One of the most common characters in horror is without a doubt Dracula. This model of all future vampires, named after Vlad Dracula of Wallachia, was inspired by Emily Gerard. Her “Transylvanian Superstitions”, based on her stay in the region, moved Bram Stoker to move the location of his renowned aristocratic monster from Austria proper to this now famous mountainous area. This Dracula ends up being an amalgamation of actual local beliefs, but especially a western European vision of a horror that would emerge from this place perceived as superstitious, magical, and fantastical. It is always important to remember that Dracula is, at the end of the day, an amalgamation of folkloric tales and the exoticism that it evoked for Stoker. Unsurprisingly, Dracula lends itself very well as a topic for black metal, a very theatrical genre with a lot of fascination for the magical, dark, and mysterious. What is interesting though, is when a band approaches this topic from a different angle, not rehashing the common cliché but without denying its obvious influence.
Transilvania, the band, does exactly that, and on a musical level as well. Like their label-mates Malokarpatan, they remind of a time right before the explosion of Norwegian black metal acts, a moment in time where black metal was not clearly defined, and it was not clear how it should sound like. It is in an environment like this that the Hungarian Tormentor could release Anno Domini, a furious, scary album about, who would have guessed, Transylvania. The way Tormentor wrote riffs, bouncing, twisted but still melodic, is one important piece of the sound of Of Sleep and Death, especially on the title track of the album. However, the melodic elements are pushed much further than what Tormentor did, it is more rooted in what Dissection did. It is safe to say, this element is even more present than before but also became much more their own instead of just a piece of the puzzle. On that note, it is worth to point out how spot on the performances are, especially the double guitar work; between the fluid rhythm and lead interplay or the harmonization that quite often feel like straight out of a heavy metal record. It is a joy to focus on what the two guitarists are doing from the first minute to the last.
As often, these influences would not mean anything if the songs would not be good, but they are. They are wicked, twisted and unhinged, but always written in a way where tension is built in a way that catches the attention, to then pay off with often very memorable, if not just plainly catchy, moments. “Heart Harvest” is one example of this, where one more old style black metal section leads to an exchange of dirty screamed vocals like a incantation that then explodes into an intense second wave tremolo lead, and when you think this was the payoff, the ominous drums pound a rhythm to which P. Čachtice, the vocalist and bassist named after the castle of Elizabeth Báthory, yells “Corpus, Corpus!” that is guaranteed to become an ear-worm. The song reuses some of these sections later but paces them out in a way that feels like a fade out after the grim ritual that was just painted for the listener.
A ritual indeed, since that song, as every other, deals with a particular legend or practice of Transylvania or other rural regions from that area of Europe. One example is the remedy against strigoi, creatures partly being an inspiration for the Bram Stoker vampire archetype. Strigoi rise from the grave, that can be helped to find peace through the act of tearing the heart out of the body and the subsequent burning of the remains. Another one is the strange practice of doing a death mass for living people in the 13th century. All these practices, based on beliefs and a certain perception of death, are an essential part of life, a form of mirror and companion; omnipresent in the catholic religion so strongly permeating the culture since the middle-ages of where the band comes from as well as Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, and the Hungarian and German minorities of Romania, mostly located in Transylvania.
P. Čachtice and his bandmates understand that and that is why the album is so interesting thematically; it captures the essential part of these tales, the same way it captures the essential part of what makes a great and exciting black metal album, without being content with just a facade. It is just strong songwriting that makes you feel like being drunk in a church procession to hunt down some ghost in the hills while making inadequate jokes about the priest’s haircut. This is a very strong follow up to the underground gem that was The Night of Nights and, hopefully, will gain more traction this time.
Favorite Track: Heart Harvest
It has been two years since “The Night of Nights”, how would you describe your evolution since then? You recruited D.D. Stump to be able to play the songs from that album live, what did he bring to the band that maybe influenced that evolution?
D.D. Stump brought a different style of songwriting into Transilvania, which was an essential part of the new album. We knew each other for quite a while now, so we hadn’t had any issues involving him and his style into our workflow.
Although the more aggressive type of thrash is still very present in the sound of Transilvania, it is quite different than what you played before as Epidermis or Old Skull. Was the change back then a planned and conscious decision or did the music and the aesthetic just naturally evolve?
As we formed Transilvania, we wanted to stay away from typical U.S. thrash elements and put more german like riffs into our songs. The aesthetics have grown with us together like the music did, so to speak. The process hasn’t stopped yet, we still have a lot of ideas left, we want to implement.
How much do we have to thank Tormentor’s “Anno Domini” for “Of Sleep and Death”? Could you tell us about your other influences, especially for this album?
“Anno Domini” as well as the demo “The Seventh Day of Doom” have been an enormous influence for Transilvania since the very first days. Beside of Tormentor we got inspired by Mayhem’s “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas“, Dissection’s “Storm of the Light’s Bane” and “The Somberlain“, Emperor’s “In the Nightside Eclipse“, Nifelheim s/t and Sacramentum’s “Far Away From the Sun“.
“The Night of Nights” seemed more like a collection of tales, legends, and myths from Transylvania, while on “Of Sleep and Death”, it feels like there is a more overarching theme, as if you didn’t just want to put out interesting stories but go a bit deeper in what do they tell us about our relationship with death and fear. Am I right in this assumption? Could you tell us more about the concepts of the album?
There wasn’t a straight up concept for this album. It was more like a certain feeling, which surrounded all of us during the whole process constantly. But you’re right, one of the biggest aims for this album was to shape the lyrics more tangible and give the listener a much clearer image of what it is about.
You come from Innsbruck, Austria – what local legend from Tirol made it unto the album?
We wrote a song about the raging wild hunt, which isn’t a certain tyrolean legend, but is celebrated here with a lot of pagan traditions until now.
Although the music on “Of Sleep and Death” is dark, aggressive and brooding, is there also an element of humour or grotesque in Transilvania?
If you look on the cover you might find some grotesque scenes, which represent the double moral of once self titled keeper of honesty, peace and forgiveness.
“Of Sleep and Death” is very clearly also an album with a thought out and cohesive visual part to it – with the amazing cover artwork or the band photos. How important, in your opinion, is theatricality for the band or even black metal in general? Were you involved in the creation of all the details of the cover art?
Theatricality is one of the most important aspects in Transilvania. Personally, I think an extroverted visuality helps to build up a better connection to the listener, to convey the idea of the band. We have a concrete imagination of how the cover should be like and which message it should radiate, but we didn’t prescribe every drawing line. Most of the ideas came from the artist himself.
Do you see yourselves as a part of a scene or a movement within metal nowadays? For example, I am particularly thinking of bands like Malokarpatan that, although quite different musically, seem to share a similar mindset in their musical approach and choice of themes.
Transilvania is not a part of a scene where every band sounds the same. But I can feel a recurrence of 90’s black metal in the last couple of years, where I’d count Transilvania in.
Any final words you would like to add about Transilvania, “Of Sleep and Death”, or otherwise for Ride Into Glory readers?
Thank you for the opportunity to talk about our album and Transilvania in general. Hopefully we could give you a deeper look into what Transilvania is about.