Being around for almost thirty years, with all the left turns taken and all the changes and metamorphosis the band went through, the career of Helheim feels much more like a pilgrimage than a regular journey. When you look back at that fairly long pilgrimage, was going through everything you went through more empowering or exhausting?
V’gandr: I don’t think we’ve ever felt exhausted, but rather confused. I’m especially referring to the end of the nineties to the mid of two thousands. There are some albums that aren’t that good. But in the end, it’s all about never backing out from what we feel is important for us as a band. We’ve always been a band that wants to stretch ourselves in either way.
What are some of those Helheim records that you dislike, that didn’t age particularly well in your opinion? Many people feel that The Journeys And Experiences Of Death, often regarded as your excursion into death metal, is that one album in the Helheim canon that seems as if doesn’t belong in it. How do you feel about that album today?
V’gandr: I think that Blod Og Ild is our weakest album. I know a lot of people regard this as a good one, but I think the sound on the album is very powerless. We also integrated instrumentations that didn’t really fit Helheim. Concerning The Journeys And Experiences Of Death, I see it as an album with many highlights. Yes, there are definitely some death metal inspired parts, but I don’t feel that these override the overall impression of the album. I still have a problem with the production though. It’s the first professional recording from Bjørnar Erevik Nilsen at Conclave Media, and you can hear that. Regardless of this, we believed in him, and I’m glad we did. Furthermore, the album is the first transition into something new and epic that has followed us ever since, of which the songs Oaken Dragons, The Thrall And The Master, and 13 To The Perished are the best examples. I still enjoy the album from time to time, though it’s been a while now. It’s definitely a worthy album in our catalogue, and it represents the unexpected that is one of Helheim’s lifelines.
Helheim is often praised as one of the most dependable and reliable bands around. Is that reputation something that you are fond of, especially in this day and age where everything feels temporary and everyone is going through life by taking the path of least resistance? Do you take pride in the fact that everything the band gained was earned the hard way?
V’gandr: Those are very kind words that really resonate well with what we feel ourselves. Helheim has never been, nor will ever be, about the latest trends or whatever. I would state that we’re timeless. It might sound a bit over the top, but yet it feels true. Nothing has ever been easy for Helheim, we’ve always walked our own path.
Almost thirty years into your career, with eleven full-lengths, a couple of splits, EPs, and demos behind you, what keeps Helheim moving forward these days? Getting older as people, with everything that life throws at us as years go by, is it getting harder to find motivation and enthusiasm to keep going?
V’gandr: Helheim is a band of brothers that stretches beyond the common bonds of music. I think the inspiration to continue working as a band lies within the realization that, as we grow as friends, we also grow as musicians. We share a lot of the same ideas when it comes to our daily lives and world views, and this again can be transferred into our musical endeavours. It’s hard to picture a life without Helheim, as it’s been a part of us for 30 years. That’s more than three quarters of our lives.
Now that our lives, world, history, and time seem to be spinning out of control, constantly speeding up and unfolding faster than ever before, how important is to have a band like Helheim around, that tells the tale of the times long gone, that were arguably more simple, but also more virtuous and honourable?
V’gandr: It’s not important for me at all to have Helheim reflecting the changes in the world. It’s important to have Helheim just for the basic fact that it’s a huge part of our lives. Helheim is not the antidote to the modern world. Helheim is not a vehicle to return to old. Helheim is a part of what is around us just now. The criticism towards the world was just as relevant then as it is now. The one thing that does change though is our age, and with that comes wisdom. I don’t view the world the way I viewed it 30 years ago. It would be sad in many ways if that was the case. Then I would be just as meaningless as a person as millions of people around us prove to be every day. To change is to grow. It’s not to submit to domination. Then we can discuss what these changes are. Well, that’s for another time.
What the word WoduridaR means, who is the warrior on the front cover of the album, and what is the correlation between the album title and the album cover?
V’gandr: It’s the ecstatic warrior. The one who rides in ecstasy, and one of Odin’s many names in association with his endeavours. It can also be translated as the wild rider. Then I guess the album cover reveals its meaning.
Ni S Soli Sot feels like one of the most effortlessly catchiest songs on the record. Did you write it easily or did it take some time to put it together?
V’gandr: The track you mention was solely created by H’grimnir, so to take his words into my mouth would be disrespectful. Though, I can point out from my point of view that it took some time before it grew on me, personally. But now, it’s maybe my favourite one. You know, that’s how it is with a lot of the tracks on the album. I really enjoy them all, but what I consider my favourite changes as regularly as I change underwear. I do think that this is of a positive character though. This means that we don’t have any weak songs on the album, or at least that’s how I see it.
Making videos is something that Helheim obviously don’t shy away from, with at least one made for each of your last few albums. Why are you persistent in making them and do you feel that the music actually needs them, considering that they almost always feature only the band members in one form or another, without any actual narrative?
V’gandr: No, of course they’re not highly needed. But is Helheim needed as a band as well? I mean, we do what we feel like, and we’ve always wanted to create a video that would really capture the visual aspect of Helheim. Something that truly paints the perfect picture of how we want the world to see us. When we started working with Costin Chioreanu things really fell into place. The way he created Rignir is the perfect example of how we want to be portrayed. So, to work with him for the WoduridaR and the Forrang For Fiende videos was natural. The first not having the band in it at all. It’s 100% Costin interpreting the lyrics perfectly with his lively painting style.
Obviously, the elephant in the room, when it comes to WoduridaR, is the cover of the ’90s pop anthem Hazard by Richard Marx, that closes the album. Interestingly enough, you didn’t bother labelling it as a bonus track.
V’gandr: It’s a bonus track. We found it unnecessary to state so. It’s not a part of the CD version, it can only be found digitally and on the LP version. It’s of course a song that sticks out sonically, but we still wanted to do it. If people like it, fine. If they don’t, they can just skip it.
Speaking of the covers, your rendition of Taake’s Orkan that was featured on the split that came out last year is much simplified version of the original, yet precisely more powerful because of it. Could you say something about the thought process that led to giving that particular song that particular treatment?
V’gandr: Hmm, what can I say? As we were asked to do this split with Taake we basically just wanted to do a cover song. We felt that Orkan would be a track that would fit the format we wanted to present. We’re all fans of 16 Horsepower and Wovenhand, so we wanted to do something in that vein. We did Hazard with the same intentions.
Whenever you’re not in the proper, straightforward black metal mode, when you hit the brakes and get a bit slower and mellower, your music immediately becomes increasingly evocative and melancholic. What does that say about you as people, is your music a reflection of emotions you predominantly dwell in?
V’gandr: There’s a quite profound connection between the music and emotions when it comes to Helheim, that has always been there. That said, sometimes it’s hard to grasp the melancholy in the harshness of the tempo, tremolo picking, and the fuzz guitars, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. In many ways I think that H’grimnir and myself are much the same music writers as we were on Jormundgand. I know that this sounds quite radical to say, but when you break down the melodies and the chord lines, there are a lot of similarities. So, in one way or another, we’re neatly and forever tied to the black metal way of creating music. We just expand and expand, and keep on stretching the envelope. To return to the fundamental point of your question though, no, we’re not sad motherfuckers in our everyday life.
The career of Helheim feels almost like a lifetime. There was adolescence with Jormundgand and Av Norrøn Ætt, then the adulthood and youth that lasted from Blod Og Ild to Kaoskult, with Åsgards Fall EP slowly indicating the old age is nigh. That said, one could argue that the last four albums feature the most mature and wise music the band has ever written. Would you subscribe to that notion and would say that this is a fair assessment of your career?
V’gandr: I think your assessment is spot on, and I couldn’t say it any better myself. Actually, it’s how I will assess our career from now on when talking about it to the media.
What was the lowest point in the band’s career and when were you the happiest?
V’gandr: As I said, I think the beginning of the new millennium was the hardest period for the band. Somehow, we felt a bit lost and confused, which the music might express. There was no bad blood between the original trio towards, back then, the two additional musicians. It felt right back then as we wanted a bigger sound, but I must admit that it didn’t fully meet its potential. This is not to put the blame on the two guys, as all of us were walking down a narrow and headless path. When they exited the band and Noralf was recruited, it all fell into place. Noralf’s influence on Helheim should never go unspoken. We owe him more than people might think or know. He solely made it possible for Helheim to take the necessary steps to where we are today. So, the best time in our career must be from when he became a part of the band to where we are now.
We have already mentioned friendship earlier, and Helheim surely wouldn’t last this long if there wasn’t something bigger and more meaningful than the music itself to make H’grimnir, Hrymr, and yourself stay together all these years. That said, how difficult it was to maintain that complicated, all-consuming relationship, without letting it slip into intolerance, miscommunication, and exhaustion with one another?
V’gandr: Believe me, we had our fights, but we always knew that they were futile compared to the grander idea that is Helheim. This is a past chapter though, and now we are at a place where we understand each other very well. I don’t know how and why, but we just get along perfectly these days. We know our roles in the band, and what is required from each and every one of us. I get this question quite often, and I always think that we’re not anything special when it comes to this matter. I mean, just look at countless other bands, be it metal or not, that have the same steady line-up. Yes, 30 years is a long time, and I hope we’ll stay together for at least 20 more, before we’re sick from old age, detected dementia, or just simply dead.
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