Latvia’s Frailty might just be the best new band you’ve never heard of. Until now, that is. And, of course, if you’re into melancholic death/doom — think, early Paradise Lost, Katatonia, Septicflesh, Swallow the Sun, and Novembers Doom — then the gateway into Frailty’s expertly crafted, finely formed music will be that much easier. I mean, one spin of “Tumši Ūdeņi Drūmi Čukst Krēslā” (HERE), and it’s likely you’ll — oh, (depressed) metal faithful — hear and be awestruck by Frailty’s divine expressly heavy yet wickedly melodic death-doom semi-insanity just like I was one fateful night last year. I just kept spinning it, over and over.
Formed 2003 but got their legs in 2007 with the release of their first demo, Promo 2007, Frailty set out on a well-trodden path, but their home country of Latvia, despite being one of the jewels of the Baltic, has never really been known for its metallic output. Indeed, that Frailty sat undiscovered, like some continent adorned in mist, for so long by someone like me — yes, I look for stuff like Frailty daily — attests to Latvia’s inability to project. But that’s not important. Frailty are here at Decibel, with their fourth full-length, Tumši Ūdeņi (The Dark Waters), in tow. That’s the primary focus in my interview with guitarist/vocalist Edmunds Vizla, who, as you will learn, has persevered through the normal — social and financial — roadblocks of banddom to help Frailty in its ascent. The Latvian Grammy nominations haven’t brought on fame and fortune, but they have cemented Frailty’s faith in their despondent sound and morose vision.
Mondays suck, but Frailty doesn’t. Jam Tumši Ūdeņi‘s two singles — “Es Degu” (I Burn) and “Tā Aiziet Gaisma” (Thus, the Light Departs) — below while pretending to pay attention to John fucking Doe abysmally lead your department’s Zoom meeting. Or, click subscribe to Frailty’s YouTube page for later binging and subsequent playlisting. Either way, Vizla and sideman Jēkabs Vilkārsis’ guitar playing will inspire you throughout the day. You know what they say, Mortals Watch the Day…
I was unfamiliar with Frailty until recently. Introduce the band for us. You have quite a history.
Edmunds Vizla: Frailty is a Latvian doom/death metal band, which was formed back in 2003. We have released four albums, one EP and some demos. We have played shows in the Baltic States, Norway, Finland, Russia, and Belarus. We have been blessed to share the stage with some really great bands from all over the world. Frailty has also won several independent Latvian Metal Music awards (Best Latvian Metal Albums of 2009, 2011, and 2017) and twice has been nominated for Zelta Mikrofons (Golden Microphone — Latvian Grammy equivalent) award. We would like to think that musically we fit in the classical canons of doom/death metal, as we try to create melancholic, dark, and heavy music. Lyrically we try to explore humanities darkest emotions, also offering our interpretations of stories from history, mythology and literature.
A lot of countries have famous metal scenes. As a small country, the number of Latvian metal bands is proportional. Besides Frailty and, of course, Skyforger, what are some of the country’s better bands for Decibel readers to explore?
Edmunds Vizla: It is true that the Latvian metal scene is very small. Another thing is that none of the bands can be called truly professional, because it is impossible to make a decent income and provide for one’s family by playing metal in Latvia. Nevertheless, we do have very good musicians and some interesting bands. I would like to mention our friends Druun (Folk/Doom Metal), they are great. We have also very strong post rock/post-metal bands TESA and Soundarcade. You can check them out if you want to hear some unique and high quality music. Preternatural is another good example of Latvian heavy music, they play some great death/black metal.
OK, Frailty got its start in the mid-‘00s. Your debut, Antithesis…Melancholia On Earth…, came out in 2007. I assume band logistics were the same as most countries but curious if you had specific challenges (or successes)?
Edmunds Vizla: Our early years were quite a strange time for us as a band. We had zero experience with anything related with music or being in the band. Our playing was also not so good back then. I remember some other bands that were starting at the same time when we did, and some of them were really insane players. Yet we were more persistent and loved the music to a point of obsession, I guess. Most of those other bands have already disbanded and that’s sad, because they could really play. Nevertheless we spent a few years in the rehearsal room, practicing and creating material which later in 2008 became Lost Lifeless Lights, our first album. And since then it all started to roll forward. Our first foreign show that we did was in Moscow. That was very unusual and exciting. I remember us all being a little bit nervous about that, but everything went well. Since then we have been in Russia for several times. We also became quite popular in the Baltic States, as our playing got better and our shows started to attract more people. We played music that was very different from the stuff the rest of the younger Latvian bands were doing back then. Most of them tried to play fast death or black metal. We never looked in that direction, focusing more on the atmospheric aspects of music.
After a five-year wait, the band self-released Tumši Ūdeņi. What’s it like to finally have the album out, available for fans of the band to enjoy, and for new fans, like myself, to discover?
Edmunds Vizla: The wait was not so long, actually. Our previous album Ways of the Dead was released back in 2017, so that makes it three years. But yes, it was fantastic to work in the studio again. It is incomparable to anything else when you are involved in the artistic process of creation. The feedback so far for Tumši Ūdeņi has been great, and it has brought us some new fans both in our home country and in the metal community across the world. It is always an incredible feeling when new people let you know that they have discovered your music and they like it. For such a tiny band like we are, it means very much. That is one of the things that keep us going and we have no intention to stop anytime soon. We still have a lot of ideas to put into music.
Edmunds Vizla: Yes, we did some releases with P3LICAN, they helped us a lot during the years. However, Tumši Ūdeņi is done in collaboration with another Latvian label and promoter, Zobens un Lemess. Every summer they also organize a great international metal/folk festival in Latvia. For the first time in our career we also received support from a Latvian governmental institution –- the State Culture Capital Foundation of Latvia. They organized a competition for grants for musicians, and we were lucky to receive financial support from the state to record our album. It was very useful and we are thankful that our official institutions, which are responsible for supporting cultural activities, recognize musicians who play metal. Typically, that would be unusual, but we see how the attitudes are changing in more positive way.
Alright, musically, tell us about who was inspiring you on Tumši Ūdeņi? I hear bits of bands like Rapture, Slumber, Enshine, Fractal Gates, and, of course, old Septic Flesh. That’s just me though.
Edmunds Vizla: When we were making Tumši Ūdeņi, our goal was to focus on what we had inside our heads without anything new from outside. Yes, you cannot completely shut out your older influences, which have become a solid and unbreakable foundation and has shaped your general taste and approach, but it proved to be very productive to become more introverted while composing new ideas. At least we tried to do so. On the other hand, we can name quite a few metal and not-metal bands and artists that have been very influential for us: Pink Floyd, Anathema, My Dying Bride, Novembers Doom, Saturnus, Evoken, Black Sabbath, Candlemass, King Crimson, Dead Can Dance, Arcana, Raison d’Etre, Septicflesh, Rotting Christ, Mystic Circle, Emperor, Paradise Lost… and even ancient Gregorian chanting.
Some of the songs on Tumši Ūdeņi are absolutely brilliant. I love “Tumši Ūdeņi Drūmi Čukst Krēslā,” “Es Degu,” “Tūkstoš Balsis,” and, especially “Tā Aiziet Gaisma.” Describe the songwriting process you go through when writing. Is there a specific starting point? Emotions, colors, music or film.
Edmunds Vizla: Thank you for these kind words! We tried to draw inspiration for the album from the Latvian nature. Maybe, while listening to Tumši Ūdeņi, you can try to imagine a dark and gloomy nightfall during Latvian autumn. You are alone in your country house, contemplating some difficult memories from the past and just staring into the fast setting sun. That’s the feeling we wanted to create in this album. Every song on Tumši Ūdeņi has its own independent story and lyrics for some of them were written few years prior the music. The emotions we had in those lyrics also helped to write the music. For example, the song “Tūkstoš Balsis” (Thousand Voices) is dealing with the loss of the loved ones and the madness that comes after that. While we were searching for the right sounds for this song, we were also thinking about how we would react if something serious happened to the people we care about. You cannot make a good song without immersing in its intended message. The rest is just pure technicality after you get the right feeling, the music starts to flow almost automatically.
Is there a track you’d recommend a newcomer to listen to?
Edmunds Vizla: “Es Degu” (I Burn) and “Tā Aiziet Gaisma” (Thus, the Light Departs) would be very good examples of our music, as they illustrate our general approach and style. We also made promotional videos for these two songs and would be thankful if more people would check them out.
Tumši Ūdeņi is Latvian for “Deep Water” or “Deep Waters.” I gather this is metaphoric and not referring to the Gulf of Riga. Care to explain?
Edmunds Vizla: The correct translation would be “The Dark Waters.” The symbolism behind it is connected with dark premonitions and fears, the doom and feeling of abandonment by God. Like dark waters, the human life with all of its sorrows and struggles is flowing toward the oblivion. There is no possibility to escape this cruel current. Ultimately, we all have to face our own mortality and to dive into these dark waters. What happens after that, nobody knows.
Edmunds Vizla: The cover art was made by a very talented artist Chris Kiesling. He works under the name of Misanthropic-Art and has created numerous great artworks for many metal bands from all over the world. Our idea was to depict some elements from the songs we have on the album on its cover. The central figure is the Veļu Māte (The Mother of Dead Souls), a deity of death from Latvian mythology. The tears from her eyes become the dark waters, which like a river, carries away lifeless human bodies. The sunset in the background symbolizes the transience of life and the coming of the eternal night.
What are Frailty up to in 2021? Not sure how COVID-19 has impacted Latvia (or the Baltics in general), but I’m sure band-related activities have been curtailed or stopped.
Edmunds Vizla: 2020 was really challenging year for all of the world. We followed the news and saw that many musicians suffered a lot, because almost all shows were canceled or postponed. We also did not have any live shows because of the restrictions. However, as we do not play music for living, we stayed unaffected by this. Hopefully, the vaccination will, in time, provide a way back to normal life. We hope to do some live shows in 2021, if the situation improves. While waiting for those improvements, we are constantly working on new musical ideas and concepts for the next material. We already have some strong musical and also lyrical foundations for a few songs. The COVID-19 crisis is not going to break us or drive us into depression, because as paradoxical it may sound, heavy and melancholic music helps to keep the negative emotions far away.
** Frailty’s new album, Tumši Ūdeņi, is out now! Order direct from the band’s Bandcamp page (HERE). For fans of early Paradise Lost, Celestial Season, Septicflesh, and Mourning Beloveth. Ah, the joys of the emptiness…