Dave Khan, leader of Vancouver “medieval fantasy” folk-metallers Scythia, admits that his band is a slightly odd fit for September 5’s Black Path of America Tour show in Lotusland, which will feature Norway’s Vreid and Montreal’s Necronomicon.
But the funny thing is, black-metalheads seem to like us,” Khan tells the Straight by phone. “I think why that is, is that there are two types of black-metalheads. There’s the ones who are genuinely interested in evil and the occult, and then there’s guys that are just really big nerds like us, because in black metal, they do the whole costume thing, too. So it’s more of a nerd-fetish thing goin’ on.”
Khan has his band perform in costume all the time now, with the level of theatricality adjusted depending on the audience. “We can go from basically just telling jokes in armour to complete theatre between songs. One time there was a whole battle scene, and I was dressed up in full plate-metal armour and had a sword fight with this guy on-stage, using theatre-grade swords. But if it’s at a bar we’re unfamiliar with, in the middle of Alberta, say, we might be more inclined to keep that to a minimum.”
Such will be the case at Scythia’s upcoming Rickshaw gig, Khan adds. “We don’t want to steal the show in our direction!”
Musically, Scythia has a proggy, ’70s-centric sound that doesn’t skimp on guitar solos. While an earlier incarnation boasted a fiddle, the band’s nonmainstream metal instrument du jour is the oboe. Morgan Zentner, credited with “oboe of death” on its new album, …of Exile, is a unique character, Khan reports.
“She really had a lot of drive to bring the oboe into metal—something she had said had never been done before, except for symphonic metal,” he says of her joining Scythia. “So I said, ‘I’ll take a stab at writing some oboe parts, or adapting the fiddle parts into oboe,’ and realized that it worked very well for live performance. The oboe really has a piercing quality that can cut through the mix and sound like a lead guitar, or it can back off and form this really atmospheric, woodwind sound in some of the softer passages.”
…of Exile is a concept album, augmented by cinematic between-song sound effects from North Van movie-industry guy James Wallace.
“It’s about a king who is overthrown by his most trusted counsellor and thrown into the gutter, exiled,” Khan recounts. “A group of his most loyal knights is exiled separately, and they end up finding him in the forest—but he’s gone a bit mad. They realize that the sword that he’s carrying was the sword that brought him to power in the first place, but it’s also possessed his mind. So then the king has a battle with his attachment to this sword, and ends up casting it away. It’s only by relinquishing the sword the king is able to band together with the knights to reclaim the throne.”
With its mythic resonances, …of Exile could easily be seen as a kind of “Joseph Campbell rock”, with maybe a pinch of King Lear for added flavour. But beware of an overly phallic reading of that sword: Khan sees “The king’s attachment to the sword as a metaphor for human attachment to external things that they feel bring them power but in the end drain them.”
Scythia plays the Rickshaw Theatre on Monday (September 5).