Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Interview: Tharaphita - Estonian Pagan Metal

Ank - photo by AP Childs


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Were the band always pagan?
Kaido: Absolutely
Ank: It started in 1993 when the religious movement was a very hot topic. There were bands like Dark Throne and we wanted to do something similar but to our own taste.

How do you incorporate Estonian folk culture into your music?
Ank: It's more like it's subconscious.
Kaido: We don’t take stories directly from folklore, it's more like we use symbols. We have a song called Merekurat, the sea devil. This is not a story of a spiritual being. It is a story of a so called sea devil which would be a symbol of the beast that the Estonians are so well acquainted with. It has taken many lives.


So are you talking occultism here?
K: No.... forget “the beast”. It’s the so called beast, the power of nature that works on the sea. There is a saying in Estonia, “the sea gives and the sea takes.” This basically means that it can provide food but sometimes with a very high cost of lives. The song of the sea devil is not about a man with horns beneath the water, it's giving respect to the power of nature.

Ank - photo by AP Childs
It addresses the nautical and spiritual history of Estonia?
K: Yes. They couldn’t live without the sea but they also had to be wary of it. It’s a good symbol because it's not about us as mortals living here and gods in their pantheon. It's all mixed, entwined in everyday life. It is in us and it surrounds us.

Can you tell us about the Estonian god, Tharaphita, whom you are named after?
Kaido: He has the same roots as Thor. One thing you must understand about Estonian mythology and culture is that there is very little that we know about what people thought and what they wrote down because during all the wars that have happened here, lots of people were killed and couldn’t pass on their verbal knowledge.

As you may know, both the poetic and prose Edda (the principal texts of Norse mythology) were written centuries after the Viking era and by Christians. Nothing like that happened for Estonian folklore. Nobody wrote it down until about 1000 years after the Viking era. You can make the comparison between Thor and Tharaphita, but it doesn’t really make sense, because there is not so much information from our pagan times. In a way that’s good, because as a result there are no set images of any deities. It is all obscure. Set images can be open to personal interpretation, which people use to their own advantage. We have freedom of interpretation. This leaves a lot of room for a personal voyage in the maze of our inheritance. Its hard to put into words, because there are so few that can be said with certainty.

It’s instinctive perhaps?
Kaido: In a way yes. When we talk about being inspired by paganism, you can only relate to what you feel inside and your relationship with your surroundings.

How do you feel about the black metal bands whose interpretation of Nordic paganism has led them to controversial politics?
Ank: Everyone knows what he is doing; we do it our own way. We are not against other people’s views.
K: When you say you don’t like someone else because they have made a stand, you are forming an opinion. You force yourself onto their world. You must allow them to do what they think is best. Maybe it is best, everything has its own purpose.

Does it annoy you, being associated with things like church burning?
K: When something like that happens in a society, especially when it happens in a wave that a lot of people sympathise with and want to participate in, somewhere, something is quite wrong. Maybe it has its roots thousands of years back, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe its just a couple of pissed off kids. When something like that happens, there is a reason. It's not up to us to say It's good to burn any building, but is it good for society to let it come to that? Rather than being a problem in itself, it is probably the result of a problem.

Do you think it true that in Estonia, folk practices have remained more active than in Western Europe?
K: Baltic countries like Lithuania were the last to submit to the church. Lithuanians still had a strong folk culture when Estonia was already under various Christian rulers as a result of the crusades.

photo by Tom Rowsell

How do you see yourselves in relation to the black metal movement?
Ank: Yeah, we have black metal roots. Musically we are black, but not so much lyrically. We have dark and aggressive lyrics but we are not Satanists. My lyrics come like a flow sometimes. It cannot be controlled.

photo by Tom Rowsell

What do you think of Tallinn music week?
Ank: for us it is unusual. The other bands here are totally different from us. We usually play with other metal bands. We are grateful that it is Tallinn music week.
K: It is excellent that this kind of festival is happening in Estonia. It is something we have been missing for half a century. We have been cut off. It's been almost 20 years since then end of occupation and there are still young bands who have no idea how to get a good recording and how to market it. We are comparatively old dudes, although we don’t feel very old. It’s excellent that they could get the knowledge to do well in 2 years while it has taken us 15 years. For some underground bands here, we are a role model.
Ank: (laughing) Still young musicians...
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