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Ragnfalt: “I think the way we do Thuringian pagan metal is very different from many other bands in the scene.”

Met het nieuwe, vijfde studioalbum ‘Wielandstahl’ van Surturs Lohe duiken we de vruchtbare pagan metalscene van de Duitse deelstaat Thüringen in op zoek naar de inspiratiebronnen van menige epische band in dat genre. Bij wie anders dan Ragnfalt, de oprichter van Surturs Lohe die al 25 jaar de fakkel brandende houdt, gingen we te rade om onze nieuwsgierigheid en dorst naar het fantastische nieuwe album, de Germaanse Wielandsaga en de streek te laven. Dat resulteerde in een boeiend verslag over de authentieke benadering van Surturs Lohe.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 16 november 2021

Hello Ragnfalt, great to have the chance talking to you. Congratulations with your new album
‘Wielandstahl’ and thank you for mentioning our CD review at your social media.
How are you doing?

Hello Vera! Thank you for the chance to answer to your exciting questions. I feel very good. We are enjoying now the release of our new album ‘Wielandstahl’. Even if everything is currently a little different than usual (fewer concerts, etc.), we are making the best of these times. These times have great potential for creative processes. So … we are in good spirits.

Why did you choose the Wieland saga as main theme of the album? What was it that attracted you in it and can you tell a bit more about this Germanic saga?
At the beginning I have to say: The Wielandsage contains very good material for a metal album. Topics like blood revenge, struggle, sinister beings, cursing, hate but also love and confidence are dealt within this old Germanic saga. However, the Wielands saga is rather an atypical representative of the Germanic saga spectrum. The “hero” is not a “hero” in the classic sense. Wieland stands for itself. Nor does he stand up for others or third parties. He is a sinister blacksmith who leaves us with a clear message: “Don’t let inner and outer chains hold you back. Do what you can as best and for as long as possible.” I could tell you a lot about the history, origins and structure of the parts of the saga, but I think the message is the most important. You can read everything else.

When did you focus on the writing process of this album and how did it develop into proper songs? Do you write alone in the first place or not? What were the first songs that came into being for this record?
The first ideas for ‘Wielandstahl’ arose directly after the recordings of ‘Seelenheim’, five years ago. I’ve been dealing with the Wielands saga for much longer. That’s why this time all the lyrics came from me. That we try to implement the Wielands legend, the decision was made five years ago. The first song we composed was ‘Nur Ein Vogel’. Funny that this song is the last song on the album. However, composing was preceded by a lot of work with our inner feelings about this topic. We had to get in the mood. For us, this is absolutely important for creative work. The compositions then mostly come from Heidenherz, Alraun and me. And so in the course of time one song after the other came about. We work completely without pressure. That’s why it sometimes takes a little longer to make a new album.

Indeed, Surturs Lohe seems to be a band that takes the time, no rush, quality over quantity, because we can welcome a new album every five years. Is that done on purpose?
As already mentioned: We take the time we need. In the end, it’s the result that is important for us. Nothing is worse than when there is a lot of dissatisfaction with the songs of your own. The good thing is that our record company (Einheit Produktionen) doesn’t put any pressure on us. So we can devote ourselves to our compositions quite extensively. That is definitely very unprofessional, but we insist on offering our fans something that we fully support. And we are very happy with ‘Wielandstahl’! It only became clear to us with ‘Wielandstahl’ that we are now in a five-year cycle. Sorry 😉

The album brims with lengthy mighty pagan hymns with sturdiness and epic grandness, but one song stands alone as rather classical music tinged: ‘Die Schwanenballade’. What can you tell about this serene song? How does it relate to the rest?
‘Die Schwanenballade’ is a classically orchestrated song. It is intended as a counterpart to ‘Von Albischer Hand’. These two ballads keep the rather wild album in ballance. In addition, there is still a good arc of tension over the album. Alraun originally composed this song on piano. This ballad shows an important side of Surturs Lohe, which is rooted in classical music (old music or renaissance music). Later we filled the song with a classical orchestra and powerfull choirs. This ballad is about the magic of love (but not in the traditional sense).

Concerning the lyrics, did you dive into a lot of research work to find out more about this saga of the blacksmith?
As already said, I have been dealing with the mythical variants of the Wieland saga for many years. The fact that we then decided to implement the Wielandsage conceptually, was a very deliberate step. Too often, sagas and myths were interpreted but also kitsched up. We definitely didn’t want that. We wanted to create a lyrical concept that honors this old legend. There are two variants of legends and some secretions. On the one hand there is the Thidrekssaga, on the other hand the Völundarkviða, the Völundlied of the Edda. Our interpretation sticks to the Thidreksaga.

You have been working together with the same guy for a long time to record the albums, but this time you engaged the marvelous Markus Stock to make your dream come true. Please tell us how you got in contact and decided to work together and tell us about this experience at Studio E…
You are not wrong. Although the Klangschmiede Studio E is only a 20-minute drive away, we were with Markus for the first time with the Wielandstahl production. Of course, we weren’t interested in the short distance, although it’s practical. We know and appreciate many productions that Markus had made up to now and we could very well imagine a similar warm and earthy soundscape for ‘Wielandstahl’. So we started an exchange with Markus, explained what is important to us and then it got down to business in a very structured way. We recorded the whole album with him within three weeks. In conclusion, we have to say that the time with Markus was a really great experience. Enrico Neidhardt has been with us as a producer since the end of the nineties. We learned a lot from him and we owe him a lot. Enrico delivered really first-class productions and we had great hours with him too.

Both producers obviously have different approaches. Markus integrates the band well for mixing and mastering, but then wants his space in which he can develop creatively and without external influences. The result stands for itself. Hear for yourself! I especially like the vinyl master.

Your video clips are picturesque sceneries with a grand atmosphere and eye for details. Can you tell a bit more about the making of the videos for ‘Wielandstahl’ and ‘Kelche Von Gold’ and your visual presentation of the band?
So far we have released two video clips for the new album. ‘Wielandstahl’ shows battle and forge scenes. The video was made in collaboration with the American filmmaker Matt Pior and Sebastian Schneider (Sun of the Sleepless). ‘Kleche Von Gold’ was made by our guitarist Fix. The focus here is on the musicians and their instruments. Fix is ​​a passionate filmmaker and he will also do our next video production. To which song is still a secret. In the last few years the medium of film has become more and more important. We don’t want to oppose it. However, it is important to us that when a video of ours goes online, it is quality and not off the shelf. It is supposed to transport 100% Surturs Lohe.

We remain in the sector of visual art, focusing on the artwork now. Who did the artwork and what can you tell about its symbolism?
The cover artwork comes from the painter Markus Graupner (Northem Arts). I’m a big fan of Markus’s works. We had the idea to capture all the stations of the Wielandsage on this picture. Every song is immortalized in this picture. The process of creating the painting was fantastic. Markus kept giving me insights and impressions of the progress of the picture. I was able to incorporate my ideas. We are extremely happy with the picture. The original hangs in my music room.

We in the Netherlands and Belgium always wonder why Germany – and especially your area
Thuringia – has such a lively and fascinating black/folk/pagan scene and even selected festivals like Ragnarök! I wish I could live there! Any idea where this come from? Inspiration out of nature? More attention for myths and mystical things, education or just coincidence?

And I have to add … Especially in the South Thuringian area is the basin of the pagan metal bands. For example, the first German pagan metal band TUMULUS (founded in 1992) comes from my hometown Meiningen. their demo ‘Hymns and Dirges’ is a milestone of European pagan metal. I think the way we do Thuringian pagan metal is very different from many other bands in the scene. I believe there are two main reasons for this. On one hand, we live very provincial and close to nature. We are very much in nature, know every tree, bush and stone and find inspiration in our local region. The second reason is that most of the Thuringian scene is rather heavily Bathory and also black metal focused. That’s why the Thuringian sound always sounds a bit more epic and black metal. It’s just because of the bands that influenced us. These are and will remain with me Bathory, Ulver and In The Woods.

This year Surturs Lohe celebrates its 25 years of existence. How do you look back at this era?
We have been around for a quarter of a century. It doesn’t feel real. I founded the band when I was 16 years old metalhead. When I think back to those times … Smirk 😉 These years were very valuable. We were able to learn and develop from everything we did. And we made a lot of mistakes. You always have to check whether life is worth it or not. However you use them. I have to say these 25 years have been absolutely wonderful. There were many, many creative moments, albums that have become indispensable and friendships. And above all the people (worldwide) who have supported us over these many years. That makes us proud!

What are the highlights you can spontaneously sum up so far?
For us, the highlights get bigger and bigger every year. After such a long time, it is not a matter of course that you still make music together or that solid friendships exist. It is not a given that people come to your concerts and it is not a given that people buy your records. All that our fans do for us are highlights.

On the other hand there were many line-up changes, so you must have proper perseverance to get  this band running for so long…
… and be motivated. But currently we have a stable line-up. Still, I’m the only remaining founding member. And when I look back, there have definitely been more than 20 line-up changes in the history of the band. I think it’s probably because of me that this happens, no idea. But until now it has been the case that over time fitter and better musicians have joined the band. A natural process  – so to speak. But it is always a hit when someone gets out of the band. But then I always think of the door that opens again somewhere else.

But well, let us hope for many more albums and gigs… how is the situation (with covid-19 restrictions) at the moment in Thuringia and environment? I see there are small club shows I think… what are the plans for the near future?
We are already planning very specifically for the next 25 years. Joke 😉

Some festival concerts are being planned. Also a couple of club concerts. We do not know whether these will be canceled or not due to COVID. But we are well prepared for all appointments. There are also quite specific plans for a next album. More will not be revealed. At the moment the numbers in our region are very high again. But there should probably no longer be a lockdown. As said. We’re making the best of this time.
If you want to add something, please feel free to do it right here…

t would be cool to play in Holland or Belgium. Dear organizers: We are ready!