Premiere: Ushangvagush Mntu

7/30/21 | J.R.

<i>Mntu</i> album art

From years of effort comes Ushangvagush, an indigenous, experimental black metal project from Massachusetts. Through elements of punk, post-punk, and ambient music, sole musician D.'s multifaceted approach only increases in aggression and ferocity, spitting in the face of others who do the same in a washy, listless manner. Ushangvagush is proud, incensed music, fueled by D.'s indigenous heritage and the failures modern society and politics have made towards their people. Having stopped visiting the reservation their people called home and moved to the city at a young age, Ushangvagush's utilization of the Mi'kmaq language and connection to nature is D.'s own reconnection with their heritage and the natural world which surrounds them. Translated to "devil" in English, Mntu, Ushanvgagush's debut full-length album, tackles the modern world for the demon it is and transforms it into a hideous—and at times beautiful—punk-inflicted black metal sound.

Read an interview with Ushangvagush's enigmatic D. and stream Mntu below. Mntu releases August 8th on Vigor Deconstruct.

Ushangvagush very quietly released its demo a few years ago. What has the time since been like for this project in the leadup to Mntu?

D: Ushangvagush was something I have been wanting to work on for years. It was more about finding the time. I was in a few different bands and working 60 hour weeks so it was a bit of a struggle. The demo was actually a collection of a couple years of me writing some songs here and there. I was on tour when that demo came out and shortly after I came back the world shut down. The bands went to rest, my work hours got cut pretty heavily. It was depressing but it also opened a ton of time to experiment. I began playing around with new ways to record drums and how to write everything cohesively as a solo musician. After a bit of tinkering around I spent about six months composing and demoing everything. I just spent almost all the time in between on Mntu.

What does Mntu mean for the Ushangvagush project?

D: "Mntu" technically means "devil". Not necessarily the Devil though. To me it fit the project perfectly as the album is more or so about my "inner demons" or how the outside world can feel like an overall "devil" itself.

Research will show you are a multifaceted musician with many projects of different styles, but what led you to black metal as a means of expressing these thoughts?

D: All of my projects express certain feelings or stories that I have. Everything I have released in the past has been rather personal. I guess what led me specifically to black metal now is just the feeling behind the music. It feels like the best way to portray anger, confusion, dissociation, and melancholy even with just a riff. It is true and it is raw, no bullshit, and no feeling of having any true structure. I'm able to focus more on my inner self truly being released in just the music.

Have you discovered anything about yourself through the execution of this project?

D: It's odd, I have been an active musician for about 18 years now and after completing this, it did feel like a cloud has lifted over my inability to untangle thoughts and feelings. It's a true form of, I guess, meditation?

That creates an interesting duality between what you declare to be meditative and the music's more aggressive approach. Do you feel Ushangvagush is split in this regard?

D: I guess the meditation to me is more so being able to release in a way that is finally comfortable to me. Meditation I suppose is more of the outcome. I think the last track on this album perfectly displays this.

Ushangvagush promo photo

There is the element of indigenous culture and heritage found here, outwardly displayed by the use of Mi'kmaq language. What was it like expressing this part of yourself in art?

D: This is the first time I have expressed heritage in any art form. It's not something I was ever trying to hide, it just became more and more a part of my life as I got older. I became more passionate about it. I realized that just life in general took me away from who I was. I stopped going to res [the reservation], moved to the city, out of nature. I just lost who I was and found myself in a dark place. I included it into this record as I feel it marks the beginning of a never-ending path to drag myself out of where I ended up.

In this path of rediscovery, what have you learned about your art and yourself?

D: Right now I feel as if I am right in the beginning and there are a lot of complications I am coming across. It took a while to realize I no longer felt like myself. I have always used music as an outlet but have never sat down to think about it or to understand what I actually put to paper or tune. Maybe because this project is solo I can focus more on how to attempt to organize everything in my head. I can sit in a room and just analyze over and over again until it makes sense to me. This is one reason it brought me to want to learn more about my heritage. Maybe it will even help me find why i feel so dissociated with the world.

Do you feel closer to the world when creating and executing your art?

D: With this project more so than others but yes, music in particular has always been the one thing I could relate to that made sense.

In what ways does Ushangvagush help you relate?

D: I'm not sure how to explain it, but the creation process in general almost creates a way to tune my brain into a single line of thoughts. It silences all other "noise" in my head and makes me feel one. For sometime afterwards I am able to just understand. Similar to laying in the woods and feeling the earth breath.

Would you say this project is natural in that respect? Or is it more of an attuning to something more general?

D: This is more natural. I am expecting in the future I will work on an album more attuned to a Native/Nature aspect. I think it's important to me that this way, I am documenting the way I get to that point in my life.

Ushangvagush logo

What made you want to connect more with your indigenous heritage and nature through music?

D: A lot of it started when I was young. I was always very into music and soon I learned it was the best way for me to express thoughts. I remember going to pow wows and just being fascinated with the drums and chants, it's very important in the ceremonies. It brings one closer to the earth as well as others in the community. I always took that with me and as I got older I needed to revisit that. Certain songs are more of a song to nature rather than a song about. It's almost like a gift I suppose. As I write more songs the urge to dig deeper into my heritage continues.

Mntu features a vast array of influences, some of which might not exactly work with black metal on paper, but flow congruously on the album. What goals did you have for this album musically?

D: I am very glad that you have that opinion! Honestly, with this record I was writing a lot of it on guitar vs. the demo [where] I was writing all on drums. I would write riffs and flow into something that shouldn't fit, but I thought if the transition could be smooth enough that I could do anything. I grew up listening to a wide variety of music, so I play a lot of different types. I was pretty nervous with some of the final outcome, thinking certain songs were more post-punk or whatnot. I think the way things were sequenced it ended up being a nice break from an average black metal record. I assume I'll get some slack for that, but I think it's a bit different and I'm okay with it.

When did you first link up with Vigor Deconstruct?

D: In October 2019. I was following Fallen Empire Records so I saw the creation of Vigor pretty much immediately. I'm a huge fan of Krukh and Svrm, but I didn't really know the people running the label so I took a long shot and reached out. Coincidentally, I was also up in their area on a tour so we met up in person and pretty much hit it off immediately.

Vigor Deconstruct also helped press your demo cassette (in very limited quantities). What has your experience been like in the black metal world through this very specific lens?

D: Vigor has introduced me to a lot of new artists, some I have been in pretty frequent contact with. I have some new opportunities to perform with other artists as well. I can't go too deep into that, but I am assuming it will come to light shortly (if it all pans out). It's all still pretty new to me but hopefully as the new record comes out, more relationships will be made.

The future looks bright for Ushangvagush: a new release, performances, and more. What comes next once the dust settles?

D: I am currently working on some material for a split. It's a little slow moving, but I am attempting some new things so I'll be excited once it gets put together. I do have plans on getting a live band together and have some tentative plans to perform early next year.

Any final thoughts?

D: I think we covered mostly everything! Just thanks for taking the time to discuss with me. Thanks to Vigor Deconstruct for all the help and keeping everything fast moving. To me, this is just the very beginning so I am looking forward to this new chapter of life.

Ushangvagush on Bandcamp.

Vigor Deconstruct webpage.