For over a decade Falls of Rauros have taken the folk/black metal template and subtly expanded its scope to encompass a number of musical styles all while maintaining a singular vision. New album Vigilance Perennial feels like the culmination of this musical exploration: a deep, layered tapestry of melody and aggression that isn’t afraid to rely on the strength of its quieter moments to complement the harsher passages. Nine Circles took the time to talk with founding member Aaron Charles about the band’s history, approach to writing, as well as where and how they fit into the black/folk metal tag. Check it out after the jump.
How did Falls of Rauros come together? I understand the name comes from Tolkien and you’ve known each other from childhood, but what was the drive to create the band?
We started making music under the name Falls of Rauros after the dissolution of previous bands we had played in. It was a basic need to keep writing music and maintaining a creative outlet. We wanted to record ourselves to allow off-the-cuff experimentation in melody, timbre, ambience, and production techniques. We of course had nothing even close to an acceptable home studio, and knew absolutely zero about engineering a record, but the point was to be creative and try to eschew boundaries and classifications. Those demos were clearly rooted in black metal aesthetics but we simply weren’t, and aren’t, capable of writing pure black metal or anything as hostile and dark as a lot of the music we were listening to at the time. Out of the innumerable influences we borrowed from on our demos I would say a marriage between Judas Iscariot and Tenhi would be a solid estimation of the early Falls of Rauros “catalyst.”
From Hail Wind and Hewn Oak to Vigilance Perennial each full-length always feels like a step forward while maintaining a singular vision. Vigilance Perennial in particular has a deep, layered warmth to it that is incredible. Was there a goal coming in to the creation of the record you kept in mind?
We started writing Vigilance Perennial without any sort of blueprint or plan. I think everyone in the band has a pretty clear idea of our “identity” and what’s acceptable experimentation, what’s acceptable development and maturation, and what kind of exploration is tasteful and needed. Because of this we were able to start writing the record together at our practice space with no clue where it would take us. We simply worked hard at developing the riffs and motifs we agreed made the cut and expanded those into full-fledged songs. After enough individual musical ideas had accumulated it was like working with clay, and that takes time. The “vision” of the band has remained relatively consistent but our approach to composition has developed and we try to be more meticulous with each successive release. There’s no question that this is our most layered record: we spent much more time in the studio adding support tracks and tinkering with the mix, and that was pretty much the only thing we planned for in advance on Vigilance Perennial.
Acoustic guitars and keyboards seem to have a stronger presence on the new record. Each track with the exception of “Arrow & Kiln” begin with stunning clean passages. How did the songwriting process for the album go, and where in the process do you build out from?
The seed of each particular song could end up landing anywhere in the composition by the time we’ve finished it, but more often than not we started writing the song from the beginning. That’s certainly the case for “White Granite” and “Impermanence Streakt Through Marble.” In the latter, that introductory chord progression and picking pattern lays down the groundwork for more than half of the song, though it develops and transforms throughout the track’s duration. We also borrowed that intro bit in “Impermanence” to use in the final section of “Arrow & Kiln” but layered it on top of an altogether different chord progression. This way a new set of harmonies was produced by that same fingerpicked melody. Writing “White Granite” began with the clean and acoustic intro theme which in turn influenced most of the metallic riffing throughout the rest of the song. Little bits of that theme were splintered off or reworked to supply the track with fresh sounding but familiar content. At the very end you hear the intro theme come back fully intact and in the forefront of the mix. Similar composition techniques were used throughout the record.
The more I listen to the record (especially with headphones) the more I get lost in the space and depth of the songs. “White Granite” feels like it’s completely open from a sonic perspective, which is a departure from what many consider “black metal.” From a production standpoint how was the process different from Believe in No Coming Shore?
We wrote Vigilance Perennial and Believe in No Coming Shore in a very similar manner: live at our practice space bouncing ideas off one another. In the studio we took a very different approach. “Believe” we kept as stripped down as possible to give it that “live” feeling and lend a palpable rawness to it. Vigilance Perennial is still organic sounding and not overproduced in the least, but we paid a lot more attention to fine details and bulking up the sound after the initial tracking took place. Basically we recorded drums, bass and two guitars live, straight through the record, and then tackled the layering process after a strong foundation was set. Jordan and I doubled up all of our heavy guitar tracks with different amps. Most of the clean guitars are also layered with acoustics underneath, and vice-versa. When lead guitar parts or solos make an appearance we gave them a much more heavy handed treatment with effects. On Believe we kept all of these elements to a minimum, as well as burying the keyboards which rear their head only occasionally. On Vigilance we essentially went all-in with production techniques that result in a natural sounding record rich with variation in tone and timbre. We avoided any production techniques that would result in sterility or a clinical modern metal sound.
It feels like the black/folk metal tag can be as much of a burden as a blessing. How important is genre to you when it comes to Falls of Rauros, and where do you see the band fitting in any kind of overall metal picture?
We’ve always just gone with Black Metal or Folk/Black Metal as the simple answer and to avoid sounding ridiculous. I wouldn’t say that really fits, but it’s roughly accurate. We certainly don’t sound like Isengard or Storm, nor do we sound like Windir or a band like that. Progressive black metal doesn’t feel right for us either, nor does Atmospheric Black Metal. Ultimately genre isn’t important to us, but we don’t use that fact as an excuse to throw any and all music genres we like into the cauldron and cook up some disjointed, careless mess. It’s important to be tactful with the incorporation of disparate influences. I know for a fact there are many people who read the “black metal” tag on us, wind up with something not at all suited to their taste and are disappointed. I’m sure the same thing happens with folk metal fans who are looking to fill the void before the next Falkenbach record. But what can you do??
I’ve read in other interviews about your influences, particularly in the metal and folk scenes. But listening to the new songs, especially the great solo break in the middle of “Arrow & Kiln” I feel like the influences and ideas stretch far beyond that. What’s the most out-there influence that contributed to the new album?
That would be tough to pinpoint. The four of us all have our own personal likes and dislikes in music, and we didn’t bring many identifiable influences to the table for this record. Each of us draws from a composite of all the music we listen to: certain techniques, approaches, effects and timbres. I know Jordan is really into Frank Zappa and it wouldn’t surprise me if Zappa influenced some his idiosyncratic, almost angular and off-the-wall solos on this record. I tried to take a different (for me) approach with my solos which contain plenty of wah pedal and, at least in my contributions to the “Arrow & Kiln” solo section, a vague 90s rock influence. Think Tool or Smashing Pumpkins. Sort of. Most of what influenced Vigilance was on a very subconscious level. We all listen to tons of music so any interesting rhythmic pattern or pulse, or any little melodic snippet could sneak its way into our music and we’d never be able to identify the source. There is one part that’s recognizably influenced by Metallica, but I don’t want to draw attention to it. For us that’s a pretty “out there” influence.
We hear all the time about the Northwest and Portland, OR metal scenes all the time, but rarely about the Portland, ME scene. How is the scene there, and how (if at all) has it shaped the band’s development?
The Portland, ME music scene is small overall, as the city itself is very small, but there are still lots of musicians here. There seem to be new bands popping up every day and dissolving quickly, or members being shuffled around and changing band names. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of longevity in Portland bands. There are, of course, a handful of exceptions. When we formed Falls of Rauros we actually lived just outside of Portland and were very reclusive. We didn’t play shows back then. I’d say that more than anything our isolation has played the key part in shaping the sound of the band and our preference to write and record rather than tour extensively.
I know you’re playing the Decibel Metal & Beer Festival in April along with some killer bands like your label mate Austin from Panopticon. Will the new songs get the live treatment?
It’s become more difficult with each successive release to touch upon a wide variety of our material at shows. That difficulty is heightened when you factor in the average length of one of our songs. We’ll probably have time to play 3, maybe 4 songs at the festival. With that in mind we’ll definitely play something off Vigilance Perennial but I’m sure we’ll also pay attention to our last 2 records for all the people in attendance who have never seen us before and want to hear some old stuff. We’re greatly looking forward to this fest. Bindrune will be there with a fantastic assortment of music and wearables in tow. Panopticon is going to level the place. It’s going to be like a family reunion!
Did Vigilance Perennial accomplish what you wanted? What’s next for the band?
I think we accomplished what we wanted. I’m just not entirely sure what we wanted. After enjoying some much-needed distance from the record (overexposure during the writing/recording/mixing stage is inevitable) I would say we successfully explored some new territory for the band and honed our composition skills a bit further. Outside of doing some light touring I expect us to begin writing the next record somewhere down the road. Hopefully that will see us further pushing ourselves and yielding something of worth to certain people in the world. As with Vigilance Perennial there is no blueprint or plan for whatever comes next. But it’ll come.
Many thanks to Aaron for his time!