Machine Music's Albums of the Decade: An Interview with Odraza
This is the 46th installment of the Albums of the Decade series of interviews. For the rest of the series go HERE.]
Album: Esperalem Tkane
Label: Arachnophobia Records / Godz Ov War Productions
Favorite Song: "Esperalem Tkane"
The Bare Bones: Esperalem Tkane is the debut album by Kraków-based black metal duo Odraza, comprised of Priest (drums, guitars) and Stawrogin (vocals, guitars, bass).
The Beating Heart: It might not be an overstatement to say that Esperalem Tkane is probably the most important black metal album to me personally in the time space that is the focus of this interview series, with the only possible exception being another member of the AOTD club, Yellow Eyes' Sick with Bloom. It struck me somewhere around 2016, probably as a random Youtube autoplay and proceeded to blow my mind incessantly and repeatedly since. I impatiently waited for new material, I followed every musical brach that grew out of the Odraza tree (Totenmesse, Gruzja, Mānbryne) as well as their "cousins" in the wildly creative Kraków scene (Outre, Biesy, Medico Peste, etc).
All of that is to how important this album is to me and also why I insisted on adding it to this series, despite almost three years (!) of failed attempts. But aside from my own personal experience it is simply put one of the most creative, emotional, and soul-crushing black metal albums ever, bringing together that cold-wind, cutting-edge style of riffing that's so associated with second wave black metal with what could only described as a drunken poet faltering on stage, playing an untuned piano in a deserted Polish bar (which is basically how I called it in my weird Best of Decade list a while back). It is, in other words, as human music as it is black metal, as wounded as it is bruising, both teetering on the edge of some personal abyss and masterfully displaying artistic agency, switching genre, style, and dynamics seemingly at will. There isn't an album like it, nor will there ever be. Which is one great reason to (finally) get to interview Odraza's frontman/guitarist/bassist Stawrogin about Esperalem Tkane.
As always, before we get to my exchange with Stawrogin this is my chance to encourage you to check out the rest of the Albums of the Decade series and Pillars of the 90s interview series as well our kinda-dead, kinda-alive podcast (YouTube, Spotify and all that) and/or our latest compilation album MILIM KASHOT VOL. 3, and read our 2021 AOTY list. Also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, Tiktok and support whatever it is that we do on Patreon, if you like what you see here (for whatever reason). Thank you for your time and support. On to Odraza
Is there a moment in your life, perhaps as a younger person that you remember changing the way in which you thought of music, or that made you want to become a musician yourself?
I think there was no such exact moment, rather a complex and long process. I had a tendency to create since I was a child – initially I drew, painted, then wrote short stories. Music entered my life around the age of thirteen, although I never took guitar or singing lessons. The first album that made me think about the arrangement and songwriting was Metallica's Ride The Lightning. In retrospect, however, I have to admit that when I was a boy of several years, I sang in front of the mirror phonetic versions of Dire Straits songs – quite embarrassing, right?
What led to you and Konrad forming the band? Was there a connection, in musical tastes, the aims of the band, personality-wise, that made you think it would be a good combination?
The first thing that connected us was the pub – we spent a lot of evenings there. Moreover, it turned out that we are neighbors. At that time, I had already moved out of Silesia, lived in Krakow and rented an apartment in the basement with my friend. I borrowed his guitar and recorded sketches of songs – mostly inspired by Darkthrone. I presented them to Konrad during his visits and as a result we started to think about playing together. I still remember our first rehearsal – in the industrial zone of the Krakow steelworks there was a large abandoned building with one renovated room which was rehearsal space. It was like playing in a cemetery. Moreover, the name of the street can be easily translated as "frost." To sum up, it all started with an acquaintance and similar musical tastes – we had no specific plans for the band, which I think has been clarified over the years.
I’m very interested in the concept of artistic freedom in general, but it seems that this sense of freedom is a major aspect of that album and your work as a band in general. How important for you is it to maintain your freedom, and what are some of the ways you maintain that sense of freedom despite outside influence, your own past and so on?
We are never completely free and we can never fully liberate ourselves from our original inspirations. For the rest of my life I will love the way Metallica built dramaturgy on their first four albums – a mix of aggression and melody. I will always love the way Robert Vigna plays his axe, the same goes with Rune Eriksen, Denis D'Amour, Carl-Micheal Eide or Mikael Akerfeldt. What is changing is the way I use these inspirations to express the inner world within me. If there is absolute freedom it's in my head. From the perspective of years, I am already aware of the ingredients that make up our band. When writing a riff, I can tell if it's a one that belongs to Odraza's world or other bands I'm in. There's of course a space for experimentation within our band but I tend to treat it as a fuel for us. Visiting other musical worlds refreshes the way we arrange our core components.
Esperalem Tkane, on the one hand, is a very straightforward, aggressive black metal record, and yet at other times it comes off as introspective, reflexive and sometimes even bluesy or jazzy. Is this unique combination just a reflection of your personalities and influences, and were you intentionally interested in breaking the mold, creating something new?
It is primarily our nature and inspirations that creates the mood of our records. From the intellectual point of view however I've always thought that the impact of ultimate musical aggression will be greater the more it is contrasted by mellow elements.
One of the things I find most striking about Esperalem Tkane is that the variety we spoke of in the previous question creates moments of unexpected heaviness. Not just heavy riffs, but sometimes clash between quiet and loud parts. What is your idea of creating a heavy mood, and does it always entail riffing?
We are still learning as to what “heavy” music really is. The things you are talking about are not only about the arrangement, but also about the volume and dynamics. In these spaces, we are still learning to discover new ways to play “heavy” music. More importantly, the term "heavy" is very subjective – you can play metal music without distorted guitars and still remain heavy from an emotional standpoint. You can even play a completely different genre of music and be heavier than most metal bands. Check Dälek.
There was quite a space between Esperalem Tkane and Rzeczom, and in that time you were also involved in quite a few other bands. Is there a reason for this? Day to day obligations? Inspiration? Authenticity?
We work slowly and carefully, we do not rush the process. We have no publishing responsibilities, music is our passion, not our job.
Seeing that Rzeczom is a much more straightforward black metal album than Esperalem Tkane That, whether unconsciously or consciously you guys decided that that more direct brand of heavy was what was more interesting for you to explore? And did the formation of Gruzja have any influence over that, perhaps a decision to allow that to be the place where the looser, more unhinged stuff went?
The formation of Gruzja had no effect on Odraza. I'd say that Gruzja started from the similar point as Odraza at its beginning but then turned in a different direction. It is much simpler, groove-oriented and twisted beast strongly inspired by polish pop music of 80s and 90s. I need to emphasize that I do not compose songs in Gruzja, I'm just a vocalist, I've also written some of the lyrics. The direction we took with Rzeczom has been intuitive and natural for us.
Looking back, now that both of you have done other things as well in other bands and together, is there something about Esperalem Tkane, a fact about the process, a particular song, that you’re especially proud of?
It may sound buzzing, but we have devoted so much time to the records we've released so far that we are equally proud of them. Of course, there are always elements that we could have arranged, recorded and produced better, but we've probably already stopped looking morbidly back by now.
And on a bit of a tangent, I was wondering if you could add a bit about what was the context of the creation of Kir, which was composed for and played during a memorial event for the victims of the Płaszów concentration camp. What was it that led you to participate and to create that specific composition?
A friend of mine worked in Krakow Museum at that time – he informed me they plan to organise a memorial event with live music played along Tadeusz Franiszyn's movies depicting KL Płaszów concentration camp. As you can see on our Youtube channel, source material has been quite inspirational – as well as the history of the place itself. We decided to take part in the event. Our aim was to prepare a soundtrack for these gloomy frames. All in all, I consider black metal a proper medium depicting human monstrosity.