Back in 2012, South Africa’s Wildernessking came seemingly out of nowhere with The Writing of Gods in the Sand, an album that combined the progressive black metal maelstrom of Enslaved with the sweeping, epic attack of Primordial to create music that was as uplifting and cathartic as it was dark and heavy. After releasing a follow-up EP that same year, the band went quiet; a surprising move given the notoriety they’d quickly gained on the strength of those two excellent releases. Fast-forward to 2014 and the Cape Town-based quartet have broken their silence with The Devil Within, an EP that showcases the band at their most scathing; I got in touch with bassist/vocalist Keenan Oakes to discuss this new release and find out what the future has in store for the mighty Wildernessking…
THKD: Wildernessking was quiet on the release front during 2013, but you’ve come roaring back to kick off the new year with The Devil Within EP. What have you been up to and how did that lead into the making of the new EP?
Keenan Oakes: 2013 was a fairly busy year for us. We did our first tour, playing a string of shows in the north of South Africa. We finished writing our 2nd full-length in the spring of last year. We finished up the recording sessions for The Devil Within (even though the EP was written in 2012) and we worked on some new music that will see the light of day in 2014. There were changes in our personal lives, and those changes were the reason we didn’t get around to recording as much as we would have liked to… But we’re making up for it this year!
THKD: How would you compare the new EP to your previous releases? Was there anything you were looking to accomplish with The Devil Within that you hadn’t done previously?
Keenan Oakes: We try to do something different with each release. For The Devil Within, it was our intention to write material that was very structured (intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus) while returning musically and even lyrically to the previous incarnation of our band, Heathens. We wanted to create something darker, and in doing so felt we added some new elements to our sound. The Devil Within seems like a natural progression from …And the Night Swept Us Away.
THKD: What are the lyrical themes you’re exploring on The Devil Within? The song titles evoke a possession theme, but I don’t have printed lyrics to confirm this.
Keenan Oakes: Lyrically, the EP is a juxtaposition of (the common) man and the devil within man (the individual). We try to outline a narrative by titles alone. The concept is dark (encapsulated and enhanced by the fantastic artwork of Pierre Perichaud), and traces of possession, though not an intended theme, can definitely be found in the lyrical content.
THKD: How would you describe your writing process? Do you write songs as a group or is there a “main composer” in the band? Did this process change at all for The Devil Within?
Keenan Oakes: We write songs as a group, with ideas being thrown in by all 4 of us. Songs can stem from a theme, a riff or even a drum beat. The process of writing is fairly refined by this point and slightly different to how we used to write. We start from the initial idea (maybe we’ll play 4 or 8 bars of it, depending on the song we’re writing), and then jam ‘til more ideas spring forth. That’s how we shape our songs; we bounce off each other. Song ideas start at home (usually), and songs are completed in the practice space. It’s the most fun we have playing in this band.
THKD: What is it about black metal that appeals to you? What first drew you to the genre and how have your thoughts about it changed as you’ve continued to evolve and grow as a musician?
Keenan Oakes: It’s definitely the spirit, energy and atmosphere of the music in general, and how the genre can be manipulated yet still fit within a grand framework. It’s the melodic shimmering and hypnotic nature of the guitars, the ritualistic and sometimes chant-like vocals, the pounding, pummeling and thunderous rhythms, and the trance-inducing layers and wall of sound. We’re still excited about the things that appealed to us in the beginning and we realize now how much is still possible within the genre. It’s opened the flood-gates to our potential; it’s inspiring. The songs we’re writing now seem more black metal than our work in the past (yet we don’t listen to much heavy music these days) and we look forward to unleashing some new tunes later in the year.
THKD: What are your thoughts on the current state of black metal and where do you see Wildernessking fitting into the continuum of the genre?
Keenan Oakes: Black metal is in a great place at the moment. You still have bands honouring the second-wave of Norwegian black metal by playing the more orthodox style, and then there are other bands expanding on the established sound by incorporating non-black metal and even non-metal elements. It’s riveting and exciting to be a part of the movement right now. We see ourselves as a metal band with influences from many styles; black metal being a big part of it.
THKD: How would you describe the South African metal scene? Do you get much support locally or does it tend to come from elsewhere?
Keenan Oakes: The scene is growing… More bands are coming out of the woodwork, and South Africa (and Africa) have started to gain appeal in the world of heavy music, with many international hardcore and metal bands coming down to play here. Our band doesn’t get too much support locally, but the people who like it seem to really enjoy it.
THKD: On a similar note, how do your surroundings influence the band, if at all? Are there any particular characteristics of your environment that have impacted your approach to Wildernessking’s music?
Keenan Oakes: The natural beauty of Cape Town has had a profound impact on the band, both musically and lyrically. We enjoy walking and hiking in the forests and mountains, and is often where an idea will come to us. The quiet and seclusion of being in nature really helps to develop interesting concepts and song ideas.
THKD: You guys are set to play the Under The Black Sun Festival in Berlin this Summer. Do you enjoy playing live? Will you be doing any other touring this year?
Keenan Oakes: We don’t play as often as we’d like but we do enjoy the live show. Our music (though very similar to the records) really comes to life in the live setting. Those unexpected twists and turns make the songs for us, and we look forward to the unpredictability of a performance. We are trying to organize more tours and interesting shows but will put a lot of focus on that aspect of our band next year.
THKD: What does the rest of 2014 have in store for Wildernessking? Can we expect any more new material this year, or will you focus strictly on promoting the new EP?
Keenan Oakes: Lots of new music. We just finished up a new 4-way split with Oak Pantheon, Kess’khtak and Liber Necris for the Elemental Nightmares project, which should come out in June. Then we start recording our second full-length towards the end of March, which we hope to release mid-year. We have something special planned for November but will release more news on that in the coming months. We plan on focusing a lot on the visual aspect of Wildernessking, and we have some videos and a documentary in the pipeline too.
THKD: What are you currently listening to? Do you have any recommendation for THKD’s readers?
Keenan Oakes: Wolves in the Throne Room – Black Cascade; St. Vincent – St. Vincent; Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork; Vampire Weekend Modern Vampires of the City; Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe; Foals – Total Life Forever; Isaiah Rashad – Cilvia Demo; S. Carey – Range of Light; Shlohmo – Laid Out; Ta-ku – Songs To Break Up To; Arctic Monkeys – AM.
Really looking forward to the new Agalloch, new Enslaved and new Wolves in the Throne Room this year.
THKD: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
Keenan Oakes: Thanks for the support Josh! We appreciate the coverage you’ve given Wildernessking and look forward to sending you more music in 2014.