Formed in 2012 as a “mere” side project of members of Willoos and Northward, Laster immediately started gaining some praise through the release of their first demo “Wijsgeer & Narreman”, where some rather well crafted atmospheric black metal could be heard. The Dutch band has since added a third member to its ranks, started playing live and, perhaps most importantly, has released its first album “De Verste Verte Is Hier”. The release came through Dunkelheit Produktionen and shows a band that, regardless of its recent inception, clearly knows very well what it is doing. We sat down with guitarrist/vocalist Nicky and bassistSylwyn to know more about Laster.
For the non-dutch speakers, what’s the meaning of “Laster”?
N. – Laster is a Dutch word for libel; a form of rebellion by speech.
Can you tell us a bit about how you guys started?
N. – I met Wessel around 2011. Back then he played the drums inWhite Oak and worked on Willoos, his depressive black metal act. We became friends quickly and got curious about making music together. At that time I was still working on the last Northwardrelease called “Ijsgang” and I noticed that a lot of my writings no longer fitted the vision of that band. One could say that the frostbite – which used to be my focus and motivation in music – was starting to leave my fingertips.
I used the riffs that wouldn’t work in Northward for Laster in 2012, which at that time wasn’t a serious project – just two guys having a blast. Eventually, the record caused a little fuss, which made us realize that there might be more behind the entire act.
You weren’t always a trio, right?
N. – We started out as a duo. After a while we felt it was time to put the act on stage, and therefore we needed a bassist. Sylwin was our first choice, since he had been playing in Northward for quite a while. The three of us started writing “De Verste Verte Is Hier”.
S. – And playing live.
Your first concert was on a bunker, right? How did that happen?
S. – Yes. Baal wanted us to play there, I guess.
N. – He is the owner of Dunkelheit Produktionen, which is based in Aachen (where this bunker is), and he asked if we could do a show with both Laster and Northward. Unfortunately, Northwarddidn’t play due to breaking up. The bunker smelled horrible. This is probably because of the goat blood. [laughs] The band Goatblood(what’s in a name?!) smeared it all over the walls backstage. Once every few seconds this stench of rotten, dirty, I-don’t-know-what came by and you had to hold your breath for a while.
S. – I don’t want to play with my balls or anything, but when we played on that stage the entire audience was into the atmosphere we created. It was an indication for us that what we had on stage was something people were actually enjoying.
You guys wear bird masks during your concerts. How did that come about?
S. – We wanted to do something more than playing with bare naked faces. A few months before the first show, the three of us decided to do something more with our visual presentation; to create an image around Laster. Nicky came up with the idea of using bird-like masks and, inspired by two masks we found in some gift shop, we decided to make something alike.
N. – When “Wijsgeer & Narreman” got released, I read a lot of reviews referring to the vocals as being bird-like, because of all the screeching and shrieking. This inspired me. It’s something that first came from the band through sound, which the listeners then reflected upon, which we, in our turn, adapted and made our own again.
S. – It also binds us. We create the music, the three of us, together. No one takes account of everything.
Was that type of high pitched screeching something you were consciously looking for?
N. – I’ve been doing this since early Northward. Back then I mostly listened to bands like Paysage d’Hiver, Lunar Aurora and oldArckanum, but I just couldn’t mimic their unique vocal sound, no matter how hard I tried. I started to experiment with my voice instead, which resulted in the high pitched vocals that I have now. To be honest, I don’t know any other way to scream; myDarkthrone and Burzum imitations are a joke.
How was the writing of the new album? The credits just mention “all music and lyrics by Laster”, does that mean that the live formation is only strict on stage?
S. – There were parts that were already written by anyone of the three of us, but there was no writing formula or anything like this.
N. – It’s a big stew in which we all influence the whole. It’s not just the drummer determining how the drums should sound while the guitarist writes all the melodies. The three of us play several instruments, so if one writes an inspiring guitar riff or drum pattern, then it’ll become part of our music. This obviously influences our sound. When you listen to “De Veste Verte Is Hier”, you can hear that each song has a specific vibe to itself, but also changes within it’s own structures.
What about the lyrics, are they also split amongst everyone?
N. – There are cooperative texts. Two lyrics of the album are written by two different persons at the same time. For instance, “Tot De Tocht Ons Verlicht” is a dialogue between two of us, portraying a scenario of a man who tries to climb his way up to something, while others drag him down.
Like both the album and the band’s name, the lyrics also appear in Dutch. Can you tell us something about their themes?
N. – During ”Wijsgeer & Narreman” we were really inspired by Goethe‘s Faust. Those lyrics are all about unease, unrest; wanting more from life and the world around you. I think that our current themes reflect on this unrest, but without the majestic Faustian vibe. It’s much more from a mundane common day perspective, though obviously draped in poetics and romanticism.
S. – I wasn’t there when they wrote the lyrics for ”Wijsgeer & Narreman”, but on the latest album I find them to be a bit more philosophical. In a humane sense, we are not talking about epistemological or scientific questions, you know? We have our own experiences with love, in falling down, in climbing up, struggles with religion, etc. The final song, for example, I wrote as a reflection on the simple question of how I should live – and what would happen if anything goes wrong. If you read the lyrics you will find they are optimistic in the end. They deal with affirmation of life instead of denial – sometimes in a Nietzschean way.
N. – They are dark and somber and might be drenched with a certain negativity, but in the end the message is to push yourself forward. It might be a bit difficult to find a accurate interpretation of them, even for us. [laughs] It’s metaphor upon metaphor upon metaphor. But then again, using all these metaphors in order to express a certain feeling – a hunch – does give the reader a lot of free interpretation, which is nice. If people want to read the lyrics from a suicidal and hopeless point of view, then that’s up to them. We’re just not on the same level.
S. – But it’s impossible not to die in the sunlight. Let me put it like this: it’s impossible to deny there is a bright side to our lyrics. It’s dark, but without darkness there is no light and vice versa.
«The American “revolution” is only a visual thing»
While you are clearly rooted in the genre, the description you gave of the lyrics hardly fits the usual mould of the genre and if we look at the final song of “De Verste Verte Is Hier” we also see some sort of post-punk vibe. Hell, even the description in your page says “obscure dance music”. How do you see yourselves and your music in regards to black metal?
N. – I think all three of us grew up within black metal. It’s part of who we are or who we’ve been. For me, it was a way of identification back in my early teens. Fuck, my entire music collection was black metal, black metal, black metal; there was nothing else at a certain point. Slowly I started to move away from this. I found a broad musical interest and I started discovering genres that would give me this ”black metal spirit” that I loved so much. At first I obviously ran into bands like Ven Buens Ende and other experimental black metal acts, but I slowly drifted away from it’s aesthetics. I’ve never been a huge fan of this so called “post black metal” tag though.
Haven’t you been labelled as such?
N. – Yeah, but we also get labelled as being dsbm. We also get labelled as being …
S. – … nazi’s! [laughs]
S. – Yeah, that happened.
N. – I think that Laster will always have this big hint of black metal, but I, as a musician, need to break away from all the blasting and the tremolo picking once in a while – even though I love it so much. We’re aiming for atmospheric, which we also find in ambient, post-punk, gothic rock and…
S. – … shoegaze. Yes, we’re looking for atmosphere, but also seek this groovy kind of vibe.
We’re familiar with black metal and that’s why we use tremolo picks and fast picking riffs, but orthodox black metal is too restrictive for the atmosphere we want to express – that’s why we use all the other influences. Like Nicky said, we have our base in black metal, its familiar to us, it’s our intuitive way of playing. Recently we had a conversation with a guy at Wessel‘s place, and he stated thatDeafheaven is not black metal, because he didn’t find them to bedark. I just don’t think of black metal in such a way, no genre is completely restricted, it needs – and always had – other aspects and other influences. Above all, it has to evolve. The world evolves, people evolve and time passes.
N. – When you look at traditional black metal of the early 90’s, it’s always been about being rebellious, either against death metal, against religion, against your parents or against the norms of our modern culture – and yes, against being alive as well. These themes are still very active today. Strid’s ”End of Life”, which was released back in 1993, clearly expresses the wish to end ones own life, and so does Deafheaven’s ”Dream House”. The theme remains dark, but it’s brought to you with a different cover and with a different mindset. Saying it’s not dark mostly comes forth from disagreeing with the image that surrounds these bands. People have a problem with what they call a bunch of cappuccino drinking hipsters. But it’s not as if those Norwegian celebrities have been such heroes. That music came from a couple of long haired, Dungeons & Dragons-playing, forest running teens, who probably drank cappuccino’s at their parents place as well. I don’t understand what the big fuss is about.
You mention rebellion, but it is viewed as a rather orthodox genre. However, you look back to the 90’s and just in Norway you had bands like Ved Buens Ende, Solefald, Fleurety, Ulver or In The Woods…
N. – Black metal was never as progressive and avant-garde as in the early 90’s!
And somehow you read around that it is now with some American bands that things are really changing.
N. – I think back in the 90’s, the avant-garde wasn’t fixed upon image, but upon music. Ved Buens Ende really tried to push those boundaries, as did Fleurety, Manes and Ulver, and they contributed greatly to evolving this fascinating genre. The American ”revolution” is only a visual thing – I hope they see this as well.
So by having a somewhat “safer” image it allows it to reach new audiences that the music in itself couldn’t?
N. – I think so, but it’s not necessarily about safety. Music gets more interesting when the topics it covers are part of you as well. When you take the conservative black metal that you’ll find in a record like “Transilvanian Hunger” and compare it with the Russian projects of the “Blazebirth Hall”, you’ll find a lot of genre changing elements already. Yes, they stay true to the authentic, lo-fi and reverb-drenched sound (although their melodies are much more complex), but they started to integrate themes that hadn’t been used in black metal by then. For them black metal wasn’t a vehicle for Satan or glorifying Norwegian forests, but they implemented their own interest, which would – ironically – be national socialism. This opened the genre for an entire new group of people.
S. – You can also hear Russian culture and the downfall of the 19th-century aristocratic society.
I don’t think those people are very well educated, which is understandable in nowadays Russia. However, they are expressing an existing intelligible Slavonic spirit …
N. – You can also see how it slowly dripped away from Russia and entered Ukraine, where you’ll eventually would find Drudkh andHate Forest roaming the lands, moving away from the national socialistic ideology and aiming for a more chauvinistic approach. It’s definitely not my favourite content, but it has been genre bending and expanding.
S. – This genre expanding is very continental; you have the same thing in philosophy. You have debates between the analytical American tradition and you have the continental tradition. This bisection however is liquid. The US are certainly not the only representatives of “post” influences in black metal. Alcest for instance, is a band that couldn’t have been American, but is “post” as fuck. At the same time it is hard to imagine an European Wolves in the Throne Room even though they drag traditional black metal as founded in Europe.
N. – Early Alcest and Amesoeurs material has been written forMortifera, and Mortifera have been doing this “post-black metal” thing for ages already – even though they never labelled it as such. So there’s nothing new about ”post black metal” musically, it only gained more commercial value because more people can identify with it’s lyrical theme’s and visual approach.
Returning to “De Verste Verte Is Hier”. Another new thing you tried out in the title track was the use of clean vocals. Tell us a bit about that.
N. – I always wanted to do clean vocals in black metal; since the first time I’ve heard Ulver‘s “Bergtatt” and Lengsel’s ”Solace” when I was a kid. But there was no room in Northward for clean singing, and there was no time to do it on the Laster demo.
S. – I guess it started again with the idea of incorporating influences from bands like Joy Division, Beastmilk and Jesu. I started playing a specific riff adapted from the first song of the album – and just kept repeating it over and over again. We jammed around it and, I’m not sure if it was me or Nicky, but one of us just started this clean howling tone – or whatever – and it fitted the music.
Will you play it live?
S. – It’s hard, we need more instruments for that one and I don’t think we can do it with just the three of us.
N. – I’d love to play it live.
The Dutch scene seems to be rather active at the moment. What are your thoughts in regards to it?
N. – I think there is a really interesting ”scene” going on at the moment. The inspiring music of Terzij de Horde, Wederganger, Galg and Aderlating can be found on stage quite often. There are also acts like An Autumn For Crippled Children, who just focus on writing and releasing their amazing type of music without performing live. Older and bigger acts like Urfaust and Cirith Gorgor are still around – and strong – as well. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll find pearls like Irrwich and Nord.
Finally, what does the near future hold for Laster?
We are already working on our forthcoming album and we hope to start recording in late November. We also focus on getting beyond our own borders and we hope to see England, Germany, France and Portugal really soon. If you have a place to play: send us an e-mail.