My fascination for dungeon synth is a perpetuating occupation in exploring new artists’ work and locating unique creativity. I had not thought to find dungeon synth being produced on the island of Réunion, in the Indian Ocean. Aker Aeon is not an original inhabitant of the island, but it is where his memories of the beloved home turf in Occitania sparked the inspiration for his main project: Akerius.
Akerius is an oddity in dungeon synth for its location, but also a unique sound. At times foreboding, dark and full of alchemical mystery, at other times hints of pastoral landscapes ad to the colour of his sound. This October, he released his latest record, titled ‘Shadowed Paths Through Middle Earth’. A beautiful, Tolkienesque piece of art in shadowy times.
Though personal issues momentarily put the interview on hold, Aker Aeon quickly got back to me with a wealth of answers about his music, inspiration, and facing this pandemic in the most remote part of France.
Occitanian Nostalgia and Dungeon Synth with Akerius
Let’s start with a ‘How are you doing?’
I’m doing fine, had to fix some personal issues a few days ago but things are getting better now, and quicker than what I was expecting. I think my passion for music helped me to deal with stress and tiredness! Finally, this interview is a good opportunity to take my mind off things.
How has the pandemic affected your life on Reunion?
Quarantine, curfew, wearing masks,…etc. Our situation in Réunion is not so different than from other countries. But at the moment, we succeeded in maintaining an “acceptable” situation, for example, there is no confinement anymore (until when ?…) but more restrictions concerning liberty: always wearing masks, no gatherings with friends or family and so on…
The positive thing is that I can spend more time at home and I’m more focused on writing and playing music. But on the other hand, this pandemic situation can also affect you so deeply then making music can be the last of your preoccupations! We all clearly need escapism…
I understand you’re not native to the island, can you share a bit about how you ended up there?
Yes, I was born in Occitania, a place fantastic region full of history (medieval castles, legends, secret places…). I’ve grown with all this ‘background’ and my mother used to tell me stories about those places, especially Carcassonne and the legendary Cathar country. Of course, I feel very nostalgic about this period and this is one of the reasons I started my project ‘Akerius’.
I decided to move to Réunion island for professional and personal reasons. I studied sciences for years (Biology & Geology) and Réunion is a very attractive place when you are fond of science and biodiversity, but the one more reason why I moved is love…
How did you get into dungeon synth music and metal and which is the dominant style you enjoy? Which acts inspired you?
It all started with the “Norwegian black metal era” as I was a reader (and still I am) of a magazine called “Metallian” wich deals with extreme and underground music but also plenty of different styles like ‘avant-garde’ music…etc. I discovered this extreme music called ‘black-metal’ and it was so intriguing, mysterious, violent but also romantic. Of course, I think you cannot dissociate Black Metal from DS, I’m thinking about Burzum, Mortiis, Wongraven…but I’m not a ‘specialist’ of the genre then I won’t do more comments about it. I must say I enjoy listening to DS, Metal, Black Metal in an alternative way, it depends on the mood of the day. For example, a few days ago, I was even listening to some old Van Halen vinyl!!! Today I’m more into ‘Darkenhöld‘ and ‘Crepuscule d’Hiver‘ (french atmospheric/melodic black metal bands accompanied by a medieval universe). Inspiration comes in fact from many bands, many albums and many genres!
You have multiple projects going on as I understand it. There is Akerius, Aker (Aeon), and Nosferâ (am I missing any?). Can you tell a bit more about all these projects? I’m also curious about how they connect, particularly Akerius and Aker.
Nosferâ is a live metal band with some death/black metal influences that I created with my son who is a young drummer and also some good friends. We created this band for the pleasure of playing ‘live’ some compositions. Each musician puts his own influences in it, it’s a strong amalgam of genres, we’re having great fun playing together! Unfortunately, we were programmed to play for a festival here in Réunion island called “La Nuit de Kal” during the Halloween period, unfortunately, it has been cancelled because of the pandemic situation! But we’re still doing rehearsals, we try to keep it up!
AKER is an ‘instrumental’ metal project. Inspiration comes from all my musical influences, it’s very diverse, depends on what I’m listening at the moment, for example, the EP “Stellar Sacrifice” (featuring a track with Stuurm from Gargoylium/Crepuscule d’Hiver) was written while I was listening to a lot to the THORNS VS EMPEROR album.
Out of curiosity, how do you create ‘dark’ music in a place that is, as far as I can tell, the opposite? Though I do see magnificent nature in photographs of your place of residence.
This dark ambient and medieval music come directly from my imagination after reading books, watching movies, listening to music… in fact, I am like most of the musicians who are writing their own music, so nothing special here… But I must say that Réunion’s landscapes are so fantastic that they can be a great source of inspiration! Especially the mountains, forests and volcanic areas! Nature can be ‘magnificent’ as you said but there are also some secret, mythical and ‘grandiose’ places that can inspire you in a way and feed your imagination if you’re receptive to it! For example, I explored months ago a lava tunnel that inspired me the music for ‘Inside The Trolls Cavern’ from my last album.
Is there any sort of scene there to speak of in darker music in the broadest sense of the word (metal, dungeon synth, or even punk)? yeah…metal, punk, rock, progressive/alternative rock…etc. Some very good local bands from Réunion are trying their best to export their music (not so easy when you’re isolated in an island!). Concerning DS, I did not hear from any other projects, it looks like I’m the only one, and let’s hope that in the future there will be more DS projects here…
Your latest album is ‘Shadowed Paths Through Middle Earth’. This is a Tolkienesque album, but that’s not your regular topic as I understand it. What are your inspirations for dungeon synth?
I’ve been listening to a lot to Mortiis, Summoning, Ulver, Emperor, Covenant, Satyricon, Wongraven, Evol, … just to name a few. Inspiration comes from music first (it can sound strange but I listen a lot to King Diamond or Mercyful Fate when I lack imagination), but of course also literature, movies or even paintings can inspire me in a way. For example, I particularly appreciate some drawings from John Howe but I also admire the work from other underground artists (Bard Algol, Corbac Lenoir).
On the other hand, you’ve now used Middle Earth. What are particular aspects that make Tolkien so inspiring for you? What are your favourite tales from his work and are there other fantasy writers you enjoy and would pay tribute to (I’m personally still hoping to find some Gemmell-inspired ds)?
Yes, S.P.T.M.E is a ‘special’ one in my discography as it’s the only album dealing with the Tolkien’s universe. Music was written during a period I was reading some tales about Middle-earth, the last one I read (once again) was ‘The Children of Húrin’ which I did not like a lot on first reading. Tolkien’s work deals with many themes and the world he has created is also made of drawings, songs and of course tales, all of this is incredibly rich and inspiring! Of course, there is also this atmosphere of melancholy and the struggle between good and evil that feeds many of his stories: definitively inspiring for writing music! I do not have favourite tales but let’s say I usually come back to ‘Bilbo The Hobbit’ and of course ‘The Lord of the Rings’ which is a much more complex and dark work. Because of its darkness, it is more appealing to me…I don’t plan to pay tribute to other fantasy writers for the moment but as you suggested I should start reading ‘LEGEND’ from David Gemmell, some friends always encouraged me reading it because the fantasy universe he has created is different and original. We’ll see…
What is your recording process like and what sort of equipment and instruments do you use?
The recording process is very simple: a DAW, a sound card, and an old Korg keyboard with enough presets to make some decent music but I do not use MIDI sequencing. In a way, my approach of making music is ‘old school’, the sounds & presets that I’m using are very simple and ‘ basic’ comparing to the 2021 audio technology (not to mention the ultimate quest to get a ‘wall of sound’ mastering). Maybe in the future, I’ll try to use more modern sounds but for the moment it’s ok, I’m not ‘disgusted’ with my recording equipment yet.
I also use electric and acoustic guitars and a ‘baglama’ when I want to add some special vibes or dark ambiences. I always liked the acoustic or clean guitar interludes you can find in metal, that’s why I tried to add some guitar parts in my DS compositions.
What are your thoughts on the phenomenon that is dungeon synth and modern offshoots like a comfy synth?
Don’t really know what to think about it, but all I hope is that the ‘dungeon synth’ revival stream will get stronger and will spread the world, lots of my friends who didn’t know this genre like it a lot now! I think it’s the kind of the music that is very appropriated to listen to when you are in isolation, and if you need to disconnect from reality, it can easily transport you to other places and time… This music is so deep and mysterious, I think this is why it attracts more and more people including musicians starting their new projects. Comfy synth is not music I’m used to listening to, any artists come to my mind right now but I will look forward to it!
This brings me to the question how do you define dungeon synth? Because opinions vary and for some, the definition is quite narrow, for others it’s very broad.
The origin of this music is very special and complicated, so many things have been said and everyone has his own explanations and arguments. I won’t try to give a definition as I’m not myself a ‘specialist’ of the genre. I think that Dungeon Synth is a “sub-genre” of black metal, but nowadays when you listen to the new DS scene you can easily notice that the music is ‘polished’ and clean when you compare it with the sound of the dark period of the ‘old school’ DS! It has evolved so much!
DS can deal with so many themes and ambiences: darkness, melancholy, fear, mystery, history (medieval times), paganism, sorcery, literature…etc. And the music can be mixed and recorded in so many different ways (lo-fi or a bright and powerful mastering with a ‘more modern vibe’). For all these reasons and different aspects, it’s so hard for me to define it!
What future plans do you have for Akerius, Aker and other musical releases?
I have no plans, I play what comes. I can write some music very quickly because inspiration is knocking at the dungeon door. And if I have enough energy to shape what I have in my mind, I motivate myself to start the recording process which can be a time-consuming thing if you’re a perfectionist like me. But during this pandemic period, creating music is a “mind healing”, so the more plans I’ll have the more it will be fine!
If you had to describe your music as a dish, what would it be and why?
If my music was a dish it would be a good « Cassoulet » with a glass of red wine or a glass of Hypocras (a medieval drink that I particularly like). Cassoulet is a speciality from the ‘Occitanian terroir’(the region where I was born). Sausages, confit (typically duck), pork, and white beans are used to cook this dish. An excellent option for entertaining especially on cold winter nights when the weather calls for a stick-to-your-ribs kind of meal. It’s a very ancient, authentic and generous dish. I would be perfect tasting it in an old tavern or inside a medieval castle! If you never tasted it, you should try one day 😉
But of course, music is the best food for the soul… Thanks for giving me the opportunity to do this interview Guido! Salut!