Austrian black metallers Summoning tell us about their new LP and how Tolkien inspires everything they release.
The deep lore of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium has been a source of inspiration for the metal scene for as long as the genre has existed. The legendary fantasy author’s work has been continuously drawn on throughout the genre’s history, and just like many other topical mainstays (Satanism, mysticism, politics etc.) this influence can be traced back to Black Sabbath, who sung about Gandalf on ‘The Wizard’.
Summoning’s own brand of metal is vastly different than the Birmingham metal originators, but it continues the tradition of fantastical lyrical topics, choosing to solely and wholeheartedly embrace Tolkien’s rich repertoire to influence all of their works. Their latest, With Doom We Come, may not shake up the Austrian duo’s established formula too much, but it still sounds utterly unique amongst the metal scene, blending traditional black metal with spooky synths and gloomy symphonic textures.
One of the best things about delving into Summoning’s captivating albums is knowing that despite being around since the relatively early days of second-wave black metal, the band are no NSBM act. In fact, guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Protector publicly denounced racism in the metal scene back in 2014, and voiced support for Black Lives Matter in a recent interview with Noisey. Since, the band has had a fair amount of political discussion surrounding them, something that Silenius, the other half of the band, tells us they would rather avoid. With this in mind, we spoke to the duo about their latest LP and the complications that arose during its creation, as well as all things Tolkien, from how he inspires their music to why book lovers who criticise the film trilogies’ portrayal of Middle Earth are misguided.
Tolkien often disliked when his work was compared with any real-world political or religious beliefs, do you feel you were doing something similar by keeping your political standpoint quiet for so long?
Silenius: Yes, definitely. When Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings, most of the critics could not believe that this book was pure mythology written because of his love for mythology and languages, so they tried to make connections to present politics and allegories and parables out of it to make his work more “worthy” and less “childlike”. Of course, Tolkien hated that and fought against this, but it took a long time until fantasy literature got the reputation it deserved.
It has been argued that Tolkien’s work was vehemently anti-capitalist and anti-industrialist, despite him being socially conservative himself. Are these convictions that you share?
Silenius: Tolkien’s world was feudalistic; a mixture between the Middle Ages and a lot of fantasy elements, and of course a lot of European mythology and culture. Of course, the industrialisation and the destruction of nature and the environment was something he realised, and his participation in the First World War had a big effect on him and I am sure this was something he put into his works, but not in order to make social criticism on the real world. Yes, he was conservative and I think also his work was conservative – the progressive thing was just that he transferred this kind of literature from the child literature to the adult literature. He created new mythologies for an adult audience and wanted people to take it seriously and have the same fascination for it that he had, so he started writing children’s books and ended up creating a full world creation with all its detailed languages, history, races, and so on…
Why do you think fantasy and mythology have had such a big influence over metal? What is it about them that goes so well together?
Silenius: Fantasy owns a lot of aspects which are very popular within the metal scene. First of all, the male hero-like warrior aspect, which was very present within the ‘80s metal scene, and the kind of outlaw/rebellion/adventure/whatever thing that was so important in the beginning within the scene could be transported through the sword-swinging hero who is going on his mission through an archaic world. In the metal world, the guitar often could be seen as a kind of sword substitute and the musician was the warrior whose stage show was a kind of archaic ritual. I also think that both genres – fantasy literature and the metal genre – were young in the late ‘70s and through the ‘80s and were both mainly consumed by a young audience, so the symbiosis was obvious.
Why do you think Tolkien’s work has been thematically adopted by the metal scene at large?
Silenius: I don’t think that Tolkien’s work was adopted by the metal scene at large, because there are very few bands who are totally devoted to him over a longer time. Yes, a lot of names Tolkien invented have been taken over by metal bands, and a lot of metal bands made songs about different topics about Middle Earth, but most of the bands used it just as something amongst other topics, maybe comparable to horror or sci-fi topics, which are also mixed together. For example, a band like Gorgoroth took the word, but after all, the band is a pure black metal band and has nothing to do with Tolkien’s literature.
Tolkien’s works were so detailed that he created his own mythology, do you think the depth of his work is what makes it such a constant source of inspiration for musicians like yourselves?
Silenius: Yes, he was the originator of what we call modern fantasy literature, and he did it the most detailed. He didn’t just tell a simple story but created the whole world around it: the countries, the landscapes, the races, languages, history, mythology and so on. And, of course, the quest as the central key of the storyline was imitated by followers a thousand times. The boundless imagination of his world creation was totally unique and still is an endless source of inspiration, not only for me, but an endless line of other Tolkien fanatics. And, in the early ‘90s, he had a huge effect on the black metal scene, like H.P. Lovecraft has on the death metal scene nowadays.
Christopher Tolkien’s edit of Beren And Lúthien was released just last year. Though it shows different renditions of the tale, some of which aren’t canon, has this posthumous addition to the Tolkien legendarium influenced your new music at all?
Silenius: Yes and no. I bought the book, of course, together with three other books I had missed: The Fall Of Arthur, The Story of Kullervo and The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun. I hoped to find some new lyrics or at least some inspiration. In the end my decision went elsewhere, but I at least took some song titles out from The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, namely: ‘And Wonder Walks The Forest Eaves’ and ‘As Echoes From The World Of Old’. But, I think because of his ongoing age these releases will
be the last ones from the huge heritage of Tolkien that his son is able to release. I think he mentioned this in one of his forewords. Sad but true…
How do you feel about the increasing popularity of Tolkien’s work post-Peter Jackson trilogy? Are you guys fans of the films?
Silenius: When we released our second album, Minas Morgul, in the middle of the ‘90s and set the initial ignition for our concept, Tolkien already had world fame. But, after the movies, it was impossible not to know about The Lord of the Rings. I cannot say if this had a positive effect on our own popularity but at least it had no negative effect. Of course, I love the movies. The LOTR trilogy is just perfect and The Hobbit movies are at least good, and just the second part perfect. I cannot understand all the critics because for me it was always clear that a movie is something different to a book and a one-to-one story adaption would not have worked. The movie can always just be seen as an addition to the book and never as a replacement. These are things which a lot of fans did not understand by complaining about its deviations.
The LOTR film trilogy created its own interpretation of Tolkien’s works, yours came before, what is unique about your interpretation?
Silenius: Of course, nothing is unique within our music, but when we shaped our musical way of composing we went different ways than most of the other bands in that time. First, we started to compose just on keyboard and not on guitars or bass as we did on Lugburz. Second, we replaced our real drummer with keyboard drums. Both were a kind of blasphemy within the metal scene in those times, and partly still are. And third, we did/do not see ourselves as rock/metal musicians, but much more as composers in the vein of soundtracks. Of course, we were socialised with metal music but always crossed the borders unto different musical genres – all this shaped our sound and made our music a bit different from the rest.
It has been five years since the last Summoning release, what’s kept you busy in this time?
Silenius: For Summoning, this gap was not too long, we needed seven years until Old Mornings Dawn was released, and even a lot of fans are surprised that there is a new album out so “quickly”. Normally between two albums we take a long break, concentrate on our private lives or work for other bands or projects, but this time we started a short time after Old Mornings Dawn was released. We had a lot of material left from that session, like several keyboard or guitar riffs and even two unfinished songs. All in all, we did not have to start from zero. We rearranged, added new melodies to the basics, deleted and rebuilt – to put it shortly, we made something new out of the ashes from Old Mornings Dawn. Within two years, the songs for With Doom We Come were composed, but then the problems began.
Protector: The problems began when I finished the rough mix of the songs to show Silenius so he could work on the final mix. His reaction was quite different than normal, because instead of mentioning specific details he considered all mixes as unfinished musical constructions, and wanted to mix all the songs again from scratch. During the second mix, I hadn’t the slightest clue what was wrong with the old versions and did not understand what he wanted to reach. This process took more than two years and got really frustrating – so frustrating that I lost my passion for the music for the first time in a while. Anyway, after some talks, we agreed to not waste any more time with details and head to the end of the mixing process. Now, everything is ok again.
Your sound was perfected early on and hasn’t altered much since, have you ever been tempted to tinker with the formula?
Silenius: The formula of composing is more or less always the same, that’s true, and we have no need to change it as long as we are dedicated in what we do. But in terms of the sound, there are a lot of differences. Old Mornings Dawn has a totally different sound compared to Oath Bound and this sounds different to Let Mortal Heroes, and so on. Within our world, we always try to develop or make slight changes as long as our core style stands bright on top.
With Doom We Come is out now via Napalm Records. Pick up a copy here.
Words: George Parr