(Argentinian writer Matías Gallardo rejoins us with this interview of Michael Czerwoniuk, vocalist/guitarist of the UK black metal band Wode, whose new album Servants of the Countercosmos we reviewed here.)
After releasing their self-titled debut album last year, British black metal act Wode became one of the most exciting bands around the obscure corners of the underground. With a particular blend of fury and catching melodies that resemble both early ‘90s Norwegian legends and classic heavy metal heroes, the Manchester-based quintet started a path that was followed earlier this year with the release of their sophomore album, Servants of the Countercosmos.
Released by the renowed Italian label Avantgarde Music, Servants… is a massive and violent sequel plagued with some of the best and most extreme riffs you’ll hear this year. In barely 31 minutes, Wode managed to craft another piece of chaotic blackness. Below you can read the chat vocalist/guitarist Michael Czerwoniuk had with NCS.
The band just completed a series of European dates. What were they like?
Considering it was the first time the band had played outside of the UK we weren’t exactly sure what to expect, but the tour went extremely well. We played to some great and enthusiastic crowds, particularly in Germany and Belgium, and delivered some good performances. It’s humbling to know that there are so many people out there who are familiar with our music and had been waiting a while to see us play, so we thank them for that.
Wode’s debut came out barely a year ago. When did you guys start to work on these new songs?
It’s certainly been a fast turnaround between releases by our standards and I’ve seen a few people mention that already, but in truth the first album was completed by the start of 2015, so we’ve had a good two years to work on Servants…. Our approach to writing this album was much different to the last one. All songs came together fairly instinctively in the rehearsal room with all members contributing riffs and coming up with ideas on the fly. With the first album, myself or Tim would write the majority of a song by ourselves and then the rest of the band would help to arrange in the rehearsal room. The new approach to writing works well for us — more productivity and less procrastination.
We finished writing the final song ‘Chaosspell’ in October of last year and then entered the studio a few weeks later. Mixing, mastering and the artwork were all completed by March of this year. It was of great importance for us to have the album available in time for our tour this June, and Roberto at Avantgarde Music went above and beyond to make that possible.
Was there any specific aspect of the debut album you wanted to change on this new one?
We don’t tend to analyze ourselves too deeply when writing — I think having a preconceived notion of what we wanted the album to be would probably hamper creativity. Once the first album was released we were happy to draw a line underneath it rather than try to emulate or outdo what had gone before. Any change in sound between the two albums is more down to different influences we’ve brought in (death, thrash, heavy metal, punk, etc.), plus a willingness to refine the songs and remove any superfluous elements rather than any conscious decision.
Although I like both albums, with hindsight I’d say that the overall length and particularly the length of the songs on the self-titled can be somewhat taxing, while the shorter length of Servants… makes the album feel much more immediate.
It seems like the interest in the cosmos is a recurrent theme on the album. Could you develop more about the concept behind Servants…?
Mucially, I see Servants… as both a violent and far-reaching album, so it made sense lyrically to look beyond our horizon and focus on the universe as a force of destruction but also a creative force which is ever-expanding. Without going into too much detail, a lot of the ideas behind the Servants of the Countercosmos revolve around notions of the liminal, the possibility of existing between different worlds as well as on either side. These worlds are opposites but also symbiotic: life and death, darkness and light, the physical and the intangible, etc. The idea that our thoughts and creative energies might manifest as entities on the other side of this veil is something that appeals to us.
Servants… sounds like a much more straight-forward and raw album than Wode. Do you agree?
I’d say it’s definitely a more focused album than the self-titled. I think simpler riffs will always convey a destructive atmosphere far better than anything overtly technical, and although there are moments on Servants… which are more complex than anything found on the self-titled, as well as a broader range of sounds (synths, electronics, acoustic guitar, etc.), we tend to use these moments sparingly and as a way to create contrast and send the music down unexpected paths. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but the most important thing is to always try to serve the song.
What bands where you guys listening to whilst working on these songs? I ask this because there are some classic heavy metal influences on the album, especially on the 9-minute track ‘Chaospell’.
The heavy metal influence is a big part of the music for us, and I’d say as individuals our tastes in heavy metal are more similar than our tastes in black or death metal, for instance. The list would be a long one, but I’d mention Judas Priest, most NWOBHM, Mercyful Fate, and Manilla Road for starters. We’re quite restless when writing music and don’t like to adhere to genre formulas or repeat ourselves too often, so being able to include these influences (amongst others) while still retaining the spirit and energy of black metal is key to what we’re trying to do.
Wode’s album cover was a painting by polish legend Zdzisław Beksiński. This time the band chose to work with an Australian artist named Mitchell Nolte instead. How did you get to work with him and what was the main idea behind the Servants… album cover?
The cover artwork and visual aesthetic is of massive importance to us — it goes hand in hand with the music. That particular Beksiński painting had been on my mind a lot while making the first album and some of the lyrics relate to it directly, while the green/blue color palette suits the mood of the record and helps to bring forth notions of nature and decay while listening. We were honored to receive permission to use the image.
With Servants…, we decided that we wanted to have some original artwork created, and Mitchell was an artist whose work we admired and we thought he was someone who could bring the visual aspect of the album to life. Although he has done artwork for bands, he mainly creates cover paintings for historic and occult books.
Much of the imagery on the album cover was of Mitchell’s own creation, although we gave him some direction with the color palette (red, yellow and black to evoke the cosmic and the infernal) and asked him to include the central image of the Countercosmos (based around an anti-clockwise rotating spiral galaxy). Mitchell is an artist in the truest sense and also a great thinker who has his own ideas about the meaning behind Servants of the Countercosmos. Our exchanges helped to further develop the concept of the album and we couldn’t be happier with the artwork he has created for us.
What are the plans for the rest of the year? More live dates?
We’ve got some UK dates booked for the rest of the year and also plan to return to Europe next year. We have a few ideas for our next release which is likely to be a short EP or 7″, after which we’ll start working on our third album.
To keep abreast of developments in the Wode camp, follow them on Facebook — and explore the music on Bandcamp (you’ll find streams below.)