Friday, April 14, 2023

Interview with Vin Varg of Lord Of Horns by Dave Wolff

Interview with Vin Varg of Lord Of Horns by Dave Wolff

What has been the response to Lord Of Horns' debut full-length album "The Forest at Dusk" since its independent release last July? You mentioned in our correspondence that a label had agreed to print and promote copies on compact disc when it was released, but they still have yet to do so.
The feedback has been very positive in general. I have attained many fans worldwide since the release. Through guerilla marketing on social media, I've gotten the album in front of a lot of people. Those who dare listen to it have reported back with high praise. Online and magazine critics have rated the album 7/10 or higher. Recently, I've been playing live much more often and this has garnered me a sizable local following. Everything I play live is from the album so they seem to like it. I recently won the first round in the Wacken Metal Battle. The second round is Friday of this week [April 3]. I'm not expecting to win, but a lot of people are coming out to support me. The only one negative mark I received was just last week from WSOU's Street Patrol where people are supposed to vote if they want to hear more of an underground artist or not. I guess not many fans of that station liked it, but they don't really play REAL metal on that station anyway, so it's not a big deal to me.
As for the label, DON"T SIGN WITH SLIPTRICK RECORDS. They have been screwing over many other bands, as well. If they delivered on their promises, the album would have been in stores back in November 2022. The CDs have yet to even be printed. I signed with them only for their PR relationships that they claimed to have. If they upheld their end of the contract my album would have reached substantially more ears than I could with the small amount of guerilla marketing I've been employing. I don't like to dwell on it too much, but when promoting a new album, it's only new for so long.

What was the level of drama you experienced with Sliptrick Records during the delay in printing your CDs? Were their reasons valid to you or were they irresponsible?
I was really wrapped up in my own things and promoting the album within my own reaches that I didn't give much attention to the delays. Every now and again I would ask for updates, but they were either met with non-responsive messages or no response at all. I threatened to terminate the contract once or twice because of their lack of transparency. But I didn't act on it until quite recently when I caught them in a lie. They sent me screenshots of graphs and charts representing my album's productivity and the money they paid to advertise it, but nothing proved that those numbers actually corresponded to my release. One chart was from Spotify which dated back to 2019, but the album wasn't released until 2022. They tried to say that they sent the wrong link and wanted me to send them more production stuff, like videos from shows and flyers. They haven't even promoted the album from what I can tell, so I'm not giving them more content. I told them to reimburse me or promote me as they detailed in the contract.

Do you and the band have any plans to seek out other labels and/or distribution companies that would be more willing to assist in promoting the album since those experiences with Sliptrick?
I've always been skeptical about labels, especially now that it's so much easier to release an album independently, I don't see the need for them. I only signed because they claimed to be able to put the album in brick and mortar stores and promote it on major metal magazines and websites. At this point, I'd rather work with a PR company that has those connections.

How much can labels not living up to their responsibilities negatively impact underground scenes both domestically and internationally?
It can drastically hurt the underground scene. Most of us aren't rich and can't afford to advertise in the bigger media channels. We spend the little money we have to help the label print the albums so they can promote it on the bigger networks. When they don't uphold their end of the contract, it's money wasted. Where we could have just hired a PR agent to get promoted, our promotional funds are substantially diminished. The lack of PR is why the underground scene is so underground and thinning with each decade.

Several interviewees have left me hanging after agreeing to do an interview, evidently deciding they were too busy to respond to repeated inquiries. Some even acted as if I were bothering them. Does this kind of thing slow things down as much as the labels do?
Your method is perfectly fine. I actually like it because sometimes interviewers send basic cookie cutter questions in one email and then I have to sit there for an hour to fill it out. It's not very personal and time consuming when it's all at once. This way fits my life, at the moment at least. I can respond to one or two questions a night and continue with my busy schedule. Overall, I'm pretty patient as long as I see growth in the areas I'm focused on, but I'm very understanding with problematic situations, so I don't expect instant results. As for the label, if they were behind a few weeks and had a legitimate reason, I wouldn't be mad all. But it's been months since when they planned to release it. I've spoken to other bands who are dealing with the label, too. They don't receive their CDs until a year after its intended release. That's unacceptable even with international shipping.

How much independent effort did you put into promoting, self-advertising, and/or doing interviews to let people know about your album? If the band wants to print CDs on a limited budget, do you know of any labels that could help?
I put in about four hours a day promoting in some fashion, or at least “working” for the project. I have conducted interviews for several zines, magazines, podcasts and radio shows. I've paid for advertising in Metalized, RockHard Italy, Scriptorium, and Bloodmoon Rising mags (maybe more), both in print and online. I've submitted my album for reviews and air play in a slew of magazines, fanzine, bloggers, podcasts, and radio shows. Almost anywhere to get people to talk about it or listen to it. Whenever I find a new outlet, I send them a message.
So fortunately, through all my connections, I have found independent labels that will actually print your CDs and cassettes for free and send you a handful for you to sell and they make money off the ones they keep. For those interested, check out Demon Plague Records and Blasphemous Creations of Hell Records for CDs and Rat Covenant and Angel of Cemetery Records for cassettes. Otherwise, there's CD Baby and other sites that you can order like 200 CDs for $300, or other amounts. I never anticipated many people wanting a physical CD or cassette in our day in age, but fans really want it, so I may look into doing something like that once I run out of the CDs I have.

What benefit has self-promotion through all those mediums brought to the band compared to that one label? Is it difficult for those labels you mentioned to print your CDs for free and keep a portion of the proceeds? If they work with a significant number of bands, I am sure they would be able to stay afloat.
The one true benefit of self-promotion is making connections with fans and other bands and event organizers. The feedback they give is usually really honest. You get a good sense of what fans want to hear when you play live, for instance, I didn't think many people would be drawn to “Ritual Hunt.” I put it on the demo and it was the most favored of the three songs and remained one of the most favored on the full album. I would have steered away from performing that song live, but because of that personal feedback, I never play a set without it.
As for the label, let's be honest, any money you give the label is going to be spent on printing the CDs. They may call it a marketing plan and will insist they print the CDs for free. But the fact is they have (or at least claim to have) connections to these media outlets that they will market to. It costs them very little to maintain those connections and because of the bulk amount of ads they run and prints they order, they get preferential pricing. They will claim to match your contribution to the partnership, but realistically they are probably spending a fraction of whatever amount you are putting in. The overall deal will have them taking 50% of the profit of all sales of the album, even from your own personal Bandcamp if you don't read the fine print and negotiate that term out. So it's very easy for them to break even on each release, if not make a sizable profit. When a label, like the one I'm dealing with, is seemingly screwing bands over and effectively stealing their money, they can continue to do this until they get a bad enough reputation from the community. But they figure there will always be new bands to exploit that know nothing of their “business model.” So it's always smooth sailing for them.

During the recording and mixing, how many resources were spent? Have you recorded at a professional studio or at your own studio like many unsigned bands have?
Everything was recorded in my dungeon. Luckily, I knew the sound I wanted, so I mixed everything, and even more luckily, my friend is an audio engineer and he mastered the album. We had to keep going back and forth with the mix because the mastering process accentuates certain frequencies while diminishing others, so we had to find the right balance. Besides buying him dinner for a week, there was no real investment I had to make to get the album recorded and promotion ready. Had I done this at a studio and worked with an engineer who wasn't a friend, this process would have probably cost thousands. I have never worked in a professional studio, and I don't think I'd want to. I like keeping the rawness of at home recording and with today's technology, there's no reason to have to spend that kind of money for an over polished sound.

Who is the friend who assisted you in mixing your album? Has he had previous experience mixing before you and he worked together? Describe your working relationship with him and the process you and he underwent, sharing suggestions while you searched for the sound that ended up on the album.
Well, to clarify, I mixed the album. I knew the exact sound I wanted. I was aiming for the atmosphere of “In the Nightside Eclipse” but the audible clarity of “Storm of the Light's Bane.” Personally, I believe I hit the nail on the head. From all the feedback I have received, the general consensus agrees.
My friend, Clinton Jones, went to audio engineering school in NYC. He is very knowledgeable in this field and keeps up to date with the new technologies that keep coming out. We've been friends for over ten years and we worked together on a number of projects. He mixed and mastered “Oktober Myst” from my Acryptylyse project. He's not really big into black metal and was completely new to the genre when he mixed it, so it didn't come out as I imagined it should. Because I knew exactly how I wanted “The Forest at Dusk”, I opted to mix it myself. But he is much more knowledgeable when it comes to mastering. So, I sat with him for a week and had him master the tracks. I would listen to each song and take notes, go back in the mix and make adjustments to be mastered again. I'd listen to the mastered tracks in different headphones and speakers. What I learned was that you could have a perfectly mixed song, but the mastering will accentuate certain frequencies. So for instance, I would have to lower the high hats, raise the snare, or cut the reverb for the toms. Eventually we got everything as close to perfect as possible considering the week of sleepless nights.
We have a very mutual relationship. I play bass for his alt rock/industrial band, Succumbed, and he helps me record short videos for Tiktok and live shows.

During the mixing of the album, which frequencies did you have to eliminate and which did you decide to keep? In your opinion, what is the difference between a sound that is too polished and one that is raw, and how did working with home equipment help you achieve this?
Something I learned through all my years of writing music is cutting the reverb for frequencies below 300 is best to keep everything from getting too muddy. I played around a lot with the graphic equalizer on each instrument and made some really weird configurations that I did not expect to make. But, it fleshed the song out and filled in a lot of areas that would normally have been empty. This way really helped make sure each instrument had their own frequency range and nothing drowned anything out.
Most finished work that comes out of a professional studio will sound almost “plastic.” Everything will have their own predestined space to be placed in, so it fits a mold and then has several layers of effects on top to make it “smooth” and “glossy” like plastic. It may sound great from an audible perspective, but from a fan's point, it sounds cookie cutter. It's not real or true. Like filters on Instagram every chick uses now to hide their blemishes.
Raw sound is rigid, like hammered iron, very gritty. I don't consider my production to be all that raw, but compared to the professional sound, I get why others call it as such. True rawness is like Armageddon, Satanic Warmaster, Darkthrone, and the “Deathcrush” album [Mayhem]. I didn't want it to be so raw that it turns people away, but I still wanted some grit to be there. The atmospheric keys could have easily subdued the intensity of the tracks, so I made sure they weren't a blanket and that everything cut through them. This helped ensure the sound remained gritty and raw, yet ambient. Although Clint has professional equipment, I opted not to take advantage of it.
However, in most cases, home studios don't have the variety and resources a pro studio would. So naturally, the lack of knowledge and resources can easily factor into how polished a home recording will become.

Give the readers an overview of the album itself. Which musical influences were incorporated into the songs and what are the lyrics about?
During the writing process, the musical influences were early Burzum, early Darkthrone, the “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” era of Mayhem, some Carpathian Forest and a little “Storm of the Light's Bane” Dissection, all with the atmosphere of Emperor's “In the Nightside Eclipse”. All my lyrical content is based on some form of horror, ranging from folklore, classical horror, pagan and satanic based horror, and Lovecraftian cosmic horror. I am a fan of horror stories and I like writing music that conveys that. I want the music to tell a part of the story the lyrics can't.

What aspects of those bands and their albums did you incorporate into your compositions? What amount of reading and research was conducted for the lyrical content?
I really like the overall atmospheric traits of “In the Nightside Eclipse,” however it's really difficult for new listeners to get into. So I wanted the album to be more clear than that. The keys create a great amount of atmosphere and dread without being overpowering. “Screams of the Oskorei” and “The Sacrifice” are prominent examples of that. I really like the single-note tremolo runs from early Burzum and Mayhem, so I wrote a few of my own, like in “Nightmare Castle” and “Nocturnal Crusade.” I have two songs heavily influenced by the classic Darkthrone style. “The Screaming Woods” may not be as obvious because I added keyboards. I like the keys in that because I made them flow and move around as if spirits were screaming as they passed you by. With "Graveless Wraiths" I intentionally didn't record keyboard parts for because I wanted to keep that raw Darkthrone like sound as an homage to their style. I even added a backing guitar chord progression that is barely audible. But with that one I added melodic runs, possibly inspired somewhat from Dissection and a bass solo inspired by Satyricon-like melodies. Songs like “Purveyour of the Black Book” and “Through the Woods” have some Carpathian Forest elements in them, such as thrashier riffs alongside keyboards. “Through the Woods” specifically gives me career-spanning Satyricon vibes from “Dark Medieval Times” to some of the black and roll type of stuff.
“The Sacrifice” is the true anomaly on the album. It's not even black metal. It's a theatrical thriller movie score with black metal vocals. It's unlike any of the aforementioned bands and I really don't know what to equate it to, inspirationally.
As for the lyrics, for some of them I had written many years ago while others were inspired by horror movies I've seen since then. General horror tales I came up with based off my knowledge of whatever folklore it was based on. “Purveyour of the Black Book” was inspired by a swath of Lovecraft stories. To write lyrics for “The Screaming Woods” I researched haunted forests as that's what I wanted the song to be about. I found folklore of a forest in England called The Screaming Woods and wrote lyrics referencing the lore. “Nightmare Castle” was the hardest to write lyrics for. The name comes from an old Barbara Steele movie. I loved the title, but the plot of the movie was very lacking. There was another similar movie she did the year after that was a lot better and had many of the same character relationships as the prior movie. So, I tried writing lyrics based off of both. But I didn't like how they came out. I then tried creating my own story, but was constrained by the length of the song. Eventually, I researched the folklore behind nightmares and wrote about demonic elves who dwell in an abandoned castle. In one of the many versions is where I came up with the phrase “Few ever survive the night.” I really liked it, but I couldn't make it work with the newer lyrics. I tried putting them at the end of the album intro until I started writing “Ritual Hunt.” That song started as a song about a cannibal savage tribe like in “Cannibal Holocaust” and “The Green Inferno”. I started with “Few ever survive the ritual hunt” and then realized it can easily transition to “Few ever survive the night.” As I added the keyboard parts, I quickly realized it had a swaying rhythm like being on a boat. That coupled with the keyboard effects reminded me of pirates. So, I decided to write about pirates encountering a cannibal tribe while looking for a place to bury their treasure. Luckily the song was long enough that I could flesh out a full story.

As a horror/gore/splatter fan, how does “The Green Inferno” compare with “Cannibal Holocaust” and other movies of the genre from the late seventies/early eighties?
Usually they don't compare, so much so I don't even keep track of horror movies nowadays. A few different people have to tell me to watch something before I even consider devoting my time to something that will most likely suck. For instance, I still haven't seen either Terrifier movie even though everyone tells me I need to. They are on my watch list when I have time to watch a movie. I do like Eli Roth back from his Cabin Fever days, so when I heard he was making a "Cannibal Holocaust" for this generation, I thought if anyone could do it well, it would be him. I liked it from what I can remember. I loved how the hippies got tricked into a corporate war which eventually lead to their deaths. I think it shows the true naivety of the modern civilized culture. And at the end, the chick is still brainwashed in her cult-like mindset that she lied about the tribe eating all her friends.
But my horror obsession goes back even further to the Universal Monsters and "Nosferatu" and "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." I like atmosphere and the building of suspense more than outright gore. The first Dracula movie and much of Hitchcock's works were pure atmosphere and building of tension. There are some comparisons to contemporary movies that I can draw. For instance, "The Witch" is one of my favorite modern horror movies. From the first second, there is an ominous feeling of dread that lingers throughout the whole movie. This movie impressed me and inspired me so much, I stopped half way through and started writing "Witch of the Wood." When "Hereditary" was previewed, I looked forward to that and I saw it in theaters. The story was nothing like I thought it would be and because of the unpredictability, I loved it. Also, lots of tension from the opening scene all the way through till the end. "Midsomer" I think I saw opening day. I liked the idea of trying to shoot a horror movie with light juxtaposing every other movie of the genre. Even though, it was about Nordic paganism, it just didn't get there with me, but 2 out of 3 ain't bad! Getting away from the A24 movies, there was another movie I watched on a whim. It wasn't much talked about, but it was on Netflix, so I decided to watch it. That movie was "The Ritual" and I loved it! Dark and spooky atmosphere with Nordic pagan folklore.

Many of the movies and authors you cited have been subject matter for many bands in extreme metal. How does your process of lyric writing stand out from other bands?
I'm not really sure because I don't focus on other bands’ lyrical writing, or even musical writing that much. I can only speak for myself. When it comes to writing lyrics, I see it as a way to convey a story in a more compact form than a full fleshed out novel, movie, or series. As any story, it has a beginning, climax, and resolution, so I usually write with that intent in mind, take “Nightmare Castle” and “Ritual Hunt” for example. But if I'm writing about a place or a recurring event, then I will focus on describing the place and the actions taken with references to the folktales. This form can be seen in “The Screaming Woods” and “Screams of the Oskorei.”

What information did you find while researching the legend of The Screaming Woods in England that inspired you to write lyrics about it?
I liked that it was similar to the suicide forest in Japan, but for the western world. I believe the lore is much older and I enjoy writing about olden times over contemporary times. There were reports of children finding the bodies hanging and that imagery stuck out in my mind. Originally, people would go there for the sole purpose of hanging themselves. In time, the lore evolved so that people believed that they could hear the crying and screaming spirits of those who committed suicide. Then anyone who heard the screams would be lured by the spirits. Many random travelers would get lost and end up hanging themselves. The belief at that time was the spirits had convinced them to kill themselves. I thought the whole idea of suicidal souls luring people to commit the same fate was rather sinister and it instantly motivated me to start writing.

Where did you draw your inspiration for the lyrics of “Screams of the Oskorei”? What was the degree of similarity between the lyrics and your research on it?
“Oskorei” means noisy ride or noisy hunt. It is when Odin leads his Valkyrie out of the night sky to abduct lonely travelers. In Nordic lore, their screams are heard coming down from the sky and are the last thing their victims hear. There were many accounts of lone travelers going missing without a trace overnight while traversing the forests of Scandinavia. They were attributed to the Valkyrie abductions, especially during October when the veil between realms is the thinnest. My lyrics describe the events a soon-to-be abductee witnesses, but narrated by a pagan priest who prays to and summons Odin and his horde to continually remove lonely wanderers from this world. We don't know the priest's motivation, maybe I'll explore that in another song...

Do you have any special techniques for your vocals, to be able to maintain the guttural or brutal edge of your voice and make your lyrics sound understandable to the listener?
Well, do you find my lyrics understandable? That was a focal point when I was mixing the album. I wanted the lyrics just barely understandable.
As far as maintaining my vocals, I developed my style based on a mix of Maniac, Shagrath, Abbath, and a little bit of Dead. It took over a year to get it to where it sounded good, but once I got it, I never lost it. Picking it back up after ten years was like riding a bike again. I have had a lot of theater experience and worked with many vocal coaches who taught me how to keep my vocal cords healthy and how to use them without straining them and ultimately destroying them.
Also, plenty of mint green tea and cough drops. I usually suck on a cough drop a few minutes before taking the stage. It helps keep the vocal cords wet, warm, and loose.

Who are the vocal coaches you were working with? The reason I’m asking about this is because many people who aren’t fans of extreme music complain about the lyrics on a band’s recording; I wanted to listen to your point of view on the subject.
Random music and theater teachers who work for the school and school programs. Also, my stepmother was a singer, so she gave me a few pointers as well. But I always sucked at singing, I could never put my voice in the same key as the music, even though I could tell I'm off. When I discovered black metal it was a huge weight off my shoulder. I just had to work on developing my style. I think the audibility of a band's vocalists is determined by the style of the band. If you listen to generic pop music, the singer/rapper always sounds like they are in a different room than the rest of the instruments. There's so much more musicianship that goes into metal, so the vocals sound more leveled with the rest of the tracks. With Black Metal, atmosphere is everything. The lo-fi rawness plays a key role in many bands. Others, like myself, like to fill in that space with ambient keyboards. With that in mind, the vocal levels are usually intentionally lower to keep the track sounding kvlt. Personally, I like my vocals to be audible and just understandable enough without overtaking the music. I want the recording to sound like I'm in the same room, or cave, or dungeon as the rest of the music.

Are you familiar with Melissa Cross, the producer of the educational “Zen of Screaming” videos and DVDs? If so, how much has she contributed to the development of vocalists in extreme metal?
Is that the woman who taught the dude from Lamb of God how to scream? I never gave much attention to her. I knew a few people who attended her seminars, but I've never gone myself. But I think overall, most vocalists don't know how to scream without wrecking their vocal chords, so if they can learn to not do that, then it's definitely a good thing for metal bands, otherwise every two years each band will need a new vocalist.

George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher (Cannibal Corpse) has been a vocalist for close to thirty years. There are also Youtube channels like Voice Hacks that feature interviews and carefully arranged tutorials. In light of this, why do you believe guttural vocals and fry screams have sustained their appeal for so long as there has been extreme music?
Frankly, because the genres need those types of vocal styles. Could you imagine Michael Jackson's vocal style, or hell, even Peter Steele's, on “I Cum Blood” or “Hammer Smashed Face”? How odd and mismatched would that sound? You need the vocals to compliment the tone of the guitars and the overall music. I couldn't imagine “Transylvanian Hunger” with clean vocals. I find it a little unnerving listening to Control Denied “covering” Death songs with clean vocals. So, I think that's the main reason, but also, because they just sound so fuckin sick!!!

Getting back briefly to your side project Acryptylyse, how do you compose music and write lyrics? Do you follow a similar process?
“The Forest at Dusk” was intended as the follow up to “Oktober Myst”. So with those intentions my writing process would not have changed. However, looking at any of the projects I've been involved with where I had creative input, my writing style hasn't changed much, if at all. Maybe I take less risks now with weird tempo changes or I work on my transitions better between sections, but all around my writing style has been pretty much the same.

How long has Acryptylyse been a project and how has it matured and grown? What is the status of that project? Are you still working on it?
It's safe to say that Acryptylyse is dead and anything new I release will be under Lord of Horns. As a project it hasn't grown or matured at all. Not many people knew of it and I didn't market the last album as heavily as I wanted to. Since I wrote almost the entirety of “Oktober Myst” and the only one working on new material after its release, there was no other direction the project could have taken.
It's not to say that I will stop creating the music I like, I will continue to write horror infused black metal. The best way I can describe it is Acryptylyse is the husk of a cocoon I emerged from and then left behind. So in essence, Acryptylse matured or evolved into Lord of Horns.

Can you share with us your ideas for the next Lord of Horns release? Do you anticipate that it will have further growth potential in the future?
Yeah, so I'm doing some collaborative work in the near future. I did an April Fool’s joke song with Lord ov Witchcraft about penguins. It was his idea and we just thought it would be funny. But besides that, I am planning to work with Namtar Axarcuth who runs Plague Demon Records, one of the indie labels that printed some of “The Forest at Dusk” CDs. We will be working on an EP together with 4 songs - 2 from each - and then we are planning on working on a full length album for his project Namtaru. I have some thrashy songs left over from Dark Reverence that I want to revamp and release. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them at first, but now this gives me an outlet to release them.
As far as my next sole release, I am in the process of brainstorming lyrical topics and accumulating riffs that I like. I think I will be pushing a little bit towards more technical guitaring with a lot of influence from Dissection and Death, but in a way that works with the ambiance of the track. Hopefully I'll have enough time to create, write and record and by this time next year I'll have a demo out for the next album.

-Dave Wolff

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