Interview with André Aaslie (Images at Twilight/Abyssic)

Andre Aaslie2
Photo Credit: Frieden

You may not know who André Aaslie is, but hopefully that’s about to change. He’s the man behind both the atmospheric splendour of doom-titans Abyssic and the symphonic black metal of Images at Twilight. Both bands are doing something a bit different and a bit special with their respective styles, down in no small part to their classical/orchestral parts, courtesy of André . Abyssic’s A Winter’s Tale and Images at Twilight’s Kings are both a firm hit with me, so when I got the chance to quiz the man himself, I didn’t hesitate…

What are your influences?

My main influences for Images At Twilight is the black metal scene from the nineties, and especially bands like Dark Funeral, Marduk, Emperor, Limbonic Art, Tartaros, Bal-Sagoth, Satyricon, Nokturnal Mortum, Obsidian Gate, Dimmu Borgir, Anorexia Nervosa a.o. In Abyssic, I need to mention My Dying Bride as the main influence for both me and Memnock. Until now we have made all the music together for Abyssic. In both bands I could mention several film-score conductors. And also a lot of progressive rock from the seventies, as well as the one and only Devil Doll, who influences just about everything I do in music.

As an integral part of Images at Twilight and Abyssic, tell us about your contribution to the two bands and how they differ from each other.

Until now, I have written all the music in Images At Twilight. As for the next album we will do things a bit differently. Bolverk wishes to be more involved in the composing process and during the work with the Ragnarok album he came up with some riffs he felt was more in the Images At Twilight sphere. As we speak he writes all the guitar stuff for a new 13 minute long epic song I basically wrote for the début album. We have now been through a long and challenging cooperation on the début album, and Bolverk feels he can contribute even more with guitars on my orchestration this time than on the début. I’m looking forward to starting the work with the band on the next album. Our drummer Anders Haave Faret also wants to contribute more this time. He will record some drumbeats in our studio that I can work with. He’ll also cooperate directly with Bolverk and Viti (bass). Perhaps we can do a couple of songs the other way around. That I’ll orchestrate their ideas. Narrenschiff entered the ranks of Images At Twilight after the lyrical concept by Bjørn Nørsterud was written. I know he really wants to write all the lyrics for the next album. So on the next album, everyone will be much more involved in the process.

As for Abyssic, the début album has been a cooperation between me and Memnock. I make the orchestration, and he sends me a lot of riffs to work with. I also add some of my own stuff that Elvorn adds guitar to. Speaking of the next album, Elvorn has already contributed to a brand new song, a song we finished just a week before our show at Karmøygeddon festival in Norway 30. April. So as you understand, the next album from both bands will be more of a band product than the début albums.

Images At Twilight and Abyssic differ first of all in tempo, and then again the guitar and bass will sound very differently, just because of that fact. Actually, I’m am quite surprised that so many people tend to compare these two bands. Some of the orchestral ideas I’m sure I could incorporate in both bands but the overall sound is two very different stories. I use much of the same templates when I compose though, and in both bands I use a lot of Mellotron articulations. So I can understand the comparisons orchestral wise.

What’s your process for arranging and creating your compositions?

Sometimes an idea comes to me when I’m watching a movie. Not necessary a melodic idea but a rhythmic theme or a big scale arrangement with short articulations in the brass or strings section. Elements and themes that I can hear a drumbeat or guitars to. It can also happen when I hear interesting twists and turns in whatever music I listen to. Then I adopt these ideas into my own compositions. Then I can either start with a simple piano melody, or larger accord progressions with the Mellotron or lower strings. When I have an idea its important to set up a template with the articulations you think will fit the composition. Then you have it all by hand during the composing process. As I said I’m working in a different way with Images At Twilight and Abyssic. In Abyssic I usually work with preprods with guitars and programmed drums. Sometimes I like the riffs to be quite simple, then I can work around the riffs with different accord progressions rather than just orchestrate finished themes. These days I work a lot with another band called Profane Burial which will release their début album early next year. The main composer in this band is Kjetil Ytterhus. While Memnock and Elvorn in Abyssic give me riffs to work with, Kjetil sends finished orchestral themes, in about the same way I do things in Images At Twilight. Then I make my interpretations of the themes. Sometimes stripped down to just the chords, and then I orchestrate it the way I feel. The result is an album extremely rich in ideas around the same themes. The funny thing here is that the guitarist seldom knows which parts are mine and which are Kjetils, which actually is the same part in the basic chords. So he actually adds new ideas to each theme, instead of just playing the identical riff on the two themes. As Kjetil has conquered my home arena behind the keys, in this band I play the bass, and even if I know which part is basically the same in the music I try to compose new things on the bass in each theme. This way of working can perhaps make the songs too chaotic for a listener who is not willing to make an effort to go deep within the material, but we try to have some repeating substantial chorus themes in the songs that will bind it all together.

In both of these bands, the music paints vivid pictures and seems to tell grand stories, even before you take into account any vocal contributions. Give us an idea of the narratives that go along with some of the music that you have created.

Well, I must admit that I am not involved in the lyrics at all in either Abyssic nor Images At Twilight. When I write music I have the lyrics at hand, and it’s important to me that the lyrics fits the music, but usually I don’t explore the lyrics in depth until the album is finished. I’m involved in about everything from the first note to arrangement, mixing and promotion in both bands so I need to focus on that in the process.

Here’s what Memnock says about A Winter’s Tale:

Some of the lyrics are some dreams I’ve had, all of the lyrics are about deep sadness, loss and sorrow, but they are also poems I wrote back in 97, If you ever come to Telemark you will know where I get my inspiration from to write music…just by looking outside of my window from my studio. I find great inspiration in the mountains, dark deep woods, the waterfalls and pitch black nights with the brightest stars above that sparkles like a million diamonds. The howling of wolves in the winter, the frost bite in trees… ice, deep ,deep snow…That about sums it up…

And here are some words from Bjørn Nørsterud, the mastermind behind the concept of Kings…

Kings is a concept album about five kings that ruled the earth thousands of years ago. It all started out when I heard the music that Andre wrote, and I wanted to have an equally epic story to match it. So I abandoned the lyrics I had written, and went all in with this concept. Its inspired by old Sumerian myths and legends, and also the translations of Zekariah Sitchin. The chapters are there to clearer understand the story. The singer, Narrenschiff, had to do some changes to the story, in order to make it easier to sing, but the essence is still there.

Do you feel that your orchestral arrangements fit better with black metal, doom, or work equally well with either?

As you probably know I released an album with another orchestral band called Gromth, back in 2011. The music is perhaps closer to Images At Twilight than Abyssic, but the final result is quite different in all bands even if I feel that I work with the orchestration in quite the same way. You can perhaps say that the details in the orchestration comes much more to the surface in Abyssic than in Images At Twilight, but that also means that Images At Twilight’s music contains much more hidden layers of music which you can explore after several listens. Most of my favourite albums are just those albums with a lot of hidden stuff. I have often thought of what my reaction would have been if I had received Kings as just a listener. I know I would have given it some spins with the headphones on, that’s for sure. And after a couple of weeks I would have realized that I had a new favourite album in my hands hehe. Kjetil in Profane Burial actually followed the whole composing process for the Images At Twilight album, and he knows the orchestration down to every little note. He helped us a lot with the recording process as well. He is a huge fan of Images At Twilight and bands in the same genre, but he has often told me that he thinks it’s a pity that so much of the details in the orchestra didn’t make it to the surface during the mixing process of the album. If you haven’t found out yourselves, I can reveal that the opening just over one minute theme of Created To Destroy is exactly the same orchestral theme used for the part between 11:00 – 12:10 on Ninhagaz. The same goes for the first minute of Awakening Of The Stars. It’s the same orchestral piece you’ll find in a metal costume at 4:35 – 5:20 on Lograttin Part II. Few people – which I know have put some effort in to the album – have actually told me that they have discovered this fact.

If you could do either of these albums by Images at Twilight or Abyssic over again, would you do anything differently?

There are some recording issues with the Images At Twilight album that we will approach different for the next album. But it’s only details that don’t bother the listener. The Abyssic album I am a hundred percent happy with.

Andre Aaslie1
Photo Credit: Frieden

As both of these bands are signed to different record labels, what’s your experience of the music industry so far?

I’m very pleased with both Indie Recordings and Osmose Productions. Both labels have a big portfolio and therefore both bands have received shit loads of reviews, and fortunately most of them are great and beyond all expectations. After two top score reviews from Scream Mag. and Metal Hammer Germany the first few reviews for A Winter’s Tale was quite mediocre. But since then we have received tons of awesome feedback. Images At Twilight have received about 30 reviews that I know of and the average score is 5/6 and 8/10. It’s really inspiring but at the same time it puts a bit of a pressure on us. Fortunately I’m very satisfied with the new pre-production stuff in both bands.

What’s you favourite song you have been involved with, and why?

In Abyssic I must say that A Winter’s Tale is my favourite song. It contains about everything I look for in a composition. There are a lot of beautiful colours in the darkness of this song, and I’m very pleased with the arrangement as well as how all the small pieces work together. I arranged this song from a lot of bits and pieces over a period of a month, just some weeks after my mother died from a cancer operation, only 61 years old. So as you understand, there are a lot of emotions for me personally in this composition as well.

Ninhagaz is perhaps the song that describes my personal taste in music in every aspects. It’s epic, it’s dynamic, it’s filled to the rim with chord progressions which in my book is the foundation for great compositions. I don’t have a clue how to top this one. The solution is maybe not to try to make a part two hehe. But my favourite Images At Twilight song is yet to come. As said earlier, Bolverk is working on it as we speak. It was written for Kings, but at the time we needed to pick the material for Kings I felt that this song had more potential. According to the new version I arranged this winter I’m glad we waited.

Name five things you’ve listened to recently that you’d recommend

Haken’s Affinity and Katatonia’s The Fall Of Hearts have been the winners of May. But today the new remaster of my favourite album of all time arrived at my house. Starfire Burning Upon The Ice-Veiled Throne Of Ultima Thule by the mighty Bal-Sagoth has been a huge influence to me, and finally a remastered version is out there. This album deserves to be discovered by new generations. It hasn’t been available on digital platforms until now so the future looks brighter for one of the biggest masterpieces ever made. Two more? Let’s count in the above mentioned album’s predecessor A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria as well. Also in remastered outfit. I have also listened a lot to the last My Dying Bride album. It’s their best in 15 years. I worked as a journalist in Norway’s leading metal magazine Scream Mag. from 1998 to 2012 and have always been more fan than musician. And I still look upon myself as a nerd when it comes to the hunger of exploring new bands. Which leads to your next question…

With music becoming increasingly digital in nature, what’s your take on the digital/physical debate?

…because I’m one of those musicians that actually embrace the new era of digital platforms. It helps about 90% of all musicians to actually reach out to people. Let’s be honest, there were only a few bands up there who actually earned money on their music 15-20 years ago. As a journalist in the nineties I had access to almost everything through promotional copies, but without that privilege I would have missed out on shit loads of hidden treasures. When you receive an average pay check every month you tend to use your money on the big essential releases. With digital access to music you have the possibility to check out whatever you want. I still buy albums, and of course I want people to buy my albums, but the most important thing for me is that my music reaches out to as much people as possible. I’m not into this for the money, not at all, I’m in it for the passion. Making and listening to music is what makes me a happy person.

What are your plans for the rest of 2016?

Continue working on new material for Abyssic and Images At Twilight. As I mentioned earlier I’m very excited about the new material in both bands, and I have just received more riffs from Memnock and Elvorn to work with. With three composers in the band this time I can promise you an out-of-this-world follow up to A Winter’s Tale before you know it. What takes almost all my time at the moment, though, is the work with Profane Burial. In February me and Kjetil decided to participate on Hard & Heavy Metal Meeting at Gran Canaria in December. A festival which celebrates their 10 years anniversary, with acts like Keep Of Kalessin and Triosphere a.o. We felt we needed a goal to work towards, as not really much had happened in the band for a while. The drummer and the guitarist weren’t as excited as me and Kjetil, to say the least. A short time after we were confirmed at the festival they both left the band. In came an extremely talented drummer known from acts like Sphere and Viper Solfa. Bjørn Dugstad has already composed awesome drums for half the album, he also brought with him a brilliant guitarist which we will reveal on our website very soon. With these two guys, the material emerges in new outfits for me and Kjetil, and we are extremely excited about the band these days. Kjetil and me have rehearsed for quite a long time now, just the two of us, but we plan to get together for our first real band rehearsal very soon now. My expectations for this album are extremely high, the early pre-productions sounds sensational!

Thank you for great reviews on the Abyssic and Images And Twilight albums, and thanks for this interview! More epic stuff to come very soon. Beware!

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