By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Withered Land – an epic atmospheric black metal project with folk/dungeon synth tendencies based out of Belarus – put out their debut full-length album ‘The Endless Journey’ via Finnish label Naturmacht Productions this past August.
Described by the band as “a story of bitter defeat and emptiness inside, but with some hope yet,” as the album is told through five acts that explores a warrior’s difficult journey through homesick feelings and intense battles, both physically and in the spiritual realm.
Recommended for fans of Caladan Brood, Summoning and Gallowbraid, Withered Land are composer/project mastermind Olga Kann, compatriot vocalist Alex Rabets and Greek guitarist/sound engineer Koliopanos Filippos (Oceans Of Grief, On Thorns I Lay).
The Music Bugle had the chance to speak with Kann about ‘The Endless Journey’ and more.
Music Bugle – How was the name “Withered Land” decided?
Olga Kann – The name was not born at once. It was a rather active reflection. I had many ideas, but then after some time, the answer came as if immediately. From the lines of the beloved Tolkien, “…In the black wind the stars shall die, and still on gold here let them lie, till the dark lord lifts his hand, over dead sea and withered land…” It seemed to me that the devastated land is what just surrounds me. A metaphorically scorched Earth, ready at the same time to be reborn in order to then wither again. At the same time, the lyrics are not closely tied to Tolkien’s topic, but a little contain some references/inspiration from heroes and places from his books. In my lyrics, I try to convey the dualistic nature of a character or location. I try to show both the beautiful side and the unpleasant side. On the debut album, all five songs are five separate stages of the protagonist’s military journey and in each of the songs, there is a certain unexpected twist. I really fell in love with this character, this lonely, noble, but suffering horseman. For me, it was difficult to make such a final that turned out to be, but I am already working on continuing his story. I’m not sure if this will be on the next album, but the continuation will be for sure.
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your style of music?
Olga Kann – This genre has a great legacy. Everything is important in it, from the music itself to the visual. Epic black metal combines classic metal riffs, black metal tremolos with orchestral symphonic music. It has room for furious blastbeats and lyric fragments. Almost meditative percussion sounds and traditional folk instruments are also striking in their variety and of course, the leading place is given to the phenomenal textures of the keys. Lately, I really like to arrange compositions with brass parts. This is my passion and obsession. This genre is the one of the best ways to realize things of a cinematic scale in composing. Lyrics are not the last place in this genre. Grateful fans and lovers of physical media often are happy to buy beautifully designed merch, where they definitely read your lyrics. It’s like a small book, a whole universe in which your stories live separately from music. The same applies to art. I design covers and booklets for many bands, but it is in this genre that I feel something truly close. All these fantasy worlds, epic nature echo in me and allow me to reveal my creative impulses in full force.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Belarus to someone who has never been there before?
Olga Kann – Nowadays, it is perfectly associated with the name of the project, but I’m not a big fan of talking about political and economic issues, so I’ll just tell you that Belarus is a country of a thousand lakes. There are also beautiful forests here and breathtaking nature overall. It is a pity that there are no epic mountain ranges, otherwise I would disappear in the mountains for days on end, but in general, our nature is wonderful and authentic.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Olga Kann – Fortunately, it did not affect me at all. In recent years, I have been living as a hermit, working from home even before the start of such a widespread practice with the arrival of Covid. As well as on this project as a whole, it did not have much impact. With some of the other bands, we had plans to tour and of course, it all faded into oblivion, but with this project, it is still too early to talk about live performances. Of course, I would like this whole situation to return to normal. There were plans to visit many countries, both for work and tourism.
Music Bugle – What can people expect from this album?
Olga Kann – As I noted a little earlier, in this album, the emphasis was on everything – on music, on visuals, on lyrics. It’s a whole story with a cinematic performance. If you close your eyes and listen to the material, then through the eyes of the hero, you will be able to carry yourself from the beginning to the end of the journey. It’s the story of a warrior about the merciless battles, his difficult struggle and longing for home’s shores. It’s a gloomy narration about the esoterical experiencing death and return from other side. A story of a bitter defeat and emptiness inside, but with some hope yet. Together with the hero, we will be transported to the worlds of beautiful mountain ranges, gloomy shores and distant epic fields. Under the cover of a magical starry night, surrounded by wraiths and lurking enemies, we will find a guiding star. The lonely wanderer returns home, but it’s a journey that will never end. I guess that not only fans of the genre, but also music lovers in general, will be able to discover something fascinating on this journey.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Olga Kann – I am an absolute music lover. In each genre, I try to find something interesting for myself. I am with special trepidation about underground projects, one-man projects, in which the power of a mastermind composer is manifested in a holistic concept, in its purest form, without imposed feints from the outside – how it happens with the producer-dependent artists. I haven’t listened to much music lately. I compose it more! (Laughs) If I listen to something, then it’s some kind of underground death metal of the old school, or doom of different formats, something avant-garde and dark and melodic/sympho, for sure. Cinematic stuff, academic classics and Pink Floyd! (Laughs) Something that is bound to open up old existential wounds. The next day, it could be old glam rock, classic heavy or hip hop, but that’s not all. Anything to subdue an inquiring mind. Well, except for downright stupid pop or commercial rap. (Laughs) I’m really sorry that a lot of the material will remain unopened. There are so many talented creators and a person’s life is so short.
Music Bugle – What has been your hardest challenge lately?
Olga Kann – There’s a quote that goes, “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer,” by Albert Camus. The hardest part is always close by. My thoughts, demons, my bad temper. The rest is pretty simply – as we say, “Life is not a walk across a field.” However, if this is a withered land, then I see a certain challenge in this and to some extent, I love difficulties. Only by overcoming it, we can temper ourselves and understand what we’re really worth.
Music Bugle – Speaking of quotes, are there any others that motivate you to keep doing what you do?
Olga Kann- “Life goes breathless without an aim,” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and “We will either find a way across the Alps or make one,” from Hannibal Barca.
Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians?
Olga Kann – Any thing has two sides. This is how this universe works, in a dualistic format. Everything that exists is essentially on the other side of good and evil. It is neither good nor bad in itself. The person himself endows a certain thing with meaning and defines its attitude for himself as positive or negative. There have been many stories of social media killing many people’s careers with a few careless words. There were cases when, on the contrary, careers were lifted up. Somewhere, we see sincerity and somewhere, a fair of hypocrisy, as in real life. It is just a tool and a public space, a tool that can be used in many ways. For me, this is an excellent opportunity to communicate with people from different parts of the world, where I will never be able to come in my life, but you should always be on the alert and respect someone else’s space.
Music Bugle – What do you hope for as we begin 2022?
Olga Kann – Recently, an album by another project of mine, Bleeding Malice, was released, where I also composed material, recorded bass and arrangements for all instruments. I will diligently observe our brainchild this period as for the album by Withered Land. Plus, I still have a lot of material in development for all projects. I think that some video will definitely come out and more than one. I never stop coming up with something and for sure, I hope that the planet can breathe easy with the spread of the vaccine. Everyone is very tired of this and deserve to get rid of this plague. We’ll see what happens.