Dark Millennium - Interview
German progressive deathers Dark Millennium have recently released their fifth full-length album "Acid River" (read review here), which at least in my opinion, is one of the highlights of the early 2022. I had a very nice telephone chat with vocalist Christian Mertens about the quite interesting history of the band and about the new album, too. Enjoy reading!
Hi Christian, how are you?
I'm fine, thank you. I just got home from work, was on the road all day and am now relaxing at home in the warm living room.
On January 7th your new album "Acid River" was released. Do you have a certain expectations regarding the reactions?
Well, that's difficult to say that we have a certain expectation. I would say that we are curious about the reactions. Every album we've done has been different from the previous ones and it's no different with "Acid River". It's quite a difference from the previous album and I think it tells a new story again and is a new chapter. On the last album, except for the closing track, we recorded relatively short songs because we felt like it, it's different again with this album, and there are fewer but longer tracks on it. It's not an expectation in the sense that it would be totally important for us if we get many negative reactions. And it's not a decision criterion, whether we continue to do it. This is not meant to sound arrogant; we have always done what came out of us and what we simply had the desire to do. I would say that we are curious and it would be great if a lot of people like it and is well received.
After listening to the album umpteen times now, it still leaves me pretty amazed because it's so incredibly diverse. I've always felt like I'm in Alice in Wonderland or on a trip when I listen to Dark Millennium, but this time it's all a bit more whacky. Was that your intention to evoke such feelings?
When we started songwriting, of course we thought about what we felt like doing and what we wanted to do beforehand. We felt that we would like to write longer songs again, so also record fewer ones and we didn't want the typical verse / chorus scheme. Apart from that, we went into it with certain adventurousness and just went for it, not knowing ourselves where it would lead us. We tried to surprise ourselves and I think you can hear that adventurousness in the album. With most of the songs, there's not a lot of repetition and you never really know what's going to happen next and that unpredictability factor was a principle after we wrote the songs. We didn't say we wanted to make a totally whacky album; we approached it with a certain spontaneity and let ourselves be surprised. I think that it has become quite an adventurous album that you probably have to listen to or at least can listen to several times and I think that this aspect has been quite successful. It is certainly not an album that you just consume.
But what I never feel when listening to your albums is joy. I think your compositions always drag you down tremendously. Do the songs reflect your soul life?
Let's say that it reflects an aspect of our soul life. In the genre in which we move - which can be roughly described as atmospheric death metal or something like that - it fits and we have always wanted to musically set dark moods to music and accordingly the lyrics are also relatively dark. But we are not a bunch of completely depressed people who go through life with a great death wish, but we simply have a certain joy in transporting different gloomy emotions. It's basically like the pleasure of watching a horror movie or reading a mysterious book. It's the fun of playing with negative emotions and it's also a kind of outlet, of course. It's also a bit of mental aggression release. If you would experience us, we often sit together, laugh and have fun (laughs) and at the same time we just make this dark music. That's one aspect of our personality that we enjoy expressing through our music.
Haha, you don't sound really depressed now!!!
Haha, I'm not, but that's just because I'm making this kind of music, haha!
I read in the promo that the songwriting was much more spontaneous and flexible and everyone in the band could contribute their part. How did you manage that?
I had written the lyrics in advance, before we composed the music, and I got stuck on seven songs. So I had lyrics for seven songs and then we met again and again in the studio in different compositions, sometimes in twos, sometimes in threes, sometimes in fours and I explained the themes of the songs to the guys. Then we looked at what each of us had up our sleeve in terms of ideas that could fit in and then we got through them relatively freely from part to part, tried to let a structure develop and we recorded it spontaneously. We made song sketches and I also sang spontaneously to it, something that I thought would fit and then seven song sketches came out of that, all very spontaneous and situational and in different combinations. Then each of us had the opportunity to let these song sketches work on themselves and practice a bit. Because I had sung the things directly, our drummer had a better feeling at which point he should play dynamically or more reservedly, it was a very free process. It also happened that we used some aspects of these spontaneous demo recordings in the final recordings, which can be found on the album. If a take was particularly successful, then we said we'd leave it, we couldn't record it any better.
So did a dictatorship rule before by a few band members and the others were just "musicians"?
No, you can't say that. Since the reunion we always compose relatively freely and everyone has the opportunity to add different things. When we recorded the comeback album "Midnight in the Void", I composed the songs mostly together with Hilton (Theissen, M.) and Michael (Burmann, M.) and on the last two albums the others joined in as well. But we don't have such a real dictatorship.
What would you say, is your musical development in the last years, rather backward or a pure further development? I personally think that by now you perfectly combine the progressive elements of "Diana Read Peace" with the early death metal approaches you had on "Ashore the Celestial Burden".
I'm really happy about that! These are statements that I find very interesting. I don't know if I would call it development, because that means that you keep working your way from one point. It's more of a jumping between things that we've done before and things that we haven't done yet and we mix something from that. I would say it's more like playing with the possibilities. We reused, as you also said, elements of the first two albums and at the same time put some progressive stuff in there and tried to stir it all together into a good mix.
"Diana Read Peace" is 28 years old these days. With this album you have pushed a lot of people in front of their heads or at least irritated them tremendously. How would you judge the album in retrospect?
That was a very radical step from the first to the second album. At that time we also had a lot of other listening habits, we listened to a lot of progressive, grunge or pop and that's where "Diana Read Peace" came from at that time. Apart from that radical cut to the first album, I'm glad we did it because it had to be done, but if we were to record it again today, I would do a few things differently. I always feel the album is a touch unfinished. We should have taken a little bit more time for the album in retrospect and what aspect is essential for me is that we should have played through the album a few more times together in the rehearsal room before we recorded it. It was pretty much a head thing and that's the thing that I still don't like so much in retrospect. Nevertheless, the album had to be made at that time, because all the ideas had to come out somehow.
Lyrically, especially in the opener or also in 'Vessel', I have the feeling that you are trying to deal with the situation in the world today, which is truly not as simple as it was a few years ago. "A long cold winter in our world begins" or "Submission, Demolition, The world we know explodes". In addition then still fittingly the title "Acid River", something that etches itself into society....what is it about?
In principle, I must say that "Acid River" is an album that has many occult themes. It's about the penetration of the occult world into our reality and it's about people. I tell seven stories of people in whose reality something changes. Something is happening that they can't grasp and that is disturbing. This always has an occult background, although you can also infer these cross-references to the present day from it. It's about worlds changing and in today's world worlds are changing because of real things like a pandemic, war or whatever and "Acid River" deals with that more figuratively. 'The Verger' is about the Antichrist sneaking into a community and the people there sense that something is changing but can't grasp it. 'Vessel' is about a world in a vessel, that's kind of influenced by Clive Barker, one of my favorite authors. 'Threshold' is about something changing in an unreal way. That threshold - often it's not what happens that's really bad, but that moment when something changes that you can't grasp yet. You sense that something is wrong and something threatening is happening, but you can't grab it. The title "Acid River" is basically a generic term. The "Acid River" is the thread that flows through the songs. It flows through the stories and changes something.
What are your favorite songs on the album and why?
I find saying about favorite songs difficult. The first song we wrote for the album was 'Lunacy', so it has some meaning for me. When we started composing and writing 'Lunacy', it became clear to us while writing into which direction we collectively wanted to go on the album. So I think it's quite charming that the song is in the middle of the album and on vinyl it's divided into Part 1 and Part 2. When the question of vinyl came up and we were thinking about where to make the cut on the album, we said we'll take 'Lunacy'. At that doom part, where there's an opening door, that's where we make the cut. From there the meaning for me is that it's the starting point for the album as well as now the centerpiece and the second song that I find very interesting is the opener 'The Verger'. We didn't say we're going to compose the opener now, but we were into it and at some point one of us said that's the perfect opener and then we did it that way. I then wrote the line "A long cold winter in our world begins" and thought that the album should start with that. That's a good way to start (laughs).
I was a bit surprised when I saw the playing time of the 7 songs. They are all the same length!
Yes (laughs). It was a result of the process. The fact that we do seven songs was kind of on my mind, because I wrote the lyrics and because I thought it would be cool to do an album with seven songs (laughs). When we were writing the songs, the idea came up that the songs would be longer anyway and it would be charming if they were all around seven minutes long. That's when we started having fun with the idea, while also saying that if we feel like a song needs to be longer, we don't stick to that corset. But we somehow managed to compose the songs all at seven minutes. So it's a mixture of intention and coincidence (laughs).
When I look at the cover, I can't see much on there. There we go again with the trip, haha. And what I noticed is that the album title has to be read from right to left.
Yes, because it's kind of upside down. I talked to our cover artist Alex Freund, who has painted all of our covers so far, about the themes of the album and with artists it's always like you have to give them an inspiration but at the same time give them a lot of freedom. Alex tried a few things that didn't quite fit the context and then at some point he painted this picture. It's basically like a mountain with lava flowing down from it and ending up in a sea at the bottom. There are also faces in these seven lava flows (laughs), no matter how you hold the cover. These faces are basically the protagonists of the stories we're telling about. And we wrote the album title upside down to motivate the viewer to turn the thing around....
...haha, so the smart ones and not the dumb ones like me!!!
Haha, no, no problem!!! The thought behind it is this: Music has become so consumable these days. You stream more and more and who buys a record or a CD today like in the past and deals first with the cover and the lyrics? That's an aspect that is completely lost and we wanted to make the viewer a bit curious with the upside down cover to just take a closer look.
Are there any plans for the future? When was your last concert?
We don't have any concrete plans. In principle, of course, we definitely want to play live and present the new songs and we would also like to play a few songs from the last album, because Corona came fully in between. I think with the last album we had a gig and then Corona came, so of course we really want to mix the current songs with older songs live. But the situation to plan something is still not that easy and it's also that we all have our regular jobs and we have to plan that then. If we got the offer to do a 3 week tour next month, we wouldn't be able to do that at all. From there, it's more focused on targeted gigs on the weekend somewhere. But if that continues to not be possible, we will continue to compose. We still have tons of ideas for many more recordings.
What albums are you listening to at the moment?
It's a pretty colorful mishmash. I listen to a lot of older records that have accompanied me throughout the years. Of course a lot of death metal, for example the first two Death albums, the first Possessed, but I also listen to a lot of grunge like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden. Those are bands that have never let me go over the years. Nick Cave and P J Harvey are two artists I absolutely adore. I also like to listen to Norwegian black metal and what I really like right now are bands that combine post hardcore and black metal a bit - stuff like Oathbreaker or Deafheaven.
Do you have any words for our readers?
Apart from wishing everyone good health and a good start into the new year, I would be very happy if one or the other would deal with "Acid River" a bit more intensively and not just take a quick look, because there is something or the other to discover, even at the risk of people saying: okay, that's not mine after all. I would also like to thank those who have been involved with the band over the years and supported us even after the reunion. I know that our band doesn't always make it easy for the listeners, but it's also nice to follow a band that can surprise you every now and then. From therefore I am very grateful and appreciate it when our listeners keep faith with us and follow our whole jumps a bit.
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