SHAKHTYOR is a fascinating entity. Perhaps not to everybody’s liking but you should check them anyway. ©2015 Anders Ekdahl
Are you still fascinated with Russia in all its industrial greyness?
-To some extent yes, but it was never only this industrial greyness but the fascination for the diversity and the contradictions in this huge country. I think many of the titles and our associations we have with the music still have this similar idea in the background. It is beauty and destruction standing side by side, either of them has the counterpart already hidden in itself although you will not recognize it immediately.
How is this new album different from the previous? How do you take your sound one step further?
-At the time we recorded the first album, we had played the songs live for some time already, so we knew they would work. On Tunguska, most of the songs are completely new, so we were a bit nervous, if they are good enough. But we have played all of them live by now and we can say, yes they are…We love the songs from the first album especially the way ambience and intensity develop over time, but we found it would be good not to always follow the scheme of slow and gradual build ups to a climax and then maybe back to silence and up again. Also, the label Doom which was pretty important for us at the time we wrote the songs for the first album was not so much in the foreground anymore. We have two songs which are quite fast compared to the old songs and then again another two being mostly slower than the old stuff. We tried to widen the range of our songs, to include more of our influences. You might have noticed, that almost all songs have synthesizers in them, they are quite in the background of the mix, though. This is something we would like to improve in the future and we are already working on some ideas with synthesizers being a real fourth instrument instead of just being a layer below the guitars.
When you write about mother Russia what kind of reactions do you get?
-We actually had some discussions regarding the situation around Crimea and eastern Ukraine if it was still feasible to have this Russian name for the band. Especially as there is the football team Shakhtyor from Donezk, which is one of the cities suffering hard in this war. It is now under control of the separatists and as the situation is so unsafe and the stadium was damaged, the club chose to play it’s home matches in the city of Lwiw in western Ukraine. To me, that is crazy. People are dying, suffering and the football club understanding itself obviously as an enterprise abandons it’s hometown just to be able to carry on with business. But on the other hand I can imagine it is also something the fans in Donezk actually enjoy because it gives them some distraction that their club is still around and playing,
In fact we do not really see, why it might be a problem to keep our name, as there is no political message pro or contra anything behind it, it is just a Russian word. And the point, that the Russian government fuels and obviously also actively supports this and other conflicts in the region does not mean, that Russia, the Russian people or culture are something to dislike or hate. Especially as there are also aspects suggesting that the western side and Ukraine itself have contributed to drive this situation to the point it is at now. Therefore it was not really an option to change our name or to make any comments on the situation as some people suggested.
Whenever I think of you I cannot help thinking about Godflesh. What bands do you indentify with?
-That is interesting, because none of us really listens to Godflesh. When it comes to our genre, we all like bands like Neurosis, Yob, Ufomammut to name a few of the big ones but we listen to very diverse kinds of music so there is no band which is really our band’s idol. On the contrary, when writing songs, we often have discussions when we come up with something sounding too much like this or that band we like and we rather tend not to play it this way then. There are too many bands around which are actually good but do not really differ from the big ones from the particular genre and to be honest, this can be kind of boring.
How did you go about choosing art work for this new album? What was important to have in it?
-When we had the song Tunguska finished, we thought about a good title for it and I suggested to name it after this place which saw incredible devastation caused by an incident unexplained until now. We found, it fits the character of this song and later decided to name the album after it. Initially, we wanted to use some historic photos taken during an expedition to the site some 13 years after the incident. They show broken trees all over the landscape to the horizon and leave you being completely clueless. As the russian authority owning the rights never allowed us to use these pictures, we got in touch with Alexander von Wieding who already transformed our draft into a great coverartwork for the first album. We showed him the pictures, told him what we felt looking at them and let him listen to the album. We absolutely love the result of his work, it has this vast landscape right before the impact which will leave nothing but destruction. The grey and white colors perfectly transport the ambience of the historic pictures and we are looking forward to see this printed on the record cover.
What kind of topics do each song deal with? Is there a red thread to the songs?
How do you come up with song titles? What do they have to have to fit the songs?
-There is no red thread, we came up with the song titles, when the songs were finished. Other than on the first album, where we kept our working titles, we sat down and tried to imagine, what the music expresses. This is, as described, how we came up with Tunguska. The interesting thing is that once we have defined a title, imagination is taken one step further and we come up with pictures we associate with title and music. So basically, we would love to support the songs by visuals but currently we see no chance to get this done. However, we will for sure make at least one video and try to visualize what we have in mind when playing the music.
Talking about the topics, we have Solaris, which refers to Lems descriptions of the planet in his famous novel. The ocean covering this planet which can be of incredible beauty, forming immense shapes out of itself only to destroy them again and kill everybody and everything in and around it. It is much about the borders of human understanding and how man deals with things he cannot understand. It is not so much related to the Tarkovski movie, as it completely lacks this part of Lem’s writings. We took a few samples from the movie, though.
Pechblende (pitchblende in english) and Zerfall (decay) used to be one single song which has been in in our live set for some time already. Pechblende is a very heavy mineral containing uranium dioxide thus being the base for everything related to nuclear fission. There are significant deposits in nice regions of south eastern Germany which were exploited first by Nazis and later Soviets for usage in nuclear weapons. If you see a piece of pitchblende, it can look very beautiful but it is in fact the source of one of the most evil inventions of mankind.
Schlagwetter (firedamp) is the name for explosive gases leaking in mines. They can cause massive explosions, so I guess it it obvious, why we have chosen it…
The only title having no relation to the song itself is Baryon, this is something Nils came up with when we were searching for a name and we felt it sounds just cool. So this one is more in the tradition of our first album…
Is digital a format that fits your music? Is digital killing music?
-No, on the contrary. Although Nils and me still prefer vinyl over every other format, we also have a large digital library. It is a great opportunity to exchange music and to get to know new things. For a band like us, it is a very good way of gaining more attention. I can of course not tell, if pirating has a big effect on our sales but I would doubt it. To be honest, I can also not tell, how much record companies suffer from it and have to abstain from releasing more “risky” records as they are lacking financial buffer. But then again I think there are so many releases and labels around, new bands being signed, it can’t be all that bad. But maybe I am completely wrong.
Digital music is basically the most convenient way to have your favorite tunes with you everywhere you go. Chrischan is a truck driver, I am travelling a lot and Nils used to have a weekend relationship, so he was half at home and half at his girlfriend’s place, what would be easier than taking your music with you on a stick or a harddisc. I love to go hiking and what can be better visuals for atmospheric post- or black metal than a dark wood? No, it is definitely a format fitting every kind of atmospheric music.
How much of a live band are you? How important is playing live?
-Playing live is the main point why we are making this music. This is also one reason why we are hesitating a bit to add more synthesizers or visuals to our music as it becomes more and more challenging to control everything while playing your instrument. At some point your performance will suffer and a static performance is not what I would like to see. We love to go to shows ourselves and there is nothing comparable to playing in front of an enthusiastic crowd and have a good party afterwards. It gets harder when you get older, though…
What lies in the future?
-We are very much looking forward to the album release as songwriting, recording, artwork, teasers, videos, promotion etc. kept us busy for one year now and we hope of course, that people will dig it. We will play two great DIY festivals (Droneberg in Berlin and Droneburg in Hamburg) and have a mini-tour scheduled for October, which will take us to eastern Germany with our buddies from The Moth and UR. We just started booking again and there will be more shows soon. Next year we hope to finally make it to some places abroad which we could not manage up to now due to the new album and some personal affairs. Hopefully, it will not take as long with new material again, there will maybe be a split record from us at some point, but this is still quite vague.