The Virtue of Weltschmerz – An Interview with Noisebringer Records
From loneliest loan-word in English to some blackened death metal that really slaps
So a few months ago TheoBomb made the distinction between catharsis and escapist listeners of music, and I have to say I’m solidly entrenched in the former (as were several readers if I recall). Nothing sticks in my memory more than an album that can commiserate exactly how I’m feeling when I first spin it. I’m not entirely sure how healthy having this strong of a connection to a piece of music is — it’s certainly led to some strange twists in my life: like on-and-off conversations with Peter Dolving, former Mary Beats Jane tough guy, now CBD startup guru or something.
With that in mind, try and imagine where you were mentally and physically in Februrary of this year. No widely distributed vaccine yet (at least not in the US). Still stuck with either stay-at-home orders or curfews. Staring at the four walls of your bedroom as they seem more and more like a prison. Maybe your mind’s starting to feel the same way. Everyday things are now a burden to be shouldered, COVID keeps spreading because of the idiot bikers at Sturgis, and you’re just sick of this planet and ready to fucking re-roll any minute. The Germans have a word for this (of course) — Weltschmerz: when you’ve become weary of the world, the suffering it brings you, and its lacking ability to bring relief. By June, I was drowning in isolation-induced Weltschmerz. And then someone DM’ed me two albums, both released this year that totally commiserated my feelings of agitated angst and existential pessimism about humanity — Kanonenfieber’s Menschenmüle and Leiþa’s (pronounced ‘Leit’) Sisyphus. One album about the pointless waste of life that was WW1, and one about the hatred that builds from the pointless ways in which our own lives are wasted and feel empty. Both came out on Noisebringer Records, and as I learned, both were written and performed by Noise, the record label’s sole proprietor.
In contrast to his projects’ lyrics, Noise is very personable and friendly to speak with, and he was humbly shocked that someone outside of Europe had heard his music and liked it enough to ask for an interview. Graciously accepting the interview, we talked for about an hour on Zoom — the edited transcript is below:
Eenzaamheid: Why choose to write both the albums in German? Is it the same reason for both Menschenmühle and Sisyphus?
Noise: The choice was pretty easy to me — it’s the language I’m most attracted to because it is my native tongue. Compared to my German skills, my English is pretty basic. It works fine for conversations but that’s it. For example I know like 50 different words for the term “mad” in German. In comparison, I only know the words ‘mad’ and ‘pissed‘ in English, you know. My German vocabulary includes way more ways for me to express myself. Especially for Kanonenfieber this was important. The lyrics for Menschenmühle are based on reports and letters from soldiers of WW1, and indeed all of those were written in German. So it was a clear thing for me to stick to that. For Leiþa, German was my go-to language as well. I wrote the lyrics pretty spontaneously and had the words already in my head. Translating it into English would have destroyed my workflow and that’s what it’s all about, right.
So what inspired you to write the first album specifically about World War 1? It seems like there’s been a general resurgence in interest — but this specifically, is there a personal meaning to you?
I did some ancestry research for my grandmother. My great-grandfather died in World War II, you know. She had an old diary from him and me and my historian buddy — who I’m going to talk about more in a bit — translated it from “old” German into “modern” German.
I’ve always been interested in history and the wars that came with it. I’ve seen all the movies like Band Of Brothers, Soldier James Ryan, Pearl Harbor — you name it, so the interest was always there. It really started to grow the moment I had the diary in my hands. I really felt attached to the story of a person that lived through and suffered for this time. The stuff he wrote down was exactly what you would not get in the movies. It was so honest and clear that I really felt so much attraction to his words. I really could imagine what he was feeling in those days.
A letter always keeps its meaning. It doesn’t matter if it’s a few days, 5 years, or a thousand years old. Yeah, that was my first real impression of people being in war — my great-grandfather. And from then on, I got interested in diaries and reports that were written in war. Nothing could give me a better idea of how it must have been back then. No one could tell those stories like the recruits in the trenches writing down what they have lived through. So I started to figure out a way to get more information on World War One.
I have a buddy that is very interested in history. He has a big collection of letters and reports of surviving soldiers from WW1 — He collects those. We started to figure out what it would be like to make an album that could tell the exact stories of those recruits in the trenches. That was the main reason for the WW1 theme. We really wanted to come up with something special. It should be one big concept for the whole album. That’s why the album is like a start-to-end story. I‘ve heard many people say that you have to listen to Menschenmühle in one rush. One track leads into another, which was exactly what I wanted to do.
Yeah, I guess that was the main reason for me to decide on WW1 as the topic. You always read phrases from commanders in WW1 like “we defeated them in one stabbing strike.” In the end it was a few thousand men who died in blood, mud and shit because they were told to run into the enemy’s gunfire. The story of a recruit in the trenches is way more interesting to me than a report from a general that hasn’t seen the mud, the blood and death.
I mentioned before about the popular resurgence of interest in WW1. I feel like World War II takes up a lot more space in public thinking — do you think people are starting to maybe get more interested in the specifics of WWI, is it just the anniversary, or something else?
The anniversary had a big impact in Germany. There were these “100 years WW1” articles in every newspaper and magazine seven years ago. And then three years ago it was the “end of WW1 anniversary”. And all the magazines had stuff to write about again.
Then indeed – there was this Battlefield Episode with the WW1 theme, that might have triggered the general interest in this particular war as well. That said, many people are interested in history and the cruelty that comes with it. COVID made people read more and watch TV. I think it’s a combination of all those things. And there you go — WW1 is big again.
Are you worried that people might take your attempt to honor the soldiers’ personal memories the wrong way?
You mean like turn it into a right-winged sort of thing? Yeah, that was one of the first things that happened as the album came out. People were like ‘oh shit, that’s NSBM’
I mean I didn’t get that impression but yeah…
Exactly, but there are people like that, you know. If you go for war thematically, you will be touched by that. My approach to all of those political questions was pretty simple: this album was not meant to honor war or the ideology of the system that caused it. This album was meant to honor the innocent people that died in the trenches. The name Menschenmühle translates as ‘human mill’ and ‘canon fever’ (Kanonenfieber) is like the exact feeling that the song Unterstandsangst (fear of shelter) tries to describe. All in all the album should speak for itself. It is not glorifying anything. There isn’t politics in my music, it’s just a straight up historical instrument for me. I wanted to make this album as historically correct as possible. There was no ideology in my mind, it was just like: I have these letters and I want to create something tangible.
Ok, this is something that another writer asked me to ask you who’s a big Kanonenfieber fan: what do you think people misinterpret or get wrong in the popular recollection of WW1? (Thanks to A Spooky Mansion for this question!)
What people see is honor, duty and fights. Soldiers running into battle, crawling through the mud, and shooting at each other. Heroism, cruelty and death. What people don’t see or know about is that all these battles that raged on were a very small amount of the time that was spent in the trenches. Soldiers sat in the trenches for months and months and there was like one battle that went for five or six hours and that was it — they went into the next trench and stayed again for months. There were some more frequently raging battles going on at The Somme or Verdun. There was continuous fighting and bombardment going on. But this wasn’t the case for all the frontlines, like the Eastern Front for example. Soldiers stood guard for years without seeing one enemy. Another thing that people are not aware of are the problems that come from living in a trench – I have a book that was just talking about what it’s like to live in a trench. There were diseases such as trenchfoot and the Spanish Flu that killed as many people as the war did. And yeah, there was no heroism in dying of a flu. I think the main misperception of WW1 is that soldiers were fighting all the time. Those battles we all know about were a very, very small part of the war. In the beginning of the 19th century many people couldn’t read. In Germany it was like 40%. So, mouth to mouth propaganda was very strong. The common perception of war was based on the Napoleonic Wars. People thought of cavalry, sword fights, man against man. Honor and heroism. But in the end the experiences the recruits made at the front were nothing like that.
What impact do you feel like COVID had on the recording and writing process for this record (Menschenmüle)?
Not that much impact I guess. I’m constantly writing music. COVID wasn’t the impetus for me to write Menschenmühle. It just came naturally. It happened to be the right time for that album.
What emotional impact has writing/listening to music had on your life?
Like music at all? For me music is everything — I always try to give my life a soundtrack. I have earbuds in all the time, even as I sleep, which annoys the hell out of my girlfriend. Music is the main indicator of everything that goes on inside me.
For instance, I was just listening to Gorgoroth‘s “Under a Sign of Hell”. A classic. The guitars are the main emotional expression I hear in the album. The emotional impact of this album comes from the melody, like in almost every genre. Or to take another band, Der Weg Einer Freiheit has some of the greatest melodies that have been written on guitar — 1914 as well. You can literally hear the emotions of the songwriters. The music I listen to really reflects how I feel at the moment — at the same time, I can kind of control my mood through music.
Did you find the writing process for Sisyphus cathartic?
Yeah definitely, that was my purpose behind writing it.
Would you consider Leiþa a depressive suicidal black metal band, like in the vein of Lifelover or Shining, or something different?
It’s a very different approach for me. I also take a very different approach to musicality on the technical side of things – like I try to be progressive at points and incorporate lots of different styles into my playing. Shining and Lifelover are more straight forward musically. Thematically those two bands are like “say no to life!” at any point, and it’s very direct and rude at some points. I didn’t approach Sisyphus that way. I tried to use a more precise, emotional way of writing lyrics. Indeed there is one song on the album that has a pretty direct title. (Töte Dich – Kill Yourself) But even that song has more complex story to it then just the act of killing your self. It is based on the story of Goethe’s “The Sorrows of Young Wether”.
Yeah my impression was more that it was a description of what it feels like to be depressed and maybe suicidal, but not so much “DO IT!” like Shining would be. Not like an assertive statement, just what it’s like to lay in bed all day and think about suicide.
What impact has depression had on your life overall?
I wouldn‘t say that I suffer from constant depression — I have music, and I can release all this anger through it. I have these suicidal thoughts and hate myself for being myself if you know what I mean, but on the other hand in daily life I come across as a kind of happy and friendly guy. At least on the surface. It’s the best and happiest side of you that you show to others. On the other side, if you come home and you are alone, then everything gets fucked up.
I think it’s a two sided thing — in public I might not seem depressed because I do my best not to, but people who know me well know that there’s something going on in me that’s not really right at all. But as I said I have music. Music lets me express myself and helps to release all those terrible thoughts. Music is the way I cope with it. That said, it has become kind of an addiction to play instruments. If I go on vacation for example I can’t wait to get back to my studio and write music. At some point I feel like I’d implode. Depressive feelings are the main reason for me to write music, so I need it and kind of appreciate it in that sense.
That’s my approach to art. Making the facade melt away and letting out all the shit that built up inside. And that’s how Menschenmühle and Sisyphus were written as well as my following albums and projects will be.
Do you feel like metal attracts people with issues with depression and anxiety?
From the metal artists, people, and fans I’ve come across, I’d say so. I wouldn’t say all metalheads are depressed or whatever, I’d just say they find an emotional impact in metal music. As well there are people who want to shock and say “I listen to Cannibal Corpse, I like to see people being slaughtered” it’s kind of an ‘Other’ thing – kind of like the people who watch the movie Saw over and over again. But in general, for black metal and specifically atmospheric black metal, to have a feeling to understand that music, it attracts emotional people because it’s very emotional music.
In the Bandcamp description for Sisyphus you write “It is those moments certainty spits you in the face with a blend of disgust and resistance. In moments exactly like that be sure of just one thing: You are not the only one.” What are some artists and/or albums that have commiserated your feelings or made you feel less alone
I’m thinking of bands like Deafheaven — though I was not very much into their latest album — I loved their previous work. Then there are bands like Alcest, Lantlos, Galar, Les Discretes, Der Weg Einer Freiheit just to name a few. I like those melodic black metalish bands, with great atmosphere. This kind of music can suck you up and bring you to another place, you know.
Finally, Noise asked to say a few works before signing off:
Thank you for the questions and thanks to the people reading this! I hope you had some fun reading this and could take something away from it. Support your local acts, go to shows and start living again! There is no better time to go out, grab a beer and listen to some extreme metal than now. Cheers and have a good one!
You can check out both Menschenmüle and Sisyphus on Bandcamp or via the players below