Marko & Witch N.


Calling themselves "Black Sludge Doom", Switzerland's ASHTAR are certainly one of the more eclectic of the genre's throughputs. Their debut album. "Ilmasaari", having been released in June this year, the band shared a few words with Calen about the nature of the album title, being in a band as husband and wife, and mixing beauty with heaviness.
By Calen Nesten
September 10, 2015
Marko & Witch N. (Ashtar) interview
I really love the album art! It's dark, kind of creepy, but tranquil all in one. It really matches the tone of your album. Who did the art and what does it represent to you?

Witch N.: Originally, it's an old painting by the Czech art nouveau artist Alfons Mucha and was proposed to us by our designer. He edited and colored it to match our cover. We think it's morbid but not black-and-white, it's mystic and a bit fantastic.

The album is entitled «Ilmasaari», what is the significance of the title?

Marko: Ilmasaari is a piece of land at the sea in Finland, where I spent every summer when I was a child and where I still go once a year for a few days. Our family has a small wooden holiday house there, surrounded by an old forest. For me it's a mystic place where time stands still, a place where nothing ever changes. It's also a place of unity with nature and silence – and a place of recollection.

You use a lot of occult and esoteric themes in your songs. Has that always been something you have been interested in?

Marko: I've never been too much interested in such themes, to be honest. But the atmosphere in our music emerged naturally for me.

Witch N.: I for my side had always a flair for occult or esoteric themes, mostly in music and literature. So it is quite natural that some of my lyrics are about these themes as well. I would say that Marko and me are both spiritual beings, but we don't do fire or blood rituals at home…

What other sources do you look to for inspiration?

Witch N.: I get inspiration from music or other forms of art like literature, but a big part comes straight out of my fantasy and my dreams.

A little bit of a personal question: I was once in a band with my girlfriend, I felt that our relationship brought out a lot of creativity that may have been lost with someone less intimate. How has being married effected your writing style(s)?

Marko: That's exactly how I would describe it too. Many friends ask me: How can you be in a band with your own wife? Well, I always say that it's perfect and inspiring to make music with the person you love. We are a great team.

Witch N.: I totally agree! Our connection is very strong and the combination of our characters leads to a very fertile performance. «Ilmasaari» is the proof for it.

Now, a pretty boring, standard interview question: What is the greatest challenge you faced when working on «Ilmaasari»?

Marko: I think it was definitely the guitars because none of us had ever played guitar on a record before. That was quite challenging. And of course it was quite difficult to arrange the songs because it was just the two of us from the beginning. We could never play or hear the songs as they were with all instruments before we went to the studio.

It seems that genres like Doom, Atmospheric Metal and Depressive Metal have gained a lot of popularity in the United States. Why do you suppose that is? Have you noticed that same trend in Europe?

Marko: That's difficult to say. But what we see is that female fronted Retro Heavy Rock or Doom is very fashionable in Europe – bands like Blues Pills or Windhand. And it's quite astonishing to see how classic Stoner bands still get quite an audience.

Witch N.: I think that Doom is a genre that has developed quite a lot in the last years in Europe and has been combined with other genres like Black Metal, Sludge or Heavy Metal, which makes it interesting for more and more listeners – in contrast to other styles that have not been that innovative and have remained too conservative.

Do you still maintain ties with shEver and Phased?

Witch N.: I left shEver for musical and personal reasons soon after having formed Ashtar. But I still go to their concerts from time to time and I'm always interested in their new musical stuff. They will soon release a new album as well!

Marko: I still play in Phased. We have a new record called «Aeon» coming out in November.

What is it about your musical style that speaks to you?

Marko: We love to mix almost romantic beauty and desperate heaviness – the eclectic and hopefully hypnotic combination of Black Metal, Doom and Sludge with elements of Shoegaze, Grunge and Spacerock.

What bands or artists have captured your eardrums lately?

Witch N.: I use to read a lot of music reviews to discover new bands in the intersection of Black Metal, Sludge and Doom. There are so many great bands out there: Azavatar, Usnea, Mosaic, The Ruins Of Beverast, Cult Of Endtime or the very underground French Black Metal band Profundae Libidines, just to name a few. In contrast, I listened a lot to the old Smashing Pumpkins albums recently.

Marko: I have been quite into Krautrock and Prog for a longer time and just bought records of bands like Gentle Giant, Camel or the finnish avantgardists Circle. My main newer discoveries in heavier music are Dark Buddha Rising, Inter Arma and Wolvserpent.

I always have to ask, what is your favorite beer?

Marko: That changes from time to time. At the moment I like a Swiss beer called Quöllfrisch most. It's fresh but not too watery.

Witch N.: I would say the Portuguese Superbock, but I also like good German wheat beer or Belgian strong beers.

Thank you for answering my questions! I love Ashtar and am looking forward to hearing more! Is there anything else you would like to say?

Witch N. and Marko: Not really. Thank you for the support and your interest in our band.

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