“Playing pagan metal organically, consistently and authentically”. An interview with BUTTERFLY TEMPLE

by Gabriel Szünder

Folk and pagan metal are, by their nature, more open towards cultural differences than other forms of music. Still, many bands on the scene sound like each others clones. There are, of course, exceptions. Amongst them, a few Russian bands. They really do come from a different culture, from a different history. It well may be that nowadays ARKONA is the best known name of the Russian scene, but one of the most original and complex groups is called BUTTERFLY TEMPLE. So we addressed our questions to Michael Shmatko, founding member and guitarist of BUTTERFLYTEMPLE, bassist Nickolay Korshunov and singer Abrey. A special thanks to Abrey for helping us overcome the linguistic barriers.

Tell me please about the Russian music scene in the eighties and how it changed in the post-communist era.

Michael Shmatko: “First of all, hello! Great hail to all metalheads in Romania! Here is BUTTERFLYTEMPLE! Well, the eighties are long gone… That whole life is almost gone! At that time, our Russian musical scene was dominated by the musical direction of the so-called “Russian rock”. Rock groups like Aquarium, Mashina Vremeni, Kino, Alisa represented this musical flow. Heavy music was played by the bands Aria, Cherniy Kofe, Kruiz etc. Basically it was all an imitation of western idols. First of all, this movement was not so massive, because common people could not buy normal instruments and equipment which were very expensive, but the interest of the people was really tremendous. In the nineties things changed, the opportunities and wealth of Russian people grew very quickly, so the metal community in Russia began to develop very quickly.

Nickolay Korshunov: “Well, in order to evaluate the eighties scene in the USSR, it is necessary to understand one simple thing. The entire Soviet rock was illegal and unlawful. There were times when Russian Rock was overlooked, there were times when, on the contrary, it was persecuted, but before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, rock musicians have been an important form of opposition, in spite of different obstacles. In the larger cities there was a more liberal attitude towards the rockers. At the periphery, the persecution of rock artists was much more severe, in the form of police brutality, forced “treatment” in mental health clinics, termination of employment. People who composed and played rock music, were officially considered a “fifth column” of bourgeois ideology, a detachment of traitors within the USSR. The most severe forms of intolerance were directed against the first metal bands that appeared in the USSR in the early eighties. Because of their typical image, the subjects of their songs and their musical decisions, from the point of view of the Soviet ideology they looked like the center of sexual promiscuity, Satanism and sadism. Nevertheless, the dialectic of life is such that Soviet rock musicians must thank the Soviet propaganda for the wild popularity of rock music in the late 80’s – early 90’s. If the doddering Soviet leaders would have been wise enough not to fight rock, but to open the iron curtain, it’s unlikely that rock music in Russia could have become the banner of struggle against communism. Prohibiting Rock music formed a gigantic audience at the time of dissolution of the Union in the early 90’s, providing support for both the popular and the novice groups. But with the end of the Soviet Union the popularity of rock and metal in Russia came to an end. Rock music is no longer a forbidden fruit and a trendy phenomenon, so the ranks of its fans were gradually left by those who listened to rock because of its exclusion and fashionableness. The new Russian show business is focused on obtaining maximum profits with minimum investment, and to invest money in live and complicated music is now unprofitable. Major record labels associated with the family clans of Soviet pop stars, have invested and continue to invest in the promotion of artificial pop projects aimed at the widest possible audience, projects that exist maximum for one and a half or two years. Nowadays modern Russian rock and metal returned to the underground. The average attendance at a regular club concert for rock groups in Moscow and other large Russian cities is between 50 and 250 people. Most of the albums are released by the groups themselves. Promoters and record labels are not able to provide its residents any significant support.”

It says on your site that “Veles, the BUTTERFLYTEMPLE’s, firstborn was destined to become the very first album of Russian pagan metal that caused indeed a whole genre to appear.” Do you consider yourselves as the inventors of Russian pagan metal?

Michael Shmatko : “When we started our career some groups in Russia and the Ukraine were already playing some kind music that is now called “pagan metal”. Nokturnal Mortum were already publicly known, but their early albums were not pagan metal. The trend “pagan metal” was just formed at the time when Veles has been released. We do not consider ourselves to be the “inventors of the grand pagan metal style in Russia”, but the fact that we did a lot for that is obvious. The fact that this album was an influence to many groups in Russia and abroad is absolutely obvious. Many groups started by saying “We want to play like BUTTERFLY TEMPLE” and this was the greatest thing that we ever did!”

Nickolay Korshunov : “I think that BUTTERFLYTEMPLE was actually the first band on the Russian pagan metal scene. Themes like national patriotism, ancient Slavonic beliefs, memories of the exploits of our ancestors, appeared, of course, in the work of some groups formed before us. The value of BUTTERFLY TEMPLE for the Russian metal scene is not that the group started playing pagan metal for the first time, but that it started playing pagan metal organically, consistently and authentically. BUTTERFLY TEMPLE for me is the chance to play music from the heart of Russia. BUTTERFLY TEMPLE is a spirited and genuinely secret ethnic group, I know it for sure!”

How would you describe the Russian pagan metal scene?

Michael Shmatko: “There is a huge number of groups nowadays that can be called “pagan metal band”. Almost every city, every street has its own pagan group [laughs]. The technical level of the performers really suffers though [laughs]. But they think that they really kick asses with such kind of stuff! Many of them feel like they are part of some kind of protest movement which naturally attracts the young people. On the other hand, we met a lot of unprofessional, but very sincere live musicians. Otherwise, many professional musicians lose touch with the people, the wishes of the people, the desires of their souls. It is very hard to achieve a sufficient level of professionalism and not lose the human element, to keep it alive. Many of the beginners in this pagan direction are involved in some kind of Russian folk trend – heavy metal with balalaika hugging a matrioshka! [laughs]. We always say that this is not our way of musical progress.  Generally speaking, very few groups in Russia play professional and sincere music that can be called “pagan metal”. I think BUTTERFLY TEMPLE is one of them though and that makes me very happy.”

It’s not just a style for you, it’s a way of preserving your history. Am I right?

Nickolay Korshunov : “Yes, of course. Our history is certainly very important to us, and inspires us and our comrades on the stage. History is not just the story of what happened in the past. It is the story of how and where we are going and that leads us to some consequences. If we look deeper into the history of our country, we can understand what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong. Our ancestors did not know how a TV or a plane looks like, but they were not fools. Everyone who came to Russia with a sword, sooner or later went back, or stayed in our land forever. Our ancestors were great warriors, strong both physically and spiritually. And they received their spiritual strength from their inner world and from their beliefs about different sides of life. I think that most of us ought to think about why our native faith has survived ten centuries of Christianity, fostered by fire and sword.”

The international pagan metal scene is certainly a good chance for bands like BUTTERFLYTEMPLE to achieve broader recognition. Are you at all interested in these kind of things?

Nickolay Korshunov : “Yes, of course, it is very interesting. We would like to bring our music to all who may be interested. We sing in our native language but I think it is not such big obstacle if we want to relate to our friends outside of Russia, or if they want to support us.”

By the way, do you have any knowledge about Romanian rock-metal music?

Nickolay Korshunov :  “Unfortunately, almost nothing.”

Who is Alexey Morozov? That band history he has written on your site is really smart and witty.

Nickolay Korshunov : “Alexey Morozov  is a former administrator of BUTTERFLY TEMPLE. Currently, our paths are divergent, for objective reasons. Alex has done a lot for the development and promotion of BUTTERFLY TEMPLE, and the history of the group on our site is only a small part of his contribution.”

Let’s talk a bit about your last release, Earth. Black metal influences are less obvious on your last albums. Was it a decision on your part to leave these influences behind or was it a so-called natural evolution?

Nickolay Korshunov : “I think this it was mostly an evolution. Black metal is a form of music rather poor in means of expression. To play it now in the form it has appeared twenty years ago means going back in time. The classical black metal groups already played it all from the beginning to the end. BUTTERFLYTEMPLE always tried not to close itself inside one genre or to get stuck with a label like “we play black metal, death metal, doom metal” or something like that. One can not ask a person to eat baby food and read fairy tales his whole life. People are growing and discovering new opportunities. Similarly, we don’t need another metal album like the 10,000 issued earlier. I think that our common views on creativity can now be expressed as follows: music is not dependent on the stylistic coloring, there is music and there is everything else. Therefore, what we wanted while working on the album Earth was to play music and make it deeply meaningful. This is natural for us and it’s the only right choice.”

Where are you planning to tour with Earth?

Abrey: “We have no special touring plans with Earth, but it is very important for us to play our concerts in those places where our fans want us to play and are ready to make the gigs. We are ready to play in every corner of our Earth, time will show where our next gig will take place.”

What message would you like to send to your Romanian fans?

Nickolay Korshunov : “To our friends in Romania and elsewhere, to everybody who will be reading our interview, I would say: stay tuned, because you are a part of our history, the history of BUTTERFLYTEMPLE. It is important for all of us that you find in our music something that will inspire and support you. I hope that someday we will be able to play a concert for you on Romanian land!”

OK and what would you say to Romanian metalheads who have no idea about BUTTERFLYTEMPLE?

Nickolay Korshunov : “If you still do not know about BUTTERFLYTEMPLE, well, listen, learn, make up your own opinion about us. If you like it, write us a couple of lines on our site. Good bye! Stay metal!”