Band: Dödsrit Label: Wolves of Hades Origin: Sweden/Netherlands Genre: black crust ‘n roll
The project that is now Dödsrit may have started in the forests of Sweden, when Christoffer Öster created it, it has now more or less become a Dutch affair for 75%. With members of Morvigor, NuclearDevastation and Destructo in its ranks, it’s become a full-fledged metal machine, blending black metal coldness with a hard-baked crust sound and heavy metal sensibilities. In short, it’s tasty as fuck.
‘Mortal Coil’ is the third album of this international outfit and it is a prime piece of metal destruction. The bio reads a little dramatic, this album representing the world in flames, the hell they call home. I think metal can do with some drama and theatrics, it’s after all not fucking punkrock, is it? I like punkrock though, but it’s simply another beast. Ok, pointless chatter, let’s go to the music.
Burning the fields with Dödsrit
The sound of Dödsrit is more of a journey, as the songs drag on and on. This is not a bad thing, since it nicely blends aggression with the richness of atmospheric passages. In its desperate nature and forlorn feeling, the sound is like everything is burning behind you. The world is indeed on fire, and hope is racing away from you. ‘The Third Door’ is a song full of story, and as one of the four, a great start of this record.
‘Shallow Graves’ takes it up a notch with epic guitars, roaring vocals and some of that melo-death grandeur. I noticed here how well polished this album sounds. Not to demean any of it, because the production quality is essential to really make you feel those hooks and riffs. In that sense, it even has a bit of that Dissection/Immortal vibe going. The title track is even more accessible, though it’s got that dragging sound going too.
I suppose ‘Apathetic Tongues’ kinda knocks it out of the park after that. Nothing else to say honestly. In many ways, Dödsrit fits the mould of the more new-school black metal bands, like Downfall of Gaia and ilk. Wide space in the music, bursts of energy, a little hybridization between genres, atmosphere… In four excessively radio-unfriendly songs, the band just drags you along. It’s got a bit of everything that makes this music good; it’s catchy, furious, melodic, yet still full of grit.
Winterblood is not a name I had on my radar this far, but releasing work on KunsthallProduktionen peaked my interest. The label is after all home to none other than Paysage d’Hiver, a cornerstone act for wintery, brooding darkness. And don’t we love darkness here at the Stranger Aeons offices in a dark Lovecraftian corner of the world? Who is to say, little uprising of the great old ones here. Anyways, more on Winterblood.
Winterblood hails from Italy, from the city of Florence which the more literate may associate with Boccacio, Dante Allighieri and Machiavelli. Others may think of sun, pizza and wine, which is also fine (rhyming and stealing here). The project is by Stefano Senassi, who racked up a total of some 29 releases to this point. Inspiration comes from the north, the cold, the wintery… This he unleashes on ‘Finsternis’, the latest effort from his hand that is now available on vinyl.
What first strikes me is the droning nature of the sound. What comes close to it for me, is the music of Kalameet, another winter-inspired artist who manages to paint vistas of frozen prairies. Winterblood goes further, into snowy wastes where one gets lost who is not careful. Snow blindness lurks as you stumble through the ongoing gale. Is it entertaining? Not so much, I mean, ploughing through the snow on aclear night when you know your heating is functional is fine, but the endlessness Winterblood offers is an immersive experience of sonorous booming sound, that drowns out the world.
And that for a full hour if I’m not mistaken, even a bit longer. The numbered tracks are just offering you a reason to get up and flip the record, but the best is to just turn off the lights and curl up. Sink into the eeriness, which becomes a bit bass-like on the second half of the total. That is the second slab of vinyl, crusted with ice. Look, I’ll not recommend you get this if you like summer, but if you like sounds that emulate the polar night, this is for you.
It’s been a while and some of this DS Digest has been rotting on the shelf and that’s a shame. There’s some releases I was pretty keen on in the dungeon synth corner, and I guess some of it is more synthwave… But check out below for Forest of Orthanc, High Mage, Knife Wraith, Speedway and Mystiska Skogen music.
May your save rolls always be blessed.
Header image: Belgian Monument in Amersfoort. Forgotten monument to a forgotten war for the Dutch, built by Belgian refugees from the First World War, who were interned in the neutral Netherlands.
Forest of Orthanc X High Mage – The Wandering Mage of the Spellbound Wood
A split release in dungeon synth is something new to me, but a welcome concept. It feels, to me as the listener, even more so as a collaborative effort., Forest of Orthanc, from Colorado, takes care of side A with whispy, light tones, and a solid foundation of low tones. The cavernous effect is achieved through an echo, that sounds like dripping. Calm, yet it is as if we are awaiting something. Some darkness to descend upon us. It’s very bare, yet highly immersive on songs like ‘Mildew’. Forest of Orthanc feels, as far as I experience it, much more earthy and grounded. Truly dungeon synth-y, whereas High Mage has an iridescent quality to its sound, instantly audible on ‘Discovering the Edjewitch’. The sonorous synths are covered with a haze of distorted noise as if you’re listening to them through a rainstorm at times. It makes the whole vibe of the music feels more ambient, like a field recording with an organic feel to it. Particularly on ‘Unbinding Ancient Texts’ this is very distinctly true. What is surprising is how flawless the transition between the two artists feels. This release feels like a ‘whole’ story, which makes it extra cool to listen to.
Artist: Tower of Orthanc / High Mage
Laber: High Mage Productions
Mystiska Skogen – Den Förtrollade Gläntan
For the Swedish Mystiska Skogen, nature holds the mysteries. But it also would appear that this is a dark place full of foreboding threats and grand stories if we listen to ‘Den Förtrollade Gläntan’. A record that allows you to taste the dew on the leaves and feel the fog hit your face on an early morning in the forests. Eerie synths, and pounding rhythms guarantee tracks like ‘Bergatron’ come on slowly and captivate you fully within moments. No sound elements are wasted or embellished in this song, each minute detail has an effect. From the flowing waters to the flourishes on the keys. That changes when we get to ‘Solbärgingen’, a track that swells to a majestic scale. That’s what I like best in more fantasy-oriented dungeon synth, it’s the ability for the grandeur and force I enjoy in my reading. It’s in that minimal use of elements, much as I know it from the Burzum ambient records. Mystiska Skogen successfully creates that same feeling.
Artist: Mystiska Skogen Origin: Sweden Label: Gondolin Records
Speedway – Deathblow
Speedway is Hank Richardson, an artist who uses technology from the eighties to create immersive synth-scapes. A perfect fit for his RPG, titled ‘Deathblow’, which accompanies this release. Pretty awesome stuff, so you get a game and a soundtrack that sounds wildly accurately eighties. Musically, it may sound simple, but the tunes contain a lot of referential emotive movements and song-referential elements. After listening to this bad boy for the whole day, I’m siked about this gang-war-landscape, where I imagine Mel Gibson riding around in true Mad Max fashion. But you can also dance to it, so that’s all the good stuff you want from a dungeon synthy synthwave release, right? Let’s roll the dice.
Artist: Speedway Origin: United States Label: Heimat der Katastrofe
Knife Wratih – Adventure Module 1: Into The Undercity Dungeon
It’s hard to grasp what’s coming to you when you visit the bandcamp page of Knife Wraith, but the music speaks for itself. Game-soundtrack inspired dungeon synth, with a high level of creepiness. I particularly enjoy the cavernous, lofi sound that sort of boxes in the music. And yes, there’s sounds that I recall from playing my ancient Commodore 64 as a kid. Those crashy sounds, and blips and beats, fantastic. What makes Knife Wraith so awesome to me is the fact that the music speaks about all the things that embody my personal eighties nostalgia. I miss that simpler time and it’s like this artist just caters to my needs. Particularly enjoyable is ‘VI – Fighting The Bleak Clacker’. Don’t even know what it is, but I want to roll for initiative. It’s a ruddy shame that this is not out yet on one of those DS/wave labels.
For many, the first association that springs to mind when you hear Kuwait is not metal music. For me, it is the Gulf War, which I remember following on television as a kid. Luckily, those days are behind us and currently, it’s known for its export of culture. Metal is not really a part of that, but it’s happening and in the case of Lasher deeply underground, in anonymity.
The state of Kuwait is notably more tolerant. You’d think it has to be, since 70% of the current population are expatriates, vastly outnumbering the 1.2 million Kuwaitis. Adam, which is a moniker to hide his identity, is the sole creator of Lasher – a project that navigates somewhere between black and death metal. He prefers to keep anonymous because it’s merely safer regarding his artistic expression and content discussed in his lyrics. Luckily, he was willing to share a lot about his music, the record ‘Futile Endeavours To Transcend The Bestial Vessel’ and a lot more. Ready for Kuwaiti black metal?
Kuwaiti black metal unleashed by Lasher
Hello Lasher, so how are you doing? How has the pandemic been for you?
Hello, I’m doing alright. Thanks for reaching out to me for an interview. I’m managing with the pandemic.
How did you get into metal music and what is your musical background?
In terms of my musical background, I grew up in an environment where a couple of my family members played musical instruments and I’ve taken some music classes as a kid in school (piano mostly). But haven’t really started playing guitar until my college years. The main band that got me into metal and made me want to explore the genre more and more was Iron Maiden. I remember just getting blown away listening to Hallowed Be Thy Name for the first time and the whole Number of The Beast album in general. I just fell in love with the dark lyrical themes mixed in with the fast relentless riffing and the absolutely wonderful melodies. I believe Maiden was the turning point for me. Then I think it was just a natural transition into the more and more heavy and extreme metal stuff after that.
Lasher is a solo project. What bands inspired you to create this music and particularly, why did you choose to go at it alone
Iron Maiden for sure has a very big influence on my music as I’ve mentioned earlier in addition to the many other classic heavy metal acts including Motorhead and Pentagram. In terms of the more extreme and specifically black metal bands, I believe early Burzum has influenced me a lot. As well as Bathory, Emperor, Varathron, and Immortal. Pretty much a lot of the classic black metal acts. Of the more relatively newer bands, I’d mention Shining and Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult. And I’ve always been a big fan of the attitude and rawness of German thrash and Swedish death metal. Bands such as Kreator, Sodom, Grave, and Hypocrisy.
Regarding why I’ve gone at this project solo, it’s very hard to find individuals who are into black metal and who could play extreme music well over here. And also, of course, this type of music is not generally accepted and is frowned upon at times. So, privacy and discretion are preferable to me.
You released the debut album with Lasher in 2020. What can you tell about ‘Futile Endeavours To Transcend the Bestial Vessel’?
I started the active process of writing Futile Endeavours To Transcend The Bestial Vessel sometime after receiving news of the sudden death of a very close person to me. So, this album is basically me coming to terms with loss, the futility of life, and the inevitable death that awaits every man. I drew a lot of inspiration from a book called The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker in terms of the general theme and lyrics of the album. The book explores the existential problem of man and discusses the futile things people do in order to transcend themselves and achieve a false sense of immortality. The book concludes with the statement that true and genuine transcendency could only be achieved through religion. In the album, I also explore religious themes, I deal with misanthropy, desperation, insomnia, and self-destruction.
The song ‘Depraved Visions of An Ancient Fiend’, however, I actually wrote about a fictional character called Nadine Cross from the novel The Stand by Stephen King. I found that character very intriguing with the way she dealt with her religious turmoil. And so, I attempted to explore the character’s life in short form birth to death and attempted to interpret her actions and emotions.
What is your process like in writing and recording your music?
I don’t think I have a formula I stick with to write music. I come up with a riff or a general motif that I find interesting and then start to build on it. I record it and then write a second guitar and other instruments like drums and synth. I record everything at home and then send it in for mixing and mastering.
As I understand, you got a Ukrainian studio to mix and master the record, and it was released by Depressive Illusions Records from the same country. How did you hook up with those and what has it been like to work with them?
Yes, I reached out to Chernobyl Studios for mixing and mastering. I read about the studio on the web, listened to some of their mixing/mastering work, and just decided to contact them. It was an absolute blast working with them on the album. Very professional and understanding. I’m very pleased with how the record turned out.
The album was released as a limited edition by Depressive Illusions Records, yes. They actually reached out to me and offered me to release the album with no strings attached and I took the offer.
Black metal is traditionally focused on themes like anti-Christianity, satanism, etc. That has changed and many bands infuse the style with their own backgrounds (history, religion, etc.). Is there anything typical you put into your music?
The main theme of the album as I mentioned earlier is existentialism. It is a subject that is not tied into a specific heritage or background and it draws from philosophy a lot. With that said, existentialism does tie in with religion in general, yes, and I believe I couldn’t help but to express that aspect through my own background and heritage. I do touch on politics quite a bit as well. I speak about the wars and conflicts that’s been plaguing the middle east for the longest time.
What is the metal scene like in your country? I did see that there’s a number of acts active.
There are only a handful of metal bands in Kuwait and most of them, if not all, are inactive at the moment. I would say that the metal scene is non-existent over here.
You’ve mentioned that metal is not wholly accepted in your country, and obviously, there are places in your region that are even more strict on it. Can you tell a bit more about how that is for you?
Kuwait is a country that has always cared about art and artists and it is known for that. The art movement in Kuwait started in the ’60s and it was something unheard of in the Gulf region at the time. The country still puts out copious amounts of TV dramas and a lot of comedy/horror plays are performed on regular basis. Many Arabic music concerts are held here as well. So, art is not something foreign to the country, however, extreme metal is still seen as something foreign and is frowned upon since it touches on taboo topics.
Are there any topics that you have to be careful with, particularly playing black metal?
Certain religious and political topics are not spoken about publicly or openly over here. There are many restrictions on what you can and cannot say. This is something that is common in most of the countries in the middle east. However, there’s been a rise in the liberal ideology in Kuwait for the past 2 decades or so and a lot of people are trying to break the mold.
What are the future plans for Lasher?
I plan on making more music for sure. Whether I’d continue on as a solo act or not, only the future can tell. But yes, I plan on putting out more music.
If you had to describe Lasher as a dish, a type of food, what would it be and why?
I guess I’ll go with oatmeal and some peanut butter on the side. Unsalted oatmeal has a very earthy taste. Simple and clean yet not bland. The peanut butter adds some flavour to that simple earthy taste without overwhelming it. This is how I’d describe Lasher. Straight forward raw riffs mixed in with some melodic and clean moments. The melodies do not overwhelm the music, they have their own place and they add some flavour and tie everything together.
Band: Eternal Champion Origin: USA Label: No Remorse Records
genre: heavy ‘sword raising’ metal
Raising swords and raising hell
I am not entirely sure what I find so alluring about Eternal Champion. It may be the reference to Michael Moorcock’s work, but it may also be its hyper-retroism of classical heavy metal. Or simply the sensual artwork, that you particularly see in the bygone era of muscular fantasy heroes with scantly clad ladies (rarely without powers of their own). Perhaps it’s the mixture of all these elements that makes it stand out. Fact is: Eternal Champion rocks.
This is the second full-length for the band from Austin, Texas. Comprised of members from the band Sumerlands and WarHungry, the line-up is completed with vocalist Jason Tarpey from GravenRite and guitar player Blake Ibanez (how awesome is that for a guitar player’s name) from Power Trip. And they perform with a sword held high, without becoming an uncomfy cheese-fest like Manowar. Don’t be like Manowar… For many reasons. Ok, let’s drop that line of thoughts.
Cleaving through the night, like thunder, hooves will split the ground – ‘A Face in the Glare’
We’re immediately off with massive riffs and this bad-ass Tom G. Warrior ‘Ugh!’ but we move on to a sound that I feel has a lot of Cirith Ungol in it. Vocals that stand out remarkably, but fit the soaring nature of the sound that pulsates with power. That being said, it’s not Manowar posturing, but some true storytelling as you can hear on ‘Skullseeker’. Conan-esque, yes, but that’s good stuff as well so nothing to complain about here.
What I find most enjoyable about this record, is that I don’t know how to make it seem like anything else than what it really is. Tough old-school heavy metal, full of sharp guitars and thundering rhythms. It’s not complicated, but executing this style correctly is a challenge. Eternal Champion does that on tracks like ‘Coward’s Keep’, which thunders on with strong melodies and soaring vocals.
I would almost say that if you do not like Eternal Champion, you most likely don’t actually like metal, But hey, that would be a heavy statement. I mean, you could not want to bang your head to ‘Banners of Arhai’. But I sincerely hope that’s due to injury or a compromising situation, because the song definitely deserves it. SO, once more to close this story: Hail Eternal Champion!
Conrad is a beast from a more dark place than you might think. The band hails from Barbados and is Kadeem Ward’s brainchild, a.k.a. Emdeka Anubis. After almost a decade of silence, the band ploughs on with this new release, titled ‘Exu.21: Voodooesque Nightshades, Her Embrace & His Alluring Ways’, an endeavour that displays a remarkable development in the band’s sound.
Originally, the band had multiple members, but it would appear that Emdeka is going at it solo for now under the Conrad banner. Barbados is not a place known for its metal connection and scene, so there’s a lot to unpack here. For this, I recommend reading the interview. Here I want to focus on this remarkable mixture of psychedelic music and black metal darkness.
Into darkness with Conrad
I don’t want to lump Conrad in a specific whole, but the way strange rhythms fluctuate through the hazy sound is fascinating. I can only think of Burzum actually, as using the texture of the sound itself in all its dissonance to create something new. I ‘d like to particularly refer to ‘Reinos Pt. II: Cruzeiro (Cross)’, the third track on the album. Yet, it is far from the only track in the Conrad maelstrom of distorted guitar sounds and cryptic drumming. The long-ass tracks (they are really long) are also filled with psychedelic loops, that remind me of Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies on the last record. Hallucinatory is the best word I suppose. I can taste the incense.
The record is a ritualistic one, paying homage to entities like Exu and Pombagira, who are key in the Afro-Brazilian cult of Quimbanda. Emdeka was inspired for this series of sonic sketches (because to me, that’s how they feel) by the teaching of Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold. You really feel that vibe on the repetitive, droney ‘Reinos Pt. IV: Cemiterio (Cemetery). But even the more metallesque songs, like the following ‘Reinos Pt. V: Almas (Souls)’ keep that ritualistic vibe going. It’s a testament to the strength of the music that each expression feels wholesome and connected to a larger idea.
If you are looking for traditional black metal, steer clear of this album. If you like your darkness to be like a starlight night in the Caribbean where voodoo rights are performed in the firelight, this is what you need.
Dungeon synth is a strange beast and each artist would appear to have his or her own views on it. Sidereal Fortress, which happens to be the name the artists wants to use for the interview too, looks at it with a wide-open view as part of ambient music. It allows him to approach the genre freely and create a quite diverse range of records, all worth listening to.
This interview started after I wrote a piece (that would appear to have gone slightly unnoticed) on comfy synth, the new threat to the purity of the dungeon synth genre. Or, if you look at it like Sidereal Fortress, a new dimension of a fascinating style.
Read on, and enter the world of Sidereal Fortress.
Sidereal Fortress – of crypts, forests and valleys
I wanted to first ask you about Sidereal Fortress, how did this project get started and what made you go into dungeon synth? …as I explained in other interviews, Sidereal Fortress was born like a reaction. I used to be a creative musician, so when I felt that creativity was going outta sight from my playing, I immediately turned to something that could stimulate me without boundaries. Ambient Music, and especially Dungeon Synth, was the key. I found out that this style of music we used to listen to in the 90s…you know, Pazuzu, Burzum, Mortiis etc…had a ‘scene’, a following, and…yes, also a name, haha!
Tell me a bit more about your background as a creative musician? What sort of music did you make and what sort of education/training do you have? About my background. I have been studying the guitar for many years, listened, and collected Metal stuff for all my life…so, not such a different background from other Dungeon Synth artists…
You mention here that you found freedom in dungeon synth (or ambient music in general). What sort of freedom do you mean by that? Creative freedom, of course! Notice that listening and mastering Ambient Music takes your relationship with Music to another level. Higher? lower? I don’t know. But it’s DIFFERENT. Your musical perception and sensitivity get expanded, your mind and ears get open extremely wide. No school will ever teach you that…
Is that maybe also, because it is such a highly individual process? I mean, more than anything the music is your creation as such. Absolutely! And no one makes the rules for you.
But also, dungeon synth is slowly closing ranks, there’s an ongoing debate on what is real dungeon synth and what isn’t. That’s why we already see discussions about winter synth or comfy synth, which I believe are cut from the same cloth. How do you experience that, since your music has been classified in the latter category? Oh, that’s a long one. Ambient Music is closing ranks just if YOU want your ranks to be closed. Sidereal Fortress is actually a multi sounding project, I don’t pay too much attention if my stuff is True DS or False DS…you know, today I could be inspired by some raw, droning black metal stuff like Paysage d’Hiver, tomorrow it could be by Blackmore’s Night, just to give an example. But: most of all, I let the inspiration in from emotional states (including nostalgic), from hiking in the woods, from visiting abandoned villages and places…you know, all that can really stimulate the imagination. And you know what? I never felt so close to music as I do now. Dungeon synth and related stuff can really break every boundary of your creativity and imagination, giving back to music its very essence, making it become a real form of art. Not a scholarship or consumer product.
And continuing my initial line of questioning: What did you set out to do with Sidereal Fortress and what sort of stories inspired you and did you want to tell in turn to your audience?
Let’s look at the thematics because though you talk about freedom, there is consistency in your music and the direction you take it in. Sidereal Fortress is not an experimental project in that sense, but what is the story you are telling us? Ah, I know what you mean. Anyway, a lot of ‘free form’ tracks are present in Sidereal Fortress…listen for example to my album The Hermit’s Hole. Also ‘La grotta di Merlino’ from the Vette Inquiete album is an actual free form one. The experimental approach you’re speaking of is, indeed, more present in my ‘kosmische’ project Il Generale Inverno. Sidereal Fortress explores most fantasy and traditional scenarios, instead.
Since my first EP, ‘Ruins’, my way of Dungeon Synth is inspired by places I visited, most ancient sites, abandoned medieval locations, woods, mountains etc…since there’s plenty of them in Italy and in Europe. The Hermit’s Hole, Vette inquiete” and also The Lost Woodsongs EP” are all inspired by obscure or fictional facts from Tuscany, the region where I live. With Vette Inquiete, I tried to translate into Music some less known Tuscan folk tales (you’ll find all of them explained in the beautiful tape edition that HDK released in 2018). The Hermit’s Hole, which I consider my only actual full-length album to date, is an even more intimate and spiritual journey in that sense. Just to make it clear: those releases are NOT intended to be part of a trilogy or series….they came straight from the heart and surely I will keep being inspired by the secrets of my homeland!
Italy, obviously, has a rich and long history. Are there particular eras or topics that inspire you? Most still recognizable heritage that we have in Tuscany, meaning castles, towers, etc, comes from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, so they’re obviously the ones that most inspire me. But I also have a particular interest in Etruscan and pre-Roman sites and history!
How did you get in contact with Heimat Der Katastrofe? I don’t remember exactly…but surely it was because they listened to my ‘Ruins’ EP, back in 2017. They offered me the opportunity to write and record an album for their catalog, so I made ‘The Forgotten Tomb of Yshnak’ and the rest is history. Lately, another great label named Ancient Meadow Records contacted me and offered a tape release of The Hermit’s Hole plus some merch like stickers etc…they’re doing an awesome job, I’m so proud of this collaboration!
I’m interested to learn a bit more about the conversion process of those impressions and the inspiration into the music. How do you go about this? Is there a ritual or personal process you go through?I’m absolutely instinctive. Meaning that, in case of inspiration, I must immediately record the main idea just to fix it and capture the emotional state/moment as it is. I don’t see this process as an actual improvisation, I call it ‘straight composing’, do you like this definition?
This is the only way to give people true inspired Music, not artifacts. My other project Il Generale Inverno is even more extreme in that sense since it’s actually full free-form improvisation.
So it’s for you really a matter of getting to your equipment when the inspiration hits you? Ahahah, yes, when it’s possible. If not, I record the main idea whistlin’ at my phone.
I’m curious how you feel about the term comfy synth. Comfy Synth…mmm…initially, that thing made me laugh, just because it seems to be the bright side of dungeon synth…but exploring that subgenre a little bit, I found out that it has its own sense: it’s not the opposite of dark ambient, it seems to be something like the nemesis. CS is just a shortcut neologism to identify a style of ambient music mostly based on the ‘nostalgic’ feel…hence topics like grandma’s rocking chairs, little peaceful animals like the ones in Enid Blyton’s novels, etc. Notice that some of my albums like ‘Racconti del Focolare’ and ‘Alpestre’ have curiously landed in the Comfy Zone…I think it’s because of that nostalgic pulse. Anyway, those albums have been released long before the term ‘comfy synth’ was crafted…
Well, I mentioned your project in a bit I wrote related to the genre. I forwarded the thesis, that it is not the opposite, but a different form of finding ‘escape’ to an imaginary realm. How do you feel about that idea? It’s more or less what I said above: telling it’s just ‘dark ambient vs bright ambient’ it’s somehow reductive. Also, I heard a couple of albums that showcase very good compositional skills…so I think taking a listen to comfy synth is definitely worth it.
Each artist I spoke to this far has indicated that the community is one of the most important aspects of what they like about dungeon synth. How do you feel about that? I don’t know what they mean exactly… Maybe they’re talking about feeling at home inside the DS community because there are no pop-stars among the artists, and every DS addicted frequents the same two or three closed groups. What I like about the DS community is that there’s respect between artists, almost no jealousy or other ridiculous stuff. That said, it’s not so different from other music-related communities…
Well, that’s something. So what sort of equipment do you use to make music? I’m currently using two controllers and an Italian toy-synth from the 80s to which I added a line-out jack. Sometimes I also use a Yamaha acoustic guitar, a classical one, and rarely also some of my old strats.
Are you a bit of a gearhead? Not that much, to be honest. I recorded my first EP ‘Ruins’ by using just a USB portable controller, believe it or not, ahah! Then I obviously improved my synth stuff buying two better devices…you know, to have more dynamics, an onboard arpeggiator, a basic mixing section, and other things. This allows me to make also improvised stuff like I’m doing with Il Generale Inverno. The toy synth is a curious story: I casually found that little monster at a fair, for just 5€…it’s a Bontempi, a legendary Italian brand from the old days. And, despite being just a little toy, it has very good sounds!
Dungeon synth is now more popular than ever. Cassettes sell out in minutes for example. Where do you think this is all heading? Oh, this is a hot one!!! I know many artists do not agree with my point of view, but I think there’s an ‘underground hype’ out there. Music is losing its primary role, in favor of the collecting hysteria. There are beautiful albums, even little masterpieces, that go completely unseen…but when they get a repress by this or that label, they got sold out in 2 minutes. Curious, ah!? OK, labels have more visibility than an independent artist, but this sounds to me almost an apology…
Do you feel it disrupts the artistry? Have you felt this has affected your visibility as an artist? Let me tell you this: if you feel that hype, marketing, and other shit like that is somehow affecting your art or artistry, well you’d better stop acting like an artist because you’re not. All this stuff regards making music as a job or a source of money raising, not art. Desmond Child maybe does not agree with my view, but I could understand him, haha! To answer the second part of the question, I’m not in the position to complain about my project’s visibility and other things like that, because Sidereal Fortress seems to be respected and welcomed by most of the community, including well-known labels. So I’m a pop star now, haha!
I gather you have your own dungeon now, as a wealthy star in the DS underground? I’m more interested in doing my music the best I can, trying to keep the quality high. DS has that amateur, underground feel we all like…however this can’t be used as an excuse for masking an objective low quality. But returning to your question, in 2017 when I released ‘Ruins’ I noticed an interest, people were buying my digital EP, though I hadn’t any Facebook, Instagram, or label promoting Sidereal Fortress…it was exciting to see that, and still, it is! I’m obviously thankful to all those who support my projects!
How important is stuff like artwork and the creative side of a physical release to you? …to be honest, when I started Sidereal Fortress I was focused 100% on Music and I didn’t give graphics and artworks a lot of importance. But yes, with time I learned that artwork is part of the concept and must reflect what you’re going to hear in the tape, cd etc. Then I started practicing with graphic software and I improved my skills a bit. However, we still have to keep in mind that we’re here to make music, not paintings or theater…
About the music, what is the purpose of your work, or in other words, how do you hope your listener enjoys your work? Is it about musicality or atmosphere? This is the most difficult question I ever had to answer in an interview, really! The most important thing for an artist is always to go straight to the heart of his audience, to touch their feelings and emotions…no matter if with musical skills or just a sound texture. With Sidereal Fortress, I try to be balanced between the two…if you listen to The Hermit’s Hole from start to end, you’ll realize how much it depends on the single track: both ‘Through ancient woods…’ are super-easy and quite repetitive tracks, but it’s exactly how I wanted those songs to be! At school, you learn that easy Music is almost shit, but the reality is a bit…different!
I read in Dungeon Synth Zine you were considering ending the Sidereal Fortress project? Yes, I ended Sidereal Fortress one year ago after the release of ‘Odissea’. Back then I felt like I’ve told all that I had to tell with that ‘brand’. But thanks to some estimated DS artists and also some close friends, I found myself reconsidering Sidereal Fortress. That led me to publish The Hermit’s Hole with my usual moniker…and it has been the right move! That album got the interest of Ancient Meadow and a very good overall feedback…yes, I think it’s my best release to date.
Which artists or releases are currently inspiring you or which would you really recommend as you consider them to be particularly good? Mmm…the dungeon synth scene is moving such fast that it’s really hard to find hidden masterpieces. Also, it’s quite rare that I make my DS Music getting inspiration from other DS. Morphic Sun is a less known artist that I’m following with great interest.
What future plans do you currently have for Sidereal Fortress? Honestly, I don’t know. I have a few recorded tracks that maybe will be included in my next album, but not in the near future. Dungeon synth is the quintessence of introspective music like dark ambient and cosmic music are…but they’re also a research of the perfect dramatic and obscure symphony. The making of The Hermit’s Hole lasted almost one year, but things could be even longer…or shorter…who knows? By now, I will join the new chapter of a well-known compilation with an unreleased track. You’ll see…
If you had to describe Sidereal Fortress as a dish, like a type of food, what would it be and why? Without any doubt, it would be a dish from the Tuscan tradition, possibly a mountainside one. Just because my region, as I told you before, is my main source of inspiration. Though I also did some ‘off-topic’ albums like Odissea and The Forgotten Tomb of Yshnak.
Maybe I will choose the ‘cinghiale alla bracconiera’, that we can almost translate as ‘the poacher’s wild boar’ in English!
How lovely it is to discover new dungeon synth artists emerging from a country not particularly well known for its imagination. It’s ok for me to say this, as it concerns an artist from the Netherlands itself. I’m not sure what it is – our lack of wild places, the country’s flat nature, or a simple disconnect with the mysteries of our past. All of these seem to be well part of the Dutch condition, yet here and there magic appears, for those willing to see it. Lóndrangar is a project that has been slumbering in the forgotten past but now has reawakened.
Toner Low might be the last band I’d associate with dungeon synth, but member Daan started Lóndrangar a lifetime ago, back in 1997. After only a short period of a year, it became dormant and had been until we had this global pandemic raging around our globe. And there, we have it, the self-titled debut after long last. The songs are completely new though. And if you were wondering, Lóndrangar is named after an eroded volcanic rock formation on Iceland’s west coast.
Though the songs are new, the feel is very old. Lóndrangar hits the right spot for the lovers of old-school dungeon synth. Repetitive, epic strings and a gloomy, melancholic atmosphere all the way. It really doesn’t take much for ‘Ruins Forgotten By Time’ to grip you, but with a title like that, what else did you expect? Yet, it takes us back to the earliest recordings of Mortiis and CernunnosWoods, and I’d like to mention Wongraven here too as this is the same primitive sound I hear. Slowly the music waxes and wanes, with multiple layers working in harmony to set a mood more than tell a story. But that’s early dungeon synth for you, I believe.
‘Darkening Skies’ is a bit more threatening, slightly more urgent. There’s a swing in the sound, that allows you to imagine the fluttering on the wind, the meandering of rivers and the dripping of water over rugged rocks. The song becomes softer over time, as the synths take on an emulation of the wind, that wistfully blows over the land. It’s full of longing for a different time, now forgotten. ‘A Call Upon The Ages’ takes a darker route. It’s a more subdued swan song to a great debut album. Even if it was 23 years in the making, Lóndrangar makes it all worth it on this classic slab of DS.
Togo is a country you probably haven’t thought about in a while. Maybe not even in the last 14 years, since the world cup participation of the African coastal nation. That’s likely going to change because Arka’n Asrafokor is turning heads with their specific blend of metal music.
With their debut album, Zã Keli , the band didn’t just set their own country on the heavy metal map. They made an impact on the whole continent. Telling us more about it is rapper and keyboard player Enrico Ahavi, with some additions from bandleader and guitarist Rock.
Due to a lot of circumstances, it took a while to get this interview done. That has a lot to do with the band being quite busy. But here it is: Togo heavy metal warriors!
Breaking the mold with Togo heavy metal
How is Arka’n doing? Has the pandemic been tough for you guys?
The pandemic has frozen many things. Many activities in many domains. And just the same way a doctor lives on his work, an artist lives on his art. An art they cannot fully express yet. It’s not only about having income but the public also. Being on stage and feel the crowd, these people’s energy and joy to be there. So yes it’s tough but we are holding on and we’ll get through this. We’re still working and we are working on new projects. The band is doing well.
Did you change the name to Arka’n Asrafokor in the meantime? I understand it means warrior, but can you tell more about this?
No, the addition of Asrafokor came prior to the pandemic. Asrafo means warrior in our mother tongue. And Asrofokor refers to the music of warriors. Warriors were icons in our culture. They were always ready to fight and die for the community. Ready to die for honor, justice, truth, peace, and love. And this state of mind and soul should always be alive and kept deep within each of us. That’s the spirit of Arka’n. That’s the kind of people we are. That’s the warriors we are, walking in our ancestors’ steps.
So can you tell me how you guys all got into this music, what bands inspired you and how you all met?
The musicians were all friends and playing here and there in clubs. Rock, the leader, was working on an album project meanwhile. He suggested to build up a band with the others. He explained the concept, the spirit behind it. They all agreed because sharing the same point of view, spirit, and culture. I (the rapper) was not hundred percent in the band. I used to sing a couple of songs with them on stage but later on joined the band as a full-time member.
We’ve been inspired by many bands. We can’t mention them all but we think the most relevant ones are Slipknot, Korn, Killswitch Engaged, Linkin Park, and more.
The African continent is known for having a very sparse metal scene and only a few notable exceptions. How was this in Togo when you were coming up and exploring this music? Did you have any musical peers?
Truth is it was really tough because there is not a single metal scene in Togo. There was no stage for us. And people don’t know what that music is. But we tried strategically to perform here and there in Togo. Not everywhere and anyhow. The places were selected according to our objectives. Little by little, we’ve started getting people to know what metal was. And specifically what our style was. And surprise surprise: they’ve loved it. Though some people had never heard of metal before. They’ve loved it because of the traditional aspect of the music. They could understand it. The music was the mirror reflecting their roots.
People know rock music here. There are good rock bands. But we are the sole metal band in Togo for now. Therefore we don’t think we’ll say we had musical peers.
What is often seen in emerging metal scenes is emulating the sound of the bands that inspire. But you guys came up with this whole new, distinct sound. What made you go in this direction and how did you shape your sound?
Instinct brought that distinct sound. It couldn’t be otherwise. Metal patterns and our traditional ones are twins. We took that direction because there was no other one to take. The path was there for us to take because it was who we are. Our culture. The culture we live in and that shaped us. We just did what we thought was right and natural for us to do. It would be out of tune trying to sound like this or that band.
Can you tell me a bit about the traditions, the past, that you put into your music with the tribal aspect? And how did it shape up through the years?
We all have a history. A real history. Not the one written by a couple of constipated guys who distort the truth because they are afraid of what you are and can become. So we cling to our history, our truth. Our values. Honor, justice, peace, and love, as mentioned above. I don’t mean we are perfect but at least it is for example impossible for us to decimate a race for land. This is not in our blood. This is not part of our values and history. Music is meant to teach also. Teach the youngest the best way to choose and why. And this is what we do. A mission we have to accomplish. This is what shaped our music. Our education made our music.
As I understand, there’s also a spiritual side to the band, could you say something about that?
Sorry not to deepen the spiritual aspect of the band but here is what we can say. It’s sad to live half a life when you can live a full and complete life. Like it or not the spiritual is the essence of life. There is no ‘here’ without ‘there’. There is no ‘middle’ without ‘here’ and ‘there’. There is no ‘you’ without ‘I’ but at the same time there is only ‘i’ and nothing else. So mind what you think, say, and do. Do the right thing to the world since you are supposed to be the world. Honor life and differences, honor your soul and laws that sustain the universe. Be as humble as the waves of the powerful ocean washing your feet at the seashore. Teach people and show the way. Spirituality is not about religion but it’s a way of living we as a band have adopted.
You’ve released the album last year‘Za Keli’. what can you tell me about the title, the story, the message on this record that is really quite amazingly good? What has happened since its release?
In our Ewe language, Zã Keli means Darkness and Light, Night and Day. We chose to give that title to the album to make us always remember this duality sustaining this world and the fact that we must accept it, fit with it and do our share. You can feel “Zã Keli ” duality in almost all the lyrics of the album. You can feel it when in some songs we talk about that inner journey of human beings, through bright sunny flowered hills or dark infernal valleys, through laughter and tears, learning, growing, but keeping the inner core of his soul safe, untouched, bright and human. Zã Keli is there again, when you listen to some of our songs, beautiful peaceful words full of hope, and in other songs, war cries calling for a merciless fight against those who spread death on our Mother Earth, those who destroy innocent lives, out of hatred and greed. This album is also like an overview of the story of the band members, what we have gone through, for many years, our musical and technical evolution, our human and spiritual journey. The oldest song of the album was written before 2005 and the most recent one in early 2019. The album came to the world during a memorable release party in a club we used to perform. The following days, the album was available online, and there were amazing reviews from metal magazines in Africa and then writers and blogs here and there from five continents! It was like a new beginning, a new journey. Our fanbase has been growing since then and we are connecting with communities and other bands. Now we are working on the next album.
Can you describe the writing and recording process? Like, how do you approach the whole creative side of it, and who plays what part in it?
Rock is the composer and the writer. He creates the music and we play it with some modifications if necessary.
How was the reception of the album, did it help you connect to the wider African metal scene?
The comments regarding the album were positive. The album confirmed Arka’n as a serious band as well as the style. It’s been proof we took some way and were part of the metal community. It helped connect not only with the wider African metal scene but also with the world metal scene. Many things were planned for this year but the pandemic put everything on hold.
Which bands do you feel we should really listen to from your part of the world, and why?
Metal in Africa isn’t something so rare, and there are many bands I could recommend from Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda, Angola… Let me just name those who come to my mind now…Dark Suburb, a rock band from Ghana, a band of talented and committed brothers who always fights to raise people’s awareness of life in the slums, the hard reality there, but also all the huge potential of the forgotten souls there. Overthrust and Wrust from Botswana, which are the references of African death metal scene, Skinflint, heavy metal from Botswana too. Seeds of Datura and Last year tragedy from Kenya, the awesome Dividing the Elements, Myrath from Tunisia, one of the most worldwide known African metal bands, etc, etc…
How is your reception in Togo itself? Is there any censorship or social scrutiny you have to deal with?
Since we gave birth to our music from our roots there is no censorship. The listeners know what they are listening to. Even the ones living out of Togo. Like in Ghana for example, since we actually share the same rhythms and culture. Our messages are real and about life and society. Nothing eccentric or unethical. Unless being eccentric means to get up and fight for your future and freedom, for the ones we love. Unless being eccentric means following the footsteps left by those who’ve been here before us.
What is the biggest misconception you face as a band from Togo that plays metal?
We would be called ‘satanists’. That is how it was at the beginning. That western image of metal stuff. Wearing black and jumping here and there on stage, growling, etc… They thought it was western stuff that didn’t fit in here. But it changed quite fast as our fanbase grew and people wanted to understand what these crazy guys were doing on stage and what they were singing about.
What future plans does Arak’n have when the world turns back to normal?
Just one plan: hit the road and say hi to the world with more power and love.
Another offering is coming from the worshippers of the Verdant Realm that are Botanist. On this record, they delve into the mystery of photosynthesis with 8 tracks. Nature worship at its most pure and basic, I would say, with the ever-hammering dulcimers foregrounded and making the band still unwelcome on Metal Archives for some clouded reason.
It’s always been challenging to figure out what number this album is in the Botanist discography. We went from VI to IV, which were followed by the ‘Collective: The Shape of He to Come’ in 2017 and ‘Ecosystem’ in 2019. I suppose this is VIII… or VII. Regardless, a concept album about how plants convert sunlight into energy, how they transform carbon dioxide into the oxygen that all fauna need to breathe is a remarkable thing in itself.
What I like so much about the sound of Botanist is that you get the full intensity of black metal, but more smooth. It’s like adding milk to your coffee, a blasphemous act I never pursue myself, to take off the edge. The clear vocals on a song like ‘Water’ even so make it easier to take in the story of the song. I suppose this is also the aspect of Botanist you might object to from a purist point of view: no guitars = no metal. But that’s not a discussion I care for, because the music stands on its own, even if you start calling the genre wood instead of metal. I’m sure the band would like that in fact.
But that doesn’t mean the sound is mild, on tracks like ‘Bacteria’ we certainly get to experience eruptions and violence in the best black metal tradition. Or ‘Dehydration’, which definitely give s bit of a rough rubbing. But yes, all over the thing you easily notice about this record is how Botanist maintains harmony within the whole. That does fit in with the concept but has in my listening experience been the consistent factor in their music. Each record is one journey and filled with flourishes and nuances, but one flow to follow, as nature itself is. ‘Photosynthesis’ embodies that best.
Label: The Flenser
Origin: United States