Photo: Calum McMillan
Since Astral Noize last spoke to Edinburgh-based ensemble Dvne in 2017, the band have come a long way. In July of that year they dropped the epic concept album Asheran, an ambitious record that surged with the energy of a young Mastodon, combining post-metal with stoner rock, prog, death metal and more with such zeal that the album was almost overwhelming in the amount of ideas it threw at the listener. Off the back of that record, the band landed a well-deserved deal with Metal Blade Records and set to work on the follow-up.
Asheran’s successor Etemen Ænka finally dropped just last month, and it more than delivered on the band’s potential, honing their progressive power into a more cohesive sound that delivered one epic track after another. In many ways it feels like the culmination of the band’s efforts thus far, particularly when you consider that their first release was actually Progenitor back in 2013, not to forget the Aurora Majesty EP the following year.
What is undoubtable, however, is that Etemen Ænka represents the band’s biggest step forward to date. And this is true not only in sound but in their conceptual focus and visual aesthetic, which has always been a strong component for the band. To find out more about how Dvne reached where they are today, we sat down for a video call with vocalist and guitarist Victor Vicart, who is full of energy and passion when it comes to talking about his band.
“We’ve progressed quite a lot since Asheran,” he tells us. “There’s been changes in the lineup as well but I think the core of the band, Dudley [Tait, drums], Dan [Barter, guitar] and myself, the three of us have been through different things. After Asheran people started asking us to play in different places and we started touring a bit in Europe, we went to the US, and I think we had a bit of a realisation which was that we needed to up our game a bit.”
Feeling the need to improve in order to deliver quality live shows, the band focused on honing their musicianship, watching back live footage and pointing out mistakes they could work to rectify, such as Vicart observing that he was occasionally singing out of key because he couldn’t always hear his own voice. “I think Psycho [festival, Las Vegas] was a good moment for us because we knew we were about to play to maybe five thousand people so we had to think ‘okay we’re not just playing a pub anymore’,” he explains. “So we upped our game around that time and through that we became better at playing our instruments and better at singing and I think that shows a lot on Etemen Ænka.”
There is also the recording side of things, though, as Vicart is keen to stress. “We had tons of stuff we liked on Asheran but a ton of other stuff we wanted to improve on in terms of sound and how we recorded,” he admits. “So our producer Graeme [Young] was much more involved, he’s progressed too and he’s kind of like a member of the band at this stage. He’s been doing mentoring sessions with Joe Barresi (Kyuss, Melvins, Tool, Queens Of The Stone Age). So everyone went into this record being able to perform better and having a better idea of what we wanted to do.”
On the wall behind Vicart as he speaks is a screen print of Marald Van Haasteran’s gorgeous artwork for the album, a fantastical design that hints at the grand concept behind Etemen Ænka. Since their formation the band have made their love of science fiction and fantasy very much clear – as their name, a reference to Frank Herbert’s Dune, shows. These elements certainly sat front and centre on Asheran, and have continued into Etemen Ænka.
“With Asheran the themes were related to environments,” explains Vicart. “We wanted to change that with this album so we looked more at society. I find sociology really interesting, so what we did is we went into a story which had a civilisation based around this newfound technology that helps people achieve eternal life, so they kind of transcend into another state of human evolution. This technology starts with good intention but through generations ends up only being reserved for a few, and those few become immortal and it creates even more divide within the society, the lower social classes almost start seeing them as celestial god-like figures because they are so remote and so wealthy.
“There’s tons of things we found interesting in that, one of them being the idea of meritocracy and the notion that the lower social classes think they can rise if they deserve it. And the other thing I find interesting in this society premise is that the lower social classes allow it to happen, so social conformity was for us an interesting point. There’s even a song, ‘Mleccha’, which talks about the outsiders in this story and they kind of see this world from afar, and for us it was a good moment to take a step back and say well this society exists because everyone buys into these different concepts, which I thought was quite interesting.”
As becomes abundantly clear when Vicart begins to dive into the album’s concept, he and the band are well aware of the sci-fi genre’s history of social commentary – it may be escapism, but it’s also often relevant to our own world at the same time. “Good sci-fi has a strong message and is always exploring themes about a specific topic,” the vocalist agrees. “I was listening to a podcast about sci-fi and they made a good point, which was you’ve got two kinds of sci-fi and you’ve got the sci-fi where to make the story compelling it has to be relevant to us to a degree, like even in Star Wars, I’m not the hugest fan of Star Wars, and they don’t really have strong messages, but they do talk about democracy and it’s actually just a big story of democracy versus fascism – but they don’t give you big messages, it’s just a story. Others have much stronger messages which explore what to do about these kinds of issues. I think we’re kind of in between those two.”
Falling between these two forms of sci-fi allows the band to think deeply about society whilst still using their music as a form of escapism. “For us, I think the main thing is to create a compelling story and to be able to escape. I think the escapism of sci-fi is what appeals and I find that with other things as well, like fantasy, so it’s mostly that.” That said, however, Vicart would be remiss not to note that politics are unavoidable in any artistic endeavour. “We’re not hugely political although we have our own convictions and I think you find our convictions in the concept of our music and the lyrics,” he agrees. “Everything is political to a degree, you don’t have to be preachy about it but if you start talking about society and social classes and elites you kind of understand that some of us are probably more on the left side of things, you don’t have to be very smart to read between the lines there.”
Despite this view, however, Vicart is also keen to mention that his band prefer not to make things “black and white”, saying that he’s not personally a fan of overtly political bands. Interestingly, his bandmate Dan Barter mentioned something similar back in our interview for Asheran, stating that the band took inspiration from the films Princess Mononoke and Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind in the way these films “raise questions about how mankind interacts with nature, but never in a black and white ‘nature good, man bad’ way.” Presumably then this idea of simplifying an issue into a two-sided debate is something the band are conscious to avoid in their work.
More than anything else the band were inspired by history, Vicart explains, and the cycles of power that societies find themselves within. The band are not, he explains, focusing solely on the ills of capitalism but the idea of power generally, an idea he says the band are more interested in than any one economic societal structure.
“The historical side of things is what interested us most because we’re doing a full civilisation,” begins Vicart. “It’s not a story that takes place within like a year, it’s a long story that happens through generations and generations and for us it’s more a reflection on themes that are recurring in human society and human civilisation.”
These themes manifest in the band’s song titles, which often point to Vicart’s interest in etymology: “I find etymology so interesting, just really interesting, the study of the history behind words. You start with a word that is maybe English and go back into Old English and then French and German and older Nordic languages. Like ‘Mleccha’ is a word from India, old Sanskrit. All of that is related to our everyday life but also to legends and stories from thousands of years ago and I think it’s very interesting. We look at things more on a historical level and in the grand scheme of things.”
As becomes clear when speaking to Vicart, Dvne place almost as much stock in the themes behind their music as they do the music itself, and this much seems to be the case more so for Etemen Ænka than on any of the band’s past material. “With Asheran the music came first and we wrote the lyrics and concept after, but with this one it was a bit different,” Vicart reveals. “The songs were being written but we had a concept early on and we even had the artwork fully designed by the time we entered the studio. So the concept and the story and even the art came together and it really helped us make some creative decisions in the studio. I think I like the approach better.”
Arguably, this approach is what helped the band form their most cohesive recording to date. Asheran seemed to switch styles on a dime, giving it a sense of scope that was nigh-on overwhelming, whilst its successor surges forward with intent, drifting from one genre to another in a manner that feels more natural. Nevertheless, the two albums, not to mention the band’s prior recordings, are all tied together by a dynamic energy and a passion for sonic exploration.
Not only this, but they’re also tied together by their themes, with each of the band’s releases having its own concept that are all part of the same shared universe. “Etemen Ænka is actually a prequel of Asheran,” confirms Vicart. “We don’t say it too much. We dropped a few easter eggs but nobody’s gonna find them, they’re really hard to get. I don’t know if anyone picked up on this but the end of Etemen Ænka is actually the beginning of Asheran in the music. Every concept we’ve done before is part of the same universe too.”
Vicart also confirms that this universe is set to be expanded further on future releases. The band are already working on the next concept, though Vicart keeps details close to his chest since it’s still unfinished. “We still want to have some link into the other releases because if it keeps growing maybe we’ll have the opportunity to do some really interesting stuff,” he says, citing things like illustrated novels and animated films. “That would be super sweet to do.”
For now, though, the band are focused on music, which the vocalist says will always be the priority for Dvne. Songs from Etemen Ænka are of course yet to even make their live debut, though the band are planning a streamed concert for June, something Vicart is excited about as an alternative due to the added possibilities of a recorded show as opposed to a live gig. Again, the details will remain obscured for now, but with the passion and attention-to-detail that Dvne put into their work, we can only assume it’ll be worth tuning in for.
Etemen Ænka is out now on Metal Blade Records. Order here.
Words: George Parr