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Woe Unto Me delivered a surprise with their sophomore electric/acoustic double album at the end of last year. Comrade Aleks wondered how that had been developed, and band founder Artyom Serdyuk indulged his curiosity...

Interview with Woe Unto Me.
"Woe Unto Me (Belarus) celebrate their 10th anniversary in 2018: a good date actually... They started as a Funeral Doom band, but even their first full-length, 'A Step Into The Waters Of Forgetfulness', wasn't a regular Funeral album. It was a rich, gorgeous, colossal work with mountain-sized riffs, classic piano-style keyboards and different types of vocals. Woe Unto Me took their time, and double album 'Among The Lightened Skies The Voidness Flashed' only appeared at the end of 2017, a work as long as its title. The band didn't just evoke the delicate and profound atmosphere of their debut, but surpassed themselves by developing the style in a quiet progressive direction, adding a whole CD of complex semi-acoustic material. Woe Unto Me mastermind Artyom Serdyuk (vocals, guitars, drums, keyboards, samples) explains how it all happened."

With Comrade Aleks today, Woe Unto Me's Artyom Serdyuk.

Hi Artem! How are you? Whatís going on in the Woe Unto Me camp?

Hey mate! Iím fine. Woe Unto Me is also doing great! We have just finished our European tour in support of new album ďAmong The Lightened Skies The Voidness FlashedĒ. It was our biggest tour so far, though it was divided into two parts. The first part took place in October-November. It started with the great festival Doom Over Kiev in Ukraine where we shared the stage with such bands as SWALLOW THE SUN, SATURNUS, CLOUDS, EYE OF SOLITUDE and many more, and then it covered countries like Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, Russia and Belarus. We were accompanied by our great friends PSILOCYBE LARVAE from Russia, NEBULAE COME SWEET from Belarus and FRAILTY from Latvia. The second part of the tour was in January, weíve visited Poland again, then Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. Half of the second leg we were touring with SELF-HATRED from Czech Republic, and among these shows there were two awesome festivals in Bucharest with EYE OF SOLITUDE and EVADNE and in Sofia with the same line up plus OPHIS. Now we have a break, in April we are going to play a show with PANTHEIST in Vilnius, Lithuania. And we are thinking about doing one more leg of the European tour in autumn heading to the Western Europe, but there's many a slip between the cup and the lip, so letís wait and see. Anyway we are trying our best to be as active as possible and promote our new album properly.

It seems that youíre pretty busy guys - how did you manage to organize such a long tour? Do you have an agency that helps you with logistics and other stuff?

Iím working in the booking agency. Itís called Creative Music and itís based in Poland. Iíve been organizing tours around the world for almost 8 years and before that I was a concert promoter in my own city for about 5 years or something like that. So I have a pretty good experience, a lot of contacts, partners and friends who can help me in organizing the tour. So the first part of Woe Unto Me tour I organized practically myself, the second one with the help of one agency from Bulgaria. They invited us for the festivals that Iíve mentioned above and together weíve built a tour around these two festivals.

Woe Unto Me: Pavel Shmyga (Drums), Oleg Vorontsov (Vocals), Artyom Serdyuk (Guitars, Vocals), Dzmitry Shchylinski (Guitars), Ivan Skrundevskiy (Bass), Olga Apisheva (Keyboards).

What are your rules for surviving on tour?

Share responsibilities, respect each other and each other's work on tour, respect other bands, strictly observe the schedule, be punctual, help each other. You know when you are on tour you have to work as a team. These are the best circumstances to make sure if you are a real band, a real family or just a bunch of musicians that can record something together and go home after that minding only your own business. Life on the road is not an easy one; itís full of difficulties, deprivations, sometimes without sleep, without rest, without comfort, without adequate food. Different things can happen but you must always support each other. And if you are not ready for this it will be really hard for you. Of course thereís also a lot of fun. Haha. All the time on the contrasts. This is real rock íní roll.

How often do you play in Belarus? Do you feel Woe Unto Me are welcomed guests in local venues?

We donít play too often in Belarus, usually once or twice in a year. Doom metal concerts are rare in our country and there are not too many bands in this genre. We still want our performance to be a zest among other shows and we donít want people to be fed up with Woe Unto Me appearing on the stages of different venues every month.

Woe Unto Me - Angels To Die (Official):

Your latest album, 'Among The Lightened Skies The Voidness Flashed', was released in autumn 2017, on two CDs: why did you decide to compile this material into one album? Why didn't you split it in two?

From the very beginning this album was being created with the idea of a double CD release. All the drafts, as if by themselves, were divided into two completely different parts, but at the same time, musically and conceptually they were one holistic canvas for us. Each of these CDs can live its own life, these are two completely different guises of the band, but in many details they are inseparable from each other. The second CD continues the first, but in a different mood, it even starts with the same guitar riff that ends the first part of the album. Moreover, the second disc, being more acoustic, ends with a slightly overdriven guitar, as if smoothly flowing into the heavier sound that was characteristic for the first part, thus they seem to be musically connected with each other. The label was also persuading us to split the album in two, they were warning us that itís a quite risky step in the commercial sense and it makes the whole album really long and maybe too hard for the listener to handle, but we really didnít want to break the atmosphere and musical concept that accompanied us while creating this album. It was a hard decision for us, but weíve made our choice. For us it was one whole piece from the start, but this in no way means that these two discs should be listened to only together one after another. Feel free to listen to them how you want and to perceive them separately if you wish.

Artyom, what were your requirements for the sound as a guitarist and keyboard player? Did you want to try something new after 'A Step Into The Waters Of Forgetfulness'?

Well, first of all, I wouldnít say that Iím a keyboard player. I compose some keyboard parts, sometimes record something and working a lot on keyboard sounds and samples together with Dzmitry and Olga, but Iím not an expert on this instrument for sure. Hahah. Concerning the sound, yes, definitely I wanted to change something in comparison to our first album. The sound of ďA Step Into The Waters Of ForgetfulnessĒ was quite soft in my opinion, especially as it refers to guitars. You can feel that they are a bit behind the keyboards and keyboards are making the whole atmosphere. It was cool in this particular material, but in ďAmong The Lightened Skies The Voidness FlashedĒ the riffs and compositions in general demanded guitars to be the leading weapon, there are far more things going on in the guitars here then it was in our debut and we wanted to make an accent on it. Thatís why we have chosen a professional studio to record most of the instruments. It was Monroe Sound Studio which is situated in Poland. I recorded there several times with my other bands and I was sure that this is the right place to achieve the sound that we wanted. As the result the guitars sound really powerful and fat on this record. Maybe the keyboards have suffered a little from this but I hope not too much.

There are six (or seven?) members in the band now: I wonder how you recorded the album? Did you do it part by part, instrument after instrument? Or did you gather altogether in the studio?

There are six members in the band now: Dzmitry Shchylinski - guitars, Oleg Vorontsov Ė clean vocals, Ivan Skrundevskiy Ė bass, Pavel Shmyga Ė drums, Olga Apisheva Ė keyboards, and me (Artyom Serdyuk) Ė guitars, growl vocals and some of the clean vocals on acoustic CD. Weíve recorded the album in several phases. Weíve prepared the main instruments in the pre-production phase to make the process in the studio easier and only two persons went there at first, me and Dzmitry. Weíve recorded main guitars, then came back home and made the pre-production for the second CD. After that we went to the studio together with Ivan and Oleg and recorded solos, acoustic guitars, bass and all the vocals. Meanwhile Pavel was finalizing the drums in his home studio, making the last corrections. And the last phase took place also at home when all the tracks were recorded and we just needed to make some editing and cleaning and to work a bit more on the sounds of the additional instruments and keyboards.

Live, 2017.

Such an approach should be expensive, I just hope that you didnít have to sell your instruments to cover all the payments for the studio! Whatís your attitude to the financial part of being in the band when people download CDs, when there arenít so many people at gigs as for Death or Black Metal bands, for example? I guess thatís a question about your own satisfaction from the process, about the balance between that and spending of time, energy and money on the band.

You canít do anything about it so thereís no sense in blaming anyone or complaining about the current situation. Unfortunately we donít live in the golden age of metal like it was in the '80s. We live in such a period of time when the musicians need to survive somehow and still be able to bring their music to the listeners. There are a lot more possibilities now but there are also a lot more difficulties. And I wouldnít say that death and black metal gigs are much more successful than doom metal shows. These problems are acute for the whole metal genre. Of course as musicians we spend now much more money on our passion than we can earn on tours or thanks to sales of merch and albums. And it all depends on each individual, whether he can keep moving forward trying to grow as a band or give up. Iíve been playing music with different bands for almost 18 years now so this is in my blood and I canít let it go and I will keep moving forward no matter what. Sometimes itís hard to feel the same satisfaction from the process, and I think we all have periods of depression because of that, cause we feel that itís not fair. But still we are doing what we love to do and thatís definitely something not everyone gets in life.

By the way, how do you manage to play live with such a big line-up?

The only real problem of playing live in such line-up can be felt only when you perform on small stages and thereís not enough space to feel yourself free enough and to move how you want. But this is not such a significant problem, we can cope with that. Other thing is that it can be harder for the sound engineer when he has to deal with so many instruments: two guitars, two vocals, bass, drums, keyboards, playback. But these are the nuances of this genre.

Well, I started listening to the album and it's far from anything I'd expected. There is an atypical keyboard section in the very first song 'Triptych', there are pretty progressive guitar parts and clean vocal harmonies. Then sax there and in 'I Come To Naught'... How did you come to such wide scale changes? The debut album, 'A Step Into The Waters Of Forgetfulness', wasnít just a simple Funeral Doom album, but this is absolutely another story.

We didnít do it on purpose. It's just a flow of our creative thoughts. We wanted to do something more diverse this time but it didnít look like we are sitting in our rehearsal room and saying: ďok, we must put sax somewhere, letís do it hereĒ. We were just experimenting in a natural way. We didnít expect ourselves that the album will turn out so progressive in general, if I can say so.

Woe Unto Me - Tryptych: Shiver, Shelter, Shatter (Official):

A few famous guest musicians helped you on the first part of the album, how did you collaborate with them?

Not only on the first part. We have 3 guests on the first CD: Daniel Neagoe - a vocalist of CLOUDS & EYE OF SOLITUDE and drummer in SHAPE OF DESPAIR and PANTHEIST, Jůn AldarŠ from HAMFER– and BARREN EARTH, and Patryk Zwoliński Ė PROGHMA-C, ex-BLINDEAD, ex-ANTIGAMA, ex-NEOLITHIC. And we have 2 guests in the acoustic CD: Daniel Neagoe again (this time he did clean vocals in one of the tracks) and Thomas A.G. Jensen from SATURNUS. We wanted to do something together with Daniel for quite a long time so this was a good chance. And after playing several shows with SATURNUS we were also in a very good friendly relationship with them, so we decided to ask Thomas to join us in our experiments. Then when we decided that we need some shouting harsh vocals in one of the tracks, Patrykís voice immediately came to our minds and as I knew him for some time I asked if he wants to do that and he agreed. And the last but not least Ė Jůn. We didnít know him personally at that time but really wanted to invite him, so we just asked Daniel if he could help us to contact Jůn, and he did. We didnít have any problems. All these great musicians responded with great desire and did a great job. We are extremely satisfied with such collaborations and Iím sure that we will continue to invite some special guests in our future recordings.

Does the fact that they took part on your album confirm that Woe Unto Me have world-wide recognition?

I donít think it has anything to do with the world-wide recognition. The doom metal world is quite small and thatís why itís very widespread among doom metal musicians to help each other and collaborate with each other. At least such is my opinion. World-wide recognition mostly depends on the listeners and fans around the globe and not on having good friends in the genre with whom you are recording your albums.

What do you thinkÖ how much Funeral Doom is left in Woe Unto Me?

I think we still have some elements of funeral doom in our music. But we definitely donít want to make any limitations for our creativity. We play doom in its wider scale and we will use elements of different branches and sub-genres. The next album may be more funeral or less, itís difficult to predict at the moment, but I think that in the music of Woe Unto Me you will always find different types of doom: atmospheric, melodic, funeral, death-doom, traditional, progressive, avant-garde, etc.

Live, 2017.

It's maybe a rough comparison but how strong are the Opeth influences on the second part of the album? It reminds me of the vibe 'Damnation' brings, Iíd also mention Antimatter but your songs arenít as desperate.

Hahah, yes, well, I can agree in a certain way. In some of the songs definitely. But you know speaking about myself I can say that OPETH in general and ďDamnationĒ in particularÖ wellÖ actually most of their albums had a very strong influence on me as a musician. This is a great band and Mikael is an awesome musician, composer and singer. I really like ANTIMATTER also but you are right, they have a bit different atmosphere. ďDamnationĒ is more melancholic and progressive and we certainly have some melancholic and a bit prog tunes on the second part of the album.

Do you perform the songs from both CDs in one set during the gigs? Do you plan to do a few acoustic gigs separately? Hamferū, for example, did that a few times if Iím not mistaken.

During these tours in support of the new album we were more concentrated on the first part, the heavier one. Usually we were performing 4 songs from this CD and 2 songs from the debut album. And some of the new tracks, for example Drawn By Mourning and I Come To Naught we had to play even in shortened versions to be able to present as much material as we can during our sets, cause the original songs are very long, you know. But once or twice we had a chance to change the usual set list a little bit and performed one song from the second CD Ė Fall-Dyed Lament. Frankly speaking we really have some ideas to make a couple of exclusive acoustic shows in the future. Weíll see.

Woe Unto Me - A Year-Long Waiting (Official):

Artyom, are both parts of the album connected through their lyrics? Or are your texts rather a collection of images and feelings?

In ďAmong The Lightened Skies The Voidness FlashedĒ the situation is a bit more complicated. These lyrics are just like you said a collection of images and feelings, but emotionally itís one indivisible canvas and this canvas has its own story, some of the lyrics are connected with each other in a secret manner. This concept wonít be easy for the listener to find and understand but thatís how we wanted to make it. This album deals with the events of our personal lives, sometimes very tragic events and itís very intimate for us. We didnít want to make it so obvious so we decided to leave only the traces of the story connecting them with emotions and images. Some of these images are so different that they even distract a person from the attempts to understand whatís behind all these things but that was the aim.

At what moment did you understand that the work is done, the album is finished?

Itís hard to say. Probably it happened when we understood that weíve said everything that we wanted to say with this album. We used the main ideas and main musical themes that we have chosen from all the drafts we had, we felt the general harmony and all that we needed to do next is to work on details, we didnít feel the need to compose new songs anymore in addition to what we already had.

Are you already planning the next release, or did a double album demand too much energy?

Everythingís happened pretty fast you know. We had a deal with Solitude Productions, so as soon as weíve finished the album, mixed and mastered it, they immediately have released it. We knew the release date while we were still working on the album. And after it was released we went on tour promoting it. So we didnít even have time to think about making some new material, weíve just finished this one. Now, when the tour is over and we have a break, probably the new ideas will start coming to our minds. So it doesnít depend on the energy spent on making a double album; itís just that we didnít have time yet.

I guess that we have clarified everything concerning Woe Unto Me, but you also play in a few bands in other genres. Letís sum up Ė what is your current occupation besides Woe Unto Me? What are the current states of these bands?

Yes, I play in 5 bands in general on a permanent basis and most of them are quite active; and also sometimes I perform as a session musician or a guest musician.

A technical progressive death metal band DEATHBRINGER recently has recorded a second full-length album after several years of silence. This band is also originally from Belarus, but now mostly consists of musicians from Poland. We had a long break due to different circumstances. But now we are back to the front and itís awesome. The new album is very technical, fast and brutal. Weíve finished mixing about a month ago, so this year we will surely present some new stuff to the listeners.

DISLOYAL is an old band from Poland, which performs also death metal, more old-school on the first records and more technical nowadays. Weíve released 4th album called ďGodlessĒ in 2015 via Ghastly Music / Amputated Vein Records (Japan) and were looking for additional musicians for quite a while to start performing live again. Looking forward to some more active concert plans of this band this year. And couple of days ago weíve made a new video clip which will be presented in the nearest time.

The next one is THY DISEASE Ė industrial groove metal from Poland. After the release of the sixth album in 2014 this band really tours a lot in Europe. But unfortunately I canít be present on all the gigs and tours, so mostly they play in the shortened line-up and I work in studio with them and very seldom appear live. By the way the new album is also recorded and is in the process of mixing right now.

And one more project is called AMENTIA, also from Belarus. Itís a progressive, sometimes even avant-garde brutal death metal. Itís a studio project, at least at the present moment. We do not perform live at all. In summer 2017 the third full-length album called ďScourgeĒ was released via Satanath Records (Russia) / Amputated Vein Records (Japan), and slowly weíve started working on the material for its successor.

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Interviewed on 2018-03-06 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
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