South African Post-Black Metal Enigmas Wildernessking Peer Into the 'Mystical Future'
Photo by by Eckardt Kasselman
Cape Town black metal collective Wildernessking first appeared on my radar back in 2012 with their debut album, The Writing of Gods in the Sand, and I gushed about them in miniature via my old Terrorizer Magazine column, Ravishing Grimness. Back then, I praised their "expansive, almost progressive compositions that draw just as heavily from Agalloch and Drudkh as they do post-rock’s crescendos and melodic death’s triumphant marches," and now, four years later, I'm pleased to report that they've only gotten better, and more ambitious in their sound and scope.
The band's second full-length, Mystical Future, builds upon The Writing of Gods' sturdy foundation, their skills further sharpened by a preceding series of splits and EPs (including this South African metal compilation we covered last year). Wildernessking make no bones about their intention to move beyond "just" black metal; Mystical Future is a richly-layered recording, one whose lush melodies and bright atmosphere lean far more heavily on its creators' interest in progressive rock, post-rock, and 90s screamo than on Scandinavian tradition. Even though the "post-black metal" tag has fallen out of vogue, that's exactly what Wildernessking offers here. Take it or leave it (though I highly suggest you take it, because it's brilliant).
Stream Mystical Future in its entirety below, and read on for a chat with vocalist and bassist Keenan Nathan Oakes.
Noisey: What can you tell me about the process of bringing Mystical Future to life?
Keenan Nathan Oakes: We recorded drums at Big House Studios in St. James (a scenic, seaside location not far from where we recorded our first album). We recorded vocals at their Cape Town studio, while bass and guitars were recorded in Jesse’s bedroom and engineered by the band. Daniel Thackwray, a good friend who works for Big House engineered the drums and vocals, and helped a little with production. The album was produced by ourselves and then sent to Jack Shirley for reamping, mixing and mastering. The recording process took less than 30 days, but it was broken up over 6 months between June and December 2014. We wanted to give our best possible performances, so we didn’t rush anything, and recorded when we were able to.
What was the most challenging part of creating this album?
We had a few studio issues. In fact, I ended up tracking vocals twice, because the audio files I recorded to were exported at the incorrect bit rate, so they were much slower than what they were supposed to be. That was a very frustrating process, having to redo the vocals. Another challenge would be having to wait a while before the project was realized. We spent a lot of time rehearsing the material (the album was completely written and arranged by September of 2013), but looking back we feel that our patience was rewarded. We’re happy with the way the record came out.
Tell me a bit about the themes you explore on this album.
This album is definitely more personal than the first. We really immersed ourselves in the entire process and felt that we tapped more into our own lives this time. It is an expansion on some of the motives and themes explored on our first album, a consolidation. Themes of loss, submission, and enlightenment are scattered throughout. We draw inspiration from various forms of music, art, film and literature, our daily activities, and nature, of course.
Black metal is an evolving genre, for better or for worse. What does black metal mean to you? What do you see in the genre's future?
Black metal was the starting point of this band, so in that sense it means everything. It’s amazing to experiment within the framework, to see how the genre can be twisted and manipulated using various styles. Black metal will always play a part in the music we create, but we are carving our own path now. If our new music only hints at the genre, or is littered with black metal tendencies, it won’t really matter to us, as we only want to write the best possible music we can.
Wildernessking is now one of the biggest (or at the very least, best-known) African metal bands. Given South Africa's history and the fact that the majority of the band is white, how has the greater African metal community reacted to your success? Do you encounter negativity because of it, or is it a supportive environment?
It’s strange, how the metal scene works down here. South Africa exists in isolation, and metal is still very much a white thing, in Cape Town especially. However, things are a bit different in Johannesburg, and it was incredible to see a racially diverse audience when we played Witchfest in 2015. We have a long way to go in terms of becoming a fully integrated country, let alone niche music scene, but things are looking better now. We are at least having conversations about this. With regards to our ethnic backgrounds, nothing negative has come from it. Now and again, there are a few people (mostly Americans and Europeans) who are surprised that we have some white people in the band.
You're very much an international band, in that your music and reputation has traveled far beyond your home borders. Have you made plans to play in Europe or North America yet? What's stopping you from hitting the road—is there bureaucratic red tape, or is it just the classic time/money issue that faces every band?
We are making plans. Trust us, we want to come. No red tape, just money issues. The rand is incredibly weak at the moment, as our economy is in the trenches. But as soon as we can afford a couple of plane tickets, we will make our way to Europe, and then at some point, North America. Hopefully this year, but if not, next year definitely. We are saving and we are talking to the appropriate people!
What's your greatest goal as a band?
We’re just happy making music, and putting out records that we’re proud of. Our next goal is to complete our third album, and then we’ll take it from there. It would be nice to play Hellfest or Roadburn, or one of those amazing festivals.
What's been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?
Honestly, hearing people’s reactions to our music. Reading glowing reviews from publications that we respect. It’s been a truly humbling and incredible experience so far. Being featured on Noisey is pretty fucking surreal, too. Perhaps "surrea"l isn’t the right word, but being able to make e-friendships with a lot of our fans has been fulfilling and insightful.
Kim Kelly is peering into the abyss on Twitter.