Solidarity is Bulletproof: An Interview with Yovel

Greek black metal band Yovel speak up on behalf of the oppressed in this urgent interview during an ongoing crisis of democracy in Greece.

Hailing from Athens, Greece, black metallers Yovel are making waves across the metal underground. But instead of self-serving misanthropic nihilism, Yovel embody the collective spirit of the masses to revolt against their tyrants. Debts forgiven, slaves freed, land redistributed. The ram’s horn is blown. Freedom is proclaimed. This is the Black Metal for the oppressed and there’s no turning back to normal.

On April 2nd, 2021, Yovel are donating all their #BandcampFriday proceeds to the anarchist collective Masovka in their fight to file a lawsuit against the Greek Anti-Terrorist Forces and expose the sheer brutality in the government’s dealing with political opponents. This is a call for solidarity with all those activists who have been tortured, imprisoned, and died at the hands of the repressive state and their mythical Guantanamo-style 12th floor of the General Police Administration Headquarters.

greek-antifascist

Let’s talk basics—How did you get together and what was the initial reason for the band forming? How would you define yourself musically and did you have any sort of a blueprint for how you wanted things to run?

Alright, well, first we would like to thank you for the opportunity of doing this interview. It is always great to know there are like-minded people and communities everywhere who keep fighting for the oppressed. So, keep up the good work!

Our needs for an extreme form of expression during these extremely harsh times are the foundations of this band. We’ve experienced personal and collective defeats, but Yovel has been, and still is, our utmost way to address—and to deny—despair!

Yovel is a perpetual call to arms. It’s the voice that keeps reminding us to stand up and fight because everything is at stake. From the very beginning, we wanted to represent our vision through the intensity, the bitterness, and the epicness of Black Metal.

But we knew that our Black Metal would not be for everyone. That’s how we came up with the ‘Black Metal For The Oppressed’. That is our blueprint.

As far as I know, the name Yovel comes from the old Hebrew term for the ‘Year of Jubilee’. As David Graeber puts it in Debt: The First 5,000 Years, it refers to the time when all land was redistributed, all debts erased and all slaves freed. Correct?

Yes, you are the first magazine to actually be aware of this! You are absolutely correct and we are really happy about that. Congrats!

As we explained, this is our way to define ourselves. It’s our purpose and what we are fighting for in our daily lives, and which bears a strong symbolism in people’s struggle for freedom. And hopefully, it’s not a distant reality anymore. There is real hope for a social restart here. Omnia Sunt Communia, motherfuckers!

forthcoming-humanity

Your latest record Forthcoming Humanity was self-released by the band in 2020. Can you go a bit more in-depths into the feelings, ideas and underlying message behind these compositions? Who is Tassos Leivaditis and why did you decide to base your lyrics on his poems?

Forthcoming Humanity is based on poems of Greek revolutionary Tasos Leivaditis, who fought, suffered and wrote about the freedom struggles of our land, about the lives lost and the suffering endured by our people.

The poems we use are built upon the historical period around the Greek Civil War and its tragic outcomes. The shattering defeat of the alliance between the Leftists, the Communists, and the Democrats. Leivaditis’ poems describe, with so much intensity and sensitivity, the dreadful aftermath of this war. How these warmongers and oppressors (also former Nazi-collaborators) destroyed the lives of their defeated political enemies in every way possible. From executions to exile and imprisonment, and from the loss of their beloved ones to the incapability of finding a job or getting married.

The story of our land is a story of an endless pain and suffering. But also a story of brevity and courage, of finding your inner strength to carry on, to stand up and resist. This is how we came up with the idea to create this album. But it goes way beyond the narrative of historical wound. Through the life and poetry of Leivaditis, we are trying to address the world we live in here, at this very moment. We want to make connections with our present struggles, to connect the dots with similar movements around the world today. From the ‘rebellious’ 20th century, staring into our foggy future. It’s not just a tribute to our past, but our acknowledgment of the rebellions, insurrections and revolts of the poor and downtrodden wherever they are. An ode for those fighting for their rights and revolutions yet to come.

We’ve poured our souls into creating this album. We are really proud of Forthcoming Humanity, and we urge you to check it out—you will not regret it!

The ghosts of the Greek Junta’s past continue to come back. The New Democracy government continues to use the Coronavirus pandemic to implement far-right policies and target political opponents. From the the hunger strike of Dimitris Koufontinas to the riots in Nea Smyrni and the brutal repressions that followed, can you talk about these recent events?

You are absolutely right. Although trying to prepare for such a far-right counter-offensive by the current government, after the complete failure of SYRIZA’s (centrist-left) administration in every aspect imaginable, the reality has turned out to be even harsher than we had anticipated. The New Democracy (ruling party) launched a war against the Greek society, using the Corona crisis as an excuse for their authoritarian power grabs.

After one year of constant ‘lockdowns’,  prohibitions and curfews, they’ve systematically abandoned public healthcare and even launched an attack against all those medical doctors and nurses at the forefront of the daily struggle against Covid infections. To put it bluntly, this government is a plague. Their willingness to resort to police brutality and excessive use of brutish force for ideological & practical reasons, they want hunger striker Dimitris Koufontinas dead as a reprisal for his prior actions, their attitude of a Godsend dynasty, 17th Century style. All their restrictions only affect the common people and for them, everything remains the same. All those brutal repressions are just a business as usual approach for this government. They unleashed a ‘blitzkrieg’ against anyone fighting for their basic human rights.

But their days of bliss are numbered. The huge demonstrations only proved that fact and caused them to temporarily hold back their state-sponsored gangs. There are still large segments of society (especially the youth), who will not tolerate this type of governing. This government was a big step back to our darkest past. It is something that we won’t allow to re-live ever again! So yes, the situation is difficult, but no one has ever won a total war against society. And the outcome won’t be any different this time, as well.

support-masovka

You’re donating your Bandcamp royalties to cover the legal expenses for Masovka anarchist collective and their member Aris Papazacharoudakis, who are suing the Greek Anti-Terrorist Unit? In what other ways can people outside of Greece stand in solidarity with the cause?

Yes, we are. It was a real shock to us. Imagine if, going home on an ordinary day, getting handcuffed, abducted, tortured and illegally imprisoned for days by the so-called “Anti” Terrorist Unit for the sole reason of being a well known activist and raising your voice on social media. This is completely outrageous. This is as close as ‘Junta’—or the ‘Orbanization’ of Europe if you wish—you can get.

So we decided to express our solidarity with Aris P. and the Masovka anarchist collective. The lawsuit against “the land that doesn’t exist”, referring to the infamous Guantanamo-style 12th floor of GADA [General Police Administration Headquarters], where the cops on duty during Aris’ imprisonment and their “anti”-terrorist gang have humiliated and tortured this 21-year old boy, is an action of great courage. This legal action sets a much needed precedent. We are aware of the huge risks of this, and we know that the cops will, most probably, be vindicated without facing any legal charges. But that’s why we felt the need to stand by our comrades. We think that more initiatives like that will come forth next. Because solidarity is bulletproof.

The message is simple, their tortures won’t remain invisible. Everyone should learn about this. That here, in Greece, there is a Guantanamo-style floor in the GADA’s building, where political activists and basically anyone who dares to oppose this government is subjected to a brutal torture.

What’s the status of Greek fascist groups in 2021? What happened to Golden Dawn after the historic trial in 2020 when some of their political leaders were sentenced to years in prison?

Yes, this was a huge victory in our decades-long fight. This victory would not be possible without Magda Fyssa and her embodiment of the antifascist will and spirit of resistance. She is the mother of murdered Pavlos Fyssas and became a huge anti-nazi symbol of modern Greece.

Pavlos (aka Killah P) was brutally murdered by Golden Dawn nazi scum back in 2013. His mother was an inspiration to all of us, the hundred of thousands of people who gathered on October 7th [2020], outside the courthouse in Athens. This day was a historical landmark when Neo-Nazi leaders of Golden Dawn fascist political party were found guilty and sent to jail. Obviously, the fight against fascism is far from over. The actions of smaller-scale fascist groups still occur to this day, and the global “Alt-Right rebranding” is present here as well, but the conviction of Golden Dawn members was a historic event in Greece. It’s a breath of fresh air, first and foremost, for all our brothers & sisters, the migrants and refugees. But, to be honest, the fascists feel really comfortable with the current government. And so the struggle continues.

heather-pavlos
“From America to Greece, fight the Neo-Nazis”. Heather Heyer & Pavlos Fyssas on a banner from a demonstration in Athens.

The Black Metal genre has been exploited by Neo-Nazis since its early days. As we don’t focus on Black Metal as much as other genres, can you give us a brief overview on the history of the genre and its connections to conservative and reactionary political ideas?

Wow, we’re gonna need a whole new interview on this topic. To put it briefly, Black Metal was a genre initially based on the so-called ‘Nordic’ tradition with its Pagan, anti-Christian beliefs. There’s a certain sense of romanticism in this whole concept.

This whole praise to the Nordic tradition misled a lot of them to believe that Nordic is another name for a White European tradition. Furthermore, the general anti-Christian sentiments have led them to another fallacy, creating a whole system of anti-semitic rhetoric, especially the one coming from the notorious figure of Varg Vikernes. But most of all, it helped to create and develop the prototype of a hateful, misanthrope, and even a suicidal type of person, who stands as a lone wolf against the world. Needless to say such an antisocial environment was a fertile ground for the worst of reactionaries, with these fascists actively investing their time on being active within an obscure music genre.

But don’t be discouraged just yet! Black Metal is much more than this, and one shouldn’t be blinded by this whole imagery and saga. For us, it is the most powerful and sentimental music genre. It is rebellious at its core. It helps you question the authority. It’s an expression of our deepest fears, our most precious wills, passions, and despairs. It is a language that could speak the common tongue of the dispossessed in every corner of the world. It is our form of music and we love it. And we have decided to reclaim its rebellious image and breath a new life into it.

What do you think about the so-called cancel culture and do you agree with bigger names like Mayhem, Marduk, Watain or Taake being cancelled for their controversial views or ties to right-wing bands and labels?

words and expressions have the meaning and significance attributed to them. So for us it is not a ”cancel” culture. When someone is a Nazi, wherever they are, we want to give them the opportunity to be treated and named as the scum they are. We know they are Nazis. They don’t hide the fact. They use the argument of ‘freedom of speech’ for their own political and personal gain as they want to exterminate half of the human race based on the colour of their skin. We say no lebensraum for Nazis! They have their right to speak, but the world has the obligation to act. ¡No pasarán! Never Again!

A couple of years ago, in another interview we did for a Black Metal magazine, we clearly stated that all those bands, when faced with the question of endorsing Nazi Germany’s WWII insignia, respond all in the same manner. They claim that they do it only for the ‘shock value’, and / or they just ‘love history’. They claim to be just ‘provocative’. The thing is that, if Nazi provocation is your ultimate goal, then you must not be surprised at having your goal achieved, with all the consequences that this entails. And that is, roughly, what is happening right now.

When you scratch the surface, you will see much more going on. You will see Morgan Steinmeyer Håkansson (Marduk) speaking out against migrants in his homeland of Sweden on behalf of the band, saying he was proud that his grandfather served as a Nazi officer during the WWII. More recently, you will see other Marduk members purchasing Nazi propaganda materials and audiobooks from NMR (an outspoken Neo-Nazi political party). You will see Høst (Taake) calling a venue-owner ‘untermensch’ (straight up Nazi terminology, meaning subhuman) and sending him to “go suck a Muslim”, while appearing at their live shows with a Swastika on his chest. You will see Watain’s live guitarist leaving the band due to a Nazi salute. All these things are based on real actions and mindsets within these people, who are leaning heavily (to be very moderate) to the extreme-right.

For us, it’s pure as water from a snow-fed mountain spring where these people stand on their political positions. We want these scum and all the NSBM genre to follow their leader. But the tables have turned in recent years, Antifa & Anti-Capitalist Black Metal are on the rise! The scum is retreating and would usher in yet another metamorphosis.

black-metal-for-the-oppressed

Your slogan ‘Black Metal for The Oppressed’ became popular in a 2019’s Protean Magazine article discussing Dawn Ray’d and the growing Antifascist Black Metal scene in recent years. How important do you feel it is for musicians, artists, or writers to communicate political topics and themes through their art?

Yes, we were also featured in that article, and they actually used our motto as its headline. Yovel formed in 2016, and we’ve come up with the hashtag Black Metal For The Oppressed ever since our debut track “Centennial” back in 2017.

Of course, anyone is free to use it, too. Some bands have already started claiming it to suit their own efforts, and this is a great source of joy for us. We believe that nothing in our lives is void of a political meaning. We’ve realized that there are several artists who don’t want to share their political views with their audience, and that’s ok with us. We disagree, of course.

In our view, art is the way for people of the world to freely communicate their thoughts and visions. To get to know each other, and to realize we all have the same fate in the future of humanity. We share the same struggles. The same common enemies. So yes, it is very important for artists to stop fearing to publicly express their views. We also love nature’s landscapes and the beauty of a full moon. We also have fun with love stories and zombie apocalypse stories, but none of these art forms can change the world. As our beloved Chuck [Schuldiner] used to say: “Reality is far more brutal than a[ny] demon.”

What do you think of all this misanthropy, negativity and dystopian themes prevalent not only in Black Metal but in underground music in general? I would rather want to see bands taking their lyrical ideas from Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Dispossessed” than all those Satanist influences. Is there a potential for Utopian thinking within the metal scene?

It’s funny that you mentioned Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Dispossessed”. It is also among our favorite novels. An absolute masterpiece. If we can borrow just a single quote from it: “It is our suffering that brings us together.”

That would be a great answer to your question. Those who don’t spend themselves in those struggles, they do not see the world as we see it. They don’t feel it as we do. They do not attribute their suffering as a by-product of the way societies are organized. Or they simply don’t experience all this suffering. They do not worry about making their ends meet. So we can’t come together because we don’t suffer together.

As we already mentioned, inspiration is something unique to the individual and we don’t want to interfere with anyone (except for the fascists!) But do everything with a purpose. There’s a subtle symbolism behind all art expressions. For us, the ‘All Satanica’ concept doesn’t work. We don’t hate the human kind, we know capitalism is to blame for creating a dystopian no-future for all of us. So we need to do something to stop it. But, as Le Guin has so skillfully described, every utopia needs to be challenged. Maybe that’s something that we should learn to do as well.

ursula-k-leguin-quote
“We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable — but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art.” Illustration by @toosphexy

The Greek metal scene has been exploding as of late with amazing bands like Spectral Lore, Revolted Masses and many others. Can you talk about your musical influences and the current Greek bands that we need to check out?

Those bands you mentioned, we know, have met and have a deep respect for. Please check out Spectral Lore’s upcoming full length on April 23rd!

We have a growing underground scene—black, thrash, harcore, crust, punk (also check out the crust band Νύξη), and we are really proud of the message that our scene is trying to spread all throughout. Here, in Greece, the ‘no politics, only music’ style is not gaining any ground. We’ll be glad to play a tiny role in this outcome, and we want that to take roots elsewhere.

You’ve self-released your records with Forthcoming Humanity still awaiting a vinyl treatment. What does it mean being a DIY band to you? Is there anything specific about the DIY ethos that you would like to put at the forefront?

Do-it-Yourself has worked for us as a necessity. We never explicitly decided on being a DIY band. What’s important to us is the message. We want to spread the word as far and wide—and uncompromisingly—as possible. We want to share it to every corner of the world, not for the sake of the band, but for the sake of the cause.

But we think there are extremely slim chances that a ‘normal’ music label would share our vision, to share our cause, without any intervention and a form of censorship. We are a collective, we are handling all aspects of our work on a collective basis, end-to-end. Our aim is to connect our musical inspiration process with the discussion we have with you right now. We want to control our vision. That is what we understand as a DIY ethos: Any kind of collective action and perseverance can achieve things that seem impossible otherwise. Like us discussing these topics with you! Not for profit but for the people. Because where there are people, there is power.

As for the vinyl release, stay tuned! We will have some exciting news very soon.

Thank you very much! Anything you would like to add?

Thanks for this great interview. Support Masovka and their cause. Fight back against police brutality and oppression everywhere! Stand up, unite and fight for your life! We left the rich to rule this Earth for far too long!

Solidarity and respect from Athens, Greece.

May our paths cross.

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