The last in our series of Interviews with Dungeon Synth artists I bring you Old Tower from the Netherlands – enjoy!
* Sooo How did you get into dark dungeon synth? Were you influenced by Burzum or other ambient black metal?
I can’t really remember how I got to know the genre, but I was (and still am) fascinated by
the ambient works of Burzum which were essentially my first introductions to the ambient
and synth genre. I’m not directly influenced by Mortiis, Burzum or any other artists, but I
rather try to combine all the things I listen to into one thing of my own.
* Have you played in “traditional” metal bands before becoming Old Tower?
I’m active in other bands at the moment, all active in the Black Metal genre.
* How do you write your songs? Do you have a mood or feeling in mind before you compose or do you just start jamming and see where the mood takes you?
I never compose. I just write on the spot. Most things I do are all improvised. It definitely
helps to be in a certain mood and mindset before recording. I’d say it’s a necessity, rather.
“I can’t say it was a textbook ‘astral projection’, but it certainly felt
like I was not part of this world anymore.”
* On your bandcamp you talk of “channeling” your music. Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones believes that too he says you never write songs you act more like an antenna and draw them down from the Universe – have you ever done any really channeling or astral projection? If so what were those experiences like?
I’ve had my fair share of strange experiences, yes. The experiences were mostly negative. I felt an immense disconnection to the physical world, to the point I was struggling to find what was real and what was not. I can’t say it was a textbook ‘astral projection’, but it certainly felt like I was not part of this world anymore.
* Have you ever used any mind expanding drugs to write music? Acid, mushrooms, psychedelic THC etc
I used to be interested in things like this, but due to negative experiences I don’t and will not use them anymore.
* How do you record your music? A pro tools set up? Garage band? Are you self taught or do you have a friend that helps out with the mixes etc?
Let’s just say I record in primitive conditions, nothing more to add.
“The LP sold out within a matter of days between both
* Congratulations on selling out the vinyl pressing of your first full length album “The Rise of the Specter’. Were you surprised by the fans response to this record?
At first the plan was to only press 100 copies, but I’m glad we did 200 in the end. The
response was very unexpected. The LP sold out within a matter of days between both
* How do you prefer to listen to music yourself? What’s your favorite format? As many Dark Dungeon Synth artists do love the cassette format!
I have no real preference for a format. Each format has its charm. At the moment I actually
prefer the CD format, since this is how I discovered underground music and not through
tapes or vinyl. I’m having a nostalgia trip, so to speak!
“When it’ll finally come to the point I’ll
play live it won’t be your regular music show, but something more. I like to think big.”
* Have you ever played live? Is this something that has any interest for you?
I’ve been toying around with the idea of playing live. When it’ll finally come to the point I’ll
play live it won’t be your regular music show, but something more. I like to think big. That’s
all I can say at the moment.
* How is the metal music scene in Hilversum Holland? Is there much appreciation for what you do locally? or do you prefer to think globally?
I think mostly for myself.
“Personal experiences, worship of the occult, ancient times.”
* Many of the Dungeon Synth artist I have spoken to recently have been inspired by Video games and films as much as music – where do you draw your influences from?
Anything. Personal experiences, worship of the occult, ancient times.
* Speaking of films as inspiration – did you ever see the Lord of the Rings films? If so what are your thoughts on them?
I’ve seen them and I liked them. Not sure if I like them still, since it’s been a while since I saw
all of them. The Hobbit movies were great, though.
* You’ve been pretty prolific with your song writing – what can we expect from Old Tower next?
There is a new full-length in the works. Only time will tell when it’ll be ready.
Following on with our series on Dungeon Synth this week we have Justin from New Jersey based dark ambient act Ranseur – read on
* First off how do you describe your music to those who have not heard it before? Dark Dungeon music or?
I prefer the term dungeon synth. Obviously it’s a recently name for a style that’s been around for over twenty five years and I’m not usually the biggest fan of subgenre tags, but this is an exception. When I first got into this kind of music there was an attitude I would always see where it was described as an inferior form of dark ambient. Because of its proximity to black metal and because of the fantasy themes there was always a lot of misunderstanding about it in the dark ambient world. The whole medieval, kind of cheesy synth thing. What we’ve been saying since the dungeon synth revival is that it isn’t a form of dark ambient, and that it isn’t really a form of ambient music at all. So the term dungeon synth has changed people’s perception of the style in a positive way. It sounds like a small thing but it led to a lot of excitement and the creation of a community around 2012-2013.
I also use some elements of harsh noise, but only as a slight influence, not as a real hybrid of the two. I use a background of unmoving harsh noise in all the songs So I would call Ranseur dungeon synth with a noise influence.
* How did you become Ranseur? Were you in regular metal bands first (Like Mortiis was in Emperor?) or is your background in electronics or video games instead?
Although my roots are in metal I have never been in a regular metal band. Ranseur grew out of two earlier projects, Emptying Place which was folky dark ambient, and Cold Furnace which was noise influenced metal. I started both in 2004. After a while Cold Furnace moved from doom metal into a kind of weird black metal, I did an ep called Death Ecstatic in 2012, but ended the project soon after. When I heard about the dungeon synth revival I was starting to feel like I wanted to be involved in metal again, and that turned out to be a good outlet. I started playing in a full band a little before Ranseur though called Human Adult Band, which plays a kind of psychedelic noise rock. Heavy Flipper influence. But that band was around in New Jersey long before I joined. All the bands I’ve been in were noise rock, but I also do an actionist industrial percussion project which is solo.
* How did you come up with the name? And what’s the correct pronunciation?
I just wanted something simple and biting so I thought I’d choose a weapon. I remembered the word ranseur from when I played dungeons and dragons as a kid. It’s a type of polearm, kind of like a partisan. I pronounce it ran-sir which I hope is right, French into English can get weird. There are some youtube videos that claim to show you how to pronounce it.
* You’ve been going for about 4-5 years now – what would you say has been the main thing you have learned in creating music in this time?
The last few years have been a whirlwind. Besides Ranseur and finally playing in a full band I also got involved in the small press world doing some fucked up books. The most important thing I’ve learned is to stick to your guns if you have an unusual idea. Sometimes people have confused looks on their faces, but I’d rather that than to invest my time playing a style the typical way. That’s part of the reason Ranseur has a kind of unorthodox sound and artwork, I really wanted it to feel personal on a lot of levels. And the other thing is to focus on the rhythm.
“There’s always a focus (besides Frozen Valley) on fantasy and feelings of nostalgia”
* How do you go about creating new music? Do you start each album off with a theme and work towards that or do you let the creative process flow through you and then base them on what you come up with?
Most of the albums I just let it flow while I was writing, I usually name the songs after I write them. The album Frozen Valley had a more clear theme from the beginning because I wanted to do something a little bit different with that and do a more winter synth related album. So that was all natural themes. But the other albums that are fantasy, I just kind of named them something that described how they made me feel. But there’s always a focus (besides Frozen Valley) on fantasy and feelings of nostalgia. Doing Ranseur has helped me return to some interests I had as a child and reminded me of certain tv shows, movies, and books that I was into at that time. That was one of the reasons I was so excited about the idea of making dungeon synth. There is this kind of naïve feeling that I had lost over the years, and a lot of us have found a way to tap into that. But I usually keep the concepts of each album fairly abstract.
* How long does it take you to write each song?
The earlier albums didn’t take as long and the first one, which was more of a demo, I cracked that one out pretty fast. But the last few have taken a lot longer to write. On Sage in the Tall Hills I started working with different rhythmic ideas, polyrhythms and sort of winding around the beat. I’ll generally work on a song and do many versions of it over a period of weeks to get it good, and for Obsidian Throne I scrapped a lot of songs that weren’t good enough because I wanted the rhythmic subtlety to be as strong as possible. But sometimes you get lucky and something comes out really interesting in only a few days. All of the songs are modal and most have a droning fifth. So I’ll usually write a theme and practice variations, and I’ll usually play it many different keys to get the right one. I’ll normally finish the songs all at the end when I sculpt the noise part separately for all the tracks and then mix them.
* Recording wise what sort of gear do you use? Dedicated software like protools or?
I have a much more stripped down approach than what has become common in dungeon synth. I mainly use a PCM based digital keyboard, although I have used square wave synths and analogue synths a little. All the songs are two tracks, one with the synth and one for the noise, so I don’t do extensive overdubbing and I don’t use VSTs at all. Some of the albums used lo fi microphones. I use pretty bad software, I always keep it simple and don’t use many post-recording effects.
I might add that I don’t have a problem with other projects using more modern or polished methods with all the new software. My focus is mainly on writing and performing a single solid keyboard part, but any approach is fine with me as a listener.
* In your mind how best should people enjoy your music? Out in the woods? On their daily commute to work?
I think it depends on the person, I don’t really have that so much in mind when I make the albums. But I do listen to dungeon synth a lot when I’m driving.
“I’ve thought about turning the noise track on and then walking out with a battle axe or something”
* Have you ever considered doing live shows? I saw Mortiis play in 1999 in London – he had a backing track and acted out parts to the songs throughout the set.
That’s awesome you saw Mortiis, but yeah I have thought about it. There are no immediate plans but I would like to do it sometime this year or next year. Because my version of the style only uses one keyboard track it wouldn’t be much of an issue. I play live with other projects but I always felt if I played with Ranseur it would have to be at a metal show, and there haven’t been very many in New Jersey in the past few years. We’ll see what happens. I don’t know if I’d do theatrical stuff or not. I’ve thought about turning the noise track on and then walking out with a battle axe or something, but nothing more involved than that.
“I’m definitely influenced very heavily by The Haters, The Rita, and Sudden Infant.”
* What artists inspire you?
My primary influences with dungeon synth are the artists I heard prior to the revival, Burzum, Mortiis, Vond, Dead Can Dance, Trollmann Av Ildtoppberg, and Summoning. But some of the stuff that came out earlier in the revival had an effect on me, Erang, Lord Lovidicus, Til Det Bergens Skyggene. But the project that really made me want to start playing this style was Abandoned Places. I’d never thought of playing this kind of music in a way that was that weird and that dissonant, my idea was to use a wall of noise instead of dissonance and keep it modal. On the noise side I’m definitely influenced very heavily by The Haters, The Rita, and Sudden Infant.
But despite all this shit I’m saying about noise I was also listening to a lot of Manowar, Omen, and Dio when I started Ranseur. Because despite the fact that I’m playing an obscure electronic style and mixing in all of this weirdness with the noise, I wanted the project to have the feeling of metal at its heart.
* What can we expect from you for the next album?
The next album will continue the more rhythmic focus of the last two but will have more percussion (all directly from the synth in real time though, no overdubbing). It will be a little more technical than the other records. It’ll be a little noisier than Obsidian Throne because I went with a softer hiss on that one. At this point it will probably be called Goblin Music, and it will probably have a tape release on Path of Silence Records who released my previous tape Obsidian Throne.
* Any final words?
Thanks for the interview and everybody who checked out the project.
Continue our series of Interview with Dark Dungeon Synth artists this week, today I speak with Elric Uk Dungeon Synth artist deeply inspired by Sword and Sorcery Author Michael Moorcock – read on
* Can you give us a history of Elric, How it all began.
I just deleted my original answer to this question because it was too morbid.
* Were you in any metal bands before you started Elric?
* What were your musical influences, to me most metal guys who play “dark dungeon music” were inspired by Mortiis and Burzum..you?
Burzum and Beethoven are my favorite artists. Dauði Baldrs is perhaps
the greatest album of the 20th century.
* Do you take inspiration from video games and or films as well as music?
8 Bit video games yes. Films not so much.
* Did you take piano lessons as a kid or are you self taught?
Yes, the former.
* What’s the songwriting process for you like?
Capture inspiration in the moment. Little to no revision afterwards.
* How about recording? Do you use protools? garage band or? Again are you self taught or do you have a friend that went to audio school who helps you out?
I do everything myself, no help.
* Have you played any live shows yet? If not do you have any intention of doing so? If so how do you see the show? Just you with a keyboard or some level of theatrics would be involved?
Unlikely to ever do live shows, but have theorized how the live
version would be performed. It would not include theatrics.
“I was so inspired by the Elric series – in particular the character himself, rather than the story per se, someone I found I personally identified with deeply on various levels.”
* The name Elric is well known as a character from the Michael Moorcock novels right? When did you get into reading them? As they were very popular in the 70s!
Indeed, there can be only one Elric. I have to admit I was a latecomer, and only began reading Moorcock in 2016 (most of what I read is non-fiction….I live in my own fantasy world and barely require additional fantasy day to day). I was so inspired by the Elric series – in particular the character himself, rather than the story per se, someone I found I personally identified with deeply on various levels. So I moved to create this project as a tribute to it. Since then I have explored the Moorcock multiverse, and I do consider him on a level near-ish – but by no means on par with – Herbert and Tolkien.
* Sword and Sorcery fiction on the whole (Tolkien, Robert Howard etc) was big in the late 60s and 70s but it was usually seen as the realm of dungeon and dragon playing “nerds” Are you surprised by the renewed interest in this style of fiction in the last 10-12 years? And the fact that now all the “cool kids” love shows like Game of Thrones?
Not surprised. LOTR film trilogy began the repopularization,
subsequent cultural sweep has been thoroughly predictable.
“Tolkien of course is a genius of the highest order.”
* Outside of Moorcock – who do you rate in the world of Sword and Sorcery fiction?
I prefer history to fantasy. Will Durant is my favorite author.
Frank Herbert is my favorite fiction author. Dostoyevsky 2nd
favorite. Tolkien of course is a genius of the highest order. I am
intensely picky with how I spend my (infinitely finite) time with
books. Fire and Ice is a great film.
* What did you think of the latest Lord of the Rings movies and the Hobbit films? (I loved the Hobbit novel more as a kid but loved the LOTR films more than the Hobbit trilogy)
Lord of the Rings trilogy was passable – barely. The Hobbit trilogy
was pure abomination (in the Herbertian sense).
“War is an ongoing symptom of human civilization”
* Moorcock was hugely influenced by German writer Bertolt Brecht and he was greatly inspired by world war 1 (as was Tolkien) do you think we shall see a new wave of writers traumatized by the constant wars in the Middle east in coming years?
Nothing new. War is an ongoing symptom of human civilization. I
don’t see why recent wars would inspire any differently.
* You released 2 albums in Jan of 2017 – what more can we expect from you in 2017?
Albums 3 & 4 were released April 1st. Watch for them to arrive soon
at some cassette distros.
* Any final words?
Thanks for the interest in the music.