SOMNUS

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TARTAREAN DESIRE WEBZINE

This interview with the keyboard player / vocalist Rhiannon from the American atmospheric black / doom metal band Somnus was done through e-mail in July 2002.

Hello, how are you doing?
Great, thanks for asking! Somnus has been pretty busy gearing up for our upcoming shows, including the US's premier metal event, the Milwaukee Metalfest, which we're performing at for the 5th time. I've also been mailing out quite a few of the new disks (keep the orders coming in!). Also, for those of you who keep asking, T-shirts with the kickass new CD artwork are on the way.

Somnus was formed in 1995, what was it that made you start playing together? Was there a common goal at first?
Most of us came from death metal bands, but we wanted to do something darker and more melodic with some doom passages worked in as well. The band was basically the brainchild of Scott (Hilberg, vocals/guitar) and he found the rest of us by basically just explaining what he wanted to do and what he was into, which was stuff like My Dying Bride, Dead Can Dance, Emperor, Samael, old Anathema, etc. I was the last original member to join, and I heard 2 songs at practice, and I was hooked by the dark stuff I was hearing, so I bought a keyboard and put the guitar aside, and we're still going almost 7 years later.

Had any of the forming members been involved with other bands prior to Somnus?
Scott was in the Cleveland death metal band Odious Sanction, Steve and Dennis were both in Cleveland melodic metal band Sanctorum, and Chris was in a California death metal band called Thanatopsis. I wasn't really in any kind of serious project before Somnus although I did spend quite a lot of time jamming on guitar or bass in people's garages. I also did some work with the Chicago doom band Avernus on their "Of the Fallen" CD and performed vocals at 2 Milwaukee Metalfests with them. Just recently I've provided some vocals for Acheron's latest CD, which is some great metal (it hasn't been released yet).

How did you all learn to play your instruments? Do any of you have formal training of any kind?
I had a great deal of formal training in guitar and music theory, which I transferred over to keyboards, and Dennis also had many years of guitar and theory classes. Everyone else learned on their own and with occasional lessons, workshops, and just years of playing.

You recorded your one and only demo "To Return The Crimson Skies" in 1997, how did you distribute it? Is it still available?
Actually, we still have a few copies left of the original 2000 made but not too many! You can order them for $4 through our web site or by mail to our PO Box (address at end of interview). We have less than 20 remaining and we're not going to press any more since there are only 2 of us left in the band from the demo line-up anyway.

In 2000 you released your debut album through Root Of All Evil Records. How did you get in touch with the label?
Actually, there was a guy who used to work with the label who knew me from my work with the band Avernus. He checked out Somnus at Metalfest one year, really liked what he heard, and offered us a deal. He quit working with the label right when we were ready to press our first CD, which could have left us with no deal at all, but luckily Earl Root, the owner of the label, took over and kept the deal moving.

Are you happy with the support from your label so far?
The label was very new when we first got signed, so we didn't have quite as much promotion with our first CD "Awakening the Crown" as we would have wanted. But the label has really grown since then, and now Earl and his team up there in Minnesota are doing a great job promoting our 2nd album. He's been keeping in close contact with us and helping us in any way he can. He's getting a lot of promo copies around the scene in addition to setting up some shows for us, and we hope the good trend will continue, because we need to get our music out to more people and play a lot more different places! Another bonus is that Earl is a super nice guy and very easy to work with, which definitely helps.

You have now released your second album "Through Creation's End", how is it different from your first effort "Awakening the Crown"?
Well, it's different in a lot of ways, which is kind of ironic given your review. It sounds a lot LESS like Cradle of Filth than our demo did, and it has less keyboard emphasis than our older stuff had. There is way more going on with the guitars now, we added a lot more solos and technical riffing, which we didn't used to have. I don't think anyone who has heard our last CD "Awakening" will agree that the keys are the main part of the new music, because their role has been downplayed a bit. Actually, some people have said it's got a progressive edge to it, but the atmosphere is still there.

Who writes the lyrics for Somnus and where do you find inspiration?
We all work together to write lyrics, which is not the way it always was. Lou, our first bassist, used to work on them all with Scott. Now that Lou is gone, we all kind of took up the slack. On our current CD, each of us has written the lyrics to at least one song on there, and most songs were a team effort with everyone adding and editing until we felt the song was done.

I think inspiration depends on the person who is actually doing the writing, but most of us are influenced by old legends, mythology, Paganism, and also books we might have read. Since the name Somnus comes from Roman mythology, we usually focus on tales of ancient times in our lyrics and we even try to paint those scenes when writing the music.

How would you describe your music yourself? I made some references to old Therion, Dissection and older Cradle Of Filth in my review...
Well those are interesting comparisons, we've never gotten Therion or Dissection before but they're both great bands so thanks! The Cradle comparison we get occasionally, but I think that is because I do talking parts and play keyboards. The minute a female talks in the music it is automatically compared to Cradle, haha, at least I don't try and do a British accent! But, I can't really think of one band that sounds overwhelmingly like us (or we them), so I always have a hard time with this question. I would agree with your review that we are not straight up black metal at all, we like to say atmospheric or orchestrated dark metal. I think some could say a little bit of Dimmu, Cradle of Filth minus Dani, a mellower Children of Bodom, King Diamond (musically), and a bit of old My Dying Bride. Dark and melodic yet driving is how I sum it up.

The keyboards are very important for the music of Somnus today, has it always been like that?
As I sort of mentioned in a previous question, the music used to be even more keyboard-oriented. This was never a totally intentional thing, I wrote a great deal of our music back then, so it was natural. Now that we have Dennis and Steve in the band, they write a lot more so my writing burden has been diminished. My question for you is this, keys are very important in Dimmu, but would you say the whole band relies on them? I would say no, as the guitars, drums, vocals, and bass are also doing interesting stuff all the time, and that is what makes Dimmu great. Somnus shoots for the same type of effect by writing in an orchestrated way, where different instruments are featured or layered together at different times within the music. Some bands use keyboards just to add occasional background atmosphere, but that's not Somnus. We regard every instrument as equally important - I mean why even have keyboards if you don’t use them? You can do so much with a keyboard, like playing bass and melody parts at the same time using all sorts of different sounds, which is the main reason why I switched from guitar in the first place. Anyway, thanks for noticing what I'm playing!

The band hails from Cleveland, Ohio, what is the metal scene like there? Do you think there are there any good bands who deserve more attention (except for Somnus of course)?
Yes, Cleveland actually has a strong metal scene, I cannot think of too many US cities that are much better in fact. It is almost too good, and what I mean by this is that we have almost 10 clubs in town that book metal bands, which means too many competing shows and too much division in the scene. It is not unlikely to have 6 different metal shows on a given Friday or Saturday, which makes it kind of tough to get people at any one show. So unfortunately some bands go relatively unnoticed. I think there are a lot of great bands here, like Myth (folk oriented black metal), a new Soilwork-esque band called Embers to Ashes, Spawn of Satan (speed black thrash), Dead of Night (ex-members of melodic black metal band From the Depths), long-timers to the Cleveland scene Blood Coven (dark death/black metal hybrid), thrash/black.death band Soulless, and Acheron in Columbus and Estuary of Calamity and Thorns of the Carrion in Cincinnati. This is a very small list of all the bands that I think are really good, I could go on and on and list more bands that are also worthy of checking out. The Cleveland metal scene is full of good stuff, if you weren't already in metal heaven otherwise known as Sweden, I would say that you all should move here and check it out! We also have great hardcore, industrial, and punk scenes here, which I don't really pay much attention to personally, but I know they are pretty big here too.

You have been playing live with many of the world's greatest metal bands throughout the years like Dimmu Borgir, Emperor, My Dying Bride, Opeth and Cannibal Corpse, are there any specific shows that you remember more than others and, if so, why?
Since the Cleveland scene is so good, all the touring bands play here, which gives us a lot of chances to open for some great acts. I love opening for bands like the ones you mentioned, because I would have gone to see the shows anyway, and it is much better to actually PLAY those shows than just watch, and reach some fans who would not have seen you play otherwise. There are a ton of people who only go to the big shows, so we love to support national acts whenever we can. Fans of Opeth really seemed to get into us, which was great, but I will never forget the My Dying Bride show, not only because they are one of the greatest metal bands ever, but also because the place we played gave the bands free drinks. That was the drunkest I ever got in my life! I was hung over for 3 days, and the smell of Jack Daniels still turns my stomach to this day and that was back in 1997! I think I would die laughing if someone saw me at a show after reading this interview and bought me a Jack and Coke. No thanks!

How do you feel about playing live?
To me, playing live is the best part about being in a band. I don't think I could ever be in a band that did not book enough shows, because the crowd is what keeps me going through the tough parts. I am talking about the times where everyone is broke, tired, stuck in a rut, and disgruntled with each other and with the metal scene. But then you play a show where people are raising their fists in the air and headbanging, and then coming up and buying a CD or a shirt afterwards. Hearing their compliments and seeing them have a good time is the best feeling you can get as a performer. I always have the most fun at shows when I have people in front of me raising their fists and devil horns and yelling. I live for that stuff.

What do you all do when not playing with the band? Do you work or study?
We are all insanely busy people, half the band works 2 jobs, I am still finishing up my masters degree and working full time at a place that forges steel (how metal is that?). Plus we all have a lot of hobbies. Scott and I hunt, fish, camp, throw darts, go bowling, you name it. Chris and Steve have children to spend time with, and Dennis is obsessed with beer when not doing his lawn care job! It is hard to find the time to practice as much as we should but we try our damndest!

Which cd's are most likely to be found in your cd player today? Do you listen to anything but metal?
Today I was just listening to this great CD called "Heavy Classics" which has a bunch of really dark classical pieces on there like O Fortuna, The Rite of Spring, Hall of the Mountain King and Night on Bald Mountain. Also recently jamming to Grief of Emerald, Soilwork, Children of Bodom, Queensryche's Rage for Order, Edge of Sanity, Summoning, Arch Enemy, and Bal Sagoth among many more. I have a CD player in my office so I can listen to CDs or college radio all day at work. There are plenty of metal radio shows to check out during the week on any given college station. I almost always listen to metal (thrash, power, doom, death, black, industrial, symphonic, etc.), but I do like classical music (mostly post romantic and modern with Mozart thrown in) and some classic rock too like Rush, Dio, Boston, Sabbath, Priest, or whatever rocks hard!

Now to my own and brand new right or wrong section. You are just going to tell us whether you think the following acts would be right or wrong:
Are you trying to get me in trouble? These are some LOADED questions! Anyway I will do my best to answer, if anyone is offended, too bad. I am one opinionated chick!

a) If someone killed Hitler prior to his mass murder campaigns.
Wrong! In fact, we need more people who are not afraid to take a stand against reverse discrimination and lost European heritage and ancestral pride that we have going on in the U.S. now.

b) To burn down a church because it's "evil".
Wrong!

c) To burn down a church because it represents oppression.
Wrong- I wouldn't personally mind seeing a church burn, as I greatly dislike religion in general, but it's still wrong because it's disrespectful to the property and to the ideals of others. I will let the christians lead the lives of sheep if they want, as long as I am left alone to do what I want.

d) Sado-masochism.
Right- It is wrong for me but right for anyone who wants to do that stuff in the privacy of their own lives. None of my business!

e) Death penalty.
Right, right, right! Murderers and rapists should be publicly executed!

f) To lie if it will be of benefit to yourself.
Wrong-although we all do it, lying is still the wrong way to go, it always catches to you.

g) Censorship.
Wrong! The US needs to recognize our 1st Amendment rights and make sure I am continually allowed to speak my mind, "there is no fucking god, shit, damn, ass, cock, bitch, cunt, dick, whore!" Not that I ever normally speak in such a profane manner, but I SHOULD be allowed if I wish!

h) Religion.
Wrong. It is too bad people continue to waste their lives on it. Improve yourself, be the best you can be, make your own path, and quit worrying about my soul. I'm fine, really.

i) Communism.
Wrong. It is a concept meant to keep people oppressed for the good of the very few, JUST like religion is meant to do.

Any final words of wisdom for the fans?
Whew, I'm still tired out after that swearing tirade. Anyway, I would love it for each and every one of you to go to our website at somnusmusic.com and sign our guestbook, post on our message board, or write to us at SOMNUS, PO Box 81379, Cleveland OH 44181, USA. Or you can contact me at Ladysomnus@aol.com or write Scott at Raveng0d@aol.com (the '0' is a zero). Keep the metal alive!


Links of interest:

Somnus
Root Of All Evil Records