Interview: From The Vastland
The metal music in Iran is banned and the authorities consider it as blasphemy but there is no official law about that. That’s when things get complicated, for example, if you want to release an album or play a metal gig you need to get a permit from the ministry of culture. First of all, they don’t give you a permit for a metal album and even if you get it, still it doesn’t mean you can do it!
Perhaps you’ve already watched the documentary film Blackhearts, which tells us about the global phenomenon that is black metal and a love centred around the nation of Norway, where it all began. One of the bands featured in the film is From The Vastland and I got to ask Sina a bunch of questions about his latest album and the film.
From The Vastland is from Iran, a country known for its strict regime and limitations in expression. That is, of course, an oversimplification about a nation with a rich, long history and a situation much more complex than I could ever do justice to in a few introductory lines over here. The movie was filmed a few years ago, and by now Sina lives in Norway and is a liberty to explain a bit about that mysterious place he is from and why it still colours his music so deeply.
E&D: How is From The Vastland doing?
Sina: Doing good! Earlier this year we released the new album The Haft Khan and the feedback from the community has been great! Well, due to the pandemic situation we had to change/cancel some of our plans but still, everything is going good. And as always I’m also working on some new material for the next release plus slowly working on some other plans for the band. So, all very good.
E&D: I’ve always wanted to ask you about the name of your project. Could you tell me more about its origin?
Sina: Sure! Well, it took me a while to choose this name, was thinking about it a lot back in the days when I wanted to start the band. there were several different reasons that I chose this name. One of the most important ones was because I wanted the name of the band also represents the concept of the music. So, let’s put it this way that I am from Iran and all the lyrics are about the ancient Persian empire era (one of the biggest empires in the history), Persian mythology and history. So, like the music comes from the vast land of Persia… Well, there was also some other reasons which together made me to think this is a perfect name for the band.
E&D: You’ve just released your new album The Haft Khan. I understand it’s a Persian myth, but it is also the name of a high mountain in your country of birth. Can you share the significance of this story and why you chose it for your album theme?
Sina: Right. Well, The Haft Khan is a Persian myth but not the name of a mountain. This is a very specific name has a specific place in Persian mythology. It’s based on one of the stories from the great epic masterpiece poem, the most notable piece of Persian literature, “Shahnameh” (The Book of Kings – One of the world’s longest epic poems) which was written by the poet, the world known “Ferdowsi” between c. 977 and 1010 CE.
“The Haft Khan” story narrates seven difficult challenges of a national hero, the greatest of the Persian heroes, called Rostam on his journey by his legendary horse “Rakhsh” towards the land of Mazandaran, to save and free the king “Kei Kavus” and his army who have been captured and blinded by a spell of the White Demon. In the story, Rostam passes seven stages and fights against natural difficulties, fierce animals, demons and at the end, the white demon. finally, by dropping the blood of the white demon’s heart in the eyes of Kei Kavus (the king) and his army, sight returns to their eyes again. The story of “the haft khan” is full of metaphors and symbols and represents some of the most important characters, legends and myths in the ancient Persian mythology and history. So, I found this epic story a perfect theme for a concept album which I was thinking about for a long time.
E&D: What can you tell me about the creative process behind the creation of the album? Did you work together with other artists?
Sina: This time again I worked on the album for almost 2 years and I did my best to make the atmosphere of the album exactly as I had it in my mind, which was based on the picture you get from reading the real story in the book. Starting a song was more based on the visuals I had in mind but of course, I was taking care of everything with precision when it comes to the song structure, the arrangement, lyrics etc. to make it a perfect fit for the style.
You know, as always I wrote all the songs and recorded the demo album first and I sent it to my bandmates to practice and record their lines. That’s how we always record the albums but at the same time, I also ask them to use their own creativity on their lines and let me know if they have any suggestions. So, usually, the final result is not far from the demo I have recorded as we are all on the same page and it’s more like they just have a little bit of their own touch in the album too.
I was listening to the songs over and over again to make sure everything is exactly as it should be. When it comes to the sound of the album, I would say over the years, it got more mature but at the same time more aggressive and darker, still emotional and with the same style. And I believe it’s also a matter of experience, the way I write the riffs and how to make them sound richer, you know.
E&D: What makes it important for you to include these themes from your roots in your music, particularly within the framework of black metal?
Sina: You know, from many years ago I’ve been always very interested in mythology and history. I read about myths and ancient stories, not just Persian but also Scandinavian, Egyptian, Mayas, Greek…but then when I was growing the idea of my project, I found this combination perfect to make BM music with this epic, mythical theme. It is actually what some other bands in other countries are doing with their own but not about Persian myths.
You know, The ancient Persian history and mythology is full of epic stories of the legends, the gods and demons and the eternal battle between darkness and light.
So, not only I found this a perfect fit for black metal but also I wanted it to represent something from my homeland, a part of the world history that goes back 7000 years or more. Something that even a lot of Iranians have forgotten about it. That’s also why I chose the “Rising from the ashes of the legendary past” slogan for the band.
E&D: The album, of course, landed in the middle of the pandemic. How has this impacted its release and you as an artist? Did you have many plans to cancel?
Sina: Yeah, definitely it was not the best time to release an album but you know, everything was already planned and I just thought it’s better to keep it instead of changing everything as we were already in the middle of the process. But yeah, of course, we had to change and cancel some of the plans like the concerts we had around the release time (which suppose to be the release concert for the album) here in Oslo and in another festival called Garasjefestival.
I was also preparing some more merch and just about to start making the cassette tape format of the album to release at the same time with the CDs but then everything was cancelled or better to say postponed as they are still in the plan but let’s see how it will go…
E&D: Obviously, I have to ask you about the Blackhearts documentary. How impactful has this been for your career?
Sina: Of course, Blackhearts had a big impact on my career in a positive way, you know. Just imagine all the attention my band and music got because of the film, especially during the releasing period of the film. And then afterwards when the film was released and they were screening it on the festivals all over the world, in cinemas and different type of events. You know, in the first place it was my music that made the producer discover me and my band but then afterwards it was the film helping me to spread the words about my band and music. Especially here in Norway, it was so helpful for me to keep on doing what I’m doing. Being known in the scene and making friends is always great and can make things easier, you know. So, really glad and thankful for that!
E&D: I didn’t know until recently about the Blackhearts EP you did, following the film. What can you tell me about this project? Did you try to get guys from Naer Mataton involved too?
Sina: You know, back in the days I got this idea since I was one of the main characters in the film; so, thought to record some music specifically for the film with the cooperation of other musicians who are also involved in the film. So, I wrote the music and for the recording, “Vyl” (Drums – Keep of Kalessin/Gorgoroth) and “Nul Blackthorn” (Bass – Luciferian), 2 of the other characters in the film, joined me. And since it was recorded specially for the film so, I called it “Blackhearts” and then it was also used for the ending title of the film.
And I was thinking to ask them too but we were in a really short time, I mean everything happened real quick from the time when I decided to do it until we were already in the studio. So, we couldn’t…
E&D: What must have been most impactful was your move to Norway. How do you feel about this now? And have you been back to Iran? How did this impact your family?
Sina: True! Moving to Norway changed my life completely and I’m really glad it happened! I mean from many years ago I had the dream of moving to Norway and then finally it did happen. So, still today after all these years it seems unreal to me, the whole story and everything that happened in a really short time and changed my life, in a good way. I mean there was no doubt and still, today if I go back, I would do the same!
I haven’t been back to Iran since when I moved to Norway and probably it’s not a smart thing to do after all the threats I had (both back when I was in Iran and even later the first 2-3 years here in Norway). So, haven’t seen my family for the last 7 years which is not easy as you can imagine. So, I just talk to them on phone and sometimes we do video calls but it’s not the same, you know.
E&D: The documentary speaks about freedom/censorship you didn’t experience back in Iran. Yet, I’ve heard conflicting stories about that concerning metal music. There are quite some metal bands in Tehran and Iran according to Metal Encyclopaedia and the band Avarayr (who are Armenians, living in Iran) stated they felt quite free to do what they pleased when I interviewed them. Could you respond to that and perhaps explain how we should view this? (because I must be wrong somewhere here).
Sina: Right, I understand that is kind of confusing for people outside Iran and to be honest, it’s even hard to explain but OK, I try to explain it as short as possible… Of course that’s true there are some other active metal bands in Iran but most of them are like real underground and since we don’t have any official metal scene, no record label to release the metal albums, no record store, festival or something; so, probably you never hear from them. Even though today it’s a bit easier to discover the bands because of the social media but still… And regarding the Metal Encyclopaedia, I can tell it’s really not updated and a good source to get the right info (…for Iranian bands). I know some of those bands in person! And the info there is not correct. Even the info regarding “From The Vastland” and my previous band “Sorg Innkallelse” is not right. Some of those bands are just a name, a one-man band project with no release and at the same time there are bands which you can not find there but you know, that’s because there is no official scene going on.
The metal music in Iran is banned and the authorities consider it as blasphemy but there is no official law about that. That’s when things get complicated, for example, if you want to release an album or play a metal gig you need to get a permit from the ministry of culture. First of all, they don’t give you a permit for a metal album and even if you get it, still it doesn’t mean you can do it! There are groups related to the revolutionary guard, religious groups and different governmental organisations that easily can arrest you. They don’t need any permit or something to do that, they have gun and power! And that’s enough.
The thing is the regime pressures the artists whenever they feel like they should, every now and then. So, you never know when or how! it’s about their priorities. I myself at least know 3 metal musicians who had to run out of the country because of their music. probably you have heard about the Iranian band “Confess” and their story. That’s a good example of how things can go for metal musicians in Iran…
E&D: In your music, you tell about the legendary past. Extreme metal and tradition have a connection that is at time difficult. Many artists have at one point or another faced accusations of racism, spreading hate, etc. Often wrongfully (though there is the NSBM thing). I wanted to ask you how you feel about this from your perspective and what role does metal have when it comes to our past and identity?
Sina: You know, I think we should not forget that there is (or used to be) a strong family kind of feeling in the metal community, no matter who you are, where you come from, your race, skin colour, personal preferences… That kind of freedom without feeling being judged or anything. I know in reality it’s not exactly like that or at least not today but we all share the same passion towards the music we love and that’s what makes us connected. And when it comes to extreme metal or even metal in general, I think it’s is all about being true to yourself. it’s more than just a music, it’s our identity. It’s the music that makes you think, to not forget and keep your roots, to break all the chains and fake rules that limits you. that’s the role it should play and that’s how it gets connected to your past, to your true self, I believe.
E&D: We see you walking a lot in the forests and nature in the documentary. How important are these to you and do you have special places you go for inspiration or that connect you to the past?
Sina: Nature is also where I get the inspiration for creating the music (one of the inspiration sources for me, you know). Especially mountain which brings back all my memories from childhood when I was going to the mountain around Tehran every weekend with my dad and that actually remained with me until today. And of course, the beautiful nature here in Norway which usually includes mountain and forest together is where makes me calm and inspires me a lot.
The first four years of my life here in Norway I was living in a very small village outside Trondheim (up north Norway) and the nature in that area is spectacular. I had some favourite places where I could spend hours and hours just to relax, fresh my mind or listen to music. From the time when I moved to Oslo, nature is not that far but still, you need to get out of the town a bit, So, I usually just go for a walk by the sea which makes me really calm and relaxed.
E&D: As I understand it, your inspiration was Marduk, Belenos and Gorgoroth. What are you listening to now and would you recommend to others?
Sina: True! Well, there are tons of good bands from all over the world and still today I enjoy discovering new, unknown or less known bands. So, it’s a long list but if I would mention just one that I listen to these days then it would be Selbst!
E&D: Are there any Iranian metal bands people should really know about?
Sina: Well, there are very good bands, especially death metal bands! but you know, as I said, the problem is that the metal scene in Iran is really underground and there is nothing like anything official going on. So, it’s really hard to keep up with the activities. I still have an eye on the scene and check with my metal musicians friends and their bands in Iran but probably I’m not so updated.
E&D: What future plans do you currently have for the band? Implied that the world turns back to normal.
Sina: Well, I’m working on some new material for the next album, however, I’m not sure if I’m going to release it next year. It all depends on how the writing process will go. I never plan a release an album before I’m 100% satisfied with the material. And when it comes to live shows, I would wait a bit and see how the situation is but I’m thinking about at least a show here in Oslo later this year but if not then maybe we can plan to stream live…Hard to say now when everything is uncertain. The music scene was hit strongly by the pandemic situation and changed all the plans for almost everyone but hopefully, things will get back to normal, slowly and we will see more and more activities.
E&D: If you had to compare From The Vastland to a dish, what would it be and why?
Sina: Hehe That’s a weird one! Never thought about it before. Well, let’s say “ghormeh sabzi” because it has a lot of ingredients, mostly herbs and even though not all of them are used only in this Iranian dish (well, some of the herbs are) but the taste of the food is so Iranian (I mean, this is a traditional Iranian dish. So, obviously)… Yeah, maybe I can compare my music to that! I don’t know… hehe