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
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
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
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
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
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.
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".
c) To burn down a church because it represents oppression.
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
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
e) Death penalty.
Right, right, right! Murderers and rapists should be
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.
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!
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.
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:
Root Of All Evil Records