Interview with Manuel Trummer (Guitars)
Interview conducted by Sargon the Terrible
Date online: September 8, 2013
Since their first rumblings of existence in 2007, few bands have managed to create such a legacy in such a short time as Bavaria's Atlantean Kodex. With the release of their second full-length album The White Goddess they are poised to build even further on the underground adulation of such works as The Pnakotic Demos and The Golden Bough. Manuel Trummer (Guitars) was good enough to answer some of my insufferably detailed questions about their latest epic.
Sargon: So the original tracklist contained a few songs which didn't make the final album, what happened to those? Will we ever get to hear them?
Manuel: Yes, at some point we will release them. The songs were titled "Kodex Battalions" and "Virgin - Mother - Crone". "Kodex Battalions" is a pretty fast track, actually the fastest we've ever written, and "Virgin ..." was an A-capella track. While both songs are pretty good tunes by themselves, we didn't feel that they really fit to the rest of the album. So we decided to remove them from the tracklist. But we're gonna do an EP with them in a couple of months.
Sargon: I understand the album was basically in the can over a year ago, and the original plan was to release it in 2012, why the delay?
Manuel: Yes, the songs were basically finished in 2012. But we weren't quite satisfied with the overall flow of the album. So we started working on the details, re-arranging the songs and re-writing some vocal lines. For instance "Heresiarch" is now sounding completely different from the original version. The final part of the song with the chorus vocals is all new.
Sargon: It seems like this album is less directly heavy and more textured, was that deliberate?
Manuel: No, not really. I think that's a direct result of the intense discussions we had and the insane fine-tuning in the past year.
Sargon: As a band you have always written long songs, but these seem like some of the most complex compositions you have ever done. How does a song come together? Have you found that the process has changed with the increased attention the band has been getting?
Manuel: No, absolutely not. We were working absolutely the same way as on The Golden Bough. One person in the band comes up with an idea, records it and shows it to the other guys. From that point onward we start working on the idea, either abandoning it, in case it doesn't live up to a certain potential, or letting it grow. This way the songs get bigger and bigger. The main difference to the working process on The Golden Bough was, that we took the time to re-arrange and re-record some songs AFTER we recorded them. We paid much more attention to the details this time.
Sargon: What other sources - besides Graves - did you draw on for the lyrics?
Manuel: Oh, quite a lot of different obscure stuff. Of course, if you're using Graves, you can't escape J.G. Frazer. Graves ideas are directly based on The Golden Bough, so the whole mythological approach of Frazer is still very dominant in the lyrics. Other than that we drew inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft, Paul Bussons incredible novel The Fire Spirits and loads of Bavarian folklore and folk-tales from the area where we live.
Sargon: Is there a narrative progression to the songs when heard in order? In other words, is there a reason why we start with "Sol Invictus" and then progress to "The White Goddess"?
Manuel: Not really a progression. We used "Sol Invictus" as an opener, because its lyrics introduce the central themes of the album, death and rebirth, mythology and religion, our common European heritage. In its last verse it says 'Beneath the fragile crust of this modern age of reason a darker world lies waiting, primordial and pure'. We felt that these lines would introduce the album perfectly, the start of a journey through the dark underbelly of European folklore and mythology, so to speak.
On the other hand, "White Goddess Unveiled" describes the end of a journey. As the White Goddess speaks, the dreamer awakes, he has finally arrived at the place he was longing for all his life, the place where he was given life, the final destination of his life's pilgrimage, the perfect acosmic nothingness which is the natural state of things.
The songs in between don't really follow a certain narrative progression though.
Sargon: Okay, I'm going to get detailed and ask some nitpicky questions about the lyrics here. Bear with me.
Sol Invictus was a late Roman god who is often seen, in mythography, as a precursor to Christianity. The song definitely makes the equation between the two. I wanted to know, what is the point of view of the song? Is it intended to be invocative, indicating the pagan roots that lie under everything modern?
Manuel: Exactly. That's the key concept of the album. Of course you can see the influence of Frazer's Golden Bough again: Jesus as Mithras, Virgin Mary as a Christian interpretation (or maybe subconscious memory?) of the threefold White Goddess, and so on ... The hint to the shared ancient roots of European civilization as a means to invoke some sort of pan-European identity for today's culture. A lot of people in Europe see the European Community only as a political union, as a bureaucratic behemoth. If the Europeans won't understand that Europe isn't tied together by bureaucracy, by politics or administration, but by its shared cultural heritage, Europe will fall. We are one, united in our common heritage, our folklore, our mythology, our religion, our customs. The politicians and media are trying hard to make us forget that by feeding us with petty nationalistic fears.
Sargon: A Heresiarch is the founder or leader of a sect considered heretical by an organized religion. The song seems to be more based on Lovecraftian themes with a lot of death imagery. Was the song intended to be about a particular figure?
Manuel: You're absolutely right about the Lovecraftian themes. I had a certain character in mind, when writing the song. But I kept its lyrics very open on intent. It's a very evocative tune, you can apply it to a lot of different characters, its imagery and metaphors are even working for modern persons, for instance dictators or religious leaders.
Sargon: "Twelve Stars and an Azure Gown" makes obvious reference to the myth of Europa (as well as the EU flag), yet you made the curious decision to use samples from Winston Churchill's "Tragedy of Europe" speech from '46. In such an openly pagan song, to suddenly have Churchill talking about Europe as "the fountain of Christian faith" was more than a bit jarring, what led to that decision? Is it intended to be ironic?
Manuel: No, not at all. Quite the opposite. You see, again, that's what it's all about: the key point is not to distinguish between 'pagan' and 'christian', but to see it as an evolution. By connecting the 'pagan' imagery of Europa riding on the bull from Asia Minor on the one hand with Europe's Christian heritage on the other we follow the ideas of J.G. Frazer and R. Graves quite perfectly. Just like – as Frazer proposed – the crucified and resurrected Jesus might be the killed and newly enthroned Kingpriest of Nemi – or Mithras –, the White Goddess might as well be just a different form of the Virgin Mary. That's the key concept of the whole album. All religions of modern Europe, all its folk customs, all its weird folklore dating back to one common origin. That's what it's all about, one Europe with one shared heritage. That's all we have, our shared culture.
Sargon: Is the title "Der Untergang der Stadt Passau" meant to refer to the decline of the swordmaking trade there, or does it mean something else?
Manuel: No, it's actually based on the novel of the same name, written by Bavarian author Carl Amery. It's an apocalyptic story about the downfall of Europa and its rebirth after a plague unleashed by scientists. It discusses different ways how to 're-start' society. For example, by clinging to traditions or by going back to nature and starting something completely new. Its apocalyptic undertone fit perfectly as the intro to "Enthroned in Clouds and Fire", the big end-times-anthem on the album.
Sargon: "Enthroned in Clouds and Fire" is filled with apocalyptic imagery, including sentiments that seem to echo the whole rich versus poor 'occupy' movement. Is it intended to comment on the real world wealth and power disparity seen so much in the culture today? Is the "great cleansing" in the lyrics a religious revival or a popular uprising?
Manuel: Generally speaking, all our lyrics are also adaptable in a modern context. That's one of our main concepts of writing. We're using mythology and this heavy, symbolistic, metaphorical language not just as an end in itself. It's also a lens to get a better understanding of nowadays world. Thus, of course, you can read "Enthroned in Clouds and Fire" also as a comment on the current drifting-apart of rich and poor.
However the lyrics are based on the prophecies of the Bavarian forest-prophet Mühlhiasl (1753–1805), a legendary character working as a miller in a tiny village in the forest of the Upper Palatinate. He is also known as the "Bavarian Nostradamus". His apocalyptic prophecies are using an impressive, symbolistic language, which still gives me the goosebumps whenever I read them. One of the central narrative motives in his prophecies is the "Bänkoramma", 'the cleansing of the tables' – tabula rasa, so to speak. What he meant exactly with this 'great cleansing', which will lay waste to our world in the final days, isn't quite clear. Maybe a great war, maybe a plague.
Sargon: "The White Goddess Unveiled" is a massive song, but the subtitle of "Crown of the Sephiroth" is unusual, since the White Goddess is a European tradition and the Sephiroth come from Kabballic mysticism. What was the connection between them that you saw?
Manuel: I think the paths of the Sephiroth can be used as a metaphor for man's pilgrimage from the boundaries of the profane material world back to the acosmic place of nothingness where his origins lie. There's a lot of European tradition in the Sephiroth, especially the gnostic tradition and the Neoplatonic heritage. Basically the song is about life's pilgrimage to the final home. We all feel a longing in our hearts for that place, where we all came from and where all our roads end, although we've never seen it. It's beyond our comprehension, it's nothingness in perfection, the natural state of everything. Our petty lives are just aberrations, short exhalations in this absolute perfection.
Sargon: You say in the liner notes that the overall theme of the album is death, yet the song lyrics do not seem universally oriented toward that, unless you equate the White Goddess - alluded to as Europa in the lyrics - as Persephone instead. Can you explain the theme as it relates to the album as a whole a bit more?
Manuel: The album is about death, life and resurrection. We're using the figure of The White Goddess as conceived by the likes of Frazer or Graves as an allegory for this theme. She is a character, which can be found in mythologies and religions all over Europe. While she appears in different shapes, for instance as Kybele, as the Nordic Norns or as the Virgin Mary, she always symbolizes the aspects birth/resurrection, life and death. Because of that and of her pan-European dimension and adaptability, we thought her to be the perfect allegory for the album's main theme, downfall and rebirth.
It's a reflection about death and the idea that we draw all our energy and will to life from our knowledge that we will die one day. What if all our decisions, all the decisions of kings or political leaders, the fate of nations and civilizations, are eventually determined by the wish to conquer death. This is the voice of the White Goddess, who inspires us. She is death, but also life. We are born from that perfect nothingness by the White Goddess, and she guides us back home to that place of perfect nothingness, all the while inspiring us to conquer death by creating something that lasts in the face of our own mortality. But finally granting us peace in the end.
|Other information about Atlantean Kodex on this site|
|Review: The Pnakotic Demos|
|Review: The Golden Bough|
|Review: The Golden Bough|
|Review: The White Goddess|
|Review: The White Goddess|
|Interview with Manuel Trummer (Guitar) on September 12, 2010 (Interviewed by Sargon the Terrible)|
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