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  • Review by Faye Coulman

Black metal mavericks DunkelNacht weigh in on genre-straddling new smash 'Empires of Mediocracy&

DunkelNacht are gearing up to take the metal world by storm, and if you haven’t heard whisper of them yet, you soon will. Offering up an exquisitely crafted mix of black and death metal divinely inspired by various classical and avant-garde sources, these purveyors of darkness have a universal appeal, with enough of a savage edge to satisfy hard-nut, hairy head-bangers and plenty of opulent, melodic interludes to indulge more gothic sensibilities. Dark Matter caught up with the gang down in Camden on a starry Valentine’s night, just before they stepped out on stage for the first incredible show of their six-day Empires UK tour.

DunkelNacht are living proof that a melting pot of European cultures and languages can lead to great things (take note before diving off that Brexit cliff, Britain). “What makes us different?” Alkhemohr, who plays bass, muses. “We are a band of four different languages, an international group, three French and one Dutch guy….”

M.C. Abagor, on vocals, cuts in: “I’m the Dutch motherfucker.” Alkhemohr continues: “The Dutch man is the singer, and we have three French, one bass guitarist, one guitarist and one drummer. The name of the band is German…dark night.” “As in day and night, not a knight from the middle ages.” M.C. Abagor interrupts with what is being quickly established as his typical wry humour. “As I was saying…” Alkhemohr resumes, “it can be confusing, we sing the lyrics in English, we have a German band name, and three of us are French.”

The music itself is as wonderfully diverse as the line-up, with a myriad different styles and influences thrown in for good measure, making their approach almost impossible to define. “It’s not standard black metal or death metal,” Alkhemohr explains. “It’s like a combination between progressive rhythms, it’s melodic, it has some black metal influences, some death metal influences, it’s a big mixture, you can’t put it in one box.”

This is reflected in the wide range of music they enjoy, from both within and out of the metal genre: “We are all big fans of the Polish scene, bands like Behemoth, Scandinavian metal for sure. Classical.”

M.C. Abagor chips in: “I’m on the borderline, sometimes I listen to jazz and sometimes to blues as well, even chill-wave. It’s good to switch off of genre and not tire your ear of one major genre, but…saying that, I don’t listen to pop music for example because it is so basic and so monotone today. You can make a pop song with just one little keyboard with one octave. I like the more complicated stuff, the more thought through.” People who write their own songs as opposed to manufactured music? “Exactly.”

DunkelNacht keep their sound fresh by constantly exploring new avenues, and this can be seen in at play in their new album, 'Empires of Mediocracy'. Alkhemohr muses: “The concept is very different, musically, from our previous releases. Just before this album we had two EPs, but in this album there is more melody, more black metal, some classical compositions in there, with some parts it’s like we went back in time.” M.C. Abagor adds: “So before you may have listened to Brahms and Beethoven, now you can listen to DunkelNacht!”

And like all the great classical artists, their music is weighty with serious subject matter. Shunning the usual done-to-death diabolical motifs of traditional black metal, DunkelNacht take more of a worldly standpoint. As Alkhemohr explains, the new album represents: “A political view about the world and different social classes (and their degradation), not Satanism or that kind of thing. It’s about the real world, it's transparent, it’s a sort of analysis of the world how I see it. It’s not very positive.”

Although any sane person can readily agree that everything is basically going to shit, DunkelNacht’s star, on the other hand, is most definitely on the rise. DunkelNacht have been around for 15 years, and it’s criminal that they’re not more widely known in metal circles - but perhaps that’s all about to change. Starting off as a solo project, throughout the years there have been some changes along the way as members came and went. But having finally settled on a robust and steady line-up of skilled musicians brimming with talent and potential, with a new album coming out, a successful tour in full bloom and plans for more tours, now is the time for the band to present a strong and united front and seize the night.

As Heimdall, on guitar, explains: “after a lot of changes we settled on the line-up you see today, and we’d prefer to talk about what the band is today and not what’s in the past.” Indeed, the members can’t hide their enthusiasm for their shared enterprise and for what’s to come, and are equally happy thrashing out concepts in the studio and playing live: “One of the major highlights of being in a band is when you create something, come up with the concept. We enjoy recording, but of course it’s always better to listen to live music. Some days I prefer the studio, but I like both, we need both.”

DunkelNacht are genuinely having a blast taking their live music across the continent, but life on the road is not without its mishaps, particularly when it comes to the UK’s baffling road rules. Tegaarst, on drums, laughs: “It’s pretty strange to drive on the left! We already made two or three mistakes on the road - we took many a risk to come here!” Indeed, it’s surprising the band got here in one piece, considering the many perils encountered throughout their touring history in Europe.

M.C. Abagor remembers one particularly hazardous episode: “We’re on a very long, bump road in Russia… it was so bad, with all kinds of bumps and vegetation, it’s like we weren’t even on the road anymore! Eventually, we had to go all the way around again to find the camp, when we find the camp it looked like kind of a dump. It was 6am in the morning and there were some drunk Russians and a barbecue still going. A fat guy without a top, in slippers and short pants, showed us to a cabin and it was almost like a horror movie. When we opened the door, (you can imagine the flies going out of the door), we took one look and we were like, we can’t sleep here! It smelt really moist, like dry human bodily fluids if you get what I mean…. There was no moment of doubt, we immediately get back in the van and we drive….”

Tegaarst jumps in: “That night we drove for twelve hours, with barely any stops. It was crazy. The driver was tired as hell, but we had to get as far away as possible!” Apparently, according to the band, there are enough crazy stories to make a full movie documentary (see the Facebook page for more) - the next Spinal Tap beckons, perhaps?

And yet, the guys are keen to stress that the stereotypical, hellraising rock-star lifestyle is not for them - they always want to be on top form for the fans and try to limit their alcohol on tour. “Maybe that makes us sound like a boring band, but we’re actually quite professional so we try not to drink too much booze, because we really make the music for the crowd.” M.C. Abagor explains.

“Of course, we do it for ourselves because we really like to write music and perform live on stage, but in the end we do it for the crowd so we all try to be as sober as possible to perform. We don’t want to be all drunk on the stage. We’re serious, we’re not here for the drinking and the groupies. There is always a balance - not to drink too much to give the best performance that is possible.” The illusion of clean living, however, is soon shattered as Tegaarst chips in: “But we do like a beer. This one is very good, the local one - Camden Hells. The bartender was said it was the cheapest and strongest they had, so… And after the show, in the hotel, we like to share a shot of whisky together.” Although he’s keen to emphasise it’s just the one (ahem).

All joking aside, DunkelNacht are true professionals and take their art very seriously, emphasising that the sound-check was the priority over anything as frivolous as drinks or webzine interviews. They are utterly devoted to pleasing their fans, and before going on stage to be their glorious, blackened best, DunkelNacht had a few final messages for their supporters...

Tegaarst: “Thank you very much for your support - the best way to support our band is to buy some merch and to come and see us perform. Also, Happy Valentine’s Day to anyone who got engaged, and to anyone who would like to try a French kiss I’m happy to show them!”

M.C. Albagor: “Please support us by coming to our shows and liking our social media pages, buy some of our merch - that would be awesome, then we can buy more beer! And please keep supporting the metal scene - stay brutal!”

I think we can all agree on that last point, M.C.

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