About Me

Inerview with Æther Realm

Beautiful, spectacular, futuristic and Folk Metal. That’s the best way to describe this album and band. Who knew that four guys, from America (North Carolina), could make such an achievement like this? Vincent Jackson Jones, bassist and singer, talked with Metal Imperium all about this album. If you liked “Tarot”, you will like “Redneck Vikings From Hell” it was released on the 1st May, via Napalm Records.

M.I. -  Thanks so much for this interview. I hope you are fine and safe.

Thanks for having me! We’re doing alright - we luckily haven’t run out of money or ended up in a hospital yet, I’d say we’re doing fine.

M.I. -  Your new album “Redneck Vikings From Hell” was released on the 1st May, of this year, and it’s a stupefying rollercoaster ride of death metal, thrash and even neo-classical shred. Can we say that with this album, you’ve improved a new sound for the fans and yourselves?

We’ve definitely got a lot of music on this one we weren’t technically capable of playing back during “Tarot” - Donny and Heinrich busted out new guitar techniques, (the whammy bars saw a lot more use this time around), Tyler both hit new blast beat PRs and also explored some more restrained playing in songs like “Cycle” and “Guardian”, and I even got my own little bass tapping bit in Slave to the Riff!
As far as the sound overall, I think we’ve gotten better at songwriting - at making every second of the song count and writing a little less self-indulgently than previously. This album was meant to be 11 self-contained experiences that don’t require any knowledge of each other to appreciate, but still made more enjoyable when experienced as a whole (primarily for purposes of flow and the calling back of some melodies in the final instrumental track). Some people definitely like the longer form stuff, and I’d like to return to that someday, but for now it’s mostly short and sweet.

M.I. -  This album was produced and mixed by Kile Odell (Motionless in White, Cane Hill), mastered by Jamie King (Between The Buried And Me, The Contortionist, Scale The Summit) and features orchestration by Ben Turk of Gloryhammer. What new improvements and sound did they bring to the band and album?

Well, we’ve worked with both Jamie (record/mix/master on One Chosen) and Kile (record/mix/master on Tarot) so their inclusion isn’t necessarily new, but they’ve both definitely learned some new tricks since the last time around. These sessions are pretty dense compared to the average metal or rock record (though honestly probably par for the course with symphonic metal). Kile wields his DAW like an extension of his brain and manages to keep up with layers and layers of ridiculous production requests from me. Imagine “hey can you make it hit harder and sound punchier but also bring the volume down overall but make it sound like it’s louder and I’m losing the 4th flute part can we put that under the microscope real fast…” - it’s like the Final Boss of patting your head while rubbing your stomach. 
Jamie came in at the last minute, when Kile and I were both absolutely spent from a week of late night (and finally, all night) mixing sessions. We were trying to get an acceptable master bounce knocked out for the label and kept winding up with a master that was too loud - Jamie came in and finished the job strong, taking the desperate mixes and smoothing and polishing the rough edges. We were about 2 weeks late delivering the album to the label, but we got it done, haha. It was a stressful time.
Ben, on the other hand, is a new collaborator. We’ve been friends for a while (we met by chance while I was selling merch for this band, called Rumahoy, on an Alestorm UK tour) and I’d heard his orchestrations for Gloryhammer coming together. I asked if he would be willing to do the same for us and he accepted. We got a lot more brass and woodwind heavy on this album, and Ben shone in particular when it came to figuring out creative ways to maintain the epic symphonic atmosphere even when we didn’t have anything planned for him - stuff like doubling the low guitars on... bassoon I think in “Slave to the Riff” and having the lead guitar part doubled on woodwind instruments in “TMHC”.

M.I. -  You’ve said that you didn’t want to make a “Tarot” Part. II. Can we say this is a step for the band's future?

I try not to think about the future too much, haha. Maybe one day, “Tarot II” will be the album we want to make. Maybe “RVFH II”. Maybe we’ll sell out and write a pure butt rock album. Maybe we’ll go back to our roots one day and all the reviews will say “Aether Realm really went back to their roots with this one, but they never quite achieved the same level of greatness”. Who knows? 
Well, we might know a little bit. We DO have some ideas for what we wanna do for album 4, and I like to believe we’re going to keep everyone on their toes with something they aren’t expecting. 

M.I. -  “We intentionally kept the songs short and dense, and allowed ourselves enough variety between topics to explore that space between how we present ourselves and who we actually are.” How did you prepare the lyrics and music? Was it difficult to prepare this album?

We’ve always been a music first, lyrics last (like wayyyy last... I’m usually still scratching a couple lines out in the booth last) kind of band. 

M.I. -  “Redneck Vikings From Hell” is the name of the upcoming release and also a song’s name. I know it got stuck in your mind. Why this name?

Well... it’s super bonkers sounding, but also it sorta sums up who we are as a band. We’ve done these fantasy themes about battle and Odin and adventure, but we’re 4 North Carolinians. It’s all well and good if the Finns and Swedes want to spin tales of battling against the frozen winds from the north, and of their ancient gods and ancestral struggles and all that. There’s only so much of that we can pass off with a straight face before the real us comes through - a bit silly, a bit odd perhaps, but relentlessly always writing and playing the sickest metal we can. And I like to believe on this album we’re making some of the big dogs sweat a little bit like “oh shit, these idiots are actually GOOD”.

M.I. -  You’ve said, and I quote: “we like epic, bombastic metal, and the only thing to stop us from combining these elements of ourselves musically, is our own attachment to the conventions of the genre.” You’ve added a new essence to this genre and album; therefore, this is a brilliant masterpiece. What ideas did you have for it?

Me specifically? I write a lot of the preliminary melodies and chord progressions, but once the band gets really working on it, my main job is to keep everything moving and unstick sections that get stuck. I wanted the bombastic orchestrations, but ultimately Ben provided that, I wanted the shredding solos and Gothernburg riffs but that’s ultimately carried out by Donny and Heinrich, I wanted D-beats and blast beats and stupid syncopated drum parts, but that’s Tyler’s execution.

So my ideas are mainly just general blueprints, and maybe I can say that’s my main contribution - giving everyone some direction and then letting them exercise their skills.

M.I. -  Michael Rumple on the song “Cycle”, Eric W Brown on “She’s Back”, Vincent "Jake" Jones’ sister, Elly Jones, guitarist/banjoist Wayne Ingram (Wilderun), actress Erica Lindbeck (Final Fantasy VII remake), harpist Amy Turk (sister of Ben Turk) are the names of some special guests on this album. Was it a difficult choice? What criterion were you looking for?

We didn’t really audition people or anything - we would get to a section of song while writing and say to ourselves “this needs a female narrator for a moment, who can we get for that...Erica!”, “who do we know that plays banjo... WAYNE!”, “oh wait oh wait let’s get Eric Brown back for another verse in she’s back like he did on Swampwitch” - stuff like that. We ultimately just serve the song. We try to figure out what it needs and then we try to provide those things.

M.I. -  The photo for the cover was taken by Bryce Chapman and the album artwork by Travis Smith and it is typically Folk Metal related. Who had the idea? You, Bryce or Travis? In what way?

The album cover was conceived as these things usually are, with a poorly made ms paint sketch (or in our case, a pixelmator sketch). 
I mentioned it’d be cool to do a photograph, and our drummer Tyler immediately thought Travis Smith. We shot him an email and got to work. The album art is a combination of individual photographs that have been digitally manipulated together to resemble a still life painting - that’s sort of Travis’ specialty as I understand it.
Bryce Chapman, in turn, recreated the scene from the album cover when it came time to take promo pictures, and recreated the environment and aesthetic in his living room. We had the skulls and fruits and shotgun shells all laid out on the table in front of us.

M.I. -  Let’s talk about the first single. “Goodbye” was released on the 21st February, it was directed by Jaraad Nageer and is escalating aesthetically into an unmistakably catchy, electronic-influenced chorus, the futuristic video harmonizes breathtaking neon visuals of the clip and the heaviness of the song in an even more spectacular way and the footage develops its essence. Do tell us the choice for the effects, please.

“Goodbye” was the first song on the album to be completed, and I’d wanted to try to do a sort of synthwave looking video for it for a long time. I also kept seeing this sick AR rune light to tie it together in my mind’s eye but had no idea how to execute. Jaraad said “well, maybe we can do that” but sort of left it at that. 
When we got to LA to shoot, we showed up at Jaraad’s apartment, walked in, and the light was sitting there on his table - he’d fabricated it with his dad! It felt like some sort of mystical future relic. Jaraad, when preparing, described the look he was visualizing as “Retro Noir” (I hope I’m remembering that right). With the help of Ana Maria Hanso as director of photography, and the skilled crew they put together, I think they nailed that.

M.I. -  The guitar solos from Donny Burbage and Heinrich Arnold are amazing and the keyboards too. Who plays the keyboards and was it difficult to write the solos?

The keys are typically wrapped up in there with Ben Turk’s work on orchestration, though I took care of a few synths as did Heinrich (Heinrich's are more complicated than mine). The solos are definitely a huge task - neither Donny nor Heinrich ever knocks them out in like a day - even after the initial draft is completed, it’s usually days if not weeks of pouring over every single note and inflection to craft the experience exactly as intended.

M.I. -  “It’s hard to leave people we care about. But something hasn’t felt right for a while. We dance around it and put it off as long as we can; ‘But maybe this time we can change, but maybe this time we’ll make it work’ – sometimes you just know it’s time to say Goodbye.” Can we say that this might help people on how the world is in these days?

I’m not sure if it applies any more today than it has in the past, but I still reckon that’s true. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a failing relationship, where neither of you are happy but you don’t really know how to go your separate ways, but it’s an awful experience. Advice to anyone that’s trying to figure out how to have That Talk with their partner - if you’re going to do it, just do it. It’s going to suck anytime you do it, so do it quick and both of you can start healing faster.

M.I. -  I read one review that stated: ““Slave To The Riff”, released on the 23rd March, was the next single and it’s an ode to the heavier side of symphonic metal – chock full of rhythmic breaks, skyrocketing solos and even a Latin American/Flamenco interlude, which shows a multi-faceted talent.” Do you agree? How multi-faceted is your talent?

Oh, geez! That’s laying it on pretty thick, haha. Uh, I feel like we’re competent players, but I definitely cringe when I read back some of the hype stuff (sorry Natalie! You do great, don't change a thing!). Listen to the album if you want to know exactly how competent we are.

M.I. -  On this album, there’s a tribute to Justin Shearer in the track “One Hollow Word”. Can we say that it’s the sequel for “Goodbye”?

Nah, “Goodbye” is a breakup song, whereas “One Hollow Word” is a tribute to a friend no longer with us. And I don’t think either of them would have been his favorite on the album if I’m honest - he might have gone for “Hunger” or “LITW”.

M.I. -  This is clearly one of the best albums of Melodic Death Metal/Folk Metal of this year so far. What can fans expect with this album?

Lots of riffs, lots of shred, some banjo, some brass, that one verse that sounds like CW McCall, a synthwave part, some singalong choruses, and a blowing wind sample.

M.I. -  Folk Metal is very popular in Nordic countries and you come from Greenville, North Carolina. Do people still think you’re from Finland? Where did you first hear this type of music and what are your favourite bands? Why did you choose this genre? 

I think we’ve had “We are not from Finland” has been our little Facebook tagline for so long that it’s kind of baked into the “Aether Realm Lore” that we’re from NC. Every now and then we still get comments that are like “oh my god I figured you MUST be from Finland, but you’re not! Wowee!!” and those are fun to read, but hopefully after “RVFH” we’ll be able to establish our musical identity squarely in NC.
When I was maybe 13, my sister Elly first introduced me to metal with screaming vocals - bands like Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth, Opeth, and Children of Bodom. I liked the music then, but it didn’t click in that I wanted to perform it yet. Our old guitarist George showed me Dragonforce, an old bandmate Nathanael showed me Alestorm (I’m pretty sure), and then around 16 or 17 I was introduced to Folk Metal, specifically by Heinrich, he showed me “Sleeping Stars” by Wintersun and “Deathbringer From The Sky” by Ensiferum. I was hooked immediately, and knew I wanted to play that sort of “soundtrack to an adventure” type music.
Fav bands right this second? Fit For An Autopsy, Ghost, G Jones, Futuristic, Japanese Folk Metal, Dance with the Death, and Kalmah. It changes weekly.
All time? Wintersun, Kalmah, CoB, Wilderun, BGF Division by Mick Gordon specifically, Carpenter Brut, Perturbator. Live best band is Meshuggah, I saw them at Wacken and I was never the same.

M.I. -  Your tour would begin on April and May, in America. After this pandemic, due to Covid-19, will you reschedule dates? Will it have European dates?

Yeah! We’ll be back on the road soon as we reckon it’s safe. We didn’t have any Euro dates scheduled, but only because we still don’t have a European booking agent. HEY EURO BANDS, BRING US ON TOUR WITH YOU! 

M.I. -  Thanks so much this interview and stay safe. Any final words you’d like to share? 

Thanks for having me on, Raquel! Sorry for taking so long. Go grab the new Aether Realm album, “Redneck Vikings From Hell”, out everywhere NOW! Oh and buy some merch if you want to, we’ve got an online store here

For Portuguese version, click here

Questions by Raquel Miranda