ZT INTERROGATION: FROZEN OCEAN GENERATE THE PERFECT STORM
One man musical maestro Vaarwel – known to his legions of fans as Frozen Ocean – continues to inspire with his mysterious music from the depths of the Russian underground that hums with melancholy, misery and monastic chants. Here, Vaarwel gives ZT’s Paul Castles an insight into his latest release, The Prowess of Dormition EP.
Thank you for talking with Zero Tolerance, Vaarwel, and congratulations on the The Prowess of Dormition. Perhaps you can you start by just telling us who – or what – is The Prowess of Dormition?
V: Thank you very much, Paul! There was quite a long road to this release. The Prowess Of Dormition has no connection with religion, as one could think. I used the word ‘dormition’ as a synonym for ‘death sleep’ (since English is my second language sometimes I am forced to use dictionaries, and this emerges a probability of misunderstanding), so the entire title The Prowess Of Dormition sounds like oxymoron. But I imagine it as an aftermath of some force’s ruin; as it lies defeated, submerging into oblivion, but constantly gathers power and then awakens to take its revenge. Nothing can be forgotten completely, so The Prowess Of Dormition is indeed the art of forthcoming calamities.
ZT: The EP has four songs, are these all entirely new pieces of work?
V: Three of them are brand new, they were written and recorded at the beginning of 2015, and I even didn’t use previously composed drafts. ‘Det Siste Snøfallet’ was written years ago, in 2009, and kept waiting for better times; it fitted so perfectly to this release that I had to re-record it and include into The Prowess Of Dormition.
ZT: Is there any particular concept or theme linking the four songs or should they be seen as separate entities?
V: There is, yes, although I wouldn’t call this EP a conceptual one. I devoted these songs to struggle, as I said in previous interviews, but not struggle as kind of wrestling (that would be ridiculously funny, by the way). I think that struggle and defeat are things that drive us to become better entities; when we overcome hindrances of any kind, whether suffering from any bereavement or not, we improve ourselves, and this state seems to be in complete congruence with evolution theory. And winter just became a decoration – because I could.
ZT: Did the recording and mixing process run smoothly?
V: It did, for my relief. Sometimes it is quite hard to find a proper sound for an album especially when I am technically restricted or have insufficient sound engineering skills to get what I want, but this time all was done at once. I constantly learn new tricks to develop the sound of Frozen Ocean, although there is still so much to discover and wield.
ZT: The EP is released via Apocalyptic Witchcraft – Can you just tell something about the label and how you got together with them?
V: I got together with AWR only owing to my management of Imperative PR, whom I was asked for finding a label for this EP. It was always a torturous process for me (don’t know how it goes for another musicians and projects) and I assumed that things will go better way if I get solicited. So did they, and I was signed by still new but already well-established label with professional attitude and already awesome roster (The Antichrist Imperium, Caïna, Shrines, Australasia – what a neighbourhood), and that’s all I wanted. One of the label owners, Conor, also runs an awesome project named From The Bogs Of Aughiska and everyone must check it immediately. So I am quite relieved.
ZT: From a practical viewpoint, how is your music created? I know you write all the songs and play all instruments yourself when working in your own studio. How long have you made music this way?
V: Every song starts from its concept and respective title. I cannot write a song without knowing what it will be about, just for melodies and riffs, so concept includes some story or idea and obligatory visual images that are often taken out to the title (songs from ‘Prills Of Remembrance’ are very good example, for instance ‘Forgotten Children Play On Concealed Stages’). Then I develop the most suitable stylistic expression for a song with designed concept and record the main parts for all instruments. Furthermore, I change some parts and re-record them, or/and add another instruments or synthesizers, when I start to see the final outlook of the song. And finally there goes the production. That’s how it works in brief, and it always worked like that.
ZT: I hear your studio is in a very isolated location – is this also where you live?
V: Well, it was a figure of speech leaked in some promotional press release, evidently presenting Russia as a country where every single place is isolated, derelict, grim and probably frostbitten, and thus sort of artistic exaggeration. Also the image of a workplace somewhere far away from trodden trails is definitely attractive, but the bitter truth is that I live in Moscow, a city with population of 15 million people, and my home studio is exactly where I live. So no ominous enigma here, I am afraid.
ZT: I hear Tove Jansson’s fantasy books are behind some of the songs, can you give us an example of this?
V: Not just some of the songs, I wrote the whole album based on Tove Jansson’s ‘Moominland Midwinter’ novel, and it was released in 2013 by my own means. From the very childhood I bore the impression from this outstanding book, and tried to express it as I could. As a result, ten tracks of eclectic electronics (with some elements of EBM, dark ambient, neoclassic and even trance) represented it somehow, and one can follow the course of the book if he translates track titles from Swedish during the listening of this work.
ZT: You live in what I can only guess is at times a hostile climate, you call yourself Frozen Ocean and write songs such as ‘No Blizzard’ – there’s an icy theme that you embrace throughout…
V: Moscow has a pretty mild climate comparing with farthest regions of Russia, like Kola Peninsula or Siberia, although it’s harsher than European one. But I always adored winter as a time when everything common becomes dead (although temporarily) and some new kind of life emerges for dwell in this completely mutated nature. This is much more mysterious and sometimes creepy than some made-up ghost stories or haunted house tales, and sometimes seem to be similar to body horror story, but in this case the whole nature undergoes the horrendous transformation.
ZT: Your output is quite prolific with new material released every six months or so, including full length albums. How do you sustain that?
V: I never considered that as something wrong. I was never tied up by any terms or dates or conditions, and wrote music whenever I would like to – and I do it almost constantly, because there is so much to express, to depict and to convey. Someone can say that such rate of creation affects the quality of music, but I don’t think so. By the way, some works are postponed to finish as I write them for years. At least, I think that when you have too much to say is much better than when you have nothing to say.
ZT: Does mainstream Russian life figure at all in any of your music?
V: Not at all, and will never figure. There are so much beautiful and abominable things to describe and tell by means of music that mainstream life is just pale sketch of what lurks within imagination. Besides, I don’t like music devoted to social themes, because I am not a social person.
ZT: How connected do you feel to everyday Russian life and the place your country holds in the world. Are these things that you think about at all when songwriting?
V: I don’t feel connected with it at all and am happy of that pretty much, so when you see a Frozen Ocean song named “Cold War of the XXI Century” then you should throw my discography on the ground, pour petrol on it and light the fire.
ZT: At what point in your life was did you develop an interest in extreme metal and how accessible was it for you in Russia at the time?
V: It was a complete accident. I acquainted with it when I was in high school (beginning of the noughties) with help of my classmate, and it was a whole new world to discover. Pretty soon I bought my first guitar, a shitty Korean Stratocaster replica, and started to practice. Regarding accessibility, there were no obstacles at that time, and you could get almost any record you wanted to. Although CDs were mostly licensed ones printed by Russian firms, and the coolest and hardest thing was to get an original CD printed by the initial label. Of course I was a teenager at that time, and maybe everything was different for adult metalhead.
ZT: There were obviously bands you liked listening to, were there ever possibilities to see these perform live?
V: Yes, Moscow has lot of gigs that happen literally every week, and one can amuse himself with visiting concerts of both Russian and foreign bands, if he would like to. For example, I will visit Gnaw Their Tongues/Treha Sektori gig on March 19, and I am pretty sure that it will kick all breath the fuck out of me. Still don’t give up the hope to see Wormed someday though.
ZT: Do Frozen Ocean have the scope to play live or is that simply not practical due to the single-person nature of this band?
V: As a one man band – no, this makes no sense. I know that there are projects that perform alone different ways (i.e. Putrid Pile or Pandiscordian Necrogenesis), but cannot consider this suitable for me. Maybe at some time in the future; and it will demand to assemble the whole line-up for playing Frozen Ocean live. Ask me again five years later.
ZT: Could Frozen Ocean develop into a more conventional band format in the future or do you prefer things just as they are?
V: Only for live performances, if they occur. All the process of music creation will remain the same, as I don’t see anybody near me on that way.
ZT: With nature at the heart of much of what Frozen Ocean represents, how much time do you spend worrying about what the future holds for the planet?
V: The worst misfortune of humanity is humans. I would like to believe, being aware of scientific progress, that future leads our civilization to prosperity, but at the same time I completely understand that all these beautiful prognostications can be fucked up by some extremely active religious bigot or stupid country leader or luddites fighting for social justice or whatever it could be. It is not helping when you understand that fruits of progress are often in hands of people that just are unable to comprehend them. So I am afraid one can’t be assured in great future until we finally overcome the Neolith in our minds and start to value our intelligence at its true worth.
ZT: Aside from Frozen Ocean, you’re committed to working with H, Kim and Sadist in doom band Goatpsalm who have just released a new album (Downstream) and have recently taken up a position playing guitar with Moscow goregrind outfit Smothered Bowels – That’s a full on schedule!
V: And this is not the whole story. I also run an avant-garde/death metal project named “Поцелуй Бомжа” (means Kiss The Hobo in Russian), have a couple of upcoming projects (one my own and one collaborative), and sometimes help friends with recording some folk instruments for them. So yes, there is almost no time to slack around and I am always busy with something – helps to keep mind in good shape.
ZT: Appreciate your time Vaarwel – When you’re not writing, recording or performing what do you do to amuse yourself?
V: I enjoy my daytime job in science, listen to music, throw knives and occasionally play Ameritrash style boardgames with friends. Nothing extraordinary, to be honest, and I am pleasant with it, because it allows me to bring all the extraordinary side to the music. Thank you for good questions. Take care.