If you’re a fan of black metal, folk metal, or better yet, folk black metal, you know who Falls of Rauros are. One of the scene’s most ubiquitous bands, FoR have putt out three demos and four albums of beautiful, atmospheric black metal. Their latest album, Vigilance Perennial beat out some fierce competition and scored them the number 10 spot on my best of the year list. The band was kind enough to take a few moments to sit and chat with us about their writing process, dream tours and more! Read on!
Indy Metal Vault: So Vigilance Perennial has been out for about eight months now. What’s the overall reaction to it been like, particularly in terms of how the new material has gone over live? Now that you’ve had close to a year to live with the end results, has the way that the band feels about the album changed at all?
Falls of Rauros: The reaction to the record has been positive overall. Of course, as we try to develop and change our sound from record to record, we’re never going to please everybody. We tend to lose a few people while simultaneously winning over some others. On our last tour we played “White Granite” as our first foray into bringing Vigilance Perennial tracks to the stage. It went great! We play live as a quartet, so some concessions must be made, but working out a suitable live arrangement is an art in itself and a welcome challenge. Regarding the record; it’s easy to focus on what you would do differently given the opportunity, but I think by now we’ve had time to let the record settle and we’re all happy with it. It feels like a step forward – and sideways – leaving us to ponder where we will head next.
IMV: One thing I noticed about Vigilance Perennial right off the bat was the production. It has a warm, almost inviting feel to it. It’s certainly a far cry from your typical cold, sharp black metal production job. When you handed the album off to Colin Marston to be mastered, was this the sound you had in mind, or did you let him play around with it until he found a sound that fit the music?
FoR: We definitely wanted a warm sound, and an organic sound, nothing overly loud with brick-walled dynamics. Colin gets it; he’s worked with countless bands and tends to play to their strengths. He’s gifted at identifying those strengths as well. We didn’t really give him much direction at all. In fact, the only changes we made during the mastering phase were changes to the mix itself and some basic sequencing suggestions. We realized we were unhappy with a few aspects of the mix, did some remixing work, and then handed it back to Colin who presented us with a spot-on master. We’d work with him again in a heartbeat.
IMV: I try to avoid asking questions like this, since every band gets asked this in every interview, but what was the inspiration behind the album? Based on the lyric sheet, it seems like there’s some sort of loose narrative thread running through it about a group of guardians, standing watch in a massive stone labyrinth while coming to terms with their own impermanence in the face of the timeless monument they protect. Assuming I didn’t miss the mark completely, then it’s a very interesting concept for an album and I was curious where the idea for it came from. Does it somehow have its roots in Tolkien, like the band’s name?
FoR: Well, the record is intentionally tied together with repeating imagery and themes. However, they are all metaphorical; there is no true narrative or story as the record progresses. The lyrics are deeply personal to me, and all relate directly to circumstances in my life the past couple of years. I wanted the lyrics to be up for interpretation, and people seem to have a wide array of interpretations which I think is great. I can, at the very least, tell you that your analysis of the imagery is relatively on point; the visual and outwardly accessible aspects of the lyrics were intended to be as evocative as the hidden aspects, so we end up with something like two parallel “meanings” to the record, or several more. Sorry I can’t be more specific. Regarding Tolkien: despite the band name, none of our songs have ever had Tolkien inspired lyrics. They have rather oscillated between personal, philosophical, and political/ecological themes.
IMV: Starting with Believe in No Coming Shore, Falls of Rauros have been moving in a more proggy/rock direction, as opposed to the more traditional folk black metal sound on your early demos and first two full-lengths. It seems like parts of Vigilance Perennial almost have a 70s AM radio feel to them – in fact, my editor Clayton says the opening section of ‘White Granite” really reminds of the classic Rod Stewart he grew up on, particularly “You’re in My Heart (The Final Acclaim).” Do you foresee yourselves settling even further into this sort of niche, or is this just another step on an ever-changing path for the band?
FoR: I wouldn’t say Rod Stewart has influenced us directly, but I’m glad such an unexpected connection can made. Growing up we were immersed in those 60s and especially 70s rock bands thanks to our parents, so a lot of that sound is hardwired in us. Some of the first albums I can recall consciously hearing and absorbing are Bruce Springsteen’s first several albums, Neil Young’s Live Rust, and Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. They left a mark. Anyway, thus far in our career we’ve never etched out a plan of where we’ll head next. On Vigilance Perennial we just began jamming, writing, and working through ideas until the record began to take shape. Believe in No Coming Shore was crafted in a similar manner. All I can say is that we have no intention of repeating ourselves, nor do we have any desire to change directions entirely or do the “genre-hopping” chameleonry (made-up word) that some bands can pull off. We’ll be certain to explore some new territory on the next record, but exactly what that will sound like is impossible to say at this stage.
IMV: Since the band’s style has changed so drastically over the years, is the songwriting process different when you go to write new music now than it was back in 2008 when Hail Wind came out? You’ve certainly matured as songwriters, but has your creative process changed as well? When you went into writing mode for Vigilance Perennial, how much of the lyrical concept did you have ironed out, or was that something that took shape as you were writing the album?
FoR: On Believe in No Coming Shore, as well as Vigilance Perennial, we didn’t have any music pre-written before we assembled and began working together at our practice space. Both were very democratic records; we all had generally equal input, and those records changed shape dramatically as the writing process continued. Our first two records were written mostly on acoustic guitars, or at least quietly: there was no live band at the time so everything came together piecemeal, and by imagination. So yes, the creative process became one of sharing a room with each other, at full volume, bouncing ideas back and forth, trying some, changing some, ditching others, ad infinitum. Eventually we had a finished product. This sort of arrangement doesn’t work for every band, but we’re all old friends, there’s no drama, no egos. We write to serve the music, and keep each other in check when necessary. It’s very organic. As far as lyrics go, I didn’t have word one written until the album was mostly recorded. The lyrics always come at the very end. I like to see how the songs shape up first before I decide where vocals will be, and I like the lyrics to be as fresh and relevant as possible when the record is being wrapped up and we’re recording vocal tracks.
IMV: I like to always ask at least one-gear related question, since the topic fascinates me. As your sound has evolved over the years to incorporate more tones and textures, I’m guessing your setups have evolved as well. What does everyone’s live rigs look like these days? Are they essentially the same as what you use in the studio?
FoR: We’ve always used our live rigs when recording but we supplement them with other pieces of gear in the studio. For Vigilance Perennial we started off with our Mesa/Boogie Mark V, Fender Pro-Sonic, and Peavey Firebass heads, and for the initial bass tracks we also used some sort of Orange bass head to get a slightly overdriven tone. Our Pro-Sonic wound up dying after many faithful years of service, so the tracks with the Pro-Sonic were reamped with an Orange Rockerverb Mk II, which is now part of our live rig as well. After a skeleton of the album was recorded as a full band, we went back in with a Soldano head and a Marshall JCM 800 and tracked all the heavy parts again. For cleans we used a Fender combo; I think it was a Deluxe Reverb. For tonal and textural variety we applied heavier effects to most of the lead parts, which usually came directly from our pedalboards. Pedals that had a heavy hand in the guitar sound would be the Empress Tremolo, EHX Micro Pog Octave pedal, simple delay pedals like the Boss DD5/6 and the MXR Carbon Copy, Maxon OD-9, and the classic Vox wah. The Wampler Ego compressor is indispensable for our clean tones. All of these are part of our live rig and are heard on Vigilance Perennial. The important thing is to consciously decide to have tonal variety and not to shy from heavy-handed knob tweaking in the studio.
IMV: You’ve got a run of dates coming up in December. What songs do you think are going to be heavy hitters live? I’d love to see how “Arrow and Kiln” goes over live, but more than any I’d love to see “Warm Quiet Centuries of Rain.” It’s not exactly the most aggressive or “energetic” track on the album, but I think it’d make for an interesting live experience. Any plans to bring it in front of an audience?
FoR: Due to the average length of our songs, we can typically only play about four songs at any given show. Five if we’re lucky. For that reason, if we want to give most of our records some attention, we can only play one song per record, or maybe two. It can be tricky. I’ll tell you now that “Warm Quiet Centuries of Rains” will not be played live on this tour, and possibly never. That song is difficult because if we were to play it live the only context that would make sense would be playing it right before “Arrow & Kiln” as an intro; it segues quite well into that song. The difficulty is that those songs are in a different tuning. This would mean we would either need an extended break to retune our guitars which would render the transition ineffective, or we would need to bring more guitars on tour and rapidly change them before “Arrow & Kiln.” It would be clunky, we sure as hell don’t have guitar techs, and we don’t have extra space in the van for those guitars. Regardless, we’ll be playing “Arrow & Kiln” this December which will hopefully go over well. We’ve played it at exactly one show so far, so it isn’t exactly road tested, but we’ll find out.
IMV: While we’re on the subject of touring, I noticed you have some Canadian dates coming up! It’s always nice to see some good acts crossing the border, especially since we don’t get a lot of high-profile black metal tours. Do you find it any different playing for a Canadian crowd than say, a crowd from Maine?
FoR: Well a crowd from Maine is a home-town or home-state crowd, so it usually involves seeing a lot of friends, a relaxed vibe, and is a little less formal. Playing anywhere else is different. We’ve played both Quebec City and Montreal a few times and we love it up there; we’re excited to go back. In 2016 we played out in Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria which was a blast as well. But we’ve never played Ottawa or Toronto, so that will be new for us! Overall, we don’t find it too different playing to a Canadian crowd. We just love hanging out up there, so we’re thrilled regardless. Jordan is a Francophile; when we’re in the Quebec province he really lets himself go. Come speak French with him. For the rest of us there’s a slight language barrier which is always interesting and somewhat novel.
IMV: Do you have any bucket list tour destinations that you want to play at least once? And if you could put together your dream lineup of active bands to take with you, who would you bring?
FoR: Our major bucket list destination would be Europe… anywhere in Europe. We just can’t seem to make it over there after all these years. A South American tour would be a dream for me personally, whether or not it was successful. If we’re talking veteran bands to tour with, it’d be pretty amazing to hit the road with Enslaved and Primordial. Emperor is kind-of technically active now, yes? Believe it or not, we wouldn’t say no. Usually we tour with our friends, because ultimately, that is the dream: travelling everywhere with friends. Business-arrangement style touring has its place, but the benefits have to really outweigh the industry formality, headaches, and shit vibes.
IMV: Now, I always like to close out interviews with this question, just because you get such different answers from everyone you ask. Plus, with the end of the year looming ever closer, it’s sort of an appropriate topic: if each member of the band had to name his favorite release this year, what would it be and why?
Ray: Woman is the Earth – Thaw. This EP picks up where Torch of Our Final Night left off, an all-time favorite. Chaotic and melodic, zero filler, sonically dense and triumphant. Pungent / poignant.
Jordan: Toby Driver – Madonnawhore. Harmonically interesting, with a melancholy atmosphere, gorgeous reverb-soaked guitars, and a slow burning compositional style. The vocals are technically impressive yet tasteful.
Aaron: Alasdair Roberts – Pangs. One of the most criminally underrated folk musicians ever. An immense and subtle guitar player with an immediately identifiable voice, he blends traditional Scottish and British Isles folk with a distinctly contemporary approach.
Evan: Dreadnought – A Wake in Sacred Waves. Sprawling and intricately textured, with an enviable degree of timbral variety for a metal record. Ambitious, while hitting the mark. Very impressive.
And the group consensus will have to go to Saiva – Markerna Bortom. Atmospheric, isolationist, black-metal-informed folk rock from the Swedish Lapland. Utterly idiosyncratic and visionary.
IMV: Thanks again for taking the time to answer a few questions. I’ll leave the last word to you – anything else you’d like to add?
FoR: Just because it’s become something of a tradition: someday we’ll actually play Europe. We promise? Yeah?