Interview: Shuulak

Shuulak from Breda, Netherlands, is easily one of the most interesting metal bands that I listened to in the last months. They are obviously inspired by many different musical sources. That’s why this Dutch quintet sounds rather unique – check out their latest EP Rubedo, for instance. As you know, we’re always looking for such artists. Fortunately, Shuulak vocalist Bastiën Baron wanted to introduce his special band to you. Enjoy reading!

Hi Bastiën, how are you doing?

Bastiën Baron: Hey man, I’m fine thanks for asking. Hope you guys are okay with everything’s that’s going on right now. 

We can’t complain right now. Did this damned pandemic destroy a lot of your plans with Shuulak?

Yeah, last year we were looking forward to a great year of shows that all got cancelled. Most of them got pushed back a year, but as this situation is ongoing I fear the worst for this year as well. On the other hand, we were still able to find a way to make and record music, so that’s pretty amazing. 

What was the last record you listened to before answering my questions?

That’s a cool question. I was actually listening to Carpenter Brut‘s Roller Mobster. They’re not metal at all, but I really like their stuff and was lucky enough to see them live right before the pandemic hit. Oh man, I hope nobody tells Joey DeMaio! (laughs)

I’ll be silent as the grave! Are you a fervent vinyl collector?

I used to be until my house burned down. I love vinyl: the albums artwork up close, listening to a song with the lyrics and liner notes in your hand, the little ritual in and of itself of putting on a record. I had many amazing records I loved dearly, trying my best to store them right. Coloured vinyl, picture discs, all lost to the fire. So now it’s mostly digital for me which will never be quite the same but I honestly can’t bring myself to hunt down everything I lost again.

Terrible, dramatic story, I feel really sorry for you… I suppose there are still many readers who don’t know you yet. Please tell us a bit about the history of Shuulak

Angelo and I have known each other for ages and at some point started making music together. When we felt we might actually be on to something, we slowly started looking to form a live band. This is where we recruited Eve. With her on board the three of us combined started making new and different music.
Nameless as of yet, we came across a book on ancient Babylonia.  In it was a lot of in-depth information about their magical and religious beliefs. The most interesting of which was a demon named «Shuulak». It was hard to placate by rituals, prayers or offerings and came for people when they let their guard down. It was the perfect name. In 2017 Shuulak released its first EP Nigredo.

Could you point out some bands that inspired you? 

As a band I’d say we’re generally heavily inspired by eighties heavy metal. Growing up we listened to a lot of Maiden and Priest and this has no doubt shaped our ideas of what makes a metal song «good». Personally, I really like vocalists such as Wayne Hussey (The Mission) and Jape Perätalo (To/Die/For) who really pour their heart out. In other respects, I’m equally inspired by Bolt Thrower‘s stalwart attitude and The Cramps balls out performances.  

Do you have a favourite song on Rubedo?

With time it might change, but for now I’d say «Ancient Sins». I think we succeeded in capturing that spooky vibe we were aiming for.

How was the feedback on Rubedo so far?

It’s been a total surprise to be honest. When we’d finished recording, we weren’t at all sure people were going to like it. We put our heart and soul into these songs but that doesn’t necessarily make them good. As a musician you tend to feel your last record is your best. Because you’re so involved in making the songs however, you lack perspective to properly judge them. The reactions have been pretty overwhelming so far. According to fans, friends and reviews, it’s the best thing we’ve done so far so I guess we can call it a success. (laughs)

I think so, too! Do you often read reviews about your music?

We like reading reviews. As I said earlier, they offer some welcome perspective. It’s great to hear what someone who’s quite familiar with metal but has no prior knowledge or a vested interest in what we do thinks of it. That being said, at the end it doesn’t really change anything. We make the best music we are able to and will keep doing so regardless of others’ opinion, be it good or bad. 

On our blog, we mainly focus on metal with epic elements. How would you define «epicness» regarding music?

I guess when I was younger I regarded this differently than I do now. For me it’s about the scale of songs: something vast and intangible that’s been lost or can never quite be achieved. Growing up, my friends and I listened to a lot of bands such as Cirith Ungol and Candlemass. I still like these bands but tend to look for a different kind of epicness now: a more subtle grandeur found in nature and the occult. An arduous journey to the heart of mystery now speaks to me more than visions of triumph over a long hated foe. 

An arduous journey to the heart of mystery now speaks to me more than visions of triumph over a long hated foe. 

Bastiën about «epicness»

Do you generally like epic metal? If so: Do you have a favourite band?

I do. I tend to listen to a lot of music with timeless themes and larger than life subject matter. I gravitate towards music that’s generally positive but which has a certain melancholy in it. I like the more doomy side of the genre but also consider Pagan Altar and Wilderun‘s Veil of Imagination to have epic qualities. One of my all time favourites is Devil Doll which would be impossible for me to describe. Check out their album The Girl who was Death and you’ll understand what I mean.

Check it out…

Are there any other young Dutch metal band that you would like to recommend our readers?

Celesterre is awesome. I was blown away when I first heard their music. Wouter, the driving force behind their music, is very talented and really has something to say. Lovers of epic music should have a listen to this hidden gem. Long ago, when there still existed something now only spoken of in old men‘s tales called «live shows», we played together with Hvalross. Everything about these guys is great. Gerben, their singer, really delivers live. Another band to check out!

What do you generally think of the Dutch metal scene these days?

When it comes to venues, shows and general atmosphere it’s great. I worry this pandemic has swung a wreckingball through a lot of the more vulnerable parts of the music architecture however. There’s a lot of great venues and rehearsal spaces that are run by dedicated volunteers which are at the root of a healthy future metal scene. They are at risk of collapsing however. I worry that when we come out of this, there’s going to be only a few places left, with even less room to invest and take chances. When talking bands it isn’t all that exciting to be honest. There’s a lot of formulaic copying of older foreign bands which people don’t mind and actually even seem to applaud. This is due to nostalgia I guess. I hope one of the good things to come out of this whole situation we’re in now, is that it shakes things up, gets people to try new stuff. It would make me happy to hear new bands with a sound truly their own.

It would make me happy to hear new bands with a sound truly their own.

Bastiën about the Dutch metal scene these days.

Which albums released in 2020 did you appreciate the most?

Though it might have been a dramatic year for live music, some amazing records came out. In no particular order I got a kick out of these.

  • MagnumThe Serpent Rings (can they even make bad albums?!) [No!, Blaze Breeg]
  • Oranssi PazuzuMestarin Kynsi (what… is… happening?!)
  • HakenVirus (the one virus I can get behind)
  • BenedictionScriptures (death metal punk perfect for that quiet night in)
  • Spirit Adrift Enlightened in Eternity (just great)
  • DraconianUnder a Godless Veil (even more relaxing than Benediction)

Well, good and varied taste! Do you have a favourite festival? Where would you like to play in the future?

I’d say Wacken Open Air. After being a visitor in the past, doing a show in front of those legions of die-hard metalheads would be amazing. 

Last question: What do you generally think of social media platforms?

I used to rage against them, but have since come to accept them as something that’s part of modern life. Much like shitty movie remakes, we just can’t seem to live without it anymore. (laughs)

Bastiën, dank je wel, many thanks for your time. It was a pleasure. Stay safe.

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