Argonath is a project of a good friend of mine, Daithí Ó Mathúna, and while I’ve gotten to know him after a fashion, there is so much more depth to Argonath and Daithí than meets the eye. What lies in those depths? Let’s find out!
Resounding Footsteps: So how did you get into playing music? (Follow up – Specifically how did you discover dungeon synth and want to play it?)
Argonath: I started around the age of 12 as a bass player and that’s what I’ve been primarily for all these years. I’ve been in a fair share of bands through the years, all of which different styles so I tend to pick up playing styles easily and that I find allows me to get into other things easily. I’ve always had an ear for soundtracks whether that be in video-games or film, so for me discovering a genre like folk metal or pagan metal was great as it meant the best of the both worlds. It was not until I heard Burzum’s “Det Som Engang Var” which made me dig deeper and eventually discover dungeon synth. What made me want to play it? Well for me, if I love the genre or style, I must create it myself. It’s turning into insanity at this stage haha.
RF: Before you started Argonath, what other projects have you been involved with, do you think they helped prepare you for Argonath?
A: I’ve been in a few non-metal bands and I’m currently in a progressive metal band but I felt it was the projects I did on my own were the ones that helped me the most. Before I messed around with synthwave (something I’m planning to revive) and I made a lot of experimental hip-hop material for a project called ‘SCOUNDRELL’ (yes both of those are blasphemous, I know), so these helped me master making music from scratch and mixing with software etc. Perhaps these also helped me in making music on my own. It’s also much more relaxing as you don’t need to rush on your own but also head wrecking when things aren’t going right and you need to pull something out of the hat to fix it.
RF: Why Argonath, of all the words in the Tolkien legerdemain, why did it stand out to you?
A: As atmosphere is important in the music I wanted to name the project after a place I found to be extremely atmospheric. I remember seeing a painting of the Argonath and just wanting to take a boat down the river. For those of you that don’t know, the Argonath or the Pillar of Kings is a monument in Gondor of Isildur and Anárion. There’s a certain heroic feeling to it, even in description in the books, something I wanted to reflect in my music.
RF: When you’re writing music, what is going on in your head?
A: I often can’t explain it but I usually sit down with a blank slate. Most of my music is based on Irish or Celtic mythology so I probably read a new story that day which gave me a certain feeling. I then mess around with a sound and find a basic melody, in which everything builds on. I adore writing music, but I tend not to sit down and write on paper. I prefer to put flesh on the bone of an idea I have in my head, even in a band situation I often come up with a riff or idea on the spot but I always have an idea of the feeling, speed, direction and all the characteristics of a song beforehand.
RF: What do you hope to accomplish with Argonath?
A: I have always said that I make music for myself, but I hope to give at least one person a certain feeling listening to my music the way I listen to new things I like. If it affects them more, then my mission is complete. In terms of the music, I hope to be consistent in quality but expand sounds and break boundaries. I find I already did so on ‘Lugnasad’ on the last track where I included harsh vocals and traditional metal instrumentation. I hope to include a bit more of that as well as new instrument sounds. I plan on adding actual instruments on top of the synths. I have already blown the dust off my banjo, whistles and bodhrán (Irish drum) for the next release.
RF: What sort of programs and/or equipment do you use to make your music?
A: I use Ableton Live 9 for everything I do now. It’s perfect for me and I don’t have any issues with it. This is always down to preference though. I own an emulator for the Korg Wavestation, a VST called Orchestral and I have an old keyboard for a few traditional sounds (No idea the make, it looks like a copy). As I mentioned before, traditional instruments also make it onto songs. I like using different reverb and delays a lot too. I’m crazy with effects, even when playing bass I like making weird sounds, so I suppose knowing how things work in that sense helps me.
RF: Give me some of your top albums/artists from any genre who have had an impact on your music making.
A: Within metal I always call upon the first Burzum album, “Eld” by Enslaved and Altar of Plagues’ “Teethed Glory and Injury”. But it’s not always metal, one of my favourite albums is Death Grips’ “The Money Store” because of the new sounds and hectic song structures used. For dungeon synth I tend to look to soundtracks a lot. One standout would definitely be the soundtrack to the last three Elder Scrolls games and even System Shock 2 would impact a lot of the ambient sections. Of course Lord Lovidicus, Summoning and Burzum are the main inspirations.
RF: A little stir has been made within the dungeon synth community about the over reliance on Tolkien and LOTR material, what would you do to help that?
A: It is obvious that the community has an interest Tolkien so I don’t see why artists can’t use similar aesthetic or ideas. Mythology of different countries would be interesting. I can imagine an artist from an eastern country that incorporates traditional sounds from that country and stories of old folklore would be very interesting and that would inspire others to do similar. It’s like black metal, when a band themes their lyrics around Satan it’s fun but the one’s that take other sources of the same feeling and atmosphere are the ones that refresh the community in my opinion. However, that isn’t to say Tolkien influenced music is bad. If people like it they can make it, it still keeps the community alive. I might sometime down the line theme a release on Middle Earth myself.
RF: There’s a lot of ambient noise in your first album, did you use samples or actual field recordings?
A: I used samples for the battles and the horse and cart sounds. Although I do enjoy recording rain or even just noise from the room I’m in. Sometimes I even clank tapes off of the desk and add effects to make it sound completely different.
RF: Lo-fi or orchestral?
A: Why not both haha? I tend to find the sweet spot with my work. Take a lo-fi synth sound but play with it a bit. Sometimes it’s cool to take the idea used by black metal bands, to start a song off with a lo-fi intro and lead into the full band playing the song. Except in this case start with lo-fi sounds into the big orchestral composition. Two different types of sounds to create great dynamics and song structure.
RF: Fantasy or mythology?
A: I started off with fantasy which is beautiful, but at the end of the day, where would fantasy writers be without mythology. Everyone knows classical mythology and Norse. Norse being a big deal in the black metal and dungeon synth scene, but similarly to pagan metal bands, I like the idea of putting my mark on the scene with something that comes from where I’m from. Irish mythology is fantastic. People who enjoy Tolkien or Norse stories will certainly enjoy those of Ireland. I often come across things that Tolkien must have come across. I also find people can relate to each deity or character. There’s also so much of it, so hopefully I won’t run out of it any time soon.
RF: Goblins or Elves?
A: To be hideous or eternally young. It’s a tough one, even though elves tend to be up themselves I’d probably favour them over a goblin and their antics.
RF: Who are some of your favorite non metal/synth artists?
A: Metal is my favourite genre but no doubt my favourite band is the hard rock legends Thin Lizzy. Never made the same album twice and Phil Lynott is my hero with regards to everything. They also loved their Irish mythology too. Death Grips are another big band for me as i said earlier. Oneohtrix Point Never is a fantastic experimental electronic artist. Com Truise is a fantastic synthwave producer also. Flying Lotus is another hero of mine. Recently I’ve discovered a guy who goes by SD Laika. He reminds me of those isolated black metal musicians except he makes more abstract instrumental hip-hop. Very dark stuff all the same, like avant-garde black noise of something.
RF: What are some of your favorite books?
A: LOTR goes without saying. I really like Tolkien’s short stories too, they give you a nice narrative to other lifestyles of Middle Earth. “The Dwarves” by Markus Heitz is a fantasty one I picked up recently. Some good Irish mythology ones would be “Gods and Fighting Men” by Lady Gregory and “Early Irish Myths and Sagas” by Jeffrey Gantz. I suppose those two aren’t novels but a collection of stories. You can’t go wrong with Orwell or Philip K. Dick either.
RF: Overall, what is your opinion on dungeon synth, the community and the music at large? What do you think you can do to enrich it?
A: The community is a pull factor anyways. For something so niche everyone is extremely supportive. I only really recently looked to forums and groups online and mostly everyone is dedicated to collecting and supporting artists. I was afraid to release my music at first in case it wasn’t up to scratch or that it was too much or too little but thankfully the community took me in quite well. I also feel out of place as I am still quite young and most of the community seem to be well seasoned veterans but then again most iconic black metal musicians started out fairly young also. I have people all over the world who have been complimenting the work. It’s amazing. You feel you should give back a lot of the time. It’s almost like a big clan. As for the music, you’d be surprised at the diversity. If you search for dungeon synth on bandcamp you’ll get lo-fi stuff, big orchestral, a mix of the two, some melodic, some drone. It’s a mixed bag, there something for everyone interested really.
RF: If your music was a text, something that could be analyzed, what do you think would come out of it?
A: That’s a good question. It’s definitely dynamic. There’s a certain feeling that’s captured I think that is hard to replicate. I like to capture the emotions of the characters in the stories, so I guess it could be analyzed as human. There’s certainly supernatural feelings with regards to magic and beings and all that but at the end of the day, the people push the emotions that the music captures.
RF: Why should people listen to Argonath? What makes your music unique?
A: I set out Argonath to make unique dungeon synth. While most strictly theme their music off of Tolkien or Norse mythology I think I bring something new with Irish stories for people to look into. I tend to use whatever instrument I can and new synth sounds every time. I don’t like filler so songs will be an appropriate length with enough for the listener to take away and want more. You should listen to Argonath if you are looking for heroic, evil, romantic and tragic fantasy and folk themed music with a new and fresh universe to immerse yourself into.
RF: What are some of your hopes going forward?
A: I hope to expand off every release I put out and keep people interested. Hopefully I’m seen as unique and one day a newcomer will see me as I see the dungeon synth artists today. I want to do some splits with artists and I might even consider playing live but that might be another challenge altogether.
I’d like to thank you for giving me a platform to showcase my work and for supporting me and giving me your time and work. I’d also like to recommend Nan Morlith, Taur Nu Fuin and Unguth Vaentron.
Lugnasad is available now, here.