The Ruins of Beverast
by Niklas Göransson
Alexander Meilenwald, sole ruler over The Ruins of Beverast, is shedding the withered husk of recent transformation. Presenting new album “Exuvia”; his litanies of loathing for a species about to be stripped of creation’s crown.
Meilenwald used to be the drummer of a black metal band called NAGELFAR – not to be confused with Swedish NAGLFAR. Someone once told me that when the German version capsized, one member met with their Scandinavian adversaries at Wacken Open Air and handed them a symbolic ’E’ on a pendant. I sincerely hope the legend is true, this is brilliant.
– Wait … I know this story, but not from myself. Can it be that our vocalist, Zingultus, did that? It sounds familiar and would be fitting, yes. I should ask him, guess he was playing there with ENDSTILLE and decided to give the guys a little lesson in orthography.
Currently operating one-man powerhouse THE RUINS OF BEVERAST, Meilenwald is set to release his fifth full-length solo album; “Exuvia”. Internet search engines taught me that an exuvia is the cast-off exoskeleton of beasts such as arachnids, scorpions, centipedes and a variety of insects.
– The recording is intensely personal and serves as a kind of therapy – this has only happened once before and that was with the debut, “Unlock the Shrine”, back in 2004. I desperately needed to make this album, no doubt… The title signifies a desired, and upon finishing the album possibly conquered achievement; the shedding of dead and foul skin.
As such, he believes it highly apt to indeed speak of “Exuvia” as a metamorphosis, with regards to the process it was crafted from.
– The three years it took to write the material brought quite a few drastic changes to everyday reality, which permanently altered my personal life. This phase demanded a great deal from me so it’s only appropriate to regard the album title in a metaphorical sense, as my higher intention during the creative process and then an outcome once it was behind me.
This is the first THE RUINS OF BEVERAST album to be conceived in a professional studio, all past efforts having been recorded in Meilenwald’s rehearsal room. Production, engineering and mixing was handled by live guitarist Michael Zech, also known from SECRETS OF THE MOON.
– “Exuvia” is a carnival of moods and spheres, rather than linear sequences of riffs structured into songs, and features frequent intrusions of unfamiliar native percussion harassment. The recording was divided in two sessions; first the rhythm guitars, drums and bass in Bavaria – consequently sober …
Judging from this mention, I suspect temperance might not have been the prevailing hallmark of the second sitting.
– No, the one in Berlin deteriorated into a … well, physical and mental debauchery quite frankly – sleazy if I may say so, whilst recording vocal and sound experiments.
Do you find it beneficial to put yourself into a certain headspace before singing, or can you howl away regardless of mood?
– The studio situation is, as I’m sure you can imagine, a fairly uninspiring milieu per se. One’s attention and focus is drawn to the wrong things, or let’s say in directions beyond emotions and psychic affairs. You must assume control instead of letting yourself go – which might be okay for THE RUINS OF BEVERAST’s basic instrumentation, but not the vocals.
Meilenwald speaks of removing himself from the typical studio experience, which first of all entails working with the right people.
– No hired music producer toiling away at an everyday job because he’s been paid to do so, but a musician from the line-up and total insider concerning all things THE RUINS OF BEVERAST. This changes a lot – not only music-wise, but also in terms of communication and recording behaviour. Another thing is that I drink a lot before recording vocals.
Inebriated vocalisation is something Meilenwald has always engaged in without quite knowing if it has a tangible effect. At least he feels as if it does, which is reason enough.
– The voice is the band’s unearthly, inhumane and threatening element. The music experience is enormously intense for me when receiving it intoxicated, and I find it essential to harness this in my work. And I really enjoy the feeling of next-day listening without detailed remembrance of performing the vocals.
From what I could determine, the 2016 EP song “Takitum Tootem! (Wardance)” drew a somewhat mixed response from the fan base.
– Yeah, well it was obvious that this would never be hailed in unison – none of my releases ever were and that’s how it should be. Any creative output that does not leave a trail of discourse is a squib load. Controversy is the ultimate artistic energy, and I really wouldn’t want it any other way.
The composition in question is also present on “Exuvia”, this time as “Takitum Tootem! (Trance)”. Compared to the tribal madness of the EP, the album version is significantly heavier – almost pulsating.
– While experimenting with the song I tried out a slower, trance-like interpretation of the main motif and found it better suited to the overall mood of the album. I decided to unhitch the wardance and instead embed it in its own context.
The EP was originally planned as a one-sided twelve-inch to coincide with the spring 2016 Acherontic Arts Festival, hosted by THE RUINS OF BEVERAST’s label, Ván Records.
– For organisational reasons this never happened, so it was postponed and extended to a complete EP – adding the PINK FLOYD cover (”Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”), which in my opinion fits very well due to the similar percussive nature of both songs.
The EP cover artwork, is that a nod towards the film Altered States?
– I like the reference and I’d be happy to confirm… had it only been true. “Takitum Tootem!” is a dystopian vision of post-humanoid Earth – signifying triumph of nature’s forces and enchantments over a parasitic lifeform being exterminated like a foul, diseased and infectious vermin.
Meilenwald adds that his lyrics in general paint a picture of the Homo sapiens as a rather repulsive species – one plagued by ignorance, megalomania and short-sightedness.
– In this context, mankind is finally stripped of creation’s crown after being defeated by its genuine totem – torn apart by animal aggression and powers of wilderness. This is what the cover depicts, the ultimate symbol of occidental human drama; Jesus Christ nailed to a cross.
With some adjustments.
– Yes, decapitated and adorned with the head of our primary phobia, nature’s most artfully organised entity – the wolf. The crucified man-beast is a triumphant symbol of a cleansed and organic earth, the resurgence of pristine spirit.
Is “Exuvia” another concept album then?
– No. To be honest, it’s difficult for me to provide elaborate insight into my lyrics; for the most part they’re structured like self-disputes buried under a landslide of metaphors. Big parts of them are slightly insane, or let’s say weird – “Surtur Barbaar Maritime” for example, uses nomenclature from ancient Germanic mythology to narrate an eschatological battle between gods and giants.
The lyric in question is structured like a verbal deliberation between the warring parties.
– Imagine the giants as profane, gross oppressors of culture – persistently ignorant of the soul, and deniers of respect for monumental ideas. Then picture the Æsir as their spiritualised enmity.
This fictional debate casts a poetic reflection of Meilenwald’s own inner existential broodings.
– There lives a personal antagonism inside me. I harbour an incredible hatred for people who celebrate their ignorance of everything not bred for superficiality – of all that which demands devotion, mindfulness and time-input.
Meilenwald’s pondering led him to the conclusion that this is a point of view founded in hubris, considering the fact that he himself is afflicted with humanoid DNA.
– This realisation really doesn’t make anything better though. Note that these are some of the more … let’s say ’harmless’ rhetorical conflicts the album contains. The remaining songs discuss matters I not only wished to deal with but also eradicate.
Would you care to elaborate on that?
– Not particularly, no. I hope I may ask for your understanding not to lucidly reveal their imagery here. It would be boring for you and counterproductive to me.
Having previously learned how he thinks of music in colours, I’m curious what palette Meilenwald envisions for “Exuvia”.
– At first, a surreal and dirty red. Once we started preparing the cover artwork, which because of my usual colour-vision was meant to be inked red – it was okay but not as convincing as predicted. We played around with alternatives, and now it’s become a dark purple with fiery yellow spots. All of a sudden I preferred the purple colour because it has a moonlight effect, and I like it.
The most recent THE RUINS OF BEVERAST interview I could find was from 2013 and I noticed that Meilenwald at least back then still appeared heavily emotionally invested in black metal as an art form. Having had plenty of those discussions recently, I thought to inquire if this was still the case.
– Imagine it as a form of love-hate relationship with… let’s say, a town you were born and raised in; an utterly boring shithole you couldn’t wait to get out of but haven’t ever left for good, and probably never will. Should anyone dare to speak ill of or taunt it, you feel a spasm of annoyance rippling through your flesh – leading to uncontrolled aggression and an overpowering urge to return fire and mock them all until they develop suicidal feelings.
Meilenwald credits his intricate depiction to speaking entirely from experience.
– Everyone in the, ahem… contemporary ’scene’ always complains about the current state of affairs. I mean, by ’95 they said the movement had followed Euronymous to the grave – yet those declaring black metal dead kept on playing and supporting it. By the turn of the millennium it had apparently died anew, this time in the late nineties when it became a common part of heavy metal and lost its radicalisms.
All the while, the ones issuing death notices and proclaiming good riddance were the ones keeping it alive.
– Even I was going on like this in the first decade of the 2000s, after certain bands who tried re-establishing black metal to what it was during the early nineties had failed. They obviously never understood what it was like back then; this was never a romping ground for frustrated little snots shocking their parents with nazi babble – and no, nobody will ever succeed in evoking the DARKTHRONE-and-MAYHEM spirit by hitting REC on a ghetto-blaster and recording uninspired power chord bullshit with Satan-lyrics and drum computers.
Meilenwald wishes to remind everyone how black metal used to be permeated by an intuitive and intangible magic, fuelled by naivety and unprofessionalism as much as independence and devotion.
– I’m not talking about vandalising graves and painting twisted crosses upon them, although this was of course part of it, but a stubborn and focused strength of purpose; a tunnel-vision allowing glances to neither left nor right, it was impregnable. While much may have been somewhat naïve, there was never any room for doubt – this was also before bands started seeking validation and recognition from outside.
This paradigm shift, he announces, is what made the ultimate difference in everything that came afterwards.
– Thereafter people began trying to attract controversy by filling their music with pseudo-radical or provoking slogans, something the advent of online communities has brought to extreme and likewise grotesque levels.
Agitators who take to social media in their heralding of the commercialism-driven demise of black metal, besides their own band of course, are a crowd Meilenwald finds particularly irksome.
– Decreed through a networking platform run by a huge, capitalistic corporation – one that stands like a cenotaph against individualism, against differing opinions and withdrawing into a niche… yet it’s supposedly great for getting in touch with people from all over the world, forming pitiful digital ’friendships’ and exchanging culture like an exemplary upstanding citizen of cosmopolitan humankind.
And what can we discern from all this?
– Not much besides how far away we are from recalling how it felt to touch the essence of the blackest of metal, because it’s the exact and total opposite of what we think it is. And yet here I am – mocking and moaning but still defending the art against those who would defile it, all the while, somehow… I am composing and performing it.
Since the year 2013 THE RUINS OF BEVERAST has been a live band. Not having witnessed this myself, I’m curious how the moods and atmospheres of the albums translate into the concert experience.
– I don’t really know if they do translate to be honest. I mean – three out of the live line-up’s five members are not involved in studio recordings, so what happens on stage is that all songs are completely re-interpreted. This is because none of them should ever try to imitate my style of playing guitars or drums, they forged their own approaches to handling their instruments a long time ago.
He adds that the material has to be rearranged for the live situation, as to avoid having to recruit an additional eight guitarists, five sampler guys and a host of vocalists and percussionists.
– We are forced to decide which elements to retain and what can be thrown out, which certainly changes the appeal of each song. What’s important to us is that it’s the goddamn music, and nothing else, which plays the main part. Therefore, we intentionally renounce anything bringing attention to ourselves as persons – be it masquerades, silly conversation, ‘rituals’, or whatever…
Meilenwald believes these attributes to be something closely related to personality cults – self-promotion intended to bring attention to the individuals on stage, and simultaneously tearing the heart and guts out of the musical aura.
– Therefore we always reduce stage lights as much as possible, to lurk as silhouettes behind walls of fog. For celebrations of music, the actual musicians are simply unimportant. This does, however, not always work due to the atmospheric settings of the venue – especially at festivals where bands are often referred to as faceless entertainers, and any special request is met with grimaces of annoyed doubt.
An older interview spoke of a ’deep personal abyss’ in which Meilenwald had found himself at a previous point. Given the mental states portrayed through the man’s music, this should come as a surprise to no one.
– I’m not a particularly depressive or sick-minded person – and to a certain degree I find it a bit clichéd and doubtful how many artists draw inspiration from seemingly endless angst and all manner of private hells endured. Personal struggles and negative estrangement from everyday life are intense phases that might feed an urge to become creative, but they don’t necessarily lead to good ideas.
Meilenwald adds that he’ll occasionally feel too lethargic and bereft of energy to develop ideas, or find the self-discipline to keep working when creativity isn’t flowing.
– Those periods are temporary though – “Exuvia” is, as I said, a kind of conflict resolution. But that was a rather concrete dispute, and a momentary one at that, not a basic depression. I wrote all the lyrics within two months, and the album certainly served as therapy quite successfully.
So these disturbed, hypnotic parts – you really think they could have been composed by someone who’s never been to a really fucked up place mentally?
– Songs like “Between Bronze Walls” are genuine outcomes of sleeplessness and despair – the same goes for the title track of the new album. But I wouldn’t call those phases essential in developing ideas for THE RUINS OF BEVERAST, this would be going too far. I’m fully able to shape utterly saturnine motifs in periods of vividness and good mood. It might as well be that during periods of severe mental tilt I throw away decent ideas because I rate them too generic, and the other way around.
Most song arrangements are as unorthodox as the remaining approach; Meilenwald’s compositions never follow traditional models such as the verse-bridge-chorus formula.
– They float in a peculiar vacuum, drifting aimlessly in the absence of conventional musical gravity and without beginning nor end. This alone is a strange listening experience; those looking for traditional signs that it’s an actual song being played are likely to be disappointed and confused.
Meilenwald says this is why it’s essential for him to create sonic structures capable of sweeping listeners away from human hustle, allowing them to be devoured and sealed off from everything safe and comfortable. He prefers to regard his songs more like ’suspense movies’ than simple sonic compositions.
– Creating material for THE RUINS OF BEVERAST is like writing a film screenplay, and I am of course operating a handful of stylistic devices to create tension and unease. The question is how one puts needles into cerebral regions that actually cause fear and anxiety, with only the audible experience.
Are you interested in film-making?
– I’m so very much interested in film-making. Had I ever been given the chance to think properly at a time when it would have been necessary, I would have educated myself in the art of writing and directing movies. You are unlikely to be surprised, learning that we’re not talking of any highly budgeted and polished blockbusters here. I have an endless myriad of ideas that I’d love to try out.
Aside from surrealistic visual art, he’s been toying with a few visions of ‘almost unenjoyable series’.
– Or wicked art movie stuff in the vein of Lars von Trier, or those weird underground directors from France and the Balkan states – even the Far East. All of their movies are just apocalyptically poetic. I don’t know, maybe some time I’ll bestir myself to try it out.
The rather effective use of samples from film dialogue was prevalent especially in early TROB material.
– This actually came to mind in a fairly accidental manner while working with NAGELFAR. If I recall correctly – I’m not entirely sure here, but I believe it was a recording mistake I made on a demo I was going to show the guys. There was spoken words of myself on it which I hadn’t planned, but when listening I was struck by the intense note it brought to the part they appeared in. So, I began experimenting.
Meilenwald prefers to embed spoken word samples within parts that recur within the songs repeatedly.
– They can actually take on the vibe of an additional instrument, or a vocal pattern unchained from metrics or rhythm or tone – thus serving as a sharp contrast which emphasises the effect of the underlying instrumental parts.
It’s a bit disappointing, he adds, that lots of bands appear to use samples exclusively as intros or outros – robbing them of their inherent compositional power.
– Not every spoken word fits in everywhere, and sometimes they’re perfectly suitable only as an intro or outro, but it’s a maliciously delightful thing to blend them into one’s songs and see where they can be spiced. Noisy, percussive or spherical samples can even be used as rhythmic patterns or synth soundscapes – one needs only be a bit adventurous.
Maintaining a certain shroud of atmosphere is of the utmost importance in THE RUINS OF BEVERAST, which is why all new material is subjected to stringent scrutiny.
– You could negatively refer to it as a corset, because there are actually riffs or complete passages I discard if they don’t submit beneath it. They must have the capacity of tickling the fearful mind.