Aurora Borealis

interview by - Wouter Roemers
Maryland-based death metallers Aurora Borealis are perhaps one of the US most underrated and overlooked acts on the scene today. Their brand of darkly epic atmospheric death metal has been staple of the underground since their humble beginnings in the mid 1990’s. With a new record on the horizon, plus four full lengths and an EP to their credit Aurora Borealis is hardly a newcomer to the genre. Masterful Magazine caught up with vocalist, lyricist and multi-instrumentalist Ron Vento to talk about the band’s formation, its various releases, the drummers he has worked with and his work as a producer with Nightsky Studios. Hi Ron! Thanks for doing this interview with us! An in-depth interview with Aurora Borealis was long overdue here, as we here at Masterful Magazine have the utmost respect for old ambassadors of the international death – and black metal scene. I hope you’re in the mood to tell us about your musical undertakings - past, present and future...

Thanks a lot. I really appreciate the support of your magazine and I am honored to be a part of it.

The earliest beginnings of Aurora Borealis can be traced back to an Atlanta, Georgia-based death/black metal band called Lestregus Nosferatus, who formed in the mid-to-late 1980’s. Tell us about your stint with them, you appeared on the 1995 demo "Oh Come All Ye Faithful... Tonight We Feast". In hindsight, what did the early experience you gained with this band helped shape Aurora Borealis and its musical output?

Man, you are going way back here. Glad to see you know the history. Yes, I played with that band for a couple of years and while it was fun, it never really progressed and went where I was looking for it to go. They had many other demos out before the one I appeared on, but I do feel that the one we made was by far the best. It was a fun band, but sadly the other guys just had too many other obligations and it never really went where it needed to. I still actually talk to the main guy from that band Skully (Hallows Eve) on a semi-regular basis. The really bad thing is since my leaving the band they have never really done anything else. They could have been a really solid band. That was a very long time ago and it seems like every time I talk to him they are about to do something and it always falls through. Skully did do another cd with his old band Hallows Eve, which was okay but it just really was not like the old Hallows Eve at all. As far as shaping Aurora Borealis, to be very honest it did not really have a big effect on shaping my band because we were heading in different directions musically and lyrically.

In 1994 Aurora Borealis cut its first demo, named "Lestregus Nosferatus", containing early versions of both ‘Sixteenth Chamber’ and ‘Slave To the Grave’ off the 1995 Lestregus Nosferatus demo "Oh Come All Ye Faithful... Tonight We Feast". What led to the split with Lestregus Nosferatus and did you record this demo entirely by yourself?

Well, the demo was not actually named "Lestregus Nosferatus", it was basically just called demo. The split was because we were headed in different directions. We are still on a very friendly basis. The demo was recorded at a rehearsal studio in Atlanta. I can’t even remember the name of the place. It was a nightmare because our drummer was into some drug shit and he burned us on the first recording session by not showing up intact and not performing up to the standards we had set. Even though the demo is good, it is really sloppy and all over the place. It is what it is for that time in our life and I am still very happy we did it.

Later upon you venturing into death metal capital Florida, a new line-up was assembled, more songs were written and the "Demo 94" was renamed "Mansions Of Eternity". This EP was recorded at Sound Lab in South Carolina. The EP was mixed and mastered by Scott Burns and featured session drums by Tony Laureano. This also marks the beginning of your long relationship with graphic artist Jay Marsh and was released independently through your own Nightsky Productions. How do you recall the earliest days of Aurora Borealis?

Just to make another small correction the EP was not recorded at Sound Lab, that was the next cd "Praise the Archaic Lights Embrace". The "Mansions..." cd was completely recorded at Morrisound with the great Scott Burns. This was the direction I wanted to be moving in, working with great drummers and I had such luck finding Tony. A great story about finding Tony is I was actually in Florida rehearsing with Jim [Coker], the drummer for the old band Brutality. Jim was a really mellow guy and it seemed like every time we practiced within 10 minutes he wanted to take a smoke break. I was getting really irritated by this and I heard a band jamming inside of the Cannibal Corpse practice space. So many great old bands had spaces right next to each other in Tampa. I asked Jim "who is that band?" because I knew Cannibal didn’t sound like that and this drummer was killing it. Jim told me and the second I got home I called up Lee [Harrison] from Monstrosity he told me who the drummer to that band was and he just happened to be hanging out with him. It was Tony Laureano, this was a pure stroke of luck. I just talked to Tony briefly and we hit it off and got right to work on the "Mansions..." cd. I never to talked to Jim again after that. Tony literally had the entire EP worked out and rehearsed in one week. It was pure enjoyment making that cd.

By 1998 you had relocated to Waldorf, Maryland and saw the release of Aurora Borealis’ debut album "Praise the Archaic Lights Embrace" through your own Nightsky Productions. It was recorded at Sound Lab in South Carolina with producer Bob Moore and featured session drums by Derek Roddy since Tony Laureano was committed to Acheron and Angelcorpse amongst other projects. The album featured the involvement of bassist Jason Ian-Vaughn Eckert and came with magnificent artwork by Jay Marsh. Were Eckert and Roddy involved at all with the writing process or did you write the entire record yourself without their input?

Yeah, that cd was fun to make, but I really hate the sound on it. Bob Moore, who had done the Nile cds, just didn’t put the same effort into it. No offense to him, maybe it was us and our tones, etc - but I just hate the sound on that cd. I love the songs and the playing just not the sound. I had already worked with Derek in another band out of Atlanta called Gothic Outcasts so we already knew each other and he agreed to do the drums. Derek is a great guy and is a total 100% pro. The best in the business. The other guy in the band was really out there so myself and Derek decided to stop playing with him after about a year. Jay was a guy I met when I moved to Maryland and we had similar musical tastes so we started to jam together. I think, if I remember right, Jay had one song he wrote on that cd, and he may have contributed other riffs here and there. Derek, of course, wrote all the drum lines and later actually wrote a song for the next cd. Jay’s artwork was really great as well. He always came up with great album covers based off of my concepts. he just took my ideas and brought them to life. He still makes his living from art, if I am not mistaken.

In 2000 you holed up in your own Nightsky Studios with session drummer Derek Roddy to cut the "Northern Lights" album. Once more Jay Marsh provided the fantastic artwork. It was initially released through your own Nightsky Productions, but later picked up for European release by Denmark’s Die Hard Music. There would be a total of three pressings for this record. How was the reaction from European audiences to your decidedly more European sounding death/black metal?

Yes, this was my first effort ever at trying to record myself. While I think the cd doesn’t sound that great, it does sound better than what we did and all the money we spent at Sound Lab. Ever since my days even before Lestregus Nosferatus I always told those guys I would have my own studio one day and this was the first version of that studio. Now it has grown into a professional facility that to this day affords me my living. It was very primitive at that point but it got the job done. The cd did very well as you said for up and coming band. It seems people from Europe are much more into the music, maybe because the music I write tends to lean more towards that style. I love American death metal but my main influence has always been from black metal and thrash metal from Europe. This was also my favourite cover done by Jay Marsh. He hit the vision perfectly with this piece of art.

Two years later, in 2002, Aurora Borealis returned with "Time, Unveiled". For this session you pulled in drummer Tim Yeung seeing how Derek Roddy was fully committed to Hate Eternal at that point. Yeung had delivered his break-out performance on the 1999 Hate Eternal debut "Conquering the Throne". Recordings were once again done at Nightsky Studios and the epic artwork was crafted by regular Jay Marsh once more. The album was released through your own Nightsky Productions in North America and Denmark’s Die Hard Music distributed it in Europe and beyond.

For this cd Derek and Tony were both getting to be such in-demand drummers that it was just impossible for our schedules to meet for long enough to get a cd recorded. I had heard Tim on the Hate Eternal cd and thought he sounded really solid. Once you play with drummers of this calibre it is very hard to find guys that can step in and perform to the standards necessary. Tim said he would love to do the cd and he filled the position nice. Tim is a great drummer as well so he made the recording process very easy. I am really just honoured to have worked with all these guys over the years. They all did my albums for love of the music or because we were friends or just to be playing. It was never a paid gig or a business venture and for that I have always been grateful that they liked the stuff enough to just step in and do it. As far as Jay’s art on this cd, it is my least favourite piece. To me it looks too much like a comic book drawing, but I used it because there were good elements about it and for the Euro cover we changed the colours on it.

"Time, Unveiled" comprised of 7 original and completely new tracks alongside re-recorded versions of both ‘Sixteenth Chamber’ and ‘Slave To the Grave’. These tracks originally already appeared on the Legestrus Nosferatus demo "Oh Come All Ye Faithful..." and later on Aurora Borealis’ own "Legestrus Nosferatus" demo and the "Mansions Of Eternity" EP. Was this done to introduce new listeners to Aurora Borealis’ earlier material?

I just wanted those songs to appear on a professional release and not a demo, to be honest.

By now you had started a creative engagement with several members of Divine Rapture, which resulted in the Imperial Crystalline Entombment (ICE) studio project. Besides yourself and drummer Tony Laureano, the line-up was completed by Mike and JJ Hrubovcak. Besides being heavily inspired by Norwegian frostdemons Immortal, lyrically and being shrouded in mystery thanks to the use of white robes and expressionless white masks. What freedom did ICE offer that Aurora Borealis couldn’t at that point?

Well, let me first state that Tony was not involved with this project at all. He does not play drums on any I.C.E cd. It was basically just a band we did for fun. It just allowed us to play really simple brutal black metal without someone pre-judging it based on what bands we were in.

2003 ICE independently released a three track demo simply called "Imperial Crystalline Entombment". A year later the full length debut "Apocalyptic End in White" was released through Crash Music. You would later part ways with Crash Music, what were the reasons that the deal with them didn’t work out as planned?

We literally wrote that album in a week for pure fun. We did it because the demo was so successful and we were offered three deals. Who knew that it would take off like it did? We decided to go with Crash Music, which was the worst decision we have ever made. The guy from Crash Music was Mark Nawara and he is a sleazy guy. He is the guy that was behind labels like Grindcore Records, Pavement Music and now Intensity Recordings (www.intensityrecordings.net). The guy always starts a label and folds it after a few years to be able to not pay his bands. If you ask around in the scene you will find this guy is NOT very well liked at all.

He eventually paid us what little he owed us and then folded the label, like so many times in the past. He still states that we never made any royalties on the cd because we never sold enough to pay back the label for the advance, which is just stupid because that cd was in every store everywhere. Everyone I talk to owns the cd. My guess is he sold double or triple what he told us we sold. He now is starting Intensity Recordings and trying to re-releases the ICE cd through them to make even more money from it and not have to pay us. So PLEASE DO NOT BUY THE CD FROM HIM and boycott his horrible label. Download it if you have to.

He will fold this label in about three years and screw all the bands all over again. Just trace his past since Wild Rags and you will see my statements are accurate. This is one guy that needs to be removed from the scene.

Prior to recording an entire new batch of songs, in 2005 you released the "Promo 05" through Nightsky Productions. This promo featured three new songs: ‘God Wills It’, ‘Let the Games Begin’ and ‘Ravaged By Fire’. What was the purpose of this promo, was it released to attract a drummer for the upcoming recording sessions of the looming full length?

No, it was just done to see if any decent labels would want to release it. We did get some offers but they were all pathetic. So, from that day I decided to go independent.

In 2006 for the recordings of "Relinquish" Aurora Borealis had come full circle. Tony Laureano was behind the drumkit again. Recordings were done at Nightsky Studios as per usual and, for the first time, Mike Hrubovcak (Monstrosity, Vile) was responsible for the artwork and design of the album.

This cd was really intense to make because Tony and myself were scrutinizing it in such detail. By this time I had a pro-recording studio so we wanted to make sure it was 100% perfect to what we wanted. The sessions were long and it really turned into a lot of work. The payoff was a great cd, so it was all worth it. I was very pleased that Tony wanted to do another cd. I went to watch him play at Ozzfest with Dimmu Borgir and he just said we should make another cd. Well, that is all I had to hear. I immediately went to work on a cd after that, the result was "Relinquish". Mike did the art and he turned up a unbelievable album cover.

Aurora Borealis has always had a knack for writing lyrics dealing with ancient cultures, mythology and history, including Egypt early on in the band’s existence. Besides that these lyrics are far more interesting than the usual blood-horror-gore and inane anti-religious ramblings of most extreme metal acts, I understand these subjects are a personal interest of yourself. Do tell...

I just feel that most death or black metal lyrics are all the same. Satan this and that and gore gore gore. This is just flat out boring to me. I do understand that when you use the term black metal to some it has a deep meaning and hence they have to stay to a certain lyrical theme. Others just throw the term around because of a way the music style sounds. I try to not refer to myself as black metal at all, because I am not into anything that the culture stands for. There are a couple bands that do it well but after that, the rest are just copying the older stuff. I read a lot and I am into many things like history, space, science and technology and some mythology. So naturally I write about what I am most interested in. For our new cd the lyrics are my most personal to date.

For the latest recording "Timeline" you have enlisted drummer Mark Green, who I’ve never heard of before. Recordings were done at Nightsky Studios and the album is scheduled to be released through your own Nightsky Productions in North America, in physical as well as digital formats.

Mark Green is a virtual unknown guy as far as what he has done to this point. He is a solid drummer. He has played with a couple bands before but nothing that has ever really been out there. I don’t care about that. I just wanted a good guy to work with who is also a great drummer. I put out the call for an audition for the band and the new cd and I was overwhelmed by the amount of responses I got. I mean there were 30 in the first week alone. I asked everyone to perform a specific song from the new cd and I liked Mark’s video the best. Derek Roddy told Mark he should audition and luckily he did. So many people tried to overplay and mimic the past drummers, but Mark just played what he thought fit and that was what I was looking for. There were other close runners for sure and other great videos but Mark just nudged them out. If you really think about it all the guys that have played on my cds weren’t really well known when they made their first appearances on the Aurora Borealis cds. Derek, for example, had only done some demos I believe. Tony had only done a band called Naphobia and maybe Acheron, if I remember right, before the first cd he did with me. Tim had done the Hate Eternal cd, I guess, which was pretty big - but no one was really to where they are at today. They certainly all deserve to be there for sure but whether the guy is known or unknown is irrelevant to me.

Now on to the new cd... The CD will have a limited hard copy run with fairly elaborate package. There will be no represses. We plan to also put up a link with a ZIP file of the entire package’s artwork and layout as well as high-quality lossless audio files on the web site for people who cannot afford to buy the CD. I want anyone who wants the CD to have it, regardless of whether or not they can afford it. I would rather give them a copy with great quality audio rather than have them download some horrible mp3 version of it. There are so many fans of metal around the world that just simply are less fortunate financially and that is no reason they should not be able to listen to the music if they want to. Also, Ron Miller will be lending multiple pieces of artwork for the cd package. He is best known for his work as the production illustrator for the movie "Dune". His art is just amazing and I am so glad he will be lending me pieces for the cd. There will be about 8 pieces from his catalogue in the cd package.

The "Timeline" CD is a concept album that starts from the beginning of all existence and continues through until the very end of the universe and the eventual retraction and rebirth of it all. It further deals with subjects such as the Big Bang, to the formation of planets and stars, life in the universe, evolution and Creationism, space colonization, the fabric of the universe itself, time travel, other dimensions and species trying to preserve their races. That’s quite an ambitious lyrical concept. Was this done to bring an air of intelligence back to underground death/black metal?

Not at all. It was done for my passion on the subject. My father works at NASA and he can be held responsible for this. Since I was very young he was always bringing home some info on space, or missions. As I got older I realized how important it all was and how so mind blowing all of it is. There are things that are just simply unfathomable out there and some things that will happen in the future that just seem impossible but will happen. Some people may not get into this concept and that is okay. Some people may not even understand some of the stuff on the cd, but it is by far my favourite cd conceptually and lyrically. I think what I have written is not fiction. This cd will happen if the human race can survive long enough to get off the planet and start inhabit the universe. I would encourage everyone to read the lyrics, they will also be included in the digital download of the cd.

You have your own professional studio with Nightsky Studios. Besides using it for your own projects, have you been able to build up a modest reputation for yourself in the American metal underground. I’m personally very fond of the work you did for Divine Rapture’s debut "The Burning Passion" - are there any projects that you are particularly proud of?

The studio is the way I have made my living for many years now. We are a professional studio and open to the public. We do all styles but of course my favourites are metal bands. With the recession right now it seems many metal bands are just recording out of houses and the quality of music is drastically going downhill. Metal projects are a little scarce these days but the studio remains strong. I would hate to single out any bands that I have done and leave out others, but there are some really great metal cds that we have recorded. I would encourage any of your American readers to consider the studio if they are thinking of recording for their own bands any time soon. We are not overly expensive and the quality we deliver is top notch. They can check out the studio and gear at www.nightskystudios.org .

The music business in deep trouble, there’s no doubt about that. Illegal downloading and file-sharing is killing smaller record stores and decent small labels are going bankrupt every single day. Kids apparently no longer value music or a decent all-around package (artwork, pictures, lyrics, liner notes). The sales of physical CDs is falling drastically each year with no sense of recovering anytime soon. What’s your opinion on all this, has Aurora Borealis suffered the consequences from all these events?

For me, I always sell the amount of cds I press. I don’t try and get too greedy as far as to keep re-pressing over and over again. I personally have not noticed it my with sales. That being said the studio side of things have noticed it because labels have less money to give bands for recording, so less bands book for less time. It’s a trickle-down effect, so we all feel it one way or another. The most suffering is done at the top of the industry with the big pop labels and I have no real respect for them anyway, so I really don’t care. They almost deserve it. For so many years they charged 100% more than they had to, so now it’s coming back full circle on them. It sucks that the smaller indie labels have to feel it as well, but such is life. We just have to deal with it and move on. Let’s face it: 1% of people in this industry make their living playing this style of music, so no money should really be nothing new for them. I wish more great bands in our genre could make a living doing this, but it will never be the case. If you got into this style to make a living at it, you made a bad choice. This style of music is done for the love of it. That is why I started a studio. I knew that playing in Aurora Borealis would never afford me a good living.

Thanks for the interview! Good luck with Aurora Borealis and the constant hardships and setbacks that seem to befall the band. I would like to extend my praise for your persistence in keeping the ancient flame burning. The last words are yours.

Thanks so much for the space in your magazine. It is people and avenues like yourself that have always kept this band relevant. We never got much help in the way of labels or distribution deals, etc. So, you guys are really the driving force behind the band. As far as any setbacks we have, they are all minor in the grand scheme of life, so no worries. If any of your readers want a hard copy of the cd when it is released I would encourage them to get in touch with us for pre-orders. There will be no represses, so it will go very fast. The cd will be out very early 2011. 100% no questions asked. I am actually in the final stages of the mixing process now and then it just has to be sent for press. If they don’t want a hard copy, just keep an eye on the Aurora site www.auroraborealis.org . We will have the files there for download very early 2011 as well.


Aurora Borealis – www.auroraborealis.org
Nightsky Studios – www.nightskystudios.org


Reinfection

Czy damy radę wpasować się w panujące dzisiaj trendy tego nie wiem. Mam nadzieję, że tak i płyta zdoła troszkę namieszać i odbije się to echem w środowisku. Mam też nadzieję, że będziemy w stanie pokazać, że scena ma się dobrze i zachęcić innych do tego że warto coś robić mimo tego, że się mieszka daleko od siebie.

Nuclear Holocaust

Jest old school, bo nie zagraliśmy ani jednego oryginalnego dźwięku, kawałki są krótkie, jest w nich mnóstwo thrashu i punka, szczypta death metalu – to dla wielu będzie właśnie przepisem na grindcore, zmieniają się tylko proporcje. Nie boli nas ta łata, nie chce nam się też szukać innej.

Ulcer

Może dzięki uwielbieniu Dissection jest na Heading Below więcej melodii? Może za sprawą Testimony of Ancients znalazły się klawiszowe podkłady? Być może dlatego, że kochamy Autopsy jest więcej tłustych zwolnień? Jakoś tak to wszystko naturalnie przyszło.