Heljarmadr: “Norway, Sweden and Greece for black metal, those are the highlights in the nineties in my book when it comes to black metal, but I think that has become more global now. We see that a lot when we are touring our local support acts are manifold.”
De Zweedse black metal band Dark Funeral heeft ook alweer heel wat kilometers op de teller. Lord Ahriman blijft als gitarist de oorspronkelijke bandleider, maar sinds vorig album ‘Where Shadows Forever Reign’ (2016) heeft hij in zanger Heljarmadr een bekwame tekstschrijver en maat gevonden om de duisternis van de muziek in woorden te vatten. Zonet bracht Dark Funeral het zevende studioalbum ‘We Are The Apocalypse’ uit en het is Heljarmadr die vanuit zijn optrekje in Chili dit nieuwe black metal statement van commentaar voorziet. Sociaal contact is een verrijking van het leven, want door hem hebben we inmiddels genoten van de griezelige film ‘Nosferatu’ die aanzien wordt als de eerste Dracula film en maar liefst een eeuw oud is. Dat is inderdaad een apart meesterwerk, net zoals de nieuwe worp van deze Zweden.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 22 maart 2022
Great that you have a new album, the previous one came out in 2016, called ‘Where Shadows Forever Reign’ when you came into the band and I found out that a new rhythm section entered Dark Funeral in 2018. I think it is right to say that it is a new start or a new foundation for you, isn’t it?
I don’t see this as a new start, it is like a continuation. Of course, when you change the line-up, things are bound to change in a band. The dynamics need to be readjusted, but since we changed the drummer and the bassist in between albums now, we also had the time to play with both guys live a lot. We played the old songs as well as the new songs with them and when we entered the studio to record the new material, they had been playing these songs since we wrote them, so it is not so much of a change. It is a continuation, but we had the good luck or the fortune to be able to smooth it in. Instead of a drastic change, we had all the time in building up.
Indeed, because you toured a lot before the covid-19 came, in support of the previous album…
Indeed/ We toured a lot, more or less since the ‘Where Shadows Forever Reign’ album. The thing is that we already started writing new songs around 2018, that was when the first ideas started to come, but then of course, when covid-19 came, we had no other choice than to sit down and focus on the new album. Maybe that has been a good thing in the end. Maybe it would have taken us a year longer before a new album was finished when we had done the normal tour schedule. It is hard to say now, we don’t know. Would that even be the same album? We don’t know. But here it is!
And it is an amazing one, congratulations. To be honest, it turned out more melodic than I expected. What do you think about it? Is there a huge difference between era one and two?
(thinks) No, not really. Of course I am so involved in the process, so for me it feels that everything is just a matter of progression. I have been hearing these songs three years now basically, since we were writing them. So for me it is not such a big change, but I understand it when you hear this for the first time, I would guess that people think it separates a little bit, with new elements, like an acoustic guitar intro… there are some new elements in it I haven’t seen before.
Is it still Lord Ahriman who is writing the lion’s share of the songs and what are the contributions of the other guys?
We have been doing this album the way we did the ‘Where Shadows Forever Reign’ album. Ahriman is recording riffs with his guitar in his home studio and he is sending them to me and I review, come with ideas, input, try some demo vocals and send it back. We repeat this process until we have a song. It has been me and Ahriman doing this album, he has basically been writing all the music and I have been basically writing all the lyrics. It is a process we also did with the previous album and it is the way to work for us together, because for example, if he has some time in the afternoon to sit down and play – because life is also life, you know – he can send me some stuff before he quits his day and when I wake up in the morning and I have time on a different time of the day, so I can continue. We just send it back and forth, without doing it at the same time. When we have the time, we can always be creative. Sometimes a couple of days pass with nothing, then something comes again. It is a very stress-free way of working I think. Also very misanthropic, because we don’t even need to see each other (chuckles).
Also a proper way to work in times of a pandemic, you did not need to change your way of working…
We haven’t had to change anything, because this is how we have been working before. I think everything went smooth. We spent almost two years making this album, so of course there is a lot of work behind it. Many, many hours of composing, demo recordings and send things back and forth, but the good thing with this pandemic is also that it has been allowed to take the time it needs, because we had no stress. When we were done with this album – when we felt that we had all the songs that we wanted to have on this album – then we booked the studio and then we went to the studio – covid-19 was still going on, it didn’t matter – and we could focus on the album 100% without having any interference from the outside world. That has been very good for us I think. I think this album is maybe one of the most thought-through albums that I have been on, regardless the band. Just because of this having the time, using all the time of the day just working on every detail, to make them just as we want them.
I read here a statement of Ahriman: ‘Vocals have to follow the melody’. Was this a new approach for you?
No, I don’t think so. The vocals need to follow the music of course. It is not like the vocals are always following the guitar melody. We have been working a lot back and forth to find out what is the best way to do things.
Another pro is that your vocals are understandable, that’s not always the case in extreme metal… you did a very good job…
Thank you! That is actually something I have been working on ever since I wanted to be a vocalist (or whatever you may want to call it). It has always been important, because I put a lot of effort into writing lyrics. I spent weeks, I spent months on the lyrics for this album and if people don’t hear them, what’s the point? Then it is for nothing.
The solemn narration is another engrossing characteristic…
That is something we brought back on the ‘Where Shadows Forever Reign’ album too, these spoken parts. It is not really new for Dark Funeral. If you listen to the first album, ‘The Secrets Of The Black Arts’, you have a lot of these spoken parts already. Then they disappeared on ‘Vobiscum Satanas’ and onwards; so we have been kind of reawakening that old way of doing things. I think it fits very well in what we do today.
As you mentioned, you wrote the lyrics, so this is the moment to dive a bit deeper into your lyrical contents…
This album doesn’t have an album concept. I think all the songs are stand alone. I think they have their own identity in a way. When I have been receiving song ideas from Ahriman, of course I have to listen to what the song is telling me, what it is about. I have to find an idea, I have to find what the song wants to be about also, because otherwise it would become a collection of good looking words together. It has to have a meaning. That is the hardest part for me I think. I am not a fast writer when it comes to lyrics, I am very critical to myself. So I need to find out and know what the song is about, otherwise it would be bullshit. I even would not want to sing it, so people can hear it. I don’t know how to explain lyrics for others, it is very difficult. Of course it comes from within myself. I think it is very subjective. I think everybody should read them and actually make up their own mind what it is all about and then of course I am available for questions when fans ask me about specifics, but I think it is better if they just make up their own mind.
Okay, but ‘Nosferatu’ was inspired by the old Dracula movie, isn’t it?
Yes, I think that is the only song that has being born because of the pandemic, because I had shiploads of time to watch movies. I wanted to see all kinds of Dracula movies, from the oldest to the newest. So I started with this ‘Nosferatu’ film from 1922. This year it is a hundred years old actually! That was so fuckin’ good, it was so dark and it has this atmosphere. Knowing that it is hundred years old, makes it even more creepy. Then when I saw other Dracula themed films, even from the thirties or sixties/seventies, the thing had not the same darkness, not at all. Not even close and coming up to this Bram Stoker’s Dracula – from 1992 is it – it felt like there is no Dracula in it. Where is the evil? Where is the creepiness? It has become a romantic drama in which I did not see any darkness, you know. Maybe it is typical for the time, I don’t know, but everything felt just lost. So when Ahriman sent me the riffs for what would become ‘Nosferatu’, I had this idea in my head and the music confirmed it. Yes, this was actually something that I could write and try to put my side of the story, as I see the very deep darkness in it, not the romantic side but the darkness. Does that make any sense to you?
That first movie, did it have sound?
No, it has no sound, just music. It is an old German movie actually from 1922. I think they were not allowed from the Stoker’s family to make a film from the book, that is why it is called ‘Nosferatu’, not ‘Dracula’. That film has no dialogues, just music and screens with text. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out, it is awesome. The best vampire movie and the only vampire movie you ever need to see. Everything else will be weak after that.
Another great song is ‘When I’m Gone’. I have the impression that the theme of mortality is very present on this record.
Well, the band name is Dark Funeral, so of course there is mortality. For me it carries this transmission between life and death of course, as a funeral is, going back to some songs like ‘My Funeral’ for example.
Was there a reason to work with producer Daniel Bergstrand again? He can be seen as an old friend of yours I guess…
Yes he is an old friend and he is very good at what he does. We were so happy last time, when we recorded the ‘Where Shadows Forever Reign’ album. Everything went so smooth and we all got along great. We had a really good time in the studio, so it felt like a natural choice to work with him again. When the result is obvious now, we also feel that this was the right choice to do. It was a good move and he is very easy to work with. He understands Dark Funeral, he understands our music and our personalities. It was a natural choice and a very good one.
What is the status of success for black metal in Sweden? Is it on the rise or still in underground position?
I think there is a proper metal scene in Stockholm where we live. There are concerts and there are bands in rotation. I think there are bands everywhere these days. If you look into the past, you have these clicks. Geographical clicks where things are more centred. Norway, Sweden and Greece for black metal, those are the highlights in the nineties in my book when it comes to black metal, but I think that has become more global now. We see that a lot when we are touring, because we have local support bands of course where ever we go. There is a black metal scene globally as well as locally basically everywhere these days. The general quality is quite good everywhere actually.
Of course today you can do everything yourself with acceptable quality, which was impossible in the nineties…
Oh yes I remember those good old days when you were bringing a Dictaphone, and these Boombox looking things even before they were called Boombox, you brought them to the rehearsal room and you had your cassette tape, pushing record, because we could not afford a proper studio. So we had this cassette deck shit. Today people can buy a decent set of microphones for no money. You just need to have a laptop with a good interface and it sounds way much better than it ever did in the nineties.
Have you always been a singer only or do you play instruments as well?
No, no, no. Before I joined Dark Funeral, and also still, I have another band called Grá. There I play guitar, I am the main song writer there. I do guitar and vocals there.
In 2019 you celebrated 25 years of Satanic Symphonies with Dark Funeral and then the plague came. What happened with Dark Funeral? Did you have to interrupt a tour or was it a time of going into writing mode anyways?
For us it has been a lucky situation. Of course we had shows cancelled and moved and postponed and everything, but there were not so many as now when we have a new album out, so we did not have to postpone any touring. It was just single concerts. We have been quite lucky, in that aspect of course, so we could go in composition mode 100% which of course we did. I know a lot of bands who suffered way much more with tours and merchandising printed and tours booked. It all blew up in their faces. It has been a really horrible situation for a lot of bands.
What are the restrictions in Sweden at the moment?
Yesterday Sweden opened everything. The only restriction that is still in place is the European entrance for people from outside the EU to enter Sweden. Denmark too. Let us see how many other countries will follow and maybe we can have a festival summer this year. That would be kind of cool.
These are strange times, a bit like the apocalypse you are singing of…
(laughs) People say that, yes. Actually almost every interview I have done so far, people asked me about this plague today and the answer is no. This title has nothing to do with this covid-19 situation. That would be tragic to make a song out of, it does not deserve a song. If it had the proportions of the actual plague in the 1300’s, sure, but no, this is not enough apocalypse, this is a sneeze. Who ever did the right or the wrong thing, I hope it will be over soon and finally disappear.
What can you tell about video clips?
We released a clip for ‘Let The Devil In’ and the other one was ‘Nightfall’. We will see what will come more before the album is out on the 18th of March. We had to remove our release show a little bit, because it was supposed to be one day after the release, but we had to move it to April the 16th, but now without restrictions anymore. It will take place for sure, so we are looking forward to that.
Are there plans for touring?
Some plans are in motion, but first of all we need… we had to postpone concerts for two years, so those concerts are the priority to make happen of course. Same goes for the festivals we had: we will do them, but proper touring, as soon as we feel that it is safe to do it, we will prepare for touring the world. That is what we love to do.
To occlude: where is your name Heljarmadr coming from?
When I was a teenager, I was very interested in Scandinavian mythology. So I was reading a lot of Icelandic sagas. In one of the books, I found this name. I don’t remember where, but I wrote it down on a piece of paper on the side. It was in a library. Then I put the book back and I brought this note with me. Of course I was a teenager, I wanted to be in a band. I thought that this could be my artist name or something. So I went back to the library again and searched for the book, found it, searched for the name and I could not find it in the book. It was just not there. Maybe I had a wrong book, I don’t know, but I felt at that time very sad. I could not find it, but in my mind I took it from the book, so it is mine now. So I used it. This was before internet, so it was not so easy to check the validity of it, as you see it is not the easiest to spell (chuckles). I could not check it until years later, when I had internet, I think I asked one of the Sólstafir guys in the early days and they confirmed that it is actually something and it means something.