Four or five years ago I stumbled over an impressive German Black Metal band performing at a concert together with my friends from INGURGITATING OBLIVION. Man, I was impressed by the musicality and the evilness these guys delivered back then already. Their demos also made the loss of EMPEROR a little easier later on. Today, everybody can get the new HIDDEN IN THE FOG CD “Damokles” pretty easy at Amazon or at the mail orders everybody knows. Even better: in October 2005 they will hit European stages together with VITAL REMAINS and DOWNSCAPE. So in case you are fed up with those millions of bands that simply copy their heroes (it’s not quite that easy with HIDDEN IN THE FOG as we will learn), there is NO way of getting around these black wizards as long as you don’t give a damn about drawers. Discover new spheres – that’s what counts. Singer / guitarist Ghâsh and drummer Botis were kind enough to think about my questions.
For someone like me who mainly listens to Heavy Metal, your debut album “Damokles” sounds as if Mrs OPETH seduced Mr EMPEROR whereas those OPETH influences weren’t that strong on your earlier demos. Did you listen to the Swedes a lot lately or did you simply plan to integrate more calm jazzy moments?
Ghâsh: "Well, every member of HIDDEN IN THE FOG likes most of OPETH’s music a lot – but we did that also even prior to the recording of our previous CD “Abstract Maestrom Paragon”. We always had such quiet moments within our compositions, but on previous releases, these interludes were mostly composed in a more classical approach. The additional ingredience of a jazzy feeling for some special parts blends and fits very well into the musical soundscapes of HIDDEN IN THE FOG."
Laymen in terms of music are always on the safe side comparing HIDDEN IN THE FOG with EMPEROR. Can you explain the differences between your band and the legend for a moron like me or somebody who doesn’t know your music yet? I mean, you don’t really sound like EMPEROR after all.
Ghâsh: "That most probably derivates from the fact, that we do not really compose like Emperor did. In fact we are using a multitude of elements within our music, that are not present in Emperor’s music – and of course there are also elements in their music that we do not melt with our approach. The most obvious difference is the structure of songs – while Emperor (mostly) never stepped far away from a “classical” song-structure with verses and choruses, we have never ever written music in this way! The inner stability of HIDDEN IN THE FOG- songs rather emerges from the utilisation of special melodical motives that are worked out in a multitude of different ways within the songs."
How does your music come to life anyway? As far as I remember you don’t jam in the rehearsal room – at least not for composing… Botis: "Yeah, you are completely right with that. Our songs do not arise out of collective jam sessions in the rehearsal room. However, they develop and mature within a process of inventing, collecting, structuring and arranging melodies, riffs and bigger fragments which are finally fixed as musical scores. Although the basic concept of a song and most of its details originate from one single member of the band, the others have the possibility to intervene into this process by constructive criticism, supplementary or totally new ideas. Consequently, a typical song of HIDDEN IN THE FOG is already completely finished before rehearsed. Yet, there are different approaches within the band about arranging and composing. For example, I am the traditional kind of songwriter who tries to play most of his basic ideas first before he adds further melodies. To a certain extent one can even speak of “jamming” for my own since improvisation helps me a lot in canalizing my creativity."
Ghâsh: "For my part, I am more of a “theoretical composer”. Usually, I do not jam or play an instrument while composing, but I write down immediately what comes to my mind. The whole score is growing on and on while I let the music flow out of me. The duration of the composing process can vary a lot from song to song. It may be done during one evening, or it may take several months to finish a song – there are no rules, haha…"
So what’s your musical background? Didn’t Botis originally join the band as a keyboard player? Which instruments does everybody play apart from your functions in the band and how did you get hooked on Metal?
Botis: "Contrary to the other members of HIDDEN IN THE FOG, my musical education began already when I came to school. In my childhood I had piano lessons for some years and began teaching myself to play the guitar almost at the same time. Later, I have been learning to play the drumset and since then my fascination has grown far above the interest in the other instruments. That is why – during my time as the synth player of the band – I always felt more a songwriter than a virtuoso on the keys. Anyway, I am quite sure that I would never have got in touch with Metal music and its extreme derivatives if I had not met the mates of the first Death Metal band I joined as a guitarist and later drummer just by chance. But fortunately, I have always received the right inspiration at the right time, hehe…"
Ghâsh: "Well, I started taking guitar-lessons as a teenager. Soon, I felt that I wanted to get much more in depth with music in general and started taking piano-lessons and lessons in musical theory. I continued studying contrapuntal composing techniques and then entered a course for classical scoring in the “Akademie an der Deutschen Oper” in Berlin. But I had got hooked on Metal long before that time. I think, my first self-bought record was MAIDEN’s “The Number Of The Beast” and that was very much my starting point with Metal in general."
Let’s talk about the founding days of HIDDEN IN THE FOG. How and when did you team up? How come Botis took over the drums? Any bands prior to HIDDEN IN THE FOG? Any recordings from those days?
Ghâsh: "In the beginning (somewhere in 1996), we were just five teenage schoolmates who had the idea to start playing music together. We bought electric guitars, a synthesizer and a drumkit and started taking instrumental lessons very much at the same time. As we all were very enthusiastic, there was quite huge progression within the first year, even if I often can’t help but smile if listening to those first rehearsal tapes, haha… After one year, we recorded our first studio demo tape “Into The Moonlight’s Cold Embrace” and – honestly – were quite surprised by the remarkable attention it got back then. This was somehow the first time we realized, we could go further with our music and it was only some weeks later that Botis joined us to replace Grond on the keys, who didn’t seem to be able to hold the speed of musical progression of the other members. We then recorded the EP “Of Hidden Chronicles & Stellar Fires” which was released in the beginning of 1999 and which was followed by “Promo 2001” two years later. After that, we had to seal our second line-up change, as our former drummer Muth seemed to have reached the peak of his technical abilities and additionally suffered from time-robbing studies. That’s how Botis took over the drums and made his debut on a show in Berlin in September 2001."
Are your older demos still available? How would you describe your first demos we might not be able to order anymore?
Ghâsh: "The first demo tape and the “Of Hidden Chronicles…” EP are completely sold out and will most probably not be re-issued. I believe that there already was a special mood and feeling that has prevailed until our present recordings. But of course the arrangements and songwriting in general was by far less mature then nowadays, not even considering our technical standard, which naturally still was in a progress of development. But nevertheless there are indeed people who claim, that these two first releases contain our best music to date – but that is a phenomenon nearly every band has to face, especially in the Metal genre. Many Metal fans are extremely backward-oriented, haha…"
Would you mind telling us a little about all your earlier recording sessions prior to “Damokles”? What was it like entering a studio for the first time, did anything worth mentioning happen and why did you change the studio the next time?
Botis: "The “Of Hidden Chronicles…” recording session was the first of two visits at LXounds and also my fist studio experience which was of course very exciting. Although the engineer, who is still a good friend of ours, made a lot of jokes, the situation was a bit tense because there was still no routine in our studio work at that time. One technical problem followed after the other and our budget of money and time was extremely limited. Certainly, every demo band has experienced things like that. Therefore, our wish for longer, better and more effective recording sessions grew and luckily became easier to fulfil in the course of the last years."
What’s the (Black) Metal scene in your area like? Any interesting bands around? Can you identify with your local scene or do you even have any sort of trouble?
Botis: "In general, there are some bands in Eastern Germany which are worth listening and which are good friends of ours as well, for example the Black Metallians of AMOK VEDAR, the brutal Grind Deathers of INMOST DENSE, the scandinavo-Deathcore maniacs of ONLY SHADOWS REMAIN and the old-school Thrashers of BOMBTHREAT. But above all, the last releases of the epic Deathers DISILLUSION (“Back To Times Of Splendor”) and the emotional progressive Dark Metal outfit DARK SUNS (“Existence”) were most impressing to me because these bands know exactly how to create intense and demanding Metal music."
Back to “Damokles”: your lyrics aren’t exactly about drinking beer or burning churches. So where’s your link to ancient Greek’s mythology and what are the lyrics on “Damokles” about anyway? What inspires your words?
Ghâsh: "The lyrics on “Damokles” aren’t actually about Greek mythology. So, the name “Damokles” draws a sort of lyrical picture which represents a sort of impending pain, misery or grief (generally spoken). The actual lyrical content of this album describes the process of maturing with respect to one single character, passing crucial stages of disillusion, self-reflection and new-erected value-paradigms. My words are not inspired by any concrete writer, I guess – at least not consciously…"
With “Damokles” you introduced a new, readable, logo. What’s the idea behind it, who created it and what should be known about the cover artwork? Your faces are partly hidden in its (fiery) fog but is there a connection to the album’s title or contents?
Ghâsh: "I designed the new logo. The old one was quite cliché-typical, a fact that stands undoubtly in opposition to our artistic expression. I also designed the cover-artwork, which does partly represent several stages of the protagonist’s aforementioned inner evolution. But I won’t go in deeper detail here, as this would (in my opinion) be robbing a considerable bit of the artwork’s “magic”."
Once again you delivered a fabulous sound on your record. Can you recommend the studio? Why did you work with two studios? What was the recording process like anyway? Was it considerably stressful due to a limited budget? Is it true that only Botis and Ghâsh were involved in the studio? Is that your standard procedure or do we have to fear for Gorbag and Draug C.?
Ghâsh: "Working with two studios was in fact both time- and cost-saving for us. A a considerable amount of recordings (mainly guitars and bass) were done by myself with my own private studio- and recording devices and equipment, which enabled us to take all the time we needed. Nevertheless, the recording process was quite hard and demanded a lot of concentration and discipline. It is true, that most of the studio-work was delivered by Botis and me. This is in our case the best solution to reach an efficient working routine, all the songwriting was in fact completed by both of us. In fact, many bands are working this way. More than 2 or 3 people at maximum working in a studio at the same time are always diminishing the efficiency of the workflow."
You completely financed “Damokles” on your own. What’s Twilight Vertrieb’s part of the deal except for distribution? Are they responsible for your slot on the upcoming VITAL REMAINS European tour?
Ghâsh: "Well, in addition to their normal distributor’s tasks, Twilight also handle “label-specific” tasks as advertisements in the media and general promotion stuff. They are cooperating with booking-agencies and you’re actually right – it was Twilight who established the contact between us and the booker of the upcoming Vital Remains tour."
What do you think about that package anyway? Some might be surprised as your style differs quite a bit from VITAL REMAINS. Is it okay with you or are you even VITAL REMAINS fans? What do you expect from that tour and are you looking forward to anything in particular, for example a certain town?
Botis: "I like that package consisting of Vital Remains, DOWNSCAPE and us because every band has its own characteristic sound. In my opinion, variety is the most important aspect for a good array for a concert. And with that balanced mixture of Black, Death and Progressive stuff the crowd in front of the stage will surely not be disappointed at all! Since this tour will contain our first shows outside Germany, our main interest is to present our music, especially some songs of our new album “Damokles”, to a wider range of people, maybe even to those who have never heard of HIDDEN IN THE FOG before. For the time being until October, we are rehearsing like hell to offer a breath-taking and ass-kicking live performance to the audience! Unfortunately – due to professional commitments abroad -, Gorbag and Draug C. will not be with us on the road. But luckily, we will receive strong and convincing support on guitar and bass by Alexander F.J. Creuzfeld and Lothargie who play in my second band PSYKRA and who are excellent musicians as well."
How do you plan to put “Damokles” on stage with all those orchestral parts and the choirs? You probably won’t have a session keyboard player?
Ghâsh: "No, we won’t have a keyboard player. The orchestral arrangements and synth-effects will be included as a playback from a harddisk-device that is handled by Botis on stage. He is playing with a “click” on his headphones to stay absolutely in time with the orchestration. We have been working in this way for a couple of years now, and it works really well in live-situations. All instruments, the vocals, chants and choirs will of course all be done live by the members on stage!"
What are your feelings concerning the three main parts in the life of a (Metal) musician anyway, namely composing, recording and performing on stage? Anything you like above the rest? Something you can’t stand?
Botis: "In my point of view, there is no higher achievement than creating music of my own accord, regardless of certain categories, models and patterns that may exist or not. Since music transports my feelings and transfers them into notes, I consider performing on stage the more pleasant aspect compared to recording. Although the emotional involvement is very high in both cases, recording is more stressful, since you need a considerably higher amount of concentration and the musicians themselves take in the part of the listener at the same time. But maybe Ghâsh will tell you more about that, since he did – besides the majority of the recordings – also a lot of the engineering, the whole mixing and the mastering."
Are there any bands you’d like to share the stage with in the future?
Botis: "Well, I’d personally love to play together with the mighty experimental Norwegians ARCTURUS, their somehow straighter colleagues of SOLEFALD, the melodic extremists of MÖRK GRYNING (I hope they do not split up as originally planned!), the French modern Death maniacs of SCARVE or even with the all-Scandinavian “death cult machinery” of DIMMU BORGIR (what a show!)."
Botis, you have a side project called PSYKRA. How would you describe that band, why did you start it and do you think there will be enough time left for PSYKRA now that finally HIDDEN IN THE FOG seem to get some attention?
Botis: "I would describe PSYKRA as psychotic extreme Metal which – similar to HIDDEN IN THE FOG – does not care about any conventions of trueness or whatsoever. Although our music is deeply rooted in raw traditional Black Metal of the beginning 1990s, the influence of experimental sounds is remarkably strong. On our current self-produced CD “Terra Pi”, you can hear cold and blasting Black Metal riffs colliding with jazzy parts and plenty of industrial elements. Our new material differs a lot from that since it sounds much more rhythmic and aggressive. Yet, the influence of oldschool Black Metal will remain. Moreover, it was not me but Alexander who founded PSYKRA in 1998. He is not only the guitar player-vocalist but also the main songwriter of the band. There had already been a demo CD called “Insolitus Finis Est” – released in 2000 with a different line-up – before Lothargie and I joined the band at the end of 2002. Be it as it may… The strange musical creations of PSYKRA offer a wonderful playground for the schizophrenic part of my soul, but HIDDEN IN THE FOG is the band where I can contribute most of my musical ideas free from creative and emotional constraints. For this reason HIDDEN IN THE FOG claims highest priority, but I try not to neglect the work of PSYKRA too much. So prepare for new psychotic assaults on your ears in the future, haha!"
Did you already compose new material for an upcoming release? If so, what’s it going to sound like? When do you usually compose anyway? Does it stream out of you or do you need a quiet room, silence and concentration?
Botis: "Well, I have started to write my first song for an upcoming HIDDEN IN THE FOG release, but I think it is still too early to define a general musical orientation of the material that will follow “Damokles”. Talking about the circumstances of songwriting, most of my ideas arise out of nothing in usual everyday situations, but it depends on their quality if I throw them away or keep it in mind to base songs on them. If an idea is worth elaborating, I need relative absence of any foreign influence from other music or other people. Since this ideal situation is difficult to realize, the conception, development and completion of my songs demand a lot of time."
Do you have some sort of a tale that happened to you in your days on the road for example? Or do we have to wait for your tour in October for anything like that?
Ghâsh: "Well, as our first actual tour is yet to come, there isn’t yet much to tell in this respect. Just wait for our upcoming tour-report, haha…"
Some time ago I hung out with a Death Metal musician listening to old DARKTHRONE records. Feeling very evil we developed a theory by perverting NARGAROTH’s statement “Black Metal ist Krieg” (Black Metal is war) into “Black Metal ist Punk”. We mainly thought about the rhythm patterns on those albums but do you think there are other parallels between those two styles? Please be so kind and expose yourselves as targets for the Black Metal fundamentalists, haha.
Botis: (laughs) "Well, to a certain extent your statement holds true. Black Metal and Punk in their original forms share some aspects in their music, i.e. primitive guitar riffs, monotonous drum rhythms and aggressive vocals. However, what is even more peculiar to them are the idealistic or elitist thoughts which are often expressed in their song lyrics. May there be opponents to my point of view, but I do not care about it – a majority of the content reflects a narrowed and stubborn conception of the world! No one – and all the more nobody at any station of his or her life – should claim anything as absolutely and universally true! It is a pity that the conceptions mentioned before are often absorbed by the fans without even thinking about it. But fortunately there are still some people around who know how to use their brain in a critical manner."
Musically and spiritually: what does Black Metal mean to you anyway? How would you define it for yourself and for HIDDEN IN THE FOG?
Botis: "To me, Black Metal is a style of music which stands for various facets of dark atmosphere. There are several examples among my personal favourites which I consider as belonging to that style, e.g. the grandiose malicious “Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk” by EMPEROR, ABIGOR’s symphonic opus “Supreme Immortal Art”, GEHENNA’s rather gloomy “Seen Through The Veils Of Darkness (The Second Spell)”, the cold and ambient “In Abhorrence Dementia” by LIMBONIC ART or the raw and string-shredding “Nattestid” by TAAKE. Some purists may draw the borders strictly around simple and cold guitar-dominated music with satanic lyrical concepts. However – although I like some of the primitive and misanthropic moments in traditional Black Metal -, I neither agree nor identify with that kind of limited musical and textual definitions. The more my interest has grown in different musical directions – of which a major part has not anything in common with (Black) Metal -, the more I appreciate music with many of its coinings as a whole. Concerning open-mindedness, the other members of HIDDEN IN THE FOG share a similar point of view. That’s why our music, although based on a kind of melodic Black Metal foundation, has continuously been more and more inspired by foreign styles."
Thanks for the interview and please feel free to add anything that comes to your mind now. Anything that’s got to be mentioned?
Botis: "We thank you very much, too – for the interview and your intense support during the years that have past and that are still to come! Furthermore, we would like to thank and say hello to all our friends, fans, supporters as well as to the bands we have played and we are in contact with."
Ghâsh: "Those amongst you who like extreme, demandful and emotionally captivating music on many levels should definitely check out our album “Damokles”! See ya on tour in October!"