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Folterkammer’s Operatic Black Metal Melodies

The band explores "torture chamber music" on new album, released on April 19

Black metal and opera both conjure up certain familiar images.
The former, stereotypically, is the province of nihilistic kids in corpse paint, setting fire to a society that’s rejected them. The latter belongs to people from the socioeconomic pinnacle of that very society, peering through tiny eyeglasses at elaborately costumed performers. The NYC band Folterkammer – German for “torture chamber” – sees the distance between those worlds as largely superficial. Their music seeks to collapse it.

“There’s just a close-mindedness on both sides,” guitarist Zachary Ezrin says. “Musically, it’s crossing over a lot. There’s a lot of black metal that has melodies that, to me, sound like they could be in an opera, if it was just played on a voice instead of an instrument. And there’s a lot of opera that is very metal.”

“I think that one does not have to exclude the other,” vocalist Andromeda Anarchia echoes. “I think they could also embrace each other, and I think that’s what our job is with Folterkammer.”

Ezrin and Anarchia met when Ezrin’s band Imperial Triumphant needed an operatic soprano for their song “The Filth.” The band tapped Anarchia, a trained bel canto singer from Switzerland who was friends with their drummer, Kenny Grohowski. “She was doing guest vocals, and really knocking it out of the park with everything we asked for,” Ezrin says. “I had another friend [Darren Hanson], who was writing a lot of really cool black metal in the style I was talking about, where if this wasn’t played on rock band instrumentation, this could be considered classical music. So I just thought about putting the two worlds together.”

From that basic seed – black metal meets opera – Folterkammer was born. Anarchia would sing, in German, utilizing her classically trained soprano as well as a feral black metal shriek. Before she met Ezrin, Anarchia had mostly set her operatic training aside. “I didn’t see myself as a traditional opera singer, because I also love to write my own music, and also to experiment with the voice,” she says. “When you are a traditional opera singer, you have this curriculum you have to follow, and you have to work on a very delicate kind of sound and technique. Which is great, but I didn’t want to sing bel canto for the rest of my life. I wanted to do growls. I loved metal already, and I wanted to sing everything.”

Folterkammer’s first album, 2020’s Die Lederpredigt, served as a kind of proving ground for the concept of the band. The songs were largely Hanson’s, written before Anarchia joined the project and without operatic vocals in mind. “You could see there was something we could hold onto, and actually work with,” Anarchia says. “I saw that something interesting had happened, and I would like to work with that and see how far I can go. Even just from the singing point of view, I wanted to figure out if I can combine these extreme, technical things even more elegantly.”

Weibermacht (“bitch power”) is a far more actualized expression of the Folterkammer vision than Die Lederpredigt. The songs were written specifically for Anarchia’s voice, and she was able to spend a lot more time laboring over her lyrics and melodies. The first album was recorded in a basement practice space on a shoestring budget. Weibermacht was done in a proper studio, for the powerhouse metal label Century Media. “We were able to be a little more comfortable in our skin,” Ezrin says. 

Ezrin refers to “Anno Domina,” Weibermacht’s blistering opening track, as “the overture.” Like a true operatic overture, the song introduces everything that Folterkammer will be getting into over the next 45 minutes. It starts with a gnarled black metal riff, which is quickly greeted by a soaring vocal line that Ezrin rightly describes as “fucking crazy.” (“It’s also crazy to sing,” Anarchia confirms. “I cover two octaves in just the first line.”) Before long, a harpsichord enters the fray, along with rhythmic whip strikes that foreshadow the album’s theme. “I think even the title of the song, ‘Anno Domina,’ is like an opening,” Anarchia says. “It tells that this is a new time, the time of the dominant woman. It’s kind of right to start the album with it.”

For lyrical inspiration, Anarchia turned to the weibermacht tradition in medieval and Renaissance art, wherein strapping young men are made to kneel, chastened or humiliated, at the feet of powerful women. There’s a huge canon of paintings and sculptures depicting women dominating men, almost always created by male artists, in a time when the social hierarchy was completely ruled by men. Anarchia was fascinated by the inherent kinkiness of the weibermacht power dynamic. 

“I always want to portray strong women, because I have to sing it, so I want to be convinced by what I sing,” Anarchia says. “I was thinking about, how do we know weibermacht as a concept in modern times? Even though it’s not that modern, it’s a dominatrix, right?”

“I think it’s a bit provocative – and black metal should be provocative, by its nature – that you start from a very feminine perspective, but a dominant feminine perspective, with words you don’t normally encounter in black metal lyrics,” she continues. “I think that’s also a surprise or even a shock for some people, when they discover the lyrics. ‘What is she singing about, “kiss my feet” or “the poem of the whip?”’ It can be irritating. I understand that. But that’s on purpose, because black metal is rebellious, and it should shock.”

Folterkammer thrive on those kinds of contradictions. The relationship between classical art and BDSM that can be found in the weibermacht tradition provides the same kind of contrast as their combination of opera and black metal. Yet there’s an internal logic and a tight focus to their music. It doesn’t reach for the easy symphonic touchstones of orchestral instrumentation; this is black metal, played with total conviction—just paired with an atypical vocal style.

“In college, I was studying classical music,” Ezrin says. “That was my major, so I was very much into the idea of recording and playing black metal with orchestra, and I was always a bit frustrated when the guitar parts were very simple, and then the orchestra would fill in all the complicated stuff. With Folterkammer, I feel like the guitars are the orchestra. It doesn’t need to be filled in with violins, cellos, and shit like that.”

“It’s more like a metal chamber orchestra, than what we understand as symphonic,” Anarchia says. “A very loud chamber music.”

“It’s torture chamber music,” Ezrin says with a knowing grin.