Taking their name from a historical region in northern part of Poland, Olsztyn-based Varmia aren’t your typical black/folk metal band. For starters, their style hews much more closely to the black metal end of the spectrum than the pagan/folk end. On their outstanding debut full-length Z Mar Twych, the band does incorporate the occasional acoustic passage and traditional instruments like the tagelharpa, but their sound is far more aggressive overall. The most obvious point of comparison is Enslaved, both in terms of the mix of clean and harsh vocals and the almost progressive nature of the songwriting. Whatever type of black metal you’re into, you’re likely to find something on the album that hits your sweet spot, whether it be the black-and-roll of “Ptak,” the more atmospheric “Gali,” the proggy “Slava,” or the moments of unbridled second-wave fury on tracks like “Warmia” and “Wściekłość.”
Given the number of stylistic shifts, both from one track to the next and within the songs themselves, the album could have very easily sounded disjointed, but Varmia main man Lasota is deft enough a songwriter that each move feels very organic, and the tight, confident performances on the record ensure that everything sounds of a piece.
Z Mar Twych will be released on cassette on May 26 by our friends at Fólkvangr Records. In the meantime, you can stream the entire record below. Also, check out our interview with Lasota, who was good enough to answer a few questions for us via email about the band, the writing/recording process for the record, and the Polish black metal scene.
Indy Metal Vault: First off, let me just say that I absolutely love Z Mar Twych. It’s been out in Europe for a couple of months now, right? What’s the reaction been like so far? Have you played many gigs since it came out?
Lasota: Thank you and Slava! True, the album premiered as a CD on February 28th of this year through Polish label Via Nocturna. The cassette premiere by Fólkvangr Records is still to come though. I must say that the reaction so far is very, very good. I mean not only the reviews but also the fans reaction at the shows is great. We’ve played a couple gigs, but we’re still working very hard with our booking company Raven Music Promotion to organize a proper tour in the fall. I think Z Mar Twych deserves such a tour and we crave to deliver it live.
IMV: I’m curious about the history of the band. According to your Metal Archives page, Varmia just formed last year, but the record sounds remarkably daring and mature for a group that hasn’t been playing together for very long. Had any of you played together in other bands previously?
L: Yes, that’s true! I formed Varmia just before we entered the barn (our self-made studio) so it is a totally new name on the scene. We play in other bands, but we don’t want to distract our fans attention with that. I might add that me and Kruszyn (the drummer) played together a long time ago in my home town of Olsztyn.
IMV: For those (like myself) who aren’t really familiar with the style, can you describe the Slavic folk influence on the record? Unlike a lot of black/folk bands, the influence seems to be a bit subtler – the acoustic opener “Świt” and the tagelharpa on “Gorej” and “In Tenebris” are the only places where I really noticed it. If someone wanted to delve into Slavic folk, what artists or albums would you recommend as a starting point?
L: I agree that “subtle” is a key word here. To be honest folk instruments can be very easily overused in my opinion. It’s very tempting to use them in the music a lot, but they are usually overwhelming to the general perception. What I like to do is to put them as a “spice” here and there. Just to fuel the overall vibe. My main folkish tool is the melody and the rhythm. There you can find a whole lot of our Slavic roots. A lot of times I hear the bands using some folk instruments but beneath that you will find a traditional “normal” heavy metal. I try to use a guitar and drums in a more tribal way. Kind of like ritual instruments. It may not sound like that at first, but when you dig in, you’ll spot the differences from the “normal” metal. As for the Slavic bands I highly recommend Kapela ze Wsi Warszawa (Warsaw Village Band). We’ve just played at the Pomerania Festival with two incredible traditional bands, Brzezica and Jar. Also, you might have heard about Percival, they are a band that participated in a soundtrack to the Witcher video game.
IMV: On the metal side of things, what are some of the band’s main influences? There’s an adventurousness to the record that reminds me of early Opeth and post-Below the Lights Enslaved, but there seems to be elements from all over the black metal spectrum in your music.
L: Good trace. I listen to all kinds of music and to be honest I’m not a black metal specialist. I’ve got my top bands in that genre of course such as Emperor, Darkthrone, Enslaved, Kampfar, Primordial, Vader, old Anathema etc. But that style I have in my veins already. I don’t have to listen to it all the time in order to create such sounds. Sometimes I like to discover new bands. Recently I stumbled upon Khros from Ukraine and Selvans from Italy (thanks to our cooperation with Fólkvangr Records). But I also love listening to the classics such as Pink Floyd and stuff like that. The rest of the band thinks the same way I guess. Ćwiara the bass player is listening to pretty much everything, Kruszyn likes the old school stuff the most and Piotr is a metal and folk fan so Wardruna, Skuggsja, Borknagar and Decapitated.
IMV: As far as I can tell, your lyrics are in Polish. Based on running some of the lyrics through Google translate, it seems like you sing a lot about nature. Is there some sort of overarching theme to the album? The title translates as “From the Dead,” right?
L: Well, kind of. I’ll try to make some official translations myself so you guys can dig it a little bit more. There are a lot of metaphors, some of these lyrics still can surprise me with new interpretations. Anyway yes, I sing about the communion between the forces of nature (cosmos) and mankind. The cycles of life and death, love and hate. Some of the lyrics refer to the pure forces like Sacred Fire in “Gorej”, the other like “Wściekłość” refer to our repulsive and hateful ways. The title of the album is a wordplay. It refers to nightmares – so common in every folklore in the world. It also refers to the word “resurrection” which in Polish is “zmartwychwstanie”. So there you have combination of resurrection from (or through) your nightmares, more or less.
IMV: Getting back to the songwriting for a minute, I’m curious as to what your process is like. Does one person compose all the music and bring it to the group? Do you jam things out in the rehearsal room? A bit of both? And how do you decide which style of vocals to use over a given piece of music?
L: Well I’ve written the whole thing myself. Both music and lyrics. When I was ready with the material I assembled the rest of the band to make the record. If I don’t have a strong vision, I don’t make any music. Of course we jammed on the material. We took the parts that I wrote for every instrument and kind of personalised them to the characteristics and skills of the particular player. But I must say I’m extremely happy and proud of the work the guys did. Now we’re kind of one unit as a band, which was my goal since the beginning. That of course took hours of rehearsing together. So the basic process is that I write and record the whole complete demo and then play it to the guys. The same goes with the vocals.
IMV: According to the album notes, you recorded Z Mar Twych in a shed in the woods. What effect do you think that had on the sound of the album? What were some of the challenges of recording that way?
L: That was the concept. To have the sound of the barn on the record. By that I mean not only the reverb but the whole ambience, the dirt that will glue the mix together. The challenge was huge because those sorts of places usually have problems with the current, weather, animals, loud neighbourhood and so on. We had to work under time pressures also. It is important to know that all the basic instruments were recorded together (live). That was an extra difficulty because everyone had to play almost perfectly in order to use the take on the album. But as far as the final result goes, I cannot be happier. The barn did the sonic effect I was looking for and the fact that we are playing together provides an organic character of the record. It sounds alive and very not-modern.
IMV: In general, I’m not all that familiar with the Polish black metal scene. Everybody knows Behemoth, and I really like Mgła and Cultes des Ghoules – what other bands are worth checking out?
L: Don’t forget the mighty Vader! Maybe they are more death metal, but still a milestone to the Polish and international scene. The bands you mentioned are popular right now, it’s true. I like some works by Furia, Mord’a Stigmata, Hate, Jarun, Wędrujący Wiatr, and maybe Thy Worshiper.
IMV: Last question: what’s next for Varmia. Any chance of making it over to the States for some shows?
L: Gigs. Hopefully a lot of them. As I mentioned earlier, we’re working with Raven Music Promotion on the tour cycle in the Fall. New sounds are constantly pouring down so finally they will bring us to some wilderness studio again. Yes of course! If we could only get some reasonable offer, we’d love to visit the States! Slava!
Clayton T. Michaels (Senior Editor) is a mild-mannered college English teacher by day, and a craft beer drinking, black metal and grindcore loving misanthrope by night. He’s also an award-winning poet and rabid Red Sox fan. Send him your promos at [email protected] You can also find him posting pictures of black metal cassettes and beer can labels on Instagram as @ironhops.