Recently, I had the great opportunity to interview Noor, the lead vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist, and co-founding member of LA-based, black metal band, NorthWind Wolves. After reviewing NWW’s latest album, ‘Dark… Cold… Grim…’ and being impressed by their music, I was honored to be able to speak directly to the man himself. He graciously opened up about everything including his own personal musical journey and influences, the origins of the band, and even helped clear up some misconceptions and rumors floating around the internet.
Noor’s story is definitely an enthralling one, and one that really speaks to the drive of a musician’s passion to pursue his art. With a deep look into the mind of a true black metaller, and without any further hesitation, please enjoy this riveting interview with Noor of NorthWind Wolves:
METAL NEXUS: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Starting things off, please give a general introduction about your background and the band’s background – How and when did you get started in music, who are some of your influences, how did the band form, etc.?
NOOR: Thanks again for the opportunity to be part of the Metal Nexus, Steve. My name’s Noor and I’m the guitar player and singer for NorthWind Wolves. I’m in my late twenties and I’ve been playing guitar since I was fourteen years old in the Californian metal scene as a guitar player and guitar player/singer. I got my start with a professional level band when I was nineteen – in Imagika on Crash Records at the time – and got my first taste of the touring life very early on. Imagika was a Bay Area death metal band which actually began its lifetime in the prime of the death/thrash metal Bay Area scene in the eighties and nineties.
While the experience was excellent, the form of music really wasn’t what I was looking for – as my musical tastes began to evolve with age and eventually I joined a lot of black metal bands sequentially – some of which were Hail the Night, Sinstorm, a few others – and eventually I had the resources to just start something completely new which we call NorthWind Wolves, currently on Black Lion Records.
Oddly enough I began music because it seemed like all of my friends had already started playing guitar, and at fourteen years of age, I suppose it always seems like the right thing to do is to emulate your peers. Growing up in California in the early 2000’s, most of my friends at the time were influenced by a wide range of music in a time when most of the new music you heard was dictated by radio and television officials. I remember a lot of my friends learning Papa Roach, Blink 182, Korn, Green Day, System of a Down, and Slipknot songs. Personally, I was more attracted to the heavier side of music straight from the start. I remember the first day I brought a guitar home thinking it sounded like a thunderstorm while I banged on the E-string with no comprehension of how this instrument works!
Eventually after learning about a dozen songs from the radio bands I listed, I began making friends with more of the metal crowd in high school and was introduced to the classic rock and power metal scenes including Iron Maiden, Rhapsody of Fire, Helloween, Hammerfall, Synergy, Yngwie Malmsteen, Skid Row, White Snake, Ozzy Osbourne, and a lot of other artists which would fall under this category. In a way, I’m glad I began my serious guitar playing within this genre because it’s a very melodic genre which has quite a lot of demands on a guitar player, as you might have noticed! In fact, there was a large period of my life when I was a “clean vocals” elitist and actually was so close-minded that I wouldn’t listen to any non-operatic vocals at all!
It might seem like quite a stretch for you to conceive how a “power metal” guitar player wound up becoming a black metal guitarist and vocalist, but it really began at Guitar Center, Sacramento, oddly enough. It was quite a hub for musicians who were in the range of plus or minus two or three years of my own age at the time – Brett, the bassist from Minenwerfer, which is a World War I-inspired black metal band; Astaroth, who is now my best friend and guitar player; and a couple other extremely talented musicians would all network inside that Guitar Center, believe it or not!
I learned a lot of what I know about the business side of music from Steve Rice in Imagika, but when it comes to guitar playing, I got the most out of playing with Astaroth, the guitar player in NorthWind Wolves. I’d say that I’m a pretty good guitar player nowadays and can play everything that I’d want to play on album at a pro level, but Astaroth is on another level entirely. I’d say he’s a tier one guitar player among some of the greatest players you can mention from the history of music. He’s always been deadly on the guitar – so fast – but more importantly, incredibly clean and precise ever since we were teenagers! Astaroth has always been interested in very melodic players – mainly from Europe, but also from elsewhere – and we connected through my experiences in power metal. We had quite a few musical favorites in common including Kiko Loureiro, Alexi Laiho from his work in Sinergy, Symphony X, and bands like that. Over time I was Influenced by his musical tastes which stemmed from a darker genre than my own personal history, eventually drawing me into the dark clutches of black metal.
We started playing shows in California with various lineup changes until we found the right fit for drums with Brett Batdorf. You may know him from his work with The Faceless, on the ‘Akeldama’ album, or his work with Animosity and Grimefield. Anyway, we had known of his legendary reputation, being fans of The Faceless ourselves, and after playing quite a few shows together I think we all just knew it would be the best fit to have Brett join our band instead.
Finally, the band formed through almost a decade of trials and tribulations that are listed in a little more detail at NorthWindWolves.com; but Astaroth and I have always been there to help each other in different bands; and overall the core unit, Astaroth, Brett, and myself, feel like we’re in the best position we’ve ever been with NorthWind Wolves.
METAL NEXUS: Being from Los Angeles and part of that culture – the great weather, the beaches, the glamour – what was your inspiration for what is (for lack of a better term), the very “Nordic” sounding, cold and bleak tone of music on this record? I read that the album was actually mixed and mastered in Norway. Can anything be attributed to this having anything to do with that European sound?
NOOR: Well, in each band you always have members who are, to a certain degree, more or less into the thematic concepts in a band. In certain bands – even one’s like Dissection, where you would assume every band member adheres to their lyrical philosophies – it’s really not the case, so I can’t speak for every band member. But having grown up best friends with Astaroth, I think I have a certain insight into his opinions as well. While to the outsider, California seems like a tropical paradise as portrayed on media (though our latitude would suggest otherwise entirely), it’s just like any other place you could possibly live. I see some of the darkest aspects of human life on a daily basis here in Los Angeles. For one, the homeless situation is the worst it’s ever been in my lifetime; and the worst it’s been in Lennis’ lifetime (our bassist), who is a little older than Astaroth and I. It’s extremely dangerous to go out anywhere alone – not because you can’t defend yourself, but some crazy homeless guy might scratch you with his septic poison fingernails, or you might get stabbed with a hypodermic needle. The state of affairs in California is so ridiculous that there are homeless tent colonies all over the state at every highway off-ramp, parks, shopping centers, universities even; and these colonies have hundreds or thousands of residents, all unsanitary. Most of them are crazy, and the radio programs around here are doing investigations into massive sex crime rings, drug rings, and whatever else goes on in these colonies all over California. I see kids dying on the street every day from gang violence and poverty. I see drug dealers beating their girlfriends up with full-fist punches to the face out in public places here in Los Angeles. Hit and runs are the norm around here, and our economy is driven by pornography even legal pornography sites like Nu Bay and over-the-counter medication. Now I counter-ask you a question – would you consider the scene I described more or less black metal than say, Norway, where the average pay rate for citizens is the highest in the world; there are large, open expanses for people to live in; and they have a much lower crime rate for gangs, sex crimes, trafficking, and drugs? If you are a resident of California, there is plenty of darkness to go around. Everything which I’ve described so far would go into the atmosphere and lyrical content, but musically I suppose we sound the way we do because Astaroth and I care a lot about music theory. Most guitar players in the USA play the guitar like a “guitar,” while melodic players – usually from Europe – play the guitar like a violin. I could elaborate further but I think the level of music comprehension isn’t uniform in our audience and it would become boring for some of them if I explained further.
METAL NEXUS: One of the first things I noticed about the album was the great artwork not only on the cover but also throughout the booklet. Every page contains a different piece of striking imagery to accompany each song. To me, this helps immerse the listener deeper into the music by offering a visual component of the song to focus on while listening and reading along with the lyrics – similar to illustrations in a book. Was this a conscious decision to use the visual artwork as a tool to add this other deeper dimension to the music rather than just something that looked cool?
NOOR: The artwork was deliberate. Art is essential to black metal and the entire album booklet, lyrics, and song composition is entirely premeditated.
METAL NEXUS: Lyrically, the songs have a macabre, story-like quality to them and tend to delve into fantasy and occult subject matter. When you write lyrics are they generally meant to be metaphoric, symbolizing feelings and experiences from real life; or are they more in the vein of something like fictional short stories?
NOOR: I was brought up within a monotheistic-Abrahamic culture, and naturally from a young age, I’ve always been interested in the Devil. I find the artworks of Gustav Dore, the artist for the Divine Comedy, to be utterly beautiful – especially of Lucifer himself. I find the Story of the Fall to be quite interesting and I sympathize with the Devil entirely. In fact, it’s my opinion that God turned his back on the Devil and not the other way around. Reading passages about hellfire; burning corpses; the various demons in Hell; the various tortures in Hell; the eternity of everlasting and ever-renewing pain within religion made quite an impact on my personality as a child – and the appeal just never left me as I grew older – which is a natural path into black metal! I am just someone who can easily see the beauty within the darkness. I find it alluring and intriguing.
METAL NEXUS: Following up your first full-length album, ‘Astronomy,’ released in 2013, what were some of the differences that you noticed (if any) with making ‘Dark… Cold… Grim…?’ Share a little bit about the band’s songwriting and recording process for this record – How do the song ideas generally begin, how long did writing and recording take, and were there any memorable moments (good or bad) that stood out to you throughout the process?
NOOR: Well first and foremost, I’d like to set the record straight when it comes to ‘Astronomy.’ There are many sites online made by people all over the world who torrent our music and then post whatever the hell they want about our band information. ‘Astronomy’ is not an official full-length album. It was actually a demo that Astaroth and I recorded, which had a lot of cool guitar ideas, but was mainly made to help look for band members to do some more serious music with. ‘Astronomy’ has fake drums on it – among a lot of other reasons why we consider it to be a demo – although somehow there is quite a large fan base for it online, especially with the guitar shredder crowd. For ‘Dark…Cold…Grim…,’ the album we just put out and which we consider the first studio release – I’d say we all have our personal expertise when it comes to abilities beyond merely playing our instruments – but this was actually the first time we’ve sat down in a studio to record real drums! I can’t tell you how hard it is to find a drummer in LA, and even when you find one they make hundreds of excuses why they can’t record with you! I think it’s mostly out of insecurity and our drummer, Brett has none of that. I mean, just listen to his previous work, or his work with us. The guy is a monster!
METAL NEXUS: In your bio, it explains that the idea for you and Astaroth to form the band NorthWind Wolves in the late 2000’s came out of a desire to create what was described as “vile melodic black metal.” Obviously, as any true metal fan knows, we love our sub-genres and it seems like new ones are appearing all the time. For you, what does the distinction of “vile melodic black metal” refer to specifically, how would you describe it, and are there any other bands who you would say also fall under this category?
NOOR: Excellent question – I’d be happy to elaborate! In a Venn diagram of symphonic black metal, melodic black metal, and some various other forms of black metal, we do share some common themes. Our lyrical content deals with the dark side of human experience, both metaphorically and purely physically. We do have very European sounding guitars among other details you might point out, but the bottom line is we’re definitely black metal. The reason why we aren’t symphonic black metal is because those bands rely almost exclusively on the synths for their sound, oftentimes reducing the guitars and bass to simplistic progressions in order to let the vocals and keyboards breathe – which I totally feel isn’t what we’re doing at all.
Melodic black metal tends to have more melodic guitars and they seem to focus more on melodic virtuosity, something we also do with our guitars; but I feel like we take this to the next level or at least the far outreaches of this genre – we almost even border on melodic death metal guitar solos sometimes.
So, while I would be tempted to classify us as melodic black or melodic death, we are a bit darker than most other bands in these categories – as provided by my vocals, and the scales and key changes we choose. So, the best way for us to say “melodic black metal that’s darker than most melodic black metal” is to say “vile melodic black metal.” While we don’t want to label some of our fellow bands out there into any categories they may or may not want to be a part of, I’d say that certain riffs on [Children of Bodom’s] ‘Something Wild,’ ‘Hatebreeder;’ certain songs by Dissection; or definitely, Keep of Kalessin should start using the moniker “vile melodic black metal.”
METAL NEXUS: What does your live performance schedule look like for the near future in 2018 and what type of experience can fans expect to get at a NorthWind Wolves show?
NOOR: I’d say keep checking NorthWindWolves.com – or our various sites online – and keep up-to-date with our label, Black Lion Records. Right now, we’re collecting ideas for a second release which will come much later this year; practicing a few times a week; but we’re waiting for summer shows to start booking. We wanted to play with Dark Funeral, in LA, in February/March but it was just a little bit too soon.
METAL NEXUS: Are there any other projects you yourself are working on currently or that the band is working on that fans should keep an eye out for this year?
NOOR: Well, NorthWind Wolves is all I’m currently interested in doing right now; Brett, our drummer, is in a project called Grimefield with his brother; Astaroth has a project for his own personal creativity called Sturmaz; and Lennis, our bassist, is in one of the most technically-proficient bands I’ve ever heard in my life, Magellan’s Ghost, on Apple Records.
METAL NEXUS: Anything else at all that you would like to say to the readers?
NOOR: I’d Like to say thanks for the opportunity to talk a little about my album, and I hope those of you who enjoyed what you heard from ‘Dark… Cold… Grim…’ can come to our summer shows in LA and possibly Sweden through our label – and look out for a second release, with higher production value and more songs later this year!
NorthWind Wolves’ current full-length studio album ‘Dark… Cold… Grim…’ is available right now. Make sure to pick up your copy today and be sure to catch their live show this summer if you plan to be in LA. Huge thanks to Noor for taking the time to speak with Metal Nexus!