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I’ve been wanting to speak with Atkiak since I first heard the album Ashen Winter of Chernobyl. His music is haunting, ancestral and primal – conjuring up images of ancient snow-covered forests and forgotten mountain regions. I hope you will all enjoy this interview and the following overview of several of my favourite Hiemal releases, and consider supporting the artist. He has some great work on his Bandcamp page, which is linked to at the bottom of this article!
Interviewer: Rich Dodgin
Interviewee: Atkiak (the man behind Hiemal)
Rich: Hi Atkiak! First if all, a massive thank you for this opportunity to interview you for This Is Darkness, and to give our readers a chance to learn more about you and your music.
Atkiak: Hello Rich. Thank you for asking for an interview. It is a pleasure.
Rich: For those who aren’t familiar with your music, can you provide a brief overview of Hiemal.
Atkiak: Hiemal is an ambient solo project from France, created in 2017. Musically, it is winter-themed drone ambient with layers of field recordings, the objective being to create an immersive, cold soundscape.
Rich: Do you have a preferred approach to creating your music, and what techniques and / or equipment do you use?
Atkiak: I spend a lot of time outside to get inspired. Hiemal is my personal sanctuary and the ambience I create is a reflection of my thoughts. When an idea comes to me, I always start by recording small synth tracks. I overlap them in order to create a first sound layer. Depending on what I want to produce, I add recordings of other instruments: electric guitar, piano, cymbals, etc. The synth I use the most is the Mininova from Novation.
To create a longer, more atmospheric result, I stretch the track and add a deep white noise for the bass. The last step is adding field recordings as a background for a more enveloping ambience, but also to give a more organic feel to the music.
Rich: Do you perform your music live? If so, how do you find that experience, and do you prefer it to studio work?
Atkiak: Hiemal will probably never go live. I think it is best to listen to this music alone, at least it is what I intended. Think of it as a contemplative soundtrack to a long walk in the woods at night.
Rich: Can you tell me about your own journey of musical discovery and experimentation? How did you discover / fall in love with dark ambient / drone music, and how did your creation of music develop over the years?
Atkiak: I discovered and fell in love with dark ambient through black metal. The first releases were more influenced by it, some being pure dark ambient instead of the melancholic drone I tend to record more often nowadays. Hiemal’s general aesthetic (logo and artworks) could be considered black metal. I did create a side project for the darker releases: Astrahentium.
Over the years, I tried many different approaches to create ambient. Faster paced ambient with synth pads, piano compositions, granular synthesis, etc.
Rich: Are there any particular musicians who have inspired or influenced you?
Atkiak: Black metal-wise, Alrakis, Midnight Odyssey, Lustre, Vinterriket and Lunar Aurora to name a few.
The ambient artists that influenced me to start a project of my own are Robert Rich, Ugasanie, Hammock and Steve Roach.
Rich: How would you describe the current state of dark ambient / drone music?
Atkiak: Just like with black metal, it is expanding fast. A lot of new projects emerge every week and it is hard to make a selection. I tend to focus more on older releases then the newer ones.
Rich: What are your future plans for Hiemal?
Atkiak: I don’t have any particular plan for Hiemal. I will continue producing ambient soundscapes in my free time, and participating in collaborations / compilations every now and then.
Rich: Thank you so much for your time, Atkiak!
Here are four Hiemal albums to get you started
Windswept Stillness is the perfect introduction to Hiemal’s winter soundscapes. From the opening sounds of a blowing mountain gale, this album transports the listener to an isolated snow-covered forest, providing an audio experience that is somehow both relaxing and unsettling at the same time.
Wandering Through Withered Memories
This a darker, more eerie sounding album, with the sounds of howling gales and haunting synths creating an underlying sense of dread.
Despite the name, Mist of Dissonance is one of Hiemal’s lighter albums. The winter soundscapes are still very much present, but the delicate synth work results in music that is more comforting than that on some of his other releases.
This is my favourite Hiemal album. Over the course of almost two and half hours, waves of incredible drone and synth sounds wash over you, taking you away from your surroundings and transporting you to the bleak Russian landscape. The music is beautiful and uplifting in some places, yet haunting and disturbing in others – for example, on Chernobyl’s Shine the use of strings adds an almost unbearable tension to the mix. This is powerful and emotive stuff!