Metal Mofos’ Isaac Sauers chatted with Washington DC’s Poltergeist founder Saarthal about their history and new self titled release.
Metal Mofos: Tell me a bit about Poltergeist. How did you get started?
Saarthal: It happened in my first year of high school. I started getting into heavy metal bands Like Children of Bodom and Windir, more symphonic stuff. It was an easy way to get into more extreme stuff, and they made me want to make my own music. I had some software I could use and experiment with. Poltergeist was sort of a play on Ghost. They play kind of an older style metal and I was also into old school death metal at the time. That’s what I wanted to write. This was all a solo project. I sent some demo tracks to some friends who liked them and joined the band. Everyone eventually left though, and it’s now a solo project again. The main concept is making old school heavy metal and be anti-metalcore and beat down or whatever else is popular now.
MM: Yeah, it seems like as popular as metalcore is it seems like the old school scene is starting to come back. It’s been around for over a decade now so maybe it’s Run it’s course.
Saarthal: Yeah definitely.
MM: How did you come up with your stage name Saarthal?
Saarthal: It comes from an RPG I play. It’s the name of a Nordic tomb. I thought it was a decent stage name to use. Plus a Nordic tomb is like true cult, you know? I wanted a stage name to hide my identity because of some dangerous ideas Poltergeist has in our albums. The stage name is to just have ambiguity between the artist and fans.
MM: Have you played shows recently?
Saarthal: We played our last show in October 2016. Other band members come in and out so I haven’t had anyone full time so gigging hasn’t been often. Gigging also has caused some controversy with the Poltergeist name because I’m openly anti “core” music, and a lot of bands in the D.C. Area are core bands. I always write “No Core” on my forearms so people see that when I’m playing guitar. I remember people being immediately angry when seeing that. Playing live was fun while it lasted. I’m not opposed to playing anymore. I’m just focused on writing new songs.
MM: Have you played outside the D.C. Area?
Saarthal: I’ve thought about going overseas because I know some people in Germany who would let me stay at their place. It’s tough to find good metal shows in the D.C. area plus I don’t really have a backing band now either. I like playing nice intimate places. I’ve never liked the idea of the big arena rock bands. I like the small intimate venues. For example I saw 1349 play live a couple years ago in a small club and it was so intimate. I want to recreate the vibe I felt there with my own band.
MM: Yeah, I think club shows are more fun to go to than big outdoor amphitheater and arena shows. You pay $50 for a ticket and your 200 yards away from the stage. Whereas in a club you pay the same price or less and your within 30 feet of the stage.
Saarthal: There’s much better connection too between the artist and the fans.
MM: Tell me a little about the album you just dropped on Bandcamp. There’s some serious guitar riffs here.
Saarthal: Thank you. I wanted Poltergeist to be very riff heavy from the beginning. It’s kind of a “fuck you” to bands in my local area who are the core or djent stuff that’s just kind of chugging rhythms the whole time. I didn’t want to be full on progressive metal either where somebody plays way too many notes with some mechanical drum machine playing along. I wanted to be more old school and get a riff pounded into your head. A friend of mine played drums on the album and we recorded half the album in his basement and the other half in my bedroom. It’s a very DIY sound. We didn’t go to a fancy studio and use drum machines or anything like that. We have the necro sound vibe. Like Darkthrone or someone. Really lo-fi. Plus there was no money for a studio. It was really hard to record actually. We used a tiny mixer. We recorded the drums via metronome through an app on the drummers phone. It was a long process to get it done and we made a lot of mistakes along the way, but it was really cool to do it all ourselves and not have to pay hundreds of dollars to do it in a studio. It’s not lo fi enough to where it sounds unintelligible. You can hear the guitars, vocals, and drums. Writing it took a few years. I began the song writing process in 2012, but the final song, “The Last Tsar” was written around the time we recorded. The songs range from various influences of mine. You can hear Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest mixed with old school black and death metal. I wanted there to be a black metal feel with the production and the way some riffs are played. I wanted a classic metal feel as well so it’s not just listening to Blast beats for 30 minutes.
MM: Yeah you have a really cool sound. The music is old school like you said and your vocals are more of a black metal style. The recent rising certainly sounds as good, if not better, than the early black metal albums from Burzum and Darkthrone.
Saarthal: Yeah the first Burzum album and second Darkthrone album, A Blaze in the Northern Sky, were big influences in getting the sound. That necro sound where you record with the worst stuff. We like that raw sound.
MM: You mentioned the last song on the album “The Last Tsar” can you tell me about the lyrics for that song?
Saarthal: The song is in two parts. The way I wrote the title was based in two parts like some nineteenth century literature which has titles and subtitles. The first part of the song is called “The Khlyst” which is about Rasputin. The mystic healer from pre World War 1 Russia. The Romanov family, Tsar Nicholas II, had a son named Alexey who had hemophilia that wasn’t able to be cured efficiently at the time, and Rasputin was their last resort. Khlyst is a term for a group of people who believe that in order to be forgiven by God you have to sin first. There’s a lot of rumors regarding Rasputin that he was a part of this sect of Christianity that believed you should sin in order to be forgiven. This part of the songs have to deal with the rumors spread about Rasputin.
The second part of the song deals with the execution of the Romanov family. The Tsar didn’t listen to Rasputin who told him not to go to war when World War I broke out. It’s an atmospheric kind of thing. This was when the monarchy was overthrown and the communists took over. It’s a historical song almost. I don’t have anything against Rasputin. I think he’s a fascinating character. I wrote this song to be terrifying. The Khlyst was written in one night when I was reading him. I woke up in the middle of the night and started writing. It was like I was under his spell. I wrote some pretty unsettling stuff and wanted to turn it into a song.
MM: Nice. I like a little bit of history. Do you think Anastasia made it out of there?
Saarthal: I don’t know. I haven’t come to a conclusion yet myself. I have to do some more research on that. Some sources say she did and some sources say she didn’t.
MM: What’s next for Poltergeist? Your music is available digitally on Bandcamp. Can we get it anywhere else?
Saarthal: It’s also available on SoundCloud. Our biggest audience is on Bandcamp. We are going to have a cassette tape available for purchase too once they get here. There’s a problem with the shipment right now. They are coming though. Should be this week.
Check out Poltergeist on their Bandcamp page where you can purchase the album and cassette tape HERE
Like Poltergeist on Facebook HERE