For any of our Vault Hunters who were here on Monday for our stream of Burial Stream’s forthcoming album Labyrinth of Bridges, you may recall that I mentioned that we’d be streaming two releases from Finland’s Saturnal Records this week. As promised, here’s the second: Pra Sila – Vukov Totem, the long-awaited debut album from Serbian black metal duo All My Sins. And when I say ‘long-awaited,’ that’s not just hyperbole: the band actually formed in 2000, released a pair of demos–2002’s Night Sculpture and 2004’s From the Land of the Shining Past–and then went silent until 2017’s Lunar / Solar EP.
That decade-plus of relative silence, though, was definitely put to good use, as Pra Sila – Vukov Totem is one of the more remarkable black metal albums you’re likely to hear this year. While on one level it has the same wintry atmosphere and musical aggression of as best of the classic Norwegian bands, they infuse that style with healthy doses of of both Slavic mythology and Serbian mysticism that makes the resulting music entirely their own. Also, it’s definitely worth mentioning that closing track “Konačna ravnodnevica (Čin drugi)” is easily the best post-punk influenced black metal track I’ve heard in a very, VERY long time.
Pra Sila – Vukov Totem will be available on Sunday, September 23 – the date of the final equinox of 2018 (preorder here). Stream it in full below, and check out my interview with both Nav Cosmos (vocals/bass) and V (guitars/bass/clean vocals/keyboards) while you’re at it.
Indy Metal Vault: So first off, thank you for the interview. Pra Sila – Vukov Totem is a remarkably powerful album, and I have a lot of questions about both it and the history of the band. However, I’m going to start the same way I did with your label mates Burial Shrine, whose album (which we’re also streaming) comes out the same day as yours. It’s pretty unusual for a record to be released on a Sunday, but September 23 is the Autumnal Equinox, which has particular significance in some pagan and heathen traditions—in fact, it’s often referred to as the ‘Pagan Thanksgiving.’ However, I don’t know enough about Slavic culture or Serbian mysticism to know whether the Autumnal Equinox has any importance for All My Sins or not. Whose idea was it to release it on the equinox, the band’s or Saturnal Records? Does that date have any significance for you?
Nav Cosmos: Greetings, and thank you as well for the interesting questions. Regarding the album’s release date, the idea came from the band itself and it carries more of a personal significance even though the Autumnal Equinox is quite present in Slavic mythology. This Autumnal Equinox is sung about on the album in the songs “Konačna Ravnodnevica” (“The Final Equinox” in English) Part One and Two. We named this equinox “the final one,” because it describes one very expressive inner struggle that’s sung about in both parts of the song. Lyrics for these two and the rest of album tracks were written by using symbols, metaphors and allegories from Slavic mythology, through which we express our personal views and experiences.
V: The allegory present in both of the album’s closing tracks is directly connected with murder, death and the vanishing of the sun. Further, it is represented as the death of a great idea and the wholeness of the tragedy following the event. In the context of black metal, it directly corresponds with the foundations of the genre.
IMV: One of the things that immediately struck me about Pra Sila – Vukov Totem is how heavily influenced it seems to be by the Norwegian second wave, which surprised me a bit given how important your Slavic identity seems to be to you as a band. Then I started doing a bit of research and learned that All My Sins actually formed in 2000, at which point it started making a bit more sense. It also leads me to a couple of questions, the first being about how long it took for you to record you first full-length. The band released demos in 2002 and 2004, and then seemingly went silent until last year’s Lunar / Solar EP. What were you doing in the 10+ years between releases? Was there an official ‘hiatus’ or anything during that period, or were you just focusing on other projects?
NC: It’s true that the album was heavily influenced by the black metal sound of the 90s. But is that just the Norwegian influence? We could not completely agree on this. The way we see it is that the concept of the second wave black metal is much broader, and that Norwegian bands do not have the monopoly on this period. However, within the band we have an “internal” name for this album. We like to call it “a winter album” since the majority of it was composed during wintertime, during a privately difficult period of our lives that was both for V and me.
So I guess here you can draw a conclusion. What we wanted was to have a “cold album” and I think it feels that way. Also, the concept of Wolf as a being that symbolizes our primordial ancestor demanded this kind of approach. As for the period between 2004 and the recording of the Lunar / Solar EP, we can say that the band was functional, but with frequent lineup changes and certainly without a decent studio recording. V was active with other bands, and he is still in some of them like: Terrorhammer, Kawir, Ulvdalir, Dead Shell of Universe, Triumfall, Bethor, etc. while I was primarily bound to All My Sins. It should be noted that the idea of an album dedicated to the Wolf is quite old, and that it was finally realized with this year’s album.
IMV: What I find most intriguing about the prominent second wave influence in All My Sin’s sound, though, is that I don’t think anyone who has either seen your most recent promo pics or read anything about how the album was influenced by the Wolf Totem would have guessed that you’d have such a Norwegian-influenced sound. The lack of folk elements in the music surprises me somewhat, especially since you’ve gone from writing lyrics in English on the early demos to using what seems to be a combination (according to Google Translate, anyway) of Czech and Croatian. What made you decide to stick with the second wave sound despite seemingly embracing more of your Serbian heritage on the newer material?
NC: I guess we were clear enough about this second wave influence in the previous answer. We think that the music we wrote came out of us just the way we thought it should be for this album. We are not a folk metal band, which does not necessary mean that in the future we will not use traditional instruments, but only if we feel that we need it. The language used in our lyrics is Serbian, which is basically identical with Croatian and in Yugoslavia was officially called Serbo-Croatian.
IMV: So I mentioned in the first question that I don’t know a lot about Slavic culture or Serbian mysticism. I’ve tried to do a bit of research into the significance of the Wolf Totem in pre-Christian Slavic mythology and folklore, but I haven’t found much online from sources that I’d consider reliable: I’ve seen references to ancestor worship, moon gods, stories about the wolf descending into the underworld, etc. Can you explain the significance of the Wolf Totem – particularly in terms of the “The Primordial Force of the Wolf’s Totem,” which is apparently the rough English translation of the album’s title?
NC: Slavic mythology is quite rich and diverse, but unfortunately unjustly neglected. There is a lot of relevant and scientifically based literature about this topic, as well as many Slavists who research this subject both in Serbia and worldwide. The topic we deal with here is exclusively related to the Wolf as a metaphor and a symbol of a Serbian primordial father. We wanted to penetrate deep into the oldest times located somewhere within the misty ages. The Wolf is a lunar being, and it’s a part of mythology related with the lunar period of the ancient Slavic tradition, this period being older then a solar one. In our mythology it has many forms and functions, but here we observe the Wolf as an abstraction.
V: The relationship between the ancestral Wolf and the Man of contemporary age is one of the central points of the album. The development of humanity has reached that level, where the Wolf and the present Man barely have similarities anymore. The Man has become alienated from his spiritual ancestor, and the Wolf can not find it’s place, nor can he make any peace with the present world designed by contemporary humankind.
IMV: Somewhat troublingly, one of the most thorough discussions of the Wolf Totem that I found online was in a 10+ year old post on a White Supremacist website (the name of which I won’t give here, so as not to give them any free publicity). I don’t necessarily draw any conclusions from that, since far-Right/racist/neo-Nazi groups have been misusing Norse symbols for their own ends for decades. Still, with the (alleged) amount of National Socialist Black Metal coming out of that part of the world (particularly the Ukraine), I feel like I need to ask – there’s nothing racist in All My Sin’s ideology, is there? Based on the translations of the lyrics I’ve been able to track down, I’d honestly be surprised if there were.
NC: No surprises here, there’s nothing racist in our art or ideology. Politics are not something of crucial meaning for All My Sins. We deny the world and its concept!
IMV: Since I mentioned it a few questions previously, I want to ask about those promo pictures. I’m guessing that what you’re wearing in them is some sort of traditional Slavic or Serbian ceremonial garb. What I find particularly striking about them is the resemblance they have to certain ceremonial figures in the Hopi and Navajo traditions here in the US. Can you describe the significance of the clothing?
NC: Yes, these traditional garbs are something characteristic of the region where we come from. They are related to the local pagan custom called “Poklade.” The custom outlived the period of Christianization and survived until the present times, firmly rooted in the folk. This traditional clothing has a lot of ritual and mystical importance in itself, which is an important aspect of All My Sins.
V: Our music and the themes we explore have a close bond with the local cultural elements, and our visual appearance shares this same kind of connection. The imagery we use here is directly inspired by pre-Christian times and ancient Slavic shamanism. On a general level it corresponds with the shamanic and mystical content of our music, but within the context of the album this shamanic aspect gets emphasized further where the worship of the Wolf’s Totem is one of the central topics.
IMV: From a production standpoint, Pra Sila – Vukov Totem sounds amazing. V produced the record – did you record it in an actual studio, or is it just a remarkably clear DIY recording?
V: Thank you. I work as a sound engineer in my Wormhole Studios, a music production studio that specializes in extreme music production, although from time to time I cooperate with other genres as well. The album by All My Sins was fully recorded with me behind the mixing desk, and besides this project I’ve being working with clients from countries like: Greece, Russia, Switzerland, Sweden, USA, Cyprus, the UK, and more.
IMV: I love the album’s cover art – the use of color, the partially formed wolf figure coming out of the mist. How closely did you work with Daniel Dorobanțu on the concept for it?
NC: We are very pleased with the outcome of what Daniel did for us. It is that foggy wolf that appears from the past and releases a scream! Cooperation with Daniel was perfect. We had frequent contacts during his work on it. In the beginning we presented him the basic idea, which he brilliantly conducted at the end.
IMV: What’s next for All My Sins after Pra Sila – Vukov Totem comes out? Are you a band that plays live at all?
NC: Our next plans are concentrated towards finalizing a new split, for which we already recorded a track. We also slowly work on the initial sketches for our future recordings, which will be certainly once again inspired by the southern Slavic myths.
V: We didn’t abandon the idea of playing live, although it’s been a while since our last live show. At the moment we are more focused on making records.
IMV: Thanks again for being willing to answer a few questions. I like to leave the final word to the artists – anything else you want to add?
NC: Thank you, too and greetings to your readers and to everyone that listens our music.
V: Thank you for your interest and support for our deeds!