Dark Fortress push back their own ramparts

Only time will tell if Dark Fortress’ latest record, Venereal Dawn, is merely a gem, or rather a masterpiece of extreme metal. But given the band’s musical progression and the presence of Morean (aka Florian Magnus Maier) and V. Santura (Victor Bullok on his birth certificate) in the line-up, we should have seen it coming. The former is a singer who’s making a career in the Netherlands as a classical composer. The latter is a guitarist, who’s been playing for seven years now with Thomas Gabriel Fischer, aka Tom Warrior; at first he was merely a tour guitarist in Celtic Frost’s last hours, who later became a founding member of Triptykon, a band that now boasts two albums unanimously recognized as great works of dark metal. In other words, these two are talented musicians.

But they’re also smart musicians, who are being honest and realistic when it comes to themselves and the current metal community. The long interview you’re about to read is extremely interesting on many levels. It helps us understand the efforts the band has put into this new album, but also helps us metalheads understand ourselves, and our connection with the genre we love.

« We don’t want to repeat ourselves and we don’t want to make an album that the world doesn’t really need. »

Radio Metal: Dark Fortress has been pretty much silent these past four years since Ylem came out. How can you explain this long wait?

Morean (vocals): It was two things, mainly. First of all, it was not a choice at all. We had to deal with some difficult circumstances in the logistics. Since a couple of us are in a few different bands – and some of these bands became very, very active, like for example Triptykon or Revamp -, it became harder and harder to find the time to do something together. We always had a will to play and make new songs, but we are spread over two countries: our home base is in the south of Germany but two of us live in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. So doing anything together always requires a lot of traveling. You need a lot more time than just the day of the concert, let’s say. Rehearsing is very difficult and you can add to that the fact that everybody has many bands but, besides the bands, also has to take a lot of other work in order to survive. We’re just in a very difficult position and I think that a lot of bands actually are in that position, bands that are not really big. A lot of us have this problem: it’s getting harder and harder just to find the time to get together or to make it possible. Because every minute you put into a metal band basically makes you lose money and time, a lot of time. So we have the passion just as we always had, but we had to deal with much more complex scheduling issues and stuff like that. So that’s one side of the problem.

The other side was that this time we needed a lot of time to be sure that what we had was artistically good enough. The thing is that we take every album very, very seriously. V. Santura is an absolute perfectionist and we spend a lot of time on every song, in the recordings, in the arrangements, in the mix and so forth. A new record is a big project that takes a lot of time and a lot of preparation. And we feel that after twenty years of band history and after six albums out worldwide, it’s getting a bit more demanding or challenging to find something that either you or other people haven’t said a thousand times before, you know what I mean? We don’t want to repeat ourselves and we don’t want to make an album that the world doesn’t really need. We don’t want to put out something that doesn’t actually add anything substantial to our catalogue. So this time around, and also because everybody’s been so busy, it took all these years until we finally had enough songs that we felt confident about, that were really worthy of putting them on album and going through all these months and months of work.

Another problem was that we actually wanted the album to be finished in November. I mean it took long enough with already four years, but Santura ran out of time to finish the mix and Triptykon made their new album, which of course was also really important. The fact that we were missing a couple of days for the mix led to the album coming out more than half a year after it was planned. Every little change immediately had some kind of snowball effect in the planning. At the end it just took way too long… [Chuckles]

In the press release you’re quoted saying that « a while back, [the band] had almost reached a breaking point. » What did you mean by that?

Morean: Actually it was after the touring for Ylem was finished… I mean, we were very happy with the album and we still are, and we got a couple of really nice tours like with Satyricon and Shining and with some other bands, we had some really nice gigs and stuff, but somehow we felt that we’re not really moving. More specifically, I remember V. Santura at some point telling me how frustrated he was because he said he had the feeling that he’s been killing himself for this band, doing everything for ten years, and he didn’t have the feeling that we’re really moving forward. It felt like we were treading water despite putting a lot of effort into things. I can really imagine his perspective because, I mean, we all worked really hard for this band but he was the one who did the most because he has a lot of responsibilities in this band. The frustration was understandable. Luckily we had a couple of good talks and also some nice concerts. We had to accept that, probably, in reality, the band will not be able to grow as big as what we thought it would. Due to the circumstances we will not be able to tour for a couple of months per year, for example. Even though we would like to do that, it’s simply not possible. So we had to adjust our expectations a little bit and then we wondered like: “Okay, do we still want to do it, even though we know we probably can’t go much further than where we are?” And we decided that yes, we do want to keep doing it. Even though we may have to do a bit less, we decided that we are going to try to do something to make it count. If we make an album, we should make the best album we can possibly make. If we play a tour, we should play a tour that we want to play, with bands that we feel are bringing something to everybody involved. I’m of course very happy that we got this conclusion because that meant that we now got to make another album, and that was a lot of fun and we are super proud of it. There’s now really a new spirit in the band but a couple of years ago it was a little different.

You announced not long ago the departure of keyboarder Paymon. Not much has been explained actually about that, so what’s the reason for his departure as the album wasn’t even out yet?

V. Santura (guitar): Yeah I know… We are having a hard time to really find the right words for it. We’re not really happy with his decision but we have a total understanding for that. It’s nothing personal between us. I think he is going through hard time at the moment. He has personal reasons to quit the band and it’s something that he didn’t really want to talk about too much. So it’s something that’s not for public and that’s why we didn’t say too much about the reasons. I think he is in a personal crisis at the moment and that’s why he said it was too much stress for him, so he decided to leave the band. That’s basically all I can say. I mean, I wish he would rethink that and the door is still open for him from our side. But of course life is going on and the band is going on. We’re not too happy about his decision, especially because I’m a bit worried. He’s a friend, you know. It’s nothing life threatening, of course. I guess he’s having too much stress and troubles at the moment due to various reasons and that’s why he decided to quit the band.

Was that decision taken recently or was it during the process of the album?

V. Santura: No, that was really recently. Also maybe he wasn’t satisfied that he was not involved very much in the album. Maybe that’s also a part of it. But I can only guess.

How comes he wasn’t involved that much in the album actually?

V. Santura: The thing is that we are not rehearsing so much on a regular basis because two guys in the band, Morean and Seraph, live in Rotterdam which is more than 800 km away from our home base and especially when the drummer is not living in the same city as you do, you cannot rehearse on a regular basis. So we always come together for special occasions when we arrange songs or when we rehearse for tours. Most of the music is basically written by me and also by Asvargyr, but when I write music I basically have most of the arrangements already in my head, so I also work on the keyboards. Due to this way of working, there was not so much space for him to get his own personality into the music or into the songs.

Do you already have a replacement in mind?

V. Santura: Yes and no. I mean yeah, we have one guy that we already played on tour with. In the past, Paymon was sometimes unable to play our concerts with us. So at certain times we just used a sample player to have the keyboards from tape but I was not happy with that at all. So we had a keyboard player on the last two tours we did. His name is Job Bos. He’s a young guy from Netherlands; actually he’s now playing live keyboards for Satyricon. We worked with that guy and I was satisfied with him. Well, let’s see if he has time, if it’s good for us… But Paymon left the band so recently that we still don’t want to make a decision on who’s going to be the next keyboard player. For the next time we’ll probably be working with session guys and we’ll see how things develop and how we will go on.

« That can be very frustrating, because sometimes, honestly, we almost have to apologize […] for stepping even half a step out of this narrow street which is black metal. »

Morean, you said that “that this time [you] needed a lot of time to be sure that what [you] had was artistically good enough.” Does this actually mean that your previous albums weren’t artistically good enough?

Morean: No [laughs], that’s not what I mean. On the contrary actually because what I said is that a Dark Fortress album is not a light matter for us. We always want to make it as good as we can at that moment. But that also means that the previous albums were also strong, so you cannot make a weaker album than the one before. So the challenge is to try and still add something new and still make something better than the last time. That doesn’t mean we’re not happy with what we made last time or something. Of course you learn, you develop, you have new ideas and you find new ways of doing things, whether it’s on your instrument or in the studio, with the studio techniques or, just in general, your view of the world might change. So I meant it like that, you know, that we do impose on ourselves that we have to grow and that something has to happen because otherwise we don’t need to make that album.

In an interview in 2012, V. Santura, you said that on Ylem « there are some lengths across the album that [you]’d like to have a bit more compact next time ». So isn’t it a bit ironic that Venereal Dawn begins and ends with Dark Fortress’ longest songs ever?

V. Santura: Yes [laughs].You’re totally right! What can I say against that? It just happened the way it happened. Nevertheless at the moment I’m super happy with Venereal Dawn and I don’t feel it has length, even though the songs – or at least the first and the last songs – are really long. But I think that everything that is happening in between is more compact. I really love every song on that album. With Ylem, I thought that this album had one of the strongest songs we ever wrote but in the middle section there are two or three songs that, in my opinion, were not as strong as the rest of the album. This is what I meant about it being a bit lengthy, I thought if we would have left out two or three songs from the album, it would have been stronger. And this time, with Venereal Dawn, we have actually written two or three extra songs that are not on the album. This time we’ve just used the songs that fitted the best together and we didn’t put all the materials we had on one album. So I think at a certain point of time, we will probably release those songs because they’re still very good. But if we had tried to put every idea we had on that one album, it would have been a bit too long again.

Actually you guys had mentioned in the past the idea of releasing an EP which would contain a a Shining cover song. So are these extra Veneral Dawn sessions songs what will also be on this EP?

Morean: Yeah, since this time we needed a couple of attempts to really get the songwriting going, at the end there were actually more songs that could fit on one album. We liked all those songs but we had too much of them. Since we were already recording, we recorded a couple of other songs as well and only afterwards we decided which songs would go on the album. So that means that there’s other stuff recorded, like three or maybe four more songs that are also quite long. One other thing that we did in between albums over all these years was a cover of the Shining song “Besvikelsens Dystra Monotoni” off the Halmstad album. That came about because one day Niklas [Kvarforth] called me and asked me if we wanted to do it, because apparently there was a plan to make a Shining tribute album and he invited us to contribute with a cover song. So we recorded this cover but then that tribute album never got made, I think. I mean, we made it and we didn’t really hear anything anymore about it. So we have this cover lying around. We had fun with it and we tried out some funky stuff as well. We did put some effort into it, so we are thinking of releasing all these extra stuff that we have lying around as an EP. Because they can’t really make an album, in a sense that it all belongs together. It’s more like a couple of loose things and I think it would perfect for an EP. The band also thinks the same, so our idea is to make the wait a little bit shorter until the next album with a small thing that we can put out in between, to still give people a bit of something new in a while.

Venereal Dawn continues on the evolution where the band left it off on Ylem, by broadening much further its music. Did you guys feel a need for a kind of artistic liberation in some way to kind of reach that goal to make something really new?

Morean: Absolutely! I think it’s always been the ambition of this band because, the means were different of course, for the first album we were very young, but if you listen closely, you may agree with me that the elements that are now on this new album were actually there on all the other albums. Every album tries to be very epic and tells big stories; the songs were very long… I mean there was always brutal stuff and regular black metal but on every album there are also other elements: more acoustic parts, more clean parts, double-bass solo on Séance (note: on the song “Insomnia”) and these kinds of things. It’s just that we feel that with every album the same starting points are manifesting in slightly different ways, according to what we’ve learned. On Stab Wounds, for example, there’s a song called “A Midnight Poem” which is actually, in a way, a very gentle song with of lot of clean guitars and the emotion of something other than brutality is already there. But on Stab Wounds that’s how that sounded, or “Like A Somnambulist In Daylight’s Fire” also has these kinds of Fates Warning like guitars sometimes and stuff. But on Séance, these elements took a different form but they still came from the same place; the same can be said on Ylem and now again on the new album. I think that is just who we are. Because there is a part that is consistent of course through the albums, we do have a style and we will always, I guess, sound like Dark Fortress but we don’t want to just leave it at that. We do every time look for a more advanced way of expressing that same essence.

Would you say that you’re now beyond being a black metal band?

Morean: Yeah, I guess so [laughs]. I mean, the thing is: what do you call black metal? It’s a somewhat pointless discussion. I remember in the older times, before you had all these 700 million genres and these kinds of nerdy corners, with people saying “now I only listen to Swedish death metal, not to German or Floridian death metal”, it didn’t used to be like that. There was just metal and within metal you had different things. People used to listen to more than one genre actually. People were more open in that time where metal first started spawning and taking all these different forms. I’m not somebody who glorifies the 80’s, because there was a lot of shit in the 80’s, guys! I mean, please look at some video clips, listen to some albums and read some lyrics and you will see that actually now every crap band from the 80’s is all of sudden elevated to the heavens just because they did something in the 80’s, but it wasn’t that great, no. I mean, music did really grow, musicians grew as well, but one difference from back then is that people are not that open anymore. We have the feeling that innovation in metal is not really appreciated. Actually you can have success much more easily if you sound exactly like something old. That is a bit bizarre because when we grew up we got to know metal as a very alive happening thing. Every two or three years somebody would come up with something completely new. Now these things also happen, of course, but it seems that nobody wants this; maybe not nobody but not enough people, because the main majority wants to hear the same dirty Sodom as dated as the last thirty years. Of course there is nothing wrong with that. Everybody can listen to and like what they want. But if you are a creator, if you have a creative spirit and the need to find new ways of saying things and writing new songs and stuff, that can be very frustrating, because sometimes, honestly, we almost have to apologize for inventing something… I mean, “inventing something”… We didn’t invent anything but, you know, for stepping even half a step out of this narrow street which is black metal, that again I find it completely absurd actually.

Out of all the styles there are, extreme metal should be fucking free! It should be open! Not having rules is precisely what makes its strength. I mean, of course, it needs certain characteristics because Robbie Williams is not extreme metal and will never be, but you know what I mean. It’s become so dogmatic that to me it just doesn’t make sense, especially in a genre that calls itself individualistic, antiestablishment, anti-dogmatic and blablabla because all these things are not fucking true. Whatever you do, if everything is measured against what a bunch of dudes did in Norway in 1992, what you’re doing isn’t even heard, you know what I mean? So in that sense it is a little bit difficult. And if you ask me the question: “Are you black metal or not?” I would answer like this: “We are definitely a metal band, we are a very morbid, abysmal metal band”. But if it’s black metal or not, it only depends on what you define as black metal. Because you can also call some super weird classical composers black metal if you think this is exactly according to the principles of what you consider black metal. So the whole question, to be completely honest, by now, is completely irrelevant. I mean, call us “blue metal” or whatever metal, that will not change who we are and the music that we make. I don’t know if we are black metal but I know one thing for sure: this new album is very, very Dark Fortress. So that’s up to the people to decide.

« Extreme metal should be fucking free! It should be open! […] It’s become so dogmatic that to me it just doesn’t make sense, especially in a genre that calls itself individualistic, antiestablishment, anti-dogmatic and blablabla because all these things are not fucking true. »

How do you explain the way the metal scene has evolved, with, as you said, people that now only want to listen to old stuff instead of new and fresh stuff?

Morean: I think the human species, basically, is not too hot on new things in general because we are creatures of habit. So once we got used to something and we know that we like something, we tend to stick to it. Me as much as everybody else, so I don’t think it’s a bad thing. The thing is also that metal was a young thing a couple of decades ago. Not only Iron Maiden got older but also the fans got older. As we get older we become more nostalgic. We are, all of us, completely overloaded with way too much music, way too much new stuff and way too much information to absorb every day. I think when people want to just relax and enjoy music, they tend to choose something they have known for a long time because it’s not challenging you to open your mind. That is my theory: the music is aging but not necessarily looking forwards that much anymore. I might be wrong. Maybe I see it wrongly. Maybe I’m unnecessarily cynical because, of course, you know, there are also nowadays great minds out there that invent new things but these things don’t get a lot of attention.

V. Santura, Morean said that you were “an absolute perfectionist”. But by being so perfectionist, aren’t you sometimes missing the benefits of spontaneity?

V. Santura
: Yes or no. There is a certain space for being spontaneous especially when I write music. Sometimes I improvise a little bit, and the benefit of the fact that I basically live in the studio [laughs] and record the demos that I do in studio’s quality is that I can just record ideas that I have directly in studio quality. So I sometimes work on a song, then I want to make a solo and just improvise, and I think like: “Fuck, I will never make it better than I just did” and I just keep that demo take basically for the album. That was for example the case with the solo of “Luciform”, which I think is the best solo I have ever played because it has the most emotion I have ever put on tape in a solo. And that was something really spontaneous. This is also a way of perfection for me. So, in the end, I could sit down in the studio, trying to make a hundred takes to make it as good again but I didn’t because I just kept that spontaneous take. In other aspects I’m really a perfectionist but it’s not about computerized perfection, you know, making sure that every little hit is just on the marker or that a computer says it’s perfect. I’m perfectionist in the sense that I work on a song until I get exactly the feeling that I wanted to express, no matter how long it takes. That’s the main thing. If there’s something that still disturbs me or where I think that the emotion that should be expressed gets a little bit watered down, then I try to do it again and again until it really feels right.

There’s a big vocal diversity on this album…

Morean: Thank you! [Laughs]

…and there seems to have been a lot of efforts put into this aspect. How important was the vocal work?

Morean: Of course, to me it’s rather important since I’m the singer [laughs]. But you know what it is, I have been noticing for a couple of years that, let’s say, every ten years or so, in the history of metal, another instrument starts developing like crazy. For example in the 80’s, it was the guitar players. All of a sudden the guitar players started practicing like crazy and you got like oceans of fantastic guitar players that would play with a bunch of other dudes who couldn’t really play. This is generalizing way too much but just for argument’s sake it was like this, in the 80’s the guitar developed. In the 90’s the drums developed like crazy and all of sudden you had a huge jump in technical level and the ambition of the new kids trying to bring forwards the art. In the 00’s, all of a sudden you had a lot of really great bass players out there, you know, the bass became like not the worst guitar player in the band but it became a thing in its own right, and we started to have virtuosos and specialists. What I was missing, or what I’m still missing very often, is seeing the singers doing the same thing. Because, I don’t want to put anybody down or whatever, but there are so many bands out there with great musicians who are doing so many things in their compositions, lyrics and stuffs, but then the singer comes in and he has one bloody note that he puts over everything. If I’m asked to contribute to back metal vocals, I feel the same challenge as for anything else, like when I’m asked to write a piece for an orchestra. I have the feeling that you have to offer something to people, you have to keep developing.

I also felt that I wanted to reach another level in the experimental stuff, in the melodic stuff but also in the brutal stuff. I’m very happy with what came out and, of course, this wish of mine completely goes together with Santura’s wish for the music, because he came with the idea of the choirs for example, to have a couple of places where there’s just a little bit of a choir for a specific moment. I loved that idea, so I also joined the choirs and wrote the notes for the choirs. We had some really cool people to record the thing for us. And then it just comes with the inspiration, because there were also some songs where Santura would say like: “Hey, I think I want to have a melody in the chorus, for example. I want to have melodic vocals.” We allowed ourselves to try it out. We’ll see in a few years if that was successful or not, I guess, but it’s really coming from the need to make the richest possible album. And since Santura is such a perfectionist, we spent endless hours just trying to make sure that this is really the best we can do.

V. Santura
: I think we just did for every song what the song needed, that was the main approach. It’s not like a conscious thing that we said before writing the album or like we wanted to have bigger arrangements. We just let the ideas flow, especially during the songwriting. If we had the feeling that it needed some melodic vocals then this time we just said: “Ok let’s go with it”. With the two or three previous albums we would not do that because we would have the feeling: “Oh, we can’t do this, this is not black metal” and we would have these genre boundaries on us. This time we just said: “Fuck that! Let’s not have any boundaries. Let’s just do what we feel is right and what we want to do.” Moreover, the thing is that Morean has developed a lot his voice throughout the last few years and I especially like his dark crunchy melodic vocals, with those subtle vocals that he’s doing. I think that’s really his big strength and it’s a good thing to feature that. Concerning the female vocals, two songs feature choir parts and it just felt right for those songs to have those choir parts. We didn’t want to fake them with synths, which are also cool sometimes, but those parts really asked for this, so this is why we did it. Those female lead vocals we have on the last song on the album, “On Fever’s Wings”, are actually my favorite part on the entire album. That’s the best thing we ever did in our history [laughs] and there is no discussion about those! When I got those takes from the singer we worked with, her name is Safa Heraghi and she’s from Tunisia, I had tears in my eyes. I couldn’t believe what she did because we just let her do her own thing and give it a shot. I was so blown away; I couldn’t believe what she did. For me it is the best thing we’ve ever had on an album [chuckles].

This is only Morean’s third album with the band, but his contribution to the music seems to be of great importance. Would you say that he has actually contributed to bring Dark Fortress to a higher level?

V. Santura: Yes, I would agree. I mean he did not write so much music but he’s actually the best composer in the band, obviously, because he’s doing this for a living: he’s a professional classical composer in the Netherlands and quite successful with that. Well, he’s probably the best musician I’ve ever worked with and his creativity when it comes to his vocals and lyrics is amazing. I think that he definitely brought us on a new level. And it’s very, very cool and easy to cooperate with that guy, yeah. He’s one of my oldest friends, so it is great to be in a band with him.

« I think that what I’ve learnt the most (from Tom Warrior) is: “dare to think out of the box.” »

The album revolves around a quite elaborated concept about a cursed sun and questioning the human psyche and soul, etc. It’s quite complex. Where did all that come from? Is there a parallel to be made with our world and civilization? Is there like a metaphor behind this?

Morean: Not really. I mean, not consciously. You can see this metaphor but I guess it comes out of two sources. One source is of course the music because the songs are usually written with no specific lyrics or subjects in mind. That means that, when I write the lyrics, I have to, of course, do something with what the music tells me. I cannot go against the feeling of the music in the words. So that is one factor and the other one is that I do try to, again, find in myself something relevant to say. To me the spiritual realm is where I find the things that fascinate me the most. So I am prone to go into apocalyptic things apparently, because every time I come up with some kind of apocalyptic scenarios. I don’t know why that is but apparently I just have a love for these things. I do also try to go further than this, so I go into my emotional abysses. I let myself be guided by my intuition. It’s like channeling things: you open the doors and you see what comes out, and sometimes it takes me to extremely strange places which feed my inspiration and give me something to actually say. It’s also been a very emotional process for me to write this and to find these things. I mean, it’s not like I just put some words together, no. There’s a very, very personal thing behind every song, actually.

Paul March contributed to the words for the song “I Am The Jigsaw Of A Mad God”. Can you tell us more about this contribution?

Morean: Paul is the main songwriter, singer and bass player of a band that we toured with called Phlefonyaar. They were supporting us on our tour with Nachtmystium and Verdelet. That guy is such a genius, it’s amazing! I mean, he writes the best lyrics in the world, he has the very best titles anybody has ever thought, it’s incredible. He designed a huge tattoo for me and I think we have the same perversions [chuckles]. So we just got along like a church on fire, basically, and I wanted to ask him to contribute one lyric just because I’m such a fan of his style. So we’re very, very happy that he contributed to this album. He did an amazing job because it fits really well to the music and it fits perfectly into the album’s concept. We are mightily honored to have a Paul lyric on our album.

We can hear some true common ground between Venereal Dawn and the latest Triptykon album Melana Chasmata. Has standing alongside and working with Tom Warrior since many years had any repercussions on you, V. Santura, on how you approach music and ultimately on Dark Fortress?

V. Santura: Well I mean for sure it influenced me, I cannot deny that and I wouldn’t. Already playing in Celtic Frost had a big impact on me because, in a way, when you play this music that is so heavy it also forms your understanding of groove. This also influenced me as a musician and songwriter. It’s a part of me, so that kind of groove has always been a part of Dark Fortress. But in some way it also has been a part of Dark Fortress before and I think that was also a reason why we started cooperating. Basically Séance from Dark Fortress was released simultaneously with Monotheist from Celtic Frost back then and the Celtic Frost guys got the record from Century Media Record and they really liked that album. I think there was a certain similarity in spirit. It’s a completely different music but nevertheless the way we expressed emotions were probably similar and that’s how we got in touch with each other, I guess. So I think there was a certain similarity back then.

But I don’t think there is too much Triptykon on the new Dark Fortress record. Maybe there was a little bit more of that in Ylem, in my opinion. This time I really consciously tried to divide as much as possible between the ideas that I had for Triptykon and the ideas that I had for Dark Fortress, because I don’t want to overlap the bands too much, you know. It‘s a pure Dark Fortress album, in my opinion. I mean, the last song “On Fever’s Wings”, if it had been arranged in a very different way it could have been turned into a Triptykon song at a certain point. But I think for all the other songs, it was clear from the very start that this would be Dark Fortress songs and not Triptykon’s songs. That’s how I feel it.

Actually I didn’t mean it was similar but that it had some common grounds …

V. Santura: Yeah, it especially has similar emotions.

For example, these kinds of vocals incantations we can hear in “I Am The Jigsaw Of A Mad God” are quite similar to those we can hear on Triptykon’s latest album…

V. Santura: The funny thing is that I actually do vocals in Triptykon on some parts but I don’t do any vocals in Dark Fortress except for one line on “I Am The Jigsaw Of A Mad God” [laughs]. So that was my only vocal’s contribution on the album so maybe we are talking about that part [laughs].

Ylem was put out almost simultaneously as Triptykon’s debut album Eparistera Daimones, and now Venereal Dawn comes out just a couple of months after Triptykon’s second album Melana Chasmata. Is this just a coincidence or…

V. Santura
: Two horrible coincidences actually, because it’s really not what I planned. It’s exactly the opposite of what I planned. But often it goes like this in life. The reason why I really tried to avoid it is that I really did not want to work simultaneously on those two albums but it happened just exactly that way and it really fucked me up [laughs]. After the production of those two albums I felt really empty and I needed some time to recover because it was such a big amount of work. The thing is we worked on Venereal Dawn in October and November, that was the studio time, and the plan was to finish Venereal Dawn by the end of November having it mixed and everything. But I was just really running out of time and energy and the whole Triptykon production was scheduled for December and January and, in order not fuck up Venereal Dawn and Triptykon’s production, we had to postpone the entire mix to spring. That‘s why the album came out a couple of months later. The thing is that it’s basically happened that way: I was recording guitar for Dark fortress and then I had to go to rehearsal to Zurich for two or three days, come back home and record guitars again. That was a double duty that I really tried to avoid but it just happened like that. It’s a coincidence, it’s really not what I planned and I hope next time we can avoid that but let’s see what the future brings.

By the way, how is it working with Tom Warrior? How would you describe your relationship with him?

V. Santura: We are band mates. He’s cool to work with on a creative basis and I think it’s a very fruitful cooperation between him and me. What I, for example, enjoy a lot is when we record guitars in the studio because he has so many crazy ideas and he’s thinking very much out of the box. He has a very different thinking and understanding of music than anybody that I know. The fact he’s just making things differently is probably the secret of his success and that’s also the reason why Triptykon sounds quite unique and isn’t really comparable with other bands. Especially nowadays, it’s almost impossible to stand out of the mass and have your own unique sound so that everybody can recognize you. But I think with Triptykon we actually achieved that, and that’s a lot due to Tom’s approach to music and the way he’s working. I enjoyed that a lot!

What have you learned to his contact, as he’s such an influential artist?

V. Santura: Well, I think that what I’ve learnt the most is: “dare to think out of the box.”

« I hope the album will be a success but I can’t predict that. I think that I have a very uncommercial taste. »

Not only did Dark Fortress and Triptykon release their albums almost simultaneously, but three members of the band, including you two, also had a new album with Noneuclid that came out recently…

V. Santura
: Yeah, but at least the thing is that, I love that Noneuclid album and I’m so glad it’s finally being released, but this is not really so brand new. It’s nothing that I’ve worked on at the same time because then I would be in a mental asylum [laughs]. Actually that album was already finished a couple of years ago. It just took so much time until we found a record company that was interested in releasing it because I think that most guys in the business thought it’s too weird or too strange or whatever. Record companies don’t seem to take any risks nowadays and Noneuclid is very, very uncommercial, I guess. They just didn’t know how to sell it, so it took us a few years until the album actually got released. Basically one year ago we got approached by that Finnish record company, Blood Music, that now released the album and they said like: “Hey didn’t you do this album? What actually happened to it? We would really be interested in this” and so the cooperation happened. It’s nothing that we worked on recently, honestly. It’s been already a few years in the drawer.

What is the status of this band? Is it a project or a band?

V. Santura: Well, it’s hard to say. It is a kind of project. It’s not a regularly working band. It’s a project for special occasions. When we do something, it’s super intense but then sometimes nothing happens for two or three years. Actually, in the last years, we did two different concerts with two different orchestras that were quite special and everything has been recorded professionally. With those recordings we want to make the third album. It’s just that we need to find the time to edit it and do some rerecording. So there are some concrete plans for a third Noneuclid album actually. We may find the time somewhere in 2015 to work on these things. We all think that these cooperations were really special. I told you before that Morean is a professional classical composer in Holland and a few years ago he got that job where he had to write a piece of music for the Metropole Orkest and he was able to choose the soloists. He asked those people if it would be okay to use his death meal band as soloists and they agreed. So he wrote a classical piece for orchestra and Noneuclid as soloist. We think it was something really special, not like that typical “classical meets metal” that you see in Wacken nowadays, which I find in some parts a little bit cheesy, to be honest [chuckles]. Of course, it’s a matter of taste but at least I think it’s something very far away from that bubblegum Hollywood orchestra meets metal stuff. I’m quite excited about that actually. I think 2015 will be the year where we can work on these things and make the third album.

V. Santura, you’re also a producer and own the Woodshed Studios in Germany. And it’s obviously an advantage for a band to have a producer in its ranks, especially financially, I guess. But don’t you ever need to have an outside look on you music?

V. Santura: Yeah, I do need that. Especially with the last Dark Fortress album, I was having a hard time to mix it, to be honest. When I tried to mix it in November and was just running out of time and energy, I had the feeling at that time that I just couldn’t pull it off. When I started again in spring, it was a nightmare for me. Actually a good friend of mine helped me: Michael Zech, he’s also playing guitar in Secrets Of The Moon and also has a studio in the Munich area. Actually he just came over, sitting in my sofa and giving comments on what I was doing; that was extremely helpful. Usually, with the previous productions, I didn’t really have a problem with having that double duty of being the producer and also being a band member, but with the last two albums, the Dark Fortress and Triptykon albums, that was very difficult for me. I would also one day find it quite interesting to work with an external producer, just to get those outside ideas and maybe to just lay down and focus and concentrate on my own playing and on the music, while giving the technical duties to somebody else. It would be nice, for sure.

Do you intend to do that for the next Dark Fortress album?

V. Santura
: I don’t think we will do that for the Dark Fortress album due to financial reasons. I think if we would go to an external studio and produce it the way it should be produced, it would cost… I don’t know how much money, but we would have to spend at least five times more than I actually got for the album [chuckles]. It would be way above ten thousand Euros for sure and we don’t have that budget. So there is no option to do that with Dark Fortress, I think. Rather with Triptykon.

But who knows, maybe the album will be a great success…

V. Santura: Yeah, I mean, I hope the album will be a success but I can’t predict that. I think that I have a very uncommercial taste. Just because I love something doesn’t mean that the main part of the metal scene will love it. I’m just curious how things will evolve. But I don’t think that we will work with an external producer with Dark Fortress, because we would have to quadruple our budget to make that happen and be satisfied with it [laughs].

Do you have any other projects for the near future?

V. Santura: Yeah. Relaxing [laughs]. No, I mean, of course we will work on new albums and all that but, you know, I just have three releases in a few months out. After the last twelve months of nonstop work on our own music, at the moment I think it would be very, very important and very healthy for me to do something outside of the music such as going to the mountains, hiking and do stuff like that just to clear the mind a little bit. Maybe in a few months we can talk about new projects again. But at the moment I am happy with being uncreative, on purpose, and just doing my regular studio stuff and mixing some other bands. That’s all I am doing at the moment.

You said you will go hiking, etc. Do you actually need that kind of stuff to be creative?

V. Santura: No. It’s not that I really need hiking or any special stuff. What I need to be creative is basically silence, peace of mind, the possibility to relax a little bit and to sink into my own musical world. It’s like when I sit in the studio all day and listen and analyze metal music for eight or ten hours, the last thing I want to do in the evening is grab my guitar and try to write music. Basically I need some break and silence and no distraction to be creative.

Morean’s interview conducted by phone 13th, august 2014 by Spaceman.
V. Santura’s interview conducted by phone 19th august 2014 by Spaceman.
Retranscription: Thibaut Saumade.
Traduction and introduction: Spaceman.

Dark Fortress Official website: www.darkfortress.org.

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