From the Vastland is a black metal band founded in Iran and based in Trondheim, Norway. The band fuses old school black metal with Eastern influences to create an epic soundscape of isolation, freedom, and ancient Zoroastrian tales of light versus darkness. I had a brief chat with the mastermind behind the project, Sina Winter, about being a black metal musician in Iran, his move to Norway, and overcoming cultural boundaries through the power of music.
I want to start with your years in Iran. How and when did you get into metal?
Well, I grew up in a family where my parents were fans of rock music so I was familiar with this kind of music. But it was the time when a friend of mine gave me some tapes from Black Sabbath, Skid Row, Guns & Roses and some other bands. I was around 13-14 and really enjoying listening to metal music, and you know, day by day, I wanted to listen to more music and step by step to heavier bands.
I’m always amazed at how similar the stories of metal fans are, no matter where they are from. That said, how difficult was it to find rock and metal tapes in Iran back then?
Well, it was not easy. The thing is there is no record store or any rock bar or café where you can find rock or metal music. And especially back in that time, there was no Internet and you can imagine how it was hard. We had to wait for a long time to find a new tape from one of our favorite bands. Then usually the quality was not good and copying was another thing. So, not easy at all. And of course we had to do everything in private and not in public [I mean trading the tapes].
So in some ways, it was about as underground as it gets in the black metal scene. When did you decide you wanted to make music for a living, and how, if at all, did being in Iran at the time impact your decision?
Yeah, everything was real underground! Well, from many years ago I had this dream to become a metal musician, but since I was a student and couldn’t afford buying a guitar, I had to wait. For years, I was dreaming just to get an electric guitar in my hands. Finally it was the time when I got a temporary job and after 3 months I could afford to buy a cheap guitar. But that was not all—finding an amp, effects, and then someone to teach you was also another thing. So, I mean after all of those years, as soon as I could play guitar well enough, I also started making music. And then finally it was in 2003 when I started my first band and recorded the first demo. It was just the beginning. And you know, when you want to start making black metal music in a country like Iran, where everything regarding that is banned by the regime, you face a lot of challenges.
Yeah, my next question was going to be about that. What were some of the unique challenges you faced both in terms of personnel, logistics, resources, and also, in terms of political and social pressures?
Fortunately, because of my family I never had any challenges at home. I mean some of my other friends always had problems with their families. But all the other things were a challenge! From finding someone to teach you to play guitar to recording and releasing your album outside the country, taking all the risk of being a black metal musician, dealing with threatening messages. And I just want to add, it’s like I always had to hide my real self as a black metal musician. For example when I had a regular job…I mean everything was complicated.
Why is the Iranian regime so afraid of metal music in general?
Well, generally they are against music, because of religion, and that is exactly the opposite of what the people want. Also, they are generally against what comes from western culture, you know. But when it comes to metal music, no matter what sub-genre it is, they call it the devil’s music. With black metal music, they say it is blasphemous and call you a Satanist. And of course there are some people, mostly traditional people, who believe this music is the devil’s music and it is all about bad stuff.
You formed your first band in 2003, were you active in the Iranian scene all the way until you left? Also, what triggered your decision to move to Norway?
I started my first band in 2003 and was active with that band until 2008. Then I had to stay silent for a short while because of threats from the authorities. In 2010, I started From the Vastland when I was still in Iran. Then in 2012, the producer of the Blackhearts documentary film contacted me and we met to start filming. I came to Norway in 2013 to play at Inferno Metal Festival but I just had a one-week visa and had to go back home again. It was really risky but I didn’t want to lose that opportunity, you know, so I went back to Iran and, fortunately, in January 2014, I was able to move to Norway. I’ve been here since then. It was not an easy decision—I didn’t know if I would be allowed to stay here—but I couldn’t go back to Iran, especially after the film and all the concerts and media attention here.
That’s definitely a stressful situation to be in. Norway was a new chapter in your musical career, of course. Tell us a little bit about how From the Vastland was received in the Norwegian scene and how the band has evolved since you moved there.
Yeah, that’s right. From the time when I moved to Norway everything regarding my music and From the Vastland went into a new chapter. I was lucky and had the chance to work with known and professional musicians like Thor “Destructhor” Anders Myhren (ex-Myrkskog/Zyklon/Morbid Angel), Vegar “Vyl” Larsen (ex-Gorgoroth/Keep of Kalessin), and André “Tjalve” Kvebek (ex-1349/Den Saakaldte). So I was very welcomed in the scene and I couldn’t believe it. I have met a lot of other Norwegian black metal musicians and they have always supported me. I’ve recorded and released three albums since I moved to Norway. We also played a number of shows. I am really active in the scene and always working on my music, which is all I wanted to do for years: to work on my music freely with peace of mind, you know.
Your latest release, Chamrosh, blends old school black metal with distinctly Middle Eastern motifs that weave in and out of your compositions. Did you write the entire album with Tjalve, Vyl, and Destructhor, or are they live members only?
Yeah, that is actually what I am always trying to do. I am a fan of old school black metal but also, since I am from Iran, there are small touches of eastern music as well. When it comes to writing the music, I always write all the songs, lyrics, and make a demo CD to send to Tjalve and Vyl—I am now also working with Kevin “Spektre” Kvåle from Harm/Horizon Ablaze. They all record their parts but I always give them [creative] freedom and we talk about the possible changes before the final recording sessions in the studio. Destructhor only joins us for live concerts when he is available.
What has the reception to the album been like so far?
We actually got really good feedback for Chamrosh, not just from the fans but also from the reviewers, magazines and webzines like Metal Hammer, No Clean Singing, and Norwegian metal magazines, especially here in Norway so I am quite happy with the result.
What’s next for From the Vastland in both the short- and long-term?
Right now, I am working on the next album. The writing of the material is almost finished, so, soon I will start recording the lines in order to make the demo CD. I am also applying for festivals appearances. So far the Southern Discomfort Festival in Norway is confirmed but hopefully there will be more gigs in other countries as well. And for the long term, I always have a lot of plans for the future, working with other musicians, playing in big festivals, making music and so on but it also depends on the situation, you know. Hopefully if everything goes well then I can make all of them [future plans].
Looking forward to From the Vastland playing some shows in North America as well! And finally, I want to go back to our discussion of the Norwegian scene. There are a lot of potential reasons for why the country has such a successful black metal scene; the history, talent, and social freedoms, to name a few. As a member of the scene now, what do you think makes the Norwegian scene so vigorous versus elsewhere?
Yeah, me too. Hopefully someday I can play some shows in North America. Would be great! Well, from my point of view as a person who comes from a country where there are tons of problems regarding metal music, the most important thing is the freedom and the support from the government. It’s so important that not only does the government not stop you and limit your freedom, but it also supports you when you are an artist. Plus the people are also so open, that is also important. And they do respect other people’s beliefs.
Thanks for staying up to chat with us; I know it’s getting late over there. Any final thoughts?
Just wanted to say thanks to all the people, friends, and fans who always support me and give me motivation to continue my work. And to all the musicians out there, follow your dreams; nothing is impossible. Also, thank you so much for your attention, the time, and the good interview.