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12th November 2014
Icelandic metal emissaries Skálmöld are a seemingly fast-rising band within the scene. Releasing their debut album, 'Baldur', just four years ago on small Faroese label Tutl Records, Napalm Records swiftly picked them up the following year which led to the reissue of their debut, and a late-2012 release of their sophomore full-length, 'Börn Loka'. Imbued with epic metal stylings and authentically steeped in Iceland's cultural heritage, including every single lyric penned in their native language, Skálmöld are truly flying the flag for Icelandic music through their art. Thus the global recognition they've attained so far is even more impressive. And the band's popularity is set to soar further still with the release of their third album, 'Með vættum'. Opening band on Eluveitie's 2014 European tour, Metal Discovery met up with frontman Björgvin Sigurðsson and guitarist Baldur Ragnarsson an hour or so before they were due to hit the stage to discuss, amongst other topics, this exciting new work...
METAL DISCOVERY: How’s it been so far, touring with Eluveitie and Arkona? Good touring companions?
BJÖRGVIN: Yeah, so far, so good.
(Björgvin Sigurðsson on Skálmöld's use of three guitars)
"If Iron Maiden uses three guitars then metal should be played with three guitars!"
Baldur Ragnarsson and Björgvin Sigurðsson in Sound Control, Manchester, UK, 12th November 2014
Photograph copyright © 2014 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
BALDUR: It’s been very nice; relaxed and everything’s been going according to plan.
BJÖRGVIN: They’re the nicest people.
BALDUR: Yeah, really nice and the shows are sold out night after night so that’s unbelievable. Really good gigs as well, so that helps a lot.
MD: Are you finding some Skálmöld fans are turning up to the shows just to see your band?
BJÖRGVIN: Yes, surprisingly many. We’ve even been seeing the Icelandic flag! There are always a bunch of people who turn up at each show just to see Skálmöld.
BALDUR: It’s funny, we did a similar tour last year, with Finntroll, and we’re playing some of the same places now and, apparently, it pays off to go places because we’re seeing the same people come and just enjoying the show. So this is what we love to do and we should definitely keep on doing this! [Laughs]
MD: I gather you had a couple of members from Eluveitie join you on stage in Belgium a few nights ago, so is that happening at all the gigs?
BALDUR: No, that was kind of a one-time thing.
BJÖRGVIN: Maybe at the end of the tour; the last place of the tour. Maybe… [Laughs]
MD: Was that pre-planned or spontaneous?
BJÖRGVIN: It was quite spontaneous.
BALDUR: The day before… “it would be nice if you came on stage and we’ll do this thing”… and they were up for it.
MD: How’s Jón, your drummer, doing now? Has he made it onto this tour or still recovering?
BJÖRGVIN: Yes, he’s on the tour. He had been suffering from some shoulder problems and we finished recording our new album in May - we finished the drum takes in May - and soon after that he went into surgery to recover for the tour. We had a substitute for the summer…
BALDUR: Yeah, back home in Iceland.
BJÖRGVIN: He went into surgery in good time to recover for the tour.
MD: I heard some stories where he keeps falling out of the tour bus so is he a little accident prone?
BALDUR: Yeah, he’s kind of that guy.
MD: You’ll have to keep an eye on him so he doesn’t injure himself again!
BALDUR: Yeah, we’ll try to…
BJÖRGVIN: …keep him from killing himself!
MD: The new album’s about to be released, so what’s the significance of Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter within the concept?
BJÖRGVIN: Well, this is a concept album like our previous two and this is a story of a heroine, a female hero, called Þórunn Auðna and we sort of follow her from life to death, from the north to the west, and through the seasons.
BALDUR: Yeah, so this is a story happening in Iceland, in the same world as the two earlier albums, and we follow this woman… well, to begin with, a girl that’s born in the north part of Iceland, and we follow her to the east, and then to the south, and then to the west. And, throughout her life, she has to defend Iceland from attacks from sea with the help of the wights, which are like the spirits of the land. We have an Icelandic story, a small story actually, about the wights and we mix all of this together with the seasons as well. In the beginning of the album, she is born in the north and, at the end of the album, she dies as an old woman in the west. So it’s quite a dramatic story.
MD: Were you conscious to try and match the music appropriately with what each season represents within the songs? Or was the music already written and you fit the concept within the music?
BJÖRGVIN: We sort of made some guidelines for the story. Basically, you start with a story, what the story’s gonna be about, and then we divided it into chapters, into songs, and then we write the music that fits the atmosphere. And, when the songs have been prepared, then we write the actual lyrics. Snæbjörn, our bass player, writes the lyrics.
MD: Are you planning to film any videos for any of the tracks? It’s quite a cinematic concept.
BJÖRGVIN: Yeah, we sure want to do a video but…
BALDUR: As soon as we find the dragon!
BJÖRGVIN: That one is always a question about budget. It can be expensive to make a video.
BALDUR: Yeah, if we’re gonna make a video from this album, it has to be really good. We’re not gonna do a crappy video… we have to do this properly. So we’ll have to see. Maybe, maybe not.
MD: In what ways would you say your sound has progressed between ‘Börn Loka’ and this new one?
BJÖRGVIN: This is more metal. After ‘Börn Loka’ we have done tons of shows, including a show with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, and, on this album, we just wanted to take one step back in that progress, to make it more metal.
BALDUR: Yeah, closer to the first idea we had, just to form a band and play metal. We’ve done all sorts of other things and they were all fantastic, we really enjoyed them, but now we just wanted to take a step back and…
BJÖRGVIN: No guests, just the six of us.
BALDUR: And the recording process, we changed it a little bit. Everything is a little bit more raw, I think. I’m really glad we did it.
MD: It’s got that classic metal sound to it, I think… in the production, it’s noticeable.
BALDUR: Oh yeah, yeah, absolutely.
MD: There’s a big, epic vibe to the music, but do you try to inject your music with that kind of feeling at the point of composing the music through the melodies and so forth, or is the epic mood created when the songs take shape in the studio, once all the layers are added?
BJÖRGVIN: We are all pretty big fans of epic music, in a way…
BALDUR: Yeah, we want this to be huge; we don’t want to limit this at all! [Laughs] But we’re really fortunate we have our sound engineer who has recorded all our albums; he has an unbelievable ear for our sound. So it’s very comfortable for us to come with ideas into the studio and we know he will find the right sound that suits it. And he will definitely let us know, quite harshly, if he doesn’t like it!
BALDUR: Yeah, so we have very good people in the crew to find our epic sound.
MD: It’s not so common to find three guitarists in a metal band although the biggest metal band in the world, Iron Maiden, has had for many years now, of course. Were you ever inspired by how Maiden combined three guitars within their music?
BJÖRGVIN: If Iron Maiden uses three guitars then metal should be played with three guitars!
BJÖRGVIN: It gives us…
BALDUR: …a lot of freedom.
BJÖRGVIN: More opportunities…. creative freedom.
BALDUR: Yeah, we can do double melodies and we still have one left to do rhythm. We can go all over the place and we’re never lost for strings.
BJÖRGVIN: There are, at least, fewer limitations with three guitars.
MD: Do you ever find it a burden, having to compose for three different guitars?
BJÖRGVIN: No, because, also, we like it when all three guitars come down to just play the simple rhythm.
BALDUR: It has a lot of dynamics.
BJÖRGVIN: This wall of crunching guitars at some point and then, at another point, they just open up.
BALDUR: It’s just fun and, for me, I think it would be much harder to write the material for just two guitars… especially one guitar! So we don’t have to limit ourselves.
BJÖRGVIN: It gives us more space to work with dynamics and stuff.
MD: Your band name is an ancient Icelandic word that translates as “Age of Swords”, so was it important for you to have that connection to your own cultural heritage as part of the band’s identity?
BJÖRGVIN: Yeah, and that was one of the reasons why we formed this band in the first place, was to make metal music that seeks inspiration from our heritage; you know, these sagas, the mythology… just the culture.
BALDUR: We were already, all of us, we really like these things and following them from all other parts of the world and learning things about their culture this way, and it was just kind of weird not doing that.
BJÖRGVIN: We have all these big stories and no-one was kind of… we thought we’d give them justice.