With an extensive discography of demos and compilations as elusive as the literary rabbit who inspired their name, Minneapolis’s black metal trio El-Ahrairah are seemingly uninterested in publicity, promotion, wide distribution, or any sort of recognition, really. But what was the harm in trying, I wondered, after the new Greek tape label Underground Soundscapes announced that they were releasing a brand new El-Ahrairah full length? In order to find El-Ahrairah I contacted G. Zaragkas of Underground Soundscapes and, after a little convincing, he got me in. What follows is an interview with guitarist/vocalist Travis Nordahl and drummer D. Allison of El-Ahrairah, as well as a brief Q&A with G. Zaragkas of Underground Soundscapes, and, most importantly, an exclusive stream of one of the songs from El-Ahrairah’s new self-titled full length. El-Ahrairah comes out next Wednesday, May 25th. The first (and perhaps only) pressing is limited to 100 tapes. So if you like what you hear, or if you’re already a fan, you’ll want to watch the Underground Soundscapes site like Elmer Fudd watching a rabbit hole--except more competently, let’s hope.
Travis Nordahl & D. Allison of El-AhraiRAH
First, how did you guys end up working with Underground Soundscapes? In the past you've self-released or went through really obscure labels for small pressings. Are you guys hoping for a little more exposure with this self-titled full length? You've earned the right. Nobody can say you haven't.
D. Allison: El-Ahrairah is a very deliberate entity. A Terre, our inactive label, began almost synonymously with our first release. The name was taken directly from the title of the Wilfred Owen poem. To us, the label was to act out the eschatological elegy written by Owen. Our label was to be a soldier, suffering and battered in a deathbed, stripping away all of the ornaments of ideology, stoicism, and social drama. A Terre was longing to become a part of the earth, of the continuum of being-towards-death. A Terre was a pure end-time reflection on life and the human condition. We approached each release with this in mind. Once our label thoroughly declared its estrangement from the world that caused its pain, the reflection and the label was completed. Through this, we had realized that El-Ahrairah was the crying soul of A Terre – the entity that boundlessly longs for a peaceable end.
The underground world that we exist in is strong and autonomous. Each of the other labels that we’d collaborated with told a story just as rich as A Terre. Nothing has changed. Underground Soundscapes is no exception. US is an amazing platform for our music. We have a deep respect for the label. In this, we wish only that our exposure is earned through deep questioning by those who cross our path.
Could you talk about the four year gap between your last release and this one? Have your influences changed at all in that time?
Travis Nordahl: El-Ahrairah is an extremely personal project to me, which causes me to work on it only when I have specific inspiration or am in a certain mood. The gap in releases was never planned, it’s something that comes with the territory of my songwriting process.
Each track on this album has a location that holds significance in my life and was inspired by paranormal experiences. Seeing headlights blazing through motel curtains in a dream state, the feeling of my tongue swollen with fear from an unseen presence behind me, the sight of four men dressed head-to-toe in grey cloth standing motionless in a field surrounded by hundreds of crows. Every song is a view of memories through a skewed lens.
We were extremely fortunate to have Graham and Arron contribute so much to the record. And this is the first release in over six years that will feature the original lineup of myself, Dillon, and Sam. We live in separate states now, but the bonds that keep us tethered together are as strong as ever. I’ve never played with any other musicians whom I connect with on a spiritual level like those as Dillon and Sam. El-Ahrairah has been a solo project in the past, but I can’t imagine releasing any material without them in the future.
What is the song “Ostrakon” about and how does it measure up to the other tracks on El-Ahrairah?
Allison: [“Ostrakon”] explores the power relations and subtle mechanisms of social control that have followed institutions since the dawn of religion. The lyrics speak to a particular method of punishment, by publicly giving name to those seen as "outlaws." I wanted to juxtapose a kind of Roman Totalitarian law with the extremities of power, those living on the fringe, closer to animistic spirituality. “Ostrakon” was meant to represent a power struggle between the central spirit, Christianity, and the small clans of resistance that it strived to squander. Ultimately, insurrection overthrows total control, but the power mechanisms survive, like relics... The ostrakon is proof.
So, in congruence with the other songs, we want to stick to the theme of power and death, and the struggle against and the longing for each. There is no "concept" here, but rather, portraits that border history and myth, telling stories of intimate influence by abstract forces. Power and death are both so overtly visible but barely tangible. We can see death working. We can see power working. But, we can't actually feel it with our hands. The banner and the corpse are just the symbol, the meaning is what we are seeking.
Nordahl: The whole album is tied together by the same thread of death and the afterlife and the relationship between royalty and the common class in ancient times. The opening track "Stone Throwers" has somewhat of a thesis statement for the album contained in the line "Death is worshiped." Each song features different characters and a unique setting, but can be boiled down to its most basic form which is wonder and theoretical exploration of the afterlife.
G. ZarAGKAS of UNDERground Soundscapes
What made you want to start your own tape label?
Zaragkas: Underground Soundscapes started in the end of 2012 and the only aim was to distribute in Europe selective and qualitative North American and Canadian tape releases and has preserved the same line for three years. Turning into a label I would say that it just happened. Maybe through the contacts and communications that were born from the general activity. For sure my motivation was my preference of listening to music through tape and maybe just because of that I wanted to see releases I truly like and respect to exist in that format and moreover to exist with the kind treatment they deserve.
What made you go after El-Ahrairah, or did they contact you?
Z: Travis and I were already in contact through his label (A Terre Records). I supported his brilliant releases and I had also distributed one of them but this didn't last for long because soon after he decided to stop running it. Sometime during 2015 he emailed me, he informed me that an El-Ahrairah full length was complete and that he was willing to receive tape treatment through Underground Soundscapes. This was at the least a great honor so things moved forward.
What's the biggest challenge of running your own label? And what's the most rewarding aspect of running your own label?
Z: Well, first of all Underground Soundscapes is buried deep underground and due to its nature it has to be called a "label" but all those things are connected by some people with business and its not my best. To get to the point I should note the economical factor but even this is something relative depending on what you are aiming at. I would add that those with a not very good economical background like me should have in mind that the whole thing demands some sacrifices by their part. Running a label (at least in respected levels) also demands enough of your already borrowed time, organisation, patience and good communication.
Regarding the most rewarding aspect of running your own label is that as everything you do in your life, it makes you feel active. You take responsibilities, you make decisions, you do "things". You get involved in, most probably, completely unknown to you before territories and this awakens your spirit - especially when you choose to undertake alone all the needs of running your label as is the layout of your releases, the photo shooting and presentation of them and so many other things.
To reiterate, Underground Soundscapes will release El-Ahrairah and two other tapes from Feral Mind and Barghest next Wednesday, May 25th. But if you’re not quick enough, or if you don’t have a working tape player, El-Ahrairah, as with all of their releases, will be available for download on El-Ahrairah's Bandcamp page.