As any dedicated metal fan will tell you, there’s a sort of unending search for the heaviest, the most technical, the most brutal new band. For some time now, Dutch black metal band Dodecahedron has ended my search. Their avant garde take on metal is dark, discomforting, and often a challenging listen (I mean this all in the best way possible).
To find out what really goes into making that show-stopping sound, I got a chance to speak with Michel Nienhuis, the lead songwriter of the band.
If I’m being completely honest, I don’t know all that much about Dodecahedron aside from the music you guys have put out. Could you go into the genesis of the band a little bit? I would also love to hear about your role specifically within the group.
The concept of Dodecahedron has been around quite some time but didn’t get concrete shape until late 2009, when the lineup was formed. It took a long time to create ideas, throw them away and create better ones until a satisfying result came out. Not earlier than the moment I started looking for band members to record the compositions. I came up with the idea for this band and I write all the music.
The music has come a long, long way from the initial ideas (the first ones date back to 2005). Once the lineup was there, two of the compositions were recorded for demo purposes in 2010. We wanted to push the boundaries of the black metal genre in general; add something to it that might show that the aggression, skill and atmosphere of the style have not been fully deepened yet.
When great reviews regarding your debut keep coming your way, it evokes a certain pressure to figure out how you can improve on what has already been manifested. The first album is a collection of material written over a five year timespan, we were searching for our sound and definition. When I started debating what should come next, this was one of the first things that came to mind – the next album should be more of a whole, with an underlying concept that should work throughout the whole album. Create more cohesion and correlation. That’s what we tried to do, and I believe that we have surpassed the debut album in that way.
Regarding the band name, the dodecahedron is one of five Platonic solids. These are geometrical shapes with all equal lines that can be found on different levels in nature and embody a certain sacred ratio, like the golden ratio. The first four solids are often referred to as a symbol for the elements, while the dodecahedron stands for the whole, the universe. We are trying to communicate that all encompassing feeling of the whole with our music and lyrics, that’s why we think this name is appropriate.
It’s was about five years between your self-titled debut and the excellent new kwintessens. Was it five years of consistent work put towards the project, or was it more of an on and off affair?
Everybody in the band does several things to make a living; from time to time Dodecahedron was a part of that. We haven’t been working on this album continuously. I started to develop the concept for this album in 2013 after I found the answer to the question ‘How can a next album be an improvement on the first one?’ Answer: find ways to make the album more cohesive and consistent than the first one. Then I started to develop a musical concept around the five Platonic solids and started writing.
It was finished in the beginning of 2015; that’s when the others came into play and we started recording drums in the summer of 2015. The final master was submitted end of August 2016, so you can imagine we’ve been working on it off and on.
The band’s now signed to Season of Mist, home to a bunch of other reputable bands. How did that relationship come about and how has it been working with the label?
I don’t think we could have possibly gotten this far with the band if Season Of Mist wasn’t on our side. The whole team works very hard to promote and distribute their releases, and Dodecahedron has had a lot of advantages from that.
Michael Berberian, the label boss, was convinced that our music would fit the Season Of Mist roster after I got in touch with him, but he’s a very busy man so it took some time to finish the deal. We had some help from a license consultant to get the contracts in order, and from there on, it has been a very good relationship.
My understanding is that all of your music is produced and engineered by the band itself. Does anyone in the band have professional training or was it something that was just picked up along the way?
We have all been active in the music industry for quite a while, and next to that, some of us studied music as well. I have learned a great deal about contemporary composition methods when I was studying, which has had quite some impact on our music.
On kwintessens it seems as if, lyrically, you moved away from the mythological themes present on your first album. Can you elaborate on how the Platonic solids inform the lyrics and music of the new project?
I don’t think we moved so much away from the mythological aspect, it is still present in the lyrics. But the Platonic solids have had a bigger impact on kwintessens because I used some of the numerical information I found in them as compositional tools.
First I came up with a track listing. Five songs are not enough for a full-length album, so I thought it would be a good to have an introduction to the album, “Prelude.” The two songs that follow are quite intense, so I figured it would be good to have an interlude that is a bit easier to listen to. If you would look at the album as if it were a soundtrack then you might hear the enlightenment; but also the state of megalomania in “An ill-defined air of otherness.” A preferred ending point, but alas it’s not the ending. “Finale” marks a transitional phase, a purgatory, only to end up in the depths of the abyss in “The death of your body.”
Musically, I used three numbers per shape that can be interpreted musically in a great range of different ways. It drives me to be as creative as possible with this information. For example: a ‘3’ can push me in the direction to write the song in three parts, make rhythmic divisions in three, make melodies that go up and down in jumps of three, make harmonies with major and minor triads, et cetera. When you have three numbers per shape, you have countless possibilities, so it can be a hard search from time to time. But armed with these numbers, my intuition, and a general idea of how that song should sound, I managed to put this album together.
Since I was looking for a way to make the album more cohesive, I tried to have a more consistent approach in the writing process and make more musical connections between the five key elements on kwintessens.
In your music, I’m pretty certain I can hear some Mayhem and Deathspell Omega. Have those bands had any influence on Dodecahedron’s music? Any other bands you consider important influences of yours?
They most certainly have. The works of Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti and the Dutch electronic music innovator Jaap Vink have been a main influence since the beginning of Dodecahedron. The atmospheres that these gentlemen have created are magnificent and have been of great inspiration to us. Jaap Vink is the inventor of a sound synthesis technique called multiplied feedback, a technique that we use as well to create the non-instrumental sounds you hear on the album.
We are a metal band of course, so albums from bands like Mayhem, Deathspell Omega, Indian, Kickback, and Meshuggah are also important to us.
I’m sure you’re already aware, but your first two albums were both widely praised amongst many publications in the metal community. What do you think the band is doing different that makes you stand out from the pack?
Before Dodecahedron was the band it is now, I was experimenting with atmospheric layering in a more traditional sense, orchestral sounds in the vein of Emperor, for instance. But yeah, it sounded too much like Emperor.
When I learned about sound synthesis and started collaborating with J. Bonis (who does all the sound synthesis for Dodecahedron), I realized that we had stumbled upon a new combination – sound synthesis as atmospheric layering for extreme metal. Combined with the somewhat systematic and contemporary approach that I use to write the songs is what makes us a recognizable band, I think.
I know you guys played a few shows earlier this year in support of the album release. Do you have any plans to eventually do a tour stateside?
There are no concrete plans to do a tour in the States at this point. It is very hard to make such an adventure a bit profitable, but you never know. We started collaborating with booking agencies here in Europe, so I don’t see why that couldn’t be the case for the USA in the future. I think the possibility would be more likely that it would a festival rather than a tour.
Thanks so much for your time man!
Thank you for your interest in the band!
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