OAKEN DRAGONS & NORTHERN FORCES – AN EVENING WITH V`GANDR
- by J. Nepper
- Posted on 04-02-2014
I had the pleasure of interviewing V’gandr (HELHEIM & TAAKE) one evening in January over a couple of beers and drinks, but instead of merely talking about the aforementioned bands we ended up discussing and talking about everything from the obscure musical entity named Ravengod to Danish movies and further on to different thoughts on age, arrogance, and wrong decisions. Enjoy, a-holes!
First and foremost I have to ask you what is happening in the Helheim camp these days?
We have wrapped up the pre-production for the next album. We hope to enter the studio once our drummer has booked a slot for us in the recording studio, which we hope will be in March. Other than that we have been rehearsing the songs and figuring out what will work in a live setting. Hopefully the album will see the light of day this year, but that is not really that important as we want to make sure that everything is as it should be before we release it. We are in no rush. We have waited quite some time for this one, so if we have to wait a bit longer then so be it.
Will you reveal how many songs the album consist of?
Yes, it should not come as a surprise that the new album will contain 9 songs, just like on some of our previous albums, which is a symbolical thing you might say; 9 realms of Helheim, 9 songs. However, we will record and release a follow-up to the Åsgards Fall mini-album first just like we did the last time around, so essentially we have 1,5 album to record and 12 songs all in all. The aforementioned mini-album will contain the ninth "Helheim" part, which Hrymr is in charge of, and will mark the end of an era in a sense.
Will there be any progressive elements present in the music on this next album of yours?
The songs by H’grimnir are more progressive than mine at times, and this time around I have taken a different approach and written more direct and in-your-face material. More simplistic songs, if you will, but I guess that there are few progressive twists and turns in my songs without me having thought about it. My parts are very much about focusing on simple, strong melodies. We have tried to refine the best parts of our previous album just like we always do. The album will be a fine mixture of my rather "simplistic" songs and H’grimnir’s somewhat complex material.
I suppose having those two different approaches to songwriting in the band strikes a good balance?
Yes, indeed, H’grimnir and I are good at balancing and evening things out.
Do the two of you always compose songs individually?
Yes, we have always done that. For ages we have talked about writing a song together, but we are both leading busy lives and I suppose we are also a bit headstrong, which is to say that it is easier for us to compose songs based on the visions that we each individually have in our heads and follow through with that apart from each other. It is a 50-50 relationship-kind-of-thing when it comes to writing songs for Helheim. We are quite odd in that sense ha ha, but our formula works.
I guess there is also an element of trust involved in that you believe and trust in one another to come up with great songs?
Yes, that is true, but if things do not hold any water then we tell each other and then the one in charge of the composition can go back and revise and change things around. We are fans of each others’ songs, and our different ways of expressing ourselves compliment each other beautifully and create a whole that works within our realm. Had H’grimnir and I made entire albums of our own then they would have sounded different from one another, but the minute we put our songs and ideas together the whole thing turns into Helheim.
(Photo: Camilla K. Berge)
We spoke a bit about the Åsgards Fall follow-up before, but have you ever considered releasing a 7" EP in the future?
I would love to release a 7" EP, but the songs we have are too long for a 7" EP.
What about putting some unreleased songs or live material on it then?
I do not feel like releasing any live material ever again. I think that is a waste of time and I do not like to listen to live albums personally, especially black metal live albums as they are beyond boring in my opinion.
The live DVD footage you included on your last album worked quite well as an added bonus in my opinion.
Yeah, I agree, I think that worked out well. My criticism was levelled against those live songs that are featured on the re-issues of Blod & Ild and Yersinia Pestis. We needed something back then and we had those lying around and used those, but if it had been today we would have left them lying in the vault. We never would have released them today. It is different if there is a visual side to the live material in that you have something to look at, but having only the audio does not make sense to release in my opinion. We do not have anything unreleased lying around either. Heiðindómr ok Mótgangr came out on vinyl not that long ago, which worked out well, so I hope that one day we can release the two Åsgards Fall mini-albums collectively on vinyl. That would be great.
Do you remember how, why, and where you became obsessed with Norse Mythology?
Vaguely. I think that goes back to 1992-1993. In the beginning we were a classic band who wrote songs about evil things such as the Devil and everything connected to him and so on, but even though I was pretty young I soon realized that black metal had to be true and real, and I did not want to fake what I was doing. On top of that I got into Bathory and gradually started reading more and more about Norse Mythology and vikings and found out that I was more comfortable within that particular realm. I gradually started writing lyrics relating to Norse Mythology and the other guys liked that. Those kinds of lyrics also suited the name Helheim better. In the beginning I did not know shit, but I kept reading more and more and got more and more insight into the workings of that mythology. You are your own teacher in a sense. That process has never really ended and one will never "graduate" from that particular school of thought.
So it was a conscious decision on your part to change to pagan and Norse themes?
It was a conscious decision in the sense that our music was firmly rooted in black metal, which was quite evident on Jormundgand, but we did not want to sing about the Devil as that was something that we could not fully relate to. I was not and have never been a practicing Satanist. Based on my interpretation of black metal back then I felt that it would be self-deceiving to write songs about Satan and so on. Norse Mythology was much more natural and real to us. In the beginning we even called our music Norse Metal, but I quickly dropped that monicker ha ha. I do not give a shit how people label us today and there is no point in being rigid about the whole thing. We are what we are and our focus is not on terminology – to put it mildly.
Could you right here and now mention 5 bands that have had a major impact on you, not just musically, but also personally?
How long can I go back in time?
That is entirely up to you. It could be the first 5 that come to mind.
Okay, but that is a difficult question to answer, because that depends on whether it was music that inspired and got me started playing music back in the day or whether we are talking music that I listened to back then and that I still listen to today. There are two aspects of that question and it is difficult to know where to start. For instance, W.A.S.P. is one of my all-time favorite bands, but they have never inspired me musically as I have never felt like playing heavy metal, but nonetheless they are one of my faves. What got me started playing instruments and so on was very much the old Norwegian scene as well as Bathory from Sweden. I recall listening to Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas for the very first time and being utterly blown away beyond all words. The best black metal album ever! That one has always meant a lot to me. I also recall listening to Burzum and realizing "Shit, this is something different." One-man bands were pretty rare back then. The whole environment and scene back then was one big source of inspiration. You would hang out with your friends and discover new bands and releases every week. I could go on and on.The viking era of Bathory has meant and still means an awful lot to me. I have always liked bands such as Iron Maiden and Motorhead, but they have never inspired me as such. The same goes for Black Sabbath. I thought that Black Sabbath was actually a bit too soft while growing up. Then you have bands like Judas Priest that I also love. I was never into KISS. For me…well…I have to list Darkthrone and their A Blaze in the Northern Sky album, Celtic Frost, Burzum, Master’s Hammer, Bathory, and early Gorgoroth, namely the Pentagram album. Those made me realize that there was a lot that one could do within the framework of black metal and that type of expression. I also have to mention Blasphemy from Canada and their Fallen Angel of Doom album. The Oath of Black Blood by Beherit was also brilliant. That voice of his was so perverted. Oh man, I can keep coming up with names now, but the early Norwegian scene, and by that I mean some of the classic bands such as Darkthrone, Burzum, and Mayhem, laid an important foundation for me to build on.
It is quite funny when you think about how visible and hyped the Norwegian scene of old is nowadays among many who were never even there in the first place to take part in it, me included ha ha.
You are right, because that scene is quite old by now even though I tend to think about Scandinavian black metal as something new due to the fact that there was so much extreme metal out there before that particular wave came into existence. It has a long history by now, but it has not ended yet.
Well, look at Helheim, you guys have existed for more than 20 years now and you are still going strong, so…
We are still going strong and we have no plans to quit anytime soon.
When looking back at your albums and looking through your discography, do you have any regrets or things that you are deeply dissatisfied with? Are you haunted by your own sense of perfection?
No, not really, not in terms of technical abilities, because I have never thought of myself as a great musician, but there are certain compositions that I do not like. I am haunted by Jormundgand in a sense. I like that record, but it would have been cool if people also talked about or brought up our other records from time to time and not just that one. We recorded it pretty much live and it does sound a little shitty in places. Blod & Ild is the one record I could have done without. I like "Jernskogen", but the rest of them are crap. We took some wrong turns and made some bad decisions back then: the sound we went for, the studio we chose to record it in, the songs we decided on using and recording, the use of synthesizers…and a lot of that was my fault. That album "contains" a lot of my mistakes, if that makes sense. Unfortunately the others decided to go with my ideas and decisions ha ha. Maybe in the back of their heads they had certain reservations and objections…but anyway, some people love that album and think that it is our best one, but we will never make one like that again if I can help it ha ha.
In my opinion you guys have become better with age, so to speak. The last couple of albums in particular rule beyond belief.
I agree with what you said about us becoming better with age.
There are very few bands you can actually say that about.
We have never felt comfortable enough to simply say "Okay, we can take it no further now and we have done and accomplished what we set out to do", so we still have something to say with our music and something that we want and need to do through that. When the day comes that we have nothing more to say then we will call it quits. There is no point in releasing albums simply to release something. Of course, in retrospect you may go "Heck, that particular album was not up to par" or "Why did we do that?", but then one must try and find one’s way back again and simply get back on track. We have never really followed any rules as such and have always sought to refine and perfect our music and lyrics.
Some of us would call that integrity.
Yes, and I do feel that we have that, but it can loom a bit too large at times. It is difficult to define an audience. Some people prefer for bands to release the same album over and over again, but that would never make any sort of sense to us. We will leave that to others.
I must admit that I love your second demo and I was so grateful and thankful when it came out on CD and vinyl some years ago. It is quite ambitious in terms of compositions, arrangements, and the length of the songs. Not that many demos back then lasted 50 minutes. How do you feel about that demo nowadays?
It was a very ambitious demo and we were so full of ourselves and arrogant back then that we decided to record something akin to a full-length album and aim for a record contract. We felt we were in total control and that everything we did was totally cool and awesome ha ha. Luckily we did land a contract. Heck, we were young back then and were curious as to what was waiting for us around the corner and so on. I can listen to the demo today and appreciate it for what it was and is, but had it been today I would have done things differently. Actually, we performed "Gravlagt i Eljudne" recently and it is quite the cool song to play, but our technical abilities on that demo did not exactly match our arrangements and ideas. I think we were overreaching a bit. There was a lot of stuff that we needed to get out of our system but the means to express all these things were not all there. It was our beginning and it helped us define what we wanted to do and where we wanted take Helheim in the future, especially on those two albums that followed the demo, namely Jormundgand and Av Norrøn Ætt. It certainly has its charm.
Maybe the arrogance you had back then was a catalyst in some ways?
Absolutely, it drove us to do certain things, but with age that arrogance diminishes. When you are young it can be a great thing to possess. I am proud of that demo, let there be no doubt about that.
(Photo: Jarle H. Moe)
Not that many people know that you toured with Gorgoroth in the fall of 2010. Could you tell us a bit about that experience and your relation to the music of that band as well as its founder, Infernus?
Like I said earlier on, Pentagram is one of the best black metal albums ever released and I never grow tired of that one, so when Infernus asked me to join the band for that particular tour I almost immediately said yes. Frank Watkins was occupied back then and could not tour with the band and Infernus simply needed someone to fill in for him. We rehearsed the songs we wanted to play and that went well. I have known Infernus for years, ever since we attended university in fact. We do not talk or run into each other all the time, but whenever we do it is all good. Playing those songs was really special for me and the tour went well. I am glad I took part in that and I have nothing bad to say about Infernus. He is super cool. It was pure magic to play old Gorgoroth songs such as Bergtrollets Hevn and Katarinas Bortgang and those songs that I have listened to ever since I was a teenager. I have said to him that should he ever need someone to fill in again then he is more than welcome to call me provided that I am not busy touring with other bands.
Another thing that nobody seems to know about is that old project of yours named Ravengod.
Ha ha, yeah, that one.
What can you tell us about that. It seems quite obscure. Will we ever see a vinyl release or something of that demo?
It is funny you should mention that, because as we speak the cover art and everything has been sent to the guy who will take care of the layout and so on, so the plan is to release the demo as a 7" EP vinyl. Hoest (Taake) has been pushing me to do something with it and I was a bit hesitant at first, but now we have come to the point where it will be released. I appreciate his enthusiasm regarding the whole thing. My aim with that project was to do something extreme and harsh and raw in the vein of Pure Holocaust by Immortal. We simply recorded those 4 songs and that was it. The demo has been lying in a vault ever since then and it was never released. What I do not understand is how that eventually showed up on YouTube. That does not make any sense at all, but obviously somebody out there has a copy of it. Neiter Hoest nor I have anything do to with it. Not that it bothers me, mind you.
It will be cool to have an official release of that one.
Yeah, absolutely. We were only active in 1996 and rehearsed quite a bit and did that one demo but then that was it. I laid it to rest following that recording. I had fun with the project, though. Hoest seems to recall that Grim joined on drums after a while and that I recorded something other than the demo, but I cannot recall doing anything like that. Maybe some rehearsals or something? But anyway, that was that and the whole thing did not last long. I have done a few obscure things like that throughout the years.
I must admit that I look forward to listening to it. I have not heard it at all. I did not even consider checking it out on YouTube simply because I thought that it was too obscure to end up on that website.
It is quite dirty and does have that 90ies spirit to it. Actually, someone wrote a glowing review of the demo on Metal Archives and made it sound like we were black metal gods or something ha ha ha. I simply cannot get my head around that. I take it as compliment, but people are too primitive at times ha ha.
You have been a part of Taake for quite a long time now as a live member and toured extensively and played tons of shows. I can imagine that you find that very fulfilling in that I know that you are very fond of performing live.
Taake is the perfect vehicle for me in terms of performing live. I have been a live member for 7 years now and I truly appreciate being part of the line-up that we have. Time flies. It has been an incredible journey so far. Hoest and I go way back and have known each other since before Ravengod. We have turned into a very strong and dynamic entity on stage and we know each other well by know. We know how to interact with each other on stage in terms of sound and expression, and everything works very well. It seems that the band is growing bigger and bigger all the time, which is only fair and natural if you ask me in the sense that the band is getting better and better all the time, and many will probably agree with me on that. Hoest keeps releasing better and better albums as well.
Like I pointed out earlier on regarding Helheim becoming better and better with age, that very same thing could be said for Taake. It sounds more and more inspired and inspiring by each album release.
Call it the wisdom of age setting in and the refusal to limit oneself. Hoest is the kind of guy who does not let anything stop him and he does not make music because he is forced to. It is not a job to him. It is all about passion. An inherent passion, if you will. That one grows does not entail that one becomes more mellow or positive as such.It seems that the mind grows darker the more one learns.
Has it ever been difficult for you to find the time for Helheim, Taake, and Aeternus and to create some sort of balance between them?
It was quite difficult in some ways and for years I have practiced the idea that I stick to whatever band is booked or engaged to perform first and so on. I stick to the one who approaches me first. I once declined an invitation from Einherjer to tour with King Diamond because Aeternus was engaged to perform somewhere, but then the Aeternus gig was cancelled and I was then able to tour with Einherjer anyway. There was one other time when Aeternus was offered a gig somewhere and I had already said yes to a gig with Taake, which really made me think about the whole situation with Aeternus as it did not feel good to say no to the first Aeternus gig in the wake of a new album. Ares was cool with it, but I was not. I told Ares that I was really sorry but that I had to leave the band out of respect for them. I feel that Aeternus is important to me and I wish that I had been on their previous album, but Helheim and Taake are more than enough for me at the present time and are very important to me. There is no bad blood between Aeternus and I.
(Photo: Andrea Chirulescu)
Do you ever miss playing and performing death metal music ala Deathcon or have you exorcised the need to do that?
Well…yeah…I guess I do feel that I am done performing death metal in the sense that I achieved what I wanted to achieve within that genre. I worked on a death metal project recently named War Storm where we did a demo, which was very cool. With Deathcon I simply wanted to create a death metal record of my own. Being a member of Aeternus was fantastic and it made me a better bassplayer. I was a better bassplayer back then than I am now ha ha. Black metal inspired music is primarily where my heart lies and my passion for death metal does not equal that of black metal. I do not feel the need to continue doing Deathcon or starting up something new related to death metal. It is a bit like "been there, done that". Maybe it was a personal thing where I simply needed to prove to myself that I could write a great death metal record, even though that particular record was never really promoted that much. We did 3 songs with War Storm in the vein of Bolt Thrower, which was a lot of fun. That demo actually sounds quite professional. Maybe it will show up on YouTube someday.
What records are you currently listening to at home?
I have been listening to Palms a lot lately. The new albums by Autopsy and Carcass are awesome and I have been spinning those a lot too. Beastmilk from Finland and Röyksopp as well. I listen to a lot of different stuff. I also listen to Maranatha by Funeral Mist quite often when I need something truly nasty to listen to. That is one of the best black metal albums ever released.
Vinyl or CD, and why?
Vinyl! Do I really need to elaborate on that ha ha? Those who prefer vinyl will know what I mean.
With me being Danish I figured that it would be fun to ask you how you feel about Danish movies in that they are quite popular in Norway.
Danish movies are quite big here indeed, especially that whole wave of movies that came in the late 90ies and early 2000s such as The Green Butchers, Bleeder, the Pusher trilogy, and so on. Fantastic movies! What I love most of all is the series named Klovn. A Danish friend of mine once bought the entire series for me and I worship that one. It is brilliant! I have watched that three times already and plan on watching the whole thing again soon. Let us not forget The Kingdom by Lars von Trier. Movies by von Trier are generally pretty awesome. I recently watched The Anti-Christ again and it is a wonderful movie in my opinion. The Danes have come up with a lot of great movies and series.
Do literature and paintings serve as an inspiration to you, musically speaking?
Not really. Maybe subconsciously in that I have read and do read quite a few books on Norse Mythology and so on, which is part of my self-study, so to say. Other than that I have to say that literature has never really inspired me as such. Inspiration mostly comes from the world we live in. I use a lot of religious metaphors such as in those lyrics that I wrote for Aeternus on their latest offering (…And the Seventh His Soul Detesteth) on the Old Testament and its texts. I use literature from time to time to find subjects that interest me and that I want to write about, but rarely one particular book or piece of work. Movies have never really served as an inspiration and the same goes for pictures and paintings. They can put me in a certain mood and invoke a feeling, but they are not direct sources of inspiration for my music as such.
I should have phrased the question differently as there is a difference between basing one’s work on something as opposed to merely being inspired by something.
One record that was inspired by something I read was The Journeys and the Experiences of Death, which revolves around a scientific text on death cults and rites in Norse Mythology. I forget the name of the author now, but that is irrelevant. That was a direct source of inspiration for that particular concept album. I loathe modern pseudo-intellectual bullshit texts and books on Norse Mythology.
What shows within the last 2-3 years both with Taake and Helheim truly stand out to you?
Regarding Taake I have to say that Hellfest in 2012 stands out. I do not know if the term applies here, but that was something akin to a religious experience in lack of a better way to phrase it. Playing in front of thousands of people like that was mindblowing. It felt like time stood still and that nothing else existed outside of that show. If one had to use a Buddhistic term one would probably call it Nirvana. I think everybody can experience things that leave them in total ecstacy where one feels complete as a human being from top to bottom. The whole thing may not seem rational as such, but you FEEL it! With Helheim I must say that the show we played at Logen Teater in Bergen back in 2011 during the Hole in the Sky Festival was absolutely brilliant. The last tour Helheim/Taake tour we did was also VERY cool.