Even if the name doesn’t invoke immediate associations, we bet you’ve heard at least several of the albums Rune Eriksen (aka “Blasphemer”) has been involved in, be it Mayhem’s early 00s avant-garde opuses, which restarted their career, the epic heavy metal of Twilight Of The Gods or the blackened thrash of Aura Noir. Back in 2015, Eriksen started probably his most ambitious of projects, the all-star band VLTIMAS, where he shares talent with no other than David Vincent (ex-Morbid Angel) and Flo Mounier (Cryptopsy). Almost 5 years after their striking debut album, VLTIMAS plans to return more inspired and hungry than ever with their second, ahem….. EPIC, album. Rune was kind enough to answer Stoyan Tsonev’s questions and guide us through the process which helped create the album.
Hello, Rune and thank you for the opportunity to interview you for our website. I want to also thank you for the fantastic new VLTIMAS album. How much did the pandemic influence the creation process for EPIC?
-Thank you, Stoyan. Well, to be honest, it kinda halted the whole process quite a bit, because, as you know, all travelling was banned for about 2 years. At least across the Atlantic. Vltimas is a very organic band in the way we rehearse. We like to meet up and jam and use this chemistry to forge the songs the “old school way”, you know, an actual band jamming in the same space and forging something together. Sending files back and forth through the internet is OK at the start of any session, but to complete the songs and to get an inspired and “living” record, for me, there is no other way than to meet up face to face and exchange experience, thoughts and energies. We actually started working on this record in 2019, just prior to our European tour with Abbath, and we were scheduled to continue once the tour was done. But fate wanted it otherwise apparently, so yeah, after we got home from the tour, the world literally closed the very next day, so we were lucky to be able to finalize the run to begin with. I did a few attempts of sending stuff over and to continue working online, to at least do something, but it was evident that this does not work for Vltimas. And it shouldn’t. It should be real. Instead, I started working on the debut album for my new black metal band RUÏM, which was released through Peaceville last year. I guess all of my pandemic frustration went into that record instead.
The title of the album on its very own sounds bold, even arrogant to a random listener. It is indeed a statement. Was that an obvious choice for the album title?
-There is a story behind this: as I created the riff for Volens Discordant at home, I stored this riff in my Cubase folder as Epic. So the intro piece was actually called Epic as a working title for the song that eventually became EPIC, so yeah, it was a train of thought I believe. All in all, I do feel a sense of epic melodies and lyrics on this release, and I feel it to be a rather stoic album. A powerful sounding extreme metal record. And why not be direct? We know who we are at this point and what our combined legacies speak, so no need to be overly humble about it. Its art, after all.
The new album sounds more song-oriented and more direct in comparison to Something Wicked Marches In. To what extent would you agree with that? Was that a conscious choice?
-I totally agree with you. But this was also the main idea for this record, to be a bit more “straight in your face”, if you understand. For this one, we felt that there was no need for excessive fat, just trim it off. I also felt that the riffs I brought in this time were of a slightly different character as well, which is evident when you listen to the record. There is a slight change of tempo and mood, and the songs themselves make more sense being tidy and direct than the almost prog-related first record. At the end of the day, the only thing we really want to do is to craft a really good song, you know. That’s where I am coming from, you know, growing up with Kiss, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath etc., and the same goes for David. I guess you can say that this album is closer to a full cycle than anything I’ve done in the past, well, perhaps except for the Twilight Of The Gods record we did 10-12 years ago.
João Duarte (Corpus Christii) is mentioned as a guest guitar player in the new album. Is he the one who plays the solos in the Miserere video? What about the other guitar leads in the album? There are some fantastic solos, not to mention the avalanche of riffs from you.
-No, João does not play anything on this album. All guitars on this album are played and recorded by me. This is also probably one of the first releases I’ve done where there´s more weight on doing proper leads, as the previous one didn’t have many. Nor did the older Mayhem albums I did, so yeah, kinda refreshing to explore this side of myself too. I am leaving Aura Noir out of the equation here as those solos are more old school craze than anything else, hehe.
The term “super-group” sometimes sounds out of place when we are talking about extreme metal, and is often overused, but in the case with VLTIMAS is more than relevant. How hard was it to bring three musicians from two different continents and three different nationalities to work together in the same room?
-It’s a challenge. I’ll be the first to admit that. A lot of planning and a lot of travelling involved. Pretty much every time I go over to Texas for a session I end up spending 20 something hours in transit, so yeah, it has its challenges. But you know, I also think that this band exists because there is an awareness of what we can achieve together. A mutual feeling of what we do is really good and different, and I do believe that this is the ultimate motivation for meeting up. Besides, we´re all enjoying each other’s’ company, so there are always laughs and good times in between the sessions.
-How did the band come together in the first place? How much of convincing did it take to make everybody jump on board?
-Well, Flo and I had already worked together in a US Death Metal project with Steve Tucker actually (and later Travis from Cattle Decapitation) so we knew that we had a great chemistry. We recorded about 3 EP´s I believe with a rotating line-up besides Flo and myself, who was the steady core. So, once that project ended, we kept in touch and at one point I told him that I was thinking of putting together a new extreme metal band and I asked if he wanted to join in. He was excited about it and we got ourselves a vocalist, a Swedish dude I knew of actually, quite well known as well. But then, for some reason, a few weeks later, I ended up talking to David one night, and this was shortly after he got out of Morbid Angel, and I told him that “one day, when the stars align we should do something together” or something along those lines, and he wrote me back immediately, saying, “maybe that time is now?” or something like this. So, the next morning we ended up having a video chat and yeah, that was it. I guess that was the real birth of the band right there
Tell us something about the way the magic works – how do David and Flo contribute to the fleshing-out of the songs?
-They are both very good in their own rights. With Flo I can improvise and create riffs very easily. We always seem to know where we’re going next, when we jam or improvise together. It’s almost spooky at times how easy we read each other musically. David is very good at directing songs, to craft immediate songs from an arrangement point of view. He hears immediately where the song needs to go in order to fulfill its potential. So, yeah, I guess we all fill our roles in the band perfectly.
When you already knew that David Vincent will be the frontman of VLTIMAS, how much of an influence did the classic Morbid Angel albums have on you when you composed music? Did Trey Azagthoth influence you as songwriter?
-No, I’ve never been influenced by Trey, not at all. I don’t think I ever was inspired by Morbid Angel either actually, but of course I enjoy a few of the old classic albums. But no, not directly for inspiration. I don’t think Something Wicked Marches In nor EPIC sounds anything like Morbid Angel. If it is a riff here or there that makes your mind travel back in time, it most certainly is because of David’s voice. He has a very charismatic, deep and easily recognizable voice as you know, and therefore it might be hard to detach from the feelings of the old Morbid Angel albums that many of our listeners still listen to, I suppose. But surely Vltimas is its own 3-headed beast, we sound like no one else and we only look forward.
How do you view the albums you created with Mayhem, now, from the distance of time? There were very polarized opinions, especially for Ordo Ad Chao.
-Personally, I think Ordo Ad Chao is a fantastic album. A masterpiece in its own right. The ambiance and the compositions are literally “from beyond”, and truly something unique in the realm of extreme music. I am fond of all my records with Mayhem actually, there are some truly great moments on all of them and I also feel that they did their purpose in the great scheme of things.
Do you still have time for Aura Noir? Six years have passed since the last album.
-Yes, we are still going on. We´re doing sporadic shows every now and then and yeah, I know there is some talk of a new album. I am not sure how involved I will be with that recording, but time will tell. I still love to go onstage with Aura Noir, it’s ferocious and straight forward. I feel there is still a need for that aspect in my life. A band without too many complicated live setups, if you know what I mean. Just pure energy and no additional theatrics.
Back in 2013 you recorded a fantastic album by another all-star band called Twilight Of The Gods. Did you talk with these guys about doing another one?
-As a matter of fact, I am in talks with Alan to see if we will pursue the 2nd album or not. I know Frode from Einherjer is also interested in that so we will see what happens. I am meeting Alan in London in a few weeks and we will determine what’s going to happen then I guess.
That’s great news! Let’s get back to EPIC. Did you consciously decide to trim the album length down to 37 minutes? I can bet that you’ve probably had riffs ready for two more albums’ length.
-This is possibly true yes, but I always felt that an album shouldn’t be too long, you know. it’s a bit like quitting while on top, if you get my point. I tend to lose interest in an album if it goes on and on, so for me it’s all about keeping the listener interested. Sure, we demoed a few more tracks that we didn’t really record but somehow we felt like we had reached a point of fulfillment.
Are you influenced by other kinds of art when composing music for VLTIMAS, be it music, or cinema or literature?
-To be honest, I try not to be influenced too much by outside source material. An example: I like to do all my rehearsals or jams by myself in the morning as I feel that this way the mind is purer and not diluted by the bullshit that goes on in the world/media. It’s in these morning hours I create the most interesting riffs. It’s always been like this for some reason, just picking up the guitar in the morning before reading too much nonsense online or doing anything else really, and there I have a riff, right off the bat. It may sound a bit weird, but for me it is the sincerest way of creating the first step. To try to answer your question more directly, this inspiration is likely based on the night before, the quality of sleep, perhaps a continuation of my dreams (which essentially is the spiritual forecast for the day) and what mood I am in. If the sun is shining or if it’s raining doesn’t really matter, it’s the mood that counts. Other than this I´d say that nature is my go-to medicine. It always was. It’s just too bad I live in the city.
How do you plan to promote the new album? The pandemic to a great extent harmed the proper promotion of the debut album, unfortunately.
-You are correct. It really stopped our momentum and we suffered severe drawbacks. But yeah, we just got to get out there and try to establish what we had and build it even stronger. Who knows, there might be another pandemic coming up, and I am sure there will be some totalitarian measures in the wake of it happening, so we better work while we can. For now, a small string of release shows is planned for March, with an exclusive performance at the Inferno Festival as well + a show with Vio-Lence in Greece, which I personally am looking very much forward to as I’ve been a fan of the band since the late 80s. And then summer festivals, and quite possibly a full European tour later in the year. We will see what the future holds.
Thank you so much for the interview, Rune! Hope to see you on tour somewhere in 2024.
-Thank you, Stoyan. Likewise. Hope to see you on the road somewhere.
EPIC will be out on March 15th via Season Of Mist and can be pre-ordered from HERE