Bjarni Egill Ögmundsson: “For us covid-19 was a blessing in disguise, because we could not do anything else. Thus we could focus on making the album.”
IJsland brachten we tot nu toe voornamelijk in verband met meer extreme metal genres als black metal, post metal of alternatieve rock. Er leek geen streepje rechttoe rechtaan power metal te bespeuren op het eiland met zijn betoverende, maar woeste natuurkrachten. Dan hebben we buiten Power Paladin gerekend, want het eerste album dat in het nieuwe jaar wordt uitgebracht door het nieuwe label Atomic Fire Records is hun debuutalbum ‘With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel’. Niet te versmaden voor liefhebbers van dartele en epische heavy/power metal zoals HammerFall of Helloween. We staken ons licht op bij toetsenist Bjarni Egill Ögmundsson om meer te weten te komen over deze zes dertigers die er niet voor terugschrikken om tegen de stroom op te roeien.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 4 januari 2022
For us Power Paladin happens to be a pretty new band, although you exist since 2017. How did you meet each other and how did the band come into being?
We have been friends – I think for most of us – about ten years. My brother has been in elementary school with our bass player, so I have known him since he was like ten years old. Also we have been playing in and watching different bands since the last twelve to thirteen years or so. We always made a band and played for a while, then we broke up and then we formed a new band. This is like a circle of twenty people or so. A lot of them are musicians and with these interactions forming a band is easy. This is one of them that actually managed to do something of importance.
And even in the power metal genre, which is rather exclusive for Iceland…
Yes, I think at the moment we are the only active power metal band in Iceland.
Wow, is it that bad?
Yes it is.
However there are many good Icelandic bands I love, one of them is Sólstafir…
Yes, we were actually playing with them on Friday. We were playing at the Andkristnihátið festival which is a black metal festival that usually happens right before Christmas.
That’s a challenge for a power metal band…
Yeah it was actually a really nice crowd. We brought a nice sprinkle of light and happiness in between the darkness. The festivals we have been playing at – Eistnaflug, Norðanpaunk and surely Iceland Airwaves – were usually open-minded for a lot of genres. Airwaves is the whole package, except maybe the heavier heavy metal, like black and death metal, and it is very rare that we have bands like us on Airwaves, but I think we just slipped through the cracks.
Why did you choose to play power metal?
It is basically the music that we have been listening to; it is like glue that holds this friendship together. We are all huge power metal fans, each and every one of us. So it is natural that this happened. We have been playing glam rock, playing in a glam rock cover band before, a few years ago and basically Power Paladin is another evolution of that. It is actually the second power metal band I am playing in, done by this group of people.
Have you ever been playing other styles of music?
Personally I am mostly into rock and metal, but I also played in school plays and did theatre stuff. I have done a bunch of things, but my favourite and my criteria remains definitely metal.
Concerning the song-writing: are there main song writers in the band?
Yes, Ingi (guitars) and Atli (vocals) are doing the foundations that we usually bring into the rehearsal space, we play it back and forth, add something here, skip something there. It is a kind of group effort once we reach the rehearsal space and then, when we go like making recordings of it, then I usually just go home and sit on it and try to figure out if there are supposed to be orchestral sections. We kind of work in each others corners and then we meet. It is quite a mess (laughs). We try to meet each other in the rehearsal space at least once a week, except when there is a lockdown and you cannot go anywhere.
Indeed, even in Iceland the number of infections is rising…
Oh yes, we are on the brink of another outbreak right now. They just announced some limitations that I think are going in tonight. Gatherings of more than twenty people are forbidden, two metres apart and all that stuff. I think it is up to 300 infections per day right now.
Do you all live in the Reykjavik area?
Yes, I think it is rather difficult to play this subgenre of music if you don’t live in the capital area.
Concerning the lyrics: who is in charge of that and can you tell something more about your sources of inspiration?
Our singer Atli is in charge of lyrics. The main focus is to use words that sound big and sound cool. It is quite funny to have people who dive into the lyrics, finding things that aren’t there. People can have their own meaning of it and I won’t say they are wrong.
What can you tell me about your live experiences as a band so far?
When we were planning to record the album, around that time we actually played a lot of shows in 2019 and in 2020 before the pandemic hit. That is one of the reasons why the album was so slow in the making, because every time we decided to focus on the album, we got an invitation for a show and it was like ‘okay, next week we are going to start’ and we got another invitation, ‘okay the week after’. We kept on postponing it, but then the pandemic hit and we could not play shows anymore. So then we had enough time to focus on the album. For us covid-19 was a blessing in disguise, because we could not do anything else. The Andkristnihátið festival was the first show we have been able to play for the last ten months I think.
Even though it is a debut album, you did a lot of things yourself. Is there someone with a master degree of equipment in your ranks?
Both me and Ingi studied sound engineering. Ingi studied in the Netherlands actually and I studied back home. So we did all of the recordings ourselves Then we got a friend of ours, Haukur Hannes – I think he also studied in the Netherlands – to mix the album. I have known him for fifteen years or something, so it was actually quite fun to have him mixing the album, because we played in a high school play many, many years ago. He studied in the Netherlands, then went to Sweden for another master degree. He is a music teacher. He is actually teaching my son at his school (chuckles). He is quite involved in my life.
Iceland is not that crowded, many people will have a bond in some way with each other…
Yes, this is a typical Icelandic thing: you meet someone and then you find out you were in kindergarten together when you were five. This is not uncommon. The capital area has 200,000 people I think. You tend to meet people a lot of times.
Very occasionally we hear a kind of rawer vocals, not real grunts, but rougher. Who is doing that?
His name is Óskar Rúnarsson. He is a friend of ours and plays in a band called Nexion. He is playing in the same rehearsal space as we do and he has been like our concert mascot. He usually comes on stage to accompany us and he’s been doing that for more than a year. We credited him on the song ‘Righteous Fury’, but he actually grows on ‘Dark Crystal’ too. Since he is living in the capital area and he comes to concerts when we are playing, he just tags along.
How did you ever come in contact with music and can you tell something about the development of your own taste?
I think I am always been interested. When I was like six, I went to a weird music school where you learn beats and rhythms, more than instruments. It interested me a lot, I just wanted to play and then around eleven I was playing in a schoolish brass band. I think I did that for two years and then when I was about 16 or 17, I bought my first drum kit and then everything took off. I started to play in bands. I kind of drifted in and out of it, I even cannot remember in how many bands I have played. When I joined Power Paladin, when we were forming the band, Einar Karl had already been assigned as the drummer, so I decided to become the keyboard player. Bad thing about that is that I had no experience playing keyboards (laughs), so I just had to learn, which is the same as with Atli. Initially he was going to be our guitar player, but it turned out differently, although he had no prior singing experience except for singing backing vocals. So both of us are learning a brand new instrument for this band.
You are lucky that you can start at a new label, Atomic Fire Records…
We had no kind of idea how deeply lucky we were when we were contacted by Markus. We just had finished the album and had uploaded ‘Kraven The Hunter’ on Spotify. We were thinking about uploading the whole album on Spotify, but a mutual friend of ours, he asked us if he could mail the album to a couple of people that he knew and we said yes. We didn’t expect anything and we were almost starting uploading the album on Spotify when Markus contacted us. It was basically like: ‘hey guys, do you want to sit down and have a chat?’ It was never something serious and then we were suddenly involved in signing a record deal. People with so much experience are working now for this brand new label.
What can you tell about the video clips?
Glen Mountford directed both the videos for ‘Righteous Fury’ and ‘Kraven The Hunter’. Actually we shot them both in a single day, everything is filmed at his working place, the same building. We wanted to make it a HammerFall homage, because they tend to have such really intense green screen videos. It is very power metallic to make a green screen video. He has been here late September. He had been here once, it was his second time Iceland. He originates from Australia, but is living in London now. He shot the videos during the weekend and basically flew back instantly.
How did you get in contact with James Child, who did the artwork? Can you tell a bit more about this artist?
When we were working on the album, we knew that we were going to need some artwork and Atli just went on a hunt on the internet, looking for artists. I can’t exactly remember where he saw him, but it was a website with his portfolio and we really liked his style of drawing. It is like this fantasy inspired stuff. The images on line are quite similar to the one he drew for us. He instantly said this is something that is going to work very well for us.
Since you have been working so long on this album: are there already songs for a second album?
There are some sketches of songs that we have, a few. We probably won’t start working on it now. We even did not play live for this first album, because of the pandemic, so we hope to do that first. It will be fun if we manage to have our release party again. I think we have the album release concert plan for March. I don’t even know if that is possible, even though it is only three months away. But hey, I think we probably are going to start looking into something and just slowly work on a couple of new songs. I think we’re definitely going to make another album.
I also ask this question because there were rumours saying: ‘the only thing missing is a ballad’…
This is like a divided opinion. I read one review and he was really satisfied that there was no ballad. I read another review and he was missing a slow song. People seem to be divided about having a ballad or not.
Is Óskar the only guest on the album?
No, we got a few people to help us out. A friend of mine, who is a really good piano player, filled in for me at certain parts and he delivered way, way better playing than I ever could. He plays the piano parts in ‘Evermore’ and ‘There Can Be Only One’. Then there was one other, which I actually don’t know, he did some Hammond organ in ‘Creatures Of The Night’, but I don’t know his name.
In ‘Ride The Distant Storm’ we have the orchestral part and the epic vocals that follow really reminded me of Manowar. Is that done on purpose?
It was actually a really hard song to create. Those orchestral parts, I don’t know how many hours that took, it was insane. I think you have to ask Atli about that. I would not be surprised, but I think probably not. We definitely listen to Manowar, so there might be this hidden inspiration that he even did not know about. It happens a lot.
When you come up with a power metal band now, it is impossible to be original…
I think in each and every song there is probably a rip off of Iron Maiden, because their sheer catalogue of albums is so vast. I think they have probably written everything you can do with power metal.
But that does not mean we cannot have a good time with new bands…
Definitely not and also, it depends so much on the sounds that you use, the context and the feel and the tempo and everything.
What are the plans for the near future?
It is kind of hard to predict right now. The album is not out yet, so the biggest things are definitely still to come, but this is a real weird scenario currently, like no band has ever had before. I think it is probably good and bad for us, because people are so hungry for music right now, because they cannot go to shows, so they go searching on internet for something to listen to. That is really nice for us, because people are going to stumble upon us and hopefully like what we are making. Once we can finally go and play at some places, we might have made a name for ourselves and people actually want to attend our shows.
Is everyone of the same age in the band?
Kris is turning thirty, he is 29 and he is the youngest and I am 37. So it is like an eight year difference in whole. Everybody is in between those extremes, but it doesn’t matter when you go to the stage.
Let’s round off with some fun questions. Do you regularly eat at Ikea in Reykjavik? We enjoyed that when we were doing a road trip in Iceland…
I did that quite a lot with my children when I lived a little bit closer. I think it is the most popular restaurant in Gardabear which is one of the regions in the capital area. There’s a lot of people who eat there. It is really convenient. Lamb is really popular here.
How is the weather over there?
(laughs) It is dark. It think it is around two or three degrees or minus one. It is not particularly cold. No snow at the moment. We had a little bit, but it is gone. In the north of the country however, they have snow all winter long. In the capital area it is usually not that snowy and not even that cold most of the time, but once you get into January till late February, then it starts to get a lot colder.