As the Dungeon Synth genre continues to grow and evolve, the German label Deivlforst Records consistently releases quality albums from talented artists. One of the masterminds behind the label is Grimrik, who is known for his 90’s Dungeon Synth project Nazgûl and his work in Arath. In this interview I speak with Grimrik about his history, influences, production and gear, and the creation of his ambitious new album Die Mauern der Nacht.
The album is available for streaming and purchase here: https://grimrik.bandcamp.com/album/die-mauern-der-nacht
You can follow Grimrik on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/Grimrik-845278362169140/
- Hails Grimrik! Thank you for taking the time to answer this interview with Barbarian Skull. Please take some time to introduce yourself and the history of your project.
No need to thank for that, it is always a pleasure to do an extraordinary in-depth interview with you! I should introduce myself to your audience? Ok, I’ll make it short: My musical ‚career’ started back in the mid 90s. I was part of the active Black Metal
scene back then, but my first release worth mentioning was by a (solo) side project called ‚Nazgûl’ (1996), which was musically exactly what we call now ‚Dungeon Synth’. I started publishing music again in 2013, together with my companion Murgrind, the project ‚Arath’ was born. For more info about this, see the long(!) ‚Arath’ interview we did a while ago for ‚Barbarian Skull’! Besides being a musician in the strict sense, I focus a lot on production aspects of music and did & will do some complete audio masterings for other projects (Murgrind, Wolcensmen, Medhelan) and some audio ‚restorations’ (Arath [Treasures…], Splendorius). I also did & do some layout work (on several Deivlforst Records releases). I also play a role in Deivlforst Records, which is run by Murgrind. Last but not least I work from time to time for the ‚Dungeon Synth’ page on facebook as an editor. You also asked about the history of the project Grimrik. I will talk about this in the next question.
- You are a long-time contributor of Dungeon Synth music, including the “Nazgûl – Ash nazg durbatulûk . . .” demo from 1996 and the cult project Arath which was covered in this zine previously. How does your solo project allow you to explore themes outside of your work with other projects?
This is a really interesting and important question for me, as it definitely hits the point, so I am glad that you asked it. Whereas my main band project Arath moves within distinct borders that we have set up ourselves long ago and as my solo-project Nazgûl is strictly bound to being ‚classic dungeon synth’, the Grimrik project is absolutely different from that. When I started this project in winter 2014, I was heavily inspired by the so-called polar/arctic myth. I started composing from scratch and just limited myself to using only two old hardware synths. When ‚Eisreich’ initially began
to form, I even thought about not releasing it on Deivlforst Records, because I felt the need for the whole project to be totally free, as far as development and change is concerned, but Murgrind fortunately encouraged me to do so. So, when it comes to my Grimrik project, no one can ‚expect’ it to ‚stay or be’ something strict. This project can change musically and topic-wise over the time and is always a personal expression of my current inspiration. Nevertheless it will probably always be electronic’ music, that will feature no – or almost no – ‚real’ instruments, but more artifical synthesizer sounds instead. Topic wise I tend to explore mythological/spiritual/transcendental themes. As said in another interview, I feel strongly connected to a certain kind of mythology, but I’ll freely deliver my own interpretations of a much wider pan-mythological whole. The intelligent, or better: free-thinking listener will always be able to put the bits together to see what the whole thing is about. In a nutshell, this project allows me to be totally free in sound and topics and is only limited by my personal preferences.
- Considering your involvement in dark dungeon music since the 90’s, what do you think has changed in the Dungeon Synth scene? Are things better or worse than they were before? Are there any comments you have about Dungeon Synth today?
Please don’t mind – I have talked a lot about this before (in other interviews), so I won’t go too deep here. There have been & there are developments that I (still) see critically, but I’ll focus on the positive aspects now. Recently, there have been more & more of what I call ‚quality’ releases. This also goes along with more & more physical releases. It seems that the scene is growing mature partly, and more people take it serious – a lot more then only a few years ago. I am very happy about this development and totally appreciate every new good release! I have a huge personal interest in the development of the scene as a whole and am proud that I can
contribute my part in moving and influencing it by my music, my label- and editor’s work and also by personal (musical) advice (that I am quite often asked for).
- Your first album Eisreich was a concept album about the primordial origins of mankind based on polar and arctic myth. Your newest album Die Mauern der Nacht is described as “A musical & spiritual journey ‘Beyond the Walls of Night’”. Can you tell us more about the origins of this concept, and how the concept manifests in the album? What feelings or ideas do you want listeners to experience with Die Mauern der Nacht?
The subject of ‚Die Mauern der Nacht’ is more of a personal and subjective kind of each individual listener. The ‚walls’ that we are talking about are borders that we all have, and about getting over them is in my opinion a way to a complete your personality. So it is very spiritual. It is about leaving your ‚comfort zone’ and doubting the ‚set’ rules and insights – that were given to you by others (religion, society etc.) –
by daring to question them and to achieve your own insights. While on this way, you may feel uncomfortable and fearful at a certain point, but once you stepped into the unknown field and finally reach new insights, you will feel relief/salvation. Maybe you won’t be the person you have been before, and maybe – or probably – others, that don’t question the things ‚as they just are’, won’t share your thoughts and won’t understand your way of thinking. This is quite abstract and can be transferred to a lot of topics, but I think you’ll get the idea. In another – much more simple – way the
topic refers to the musically demanding concept of the album as far as ‚common’ dungeon synth or other dark music is concerned. As you know, the album integrates lots of electronic-music-style elements up to ‚beats’, that are absolutely not common
to our music scene. So, also musically the album demands that you leave your common thinking and accept that there are different things ‚beyond the walls of night’ to explore! The title also refers to ‚the walls of night’ that appear in Tolkien’s ‚Silmarillion’. Here, they also mark a barrier to an unknown, outside world that is not
know to ordinary man, or even the elves. Last but not least, the whole concept is transferred to a visual appearance by Dan Capp. The Cover includes the ‚usual’ aesthetics of the dark music scene represented by the Mountain scenery (which also stands for the ‚walls’). On the other hand it features that ‚computer grid’ which is
completely unusual in ‚our’ musical world and is more used in pure electronical musical styles, especially in the more ‚poppy’ Synthwave genre. So, the whole musical and visual concept is also some kind of ‚provocation’. I am very happy though, that so many people appreciated it instantly and immediately saw my efforts
to mix musical styles to create something unique (see those incredible bandcamp feedbacks!!!). I was given much personal feedback also via private messages, with people describing how this album took them to another world, totally making them
drift away. For the ‚real’ experience it has to be listened to as a whole of course – another thing that is daring to demand form the listener, in our nowadays fast‚ spotify’ world, wherein people listen to ‚singles’ rather than to concept albums.
- Although both albums are concept albums, Die Mauern der Nacht is split into three chapters, each chapter containing multiple songs. Can you please provide us with details regarding each chapter?
Yes, I will give you a detailed insight into each chapter, but for better understanding I’ll reveal the english translations first – and both also for the first time here, on ‚Barbarian Skull’:
Chapter I: Off to a New Dimension
1. In the Mist
2. Teleported (exposition)
3. Through the Black Hole
4. Teleported (Reprise)
Chapter II: The Walls of Night
6. The First Contact
7. Before the Jump
8. In free Fall
Chapter III: Beyond the Walls of Night
9. The Magic Emptiness
10. Wary Steps
11. Last Doubts
So, in a nutshell, chapter I is about starting your journey, being teleported and landing at a scenery that marks the beginning of something new. Chapter II is about meeting the walls and doubting if you should dare the step over them or not. Once accepting the idea, you are in free fall from the walls into the unknown world. In
chapter III you are already beyond the walls, finding yourself fearful and the emptiness of thoughts and feelings which you cannot put in an order leads to insecurity. Once you get familiar with letting go off your boundaries, you get some insights and in the end you feel relief/salvation, glad that you have taken the
- Your first album Eisreich was composed entirely on hardware synthesizers. Did you use this same approach with Die Mauern der Nacht?
No, this album was created in a completely different way. I started composing in the
DAW completely. Other than on Eisreich, I worked a long time on all compositions
and arrangements, also the mix took months to be completed and to be as perfect as I wanted it to be. But I also used one hardware synth that was also used on ‚Eisreich’,
because only this synth can deliver those special sounds (Yamaha CS1X). It has its appearance on some tracks. The DAW I work with is ‚Reason’ by Propellerhead. I cannot mention all virtual synths that I used but I will name the most remarkable plugins I have used. Those are ‚Parsec’ by Propellerhead, ‚Predator’ by Rob Papen
and ‚Antidote’ by Synapse. Also to mention are virtual emulations of the classic Synthesizers ‚Roland D 50’ and ‚Roland JV 2080’ that were used for example by Burzum and Emperor in the 90s. Last but not least Drum sounds from The ‚Roland TR 707’ and the ‚Roland TR 808’ were used – those are well known from countless productions of the electronic music scene as well as from pop music.
As you might be able to guess, I am very interested in the history of synthesizers and also current developments of the instrument scene. Currently I am for example building up a analog modular system that will play a role in further productions for sure.
- Die Mauern der Nacht takes a much more mature and developed direction compared to the more primitive style seen on Eisreich. The new album also included elements not seen in your music before, such as percussion and arpeggiators. What inspired these changes in your music?
I’ll try not to repeat too much things I said before. Along with the before explained concept, that demanded the use of (in DS) unusual methods, it just came naturally while developing the album musically. It goes along with the above described feeling
of being free to let this project grow out of inspiration without boundaries. It is also connected to my diverse musical influences, but this is the topic of the next question…
- Die Mauern der Nacht is rooted in dark ambient and Dungeon Synth music but also incorporates influences from veteran synthesizer masters such as Jean-Michel Jarre and Klause Schulze. Can you tell us more about the musical influences of the album? Do you think the Dungeon Synth scene in general could benefit from incorporating a wider range of electronic influences?
The album reflects a lot of influences that are important for me. As you know that my main origin is (black) metal music and its dark synthesizer sidegenres, I’ll focus here only on those influences that differ from that. First of all I want to mention a fact that my friend Romulo of Iamí came across with and that I didnt really realize before. He said this album is very ‚German’ in a way. He was talking about meticulous precision and stuff. But after he said this I suddenly realized that it is also ‚German’ in another
way. Many pioneers of electronic synthesizer music came from Germany. K.H. Stockhausen, the incredible Klaus Schulze, Manuel Göttsching, Kraftwerk of course, just to name a few. Recently I deeply realized that there is a true heritage of electronic music in Germany. I mean, I KNEW it before, but now I deeply embraced
the thought and also feel somehow obliged to this heritage. The term ‚berlin-school’ for a (very old) genre becomes more important for me, and as fate wanted it, I live in Berlin and am allowed to breathe the air of that musical heritage every day! Berlin is,
in general, a very inspiring city when it comes to synthesizer music. For example, in April, there will be a music fair, that totally deals with the ‚nerdy’ parts of electronic instruments: modular synthesizers, focuses on analog synths and other great things
(Superbooth 2016). Other influences that are to mention are: Delerium (earlier works), Enigma, Trance music (of the 90s) and (Synth)Wave and of course ‚Oxygene’ by Jean-Michel Jarre.
No, I don’t think that the DS scene in general could or should benefit from electronic music influence. It is my special way to integrate these styles and this comes from my personal inspiration and from what I became musically from receiving those influences over decades. Instead, I would love to see people to also let more personal inspirations come into their music, also topic-wise. So, a musician from Greece could make a very cool Greek heritage inspired DS album! A south-american guy could make a really cool ‚indio rainforest’ version of DS (Iamí?!). An italian guy could focus on the Roman Empire and so on and so on… This could go hand in hand with the use of unusual instrumentation as well!
- The exceptional album art was created by Dan Capp, who also contributed a guest guitar solo on the album. What can you tell us about the concept behind the artwork? Do you plan on featuring more guest musicians on your albums in the future?
Working together with Dan on the layout played a big role in creating the visual appearance of the album. I had a quite clear vision how it should look like in general,
but Dan excellently transcribed it to actual visual art. We started working with Dan a while ago and he has a decent influence on the visual appearance of (almost) all our
works now. As he is a musician as well (I HIGHLY recommend checking out his project ‚Wolcensmen’!) it just came natural that, in the final period of completing the album, I asked him to do a guitar solo for the very last part of the album to give it that ‚special twist’. By the way, I had the honour to give that favour back: On the new
‚Wolcensmen’ album, there will be a song that features synths parts done by me! I can’t tell by now, if I will feature guest musicians on my next albums. I would probably like to work together with Murgrind on one one track in the future like we did on his
first album ‚Journey through the Mountain’.
- In addition to music composition, you also mixed, mastered, and produced the album yourself, allowing absolute control over your own music. What advice do you have for Dungeon Synth musicians in regards to music production? You also have a Facebook page which includes many articles and information about home music production, would you ever consider producing music for other artists?
As I answered in the first question: yes, prodcution is a very important topic for me! I try to improve further and further, as I believe that production skills are the way to make an album sound exactly the way you want it to sound. The more I deal with these topics, the more and more easy I am able to get exactly the sound that I want, also I become more flexible with styles and genres . Once you get the idea WHY one album or music or a single synth-sound sounds ‚this’ way, you are able to recreate that sounds. Additionally, in our modern times, the quality of your music is only
limited by your skills. So, everyone who is willing to invest some time and dedication will be able to produce ‚better’ music. But this is WORK. No fast-shots possible. Of course there can be a debate about how ‚underground’ that is. To be honest, I don’t
care about music that sounds like crap just because this is considered as ‚true’ or similar tags by some narrow minded people. This is bullshit for me, and also – most of the time – just an flimsy excuse by the ‚artist’, because he actually isn’t able to do it
better or willing to learn to do so. Take Murgrind for example. With ‚Inheritor of the Forest Throne’ we introduced that ‚bombastic orchestral sound’ that was never seen in DS before and in which my mastering plays quite a big role. Would anyone dare to doubt that Murgrind is true underground DS though? If so, it could be envy…
As for your 2nd question: As said, I did & do audio masterings not only for my music, but also for Murgrind, Medhelan (upcoming album) and Wolcensmen (upcoming album). This is something that I could do on request for others, too. Mixing on the other hand is not possible for others, just because it is too time consuming! Until
today, I regret that I promised to a friend that I will mix his album, but I couldn’t hold that agreement, because I just can’t find the time. Luckily for me, he understands that.
- Within the span of two albums your music was already evolved and progressed in a positive way. What can fans expect of Grimrik in the future?
I can’t really tell by now. I have several song sketches already floating around, and they move in different directions partly. In general, the Grimrik project is ‚paused’ somehow at the moment. I have to focus on other projects for a while. On the one hand we finally started working on the third album by Arath which is a lot of work. On the other hand, I am working secretly on some stuff that will make some people very happy – more on that to be announced soon… Also, I need to find ‚the’ final inspiration for Grimrik III. So, just expect ‚something in 2017’. Nevertheless there could be another special thing by ‚Grimrik’ before: I was asked by a fan to do a
soundtrack(!) for his 30 min. long movie!!!
- Thank you for taking the time to answer this interview! Any last words are yours!
I thank you for your deep interest in my project and background information, for those questions that allowed me to express myself besides the music and share some thoughts with all the readers. With your mag, you do an important job for the underground music scene!
Also it is time for me to give a special thanks to Murgrind, my friend and companion! I often mentioned before that I ‚discovered’ his talent and somehow mentored him and helped him to become the ‚Dungeon Master’ of our time, musically. But now another perspective needs to be mentioned: Without our work, that we started in 2013 with ‚Arath’ and Deivlforst Records, I would probably never have created the ‚Grimrik’ project – this means I would probably never have found ‚my’ ideal place for musical
expression and development. He had faith in my project from the very beginnning and also supported me in developing it further. Thanks, brother!
Last but not least I thank all my listeners, fans and supporters. Without you, my efforts would be useless – you giving me feedback and appreciation gives making music a sense beyond just expressing my musical ideas!