SCYTHIAN – Maximum Hubris
In order to celebrate the release of second full-length ‘Hubris in Excelcis,’ ET scribe Peter Loftus caught up with mainman S. Vrath to get the lowdown.
For those who might not know that much about the band, please tell us a little about the background of Scythian, links with Crom Dubh etc..
Vrath: Scythian was formed in 2004 in London U.K. and until recently consisted of three like-minded musicians who all brought their varied yet stunningly similar musical influences into the mix. We are all lovers of Sodom, Bathory, Morbid Angel and the likes – so nothing particularly rare or impressive there. What I do think has always acted in our favour though, is that we have always striven to create our own musical identity. Whilst this has made us a strictly niche band (in contrast to those who merely mimic tried and tested formulas), we are simply content in writing music that is our own. The Crom Dubh links are mainly a result of our close knit network of friends/musicians. A Von M and I both played in the band for a time (I still do), but it is essentially a brainchild of M. Beonetleah (who also plays guitar in my other band Craven Idol). It’s a convoluted mess really… but what do you expect when you put a bunch of music mad folks with instruments in one place together (and add cider)?!
How do you manage to balance and prioritize between all of your musical projects? Do you ever see a time where one will take over and ‘rule them all’? I’m sure it gives you more scope for musical expression, but do you ever feel like you are spreading yourself(ves) too thin?
Vrath: Hah, good question! To be frank, I’m utterly addicted to writing, rehearsing, and recording music. I have a home studio which allows me to capture every single idea I have and I make a point of recording them all (When I’m not at home, humming into the phone recorder does the job, hah). Musical projects have sort of just accumulated through the years, but they all coexist in some sort of chaotic pattern. For example, now that Scythian is gigging, I’ve been writing the new Craven Idol album at an immense pace, whilst also putting some finishing touches on the next Sepulchral Temple release. I can’t take any credit for Crom Dubh though, as I pretty much just do what I’m told by the founding members.
You are from Finland but based in London, is that correct? How did that come about?
Vrath: To cut a long story short, I left Finland as a kid – moving via Germany, Switzerland, France to the United Kingdom. I have always kept close to my Finnish roots though and still function and think majorly as a Finn (though I have added German, English, and poor man’s French to the arsenal). London is the heart of Europe. I went to high school in the South of France where there basically was no metal scene to speak of. I managed to form a few godawful bands there, but the shiny lights of London did not leave me a choice. I enrolled at a uni in London and met A Von M, who invited me to have a wee jam. The results can be heard on our albums…
Tell us about your incredible new album ‘Hubris in Excelsis’. You must be over the moon with the way it turned out!
Vrath: I am! It was a genuine blood, sweat, and tears sort of experience, but the end result I couldn’t be happier with. I’m particularly proud of this album, as it was the first record on which I had a major part in song-writing for Scythian. But more about that later. I must admit to really enjoying the album and still listening to it frequently.
The production is killer – extremely clear but all of the power seems to have translated. Working with Greg (Esoteric) and Leon (Mithras) was obviously a good call…
Vrath: Absolutely! I cannot stand modern production, so going with an old schooler like Greg and then polishing it all off with a perfectionist like Leon worked out fantastically. We had known both producers for years in different capacity. Leon had produced our debut, whilst Greg I knew through Esoteric. I can fondly recommend working with both of these extraordinary gentlemen. This record meant the world to us, so we did end up going massively over-budget, but in the end of the day financial strains are temporary – the album is forever. A powerful sound is extremely important for a band that relies on bombast and epicness as we do. How ridiculous would it all sound with a paper-thin digital production?! Or if we’d gone all Goatlord over everyone’s asses.
Some bands like to stick with a trusted production team for a few records, once they find a good match. Others prefer someone new in an effort to keep things fresh and new. Where does Scythian sit?
Vrath: Hard to say at this point. Given the awesome results of their work on Hubris, I would love to go with the exact same team. On the other hand, we haven’t really started writing for the next record so we truly have no idea what kind of production will be required to make it all work. As we only really write music for ourselves, everything that we say goes. Luckily we are in our thirties so our taste in music is pretty unlikely to change anytime soon.
How does the song-writing work in the band? Do you have a very specific idea of the finished product and enter the studio with all of the writing done, or is there an organic element, where you just let things happen?
Vrath: Rather than a specific idea of the final product, I think we have an extremely specific view of what Scythian should be. Hence everything is always aimed at making the best album that we as Scythian can make at any point in time. The band is a reflection of us as human beings, and as everyone would have witnessed themselves, change is an inevitable part of life. This album comprises an immense amount of transformations (dare I say even to a Kafka-esque degree or does that make me sound like a hipster? I studied German literature at university so I think I’m allowed). A Von M lost his surrogate father, I lost all but one of my grandparents, our drummer Volgard had left the band for half of the writing process so uncertainty lingered in the air; all during the writing of the album. Music is an extraordinary vessel to extract your sorrow and anger into.
You switched from guitar to bass in the past few years – does that influence the band’s sound or your approach to song-writing in any way?
Vrath: Not at all. I am essentially a guitarist, but play bass on record and live. Obviously, I do my best to avoid being one of those lame bassists who just play root chords, but I expect that the next record will see more of a development on that front (there’s a bass solo on ‘Dystopia’, if you can spot it). Our live guitarist B. Iron is also one of the best axemen in the UK, so I was hardly going to compete with him!
Lyrically, there is a strong emphasis on war (amongst other things such as sun worship and Phildickian dystopias!). Where does that come from? What made you decide to use Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’? Do you think WW I & II are still an important part of the collective consciousness of Londoners?
Vrath: I wrote most of the lyrics on the album (overseen by the eclectic eye of A Von M as English is his first language [it’s my third]). We were both horrendously bored with the repeated and uninventive use of might-is-right war themes, so set out to create a bit of a universe of our own. I have always been fascinated by the worlds created by sci-fi authors like Philip K. and Kurt Vonnegut, so they ended up having a profound influence on the lyrics. The theme of hubris and its nemesis runs through the full album, mainly referring to the story of Phaethon, the bastard son of the Helios who near crashed the sun chariot into the African continent. Whilst I’m personally an atheist I find tales of Gods a great inspiration. These are essentially cautionary tales, a codex to live by… but also tools of control, submission, and war. The sun is the oldest of deities, but what/whom will we worship when the skies are blackened and not a glimpse of Ra is seen (an experience every Finn will have experience first-hand during kaamos). Bringing in the Owen poem was an idea of Von M’s, whose father used to read war poems for the BBC. The track seems to split opinion amongst listeners and can perhaps be somewhat misleading as the record is more about the consequence of war rather than war itself. I have studied the two great wars extensively but I do think most just stick to the basics. More often than not, it seems to be lead to ill-guided patriotism, as well as a bizarre sense of pride for something that they had no direct part in. "Destroy the past to dominate the future, restore the Gods to satisfy the weak."
Hell’s Headbangers – a label that goes from strength to strength. You must be delighted to be involved with them.
Vrath: Absolutely. We are the first UK band on the label, which is great for us as we have been ordering music and merch from them since the early days. We have followed their progress closely and were delighted to see them branch out and releasing stuff like the most recent Zemial album – I think that really opened the floodgates and allowed us to sign with them. We are signed for another album with HHR so are looking forward to at least another full-length with them.
What next for Scythian? Tell us about the new drummer and any gigs or tours you have coming up.
Vrath: we have recruited D from Grave Miasma/Cruciamentum for the upcoming shows. Just the other day we had our album release gig at the Black Heart in Camden (our first live performance in over three years) and it was absolutely killer! After such a long time we weren’t sure how we would be received, but it looks like our support has grown in our absence. It was great to meet fans old and new and we are planning a swift return to the London stage (for Scythian’s standard anyways) in Q1 of 2016.
Any final message for our readers?
Vrath: Thanks for the support! Keep listening to music that you like, not what’s fucking trending. Crack on whips of oppression!