Through my social media wanderings I had the pleasure to meet an Iranian youth who mainly goes by his nickname Erancnoir. Turns out thw twentysix-year old is the founder of a unique project: a (mostly) black metal collective of musicians based in Iran or having direct ties to Iranian culture, Ardawahisht Kollective. What follows is an almost unedited conversation developed through our online correspondence over the span of several days.
First things first: what is Ardawahisht Kollective, when was it born, how many people does it involve and where are the related operations conducted? I know it started out as an effort to promote your personal musical projects, but it evolved and expanded along the years.
Ardawahisht Kollective was my idea of creating a virtual hub — an underground circle one interested in black metal mythology could even call! — to gather all projects in which I am directly or indirectly involved. As you might have noticed, I am active in quite a few bands and projects and in order to keep them organized and accessible to everyone who would show interest in different parts of my musical endeavours, the collective was born. If I want to be exact, Ardawahisht came into existence back in July 2018 and in its infancy it included me, Earthen Shade, Black One and Seena Arya (of Varkâna, the first Iranian dungeon synth project that I know of).
Throughout the years, numerous events took place and the collective went through lots of changes and shifts in its direction and became what it is today: a digital label for every project of mine or people associated with me. Right now, its full-time members consist of me, Earthen Shade (a.k.a. Astwihad), Ardwisur, Nihil Satan and Taurvi. Since each of us lives at a distance from the others — on an international scale — I cannot tell that the collective has a “headquarters”. We are active and continuously creating music in different parts of Iran and abroad. Thus, today I see Ardawahisht as a multi-national/multi-cultural entity of artists in unity to express their inner selves.
This means the collective is not Iranian-only, where do the other people involved come from? Or, does Ardawahisht has some specific “ties” with Iranian culture even when it comes to people from abroad? I don’t know, are they of Iranian descent or do they have specific ties with Persian heritage? Or, on the other hand, you just met them online and started working together?
Ardawahisht does have ties to Iranian culture indeed. The names of projects, themes and concepts, and even visual direction are mainly inspired by Persian history and mythology. Yet, it doesn’t mean that we in the collective focus only on that side of our interests. As one might witness, there are numerous influences present in each project’s releases, from classical works of the likes of Shakespeare to modern sci-fi concepts.
We have members from abroad. Here comes a fact: due to our involvement in extreme music from within Iran, we have an unwritten rule — or custom, to put it in a better way — to keep our anonymity. I would tell you the origins of our members if I really knew, but the reality is that most of the members have kept their identities hidden even within the collective. We should also not forget that most of our communications are through online presence due to our distance from each other and that too is one of the reasons for preferring to stay anonymous, even to our fellow artists.
I know this might require a long answer, but your website currently lists thirteen different projects as part of the collective, would you care to spend a few words for each one?
To make it simpler, I will go from one artist’s projects to another. To start with me, above all is Erancnoir — my alter ego as I would like to call it — whose debut album triggered the birth of other projects of mine. Erancnoir is an atmospheric/ambient black metal outfit through which I channel my inner thoughts and observations into rather epic soundscapes. I was very much inspired by the mountainous and snowy landscapes of northern Iran when writing the music for Erancnoir and it can also be interesting to non-Iranians when they realize that Iran is not the deserted wasteland most of the global media depicts. Although the entity is dormant right now, soon it will be breathing and telling tales again.
Before I released the Wintermonarchie album in 2018, I initiated my work in metal with blackgaze project Forestionist back in 2017. It was simply a way for me to have a smooth transition from my electronic and post-rock background into extreme metal and at that time, it got rather positive feedback. But due to the lack of experience I had then, the project got mixed up with some unrelated names internationally and thus, I decided to rebrand the project into Etheraldine, which was the fully “metalized” reincarnation of its predecessor. Both projects deal with environmental and natural sceneries and try to picture a world without humanity and its destructive civilization. I was very much inspired by the pure landscapes of Iranian forests when writing the songs for both entities. I must also add that after a few years, I brought back Forestionist to life to follow a more serene path parallel to Etheraldine.
Forelunar on the other hand, focuses merely on my emotional experiences, either personal, like the first two full-lengths that dealt with my own experiences of romance, love, lust and loss, or social, like the latest album Beloved And A Thousand Seraphim, which was dedicated to the perished souls during the uprisings after the regime’s killing of Mahsa Amini. To better fit the themes that I speak about in Forelunar, the music evolved into a form of symphonic/orchestral black metal.
A while ago, I went through a pure emotional burst which I hadn’t experienced in quite some time. I really wanted to translate those moments into music and since I had some tracks ready for Erancnoir, I decided to mix the themes of Forelunar and the stylistic approach of Erancnoir to create a one-off project called Menakeret. I would call it one of my most authentic musical expressions during the years I have been active.
Now, as I mentioned a few lines above, before I got into making metal music, I was wandering in electronic scenes and styles. One of my favourite genres has been synthwave and basically, music inspired by the 80s/90s. Neonscepter was born in that vein so I would be able to showcase that side of me, which in the last album, turned into a hybrid of black metal/synthwave. Unlike the previous projects, Neonscepter has a very conceptual and story-based structure and through that, I explore sci-fi/dystopian themes in which I am truly interested.
Urnscent is a funeral doom outfit which started as a trio back in 2018 but later evolved into a duo consisting of Earthen Shade and yours truly. We, alongside Black One, were always fascinated by Persian mythology and our ancient cultural heritage that is being suppressed and paled by the Islamic regime every day. The epic poems and tales of old Iranian traditions have that pure melancholic feeling to them and funeral doom seemed to be the best style through which we could show that side of our identity. Parallel to Urnscent, Earthen Shade and I created Désespéré to take that funeral doom sound into our mental struggles and inner thoughts and thus, was born a darker entity compared to the epic-sounding Urnscent.
From that point, Earthen Shade, also active as Astwihad, decided to put his musical taste into music by releasing his eponymous solo project and going further into Persian mythology. Astwihad is a black/death outfit incorporating Iranian traditional instrumentations and lyrics.
Yet, it is not just us. Ardwisur, the other member of Ardawahisht, has brought very interesting elements into our collective. She has been in contact with me since early 2018 and her main project, Enscelados, was one of the most successful outputs from Ardawahisht. Her fascination with cosmology and occult mysteries led to the birth of this cosmic black metal beast in which I have had the opportunity to operate and add my own touches. Her eponymous oceanic solo project, on the other hand, is more rooted within the typical ambient/atmospheric black metal territory in which most of the Ardawahisht projects dwell.
Aneraxt is an oddity in the collective. The solo project of Nihil Satan, who has been contributing to our online presence on social media since the very beginning of Ardawahisht, is a violent and unforgiving burst of chaotic war metal. Unlike the stereotypical worldview of the artists in the collective and their general preference of exploring metaphorical and ethereal realms of self and the universe, Aneraxt is a raw expression of the situation most of us have experienced in modern Iran and takes a more direct stance towards real-time obstacles and more sensitive topics.
And finally, there is Taurvi and his electronic/black metal monstrosity. He is anonymous even to us, yet he has been giving us ideas in numerous projects; from Enscelados in which he even contributed to the textures in the latest album to other side projects of us.
It is extremely rare to come across extreme metal-related projects from Iran, what’s the situation there, musically-speaking? What kind of difficulties do you face?
The Islamic government strictly watches and controls musical activities. To release art in Iran, be it cinema or music, artists and their works should go through a tedious process of assessment and acceptance in accordance with the codes of Islamic law and norms. Now one could clearly understand the amount of censorship that takes place due to this particular establishment. Works of art that are deemed against the religious teachings of Islam are also considered against the doctrine of the Islamic government and thus, marked as forbidden and even blasphemy or at worst, satanic.
Extreme metal is that very worst-case scenario. The elements present in the music—distortion, velocity, aggressiveness, lyrical themes, etc.—are all that the regime considers opposing to their system of beliefs and politics. Thus, there is an unfortunate situation for artists in the extreme metal realm. For us, it was not different either. Although Ardawahisht and I, as its founder, insist on keeping the collective as apolitical and personal as it could be possible, the style itself is not accepted by the governance. This has resulted in us becoming underground acts.
This leads to the emergence of numerous difficulties. Studio owners usually do not risk adapting their operations to metal-oriented projects, forming bands is an arduous task for musicians due to safety issues, either on the personal or social scale, and access to equipment is a hefty and challenging task. I assume that is the reason why many solo projects and one-man bands have risen up from within Iran, as it is less complicated to do things personally and in “secret” if one would like to call it.
Being it so risky, do your family and close friends know about your passion and involvement in music? If so, do they support your choices? I know some in my family were puzzled when I first bought black metal records as a teenager, and I live in Italy, they would probably have been worried sick if I had any involvement with something this “dangerous” in Iran. On the other hand, in such a repressive political situation, they would want me to pursue my true passion, too. What’s your experience?
It is no different in Iran. On the one side, parents would want their children to be successful and happy with their lives, but on the darker side, there are those like me who choose the uncanny paths — even dangerous ones, depending on the country and cultural and political background — and in these cases, there are usually tangled knots that disturb both parents and their children. More than that, metal music is still considered a foreign object and a cultural anomaly in Iran. Now add it to what I said above. Even if your close ones understand your choice to pursue a career in fields like music that are not guaranteed to bring you success and social stability, the part that you are a metal musician is the main disruptor in the process.
My parents have always been open to new and even not-widely accepted phenomena, but it hasn’t stopped them from worrying about me and the kind of art that I am dedicating my life and time to. Not just from a personal point of view, but the risks that it bears in a country that is governed by strict, unforgiving and extremely punishing laws, and shall we not forget the view that the public would have on you. Therefore, being an extreme metal artist has always been a matter of life or death for me. I know the dangers of such activity while knowing its benefits and the necessity of its existence in my life. During this journey, I have had the support of my parents, friends and associates which I am fully grateful for. But it doesn’t change the fact that the loss of serenity and impended solitude become an integral part of your life as an artist in a musical culture that is deemed harmful by the laws of the government.
We’ve been talking about the possibility of seeing Ardawahisht releases in physical form, and you mentioned this could be doable, but pretty complex. Would you go into detail? What kind of “risks” and difficulties would you face if a foreign record label made you an offer?
There are two approaches to this particular subject. First of all, it is the financial side. As you and many others might know, Iran has become an isolated economical island in the past few decades due to numerous sanctions against the governing regime and its chaotic international relations with the rest of the world. This causes countless problems of which, the most important for an artist based in Iran is the lack of access to international financial systems thus, collaboration in a professional way becomes next to impossible for artists inside Iran who are interested in working with foreign labels; unless there are some third-parties that could make the collaboration happen.
The more important side though would be the consequences of such activities. The publicity that working with a well-known label brings, can sometimes be too hefty for artists that live under governments like the Islamic regime. It is not that the essence of such activity is against the laws as working with foreign labels usually means showcasing your art with a wider audience who are generally European or American and not related to or monitored by the Islamic regime of Iran. But the problem happens when you gain that publicity and then your music somehow finds its way into the community of metal listeners in Iran and gets mixed with some social—which is really integrated with political and thus, religious views—and then, real complications take place.
By combining these two sides, one could have a small glance at what is really going on for extreme metal artists inside Iran.
On a personal level, how did you first come across extreme metal, and what drew you and the other collective members to it?
I first came across metal music when I heard the debut eponymous album by Ensiferum. It was not “extreme” in that manner but it definitely paved the way for my later exposure to death and black metal, when I found Swedish acts like Dark Funeral and Lord Belial, and of course the Norwegian legends like Burzum, Darkthrone, etc. From my perspective, black metal, and extreme metal in general, has that darkness which most of us in Iran have felt or are still feeling closely. The sense of despair, sorrow, violence, death etc. is very present in the lives of most people, more than what anyone could imagine elsewhere. I believe those similarities between the music and the reality in which we live, were the main triggering point for me which drew me to the scene and its numerous subgenres.
What kind of plans and activities do you have and carry out to grow the collective? Moreover, what is your final goal?
Speaking of the future is irrelevant and even arrogant for an extreme metal artist from Iran. Thus, I could be lying if I told you about the future plans of Ardawahisht. It could cease to exist any second, at any time. What I can say for sure though, is that this collective and the music I create are both the main parts of my life. They are my path to serenity through expression, the longest interest of mine and even earning a living. Thus, I’ve always counted on being prolific while keeping the best quality I am able to execute and of course, the support of listeners and those interested in the works of our collective.
Yet, I must confess that although I do not have concrete plans for growing Ardawahisht or making changes, I do have a final goal in this journey. I really wish that someday in the future, when I might not be, some younger artists from Iran arise on the foundations — or even ashes — of Ardawahisht and remember me as one of the guys who tried his best to pave the way for the future generation of extreme metal artists. And for the world to respect those of us who are working with our blood, sweat and tears to pursue what we’ve adored since our youth.
Say someone reads this interview and wants to support the collective. What do you think could be a useful way to help Ardawahisht from the outside?
Ardawahisht itself is a digital-only collective; so, the best and only way to support is the usual methods in this regard: either support the artists directly through their official Bandcamp page or by streaming and/or purchasing their works on prominent digital platforms. But in the case of possible physical releases, it is obvious that supporting the labels would be the point so that both the labels and Ardawahisht benefit from collaborating.
Something that most (all?) of the projects share is a connection to Zoroastrianism. What is your relationship with the ancient Iranian religion?
A good question indeed and even more interesting that you mentioned its definition of being an ancient religion. First and foremost, Zoroastrianism was primarily a school of thought which was established by Zoroaster (Zarathustra/Zartosht) in order to venerate existence and the beings that are in motion along with us in this universe of wonders. What we see today, is the somehow politically reshaped version of the ideology, thus, becoming a religion, which is itself defined as organized faith.
Now, I have always tried to use the ancient Persian values in the manner of a school of thought and traditional beliefs, and not in a religious context. As everyone is aware, there are many metal projects inspired by different Western mythologies, such as Scandinavia and ancient Greece, which is totally understandable since the genre itself comes from that geographical region. Yet, there are almost none — except for a few projects that are themselves from Iran — that are inspired directly by Persian mythology or even talk about it. Since these subjects, myths and tales, names and traditions of Persia, have always been prominent in my life and have influenced me greatly, I just found it most reasonable to use the metaphors, tales, sceneries and landscapes in my motherland’s mythology as elements through which I create my personal experiences, emotions and observations. Therefore, my relationship is mainly with the heritage and identity of Iran, rather than its ancient religion.
Here in Europe, particularly in Italy, we usually know very little about Iranian customs and traditions. What is the balance between the ancient Zoroastrian faith and the modern Islamic republic?
The faith itself, as I mentioned in the previous question, is merely a minor part of the bigger worldview that our ancestors possessed. The whole context is so vast and old that no one has been able to completely picture it together, but what I can tell you is that those customs and sets of beliefs and values are consistently being attacked by the Islamic regime. They have been working so hard to change the mindset of the people from a free-hearted nation to being mindless and superstitious slaves that I have to admit the unfortunate state in which our cultural identity lies today. There is no balance between Islamic thought and our own ancient traditions. The rulers have stolen many of our noble customs and mixed them with their foreign and poisoned ideas. Think of it as an occupying force which brutally enacts its alien mindset onto the people who have been historically bounded to this part of the world and have given meaning and identity to the nation through veneration and unity. That is the true relation which maliciously exists between the two phenomena.
Your words leave little to interpretation, and your critical stance towards those in power is quite clear. If I may ask, what is your cultural background? You say rulers have been trying for so long to turn people into mindless and superstition slaves, how did you manage to escape that fate?
I am like any other Iranian person. I was born and raised by parents who were also Iranians and from one side, we go way back to the more ancient families of Nishapur and its older version Abarshahr. You see, Iran, unlike what may assume, is a land of colours and different noble cultures of ancient times. It is not “white” or “black” or “Asian” etc. like it is the case in Europe or North America; rather, it is a unity of Iranic races and even immigrants that have coexisted together for quite a long time.
Now here comes the problem. Centuries back, there were forces of brutish peoples who invaded — better to say, raped — the lands of Persia and cruelly made people become servants to their foreign ideologies and barbaric ways of life. Twice happened such catastrophes from which Persians could somehow heal and revive the old traditions up to a degree. But during the past few decades, due to reasons beyond the interests of this interview, a totalitarian regime based on brutal laws was established in Iran that has since tried its best to transform us into uncivilized people and unfortunately, it has been successful in most parts. Yet, there remains a shimmering light of hope that this process of cultural annihilation would stop and Iran could return to its roots of high human values again.
I was lucky, some could even say privileged, to acquire the knowledge of languages other than Persian and having access to the internet and reading online helped me better understand my origins, and the ways of the world and become familiar with the history of nations and cultures. It was of course my passion and curiosity in such subjects that culminated into what I am today, and shall I not forget those who played the role of true teachers for me on this path.
Linked to my previous question, I was recently suggested a book by a close friend, Couchsurfing In Iran, by Stephan Orth. It was released in 2018 and talks about a “parallel society” in Iran, I quote “Experiencing daily what he calls the “two Irans” that coexist side by side — the “theocracy, where people mourn their martyrs” in mausoleums, and the “hide-and-seek-ocracy, where people hold secret parties and seek worldly thrills instead of spiritual bliss” — he learns that Iranians have become experts in navigating around their country’s strict laws.” As an inside man, what’s your take on this? Are you a couchsurfer?
I hadn’t heard about this book until now, and what an interesting take on Iran, which is also absolutely correct. I can now refer you to my previous remarks in retrospect. I mentioned that the regime has been mostly successful in suppressing and shattering the identity of Persians, but not fully, not yet. You see, unlike the Islamic ideology and “culture” in which almost all delights are prohibited for people to reach redemption after their deaths and are basically established on the principles of suffering and punishment and threatening to receive the wrath of a cruel unearthly power, Persian culture is mainly about ceremonies and celebration of life and the forces that guide it through fabrics of existence and creation, better to say, veneration of the benevolent creator of all that was, is and shall be.
Now, what is taking place in Iran nowadays, is an encounter of these two ideas and approaches to life and being. The latter is carved into our souls and many of us still remember what we were and are meant to be. That side of Iranians shows itself in those “secret” and unauthorized gatherings. Think of it this way: The land is occupied by a foreign force and is monitored with an iron fist, so people either run away or decide to stay and live their lives in the shadows. We have seen numerous examples of such phenomenon in the past, which just needs a bit of time to go through the contemporary history of wars and unrest across the globe… And for that last question, I have never been a couch surfer. I am not a person of constant journeys. I’d rather stay in a place and inhale its essence fully into my mind and soul.