Wesenwille: a material interview

WESENWILLE: a material interview

I had the pleasure to come across Wesenwille while they were still looking for a label to release their sophomore album, II: A Material God, and have followed their path since, as I believe the Dutch duo not only could craft some fine, inspired dissonant and solid black metal, but had the quality to develop it through peculiar and unusual topics. I reached out to guitarist and vocalist Ruben Schmidt to delve deeper into a world made of smoky skies, grey brick walls and bleakness…

Let’s start from the basics: who are Wesenwille, and where does the name come from?

First of all thank you for showing an interest and taking the time to conduct this interview. Wesenwille is a two-man band consisting of David (drums) and I. We operate from Utrecht (NL) and deliver our own take on the black metal formula which we all know and love, focusing primarily on creating strong musical contrasts. While our work is primarily black metal-oriented, you’ll find other styles intermingled here and there. Wesenwille songs will often combine atmosphere with aggression, dissonance with consonance, euphoria with despair — aiming for an overwhelming musical experience without necessarily feeling the need to reinvent the wheel.

We’ve been operating under the name Wesenwille since 2013 and initially started out as a “black metal power trio” together with our former bassist Michiel. We had a relatively slow start, taking five years to release our debut I: Wesenwille in 2018 through USA’s Redefining Darkness Records. But that time was well-spent on defining our own niche, which I’m confident to say we’ve managed quite well. Since 2013, Wesenwille has gradually evolved from a side-project to a main focus for us, and with our new album II: A Material God, released this year through Les Acteurs de L’Ombre Productions, we’ve been enjoying the wider reach that we felt our music deserved.

Both “Wesenwille” and “Kürwille” initially came up as options when we searched for a band name. These are terms coined by the German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies to describe the forms of will that in his eyes drive social constructs. Both of these terms struck us as powerful names for a project that lyrically deals with aspects of modernity and evolving human social interactions. Though I should say that we never aimed to specifically explore Tönnies’ works in our lyrics.

Your imagery is one of a kind in the black metal scene. No Satan, no Nordic deities, but A Material God. Metal Archives reads “Lyrical Themes: Industrialization, Capitalism, Modernity”. Would you expand on the themes that inform your music?

I would like to think so, too. Although we are by far not the only ones to adapt black and white photography as our main visual style, our modern lyrical themes indeed do not seem to be too abundant in the black metal genre. I’ve personally never felt drawn towards the supernatural concepts you refer to, not in Wesenwille or in any other project (nor in life, for that matter). The themes that underlie Wesenwille’s music are mostly personal and originate from everyday impressions of life in our modern age. To name a few themes from the second album, one should think in the direction of greed, ruthless competition, overconsumption, the commodification of man and loneliness. These are some of the more controversial aspects of life in our prosperous modern society, which we feel agree well with the contrasts found in our music.

How did you come to pick the beautiful Paul Strand photo of Wall Street as a cover for the album?

I was looking for an image that had a modern feel and would fit nicely with the photographs used for our debut, as we aim for consistency within our discography. At the same time, we wanted a cover shot that would draw enough attention so the record is not easily overlooked. Wall Street by Paul Strand was one of many images I ended up collecting, but this one in particular struck me as not only visually attractive, but also as a great fit with the lyrics on II: A Material God. The stark contrasts, shadowy figures combined with bleak rising walls, the man-made structures looming over passers-by — everything in this picture goes hand in hand with the idea of man being dominated by its own creation, which is a theme that often raises its head on this album.

I cannot help but note that Paul Strand was a modernist photographer from the US who fled his country because of his association with the Communist party. And here you are talking about greed, ruthless competition and many other aspects which are the foundations of modern-day capitalism. In this sense, do you consider your music “political”?

No, I don’t. The photograph was chosen for its striking artistic value, not the values or associations of the artist. I am not particularly interested in politics, and definitely not enough to dedicate my music to an attempt to steer listeners in any political direction. Wesenwille focuses on the music itself, and the themes connected to it are more personal in nature. I do get where the sentiment is coming from, of course. It’s also not the first time for questions in this direction to be asked. For example, others have wondered if, due to our band name, we might be arguing for a reversal of society back to “simpler times”. But there’s none of that.

You mentioned Ferdinand Tönnies, but I guess there have been many other authors, thinkers or artists who inspired your work. Would you name any you believe particularly important to you?

Musically there are many bands that influenced me when writing material for Wesenwille. Some that I’d say consciously influenced my writing would be Svartidauði, Svart Crown, Deathspell Omega, Ulcerate, Imperial Triumphant and Schammasch. Those are the main ones I remember now from the top of my head, of course there are always other influences that creep in, be it consciously or not. Lyrically I mostly draw from my own impressions, but I do remember going through some excerpts of the Dialectic Of Enlightenment by Horkheimer and Adorno, which offered some nice food for thought while working on II: A Material God.

Thanks to No Clean Singing I found out the spoken parts in the album come from THX 1138, George Lucas’s 1971 debut as a director, starring a young Robert Duvall living in a dystopian society. What connections did you find between the movie and your music?

The article by NCS was one of the more enjoyable publications on our album, it’s a good read! The dystopian theme woven throughout THX 1138 fit the themes on our last album really well, especially the conversations between THX and the emulated Christ figure he attempts to connect with during some of the scenes. If anything, THX 1138 does a nice job of portraying what a world might look like where man is dominated by its own creations, and that was its main attraction for me.

A Material God is out on LADLO, which is a label known for supporting (mainly) the French black metal scene. How was this cooperation born?

While we were very happy with how well Redefining Darkness Records treated us when releasing I: Wesenwille, we figured that it would be practical to release our second album closer to home — through a European label. With some help we managed to pitch the album to Gerald who runs LADLO. He was really enthusiastic about our music, as were others in the LADLO team, so they offered us a very attractive deal. Also, both David and I had been following LADLO and quite some of their bands for years, and we figured that the devotion, house style and connections that LADLO offers would be a really good fit with Wesenwille and help us on our way to reaching a larger audience. We’ve been really satisfied with how the collaboration panned out thus far. It’s a shame that this year’s LADLO Fest II was postponed due to the pandemic, but we’re excited about meeting the whole team in person in 2022.

You mentioned having other projects, would you care to introduce them?

Sure thing. I’d say Wesenwille is my most significant time investment, but next to that I collaborate with W. Damiaen (whom you might know from Laster and many other projects, as well as his Catacomben Studios) in our project Verval, which is mainly atmospheric black metal with some neo-classical influences. We just finished work on pre-productions for a new album and are about to start the proper recordings. Verval is the main project where I get to explore music with the cello, which I’ve been completely obsessed with learning for the past years. Other than that, there’s Apotelesma, which is a doom/black project we’ve recently resurrected and are working on a new album for. Then there’s some projects where I play a smaller role; Wrang for example, where I play live guitars while David is a core member. They just about finished work on a second studio album which will be a total beast, so keep an eye out for that one! Also, if you enjoy your black metal old-school with punk and d-beat influences and more, then last year’s De Zoute Kwel by David’s band Grafjammer is something you shouldn’t miss. Finally, we’ve of course not been idle with Wesenwille after the release of II: A Material God, and we have something new in the works. But more on that in the not-too-distant future!