Interview: ZAKAZ (Iceland black metal with classical influence)

ZAKAZ are a new black metal band from Iceland. There is a lot of doom in their sound and, as this interview shows, some uniquely Icelandic and classical elements. This combination comes together best on the closing song Upplifun.

First self-released as a demo, Myrkur og Dauði has now been expanded and released on CD, we have copies in the distro.

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Interview with I, 10 October 2016

Reading the lineup I understand the band will remain anonymous, but can you provide any history of your activity prior to and since forming in 2012?

About myself the founder and main writer of ZAKAZ, I prefer to be addressed as „I“. The reason for the codename is partly anonymity but „I“ can also be interpreted as the roman numeral for 1, among others pronunciations.
I started working on material for ZAKAZ as early as 2010, but back then I did not have a name, nor did I have plans of naming the project. It all came together while rehearsing with a couple of black/death metal bands during 2011-2012 that I decided I was going to start writing for a release. During early 2013-2014, ZAKAZ released a couple of songs that just went between some of our friends and people within the Icelandic underground scene.
In my spare time I wrote poems that would eventually become lyrics for Myrkur og Dauði. The poems all have a certain feeling that I wanted to be rid of. The feeling of grief and sorrow is a prominent theme within them. But they mostly in contain contempt and anger towards the harsh and unforgiving universe that we are a part of.
On the anonymity, I don’t care if people know who are behind ZAKAZ, that is beside the point. I just want ZAKAZ to be a thing of its own, not reflected by any of the previous works or acts that ZAKAZ might be affiliated with.

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Myrkur og Dauði has been listed as “a Promo/demo”. Now it has an official release, do you consider it your first album?

Myrkur og Dauði is indeed listed as a promo/demo on the bandcamp page as it only contains 6 of the 8 tracks released on physical format. I consider Myrkur og Dauði to be my first work with ZAKAZ but I will let others decide whether they want to call it an album, LP or CD etc.

Your music spans a wide spectrum from black metal, death to pagan and doom. Where do you find your main musical influences?

The main musical influences of ZAKAZ lie in the deep spectrum of music that I am exposed and listen to daily. Just to name a few: ZAKAZ is influenced a lot by early black metal bands such as BATHORY, DISSECTION, BURZUM. As well as newer bands like MGŁA and OBSEQUIAE. But the main influence comes from classical European and ancient Icelandic folk music. “Tvísöngur” (literally: twin-singing) is a type of Icelandic voicing and that has partly influenced my writing style.

The lyrics and imagery all exude dark atmosphere and there are hints of nature and perhaps some mysticism. Do you draw influence from the rich Icelandic history and folklore?

All of the lyrics and music is incredibly inspired by the environment and nature of Iceland, in particular the vast desolate deserts of the highlands. I have experienced standing alone in the middle of nowhere, where nothing of the modern universe is visible or heard and the incredible peace and stillness that comes with it. You feel like nothing matters, life does not matter and you do not matter.
That is actually where the artwork derives from, without going into too much detail.

The lyrics for Gröfin are taken from a poem by Kristján Jónsson. From what I could find he was an important national poet whose work is often dark and melancholic (if not nihilistic?) and died a young 27. Could you give some brief details about him, the poem, and his influence on the band. Was the song Gröfin musically inspired by the poem or did the words fit an existing song?

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The lyrics for Gröfin (The Grave) is a poem by Kristján Jónsson, a culturally well-known poet in Iceland. His nickname “Fjallaskáld” (literally: mountain poet) is thought to have derived from when he was working at Hólsfjöll in the north east of Iceland. The contents really moved me when I read it for the first time, I could relate in so many ways and most of all: I could hear the soundtrack playing in my head. The song is written purely through memory of my first time reading the poem.
Most of the songs are written in this way, musical ideas are born from the lyrics.

Following Gröfin is Nótt, an instrumental song based on Chopin’s Nocturne No.21 in C-Minor Op.Posth. Another artist (well, genius) to die young, and this work was published after his death. Why did you choose this particular piece? Were any of you classically trained?

I am classically trained as a singer and have been singing solo and choral compositions nearly all my life. Throughout my classical studies I have encountered many great works, but one always stood out. One time while attending a class I overheard a high level student practicing a piano composition (which I later found out was Chopin’s Nocturne No.21 in C-Minor Op.Posth) but then I ended up getting the damn thing playing in my head for a long time. It became sort of like the soundtrack of my life. So during that time I recorded an acoustic guitar cover of this composition, but ended up arranging it for a full band.

There are some very subtle piano and violin parts – are these from a classical influence, or to heighten the gothic (in the traditional sense) and melancholy?

The arrangements in the soundscape are very classical influenced, you could say they are melancholic or gothic, but the thing that I wanted to give was a transcending experience that has no ties to the modern world, in particular in reference to what I was talking about earlier: about the stillness and peace of the highlands.
The name ZAKAZ is an embodiment of that thought: it has no meaning, no language. Only 3 letters symmetrically mirrored, to be communicated only through the music and lyrics.

In contrast to the name, the lyrics are in Icelandic and we’ve talked about some of the folk/historical elements. Do you see your music as rooted in the current / reflecting existing culture, or as you said before transcending; outside of those existing concepts?

I see it as an alternative universe, where the listener is a spectator of ancient events. Like when you visit a particular place and you feel like something really great, historical or bad happened there. I want the listener to be transported there, like a discovery of an underground palace deep within the mountains and its ambiance.

You began recording a couple of years ago I believe, are you now working on new material for the next release?

ZAKAZ is constantly working on new material and progress is faring well even though incredibly tediously. Of all of the songs that get released more than 2-3 hours of material is recorded and scrapped. ZAKAZ is currently working on a release in co-operation with another band, so stay tuned.

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