Interview: Vahrzaw

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I am a very lucky man. I recently had the privilege of being able to listen to the upcoming Vahrzaw album “The Trembling Voices of Conquered Men” with permission from the band and their label Transcending Obscurity Records. Due to the current state of the world, we are not entirely sure when this will be released, but you had better hope it’s soon, because this shit is something truly special to say the very least. Read on, and await the day of it’s arrival. You will Tremble, you WILL be conquered. I certainly hope you are wearing a sense of humour as well while reading!

George Van Doorn (bass, vocals), Scott Williams (guitar) and Brandon Gawith (drums), we appreciate your time. Let’s start with the boring basics. Care to explain to the unknowing precisely where in the world you emanate such an aura of evil from?

GVD: Scott and I reside in the cold, grim, frostbitten, leather-clad depths of the Latrobe Valley. Brandon calls the plague-ridden Melbourne home.

SW: My town has a big entrance sign with a backwards M. It’s great.

BG: I dwell with Frankston scum.

And what planets, gods, or other forces drove you all together?

GVD: High-school. Another friend and I wanted to start a band, and we heard that Scott played guitar. Thus, Vahrzaw was spewed forth from Morwell Tech’s anus. 

SW: I’d just started playing guitar. Maybe two months. I was violently violated then forced quite forcibly to join the band in the Tech corridor waiting for class to start.

So, it was formed before anyone could really play anything at all. I don’t think I even owned an electric guitar at that point.

BG: Two guys in a white van drove up to me on my way home from school when I was 16 asking if I wanted to join a band. I thought they were the local pedos. Turns out it was Scott & George.

SW: You were keen for that PlayStation.

And the bog standard, has to be asked one, what music inspired you all to pick up instruments and decide that destroying people with them was what you wanted to do.

GVD: Vocally, my influences are Attila, Maniac, Hat and Pest (old Gorgoroth). I started playing bass because there were no bass-players around. As for influences: Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorius, B-War, and Alex Webster.

SW: There was a lot of music in my house. From classical ballet pieces to 70’s hits to shitty 80’s novelty songs and 7” singles. My dad brought home an Iron Maiden LP he got at an op-shop in 1990. Once you hear Mustaine, Hanneman, Hetfield, Smith/Murray I think you’re done for. One day in 1991 I was watching Countdown Revolution and saw Vernon Reid playing “Type” and that was it.

BG: Heavy music that was fast drove me to wanting to be a drummer. Anything speed related I’m attracted to, if it’s good of course.

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The band name, Vahrzaw, does it have a meaning? Who came up with it? Did it just pop into someone’s head one day? Arrive via pigeon? Do tell.

GVD: We’ve been asked this question a few times. I honestly can’t remember. We think it might’ve come from an Alistair Crowley book, but I don’t know if that’s true. I’ve tried to track it down again, but can’t find any reference to it (other than the band) on the internet. So, I’m stumped.

SW: Yeah, no idea. I have the Crowley books and I’ve never seen it in them. The last memory I have is that it’s a demon that sits at the right-hand of the devil… but that’s more than likely massive bullshit. It’s unique anyway, and the bane of gig posters everywhere. We thought the previous name Midgard didn’t really represent our geological location very well. Let’s just say ‘It came to me in a dream or some bollocks.

So how many bands have you all been in over the years. I may know, but the dear readers may not! Do tell!

GVD: Primarily Vahrzaw. A few side projects that went nowhere. I played bass in Elegeion for about 5 minutes.

SW: I’ve been in Elegeion and I’m doing session work for them again. I played bass in a ‘Macabre-like’ grind band whilst Vahrzaw was on hiatus in the early 2000s and I did a crap electronic project for a few years.

I’ve done session leads for one or two bands.

I prefer to just concentrate on Vahrzaw. I’d rather 1 band that lasts 30 years than 30 bands that last 1 year. Plus I’m lazy.

BG: Eskhaton, Persecution (Live). I was drumming with Hobbs Angel of Death in Australia up until his passing.

Over twenty five years, in a country that in my opinion is only just learning how lucky it is as far as Metal goes, what kept you all going on?

GVD: The music and probably the isolation. I don’t have a great deal to do with the Australian Metal scene, even though I’ve been part of it for 27 years. There are some great people in it, but every so often there’s the “we’re more Metal than everyone” or “We’re the blackest Black Metal band ever”. That shit was OK 25 years ago, but grow the fuck up.

SW: I don’t give two shits about the scene, I just enjoy writing riffs and arranging tracks and playing guitar in general. Trying new ideas within the world of Black/Death metal. It’s a creative output. No desire for anything other than to make some music that I like and release something different each time. It’d be great to be the longest running Metal band in Australia that nobody has heard of… then no doubt right on my last death rattle we get a ‘cash cow’ track on some shitty beach drama.

GVD: Don’t worry! I’ll make sure I’m around to spend the phat stacks we’re bound to make in 2050.

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I do believe the band made a statement around the release of “Husk” that this was the end, you where all worn out, and pretty much fuck this shit, we’ve had enough. And here we are with a new one, “The Trembling Voices of Conquered Men” coming out soon. What happened if I may be so rude to ask?

GVD: In one sense that statement was true. Working with Blood Harvest was soul crushing. He had our album for over a year, and just wouldn’t communicate with us about when it’d be released. Lots of promises were made and weren’t delivered. So, we kinda agreed amongst ourselves that we’d probably just write and record for ourselves (i.e., go back to our roots). But, Scott had a chat with Transcending Obscurity and here we are with a new album to be released shortly. The business side of music does my head in.

SW: Yes. It was really not enjoyable at all getting that album out. It was pissed on. The vinyl was ignored after the layouts were completed, no responses… a real shit show.

So, in contrast to these stupid pretentious press releases Metal bands do we just fucked around with it. Self-deprecation. But people are very serious in Metal and didn’t like our humour. Like we care. 

We were never calling it a day though, more of an opposite reaction to the frustration associated with basic decency some people seem to lack.

Started writing again pretty quickly after that release.

BG: George dropping his guts in the studio was offensive and pissed everyone off.

SW: …and that.

Who writes the lyrics, and who the bloody hell comes up with such brilliant album titles such as “Twin Suns and Wolves’ Tongues”, and the upcoming “The Trembling Voices of Conquered Men”, is it a group thing?

GVD: I write the bulk of the lyrics nowadays – although Scott has an idea we’ll be exploring for the next album. And, those two album names are mine. “Twin Suns…” came to me when I was playing a computer game. There was an image on the screen and it just popped into my head. I can’t remember how I came up with the latest title for the album. I think it’s my best album title to date – which means there’s pressure to come up with something better next time.

SW: Great titles. Certainly better than a lot of boring old Death & Black Metal tropes recycled again and again.

How did getting signed to Transcending Obscurity Records come about. They have always been known for signing a lot of Aussie talent, but just how did you get Kunal’s attention, a lot of bands out there would kill for the chance to be on the label.

SW: Kunal reviewed one of our albums, I think in the early days of the label. We were going to do a new record after “Husk” and Kunal got in contact with me at the further recommendation from Chris from Cryptivore. Thanks Chris! It was good timing as the record was half-written at that point. I’m looking forward to seeing it released. Covid has certainly fucked up a lot of plans though.

Great label. Getting largely unknown bands out there with great looking professional releases. Certainly helps in a saturated music scene.

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Okay, so on to the new stuff. I have had the privilege of hearing, what I think is going to be in many an end of year list, and don’t get me wrong, I love all of your work, but this thing is a fucking monster of massive proportions. Each and every member of the band seems to have hit a new level. So what happened to bring forth such incredible performances. A new diet perhaps? A conjunction of the spheres? The looming threat of a toilet paper crisis?

GVD: In my opinion, we’re relatively unknown which gives us the freedom to do as we please. We wanted to push things as far as we could this time (e.g., song structures, combining styles), so we did. This is our experimental album. We like it.

SW: It was a really bizarre one. We had a track pretty much nailed on the first rehearsal, which has never happened. This whole thing flowed pretty easily musically. No real restrictions imposed, just writing freely. I do think I’ve improved as a player and writer substantially in the last 7-8 years, which is pretty strange after playing for nearly 30.

I think a change in tuning, styles and producer gave it all some extra pep… plus the hormones in chicken.

Sticking with the performances line, Scott, the two classical pieces, which form the album title, “The Trembling Voices” and the closer “Of Conquered Men” are magnificent. They put me in mind of the first time I heard Morbid Angel’s “Desolate Ways”, goosebump material to say the least, what may I ask inspired such brilliance?

SW: Well it’s a nice comparison to say the least! “Desolate Ways” is great. I’m not a classical player or finger-picker in the slightest so I thought I’d give it a go, in the spirit of experimentation. I had the opener laying around for about 10 years so I resurrected it and added new parts and a second guitar. The closer was put together specifically for the album. Originally the intro/outro were going to be electronic pieces but I changed my mind. I really like playing the old 1966 Yairi. 

It has character.

As far as inspiration for them… early Ulver/Satyricon/Dissection. Simple but effective.

I wanted it to sound like there was some nobody playing right there in the room on an old guitar. Clanky and creaking.

We then move onto “Death of an Unknown Architect”. The rolling drums lead the way into riffs of epic proportion (I cannot even BEGIN to explain how fuck you heavy they are.) Gritty, Deathly, Blackened, Thrashy, and more at any given moment, you can hear fingers sliding on steel, tempo changes abound, bass lines lay down a platform of solid fucking concrete, and the vocals go from your standard Death Metal growling to that of a raving lunatic and then back again, this may appear to some to be, as my wife would say “All over the road like a mad woman’s piss”, and yet the end product is mind melting. Who handles the arrangement of the music.

GVD: Scott writes and arranges most of the music, although I wrote and arranged the bulk of one track on “The Trembling Voices…

SW: That one is indeed all over the place. I had an idea of adding some prog elements and odd riffs. It has a real live feel too, the guitars scratch and squeak all over it. The last solo was improvised, 2 or 3 takes only. No planning, just tried making it up on the spot as a ‘one-off’ piece I’ll never replicate again.

As for arranging, I like it, it’s where a track gets its identity. Most bands are pretty lazy with arranging (e.g., slap three or four riffs together, play through, repeat) and it’s often overlooked almost entirely. Metallica overlook it now, or forgot how to do it. You can do verse/chorus or non-linear or mixed bag… I like every track to be different. Nothing wrong with set formulas of course, but they get old fast if repeated every track. A bit of unpredictability is nice.

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You have been previously labelled, and fuck labels in general, as a Black/Death Metal type of entity. “The Trembling Voices…” cannot possibly just fit into those snug little boundaries, so if you had to tell the punters what they are in for, what would you say?

GVD: I don’t know how to describe it. We tune down to B here, so it’s heavy. There are Black and Death Metal riffs, but there’s acoustic bits, Thrash riffs (the good “Holy Wars” style Thrash, not the shit Thrash that some bands play), some Doom elements, vocal chanting, etc etc etc. We threw everything and the kitchen sink into this one.

SW: A good song is a good song. We don’t have irritating people telling us to do this or that or any expectations we’ll be a particular style. We just write whatever sounds interesting to us at the time. 

I wanted to do a pure Thrash song, so we did.

Something more Proggy, done.

Something long and riff heavy, sure.

At its base it’s still Blackened Death Metal I think… not that I think about it.

Now onto you George, you have written all of the lyrics for this one, except for the ones for “Death of an Unknown Architect”, where Wayne Dwyer of Vulvagun/Captain Trips fame joined in on the excellence. A lot of it seems to come from a very dark place, and without wanting to put you on the spot so to speak, are the dark places in our minds and lives what inspires you most to put pen to paper?

GVD: I guess so. I’ve always found it easier to write ‘darker’ lyrics. Most of the lyrics for this album were written when there was some pretty dark stuff going on in my personal life. That was great for lyrics, but not so great for my mental health.

Brandon, you play with a couple of mighty bands indeed in Eskhaton and Persecution, not to mention having the honour of playing with the late legend and all around great bloke Peter Hobbs of Hobbs Angel of Death fame. What drove you to want to play music with these other two crazy fuckers?

BG: Growing up in a small country town amongst a group of peers where their idea of ‘Heavy Metal’ was Metalcore/Deathcore boy bands was quite challenging to find like-minded individuals to start a band with. Snapbacks, hair straighteners, tie-dye coloured shirts, ultimate faggotry. Luckily, I happened to befriend Scott and George and joined Vahrzaw. The younger generation is quite dismal when it comes to listening to good heavy music.

Brandon again, your drumming on this album is beyond reproach, as it is with your other bands. What keeps you inspired to belt out such quality time and time again, just a general love for Metal? A desire to get better and better with each release?

BG: Thanks mate. I think it is every musicians desire to get better and better with every release (unless you play in an Atmospheric Black Metal band or War Metal Band).

I suppose since the band is still relatively unknown then I have the desire to prove a point about us.

Scott, you have many and varied musical tastes, and some are far from just Metal. Does any of the other material you listen to influence the way you create your music? The aforementioned classical stuff is sublime, the solos on this beast are majestic, the riffs as stated heavier than a bus load of lead covered rhinoceros on their way home from an all you can eat buffet. Care to share any secrets?

SW: In a way, yes. I think the whole improvised solo thing came straight from listening to Frank Zappa. I listen to a lot of Electronic music too, which ranges from simple good Ambient (not that piss Burzum pretends is music) to Jungle and Breakcore or good old EDM. It’s not influential though as it’s quite randomly made (Venetian Snares for example), but I like a break from guitars and double kick drums.

Most of the time though I avoid listening to music when we start a new album cycle, but a few ideas creep in, especially if I get a writer’s block or feel some ideas are over-used. 

As far as riffs go, I do try to avoid rubbish like the shitty Djent-ish chug and anything Melodeath. It’s fucking awful. Plus I hate Groove Metal and Power Metal, so any trash like that isn’t considered. 

My method is parking my ass in a recliner with my guitar and a looper and tab paper. Write out anything I like, maybe use it later.

Not too technical but not too easy.

I have enough music for probably 2-3 albums but I don’t use old riffs on new albums.

George, your bass work on this one is as solid as fuck, and really shines in the moments it pokes it’s four stringed glory out alone, even if only briefly. The production has made it clearly audible underneath the ensuing mayhem, and that’s a good thing for us. Was it hard to keep up with Scott’s ideas of song structure? This one also applies to Brandon, did you have to reach further into yourselves than ever before?

GVD: Yes. I hate practising for an album. The repetition is mind-numbing. The arrangements on “The Trembling Voices…” meant I had to spend even more time practising. That wasn’t pleasant.

BG: During the rehearsal process of learning the riffs and songs it can be challenging to solidify them in my skull (seeing as being a typical bloke, most things go in one ear and straight out the other). Once the structure is down and I have a general idea of beats I will play then it becomes easy. It’s just then a matter of how the drum arrangement will work.

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A little dark bird told me that the song “Waiting with the Wolves” is about a serial killer, but there is a twist that I never saw coming considering the subject matter. Care to elaborate or shall we just leave it up to the listeners’ imagination.

GVD: It is. I was watching a documentary on a serial killer who’d fly his victims out to a snowy forest. As I watched, a few lines of the song came to me and I developed the rest later. The last line leaves things a little open, or can be interpreted in a few ways (particularly if you’ve ever seen the movie Commando). From my perspective, I have a wife and a daughter. I don’t want to write lyrics that perpetuate violence against women so, to me, the closing line reflects the ‘killer’ having a change of heart.

Vultures” by all accounts starts off friendly enough, and then turns into the thrashing of a lifetime. This is just flat out insanity, all guns blazing type of shit. George, you sound like a man about to grab a shotgun and go postal, Brandon you are just hammering the shite out of the poor kit, and Scott, apart from the sheer pace and aggression of the riffs, the solos take me way back to earlier times when bands made a real point out of them being integral to the balance of a song. Going by the lyrics, this could have been a way slower, more darker number. Instead you have all chosen to make this as fast as all fuck, and it’s a very deceiving mix of words versus music if that makes any sense.

GVD: One of the solos is actually a guest appearance by our good friend Andrew Hudson of Harlott fame. As for the lyrics, Scott and I write separately. I write lyrics as I get ideas, and he writes music independently. I never write lyrics over his music. So, when he sent me the music, these ones fit best (usually more about the rhythm of the vocals than the words). As you say, sometimes that creates this cool discord between the music (here, how frenetic it is) and the lyrical themes.

SW: Spot on. Being a thrash track I wanted to get Andrew do the main lead as that’s his bread n’ butter and use mine to do harmonies in the style of the old masters like Priest and Maiden and not overwhelm the track. Something you could hum along to.

Again, in the spirit of experimentation, I don’t consider myself a lead guitarist, so that’s an option I can’t really fuck up for 50 takes.

The riffs are based in early inspirations like Mustaine & Hanneman & even Petrozza.

Sticking with “Vultures” for a moment, George, line by line the lyrics (and I certainly hope they are included in the release, they need to be) read as they read, but the nuances thrown into the delivery on this song are intense to say the very least, and in my opinion if you just read them, yeah you would say wow, that’s pretty cool, but it doesn’t prepare the listener at all for what they are about to receive. The inflection delivered on display here at certain points like at the beginning of the line “You expect your home to be happy” is purely demented, was this planned from the very beginning or did these moments just pop into your head during the recording process.

GVD: Most of the ideas for vocal delivery are prepared well before we hit the studio (studios are expensive and we aren’t Metallica). But, there’s always some experimentation. The start of that line was me experimenting in the studio.

And now for a real journalistic cracker, how have you all been occupying your time during this Mexican Beer crisis if I may ask? More brilliance on the way? Herding cats perhaps? I hear a rumour the next release may be just all of you in your grandmothers basement with some keyboards and a tape recorder.

GVD: Scott and I have actually written draft versions of 8 new songs. So, the follow-up to “The Trembling Voices…” has been drafted. We’re still a long way off recording though because we, always, want the next album to be better than the last one. We’ll demo things, change song structures, etc. As you suggest, people should be warned that this won’t be “The Trembling Voices…” Part 2. We’ve done that now, so it’s time to do something different again. And yes, there will be keyboards because we’ve never really used them before. But, don’t worry, we haven’t gone symphonic BM.

SW: Quarantine has been kind and put to very good use. I’ve had no trouble at all writing this follow-up record. Being a healthcare worker during this horseshit Covid business means I need to distract myself, and thus, I did.

But I’m pretty reclusive anyway so not much changed besides having visitors.

I’d love to just record live into a tape deck then release it on a USB stick… or something truly kvlt… like as a word document.

BG: You can only wank so many times before it gets boring.

GVD: Change hands bro. It’s like having someone else do it.

By all accounts this album seems to have been a more gruelling process than you may have initially thought, but the end result speaks in volumes about you all, at the end of the day, and all bullshit aside, are YOU all happy with the finished product.

GVD: I’m happy with it, but there will always be things that niggle at you. I’d change a few bass lines, and redo a few vocal sections. But, it is what it is. It’s the best album that we could produce at that point in our lives.

SW: Albums are always a bit of a battle. Very time consuming, but in short bursts. There’s a lot of waiting between this n’ that during recording. Writing is odd… sometimes I’ll have a week of being super inspired and the next I don’t want to look at a guitar at all. I get bored easily I guess. But, yes, I like the album!

I’m not a fan of the clinical and robotic production modern Metal has where everything is perfect and quantised to fuck. 

I like rough edges, flaws and noises that make it sound like the guitar is getting beaten to death. Almost a live sound. This album has that. I think it’s come up great.

Obviously none of you guys are really overly concerned with the state of the main Metal scene and prefer keeping more to yourselves, but how do you think things are in this day and age with all the new technology available to everyone to get their music and or products out to the gibbering hordes.

GVD: I don’t mind the scene. There are some really good bands out there that, sadly, don’t get a lot of attention because the scene is pretty saturated. I can’t keep up with all the music coming out. We’ll just keep doing what we do regardless of the scene.

SW: It’s good of course, but has its downside. Over-saturation really buries a lot of bands in a huge pile, never to be heard. There’s also really, really shitty bedroom black metal bands being pressed to vinyl in baffling amounts and it’s all identical looking and sounding.

The cream still rises to the top in most cases though, and if some great unknown band or artist has the means to create something awesome at home, so be it. 

The internet did kill the mystique though, and allowed a less dedicated metal following from otherwise musically boring people or 20 yo Instagram models who wear corpse paint for the ‘fashion’ shoot.

Let’s not mention movies about Black Metal and what that did.

BG: I’m not sure. I believe there are a lot more shit bands than there are good. People are only interested of whats ‘in’ and ‘cool’. Death Doom is a prime example. It’s easy to have relative success if you write some dumb fuck slow riffs that are heavy, wear a long sleeve shirt and sing about something silly. Since metal is now generally more accepted and popular than it was 30 years ago which allows for more ‘normal’ people to listen to it and somehow lets them have an opinion on who everyone should and shouldn’t be listening to (cancel culture is toxic). That’s my 2 cents.

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And there you have it. Genuinely great guys that have made some fantastic music over the last 25 odd years, and have no fear of doing it their own way regardless of what expectations may exist. As I have already alluded to, “The Trembling Voices of Conquered Men” is going to surprise the shit out of ALL of you, so let it be known that you’ve been warned. Utter magnificence is coming, and we will keep you posted on when! 

Until then, check out their earlier stuff, follow the links below for more, and keep supporting bands that truly deserve it! Our eternal thanks to both the band and Kunal at TO for making this possible!

https://www.facebook.com/VAHRZAW/

https://vahrzaw.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/transcendingobscurityrecords/

https://transcendingobscurity.bandcamp.com/

 

 

 

 

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