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Skálmöld

Hoog in het Noorden prijkt het fascinerende IJsland en dat is de habitat van Skálmöld, een intrigerende band die alle mogelijke invloeden mengt in een authentiek pagan/folk metal jasje. Veelstemmige partijen, kloeke riffs en een veroveringsdrang van de Vikingen… het is allemaal te vinden op het vijfde studioalbum ’Sorgir’ dat uitmunt in duistere verhalen. We contacteerden de band en bassist/vocalist Snæbjörn Ragnarsson is de man die ons verhaal vorm gaf tijdens ons volgende interview met de sympathieke band.

Door: Vera | Archiveer onder pagan / folk metal

I hope you are all doing well, let us pick up the thread where we left in our previous interview, at the time of the release of ‘Vögguvisur Yggdrasils’ in 2016. What happened next? Could you tour enough to support that album? Where have you been on tour, which bands accompanied you?
Sure, hi again! Yup, we did quite a lot of touring, mainly Europe and had an absolute blast! There was a lot of Finnish smell in our busses, touring with Omnium Gatherum and Stam1na. Never met those guys before and it just clicked. Put a Finnish person and an Icelander in a room and something good is going to come out of it.

Did any new territories loom up in the places you conquered? Any special happenings you want to share with us or places that made a special impression on you? For example the three Baltic States
Oh, we had been to the Baltic countries before. That is always fun. My favorite was probably that tour. It was the second (third?) tour we did with Stam1na in just few months and we had become great friends at that point. All too few people know them internationally, so they were supporting us, but in Finland they are Megastars! They invited us to be a support act in Helsinki Ice Rink where they were doing a celebration show for one of their old albums. That was a fun night and the last time I met those fuckers. Fun lads, fun lads indeed.

When did you focus on writing the new material for ‘Sorgir’ and what can you tell about the writing process this time?
It happened very quickly. We never really stop writing music and even though the new album is not out yet we already have some ideas for the next album after that. I guess we had all the demos ready in April or so. Process is always kind of the same. Riffs and songs are being born at home, at rehearsals or whatever. We meet and assemble the songs, argue and squeeze the best out of the material. When we have enough for an album we stop. So, we did rough demos and went out for some more touring. After all that we just headed into the studio and nailed it in few days. Very quick and very intense!

’Sorgir’ means sorrows and why the choice of this title?
We wanted to make a cold and vicious record. The last one was kind of nice and warm and fuzzy and full of hope. This time it’s the opposite. Cold, dark, hopeless and full of death and sorrow. Can’t remember why this title specifically, but it came naturally. It really grabs the concept of the album. It’s cool.

No Skálmöld album without an interesting concept, akin to your Nordic mythology roots. I found out that the album is divided in two parts – lyrically. Can you go deeper into that? Lyrically to start with…
This time around we are more into lore than myths I guess. The whole thing is tied together with ghost stories and not a Norse god in sight. :D So, we have eight songs, two chapters of four songs each. First chapter is called Sagnir, or Tales. Songs one to four tell sad and cold stories of the destiny of poor mortals facing their ultimate sorrow, pain and death. Very Icelandic and morbid. The latter chapter is called Svipir, or Ghosts (roughly). Songs five to eight tell the same stories again but now with the added knowledge of the unholy beings. Maybe what we thought was just an unlucky strike had a deeper reason for it.

The themes also have their impact on the music. Can you tell a bit more about that in this case, with your view on for example ‘Brunin’ vs. ‘Mori’…
The song writing process always goes like this: 1. Write riffs. 2. Assemble songs. 3. Come up with a concept (might be ready earlier). 4. Fit each song to the right part of the story. 5. Lyrics. So, it is more about pairing lyrics and songs by feeling. The songs you mentioned tell the same story. ‘Brúnin’ tells the story of a very tragic happening, tense atmosphere and therefore we picked this song to represent this chapter. Up-tempo, aggressive and a storytelling element you might say. ‘Móri’ is the same tale, but with the added knowledge of the ghost present, it is more diabolic and obscure, cunning and conclusive. Of course it is all based on feeling and the discussion of the six of us, but this is how it happens.

Stories told from a different kind of view. Can’t we project this on the media these days (and of all times) as well, bringing their ‘coloured’ news, depending on which side they are on?
I think we can project it on all things. There are always (at least) two versions of each story. What you hear on the news is never going to be the whole truth. And I’m not only talking about politics, just all news about all things. But it is more. We also do it, ourselves. What you tell your mates about what happened last night is always going to be your side of the story and you will leave something out, on purpose or not. We all do it. Your kid is going to come home from school and tell you that she did a fabulous job in math class, but all she really did was stealing the answers from her class mate.

And even in ancient times when ‘stories’ were told mouth by mouth to each other, the story slowly started to change when it has reached the last (most recent) person to tell, isn’t it? Hehe I remember we did that test at school… Any thoughts on this?
That is also true, and it touches on the same subject. And it is not always based on deliberate lies. We tell our version of the truth, sometimes because we feel better be altering it a little, but also because we might not know all the parameters. But this is a way higher discussion than I ever intended to go with this. The concept is just four ghost stories, first without the ghosts and then with the ghosts added (chuckles).

You did it again! Five years after the three gigs you did in Reykjavik with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, you played in August four shows with them. Please tell us about this exceptional experience!
Fuck yes! It was amazing. A bit different than last time. Better, for my part at least. We had more songs to choose from so we could keep in what worked best last time and add some of the highlights of albums three and four (and one song of the new album). Also, this time around there was no doubt in anyone’s mind. Not saying that we doubted anything last time, but we just could not be 100% sure that it wouldn’t suck! So, all the process became even more to the point and we knew it would be the best thing ever. And it was. Hard to describe by words. It was like nothing else.

Is it still possible to combine the band with regular jobs for you or are you pro’s in the meantime? I can imagine the band demands a lot of time!
None of us is doing this full time and we all have day jobs. I guess that we could do it now if we would put our mind, soul, time and sanity into it, but I think that is just not what we want. When you were 18 this was something you felt was the ultimate goal, to be a professional musician, tour constantly, only to have a pit stop in the studio for more recordings. But what you did not realize was how hectic this job really is. 99,9% of touring bands have to be out constantly just to make it work. There is no margin, you just have to work, work and work. We have found this balance where we really can make the band thrive, and sure we put a lot of work into it, but also just have a normal life back home. It shall be confessed that there is not much free time left, but life is just about perfect.

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This time the album appears to be recorded, produced, mixed and mastered by Einar Vilberg at Hljódverk. Please tell us about this new experience after working with your friend for a long time (who moved to Berlin) and another person for the previous record?
Short story, it was great. I had done one record with another band with Einar in his studio and it was just outstanding. But Skálmöld is a different animal and not something that you jump into with just anyone. So, before the first tour with The Arctic Circle Alliance we did a 7” split with Omnium Gatherum and needed a song for that. That was the test for Einar. And he killed it. Both as a producer and also as a dude. It was a no brainer and the process was just amazing. We have not had this much fun in the studio since the first album. Loads of new ideas and just over all comradeship. Honestly, an absolute highlight.

What was the funniest thing that happened in the studio?
The look on Einar’s face when we carried our huuuge lava rock into the studio. It has been around since album one and is always used when tracking guitars, to rest your foot on for the ultimate metal pose and comfort.

In the meantime I have heard from several bands that you guys are the favourite band to tour with! Any comments on that? Characteristics like ‘friendly, hard working and easygoing’ were mentioned…
Wow. That is nice to hear. No real comment on this, it would be strange to agree with others saying how great we are. But is has to say something that the six of us has been together for a decade, and always been the best of friends through it all. We really like to go out together for a pint, it is not just a business relationship.

You have made a split CD with Omnium Gatherum and toured with them. Now there is a video for the song ‘Höndin Sem Veggina Klörar’ and it seems to be a bonus track on the new record. So please tell me more about that song…
Not much to tell really. As I mention before this was the first thing we did with Einar and it marks the beginning of the work with him, and maybe a little bit new sound. Also, this is the first time we made standalone song, not a part of any concept. It was weird, but fun. It is a short story really. We should do more of this.

It is hard to pick out a favourite, since all the songs are amazing, but I’d like to know more about closing track ‘Mara’…
Hey, I wrote that! :D Sometimes that happens, one of us just shows up with a song and it more or less stands as it is. I don’t know, I just wanted to write something fun and melodic. Old school maybe. Shamelessly traditional riffs if you like. Riffs I would like to enjoy while driving. The good thing about Skálmöld is that you can write all sorts of music, but when it has been through the grinder it always sounds like us and this is a pure example of that. What else? Well, one of my all time favourite solos by Þráinn. I’m really happy about the lyrics. And the first and only time to date we have every used an acoustic guitar in the studio. How is that for a little nugget of trivia?!

Who did the female vocals in ‘Mori’? And this song has a kind of classical music influence isn’t it? So we have a guest on the album this time (on top of your own mighty wealthy interactions on vocals)? Any other guests too?
Ragnheiður Steindórsdóttir, Jón Geir’s mother-in-law. She is a very well known actress in Iceland, one of the all time greats and it was a true honor to have her doing it. And it is just a magical performance. Wouldn’t say about the classical influence. Is there? Probably. We never turn down an idea because it is too much like this or too much like that. It all turns out to be Skálmöld in the end. Yeah, one other guest doing vocals in ‘Móri’. Óttarr Proppé, former minister of health and a singer of the best band ever, HAM. If you YouTube Pollapönk doing Eurovision Song Contest, I am the one in orange and he is the purple one, hehe.

At the moment we have the lyric video for ‘Sverdir’. Are there any plans for other visual support for any of the songs by a proper music video?
Sure. ‘Móri’ is already out now. Don’t know if we have any other plans. I would like to do them all.

Continuing about visual art: Kirstjan Lyngmo did the artwork (again, second time) and it seems like the same warrior, but in an icy environment instead of a fire-like environment on former album. Is that correct? Can you tell a bit more about the artwork?
Is it? I don’t think it’s the same dude, but Kristján might tell you otherwise. All I can tell you about the artwork is that it is a chapter by itself. Lyngmo is an incredible artist and takes everything to a higher level. We just tell him what we have come up with, songs, ideas, concepts and so on, and he just takes that and flies with it. It feels not like he is supporting our ideas, he rather uses them to develop his own. We never edit his stuff and he never asks for permission to do things his way. Check out the rune on the new album for example. Totally his design and a huuuge story behind it that we did not have anything to do with. This is my favorite team work, when someone takes things to another level, something we never could have thought of.

Well, I am looking forward to see you on tour again! What are the plans for the near future in playing gigs and touring?
Next up is November/December tour with Alestorm around South Europe. We got to know them in 2011 when we were touring our first album and we have been great friends ever since. But this is the first touring we do with them since then. Beer. There will be beer. Loads. Phew.

Last sneaky question: Isn’t it always a culture shock when touring in our areas of concrete, industrial ugliness and hectic life style? I can imagine it is a relief to go back to the serenity of Iceland after that…
Short answer: No. We like seeing new things and the “industrial ugliness” can be interesting. But in the end it is about the people you meet and that will always be the highlight. The right people is what makes the earth a great place. But home sweet home, that’s for sure.

Well Snæbjörn, massive thanks for the time you spent to answer these questions! I hope you enjoy them a bit and hope to see you soon on the road. In the meantime I will enjoy the grandness of ‘Sorgir’.
Thanks for a very interesting interview. I wish they were all this fun.

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