Today, I’d like to share with you a new installment in SBM’s interview section with a gentleman whose’s work has had a tremendous impact on my love for music over the years. Heljarmadr of Swedish 5-piece band Grá (also known for being the vocalist of Dark Funeral) has been kind enough to let me steal some of his time, answering my questions. Although, my budget gives me so much freedom to go no further than interviewing by email, I managed to get at least one step closer to the essence of his band. Without further due, here it is:
First of all, I’d like to congratulate you on your new release “Väsen”! I’ve come to a wide range of albums over the years and few did make me feel so ecstatic like your latest. Every asset of it is approached by tremendous passion and I could instantly relate to it from the very beginning of the track list. What’s the actual “essence” that inspires each of the songs?
Thank you very much! We are extremely pleased with the end result ourselves. I’d say that each song on the album carries its own essence. What ties them together are us performing them and recording them in the same session. Instead of finding a pattern or theme for the album we gathered the best of our abilities and wrote the best possible songs that we could do, without any compromises or barriers.
Upon my first play-through, I immediately thought to myself that it must have been a profound experience while composing this record. It has a deepness that goes further beyond perception, in a sense. Moreover, it projects a great symbiosis between you all, and I wonder what was it like throughout the stages of production?
I started composing straight after we had finished “Ending”. Looking at what was left over from the “Ending” demos, parts that didn’t fit or made sense for that album. Then I just started writing new material over time and gathered them together. I usually bounce ideas with Dimman and we put them together into songs.
When all the demos felt ready for recording we brought the other guys in and they got to have their say and ideas incorporated in the songs.
Last summer we recorded the drums and upon listening to what we got we felt that it wasn’t right. We decided to record the drums from scratch again. And when we did that I had some time over in the studio while waiting for Dimman to arrive so I spontaneously wrote what became “The Devil’s Tribe” and “Gjallarhorn”. That led to us pushing out two other songs from the album in favour of these two which we felt was a MUST to include. Instead of making the album too long we decided to save those two for later. We have actually done that before. The song “Ruins” on the “Ending” was originally meant to be on the debut album but it just wasn’t “finished”, it didn’t feel right for the debut so we saved it.
Anyhow, after the drums were recorded (again) we went for guitars and bass. Then I recorded the vocals and made all the keyboard and atmospheric instruments in the studio while slowly approaching the final mix. The up-side of recording like we do is that things are allowed to take their time. We don’t have a deadline and I invest the time in my own studio, so I’m not depending on anyone else. When the album is done, it’s done. I can work on a single guitar or vocal line for as long as I feel necessary.
I can see that the motivation not only behind your latest opus but Grá’s overall legacy, is driven by the original conception of what black metal stands for. How do you manage to keep balance between paying tribute to the golden dawn of this genre while still maintain the desire of exploring uncommon grounds?
There’s a simple answer to that, in the golden dawn it was all about exploration, not to be clones of other bands. We are paying tribute by pushing boundaries and being our own masters. Making the best possible music, not making the best possible imitation.
One particular statement caught my eye while browsing “Väsen” on Bandcamp, which is as follows:
Grá returns with an album more varied than ever and with the will to explore outside the borders of the narrow-minded so called black metal scene where most seem to have forgotten to include the part that makes it BLACK.
In your point of view, what’s that ingredient that makes it black?
Well, I see two sides of that topic. The first one lies in my answer to the previous question. Being your own master and leading the way instead of doing reinactment. The other thing that I miss is actually EVIL in music and lyrics. Black metal is the Devil’s music. When you walk away from the Devil you are just another “extreme metal” band. There’s no blackness in it.
Narrow-mindedness and stagnancy are no strangers in this genre and I am very curious of how you guys perceive the current state of the black metal scene?
For me it feels like the big old bands are still the ones pushing the limits both music and lyric-wise but of course there’s not much of a shock value left in black and death metal as we all know. I don’t really keep up with all the new bands but I see a pattern and that’s the use of Lord of the Rings black robes on stage (which just doesn’t fit well with putting an electric guitar in there) or covering the faces with black leggings.
Any particular issues that you would have eradicated or at least changed in a more appropriate direction if you had that ultimate power, in the vein of the previous question?
Since the boom of the internet there’s been an explosion of number of bands and it seems like labels release just about anything these days. Poor quality recordings that should have stayed as demos or pre-production works are released as albums and take up space from albums that are well thought through and properly recorded. It feels like everybody must be in a band, regardless of talent or commitment. If people would spend some more time on crafting the music rather than just throwing their crap out just to be able to say they’re in a band, the scene would be way more serious and dedicated. Albums would be worth more and sound better in general. Also, many albums would be GREAT EPs or promos if they would just choose the best 4 songs and cut the crap. But the market is for albums these days and shorter releases aren’t even reviewed anymore.
Speaking of “Väsen”, I find the artwork extremely engaging and well designed. Could you break it down to bits and share their meaning and how they all together relate to the music?
I know Axel Torvenius a bit from before and I like his work. He’s not known in the black metal scene and I knew he would be just the right man for the job. We set up a meeting and I gave him the demos we had for the album and we talked a bit about the concept we wanted for the cover and how it reflects with the album title. You can not kill the Devil with bullets, the darkness or essence will just continue marching on. Then he made some sketches and I felt so good, knowing that we were on the right path with the cover. It was a perfect match!
Allow me to step back from the black metal field. Apart from pouring your souls into music, are there any other outlets that you make use of, speaking of creative expression?
Not really. I do a lot AROUND my music like producing, mixing, mastering, layout and such. I also write some poetry now and then. The other guys are also mainly into music in one way or another.
Generally, all surroundings can be a potential source of inspiration but if you are to name a few, what ignites the artistic spark in each of you?
I can only speak for myself and I’d say everything and nothing. It can be listening to great music, looking at art, just taking a subway ride with all the disgusting humans around or a quiet night walk in the forest.
I assume you might agree that everybody has a purpose in his lifetime and it is a matter of putting the hours to discover it and then unleash it upon the world. Have you found yours and if so, what’s your end goal essentially?
Well, honestly I find most humans quite pointless haha. I’m quite content with what I do with my existence here. I have my own bubble that I live in and I have the possibility to do what I enjoy the most, which is obviously music and whatever comes with that.
Reflecting from high above on the way things turned out to be in your present, do you recall any particular moments when you’ve felt that you steered away from what you’ve always strove to be?
Haven’t we all? I guess everything you do and experience leads you towards who you are and become. There is no point in wasting time on regrets, rather learn and move on.
After all, happiness and well-being with their variables and sheer subjectivity, are still the means of realizing fulfillment, aren’t they? On an imaginary scale, where do you place yourself, speaking of what you are today?
Like I said, I feel quite content with who I have become and I focus more on what I do rather than what I am. Always pushing forward instead of licking old wounds.
Let’s get back to Grá, which is what we gathered for in the first place. If there is one thing that people should have in mind about your work, what should that be?
From the top of my head I can just come up with the fact that we have poured our hearts and souls into everything we have done, nothing is left half way. If our visions match your visions then feel free to join us for the ride.
Last but not the least, have you planned any touring?
There will be touring. We start with Eradication Festival in Wales next week, then we have a gig in Gothenburg 1st of June. After that, it’s pretty open. I’ve been directing my attention towards finishing the album first and foremost and will start looking into the possibilities for touring soon.
Thank you for the time you took from your busy schedule to share your story!
Thanks for the support and an interesting interview.
Support Grá by collecting a copy of their latest album “Väsen” via the Bandcamp player below. Also, be sure to give them a follow on Facebook.