Josh Young, the lone member of Australian epic black metal outfit Astral Winter, sat down to answer some questions about his work. We got some information on the album, "Winter Enthroned," the writing process, and how he feels about being called a "composer."
First and foremost, we want to extend our thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us.
No worries and thank you for setting up this interview.
Who were some of your influences, both as a budding musician and what was it that pushed you towards the heavier side of the metal scene?
To start with I’d have to say Judas Priest as that was the first band that got me into metal. I used to listen to a lot of 80’s, I never went much on other genres of metal untill I started listening to 1 of In Flames old albums, The Jester Race I think it was… That was definitely the turning point for me musically. The melodic side of their music was just amazing to me, that then lead me onto other bands like, Children Of Bodom, Arch Enemy, Dark Tranquillity, Norther etc..
So when I first started Astral Winter I was heavily influenced by Melodic Death Metal. After writing a few songs I got more into black metal, which at the time I was a fan of aswell, but was mainly melodic death. I got really into Dissection, Vinterland, Catamenia old Dimmu Borgir, among other bands, and they were really a big influence as well.
When did you first discover the world of black metal? What was it about that style of music that drew you in, and made you want to compose your own music?
I think I was looking for some new melodic death metal bands and somehow stumbled upon Vinterlands 1 and only album “Welcome My Last Chapter”. I’d never really heard much black metal before and I was just taken in by it. The atmosphere that music created was such a different feeling to what I was used to. Still remains 1 of my favourite albums. From then on I got much more into black metal.
In that same vein, we have seen a clear evolution of the black metal sound. From bands like Ogen and Skogen, to Appalachian Winter and yourself, everyone is adding their own spin on the classic formula. How do you feel about the origins of the genre versus where it is heading?
Hadn’t heard of Skogen before, just been checking out some songs, great atmospheric black metal! But to the question… When I started Astral Winter, I never had black metal in my mind. I had the idea of melodic death but with an epic orchestral and darked sound to it. I never considered my music black metal when I started writing so it had more of a blacker feel to it then I intended. I was just mainly writing what came out of my head and it seemed to incorporate a lot of genres, at the time I wasn’t very familiar with black metal though. Wasn’t till I uploaded some demo’s to myspace and people started commenting on it saying that it was an awesome black metal track and stuff. So for me it wasn’t really evolving the black metal genre it was just what came to me. Appalachian Winter is more of a mix of folk and black metal. So I see the evolution as more people mixing their favourite genre’s of metal into 1. Mine being Melodic death and black, and Appalachian being folk and black.
As for the origion vs where’s its heading, I just see it as 2 different types of black metal. The original Norwegian black metal is great, and all the more symphonic black, melodic black metal, folk black metal is also great. You get a different feeling when listening to different sub genres of black metal, which it what makes it a great genre.
I answered that pretty terribly haha.
What was the inspiration behind the name Astral Winter? What sort of imagery do you think it conveys?
Wish I had some profound story as to why I chose the name, but I just thought it was cool. The name seemed to convey the feeling of the music, which to me was important. Of course, had I any idea that the theme of Winter had been fairly well used in the black metal genre, I probably would have gone with something else. I thought it was pretty unique given the melodic death metal I’d been influenced by at the time.
After the departure of vocalist Phil Hemsworth, this became a true one man band. What sort of challenges did that present to you, especially as it pertains to the vocal duties?
Before Phil joined it was a 1 man band anyway, and I hadn’t thought about vocals for the music too much until Phil approached me about it. Then we recorded the demo “Illustrations of Death”. I knew beforehand that he was moving to another state, so we had to record the demo pretty fast. After he moved we talked about still having him as the vocalist, and I’d just record all the music then we’d record the vocals either down here or up in Queensland where he moved too.
We sort of fell out of contact though, and I started to realize he probably wouldn’t be able to do vocals. So after wondering what to do for a while I decided to have a go at doing vocals myself. I’d recently written 2 songs for 1 of my side projects DarkBorn, which was a depressive black metal solo project. I decided to have a go at doing vocals to that myself and it turned out much better than expected, though I never thought I’d be good enough to do my Astral Winter album.
I did keep practicing doing vocals until I thought I was comfortable enough to record a vocal track to 1 of my album songs for Winter Enthroned. Again, this turned out better than expected, so I knew if Phil didn’t end up doing vocals I’d be able to do them myself, which it turns out is what happened. Wasn’t much of a challenge in the end, but for a few months I didn’t really know what I was gonna do haha..
The new album, "Winter Enthroned," has such a powerful title, along with very impactful song titles. The artwork, in particular, is astonishing. How did the names and the art come to be?
I knew from the start I wanted very powerful songs name that gave off an atmosphere to them. I’ve always liked long song names that can make you think, so I wanted that for my album. As for the artwork I came across Brutal Disorder Logos run by Antonio Jiminez, on myspace. He had very reasonable prices compared to the other people/companies I’d enquired to.
After messaging him he seemed confident he could do the type of artwork I was after. I didn’t have the clearest ideas of what I wanted apart from it being Winter themed. I think I gave him a download of my demo told him to listen to it and see what he could come up with. And I was pretty amazed when he sent me the draft for the front cover. Suited the music perfectly! And yeah, he continued with the rest of the artwork.
I’ve actually just got him to start working on the artwork to my next album “Forest Of Silence” and it’s looking very good at the moment.
In the recording of the latest album, what different instruments did you play? Which is your most comfortable, and which was the most difficult?
Acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, vocals if you consider that an instrument. Keyboards were mainly done with midi as my keyboard didn’t have the best sound for what I was after.
Most comfortable would be electric guitar as it’s my main instrument.
The most difficult would probably be vocals cause It was very new to me, I’d barely recorded anything before. I did get a lot better at it as I progressed through the recording. Some of those guitar solos were pretty difficult too.
The sound quality on the album is incredible for a self produced effort. What kind of equipment did you use to get such a clear recording?
I had a Line 6 Pod Studio UX1, which is what I recorded everything through; you can get a very good sound out of this, which is surprising considering it isn’t very expensive. The vocals I needed an additional pre amp for though, as the UX1 didn’t have an inbuilt 1.
The guitar I used was a Jackson DKMG with EMG 81 and 85 pickups. My bass is just a no named brand I bought second hand, lending it to a friend at the moment, so I can’t check what model it is.. My microphone was just an average Behringer microphone, have recently upgraded to a Shure SM58 though.
Dan Klyne of Appalachian Winter has solidified the idea of artists, such as yourself, being "composers," and not just musicians. How do you feel about the sort of title being associated with what you do?
I’d absolutely agree with him on that. Usually when you’re in a band with musicians you all collaborate on songs with everyone inputting their idea’s together. But with bands like mine and Appalachian and many other solo projects it’s just the 1 person writing every instrument track and fine tuning every small detail, writing the lyrics etc. So in that sense you are the composer, and it’s a fitting title.
With programs like Guitar Pro, which is what I use for writing music. I quite often will write a full song without using any instruments and just writing it off my head. Plus I compose instruments that I can’t play like drums and flutes, to me that makes you a composer.
For those who haven't heard your music, how would you describe what you do? If you had to suggest one track to best represent who you are, as a musician, which one would it be?
I would just simply say I write music, try to make it as epic and as interesting as I can.
Suggesting 1 track would be hard. But probably Defenders of the Astral Kingdom (Part I), off my “Winter Enthroned” album. I think it’s one of the best songs I’ve written. Though everyone has their own opinion haha.
What do you have in mind for the future of Astral Winter? Are there any plans to expand the band into a full line-up in the near future?
Well at the moment I’ve just about finished writing all the music for my next album “Forest Of Silence”, only have 1 song left to finish off. This album should be just over the 60 minute mark. Pretty excited to start recording it, it’s more atmospheric/symphonic compared to “Winter Enthroned” which has melody too it.
As for a full line-up… I have had plans to do this before, I was considering moving. But this all fell through. At the moment I have a line up for my other band “Atra Vetosus”, which is melodic black metal. Hopefully we’ll be playing some shows pretty soon and we’re probably going to do an Astral Winter song or 2 in our set. In the future it would be great to have a full line up for Astral Winter, have to see how it goes.
We want to thank Josh for his time and efforts, both musically and in this interview. We are looking forward to new music from his various projects. And damn it, you should be too.