||SKALMOLD: INTERVIEW WITH BJORGVIN SIGURDSSON
Roger Berzerk Fauske
MetalTalk's Roger Fauske caught up with guitarist/vocalist Björgvin Sigurðsson from Icelandic band Skálmöld recently in the midst of their six week European tour. And a very interesting conversation it turned out to be.
RF: Good afternoon Bjorgvin.
BS: Good afternoon good sir.
RF: We'll talk about the band shortly but very recently your fourth album, well third studio album came out.
BS: Yes it's our third studio album and last year we also did release a live album Cd and DVD. It was released just a week ago in the UK.
RF: I should apologise in advance for any bad Icelandic pronunciations but the album was something called 'Med Vaettum'.
BS: You were quite close!
Article continues below...
RF: That's a good thing and you are very polite. But in English it means something along the lines of "with spirits".
BS: Yes, this album is a concept album and it tells the story of this female character, this Icelandic heroine, and we follow her from birth to death and we follow her from the north part of Iceland, then to the west. The album is basically divided into four chapters. The first chapter when she is really young up in the North, in the west at springtime when she is a young woman, south she is a mature woman at autumn and in the east she is an old woman in wintertime, where she eventually dies. In each quarter of the island, she has to fight a battle where she is protecting the island from attacks by sea. She is assisted by the Icelandic land whites (spirits).
You know Icelandic myths tell this story of four spirits each defending a quarter of the island and we have the bird in the north, a dragon in the east, a bull in the west and a giant in the south, and she is aided by these spirits in each battle. We make it look like she is this unsung hero nobody has ever heard about but probably the Icelandic people owe her their existence.
RF: Of course most your song-writing does come from something very close to my heart, being a half Viking, the Icelandic sagas.
BS: Yes. Snæbjörn our bass player, he is responsible for the lyrics. He is much more comfortable telling stories than just writing lyrics that don't connect in any way. For three albums we have always had this concept, this story, and we come up with the guidelines for the story and divide it into chapters, then we start writing the music. Once the music is ready, because we always want to make the music fit the mood, the atmosphere, then Snæbjörn writes the actual lyrics for each song. It can be a bit of a puzzle but we very much like this way of doing things, we have this scheme already and we fill in the blanks in a way.
RF: You mention the mood – I did review the album of course for metaltalk and there are a couple of songs where if you close your eyes, you see longboats ploughing across the water.
BS: Ok yes. That's good to hear.
RF: I think as well Snæbjörn uses some of the Old Norse poetry meters in the song-writing doesn't he?
BS: He writes all the lyrics according to the old traditional Icelandic rules of poetry and these rules are centuries old and were somehow made up because in the past stories and folklore were kept alive by people travelling around the island and telling stories. Most of these stories were somehow kept in this poetic form and these rules of poetry, they make the text more rhythmic in a way so it is easier to remember the poems that way. In my opinion this fits very well with metal music because metal music is so rhythmic so when you have the lyrics written according to these rules then you have this very rhythmic feel and maybe its better flowing that way.
RF: Whilst we are talking about the Icelandic sagas, if people aren't totally sure what they are about, there are a heck of a lot of them online, translated into English, that people can read. They are exciting even if you are not Norse in any way, lots going on in them and a lot of blood sometimes!
BS: Yes and these stories, if you are into Viking culture in any way, you will probably find them very interesting because they can be quite brutal at times and barbaric.
RF: But not always.
BS: Not always no. Somehow Snæbjörn our bass player he uses the Icelandic sagas and mythology as a sort of reference and inspiration more than trying to copy it in any way. He uses the mood and atmosphere from these stories to lay some kind of foundation and then he mixes it with more recent fantasy like lord of the rings or dungeons and dragons. Somehow he has created his own world in his head where all these stories of ours take place.
RF: I read on your Facebook page a comment from somebody who said he was going to learn Icelandic just so he can read the sagas.
BS: Yes and we get that a lot. We have now been on tour for almost six weeks and nearly everywhere we go there are people who come to us and tell us they have started to learn Icelandic or some of the Norse languages, just because of us. You know, that's a big compliment.
RF: And of course when you play in the states you can always do a bit from Erik the Red's saga and point out to them they were discovered by Vikings.
BS: Yes, exactly (laughing).
RF: Its something they don't seem to have noticed. But moving away from the Viking bit for a minute and back to the music. There is this mix with the metal side but you also want to include the more traditional side of Icelandic music.
BS: Yes that is true. You know those who listen to Skalmold have probably figured out where most of our influences come from you know. It's a lot of Iron Maiden and early death metal and thrash, that's our main influences but then we try to mix them with the Icelandic traditional music and you can hear it best in the choir parts in our music. Apparently there is not a lot known about Icelandic music from centuries ago but our keyboard player is the one who arranges all the clean vocals, and he does the vocals in a way that has been used in Iceland for quite some time. You can hear the Icelandic influences in the choir parts and then we mix that with traditional Heavy Metal.
RF: Its the kind of thing if you mentioned it to someone before you tried it, they may actually stare at you and think you have gone slightly mad but it does actually work very well.
BS: Thankyou. It can be tricky but we somehow make it work.
RF: You mentioned you had a live album out. That was recorded with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra.
BS: Yes we did these shows with them in late November 2013 where we played two hour shows with the orchestra and three choirs. That project was by far the biggest project we have done but also one of the greatest experiences of our careers. It was surreal to stand on stage with 200 other musicians who are playing your songs, stuff that you maybe wrote in your bedroom when you were hung-over on a Sunday. It was kind of surreal but a very good experience.
RF: You do very interesting things with vocals as a band. It's hard to explain without someone listening to it but it's almost three separate lead vocals.
BS: Yes when we did our first album it was more or less me growling some stuff, then the five other guys did the choir parts, but when we were recording our second album, a concept album about the children of Loki, we wanted the three major children of Loki to have their own voice.
So then Gunnar, our keyboard player, was the voice of The Midgard serpent and Baldur our guitarist was the voice of Fenris Wolf and then we got our good friend Edda, from Icelandic death metal band Angist, as the voice of hell so for the new album we continued this way with Gunnar and Baldur doing some singing as well, so at some points it sounds like we have three lead vocalists.
RF: It is especially noticeable on the first track 'Ad Vori' which means Springtime.
BS: Yes yes.
RF: It is one of the first things you notice. With song-writing, you mention the bassist is where the lyrics come from, but on the music side, is that mainly you or is it a joint effort from everybody?
BS: We all contribute to the writing process and all of us come up with ideas for songs or riffs and once we have recorded one album, we immediately start collecting ideas and putting them in the bank, so to speak. When we feel it is time to start to write a new album and we have enough material we just sort of open this bank up again and start playing around with these ideas.
But all of us write music for the band and I think that might be in a way maybe our strongest side that the music is kind of diverse and varied because we all write, so the songs do not all sound the same, at least to me. I really like this diversity but some people don't like the diversity and feel it is too much of different ideas but for us it works.
RF: Strange you mention that because in the review that was exactly the point I made. You go through almost everything from classic rock to thrash to death metal and everything in between. Why regurgitate the same song ten times when you can do what you do. I know some people do like their pigeon holing though!
BS: I'm much more comfortable with this way of writing music but it can be tricky trying to mix these different influences into a song or album but to me it is to the benefit of the music itself.
RF: You mention versatility, one track i did love 'Med Jottnum' (With Giants) which at the beginning especially is old school Rock, it has that vibe about it.
BS: Yes and then it drops into this doomy atmosphere and then some epic Iron Maiden-esque riffs and then back to the old rock again
RF: The tempo increases and of course you have some of the growling going on but there is still that vibe to it all the way through which is no mean feat.
BS: Thanks. That song is one of my favourites so yes I'm really really happy about how that particular song came out once we had recorded it. As you mentioned, there are a lot of different influences and different styles, but somehow we made it work as a song.
RF: I'm going to talk about another influence now. There is something that comes in that I absolutely love and that is the Celtic feel.
BS: Yes as I mentioned earlier there is not much known about traditional Icelandic music written centuries ago, but the band members are very much into this Celtic music and Irish folk music and you can definitely hear influences from there in some of our songs.
RF: On some of them it is a bit Thin Lizzy-esque, you have that kind of Celtic feel going on. And if you are going to do Celtic rock, that is about as good as it gets. We should mention you are on tour which is why you are in Slovenia, but you were over in this country not too long ago.
BS: Yes we were in the UK and Ireland in the middle of November. We played six shows and it was the second time we have done a mini tour in the UK. It was lovely coming back to the UK, playing some of the same cities and same venues that we played last year and hopefully making new fans.
RF: And I assume you will be coming back here in the next couple of years.
BS: Yes I really hope so. I really hope that we have the opportunity next year to go on tour again and then we will most definitely hit the UK again.
RF: Yes it's a modern Viking invasion, but they are being nice this time so don't panic. There are no longboats involved.
BS: We are much nicer now than back in the day.
RF: It's strange. I was actually going through my family tree recently that my great uncle in Norway got back to about 1300, and there were a lot of my ancestors went up to Iceland and came back a generation or two later. But Iceland was mainly people from Norway and elsewhere originally wasn't it.
BS: There is actually some Irish blood as well in Iceland so yeah...Iceland was I think sort of a place almost like America when they were founded. People went there seeking adventure or people went there because they were criminals or being persecuted in their former home countries. Icelandic people have a lot of this Norwegian and Swedish and Danish blood but also Irish blood. That's one of the reasons we feel so good when we come to the UK and somehow it is always very easy for an Icelander to connect with people from the UK.
RF: As far as actually in Iceland itself, with all the music scene, is that something that is still good there as far as the live venues and that side of things.
BS: Yes, the Icelandic music scene has been healthy for the last decades and we have had a rock scene that has been doing quite well outside of Iceland. But in the last five or six years, the Icelandic metal scene has been gaining momentum and it has been getting a lot more attention from the media and the population in Iceland so the metal scene is in boom. It is a good time to be a metalhead in Iceland nowadays.
RF: So everything is getting even better by the day.
BS: Yes and it will only get better in the future.
RF: I shouldn't say it too much or everybody will want to move to Iceland. It's only a small country, they can't fit them all in
BS: The population is not that big and we have plenty of space for new people. They can go up in the mountains, but that may not be the best place to live I guess.
RF: Anyway, Bjorgvin it has been an absolute pleasure.
BS: Thankyou and the pleasure was all mine.
RF: It was great finding out about all the interesting aspects. There is more to it with you lot than just the chords and the harmonies
BS: Yes I really hope so that people feel that we have something to say, not just musically. I'm just really glad that we have this opportunity to travel around and play our music for new people so yes it's a privilege.
RF: On that note I will say thank you again and we will hopefully be seeing you over here in the not too distant future.
BS: Most definitely, If we have something to say about it then we will definitely meet again.