(In this interview Comrade Aleks posed questions to Artem Serdyuk, harsh vocalist and guitarist of the Belarusian band Woe Unto Me, whose new EP, Spiral-Shaped Hopewreck, was released on March 12th by BadMoodMan Music, a division of Solitude Productions.)
Woe Unto Me remains a most creative Belarusian doom band still, despite the social catastrophe which has happened in their country. The band was formed in 2008, and as their debut album A Step into the Waters of Forgetfulness (2014) was without doubt sheer funeral doom of epic scale, the second full-length Among The Lightened Skies The Voidness Flashed (2017) tended toward more complex, multi-layered structures and even avant-garde sound.
Their new EP Spiral-Shaped Hopewreck takes us further in a desperate sonic journey of doom, woe, and lethargy, but how far? The band’s founder and ideologist Artem Serdyuk (harsh vocals, guitars) is here tonight to answer this and other questions.
Hi Artyom! How are you? How is the strict lockdown in Grodno?
Hi Alexey! Great to talk to you again. Well, we have a bit different kind of lockdown in Belarus. The government is trying to lock us within the country so that it would be harder for people to leave it. Now officially we are allowed to cross the border only once in half a year by land and only if you have a working visa. It doesn’t concern travelling by plane, but obviously plane tickets are expensive so not all people can afford it.
And for those who live in Grodno it’s even more stupid ’cause we have 30-40 km to the borders with Poland and Lithuania, but if we want to go there more often than once in half a year, or just having a simple tourist visa, we need to go to the Minsk airport which is 320 km from Grodno and fly to Warsaw or Vilnius.
Inside the country we don’t have any serious restrictions concerning the pandemic situation, just the masks I think. All the stores, bars, restaurants, cinemas, markets – everything’s working. So the restrictions that we have with border crossing are rather connected with political reasons, not medical ones. Official pandemic statistics do not reflect the true situation; vaccination of the ordinary population hasn’t even started yet and the government is not planning to buy vaccines that are certified in the EU. So frankly speaking, nobody can predict what will happen next.
News from Belarus arrives still, and the situation seems to be grim and nervous. How is it now? How does it affect you?
That is true. The situation in our country is still very strained and stressful. Basically this is a police state right now. Complete lack of rights. State security forces are doing whatever they want, or better to say, whatever the orders are.
People who are suspected of taking part in the protests or showing their attitude by wearing or just having symbols of the opposition, like a white-red-white flag for example, or even simply wearing clothes of certain colors (white with red) are being arrested, kidnapped from their homes by police, imprisoned or penalized. Some of my friends were beaten and hospitalized or were imprisoned for peaceful protests against the authorities who, as you know, falsified the results of the elections to continue the dictator’s reign, which has lasted almost 27 years already. People are suffering for their will to freedom. What more can I say.
All this injustice continues. Protests have slowed down a bit at the present moment and went into a more political channel with attempts to urge the authorities to begin a dialogue, but the governmental terror machine is still running, continuing real repressions.
We as a band never wanted to be associated with any political views; our music and lyrics are not about politics, it’s absolutely beyond that. But of course this situation seriously affects each of us and our families and friends. Personally I haven’t got into any troubles with the police yet, but the circumstances are so unpredictable, and so many innocent people have suffered from this lawlessness that you never know what can happen.
If we are speaking about the band’s activity, mostly indirect reasons have affected it, like closed borders, problems with getting a visa, etc. We couldn’t go to a studio and finish the recording for a long time, or to have rehearsals with a complete line-up (two of our members live in Russia now) mostly because of pandemic reasons, lockdowns in the EU, and so on. The same with touring, but now in the near future we could also have problems with shows and tours because of the political crisis in our country, ’cause nobody knows what to expect with all these borders, vaccinations, and so on and so forth. Maybe they will decide to create another iron curtain, who knows.
There was about a four-year long gap between Among the Lightened Skies the Voidness Flashed and your new EP Spiral-Shaped Hopewreck. How did you spend this period as a band?
Starting from the release of Among the Lightened Skies the Voidness Flashed in September 2017 we were quite actively touring in support of the album. I started working on the new material in 2018, and in the second half of 2019 we had everything ready for the new record. On some summer festivals in 2019 we were already performing the first version of one of the new songs, namely “Spiral-Shaped Hopewreck”. Then we polished some arrangements and were working on pre-production. In the beginning of 2020 we entered the studio to record our third album and EP.
Woe Unto Me – Spiral-Shaped Hopewreck
The EP consists of seven tracks and it lasts for 30 minutes, but there is only one epic and new Woe Unto Me song (“Spiral-Shaped Hopewreck” itself), four short interludes, and two big covers. Well, I can understand covers, that’s ok, they sound cool. But what’s your plot behind four short instrumentals with big names?
The whole idea was born when we started working on the musical concept of the new album. We wanted to return to creating an integral musical canvas, as we already tried to do in the debut album, where almost all tracks were connected. This time we wanted to do it more thoroughly, so that the listener would plunge into the atmosphere and emerge to reality only after the last sounds of the album. And we decided to do the same with the EP, to connect all the tracks into one canvas. That was the purpose of these interludes.
And speaking about the titles, all the names of the tracks in the EP are building a coherent sentence. This sentence is a hint of what is to come in the concept of the forthcoming album. This is just a part of the concept. When the album comes out, listeners will understand the whole idea, but for now it’s a kind of a small riddle.
It seems like you don’t want to tell much about it, but you know – I have to ask! Can you reveal at least a part of your vision behind this concept?
Ok, I’ll shed some light, just a little bit. The concept of the new album is focused on the topics of rebirth, regeneration, transformation, morphogenesis in a certain sense, the cyclicity of being and the futility of existence. That’s one of the reasons why on the inside artwork of the digipak EP you can find the word “morph” — that’s another kind of hint. I think that will be enough for now. Let’s not spoil all the fun of discovering new connections and semantics as soon as the new album appears.
Since you’ve played the title song live since 2019, why did you choose to release it as a part of EP instead of the next full-length? How soon do you plan to return to the studio to shape the third album?
The “Spiral-Shaped Hopewreck” song will be included in the new album too. Actually we didn’t plan to release an EP at first. When we were working on pre-production somewhere closer to the end of 2019, we got an offer to do a European tour with Clouds in the autumn of 2020. Having considered the time frame, it became clear that by the beginning of the tour we would not be able to finish the mixing of the album, and at the same time it didn’t make sense to tour in Europe without a new release. So we came up with an idea to make an EP and tour in support of it, and after that release a full-length album.
Then due to covid the tour was postponed for the first time to April 2021, but by that time we had already recorded everything and it was in the process of mixing, so we decided to continue with that idea. And all the instruments for the third album were recorded together with the EP. We only needed to come back to the studio to make some minor corrections, but as I mentioned before, due to lockdowns in EU and problems with getting a visa we couldn’t go anywhere. Only by the end of 2020 I managed to get a visa and went to studio while it was possible and finished everything. So our next full-length album is completely recorded now and should be mixed during the nearest months.
Did you think about whether to postpone the EP release until the situation with the pandemic ws more clear? That could have granted you the opportunity to support it with gigs, or maybe you even could have raised it to full-length-album scale.
We didn’t want to wait anymore ’cause the gap between our previous album and this release would have been even bigger, and we really didn’t want that to happen. But anyway, we are going to continue with our plan and tour in Europe with Clouds in support of the EP whenever it will be possible, and only after the tour we will release the third album.
How far do you feel the band has gone from the state it was in back 2014? It seems you went further into some kind of emotional dimensions, and your way reminds me a bit (probably conceptually) of the way your colleagues in Odradek Room have gone with their new album.
I feel that we are constantly developing and progressing. It happens very naturally. We are just guided by our creative thoughts and ideas; we are not limiting ourselves by any specific genres. We are still playing doom metal in a broad sense but we include many elements in this definition. We like to experiment. Sometimes we go into more prog-metal domains, sometimes into funeral doom, or death doom, dark metal, ambient, whatever. This is just us, this is what we are.
I think we have really evolved a lot as musicians since our debut album. I still like A Step Into The Waters Of Forgetfulness of course, but it was a pretty much straightforward record. Since then we started to embed a lot of unusual instruments, sounds and effects, and techniques to make our music more diverse and unpredictable. And as you noticed, our sound is becoming more and more emotional. Maybe not everybody likes the direction in which we are moving but what can you do, you can’t please everyone, and the most important thing is to be sincere with yourself.
What may we expect from the new full-length? Even though Spiral-Shaped Hopewreck contains two covers and these interludes, it takes us further from your debut album A Step into the Waters of Forgetfulness. How much of funeral do you see in the current Woe Unto Me?
How much funeral is there in current Woe Unto Me? Not much, I think, but it’s still there. As I’ve mentioned before we won’t be trapped in a certain subgenre. We are expanding the boundaries. This is still doom metal but with a great amount of other styles of music.
It’s difficult for me to describe the forthcoming album. There are too many elements in it. It’s definitely very atmospheric, melodic, but at the same time dark too. It is very diverse, it has elements of progressive, ambient, funeral. I can say for example that “Spiral-Shaped Hopewreck” is the fastest track on the album. The whole material turned out to be very emotional and intense. Musically, it’s going to be a more mature release then all of our previous stuff. This is undoubtedly our strongest work so far. I’m sure this album will appeal not only to doom metal fans.
Your music is epic in scale and it demands time to listen to it carefully and dig into its concept and atmosphere. That time and focus is something most of us don’t have nowadays. Do you think Woe Unto Me’s thoughtful approach builds a bigger wall between your music and potential listeners than before?
I don’t think so. Sure, our music became more complex, but at the same time there are many more catchy things in it. You are right, nowadays people just push play and listen to the first minute or two and if you’re not able to catch the listener’s attention during this short amount of time – you’re out. But I think that now we have more tunes and riffs that can draw attention. And with the new album the number of potential listeners can only grow.
Maybe we will lose some die-hard true funeral doom fans, though I hope that they will find what fits them in our music too, but we will also gain new listeners for whom traditional funeral doom can be too tough a nut to crack, you know what I mean.
How would you describe the main pillars of Woe Unto Me?
Atmosphere, heaviness, diversity, emotional intensity.
I get a feeling that the “new generation”… I don’t know… teenagers probably aren’t that much into metal music. Well, major bands will have their throngs of followers, but it seems proper “new” bands have a limit on the number of people who will follow them. It’s a sort of genre-limited vacuum with not much place for new people… Do you feel that Woe Unto Me’s followers haven’t changed significantly through the years?
To be honest, I have a similar impression about the new generation. I mean of course I see very young people at the shows and festivals, but many of them seem to be perfunctorily into metal. They know and listen to famous bands, but they are not looking for some new discoveries. For some of them it can be just for a short rebellious period of time, but nothing too serious.
But I can see the real fans among young people too, though their quantity is less than we would wish. Maybe it’s such a phase that metal is a music of certain elites among the younger generation. But anyway, I think that history goes in circles, and probably at some point in time metal will become more popular among the youth again.
Woe Unto Me – Triptych: Shiver, Shelter, Shatter
You were going to take part in the Mourning Over Europe tour with Clouds, quite a bold endeavor nowadays, and it’s now postponed. Was it postponed due to the uncertain pandemic conditions or because of Daniel’s issues?
The Mourning Over Europe tour with Clouds, Woe Unto Me, Who Dies In Siberian Slush, and Halter has been postponed for the second time now. At the present moment, it’s planned to take place in September 2021. We all keep our fingers crossed, but of course the whole situation is still unstable and we can’t deny that there could be a possibility that it will be postponed again, though I really hope it won’t. Daniel’s issues have nothing to do with that; all the changes with the tour have been caused only by the pandemic conditions.
How long ago did Woe Unto Me play live?
The last time Woe Unto Me played live was at the Brutal Assault festival in August 2019. Back then nobody could even imagine that we wouldn’t be able to play live for the next 2 years. We had a lot of plans concerning our concert activity; we were planning 2 pretty big tours, a couple of special acoustic shows, and many other things. I really can’t wait to be back on stage again.
Okay, thanks for the interview Artyom! So we have the new EP, a third full-length is approaching… did we forget something?
Thank you so much for this really interesting interview Aleksey! I think we covered the main events in Woe Unto Me‘s camp. Dear readers and metal fans and maniacs, be sure to check out the Spiral-Shaped Hopewreck EP on our Bandcamp (https://woeuntome.bandcamp.com/), just give it a shot, I’m sure many of you won’t be disappointed. If you dig it, grab a physical or digital copy or maybe a t-shirt; we really appreciate any support, especially during these lockdown times.
And of course any feedback and comments are always welcome; we’d love to know your opinions and impressions. Cheers everybody and hope to see you as soon as possible on tours, at the shows, and festivals! Doom on!