Mats: “I started to write Swedish lyrics a couple of albums back and I signed that I enjoyed it more than writing in English. I always thought to do everything in English, but I reconsidered that lately”
Wat begon als tribuutband van Bathory en Quorthon, is intussen zelf een ervaren band geworden in het epische pagan metal genre. Ereb Altor is immers al toe aan het negende album ‘Vargtimman’ en weet nog steeds pakkende melodieën en ruwheid te verenigen tot een oorstrelende luisterervaring. Ook zij hadden te lijden onder tal van coronaregels, maar daar bovenop was er in de zomer van 2021 een overstroming die hun studio blank zette, met een lange renovatie tot gevolg. Tijd was er dus zat om andere dingen te doen, zo vertelt ons componist/gitarist/zanger Mats vanuit Zweden.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 14 januari 2022
Mats, how are you doing?
I am kind of okay. It has been crazy times for two years now, but we have to accept that the world looks like this at the moment. Otherwise I am fine. We have had some misfortune this year with the weather in Sweden. The studio where I work got flooded. It is still renovating and I cannot work with music since August. They expect to be done maybe in March or April. So I try to keep myself occupied with other things (sighs) at the moment. I am starting to enjoy going outdoor cycling. Actually I have been to the northern part of Sweden this year, round hiking and living in a tent and stuff like that. I think it is very soothing. Cleansing my soul or something (chuckles). But the flood was incredible in Summer. Holland is a low country, but here it was never that worse. Here I have never seen anything like this year. I got one meter water in my cellar at home and the studio was one meter high in the middle floor. We had our studio in the basement and actually all of our equipment was fine, because there was not that much water in the basement for some reason, but they had to tear out the floor and the walls to make everything dry up. That will take a lot of time, but at least the equipment was okay, it would be a fucking disaster. In that sense we were lucky, unlucky but lucky.
Earlier this year we got the EP ‘Eldens Boning’ and now we have the full length ‘Vargtimman’ coming out mid January.
It is actually kind of the same album, because I spent a lot of time in 2019 – even before the former album was out – writing for the next album. Then the pandemic came over us and I got a lot of time in the studio. So I wrote material for one album – it was supposed to be one album – but there were twelve songs. So we decided to split it to an EP and an album. So both are recorded at the same time. We did the EP release on vinyl only in May. It is coming out as a CD now in a box with the new album. In the box there are two CD’s, available for everyone now. There will also be a special wooden box with the vinyl and extra things.
The title of the album is ‘Vargtimman’. What does it stand for?
Most of the foreign people do not understand what it actually means. The lyrics are in Swedish and it is an old Swedish expression. ‘Vargtimman’ is the last hour in your life and the most common hour is the hour before dawn, when most people die. So it is a kind of reflecting hour in the middle of the night, when you reflect on your life and you know you are going to die. So that is ‘Vargtimman’. The lyrics are in Swedish and it is old Swedish, so it is not very easy to understand I guess.
There should be a sincere pagan theme in the lyrics. Is it all about that ‘Vargtimman’?
No, only the title track and it is not a concept album. As usual in Ereb Altor, we deal with myths, legends and historic events from Scandinavia and especially from where we live.
You have found a good balance for English and Swedish lyrics on this album, so it seems…
Well, I think it is even more Swedish lyrics on this album. I started to write Swedish lyrics a couple of albums back and I signed that I enjoyed it more than writing in English. It is easier for me to get a poetic feeling in the lyrics in my mother language than in English, but the downside is that only Swedish people can understand it. I hope that the foreigners will like it as well. I am just getting fond of writing Swedish lyrics, I think it is really nice to do it.
There are many bands singing in their vernacular language nowadays…
Yeah maybe it is a trend coming, but I always thought to do everything in English, but I reconsidered.
In 2019 the previous album ‘Järtecken’ came out and you went on tour for it. Did you experience many troubles when the pandemic stopped the cycle of live gigs?
No, we did have the time to do the European tours. So we did the European tour for that album, but we had many festivals booked, but those festivals were moved and postponed two years now. It is a downside that album did not get enough promotion I guess. But we did the tour and we went to the US for the ’70,000 Tons of Metal’ cruise, but that’s it and now we focus on the new album, so it is a bit sad, but we will still play songs of ‘Järtecken’ live of course.
Wow, that was going out with a bang… the big cruise as last gig in 2020…
We have heard from covid-19 when we were on the cruise actually. In January 2020 they started to put alcohol gels for our hands on the ship, saying it is some flue from China in the early stages. We did a show in Sweden after that cruise, but then everything was a disaster and we haven’t played live since then. It is almost two years now.
You didn’t play on a festival in Sweden this summer?
No, all festivals were cancelled. Everything with over three hundred visitors got cancelled in Sweden.
(surprised) In the beginning you were so free in Sweden…
People think it was free, but that is because it is not allowed to do a lot of stuff when you are in lockdown, but as a business you weren’t allowed to have so many visitors, it is kind of a lockdown in other words. I don’t think it was that much different in Sweden than in other countries.
Of course, it depends on how the politicians present it…
Of course. It was no live shows at all during the pandemic.
Concerning the recordings, was there something special about that adventure this time?
(thinks) No, we kind of use the same formula every time. I do a pre-recording myself and then we start to remove it by proper recordings and produce it. Everything is done by us concerning this album. We recorded it, we fixed the layout, did the merchandising, we recorded the videos ourselves, everything is DIY. We had time enough with the pandemic, not much to do. The downside was, some of the parts we are beginners at, but we try to learn and get better at it. On the other hand we have control on everything and it only costs us time. Not money.
The video clip for the title track is very impressive!
It is the first video we ever tried to do. There will be another video; we recorded two videos by ourselves. That comes closer to the release.
What can you tell about the song ‘Den Dighra Döden’?
It is a song about the black death, the plague in the thirteenth century, but I read an old Swedish book about it with a special story where they thought that the plague came from wind. There was a very, very nasty storm in Sweden before the breakout of the plague, where everything went black. They thought it was something in the winds that spread it. I thought it was a very intriguing text to read, so I got inspired and I wrote about the black death from that point of view, that it was the wind that spread the plague. It is a very simple song, but I tried to somehow make it sound like a black wind. Therefore I have e-bows with semi-notes and stuff like that. It is very dark. We have big distortion on the voice to present the beginning of the storm and the darkness is descending upon the earth and no one can see a thing. When the fog has been shattered, you see a lot of dead people, it is very dark.
An important song might be ‘Fenris’, about the wolf in mythology… Can you tell a bit more about your approach of this mythological creature?
Everything knows what Fenris is, it is the main key to the end of the Norse Gods. You have the snake and the wolf. Winter comes, two winters in a row that weakens the chains, because the snake had chained Fenris. But the chains break and he kills Odin on Ragnarök, what more can I say? He is the doom of the era of the gods in Norse mythology. Everything has an ending, you know. Sometimes I start to think about the meaning of it, because when ends the era of men? First it was the gods and then men. We still have the dark side of the dark creatures from the Norse mythology in mankind as well, because we are going to destroy this world as well, so maybe men will also end? I don’t think it is very far away actually…
There should be more keyboards on this album?
I don’t know if it is more, but we use Hammond organ which we haven’t done before. Not in the front, but in the back because it is a very nice instrument to compliment the guitars and bass.
What is ‘Alvablot’ about?
It is kind of the same as Hollow’s Eve, the moment when you honour the dead, but in old Scandinavian religion way back, it is a prequel to Hollow’s Eve, so it is honouring our dead, thousands of years ago it was called ‘Alvablot’ in Scandinavia. So it is an homage to our dead relatives or something like that.
What does ‘Ner I Mörkret’ mean?
Then we go back in time – we always go back in time in the lyrics – to the witch burning that went on in Sweden – and you had them as well I suppose – during the twelfth century and here in Sweden the church had a lot of power and they kind of influenced children to point out who was witch and who weren’t witch. Sometimes the children even pointed out their own parents to be witches and in league with the devil and the church would burn them or drown them. This is a song about a child who is pointing out his mother to be a witch and she had to choose between being thrown into deep water with chains or burn at the stake. Yes, it is pretty dark. It is a pretty dark album.
To round off we have ‘Heimdals Horn’. Is that a kind of apotheosis of the album?
I see it as an outro to the album. When you hear the sound of ‘Heimdals Horn’, you feel that Ragnarök is coming. So it is the end of everything and it is the end of the album as well. So it is kind of an outro song I would say. It has not that many words, this song, it is more a feeling with all the choirs.
In the end it feels like a doom album…
It has some doom elements, but I would not call it a doom album. It has a lot of cross-boarding to a lot of different styles. You have black metal, Viking metal, pagan metal, heavy metal and doom metal in it. I used to call it Scandinavian metal. It has Scandinavian melodies and Scandinavian heritage in the lyrics.
What are the plans with Isole?
We started the recordings with Isole as well, but we did not finish it yet and then the flood came, so we have to wait and pick up the recordings again some time next year. So everything is postponed. We were recording vocals, so I am not sure … maybe it will be released late 2022 or 2023. Because it is a long way with the pressing plants as well, for vinyl and stuff, I think it is six months at the moment. Everyone wants to do vinyl editions now. I remember a time when no one wanted the fucking vinyls. I even sold many vinyls myself, because CD was so hot and then everybody wanted a CD. Now nobody wants to buy CDs, everybody wants vinyl. Time changes. I used to think about it like fashion, it is a cycle. Now people are dressed like in the eighties or something and it is going round and round and round.
What are the plans for the near future?
There will be a release of the second video around the release date and we have some shows here in Sweden. We have the festivals that were supposed to happen in 2020, postponed again to 2022. And we are going to tour in Europe next year (2022 – Vera) as well. Directly after the Summer might be a good time for touring, because the infections go down in the Summer and the lockdowns start around November and December. It seems that everything with covid-19 goes down in the summer, so we have to adapt touring with that. I think the vaccines will do their work and one day the immunity will be big enough to drive this disease back. We want things to get normal anymore, because this is not very funny anymore. I am a bit tired of this pandemic.