Last year, I had the pleasure of interviewing Iskra. The Canadian anarchist metal, blackened curst pioneers are visionaries. Trail-blazing around the globe, shredding off faces with facemelting riffs while waving the flag for anarchy. Chatting with the band, I spoke about their origins, anarchism, touring and their excellent album Ruins.
Jack: Hi guys, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. How are you doing?
Iskra: We’re doing okay.
Jack: Iskra formed in 2012. How did you all meet?
Iskra: The original band was put together by Devo and Wolf who had known each other since the mid-90s. Devo introduced Scott, and Nick whom he’d played with in a Death Metal band from Victoria. Wolf brought in Calvert who he’d also known since the early 90s when he (Calvert) had drummed for Submission Hold; a Vancouver punk band. That was the original line-up. You will have to read the ‘history’ section of the Iskra site for the rest, as its quite complicated.
Jack: What’s the music scene like in Canada?
Iskra: It varies. With the exception of an occasional touring band, there is not much communication beyond phony social media and email. Canada is a massive area with a small population which makes touring very expensive and difficult, so most bands don’t do it. The towns and cities are mostly isolated out posts. There are many bands, but most remain local and unknown. Much of the Metal and Punk is pretty goofy bar/social club type stuff. Still, if one wants to do a little investigating, they will find decent bands throughout Canada.
Our scene in Victoria, the only scene we really know, has its ups and downs. Generally there will be a few Anarchist bands, one or two good Grind bands, a decent Metal band or two, and then a lot of garbage. The same goes for Vancouver. The difference being that they have some Nazi and Skinhead Metal bands. We don’t know of any in our scene. Its to small to get away with that crap.
The prairie provinces are tough since there are insane gaps between towns and some very small scenes. Turn outs really vary as do the quality of bands. Calgary and Edmonton are generally always good shows, Saskatoon can be good but if the band line up isn’t local favourites it can be pretty dismal. Winnipeg was awesome last time we went through, and Regina, although a small scene, was a lot of fun. Lethbridge on the other hand was rather depressing. People are still trying though, so we go anyway!
Quebec and Ontario have a lot going on and is pretty good for touring. There are some nationalist right wing Metal labels, and bands, especially from Quebec, so be wary. The Maritimes have some great bands as well, but the touring is fairly thin with regard to number of shows and turn outs. Still some of our best shows were in the Maritimes and there are some great bands holding things down. We just completed 40 or so dates in Canada and, when all was said and done, it went very well. There is a strong DIY scene that cares, as well as some great shows. Some of our favourites were the house shows, especially in Edmonton and Ottawa.
A cross Canada is not an easy tour, but it can be worth it if you get in touch with the right people. Again, its not really one scene but many small scenes that are loosely connected. Another thing to remember is that the DIY world is volatile. One can hit a great show one year and then the next time can be terrible. There are no guarantees.
Jack: How does it feel to be one of the pioneers of blackened crust?
Iskra: We don’t really think about it. Black Kronstadt’s LP(2nd side), and maybe the Terrorist Act EP of Iskra, are the only pieces of wax that really kind of nail a mix of Crust and Black Metal. Iskra is mostly just gnarly thrashing Metal with a punk attitude. We call it ‘Anarchist Metal.’ No rules/no clones!
Jack: Aside from Immortal, what other bands influenced you?
Iskra: Well, Immortal is probably not our biggest influence. We are, we think, an original band so there are no particular influences. We are influenced more by entire movements such as second and first wave of Black Metal, or UK apocalyptic Crust(not ‘Crust-core’).
Lyric wise: Anarcho-Punk,early Thrash, and Death Metal. Collectively we might listen to Filth of Mankind, Amebix, Antisect, Axegrinder, early Marduk, Mayhem, early Enslaved, Bathory etc. Also more obscure stuff like SDS from Japan, or early South American Metal. The other day we were listening to a Thrash band called Pyovelli. Another newer Thrash band we like is Evil Madness. We listen to a ton of music. Keep in mind that we have our own record store (Black Raven Records)! We hear a wide variety of extreme music of all genres and, as a group, know a lot about underground music. So our influences are fluid, always changing. There are some mainstays, I,e, anything classic, but one day can be quite different from another with regard to listening. We also play poker to together with our friends where we listen to, and fight over, music. More than just gambling, they are nights of musical sharing.
Jack: What first drew you to anarchism?
Iskra: A healthy hatred of authority and power. After that, cultural rebellion.
Jack: As a band you are not aligned with any one stream of anarchist thought. Why is this?
Iskra: Because anarchism is contingent upon one’s surroundings and is always fluid It is not an “ideology,” as some people think(including anarchists, unfortunately). Every situation is different. A land struggle in Mexico will be quite different than an environmentalist group in Canada.
Anarchism is first and foremost about being an individual. One who is aware of their own power and autonomy. After which they will seek to undermine any power or technology that seeks to control their lives. This practice may be solitary or collective depending on the goal. Since every situation is different, there can be no one way for an anarchist situation. Every one will be different. Any anarchist that claims that there can only be one way to exist, or practice anti-authoritarian ideas, should be regarded with suspicion. A short interview with any individual who harbours a single-minded approach to anarchist practice will often reveal themselves as being deficient in the knowledge of philosophy, culture, politics, or anarchy. Not that one has to be an expert in any of these fields but, if they are making some kind of serious statement about how people might want to live, they should know something of them.
Jack: Is anarchism viewed unfairly by society?
Iskra: What society? Our society? Our society generally knows nothing of anarchism. It’s arcane to the status-quo. In fact, our society is so hell-bent on consumerism and comfort that any ideas of social upheaval or transformation are completely alien.
Jack: You just released the CD version Ruins via Southern Lord, are you happy with the response?
Iskra: Yes, Greg Anderson from SL was very kind to offer a CD release in time for our long tour of Canada. It was a great help.
Jack: How did the deal with Southern Lord come about? Have you enjoyed working with them?
Iskra: Greg knew, and liked, Iskra before. He offered to help us out with a CD and we agreed. Yes, they’ve been great to work with. The “deal” was a couple of letters deciding how to do the CD.
Jack: What was the recording process like?
Iskra: We recorded the record in our house. First the drums with 22 microphones, then the bass and guitars, then vocals. Our drummer, Cody, engineered the recording and we all mixed and produced it. The record was then sent to the Cutting Room in Sweden for professional mastering. The whole process took about eight months. Two years if we count song writing.
Jack: What was the biggest challenge when writing the album?
Iskra: The lyrics. We wanted to have lyrics that were provocative, and informative, to both a young and older demographic. The ideas we took on, for the LP, were quite complex. The lyrics have to be in song form, and so can seem rather cryptic But that suits the music. In order to understand what we are talking about the songs had to be backed with write-ups, or small essays, which is usual for us. Its the only way to understand the songs. The write-ups are a kind of key to the song. Luckily Danni, our vocalist, is able to write quite well and thereby clarify the lyrics. Many punks didn’t really get the lyrics. This is because they often have a narrow vision about what “punk” is supposed to be. Anyone who takes more than a superficial look, however, will find that we are merely expanding upon the already redundant foundation laid out by earlier anarchist bands. We are trying to offer more than a re-iteration of what one reads in a journal or a book.
The Metal scene folks, generally speaking, don’t really get the lyrics at all. They have their own ghetto of pseudo-Christian/Satan, and Fascist/Nazi, crap to get over. Strange how in Black Metal its common for folks to harbour Fascist ideas. Since when is it cool to be a cop?
Jack: How have the songs been going down live?
Jack: Iskra play live a lot, do you have day jobs outside of the band?
Iskra: Yes, we do. Any money accrued by the band is put into a communal fund that we use for buying tour vehicles, plane tickets, record pressing, recording, or anything band related. It is managed so that we do not only lose money. But it is not nearly enough money to live on. So we have to work.
We work for ourselves so that we can work less, when we want, and how we want. We like to avoid paying taxes to the government and do not involve ourselves in the status quo work force, which anarchists find despicable and degrading.
The work-force is a type of enslavement that anarchists feel they must avoid at all costs. Our message, with respect to work and capital, is to acquire skills, and knowledge, so as to avoid bowing to the work-force. Self employment ensures that you have the means and resources to full fill anarchist goals. If you’re not calling the shots, then others are calling them for you. That will not do. You will be used. This can and must be avoided as a first step to any kind of transformative action.
Its easy to notice that any success full resistance requires skills and resources in order to have an effect. If you find yourself stuck in a situation where you are living hand-to-mouth with no time to achieve your full potential, then it might be the time to gain skills. Take a night course in the trades, or teach yourself something so that you can work for yourself. If one has no resources at all, there is often someone in the anarchist scene who will teach you for free. One of the integral tenets of anarchism is to help others for little or no cost. The more we help each other, the less we are reliant on the work-force.
What do we do? Gardening(easy to learn), grounds maintenance(not much skill but always needed), recording engineer, composing music, performing music(some of us play in a traditional folk band to help with living expenses), and home support work(a short course in care-giving). Those are just a few things we do. We run other hustles as well. But the main point is we do these things for ourselves, not for some company.
Jack: Do you plan to return to Europe and the UK anytime soon?
Iskra: Yes. But right now we are working on our fourth LP. This will be recorded by the summe,r if all goes well. There has been a death in the family, and Anatole has suffered some medical issues, so we are a little behind schedule. Give us a year or so and we will return to Europe!
Jack: Thank you so much for your time and I hope to see you in the UK soon!
Iskra: Great! Thanks for the interview. We are overdue for the UK. We want to play for you, but its difficult to afford. Give us some time and then we will come and play! We will need a few good folks to set up shows in Scotland, Ireland, hopefully Wales, and England. Cheers!