Cernunnos Woods is a Dungeon Synth project from way back in the early 90’s, playing a ritualistic style of Dungeon Synth with black metal vocals dedicated to Celtic and Druidic folklore. The project has recently been reactivated and will be releasing new music soon. In this interview I talk with Bard Algol about the past, the present, and the future of this cult project from the days of yore.
Greetings! Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with Barbarian Skull. Please introduce yourself and tell us about the history of Cernunnos Woods. What inspired you to form the project initially?
Hello, thank you for inviting me. Cernunnos Woods started in 1993 and released 2 demo tapes (Tears of the Weeping Willow and Lost Woods), one promo tape (Immrama which featured 3 tracks from the debut album), a couple compilation tracks and one full length album (Awaken the Empire of Dark Wood) on Cold Meat Industry (Cruel Moon International) label from Sweden.
Cernunnos Woods was initially conceived because I was not able to get together a metal band so I decided to see what I could do using a keyboard and microphone. I always enjoyed the intros on metal albums and I thought it might be cool to do a whole release of that kind of thing. I had a bass guitar but getting the people together to form a proper band here was problematic. Back then there was so few people into underground music in my small Minnesota town. Each person was into their own kind of underground music and had their own ideas where they wanted to go. So with 4 people wanting to go in 4 different directions, the few rehearsals that did get put together weren’t very productive. It was better to go off on my own and at least get something done.
Cernunnos Woods formed in 1993, a time when there were very few bands making “metal based” synth music. What bands/projects inspired you musically in the early days?
Yeah I remember when the first releases of this kind of stuff were coming out some fliers had warnings like “There is no metal on this tape – total atmosphere!” and things like that. In the early times there was: Mortiis, Funerary Call, Wongraven, Darkness Enshroud, Abruptum, Equimanthorn, Beherit’s atmospheric tracks on Drawing Down The Moon, the Messe Des Morts 7” and the HC418ov21C album were all really inspirational for me at the time. Other inspirations were things like the soundtrack LPs to fantasy movies like Legend (by Tangerine Dream), the early Lord of the Rings soundtrack (the one released in the 1970s), Conan the Barbarian soundtrack and so on.
Your early demo Tears of the Weeping Willow was recently re-released digitally with re-mastered sound on your bandcamp page. How was this demo initially received by fans when you first released it? Are there any plans to re-release more of the old material?
It was well received for the time. I was actually surprised that there was as much interest as there was, even though it was recorded fairly terribly. A write up even made it into the old glossy Greek metal magazine Metal Invader, I’m still not sure how that happened but it was a really lucky break that got the project a lot more attention from outside the USA. Yes I’m working to re-master all the existing old material and give it the best possible sound, now that such tools to attempt to clean it up are are accessible. One thing I’ve gotten a kick out of is there are some people saying for this kind of music to be “true” it has to sound like it was recorded on a Karaoke machine in a cave somewhere but that’s just what was available at the time – it wasn’t intentional! Ha ha
On your official Facebook page you posted about re-acquiring a Yamaha PSR-510 synthesizer, which you used on old Cernunnos Woods recordings. Do you plan to use this synthesizer on newer material, or will you also be using newer synths or software VST’s (or a mix of both)?
Yes that’s right, earlier this year I was able to locate the old Yamaha model that I used to produce most of the early Cernunnos Woods material. I was pretty surprised there were any still in existence. Apparently it was kind of a fluke model that Yamaha only created for one year and then never reproduced the features and many of the sounds on any later models for some reason. One of the bands on Dark Age Productions begged me for it until I finally sold it to them after I had gotten a new Roland synthesizer but I had always missed the Yamaha. I do plan on using some of the sounds from the PSR-510 on the new material but I will also be using the better sounding and more customizable VST software synths and some field recordings.
Cernunnos Woods is strongly based on Celtic myths and folklore. Why did you choose this particular subject for your project? What influence do the Celtic traditions have on you today (spiritually, philosophically, etc.)?
I’ve always been interested in the natural world as well as various studies of occult magic since a young age. When I came across information about Druidry and it’s connection to the trees, plants and animals, the elemental spirits and so on, it’s concepts seemed to make a very good connection with me. The folklore is also an impressive framework upon which to build a universe for the project to work with. Of course Celtic folklore contains far more subjects than the few aspects that Cernunnos Woods touches on but that was what first attracted me, the natural spirit. I suppose as far as influencing my day to day life, I try to be kind to the earth and it’s inhabitants and not behave in an exceptionally wasteful or hateful manner. Of course the bardic tradition is all about storytelling, poetry and music. Whether you create it yourself or just enjoy it, I think music and the arts are a very important aspect of life.
You recently reformed the project after a many years of silence. What inspired you to re-activate the project? How does your new material compare to the classic demos you released?
The easiest explanation is that I have both the time and inspiration to get back into it now. Life sometimes gets in the way and things you’d like to do end up never getting done and then suddenly 20 years have gone by! Ha ha
I think the new material will be considered a sensible continuation of where the debut album left off where the project was turning a bit more orchestral blended with the primitive aspects.
You have been involved in creating Dungeon Synth music from a time before many of the fans in the “scene” today were following the genre. Are there any Dungeon Synth projects that you find inspiring today?
There are a number of newer bands I’ve come across recently that are quite impressive and enjoyable. I don’t know the finer points of what is and is not technically “dungeon synth” which is a term that has come up since I had put Cernunnos Woods on hold. I’ve seen people arguing online over what a band must do or not do in order to be dungeon synth. That all seems rather dogmatic to me. But to get back on track, some good listening lately has been: Lord Lovidicus, Foglord, Murgrind, Grimrik, Elador, Atrium Carceri… there are so many doing creative and interesting things that I hate to list names and forget someone. It’s great to see the scene that has continued to develop around avant-garde music and I’m excited to see where these bands start to take their musical careers.
Thank you for answering this interview, any last words are yours!
Thank you for very much for this interview Nate – I wish all the best to you and Barbarian Skull Magazine!