Interview: Alexander von Meilenwald (The Ruins of Beverast)
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This year saw Germany’s The Ruins of Beverast release its fourth and perhaps most challenging full length in Blood Vaults – The Blazing Gospel of Heinrich Kramer. The blackened doom created by sole member Alexander von Meilenwald uses the space of just a little under 80 minutes to explore the vast and seemingly endless depths of heavy music, where theatrics are equally as important as the composition itself. In its 10 years of existence, The Ruins of Beverast has continually allowed Meilenwald’s interest in the recesses of consciousness to fester into the evils permeating each release. Blood Vaults, though still as dark as ever, is a bit more subdued, with Meilenwald focusing his aberrant energy more on the idea of the ritual. In a very rare interview opportunity, I asked Meilenwald a few questions concerning his own evolution as an artist.
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Since The Ruins of Beverast’s inception as a band, how have you seen yourself evolve as a musician and, in addition, how have you seen the music and art you create evolve?
When I started writing music again after the Nagelfar split, I did not extensively wish to create something different and deviant. I wanted to gain ground again regarding the creation of music, to try out how intensively it would be possible to come back into the process of writing a classical Undergroundblackmetalsong, just to relive that feeling again.
But as music is an emotional art form, I began raising my demands again just when I fell into a deep personal abyss, and when I realized that music is the only power that can pull me out of there again. This was when I started a new era of evaluating music, my personal relation to it, and its impact on me. I changed my approach to the composition of songs, apprehending them from a more psychological, “mental” point of view, pushing back the mere acoustic or structural aspect. This is how I found a kind of coherence in the creations of TROB, and I feel comfortable with it until now.
I don’t really like music with a logical or structured shape, which became more and more obvious to me while working for TROB throughout the years. Still, I am not satisfied with my instrumental abilities. Although I hate professional thinking, I want to improve in anything I’m doing music-wise, which is a rather normal demand. I guess. I should have become a better musician throughout all those years, but certain circumstances and myself (of course) prevented me from success.
What is the creative process for The Ruins of Beverast, and how (or did) that process change with Blood Vaults?
This process is possibly more ordinary than one might think. I have a certain sudden inspiration, mood, or impression that makes me want to write down my thoughts, and this sets up the concept and skeleton of the song which will emerge from it. I work out the basic ideas of the song’s atmosphere, and very roughly follow this sequence: guitar riffs – drum patterns – song structure – vocal patterns – additional elements (synth/samples etc).
Most of the TROB’s music has come into being like that since Unlock The Shrine, and nothing really changed concerning Blood Vaults, apart from the fact that I had to completely set up the lyrical concept before starting the music, as Blood Vaults does not have 9 separate conceptual arrangements, but only one. A concept album always is a corset to a certain extent, but I guess after all it was a worthwhile challenge.
Were there creative approaches you would take in the past that you’ve sort of moved beyond now? If so, what specifically?
No, definitely not. Perhaps it does not always sound like that, but there is nearly no acoustic phenomenon that wouldn’t be worth an experiment (if you leave out ridiculous non-suitable commercial bullshit of course). TROB albums are always a momentary insight, a mirror of moods, and I could never radically exclude anything at any time. The first two albums featured ideas of approaching a song’s mood which I never used again on the successors, but which I will perhaps or most probably revisit again on future releases.
What does the lyric-writing process entail for you? Is it heavily involved, or is it a matter of exorcising subconscious demons? Perhaps both?
Well, I actually think it’s a shame if bands regard the lyrical side of their creations as a necessary evil. They are missing so much. Words can (and should) give a whole new dimension to music if they are taken care of. For myself, the lyrics of TROB are torment and outlet at the same time. They are always a sledgehammer; to hammer a horrible truth into the soul, and to start a liberating killing spree with. I guess this is something which might apply to all TROB lyrics without any exception (apart from the demo).
Nonetheless, I often wish I could be more talented in writing lyrics. I still have some problems with the composition of metaphors and phrases, an issue which sometimes impacts the consistence and proper figure of the lyrics. This is not only due to the fact that English is not my mother tongue. Actually, I even enjoy to break the boundaries of grammar or to use obsolete and strange vocabulary. But there are situations when my imagination is not able to spit out shapes for the intangible that possesses my mind. I have to stop the composition process then and continue it later on, and I hate that.
What do you feel about the broader acceptance of extreme music over the last few years? Do you feel that it’s helped metal gain long-overdue respect, or has it been counterproductive in terms of creativity?
Holy shit, this is a question you could write a monograph about. So if I have to keep it short: the broader acceptance of Metal did essentially entail the “professionalization” of Metal, and that’s what — in my little universe — is the most annoying thing about this whole development, music-immanent speaking (there is certainly a bunch of remarkable developments regarding the “consumer” as well, but where can I stop?) .
A formerly rebellious and oppositional kind of art which becomes part of an economic machinery is always bereft of its soul and provocative potential, of its root, essence, lifeblood, whatever you call it. No one is there that could ever save it from that. And I am a flaming enemy of all that is “professional”. Modern Metal lives in painfully predictable stereotypes, laws, habits, automatisms. Cover designs, advertisements, images, video clips, productions, band pictures, interview statements, even songs structures and lyrics are dictated and synchronized to a large extent. These are laws written by people who are not able to feel the slightest passion for music. This is a circumstance one has been familiar with regarding commercially-oriented “pop” music. And now, as it has reached the niché music scene, is there any serious fan of extreme Metal who is psyched about this development, as we can finally speak of a public acceptance, or even respect for “our” music?
Most of the people I got to know in the course of time never wanted extreme Metal to be accepted or even respected, just the opposite is true. We wanted to be a dagger in the heart of harmless entertainment, a nightmare in the light sleep of the party generation. This might appear old-fashioned. But as Metal was completely flooded by the communication-2.0 wave, it was squeezed into the shape of the party generation and harmless entertainment, and therefore had to be grinded and castrated. I still don’t really think it is old-fashioned to believe that this is no cool development at all. It wouldn’t be a cool development for art overall, but it is a particular shame for ambitious music. And still, this all must end in the classical development which nearly all economic sectors are exposed to: what goes up, must come down. I don’t give up hope that this whole bloated, false, streamlined Moloch will explode in a future not that far away. You can already smell the signs. Dedicated, serious underground bands are coming back, vinyl is coming back, this whole retro thing, like it or not, is a harbinger. At least I hope that this is no delusion.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing an artist hoping to maintain their integrity while still making a living in our current cultural climate?
I believe that keeping integrity as an artist and making a living at the same time is already a challenge that might only be coped with if you accept certain concessions. Myself, I have heavy problems figuring out where I actually start to lose my integrity nowadays. To a certain extent, the career of a band is determined in our time. And if you wish to maintain an underground status, it is not really your own decision if you succeed or not. So, where is the line between the status where you might say “Fuck it, I will do it, it won’t change anything!” on the one hand, and “No, this is a line I will never step beyond!” on the other?
An example: about 5, 6, 7 years ago, I wanted to kill the irreverent scum that didn’t give a shit about publishing stolen music on the internet, particularly on YouTube, of course. I tried to boycott this horror by any means. Nowadays, the new TROB album is completely streamed, and Ván have an official YouTube Channel where they publish the songs themselves. This happened for the reason; we took the one and only chance to beat this scum, by getting it all under our control and doing it ourselves, in a way which is at least a bit(!) stylish (although I do NOT think that music could EVER be properly presented without a sound storage medium and a booklet, but that’s another thing).
You know, anyone who publishes music nowadays has to accept certain basic circumstances, whether he likes or not. And it has nothing to do with integrity or sincerity or resistance or “underground mentality” anymore if you refuse to accept that. Far from it — indeed, it is fatal naiveté which only encourages the opposite party. This has become a kind of automatism which I have serious problems to analyze, and to choose where to interrupt it and where to gnashingly accept it. I might have stepped beyond the line a few times with TROB, but in a time where sincere music is not even allowed to dwell in its own appropriate empire, but has necessarily to be presented on Facebook to be recognized at all, this line has become fainter than ever. But still, this is another topic which you could write an academic essay about, so there is just no space here to properly deal with it.
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