This is not exactly a new interview, but one I conducted when “The Golden Bough” was released. The interview was published in Scream magazine back then, but has never been available in English. Here it is, to shorten the wait for the highly anticipated next album, “The White Goddess”.
When exactly was ATLANTEAN KODEX formed? In your prior bands, you (Manuel) seem to have focused on black or at least more extreme metal. Is ATLANTEAN KODEX just another part of your musical personality, or is it a case of your personal taste in metal changing throughout the years?
– ATLANTEAN KODEX was formed by the end of 2005 by Kreuzer and me. We didn‘t have much of plan besides jamming on some old Manowar and Bathory-riffs. We felt that after Quorthon died and Manowar went plastic, something was missing in today‘s metal. There was no band who followed the path these two bands laid out. So we had to do it ourselves. We just wanted to create exactly the music we always loved the most – the heaviest metal in the tradition of old Manowar and Bathory, but we never thought that this sorry excuse for getting drunk on a Sunday afternoon and making noise would actually turn into a real band. Atlantean Kodex are the quintessence of my musical personality. You can find everything I love about metal in this band. The epic choirs and vast atmospheres of Bathory, the pounding rhythms and clarion melodies of early Manowar, the twin-guitars of the NWOBHM, the love for obscure Sword-and-Sorcery-lyrics and odd songwriting as in US Bands like Manilla Road or Cirith Ungol, and of course the heavyness of doom bands like Solstice and various folk influences. I never really focussed on extreme metal, it was just the natural situation around here, where I grew up. I was always into old Manowar and Bathory, even when I was a kid, as these bands got me into metal in the first place. But if you wanted to start a band around here in the early 90s your only two choices were either Grunge or Black Metal. Basically NOONE who had a band listened to Manowar or NWOBHM or US Metal. So I settled for extreme metal as the lesser evil. I always tried to push the bands I played in into a certain „traditional“ direction, but in the end we always split up after a couple of months, because everyone in the band wanted to play a different style. I guess that‘s how it goes when you‘re 15/16 years old and want to make it big as a rockstar. Those were the days… My taste hasn‘t really evolved since. Maybe it has become a little bit wider. Currently I‘m very much into British folk rock from the late 1960s, stuff like Forest, Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention. And I think 90% of all bands are shit when compared to Creedence Clearwater Revival. In the end practically any handmade music that doesn‘t come with a stupid image or sales gimmick is okay in my book. But heavy metal is where my heart really is.
Your first signs of life, “The Hidden Folk” on the split with Vestal Claret and “The Atlantean Kodex” on “The New Age Of Iron” both featured the vocal talents of Phil Swanson. How did you get him to sing on these songs in the first place? Did you know from the start that live performances with him would be impossible, or did you not consider live appearances at all when you decided to work with him?
– Phil contacted us after we spread our first songs across the internet with a message that we were looking for a singer. Back then we weren‘t really thinking about ever playing live, like I said we didn‘t really plan to become a „real“ band at first. Nobody ever cared about any of our earlier bands, so why should people care now? So the thought of not being able to play live didn‘t even occur to us. When things started to get into motion and the offers for live shows became more and more, we eventually realized, that – although Phil‘s voice is really awesome – the distance between the USA and Europe might become a problem. That‘s when we decided that we should find a local vocalist, who could rehearse and play live with us.
A few of your releases have been extremely limited and soon became collector items either for “the elite”, or for those who act very fast to buy them when they are released or for those with enough money to buy them on Ebay later. At the same time you also do a low budget label called Temple Ov Katholic Magick which released the live AK-album as well as a vinyl version of Funeral Circle. What is the philosophy of this label? To me it seems like a reaction to releases in the vein of for instance “The Pnakotic Vinyls – Bärwurz edition”?
– Yes, that‘s right. I have a feeling that things had gotten out of control recently with all these super-die-hard editions with thousands of gimmicks and prices as high as 50$ for a simple LP. It seems that people are buying the stuff only because it‘s strictly limited to 100 and comes with a tooth of the guitar-player‘s dog or whatever. Temple of Katholic Magick is a counter-reaction to that development. The aim was to go strictly back to basics: black vinyl, simple black and white cover, lyrics and a very low price – that‘s it. No extras, no posters, stickers, etc. I kept the layout that simple, because I wanted people to buy it because of the songs, not because of the fancy gatefold sleeves. In the end it‘s the music that counts. I‘m a collector myself and I love it when an album comes in a great layout, but I felt that some kind of statement like this was necessary, as things are getting out of control and the „die-hard“ gimmicks and most of all the prices are getting more and more ridiculous. I know as a fact that a lot of labels are using the „die-hards“ only for a quick cash-in, they know that people will buy it no matter what the price is. The original idea behind the „die-hard“ concept was to give the closest fans a little extra for the same price or 1 or 2 Euros more. But this idea has totally turned into shit. Metal‘s not for the rich… haha…
You used to be involved with Iron Kodex Records/New Iron Age, but I am not sure if you are still involved? If not, why?
– No, I quit the label in early 2009. Mainly for time reasons and I was also feeling that I started to lose my passion for the music with all that business stuff and work that piled up even with a label as small as Iron Kodex was. It started as a fun hobby to help some cool young bands with their first releases, but it turned into a serious, time-consuming business quite fast. And that‘s not really my world. Rebecca, my former business partner, has been running the label alone since then.
“Regressive metal” is a term that you used, at least in the past. One of the things I really hate about the more mainstream metal, or music in general today, is the fact that many seem to think that the terms “new”, “fresh” and “innovative” are signs of quality. Are you referring to this trend, or is “regressive metal” a “slogan” that indicates that ATLANTEAN KODEX have no plans of changing their style?
– When using the term „regressive“ I was certainly thinking of exactly the state of things you mentioned. I will never understand how people blindly follow bands, just because they‘re „innovative“ or „progressive“. Just because it‘s „new“, doesn‘t mean it‘s good, does it? Quite generally I think the term „progressive“ is used in a totally wrong way today. What the hell – for instance – is „progressive“ about bands like Dream Theatre or Porcupine Tree? Everything they do has already been done before. It‘s just a big self-deceit, like „hey, look at me, my taste in music is more sophisticated than yours, because I‘m listening to progressive metal“. Or maybe it‘s a justification for not being able to write a good song with four chords and a memorable hookline? When we made that statement about „regressive metal“ we wanted to say that we don‘t give a shit about „developing“, getting more „sophisticated“ or „innovative“. We don‘t want metal to change or progress, because then it wouldn‘t be the music we love anymore. It would be something else.
The version of “A Prophet In The Forest” that is featured on “The Golden Bough” is like three minutes longer than the version that first appeared on the very limited vinyl EP and later on “The Pnakotic Vinyls/Demos”. Also the version of “The Atlantean Kodex” featured on “TGB” is different from the Phil Swanson-version, both with regards to the tempo and the chorus. My guess is that a ATLANTEAN KODEX-song is never fully finished, and is always evolving and will maybe continue to change as you are rehearsing and performing it live more and more?
– Yes, that was certainly the case with the two songs you mentioned. „The Atlantean Kodex“ was originally written in 2006 but has developed ever since. We found that it worked pretty well in a live situation, with the crowd chanting along and generally played in a higher tempo. So we tried to include this, when we recorded it for „The Golden Bough“. As for „Prophet“, I felt that the demo version on the „Pnakotic Vinyls“, wasn‘t really complete. It needed some big, dramatic part to end the song, so we played around with it in our rehearsal space and eventually came up with the huge ending and the new lyrics you can now hear on the album.
Can you estimate how many hours of work you have put into “The Golden Bough”? Have you been able to work on the album on a regular basis, or has it been more of an on/off-production where you have worked hard for shorter periods of time? Which part of the process has been most time consuming?
– Too much, that‘s for sure…haha… We were working on the songs unregularly for maybe two years, just jamming on the riffs and trying to arrange them to proper songs, but the real studio work began in February. From then onward, we were working on the album on a regular base with weekly recording sessions, starting with the drums and guitars and ending with the vocals and the last lead guitars in May. This went pretty smoothly. The most intense part was the final mixdown. We were working with a lot of tracks – all these layered vocals and lead guitars, the choirs, etc. This brought me close to smashing my gear more than once. But in the end I think, we came up with a good result – and we did it all by ourselves.
Even though people would probably label his ideas and theories as dated, do you think that any of James Frazers theories and thoughts have any relevance when it comes to religion in today society?
– Interesting question. Like you said, most of Frazer‘s theories are outdated by now and have been rejected by modern scholars, but I think there are two aspects in his work, which seem quite relevant to me in a modern context. Firstly, his idea that religion is born from a magical view on the world is still interesting today. If you take a look, for example, at the modern New Age and Esoteric scenes, you can tell that Frazer was right for sure. People trying to influence their lives by communicating with higher powers, which eventually leads to the formation of new religious movements. On the other hand there‘s still a lot of magic in ancient christian rites. Just think of the Catholic springtime Processions with the priest blessing the fields for fertility. That‘s pure archaic magical thinking.
Secondly, I think Frazer‘s view on the connection between the religions in Europe are quite intriguing. He was of the belief that all forms of religion in Europe are related to each other and date back to the Stone-Ages. This of course means that religion is the actual root of the European culture, a tradition far older than the races, languages and nations in Europe. In the light of the recent unification of the European Community and the issue of how to deal with Islam, I find it an interesting thought that Europe isn‘t founded on one common culture or Ethnic heritage, but on one common religion, which doesn‘t know any borders or barriers. It‘s paradox and a little ironic: in a secularized age like ours, might religion be the unifying bond for Europe?
I guess you know already that the artwork was already used, with different colors for Arcanas “Dark Age Of Reason”? Since you are still using it, I guess this doesn’t mean much to you? You didn’t consider using the painting “The Golden Bough” for the artwork, did you?
-No, I didn‘t know. Actually I don‘t even know that band. But I guess, even if we had known them, we would still have used it since it‘s perfect for the album. Yes, we played with the thought of using Turner‘s „The Golden Bough“ for the cover. It had a certain Candlemass-feeling to it, but in the end we agreed on „Die Toteninsel“, because it‘s much more powerful and it‘s illustrating the main themes of the album in such a fitting way. Also the painter‘s, Arnold Böcklin‘s, intentions behind the painting seemed very fitting to us. The decline of the ancient European cultures against the rising tide of the modern age.
The promo sheet says something about “The Golden Bough” as an exercise of imagination, again… Also both the lyrics and the music demand a bit of the listener. What do you think about the fact that some fans might not have the necessary knowledge of the English language or the imagination to grasp what the lyrics really is about, and just wanna enjoy the music and bang along? To you as as musician, are their experiences worth just as much as the experience of those who really understands the whole concept?
– Yes, of course! In the end we‘re not talking about a scholarly essay, but of a metal album. Of course the music should make people raise their fists and bang their heads. I think, for example, that „Temple of Katholic Magick“ is perfect for getting hammered and banging your head. But as a lyricist, of course it‘s also a nice feeling if people realize there‘s something behind the lyrics in the booklet and maybe grab a book themselves to do some more research on a subject they found to be interesting.
Does Becker still work and live in the states? Have you had to turn down many offers from festivals because of this?
– Yeah, we had to turn down a few offers. But that‘s okay, the other band-members schedules are pretty full as well anyway. We‘ll never be a regular touring band, I can say that much.
His first appearance with the band will be at Hammer Of Doom 5. Would you say that you feel safer in this live situation, cause he’s the one who really is the singer in ATLANTEAN KODEX, or would you say it will be like doing a concert with a brand new singer?
– I think it will be a new situation. Of course we know him and we know his voice from the recordings, but rehearsing and playing live is a totally different story. He‘s also a different character than Johannes Korda, our stand-in-singer. There are a few exciting months ahead of us, but I‘m pretty confident that it will work out fine in the end. I‘m really curious how the new songs will work out live.
You are one of many bands approved by Fenriz in his band of the week-blog. I don’t know if this generated more interest in the band, but I have always enjoyed the idea of discovering new music myself, without being told by others that band X or Y is good. Also, when a band is booked for a festival here in Norway, for instance Hole In The Sky, Raise The Dead or Metal Merchants, there are always people checking out the music the band have released, again because people are telling them about it. It’s just so damn easy discovering new music today, why aren’t more people following great bands from the start? Is it just a case of being too many acts out there? Or people being too lazy?
– I don‘t know really. But maybe you‘re right about the fact that there are too many bands out there now. You definitely lose orientation in that jungle of Myspace-projects that are popping up everywhere. Instead of spending your whole day by clicking through hundreds of profiles, it‘s easier to rely on authorities like the big magazines or people like Fenriz. It‘s a paradox situation somehow. Although the internet gave people the chance to discover bands for themselves and contributed to that new plurality in a huge way, things went back to normal pretty quickly. Instead of freedom and the chance to use their own judgement and taste, once again people chose the comfortable way and leave thinking and judging to someone else. Obviously people are really too lazy to discover new bands by themselves. Or maybe they‘re just too unsure, so they need someone to tell them what is good and what is not, what is „true“ and what is „false“. Sapere aude, haha!
If I am right, you are coming to Norway to attend the Metal Merchants festival. Have you been to Norway before? I am asking since you have told me some time ago that you can read Norwegian. How did you learn it, to be able to read Norwegian, by interest in our history/culture or perhaps in Norwegian extreme music.
– Yes, I‘ll attend Metal Merchants. I‘ve been to Norway and the other Scandinavian countries a couple of times by now. I was doing a lot of hiking and backpacking when I was a little younger and Scandinavia with it‘s beautiful nature and landscapes was my favourite destination for a long time. In 1999 I was hiking along the great ring road of Iceland for a few weeks, which was one of the best trips of my life. But of course it‘s also a general interest in your culture and the history of the Scandinavian nations. Your folklore is very rich and fascinating. There are so many parallels to folk-tales and legends from my own home region. Maybe Frazer was right in the end?