from 1992 – 1996/97. Others might have another phases, but this was my most intense and passionate life time in Black Metal. And – of course – I miss the people I knew once. Some of them are wimped out, some disappeared and many are dead. In my metal life, which started 1986, the number of people who still exist is: 1. And this is Charoon who I know now since 20 years….hm….I think I’m gonna call him now.
Did you ever regret anything you did throughout the history of Nargaroth?
Yes. I regret exactly 4 things that I stupidly and vain did and which became a part of my critics arguments against NARGAROTH. They are well known and I don’t wanna mention them again.
On the other hand it wouldn’t be me, if there wouldn’t be a kind of ambivalence. I mean I do things which can be considered as untrue or what ever, but I do it with passion. And all I did – even the shit – was authentically me. It doesn’t justify anything but at least it eases a bit unpleasant memories. So it was in all my life. Wherever I lived people had two sides to tell about me – in the same intensity. And at least I am strange and crazy enough for Black Metal, while others just pretend to be mad and sick.
Being simplistic as it is, why do you think the “Black Metal ist Krieg” release was so groundbreaking in the eyes of many people? Listening to it today, after 10 years, how does it make you feel?
It said the truth. And this in such a simple but emotionally intense way that even the simplest mind got it. And simple minds aren’t rare, aren’t they?
In one of the interviews I’ve read, I’ve noticed the “Herbstleyd” release is a very “charged” topic for you. What can you tell me about this time in your life and the affect this album had on you?
It took the longest time of preparation. A time filled with disappointments, deaths, failures and madness that when I remember back that time – I start to breath heavily. Today I get bored that my releases get compared with that album – and suck in the eye of the comparator on it.
Aside from being a musician, I understand that you study and practice psychology. What affect did this practice have on you as a person and as a musician, if at all?
As I mentioned in answer one, it affected NARGAROTH completely, because that profession creates a world view. A way to think, to re-think. That made NARGAROTH stronger. And me too.
Where do you find the creative inspiration for writing your material? Do you have a special writing process for your music?
It just comes over me. I get a vision of what I want to have – and I start to create it. No complex preparations, no calculations, no trials – just creative acting. I am mainly surprised by myself when I face my finished creation. And only then I can say if I like what I did or not. In conversations with other musicians they often gets confused by these methods because they work much more planned and organized and they consider my way as too chaotic. For me chaos is just another kind of order. When I create (record) I take what the situation provides. So I never removed mistakes from the recording – like drum-play mistakes, missed hits, lost drum stick. I also never re-record when the recording sounds “not good enough”. When I felt during the playing what I wanted to express, then the “mistake” is a part of the creation, a part of the song. That’s what I call real! And as I never had the intention to be a great guitar, bass, keyboard or drum player – I see no reason to pretend so. Wherever I see a music instrument I grab it and try to play it. And until now I was always able to get from it what I needed for my songs, for expressions. I will be never a virtuoso on it. But it was enough to become a worldwide known – loved or hated – Black Metal musician.
So – and I hope all readers will remember – it makes no sense to ask me for Tabs of my songs or what equipment I used or how I tuned my guitar. Cause I never think about it. I cannot read music-notes and I have no ideas how to write or how to read Tabs. I never tune my guitar professional – I just tune the strings within each other so I get a straight tone. And I use what I have to hand – and only this count. Equipment can provide sound – but never – NEVER – emotions!
How do you perceive the progress you’ve made with Nargaroth throughout the years?
Musically, “Jahreszeiten” is one of the most interesting pieces I’ve heard lately. However, many people didn’t quite get this album, mainly because it isn’t very restricted to the common boundaries of Black Metal music. What kind of responses have you gotten regarding this release? And what can you tell us about the writing process of this material?
For some it was one of the best, refreshing and most creative Black Metal albums. For others it was the worst crap. Both assessments suit me.
Conceptually, “Jahreszeiten” is quite intriguing. What lies behind the musical and lyrical concepts of this album, concerning the seasons?
In the album on hand, I am dealing with seasonal changes as exemplified by the seasons of the year, the emotional peculiarities and mental representations of which reflected in the musical-melodic progression of the individual songs. As for the lyrics, it deals with the dynamics of dyadic human relationships, which essentially influence – if not outright cause – mundane fates, single tragedies but also the destinies of entire world empires. I dare say that I’d be surprised if not the one or other willing listener is going to find himself in one of the poems of this album. And I express regret for that creature who can not – or tries to repudiate it! The CD version of the SEASON ~ album does not represent the complete work of art because I won’t grant the download-ridden shit scene my thoughts and works by such easy means, which they consume like fast food. Listeners who permanently ignore or leave out the monologues don’t do justice to the art nor prove to be worth it.
Being a man means waging a daily war with ones ideals against the background of the demands of reality. Thus I dedicate this album to two persons who escorted me on this difficult way of Dying and Becoming, and whose disciple I have been. Forging such a way on one’s own I consider, on grounds of my own experiences, as insufficient and impossible. Being a man, my way consists of constant self-experience, permanent calling-into-question and analysing, the perpetual quarrelling with myself and the despair about my former way of life. But it also consists of the courage to give room to these misconducts, in order to rearrange the way lying ahead of me every day, just like described by Goethe in Seelige Sehnsucht (Blessed Aspiration). A man who does not know this inner struggle, or worse, who is not interested in it, is for me neither relevant nor worth of honour.
Spring as season is the return of life. Everybody who grew up on farmland might understand it very well. I grew up on an old farm in the poor East Germany. No flowing warm water, oven just in 2 rooms, old field-stoned house and the typical mass-snowing, frosty winters of the East in the 70’s of the last century. The larks singing, introducing the spring’s arrival was deeply cheered from the heart. Even the animals on the farm seemed to feel that life is returning and the barn which was so silent and dark over the deep winter months got laud and busy.
Regarding Love, my song spring represents the first months after falling in love. There is no time in relationships which are so full of silly thoughts and behavior. Every day seems bright and all past problems bearable. In the past it was the daily rush to the post box if a letter arrived. Nowadays it’s the constant look into the cell phone if a sms arrived. Silly, almost magical connections get created to the other loved ones which seem for an outstanding person as strange thing. It’s just the lightest time of a fresh grown love.
Summer is the natures high time. When you have a walk in the forest it’s a giant concert of all sounds of plants and animals. The young animal makes their fist roams through their new world and the bitterness of the winter are long forgotten.
Emotionally it’s the high noon of relationships. Sworn to love, both lovers dwell in their own world of their imaginations of each other. Good pairs are able to stay there, even when old images of a (perfect) partner changes into a more realistic, but still lovable, person. Weaker pairs can break in this level very fast. When they still hunt for the ideal of a partner or relationship instead of taking the reality and the beauty of this reality into account. But nevertheless it’s the time of warmth and the feeling of “coming home” after a long odyssey of life.
In Autumn the nature takes a deep breath out. Melancholy sleeps in the woods and the first dark thunderstorms shakes the silence. The spiders create masterpieces of art between old trees and the fields provide the fruits we’ve grown. Its harvest time – and some get indeed what they have sown.
Regarding the autumn of love, we also get what we have sown. The scars of old lies are too deep to heal. The stolen kisses are too bitter to forget; and the new kisses not sweet enough to erase the bitterness of the heart. Some pairs still make plans, in the hope to “save” the relationship. Some plan a child to glue what is already thorn and so not yet see that “their dreams already die in the wind” as I sing in the song autumn. 80% of all relations worldwide “dwell” in this state” – I assume.
Winter is calm grimness, if that exists. It covers the earth which needs to sleep now, after giving life for so many months. Live is hard now. For farm side humans and animals in the forest. Hunger roams the hills. Freezing winds bites into the skin until it breaks and forces the life to stand still. And in the smoky hutches then people tell stories of the past summer. Towards love and relationships in marks the time of hate, anger, reproaches and accusations. Often after a fresh split up, partners are not (yet) able to see their own part on the broken relationship. Mainly the other gets accused for. It’s the time of bad words and bad thinking of the once loved other. And it’s the time of justification of the own bad feelings. But then, suddenly, without warning, in the silent hours of the night, when the anger sleeps in the wooden corner underneath a heavy carpet, we feel somewhat we might call sorrow. Sorrow for what we’ve lost, what we’ve had. Sorrow for the things we said, the things we did – and more, the things we didn’t said and did. This moment is reflected in the slower end-part of the song “Winter”….”… for at times and every now and then the memory of it is aching…”
I’m sorry to say that the “Dead-Ication” DVD was quite a disappointment to me. The live concerts were very poorly shot, and I didn’t quite get the whole idea behind documenting the preparations for the Mexican tour, and also the long picture slideshow. What can you tell me about the idea behind this DVD?
Then we feel the same. As I wrote above, only when I finished creation I can say if I like what I did or not. And in this case I failed. The Vietnam movie “Swamp Thing” I still like. Rest was an attempt that went wrong. So there is no need for me to talk about that stillbirth.
There is actually another live release coming up, “Black Metal manda Hijos de Puta”. What can you tell me about this release?
It’s a Tour Album that contains live shoots and recordings. In 2009, before the 1st Latin American Tour, I thought about to give NARGAROTH up. The European scene is dead! Lies, rumors, idiot internet-kids everywhere – there is no honorable place in BM anymore where I could dwell. But during the Latin American tour, with the fire of passion towards NARGAROTH – they enlightened the spark in me again. And I am grateful for that. It’s my personal gift to them.
Another interesting release you have coming up, is the CD combining the two “Rasluka” parts together. What made you decide to release them together? Why were they originally released apart, and why was part II released before part I? (If I understand correctly, you’ve recorded both of them and “Geliebte des Regnes” at the same time)
As I recorded them all together and with the “Beloved of the Rain” album in 2001 the owner of the small label SOMBRE REC and friend of mine M.S. asked me if he could release something of NARGAROTH on a split LP with MOONBLOOD. That was an honor for me as I was a great worshipper of MOONBLOOD. So I split the songs which should be released as full length album named “Rasluka”. Part I was for him and Part II for NO COLOURS RECORDS. Due some problems with MOONBLOOD the release on SOMBRE REC had a huge delay, so NO COLOURS RECORDS released their part first. Later our friendship broke unfortunately and I rejected the songs from SOMBRE REC and gave it to NO COLOURS RECORDS who released it.
And of course, you also have a new full-length coming up next month, “Spectral Visions of Mental Warfare”. I find the title very interesting, what is behind it? What can you tell us about the musical and lyrical concepts of this album?
This album deals with the hard and sometimes bloody emotional fights, the Faustian struggles and mental antagonism of contradictory strivings of the human nature at the crossroads of madness, when, like rusty cancer, the insight of eternal circles of repeatedly failing to achieve better fates, which we believed we had to pursue during hard times, is eating through our souls’ labyrinths. The particular songs deal with the desperate attempts to close oneself to ones own truths and contradictions and with mental meanders veiling the self-reflexive quest for the causes of our genesis. Those take shape as perpetual ponderings, life-draining resignation, depression, and self-mutilating deeds, and their disdainful laughter sneaks into our dreams even in tranquil times, and as ancient phantoms they haunt us through the labyrinths of our souls, where some of us remain missing forever.
I have created this album and all the songs included in fidelity to the ideals and values of Black Metal as well as in honouring its traditions, to which I feel committed since 15 years! To honour its legacy, to commemorate it and to remind others is my musical purpose. All the synthesizer pieces were traditionally played by hand and not, as it is common nowadays, generated by computer software programs, which create all those soulless sonic worlds today. Synthetic sound spheres like the ones on this album have from its early beginnings been elements of Black Metal in service of the sacral and transcendent. As the antipodes of the rather mundanely oriented guitars they – not only in the spiritually-mystical sense of an absolute reality – complete the sound picture which makes Black Metal unique among the musical genres.
Thus, I commit the single songs to the willing but also the unwilling listeners and to their own inner fights (with them), and, recurring to the album’s subject, I conclude with the words of Peter Lorres: “Can I help it? Have I not this curse inside me? The fire. The voice. The agony.”
Why did you pick Albrecht Dürer’s “Melencolia I” as the cover art for this album?
I liked it. Suitable for my musical vision.
How do you suspect this album would be accepted by your listeners? Would you say it would be as controversial as “Jahreszeiten”?
Yes, as always. For some it will be soul touching. For others it will be total crap.
How do you see the future of Nargaroth?
NARGAROTH will grow and die with me. But never consider any borders!
Do you have any last words for the people reading?
Maybe not all share my considerations, views and ideas of Black Metal. And because of that, some people seem to place themselves among my so-called “enemies”. But we all summon the same cult, the same madness, the same insanity – Black Metal. And that makes us undeniable to brothers, in blood or hatred.
thank you so much for this interview.