UNTAMED LAND “A Vast And Terrible Plain”
By Dr. Abner Mality
The great open spaces of the American West inspire many emotions, including awe, euphoria and even terror. Many musicians have tried to tap into those emotions, but I don’t think any have done it in the way that Patrick Kern has. An experienced metal musician from Ohio, Kern is the sole member of the project known as UNTAMED LAND.
Imagine a posse of Norwegian black metal bandits meeting up with a gang headed by Ennio Morricone and featuring other cinematic interpreters of the American West. You might be close to the ferocious yet spacious sound of UNTAMED LAND. Close, but not quite there yet, because there are other musical flavors to be found as well, like post-metal and Americana. Somehow Kern makes it all work on the latest UNTAMED LAND album “Like Creatures Seeking Their Own Forms”, his first on the sturdy Napalm Records label.
Reactions to this unique sound vary, but I found it to be a daring attempt at something different in a world dominated by cookie cutter bands. I thought it was time to saddle up Old Diablo and head to Ohio to see what Mr. Kern had to say...
WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Greetings from Wormwood Chronicles! What was the spark that led you to mix cinematic Westerrn music with black metal? Was it a particular film or soundtrack?
PATRICK KERN: Very nice to speak with you! As for the origins of the project, I was trying to come to some kind of “American” folk metal sound. There’s loads of European bands combining metal with their specific nation’s musical tradition but it wouldn’t make much sense for me to just ape their style. The main soundtracks I draw from are Ennio Morricone’s scores for Sergio Leone’s films.
WC: I’ve heard some bands such as WAYFARER that touch on the Western sound, but UNTAMED LAND is really epic and uses so many different methods to reach its goal. Do you have a background in film music and composing?
PK: No but I actually just started taking post-grad classes online for media music (film, television, games), so hopefully I will gain more experience in that sphere.
WC:Have you visited some of the great natural vistas of the West? Was there one particular location that really fired your imagination?
PK: I’ve only been out West once and that was back when I was a kid in the early 2000s, so I don’t have many distinct memories of it. What I do remember however definitely left an impact and made me appreciate that kind of wide open and endless landscape.
WC: I’m curious about the title of your new album “Like Creatures Seeking Their Own Forms”. What’s the story and meaning behind this title?
PK: That phrase is actually a line from the novel “Blood Meridian” which is usually considered one of the greatest American western novels. In the context of the book from what I remember, it references the sense of disconnect from a higher or spiritual identity, leading to an experience of meaninglessness.
WC: Was there one Western movie more than any other that inspired your love for that kind of cinematic music?
PK: That would definitely have to be “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”. It has an amazing soundtrack which is integrated into the film in a very innovative and creative way for the time. Leone was sometimes called the first “music video” director because he often constructed his scenes around the music that was already written by Morricone before shooting started. This sort of makes the music become a character in the film in its own right, almost as if the on-screen characters are hearing it and responding in real-time.
WC: What were some of your black metal influences when doing the new album?
PK: A lot of atmospheric and/or sort of “pagan” or folky type of stuff. DRUDKH, RUINS OF BEVERAST, SPECTRAL LORE, ULVER and CELTIC FROST are some big ones. This is of course outside of the main influences of the project as a whole which is the “epic blackened folk metal” type of sound found in bands like MOONSORROW, SUMMONING, BATHORY and NOKTURNAL MORTUM.
WC: Will UNTAMED LAND remain strictly a studio project or is there a chance for some kind of live performance?
PK:For the immediate future it will be a studio only project. I would really only want to create a live show if I was able to do it properly with enough musicians to avoid having to use a backing track. It would probably be quite hard to achieve since there are so many different parts going on in each song, but who knows what opportunities will arise in the future?
WC: Epic tracks like “A Nameless Shape” and “The Heavenly Coil” work themselves up to a big climax, almost like the music of a final showdown in a Western like “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly”. Is that an apt connection to make or am I shooting blanks?
PK: Absolutely that is a very good observation. You could also approach them as a typical symphonic structure, with different motifs and themes that are developed over the course of the piece until they eventually reach some kind of conclusion.
WC: Morrricone remains for most the pre-eminent Western composer but are there others besides him you draw inspiration from?
PK: Certainly. Other great Italian composers include Luis Bacalov and Bruno Nicolai and I am also currently getting into Bruce Boughton’s score for “Silverado”. The western scores that Nick Cave and Warren Ellis have done are also very good, if a bit different.
WC: Black metal has always dealt with mythology but usually of the European variety. Does the mythology of the West easily lend itself to a black metal lens or was it something that took a lot of effort to interpret?
PK: I would say it more or less came rather naturally. The Western stuff is really the surface aesthetic in a way, so for me it’s a pretty straightforward process to use that setting to tell whatever story I am interested in.
WC: The native Americans also have their own mythology. Does that play a significant part of UNTAMED LAND’s music?
PK: I’m not overly familiar with many Native American myths so not really. I actually have a book that is a big compilation of various native myths so I will probably get around to reading that eventually.
WC: How did the deal with Napalm Records take shape and were any other labels showing interest in the band?
PK: Napalm just simply emailed me and we went from there, it was pretty straightforward. I didn't receive word from any other label aside from my first one, the now defunct Mourning Light Records, but I’ve never sent out any press information or anything like that.
WC: “Like Creatures...” is already so huge and epic. Will you try to top that with your next effort or will you go in a different direction?
PK: Absolutely, I was actually already thinking about going in a more “epic” direction haha. The vibe will probably be a lot different though, less dark and more invigorating and grandiose.
WC:Are you involved in any other musical projects?
PK: Yes I play guitar in a heavy/power metal band called EMERALD RAGE which just released its debut album this year. I also have a project called HIEROS which may or may not eventually get a full length album, right now there is just a short 3 song EP for that.
WC: Can you see yourself doing a pure black metal project or even a pure country/Western oriented band?
PK: The first HIEROS release is pretty much straightforward black/extreme metal. I sometimes toy around with the idea of doing an acoustic EP for UNTAMED LAND that would have a sort of alt-country/neofolk vibe.
WC: If you could have dinner with any 3 people from history, who would they be?
PK: Homer to learn what it was like for people living in ancient times, Franz Joseph Haydn who is one of my absolute favorite composers, and G.K. Chesterton because I imagine he would be a great and witty conversationalist with plenty of useful nuggets of wisdom.
WC: Any final words for fans and followers?
PK: Thank you everyone for the support!