(In this new interview — and a very good read it is — Comrade Aleks talked with Artur Filenko, vocalist and bassist of the Russian genre-bending band Crust, whose new album was released in August of this year.)
Crust from Veliky Novgorod, Russia, searched for their own working formula beginning in 2015 when their first, self-titled EP was recorded. Three more EPs and a full-length, The Promised Land (2019), led them to the sound they embody with their crushing new album …And a Dirge Becomes An Anthem released by [addicted label] / no name label, on which Vlad Tatarsky (guitars), Roman Romanov (drums), and Artur Filenko (vocals, bass) perform a nihilistic and driving combination of death-doom with some shades of black.
Recorded live at the studio, this material offers tasty old school vibes and severe delivery. I dig this album, so the interview with Artur was just a question of time.
Hi Artur! How are you? What’s going on in your lair?
Hey what’s up you guys! This is Crust. First of all, thanks for this opportunity to get closer to our fans and spread the word about our music to people who haven’t heard of us yet. Things are really looking up now as concert halls and smaller music clubs start opening doors for bands all over the world, and Russia isn’t an exception. Hope the global pandemic is over for good!
In the spring our rehearsal room was closed for a month and we could only dream about music. Now we are rehearsing and working on new material. A couple of weeks ago we participated in a Moscow open air called Shallow Grave. It took place in the woods and we had a fantastic time there. Some other gigs are also coming our way in St.Petersburg, Moscow, and Velikiy Novgorod, so we are locked and loaded.
Shallow Grave? Was it legal? Did people stay 1,5 meters away from each other?
At first we had doubts, we thought it would be cancelled, but at the beginning of August permission for gigs was granted and the fest was absolutely legal. People were really insane after such a long downtime. We turned up there at midnight and the show was underway. People were drunk and mad. Some of them were lying right on the road, unconscious. Nobody cared about social distancing. No one even cared whether they would survive there or die under the wheels in the dead of night.
Good to hear that there’s a chance for the band to play gigs now. How far did you tour with Crust before? Do you see good opportunities to visit further cities, or are Moscow, SPb, and Velikiy Novgorod better options?
Russia is vast and it makes thing a bit more difficult especially when it comes to traveling. We spent about 12 hours in a car before we reached Moscow, and it was excruciating. I’m not really keen on distant journeys. And to be frank there are not so many offers. We are invited to Orel but it’s six hundred miles away. No idea how we’ll get there. Actually we don’t give a lot of shows, maybe five a year. Nevertheless, we are looking for opportunities to play more.
The band has been active since 2015 or so, but your debut full-length The Promised End was released just a year ago, though you already had four EPs on your hands. Can you say that you were busy developing Crust’s sound during the earlier years and that The Promised End turned out to be its clearest incarnation at that moment?
In the early days of Crust we were looking for the right genre. We were experimenting with different styles and stopped on atmospheric black metal. We even recorded a demo, but it turned out to be a disaster. The music was fine, but we played in the most pathetic of fashions. Then we decided to slow down the tempo and drop down the tuning and that was the moment when Crust emerged. And during the first three years we recorded only EPs due to several reasons.
Firstly, it was a matter of money. You know it’s much more expensive to record an LP with 35-40 minutes of total running time. You have to spend more time in the studio and it costs heavy. Secondly, one of my favourite albums is Despise the Sun by Suffocation. It lasts just 18 minutes but this amount of time is enough to get a boost of the right energy. So we came to the conclusion that twenty-minute EPs would be just fine for listeners to enjoy our stuff but not to get overdosed.
And yes, in the course of time our music has been developing. Every time we try something new, and quite often we try new things not on purpose, they just come on their own, out of the blue. When we were working on The Promised End album, we just felt that the time for our first LP had come, but still it was a little bit spontaneous.
Which influences helped you shape the band’s sound? Did you aim for that kind of pretty extreme death-doom when you started the band?
We are influenced by many sludge, doom, death, and black metal bands (mostly old school), and in the beginning we were not aware of what exactly we wanted. We craved heaviness, but to sound heavy and down-tuned was not the only goal. We also wanted to bury seeds of melody in our music, and those seeds took some years to grow. Today we understand how to shape songs and put riffs together.
To my mind one of the universal truths is that it’s possible to warp and transform any riff and make it sound like any genre you like. For example, you take a thrash metal riff, pretty much classic, in the style of early Sepultura, then you change the drum part and guitar technique and it becomes black metal with some sophisticated shade. This is our fundamental principle.
Your second full-length …And a Dirge Becomes an Anthem was released just two weeks ago, so accept my congratulations. Were these songs written in the same period as The Promised End material?
Thanks for congrats on our latest album. All the songs for it were written much later, in the end of 2019. In March, just the day before that terrible quarantine, we made our way to St-Petersburg and recorded all the music and in May I finished the work on vocals. So, by the beginning of June the album was ready.
How do you see the core elements of Crust? And do you feel the band has presented it through the new material at full capacity?
The core element of Crust is to stay melodic in a good sense. Also, a fusion of genres is important, but we must know our boundaries and not go too far beyond them. It seems to me that we never try to the fullest, and after the each album is finished and I listen to it on CD I have a feeling that we could have managed better.
What about the doom components which are present in your new material? Do you see it as an integral part of Crust now?
We love doom. I was brought up on the music of the British legendary trio (My Dying Bride, Anathema, and Paradise Lost). So, doom is a bedrock component of our music now. It’s like concrete, the cement that puts the bricks of other genres in our songs together.
So you were recording …And a Dirge Becomes an Anthem in Saint-Petersburg… How serious is your attitude concerning studio recording? Do you work in a relaxed manner or do you go there for a certain result and keep focused?
It was recorded at MMMESSS studio, or probably it will be better to call it a Music Lab. We spent the whole day there until late at night. It took something like six hours to record instruments. We recorded everything live, in a multitrack session in order to preserve energy and groove. We woke up at 6 a.m. that day and made our way to another city, so we were a bit up on our toes, maybe slightly careless. We had been rehearsing songs for three months, and we knew what we were doing. So, we didn’t drop the focus until everything was done.
It sounds killer for something born after a six-hour long session! What’s the most extreme physical stress for Crust?
Well, sometimes when you perform live it requires some extra effort but in general it ain’t that hard. As I’ve already mentioned, I hate being on the road and this aspect is probably the most difficult for me.
How would you sum up Crust’s message? Do you see the band as your instrument to deliver some kind of message? Or is it about therapy for bad times?
I guess it’s both the therapy and the message. Humanity forgets the real, true virtues and lives in disgrace without knowing it. Maybe it’s not their fault and maybe I start sounding misanthropic and nihilistic every time I’m asked to comment on such topics. HAHA. We love hitting the air with heavy riffs and have a whale of a time when we grab our guitars. Hope our music possesses a therapeutic effect not only for us but for the many.
Do you speak of these things with abstract charades or are your lyrics written rather straight in your face? Can you tell a story of one of new songs based on some real event or experience?
I’m responsible for lyrics and I’m granted carte blanche here. I can’t say that any of songs are based on real-life stories that happened in my personal life or the lives of my friends. The lyrics mostly reflect the overall atmosphere and state of things in our country and all over the globe. And a dirge becomes an anthem… is about acceptance of the inevitable end. Death knows no mercy and comes for everyone. Thanatos is extremely powerful, and due to the fear of death, maybe subliminally, people often turn their lives into some neurotic hell. When death comes it serves as liberation for them. So, that’s the idea of the album in a nutshell.
Speaking about bad times… did the Covid-panic change your attitude towards playing in the band? Memento mori, carpe diem… you know?
COVID-19 and the global pandemic are terrible things. Vlad’s mother works in a hospital and she warned us to be careful and said that things were really tough. Millions of people have been touched by this disease for the last few months and we’re sorry for them. As for me, I take precautionary measures when I visit my parents and my grandma, but also I think if something happens to you, it’s inevitable, and you must be ready to hit the rocky road. Due to the global pandemic many gigs were canceled and I find it bad for bands, as all the bands must play live. This is the essence.
How do you see Crust’s prospects in Russia? Do you feel the support of local metalheads?
Sometimes it seems we are more popular abroad than in Russia. The local scene in our town is dying. There are just a couple of heavy bands left. The gigs here are a rare thing. In St. Petersburg the situation is much better, and sometimes the audience is really cool and rather hospitable. I like when it turns out to be this way as it strikes hope in me. You know, it’s like a party, we bring a tasty treat and they enjoy eating it!!
Why do you think the situation with gigs has changed this way in comparison with how it was, for example, five or ten years ago?
It’s quite a question. I’ve got no way of knowing. Probably it’s the matter of the new generation. More and more youngsters are into hip-hop and rap. Heavy metal and its extreme genres are out of fashion in our town. People who still listen to it are called dinosaurs. To my mind it’s a sign of cultural deformation and degradation. Metal music is associated with fighting for dreams, goals, justice, freedom, but today people just need some hype videos on youtube and mobile games. It’s too bad, so sad! But nothing lasts forever, and after every fall there is a rise. So, let’s hope for the best.
So one album was released in 2019, and another one literally happened just two weeks ago — what are your plans concerning Crust’s next step?
It sounds funny but yesterday I read fortunes by runes and they told me that we should start working on new stuff and it will be pressed on vinyl. This is what we are striving for, Vinyl! To be frank, we got another album ready long ago. It’s called Stoic, but we need to keep it secret for a while like a trick in the sleeve.
Sounds like a good plan! Thanks for the interview Artur, it has turned to be quite good. Well, I wouldn’t like to spoil the thing, but can you give us a hint considering Stoic? Will it hold the line of …And a Dirge Becomes an Anthem?
Well, to some extent, it will. Song structure, riffs, and vibes are pretty much the same, but Stoic is a bit more atmospheric with cool guitar arrangements. A few days ago we released a live album Shallow Grave Live, and there you can find the song “Stoic“. The album was ready a long time ago and it was recorded with our previous drummer. Actually, …And a Dirge Becomes an Anthem is a kind of continuation of Stoic ideas. The total running time of Stoic is 47 minutes. We’re looking forward to releasing it in the beginning of 2021. Thanks for the questions. Stay strong and healthy.