Cultivated from the fertile soil of the PNW underground, Dungeon Serpent has rapidly become a rising death metal act to watch. Their debut album, World of Sorrows, highlighted then-sole member Arawn’s uncanny ability to tap into the veins of melodic death metal pioneers with a refreshing and palpable hunger. Dungeon Serpent’s hunger has only grown since; The band has evolved to a full lineup that plays live shows and has been hard at work on a forthcoming split and sophomore album.
Hot off the heels of this momentous time, Covenant Festival has invited Dungeon Serpent to lay waste to their hometown for this year’s comeback edition of the fest. In anticipation for their set, I was thrilled to chat with Arawn and learn about the response to World of Sorrows, a glimpse into what Dungeon Serpent has planned next, and an enthusiastic dive into his influences.
Having seen Dungeon Serpent live a few times I can say with certainty that Covenant Festival will be a great stage for you, especially coming off the continued success of your debut album. What was the feedback like for World of Sorrows and how effective was this start for you?
Thank you very much! Covenant is about as legendary as it gets when it comes to west Canadian metal, so I’m super honored to be playing the fest, as well as doing this interview. This is the kinda stuff I’ve been dreaming of since the start. The feedback and continued support for World of Sorrows have been insane. Back when I was writing the first real Dungeon Serpent songs I was anticipating a lot less of a response to it, especially since that was in 2020 at the peak end of the whole “caveman death metal” wave and I thought my work’s focus on melody and more romantic emotive style would fall on deaf ears. Originally I had very little response from the demo, a fair amount more from the original mix of the album, but yeah once Nameless Grave picked up the album and Andrew did the new mix it totally blew up beyond any of our expectations. Nameless Grave has really good promotion, but I guess the album also just really hit something with people. So yeah, in short it was a more effective start than I could have possibly dreamed of or asked for.
How did your partnership with Nameless Grave come to be? Having your debut record mixed by the very multi-talented Andrew Lee is quite the opportunity.
Brandon from Nameless Grave was looking at the similar artists section on Metallum for his band Draghkar, saw Dungeon Serpent and checked out the original mix of the album. He sent me a message saying he liked the album aside from the production and would be interested in doing our sophomore, and from there I remember we really quickly worked out to get the album remixed and put out on Nameless Grave. Andrew’s mix was amazing, it definitely set an insanely high precedent for the mixes of our future releases!
I understand that we can soon expect a split with Utah death metal band Sacrilegion. What can you share about your work on this split? What prompted you to include an Edge of Sanity cover?
Yes, our side just got done mixing this month. For our two original songs on the split, they are some of the most to-the-point and brutal Dungeon Serpent songs. Really brought to a new level by the live drums courtesy of Tamehana. It also features some more atmospheric elements to accent the brutality such as keyboards, spoken/whispered vocals, psychedelic guitars and even violin on one song. It will definitely appeal to fans of the early works of Kataklysm, Cryptopsy, At The Gates, Cemetary, and even Supuration’s demo stuff. The Edge of Sanity cover was chosen because I was super into them back when we were starting rehearsals and “Darkday” was a really aggressive and straightforward song that fit our style super well. I think we have put our own spin on it for our recording though.
I’d say World of Sorrows successfully integrated heavy and melodic in a way that is rarely achieved. Do you think you found the balance you were looking to create here?
My philosophy with this band is always to have the most demented, fast and brutal sections still be super consonant and melodic. I think a lot of times bands, even bands I really like, will have the two separated out, like you have the fast chromatic section and then the slow melodic section. My goal was to never do that, so I think it made the sound stand out a lot. Almost everything is consonant, I’ve even been experimenting with “melodic slams” and such. There are still some non-melodic moments for contrast, but I aim to have the melody front and center throughout any given song, and I really make sure it interacts with the rhythmic brutality in a deeply interwoven fashion. I think I achieved this balance quite well on World of Sorrows. The only regret I really have is maybe the vocals and blast sections do not align as much as I’d ideally want, but that is the way the pieces for the songs came together in the end so it is not really a bad thing.
I recall hearing that your next album is already in the works, and it has an evil and “orchestral vision.” Can you tell us a bit more about what new ideas you’re exploring in the next album? What are the main features you want to express?
Composition for the next album has been complete for about a year, we are just getting into rehearsing the material now, in fact, two songs will be played at Covenant! I shan’t spill TOO much on the next album as I want the contents to be fresh and surprising when it is released, but the phrase you used to describe it is apt. On the riffs and core songs themselves, I will say it’s more everything, the whole thing is just bigger and more powerful and intricate. The brutal moments are even more brutal, the melodies are even more melodic at times and the climaxes are even more climactic. I allowed myself to be less restrained and laser-focused on JUST being “brutal melodic death metal” here, because that was achieved sufficiently on the first album. Rest assured however, this album is still coherent, brutal, melodic and pure “death metal” to the core.
Records I would suggest the reader listen to to prepare themselves are:
- The Distracting Stone by Sacramentary Abolishment
- Requiem Aeternam by The Nausea
- Mystic Places of Dawn by Septicflesh (as well as similar works by Depresy, Exhumation (GRC) and Garden of Shadows)
- Crimson by Edge of Sanity
- and Sorrow Throughout the Nine Worlds by Amon Amarth
As well as our established influences like
- An Anatomy of the Beast by Intestine Baalism
- Non Serviam by Rotting Christ
- The Red in the Sky is Ours by At The Gates
- and of course Sorcery by Kataklysm
Since World of Sorrows, you’ve brought on some members who play live. Did their addition change the distribution of roles in the band for writing new material? If so, what was it like relinquishing complete control of your work?
For the writing it remains the same. I write all the guitar parts and do the song structures myself, I’ve asked our other guitarist Repenter if she wanted to do some songs together because she comes up with cool melodies, but she turned it down because she’s more into straight up black metal than death metal personally. I pretty much give Horrifier (bass) and Tamehana (drums) the melodic and rhythmic framework to write their parts in and let them do their thing. I trust them fully to come up with something good. I’m open to any suggestions for changes to the songs, but I don’t get many, I guess everyone is happy doing them as they are. While I do the writing everyone still provides their own thing to the band, Repenter and Tamehana can do types of vocals I cannot, and Repenter is an artist and does a lot of design work in the band, because I’m a big believer in the idea of the “total artwork” and I don’t wanna slack off with the aesthetics like a lot of people do.
You’re a fantastic songwriter; the imagery and poeticism reminds me of Eucharist. Could you share where you draw inspiration for your songwriting?
Thank you very much! For the music obviously I’m really influenced by Intestine Baalism, as well as early At The Gates, Incantation, In Flames, Kataklsym, Rotting Christ, Amon Amarth and the aforementioned Eucharist, as well as some others like Crematory (Sweden), Obituary, Timeghoul and Lykathea Aflame, as well as the old reviews on Death Metal Underground. A lot of really crazy and interesting ideas are hinted at in those reviews that I’ve worked to incorporate into my music. For the lyrics I’m really interested in nature, fantasy, romantic art, and ancient history, mythology and religion. I also write about my own personal emotions and thoughts. Usually I use the former topics as a metaphor. I don’t like to be direct so it helps to obscure very personal things and create a stronger atmosphere. Environmentalism, anti-fascism and anti-colonialism are also themes I’ve touched on already, and will express more strongly on future releases, along with general anti-capitalism and such.
You have a knack for writing emotionally charged solos and leads without taking away from the mood of the song, much like early Amon Amarth. Is your composition process rather linear or do you write pre-existing ideas you have for solos into your songs?
A lot of the solos on World of Sorrows were improvised after the music was already there so definitely the former usually. I’m a rhythm player first and foremost so I don’t get a lot of ideas for solos without having a section to write them over already. A few solos were also specifically written for certain parts as well however. The second to last solo in the title track World of Sorrows was written the night before I recorded it, and the first solo on “Necroscope” I came up with the initial lick for just fiddling around in the studio and quickly improvised the rest. The ending solo for “Cosmic Sorcery” was also tracked in a single take, it was very chaotic and messy but it added to the feeling the end of that song has.
When I was getting into playing guitar I got into really wild off the cuff style 70’s stuff like Eddie Hazel’s work in Funkadelic, as well as Mark’s solos on early Manilla Road stuff, so I appreciate that vastly over modern shred style solos in my death metal. Olavi Mikkonen from Amon Amarth was big to me during that period because he embodies that will in a metal context. His solos (on their 90’s material) have a very chaotic off the cuff feel without just being fretboard vomit, but are also super melodic and serve the songs well. It’s very “human” and feels very accomplishable to someone like me. His solo on “Burning Creation” really embodies this well, and I think you can find pieces of that in Dungeon Serpent for sure.
A keen ear will find your style of melodic death metal takes even more risks than some of your obviously early influences. Could you share some other up and coming bands that excite you this way? What do you actually look forward to in what can often be perceived as a sea of sameness?
Honestly, at least for World of Sorrows, I do not think I was doing anything too risky, other than releasing a very melodic and slightly progressive album around the peak “caveman death metal” years. I think there are some weirder moments like the clean overdubs on “Cosmic Sorcery” and the acoustic bridges on the title track, and I also get comments about the sheer length of that song, but bands like Apoplexy, Eucharist, Timeghoul, The Chasm, etcetera experimented with a lot of that stuff in the 90’s already I feel. For newer bands that are being transformative with their influences, I would say Draghkar, Sacrilegion, Putrescine, Mvltifission, Panegyrist, Ceremonial Bloodbath, Coagulate and Mefitis. Those bands all have interesting approaches to harmony and melody, as well as other things in death metal for sure. Other than those, some other new stuff I’ve been liking is Upon Stone, Egregore, Thos Aella and Galicia.
Of course, playing Covenant Festival is an exciting opportunity for your band. What else is 2023 bringing for fans of Dungeon Serpent?
We have the Spectral Obsidian split EP with Sacrilegion coming out this summer hopefully, as well as a cassette release of our first demo on Messe Noire Productions, which features two other songs recorded in the same sessions as Spectral Obsidian as bonus tracks. We are also trying to bring two really cool bands to town, but other than that we are just trying to quit shows as soon as possible for a while to hunker down and rehearse our second album honestly.
Thank you so much for your time. Do you have any final thoughts to leave readers with?
Thanks for this interview, thanks to everybody for the continuous support for World of Sorrows, and look out for Spectral Obsidian!
Dungeon Serpent will annihilate audiences this summer at Covenant Festival 2023. Prepare to show your allegiance, commit to the chaos, and purchase 2-day passes right now!