From The Vastland’s Sina Winter spoke to The Iranist about starring in the Blackhearts documentary, the metal scene in Iran, and how ancient Persia inspires his music.
THE IRANIST: How did you get into metal music while living in Iran?
SINA WINTER: I grew up in a family of rock music fans. My mother and father always listened to rock bands from the 1970s and 1980s, like Camel, Pink Floyd, and Eloy. I also have an older sister that was into rock and metal. I was a teenager—around 12 or 13 years old—when a friend of mine living in Austria came to Iran for summer vacation and brought some tapes of Black Sabbath, Guns & Roses, and Metallica for me. It was the first time I listened to metal music. You know how it is. You start listening and can’t stop. You want more and more.
Black metal has its own special story. I was a fan of death metal music for around ten years. Metal is the genre and then there are subgenres: death metal, thrash metal, black metal, and so forth. The differences are in sound, lyrics, and atmosphere. For example, what you’re talking about in death metal is completely different compared to black metal or thrash metal; even when it comes to the sounds, structure, atmosphere, the music you’re making—everything is different. At the time, I was a fan of death metal music and then a friend of mine brought me a CD when I was around 20. Burzum, a Norwegian band, was the first black metal album I listened to. I remember exactly when I heard it; it was so mysterious and unknown. I listened to it five times in a row in one night. After that I was a fan of black metal and knew what kind of music I wanted to make.
THE IRANIST: How did the makers of the Blackhearts documentary find you?
SINAWINTER: When I started my first band—Sorg Innkallelse—there were only two metal bands in Iran, but they were really small and never released their albums outside the country. In 2007, I released an album with that band and it was really successful and got a lot of attention. Then a Norwegian company contacted me and wanted to re-release my album in Norway on Vinyl. That was unbelievable. It is a dream for many black metal musicians to release their album in Norway where black metal originated. The album was released and then Christian Falch, one of the directors of the documentary, contacted me. He said, “I found your album and I was looking for musicians from countries like Iran, Columbia, and Greece.” Then he told me about his project and that’s how it started.
THE IRANIST: In the documentary, your mother comes across as very proud and supportive of your career. That’s interesting, given that parents don’t aspire for their children to become lead singers in a black metal band.
SINA WINTER: As I said, both my parents are fans of rock music. They are also not religious. Because my sister and I listened to metal music, they became fans of it too. Without my mother and father, I could not be a metal musician because they always supported me 100 percent from the first day I told them I wanted to be a musician. And to be honest, whenever they call me from Iran, the first thing they ask me is, “How are things going with your music? Any concerts? A new album?” I had some friends give up their musical careers because their families limited them. I was really lucky. My parents gave me the freedom and support—even though it wasn’t easy for them to purchase my instruments because they couldn’t afford it. Even then, my parents wanted to do it anyways and see how they could help buy the instrument I needed.
THE IRANIST: How many metal bands are there in Iran?
SINA WINTER: It is really hard to say how metal bands there are since everything happens mostly underground. Most of the bands are not in contact with one another; not even much with their fans. So the bands that we know are the ones who are active on social media like Facebook and Instagram, but there are some others that we don’t know.
THE IRANIST: In the documentary, you mentioned there were arrests in Iran, but didn’t go into detail to avoid politics since you were still living in Tehran. Can you elaborate on that?
SINA WINTER: There are a lot of stories about arrests. I have been active in the scene since 2003 and know all the metalheads and musicians in Iran. For example, in 2012, a thrash metal band wanted to play a show in Tehran and got a permit from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The day of the performance, I saw the venue was closed and there were police cars everywhere. They arrested more than 200 people, including the audience and musicians. I was a bit late, so I was lucky. This was just one of many cases. Another example, I remember in 2006 or 2007, there was an event in one of the parks in Tehran and they invited all the musicians to play for charity. One of my friends and his thrash metal band were also invited—they aren’t active anymore—so I also went. Right when they started playing their set, some plainclothes officers with guns told them they couldn’t play and seized their instruments. They never got their gear back. Then there’s the metal band Confess, whose story also made headlines even in the United States. They went to prison and no one knows what happened to them. The last we heard was some rumors that they were sentenced to death. This is always an issue, especially when it comes to black metal.
THE IRANIST: Why does the Iranian government crackdown on metal musicians like you?
SINA WINTER: The Iranian authorities call it satanic music and blasphemy. They don’t know the subgenres of metal music; they just see it as against religion. Plus, they think this kind of music comes from western cultures and think it is dangerous. They think if people become modern or westernized, they won’t pay attention to religion and it places their government in danger. Back when I was listening to metal music, there were a lot friends listening to it. After a while, they gave up, either because their family didn’t like them listening to this kind of music, or they found out there is no chance to play this music as a band in Iran, or they found their passion in something else. But to me, it was something different. From the first day I started listening to metal music, it was my passion. It wasn’t just music for me. It was a lifestyle.
THE IRANIST: Why did you leave Iran?
SINA WINTER: It was March 2013 when I first came to Norway. I got my visa for a week and came here and played my show at the Inferno Festival and went back to Tehran. It was a time when things were getting a bit scary. From many years ago, I was active in the metal scene in Iran. In 2003, I had my first band Sorg Innkallelse and we worked for ten years. We had some small problems from this unknown source that was sending us threats. When I came back to Iran in 2013 from the show, these messages started again. I found it scary because every day there was more news about the Blackhearts documentary in the media and social media websites, and because my show and album were distributed in Norway, so I found it frightening and had to leave my country. It was in January 2014 when I could finally get an artist’s visa to come to Norway. It is risky to go back to Iran again.
THE IRANIST: You wear a Faravahar pendant and your lyrics draw inspiration from ancient Persian history and legends. That seems to deviate from the black metal scene.
SINA WINTER: I’ve always had the necklace with me since 10 or 15 years ago. This is not just a symbol of Zoroastrianism; it is a symbol of ancient Persia. It is really important for me not to forget my roots. When I started From The Vastland, I started writing lyrics about ancient Persia. It is all about mythology and ancient Persian history—it is full of epic stories. It is really appropriate for black metal music. Of course, in Iran no one had done it before, but in other countries it is a common thing to do since black metal musicians look at their history and myths and write lyrics from it. Many Norwegian bands are into Satanic stuff, but not all. They are into pagan stuff and write their lyrics about ancient history. Since my band members are Norwegian, they were interested to see what I write about. They always respect other people’s history and that’s really important.
THE IRANIST: What do fellow Iranians inside Iran think of your music?
SINA WINTER: Well, the thing is during the past two years, from the time when metal fans in Iran started hearing about the film as well as my band and music, I got a lot of positive and supportive messages from them. Some have told me that my story inspired them to not give up and continue following their passion and working on their music. It’s a great feeling whenever I hear something like that. A lot of them were also asking us how they can watch the film. So, recently we made a link for Iranians to stream the film for free. Actually, I made a geoblocked page—I am a web designer as well— so people inside Iran with an Iranian IP address are able to watch the film.
THE IRANIST: Do you have a new album coming out soon?
SINA WINTER: Right now, I finished material for a new album. Hopefully in two months, we’ll go to the studio and record it.