Alive and Stronger than Ever
This interview was originally published in Unrestrained! magazine in 2005.
Some bands seem to release an album every year or two, writing quickly, recording quickly, and in between spending months on end on the road. Although Austria’s Darkwell is nearly six years old and released their debut, Suspiria, close to five years ago, the band’s latest, Metatron, is only their second full length.
Darkwell didn’t disappear between records. Member changes may have slowed them down but they still took the time to put out MCD Conflict of Interest to remind people that the band was alive and well. Roland Wurzer, Darkwell’s founder and bassist, explains, “As our guitarist and our keyboardist left the band after Suspiria, we found replacements soon, so we recorded the MCD with the new line up. We wanted to start with Metatron immediately after, but the split with Alex [Alexandra P., ex-vocalist] again took a lot of time.”
Metatron introduces new vocalist Stephanie Luzie (at least in recorded form), who joins drummer Moritz Neuner, keyboardist Raphael Lepuschitz, and guitarist Mathias Nussbaum, as well as Roland. Despite the long wait between records and the change in frontwomen, Darkwell went into the studio without worrying about living up to what they had done before. “During composing and that stuff we didn’t think about pressure, ’cause we feel stronger than before,” Roland says. “If we would have focused on the audience factor, perhaps there would have been a lot of pressure, but we did the record we wanted to do.”
The band recorded in their usual environment of Mirror Production Studios, a factor that must have contributed to a more laidback atmosphere. “As we work all the time there, we were very familiar,” says Roland, “and as we also did preproduction there we could record in stages and passages. That was very important for the process and gave us the chance to rethink a couple of things. It was very relaxed and ended, I hope, in a cool thing.”
Metatron, which was mastered by Atrocity’s Alex Krull, might seem science fiction from a distance, with its Transformers-esque title and tracks names like “The Machine.” But Roland explains that the significance of the record’s title lies more in history and religion than sci-fi, and its concept crops up in different ways throughout the record. “It’s the name of the title song, and it was mentioned in the Book of Enoch in the Holy Bible up to the fourth century. It’s ancient Kabala mysticism on the one hand; on the other hand it’s based on Egyptian mythology, the counterpart to the Catholic Metatron, which is similar to the Egyptian lord Thoth. But what is interesting about it is that in Christian mythology prophets started saying that this guy who wrote the book Enoch was a magician and that he was raised by God himself to the rank of archangel as a human being, which would be completely revolutionary for all Christian beliefs of one God, mankind, angels. Ancient religions influence the Catholic way of life and way of believing, so it’s a question of double morals. Telling the one thing and believing the other.”
For Roland, the lyrical elements of a song are inseparable from the music, and he doesn’t believe they should be thoughtlessly combined. “In my opinion music and lyrics have to go hand in hand. Unfortunately, musicians in metal music forget that. I know a lot of bands do the musical stuff and then hand it over to the vocalist and the vocalist sets some lyrics on to it. That is something we do from time to time, like we are jamming in the rehearsal room and having good riffs and a good sound – we also do that. But I think it’s also quite important that the music will fit to the lyrics. I write normally influenced by my life, my surroundings, what happens around me, and then I focus on the subject and very often I try to put real life problems into some fantastic story and I really like to go through that first and get all that out. I see something I’d like to write about it, then I make up a story around it. Then this story I discuss with all the other musicians who are into the composing process at that moment. Then we try to get some basic musical ideas. For example, on the new CD, ‘Crown of Thorn’ was to have this story and first I needed some kind of ‘up’ melody, which would be an instrument that you would not normally use. That’s how the beginning was composed. And after that, with the basic melody we took the rhythm lines for the chorus, and we also needed something not that complicated to support, so we did that afterwards, and we finally made up the song. That’s the way it works together.”
In the past Roland has often been referred to as the “mastermind” of Darkwell, and although he hates the word he admits there may have been some support for its use. “With Suspiria and also Conflict of Interest I did all the music, all the lyrics and all the vocal lines, so it was very easy for me that everything went hand in hand. And with this album we had to make up this process I just described. There were new members – a new keyboard player and guitar player – who are not that new anymore; they have been in the band for three years. It’s just one and a half or two years ago that they really put all their ideas and concepts into the band. Before that they took all my ideas, and saw themselves as session musicians.”
The only part of composition that Roland still monopolizes is lyric writing, and he attributes the new group-oriented creative effort with leading to a slight change in Darkwell’s sound. “I’m no professional keyboard player. Raphael adds a lot of harmonic stuff I wasn’t capable of doing on the first record, and also some kind of technically difficult playing and ideas. It was very important that the guys grew into my concept and idea of the band, and that’s worked out really good. So I could let loose everything and just go into the rehearsing room and start jamming with all the guys and working on the songs. I’m very happy with that process. It brought a lot of fresh wind into the band.” The last two songs on the record, “Far Cry” and “Last Glance” were completely written by Mathias and Raphael, and this time only “The Machine” was the work of Roland alone.
The newest member of Darkwell, Stephanie, wasn’t chosen lightly and she came to the band after a long series of auditions. Remembering her from a performance with opening act Atartatis the year before, Roland and company sought her out through the promoter and asked her to audition. “It was quite special with Stephanie,” Roland says. “She hooked up very quick with the atmosphere and spirit of the old songs. And then we also saw that she offered new opportunities for vocals we couldn’t use with Alexandra before, her vocal range was much higher. Also as human beings we could deal very well with her.”
Alexandra’s departure happened in late winter, and after two or three months of auditioning potential replacements, the band was close to cancelling a quickly approaching appearance at 2003’s Wave Gotik meeting when they “found” Stephanie. “I think we had two weeks to rehearse, and it was very excellent,” says Roland. “ And one month after that we did Summer Breeze. That was quite cool. I think we played at 1pm and I was very surprised that there were already that many people out of their dens.”
Darkwell is a priority for all its members these days, though they still often find time to do a little extra work on the side. Even while Roland describes Darkwell as nearly all-consuming since he’s added management, booking, press, and website maintenance to his usual duties, he also admits to squeezing in some recording and live work with Siegfried. Stephanie has maintained her role in Atartatis, a classic gothic metal band in the vein of Tristania or early Theatre of Tragedy, and Moritz has performed and recorded with Graveworm among other acts. “I think we are in good balance with side projects, but still Darkwell is our main focus!” Roland affirms.
This past fall touring has been a major part of that focus, including a solid stint through southern Europe with Atrocity, Leave’s Eyes and Battelore, as well as a few festival appearances earlier in the year. Unfortunately, many of the shows took place before Metatron’s release, meaning much of the material was new to audiences. Festival bookings for next summer are already underway, but right now Roland has writing on the mind. “We want to really try to focus on songwriting for the next album in the spring because it was such a long time from Suspiria to Metatron, about four years. We already have a lot of ideas.”
Although Metatron represents a shift in Darkwell’s direction it is not an abandonment of the band’s gothic metal origins, and with a line-up that’s more stable than ever, the gothic undertones are unlikely to disappear. “From the beginning all our members were into this fusion of dark metal and heavy metal stuff, so that was the basic idea,” Roland says, adding that Darkwell has connections to the “dark scene” around Munich. But after spending some time recently listening to gothic music of the more electronic variety, he soon found himself drawn back to metal and harder rock for the classics as well as things “good” and “new”.
“There’s nothing I categorically don’t listen to,” Roland says, “but at the moment, to tell the truth, I’m into a modern metal style, even if it’s done by older bands. For example, I really like the new Fear Factory album and I like the new Machinehead album, but also the new stuff which comes from Europe, like Mnemic. I really like the new Illdisposed record, which has a little more death metal in it. I’m a real gothic rock fan too. I like old Sisters of Mercy stuff, Fields of Nephilim, and good old Type O Negative. I’m also listening to the things that are up at the moment. For example in Germany and Austria the new Oomph! record was very successful and the new Rammstein record was very successful, and I like them both quite well.”
Not really reflecting any of these tastes, or even the occasional pop song that Roland admits to liking, Metatron perhaps combines more elements than go into the average rock or metal record. It all makes for an unusual and complicated mixture, and bodes well for the originality of Darkwell’s material to come.
Darkwell: The Familiar and The New
The following snippet, based on the same interview, was originally published in Snaggletooth magazine.
Darkwell’s latest album—second full length, and follow-up to MCD Conflict of Interest—introduces vocalist Stephanie Luzie, cementing the band’s now stable line-up that includes Roland Wurzer, Moritz Neuner, Raphael Lepuschitz, and Mathias Nussbaum.
Diverging slightly from the usual metal formula, Metat[r]on’s guitars step back from centre stage to make way for Luzie’s powerful and dominating operatics. Backed by thick, textured keyboards, her vocals cloak the album in a fantastical, otherworldly atmosphere. Wurzer, (bassist, songwriter, and founding member), explains that this unconventional sound wasn’t planned. “That developed during the recording, and we like it as it turned out, so I am quite pleased about everything,” he says. “But still the guitars are ‘fat’ enough, and keep the metal style in.”
Darkwell’s layers of keyboards, combined with some fairly complex melodic counterpoint, give Metat[r]on a “progressive” edge as well. According to Wurzer, the prog flavour wasn’t intentional either. “Normally we are not into prog metal,” he explains, “but as you play in the rehearsing room, sometimes you feel you have to spice up something or make it more interesting.” Prog or otherworldly, Metat[r]on’s unusual atmosphere is still firmly rooted in goth and metal, adding just enough of the intriguing and new.