The harmony and melody of Stalwart

St. Petersburg, Russia was the first Russian capital before it was changed over to Moscow. This was the city that Peter The Great created which also was the home of the Russian Baltic Fleet. It was also known as Leningrad which was named after the creator of the USSR Lenin. St. Petersburg was also the place of one of the most brutal assaults it withstood under when the German assaulted the city with bombers and artillery during the battle of Leningrad in 1941. Now sixty some odd years later St. Petersburg is also home of Stalwart. With the release of their fifth studio album "Manifest To Refusal" on canadian label PRC Records. Stalwart is ready to be known outside and beyond their native Russian homeland with proper promotion and distro which is always helpful. Stalwart combines djent style riffing of Messuggah with the brutal 90s death metal sounds of Morbid Angel and Decapitated. Returning from doing some dates in Finland, Estonia and the Ukraine, guitarist/keyboardist Leonid and guitarist Antuan discusses what's been going with Stalwart and with the new album "Manifest To Refusal".

Hello from Texas, how's the Russian summer so far?
L.: Hello, we just came back from the tour couple of days ago. The tour included 1 gig in Finland, 1 in Estonia and 10 gigs in Ukraine. So now we are just trying to return to normal life after touring apocalypse:)

Stalwart just released album number 5, "Manifest To Refusal". I know it's a little too early to tell but what are the local metal press been saying about the album so far, but have you heard anything?
L.: Yes, it is too early to say now. Because almost noone have heard the CD here yet, and even we personally don't have printed CDs at hands. However, we already received many reviews around the globe, and the reaction is surprisingly positive! In fact, it is our first ever album, represented worldwide, and looks like it has already received more reaction than all our previous CDs!

I'm not familar with PRC Records. Can you tell me more about the label and and how long the label has been operating?
L.: Label owner worked previously on Great White North Records, Canada. We had some negations this that label a few years ago regarding one of our previous albums. Later their manager established his own label, PRC Music, and when he received promo from us, he was a little bit familiar with what Stalwart is. We received several various offers from European and American labels, and finally we choose PRC because of several factors, one is that label made us its priority release for 2012.

The band also has some new personnel in the group. Can you give us an introduction to the new members and how they ended up being in Stalwart?
L.: We booked Hertz studio (in fact, they have more that 1 year queue) and just started preparing stuff for Manifest Of Refusal, when our previous drummer suddenly decided to relocate to his home town, which is very far from St. Petersburg, without any notice to us. There were just 4 month left prior studio time, and we were thinking to cancel studio reservation and move album recording 1 year later or so, because it is not easy to find good musician in St. Petersburg, especially a drummer. Finally we decided it was worth to try to find new drummer and make an attempt to prepare in time. We looked through several drummers and choose Alex. He previously had played much more straight-forward and not so complex and technical music, so it was serious challenge for him to learn all the song in limited timeframe. In fact, it was challenge for all of us. However, we were in time to prepare everything by entering studio, and now you can hear the result.

How does this line up hold up compared to the band's previous line up?
L.: I would simply say that the current line up is the strongest we ever had.

I was reading about the current political situation in Russia, especially with Putin being reelected to the presidency. How does that comes into play when it comes to writing lyrics for "Manifest of Refusal"?
L.: Although our lyrics is more general, politics of cause has serious influence on it. We don't like politics at all, but anyway it is a part of life even you don't want it to be. So, yes, even though our lyrics is not exactly about politics, that shit that happens here has a big influence on what we write.

A.: Actually our lyrics are unpolitical, but may be this situations created some frame of mind or something like this, and this factor had some indirect influence to our music and lyrics. When you're really angry you can create more spirited things. Our lyrics usually play around some mental aspects of human being in modern world with its brain-fucking problems, and politics is only one of them, while we think more generally.

The band returned to the infamous Hertz Studio in Poland to record "Manifest Of Refusal". What is it about Hertz that makes the band go back and record there?
L.: This is simple - we consider Hertz Studio as one of the best studios in the world for death metal or similar genres. Those guys (Wieslawsky brothers) help us to achieve sound we want to hear on our CDs. And they work much more seriously than any metal studio in Russia.

A.: It is a lot of Bialystok's little pubs with a stronger-then-usual beer and cheerful habitants.

Protesting or speaking out was considered treason during the old days of the USSR. Now people are saying they're frustrated with their leaders of the state?
A.: I think its hard as rock to find a person in the world who don't frustrated with the political leaders of his country. As for me, this shit is exist in some parallel reality. The less it touch myself the better. Politics as a phenomenon will have all the troubles such a corruption and so on despite of the particular person who runs the show.

Which song reflects the current situation in Russia and why?
L.: I would say, "The Karma Circle", "Downgrade Evolution" and "Manifest Of Refusal". Yes, those songs lyrics are mostly inspired by Russian nowadays political shit. Take in mind that all this was written more than a year before current elections and political crisis.

A.: It was not actually planned in this way, but it is “Karma Circle” - it's clear why with our games with presidents and prime-ministers.

The band been on numerous tours supporting various band. Name some of your favorite bands you enjoyed touring with and why?
L.: Not exactly touring, but we opened gigs for such bands as Vader, Kataklysm, Carnifex, Hatesphere, Destruction, Amon Amarth, Dagoba, Sybreed, In-Quest, Fintroll, Norther and even Nightwish. Opening for Nightwish (it was about 10 years ago) was a bit difficult, because most of audience could not accept our stuff, but anyway, playing on the same stage with such a monsters is a very good experience and also it helps the band to have better recognition. Regarding touring, we just finished Ukrainian tour with Ukrainian band Sidus Mortuorum, who play death metal in the veins of Obituary, and it was really fucking crazy touring with those guys! I would like to tell them many thanks for a good time spent on tour!

How's the band's fanbase in the USA?
L.: Honestly, we don't know. Before today, I mean "Manifest Of Refusal" release, we were almost totally unknown outside of Russia/CIS states. I believe now with new CD on Canadian label situation is changing.

When I hear your music the band has a whole mixed bag of influences whether it ranges from djent style of Meshuggah to technical death metal, but it is not mechanical like most bands. Your thoughts?
L.: I am personally a big fan of Meshuggah, because they opened a whole brand new world in heavy music. However, I hate most of nowadays Meshuggah clones because they just copypaste Meshuggah's riffs and approach without their own ideas. Yes, we use Meshuggah approach sometimes too, but it is only one of the bricks we use to build our stuff. In fact, Meshuggah's approach is ulimate polymetrics and they almost exclude other components such as harmony or melody. We also use polymetrics but we often add a harmony or melody over it, resulting a piece of music having several "dimensions" at the same time, that's why it sounds a bit differently. We always keep in mind two things while making our stuff - it should be holistic, indissoluble, despite of the fact we use many different components as a basic pieces, and second and most important - music must express feelings. We add dark atmosphere over all those math and technical constructions, which gives us specific sound you can hear on "Manifest Of Refusal".

What are the band's main influences?
L.: At first it is late-80 - 90 metal bands like Slayer, Morbid Angel, Fear Factory, Testament, Cryptopsy, and of cause Meshuggah who I think is a very big name on a metal scene across latest more than 20 years. For me personally also very big infulence since childhood was 70th art-rock bands like King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator - those bands created music without any barriers, limits or trends, which is very rare nowadays.

Tell me about the St. Petersburg scene. Are there bands besides Stalwart worth checking out?
L.: We have many-many bands here, but overal the scene here is not very strong. We are still behind Europe or US. I would mark out dark doom/black band Psilocybe Larvae, who will release new CD on Italian label Nadir Music, owned by Sadist's mastermind Tommy, groove/thrash metal band Misanthrope Count Mercyful, and maybe deathcore band My Autumn, who successfully toured Europe lately.

I know that you and your bandmates are working real jobs to support your band. How cool are your bosses when you tell them about your band commitments?
L.: Yes, you're right, it is not easy to combine music and regular job. The biggest problem is taking vacation for touring and studio work - each band member should take vacation at the same time, so our bosses are not always happy of that. But this is the reality - nowadays only top metal bands can live from music, all others have to combine metal and usual jobs somehow.

Any festival appearances planned this summer?
L.: This year not (last year we performed at Orwohaus Festival, Berlin). The deal is, for the band which is known only locally, it is difficult to play on summer festival in Europe. Russian scene is still very isolated from European scene. And somehow, in Russian there are no any significant metal open-airs. But we hope with the album released worldwide, it would be much easier to go to summer open-airs next year.

One last question. If your fans want to buy any of your merch or CDs can they buy them directly from the band?
L.: Sure, on our shows. However, we still don't have “Manifest” CDs at hands – we are looking forward to receive the package from the label, so for now the easiest way is to order it on our label's webstore.

Thank you for doing this interview. Is there anything you like to add?
L.: Stay yourself!
A.: Stay Stalwart!
Interviewer: Paul Lewis
May 31, 2012

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