"Everything we do will always have a nature worship aspect to it."
As you might know, I happen to reflect my perception of music (and more) for the German magazine Musikreviews.de, and so I lately wrote a review about a two-song EP by Minnesota-based duo CANIS DIRUS which caught my attention with its "Nordic" sound. The more I read about the band, the more curious I became, and thus I listened to the seven-year-old second album "Anden Om Norr". When I finally found out that the duo is back on track and recording a new album, I got in touch with multi-instrumentalist Todd Paulson to ask him a couple of questions...
Hi Todd, nice to meet you! In the endless stream of new music popping up everyday on the wyrd wide web, I lately became aware of the "new" EP by your - what is it: band or project? - CANIS DIRUS which features, as far as I understood, two "old" songs recorded some years ago. Why did you release them "so late", why did you chose the German title "Das Leben ist für die Lebenden, der Tod ist für alle" and does this EP serve as link between the past and the future of CANIS DIRUS?
Hi Thor, it's nice to meet you as well. Well, even though the core members are just Rob Hames and myself, we do very much consider CANIS DIRUS a band. And frankly, we decided to release these two particular songs for this new EP as a way to sort of re-introduce ourselves to the world of underground music. For various reasons, some personal, we ended up taking a seven year hiatus after "Anden Om Norr" was released. So, recently, when we decided it was time to start writing new material for a new full length album, I ended up finding these two songs on an old hard drive that I had thought was lost forever due to a flood in my old house. So, I remixed and mastered them and we made the decision that while the songs date back ten years, they are up to a level of standard that we felt comfortable releasing them as a digital only (for now) EP on our Bandcamp page. As for the title, it is simply the name that I had given the title track from the EP when we originally recorded it. If my memory serves me right, it was supposed to be called "Life is for the Living, Death is for All" but for whatever reason Rob and I decided that we like the title but the German translation just sounds better.
With "Garden Of Death" you tell the tragic story of a nature enthusiast who destroyed what he loved most, and in the end took his own life. I guess at least those lovers of nature-inspired black will easily perceive that story as ultimate nightmare, and as a warning how easily we can fail in life even when we take a stand for quite modest and life-affirming views. How did you get aware of that story and did this feeling of horror befell and inspire you? Knowing about the story, the sound of the flames at the end of the song is really alarming, I must say...
Well, first of all thanks for that because my goal was for the sound of the flames at the end of it to be just that - alarming. I knew about the story as it was happening because it happened right here in the state that I live. It was in the boundary waters canoe area of Northern Minnesota. Even though I live probably 4.5 hours drive from there, I could see the smoke from my house. It was all over the local news and I just sort of kept following the story up to the point where Mr. Posniak killed himself. The whole thing is just very tragic and I must say that in no way was I inspired by the fact that he took his own life. At the time, I just kept thinking how horrible it must have been for him, knowing that one little misstep of not completely extinguishing his campfire while the area was experiencing drought like conditions, could lead to a chain of events so devastating to thousands of acres of forest that he so dearly loved and ultimately ended with him feeling like he had no other choice (for whatever reasons) than to end his own life. So for a band like us, whose music often portrays a sense of loss or sadness, I guess it was kind of my way of covering the story through music.
Your first two albums were released by Moribund Records, and I must admit it felt like ages since I last heard that name (in my death metal teenage days, to be more precisely), perhaps I even confuse it with another label...? Anyway, both of you being label owners back then, what made you decide to work with Moribund and did this cooperation succeed in terms of making more people aware of CANIS DIRUS whom you mightn’t have reached through God is Myth (which, if you allow me to say so, is a great name) or Ars Magna?
Hahaha! I must admit that the name God is Myth Records is one of my favorite things I’ve ever done in the music ‘business’. And as far as Moribund goes you pretty hit the nail on the head. We simply decided at the time that Moribund was the best label for us due to the fact that they have world wide distribution. So we signed a 2 album, 10 year deal with them which now makes us free agents as that contract expires in August of this year.
While the musical influence of Burzum is more than obvious, which is the case for I guess thousands of bands all over the world, CANIS DIRUS interprets this kind of meditative & nature-inspired black metal with remarkable freedom, and your compositions surprise with passages that at first seemingly don’t fit the narrow set of standard Burzum’esque black metal, but which fit your musical expression more than well and add to the atmosphere and tension in a natural (not forced) way. Would you agree this is a much needed aspect in order not to end up as just another band among countless others?
We’ve been pigeon holed as ‘suicidal’ black metal and ‘Burzum-esque’ since the beginning and to be quite honest it bugs me a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly appreciate the Burzum comparison because I’ve always liked his music. But in my opinion our music is more than just that. And I’d add that you are one of the few people who actually get it in terms of the tension that we try to create as well as trying to throw aspects in the music that do not necessarily fit with the often times narrow mindset of what ‘true’ black metal is ’supposed’ to sound like. We’ve sort of taken that approach maybe 3 or 4 steps further with the new material we’ve been working on.
You offer no extraordinary, but undoubtedly personal music, which despite some minor flaws and the use of a drum computer (usually a no-go for me) fascinates me more than most recordings in that style. And you obviously don’t limit yourself, but the song „Paralyzed We Stand...“ could also have been written as atmospheric interludium by a melodic / melancholic metal band from the Nineties, so I guess your personal tastes and backgrounds in music cover a relatively wide range?
Oh absolutely! Both Rob and I grew up on 80’s / 90’s metal so while we are a black metal band we pull influences from lots of different styles of rock / metal. It may not always show up in obvious ways in our compositions but it is certainly there, lurking beneath the surface.
Every now and then I happen to explain my perception of a certain type of black metal as a form of almost meditating about certain landscapes, nature sceneries, and that in the end, it comes close to an uncoerced form of worship with the woods or other outdoor surroundings as „churches“. From the perspective of a naive observer one could consider your three very similar album covers as boring („always the same, no new ideas“). But while seemingly monotonous black metal has long since been declared dead by many „clever“ people, it has instead become a tradition of its own in the metal underground, and people almost all around the globe play this form of music with fire in their hearts and sincere ideas behind it. Can you explain your own motivation to do so and why the fascination is still so strong?
I can only speak for Rob and myself so I can tell you that the fires within are still very strong. In fact, for me personally those fires were once almost extinguished due to a lot of very hard, personal hardship that I was going through shortly after Anden om Norr was released. But luckily with time, those embers are now a raging inferno. As for the feel or atmosphere of the album covers, our music on the first two full lengths as we as the most recent ep (which doesn’t have any ‘new’ material as it were) are very much nature inspired. And honestly, we’ve never really given much thought to the fact that they are all very similar in their look. We simply chose the artwork / layout that we thought represented the music at the time. As we’ve grown as humans and as I alluded to earlier because of some recent horrible life experiences the new music, lyrical themes and artwork will definitely reflect that. However, everything we do will still always have a nature worship aspect to it.
In how far does your music reflect a yearning for times and landscapes that are gone, and in how far is it rooted in landscapes (on your front door[s]) that you visit these days and which inspire you and offer you ease?
Our music is influenced by many things but in the beginning it was almost exclusively rooted in the beautiful scenery of our homeland and more specifically the north shore of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota. I live in a small farming town called Hanover which is only populated by about 2900 people. There are lots of beautiful lakes and woods near me that are very easily accessible. In fact I wrote the lyrics to one of our new songs while sitting atop this pretty large hill which overlooks a vast expanse of Birch, Ash and Pine trees and it was this incredible experience where by simply sitting there and taking in the scenery and these lyrics just kind of came to me.
You lately published two small teasers of songs to be featured on your upcoming album and while "Father" made me remember the early (and better) days of OTWATM, "The Child And The Serpent" seems to take your black metal a step further... what information about the third strike do you want to share with us at this stage?
I’m happy to announce here that we recently signed a new deal with Bindrune Recordings out of Traverse City, Michigan. As you probably know they also have an alliance with the well respected Swedish label Nordvis for European territories. We are extremely happy to have that part of the next chapter done but there is still some work to be done. We will unveil the album title and cover artwork in the coming days / weeks but other than that I can’t really reveal too much else at this point. What I can tell you is that since quite a lot of time has passed since our last record, we’ve changed and grown as humans as well as musicians. And there was a very conscious effort this time around to incorporate some different colors and influences into our sound. The new material defiantly has that Canis Dirus stamp on it but we’ve expanded our compositions to the point where there are very prominent doom metal and post-rock influences. And as you very astutely pointed out we’ve decided to write a few Of the Wand and the Moon / Death in June styled Neo-folk songs. My goal this time around was to create an very vast and dynamic record and as people will see, I think for the most part we accomplished that.
Todd, you lately drew a shirt design, even the knotted framework for the back print. So you obviously invest way more effort than will probably pay off in terms of money or recognition by many folks. What is it that makes you literally pour your heart’s blood even into these aspects and who inspires you with similar strong DIY approaches?
Yes, I’ve always been artistically inclined. I love to sketch / draw, I work with digital editing and I’ve recently begun to learn watercolor painting techniques. Much like writing music, art is very cathartic for me. And as far as CANIS DIRUS goes, it's kind of a double edged sword. First, as I may have mentioned before, it's really hard for me to relinquish control so I much prefer to do the album artwork / layouts as well as t-shirt designs myself. And the other part of that simply comes down to economics. We simply do not have it in our budget to pay upwards of, in some cases I’ve seen $1000 for somebody to create artwork for us. There are actually a lot of folks who inspire me with the same similar DIY aspect, but the ones off the top of my head that immediately come to mind are Austin Lunn from Panopticon and Chet Scott from Blood of the Black Owl.
The well-respected colleagues at Heathen Harvest called your music "environmental black metal". I’m not sure whether recent political developments in your country can be compared to those in Europe (or if it’s even crazier), but here we witness a lof hysteria in regard to environmental issues, and many people are way too upset to differentiate and to listen to their opponents. So, environmental issues are part of heated debates in which even respect towards children plays no big role (with Greta Thunberg getting hatefully targeted especially by the far right) and reasonable ideas and visions are rare. In how far can "environmental black metal" be of any help - and be it "only" to re-focus on life larger than mankind and for one’s own psychic health?
That's a tough one, my friend. I think the reason why Sage referred to us as "eco black metal" is simply because a lot of our songs / imagery are inspired by nature and the dichotomy of the beautiful / violent nature and weather that surrounds us. However, let me state very clearly that CANIS DIRUS never was and never will be a political band. We as individuals have very strong political viewpoints and we may sometimes let some of that seep into a lyric or two, but we are not here to make any sort of political statement. We will leave that to others.
Todd, thanks for your time, I hope we didn’t forget any important detail?! I must say I’m really intrigued how CANIS DIRUS goes on - good luck!
On behalf of Rob and myself I sincerely thank you for your interest and support of CANIS DIRUS!