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  • Sarah Stubbs

WATCHING THE WORLD BURN VOLUME III: Featuring Wallachia's Lars Stavdal



With their darkly absorbing blend of bludgeoning ultra-violence, lacerating tremolo and windswept, coldly majestic atmospherics, few bands so richly illustrate black metal’s limitless scope for self-expression more thoroughly than Norwegian visionaries Wallachia. Yet, inextricably linked with all this thriving creativity and dazzling ingenuity is the unmistakable presence of something altogether darker – something that aches to inflict harm and hungers for destruction. And from the loftiest heights of compositional genius to the most base and diabolical of human instincts, it’s a curious contradiction that creator Lars Stavdal is only too well-acquainted with.

“It's quite a paradox actually, that we find comfort in music and art that holds sadness, anger, despair, and on the other hand what appears to be cheerful and cloud nine happiness is the very thing that makes us feel ready to vomit,” muses Wallachia mastermind Lars Stavdal on the legendary works of creative genius that, all too often, stem from the darkest of human emotions and impulses. Indeed, with its stunning and fluidly seamless exchanges of deathly gargling, insanely paced lashings of tremolo and blackly opulent orchestral flourishes, there’s no mistaking the raw authenticity of feeling that’s fuelled and sustained Wallachia's boundless creative output since its inception back in 1992. Now mere weeks away from unleashing their fifth studio opus, the meticulously arranged ‘Monumental Heresy’ underpins a truly mind-boggling array of musical trappings and traditions extracted from influences as varied as extreme metal, acoustic and orchestral arrangements. But however dramatically Wallachia’s sound may have stylistically progressed and developed over the past couple of decades, it’s clear that Stavdal’s deep-rooted affinity with black metal remains a vital and unchangeable constant in the mix.


“Black metal is the very spearhead of musical extremity, both sonically and visually,” the composer comments of this uniquely visceral and expressive sub-genre. “On one hand there's the shock effect and theatrical side linked to this form of music, and on the other hand you have a way more personal agenda and a cathartic experience of embracing the self-inflicted pain and suffering. It's an art form that allows broken souls to heal, to find an escape and a meaning in a world that quite often feels bleak and meaningless. Speaking for myself it all has its roots in traumatic experiences in my childhood and youth that I have been able to understand and process much later in life through this form of music. Having the extremity of black metal allows you to be totally unfiltered, ‘naked’ and honest, and it's about fighting the very things that have tried to destroy you in the first place. You can't face these things with a turn-the-other-cheek-mentality, but rather turn away, rise above, embrace the pain and let its stains grow into something monumental.”

Having first established Wallachia while black metal’s notorious second wave was still in its raw and embryonic infancy, it’s a curious irony that such a complex and introspective entity finds its formative roots in a period famed for little more than mindless vandalism and bloodshed. Yet, it’s from these blasphemous, brimstone-scorched origins that a now-globally infamous movement would later violently explode, leaving its inky, indelible mark on a generation of fanatical musicians and followers. But despite the composer’s evident reverence and respect for this genre-defining historic period, it’s equally apparent that black metal in its most overtly physical and provocative form is something that Lars today feels precious little affinity with.

Of the genre’s violent, controversy-courting tendencies, he observes, “For most part of the time I believe that these elements of provoking and disturbing art and stage performances is done for the shock value alone and the attention that comes along with it. And this is something that goes centuries back – the morbid desires and curiosity towards the obscene, pain and suffering – there's like a sadomasochistic pleasure in us that needs to be fed somehow. Actually I think there's an inherent ‘pissing off our parents’ relation to it. Some of us have been dealing with emotional darkness since young ages, and this extreme form of music brings a balance to our lives. I'm not so much about the exterior provoking bullshit, doing drugs, hurting myself and so forth, but the pain and agony in my songs are purely emotional and also have their physical scars on my body, indeed.”

From exquisitely nimble orchestral flourishes to bloodcurdling screams and raggedly turbulent grooves that abound with unearthly horror, the past twenty-six years have seen Lars take ample time to perfect a suitably expressive outlet for such dark, potentially highly damaging energies. Be it in the form of musicians who dedicate their lives to crafting art of the blackest calibre imaginable or tortured artists seeking solace in the most violent and hazardous of comforts, it seems that such self-destructive impulses will forever play a pivotal role in fostering game-changing and revolutionary feats of creativity. For, as the illustrious horror and fantasy author Clive Barker once famously observed, “Darkness always had its part to play. Without it, how would we know when we walked in the light?”

“When you are in a state of feeling loss, sadness, disappointment and so forth, you are very much in tune with yourself, and in those moments when the feelings are at their strongest, then they also conjure the most profound art,” Lars agrees. “For me there's a conquering feeling in daring to be fragile, open and honest, and letting go of all emotions and not pretend to be someone I'm not. Whereas I was more destructive in a physical nature in my adolescent years, I am now more tuned into destroying and rebuilding myself in a spiritual matter.”