Like most Dungeon Synth fans, I truly believed that we’d heard the last of Austria’s An Old Sad Ghost at the end of 2017. And like most Dungeon Synth fans, I was thrilled when that ended up not actually being the case. The project resurfaced in late January with a pair of surprise releases entitled A/Der letzte Koenig and B/Der erste Koenig. Shortly thereafter, I was presented with an opportunity to talk to the individual behind AOSG, and I barely even had to think once about it, much less twice.
Given the somewhat reclusive nature of the artist, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I sent off the questions, but I’m so pleased with what he sent back that I’m going to cut this intro short and get to the main attraction. If you’ve not heard A/Der letzte Koenig and B/Der erste Koenig, give them a listen on the Bandcamp embeds below while you checking out our conversation.
Indy Metal Vault: First off, I want to say thank you for agreeing to an interview. Like most fans of Dungeon Synth, I didn’t really anticipate An Old Sad Ghost ever surfacing again, much less releasing new music. And I certainly didn’t expect to have the opportunity to interview the individual behind the project. Before I start asking specifically about An Old Sad Ghost, though, I am curious as to what you were up to in the period between the release of The Path of a Tongueless Knight in December of 2017 and A: Der letzte Koenig/ B: Der erste Koenig, your two surprise releases in January of this year. Did you quit making music entirely during that span, or was it just An Old Sad Ghost that you put to rest?
An Old Sad Ghost: When I finished AOSG, I focused on my side project A letter for Carmilla, which had to end someday, as it should be a completed project for me.
When I released the last ALFC demo Lamentation, I took it upon myself to pause musically for some time in order to devote myself to other things. Even if it sounds cheesy, I just could not take a break. So I started other projects like BURGEN, WEIßES WEIB & ROTER GATTE and recently ONION KNIGHT to go in new directions and to develop and challenge myself musically. I did a lot of short releases, and I would suggest that if you want to explore them, just put the project names into Bandcamp and give them a listen. So no, I did not stop making music during that time, and I probably never will.
IMV: I’ve seen bits of it in various places online, but I don’t know that I’ve ever heard the entire story of why you decided to stop making music as An Old Sad Ghost. I’m not necessarily looking for gossip here, but from what I’ve been able to gather it had at least something to do with a bad experience with the label that released the An Old Sad Ghost and From the Tombs Of Videna demos?
AOSG: Most of it is, as you say, in various places on the Internet to read. I also published a statement on my Facebook page that, on the whole, sheds light on the problem that led to my ending AOSG at the time. So whoever has interest in all this drama just has to make an effort to look for it and you will find what, in some corners of the scene, is more than just going awry.
What I would like to tell you more is the unspoken reason that led me to end AOSG. It is no secret that there were some disputes in my work with this person. Today I am aware of many things and am clearer about what they meant than I was then, like how and why decisions were made in their respective ways when I had agreed to them in good faith, and why my suggestions, wishes and work were not accepted, such as to release hand-numbered tapes or to use the breathtaking AOSG logo by Cornelius.
Over time, especially after the release of these two tapes, I realized that AOSG did not feel like my project any more. I gradually realized that something was wrong and month after month it produced only frustration and disappointment. One evening, it came to a confrontation and I became aware from the story presented to me that I had committed a huge mistake by naively and blindly trusting this person for so long. After I had slept on this whole thing, I took the only right radical step and ended AOSG. To kill this project, to sever the connection to this person and to regain, at least for me, the decision-making power over a dead project, even though I would not be active anymore. I did not want any more discussions, no apologies, and no stories about any problems.
Eight months had passed between the release and this decision. I just realized that there was no point in maintaining this cooperation, let alone a way to carry on and do more as AOSG without breaking this alliance. Even though the months after that were no more than just idiotic harassment, I would act the same way today as I did then. It was the right decision and the weeks and months afterwards showed me really fucking clearly the rightness of my decision.
IMV: What made you decide the time was right to resurrect An Old Sad Ghost?
AOSG: Inwardly, I harbored the desire to revive AOSG for a long time, but the time was not right and I honestly did not know how I should do this. AOSG did not feel much like my project for a long time afterwards and I did not want to be associated with this label any more, but that changed over time, especially when I was sharing the stuff on Bandcamp digitally and gave permission to upload two albums to The Dungeon Synth Archives. Also, the conversations that I had with friendly musicians and my private environment helped me to finally see what I thought had been lost.
As I said, I spent a lot of time focusing on other projects, but I incidentally also received all the feedback that AOSG gained and was really amazed. I thought, and still think often today, that my music is really nothing special. For myself, it is simply necessary to make music. I need that for myself like a therapy.
One night I decided spontaneously to connect my keyboard to my audio interface and to play something for AOSG again. When everything was written and recorded, it felt good and right for myself. It was, on the whole, a spontaneous action. The question that I only then asked myself was how I would communicate the unspoken and, until then, secretly broken chain which was bound so loosely now to this project. There was also a conversation with a trusted person that helped me a lot and revealed so many things to me that it made it seem necessary for me to publish Der letzte Koenig/Der erste Koenig and finally resurrect what never should have been buried.
IMV: I wouldn’t exactly say that there’s been a drastic change in your sound on A: Der letzte Koenig / B: Der erste Koenig, but there has been an evolution of sorts. The depressive, minimalist style that characterized most of what you released prior to the more experimental The path of a tongueless Knight is very much evident on both, but it feels much more lush and almost Romantic than your earlier releases. At the same time, I think it features more percussion than the rest of your releases combined. Did you approach the writing process for these releases any differently than your earlier work? Do you usually have a particular goal or sound in mind when you start writing?
AOSG: On the question, I have to say that the time between when I wrote The path of the tongueless Knight, which was in early 2017 but released months later, and Der letzte Koenig / Der erste Koenig was almost two years. During that time, I followed other projects and experimented with different approaches to music in one way or another. In my opinion, the Romantic style you mentioned was also on the AOSG s/t demo, as well as all the other releases in a certain way that I have done until today. It’s just my way of making music, and the perfect way I want to express my feelings. The percussion is an element that I have wanted to use since “Oh Lighted Lord, Cinder of the Dying Sun” [from the Altar of an Abandoned Sun compilation] a long time ago, but I finally did with Burgen. In any case, in the future I will more often include this element.
I often have different concepts or ideas in mind when I start writing, but it often happens that the end result is completely different than I imagined. I also always try to add some new element to the writing process. I do not want to risk a new album sounding like a copy of the previous one, and I enjoy the challenge these experiments entail. In summary, I like to be guided by the moment and my feelings, even if I have another sound or another image in my head.
At the end of the day, the writing process always leads me to unknown places. Desperately trying to sound a certain way or stubbornly pursuing a certain style is out of the question for me. I just enjoy seeing where the music drives me too much.
IMV: A: Der letzte Koenig/ B: Der erste Koenig were both inspired by the work of Austrian illustrator and printmaker Alfred Kubin, whose “Der Letzte Koenig” (1902) adorns their covers. I wasn’t familiar with his work prior to these releases, but I’ve since sought out more of it online and find it to be pretty remarkable and occasionally kind of upsetting in ways I can’t really explain. What was it that drew you to his art in general, and to “Der Letzte Koenig” specifically, as inspiration for these releases?
AOSG: The first time I discovered Alfred Kubin was around 2011/12 when I was visiting a musician friend and browsing through one of his books that portrayed various macabre artists.
My eyes stuck to Kubin’s image “Madame,” and I knew then that this would be the cover of the demo of my then DSBM project VERDENSORG. Since then, I’ve felt attracted to Kubin like no other artist. I visited an exhibition of his works in the Albertina in Vienna, read his books, and always look for his works and let them affect me.
“Der Letzte Koenig” is next to “Madame” as one of his works that has had the most impact on me. I cannot really explain it, all I know is that when I look at it I develop a very unique feeling that can not be put into words…
IMV: There isn’t much information accompanying these releases on your Bandcamp page, aside from a rather cryptic couplet written in German: “Was schon tot ist kann nicht sterben, es kann nur an sich selbst verderben…” Assuming Google is accurate, it translates as something along the lines of “What is already dead can not die, it can only spoil itself…” I wasn’t able to find a source for it either in the German or in English aside from the name of an achievement in a video game called Darkest Dungeon. Where did the lines come from? Are they a sort of clue for the listener as to how to approach the music?
AOSG: They are neither an indication, nor do they come from a foreign pen. I had a time years ago when I suffered from severe depression and lack of perspective, during which I wrote many poems. I have also used one of them with AOSG (Von Grahl and Geist), and another can be found in the header of the BURGEN Bandcamp page. “What is already dead can not die, it can only spoil itself” is nothing more than a sentence I wrote that still has a very important meaning for me even today. And since I’m not a fan of long descriptions for my albums, I use those poems or parts of them occasionally before dusting them up in lost folders. They belong to me the same as the music is a part of me, and here I think this sentence has found its best use.
IMV: The only other piece of information is that you used a Yamaha YPT-260 for recording. You didn’t specify what you used on any of your previous releases, so why do so forA: Der letzte Koenig / B: Der erste Koenig? Do you usually just use one instrument on your recordings?
AOSG: For the first AOSG releases, I only used VSTs because my budget was pretty modest. Over the course of time, however, I’ve gained a lot of equipment as well as keyboards, a mixing station, and a loop machine. I find it quite enjoyable to read on other artists’ albums about which instruments they used and whether they recorded live. Which equipment I use always depends on the project because I also subdivide my projects according to the type of recording. Of course, I would like to work with more instruments, but this is only possible over time, so in the meantime I am working with the means available to me, and working on getting more and more stuff for my music.
IMV: Each of these recordings is roughly the length of one side of an LP or tape, and there’s an A and B in their titles. Are there any plans to do physical releases for A: Der letzte Koenig/ B: Der erste Koenig? I would really love to have them on cassette, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
AOSG: I can only say that my basic idea was to physically release this album, if not on a label then by myself. Hence this title. There are many things planned for the future, and the first steps are set. However, until then a lot of water will flow down the river and I can only ask for patience.
IMV: What else is on the horizon for you? I did see that Burgen, one of your other projects, will have its debut full-length Misererereleased by Gondolin Records in the very near future. Do you have any plans for new A letter for Carmilla material as well?
AOSG: That’s right. It’s already been released, and sold out in a very short time along with all the other great releases that went on sale. To my knowledge, there will be a few more copies of other labels as distribution, but I would ask you to look to GONDOLIN RECORDS directly for information.
ALFC? It is definitely over. I have no plans for this project anymore.
Furthermore, something is planned for ONION KNIGHT, a project between me and my wife. There will be news in the near future from an incredibly great label.
For AOSG, I am now trying to organize a very special split. After that, the next step is for me to do a follow up to The path of a tongueless Knight because this story is not over. But before I can start focusing on writing it, there are a lot other things to do like merch and that kinda shit.
So there are a lot of plans for this year, but patience is important and we will see how everything will turn out.
IMV: Thanks again for being willing to answer a few questions. I like to leave the final word to the artists anything else you want to add?
AOSG: I want to thank you for this opportunity.
Also, I want to use these last words to thank the special people who have been going along this path with me for a long time. My wife for being the shining pillar of my life, Cornelius C. for believing in my music for so many years and his great visual work for An Old Sad Ghost and A letter for Carmilla, Massimo from Sidereal Fortress for our endless conversations and all the advice I needed so much for my incompetent soul, and last but not least every fucking person out there who is listening to my music and I am in contact with. I want to thank you all from the deepest bottom of my heart…