KHAZADDUM “Drums In The Deep” 

By Dr. Abner Mality

When I was a little mad scientist, I was first introduced to the world of Middle-Earth. That world has now grown to become more real than the one I live in, but I remember very well the point where mild interest became fervent worship. That was the part during “The Fellowship of the Ring” when the Company was forced to travel through the abandoned Mines of Moria, the great hall of the Dwarves. To this day, the battle against the Orcs, the fall of Gandalf on the Bridge of Khazaddum and the resulting flight stands as one of the most suspenseful and engulfing things I have ever read.

Luke Djordevic, veteran of the Wisconsin metal wars, was obviously also entranced by this high point of fantasy literature. So much so that he helped to create a band called Khazaddum that tells the tales of “Durin’s Folk” through the medium of brutal death metal. Khazaddum has just released their first album of Tolkien-themed death entitled “Plagues Upon Arda”.

I spoke to Luka about the enduring power of Tolkien’s work and its relation to death metal over a few tankards of mead in the Dwarrowdelf. He proved to be a very articulate spokesman for the dwarven people and also revealed secrets of his new black metal band, Prezir.

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Hails, Luka! How long had you been thinking about a Tolkien themed death metal band before it actually came to be?

LUKA DJORDEVIC: Greetings Mike, thanks for showing interest in Khazaddum. I've been a Tolkien fan for as long as I can remember. My interest started when I was a couple of years old in Serbia, and my parents bought me a VHS bootleg of the 1978 Ralph Bakshi animated full length, Lord of the Rings. I was obsessed with this film! Soon thereafter, both my grandmother and my older brother read the LOTR books to me as my bedtime stories. It was all over from there, and to this day, I've never looked back. The band started as an idea by Alex to do a J.R.R. Tolkien themed recording project, and name it Khazaddum. He recruited me due to my vocal style, knowledge of the lore of Middle-Earth, and my uncanny resemblance to the mythical Durin's Folk from these epic tales. He got metal Pete to play drums, and Patrick Gunderson to do second guitar on the EP. We got together and wrote and recorded “In Dwarven Halls” in early 2015. Initially, it was only supposed to be a recording project due to our musical commitments at the time. Later that year, we decided to release the EP and thought that the music was too good to not see the light of day in a live setting. So, we started performing as a live band.

WC: Tell us a little about the musical background of you and your bandmates. I know Pete is also with Burial Ritual.

LD: I'll just give you a rundown of the bands that we're currently in, and have been in, in the past.

Luka Djordjevic: vocals/lyrics (Prezir, ex-Promethean Parallax, ex-Scribes of Odium, ex-Carnal Befoulment, ex-Branded at Birth)

Alex Rausa: guitars (ex-Devolving Messiah, ex-Cyanosis)

Peter Kissane: drums (Burial Ritual)

Tony Cannizzaro: bass on the album (Splattered Cadaver, Ex-Demented Torment)

Noah Mezsick: live guitar (ex-Subjugation, ex-Promethean Parallax, ex-Face of Ruin, ex-Branded at Birth)

WC: .Is Khazaddum the first priority as a band for everybody or is it something you squeeze in between other projects?

LD: I'll certainly say this, it's the most active band as far as recording and playing live that any of us are in. You'd have to ask them individually for their specific answers, but we're going strong, and I don't foresee that changing anytime soon.

WC:What was it that attracted you to write from the dwarven perspective? Why not orcs or elves or other denizens of Middle-Earth?

LD: The band undoubtedly has a Dwarven bend to it. From our name, to our imagination, we obviously have a fondness for the Long Beards. There are songs on both releases that focus on the tales of this industrious and tragedy enshrouded lot. Their story is the most underrepresented one, both in Tolkien's writings, looking at the totality of his output, and in the modern musical zeitgeist. Their story is one full of cautionary wisdom, bravery, credulity, and redemption. That being said, Khazaddum covers many themes from the enormous mythos dreamt up by the twentieth century literary master. On “Plagues Upon Arda” for example, most of the songs are tales of the thirst for power that consumes the various inhabitants of Middle-Earth. The large majority do not center on the Durin's Folk.

WC: Brutal death metal is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Tolkien-themed metal. Usually it’s related to power metal or black metal. What are some of the advantages of the death metal approach?

LD: I agree completely. This is actually something that a considerable amount of thought went into. A large number of bands draw inspiration from the Tolkien mythology when it comes to metal. To me, the races of Middle Earth are best sonically personified through specific genres. Power metal best represents the Elven race with bands like Blind Guardian embodying this sound perfectly. The forces of Mordor, and those corrupted by The One Ring are best represented by black metal with the likes of Gorgoroth and Isengard, among many others. So, the reasoning behind depicting the Durin's Folk through death metal only seemed logical to us. Dwarves, the progeny of Aulë, are a hardy, strong, and tireless peoples. They are born of the earth, and in it they dwell. The technicality and brutality inherent to death metal is perfectly paired with their industrious craftsmanship and their loud, boisterous nature. One can't help but visualize the hammers of Erebor striking ore as they hear the thunderous double bass, heavy down tuned guitar chords echoing through the royal halls, and deep growls stemming form the recesses of the Mines of Moria. To us, death metal was the obvious choice.

WC: You inject some symphonic tones into the “Plagues Upon Arda” album? Are these done electronically or are actual instruments used?

LD: We felt that a tasteful injection of symphonic orchestration was the next logical step towards realizing the scope and grandeur of the epic story that we're paying homage to. “Plagues Upon Arda” was recorded, mixed, and mastered at No Passenger Studio by Spencer Fox and Trae Titus. Once we had a clear vision and outline of exactly what we were looking for orchestrally, we recruited Trae to compose the symphonic elements on the album according to our specifications. In my opinion, he did a masterful job in helping us achieve this vision through his digital wizardry. 

WC: Can you foresee doing a Khazaddum tune that is totally symphonic or ambient in nature?
LD: Our focus will remain death metal, however, I certainly see no conflict with the potential for using a purely symphonic piece as a segue between movements on a future release. That is something that we'll just have to wait and determine at the time of creation.

WC: Are there actual classical composers who inspired the writing on the album? Was the music from Jackson’s movies an inspiration?

LD: The main influences that we drew inspiration from during the orchestral creative process were soundtrack composers. The two most prominent being Basil Poledouris (Conan the Barbarian/Destroyer), and Howard Shore (Jackson's LOTR trilogy).

WC: Will Khazaddum restrict itself solely to lyrics based on Tolkien or could there be songs based on “Game of Thrones”, “Wheel of Time” or other epic fantasies?

LD: We make no qualms about it, Khazaddum from its inception was, and will remain a band that solely focuses on the immense and unrivaled works of J.R.R. Tolkien. The source material that we've chosen to utilize is inexhaustible from my perspective. Tolkien's compendium is so epic in scale, and so rich in background and material, including complex histories, genealogies, and linguistics, that no other author in the modern era comes close to conceptualizing such an enveloping and classically devised mythos. The lessons in morality, the downfall of great men to the unquenchable thirst for power, betrayal, heroism, tragedy, corruption, greed, and redemption liter these tomes. The only logical comparison that makes sense to me, is to the epic poets of antiquity like the Hellenic Homer, the writers of the ancient Sanskrit epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the Norse Eddes, and the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh.

WC:  Is a concept album where all songs tell one story a possibility to the future?

LD: There has been talk of making a concept album focusing on Morgoth. His is a truly fascinating and terrifying tale about monstrosity, and the lengths of depravity that are attainable in the quest for dominion. His desire for the Silmarils has always captivated my imagination. I guess you'll just have to wait and see... 

WC:  You’ve put together a heck of an album release party featuring Cardiac Arrest, Dr. Shrinker and more. Tell us more about how this came about?

LD: Indeed it is! We couldn't be more thrilled with the lineup. One day, several months ago, we all sat down after band practice and brainstormed who we wanted to ask to play our CD release. We had three criteria, we wanted all regional bands, meaning two out of towners, and two Milwaukee acts, and finally, all bands must play death metal. The first four groups that were named all said yes! This show represents four uniquely different faces of this devastating genre. The venue that it was initially booked at closed its doors abruptly and unexpectedly, but thankfully we were able to relocate it to an excellent venue more centrally located in the city. August 19th at Club Garibaldi's in Bay View, prepare for an onslaught of death metal destruction! Khazaddum's CD release for “Plagues Upon Ards” featuring Cardiac Arrest (Chicago), House of Atreus (Minneapolis), and Dr. Shrinker (Milwaukee) is not to be missed for fans of this punishing genre.

WC:Any further plans to tour behind “Plagues Upon Arda”?

LD: Most certainly, we're touring this fall in support of the album. September will mark a week long trek out east, and in October, we're embarking on a two week long voyage heading down south and then toward the west coast.

WC: Tell us now about your other current project, Prezir, which is a black metal band? This seems to be a pretty grim bunch.

LD: Prezir is a black metal band, but we don't shy away from our obvious influences of death and thrash. My love for black metal has only grown exponentially over the years. We are several like minded individuals who create acrimonious heavy metal in the vein of our influences, with a mutual disgust for the safety of modern metal. The band name is a Serbian word that best translates to title of our debut ep, “Contempt”, which was released in June. Our lyrics center on a disdain for the socially corruptive and ideologically dogmatic fanaticism that permeates the human condition both currently and historically. This project is an outright attack on the assailants of personal liberty and the human intellect. Just like with Khazaddum, I'll give you a rundown of the members, and their other projects, both current and former. 

Luka Djordjevic: vocals/lyrics (See above)

Rory Heikkila: guitar/bass (Shroud of Despondency, ex-Promethean Parallax, ex-Terminal Orchestra, ex-Gust, ex-Heedless Descent, ex-Bury the Pariah, ex-Divisive Skin, ex-Domain Malevolence, ex-Dead to Earth)

Brian Serzynski: drums (Pigs Blood, ex-Abaddon, ex-Shut In, ex-Enabler, ex-Impatience, ex-No Brainer)

Tyler Okrzesik: live guitar (Cholernik, Sillage, ex-Subjugation, ex-Never Ending Circle, ex-Arson)

Jerry Hauppa: live bass (Ara, Acanthrophis, Northless, ex-Bled Awake, ex-Bury the Pariah, ex-Divisive Skin, Concentric, ex-Wings of Scarlet, ex-Forever Is Forgotten, ex-Invoke the Flood)

WC:Do you do all the vocals on Prezir’s debut “Contempt”? They sound quite different than the guttural stuff in Khazaddum?

LD: Yes, I recorded all of the vocals on “Contempt”. There was a conscious effort on my part to develop a vocal style specific to this project. The music and lyrics called for a different approach than in any of my previous bands. This is the first time I've recorded a traditional style of black metal vocal. I felt these vocals best convey the venomous lyrics written for this band, and are more fitting to the music. In the future, we plan on incorporating Tyler as a backing vocal live.

WC: Both Prezir and Khazaddum are self-released. Has there been any interest from labels in either band? Would you be content to stay self-released?

LD:Unfortunately, so far there hasn't been any significant interest. Label support is something that both bands welcome under the right circumstances.

WC:  Are you involved with any other bands beyond Khazaddum and Prezir?

LD: Not really. There is a pet project that I've had on the back burner for some time. It is a recording project named Elohim the Tyrant that may get dusted off at some point down the road, but most likely, not any time soon. Two full time live bands that are both continuously making new music is plenty to keep me rather busy for the moment.

WC:  If you could have dinner with any 3 people from history, who would they be?

LD: Charles Darwin , Genghis Khan , and J.R.R. Tolkien, obviously.

WC: What was the last release you got just because you wanted to hear the band?

LD:Not certain this is literally the last release I purchased, but it's one that is quite recent, very much worth highlighting, and I believe already a contender for one of the best records this year. A band from Chicago named FIN released “Arrows of a Dying Age”, their third full length album. This massively talented two piece black metal band writes incredibly triumphant melodies accompanied by spectacular drumming. A wonderful follow up to their 2015 masterpiece “The Furrows of Tradition” this album is well worth the purchase.

WC:Any “Spinal Tap” stories from any band you’ve been involved with where things really went crazy?

LD: Not really actually. I've been playing death metal since I was 17 years old, and of course you get people being drunk idiots from time to time, fights breaking out, and some really drugged out individuals on occasion, but in general, I've found that most people go to shows for the music. Most are also pretty respectful of the bands during their actual shows as well.

WC:  Any last words to the mortals of Arda?

LD: Khazaddum is intent on portraying the majestic stories of J.R.R. Tolkien through pulverizing and epic death metal for a long time to come. We can't wait to unleash “Plagues Upon Arda” onto an unsuspecting public. If you wish to purchase our album, stream it, watch our music video, see us on tour, or follow us for regular updates, check out the links listed bellow. Thank you Dr. M and the Wormwood Chronicles. It has been a pleasure answering your thoughtful and insightful questions. 
Hails from the “Halls of Khazaddum”!