Voices From The Past: Conversations with Grimrik

Grimrik was one, if not the first compatriot I met during my journeys into dungeon synth. After one of my articles on the history of the first “wave” of dungeon synth, here was a guy who was speaking with authority on a topic I believed to be unknown to most. Grimrik is a living artifact. One of the few still surviving titans of the original black metal scene which fostered this weird side genre that would eventually become dungeon synth. Since that time, Grimrik has seen this genre evolve over many years leading up to the present. It should be no wonder that Grimrik speaks with authority on the subject with some very strong opinions on the direction and stasis of the genre. I caught up with Grimrik at his lab just this week and surrounded by a mix of old and new technologies we chatted about his music, the state of dungeon synth and motorcycles. While he continually apologized for his English being a second language, here I was only knowing one. Perhaps dungeon synth will lead me to learn an array of languages or invent one so we can all speak to each other.

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For anyone who maybe new to your music or label. Just who are you and what acts do you operate? What are the main acts that are represented by your label?

Well, I have my solo-project‚ Grimrik’, am part of the project‚ Arath and have some other projects pending (various musical styles, don’t know which of them will actually be realized). Back in the mid 90s I made a Dungeon Synth album by a project called‚ Nazgûl. I make music myself but also help & encourage others to improve theirs (mostly concerning production and album-creation aspects). I have some influence on the label Deivlforst Records, which is ran by Murgrind. This label focuses mainly on atmospheric music, which is often what is now called Dungeon Synth, but can also be folk, metal or more electronic music – the most important thing is that it has to transport spirit, you have to get a certain feeling while listening. Deivlforst Records strictly follows a‚ quality over quantity rule which means it will release only outstanding albums (or at least such we consider to be so) and in most cases physically on limited edition tapes & CDs – and soon on vinyl. The label was build some years ago from the ruins of my old label Dark Forest Records which had its last release in 1997.

You have been around for a little bit, perhaps even long enough to see this newer dungeon synth resurgence come back into style. Would you call it a revival or resurgence? Do things look different that they did lets say 10 years ago?

I talked quite often about the waves into which I divide the DS movements over the past decades, so I just add a thought: Whereas in the 90s DS was a side genre done by Black Metal musicians and listened to by Black Metal fans, it nowadays seems to be mostly self-consistent. Now, the creators are not necessarily original BM-guys anymore and on the other hand, only a very small amount of nowadays BM-Fans listen to DS. The latter is definitely the worse part to me. The huge amount of BM fans shall be lead to this genre again and discover its treasures because there is such a strong connection between BM & DS. The problem is though, that the huge amount of, let’s say: ‚not-so- good’ DS releases would make those people turn away again because a lack of quality and seriousness. This is one reason why I fight for an increase of ambition and seriousness in this genre. I personally don’t want it to be a nerdy geek genre that has to hide in a corner. At least I see – besides an overall increase of releases in general – also more and more ambitious releases / projects recently, a partly change of course that I appreciate a lot.

Do you think any platform like Bandcamp or Facebook or Soundcloud has helped the scene of artists who are able to get their work out easier than before? Would dungeon synth look different today if it operated on tape trading and limited file sharing?

Of course, all those platforms help to connect the scene and help each artists to publish this music a lot, which is – in general – good. This sadly has a negative side to it though. There is no quality control. This is why I personally still like the label-method: A label that takes responsibility serious and actually selects albums & artists before they are released, helps the listener in the end. One won’t need to dig through tons of releases but will find the treasures much quicker. Of course many artists released very good albums all on their own also. But I dare to say they could have been even better if they were working with a label before and reworked again on an album after being given feedback. To the last part of your question: I was never that much into trading and nor am I now. I always prefer buying a release. Yes, the scene would definitely look different if it was just not possible to release your music by yourself easily. If better or worse is up to each individual’s opinion, it has it’s pros and cons. As far as I can tell now, it looks at least like that quality matters more and more even in this genre.

Do you have any thoughts on the newest outcropping of artists, musicians, and historical fantastics who are running around getting all excited about this type of music?

As a listener, literally everybody is welcome by me. We all were dragged into a genre at a certain point for the first time, by some album or artists that had our intention. And we alle were ‚virgins’ then. Maybe new listeners discover a whole new world(view) via music, so there is nothing wrong about that. For the new artists I have just a few whishes though: Please hold yourselves back. It is absolutely ok that you want to take/be (a creative) part in/of the scene/genre. But please do not immediately flood our ears with your first attemtps to walk. Learn to run and jump (which will usually take years!), then please come and impress us a lot with your output!

In what capacity do you think fantasy relates to things like dungeon synth? Arath seems to be completely immersed in fantasy while Grimrik seems to skirt traditional high fantasy for something else. Do you think the sound of dungeon synth and related styles wants to be escapist?

I think some kind of fantasy plays a very high role for nearly all DS acts, maybe it is the biggest inspiration for it of all. Fantasy can also be split up into several subgenres. There is some more serious intelligent or deep fantasy like the world of Tolkien (especially the Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings), while there is some other simple, childish’ fantasy as well. I prefer the first one. There is also the more barbarian fantasy stuff like Conan and the paintings of Frazetta for example. I like that much as well, but this is more Murgind’s domain. But there is also some fantasy that touches sci-fi partly and has also strong overlaps/coincidences with spirituality. This is the realm I see my Grimrik project in, but without leaving its escapist fantasy roots. But there is also a kind of fantasy that makes you ‚dream’ about past ages that actually existed, like the middle-age-focused DS like Fief or that Canterbury Tales stuff. If you see escapist as leaving the real world behind and going on a journey to different realms in time and space then yes DS is extremely escapist for me in all its variations.

Where do you see dungeon synth going from here? Do you foresee a continual growth of the genre as it reaches more people. Are you aware of other microgenres like witchouse or vapowave? Do you think that dungeon synth is different in any capacity?

I can only tell you the way I wish it would develop from here: Even more physical releases. Releases, a lot of work and thought were given into. No more I-play-my-3yearold- brother’s-bontempi-flute-sound-on-the-toilet (for minimal reverb)-and-instantly-release- that-as-kvlt-lo-fi. More Black Metal, fantasy/RPG-players and other interested people pulled into the genre, more people actually buying music at a decent price so better physicals can be made possible by the labels, so musicians can power-up their setup from royalties (as I often see in in the Synthwave-genre for example), much more fans so concerts and festivals can happen Indio’/Aztec/Mayan whatever DS, roman/Greek DS, Asian DS, there is MUCH to explore!). Yes, I’m aware of many other subgenres, my music interest is very wide. The limitations that hold DS back from evolving to similar ‚success’ and recognition like seen at other small genres are homegrown.

In previous conversations, You said you may have had an announcement or future project(s) that would perhaps be interesting for some people. Could you tell us some more?

Yes, I will gladly give you some info about things to come. Please consider that they may not happen in this order or not 100% like I can only assume now: My next Grimrik album will be a double-album that will be released in two parts, each on one Vinyl-LP! Expect that within the first half of 2017. Meanwhile I will be probably also working on a soundtrack for a (30 min.) fantasy-movie that is also scheduled for 2017. With Arath we finally started working on our third album seriously which will close the Arath-trilogy. Of course it will be metal again, but this time not the raw oldschool BM that you know from ‚Ungedul’. Expect to hear some ‚DS’ in it, too! Deivlforst Records is not standing still and for 2016 there are still 5 releases planned, including the incredible full album by Wolcensmen! The last release in 2016 will probably (and hopefully) be a combination of an anniversary re-release and of new material by a project that was long buried under dust. Additionally, we managed to have some ‚bigger’ names of the scene contributing both visual and audio to this release which will see an artist/die-hard-fan ultra limited digipack (20 for sale), a jewelcase CD (50 for sale) and a tape (50 for sale) all at once. If you count these figures together and have some info about the past, you will recognize a repeating history.

I think besides metal, what I have seen you talking about outside of music is motorcycles. Do you currently spend all of your time, when not making music, on the road? How long have you been riding and what about it draws you to the hobby?

Funny, this is the first time that someone asks those (private) things in an interview! Yes, I am riding a (customized) Harley-Davidson since about 6 years. Quite difficult to explain the motivation – without using clichés like the freedom you’re feeling when riding such a motorcycle down the road, feeling the wind in your beard, the vibrations of the machine, becoming one with road and bike – but it’s true. In addition, being ‚a biker’ is surely another thing; I always felt attracted to the more ‚rebellious’ (sub)cultures and this started with me being a skateboarder from the age of about 10, and of course all lead into being a ‚metal guy’ since my teenage years. After reaching a certain age, it of course wasnt necessary for me anymore to show off the rebellious attitude in the complete outer appearance, yet some signs remained that the attentive people will recognize. But no, I am not spending all my time on the road. In regular (spare time) daily life, most of my time is spent dealing with music, may it be the hunt for new music to listen to, checking news from the world of synthesizers, label organisation stuff (which is really some kind of part-time-job), partying at my favorite club Berghain in Berlin every now and then – and of course making music myself.

I ask this to everyone and you will be no different. Do you think dungeon synth can exist in a live venue? If so in what capacity and if not, what are the reasons why. Could you see a festival, maybe at some old castle, taking place with enough people attending to make up for the cost of production?

As you may know I recently started some inquiry in the DS group to find out if it would make sense to organize a DS ‚festival’ event. Unfortunately I came to the conclusion: Sadly no, not yet. The scene is still too small and there is no significant amount of people that could and would be willing to come, i.e. make a (long) flight trip and organize and pay for their trip. Don’t get me
wrong, there are some, but absolutely not enough. I’d gladly organize this in the future, but not for 3 people, know what I mean? In general, there absolutely could be some kind of venue and festival. In our scene this could be a mix of some gathering of artists and fans, with discussions and maybe workshops and could close with a few concerts. I actually have a quite clear vision of that, but time will tell if it would pay off (not meant monetary) to organize such an event. It has to be considered that a lot of time and (and also money) is needed to set up such a thing, when done right. I will not forget the idea and watch the scene very observant. As soon as I feel it could work, I’ll set it up!

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