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KING OF ASGARD: Digging deeper into Viking heritage

Interview with Jonas Albrektsson of King Of Asgard by Vera in June 2021

Echelon van Viking metal Mithotyn deelde zich na de split in 1999 op in twee bands: Falconer en King Of Asgard. Deze laatste band zet de traditie met veel overtuiging verder en bracht zonet het fantastische nieuwe album ‘Svartrviðr’ uit waarmee de Zweden ons enige superlatieven deden boven halen. Natuurlijk nodigde dit uit tot een uitgebreid onderzoek en net als bij ‘::taudr:’ was bassist/vocalist Jonas Albrektsson onze eloquente gesprekspartner.

Hello Jonas! We did a long interview when ‘:taudr:’ came out, so now that the amazing new album ‘Svartrviðr’ is launched at the world, it is about time for an update of things. How are you doing? Glad with the first reactions?

Hi, and just fine thanks! As the reactions recently just started to drop of the actual full album now, the process just began. It's in its earliest stages, but as I believe and witness right now the reception and reactions seem really, really good. I somewhat expected it to or rather hoped for it, but you never know. The reviews I've seen so far have been great to the biggest extent and the words from fans and followers have been awesome really, so we're very happy and grateful to where the album reactions are leading as it's in the positive direction and it is also in a way that the listeners have taken the songs and the whole album to its full extent. The whole and total picture of what we aimed for when we wrote and arranged it. We're satisfied, and so seem the people that have experienced it thus far. We couldn't ask for more and we're glad of the positive direction it has taken, so, greatness is achieved. Also the three singles we released prior to the full release have been very, very positive in response, so it's been a smooth ride of our hard work put into this and a nice 'payment' and acknowledgement.

Well, let us pick up the thread in 2017, when ‘:taudr:’ was released. What happened next? Did you manage to do some gigs and create video clips for that previous album (EP)? (I remember you were still considering making clips or not when we talked)?

Yes. Time flies. Sure we had some plans for this and that and also as you say some video clips. Due to some personal and family related struggles much of our plans had to be pushed forward and as time went, it kind of lost its relevance and it went outdated to implement. Too bad but that was what we had to face and that had to be sacrificed. There was also really sparsely made live activity and we just did a couple of gigs I believe. It was, at the time, hard for us to schedule things as we were 'constantly' followed by tragic events which had to be of first priority and instead we slowly started the process of planning and write this album which certainly is affected by that time of being. We sometimes joke about being cursed, but I guess the struggles also make an impression and give greater depth to our creations... the good with the bad, the bad with the good.

When did you start to write new songs for ‘Svartrviðr’ and what can you tell about this writing process? Did the fact that the two new members are familiar with the band’s way of working now ended up in more involvement or not?

I guess we're more or less always in writing process in one way or another, collecting the pieces and consider them back and forth. We have a lot of material in store all the time and the process is continuous. As I said, it more or less started after the release of 'taudr' with putting things together and thinking of what direction to take this monster, as it in a way took a new turn for us with 'taudr', more precisely a darker and more epic expression which felt natural to follow. The writing process basically has been the same throughout our existence though it has been more steadfast the latter years. The basics start with me and Karl putting the 'ground' and foundation for the songs. We then bring it to the rehearsal with all members re-arranging and try things back and forth. A process we rarely stop until we're close to recording. We want to feel that everything has reached its full potential and the right 'gut'-feeling and that we can stand fully behind it before we bring it further to the studio, so, it's a long process for a song to end in its final stage. There’s definitely more band involvement these days, at least when thinking of the arrangements and the song structures. We all come up with ideas, they are tried out and the sense of a band achievement is much more present these days and I believe it shows and can be heard in our compositions. We are way more confident in our present ways of working as well as it is a pleasure to implement and undergo. To sum it up, it's easier and the result is more satisfactory.

Why the title ‘Svartrviðr’ and what does it mean for you? Which thoughts and images does it invoke for you?

We came up with this title early in the process and thus it's been a driving force in many ways and it has meant a lot to envision the album and where it should bring us. The title, as we translate and depict it, means black forest or rather black woodland - the black vastness and the expanses in between. The actual title represents the album as a whole in many ways as some or many of the lyrics and its content reflect upon our surroundings and the myths, the heritage it blesses us with and thus the journey it took us on while we created it as well as what to experience when listening and experience it. I believe more or less all the songs have something that has references to what we came to call svartrviðr. Still not being referred to as a concept album, but rather an album with conceptual similarities. A praise and homage to the soil we walk and to our ancestral paths. For example, both 'svartrviðr' and 'kvikr' as well as 'ammobiærg' are very local stories and well representing the albums overall concept. The title has left a very big mark on the whole of the album, musically, lyrically and visually. Thus the title had a great meaning and it pictured much of what is presented upon 'svartrviðr'. At least I can see it clearly.

The lyrics are always inspired by mythology and runes, but there are few things that struck me this time: it seems that the titles are in old Icelandic and in the lyrics it is a mix of English and mystical old Norse. Is that correct and can you tell a bit more about this approach?

Yes the titles this time are quite similar and created like a red thread throughout to get the feeling of entirety. The actual idea with this started to grow in me at an early stage when we started to put the album together and its bits and pieces. As I felt ':taudr:' was a very appealing title to me, taken from a close by rune stone, I started to research upon the possibility to continue that path along with the lyrics and titles for 'svartrviðr'. I really liked that idea and wanted it, if possible, in that same tradition. On 'svartrviðr' mainly all the words are picked from actual existing rune stones here in Sweden and the words are meant, and do depict the lyric and its content. The lyrics though are for the very most part written in English except for some spoken, or such, parts in some of the songs. When we set the album title, which, in exception, is a play of words done by us, the rest followed in a similar tradition of existing old words and I took some help from my older brother whom is much more familiar in these fields and very good at languages in general. It felt like a very natural move to continue and go with these titles as I now, in retrospect, feel it fit the whole album concept just perfect and kind of set a specific pattern to its entirety. The titles build a kind of whole, and a greater depth to what we've created and again a red thread throughout it. One of the spoken parts is for example just an old Swedish text of a story told in dialectal or vernacular move to 'depict' our most local region here where we live and from which is Östergötland. So it differs, they are not only of Norse tradition.

The album is so addictive that I played it twice in a row to dive into more details. The songs brim with different moods and sounds and yet it is a fluent and rather catchy whole album. Do you agree with my impression that King Of Asgard is grim and harsh to a certain degree, but on the other side there is beauty and fetching melodies?

I guess that's pretty much spot on to how we ourselves describe our music to others, as well as this very album. We try to create specific feelings and senses when we build our compositions, often being in a grim and harsh manner mixed with the epic side to the more majestic moments. This is being topped with layers of different melodies for the different moods, be it of tragic ones or a more traditional approach. We're also walking the fields of traditional and folkish tunes to create our heritage in musical manners. We build our songs on different moods as said, but also with the thought of remembrance and powerful choruses, be it catchy or not, but it should at least be something that people will remember. In a way 'svartrviðr' is a musical journey which we first discovered in the studio I believe but when thinking of it, it really is. Starting harsh and grim, on and off and slowly approaching the more epic and downsized songs at the end of the album. I definitely think the album, just as you did, should be approached as a whole from its start to its finish just to get that actual impression. It takes some turns for sure as there are many impressions to grasp along the way and the moods twist and turn just as you say.

I suppose that recording the album wasn’t easy this time, due to pandemic restrictions. What is the story about the recording process in this case? Also few words about your adventures and experiences with producer Devo would be ace!

Actually, strange as it seems, easy was just what it was. We grasped the opportunity and went all in. When the pandemic first started we were close to finished with the material for the album, so we hooked Magnus 'Devo' Andersson up to see if there was studio time in Endarker Studio available during late spring/summer 2020. As he was positive and glad we called, we immediately started to rehearse and fix the final touches for our own pleasure and personal perfection. In Sweden at that time things worked very much as during normal circumstances and not much of pandemic restrictions. There were, or always was, just regulations and personal restrictions under sole responsibility. Thus we could rehearse if everyone, of course, was healthy and the same goes for the studio sessions. We were allowed to enter the studio and welcome as long as we were healthy and so forth obviously and we took great care to not risk anything or spoil the sessions and the progression of the album. Some stuff was recorded at home and some of the sessions, or many were made only with one participant and Devo at the studio, to avoid trouble in such case. So, we were allowed to meet and work all of us but worked, if possible, alone as well. Devo also did a lot of work alone in the studio with for example sound tests, mixing-proposals and such things which we then had time to study before we entered the next time. One of the more prominent things, being the drum sound, which he came up with at first by himself and presented to us. Basically I believe the pandemic only had benefit on the work and recording of 'svartrviðr'. We had more time off our regular daytime jobs. There were more focus and opportunities on how and when we did our sessions in the studio and much thanks to Devo for being flexible and as keen as us to get the best result possible under such circumstances. Devo is a huge part of what this album came to be and set many traces in the production that's for sure and we're more than thankful for his efforts. We know each other quite well by now and work real well together and he sort of knows what we're looking for and brings it to the table. Our fifth and invisible ghost member he is (chuckles). It's always a pleasure to record in Endarker and it is relaxed and a certainty of a powerful outcome.

Some of the songs are relished with mighty spoken parts. Can you tell a bit more about this choice for narrative segments and how they add something to the particular songs?

I guess you mainly think of the one in 'frôðr' which is the most prominent I believe. It's from Hávamál of the Poetic Edda and the stanzas are connected to the self sacrifice of Odin, which also and obviously is the main theme of the song and lyric. The actual speech and voice belongs to the same man as on the ':taudr:' album which was quite similar and his name is Eldar 'Vikingskog'. Anyway, we use these parts as a bridge or pause in the songs. It's quite hard to explain, but they're meant to capture a feeling or underline the content of the lyric and/or musical mood. One could say it's a tool or instrument we use to emphasize a feeling we want to create or present. That's also the case with the before mentioned 'speech' in 'svartrviðr' which is in native and dialectal approach. It's a way of seasoning the moments to the maximum to grasp the totality, to again underline and -as you put it- relish and heighten the songs.

A practical question: who played piano on this record? It is not mentioned on the info sheet…

Uhh, what a bummer. We seem to have missed that out and have not even thought about it, but it's in the 'family' anyhow. The piano part in 'kvikr' is written by Karl and we arranged the part together. It's performed by Karl at his old piano standing at his house, so it's in tradition and true to its original sound. Haha, that was an interesting note, guess we have to be more focused but still, it's our effort all the way, written and performed.

I have the feeling that there are less clean vocal parts than on ‘:taudr:’, but they are more striking. The choirs are really ace by the way. Any words about the vocal approach this time?

Yes that's probably right and the way it turned out. We only use clean vocals where we feel it fits and not just to fill voids. One could of course put much more to it but we feel it's just a small part of our approach and thus it doesn't get much more attention than this. When choirs for example arrive they should be noticed and powerful, have a part in the context and a purpose on the feeling or just to underline a lyrical part or musical sense. It basically just didn't fit with more than this, at least this time around. I think we even skipped one or two, just because we didn't feel it filled any purpose. It should be as said, striking and grandiose and not an overkill and a waste of its potential. Also we tried out a new field with the song 'svartrviðr' by using close to all out clean vocals throughout the entire song. I guess it came out interesting with its fate-saturated and monotonous way of expression.

Fortunately this time you have already three video clips. Let us start with some info about your buddy who created those visual highlights: Jimmy Johansson. Who is he, how did you meet him, what about the cooperation and so on?

Yes we put a lot of effort into visuals this time around, basically due to the fact that we wanted to present our material to its full extent and with live activity being out of question by now, we thought this could be a interesting substitute. Jimmy Johansson (Super Lino Puro) is a great guy in all means and a really creative and positive co-worker, never giving in for strange ideas and he works very professional and focused. I got in contact with him just right before we needed the first lyric video. We had another guy to help us out, but all of a sudden that was not an option any longer. I immediately started to look for a new potential video maker and like a gift an old band mate and friend, Henke Forss of Dawn, put me and Jimmy in contact and it was love at first encounter so to say. Actually we didn't meet in person up until the last video, so it's been lots of writing to get things the splendid way it is. He is not very familiar with our genre, more into grind, punk etc, but surely grasped what we were looking for and did a hell of a good work. I'm eternally grateful we ended up with him. It was such a smooth way of working and he really understood my instructions all the way as well as put his own ideas into the productions. So I guess it's a friend for life I stumbled upon and a skilled one as well!! Another invisible member of King of Asgard (laughs). They are many by now.

Let us go deeper into the songs of those clips: First of all: ‘Kvikr’ seems to be an old Norse term and can you tell about that rune stone close to the place where you live?

Yes, first of all, kvikr, is an old Norse term or rather word out of the old Nordic language. It's to be found on a Swedish rune stone and I found it in a Swedish runic word register or index which got used with most titles. It is a list of words that appear from Swedish Viking-era runic scripts and inscriptions. 'kvikr' is connected to the English word 'quick' and also means 'alive' or 'lively'. The latter is how we prefer to interpret it and fits to go with the lyrical content. The living. We are only scratching the surface of all myths and interpretations that appear in the runic inscriptions of the stone 'Rök'. As you say we are actually living not far from the site of this, one of the world’s most famous runic monuments and longest runic inscriptions. The Rök runestone is completely covered in long and enigmatic texts. The meaning of these inscriptions remains heavily debated and the general consensus about their interpretation keeps changing and has been done so many times throughout the ages. Every time that we pass its glorious grounds where the stone still guards its secrets in fertile soil. It stabs the earth and reaches up to the skies, still standing proud and in many ways living/kvikr. This time around we're facing the destined fate, the downfall and its glorious presence (in actual remains). To go deeper into the actual telling of the runestone might go too far and it could easily be looked up in person and choose the grade of digging. But, I surely recommend doing so.

‘Frôðr’ appears to be an old Icelandic word? Can you tell the story about the link with sacrificial rituals and with Odinn? (great ferocious screams in this song!)

Sure, I believe it's an Icelandic word, yes, as well as an old word out of the more combined Nordic language which was more or less the same or at least very similar and alike in all the Nordic countries at the time. Also this can be traced to rune stones here in Sweden, as some of the other titles as mentioned. Anyway, the Swedish word 'vis' is what is closest traced to frôðr which translates to 'wise/wisdom' in English. This being to underline the lyrical content of growing wisdom, which is a part of what Odinn sought in his self-sacrificing rite. 'frôðr' is the telling, briefly, of this event from Hávamál and to that our sonic vision of a sacrificial ritual. ‘Frôðr' is a glimpse of an ecstatic trance through the one-eyed point of view. It is all about the myth of the threefold death and the self-sacrifice of Odinn through which he finds the meaning of the runes while hanging from the world-tree, pierced by his own spear. It is a symbolic suicide to gain knowledge and unlock secrets and again, gain wisdom - thus the word 'frôðr' felt perfect and the actual vocals represent the events and are arranged to strengthen that feeling, both with the ferocious as well as the many monotonous chants and not least the speech performed by Eldar.

The video for ‘Ammobiærg’ is more a performance video. What does the title mean and can you tell a bit more about this song (also musically) A highlight!

The first actual thought and plan for this video was more like a visual containing mainly the mountain, woods, it's surroundings and the mythical creature roaming it. 'Ammobiærg' or Omberg as it is spelled and pronounced these days in Sweden, is one of the more rare words or rather names, used as a title on the title. It is the name of a mythical mountain (aren't they all?) close to where we live and occasionally roam every now and then to fill our inner with inspiration. The actual word or way of spelling is really strange I believe and it's taken from a local narrative that I found in some script. It could well be more or less linked to being written as in spoken dialect a long time ago. Anyway the song reflects upon the mythical mountain Omberg and its protector, Queen Omma or 'Ama' as she is to be found in Old Norse. This pagan goddess is still (it is said) lingering in the plains, the heights, and the waters beside, being the lake Vättern. In the legends she's surrounding that fog-clad mountain since ancient times. Although centuries have passed, she, and the myth covering both her and the mountain, continues to wield spiritual influence upon all people that reside on her abode and its, and our, surroundings. I believe it's one of the more powerful songs on the album which has been around for a long time in the writing process and being one of the last to be finished, just to get that right feeling and essence present. A harsh approach, blended with heaviness and a folkish touch. We wanted it to serve the mythical and doom-laden senses that it represents and its grandness and power. Thus it was also important for us to capture this musical endeavours in the visual video which came to be more of a performance one later on. This performance idea was mainly Jimmy's (Johansson) and we agreed on his vision and are very happy we gave him that opportunity as it really gave the song a greater depth and significance. He really set the mood in it and it serves the song in all its utmost barren glory.

The artwork is done by a familiar artist Mattias Frisk again. Can you tell a bit more about its symbolism?

Yup, we've again been working with Mattias Frisk as we've done since the second album and it's been a smooth ride as he's open and creative upon our ideas and turns our visual approach into reality. And he is also responsible for the realization of the lay-out and other visuals and so forth. The artwork and its symbolism this time is both conceptually and visually connected to the cover of King of Asgard's previous album, ':taudr:'. The actual art holds many clues that refer to the lyrics in general and especially to the title track 'svartrviðr'. When we started to work on the ideas for 'Svartrviðr' I had basically already the concept and structure finished with these spitting clouds, fire and rain over a gnarly forest and some other features (that later got erased) which got transformed into the rooted hands. The idea Mattias had to include the 'hand-tree' somewhat came to illustrate or being understood as it's growing out of the dead soil. The past is always crawling and makes it's way no matter what and the past is always present whether you like it or not, hostile or benevolent but still returning in the circle of life or the circle of death. It works both ways and represents our sound in vision about the orbit of life and death. To sum this up, Mattias and I, or the band, work very well and close together and I'm always putting my hands on everything, good or bad, but the result is as always wonderful. The art he made, the ideas he actualized on the physical formats, are astonishing. We're a unit by now and the art represents King of Asgard, both musically as well as giving our visual approach a greater depth and we're keen and picky of how we display this band and everything connected to it.

To occlude a tricky question these times: I know that you have never been a busy touring band, but would you like to promote this album with some gigs if the world is open again? Are there plans in that direction?

Yes absolutely, we'd like to hit the stage for sure, but at this writing moment I have to say I only see dark clouds unfortunately. Everything from last year moved to this year and this to the next and to get a spot there could be tricky. We just the other day got informed that the Månegarm Open Air was postponed - which of course sucks - but we look forward to next year. So, the one who liveth will see but surely we'll keep our eyes and ears open to get a spot somewhere, sometime. We didn't count on this covid-19-thing being so lengthy but I guess no one did. Nevertheless, we did some extra videos to promote the release as we felt it just went on and I'm glad we at least had/have that to present to our fans and long time followers. But again, we hope to get up on stage sooner or later.

If there is something you’d like to add, please feel free to do it here…

Well, I believe we got much covered throughout this one so I'll just take the opportunity to thank you for the great support! Be sure to check out and pick up the physical album. I urge a manic watching of our three flickers, again and again to support the Super Lino Puro-master; Jimmy Johansson. Stay safe!

Chaos gnaws on Odens gallows . . .

Geplaatst door Vera op donderdag 17 juni 2021 - 10:36:49
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