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Svavelvinter

Svavelvinter is een project waarbij de Zweedse auteur Erik Granström en muzikant Christian Älvestam de handen in elkaar sloegen. De één zorgt voor de muzikale inkleuring, de andere weet met zijn pennenstreken een fraaie fantasie wereld te creëren. Het resultaat is een album (‘Mörkrets Tid’) dat van begin tot einde weet te boeien. Ik sprak met Christian Älvestam en Erik Granström o.a. over de samenwerking, het hoe en waarom van de Zweedse teksten op het album en het noordelijk eiland Marjura. Welk eiland? Lees verder en dompel je onder in een betoverende wereld…

Door: Patrick | Archiveer onder death metal / grindcore

Musically you have kept 'Svavelvinter' melodic and modern, while still keeping that traditional death and black metal vibe in each song. How difficult is it to find that balance? Can we say that this type of music has become a sort of signature sound for Christian Älvestam?
Christian: I’ve always treated song writing like a movie and how they are set up dramaturgy-wise, where I try to get the different themes, moods and dynamics to work with each other, as frictionless as possible. To have the music telling an understandable, yet varied and unpredictable story, if you will. The real challenge - always - is doing so without lowering the standards of cohesiveness and uniformity, in order for the song not to come across as just different parts randomly glued together. Even though I have had pretty much the same way of approaching a new song, since when I first started writing back in 1993, I try my hardest not to repeat myself. If I feel like a guitar riff or a vocal melody is reminding me of something I’ve done in the past, or if they’re too similar sounding to something else out there, I throw them in the bin right away. As for if there’s a Christian Älvestam signature sound, I’ll leave that to others to decide, but when it comes to mixing melody and brutality, which I often tend to do, it has always come very natural for me. My heart is divided in two, where one half belongs to heavy metal and the other one to 80s pop, so my music is just a reflection of that I guess.

Christian, you have solely been responsible for writing the music. How do you organize feedback on the music you have written? Do you take the opinion of, for example, befriended musicians into account or it is mainly a thing between you and Erik?
Christian: It’s been a teamwork between Erik and myself since day one. Even though I’ve written the music on my own, I’ve always checked with Erik what he thinks and how he feels about everything. Luckily Erik has been very easy-going, supportive and positive when it comes to the music, so it’s been a smooth ride all through.

All of the lyrics on the album are in your native tongue: Swedish. What made you decide to do so?
Erik: As I recall it was a given from start and never really discussed. ‘Nidingsverk’, the first short album from Svavelvinter was already there in Swedish. Also I’ve written the game adventures and novels about this setting in Swedish and was eager to retain the specific flavours.

The album has been mixed by Ronnie Björnström, Thomas 'Plec' Johansson and you and it was mastered by Plec and you at The Panic Room. To what extent has their contribution influenced to the sound of the album?
Christian: Plec and I go back twenty years, so we pretty much know each other inside out. He’s my best friend and the closest thing I’ll ever get to having a real brother. I have total trust and confidence in him and I always value his advice, input and knowledge. With that said, after having done this for so many years now - writing, recording and releasing albums that is - I often know from the start already what I’m looking for musically and sound-wise and since Plec know me better than anyone, he knows exactly when to fan that flame and when to quench it, so to speak...ha-ha! I love working with Plec. It’s always a blast. As for Ronnie, we worked together for the first time, for real, when recording and mixing our debut EP ‘Nidingsverk’, which came out great, so I knew early on that I wanted to work with the both of them this time, throughout the whole process and I couldn’t be happier with their contributions and the outcome. I love the production on ‘Mörkrets Tid’.

You have released several videos for tracks of the album. What made you decide to start with ‘Vanderland’, as an introduction to the new album?
Christian: I always felt that ‘Vanderland’ had that special something which you cannot put your finger on, which some songs possess; that something which will make people raise their eyebrows and really listen, whether they’re into heavy metal or not. And once the song was accompanied by Patrik Nuorteva’s (Perish Films) brilliant lyrics video, it all just fell into place.

How did the collaboration between the two of you come about? How did you meet and when did you reach a point in which you both expressed your interest in doing a project together? Could you tell us a little about that?
Christian: After we had released ‘Nidingsverk’, back in 2014, Erik stumbled over us online one morning and since we’ve named our band after the role-playing game he wrote back in the 80s (which I played as a kid), he became curious to find out more about us. We then started text messaging and since we kind of hit it off right away, it wasn’t long until we decided to join forces. Working with Erik and being able to set his texts to music has really been a childhood dream of mine coming true, so ‘Mörkrets Tid’ is very special to me

Can you give a summary of which the story is about 'Mörkrets Tid'?
Erik: The theme of the album is the northern island of Marjura having been conquered by the Trachorian empire due to rich findings of sulphur (”svavel” in Swedish). Unfortunately the old undead kingdom of Cruri, that has been asleep under the glacier for eight hundred years, is awakened and the Crurer drive everybody off the island. However the konflux, an important but mysterious prophetic event, will soon take place on Marjura, forcing various power to try to reconquer the island. This happens in the game Christian mentioned and in the novels I wrote about the setting.

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Erik, you are a Swedish writer; I read that your work is compared to that of for example Game of Thrones. You are, most likely, unknown to a lot of people outside of Sweden. Can you tell me something more about yourself?
Erik: I’m a jack of all trades, trained as a veterinarian but also a writer of games and literature. I also worked in the computer industry and with marketing. Basically I like to try anything creatively new – like writing lyrics for a metal album. The series of novels about Trachoria and Marjura consists of four books totalling 2300 pages.

Erik, you are an author, which expresses well in the lyrics. Not only do you create a beautiful fantasy world with your pen strokes, but you also make usage of alliteration and syllable rhymes (e.g. 'Mörkrets Tid'). Was that something you deliberately were looking for or is this something that 'just' worked out during the writing process?
Erik: This is very much intentional. Writing the lyrics, I realized that it’s impossible to tell a story in a metal song, so I settled for moods and scenes, using words and syllables for sound value and rhythm. Much of the poetry is inspired by old viking metres like Ljodahattr and Fornyrdislag. Several verses are adapted directly from the novels.

With Erik being the author of a couple of fantasy novels such as 'Slaktare Små', 'Vredesverk' and 'Vanderland', it seems there is more lyrical content for a sequel for the project. But lyrical content is, of course, not the only thing needed. How do you both think about continuing Svavelvinter as a cooperation or is it too early to express any thoughts on that already?
Christian: I’d love to make another Svavelvinter album, somewhere down the line. However, I’m still licking my wounds after the ‘Mörkrets Tid’ sessions, so we’ll see what happens.

Erik: I’m happy to make another album if Christian is game, provided that we eventually break even on Mörkrets tid. The current album depicts the polar island of Marjura, and a sequel would move to Trachoria proper, the sea faring nation that conquered Marjura.

You deliberately released the album on CD only and not in digital form (edit: in the meantime it has been released in digital form through Bandcamp). Could you explain what the reasons for this choice are?
Christian: Well, as a matter of fact both ‘Mörkrets Tid’ and our debut EP ‘Nidingsverk’ were recently released digitally as well, via Bandcamp. The reason for this is simply because we need the revenues, since we still have a pretty long way to go before we’ll reach the break-even point and only selling CDs don’t do the job these days, so to speak. A few years ago, when I started Dimout Productions, it still worked only offering CDs, but now, in 2018, I guess you have to adapt to the new digital landscape and its consumers, in order to keep it up.

A few weeks ago you launched a crowd funding campaign, to be able to release 'Mörkrets Tid' as an LP as well as releasing a T-shirt of the album. The campaign definitely gathered some interest, but the amount that was not needed, was not achieved. How do you feel about this not working out?
Christian: Being a vinyl freak myself, of course I was somewhat disappointed, but it’s not the end of the world. After all, it was a long shot and we knew it would be tough raising that much money, considering us being a relatively small and unknown band. But who knows, maybe we’ll try it again someday and then hopefully we’ll have better luck.

Can you tell us something about what happens to Svavelvinter when you finish the recording of an album? What is coming towards you and how do you deal with it? Do you like to do promotional stuff?
Christian: ‘Mörkrets Tid’ was a really difficult album to make, in all regards, so the first couple of months after it was completed, I couldn’t care less about music in general...ha ha! I was totally drained from that whole experience and I still am, to a certain degree. All in all it took Erik and me 2,5 years to write and record the album and when you’ve worked so hard and meticulously on an album for so long, you’ll most definitely need an extensive break afterwards, in order to digest things properly and to get hungry again. Promotion, as in doing interviews and whatnot, has never really been a favourite thing of mine. I prefer letting the music do the talking. Then again, I do understand the importance and purpose of doing interviews and whatnot, especially for a small band like us, so I try to be as approachable and obliging as possible.

Erik: I’m currently busy writing a novel, but I’d be happy to do another album eventually. Like Christian I’m more into getting my hands dirty (from ink) than doing promotion even though that is OK too.

What do you do to keep working in music and the music itself fresh? What do you do to keep to create musical challenges for yourself? How do you ensure continuous improvement? In what aspects do you see your main musical challenges?
Christian: Well, let me put it this way. It should never be about doing something just for the sake of doing it. Then you’re out on thin ice I think and the outcome will most likely reflect that. If what you’re doing gives you pleasure and fulfilment and if you’re honest about it, it will undoubtedly show in the final result. It’s when others dictate the terms for what you expect from yourself, that things start to take a turn for the worse.

Thank you for taking the time to go through these questions. If there is anything left that you’d like to mention, feel free to do so…
Both: Thanks a lot Patrick for your shown interest and kind support. It means a lot to us.

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