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Nightbearer's Dominik Hellmuth: "We didn't want to use Tolkien's world, because that would not be innovative, wouldn't it? So, we opted for Robert Jordan…"

Interview with Dominik Hellmuth from Nightbearer
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 01 August 2022, 10:30 PM

In order to find a way out of reality, there is nothing better than finding that way in order to leave it behind, or at least dormant. Escapism is the way to do it, and if there is Sci-Fi involved, there is a lot to explore. It wasn't the first time that Steinmetal and Nightbearer's Dominik Hellmuth had a chat about the philosophy and musical experience in relation to the band. Now, with the release of the band's new album, "Ghosts Of A Darkness To Come”, shows an even deeper meaning, and experience that is the next step of old school Death Metal.

Hello Dominik, it has been nearly over three years since our last talk, and time sure flies fast. It is good to have you again for this interview with Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing sir?

Hi Lior, well, thanks for having me again! Despite the circumstances I've been doing great. I got a new job, that cut the time to drive there from ~50 to 15 minutes, which is awesome. I got a house, that means more space for making music and I recently joined mighty Burden of Grief, that fill my need for playing Melodic-Death-Metal. It could certainly have gone worse!

I had the utmost pleasure of talking to you for the release of your band’s, Nightbearer’s, debut album, and it opened up the appetite for more. After such an influential, if it can be called as such, period of time in mankind’s history, I guess that the coming of your sophomore, "Ghosts Of A Darkness To Come”, is like a sort of gift, wouldn’t you say?

I think every album release, at least for me, can be considered as a gift. The moment where all your hard work, the countless hours of writing, tracking and mixing and last not least the many disputes and discussions with your band members on how to do certain things finally condense into this single output. The gift however wasn't made to me or us as a band. We provided the gift to you folks, our fans and Death-Metal enthusiasts in general. Our gift is your support over the years, which shows us that you quite dig what we're doing.

Let’s talk about the pandemic for a bit, it rapidly became a worldwide nightmare, causing a lot of menace and pain for plenty of people, shutting down a lot of industries in the process. How were you able to cope with this ordeal, mentally speaking?

I am in the very fortunate situation, that the pandemic and the shutdowns had no real negative impact on me. My income was never in danger or reduced and most of the time I felt very safe where I live. The only two downsides where that due to suddenly working at home I realized a bit too late that my desktop screen had not have been in the best position for my neck. This combined with the fact that the gym I hit regularly had to close led to some nasty fastenings that dissolve way too slowly for my taste. But I actually had more time for my hobbies and could use the spare energy in renovating my new house. I realize that I haven't touched the mental side of the pandemic, but since I am very resilient towards mental stress, I didn't have any problems at all. I am not the guy who goes out on a daily basis, so I can survive at home! I for sure missed the rehearsals but we were connected all the time via WhatsApp and made the best out of it.

I heard a lot about the effects of the pandemic on the social order. In your view, would you say that we, as people, learned to actually better care for our surroundings, meaning those that are around us, perhaps needing our help or quite the opposite?

Well… my view of humanity is not the best someone could have. I saw that a lot of people adapted to the situation and suddenly cared for their elders, neighbours etc, but the human species tends to forget very fast. So, I don't think it will last long. And then there are always those kinds of people that only care for themselves. A proof of my words is the current world situation with the most unnecessary war ever and the climate change etc, but let's not go into politics.

Going back to "Ghosts Of A Darkness To Come”, which was just released, what can you share about the reviews coming in, whether by the media and by your fanbase? Would you say that you were able to rattle the heads and surprise some folks?

The overwhelming amount of feedback, both “professional” by reviewers and “amateur” by fans and friends, was very positive. We hoped for such feedback, but you can never be sure to actually get it. So that's quite awesome! I also think we surprised some people that didn't believe in us topping our debut. To be fair it's more common for bands to release one record and then kind of vanish but we had a clear vision and wanted to progress.

I was intrigued when I read about the connection of the record to the massive book series, and imaginary world, of “The Wheel Of Time”, by the late Robert Jordan. I can only assume that you have been a fan of his writing, right? What was so spectacular, in your opinion, that you found within Jordan’s creations?

Since I personally am more into Science Fiction, I haven't read the books, but our vocalist Micha is a big fan or Jordan's books and world building.

The reason why we picked “The Wheel Of Time” is, that we wanted to write the whole record based on a single franchise. We didn't want to use Tolkien's world, because that would not be innovative, wouldn't it? So, we opted for Robert Jordan. On the one hand the story and the characters are very well written, and on the other hand the philosophy behind the book (f.e. Free will, destiny, reincarnation etc) is really enthralling. So, the choice was an easy one to make.

Since “The Wheel Of Time” is quite complex, and also deals with plenty of characters and stories, on which forms of topics does "Ghosts Of A Darkness To Come” deal with in regards to the book series?

Micha basically took everything that we thought was fitting for a lyric. It didn't matter whether it was a character, a place, or a story line. He made a whole bunch of notes and then figured out how to make lyrics out of all this stuff. The only limitation was that we focus on the first half of the book series. Otherwise, it would have taken Micha way too long and we wanted to release the album in our lifetime.

Nearly the mass majority of sci-fi and fantasy stories, area meant to imply what is going on in the present, in our ordinary lives. Is there a relation between with happenings within the songs of "Ghosts Of A Darkness To Come” and our world outside?

There was no intention to metaphorically describe and judge the real world with our lyrics. And to be honest, it wouldn't fit to Nightbearer's approach. We especially like the escapism Sci-Fi and Fantasy provided, so as with the first record, we just wanted to tell stories for the listener to enjoy. We always try to give it a new twist with another perspective for example, so that both people who know the original and people who don't know it can equally enjoy our lyrics.

Maintaining the rooted stance within the spectrum of old school Death Metal, taking on the Swedish kind of the early 90s, with that signature HM-2 chainsaw guitar sound, "Ghosts Of A Darkness To Come” elevated your position in my book. The importance of getting the listener into the groove of things, the twisted and deadly environment, is felt. What can you share about what you feel is a musical progress on the record?

Oh well, I as a musician and producer progressed heavily between both records. I studied lots of mixing books and online courses to deliver the best sounding product I could, so there's that about the sound. As far as songwriting goes, after the release of “Tales of Sorcery and Death” we knew what stuff, we enjoyed and what we weren't so fond of. You can say that we found Nightbearer's identity. Our songs always felt like a very well-paced story in a way. That's thanks so Micha's ability to structure a song really well. So, we simply tried to write better riffs, better melodies and I got more self-confidence in my abilities as a Lead-guitar player, so we included more solos with a more melodic approach. On the other side we tried to make aggressive parts more aggressive. So, to give you a short answer: With this record we had a clearer vision what we wanted to do and simply did it.

I mentioned the listener being part of the album’s reality, and it is with assurance that it wouldn’t have been possible without a proper atmospheric touch. The echoing melodies bursting from the twin guitar attacks channel directly what is needed in order to grasp the listener right into the belly of the horrific visions. What is your take on that?

As mentioned previously, I still consider myself more of a rhythm guitar player than a lead guitar player. But over time you get more confidence and write more leads with better quality. I don't improvise solos and leads, they are always 100% composed, so I take my time to figure out where to include harmonies and were not. I like the approach of André Olbrich from Blind Guardian who looks at each solo as a “song in a song”, so I try my best to adapt this approach to my writing. And I think a Solo guitar sound needs to have a delay, otherwise it's boring, so there's the reason for that hahaha.

With atmosphere being an integral part of "Ghosts Of A Darkness To Come”, what can you tell about how that element changed your perception in regards to the songwriting style that has been part of Nightbearer on the debut record? What other elements were inserted to the songs that were never introduced previously?

We always wanted to have atmosphere, but now we are finally able to create it. A huge part is me who became a better mixing engineer. So, I know which sounds or tricks to use to make the listener perceive it in the way we want them to. But I'm not sure if it changed our way of songwriting. And I don't think we introduced new elements in the songs. We simply did more of the good stuff our first released had. But the synthesizer- and post-fx-parts have increased, so maybe that's a new element.

If there is a challenge no less, it is how to find that bridge between the lyrics and music. With "Ghosts Of A Darkness To Come” being quite the brutal fiend, how were you able to find that cohesion between the two important aspects?

Our approach to writing songs is, that the music come first always. A song is at least 95% finished when Micha starts to write lyrics. And since we have a story-telling-approach, he opts for the story that has the same feeling the song is giving him. So, I think that's where the cohesion comes from. We don't have to different parts and have to fit them some way or another, instead the lyrics are created with the specific music in mind.

Since the record was made while the pandemic was highly relevant, preventing even movement outside, due to restrictions, what can you tell about how you were able to accomplish the record in the first place? How was it possible for you to rehearse or even properly record?

Oh, that's rather funny… or not, I'm not sure yet. Rehearsing was easy, we simply didn't. At all. As far as recording goes, I made demo tracks for everyone to listen to and we always have 100% accurate tabs of everything.  So, everyone could practice at home. The recording itself was fairly easy. I recorded all the guitars and the bass at home in my studio, which I do since Nightbearer's first EP. After that it was a bit trickier. In Germany you could always meet with at least 1 different person, so each time I drove to our drummer, who has a studio himself, we teste ourselves to make sure the only positive thing will be the recording. There we tracked the drums.
After I edited everything, we did basically the same procedure, but this time Micha came to my place, and we recorded the vocals. In the end we included the aforementioned synths and post-fx and then I started mixing. So actually… it wasn't this hard to be honest. Ok, and now I'm certain… it wasn't funny hahaha.

A song that I really enjoyed of its meaty heaviness, and brutish approach, is “Blood And Bloody Ashes”, rehashing with finesse some of the greatest years of Death Metal. Furthermore, it became a driving force, in particular due to its well written, hooking, riffing and melodies. What is your appreciation of this tune?

Oh, since most of the riffs and melodies are from me, I of course highly appreciate the song and agree to everything you said hahaha. On a serious note, we all like the song for one reason or another. Oempfi, our bass player, really enjoys the chorus for its catchiness and simplicity. Manu like the bridge where the metronome changes from 4/4 to 3/4 because he just could let loose and play whatever he wanted. So yeah, we have a lot of love for the song and it is high on the list on what songs to play live.

The self-titled epic, "Ghosts Of A Darkness To Come”, turned out to be a wonderful creation that its depth can be truly felt. Without being overly complex, it set a tone for the entire album in my view, its deadly melodies, portraying both sorrow, anguish and fear, alongside its heavy nature and masterful choruses, is what this album needed as an ending. What can you tell about the creative process of the song?

This is a song where Micha wrote the basic song. We added the clean intro for atmosphere and the slow first riff, which is basically just a ringing chord and then a melody. I was actually inspired for this riff by a song I listened to once and wanted to create something similar, but I can't tell you which song it was. All I know is that I really liked the idea of this ringing chord and then the highly melodic aftermath.

Since Micha did most of the arranging, I can only share one more insight. For the chorus we actually had something completely different in mind. At first there was just the part with a basic melody we wanted to include, but not on guitar. After tracking vocals, we weren't happy with it, so I suggested to try something. Based on Micha's melody I came up with this huge Lead guitars, I think it's 5 different in total. Each guitar adds another layer and plays some excerpts of the initially melody, that is now completely taken by the vocals believe it or not. Only those growls don't do melodies this well, but that's why the guitars are supporting them. And now it's my favourite part of the song.

Now that it is possible to actually perform live in order to support the new stuff, where is Nightbearer headed this summer? Have you already started performing in festivals and such?

We had one club show in May which felt strange to be honest but was a real blast! As of right now we have a couple of shows this year and some for next year, but most of the are postponed shows from 2020 and 2021. Sadly, no festivals at this moment but since we restructured our booking we hope for lots of cool shows in 2023. Anyways, we are really looking forward to all the shows planned to present you the new material live and in technicolour!

Dominik, once again, I thank you for your time for this interview and also for such a great record released. All the best

I have to thank you for your in depth-questions and for enjoying the stuff I enjoy making. Hope to talk to you soon!


 



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