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An interview with Sirenia's Morten Veland

Sirenia are a goth metal rollercoaster ride of unrelenting energy. A kaleidoscopic, ever-evolving treat of styles and genres, their songs are continually shifting into fresh patterns, one minute soaring to giddying heights of operatic melody and synthetic symphony, the next racing along to hard rock and plunging into unforgiving, raw heavy metal. Over the years the band have honed their curious sound into something undefinable and yet uniquely Sirenia. This is through the pure dedication and determination of the man behind the madness, Norwegian metal-head extraordinaire Morten Veland, who built on his success with Tristania to found Sirenia in 2001. Sirenia are currently on their European tour and Dark Matter caught up with their founding member just before he took to the stage in London.

It’s vital to Sirenia that they keep their identity intact, despite the often astonishing changes in texture and style in their music. Composer Veland works hard to bring in fresh, experimental elements while maintaining some kind of consistency, and this is evident in their latest studio album, Arcane Astral Aeons.

"I definitely spend a lot of time finding that perfect balance," Morten elaborates. "I always want to renew myself but at the same time I still want to sound like Sirenia, perhaps a new version of Sirenia. I don’t want us to sound like some completely new band all of a sudden. Fans want to hear new stuff, but at the same time they don’t want the band to become something completely new and different. With nine albums so far, it gets harder and harder to bring something new to the table. We’ve been able to add some brand new electronic elements and a lot of variations and new styles, especially with the vocals - there’s more of the classical singing in this album. Yannis, from Beast in Black also sang a song with us, adding more of a power metal kind of vocal, which was something new. We brought back the violins, which we haven’t had for some albums now, not having used it for a number of years it felt fresh again."

Veland’s infallible passion for black metal also makes its presence felt: "I’ve been into black metal since the 90s and its one of those genres I’ve followed since the beginning. I’ve always been a big fan of those early bands, Emperor, Immortal, Satyricon and there are a lot of black metal elements in my songs."

With such a mosaic of material, it can often feel like a game of spot-the-style, but Veland always manages to find the harmonies out of what, in theory, should sound like discord. "That’s one of the things I enjoy, the whole composition part," he continues. "That’s what I find challenging, trying to make songs that are dynamic and blending all these genres and elements in a good kind of way. It’s a big project and it takes a lot of time, I really enjoy that whole big creative process. In fact, the very definition of Sirenia’s sound can be summarised as diversity, and it’s perhaps this that makes them stand out from the battalions of Gothic metal bands currently charging into the fray. I think one of the things that makes us a little bit different from the genre is the diversity. Pretty much from the very beginning, that was what our musical concept was about, trying to mix elements from all kinds of genres together and blend them into a fusion of metal and rock music. These days there’s a lot of other bands doing that as well but I feel that we were one of the early bands to do this kind of stuff."

With so much wondrous variation, it’s hard to pin down Sirenia’s style, and perhaps this is the whole point. The lyrics and song titles are also open to interpretation, creating a sense of unfathomable mystery that teases the careful listener with a multitude of meaning. 'Arcane Astral Aeons' is a case in point, and challenges the mind with its archaic, baffling sentence constructions, not least the name of the album itself.

Veland adds "The title is kind of indirect, it can pretty much be interpreted in all kinds of directions. I like lyrics and titles that are not really obvious, the kind of stuff you have to think a little about to get real meaning out of them. When I write lyrics I like using different tools, such as elements of numerology, lots of metaphors, some stuff from mythology. I’ve never really liked or felt comfortable explaining the lyrics myself, reviewing or explaining my own work doesn’t make sense to me. One of my favourite artists, Nick Cave once said that he could spend years trying to write the perfect lyric, and he could ruin it all in an interview by saying something stupid that took away all the magic behind the words - I totally agree. You can read interviews with artists about how they wrote the lyric, and in my head, I had a completely different idea of it, and then you can feel disappointed. You never hear great painters, for example, explaining the meaning behind the art. That’s the thing with art, it’s up to the people who see and listen to it to do that."

Veland’s willingness to explore and experiment is perhaps down to his