Black Metal’s relentless conflict with organised religion takes on a wholly new meaning in Italy, the home of Roman Catholicism. The country’s oppressive, censorious and horribly bigoted religious monolith, the Catholic Church, is well known for tolerating no opposition, no criticism, no alternative ideas. So in Italy, Black Metal if not Metal in general is frowned upon and viewed with intense dislike by the religious establishment, the hordes of Christian zealots and their political allies.
Despite, perhaps because of this customary Christian intolerance, Italian Black Metal has become a force to be reckoned with. Many Italian bands, like Forbidden Tomb, Black Flame, Kult, Chelmno and a host of others have successfully pushed back against religious mores and crafted truly excellent Black Metal art that has gained a large audience both at home and abroad. The fact is that the Vatican has tried for centuries to suppress art and ideas it doesn’t like, but in today’s world this is no longer an easy option, and it is losing the war, badly.
Stormcrow, first formed in Milan in 1997, are a band who remain at the heart of Italy’s Black Metal scene. Unflinching and dauntless in their determination to shove the doddering carcass of Catholicism out of their way, this is a band who have struggled, preserved and ultimately triumphed. Not only have they crafted visceral attacks on religious hypocrisy, such as their first release Hell on Earth back in 2000, but they have developed their ideas to encapsulate strength in the face of adversity.
I talked to founding member and bassist Zedar about the experience of recording and performing Black Metal in today’s Italy.
Hailz and thanks very much for agreeing to this interview with Seelenfeuer Black Metal Magazine.
You’ve been together a very long time as a band now. What first inspired you to start Stormcrow, and what were the ideas behind that?
In late 1998 and I was a member of De Occulta Philosophia, a symphonic black metal band that I co-founded. After the conclusion of this project, as Black Metal was growing rapidly in those years, I was searching for something more and so I joined forces with Racknos (voice-guitar, R.I.P.) and Lord Namael (guitar).
In those times we were young and united by a sense of hatred and rebellion against religion; obviously, our feelings were aimed mainly at the Christian church which we felt to be stupid and oppressive. We felt out of place inside our own society, and we felt the need to express this.
About a year later Goraath (drums) joined the band and completed the line-up and, with the passing of time, the concepts at the heart of Stormcrow’s philosophy expanded and evolved. And they continue to evolve.
You’ve been at forefront of developing Italian Black Metal, which is now getting stronger and stronger. Did you face many challenges early on with starting the band?
Forming the band has not been so challenging, if you exclude the year spent searching for a drummer, because all of us were already into Black Metal and shared a similar sense of purpose.
The difficulties came during the next steps we took as a band. It was practically impossible to find a decent venue for gigs, and we also had problems finding an affordable recording studio that could lay down the music we wanted to record. Many labels didn’t even listen to our demo Hell on Earth because it wasn’t coming from a North European band.
They were times of ignorance and prejudice, but we kept going, firmly believing this was our way to express ourselves in music.
How do you think your sound and lyrics have developed since releases like Hell on Earth and later Face the Giant?
Our sound and lyrics are (and have always been) a form of externalizing ourselves so they, without a doubt, changed over time and this can be heard across all our releases.
If Hell on Earth was anti-Christian and full of hate for humanity as a whole, Wounded Skies was a deeper comprehension and investigation of our inner selves, based on the work of various philosophers we were reading at that time. It’s on this album that the mountain first appears as part of Stormcrow’s overall thematic framework.
Disposition to Tyranny is the natural evolution of what we expressed on the Wounded Skies ep. Here the mountain becomes the trial (both metaphorically and literally), in other words the challenge whereby we could elevate ourselves. Anyone who ever went on a difficult trekking trip knows how your body reacts to fatigue, the first thought after reaching a threshold is ’stop here and rest‘. At this point our minds and wills took the lead, pushing us onwards to our objective. This is the mechanism for exerting discipline on ourselves, so that we can surpass our current limitations and progress mentally and spiritually.
On Face the Giant the mountain takes the leading role and, once more, represents a self-imposed trial of our own limits. The mountain doesn’t always represent merely physical limits, but also mental ones, fears, regrets, self-indulgence etc.
In terms of writing the material how do you compose songs? Is there one main song writer or do you all get involved?
The lyrics are written, usually after the first finalization of a song, from whichever of us has something to say at that particular time.
In the first albums up to Disposition to Tyranny I had a relevant part in creating the starting ideas for the music. Now, the initial riff ideas come mainly from our guitarists and are presented to the band at different stages of progress (from single riffs to nearly structured songs). At this point the main part of the song is arranged both rhythmically and harmonically. It is then finalized after playing it many times in the studio and we adjust instrument lines, moods, rhythms and the like. You can say that our songs aren’t really finished until they are recorded and released.
Can you tell me a little about your musical influences? Which bands have particularly influenced you and why were they so important?
We were musically raised in the ‚golden age‘ of old school Black Metal so, at the beginning, we were influenced by the big names. I think that on Hell on Earth the influence from Swedish bands like Marduk and Dark Funeral is crystal clear. I can’t deny that other bands like Immortal, Ragnarok and Satyricon also played a major part in our musical development.
In time, many bands that expanded Black Metal’s horizons appeared. Among them I would include Dissection, Sacramentum, Limbonic Art and, strange as it may seem, Summoning as important influences.
How do you view the Black Metal scene in Italy right now? There are many good bands there, do you think Black Metal will continue to develop and grow?
Italy always had very interesting bands. Apart from the few big names that made it up to the bigger scene, there was and are many that deserve the same.
I can speak for the bands I knew personally that are mainly located near to us and among these it’s impossible, for me, not to mention Nefarium, Kult, Homselvareg and Adversam; and you should also not miss the latest Argesh release Excommunica, a pure black metal gem!
I think there will always be bands playing Black Metal and, in this way, the scene will always grow. But I don’t think Black Metal as a musical genre will develop, and this is simply because adding more ‚influences‘ and ’new ideas‘ to it will just turn it into something different. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s just not Black Metal anymore.
What are Stormcrow’s plans for the future? Are you planning to record any new material and do you plan any live shows in the near future?
With the arrival of this fucking Covid virus we had to cancel a lot of live shows plus a European tour that we had already planned. This has been a real blow to us because we compose our music mainly to play it live.
Anyway, this situation gave us time to work on new material and we are currently working on new tracks that will be part of our next album.
We are also working hard, together with our management, to plan upcoming live shows like the Black Hole Fest in Switzerland in October and many more to follow.
It is a very fine thing when redundant, failed ideas like Christianity are exposed for what they really are and always were. Bands like Stormcrow, who were and are unafraid to speak their minds pursue what is rightfully theirs to pursue, their art, and never had any intention of giving up. For me, this is the true spirit of Black Metal, and it’s good to see Stormcrow, as driven as ever, planning new recordings and an array of live performances. Italian Black Metal continues to grow and challenge a societal status quo that has always discriminated against newer, healthier ideas. Stormcrow have played a big part in this, and their courage and determination should make us all feel proud.