Interview: umbrA & vatroS (AtroruM)
Hello! Please, tell us show did your career as a musician started…
umbrA: Define “career”, haha! I started making music when I was four. Until the age of fifteen, I only played classical music. vatroS was already recording songs on his four-tape-recorder when I first met him. I was quite impressed and, to be honest, a little envious, since I was desperate for a band, writing songs and all that. When an acquaintance told me he was looking for a bassist for his band, I introduced him to vatroS and got asked to join, too. This was our first band experience, a nerd rock band called “the Neighbours” that is still active today. When vatroS and I found out that the other guys in the band were not as crazy about 15 minute songs with weird rhythms and a dark mood as we were, we decided to start our separate side project, which became AtroruM. Since then, we have been and are active in a lot of other bands, but AtroruM is still that one magic project for me, where two people share a common musical vision and do not have to bow to a lot of compromise, but simply get to do what feels right for them.
Please, can you introduce your older records? I confess that I have never heard these albums…
umbrA: The first album “Himmelsstürmer” dates back to 2004. Fuck me, that’s eleven years ago! This album was written, arranged and recorded in one session that lasted three weeks or so. We locked ourselves up in the basement of vatroS’ house and did the whole album in one go, basically composing the songs as we recorded them. It is a concept album that losely centers around the story of Daedalus and Icarus, you know, the young guy that flew too close to the sun. The lyrical theme is human failure and and the escapism it usually brings about, in all its aspects. The second half deals with conventions, especially with the problem that many metal genres have: trying to break conventions often leads to the establishment of a new dogmatism that is often even more strict than the set of rules you tried to tear down initially.
vatroS: Indeed the first half is lyrically strongly influenced by the German “Sturm und Drang” period (Hölderlin or the young Goethe or Schiller) in literature and the following romanticism of the early 19th century. Musically you hear a lot of acoustic guitars and pianos linked with some naturalistic black metal (like the very early ULVER for example). Exactly at the midpoint of the album this whole dream-like romanticism breaks down to a cold, machine-like atmosphere, close to EMPEROR or old BEHEMOTH. The song “Tod der Konvention!” (Death to conventions!) reflects the credo that one has to overcome all human conventions to become free, however the next song destroys this idea already, stating that killing morals will always result in the construction of another order/ethic that may be even worse than before. The following “Jagdzeit” takes over this idea referring to fascism and racism that always gained strength in history when other moral systems lay broken in society. The last song reconstructs once again the themes of the title track but the “Himmelsstuermer” that once started with the utopic ideals and hope and with the strength of youth has not yet fallen from the skies but lost all that he once considered worth living (that’s why he’s called the Daedalus from the Greek myth, as he lost his son Icarus while they tried to escape by flying towards the skies).
umbrA: The second output “Exhibition” was, for the most part, written by vatroS, with me contributing Jesters’ Banquet and singular riffs and arrangement ideas. He wrote the album in a very desperate state of mind. It is not a strict concept album as “Himmelsstürmer“, where all songs are strongly linked, but the concept is similar to Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”. Individual sections of the album are framed by the “Promenade” interludes, each “picture” being slightly less melodic than the one before it. The theme is again mostly human failure, be it individual or as a society. Exhibition is quite a bit heavier and has a much colder, more negative atmosphere to it.
vatroS: I had a very bad time in those days and this album presents an exhibition of my inner feelings in those days. Every song is a picture of fears, of depressions of evil thoughts and feelings that haunt you. The promenade I and III have a very melodic theme, while II takes two 12-tone themes that overlay and play with each other. The album ends with a complete deconstruction of the two 12-tone themes played by two pianos that differ by a quarter-tone thus expanding the 12 semitones to 24 quarter-tones. We always loved playing with these mathematical constructs a bit, starting even at our first album in the song “Tod der Konvention!”. Save for one song the whole album is sung in English, as my German lyrics always tend to be pretty complex, playing a lot with metaphors, citations and similarity of words. For these very direct and aggressive themes I thought English to be more appropriate as I can be so clear and direct, haha…
Let’s talk about your new album “Structurae”. I had an amazing experience listening to it. How has the band’s sound evolved/progressed on this one? How do you feel about the finished album “Structurae”?
umbrA: I’m glad you enjoy it! Well, since there are so many years between “Exhibition” and “structurae”, I expected a huge change in music, but actually I just think that “structurae” sounds more mature with all the experience that flew into it. It was again a concentrated session, with a lot of riffs and song fragments already being present on my hard drive so that we got off to an easy start. I think it is a quite coherent album, if you can ever say that about an AtroruM album. We owe a lot of thanks to Christoph Brandes of Iguana Studios, who mixed and mastered the album. We spent one week in his studio, and he got so involved into the music that we barely slept for seven days, we just kept tweaking, re-recording some things, drinking lots of beer and all that. I am still very happy with the end product. At the moment, there is nothing about the album that feels wrong. But ask again in two years, and you might get a slightly more critical answer, haha!
vatroS: Absolutely, we don’t have the distance yet to judge this album, it still seems like with a new-born child or a new love: It’s sooooo amazingly perfect, and I’m really sick of reading about musicians praising their newest output as the best and greatest and bla and bla they ever did, but it really feels that way… still. Most prominent point is definitely the professional sound, compared to the rather poor Himmelsstürmer (well, we were young) and the mediocre Exhibition (we still were quite young…). And: this time we tried not to write a concept-album but we didn’t completely succeed with that, let’s give it another try with the next album…
Your songs are all made in your native language (without Camouflage song). How important is german language for your music? I think that is distinctive point of your music…
umbrA: Actually, Amapólas is sung in Spanish, Equipartition in French, and Ψαλμος has six languages, so there is quite a few languages on “structurae”… I personally prefer screaming in German, because it is a very convenient language for screaming. Lots of consonants, a harsh sound – it just works so well with screaming! vatroS wrote all lyrics on the album. His lyrics are quite complex, thus, it is probably a good idea to write them in a language that you are completely fluent and confident in.
vatroS: To be honest I just looove languages. Somehow every language is a macrocosm of its own, mirroring sociology, religion, geography and even history of the society that developed it. It’s great to use different languages and their different aspects, harshness, softness, complexity for different topics. As I’m not a native speaker of English, French or Spanish, these lyrics might sound a bit strange to native speakers as I’m trying to play with the words in the same manner I’m doing it with the German language, but of course writing in your mother tongue provides far more facets, especially in a language that can be such a versatile (but sometimes awkwardly bulky) tool as the German language.
What are the lyrics about? Could you shed some light on the topics that you address in your lyrics?
vatroS: I think it would be too long to go into the detail of every song, so I try to cut a long story short. “Menschsein” (being human) is about the question “what does it take to be a human”? What is individualism? How can we describe a million individuals by statistics just like atoms of gas molecules, at what point is our individualism disappearing in the crowd. We all consider ourselves as something special, don’t we? But if you look at the traffic jams every morning at the big skyscraper with the grey officemen, at the supermarkets or at armies of soldiers (or even a parliament) you lose the belief in this individualism, though it must be still there.
“Große weiße Welt” (great white world) is based on a poem I wrote almost 10 years ago. It’s about the inner reflection of a mind that loses its connection to the outside by dementia. It’s horrifying and fascinating at the same time, how one might be looking at the world is there’s no remembering, thus no more causality and no more time.
“Amapolas” (poppies) is about the victims of the civil war in Colombia that goes on now for about 5o years and where sometimes whole villages just disappear or paramilitaries eradicate the whole male population of villages and they will never be seen again. Sometimes after twenty years or so people find mass graves far away. It used the picture of the blood-colored poppies that spread all over the land.
“Psalmos” is the 18th psalm of the bible sung in 6 languages (German, English, French, Spanisch, Russian and Latin), each screaming out its superiority due to the support of the same God, sometimes voices unite, sometimes it’s a pure chaos. The main theme is again a 12-tone theme that appears every now and then. Maybe the most difficult song to listen to.
“Camouflage” is in English, so everything should be clear. It’s about inner unbalance, masochism and the disease of our psyche in modern society.
“Verfugung” quotes a very famous poem by Paul Celan about the Holocaust. It’s about all this hidden racism, nationalism and poisoning totalitarianism that is buried deep within our societies that pretend to have overcome that.
“Équipartition” is about the physical concept that the universe will die by reaching is thermodynamic equilibrium, that means all energy will become distributed absolutely equal in the universe so there’s no more matter, no more warmth and no more movement possible. It is a sheer logical consequence that this must be the “royaume des cieux”, the kingdom of heaven, since everything strives towards it, right?
Which the song from the album is the most important for music face of ATRORUM? Is it “Große Weiße Welt” (my vote) 🙂
vatroS: That’s impossible to answer. “Menschsein” might have most AtroruM trademarks in a very compacted way, I suppose “Große weiße Welt” is the best to start with, puh… difficult, no impossible to answer properly…
umbrA: I think, you will have to decide for yourself! It is hard to pick one song, because we try to incorporate so many things into our sound. Große weiße Welt is the longest song on the album, so it probably has the highest quantity of AtroruM in it, haha! At least you are not the first one to suggest this song, so there must be something to it. On this album, I think I wrote more material than vatroS did, and somehow I feel that the most AtroruM lies in moments where we are both involved to equal parts. On this album, this is probably the song ‘Équipartition’, but as I said, AtroruM is more of a musical kaleidoscope to me. You pick what you feel represents it the most!
What bands inspire your music? Do you like avantgarde metal bands like a CARNIVAL IN COAL, MR. BUNGLE, and etc.
umbrA: Well, you know, since we are conceited, self-centered avantgarde musicians, the answer of course has to be: NO ONE, since we make such a unique sound, haha! I for myself blind out all other music when I write songs, because I really do not want to sound like anybody else (anybody else usually does a better job at sounding like themselves). When I am in the process of writing material, I do not listen to anything but my own music for a while, because everything else is just distracting. But back to your question: I guess, for AtroruM, an important source of inspiration always have been the Beatles. They never forgot to include strong hooklines and melodies into their songs that really stick to your brain, something that avantgarde metal bands sometimes seem to forget. As for the bands you mentioned, I love MR. BUNGLE, but never got quite into CARNIVAL IN COAL. In the avantgarde field, I really love Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and PRYAPISME, to name two bands that immediately come to mind, and STOLEN BABIES and POLKADOT CADAVER or DOG FASHION DISCO if I crave something with more of a pop attitude. Things that come to mind when I think about that one album you take with you to an island where you have to spend the rest of your days are ULVER’s ‘Perdition City’, Dødheimgard’s ‘666 International’, ARCTURUS’ ‘La Masquerade Infernale’, American Head Charge’s ‘The War of Art’, Amanda Palmer’s ‘Who Killed Amanda Palmer’ and PORCUPINE TREE’s ‘in absentia’. It would definitely be a lie to say those albums do or did not inspire me .
vatroS: We are both lunatic CD collectors and always searching for new, strange and unknown small bands, so this would really get too long to name only the most important bands. But of course there’s a lot of odd things: MR. BUNGLE and Fantômas are also there, a lot of the Norwegian late 90ies black metal, very much artrock CDs from the seventies from Jethro Tull and Genesis (very important for me) to YES, KING CRIMSON or Zappa, also a lot of classical music from the early 20th century and somehow everything you listened leaves a fingerprint in the music you make. Last but not least, I’m a big fan of Latin American ska and salsa music, ska-punk and also gypsy brass, but you won’t find a lot this in AtroruM, umbrA will always keep an eye on that, haha.
What’s your opinion on satirical themes in metal music? Are there these points in your music?
umbrA: I am definitely not opposed to the inclusion of such themes into metal music, but not many bands come to mind. I guess it is not an easy thing to do it well, without coming across as superficial or stupid. Whatever works for you, I guess. 🙂 As for AtroruM, it does not really fit the concept we are pursuing at the moment, but who knows what might be inspiring in the future.
vatroS: Compared to what it sounds like in the end there are often a lot of stupid ideas when we’re writing, arranging and recording the songs, some even made it to the record… anyone realized the strange “cha-cha-cha”s at the last minutes of the “Himmelsstürmer” album? But as umbra said, AtroruM is not really the perfect band for that, we have (or better had) another band for really satiric themes, while we try to keep AtroruM serious and sophisticated.
“Structurae” is your first album for Apathia Records (eden of avantgarde metal bands 🙂 ) How did you get into contact with them and why did you decide to accept their offer?
umbrA: Just the regular way. I sent them some tracks to listen to. They said they were interested, and since I like a lot of the stuff they publish, it all went pretty fast. Jehan said it was the fastest deal he ever signed, haha. I like the way they communicate. It is all very personal, you can tell that they really care about their bands. I could not have asked for a better label to release our album!
Can you describe metal scene in Germany? Are there any other interesting bands in your underground scene?
vatroS: In fact we have a lot of underground scenes in Munich, almost as many as bands, haha. I’d recommend “Panzerballett”, a really absurd mixture that sounds as you put Technical Death Metal, Djent and Free-Jazz together in a Bavarian sausage, great and completely weird, they’ve even been touring the US the last years, as I remember…
umbrA: I have to confess that I am not very much in touch with the ‘scene’. The most contact happens through “Nebelkrähe”, my black metal band. I used to play in “Dryad’s Tree”, a progressive death metal band which is currently in hiatus, and have a few studio projects that I contribute to. Other than that we both are involved more into non-metal projects. Munich is just not a big city for metal. I recently contributed some keyboard tracks to the first AZAVATAR album, which was released this summer, and am currently working on a first album of Perdition’s Light, a project with the guitarist of THORNGOTH, a black metal band from Bad Tölz. I guess there is stuff going on, it just doesn’t feel all very connected to me.
Refugees and Europe. Hot theme of last weeks… Your comment?
umbrA: It is great to see some places, where refugees are received with a warm welcome and hundreds of volunteers to help, and it is frustrating to see fucking racist idiots in other places that burn refugee homes to the ground. Those refugees will keep coming, not because they want to but because their sheer survival depends on it, so we have to make a common effort. Let’s hope that the majority of Europe meets this situation with dignity and prudence.
vatroS: Absolutely right: It’s impossible to build walls and fences to keep refugees out as Europe tried far too long. I think most people even in politics got that right now, but the situation revealed the lack of solidarity of the European states with each other. Everyone’s trying to push these poor people away from their borders to their neighbour: a poor and disgusting behavior because it would be possible to solve the greatest problems if we’d only start thinking about how to solve them. The next years will be a great challenge for our society to integrate all these people to avoid that the ideologies (and for me religion is just an old-fashioned version of ideology) and habits that led to destruction of their homelands find their way back into our society. I’d like to write critical and anti-religious poetry also in ten years without having to fear being shot down.
Bayern München or Munchen 1860? 🙂
umbrA: Those are hockey teams, right? 🙂 To be honest, I am not at all into sports, so I don’t really have a preference.
vatroS: Neither do I, the bigwig is somehow boring and the underdog acts to tragicomically stupid that you want to bang your head… eh not while listening to metal but against some metal (or wood).
What are the future plans of ATRORUM?
umbrA: for the remainder of the year, we will focus on promotion of the album. Although we have been around for quite a while, not many people know our music, so that is the first thing to work on. Next, we are planning to establish a live lineup, in order to be able to hit the stage in the near future. We have all the people together, it is just a matter of arranging and rehearsing now. There is already a reasonable amount of material for the next album, but that will be further down the road – probably we will not touch the new material before the end of 2016. But since we usually write and record our albums in one tour-de-force-session, who knows…
vatroS: and we’re still thinking about re-recording our two old albums because we’re not satisfied with the sound anymore, if we compare it to the new album.
Thanks for the interview. I wish ATRORUM a sweet future!