A pagan metal band called HELGRIND, that sounds quite unspectacular so far. Things get interesting when you know that HELGRIND are the first (and so far only) pagan metal band from Cuba. How they got into the genre personally, why they can identify with the themes and how their music is received in their Caribbean homeland, Daniel López (bass) and Ernesto Riol (vocals) report in our interview.
Hi and thanks a lot for taking time for this interview! How are you doing?
Thanks to you for giving us the opportunity to promote our band and Cuban extreme metal around the world. We are fine but a little eager about the ending of this damned pandemic outbreak.
HELGRIND is a pagan metal band from Cuba. Are you the only pagan metal band there?
We are the first and only band of this genre in Cuba, although it is fair to recognize that in the past other excellent groups have flirted with those themes or had riffs influenced by European folk music but always sporadically in one or another song. Our greatest merit has been to focus our efforts in that direction and consolidate ourselves as its main exponents in the country.
Which bands inspired you for this genre?
Something that made us delve into this genre in addition to the passion we have for history, mythology and European fantasy is that this style did not exist in our national scene, so in a certain way it is our contribution without a doubt.
Was it hard or easy to find enough musicians interested in this genre and topic in particular?
Any new idea in a musical and biased environment is received by most people with skepticism and even suspicion, but it also generates a lot of curiosity in some others. That’s one reason why HELGRIND can boast that when a spot has become vacant in the lineup it has usually been quickly occupied with enthusiasm by seasoned and experienced musicians. We have no complaints about it, and if at some point it has been difficult to fill a space, it has been due to the material difficulties characteristic of the island, the lack of professionalism of the applicant or the reduced national metal scene.
Which bands got you personally excited about pagan/viking metal?
In our beginnings we can speak of AmanAmarth, Ensiferum, Turisas, Bathory, but over the years and the deepening of the genre we were captivated by: Falkenbach, Thyrfing, Forefather, the beginnings of Wolfchant, Kampfar, Windir, Primordial and nowadays we appreciate the work of bands like King of Asgard, Havukruunuand so on.
What fascinates you about those themes that have nothing to do with your cultural background and the culture of your country?
We totally disagree with the idea that the genre has nothing to do with our cultural background and the fault of that is the image that over the years has been projected from Cuba to the world. Not everything here is Rumba, Mulatas and Palm Trees… That works like a heavenly fantasy to attract tourism. The reality is that in Cuba more than half of the population is Euro-descendant, where the colonial architecture in villas founded by Spaniards half a century ago is preserved in perfect conditions. Our cultural ties are tied to it and our music is the mean with which we honor the memory of our Celtic, Iberian or Germanic ancestors. We are fascinated by the pagan genre and themes of pre-Christian Europe simply because it identifies us.
You use runes and the Thorshammer – are these symbolisms for you that have a cultural meaning, or rather elements that belong to this genre like corpsepaint to black metal?
We do not believe the Hollywood story that runes or the mjolnir hammer are unique to the Germanic people known as Vikings. People as distant as the Phoenicians or the Etruscans had also alphabets with very similar runic characters. You just have to delve a little deeper into history to realize the enormous similarity between all these cultures that cannot be just a coincidence and a possible explanation was a primordial civilization, which served as a source of wisdom and myths. The same happens with the god Thor and his hammer Mjolnir, the idea of a god of thunder, the weather and crops already existed in other mythologies and we give an example to the god Donar in Holland, Ukko and his hammer Ukonvasara in Finland, Perkunas in Latvia and Lithuania, Perunamong Slavic people, Taranis among Celtic people and even Zeus in Greece has many similarities. These ancient magic symbols belong to a whole group of people and nations of which we are their heirs. We wear them and wear them with pride and it is in our hands to transmit this legacy to all who are willing to listen.
What are the lyrics about, which „Motherland“ do you refer to?
We use the term Motherland in an allegorical sense to the songs of the entire album, it can be seen collected in them Finnish, Germanic, Slavic, Norse mythology and that is why we use Motherland to refer to a greater part it that is also an ancestral homeland for us.
In your band photo, two of your musicians are wearing shirts from Graveland and Nargaroth – two bands that are not without controversy in this country. The first one in particular is also assigned to NSBM because of its ideological orientation. Are you aware of this, is it an issue for you – and where do you stand politically?
HELGRIND is a band that doesn’t take part in that sense and we make this very clear. We respect those who have inclinations towards one side or the other, but we think that separatism and fragmentation of people only brings weakness. Just remember that the so-called „great“ civilizations, the authors of such brilliant ideas, reached the peak of human decay and perversion. The idea of being millions of people concentrated in cities is unnatural, to belong to a political party whatever the type is also unnatural and so it is being slaves of a bloody and authoritarian god of the desert who wants all your money … this has nothing to do with the cultural background of Europe and its people. It is all part of a sinister plan to divide and conquer, and while we are disunited and fighting each other, the true enemy of humanity is fattening up on our goods and parasitizing on its temples. The response of who we are is not political but religious. One of the many mechanisms that the enemy has to perpetuate itself in power is to criminalize the past. That’s where we talk about Rob Darken and Graveland. Once again I invite you not to stay on the surface and delve into the theme and the lyrics of Graveland. National pride, legends, battles, patriotism and hatredto the Christian invader … If that makes him a criminal, then we are not very far away.
In general: How are you accepted with this style in Cuba – is there a scene and fans of this music, or are you aiming entirely at the European scene?
In Cuba we consider that only a few people really follow this genre, maybe due to the American influence in metal music and also our geographical condition, however it could be said that the scene related to the stile has been growing and we as a band have recent fans in our scene. But yes, we are focused on the European scene , we are sharing our music with fans and musicians from different European countries and it is good to tell that they are mostly of the time pleased and they enjoy our music.
Thank you very much for the interview. Let’s wrap it up with our traditional brainstorming:
Quorthon: Artist Ahead of His Time and Proud of His Past.
Germany: Ancestral Cradle of Historically Underappreciated People.
Cigars: Death and unnecessary disease in a fancy box.
Vikings: Mystical Germanic people derided in popular culture
Snow: One of the most perfect and beautiful creations of nature
Fidel Castro: There are different criteria about that personality in the band, so we prefer not to issue criteria to avoid hurting sensibilities.
AmonAmarth: Trampoline band to get interested in pagan and Germanic mythological themes.
Once again thanks for your time. The last words are yours!
Thank you for taking the time and dedication in this interview, we hope that our music and message will reach the ears of many around the world and it would be an honor to be able to gig in Germany and throughout Europe, a continent which history and culture have made us exist as a band. A hug from Cuba.