Interview: Ershetu

Most extreme metal focuses on Pagan/European heritage and/or typical anti-Christianity, it seems. We believe there is much interest and darkness to be found elsewhere too.

Founded by Void and Sacr in 2019, Ershetu formed with the idea of fusing death and metal in a way that had never been attempted before, focusing on cinematic atmospherics and sweeping orchestral arrangements to create sprawling and evocative works that still fit within an extreme metal framework. With Void handling the concept and lyrics and Sacr being responsible for composition and instrumentations, the band have since expanded their line-up to include V. (Blut Aus Nord, guitars), Lars Are Nedland (Solefald, vocals) and Intza Roca (drums/percussion). They have now delivered their debut full-length Xibalba, six tracks that explore the Mayan underworld in a manner that must be heard to be fully appreciated. With that in mind, David Bowes spoke to co-founder Void to discuss the band’s singular vision.

E&D: Thank you for giving me your time and for this remarkable album. Both the concept and the execution are masterfully done. When did you and Sacr first begin working together, what were your initial goals for Ershetu and how has it developed since its first inception?

Void: Thank you for the positive words on the album, much appreciated! I’m glad it resonated with you.

Sacr and I are longtime friends. We played together in a band when we were younger but never released anything. Then we went separate ways in life and met up again a few years later. In the meantime, I had launched Debemur Morti Productions and Sacr had his own musical career which he prefers to keep separate from Ershetu. But the fact is, music is everything for both of us. I proposed starting a project together where he would compose the music and I would take care of the concept/lyrics.

I was very clear about what I imagined this project should sound like. Being myself very fond of bands like Limbonic Art, early Covenant, Summoning and the like, I wanted something very orchestral and epic. But obviously I didn’t want to copy these cult bands and albums. I wanted us to take our own approach. Both Sacr and I are also big fans of movie scores, video games and classical music. When I told him about the idea it was clear I wanted very cinematic music. The idea was to transport the listener with us on a journey. I wanted the music to be rich and unique. The music of a non-existing movie somehow. This led to Sacr composing all the orchestral parts of the record first.

At that time – mid-pandemic and surrounded by Death – it felt right to propose that we dive into the idea of ‘Death’ as seen through the eyes of different religions and/or civilisations for a series of concept albums. Sacr’s challenge was to compose music that would transport the listener into the chosen territory, and mine to assimilate as much knowledge as possible and transcribe it into interesting lyrics. I certainly hope you feel deep in the mysteries of the Mayans while listening to Xibalba.

E&D: You’ve stated that with Ershetu you will be exploring death and the afterlife, with each album focusing on a particular religious or cultural representation. Why did you lead with the Mayan underworld Xibalba?

Void: Being intrigued by and passionately interested in the Mayans, we decided it was a perfect place to start. Mayan history is very rich and there is still much to be discovered. I’ve always been into the subject so it was a pleasure to dig deeper and learn as much as I could about it.

E&D: Mayan culture feels rather underrepresented in metal, particular in comparison to Judeo-Christian and Norse mythology/folklore. How much research on Mayan/ Central American culture was done in the writing of Xibalba, both in terms of the concepts and the instrumentation?

Void: Indeed, most extreme metal focuses on Pagan/European heritage and/or typical anti-Christianity, it seems. We believe there is much interest and darkness to be found elsewhere too. It’s hard to quantify the amount of research that was done, but both Sacr and I were knee-deep in it, immersing ourselves to give a good representation of the culture. As we pointed out in the description of the album, it is not an historical or ethnological lesson at all. It’s purely and solely our ‘vision’.

E&D: In many parts of the world, depictions of Mayan beliefs are often coloured by Hollywood-esque doomsday predictions or with grisly stereotypes of death and ritual sacrifice. Do you feel that these associations might colour people’s perceptions of Xibalba as they go into it, or was there ever an attempt to play on those expectations?

Void: It’s hard to know what people might expect from an album influenced by Mayan folklore. I guess it depends a lot on the listener’s experience with the topic. My readings (including the Popol Vuh) all led to the importance of ritual sacrifices. As much as it’s been coloured by movies, it was a reality. We didn’t overplay those expectations, even if ritual sacrifices are touched upon in the lyrics. We tried to take ownership of the subject and personalise it as well as we could.

E&D: The press release mentions that the Popol Vuh was used as a source for this record but that you didn’t want to use it in a literal or anthropological/ethnological sense, but instead use it as a way to transport the listener to another time and mindset. How did you set about achieving this effect?

Void: Yes, indeed, the Popol Vuh and other readings were used as inspiration material. I would compare it to a movie script that allows you to immerse yourself in a role. As I said earlier, this allowed us to take ownership of the matter and try to build stories around it. On the first song we revealed, ‘From Corn To Dust’, I touch the belief, in Mayan civilization, that devotion to the Gods would grant a good harvest. Maize (corn) was the most important crop to the Mayans. The vital link between this plant and humans resulted in the Mayans considering themselves the ’men of corn’, as pointed out in the Popol Vuh. Experts say the obsession with corn among Mayan folk left their culture vulnerable to climate change as they couldn’t farm anything else. So, their devotion somehow led to their demise. I love how you can transpose the lyrics to modern society and find meaning. It’s still very relatable.

E&D: In terms of the compositions, this is such an incredibly rich and evocative listen. There is something truly otherworldly that runs through it and in many ways, it goes beyond what is typically found in atmospheric metal. What was your approach to constructing this music? Were there any limitations set in terms of what could be included, or in how you balanced the cinematic and black metal elements?

Void: I believe the major difference here is that the album’s core is the orchestral parts. The whole record was built around that. We have the omnipresent flute, using reoccurring melodies and themes to link the whole together as a voyage. Guitars, bass and drums came afterwards. And finally, the vocals.

 

E&D: I feel like at least some people will be drawn to this album through the inclusion of Lars Nedland and Vindsval. They are two of the most influential figures within this weird little sphere of the underground, after all! How did both of them come to be involved?

Void: That’s probably true, but it wasn’t our main intention when inviting them to participate. As you know, Vindsval is a long-time musical partner of mine with DMP. I told him about Ershetu and knowing we had no studio to record in, he offered to take care of it at Earthsound which led to his further involvement with the project. As for Lars, I’ve been in touch with him for a while now, he loves DMP and already contributed vocals to a White Ward song for our 200th release. I knew Lars would be able to come up with very interesting vocals – both clean and harsh – so when hunting for a vocalist he was first choice. After listening to a couple of demos he directly accepted and was very enthusiastic about it!  I have to say his performance surpassed our expectations. He clearly gave his all on the album and the result is mind-blowing!!

E&D: What are your plans for future releases? Do you already have other cultures in mind, and do you think that you will change or expand your lineup for each album?

Void: We’re slowly working on album #2. It’s not going as fast as I’d wish as Sacr is producing movie scores and I have the label which is very demanding. At the moment, the goal is to keep the same line-up on album #2 but there might be other guests. It’s a bit early to unveil details but we already chose a theme, and I can say that we’ll change continent.

E&D: The video for ‘From Corn To Dust’ is a genuinely stunning work of art. Did you have much involvement with Dehn Sora in its creation, and how well do you feel it captures what was in your minds as you were working on this record?

Void: Indeed, he really came up with one of his best videos! The script for the video was made by Dehn Sora based on the song’s lyrics and the overall album concept. He and I exchanged ideas and agreed on the main themes for the video, but I gave him total freedom regarding the final creation. I think he totally nailed it and the final result fits the track perfectly.

E&D: Are there any plans to create a live version of Ershetu?

Void: It’s a bit early to say but it is something I have in the back of my mind, yes. Time will tell.

E&D: As a little aside, can I ask who designed Erhetu’s logo? It’s gorgeous!

Void: Indeed, the logo is amazing. It was created by View From The Coffin. I recommend checking his Art! He also made a shirt design for the album. A very talented Artist!

E&D: Thank you so much for your time and if there’s anything at all you’d like to add, feel free.

Void: Thank you for the interview, very grateful for the time and space given to us.

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