Saturday, March 16, 2019

Interview with Asramis of LORDRAN by Dave Wolff

Interview with Asramis of LORDRAN

On December 1 Lordran released their debut full length “Divulgence of the Rotten Spire”. As the band’s debut album, what would you say it has to offer black metal and extreme metal in general?
"Divulgence of the Rotten Spire" offers to black metal, as well as extreme metal, concrete evidence that black metal is not just a sound but an atmosphere and an experience. As an avid fan of black metal for years, I have often seen the genre criticized for having simplistic musicianship, an unnecessary obsession with satanism and/or the occult and not having a lot of variety. Conjointly, these stereotypes have led to some believing black metal cannot exist without these points being present, i.e. if a band is too technical, doesn't dabble in a left path ideology or experiments with odd influences, it could not be considered black metal. We wanted “Divulgence” to be an album that quashes that ignorant stance. Though the album has complex song structures, varying dynamics and influences and a concept album steeped in horror-fantasy, the atmosphere is undeniably black metal. We wanted to submerge the listener with the vibe of black metal, rather than rely on minor second half steps and inverted pentagrams to establish it. In an extreme metal standpoint, I believe “Divulgence” offers a melodic ferocity. We tune our guitars to E flat standard, which isn't done often in extreme metal, but there are points in the album that hit the listener with audible intensity. Divulgence gives the listener an experience that is the perfect balance between melodious and vicious.
In short I think “Divulgence” offers proof that it doesn't matter if black metal is simple, complex, satanic or rooted in fantasy. It is an atmosphere rather than a distinct sound.

When you started listening to black metal, who most personified the atmosphere and experience you refer to? When you started Lordran, did you borrow influence from them or did you set out to create your own sound?
If I had to narrow it down to four bands with the richest atmosphere that really inspired me, it would be Emperor, Drudkh, Xasthur and Windir. "In The Nightside Eclipse" by Emperor was an album that perfectly describes the atmosphere and experience I refer to. The album art was dark and majestic and the music reflected that. They pulled you into the raw and epic world that both the lyrics and music weaved. The other bands I mentioned creating different atmospheres/experiences but were just as enticing. "Microcosmos" by Drudkh had an album cover that was a desolate forest and the guitar chords and phrases were so massive on that album. I truly felt like it made black metal feel like an element of nature. Any album by Windir, especially "Arntor" truly enraptured the sound and brisk grandeur of winter. Xasthur is my personal favorite, though. The disgusting chord shapes, the lo-fi production, the unnerving artwork, it created this bleak and dismal, almost nihilistic experience that knocked me in my feet. That's why I love black metal. When I initially started Lordran I did borrow from the ideas these bands brought to the table but ultimately I wanted to make my own mark. The influence from these bands (particularly Emperor and Windir) bleeds through in some of the writing but the top priority was to create our own, unique atmosphere.

Black metal has undergone many changes since those albums you cited were released. Have those changes added to or taken away from the sense of darkness and mystery it had in the early 1990s?
This is a question that creates a great divide in the metal community. You have those that say that black metal peaked in the mid-90s and everything to come after was just trying to imitate that early sound. Then you have those that feel that the genre has gotten better as its reach crept beyond Scandinavia. I am of the latter opinion. The changes over the years have certainly added to the morose mysticism of black metal. Bands like Ulver experimented with electronic music, Panopticon threw bluegrass elements, Agalloch dabbled with post-rock and folk, but the music was still drenched in a black metal aura. You have bands now that are weaving audio bleakness that goes against every musical rule the 90s bands had, yet it is undeniably black metal. I love all of it. Black metal can no longer be seen as an obscure genre, but the past two decades have proven that it can be versatile while still feeling dark.

Why do you think black metal has become so expressive and diverse over the last two decades? Is there still room for expansion in 2019?
I think that black metal is just like almost every other art form, in that there are those that easily dismiss it and then those who fully immerse themselves in it and want to put their own stamp on it. Black metal at its core is a cauldron of influences, thus it's natural for other influences to find their way into the genre. I think it becomes expressive because we all at one time or another, feel the emotions black metal often conveys; whether that be bleak seclusion or unchained fury. The diversity comes from different interpretations on what one musician thinks black metal should be. I think it can still expand. Every musical genre that has stood the test of time undergoes an interminable evolution. Black metal is no exception. I look forward to future moldings.

Is it a good thing or a bad thing that black metal broke into the mainstream in the 2000s? In the early years the genre was much more exclusive and bands were of the mindset that “black metal is not a trend; it’s a cult.” Where do you think its mainstream acceptance is taking it now?
It's popular to criticize any black metal band that had a hint of success. It never really bothered me, part because the success wasn't an overbearing and oversaturated one and part because it didn't compromise any of the output. Thankfully black metal didn't become an inescapable blot like say nu metal did. So I'd say I'm neutral on the success. I didn’t hate it and will not criticize a band for gaining recognition. I will agree with the sentiment that black metal is a cult, in that it has a deeper understanding than some care to give it credit for. Some look at the corpse paint and see it as a gimmicky trend but there are those that can look beyond its face value and see something with a lot of artistic integrity. There are those that see lo-fi production and half steps and those that see the intent behind them and see that the palette is much broader. Black metal being widely accepted nowadays is both good and bad for that exact reason. You'll either have people write it off as a satanic joke or you'll have people that take the time to understand it and put their own spin on it. I admit that my taste in newer black metal dwells in the underground but if any band becomes successful doesn’t bother me.

What is your view toward bands who refer to themselves as “kvlt” and “trve black metal”? Are most of those bands who describe themselves as such keeping it underground or is it becoming a trend?
I despise the terminology. When Lordran started gaining attention locally I had a lot of friends (once they found out who I was) tell me that I need to have "kvlt" production and write songs about burning churches. "True black metal" implies that the genre is forbidden to change from the early 90s sound and that is ludicrous. When people shout "kvlt!" Or "hail satan!" It's honestly embarrassing. It makes the genre feel like a dated meme. I love traditional black metal but can’t really get behind a modern band that isn't Norwegian calling themselves kvlt. Black metal is definitely a genre susceptible to elitism but terms like that take it too far.

Is it still possible for black metal bands to grow and succeed on their own terms without becoming elitist?
I think it is possible. I am a big supporter of DIY bands that don't compromise their vision and get wide recognition. Some say the internet is killing the music industry but from my perspective it is giving a voice to bands and artists that may have never had another venue to have their voice heard. With that being said, a band can put out an album with an uncompromised vision and gain a following. Success is subjective but I think it’s possible for a band to gain a following on their own terms. As for the elitism it’s entirely up to them. I've seen some bands accept their fan base and some that criticize it. Burzum is still popular in spite of Varg's extreme actions, views and elitism so it is possible.

How much more creative freedom and creative control does social media give to obscure bands and musicians? What is Lordran’s role in this?
It makes it easier to connect with a wider audience that you couldn't necessarily do years ago. You are also able to present music in whatever way you prefer, no matter how strange or straightforward it may be. I'm not a fan of websites that cajole you into paying for artificial fans but that sort of capitalism is inevitable. We handle Lordran differently than other bands. Our social media presence is scarce, not posting unless we have something to release and when we do post, presenting it in a unique way. We don't have a lot of followers but those that do follow us seem to deeply enjoy the music. I much prefer a small, dedicated fanbase than a large fake one that neglects the output. A lot of bands would say that we are handling our online presence incorrectly but that's the beauty of bands on social media/the internet in general, you can present yourself however to see fit. I have no complaints or regrets for our current status. I know that fiscally it isn't the best but I put artistic merit over making money. The fact that someone can gain thousands of followers by recording a passion project entirely by themselves and simultaneously present it in an unconventional way is a good thing to me. Not to mention if not for social media outlets, a lot of my favorite underground bands might have gone completely under my radar.

Have you see the movie “Lords of Chaos” directed by Jonas Åkerlund? If so, what are your thoughts on it? How does it compare to the documentaries produced about black metal?
I have not seen it but have read the book. I was a fan of it when I was initially getting into black metal but multiple sources have accused it of being inaccurate. The Norwegian scene was highly controversial, so it made sense that a movie would be made. The best glimpse into that era was the documentary "Until the Light Takes Us", part because of the interviews with musicians that lived it and part because it allowed a voice that other documentaries and books on the subject could not speak. I don't have negative thoughts towards "Lords of Chaos" but I'm undecided if I'll actually see it.

What about the interviews in "Until the Light Takes Us" makes it stand out? What other documentaries would you recommend?
It allows a raw look into two sides of the Norwegian scene that no other documentary or book could properly portray. I'm not a fan of Varg but seeing that interview felt cold yet intriguing. Hearing his accounts of what happened, no matter how biased, resonated with me more than a second-hand view. Also seeing how Fenriz conducts business and lives day to day gives someone a glimpse into the reality of being a famous underground musician. For anyone interested in the second wave that documentary is essential. I can recommend two documentaries. “Black Metal Satanica” is a great documentary for anyone fascinated with extreme ideologies in the genre. But my personal favorite is "One Man Metal" a documentary put out by Noisey that follows Jef Whitehead (Leviathan), Scott Conner (Xasthur) and Russell Menzies (Striborg). It gives you a raw look into the isolation and inner struggles that are synonymous with writing black metal in seclusion. I wrote the early Lordran songs completely alone and dealing with depression, so that documentary hit me hard. I loved it though. I would also like to mention Dayal Patterson, who writes excellent books on the subject of black metal.

What books has Dayal Patterson written about the black metal genre? Are his books mostly about the scene in Norway or does he cover other countries?
The two that I own (and he has written others) are “Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult” and "Black Metal: The Cult Never Dies." His books are extremely detailed and well written. There is plenty of coverage of the Norwegian scene but there's also heavy discussion around bands hailing from the US, Poland. Sweden and so on. He dedicates time to off-shoot genres like Dungeon Synth and even discusses the influence the art of Theodor Kittelsen had on black metal. If anyone wants a deeper understanding into the genre, his books are essential.

How much of an effort did you have to make to find like-minded musicians seeking to experiment with black metal and take it in new directions? Does each member bring something fresh and original to the band?
I had to put in a significant amount of effort to find band members that were interested in what I wanted to do. Lordran had close to twelve band members that came and went, and each brought something different to the table. We had a guitar player that wanted to make Lordran a black metal version of Death. We had a drummer that wanted to make Lordran an American clone of Satanic Warmaster. I loved all of these ideas but I didn't want Lordran to be limited to just one aspect of the genre. It took a few years but I found band members that accept my love to experiment and not have limitations. Even though I started Lordran, I don’t like to think of it as "my band." Everyone brings their own voice to the table and without them, Lordran just wouldn't be Lordran. I couldn't be happier with what they're doing. The bass is ferocious while oozing with melody, the drums are fast and chaotic yet have a lot of control, and the guitars are a combination of bardic and epic while maintaining a black metal vibe. I'm not sure if we bring anything necessarily original to the genre but everyone meshes so well together and compliments the songs so well that I wouldn't change any of it. In this day and age it’s hard to sound completely original but it is still possible to have an original approach to writing music, which I think we definitely have.

How did your lyrics for Lordran’s early songs reflect the state of mind you were in when you wrote them?
The early Lordran lyrics were very disjointed. Lyrics always come second for me. What I had was fine but much prefer having them focused with a concept. I would describe them as "majestic and melancholy" because most of my lyrics have a sadness to them. I'd say the lyrics now feel more gothic but I like that. I wrote the songs in the midst of a deep depression but that's honestly the only time I can write. I feel the music reflects that more than the lyrics.

How original an approach to black metal does Lordran have now, after there have been so many changes in lineup? How do the bardic and epic guitars contribute to your sound for example?
On the surface I'm sure some would refute our originality. If you listen to “Divulgence” you can easily hear our influences. But I think our originality comes from how we write songs and approach music in general. Lordran has gone through an overwhelming amount of lineup changes, but the band has vastly improved each time. I love working with the current lineup, not just because they are all fantastic musicians but because they contribute heavily to the songwriting and making each Lordran song feel like a piece of art. The bardic and epic riffs are not original in concept but original in approach. That's honestly what music performance is trying to find your own unique approach instead of always trying to reinvent the wheel. Over the past two years, especially since collaborating on songs with Tala'zjar, Lordran's vision has been concrete. I think that as long as that vision is clear, to write music that doesn’t worry about boundaries; being too technical/simple or whatever is a pitfall a lot of bands find themselves getting stuck in; people will see us as an original band.

Who is in Lordran’s current lineup? Do they have experience from playing in bands before joining Lordran?
On all of our social media listings you will see only stage names. Although some people know who we are, we like to keep anonymous whenever possible to feed the mystical aura that surrounds the band. We all do have previous experience in several bands and Lordran was mistaken as a supergroup by a small circle of people that were near our early rehearsals. But the current lineup is: Asramis - Guitars/Synths, Tala'zjar - Guitars/Vocals, Mikëlaeth - Bass/backing vocals, Kr'tx – Drums.

What bands were Lordran’s new members previously involved in? How much does their experience help the band in terms of practicing and performing?
For the sake of ambiguity I would rather not reveal the band names. But each of us have a lot of experience with both performing and intense practicing. Our drummer currently plays with us as well as in a symphonic deathcore band. Our bass player plays guitar in a progressive death metal band and does guitar and vocals for a hard rock band. Our vocalist/guitarist has an atmospheric black metal project and played drums for various bands. I myself have played guitar, bass and synth for various bands over the years. All of us have extensive musical backgrounds and it makes practicing and writing an absolute dream. Songs come together so quickly because all of us are both professional and well versed with music in general.

Do you think people would be surprised knowing the other bands Lordran’s current lineup are playing in? What is the reason for the anonymity?
I think that people would be absolutely surprised. Some of us are known for playing other instruments or playing in bands with genres that are far from black metal, so knowing that we play in this band would cause heavy chatter. I keep the anonymity for selfish reasons. When I was first getting into extreme metal, I loved hearing a great album and not knowing who anybody was or what they looked like. I loved that mystery. It made the experience almost mystic. I want to convey that with Lordran. We do wear hooded robes live and have only stage names credited but it won't be the end of the world if someone figures out who we are. I don't want the anonymity to be a gimmick, moreso a symbol that the music we create is more important than who makes it. I won't do every interview in full costume/character but some I absolutely would.

When do you think would be most appropriate to do an interview in character?
We are honestly arbitrary on when we do interviews like that. Our very first interview was on a local radio station. We walked in fully robed and gave our interview in character. Those that heard it, ate it up. It was serious while also being tongue in cheek. I think as the story of Lordran becomes more well-known we will do more interviews like that. I want to keep everyone on their toes and never fully expect what to get from a Lordran interview.

What kind of intensity does tuning your guitars to E flat standard give your songs? How would you describe it to someone who hasn’t heard the band’s material?
E flat standard gives our songs the aura of heavy melodicism. I've always been impressed with bands like Atheist and (early) Morbid Angel that could write punishing riffs without tuning way down. That, combined with my tendency to write on higher registers made E flat standard the best choice for us. It can be a dark tuning and an honest tuning. If a band can be heavy in E flat or even E standard, it's a badge of honor to me. I love bands with low tunings but I've always felt comfortable playing in E flat. Plus Mikelaeth plays a six string bass and Tal'zjar plays a seven string so if we need to hit lower registers we have far ability.
To someone who hasn't heard us before, I would describe our sound as epic, melodious and mystical. The entire album feels like a "best of black metal" because we pull from a variety of influences but the music stays linear and organized. It's not a raw sound but it's also not polished. It is the audio equivalent of a dusty tome in an abandoned tower that belonged to a mysterious necromancer.

Is E flat standard the lowest you tune your guitars, or are you experimenting with even lower tones? Is the band experimenting with any dissonant chords?
E flat standard is currently the lowest our guitars go. Eventually I would like to experiment with different tunings but I'm not sure when. I love C# standard and even chord tunings like C11 but I'm not sure if I'd use them for Lordran. We are using dissonant chords a lot more than I expected. Our drummer is heavily influenced by Dodechahedron, Portal and other dissonant bands and it has inspired me to write that way more than I used to. Tala'zjar uses dissonant chords a lot more than I do but we have a song (not currently title) where I am weaving what I refer to as zombie chords. We will still have a heavy sense of melody but every now and then I want to create really dissonant, abysmal feeling songs."

Many guitarists and bassists play with multiple-stringed instruments to expand their range. Is this something Lordran is currently experimenting with or considering experimenting with?
Two thirds of our instruments are extended range. There is one six string bass and one seven string guitar, the other guitar being a normal six string. We tend to use the extended range very selectively but I like that. I'd prefer not to go to eight strings and beyond but it's not completely ruled out.

Do you and the band hear the differences made by a six string bass and a seven string guitar added to the formula?
When we hit those moments in songs where we use that range it definitely changes the dynamic of the song. I love that it's so sparing to use the extra strings because it makes the moments they are used that much heavier.

What songs on “Divulgence of the Rotten Spire” are examples of the expanded range the band achieves with their instruments?
"Impious Majesty" and "Eye of Quintessence" both tap into that low end. It's subtle but effective. Between the time we wrote and finished the album I was using an 8 string guitar. I sold it because that low end was more than I needed. However, I had a part on "eye of quintessence" that tapped into that low end and made it sound very abysmal. I rewrote the part for my current guitar and I'm satisfied with it but sometimes I miss the intensity the low end brought to it. It's ultimately better to not become too reliant on it, though.

What are the lyrics in "Impious Majesty" and "Eye of Quintessence" written about and how does the music complement them?
"Divulgence of the Rotten Spire" is a concept album and each song contains a pivotal part of the story. "Impious Majesty" is about the antagonist killing the God of that kingdom to make himself a God. He then sheds his own body (the body of a dragon) and turns it into a spire of rotting flesh. The music compliments the lyrics perfectly. It's fast and chaotic and then ends on a melancholy note. The guitar solos at the end feel very sad and mournful, which is perfect for the song about an evil entity becoming a God and plunging the world into an abyss of his weaving. "Eye of Quintessence" is the epic conclusion to the album. The antagonist possessed our main character Zorven and two thousand years after the events of "Impious Majesty" took place, the curse over him breaks. He recalls a secret pit that lies beneath the grounds that would essentially eat the entire grounds and end all existence. Zorven decides that an existence of nothing outweighs an existence of misery and seeks out the pit, known as the eye of quintessence. So the song is about that journey. The music has so many parts (some of which are very difficult to play live) and it takes the listener on a journey. It has moments of ferocity and moments of contemplation. My favorite part of that track is the very end where the music comes to what feels like an explosion and then you hear subtle chords creeping in. Tala'zjar carne up with that idea and it was absolutely perfect.

What was the concept of "Divulgence of the Rotten Spire" inspired by? Did inspiration partly come from authors or script writers, or was it composed of ideas you had in mind for some time?
The Divulgence concept wasn't pre-meditated. The idea of the flesh tower inspired us to just keep adding one idea after another. If I were to name any main literary influences I would narrow it down to three; Clive Barker, Mike Shel (particularly the book The Aching God) and Harlan Ellison. Tala'zjar added more to the fantasy aspect of the concept and I added the horror aspect.

Explain how the concept of "Divulgence of the Rotten Spire" was thought up and developed, and how long it took for it to complete.
The concept for Divulgence was spontaneous. I had all of the early versions of those songs written musically but didn't have anything for lyrics. I mentioned to everyone else about doing a concept album and they loved the idea. Every week after that point it slowly developed. It started with the album name itself, "Divulgence of the Rotten Spire" and then a very rough draft of the plot surfaced as ideas came. Tala'zjar and I would develop the story more and more each week, staying awake until two or three in the morning ironing out the details. I'd say it took about a year to solidify the story and marry the music to the concept.

After the lyrical concept was worked out, was the music composed to reflect on the storyline? How were the desired themes included in each of the song?
Once we had the story flashed out, it boiled down to deciding the order of the songs and where they fit in the narrative. Some songs, especially "Eye Of Quintessence", had parts added to convey a certain mood. The music consciously written with a theme in mind but it feels synonymous with the lyrics now. We all deliberated for a long time on the song order but I think they flow into each other perfectly. "Vile incantation" starting the album is beautiful irony, since I had written that song eight years ago and played it in two bands prior to Lordran. It’s completely different now, though.

How much input did each member of the band have when it came to developing the concept musically and lyrically?
Musically everyone had tremendous input. I would present the skeleton and everyone would add their own voice to it and discuss the song structure. I wouldn't be so proud of this album if not for everyone's own musical input. Several parts were added that enhanced the feel of each song. Lyrically I was given free reign. I am a fiction writer in my spare time, so I used that passion to fuel the lyrics. Tala'zjar wrote the narration leading into "From Darkest Murk" and had suggestions for vile that I kept. The name Kelgaroth (the antagonist) was his. Aside from that, I wrote the lyrics and narrations and everyone was okay with me doing so. I love writing lyrics for a band like this.

How important was the horror aspect in presenting the concept of the album to your listeners?
The lyrics convey a story much darker than normal fantasy. By no means did we go for traditional horror either but we wanted it to feel as bleak and dark as some of our influences, while still having the feel of an epic fantasy. I think that we accomplished that.

How many similarities exist between your fiction writing and the lyrics you write for Lordran?
They are synonymous with each other. I write primarily horror and fantasy and the concept mirrored both of those. Once we had the story it honestly felt like writing an epic poem. Our lyrics feel more poetic than lyrical but the reception about them has been good.

How long have you been writing fiction? What genres of horror and fantasy do you usually write it, or does it vary?
I've been writing off and on since I was about fifteen. I experiment in other genres but ultimately everything I write has a very gothic feel. All of my characters often meet either a melancholy or a cataclysmic end and Divulgence is no exception.

Do you have any fiction pieces published in print or posted on internet sites? Or if not, do you plan to have some of your fiction published in the near future?
I had a few things put on the internet some years ago but ultimately deleted them. I do however, have large archives of things saved or placed in a tangible folder that I have yet to send anywhere. I would like to see some of those works published, even if I did it myself. There's been talk to publish the Divulgence story into an E-book but I haven't begun work on that yet.

Would you publish your fiction independently if you published it in book form? How many of your tales would you publish in all?
I treat my writing how I treat this band. As of prevent I present things independently but if the opportunity arose to release it to a wider audience than I would. I've always preferred the books (when it comes to horror) that contained several short stories instead of one long one. If I were to put a book out I would say I'd like to put twenty of my favorites into one volume. Only time will tell if that happens.

Do you imagine the band will continue the concept of "Divulgence of the Rotten Spire" on the next full length or come up with a new concept you haven’t tried?
I think that ultimately I would rather not continue the concept. I envision Lordran to be a band that makes moves one can never expect. The concept has received wonderful feedback but I. and I know everyone else in Lordran, have so many ideas for new releases. This isn't to say that there wouldn't be another concept, just not the Divulgence story. I respect bands that have a story that goes album to album but I'd rather approach it differently.

All things we discussed considered, what is Lordran contributing and will continue contributing to extreme metal?
We are contributing music heavy with melody but steeped in mystical atmosphere. We are contributing a discography and approach that cannot be easily predicted. The next few releases will be a reflection of what we want to do as artists. Years from now, if we are fortunate enough to be a part of the annals of extreme metal, I'd like Lordran to be seen as a band that crafted songs without compromise and put cohesive songwriting over mechanical technicality. I don't see Lordran as being flawless or revolutionary but I'm proud of what we are doing and the reception thus far has been great. In short, we contribute to extreme metal a band that wears many masks as far as influences and musicianship but is still covered with the foggy cloak that is black metal.

-Dave Wolff

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