While numerous bands (both heavy metal and otherwise) have drawn lyrical and conceptual inspiration from the works of JRR Tolkien over the years, few if any have managed to translate the late author’s work into music in as singular a fashion as Vienna’s legendary Summoning. For two decades, the duo of Silenius and Protector have crafted fantastically immersive, utterly entrancing symphonies of synth-heavy, atmospheric black metal inspired by such timeless works as the The Hobbit, The Simarillion and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Over the course of seven full length albums and two EPs, they have transformed this rich literary mythology into a total musical environment that’s both regally breathtaking and strangely melancholic, carving out a style for themselves which is truly theirs and theirs alone, and in turn inspiring a rabidly devoted fanbase.
After over half a decade of silence, the masters of “Austrian epic black metal” are set to return with their best album yet in the form of Old Mornings Dawn, which will be unleashed on June 5th via Napalm Records. Silenius and Protector were gracious enough to answer my questions via e-mail in advance of the album’s release.
THKD: It’s been seven long years since the last Summoning album. What were you up to during that time and what were the reasons for the lengthy wait between Oath Bound and Old Mornings Dawn?
Silenius: For many years I simply was completely empty and had no ideas at all for Summoning. Somehow I thought everything was said and I could not find any new aspects for this band. Later I concentrated on working on the third Kreuzweg Ost cd, that cost me another year, and after that a heart-infarct [more commonly referred to as a heart attack, scary — THKD] knocked me out for another half a year, but somehow all this brought me to a point where I got hungry again and since then I concentrated again on making riffs. Everything started in small steps. but after a while I knew in which direction the music was going and the more I knew this, the easier it was to compose and the result is what you hear now.
THKD: How would you compare Old Mornings Dawn to Oath Bound? Oath Bound struck me as a very dark and murky sort of album, whereas Old Mornings Dawn feels more epic and uplifting.
Protector: Strange, we see it as the contrary. For us Oathbound was going more in the heroic direction while the new album is more melancholic. While Oathbound sounded like riding into a battle, Old Mornings Dawn sounds like riding back wounded from a battle. But of course the sound changed quite a lot so now most of the instruments sound more clear and therefore more natural and that can be considered to be more live and therefore more uplifting as you said. If the same song comes hidden behind a lot of reverb it offers more a feeling of far distance and therefore can be considered as more dark, but if we focus on the melodies I think the new one is definitely melancholic and even sometimes depressive.
THKD: What can you tell us about the writing and recording of the new album? How did the process this time around differ from that of your previous works, if at all?
Protector: Generally the overall sound of the album is more direct and clear. We did not use so much reverb this time and took more care to create a sound where the listeners can distinguish better between the different melodies playing at the same time. Also the guitars now sound more varied, due to the clearer sound and the deeper mixing that interferes less with the high keyboard melodies. Like always, the final result was not long planned but was organically growing during the months of mixing. The original sound of the guitars was more close to the Oathbound guitars, but then Silenius noticed that in his car stereo that the guitars sounded too penetrating and shrill, so we completely rearranged the sound and put everything much more into the deep frequency spectrum. First we were not sure about it, but then we realized that this was a great step forward and gave the songs more power and a better balance to the keyboards.
THKD: What was your mindset going into creating the album? Did you feel any pressure while working on Old Mornings Dawn due to the lengthy break between albums?
Silenius: Luckily we have no pressure at all from our record company. I think Max knows us very well and realizes that any kind of pressure would not work and has absolutely no effect on us. We are not the kind of band who are into this composing-releasing-touring scheme so we only release an album when creativity is touching us. Coming to creativity: this time it was very different. While Protector already made songs and riffs a short time after Oath Bound was released, it took me many years until I got motivated again, and the turning point definitely was my heart infarct.
Silenius: This time we mostly experienced the stories and legends of Eärendil the Mariner: half-man half-elder, ancestor of the kings of Numenor, with the Silmarill of his forehead he became an immortal. The songs are dealing with this topic. the lyrics of another two songs come from the poems City of Present Sorrow and Town of Dreams, two very old poems from Tolkien written at a time when the first world war was raging. The rest of the lyrics came from unknown writers or are written by myself and as ever are closely woven to the Tolkien universe.
THKD: How has the dynamic/working relationship between the two of you evolved over the years and how did that translate into the new album? What does each of you bring to the table?
Protector: This time it was a bit different than the last album session. While in the past (since Stronghold) each song was started by Silenius while I added additional melodies to it and let it grow into one big song, this time there are songs that I started (like the title track that I created during the long time of inactivity of Silenius), while Silenius later continued to work on it.
THKD: You’ve worked as a duo for the majority of Summoning’s existence. What are the advantages of having just two people into the band? Are there any disadvantages?
Protector: For me there are only advantages. I think the more band members, the higher the chance to have a band quarrel. In our case this can hardly happen because we are not only just two people but also have our other projects where we can put the ideas that don’t suit Summoning. Of course, our way as working as a duo would not be possible for all bands, but because we only work with the keyboard and the guitars and no real drums we are more flexible and don’t need a full band to perform our songs.
THKD: Has the resurgence in popularity of Tolkien’s writings due to the Lord of the Rings films and now The Hobbit had any effect on the band, good or bad? What are your thoughts on the films?
Silenius: To be honest I cannot say exactly if the Peter Jackson movies had any effect on our music in terms of a kind of promotion. It is really hard to say if these movies brought us new fans, at least I would say these films have no negative effects on us. My personal opinion about the movies is a very positive one. In contrary to many other die-hard Tolkien fans I see the necessity that a movie always has to be different from a book because the artistic act of suspense is a completely different one. so Peter Jackson made the right decision to make his own vision out of the books and not be a slave to the books.
THKD: It’s my understanding that 2013 marks the twentieth anniversary of Summoning. The release of Old Mornings Dawn is a major event in and of itself, but will you be doing anything else to commemorate this milestone?
Silenius: We will use this and next year to release a lot of things we missed in the past. For example we will continue to release older records on vinyl, there will be an ultimate yearbook edition of Old Mornings Dawn soon and there will be a special vinyl release with 6 unreleased songs from the sessions out next year. At the end of next year we will rest again and Summoning will fall asleep again.
THKD: What does black metal mean to you and what is it about the genre that continues to inspire you after two decades?
Silenius: To be honest we don’t follow the black metal scene in general too deeply. Our personal musical interests go into other musical regions, but have nothing to do with metal at all. We believe that is a big advantage not to fall into the trap of being to much influenced by present trends and styles and to keep our own identity alive, but of course we do not forget our roots and so i think that our latest release has a stronger metal feeling than our last ones.
THKD: Will Summoning ever play live? Do you have any desire to do so? Have you had many offers?
Protector: No, we surely have no desire for it. Summoning is simply a songwriter band, not a performer band. For me those abilities are quite different and don’t have to always to be combined in one band. For playing live it’s necessary to be able to present your own personality and some kind of “body language” that we never trained or even thought of. Any concert of ours would just be a huge disappointment for all fans and does not bring any advantage at all.
THKD: What are you currently listening to/watching/reading? Do you have any recommendations for our readers?
Silenius: What inspired me music-wise in the last few months are the two albums from Winglord and the releases from two ambient projects. First from the band Arkhaion – When Gods Walked the Earth, and second the band Penjaga Insaf, with the album Sama Sadja.
THKD: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
Silenius: A big hail to all our fans who did not forget us over all those years of silence.
[Many thanks to Nathan T. Birk for making this interview possible.]