Label: Skyggeraich Productions Artist: Warden Origin: the Netherlands
Warden is an act I found under dungeon synth, but his/her music is much more connected to ambient and drone music. Sure, there is a certain mysticism to his work that invokes images of the realms of our imagination, but also something very earthy and desolate clings to the notes on ‘Krochtenmagii’.
This is the third record by Warden, released in the same number of years. The production is not as high as with some dungeon synth artists, which is probably a clear cause for the high quality and narrative experience the music offers. Let’s delve in.
The image of mountains of the cover perhaps captures the droning wind and sonorous booming that opens the album. Is surges on till the next movement engages, with more soothing, harmonious sounds and the flow of water casually in the background. Then swelling it grows into a wall of sound and as the story with the music tells, time is by that point utterly lost.
By the 20-minute mark, you’ve reached a state of calm, that only the emptiness of nature can evoke. Sure, it’s an inhospitable place that Warden has taken you to, but it’s also filled with peace. In the very last movement though, we enter the realm of the dungeon synth. The wind and water are gone, yet an earthy, cavernous feel remains. After moments in this safety, the music slowly fades after what seems like a lonely journey through the wild.
The Alps are a mesmerizing part of the European landscape. Inhospitable, inaccessible and full of inspiration for many artists throughout the ages. From composers to painters and writers, the mountains have a special attraction. I can tell… One of those artists is Rauhnåcht, hailing from Austria.
This band is the brainchild of Stefan Traunmüller, a restless musician with a small cohort of bands under his belt. Just a small selection contains Golden Dawn, A Portrait of Flesh and Blood, Wallachia and that’s just the start. Rauhnåcht takes a particular place in his work and feels quite distinct from most bands you might have heard before that merge folk with black metal.
Taking inspiration from the Alpine traditions, it’s a band that requires a different kind of listening. Music, that somehow emulates the eerie sounds of the peeks and embodies the myths and fears of the inhabitants. I found Stefan eager to answer some of my questions, which you can enjoy below. We spoke about the majestic feeling of the Alps I find in his music, his love for the authentic and aesthetically fitting and the collaboration on Sprukgeschichten.
Piercing the wall between dimensions
Hello, how did you get started with Rauhnåcht and where does the name come from?
The starting point was in 2010, when I met Max of Sturmpercht and was intrigued by the magic of some of these archaic Alpine Folk tracks. So I took samples and loops of their music and formed Black Metal songs out of it. The result was the first album „Vorweltschweigen“. The name comes from the „Rauhnächte“, which are, according to old belief of the Alpine region, 12 magic nights during the change of the year. In this time, the borders between this reality and beyond dimensions are open and communication with animals and the dead is possible. Another band holding the rights on the name Rauhnacht threatened me with legal action, so it was decided to make an å out of the a. In my local dialect (and especially in Bavaria) the a is more or less spoken like the Scandinavian å, so this makes sense.
You’ve been involved with various projects, I’m interested to ask you how they connect to each other. Particularly, of course, the project Sturmpercht and Rauhnåcht?
My initial project was Golden Dawn with three albums between 1996 and 2010. Yes, I am involved in quite a lot of projects in one way or another, too many to mention them. I work as a producer and engineer in my own recording studio and sometimes I am asked to play as a studio musician or to contribute something to existing arrangements. There are even projects where I am „ghost writer“ for singers that cannot play an instrument but want to have a band. Sturmpercht is such a case, the members of the first albums more or less disappeared and the main man asked me to carry on for him on the basis of numerous riffs, snippets, samples and field recordings from different musicians. The work for the split Zur Ew’gen Ruh was very interesting because I developed all songs in two different directions for two different bands.
What inspired you to explore Alpine heathenism and mysteries in your music, after having been active in various other thematic avenues? Are there any bands you see as examples for what you’ve done with Rauhnåcht?
The early Sturmpercht albums were the conceptual template for the first Rauhnåcht album. I have never heard such a fitting musical transformation of all the eerie and strange Alpine myths and rites. Of course, I know a lot of bands that call themselves Pagan Metal but many of them stay on a quite superficial level in exploring heathen traditions – at least some years ago, I witness that nowadays there is a growing interest of finding more honest and authentic approaches to this. More and more young people cherish the roots of their local culture, including dialect and special masquerade during rites. I think that this is a logic counter-trend to the globalized world that leaves less and less space for real individualism. But this should by no means be a political statement, nor should a support for local cultures in art be used in a political way.
I’m curious if you could share some views and insights into the myths and legends you voice through your music, maybe some examples or outlines?
I think that the concepts and ideas behind Alpine traditions and myths are not so much different to other regions, but they are exercised in a unique way. For example, the Perchten runs with the craftily designed masks are something very special. As with any folklore, this has been commercialized a lot but the deeper you enter the more remote Alpine valleys, the purer the traditions have been preserved. The Rauhnåcht lyrics have a lot of connections to tales that refer to certain mountains, moors or other places. For example, there is a rock on a mountain near my birthplace that is called „sleeping witch“, because it really looks like this. Of course, there is a tale that refers to this place and explains how the naughty witch was punished and transformed into stone. The tales are full of trolls, hounds, worms, and giants and when you are like me a lot on desolate mountain paths, you get an impression how each place has its distinct special energy that fits the mood of the tales. I had the big luck to grow up at the foot of the Untersberg. This mountain is often referred to as the heart chakra of Europe, we know sayings like this even from the Dalai Lama. There are a lot of really obscure tales surrounding the Untersberg, a lot of them contain time phenomenons and dwarves that lead hikers into the center of the mountain. Rauhnåcht breathes the atmosphere of this mountain and other places in my region, I have the music in my mind when I am hiking and I visualize the places when I compose and record. So actually I could also call the style Mountain Metal.
You’ve brought out records with both Sturmpercht and Rauhnåcht. Particularly enjoyable I find my first experience with your music, the release of ‘Zur ew’gen Ruh’ from 2014. How do you walk the tight line, where these projects are distinct, yet also really feed into each other?
I think that arranging is what I am best at. I am not someone who composes great tunes and songs every day, but when I have a basic idea or riff, I can take this as starting point and simply walk in two different directions from there. On this album, I wrote a complete song for Sturmpercht one time, a complete song for Rauhnåcht the other time and then I just deleted everything apart from the basic idea and built the song anew out of this fundament. Again I can use the metaphor of a mountain, this album is one mountain with two peaks, one rough and full of rocks enshrouded in mist, the other one calmer with meadows and fountains and Alp huts, where old farmers tell stories of long forgotten times.
How do you go about writing and creating the music you make? Do you start with the concept or with the music?
It all starts with a feeling. When I play something and my soul resonates in the same way as it does when I am walking some majestic path in the mountains, then I know that a good song has just come into being, I only have to stick to this feeling while doing all the „technical“ work of arranging and producing. Sometimes, even a sample of just one tone played in the right way with the right instrument can create this special feeling that inspires me. This is why I love to work with samples or loops, they immediately throw you into the right mood and often I can even delete them in the end, because I built everything well around them.
To be honest, I almost never start with lyrics or concepts, to the contrary, most of the time a song is already finished as an instrumental before I start to think about the lyrics. It is easy for me to find the best places and melody lines for vocals but hard to find words, especially in German. Sometimes, a few words or a certain line suddenly appears when I repeat a part again and again in my mind. I really like to be intuitive when I create music, usually, this brings much better results than stuff that has been mangled through mind and thoughts for too many times.
The latest release featuring Rauhnåcht, is the ‘Spukgeschichten – Anciennes légendes des Alpes’ record. How did this come into being and what brought the 3 bands on this record together? What can you say about its overall theme?
The idea appeared when I got into contact with Léon from the French bands Grylle and Hanternoz. He is also very fascinated by the old stories of the French parts of the Alps. Tannöd is a mysterious band from Southern Germany that is also rooted in topics about nature and local myths. So we decided to build a bridge over the Alps between France, Austria, and Bavaria. Each band represents its region and on the bonus side of the double LP, I combined field recordings of all three regions, so the listener really is on a trip through the whole Alps.
The aesthetics of your work get a lot of attention. Natural views, pagan imagery and also amazing editions. I imagine a lot of work goes into that. Can you tell something about this? What do you aim for with the physical releases you put out?
I just had the luck to work with the right people who know how to create a fitting visualization of my music. On the first two full-lengths, as well as on the upcoming album, I had Moga Alexandru (Kogaion Art) from Romania as artwork designer. This man really embraces the spirit of nature in his works, I know that he is in deep love with the Romanian mountains and he also takes great pictures. Max from Steinklang shares my faible for special releases like wooden boxes. For the first version of „Zur Ew’gen Ruh“ we had a box with branches from a fir and a bottle of „Zirbenschnaps“, I really like collectors’ items like this. For the Spukgeschichten split, Joanna (Atelier Chandelours), the girlfriend of the Hanternoz singer, drew a super-size painting of the Alps with a broken bridge. I don’t really like artificially constructed Photoshop-covers, at least not for Rauhnåcht, so I either aim for majestic photographs or for paintings of a natural scenery. I like it when a supernatural touch is added, like the creature on Vorweltschweigen, the album cover of the new album will also feature a connection of nature and let’s call it a higher sphere.
Are there any artists you would recommend, that you feel are kindred spirits for you?
For me, still nothing can or will ever beat Bathory, without Under the sign of the black mark, Hammerheart and Twilight of the gods I would have never started music the way I did maybe. I do not follow the current scene at all, in fact I do not listen to metal anymore, but Wolves in the throne room, Agalloch and Evilfeast would be three names that come to my mind now that you ask me this.
Could your music be made anywhere else in your perception?
The funny thing is that several other mountain regions in different parts of the world have similar myths and similar atmospheres in music. I use a lot of samples or instruments from traditional Mongolian music. These people have a long tradition of overtone and throat singing also. The new album will also feature a traditional flute instrument from Persia called Duduk, which has an exceptionally melancholic sound. When I use sounds of alphorns, why not also didgeridoo? Both instruments are clearly related. The first tasks of music as signals over long distances and as vehicle to support rituals and shamanic work were similar with many ancient tribes all around the world. So I don’t limit myself by excluding certain instruments, everything can be used that creates the atmosphere I aim for.
What to you is the meaning of this thing called black metal, specially today?
Okay, basically we have two groups of Black Metal bands, first the „traditionalists“ that still think that it is cool to burn churches and praising Satan in one way or another is essential for a „Black Metal lifestyle“. Second, we have the bands that don’t really care about topics and only like to play Black Metal as a music style. Most of them give themselves a pseudo-ideology and their lyrics are full of serpents and anti-cosmic chaos. When you talk with them, you often can’t find real knowledge about those topics. This is dangerous, because you still open the door to these energies, no matter if you invoke them seriously or only „just for fun“. And there is one thing that those people often do not understand in my opinion: When you want to follow Satan, you only have to swim with the tide of our modern society, he is omnipresent. Continue with your slave-job, eat supermarket-rubbish, follow the ideology of mass media and Satan will for sure be your companion. This does not go well with the rebellish anti-social attitude within Black Metal.
Personally, I respect when bands create a really negative and chaotic atmosphere in their music but this does not correspond with my lifestyle and spirituality. I accept my own inner dark side, as well as the dark sides of this material sphere we live in, but I for myself do not intentionally focus on chaos and destruction. Also I do not believe that anyone can reach true fulfillment through Satan. This is why I actually do not want to call my music Black Metal, on the other hand, people have the constant need to label something. „Atmospheric music with inspiration from Black Metal and Folk“ would be too long, so I understand when my label „Alpine Black Metal“ will still be used in the future. But actually Rauhnåcht contains more colours, so maybe I will be successful in bringing in the term „Mountain Metal“.
What future plans do you have for Rauhnåcht?
The new album called Unterm Gipfelthron will be out in autumn. By the time this interview is online, maybe people will already know the label to release it, right now we did not make an official announcement yet. I still have some ambient material aside, also one long track with a lot of nature sounds and relatively pure arrangement, this is ready to be released on another split or „special release“. In the next years, I’d like to keep up with both, serious well-produced full length releases as well as more obscure, raw and limited stuff.
If you had to describe Rauhnåcht as a type of food, what would it be and why?
Bread baked in a wood-fired oven, smoked cheese on it, mountain herbs on top. And a glass of Zirbenschnaps.
Rauhnåcht contains more colors, so maybe I will be successful in bringing in the term „Mountain Metal“.
Once more, the might slug rears it’s slimy appendages languidly through space, searching for the next cosmic wave to ride. Yes, it’s your favorite Polish stoner-ensemble Spaceslug, returning once more with their next release, titled ‘Eye The Tide’.
Having done nothing bug consistently record and play live over the last few years, I feel bound to cover any work they drop. If only for the sheer simple reason that I love it and think this music is not made enough anymore. After their tight and heavy EP, the band now returns to the cosmic clarity we know from them. Less punch, more wave.
‘Obsolith’ is a spaced-out track of over 8 minutes, where the strings of the guitar seem to be caressed gently. The drums demonstrate the most vitalistic element in the song, as the rest of the music in steady waves just waxes and wanes. That slow, floating movement in the songs is a constant on the album, though the tension in the guitars can be odd and surprising like it is often on ‘Spaced By One’. It seems that every passage awaits some occurrence that never takes place.
I’m not going to put them to the test on it, but it feels like Spaceslug is slowly moving towards a more psych sound on this album. Sure, on ‘Words like Stones’, we get the roaring vocals and all. Yet, the overall vibe leans to tranquility, to permanence and a floaty equilibrium. We return to the heavy on ‘Vialys Part II’, which gives repetitive beatings to the skins and pummeling, star-grasping riffing. The song really drags you back into it, wakes you up nodding your head. We end on a high-note with ‘I, The Tide’, which is another powerful delivery by the band, who just put out a solid piece of music once more.
Label: Mystical Infernal Cult Productions Band: Sárr Origin: United Kingdom
Sárr is the voice of lonely madness, presented by Þórir from Nyss, Nihilisticon and Över. A solo project so to say, from a musician who already holds tight reigns over various other projects. I’m always amazed when, within the narrow means of extreme metal, artists manage to find as many voices as this man does.
Originally based in France, Þórir relocated to the United Kingdom a while ago and has been producing various strains of black metal. With Sárr, he focusses on a more personal expression with black metal that is both raw and primitive, yet also holds a deep yearnful darkness.
The lo-fi production on this record creates a muddled, yet harrowing wall of sound that approaches a continuous flow and push with the battering drums and somber guitar lines. The vocals are exclaimed over that wall during the title track, with an intensity that never wavers. Those frantic wails and tormented screams truly take the sound to places it would otherwise not go in sheer power.
On ‘Vakr’, that continuity takes on a melodic movement, equally fierce and primitive in its utterance, only to launch back into the same turmoil with minute changes here and there. The blistering pace and apparent simplicity make this record a black metal beauty. After a brief intermezzo and Gregorian chanting, we continue towards oblivion with the equally strong ‘Sakna’. A brilliant trip, this 3-track debut EP of Sárr.
Label: Swords & Chains Records Band: Substratum Origin: United States
Nothing beats a good slice of old-fashioned heavy metal and that is precisely what Seattle heroes Substratum deliver on their album ‘Permission To Rock’. It’s denim and leather, with a good nod to the crossover skate culture in a sound that is clear-cut, crisp and energetic.
After their sci-fi-vibey ‘Stratosphere’, this album embraces the cheese fully. Four faces on the cover, a big logo and a dominating posture over a city in smoke. Bursting planets encircle the faces of the band members in this still-futuristic landscape. It’s… interesting? But hey, we all love that He-Man-quality of heavy metal, so let’s dig in!
‘Rough Rider’ is exactly what you expect. Rigid, tight riffs and biting vocals, that are surprisingly low in the mix, sometimes even hard to hear. Not really a downer, because vocalist Amy Lee Carlson has a venomous snarl and brings that narrative in harmony with the music. The music is diverse and never takes you on a path or repetition, with their reach-for-the-sky attitude. Tracks like ‘To Nothing, To None’, put them in line with bands like Accept and maybe even a bit of IronMaiden here and there.
The anthemic quality of their sound is also undeniable, with a tune like ‘Exxtremer (Permission to Rock)’, they step into the domain of TwistedSister and their ilk. Tasty guitar licks and mellow passages that just make you feel so good. Man, I want to go buy a bandana and rip the sleeves of my jeans jacket. At least, if I get permission to rock! Interestingly, the latter songs on the album take on a bit more of an epic edge. After the brief intermezzo ‘Triangulum’, we get the galloping might of ‘Up on Wheels’, which is a fist-pumping closer to this record.
Label: Psychic Violence Records
Origin: United States
Made in New York, but with roots in the dense woods of the Baltics, the project Vilkacis is like no other. Single-minded, unrelenting and filled with vicious vitality, it rends and tears at you with its sonic splendor. This is the second full length by this singular entity, featuring similarly mesmerizing artwork as on the preceding ‘The Fever of War’. This is ‘Beyond the Mortal Gate’.
Vilkacis is a project by Mike Rekevics, who you might know from FellVoices, Vanum and ofcourse the generally praised YellowEyes. The lupine theme is ever present it seems in his work, which always has a particular flavor and sound, that can hardly be confused for anything else. It took quite some years to bring forward this new release, but it’s well worth the wait.
One think I notice, is how the rhythm really drives the sound of Vilkacis. Rekevics is after all a drummer, and his knowledge of the way the beat effects the total song clearly is vast and used to the best possible effect. After the intro, ‘Defiance’ launches in all its depravity, yet this is restricted to the lyrics. Musically, the song stands like a rock against the tide. Grand, rigid riffing and a regal elegance to the sound. It’s defiance with a backbone, with force and strength. The vocals could perhaps be sharper, but their burly, brusk delivery fits in with the whole vibe of the record.
The trick would seem, is to avoid any of the regular pit falls of black metal. The harmony and beauty needs to emerge from the chaotic rumble and decrepit sound, the lo-fi aspect makes it hazy and eases in that unity. There are no keyboards on a track like ‘Sixty Three’, no polished production, but the raw splendor that is black metal that is carved out by Rekevics like a true craftsman.
In the following two songs, the flow of the music takes on an even more atmospheric shape. Yet, it lacks the mournful, meandering elements. Vilkacis blazes on, regardless, yet still manages to capture the right emotions in the music. The title track becomes the crescendo to a mighty piece of music.
Label: Rage Records, Life.Lair.Regret Records Band: xSERVITUDEx Origin: United Kingdom
Fresh blood in the UK hardcore scene, that’s what xSERVITUDEx delivers with their raw, straight edge sound. Edge metal, that’s what the band calls their sound on this first EP, titled ‘Path To Amnesty’.
Int he artwork and titles, an oriental theme reverberates, yet this is hardly present in the content of the music, which deals with anguish and hardship. A bit of H8000 is definitely in there, but you can read all about that here.
The peculiar intro sets-up an oriental atmosphere forxSERVITUDEx, which is soon shattered by the first track. ‘Temple’ breaks down the door in full stride, with dissonant, screaming guitars, jagged riffing and vocals that are spat and screamed with furious conviction. The grinding bass lines and tight-strung drums put a bit of a metalcore vibe into the sound of this band. The sheer intensity of the tracks is immense and ‘Stained’ hits repeatedly, with sharp cuts.
Lyrically, the band is as blood-soaked as it gets, full of pain and anguish, connecting their themes to the straight edge philosophy on title track ‘Path to Amnesty’. You constantly get that nineties vibe with this band, thanks tot he rigid sound, the fire that drives it. Certainly, the buddhist theme you may expect is sorely lacking here, but hey… What do you do.
Label: Profound Lore Band: Wayfarer Origin: United States
It’s hard to not draw parallels between Wayfarer and Panopticon because both embody atmospheric black metal that relies on the folklore of the United States. If the second embodies the northern wilds, than Wayfarer takes the west as their home and inspiration for their latest record ‘World’s Blood’, their third full-length release.
Featuring members of Cobalt, (ex-) Kitezh, BloodIncantation and Centimani, there’s a definite amount of experience in the formation. In a way, the band has captured the soundtrack to CormacMcCarthy’s ‘Blood Meridian’. Their use of dusty, sun-beaten soundscapes and long, meandering passages evokes the image of a frontier land, a lawless place where blood and gold are equally abundant. That alone makes this the music of its own mythology.
The way the album opens would almost suggest a stoner record, but then galloping pace hits full speed and you know this is something else. Yet, even the slow, atmospheric parts of ‘Animal Crown’ hold that mirage-like quality in the way the sound just shimmers into a whole. It takes the edge of the blistering tremolo riffs and feisty drum work in other parts of the song. Vocals are roared, in a bellowing, desolate form. This works just as well with the doomy ‘On Horseback They Carried Thunder’, which carries its own distinct mood of darkening skies in the desert. Barren, yet full of venom and threat.
That feeling of desolation is best conveyed on ‘The Crows Ahead The Warcry’. A slow, trudging track in parts, but when that melody line picks up its pace, you want to gaze at the sky, raise your arms and scream defiance. What a majestic showing, yet sticking right in that atmosphere with at thick nod to the might of the Nordic black metal gods. The sound shifts to something more ethereal and dreamy on ‘The Dreaming Plane’, which I suppose the title already gives away.
Yet the true brilliance of Wayfarer radiates on ‘A Nation of Immigrants’, with its acoustic play, distant, murmured vocals and folky string-picking. The thudding drums set that western vibe as well, taking you right to that frontline, where life is hard and rough. That’s the story Wayfarer tells us, which they do with a particular shine!
Listening to Yob has given many people a special experience and the wait for a new album was long. The trio from Oregon has a solid string of releases in the noughties, had a hick-up before their ‘Clearing the Path to Ascend’ masterpiece in 2014 and after that things dried up for a bit.
Of course, there are always many reasons for a drought in releases, but in this case, the health of singer Mike Scheidt definitely played a part. At least, judging by interviews like this one. We are lucky that one of the most beloved bands in the doom genre has now returned with a fine slab of doom to sink your teeth into. This is ‘Our Raw Heart’, probably to be heard at Roadburn soon again.
Yob doesn’t use cold or eerie sounds, but massive riffing that claws to the heavens in a struggle of despair and grief it seems. Yet these always feel veiled and just the turmoil under the surface. The vocals are capturing an instantly take you into the mind-swirl that is ‘Our Raw Heart’. The music often relies on the heavy pummeling, though never chooses to be sharp and directly expressive. There’s a pensive nature to the music that is undeniable, with that transcendental, meditative quality to it. An album that sets you to thinking and reflecting.
The absolute highlight is the gentle ‘Beauty in Falling Leaves’, where it’s for large parts just guitar and the wavering vocals of Scheidt. Even when the song swells to its full, climactic sound, it remains an easy flow, with a warm and calming sound. The gruff vocals carry with them a passion that is undeniable. The almost 17-minute epic is a testament to the singular genius, that is Yob. Of course, afterwards some more heavy pummeling is delivered with ‘Original Face’, which relies on the heavy drumming and bass, while the vocals sound more like Amebix‘ Rob Miller. Yet, something in the sound harks to the calm and soothing nature of Earth. Particularly, there at the very end with the title track and it’s languid riffing. Mountainous, rugged but completely flattened out and easy to traverse. A record that meets all expectations, with a final ascending into the clouds, leaving us mortals wondering what it is we’re doing.
Do you like your dragons? And your dungeons? Or are you a big fan of Rhapsody and their type? Then you probably want to give Runeshard a spin. This Hungarian group plays dreamy metal, with a bit of power and some symphonic black to make up a grand sound on this all too brief EP.
The project is a solo endeavor by Bálint Kemény, who has also been active in bands like Numénor, Astor, and Niburta. Playing the guitars and keys, he sets you up for something grandiose and boisterous that reminds me mildly of Bal-Sagoth.
It’s that layered sound, the density of the riffs and the interplay between the vocals and booming spoken word that make that link most tangible on ‘Dreaming Spire’. The vocals are actually offered by Alethiuz, who offers both gruff sounds and narrations. The bombastic sound never ceases to rise during the tunes and only intermittent parts of fantasy music break the tension.
That path is followed forward on ‘Crimson Gates’, which has lyrics that see the hero pronounce his determined position and posture. Notable in the key passages is that here and there they receive a slick guitar solo companionship, giving them even more dynamic effect. The epic, jagged pace on ‘Atlantean Sword’ makes me think of bands like Turisas too, as we already reach the end of this brief taste of magic, offered by Runeshard.