Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Alkerdeel - Lede

Alkerdeel is one of the many bands that follows the traditional Norwegian black metal path, but their album Lede also adds in a bit of an unconventional approach, and it’s fairly decent. In general terms, there is a really strong Under a Funeral Moon vibe here. It’s worth mentioning because Alkerdeel has a much stronger than average Darkthrone influence. More specifically, the amount of repetition and the bass’s prominent position in the mix harken back to the sounds on that particular Darkthrone album. Since the band goes off the rails a bit, you almost get a subdued Furze vibe, but the release isn’t quite so experimental as that, so maybe it’s just the cover art creating a superficial connection (“fürze” means “farts” in German after all.) The well placed contributions from Mories (of Gnaw Their Tongues etc. fame) also give the album a small push away from conventional sounds.

Outside of the traditional influences in the dirty primitive riffing, a couple of stylistic deviations pop up throughout the release. Alkerdeel’s particular take on dissonance shows up both in tremolo picking atypical intervals and inharmoniously placed bass notes. These bass lines often follow a shuffling kind of rhythmic pattern that further pulls them outside of the main harmony - it’s an interesting effect. One of the better, but dragged out, moments has a spoken word interlude. There, the bass slowly marches notes over a quietly pulsing and crackling wall of guitar notes. Sometimes the tremolo picking jumps from the low end with quick flashes onto the higher frets and strings. The main feel though is a familiar one, like the vibe you get from the simple descending four-note pattern on the track “Lede.”

The intro and effects on “Gråt Deleenaf” are by Mories, and they fit into the music quite well. The distant howling notes especially create a strong sense of tension and discomfort, a clear break from Mories’ usual habit of mixing unadulterated chaos into his effects. His restraint here meshes into the album’s overall atmosphere and mirrors the effect’s light touches elsewhere on the release. It’s a clear hallmark of genuine and thoughtful collaboration, rather than a mere guest appearance solely for the sake of padding the liner notes, but the song itself is still a tepid affair. On the topic of Alkerdeel’s weakness, it boils down to creating songs from a bunch of riffs that are only just “fine” or serviceable. It will work at any given moment because of the interesting mood, but too many ideas seem to circle in on themselves.

Lede’s quality and atmosphere make it good enough to be engaging throughout the entire runtime, but it unfortunately doesn’t leave much of an impression afterwards. It’s only particularly strong point is how the vocal performance is cleverly panned with reverb to create a huge amount of depth to the vocals during sustained screams. So file this one under “likeable but forgettable.” It’s coherent and has its interesting moments, but almost nothing other than it’s somewhat unique approach sets Lede apart from the incalculable volume of other releases out there.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Sassu Wunnu Live at The Wreck Room, April 30th, 2016

Sassu Wunnu, one of New Hampshire's few high-quality metal acts, released a sad announcement fairly recently. The band is planing to go on an indefinite hiatus, and luckily enough I was able to catch them live during what may be one of their final shows. Below is a brief write-up on their performance.

Sassu Wunnu is the kind of band that blurs your usual genre lines, so it's not ridiculous to take note of their metal influences ranging from doom, black, and sludge. There are moments where they bask in big fuzzy sounds, rhythmic stop and starts, wild tremolo picking, and carefully arpeggiated melodies. Despite the fuzzy tones of the power trio's strings, they were fairly tight in their timing which was further highlighted by the crisp drumming of Puke Commander as his furious movements animated the glorious tattoos across his chest. 

The key strength of the band though, and something rather rare, is how well the bass and guitar play against each other. Trading off melodies like they were both guitar players, but never delving into the bass wankery of technical bands, Lykos and King Trash held a great sense of pacing. Some call and response, a nice guitar solo, bass taking the high melody, it was all really cool stuff that never stifled the band's sound. It was even more surprising how well this worked live, because threesomes often struggle to simultaneously maintain a big sound and dynamic song structures. Sassu Wunnu played well and the show was an admirable sendoff for an interesting piece of New England metal.

In light of the band's forthcoming hiatus, it's worth mentioning that you can also check out Malacath. Malacath is the solo project of Sassu Wunnu's vocalist and bassist Lycos, and the project is currently quite active. According to the project's Facebook page, it looks like we should keep an eye out for two upcoming splits.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Oranssi Pazuzu - Värähtelijä

This is an absolute beast of an album. Värähtelijä is an entrancing psychedelic black metal experience that has more highlights in its hour-plus run time than seems possible. It’s an almost overwhelming amount of remarkably cool moments, but they are melded together so well that the album’s hypnotic feel never wavers even in the slightest. Incredibly, three of the tracks are over ten minutes long but you’ll end up feeling the album’s magnitude rather than its duration. In a way, Oranssi Pazuzu also flips the normal expectation of how black metal, and metal generally uses instruments. Värähtelijä is something special.

This album is heavily dominated by the rhythm section, to the point where the trance-like drumming is often the focal point. It’s not some kind of dull tribal drone either, the beats are far too unusual and addicting. Calling the syncopation on this album creative is as much as an understatement as saying Escher was creative with drawing stairs: the repetition always seems to be progressing onward. Bass lines are the other side of how the band flips the usual order of the instruments. They fill in the melody for long stretches, weaving into the drum’s rhythm and pulling the listener into the low-end of the mix. Vocals and guitars don’t sit idly by however, they pop into more traditional melodic roles, and also often accompany the music as trippy echoey ornaments.

If it wasn’t clear from reading about the album’s hypnotic qualities and rhythmic focus, this isn’t the kind of release that has many riffs to speak of. Still, there are a handful of incredibly strong moments in the guitar work. “Hypnotisoitu viharukous” for example has a really cool interchange between a fast riff and a slower chord progression. Both parts are somewhat stripped down versions of what the bass is doing, but an octave higher (see, I told you they flip things upside down). The guitar’s contribution makes a huge impact though because it add a harsher and chaotic element to the melody, which is then taken to the extreme in the song’s effects laden outro. It’s a role the effects play really well throughout the album in how they always fit just right into the composition rather than sticking out like a guitar player just screwing around with a fancy new effects pedal. See for example how all of the howls, beeps, and noises fit into the earlier part of “Vasemman käden hierarkia.”

Some exceptionally cool bits are worth pointing out individually. On “Lahja” rhythmic interaction between the strings, the xylophone, and tom drums is nothing short of stunning. It also shifts the song’s flow in a really intriguing way when the xylophone’s chimes go from a 4/4 to 6/8 feel, a simple touch that adds worlds of interest. The way that “Vasemman käden hierarkia” swings back into the earlier motif at about twelve minutes in by incrementally adding drums, bass, and vocals to the flanged tremolo-picked note is absolutely brilliant. It simultaneously brings back the song’s earlier mood in the bass melody while also creating a new feel to keep the track engaging. Then closing it off with cracked out yelling, screaming, and eventually plain old fire noises really drills home the song’s thematic progression.

Värähtelijä is a hell of a ride because it has such an earthy rhythmic side to its vast spacey sounds. Even the relatively weaker track Havuluu is really strong, it’s repetitive two-note theme mutates into a howling mess that’s so unhinged that you have to love it. The album’s mellower sections and the tame closer “Valveavaruus’s” drum free parts are stern reminders of how compelling overall pulse is. I remember the band’s debut release having two really powerful tracks, here it’s all seven. Oranssi Pazuzu abandoned a lot of the traditional rules of making metal, and still crafted a top notch release.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Otargos - Xeno Kaos

Otargos - Xeno Kaos

After being fairly impressed by Otargos’ No God No Satan album from 2010, I was initially excited to give a listen to this 2015 alum, Xeno Kaos. While it's not the biggest letdown around, I was fairly disappointed to find that this once interesting blackened death metal band had tried and failed to recreate Behemoth’s Demigod album. Hell, it even has the vaguely eastern sounding lead guitar work, similar vocals, and triplet chugging patterns; but it ultimately falls short of that influential album. To be clear, there is nothing really shoddy or awful about the performance or production, but the composition has the stale taste of rehashed material and uninspired ideas.

Xeno Kaos is the kind of album whose aggression is clearly unquestionable; it’s rhythmic, heavy, crisp, and keeps a consistently crushing atmosphere throughout. It just feels so soulless. If you take the bleak approach of looking at the songs in strictly a melodic sense, they are very predictable and flat. Simple cadences occasionally broken up by inconsequential chugging fills. Sometimes the high end is filled up with tremolo picked notes for entire bars of music, but in a way the removes the melody from black metal and the rhythm from death metal. The quick palm muted 8-note chug patterns sometimes help give the impression of creating more dynamic parts, but it’s ultimately still very predictable.

If it seems unfair to chalk up Xeno Kaos as a second (or third) rate imitation of Demigod, then just give “Dark Mechanicus” a quick listen. This has to be the epitome of dumb homogenized lowest common denominator blackened death metal. Triplet triplet rest trip-trip-chug bullshit rinse and repeat. It’s a half decent bridge or two painfully stretched out into the length of an entire song. Also, you can tell without even listening to the album that I’m not overplaying the Behemoth influence, one of the songs is titled “Chariots ov the Godz” after all.

As noted above, Dagoth sounds a lot like Nergal, barking out each extremely compressed line with a steady, rather monotone, delivery. A more dynamic approach would have really helped flesh out the album’s straightforward approach without detracting from the band’s blunt force trauma approach to music. Speaking of which, the blasting kick drum really bleeds into the space the bass ought to operate in. It makes it seem like the double bass bits have a constant and clicky open-e bass strumming pattern. Frankly, this isn’t all that far from how parts of the songs are actually written, so it’s likely a composition issue rather than a mixing problem.

In the end it averages out as a wash of an album. The unremarkable songwriting plus the hyper produced and competent musicianship makes for a perfectly neutral experience that’s well suited to situations where your attention is focused elsewhere. I don’t mean that as some kind of veiled insult either, it truly is a very moderate experience. Aside from how bad “Dark Mechanicus” is, I struggle to remember much of anything about this release. Sure, bits of some of the songs have their moments and it’s heavy overall, it’s just not the kind of music you’d expect to come back to after hearing it once.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Nyciene - S/T

Nyciene is a black metal project whose debut demo starts off with a striking intro melody. Its main riff has this ridiculously addicting 8th-note slide at the end of it that keeps drawing you into the song. With a raw but quite full sound, the band clearly flirts with Burzumesque minimalism by delving into trance-like repetitive riffing. It’s simple, but the melodies have an added layer of tension by hiding under the steady pulse of the lower notes. This makes the intro in particular much more intriguing than a simple droning riff would be, which makes a lot of sense because the rest of the music is relatively dynamic and high energy in comparison.

This demo is around 20 minutes long, but still pretty lush with ideas. The initial Burzum feel is fleeting after the first track. It’s an interesting facet to the band’s minimalism; they conjure up a great deal of atmosphere by tapping into both first and second wave black metal riffing styles. The production’s clarity and the doomy atmosphere however make the demo feel very much like a modern release. In fact, despite all of the fuzzy-crunchy tones in the wall of sound, a lot of care has been put into making this mix work quite well. You can hear it pretty obviously earlier on in “Mercy in Quietus” with it’s strong (but not attention seeking) bass and well placed synth noises.

Naturally, when the music dips into the more straightforward riffs, the drums and vocals are there to flesh out the musical space. It works well because the guitars are a smidge low in the mix, which helps to highlight the band’s dynamics. For example, check out the really cool cymbal work during the bass part on “Mercy in Quietus.” After what seems like too short of a time, this demo closes out with some droning notes and ethereal effects. Even as someone with little patience for ambient nonsense filler, the finale makes complete sense in the context of the demo’s minimalist approach and rich atmosphere.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Cult of Erinyes - Transcendence

Cult of Erinyes’ “Transcendence” EP is a very enticing sample of what this Belgian black metal band has to offer. To be frank, the music here sounds a lot like Mayhem (and that’s not even including the well done, but superfluous cover of “Pagan Fears.”) Specifically, the EP sounds like someone took a musical midpoint between DMDS and Chimera. The riffing is sometimes more Euronymous sounding, other bits are more like Blasphemer. It’s especially obvious in the vocals too, which have deep nasally lines reminiscent of Attila and also invoke the catchy rhythmic delivery of Maniac (but in a good way).

Still, it’s best to think of the influence as a ballpark for this EP’s sound. This isn’t a straight up clone band or even an uninspired imitation. “Transcendence” has some incredibly memorable vocal lines that tend to ride on top of the rhythm rather than mirroring it. The intelligible lyrics will leave you reciting bits of “Degrees of Solitude” or the apt line of “remember my name” that is repeatedly barked out on the EP’s eponymous track. “Transcendence” is the stronger of the two tracks due to the rolling 6/8 meter’s interplay with the slower fanfare sections. Also, it’s really cool how pulled back and subtle the double kick blasting is as the track closes out - this really preserves the song’s atmosphere.

Although the Mayhem influence is heavy here, the material is obviously far from one-note because of how creative and memorable the two original tracks are. The EP is definitely interesting enough to make me want to check out some more of the band’s music than only these two solid songs.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Wederganger - Halfvergaan ontwaakt

Wederganger’s first full length release, Halfvergaan ontwaakt is a deliriously trippy foray into mid-tempo black metal that is infused with black n’ roll, done just the way it ought to be. Utilizing a slew of simple and straightforward riffs that you may expect to hear from bands like Craft or later Carpathian Forest, Wederganer isn’t afraid to drop tremolo picking entirely for long stretches. In their willingness to somewhat give up the usual wall of sound the band is able to explore a broad range of dark and unusual sounds. Most striking of all the band’s experiments are the showstopping clean vocals that, while used in moderation throughout the album, are still incredibly powerful and commanding.

Even setting the vocals aside for a moment (as hard as that may be) this is a really well done album that would be hard to forget even if it was an instrumental one. While bands like Glorior Belli have flirted with incorporating rock influences and been less than entirely successful, Wederganger keeps this album incredibly catchy without devolving into overreliance on trite rock licks. The dark and muffled guitar tone carries enough crunchy edge to make the tremolo picked sections entirely convincing and also lets the calmer moments have an added layer of depth. Even the interchange between the more psychedelic watery vibrato moments and traditional black metal is itself given an interlude with “Schimmenspel.” It’s song that relies on a lonely piano whose morosely reserved melodies echo parts the emotional palate found elsewhere on the album.

One really great thing about the riffs is just how bouncy they feel. I don’t mean this in a dumb rhythmic chugging kind of way, instead the riffs and staccato drumming often develop a genuine sense of leisurely flow. Even the vocal delivery has some rather interesting rhythmic patterns, which is rather unusual for black metal where the vocals normally serve as a melodic ornament. Another odd tidbit that works in the band favor is how the bass sometimes takes over the low riffs while one guitar does a high melody and the other is partly drowned out because of its subdued tone. This creates some space between the melody and rhythm, which strengthens the band’s rhythmic presence.

Now, onto the vocals. They start off amazing with a razor sharp black metal rasp brilliantly harmonized with deep somber clean vocals in the opening track. Then, with “Gelderse Drek” we get ripped apart by the vicious black metal vocals nearly on there own as the cleans add oos and aahs that create a theremin-like vibe. The absolute standouts are however “Dodendans” and “Vlammenvonnis” where you can just bask in the lush baritone notes. Despite how grand the vocals feel, they still fit well into the relatively subdued atmosphere on the album. It’s largely due to how well the lines are parsed into drawn out syllables and slow but interesting melodies. it’s so compelling that frankly the only reason I probably don’t have the lyrics memorized is because they are in Dutch (what English speaker couldn’t love words like Halfergaan and ontwaakt?)

While black n’ roll may sound like a terrible idea to some, this album is definitely a chance to see what can be done with it. It’s a unique experience and will show you how great music can come from a handful of simple riffs when a band has a bunch of talent and creativity. Wederganger have crafted an engaging, memorable, and vocally stunning album with Halfvergaan ontwaak.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Sgt. Rock - Sgt. Rock

Sgt. Rock's gritty crossover will easily interest anyone with a curiosity in the formative years of the genre. The material is also of historical interest as well to Impetigo fans with vocalist Steve-o's involvement being linked. No Visible Scars once again does a great job with the tapes, which come in military green. The J-card has an enjoyable array of pictures and images along with lyrics to a bunch of the tracks. The choice of putting this on tape was wise. It maintains the aesthetic which originally applied to the demo material provided here and it triumphantly carries the impression the original material must have had to a new group of listeners. This is still definitely a niche tape not for everyone.

The heavily punk influenced material is bookended with thrash metal charm in places. There is a sarcastic anti-war / anti-military theme which runs throughout the material. Evidence is abound. Ending the first fourteen tracks from the 1987 My Friend Lost His Face demo, "Be All You Can Be" samples the US Army commercial jingle with an epilogue of someone throwing up. "Military Time" shares a disdain for military order mimicking a wake up call and then trudging along. The subject matter adds to the tape's innate nature as a punk artifact more than a metal artifact and the influence of one subculture is more apparent than that of the other.

Sgt. Rock create an atmosphere of militant indifference and authoritarian criticism by way of a steady variety of marching riffs, trudging beats, and metallic clamor all while poking and prodding symbols of military might. The tracks from the My Friend Lost His Face demo are easily the better sounding, however still rough, cuts. The other 29 tracks are rehearsal tracks, two of which are from a March rehearsal. The April 1987 rehearsal tracks are a fun listen to in their own right. The entirety of them have added energy with some invited bystanders adding their own comments and general drunken tomfoolery in the background.

Ultimately, this tape is going to appeal to fans of crossover, Impetigo, punk, and perhaps those looking for something humorous to toss on every now and then. There are some fun tracks to scream and yell along to like "Grenades", "Rambo", and "My Friend Lost His Face." A Misfits cover appears halfway through the April rehearsal along with three attempts at an S.O.D medley which is finally nailed on the fourth go around. It's very honest rehearsal material which ties current kids rehearsing at home in basements to the perceived golden age of metal and punk.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Phobonoid - S/T

Stately and powerful, Phobonoid’s self-titled debut album is an industrial black metal voyage into the unimaginably cold and dark corners of space. While bands like Darkspace embrace the infinite vastness of space on a kind of existential or psychological level, Phobonoid’s approach, while grim, reflects a much more curious and awe-inspired view. For this Italian solo project, space is something to explore - and the album’s lyrics are a bleak science fiction journey. We follow the sanda (probe) through an explosion, an armada attack, and even some radioactive ruins. The album’s narrative comes across musically as well. Phobonoid uses a varied set of approaches across the album to give a sense of progression; some songs rely on somber synth pads, while others are heavier and distinctly hostile. In fact, the vocals are so subdued that the bulk of the story is told through the instruments.

The album’s mood is extremely interesting because the sense of exploration is always countered by a kind of disappointed feeling. It’s as if the musical narrative takes you through the expanses of the universe to discover countless planets - each of them long dead and forgotten. Throughout the album, the lead guitar journeys across chord progressions in long single-note patterns. These are contrasted by the pulsing and mechanical percussion samples that act as the album’s ever-steady engine (“Tachyon” is a particularly obvious example of this.) The tremolo picked rhythm guitars often mirror the percussion so tightly that the two are effectively inseparable. A result of this is that the chord progressions are rhythmically (and often melodically) conservative, but this aids in directing the focus onto the lead melodies. It works well because the lonely guitar leads are intriguing enough without grand melodramatic moments. Even the ambient parts of the album maintain the thick mood: the swelling pads are unmistakably wistful, while deep echoes and sparse composition establish space’s magnitude.

It’s worth noting that this is a really unassuming piece of music; even the catchier heavy moments are far from flashy. The quality though, still shines through. A nice grinding low end, aggressive riffing, compressed vocals so subdued and distorted that they seem like they are coming from a brick building down the street. Everything on here is well done. Even polar opposites are executed well: “Eris” gallops along while completely soaked in adrenaline, and later a light touch of panning on the introspective “Tachyon” adds a great deal of depth to the instrumental track. Phobonoid started off with a very promising demo, and this forty minute full-length improves and expands upon that sound. This album is absolutely recommended for fans of industrial black metal or for those that enjoy a cosmic tinge to their music.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Interview With Daemonskald of Sig:Ar:Tyr

CT: Daemonskald, please give a brief history of SIG:AR:TYR for those souls not familiar with your incredible music.

D: SIG:AR:TYR originally started out in 2003 as primarily an acoustic guitar/ambient project. After releasing the demo EP “The Stranger”, I started incorporating more traditional metal elements into my music. I’ve released 3 full length albums, Sailing the Seas of Fate in 2005, Beyond the North Winds in 2008, and Godsaga in 2010. Each release gets progressively heavier and more metal, while still retaining that acoustic/ambient core. I would describe the music as a hybrid of viking, folk, and pagan metal. The themes are primarily about the history and myths of Northern Europe, although I often branch out of that into other ancient civilizations.

CT: There was talk of a re-release of The Stranger demo. Did this ever happen? I also saw a box set is coming out? What is the story with these two items?

D: As it stands right now, there won’t be an official release of the demo. It is currently available in digital form on my Bandcamp page for anyone who wants it. I’m not entirely sure about a box set. I know when the new album Northen is out, the whole discography should be available as a set, but I don’t know yet in what form.

CT: Godsaga was centrally themed on sacrifice symbolically. What did you learn about sacrifice writing Godsaga, both in the context of the album, but also from a more personal perspective? Has any of this carried over to the new album, Northen?

D: Godsaga really took a lot out of me to write. I worked on it so very hard, and it’s difficult when you are just doing it yourself.  I really left a lot of myself on that album. Sacrifice takes something from you and it is transformed into something else, something higher. The theme of sacrifice on Godsaga was about two subjects, the saga of Egil Skallagrimsson and the loss of his sons tempered with the gifts that Odin had given him: poetry and prowess in battle. On a higher level, the second theme is about the story of Odin sacrificing himself on the world tree to win the gift of the runes and higher knowledge. I’m not sure if that theme carries over to Northen, I would say the Viking explorations of Canada  are about that human need to make a name for yourself, to put your personal comfort aside to explore something greater in the world, to live, create, and be remembered for your deeds. It is also about remembering where you are from, and not letting that spirit of the old gods, the collective spirit of a people, fade away.

CT: There was a big gap in time between Godsaga and Northen. What transpired in between the two albums with SIG:AR:TYR that caused such a length of time?

D: I was burnt out after Godsaga, so I wanted to take some time off from music before starting something new. About a year and a half after Godsaga was released, I had an offer to play a small festival in the US, and my friends in some other bands (Battlesoul and Vesperia) offered to help bring my music to the live stage. I had never played live before, so it took a good 3 months to practice and get myself into a confident enough state to play. After playing a few special shows in 2012 and 2013, I stopped to concentrate on writing the new album. Part of the wait is also that I really like a theme to be in place before I start writing and up to that time, nothing had come to me. But in late 2012 I had the idea about writing an album about the Viking explorations in my own country, Canada. Although there have been lots of songs in past about Vinland from many other bands, I don’t think anyone ever wrote about it beyond a superficial treatment of the subject. I found the theme of those explorations, the end of the Viking age, and also the the clash between their old ways and Christianity, specifically between Eric the Red and his sons, to be a perfect story to tell.

CT: Getting to Northen... judging by the updates on the SIG:AR:TYR website, there seemed to be some issues finding interested labels to put out Northen. There was also some label issues with the debut, if I remember correctly. What is your opinion of dealing with labels overall and your perspectives on that side of the music you create. How do you see the place of the music industry in relation to SIG:AR:TYR?

D: The problem is that originally my music was in a very niche genre, it’s not something any label would make money on let alone pay for itself. At the same time I really didn’t want to deal with the distribution and business side myself. I had originally signed on with Hammerheart Records back in 2004/5 for Sailing the Seas of Fate, but because of some business-related problems at the time, it didn’t happen. A friend had just started up his own underground label, Morbid Winter, and really enjoyed the music, so he offered to release it and ended up releasing my three full length albums. In terms of the genre, it worked out very well in terms of our goals. A few years after Godsaga, that label became less active, so I decided it would be best to look for a bigger label. I shopped around a demo for Northen around 2014, but nothing came of it. I was about to decide to release it on my own when I decided to contact Hammerheart to see if they were interested. Thankfully they were, and they also wanted to re-release my earlier albums, so in a strange way it completed a big circle. I’m not terribly interested in the business side of music, I just want to create and get my music heard. A label is there to make the rest happen for you, and when it is still an underground-type relationship, you are doing it together for the music and nothing else.

CT: You mentioned that you originally planned for Northen to be released in 2013. What was the reasoning for the delay in the release?

D: That’s not quite right, I didn’t start writing until late 2012/early 2013. There hasn’t really been a delay, it just took a long time to come together, and to be done right. I wanted each song to be as strong as I could make it, and be integral to the album as a whole. I was hoping it would be complete sooner, but from start to finish I would say it took about 3 years which isn’t bad really on the Guns N’ Roses scale of time.

CT: Ok, onto the music. Northen, like Godsaga, has a theme or a concept. Tell us about the theme and concept for Northen. Did Sailing The Seas of Fate and Beyond The North Winds also have specific concepts running through the album?

D: “Sailing the Seas of Fate” is definitely a concept album, it is about a band of Viking adventurers going on a quest to retrieve an object to help turn the tide against encroaching Christianity. It was a mythical “Jason and The Argonauts” or “Holy Grail” type of quest with a snow and ice theme. “Beyond the North Winds” didn’t really have an overall story theme, although the songs revolved around earth-based themes like mountains, soil, and stone. The songs are about a variety of subjects with only a few specifically about Norse myths. I wanted that album to have a more pan-European mood to it.

Northen is about the Viking’s adventures in Canada a thousand years ago. They came over from their settlements in Greenland, landing at various points along the coast, Baffin Island, Labrador, Newfoundland, and possibly even further. Their stay here was short-lived, however, possibly due to the great distances involved, the climate, or clashes with the local native inhabitants. We have only found one major settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows at the northern tip of Newfoundland, and even that seems to be like a temporary area for ship repairs, like a way-station to other places. It is possible that it was the base camp of Leif Erikson. There has also been evidence of possible habitation on Baffin Island, but the archeological evidence is still scarce. Beyond the basic history, the album also deals with the spiritual changes at the time with the coming of Christianity. In the sagas, the recorded expeditions included both pagans and Christians, and I wanted to explore that friction, especially with Erik the Red and his sons Leif and Thorvald Erikson. Erik stayed with his old ways, while his sons did not.

CT: You have a full band now, how did you put the band together? Did the additional members have an impact on the writing of Northen? The only song specifically noted as being written by yourself along with drummer Nicholas Ireland and rhythm guitarist Michael Grund is "Skraeling." Will there be more involvement songwriting wise from the rest of the band on future releases? What was it like working with some other people instead of doing everything yourself like you did on the past albums?

D: The other guys were friends from local bands, and they offered to help me bring my music to the live stage. I had a majority of the new album written, but I still had some room for new song ideas. Mike and Nich put together the song that became Skraeling, and after I took their ideas and added a few of my own little touches and some lyrics, we had the first SIG:AR:TYR song that wasn’t initially created by me. It was one of the first songs that was fully completed, and I think it set the tone for the rest of album. It was great to finally have proper drums on this album, as before I had just programmed them on my own. With Nich doing his own thing with the drums, Morgan doing his own bass parts, and Mike’s writing contributions, it really helped round out the album to make it what it is. When you do everything yourself for so long, you tend to become predictable with your song writing, so it really helped freshen the sound. I’d definitely like to keep moving forward with that and have more contributions and collaborations in the future with them.

CT: My favorite track on Northen so far is "Runarmal." My initial listen I was reminded of one of your biggest influences, Bathory, especially the transition from the initial acoustic guitar into the main verse riff. I think the track also has the best guitar solo on the album. As I looked at the lyrics to the track, I immediately thought of Godsaga and the story of Odin acquiring the knowledge of the runes. Here the lyrics accompany an excerpt about Erik The Red's wife converting to Christianity and refusing to live with Erik afterwards. Can you pull these separate strands together? I feel like I know what you're trying to point out but I'd love to hear it in your own words.

D: The song Runarmal is kind of the “odd man out” as it does not relate specifically to anything about the Vikings explorations in Canada, it is more a of general song about Norse paganism. I took the rune poem section from Hávamál, which recites 18 different runic spells or charms, and used that as the basis for the song. In terms of the excerpts and relationship with Erik the Red, I used it to reinforce that he remained pagan and true to his gods. Whether he actually knew how to write runes I do not know. The excerpt also added a bit of that dark saga humour that I love. “Thjodhild refused to live with Erik after she was converted, and this annoyed him greatly.”

Musically, that song is more based on the slower epic Yngwie Malmsteen songs… the drop-tuned, doomy, ancient sounding chords. A lot of people know my Bathory influences on my music for sure, but Yngwie Malmsteen and that neoclassical style is the other part of it.

CT: I also really like "Crownless." I think that track stuck out to me most on the first listen and it has a very Heavy Metal feel to it with the chorus being quite anthemic. The song is about Leif Erikson voyaging to Greenland, if I'm not mistaking. What happens on this voyage? What are you saying about Christianity in this song?

D: This song is primarily from the perspective of Erik the Red. I found some artwork from the late 1800’s that I included in the CD booklet. It is called “King Eric the Red Discovers Greenland”. He had been exiled from both Norway and Iceland due to some killings, and ended up founding Greenland and the settlements there lasted almost 500 years. Although he is rarely referred to as “King”, I would think that is what he felt like in his newly founded land, and also because he was distancing himself from the Christian conversions in Norway and Iceland. It is also about the Norse penchant for wanting to explore new lands and to “seek a name of high renown”. In the lyrics he also speaks of wanting to “carve my ancient runes on distant shores, where my sons shall gain their fame”. Sadly, Erik the Red never made it to the new world. In the saga, he was to join Leif on his expedition, but he falls off his horse injuring himself, and stays behind.

There is an old Robert E. Howard tale (the creator of Conan) called “By This Axe I Rule!” which was about Kull, one of his other characters. I took that defiant sentiment into the chorus of Crownless: “I am King!… where is my crown?”, and also the spoken word part where he states “Where my own sword guides my fate, where my hammer strikes the cross!”

CT: "Vinland" is a massive track that, to me, to me is maybe the climax of the album. How did you decide the placement of this track on the album and in the concept?

D: Vinland is definitely one of the more memorable tracks, and as you said it is like a climax that starts off the last third of the album. I craft the momentum of my albums very carefully. Every track has to be in the right place. It is the final “land” that the Vikings explored. We are still not sure what exactly encompasses Vinland. There is a lot of evidence from the descriptions in the sagas and the little scraps of archeological findings at L’Anse aux Meadows that they travelled much further south. The settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows seems to be a “gateway” to Vinland. Part of the lyrics are again from the perspective of Erik the Red who hopes that his sons will find their way back to their old ways in this new world. The other half of the lyrics is from the perspective of the those who made it to Vinland who were still pagan and wanted that to be the basis of their new world.

CT: "Last Ship Sails" is a perfect album closer. I don't think there is a question here, I just wanted to let you know I thought it was a superb ending to Northern.

D: Thank you, it’s definitely a ballad-like closer to the album, a bittersweet type of sentiment as I sought to imagine how they were feeling when they left the new world once and for all and sailed away back home to Greenland or Iceland, never to return. The most important sentiment I wanted to convey is that no matter the success or failure of these expeditions, their names and deeds lived on to us and still inspire us today. It goes back to the famous saying from Hávamál: “Cattle die, kinsmen die, and so one’s self must die. But there is one thing that never dies, the fame of a dead man’s deeds.”

CT: It  looks like a lot of time went into the sixteen page booklet. How did you choose the excerpts to accompany the lyrics to each track? How important to you are these excerpts in understanding the lyrics in your music?

D: I included the direct quotes from the sagas to go along with each song. I thought it was important to add some context to what inspired the songs and the lyrics, and hopefully lead one to go on and read these sagas themselves. Some were from the Vinland Sagas — the Saga of Erik the Red and the Saga of the Greenlanders. Others were from different sagas, or the writings of historians like Adam of Bremen or later writers who mentioned Vinland. It was clear that news of the Norse travels to these mysterious lands spread quickly in the old world among kings and clergy.

CT: Overall, how pleased are you with Northen? Did the final product match your vision from when you started putting together the album? What is your favorite moment on Northen?

D: There are so many times throughout the whole process when I never thought it would come together as I hoped. I’m glad I took my time to get it the way I wanted in terms of the sound and the mood. I wasn’t under any timelines, but I was constantly pushing myself to get it done sooner, but sometimes you just have to let an idea breathe and work its way into reality naturally. If I had a favorite moment, it was probably the guitar solo in Markland (The Hammer Fades). That song has a very deep meaning, like looking into the eye of a lost god who has disappeared because he has been forgotten, and then remembering and invoking him back to life. That was the feeling I was trying to channel.

CT: You visited L’Anse aux Meadows. The site is central to Northen's concept. What importance does this location have in relation to the album and what sort of personal emotions did you have while physically at the site?

D: I really wanted to see the site for myself, and try to get that sense of what the Vikings may have seen and felt when they landed there a thousand years ago. I had to fly from Toronto to Deer Lake in Newfoundland, then drive a car about 5 hours straight up the coast. It was so incredibly beautiful that drive, so many places to stop and just be in awe of nature, with the wild waves your constant companion. It is a very small site at the northern tip of Newfoundland. There are mounds there from the original excavations, and also a recreated village so you could envision what it looked like. It was really amazing to think that I might have standing where Leif Erikson or other Viking explorers had stood. The sagas come to life in front of your eyes. We don’t really know for sure who had settled there, but the carbon dating really points to the fact that it might have been Leif’s houses. Leif also let future expeditions use his same houses so it makes sense that this “way station” was this same place, the gateway to Vinland. It was a pilgrimage for me just to see for myself what I had been writing about for so many years. I had just finished the album when I travelled there, so it was great way to end the whole process.

CT: When you visited L’Anse aux Meadows you had a bunch of great pictures taken by a definite not-metalhead photographer. How did you come in contact with her? What was her reaction or interest like working with you and did she take an interest in what you were doing with SIG:AR:TYR?

D: I met the Wendy by chance at the inn I was staying at, just a few minutes from the site. I was kind of stuck in the area that day because I blew a tire on my rental vehicle. When I found out she was a photographer, I asked if she was interested in taking some photos for me as promo shots for my album. She had never done anything like that before, and was very interested and up for the challenge. She lives there and knew all the different places we could go to take pictures at the L’Anse aux Meadows site and also in the immediate vicinity. I think my favorite was the photo of me and the very large statue of Leif Erikson in the harbour there. I was very grateful for her kindness and expertise, and it’s just another one of those fateful things that happen on your journey that make your experience so much greater. Everyone I met in Newfoundland was so incredibly friendly and helpful and I look forward to going back there again.

CT: Is there any vinyl planned for Northen or any of your other releases?

D: It has been talked about but nothing finalized. I’m not really big on the whole vinyl resurgence, I don’t even have a working turntable at the moment. But I know there’s a huge market for it, and a lot of people have asked about, so it may eventually happen. Myself, I listen to most of my music digitally. I still buy CDs now and again of my favourite bands, but a majority is purchased digitally. It’s just the way I like to listen to it, whether it’s in my car, or at home, or traveling.

CT: What got you interested in Viking and Scandinavian history and folklore? Do you have viking blood in your own heritage and have you done any family research tracing back your roots to Norway, Sweden, or Denmark that helped pique your interest?

D: I’m British, so that’s where my family roots are. In England, they did not preserve their pagan past as well as did the Scandinavian countries. So that is why you find such a greater interest in the Norse sagas because their pagan worldview is very clearly preserved and explained. For example, England has Beowulf, but even that is based on Danish history and myths. But if you do a comparison of all the North European cultures, there are similarities there that you can reconstruct a type of proto-North European worldview and that is what I’m interested in.

CT: What related movies, books, or art would be of interest for those that also have an interest in SIG:AR:TYR? I watched one of the short documentaries you had shared on your Facebook page and it was very interesting (The Vinland Mystery documentary with Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad, who discovered L’Anse aux Meadows).

D: A good movie to watch that influenced me during the making of Northen is “Valhalla Rising”. I won’t spoil the plot but it is a really good movie with a great black-metal-ish type of soundtrack as well. Otherwise, I would just suggest to read as many original myths as possible (not books about them, read the original stories). It doesn’t have to be just Norse or British, it can be any culture in the world. There is great wisdom there from times when our ancestors looked at the world and the realm of the spirit in a very different way than we do.

For the topic of the Norse in the New World, there’s a nice book called “Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga”, it was put together in conjunction with the Smithsonian during the millennium celebrations in the year 2000 commemorating a thousand years since their arrival of Leif Erikson. It has a variety of specialist authors and lots of photos, maps, and it was the best general book on the subject that I found. Even has a forward by Hillary Clinton!

If I had to pick some fiction that inspired me musically, my favourite fantasy authors are Michael Moorcock and Tolkien, but Moorcock especially. His work is very influenced by the northern myths, but he also adds to it a universal worldview of a cyclical universe that shifts between the forces of chaos, balance, and order. When I came up with the name SIG:AR:TYR, it is the names of three runes that I thought reflected what chaos, balance, and order represented. Hugely influential on me. My first album is named after one of his Elric stories, “The Sailor on the Seas of Fate”.

CT: Does SIG:AR:TYR have any specific political or philosophical leanings that you would like to get across to listeners?

D: I would say simply that there is lost wisdom in our distant past and it can be rediscovered or “remembered”. Always look to something higher in whatever you do and how you live your life. If your goals have a true spiritual base, you are reconnecting with not only your innermost self, but also with the collective inheritance of those that have come before you.

CT: What influence has your art had on your personal life in terms of your worldview and your perspective on life? What have you learned about yourself while creating your music with SIG:AR:TYR?

D: I think it always forces me to look not only inward, but upward and higher. Expressing yourself via music… it lets some very personal feelings outwards into the world, feelings that you hope others can share with you by listening to it. Either they will resonate with it or they won’t. But you can learn from that too as other people see different things in your own music than as you see it, and you learn more about the world, other people, and yourself.

CT: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time when not writing music and working on SIG:AR:TYR?

D: I have a pretty regular life with a full time career, wife, dog, house, etc, I’m not a full time musician or anything like that. I spend a lot of time with my dog out on trails and in the woods. Sometimes I do some writing, I have a few little projects, fantasy type, that I’ve had been working on before being side-tracked by music so I’d like to get back to that someday. But otherwise I enjoy my quiet family life at home.

CT: Do you have any plans going forward for your next album or will you take another break? Will you do any live shows to support Northen?

D: I have some ideas for a next album, I’m not sure what it will be like, but maybe a bit faster, black metal-ish, thrashy. I definitely want to move away from the Norse myths as a theme, I am done with that. It might be something more like the “Beyond the North Winds” album that had more general themes to it. I would like to play some shows for Northen, but with everyone physically far apart and busy with their own projects right now, it is hard to get all the guys together to practice and help me get the rust off, but I hope it can happen soon.

CT: Did I miss anything? Any specific things you'd like to mention? Thanks for your time, thoughts, and most importantly your music!

D: Thank you for the interview, and I hope everyone enjoys the new album and discovers their own journey within it!