ZT INTERROGATION: KHAZADDUM WALK IN THE SHADOWS OF MIDDLE EARTH
If you ever wondered what you’d get if you mixed Tolkien’s Middle Earth with a pounding death metal soundtrack then Milwaukee’s Khazaddum are here to provide the answer. With an album on the way in the summer, and the recently released In Dwarven Halls EP under their belt, singer Luka Djordjevic took ZT’s Paul Castles on a journey into the darkness.
ZT: Hi guys, many thanks for talking with Zero Tolerance – Maybe you can start by telling us where that name comes from?
LD: Khazad-dûm was the original name of the Dwarven underground city located beneath the Misty Mountains in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth. It was later called Moria. Alex Rausa had the idea to do a Tolkien based death metal project and came up with the name. He then recruited Pete Kissane on drums, and myself for vocal and lyrical duties.
ZT: How did Lord of the Rings come to play such a part in your music?
LD: There are many bands in metal that take both a direct, and an indirect inspiration from the Tolkien mythos. Almost all of these bands are either firmly entrenched in the black metal, or power metal genres. As much as I love both of those genres, to us, death metal was the obvious choice. The themes, topics, and characters within these tales were perfectly matched for the style and ferocity of death. Growing up on USDM, and considering that we all played in death metal bands for years, the concept fit like a glove.
ZT: Is it the book or the films that inspire you and give you ideas?
LD: My first exposure to the world of Middle Earth was actually Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 animated film Lord of the Rings. This movie coincides with my earliest memories. Early on, my bedtime stories were often Tolkien, and I found myself going back to these books as I grew up. Needless to say, this universe left an indelible impression on me, and in many ways shaped my tastes and methods of storytelling. As far as the films, I think Peter Jackson did an incredible job bringing these tomes to the big screen, despite some obvious deviations from the books. Both trilogies are excellent. I take inspiration from all of these things when forming the stories of Khazaddum.
ZT: Do you align yourselves with any particular Tolkien characters?
LD: Considering our name, we obviously possess an affinity for the Dwarven race. In fact, Alex admitted to me that he initially asked me to do vocals for not only my vocal ability, and love of all things Tolkien, but also because of my resemblance to a dwarf! Ever since the movies debuted, people have called me Gimli on a regular basis. That being said, Khazaddum’s music is in no way exclusive to just stories of Durin’s Folk. There is an inexhaustible wellspring of characters to draw inspiration from in these tales. The three tracks comprising our EP, In Dwarven Halls, deal with three separate characters as the focal point for each song, two of which being opposing sides of the same encounter.
ZT: When you set out down that musical path it was clearly a conscious decision not to follow the traditional guts/blood/gore angle more readily associated with death metal acts?
LD: We had a clear vision and direction that we wanted to go in thematically with this project. The classical gore approach was never considered for a multitudes of reasons. First and foremost, it didn’t reflect the stories we want to portray. Secondly, (excuse the pun), it’s been done to death. Another personal reason for me, was that I’ve already explored this territory with my former groove oriented brutal death metal band, Carnal Befoulment.
ZT: You’re just releasing the In Dwarven Halls EP, which I’ve enjoyed listening to. Can you give us the story behind it?
LD: In Dwarven Halls was written as a recording project. Most of us were busy at the time with other projects that required lots of time and attention. None the less, we felt that the music and concept we wrote was worthwhile and needed to be recorded professionally. The three track EP really centers on two stories. The first two tracks, ‘The Grey Thus Commands’, and ‘Durin’s Bane’, focus on the meeting between Gandalf and the Balrog Durin’s Bane on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm from each view point respectively. The third track, ‘Thorin Oakenshield’, tells the tragic tale of the Dwarven king. In 2015, we decided to take this project to a new level and became a full time band and released the EP.
ZT: It was recorded with Chris Wisco (ex-Jungle Rot) – How was it working with him?
LD: Chris is a great guy and a consummate professional. His studio, Belle City Sound, located in Racine, WI, is top of the line in all respects. He’s been doing this for a long time and knows how to treat death metal properly. It was a pleasure recording with him.
ZT: You’ve all had experience with other bands, so how did Khazaddum fall into place – have you all known each other for some time?
LD: I’ve known the drummer Pete for over a decade through the local Milwaukee metal scene, and from his band Burial Ritual. I met Alex through a mutual friend about four or five years ago right before the formation his previous band Devolving Messiah. He introduced me to the recording guitarist featured on In Dwarven Halls, Pat Gunderson. Alex came up with the concept for Khazaddum and recruited the rest of us in order to help him execute it. Recently, we’ve added Tony Cannizzaro, (ex-Splattered Cadaver) on bass to our fellowship. I’ve known Tony for well over a decade as well.
ZT: When the band got together it was initially seen just as a recording project, why was that?
LD: Most of us were already in full-time bands that required lots of attention and commitment when the concept for Khazaddum was discussed. At the time, we never intended to do anything more than write and record music. In fact, once recorded, the EP was put on the back burner for some time due to prior engagements. Later in 2015, we got together and started jamming again and writing new music with the intention of continuing the project as a full-time band, and finally released In Dwarven Halls.
ZT: Having now played live together do you now see yourselves as a traditional album/tour/album kind of band?
LD: In short, yes. We couldn’t be happier with the direction that this band is taking. That, coupled with the fact that Pete is the only member that has a full time commitment to another band at the moment finally enables us to dedicate the time and focus that this project deserves.
ZT: What hopes have you got for this year?
LD: We are closing in on the completion of the writing process for a full length album, and hope to start recording soon. Apart from that, we are looking into doing some limited touring later in the year as well, and have several one-off shows already scheduled.
ZT: Thanks for spending time with us guys. Finally, if Tolkien was still alive would he be wearing a Khazaddum T-shirt?
LD: Obviously there would be a stark contrast to the type of music Tolkien would have listened to in his lifetime as opposed to death metal. In reality, I’m not sure anyone from that bygone generation could handle the audio density and barrage of noise associated with this genre. That being said, we try to exalt his immortal works though every aspect of our craft. From the music, to the lyrics, to the painstakingly crafted visual art done by my brother and fellow Tolkien freak, Kosta Djordjevic. Every aspect of this band is geared toward celebrating the works of this modern day Homer, J.R.R. Tolkien, through our brand of death metal brutality. So, perhaps, maybe, just maybe, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien would be seen walking around his estate with a Khazaddum shirt on if he was alive today. HA! It was a pleasure answering your questions, and thank you for your interest. Hails from Dwarven Halls!