“Cursed is a right word.” – An Interview with Déhà of Yhdarl
Yhdarl is one of the preeminent forces in the black/doom metal scene. The offspring of mad genius Déhà and his peerless cohort Larvalis, Yhdarl stands poised to spread with malefic darkness across the extreme metal soundscape with its upcoming album Loss. I caught up with Déhà to discuss the advance EP A Prelude to Great Loss, his workhorse attitude, and the metal landscape in 2016.
You currently write and record music under a variety of different names (Yhdarl, Merda Mundi, Imber Luminis, Aurora Borealis, Slow…). Do you have an overarching vision with all of these different projects? How do you keep them stylistically separated?
It’s all about separating the music styles, putting limits on them, having a specific concept all along, etc. It’s quite easy to say “This is black metal,” but the depth of it is more important. If we’re taking Yhdarl, for example, it contains (as a manner of speaking about etiquettes) a lot of different styles: Ave Maria was Ambient/Doom, Humainly Sick was Noisy, several tracks are more into Drone/Doom/Noise, etc. But the concept of the band stays the same. I mean. Is Abruptum black metal? Is Gnaw Their Tongues black metal? Even more: is Full of Hell black metal? I do feel the essence of BM in these bands, as much as I want it in Yhdarl, whatever sub-style or etiquette people want to put on them.
So I tend to do the same with my projects and bands. It is, nevertheless, true that it could be easy to mix Aurora Borealis and Imber Luminis and Vaer, for example, but there again: the concept is totally different, as well as the sound approach… If there is something which I can be proud of, it’s exactly this. I can do different music styles, without them to be just a copy or a sucked-off version of my other releases. That is something which I could understand, but I don’t accept when a band, or someone, has + 5 bands where they all sound the same, even if the concept might be different. Artistic choices are paramount, of course, but I am becoming slowly a narrow-minded asshole.
Which of these numerous projects would you consider your primary artistic endeavor or passion?
Yhdarl, definitely, because it’s primal and surely the catalyst of it all. When I look back now, ten years ago I started composing “Humainly Sick,” containing this shit English mistake because I wanted to mix “Human” “Mainly Sick” together and so many people were just bitches about it. This album was done almost improvised, and I kept it just for me for months before some friends wanted to listen to it and started to compare it to Funeralium’s demo (which was a huge compliment, but it has nothing to be compared to this masterpiece). And they did feel this distress, this raw, uncompromised suicidal mood, which transcended their vision of depression. I was shocked, because for me, it was just… cleansing myself.
And with time, I realized that I need more and more ways of doing this. The typical cliché “catharsis.” Hence, a lot of bands/projects emerged. But nothing would be as harsh as Yhdarl, I am sure of it.
I don’t imagine this is an issue with something like Aurora Borealis where you’re going for a sound that’s quite a deviation from your other material, but considering your other projects, do you write a song first then figure out which moniker it will fit under, or do you start writing with one of your projects in mind?
It really depends actually. I compose on an impulse, so it really can go everywhere. It happened to me that I started to compose a hiphop beat which turned out to be one of the most depressive black metal songs I ever wrote. This can be a problem, though, because so many times I want to ‘cover’ my own music within another project. I mean, wouldn’t it be funny to cover a black metal song and make it into a beautiful happy post rock one? But I try not to let myself go that path. I love experimenting, re-recording, and no, I need to write new stuff. Or to finish what is already available.
Even though. Two years ago, when I started Ave Maria II, I really had the mind for it and I just started working for this album, without deviating for it. So I think it’s a mixture of mood swings and maybe discipline, as well.
So would you say the compositions sort of guide you to their end rather than being something you conceptualize and file under the proper category?
Kinda yes. Like I said, sometimes I tend to really focus on a concept and force myself to stay inside it (especially when I took part in Maladie, for example) but yes, other than that, I have no damn idea, which is very exciting, because sometimes I have this riff’ somewhere, and I could make a single with like 20 different versions in different styles. Believe it or not, there is somewhere on my PC a small excerpt of Yhdarl’s Ave Maria main theme in electronic trance music. Or else.
You’ve been playing music for 20 years or so, but you seemed to have gotten into metal only within the last decade. What drew you to this genre? Are you self-taught, or did you have any influential teachers along the way?
Fact is, I have been into metal for less time than people would think. I always listened to it, I just didn’t care much about what I was listening to, but around the end of the 90’s, I just got stuck with it and I went down to the underground, the shitloads of substyles, etc. I was, and still am, a fan of extreme metal because the power of it, the aesthetics of screaming, how you can make such a harsh and violent sound into ambient (Sunn O))), Xasthur), how you can make some normal happy ballads into mental-destroying songs (DSBM, yes Monsieur), etc. It’s pretty impressive that we can find so many gems in the metal scene, underground or not (but mainly underground, ok). Plus, metal comes from Rock, which is the widest style of them all. You can add anything to Metal and if nicely done, it will sound about right.
I am self-taught, which means I am a mediocre player, but I try my best to take courses. Right now, my guitar teacher is none other than Bulgarian friend and shredder Alexandra Zerner, I am taking bass courses with Mademoiselle Christine Lanusse from Qantice (yes, women who can play their instruments = full of love), vocal courses as well with Bulgarian genius Misha Iliev while I train myself slowly on drums, other vocal techniques (overtone, heavy metal, harsher screams) while keeping everything safe. If I had more time and money, believe me, I’d be on piano, violin, cello, bagpipes and organ.
Yet, I can‘t deny my main influence: Pink Floyd. They are the best band in the world and will always be. Their discography is flawless. I would just love them to still be around and exist, but even with that, it’s always them, the best. I saw two years ago Roger Waters playing The Wall in Sofia, in a stadium, and I never experienced something as great as this concert.
Of course, I have metal musicians which are close to me and I would give my grandmother to be as good as they are (ah, my grandmother is dead, fuck.): Ihsahn, Devin Townsend, Attila, Loomis… it would be too long to name them all.
What do you think is the definitive Floyd album?
Did you just ask me that? Oh man.
There is none, I think. Everything is findable in Floyd: Meddle is trippy, A Saucerful… is damn psycho, Wish You Were Here is a perfect masterpiece, The Wall gives you the shivers all the time, even the latest posthumous album (The Endless River) is ALSO FUCKING AWESOME.
I mean, seriously, I am not able to pick one. Right now, it’s Wish You Were Here which is the one being listened a lot. But I can’t say it’s my favorite; it would be like cheating on my wife. I simply cannot.
Are there any other works of art or literature that have influenced you significantly?
- Visual arts (Dali, Pollock, Beksiński, Daria Endressen, Nihil …)
- Philosophy (Vian, Cioran, Nietzsche, Sartre, Pessoa …)
- Books (Stocker, King, Werber …)
- Viennese Actionism
- Certainly more
We previously corresponded after I wrote the Case Listing article about Yhdarl’s Und So Beginnt Es. It seems to me that you like to maintain an air of mysticism regarding your art. Do you think that veil of mystery is intrinsic to what you create?
There is this saying “Do not meet your heroes,” and it is an absolute reality. If people leave a part of mystery, it’s for all good reasons, and sometimes nothing needs to be explained but just felt. Yhdarl is so much more than music or a concept, and you know it. So I’d rather keep some stuff hidden, protecting myself and others, yes. The conditions I have also withdraw me from being like this, so it’s a good compromise.
Note: I don’t see myself as a ‘hero’ or any other bullshit like “oh look at me I am so underground and full of mysteries im so sikk bro.” I accepted my own conditions to live with them and I abhor this new kind of people who suffers not to suffer enough, for attention whoring purposes. Thank you social medias. I hate social medias. It’s a burden that I have to use them.
Do you think metal has an image issue where musicians or scenes employ a sort of front or façade that doesn’t necessarily echo the actual sentiments of the musicians? For example, it seems that there’s been a near constant battle waged on social media over the last few years between different sectors of metal about what is and isn’t acceptable in the genre, but many of the musicians and fans on one side or the other probably don’t actually subscribe completely to any one ideal.
You have different kinds of people in ‘our’ scene… the oldschool asshole only loving shit before the 90’s, the young stupid dude going “YEAH METAL!!!! BEEERRRRR YEAAAHH,” the supermisanthrop who forces himself to hate everyone because the hype, the DSBM people cutting their wrist the wrong way and posting 852 pictures about it… and of course, that’s the shit people, you got me.
There is something which everyone is supposed to fucking understand: we are all different and we’re born with one thing which is called RESPECT. Then, whatever you like or don’t like, you can be intelligent enough to say “no, fuck no I don’t like this” and just keep it this way and not just going and play fucking bullies to people who enjoy Linkin Park, uknowatimsayin? Or stupid fans not being happy that their super artist is not wearing corpse paint every day and actually DO smile.
I think that at some point, you have the really passionate and/or obsessed artists who can really go down the harsh truth of extreme music and keep their complete integrity, and having their bursts of harshness from time to time because the music industry sucks and they live between the “I should sell my ass and finally get money out of this shit, making Nuclear Blast material and voilà” and the “I shall never. Integrity über alles.” And I think it’s easy to understand both. So yes, right now, a lot of bands are making merch which attracts the youngest (beard balsam, beers, spaghettis (!), etc), being active on social medias, etc. and can they be blamed? Not really. It’s a job at some point. It’s almost eating you up like any other day job. You need to sell. And these days with internet, you sell way less so you need to go on stage so you need merch but you [sic] new so you got no label so you need budget but you just spent your money to survive. Ouroboros eating its own tail again. It’s like that.
There is just no way to take really a position. It’s always a problem because the music style we do and love is eating us. We want to get okay with it, just being able to provide our families or ourselves with groceries thanks to what we do. But seriously, that doesn’t happen a lot. Or when it actually does, it ends up in crowdfunding for shit. I mean, okay, you want to keep your integrity, make extreme metal music and get money: THEY DON’T GO TOGETHER. So artists and fans should know. That’s why I became a producer: I get more money by producing an album than one year of sales of my own 852 bands.
And I am not complaining. It’s logic in a way. As long as “mainstream” people would listen to “mainstream” music without taking in consideration any other music styles which can be more intelligent (or not, though), we’re in deep shit and that’s the way it is.
I will finish this huge thing with a simple quote from someone I know pretty well: “Black metal is not only a music style, it’s a lifestyle as you know. But understand that Abruptum, or Full of Hell, or even Merzbow are more black metal than a lot of bands claiming it.” And this person added that Yhdarl’s Ave Maria was black metal, the essence was there.
You’ve described Imber Luminis as catharsis, saying the name means “a crying torrent/rain” of light in Latin. Do you view catharsis as the goal of all of your art, or just one of the individual aspects you’re exploring? What’s the appeal to you?
I am tempted to answer that catharsis is paramount. But I know that it’s not the only feeling I need. Of course, it has the greater part of it all. I just ‘am,’ if you want. I don’t care about people’s opinion about how ‘fake’ the screams sound, or how much they think about being overacting, etc. Fact is: I just go, I don’t know what I’ll do, how I’ll do, I just go and fuckitall as childish as it sounds. At some point, I don’t care much about the haters. #youllneverbeoneofus .
But come on. On a more serious point, catharsis is something that a lot of people can have but they never do. Apart from music and art in general, my second passion is helping people (divination, magnetism, psychiatry, etc.) and one way to do that was to see if some of them ever had some moments of inner violence, real one. I indeed composed songs with Yhdarl where I specifically demanded several people to scream, as part of their recovering session. And I can assure you that it worked (track “SCTISM” on The Essence/for example). And I am right now working on a ‘compilation’ which will include old Yhdarl songs, re-recorded, with a lot of guests singing in that mood: expulsing shit, cleansing.
So you have some formal training/background in psychiatry? How else do you interweave that profession with your art?
I’ve read a lot of philosophy, including talked with modern philosophers (known or not), psychiatrists as well throughout my life, and at some point it becomes clearer: nowadays society makes us being simple numbers. You’re born, education, school, try drugs and alcohol (and find them to be an easy way out of your problems because it’s so coooooool), get a gf, get a broken heart, succeed your studies, get married, have a kid, work, work, work, dedicate your life to your kid, work work work, try to get holidays to make people “see” that you’re happy when you’re not, keep on, repeat, get pensioned and be not able to do shit, die. So people need a way to expulse shit, it’s a vital needs, but they don’t know they can. “Screaming is just for the small minded,” “oh that heavy rock/hard metal is just a bunch of drunkasses adults acting like teenagers”, “tssk, tattoos and piercings are so much a sign of being a social problem” etc. We need a way out which gives them violence, a needed violence which is towards them and them only. I would so much prefer than someone just takes a microphone in a garage and scream his frustration, and not smash his wife’s head. Or anyone’s head (apart if deserved, eh). So no, I have no real training. I just ‘know’ what I can do, and as long as it works and brings results, I’ll keep on doing it. You can even tell me that it’s just a placebo effect on people, I won’t care: if it works, I’m cool with it.
Art is emotion brought on a support (canvas, movie, music, etc.) so it is plain normal that it means that something has to be told, depending the emotion. And I love, so much, when someone needs to expulse something and seems lost. That’s where I intervene and tell him/her about how I manage to feel better. It’s even better when he/she never screamed before, because it brings true primal emotion. And this is absolute.
You’ve worked with a number of other artists and singers, many of whom, like Ascaris from Ævangelist and Benjamin Schmalzlein, tend to have very distinct artistic visions themselves. Do you think it’s easy to maintain your own artistic vision while working with these artists? Who has been the most enjoyable to collaborate with?
I love working with other people. Especially that I would collaborate only with people whose mind and talents I like, otherwise it’s not worth it. And as I told you just above, it’s a healing process which can be useful for several people.
When I work with Benjamin (which I did quite a lot of times, but not enough), we always have a “deal” about what we do, how we do. We set some rules and voilà. Sometimes we just don’t (Und so beginnt es) and it’s for the better. And of course, all that matters is the creation we do and that our feelings are there.
I don’t think I have someone which I enjoyed more to work with. You can of course think about Daniel N (Clouds, Shape of Despair, Eye of Solitude, etc.), since we are real friends for years now and we do collaborate a lot, but any collaboration is a gem. Him, Kjiel and Ky (from Eyelessight, for an upcoming Imber release), Ahephaïm and S Caedes (Lebennsucht), Benjamin (Yhd, Imber), Ascaris & ][ (from (and ex-live) Æ, for Yhdarl) etc. It’s always different and unique, and that’s the strength of it.
Are there any artists with whom you’d like to work?
I would love to sit down with Devin Townsend, being honest. He’s quite the main person I’d love to work with. But of course, a lot more as well: Diamanda Galas, Attila, Laure Le Prunnenec, Laurent Lunoir…
Actually, I always had this idea for years. You know these metal operas (Avantasia, Melting Space, etc.); I want to do the same but within the extreme metal genre. This seems quite contradictable but I would so much love to create a conceptual story, putting it on music, and involving a lot of singers, musicians on it. But heh, I don’t have any big name so I quite refuse to pay 1000€ for a 30 second featuring. I’ll just have a cheek and just risk, and ask.
I actually think metal has gotten to the point where it could be receptive of a big black metal opera. Have you thought of any concept you’d like to explore in such an opera?
Of course. I have a pretty big concept indeed in my mind but I’d rather not talk about it here in case someone decides to take this idea, héh. But this “opera” thing won’t be really into the concept at all. I really have a story, and I would want pretty high placed people in the scene. So I’ll wait, in case I would be able to talk to them without paying money or something.
You said in the promo material that the songs on A Prelude to a Great Loss are older and that they differ from upcoming release Loss. What sets them apart?
All songs from the EP & the upcoming album were written and lost at the same time, but those two songs (“Unblessed Hands”/”Primal Disgrace”) are definitely aside in how I composed them, and as well as the “depth” of them. A slight more melodic if you will, but destroyed by those guest voices, which brings the perfect contrast.
The other songs on the album, Loss, are closer to each other. I can’t really explain why, it just feels that way. I wanted, first, to release them all as part of the album, but seriously, 80 minutes is a lot to handle, maybe too much (yes, I said that).
Do you think 80 minutes is too much to ask of listeners? Schammasch just released a triple album…
And… is it good? Not really in my opinion (this is subjective, all credits go to the band which is NOT a bad one, it’s my opinion). It’s too long, everything could be said and done in 50 minutes, as a concentrate of it all, and THEN, yes, it would have been perfect. But now, no. I got bored. And I don’t want my people to be bored even if a concept is behind. Yet… I must admit the third CD was my favorite.
So yes I think that, depending the style, 80 minutes can be okay, but as for Loss, the 3 songs I left for the album will be sufficient, you will see.
Loss seems like an almost cursed album. The music was really lost five times?!? Did you ever just want to give up on that particular batch of songs?
Oh god damn yes. Cursed is a right word. 5 times because of PC or HD failures and all. I thought it would be impossible to be that unlucky but hell, that happened. I wanted to stop this album so many times but no, I “had to” finish it, and make it. You have no idea how many backups I have of this album now (last time I counted, seven). It can’t be lost again.
The songs on A Prelude to a Great Loss are all pretty long, as was Ave Maria before them. Do you just naturally write longer songs, or do you think the length is more conducive to exploring a certain set of ideas or moods?
The latter, definitely. When I create music, I set a specific mood and I decide when it stops. Ave Maria, for example, was meant to be this way, to be a circle. Or for We All Die (Laughing)’s debut album, Thoughtscan: same thing as well, it was meant to be a big song of 33 minutes. It’s also a challenge because I definitely need to be able to bring the listener somewhere, not to bore him. I am grateful most of the reviews are positive, by the way.
Was Gaia really rejected by 30 labels? That’s pretty absurd.
And for the best reasons at all: “You’re not known enough”, “It sounds like a demo” (wat), “You’re a one man band lol,” “We have already 666 bands signed so no we won’t listen but we’re going to sign some other band which sounds like Blut Aus Nord because it’s hype now” and other shit.
What I just wanted was not to get signed as a goal but at least to be listened, so they can be like “oh, okay, one man band but that’s cool.” I’ve spent years learning how to make music, how to produce it, how to extract the mood and concept and bring production needs on it (raw or modern production), I’ve been fighting the vision of “bedroom one man bands” as being utter crap. So yes, I had the right to complain. Once in a while, it feels good. But yes, I was really pissed at some point.
I can understand labels which do not want one man bands because the selling potential isn’t as great as having a full 5-piece band which can tour. Seriously, I understand that and accept it as something part of my music life now. But I despise labels which are using this excuse not to take you in, BUT will definitely get another one man band because he well known and shit. I mean, if you don’t like my music, just stand your fucking ground and tell me. Negative criticism is awesome. But don’t fucking lie to me is all.
That’s frustrating, but at least it seems that one-man bands are gaining traction. We’ve covered quite a few for the blog. Do you have any plans for playing any of your solo material live?
I want to. Seriously I want to, so much. The musicians I have for this are unfortunately far away from Bulgaria, where I live, but I don’t mind much. I am slowly planning to do something, but as the line-up, all would be exceptional, so I don’t plan for tours or else. Merda Mundi, Imber Luminis, Yhdarl. Those would be pretty intense live, they should just be one shots.
I hope to catch you live one day.
I’d like to say thanks again to Déhà for this insightful interview. Be sure to swing by his personal label page, Musical Excrements, to check out all of the 852 bands he has. You should also definitely pick up A Prelude to the Great Loss here as a primer for upcoming material. Last, go tell Déhà hello on the Facebook page for Yhdarl.