Interview with Khairil from Vrykolakas

Singapore brutal death metal band has been around since the early 1990s, yet metalheads in Singapore rarely get to see them perform at gigs. We talk to the mastermind behind Vrykolakas, Khairil, to find out why this is so…

HMT: Hi Khairil, thank you for granting us this interview with you. First off, to readers who are unfamiliar with the band, give us a brief introduction and history of yourself and Vrykolakas.

Greetings! We are VRYKOLAKAS.

The history of the band is a very long-winded story with the usual stuff about how the band began way back in 1991 by teenagers influenced by bands such as IMPALED NAZARENE, BLASPHEMY, SAMAEL, NAPALM DEATH, GRAVE, SEPULTURA and majority of the Nuclear Blast Records bands back then. Some internal problems led us to splitting up in 1994 before I decided to reform the band again in 1999. That was when the band really made a lot of progress in terms of productivity and we are now in our 19th year of existence.

What was your musical journey like? How were you introduced to metal?

My own journey began in 1987 when I discovered RUSTY BLADE and the likes of LEFTHANDED and SEARCH. These are Malay rock bands but they have always had a metallic edge to their music. I then discovered heavier bands such as IRON MAIDEN, HELLOWEEN and KING DIAMOND and then even heavier bands such as DESTRUCTION, SODOM, SLAYER, NECRODEATH, NUCLEAR ASSAULT, HOBBS’ANGEL OF DEATH, POSSESSED, VENOM, CELTIC FROST and more. But the urge to form a band came when I discovered the local band NUCTEMERON. That was when the whole band thing began.

A quick Google search on the meaning of Vrykolakas gave us “a harmful undead creature in Greek folklore”. It seems to stand well with Vrykolakas’ history of almost 20 years. How has the path of Vrykolakas been like?

The discovery of the name was very fortunate. We had toyed with a few names but those names didn’t stick with us. Just before we found the name VRYKOLAKAS, we were using the working name of TUMULUS. We were always looking for demonic names then, and finally found the name VRYKOLAKAS. The meaning of the name itself is not very brutal or deadly but at the time we found this name, the word itself, the awkward spelling and the sound of the word when you pronounce it was just awesome!

The path of the band is very typically underground-like. The attention we get is not from the masses but from the significant few who happen to enjoy our music and stuck with us. We don’t have a big fanbase but we do have countless friends. That’s why I used the term “underground” – underground bands have a lot of friends and those few fans eventually become friends sooner or later.

Vrykolakas performing in 2000

How has the metal scene evolved, from 1991 to 2010?

I think the passion in those days within the metalheads back then is stronger. When a group of musicians get together to form a band, they channelled a huge amount of effort and energy into the band with a goal in mind – to release a demo. Playing a gig is a rare bonus. It was always about writing songs and recording and releasing demos and stuff like that. The friendship was stronger, a lot of musicians from other bands come together to form side projects to allow expression of variety or different ideas. Metal music was very difficult to access, you’ll have to either write to the bands or the labels directly to purchase cassettes or vinyls. Friendships with foreign musicians were through handwritten letters which take almost a month for any reply.

I dare say now the passion is not as strong mainly because metal is easily available. Nowadays, metalheads can go to a metal cd shop, or listen to 1 or 2 songs on myspace or download from blogspots or torrents. With easy availability, there is no chance for a metalhead to treasure the band, their songs and the whole effort those bands took to produce songs.

Also, nowadays, there is a great need for visuals. There must be a video for metalheads to see. The focus is now on performing at gigs. I find it a total waste of talent for any band to be able to play covers well but do not spend time to write and record original material. To me, and I’m speaking for most old school metalheads, metal is about producing metal music and performing self-produced metal music to metalheads who appreciate original metal music.

Unleashing Vrykolakas Upon Mankind

It was mentioned from a previous interview that your upcoming album, Unleashing Vrykolakas Upon Mankind has been in the works since 2005. What took the band 5 years to finally decide to release the album?

We were looking for a foreign label to release it. Releasing albums and promoting them is no easy job. It took us a lot of effort and money to spread the music from our first album “Spawned From Hellfire And Brimstones”. We decided then that we should let a label with good distribution system to do the work for us. However, we haven’t found any luck yet and we then realized that we had released 13 releases under Vrykoblast Productions, and our own album is still not released. We didn’t have any releases lined up for 2010 yet. The bands we are interested in are not ready for album release. So we thought now is a good time to release Vrykolakas’ 2nd album.

Will the songs on this upcoming album continue Vrykolakas’ exploration into religion, or will it feature a new lyrical direction? Where does the band draw inspirations from?

Same lyrical direction as when we reformed – the brutality of spiritual beliefs or disbeliefs. We found things like death, afterlife and judgement day very intriguing. The main ideas come from the ritualistic aspect of Islam. We added the brutality.

We noticed that there was an eight year break between the first self-titled demo and the next. We understand that it was partly due to Kai being unable to assemble a constant lineup. How did a stable lineup finally come about in 1998, when Vrykolakas started being active again?

I had been continuosly writing songs although at that time I had no line-up to rehearse with. I found out that Iman was still active in metal. We had played covers before I went to national service. I asked him to help me reform Vrykolakas and together we looked for a drummer. We found Zainal who lived near Iman at that time and the three of us started rehearsing before we got Andy to do the vocals part.

During the inactive days of Vrykolakas, did it ever cross your mind to end this project altogether? What was it that kept you going on until you found suitable members for the band?

The thought at that time was to find some guerilla musicians to be studio or live sessionists but it wasn’t easy at all getting sessionists. Everybody was committed to their own band and could not help out. Also, some musicians were stuck to the metal circles which existed back then. Vrykolakas didn’t believe in and wasn’t part of any metallic circle. So as you know, “membership has its privileges”. Vrykolakas had no membership, therefore no privileges.

I believed it was the songwriting urge that kept the band alive. I was still writing riffs and putting them together to form songs. I had between 3 to 5 songs before I found out Iman was still active into the whole metal band thingy and the curiosity to see how those songs would eventually turn out became a driving factor to approach Iman for help.

Vrykolakas also owns a label, Vrykoblast Productions, on which you have released Vrykolakas’ debut full length album. What was it that made you decide to start a label?

The one and only reason was Vrykolakas. We started the label to release Vrykolakas material. We concluded that releasing material with a label name would present ourselves as being more serious and professional. True enough, when we released the Supreme Brutal Legions split CD and putting the Vrykolakas 2000 MCD under the label catalogue, correspondence with foreign labels became so much easier. But after that we discovered bands whose music we really liked and decided to release other bands as well.

What are some advantages and disadvantages to have your album to be self-released?

The main advantage is in terms of promotion, you get to give promo copies to any Tom, Dick and Harry zines or labels because you have so many copies with you. You sell half the produced quantity, you cover all your overheads. You also get to sell your CDs at any price you’re comfortable with. The main disadvantage is effort, it takes 1000 times more effort to do the promotion bit to get your music around.

As a musician and also a distributor/label, what is your take on music downloading? After all, it is often seen as a double edged sword, both aiding and harming an artist/band at the same time.

I am guilty of downloading demos from blogspots. But then again, these are out of print demos of bands that have split up. The demos I download were released in the 80s and 90s. There is really no other way of getting those demos because as you know demos are limited products. So it’s a good thing those owners of old and rare demos decided to share the music instead of selling them at high prices at eBay.

As for downloading of new bands and new albums, I think it is unhealthy for the bands and the labels. But metal bands and labels are creative – they come up with unique packaging that makes it necessary for buyers to own the original product instead of getting just the mp3s and cover scans.

At the same time, I feel bands and labels need to think of the future. Metalheads these days are not into collecting full albums in CD format. Metalheads nowadays prefer to listen to 1 or 2 songs from 20000 metal bands all stuffed into a palm-sized device known as mp3 players. So bands and labels need to consider selling mp3s.

We see that Vrykolakas is looking for a label to release the upcoming full length album. Why not release it under Vrykoblast Productions?

This question was already answered earlier, in similar essence.

Vrykolakas opening for Grave

We rarely see Vrykolakas performing in Singapore metal gigs. Why is this so? Any chances of catching Vrykolakas around soon?

We played gigs almost twice a year every year when we reformed. Only twice a year because we prefer to play our original songs, and we didn’t have that many songs back then. So it doesn’t make any sense at all to play many gigs and keep repeating the same set.

Nowadays, we do not feel the excitement of playing gigs anymore. It’s double the effort to prepare for a gig but the outcome is usually not to our liking. The sound production is usually mediocre and the number of audience is also lacking. We prefer recording. We get to work on our songs until we feel satisfied with the outcome.

Also through releasing the recorded songs, we get the true thoughts or opinions of local metalheads – total bullshit. At a gig, everything goes “brutal, man!” or “awesome, man!” or “aaarrrggghhh!” or “you guys sounded like mortician!” and lies like that. Reactions to our albums are more honest. People say things like “What?!! You guys released a CD already?” or “I haven’t bought your CD because I’m waiting for your CD to be released on digipac format or vinyl format” or “I’m really really really going to really really really buy your CD (unless you really really really insist on giving me a free copy and save all the trouble” or “I can’t find your CD at HMV”.

One final question: any last words to haters and hypocrites in the scene, and also any advice to upcoming and aspiring musicians?

I guess it’s not worth our effort and your zine space to say anything to the haters and hypocrites, yes? Advice to upcoming and aspiring musicians: practice hard until you become an awesome musician and when you’re in a band, write original songs and record them. The resulting demo or EP or album, no matter how shitty they turn out to be at first, will keep you wanting to produce more songs. That’s what being a musician is all about – writing and recording music. Even if you don’t have any friends at first to form a band, get out there and make friends. Believe in your music and your band, even if members come and go, keep the music and the band alive. Metal is about the music, the bands and the songs. Then comes the gigs, circle of friends and pornstar groupies : )

Vrykolakas, circa 2005

Once again, thank you for taking the time off to do this interview with us, we wish you all the best for the release of your upcoming album! m/

Thanks for the support !!! Stay fucking metal !!!

©2010 Heavy Metal Tribune | Hong Rui

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