Slaughtering all ideas of what metal sounds like in North Carolina, Aether Realm comes ransacking into the states with their version of melodic viking death metal. With their recently released third full-length album, Redneck Vikings From Hell, they have unleashed their most diverse and orchestral album yet. The musical composition is eccentric and impressive. I recently reviewed this record and you can read my take here.
These four incredible musicians rally from Asheville, North Carolina and include members, Jake Jones (vocals/bass), Heinrich Arnold (guitar, vocals), Tyler Gresham (drums), and Donny Burbage (guitar). While diversity is the main event throughout this album, musically they are a force to be reckoned with. Jake, took some time with Metal Nation to dive into what Aether Realm is all about and shed some light on Redneck Vikings From Hell.
Where did you come up with the name Aether Realm?
I was 17 and in my calculus class in high school and was doodling in my notebook a lot. I was listening to all these Scandinavian bands and I had the idea for a Scandinavian letter in a band name. At first we were going to call ourselves Aether, but now there is a Polish band with that name and they are really good. I can’t tell you what possessed us to name it exactly that, but after we had named it we had found out Aether Realm translated means realm of the sky realm (laughs). It is redundant. It is the curse of starting a band when you are a 17-year-old idiot. Now we are stuck with it and I have grown to love it. It is what it is, it can be as silly as you want.”
It’s another play on “Cycle”
Yes! It is all part of the big plan. (laughs) That we have had the whole time.”
What does TMHC stand for?
TMHC stands for Tiny Metal Hand Crew, and it has become the name of our fanbase and dedicated listeners. The tiny metal hand came about on a tour with Wilderun from Boston, who we have toured with many times, but we were doing a tour with them one year and we rolled up to this burrito place in Vermont and they had a bunch of aluminum foil people that people had made that was stuck on top of the drink machine. We all got fixated on making our own versions of these things and we started posting them on Instagram. We all got stuck on tiny metal things. We are tiny metal bands in a tiny metal land going out to play some shows. We got stuck on that phrase we thought it was so silly and started doing it at shows and started to get the crowd to do it and it has gone from there. It is a very silly meaning to a very real thing which is their fan shout out song.”
What have the responses been since the album has been released?
It has been great honestly. It has been a big relief just having it out. One of the, you can call it fun or you can call it frustrating, but one of the things you experience when you are putting an album out is you put out these singles first and people make a lot of assumptions about how the album is going to sound based on the first songs that come out. Which is fair to do I think. I understand why they do it, but there is some fun to be had when someone hears ‘Guardian’ and says ‘oh no! The whole album is going to be ballads’. We sit there reading the comment thinking ‘Lean into the Wind’ is on the album. It still has metal songs on it.
Then you released “Slave to the Riff,” and I am sure that eased some of their concerns.
Some of them, but then others, like folk metal fans, were not about that song because they felt like it had metalcore vocals in it. People kept going on with all kinds of shit and we kept thinking, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ Now the album is all out and people can make their decisions on if it is something for them or not. I think a lot of people feel that because it is such a mixed bag of song styles, one or two songs, and they think, ‘Yeah this is a masterpiece,’ and then other songs where they think, ‘this song is garbage.’ Then you read a review and it says the same exact thing, but the songs are flipped. ‘Guardian’ is the definitely the clear winner of this album but “She’s Back” is an absolute garbage track. Nobody could possibly listen to this. Then the next one says ‘She’s Back’ is definitely the best song on the album but ‘Cycle’ is just garbage and an unlistenable song.’ You have all these different reviews that have conflicting opinions. That’s fun to read because I think that means that we have been successful with our writing. You can never write a song that every mother fucker is going to like, but we have successfully written a bunch of songs that different groups of people will connect with.”
Speaking of reviews, do you appreciate the negative reviews?
Oh yeah! So here is the deal, we will make fun of it a little bit in our private band chat, in a safe spot where we are not really putting anybody on blast. Anytime someone says some shit that is extra mean, it gets immediately screen shot and sent to our group text and we all laugh about it a little. ‘Looks like we can’t make music’. I think negative reviews means that your promotional team is doing a good job, because they are getting the album into everyone’s ears, even the dude’s that are not about it.”
Are you happy with the final product now that it is done? Is there anything you wish you could change?
I find the only way to get an album done is to set a deadline for it, where you are going to be done at that point. Then you start working with the intention of hitting that deadline. The results of that on the positive end, is you actually finish. On the negative end, with every album you are going to listen back to it later on and think, ‘if we had EQ’d this a little differently or if only we had messed with the levels a little bit here, this part would pop out more.’ I think that I would rather have the material out then have six more months to dwell on it and try and perfect it. We could have waited for six more months to change things, but it would be a completely different album. Same with six months from then.”
You have many big names that collaborated on this album, not only behind the scenes but directly on the album as well. How did that come about?
We just have a lot of friends. The process of making music comes out more full and better when you have a collaborative process and have a good team of people that specialize in different aspects. On Tarot, we sort of did the same thing, with Michael Rumple doing some clean singing and some death metal screams that are much lower than I can do myself. Last time we had Dan Muller from Wilderun who did all the orchestrations. This time, Dan had just had a baby, so we went with Ben Turk. Ben is the drummer for the band Gloryhammer and also the orchestrator for all for their music. He puts together all the strings, brass, woodwinds, choirs and all that good stuff for them. We had toured with Gloryhammer which is how we met and got a feel for his work with Gloryhammer. We felt he is someone with a great grasp of creating a very real sounding orchestra. We would send him skeletons of orchestral tracks with string stuff or chords with choir sounds and he would take that and run with it until it was lush and full. We would never have been able to achieve that without his help. Ultimately, that is the reason we end up working with friends. We have a lot of friends that are better at doing certain things than any of us are. If we are truly in service of trying to make the best music, truly a ‘slave to the riff’, we have to call in help. Erik (Nekrogoblikon) did the vocals on our first album on a song “Swampwitch”. “She’s Back” is a part two of that song so we knew we had to have Erik on it again.”
Was everybody in the band on board when you decided to go this route with the evolution of Redneck Vikings From Hell?
Every album you have a lot of debate about what should make the cut, what shouldn’t make the cut. Even down to how should we articulate this guitar part. Should we slide into the note or hit the whammy bar into the note? Should we play straight with a lot of vibrato? You have to ask that question with every layer of every section of the song. We don’t always agree, but we all tend to keep in mind that any time we get to fighting about how the song should go, it is all coming from a good spot. We are all trying to serve the song to the best of our ability. If one person is only allowing their ideas, you are going to get a worse album. It is important to get everybody’s expertise, get everybody’s feelings toward what needs to happen. Then everybody fights about it, but it is a healthy kind of fighting. Sometimes we write stuff that is impossible to play. I will write it and launch it and I will give it to Heinrich or Donny and they will say, ‘Jake, this is impossible’. I am notoriously really stubborn about saying, ‘well you are going to have to figure it out because that’s how it sounds good’. Usually we find ourselves after some practice at a happy middle ground that can be played and incorporates everyone’s feelings about it. Nobody has every single element they really want. There is never a song where every idea that was presented made the cut, but that is just the process of trying to trim songs down to be kept with the feel good riff from front to back. Every second of audio we are trying to pack with good shit.”
I think “Guardian” is a very important song with a very important message of hope. You have mentioned it refers to you struggling with your own mental health and how you decided to work through it via song.
Yeah that song was conceived at a very uncertain time for me. The process of getting this album made involved having Donny move from Greenville, NC to Asheville, NC which is about a five hour difference. Asheville is a bit more expensive to live in and he didn’t have a job ready to go yet, but I really wanted to get the work on this album going. We were able to get him up here and I gave up my bedroom and ended up living on the couch while we were working on this album. One of the nights I was sleeping on the couch and we were about midway through getting the album done and it felt like it was dragging on forever. I was feeling pretty down about the whole process, I felt like it was something we were never going to finish, and when we did finish, it probably wasn’t going to be as good as we wanted it to be. I got out my mini keyboard and started playing some of the chords and melody. It was a really simple melody, but it was a feeling in me that was good for me at that point, while I was in that mental state. So, I just started writing lyrics about what I was wishing someone would say to me in that time. Uplifting words from a friend. It came together very naturally and it helped me feel better, so I figured maybe it would help others too.”
You had mentioned before how some people mistake it for a romantic song.
(Laughs) Yeah, it has that vibe too so I can’t even blame anybody. There is some lyric writing where if it is about a feeling you can strip back some of the details and paint this picture with words that is not a very detailed story, but, rather just encompasses a feeling. Then people will apply it to their own life the way they need to.”
Along with that confusion, you have stated that some people think the song “Hunger” is about you being hungry.
We had two reviews that mentioned how the song was just about eating, I don’t get it. I did not write a song about eating (laughs).”
What is the main message you are hoping to relay with this album?
With this one, we have two different things going on. On one end we have a variation between how we have presented ourselves as a band in the past, and the people we actually are. We have been writing this music that is more characteristic of bands from Finland, European bands in general, who are more likely to play the kind of music we play and write about the subject matter we write about. Mythology or fantasy stories, or occult demon-based action stories. So, we wanted to fuse these two ideas about being honest about the people that we are. Write an album that does not misrepresent who we are, but also bring all these elements to song writing. This album becomes the marriage of the fun and silly redneck side of it, being a band from North Carolina with these more epic grandiose structures of songs. That was what we were hoping to do with the album musically. Lyrically the album’s theme is intended to be comfort and acceptance and saying ‘come join the crew, come join the TMHC, you can be a redneck Viking from hell if you want’. It is intended to build community. We didn’t want to do Tarot 2, We wanted to write a new album about what we were feeling and in the style of music that was speaking to us at the time.”
My friend Jeremiah, who is a big fan, was curious if “you have a lot of dipshits saying ignorant things about the variety of this album?”
(Laughs) Sometimes yes. I feel the silliest stuff is when somebody makes a statement about what our intent was while writing this album. How do you know what we were trying to do or what our feel was? I have never talked to you. At the end of the day, I feel a lot more confident about not trying to tie my self-worth with how some people feel about our artistic output. I feel a lot better about that now.”
The musical components are incredible, and Tyler! Wow!
Oh yeah! He banged out the whole album in two days. We brought him into Kile’s studio and it was two unbelievable brutal days where he was drumming for around eight hours. He was absolutely bushed after. We have a video of us all cheering for him ‘Yeah Tyler, good job!’ and he just looks at us with a dead look in his eye like, everybody shut up, I’m done.”
With the guitars as well, I like the diversity between the two guitarists.
It is really sick to have access to two guitarists that both have very unique and individual styles because any given song is going to require a different type of solo to make the song work when you are in your mission of serving the song. There will be some sections that require something that might be more bluesy, although Donny is a jack of all trades, but he is known for doing some of the more bluesy and thrashy parts. Contrasting that with somebody like Heinrich who writes his solos more like a composer. These result in two different sounds and both are very useful and fun to put right up against each other for some contrast.”
*At this point we nerded out and chatted about Dungeons and Dragons for a while. I will spare you details of this part of the interview. But yes, Aether Realm plays D&D.*
You are still working and not getting much downtime, but if you did have extra time, what would you be doing with it?
Oh man, if I had more spare time. I would probably be playing the piano some more. I might get a little bit healthier. There are some games on the switch I have been wanting to play. I am not good at relaxing. Sometimes I can coax myself into sitting down and reading a book. I have been also playing through Final Fantasy VII remake, which is the first one in that series I have played.”
*went off on another tangent about board games*
What’s next since touring is out of the question right now?
We have a variety of odds and ends. Nothing that is a big thing like the album is right now, but we had a tour planned, we were supposed to be in Montreal right now. We do have a booking agent right now who has been helping us a great deal with the rescheduling. We have dates ready for if we are able to go tour soon, and we have dates available for next year in case the pandemic lasts until then. In the mean-time we are all practicing, which is a small blessing because when we do finally get to tour, we will be a lot tighter with the songs.”
You have new merch coming out, is there a release date yet?
No, but it should be very soon. We signed a bunch of copies of Redneck Vikings for the tour, now we are going to put them up on the website as soon as Tyler gets through signing them. We have four or five shirt designs that are currently being made because we had some money from last months merch sales so we decided to pay an artist to make some cool shit. Right now our merch store is sold out of a bunch of stuff so we are trying to restock it with whatever comes in first. We might reprint some old designs too. We got patches in! Everyone has been asking for patches for about ten years.”
Since you are not able to tour right now, what can fans do to financially support you during this difficult time?
You can listen to Redneck Vikings From Hell on Spotify, that’s always helpful. Any place that somebody chooses to consume music is helpful, regardless of where it comes from. If you choose to pirate our album, I prefer you just don’t tell me. Just tell me you enjoyed it (laughs). Even then I am still glad people are listening to it. The number I check most often is on Spotify. I will say ‘alright, let’s see if we made it today boys’. Every time you play a Spotify song we get a ten of a cent but it adds up after a while. And of course buying merch. If you google Aether Realm you will find our online store on Holy Mountain from Raleigh, NC.
If you had one classic rock song to listen to while stranded on a deserted island, what would it be?
Oh man, hold up, hold up, hold up, hold up, give me just a second. I don’t want to embarrass myself. ‘Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love’ by Van Halen. It has the best riff.”
Best song for riding a sparkling unicorn across a rainbow?
That would probably be ‘Legendary Enchanted Jetpack’ by Gloryhammer. Better yet, there is a secret remix of this song that is on a secret site somewhere out there on the internet. I am not able to say, but certain people had access to it when that album came out. There is an Aqua style ‘Barbie Girl’ style remix.”
Anything else you want to add?
Shout out to the TMHC! If you haven’t yet, go listen to Redneck Vikings From Hell, it’s a trip.
It is a trip, a good one though.
Some would say, some would say it’s a nightmare trip (laughs).”
I will second this statement. Make sure you check out Redneck Vikings From Hell. While some parts could be labeled as “silly”, there is nothing silly about the composition and some of the lyrical content. These musicians are prodigious at what they do and every song takes you down a different road. It is uniquely diverse and keeps you interested and guessing the entire way through. There is not a bad song. I have a few consistently worm their way into my ears and stay. Earworms at their finest. Look out for it when I do my top ten albums of the year, I am sure it will make it. Make sure you show these guys some support, buy some merch, listen to the album, and keep the music going during these crazy times!