Below is the text of an interview I conducted whilst working for the Hard Waves website in 2009. It’s with a musician from the band Dornenreich. We discuss the purpose and meaning of the black metal genre, the nature of and power of (acoustic) music, what artistic change entails, and recommend a few non-metal bands for people who like black metal. I also scooped some exclusive information on their new album, and on their tour with Marduk.
The interview throws up a lot of ideas about music in general, and is certainly not just for people interested in the folk/ambient/black metal genres. Many thanks to Eviga for taking the time to talk to me.
I shake Eviga’s hand and we walk to the tourbus for the interview, ahead of tonight’s co-headlined gig with Agalloch at the Camden Underworld. His long brown hair is tied in a pony tail and hangs over one shoulder. He is quiet, personable, somewhat laid back, but very alert and engaged. Eviga is the vocalist, guitarist and composer of Dornenreich,
a band that most easily labelled as a black metal act, notable for its expressive German vocals, acoustic excursions and use of violins.
Martin: Does your Austrian background have an influence on your sound?
Eviga: Yeah, to a certain degree. Austria has always been known for quite individual and avantgardistic events and ensembles, and even the landscape has a certain influence.
We are all gathering influences when travelling through the world, consciously or subconsciously. I’m not an urban guy, so London is quite a challenge for me, but it’s a nice, very historical place. Everything shows when you’re trying to create new lyrics or new songs.
Martin: How do you feel that the metal scene has changed over your time in it, and how do you feel that your area of it has developed?
Eviga: In my opinion the black metal scene changed throughout the last years, and today, apart from the fact that I’m not quite involved in the scene, it seems to be a quite nihilistic and militant, a very negative form of expression, and I don’t think highly of this interpretation of black metal.
I always like to keep a certain level of hope in my artistic expression. Although we go through very dark chapters in our albums, we are in search of a certain balance of all the contrasting elements of life, to focus on positive and constructive elements as well, not just
on pure destruction. Many records and bands seem to rely on some kind of statement, just pure rebellion, just saying “I’m against this and that”, but one cannot see or experience what they are actually standing for.
Martin: So we won’t expect to see a burnt-out church on your next album? [Eviga laughs] [This is a reference to the cover of Burzum’s Aske album]
What are you trying to convey with Dornenreich? Is there an artistic mission there, and how does the shift in your sound over time fit into this? Certainly elements of this change have been apparent from early on, but if you compare the chaos and fury of the main riff in
“Trauerbrandung” with the prevailing feel of “In Luft Geritzt”, you can see a shift in emphasis.
Eviga: We always kept a certain longing and yearning present in our music. For sure, the instrumentation and the superficial appearance of the music differ from album to album, but there’s a certain spiritual, maybe transcendent, core that is constant, and we try to get across very authentic, passionate and touching music. It’s based on the creation of moments that really touch, that move people.
Eviga: No, I guess the album is quite strong as a whole. Tonight we will play “Jagd”,
the third track, with metal instrumentation. This very adventure proves that the songs are simply powerful; they have strong emotions that come across, basic elemental powers. There is a lot of grief, but also a lot of beauty, on a very bare level. To me it’s really touching to express something powerful just with acoustic instruments. I always wanted to
do an acoustic album that is fierce in a way, really wild and really passionate, like Ulver’s second album, the acoustic one [Kveldssanger – Martin], but I wanted to do something that’s even more passionate, more physical, in a way. That’s what I really like about the album – the dynamics and the strong, unconditional and very direct emotions.
Martin: It’s always a good sign if you’re able to convey such power, and you’re not just relying on a seven string guitar to achieve that.
Eviga: Great, that’s what we had in mind. It’s great to present the songs live. it was really touching to play our songs in front of an audience because they are very fragile, and powerful at the same time.
Martin: How do you find the live setting? You can’t layer things in the same way as if you were in the studio. You were mentioning that you were going to play a ‘metalled-up’ version of the track “Jagd” [Eviga laughs. Martin: It’s a good term!]
In what ways do you find that you have to change your sound, in what ways do you find that it is presented differently or people react to it differently?
Eviga: We have to rearrange the songs from scratch for the live situation. We try to use the violin as a dramatic and vocal part, because some clean vocal melodies from earlier records are done by the violin. In earlier days we never had a bass player live. In the early days we had a keyboard player, so more low frequencies. To me it’s really important
in a live situation to get across an authentic expression of my understanding, for I’m not a guitar player who plays his parts without mistakes live. I really try to get across my emotions, on a very physical level. In the studio I tend to be a perfectionist, on the
other hand, so the live situation has a different aim.
Martin: When you were recording “In Luft Geritzt”, what were your ideas behind the recording process there, and where do you stand on the role of production, and how do you achieve atmosphere?
Eviga: We rented a room where we recorded with a more natural sound. We did live recordings for all the instruments -acoustic guitar, violin, and even percussion – were recorded at the same time. So we did many takes over and over again because it’s a real
challenge; no rhythmic orientation. It takes its time until both musicians are satisfied with their performance. We added the vocals later on, because that would have been too much at the same time, because I like to get across a lot through the lyrics and vocals.
Eviga: No. The next album will be a very big surprise to many people, I think. It will be a very dramatic and existentialist black metal album; maybe the most intense and extreme
one we have ever done, and to me that’s great because after the acoustic one I’ll try to get across something totally different, well not totally different [Martin: Yeah, like we were saying before]. There are elemental and archaic emotions, thoughts that always shine through in our albums, but there will be a different appearance on the next one.
Martin: The title of the new album roughly translates as ‘carved/written in air’. Can you talk a little about the contrast between the visceral and the more emotive elements of music, and how these relate to each other?
Eviga: Music is proof for the invisible world, the spiritual world. Air is invisible, but music can move the individual on a very sensual level. It’s also very important because the arrangement of time within music is really the language and being of the human soul which is travelling within music, and artistic expression in general, but especially within music. To me it’s really cathartic to go on stage, or to be in an audience, and to see people really get involved with their expression. It’s very very important and it opens up so many doors within one’s mind. It’s truly essential to me as a human being.
Martin: It’s wonderfully communicative. It always impresses me, even if you listen to music in a language you don’t understand, how music can still speak to people through that.
Eviga: I always like the Norwegian bands who still stick to their mother tongue. In a certain way it’s a limitation to have German lyrics [Martin: Commercially…], but it’s authentic, and the basic emotions shine through.
Martin: It’s always quite upsetting to hear a band writing lyrics in English, and they come out quite clumsy, when you know if they were writing in German they’d be amazing. Sometimes you listen to early Blind Guardian and you think “hmm, maybe you should
check that chorus out” [Why’ve you ever forgot me?] There is something very appealing about the cadence, the rhythm of the German language and the way you deliver it. You would lose that if you were singing in English.
Eviga: I read some translations of our lyrics, and many things get lost. It seems to be rather cheesy when translated into English.
Martin: When you’re writing something in German you’ve chosen a word because it suggests various things at the same time, has connotations and shades of meaning, and when you translate it, this goes out the window.
Nature is a perennial theme in black metal, how much of an influence is it on you?
Eviga: It’s the beginning and the end; it’s a big cycle that we all live in, and we find wisdom in nature: it teaches you the most important things in life, but we are not used to the perception of these things because we are surrounded by nature and its acts every day. It’s a rich source for metaphors and symbols too, and I’m always in source for pictorial
expressions based on nature, and in my perception, black metal has always been some kind of metaphor for natural powers, you know, the guitars, like fog, the drums, like elemental forces like thunder.
Eviga: We’ve known each other for very many years because back in 1997 we traded our demo tapes, and from then on we traded our CDs, and so we stayed in contact over the years. There is a certain common mood, or energy, in our expression. We have been
planning this tour for a very long time; I’m really glad that it happens now, because whenever like-minded people and musicians gather, they make plans for common future adventures, but it never happens, so I’m glad that we really did it.
Martin: Thank you very much for your time, and good luck getting your amp sorted [the settings were wiped during handling]. Is there anything you’d like to say to Hard Waves readers?
Eviga: We are playing in Portugal in April [Hard Waves was based in Portugal], and we are looking forward to that. We have been in Portugal back in 2001 with Marduk, and it was a great experience, so we are looking forward to returning.
We ended up talking for longer. I couldn’t resist asking his thoughts about Marduk, as these two bands occupy very different positions on the black metal spectrum. Marduk are concerned with straight-forward destruction in their music, and have a very different outlook to Eviga.
Martin: What was it like supporting Marduk? How did you find that?
Eviga: The tour was planned to be a festival with …And Oceans and Behemoth,
and they cancelled the tour, and that was a big disappointment, a let-down for us. We had already been travelling to London, so we continued to tour. But I don’t appreciate Marduk that much. It’s okay for me because they work really hard on their status: touring, CD, touring , CD…. I guess they played more than 1,000 shows so far, and there’s a lot of willpower in this band, but I don’t like their approach, their artistic aura, or whatever, but it was okay.
Martin: I don’t suppose you’d gel with them musically in the same way because they are more unequivocally on the aggressive side, and don’t have as much exploration as you’d have with, say Agalloch.
Eviga: Actually I never thought that we would ever tour with a band like Marduk, but I’m really glad that we have the chance to tour with other bands, and it’s very inspiring, both on the human and social side and on the artistic side. This current tour is very intense and based on a friendly and harmonic mutual mood.
Martin: A lot of people have got into your music through listening to black metal, but you listen to a wide range of music yourself: I recall you mentioning Dead Can Dance? [Eviga: I just bought a shirt today, yes!] Are there any bands that you would recommend to people who like metal, who like your material, but don’t really know where to go from there? Is there anything you think they should check out?
Eviga: Yeah: there’s another great band that I discovered last year at a festival in Leipzig: Irfan. It’s very soulful music. When it comes to black metal, I still like to listen to the classical ones from Norway. [Martin: Second wave…] Yeah; The 3rd and the Mortal: to me it always has been black metal [I’d class them as female-fronted gothic doom metal, but I understand his point], and Ulver and Troll, Satyricon and Kvist, especially Kvist.
Martin: All right, I’ll let you get back to trying to fix your amp. Thanks a lot for talking to me, that was great.
Eviga: Thank you very much for your interesting questions.