The Epic Metal Blog has been around for almost three years now – and we still haven’t published an interview with the best epic metal band of today: Atlantean Kodex. Thanks to our writers Anna and Igor (Dreamslain), that’s changing now: the two of them spoke to Manuel Trummer. As expected, the result is a very readable interview with a lot of thought-provoking ideas.
(Pics: Rhiannon_concert_photography & André)
Manuel: Yes, the influence I guess was “Necropolis“ by Manilla Road and one line in particular it was ‘in the crypt of Atlantean Kings I found what I was looking for’, that was one part of it, and the other part of course is Solstice, “Cimmerian Codex”, which is quite obvious. The third part is some Lovecraftian atmosphere, conjuring up something old with a mysterious forbidden book, which holds secrets from the eldest days. So these three thoughts went into it and that is the name. Mainly it had to sound cool [laughs].
Manuel: Yes, I kind of do. I have this interest mostly for 19th century and early 20th century history. So these sorts of themes are always with me. And I do have some professional knowledge in these kinds of topics as well, so maybe this goes into it too. But I tend to separate work from the band because it’s like two totally different spheres where at work, I’m working with the historical sources, trying to interpret and analyze culture and history, whereas with the band, I just want to tell stories and trying to enchant the listener. So it’s not about truth or veracity or some impact on society, but just some kind of worldbuilding and storytelling and maybe my background helps me with it so that the stories are a bit more convincing.
Manuel: Yes. Well, we have that song “Lion of Chaldea“, which is basically influenced by Babylonian and Mesopotamian myths and there’s a line in “Twelve Stars and an Azure Gown” about Etemenanki, which was one of the main Ziggurats in Babylon. So there’s always been this kind of Near Eastern Mesopotamian influence because I think you can’t separate European history from the Near East, from oriental history because the connections throughout the millennia were so intense and there has been so much cultural exchange. The notion that there are two separate cultural spheres, it’s a pretty modern thought. And we try to go behind it. And if you look at the folk tales of Europe, the storytelling cultures of Europe, there has always been a lot of exchange. If you look at the way we eat, in terms of cuisine, in terms of drinks, in terms of food, there’s been exchange. So there’s always been this kind of cultural continuity. As for the second part of your question, an album about Chinese mythology, the thing is, I don’t know a lot about it. And I don’t think I could tell convincing stories with only superficial knowledge about the history and mythology of China. So far I haven’t delved into it much because I’m more interested in the oriental-occidental context. This is what really inspires me and makes me think and try to delve deeper into it. And that’s why you can find a lot of these themes on our albums. It’s not that I think Chinese history is less important than European history. Not at all. Especially today. But I just don’t know enough about it to write convincing lyrics about it. If at one point I start to get interested in Japanese or Chinese mythology, maybe it gets me inspired and maybe there will be a song. But so far I don’t really see it.
Manuel: Yes, that’s right. There was some sort of a vacuum for that sound. And whenever I talk about the beginnings of the band, there’s this reasoning that when we started out, our old heroes, like old Manowar and Bathory weren’t in a good shape. Bathory were pretty much gone, and Manowar, yeah, you know the story. So we were looking for exactly this kind of sound that we grew up with and wanted to play, but it wasn’t really a thought-out concept in the sense that ‘we need to do something new because no one else is doing it’. We just started out with playing the sound of music we love. We wanted to hear it for ourselves, not for any tactical reasons or commercial reasons, you know, to fill a niche or something, but we wanted to hear that sound. But obviously there was a niche and there was some sort of desire from the fans to hear this kind of old obscure sound. And coincidentally it was us who kind of put the stone rolling again for epic metal, but of course there were others as well like DoomSword, they have been around since the 90s, a huge band and they have always kept this sound alive. Same goes for Manilla Road, who released great albums in the early 2000s. But you know, this old Manowar sound, that old Bathory sound, we didn’t see that in this contemporary music landscape, so we tried to do it but without any ulterior motive. We recorded the first songs with no intention to release them. We just sat in my flat and wrote the songs and recorded them. We didn’t even think about releasing them and forming a band or something in 2005. But then I came up with that name Atlantean Kodex, and these were the days of My Space. I had this My Space account and I uploaded two songs, or four songs maybe, I’m not sure. And suddenly it just went through the roof. And we thought, whoa, people are really enjoying this kind of sound. And then we seriously started thinking about releasing them in a physical form. And that’s when it all started. We somehow were in the right place at the right time, I guess that’s my explanation. And we did the right thing.
Manuel: It feels great! It’s really amazing. But I really like to stress that we were not the only ones back then. Like DoomSword, Manilla Road have always been around. And Ironsword, for example. Or you had a strong scene in Greece with bands like Wrathblade or Arpyian Horde or Battleroar. There were a lot of bands who still played this kind of sound in the early 2000s. So it wasn’t only us, but certainly it’s a huge honor if younger bands mention us and it always makes me feel quite proud to have made something that people can relate to, you know? But this wasn’t really the band, it came just quite unexpectedly, so to say.
Manuel: Heavy metal was never a protest genre. 1960s folk music, crust, parts of punk and hip-hop and the African-American music of the 1960s were protest genres, with the claim to change the world. Heavy metal was never about that. Whether it’s Sabbath with “War Pigs,” Kreator with “Hate Über Alles,” or Sodom with “Bombenhagel,” heavy metal at best comments on the horrors and injustices in the world, using them for drastic effect. It is rather an outlet for anger, rage, experiences of marginalization, powerlessness. But heavy metal basically doesn’t want to change society – it’s about resistance, not transformation, and in the biggest part it’s of course about entertainment and making money. I think, heavy metal in its core is rather nihilistic and juvenile. While it tends to be shocking, provoking and taboo-breaking (at least it used to be…), a concrete agenda or program to change society has never existed in metal – apart from the usual slogans. The term “transgressive” is more appropriate, I guess, because the core aspect of heavy metal from the very beginning is to challenge us and society with its transgressions and its quest for new extremes. This, too, is a cultural achievement that should not be underestimated, because metal, with its taboo-breaking, so often forces us to face the horrors and conflicts in the world – all the way down to rather fundamental problems, such as the freedom of expression, or the question of “what art is allowed to do”. Of course, Atlantean Kodex is not a “protest band” either. While we are quite politically active as private individuals, the band is about creating possibilities of escape and gaining distance from the world, via aesthetic and atmospheric means. We are the cell key for all the incarcerated.
Manuel: Well, that’s not a problem of the metal scene, but of contemporary society itself. And in the end, the same things apply in the scene that should also apply in our everyday lives: Don’t be an asshole. Treat each other with respect. Help each other out. And show some spine if you witness any injustice in person: try to find allies in critical situations to help the victim and to tackle the idiots who still think touching a girl’s ass at a show is fun or to use racist slurs is manly. Educate them, and if they won’t listen, make it embarrassing for them, make it painful for them. But all in all I think the metal scene by now is far more liberal than the wider society in questions like these. The social and educational profile of the scene has changed very much in the past twenty years, so there are a lot of young fans who are very sensitive for issues like these. Just compare a festival like Courts of Chaos with your regular football match or village fair, where you will encounter physical violence, racism, sexism aplenty. Of course there are still many issues, but I think, the scene is on a good course. Maybe it’s also a generational thing and bad habits will die out eventually.
Manuel: No, we’re not activists. We’re not trying to force our opinions unto others, that would be intrusive, paternalistic, and unethical. However if someone manages to draw some strength from our lyrics to overcome his personal struggles, if our songs can help people through hard times and give them a sense of empowerment, of belonging, of solidarity, of freedom, if things we say in interviews help people to discover new perspectives – I would be most proud.