(Comrade Aleks has completed a long-gestating interview with Denis Susarev from the excellent Russian post-black metal band Ultar, who will have a new album coming in 2022, and the results of this very interesting are set forth below.)
Post-black metal band Ultar from Krasnoyarsk was re-formed from Deafknife in 2016 and soon gained a reputation as a creative band with with good taste and vision. Speaking about Ultar’s creative side, I need to mention abother outfit featuring four of Ultar’s members – it’s Grima. Both bands perform black metal in a similar vein and yet both follow their own paths. While Ultar’s last album Pantheon MMXIX saw the light of day in 2019, Grima’s fourth album Rotten Garden was released in 2021, as well as the live album The Mighty Spirit.
I had my own interest in interviewing Ultar but the process dragged on for months, and you know what happened in February. However we’ve made the decision to complete and publish the interview now right after Grima‘s return from their short tour abroad. Naturmacht Productions brought Grima’s Siberian sorrows in Tallinn. Here are the words of Denis Susarev (guitars, keyboards):
“We recently returned from Estonia, where most of Ultar played a show in Tallinn as members of the Grima project, which may have been a bit of a precedent given what’s been going on in the world over the last few months. In spite of everything, the concert went just fine, Tallinn met us with a full hall of wonderful, kind and open people who received us wonderfully. It’s nice to see that our listeners understand that art in general and music in particular can and should be perceived outside the context of any political events, no matter what people around say about it. This is extremely valuable and we are grateful to everyone who shares this.”
And here we have Denis’ answers regarding Ultar and its perspectives.
Hail Ultar! Despite the band’s almost ten-year-long history not all of our readers know it. So let’s take a glimpse in the past… The band existed under the name Deafknife since 2011 to 2016, when you changed the name to Ultar. Meanwhile your music and lyrics didn’t change significantly even though the new name sounds better. How necessary was this change?
Hello everyone! Well, the first years of our activity were the time when we learned to do the basic stuff as a band. Although we had some experience behind our backs before the band started, we definitely learned how to interact and work together in Deafknife. Then we kept growing up and the urge for a new moniker felt stronger. We just couldn’t relate ourselves and our music with the old one. So, the change was essential.
Ultar’s debut album Kadath was written with a clear concept behind it. What was your vision of the album when you entered the studio? Did you have a plan to make something different after Deafknife?
We definitely wanted to do something new for us, to make a step forward. While our previous release as Deafknife was some kind of a song compilation from various years of our activity including both new and old ones (pun intended), this time we wanted to create an exciting evolving story, both lyrically and musically, with its ups and downs, peaks and valleys, moments of glory and misery. All the songs were written in the same exact order as they are present on the record, so it went very naturally. We are quite happy with how it came out,
This was the record that defined our approach to creating our own individual sound, which we keep developing to this day.
The band’s name and the album’s title point to Lovecraft’s Dream Cycle, which has an atmosphere and setting different from the more popular Cthulhu Myths. What kind of methods did you aim to use to reach a distinctive result that would pick out Ultar from other Lovecraft-influenced bands?
We always wanted to highlight and translate this ethereal feeling of uncertainty, and at the same time – the fascination brought to us with Lovecraft’s description of his worlds. Although the album’s lyrical story is mostly inspired by The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, I have to admit that I had the most vivid impressions from the dreams of a main character from The Dreams in the Witch House, with all these obscurely symmetrical structures, plainscapes, mountains and beautiful colors unseen. That definitely affected the songwriting and perception of how the album should sound. I wouldn’t say that there were any specific methods we consciously used to make it stand out apart from the other Lovecraft-influenced bands, I think it’s just the way we felt it.
In the end, what was the first album for you in terms of ideas? A loose retelling of Lovecraft’s legacy? A tribute to his memory?
I think all of the above combined. This is a collective interpretation of the impressions of Lovecraft’s work, a kind of result of the experience of traveling beyond the real.
Lovecraft inspired many bands of different genres – from hard rock and heavy metal to doom, black, and death metal. Where do you see the advantage of black metal here? What aspects of Lovecraft’s myths are easier and more effective to emphasize in writing in this vein?
First of all, this is a feeling of unreality, the ephemeral nature of what is happening, a kind of trance, expressed through hypnotic repetitiveness, the duration of the compositions and, in our case, the airiness and at the same time the density of the sound enveloping and absorbing listener. And of course, the hostility of the environment, its chilling inhuman randomness. Black metal can definitely be called one of the most difficult genres to perceive due to its extreme hostility, militancy and vocals penetrating to the bone.
Would you say that your next album Pantheon MMXIX kept on exploring further Ultar’s individuality?
We definitely took a step toward a darker atmosphere on this album. There’s still room for bright colors, but somewhere out there in the distance the darkness is starting to thicken and there’s less and less hope left. It’s a perfectly logical continuation of the previous album, because the deeper you go into these deceptively bright worlds, the harder it will be to get out of them without losing your mind.
What motivated you to release the Pantheon MMXIX instrumental version? Is it only digitally released? Did you get any feedback for this release?
Gleb‘s expressive vocal parts attract a lot of attention and are definitely one of the key instruments in the band’s sound, and they certainly influence all other instruments.
Since our music has rich arrangements, with lots of additional guitar and synth layers, we wanted to highlight the instrumental part of the album, which sounds very self-sufficient even without the vocals. It definitely gives a lot of new impressions, revealing some details that might have been unnoticed before, while playing background roles in the arrangement.
It is available only via our Bandcamp for now, and people actually like this version a lot because it gives them a bunch of fresh emotions while listening to the album they had to think they knew.
Why did you focus on describing the deities of Lovecraft’s pantheon in some songs, while in others you completely abandoned his literary heritage when you composed Pantheon?
Both when writing the musical component and creating the lyrical part of the album, we like to experiment. Therefore, after a strictly conceptual first album, on the second disc we wanted to slightly change the approach towards freer forms of creativity, to reveal the creative potential from the other side.
Were the songs that were included in both of these”groups” written differently, or was it one big session without dividing the material into “Lovecraftian” and “other”?
We do not divide our creativity into such logical groups. For us, in any case, all the songs are different and we rather subconsciously group them for ourselves based on the emotional impulse inherent in the song, its mood, rather than some correspondence to the formalized category of Lovecraft / not-Lovecraft. We do not strive to strictly follow the concept of an exclusively Lovecraftian group in our work – it is simply boring. This is an important source of inspiration for us, but not a directive.
You have actively proclaimed Lovecraftian messages for an entire decade, Ultar play live even now during the pandemic, you record regularly, and so the band leaves an impression of a real active band. What’s your experience of being part of the Russian black metal scene for this period? Do you feel Ultar has its part? And is there a scene at all?
It is hard to say if we can even talk about it as a large and unified phenomenon. The Black Metal scene in Russia is quite fragmented due to the territorial remoteness of cities and regions, as we live in a very large country.
We have strong scenes in certain regions of the country – first of all Siberia and the Urals, and the St. Petersburg scene is strong with a mastodon Second to Sun and its post-black metal bands.
I think we played and continue to play an important role in the establishing of a new wave of black metal in Russia through active concert and release activity for the most part. Now we see that every year more and more new bands appear, following the paths we once paved for ourselves by trial and error.
Does your activity help to integrate into th eforeign scene as well?
I’m not quite sure that the activity inside the country helps it directly, but I can say with certainty that it helps us meet new people who help us in some way as professionals, and we gain invaluable experience, which is absolutely necessary to go abroad. This applies directly to stage performances and work with equipment, sound, tours and shows management, logistics and other important things, which are vital to keep the band growing.
What’s the story with your collaboration with Srub (Сруб)? Your collaborative works sound very organic and I wonder if you aimed to record some common material in the past?
Once we shared the stage with Srub in Igor‘s hometown of Novosibirsk. We had a talk after the show, which was the beginning of a friendship that continues to this day. At some point Igor needed to find performers for Srub‘s tour, and we gladly lent him a helping hand. While writing new material after the tour, Igor decided to use live instruments in the recording of the new album and reached out to us again, so the four members of our band were happy to participate in the recording. We had no plans to record material together, but I think that we made quite bright mutual participation in the recordings of our bands and we are happy with the results.
There are two live albums in your discography, and it seems you pay a lot attention to the band’s exposure and promotion. What’s your experience of playing live in Russia? What are the good and bad aspects of playing here?
We love playing in our homeland and we give 100% of ourselves for every show. And people seem to give us a proper feedback. I wouldn’t say that there are any bad aspects at all. People are nice and usually everything goes smooth if you work hard enough to prepare for the show properly. Actually this works for any show anywhere in the world, no matter where we are.
Does playing live really work considering the band’s promotion? What are your ambitions for Ultar?
This works for us for sure. This is the only way to show the band at its best. This feels especially valuable in these times of studio-only projects and cancelled shows. Besides that, playing live a lot gives you so much experience you’ll never find anywhere else.
We’ll continue growing on, and hopefully the global pandemic situation won’t stop us from playing shows abroad actively. This is what our near future plans look like. Who knows where it all brings us.
You already have completed a new album, how far did you go from Pantheon MMXIX themes?
Well, this time we decided to make a step outward from the Lovecraftian works a bit. Some songs lyrically are still based on his mythology, but there are some new dark original motifs that were brought in by Gleb. Of course there are lots of themes that were not covered by us in Lovecraft’s art, but they surely were featured by lots of other bands, whereas we are always striving to create something unique and original. The new album is much darker and heavier for sure and I think we managed to integrate these new feelings in our music well. It is experimental for us in some ways — we tried to implement lots of fresh ideas, it was fun, and felt great. The album has an overall ghostly haunting ethereal atmosphere with some bright airy and even psychedelic moments.
By the way, how democratic are Ultar when it comes to songwriting? And do you have a certain set, a set of rules that you try to stick to when you go into the studio for new material? For example, “not too many keys” or … I don’t know what else it might be?
In a band, any member can contribute to a song, and sometimes the birth of a new song begins with a bass melody or rhythmic percussion pattern, but more often, of course, we start with guitar riffs. It is important for us to unlock the potential of each participant, both technical and creative.
We don’t make any preliminary plans for ourselves, but as a rule, in the process of writing material, we notice some general outline of the album, its emerging features and differences from the previous material, and in a natural way we try to emphasize them, which can sometimes lead to some specific decisions. For example, to make the album more guitar-heavy, or vice versa, lighter and more airy.
Is there anything else you can reveal about the new album? An estimated release date? A label?
Our new album will be released this year. Now we are waiting in line for printing vinyls and CDs at the factories, and since they are quite overloaded, it is unfortunately impossible to give an exact release date yet. It’s definitely going to be heavier and darker than what we’ve done before. In a way it’s going back to the roots of the genre.
Okay, thanks for the interview, it’s good that it took place. I hope we hear the new Ultar as soon as possible. Yes, did we forget anything?
Thank you too! There is news about the new album ahead, and we are not wasting any time and are already in the process of actively writing new original material. But more on that next time. Also, I would like to say a big thank you to all our listeners who support us in these difficult times – it is really invaluable!