Hptm. Ditmar Kumarberg: “This album is about hope, because hope is the only feeling a soldier has on a battlefield. One hour before the battle, you just have one feeling: hope to survive.”
Helemaal vanuit het Oost-Europese Oekraïne bestookt 1914 ons met hun derde album over WO I, getiteld ‘Where Fear And Weapons Meet’. Hun eigenzinnige mix van extreme metal en de zware, trage heftigheid van doom metal bereikt een nieuw hoogtepunt op dat album. We praatten al eerder met een aantal flamboyante artiesten, maar muzikanten in uniform en een zanger die zich Hptm. Ditmar Kumarberg noemt, dat wekte toch onze nieuwsgierigheid om meer te vernemen over deze troep. En zo hingen we meer dan een uur aan de lijn met de frontman van dit illustere gezelschap.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 22 oktober 2021
You are in your thirties I guess and living in Ukraine. How did you actually get interested in the topic about World War I?
Mostly people in Europe even don’t know where Ukraine is situated and actually the part where we come from – it is called Galicia – was part of the Austro Hungarian Empire for a long time. And a lot of huge battle happened here. Some of them against Russia, like the Carpathian winter operation where over 2 millions of people died. My grandfather was a soldier in the Great War. When I grew up I heard the stories, I saw his medals. All the stuff that my grandfathers and fathers told me, their stories about war were fascinating me… – I cannot call it love, because if you are a normal human being, you cannot love war, but I love history, I love the stories about soldier’s fate. When I grew up, I tried to become war archaeologist, now I am one. I am digging in Carpathian Mountains and forests. We try to find some soldiers, neighbours, families. We talk and we try to speak about their fate and their history. All these years I have been doing archaeology, for me it is not just the music, it is personal. A mount of feelings and a mount of emotions overwhelm you when you dig that soldier and you are sitting near his grave and look at his bones. You see if it is a German or an Ottoman soldier or a Russian soldier… and you keep wondering: ‘guys, what the fuck are you doing here, a thousand kilometres from your home? For what are you dying here in Ukraine?’ I don’t understand. For me it is a huge part of my personal emotion.
By the way the music is also very good. It seems a kind of mix from black, death and doom metal…
Yes, we are mixing these styles. For me I grew up with punk, I come from the punk scene. For many years I played in a hardcore/punk band, so for me it is kind of a new style, but we are mixing it well. In my free time I am always travelling through Europe and I am visiting countries, Belgium of course: Passchendaele, Ypres, the Yser river, I am always trying to visit a lot of places. Verdun of course in France, Marne, I spent a few days in the trenches, I was just sleeping in the trenches, near Verdun. I didn’t travel as a typical tourist. I just took my backpack, I took my small tent and I was just sitting in the forest three days and thinking about: for what and why are they fighting for? We always try to visit these old, historical places and it always gives me a lot of inspiration. Actually, we are not typical metalheads, we just took some interest in the theme of WWI. For me it is a huge part of my life.
The album has a kind of chronological order, because it starts with ‘War In’ and that should be a famous Serbian song/melody from the time of WWI…
Even not WWI, it is from pre WWI. The original Serbian song was made about seven years before WWI. And logical, after that song, we think about the assassination in Sarajevo. We open our album with this event, with the killing of Franz Ferdinand WWI was started.
Have you been in Sarajevo?
No, I mostly travel to western part of Europe. We have actually not very good relationship with Serbian people, because they are a lot of pro Russian, a lot of pro Empire and pro Putin. As you know, we in Ukraine, we are seven years at war with Russia. That’s why we try to… let’s call it ‘ignore’ all support. I hate totalitarian regimes, all totalitarian shit, so I try to not support it with my money or with my emotions.
What can you tell of the battle of Messines, the theme from ‘Pillars Of Fire’?
The battle of Messines was one of the biggest battles which took place in Flanders, near the French border, where the British soldiers – actually not only British, Australian and New Zealand corpse as well, Canadian soldiers and all these British Empire soldiers – were digging huge bombs down in the bottom of the German trenches. Maybe you have heard about the biggest non-atomic explosion in the human history? This was it, this explosion was even heard and felt in London and Paris. In one second, over ten thousand Germans just disappeared. It was huge and these craters are still there. When you are in France, you can visit it. It is like the impact of a meteorite. Right now we are preparing a video clip for this song. It will be our vision on the story.
What are the ‘Harlem Hellfighters’?
It is a complicated story, because – even now – it is a controversial story, because of all those BLM things going on. Harlem Hellfighters is about American black heroes, actually the first black division of American soldiers. They sent a big amount of Afro Americans to France and just used them like canon meat. They treated them like slaves, not like soldiers. They sent them to the hottest places, without normal armour or weapons. If you will survive, awesome, if not, okay, you are black. We wrote a song about this hero of the black division, Private Johnson, he killed over ten Germans by himself without armour. He maybe had two or three grenades and his knife, that’s all. And he killed ten Germans.
You have two guests on the album. In the middle of the album we have this nice moment of tranquillity when there is this folky, introvert song ‘Coward’…
It is actually not folk. I wrote this song as a typical soldier song, like a song sung in the trenches by soldiers, sitting in decay. I wrote this song like a typical poetry from WWI. When I wrote this lyrics, I thought, no it is not about (black) metal, this ought to be a soldier song with a banjo or a harp, maybe some percussion, something you can use in the trenches. I called my friend Sasha Boole. He is also playing in Me And That Man, a side project from Nergal from Behemoth. I called him and I said: ‘man, I wrote a song, here are the lyrics, here is the melody, what do you think about it? I had you in mind to play and sing this song.’ He checked it and said: It is great, I’m in.
The other guest happens to be Nick Holmes from Paradise Lost in ‘…And A Cross Now Marks His Place’. One of the highlights on the album!
This song is not just a song, it is a real letter that a mother received when her son died. I found it in the archives of a British War Museum and I just read it like a letter. After that I was singing for more than an hour, again and repeating again and in my head I heard the melody. So it is not lyrics, it is a letter, but I heard it like a song and I prepared it like a song and took this ‘lyric/letter’ and sent it to Nick Holmes, because for me, when we wrote this song, it was 100% Paradise Lost’s sound. So that is why I heard Nick Holmes in the song and that is why I sent him a letter. He checked it, it was a British letter from a British soldier. He said: ‘man I am in.’ Nick is just a legend, I grew up with his music. I am a collector of vinyl’s and I have all albums of Paradise Lost. When this legend talked to me and said: I like the lyrics, I like the song and I am in (laughs) I had no words.
‘The Green Fields Of France’, is that about Verdun?
No, no. It is a famous old song, this original song – it is a folk song by Eric Boyle is written in the mid sixties. It is about a conversation when someone is standing near the grave of a fallen friend. This song is like a hymn of the great senselessness of the Great War. We took the original lyric and created our own vision with bagpipes, with industrial elements, it has a lot of war sounds like machine gun fire. We created a huge, long song around it, eleven minutes long. Bagpipes are played by a friend of mine. She helped us with the violin on the previous album and now with the bagpipes. There is also another friend who helped us with the noise and industrial sounds.
What is A.C.M.? It starts with the National hymn of Belgium…
This is a huge story about Belgian heroes. A Belgian Army Division, which came from Belgium to Russia, from Russia to Kiev and then from Kiev they moved to Galicia where we actually live. Near our city they fought against Ottoman Empire troops and German troops. They fought against the Germans here for three years and after that they just wanted to go back to Belgium, but they could not because the war was still going on and they made a world round trip. They travelled through whole Ukraine, through Caucasus, through Mongolia, through Siberia. After that they came by Transylvanian railway to Alaska. From Alaska they went to San Francisco, from there to New York. They crossed the entire ocean and they went back to France and from France to Belgium. It is a huge story, just 300 Belgian guys and they wrote a few books. I visited a couple of times their graveyards from those who died in Ukraine and I also read all those books. I am checking all materials I can have from these guys. For me it is a huge interesting story, 300 men from Belgium travelling all across the world.
The cover artwork speaks to the imagination, because that is a soldier who asks death to take him, but the death refuses that…
The main idea behind that is: the whole album is not about death. It is about hope and about life, because mostly all our protagonists in our songs are still alive, becoming heroes and then back home. They all went back home, still alive. This art talks about it. The soldier is wounded, he is all covered with blood, but death refuses to take him. He is standing near him and just not giving him a hand, not reaching out to him. The soldier deserves to live.
That is an interesting quote indeed: ‘This album is not about death, but about life’…
On our previous albums, like ‘The Blind Leading The Blind’ and ‘Eschatology Of War’, everybody died. So it is about war and about death, but this album is about hope, because hope is the only feeling a soldier has on a battlefield. One hour before the battle, you just have one feeling: hope. This album is about hope.
What can you tell about your outfit on stage?
Every musician has got his uniform. We have one in American uniform, we have one guy in British uniform, like the Scottish troops, we have one in a French uniform, one from Austro Hungarian army and when I am in uniform, I am like a German storm trooper. I am using the German uniform, the German steel helmets and with the grenades it seems like a storm trooper of death, but when I am not in uniform on stage, I am mostly using mud. I am covered with mud, but not just the mud for mud. No, I dig up some mud from every place we play. I took your local mud, I took your local water. I am firing the fire and I took your local ashes and we always bring with us, small piece of powder which I am digging by myself from Carpathian Mountains, normal armour from WWI. So with this local weapon powder, local ashes, local fire and local mud I am creating my cover up and I cover all my face, all my hands like: look at me, I am whole covered in mud and this means war, this means death. Do not try to use this mud ever.
Didn’t you get trouble or weird reactions on that German uniform?
We have had a lot of questions and comments like: you are in a German uniform, so you are Nazis. And I just explain clearly: I have just one position: fuck Nazis. I don’t think I must explain something more (laughs). Fuck NSBM, fuck Nazis and all totalitarian shit. For us it is just a straight question and we are straight. Fuck Nazis. I have a straight position and everyone can ask me and I think it is clear. We are not about war propaganda. I hate war. We are an anti-war band. I am trying to explain that war is not interesting, neither is the shitty propaganda and in the end you will die. Everyone who loves you will die. Do not even try. This is our main idea: we talk about history, I love history. We talk about soldier’s fate and our position is 100% against battle.
Let us occlude with your plans for the near future…
Ukraine has a lot of problems with vaccinations, just today I got my second vaccine. I am turning a little bit ill at the moment, I am having a small headache and I think I am having some temperature, but it is okay. That is why this year we will not play in Europe a lot, but of course there is an album with a huge presentation in Kiev, in our capitol a big event will happen. We will play in Hamburg and Hanover in December. So we have a few gigs in December in Europe, and after that, next year – if everything will be okay with covid-19 and all that shit – we will have a big European tour.