Dark Suns - Interview

Some might call it doom, others dark, but there is no denying that Dark Suns have been generous enough to offer a brilliant insight to the mechanics of a dark and dreary perspective of humankind in "SwanlikE." Combining opulent atmospheres with soaring 10 minute tracks, "SwanlikE," became one of the sleeper metal albums of 2002, a true gem for fans of the morbid side of the metal world. Maik Knappe, who artfully handles half of the guitaring duties happily answered these questions.

Jack 'Odel'

Thanks to you and everyone at Dark Suns for bringing out "SwanlikE," it's been in constant rotation ever since Frank was kind enough to send down a promo from Germany. The vocals are certainly a high point of "SwanlikE". Vocalist Niko Knappe has a peculiar, yet interesting clean voice. What inspiration does he draw from?

Firstly, thank you! Niko has always been singing clean parts in the bands before Dark Suns, I think his inspiration comes not from one special band but he likes charismatic voices that transmit the mood of the singing person. In his eyes the almost perfect singer is Daniel Gildenlöw although his style is very different to Niko's but it's overwhelming to listen to his voice! He tries to "translate" the lyrics into the notes to create a spirit in the sung parts never heard before. That is inciting!

The "SwanlikE" album cover is one of the more striking albums I have seen; striking in its simplicity, striking its bleakness, but most striking in the usage of the colours employed. What were you looking for here? It seems that "SwanlikE" has an almost enchanting and ethereal, or perhaps otherworldly quality about it. What is most pleasing about this for me, is that the music of "SwanlikE" matches and conveys the images of the cover design perfectly. Often when listening to a record, the music may come across exuberant, yet the cover will be of a horned demon brandishing twin machine guns or something equally silly.

You surely don't have to be afraid, there won't be any machine guns on our covers anytime (at least I hope so!) No, Niko is responsible for the artwork, and he has always had a good hand to create a proper design. A very important point was the test to make a dark album musically what fits to a very light design, but I think it is quite similar to the music: if you're viewing the cover intensely you can explore this and that, what another person would describe in a different way... just as in the combination to the songs.

Undoubtedly the highlight of "SwanlikE" for me is 'Virtuous Dilemma.' I think it best shows what you guys are truly capable of. Great emotional lyrics, excellent contrast between dark vocals and the lighter tones of Niko, catchy guitar riffs, fantastic piano/keyboard usage, somber moments, harder moments etc, etc. This is a great song. Do you happen to agree with my sentiments?

To be honest as we finished the recordings of "SwanlikE" we thought that 'Virtuous Dilemma' is the worst one, we don't know why we have had this feelings, but almost all people said the same as you do and when we played it live we had to revise our impressions – it is truthfully a good song. Maybe the quality of 'Virtuous Dilemma'... comes from the point that we have to learn how to write real SONGS (independent of the lengths!) 'Virtuous Dilemma' has all the trademarks of Dark Suns, it has become the most well rounded song I think.

Again on 'Virtuous Dilemma,' the vocals for the chorus; 'No more pain inside my mind, when it all falls apart, no more death beyond my name, loose a grip of all control,' are the vocals layered here? I am sure I can pick out a distinctive set of two voices. Obviously, the harder death vocals, but also underneath these vocals there seem to be a gentler voice underpinning the death vocals.

Yes you're right! Unfortunately the mix is not the best one and so it is quite difficult to hear single instruments or voices. I think because of the plurality of instruments in this part it makes it even harder to pick out this voice – you've been listening very intensively!!!

You guys are definitely a metal band, but there seems to be a lot of non-metal influences on "SwanlikE." A lot of the material that is worked into a few of the songs 'Inside Final Dream' and 'Virtuous Dilemma' is very, very distinctively non-metal. In the Voice of Life Records press statement it is stated that this is a record that will cater for fans of Opeth, Anathema, Amorphis and Orphanage. I would probably throw Katatonia into that mix, but it unfortunately doesn't happen to list your influences. Are these bands influences for you and the other members; and more to the point what are the non-metal influences for Dark Suns?

I think the mentioned bands above are bands that have this nonmetal influences and we do, too. We all listen to quite different music Opeth, Pain of Salvation, Tori Amos, Queen, Tool, Porcupine Tree, Katatonia, too. I think it's relatively normal that we sound not always "metal-like." In the other way it is important to let you know that we're still in search for our Dark Suns style for the very reason that we aren't making music with this lineup a long time. The new material we are working is quite more Dark Suns although "SwanlikE" is, of course, Dark Suns, too – in the state of development we have been at that time with this lineup (we've got a new bassist after the "SwanlikE"-recordings).

Initially what really pulled me into "SwanlikE" was the great usage of the piano throughout many large sections of some of the tracks on "SwanlikE." I think the piano is very, very underused in metal circles and this is perhaps one of the main reasons that "SwanlikE" is such an enchanting record for me. Is it an instrument you are going to take full advantage of for future Dark Suns projects?

I think the mass of the usage won't change in future – it is one of the greatest instruments on earth we think (unfortunately Bärtel doesn't own one), and we would be stupid not to use it for the reason we have a keyboarder!? It would be great if there'd be many more bands that use a piano in their metal music... of course, on stage we do not have a real one, it's a little bit to heavy I think...

I think "SwanlikE" is a record that can appeal to perhaps the full fan base of the metal world. Was "SwanlikE" written with a particular sub-genre bias? I have heard 'dark metal' mentioned in relation to Dark Suns, but I am not really much of a genre person myself; certainly it is a useful tool for recommending and guiding our reader base to a certain record, but for me a record is either good or bad.

We didn't think like "...now we have to write a dark metal album..." the seven songs are the ones we thought to be the best to record them – even 'In Silent Harmony II' should be a little joke with laughter at the end to make clear that we're guys that have fun with their music even though it is very melancholic and pathetical. Part I of 'In Silent Harmony' is the ending track of our demo-CD "Below Dark Illusion" and is very, very melancholic – so we decided to deface it! Obviously the other six songs are the figurehead of "SwanlikE."

Track 8, 'Suffering' is the only song to not have its lyrics displayed in the booklet to "SwanlikE." As I understand this is a track from some of your past material. How come no lyrics are released alongside the other seven tracks?

The lyrics of 'Suffering' doesn't fit to the concept of "SwanlikE" as it is an old song, and we didn't want to make "lyrical incisions" ...so we didn't release them.

On the topic of lyrics, "SwanlikE" seems to be an ultra-personal record, and one of the more melancholy albums I have had the pleasure (or displeasure) of hearing. From reading through the lyrics, I get the general impression from your songs and in "SwanlikE" that it is an album about an initial tortured existence of a being or person, who is suddenly able to break free from his shackles and into a better place of residence. Is this correct?

That's why we chose "SwanlikE" as the title for the album... so you're right. The protagonist becomes aware of the world around him that is marked by insensibility, arrogance, brainless entertainment and a way of life that seems to be an eternal contest with the people that are surrounding you – and so "...I turn away from your despair" to be alone with his realization but better this way than to be a member of a will-less horde.

I saw reference to Disillusion in your thank you list; also another Voice of Life band. I was fortunate enough to listen to both "Three Neuron Kings" and "The Porter" in the last year, and these guys are a melodic death band who have a real potential to explode into the market. Are you fans of their material? Do you play live shows with them?

Disillusion have become real friends (who is able to say that?) for us, they welcomed us so nicely to Leipzig (we're here now for one year or so) and we've played some shows together, and although our music is quite different it seems to function. Meanwhile we rehearse in the same house and we've had a lot of evenings/nights to philosophise about music. They are such a great band, and I know ('cause I've been listening!) that the new material will fill you with enthusiasm!!!

Ok this question isn't so much of a music-related question, but a psychological one. Your subject matter is extremely dark, very grim and ultimately quite depressing. Why? Is the world we live in such a fruitless plain of existence that is not worth bothering with? I don't mean to have a shot at your particular life, but why do you not translate the good moments, or the positive thoughts you have into lyrics? Is music that is sad, and at often times morose easier to compile than a joyous and euphoric equivalent?

I don't think so. That what you know of us is that what is arising out of us! (Do you think we don't have any joyous moments with "SwanlikE?") On the other hand it is important to heed that "SwanlikE" is in the lyrical way a concept piece. Of course, it reflects the world around us whose human beings are in many ways (not all, you're right) damned, but I think that's the "prize" of the evolution we have to pay (and all other life-forms too)... so the music has become quite dark. To be honest, however, we're all very funny guys but we love to create melancholic music – I don't know what the reason for it is! Maybe the eternal search for the sense of our being?

When I emailed Frank about a potential interview with you, he was obviously pleased at the prospect, and happened to drop a word or two about some of the new sounds of an upcoming album. I was quite excited at that prospect, and couldn't leave this interview complete without asking you to divulge some information about forthcoming Dark Suns' work.

At the moment we're working very hard for new material – there are many ideas that have to be metabolised in useful parts, be it themes or songs. What I can say is that "Existence" (probably the album title) will be a concept piece again (both lyrically and musically) and very, very different to "SwanlikE!" There will be a lot to explore, so open your ears!

Thanks very much for your time, and for such a great album in "SwanlikE," it was one of the most thought provoking and more interesting listens for me in the past year or so. I hope to have a chat with you for upcoming Dark Suns releases (feel free to say what you like; promote yourselves endlessly!)

I have to say THANK YOU!!! Enjoy our music, be open for music in general and check out www.darksuns.de !!! Cheers!

Entered: 5/27/2003 4:16:17 PM

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