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With third album 'Opium' imminent, Comrade Aleks goes in search of Transylvanian Funeral Doom band Descend Into Despair's darkest secrets.

Interview with Descend Into Despair.
"Cluj-Napoca is the unofficial capital of Romania's Transylvania region. You hear this word and images of castles beneath a full moon, shadows and fangs naturally jump in your mind. However, Descend Into Despair have nothing in common with vampiric clichés and they draw influences from different sources. The band is meeting its tenth anniversary with third album 'Opium', which is scheduled to be released by underground label Funere on May 31st. The band is known for its tendency towards mixing Funeral and slow ceremonial Doom Death, so what may we expect from this new work? You may form a conclusion, as two members of Descend Into Despair took part in recording the latest Clouds album 'Durere', and Xander - one of the band's founders - played in Eye Of Solitude and is currently listed as one of Pantheist's members. We had a very in-depth conversation with him, which sheds a lot of light on Descend Into Despair's darkest corners."

Descend Into Despair: Standing - Flaviu (keyboards), Alex (bass), Cosmin (guitars), Luca (drums), Liviu (guitars), Lying - Xander (guitars, vocals), Florentin (keyboards).

Hail Xander! How are you? Who's online today?

Hello Aleks and thank you for reaching out! We are all doing fine at the moment and are very excited with our upcoming full-length album. I am very glad that you have granted us this interview.

Well, every country now is under the bane of coronavirus, how is it in your place? What kind of restrictions do you already have?

I have to say that it is indeed a very interesting moment to be alive. There isn't much else on the news on the moment and this fact bothers me a lot. Romania is currently under lockdown, as are most states now - we have a curfew in place and social isolation is heavily enforced. I am not the one to express political opinions in such a context, but I have to say that the presence of the military on the streets makes me very uneasy. Being a person that has dealt with anxiety for most of my adult life I have learned to handle highly stressful situations quite well, but I am still worried. I would like to advise everyone to take increased care of their own mental health during these trying times. Towards everyone who is reading this: please stay sane and remember that you deserve all the love in the world, especially your own. If you are feeling down please reach out, there is absolutely no shame in admitting it!

What helps you nowadays to keep some degree of sanity?

I'd say less time online and more time talking to friends and family. I try to revolve the discussion around anything else but what's happening right now. It's also a great time for gaming and the best time to pick up those books that have been gathering dust and wanted to start for quite a while. I am extremely lucky and can't be grateful enough that I now have all the gear that I could possibly want. A lot of my free time went into playing synthwave and techno on my analogue synths. It's mostly just for fun, but I'm considering of starting another project under this genre.

Xander, how was the band born? As I understand, Descend Into Despair was started as a trio - you, Colin and Dxeel?

The band was founded in February 2010 by myself (Xander Coza) and Dxeel (Denis Ungurean). It is more or less your average story of two angsty teenagers which sought artistic validation. We were very young at that time, 17 and 16 respectively, but that didn't stop us. Coming from a very small town of around 17 000 souls, we also didn't have access to as many resources as we would have liked so we had to make do with what we had. Two childhood friends, a small and cold town in the middle of nowhere, a laptop, cheap gear, a notebook full of ideas, endless packs of cigarettes and plenty of cans of beer was all it took to make Descend into Despair a reality. So, on New Year's Eve of 2010 we released our first demo: Wings of Solitude. We promoted it as best as we could at the time, posting on various forums and MySpace. That's when we learned of the existence of funeral doom, as a lot of people were describing our style as such in the comments. It was a very interesting and eye-opening moment as we did not know of such a genre before. As the months went by, we tried to work with a lot of musicians from the area, but because the genre was not as popular back then, we couldn't keep anyone in the band as they were not the biggest fans of slow tempos. One of these musicians is Colin, which you have mentioned in the question, but he only stuck with the band during the release of Vanity Devotion, our first and only EP so far. I have very fond memories of these times, we all gathered in an abandoned warehouse where we practiced, hoping to have a live performance one day. The walls were falling apart, there was no electricity in the practice room, we used plastic shopping bags as drum skins and wood logs to keep the bass drums (yes, plural!) in place, but I swear to God it was all so much fun!

Descend Into Despair - 'Opium' (Teaser, 2020):

Hah, that's a nice story, quite honest. What formed the band's sound? How do you see its development through the first recordings: demo 'Wings Of Solitude' (2010) and EP 'Vanity Devotion' (2011)?

Growing up in a small town with not much to do had a very big impact on that. Our young age and inexperience also contributed to that a lot, in a very positive way. Although we always had our varied influences, we have never tried to imitate anyone. We have strived to do our own thing - and I have to admit that it has been extremely satisfying. It all came very naturally and although I consider that we have developed our sound a lot since then I still enjoy listening to our first works from time to time. The most important thing is that we have grown alongside the band and have all gotten to know ourselves better. While our beginnings were very rough, we managed to learn a tremendous number of things both about music and ourselves. Fueled by angst and anxiety we decided to play slow and foreboding music aided by an orchestral undertone. There are various nods towards poetry, movies and even video-games in our earlier work: 'Otherworld' from Wings of Solitude is a tribute towards Silent Hill, 'Frozen Tears upon the Statue of Grief' is a musical interpretation of The Spirits of the Dead by Edgar Alan Poe and 'The Day the Sun Turned to Black' from Vanity Devotion has translated lyrics from one of the most well-known Romanian poets: Mihai Eminescu. Although our early works are merely eager experimentations of a gang of teenagers, we take pride in all of our releases, as they stand as milestones of our musical journey.

Mihai Eminescu! I haven't heard this name for ages…truth to tell, I can't remember the name of the band who used his poems for lyrics… Romania has some interesting features in its history, how much of Romania is in your songs? Does your environment influence you directly?

A band that used his poems a lot is Agathodaimon. They used to have a Romanian vocalist/ songwriter. I am very glad that you think so about our country. There used to be quite a lot of Romanian influences in our songs before we decided to go down the road of conceptualism and abstraction. A noteworthy example would be "Plânge glia de dorul meu", our only song so far to have all the lyrics written in Romanian. A rough translation of the title would be: Earth Cries Yearning for Me. We've had other influences in the past, such as Romanian poets like Mihai Eminescu, Ion Minulescu or George Bacovia and philosophers like Emil Cioran. I have to add that growning up in a small town in Romania also means that alcoholism or drug abuse are things that we have witnessed more than once, so those things have had a long lasting impact on us. The niche nature of our musical genre also meant that we've rarely been understood our accepted by our peers.

As Cluj-Napoca is a part of Transylvania, did you ever think to exploit this popular myth? You know… You-Know-Who.

Haha, well, it never even crossed our mind. Bram Stoker's work is not that popular over here and is mainly just a tourist attraction. It's even funny how Vlad Țepeș, the historical figure on which You-Know-Who is based upon, didn't have that much to do with Transylvania. He was actually the leader of Wallachia and only imprisoned in Transylvania. However, we do have some noteworthy bands which center all of their themes around genuine Transylvanian and Romanian myths. One of the more known ones would be Negură Bunget, a band which I still enjoy and I grew up with. Other noteworthy examples would be Dordeduh, E-An-Na and Dirty Shirt, bands that I wholeheartedly recommend!

(Photo: Mihai Anghel).

Did you play live during those first days? Where and with what kind of bands did you play?

We've definitely tried to do so, but unfortunately, we always seemed to be a penny short or a day late. The Descend into Despair live experience would have been drastically different, but it was something that we were really looking forward to. Looking back at those times I have to say that it was nothing more than a lot of jams with friends, but the learning experience was tremendous. It wasn't until we have moved to our current city: Cluj-Napoca that we finally started thinking and working as an actual band. One or two line-up changes later we had our first live ready group and were ready to take the stage head on. Therefore, our first live appearance was at the first edition of Doom over Bucharest on the 15th of April 2016, sharing the stage with Mourning Beloveth, Eye of Solitude, Abigail, The Father of Serpents and Depths. I have to admit that it was a pretty frightening experience, being on stage for the first time, and moreover sharing it with a band you wholeheartedly love but we managed to pull it off and received a fair bit of praise for it. Our line-up remained mostly unchanged since then and I can't be grateful enough to have such amazing friends alongside myself in this journey. As the years went by, we've also shared the stage with incredible bands such as: Shape of Despair, Funeral, The Ruins of Beverast, Swallow the Sun, Saturnus. Hamferð, Evadne, Echo and many, many more.

Sounds like success! I know some organizers of Doom festivals in Europe, but I haven't heard much about Doom over Bucharest. Can you tell a bit more about it?

Unfortunately, it was kind of a short-lived festival. Poor management led it to have only three editions. I like to think that the scope of its promoter was a bit too ambitious, either as his own good as just one man doing everything, or for a country not necessarily known for its doom metal activity (because let's face it, Romania is not exactly the doom Mecca). We were very lucky to take part in two of its editions, its first and its last. As far as I could see for myself and hear from others, the festival as a whole was quite well received and I can only hope that one day someone will pick up the torch and we will have a Doom over Bucharest IV.

Descend Into Despair - 'Opium' (Trailer, 2020):

It took some time, but the band's debut full-length 'The Bearer Of All Storms' (2014) turned out to be a double CD album. Was it necessary to start with a release of such scale?

It took a lot of time - about four years - to finish our debut album, but I am very pleased with how it turned out, taking into account that it was entirely home recorded. We've had some great help from our friend Deha, who managed to polish our work with his great mixing skills. We were incredibly ambitious at that point, probably more than our own good, but we did it anyway. There were a lot of ideas flowing around and we did not practice self-discipline that much back then. We really, really wanted to tell an entire story with our album: the eponym character of The Bearer of All Storms went on a journey of transformation and every song was meant to illustrate a moment of that. The first song depicted the discovery of a very special key that can grant escape from the prison of life. Moving on, we're faced with the realization of our bleak surrounding and afterwards confronted with the choice of using the key or not. The fourth song is an illusory uplifting moment of respite, only to fall back into despondency during the fifth and then use the key during the sixth song. The album ends with The Bearer of All Storms pondering if the living will keep its existence alive in their collective memory - in a pensive, almost positive note of acceptance.

How did you record this material? What kind of difficulties did you face during recording?

The album was completely recorded in my very own bedroom. We've rented out amps and did our best to mic them up. I have some very amusing memories of neighbors bothering us because of the increased volume we had to use, but we did it in the end. We didn't have any experience whatsoever with properly recording an album and did all the wrong things you can think of (we didn't use a DI, placed the amps in corners, used a horrendous microphone for vocals, etc.) The visual side of things has always been extremely important for us and in this case we had the help of an amazing Romanian visual artist: Costin Chioreanu. Nonetheless, I am very proud of how The Bearer of All Storms turned out to be.

How do you see the main differences between 'The Bearer Of All Storms' and 2017's 'Synaptic Veil'? What are the stronger sides of your second album?

Synaptic Veil, although originally meant to go down a more conceptual road, ended up being more or less a compilation of songs unrelated to one another. A couple of years of experience meant that the production value went up by quite a lot and that the music is more "mature-sounding" than our first album. Synaptic Veil was released during a moment of intense emotional trauma and this is strongly reflected across its entirety. Our sophomore album is also the first time we've used synthesizers in our music, but more on that later.

You recorded 'Synaptic Veil' with seven musicians in the band, how did you orchestrate everything at the studio?

Descend into Despair is indeed a seven-piece musical project, but only six of us have taken part in live performances so far. We are planning on changing this however, at least for some special shows we think of doing. I start by laying down the main structure of the song, then everyone contributes with ideas as they see fit (the only exception from this rule being 'Silence in Sable Acrotism', a song written entirely by our keyboard player: Flaviu Roșca). After the songs are written, Florentin (our only non-live member) writes the lyrics and afterwards we go into the studio. This has been working great: we've rarely had ideological disputes and everyone has always been pretty satisfied with the direction of our music.

Was it your initial idea to have three guitars in the band? How do you play your songs live with such a lineup?

Our initial idea was to not have any live shows at all, the project was initially thought out to be a two-man band, but this changed over the years. Our first two shows featured a different vocalist (Denis Ungurean, with whom I started the band, but unfortunately is no longer a member of Descend into Despair), but after that I took it upon myself to be the front man. Being a guitarist myself and also taking into account that our melodies became more complex we have decided to perform with three guitars. There are increased risks and difficulties when it comes to setting everything up for a live performance, but we all feel that it is incredibly rewarding to do so. We do share great chemistry - and the extra challenge gives us the necessary boost to perform as best as we possibly can.

Descend Into Despair - 'Alone With My Thoughts' (Lyric, 2017):

Did the release change the situation around Descend Into Despair? Did you feel you gained some recognition with new songs?

We've gathered some recognition with every release, but we're still an unknown band - or perhaps an up-and-coming one. This fact doesn't bother us as we put the art first and the satisfaction that comes from creation and performance beats all the possible acclaim we could receive. Promoting our music has always been our weakest point. Of course, reading a review or seeing people share our music always makes us glad, but it has never been our end goal. The fact that we even received an album of the year nomination from Metal Storm was a very pleasant surprise. We're on a journey and we want to experience it completely. We're at the mercy of introspection and we are not afraid of what we might discover. We relish in the unforeseeable and delight in losing ourselves in the darkest corners of our minds.

Your new album 'Opium' should see the light of day in late May, through Funere Records. What can you already tell about this material?

Opium is without a doubt our most ambitious work to date. We have decided to focus on our conceptual roots and experiment with more abstract themes this time. The album has three songs, each one depicting part of a whole. Years of exploration have led us to discovering that the abstract needs a solid counterpoint rooted in reality, a motif intuitively suggesting that which cannot be expressed in mere words. Our physical reality dictates that darkness is the absence of light - and Opium is the reversal of that phenomenon.

'Ensh[r]ine' stands for the light, the white, the blank, unstained and undifferentiated by anything at all. In order to do so, we imagined a prism uniting colors instead of separating them. The album opens up with a mother singing to her yet unborn child, an image which strongly projects shades of red. It starts like everything does – from the womb.

It then moves to an orange sunrise – and the song ends with all the colors melting together into white -projected through white noise.

'Antumbra', our second song, depicts light slowly being devoured by obscurity. Antumbra is the shadow which can only be observed during an eclipse, hence we considered it to be the strongest motif for this transition.

Our last song, 'dis[re]member', is the logical conclusion of this story. In order to manifest darkness, we have centered the song around Alzheimer's disease. 'Dis[re]member' opens up with a melancholic, almost uplifting part, meant to bring back good memories and nostalgia, but this suddenly shifts towards darkness. This song is also one where Florentin also contributed with clean vocals and lapsteel guitar. We are now showcasing our wildest variety of musical influences: expect to hear everything from synthwave, dark ambient, death, black, sludge and drone metal on Opium. We feel that the confines of traditional funeral doom metal can no longer accommodate the broad spectrum of emotions that we seek to transpose into sound. Peculiar and strong emotions can only be expressed by their own particular sound, so we sought to create it from the ground up and turned to analogue synthesis. It was a great pleasure to leave absolutely all virtual instruments aside and use actual analogue synthesizers and I think that doom and electronic music go along absolutely fantastic!

This is our first album where we have fully recorded everything: real drums, real amps, real synths. Opium is going to be our magnum opus and we are sure that our listeners will feel the same.

Do you feel 'Opium' remains a solid album despite the wider variety of influences?

Absolutely! Even more so than ever! We all take great pride in the vast amount of influences which we have used. In the future we even plan on adding more influences, the madness has just begun. We will surely witness some negative reactions, as we did with our previous releases, but why would we let that stop us? Music is an evolving artform and we respect it more than anything else in this world. I would also like to add that starting with this album we've also started focusing a lot more on the visual side of things, as the album artwork is strongly tied into the whole concept of Opium. We're not sure on how it will all be received; maybe it will be a success, maybe it will be a complete failure, but would we change anything about it? Absolutely not!

Descend Into Despair - 'Tomorrow' (Live, 2017):

Xander, three members of Descend Into Despair took part in recording the new Clouds' album Durere. How were you involved in this project?

I have to correct you there and say that only Luca and Alex took part in the new Clouds album as I have left the project last year in November. My personal contribution to Durere consists of the cover artwork and a lyric video and two projections for live play I've created an in the past. We were all very involved with Clouds, but it is a project that I had to put aside. When it comes to draw the line, I feel that I have gained the time and mental energy to focus on what is actually important to me.

Thank you for this in-depth interview Xander, I hope it'll help to raise awareness of Descend Into Despair with more like-thinking persons. How would you sum up our conversation? Did we forget anything?

Thank you very much Aleks for offering me the chance to open up about our work! I hope that our talk will shed more light upon Descend into Despair. It is without a doubt the best interview I've had so far and it was absolutely a pleasure to discuss with you. I forgot to mention Dragoș C., our former guitarist, who took part in recording the album, but unfortunately, he had to leave the band due to health concerns. I would like to use this occasion to give his band Genune a shout-out, absolutely recommended and painfully underrated.

Stay sane, stay safe, enjoy life and take care of yourself and your loved ones. Until we meet again, friend!

Click HERE to discuss this interview on the doom-metal forum.

Visit the Descend Into Despair bandpage.

Interviewed on 2020-04-20 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
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