Monthly Archives: October 2013

KILL WITH POWER: ATLANTEAN KODEX

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.

LogoVektor(originally published in Imperiumi.net 2011)

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.

atlanteankodex_cover

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…

atlanteankodex_manuel

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.

THE CHOSEN THREE: SEPTEMBER 2013

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The Finnish summer has started fading away, so it’s time for the Finnish autumn – and Finnish music. It’s quite unbelievable how all these albums are coming out almost same time, and same time there are also a few other Finnish albums twisting my mind like Jumalhämärä‘s Resitaali, Ranger‘s Knights of Darkness or Pyhä Kuolema‘s Kevättuulisormi. And all these artists walk more or less their own road, so that just shows even clearer how fine is my home country’s situation nowadays. Of course some of these releases get a bit subjective bonuses from my direction but I’m sure that if even you’re not familiar with these bands or their music, you would like them too – at least some of them. So autumn, come forth and show your beautiful decadence – I have enough songs for it.

cosmicchurch_ylistys

COSMIC CHURCH: Ylistys (Kuunpalvelus 2013)

Finally it’s here, officially. This album has walked a long road, and when you wander through the every minute of its 75 minute length, you understand that this is a monumental album, a true church of Isaac. However, it’s interesting to notice how fluent and natural is the stream of music on Ylistys. This album truly flows, with long songs, wailing and cinematic guitar leads and repetitive tempos. There are changes – from peaceful moments to blastbeats, as in Kätketyn Tulen Vartija – but the main core of this album lies in melancholy and devotion.

I would even say that Ylistys is a combination of modern Finnish black metal, epic touches of Austere and wideness of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Luxixul Sumering Auter, the sole priest of Cosmic Church, paints touching landscapes with his guitar that aren’t so far from the shivering nature of post-rock. But still, the anger is there, as is sorrow – listen to those anguished shrieks of L.S.A. if you don’t believe me. And while talking about the vocals, L.S.A. has a supportive liturgist, Atvar of Circle Of Ouroborus (okay, now I lost my objectivity…), whose performance in the end of Täydellisen Valon Äärellä is simply astonishing.

75 minutes is quite much, and it becomes clear that Ylistys tends to be a bit dull now and then. Also all the changes from a part to another inside these long songs don’t happen without collisions every time. This makes me wonder how Cosmic Church would nail a short and striking 4-minute song with this recent style… Let’s see if we can witness this in the future. But in general, Ylistys lives by its name: this is one wide praise to gods out there and gods inside of us. Massive and intimate at the same time.

I asked mr L.S.A. if he wanted to tell something about one particular song, but as expected, it was hard to cut up one tile from this church:

   – Personally I see the whole album as a description of a spiritual journey; the first song being the creation of the “Foundation” to which everything can grow & develop and the last song being the end of the path, “The Absolute Light”. I believe the key to this album lies as much in these beginnings and endings as during the journey, which is as important as the destination. Lyrically these two songs are the ones which speak to me the most, but I see Ylistys as a whole; it is Apotheosis, Eulogy, Adoration, Praise, Veneration and yet these are just plain words for something far greater beyond any words, and the album has been created from my own limited perspective trying to adore and praise these great, magnificent and eternal cosmic forces.

Two songs off from Ylistys: https://soundcloud.com/kuunpalvelus

W.A.I.L.: II (Ahdistuksen Aihio 2013)

W.A.I.L.’s second full-length is also monumental, and well-thought. This Finnish band’s death/doom metal has very traditional roots, but all the interesting ideas and arrangements make this album a piece of art which needs lots of listening and concentration. And by this I don’t mean that the music itself would be somehow difficult or too artistic: actually it’s quite easy to dive into these crushing riffs, majestic guitar leads and mellower moments, but same time you have to understand how much vision and work all this must have demanded – especially in the lyrics.

So what you get is grotesque and robust metal songs that create strong images like the best modern “dark death metal” bands do nowadays. But this album isn’t only about heaviness: W.A.I.L. also operates in the field of silence creating piano songs and even jazzy and hazy jamming. Also the instrument arsenal is impressing, from that before-mentioned grand piano to violins and even didgeridoos. But everything is here to serve the cause – the band’s attempt to show how both negative and positive sides are just one grand form of existence.

The songs are strong, the band plays with talent and with heart, and in general the album has an eerie atmosphere. But sometimes I wonder if less would have been more. These experimental interludes (well, they can be considered real songs) are good as themselves, but for example this jazzy song called Abyss breaks the picture a bit too much in my opinion. But this is just my critical mind talking here. W.A.I.L. has improved from their debut and although they salute the gods of death/doom/black metal now and then, they also stand on the ground of their own.

Let’s continue the theme in these questions and give the floor to A.E. to explain the story behind Abyss:

– The Abyss passage was inspired by the sea and more broadly, by the element of water. I and S.F. wrote the music for it and we both have grown up in a small wooden town called Kristiinankaupunki which stands by the Gulf of Bothnia so as long as I can remember the sea has been a part of my life in many ways. I still remember this certain vibrant, mysterious and also somewhat ominous feeling it evoked in me as a child, especially when I was watching the waves float by at the evening, and this was the feeling I originally wanted to capture when I wrote the riff for Abyss. Only afterwards when I started to create the concept for this full-length came the historical background story and the ideological blabbering. Don’t get me wrong though, the conceptual idea in which this final passage of the whole first song is supposed to represent the state of total hopelessness i.e. “floating on the waves of madness”, is also surely important but it’s not really something I think about a lot when listening to this piece as it is at its core even more personal for me.

morko_itsensanimeava

MÖRKÖ: Itsensänimeävä (Vaticanian Roadkill / Ahdistuksen Aihio 2013)

And the weirdest bunch comes the last. Mörkö has been sometimes doomy black sludge, sometimes minimalistic black metal, but now they take a more sophomore road. Itsensänimeävä (‘Self-titled’ – a great title, eh?) is still dark, obscure and deranged but stylistically this album is very close to Norway’s Virus: jazzy and tangling riffs that drive this experimental black metal truck forward, multileveled vocals which can be hazy poem reading in one point or insane shouting in another, top-notch musicianship that really takes risks etc. There are even a few free jazz moments if I interpret those chaotic blastings right.

This all may sound quite unfocused but Itsensänimeävä is still a very dynamic piece of work. The drums and the riffs go well together, and also the bass guitar is in a big role which isn’t quite rare in black metal. The songs take twists and turns but the movement is always forward, or at least something important is happening all the time. The slowest and most peaceful moment is in the middle of all this, when Kosmoksen huhmareessa (a 13 minute long behemoth) eases down to an improvised (?) guitar picking in the end. A very natural and very effective solution.

As in both cases before, it’s quite hard to say concretely what is wrong in Itsensänimeävä, but I think it’s something about the general character of this music: this is artistic music, made by artists with a strong vision, so it’s not always easy for listener to get into this a bit introverted world of Mörkö. But it’s not a big deal. Stand aside and just listen to this album and feel how brilliantly Mörkö is fucking with your head.

I asked Jari-Matti Nurminen about the ending of Kosmoksen huhmareessa and the role of improvisation in Mörkö and got the answers – and much more.

   – The role of improvisation in making of Itsensänimeävä was quite small, perhaps even more so than in ‘normally functioning’ bands (meaning jamming out ideas at the rehearsal and then developing those into songs).

The whole thing began in the spring of 2009, when I got some ideas for new material. IV pretty much wiped the slate clean and for a year there was no idea where to go next. So, then an idea came to have songs and riffs and vocals and all that avantgarde stuff, you know. Then I started to make some riffs, but at the same time a growing interest toward systematic composition was forming in my being.

This lead to new perspectives on how to make songs out of few riffs. For example set theory I found very interesting, combined with basic variation principles. This is basically quite simple and can lead to interesting findings:
First you have a Riff. It’s important to have some substance from which you generate the material so you don’t end up with an empty form, that just resembles music. This is always a danger in composition.

You take the Riff into its pieces; basically you look at what’s there, which notes are used and what kind of rhythmic shapes? There you have material. You can turn the riff backwards, or inside out or reverse the intervallic movements, but this is classical stuff. You can also just keep the rhythmic vibe and use the same notes, remove some, add some, transpose the basic material to create tension and so forth… Maybe even have an idea how these will develop during the piece, for example beginning with two notes and ending up with ten, that’s rock’n’roll entropy there!

You don’t have to use variations as they come but to just find new ideas and make the ideas into new Riffs. It might be helpful to put this on paper. Standard notation is very practical since guitar (and keyboard) is an equally tempered instrument so you don’t get much out of using a weird system of your own. Probably no one will have any idea what’s been written (including yourself, after a few months, been there). So, this ”old world” -technique makes it possible to share your ideas with your bandmates. At some level, this is about communication, isn’t it? Might sound a bit gay for all the record releasing misanthropes, but let’s face it.

You can also skip the fancy pancy notation stuff and just check the notes and make a new Riff from the notes, relying on your music instinct. It might be even better. This you should do even if you end up writing it down. Without pen and paper you have to memorize it, and that takes a lot of resources at some point.

The point in all this is to maintain coherence throughout the song – or even an entire album – by this quite simple technique. It allows you to make very different things, still maintaining ”the feel” of that same music. I like to think of it as a ”chaos bathysphere”; the better the construct, the deeper it will take you and if things go well you’ll come back with a broader consciousness and more stable groundings of your being. And that can give you strength that’s real, but it’s a long process and takes a lot of ups and downs. And you don’t need drugs for that, unless you want to ”enhance” things a bit as some of us do. Music is a true path to understanding reality more deeply, but you have to take it seriously and really devote yourself to it. That’s what black metal is for me. It’s ”just” a style of music, but that doesn’t make it any shallower. To me some random pub rock with some naughty words in the lyrics is false black metal, whatever to poorness of production values might be. Where’s the striving? Jump in the fire and burn, I say! Look the thing in the eye.

Now, this can lead to interesting results, but a compositional technique is not a ”song automaton”. You still have to decide how you variate your material, now you just have a clearer area in which to work, so that allows the resources to be directed into other aspects of the music. This helps to take things deeper.

So, in the early summer of 2009 I had the first (Ruumis loi itsensä omaksi kuvakseen) and the last song (Nesteen luo) written down and we went to our rehearsal place with Heikki (Kivelä, bass). It was easy to share the ideas also on paper, since Heikki has very professional skills in these things. The basic structures and order of the parts were pretty much already organized. The amount of repetition was found together by playing the songs a lot during the next few years. Heikki’s precise arrangement work with the percussion had a big effect in the dynamic formation of the songs. And that really makes the difference. The two songs in the middle were composed about a year later and the additional guitars and bass were arranged bit by bit with the vocals during 2010-2012.

The material in the ending of Kosmoksen huhmareessa is composed but its final execution is improvisation-like. The different parts were ready, but the amount of repetition or the dynamic relations were found ‘improvisationally’ in the moment of recording. This take was chosen to be kept on the album due to its spontaneous nature.

Thus the answer to your question is ”yes and no”.

The whole album, it’s here: http://morkomusic.bandcamp.com/album/itsens-nime-v