Interview with Vaarwel (all Instruments & Vocals) | By Eric May
One man project Frozen Ocean’s latest album The Dyson Swarm is by and large far different from the band’s previous release in the darker black metal style of Natt Over Meg, but that’s because this record is focused on a more universal scope of things and more related to Vaarwel’s interest and profession in the wondrous world of science. The Dyson Swarm takes you on a journey through space, as Vaarwel describes some of the things that you might witness while traveling in some sort of spacecraft as well as his thoughts on black metal. Additionally, he also discusses his thoughts on the future of our species and hints around at a few new recordings to come in the future.
First of all, this album is very different from your past record, which was steeped more in the vein of black metal. What made you decide to make such a drastic change with the electronic style of this record?
The penultimate album Natt Over Meg was expressed in blackened crust because it was a part of conceptual trilogy devoted to early days of Norwegian black metal. On the last one, the goal and the devotion were completely different, so there was a need to make it in different style. In the Frozen Ocean discography every album has the most suitable style that fits the general idea of release, so that’s why they all are different. When we think about music that would represent space, electronics come to mind in the first place, so merging these with the melodic and sound base of metal music seemed to be a means for reaching necessary grandiosity.
How long have you been playing music and what made you first decide that you wanted to become a musician?
It depends on what do you mean by “playing music”. I have learned to play musical instruments since my childhood, but started to make my own music near the end of 2005, when the unofficial discography of Frozen Ocean started. The decision was just the result of an accumulation of reactions on the constant listening of music during my whole life, so I would make a first attempt sooner or later.
Describe the writing process for this album. How was it different from writing the last record, which was more on the level of black metal? Was it a more difficult process or a less difficult process?
The writing and recording process was surely more difficult than the last time. As the music on Natt Over Meg was wilfully primitive and simple, it had just a few parts to create – drums, bass, several guitar parts and some vocals. On The Dyson Swarm music is much more complicated and has a dense polyphony: almost all of the time on the album you will hear near eight (and sometimes more) different parts sounding simultaneously, so it was quite a challenge to compose all of them without discrepancy.
Tell me a little about the recording sessions for the album. Where did you record the record and how long did it take? Did you run into any problems, and what was the atmosphere like during the recording process?
As usual, I recorded all the material in my home studio. It took near three months from programming of the first drum track to final mastering. I cannot remember any problems, since I did all the work by myself, so the atmosphere during the recording process was quite calm yet full of cigarette smoke.
What influences would you cite for this album as opposed to the last one? What were you listening to around the time that you were writing it?
I often mention Ulver as one of the most significant inspirations and influences on Frozen Ocean’s manner, including their versatility and ability to change from work to work, so I cannot leave their middle (late nineties-early noughties) part of discography without homage in this case. I’ll also add the projects of Dutch author Mories de Jong, especially Seirom and Cloak of Altering. But all of these influences are quite general, because I tried to create something distinctive and unique. That’s why I tried to listen nothing during writing and recording of The Dyson Swarm, to avoid any borrowings, especially subconscious. Darkspace did a monumental job of portraying the space in the aspect of dark metal music, so one of my aims was to leave any comparison with them, but at the same time thoroughly represent the atmosphere of space.
Lyrically, what is the album about? It seems to be wrapped in space, science and technology. I’m also quite certain that The Dyson Swarm has nothing to do with the vacuum cleaner brand of the same name.
I considered this album as the soundtrack to an imaginary journey through the space, facing some phenomena and objects that exist or could exist in the cosmos.
I often met this mentioning of vacuum cleaners in reviews (laughs), but didn’t know why. Now I see. Of course, you are right and The Dyson Swarm has nothing in common with vacuum cleaners or something like that. The Dyson Swarm is a variant of a hypothetical astroengineering project advanced by American astrophysicist Freeman Dyson and thus called Dyson sphere. The generic project of Dyson sphere mentioned the building of a spherical shell that surrounds the central star of the star system (the Sun in our case) and crosses the ecliptic plane, to reach the maximal efficacy of solar energy’s consumption (within the whole spectral range from IR to gamma-rays). This project originally was criticized because of its inability of such a structure to withstand the solar gravitation which would break it down, so it was developed into several variants in an attempt to avoid this problem. The Dyson swarm is one of these variants and it mentions the Dyson sphere not as something whole, but as a discrete group of connected objects arranged near the Sun at a certain distance and a generally formed discrete sphere-like shell.
To be honest with you, many of these concepts are alien to me and I’d like it if you’d explain each one of them. But I’m not sure if you would want to do that, so just tell me a little bit about “SHGb02+14a”, “Exoplanet (HD 85512 b)” and closer “UDFj-39546284.” It’s these equations that I’m most interested in, because I can’t really make heads or tails of them, which has piqued my curiosity.
As I said earlier, this album could be perceived as a soundtrack, so the song titles describe some things that you could meet in space. “SHGb02+14a” is a radio source detected in space by SETI@home project in 2003 somewhere between the Pisces and Aries constellations and it was considered as the most prospective candidate to have an artificial origin at that time. Exoplanets are planets that orbit around other stars, so that’s why “exo” (Greek for “external”) prefix, and HD 85512 b is one of these exoplanets that could possibly be suitable for dwelling of us. There are several such planets and astronomers constantly discover more and more. As for “UDFj-39546284” it is a small galaxy of cold blue stars that lies extremely far away from us, at a distance of 13.4 billion light years, and is literally the edge of the known universe for now.
Black metal tends to be based in the nature of the occult for the most part, yet I feel that people are turning away from that in favor or something more based in the realms of space, metaphysics and science. Do you feel as if people are casting off this “archaic knowledge” in the form of something more modern?
Well, at first I do not consider Frozen Ocean as a black metal project. There are too many discussions about what black metal is and what metal is black, and what metal is not black enough. For me it is a relief to not have to bear a proud banner of being “in” black metal, that’s why I prefer call Frozen Ocean an “atmospheric metal/ambient” project.
As for the turning you described, I would admire it if it was a result of enlightenment and education, when people learned enough about Universe to neglect the all primitive animistic shit that is dragged behind progress like an atavism. I mean religion, occultism and all the fucking bag of prejudices. But if it is a trial to change the golden calf to the titanium one without comprehension of what it is all about, I cannot support that turning at all, and the casting off of this archaic “knowledge” in place of a modern “one” is quite a mistake.
What do you do when you’re not playing music? What sorts of hobbies do you have?
I work in science (chemistry), which is my day job and profession. I sometimes also write popular science articles in an educational journal.
Might you be playing any of this music in a live setting? If so, where can we catch you?
I doubt it. It could happen, maybe – but not in this decade.
What will you be pursuing after The Dyson Swarm? Will you continue in this electronic style, or move into something completely different?
Each Frozen Ocean release is a particular thing, so I will hardly return to or continue this approach. I am working on several new releases, one of which will be a funeral doom metal EP and the others are also far from The Dyson Swarm. So you never know exactly what you will hear after having the new Frozen Ocean record in your hand.
Finally, what do you think about are future as human beings? Are we headed for a bold new age, or to our demise?
It is hard to make any solid predictions. On the one hand, we live in an epoch of exponentially developing progress and humanity is doing things that even fifty years ago could be considered as sci-fi, and this is brilliant. On the other hand, the majority of humanity still drowns in ignorance, bigotry and religious barbarity, even in developed countries. It used to consume the fruits of progress but never considered their creation as a part of their lives. This ignorance and intolerance becomes more and more harmful with technological progress giving more and more deadly toys to humanity and maybe someday one of the monkeys will let its sledgehammer fall on the H-bomb. This is a probability that we should never dismiss until all of the rudiments of Neolithic culture are wiped out of humanity.
Thanks for answering my questions and for an entirely memorable release. I’m quite taken with these atmospheres, so my ears and mind definitely appreciate the effort. Looking forward to more from you. – Eric
Purchase The Dyson Swarm here: http://kristallblutrecords.com/shop/