If I tell you that «The White Goddess» was my favorite album of 2013, you don’t need to be a genious (although I know most of my readers are) to understand that I had high hopes for the follow up. After some turbulent times and lots of delays, the album is finally here, and I am delighted to say that Atlantean Kodex delivers once again. I called guitarist and main song writer Manuel Trummer and we had a pretty interesting chat about the more than six years since the last album, the pressure the band felt while making it and the power of social media.
When the new album is out, it has almost been six years since «The White Goddess» was released, a monumental album in many ways. Did you know already then that it would take more than 2000 days to release the next magnum opus?
– 2000 days? Haha! Well, thats a difficult question. There were some times through those years that were pretty tough for us. The band almost split up at one point, because we lost our rehearsal space and everyone was occupied with different things in his private life. Mario for instance started a company for audio books, we had some surgeries, there were some relatives that died, we had to move a lot and we started in new jobs. You know, ust ordinary life kicking us in the balls. At one point, the band was already history. Two years ago, we lost our rehearsal space and Sven from Van just told us: «Guys, you must continue, don’t take this as as negative sign. We had a dinner together and decided to go on and work on the album. The ideas were already there, we were initially planning to release the album last year at the Hell over Hammaburg-festival, but as I told you, we lost our rehearsal space and our studio, so this crushed our plans.
Was it also a case of the whole album growing slightly bigger than to begin with? I remember you saying in an interview that the very first plan was to release it by the end of 2017 and that it would feature five songs?
– Yes, it was a very optimistic guess. I am not sure if it really grew bigger back then already. We had the first ideas, and thought: Okay, let’s go to the studio and record them, then we have an album. So we estimated it would be out by the end of 2017. But that didnt really work out, due to the things I just told you. 2016/17 was a pretty stressful time to me, because my job, and it kept me from working on the songs. We started to work in a more concentrated form on the album at the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, and maybe then the album grew bigger and bigger. It’s a bit difficult when it comes to releasing music, because I keep on working on it until I am completely satisfied. Maybe its also a process. When we record songs, and I notice some details, maybe in the lyrics or in the rhythm guitars I don’t like, or could do better in a way, then we start working on it again. So maybe it has something to do with my perfectionsism as well, and isnot only about real life problems.
This perfectionism, is that something that has grown stronger over the years? I can recall you telling me how you used a lot of first or second takes when you recorded the debut album. On the second album you worked a lot more with emphasis on details, and from what I can understand, even more this time around?
– Yes, I think so. The first album was really a spontaneous thing. It was also a sort of statement against all these polished sounding productions, so we just went into the rehearsral space and set up the microphones. There were a lot of first takes on it. The second album was a diferent approach, we really worked on it and tried to get a good sound. This time, maybe I kind of felt some pressure after «The White Goddess». It was really successful in Germany and in Europe and even in the United States, it sold quite well. So maybe, the reason why we worked a bit harder on this album than the albums before, was that we really felt some kind of pressure. We didn’t want to follow up such a strong album as «The White Goddess» with an half assed effort. I wouldn’t say we were kind of nervous, that would be taking it too far, but we definitely felt some sort of pressure, or better some sort of obligation not to come up with something just to release something. Maybe that is why we took it a bit more seriously this time.
That’s refreshing. Most musicians will never admit they feel some kind of pressure when they are creating a new album…
– Yeah, that’s very typical. They can say in an interview. «I didnt feel any pressure, I am doing it for myself.» I don’t think it’s a problem to admit that you feel the pressure. Of course we are still doing it mainly for ourselves, we wouldnt release an album just for the sake of releasing an album just in order to get concert offers or to get to tour. If we are not 100 percent satisfied with an album, we won’t release it. We still do it mainly for ourselves, but on the other hand, we don’t want to ruin this reputation we have right now. And of course we don’t want to let our old time fans down by repeating ourselves or by falling into some kind of formula and release a weak album. I think it’s no problem to admit that. I think everyone feels it, even the most underground black metal musicians will think about the crowd response or the listeners response when releasiing stuff. The typical musician reaction with «I don’t feel the pressure», is just a stereotype.
After you released the first album you took a break, a year or something off, and I think you did pretty much the same after «The White Goddess» was released? Is this necessary for you in order to recharge your batteries and get going again? How and when do you feel its time for a break?
– Yes, we did the same this time, and had an even longer break. I think I have listened to the «The White Goddess»-album maybe two or three times since it was released. You are listening to the album thousands of times to get all the details right. On one hand you are kind of fed up with it and on the other hand you are really exhausted by all the work, and glad that it’s over now. Of course you will never do another album again, as it is all to exhausting. So yeah, it really takes some time to recharge the batteries, I really think that is the right description. I want to get my head free for new ideas. There is not one exact point when I can say: Now I can compose the new album. After a bit of time, three years or so in this case, inspiration or ideas are coming back to me. For instance I was walking in the forest around my home, and suddenly there is a melody in my head. That’s the point were I can say: Something is happening again. We collect ideas and at one point we sit down and put them in some order. It’s a natural process, and I can’t force it. I just know, feel when the ideas and the inspirations is coming back and that the time is right to think about another album.
Both the lyrics as well as the music of Atlantean Kodex demands more from the listener than the usual fast food-heavy metal. Does Manuel have a picture in his head of what the usual Atlantean Kodex-listener is like?
– Without sounding like an elitist, I think our crowd is into mythology and history. There are lot of people at our shows that talk to me about certain details in the songs, and it’s reallly amazing how deep their knowledge is about topics we deal with. I wouldn’t say that we have an intellectual or academic crowd, I wouldn’t go that far, but there certainly is some sort of intellectual interest among our fans. Of course there is also a lot of fans that are there just because of the music, and it’s 100 percent fine to just listen to the song,s raise your fist, bang your head and scream along. However I have a feeling that a big part of the crowd really appreciate that we don’t have the typical stereotype metal lyrics.
How do you balance the wish of wanting to sound fresh and exciting against the desire to create a link to what you have done in the past and not stray too far away?
– The link to the past album is pretty important. As you can hear on all albums, there are references to previous lyrics or melodies. There is this one big Atlantean Kodex-musical cosmos so to speak with the words we are using and certain symbols we are using in the lyrics. We sort of create some tradtion, so the listener can say: Oh this is typical Atlanean Kodex, without being too stereotypical. We try to do some new stuff not to repeat ourselves, but we have some motives, some traditions that are typical for Atlantean Kodex that we like to work with. Regarding «Course Of Empires», this time we absolutely didn’t want to repeat «The White Goddess». If we tried repeating the formula from that album, with big choruses and singalong anthems, I think we could only have failed. We tried to move in a little different direction, and maybe that is why the album turned out a bit more intricate. The great melodies are there, but it takes some time to discover them all. We didnt want to repeat ourselves. On the title track, there is this Norwegian black metal melody at the end of the song. We also worked on some seventies hard rock influences, especially if you listen to Markus’ vocals, he tried a lot of classic choruses. In the song, «Lion Of Chaldea», there is this Dio-anthem “Heaven And Hell”-vibe. So we set out not to repeat ourselves, but staying within the Atlantean Kodex-cosmos, as this is what makes us unique and original.
Why have you chosen “The Course Of Empires” as the title of the album?
– I think it really shows what the red thread on the album is, and what the general theme of the album is. Most of the songs, maybe all of them, deal with the rise and the fall of empires. They are about conquests like «Chariots» and they are about the rise of civilizations like «Lion Of Chaldea». The title, «The Course Of Empire», it holds all these aspects of the album together, and als gives a glimpse of the main idea of the record. Its logical to use it as the title track and as the title for the album. It’s based on a cycle of paintings by American painter Thomas Cole who painted five different paintings showing the progress of human civilization.
It’s a long album, clocking in at more than an hour. Lately there seem to be many bands releasing shorter albums, some of them with a playing time similar to Slayers «Reign In Blood», which caused controversy when it was released. Is this talk of a perfect playing time for an album nothing but an illusion?
– I think it depends on the style, 30 minutes is perfectly fine when it comes to «Reign In Blood», other thrash metal albums and high energy albums like punk and maybe black metal. But to develop song structures and epic atmospheres like we do and Bathory did on their viking albums, it takes time. I don’t think there is an ideal playing time, but that it all depends on the style. Some music take time to evolve and to create an atmosphere the listeners can loose themselves in. I like a lot of long albums, and I definitely like «Reign In Blood».
I know its important for you to present a nice looking package with maybe a gatefold sleeve and some additional illustrations to go with the lyrics, but the music is still most important, right?
– Yeah, definitely. The music is most important. What we try to do, is to give our listeners an impression of another world, to take them away for some time, out of the boundaries of this materalistisic, modern world we are living in. You can do it by the power of the music alone, but I guess it helps if there is a package to come with it to spark the imagination and spark the vision for this other world, for instance by a great album cover, a comic boooklet with these medival looking lyrics. We’re just trying to come up with a complete package which is working perfectly together, on a visual side and on an accoustic side.
Manuel says that the fact that all song titles comes with an additional title in brackets is also part of the total package.
– It’s to make it even more epic, but also to give the listener some sort of hint, to push them in a certain direction. To start the imagination going.
You have said that Kodex Barbaricus who is doing the art in your booklets is sort of a sixth band member. That sounds a bit exaggerated to be honest.
– We are very close with him. He has also contributed in another way on this new album, as the spoken word part of the intro, was written by him. Of course he is not there when we rehearse or write songs, but in the artistic process, we work closely togheter. Its almost parallell. We work on a song, then send it to him, he then gets inspired and sends us back pictures, which inspires us again to write more songs. So it’s back and forth and it’s a really close collaboratioon. The thing about him being like a sixth member, is a bit exaggerated, but we wanted to give him some credit.
You told me before you felt the song «Enthroned In Clouds And Fire» from «The White Goddess» was an even more perfect take at the definitive Atlantean Kodex-song than «The Hidden Folk». Is there a song on the new album you have a similar feeling about?
– Oh, thats a hard one! It’s really hard to pick one out, but I have a great feeling about the title track. It has a good flow and great melodies, and I think it’s 95-98 percent perfect. It also sort of captures the essence of Atlantean Kodex with these Manowarish riffs and melodies, the great chorus and again this slow, epic part. Maybe it’s the song on the album that captures the essence of Atlantean Kodex the most, and I think it’s my favourite one on the album.
As always Manuel is the main songwriter in the band, but he confirms my suspicion that the input from the others has been bigger this time around. – Yeah, the song «Chariots» for instance, was written by Florian (Kreuzer), our bass player. Markus (Becker, vocals) came up with most of the vocal lines, Mario (Weiss, drums) wrote the intro and the outro for the album. Especially Markus has evolved in an amazing way, with all the choruses he does. The doubled up vocals, it’s really amazing to hear what he can do now with his voice. His understanding on working with different types of vocals. So it was input from everyone, but I guess I am the one that holds it together and pieces is all together.
It’s been said about the album that it’s heavier and rawer compared to its predecessor, do you feel that is reflected in the lyrics as well?
– I am not sure about that, there is a lot of hope and a lot of light in the lyrics this time. Of course there are some bleaker parts as well, for instance in the title track which goes into this heavy, black metal-rifing. But all in all there is a lot of hope in the album, and even more hope than on «The White Goddess», dealing with themes of death and vanishisng. This album is more neutral in a way and just look upon how empires rise and empires fall from a neutral, objective historical perspective without taking too much of a side, so it’s more distant in a way. I feel that in songs like «The Innermost Light» first and foremost and in the end of «The Course Of Empire» there is a lot of hope, optimism and positive thinking. So no, I wouldn’t say the lyrics are more heavy, darker and gloomier, quite the opposite.
So where does this optimism come from? I remember last time you were concerened about the European crisis for instance, and in the six years since, I guess you cant say things have gotten much better.
– No, not at all. But in six years, you evolve as a person and a lot of things happened in my life, for instance two years ago, my first son was born. It changes the way you think, and it also gives you more optimism or hope to make things better. It changes you and makes you a different person. I think that is what you maybe can feel in the lyrics, us loooking for hope for optimism. «The White Goddess» was kind of bleak and negative, but things happened to me in the past years, which made me a bit more hopeful, despite the fact that there are a shitload of problems we have to deal with, starting with the issue of climate change down to the rising of nationalism or authoritarian regimes all over Europe. At the same time, it’s wrong to lose hope in a way. We can definitely overcome these problems. I think that is the essence of the songwriting. In «The Course Of Empire», you can hear: «Children Of Europe (…)Unbroken And Free». We have this great tradition of humanism in Europe. We can’t give up on that. Europe has to come together as one and try to tackle all these problems in a fashion that is fit for a great continent such as Europe with its tradition and history.
Once again you are looking back in time for inspiration and themes for the lyrics, at the same time you are kind of pointing the finger on what’s wrong with the society of today.
– I can’t block out the world that is surrounding me, it will just shine up in the songs quite naturally. I will never consider us a political band, a band that are trying to get an agenda out to the people, but of course when you are moved by these things, it will be unnatural to leave them all out. Maybe that is one of the strenghts of our lyrics. On the one hand you can read them or interpret them simply as mythology or historical fiction, on the other hand, you can if you want to, read them as a comment on the state of the world or the state of Europe today. It’s up to you, if you are a political person maybe you will find somehting. And if you are listening to Atlantean Kodex to hear some great old tales, that’s fine for me as well. Also I felt the need to make some clear statements in interviews, and I will continue to make some more after reading some of the comments from YouTube viewers. There seem to be a lot of potential for misunderstanding our lyrics, and there are a lot of far right extremist or foreigner hating retards in the posts under our or videos. A song like «Temple of Katholic Magic» has the potential to be understood as a comment versus Islam, but we wrote the song in the vein of Saxon’s «Crusader», like a fictional story, like a big fantasy movie. A lot of people seem to get it wrong, or want to get it wrong, so I think it’s time to make it known to people that we are not really fond of far right extremists.
Thats something that comes as a consequence maybe, when you write lyrics that are so open to interpretation?
– I think the problem is that our society has grown so polarized. When you turn on the internet, you get the impression that it’s only the far left and the far right. There is nothing inbetween. And everyone try to capture your music for their own strange ideology, to support their own narrow point of view of the world. I am really sick of it, really sick of defending my art and my music against this juvenile and immature political trolls from the internet, no matter if its the far right or left…or we dont really have problems with the far left.
Manuel finds it hard to believe it’s possible to get rid of this sort of polarization.
– We got to get rid of the social medias first, I guess. And that is pretty much impossible. The problem is, the social medias has completely rolled into the public discourse. 20 or 30 years ago, if you said that the earth is flat, everyone would have known that you are an idiot. Your opinion wouldn’t even have made it into the public discourse, you would have just been a strange person in your room reading about flat earth. Nobody would have cared. But now, social media make these sort of completely factless opinions visible to the wide crowd. It’s really growing. We don’t have any gatekeepers anymore, so everyone can put his opinion online, and there is noone to curate these opinions. You have all these different political camps just getting at each other throats because there is noone left to moderate it. Communication rules have completely broken down, everyone is just shouting at each other. There are no orderly communication based on arguments, it’s just shouting and trying to get through your personal, narrow ideology. People don’t talk to each other face to face, its all about shouting. There is no in between anymore, just extremes. What governments need to do is really to regulate in a way. I am totally against regulation, but we need to take back control from Facebook. They’re ruining our democracy, it’s not about censorship. It’s just about regulating a completely irresponsible global company who is stirring up conflict, because they want to make money of it. The more ads the can put online, the more money the make. They need hot topics, conflicts, arguments so they are making money of our conflicts. We need to find a way to handle this.
Working within the school system myself, I known that critical thinking is on its way into the curriculums for teenagers here in Norway.
– That is a good thing! To learn how to see if soomething is based on facts, or on ideology. I dont know about Norway, but here in Germany we don’t have media education in our schools. You have all these young people, 12 to 15 years old which are very insecure and are looking for their place in life. They are overwhelmed by this huge cosmos of social media, and it can have a totally destructive effect on their lives and their evolution. We don’t have any education for the young ones on how to handle the media overkill and on how much damage Instagram, Twitter and Facebook can do.
You have a new guitarist in Coralie Baier, why did you choose her to replace Michael Koch? Apparently she already knew most of the songs, was she a fan of the band, in other words?
– She didn’t know all of us. She knew Florian a little, but mostly Mario because she was working together with him for his audio book label. Mario knew she liked our music. I am not sure if she was a fan, but she definitely liked our songs. And she could play them on the guitar and also knew the lyrics. So it was an easy decision to talk to her, and invite her to the rehersal space. Already on the first evening, she played three full songs with us in a perfect manner.
With lots of female singers fronting also more pure heavy metal bands, do you think we’re slowly getting to the point where female musicians are mentioned as musicians and no point is being made of the fact that they are female?
– Yeah, I hope so. I think things are getting better. I think there’s more sensibility about the whole topic. More and more female musicians are encouraged to take up the instruments and play, just as much as a vocal diva in a gothic metal band. Gender or sex is not an issue as you can handle your instrument and are cool. I hope more people will think like that, and not just when it comes to the vocal position.