DATE OF INTERVIEW:
27th May 2013
After a seven year gap, Tolkien-centric Austrian duo Summoning have returned with a new, long-awaited album in the form of 'Old Mornings Dawn'. In fact, so long was the gap since the release of its predecessor, 'Oath Bound', there was a general presumption that this cult studio-based band was no more so the announcement they'd recorded brand new material was a pleasant surprise for many. Shortly ahead of its release, Metal Discovery quizzed Michael 'Silenius' Gregor and Richard 'Protector' Lederer about their latest Middle Earth opus, why it took so long for the band to re-surface, and how they continue to draw creative inspiration from Tolkien's writings...
METAL DISCOVERY: Firstly, congratulations on a stunning new album but a question I’m sure everyone’s been asking – why has there been a seven year wait since ‘Oath Bound’?
SILENIUS: Many years I simply was completely empty and had no ideas at all for Summoning. Somehow, I thought everything was said and I could not find any new aspects for this band. Later, I concentrated to work for the third Kreuzweg Ost CD; that cost me another year and, after that, a heart-infarct knocked me out another half a year. But, somehow, all this brought me to a point where I got hungry again and since then I concentrated again on making riffs. Everything started in small steps. But, after a while, I knew in which direction the music is going and the more I knew this, the easier it was to compose and the result is what you hear now. Besides that, there was a time when we thought that Protector could make a mini CD on his own and I should have the choice to re-enter the band or not. But, in the end, we cancelled everything and, nowadays, I realised that it was a good decision because the strength of Summoning is the combination of both of us.
(Protector on intentions to preserve the studio-based essence of Summoning)
"...we already got offered some "ridiculous amount of money" some years ago for performing live but we refused. Fortunately, we have our jobs and are not dependent on the money the music brings us..."
Summoning - promo shot
Interview by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2012 Manfred Kielnhofer - www.kielnhofer.at
Summoning Official Website:
Thanks to Andy Turner for arranging the interview
Summoning Official Facebook:
Albums & EPs
Minas Morgul (1995)
Dol Guldur (1996)
Nightshade Forests (1997)
Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame (2001)
Lost Tales (2003)
Oath Bound (2006)
Old Mornings Dawn (2013)
MD: Because of the long gap between releases, I guess many people considered Summoning defunct and had given up hope of ever hearing any new material. Were you worried that people might have lost interest in the band with such a long absence or do you think Summoning’s cult status and reputation within the scene ensures continued interest?
PROTECTOR: I was always the type of person who thought about the music rather than about what will happen with that music. I was focusing always to make the music representing most my personal taste and not to think about the reactions too much. This does not mean that I never cared about people’s opinion at all; in contrary, it was always interesting to see which reaction this or that songs created on the fans, but I never thought about that when I was making a song. If we would have worried too much about the reaction we cause with Summoning, or if we ever would have thought about what to do to reach a high fame and get a big band we surely would not have started Summoning, or Summoning would not sound as it sounds now. All the decisions we did during our musical career were really not suitable for the mainstream market. Neither the idea to make super long songs, nor the idea to keep the keyboard drums instead of a live-drummer were meant to bring us big musical fame, but just a result of our personal wishes for the band.
SILENIUS: The danger of being totally forgotten is, of course, present all the time when you make a 7 year absence and never play live. To be honest, of course we hoped that there are still fans around but we really have been surprised and did not expect so many fans welcoming us home again, and I think even the label was a little bit surprised after the Napalm teaser was clicked 50,000 times within a month.
MD: There’s a degree of progression in your aesthetic and sound but it’s generally a continuation from where ‘Oath Bound’ left off as all of the trademark Summoning elements are still present. Did you find it easy to get back into the vibe of composing and creating new Summoning music again after such a long break?
PROTECTOR: Well, for me, it was not difficult because the gap was not so long than for Silenius because I was not completely inactive during those 7 years. The problem is, for me, not to get back the "old vibes" but, rather, how to continue with Summoning without making a copy of the previous album. But those changes are not a result of a plan or a sudden idea, but a result of the hours of working on the new songs. Once we work on the songs and get really into it, those changes come automatically. The main changes I can hear are the more direct raw guitars and the general clearer sound with less reverb enabling the listener to hear all the details more clear.
MD: The music, once again, has that sonically epic quality that’s always been associated with Summoning and befitting of the subject matter. Do you always attempt to attain an epic feeling when composing the basic song structures and melodies or would you say this becomes more emphatic through the many layers of music in the instrumentations?
PROTECTOR: Again, I can say that most things come automatically. To sit on a dusty desk and plan what to do and what not to do for the new album is really not the way I want to make songs. The main thing is simply to start with the songs and then see what comes out. But I, of course, know that when I make one melody this does not mean that the part of the song is done, but just a start for additional tunes to follow. This is one of the things that makes us really different to standard metal bands, because we focus really much on multi-layered structures, while in traditional metal, a song is based on the rather monophonic guitar riff-vocal structure. This interchange between our different music layers is one of the elements that finally gives this epic feeling.
MD: Despite the snarled delivery of your vocals, they take on a kind of narrative essence within the context of the compositions, as much as the spoken word parts. Is it your aim for the vocals to have that feeling of helping to drive the storytelling nature of the songs, even though it’s generally difficult to comprehend what’s being sung without referring to a lyric sheet?
SILENIUS: First of all, I have to state that, like on each Summoning release, the vocals are shared between me and Protector. We discuss which song would fit which voice best and, in the end, half the songs are led by my vocals and the other half by Protector’s. Usually, our vocals differ in aspects of modulation and raspy sounds. My voice is more black metal styled. Protector’s voice, this time, often has a kind of singing tune mixed with black metal vocals. On the title song on the refrain we both sang for the first time after a long time together with harsh voices. And, of course, we share the choirs.
PROTECTOR: Over time, I got a bit bored of just using the voice as a kind of sound maker that’s just creating some rhythm and words, but not really adding some melodic information. Since ‘Stronghold’, I tried to find ways how to integrate melody to the voice, but still keep the black-metal way of singing somehow. Of course, this kind of "melody" cannot be compared to the way the instruments play melodies, but it’s a kind of connector between the harmonic-soft and the harsh elements inside the songs.
MD: There are distinct filmic/soundtrack qualities in your music so do you visualise the narratives behind the songs as part of the creative process when making music?
SILENIUS: The lyrical concept has absolutely no influence in our way of composing. when all music is composed and we are satisfied with the result then, usually, I make first thoughts about lyrics. I listen to the songs, try to drown into the mood of the melodies and imagine which lyrical topic could fit to the different moods to the different songs, and then slowly the lyrical concept is shaped, by comparing the songs to different poems of Tolkien and also other authors that fit into the universe of Tolkien.
MD: As well as capturing a general mood and feeling pertinent to Middle Earth, do you always hope your music engenders relevant imagery in the mind’s eye of others when they listen to your work?
SILENIUS: At least we hope so. First of all, I must say that the mood of a song often depends on which sounds and instruments we decide to choose for it. Of course, the soundtrack character of each song is very important for us, so that the listener can build up his own mind world and to transport his own adventures while listening to our music. In general, I would say the new CD has a more melancholic and sad mood unlike, for example, ‘Oath Bound’. If you compare those two records, ‘Oath Bound’ transports a more positive, heroic feeling like riding enthusiastically into a battle, while ‘Old Mornings Dawn’ has a more tragic mood like coming home from a battle, wounded and exhausted but still unbeaten.
MD: Summoning’s music, even more so on this latest album, has an almost timeless quality just like Tolkien’s writing. Is this something you strive for during the creative process?
SILENIUS: First of all, thanks for the compliment, but as Protector said we never think about which direction an album should or could go, or what direction we could have when we compose and are building up one melody over another. The process of creativity just flows and we often don’t know in which direction the journey goes finally. But what I realised this time, finally, is that the album is more a unity than at least the last one.
MD: Obviously your albums are your own musical interpretations of Tolkien’s works but is there any small part of you that ever wonders what the great man himself would’ve made of Summoning were he still around?
SILENIUS: I don’t think that Summoning would have pleased him. At least not with all the metal elements in the music. For example, I remember that I read a book about Tolkien and he was totally fascinated by a painter whose name I have forgotten now and whom I personally consider as a totally awful painter. So it seems that Tolkien had his very own taste of what is good or not.
MD: Tolkien’s fictional world is obviously mammoth in scope so do you find, and predict you always will find, limitless artistic inspiration from his works?
SILENIUS: It is true that we already have taken a lot of poems from his books to make musical translations on them. So with each new record it is, of course, a little bit more difficult to find new topics and new inspiration but, after all, this is no problem because, on the other side, we also use poems from other different authors or write some own words and weave it carefully together so that it, in the end, it fits to Tolkien’s universe.
MD: Out of sheer curiosity, how do you rate Howard Shore’s attempts at providing a soundtrack for Middle Earth against your own works?
SILENIUS: Howard Shore is, of course, a total professional composer. His music fits perfect in combination with the movie. Listen to his music alone without seeing the pictures, it’s maybe a bit boring but, after all, he did a great job for ‘The Hobbit’ movie again, and I really like the finishing song of this movie but, as far as I can remember, this is composed by another one.
MD: Do you find your music also attracts fans of Tolkien who aren’t fans of metal and, if so, what kind of feedback do you get from them?
SILENIUS: Yes, I think so. As far as I know, we have a lot of fans from the role playing scene and this scene is not a typical metal scene. Beside that, I realised that through our other non-metal projects like Ice Ages or Kreuzweg Ost, we even are interesting for those people who normally just listen to different forms of industrial, folk or ambient music.
MD: I know you’ve always quelled the possibility of taking Summoning to the live stage but, hypothetically, if you were offered a ridiculous amount of money and had an unlimited budget to hire a big orchestra/choir etc for a one-off special performance, is this something you’d even vaguely consider?
PROTECTOR: Actually, we already got offered some "ridiculous amount of money" some years ago for performing live but we refused. Fortunately, we have our jobs and are not dependent on the money the music brings us, so we don’t have to care about that. But we care about the image we create with our music, and two normal human people having stress to play the instruments on stage surely would destroy the images we created with all our music. We are simply not a live band and never spend a single thought on how to move our bodies on stage, and spend all of the time we have for making music instead of that.
MD: Finally, do you anticipate another long wait before the next Summoning album or is it way too early to start thinking about that?
SILENIUS: We already have plans that everything we want to release (LP versions of older records; unreleased songs; earbook edition) will happen during this and next year, so that at the end of next year Summoning can rest again and fall into the next longer sleep.