Enter the World of Austrian Metal Musician J. “Vritra” Meindlhumer (Interview)
J. is an artist in the truest sense of the word. He creates not for fanfare or praise, but rather because it is something ingrained in him that he had to do. His talent is only matched by his decency as a person. He’s inspiring to me as a fellow artist and I’m glad to call him a friend. He’s exactly the type of person that keeps me wanting to put out music of my own.
-JL Wood, Fallow Field/Grinning Death's Head
J. "Vritra" Meindlhumer, a man who uses many stage names across a wide berth of projects and bands, is a glimmer in the Austrian underground. From black metal blasphemies to Fred-Cole-playing-blast-beats oddity, Meindlhumer's raw black metal façade belies a deeper creativity, a beacon of hope for the monochromatic scene which claims him.
Listing off Meindlhumer's projects–Weathered Crest, Brånd, Kringa, Gates of Londra, and more–show a propensity for black metal, and yet his extracurricular work in Eisenhand shows that this musician is more interested in feel than genre, and, to reference Dead Moon once more, casts his sights beyond metal in favor of something unique.
From Weathered Crest's jangling nostalgia to Brånd's overt post-punk-isms, Eisenhand's sloppy, classic heavy metal, and Spectres & Teeth's vicious, fangs out black metal, Meindlhumer and the talented people who surround him (drummer L.P. is a regular guest) craft a unique, tiny circle of intrigue known as Födweg, which also doubles as a no-contact tape label. Read an interview with J. Meindlhumer and venture into his vast, spontaneous discography below.
There is a current of jangling, rhythmic post-punk which pervades your main black metal solo projects: Brånd and Weathered Crest. What led to your fusing of this style of music with more obscure forms of black metal?
Black Metal was where my path was headed from an early age on and by now I don’t think this love will ever fade. It’s a very strange and tangled fabric of pride, desperation, nihilism, spiritualism, nostalgia, hate, and also love–somehow working all together. And from my point of view it gets even more expressionistic when you dive into the underground–hundreds of projects from misunderstood creatures driven by an inner darkness. This is also where there is little place for technical perfection, where things need to be expressed in a certain urgency. What in my opinion is the core idea of this genre.
Maybe this also resembles certain ideas in punk. And along with my fascination with Dead Moon some years back resulted in what became Brånd. Besides the bass lines, I believe it's mostly the drumming which gives it this punk touch. It's simple and rhythmic, kind of a ritualistic pounding and feels very natural coming out. And I simply can’t blast or play double-bass.
In the end I don’t care for genre. Every instrument should play out its strength: drums that make you move, bass-lines that amplify either the dramatics of a riff or intensity of the beat, and vocals as guidance through the atmosphere created in the magical space between all these components. Basic rock formula.
Weathered Crest also follows this idea, but enforces a more genre typical grandeur in its music.
If you had the capability to make faster black metal-type music, would you do it? Or is it this style you've cultivated that speaks to you more?
I think with Blossoming of the Paths Weathered Crest has already taken this path. L.P. from Kringa has joined me on drums for this record and there‘s nothing I can imagine he won‘t manage to play!
A new drummer certainly explains the shift between Broken Column's punkier side and Blossoming of the Paths' more outwardly direct black metal stance. Was this sound what you had always envisioned for the Weathered Crest project or was it simply a consequence of L.P.'s presence?
There is/was no vision behind Weathered Crest. The whole project happens like a stream of consciousness. I have recorded both records (as well as the upcoming third) with a drum machine at home in one or two sittings. The riffs have never been written down or memorized. They were partially even improvised as they were recorded. Conceptually it ended up rotating around the decline of our society, of all societies before. Drowned in their own egoism, capitalism and pride. I decided to follow this notion, as I felt there is a connection in those topics and this sort of arbitrary flow of music. The theme of oblivion and holding on to something maybe. I don‘t know yet, but believe one day the sense behind this will reveal itself to me. As the music and the lyrics this process shall also not be forced.
As the Blossoming Of The Paths "flow" was so intense I decided to get L.P. in the boat, and the songs have been truly enriched by his energetic treatment. This was also happening due to the occasion that there was a vinyl deal sealed and I wanted to try to go a step further with the production.
The vinyl edition of Blossoming of the Paths is being handled by Into Endless Chaos Records, who also handled the Broken Column 7-inch EP release. How did this relationship come to be? Will the third album be released on this label or do you have other plans?
I think we finally got in touch around 2017 or so?! Can‘t remember, haha. I believe it was through their festival A Sinister Purpose or even earlier, as a friend of mine books shows in a (the only actually!) local club with Into Endless Chaos Records‘ very own Evil Warriors or Bloody Vengeance. Somewhen it clicked and we became good friends. We met somewhere almost regularly and they became very supportive of the Austrian scene. Praasti and Lisa are dedicated and like minded people and it's great to work with them. We’re all very grateful for their enthusiasm! They will also do the pressing of the future Weathered Crest releases (I hope, haha) but the next one is to be released on tape by Fallow Field soon [Editor's Note: Dust Vessel has already sold out, sorry!]. The vinyl version will follow later on.
Into Endless Chaos Records also released music by another band of yours, the mysterious (unless, as you showed me, you look in the right places) Spectres & Teeth. What artistically fuels this project, one which you share with your Kringa bandmate Berstuk?
I really wonder why this turned out to be mysterious. The band is stated to come from the same town as Kringa and uses the pseudonyms we've chosen on the latest couple of releases as a name. But whatever, haha. Myths shall be crushed, as shall be magick with this release! No Magick Spawns! references Plato's cave equation. I guess we were in a Hellenic Black Metal mood when we went for that. Its purpose was to set free all that is ugly, rotting and bestial inside. Channeled through our love for the older forms of metal and its juvenile and antagonist spirit. It's been recorded in my hometown, back where it all started.
The material sans the first song has been written in 2015 and we have banished these foul spells once and for all in the year 2021. The creature is not resting–Spectres & Teeth will return sudden and unforeseen.
Sometimes information doesn't make it to the Internet, I guess. What is it like revisiting black metal's more, for lack of a better word, childlike and more unbridled energy with this band, especially considering the setting?
It's always a retreat to welter in these energies. I think being childlike may be fitting in some sense. The genre results from an adolescent revolt, a revolt against systems, power structures, and sometimes even logic and sense. Blind rage! It's a small counter-culture, but to me it adds an important perspective to our happy, clean, and safe facade of a world which wishes to present and represent itself so hard in popular cultures. Maybe because punk has lost its will for havoc and there is a certain void that needs to be filled. Extremism, elitism, fundamentalism, idiocracy, and contradictions–Black Metal opens up worlds of unresolved traumas! You need to embrace and release negativity, act against morals, this encourages thinking rather than being spoon fed love and peace, just because that's the only thing you want to see. It's a catharsis, a collective force of negativity and internal horrors that urges to be brought forth from the unconscious.
All this said, I want to add that this is not my path or goal exclusively, but rather associative thoughts on your question and what I see in the genre, or a part of the genre in general.
What goals do you have for your various black metal projects (including Kringa, who we haven't discussed yet)?
I thought a while about this question, but I think I got no "goal" with any of our bands. Just keep going as long as there is inspiration and fire, realize when everything is said and a concept is fulfilled. As you mentioned Kringa, this project became a world of its own–I believe the only one truly pushing any boundaries. So theoretically its goal is never to be reached.
Could you elaborate on Kringa's evolution into its own world? How do you want to push boundaries with that band?
Kringa is my longest-going musical endeavor and the band we started it all with - reaching outside of our small community, growing fonder of our instruments, and delving deeper into our unconsciousness, fears and beliefs. Looking back it was predestined to be progressive, since there never was an idea where we’ve been heading, no ideal we did chase. just a path further into the unknown. And somewhere at the core of this process of getting self-aware you notice all the contradictions that shape you. And this is what Kringa feeds off. Rabid riffs collide with lengthy and atmospheric parts, grandeur with humiliation, joy with despair. An unshaped and seething mass of opposites, always up for a surprise, always up to crush your own expectations. And I think that's what I meant by pushing boundaries. Personal boundaries.
Why is it that your other projects seek fulfillment through a completed concept rather than the evolution you see Kringa achieving?
I think with certain projects you have an image or concept in mind you’re trying to give shape to. With every song, every release you are adding details and twists to the picture. And at one point you have to realize it's enough, everything is said and the work is done. I deeply respect bands that have come to an end before releasing mediocre stuff or the same album over and over again–watering down the initial concept to the point of triviality.
But maybe this is more of an interest I have as a fan of music and bands, rather than as a musician. To date every project remains unpredictable and surprising–which twists and influences contribute more viewpoints on certain topics never ceases to amaze me - and I haven’t come to a good end with any band or project.
As you are in so many projects, how important is it that each project maintains its own stylistic or conceptual identity? Do you ever see crossover in style with your differing projects?
Every band I play in has a very individual concept behind it. There may be crossovers in the musical directions of the bands, but this happens very naturally, as music is just another language and I have come to use a certain "vocabulary" to express myself throughout my work.
Sometimes I have to repeat myself in certain points, but coming in from different perspectives with each project it is still of relevance to be "said," I believe. Speaking in ways of riffs and compositions, as well as lyrics.
For example the riffs of the final song of Eisenhand's, "Fires Within," was initially played on a Weathered Crest recording, but the typical black metal Grandeur added a new flavor to our sloppy heavy metal album. Also, some Eisenhand riffs have found their way into Brånd songs to contribute a certain carelessness which also very much fits this project.
In the end it's about the individual song. It is a story to be told and different influences and unexpected twists keep stories vital.
Speaking of Eisenhand, what is it about heavy metal which appeals to you and how does it differ from your relationship with black metal?
I grew up pretty secluded which was a pretty fertile environment for Black Metal. When I left my hometown I moved into a shared flat with two guys who should become some of my closest friends. They were both into heavy metal and as I grew further into this circle of friends and also working life I found myself enjoying this kind of music more and more. It started out with Swedish heavy metal, as it has this melancholic touch, but over time I grew fond of the classics as well. I just discovered some of the "most essential" bands for myself in recent years.
I think Black and Heavy Metal have the same longing for freedom, but just on a different level of perception. The latter being more easy to access - when you come home from work and listen to some nwobhm songs you kind of find comfort in your everyday struggle. As I see it, both genres have a very nihilistic or hedonistic approach.
But with more real life going on there is seemingly less time, energy, or at least less motivation left to involve yourself into the more cryptic and entangling ways of black metal. But it's so very fulfilling as soon as you open up and let the Devil's tongues speak through you–and it's maybe more healthy for you in the long run, haha.
What is it about this nihilism and hedonism in black and heavy metal which made you want to participate?
As mentioned before this attitude of carefreeness, where you are able to create a sphere our fucked up world order has no power over and can’t take control. A true privilege!
Is there an overall goal you look to achieve across your various projects and bands?
One of the main reasons I pursue making music is that it lets me fully bathe in the present, without getting lost in what may be or what has been. An unfiltered, unprocessed self–the subconscious manifesting before your eyes and you are carving your way through–or better even, building up worlds to then welter in and explore, guided by pure intuition.
Often then in hindsight, things are revealing themselves to you. Granting new perspectives, understanding the ways of yourself or the outside world. That may be a personal goal - to retain this curiosity and to overcome more and more of the boundaries that are hindering this flow.
Besides that I'd love to go to America or Asia playing concerts one day.
Keep your ear to the ground to find Meindlhumer's tapes and LPs, which are available from a variety of labels and distros including Fallow Field, Terratur Possessions, Urtod Void, Into Endless Chaos Records, and anywhere you're lucky enough to find Födweg releases.