Can you feel the breath of the White Goddess on your neck? Well, it’s (about) time to raise your sword once again and face your destiny – and get another lesson about myths and metal from the one and only Atlantean Kodex. This band really hammered their way to my mind with their debut album The Golden Bough in 2010, bringing back the power and glory of epic heavy metal. And the crows are whispering that the long-awaited second album The White Goddess will crush your skull even more brutally. To celebrate this battle, I dig up this great interview I made with Manuel Trummer in 2011 for Imperiumi.net that all you non-Finnish bastards can read these words of wisdom too.
But before this, a little moment with the recent happenings. According to Trummer, The White Goddess is about death and downfall and the power to face them. But as a well-known expert of different cultures and myths, which culture’s view on death and afterlife does he find most interesting and inspiring?
– I really dig the way some ancient Greek philosophers handled the question of death. I’m talking about the founders of the hedonistic principle, for instance Aristippos or Epikur. They basically told you to live your life to the fullest, enjoy it as much as possible, because one day you will die. Stripped down to the basics, it’s a “no future” mentality, which inspires you to live for today as good as you can. That’s a motto I can really relate to: death as the driving energy behind your life. This is also the idea behind The White Goddess.
– Other than that I find the way the so-called ‘Celtic’ people integrated death into their perception of life. They didn’t have a clean line between life and death, but rather thought of it as intertwined, different forms of existence. When you died, you just moved on to another place. I think you can draw a lot of strength from this idea.
So, let’s start this interview with a basic question. The album The Golden Bough has been out for some time, so I guess you have now some distance to observe it with different angles. How have your opinion and feelings about your debut album changed during these months?
– Can’t really say that my general opinion about the album has changed during the course of the last few months. We were pretty convinced that the album was outstanding and we still are. The surprising thing though is that the album was able to break into mainstream territories as well. We thought at first that The Golden Bough was solely an album for a special “underground” group of people, but obviously it’s sort of attractive for the wider crowd as well. This was probably the part which astounded us the most.
Before The Golden Bough you released many demos and live albums. Did you approach this process – making a full-length I mean – in a different way, and did you have any special pressure if you compare it to making a demo or releasing a live album? I guess these demo tapes pave the way in many ways…
– No, we approached it in the same way as the Pnakotic Demos in terms of recordings and mixing it. But you’re right about the “special pressure”. I had the impression that due to the success of our demos the expectations had risen to an almost unfulfillable scale. We could definitely feel the pressure and knew we had to come up with our very best. This was a different situation compared to the time when we recorded our demo. But in the end we did the album mainly for ourselves, so I can’t say we were frightened or nervous or anything.
The Golden Bough is a monument of music; it reminds me about a massive Antique statue or a temple, and this image gets me thinking about Plato’s thoughts about the statue’s idea hidden in a rock – you know, how a boulder of rock already contains the statue, it just have to be revealed. Could we use this thought to describe Atlantean Kodex’s creative process: you have musicians, instruments, riffs and sounds, and you transform these to music to reach the primal idea? Or do you go through jamming, create from a scratch?
– That’s an interesting thought. I can speak only for myself, but I certainly DO have that ideal picture of a song in my mind. In the most times I know exactly, what I want a song to be and try to break through to that ideal song in my mind by recording it. Sometimes it turns out to be almost the perfect realization of the song in my mind (like the ending of Fountain of Nepenthe) something it turns into something completely different, especially when we jam on our ideas in our rehearsal space.
– Speaking of Plato’s Idealism: there’s another point which I find striking. He was also writing that our souls have already been to that perfect place of ideas and will return there after we die. This means all our souls are already familiar with all the ,perfect’ ideas of songs out there. Do you know that feeling, when a song or a part of a song really overwhelms you? Not in terms of “Wow, that’s an awesome riff!”, but in terms of totally moving you, sending shivers down your spine and sounding like it was made especially for you? Like it has touched your very soul? I think moments like these are proof that your soul is already familiar with that special song, which means that its composer has achieved to break through to the realm of pure ideas and managed to realize a ,perfect’ song or part of a song in our material world. Otherwise it wouldn’t be able to move your soul so deeply. Only a “perfect” song can do that.
The main focus of The Golden Bough is in these long epic songs. How do you create these colossuses – do you have a clear vision from a start or is it more like hopping from an idea to another? Do you have to concentrate on details more or do you use a bigger brush in these 10-minute songs?
– We don’t really know. The songs evolve by themselves and suddenly they’re 10 minutes long. I guess it would be harder for us to do a short song. Regarding the process of composing it sort of flows in our rehearsal space where we put the general ideas together. As soon as we think a song has that special flow, we start working on the details.
Well, it’s obvious that the word “epic” represents quite well your music. But “epic” is just a style to picture different emotions – it can be a glorious feel of victory, or a wide longing for the lost ages. What kind of an emotional palette does Atlantean Kodex have in your opinion?
– First and foremost: Power. Music which doesn’t communicate “Power” cannot be Heavy Metal. You get a good impression of what we’re aiming at when you take a look at our cover artwork Die Toteninsel. It really communicates very well what our songs are all about. Feelings of loss, nostalgia, melancholy, but also triumph, glory, strength and catharsis. The songs are both about leaving it all behind and going to a better place, but also about kicking ass in the real world.
And continuing with this “epic” theme… I see that you Germans have a tendency to be epic in your roots, if we look back to Wagner, Beethoven or Goethe… So does this epic touch come from you naturally, and is there ever a danger that it turns out to a dull and hollow exaggeration?
– I wouldn’t call Goethe epic, but you’re certainly right about the German love for Pathos. I think it comes pretty natural to us. Like I said before, it is harder for us to write a short, catchy song. We always come up with these epic 11 minute behemoths quite naturally. It’s indeed a small line between “epic” and “Kitsch”. You need to be careful not to overdo the emotional part of the songs, you always need to stay rooted in pure fist-raising heavy metal enough to balance the melancholic and nostalgic parts in the songs. Of course it also depends mostly on the listener and how he perceives the music. What is “epic” for one person may already be “Kitsch” for another listener.
Besides being epic, Atlantean Kodex digs deep into the world of myths, legends, history and culture, and your approach is quite far away from the basic and somehow superficial way of many metal bands – “yeah, I read one Conan novel and now I can write my own heroic sagas”… On the other hand I find your music a perfect soundtrack to bang my head, drink my beer and loose my primal instincts. So is Atlantean Kodex beer drinking music or thinking man’s music (and this doesn’t mean that you can’t both think and drink, heh)?
– Both! Our music is pure, serious and absolutely un-ironic Heavy Metal first and foremost. If you ever attend one of our liveshows you’ll see that the songs are perfect for getting hammered, headbanging, raising your fist and screaming along. But on album we try to create a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ with fitting lyrics, an cover artwork which can communicate the feelings and atmosphere we aim at and an interesting lyrical background the listener can explore. This way we can give everyone his own. Beer-drinking, fist-raising anthems for the people who don’t care much about lyrics, but also some thought-provoking stuff for the people who sit down and read the booklet while listening to an album. We can take everyone on a trip of his own, haha…
But that’s for sure that Atlantean Kodex is pure sterling 100% Metal! So let’s throw a wide question: what is heavy metal in your opinion? Is it connected to music, attitude, the whole concept or something else – or maybe to all of this? What does make Atlantean Kodex a heavy metal band?
– Power! Once again. Heavy Metal is all about power and the will to stand defiant. Heavy Metal should be an alternative to the polished, McDonaldized-crap we’re surrounded by day after day. It should make people get up and tell their bosses, their teachers, the industry, the politicians: “Fuck you! I won’t live by the rules you’re trying to impose on me.” It should make you go out and drink beer and break shit. It should help you go on a trip and show you the world from a different angle. If music doesn’t do that, it’s no Heavy Metal.
Let’s go back to those tales of magic and myths you create in your lyrics. Usually these themes are seen as a tool of escapism in heavy metal music, but how do you see this thing? Do you write about old legends because this modern world is so dull and uninspirational, or are these legends and stories mirrors and metaphors of the modern world? You give some answers in a foreword found from The Golden Bough’s cover sheet but open this topic more please!
– I’d rather not. It would take away some of the magick in the songs. I find every listener should explore the lyrics for himself and interpret them as he sees fit. In the end it’s not about what we had in mind when writing the songs, but what the listener makes of it. The possibilities are infinite. I can only say as much that we are heavily influenced by European mythology and the local folklore of our home region the Upper Palatinate. We feel that the mythology shared by the peoples of Europe is proof for their common origin somewhere in the depths of history. By invoking this share mythologies in our songs, we might help to show the Europeans of today their collective identity, but also where the borders of Europe lie. So all in all you can interpret our songs both as mere ancient sagas, but you can also adapt them to political issues of today. It depends on the person listening to the songs what he makes of them and how he uses the lyrics for himself and his needs.
You mentioned in one interview that the world of Dungeons & Dragons and role-playing in general isn’t totally unknown to you, and this comment got me reminisce my own youth: about 17 years ago me and my friends were playing Rune Quest and other role-plays and entering same time to the world of heavy metal by listening to Iron Maiden, Manowar and Helloween. Years have passed but still I get some kicks from Kings of Metal or Robert E. Howard’s novels – but in a different way. You aren’t the new kids on the block anymore so it’s suitable to ask what do you get from mythologies, fantasy literature and also heavy metal in an older age?
– Heavy Metal for me is still a way of life and a way to stay critical about the manipulations of the industry, politicians and the like. It gives me strength when I need and it opens doors when I’ve had enough of the bullshit surrounding us. Mythology on the other hand is a much deeper issue. It shows us where we come from and thus forms both our collective and individual identities as Europeans, but also as inhabitants of our local home regions. They give us orientation and a fix point in these times of constant change, we’re living in today.
So let’s end this interview with a glance to the future. The debut album has been released, a tale of Atlantean Kodex has got a new important chapter, there will be some live annihilations in the horizons… Is now the time to take breath and scheme new war plans or the time to just rage on without mercy and find out where you find yourselves next?
– At the moment we’re catching our breath. The past few months were pretty intense, now it’s time to focus again. There are a couple of shows in planning and maybe another album on the horizon. We’ll see.