INTERVIEW: Hekseblad’s Bruxa on “The Witcher” Themed Black Metal of “Kaer Morhen”


Anticipated is a word that gets thrown around a lot, like the sun also rising after a dark night of the soul. In Black Metal, the soul generally wants to stay in the dark. A long cold night can be fuel for triumphs. Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series contains both hope and ferocious challenges, the perfect inspiration for up-and-coming metal duo Hekseblad’s bombastic sonic exclamations.

Kaer Morhen is the new gargantuan full-length from the band, a group who are well versed in the genre and make aesthetic decisions accordingly. Fans of the lonely grandeur of Wolves In The Throne Room or the brutal yet melodic veined riffing of much second-wave BM will latch onto this like a Kikimora eating a hapless villager.

Hekseblad are releasing the album through Hypnotic Dirge Records, and their friends at Grime Stone Records are helping with the cassette tape release. An interview with the group’s vocalist and lyricist Bruxa seemed most called for as the band crosses this next threshold.

How did this Hekseblad project start? Out of all the sci-fi and fantasy out there, what appealed to you the most about the compelling world of The Witcher?

 

Bruxa – Hekseblad formed in the late months of 2020 in a discord server. Frosk and I knew each other for a few years and both of us had kicked around in smaller local bands, and we always talked about doing stuff together so with the pandemic happening, we both decided it was the right time to form something. I had a vision in my head of what I wanted my next project to be, and he was fully committed to bringing it to life. As for the second half of the question, I’ve been a massive fan of the Witcher games and novels for years.

I had always wanted to write about its lore for previous projects, but I think in the end what ultimately made me choose to focus our themes around The Witcher is the fact that its untapped potential, every other Black Metal band sings about The Lord of the Rings, Caladan Brood has Malazan, so we figured if we’re gonna enter the world of Fantasy-based black metal we’d need to choose something that would stand out.

Yes, or everyone does Lovecraft. I am older so my fantasy world of choice was Dragonlance, so I appreciated Blind Guardian and Nightwish had Raistlin songs. Or Justicar, a new power metal band, just covered the Star Wars classic book ‘Outbound Flight’ to epic results. Anyhow, how did you decide to make the Kaer Morhen setting the focus of this important full length release for you? It makes sense as it is a crucial site for Witchers. Also I LOVE the cover art for your record. It gives Witcher meets ‘At the Heart of Winter’ vibes and a strong black metal feeling.

Bruxa – I chose Kaer Morhen as a central location mostly because of personal reasons and parallels between the series that I also saw in my own life. At the time of writing the album I was spending a lot of time in the frozen wastes of Ontario, in the presence of people who made me feel very at home, much like how in The Witcher lore Geralt will return to Kaer Morhen for the winter to rest and reinvigorate himself before setting off for adventure and coin when spring comes. The title track of the album deals with that a lot, the feeling of returning to a place you consider your home so you can recharge and prepare for the war waiting outside. As for the last part (you can leave this out of the published version if you see fit) we’re releasing the album through Hypnotic Dirge Records, and our friends at Grime Stone Records are helping us with the cassette tape release.

The production sounds more violent and more intense than ‘The Fall Of Cintra’ release, but still has nice raw elements. What are some musical or personal influences you drew from to tell these stories? “Sodden” reminds me of Emperor in some parts and the music works great with that fucked up battle from the lore. What was your recording process like?

 

Bruxa- As far as influences go for production we wanted to draw upon our second-wave influences, namely Emperor and Dissection. Specifically, In The Nightside Eclipse and Storm of the Light’s Bane. Those albums had a rawness to them that wasn’t unlike a lot of what else was being released at the time, but in that rawness there was professionalism and attention to detail. As for the recording process, we worked slowly after our debut EP the “Fall of Cintra.” Frosk would record an instrumental and send it my way to begin writing the lyrics and vocal parts. Two years later, I found myself on a plane to the East Coast to record my parts in his home studio. That lasted about a week; the two of us hunkered down and finished what we had been slaving away at for two years.

That sense of completion must have been everything. Do you have a favorite book or game or scene in any version of the series? I am partial to parts of ‘Season Of Storms’ as it is semi early in the saga but has some intensely vibey moments like the gorgeous poetry of the “Fox Children” story and a lot of gore.

Bruxa- It might be obvious from the album, but the second single is based on my absolute favorite story in the franchise; A Grain of Truth, from The Last Wish. I absolutely adored how Sapkowski took a traditional fairy tale as influence but turned it on its head. I very much sympathize with Nivellen’s character and what he went through.

What did you think of the Blood Origin mini-series on Netflix? I know it had detractors, but I loved the dwarven lesbian Meldof the Mad, who smoked weed out of a warhammer. She was iconic for that.

Bruxa- I already had a love/hate situation with the Netflix adaptation of the main series. I know Henry Cavill has made an ass of himself many times and been difficult to work with, but it seemed that he cared about the franchise, which is why I wasn’t a very big fan of the first two seasons. Shame he left the series after season three considering it was probably the most lore-accurate retelling we’ll see on the screen. My partner and I are both very big fans of The Witcher, we sat through Blood Origins, it seems like you enjoyed it from your prompt, and I wish I could say that I shared that sentiment, but unfortunately, I found it to be a waste of time. I will say though, Meldof was a very striking character, shame that it was wasted on an unnecessary origin story.

What has been the most rewarding part of creating music and meeting people in the metal scene for you as a band?

Bruxa- I think I can speak for both of us when I say that the most rewarding part of all of this has been moments when members of bands we enjoy tell us that they also enjoy what we’re doing. For every hundred nay-sayers on forums there’s always someone from a band we look up that enjoys our music and that makes it worth it. I know name-dropping is unpopular, but finding out that Trevor Strnad (RIP Legend) and Max Lavelle from The Black Dahlia Murder liked our first release, and that Lord Dahtar from Stormkeep is an active fan, just surreal for us.

When you are working in a famous fantasy IP in a…well, musical tribute in black or power metal is less ‘fan fic’ and more homage, but…is it hard to balance personal expression with the limitations of painting within another’s world?

Bruxa- I think that when you choose to write from the perspective of an already established property you need to take a step back and say “, Hey am I doing this to pay homage to a series I like, or am I trying to use it to thinly veil how I feel about certain topics?” Which is why I try my hardest to have nuance with these things. As I mentioned before, the title track can be played straight for what it is, or you can see it as a general expression of escapism when life gets hard and you need a getaway. The same can be said about the 8th track, “The Fall of the Northern Realms.”

On the surface it’s about the struggle of peasants as the ruling kingdoms destroy their homes with savage warfare and the struggle to determine if the monsters that lurk the forests are any worse than the men leading the armies that turn their fields to ashes. That type of story works well in fantasy but sadly, if you turn on the news, it’s more and more relevant to the real-world struggles we face.

 

What was the breakthrough moment for you as young musicians with black metal where you thought (rightfully) “I can do this”?

 

Bruxa- As far as “breakthrough moments” really the only thing that comes to mind for me is the way our Fall of Cintra EP was received. We sold out of two cassette runs, a CD run, and a vinyl run almost instantly, as an independent band. Sure they were small quantities, a hundred tapes here, a hundred CDs over there, three hundred vinyl over here, but we saw the demand for our music was there and it was kind of a smack in the face, in a good way, that people were resonating with what we do, and we’re so thankful for that and we’re glad that we’ve been able to deliver metal that people want to hear.

Kaer Morhen is out this week. Buy the album here:
https://heksebladusbm.bandcamp.com/album/kaer-morhen

MORGAN Y. EVANS