Shylmagoghnar is a Dutch melodic atmospheric black metal project by Nimblkorg and Skirge who back in 2014 released their full-length debut album Emergence. Earlier this year the album was reissued as double vinyl by Napalm Records (reviewed here), with whom the project inked a deal for the upcoming sophomore album titled Transience.
In an interview for Vinyl Sphere, Nimblkorg tells us about the creative process that informed Emergence, challenges the duo faced while working on it, future plans, and more.
Describe the musical vision propelling your debut album Emergence.
Having practically grown up with this project, it has a strong personal meaning to us. We consider it a vessel to convey our thoughts and feelings, in the hopes that we will understand them better ourselves, but also that others out there who share those feelings may have something from it.
The project started out as atmospheric black metal, because we think that genre is very powerful for setting a mood and holding on to it. It helps you to delve deeply into a thought. We also very much enjoy other genres and subgenres though, like death and doom metal, classical, medieval folk, post rock… even videogame music. Rhythmic and melodic qualities of those genres seeped into our style very naturally, so we decided to just go with it. It’s creatively freeing, as it allows us to write what we think sounds good in a song, without having to worry about abstract genre limitations.
For Emergence in particular, our pessimistic outlook on life and the world around us ended up becoming one of the main themes. This wasn’t necessarily planned – it was just something that had been on our minds for so long that we needed to speak out on it. However, we do feel that there is enough negativity in the world already, so we also wanted to share our vision on that there is beauty and hope – something worth fighting for. The second half of the album focusses on that. We hope it creates a flow where a whole plethora of emotions comes and goes throughout the album, allowing the listener to dwell on those and come out feeling relieved and strengthened.
What made it the right time to pursue that vision?
We both had an obsession with creating music since we were about 15 years old, so the idea of making an album together got stuck in our minds early. We also knew we wanted to be as self-reliant as possible to have maximum creative control over the outcome. This meant we had to learn all skills necessary from scratch… which took quite a while. The road towards becoming at least competent enough to record, produce and release an album that felt qualitatively comparable to the albums we grew up with was seemingly never-ending and nearly killed the project.
A couple of years later I became chronically ill and homebound because of it, which threw a wrench in my life plans. It was around that moment that the two of us agreed: this has to be done now or never.
Tell me about what you’re communicating with the album cover.
The cover is a depiction of a compelling “vision” I had as a kid. I tend to have apocalyptic dreams often, but this was different: it knocked me out of my senses in broad daylight.
Suddenly I was in this vast landscape of a broken world, accompanied by an overwhelming sense of doom. I was standing next to a hill with a dying tree on top of it. I decided to walk towards it, but when I got close it started crying blood and in a flash I could see all the horrors it had witnessed in its lifetime. Then a voice told me it was all my fault.
It was a terrifying experience which marred my outlook on life, so I felt the need to write the song “Emergence” about it. That one ended up becoming the title track so the choice for the album cover was obvious.
What was the creative process for Emergence like?
With some exceptions, usually I wrote the music and my band mate Skirge the lyrics. We have strong shared interests so there were very few problems with this process. Whenever I wrote a demo of a song, I sent it to the vocalist without telling him my intentions. He then wrote a rough draft of the lyrics. From there on we kept refining the music and the lyrics until the puzzle pieces fell together.
The songwriting process varied per song, as the time between the oldest songs and the later ones was nearly 12 years.
Songs like “Edin in Ashes” and “Eternal Forest” were written very early on and were largely based on trial & error, combining ideas from jam sessions. Writing and recording the demos for those songs was basically one and the same process.
Later on I started writing more cerebrally. Songs like “I Am the Abyss” and “A New Dawn” were composed completely before they were played. I felt that it gave me a much stronger grasp of the strengths and weaknesses of a song, which I could then tackle before recording the final version. In my opinion it resulted in more consistent storytelling throughout a song, so it’s a process I’ve continued to use for our upcoming album.
The lyrics were usually recorded after all musical elements where in place. On some occasions we’ve made adjustments during vocal recordings because new ideas arose from the process. We think iteration is key to this project.
Speaking of the album’s creative process, provide some insight into it. How did you document the music while it was being formulated?
The oldest songs were recorded as demos on the fly as they were being written, so we just had to remember how they were played. We also did some vocal demos to see how the vocals and music would fit together.
For later songs a combination of notation software (Finale, Guitar Pro) and programs like Fruity Loops and Reason were used to write out song demos and prepare for production. The final versions were all recorded/mixed in Reaper.
We’ve released tablature for the song “I Am the Abyss”, which was based on the notation originally used to record the song.
Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected?
Very much so. It’s probably the aspect we spend most time on when writing an album. Both of us have a strong preference for music which sound like it tells an overarching story – both in individual songs and album wide – so we strive to achieve this in our own work.
Because of this, some of the songs written for the debut didn’t make it onto the final album – not because we didn’t like them, but because they didn’t fit into the narrative. They are instead used as potential cornerstones for future work. For example, there was a rough demo written for a song called “Journey Through the Fog”, which was intended to be on Emergence, but we felt that the atmosphere of the song was taking a new direction and decided to keep it for the upcoming second album.
On the opposite side of the coin, we sometimes wrote tracks to fill a gap in the album structure. For example, the album used to start with Skirge‘s “The Sun No Longer”, but we felt that the track had a calming, uplifting (though bittersweet) effect. The tracks after it were moving in the opposite direction, so it made no sense. Anyone who has ever been severely ill, depressed, in mourning, etc, knows that it’s not a process of sudden drastic changes. It catches you offguard and you have to fall deeply and learn to face that darkness inside of yourself before you can start to heal and get back up again. This motion overarched the flow of the songs on the album, so it needed a track that represented being drawn into those personal depths before continuing on that path. That is why “I Am the Abyss” was created. “The Sun No Longer” ended up becoming the final track, because the aforementioned calming effect felt like a natural closer there.
Did the environment in any way influence the vibe the album transcends?
I think so, yes. Both of us were born during the tail end of the cold war, so a certain sense of the fragility of mankind because of its inherent flaws was probably subconsciously ingrained into our minds.
Of course we also both had our share of highs and lows in life, which formed the basis of our personal views translated into the music.
The area we grew up in (Zuid-Limburg in the Netherlands) is generally rural, with lots of hills, forests and streams and a decent view of the night sky. That, together with our interest in arts and science, is something which inspires us and gives us hope.
How do you usually go about creating a new song?
When I start writing music, it’s rarely intentional. I just get lost in a thought and sooner or later a melody starts playing in my head. Other times it comes to me in a dream. Those occurrences are the musical basis for nearly every track.
This causes some frustration: I want the music to sound as closely as possible to what I’m hearing in my head, but this is nigh impossible. The notes don’t matter if the feeling isn’t there, so the songs usually need a lot of refinement after their cores are written.
Nowadays I often write in notation programs, because it really helps in that refinement process. I then send a MIDI version of the new song to the vocalist, and he writes lyrics to it. At this point we usually figure out together what problems we run into with the song, and through iteration we eventually get to a version we are both satisfied with. We then record, mix and master the track based on our original notes.
Which bands or artists influence your work?
Some early inspirations that come to mind are Summoning, Death, Atheist, Immortal, early Opeth, the first two albums by Dimmu Borgir, Draconian, Naglfar, Einherjer, Mithotyn, Primordial, Diabolical Masquerade and Swallow the Sun.
Like mentioned, we also enjoy a lot of videogame music. Some of our favourite composers are: Frank Klepacki (Dune, Command and Conquer), Matt Uelmen (Diablo), Daniel Bernstein & Guy Whitmore (Blood), Jeroen Tel (Cybernoid and other Commodore 64 games), Alexander Brandon, Dan Gardopée, Michiel van den Bos & Andrew Sega (Unreal, Crusader: No Remorse), Glenn Stafford, Gregory Alper, Rick Jackson & Chris Palmer (various Warcraft titles).
Do you see your music as serving a purpose beyond music?
Yes, it has helped us through some rough patches and made the good times better. This is something we hope will be experienced by others as well.
Almost three years after it was originally released Emergence was also put out on vinyl this year. What in particular made you gravitate towards this format?
My dad had a record collection when I was a kid, and I was fascinated by his music setup. I pretended to be a DJ, or I was listening in awe how stereo songs made it sound like UFO’s where flying through the room (thank you Jean Michel Jarre). It was a life-changing experience for me, so the dream of having my own work on vinyl one day was unavoidable. There is a certain sense of nostalgic emotion surrounding the medium which makes it quite irrepleacable to me. I enjoy the ritual of putting it on the player, the huge cover artwork, etc.
Aside from that, it was also an opportunity to release a version of the album with more dynamics. Like many audio engineers and audiophiles, I’m bothered by the increasing loudness of releases over the years. For CD I take a middle-of-the-road approach with our mixes/masters by aiming for a late 90’s/early 2000’s vibe and loudness; most of the music I listen to sits around those levels and thus that sounds natural to me. But for those with preference for higher dynamics I hope this remastered vinyl scratches the itch.
The only reason we didn’t put it on vinyl earlier is because it’s a rather expensive endeavour, and with a home-made no-budget project like our own that would have been quite the risk to take in 2014.
But as time went on, we had more and more people asking us to put it out on vinyl, so there was obviously demand. Then we got into contact with Napalm Records last year to distribute our future albums, and they were interested in re-releasing Emergence on vinyl as well. That made things a lot easier!
What are your future plans?
The first thing coming up is releasing album number two, which will be called Transience. We have been working on it since the release of the debut, so we are very excited to finally get it out there.
We originally intended for it to be released earlier this year, but life got in the way. Things are back on track though, so it looks like we will be finishing the music by the end of the year. I don’t know exactly when the album will be released, as that is dependent on a few external factors, and we like to keep our options open so nothing gets rushed, but expect news on it soon!
There will also be a music video accompanying one of the songs of the new album. We are working together with Minghao Xu again (who is also the artist behind our cover art for both albums). If everything goes as planned, it’s going to be pretty trippy.
Other than that I think we will maybe work on a few sideprojects for a bit. The past 4 years have been pretty intense and I think we can use a restorative time-out to refresh our inspiration before continuing on another Shylmagoghnar album. Then again that’s also what we said after the first album… so let’s see what really happens!