“Oldenhelm is from California and before the release of the Relics and Reverence EP due out sometime, the artist known as Shadowcloak has released a three song demo which is really centered around the longest song “Spells of Aeonian Starlight” which the other two sort of being a beginning and end to this haze crawling masterpiece. Oldenhelm knows where to sit at the big dungeon synth tqable. With a sound that is classic and a Bandcamp background which is from the 3.5 edition of D&D, Long Lost Relics Of Power is a preamble to great things in the future.”
That was my write up for the Dungeon Synth Digest #13 back in the Summer months of 2016. I did say that Long Lost Relics of Power was going to a preamble to great things. The great things, at the moment, is the release of Oldenhelm’s newest EP Relics and Reverence. My meeting with the creator behind Oldenhelm came by chance and through the misty channels of dungeon synth connections I arranged a meeting with the man called Shadowcloak at a tavern on the far side of town. Through various drinks and hushed murmurs in some shadowy corner we talked about the past, present, and future of the lands of Oldenhelm.
What is your relationship with dungeon synth. How did you get involved with the community and making music?
I first became interested in ambient music when I was 16 years old. At the time I was already a huge Burzum fan (Burzum is still the most important band to me musically and creatively to this day), and I remember checking out the Hlidskjalf album and being completely amazed by it. At the time I had heard from other black metal fans that it was “shitty prison music made on a Casio keyboard”, so I didn’t expect much. It exceeded my expectations in every way and opened up a new world for me. That album not only made me appreciate synth music, but helped me understand how important atmosphere is and how to take others on a journey using musical elements alone and no vocals. I still have not heard a better ambient/synth song than “Der Tod Wuotans”, and I probably never will. That song’s ability to tell a story using nothing but musical ideas is mindblowing (for example, the lone oboe section in the middle is Wotan falling on the battlefield, read the written concept while listening to the song if you missed that before). I first began writing music in 2013, using a Casio keyboard. I was listening to the excellent Ukrainian project Dark Ages and thought that I could probably make music like this too, even though I had no prior experience. I began hitting notes on the keyboard and a few days later I recorded my first demo “Hymns to Bragi” under the project name Hrungnir. It was extremely primitive and basic, but it was the best music I could create at the time and really wanted to create something dark and atmospheric. Hrungnir is no longer an active project, but that opened the door to my involvement with Dungeon Synth.
Your first 2016 demo was geared towards the traditional style of the 90’s even the album art for your debut demo. Does that style speak to your more than the light orchestral variety?
Anything I do creatively is going to be based on tradition, because I’m a traditional person in general (including my worldview and personal preferences towards most things). The artists that inspire me the most are projects like Burzum, Mortiis, Summoning, Forgotten Pathways, Depressive Silence, Old Monk’s Saga, etc. These visionaries helped shaped the genre and contain all the elements that make Dungeon Synth a genre I can connect with. These projects also use old digital synthesizers, which are mandatory in this style of music in my opinion. Synthesizers are not acoustic instruments, and instead ‘synthesize’ sounds which are based on ‘real’ instruments, but there are endless possibilities for creating sounds on a synthesizer that do not exist on any acoustic instrument. This helps add to the fantasy/otherworldly aspects of Dungeon Synth.
Do the themes of loneliness and solitude still inhabit your new EP?
Yes, definitely so. Oldenhelm is meant to be listened to alone, so that the listener can fall into a spell and enter another world. The EP has a lot of variety; epic and beautiful songs, adventurous songs, militant war marches and battle hymns, but solitude is a natural part of Oldenhelm’s music (listen to the songs Gateways of Grief and Prophecy or Somber Paths Where Nightwinds Fare on the EP). I can’t imagine Oldenhelm without feelings of solitude.
When you have a listener’s attention and engagement, where do they go?
Oldenhelm is actually it’s own world, a world that I’ve created and will build upon with each release. It is a world of ancient civilizations, warrior kings, dark sorcerers, mystic beasts, strange magic, lost wisdom, and endless warfare. The poem below is the best description I can provide:
Through towers tall and dungeons dark
Across lonely lands forgotten
Beneath caverns cursed where lurking lairs
Hide baneful beasts begotten
By summoned spells passed guarded gates
And trails of sullen stone
Over perilous paths which forge the fate
Of the doom of soul and bone
Through dungeons dark and towers tall
Rests an old and ancient realm
Where radiantly risen in hallowed halls
Lies the throne of Oldenhelm
Ruins and Reverence is the release you seemed to be working towards as last year’s demo was music not not included on this EP. Has this EP been in the works for you? Is this the one that you have been working towards?
Oldenhelm was actually created in 2014, and most of the music for the song Beholding the Emerald Vale was written at that time. I was finishing my Bachelor’s degree at the time and was also working on other music projects, so it wasn’t the right time to release any of Oldenhelm’s music. By 2016 I already had a handful of songs but I had a very specific vision for Ruins and Reverence, so the three songs on the Long Lost Relics Of Power demo are songs that did not fit with the EP. Because the physical copy of the EP was such a time consuming project, it has taken longer than expected to release the EP. However, now that everything is ready I can say I’m very satisfied with the end result. Each copy of the Ruins and Reverence tape comes with a poster, a shaped metal logo pin, a written story, and poems for the songs Gateways of Grief and Prophecy and A Crown of Dragon Claws. These are some of the best songs I’ve created musically, and are my own unique interpretation of Dungeon Synth music. It was worth the wait.
When not dwelling in dark and still chambers by candlelight, what can people find you doing from day to day?
Reading often, I mostly read history and fantasy/sword and sorcery. I try to learn as much as I can about the past, the endless wars of mankind, ancient cultures and religion, and polytheism in general. I also collect horror movies and consume as much music as possible.
What are you currently reading and what have you currently watched that could be recommended to readers?
I’m always reading multiple books. Right now I’m reading The Way of Wyrd by Brian Bates and just started The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth. Both are recommended for any readers who are interested in Anglo-Saxon paganism and culture. As far as horror movies I’ve watched recently, I highly recommend Funhouse (directed by Tobe Hooper of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame) and The Prowler. Funhouse has a really intense, maniacal atmosphere, and The Prowler is one of the more serious slasher films I’ve seen. The shotgun execution scene in The Prowler alone is worth watching the whole film to see (special effects by the legendary Tom Savini, who did the effects for Maniac, Creepshow, Friday the 13th, Dawn of the Dead, etc).
Do your close friends and family know about this side of you as a dungeon delver?
Some do, but most people are not really interested in this kind of music. I don’t often share any of my music projects (or even discuss music in general) with people unless they might be interested in it.
How have you found the support and community of the online DS community?
The demo has received very positive feedback and I’m glad that people enjoy and support Oldenhelm. Some have even told me that they discovered Dungeon Synth through the Oldenhelm demo, which is a huge compliment. In particular Spells of Aeonian Starlight is one of the best songs I’ve done. The EP is being released by Alsvidr Productions (my label) in association with Haftvad Records. We have a partnership with Steel Unicorn Records in Russia, so for the first time Oldenhelm will also have European distribution. I hope and believe that people who liked the demo will enjoy the EP even more, since it’s a more complete vision of the world of Oldenhelm.
Lets talk RPGs. Lets say that you were sitting at my table with a bunch of other DS creators. What type of character would you be playing?
Unfortunately being a hermit has prevented me from playing tabletop RPG’s. However, fantasy is a huge aspect of my life, and remains one of my biggest inspirations (not just musically, but in general). I know this is not the same thing, but when I do play games they are usually computer games and I only play one kind of character. Whether it’s Diablo II or Elder Scrolls, I play a tank character. Give me a barbarian with a battle axe that can take damage and split skulls in two – this is literally the only thing I’m interested in playing as! CROM!!!
Skyrim, Oblivion, or Morrowind?
ALL! Morrowind has the most original world (and doesn’t hold your hand the entire time). The Dark Brotherhood quest in Oblivion is one of the highlights of the entire Elder Scrolls series. And Skyrim is probably the most perfect world I’ve ever found in a video game. If I was to create my own video game world, it would probably be very similar to Skyrim. Lastly – Skyrim belongs to the Nords! My ancestors are smiling at me Imperial, can you say the same?
I have always joked about dungeon synth in the live arena. Do you think Oldenhelm could exist playing live? What would be your ideal setting for a concert?
I am really opposed to the idea of ever performing my own music live. As I said before, these songs are intended to be solitary journeys taken by the listener into the depths of their own imagination, guided by the obscure sounds of Dungeon Synth. I’m not opposed to others playing live if they want to, but this is my personal stance regarding my own music. I think about how many midnight journeys I’ve taken listening to Summoning, disappearing into another world far away from the degenerate modern age, where what once was reigns. I could never imagine taking that journey in a club surrounded by drunks and people taking photos on their cell phones.
What does the future look like for this project? Do you think we can see any other releases from Oldenhelm this year?
New Oldenhelm material is already in the works. I only release music when I’m satisfied with the end result, and I’ve learned that taking your time to make sure everything comes out right is the only way to go. I hope that Ruins and Reverence will help set the standard for 2017 and encourage others to release more physical releases that they’ve put a lot of energy and effort into. The next Oldenhelm release will actually be a split release, but I can’t reveal too much at the moment.
To leave us, what character form any fictional or original work could be most attributed to the work of Oldenhelm? If this music had an avatar, what would be looking back at us?
Shadowcloak, of course. Shadowcloak is the proprietor and chronicler of the lands of Oldenhelm, a wanderer as old and timeless as the stars. The written story included with the Ruins and Reverence EP will reveal more about him, but I will leave you with this introduction from the story:
The sound of hooves resounded upon the ancient cobblestone path as rain and distant thunder fell steadily over the mountainside. The black stallion hurried his pace up the withered road toward the ruins perched atop the mountains which overlook the lush brilliance of the Emerald Vale. Upon his back the grim steed carried a Wanderer adorning an old black cloak, worn in tint from untold journeys across distant lands, yet richly blackened as if it possessed the very essence of the shadows in it’s archaic threads. At last they reached the crumbling stairs of the ruins, the rider silently dismounted, grabbing his staff and sword before setting his companion free. The warhorse neighed a last farewell as the Wanderer approached the mist-veiled ruins, the weathered stones radiantly glowing with each strike of lightning from the benighted sky.