Some months ago I was sent a limited tape of a curious demo from a new Austrian black metal band with links to the excellent Kringa.
writes Andy Cunningham
I was impressed with what I heard and intrigued by their unusual name and aesthetic.
So I contacted Hagzissa hoping to find out what spark ignited the small but strong collective of musicians over there to wander down this dark, eccentric path.
And how a small scene has come together to express something larger than themselves and the demonic relevance of herbs…
Welcome. Hagzissa is a very new entity but has ties with the established black metal underground scene in Austria, most notably being the excellent Kringa.
Can you start off by giving us an overview of what is happening over there and how this tightly woven collective of musicians came to be.
B: ‘When Kringa started off, the sociocultural climate was rather different back then, especially for those smaller parts of society with their own subculture.
There were more people organizing shows, running bars, shops and also labels. Then they had to stop due to a lack of interest and general support.
Local meeting points had to shut down, because of the same problem – it just didn’t pay off any more. Not many youngsters chose to follow a renegade path in this certain direction but rather turned themselves towards drugs and types of music which are all about a life-spanning decadence – and they identified with it.
Of course no motivation to do anything was born out of this way of life. So overall, the metal scene keeps getting older and if there are not even anymore fifteen year olds in Maiden shirts, why would one of them listen to ‘De Mysteriis…’ then? I am twenty six now, so I could follow this development for about ten years.
It takes a huge amount of dedication and focus to go on this path and without the right passion, you will lose track sooner than you can recognize yourself.
Therefore, this collective became as tightly woven as it is for the practical reason of pure necessity in the first hand’.
Morast: ‘I was recruited by B. for guitars since we share similar views on music and i think we seek for a similar experience inside it, also we played in a band before that unfortunately never saw the daylight but we enjoyed the musical process together, so I was totally excited when he asked me to be part of his new project Hagzissa.
About the scene I can’t really talk since until recently I didn’t really see myself part of the scene and see myself more like a wanderer between different spheres seeking for ecstatic delight’.
B ‘Speaking of Hagzissa in particular, the vision behind it all is already older than Kringa which started off as a band about seven years ago. I had my idea in mind and wanted to see it happen as it was. A one man thing wasn’t really an option as my skills were far off those acquired for bringing it to life.
I liked it to be vivid and challenging, therefore started looking for individuals who could fully embrace and identify with my visions.
It took several years, but it was well worth the patience and here we are’. I always find these sorts of collectives interesting and in some ways attractive- think of what is happening in Iceland or with the Legion Blotan bands in England, the Black Twilight Circle in the US etc.
They hark back to the traditions of the early 90s Norwegian BM scene.
I wonder, though, while there is strength in numbers there must also be certain drawbacks to sharing members with other bands.
What do you think are the positive and negative aspects, as an insider? Is your intention to set Hagzissa apart from the pack or do you think it is more important for a micro-scene like yours to work together with a common goal in mind?
Morast: ‘Since the scene is super small here it makes sense to have this kind of incest modus operandi to stay alive.
For my feeling it is like there is a strong interconnected core which is Kringa but every band member has a lot of other connections with unjoined ends that maybe will be put together at a certain point to create something new.
I think one of the main advantages is that since all the musicians play together in various formations, they are very well adjusted to each other which makes it much easier and faster to adapt and create music.
As a drawback we could see that one would stay too much with one’s kind, so you are at risk to block outside influences and get a tunnel vision – which on the other hand can also be a desirable thing if you want to focus on something particular.
But since our backgrounds are very diverse, everybody brings something new into the band, so I don’t see any danger there. It is a very fruitful way to create music and art’.
What about when it comes to a common philosophy; is there some shared outlook among your group or is it purely a shared creative focus?
B ‘Well, as put before, I spent years of effort to find the “right” people for the exact reason that I would not find myself in the position to confront me with this question myself’.
Morast: ‘There is a common ground in what we are seeking artistically. Especially when we are on stage I always had the feeling that we are heading into a similar state which is the abyss that swallows your ego’.
B ‘It is the vortex that lifts you higher and deeper, that is shifting channels and lifting veils. It lets you witness things which you would not sense without this trance and twists your mind upside down for hours and days.
That is why after those first two gigs, I have grown VERY careful about these things we are dealing with. It’s dark. And there are things going on which I am unable to understand right now’.
Morast: ‘When I’m looking for something in creating art then it is this archaic state forgetting about yourself and the surrounding world to be immersed into an divine state of ecstasy which is one of the purest forms of being to me.
I can only achieve this state in art, because in my everyday life this character would be too exhausting to me and the outside world. I think everyone of us is interested in this wild, savage and archaic state but I think we have different philosophies how to approach it.
For me lot of influences come from AOS, Chaos Magick but also Postmodernist Theorists and Psychoanalytics’.
What do you think has made your part of Austria so fertile for this type of music? Your allies in Brånd claim that the surrounding countryside is quite unique and influential on their creative processes. Do you feel the same way?
What makes Upper Austria more special than other regions there, or are there other interesting bands dotted around the country operating below the radar?
B: ‘Located between the savage hills of Bohemia and the mighty Alps with the river Danube pulsating through the midst of it, Upper Austria was home to many different peoples to raise and fall.
Naturally, there is plenty folklore to be found and lots thereof are buried by time and detachment. But still there is hardly any rock, valley or creek without a tale of the devil trying to take a wanderer’s soul and deforming nature by stamping his hooves in a frenzy.
Needless to say that growing up in a landscape said to be altered by the Devil himself may have inspirational effects on someone that’s open to the obscure’.
L :‘To me the part in which you are living is not of great importance. Of course your environment influences how your music sounds in one way or another, but since it is also an exchange of ideas, thoughts and emotions, the people you work with is the real important part.
In a way space is a critical factor: the less amount of space, the easier you get to know people. So Linz, the capital of Upper Austria, is a rather small city, half the size of Dublin, compared by its population, you get to know an assload of people and if you are lucky you eventually meet the right one.
From there everything went by itself. We all share one vision and our creative ways merge in all our projects, but stem from very different directions.
So since Brånd is a solo project of Spectres, we have the advantage of getting influenced by one another, instead of relying on our surroundings’.
Raw, cavernous and bestial are all well-worn adjectives when it comes to black metal but they work well in the case of your rehearsal tape; there’s cathedral-loads of reverb and the music is stripped down and (obviously) possessed of a live feeling.
I understand these songs are to get a re-release by a well-known underground label in the near future so what can we expect? Will the songs get a studio re-recording or is this the exact sound you are going for?
C: ‘The adjectives you mentioned are indeed fitting in what you could hear in this tape. At this moment, the plan is to re-record some of the songs together with new ones for the full-length album. We will also sharpen them a bit here and there, but the main direction has been laid!’
B: ‘Despite some mistakes, the atmosphere we aimed to create has been achieved. Please keep in mind that these are rehearsal room recordings from the second ever gathering. We were very proud of it – mainly for ourselves-, but with Iron Bonehead pushing us to officially release it the way it is, we are even more confident about it now’.
Morast: ‘I think for us the sound aesthetics is also making our message clearer. For a full-length release, we plan to re-record and refurbish some of the material but keep it the original fire of the demo.
In order to achieve that we decided to record it ourselves to give as few as possible out of our hands and to worship the DIY approach that has some tradition in black metal and that has been rewarding with different projects in the past’.
Song titles like ‘Die Pforte (A Speech Above the Moor)’, ‘They Ride Along On the Howling Wind!’ and, in particular, ‘Moonshine Glance (Of Iron Seeds in Sour Soil)’ hint toward interesting subject matter.
What can you tell us about the lyrical concepts at play on the demo? I’m sensing an element of dissatisfaction with modernity, would that be accurate?
M: ‘For me I can’t really say that I feel dissatisfied with modernity, though I also think that our society is lacking in many aspects. But I feel that today in the western hemispheres we have a lot of freedom. If you know how to get it you can really do your own thing.
I don’t care so much about the views of society since it is constantly changing, but I think it is important to stay subversive to challenge new ways of thinking. Since the band deals with the archaic state which is something that is somehow disliked and ignored in this society, I think we also subvert it somehow, which is a good thing’.
B: ‘Good question. Never reflected on this matter in detail to be honest, but indeed most of my influences derive from a past I was completely unable to witness myself. There definitely lies a certain fascination of exploring the magical and mystical within it.
I don’t feel like getting too much into detail here with all the hidden similes and imagery as the lyrics are always written after the music in a half-conscious state of sorts.
Each of them bears a loose story of witching powers working at night and all of them deal with getting lost in the darkness. Sometimes rewarding, sometimes burdening and always confusing’.
Your band name is unusual. Can you give us a bit of background there? My tape arrived with a sprig of sage which I assume must tie in conceptually somehow?
B: ‘“Hagzissa” is the Old High German word for witch – new German “Hexe” and bears a remarkable background. It is put together of two words.
An English tongue will recognize the first part that is “hag” easily, but back then its meaning was “fence” or more likely “hedge” whereas the second part is not fully clarified by linguists. There are references to Nordic spirit-beings, but more striking to me is the connection to “Sitzer” “sitzen” – in English: “to sit”.
So a witch was in the purest sense of the word a human being – male or female – who dwelt on the edge of the here and beyond always ready to travel between the worlds.
Short side story on that matter: When travelling Ireland last year, doing lots of typical tourist stuff, I also walked along the windy Cliffs of Moher of course. After some time, I reached a small ruined outlook on a place they call the Hag’s Head.
Fairly interesting and a striking name to me personally. At this truly powerful image of a boundary – with the cliffs dropping down into the ice cold Atlantic Ocean and most tourists not walking around this far – I had some quiet and naturally sat there in the grass for quite a long time with my thoughts drifting away for good.
The sage was added because it got demonized as all herbal medicine did. This one had a very nasty odour and I wouldn’t take it as a cold remedy but rather burn it at night and see what happens’.
Getting back to the music, what strikes me in particular is that when your ears start to penetrate the cacophony, the real standout element of the music is the catchiness of the riffs.
They are brutish and uncomplicated in execution, perhaps, but there is certainly thought and craft put into their composition with a focus on strong rhythms.
Where do you derive your inspiration from? Do you look to the bands of the past or are your sights set on creating something new?
B ‘As a kid, I have always been fascinated with sounds. Not only did I enjoy singing and exploring the rhymes that came along the melodies. I always tried to imitate everything I heard as precisely as possible – be it silly laughter, strange animals or any odd cracking of unanimated objects.
As I came to learn, what is executed in Hagzissa vocal-wise undoubtedly heralds from these imaginary days, but the real drive to pick up an instrument and learn how to play it properly clearly came with the riff.
Black Sabbath set me on fire and their 70s albums are an endless pool of power since the very first listen. I also find loads of inspiration in the works of the old Czech and Italian masters of metal obscurity, for example, and the 80s in general are an endless source of eyebrow- and fist-raising magic.
But I am also very aware of the fact that in order to cross the fences a narrow mind never proved to be very useful’.
I believe the demo was recorded live so does this mean we can expect the band to play gigs? How active is the live scene in Linz?
C: ‘Yes the demo has been live recorded in our rehearsal room and yes, Hagzissa is an entity who gives to the listener something different to witness on stage.
So far, we did two live appearances here in Austria and, to be honest, we are hungry for future happenings’.
B: ‘The live scene in Upper Austria? Well, compared to Germany, there is still some potential for sure, but it got better over the last year. More engaged people are actually getting both the opportunity and the balls to set up shows in the middle of this bureaucratic jungle.
With ‘Celebrare Noctem’ an annual black metal event whose organizers have to look for new locations after almost every edition keeps getting more and more interesting.
Also, the mountain men in Abtenau, Salzburg started doing smaller shows besides the solstice celebrations. We had the honour to do our very first live show there in March and I could not have imagined a more suitable place for this occasion.
Aimlessly wandering around the alp after the show, searching for the mind I lost in this indescribable swirl of fire, smoke and late-winter darkness… this evening is something I won’t forget in a hurry’.
What lies ahead for Hagzissa? Are you happy to toil in obscurity or does world domination beckon from the mists of your crystal ball?
B ‘The mists of obscurity are as appealing and luring as always and you never know what lie behind them. For now there’s only one advice: Don’t jinx it!’
Interview by Andrew Cunningham ::: 06/08/17