Anarchistic metallers ISKRA rebuild the world from the ground up

By Sarah Kitteringham
ISKRA will release their third album Ruins this summer.

ISKRA will release their third album Ruins this summer.

CALGARY — Victoria-based blackened crust quintet ISKRA have forged a complex, multi-faceted legacy since their emergence in 2002. Helmed by guitarist Wolf, who formed the project after his tenure in Black Kronstadt, the band personally follows a strongly anarchistic ideology that is strongly DIO (“do it ourselves”). Their declarative lyrics address social issues; musically they are extremely abrasive, blurring lines and sounds from crust punk, black metal and grindcore. On the verge of a Canadian tour and the release of their third full-length Ruins, BeatRoute sat down for a lengthy Skype conversation with Wolf to discuss anarchism, heavy metal’s oft-fascistic ideologies and how the band is somewhat confusingly becoming more musically aligned with the sounds of black metal as they age.

BeatRoute: Let’s start with anarchism. What does it mean to you personally ?

Wolf: For me personally… Anarchism is basically taking a look at the region, bio-region, the world I live in or one lives in. It’s identifying the underpinning controlling mechanisms…. The word freedom, that’s anarchism, you hear freedom a lot. You’re trying to figure out a way to be free in the society that you live in. For me, that’s the anarchistic way…. There is a philosophical element, that means thinking. Thinking about the environment you live in and how your world is being limited. Whether that be in the work force and how that operates, or a political party and how it works within your municipality. It’s about understanding law, then trying to create an existence that is as much as possible free from those limitations. Add to that a non-hierarchical approach and you can get close to something I would define as anarchistic. But understand as well that anarchism lives within law.

BR: I think many people hear anarchism and think gun toting, post apocalyptic wasteland, without realizing that the so-called ethos of anarchism as a political ideology is having a stateless, self governed society. To clear things up, how is ISKRA anarchistic?

W: The band works within what we call the DIY scene internationally. And so with that ties in is basically control over your own resources…. Basically, working with people, without corporations, we do our own advertising if we do any, we are in contact with the people who set up the shows, we pick up our own records at the pressing plants and we work with the pressing plants to make our own music. We try to keep it in house as much as possible. We are limiting how much capitalism controls our life, which is the same as DIY punk. And so, we are in immediate control of everything we do. It’s not really do it yourself, it’s do it ourselves. DIO [laughs]. You like Ronnie James Dio? It’s a large collective of people. No one is by themselves and that’s another thing that anarchists should come to terms with, is that it is collectivist in that sense.

BR: The band’s ideology has been well defined online, but I think it’s interesting musically that the project has stated you’re moving away from punk and more into black metal. Can you explain why?

W: With me, with music, I’ve been doing punk music, crust music, metal music for a long time. The idea was always to have some originality. My old band Black Kronstadt in the ‘90s, the point was always to be original. Punk is different now and this is part of its limitations. Some punk bands are very successful at merely imitating their heroes, in some ways they are replicating it and in that sense it becomes conformist. Like I want to play in this kind of d-beat band, like Anti-Cimex. Same thing in metal, you want to be Darkthrone, I’m going to redo this and that. What happens there is that it becomes too easy. You already have a fanbase; the work has been done by the originators… So trying to create something original for ISKRA is the project: you can’t copy anything, you have to be original. That goes with the lyrics too.

BR: The band is extremely anti-fascistic though. How does ISKRA navigate that contradiction of making music that increasingly sounds like black metal when many bands in the genre have those problematic ideologies? Do you separate band’s music from their expressed ideologies?

W: It’s never been a problem for me as an anarchist because I put on a record and listen to it. What I do is learn about it. I study fascism in metal on my own. So does the rest of the band. I am sure there are other anarchists who know about fascism in metal; we study it a lot and know what we are doing. We are studying our enemy. You know? Do we separate ideology? Ideology isn’t going to touch us; we have power over it and are able to tell kids and bring up interviews… and I think that’s the best way to expose it and combat it. It’s never been an issue for me. I can listen to any band,.. I don’t think people should be afraid of what’s in the world. I think people should see what’s in the world and make a decision about it as to how they want to operate in the world. If people are choosing fascism, we have to come to terms with that and deal with it.

BR: This conversation is making me think a lot about the fact that cognitive dissonance is a bizarre requirement of 22nd century life. It’s like saying you’re against child labour but picking up a piece of clothing from a store made in a sweat shop, saying you’re an environmentalist but driving a vehicle and not recycling everything you can and saying you’re a feminist or anti-racist and consuming art that is misogynistic or racist.

W: I think there is a problem of choice. And that’s where anarchism is relevant and still important. It addresses this and it maintains the realization that we are within a prison. People really, they have consumer choices, but they don’t have choices. They are stuck within this system; there is this dissonance. The anarchists will always be there to point that out because the status quo has a collective amnesia about it: the fact that you might pick up a slave labour item at a [grocery store]…. We want to transform society out of this trap. It’s a big idea, but small steps are needed. Insurrectionists will go all the way and say everything has to burn; you have other anarchists who are more casual about the transformation and working towards it in a pragmatic way.

BR: Speaking of pragmatism, your label/store Black Raven Records in Victoria closed shop and I’m curious about whether it’ll open back up, or what the intention of that store was specifically.

W: It was supposed to be a five-year project to up the cultural milieu of Victoria, to get people thinking about the ideas that we were thinking about as well, to talk about music and politics and all of this. But we went for seven years, ISKRA was touring so much that we had to shut it down. We have the shop packed and we want to reopen, but we realized another thing, to talk about cognitive dissonance. Eventually we were like, well, ‘we are just selling records. ‘We need a space to do more: small shows, we had a bookstore, but [we want to have space for] more books. We wanted to not just be hocking records. So space is important. So for anarchism, I think it’s very important to have space in the public, because you have a lot of impact, I know that for a fact from running the shop. We want to do it again, but we want to do it on our own terms and within the terms of doing it our way and correctly.

BR: Switching topics, ISKRA has a new record coming out. Your band’s sonic shift has been noted. What should we expect from this upcoming release?

W: It’s hard to talk about your own music. It’s a little easier for someone else to talk about it. I would say it’s probably the first metal record we’ve done. I guess Bureval [2009] is pretty Swedish metal, but it had a punk vibe to it…. This one has longer songs, some more complicated ones. We’ve played around with forms more, musically. That’s an art thing that people don’t talk about, with restrictions and limitations on form of song, but you know, that’s its own prism. Stuck in the sonata form, which has been around for hundreds of years. There is a lot more diversity on it, when compared to Bureval… All four members are writing, our drummer Cody writes riffs, our bass player wrote a lot. It’s become more of a collective than ever. In the old days, I wrote most the music. Now it’s definitely more, it takes more time to get to a collective effort…. Lyrically, there is a song about the Oglala Sioux resistance in the Hills of Dakota, generally speaking of the Long War. A song that gives some of the speeches of the Sioux leaders, kind of like in a Bathory song, from that perspective. I know some people might say that’s tokenism, but it’s not, it’s keeping that history alive, you know, that people should remember. That’s one of the songs. But I think that the other songs, we are doing a much darker, mercurial world. We are trying to get into the root of law, the origin of morality, and the origin of bio-control which is the complete control over humanity via technology… the root of how power controls people. I think that’s the overall theme of the record. We get into philosophical thought, practical thought and into Foucault.

BR: You say you are going to be more metal oriented. What does that mean in practice?

W: Before it was more of a constellation of influences, all the bands, all the music we liked. Like grindcore. Some grindcore and all of that thrash metal, it’s all there. I think this one is more defined. I think it’s less confused sounding. I would call it a black metal record. I think that’s what I mean. It’s [clearer] with its musical intent. I mean, Bureval had a lot of grindcore in it, especially the drums. Cody worked really hard on the grindcore and he is still with us and he’s a great drummer. He’s probably one of the best drummers I’ve known… so worked hard on the drums to get into the black metal world. So that’s a big influence.

BR: How would you characterize your sound in relation to black metal? There are so many reference points. Are you coming from the world of Hellhammer, Beherit, Sarcófago, Weakling, Bathory or Mayhem?

W: It would definitely be the Gorgoroth, Mayhem vein. That same world. Bathory too. I say Bathory and second wave black metal, Enslaved’s Frost [1994] album was a big influence. The first three Gorgoroth records. Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas [1994] is a big one, a record I’ve listened to a lot in the past 20 years, but in the ISKRA way. It’s going to sound like an ISKRA record.

See ISKRA when they tour Western Canada. They perform at The Black Lab in Vancouver on July 17th, in Calgary on July 19th at Tubby Dog, at DV8 in Edmonton on July 20th, and at the Handsome Daughter in Winnipeg on July 22nd. Check online for more dates and venues! Their new album Ruins will be out soon.

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