** Alexander von Meilenwald, unlike almost every other solo act in metaldom, is intensely interesting, engaging, and deep with musical prowess. Decibel interviewed von Meilenwald in our December 2013 issue (available HERE), but we figured the German had a lot more to say regarding new album, Blood Vaults, and the creation process of said full-length. Oh, and Blood Vaults is streaming HERE in its entirety. Bow!
Tell us about the title, Blood Vaults—The Blazing Gospel of Heinrich Kramer. Mr. Kramer was an infamous German inquisitor and part author of the Malleus Maleficarum, right?
Alexander von Meilenwald: Indeed, but to be precise, he was the only author of the Malleus. The title refers to the Blood Vaults series which I’ve followed since the Rain Upon The Impure album and which reflects the… how can I call it… “history of shame” of the Catholic Church, so to speak. The subtitle leads to the specific concern of the series’ newest part. The Malleus is one of the most striking topics in this context. It is Kramer’s utmost personal universe of flaming passion against the heretic, a passion which is inseparably linked with the sexuality of women and with his own radical religious views. This is what the subtitle picks up in a slightly sarcastic way.
Are you taking liberties with Mr. Kramer’s history or are the lyrics re-telling what he did and how he did it?
Alexander von Meilenwald: The lyrics reflect—very roughly speaking—his literary creations, not his vita. Still, there is not really known much about the latter, because of lack of proof. But anyway, the whole album is based on a sarcastic evaluation of Kramer’s principles, and of course of the argumentation which he follows. This evaluation is thoroughly led along the concrete content of the book, it is not imaginary just to have some weird stuff for lyrics. That would not fit the concept of the Blood Vaults series.
Where does James Sprenger fit in here, if at all?
Alexander von Meilenwald: Nowhere. It is evidenced that Kramer and Sprenger knew each other, but the latest research clearly worked out the implausibility of Sprenger’s contribution to the Malleus. As a prior in the theological faculty of the university of Cologne, Sprenger’s position in the German Church was very prestigious, and it is most likely that he was abused as a justifying and emphasizing object by Kramer. Some older historians still credit Sprenger with the composition of the “Apologia” (which I used as an introduction to the album), but this opinion is antiquated. Indeed, it can be proved by the bequeathed correspondence that Sprenger tried to take actions against Kramer.
The church music motif is quite effective here. The organs and men’s choral are by design. How closely related are the music and title if I may be so obvious?
Alexander von Meilenwald: Well, if the title is Blood Vaults then the music has to picture exactly that. This is what TRoB always did: build up a plot and given scenery in music. It is the reason why I did hardly use any ‘modern’ synthesizer sounds or samples on this album, but mostly church organs and chorales. The same goes for the reverb on the vocals. Blood Vaults is an album about a dark part of history, and that’s what is has to sound like. Unlock The Shrine was an album about the darkest parts of the soul, Rain Upon the Impure dealt with the darkest parts of human behavior, and they both had to be appropriately colored in a musical way.
I like on “Malefica” how you’ve corrupted the purity of voice. Almost like you’ve made it degenerate. Was that kind of the basic idea?
Alexander von Meilenwald: Oh, actually it should have been a kind of tribute to my favorite Black Sabbath song, “Planet Caravan”. Of course, it didn’t turn out that similar, but that’s what I expected and it’s okay. I always interlace some more or less disguised bows towards my personal grandmasters on TRoB albums.
Your previous bandmate in Nagelfar, Gnarl, helped with soundscaping on Blood Vaults What was it like working with him again?
Alexander von Meilenwald: I know what it’s like to work with Gnarl for about 15 years now (although he was only a live musician for a year in Nagelfar, not really a band member), and there is nothing of a surprise anymore, actually. [Laughs] I still refuse to visit professional recording studios, and Gnarl is the perfect man on the edge of competent recording which is not professional; that means not overproduced and falsified. Only problem is him living about 200 kilometers away, so up to a certain point we have to work through digital communication, as I cannot always attend the mixing process. Can be a bit intricate sometimes, but it’s okay.
What’s exactly happening on the song, “Trial”
Alexander von Meilenwald: Musically, it is an experimental song built up around a ritualistic sample, containing timpani and canon-like, spoken vocals. Lyrically, it is the Malleus part about the denunciation of women as witches, and leading them to their trial. You can imagine the song as a procession of tortured and betrayed young women, broken and disgraced, into the dark wooden hall where their death sentence shall be spoken. It is atrocious, indeed. That’s the way Kramer intended it to be. He was a blazing Christian preacher, just to remind.
What role does the female voice play here? The witch? The sacred feminine. The sacred feminine on trial for witchcraft and heresy?
Alexander von Meilenwald: “Trial” features a mix of male and female voices… but still it’s a lament of doomed maleficae (as they were referred to). Or perhaps you’re speaking of the following “Ordeal”, where the female voice is that of a superior witch which haunts Kramer and acts as his nemesis. She is kind of a martyr here who faces her death as she withstands the Inquisition’s torturous interrogation and refuses to make a confession which is not the truth, and which would blemish her as a traitress to herself. In this context, she refers to a daemon as her savior in death, which is an affront to Kramer. Or perhaps it is an expression of post-torturous lunacy… you can choose that for yourself.
Would you call Foulest Semen of a Sheltered Elite the starting point for a new direction? There seems to be more in common with Foulest Semen of a Sheltered Elite than any of the previous records before it.
Alexander von Meilenwald: Oh, that’s interesting. Actually, when I composed the album and when I listened to the final result, I thought it had more in common with Rain Upon the Impure. That means cold and bloody, unwieldy songs with lots of repetition, songs that seem to have no beginning and no end, shaped in an ugly, non-modern production. I often refer to colors when I listen to music, and Blood Vaults is of that ugly, non-definable dark color between grey, brown and black that was also present on Rain…. Foulest Semen… was a lot more ‘musical’ in a traditional way, it had a lot more clean vocals, more comprehensible song structures, more higher tunes, more colors. That was my intention indeed, because it is impossible to compose an album of that kind twice in a row. Speaking of similarities between both albums, well, I started to move away from black metal-related productions on Foulest Semen…, leaning more towards deep frequencies and massiveness, for several reasons.
How different of a process was Blood Vaults for you this time around?
Alexander von Meilenwald: I had to include several other people in the production of the album because of lack of time, which was new to me and not always good to handle at first, but still… I had the chance to make sure I can trust some people around me… concerning the first three albums, I was self-responsible for everything from the recordings to the composition of texts and visuals on the cover. This time, I only had the possibility to observe some things apart from the recordings. It was a new experience, but it extensively succeeded.
Is songwriting an organic process for you at this point? Just curious how you work and what inspires you.
Alexander von Meilenwald: Well, usually I compose lyrics in periods of intensive occupation with myself and my environment, and start to transfer them into music whenever I’m inspired and relaxed enough to do so. I cannot start a creative process during periods of stress or precipitance. Blood Vaults, however, was different. At first, it was planned as being only one song on the 4th album, continuing the motive started on Rain Upon the Impure. When I was getting into all the stuff of the book, I quickly realized that there was no chance to reduce it to one song. I put off the existing ideas and started a completely new process of composing lyrics, for a whole album of one topic. The composition of the lyrics was really different this time.
Blood Vaults, like Foulest Semen of a Sheltered Elite, is a long effort. Well over an hour. I have to admit I got lost in it the first few times. Sort of an out-of-body experience. What do you recommend for first-timers curious about The Ruins of Beverast and Blood Vaults? Listen in pieces or succumb to the entire work?
Alexander von Meilenwald: Blood Vaults has best to be understood as one song, divided into segments. The album has a course of tension which, I suppose, extends to the whole length of the album and it is a strange feeling to listen to just one segment of it. Some of the songs have passages of repetitive monotony, which are comprehensible in the course of the whole album, but not in the course of one segment. I know it is hard to listen to an album of 80 minutes, no doubt. But nonetheless it is not harder than watching a film of the same length. And that’s what Blood Vaults and most of the other TRoB-releases should be regarded as.
There’s a lot of debate among fans over the specific genre of The Ruins of Beverast now. Does it really matter if it’s black, doom, or death metal?
Alexander von Meilenwald: Ew, this is indeed painfully irrelevant for me. During the Nagelfar days, it had been rather important for us to be part of the black metal scene indeed, as this moniker actually meant something. It was a statement to belong to this. I don’t know what black metal is today… actually, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t even exist anymore. All the bands I knew from the past don’t want to be labeled as black metal anymore, and there are lots of newer bands which I would regard as ‘metalcore,’ who claim that they have some black metal influences, because of their ‘screaming’ vocals. So you see, I think this whole genre debate is a thing of great ridiculousness in 2013 and I must say that I regard it as a kind of luxurious freedom to ignore such boundaries. Indeed, I did never think about that and could never answer this question. TRoB include influences of early death-, early black- and more modern doom- metal, as well as psychedelia, some industrial perhaps, ambient, ritual music, and possibly more. All those genres taken together result in nothing one could really specify or categorize, and I that’s the best way it could be.
I do like the inclusion of all genres. Gives the music more variety, more space to communicate. The fast parts to “Failed Exorcisim” wouldn’t be so effective if they weren’t buttressed and complemented by the slower, eerier sections, for example. Do you feel the same way?
Alexander von Meilenwald: That’s the thing, the effect and intensity of musical trademarks can only emerge in an interdependency, otherwise you’d end up in mental fatigue and stop listening. And I always try to accomplish that by writing the lyrics first and building up the acoustics upon them. This way it is guaranteed that you can capture moods of different colors, and vary loudness, tempo, aggression, atmosphere. If you work this way, the mixture of so-called ‘genres’ happens automatically without artificially putting together parts of different musical directions.
The Axel Hermann cover painting is quite striking. What was it like working with Axel? I gather “Monument” may’ve been his chief inspiration.
Alexander von Meilenwald: You may be right, it should have been. But “Monument” was the part I composed last, and it wasn’t even finished when Axel started the painting. So I sent him the lyrics of the “Apologia,” a test recording of the “Malefica,” and explained the concept of the album to him. It was very soon during the composing process that I decided to use an old-school death metal cover for Blood Vaults, because the concept of the album saw Heinrich Kramer as a demon, as a monstrosity, and of course he had to be on the album sleeve. So I thought it would be a good idea to come up with a classical death metal cover including heavy colors, a monster, and a dungeon environment. When Sven (Ván Records’ chief) informed me about his contact with Axel, there was no reason to hesitate. This guy painted the cover of Into The Grave! So I should see it as an honor I guess, and Axel did a perfect job.
You’ve made some live appearances in recent times. What’s it like to take The Ruins of Beverast on stage?
Alexander von Meilenwald: When I started planning it, it seemed like a horrible, insurmountable effort. The months before Roadburn, however, when we found a final lineup and did rehearsal [on the] weekends, it was a relief, and even more, a pleasure. It felt good to reanimate these songs in a lineup and just re-experience them as a vocalist and musician. This is due to the great musicians I gathered around me, who just understood—and I truly mean ‘understood’!—what TRoB is all about. So that is why nowadays we only need one final rehearsal for a show to get into it all again. This is something I never had expected just half a year ago.
Do you feel you’re able to convey the same feelings on stage as you are on recordings?
Alexander von Meilenwald: I don’t know, this is something the audience has to decide. The feeling on stage is and should be different from that in front of the stage. Yet—during the rehearsals and live gigs, we are able to lose ourselves in the music and just… well… experience the ideas and forces the songs should carry, cause and convey. And as long as we are able to, I hope the audience is as well. It is hard for me to actually judge about that, as I try to forget anything around me during the gigs.
Do you have any thoughts on how Blood Vaults will go over? Not necessarily with the media, but to the people who buy it and spend time with it.
Alexander von Meilenwald: Well… I received some reactions from persons close to me, which were… let’s say varying. Some love the album, some think it is the weakest yet. [Laughs] Well, it is always like that and I guess it always will be. And besides, it is the best feedback I can imagine. The day TRoB will release an album that is ‘everybody’s darling,’ I will be absolutely sure that I did something wrong. This music is meant to be uncomfortable, and I have to be aware of the fact that not everybody of our time has the possibility or the willingness to deeply occupy with a piece of music, particularly if it is an album with difficult music, lasting 80 minutes. Those people who are not willing to do will always state that this is boring, overrated, pathetic music. What else can they do? Those who are willing to dive into it will possibly compare Blood Vaults to the older albums and might find out that it is uglier, colder, more ‘evil’ than Foulest Semen…, and they will either appreciate that or take it as a bad development. I passionately hate this professional shit urging a band to use boring phrases about how their newest album is the best they ever made, and the album before (which was also the best album they ever made back then) is, of course, still good, but the newer one exceeds it in this and that and they are very proud and blablabla. Seriously, how dull can you be? Blood Vaults is the newest album of TRoB, that is the only thing I can clearly say. If it is the best one or not—how can I judge that? I released it because I am satisfied with it and I think it is an absolute worthy piece of music for the moniker of The Ruins of Beverast, that’s all. If I would not think that, the album would not have been released. Anything else is nothing I can seriously define.
** The Ruins of Beverast’s new album, Blood Vaults – The Blazing Gospel Of Heinrich Kramer (Cryptae Sanguinum – Evangelium Flagrans Henrici Institoris), is out NOW on Ván Records. It’s available HERE in a few kick-ass configurations on vinyl and CD. Like double blue vinyl with bronze hot-foil embossing or a CD with bronze hot-foil embossing with a hardcover. Yeah, we want them all!