Embracing the Profane Mysteries – An Interview with VRYKOLAKAS

            A gateway to the unfathomable seethes within Singapore, and VRYKOLAKAS are at the head of its rising abominations as they wreak endless atrocities upon mankind. I eventually contacted this infernal entity after multiple reviews over years past, and a response echoed throughout the deepest chasms from their guitarist and original brutalizer, Khairil, who provides detailed insights into various aspects behind this creative force. Here we delve further into hostile realms to discuss its recent manifestations, influences, and other favored methods of torture, while also glimpsing at forms still hidden among the shadows for VRYKOLAKAS.

Greetings and many thanks for taking the time for this interview! The name “Vrykolakas,” which is related to a Greek folkloric creature, easily captures attention and intrigue. How did this monstrous form come to represent your art?

Greetings to you and the readers! We start by thanking you for taking the time to do this interview FOR us. I am Khairil, guitarist of the band and founding member. Moving on, when we first discovered the name VRYKOLAKAS, it was in a book of the occult and demonology. There were many names mentioned as part of a council in hell, somewhat like a government. But we were really captivated by that name, how it was spelt and how it sounded. It is very rare for a word to begin with the letter “v” and “r” together. In this book, VRYKOLAKAS is described as a demon whose duty is to torture the inhabitants of Hell by suffocating them to death if they were ever caught resting and / or sleeping. We liked the fact that this is an actual demon that exists and is doing a meaningful job in Hell, unlike those who were demoted to haunting empty houses and possessing little girls whose family believed in God. We didn’t realize back in 1992 that VRYKOLAKAS existed in Greek mythology. We were corresponding with Greek metalheads back then and nobody informed us about VRYKOLAKAS’ standings in the Greek mythology. It was only in 2000 onwards, we were eventually informed about it. It was quite empowering to know that the name is pervasive in mythology and theology. After a few years, being the only member in VRYKOLAKAS continuing this band from 1993, that name became an alter ego for me to go to when I want to avoid the world around me. The demonic aspect of VRYKOLAKAS is representative of what we want to achieve in the way our death metal should sound. Demonic and hellish!

What are your thoughts on death metal as it evolved from the late 80’s and early 90’s to today? What draws you toward its older sound as opposed to varieties with a more polished production?

We believe the ability to evolve is crucial. We believe both the older sound and the current polished production had to co-exist to give the listeners and musicians the choice. The old 80’s and 90’s sound forced some bands to create the polished production and then this polished sound urged some bands to revert to the old 80’s and 90’s sound. I personally believe that the old 80’s and 90’s has more advantage – the sound is simpler, in terms of song writing, and not as technically inclined thus giving us the impetus to improve ourselves. Interestingly, it is the next generation of musicians who were able to improve the song writing and execution and therefore produced the polished sound. As musicians get better and become exaggerated in their execution and song writing, that evolution gave majority of the musicians and listeners the choice to traverse across the old 80’s and 90’s sound and the modern polished sound. There should be the time and place for either one to be applied. As a band, we would want a polished sound when we play live, for the audience to really get into our music, but we would prefer the old 80’s and 90’s sound in our recording to really demonstrate what the band is about musically. We started in the late 80’s and early 90’s. We grew up listening to bands from that era. There was no aim or intention to come up with something grandiose in terms of sound. That’s the only way or the only sound we are familiar with. That will be the sound for us for a long time to come because we are familiar with, and we can even say that we are comfortable with it.

The recent past saw you joining forces with NUCLEAR CHRIST for a split release. How did this collaboration come about?

We knew George Stewart since 1992. We traded demos before. We resumed correspondence back in 2020 and there were discussions on many possible collaborations. George then started getting in touch with Andy, our vocalist, who also runs Vrykoblast Productions and the two of them began discussing collaborations. George has a few bands namely ABYSMAL, PHALANX INFERNO and NUCLEAR CHRIST. It came to the point where we felt it would be meaningful for us, VRYKOLAKAS and NUCLEAR CHRIST to collaborate on a release. We enjoyed the kind of death metal NUCLEAR CHRIST plays and decided that it would make sense to release a split under Vrykoblast Productions. As for the music we put on the split, we wanted to match NUCLEAR CHRIST’s old school early MORBID ANGEL aura in their songs, but at the same time avoid ending up having a split release where both bands sound too similar. So we chose to imitate (yes, we are not ashamed to admit) the Floridan bands such as OBITUARY, DEICIDE and MASSACRE for our half of the release. We certainly hope the listeners could notice and enjoy the reference.

You’ve also been busy working on some other creations, including a full-length to be named Nocturnal Dominion of Death, and another yet untitled opus. How are these progressing, and could you offer any further glimpses into their substance and compare them to the existing discography?

We are busy with new recordings due to 2 main reasons. First is to make up for all those years when we were inactive and distracted away from the band. The second reason being our varied influences from the local and international death metal scene. Originally, we had intended to record and release 5 albums in total before slowing things down by releasing shorter releases such as EPs or even contributing compilation tracks. We are glad that the plan came back on track and we feel excited to realize we may even exceed that plan. Nocturnal Dominion Of Death would be our fifth album and the untitled album would be our sixth. As the songwriter of the band, I couldn’t stop writing riffs and songs. As we answer this interview, the recording of our 5th album is complete and undergoing the mixing stage. We also have 8 songs ready for rehearsals for the 6th album, and I have inevitably begun writing for the 7th album. All these riffs and songs came about because of the many ideas that came in inspiring waves as I excavate my collection of bands which influenced VRYKOLAKAS for more than 30 years. Try to visualize me putting on a record or CD of FUNEBRE’s Children Of The Scorned. An inspiration comes along and I would have a riff or two. And every time I listened to our influences, there is great desire to attempt writing a song that sounds like GRAVE, or IMMOLATION, or PHLEGETHON, or INCUBUS. You know that feeling? 

A return to your roots is effectively displayed on The Necromantic Revocation. What was it like to revisit and officially record those older tracks? Have your perspectives on music changed since the time when they were first written?

Going back to January 1992, upon the completion of our 3 songs demo, we felt dissatisfied with how the demo turned out. We took 3 months to finally decide that we should release this demo and quickly work on an improved 2nd demo to be released as soon as we can. We had 2 songs written. At this point, we found a good drummer who exceeded our expectations as he played our new songs quickly. To avoid a very long and repeated story, some issues forced us to stop band activities and the 2 songs were left unrecorded. Being the only member left, it took me 3 years to find a new member to continue the band as a 2 piece again. At this point, back in 1995, our music evolved into something darker, between black metal and death metal. We wrote and rehearsed 2 songs. Again, personal circumstances caused us to stop band activities between 1996 to 1999 as I had to fulfil national service in the army. All this while, as VRYKOLAKAS reformed in 1999 and purged on playing brutal death metal, I always looked back at our demo and the 4 songs that were left unrecorded. These 4 songs had been bugging me in the head, perhaps like unborn babies haunting the minds of their mothers who aborted them. I listened to the 1992 demo songs and started playing those songs together with the 4 unrecorded songs, modified to my current playing style. The day came when I asked the band, “Shall we rerecord the band’s old songs and see how they would turn out with the way we play currently and with our current sound?” We didn’t decide during recording what we are going to do with the material yet. This was recorded at TNT Studios, a recording studio we had been returning to since 2012. We liked the fact that this studio is always able to give us the old feel and atmosphere in the production. Eventually, when the recording was completed, although the recording had a different production compared to our And Vrykolakas Brings Chaos And Destruction, we felt that the final product really captured what the band wanted to achieve back in the early 1990’s. We were actually very proud deciding on and completing this project, so we decided to release another album within 6 months of the previous album.

Influences from black metal are a prime feature of this earlier material. What elements from that darker approach to extremity do you find most captivating?

I find it very difficult to explain this “dark” approach. Black metal is probably at the one end of the spectrum with death metal on the other end. This dark approach exists right in between the spectrum. It is the unclear definition, something you cannot describe exactly in words that we find most captivating. For us the darkest band for the longest time is IMMOLATION. Their riffs are dark, their lyrics are dark and the heaviness of their sound and Ross Dolan’s voice all make up a very dark atmosphere regardless of the speed of their songs. It takes very dark souls to write album after album of darkness. The most captivating part about this darker “approach” is the phenomenon that while the melodies may not be aligned to what are usually written by black metal musicians, and while the lyrics may be awkwardly straight forward and don’t require the listeners to dwell deep into the rhymes, the recipient could sense the morbidity, the hopelessness that comes along with that approach. Unlike VRYKOLAKAS, who insist on claiming that we have a dark approach to our music, there are many bands who somehow naturally and fluently express abyssal darkness in their songs and albums.

One of your distinguishing qualities goes beyond the antichristian dominance of extreme metal, and explores Islamic themes on works like And Vrykolakas Brings Chaos and Destruction. How did your interest in that subject matter arise?

To begin with, we are all born Muslims. We are exposed to the contents of the Quran regularly since young as our parents make us learn the recitation of the Quran. Therefore, it is not a matter of interest. It is some knowledge, which only until our reformation, we decided to leverage on. We were quick to realize the ridicule in the anti-god trend. We found it difficult to comprehend a person denying God and then choosing God’s enemy, which is practically a creature of God’s design, as a “master,” labelling it Satanism and such. We also grew out of the whole antichristian façade, repeating the same futile whining against the son of God. At the time we chose to write lyrics based on the concept of death, afterlife and Hell from the Islamic perspective, Islam was notorious for its links with terrorism. As metalheads, we are immune to the judgement of others, so choosing to write lyrics from the content of a widely hated religion sounds wise to us. Also, Islam describes death in detailed processes. Islam describes in detail what happens after death, what happens in the grave, the long tribulation of purgatory and judgement day and then the torment of everlasting Hell. Islam describes all these in vivid terms and as you read these topics, you find yourself seeing the album covers of CANNIBAL CORPSE and other brutal death metal bands. Islam does not hold back when describing death and Hell. We can say that Islam is very “death metal”! Islam smashes the brutal truth into our faces.

The cover art highlights another layer of appeal for these releases while also paralleling their essence. What was involved in their designs?

If you have seen the cover artwork, you will definitely notice the similarities to MALEVOLENT CREATION’s The Ten Commandments. We were captivated by the figure being the central point of view. The things happening in the artwork really aligns well to the album title. We also liked the combination of colours – blue and orange – which somehow fits together to give a dark aura. From an artistic perspective, perhaps we can say that the blue theme depicts the coldness of the emotions expressed in the songs and the orange accompaniment represents the heat, the flames of Hell, which manifested into chaos and destruction. This artwork was conceptualized and realized by an Indonesian artist, Momo Maggot Art. He already had this artwork ready and since it fits the album title accurately, we quickly secured the artwork for the album.

Do you have an interest in books or films, and has anything within those artforms inspired your music?

Our songs and lyrics were never inspired from books or films. Even when it comes to the Quran, the main reason we decided to refer to it is because we remembered mentions of death, afterlife, and Hell. So, the concept came about first. Then we proceeded with the research from the Quran, compared what we discovered with other religious scriptures to see what else we can learn from or refer to as a point of reference. This is the approach, method, or strategy when it comes to writing the lyrics. We will compile paragraphs, phrases, points, and anything relevant to the concept we are using. As for the music, we have hundreds of riffs which are isolated, sometimes compounded in separate files. We will listen to the riffs again and again and eventually the inspiration will come to put isolated and compounded riffs together to form a verse, a chorus, an intro and gradually becomes a full song. The last stage is where we do the pairing. What are the emotions or thoughts that come to us when hear the completed song, we will then match it to the lyrics. After that, it is a matter of adding a sentence or removing it in the lyrics to make the story meaningful to the song writing.

Is there a desire to play your material live? Which bands would you choose to tour with for a most supreme live experience?

This interview happened at a very interesting time. Between 2021 – 2022, we had 3 releases, of which 2 are full-length albums and 1 split. This series of releases give the metal scene the impression that the band has returned to active state. We were therefore asked whether we are going to play live soon. To be honest, within the band, we had “retired” from playing live and had chosen to be more productive in song writing, recording, and releasing albums. But we reflected and concluded that if we want to interact with the scene, as a band, playing live is the logical approach. We made the decision to reach out to our neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand for live shows and meet the metal scene there. We don’t think we would have the stamina, patience, and discipline to go on tour. We were once close to the demons in IMPIETY at one point of time and it is quite overwhelming to hear the intense effort and hard work, they had to put into going on long tours. At the same time, we have high respect for IMPIETY and WORMROT for having this high level of professionalism to go out around the world and complete their tours.

What are some other long-term ambitions you hope to achieve for VRYKOLAKAS?

We feel that we have lost a lot of time in those years when the momentum as a band became slow and we became very unproductive as a band. Therefore, our long-term ambition and plan for now is to write and record as many songs as we physically and mentally can, release albums, EPs or splits, and in between that try to play live locally or in the neighboring countries. Beyond that, I believe Andy would want to continue Vrykoblast Productions for as long as he could do so, and for me with Vryko Vinyl Records as well. Edi is also playing in ANTOLOGI, a band which plays live shows quite often. As metal musicians, we aim to be musically involved productively in the scene for a long time.

Thanks once again for your time and insights, and I look forward to the monstrosities yet to spawn from VRYKOLAKAS! Would you like to share any final curses in closing?

We dedicate a song from our previous album, “Unleashing the Plagues of Annihilation”, to you, Plague! We come from the era where the best promotion a band could get was from interviews in fanzines. So doing this interview definitely brings back the memories and nostalgia of the ways of the metal scene back then. We would like to take the opportunity to thank also all our friends and correspondents around the world, if you do not know it yet, we are still around, so let’s resume the correspondence. We thank those who listened to us and gave us words of encouragement. We will continue to produce our best, or maybe we should say our worst, monstrosities for years to come!

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