Later this month, Dutch sextet Izah will release their first full-length document of sludgy aggression through the always dependable Nordvis Produktion. It represents a major step in a very long road for the band, and its four gargantuan tracks make that point crystal clear. But these aren’t the sprawling teases that some bands employ in the service of art – Sistere’s songs drive ever forward with an engaging brutality quotient with just enough thinking-man moments to leaven the dough. While you listen to the album below, make sure you hear all about Izah in our interview with guitarist Roel van Oosterhout.
Izah has been a working project for quite a while… how did you all start playing together, and what were the years leading up to Sistere like?
It was pretty hard getting this band together. When Sierk (vocals) and I (Roel, guitar) founded the band there wasn’t much of a sludge or ‘post’ scene here yet. We placed some online ads describing what direction we wanted to go with this band and what some of our influences were. Most people that responded had never heard of the bands we mentioned and thought we were going to be some kind of Dream Theater-like band. And most of them thought we were crazy for downtuning our guitars to B as well. Needless to say these weren’t the people we were looking for. After we started playing in a basic line-up we kind of DIY-ed an EP that got us quite some attention and shows for a pretty long period of time. From then on several people left and joined the band, mostly because of differences in ambition. Once we had a stabile line-up we started doing more shows, working on new material and saving up for decent recordings. We released a split EP in the meantime and started the recording of Sistere a while after that. This time however we did feel like we had something that was worth releasing on a bigger scale, so we started looking for a suitable label. This took almost a year, which was pretty frustrating. But in the end we’re glad we did it and eventually got with Nordvis.
What do you enjoy most about the music you play? What do you feel you can say with this music that you could not say as easily in another way?
There is no message that we carry out as band. We just deal with our personal lives and observations by creating music. If anything, that is the driving force or concept: life. The songs are meant to reflect parts of it, like sonic stories. Hence the up and down dynamics and the dark/light contrasts; there are no real stories without ups and downs or darkness and light. Sometimes a very specific period in my life forms the inspiration for a song, other times it’s just the general notion, but this theme is usually present. This also makes for the fact that to me playing music can be just as confrontational as enjoyable, it’s not always ‘fun’. Still, however, it feels meaningful, to myself in the first place, and sometimes to others. The connection that arrises then exists on a whole other level than can ever be achieved with words.
How do you write your music, individually or collectively? Do songs grow sequentially or do you build them from various ideas?
I write the songs by myself at home. Sometimes I build them up from various ideas I have lying around and see if they can connect. Other times I build them up from zero and see where the song takes me. I then gradually try every part out with the whole band at rehearsals. Sometimes the whole sounds as I envisioned it and sometimes it turns out sounding completely different from what I had recorded at home. This can be for the better or the worse. After a lot of deleting, rewriting and trying out different things the song usually gets to a shape that feels right. Then we collectively start working on the details: adding samples, creating effects, adjusting volumes etc. At that point we start recording rehearsals so we can listen to the new track as a ‘listener’ and not as a musician. You always perceive a song differently when you’re playing it then when you’re just listening. It has to be right on both ends.
Do you have any favorite parts of the album, or very enjoyable/frustrating/strange experiences from the recording sessions?
It was really quite intense seeing this album take form. There’s a great intensity in playing live, but also in laying down a track exactly the way you’ve intended it. There’s so much more audible detail in a good studio recording than you can ever get in a live setting, which makes recording music a whole different deal from playing live. Experiencing the songs for the first time in this way actually had me biting my lip a couple of times. After laying down the main tracks for the album we had quite a long break from recording before picking it up again. This break proved to be quite fruitful in the end, as it was where the ideas for a lot of finishing touches took shape. The brass section at the end of “Sistere” for instance was one of the last things that were added and it’s one my favorite parts of the album.
The album art for Sistere is very cool. Where did it come from? How does it fit with the songs?
Basically each person in the band has his own interests and ways of creatively expressing himself. I create the music, Sierk the lyrics and Twan (guitar) creates all visual output like the covers and merch artwork. Nature is one of his main personal sources of inspiration, so when he creates his visual interpretation of the music, it will often contain natural elements. And although the music or lyrics themselves don’t necessarily deal with nature, we do feel that his artwork catches the essential atmosphere of it. In the case of his art for Sistere it was especially the depicted path through the forest that made it a perfect fit for me, as it represents a journey much like the album itself does.
What non-musical things are you interested in that influence your music?
People, art, alcohol.
How much does Izah perform live? Are there any shows that have been particularly memorable?
The frequency of performances varies quite a bit – twenty in one year, four in another. Playing with some of our heroes like Mono, Wolves in the Throne Room or Cult of Luna has been quite memorable, but so was playing with good friends and connecting with people at shows. One of the particularly interesting shows was something called Deaf Metal, a small metal festival for deaf and hearing impaired people. We were accompanied on stage by visual music interpreters who translated the lyrics into sign language and also captured the rhythm and feel of the music into dance and movement. The venue had a vibrating floor so people could feel the rhythm and intensity of the music and VJ’s created a visual interpretation.
With an early 2015 release for Sistere, what are your plans for Izah over the coming year?
First up we’ll officially launch our album at Roadburn on April 12, which we’re very excited about. It’s always been a dream of us to play Roadburn and now the time is right. Also we’re planning to be on the road later this year, but no concrete dates to be announced yet. Furthermore we’re working on new material which is starting to come around quite nicely.