If you like your music to take you somewhere where you can forget you are human, defying just about all musical norms in the process – there have been a handful of places you could have gone over the years, but for me nothing really hits the mark quite like Russell Menzies’ ( aka Sin-nanna ) DIY project STRIBORG. Based in very much rural Tasmania, he has knocked out an impressive array of releases over the last twenty odd years, starting with Scandinavian style black metal like Vondur ( stripped however of all the outward hatred and irony ) moving to a ton of foresty atmospheric BM, a few solid years of DSBM ( with a couple of releases where he almost played guitars like guitars ), and now his own genre blackwave – a style to which I cannot do any justice with a mere link – basically, a continuation of the STRIBORG approach using synthesised sound almost exclusively, sometimes with real drums, sometimes not, and dabbling in a bit of coldwave, synthwave, and witchhouse along the way, much to the bewilderment of the world at large. Why, there are even the odd trap hi-hat rolls! Well, any of you who remember hanging around Cash Converters in the 90s blowing your rent money on drum machines and keyboards will have no problem flitting casually between organic and synthesised music, no – all that snobbery came later, and especially perhaps in the second and third wave black metal scenes? Anyway, in this interview Russell discusses the transition to the blackwave style, and oldmansmettle.com tries to make sense of five, yes FIVE blackwave full length releases in the years 2017 – 2019, and to find out where STRIBORG is taking us for the second decade of this millennium.
Hi Russell, I hope you are well. Perhaps you can say who you are in a few sentences?
Greetings, I am Russell (aka Sin-nanna) of Striborg.
You have described STRIBORG as having three phases since the mid 90s; black metal, depressive suicidal black metal and now blackwave. Although I mainly want to talk about your new work, for the benefit of new readers we should perhaps see where you have come from to understand where you are now. Is that ok?
Have you found that you’ve got fans from outside the BM genre with this new direction?
To a certain extent, yes. It’s noticeable on Instagram as I’ve only been using it for about 1-2 years (after the directional change).
Although, presumably I probably scare a lot of non-metal listeners off with my use of black metal vocals. It is probably hard for some to digest, which is understandable.
The electronic scene is very competitive – have you found this? Have you hooked up with others in the genre or learned about genres of which you were unaware?
I know only too well how competitive the electronic scene is. I realised that I simply couldn’t compete if I were to only perform say, darkwave or synth pop. It’s a much bigger scene with people who are better looking than I am, younger or have a female fronting the group. They also have much better equipment and an extensive understanding of how to use it. I have been familiar with a lot of sub genres for years but I found out about witch house after I recorded Instrumental Trans-Communication. I figured if I were to fuse my 25 years of solo black metal work with a variety of electronic genres, then at least it would be something more original and personal. I don’t feel I am competing with anyone but myself, trying to find new sounds and ways of executing them. I continue to upgrade my equipment and learn more of their capabilities.
Is texture as important as the notes being played? Does this new path give you the option of being more sonically extreme, do you think?
Often, yes, texture plays a significant role in what I do now. I often opt for a thick buzzing/droning wall of sound over layers of melody or arpeggios. It depends on the track I’m working on. Sometimes I’ll combine all of these attributes. I’m not trying to be extreme at all in what I’m creating, it’s quite subtle most of the time.
How many physical releases are you doing for these last blackwave era albums? Any plans for represses?
So far Instrumental Trans-Communication is the only BW album to have an all format release. Blackwave is available on CD and soon on cassette. Leave the World Behind, An Existential Burden and In Deep Contemplation will also be released on cassette. Unfortunately no plans so far for CD releases or vinyl. Labels aren’t exactly throwing themselves at me.
The older stuff was inspired by nature – what about the current music?
Inspiration comes more from urban surroundings and science fiction.
Were you always familiar with using synths, envelopes and filters etc or is this new to you? Or do you explore all the possibilities in an instrument and choose what you like? Do you have an idea in your head before beginning composing?
I have owned an original ARP Odyssey II for nearly 20 years. Unfortunately it’s been out of action for 10 years now. I replaced it with a new Korg/ARP Odyssey a couple of years ago which is a combination of all three classic Odysseys but the look of mark III.
I’m still learning about how these types of synthesizers work. I’m always exploring the possibilities of what can be achieved with them. I also have a Korg MS-20 mini which creates otherworldly/futuristic sounds which I just love. I usually have an idea in my head first before my hands even touch a synthesizer. A texture, melody or even the finished song with all the layers in my head.
If not immediately, as I’m working on it.
Obsessive musical imagery or Clairaudience.
I was sceptical that you’d invented a new genre, but had a hunt around trying to find something that sounded like blackwave, and had to admit I couldn’t really. It could be described as extreme darkwave with extreme vocals, but with the underpinning structures of Striborg making it unlike anything else – does that sound about right?
Absolutely, I don’t feel the need to add much more to that statement.
You could look at BW either as a progression of darkwave or simply a hybrid of black metal and darkwave. My influences are fairly eclectic but I felt ‘blackwave’ was the perfect way to define what I’m pursuing now.
You are being sought out for peformance art these days. How does it feel being in that world? Do you have an art background? Are you a musician or an artist?
I guess I’m both, I see my music as being art.
There have been a few collaborative performances with members of The Australian Art Orchestra, Marco Fusinato and fairly recently with Stephen O’Malley and Marco (as Mirage II). Everything has ceased now with nothing planned for future live performance. I’ve enjoyed the collaborations immensely and was ready to perform solo this month in Melbourne but unfortunately that was cancelled. So now, I don’t have a live set prepared for anything.
Fortuitously though, I created the In Deep Contemplation album instead which I feel is my most accomplished work in this new direction. It would be interesting to see a parallel time line, is the creation of IDC more significant than if I were to perform live in Melbourne? That may have opened doors to future performances. Who knows, for now, creating IDC over that is definitely worth it.
I’m not a visual artist per se, although I know exactly what aesthetic I’m after, hence I photographed the covers for the last five albums and created 2 music videos for my YouTube channel. I’ll endeavour to create more in the future.
You are a good fast technical drummer, especially Isle De Morts period – is it something you keep up these days?
Not so much these days, back then my duties were mostly a drummer in bands. Kathaaria was at that point an insignificant solo project compared to Azimuth, having said that I was probably competing with them at that stage.
Azimuth split up shortly after so I only had Kathaaria left to continue with.
The guitars in the early days used to often sound like white noise, they are that distorted ( unless you have a very good ear ) do you think that ghostly fizz will ever reappear? Is there any synth noise that comes close?
I actually don’t like guitars very much, never have. Well, not to play myself. I’ve used many synth sounds that capture that cold, ghostly fizzy sound. To be honest, guitar is just too one dimensional. Guitar was featured on Introverted Transparency.
The first time I heard Black Metal like Under A Funeral Moon I was both intrigued and troubled by it. I’d not long lived in a house that was haunted and it freaked me out for quite a few years. What was it do you think that drew you to this music?
The discovery of hard rock/metal, first… AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Kiss and Metallica. Then… Venom and Bathory etc… Also the troubled times I had growing up as an early teenager.
Once I discovered Bathory, that was it. I didn’t see it as only music but something so much more, dark and timeless and able to open portals of the mind. I found a connection in nature with the music too. It transcends further than just music. Under a Funeral Moon is still one of the greatest black metal albums of all time. I’ve probably listened to it like 666 times in my lifetime. Sounds like the perfect circumstance for you to discover black metal, in a haunted house! What could be more suitable?
I think I always understood your music as being created with whatever was at hand, and damn what anyone else thought.
Yes, I’ve been poor my whole life so I’ve always made use of the resources I have at hand.
In the early days, cheap or borrowed equipment. It shows, but the atmosphere and feeling is there, that’s the only thing that truly counts.
Some people would have been racked with self doubt about things not being how the world expects them, but you just forged ahead…
I’m a pretty nervous person with anxiety issues and often high amounts of neurosis at times. When it comes to making music, I simply don’t care if it does not sound right. Even today, I have clean singing and dare to publish lyrics that are really personal or include subject matter that is probably frowned upon. I have 100% artistic expression with no boundaries, unlike what black metal had to offer.
Some people just cannot be on their own. Do you still crave solitude?
I know that only too well, some people rely on other people’s company in order to distract themselves from their own inner fears and insecurities. I have a wife, two children and work partially during the year. Yes, sometimes I do crave solitude, although I still have enough head space and time to create music, listen to music and watch horror movies.
Are you or have you ever been into RPGs, computer games, anything that involves being immersed in another world? Basically, are you a nerd?
No, I’m not… what a strange question!
I’m a muso and horror aficionado.
I collect music, mostly vinyl, excessively, a wide range of genres and I’ve seen so many music documentaries in my time. In my own way I sort of study the history of music from the 60’s onwards, its evolution, how it has branched out into different genres and all the reactive musical movements etc.
My true escapism or ‘another world’ is when I immerse myself in creating music or listening to what I’ve made. I have also collected a lot of horror dvds and blu-rays over the years.
Not so much for escapism but purely for entertainment. I simply don’t have time to also play video games, it’s way too time consuming. Occasionally I do with the family though. VR games are awesome! I must admit, I do like Slender Man, super creepy!
How many bands release three albums in a year? What is your workflow – do you always finish every song you start? Or is there an ‘unreleased boxset’ due?
Some artists are extremely prolific and to be honest are in danger of all their albums released that year sounding exactly the same.
I usually follow through with everything I create, I may come back to it and forget what I’ve done so it changes, so be it.
There is nothing unreleased with exception of maybe a few tracks or lost material over the years.
The sound of lofi recording is something creative people are used to being exposed to. Do you need to be a musician to ‘get’ Striborg?
I think it helps to decipher all the instruments if you are a musician, especially a one-man band who is use to laying all the tracks down separately themselves. Well, that’s what I’ve noticed, I can see the big picture and all the instruments separately and what they are doing more clearly. You don’t need to be a musician to understand Striborg, you will either take to it or not.
Q) Did you read that short story by James McLachlan? I think he captured the vision of a Striborg listen as a process of detachment quite well, with the main character floating around like a black metal ghost.
Yes, James is a friend of mine and the protagonist behind Diable Amoreux. DA is one of the most amazing projects no one has ever heard! A Black Metal Ghost Story sits well in the classic ghost story genre ala Susan Hill and M.R. James etc.
Were you a dope smoker when composing stuff? Can you detach and astrally project in your sleep?
I gave up smoking dope after Misanthropic Isolation was recorded, 20 years free of that stuff now. I like to think I can astral travel with the power of my mind, like a mind journey and detachment from reality. Whether I am during sleep or not is beyond my control. If I do I’m not aware.
Although for a long time Striborg was a guitar band you have frequently composed your tracks with keyboards – what did you use to begin with? Can you provide a timeline of equipment?
When I changed direction in 2017 I already owned a Roland JD-XI. My Mac crashed so I had to pay to recover it and buy a new hard drive. Buying new equipment was simply out of my budget then. The JD-XI has many presets, classic synthesizer and drum machine sounds.
There was enough to incorporate into creating Instrumental Trans-Communication. Early 2018 I also acquired an Arturia DrumBrute and borrowed my sons Korg Minilogue and Arturia MicroBrute. Most of Blackwave was recorded using the JD-XI with the addition of this new equipment as well as my Casio keyboard and many acoustic sounds. I then purchased an ARP Odyssey and MS-20 mini which was used on Leave the World Behind. For In Deep Contemplation I bought a TR-08 drum machine to capture that 80’s 808 electro sound I love very much. All this updated equipment I feel has defined the progression and direction I’m heading in.
In the second era of Striborg, Southwest Passage was your most accessible and successful recording, do you think?
Perhaps my most accessible as it is more concise and is devoid of the ambient interludes and intros (with exception of the last track).
I think you peaked though with This Suffocating Existence – the playing is more exposed and you used more melodic, playful riffs, which were nonetheless sinister in effect. I was very impressed – especially with the shape played a semitone apart on Suicidal Ghost. Nice natural drum sound too. Were you happy with it? I love it.
I think on the whole it is a very under appreciated album. A huge improvement over Southwest Passage in terms of production, composition, atmosphere and variation.
It was nearly lost forever while working on it.
I took my sweet bloody time to complete it too.
Fatherhood – treading on Lego, unblocking toilets, standing around in the school playground making idle chit-chat with people with whom you have nothing in common and vice versa. Anything else to add to that list? How has it been, and what have you learned from it?
None of this I find to be a problem, the real issues start in their teenage years. I don’t want to share this with you. It’s too emotionally draining, upsetting and extremely complicated to discuss.
You come across as quite serious, and are obviously dedicated to your music. Has anyone close to you ever accused you of being a bit obssessive?
Yes, I won’t say who though. OCD runs in the family. I haven’t been diagnosed myself but often wonder if I may have inherited something myself? Bipolar and borderline personality disorder also runs in the family.
How is the mid life crisis? Couldn’t you have just got a sports car instead?
I can’t afford one! Ha ha, plus I don’t even have a license. Changing my direction in style was mid life crisis’s answer. Again there’s more to it than that.
How much has Sin-nanna become part of your day to day identity? Or do you enjoy being the grey man going about his business under the radar, with the secret infernal audio world?
Not very much, most of the time I forget I’m even a musician, unless I’m composing music or doing an interview like this.
Social media – has it been useful for you, or have you come to the conclusion that it is filled with unhappy people trying to prove to the world the opposite?
I use social media out of necessity to promote any future activities, otherwise I’ll fall into complete obscurity.
How are you finding your Facebook page? Your fans are very protective of you – that must be a good feeling, a bit like being a cult leader perhaps?
I don’t consider myself as anything like that. I’m truly grateful for those who back me up when I’m being pathetic about someone dissing what I’m doing now. I’m trying harder these days to not let it get to me.
Now the world is so open and there is no mystery anymore, have you ever thought of live streaming some of your work? You could have a video with a camera mounted above your set up so we can see how you make the songs.
I’ve thought about it. I have featured some short rehearsals on Instagram and Facebook.
How is digital downloads on Bandcamp going for the blackwave stuff? Is it less or more than the older stuff?
I’ve chosen all blackwave releases to be ‘name your price’ for download. I just simply want it to be heard. In this day and age it’s the most important thing an artist can hope for.
Instrumental Trans-Communication LP, your first album to try the new styles, is actually quite accessible darkwave, almost pop in places. I’ve always enjoyed your harsher stuff, but I actually think there is some long term mileage in the tuneful compositions you are trying out. Was there a plan at this point?
Absolutely, to fuse my years of creating black metal with contemporary darkwave music and everything else in between (synth pop, industrial, electro & dark ambient etc).
Your vocal sound on Blackwave is horrible (!) but is somewhat balanced out by the female vocals. Is Phaedra going to feature more in your new work ( assuming you aren’t having some time off after all these releases ) There’s almost a tradition of North European EBM husband / wife acts.
I’ve noticed that actually, the whole husband / wife duo in EBM / Darkwave. Phaedra did vocals on 3 tracks from Blackwave. I definitely intend on featuring her again on my first full length of 2020. She was meant to sing a track on In Deep Contemplation.
The opening track Leave the World Behind from the album of the same name is an anthem. I found track two less listenable and more progressive, and the album the least consistent of the five, and it needs more listens. Do you think this album is like a diary of your thought processes / experiments for the development of the Blackwave genre?
With LTWB, my approach to creating it was pretty stressful and obsessive while committing to real work during the day.
Sometimes I would work on it every night between 10pm and 2am in the morning, then get up at 6am to go to work, then do it all over again. During work time I could reflect on what I did the night before and many ideas would come to me to use for the next night.
I had the title track going around in my head for about a year but didn’t compose / record it until track 6 on the album. When I completed the album I switched side B for side A, this perhaps disrupts the original flow of the album. Ah, yes the second track, that is a strange one indeed. The problem with LTWB is that I had too many ideas and was uncertain what direction I wanted to head, I decided to use as many ideas as possible. I think my final decision of the track order works as you get the blackest tracks last. Having said that tracks 3 and 4 sound like closing tracks to the album as they were the last two to be recorded. I guess the album is a bit all over the place but serves as a 2 month diary of many featured ideas.
Serotonin Depletion is a surprising track on An Existential Burden. I think the real drums work well. Is that a home set up? Why did you include them?
As I felt very productive during 2019, by the time I was working on AEB I was still waiting to purchase the TR-08. Therefore I decided to use acoustic drums again. It suits well the doomy aspect of the album but isn’t necessarily the direction I want to lead.
Your last album of 2019 In Deep Contemplation is one of your more coherent releases, with a consistent sound throughout. I think this is probably the best so far in this genre. The Fear of Haunting You Again, A Nightime Perplexity are really good tracks. Are you going to do more of this kind of stuff?
Absolutely, the first full length of 2020 will be continuing in this direction.
The Drumbrute has some amazingly harsh hi-hats. Almost as harsh as the Casios keyboards used on your early work! Did you ever use programmable drum machines before? ( From memory, the early Rolands were always running out of memory…)
I used the DrumBrute on one track of Blackwave and all of Leave the World Behind.
Son of the Northstar had a programmed thrash beat done on my Casio keyboard as well as early versions of Misanthropic Isolation.
Do you not think that programming drums is a pain in the arse? Have you not got an electronic drumkit? You could trigger stuff in a DAW and then tweak it how you like.
I’m still learning about the memory banks of the TR-08, I’m having a short break from it now though, it’s renowned for being a complicated rhythm composer.
The beauty of programmed drums is I can practice synths along with actual beats instead of imagining them in my head.
I don’t own an electronic drum kit, I wish I did. It’s way out of my budget. For the next release, an Opium Grave / Striborg – digital split I’m going to use acoustic drums and process the hell out of them, lots of flanger / phaser / chorus etc so they sound synthetic and alien like.
You flip the same rhythm between a reverse highhat and a conga on The Introspection of Being. Can you do that with the Drumbrute in real time, or is it a copy/paste programmable procedure?
This is the only track I decided to do that on the TR-08 not DrumBrute. Especially as I only programmed one beat for that track.
With the DrumBrute you can play live along with programmed beats which is cool.
On the whole I prefer the 808 sound by a mile, plus it’s just so iconic. In Deep Contemplation is so far the definitive album in my new direction.
For musicians, there is a saying that ‘playing live is like having sex, but recording is a long, slow labour delivering the baby’. How is it for you?
Well…. as I don’t have a live set, right here and right now it would take months to work on one. Once it’s there though I could just keep adding to it. However there is no demand to play live so why bother wasting months coming up with a set? Most people don’t realise the amount of work that goes into making an album. Even if I do it in only 2-3 months, that’s hours and hours every day working on it. It’s extremely mentally draining. It takes so much out of you, not to mention the vulnerability of expressing your lyrics.
Do you have any inspirational quotes?
I’m not feeling very inspirational at the moment.
If you could go back in time what would you say to the young Russell Menzies? Would you trade places? What is your message for the youth, if any?
Carpe diem, seize the day, life is too short.
Follow your dreams and do whatever it takes to achieve them. Wow, suddenly I’m feeling all inspirational again haha.
If I knew what I knew now I would most definitely trade places, wouldn’t anyone with the wisdom and knowledge of the future?
How do you want to be remembered?
As an artist who pioneered blackwave music, not a poor mans Xasthur or a classier version of Ildjarn which I’m most likely viewed as on a whole.
I’m sure you have more than a few strings to your bow. If your music was outlawed worldwide tonorrow, could you reinvent yourself as, say, a blues guitarist if need be? Any other talents?
Maybe if blackwave became a trend (which is highly unlikely) I would change direction again to no genre, just Striborg. Perhaps I’m doing that now anyway? How about black reggae and western? Haha, I mention this jokingly as I don’t like reggae or country and western. It’s just not my thing.
Do you have any feelings about the way the world is going? What is the biggest concern in Tasmania right now?
One of my biggest concerns in Tasmania besides old growth logging is the ozone layer damage over the years which is finally repairing itself, although not in my lifetime. The ultraviolet exposure during summer here is really extreme. In addition the fire dangers we face each summer, last summer was one of the worst since the fires of 67.
Russell, thanks for the interview. I hope readers will check out your Facebook page for updates and have a good listen to your releases on Bandcamp. One last question – what does 2020 hold for STRIBORG fans?
2020 will see the cassette and vinyl version of Mysterious Semblance as well as cassette versions of my last four albums. A couple of split releases will be out, a collaborative release and one or two new albums. Unfortunately there are no plans for any live performances.