2020 was a hopeful year for Austrian melodic black metal band Harakiri for the Sky. The group – which, in its non-touring form, consists of two primary members, singer Michael V. Wahntraum (J.J.) and guitarist Matthias Sollak (M.S.) – was excited about the planned September 2020 release of its fifth record, Mære, the followup to its acclaimed 2018 offering, Arson.
Tour dates were scheduled across Europe to promote the record, and the band was looking forward to performing in territories that until now had eluded them, such as the US and Brazil. And then… Covid.
“We had to cancel everything,” says Sollak, who explains in a Skype call from his homeland that pandemic life in Austria is not much different than it is anywhere else, with multiple full lockdowns occurring throughout the year and heavy restrictions that keep its citizens isolated and socially distanced.
“Only essential businesses like pharmacies and grocery stores are open here,” says the 30-year-old musician. “Everything else, including record stores, are still closed.”
While Mære had been completed in time for its original September release, the band decided to move the street date of the album to January 29 (February 19 in the US) via AOP Records.
“We realized people probably weren’t in the right frame of mind for a new record and it would have been tough to promote as well, so we switched it to January,” Sollak says. “I guess we were a little naive in thinking the pandemic would be over by January – but I’m still excited about it, even if the circumstances aren’t perfect.”
Sollak and co have every reason to be excited about Mære, an album swirling in atmospheric black metal creativity, replete with blast beats and general extreme metal chaos, delicate, melancholy melodies, adventurous songs that crack the 10-minute barrier (Once Upon a Winter, I’m All About the Dusk) and vocals that recall the tortured, distant styles of such genre pioneers as Bathory’s Quorthon and Burzum’s Varg Vikernes.
“Bathory is a good comparison because Quorthon also went through the transition from raw black metal in the beginning to music that was more melodic and atmospheric and epic,” Sollak says.
“Burzum I have a personal issue with because the guy is a lunatic, but he definitely did some very intense albums in the beginning.”
Sollak used a variety of guitars on Mære, including an FGN Mythic with Seymour Duncan pickups, a Jericho Fusion, a Fender American Vintage ’62 Telecaster and, for bass duties, a Marcus Miller V7. Amps ranged from an EVH 5150III and a Fender Bassman to a Framus Dragon and a Marshall JCM 800.
“We went to a friend’s studio and messed around with a ton of old amps he had,” says the guitarist. “It was a really fun experience because I got to use a lot of amps that I had never heard before and didn’t even know existed.”
- Mære is out now via AOP.