Iceland’s powerful, rising Viking act Skálmöld are back with their second album, the grim and hungry epic Börn Loka (Loki’s Children). A heroic tale that discusses the binding of Fenrir, confronting the Midgard Serpent and other examinations of Viking heritage through the story of a new character named Hilmar, the album is vicious and vast in scope.
Napalm Records has managed to release some of the very best metal in recent memory, with Finsterforst, Ereb Altor, Moonspell and now Skálmöld all turning in stunning recent efforts.This is a label that continues to grow better every day and Börn Loka is sure to prove a classic Napalm release in years to come.
It was a great pleasure to discuss the album’s imposing art, mythology and even punk rock bands with bassist Snæbjörn Ragnarsson. Click HERE for the exclusive interview.
Morgan Y. Evans: Hails! What are you gentleman doing this fine day? How have you been feeling since the release of your second album? The cover art is maybe my favorite metal cover art of recent days, up there with Moonspell’s Alpha Noir and Today Is The Day’s Pain Is A Warning. Great stuff!
Snæbjörn Ragnarsson: Hey man. The days have been quite good, and suspiciously quiet, really. We have been receiving unbelievably good receptions both here home in Iceland and abroad so this calmness might be the calm before the storm. And it probably is, we have gigs lining up for 2013 so we are still just relaxing after the release. But of course we are happy, everyone else seems to like the album so how could we be something other than happy?
Luckily I don’t have to be humble about the cover art because I had nothing to do with it really. And yes, I totally agree, it is absolutely awesome. And there is a little story behind it. We did have other plans for the artwork but in the end that did not work out. By then we were running very short on time and really did not know what to do. After a short thought I contacted the Icelandic video game developing company ‘CCP Games’. They are known for the MMORPG ‘EVE Online’ and in the end the Art Director of the company, Ásgeir Jón Ásgeirsson, responded really quickly and jumped on the boat with us. And he delivered in inhumanly short time, we are talking about the whole artwork for the album in just couple of weeks. Make sure to check out his Portfolio, www.asgeirjon.com, he is an incredibly talented artist.
MYE: What was the biggest challenge recording such an ambitious album? Were you worried about tracking the music you envisioned in your heads? It seems you really all share a love of this type of metal. Was there pressure to try and make a better album than the debut Baldur or do you just concentrate on each record and song as its’ own creation?
SR: We really don’t think too much about these things when we write or record. Although we all share this ambition for metal we still don’t always agree on things. We are 6 guys (7 when we join our producer in the studio) and we all write music for the band, the egos are very big and therefor the process can be quite rough. Sometimes we argue or even fight when we are arranging or making decisions but in the end that usually results in an optimized version of the music (or at least we want to believe so). We really did not set off to make “this” or “that” kind of album. We just write and arrange music we think sounds cool. But I can truly confess that the process of making a Skálmöld album is quite exhausting and tense.
MYE: From reading the D’Aulaires’ “Norse Gods & Giants” book as a young boy, I know that Loki’s children were a hag of Hell, the Midgard serpent and the Fenris Wolf who would slay Odin eventually. Correct? Most people know of the binding of Fenrir, if they know of Norse tradition. What was it about this brood that made you want to write of them? Did you know ahead of time that you wanted to show more to the tales?
SR: Bravo to you and your knowledge on this! These are the most famous three children of Loki, but they are six in all. And they are all mentioned on the album (Sleipnir, the eight legged horse of Óðinn, being one). My story is a fiction, in the sense that the Hero is a made up character (by me). The situations he finds himself in are on the other hand inspired from the Norse myths. In the Norse mythology Þór encounters Miðgarðsormur at least three times and the battle against the serpent in my story is very similar to one of those encounters, except there is no Þór, but Hilmar (our Hero) instead. There are many events in the story I have literally taken from these stories. And the binding of Fenrisúlfur you speak of, that is in there too. I don’t know how I came up with this, I obviously know the stories quite well, my late father read this all to me and told me stories since before I can remember. It probably just came easy to me or something. Plus, these creatures are the coolest foes you could find and an beautiful material for an epic story.
MYE: When writing a story album like this, is it hard to figure out how to concentrate on the music as well as the concept/tale you are trying to tell? How did you best want to express the adventures of Hilmar and Brynhildur in song? I mean, something like “Gleipnir” sounds like a powerful journey of triumph and struggle in itself! The guitar solo is so awesome!
SR: What we did, both with Börn Loka and Baldur is that we write all the music first. The lyrics come secondary. By the time we have all the songs ready I have the storyline completed and divided into chapters. So, ten chapters require ten songs (or ten tracks at least). All six of us together then line up the songs in the order we think is fitting, we take in consideration what the song is about, track number and such. After that is done I disappear for few weeks and write the poetry, in the case of Börn Loka I then had ten songs (well, nine really, since Himinhrjóður is Instrumental) and the guidelines for each lyric. Then when we enter the studio the songs probably take color from the subject. Since you mentioned “Gleipnir” I can use that as an example. Gleipnir is the chain used to capture Fenrir. It is forged by a dwarf, is incredibly thin and magical. It is the third song of the album, a place in the story when our Hero feels invincible and strong. So the song is upbeat and optimistic and therefore we selected that one. If you then listen closely you can hear the forging of the chain, hammer slamming against steel, somewhere in there. That was obviously done after we put the songs in order. So it is quite a complex process and I hope that at least somewhat answered the question. And yeah, this too is one of my favorite solos on the album, or maybe even one of Þráinn’s all time best.
MYE: Can you discuss more the trials of Hilmar to our readers? What is it about sacrifice and difficult times that people can learn from and use in their own lives?
SR: Well, it is a very straightforward story of a man struggling with his enemies and with himself. On the other hand, for me the main elements to the story are that you should never forget what you have, no matter if it feels like you have nothing. Our hero is rewarded greatly but the cost is even bigger. I honestly do think that many people go through the days feeling that they have nothing, taking for granted the things that really matter. Yes it is a cliché but it is true. Hilmar in the end sends his baby sister to never ending pain and in exchange he gains heroic status and eternal life. And all of this because he honestly believed that he had nothing to begin with. One more thing I would like to mention is that you should never believe without questioning. Blind faith is always bad.
MYE: How did you first discover heavy metal and then decide that it was what you wanted to do? Your band have a unique sound and yet also carry on much metal tradition. It is awesome and skillful yet raw!
SR: I have been listening to Metal since I bought my first record, Appetite for Destruction in 1988, at the age of ten. In the ‘90s I got more into Punk Rock and my favorite band to date is Bad Religion. Of course I listen to a whole lot of Maiden and Slayer, I had a huge Deicide period but I have always been torn between Punk and Metal. Me and Björgvin played in a Punk Rock band together for a long time. This band still exist and now my brother, Baldur, is even in it. Þráinn is a huge Kiss fan, Gunnar is very much into classical music, Björgvin more into extreme Metal and so on. So maybe the key is that most of us have a classic metal roots but have other shameful interests as well.
MYE: How was it using a classical choir and Edda Tegeder on some of this record? I always love when metal bands do a good job using other instruments and ideas in metal, like your band or Darkane using brass instruments on their Demonic Art record.
SR: It was very cool. Edda is an unbelievable vocalist and it almost came as a default decision to ask her to do the voice for Hel. I have known her since years back from the Icelandic scene and Skálmöld and her band, Angist (check them out, they are totally rad!) have gigged together on numeral occasions. So that happened very organically. The choir was just something we felt would sound cool and since we have Gunnar in the band with his classical skills we just left that part to him. He then called up Iceland’s finest classical singers and voila. I do agree with you that using untraditional instruments and ideas can be very interesting but I still do not like when people do it just because they can. What I mean by that is that I feel the ideas and the instruments have to support and add something to the music. Bringing strange instruments and ideas to the table is not enough in itself.
MYE: Do you plan to tour the United States? I would love to see you play New York!
SR: It is in the discussion. Hopefully we will be able to make it happen sooner than later.
MYE: The track “Hel” is my favorite. It builds and builds in a sinister way that has a terrifying feeling before the vocals come in and you feel inspired to face the dark struggle. It is a true head banger, for sure-yet with melodic and quiet moments as well! Did you know when you wrote this song that it was extremely fucking epic?!! One of the best metal songs of 2012!
SR: Wow, thanks for your kind words man. I really can’t say that I felt this in the song writing process. But when we had decided that this would be the track for Hel and that Edda was gonna sing it, it somehow felt right. Well, when I was arranging the vocal lines for Edda, Björgvin and Baldur in the last part and the building up the tension there, then yes, it somehow felt right. This trio of vocalists is not something to fuck with.
MYE: Thank you! Make hoodies of the album art so I can buy one, hahaha!
SR: T-Shirts are available already, hoodies coming soon J Thank you man, pleasure to answer questions from someone who really has an opinion and has listened. Thanks a lot!