Germany’s most enigmatic yet captivating artist Alexander von Meilenwald helms The Ruins Of Beverast. The solo product of von Meilenwald’s musical, philosophical, and creative urges, The Ruins Of Beverast has over the course of its six full-length albums and numerous splits/EPs posited fear, intrigue, desperation, desolation, and anger into landscapes foreign and unimaginable. What started out of the ashes of black metal cultists Nagelfar in 2003 has morphed, transformed, and matured into a revelatory, preternatural beast, the kind with the power to physically transport, psychologically disfigure, and mentally stun effortlessly.
The Ruins Of Beverast, naturally willed to existence yet again by von Meilenwald, has found supernatural solace in spectral themes, mankind’s hubris, and nature’s inevitable, if horrific retaliation on new album, The Thule Grimoires. Crafted from a different mindset and creative process from the albums before it — like Exuvia (2017) and Blood Vaults – The Blazing Gospel of Heinrich Kramer (2013) — the seven songs from seven locales unknown on The Thule Grimoires are filmic, heaved onto proverbial “film” as if composed for the innermost haunts of the vaulted abyss. “The Tundra Shines,” “Mammothpolis,” and “Deserts to Bind and Defeat” roll into the primordial mind of us all, disembark, and weave open gateways. Stepping through those electro-magical doors is an exercise in wonder and dread. Elsewhere, our wizard in von Meilenwald uncages our myopic senses with “Kromlec’h Knell,” “Anchoress in Furs,” and “Polar Hiss Hysteria,” opening our fleshy eyes, lancing our pitiful ears, and excoriating our senseless skin to what lies beyond.
Normally, von Meilenwald isn’t available to smiling idiots and garrulous morons about The Ruins Of Beverast, but we were able to harness the mysterious German for a few penetrating questions about the greatness that is The Thule Grimoires and the processes our man used to evoke such powerful expressions. Click HERE to listen to The Thule Grimoires in full.
There is presumption that The Ruins of Beverast have more contributing members now. Care to dispel that myth? Apart from Michael Zech as producer/engineer/mixer, who else joined you on The Thule Grimoires venture?
Alexander von Meilenwald: No one did. We were thinking about some session instrumentalists and vocalists indeed, but because of logistic issues coming along with the pandemic that couldn’t happen. So I performed everything myself as always before, with some contribution from Michael on guitar, effects and arrangements on “Ropes Into Eden” and “Mammothpolis.”
The Thule Grimoires represents, to me, a natural evolution of your sound and style. What, if anything was specific to this era that played a major part in inspiring you musically and sonically?
Alexander von Meilenwald: In fact, during and after the hardly existing songwriting sessions for Exuvia, which almost entirely consisted of impulsivity and instinct, I became widely aware of what I would attempt to change in future times. Personally, musically. For the first time ever, I extensively invested in guitar gear to widen my possibilities, and I started songwriting from the melody top to the rhythmic bottom, something I never did before. One of the very first bits to be written for The Thule Grimoires was the slow mid part of “Kromlec’h Knell,” but it was the lead and the clean tracks I wrote first, before setting up chords to this. This is somewhat symbolic for the whole album, which is so much more musical, so much more of a guitar album, running through actual songs. At least in my intimate insight (it may differ a lot to the outside). And I am pretty sure this happened because I wanted to be fully aware of working with music, pushing away the person behind it. Because the latter had been too present on Exuvia.
You’ve had some fans diverge from your musical output, expecting, I suppose, exact continuity between releases. If they had been observant, they would’ve seen that album-to-album The Ruins of Beverast has never been completely linear. What do expect them to see/hear on The Thule Grimoires?
Alexander von Meilenwald: Very true. Aspiring to linearity would compel me to check TROB outputs against each other, or have the latest output set as a checkpoint and go from there to take things to another level. You wouldn’t be happy with the result; me neither, I guess. I am just not able to work like this. I have a whole fresh universe set up to vanish into every time I start to prepare for a new TROB effort. I always start from a scratch, and after all the time it takes until there is some result, it always sounds like The Ruins Of Beverast, but it never sounds like the album before. Both is actually very important for me. It’s like growing a thick and uniform woodland from different seeds, keeping an extensively distinctive face for TROB after all, but without resorting to matrices and formulas. That is something I see in The Thule Grimoires as well. I can’t control what anyone else sees in it, and I think I don’t really have to.
Were there things you wanted to feature more prominently in the soundscape? I hear the echo-plexing guitar more of a feature now than in the past. They’re an indelible part of “Kromlec’h Knell,” whereas before they were more a flourish, as heard on perhaps the opening of “Exuvia.”
Alexander von Meilenwald: Yes, as I said, The Thule Grimoires is a guitar album — almost every song was composed out of a lead melody or a riff. That didn’t happen too often in the past, when sometimes I started from a sample and built the guitars around it (which, however, is also still featured on the new album; that is in “Anchoress In Furs” and “The Tundra Shines”), or from a vocal idea. And this guitar emphasis also manifests in the fact that we used wide, clean guitar sounds as an atmospheric glow, where we would have used keyboards in the past (excepting “Mammothpolis,” obviously). I read several people highlighting the clean vocals as the main difference to the earlier works and I would certainly agree, but that was not a matter of songwriting but an outcome of the studio work, and essentially Michael Zech’s idea.
The Thule Grimoires feels more like a score to a visual piece than any album before. Your music has always had a score-like quality, but this album it’s very orchestrated to varying moods, colors, and (personal) observations. Did you intend to make this album more visual? “Mammothpolis” is very visual, for example.
Alexander von Meilenwald: I guess I always want to make a TROB album become visual. I always think in terms of story lines and dramaturgies more than of actual songs, and while reviewing a TROB song I imagine what the song would look like on a movie screen. But that was really not a particular focus on The Thule Grimoires, I also did that on Exuvia and all the albums before. It may be the lyrical idea behind The Thule Grimoires that stimulates the mind’s eye, because the lyrics have, more than ever, a geographical location; they are all set upon intensely colored landscapes that you could imagine in a science fictional or surrealistic cinematic environment. And as it is a common TROB-esque habit to instrumentally paint the lyrical picture, the new album may seem even more visual. To me, that would be most welcome.
If Exuvia was a metamorphosis, then what is The Thule Grimories?
Alexander von Meilenwald: From today’s point of view, I’d rather rate Exuvia a healing and The Thule Grimories an elemental force. But I don’t know if that is a proper rating; there is not enough space between me and the new album yet to regard it properly.
Was the concept of The Thule Grimoires inspired by what others have written about Greek geographer Pytheas’ journeys through ancient Britain?
Alexander von Meilenwald: “Inspired” is too much to say. But he is of course the essential part of the debate about the localization of Thule island, which is unsolved down to the present day. And that is what “Thule” represents in the title: a place without location. It stands as a symbol for the seven unlocatable places that constitute the seven songs on the album, each of which tells its own story about man’s physical or mental (or maybe both) deletion from Earth, forced by natural spirits and/or demons. These stories again are written down in seven scrolls, found subsurface the seven unknown places, writer and circumstances also unknown, composed in unknown tongues (therefore referred to as “grimoires”). The idea of the foreign tongues is indicated at several points in the songs, inspired by the magic words of ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian defixion or magic spells, respectively. I adopted them (for the big part) from the PGM [Papyri Graecae Magicae], the magical papyri collection of ancient spells, emerging in the late middle ages. That’s what the concept is mainly about, and how it was conducted.
This also goes for some of the song titles, like “Anchoress in Furs” and “Ropes Into Eden,” where Christian terms or concepts are pulled in for inspiring effect. Obviously, Christianity is a very deep well from which to draw, but do you see the usage of terms or concepts as color or something more profound?
Alexander von Meilenwald: The Christian details here are more like a sarcastic corruption of human values, or rather hopes and dreams, and they’re alienated in their meaning. “Eden” is the name for one of the unknown seven places, located deep down on the sea floor. It has some references to the Bible motive, for instance as Cherubim guard it, but they are not of genuine religious connotation, but… well, serve as rudiments of “something human”; can’t put it any better here, I’m sorry. The anchoress is a paradox of the spiritual hermit of human origin. She is not of human origin, and her spirit is instinct, her religion is death. And frankly, the title was much more inspired by Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs,” and is a salute. And again a perversion, because the TROB-anchoress is just the opposite of the Velvet Underground-Venus (or rather the literary Venus, of course), even her fur is all natural. In fact, I had been searching for a title for that song for almost a year and I just didn’t make any progress, until a hotel room party after a TROB-show in East Germany, where somebody played the Velvet Underground debut, and all of a sudden the scales fell from my eyes…
How much of The Ruins of Beverast’s darkness and profundity come from real life and your interaction with it? Some will assume, perhaps incorrectly, that music the egress out of reality but may miss that the very egress they’re exiting is reality. Life is both cruel and kind.
Alexander von Meilenwald: To myself the act of occupying with music is an egress in the sense of not being bothered by everyday issues of course, and particularly not being urged or obliged in any way, but being completely self-sufficient in my very own universe. That is a liberating and strengthening feeling, but that goes for anything one can be passionately busy with, even for playing video games or something. With regards to the content, TROB is not an escape from reality at all. It totally reflects reality. As surreal and abstract the lyrics may seem, indeed they are invariably happening on minimum three levels, sometimes more, being a geographic plot, a metaphoric story, and the reality they’re actually speaking of. Sometimes there is another level that is more of an artistic one, featuring references to my artistic influences and being independent from the actual lyrics, they’re more of a “gimmick”. But all the lyrics are — on the third level I mentioned — dealing with my view upon my real life surroundings. Because despite not being an entirely socialized person, I observe people very closely. I don’t like to do that, but I do it nevertheless, and human behavior is a vast field of inspiration, for asking the initial question how to trace out a particular fraction of my observations into a lyrical topic. And then, where to put it (plot-wise), and further, what story to tell about it. This is a very conceptual and therefore practical task, and it is not executed in a fantasy world. Hence it is not an egress out of reality, or at least for me it ain’t, because what happens is, I’m taking reality with me into the TROB-universe.
As part of The Ruins of Beverast’s lyrical and musical journey, digging deep into the psyche of humanity appears to be one of your goals. What makes us what we are through the dark and light… Is your personal motive to explore the unknown, the caverns of mankind’s spiritual origins? The percussive and low tonal qualities of the music have a shaman-like effect, which is something you brought forth musically and visually (the cover art and opening chant) on Exuvia.
Alexander von Meilenwald: Looking into mankind’s emotional and spiritual substance is something I instinctively do in my everyday life, but as I said, it doesn’t happen on purpose; in fact I feel burdened by doing so, I just can’t help it. But there is so much happening nowadays that seems to be motivated and operated by mankind’s deficiencies and imperfection, and at the same time it seems that our Western society is getting more and more overconfident, ignorant and selfish. The thing is, we are not entitled to think and act like that. Being honest to ourselves, we’d have to clearly admit that our industrialized way of life is a failure, a misled experiment that was meant as a model for behavior and development beyond instinct, but apparently did not meet this goal at all. In fact, we are missing instinct. We are not able to administer a functional social community. We are extensively helpless towards external (and often internal) menaces, our natural weapons are virtually non-existent, and we are widely unable to interact with our natural surroundings. We are in need of noxious artifacts and utilities to secure our daily life. Thus, we are missing all of the qualities that our surrounding species have. Instead, we’re still convinced that a healthy human economy is more important than a healthy habitat and climate. To me, this way of thinking seems so obviously wrong as it is so shortsighted and so contradictory to a successful species’ organization, that I just cannot believe it to meet nature’s original idea of human life. Something must have gone wrong, and to me our tragedy started when we parted ways from nature and put her into an opponent-kind of position, however that could have happened. But this is something I consistently put forth in the TROB-lyrics, and it is metaphorized in manifold ways, that’s what you also mentioned in your question as to the “shamanic” appearance. And yes, this pristine, natural element is, of course, also intensively set into the music. But well, that is some discussion you could fill your nights with of course, there are just so many aspects to this subject and I was wandering off, sorry. The lyrics of The Ruins are, however, not essentially composed of observation or analysis. Actually, my view upon mankind is steady, and the lyrics are built upon a certain wrath and repentance upon this, in awareness of the fact that I myself am a member of this species, contributing my own failure and inadequacies to the overall situation. “Deserts to Bind and Defeat” is intensively occupying with my personal role in this tragedy. And then again, also mentioned that somewhere above, I try not to let TROB become my personal therapy, it is still a music project after all, and I am a passionate musician rather than a philosopher or psychologist. And the music is what is most important in TROB, never the person behind it.
The horned figure returns to the cover of The Thule Grimoires. In what way is figure connected to the ones before it?
Alexander von Meilenwald: They are (virtually) identical. I indicated before how The Thule Grimoires tell of the everlasting (and ever-growing) conflict between mankind’s indelible and total dependence on nature and their hubris towards it, resulting in their extinction by vengeful spirits of nature. The entirety of those spirits is embodied in this figure. And it was also relevant in the concept of the song “Takitum Tootem!” on Exuvia. That’s where it came to being, and as the basic stuff of “Takitum Tootem!” was advanced on The Thule Grimoires, I decided to bring it back. It is like the omnipresent menace of our natural environment.
The Thule Grimoires is quite an accomplishment. Where do you think you’ll take The Ruins of Beverast from here? The sonic world is as vast and deep as one would expect if they have eyes and ears for it.
Alexander von Meilenwald: Oh, thank you for this — it was indeed a big effort, again. But it is the best-smelling blood and sweat I could ever give for anything. Now, where to go? I can’t really tell. I didn’t start any new material for TROB, as The Thule Grimoires still need my full attention. You know, I said before, I never continue a trodden path, but always try a new one. So in a certain period of time from now, I will sit down again and start working on ideas. I don’t know how and what kind of ideas that would be, and for me it’s fine not to know that. From your question I would suspect that you might think the TROB-world of the moment couldn’t get any vaster. And that’s maybe true, but frankly, I don’t think about that. I will start writing new material without having any kind of a basic direction in mind, because that’s what I always did, and then perhaps I will learn that it doesn’t have to get any bigger, but just needs a different color. I’ll have my energy and vision direct everything and see what phenotype will emerge from this.
** The Ruins Of Beverast’s new album, The Thule Grimoires, is out now on Germany-based indie Ván Records. North America acolytes can get the CD and LP from Amazon (HERE), while our fiendish friends from afar can order directly from Ván Records (CD is HERE and LP is HERE).