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Skálmöld – interview met Björgvin Sigurðsson (vocals, guitars)

Björgvin Sigurðsson: “It is very nice to include some lesser known characters of mythology into our music to introduce them to other people and not always sing about Thor and Odin, but get the other characters there as well.
For almost 15 years, Skálmöld have conquered the world with fine-tuned exquisite songs full of authenticity from their home country Iceland. If you listen to the band – no matter if you listen to ‘Baldur’ or recent ‘Verðandi’ – the soul of the guys stand tall. Their sixth studio album is a complete voyage through distant and current times where the land of ice and snow (and fire) reigns supreme. We talked with main singer (they all sing!) and guitarist Björgvin ‘Bobbi’ Sigurðsson about his view on the making of this recent masterpiece ‘Ýdalir’. We present you this interview on the day that the band celebrates the release of ‘Ýdalir’ at Summer Breeze festival in Germany!
Vera Matthijssens Ι 24 augustus 2023

We talked a lot of times before since the first album, but in the recent past I remember you decided to take a break in 2020 and that break turned out longer than expected of course. When did you actually felt ready to create a new record?
In the beginning of 2019, we decided that we would finish what we had already booked for that year – all the tours and the festivals that we had booked – and after the year we would take a break and put the band on ice, at least for one year. Just not think about it at all, because it was getting kind of too much for us. The band is not our job. We all have full time work and families and stuff. It was just getting a little bit too much and we wanted to put the band on ice for some time and focus on other stuff. Then we already had decided to go on tour with Finntroll – it was in 2021 I think – but covid-19 was still ongoing, so the tour had to be postponed. It did not happen until late last year, in 2022. So the break for us was like two and a half year or something, but it was fine with us to step away from the band for this period, because when we could eventually do the Finntroll tour, and start playing shows again, we were all just into starting the band again. We were very focused and hungry to play music again and it somehow just happened immediately after when we started to play, we talked about making a new album, because that is how we work as a band and as musicians. We always have to be creating something. So it was almost immediately after we started rehearsing and playing show that we started talking about making a new album. We spent last winter writing songs for the new album and then we went into the studio in March and recorded. I am really happy with this album.

Then tell me why exactly…
Well, I don’t know. It is of course a record to be back in business with the band, but I feel with the band, after the break, it is good to take a step back and relax and look back at the things you have done in the past. Start missing the guys, start missing the band and get the hunger and get the motivation back, but I also feel that, this time around, this album is very…. It feels like we have everything under control on this album. Each and every song on the album is somehow ‘not forced’ in any way. It is what came natural for us.

I think you can hear that. If you listen to the album, it has a kind of agreeable flow…
Yes and I feel like everything on the album is there for a reason, there is nothing we kind of forcing into songs on the album, that is at least how I feel about it. We have the album and the music all very much under control and some people around me who have listened to the album, they have used the word it is kind of a more mature version of Skálmöld.

There are specific themes on the album. Maybe we can go a little bit deeper into that. It is a story of Ullur, that is also projected in three Norns, representing the past, present and future…
Every album that we have released so far, has a story that has been told throughout the album or at least, like ‘Vögguvisur Yggdrasils’, our fourth album, it was not a story, but all the songs had the same theme so to speak. Snæbjörn, who is our bass player, he writes all the lyrics and for him, he uses this form to have like a story or a theme which we decide on beforehand. It makes it easier for him to actually write the lyrics themselves, because that way the lyrics have some purpose and some direction. It is not like: ‘this song is about Norns’ and ‘this song is about an axe’ and ‘this song is about warriors’ or whatever, somehow it gives him a more focused energy for the lyrics and this time around we are telling a story of the god Ullur who is not a very well-known god in the Nordic mythology and it is very little that is written about him in the old books. He has like two or three sentences or something. It is that little. For Snæbjörn, it was not negative for him, because taking a lesser known character from Norse mythology, gave him much more freedom to build around the story. So we are not telling a story about a well-known figure in Norse mythology where everybody who had been in the stuff have their own opinion and ideas about the figures, but Ullur is like a character which we can almost build around him whatever you like, what you want to. Ullur is a god who lives in Ýdalir – which is the title of the album – Ullur’s home and in Ýdalir, the trees that grow there are – according to the stories – very well suited for bows and arrows and skies. So it is a god of archery and also a god of skiing (laughs). In our version of Ýdalir and Ullur, his home in Ýdalir is attacked by Niðhöggr, which is a serpent who lives under the world tree. He attacks Ýdalir and Ullur and his folks are forced to flee and leave their own home. In the story we follow Ullur and his people one day, gathering their strength again to fight the serpent and drive him out of Ýdalir again. So it is a very basic story about the hero, something bad happens and they take revenge.

The world tree is Yggdrasil, isn’t it?
Yes. Into the story we have also put the Norns of fate who decide the fate of all men. We have the three main Norns there, Urður, Verðandi and Skuld. One of them is the past, one of them is present and one is future and they are also telling the story of Ullur. We get to hear their version and their sort of advice to Ullur.

And does it differ a lot?
It differs in a way that Urður is like the Norn of the past. She is very, very cold, harsh and aggressive.

Verðandi is the Norn of the present and she is very, very neutral. She just tells things like they are, nothing more and nothing less. Just tell it like it is and then we have the Norn of the future, Skuld and she is very dreamy, almost like an art figure in a way. In a way there is hope for the future. Because the main story is very small in a way, we extended the story by putting the Norns in it and they are also just cool characters (chuckles) to sing about and it is very nice to include some lesser known characters of mythology into our music to introduce them to other people and not always sing about Thor and Odin, but get the other characters there as well.

I applaud that, because I never heard of Ullur before…
Yeah and in a way it is up to us, people, to keep these stories alive by sharing them with others.

I think that still lives in Iceland, because it is an island and it is a bit separated from the rest of the world, so the perfect environment to save your authenticity…
Yes and it is taught in schools still to some degree. We try to keep our culture alive, with respect.

You also sing in Icelandic language and it seems to be appreciated a lot too. After Wacken Open Air I visited the Icelandic news site www.visir.is and I read that the President of Iceland visited WOA. Please tell me about that… what was happening?
So… what was happening at Wacken, is that this year, there were four Icelandic bands playing at Wacken and I think that is remarkable for such a small country, to have playing four bands at one of the biggest metal festivals in the world and I think it was mainly due to the manager of the Wacken metal battle. He has been organizing trips for people to Wacken for more than 15 or 20 years where people can buy tickets and travel from Iceland to Wacken in a large group and I think it was him who had the idea for inviting the President to Wacken, because he felt that it was remarkable that we had four bands playing there from Iceland. The people from Wacken just found this a very cool idea and they arranged a panel on Saturday with the Icelandic President where he was talking about heavy metal and mythology and old stories with journalists and the President of Wacken and stuff. The President is just a very normal and cool guy. He has been to Skálmöld shows many, many times. He has been to numerous shows of Skálmöld and he always comes backstage.

And probably also in Harpa (prestigious venue in Reykjavik – Vera) where you played with the Symphonic orchestra?
Yes, he has been there as well. It was very cool of Guðni, the President. The media in Iceland hyped about the President of Iceland travelling to a metal festival in Europe (chuckles). He said: ‘I go to all kinds of music shows every year. I go a lot to the opera, I did a lot of symphonic concerts’ and he never writes about it, ‘that is one of the main reasons why I go to a metal festival now.’ It should be a normal thing for every person to do, even the President. He likes all kinds of music, but he is also very much into heavy metal.

Are you also living in Husavik?
Yes, I live there now. I was born here in Husavik and when I was twenty something – like almost all of the young people – I moved to Reykjavik and that is also where the other guys live now, but it is almost eight years ago that I moved back to Husavik. For me it is just perfect (chuckles). I don’t need the hassle of Reykjavik. You have been to Iceland?

Yes yes, we had a car for one month and drove through the whole country. We were not allowed on F roads, but besides that we drove as much as possible… with a camping card and sleeping in the car…
That’s good… that’s the way to explore it.

‘Ullur’ is a very important track – as you said – and also the comprehension of the record let us say. It is a ten minutes track, so please tell me anything more about that track?
Yeah… even though this story in itself is small, it is still epic and we have an epic battle with folks who are fighting the serpent and we somehow wanted to finish the album off with some epic song. It is a song, it almost came to us when we were rehearsing. I think it was Snæbjörn, our bass player, he had the idea for starting this song with the verses and when we had arranged that, he said: ‘And then we have also this idea but I don’t know if it suitable for Skálmöld, because it has to be played on an acoustic guitar’ and seen the melody, it is in the middle of the song and it was amazing and from then on it just happened (chuckles). We just started playing and could not stop hehe. It is a really, really nice ending for the album and on ‘Ullur’, this last track, because we always try to incorporate some new elements in the music each and every time, we try to do something differently, we try to do something new, just to keep it interesting and keep ourselves on our toes, on this track our drummer did some lead vocals. He is the person singing in the middle. That is the first time ever for him being a lead singer in a band, so that was the new and interesting thing for us to put on the album this time. Who knows what happens next time? (laughs). This melody just suits Jón perfectly, he has the voice of an angel and once he tried to sing this during rehearsals, it was just perfect. It is supposed to be like that. No other way.

I also like the video for ‘Verðandi’; like all your videos…
Yeah videos are always a complicated matter. If you want to tell a story in your video, it is very easy  that it ends up costing a lot of money. We also thought: ‘lyric videos are okay, but in the end a bit boring’. We just came up with this idea of doing a music video which is just like us playing along, like we are rehearsing. Keep it simple and low profile and authentic in a way. We have a new single for the title track, coming out next week, the last single and it is coming on Monday or Tuesday and there will be a video for it as well. We recorded it the same day as we did ‘Verðandi’ and the original idea was to do the whole album this way and have a video for each and every song, but we did not have the time to do it, so that has to wait until the next album (chuckles). In that way we can have a video for each and every song and you can also watch the whole album on YouTube. That is an idea we have to develop.

Is the tourism sector returning to normal standards in Iceland in the meantime?
Yes, last year was okay, but this year things are just going back to normal. It was actually on the news this week that this might end up being the biggest year for tourism in Iceland ever. So things are definitely back to normal (chuckles). There is also talk in Iceland about trying to put some restraints on tourism in the wilderness, because if the tourism continues this way, we might end up damaging some nature that people want to see. So there is a talk now in Iceland about how we can make it go together hand in hand: tourism and also protecting the nature we have.

That is very important, because I remember from my journey that Iceland was already very aware of keeping the nature alive, because it is a precious thing for you and for everybody.
Yes, because if we don’t think about it now, it might be too late. Of course we want people to be able to see the nature we have and enjoy the nature we have, but it cannot be without any rules or regulations, because then we end up destroying and damaging our heritage.

Indeed, many people from China, Japan and the US are coming and they only think about spending and making money…
Yeah yeah, it is a colonization that’s going on right now and I think we have to take it seriously. Most people in politics understand that, not all people, but most people.

Did you suffer from the energy crisis last year, because I think you have natural sources to heat up and everything?
Yes we have just ourselves to depend on when it comes to energy resources. All the energy is made here in Iceland, so for us it did not affect us. This ongoing war in Ukraine has just affected us – like in the rest of the world – in other ways. Prices of food have been going up and up and up.

Can you tell something about the artwork?
Yes, the artwork was done by Ásgeir Jón Asgeirsson which is the same artist who has done the artwork for our albums ‘Börn Loka’ and ‘Með Vættum’ from 2014 and this time around we went with him again. He is such an amazing artist! We felt like it was time to contact him and having him and doing something for us again and he was very much into it from the beginning. We just gave him the story we were going for and – like always – he asks a lot of questions before and then he just comes up with this amazing artwork! On the cover we see the god Ullur and in the background his home burning after the attack of the serpent and on the backside you can see the serpent if you look closely. So it was a pleasure to work with Asgeir as always. We truly hope that we can continue doing something with him in the future. He is such a talent when it comes to artwork.

Tell me about your plans for the near future…
We have the album coming out next week and also next week we have two festivals in Europe: Castle Rock in CZ on Friday, the same day as the album is released we are playing at Summer Breeze. A super nice festival! It is one of the best festivals in Europe. It is going to be really nice for us to celebrate the release of the new album and play at Summer Breeze the same day. Then we have some release shows in Iceland in September and we have the Full Metal Cruise, the Wacken Cruise in late September. Then we have a European tour in October. Our first ever headline tour in Europe. It is like 16 or 18 shows in Europe.

Do you come to Belgium or the Netherlands?
No. Not this time around. The tour was supposed to be a little bit longer, but due to some other stuff, we had to keep the tour a little bit shorter, so we could not fit into the tour all the places that we really wanted to visit, so we will have another EU tour in March I think that is what we have settled on. That time around we will be able to put into the schedule some countries that are missing, like Belgium and the Netherlands for example.

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