Interview by Ellis Heasley
It’s only been out just over a month, but it certainly feels as though Dvne’s Etemen Ænka can hold its own with some of the best metal albums of the 21st century. Personally, it’s right up there with the likes of Cult Of Luna’s A Dawn To Fear, Gojira’s Magma, and Mastodon’s Crack The Skye. Its 67-minute runtime never feels too much, and there’s a real focus on song-craft, dynamics and story-telling. It was therefore a real pleasure to chat to the band’s guitarist and vocalist Victor Vicart last week. Check out the interview below where we spoke about everything from Dvne’s early days through to his opinions on modern sci-fi adaptations.Etemen Ænka by DVNE
For people who aren’t familiar with Dvne, how would you describe the band and how it came together?
We started as a three-piece at the time: Dudley – the drummer, our bassist at the time, and me. We had a singer back then for a little while, but after a couple of shows he didn’t show up to a gig and at the end of the show people were like “well, you guys were far better without the singer!” So we kind of took this approach of focusing on an instrumental thing when we started writing Progenitor. Pretty much at this point we wanted to do something that was more progressive – more like longer songs focused on the instruments rather than trying to have a verse-chorus-verse-chorus and trying to fit the music for the vocals.
Obviously the music we were listening to was stuff like Kylesa, Mastodon, Tool… which are already very instrument-led I’d say. That was really the initial approach and then the conceptual side of things made a lot of sense for us. We also chose the band name Dvne in reference to the book because we were like this is really close to the kind of environment we want to write our music within.
So I guess that’s kind of the approach and how it all started, and then we just kind of found through the different releases we never really changed direction but just added to the initial approach if that makes sense. Also I’d say things started making much more sense and being a bit more coherent around [2017’s] Asheran – our previous album – that’s when things got a little bit more serious for us and we started spending a bit more time writing, when before it was kind of a hobby.
So you pushed yourselves on Asheran, but then how do you feel you’ve evolved since then for Etemen Ænka?
After Asheran we really went into a mode where we started getting invited to big shows – we went to the US, we went all over Europe, we started playing actual festivals in front of not just 100 people, sometimes it’d be 500 or 1,000, or even more than that. I guess what happened is after Asheran we realised we had to work more on our live scene thing – being able to sing great live, being able to play our guitar parts as tight as possible. We started working with metronomes in the practice space – we let stuff flow a lot but we started having a more professional approach I guess.
We started writing the album afterwards, when we’d kind of finished focusing on the live side of things, and I guess because of that our performance was better. We were better players, we’d really improved on our different instruments but we also looked back on Asheran and we were like “ok, there’s a few things we want to change here.” The production changed completely, although it’s the same producer. We changed our guitar approach – the way we record – we don’t layer the way we used to do things. I guess [that was] more of a stoner approach, if you watch bands like Sleep talking about Dopesmoker they’ll tell you they literally layered the same riff about ten times with tonnes of different amps which ends up adding this kind of weight to it, which is cool and it sounds great, but we wanted to have an approach which was more like Russian Circles… I love watching studio stuff in general, but Russian Circles were talking about a studio thing where the guy said “I only record one guitar track”, but you see he’s got this massive wall of amps which is just like four or five heads and he does one take, and the one take itself means you’ve got lots more space for the other instruments because you don’t have weight on the guitar. It still sounds really heavy to me, and to a degree more authentic. So that’s what we’ve done, we tried to still layer things, but make space where we could and have an approach that sounds a bit more authentic, something that’s gonna be a little bit easier to reproduce live.
And what was the influence or inspiration that led you to include lots of synths and keys this time around?
It’s been a thing we’ve wanted to do for a while, but I guess it was more our ability to do this, because it was difficult to add synths to the band at first. At the time when we were writing Asheran, that was already a big task, it was our first album. With synths it takes time to implement them into a band, and especially it takes time to implement stuff live.
I ended up writing the synths for this album, and recording and performing all the keys in the studio. Normally I tend to focus on the guitar and the vocals, so we tried to have a few people come in before that to do sessions with us live, but it just wasn’t really merging when we were writing the stuff, so that was a bit difficult to make it happen because it meant I had to write guitars with the guitarist and then I had to think about the keys at the same time, it started adding up to the pile. But with this album we took a bit more time in production and in the studio; we started adding more things. Dan and I have always been massive fans of synth music and electronic music in general, so the influences come from like Carpenter to more modern stuff. They all came in really easily, nothing was too difficult. I guess what I enjoyed the most and I think is definitely another element of progression for me maybe for the next album is to keep evolving with sequencers and the more synthesiser kind of things, which bands like Oranssi Pazuzu for instance are extremely good at. I still see that there is a big progression for me here that we can keep adding to the next album.
One of my favourite songs on the album is “Asphodel” – the quiet one near the end – how important to you guys is the dynamic element of your music?
I think it’s what characterises our music. I think when people talk about our stuff they talk about that, the contrasting parts of the album, which is always something we wanted to do. We’re all very critical of music in general and what we found wasn’t happening as much as we’d like to hear is in post-metal was having stuff where you go full-on clean – like nearly like Alcest kind of clean – and then you go into something that is just like a very heavy section or riff, and making that happen without feeling like it’s completely out of place. There are bands who are doing this, but I think where maybe our approach differs is it’s more on how we go from one point to the other, and that’s always been the thing we focused the most on. I think on this album where we’ve done it better is the cleaner parts feel cleaner and prettier, and the heavier parts are heavier than what we’ve done before. That’s a production thing, but it’s also a composition thing, so I think we’ve managed that quite well on this album.
Also I guess it’s the approach of the drums. I think something that we’ve done well is we’ve sometimes removed drums from sections which used to have drums. That’s the case for “Omega Severer” in the mid-section, there’s a big clean section in “Omega Severer” where the drums are just doing pads and cymbal swells and there is no beat to it. When you don’t have a beat it’s quite easy to have a nice and clean section.
Turning to the conceptual side of things, the band have said the story of Etemen Ænka has different meanings for each of you – could you talk us through a bit of what it means to you?
There is obviously the main storyline which we all agree on, but the way we write lyrics is relatively cryptical. What we mean by that is some of the phrasing and lyrics mean something to one person and it means something slightly different to the other. It’s always weird to explain exactly the theme of the album, but the topics we talk about are society issues and power issues related to a new technology, and that new technology comes with all good intentions, but like it is with technology, it’s neither good or bad and it can be used in one’s favour or for everyone. In this album this technology ends up becoming something that’s gathered by the elites and those elites become elites because they’re keeping this technology for themselves.
For me, the topic of the album was this element and how the different parts of society are reacting to it and what’s their take on it. So the ‘celestials’ – why do they do this? Well in their mind they think they are driving their country or their empire towards greatness and for them that’s by whatever means necessary. And then for the other classes, while the lower classes are still living in this society they kind of buy into this whole logic and they think “well, if I work hard through merit, I might end up having access to this eternal side of things.” And then you’ve got the other people, and the song “Mleccha” talks about this, people who live outside of this society and they don’t buy into this social conformity and this myth of the meritocracy, they just look at it from afar.
These were interesting topics for me because I think they are recurring issues we’ve got in human society – I don’t mean to have solutions or whatever, these are just observations and we just made a compelling story around it. But yeah, that’s my interpretation of the album and how I see it. Then there are some other songs that may be a little bit more personal in the way we talk about lyrics – stuff that might have happened to us as well – but overall the main thing is around the concept.
Do you feel there are parallels you can draw between the dystopian world of Etemen Ænka and the world we live in today?
No, I would say to human history more than anything and actually the way we look at the titles I think is a good indication of our approach. For instance the word Etemen Ænka is a made up word, but it’s made of something that makes sense, so ‘Etemenanki’ is the religion of the Tower of Babel, and we changed it with ‘Ænka’ because that sounds better, and the Æ comes from the ‘Æsir,’ which is the place where the Norse gods were living. So we liked this idea of those gods because we’ve got those celestial kind of immortal elites living at the top of those towers. I guess that gives you a better approach of what we mean, it’s just going into etymology to find some things that are meaningful and make sense if you start looking at it from a historical [perspective]. But obviously history is relevant to us now as well.
Obviously you’ve always been heavily influenced by sci-fi and history, but were there any specific musical influences on this record?
I always divide influences into two: the influences we had when we were younger that kind of make you as a musician, and the ones that we keep on adding to our palette. Oranssi Pazuzu is a good example, I’m listening to them right now and I’m like “oh that’s cool, maybe I can take some of that and make it my own and add it to the music.” But old school bands like definitely Mastodon, ISIS, Neurosis, Inter Arma – all these things that I was listening to when I was in my early twenties – Opeth etc. And more recently more electronic stuff and some of those more experimental metal bands like Oranssi Pazuzu, Cloudkicker – if you like our stuff you should give Cloudkicker a listen because he’s the shit. He’s a one man project who’s done some stuff with Intronaut in the past, but his approach is just like super good guitar work and all the drums are programmed, but to be honest if I didn’t tell you that you maybe wouldn’t catch it straight away.
Also recently I’ve been listening to a bit of Mogwai, Carpenter Brut and Perturbator and French electronic music as well. Elisa Belladonna, she’s an American synth player and she’s a crazy amazing reference into the synth world, so sometimes I watch stuff like that and I’m like “oh, I like that, maybe we can use this in some way.”
It seems like you’re looking at lots of different places…
You have to. If we don’t start thinking like that, we’ll end up doing the same stuff over and over again.
How do you feel about the metal scene in general at the moment?
I think it’s probably never been in such a good place – well let’s remove COVID, and in the UK let’s remove Brexit because that’s screwing a lot of bands for touring – but a lot of my friends in the metal scene are like “oh there’s no more [good] things”, and they’ll usually refer to the early 2000’s kind of early Mastodon, Neurosis era, which was fantastic in the US, like really cool sludge scene. And I think that’s a bit bullshit, I think it’s what people used to say when were that age and they’d say “oh, there’s nothing good since Metallica” and stuff like that.
I actually really think there has never been such a good time for heavy music, thanks to all these streaming platforms like Bandcamp, Spotify, whatever… and the community we’ve got online now through social media. It’s actually even too much from time to time, there’s so many bands to check out. I go through end of the year releases because I really struggle to go through stuff and sometimes it’s just so time-consuming to go through all this music. But I don’t think there’s ever been such a pool of music and such a big pool of talent as well, so genuinely I think it’s probably the best time for heavy music.
Maybe it’s not the best time to be a rockstar, but I don’t really care about that kind of thing. It’s a really good time for a lot of interesting bands to do a lot of different and interesting things. Like look at all these bands that are doing cross-styles of music, there is so much of that these days. It was already the case back then but nowadays you really have a chance to really merge a lot of different things together and even technology is an interesting one. Some bands have jams on Zoom and stuff like that, and there’s all this software like Ableton and Logic where you can record stuff from home and send that to your drummer and your drummer can program drums. There’s just tonnes of ways to be really creative, tonnes of different approaches to make music. For people who are maybe more introverted and don’t really like to jam with people, they can do it too. It’s a great time for music.
What’s next for Dvne, what’s the plan?
We’re about to announce a tour in September/October in Europe for three weeks or three weeks and a half. We don’t know what’s gonna happen, the UK will probably be vaccinated by then but it’s more if Europe is gonna be open. That’s the main kind of thing. We’ve got like a live performance thing that’s gonna happen in June, it’s probably gonna be released at some point in July, we’ll be doing something a little bit different for that, with a guest vocalist as well so I’m excited about that. Then we’ve got the shows in December with Bossk, and we’ve got a festival that’s gonna be announced soon for this year.
So that’s 2021, and then in 2022 we’ve got a few shows that are already getting booked, so I think there’s gonna be a lot of touring next year hopefully. But again there is a lot of competition, there’s gonna be so many tours going out at the same time, which is kind of why we’re hoping this tour is gonna happen in September. And then the most important part, writing music. We’ve got the theme for the next album so we know what we want to talk about, and then it’s just adding the music that works well around it. We’re actually getting back with the bassist from Asheran for this one as well. We’ve got like a team of guys who are writing together and we wrote quite well together in the past, so there’s plenty of ideas and plenty of new stuff we want to do on this record. I’m excited, it’s gonna be a busy and hard-working couple of years, but it’s gonna be cool.
Thank you so much for your time, I just have one last question for you: would you say you’re more excited or worried about the upcoming cinematic adaptation of Dune as a sci-fi fan?
I’m very excited about it. I think it’s weird when it becomes personal like what another artist or someone is putting together. I’m like whatever, it’s gonna be an interpretation, if you don’t like it, you don’t like it. I like Villeneuve’s work, I like what he did for Blade Runner, some people didn’t but I thought it was really cool. So yeah I’m excited, I think it’s gonna be sweet. I also really like Batista and I’m so glad he’s doing serious movies these days – like really cool movies with cool production – and I think he’s gonna be so great.