Existence is Futile: An Interview with :STALAGGH:/:GULAGGH:

When it comes to notoriety and black metal, mainstream metal has a history of awarding worldwide recognition to the most fucked up individuals. Our morbid fascination with tortured personalities behind equally tortured music goes well beyond Varg Vikernes and Faust. Silencer’s key role in the early days of DSBM is overshadowed by the horrific and questionable legend of vocalist Nattramn and his penchant for going after small girls with an axe. Trist, a bleak one-man project from the Czech Republic, only created waves when he released graphic images of his heavily scarred torso. Shining’s Niklas Kvarforth played into his own bloody fantasy when he staged his own suicide, returning to kick his fans (0:37) like nothing had ever happened. Controversial and maddening, but mere frat boy antics compared to the next level shit that is black metal’s answer to Rimbaud’s Season in Hell: :STALAGGH:/:GULAGGH:.

It’s important to continue with an objective, open mind.

If you’re masochistic enough to google the band, you can witness the transformation of standard metal forum threads into black pits of psychological warfare. The band is quite mysterious but seems normal enough at first glance. In this scene it’s not unusual for band members to conceal their identities, especially when faced with speculated association with other acts. Acts whose primary vocalists are not the tormented screams of psychiatric patients.

It feels like every nightmare you ever had coming true in excruciating detail.  An experience you have to brave for yourself, because no words can truly capture the complete and utter suffering recorded on :STALAGGH:’s trilogy of “projekts.” The vocals are the heart of these projekts, and, like Nattramn’s Diagnose: Lebensgefahr, so is the stigma and uneasiness the general public associates with insane asylums and its inhabitants. It is generally agreed that these voices, and these people, are real. Scream therapy, torture, whatever, but no alterations, synthetic effects, and no auto-tune. Just the rawness of open wounds. Instrumentation hints at black metal, but after renaming themselves :GULAGGH: and embarking on a new trilogy, it crosses over into undefinable, and at times unlistenable, musical/noise territory. Upcoming release Kolyma will see another barrier broken, a barrier I never knew existed.

It’s understandable, and almost expected, for a significant segment of critics and curious listeners to dismiss :STALAGGH:/:GULAGGH:’s “Nihilistik Misanthropik Audio-Terrror” as an urban legend, a joke, or just a really messed up and inappropriate thing to do. I struggled with this myself while working on this piece, and still have not reached a definite conclusion or opinion on what this body of work really means. Meaning is always determined by the listener. You take from it what you want. What you take from :STALAGGH:/:GULAGGH: is your choice, and yours alone.

Your work is considered controversial by some. How do you view it, and how do you feel about becoming a subject of debate?

We appreciate the fact that people consider us controversial, this makes them interested in listening to our Projekts and this way we can penetrate their weak minds with pain and fear. We do not label our own projekts.
The more people debate our Projekts, the more our message and Audio-Terrror spreads, so we welcome it.

What made you decide to release :STALAGGH: and :GULAGGH: albums as trilogies? Can you explain the concept behind each?

Each : projekt : has it’s own concept and atmosphere. Our first projekt is called : PROJEKT NIHIL : and represents Nihilism and shows the listener that their existence is futile.
Our second projekt is called : PROJEKT TERROR : (wrong spelling is intentional) and it’s main goal is to terrorize the listener and is much more aggressive and disturbing than our first projekt. : PROJEKT MISANTHROPIA : is all about the emotional and psychological HATE to life and humanity. The sounds should reflect and channel misanthropy to the listener and awaken and strengthen these emotions.
There are also going to be three :GULAGGH: projekts. The first one Vorkuta was released last year and we are now working on Kolyma to be followed by Norilsk. Those are the names of the worst Gulag camps in the former Soviet Union, they were located north of the Arctic circle. There is no specific reason why there are three projekts.

While recording : PROJEKT MISANTHROPIA :, the third and final :STALAGGH: album, was there a predetermined sequence, or was its course determined spontaneously by the patients?

: PROJEKT MISANTHROPIA : was recorded in 3 parts. This time we used the vocals of 7 mental patients, more than we had ever used before.
The first part is the base layer and that was recorded in an abandoned factory building. This factory building had not been used for over 30 years and would be demolished a few weeks later. We (all :STALAGGH: members including the mental patients) were allowed to destroy everything that was inside the building.
This location was truly perfect. Inside the building there were old machines rotting away and layer upon layer of dust and debris and mummified corpses of birds and rats everywhere. There was almost no light in there and the air inside was polluted and intoxicating. We put up several microphones throughout the building and started the recording session. While evoking all our feelings of hatred and fear we went completely berserk and smashed everything inside to pieces. This session took about 3 hours.
The next recording was the vocals session which took place in the chapel of an old monastery that was no longer in use. The acoustics and atmosphere of that chapel were perfect for recording the howls and screams of the mentally insane. It was very hard to get access to that chapel, but we told the owner that we were doing this as a kind of scream therapy for the mental patients and finally he gave us permission.
For several hours all 7 mental patients screamed out all the insanity, pain and fear while the sounds recorded earlier in the factory were playing in the background.
The 3rd part was adding Black Metal elements and some structure and effects, but no riffs were written beforehand and the parts were improvised directly while listening to the earlier recordings.

Are you offended when critics associate :STALAGGH::GULAGGH: with the term “noise artist?”

We do not like being called any form of  ‘artist’. Art is creative, we are destructive.

One response to your music that really struck me was “never before this album has fear been properly conveyed in an album.” Is creating a fearful atmosphere for the listener your intention?

We consider that a true compliment about our work, because that is exactly what we want to achieve with our Projekts. We want to transform pain and fear into sound and make it real for the listener.

The musical elements of :STALAGGH: and :GULAGGH: are rather sparse, but reek of black metal.  Do you consider this project to fall within the black metal genre?

No, although some of our members are part of Black Metal bands and some of our concepts and expressions are close to those of Black Metal we would certainly not label ourselves as Black Metal. We perform ‘Nihilistik Misanthropik Audio-Terrror’.

There has been a lot of speculation that collectively, :STALAGGH:/:GULAGGH: is made up of seasoned BM musicians. Is there any truth to this?

Yes.

Is black metal relevant to the music you create or do you consider it to be something apart, something unique?

Black Metal is certainly relevant to our sound, because it’s grimness and coldness really fits our concept. We mix it with Noise, Drone and Ambient to get the full range of negative emotions.

The video artwork Rigor Mortis provided for : PROJEKT TERRROR : is vastly different from that of Jeroen van Valkenburg, who did the artwork for :STALAGGH: album covers. What was it about these two artists that spoke to you and made you want to utilize their talents?

We had seen some of the video work Rigor Mortis had made before, and we were really impressed by the way he merged visuals with sound. He also really understands what our projekts are about, so we knew he was the one to make the video for : PROJEKT TERRROR :.

We just told him which part of that recording we wanted to have a video for, and we gave him a free hand in how to do it. It took him 3 months to create the video. He used old war footage and he created several images himself. We are very pleased with the result. In 2000 when we had recorded : PROJEKT NIHIL : we were looking for cover artwork that would really fit our sound and concept. When looking online for the right artwork, we came across the work of Jeroen. He had just finished a painting called ‘Chiaroscuro’ and we immediately knew that we had found the right cover. The face he painted had a really sad and empty look, it just spoke nihilism to us. So we asked him we if we could use it for the release of our first projekt. The covers for the other projekts he made especially for us.

Are the differing artistic styles purposely a product of the albums’ concepts or do these reflect the artists’ interpretation of the music?

Both. We asked our main cover artist, Jeroen van Valkenburg, to paint a direct impression of our sound, but we told him beforehand the main concept of each projekt. While painting he listened to our projekts to get the atmosphere just right. We are most satisfied with the result.

You are notorious for your work with the mentally insane. What did these patients provide that other vocalists could not? Were any members of :STALAGGH: or :GULAGGH: involved in recording vocals as well?

We have used mental patients on all our recordings. We want the pain and suffering in the vocals to be real and not acted. One of our members works in a mental institution in Holland, so this is how we got access and permission to record. All patients who have worked with us gave their full written permission. One of the patients who suffers from schizophrenia even made the cover drawing of the Pure Misanthropia cd.
Some of the patients were allowed to leave the institution for a few days to record with us, others live on their own under guidance.
They are not retards, but they suffer from illnesses like schizophrenia, psychosis, borderline, multiple personality syndrome etc. Some of them are a lot more intelligent than normal people.
Do not think of :STALAGGH:/:GULAGGH: as a group of friends or something. We have a stable core of individuals who share the same ideology and goals, these few individuals form the essence of :STALAGGH:/:GULAGGH: ,but each Projekt had a different line-up. For every Projekt we used different mental patients to do the vocals. Only 2 of the mental patients who performed with :STALAGGH: were part of the :GULAGGH: projekt. Some of the core members also provided some vocals on several projekts.
For the first :GULAGGH: we used over 10 musicians and over 40 vocalists. We used the vocals of 5 mental patients but also of damaged women (women that were raped and ex-prostitutes) and about 30 children from a youth mental hospital who suffer from all different kinds of mental illnesses. It took us almost a year to get permission to record the screams of these children. They gave us only one hour to record there, but we are very satisfied with the results.

What is your recording process like, and has it differed for each project? There have been many accusations of cruelty and immorality in regards to your use of asylum patients as vocalists. How does this process work? Is it a cathartic experience for these individuals, or a tortuous one?

The recording process was different for each projekt, but the way we used the mental patients is nearly the same on all projekts.
We decided that a normal Black Metal vocalist was not what we were looking for. We needed humans with a real mental illness. Only someone in constant mental pain or with a homicidal aggression could provide the vocals for our Audio-Terrror.
We always tell all vocalists who participate on our projekts what :STALAGGH: is all about. Most of them agree with our ideology. Their mental illness makes them hate humans and their society. So it not hard to convince to become part of our projekts
The mind of the mentally deranged is far more interesting than the minds of sane people. Living in constant fear and pain causes the soul to fill with hate and despair and will give you visions of the realms of darkness and death. For those people these images feel real. This is why we use real insane people to do our vocals. They can transfer their mental suffering into sound for :STALAGGH: and we can spread their despair and fear across the minds of many others, and make it feel real to them as well.
Several of them called recording with us was the best therapy they ever had. They could release all their fear, pain and frustration by screaming.

You waited a year to receive permission to record inside a children’s asylum. Why was this particular element so important to the completed project?

In the Vorkuta Gulag camp there were many women and children, so it was very important to us to use them for the VORKUTA recording. The screams of women and children create a completely different atmosphere. The women we used are ‘mentally damaged women’, rape victims and ex-prostitutes. It was a really fascinating experience working with them. They screamed out all their negative emotions that had been hidden inside for so long.

Can you explain your Global Holocaust concept and its relation to both :STALAGGH: and :GULAGGH:?

The last GH in :STALAGGH: and :GULAGGH: stand for ‘Global Holocaust’. With our projekts we made audial impressions of the pain and suffering of both the Stalag and Gulag camps and with our releases we want them spread them globally.
Global Holocaust was certainly not the only concept. The most important concept of our projekts is transforming pain and fear into sound.

The origin of :GULAGGH: are the Soviet Gulag camps. Why is this an important issue for you? Is it a part of your overall message?

For :GULAGGH: we wanted a whole new sound. There’s no point in repeating what we did with :STALAGGH:. We wanted to recreate the pain and suffering of the Gulag prisoners with the sounds of classical instruments (violins, trumpets, cello’s, piano, saxophones). The cd starts with a speech of Stalin, ordering his enemies to be send to the camps.
The classical instruments gave the perfect atmosphere for the coldness and bleakness of these camps. All instruments were played by professionals who understood our concept. It was very difficult for them not to play their instrument like they were used to, they had to let go everything they had learned and only transform their fears and pain into sound.
The German concentration camps and the Soviet Gulag camps were places of death, fear and despair, so they fit our concept and ideology very well. Most people associate these camps with the most negative emotions and with our Projekts we want to bring these feelings into the mind of the listener.

How far are you into the production of Kolyma, and what made you decide to work with deaf individuals?

For Kolyma we will use classical instruments again but it will have a really different sound and approach compared to Vorkuta. Kolyma will be a lot more bombastic in sound. We want to use with a full orchestra this time. As vocalists we want to use people that were born deaf. Their screams are almost animal like because they have never heard their own voice. The other interesting thing is that they won’t hear the screams of the others, so it will be much more chaotic. With our earlier recordings the mental patients reacted to each other, which gave a sense or order. We want to avoid that this time.
We have only made some trial recordings for Kolyma so far. We will record it next year.

Will there be another trilogy or concept following the completion of the third :GULAGGH: album?

No. After we have finished the :GULAGGH: projekt, we will cease to exist.

Thank you for your time, if there is anything else you’d like to add?

For those interested: Most of our releases can be ordered here: neweraproductions@email.com
Existence is futile…

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