Vesperian Sorrow releases their long-awaited fourth full length album, Stormwinds of Ages this year, six long years after their previous album. Unlike most symphonic black metal, the band has managed to captivate me, with the huge neo-classical influences that are present in their style of music. We talk to Will and Subverseraph to learn more.
HMT: Greetings Will! Vesperian Sorrow has been around since 1994, under the moniker Unholy Descent. Before we begin the interview proper, would it be possible to tell us the circumstances under which the band formed, including your joining the band back in 1996?
Will: I was looking to find some guys to start a band with, so I started posting ads in music stores. Donni found one of my ads and called me up. At the time it was just him and Kris (drummer) in a small practice space. The three of us wrote the first demo and recorded it about three months later. I started shopping it around to labels and that’s when we were picked up by Displeased. We were fairly excited about it back then because we were one of the first US bands to play this style of keyboard driven black/extreme metal and we were picked up by a European label.
In 1997, the band changed its name to the current Vesperian Sorrow. How did the name of the band come about, and what is the meaning and significance behind the band name, Vesperian Sorrow?
Will: After we signed with Displeased we had already started writing a bulk of the material for the first album. We started realizing that what we were writing and the style we were transforming into really didn’t fit the band name we were using (Unholy Descent). We felt that it really minimized our potential to expand musically as well, almost as if we were painting ourselves into a corner with it. So, we decided that before we released our first record we would change our name and have a fresh start, and the label agreed that it was a good move on our part.
Subverseraph: “Derived from the latin ‘vesper,’ ‘vesperian’ pertains to duskfall, sundown, the onset of night, etc., and Vesperian Sorrow is open to an extent of interpretation, so it can mean anything along the lines of the following: mass mourning at the demise of light, scourge/plague of eternal night, a figurative showcase of the Beowulf-Grendel dynamic, maybe even metaphor for the Black Death. You decide.”
The band seems to have the habit of taking its time to produce new music, with the gap between Psycotic Sculpture and Regenesis Creation being 5 years. It has been a long 6-year wait for the release of Stormwinds of Ages. As evident from the band’s 2008 promo release, the music on Stormwinds of Ages has been in the works for quite a long while. Were there any particular reasons behind this long wait?
Subverseraph: “Throughout its history this band has been constantly stricken by a revolving door of lineup changes. It’s comparatively not until recently that VS has been comprised of such a solid cast of contributing characters. Even in the years since my induction (which was in September of 2006) I’ve seen the loss and replacement of a bassist, and those of two guitarist positions. Also, the writing, recording, mixing, and mastering processes (this time, all of which we ourselves were responsible for) are none that we’re ever so self-insulting as to rush. We’re not a band that plays our own city every other weekend, much less one that shits out an album every year-and-a-half.”
With the release of Stormwinds of Ages though, the reception has been rather well, with most fans of metal music giving much praise for the album. How does the band feel about this, considering how long the album has been in the works?
Subverseraph: “It’s rather gratifying, if I do say so myself, and the others can concur. First and foremost, we do this for ourselves and couldn’t give a rat’s about seeking outside validation, but honest appreciation for the spawn of our blood, sweat, and proverbial tears is something that we appreciate profoundly and that we don’t and will never take for granted.”
The band describes itself as futuristically medieval, yet neoclassically barbaric at the same time, bringing together the ancient and the modern. Would it be possible to explain more about this philosophy of the band to fans?
Subverseraph: “The juxtaposition of that which is archaic with that which is ever-evolving is the blood and lightning that breathes life into our music. We strive for that crossing of worlds. I used to jokingly describe our music as that of ‘viking space pirates who are actually vampires…from space.’ HAHAHA!!! But when you think about it, is that description not somewhat apt?”
The music on Stormwinds of Ages, besides the usual symphonic and black metal elements, also see the band exploring and pushing the boundaries of extreme metal, including the usage of some death metal inspired and technical riffs on tracks like Legacies Befallen and neoclassical elements that are littered throughout the album. What were some of the influences the band had when writing Stormwinds of Ages, and how did the inclusion of such elements come about?
Subverseraph: “Naturally, I’d say. We don’t ever let the limitations of staying genre-specific overshadow our creativity, but at the same time, we never sit down to write and say, ‘Okay, this song needs to sound like VADER meets TRISTANIA, alright? GO!’ Our music seems to write itself. We all cull influence from practically all types of metal and sometimes even a little gothic industrial/ebm. We DO, however, tend to consider our music to be largely a product of our being youths of the mid-to-late 90s. The evolution of Scandinavian black, death, and gothic metal within that period of time is a movement, contrary to popular belief/ignorance and despite being American, that we were there for and a part of, and that influence will undoubtedly be culled from indefinitely.”
The songs on the album are extremely well-crafted, with songs like Casting Down into Shadows managing to fuse brutality with beauty. How did such visions come about when writing the music on the album? What was the songwriting process behind Stormwinds of Ages like?
Subverseraph: “The way ‘Casting Dawn into Shadow’ came to be is actually very exemplary of what the songwriting process behind the entire album was like. One late evening, Kristoph (drummer) and I were slaving away in the control room of our studio, him at the monitors and me on one of my synths. I began to fiddle around with a synthline that I’d come up with; he heard it and was like, ‘Hey, that’s cool; sounds like The Birthday Massacre (a non-metal band that both he and I are unashamedly partial to). He then quit working on what he was working on, pulled up a new project, commandeered my synth, began expanding upon what he heard me do, tracked it, programmed some rough drum patterns under it and put some tremolo-picked Abigor/Emperor-styled dual guitar melodies over it. Thus was born the opening of ‘Casting…’ The more the song grew, the more we knew that it called for some significant female vocal action, and we knew that there was no one more worthy of tackling that than the emminent Erika Tandy (formerly of Autumn Tears and Ignitor who now fronts the death metal band Morgengrau), a friend of the band and a very experienced and professional vocalist with broad range and great power. Her performance speaks for itself and brought the song to a higher level of epic awesomeness than we ever anticipated.”
Being a band with quite a long history, in your view, how has the band grown over the years? How different was the songwriting process for this album is compared to, say, the previous release of the band?
Will: Well, naturally we’ve all grown older and we’ve been constantly staying after each other to improve in our technical abilities on our chosen instruments. So we have definitely improved in our playing abilities, and usually if we are not good enough to perform a part the way we hear it in our head, we are quite stubborn enough to sit down and practice till we get it. The way we used to write music for the first couple of albums and a little with the third was more of a group type effort standing around in the practice room coming up with riffs. I personally don’t really like that way of writing as it distracts me of hearing music and being able to channel it properly to my guitar. This record was basically written with Kris (drummer) coming up with all the basic song structures with everyone else coming in adding their parts here and there. We all basically put our two cents in about arranging and stuff like that, but Kris definitely did most of the heavy lifting on this one. We are all starting to build a huge data base of riffs and ideas for the next record though and I see it as a more collaborative effort on the next record, but in a way where we kind of bring stuff to the table and then arrange songs afterward, as opposed to the early way of just standing around in the jam room. Now with having our own studio we can put ideas down instantly and start arranging them and hearing different ways of doing it much more efficiently.
One of the moments that particularly grabbed my attention was the usage of the acoustic, Spanish-styled folk guitar on Crown of Glass. How did the inclusion of such moments come about?
Subverseraph: “Moments like that are those in which our semi-progressive side comes out. Going back to the question before the question before last, it’s just a testament to our expansive range of influences. You ever watched a flamenco guitarist play? Those guys shred.”
Will: To add to that as well, I know Kris wanted a Spanish style part added in somewhere as his heritage is such that. Which is cool because every one of us in our band all come from different backgrounds and cultures, we are all Texans per se, but with a wide range of upbringings. I guess more than anything, the environment in which you are raised does rub off on you.
Stormwinds of Ages, being the elaboration of a line that was present on the band’s album as mentioned by Donni in an interview I read, would it be possible to tell us about the overall concept that lie beneath the lyrics of Stormwinds of Ages?
Subverseraph: “They all stem from visions had by Don Donni, which he elaborates upon in poetically creating worlds behind, worlds blighted by decay in one form or another. They’re very stream of consciousness and as esoteric as the listener wishes them to be as per their own interpretation. The flagship title track, though, heralds a metamorphosis into territory darker than anything we’d yet achieved, and its lyrical content reflects that. It’s a war anthem–the Nephilim’s call to arms, so to speak. ‘Gods dethroned and deceased/Banish forth, storming plague/From our wrath winds released/Thwarted lore, faith is vague.'”
And to top off the entire Vesperian Sorrow experience, there is also that hauntingly beautiful album artwork. Would it be possible to explain the concept behind the album artwork, and the process by which it came about?
Subverseraph: “There is a tattoo artist here in our hometown of Austin, Texas by the name of Jon Zig who fronts the brutal death metal bands Images of Violence and Sarcolytic. It was a conscious decision for this album’s cover artwork to be more akin to an actual painting than some graphic designer’s hodge-podge of inter-special limbs and genre-typical baphometic leftovers, so what with Zig being a friend of the band (not to mention, an amazingly talented artist known for his works for Suffocation, Averse Sefira, Psypheria and many others), his commissioning went without saying. We gave him an mp3 of the song, the lyrics, told him that we were looking for something with atmosphere along the lines of Kris Verwimp’s artwork for Absu’s ‘The Third Storm of Cythraul,’ and what resulted is a piece that we couldn’t be prouder of. His visual interpretation of the title track provided an aesthetic with which to compliment our music perfectly and is a testament to Zig’s brilliantly sick imagination. (www.medusaink.com) As for the ominous, wormhole-born sephirotic figure it pictures, I’d say that she and/or he is up for personal conjecture. Is HE the Sephirot of Gevurah or Gabriel, the Angel of Death and Left Hand of God sent to bleed Jerusalem dry? Or is SHE the valkyrian war deity Morrigan (‘Goddess and Maiden and Queen of the Night/Be with us now and befriend/We have suffered long enough/Having seen pain in the end.’)? To both, I answer, ‘Sure.'”
As can be seen on the band’s Facebook page, the band will be playing a couple of shows. Other than live performances, are there any near-future plans for the band?
Subverseraph: “Other than various shows spread across the summer and more to be confirmed throughout the year and into the next (with some European festival appearances hopefully pending), we’ve already commenced work on the follow-up to Stormwinds of Ages, and I can tell you without pretense that if you thought THAT album was dark and heavy,………….”
We have come to the last part of the interview, any parting words to fans of the band?
Subverseraph: “Ave! Your support is eternally appreciated, and you can keep tabs on us at http://www.facebook.com/vesperian. See ya ’round, we hope. lml >,< lml”
Album Review: Vesperian Sorrow – Stormwind of Ages