For The Love Of....
Last month I did a review on Vitam Aeternam’s excellent debut `The Self-Aware Frequency’, an experimental musical project initiated by Jake Rosenberg (keyboards, piano, programming, sampling and being from the USA), Râhoola (vox, choir, keyboards, piano, orchestration, programming and sound design, hailing from Mexico) and André Aaslie (piano, orchestration, Moog Mellotron and residence in Norway), who all connected via a Devil Doll Facebook group. By sharing their musical values a bunch of the songs indeed do sound close to the highly acclaimed cult phenomena Devil Doll, though there are also musical twists and turns that confirm their musical universe is a little bit more than that. Along the way these three enthusiasts also got a few international special guests on board, like Devil Doll guitarist Bor Zuljan, and all in all Vitam Aeternam gave at least the Devil Doll Community a great new impulse. To find out a little bit more about this awesome project, I presented Jake Rosenberg a few questions.
Vitam Aeternam is originated via a Devil Doll Facebook group. What was the fundamental motivation to bring this project to life?
,,The original idea was to create a compilation paying tribute to the style of Devil Doll. I noticed that a lot of bands in progressive and black metal scenes were citing Devil Doll as an influence. I also noticed that there were a lot of musicians lurking in the Devil Doll Facebook Group. At the time, I was listening to `The Godfather Of Odd’, which is a compilation put together to pay tribute to Hardy Fox from The Residents. I thought it would be interesting to try something similar, since Devil Doll and The Residents both have distinct sounds and cult followings. To get people interested, I wrote and recorded ,,Coward” with Râhoola to show others what I had in mind for the submissions/contributions. We got mostly positive responses, but the musicians we reached out to didn’t have time to contribute anything new. It wasn’t until André reached out and contributed to a new song we were working on (,,Human”) that this project really came to life. Even after he reached out, there was no intention to make this more than two songs. He pushed back on us and said we needed to make an album, even if it was short, or else this would just get lost. I’m glad we listened to him.’’
,,We just wanted to make an album that captures what we love about Devil Doll that we feel isn’t represented anywhere else.’’-Jake Rosenberg
The three band members are keyboard (piano) players, why not working in a traditional band setting, having a drummer, bass player etc. as well?
,,`The Self-Aware Frequency’ came together so quickly that the idea of real drums or bass never crossed our minds. After the songs were written, they already leaned so heavily into the industrial/electronic world, that real drums didn’t really make sense for the material.’’
What do you want to offer especially the Devil Doll fans with the release of `The-Self Aware Frequency’?
,,We just wanted to make an album that captures what we love about Devil Doll that we feel isn’t represented anywhere else. Even the bands who cite Devil Doll as an influence focus on individual components, like theatrical vocals, symphonic elements, horror atmosphere, etc. For me, those elements are important, but what stands out the most are how the songs are arranged and the dynamics found within the material. Devil Doll songs play out like movies. It’s more or less a linear A-Z approach that keeps you guessing. It also feels split between dialog (the piano and vocal sections) and action (the more fleshed out full band sections). That is really what we wanted to capture in our own way and with our own influences. We also wanted to include the emotion and melodic element of Devil Doll that I feel gets lost sometimes in the Black Metal scene. In terms of vocals, Râhoola tries to approach it in a similar way as Mr. Doctor by giving every word and phrase its own flavor and inflection. The execution and influences are different, but the approach is similar. Beyond the musical aspect, we just wanted to give Devil Doll fans something to have in 2020. We haven’t heard anything new from the band since `Dies Irae’. Being able to start the conversation again is a lot of fun. I’m looking at the Devil Doll Facebook Group and seeing people post pictures of the Vitam Aeternam LP and CD and it’s amazing. I also hope that anyone who discovers us outside of the Devil Doll circle, will go back and investigate Devil Doll.’’
,,It is a journey towards the awakening of consciousness.”-Jake Rosenberg
What is the lyrical theme of the album?
,,According to Râhoola, who wrote all of the lyrics, it is a journey towards the awakening of consciousness. This is represented with both, the abstract/train of thought/metaphoric lyrical approach as well as the song’s titles. One quick summary could be: “You’ll be Born as a Coward, then face the struggle of Becoming a Human, eventually Arising towards your own unavoidable Death, meeting and merging with the God-Machine, and finally Transcending the lower planes, turning yourself into an immortal Viral Idea: The Self-Aware Frequency.” In TSAF there is a continual search for TRUTH in this path from dark to light, a quest to find knowledge and to see clearly the importance of mastering one’s inner universe (mental realm) as a tool to exert absolute influence on the external world (material realm).’’
Were you aware of the boldness, but also possibly being on thin ice, while making the album? Since Devil Doll has such a cult status and obscure uniqueness, not to mention Mr. Doctor set the bar extremely high. How did you handle it?
,,It’s a balance between the Devil Doll influence and our other influences. I feel like it would be more challenging, if we didn’t distance ourselves from Devil Doll’s instrumentation. Applying the things we like about Devil Doll to something that is more synth and industrial driven, helps create enough of a difference where we don’t have to make the direct comparison. Musically, the song structures on the four main tracks (,,Coward,” ,,Human,” ,,God Machine”, ,,Viral Idea”) have the most in common with Devil Doll, but everything else going on is more influenced by artists like Ulver, Nine Inch Nails, Mike Patton, and Kevin Moore. I think that’s what makes us more comfortable putting this out there without the fear of being written off as Devil Doll fan fiction.’’
It must have been a dream come true, having Devil Doll guitarist Bor Zuljan in the game, doing electric and acoustic guitars. How did you manage to get him on board and how far were you in the process already?
,,I reached out to Bor and asked if he would be interested. He does a lot of session work, so it worked out nicely. We reached out to him while we were finishing writing ,,God Machine”. We actually had to arrange that section specifically for him, after we reached out and he said he would contribute. There really wasn’t a spot for a guitar solo. After he turned that around, we went back to the other material we already had and tried to figure out where else it would make sense. The only thing that was originally written and arranged with guitar in mind was ,,Viral Idea”. Râhoola even sketched out the solo as a point of reference.’’
Special guest Øyvind Mustaparta, former Dimmu Borgir, playing piano on ,,Death’’ is a familiar name. What’s the story here?
,,André has been friends with Mustis since Mustis started in Dimmu Borgir back in 1999. Mustis is one of André’s favorite pianists in the Black Metal scene and they had talked about a collaboration in one way or another for years. André invited him over to his place for a jam session. At this point, André had written some chord progressions and some pre-piano stuff. The whole jam session was a real pleasure for André, as Mustis is a worldclass piano player. They jammed a couple of hours around André’s ideas and Mustis really put his trademark on the stuff. You can really hear the old Dimmu sound throughout the piece. Mustis actually wished for a solo Violin on the piece and that was something Râhoola already had thought about. A few weeks later, Râhoola got his friend, Juan Manuel Flores, to record violin. The result became way better than we ever imagined. The whole thing was surreal. I remember André sharing videos with us in our Group Chat and it blew our minds. Râhoola and I are also fans of Dimmu and Mustis’s playing. It was wild that it came together the way it did.’’
,,André is an old school prog guy, so a lot of his Moog and Mellotron work comes from 70s prog rock vs. Devil Doll.”-Jake Rosenberg
The songs, arrangements, the guitar sound and especially the vocal expressions are very close to Devil Doll. What do you consider as your own identity, parts that are typical Vitam Aeternam and different from Devil Doll?
,,I think a lot of the melodies and instrumentation share more similarities with artists like Ulver, Nine Inch Nails, Mike Patton, and in places, Kevin Moore, than Devil Doll. The piano sections are purely influenced by Devil Doll, but all of the synth and industrial parts come from other influences. André is an old school prog guy, so a lot of his Moog and Mellotron work comes from 70s prog rock vs. Devil Doll. Regarding the vocals, Râhoola is also a HUGE Mike Patton fan and I hear a lot of that throughout the album.’’
The artwork is also very much in the vibe of the Devil Doll artwork. What can you tell about that part of the process?
,,Our manager, Mathias, worked with Râhoola to put that together. The idea was to create physical items that would be special and collectible. So much effort and care went into the art and packaging and we think it turned out great.’’
What makes the Norwegian label Crime Records the perfect haven for Vitam Aeternam?
,,It’s all about the Devil Doll connection. Thomas, who owns the label, is also in the Devil Doll Facebook Group. He knows exactly what we’re trying to do and has allowed us to do it. We are extremely grateful for that.’’
Why is `The Self-Aware Frequency’ a must have for Devil Doll fans?
,,I feel weird saying it’s a must have for anyone. We made this album with the intention of appealing to Devil Doll fans and we hope it resonates with them as well as any fan of dark experimental music. I will let the fans of the album tell other people why it is a must have (laughing).’’
Are you planning to handle things as obscure and exclusive as Devil Doll always did?
,,We joke about that. I actually have some secret items that only a few people know about and have. I guess we’ll have to wait 20-30 years for people to figure out what they are.’’
Do you think Mr. Doctor will take a listen to your album?
,,I’m not sure. I hope so. I know there are some people in the Devil Doll Facebook Group who are in touch with him. I don’t know if anyone has shared this with him yet. It would be very cool to hear what he thinks of the album.’’
What makes Devil Doll/Mr. Doctor so intriguing and appealing to you?
,,Besides the music, I think the whole world he built is super intriguing. The mythology around the live performances, the special items that still have not been unearthed, and the fact they essentially vanished, are all super appealing. I don’t think any other musical act has successfully pulled off that kind of mystery and mythology. With technology and social media, I don’t think anyone else can. Even The Residents, who did this so well in the 70s, 80s and 90s, have more of a tongue-and-cheek relationship with their fans around their mystery and anonymity.’’
What’s the next step in building the Vitam Aeternam legacy?
,,We are working on Album #2. I cannot go into any more detail, but it is shaping up to be pretty great and we have some pretty incredible guest contributions.’’
Vitam Aeternam Facebook here
Crime Records Website here
HBLS review on `The Self-Aware Frequency’ here
#vitamaeternam #crimerecords #devildoll #mrdoctor #headbangerslifestyle #hbls #awayoflife