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Illinois-based band Olórin take a Trad/Epic approach to interpreting the works of Tolkien, and after a dozen years of that have finally released their debut full-length, 'Through Shadow and Flame'. Founder Michael Schmidt talks Comrade Aleks through that long journey into the myths of LOTR and the Silmarillion...

Interview with Olórin.
"One of the most magnificent and mysterious moments in the whole 'Lord of the Rings' epic is the dramatic fight between Gandalf and Balrog in the Mines of Moria. I remember how many questions this event raised, how many speculations happened around it, and finally we have an entire album built around this story. Olórin - from Washington, Illinois - was given the old name of Gandalf himself, but though the band was formed in around 2009, magic didn't happen at that moment and their first full-length album, 'Through Shadow and Flame' has only now appeared. This Doom is too good to be hidden any longer, so let us shed some light on Gandalf's doom with the band's founder Michael Schmidt (guitars, vocals) and Collin Wolf (guitars)."

Olórin Ryan Donoho (bass), Kevin Hester (drums), Michael Schmidt (guitars, vocals), Collin Wolf (guitars), Clay Sibley (bass, vocals).

Salute Olórin! How are you? What's going on on your side?

Mike: Very little. We're hoping to get a few gigs booked this late summer/fall in support of the record and then maybe later in the year we'll look towards writing and recording a new album. Otherwise, I think most of us in the band are just happy that things are slowly opening back up and we can go out and see our favorite bands soon.

Mike, the band was formed in November 2009, but I see that only you are left of its original line-up. How did it happen?

Mike: Well, the original lineup with me on guitar, Tyler Antram on guitar, and a friend of ours from high school also named Tyler on drums. We don't really consider that our first lineup. Eventually, drummer Tyler left and Tyler Antram moved to drums. At this point we brought in our friends Guy Muzzarelli on lead guitar and Michael Bleull on bass, but after struggling to find a vocalist, I eventually stepped up and attempted to sing. We got Lee Smith to fill in on my guitars while I took over vocal duties. This is what I would consider to be our first lineup. We formed this band when we were still in high school and early college, so many of us moved away to attend school, start new jobs, etc. After a while, Lee moved away and we found Collin Wolf through some local friends to replace him (this was probably around 2013-2014). Since then, Tyler Antram decided he didn't want to be in the band, probably because we were stagnating pretty hard at this point, and shortly after that Michael Bleull moved away to attend college. Around this same time, Guy ended up moving on from Olorin. After that, we picked up Clay Sibley on vocals. Kevin Hester joined on drums. I moved back to rhythm guitar, and we had a revolving door of bassists ever since, and right before the recording of Through Shadow And Flame we recruited our good friend and original Smoulder bassist Ryan Donoho to fill the roll. We've had a pretty stable lineup since about 2015 and I don't see this changing much.

What was your vision of Olórin from the very beginning? Which elements formed it? How did it change with new members coming and going?

Mike: Tyler Antram and I formed the band out of a mutual love and growing obsession with bands like Candlemass, Reverend Bizarre, and Warning. Initially, we were going to play more slow/emotive stuff like Warning but we quickly found ourselves writing more mid-tempo tunes in the vein of Hour of 13 and Witchfinder General. After a few years of writing, we started to develop more into our own style with longer, slower songs with faster sections. By this time, we were blasting a fuckton of Manilla Road, Cirith Ungol, and other more epic traditional metal bands and we sort of blended everything together. I think we are still developing and evolving our sound with every new song that we write, but I think at our core we're going to always have a little Witchfinder General, Solitude Aeturnus, and Manilla Road in our sound.

Olórin - 'Durins Tower' (Official lyric, 2021):

How did you manage to find Rafchild Records, who released your debut full-length 'Through Shadow and Flame'? Did the pandemic postpone the release?

Mike: We were shopping around for labels and Raphael (the owner of Rafchild) gave us a great offer. One of the big reasons why we wanted to go with Rafchild Records over, say, waiting for maybe a "bigger" label or something was because we really wanted to put the record out sooner than later. Raf was able to promise us that we could get this album out during late spring/early summer while we might have to wait way longer for another label. We've been working on this album for probably 8 years (and had to re-record 80% after losing the files in 2017), so we were just anxious to put this album out so we can start working on new material.

How did you work on this material? Do you have a mastermind in the band or do you share all duties between each other in equal measure?

Mike: Well, for Through Shadow and Flame, these songs go back to almost 10 years ago. Tyler and I wrote the songs together back in the early 2010s as a concept album. We're big fans of using tablature software like Guitar Pro to write out our songs. Usually, either Tyler or I would come up with an couple of riffs or two, tab it out on guitar pro, and send it to each other. Then, the other person would add in maybe a few other riffs. Eventually, we'd bounce these tabs back and forth enough to have a full song. We still use this technique to write tracks, since most of the current members in the band live in different parts of the Illinois (some 3 hours apart). It helps that Kevin, our drummer, is sort of a guitar pro wizard and can write entire symphonies on them. Occasionally, one of us will write the complete song ourselves, but those instances are few and far between.

The album's artwork looks very primitive, and it reminds me of Realmbuilder's covers, it has its own charm, an individual one. How did you find Chris Murphey and how did you discuss with him what you want to get?

Mike: I completely agree with that comparison. I'll let Collin answer this one since he's the one who found Chris, but I agree. It has it's own unique charm to it. It helps that it's an authentic oil painting, which we feel (or at least I feel) adds a sense of ingenuity and credibility.

Collin: I met Chris Murphey through my drummer, Austin Korth (also responsible for Olorin band photos) in an indie rock sort of band I'm playing in called Mirabilia. Chris had come to take photos of us at practice when Austin mentioned that Chris was a painter too. Upon looking at some of his work I was immediately impressed and felt that his style fit well with the primitive doom of Olorin. Plus it feels good to have an original piece painted for the album cover from a local artist!

Why did you choose this form of quite Traditional Doom metal to retell Tolkien's story? Which genre's qualities are most suitable to reflect it?

Mike: As I mentioned before, I think we chose this style of epic/traditional doom because it's what we love to listen to. We want to play the kind of music that we listen to every day. At the time, epic doom was a fairly niche market. These days it seems like every other new band is an traditional/epic/doom band of some kind, but I think that's great. In regards to the second question, when I think of Tolkien in metal, I usually think of black metal bands. When we first formed the band, we thought it would make us more unique to talk about Tolkien since not that many traditional metal bands really sung exclusively about Tolkien. Obviously the epic nature of the music, with massive riffs, extended solos, triumphant refrains, and atmospheric rhythm sections all lend themselves perfectly to Tolkien music.

Do I get it right that 'Through Shadow and Flame' tells the story of Gandalf's fight with Balrog in the Mines of Moria? This episode was one of most enigmatic and catchy in 'Lord of the Rings', it leaves one huge question without answer, it was a thrilling thing when I read it.

Mike: Exactly. I've always loved the idea of concept albums and that part of the books and movies are among my favorite parts in the series. It's filled with incredible action, amazing visuals, and plenty of emotions. It just seemed perfect for writing an entire album on. Although, I don't think we're going to be doing that sort of thing in the future. It's incredibly difficult to write interesting lyrics when they all revolve around the same 20 pages in a book...

A lot of bands of different Rock, Metal and Extreme Metal genres were influenced by Tolkien's genius. Can you name a band whose taste satisfies your own vision of his world?

Mike: That's a hard question to answer, but I'd probably go with Summoning. I think that Summoning perfectly captures all the majesty and beauty found in Tolkien's world. The best aspect to Tolkien's stories are his world building, and his world is filled with lights, darks, and grays. From Hobbiton and Rivendell to Mirkwood and Mordor, from Gondor and the Misty Mountains to Rohan and Orthanc, I can't find a band that manages to capture all of those different environments and emotions throughout their albums.

Collin: I couldn't agree more with Michael's choice of Summoning; They really evoke the grand scope of Tolkien's universe in their music. Some other similar great bands doing this are Keys of Orthanc and Maglor, both out of Canada!

Michael, you also run Heavy/Doom Metal project White Stallion. There's nothing besides a self-titled demo in its discography. Do you aim to return to Stallion now as Olórin has a stable line-up and the first album released?

Mike: Maybe. White Stallions will always remain a side project. I do have songs that I would love to release to the world, but White Stallions was never meant to be a main project. Just something fun to express the side of me that worships Saint Vitus, Pe

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Interviewed on 2021-07-02 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
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