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Naught above Nature

Winterherz, vocalist and guitarist of Scarcross is quite contented with the creational force of this band but still feels something is missing. So the time is nigh for a second project in which he can intransigently follow his preference for black metal... WALDGEFLÜSTER.

"I started laying the foundations for WALDGEFLÜSTER in winter 2005. My first demo "Stimmen im Wind" was put out in summer 2006 and shortly after that I finally found the matching comrades-in-arms for a live line-up. Around the same time I started working on "Herbstklagen" (autumnal laments) which was released by Black Blood Records in February." The name WALDGEFLÜSTER (whispers of the forest) shall "express several aspects in an atmospheric way" explains Winterherz. "I came up with this mental construct that the whispers of the forest are the voice of my inner self and thus communicating with me as a composer. It stands for my deep and partly buried emotions which I can process with this music. At the same time the name shall embody my relatedness to nature and the base of my lyrics, that ist to say the symbiosis of personal feelings, pagan thoughts and images of nature respectively metaphors."

Pagan ideas increasingly find their ways into the ears of the listeners, and not every band takes them beyond shouting ŽOdinŽ and celebrating mead binges which fans often willingly follow. WALDGEFLÜSTER on the other hand is more silent, thought-provoking and entirely not fitting into such clichés. "No, I can't identify myself with those typical viking metal followers who are merely raising their rhytons and yelling ŽOdinŽ. In my opinion they haven't understood what paganism really is about. Only because one is able to write down names like Valhalla or Midgard doesn't mean that one lives spirituality in terms of confrontation with one's innermost self or also relatedness to nature, meaning respect for nature. These people often also believe in the anthropomorphic manifestations of the old gods and think that Wotan really is enthroned in Asgard and Thor swings his hammer in order to protect them. Such people annoy me in particular as to me there's not much of a difference to Christianity - whether there is one god or a whole pantheon above oneself doesn't improve anything." For Winterherz the gods and legends of Germanic mythology are "allegories and metaphors, an archaic attempt to explain the world and nature from which one can not only learn respect for nature but also for oneself. And it gets even worse if those people don't have a clue about history. I don't see myself as a history prof, and I still have to learn a lot, but at least I try to continuously improve my knowledge and to achieve a preferably objective view on events until the Middle Ages - without all that romantic or heroic colouring of the germanic tribes but also without reducing their way of life to barbarism and primitivism."

Because of the aforementioned reasons Winterherz wouldn't appreciate a revival of this belief as it would only lead to one god being replaced by several others. "Spirituality starts at heart and isn't in need of any external dogmatic belief. Most people wouldn't be able to understand this and thus pave the way for the next spiritual scourge, dictating us what to think. Paganism is more of a spirituality close to nature than a real belief to me which, of course, also includes to go in for the old myths and to screen them for whatever can be an enrichment to one's contemporary life. Furthermore it's to pause at special, mystical places and to feel the energy such moments can give. Not because one has just been covered with fairy dust by some fairies but due to the tranquility and beauty such places hold. Whereas I perceive the idea of personifying certain places and their population with fabled entities as quite tempting, and I don't want to deny the former people their beliefs. It's not a part of my personal beliefs but on "Herbstklagen" I ask myself, though, whether or not scientific enlightenment makes humans nowadays more human than was the simple man of elder times who strongly believed and gained strength as well as regeneration from believing which in modern times is hardly possible any more due to demystifying rationality. In old times all these narratives served the important purpose of explaining the world. Today we are urged to recognize them as metaphors and come to the same fulfilling conclusions but thanks to the 'demystification' of all those places people are no longer able to recognize their importance. In the end, paganism also means being my own master and god - only Nature herself being stronger."

Nature and the close bond to nature have a role just as crucial in the lyrical concepts as in the atmospherical natural impressions in the booklet. You'll easily notice a tinge of regret in 'Klage III - Wolfsgeheul' that the voices of the wolves vanished from the forests a long time ago. In this context as well as with reference to environmnetal protection and species conservation Winterherz opines that "in this special case the falling silent of the wolves stands for the loss of mystic at places as mentioned before. But I agree that also suppression of nature and mankind's need to rule nature are part of this track respectively the complete work. I consider environmental protection and species conservation as crucial. Although I am no active member in any association I do try to contribute within the range of my own scope. Even if we're only talking about separating the garbage or riding the bicycle instead of taking the car as often as possible I believe that also such small steps count in the end. On the other hand there are times when this doesn't work - I can't imagine a life without a car or other amenities. Still I continually try to grow, and maybe one day I'll be able to contribute more than these hollow lip services people trifle with.

Another line you might stumble upon in the lyrics is 'Destiny which deprives me of my choice', a line which strongly sounds like basic choices in life being reserved right from the beginning respectively seem to be made by others, leading to the question if Winterherz would agree with that or if it's rather destiny - and if it is, indeed, which significance he would concede destiny. "With this line I wanted to express that retrospectively I partially have the feeling that life simply happened. Somehow existence at times takes a life on its own so you receive the impression you did not follow this path of your own choice. You go to school and graduate - what are the alternatives, anyway - and suddenly you find yourself 300 km away from home, studying and reflecting on how you got there. Have I really done this by my own choice? Or did society direct me because this is the 'normal' development? At the time I was writing these lyrics I sometimes had the feeling that everything happened so incredibly fast. And suddenly you sit there, wondering if you have missed a side road somewhere. Not that my way has been absolutely wrong so far, I probably would have made these same decisions over and over again. But every now and then you simply ask yourself 'what if...'. Is my hitherto development the result of societal presettings? School, apprenticeship/studies, job, retirement pension and eventually you die. Does this leave room for choices? I don't believe in a destiny controlling our fortunes but somehow life does seem to be a little programmed. Basically it's always the same: you get up, you lie down, and in the end you're dead. Does it really matter which decisions you make in between? I have no idea but at least I try to influence my life best as I can even though I don't always succeed."

Picture provided by Winterherz

After an extensive excursion into some pithy lyrical fragments let's return to "Herbstklagen" as a whole. A look at the order of the songs suggests a certain pattern from the end of summer (Klage I - Sommerabend) through autumn to the dawn of winter (Klage VIII - Erster Schnee and Klage IX - Wintermorgen). So a future release might be a winter album or maybe Winterherz would even pick summer out as a central theme? "It's well conceivable that winter will take on a more central role on one of my albums. Basically the demo "Stimmen im Wind" is a very wintry creation. By the way, working on "Herbstklagen" it was purely coincidental in the beginning. I had only written some songs, and I realised that they all turned out to be quite autumnal. I guess this was because the creational process began in autumn and the following winter in fact wasn't a winter but just a slightly colder version of autumn. My surroundings always influence me in one way or another, and many of the natural impressions result from observations of real phenomena. I can't say yet whether or not the next album will be a wintry one. It depends on how the songs and my inspiration develop. But actually there are no plans to create another conceptual album like "Herbstklagen". That summer will be a main topic with WALDGEFLÜSTER is unlikely but I would not totally rule that out. At least summer was an issue with Scarcross on the "Jahr der Katharsis" album. Don't worry, I do like some aspects of summer. But I feel a more intense connection to other seasons, probably because they better reflect my state of mind while writing songs."

The only season missing is spring. One could see the time of autumn, of perishableness and "Herbstklagen" metaphorical for current world affairs. The time of old values bygone and mankind, except for a few errant disciples of self-proclaimed prophets - Christianity also courts WALDGEFLÜSTER's resentment - drifting aimlessly towards an unknown future. Considering if we are quasi in late autumn and if there'll ever be another spring, Winterherz replies that he doesn't believe in mankind respectively simply can't believe in it. "Thus I can't believe that man is still able to pass through transformation to a mature and free being. Therefore I would say that this metaphor partially applies. We are living in a uttermost fast moving world with hardly any chances to pause and reflect on oneself and one's surroundings. In the end mankind wastes away from one appointment to the next and from one ephemeral consumption to another. I believe that this refuses us to to genuinely 'live' and perceive life intensely and in all its facets. Maybe I'm a bit naive but I often do have the feeling that a simple peasant had a bigger chance to experience happiness 2000 years ago or later than we have today. Don't get me wrong here, I'm not talking about things having been better back then as man today probably wouldn't be able to cope with the suffering and pain of those times. But to my mind right by such a harsh life one can perceive happiness in simple things in a better and more intense way. This is where I see the 'loss of values' nowadays, rather than in the typical avowals of honour and loyalty of many pagan as well as black metal bands.

These values still exist as they did in the past - there have been traitors in the past just as there are people who stand up for one or another good cause today - only that one tends to pick primarily the 'heroic' details from traditional lore and myths but also truths. Thence I see late autumn of mankind rather in non-pausing, the increasing speed of consumption and in the fact that merely breathing doesn't count any longer. And I don't want to exclude myself, I am a child of this time just like anybody else. I often realise how I always want 'more' and that positive experiences have to get even better each time and so I miss - respectively am oblivious to - many a simple but beautous moment."

Picture provided by Winterherz

All those contemplative tones these statements breathe and the perceptable spiritual aspect show to advantage on WALDGEFLÜSTER's "Herbstklagen", not only within the lyrics but also in the compositions themselves which are soulfully structured and enriched with multifarious atmospherical acoustic moments. The songs develop differently and over a longer period of time. "Sometimes the music is done way before the lyrics, then I have lyrical fragments which I try to set to music. It depends on the song how it emerges from me. As I can only write music in certain settings and moods it always takes very long. The acoustic parts mostly come into existence in a very different way than people think. Basically I always play on my electric guitar with the amplifier unplugged. That's how my riffs form and hardly anything is ever planned. Either a riff develops or it doesn't. But if it does it's always created without any distortion. At the same time I realize whether or not a riff is applicable for being played acoustically. So I have to do away with a misunderstanding here: 90 percent of all acoustic riffs on "Herbstklagen" - and this applies to "Stimmen im Wind" as well - are also played as black metal riffs before or after the acoustic entry. Those are hardly ever additionally written parts, they're only played in a different way."

Listening to "Herbstklagen" one can't take it amiss that Winterherz takes his time for the creational process until the final opus is ready for release. And although "Herbstklagen" is a rather young album resonance so far seems to confirm this already. "Both the label and I are surprised how positive the reactions have been so far. Of course, there are some critical reviews but on the whole we didn't expect such a confirming feedback which also holds true for my personal surroundings. The only thing I've heard once or twice was that people complained about the sound. Funny enough that some people say they're missing the bass so the sound is not as good as it could be while others state the sound is far too good and they would prefer the mushy production of demo recordings. Well, you can't please everybody. At least I am fully satisfied with the album as well as with the job Ludwig Maier did at GKG Music Studios. I know where I stand with myself and that's the crucial point."

Intrinsically WALDGEFLÜSTER is to be seen as a one man project but on "Herbstklagen" many helping hands contribute to this fully satisfying result. Furthermore Winterherz gathers a live line-up which hardly differs from the constellation working on the album. "I've been knowing all guest musicians on "Herbstklagen" for years, and we're also friends. And Andy, the drummer, will also participate on the next album - a fact I'm very happy about. In case I want to use any of the other instruments again I'm certain that I can count on the support of most of the current guest musicians as well. The only difference between guest and live line-up can be found in the person behind the drums as Andy - contrary to my live drummer - has already gained experience with studio recordings. For the time being all guitars on future WALDGEFLÜSTER releases will be played by me. The only exception which is considered for the next album will be a solo by one of the guitarists. But it's only an idea and nothing is set in stone yet."

Talking about a live line-up, let's follow that thought and query Winterherz about plans for further concerts - not only within Austria - and past live experiences. Are there any dear live memories? "Unfortunately no shows are planned at the moment but we are working on entering stage as soon as possible again, gladly also outside of Austria. If any gig organizer feels that this resonates with him or her, please get in touch with me. Regarding live experiences I can reveal that my first live performance dates back eight or nine years. An average of three shows per year may not be that much but I was able to gain some experiences. And some of these evenings are dear memories, indeed. The gig with Scarcross at the Free Fall Festival in 2007 was something special and impressive as we were supported by two fire-breathers during the last song. And then, of course, there was the release party for "Herbstklagen" on February 28. Not really because of the show itself but rather because it was a very special day for me, having finally finished a chapter in my life after 2,5 years of work. Being in the company of people who are very important to me add to the uniqueness of that day. And would you believe it, Björn of Black Blood Records drove 600 km to see us performing in a small pub. That was amazing and I was totally happy having him there."

In the near future Winterherz will try "to perform live with WALDGEFLÜSTER as often as possible. I do hope that some more shows will arise. Apart from that I will concentrate on the finishing touches of the next Scarcross album as well as the release of In Natur which is a new acoustic/ambient/folk project of the Scarcross bassist and me. Along the way I am working on the first songs for another WALDGEFLÜSTER full length. The first two demo tracks have been recorded in the meantime and my mind is haunted by ideas for at least two more songs. As you know, I will take my time to flesh out all details but maybe I'll manage to record the new album in 2010." We certainly have no objections here.

For further information check out the WALDGEFLÜSTER website or myspace page.

Interview done by Endrew with a little help of Dr. Desastro. March 2009.

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