DVNE’s Victor Vicart Introduces The Myth-Inspired Sci-Fi World of ‘Etemen AEnka’ (INTERVIEW)

On March 19th, Metal Blade will release Metal band DVNE’s new album, Etemen AEnka. As the band’s name might suggest, they are big science fiction fans and also steeped in the world building that we find in fantasy books and films, and musically they are influenced by Post-Metal and Progressive Rock sounds. Though DVNE have been known for creating concepts before, Etemen AEnka represents their most ambitious narrative world yet, tracking the development of a civilization from its earliest, most idealistic days, through the course of its rise, to its peak, and on through its fall. 

In the strange world of the album, we’ll encounter the god-like beings who live high up in towers and use technology to increase their longevity, and also the struggling beings who live toward the bottom of the towers, making due with recycled, VR-driven existences. In this ethically “grey” world, we’ll encounter many of the choices and consequences that human civilizations have faced in ancient and modern times, but also much of the beauty and poignancy we often overlook. The ways in which DVNE has evolved to find a distinctive sound despite global challenges are as compelling as the ideas on the new album. Guitarist, singer, and co-songwriter Victor Vicart recently spoke to us from his home in Edinburg, Scotland, about the making of the video for lead single “Si XIV”, the writing process on Etemen Aenka, and the album’s place in DVNE’s work so far.

Hannah Means-Shannon: I saw that the title of the new album has a similarity to the name of a Babylonian ziggurat and I understand that there are some Babylonian elements in the science fiction themes, though you are creating your own mythology. 

Victor Vicart: Yes, we’ve done things like this on previous albums as well. What happens is when I start writing lyrics in English, sometimes I use French words. And the other guitarist says, “That doesn’t make sense.” Things like that happened on the first EP. Now me and the other guitarist are writing together and realized that nothing was stopping us from going deeper with the meaning of words, the etymology side of things. Because of that, from English, we started going into Latin, Greek, Old French, and even Asian languages. It’s fascinating. It shows you different levels, historically, and then you can start going into legends and mythology. 

That’s why there are references throughout the album to Greek mythology, but there are also Indian words. We just had fun with stuff like that. With “Etemen AEnka”, using the “ae” was taken from Norse mythology, the Aesir. That worked because we had this idea of towers that were built, and on top of each would be god-like figures. The concepts on this album came together really nicely, I think, and we had a good time doing it.

HMS: Fans really love it when bands go down the rabbit hole on their own mythology and put the time into building it. It’s almost like J.R.R. Tolkien creating his worlds. There’s a lot of ties to Europe here on the album, but also a lot that ties into the lore of other countries.

VV: Sometimes our sounds will border on Middle Eastern sounds, even, and sometimes I use instruments, like guitars with double strings, that have a sitar sound. You can hear that a little bit. We use a lot of added strings when we start playing to add those textures. We also used an instrument that’s a bit like an accordion, where you choose the notes you want, but it makes this drone. The music kind of inspired the context of what we wrote on Asheran and other stuff, but for this one, we knew our sound a little bit better by now, so we wrote before we went into the studio. The creative process went both ways. We had some music, we started putting the concept together, and before we started recording, we had the artwork and everything was ready.

HMS: As you’ve been touching on, the band has used narrative ideas before, like on Asheran, but this album features the largest scale narrative you’ve created, right?

VV: We’ve done concepts since the beginning, and Asheran was a big concept. But it was more like Miyazaki, with an environmental focus, whereas this one was meant to be a bit more about sociology and society. Obviously, there are some themes that come back on this album from previously, but we wanted to explore the idea of the beginnings of civilization and the different myths that you could have in a particular society. We wanted to go through the building of a society, to its apogee, to the fall of this empire, essentially. It’s meant to be a few thousand years in terms of storyline. It’s a bit ambitious, but it’s good fun for us because we are big sci-fi nerds. 

HMS: Your EP that you released recently, Omega Severer, has a relationship to the new album. Is it a bridge between earlier and current work?

VV: Not quite. Omega Severer got released as an EP because we wanted to release Etemen AEnka last year, but because of Covid, we had to postpone tour plans. So we waited a little longer, but in the meantime, we decided to release the EP. “Omega Severer” is on the album, about half-way through, and it’s a slightly different version. It makes more sense as part of the album, as well. But also on the EP, is a song called “Of Blood and Carapace”, and that was inspired by Warhammer 40k.

HMS: The single and the video for “Si XIV” have been released ahead of the album. I heard that you had to record the video in two different sessions, with one in France and one in Scotland, which must have been difficult. I was surprised by the insectoid aspects of the video art, but I feel like I should have guessed that from the cover art for Etemen AEnka. Can you tell us a little more about the design and making of the video?

VV: This song, “Si XIV” is about half-way through the album, at the beginning of the second half of the album, and it’s a moment when we focus on one character, someone who is from the bottom of a tower. He’s someone who’s not from the best environment in this universe. They are using recycled technology and there’s this whole idea of achieving eternal life through human augmentation. But the people at the bottom, who don’t have access to good products, spend a lot of time with weird virtual reality machines, and it’s more about them escaping their everyday lives through technology. That’s what the lyrics are all about in the song. 

But for the video, we worked with our friend Louis, and we wanted to take a little bit of liberty with it, trying to get a little bit away from the concept while capturing the feeling of it. It’s meant to be a little abstract, but that said, there’s an idea of a creature evolving, struggling with its own existence, then going into a kind of a cocoon, and becoming something else, essentially. Whether it’s actually happening or happening in the creature’s mind is open to interpretation. 

But that’s the concept. Then, we had some really good France to work with. We wanted to make something that looked captivating, but a bit different, something DIY looking, but well done DIY. We liked the way that prosthetics would look in the old school horror and sci-fi in the 70s and 90s, so we wanted that. My good friends in Paris worked with us, a whole team of people, and they created this cocoon by going into a slaughterhouse and finding sausage wrappings. When we started playing with tons of lubricant and colorants to make it absolutely disgusting. Another friend created the final creature, with the horns. It was awesome. We spent four or five days in a basement doing all this. We also wanted to cut the narrative with footage of the band playing, and that was meant to be shot the next week, but due to quarantine, we had to film the rest in Edinburg. It was difficult to get everything done, but we did it.

HMS: I wanted to congratulate you on the lighting, which is really great, on both the live playing and live action sequences. And also, I really like the eyes of the creature and the ways that they worked with the low-lighting. I think it’s a good way of introducing people to the world of the story without being too specific.

VV: These are really old friends who I’ve known since I was six years old, and they’ve worked on everything we’ve done so far. We’re working on another video with them. The thing is, they do it because they all have jobs working on much bigger productions in France and Scotland, so they don’t mind this. They like participating in something creative. We are working with people who are really top-notch. One guy just did the most recent Wes Anderson movie. They know what they are doing, but it’s very laid back on set. 

HMS: As a band, do you intentionally create music that could work as a soundtrack, or is it more that you think so visually about things that it’s all one world for you?

VV: The way that we write music is to start working on four or five tracks where we are really thinking, “Okay, let’s make a heavy one.” Then we jam and start building a structure for the music. It’s usually just guitar and drums then. But when we start on arrangements, and adding other instruments, I start thinking about how we can link other songs together. The synths that I’ve started adding in may make the listener start thinking, “This is a soundscape.” It kind of takes you on a journey, and I guess that’s how we think about it. It is something that happens naturally and is not something we’ve ever forced. For a lot of us, I think if we were in other bands, we wouldn’t be writing three-minute songs there either. This is how the music comes out of us. 

Our influences tend to be things that are big, like Post-Metal stuff, like Mastodon and Neurosis, who are all cinematic, or were, especially in their early days. We do listen as well to a lot of Synth-Wave, which is also cinematic. When we add these things together, it suits that purpose. There is actually a master of the album without any vocals, and I don’t know if we would release it. But we’ve done that, keeping in mind that it would be useful if someone wants to use it for a short movie or something like that. We shall see.

HMS: I don’t mean to undermine the music by asking this, but if you could make your own movie of the album, would you do it, with this as the soundtrack? I ask that because you have created such a detailed world here, though I know that the music is the most important thing.

VV: It is. But if we had the time to do something like that someday, that would be super cool. Personally, I would see this more like animation. I think I would dig animation a lot. We’ve been talking about maybe one day doing an illustrated booklet where we can explore the universe visually. If the band keeps growing, and if people are interested by these things, we’ll see. All of the things that surround the music are another avenue to express ourselves creatively. 

HMS: Do you tend to think in terms of traditional song structures, like we find in the history of Rock and Metal? 

VV: It really depends on the song. Right now, the drummer and I have started writing new music again. We’ve been using a very slow process to start with, which begins with exploring some riffs and some vibes. We play around a little bit, and then we try to make a plan around it. We’ll have, for instance, Plan A and Plan B. Usually, we don’t really commit to the song until very late in the process. We’ll have a song that’s 70% or 80% there in terms of structure, and then when we start demoing, we start committing. But we take so much time doing it, that we have a few riffs, and we work on it until it starts growing arms and legs, if that makes sense. 

We keep things this way because we can start with something quite simple that will end up having many movements. I know some of my friends, and other bands, will write a riff and will put it into a software program right away and start putting drums on it. So the song is basically written. That’s hardcore composing. For us, there is a bit of that, but it’s quite organic, and it’s about how we feel and our response to the music. We try to keep a little bit of free flow. It gives you time to really take a step back, listen to things again, and decide what we want to change.

HMS: That makes total sense in terms of how your music sounds. It sounds like the product of many layers and plenty of organic development rather than the record of a particular moment in time, which is the goal of some recording. 

VV: We’re not too precious about things, either and if something is crap, we’ll tell each other. That can be tough, but at the end of the day, it really is about how we feel as a group about the music. 

HMS: Did the delays due to Covid shutdowns give you more time to finalize the album?

VV: Around May 2020, we decide to move the album to March 2021, so what we did is we decided to remix the album. Our Producer, Graeme Young, said that his studio was closed, so he was just going to remix the album. He wanted to give it more “balls”, as he said, some more “oomph”. So, he did it. I wasn’t looking forward to it, because when you mix an album there’s always a lot of back and forth and we’d already done that. But I’m glad he did it. It sounds better. I think the previous version was a bit more tame, and safe, and this one feels quite balanced, but aggressive at times. It sounds big without compromising on the details, which is what we want, in the end.

HMS: Were there particular events or observations about the world that made you want to write about the social issues we’ll find on Etemen Aenka

VV: Something that I find interesting is that these issues are always recurring. In sixty years, there will be similar issues, in eighty years, there will be similar issues. They keep recurring with variations. For me, it doesn’t reflect on a specific time for me, but it gives us a view of how we feel about these issues that keep happening. Like, what happens when people have too much power? We don’t go into too much detail on the album, but the initial reason for building the new society is a noble thing. They are doing things for the right reasons. We didn’t want things to be too black and white on the album, but it’s meant to be all grey. Inspiration was just human history.

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