Veilburner Interview

Veilburner are an American duo from Pennsylvania. They’ve blown a number of contributors at Blessed Altar Zine away with their latest genre defying creative metal masterpiece ‘A Sire to the Ghouls of Lunacy’. Multi-instrumentalist/ producer Mephisto Deleterio and vocalist/ art-designer Chrisom Infernium were supremely gracious in taking the time to go into detail on their influences, their writing/ recording process and what their work as Veilburner means to them. As a fan I was delighted to get such an insight into the band. I hope you’ll enjoy their words as much as I did.  

– Hi Mephisto & Chrisom, thanks a lot for agreeing to do the interview with me for Blessed Altar Zine. Veilburner has a very distinct atmosphere to me. Altogether the music, name and image make me feel like I’m confronted by some mythic creature. How consciously did you construct the image of Veilburner as an entity, rather than just being two guys making music together?

MD (Mephisto) – Very consciously.  From the beginning, we knew we wanted this to be a studio-only project.  Therefore, we wanted to put a lot of extra effort into the presentation of the project, in order to compensate as much as we could for not appearing on stage with a live act.  We knew we could make it as elaborate as we wanted without having to worry about how we would reproduce everything in a live setting, so we let our imaginations run wild and allowed ourselves to create a whole world around it.  

CI (Chrisom) – Adding to what Mephisto said is the fact that being a studio project also allows us to put out material much quicker, and allows us to ride the creative train we have been on for the past 5 years.  Fortunately for us, the name itself really identifies what we have become and where we are going.

– When I first heard your music I had no idea one member was doing all the instrumentation. It sounded like a full band to me. How do you even begin to put together music of this complexity? Do you have a set way of turning musical ideas into completed pieces?

MD – It usually starts with a melody I hear that pops into my head at some random moment during the course of my day.  I will hum or whistle it into a voice app on my phone so I don’t lose it.  After a few minutes of looping it in my head, most or all of the overlaying parts come to me.  I lay down the different instruments I’m hearing for the part at home (the drum tracks are made with software.  I just program how they are to be expressed).  Then I just patiently wait for the other parts of the song that lead into or out of it to come to me, and it just grows that way.  I never know where exactly that first part that comes to me will end up in the structure of the song.  Sometimes it ends up being an intro, sometimes a chorus, etc.   I never rush or force ideas.  I just let the initial part continue to loop in my head for a few days and wait patiently for the rest of the song to come to me naturally.  Sometimes, everything comes together very quickly and I have the music for the whole song done in 3 weeks.  Other times, it takes a little longer and I may be working on it for 6 weeks (mostly on evening and weekends when I’m not working).

  

– What’s the recording process like for you? Do you have the songs all mapped out somehow when you start laying down tracks, or can your idea of the songs change during the recording process?

MD – For each album we’ve done so far, I’ve started writing the music early in the fall after we’ve had a few conversations about how we want to approach the next album and how many songs we want to write for it, themes, etc.   I usually have a collection of ideas that have been brewing in my head for the past few months, and that gives me a good head start for the first few songs.  Ideas for the others usually start coming in while I’m fleshing out those first ones, so I’m usually able to finish one song and go right on to the next one as soon as I’m finished.  While I’m working on one, I’m usually considering what track number the song would sound best at in the context of the album I’m writing for, like I’m writing a chapter of a book or scene of a movie.  I work on one song at time and try to just keep the momentum going.  I’ve rarely ever changed anything once it’s recorded.  I’m a stickler for efficiency, and I don’t like the idea of putting time into writing a song or part that I end up changing or not using.  By the time I lay down the track, I’ve been over it a thousand times in my head and my mind is pretty made up before I hit the record button.  By the following spring, I’m usually getting pretty fatigued.  Once I’ve written the last song for that album, I take the rest of the spring/summer off from writing to rejoin the human race and let new ideas build up.   Then it’s back to work in the fall on the next album.  We have stuck to that self-regimented working schedule for the last 5 years, and we’re currently doing it for the 6th time right now.  

CI – On my end of things, as the songs come in I start to formulate the lyrics for whichever song resonates with me first, and as MD said, we basically have the general themes and such worked out.  I toss song titles his way to consider, and then we’re off to the races really.  He usually starts writing music for the next album while I’m finishing the artwork and layout for the previous one, so I always feel like I’m playing catch up. 

– I understand why your music would be described as a mix of Death and Black Metal, but you seem to draw from a wide range of influences, not all necessary Metal. I wrote in my review of ‘A Sire…’ that I got some flavour of Mike Patton and Duane Dennison throughout the record. Did I get that right and are there any other musical influences to your music that might surprise people?

MD – Faith No More definitely had a big influence on me back in the 90s, so that was a good observation.  They were always very hard to pigeonhole, but the music stuck in my head even though I couldn’t figure out exactly how to describe it.  They just did their thing, and didn’t give a fuck what other people decided to call it.  As you mentioned, the main Veilburner ingredients are black and death metal (more specifically, the early 90s Florida style death metal and the more recent black metal coming out of France), along with some industrial and psychedelic elements.  I’ve let other influences seep in here and there over the years, like 80s new wave and other music from as far back as the 50s and 60s.  For example, the song “Abattoir Noir” is partly inspired by Faith No More as you indicated in the review, but it’s also an homage to the song “Harlem Nocturne” as recorded by the Viscounts in 1960, which is one of my favorite songs ever.  Every once in a while, I want to do something that captures that kind of vibe or atmosphere.  There’s another song from back on our first album called “Solarcide” that is also inspired pretty heavily by that song.  On our 2nd album “Noumenon,” I let some of the 80s new wave influence in here and there, plus I wanted to capture a little bit of the atmosphere I used to get from the old albums of bands like Ministry and My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult (like with the spoken word samples from old movies, and weird vocal effects).  One of the songs off that album, “Godspeed Lucifer” was meant to sound a little like something from a 60s spy movie, but in an extreme metal framework.  Those are just a few examples.  I could go on all day if I’m not careful.  The hardest part is tempering and taming all of these different influences into something that sounds cohesive, and not like a mish-mash of different sounds that don’t work together.   Experimenting is great, but at the end of the day, I want to write a good song first and foremost.

CI – On the vocal and lyrical end, I try to pull influence from a very wide gamut of styles.   I’m a sucker for Florence & The Machine…(fight me, haha), The Killers, Interpol, NIN, Bowie, Danzig, etc. I love listening to vocal phrasings outside of metal because you can always twist it and apply it to heavy music.  It allows me to open up the boundaries and explore what’s possible and keeps things fresh.  A good metal example of this would be Nergal from Behemoth.  You can tell his palate is shaped by a wide range of influence, and the almost “rock anthem” vibe comes through on almost all of their albums dating back to Zos Kia Cultus. Even though it’s labelled as blackened death metal, it has that pop vibe to the phrasing and it just makes it all the more catchy. All in all, more influences lead to more possibilities for inspiration, and that leads to new ideas being born.

– One of the things that I think sets Veilburner apart from other extreme metal bands are the vocals. I hear a lot of different styles on the latest album. It’s much more interesting and expressive than the ‘heavy’ / ‘clean’ mix that’s pretty much become a cliché now for bands that want to present a vocal contrast. How do you decide on the vocal approaches for different tracks? Are any styles more difficult to execute than others?

MD – Chris will lay down the vocals in the style of his choice and describe to me how he hears them in the final mix so I can apply the right effects.  Sometimes, we don’t know exactly how they will be mixed, so I might play with different effects after the fact to figure out what brings out the best in them.  Sometimes I might throw a layer of my own vocal in under his, or do a clean singing passage if an idea comes to me. 

CI – Thank you for noticing.  It’s extremely humbling to get this sort of feedback.  It’s hard to explain because I’ll listen to the songs on my way to work or at home doing artwork, and the phrasings will sometimes come with words, or I’ll just hear different vocal styles. I try to make sure we incorporate a variety of styles because I get bored very quickly when staying with the same vocal delivery.  The same thing is true with music I listen to (when the vocalist stays in one pitch the whole time) and as a result, there are very few extreme bands who vary their vocal approach enough to keep my attention.   I try not to overthink parts by labelling it a death metal section or a blackened piece.  It really just sort of comes out.   When I perform live with my other band, I feel like I can do any style without any issues, but for whatever reason that mid-tone black metal (in the vein of Watain, for example)  just fries my throat when tracking .  All the other styles you hear come very natural to me, and sometimes the vocal style I’ll use for a given part is decided on the fly during the recording session.  The first track off of Noumenon, “Astral Caskets, Abstract Flesh” was one where I just did what felt natural in the moment, and I feel like we created our own style on that song and album in particular.  We really seem to luck out and find the “zone” when we are recording vocals.  Things just sort of happen spontaneously.  Sometimes we lay down something completely off the mark and it sounds horrible, but we’re both are comics at heart, so we can laugh it off and try again. 

– What’s the meaning of the name ‘A Sire to the Ghouls of Lunacy’? Is there an overall concept to the album?

MD – Chris could probably explain it best, because he came up with it.  What I tell people is that it describes the concept which covers the next 2 albums.  This is a story about a man who suffers from a disease called porphyria.  It’s a condition which leaves him physically disfigured and isolated from other people.  He begins to hear and see the voices and shapes of 2 strange entities giving him instructions and telling him to do things, and he can’t figure out if it’s his growing isolation and depression causing him to hallucinate and lose his sanity, or if they are real and he has actually has been targeted for a role in some otherworldly plot he doesn’t yet understand.  Either way, it’s driving him to his breaking point.  

CI – The only thing I would add is that there are some Easter eggs in the music as well as the vocals and titles that serve to bind the two albums together.  If people are interested and adventurous, they can look for them when the next album comes out.  I have this fear that people are either going to miss them completely, or think we’re the lunatics the title refers to.   

– Has Veilburner always been solely a studio project, or have you found a way to perform your music live (either with backing tracks, or bringing in other musicians)? Is this something you might do in the future?

MD – Always a studio project.  We have no current plans to put together a live act.  I could give you many reasons why we don’t play live, but the most honest and important one is that I simply don’t get any enjoyment out of re-creating something over and over again that I’ve already finished writing and recording.  I learned from playing in a previous band and doing shows for 7 years that it’s just not how I want to spend what little free time and energy I have.  My compulsion is to always be in the writing and recording headspace, always working on the next idea.   Once a song is done being recorded, I feel like I’ve purged myself of it, and the next one is coming right behind it in my head.  My brain is like a constant music factory, and I feel like I’m always on the assembly line trying to keep up with the volume of raw material.  It’s a good problem to have in the grand scheme of things, but it causes me a lot of anxiety if I don’t get things down and flesh them out.  Nobody knows how long their productive years are going to be, so I want to maximize my output as much as possible now, because ultimately, that’s what remains in the world once we’re gone.  Keeping a live act going is costly and very time-consuming when you factor in the constant rehearsals, practice space rental, equipment maintenance, transportation, organizing and playing the shows, etc., so in order to stay motivated you have to be getting something out of it for your effort.  For many people, the camaraderie and feeling of being on a stage in front of a crowd is motivating in and of itself, and for other musicians who perform professionally, it is what you do to pay the bills and grow your fanbase quicker, and that’s great if that’s your passion.  For me, my passion is being in my own world and just creating.  Plus, recordings can be listened to and experienced over and over again, and they’ll be around long after the person who made them is gone for people in the future to discover and enjoy, and that idea is what fascinates and drives me.  Our first 3 albums were a trilogy about 2 characters that are obsessed with transhumanism and achieving immortality.  It was a work of fiction, but our real life goal for the project is very similar.  We all want to leave things behind to remind the world we were here.  That’s as close to immortality as we can realistically get.

CI – I don’t ever see it happening unless it was the absolute perfect scenario.  We went into this with the plan of being a studio project only.  Creating a live show for this would make it all the more complicated to manage (finding people to fill out the band, etc.) and one of the things I hold sacred about this project is the simplicity.  I think what adds to the allure and the mystique of Veilburner is the fact we are studio only. We can constantly create things and project our world into this world, and really become immortal in the sense that this is our “Great Work.”  I’m involved in other projects.  My main band, Torture Ascendancy, performs live regularly.  It’s cool to be able to get out and play in front of people in my one band, and also have a separate outlet that focuses on just recording new material, so it’s like having the best of both worlds.  Sometimes I write lyrics for Torture Ascendancy that pull from and tap into the Veilburner universe so that I can play with the idea of the worlds crossing over each other to an extent.  Sometimes a TA song may be a prequel or sequel or contain some lore attached to certain Veilburner songs or albums.

– Are there any musical contemporaries who have influenced your music? Do you feel part of any kind of community within metal or experimental circles, or do you feel totally separate from any musical scene?

MD – At my age, I feel pretty cut-off from the metal scene at this point in my life.  I’m 45, married, with a full time job and family obligations, so going out to shows is more of a special occasion than a regular occurrence like when I was younger.  I enjoy when people from other bands reach out to us via email and/or Facebook, but I’ve always been an introvert and don’t really proactively reach out to people as much as I probably should.  I have some challenges with anxiety that I mentioned earlier, and always feel like I’m bothering people if I try to initiate contact with someone I don’t know.   I should work on it more because there’s a lot of people in the underground music community I would love to correspond with and maybe learn something from. 

CI – I would like to get out more, and there are certain people I respect that I do try and keep up with, but the idea of getting out to shows all the time is difficult when you’re working a physical job 40 hours a week, fulfilling family obligations plus balancing art and music.  It’s just tougher as you get older.  When I am playing live with TA, I do make an effort to socialize, support, and try to meet new people when I can.  Between the two of us, I am definitely the one who has been more communicative with people, and have actually built some close friendships out of the whole thing, which above all is really the greatest thing to come out of all of this.  

– This is now the fourth album you’ve recorded together. Have there been any major changes to what you’ve tried to achieve on each release, or have your intentions remained pretty constant?

MD – The intention with each album is always to write good solid songs first and foremost, and craft the album so that it has a good flow and keeps people engaged throughout the running time.  We always want an album to be more than just a collection of songs, like the proverbial “soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exit.”  We also want to make small evolutions from album to album, so that we don’t keep writing the same album over and over, but at the same time, not make too drastic of a change and alienate the identity we’ve worked so hard to cultivate.   We see this as a game of inches, a slow but steady evolution.

CI – As a band, I think it’s great that we are still inspired by other art, be it movies or music or sometimes photos or paintings.  Even life itself, the ups and downs, motivate you in different ways and really help to shape one’s creativity in a given moment in time.  I love the fact that we are at a point where we are able to build our sound off of our own previous albums, and continue to inch our way more and more into this little corner of the music world we’re carving for ourselves.   When people ask who or what we sound like, I want the answer to be “Veilburner.”

– You’ve been pretty prolific up to this point. Have you already started putting together ideas for the next Veilburner release, or are you focussed on promoting the current album?

MD – The next album is already completed.  It will be a companion album to ASTTGOL, another part of the story we started with ASTTGOL.  It will remain locked away until the circumstances and timing are right to release it.  We are currently halfway through working on the 6th album, actually.   I have no idea when that one will see daylight, but obviously not until we’re into the 2020s.  We’re planning for it to be a standalone album, and not part of any dualogy or trilogy.  We like to think that the stories/concepts for all of the Veilburner albums exist in the same shared universe, kind of like the Cloverfield universe or the MCU, only for music instead of movies.  In our imaginations, this world just keeps growing.  It makes sense to keep giving it more space to grow.  

CI – The companion album will be titled “Lurkers In The Capsule Of Skull.” The music is done and I’m currently working on the art for it.  At some point in the future after that, as MD said, we will then release a standalone album, which we’re working on now.  We already have some song titles and some lyrics finished for it.  

– Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer my questions and for the great music you’re producing. I’m excited to hear where the next Veilburner release will take me.  

Interview by Tom

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