Tsar Stangra Talks of New Music, Member Count, and Perhaps Some Gigs Too!

Black metal folk act TSAR STANGRA has been actively doing much for a while now, releasing a couple of pieces of material, with an all new album in the works! The band talks of their history, namesake, music, attire, and what they have lined-up next for themselves with music, shows, and more!

1. How did the band come up with the name Tsar Stangra? Does it have a meaning to it?

Hi there, this is Stanislav answering. I am the band’s leader and I would like to thank you, on the behalf of the entire band, for having us interviewed here. 

First of all, the name Tsar Stangra came into my mind during my teenage years. Stangra was initially a pun between my nickname (Stan) and the name of the Bulgarian Pagan God Tangra. Tsar stands for ruler or leader in Eastern European lands. I wanted to create an Eastern European artist name that sounds as epic as King Crimson, King Diamond, etc. In addition, the artist name of Knjaz Varggoth, an important black metal musician of the Eastern European Metal History, inspired me. When I invented this name, I had just discovered his band, Nokturnal Mortum. I used the name Tsar Stangra to record some stuff at home and build my curriculum, but most of the stuff was experimental and not intended to be released officially.

Later, when I started playing music with my Bulgarian bud Dobrin Stoyanov, he suggested we use the same name, and found a deeper and more interesting interpretation. Written “Цар с Тангра” it literally means “king (tsar) with Tangra”. The interesting part is that Bulgarians started calling leaders Tsars with the arrival of Christianity, which makes the name blasphemous in some way. In addition, it is catchy enough and very easy to shout it out loud.  

2. What has influenced your sound and style?

When I started digging underground extreme metal, it didn’t take long before I fall in love with what I call “exotic metal”. First, I discovered the whole Norwegian black metal scene, where some bands incorporate elements of traditional Scandinavian music. My personal background pushed me further into my quest. I am born in Bulgaria, even though I grew up in Quebec, Canada. Therefore, I immediately started to search for similar kind of bands but in Eastern European. I was mind-blown by Nokturnal Mortum, Drudkh, Rotting Christ, and Negură Bunget, just to name a few. Unfortunately, I didn’t find a Bulgarian equivalent. I concluded it was my duty to create at least one and to do my best to make sure the quality matches the industry standard. I teamed up with Dobrin, that shared the same mission and we started composing music with this vision in mind.

Of course, other bands from different parts of the World that are inspired by occultism and that incorporate traditional music from their country into metal also gave us ideas on how to do such a thing, even if their influence is not as direct. Among them we have Melechesh, Cult of Fire, and Aeternam.  

3. Can you discuss the inspiration behind your newest single “Черна песен,”?

Our newest single “Черна песен”, which means Black/Dark Song in Bulgarian, contains material written by Dobrin Stoyanov, my musical partner. Unfortunately, he officially left the band but keeps on contributing musically. He moved back to Bulgaria, where he got married and now plays in the folk project Freija. He still sends me riffs from the other side of the world and I find a thematic, suitable lyrics, and so on. It’s hard to speak on his behalf, but he is a big Negură Bunget fan. We also went together to see the band perform live in Quebec city. I think his riffs have something to do with them when it comes to metal. From a Bulgarian traditional music point of view, the song follows the rachenitsa dance (seven beats divided: 2+2+3). And just to add some spices to it, there is a small “Rock star” moment where you have a solo exchange between the keyboards and the lead guitar. 

In terms of imagery, since we used the poem written by Dimtcho Debelyanov having the same name, we wanted to exploit the contrast between life and death and build a theme around it. So we divided the cover art into three main parts, each having one color from the Bulgarian flag. The middle part is mostly green (because of the vegetation), and shows a dead Haiduk lying on a red land of roses (the bottom part), and some roses grow in the entrails of the dead hero. The sky is mostly white and we see some of the Pagan Gods welcoming the man in the afterlife. Roses are the national flowers of Bulgaria. Finally, the frame around the image is made of the traditional life motive. 

4. Where does the creative process come from when creating the music that you do?

First of all, we made it nearly mandatory for every member to take part in the writing process, which puts us in a situation where we can expect to have songs with different inspirations, each having its own treatment.

But in most of our songs, we start by building riffs following the Bulgarian musical theory. Then I spend hours, days, and sometimes weeks reading a different kind of stuff in the literature. It varies from poetry to ancient proto-Bulgarian pagan texts translated into the actual Bulgarian language. We never write our own stuff because I attended no Bulgarian school since I did my entire education in Quebec, Canada. In addition, our history contains material that ages from the antiquity, so how can a guy that lives in 2023 beat centuries of knowledge? We followed more or less the Drudkh formula when it comes to lyrics and historical concept. 

5. Besides the new single “Черна песен,” does the band have any newer music, perhaps a follow-up to your 2017 album “Н​е​б​е​с​н​и​я​т к​о​в​а​ч”?

We are definitely working on a new album and the preproduction is 90% completed. The style of the new album is more folk-oriented and more diversified at the same time. We also faced a major lineup change, so the contribution from the newer members is very different as well, but both my contribution and Dobrin’s will remind the listeners some songs we recorded for the first album. We are working hard to release it somewhere this year or at the beginning of next year. 

6. Why did you want this band to have 7 members?

This is a great yet so simple question that may have a pretty epic and complex answer. At the beginning, I was alone, then we were two. Things became more interesting when we were five. Then, I lost literally everyone for different reasons. As said earlier, Dobrin moved back to Bulgaria to get married, so we just replaced him at first. Then all members left for musical and personal goals. We never had bad blood or anything, but the show must go on. So, for a short period, I was alone again, and I tried to gather different people in the lineup until I finally reached some stability in 2019. Then we activated and faced the same challenge as most bands in the entire world faced. We live 1-hour apart, so it was impossible to rehearse with the strict measures we had during COVID-19. During that time, we convinced the boyfriend of our keyboard player to complete the lineup and to play rhythm guitar. I no longer play bass while I sing. That makes six (6) members for now. Bulgarian and Eastern European traditional music in general is well-known for its female vocals, so I always wanted to hire a singer to complete the lineup. I wanted to incorporate more clean traditional female vocals so that I could play more exotic instruments, but fate has decided otherwise. The seventh member you see in the picture is a guest vocalist and has other (very excellent) projects on her priority list. But the job she is doing for us is tremendous, so we welcome it with arms wide open. This said, we are officially six (6) members. 

Visually speaking, it’s interesting to have more members in the photos, since we kind of have our own imagery, so it is a way of creating more trademarks around the main idea, hahaha!

7. Your genre style is a mix of black metal and folk metal, but when it comes to the appearance, a typical black metal shows the face paint of black/white, but your band goes the white/red route. Why? And is that “red” the blood of your enemies or fellow band members?

We created something based on elements from the Bulgarian culture and refused to wear traditional black and white corpse paints since we are not a Scandinavian Black Metal band. Martenitsi and Kukeri inspired our make-ups and costumes.

Martenitsi are small pieces of adornment, made of white and red yarn, usually in the form of two dolls worn during the Baba Marta Holiday (that takes place in the entire month of March).

Kukeri are scary costumes that are used to perform traditional rituals intended to scare away evil spirits. People have practiced this Bulgarian tradition since Thracian times.

So we kind of combined those two elements and added some black metal to it by looking at traditional black and white corpse paint designs as well and ended up looking like we fought against enemies while wearing our traditional folkloric costumes, as you said so well in your question.

8. How would you say you differ from other bands and artists on the scene?

The music we play is a combination of elements that nearly no one wants to mix together, especially in Bulgaria. On one side, you have the metal/rock part of our music and on the other side you have the traditional/folk part.

In Bulgaria, both scenes are some kind of rivals because of the mainstream music Chalga, that is played on the radio and in most nightclubs. This music is a mixture of pop music with traditional/folk music. A lot of Rockers hate it with passion and it is seen as a shame for a Rocker to get interested in such stuff. And regarding the more ancient/ancestral traditional folk music, it is widely viewed by Rockers as music for retired old people that live in the countryside. 

In addition, Bulgarian music theory follows different rules than most Western music ones (followed by Rock and Metal, among many). Bulgarians use strange harmonies and asymmetric meters, which is very hard to digest when you are used to your “comfort metal/rock”. In other words, it’s not famous for being particularly catchy. 

To sum up, we are kind of building the grounds for this new type of sound and I heard other bands try to do so, but I never heard them from Canada since these bands are not distributed here. But having travelled in Bulgaria recently, I can confirm to you I have not heard such a thing before except one band or two that have very raw recordings. 

9. What do you want to achieve as a band?

To be quite honest, as long as we don’t run out of ideas, I would love that we keep on recording our stuff and build more solid ground in this new type of experimentation. It will also be pleasant if we inspire other people to pursue similar goals. Playing at some festivals or gigs all around the world can also be very cool. I think that in a term of “achievement wish list” we are not very different from a typical band. We would all like to have some sort of recognition for what we do. 

10. What does next year hold for Tsar Stangra?

Our priority is to finish the second album and promote it with some gigs, and who knows? Maybe we will have a chance to visit you and play in your hometown.  Thank you once again, on the behalf of the entire band for having us and we wish you all the best. 

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