Unearthed Arcana: Henri Sorvali and Forgotten Dungeon Synth

The Sleeping Green - track illustrations

There are a billion things I could have asked Henri Sorvali. His work in Moonsorrow and Fintroll is usually a start but so is his work in video game composition or his enthusiasm for gaming. Additionally, I could have asked him about his role in the H&M clothing troll which overtook metal media a few years back. There are a billion things I want to ask Mr. Sorvali but since we has so few moments together, I might as well concetrate mostly on his dungeon synth project. I mean, would you expect anything less from me?

As reported in the last Dungeon Synth Digest, Lunar Womb was a dark ambient / medieval project created by Henri Sorvali and a few associates in the late 90’s. The project was never completed and sat on hard drives collecting digital dust. However, this year it was completed and released to a new generation which found an appreciation for the sound. The Sleeping Green not only represents a seminal project finally completed, but also an unsuspecting artifact of dungeon synth history in which the creator was surprised to learn that many people not only knew about, but were eager to celebrate. Henri was kind enough to make his way to our small hamlet and over pipes and cups of ale we were able to discuss music from ages past and dungeons of today.

You no longer play live with Moonsorrow. Was that a decision made because of your commitment to other projects?

Not just because of that. My personal life and other music- related timesinks are keeping me extremely busy, but as I have written in my blog in August 2015, the decision was not only due to commitments to other projects but mostly because of my mental health. I have been suffering from depression since the late 90´s and touring makes it uncontrollable in a way that I have had to step out from those activities. If you´re interested to read more about the matter and my decisions leading to the situation, surf into here.

I initially reached out to you regarding Lunar Womb which was an electronic/ambient/synth project began in 1995. Who was involved with this project?

It all started with me, my cousin Ville and our mutual friend Kharadrai back in 1994, all of us being fans of ambient and electronic music. After releasing our (horrible) first cassette demo, “Planets”, we decided to split up, everyone concentrating on their own styles as we were all having a different ideas how to evolve. While Ville never continued his visions, Kharadrai made some very succesful and oppressing- sounding industrial/ ambient demos in the late 90´s and I continued with Lunar Womb alone until 1999. The second demo I made alone in 1997 wasn’t particularly very good due to a complete lack of equipment, but with Sleeping Green I had finally got a proper synth with proper sounds to materialize my visions the way I wanted to.

Your material from this project was made in the late 90’s but got archived until last year. What was your reaction when unearthing this project?

Going through my backups in early 2015, I stumbled upon the tracks, wondering if they still sound as outdated as I remembered. For my surprise, I realized that with a proper re- mastering these could actually be interesting to listen to….at least for myself, so I decided to give it a chance. I still find the vocals quite horrible and for what it comes to the production it´s definitely not matching the standards of today, but underneath the clumsiness there´s clearly an idea about what I was trying to achieve. If nothing else, I consider it as an important part of my musical history combined with my ideologies. I wasn´t planning to publish those, but when discussing about the tracks with comrade Velkaarn from Asmodian Coven- website, he insisted me to do so, so here we are over 15 years later, haha!

The sounds and melodies on The Sleeping Green are a combination of both work in the late 90’s but also finished and polished more recently. Was it easier to work on Lunar Womb with the recent technology as oppose to the late 90’s?

To correct the assumptions a bit, nothing has been re- recorded or musically modified from the original tracks. Everything you hear is recorded and mixed in 1999! The only thing done again was the mastering, which is basically the “last polishing” of the sound. It took me several weeks and countless hours to restore the music into a state it was possible to master again, and I doubt it could had never been done 15 years ago in a way it was done now- undoing a lot of earlier mistakes in the sound processing (e.g. stereo image overwidened into a phase cancellation, artificially too boosted hi and low frequencies) and trying to get some of the dynamics back with careful automation hell.

Could you give us some insight into the world of dark synth music made by metal musicians in the late 90’s? Were you aware of things like Burzum, Depressive Silence, Mortiis, and what seems like a bevy of musicians making dark synthscapes?

I first stumbled into Burzum´s synth pieces in 1994 but the real breakthrough for myself was Mortiis´ “Keiser av den Dimensjon Ukjent” a year later. I used to (and still do) listen to Cold Meat Industry- released albums as well, ranging from Aghast to Mortho(u)nd to Arcana and back and a lot of “real” ambient artists such as Steve Roach and Brian Eno, but the more medieval and national-romantic fantasy- themed style was definitely my cup of tea and that seemed to be also the case for many other metal musicians.

At some point in ´96/97 the “ambient side project”- thing got really popular, as every second black metal musician was announcing his new upcoming Casio project to be the most dark/ atmospheric/ conanthebarbarian around and there were countless of bad releases to try to avoid. Many of them were quickly forgotten, but some became gems that are still standing against time in their own uniqueness and feeling, of which a great example is the superb “Fjelltronen” of Wongraven, a.k.a Satyr. I find many parallels between ambient/ synth music and 2nd wave of black metal, both relying often on hypnotic soundscapes and otherworldy atmospheric layers of sonic mass- and many bands have already included those similar synth elements to their albums in a form of intros and interludes since the dawn of that 2nd wave of black metal. And as the metal audience is generally more keen into fantasy pop culture and even classical national- romantic themes than e.g. dubstep or reggae audience, it´s easy to see why the seemingly very different- sounding music has found a place in their hearts as well.

What was your reaction when you learned about the recent development in dungeon synth and a whole new generation of people following the paths made by solo musicians in the 90s? Did you ever think it would be a thing in 2016?

You know that warm, fuzzy feeling when you thought you had lost something dear, finding it again years later? That! But it´s not only nostalgia- tinted glasses, as I really love that sound. What really made me glad was that while the technical limitations are not hindering the productions like they used to do, the music I encountered was still made with a great respect to the genre´s original sound combined with the more modern possibilities. And for many things I could had predicted from the metal (and related) scene, I have to admit that the return of DUNGEON SYNTH wasn´t on that list, haha!

Have you had any recent favorite dungeon synth albums or artists?

As the whole re- movement of the genre was flying completely under the radar for me, I only have catched a small part of the new artists as we speak. From your blog, Faery Ring was really catching my attention, though!

Aside from Moonsorrow and Finntroll as well as being a music producer for Rovio Entertainment, you have recently opened up a mixing / Mastering operation called Trollhouse Audio. Who is the audience for this service?

More extreme black and death metal bands and projects who are interested on getting a proper, yet nasty and organic sound for their products- be it mixing, mastering or even both! The more evil the source material, the better, heh! I opened the service “unofficially” in April 2016 and have recently worked with a couple of Finnish black metal projects, and right now I´m mixing a full- length album of currently unannounced band to be released later this year.

I´m also very experienced on mixing on synth/ ambient/ neoclassical music, so if anyone reading this becomes interested, don´t hesitate to catch me on Twitter @trollhornmusic– I´m not that expensive, as it´s more of a very dear side- project for me among everything else, haha!

Do you have anymore freetime left? Do you like to pass that little bit you have with games or books? If so what has been keeping your interest lately?

Being a father of three kids, the concept of “free time” is rather unknown term for me, haha! While I´m not taking care of the more mundane things such as de- infecting a moldy woodshed or picking up small people from kindergarten after work, I still have some time for myself every now and then. Most of that I either spend in my studio room, playing computer games, writing and drawing while listening to music, building and modding computers and reading either about music production, philosophy/ psychology or fantasy literature. I do spend a lot of time in the nature in contrary to all the tech surrounding me, but I always take my family with me.

Just like every gamer who is a parent, I have a ton of unplayed or unfinished games in my shelf and on my Steam and GoG- accounts. Lately I´ve been playing..uh, a certain “older” version of World of Warcraft, Heroes of Might and Magic III, Day of the Tentacle remaster, Psychonauts and Hearthstone.I tend also to play with my kids as much as possible, and we just finished Curse of Monkey Island with my son, who thought it was the best game ever, heh!

Let us say I am starting a new longterm campaign for a tabletop RPG. Could be D&D, Pathfinder, or any other system and you are playing in my game. What type of character are you making. What should I expect during our games? Are you our fighter or are you casting spells in the back?

I´ve always been drawn more into the caster types. Basic swordfighting is so boring that I at least need to be a thief then, haha! For (A)D&D, I´d probably settle for a chaotic neutral Illusionist. Being a bit unstable, I´d love to do the unpredictable and amuse myself in expense of practicality. Not to mention the certain “unrelialibity” as a party member as well- a kind of D&D- version of good old Loke, if you prefer mythology, haha! Last time we played D&D, we used pre- defined sheets and I ended up getting a lawful good human mage. Yuck! It was so boring to be in character I started drinking heavily IRL and demanded my character to be an alcoholic so I could tweak my own gameplay even a bit more interesting.

I ask this to every dungeon synth creator but seeing how Lunar Womb just came out with a record, it would be natural for that entity to tour. What are your thoughts on a festival with this type of music. Could you see an interest in having a festival of all ambient synths?

There are a lot of festivals already dedicated to music which isn´t necessarily loud and overhyped, and I could easily see e.g. a stage or a tent dedicated to this type of music only in Wave Gothic Treffen or M´era Luna Festival. Ambient music festivals are existing, but for a festival solely dedicated to this subgenre, it would be quite hard to find bigger names every year to draw interest, as the scene is so small.

But who knows? Maybe some day there will be Dark Dungeons Open Air in a nice southern German field with live action roleplaying and mazes built from inflatable stone walls to solve and go through? Damn, the more I think it, someone has to do this!!!!

Tags: , , , , ,
Categorised in: