Scald were a short-lived epic doom metal band from Russia with just one album to their name – Will of the Gods is Great Power. This singular album is among the best the genre has to offer and is a must listen. After decades of inactivity, the legendary Russian band are back with longtime fan and scene veteran Felipe of Procession and Capilla Ardiente as the frontman.
Please note that this interview was conducted in late February, prior to the cancellation of Up the Hammers and the rapid, exponential escalation of Covid-19.
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions! The SCALD reunion was one of the most unexpected announcements of the past years. How did you come up with this decision and why did you choose this moment?
Velingor: The idea at first was to make a reunion for one show only – to take part in some big European festival (we had no idea which one at the time). So we decided to try – what if it works out? The idea originally belonged to Tatiana Krylova, who is now the band’s manager. As to the full-scale reunion, which includes playing more shows and recording new songs – this was suggested by Harald.
After having played a great show at the Hammer of Doom in November 2019, and our new song (composed together with our singer Felipe) having been a definite success (it was the last one in our set) we can tell that SCALD reunion was a brilliant idea indeed!
Ottar: It is possible it was the other way around: perhaps the moment chose us…
Felipe is one of the most prominent figures in epic doom metal today. Who approached whom for the job?
Velingor: Actually, it was Oliver, the promoter of “Hammer of Doom” festival, who made the suggestion. And of course we agreed because all of us were familiar with the cover version of “Night Sky” made by Felipe’s band PROCESSION. I was in touch with Felipe even before, but only via email – and he told me he was a huge fan of SCALD and Agyl’s vocal manner, which influenced him a great deal (I’m sure it was quite obvious during our performance at the “Hammer of Doom”). So all four members of SCALD approved of Felipe as a new singer, Felipe himself having been quite excited about this offer.
Let’s go back to the recording sessions of “Will of the Gods is Great Power”. You decided to record the album with English lyrics, which was quite unusual for a Russian band back then. Was it caused by your desire to become known worldwide or was that decision made for some other reasons?
Velingor: The truth is there was nothing unusual about it whatsoever – plenty of bands in Russia (and other CIS countries) had their lyrics in English (listen, for example, to MENTAL HOME, STONEHENGE, GODS TOWER, GRAVESIDE, GRENOUER, HIERONYMUS BOSCH, END ZONE, ARBITRATOR etc.). And the reason for that was the desire to be a part of international metal scene, with which many of us were already in touch in one way or the other. Also we had this notion of English being a proper language for metal, whereas Russian was more appropriate for so called Russian rock, punk etc. Such Russian metal bands as ARIA, MASTER, KORROZIA METALLA started much earlier, back in the 1980s when it was still USSR, and the fact that they used Russian for their lyrics made us feel like it was in some way a thing of the past, singing in Russian… And we wanted to be up to date, to be up to the modern standards of metal.
I won’t deny, however, that we used to listen to all these bands (and we still do, to some of them) and like them – for example, I still appreciate the band called E.S.T. (one could describe them as “Russian Motörhead”). But even they released several songs in English back in 1989.
Ottar: Our heavy metal “education” was based entirely on the sound of foreign bands. At first we would simply consume anything that sounded heavier than The Beatles. The need to find our own sound, not like any other (certainly not the type the TV and radio tried to impress upon us), was gradually forming… It may have been the spirit of resistance, of rebellion that made us take our own way, different from that of the crowd. We used to wear leather bracelets and other things like that – most people gave us dirty looks, they disapproved of the way we looked. And this used to give us a sense of freedom, the freedom we loved, the freedom that looked just like the one captured in the posters on our walls, with our heavy metal heroes in them. But after a while we wanted something more, we wished we could get closer to our idols, to be in their place… It felt damn good holding the guitars in our hands and enjoying the roar coming from the speakers! That made us a few steps closer to Them and left our “commonplace” friends far behind…
So I guess it is quite clear now why we wanted to use the language of the bands which inspired us and whom we wanted to follow.
How were things in metal music in Russia during the 1990s?
Velingor: Well, I’ve already mentioned some of the bands above. What I can also tell you is that, despite a deep economical crisis and overall instability of Russia in the 1990s, the metal scene was flourishing (very much unlike recently – the interest to metal now grows more and more feeble every year). Many unique bands playing in various genres of metal were created back then; and they played a lot, each show being attended by 500-1000 people. Most of them released albums steadily – on tapes rather than CDs though, as releasing CDs was way too expensive in those years. I would even say that the 1990s were the best time for metal scene in Russia. Most of the bands which are still well-known and appreciated worldwide started out in 1990s.
SCALD have a lot of Viking lyrical themes in their songs. How connected you feel with the viking Rus people that settled in your region?
Velingor: Let’s start with the simple fact that there was no such people (or tribe) – at least there is no definite proof of its existence. Rus was the name of a vast ethnocultural region in Eastern Europe, of the lands of East Slavic peoples. In our particular part of this region (where now there is Yaroslavl) lived both Slavs and Finno-Ugric tribes; they were in constant contact with Vikings – they used to conduct trade with them, also quite often Vikings were hired as mercenaries by Slav princes and sometimes even invited to rule over Slavs.
So the connection of our region with Vikings is quite obvious; and we, SCALD, used this theme in our songs for a reason. And it was something new back then – to create songs about Vikings. The interest to this particular subject was only forming, in CIS as well as worldwide – to my knowledge, SCALD were the first band in Russia and CIS who started going in this direction full-scale.
Ottar: We were born in the land of many legends. The most famous one is about prince Yaroslav, who once traveled to these parts and, at the place where the rivers Volga and Kotorosl merge, he met an unknown pagan tribe. The tribe didn’t like him visiting their land at all, so they set a sacred bear on him. But the prince was not scared and slaughtered the beast with his ax. Impressed by his bravery, the pagans were no longer disloyal, and the prince has founded a town here, called Yaroslavl… This legend is still alive, every new generation learning it from their ancestors.
Your music style is vastly different from other Russian bands in the 1980s and 1990s. How easy was to access the music that influenced your style?
Velingor: Our style was mostly influenced by powerful riffs of BATHORY (of their Viking period), CANDLEMASS and early MANOWAR. And of course Agyl’s vocals were simply unique and highly emotional, and he used it with utmost brilliancy! What mattered the most in SCALD were melodies, both in guitars and vocals – mostly composed by Harald, but also by Karry and Agyl himself. We called our style “ancient doom metal” – that describes it as precisely as possible. And we never cared much what other people thought we should sound like. We heard a lot of things like “you guys play way too slow”, or “these vocals are no good for this music” (or the opposite – “the music doesn’t fit in with the vocals”), or “you say you play doom metal – then you should sound like MY DYING BRIDE and PARADISE LOST” etc. We only played what we wanted to, only what we truly loved ourselves (and still do).
As to how we were able to access the records of the above mentioned bands – well, that was never easy. For example, there was a place here in Yaroslavl where one could rent LPs of foreign bands for one or two days. Those people had whole collections of them and made quite a decent money out of it. We ourselves could not buy any LPs – that was too expensive for us back then. So normally we’d combine our resources and rent them – in order to copy them to tapes.
A bit later, by mid-1990s, a lot of tapes started being released – they looked exactly like authentic tapes but were in fact illegal copies. But they were quite affordable so of course we used to buy them – and they could be found anywhere, not just in record stores but sometimes in markets and small stores, along with vodka, beer and cigarettes. As to CDs they were hard to find and cost quite a lot; and not many people had CD players anyway – those were too quite expensive.
Ottar: All of us listened to completely different kinds of music, and it was this peculiar mixture of styles that influenced our creativity. We didn’t simply start playing the music our fans love now all at once. It took quite some time for it to form. We could feel what we wanted to create, right from the start, but it was not easy to find our true path.
What are your memories from the Russian metal scene in the 1990s?
Velingor: I already gave you some of my thoughts on this subject while answering the previous questions. What I can add is that things were quite different in big cities and smaller places, like Yaroslavl. In Yaroslavl back then nothing ever went smoothly: poor, quite often not even properly tuned equipment; dreadful sound quality on stage (and sometimes in the whole venue); drunk sound engineers… But we were so young, all we wanted was to play shows, to be on stage. By the way, in Yaroslavl we almost always played for free – just because we wanted to. Normally we had to share the stage with other bands who didn’t necessarily play metal – they were punk, grunge, Russian rock bands. The best part of it was the number of people to attend the shows – normally over one thousand (and that’s to see the local bands only, no big names).
It was quite different in Moscow in those days. Both equipment and sound were way better. And the shows were more specialized – in Moscow SCALD only played together with other metal bands. But in most cases we also played for free, except for maybe couple of times when our travel expenses were covered. I remember that once a friend of ours here in Yaroslavl simply gave us the money so that we could go to Moscow and play there – we could not afford it on our own.
You recently played at Hammer of Doom and you were announced for Up the Hammers festival in March 2020. Does that mean that you plan to do more live shows?
Velingor: Yes, SCALD will participate in Metal Over Russia festival which takes place in July 17-19, 2020, a hundred kilometers from Moscow. There might be other shows in Europe later this year but we can’t tell you anything definite yet.
Ottar: Agyl’s departing to Valhalla became a shock and a personal tragedy to us all… We had so many unrealized ideas, so much energy and desire to keep playing. For many years we could not even dream of resuming our activity, of having a fresh start. But Felipe’s vocals made us realize it was possible after all. Who knows, maybe it was Agyl who, by the power only he possesses, made all of us gather together again… Anyhow, there is definitely a reason why it happened and we are ready to continue, that’s for sure!
[Editor’s note: Festivals all around the globe are cancelled or postponed. Please keep in mind that these questions were sent and answered prior to the escalation of Covid-19.]
After SCALD you participated in some other groups like TUMULUS and lately INTOTHECRYPT with which you released an album last year. What is the status of these bands and how do you think this would affect SCALD?
Velingor: TUMULUS played very interesting music, not alike anything else, and had an original style and concept. Initially all the members of SCALD left after Agyl’s tragic death took part in it. But the line-up changed a lot since not everyone of SCALD members were interested in playing music so different – it was a mixture of folk and progressive metal with clean vocals. A lot of effort was put into TUMULUS, but, in spite of this, the band stayed in the underground. Even though we released several albums and played plenty of shows, some of them in Europe. A lot of people loved what we were doing, but music business is highly unpredictable. TUMULUS were never lucky enough to find a proper label or promoters, although we spent a great deal of time trying to do it. TUMULUS stopped its activity in 2013.
As to INTOTHECRYPT – it’s a studio project started by Harald and myself. It’s quite different from SCALD (even though musically it is somewhat similar as everything in INTOTHECRYPT is composed by Harald) – more extreme and dark, with growling vocals, dedicated to Northern witchcraft and shamanism (mostly Finno-Ugric). We only work on it when we have time and inspiration. For now we have released one album called “Vakor” on the Italian record label Ordo MCM. Ottar also took part in recording this album, as well as several guest musicians. For the moment we don’t have any definite plans for INTOTHECRYPT. We might work on the second album at some point, but for now all our efforts are directed to SCALD only.
Do you have any plans for releasing a new album? If so, what will it sound like and at what stage is it at the moment?
Velingor: Certainly, we do have such plans. We already have quite a few musical ideas, as well as an entirely new song which we perform live – it’s called “There Flies Our Wail” and was composed together with Felipe (even though the original version of this song appears on INTOTHECRYPT’s “Vakor” – but it sounds completely different, of course). Can’t tell you more than this right now. The work is in progress!
Ottar: We are not going to stop at what we have already achieved. As soon as we have something – we’ll announce it!
Last words to you, thank you very much for your time, looking forward to seeing you!
Velingor: We are very excited and even surprised that now, after 22 years have gone since Agyl’s death, SCALD is still remembered and appreciated by people all over the world. Thanks to everyone, we count on your support!
All winds blow from the North!
Ottar: We are looking forward to meeting our fans again! To honor Agyl’s memory we wish to bring our music to every corner of the planet! Thanks to your appreciation we realize that the work we have done back then was not in vain; what we used to dream of then became a reality now and it gives us strength to carry on!