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INSANIA

An interview with a Serbian Grindcore band.

Hello Uroš, greetings ACROHOLIA!!! What are you up to these days man? Everything ok? 

Hey, Pavel, thanks for getting in touch. Well, as I am writing this in the beginning of August, I’d say nothing much interesting is happening as it is the middle of summer, but since I work for the national Red Cross, well, plenty is happening around the year. Human misery doesn’t recognize seasons, you know! Oh, wait, you mean with the band? Oh, we have been in low-power mode for several years now. Our last show was some six years ago and we were taking it pretty easy since. And once the pandemic started, I guess we are officially put on standby. Although, I hope we can play some more shows some time before I die, I always dreamed of playing grindcore in my fifties and now I can.

ACROHOLIA are undoubtedly the Grindcore pioneers of former Yugoslavia. Even now there ain´t no Grindcore outcome in your country that I know of, or am I mistaken? What was the scene back then?

Oh, I wouldn’t say “undoubtedly”, quite the contrary, we were the second wave of grindcore in former Yugoslavia but, also, technically speaking, when we formed, some time in late 1991, former Yugoslavia was already falling apart. We lost Slovenia that summer and the war in Croatia was hitting its stride, so it was all going to shit. And so you can imagine the scene was also getting increasingly fragmented. Playing shows in Slovenia was already impossible, playing shows in Croatia quickly became quite impossible and we were just a bunch of lads who could barely play any instruments, looking to write some fast and catchy songs and maybe play a local show. And we did, I think our first show was in September 1992, in Belgrade, our hometown but of course, by that time the war really took off and there was already fighting in Bosnia and Herzegovina so things kept going to shit. 

But to answer your question a little more generally, or, you know, from a historical perspective, the first grindcore band that I can remember from former Yugoslavia were of course the mighty Patareni from Zagreb, Croatia. They are one of the earliest European grindcore bands as well, starting out in 1983 and actually predating the term grindcore itself. Like, these guys were not inspired by Napalm Death because no one knew what Napalm Death was in 1983 or 1984. Their influences were Ramones and Exploited and they just went organically from there to playing incredibly noisy music. So, they were the originators, although there were even earlier bands that played very harsh, sparse, aggressive hardcore stuff, and that influenced them too (for example Slovenian bands like UBR and Stres DA). 

In our part of the country grindcore “officially” started with bands like Kerozin and Brainstorm in the late eighties. This was after Earache and Nuclear Blast started pumping out records by Napalm Death, Carcass, Unseen Terror, Terrorizer, then later Righteous Pigs, Defecation, Pungent Stench etc. so those were their influences to a point. Since there were no real clubs in Belgrade where you could regularly play underground stuff, every punk, hardcore or metal show would see everyone go and try and have a great time, so we used to go to all the shows and, you know, slamdance and generally cause mayhem, but hearing grindcore live, with those short songs and unintelligible singing was a transformative, intense experience. Anyway, I had to do my mandatory army service in 1990/1991 and when I returned in September 1991, everything was changed. Not only that the country was falling apart, but also the scene kind of exploded. Suddenly there were clubs around Belgrade where you could actually play hardcore shows once or twice per week and a lot of really young (and often shitty) bands could actually get some stage experience with real PA and a not-totally-disinterested person behind the desk. So we were one of them, starting to play regularly in 1992 and then also recording our stuff too. The studios were actually quite affordable at that point in time, especially if your ambition was merely to record a five or ten minutes demo so our first and second demos were done in 1992. And we proceeded to be featured in many tape compilations around the world, and to play mostly local shows with hardcore and metal bands. 

It is customary to say that the scene is shit and full of backstabbing and bullshit any time anyone asks you about it, but to be fair I think that in the early ‘90s, considering all the shit we were surrounded with (war, international sanctions, rising crime and street violence), the scene was actually quite cool. Most punks, metalheads and hardcore people were supportive of each other and you’d get a lot of cooperation and crazy side projects going on all the time. Almost no one played in only one band at the time and everyone was trying to step out of their comfort zone. So grindcore people would also play industrial or doom metal in other projects etc. Most of it never amounted to shit, also, but I like to think we were having fun. 

I wrongly stated or formulated the question, I meant Serbia as former Yugoslavia. But you just answered that with KEROZIN and BRAINSTORM, them being the first in Serbia. I have by the way never heard of them even though I´m into DeathGrind since 1990. Sure I agree on your PATARENI statement. I also really like Croatian bands from the early mid 90´s like for instance DESINENCE MORTIFICATION or VOMIT PUTRIDITY. I guess we should not forget to mention Slovenian act EXTREME SMOKE 57 as talking about the whole of Yugoslavia before the split.

Well, both Kerozin and Brainstorm (and other bands from outside of Belgrade) were really just small local acts. Kerozin had one demo but that was not distributed in any wide fashion, it was just stuff for their friends (you can hear it on Youtube: https://youtu.be/qClRu_Pc04s) and Brainstorm did have one cassette tape that had both studio and live stuff on it and that was distributed a little wider but again mostly throughout ex-Yugoslavia. You can hear it here: https://youtu.be/WfLb277j2VI 

But, Yugoslavia was big back then, it had some 22 million people so I think bands through that the market of that size is good enough for them at least for starters, so not many bands actually tried to get their tapes outside of the country. Brainstorm later changed line up several times and switched over from grindcore to a more “conventional” hardcore sound. I fucking loved all of its incarnations and in fact I played drums on its last release, the album Milosevic is Dead from 1994, that combined the old grindcore material with the new material that I played on which was more along the lines of crusty anarcho-punk. You can hear the full album here: https://youtu.be/mBTixT_5wCA but if you want to buy it, good luck, I think that only 100 copies were printed so I guess it’s abit of a collector’s item now…

Disclose a bit how it all started like who came up with the idea of creating ACROHOLIA and all the stuff around it. Remember your first rehearsal? How about the first ACROHOLIA gig? 

Yeah, well, as I said, I got back from the army service in September 1991 and quickly got involved with another local grindcore band called URGH! It was actually a band where my friend from highschool and my own brother played so I worked with them for a while. They would go ahead to become quite famous and popular, not so much internationally, but were a pretty popular Belgrade act, especially when they moved from “pure” grindcore and started experimenting with different genres in 1994 and onwards. Their shows were actually quite well liked by “normal” audiences, so not just metalheads and grindcore crowd. I guess the hipsters liked them because they seemed different from normal stuff and they still had an interesting way of blending different genres. 

But anyway, I was approached by Bane and Oliver in late 1991. I was already singing for URGH! and they were looking for a drummer. And I was a terrible drummer but a better drummer than I was a singer, so I was like, sure, why not, what kind of music do you guys play? And they already had a band in highschool that was like a dirty punk rock act called Histerična Deca (Hysterical Children) but now they wanted to play grindcore. So we kinda clicked immediately. Especially when, on the first practice session we figured out that no one in the band could really play all that well. They told me they were sort of intimidated with me because I was playing in URGH! at the time and that band already had some reputation but when they saw that I can barely hold my drumsticks, they relaxed and were like “Alright, this guy is on our level”. 

We tried out several singers, mostly my friends but we were not satisfied. I though finding a singer would be the easiest thing in the world, I mean, this is grindcore, there are no tunes, you don’t even have to have any lyrics, just scream vaguely along the beat, but my friends just couldn’t cut it. Turns out you have to have SOME musical talent to recognize the beat and the patterns you should follow.

Anyway, Bane, the guitar player and the head of the band is a practical guy, so he just went out to a local metal club and approached a tall guy in a Napalm Death T-shirt, asking him would he like to sing in a band that sounds exactly like Napalm Death. The guy said yeah and 30 years later Ilija is still the most handsome guy in the band and he can also growl like a motherfucker. Even though he moved out of Belgrade to a town up north and lives some 180 km from the rest of us, we don’t play that often so we never thought of replacing him or anything. I think people just love his vocals as he just goes all out and blows his lungs to chunks at every show. 

Our first show I don’t really remember that well. I know it was in a club called “Bunker” and I am pretty sure it was with a bunch of shitty local bands in front of 6-7 drunk metalheads. But we played so many shows at that place that all of them kinda blend together in my head. That was a go-to club for young and shitty hardcore, punk and metal bands, and I played there with many of my other bands too. The guy running it was, in everyone’s opinion, a ripoff and a bit of a dick, but he was actually good to us. Like, 90% of the bands I was involved with in the early ‘90s wouldn’t know what stage looks like if it wasn’t for that club.

How about ACROHOLIA moniker? What does that mean or how have you come to such an original name? Apropos I tried to find it in my 2088 page Oxford dictionary but to no avail.

Oh, we did have a discussion on how to name the band. I was the artsy-fartsy guy so I suggested we call ourselves Endgame (after Samuel Beckett’s play of the same name) but that was rejected as not extreme enough. So Bane just opened the famous “Dictionary of foreign terms” that pretty much every household had back then and I guess he started on the first page because he ended up with ACROHOLIA – which means being enraged. It sort of fit our collective mod back then and, yes, it did sound original. 

I guess your influences to start a band were the good old NAPALM DEATH, AGATHOCLES, ASSÜCK...? 

Well, yes and no. NAPALM DEATH are obvious – we were literally doing our best to sound like them for the last 30 years. But as for the rest, our influences were mostly fast playing hardcore bands from the ‘80s, such as D.R.I., Youth of Today, S.O.D., then a lot of punk bands such as The Exploited, Sex Pistols, Ramones, Crass… The usual stuff for our generation, also including Slayer and, eh, I guess even Pantera? Also, I was into death metal back then so, you know, early Cannibal Corpse, early Obituary, early Suffocation were also an influence at least for me. Oh, Carcass too, of course. Agathocles and Assuck came a bit later alongside with bands like Destroy!, Hellnation, Rot, Carcass Grinder, Cripple Bastards and then the mighty Discordance Axis. But, yeah, it’s fair to say that we started out basically as a Napalm Death Tribute Band and remained there forever, but we have been influenced by many other bands before and after, not necessarily grindcore bands either. Since a part of the band loved doing recreational drugs back in the day, more psychedelic underground stuff such as Godflesh or Scorn was also a strong influence. 

My first ever air plane trip was to Yugoslavia, to Monte Negro back in 1987, I guess that part was/is pretty bandless, do you have any knowledge of the scene up there from the early 1990´s? 

Oh, yeah. I mean, not totally bandless, but my Montenegrin friends used to tell me over and over “We don’t do rock ’n’ roll over here”. And it’s true, for some reason Montenegro was always the part of former Yugoslavia with the lowest number of rock musicians/ bands per person. I mean, I used to be a music journalist for a while and I can only think of maybe two Montenegrin rock bands. Ever! They’ve done better regarding hip-hop, but, yeah, when it comes to rock, metal, punk and more fringe genres such as hardcore, grindcore etc., they seem to be perfectly happy without them. I have no explanation for this. Montenegro has never been the most rural part of former Yugoslavia, or the most conservative part or anything of the sort but for some reason, they never caught the rock and roll bug. 

KAKOFONIJA was a side project of ACROHOLIA, lasting between 1993 and 1995. Any chance of some kind of resuscitation or any form of coming back to life? 

Oh, I wouldn’t expect that, considering that Acroholia itself is pretty lazy right now itself and Kakofonija was anyway supposed to be just a silly little project to keep Ilija and me occupied while Bane and Oliver were doing their mandatory army service. Like, we got two friends that we already knew who played in different grindcore/ deathgrind bands (one of them, Igor, was playing bass in URGH! already at that time I think) and just fooled around for a while. We wanted to do a mixture of grindcore with some different genres, nothing radical, it was mostly hardcore, metal, some industrial metal stuff, plus a bunch of covers of bands that we loved. We were all into different bands at the time, such as Godflesh, Meathook Seed, early Fear Factory, Danzig, Pitchshifter, Primus, Fudge Tunnel etc. so Kakofonija was inspired by some of that, plus of course, a lot of shitty underground stuff. We did only one show but I can barely recall it so it must have been extra terrible. We also recorded that one demo album but by that time Ilija was for one reason or the other, not in the band any more (can’t really recall why, he could have been just really bored with our “experimental” approach) so the vocals were done by Igor and me, but mostly me. It’s a really shitty demo tape, our musicianship is fucking terrible (Dušan was recording his bass sections with no headphones; to this day I don’t understand how he could play along with us without being able to actually hear properly), the mix is terrible and the songs are for the most part just put together from separate parts without much thought as to whether it all works. I mean, that was THE point, to fuck around with different genre elements and see how they fit together. Turns out, for the most part it doesn’t fit together but we did have fun. I still think we did some mildly amusing covers there – Patareni, Cripple Bastards, Misfits and Napalm Death were kind of fun and the cover of Avalanche Master Song by Godflesh is especially silly as I literally didn’t know any lyrics as I was recording the singing parts so it sounds extra demented. But, you know that’s grindcore.

Kakofonija stopped immediately after that but that demo did come out on a couple of split tapes with other bands. I see that Discogs lists both split tapes with Acroholia and Disfigured and… You know, I have no idea… Someone must have put those together but we were not that much involved with it any more… But both other members of Kakofonija, Igor and Dušan played bass guitar in Acroholia in the later years as Oliver left. 

You were a singer in the mid 1990´s in a combo called DISFIGURED, any chance at all to bring that band back to action? Why have you actually disbanded? 

Well, Disfigured was another one of the side projects, I don’t really think it was the main band of anyone who was involved. So the short answer is no, it’ll never come back. I haven’t seen some of those people for literally decades. And, technically, I was in the band for literally two days. One day for a band practice and the other day for the recording of the demo that we did. Disfigured was originally a deathgrind project with Igor (of URGH! and Kakofonija fame) with some guys from a deathgrind band Hemorrhoid (one of them later went on to play in Stone to Flesh/ The Stone and that band is still pretty active and popular in the European black metal scene). They recorded one demo tape with the original singer and that was classical deathgrind. Igor played drums in that band rather than bass/ guitar that he did in other bands (today he’s an experimental musician mostly playing analogue electronics) and the other two guys did bass and guitar but they lost the singer and had a bunch of new songs that were not proper deathgrind but some kind of blend between grindcore, goregrind, hardcore, death ‘n’ roll etc. so they asked me if I could sing on the recording. I had some singing experience (my first job in URGH! was singing and I actually recorded the vocals for the first two Acroholia demos) plus I was thrilled with the songs that were funny and diverse to my ear. So I said yes. I even wrote some lyrics on the day of recording and had fantastic fun doing goregrind growls and screams with some stream of consciousness lyrics. 

Actually, I was in the band for one more day. We did get together maybe in 1995 once more to do record a bunch of Agathocles covers for some tribute album but I have no idea if that ever came out. We never did anything as a band again, but we did continue to hang out and do different musical collaborations. 

Throughout ACROHOLIA´s 30 years of existence, you have recorded only 3 demos (that were used in various releases) and an album hight ´´Ecocide´´ 2003 (Recorded in 2001). That isn´t much to be honest. How come? Why such an absence of recording? 

Well… the short answer is that we are REALLY shit musicians and that making music, even as simple as we do requires not just some talent but also work. And as we were getting older we would be progressively getting bogged down with other things occupying our time: jobs, families, children etc. Also, the process of us making songs is pretty much reliant on Bane having any free time to play his guitar at home and come up with some new stuff and this has, as the years went by and his family and business expanded, become a very rare occasion. 

However we DID record a new album in 2013. I know, that was almost a decade ago and we have not released it yet. We talk about releasing it every couple of years but yeah, maybe when we hit the tenth anniversary we will actually do something about it. It’s definitely the best thing we have ever done, musicianship-wise and production wise, but, you know, that’s not saying much. It’s still sloppy, shitty old school grindcore done by non-professional musicians. 

I didn´t know you have recorded an album in 2013. That year my life was in total family chaos. Wasn´t really following up much at that epoch. What´s the album called, how many songs, how long is it?

Oh, I am sorry to hear about the tough year. But, even if it weren’t, it’s not like we actually released that album so pretty much no one knows of its existence. I think we have one or two songs off it on Youtube (here’s one: https://youtu.be/U3FxG-wMK5E). And, you know, since it did not come out, I still can’t say what the eventual title will be. I think we wanted to call it Prison Planet but in the meantime that sequence of words gained some nasty assosications so I will actually lobby against it if we decide to relsease the album. 

It’s… about half an hour long I guess? It has 20 songs but the last one is like 9 minutes long or something, you know, because we want to have epic endings to our albums. But, I don’t know what else to say, it’s… old school grindcore played by people who can barely play even such simple music. I’ll share the album with you so you can be the judge… 

I´m sure it was difficult enough to start a band when war erupted in 1991, also the horrific bombings of Belgrade in 1999 by the NATO war criminals. These must have been arduous times for everybody. How have you all managed to go through that mayhem? (A Note to those born after, and not knowing: NATO used military force in form of air strikes without the approval of the UN Security Council and against a sovereign nation that didn´t pose a threat to NATO members. About 300 schools and state institutions, as well as 176 cultural monuments, were damaged, as were 20 hospitals. At least 40 000 homes were destroyed or damaged. NATO used depleted uranium bombs and cluster munitions. NATO killed thousands of civilians and children. NATO in its operation Allied Force, with more than 11 000 air strikes, threw 23 000 bombs and rockets which weighed over 6000 tons. Air strikes lasted for 78 days.)

I mean, it mostly wasn’t mayhem in Belgrade in 1991 and all through to 1999. It was shitty, yes, with rising crime and all the political shit happening but it’s fair to say that war did not touch us in Belgrade directly until 1999. So, you know, we were doing what people in their 20s do anyway. Fucked around mostly. 

And, yes, we were hit by NATO strikes in 1999, directly, but, and I know this will sound a little strange, that was not THAT bad. I mean, yes, people were killed and it demolished our economy, but compared with the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, this was much more laid back, with no ground troops fighting, no families getting torn apart, no looting, no raping. No village was burned down and no one in central Serbia was made a refugee (although, yes, approximately 200,000 people were forced to leave the territory of Kosovo and be displaced in central Serbia, so, yes, the humanitarian toll was very high).

Also, I hate NATO as much as the next guy, but it’s worth remembering that our hands were not exactly clean in this whole scenario. Our police killed a bunch of civilians in Kosovo, including killing whole families with children, during this campaign and that should also be remembered. 

Again, we were not that much impacted by all this. In Belgrade this was mostly felt through occasional power cuts and some buildings were hit but for the most part life went on as usual. 

Are you guys working on some new material at the moment? How about playing concerts out of Serbia? 

Well, I guess Bane has some songs in his head so… maybe? Not that we have rehearsed or anything since 2016. But I believe we are still a band and that we will do more shows. Out of Serbia? I think we would love to, but again, our jobs and families will always be coming first so I wouldn’t expect us to do any extensive touring or anything. That is, if anyone would even want to hear a bunch of old farts playing shitty grindcore. 

That´s kind of sad to hear, man. It´s been a long time since you rehearsed. So ACROHOLIA is opened for a one-off show only then? What are your conditions if anybody would love to invite you to play? Mentioning Bane´s having some songs in mind, any possibility that ACROHOLIA could make it to a recording studio this year? 

Oh, I am pretty sure that we will not be hitting the studio this year. Like, we barely talk to each other these days. Not out of any bad blood or anything, it’s just that everyone is busy with their lives, families, jobs etc. The same goes for shows. I have NO idea what our conditions would be or if we could all make it at all. The last show we played in 2016 it was just three of us as Slobodan couldn’t make it. So… yeah, no idea. 

ACROHOLIA played live at the Obscene Extreme festival in 2006. Did you enjoy your performance and the event in general? Has it all come out the way you wanted? Reveal the story behind it, how was the travelling to the OEF?

Oh, yes, that was brilliant. Sadly, we also played there without Slobodan even though he was pretty much the one who made it possible. I think he pestered Giulio the Bastard to recommend us to Čurby and Čurby in the end said “alright, they can play” but then Slobodan had to do his army service so we ended up playing as a three-piece. Here are a couple of songs: 
https://youtu.be/i0Q7fy1PSyE
https://youtu.be/tt7ay72tqUE

And, you know, it was fun. That was my first time in Czechia and I loved it. We actually had a bit of an adventure reaching Trutnov as it turned out we could not easily rent a car in Prague but we ran into a brilliant taxi driver who helped us so much that we ended up paying him MUCH more than he wanted. And the festival was really fun even back then, with a bunch of cool people from all over and of course a bunch of great bands. We played in our usual sloppy style but I don’t think anyone complained. These days OEF is a much bigger event but I hope one day we can return. 

What is the current Line up of ACROHOLIA today? Same as in 1992? 

We just changed the bass player. Slobodan has been with us from the late nineties and played on Ecocide and the “new” album from 2013. So, not the same but unchanged since 1999 or so. 

Pretty stable then. Not many bands can divulge such declaration. Since ACROHOLIA ain´t that active playing live, is there any favourite fest you always like to go to? Any remarkable gigs lately you went to? 

Oh, no, man, no, not at all. Like, we’ve almost completely stopped going to shows. I mean I did go to see Iron Maiden back in May this year but I haven’t been to a show years before that. And most of the stuff I’d go and see would probably be some experimental electronics, free improvisation or jazz stud anyway. I’ve stopped going to metal/ punk shows ages ago because they start too late in the evening, are too sweaty, noisy and filled with smoke and I am an old man now. And, this is pretty much true for the rest of the band. Like, Bane is much more into tango than into grindcore these days, for example.

Would you please recommend to the readers (and me) some of the actual bands from Serbia that are in your opinion worth a listen?

Oh, shit. You know, OK, I’ll give you TWO recommendations. And they’re not even grindcore, but these are brilliant thrash metal bands from Belgrade. One is called Nadimač and they’ve been going for some years now. They have several albums and are absolutely insane live: https://bandcamp.com/tag/nadimac?artist=610496122.

The other is Kobold and they are newer but they are also more technical and I absolutely adore them: https://koboldserbia.bandcamp.com/.

And, of course, there are many other great bands playing over here but I don’t really follow the scene that much these days so I’m sure I’d forget someone, so let’s just leave it at these two. 

Ok Uroš, cheers for the interview, man. I really do appreciate your time to do this. Wishing you guys good health and a stronger enthusiasm to compel ACROHOLIA forward! Hope one day my dream comes true and i´ll be able to pogo at your Live execution.

Oh, thank you so much and, yeah, we better start rehearsing then. That future OEF performance has to be PERFECT. Cheers, Pavel and thank you again. 

Interviewer: Pavel Ďuriš (grindcorizer@hotmail.com) 
Interviewee: Uroš Smiljanić (hitboxrecords@yahoo.co.uk) 

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Zveřejněno: 15. 09. 2022
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