Pending the release of one of the year’s most coruscating debut albums CVLT, I had a discussion with Andreas Schmittfull, the maestro behind Phantom Winter’s all encompassing soundscape.
I was first introduced to Andreas’ music when instrumental post-doom pioneers Omega Massif were played on a European internet radio station called “Sun of the Sleepless” back in 2005. I instantly bought the Kalt demo, which arrived days later with a t-shirt and note saying this was the first order they’d sent out of Germany.
Since then Omega Massif went on to put out two full lengths and two split releases as well as playing gigs all over Europe, included appearances at many of the most prestigious festivals before the decision to split up was announced in 2014. The devastating blow of this news was suitably softened when Andreas shared the details of his new project.
Here I have an opportunity to discuss the past, present and future of Andreas Schmittfull’s unique take on doom. Phantom Winter’s CVLT is due for release on 24th April 2015 via Golden Antenna.
It’s expected that interviewers do a ‘pleasantries’ bit at the beginning – but genuinely, thanks in advance for agreeing to spend some time on these questions for 3rd-Eye! I am a huge long term fan of Omega Massif and CVLT is currently spinning constantly here. How is everyone doing in Phantom Winter? Surely excited about the imminent release of the debut album in just under a month’s time?
Hey Gavin, thanks for interviewing us! We are really fine. The pressure we had during the pre- and post-recording process lies in the past and we are really happy about the result we got. It is always a very long way from the written songs to the day you hold the LP in your hands. This time it is even a little bit harder. The split up of Omega Massif hit me really hard and I had to do something against it so I put all the energy into Phantom Winter. Now, as the first songs are out in the internet and the very positive responses of a lot of people arrived here I am very happy. All the work seems to have been worth it!
The huge response to those first songs can be seen in the fact that the colour vinyl edition of CVLT sold out immediately! But before delving into questions about Phantom Winter, I’d just like to ask you to cast your mind back to Roadburn 2009. Omega Massif’s show was so loud that Scott Kelly (of Neurosis) apparently commented on the volume from multiple rooms away during his solo acoustic performance. I bet this felt like something of an achievement?
That is one of my favorite stories I sometimes pull out of the hat when I had a beer too much. It is funny someone at a doom festival who is into doom for a long time complains about loud music. Awesome.
When Omega Massif announced it was no more, my feelings were divided. I was initially disappointed because I promised myself I would catch you live and now I’m kicking myself because I never actually took the initiative. However, I was actually supportive of the split, in a way. Omega Massif’s sound was so very specific to its concept – that being the soundtrack to dying alone of exposure on some lofty peak. I felt that on your 2 completely awesome full lengths, Geisterstadt and Karpatia, you explored this “state” thoroughly and exhaustively. I feel under the weight of this blanket concept, eventually there would have been a struggled to deviate or discover new ground musically. Do you care to comment on this?
Omega Massif’s songwriting always was a long process of four individuals sitting in a room and trying to make music together. I think it was a cool and interesting experience for everyone to learn new ways of writing music. But the combination and the mix of these four different people was not always easy and there was a lot of tension and stuff. In Phantom Winter I am writing the songs and they are exactly how I want them to be. That is new ground and it is an awesome experience. The others trust me and my songwriting and agree to this writing-concept. By this way of composing the songs are very straight and follow one single vision I have in mind. I can combine the lyrics with the music and I know exactly, where I want a song to go.
CVLT is an absolutely gargantuan album! Although it contains sludge and doom, I certainly feel that fierce, nebulous underlying energy aesthetically and aurally inclined towards black metal. Is there a new overarching concept, image or framework that these five songs have been built on, or is it more your trademarked “Winterdoom” mentality which breaths life into your creations nowadays?
I am not into black metal. Maybe it has a “black metalish” touch, because of the screams I use that sound like the bastard offspring of a troll and a mad witch. But everyone can listen into it what he or she wants. If you think it sounds kind of like black metal that’s ok. We called it “Winterdoom” so everyone can call it whatever he or she wants. I think the “overarching concept”, as you call it, is “everything that is in my mind and that bothers me and that I don’t want to be”. I think it is a very positive way of making music, even if it sounds negative. The music and the lyrics are kind of sad or brutal or whatever, but in the end it is a reminder to myself: don’t be an asshole.
The cathartic purging you describe here can certainly be heard and felt. Omega Massif were proudly instrumental. Having vocalists introduces many creative pathways for Phantom Winter and new perceptions from an audience perspective. This to me echoes when the core-force behind Godspeed You! Black Emperor started Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra and Efrim Menuck took up vocal duties. Have Omega Massif fans been positive about the choice to include vocals in the new project? What effects has having vocalists given the band’s dynamic and chemistry from a creative and live perspective?
Well, most of the fans that wrote us or talked to us loved the vocals, some complained, you always have someone who needs something to complain about. Omega Massif was Omega Massif and this is Phantom Winter. And Phantom Winter has vocals. There might be single instrumental songs on future albums but most of them will be with vocals. I think Christian’s and my voices are a trademark of Phantom Winter and yes, this gives you new possibilities, new (dis)harmonies, a new way of producing chaos and weird sounds. And we can show the people what we think and keep others away who think different. Omega Massif always was a soundtrack to the world of mountains, Phantom Winter is a nightmare.
As a listener, I agree wholeheartedly with that. Omega Massif reflected a sublime and enormous vision which translated to beauty, where Phantom Winter feels nastier and more integrated with human emotion than nature and orography. As yet, the lyrics are unpublished. There are some well placed dialogue samples in the songs that give some clues to the track’s themes (anti-fascism and environmentalism being some that shine through quite clearly for me). What are some topics you tackle and are the lyrics going to be published in the physical releases?
Yes, they will. The lyrics are very important to us and are the core of every single song. With this new band and the addition of lyrics it is easier for the listeners to decide, if they want to listen to Phantom Winter or not. If you think there was anything good in the 3rd Reich… don’t listen to Phantom Winter. If you think your conservative values are very important… don’t listen to Phantom Winter. If you think that NSBM is cool music… don’t listen to Phantom Winter. “Corpses Collide” for example is about growing up without forgetting everything you believed in as a child. Avoid forgetting that by listening to our song or watching “The Breakfast Club”.
I’m quite interested to hear about the journey you have been on to find your guitar tone. Some musicians can be cagey about the secrets to their sound where as some are very keen to sing the praises of their choice of equipment and how they have everything configured/settings etc. I only ask this because I sincerely think what you capture at ‘Die Tonmeisterei studio’ is genuinely one of the heaviest all-round guitar sounds I’ve ever heard. What’s the story behind these mountainous rhythm and glacial lead tones?
Well I am no sound-nerd and I am not able to talk about music-gear or cool fancy guitars or anything like that. I check out my gear by the trial-and-error principle and I think I was very lucky in the past years. What is most important to our music is the way we play our instruments. A lot of guys in the recording-studio would start laughing at you when you would play your instruments like we do, but we believe it is very important to put all energy into your way of playing. Always. So there are lots of noises and chaos that are created by hitting the strings or the toms as hard as we can. And by screaming until our head hurts. The other part of the sound is role from the ‘Tonmeisterei’ in Oldenburg. He always understood, what we wanted. He is the perfect guy for us. He helped us to create our sound for a long time now. We love him.
This answer pleases me! I remember reading an interview which was really prying to find Pat Walker of Warning and 40 Watt Sun’s tone secrets and he said he usually just borrows an amp or pedal and plugs in and plays. There was no secret. Tt was the riffs and the articulation of his playing that oozed the heaviness and emotion, not the amp settings. There are some seriously excellent sludge infused doom bands currently active. Rorcal and Celeste being two of my personal favourites, but also Hexis, Redwood Hill, Erlen Meyer and Regarde Les Hommes Tomber are all making serious ripples in Europe. Can you foresee a potential kinship forming with any of these bands? I’d certainly be elated if you were to tour with any of them.
Hm, I know Celeste, as they were on the same label as Omega Massif, and I think I listened to a Rorcal-song once. The same with Hexis. I do not know the other bands but I’ll check them out. I am not listening to a lot of Doom. I am more the Death- and Thrash- or True-listener when I listen to Metal. And I like genre-mixed-concerts a lot more than 10 Doom-Bands in a row. So I prefer concerts with a good grind- , d-beat- or hardcore-band.
There’s already a number of live appearances planned around Germany over the year to come. You made your live debut on 30th January 2015. Was CVLT written together through rehearsing as a band, or did it first come together in the studio and then rehearsals for recreating it live came afterward? Am I right in assuming Phantom Winter will push the volume to similar crushing and overwhelming levels for the live experience as Omega Massif were notorious for doing?
As I wrote before, I am writing the songs alone. Then we finish the writing process mostly in one Session as a band. Christof and I recorded “Wintercvlt” with Christian’s additional vocals. The rest of the songs we recorded some months later with Martin on bass. David joined the band after the recordings. We are really happy to be able to rehearse as a band now. And our two live-gigs showed us, that we really are a band and we link together. That is great feeling. And yes, Phantom Winter is very loud. Sound-guys: beware!
Haha! I’ll make sure to catch you guys then to make up for having never seen Omega Massif. Thanks very much for your time! I have one last question. I personally like to listen to albums intently while creating a scenario to match the music – for instance, I hiked out in 10 inch snow at midnight while listening to Karpatia to imbue a full sensory experience of the album. I’ll be taking CVLT with me to a stone circle I’ve been looking forward to visiting in the Yorkshire dales over the next couple of days, and writing a review for the album shortly after. Can you recommend a scenario for listeners to create while listening to CVLT?
The first thing I always do when new mixes of my own music arrives: listening to it while driving around in my car. By night. When it snows. Or rains. The first CVLT-mixes I got some days before we went snowboarding. That was great. When my kids and my wife fell asleep, I went out and walked through the snow in the Alps. And if you ever took a walk next to huge mountains by night, you know, what this does to you and what it feels like. You feel tiny and it is a completely different feeling to everything else. And then the songs started and I knew that we created something very intense.
That’s perfect! Andreas, thanks ever so much for your time and your awesome answers! Best of luck with the release!
- I. Phantom Winter – WINTERCVLT
- II. Omega Massif – Unter Null
- III. Rorcal – Vilagvege (II – V)
- IV. Erlen Meyer – Bec et Ongles
- V. Celeste – X
- VI. Hexis – Odium
- VII. Regarde Les Hommes Tomber – The Fall
- VIII. Redwood Hill – Aten
- IX. Omega Massif – Don’t Bring Me Flowers (Godflesh Cover)
- X. Phantom Winter – Corpses Collide