GROMTH – Part I: We are actually dying from the moment we start to live…
This September will see the release of one of the most important albums of 2011 and one of the most important orchestral/symphonic metal releases of all time: Gromth’s "The Immortal". Sitting in front of my Computer in Germany, I have provoked the band to answer questions on the intricate lyrics and the complex creative process of this unique album. Read on to delve deeply into the minds behind Gromth! The whole band answers.
Ole’s vocals sound very harsh for an orchestral black metal band. Since he has never been a vocalist before, where does his refined style stem from?
Ole: I have always liked the black and death vocal style in music. So when Grimd showed me some music he made some years ago, and asked me if I could try to lay some vocals on it, then I just had to try. And the sound you can hear on "The Immortal", well…, that’s simply the sound that came out of my mouth, he he.
Are the female and clean sung parts performed by vocalists also? André admits that all the female vocals are actually samples…
André: We use the best samples we know though, and work a lot with these to achieve the best organic and authentic sound. We actually had a female vocalist from Czech Republic at hand, but she got sick just before deadline so we were forced to do it the other way around. We’re very happy with the result anyway, so now we don’t bother very much. On the next album I think we’ll go for the real thing, though.
The male clean vocal in the middle of “Explosive Power” is actually something Grimd came up with during the mixing process. I think it works very well, and perhaps he will sing more clean parts on the next album. Grimd also did some male-choirs as you can hear in the more majestic part in "Death Eternal".
How did the Orchestration come about?
André: We are using samples from a library called Eastwest Quantum Leap. Full orchestra and choir. In one sense you are correct. A real orchestra has recorded all the sounds. All instruments on “The Immortal” are the real thing, we are actually not using any synthetic keyboards on the album, just real samples. All instruments are recorded in a highly professional studio and then we use these sampled sounds to write our own stuff. For instance; I choose to have some big French horns in a part. Then I load one chosen well-fitted patch from the brass library. After that I choose the right articulations, and finally I fine-tune parameters like velocity, automation, cross-fading vibrato and expression. I often like to programme some of the stuff when I’m composing it, and then record it on the piano afterwards with the sampled instrument loaded. Then I achieve a more natural sound both in the authentic range between the notes and in the velocity and the expression.
As I understand there was a real orchestra involved recording all the sounds digitally? How exactly did that process work?
André: As mentioned above, all classical instruments are taken from different sample-libraries. We are also using instruments from more exotic libraries and we use sounds from there when we feel that it fits with the orchestral parts. We also use some FX (audio-effects) taken from different FX-libraries to create different moods to the music. Besides that we are using a lot of Mellotron. Mellotron is actually the oldest sample-machine there is. The unique sound created by this marvellous instrument creates a lot of beautiful and creepy atmosphere to the orchestration.
Most of the time, I think the music carries a certain baroque vibe, at others I feel reminded of Indian chanting or science fiction movie soundtracks. What inspired André and Grimd’s style of composing?
André: Grimd is more inspired from soundtrack composers like for instance Hans Zimmer, I’m more inspired from science fiction and horror. Together we like to think that we create something unique called Gromth, hehe.
Grimd: For my part, I enjoy old classical music. Like Vivaldi, Mozart and Edward Grieg, as well as producers of movie soundtracks such as John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman and Howard Shore. I watch a lot of movies. I especially enjoy Sci-fi movies and Lord of the Rings. The battle soundtracks in these movies inspire me a lot. But if we focus on the non-orchestral parts I am inspired by black metal bands such as Mayhem, Immortal and Darkthrone.
My opinion is that Dimmu Borgir, which I am very fond of, have done a great job combining these to music styles. Dimmu likes to call it "beauty and the beast". But Gromth wants to bring it to a new level. For my part I think that orchestral music and black metal fits "like a glove".
To be able to combine these two genres has for a long time been in my thoughts. I’ve had this idea for more than 15 years now. To combine the most beautiful music and the really extreme. There are no limits in Gromth. My music philosophy is that every sound is music, there are just different ways to perform it.
"The Immortal" reminds me of a theatrical piece, in terms of the concept and the music. Was that the band’s intention?
André: My intension was to simply make music I prefer to listen to myself. It was quite interesting to explore what influences that became the most obvious during the writing process on this album. It’s fascinating that you ask this question, because it was never my intention to write music that became such score-influenced at all. The first real piece I wrote for this album was actually what became the song “Enemy”. And I remember I was a bit surprised that it came out as such a theatrical soundtrack-based piece of music. I just started with the piano part and added some string arrangements and then some Mellotron-choir to set the mood. afterwards the brass parts came in, and suddenly the hole shit sounded like the soundtrack for a fantasy or a science fiction movie, hehe. Actually when Grimd and I was composing the guitar parts for this piece my goal was to kind of muffle or subdue the score feeling in the piece, to get a real metal-sense to it. You know, Gromth is first of all a metal band, who writes extreme metal-music, it’s not music solely written for a theatrical play or a movie.
Grimd: I think a lot about movies and pictures when I compose, or theatre if you like. I picture different scenes in my head when I create. "The Immortal" is one big track which we in the last process divided into 16 tracks. Most of the music is composed before I read the lyrics written by Roy.
How have the lyrics shaped and influenced the music?
André: Grimd and Roy started to talk about lyrics vs. music some years ago, and then they figured out that Grimd’s musical visions was quite consistent with Roy’s lyrical concept. They decided to co-operate, and the pleasing outcome of that you can see on "The Immortal". So, to a certain point you can say that the lyrics has influenced Grimd’s music. With that in mind – I think Grimd’s music would have been quite the same regardless of the lyrical point of view. When I came in, I also wrote music without much thought about the lyrics. Actually I think it’s quite salutary to shut out everything else during a creative composing process. BUT, to put it the other way around. The lyrics was present when I started to write music, so I felt, ok this lyrics allows me to write music exactly the way I want to write music for Gromth. Roy and I have talked a lot about it, and we both feel lucky that the lyrics and the music fits so perfectly well together. I have known Roy for over 20 years, so we actually feel privileged that our work correspond that much without the direct collaboration during the writing process.
When all the music was finished we was sorting out all the stuff and mixed it together. Then we took the lyrics in consideration when we placed the different parts together, and Ole did his job with arranging all the parts into the music. We actually felt very lucky here and there in this process as well. It was a big puzzle, but some of the lyrics just fitted in.
What part do the electric guitars play in the music? André, composing half the orchestral music, does not look down on the guitars, far from it.
André: The guitar is the main instrument in Gromth, no doubt about that. Gromth are as mentioned above a metal band, but both Grimd and I write the orchestral version first. With a few exceptions, the orchestral versions you’ll hear on disk two on the album is the basis for the music.
Grimd: "The Immortal" was created by composing the orchestral parts first. Afterwards I composed the guitar. Alone the orchestral part is rock solid, and for that reason we have a double album, where one of the CDs is orchestral. It is possible that this will be a standard for future Gromth albums.
But, the guitar plays of course a big part in the music as well. When I compose I keep the guitar in mind. I always know where and how I want it.
How did the composition come about? For an elaborate piece as this I cannot imagine that a couple of riffs were thrown around, then everybody just "did their thing"…
André: On this album we did things quite hard and complex for ourselves because we actually composed bits and parts without any collaboration with each other during the composing process. Grimd wrote almost all his stuff during the winter and spring 2010, while I wrote my stuff during the spring and autumn. About one year ago, Grimd and I started to work with the guitar parts for the entire album. We composed drum-presets together to create the guitar lines. The actually guitar recording Grimd did alone, and he created a lot of ideas on his own during this process. It was actually a very exciting period for me when he introduced me to the final guitar-recordings on the orchestral stuff. And with a few exceptions I was very happy with the results. Then we worked a bit together again to fine tune the whole stuff.
When the guitar and bass stuff was finished, we started with the vocal parts. As this album is much more than just an “eight-tracker”, this process went on for three months. This period also brought Ole into the composing process to help out putting all the parts and bits together to form the whole concept, both music and lyrically-wise. During the vocal-sessions, we needed to start working with the orchestral stuff again. You see, when an orchestra with up to 500 tracks is to totally balance with guitar, bass, drums and vocal, we kind of need to start over again with the orchestral stuff and mix the most vital instruments expressively enough to break through the wall of sound. In this process the panning (from left to right) of all instruments is very important as well as working with expression and mic positions.
At the end, Tjodalv came in and did all the drums with his trademark signature. This album is actually a huge, complex puzzle, and we have agreed on making the next album a bit easier for ourselves. We are planning on making "songs" for the next album. Don’t expect less epic music though, rather an even more bombastic, complex and massive album. We have started already, and I’m really excited about the new stuff. Beware!
Tjodalv has played in various bands. In what way does your performance in Gromth differ from the other bands you’ve been a part have been in, or still is in?
Tjodalv: The whole idea around Gromth is different, and the music are different from everything I have performed on in other bands.
Since this is a concept album with one music piece divided into 16 tracks, it also makes the drumming very interesting. You have all kind of drumming on this album. From soft parts with drums and orchestra or bass and drums, to brutal blasting drums and fast double bass drums, and also precise techniques bass drums together with fat chugging guitars. This is a very different project for me since all the drums are made digitally with a lot of hard work with samples and programming. This is new for me but I feel that I have done a great job with both the sound and making the drums fit to the music.
Listening to the mix, two things are obvious, first it is digitally produced, but secondly, it sounds very dynamic rather than compressed. How have you achieved this sound? How did Gromth manage to combine the best of both worlds: The dynamism of the analogue and the clarity of the digital?
Grimd: We were very determined that it shouldn’t be too much compressed. There are way too many bands who are caught in that trap. We wanted to focus on the dynamics from the world of classical music. This is not easy when you have a lot of drums and heavy guitars, but I am happy with our result.
André: Thank you very much for the compliment! Well, as mentioned in the question above, this album is a real jig-saw puzzle, and I don’t think many albums in the history of music contains as much working hours as this one. First of all, I said quite early in the process to Grimd that it was very important not to master this album to death. Marius Strand in Strand Studio has had a lot of younger melodic death metal bands in his studio during the years, and they tend to want to have the sound as high as possible. Then you need to compress the sound a lot to achieve a higher sound.
When you have as much orchestral stuff in the music as us, it’s really important not to press the sound too hard because that will ruin all the automation and dynamic work done in the music. So we chose not to master the album too much, but to our surprise, we still got a lot of power in the guitars! One good example is "I Destroy, Therefore I Am". When I wrote this piece I really wanted to create something majestic horror-like stuff that was perfectly suited for heavy technical death metal riffs. I actually programmed some bass-guitar and guitar stuff on this piece just to solve an equation to approximation to the final result. There’s a lot going on in the orchestral part, so I was worried that most of the details would disappear behind the thick wall of sound of guitars and bass. Fortunately Grimd and I managed to fine tune everything and create a perfect balanced in all the parameters. The same goes for "Finale – Destroyer Of Worlds". We achieved awesome power in the guitars as well as a detailed orchestral sound together with the grim and versatile vocal performance. It was a lot of work, but it’s worth it!
What is your stance on the whole analogue versus digital affair, would you record with a real orchestra? As it says in the good ol’ ABBA song; "Money money money"…
André: Please donate approximately 20.000 Euro to our account marked; Orchestral budget on the next album, and we’ll for sure hire a real orchestra, he he. Well, I have updated my equipment very much since the recording of “The Immortal” so I can assure you an even more authentic orchestral sound on the next album. But it’s a dream to record an album with the real deal one day, but as you understand, it’s a question of money. When it comes to the other instruments our goal is to achieve an analogue sound and I think we have achieved a great balance between the two worlds on “The Immortal”. BUT; The most important for me is that the result is as close to my visions as possible. I don’t really care what tools we use to achieve this.
Are there any plans to tour in support of the album or is it a studio-only project?
André: We are open for everything, actually, but we haven’t started rehearsing with that in mind yet. This music is a real challenge to perform live, but never say never!
When and in what form will the album be released?
André: It will be release exclusively as a special packaging, De Luxe Edition in a 20 page Digipack, with releasedate today, 29.09.11. Disc 2 contains the orchestral version of the entire album. Later on we will release a double gatefold LP. The release date for this one will be announced soon.
Are there any plans to perform "The Immortal" as a theatrical play with the band (plus orchestra) playing from the pit? Because I think that would be killer!
Grimd: This would be a dream come true! If someone has a place and an orchestra we’ll be there!
Photos by: Wenche Munkelien
Images by: Kjell Ivar Lund (www.kjellivarlund.com)