Balin

CDM Presents: An Interview With Balin

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Leigh Wright of Wyrd Daze presents a CDM exclusive interview with German dungeon synth artist Balin, also behind Giftzwerg. They discuss the extensive catalogue and numerous collaborations of the Balin project. They also talk fantasy, video games, dungeon synth, musical inspirations and much more.

Please introduce and tell us about yourself (if you would like to remain anonymous you can limit this introduction to your project/s. Either way, please do go into as much detail as you’d like).

I’m Jan, most people in the dungeon synth and metal scene who are familiar with my music know me as German dungeon synth musician Balin. My Music is a wild mixture of different styles of Dungeon Synth, Ambient Black Metal and Noise music. My journey as a dungeon synth musician started with my first demo back in 2018. I released it on my 18th birthday, on that day I discovered my true name…

Balin
Balin

Tell us about the story / world building / themes behind your project/s

It is not easy to assign Balin to a certain theme, and that although I have chosen a clear reference to Tolkien’s life’s work with Balin as eponym.

In general, I would first name great fantasy worlds that have always influenced me. But even that lags, because my last few albums were very personal and less fantasy themed or dreamy, rather a direct throwback to real life.

I see each of my releases as a kind of continuation of a journey. So every release had it’s own special theme and different style.

So the name of my first demo is clear: Middle Earth, Amber, Westeros. Where I pay musical homage to these three fantastic fantasy worlds. At that time I didn’t have a direct concept what I wanted to do here, I only knew one thing: Dungeon Synth, that’s it! I would consider it Raw Dungeon Synth at that point.

Nosgoth, on the other hand, takes on one of the most underrated (in my eyes) video game series ever: Legacy of Kain. I could spend hours just talking about this video game series, but in the end it would always come out the same: If you don’t know it, play it! These where my first steps into fantasy ambient.

The Dungeon at the Wayside is my tribute to all P&P RPGs out there, as specially D&D I have to admit. That’s why I choose a Old-School appoarch for this one.

With Honor of a Dwarf I couldn’t resist to do a full middle-earth themed release, even if it was much more lo-fi than orinally planned, because I already unpacked my Black Metal side (It’s just my try at making a Summoning worship, a rough one at that).

Balin 'The Honor Of A Dwarf'
Balin ‘The Honor Of A Dwarf’ Artwork

Along the way, the seasonal EPs came out every now and then, some of them fun, some fantasy-themed, and some of them just mental torture. The next full release was a step further.

Kald Ensom Grav then manifested all that had been building up in me for years, it’s Depressive Dungeon Synth – and I’m still working through that album. Recording it was unfortunately not fun, but it helped me in a way. I took a break from recording new music or some time after that. The split-release with Caverns of Crystal was my first real recording in months…

An Adventure Through Space and Time feels like getting back on track. The Doctor and his adventures helped a lot to get back in form. I don’t know what ou can call it… Space Dungeon Synth? Berlin School Dungeon Synth? – something like that seems fitting.

As you can see, Balin is a very personal thing, the places I try to capture in music are important to me, as they probably are to many others, so in a way it’s a nostalgic indulgence and a tribute to many unique worlds, sometimes disrupted by personal struggles so far.

That’s why I started a side project early this year, Giftzwerg. This project will focus more on my personal struggles as a human, my inner thoughts and demons. I deceided to make a side project after I realised how much personal stuff and bagadge Balin has became over the last two years and it’s far away from what I wanted to express with Balin in the first place. I don’t know how regular I wanna release music as Giftzwerg, but if I do so, it will get darker than usual and more on the Black Metal influence. I wanna sepperat that from my main project from now on. Thank you to my friend Bellzebub for this split!

Glockenschlag/Giftzwerg - Split
Glockenschlag/Giftzwerg – Split – Artwork

Tell us about the art & design associated with your project/s

I’ve always found photography interesting, although I’m far from the most talented in the field, I always find it great to use landscape photos or the like as cover artwork.

A little anecdote about the coverart of The Honor of a Dwarf: It was created on a road trip across Germany with my best friends. We were stranded at the Baltic Sea after a campground wouldn’t accept us. The five of us slept in an Opel Rekord, it was hot, stuffy and damn cramped. One of my friends couldn’t stand it in there and got up at about 3am and watched the sunrise, when he saw the sailboat on the horizon he took the picture. When we were all awake at some point, he showed me the picture and said something like “This has to be the next Balin Cover!” Incredibly beautiful memory…

Lately, there are also some releases coming out with paintings: for example, the Split with Emperor Ashoka, with a painting by Caspar David Friedrich. Or the Glockenschlag/Giftzwerg split with a painting by Francisco-de-Goya (who also inspired Reverend Bizarre).

Outlier is my most recent release. An Adventure through Space and Time is the first cover art I’ve done completely out of hand. I showed my good friend Laura the first drafts of the album and told her to draw what comes her to mind when she listens to the music. I made the right choice! The cover is just…wow, awesome!

Balin 'An Adventure Through Space And Time'
Balin ‘An Adventure Through Space And Time’ Artwork

She’s not that active on her channels unfortunately, but still show her some support.

She is a great illustrator: https://www.instagram.com/laura_sdn/

What are some of your influences (musical and otherwise)?

As I mentioned before: Summoning is a huge inspiration for most of my Black Metal related Synth music. As specially Minas Morgul and Dol Guldur are albums I come back to regularly. Also Silenus’ Dungeon Synth project Mikwood – what an atmosphere! Another project in the same vain is Godkiller and their EP Rebirth of the middle ages – huge impact album for me! Other important Black Metal artists to me are Arckanum or german acts like Dornenreich or Eïs.

But everything actually started with my father’s CD and Tape collection: He was a metalhead in the GDR, which means he listened to most classic bands over the radio and recorded them on mixtapes. One of my earliest memories of my childhood is listening to those old mixtapes with my dad and discovering bands like Judas Priest, Black Sabbath or Accept for the first time. That’s probably where my love for cassettes comes from.

My lyrics on the other hand are strongly inspired by the german punk musician Jens Rachut, the 90s EBM gothic scene, the so called “Neue Deutsche Todeskunst”, especially Goethes Erben.

My favorite Old-School Dungeon Synth project, that mainly inspired Dungeon at the Wayside is Maelifell with their 1996 Demo.

The three musicians I have to thank the most are Erang, who not only brought me to Dungeon Synth 2015, but also supports me with his wise words from time to time, Lord Lovidicus, whose EP The Forges Fire sparked my interest in Dungeon Synth in the first place and Hobbit, who loaded me with the right amount of nostalgia to actually start my project.

And for other inspirations: Actually everything I have ever read, seen or experienced as a video game, too much to list here! But JRR Tolkien, Roger Zelazny, Terry Goodkind and GRR Martin are among my favorites. And thanks to Evergreen, the great Ursula K. Le Guin has recently joined the ranks. Thank you Evergreen!

Filmes are also a lot! But to name a few: Labyrinth with David Bowie, The Dark Crystal, Willow, The Evok movies, Studio Ghibli movies as well as Sci-Fi movies like Blade Runner or Alien…

Balin 'Middle-Earth Amber Westeros'
Balin ‘Middle-Earth Amber Westeros’ Artwork

Show/tell us about your creative space and process

Showing it would be a mess! I call my personnal litte space the Moria Klangschmiede“ (german for Moria Sound Forge). I work with many tools, try to craft something, somehow. Sometimes. I want to express my raw emotions and my mental state, sometimes I want to show of a cool fantasy world from my childhood.

Most of the time I just come up with the theme of the release during my recordings. I listen through it again and again until I think I know what I wanna make music about. Important to me is always a sense of progression. Learing new things, seeing, reading, hearing and even building new worlds!

Because that’s what life is: Progression, progress, change, simply life.

You can compare it with a bard, any story worth telling in my eyes I try to implement

How does your sense of place affect the way you express yourself?

Led me think…I don’t know where I belong so far. Not in a restless sense, even if I can sometimes seem very erratic. Every place I visit, whether in real life or in my fantasy does something to me and inspires me. So through my big city experiences I have packed a certain industrial influence into my upcoming projects. When I’m at home or taking my walks in the woods I feel safe and comfy, and you can hear that in my music. In a way you can compare it to that progression I mentioned before. Without this I could not express myself. So I would say it influences me a lot.

What does dungeon synth (and/or related genres) mean to you?

It’s hard for me to put into words how important Dungeon Synth has become as a genre, not only in the context of this project, but also as a simple music fan. I have fond memories of listening to the entire Revival Dungeon Synth pioneers and becoming more and more infatuated with Dungeon Synth. I have fond memories of listening to the entire Revival Dungeon Synth pioneers and becoming more and more infatuated with Dungeon Synth. Also, it’s just nice to see how the genre is always evolving thanks to so many great, awesome, fantastic representatives.

It’s an incredibly immersive experience when you get into it. I’ve been reading fantasy literature since I was a kid, and dungeon synth, fantasy synth, comfy synth, and all the other styles of this wonderful little microgenre feel like the soundtrack I’ve always needed to go with it. I still find it amazing that this lovable creative corner has its origins in the otherwise aggresive, cold black metal scene.

Balin

How would you describe the Dungeon Synth community?

I made a lot of wonderful friends since I am part of this community. as it is, usually, an incredibly open and welcoming community. Of course, you have exceptions here and there, but fortunately I have not encountered any of these exceptions anywhere yet. I can’t say anything but thank you for enriching my life every day and of course thank you for the incredible support. For a long time I didn’t dare to show my face online, to publish my music I had to be persuaded by my friends and now, six years later I’m still happy to be a part of the community.

What I would like to point out again: The German dungeon synth community has grown immensely during the last few years. Besides great projects like Mythenmetz, Radagast, Caverns of Crystal, Five Odd Eichhörnchen or the numerous projects of Skled there are now also some pretty fancy Dungeon Synth labels here like Sweet 8-Bitterness and Personal Uschi Records or Uralte Herrschaft Productions that have all my support!

I’ll leave it at that for now, but I’m excited about the future!

Maybe a little thing a friend told me at the time when I didn’t want to publish my music and in case someone has doubts about publishing their music: Just put it out there, what’s the worst that can happen?

Tell us about your gaming habits: video games, RPG, tabletop, other? Past & present.

When I look at my video game shelf, I get nostagic, to say it right away: These days I play less. I grew up in the Playstation 2 era and I’m mostly stuck in that time. I collect video games from the Playstation 1 and 2 era as well as all kinds of audio media. It’s kind of funny that I now count as a retro gamer. Of course I also have a Nintendo DS, a Gameboy Advance and since some time a Nintendo 3DS, but that was never my collecting focus.

I love Playstation RPGs too much…It all started with the mighty Kingdom Hearts II, which I held in my hands for the first time as a little boy. My goodness I loved that game! It’s one of the few games that I still have to play through once a year. At that time I didn’t know anything about the story, now I have every part except III on my shelf. And I admit it: That was the reason why I bought a 3DS. And when you say Kingdom Hearts, you also have to mention Final Fantasy. It started by chance, a very nice salesman from the city I lived in at that time gave me the Final Fantasy III remake for the DS. Shortly thereafter followed Final Fantasy X, X-2, XII and when I was done with it, I went back to VII, VIII, IX and at some point VI. To pick out my favorite, difficult, I’ll be honest. Since I just have XIII in it again, I have to name it.

I’ve talked about the great Legacy of Kain series before, of course I put a lot of time into that. And the other, bigger vampire franchise Castlevania I got more through the 3D era on the PS 2, the two games on the console are unjustly forgotten.

There’s just one thing I’d like to say about Konami’s Suikoden: why do so few people talk about these games? Especially the pirate setting in the fourth part is simply unbeatable for me and the soundtrack…magnificent! There are too many games to talk about I haven’t mentioned Metal Gear Solid or Silent Hill yet…hmmm good memories.

I got into the whole pen and paper community later, after I found a great group and could finally convince my friends to play. In the meantime I got all D&D 5e basic rulebooks at home. D&D, because of the legendary lore around the Forgotten Realms and Drizzt Do’Urden still is my favorite P&P, but not the only one I ever played. Dungeon World and Shadowrun have had a big impact on me lately.

Balin

If you could step through a portal to any realm of fantasy (established or otherwise), where would it be?

Ha! Now that I’ve been raving all the time about some fantasy worlds I love, which one do I pick? The answer is simple for me: Core

You may not know Core, which is because it’s the world I created before my Dungeon Synth project. Before diving into the world of Dungeon Synth, I was writing a fantasy novel, the manuscript for which has been sitting on my hard drives for six years now. Because here comes the big plot twist: Balin was originally intended only as a distraction from all the writing. How could I have known where the journey would take me?


I always revise very irregularly, what I once wrote together, but it goes damn slowly, because I was at the age of fourteen to seventeen still a very inexperienced writer, but one day it will be ready and you can bet that I will make an album about it!

Balin

Listen to and follow Balin:
Bandcamp
Instagram
YouYube

Written for CDM by Leigh Wright (Wyrd Daze)




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