(Andy Synn had the chance to interview the Dutch artist Morean about the three bands in which he is currently involved — Dark Fortress, Noneuclid, and Alkaloid. We’ve divided the interview into three parts, which will appear on three successive days. Today’s focus is Dark Fortress. Check out the next two parts here and here.)
So, first of all, I just want to say thank you for agreeing to answer these questions for me/us. Both Venereal Dawn and Metatheosis were amongst my favourite albums from last year, and it’s looking very likely that The Malkuth Grimoire will end up in my top ten at the end of 2015 too.
Now, obviously I’m a big fan of all the bands you’re involved in, so this is probably going to be a pretty long and in-depth interview, but let’s start with a simple question… how the hell do you find the time for all of this?
Morean: Thanks for the compliments! How do I find time? Well – I don’t. I have to steal whatever time I put into one band, commission, or project from all the other bands and projects. It’s a problem almost everyone in all these bands has, and it’s getting worse. It’s also the reason why it takes years sometimes before a band is able to get into the studio or back on the road.
Having been a part of Dark Fortress for three albums now, how do you feel your role has changed and grown?
M: First of all, I got a serious education as a vocalist because of the way V. Santura works with me in the studio. What I learned with him recording vocals for Dark Fortress and Noneuclid directly led to the things I did with the vocals on the Alkaloid album; I’d never have dared to attempt clean vocals otherwise, for example. And in terms of how the band is perceived, I think it’s also abundantly clear that I brought my own style and stories to Dark Fortress, and was given all opportunities to do my own thing since the beginning, rather than trying and failing to imitate what my predecessor did. It’s been a very surprising twist in my life how I ended up as a vocalist all of a sudden – but I must say I’ve had so much fun with it all these years, and I hope to keep taking steps forward as a singer with every album and every tour.
Similarly – as someone who can blend both an outsider’s perspective and an insider’s opinion – how would you feel that the band as a whole has changed?
M: In principle, not much – besides the obvious changes that come with replacing the singer, and recently the keyboarder. We’ve always had great chemistry since the beginning, and a band that’s been around for more than 20 years tends to be a stable, reliable corset; we know what we are, even though we all have grown a lot as musicians over the years, and that’s what you hear with every new album. Career-wise, we don’t have too high expectations anymore; where we are now is probably as good as it’s gonna get for a third generation black metal band from an irrelevant spot on the map (i.e., not Norway). But without betraying what we perceive is the essence of the band, we will always endeavor to develop artistically, and give everything on stage, too. But then again, that’s what the band has always done. So I guess it’s all been a rather natural and organic process to arrive where we are right now.
Lyrics are a personal passion/obsession of mine, and I spend a lot of time writing and rewriting them for both my bands (more than is probably healthy to be honest) as well as reading and analysing the lyrics of the bands I love. How much work goes into the concepts and ideas you work with lyrically in Dark Fortress?
M: A lot, actually. I know I could have gotten away with standard black metal lyrics, since not too many people pay so much attention to the words when they listen to us. But like with performing on your instrument or composing, I’d feel crappy if I knew I didn’t aim as high as possible with the words and the ideas behind them as well. There is much depth and many layers to the music in all our bands, and we want our songs to still kick ass even if you’ve heard or performed them hundreds of times before. In this sense, we hope to reward everyone who ventures deeper into our music by putting in a lot of things to be discovered. Many of these are lost on most listeners, and that’s OK, but I love to see when even just one person really gets a lyric. You can see it changes their perception of what it’s all about. Everyone else is of course welcome to just bang their head to the riffs, because at the end of the day, that’ll always be the most important thing in metal.
And how much input do the rest of the band have on your process?
M: I’m basically totally free in what I do. I share my ideas occasionally with my band-mates, just to make sure everyone’s OK with the subjects, song titles and conceptual ideas, and I welcome input from them as well, but in practice, I get to do whatever I want actually, and no-one ever interferes much.
I’ve also noticed that the lyrics on Venereal Dawn were inspired by “The Wounded Land” by Stephen Donaldson, one of my all-time favourite authors. When/how/why did you decide to use that book as your lyrical touchstone?
M: I wanted to do something with the idea that the sky comes alive, and becomes the monster of the story. I liked the apocalyptic component of this idea, that humans face an enemy that they cannot fight at all, like dust mites trying to wage war against the humans whose skin flakes they graze on. This in turn led me to the idea of light itself coming alive, which I find a remote but really intriguing evolutionary possibility. As these ideas formed in the soup in my head, I kept thinking back to The Wounded Land, since Donaldson also uses the sky and weather as an active villain in this novel. It gave me a departure point, and the more I wrote, the more it became my own story; however, especially all the beginning of Venereal Dawn draws heavily on Donaldson’s idea and I’m not ashamed to credit him for it.
Also, going slightly off-topic for a minute, have you managed to get through The Last Chronicles yet?
M: Only The Runes of the Earth. The rest is sitting on my shelf, waiting to be tackled.
What did you think?
M: Honestly, I found The Runes of the Earth pretty disappointing, which is why I postponed reading the other sequels for now. Donaldson seems to be the kind of author you either love or hate, and Thomas Covenant already was an awkward character to identify with throughout the first 6 books. But in my opinion the choice to make Linden Avery the main character in the last series is a disaster. I just can’t stand her incessant whining and irrelevant internal processes stretching over hundreds of pages, and it seems most people agree with me if you read the reviews. Of course, there are literary gems in there as always, and few writers can make me weep while reading as Donaldson does occasionally, but reading thousands of pages following someone you don’t care about at all has not been the most enticing of prospects for me so far. For the moment, I’m sticking mainly to Stephen Baxter for thought food.
Anyway, getting back to the music, how would you describe the sound of Venereal Dawn to a potential new fan?
M: Epic, monolithic, at times monstrous, and hopefully somewhat timeless. I’d recommend listening to several songs to make up your mind since they’re pretty different from each other.
And how would you say it differs, or expands, on the sound of Ylem?
M: Venereal Dawn flowed naturally from the expansion of the musical pallet that started way back in the past of this band, but which came to light on Ylem stronger than ever before. Tracks like Evenfall and Wraith made On Fever’s Wings and Chrysalis possible. We ourselves feel VD is more of a unity than Ylem was; Ylem was not really a concept album, and I imagine you can hear on VD that every song belongs to the same world. On Ylem, we wanted to see what happens if we put independent songs together, also to have the liberty to give each song its own world, but for me personally, I think Dark Fortress is more at home in grand scenarios that bridge everything, music, lyrics, order of the songs, artwork, etc., and gives every detail of an album its place.
There have been a lot more… “Progressive” influences seeping into the band over time (not that I’m complaining), particularly on the new album. Who’s behind all that?
M: It’s something that comes as a by-product of our individual development as musicians. You learn a lot from every piece, every album you write. You have to follow the impulses that interest you musically, else you lose interest in your own music, and it just so happened that, lately, we saw potential in the more epic and even melodic aspects of what the band always did and wanted to go deeper into these. There are dangers on both sides of the path – stagnation on one, losing touch with the band’s past essence on the other. So our struggle is to keep both in balance while moving onwards and staying true to ourselves at the same time. It’s a challenge, definitely, but it’s also what makes every new song that surfaces so exciting – we also don’t always know how they’re gonna sound in the end.
I’ve also heard tell that there are a few more songs from the Venereal Dawn sessions waiting in the wings which might get a release sometime in the future… care to offer any further insight into that?
M: Yes, we are going to put out an EP within the next year or so with those songs on it, to bridge the wait for the next full-length album. We don’t have a precise timeline yet, but don’t want to wait too long since we feel those songs are clearly companions to Venereal Dawn and should be seen in the context of that album. On the next full album, who knows where we will go. Maybe we finally manage to make some short songs.