Today we have a translated conversation between two Russians, one of them our ally Comrade Aleks and the other a member of the impressive sludge/doom band Ил (IL), and a very extensive and interesting discussion it is.)
Okay, it’s time to learn one more word in Russian and it’s IL. Il / Ил translates as “slit”, and as you can guess that fits right for a sludge band… But you know this band started back in their early days as a drone doom band, then they turned onto a hazy stoned doom path, and now ∫ performs an amalgam of hard-boiled doom metal with a tight delivery, a sludgy vibe, and authentic (!!!) pagan atmosphere.
Their fifth album Heresy / Ересь was published in December 2020, and sometimes you need time to sort things out and find how beautiful the world is around you! Il was always here, but I guess it was the video for the title song from Heresy that opened my eyes. This album is one level higher than its predecessor, Nechist / Нечисть / Evil Spirits (2017), but at the same time it’s a logical development of the grim images that Il channeled through Heresy’s forerunner.
I welcome you to research Russian sonic-chthonic ritualistic life together with Vlad Stepanenko, who has performed vocals and guitars in the band since 2013. If you ask me (and if you don’t) Il seems to be one of the three most solid and impressive Russian doom bands nowadays.
Hi Vlad! What’s going on in IL’s poisonous depths? How intensively do you boil your decoction of ancient doom and chthonic damnation?
Hi, we are boiling stubbornly! At this moment we are finishing playing our last important shows in Moscow and Arhangelsk with the old lineup and going to start composing a new album. Right now we are working on the first track.
How do such gigs differ from those you played before the pandemic?
I cannot say that gigs before the pandemic were significantly different. Some big festivals are being cancelled and orgs are losing money, but local gigs are still being held fairly well. By the way, the Shallow Grave metal festival, which is already widely known and in which we took part as organizers, was held successfully.
I remember some wild story told by guys from the Moscow band EndName, who had a period of very persistent efforts to tour as far as they could, and they told about totally impossibly broken roads somewhere in the North… I don’t remember if it was Murmansk or the Archangelsk area… Hah, at least I remember a few routes around Archangelsk – a natural disaster. So, well, what is your most savage experience of touring through the Motherland’s vastness?
We had some experience in touring in Russia. In 2015 we had 12 cities and in 2021 we had 8 cities in the Ural region, both of them were not wild at all. Contra-wise, we significantly expanded our audience and brought our music to our fans. Those were long-awaited, out-live shows, and we had the opportunity to see our underground scene at its best. So it was a positive and informative experience. Certainly, we can remember our road to an abandoned children’s camp near Arhangelsk a long time ago, but that is another story.
Vlad, besides IL you started with other bands – Hvoya and Predicted, to name a few – what didn’t work with the other projects? These bands split right after recording their first demos, but it seems you saw with crystal clarity (through all this deadly haze) what you could achieve with Il from the start. Did you start it with a whole concept in your mind?
People ask us about our past bands, but these two are really part of the past, and there’s not much to say about them.
So we should make all clear, there are other active projects of our members:
- Nikolay (bass-guitar): Bitch Meat (Death grind), Crawling Chaos (Avantgarde Black Metal), Protivoestestvenniy Otbor (Crust-Stenchcore)
- Stas (guitar): Tuga (Black metal)
- Sergei (Drums): Every Time She Lied
- Me (Guitar, vocals): Glyphos (Stoner Doom), still without releases, but with one show played, and Constant Mist (Ambient/Dark Jazz)
For IL the path was long and unclear, and we found our way in music starting from the Shadows of ancient cults album, when we began to move away from the stylistics of stoner doom and understood that music is more versatile. And IL’s own concept has been acquired in the last three releases.
You played in those bands with Il’s bass player Nikolay Timofeev. How do you share roles in IL with the other members? For example, each album only strengthens the band’s growing individuality, and time after time you have reached something original to some degree. Is it a result of collaborative effort or is there a grand heresyarch in the band?
Yes, we founded the band and still play music together. In my own opinion, it is the result of a mystic Heresy and our own perception. We write the music together, while the work on lyrics and concepts is fully mine.
When making music Nikolay relies on his own view of metal music and the quality of the musical components, while I rely on my own feelings of one or another riff or a fragment of the song. For me its important to give the exact feeling and enter into the concept that was made by me, connecting chains of music and ideas. That’s why I consider our band as a living organism, one that is dictating himself to us through not-obvious things. You can call it exactly this Heresy, our own cult inside, every member bringing his own contribution into the music, and it originates from working together and the perception of all of us.
With each release we try to develop all that was reached, and bring it into concept more than it was before.
How do you determine that moment which set the band’s current concept or ideology? Was it a slow and natural process or a conscious decision? You know like… “Dash it! We’ll start a new life tomorrow and return to our heathen roots and forest deviltry!”
This was what was to be expected of us, shall we say. We live by it.
Vlad, almost from the very start your approach was damned authentic as you mixed disturbing and, okay, occult atmosphere with images taken from chthonic Russian folklore. How did you pass by all the traps of modern doom, avoiding abuse of its numerous clichés?
We listen to music and don’t get hung up on these clichés. First of all, we play metal. Now, most bands represent a random band-name generator and neural networks of lyrics on witches, bongs, electric wizards, and nuns, and walls of amplifiers. No doubt, it’s a tribute paid to fashion and at the same time it’s a curse of all these bands.
Despite this radical opinion I cannot say that we were deliberately looking for themes that would distinguish us from the rest of thee bands. We made everything in the way that we want and we feel. We are living in Rus, we have a rich history, our own mystic way and lore, which can inspire the making of music and lyrics, and you can hear this, or – as you please – you can raise up bongs in front of the walls of amplifiers. That option is easier
Anxiety, you got that right. At least on our last two albums we wanted to capture cold metaphysical horror on the brink of mental illness, which arises from touching the unknown but still close to us on this side of Russian folklore: death, sorcery, and witchcraft.
And however it happened you’ve approached the chief author of doom metal, H.P. Lovecraft. At least there’s one dedication to Yig and the ‘Colour out of Space’ song in your second album as well. Why did you choose this one? And how do you like its film adaptation? Actually it looks very Russian, this story could have naturally happened in ANY Russian village.
Lovecraft was the initial source of inspiration in promotion of the concept. So to speak, it’s an ABC for those who want to touch something forbidden. He teaches a way to feel the mystical and unexplainable at a subconscious level, which later you can turn into more serious things. For us “more serious things” became Russian sorcery and horror, as I mentioned earlier.
Yes, the song ‘Zmeebog’ (‘Snake-god’) was dedicated to one of the characters of the pantheon – Yig – and the song ‘Holm’ (‘Hill’) is a reference to Lovecraft’s sonnet ‘Zaman’s Hill’ from the ‘Mushrooms from Yuggoth’ collection.
Unfortunately, Lovecraftian movies that are okay could be counted on the fingers of one hand. The new Colour out of Space, let’s say, is not that bad, but it cannot give the feeling of time and epoch of the events took place in the books of H.P. (if you know, what I mean)
I should add that IL was never fully devoted to Lovecraftian horrors. I’d say, we took from them the best part – the feelings of inevitability, and impressed by them we’ve found hidden layers in the depths of our folklore theme.
Got you Vlad. Then I’d like to clarify your point concerning all these chthonic images you transfer through your songs. Do you lean on some literary sources? Some of your songs – I do not point to any direct borrowing, it’s about atmosphere – evoke the same images as the poems of Russian symbolists and decadents like Fedor Sologub… why not… Konstantin Balmont, Aleksey Remizov?
According to writers, it is more likely Pimen Karpov, Kondratyev, little-known writers, some of whom were also banned in Russia. Well, collections of all sorts of legends and traditions, namely collections compiled by all sorts of ethnographers, and not by artistic authors. It is worth adding here that we do not rely on someone else’s works and teachings, we are inspired, but we are always looking for something new and our own. To look at the forest and to read about the forest – these are different things.
Can you point to one lyrical line which goes through all of your five albums, connecting them into one heretical birch-bark manuscript?
The Heretical plot line that is cognition starts from the Nechist / Нечисть album. From that point we started to hear what the land that we live on said to us. A deep in itself Russian folklore is very diverse, charming and frightening at the same time.
We can make a com parison to the Grimm Brothers’ fairytales, where Gingerbread can nibble your face, and Cinderella’s story, where characters who tried to fit into a shoe were breaking their feet.
Do you know the legend about Ikotka? It’s a disease that ravaged over Russian minorities of the North, similar to some kind of possession, that drove people insane. It was believed that an imp has gotten into the people and controlled their minds.
So, things like these and many others are the cornerstones of horror and beauty of our stories.
Moreover – I’ve even listened to the atmospheric black metal band Ikotka. These old entities seem to be returning one by one through some modern bands. Il, Ikotka, Srub, just to name a few. How are these things you talk about real for you?
Yes, we see a modern tendency to merge into this subject in contemporary bands. This is not to say that this is bad, especially if you understand what you are singing about and talking about.
Everything is real when viewed from a certain angle.
Despite the band’s noticeable potential and individuality your first albums were released with very limited runs on CDs and tapes. How actively do you push IL abroad? I don’t believe there weren’t any proposals from labels.
In Russia we are a well-known band and have contract with a label that helps us with gigs and physical releases. We received some strange offers from abroad, who wanted to release our albums for our own investments.
We are always open to interesting proposals, and we are interested in physical releases (or re-releases) on foreign labels on acceptable conditions.
IL’s releases are not in demand in foreign countries. In Russia interest in them is much higher, but some parts of the vinyl and CD prints we send to Europe and USA. And we are grateful to our fans, who accept and support us.
Despite that, we had two tours, one in Europe and one in England. The first one happened thanks to our friend from Makedonia Ivan Kocev, and the second one thanks to guys from the English band Kurokuma and, of course, David from Bong band. Contacts like these help to promote our music in foreign countries, because right now there are too many bands and it’s hard to announce yourself without any outside help.
And how effective do you see the work of you own label Otvar? Do you run it in order to support only your own bands and projects?
The Otvar label no longer exists. It was founded by Nikolay and Andrei (a former member, guitar) for releasing some interesting material on cassettes, and two of IL’s releases were issued on it, but it was a home label without any plans for future development.
At this moment we and the Russian folk-metal band Satanakozel are working with “Zvuki Karachuna”, which is a sub-label of the grindcore label “NoBread Records”. Distribution, and digital also, is made by myself.
May you tell – after nearly eight years of doing doom stuff – if the Russian doom scene has its own features? Or is it just a mix of different influences taken from foreign bands? I don’t mean doom-death stuff of course, the situation with this branch is more or less clear.
The Russian doom scene is not monolithic; it consist of some separate clans, each of which is moving in its own original direction. We have the old doom scene, bands from it are homages to My Dying Bride, Anathema, and new Doom Death Metal start-ups – Caustic Vomit. Old-timers are Grave Disgrace and Dekostruktor, who moved into their own original style. Also we have a crowd of stoner and sludge metalheads from garages, where we have our rehearsal space. IL has its own niche, but we are happy to share the scene with bands that play all subgenres of doom metal, if their music catches. And also we share the scene with Black, Death and Grindcore bands.
A lot of new bands are showing up, who copy bands from abroad. A couple of years ago there was a big popularity surge of this genre in Moscow, but nowadays it went under.
How did you come out with the video for the ‘Heresy’ song? Again – it does emphasize the band’s authenticity and its quality beyond the majority of local bands. Do you see it as a necessary step further from the Russian underground? Do you see it as the band’s manifest towards a more serious, professional level?
We made a clip from the second attempt. Thanks to the greatly talented swedeo.ru we got such an opportunity and could market the concept in the video. As we are part of the Russian underground, making that clip is not a way out of it, it is just a part of our creativity, an attempt at visualizations of ideas. As for some steps, if our music finds its fans outside of cellars, we would be delighted, but that is not our main goal, because our main goal is to drive you insane.
The plot of the video we made up with the director, and we showed in the video the main landmark of the Heresy album, and in the next question I will explain what the Heresy album and the music video are about.
Yes, I have exactly this simplistic question and yet… What is your “Heresy” about?
Our heresy is literally about the ongoing plight of cognition of Russian occultism. The protagonist who is depicted on the cover represents the result of his passion to the black arts of Russian folk witchcraft. Drawing inspiration from the collections of epics and legends, without reference to particular things that were already written, but through our own perception and feeling of what is beyond here, we would like to represent in this concept our deeply personal vision and teaching, that was named Heresy. We hope that our listeners will find the strength to to throw themselves into the history, which coexists with churches, that have felt askew, swamps and fields, and what a proficient person could see in their darkest depths, by paying for what he saw with his own consciousness.
The music video in our own understanding depicts a story of a man who gets involved with all that I described before, and confronts face to face his reflection in a mind game. One of the images that inspired that concept was a Russian warlock who forced imps controlled by him to do some endless jobs, like counting drops or grains of sand in the ocean and not torment him. So the antagonist plays with himself and meets his own childhood consciousness, that drove him insane, and interrupting over and over the process of systematization in his sorcerer’s knowledge, falling apart over a table. So there is a complex answer to such an easy question.
It seems you constantly write new material as your discography grows further each year. How soon may we expect new stuff from IL?
Everything will be. Wait. And never look back, when you are leaving a cemetery.