Working on a Symphonic Metal Album; Quick Update for June 2017

[English only. Sorry about that]

As the title reads, I’m working on a Symphonic Metal album. It has always been a dream of mine to do so, and now the time seems right. Though I’m planning on releasing it in 2018, most of the writing is already done and I produced a little demo:

For the first time in “La historía del Xenogramma”, I’ll be working with other vocalists. We’re currently in the process of writing lyrics.

Primarily, I’m doing this because my own voice is crap, but also because I realized that I can’t go on working on an entire Symphonic Metal album all on my own. Forget that: I can’t go on working alone in general anymore. Obligations regarding my career, my potential family as well as my other ideas, I won’t be able to realize it all on my own if I want to stay healthy and sane.

We’ll see how this will turn out. Until then, have fun, enjoy life and be excellent to each other.

2016. Let’s ignore the bad and talk about some cool things

It’s all going downhill, right? Movies are not created anymore, they are being constructed on a big ol’ assembly line; same goes for games, only they are still somehow worse in terms of challenging storytelling than non-interactive moving pictures, and well, music’s dead anyways, or at least the musicians who made truly great stuff.

Actually, no. My view of the entertainment industry is a pretty cynical one, but even I have to admit that it can produce great works. We had a couple of them this year, and because this is a highly subjective blog post, the definition of “great work” is “anything that made me feel something”, or, for that matter, the few Worrisome Citizen Distraction Products(TM) that managed to get a weak beat out of my cold, dead heart.

Games

Let’s start with the most important medium of all – videotronic entertainment stuff. When I wrote in the introduction that they’re worse in terms of storytelling than blockbuster movies, I exaggerated. Even if most games don’t use the capabilities of the medium to its full effect, they still allow for some exceptional experiences.

Personally, I’ve always been most intrigued by games that provide me with tools to tell my own stories. Give me character editors and branching story paths, and I’m set; but put them into an engaging set of rules and systems, and I’m hooked. And if you put a killer soundtrack on top of that, I will name my firstborn after you.

So I hope that little Stellaris won’t get mocked by the other children for his/her name, but, guys, this game is incredible. It sells itself as grand strategy in space, but if you look at your space-faring civilization as a character in its own right, Stellaris becomes the best roleplaying game I’ve played in a while.  Or is it more of a playground to test story and setting ideas for my own stories? It’s hard to tell at this point.

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(I think it’s the playground)

The best element of Stellaris is that it makes me think, unlike most of the games that come out these days. It went something like this: When I started playing my first game, I explored the stars surrounding my home star system, and my team of furry fox-like pacifists (because you can totally play such a race!) found signs of ancient space empires and fallen civilizations, wondering what had happened to them. Later in the game, a neighboring empire steamrolled my little, pathetic civilization, and my empire fell, leaving nothing but ruins to be discovered by another civilization in the far, far future…

It, dude, made me go all philosophical and stuff, like, existential dread and stuff. Fun times!

Music

It’s not a Devin Townsend album. Transcendence is a great record, but I had a bit too much DTP over the last years (including a trip to the Ziltoid live show ath the Royal Albert Hall in London) and also, nothing in a while is going to be better than Fallout from the Sky Blue-half of .

This year, I discovered a great deal of new music for myself, even a couple of new genres. A lot of fantastic, inspiring songs got stuck in my playlist, and hey, Dark Tranquillity seem to be back on track! Yet when I’m trying to pin down a song or even the album of the year, I don’t even have to think twice.

A couple of years ago, I saw Heaven Shall Burn at a festival, and their song Endzeit somehow left a big impression on me. Despite that, I never really got into them – for no particular reason other than that I just never got around to actually listen to them. The funny part? I listened to and even went to concerts of Der Weg Einer Freiheit, which (as far as I remember) is a Black Metal side project of some of HSB’s members or something.

Anyway, this year, the song Downshifter from the then upcoming album Wanderer appeared in my YouTube recommendations. I decided to give it a listen and was blown away, because the song kicked my ass back into my teenage days, to a time when I listened to pre-Come Clarity-In Flames while dreaming of the strange and terrifying worlds that I wanted to write and make music about.

Yeah, I like it a lot. The whole Wanderer is great. Metal snobs might label Heaven Shall Burn as a Metalcore band, but Wanderer has some real Melodic Death gold on it. Or steel. Or whatever you need to say to appear trve.

Movies

Kubo and the Two Strings. I cried through the whole thing.

While this is not a perfect movie, it manages to tell a story that is actually about something. Often these days, movies pretend to be about something; or they are about something simply by accident.

But everything in Kubo feels like it was placed deliberately by the filmmakers – which, yeah, seems to be a freebie when you consider that this is a stop motion movie. This level of care, however, permeates the movie even on a structural level. It’s the hero’s journey about the power of the hero’s journey, in some way, about the strength of stories and storytelling (watch out for the credits!), about immortality, death and life, and it’s delivered with sincerity and, more importantly, humility. Whereas many animated movies tend to openly and blatantly tell their audiences that they’re going to have a serious talk about a serious issue, Kubo respects the intelligence of its audience and weaves its subject matter elegantly into its images and story.

It’s treading a fine line between super subtle and on-the-nose, is what I’m saying, and I enjoy that a lot, in addition to the excellent voice work of the movie. But maybe it’s just because matters of storytelling hit close to home for me. Also, Kubo, the protagonist, is a storytelling musician, so that might have something to do with my enjoyment of the movie.

What else?

I’m a bit torn, because on the one hand, 2016 was a mess. Great people died, politics went nuts, and a terrible superhero movie was released (I let you figure out which one). On the other hand, personally, I had a terrific year. Let’s put it into a handy list:

  • I published three novellas, finally finishing an idea I got about 15 years ago. Tharamants letzter Tag, Die hungrige Königin und Tharamants Wächter are available on Amazon, and some people seem to like them.
  • I released two instrumental albums. Deep Web Standalone Expansion Set For This Is The Internet started as a joke but quickly grew into something more introspective, while The Wolf and the Hourglass was intended to be a homage to the music of Dark Tranquillity, Hypocrisy and early In Flames, but turned out to become a Postrock album instead. At least I got some ideas out of my system, ideas that I first started to write down about ten years ago.
  • I quit writing about games. It just took too much time out of my schedule, and I wasn’t able to write about what I wanted to write. In addition, the current media landscape isn’t a place I want to spend much time in anymore. It is still a bit difficult for me to cope with that decision, because I’ve been wanting to write about games for most of my life. But I just can’t justify the sacrifices I would have to make for that.
  • I quit my job and picked up a new one. I also moved to a new city. Both are a big steps for me.
  • I did all the design work for my novellas and albums by myself, in addition to a couple of other, simple design jobs for friends and family. Doing graphics with Blender is still a lot of fun to me, but it also feels empty and soulless at times. After doing “graphics stuff”, I often feel dirty for some reason.
  • I lost a great deal of weight while gaining a couple of tiny muscles. Finally, I’m getting back into shape again.
  • I wrote for a Seapunk fanzine for some reason. Because I “like” the “aesthetic” and well, sometimes it feels good to just write an essay about something you care about.
  • I did a Mass Effect cover song, because why not.
  • I did an in-character review of an old video game for YouTube, but I’m a bit embarrassed about it.
  • I took care of some mental health issues. Part of why I’m writing this is because I got help and learned how to figure out how to deal with my feelings. It still takes some practice, but I’m on the right track, and I’m starting to appreciate life for what it is – and in entirely new ways. Also, the enthusiasm I felt back when I was going from school to my voluntary social year to university is finding its way back to me. I’m still highly cynical of some things (the entertainment industry, for example), but my overall perspective has changed for the better.

Yeah, I had a great year, and I think that 2017 is going to be great as well. Although I worry about the geopolitical landscape at times, especially with the upcoming election here in Germany, I believe that there will be always enough good things in this world to keep living for. My goals for 2017? Establishing world peace. Or getting rid of my cynicism, but world peace seems the easier task.

Happy Holidays!
Christoph-David Volbers

What went wrong?

I grew up with an optimistic outlook on life. Even though I used to be a angry and bitter teenager, I always just knew that everything was going to be alright in the end. We had left the dark ages of hate and war behind us, at least where I grew up. Movies and video games and music were getting better and better every year, and did you hear about this fantastic new thing called the Internet, on which you can meet people who feel just as lonely as I felt during my teenage days?

If I encountered any political worries at all, they were abstract and far away. The war in Iraq or the financial crisis didn’t concern me, because oh look, they’re talking about banning violent video games on TV again and these guys have totally no idea what they’re talking about. Ironically, I didn’t even got an active interest in politics when my mom told me that we couldn’t afford the high end computer I wanted to buy. I mean, come on! People working in the social sector have enough money to buy their children a 2,500€ PC!

Anyways, after my voluntary social year I went to university, and I started to question elements of my life I had taken for granted for years. I was (and still am) a pretty leftist piece of shit, but when a couple of mostly left-leaning students at my university tried to instigate their own private revolution and started vandalizing property, I felt only disappointment. Likewise, at another university, the Antifa called for the disruption of a brass concert held by the Bundeswehr in honor of Germany’s liberation 70 years ago. Because apparently celebrating the end of a fascism in Germany is an act of fascism in itself if the Bundeswehr is blowing the horns.

Again, I’m a leftist, pacifist, environmentalist, social-workin’ tech-hippie, but these attributes are not my religion and I’d never agree to do something that threatens another person’s right to express his/her/their beliefs. Oh, of course, I’d argue, discuss and compromise where I can, because here’s the thing: I’m no smarter than you are, and even if I was, it wouldn’t invalidate your opinion and, more importantly, your emotions. I’d probably ask you to think about why you believe that immigrants should stay out of your country, or why you think that women make worse scientists than men. Because I’d be a hypocrite if I’d try to force you to agree with me on freedom and diversity, or even worse, if I’d try to shut you down via name-calling, online harassment or simply ridiculing you.

I thought for a long time that we could at least agree on that we all want to have a civilized, respectful discussion, even if our views wildly differ from each other. But apparently, even professionals resort to insults, threats and stubbornness. I just witnessed an election year in which one candidate yelled to lock the other one into jail, while the other one called the followers of her opponent deplorable.

But I should have known. Two years ago, my own, little safe space-bubble called “video games” burst when Gamergate happened. I am not going to recall why it happened, because either side of that epic dumpster fire will accuse me of misrepresentation if I do, but it was something something ethics in games journalism yadda yadda women are not gamers bla bla get out of my room, mom. It doesn’t matter, in my opinion, why it happened. The point, however, is how it happened when it was rolling.

I mostly remember the tone of the conversation. Even the most intelligent journalists and Internet celebrities behaved like squabbling children, not only on Twitter and/or Facebook, but even in professional outlets. I remember feeling ashamed of how some of my “heroes” engaged the other side on social media or in YouTube videos or in their articles. I was especially horrified, being the leftist cuck that I am according to the rhetoric of our times, to read how some of my favorite writers appeared to bask in what they assumed to be their own intellectual superiority.

They didn’t take them seriously, they ridiculed them, and only some of them were ready to confront them eye-to-eye. They worked against them, not with them, and therefore wasted the opportunity to pull over the many decent people who had legitimate complaints about review copies, publisher swag and exclusive previews. Instead of building bridges, they isolated themselves, segregating the gaming landscape into people who think they’re unpolitical products and people who think they are art.

In short: 30 years of progress, wasted, because it’s easier to call the other side stupid and uneducated. Yelling “Read a book for once in your life!” is only fun when Sterling Archer does it. It’s not when you’re standing opposite somebody who openly tells you that you’re too stupid to understand racism, or sexism, or culture in general.

I firmly believe in the ability to learn, but often it’s an uphill battle. Teaching abstract concepts requires empathy and, above and all, patience. You can’t just stuff what you have spent years studying into a blog article and expect Joe and Jane Averagehuman to understand what you’re blabbering about; especially when you just spent the first three paragraphs telling them how clever you are compared to them.

Again I want to stretch that I am a filthy, rainbow-praying liberal, leftist, or as they call us in Germany, ein “linksgrünversiffter Gutmensch”. I am opposed to what is happening right now in the US. You might not, and that’s okay. I can’t force you to change your opinion, your mindset, your morals, and even if I could, I wouldn’t. Making fun of you on Twitter or YouTube is counterproductive, and I’d like to use my talents in a productive manner.

Because I want to live in the world that I saw myself in when I grew up. It’s a world in which everybody can achieve happiness, not just the people agreeing with my political views.

Year of love and change. Trying to find closure

(This time, it’s only English. It’s tough enough to write about personal feelings in one language)

It’s early November, but everything I’ve wanted to accomplish this year is pretty much done. Since December 2015, I published a mini-series of three novellas and two metal releases in addition to some minor design, writing and even acting work for friends and family. I also battled depression, got a new job and moved to another city.

Overall, it’s been a pretty successful year for me in terms of personal goals. Tharamants Fall, the series of novellas I finished this year, is an idea I’ve been carrying around with me for ages, and a great deal of my personal unhappiness stemmed from not finishing it. No matter what project I was working on, I always regretted “wasting” time on something else than Tharamant. Similarly, my newest album, The Wolf and the Hourglass, features melodies that I was writing more than ten years ago.

It felt like a sort of closure on past uncertainties. Yes, I can evoke emotions with the help of text and music. Yes, if I really get behind it, something good can come out of it. And yes, working a job and trying to live a creative life don’t exclude each other. The pressure is gone, and I genuinely feel like this is the start of a new life, and I’m confident that it’ going to be a happy life.

However, I didn’t get closure on one thing. The person who shaped the past twelve months of my life left me about a month ago. Wait, no – both of us were unhappy, and her solution was to cease all contact with me instead of talking it through. It was messy, and I don’t want to wash my dirty laundry here, especially since I myself acted the same when I was her age. Why not talk about that instead?

After finishing my voluntary social year and slightly before starting to work in an institution for people with disabilities, I met somebody via the magic of the Internet. I met with her a couple of times, but never actually were there with her. My mind was restless, filled with the naive ideas, poorly thought-out plans and delusional schemes to get rich. I only cared about my own future, but being a twenty-two year old boy who had no idea what to do with the abilities he had, I didn’t even know what this future should look like.

All this uncertainty made me do a terrible thing. Since she lived a couple of kilometers away from me, I planned to spend the weekend with her, and we played around for the evening (if you know what I mean). But shortly after that, I felt panicky, as the fear arose in me that if I stay and get into a serious relationship, I would never find success in life. And back then, all I cared about was my own monetary and social success. I wanted people to admire me, to put me on a pedestal. I was convinced that I deserved it just for developing artistic and intellectual ambitions despite growing up in a small town of what I thought were simple-minded, ignorant people, but who are actually decent and diverse human beings (as I know now). In short, I was this ludicrous person who talked a lot about what he wanted to accomplish, without actually doing much to accomplish them – playing video games and watching movies and thinking about what I would do better was enough work for a day.

Anyway, hindsight does not excuse what I did to her. The same Friday evening I arrived, I asked her to drive me back to the train station. My fear had won over me, and she drove me. She even waited for my train to arrive, despite having a hard time. Even thick-headed, arrogant me was able to see that. And while we sat in the car and waited, she looked at me, a strong and beautiful young woman, only half her face lit by the lamps on the parking lot in front of the small-town train station. She wasn’t weeping, she wasn’t trying to bargain, instead she kept her composure and looked at me with a stern and unflinching face, and yet, despite her strong and determined expression, two streams of tears were running from her eyes.

I will never forget that look, and I will never forget how much I must have hurt her. We had a bit of contact after that in which I made clear that I wasn’t ready for whatever this was turning out to be. But I never understood what I actually did until recently, when somebody did something similar to me, a person like the one I once was. I, back then, wasn’t mature enough to understand that a supporting partner is not a hindrance for a creative life, but a boon. I wasn’t mature enough to understand that life wasn’t about me, but about others as well. I wasn’t mature enough to understand that I could use my abilities to help and support others, instead of only using it to put myself on a pedestal. My life, my abilities, they may be a portfolio, but the people that want me in my their lives don’t care about my portfolio. They care about me.

In a way, I believe that the look I received at the train station pushed me into the direction of these thoughts. However, all I’m trying to say now is that I’m sorry. I am sorry for all the people that I have hurt over the years, for all the bridges I have burnt, and for all the pain I’ve caused. There’s no excuse for that.