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Cult Of Lilith's Daniel Thor Hannesson: "A cult of worshippers is performing a ritual where a giant skeletal hand reaches out from the earth, perhaps a gravesite of a fallen Nephilim?"

Interview with Daniel Thor Hannesson from Cult Of Lilith
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 23 August 2020, 10:28 PM

It is not a question of sanity or insanity, it is a question of daring, going forward, willing to take the next step and reach new levels that some could only dream of. If the ability and motivation are there, who is to stop a monster from becoming a full blow behemoth? No one, and that is a fact. The Icelandic Extreme Metal stalwarts, Cult Of Lilith have only just begun to show their worth within the world of Metal and progressive musicianship. Other than technical aspects there is actually something beating down there. With the release of the debut "Mara", a story of nightmars, Steinmetal had a talk with founder Daniel Thor Hannesson about getting the new deal with Metal Blade, the new album of course, progression and out of the box thinking.

Hello Daniel, I am highly pleased to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how has life been treating you, in particular with this pandemic still relevant?

Life has been treating me very well actually thanks for asking. This year has been bittersweet so far to say the least. I bought an apartment recently and have been renovating it inside and out, my band got signed to Metal Blade and we are releasing our debut full length which we are all very proud of. Of course this whole pandemic sucks and it seems the world is going to shit but so many awesome and even life changing things have been happening to me at the same time.

Talking about the pandemic, how has it been confronted in Iceland? Has the country taken any different measures in comparison to other nations in its area? Do you see a way out of it in your opinion?

I think it has been tackled here in a similar fashion to many other countries. Just social distancing and trying to wear masks in crowded places, keeping 2 meters between each person etc. There aren’t so many people here and since we are an isolated island in the middle of the ocean I think it has helped a lot and Iceland hasn’t been hit too bad by the virus yet. The only way out I see is with the vaccination, things get better and then another wave comes and I believe that’s how it’s going to be until the vaccine comes. Hopefully that’s sooner rather than later.

Cult Of Lilith, the rather newly emerged band, which you are considered as the founding member, made various giant steps in its, for now at least, short run career. The first, completing the lineup of a full time band, second, signing with the giant label, Metal Blade Records, and finally, soon to releasing its debut album, “Mara”. In general, have you been able to comprehend how things have been progressing rather rapidly or do you actually consider this process pretty normal?

Things have been progressing very rapidly and I’m incredibly thankful for it. The lead up hasn’t been so rapid though. For many years before I founded the band by myself I was trying to find musicians that shared my ambition and were on the same page regarding a project like this. I’ve been writing material for over 15 years and even some parts on this record I wrote many many years ago. Same goes for the other members, they have all been honing their craft throughout the years in multiple other bands so it has been a long time coming even if not within this band. We all wanted to invest ourselves 100% to this project and tackle it with extreme dedication and ambition so I think that has helped in propelling us forward so fast.

How does it feel to sign with such a label as Metal Blade Records? Who made the call first I wonder?

It feels absolutely amazing and a dream come true for me really. I wanted to get on Metal Blade from the beginning and when we were sending out EPK’s to different labels we saw that Metal Blade had a policy of not accepting any unsolicited material and we respected that. Thankfully they reached out to us after hearing some tracks.

Once I finished listening to “Mara” for the first time, the only sentence that I could spit out of my mouth was “This is pure madness”. This record is pretty much everywhere, an all-around kind of record that wouldn’t let one remain in a single spot. Do you also capture this kind of wicked mania within the album as an integral part of its philosophy?

The intention from the beginning was to make the album very diverse and to have each song stand out but still fit cohesively with the rest of the album and that’s where it gets challenging. There are so many different influences from different corners of music that we want to utilize and that is kind of the philosophy of the band, to not be afraid to experiment with different sounds and to draw inspiration from anything we like regardless of genre.

What is the meaning of “Mara” for you personally? What would you say were the influences that came over you to title this album with this rather mysterious title?

We were toying around with some terms related to dreams and none of them were quite clicking with us. Dreams and the oneiric worlds are fascinating and since our lyrical content was a mix of dark fantasy, dystopian sci-fi and some real difficult personal experiences it felt fitting to name it after the entity that brings nightmares to you in your paralyzed sleep known as Mara. There are also some parallels between Mara and Lilith.

The album’s artwork, made by the Israeli Eliran Kantor, is very interesting. A new kind of worship, or paying of respects to a giant hand, well that had me thinking. Whether a cult of something innocent. However, I have the feeling that we are past innocence. What can you tell about this artwork and the vision behind it?

A pregnant Lilith is seen levitating in the woods. She is known as the mother of the Nephilim who were thought to be giants. A cult of worshippers is performing a ritual where a giant skeletal hand reaches out from the earth, perhaps a gravesite of a fallen Nephilim?

Eliran really nailed what we were going for and that was a baroque/renaissance like painting depicting a scenario with the cult and Lilith.

Musically, “Mara” is certainly a challenger, a kind of an extreme Metal release that would leave you with an open mouth, and yes that insanity is mainly within the music. There is a sense of perfectionism, full attention to detail with great indication of musical dexterity. Crossing between past and present, what is your take regarding Cult Of Lilith’s musical progress?

First of all, thank you for those encouraging words! The progression has been immense in a lot of ways. When I founded the band by myself I had a lot of experience in writing music but not recording it and I learned so much from recording the "Arkanum" EP in 2016 and have refined my skills in all aspects since. Gathering a full line-up of talented members has made a huge impact on the band as well. Everyone has their input and everything is all the better for it.

Since “Mara”, as mentioned, is all over the place, I wonder what kind of influences were hovering while the songwriting of the album was in due course?

So many influences really. Speaking for myself, I listen to a lot of different types of music and am influenced by many genres and subgenres. The other members of the band also have different influences but we all share our open mindedness and willingness to experiment. There are just so many things we want to explore sonically and why not try to fit it all in one extreme metal package? It's a great way to challenge ourselves to combine these different elements in a cohesive manner. That way we all have our different itches scratched and it keeps things fresh in the long run.

I am positive that it was no less of a daring process to integrate between the maniacal music and some of the deranged lyrics, how was that integration achieved in your view?

It came pretty naturally, our vocalist Mario just really nailed it with fitting both the expression of the vocals to the interchangeable mood of the music and writing lyrics that fit that dynamic. The integration was a success and I am very happy with the outcome.

Now with a full band, would you say that the new members were involved with the songwriting of “Mara”? If so, how did their contribution find its way to the record?

I wrote most of the record but every member had an input in some way that improved the whole. Our other guitarist Kristján wrote one song on the album and had a hand in the arrangements throughout.

Dave Otero, who has been known for his work with some of the most prolific acts in the worldwide Metal scene, did you quite a service with engineering the album to be aggressive and right between the eyes. What is your appreciation of Dave’s work and do you see Cult Of Lilith continuing with him in the future?

Dave did an incredible job! We couldn’t be happier with the outcome and he just pretty much nailed it from the get go. He knew what we were looking for and delivered in spades, even going beyond that and adding little touches throughout that just made a huge difference. Working with him was an absolute pleasure and we will most certainly be working with him again.

As far as heaviness and destructive musicianship, I was impressed by the chopping “Purple Tide”, certainly taking modern Death Metal into the next level. However, it doesn’t let go of what I sensed to be pretty emotive. How do you find this track? What can you tell of its creation?

That song came very naturally to me actually. It really varies how the writing process is for each song, some I would get stuck on for the longest time but "Purple Tide" just kind of flowed out very smoothly so I wrote it in a pretty short span of time. I wanted it to be a mix of groove and prog with some classical influence and 80’s synth flair. I wrote this sort of blues inspired solo at the end and I really wanted to add a 70’s prog rock style Hammond solo to precede it so we contacted Arnaldur Ingi Jónsson from the Icelandic psychedelic prog rock band Lucy In Blue to perform it for us and it came out just perfectly.

When it comes to the unison of music and lyrics under the insanity banner, there was “Comatose”. It had me thinking a lot yet also somewhat shocking. It was like picking the brains of someone apart, revealing deep dark secrets. What is that all about? What was your main influence to come up with this track in the first place?

That song is actually a mix of some parts that I wrote many years ago and some more recently. Almost half of that song was written even way before the "Arkanum" EP. I always wanted to use it but it was just incomplete. When I picked it up again I started to get inspired and I sort of stitched it together with some new riffs and even some standalone parts that I hadn’t found use for yet. It all just came together very well as a sort of Frankenstein's monster made up of all these different body parts.

The working title of the song was ‘Comatose’ actually and Mario liked the title and started working from there. I can’t go too deeply into the lyrical content but I do know that it has to do with a difficult breakup and turbulent time in his life, coming to terms with feelings of guilt and so forth.

There is that traditional Spanish music within “Profeta Paloma”, and there is a mention of flesh or meat. Can you shed some light of the relation of Spanish music to the song itself?

Since our vocalist is Spanish and we all love and have great appreciation for Flamenco music we wanted to incorporate that into the song. Our vocalist Mario has a lot of interest in linguistics and wanted to incorporate different languages to the album throughout. Since "Profeta Paloma" is a sort of twisted love song it felt fitting.

These times of Covid-19 can be a curse, yet also a blessing in a way. When it comes to the blessing part, bands have time to sit down and write material for a possible next release. Has anything of a sort has been going on for Cult Of Lilith?

It is a blessing in that sense, we are always writing something. There are some new songs written but it’s a bit too early to see a full new album forming yet. We don’t want to rush things and rather let the inspiration come naturally so we can create a worthy follow up.

Where do you see Cult Of Lilith headed in the coming future, pandemic or no pandemic? What are your plans in the live scene?

We are itching to get out on tour to promote the album. We are currently working with a booking manager and hopefully we can start touring and playing festivals as soon as things return to normal.

Daniel, many thanks for the effort and time for this interview. It was a sure pleasure to have you and it is positive that we will speak again in the future. Cheers and thank you for an awesome release.

Thank you so much and it was my pleasure as well!


 



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