All posts by Guido

I'm just a geek.

Seregost – Halls of a Nameless King

Seregost is first and foremost a work of love. Love for the genre of dungeon synth, love for the fantasy and music that has inspired it. Words of thanks are levelled at names such as Basil Poledouris, Gary Gygax and Robert E. Howard, but also at Mortiis. The grandmaster of the dungeon synth genre will likely nod in approval of this spawn of darkness, building on his creativity.

‘Halls of the Nameless King’ follows the narrative of a man wandering into the halls of a forgotten castle. We call him The Wanderer, who discovers mysteries untold and enemies fierce in his journey into the depths of hell itself in this forgotten castle. 

We start with ‘Through the Darkwood’, which allows us to traverse through an ominous landscape. Subtle baselines hint at a threat from beyond and calm, repetitive melodies dance between the trees. The wind rises, blowing up a fierce gale when sturdy bassoon-like synths herald the emergence of the crumbling towers. Voices sing in awe of its solid might. Behold, the castle is here. ‘Silent stands the stronghold’, keeping its secrets, and repelling you with its stone might. We have become the wanderer. 

As we enter the castle gates to ‘An Ominous Enclave’, the synths become less ethereal, more solid and sonorous. The listeners are taken through the old keep and the music builds up the tension gradually, giving that vibe that something may be very much amiss, or perhaps not so much. In the ‘Chapel to a Forgotten God’ we have some more light in the music, though perhaps it is only the illusion of might from ancient ritualistic symbols in this room. The organ sounds do bring a sense of humility to you as you step through these ancient halls. But suddenly, ‘Hidden Passages Reveal’, which the subtle bass flow and the gentle keys manage to convey very successfully. 

Yet as we enter the ‘Hall of the Nameless King’, the sound swells to a more regal tone and atmosphere. But here, something stirs and the adventure comes to a climax. The drums sound, the synths herald ‘Behold, the Warlord’ and more is yet to come. The music becomes more adventurous here, more building towards a crescendo. But this is a false ending, as a ‘Stranger Things’ like end leaves you hanging on for more yet. 

Artist: Seregost
Origin: ?
Label: Knekelput 

Tzompantli – Tlamnalli

What comes up when you hear Mesoamerican/Pre-hispanic death/doom metal? I hope it sounds as primitive and bestial as Tompantli, because that’s a spot-on act. The one-man project from Brian Ortiz, or big o))), is his latest outlet for pure, punishing rage. You may know his work already if you’ve listened to Xibalba or his other solo-project Mortuary Punishment

It’s a relatively short release, an EP with only four tracks that sound like the darkness of apocalyptic folk tales is finally upon us. If you didn’t know yet (I didn’t), a tzompantli is a rack on which the skulls of human sacrifices were displayed. They found one in the Templo Mayor in Mexico City with 650 skulls, so the Mesoamerican civilizations had been busy. It’s a fitting name for this act. 

We enter the world of Tzompantli with sounds of the jungle on ‘Ohtlatoc Copa Llcahualuztli’, as a wall of gnarling, distorted guitars overwhelm us. Slow, pounding rhythms roll out at a steady pace, with a sludgy sound and an intimidating vibe. The growled vocals blast over in tortured, visceral wails, threatening you with unspeakable things. We pick up the pace on ‘Tiamanalli’, which betrays a bit of those groovy hardcore roots Ortiz has. The vocals mere bellows, so distorted it might be as well the thunderous wind. The track starts as death metal stomper but merges into a pummeling death-doom dirge. Noice!

The two following songs are parts one and two of ‘Tlheco Tonatiuh’. They form a hermetic unity in the shape of two slabs of massive, pummeling death doom. The harrowing vibe in the clean guitar parts creates a strange contrast that only heightens the discomfort the song generates. Crushing, wholly destructive and filled with despair. And on that note, I recommend you give it a spin!

Band: Tzompantli
Origin: USA
Label: Transylvanian Tapes

Ragana – We know That The Heavens Are Empty

Ragana is one of the bands I keep coming back to. Their mixture of black metal aesthetics, screamo sentimentality and doomy vibes is a treat, but their message is equally powerful and one I gladly receive. This release is titled: ‘We Know That The Heavens Are Empty’ and it’s special.

The title comes from a poem, titled ‘The Toast of Despair’, by anarchist hero Valtairine De Cleyre. A poem from 1892, in fact, from this author. She played a significant role in shaping modern American feminism but was an activist in her lifetime against intermarriage violence and other issues that are still unresolved to this very day. 

The opening is slow, atmospheric and rich in emotional charge. The build-up on the track ‘Waiting’ takes time to reach the point of silence, only to restart again. Ragana was less subtle on their previous work, so as a listener you’ll be intrigued and the wait for that release is a good one. A pained voice cuts through the quiet and pushes the build-up onwards to a dark, thick tapestry of guitars and pained screams that embodies Ragana. The song never fully gets to the point of letting go, of unabated fury, unleashed. We keep waiting. 

‘The Tower’ feels much more powerful, full of threat and looming danger. Yet this doomy track also slowly creeps forward. It’s a slow and tormented track, where the vocals and flow of the song are often opposed, creating a sense of discomfort. It builds to a wail and scream: “Holding, Falling, Holding…” You feel the despair, as the tremolo guitar reaches a high note and stays there, teetering on the edge, almost falling down.

Band: Ragana
Origin: USA
Label: An Out Records

Pamirt: Contemplation and Remembrance

Pamirt is a project by Kristiāna Kārkliņa, singer in Latvian black metal band eschatos. Amidst the current turmoil, debut album ‘Mausoleum’  was released. A stunning piece of work, driven by the eclectic vocals, but now also supported by a full band. The music is dark, intriguing, and full of emotions. Yet it also tells stories

I’ve had the pleasure to listen to this record and it is well worth your time if you enjoy the work of artists like Lingua Ignota, Diamanda Galas and maybe even some Dead Can Dance. You can read that review right here. But above anything, listen to this album. You won’t regret it.

I was pleased to ask the artist herself about the concept behind the album, the creation and the difficulty in releasing such a personal piece of work.

Live pictures: Neils Saksons

What does Pamirt mean and how did this project get started?

Pamirt means to die slightly or to die for a short moment. It seems interesting to me as a concept because I’ve never encountered anything similar in any other languages I’ve studied.

I believe that first ideas for the title track Mausoleum go as back as far as February 2017. At first, those were just some ideas that didn’t really fit eschatos. There were quite some so in spring 2018 I started to see that this music could potentially be released as my solo project. And it was so until fall 2018 when I returned from writing session in Berlin and we started to work on demos with Edgars and Edvards. In spring 2019 we started to play live as a trio, about 5 months before we even started recording.

What was the process like to carve out this new entity next to your existing band eschatos? I mean, musically Pamirt is quite a bold undertaking and not something that stars on a whim.

The creative process of eschatos is something entirely different. There’s 6 of us and it is a collective process wherein Pamirt for the first time I was making the artistic decisions and for the first time I wrote music that started with voice and piano. Thank god I almost never had to argue with my colleagues about other instruments. We’ve been playing together for years so it was expected that we’d all be riding the same wave.

Who were you looking to as inspiration to make this record? I mean, I’ve made some references in my review but I’m curious where you come from.

In terms of artistic inspiration, I believe that we accumulate everything that we take in and create an entirely different entity, something that cannot really be traced back to one particular source – going to see opera as our family tradition, attending church with my grandmother, listening to black metal, studying art history definitely. I think that for me, part of the process was also just getting rid of this very heavy sadness that sort of left my physical body when I put it into piano and voice.

I could probably do top 10 albums of all time though.

In regards to Lisa Gerrard, Galas and Lingua Ignota I believe those are all culture-changing artists and I love all three of them!

Galas was an artist I discovered when studying art history some 11 years ago and somehow I always saw her as part of the performance art scene with her active voice for Aids victims.

It would seem that this music, project or expression, all fit, is highly personal. What is it like to put something like this out there?

Very strange and also intimidating at times, for sure. But also it is not really one coherent story of my life, more like a hybrid of different events and emotions. Except maybe for ‘This dinner’ that is a vivid memory of my time working at an art gallery where my job was to convince people to buy and collect art created by amazingly talented, sensitive artists to point where I had to ask myself this question – why am I trying to convince someone that their art is good and meaningful if the person being convinced did not always see it that way.

Still, to me this seems like the sort of music you either have to do with full conviction, it has to be right. You can’t do what you do with Pamirt in a mediocre way, you can’t wing it.

That is true, it is very emotional to perform these songs. And it is a trans in a way when we do.

What was the process like to create ‘Mausoleum’, and can you explain the title?

The title track was the first song I worked on for the album. At first, it was just vocal layers and lyrics with no instruments at all. Then the song sat on a shelf for a about a year when I came up with this very simple instrumentation for piano. I used to take piano classes, but I never considered getting back to playing before that because it was the voice I was interested in. And I think as an artist I still mostly am. The title of the record came from this first song and it also seems to capture the general feeling of the record – a secluded place for contemplating and remembering.

What vocal training have you had? Because your voice is indeed at the heart of this record.

I used to sing in a choir a long time ago. Then around 2003 I began to explore extreme vocals and started to perform with my first band. But otherwise I just really like to experiment with my voice and what it can do.

What sort of response have you received this far? It seems the Latvian scene is ready for music like this, right?

The response has been overwhelming. People reaching out from different countries with kind words. The underground community in Latvia, especially in Riga is tightly-knit so I believe people already knew about the project before the release. Of course, there will always be rock’n’roll traditionalists, but that is understandable and I do not really believe anything should be for everyone.

. What future plans are currently brooding for Pamirt? Are you planning to tour with this entity? Are there other release plans in physical formats?

We were planning a small release tour around Baltics but that is currently on hold. We will probably do a small show in Riga though when the lockdown ends and release limited edition cassettes. We’d also like to get our record on vinyl till the end of the year especially because it was mastered by James Plotkin. For that, we are still looking for partners.

And a second record perhaps?

Definitely, composing is already in progress.

Is there enough left in the well that ‘Mausoleum’ was drawn from?

It’s always a different well.

If Pamirt was food, like a dish, what would it be and why?

I know it’s not a dish, but probably red wine. Dry and heavy. For an acquired taste. I’m currently into Italian wines for no particular reason. Previously it was Portuguese.

Iron Void: True to Doom

header image: Stephen Walton

Metal music is always changing, ever since Black Sabbath hit those very first dark notes under the smoke of Birmingham in the late sixties. New genres and styles pop up like mushrooms and strange crossovers are doing well. Yet some things remain as they were and so they should. Iron Void is an example of that.

Doom, and particularly its classic, epic variation, are a reliable type of noble metal. Entire festivals are dedicated to the slower and darker brother of the heavy metal, a sound that remains loyal to the originators like Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus, Pentagram and Cirith Ungol. Iron Void, at the time of this interview, had just released an album that fits the swords & sorcery thematic the genre is known for. ‘Excalibur’ revolves around glory and decay, knights and damsel. Traditional material with a traditional sound.

Doom is thriving and bands that tweak and nudge the genre in new directions. Think of Pallbearer or Hamferð, yet bands like Pagan Altar and Solstice enjoy enduring popularity. There is even a book: Doom Metal Lexicanom (part II is being written). Luckily, the gents of Iron VOid found time to tell us about the enduring passion for doom. Band members Jonathan ‘Sealey’ Seale, Steve Wilson en Scott Naylor took time to answer my questions.

For the love of Doom Metal

How is Iron Void doing?
Jonathan ‘Sealey’ Seale: Very well, thanks! We’ve had a good start to the year playing our first two shows with our new drummer, Scott Naylor. We played at Siege of Limerick in Ireland and Little Devil Doomday, Tilburg in the Netherlands. Both shows were fantastic, the audiences were great and Scott has been very warmly received by our fans which is really nice.

You’ve just released an Arthur themed album, what made you go for this topic?
Sealey:  I’ve been fascinated by the Arthurian legends ever since I was a child. Around a decade ago I visited Tintagel Castle in Cornwall which is allegedly the birthplace of King Arthur. I was blown away by the breath-taking natural beauty of the place and felt very much inspired to write music based upon the legends. One of my favourite films of all time is also “Excalibur” by John Boorman which was released in 1981. I originally suggested doing a song about it to Steve, but I soon realised one song alone wouldn’t do the subject matter justice so the idea quickly developed into a concept album based on the film, the book “Le Morte D’Arthur” by Sir Thomas Malory (which the film is based on), “Idylls of The King” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and various other sources.

With Iron Void, this is, as far as I can tell, the first time you did an album on one topic. A concept album if we may call it that. What was it like to write and record such a connected piece?
Sealey: A lot of time on my part was spent reading Arthurian literature and researching every aspect of the myths. It took 10 years from initial idea to finished product. Once we started writing the music the album actually took shape very naturally. Recording it was the most challenging experience we’ve had in the studio so far. It was pretty straightforward recording the instruments. I know Steve really made a lot of effort with his guitar solos on this record. Chris Fielding (Engineer / Co-Producer) also wanted to push the vocals much more than on previous records and to explore the duel vocal attack. Steve and I were stretched to the limits of our abilities and we certainly gave our all during the vocal takes. We disagreed quite passionately on some things and Steve got so pissed off at one point that he stormed out of the control room! But you know what? That’s a good thing cos he believes so strongly in what we’re doing and just wants to make sure it’s the best it can be. Same goes for Chris and I. We’ll definitely be working with him again on the next record.

Steve: I did get frustrated recording vocals at one point, but later on we tried some more harmonies and it led to the “Lancelot” verses and some harmonies for “Dragon’s Breath” that worked a lot better than they had in rehearsals. It was a challenge. Some of the rhythm guitar parts that seemed easy during writing were actually quite tricky to play tight enough when it came to recording. We’re really happy with how it came out and it was enjoyable to record, just tough in places.

The fantasy/myth theme really fits your type of classical doom sound. Who would you consider the main inspirations for Iron Void?
Sealey: We’re influenced by films, literature, myths and legends and real-life subjects lyrically. As for our musical inspirations, we originally started Iron Void with the intention of forming a traditional Doom Metal band worshipping at the altar of Black Sabbath (in all their incarnations I might add!), Saint Vitus, Pentagram, Trouble, Cathedral, Sleep, the Maryland Doom scene and classic Heavy Metal such as Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy, Motorhead, Venom and others. Not much has changed since really, our approach is still the same nowadays but we’re better musicians and the sound is a bit more polished I guess.

Steve: I agree completely with the musical influences. We tend to draw lyrical inspiration from darker subjects. We have a couple of ideas lined up for new songs, too. It was a nice change to have a focused subject that we could stick to with “Excalibur”. We didn’t have the feeling of being stuck for ideas as we knew we were going to piece together the Arthur legend one song at a time.

Which album tracks are for you the highlights and why? And which were hardest to sing, because it does feel like a challenging album.
Sealey: Some of my personal favourites from “Excalibur” are “Dragon’s Breath”, “Lancelot of The Lake”, “Enemy Within” and “A Dream To Some, A Nightmare To Others”. I just really like these particular tracks, I love listening to the album in its entirety as that’s the way I intended it to be experienced when we wrote it but these songs stand out for me personally. “Avalon” is also a great way to end the album and Steve did an awesome job with this song. The hardest song to sing for me is definitely “Lancelot” as it’s at the top of my vocal range. As I said previously, we really tried to push ourselves on this record and I think that’s apparent to the listener with a keen ear.

Steve: “Avalon” was a challenge in that it was just me on my own – one guitar and then vocal tracks. Getting the guitar part right was tricky. I had to concentrate on finger picking and remembering how many times to play each section without vocals. There were a few takes involved but it was done in one early afternoon session. Vocals were actually easier than the guitar once I’d warmed up. I recorded a demo at home months before we recorded and it was very close except I used a clean electric guitar and the original lyric was “my children” which we changed to “my kingdom” on the album.

My favourite ‘heavy’ song would have to be “The Death of Arthur”. I’m really proud of the melody line that opens and closes the track. I wanted it to sound like a film theme tune to represent the final battle between Mordred and Arthur. I think we got it just right.

Scott: The most enjoyable songs to play in my short time in the band have been “Lancelot…” and “The Coming of A King” from the “Excalibur” release and a number of old fan, not to mention personal, favourites. Namely, “I Am War”, “The Devil’s Daughter” and “Gates of Hell’ from the self-titled debut and ‘Doomsday’ releases. I’m very much looking forward to getting my chops around more of the “Excalibur” material, giving these two reprobates further opportunity to air the tracks in a live capacity and creating and writing for the upcoming release, “IV”.

You’ve been active in the doom scene for a good two decades, has much changed in the scene?
Sealey: There’s more of an audience for it nowadays and there’s definitely more festivals dedicated to this style which is great. However, I do sometimes feel that some of the modern fans don’t respect the older bands and their legacies enough and as much as they should do and I’m not talking about us either. I don’t know, maybe I’m just getting bitter and jaded in my old age but that’s the way I feel. There’s too much focus on the ‘Riff’, effects pedals and amps and not enough focus on quality songwriting. It is good to know Doom Metal is finally being accepted and people actually do know what it is these days. When we first started even some hardened, dyed in the wool Metal fans were ignorant or blissfully unaware of what Doom Metal really was! Sad but true.

Steve: Very true. I didn’t really discover doom bands properly until the late ’90’s, early 2000’s via Corrosion of Conformity, Cathedral, Kyuss and Electric Wizard. They were always citing Sabbath as their main influence so I went back to their early albums and gradually moved onto Wino’s music (Spirit Caravan initially) which led me to Maryland doom. We mix that with heavy metal, classic rock and some more extreme metal influences.

Scott:  The last few years have seen a huge explosion of “doom” (using the monicker loosely to also include the retro/occult rock revivalists, ambient/drone wraiths, stoner/sludge swamp lurkers and old school/trad. heavy metal lifers occasionally omitted from such blanketing terms) bands worldwide. With many striving to create art inspired by and paying homage to those who’ve left their mark musically / artistically prior to now, in a notable number of cases, those who are still around continuing to do so with new releases. I won’t waste my time bemoaning such a thriving global “scene”, in that there continues to be so much genre-blending / innovation / variation on offer and stagnation is the eternal enemy, though it’s certainly far more time-consuming wading out to find the pearls in the murky seas of doom these days, heh.

Sealey, I’ve seen you perform with Arkham Witch in Malta. The year after you performed with Desolate Pathway, in which band you are now active if I understand correctly? I get the feeling there’s a small group of bands that does a lot together, now also considering the spoken word part on ‘Excalibur’ by Simon Strange. Can you tell us something about that?
Sealey: Yes, I am now the bassist and a full-time member of Desolate Pathway and I did help out Arkham Witch on bass for that one show at Malta Doom Metal Festival a few years ago. I’ve known Vince and Mags for a few years now and we first met when Iron Void played with Desolate Pathway in Stoke on Trent in the UK. I’m a massive fan of Pagan Altar and Vince used to play guitar for them before he formed Desolate Pathway. That drew me to them initially but I love the Epic Doom style they play and we’re currently in the process of writing a new album. It’s different to Iron Void but no less Doom. We’ll probably end up playing more shows together in future where I’ll be performing double duty on bass in both bands!

Steve and I have known Simon and Emma from Arkham Witch from when they were in The Lamp of Thoth, a band we had a lot of mutual respect for. Not only was their music top class arcane Doom Metal, they also featured Randy Reaper (a.k.a. Andy Whittaker, current Solstice guitarist) who also happened to be the guitarist in the original incarnation of Iron Void in the late 90’s. Iron Void also toured with Arkham Witch in the UK and Europe in 2013 and we’ve been good friends for a long time. So, you can see why there’s a special bond between us!

We needed someone to do the spoken word intro for Excalibur and we originally asked our good friend Luce Vee (Hooded Priest & King Heavy vocalist) to do it but his schedule was very busy and the clock was ticking for us as we needed to get the album completed and released. Our second choice was Simon Strange and he did an amazing job, he’s very theatrical so it suited the role perfectly as it’s Merlin in the film who is chanting the spell which is also known as “The Charm of Making”.

The music you make feels to me as a listener quite timeless. Its themes are not bound to the now, the sound is both classic and honest. What is it that attracts you as an artist to this genre so much? And what makes true doom true?
Sealey: I’ve been listening to Doom Metal since my mid-teens. The first bands I got into were Cathedral, Sleep, Saint Vitus and Pentagram as well as Sabbath. I love other styles of Metal such as Death, Thrash, and Black Metal but Doom is the purest form as it was the original style founded by Sabbath. There’s a real emotional honesty involved and it just resonates with me. In my opinion, True Doom has to be honest, brave, strong and emotionally heavy, it’s not just about distorted riffs and hard-hitting drums. Sometimes Doom can also be clean and quite fragile sounding too, it’s multi-faceted which I guess other forms of Metal fail to achieve for the most part. For example, thrash is all about aggression and speed if you can understand the point I’m trying to make?

What future plans do you have with Iron Void?
Sealey: We’re currently in the process of filming and putting together our first music video for “Lancelot of The Lake”. It’s taken longer than expected but there’s lot to it and we’ve had a line-up change and international shows to play which has slowed our progress a little. In our defense, we’re a Doom band, things happen gradually but it’ll be worth the wait, trust me! Ha, ha!

We’re planning on playing more UK and international shows with the new line-up and we’re starting to work on writing the follow up to “Excalibur” which will be entitled “IV”.

If you had to compare Iron Void to a dish, what would it be and why?
Sealey: Now, this is a strange question! Ha, ha! If I did have to pick one though, it’d probably be a Mixed Grill. The reason being, we don’t just play one style of Doom Metal, we do try and mix up our tempos and ensure each song has its own individual flavour if you will!

Steve: I could say simple meat and potatoes. I suppose it is simple, but as Sealey says, there’s something else that we do that gives us a unique sound.

Scott: I’d say a goulash or stew. An underrated dish, in that it can be both simplistic in its contents or very particular. It has a form of blanket appeal (in Europe at least, ha!) and is at its best when it’s a bit of a mixed bag of staple ingredients with a smattering of the more exotic and experimental.

 

 

 

Dämmerfarben – Des Herbstes Trauerhymnen MMXX

Dämmerfarben is Germen for the colors of twilight. It’s also a black metal project with a colorful group of participants. Founder Nostarion started the band as a solo project to explore the mixture of folk, acoustics, black metal, and atmospheric music. He has paved his way in the scene, playing in bands like Seelenfrost, Folkodia, and is currently active as a member of Folkearth, Ulfsdalir, Dystertid and Panopticon (live). And a ton more…

Later he was joined by Dystertid, Idhafels, and Throndt bandmember Fergen Grimnir on bass. Having had a steady rotation of other members, they added Panopticon mastermind Austin Lunn as the drummer in 2015. The result is a band with a remarkable amount of talent among its ranks, and the result is audible on Des Herbstes Trauerhymnen MMXX. As Panopticon is my most important reference point here, it comes at no surprise that Dämmerfarben has elements of that sound too.

Songs for Autumn

The soft acoustic intro is reminiscent of ‘Roads to the North’ on opener Herbstsonne. Still, the transition to the full-on metal is more subtle and smooth. The folk metal influences come up straight here, with some classic heavy metal riffing in the mix. We would remain within the autumn theme on this album if that were still news with titles like ‘Des Herbstes Trauerlied.’ A lot of acoustic guitar work really creates the space and atmosphere for the album’s vibe to set in. It helps bind the songs together, stretch them out, and enables you as a listener to immerse yourself even deeper into their sounds.

It’s interesting to note that the first four songs are, in fact, older songs reworked for this record. You wouldn’t call anything on this album dated, though there is a certain timelessness to the tunes. It helps that some of the tracks are so smoothly meandering, like a babbling brook or the wind through the autumn leaves. I particularly enjoy the song ‘Herbstpfad’, with chanting that creates a bit of that Mittelalter rock vibe the Germans were known for a couple of years ago. The field recordings help put the right frame around that sonic picture.

As we drift off,  with the wonderful ‘Golden Atem Letzter Tagen’, one is likely to always dream of autumn, the golden leaves and light of the setting sun. Soon…

Band: Dämmerfarben
Label: self-released
Origin: Germany

Clara Engel – Hatching Under The Stars

Clara Engel is a singer/songwriter who has worked with esteemed artists, such as Aidan Baker, Armen Ra, Thor Harris, and Siavash Amini. Her music has been hard to put in a particular bracket, and descriptions as ‘minimalist holy blues’ and the stylistic portmanteau of ‘experimental folk’.

The songwriting of Clara Engel

Now, singer/songwriter is not a genre, but I’m going for that angle as I listen to this album by the Canadian artist, who resides in the wonderful city of Toronto. Many artists, who explore solitary musicianship fall into formulaic expressions of the floral dress girl with an acoustic guitar or the lumberjack shirt, bearded boy. But what makes an artist in this expressionist endeavor stand out to me is individualism. It’s not singing a song about emotions you’ve never felt all clear and precise as possible, it’s about the emotional charge of the notes and words.

Hatching Under The Stars

My first comparison when I listen to Clara Engel is, therefore, an unlikely one. The song ‘To Keep the Ghosts at Bay’, makes me think of Will Oldham, or Bonnie Prince Billy (or whatever moniker you are familiar with). Though I’d like to mention the lazy, sun-drenched guitars, it’s the voice that does it. It’s not perfect. But it’s the sound of weariness, at the end of the long night, ‘trying to keep the ghosts at bay’. It makes the song tangible, the theme real and convincing.

But there is also the element of poetry to the art of songwriters, particularly when one invokes larger themes and stories. ‘Oiseau Rebelle’ is a reference to Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ and the song ‘Preserved in Ice for Mark Chagall’ to me seems a reference to his pastoral works (an interpretation of some visual aspects I would presume). But I can hardly start unpacking that with any clear idea as there are themes that evoke new worlds for me. It’s how a song opens a thousand doors for those willing to traverse it.

There is a darkness in the work of Engel too, which no song shows as well as ‘Baby Alligators’. It appears cute and endearing, but soon paints a skyline not dissimilar to the apocalyptic visions in the music of Godspeed! You Black Emperor (Canadian is purely coincidental here). If you need a bridge that explains why Engel worked with Amenra, it’s here too, in the forlorn worldview, and the way words paint pictures and ideas more than tell you something directly. Both ‘Any Creature’ and ‘Old Feathered Devil’ are examples of this.

‘Time is a putty
in your grizzled claw’

What I enjoy about the music of Clara Engel, are it’s sudden shifts and turns. A song like ‘7 Minutes Past Sunrise’ may seem a bit like a Katie Melua song at first until you notice the crumbling world it describes, the grieving notes for a world that is disappearing. Let alone the title, that to me screams Iron Maiden, but hey… There’s a sense of escapism in here too, particularly in a song like ‘Little Blue Fox’, which talks about following the fox to a hidden valley. It’s one of the most straight forward songs on the album.

By the time we arrive at the final song, which is ‘The Indifference of Fire’, the sky has grown a little darker. There is an escape in the music, there is a better place in a world that is generally falling apart and seems uncaring. There is beauty in between the shards, growth between the ruins, and hope. And Clara Engel sings it’s songs.

Comfy synth: but is it dungeon synth?

A change is coming over the remote, weird and singular genre of dungeon synth. New scenes emerge and offshoot subgenres and crossovers are emerging. The latest that has become a topic of discussion is that of comfy synth, a stylistic indication that in itself sounds cringeworthy.  But what is it we’re talking about and does it fit within the framework of dungeon synth? Or is it a different thing altogether?

Defining the dungeon synth genre

Toilet Ov Hell described dungeon synth as ‘the pinnacle of basement music dorkery’ and in a way, it’s a fitting description.  The style is notoriously hard to define and almost requires a listening journey all the way into the regions of black metal only to wander down a dark forest of ambient black metal (which is, as substyle, probably more befitting of the title bestowed upon dungeon synth) only to wander down into an abandoned keep’s dungeons and find what dungeon synth means. Ok, so I ended up in the basement anyways… You can’t win ‘m all.

Bandcamp Daily was a little more succinct but used a similar introduction as I did here. It’s because dungeon synth is inherently entwined with narrative, atmosphere, emotional engagement and fantasy. For some, like Grimrik, it is always connected to black metal. When I wrote about dungeon synth for the first time, I was tempted to not approach it seriously” (which is a weird form of excusing oneself for liking ‘the weird’) but to me, it’s always about ambiance and narrative. Vaelastrasz expressed the same opinion in the interview I conducted, linking it explicitly to the ambient genre.

Dungeon synth or comfy synth, it both implies dreaming

Winter synth, dark ambient, dungeon synth

The issue is that dungeon synth got it’s name much later than it emerged and is hard to pin down. If we look at the originators, there is a clear penchant for repetition, minor key and simplicity. But as dungeon synth is now seeing a conservative phase (much like black metal started to show in the later nineties, these definitions by Balbulus are very helpful:

  • Dark Ambient” is often used as an umbrella term for all of these styles, however in its purest form it focusses on subtle textures and soundscapes, creating a less musical approach by utilising low rumbles, drones, clankings, creakings, whispers etc.
  • Dungeon Synth” tends to be less texture-based, with the focus being on retro-sounding synths creating epic medieval/fantasy-inspired music, frequently utilising brash synthesized orchestration. The music usually has an oppressive and closed-in feel, as of a castle or dungeon (hence the name), or of vast armies marching to war. There is often an inherent naive or amateurish quality that adds to the “retro” charm.
  • Winter Synth” tends to have a more open expansive feel, with the hypnotic quality of an open landscape. By its nature, it is slightly more minimalistic than Dungeon Synth, and as such, there is theoretically a greater overlap into the realms of dark ambient and drone. The most common themes are snow, ice, forests and mountains.

It helps to see where we’re going with comfy synth, so let’s look at some of the artists and see if it helps us towards a definition and allocation.

Comfy Synth releases

Some of my favorites, who either fit in this genre or just skirt the edges, are by Fief (also considered forest synth) and Earthencloak. What is notable about Earthencloak is that it deals with ‘kabouters’ (often translated into gnomes, but that’s not quite the same for a Dutch guy who grew up with Rein Poortvliet works), which have the comfy side, but also face dreadful enemies in the shape of trolls. The dark is never far away… The releases I mention are personal picks, that I have often seen mentioned in the community. Saying these releases are popular is too casually done by bigger outlets and may distort the reality of such a microgenre as this.

Mushroom Village – Strawberry Fields

Origin: USA
Label: Lafawijn/Cloisterphonics
Mushroom Village Comfy Synth
Nothing is quite as dreamy as the reverb on the warm synths that meet you as this record starts. A blanket of warm sounds covers you and there is not a single speck of a cloud in the sky. Mushroom Village is one of those acts that offer pure comfy synth, with minimal keys and easy melodies and flourishes. It shows a mushroom village on it’s cover and oozes coziness and classic, simple village life. Every title on its albums alludes to that feeling, making it a cohesive emotional experience. Some songs feel like the carefree tunes you’ll enjoy playing on your car stereo on summer days. That’s exactly what makes comfy synth so powerful.

Hole Dweller – Home To Roost

Origin: USA
Label: Dungeons Deep Records
Hole Dweller Comfy Synth music

Remember ‘No adventures here, thank you!’, spoken by Bilbo Baggins? Imagine if Bilbo never really left and just stayed in the Shire, being a slightly strange hobbit with a lust for rambling,  that still had some interesting adventures. That’s the feeling you get from Hole Dweller. On the first album, ‘Flies the Coop’, the hero Jammwine, goes on a journey but as I understand it from the songs, he doesn’t travel that far and soon returns home for a fine ale in the local tavern. Still, there’s always a hint of the adventure looming. If you read the books by Tolkien, the larger the world becomes, the grimmer it feels. Hole Dweller remains in the smaller world and holds on to the parts before the trolls and the old forest and grave hills.

Grandma’s Cottage – Grandma’s Cottage

Origin: United States
Label: Phantom Lure
Comfy synth at Grandma's Cottage

No artist is as well established as comfy synth as Grandma’s Cottage, and it really requires little explanation why. The music is sweet as the piles of cookies my grandma would feed me as a kid, as I played in her garden and looked for mysteries. The album cover shows an embroidery of a lovely cottage, with snow-rimmed windows and a pleasant light shining from behind them. Some people claim to hear something scary in here, but I think that’s based on dungeon synth expectations. Grandma’s cottage is purely soothing on every song, each representing exactly what the titles say (they’re all cookies and you even get a Russian tea ball recipe with the album). It’s an idyll, that paints a picture of our romanticized childhood memories. Where staying at grandma meant a state of dreaminess (possibly a sugar high), of freedom and careless exploration.

The Friendly Moon – S/T

Origin: Sweden
Label: Vicious Mockery RecordsGetting comfy and cozy with The Friendly Moon

I’ve decided to include some material that I find less enticing and a little too sweet for my liking. The Friendly Moon is in that area for me. Then again, after a moment of reflection, I have to also admit that this is what soundtracks from some of my favorite Japanese RPGs sounded like. This act calls its style ‘sleepy synth’, because that’s what it focuses on. At times, the keys are a bit heavy-handed though (listen to ‘Snooze’). But that’s not the only peculiarity, as almost every song contains some musical break-out moments, where it leaves the synthy basis behind… almost. In that sense, this artist is close to being something different and it is where comfy synth is approaching the genre edge. This is fine, genre should never limit anyone doing their art and The Friendly Moon is aiming for something very specific that may even morph into midi-rock one day. What I find harder to determine here is what narrative is told, but perhaps it’s merely a meditation on a theme. That’s cool too, as it is a different form of storytelling.

Olde Fox Den – Roots & Tunnels

Origin: United States
Label: Cloisterphonics

This release is, to me,Olde Fox Village forest explorations particularly interesting, because it focuses on the animal kingdom. In that, it is working the borderline between comfy synth and winter synth in my opinion. Thematically, it’s a story of nature, capturing the tranquility of the forest in mild field recordings and gentle synth music that more or less meanders around the central frame (which is for example a ‘babbling brook’). It’s interesting that the music also includes an oboe, flute, strings and horns to create a distinctly synth-like sound. In doing so, it even further complicates some genre borders with electroacoustic and I would dare say forest folk. But these are all musical directions that dungeon synth can borrow themes and inspiration from. It simply makes sense (and it is a very enjoyable record).

Sidereal Fortress – Alpestre

Origin: Italy
Label: Dungeon It! / Heimat Der KatastropheSidereal Fortress allows for Alpine dreaming

Again, an act that crawls close to the edge of dungeon synth thematically. Sidereal Fortress in many ways has the basics of dungeon synth as part of the sound it produces. Yet the light, major tone, and gentle flow of the sound have landed it in the comfy synth corner. Interestingly enough, music by this project has been released by two phenomenal dungeon synth labels, and here you can see how close things can be. The theme is here focused on the Alps, but also nostalgia. It harkens to an imaginary past, and the melancholy is tangible in the synth music. At times, the music is actually slightly darker. Check out ‘Altars of Eternal Frost’, for example, or the magical ‘Reverberation & Enchantment’. Guitars though, something purists don’t like in their synth, if I hear it correctly that is. The music is atmospheric and tells Alpine stories. It’s not very far from it’s cousin-genre.

3 Little Kittens – Meowing and Purring

Origin: United States
Label: self-released
Meowing and purring with 3 Little Kittens

We’re going to go over this one fast, because yes… I get that this makes a hardcore Mortiis worshipper cringe and doubt his life choices. But I’ve got a pile of Mortiis vinyl and I love cats, so I can enjoy this. Yet, what it lacks is that repetitive nature and dense atmosphere. In a sense, it’s children’s songs on a keyboard, but then about kittens. It’s minimalist though, it uses synths (kinda…) and is narrative. It’s just not as gloomy and complex as a dungeon synth fan would like, but does it really lack any of the ‘skill’ of most artists? I doubt it. It’s cringy though, and here I can really feel the ‘guilty pleasure’ element.

The Dungeon Synth Family

If we look at these releases and others, we see two directions that both point towards coziness (I know, I said it…): tranquillity in fairy tales and human nostalgia (including an anthropomorphized vision of the animal kingdom and nature). I guess those are loose pointers, but they serve to say what I feel is a key similarity. When we meditate on ancient ruins, we imagine a nostalgic past, we yearn for it as much as 3 Little Kittens yearns for the sheer joy of watching kittens play, The Friendly Moon meditates on peaceful sleep, or Sidereal Fortress dreams of the Alps. Others, in a way Sidereal Forest too, as do Hole Dweller and Mushroom Village, fantasize about a joyous fairytale land. Musically, none of them is radically different from classic dungeon synth (and I say this lightly, fully knowing the radical aural difference a dedicated fan of either will perceive). They all use synths or instruments to emulate the sound and texture, that we also find in dungeon synth. One could argue, that the minor/major key is the main difference, but instrumentation and theme is obviously another. But I feel the main conclusion to draw is this:

Anyone who enjoyed dungeon synth, winter synth, or what we now dub comfy synth (let’s go with something else, please) is that it reflects an experience that we can associate with fantasy. It’s the fantasy of a dark tale, a heroic journey and a forgotten ruin that we see in dungeon synth, but it’s also the snowy landscapes, the forces of nature when we look at a sea in turmoil or animals playing in nature (or in a tv documentary). But like anyone that enjoys the journey to Mount Doom, we all now and then want to return to the Shire as it was before. Full of silly, joyous Hobbits. But also our childhood, which was safe and full of mysteries and magic.

Two sides of the same coin

Bandcamp Daily was quite precise in the connection between comfy synth and dungeon synth if eels satyrical in the same overblown way. As such they are part of a whole even though they seem opposite. They are all part of the same place. They are all in our minds and they help us transport ourselves away from the daily dregs and mundanity of concrete jungles, repetitive jobs and office cubicles. Like every adventure, there’s is a dangerous journey, but also the safe harbour. Home. Where grandma’s cookies are baked. It’s part of the full story and for that reason, I can only welcome comfy synth to an ever-growing stylistic world, that I like to keep under the umbrella of dungeon synth.

Why that? Because to me, dungeon synth embodies all the fantastic, all the dreams and stories. It’s become synonymous with all its offshoots and subs. But then again, that’s my reading and your story may be different. Hope it gives you food for thought.

 

 

 

Vaelastrasz: Azeroth Dungeon Synth Mastery

Dungeon synth is a music style, bubbling under the surface of contemporary music. Born from video game soundtracks, obscure synth music and black metal introductions, it has grown into a whole different underground world. Vaelastraz is one of the mysterious creators, offering his otherworldly sounds to the faithful.

Vaelastrasz is one of the acts that have expanded the scope of dungeon synth from dusky crypts, dusty tombs and crumbling ruins, to otherworldly phantasies. His special focus is on the famed Warcraft video game branch, but his music is much darker than the often light-hearted atmosphere of the game itself and delves deep into the mythopoeia of its universe.

Vaelastrasz has been kind enough to share more about his music, vision and genre, where he is one of the rare artists who actually play live and who has in fact performed at the first (as far as I’ve been able to discover) dungeon synth festival. Join us in the dark reaches of Azeroth.

I wanted to start by asking you who Vaelastrasz is and how the project got underway? How did you get into dungeon synth?

There’s a lot to unwrap with my origins. Referring to the character it’s based on, Vaelastrasz is a notorious raid boss from the classic version of World of Warcraft. Notorious in the sense that his difficulty was able to make raiding guilds disband, garnering the nickname “The Guild Breaker”. Lore-wise he was a member of the Red Dragonflight, a faction of dragons that wish to protect life on Azeroth, before being corrupted by the Black Dragonflight.

As for the person behind the project, well, I’m just a small musician from the suburban hellscape that is the Washington DC metropolitan area. I started toying around with making fantasy ambient music around early 2016 under a different name that housed basically any idea that I threw at the wall at the time. I didn’t think much of it until I got a message from a Dungeon Synth artist named “Shelter Ov Shadows” who encouraged that I release this music under a different moniker to garner more attention.

I picked Vaelastrasz for a couple of reasons. The main one being that within the world of “Dungeon Synth”, it astounds me how little to no representation Warcraft seemed to have back in 2016 and even now. How is it that one of the most popular fantasy-inspired Video Game franchises of the 21st century gets no love while there are projects for Elder Scrolls and Dark Souls? Maybe Warcraft isn’t “dark” enough for people to write music for, but nevertheless I’m still dumbfounded by its exclusion.

How I got into Dungeon Synth is oddly enough through my love for Drone Metal. I was familiar with the genre, but never really enjoyed most of the albums I’d listened to at the time. Whether it be Mortiis or Burzum’s prison albums, I never initially had a strong standing on the bigger hits of old school Dungeon Synth. It wasn’t until I discovered this duo from the UK, Trollmann av Ildtoppberg, that made me fall in love with Dungeon Synth. Their combination of deep bassy drones and minimalist synth work made me more immersed compared to any other Dungeon Synth album. Listening to “The Forest of Doom” for the first time was quite the experience.

What I got from that music is that you can create more by doing less. Trollmann were inspired by the Fighting Fantasy books but listening to that music made me think of different worlds, universes, stories, etc. I wanted to do something like that.

I was curious if you are still a Warcraft player, having myself played these games and read their books since the beginning. On the side, do you know Aardtmann op Vuurtopberg? 

I still like to play Warcraft 3 when I have the time. I am privileged enough to still have the original games and not have to look at the horrid remaster that Blizzard put out recently. As for World of Warcraft, I never cared for it after Wrath of the Lich King as the games had gone downhill since in my opinion. I try to play a little bit of each expansion for the sake of it. I thought Mists of Pandaria and Legion were fine, but the rest I can do without. Their recent expansion, Battle for Azeroth, is a boring heap of dogshit for all I care. I tried playing Classic WoW when that became an option, but I had become so encumbered with other events that the nostalgia quickly wore off by the time I reached level 11 or so on a character. You can’t relive the past.

Haha, yeah you’re not the first person to tell me of Aardtmann Op Vuurtopberg’s existence. I’ve only ever listened to one of their albums, “De Berg van Verdoemenis”, and didn’t think much of it. A nice little tribute if anything.

What do you think about the connection between DS and video games? Many people talk about the connection with black metal, which is obvious, but for me, the link to video games has always been the first thing that stood out. Yet, also here it is a matter of nostalgia for old RPGs.

I’ve always thought that it was very apparent with how Dungeon Synth and video games, especially video game soundtracks, tend to overlap. You listen to an older release like Middles Ages by Caduceus and you’d think it was some Black Metal fan trying to recreate the Donkey Kong Country soundtrack. I know a lot of non-Black Metal fans who enjoy Dungeon Synth because to them it sounds like a soundtrack to an unreleased video game.

Which always brings a hilarious crossroads within DS. There’s a lot of traditional people who vow against video games have it strictly be “Ambient Black Metal”. Then there are people who were raised by tabletop games and RPGs who would rather let the past be the past and let go of the Black Metal roots. It’s pretty funny. One should always find a balance between the two in my opinion.

What sort of equipment do you use to create your music?

I usually run rather cheap Casio keyboards that you can get at big retail stores and run it through a Hotone reverb pedal. Most of my albums were done with the CTK-1100, but now I have the CTK-2550 to mess around with. For live shows, I tend to have a couple more pedals with me, more notably a Ditto Looper and the Electro-Harmonix Freeze pedals to help me with loops and drones.

You are one of the few ds artists that play live. What made you decide to take it in that direction?

Initially, the first couple of live shows that I did around 2017 were at the request of my friends, but as my peers started to seriously get into performing live with their DS projects as well as the rise of the Dungeon Siege music festivals, I had a growing urge to really want to bring my music into a live setting. Dungeon Synth live is completely new territory for a lot of us in the Dungeon Synth scene and we have our own special ways of showing what can be done.

Over here, we have not had such events. Can you describe what a dungeon siege event is like? In general and what it is like when you perform?

Dungeon Siege, specifically Northeast Dungeon Siege as well as last year’s Dungeon Siege West, are these annual Dungeon Synth-oriented festivals in the US. A bunch of artists and fans from around the world come to interact with other like-minded DS fans. It’s truly an amazing experience to play with and hang out with other Dungeon Synth acts. I feel a lot more comfortable performing in front of people who truly understand the craft.

But these events are usually more than just music, right?

Yes, there’s also pre-show tabletop gaming sessions on some nights and an array of vendors and labels.

Do you think touring with a band in a different style would work? For example, a package with a black metal band, or is DS a different audience?

It really depends on the style. If it were a Dungeon Synth and Black Metal tour, which I believe Mayhem and Mortiis are planning on doing that exact thing in the future, then those would work fine with each other. I used to be in a Funeral Doom band and we toured with a Thrash Metal band. Suffice to say that there was at least one show where they definitely did not want us because we weren’t their thing.

I guess the best way to put it is that the two styles really need to have some sort of overlap. If you were to do a Dungeon Synth tour with some sort of Tech Death Metal band than people would probably eye the crowd and ask what the hell was going on.

Do you feel there are limits to what is dungeon synth and what isn’t? As an example, Fief sounds vastly different to me the traditionalists. I have seen many discussions on the ‘purity’ of the style. How do you feel about this?

In regards to experimentation or branching outside of the norm vs the pure, traditionalist, old school-inspired acts, I think there needs to be a steady balance between the two (just like what I said regarding Black Metal-inspired vs Gaming-inspired Dungeon Synth). I think there are many ways to experiment with Dungeon Synth, but some people are way too over their heads when it comes to seeing what other genres they can mash Dungeon Synth with. There’s this small thing brewing with people trying to combine DS with Hip Hop, calling it “Dungeon Rap” or “Crypt Hop”. I don’t think it’s Dungeon Synth, just people trying too hard to incorporate fantasy ambient melodies with poorly made Memphis Rap. I have some friends who dig it and create it though so more power to them, but it’s just not for me.

But pushing the limits is good. People want to keep at it with the old ways but by the time that you’ve heard the umpteenth Les Legions Noires ripoff or the same minimalist pad-heavy Winter Synth ambient tunes, then it becomes tiresome and boring. Something fresh needs to happen every once in a while. A lot of these purists have the right idea that we shouldn’t veer off from the path, but some of them have this inane unwillingness to accept even the slightest of change.

I agree that Fief is a fine example since they seem to play around more with folk influences compared to other bigger names in recent Dungeon Synth. It’s different enough to carve out its own little path within the genre, but not different to the point where self-indulgence takes hold on an artist. Mainly due to the fact that folk music and Dungeon Synth are extremely compatible with one another.

Can you define what DS is? What are its base characteristics?

What is DS? That’s the million-dollar question right there, haha. I guess my naive definition of what I think Dungeon Synth is is that it’s a branch of ambient music, whether it be fantasy ambient or dark ambient music, that has some sort of narrative or story behind it. You’re supposed to be immersed in whatever world that a Dungeon Synth album or song is trying to invoke, like an epic adventure to slay a dragon or being entrapped within a desolate cave.

Now how one goes about doing that is all up to them, whether it be artists inspired by Black Metal, Folk, Classical, Darkwave, etc.

DS has really emerged into daylight the last two years, and although events like Dungeon Siege have yet to make it overseas, how far do you think this can go?

How far will this go? We’re gonna get a Dungeon Synth act headlining Coachella. My money is on Diplodocus. But in all seriousness, there is a pessimist side of me that feels that the bubble will pop eventually and the general interest of this will wane down. However, the scene itself feels like a giant family. A really weird, fucked-up family mind you, but a loving and caring one too. I can’t predict the future of where Dungeon Synth is going to go, but if it does end up declining then I can at least say that I’ve met a lot of amazing people within it. The real Dungeon Synth is the friends we made along the way.

I wanted to take this back to your last album. Can you tell a bit more about The Birth of Naxxramas and the story this record shares?

The Birth of Naxxramas is kinda like a concept album where there’s a different melody representing a tier from the raid Naxxramas, as well as the last song being a call back to one of my earlier albums, “The Plaguelands”. On that album I had a song called “Naxxramas” but I thought that something as big as Naxxramas deserved something more than a song.

The melodies were leftover recordings I had made for the album before that, “Adventures of the Red Whelpling”. I wanted that album to be my big album, but it didn’t garner an immediate huge reception among people. As much as I love Birth of Naxxramas I don’t like the fact that the album was only really fueled by pettiness and anger that my previous album wasn’t as well-received. At the time it was much-needed motivation, but looking back my head was in the wrong space because of certain people saying that Whelpling was underwhelming to them. At the end of the day, I still have no clue what people want or expect from me when it comes to making music

The first track, Frostwyrm Lair, was originally a 17-minute track that was supposed to be on Whelpling, but I never liked the 2nd-half of the song. I thought the intro could lead to something better so I scoured through the remaining recordings that I had from the Whelpling sessions to see what ones I could work with. After that, it was sort of like playing a matching game. What goes next? Which melody should come after? Can I place this melody here? Once I got all the pieces connected everything else came naturally.

The ghostly crooning was provided by my dearest companion and fellow Dungeon Synth artist Mors Certa. I typically don’t collaborate with other Dungeon Synth artists mainly due to weird trust issues. Even though I mean no disrespect to them and I just said that some of them are like a family to me, there’s just a weird mental block that I have when it comes to working with other artists. Mors Certa and I, however, had grown really close at this point that I decided to ask if she’d be willing to provide her voice for a couple of parts on it. I didn’t want it to be anything big since she was busy with her personal life so I only asked her to provide a lovely little choral section for her parts and it turned out well.

Previously, there was a note with this album, stating it was possibly the last one. You’ve dropped two more since, what made you consider ending the project there?

At the time I felt like I just wasn’t good enough or on par with other artists. I’m a competitive individual that wants to strive to be better each time and when I see peers rise above and garner more love, it either lights a flame or makes me feel defeated. I’m easily influenced by what I see posted online and the less I see of me, the more I feel that people just don’t care about the project. Artistic fulfilment should be the goal, not whether you get more than 10 people supporting you on Bandcamp, but unfortunately, that was where my mindset was at the time and still goes to sometimes.

But I ended up making more music because melodies keep on springing up in my head. I don’t want to keep them in my head forever. I have the need to make music whether or not people are really listening to me. Truth be told, there’s no way I can ever announce an album to be my last album. If I ever do announce it, then my mindset that day was probably filled with the insecurities that I just vented about. If I were to ever release a final album then I would never announce it as such. I would just simply release it and quietly walk away

Well, you have announced a new record actually, so what can we expect from it?

The same meal with a little different seasoning. Keeping up with repetitive melodies and drone, but trying to experiment with a little bit more just like my previous releases. There’s a couple of songs that were mostly inspired by stuff like Om, which means I’m messing around with bass-driven melodies. My new album, “The Temple of Ahn’Qiraj”, is of course based off of the zone of the same name and trying to capture the atmosphere of a desert ruin with an ancient being inside of it all has been a challenging and fun task.

It’s definitely the most psychedelic album I’ve done, but it’s not like I’m making this acid trip-filled experience, haha. This project has always been an experiment of what I can do with drone and Dungeon Synth. This will definitely fit in well with the rest of my discography.

As the Warcraft storyline deepens and expands, do you find there is enough inspiration left for you there for more?

Absolutely. One of the reasons why I picked this project was because of my initial love for the Warcraft universe and lore. It’s deep and rich enough to make more music for. There’s a lot of areas and personalities that I haven’t touched upon yet that I would like to explore more of. I’ve made two albums concerning the Old Gods (Yogg-Saron and N’Zoth) which is about to be three upon the completion of my recent album and I’d like to make other “biographical” albums so to speak. For example, I’ve always loved Kael’Thas and would love to make an album about him. Arthas is an obvious choice as well, but I’ve already made the Plagueland albums and Naxxramas so I don’t want to go back to that well just yet. I’ve always wanted to do a piece about the history of the Defias Brotherhood, but can never get the feeling of it. There’s a lot more to explore and make with Warcraft.

So to close, what future plans do you currently have? Are you planning to tour when all of this is over?

The future is very unpredictable, especially now with the current pandemic. I am a rather spontaneous individual when it comes to what I want to do with the project, so, for now, my plan is to just focus on releasing the new album and see what happens. As for tours, I’m not entirely sure but I do hope other acts come through here sometime soon so I can have a chance to play with them.

If you had to describe Vaelastrasz as a dish, what would it be and why that?

Haha, I don’t know if I can think of any specific dish or meal to really describe what I do. You know what? I’m the stick of gum that doesn’t lose its flavour! You can keep on chewing and chewing, but I assure you I won’t turn into a soft, flavourless gob haha

Underground Sounds: Csejthe – L’horreur de Čachtice

Label: HSP Productions
Band: Csejthe
Origin: Canada

Quebecois black metal is of a distinct kind, full of Francophone fury, gritty sound, and evil. Csejthe is no different in any of that. The band has by now released 3 albums and did a split with Monarque and Forteresse, two bands with an equal undeniable force and power in their sound. Just like these guys, actually, who also are active in some other acts.

Named after the castle of the infamous Countess Bathory, who murdered according to myth hundreds of girls, the theme is clear. Remarkably, this is a steady feat in the work of Csejthe. On this album, they even go deeper into it with a title ‘L’ horreur de Čachtice’ referring directly to the horror and telling the tale.

And we fall instantly into the darkness with ‘Terreur Nocturne’, a slow-paced, almost doomy track of drizzling black metal. The sound is hazy at the edges, creating this mesmerizing Burzum-like atmosphere. Slow and repetitive, that’s definitely what Csejthe is going for in their grinding tracks, though it picks up on ‘Lycanthropie misanthropie’ and the following title track. There are these wailing guitar melodies, this all-over barren feel to the songs, a certain grandeur… It’s what sets the scene apart and makes bands liket his so amazing.

The record doesn’t stick to a steady formula though and every following song has different nuances, strengths and expressions. But at times the band can actually surprise you. Not with their grim and dark stories, but when their music takes radical turns as it does on ‘Le Spectre de Soleil’. A moody, jazzy interlude breaks up the blast beats, like a sun ray through the clouds and its such a powerful thing. But when we hit the final track, ‘Sadique lunatique’ a vitalistic, suffocating intensity hits. The melody just creeps and writhes around the listener in an unnerving, illustrious speed. Hard to grasp, before the blade comes down.