(*the country, not the U.S. state)
– Featuring interviews with members of ENNUI, I KILLED THE DEVIL, DIAOKHI, INFADUS, and DISMYTH.
Part 1: Setting the Scene
I love a good music biography. Ever since I first really became an obsessive music fan in my teens, I’ve enjoyed reading music bios and absorbing all the music of those bands while I read about them. Sometimes I’ll read about a band or a scene I don’t know much about and the journey the book takes me on will coincide with my exposure to all the music.
Since I started writing for BAZ I’ve been digging deeper into the cavernous world of Underground Metal and all those many pathways you can follow down there. In just about any genre, you can happily submerge yourself in nothing but bands from the USA. You’ll never run out. Or maybe you’d prefer the UK? Plenty of options there too. But why limit yourself? For almost four years now, I’ve been living in the center of Europe, in The Czech Republic, and being here with all these different places to explore, what better time to follow some different music paths?
Chance opportunities or encounters often open up different paths for me and I enjoy letting the world give me little signals and following those signs wherever they might lead me. So when I was presented with a helping hand to get me into the world of Georgian Metal and setting up some interviews, I thought here’s an opportunity worth taking. A big thank you to Lika Sas and Elizaveta Arkhipova, without them this adventure would not have been possible.
Through the following installments of this musical exploration you’ll read about some of the most significant and interesting Metal music to come out of Georgia in recent times, drawing together the words of those who made and are making it, what it’s been like for them, the culture, the people, their influences and their music.
It will soon become apparent that the interviewees I gathered together cross a varied landscape of Metal styles, the first road we’ll travel down here concerns the dark realms of Black Metal.
Travelling back to 1999 in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, DIAOKHI came together from a short-lived, prior incarnation PERGAMO. In the band’s relatively short existence DIAOKHI were together long enough to release 2000’s “To Raise The Iron Throne”, a compelling blast of Black Metal, incorporating elements of Folk Music, that comes together into a satisfying and evocative sound. Catherine Polak played keyboards in the band and it was her I went to for a little background insight into what Georgia and Tbilisi are like for those (like me) who’ve yet to spend any time there.
Catherine: “At the risk of sounding like a travel brochure, I will try to give you a brief description. Georgia, or as natives call it, Sakartvelo, is a small and beautiful country situated midway between Europe and Asia, on the edge of the Caucasus Mountains, between the Black and Caspian Seas. It’s neighbored by various cultures as varied as its topography. Georgia is considered to be the “cradle of wine”, as archaeologists have traced the world’s first known wine creation back to the people of the South Caucasus in 6,000BC. For most of the western travelers, it’s probably known for its charm, beauty, hospitality amazing food, and wine, but it also has deep and millennia-long history, full of drama, conquests, and glory. Georgia is also the homeland of Stalin and for the last 300 years, it was part of the Russian empire. It gained its independence only 30 years ago. Since then it went from the chaos of civil war in the 90s to some order and stability of recent years.
Against this backdrop, what was the first music that inspired Catherine?
Catherine: “When I was really small I listened to Stevie Wonder, The Beatles and Rolling Stones a lot, mostly because those were the records lying around at home. The first music that I truly loved as a kid was Queen and Pink Floyd. The first songs that I ever heard by Queen where “Bohemian Rhapsody” “‘We Are The Champions’ and ‘We Will Rock You” and I was completely blown away. it was so different from anything I ever heard before. Later I got into more heavy stuff thanks to my brother. I started listening to everything from Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Dream Theatre, to bands like Tool, Pantera, Slipknot, Morbid Angel and Slayer. Today I don’t limit myself by any particular genre, I listen to all kinds of music from metal to classical to electronic to blues. But till this very day, I think that Queen is probably the greatest, most unique and creative band that ever existed.
“I was in my early teenage years and it was a completely unstable post-civil war situation in the country. I was trying to navigate my way through my uncertainties and the normal societal pressures to conform. I was an atheist in a deeply religious country, a first-year college student studying graphic design, I “worked” as a model, I was into unconventional art and music and later I also joined a Black Metal band. Probably the most bizarre combination one can imagine. and a perfect combination to become an outcast. But it was fine by me. I never had this need to fit in. Being misunderstood is the curse or blessing (depends which way you wanna look at it) of every creative person.”
With all this political and social upheaval during that time, what was growing up in Georgia like?
Catherine: “It’s hard to generalize what it was like. I think growing up in any place vastly depends on who you are and how you perceive the world. I was born in the last years of the USSR, which was a rather peaceful and prosperous time in Georgia but at the same time, it was a world full of restrictions and an informational vacuum. Back then main TV channels were portraying Black Sabbath as a symbol of the downfall of western civilization and records were mostly available on the black market (which made them extremely precious and valuable to us). Then came the 90s with the collapse of the Soviet Union, civil war, and absolute chaos. The change was so dramatic that it felt like two different worlds. I’m not saying that I’m a complete “War child” but our generation was severely “damaged” by the chaos of the ’90s in Georgia. So, it was not an easy journey but yet I/we never became as angry and violent as kids in thriving Norway, who killed themselves and burned churches (which by the way was pure vandalism and an idiotic thing to do). so you go figure 🙂
ENNUI are a Doom Metal duo from Tbilisi, Georgia. Since 2012 they’ve released four full-length albums, most recently the remorselessly crushing “The End of the Circle” in 2018. The world of ENNUI is one of huge, funereal riffs, dragging the listener through a tremendous, bleak, existential landscape. As their press release states: “This music will let you feel yourself alone in the middle of an ocean of void, solitude, darkness… with no hope, no happiness, no escape, no salvation. Enjoy…”. You had me at an ocean of solitude. I’m sold! Guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist David Unsaved is one half of the band. What music first made an impression on him during his formative years and what was growing up in Georgia like?
David: “I was very lucky with my parents, who have been avid music lovers since their youth. It so happened that my as yet unconscious childhood passed under a stunning alternation of classical music and rock music, with a periodic mix of the most refined progressive, electronic ambient-avant-garde music. To some extent, my musical preferences were already multifaceted. Therefore, the first performers I fell in love with were Queen, Scorpions, Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Klaus Schulze, Edgar Froese, Frédéric Chopin, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, etc.”
(in answer to what growing up was like) “I would rephrase it this way: what was our survival in Georgia like? The fact is that our childhood passed in a very difficult period for Georgia. As soon as the Soviet Union collapsed, a bloody war began in the northwest of Georgia, which soon turned into a civil war in the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi. Then began the reign of anarchy, the corruption of the authorities, economic crisis, and the critically high level of organized crime. We lived without a constant supply of electricity, gas and water. In such conditions there was no time for any kind of entertainment here. Nowadays, when you involuntarily think about it all, you feel uneasy, but before this collapse was not perceived in any way. However, during the period of terrible stagnation and lagging behind the whole world, it was still possible to find some interesting metal records. I remember how I used to set my alarm for 4 or 5 AM to listen for some new tapes of Slayer, Voivod, Death, etc. because electricity was on schedule and very often it was allowed only during the late night, ha-ha. However, despite everything, some metal scene existed in Georgia even in this period. There were some metal gigs here and the spirit of the extreme was a hundred times more powerful than today. So…. Times changed. Fortunately, today’s youth lives a different life and has no idea how we lived before. I am happy about that. Also the society has changed for the better. Georgia gradually began to develop and move in a better direction. I really hope that in the future there will only be progress here.”
Another band to emerge from Tbilisi during this time, INFADUS came together in 2015. Their debut “Intra Nether”, released in 2018, showcases the band’s significant musical chops, with Progressive and Melodic Death Metal riffs, alongside atmospheric textures and frontman Gio Xurcilava’s lyrical preoccupations with philosophical and psychological themes. Dark and existential, and heavy for sure, but with an ear for melody too. What was the backdrop for Gio’s formative musical experiences?
Gio: “The first music I loved… The story goes back to my childhood. When I grew up in a not so fancy district in Tbilisi. All the kids around me were acting like gangsters, listening to a lot of Hip Hop. Tupac and so on. But I was not really into it. I had to pretend I enjoyed the Pop and Hip Hop music just to fit into society around me. Then later when my father bought the first PC for me and when I discovered the internet, one day I came across this song: “Wonderful Life” by Black. I loved it so much I remember singing it 24/7. That was when I first started to think about the different tastes in music and the beauty you can capture in it. This song became my guiding light towards my passion for music.”
Also formed in 2015, DISMYTH delivered their debut “Majestic Empathy” in 2018, a crunching slab of Doom Metal in the classic mould of BLACK SABBATH, with flavours of DIO, CANDLEMASS and the gothic Rock n’ Roll spirit of DANZIG. Following the album’s release the original members separated, but guitarist and founding member Luka Daniela was not to be discouraged, and recently brought together a new lineup of Nika Maisuradze (Bass), Nino Datunashvily (Vocals) and Jan Staubach (Drums). What of their first musical inspirations?
Jan: “The first music that fully caught me was System of A Down’s album Toxicity. Starting from this album, I absorbed every song from them and expanded to other metal bands and other sub-genres of metal. I was a teenager at that time and me and my friends quickly became a small outsider group since we didn’t really fit into the concept of the other classmates.”
Luka: “The first time when I realized that I liked Metal was from song of Lordi – It Snows In Hell. It has a scary piano part and it really caught me. I like sinister sounds very much and Black Sabbath with Candlemass and other Doom metal bands got me in that genre. I was a student at that time.”
Nino: “The first bands I started to listen to in my childhood were AC/DC, Metallica, Nirvana. As I was growing up music that I liked started to become heavier and now I listen to Progressive, Black and Death Metal, bands like Lamb of God, Behemoth, Dimmu Borgir, Nargaroth etc.”
Nika: “I’ve been listening to heavy music since I was about 8 or 9 years old, it was something new at that time for me, when I listened to my first Metal song , it was “Fight Fire with Fire”. I thought it was the music I wanted to listen to, then I got into even heavier music, like Sludge and Stoner Doom.”
Starting out as a 2-man studio project in 2016, I KILLED THE DEVIL have evolved into a full live-performing band since 2018. With their debut album in the works, a few tantalising tastes of what to expect are already available online. The band’s video to “Treasure”, with its sinister guitar motif, lurching, stop/start rhythms, heavy riffing and great, urgent dual vocal performances from Aus and Holly Mad, comes off like the bastard love-child of Jonathan Davis and Julie Christmas. “Treasure” was in fact my starting point into this whole exploration of the Georgian Metal world. Holly Mad revealed what sparked his own musical journey and what life in Georgia was like for him during that time.
Holly: “The first band that I fell in love with and changed my point of view and entire world was Pink Floyd. I was 8 years old. My cousin is a sailor and he bought the tape. In that time it was very hard to get normal music, I mean rock and metal.”
“That was a really hard period for Georgia. It was 1996, post-Soviet, post-Georgian War period. Whole generations grew up without electricity. I was one of them. there was no entertainment only hunger, starving, colossal rate of criminal activity and really dark times. The only bright point was when I discovered music and especially Pink Floyd. Every time I was listening to them it was like astral travel for me, meditative joy of the flesh and the spirit… that changed my life forever, It doesn’t matter how much time passes, I feel the same about them.”
“Growing up in Georgia in that period was hard as I mentioned. Criminal gangs everywhere, no electricity, no work. You had to be really careful with gangs and with police too, they were almost the same. It was a real struggle for us to express ourselves, have long hair and dress up like true Metalheads. It was against our culture’s mentality and against the unwritten law (how a true man should behave). Metalheads of that time were really brave ‘cause you could easily get killed for being different and free, not like one of them. We were like real daredevils, for how many times we had fought for our point of view it’s hard to count even.”
A big thank you to all the contributors. In the next installment, the band members talk about their experiences making Metal music in Georgia and the impact of religion, amongst other topics. Stay tuned.
**Please support the underground! It’s vital to the future of our genre.