INTERVIEW: Silenius & Protector – Summoning

SUMMONING are one of the more illusive bands in black metal. Since the release of 1995’s Lugburz, the band have developed a huge cult following thanks to their heavily atmospheric soundscape and Tolkien inspired concepts and despite the fact the two man band have never performed live, SUMMONING‘s impact on black metal is enormous. This year saw the arrival of album number eight, With Doom We Come (read our review here), so we reached out via email to Protector and Silenius from the band to cast a light on their brand new album alongside reflecting on the band’s impact on black metal.

Hello there, Tim from Distorted Sound here. SUMMONING are one of the few bands that have made a truly unique mark on both the black metal & dark ambient genres since your formation. Record number eight With Doom We Come has just been released. What can we expect from the record and how’s the reception been to the record so far, if you’ve seen any?

Silenius: From the latest album you can expect a continuation of Old Mornings Dawn. Somehow it was meant to be a kind of little brother of that album, because it was built up from the ashes of that session, that means that from the Old Mornings Dawn session a lot of riffs or song structures, or even half finished songs have been left over and from all this we built up something new by rearranging, restructuring and composing a lot of new things onto it. Sound-wise it is nearly the same and song-wise it is maybe a bit more simple when it comes to melody forming and our singing can be distinguished better because Protector refined his vocal sound into a more mixture between black metal and singing style. The response to the album is as ever controversial as it is on each album. Maybe what I realised is that the press critics are getting better and better, while the fan critics are more critical. Normally it is always the other way round.

You’ve been signed to label Napalm Records since your very first record Lugburz in 1995. What prompted you to sign with them and how has that relationship worked over the over two decades you’ve existed now?

Silenius: Before we signed to Napalm Records in the beginning of the 90s we had two possibilities: either to sign with Napalm Records or to sign with Lethal Records, which was also a small independent label from Vienna. You have to imagine that at that time Napalm Records was a total small unknown label run by two guys in their kind of nursery. But the positive thing was that they already had signed ABIGOR and they had already SPV Distribution, which the other label did not have, and so we decided to sign with Napalm Records while our drummer Trifixion always wanted to sign with Lethal Records. The story behind the signing was that in the beginning Max of Napalm did not want to sign us, because he did not like our demos at all , but after the success of the first ABIGOR and because of TT‘s help in making promotion for us we got the deal in the end. Soon after Trifixion was fired and he later released some CDs on Lethal Records, but some years later this label was gone.

SUMMONING have always had covers with a landscape on the front, rather than a scene or focus, with the notable exception of Let Mortal Heroes Sing your Fame. With Doom We Come also features an image of a Dragon atop a mountain rather than the landscapes previously used. Do you have any creative input into the covers is there a reason for the use of this image?

Silenius: Usually it takes me a long time to search on the internet or in bookshops for fitting cover motives. This time we wanted something more fantasy-like on the cover and on my research on the internet I found those paintings and works from the Russian painter Yaroslav Gerzhedovich. I asked him if we can use this frame of one of his works and after his agreement we changed the picture within the frame against the dragon painting that was done from an old – I think European – painter called Georg Janny. For me it is always important that the cover motive looks old and not modern, so I always look for painters long dead. This Russian painter was just an exception. I also do not like bright colours and always look for paintings with earth colours to avoid them to look kitschy. For the rest of the booklet and the bonus CD we used the usual landscape paintings from the romantic era. Just the back cover of the bonus disc was painted directly for us by a Hungarian woman called Erika Szucs who also did some vocals.

The “black metal scene” that existed when the band begun is almost unrecognisable to today. Can you offer any comments about how it felt to be active within that at the time and explain to those who might not know what the “Austrian Black Metal Syndicate” was?

Silenius: When we started SUMMONING there was no black metal scene in Austria and also not in the rest of Europe, just in Norway and a handful of other bands in the rest of European countries. That means that we were
involved into the rise of a complete new musical movement, which in that time was not only a musical movement but also a life style. In that time there was no internet and therefore there was no infrastructure – we had to do anything on our own, build up structures, find musicians, distributions, labels and all the other information you need to get forward, but this was an exciting time and all of us have been bursting over from creativity. The ABMS more or less was a centre for black metal people to meet and get in contact but later when everything got more professional and our bands got signed, this kind of centre was not necessary any longer and was closed.

As the early black metal scene changed, so did SUMMONING’s sound. While your demo’s and arguably Lugburz were in a more “traditional second-wave” style, later releases have deviated from it to varying degrees. What prompted the stylistic change the band underwent?

Silenius: In that time between Lugburz was released and Minas Morgul was in the making, a lot of things happened, that where responsible for doing this step. You have to imagine that this period was a very short one,
because both albums where released within the same year. The biggest change was of course that we kicked out our drummer Trifixion, because of a lot of personal reasons. The consequence was that we did not search for a new one, but decided to work with drums played on the keyboard. The funny thing was that Protector could play drums, but simply did not want to do. As a kind of revenge to Trifixion‘s hectical drumming we slowed down everything and made the drums as primitive as possible and experimented a lot with non-metal drum sounds. The next change was that we did not compose the music on bass and guitar like we did on Lugburz, but just on keyboard. The consequence was of course a drastic change of style, and from this slowly the Tolkien concept arose. This was the
consequence of ABIGOR‘s satanic image. In those times I have been the singer of that band, and with SUMMONING we wanted to do differ more from ABIGOR. All that led to Minas Morgul‘s release and to the birth of the sound of SUMMONING.

With your first few releases coming out in the early/mid-90s, as such you’re almost uniquely placed to comment on the changes to the music industry resulting from greater connectivity the introduction of the internet had. Do you feel that helped or hindered SUMMONING as a band?

Silenius: I can not remember too much but in the end it of course somehow helped SUMMONING. After all the biggest help to make SUMMONING more popular was of course the fact that Napalm Records got bigger and bigger each year. To be honest at first we did not like that Napalm signed more and more commercial bands from the Gothic metal genre and so on, and we were a little bit ashamed but seeing it from nowadays this helped us of course to get more advertisement, a better distribution and worldwide recognition. today Napalm Records can not be compared to Napalm Records as it was in the mid 90s. All the younger generation surely can not imagine that Napalm Records once was a small black metal independent label. Today we are the last dinosaurs on the label, so of course there is no similarity from us to the rest of the Napalm roster; but it doses not matter. In former times we were a kind of big family when everything was still small, but now everything is of course professional business.

Obviously social media, with all of its positives and negatives, has become a big deal for some bands these days. While you guys do have a slight presence out there, with you recently taking over control of the Facebook page, is that something you like doing or did you prefer when traditional methods of exposure were the main way of getting, or not getting, publicity?

Silenius: Our strategy always was not to present ourselves as persons and this concept we kept since the beginning. While other bands tried to get into the media as much as possible, we try to stay away as good as we can. When others try to cry out every single news, day by day, we try to be silent as good as possible. When others try to push themselves into the foreground, we try to step back and be silent and so on. The consequence was that people thought that there is a mystery behind us and the band but it is not. We simply do not follow the trends that all
the others do and this seems to make us different, and this seems to be that what causes attention.

SUMMONING are somewhat famous for just being the two of you in the band and managing to not only compose great music but also your refusal to ever play live. How did this state of affairs come to be and why have you stuck to it over the years, whereas some of your contemporaries have ended up bringing in live or session members?

Silenius: I think the answer before said a lot why we never played live. In the beginning we just wanted to focus on the music and the band in the foreground and not us as persons. In the beginning days playing live as a black metal band was not even wished a lot. A lot of bands did not play live because live concerts where seen as party events which should be refused. Later when SUMMONING became bigger and the offers of playing live became financial interesting, it simply was too late to change our minds. It’s not that we changed our minds, but even if we should we could not change because of some very serious reasons: since we became a two man band we did not practice anymore. We compose riffs, record them and forgot everything immediately after because it simply was not necessary to keep it in the mind. That led to the situation that we did not improve on our instruments, quite the contrary, and so we never would have been able to play live concerts. After all until today we see ourselves as composers and not as musicians.

Lyrically you have not been alone in drawing inspiration for your music from Tolkien but your dedication and the amount to which you have done so is incredible. How do you continue to find inspiration from texts you must already know intimately?

Silenius: In the beginning we just took poems from Tolkien himself and we focused more on those poems who show the dark and destructive side of Middle Earth. Later our music became more heroic and epic and the lyrics we
used from Tolkien became more fair. Since Stronghold we also use poems from other writers and authors which I think could fit into the world of Middle Earth and we stayed in this field until now. Of course with the years it became cool to find new lyrical inspiration and finding new poems with different content. But luckily Tolkien‘s son has released some new books with unreleased material of his father and there also have been all the translations of Tolkien for some European mythologies. All this is of course a good source to get into and to find fitting lyrics. Beside that, as I said we take poems from mainly unknown writers, but this time we also used some Edgar Allan Poe poems and it was not too difficult to bring this into a connection to Tolkien‘s creation.

SUMMONING are musically quite a distinct sounding band. How do you think you’ve managed to avoid having many bands that imitate and truly capture your sound, with a couple of possible exceptions, when compared to other larger black metal bands?

Protector: I think the reason for this is that the way we make music, just as a studio band with a music computer, is not so attractive for a young band compared a a normal band who plays all their instruments live and also can easily give live concerts. Our way of creating music is a more controlled way and surely not what a new band wants when they start and want to let of all their anger and aggression out.

Silenius: I think it took some years until our sound got accepted and loved by a new generation. You have to imagine that we were the only band who composed all their songs on keyboards, which was the most prominent instrument in our sound, and we used keyboard drums. All of this was of course a total blasphemy within the metal scene, and so in the beginning we have been mocked rather than loved. But within the year the acceptance rose and with this came the younger bands who took over our ideas.

Across your history as a band there have been very few changes to the core sound, yet each and every album has its own unique feel to it. When creating a new record how do you approach these two opposing ideas and how do you feel that With Doom We Come will stand in relation to your other records?

Protector: since Minas Morgul it was always important for us to keep our typical SUMMONING style, but on the other hand we always wanted to change elements of our sound. Some of those changes where quite big (like changing from open guitar riffs to palm-muted ones and later back again), but because our music consists on so many elements and layers, changing one of it rather in a drastic way does not change the overall impression of our songs. This way we are quite free to experiment with new sounds and instruments while we can be sure that we don’t destroy the mood that is so important for SUMMONING.

I’ll bring this interview to a close by offering you the floor. Is there anything you’d like to say to the readers of Distorted Sound?

Silenius: It is sure that SUMMONING will fall asleep for a while now and it will take many years until a new full length album arose, but what I want to do with SUMMONING in a not too far future is to make a small vinyl release, maybe two or three new songs, limited to just a small amount of copies. I like the idea of making music for many people, but also up and then making music just for the few. Thanks for the interview and “up the hammers”

With Doom We Come is out now via Napalm Records.

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