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Dark Millennium's Hilton Theissen: "I stepped out of the studio, threw away a half pack of cigarettes by quit smoking immediately and 10 tons of weight fell from me as the sun went down on a junk yard behind the studio facility"

Interview with Hilton Theissen & Christian Mertens from Dark Millennium
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 18 January 2022, 10:12 AM

Every person has his / her own story. While there is always a hope for a good story, which means better life without complications, it barely exists for anyone. Life is dynamic, it takes a person through various decision makings, taking the next route to the next milestone. Each decision might be crucial to decide what comes next. Dark Millennium's new album "Acid River" twists the idea of that course in life, spreading into different realities and characters, and of course their stories. Steinmetal had a great pleasure to talk with guitarist Hilton Theissen and vocalist Christian Mertens, about the album's state of mind, musical diversity and more…

Hello guys, it is a sheer pleasure of mine to have you for this interview with Metal Temple online Magazine, how are things going on your end sir?

H: Well thank you for having Christian, who is dealing with the more conceptual questions and myself. It is a busy time trying to handle the management for our releases and the studio job. But I think we am getting along as usual.

In all honesty, Dark Millennium, up until now, has been a hole in my Metal education, and I was glad for the opportunity to tune in to your new material. Looking back, this year marks three decades since your debut album, "Ashore the Celestial Burden". Crossing thoughts in your mind, when you go through recollections of those early days, what do you remember the most?

H: It is a strange melting pot since I feel I have lived a few lives or at least chapters ever since we started out on our first demo session. Of course I remember a funny tour or studio stories as well as any musician, but the magic of our songwriting and playing together as a band left a quite strong impression even on later sessions with other projects. It did back then open me up for digging for the right tunes, vibes and atmospheres.

Thirty years later and everything is different, the Metal scene, the state of affairs worldwide, and of course a new offering by Dark Millennium. I wonder, with what has been happening through the last two years, where did you find motivation to write new material? What kept you motivated?

H: Writing the next tracks for the Apocalypses Soundtrack, I guess! ;) I mean we take care of ourselves but do not get involved too much in current affairs about being stressed to death around all this drama. We have our own space in which we create our music and we feel always motivated to go on no matter what comes.

Titled “Acid River”, you had me perplexed, as if finding myself constantly trying to solve riddles, one by one, yet those are endless. What is that acid river? What does it symbolize and how does it represent Dark Millennium?

C: The acid river is the stream that flows through the different stories of the album. It’s pure poison, and changes the worlds of the characters in many ways. It has its origin in a reality beyond the known, and is the path you follow when you listen to the songs.

While talking about the title of the record, it is hard not to gaze upon the artwork with questioning eyes. There is clearly something distorted here, maleficent but an interesting quest. The radiant colors are outstanding, dripping away on what seems like a stone. High level artwork no doubt. What can you tell about the vision that stood behind this piece of art? As an observant yourself, what do you make of it?

C: The artwork was painted by our friend and long-time-artist Alexander Freund. We talked about the lyrics and the main theme of the album, and he had different ideas, that led to this result. You can see seven streams with faces, the faces of the protagonists of the songs, that flow down from a kind of volcano into a sea. I think the colours are exceptional and Alex created one of his most interesting works.

Since “Acid River” is not an actual concept album, as it was stated, its general theme had me going through several directions, whether through worlds of insanity, deep pain or a belief system that has its own uniqueness. What can you tell about these mystical connecting dots that make this album a whole?

C: Yes, it is not a typical concept album, but has this connecting element, which is the title of the record. The stories deal with different realities, worlds that have their own rules, things we seem to know that turn into something frightening that changes the perception of the characters forever. They can feel the threat, and their lives come closer to insanity.

Following the pandemic, and we did talk about your motivation towards creating this album, do you find it as a means of escaping reality or actually showing what is the actual reality but in your personal interpretation? In your view, what is harsher, our present or the album’s version of the universe?

H: Strong Question! If Jack the Ripper would suddenly appear in 2022, he would be probably no big deal anymore. Of course back then we developed something new, which nowadays is still dark, atmospheric and characteristic on its own, but the world turned darker and stranger it seems. But that does not keep us from further on creating our spheres. But at least this was our motto, when we united: “This Millennium is getting even darker!”.

Through “Acid River” you reintroduced a different approach to the known fusion between Death and Doom Metal. Personally, I always found something incorporeal within this mixture.  By adding various elements that cross groove, even alternative echoes, you created a new spunky extreme approach. How do you find your musical progress on this record?

H: It can be a trick of interpretation and development throughout the composition and arrangement in musical progress. We are glad we have our own “wide noise studio” and certainly no limits within the work flow. Since we write the riffs first, our young drummer comes up with strange ideas, and together crossing the original rhythm concepts we work it out. This alone gives a new quality to the approach in some way. Of course the sound does a lot to this on top, since we did go the full retro analogue way featuring our old equip.

“Acid River”, in its own special way, is mind ripping, its dramatic effect is strong and it is constantly on an emotional turmoil, as if the storm within never ceases. What is your take about the whirlwind of negativity going on, crossing between the songs? What is the source of that sounding like pain bursting through, an exemplary showcased by the vocal line?

H: This again lies within the writing sessions and the strong communication in between the members. Since I do very emotional riffs that can be from tanks to beautiful elves, Michael grabs the atmosphere and bombs in with a refreshing new aspect and vice versa. Christian is mostly prepared, constantly checking with the lyrics and always ready to have a powerful rough take to reflect the theme immediately in pretty much most of the cases.

Knee deep in the songwriting process, you talk about a flexible process, it is quite interesting, especially while not being really led by a constant theme to indoctrinate your moves. What can you tell me about this process? How did you find the contributions of your peers in the band? How did it feel to you as a team effort?

H: As I just got into that writing procedure I have to add that Gerold, our bass player and man for the keys is a studied one in music and always has on one hand riff ideas himself, weird bass lines or a great overview for reprises and variations, what is also very welcome to me as the producer. So we are in a constant deep talk to each other sometimes 1 on 1, sometimes in small groups keeping the flow and the energy high. Every time we meet to write, the next song is done in least 3 to 4 ours.

As the album’s sound engineer, you were able to recreate not only the band’s old sound, but in overall, the sound of extreme Metal of the early 90s, especially that awesome Doom meets Death fusion. It is hard to ignore the old British influences, but surely you were able to make your mark. How did it feel to listen to your material with such a classic sound pattern? Was it simply your tribute to your debut record or you really wanted to relive the past yet another time?

H: Long ago we made the decision on that sound, it was so challenging and really tempting to transport this on the new songs, which of course contain a few old and unused riffs as well. Writing the songs, we used modern amp sounds, but when it was time for the album recordings we were flashed how much the approach and feeling altered. Everything went dirtier, bigger and of course using the old FX wider. And seemingly people love the old sound, so we are glad to make them happy on top.

After finishing up “Acid River”, which I am sure that it made an impeccable number on, didn’t you feel the need to take some time off to yourself? Wasn’t it a draining kind of experience to undergo? Do you see yourself doing it again?

H: Our second one “Diana Read Peace” had that vibe. I stepped out of the studio, threw away a half pack of cigarettes by quit smoking immediately and 10 tons of weight fell from me as the sun went down on a junk yard behind the studio facility. This time we were just happy and, satisfied and impatient to release it. And I think we are in for another fine round.

As a veteran musician, and songwriter, what did “Acid River” teach you? How did it change your approach towards what the band has been doing in the last thirty years?

H: I have been making music in different scenes with many artists. The lesson learned is that content and sound should be a melange on point but nothing else.

To talk about either of the songs, I find it a hard task, especially to find that unique one to open up, as all of them share special qualities. Therefore, I leave this to you. Select a song, or more, that you wish to talk about, tell their stories, share their musical qualities and sorts.

H: The big final is “Death comes in Waves” and it leaves you with a strong feeling, that taking a look at the first reactions to the album, reaches a lot of people. The melody is from 1994 when we split up. It survived to the present day and found a way to get heard and be moulded into one of the most important songs to support the message of the song. Sometimes it takes decades before a mission is completed.

When you listen to the entire album, since interpretations of both the music and lyrics are flying in turbo by others, how do you find the album as a whole? What does it make you feel other than the obvious efforts made to make it come true?

H: It is an emotional time capsule that contains impressions of different ages and phases of our lives, a very personal one to us and finally the most important album to us since the reunion and for a very long time from now.

Earlier on, I raised a question about your debut album, since it has been 3 decades, but will there be re-recordings from the debut album anytime soon, maybe even full shows?

H: Re-Recordings would destroy the value of the debut. We see this very clear and straight. Full shows are not too bad but we have to wait on the right chances to come.

Nothing is really certain nowadays, all that can be hoped for is that there will be a substantial gap in the pandemic to allow months of live performances. Therefore, what does your schedule look like in the coming months, or year?

H: We do not take breaks really. There will be a meeting soon talking about the next concept and we wait for the right options to present new and old stuff live. Whatever comes we will continue the chosen path.

Guys, plenty of thanks for your time for this interview, and thank you for the introduction to your amazing band. All the best, Cheers

Welcome anytime. It has been a great pleasure! Thank you and cheers.


 



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