Interview with Vaarwel of Frozen Ocean

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Somewhere in the cold wilderness of Russia, a man going by the name of Vaarwel has been cultivating a complex musical concoction for the last decade. His is an intriguing blend of many influences, culminating in a unique identity, nesting in the realms of extreme metal. Rather allowing it to become a burden, Vaarwel has channelled his isolation in art unhindered by current tropes, to deliver Frozen Ocean, whose first release with label Apocalyptic Witchcraft, The Prowess Of Dormition, was covered recently at Valkyrian. Intrigued by his strange tale, we dug deeper into the thoughts and processes of the man behind the music, starting with his mild – yet reasoned – rejection of the ‘black metal’ tag.

Vaarwel: “There’s a lot of talk about “blackness” of metal nowadays: holy wars of trve vs hipsters, discussions about experimentation within style, invention of “new” subgenres (like, for fuck’s sake, “transcendental black metal”), et cetera. And I remember that it always was like that. I had been listening to black metal of all possible kinds for some time, and found that I am relatively close to (a) conservative position in this respect. Black metal should be devoted to Satanism/misanthropy/occultism/hatred/ intolerance, or at least to something that is close to one of those subjects, otherwise it is not actually black. Being a bit purist here, Frozen Ocean’s music does not match such a requirement, maybe only “Norse” trilogy (which is an homage) and “And Hoarfrost Blooms Henceforth” could fit, but I don’t insist. So, that’s why I prefer to specify it as vague as “atmospheric metal”. Moreover, style tags are relatively powerful instrument of promotion. Too many people want to jump the train of black metal, because (of) its history and attractive, badass image. I would like to walk my own way, (and) it is evident for me that it doesn’t belong to black metal.”

This is a musician with very solid, if not forceful, opinions on how his creative ouput fits into the world. Still, he seems open to experimentation, such as the use of traditional instrumentation.

Vaarwel: “Well, honestly I don’t very much like both pure folk music and its fusions with something else (folk metal, for example). If one can see an influence, it is perhaps unintentional. On the other hand, folk music melodies, and folk instruments are considered, and will be considered, as a good tool for building the music of Frozen Ocean – as well as such for electronic music.”

It seems like a massive thought process to go through for just one person, and you have to wonder if it is as demanding as it appears. Does he find that this is a struggle?

Vaarwel: “It is hard to say, because one can scarcely see a challenge here. Somebody is satisfied with raw, and what is offensively called “bedroom” sound, and if this fits the goal – why not? Some just make music with dense studio, or studio-like sound, because it seems necessary – again, why not? I doubt that there is somebody who intentionally accepts the challenge to make the music alone, but make it sound like the whole band. Yes, I would like to manage the sound of Frozen Ocean releases as good as possible, but this is not a competition.”

…but what comes first? Where does it begin?

Vaarwel: “Like gangrene, from scratch. It is always the music. I guess that’s why Frozen Ocean has so many instrumental compositions recorded. I fully record the music of a new track, and only then write the lyrics. As a musician, it is vital for me to describe necessary emotions, images and visions by means of music, and lyrics should be just assistance, and nothing more. Otherwise, one can just declaim the lyrics as poem, with minimum accompaniment (and so we get dark folk!)”

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With Frozen Ocean’s music being fairly open to variety, within its own world, past releases have seen more loose, jangly atmospherics. Does he see a return to the likes of the tripped-out style of Space Orchards?

Vaarwel: “I do. Although I consider post rock generally a stillborn style, with several lodestars and hordes of copycats, it can surely bring some useful tools and approaches to new music from Frozen Ocean.”

Are there any other musical genres he might try with Frozen Ocean, which he hasn’t used before?

Vaarwel: “You will never know, neither will I. For now, I have an unfinished IDM album with elements of folk music and metal; death metal always attracts me, being a music that I generally listen to. Everything that can be integrated, and give advance to Frozen Ocean’s artistry can be used. Speaking of what will never be used, there are Russian chanson (pop music about prison culture), hip-hop and club electronics such as bigroom, house of all kinds, etc.”

Russian chanson is new one to me! Then again, Moscow, and Russia in general, isn’t a place that people in the west hear much about in terms of metal, but it is massive. How has the metal scene over there treated him? Is Frozen Ocean well received at home?

Vaarwel: “Frozen Ocean is unclaimed and unknown in Russia. I seem to have twenty, maybe thirty Russian listeners that are not friends of mine or familiar with me. I am happy that these people found Frozen Ocean and appreciated its music legacy. Speaking of the scene, it is well-developed and indeed has some good music acts, bands and projects. I know, personally, some people, and I am in good relationships with them, but Frozen Ocean still remains obscure and unclaimed, even for the scene. I can do nothing with that, and will not do, thus turning my expectations towards Western audiences.”

So, can we expect to see a live incarnation of Frozen Ocean coming our way any time soon?

Vaarwel: “I did consider it several times, but I am not a big fan of live music, both listening and playing. Besides, making a gig makes sense when you are sure that somebody will visit it, and I am not sure. Maybe in next decade.”

If not live, then does he have plans for future releases already in place?

Vaarwel: “I do, as always, and plans are totally beyond the possibilities. Now I am recording the next Frozen Ocean full-length named “There Will Come Soft Rains”, named after Sarah Tisdale’s poem, which was used by Ray Bradbury in his famous short novel. It will be another recording of atmospheric metal, similar to material on “The Prowess Of Dormition”, but faster, better and more emotional.”

by Paul Macmillan

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