Cris J.S. Frederiksen – Guitars
Hans-Jørgen Martinus Hansen – Whistles, Accordion and Mandolin
Cliff Nemanim – Guitar
James Atkin – Bass
Danni Lyse Jelsgaard – Drums
On February 17th 2005 Svartsot was officially formed at a meeting in the band’s rehearsal room. Claus Gnudtzmann, a mutual friend of the other band members, had been asked to join on vocals – a duty he had never before undertaken. Some of the ideas discussed at that meeting are still considered to be Svartsot’s founding principles. The most important of these being the mix of melodic metal and folk music as a backdrop for a lyrical universe based on Danish history, folklore and Nordic mythology. In addition, the decision to use the Danish language for the lyrics, as opposed to English, was made at this meeting. Finally the growled vocals were introduced at this time, as this was fledgling-vocalist Gnudtzmann’s preferred style.
Several songs from the Skoll days were brought into line with the new band philosophy and new songs were written. After a short while the line up was completed by earlier Skoll drummer Marcelo Freitas, who once again relocated to Denmark from his native Madeira. This short-lived line up performed Svartsot’s debut concert at Copenhagen’s The Rock in May 2005. After that first concert the visual and musical ideas were appraised, resulting in the adoption of stage-wear and the hiring of Cris J.S. Frederiksen’s friend and whistler/bodhran player Stewart Lewis. Shortly after this, Freitas exited the band due to career responsibilities, and Svartsot worked on new material until new drummer, Niels Thøgersen, joined the band in August 2005. The coalition worked well, and shows were played already in September and October 2005, whilst the first demo, Svundne Tider, was recorded in November of the same year.
Much of 2006 was spent writing material and making connections throughout Denmark and abroad. There were a few highlights that year: winning the 2006 edition of the Danish Metal Grand Prix; recording the second demo, Tvende Ravne, at Jacob Bredahl’s Smart ’N’ Hard studio in Århus, Denmark; the track Jotunheimsfærden from the first demo being played on a BBC radio folk music show in the UK, and the same track featuring on the UK’s Terrorizer magazine’s cover-mount CD. Svartsot also had the opportunity to play live, supporting Volbeat in April and as support on three of Illdisposed’s Danish shows in September and October 2006.
The line up, which had been stable for around one and a half years, played one final show together, alongside Mercenary at a one-day metal fest in Randers in January 2007, before bassist Henrik Christensen and the rest of the band decided to go separate ways in early February. A couple months and a handful of auditions went by before a replacement bassist was found in Martin Kielland-Brand, an ex-band mate of Thøgersen’s. Shortly after he joined Svartsot, a contract with Austrian label Napalm Records was inked. The debut album, Ravnenes Saga, was recorded and mixed by Jacob Hansen at Hansen Studios in Ribe, Denmark, in July 2007, mastered by Peter In de Betou of Tailor Maid in Stockholm, Sweden, in August 2007 and featured cover art by Finnish cover artist Jan ‘Örkki’ Yrlund. The album was released in early November 2007 and received a host of good reviews.
Svartsot’s first ever concert outside of Denmark was played on 1st December 2007 at the Winter Masters of Rock festival in Zlín, Czech Republic. This concert marked the start of an active year for Svartsot, playing a wealth of concerts and festivals both in Denmark and abroad, and touring alongside Týr, Hollenthon, Alestorm and Gwydion on the Ragnarök’s Aaskereia tour in October 2008. The final show of the year was an appearance at the 2008 Danish Metal Awards in November.
The band appeared to be going from strength to strength, but appearances are often deceptive. Due to various stress factors, cracks were already showing internally in the band in the early summer of 2008. Attempts were made at remedying the situation on various occasions, but the problems grew as they re-arose time after time. An added aspect was Lewis’ standing out on the October tour due to family responsibilities. A stand-in, Hans-Jørgen Martinus Hansen, was found at the last minute but soon after the DMeA show Lewis announced that he would be taking a break from the band for an indefinite period. That seemed to be the turning point as when heavy discussions once again came about a solution was no longer forthcoming. Within two or three weeks of Lewis’ announcement, Gnudtzmann, Thøgersen, Kielland-Brand and Andersen had left Svartsot. The official reason offered from the departed members was differences in opinion on how the band should be run and the future musical direction of Svartsot. But a great many irreconcilable personal differences were also to blame.
For a few days the future of Svartsot hung by a fine thread. Frederiksen was determined to continue in one way or another and after seeking counsel on the issue from Napalm Records, the decision was made to continue under the same moniker and to build a new line up without too much delay. The next obstacle to be crossed was accessing the Svartsot e-mail account and various profiles, the codes of which had been changed by the departed members. After hefty discussions mediated by Napalm Records, the most important of the codes and the homepage domain were finally signed over to the band, and the seemingly mammoth task of finding new members could begin.
Months of announcements and auditions were expected, but progress was much quicker. The split had caused ripples on both the Danish and international metal scenes. Frederiksen was contacted by people from as far away as not only the UK, but even Spain, Russia and the United States. Due to practical reasons it was most desirable to find new members residing in Denmark. Although false and exaggerated rumours on the nature of the split circulated the Danish metal scene, a handful of aspirants still contacted Frederiksen within the first few weeks. Of these an even smaller handful was selected for auditioning, and Cliff Nemanim joined on rhythm guitars, James Atkin on bass and Danni Lyse Jelsgaard on drums. At this point Martinus Hansen confirmed that he would take a permanent place in Svartsot. One or two vocalists were also auditioned, but none of them seemed to fit the band until Thor Bager was discovered quite by chance and invited to an audition. He fell into place right from the start, and the new Svartsot line up was completed in mid-February 2009. Svartsot took to the Danish stage at the start of March 2009, and performed four concerts in Denmark and one in Poland over the next eight months.
Work on new material for a new album had been well under way in 2008, but much of this material had now been permanently discarded, as some of the departed members had contributed. With a new line up, work on material could be resumed. Roughly enough tracks for half an album were already completed, and Frederiksen wrote another batch of tracks over the next few months. New bassist Atkin undertook writing lyrics in his native English for many of the new tracks. These lyrics were subsequently translated to Danish. 13 new tracks in all were soon completed as well as an arrangement of a traditional Danish folk song. By mid-October 2009 Svartsot was once again in the studio, this time at Lasse Lammert’s LSD Tonstudio in Lübeck, Germany. Lasse undertook producing, recording, mixing and mastering duties over the next few months. The album was named Mulmets Viser, and Hungarian artist Gyula Havancsák was given the artwork and layout duties. The album was released through Napalm Records in late March/early April 2010.
Although firmly rooted in the Svartsot tradition, the new tracks showed a new maturity and complexity, even if song structures were kept traditionally simplistic. Previously the whistle melodies had generally followed the guitars, but on Mulmets Viser they were predominantly given harmonies or counter melodies to complement the guitar riffs. Mandolins had been used to a limited degree on all earlier recordings, but were now given a larger role, and accordions were also introduced on a couple of tracks. Choral chanting was used on a couple of tracks: something Svartsot had never done before; and more weight was also laid on acoustic guitars: four different acoustic guitars and even an acoustic bass were used on Mulmets Viser, as opposed to just one acoustic guitar on Ravnenes Saga. The rhythm guitars too were given a notch more intensity by dropping the tuning even lower than previously. In general the melodies were more complicated than before and the riff work more earthy. A different sound was also required for this album. Ravnenes Saga had been given a very good, but typical Jacob Hansen sound, which didn’t really fit the music. This time a more organic, yet rawer sound was aimed for, thereby giving both the metal and the folk sides of the music more room to breathe and hopefully allowing the music to grow with each listen.
So far in 2010 concerts have been a little thinly spread, but Svartsot’s status seems to have been lifted a notch higher. Highlights so far have included a guest appearance on two of the Paganfest 2010 extended shows, a position as penultimate band on part of Negura Bunget’s “Spirit of the Land” tour, a requested performance at Napalm Records’ label night and 15th anniversary show at Metalfest Austria, and a scheduled performance at the 21st Wacken Open Air. At present there are unfortunately no serious offers of a full length tour for 2010. Svartsot are currently working on new material for a third album, which it is hoped will be recorded in the first half of 2011.