Underground Sounds: VVilderness – Devouring The Sun

Label: Casus Belli Musica/Independent
Band: VVilderness
Origin: Hungary

It took me a while to really explore who VVilderness is, but I felt little surprise to see that Ferenc Kapiller, operating under the name vvilder, was operating this band. The previous project of Kapiller was Release The Longships. As much as a continuation, this is also a break with the previous sound, to create something new within the same context of northern mythology.

‘Devour The Sun’ imagines Ragnarok from an ecological perspective, as a cleansing of the world. A rebirth aftwerwards without the human infestation that has been slowly killing it. The sound is firmly lodged into the blackgaze niche, thanks to the shoegaze that is embedded in the soothing sound on ‘Devouring The Sun’.

The peculiarity of VVilderness is that the sound really is, as they describe it, akin to Alcest. Perhaps with a bit more brawn and postrock sensibilities, which come forward in the gradual build-up and conscientious craftsmanship that goes into creating an album so solidly connected. ‘Starless Dark’ is a slow ascent to the heights where the band operates, with sonorous tones and emotion-evoking strings. When it launches into the track ‘Sól’, this is where we get the black metal influences. Though I get the comparison with Harakiri For The Sky, I imagine a bit of Lantlôs too in there.

Though the music holds an intensity, that overwhelms the casual listener, the darkness eludes you. VVilderness offers tranquility, soothing beauty, like hazy rain on a sunny day. The sound is optimistic, warm and beautiful. On ‘Devour The Sun’, the guttural vocals disturb that peace and a slightly melancholic tone hits home. Well, it’s the end of the world so that makes sense. The undeniable majesty and force of the event takes over and dilutes this human emotion though, which fits the theme. From there we move to more acoustic music. ‘Life’ introduces the rebirth, with the sweeping ‘New Earth’, that simply offers a pure, meandering sound with high notes that sound like little bells heralding a new, beautiful age.

We leave with the glowing sounds of ‘Afterglow’. A bright ray of hope perhaps, though not for humanity.

Rudra: Discovering the Self within Metal

Some bands carve their own path in this world and very rarely one creates a very own style and genre. Rudra from Singapore does, with their unique sounding Vedic metal music. Blending thrash, death and black with folk elements to create a unique sound from their small city-state in Southeast Asia.

Singapore has quite a scene, but Rudra seems to set itself apart musically and aesthetically. The city-state is also extremely densely populated, with a high life quality and a vast influx of world cultures. I asked Kathir, singer and bass player a couple of questions about their music, the meaning behind it and their 25-year existence and more.

Thanks to Kunal Choksi from Transcending Obscurity, for helping realize this interview. This is Vedic metal. This is Rudra.

Rudra: Vedic metal from Singapore

Hello! Could you kindly start by introducing yourself? Can you tell us how the band got started and how you guys got together?

Kathir: I am Kathir, the bassist, and vocalist of the band. The band was formed in 1992 and since then the line-up has gone through a couple of changes. The drummer Shiva and I have remained in the band since its formation. Shiva and I met back in school in 1991 and we immediately got along for our common love for rock music and metal.

What bands influenced your music? I understand that you sort of carved out your own niche, but what metal acts inspired you.

Kathir: As much as we have created a niche for ourselves, it has been the usual suspects that inspired us. Slayer has been the single biggest influence in our early years as well as early Sepultura, Obituary, Bathory, Megadeth, Death, Black Sabbath, Kreator, and Destruction.

So how is Rudra doing? Your last full length came out in 2016. Can you tell us about the album ‘Enemy of Duality’?

Kathir: We just crossed our 25th year of existence. We are currently busy recording our next release which is going to be an EP of covers of six bands that inspired us. We are also releasing a compilation of tracks from our first 5 years which will be entitled ‘Past Life Regression’ and a third release called the ‘ Black Isle Sessions’ which will feature tracks that were played live and re-recorded in the Black Isle Studios. The year 2018 will be a year of renewal by consolidating our past and preparing for the future.

‘ Enemy of Duality’ is another concept album based on a very old Sanskrit text ‘Mandukya Karika’. It is really a special album because it brings back the fusion of Indian instrumentation and modalities into our music. It has been very well received. Having existed for 25 years, it is pretty difficult to incorporate new songs into our live setlist. But a couple of songs have emerged to be crowd favorites from this album.

How do you guys approach the creation, writing and recording process of your music? Does everyone have separate roles or is there a clear order and set of tasks?

Kathir: It has become pretty organic. Everyone contributes to the song writing. With the recent albums, we became more emergent in the song writing process allowing our ideas to emerge in the studio. We stopped walking in prepared with riffs and ideas.

You guys have been around for 25 years, congratulations. Can you tell me what has changed in your music and world as a band over this period?

Kathir: Thank you. One big shift that took place in the 5th year was the clear niche we created for ourselves via Vedic Metal. Since then we have been consistent in playing our brand of Death/Black Metal. With the sole exception of ‘Rta’, our 7th album, every album is of the same vein with varying production value. We have worked with different producers at times to renew our sound and sometimes produced it ourselves. Rta is the only album that brought an epic feel to our music and stood out from our other albums.

Your style has been labeled as Vedic metal. Can you explain in your own words what that means and also what it means to you?

Kathir: We came up with this term to denote the fusion of metal with ancient Indian philosophy and Indian classical music modalities. Our lyrics also revolve around the theme of ancient Vedic philosophy as well.

Can you tell me more about the Vedic mysticism and sacrifices, particularly what you bring into the music? Like me, many listeners and readers will be rather unfamiliar with its meaning and content, so can you offer an explanation? A little historical background would be very interesting too.

Kathir: The Vedas are very ancient texts in the Sanskrit language. They primarily deal with four subjects which are hymns, rituals/sacrifices, meditations, and philosophy. These texts go as far back as 2500 BCE. Rudra’s lyrical themes revolve around the fourth subject which is philosophy or also called the Upanishads in Sanskrit. The philosophy deals with existential topics such as the source of the universe, nature of the world and the Self-knowledge. We have primarily focused on Self-knowledge as the theme of most of our lyrics.

Now, I know that Hinduism, which is your main theme, has many faces. How in your own view does it match with heavy metal music? Where is the click for you?

Kathir: Hinduism is a big word and it does not have a monolithic set of beliefs or philosophy. It has evolved over thousands of years and at times quite unrecognizable from its ancient roots. However, it is the philosophical aspects of Hinduism which clicks for us as a band, in specific the philosophy of non-dualism. We find non-dualism radical enough to be presented via metal.

I hear some traditional instruments in your music, also some interesting structures. How do you put the two things together?

Kathir: These are instruments we have listened to since we were kids. So it was quite natural for us to imagine these ideas before even fusing them with metal. But what made it easy was working with expert musicians.

I particularly like how you guys have records with a distinct look and feel. The artwork really promises a new experience, something unknown and at times even a bit unnerving. I really enjoy that aspect. How much work goes into that and how does this whole vision come together?

Kathir: We spend a great deal of time finding the right fit for the music and the cover art. It needs to make sense to us. And there is much interpretation that goes into the choice of artwork as well as its final form. For example, the artwork for ‘Enemy of Duality’ presents an ancient form of the Indian drum and a trident is tied to it. The three spokes of the trident represent the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep. The base of the three spokes is a singular rod which represents the fourth state of Self or non-duality. Together it indicates the causal relationship between the three states and the Self. The drums attached to it represents the sound of the Vedas which become the means to know the Self. This is a typical example of how we come up with design and artworks.

As I understand it, your band has even become a topic for scholarly interest and academics have started noticing you. Can you give some examples and what does it mean for you to get such recognition?

Kathir: It definitely means a lot that we have gotten the attention of musicologists as well. Although as metalheads we do not look for acceptance or mainstream appeal, this attention we got definitely shows that metal, as well as Vedic metal, is worth a deeper study from a musical and anthropological sense.

I’d like to ask you about playing metal music in Singapore. How did the metal scene, in general, get started there? Which bands next to yourselves really pioneered it and is there (in your view) a distinct sound for Singapore bands?

Kathir: The metal scene started in Singapore with bands like Rusty Blade in the mid-80’s. After which a new wave of underground metal bands emerged in the late 80’s and early 90’s which inspired us. The bands from this period that inspired us were Martyrdom (RIP), Silent Sorrow (RIP), Stomping Ground (RIP), Lycanthropy (RIP), Morbific (RIP), Opposition Party, Global Chaos (RIP), Savage (RIP) and Anesthesia (RIP). I do not recall any of these bands had a distinct sound but they sounded just like the bands from the western worlds. And that was what precisely impressed us.

From online sources, I understand there’s a vast metal scene in your country. What does the metal scene in Singapore look like? Is it divided by genre or regions in any way? Are there plenty of venues and rehearsal spaces? Also, is there any form of censorship or public dislike towards extreme metal music, as there is in many places around the world?

Kathir: The current state of the metal scene is pretty good. There are perhaps more serious bands in the scene than perhaps ten years ago. This could be due to the fact that recording and releasing music have gotten a lot less expensive these days. This had created more serious bands that went on to record their music. The scene is pretty united but just that the metal scene hangouts vanished in the 90s. There used to be hangouts where bands used to gather to talk about what’s happening in the scene as well as new discoveries. That’s how we discovered new bands. These days, the internet has replaced this purpose. The metal scene is here is not split into genres. Bands from different metal sub-genres share the same stage. The censorship to has lightened since the 90’s, as well as national funds, have been created for bands to support their music creation. Perhaps we are at the most opportunistic time in Singapore’s music history.

I understand most of you guys have side projects. Would you be willing to tell something about those and how they fit in with playing in Rudra?

Kathir: We do not get too involved in side projects as we did ten years ago due to priorities such as business and family. However, Vinod and I play in The Wandering Ascetic currently. That’s about it for now.

What bands from Singapore should people really check out (and why)?

Kathir: Witchseeker cause they play good old Thrash. Assault because of their new album rocks. Wormrot needs no introduction.

You’ve released an album, titled ‘The Aryan Crusade’. Now, I know that this term has various different meanings, but since people from various places might read this, can you comment on what that means for you to prevent misunderstandings. Also, is there any political element to your music?

Kathir: Firstly there is neither any political nor nationalist element in our music. Secondly, I want to thank you for asking this question. In around 2004-5 one of our fans was confronted by a couple of guys for wearing the Aryan Crusade t-shirt. The bunch of guys assumed that he was a neo-Nazi. At the time of releasing the ‘Aryan Crusade’, we deliberately named the album so, to educate the metal world about the usage of the word Aryan. The word Aryan is explicitly a Sanskrit word, used in Vedic, Jain and Buddhist traditions. The word was not used to denote a race but people of a certain character. The early Vedic definition of an Aryan would be someone who led a highly structured life performing sacrifices to be in harmony with a universal order called Dharma. Therefore, the Vedic perspective refers to a noble quality born out of an appreciation of this order and not something inherited genetically. That’s how we used the word for that album as well as the opening song on that album, ‘Aryaputra’.

What future plans does Rudra have?

Kathir: We will be spending the second half of 2018 writing the next album and hopefully release it in early 2019.

If you had to compare yourself to a dish (a type of food), what would it be and why?

Kathir: This is the most difficult question. I can’t think of any.


Underground Sounds: Guilhem Desq – Visions

Label: Self Released
Artist: Guilhem Desq
Origin: France

The Hendrix of Hurdy-Gurdy

I never thought I’d read the phrase ‘The Hendrix of the hurdy-gurdy’ anywhere, but there it is. It applies to none other than Guilhem Desq. Breathing life into an instrument that makes people tilt their head in appreciation for its rustic image is no small feat, but the Frenchman has succeeded in it.

He completes that with the fantastic album ‘Visions’, where you truly enjoy this instrument in a profoundly new and imaginative way yet always harking back to its roots. From traditional folk tunes to oriental swooping songs, the instrument evokes many vistas of a world we left behind. A set of visions of you like, of this majestic past, we’ve come to cherish so dearly in this time and age.

Opening tune ‘Le château magique’ is airy, almost a trip-hop-like with its’ pleasant beat and playful tunes, which just flutter about. Nothing feels forced about this song, except perhaps that gently prodding rhythm. It’s the title track that brings up the eastern promises instantly, with tense drumming and intensity in the push of the instrument, which whines and cries as it edges you on. Luckily it relents and ‘La libellule et le baobab’ offers an oasis of rest. It’s calm and mellow tones are here and there disrupted by the shrill sounds of the hurdy-gurdy. Mostly the two sounds of sound join together effortlessly to create harmonious, pleasant music. As if you’re sitting in the sun, eyes shut.

We travel the desert on ‘Sand Sailor’, with more ethnic elements and the clear rhythm of a camel ride. We go on journeys through lush green forests, with the organic sounds of the hurdy-gurdy. Sometimes joyfully singing, otherwise making frantic brief bursts of sound that shock you out of our routine. Guilhem Desq plays warm and full of light at times, like the pleasant memory evoking ‘Jusqu’en haut de la montagne’. Here you imagine a far view, that bird’s perspective moment with the soaring tones swelling and rising over a base of pulsating droning nature. We close the album with the melancholic, yet eclectic, ‘Le château abandonné’. A beautiful tone, that brings together the best of the record.

Dungeon crawling: Tunes to tunnel by

If you love the good old dungeon crawler than you know the value of atmosphere and vibe. To achieve this, a good bit of music in the background or on a firm volume. For that, there’s some good music out there and some of it is very, very specifically made for just that task.

The music from Alex Crispin, Basic DungeonWaelmist and Deorc Weg are more than fitting for your next adventure of dungeon crawling.

Alex Crispin – Escape the Dark Castle (Original Soundtrack)

label: Cobblers Records
origin: United Kingdom

Themeborn is a gaming company from Nottingham (yes, Robin Hood’s hood), who created the game ‘Escape the Dark Castle’. An intriguing dungeon crawler, suitable for non-gamers (I really would love to get myself a copy). For this, Alex Crispin made a soundtrack, which has long been sold out. The game is still available and expansions are coming on!

The music Crispin made does justice to the vibe of the game. Eerie drones and ambient sounds, make you instantly aware of the dark, damp dungeon around you. The threat is looming and intensely oppressing as the first song starts. Dark, long tracks, like ‘Endless Dark’ and ‘Cult Procession’ imbibe your experience with the inescapability of the situation you find yourself in. Trapped in the prison with only one thing left to do: to escape. With this soundtrack, you absolutely know how thrilling a game can be if the vibe and story are right.  This soundtrack is a must for your gaming session, where tracks like ‘This is your end’ truly enhance the game experience.

Basic Dungeon – Tunnels & Treasures

label: Heimat Der Katastrophe
origin: unknown

If you are, like me, one of those people who instantly feels great when you hear the shady, dusky tones of 8-bit role-playing games? In that case, Basic Dungeon is exactly what you need. Gloomy, minimalist sounds that completely capture the adventurous vibe of those early crawling games. They were incredibly hard to play, sometimes for me as a child, impossible to grasp, but filled with a grand atmosphere that still gives me the shivers.
This record starts with the foreboding ‘Barbaric Clash’, taking you towards the arches in a dungeon, with pure darkness beyond them. It’s that darkness that is so appealing. No shifting in the distance, odd reflections of light. Your old games were light and dark, with little in between. There’s a simplicity to that, like to the sound of Basic Dungeon, that strips away all unnecessary things. ‘A golden coin is hidden under a dead giant rat ‘ may sound odd out of context, but in game, this stuff just happens. Much like ‘Pixeled Ghost’, which immediately summons that familiar image. More importantly, Basic Dungeon truly traps that old sound, with the simmering bass line and repetitive key patterns, creating a record that offers nothing but joy.

Deorc Weg – The Forlorn Cold of Ages

label: self-released
origin: United Kingdom

The entity Deorc Weg has mastered the sheer minimalism that goes into creating dungeon synth. It’s not the presence of sound that creates the tension, which makes the music so unique. It’s the absence and suggestion of what should fill the gaps that mesmerize its listeners. Like reading fantasy, you need to be free to imagine and fill in the blanks with your own thoughts and expectations and this is what you are fully able to with ‘The Forlorn Cold of Ages’.
The music flows constantly and the quality of the drums is for example astonishing. As it hits, sparingly, you can imagine the dust of ages flying up only to settle a moment later. The dusty, dry synths are imbued with life. Life unseen, but vibrant and thrumming in droning tones. There’s a way the tunes just flow fully and thus the minimal force is in the music. Everything shifts like waves, rising and falling as the sound ebbs away. Deorc Weg manages to sound both regal as much as foreboding in this manner. Truly the fitting sound for the places of legends.

Wælmist – The Crypt of the Sepulchral Lamp

Label: Self-released
Origin: United Kingdom

Simon Lucas is the drummer in Winterfylleth and as far as I know a great walker of the verdant realm and the abandoned remains of the past. This record is inspired by the crypts underneath Paris, where millions rest their weary bones in a true necropolis. Although, that would suggest something different in how this ossuary came to be. Waelmist creates tunes befitting of this darker realm.

Dark and gloomy sounds barely form a tangible fog of sound. It’s the rare sounding of a gong that breaks into the solemn atmosphere of a place where the living have no say nor sway. Wælmist wallos in the mysterious, with slowly moving soundscapes and gentle reverb. It’s as if you can’t really discern the origin of the sound, as if the sound may not be really there. This is the atmosphere befitting the crypts, a world that belongs to the dead.

Underground Sounds: Living Altar – Scythes towards Psyche

Label: Inferna Profundus Records/Rat King Records
Band: Living Altar
Origin: Lithuania

Blood upon the Altar

I first read about Living Altar in Forgotten Path Zine.  As it stands, the band has been around for a bit, but it took some time get a release out. After a demo and split release, this is their first album and it’s some pretty strong stuff from the Lithuanian group.

The trio has had some experience apart form Living Altar. They played in Regressive and Fuck Off And Die!, bringing a bit of speed and thrash to the mix that makes up Living Altar.  Their inspiration is drawn from a psycho-spiritual world, making the band an interesting group.

‘Blinding Shower of Light’ is indeed much like a shower, pouring down on you visceral and vicious black metal. The rigid riffing finds contrast in the bestial drumming and battle-hungry vocals. A clear thrash influence can be detected early on in the songs when the guitars wail and scream. A different vibe is available on ‘Invert the Hearts’, which jangles and wallows in twangy guitars, that emit a more punky feel (like early Norwegian bands) with perhaps a bit of the current Polish bands atmosphere-wise. A strong moment on the record.

The recording quality is exceptionally good, but clearly muddled and dulled in production to create a certain lo-fi sound. Living Altar needs to sound primitive, it fits the brutal pummeling on the drums and frantic use of cymbals on tracks like ‘Dawn of Shadows’. They’re not renewers of the scene, but they are feisty worshippers of filthy, fierce black metal. That they deliver with conviction and fury.

This band brings a raw, feisty sound. They do it well and with power, so check them out.

Underground Sounds: Paleowolf – Megafauna Rituals

Label: Self-released
Band: Paleowolf
Origin: Serbia

Back to the time before time

Back into the primordial realm, to the days before history, with the latest release by Paleowolf. This record is titled ‘Megafauna Rituals’ and explores the shamanistic hunter-gatherers of the 150.000-9.000 BC era, when early man was faced with giant wildlife known as Megafauna. Check out their previous records too.

When we speak of giants walking the earth, this is a time we can certainly speak of. Nature was still dominating human life, overwhelming our ancestors, who carved their image into walls and objects in reverence to their primitive, raw power. This album, the fourth by Paleowolf, explores that in sound.

‘Aurochs’ opens with a firm, reverberating drown, paying homage to the ancestors of our cattle. A mighty race of cow-like creatures, whose grunts and bellows merge with the droning and drums, that sound with ominous force. The Auroch was actually part of our landscape up till the 16th century. The ‘Sabertooth’ is a very different beast. Its ferocity is captured in fiery tribal chants and drums, but also in the low growling and eerie drones. There’s a reverie in the song for this mighty beast. A proud statement, with matching sounds.

A similar expression follows with songs like ‘Totem’ and ‘Cavebear’, tribal utterings and beastly suggestive passages, that keep the listener in that strange trance. It takes you to something untapped, something reptilian in your brain of an instinctive nature. Only with the majesty of ‘Megaloceros’, we are awoken for a bit with its sonorous bellowing. All an imitation of course, since this mighty creature no longer walks the earth. The sound swells to a mighty roar, with powerful, firmament-shaking drums. You can feel the fires dancing over the leafy roof above the tribesmen as they dance to their primitive deities on ‘Direwolf’. Attempting in their rituals, to quell the natural forces that proved to be a danger during day and night. That’s when the howling resounds and eerie drones take over.

We end with the mighty ‘Mammoth’, after which the primordial realm gently fades away again.

Underground Sounds: Claret Ash – The Great Adjudication: Fragment One

Label: Casus Belli Musica/Beverina
Band: Claret Ash
Origin: Australia

Claret Ash is a black metal band from Australia and like most of those, they’re a bit different. The band has not been around that long yet, but have released two full-length records in the past. It seems that they’ve been experimenting a bit with their sound lately with a single and the EP, titled ‘ The Great Adjudication: Fragment One’.

The band appears to have a connection with Immorium, having had two members of this black metal band in their ranks. The Canberra act makes some interesting music and doesn’t follow the more well-trodden paths in their music, which is melodic and atmospheric. Time to dig in.
Ever opened the door and then got a full burst of sand or snow blown into your face? Well, that’s what pressing play for ‘Essence of Fire’ does for you. The song blasts off with those tremendous tremolo guitar riffs and roaring vocals. Much more surprising is the clean singing on ‘Devolution’, which takes on a melancholic, sensitive sound. The group is compared to Der Weg Einer Freiheit, and during the more energetic, angry parts I get it. I really do, but there’s something more to Claret Ash than that, which is where they become particularly interesting.
A track like ‘Plague Bearer’ then has a remarkable quality of ominous melody and atmosphere. A sinister threat, looming over you with big, hard-hitting drum salvo’s and particularly dire guitar parts unfolds. There’s little present in the way of cold, northern black metal, but a very particular sound. You feel their sound come up to the bottom of your stomach, resting there, slightly giving of tremors to make you feel wildly uncomfortable. Perhaps there’s something of an oldschool death metal vibe in their sound too, something less condensed into a particular genre. That’s definitely something you feel on ‘The Geir’, with clean singing and slow, doomy parts.
An album to dig into and explore continuously. Not that there’s a hidden layer to it, but it simply keeps being interesting.

Grimrik: Into the wordless night of dungeon synth

The music, generally called dungeon synth, is on the rise. One artist who has been endeavoring the create these otherworldly sounds for a long time is Grimrik. The artist released his first project in this style more than 20 years ago, in the wake of the second wave of black metal.

The connection between black metal and dungeon synth might seem fickle, but a while ago I started looking into this and wrote the ‘Bedroom Dreaming’ article, which was overall met with a nice reception. Dungeon synth finds its roots in atmospheric tracks and side-projects from artists like Burzum, Satyr’s Wongraven and Neptune Towers by Fenriz, but one can easily look further back and see many similar musical releases (often considered oddities). Considered the father of the genre is Mortiis, who used to play in Emperor. In the mid-nineties, he started shaping the sound. At that point, Grimrik already started to release music within the confines of this movement and has busily been exploring this magical realm.

Grimrik has various projects and due to the general anonimity of artists within dungeon synth, it’s tricky to find them all. One thing I found particularly interesting is the use of the word ‘sidegenre’. It makes a lot of sense, as dungeon synth is an aspect of black metal. Since the genre has been rapidly growing and even made it to Roadburn with a performance of Old Tower, let’s illuminate these dark dungeons with one who has dwelled there for years. It’s an exciting time for dungeon synth, but also for Grimrik, who has re-releases and exciting new projects coming out soon!

For those who are unfamiliar with you or your work, could you briefly introduce yourself?
I started making my own music back in the early/mid 90s. My first release worth mentioning was a (solo) side project called Nazgûl (1996), which was musically quite exactly what is now called‚ dungeon synth’ (re-released 2016 by Deivlforst Records).

After 1997, I quit releasing music for a while and made only some (more electronic) stuff for myself and drafts for songs that later became and will become alive. In 2013 – after meeting Murgrind – I started being active in publishing again, the project Arath released its first album (classic dungeon synth as well). This debut album was elected the best DS album of 2013 by the world’s largest DS scene which was quite a motivation!

Nevertheless, I soon felt the need for a new solo project which turned out to become Grimrik ( Albums so far: Eisreich [2014], Die Mauern der Nacht [2015]). Different than in the 90s, I now have lots of interest in the production side of music and this definitely influences the music I make. For an example, while making synth music I find it very useful to know exactly what each knob and fader on a synth does and how compression and EQ-ing work for example. Besides producing my own music, I did a lot of complete audio masterings for Deivlforst Records in the last years (examples: Thangorodrim, Wolcensmen, Murgrind, Medhelan). In the beginning of Deivlforst Records, I also did some layout works for them.

Just to clarify, any intro is my words and opinions. In no way do they necessarily reflect those of the artist.

Tunes while you read:

Into the dungeons with Grimrik

What is your musical background and how did you end up making music?
The music that influenced me most is probably Black Metal and its sidegenres. I can’t deny that I also always liked electronic music also very much. Making music came naturally back then in the 90s, if you were into metal, everybody also wanted to make their own. So I started drumming, ‘singing’ and playing keyboards in metal bands first.

After that era, I first didn’t find enough sense in releasing stuff anymore and experimented with other types of music. Those didn’t turn out good enough for me though. The initial breakthrough for more activity came with meeting Murgrind, whose music inspired me to make DS again – which led to all following developments. I can’t thank him enough for lighting up the flame in me again!

What inspired you to go in the dungeon synth direction? Which musicians inspired you?
Back then definitely the ‘classic’ artists like Mortiis, Pazuzu, Summoning, Die Verbannten Kinder Evas, black metal intros, outros and interludes and Wongraven – no surprises here.

What is dungeon synth for you? What makes the genre so particularly attractive?
This is a very difficult question to answer! For me it will always be a sidegenre to black metal, because I got into it this way, but much more on the fantasy side, less ‘evil’ and less bound to certain ‘beliefs’.

The genre is very attractive to me as it is still very underground despite its recent growth in popularity. It can be done on a DIY basis by anyone and is able to transport spirit and atmospheres that no other music can. It is really hard to describe, it is more a ‘feeling’ than it could be rationally categorized.

Outside of music, what are things that inspire your love for the genre?
Fantasy literature, mythology, nature, ancient history, philosophy, own insights, weird theories, visual components. I wouldn’t name particular books, I prefer to keep that a secret.

We got in touch through my attempt at introducing dungeon synth to a broader reader population. What would be the artists you would name for a listener new to the genre and why?
Let me start this answer with a short introduction. The genre and scene grew a lot in the recent years and already can be divided into some subgenres. I personally prefer the more sophisticated, more ‘composed’ music that is also written and produced with lots of effort (still DIY at home) – and is also more linked to the origins of the genre, but taking them to a more nowadays level.

That said I’d recommend the following contemporary albums: Murgrind – Inheritor of the Forest Throne,
Thangorodrim – Taur-nu-Fuin
Medhelan – Fall of the Horned Serpent
Barak Tor – March of the Triumphator
Splendorius – Norfaragell-Thul
Skarpseian – Fragmenter av Trolldom
Old Sorcery – Realms of Magickal Sorrow I

could recommend some more, but these are probably the best of the genre for me. Another (double) album I would recommend to get quick access to some facets of the genre is ‘Arath – Treasures from the Dungeon Vol. 1 & 2’ which is a collection of songs Murgrind and me made over some years, showing a variety of different atmospheres, sound choices and production levels, while all songs are DS.

If I should choose ONE classic 90s DS recording to recommend and which stands for the genre it would be ‘Mortiis – Ånden som gjorde Opprør’

What sort of instruments or programs do you use to make your music? What would anyone starting out need?
Main DAW: Propellerhead Reason with some extra ‘rack extensions’ (special VST-Format for Reason), Hardware controllers & sequencers Current Synths: Yamaha CS1X, Kawai GMega, Roland JD-XA, Kawai K4, Elektron Analog Rytm, a modular (Eurorack) synth, Waldorf Streichfett.
Next buy: Arturia Matrixbrute. All you need to start is a DAW that has some good sounds installed or free VSTs plus a MIDI-Keyboard plus, on the production side, the will to learn how to record and mix and master.

How do you go about making music, where do you start from?
It depends. Sometimes I do some improvisation and just try around playing some sounds, sometimes from this whole new songs evolve. Sometimes I have a certain mood, melody or something else in mind and I try to transform this into a song. Usually, I make drafts that I work on further again and again at a later point. This includes (re-)arranging, changing sounds, enhancing the mix etc.

Do you start with a concept or with music and how do you shape the eventual work?
Sometimes I start with the music from which the inspiration for a topic comes, sometimes the other way round (see also question above).

Dungeon synth seems to be even more in love with the cassette format than any other genre, how did that happen?

I think there are several reasons for that. Nostalgia, handling and playing a cassette evokes feelings of a now long gone past for the older of us. For the younger it is possibly some kind of ‘weird relic’ of their parent’s centuries, totally unnecessary when it comes to pure reason – but reason often doesn’t transport feelings, but using ‘ancient’ technology does. Also playing a cassette means limitation, but in a world where you can get nearly every music track just by a simple click on the internet and can make your own tracklist, you often do want to be limited to the artist’s choice of tracks, their order etc. This goes along with the get-all-you-want, but virtually, options of the internet-age, people like to go back in time by intention and feel a real item in their hands, which was – in the best case – designed with passion and effort. Also, you can actually own a collection of ‘hardware’ items that can be looked at and browsed through, designs are connected with memories of the music etc.

Same goes for vinyl, that also has a huge renaissance, but is much more expensive both to produce and to purchase so more rare in extreme underground scenes. A cassette limits the sound – but this is often wanted and even seen as an enhancement. What is really important for both tapes and vinyl is that they are analog. In a world becoming more and more digital, many people do like the ‘limitations’ of analog media. I am totally happy with this as I grew up with all music media types and love them all. They all have their pros and cons – but only physical is real!

 What future plans do you have right now as an artist and label owner?
Anything good coming up? Concerning Grimrik, my album ‘Die Mauern der Nacht’ was just released on red/black vinyl by Neuropa Records (Belgium) and on tape by Out of Season with Foreign Sounds/Children of the Night (US). I am extremely happy with the physical results, all editions look incredibly cool. Responsible for this are the labels involved which put a strong focus on quality work, Dan Capp, who’s layouts he did for this album are truly great. I also did some conceptual work for every physical release. What makes me kind of proud is that these labels released some much bigger artists before – like Carpenter Brut, Ulver, and Mortiis for example. ‘Eisreich’ will be released on vinyl by Deivlforst Records soon (probably March, three different vinyl colors…)! The third Grimrik album will be hopefully (and finally) finished soon. Additionally, I have some more Berlin-School, hardware-only music almost finished that should be out in 2018 as well. Plus another secret project and possibly some new songs by Nazgûl… So, if all plans will work, there’s a lot to come!

Anything you’d like to say, that I didn’t ask?
A thing that been on my mind for long: The Grimrik project is not political at all, it neither carries nor supports any political ideologies.

Final question, if you had to compare your music to a type of food, what would it be and why?
Let me answer this only for my last album ‘Die Mauern der Nacht’ only and based on feedback many people gave me. Seems it is best compared to a (possibly French) 5-course menu, the opposite of fast food. It demands attention to detail and quite a lot of patience. It grows on you while listening to it and makes the best sense when consumed completely, then it can feed your brain. You get the whole concept from start to beginning, taste all spices that were carefully thrown into each course. If consumed in a hurry or incompletely, it will definitely leave you unsatisfied and you won’t like it. This makes it less accessible to many, but I was often told it rewards those willing to go through it as intended with a great experience.

Underground Sounds: Hellevaert – Hellevaert

Label: self-released
Band: Hellevaert
Origin: Netherlands

Drag you down to hell

A while ago I listed interesting black metal bands from the Netherlands, in what I planned to make an ongoing series. I surely missed out on one band there, because Hellevaert sounds like one hell of a sonic experience. Their album is self-titled, the name being the antonym of the Dutch word for Ascension day (which would be Hemelvaart, the journey to the heavens). I’ll let you make the translation by yourself.

Inspired by the likes of Dante Alighieri and Milton for their album, they draw up a tortured realm of dystopian proportions. The music has been enriched with samples and has not got the classic black metal feel. This is more crafted, less organic and more the creation of one brain, happening to be frontman Serpent. I know little more concerning the band, which helps to keep up the mystery.
The music is explosive, with intents blast beats and riffing that plows over you without any symptom of mercy. Apart from strange spoken samples, there’s little respite for the listener. The extreme and violent sounds rain down upon them, coalescing into massive slabs of black metal. Notable are the warped operatic vocals on ‘Hell And Apocalypse Await Eden’, which soars over the lo-fi sounding music at the start of the track. Samples from the Paradise Lost opera by Krzysztof Penderecki fill the gaps in the music.
The haze sometimes has peculiar fingerpicking guitar work breaking through the fog, like a rare sunray it is instantly noticeable. Probably due to the constant hemorrhaging fury of the music, which creates a landscape so desolate and full of grief. This must be the inferno. At times, Hellevaert approaches an almost cinematic quality with the cut and paste elements. You hear it on tracks like ‘Great Beast Of Tormenting Trials’, where jittery electronic music, samples, and explosions make up a hellish, almost Hieronymus Bosch-like soundscape. The band sounds strongly like a studio creation, but that’s where its strength lies.
Hellevaert delivers one hell of a record, that might be a bit too much in one bite. Enjoy it nonetheless, as you journey into the abyss.

Underground Sounds: Ashtoreth – Offering I

Label: self-released
Artist: Ashtoreth
Origin: Belgium

Only in the forest, true tranquility can be truly found it seems. For Peter Verwimp, the man behind the mysterious entity called Ashtoreth, this is where much of the magic comes from. In an interview, he expressed that in particular the tension between the urban and the natural matters in his work. Listening to ‘Offering I’, we mainly hear the tranquility of the verdant realm.

Aside from Ashtoreth, Verwimp plays music with urban black metallers Emptiness, whose sound finds root in the city and its mesmerizing concrete jungle. The band embraces a dystopian view perhaps, but their expression is clear. He also makes music in Building Transmissions, Maya and once made hardcore in Stifled Cries. A versatile artist with fantastic work.

This offering is a track, forming around a long, persevering drone. The effects wrap around it, coiling in languid manners to create a sense of wholeness. Balance most aptly describes the sound. This dehumanized journey resounds with what thrum of life.  Not the city-dwelling, economy-driven type, but the bustling of nature. It might be a slight murmur in the background too, that enhances the experience. The record was after all recorded live in Tinques, France.

Ambient samples and chitterings emerge as the journey goes deeper into the forest, deeper into that other realm. Dreamy chants reach your ears, as a branch is pushed aside. As the shamanic singing swells, the song takes on a transcendental air, a spiritual reaching up towards the canopy of leaves.

With the music of Ashtoreth, you are free to drift away on the stream. Let your mind latch on and take that spiritual slide of 50 minutes through a soundscape of lush green and ancient overgrowth.