The J.R.R. Tolkien inspired Black Metal band from Austria known as Summoning has been heaped with a lot of praise over the last few years, and rightfully so. While the popularity of Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy of movies has influenced quite a few bands (too many actually) to adopt a Tolkien lyrical concept for their music recently, Summoning was doing this all along, well before the movies saw the light of day. Their ambient style mixed with majestic Black Metal opuses is any Metalhead or fantasy freak’s perfect soundtrack to Tolkien’s written word. Join us as we talk a bit with both Protector and Silenius, the true Metal bards of Middle Earth!
Grim Magazine: Welcome! I must first start off by thanking you for taking the time to do this interview with us! Why don’t you start off by telling the readers about yourself and what your duties are in Summoning?
Protector: I focus more on the music and also on the technical parts of the band, whereas Silenius is also involved in the music very much but deals with the lyrical concept and also is responsible for the general layout concept. Each summoning song you hear is first an idea of Silenius. He plays on his keyboard at home the rough version of a new song before he comes to my studio and records the midi data there.
Right after that, I start to add new tunes (in most cases the typical horn tunes) and then the drums sounds. Once the keyboards are finished we start working on the next song. When all keyboard versions are finished I start to compose the guitar riffs for each song and record them. Once all this is done Silenius starts to get the best Tolkien lyrics and together we choose which of them we would like for each of our songs. At the very end, we adopt those lyrics to the rhythms of the songs and then finally sing them. In the end, we mix them and send the final master CD to Napalm Records.
Grim Magazine: Why don’t you give us a little bit of info on your upcoming new album. How will this new album sound compare to earlier Summoning efforts?
Protector: For us, the new album will go in the direction of “Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame”. After “Stronghold” we realized that in “Stronghold” we forgot a bit about the typical Summoning elements such as polyphonic multi-layered orchestral arrangements, and louder epic drums, so that this release became the most rock CD of us, but less epic one. With LMHSYF we reactivated those elements. On “Oath Bound” we did the same, with the difference that this time we brought the guitars much more to the front as before. I also changed my guitar style as I was a bit bored by the damped, more rhythmic staccato guitar style which I started with “Stronghold”, and started to play the guitars more opened again in an arpeggio style.
As the main elements in Summoning did not change very much we were very surprised about the reactions of the press and some fans that heard the new sound, because for most people those new guitars seemed to have a huge effect for the complete mood and suddenly people started to compare our music again with the old classic “Dol Guldur”, although during the complete production process we did not think about “Dol Guldur” for a single time. People said that we are now more epic again, etc. Well, due to the slower and more relaxed, less progressive guitars the songs have a slower and more epic mood, I understand that meanwhile, but anyway just seeing the keyboards it is rather following LMHSYF as I mentioned before.
Grim Magazine: The rumor surrounding Summoning a while back was that there may not be any new album at all from you guys this year. What changed this? Not only are you releasing a new album, but you’re also releasing it fairly early in the year!
Protector: Strange I never heard about this rumor at all, and we never thought that we will not release an album this year so I really can not say anything about this.
Grim Magazine: The new album will once again be released through Napalm Records. If I am correct, all of the Summoning albums have been released through Napalm. Are they a good label to work with?
Protector: Yes it is true that all Summoning albums are released under Napalm Records. We are aware of the fact that the style of the most bands in Napalm Records are really totally different from our style and Napalm Records has rather the reputation of a rather commercial gothic metal label, so we surely don’t suit to napalm records, but what actually counts for us are different things. We see that Napalm Records is doing a good promotion and distribution job for us, and that is important. What benefits do we have from an ultra-true label that is totally in our style, but in the end get bankrupt and is not able to support our release?
I had already some experiences with other musical projects on other labels and really can appreciate these Napalm Records advantages. And the second main thing is, that with Napalm Records we have all the freedom we want. There was never any force to change anything in our music. Sure Napalm Records has very different opinions about music and sound etc., and often they grumble around about the finished CD’s, but as long as we don’t agree to those critics we would never change anything. And as we are surely one of the cheapest bands of all (as we produce our albums with surely 10 times fewer costs as all others) we are no real risk for Napalm, as they don’t have to spend too much money for the release and therefore cannot lose much.
Grim Magazine: The new album will have official distribution here in the USA, is this the first album to have official US distribution? I found most of your CD’s as imports over here, but some I got were the licensed versions released by Icarus Records from Argentina.
Silenius: To be honest we don’t know much about the distribution and license situation of our CD’s outside of Europe. All this is the job of our label and in this case, I trust Max totally. Of course, we know that America is a very difficult land for this type of music, But I think step by step we can get hold on this market but all in all the best sales we, of course, have here in Europe.
Grim Magazine: I see that once again you have found some excellent artwork to grace the cover of your new album. Some people could care less about album cover art, but I think that if done correctly, the album cover art can portray what the album is about before a fan even listens to it. An albums’ cover art sets a certain mood and creates atmosphere. How important is the artwork to you for your albums, and who painted the new cover?
Protector: The cover and booklet layout is very important for us. We spend a lot of time with it and see it as a part of our music. It is for example even more important than the lyrics. It is very important for us to transport this old historic mood with our layouts, therefore we always use old paintings instead of those trendy airbrush fantasy pictures or some obvious surrealistic computer collages. This time Silenius found a new painter called Albert Bierstadt. He was born in Germany but lived in England since the age of 2. He is for us quite similar to Caspar David Friedrich who we already used a lot on older covers and booklets. The frame is again taken from another painting which I combined with the painting for Bierstadt’s painting.
Grim Magazine: There’s a Summoning album planned for release in 2007 already. Will this be comprised of new tracks, or made up of tracks already recorded that didn’t make it onto “Oath Bound”?
Protector: On this mini-CD, we will put a song that already exists but did not have space on “Oath Bound” as we did not want to make this CD longer than 70 minutes. We also will compose 1-2 new songs for it and also add new unusual versions of older songs on it, but all this is not planned very detailed and so I can not say anything more about it.
Grim Magazine: Summoning should be a band I hate. I don’t usually care for drum machines and I’m usually not a fan of synths. Why do you think it is that so many people like myself that don’t really care for drum machines or synths find themselves fully enjoying Summoning’s music?
Protector: Well concerning the drums, I think it is essential that Summoning drums definitely don’t have the intention to simulate a normal metal drummer. On the contrary, we add drum sounds that are not a part of a metal drum kit, such as kettle drums and marching drums. And also the standard drums like tom-toms are totally used in a different way. In metal drumming tom-toms are just used for breaks but never for constant rhythms; we use them the hole times. This is why we never even thought about using a live drummer instead of our drums from the keyboard, a real drummer would simply not be able to create those multi-layered rhythms as we create with our keyboards.
Concerning the keyboards. Normally the keyboards in black metal are rather just ornaments to the music, and are rather just like “sugar in a food”. They are normally the most simple thing in the music, whereas in Summoning they are polyphonic, multi-layered etc. and often battle styled etc., totally different than normal metal keyboards.
Grim Magazine: Speaking of drum machines/drum programming… In the early days of Summoning, you actually had a real drummer. Why is it that you decided to go with drum programming instead of a real drummer?
Protector: The drummer was always the disturbing element in our music. With his hectic, pseudo-progressive drums it was totally not possible for us to create our typical style; we did not even get the idea for it. Real drums don’t suit our music as they spread this rock and live stage feeling that goes not well with a large wide epic fantasy world. When I listen to our music I have images of armies with drums etc., but not about a sweating headbanging drummer with fast double beet feet. (he winks)
And actually, only after a few minutes after we made our first rehearsal without the ex-drummer and our keyboard drum-sound, it was for both of us immediately clear that some great new epoch had started for Summoning. It was such a different and much more mighty feeling to hear those heavy bass drums over the bass guitar amplifier of Silenius instead of getting annoyed about the disturbing breaks our ex-drummer always wanted to play.
Grim Magazine: Does Summoning ever play out live? I’ve seen other bands that use a drum machine when they play live shows, and they pulled it off quite well.
Protector: The keyboard drums are definitely not the reason why we don’t play live. The reasons are that we simply enjoy composing music but not really enjoy to play our instruments. We only touch our instruments for the recording in order to finish an album, but then never play the riffs again, and meanwhile, I surely can not even play the guitar riffs of “Oath Bound” anymore. Being in the studio means concentration only on music and sound; the two things that are essential for us. Being on stage puts away the focus from the music; on stage, you suddenly need different abilities, like presenting not the music but rather presenting your self, your body, your facial expression.
If you look at all the band pictures you ever saw, we always did the contrary, and always rather made the best efforts to hide all this. We are normal humans; nothing mysterious surrounds us, and people who listen to our music surely don’t think about normal sweating musicians with instruments in their hands. Why should we destroy this mood? People would only notice that we don’t really feel comfortable on stage and that would only lead to a lousy concert.
Grim Magazine: Summoning to me has a real fantasy element to its sound due to the synths you use. Have you ever considered using some traditional instruments in your music to further the fantasy element?
Protector: Well I can imagine many different sounds, but still I am not planning to use real instruments. I still see no reason why not to use the keyboards. Often people complain about why we don’t use real instruments, but I don’t understand that. We don’t make music that offers a real feeling, why should the instruments sound as real as possible? And actually, as we add so much reverb and chorus effects to our music I am very sure that if we would add a real instrument and mix it our way (and not tell this to the fans) they still would complain why we don’t use real instruments. For me, it is important that the sound is fine, and I don’t care if you can hear that it is not human played and has some keyboard sound. Keyboards have 2 great advantages.
First, you have full control over all the notes. You can decide very relaxed about the loudness, length or time of note. You can move the notes, add additional ones etc. You can work like a historic composer who also made their music by putting notes and not by playing them. Second, with a keyboard, we can easily keep a due and that is essential. I think this is the reason why Summoning still exists after almost 13 years. We don’t have quarrels with other musicians. We neither want a band-member that we have to treat like a slave in order to keep our style pure nor would we like any new musician that would change the typical style of Summoning. And definitely we don’t want any hired professional classical musicians, this would rather remind me of a boy band casting show and would make me feel as if I would participate in a lousy mainstream band, and it is a miracle for me how some fans can wish Summoning with a real orchestra; we are neither Kiss nor Metallica nor ever intended to be like them.
Grim Magazine: Your sound has changed a bit over the years going from mostly Black Metal to now having much less of a focus on Metal and more of a focus on fantasy-themed Ambient music. Was this a conscious effort on your part to have this change, or was it a natural progression of the band throughout the years?
Protector: Well the main change in sound was definitely with “Stronghold” when we first recorded and mixed our music in my own studio and had all control over each track. In the past, it was not so fine for me to work in a studio with a guy mixing our sound that naturally had nothing in common with our music. I remember how annoying it was for me always being forced to beg him for some more reverb, but as he was not a fan of reverb it was never enough for me. Well because of this and other reasons I never was really satisfied with the result after the studio, and so finally with “Stronghold”, I was able to create a sound I always had in mind. So all albums since “Stronghold” have a more ambient mood as you can hear more reverb on it that makes the music sound as if it would come from far away.
Grim Magazine: What is it that you like most about Ambient music? Not only is Summoning heavily influenced by it, but I know you are or were also involved in an Ambient project called Mirkwood, plus at least one of you appeared on Pazuzu’s “Awaken The Dragon” album.
Protector: Well for me all that is not really ambient. Real ambient is rather pure sound music with no or hardly any tunes in it, just focusing on the tunes and sounds. What actually attracts both of us is the possibility to make multi-layered music. In traditional metal music, there is hardly any polyphonic inside. Normally the guitars play the main musical information, whereas the bass guitars always play the same as the guitars, and the singer rather makes some growls that have no melodic information at all; the drums are rather playing standard rhythms with some breaks.
So you can say that traditional metal music is monophonic. That’s ok for sure, but for me after many years of listening to metal I got the desire to make music where plenty of tunes played at the same time, and don’t make it too easy for the listener to decide on which tune they shall listen; it is for me meanwhile a greater challenge than traditional metal music. Btw that was actually what I liked about the first black metal bands like Burzum. The songs were very simple, but in contrary to the very progressive death metal bands of this time, even the most simple riff had more feeling of polyphony than those progressive bands of this time. In contrary to death metal it was usual for the old school black metal bands that one guitar played something different than the other etc.
Grim Magazine: “Lost Tales” was a two-song album that was made up of one Mirkwood song plus a song from the “Dol Gulder” recording sessions. Neither of these songs is Metal at all, and are completely fantasy-laden dreamy Ambient tracks. I really liked the style of both of these songs. Have you ever thought of releasing an entire album full of songs like this?
Protector: No never, I don’t see any reason for that. All Summoning songs could sound like that if we completely removed the guitars, but what for? I have my darkwave project “Die Verbannten Kinder Evas” and if I would turn Summoning into a guitarless keyboard music I could make a new DVKE song instead. “Lost Tales” was always only meant as a release of 2 forgotten songs and never as an album, and I hope that most people understood this. It has nothing to do with our musical development.
Grim Magazine: Being big fans of Tolkien’s novels, what did you think of Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy?
Silenius: I liked the films very much and think it could not have been done better. It was always clear that the film will not be a 1:1 translation of the book and it was never meant like this cause it is simply impossible, but the landscapes, the buildings, and characters were simply perfect. It was very wise of Peter Jackson to include the main Tolkien painters John Howe and Allen Lee in the production process because most of the audience who watched the films had in mind their excellent paintings from the books and so it would have been a total disaster if Peter Jackson would have created something totally new may it be character wise or may it come to buildings or landscapes.
Grim Magazine: Few bands were interested in Tolkien back when Summoning started writing about his work, but since the movies, there’s seemingly a glut of Tolkien inspired bands out there now. Do you look at this as a good thing or do you think this is now to the point of over-saturation?
Silenius: The world of Tolkien always has been a big inspiration for many metal band for all different styles since the beginning of metal. To be honest, I think or lets I have noticed a bigger upcoming wave since the movies, but even if that is true I don’t care about this too much because I think there are two big differences between us and all the other musical Tolkien followers.
The first difference is that most of the other bands just pick up a few topics or words from this creation like for example to use them as a band name or they have 1 or 2 songs in their releases which are connected to Tolkien but in contrary we built up our whole concept to Middle Earth and this nearly over 13 years by now and the next big difference is that most of the other bands don’t have any epic orchestral or hymn-like feeling or let’s say, they don’t have this special kind of wanderlust feeling I always get when I watch the movies or read the books of Tolkien, but I think this is very very important if you make a musical translation. Songs connected to Middle Earth should have a kind of dignity within, just like you enter a big cathedral and you don’t dare to speak or make any loud noises just because you are attracted by the big monumental flair of this surrounding just to give an example.
Grim Magazine: You have touched on a few other lyrical themes in the past besides Tolkien. Like I believe you’ve touched on Michael Moorcock’s writing as well. Are you open to basing your lyrics on other fantasy writings in the future as well, or are you now and forever more a purely Tolkien inspired band? I’d love to hear you do a song or two about the Dragonlance saga. Maybe a few tracks dedicated to Lord Soth, Takhisis, Dalamar The Dark or Raistlin? There’s a lot of great dark stuff in that series to base songs off of!
Silenius: Basically the concept of Summoning is to use direct poems from Tolkien himself and make a kind of musical translation around this poem, but of course meanwhile after 8 releases most of the essential poems already have been used by us and so I am always on the search for new poems that could fit to our concept. On the Let Mortal Heroes release, therefore, we used some poems from this English writer. Especially for the last song “Farewell” we somehow rearranged the lyrics a bit so that they fit the Tolkien concept. Michael Moorcock was very famous in the 70’s and 80’s with his Elric Saga, the white-haired eternal idol.
The painter Michael Whelan made a lot of paintings of this figure which also have been used by metal bands like Cirith Ungol. But this is not the only writer we have taken poems from. We also have taken poems to form unknown writers dealing with old English poetry. We also have some war poetry included and up and then we write our own lyrics and combine them with other lyrics, for example, the choirs are written by me which was very important because of the melody line. We have never used anything from Dragonlance. This topic was already taken by a friend of us who took out some of the Dragonlance mythology for his own darkwave band Dargaard which is also on Napalm Records.
Grim Magazine: There’s supposedly a three-LP Summoning box set coming out that’s extremely limited containing the “Lugburz”, “Minas Morgul” and “Dol Gulder” albums. Is there a firm release date on this yet, and how many copies will be pressed?
Silenius: I don’t know any details, but everything I heard was that Napalm gave a licensing deal to a Spanish label to make LP versions of the first 3 Summoning releases, but I really don’t know when they will come out or how much they are limited. I think we will know more at the end of this year.
Grim Magazine: Well, that about does it for this interview. Thanks once again to you for taking the time to do this thing. I am looking forward to listening to “Oath Bound” and wish you guys luck for all of your future endeavors. I leave the last word for you to add anything you wish!
Silenius: Thanks for the interview and Up The Hammers to all our fans!
(1995) Summoning – Lugburz
(1995) Summoning – Minas Morgul
(1996) Summoning – Dol Guldur
(1999) Summoning – Stronghold
(2001) Summoning – Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame
(2006) Summoning – Oath Bound
(2013) Summoning – Old Mornings Dawn
(2018) Summoning – With Doom We Come
With: Protector and Silenius
Interview Date: March 29, 2006
Years Active: 1993 – present
Genre: Atmospheric/Symphonic Black Metal
Website: Official Website
Label: Napalm Records
Origin: Vienna, Austria
Reviewed by: Grim Magazine
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