(Comrade Aleks interviews Markus Stock of the German band The Vision Bleak, among others.)
If you like really dark and mystic metal, then you should certainly know the German project The Vision Bleak, a duo of Markus Stock and Allen B. Konstantz. They boldly explore a world of myths and horrors, writing album after album; the fifth full-length record Witching Hour was released in 2013, and I felt a need to know if the band had plans for something new for us.
Markus is also a mastermind of the forest-influenced band Empyrium, and an honorable member of post-black-metal project Eudaimony; it was obvious that he had a lot of things he could tell us about.
Hi Markus! What kind of questions do you hate most during interviews?
Basically the most asking question is, “Can you tell me what kind of music you play?” That’s an introduction to the band, so to say.
A year ago The Vision Bleak finished their fifth full-length album “Witching Hour”, I discovered it as I was doing an article about the role of witches in metal music, as it’s a very popular theme…
Yes, and it’s very cool! I think that you know we have a song even about the Russian witch Baba Yaga – “Cannibal Witch”! The more I read about her, the more I was fascinated by it. It’s not a typical cliché, like witch as a goddess of the woods. And her image flying over the forest in the mortar is really good – just like on the album’s art-work.
And excuse my impatience but I need to ask you if you are already working over new songs for the next The Vision Bleak album.
We’re slowly starting to write it. But the thing is, I really want to do it as a little bit of twist from our direction, because we have 5 albums now, they basically were written in the same style. And we want to keep the core of The Vision Bleak, but I want to define it more, slightly, yet right now I’m not sure where we turn.
The idea of “Witching Hour” is pretty good, for a witch is one of most popular persons in metal. How long did you do your research, collecting info about this question?
I can’t say how long it took, because every time when we started to work over the new album, the concept grew in my mind, and bit by bit I started to search for info on the internet and in my books at home. Sometimes I had an idea before I wrote the song, as with Baba Yaga, which I wanted to make like a core of the album. I even had a lyrical theme before I start making the music.
But sometimes it worked in a different way, like with the song “The Valkyrie”, for which I already had music and then I started to search a lyrical theme that would be good for those riffs. So it’s a symbiotic thing, and in the end it took one year to write the “Witching Hour” album.
You also use a jew’s harp in the “Cannibal Witch” song; is it a kind of homage to the northern tribes’ culture?
No, we just wanted to picture with that sound how Baba Yaga jumps in her mortar through the woods. And it’s a very picturesque method.
“The Blocksberg Rite” song shows us a classical vision of a witches’ sabbath. How did you work over this song? I’m asking because one of most popular sabbath stories was depicted in Goethe’s “Faust”. And I know that there were a lot of musicians in the 18th and 19th centuries who also composed music to describe it — a few ballets, an opera, and an oratory of Robert Schumann picture the Sabbath, and maybe you can remember an opera of Rachmaninov, “Walpurgis Night”. Did you study the music of your predecessors in working over the album?
Actually “The Blocksberg Rite” is the very first song which was written for “The Witching Hour”. I just had this melody which sounds in the chorus, and it has a ghostly feeling, but at the same time it was a kind of slight celebration. When I got it, I asked myself – what kind of lyrics would fit this melody? And I came to the conclusion that a witches’ sabbath would be a great theme for it. The melody is both ghostly and celebratory, it’s rhythmic. It was a good start to create a whole concept for the album because Blocksberg is a very famous German mountain, it’s a traditional place for witches gathering.
One of the most popular subjects, considering the witches theme, is the history of witch-hunting and witch-burning. Indeed, I believe that it’s more popular for doom/stoner music like Electric Wizard, Cathedral, and Reverend Bizarre. Why did you pass by this subject on this album?
We just wanted to concentrate more on the mystical aspect of this theme, so we passed by this Christian, this earthly theme. I think that these historical processes are very human; they would destroy the mystical atmosphere of the album. It doesn’t fit well with the other songs.
The digipack version of “Witching Hour” also has “The Call of the Banshee” song. We wouldn’t suppose the banshee as a witch, it’s rather a ghost, but I know that there’s an old movie with the same name. Were you inspired by it in writing the song?
No, I don’t know about movie, need to check it. Instead, I first knew it because of the old English band Siouxsie and the Banshees. But yes – of course she’s not a witch, but for me she’s of this kind – a female ghost haunting the woods and putting a curse on people. It’s like with “The Valkyrie” song – both songs fit well in the concept of the album. It’s all about female mysticism.
When I think about this album I see you and Allen Konstanz as the Brothers Grimm – Jakob and Wilhelm, who collected folk stories for future generations…
Yes, it’s like we are a folk-tellers, we had this kind of concept from the beginning. We’re like the Brothers Grimm on this album, and we could be Victorian England story-tellers on the other hand. It’s a very cool thing for the band when we play the role of traditional story-tellers and perform these tales in our songs.
How much do you get from modern culture and from folklore?
Sometimes modern movies are really inspiring. But in general I’m more into old classic movies, yet having said that I sincerely enjoyed watching the remake of “Wolfman” with Anthony Hopkins. And the “Sleeping Hollow” movie is my all-time favorite film of modern horror-movies. And Arjento’s “Suspiria” is a real masterpiece. You can’t watch his movies very often, because it’s a piece of art, it’s very special, you need to watch it in the right mood.
Do you think about the perspective that the legacy of The Vision Bleak or Empyrium will be studied like classical music in the future? Do you feel your responsibility because of it?
I follow what my heart and soul dictate to me. If The Vision Bleak or Empyrium will be considered as a classical music in a future, it will be an honour. But I don’t think about it when I write music. I just want to create something that touches me and makes me euphoric, and then I know that it’s a good song.
The “Witching Hour” deluxe edition also has “Witchery In Forests Dark” as a bonus track, and it’s a totally ambient track. Did you record it during the album recording-session? Was it a part of the conception from the very beginning?
No, it wasn’t. I recorded it a little after when the whole album was finished and these tracks are in the mood of it. The label asked us if we could add some bonus content, and I thought that it would be interesting to do something completely different from what we usually do. It’s an ambient track and you understand it perfectly if you go with it in your headphones in the forest. It’s not music in a traditional way, but it’s rather a scary soundscape.
Does Prophecy Productions force you to do anything?
No, we always have fruitful discussions. Sometimes they propose something, and we say no; sometimes we propose something and they say no. But normally we discuss everything and we don’t have to do anything. If they don’t agree with something we do, then they speak their opinion, but most of the time we have a good cooperation.
For example, they didn’t want to use this artwork for the “Witching Hour” album, but we insisted and finally we found a way to get this picture, and both sides were satisfied. So they never dictate to us what to do and we have full artistic freedom.
Is “Witchery In Forests Dark” somehow inspired by your favorite Franconian Woods – the Green Crown of Bavaria?
Of course, “Witchery In Forests Dark” is totally inspired by Franconian Woods. I’ve just moved to another place, but I lived about a hundred meters from the Woods, I saw the Woods every day, and I often went there for a walk. I love the inspiration of this place still, I’m still a little child when I’m in the Woods, where I let my mind plays tricks on me and it feels really magical.
Once I was a little bit drunk, ‘cause we had a party with friends there at night. And then I went to the forest alone with a bottle of vodka… I don’t know – my mind did start to play these tricks on me, I was really terrified and I ran out of the woods. And back home again I still was really, really scared, ha-ha…
So when you’re there, when you let your mind stray a bit with all these stories and folklore and myths around the forest, when it’s dark, it’s really, really inspiring.
Well, now about your progressive rock project Noekk. The last album of Noekk “The Minstrel’s Curse” was released 7 years ago. Do you plan to return Noekk in the forthcoming future?
I don’t know, but right now I don’t think so. Maybe we will record some new progressive rock tunes after five or maybe six, maybe ten years from now… Noekk was always more like Thomas’s project as he started all the ideas and concepts of previous albums. We did come in my studio for about three weeks and record an album simply out of nothing. And it was always fun, but Thomas is Noekk’s mastermind, as I’m mastermind of The Vision Bleak and Empyrium. So I don’t know if we’ll record new Noekk in the future, I can’t be sure.
You also play in two more projects at least – the international post-black-metal band Eudiamony and the gothic metal band Ewigheim. What is your contribution to their music?
It’s quite comfortable to play with Ewigheim. I play live with them, they’re very good friends of mine, and I really like their music. But I just tell them some ideas when they record in my studio. I was always like a member of the band, but only now we made this official, though I produced all their albums and played guitars on some songs. My membership in Ewigheim isn’t all time-consuming.
And the same with Eudiamony. I’m an old friend with their vocalist Matthias, the former Dark Fortress singer. We’ve stayed in touch for years, and I mixed and produced their first album, I really enjoy it. After that, he just asked if I wanted to join the band, and I answered: Why not? So I can put out some ideas for them and we discuss it, but Markus (Naglfar, Ancient Wisdom) is the main songwriter here.
Your first band Empyrium had a twenty-year anniversary in 2014, so you and Prophecy Records made a good gift for fans with the new album “The Turn of the Tides” and a vinyl boxed set. Why didn’t you make some little gift for fans of The Vision Bleak when it had its 10th anniversary?
Actually we did – we played more tours in Germany in 2014 celebrating ten years of our first album “The Deathship Has a New Captain”, and we played the complete album from beginning to end. By the way, we re-released “The Deathship…” as an art-book edition with new layout and bonus-tracks. I think it’s a good gift for such an anniversary.
Do you see releasing a vinyl boxed set for The Vision Bleak as well?
Maybe – we can do a small package if it’s demanded. It’s strange, because Empyrium is much more a “vinyl”-band than The Vision Bleak. I don’t know why, but Empyrium fans really love to buy vinyl, as The Vision Black fans don’t like it so much, ha-ha.
As for me, I still love vinyl, it’s kind of a ritual thing when you put it onto the player. I do play music in my mobile as well, but it’s different. When I’m home and in a good mood, it’s great to play a vinyl.
Empyrium’s “The Turn of the Tides” album, which was released in 2014, starts with song “Saviour”; it’s final line is, “There is no thing without beauty at all”. So what is a saviour for you in this context?
The saviour is a change of mind in this context. This is what this song about. It was a very dark period of my life; it was filled with negative thoughts. But at some point I found it, it was just a sudden change of mind, and I understood that there is no thing without beauty at all. And this is a message, sometimes you need to look at things from another point of view and you see them differently.
Markus, how do you feel you have grown from album to album as a musician and as a person?
It’s a symbiotic thing – I grow as a person, getting more emotional and with other experiences in my life, and at the same time I develop as a musician. I have become more attentive to my surroundings and I search for inspiration from there, it’s a part of my character.
You can see this change through Empyrium’s last album title – for me it means the turn of my thoughts like tides. And it’s the same with The Vision Bleak. “Set Sail to Mystery” for example. The story of the fisherman who succumbed to the maelstrom in the ocean, but this maelstrom could be a picture of your soul, of your dark thoughts. Everything I write for The Vision Bleak could be heard in different ways.
Thank you Markus, I think we already have had a cool interview. Let’s finish it with a question about your plans for Empyrium and The Vision Bleak.
We plan two concerts in September with Empyrium, and we have already written new music. I compose whenever I have time; I gather musical ideas constantly for all my projects. But with Empyrium I don’t need to release an album per one-two years as we like to do with The Vision Bleak! It fits a concept we have as a band, we like to play live shows as we like, to have a time with Empyrium, and if the next album needs five more year, it gets five more years. We’re not in a rush, but we are already writing music.
Empyrium “Dead Winter Ways”