Interview – Lords of Metal – December 2005

Lords of Metal – December 2005

Lords of Metal (The Netherlands)

Ordo Draconis (Orde Van De Draak) is een Hongaars instituut wat zijn oorsprong rond het jaar 1400 heeft. De orde hield zich toendertijd vooral bezig met het beschermen van Europa tegen de expansionele driften van het Ottomaanse rijk. De orde bestaat nog steeds en zet zich nu in voor culturen die zich inzetten voor de rechten en waarden van anderen. Check deze link voor een uitgebreide uitleg. Daarnaast staat deze naam ook garant voor een degelijke Nederlandse post-black metal band. En het is een band waar we wel degelijk trots op mogen zijn. Hun vorige werk ken ik niet, dus mijn mening is geheel en al op hun nieuwste dubbel-cd gebaseerd. Gezien hun hoge score was een interview onvermijdelijk. Mir-h iD nam namens Ordo Draconis de antwoorden voor zijn rekening.

First and foremost: welcome to Lords Of Metal. Would you care to introduce yourselves to our readers? Where does the name Ordo Draconis come from? Does any of you have a history in other bands?

Hi, Carl. Go ahead, that’s three questions fired at me right away, hehe. Thanks very much for your interest in us, the intie and the excellent review. I’m flattered and I’ll do my best to keep the answers vibrant with soaring energy and staggering degrees of almost unbearable interestingness, but I can’t promise you anything, ok?

1. Ordo Draconis started out as a five-piece outfit in 1996. We’ve put out two demos, “When the Cycle Ends” (rehearsal-cum-demo-tape, 1997) and “In Speculis Noctis” (MCD, 1999), followed by only our debut album (“The Wing & the Burden”, 2001) and now there’s the double treat “Camera Obscura pt 1: The Star Chamber Reviews” and “Camera Obscura pt 2: A View with a Room” (2005).

We’ve had a few line-up changes after “The Wing …”. BM joined us on bass, while Moloch (vocals) and Arco (drums) quit the band in 2002. Philip (vocals) replaced Moloch the same year. On “Camera Obscura” we were fortunate enough to borrow the skills of session skinsman Moritz Neuner (Dornenreich, ex-Abigor, Atrocity, etc.), but we had been without a permanent drummer until just after the recordings. That’s when Marco (ex-Altar) stepped in. In overview, the current line-up consists of Philip (vocals), 1337_Misanthrope (guitar), Rahab (guitar), BM (bass), Marco (drums) and myself, Mir-h iD (synths).

2. The band name is Latin for ‘the order of the dragon’. One way to look at it is to interpret the dragon as a symbol which could represent various stages in the alchemical process of transmutation, and not only that: it works like a caveat, much like the Greek Ladon, to keep rash fortune-hunters at bay. The jeopardy, the passion and the anguish involved in struggling, in ‘burning your fingers’ at whatever cost, are part and parcel of that same process. And if we associate draco ‘dragon’ with a mythological chaos dragon like Tiamat and accept the primary, abstract meaning of ordo as ‘(a state of) order’, the band name gives further meaning to the metaphysical side of the alchemical story. A dynamic system of polarities emerges in which chaos has an integral, even vitalizing function beyond simply the disruption of order. This way, chaos has its own order. We can also reverse the relation and say it’s about overcoming or shaping that physical and metaphysical mess (which not only practitioners of alchemy felt they had to put up with but which is in fact far more mundane). As a signifier intended to make sense of a language, you could say the name also relates to the idea of language being interlocked, language grappling with language from the inside out – that would be a quaint yet relevant way of reading an ourobouros (a snake or dragon eating its own tail, or two snakes/dragons eating one another’s tails). If time serves me well, I’ll write up some more on this in the still-to-come and always-under-construction FAQ section of our website.

3. We may not have so much on offer for those helpless against name-dropping, but here goes:

Tyrann (Philip) – our Luxembourg’s man, though now a resident of Karlsruhe (Germany), also sings in Vindsval and Falkenbach. In addition, he did guest vocals for some other bands. He may have a member profile on Vindsval’s website (www.vindsval.de). More bands should have a Luxembourgian in their line-up. They’re great to have around.
Rahab and BM – they’ve been session members in Falkenbach. I’m not sure, however, what the situation is like right now.
BM – he used to play guitar in a black metal band until they split up.
1337_Misanthrope – he’s often had more than one band at a time. Examples are Dark Remains, Weltbrand, Bad Wurm (RIP) and Sick of Sanity (RIP).
Marco (drums) – the better known metal bands he’s been involved in include Altar and Blind Justice.
Mir-h iD (synths) – I’ve been perfectly monogamous since we started Ordo Draconis, even though I do spend a fair amount of time making music at home. I’ve toyed around with some ideas, both musically concrete and vaguely conceptual, for a project of my own, but I have yet to find the time for it.

I would like to congratulate you with ‘Camera Obscura’. Are you satisfied with the results and how have the reactions been so far?

Thanks very much! It’s been a big baby and I can still feel the afterpains. We haven’t received any major exposure so far, because still more preparation is being made to promote the album. You’re actually among the first to have received a promo. But the reactions that have come to us, from reviewers as well as fans, have been nothing short of overwhelming. Not knowing what to expect, it all caught me quite by surprise, actually. Of course, there’s always parts in reviews you don’t agree with, references which don’t make sense. Some people seem to have picked out the jazz element, while it’s limited to the intro only (first impressions, right), but I can’t complain. Am I satisfied with the results? To the extent that I can be satisfied with anything I do, as after all I am my own toughest critic, my answer should be fairly positive. I can still feel the nausea of having been so utterly immersed in the whole thing, but let’s say the nausea has never felt this good before. There’s an amazing amount of hard work and time we’ve put into this album. If it wasn’t for the band, I would have graduated by now. I’m not going to blow my own trumpet here (no dirty pun intended), but as you can hear, it seems to have paid off dividends. I should not forget to mention here that our producer/engineer Patrick of Tidalwave Studios (Karlsruhe, Germany) deserves kudos for the excellent, open, natural sound of the album.

A Camera Obscura is of course Latin for ‘dark room’, but there is more to it than this superficial meaning. (Readers: use www.google.com to find out). Why did you choose this title?

A camera obscura (indeed, Latin for ‘dark room’) is a darkened chamber or box with one aperture through which external objects project their images upside-down onto a facing surface. Often a lens and mirror are placed to correct the image. This simple piece of equipment has meant a great deal for the arts and sciences. For instance, the discovery of the natural phenomenon which underlies the camera obscura disproved the long-held view that eyes sent out beams to scan objects; it’s been used for a variety of astronomic purposes; it’s famous as a drawing aid for artists and as a theatrical device for entertainment and illusion; and it can be called the forerunner of the modern camera. As such it came in various sizes, from small boxes to entire public rooms. Yeah, there’s plenty of elaborate descriptions, complete with pictures, to be found on the internet. So, the camera obscura is the dark room into which the world outside is tricked, admitted and trapped, squeezed, laid out and reorganized. It could simply be the human mind, but taking into account our senses have acquired all kinds of auxiliary extensions it may be much larger than that. And the whole is larger than the sum of its parts. Scattered throughout the lyrics, you’ll find references to all kinds of rooms and boxes, which toy with the idea of the camera obscura. Just look at the two CD (sub)titles, for instance (to recap: “The Star Chamber Reviews” and “A View with a Room”). I’ll leave it up to the listener/reader to explore the variety of ways in which the imagery is manipulated in the lyrics, sometimes even to the point of being turned inside out, like when it becomes a projection of its own.

The two discs present a kaleidoscope of music. Is there anything to say about how this concept/music came into being?

There is probably too much to be said about it, but I’ll try to give you an idea. The music has been written over a span of about six years, perhaps more. While initially we had something like ‘knowledge and power’ as an overarching theme, the idea for the first disc actually started out with only one song (“Mock Trial”). This one song became like a state within a state, becoming gradually rounded out by more material until the conceptual beast could claim an entire disc of its own – this, of course, became “The Star Chamber Reviews”. Going back to the earliest stage again, Rahab suggested we could develop, in our own way, some of the themes and approaches that the Dutch seventeenth-century playwright Joost van den Vondel adopted in his play Lucifer. In the end, the lyrics appear to have little to do with it, but one quote in “Mock Trial” still stands out as an homage to the man. So, that’s how we took up this terrible cliché of Lucifer’s fall from grace. From there, we went on to include the way Lucifer drags everything along with him, leading up to the fall of man and eventually the apocalyptic ‘fall’ of the world. It’s not like we were going to handle the whole human condition on one CD, but this way we could extrapolate some of the themes that were developed in “Mock Trial” and find new contexts to contribute to them. The lyrics home in on the smaller, human level, as well as some trans/post-human issues (although “Neuron Gutter, Neutron Star” is more on collective behavior, casting all that went before in stark relief). I think I already briefly referred to the connotations of a camera obscura with the small vs. the vast (inherent also in the word star chamber), so there you go. The songs on the second disc “A View with a Room” deal with some issues already explored on the first one, but in contexts of different subject matter. The album was planned to appear as one single disc, but it grew and grew until we had no better option but to split it into two discs. Well then, I’ve probably said more about the lyrics (more so than the music actually) than I set out to do, but all of this is just to show briefly some of the ways in which blueprints for songs developed into a work of ‘kaleidoscopic’ proportions.

There are so many different aspects to the music on CO, that it would be impossible to make those songs come across live as they do on disc. How will you ever be able to play anything live and not lose too much of a song?

The fact that we don’t play the entire album, but selected songs from it, helps us in part to sidestep that problem. Some songs weren’t designed to be played live anyhow, so that gave us free rein when we wrote and recorded them. As for the songs we do play, it’s important to understand that playing live is a different ball game altogether. It basically means that your priorities shift. An album is carefully layered for the pleasure of the listener, and that may particularly apply to us, but subtleties – a little sample here, a guitar effect there – can easily get lost in a live situation, seeing as the balance isn’t always perfect. On the other hand, it’s not unlikely you’ll hear details which you may not have noticed on CD (and some people imagine they hear more than there actually is, especially those who spin the CD in the back of their minds). A gig is also more physical, perhaps more visceral. All of which is not to say we never have to make any adjustments in order to avoid obvious gaps. Some things we have to work around, definitely, but often it’s a matter of putting the accent somewhere else or giving it a twist. I think we’re creative enough for that.

You have done a couple of live performances in Portugal. Why Portugal? How was the experience? When will you be doing shows in Holland?

Late October, we did three gigs in Portugal – two in the north and one in Lissabon. We teamed up with our Portuguese friends from Epping Forest, a high-speed black metal band, who played two gigs with us. It was an amazing experience, I can tell you. The people who made it possible for us to go on the mini-tour were Pinto (Epping Forest) and his girlfriend, with whom our guitarist Rahab had been in contact for some time. And what an absolutely great job they did. Our drummer Marco couldn’t get time off, but Pinto had the strength of character to fill in for him, hitting his way through an otherwise daunting setlist. Mind you, that means he had to play two bands on Friday night (Epping Forest and us), two again on Saturday night, one on Sunday (us) and one on Monday (Epping Forest). As if lack of sleep and long drives weren’t enough for the overachieving macho man.

No dates have been confirmed yet, but it looks like we’re playing De Gonz in Gouda on the 14th of January (2006). It’ll be the last chance to us there, because the club will be moving to a new location. With any luck, Epping Forest will play with us in The Netherlands sometime in the future. For now, all I can say to your readers is: keep an eye on the gigs section of our website (www.ordodraconis.com).

Putting out a concept album is always tricky. I remember Geddy Lee of Rush stating that he thought it very difficult to get a concept story across to the audience by means of music and lyrics. Aren’t you worried that your story will not or only partly come across to the listener?

Of course I hope people will move their lazy arses and, eh, sit down and read the lyrics at all. I’m not sure if the lyrics should be more important than if you write them for individual, unconnected songs. It’s true that there’s more to read and that the individual lyrics depend on one another in order to make sense. But the lyrics are specially designed to be meaningful not just in relation to the whole, but also as independent, self-contained units. You can dive into one and still get so much out of it. You can also read and re-read more, like in a hermeneutic circle, and your understanding of them may grow profounder. Funnily enough, if you forget the narrative context and perhaps bring more of your own perspective to the text, there may be more you can pick up on. This more individualistic reading is just as important to me. The problem which Geddy Lee brought up there, though, probably has more to do with having the music follow the story-line and conjuring up the proper images for you the visualize the story. That, I believe, takes some skill, experience and imagination. For us, it certainly was a tough nut to crack; we sometimes had to rack our brains over it and let it sink again until a solution offered itself to us. Partial as I am of course, I think we did pretty well.

The musical background of the band members must be worlds apart. Is there a combining factor among you and what is it?

We’ve all contributed to the same album and worked with the same producer? I don’t know. We’re all very dedicated, reasonably open-minded, like to take on challenges, prefer our music to have character, all pretty much clichés you’ve heard a million times before. We do have varying tastes in music, but we won’t let eclecticism get in the way too much. It’s also the diversity which counts. Imagine if we were all good at playing the triangle, and nothing besides.

As practically any black metal band, you used to wear corpse-paint. A lot can be said about this interesting feature of our subgenre: from theatrical showmanship, to ludicrous foolishness, or a way for the early black metal church-burning criminals to be able to perform live without being recognized. What are your ideas and why did you decide to stop wearing the paint?

Yeah, we used to hate being recognized on the street every single day, but now we love the friggin attention, haha. It’s true, you can ‘feast’ a lot of perspectives on the subject of make-up, from Oscar Wilde’s Truth of Masks to ‘makeability’ (Machbarkeit), or whatever anthropological angle it is from which you’d like to analyze it to death. With black metal I thought corpse-paint was basically a good way to emphasize the ugly and impersonal side of the music, which in turn may help you ‘to get in the mood’. That a 16-old kid could effectively use it to hide the spots of his age was sometimes added into the bargain, of course. Predictably, it became one of those trappings that bands (and fans) took over unthinkingly and so it simply lost its effect. That painted faces were becoming more common in the nu-rock/mallcore scene didn’t really help either I guess. Corpse-paint was actually getting old by the time we started to wear it, which would ‘ve been in 1997. We stopped doing it, probably in 2000, primarily because our link with the type of black metal that had the best claim on corpsepaint, had become too tenuous. It no longer tallied well with the picture we had of the course we were taking. To be honest, there were also reasons of a more practical nature which gave us a kick in the right direction. All that hassle before and after the gig, with guitars covered in a suspicious mixture of powder and sweat (admittedly, the heat from fire-breathing may have helped a hand here), certainly doesn’t get you ‘in the mood’. Once you had washed your face with soap or whatever you found within reach, for one day you still had these feminine black rims around your eyes. We looked like fuckin’ HIM (of all bands). So much for our ‘evil’ period.

People always tend to idealize the underground scene. What is the underground scene? Do you consider yourselves an underground band and why? Do you tend to idealize it?

Using the term underground has the benefit of sounding ‘subversive’, ‘not selling out’ and suggests an association with subversive culture, a sense of belonging to a community. It doesn’t say if a band is worth your attention or not, but saying ‘lesser-known metal band’ doesn’t quite create the same impact. We could call ourselves an underground band for the simple reason that it’s the scene where we came from and the scene to which we’ve always contributed some music (which, of course, doesn’t mean that other people can’t listen to our music). I don’t think I’m the type of person to idealize it. I do appreciate the genuine enthusiasm with which fans organize gigs, set up distros/mailorders, labels, magazines, trade music, create all kinds of communities to discuss and recommend music, etc. Your own magazine is a telling example of that. On the downside, the metal scene also tends to be hugely conservative and narrow-minded, although things may have changed for the better.

Two rather personal questions: what is your life’s philosophy? And if you could change one thing about the world we live in, what would it be?

You ask me to summarize my philosophy of life, my worldview, just like that? That’s a tough one. I’m an atheist, but not a religious one – that means agnostic most of the time, as we can’t rule out the possibility of there being a world other than the natural one. I doubt there’s many people who can actually live their life’s philosophy, if they have one at all. Personal integrity is important to me, but it’s not so self-evident. We often sacrifice it when we want to play along in our social games. I’m afraid I’ll have to go mad if I really want to answer your second question – so much to choose from and so much opportunity to blunder.

The festive season is upon us again and the commercial aspects are hard to ignore. Do you think your new CD will be lying under the Christmas tree?

Yeah, squeezed in between the latest Harry Potter and a mobile Rudolf Rednose sex-toy.

We have come to the final part of this little interview. And to make sure we do not end it on a sad note, I have a couple of so-called or-statements. Please choose one of each. You do not have to explain your choice; you may of course if you really want to. It is just some silly thing I came up with and I would like to see if and how it works.

Coffee or tea: – coffee, no sugar, no milk.
God or Satan: – both, but you can call me Mir-h iD.
Black or white: – black (no sugar, no milk)
Day or night: – I can’t sleep with all that coffee.
Left or right: – just put it on the table.
Ham or cheese: – what, to go with the coffee?
Man or woman: – woman! I’m a man though.
Snakes or ladders: – nah, boring board game
Young or old: – why, fresh coffee
Flora or fauna: – oh, are we going to the zoo?
Optimist or pessimist: – I think we really are going to the zoo.
Cart or horse: – On horse back. What’s a cart without a horse?
Up or down: – It’s up the road. Don’t we have any other means of transport?
Car or bike: – We can go on foot.
Walk or run: – I feel like running. What’s that you’re poking in your eye?
Knife or fork: – Can’t you see it yourself? What were you trying to hit anyway?
Spider or fly: – this is getting too silly for me.

Thank you for your time and energy. I will leave the final words to you.

Thanks very much for the interview, Carl. It’s been an honor. Usually I get tedious set-questions, so this interview was great to do for a change. For readers who’d like to have a listen, I’ve put up two songs on our MySpace account (www.myspace.com/ordodraconis) and low-fi samples are available for download on our website: www.ordodraconis.com. (Better still, buy the album!)