(Today we have an excellent discussion between two Russians — our interviewer-in-chief Comrade Aleks and Andrey Novozhilov, the principal figure behind Olhava and a participant in Trna as well.)
The number of bands performing atmospheric/post-black metal only grows, and even I, who hardly and rarely deal with bands faster than Ahab, cannot ignore it. A few weeks ago we did an interview with the Russian one-man band Rye / Рожь, and its head Vladimir Frith advised me to check his mates and neighbours Olhava. And so I did.
This band was formed five years ago by Andrey Novozhilov who has played all instruments and performed vocals since then, with the help of Timur Yusupov who joined him as a drummer in 2019. Today they have a contract with the Italian Avantgarde Music (that gives certain quality guaranties by default) and four albums, including the fresh one Frozen Bloom.
This truly atmospheric, almost meditative, music demands a predisposition, but if you ask, everyone needs a break to take a breath of relatively clean air. So that’s it. And recently we had a good conversation with Andrey about Olhava’s background and more.
Hi Andrey! How are you? Olhava’s fourth album Frozen Bloom was released four months ago, and you should have received some feedback already. How do people react to the new material?
Hey Alex! All is well thank you! Hope you’re good too. Indeed, it’s been enough time since Frozen Bloom came out and we can make some conclusions. Obviously, the album didn’t do as good as Ladoga did, but after releasing this album we gained some number of our true fans if you could say so. I always say that it is a series of works that defines an artist rather than a single track or album. And I think that Frozen Bloom did a good job of continuing our previous work.
As for the feedback we got – the album was met with polarized opinions. We encountered negative ones for the first time. It’s still fun to read those and I thing it’s a good thing and means that we reach a broader audience with each release. Overall though, the feedback was very positive and people liked our ambient experimentation pushed further.
What do you mean in telling us about negative feedback? Did it come from Olhava’s old fans or from medias and anonyms from internet vasts?
Old fans mostly had their expectations fulfilled I think. Media doesn’t cover our music too often so we can’t recall any negative review right away. However Russian-speaking listeners have indeed shared some hate, but we see it as a positive anyway.
You got a contract with Avantgarde Music back in 2020 who reissued Olhava’s self-titled debut and third album Ladoga. How much does this collaboration help you to spread your message?
Great question! It’s been a great experience all around and I’d like to thank Rob once again here because sometimes we fail to communicate what we want and assume some things but he manages to understand us and help in every way possible. I can’t find enough words to describe how much easier my life became when they took almost all the distribution hassle on themselves. I used to enjoy sending all the shipments myself – maintaining some sort of a connection with our supporters – but when we became bigger it started to take more and more lime leaving less for actual music, and that’s when Avantgarde helped me out a lot.
What kind of “caprices” did you show to the label? Did you have some disputes considering the albums’ artworks, release dates, or whatever?
Oh no we have never argued about artworks with Avantgarde. As for caprices – we are used to working fast and changing things “on the go”, and if it’s cool when you do everything yourself it’s just not how labels work. For example we initially signed the contract only for “metal” albums but then we thought why not release the drone stuff as well there and we did quite a lot of work to prove that such music was worth being put on vinyl and that people would buy it.
Dates – we define them ourselves based on the recording stage and the material. I hate deadlines and in that term we have all the freedom. It’s a pity we lose much of the PR potential that way but it’s the only way I can get stuff done now.
Speaking about a message… What do you aim to transmit through the band? Is it a clearly emotional state you channel through your music or is it something more?
It’s hard to say anything definite here but mainly yes – we try to translate this state of calmness and carelesness. I’d like to think that our listeners can see past the post-black metal genre cover and resonate with this emotional state of inner peace and clear mind that I try to achieve myself.
It is Olhava’s fourth album for about two years. How do you manage to keep your creative pace? Are you afraid of self-copying?
I don’t think we release as much stuff as it would raise such questions. You’d be surprised if you knew how many tracks we’ve got prepared for the coming albums. As for self-copying I can’t say that it’s something very bad. There is a thin line between a defined personal style and sounding self-repetitive. If we look at the whole genre I won’t be able to name a single band that does not copy itself, or rather use similar elements or moves over several albums. That may be the very reason why this genre is so loved by fans. You see an album come out by your favourite band and you know what to expect and that your expectations will be fulfilled. Besides, there are plenty of things you can do to transform seemingly similar parts beyond recognition. So I don’t think self-copying is bad. It can even be good sometimes.
Does Avantgrade Music know that you already have material for future album(s)? How soon do you aim to release it?
Yes we’ve sent some demos even before the Frozen Bloom release and we think he liked them too. I hope the new album will be out around spring 2022.
How close is this new material to things you performed on Frozen Bloom?
I think an outside listener won’t notice any dramatic differences and it may require even more patience from our fans.
Do you feel you’ve found a balance between black metal and shoegazing elements in Olhava? How do you see the band’s strong sides in Frozen Bloom?
Well I’d say there is never too much of shoegaze when it’s good. Speaking of strong sides I’d say our sound became much better over time. Even in comparison to Ladoga. I think the biggest strong side of the album is its conceptual integrity.
What are your requirements for Olhava’s sound? And how did you develop it from Ladoga to Frozen Bloom?
We’ve worked with Mikhail for so ling that we don’t have any requirements at this point. One thing I’m always worried about is if the vocals are too loud. I don’t want anything to distract a listener from the wall of sound we create.
It seems that post-black metal with its wall of sound, its more “friendly” sound in general, has become a widespread phenomenon. What do you think – does post-black metal attract followers of “true black metal” or does this genre stand aside as a thing in itself? At least what does your experience tell you?
I think that to a conservative “trve” black metal fan who started with – say – Norwegian black, it might be hard to appreciate and understand our music because of the sound and the song structures. However there are similarities in our music to atmospheric black metal and even DSBM which may attract some fans from there. Overall I think the post-black metal genre is a thing of its own and it grows and evolves independently as some bands move entirely to different styles and some keep doing their own thing. I often see metalheads on Trna gigs and among Olhava’s supporters, and it’s great because our music is not about a genre strictly and it’s cool to see that people are open-minded.
What are your favorite “classic” black metal bands?
I don’t think I’ll be too original here – when I want to hear some classics I play Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. I really like Norwegian black metal with all its quirks. It’s truly great music.
Some guitars parts for Frozen Bloom were recorded by Austin Lunn (Panopticon, Seidr, and more). How did you work with Austin? How did you get in touch?
Yes it’s true. I don’t remember exactly how we started communicating but it was after our first album dropped. We just started chatting in Instagram and it was cool for us because Panopticon inspired me a lot at some point. When we got to writing Frozen Bloom we had an idea of bringing something new to the classic sound and asked Austin to write a solo. He went much further and did an acoustic-instruments arrangement and choral vocals on top and he was right on point with that. It all took like little more than a month and the result was literally jaw-dropping. I hope we’ll work together again in the future.
That’s an interesting collaboration, yet have you thought about recording a joint project with any Russian artists? Whom would you choose for such work?
Of course we have plenty of ideas about whom to cooperate with but I’d like to keep it a secret for now 🙂
How do you see the Russian black metal scene? Do you see it as a kind of community or do your bands cross paths with others only occasionally?
I see how fast the scene is growing. I think it’s a bit too early to speak about some sort of true community. Due to the huge distances between cites I’d rather talk about local scenes of each city. There are plenty of new awesome bands in the genre and it’s a really good sign of growth. If we speak of Saint Petersburg I’d name a few of our friends whom we share our rehearsal space with. It’s Show Me A Dinosaur, Somn, Trna. Also you’ve already interviewed Vladimir of the band Rye (Рожь) – I find his latest release among the best this year.
Our friends Gorech also dropped a debut EP recently. They’re preparing much more to come. A couple other local bands to give a shoutout here are: Beauty Of Sirin, Gnot. It’s so cool what is going on right now in this genre and in indie music in general. I think Russian music slowly starts to shift from being exotic in public perception thanks to these guys’ efforts.
And what about some older names?
I don’t want to speak about it here. As soon as I try to dig into Russian bands from the past I always stumble upon a right-wing band and all the interest vanishes.
You also take part in another post BM project – Trna. And its fourth album Istok is to be released by Candlelight Records on September 3rd. Well, how do you manage to play in two bands performing stuff in a similar vein?
Yes, the album release is very close and we’ve waited for this moment for so long! To be honest, it’s not too difficult when you spend all your free time on music. I’d go as far as saying that there’s probably room for yet another project in my schedule.
How do you see principle difference between Trna and Olhava?
The principle difference is first of all that, unlike Olhava, Trna is a live band with all the stuff associated with it. We really hope that we can tour Europe again as soon as the COVID bans drop and finally meet our fans again! As for Olhava – we’d like to keep it a studio project for now. We speak from time to time about playing live but we want it to be a really f-ing special occasion one-of-a-kind show if it happens some day.
Do you share your parts in Trna or is it a brainchild of one mastermind?
It’s been different at different times. We always arranged ideas together and some parts I brought from home obviously. Now we try to do everything together and everyone has become happier because of it.
Did you discuss with Trna an option to add vocals to its music in order to raise the intensity of live performances?
Oh this goes way into the past. I used to play in other bands with screaming vocals before Trna and it was fun but my father (whose opinion I respect a lot) always said that such music is impossible to listen to. So yeah Trna is an instrumental band first and foremost even though you can hear the featuring vocals on the track ‘Shining’ from our upcoming album.
Thanks for the interview Andrey, how would you like to finish it?
Thank to you really! I’d want to call people to consciousness in everything and just learn to communicate with each other. That way we all will have much less to deal with.