Written for NOISE CANNON.
Note: Kontrust get a mention here. An interview with them is coming soon.
Skálmöld are an Icelandic six-piece metal band, often labeled ‘Viking metal’. Considering all of the tales of ancient Iceland that their native Icelandic lyrics depict, against the war cry of epic-scaled sounds of orchestras, choirs, and of course their own furious guitar work, it’s easy to notice just why they are given such a title. We spoke to lead vocalist and guitarist Björgvin Sigurðsson as Skálmöld toured Europe.
Your latest album Með vættum is very conceptual, with tracks named after the four seasons. Why is this?
This is our third album and the previous two were also concept albums. We feel somehow better telling people stories – telling big stories for that matter. Snæbjörn (Ragnarsson, bassist) came up with this concept, and we thought it was pretty cool. There’s no one personal reason for us writing concept albums, somehow it just feels better. Our lyrics are very much inspired by the Old Iceland stories, by our heritage, by the myths, by the sagas and stuff.
I don’t think we have anything like that in UK music. It makes us sound really boring.
(laughs) All of those influences thrive on telling stories so maybe it comes naturally to us here.
Considering the importance of the stories, do you take issue to changing the track order when performing live?
At first we did think it would be a bit strange for us. For the first few gigs we always made sure to play the songs in the right order. But, you know, with experience we have combined these two aspects. There’s the album and then the live versions. Today, it doesn’t seem so strange.
Last year, you teamed up with the huge Iceland Symphony Orchestra for some big shows. How did this happen?
Basically the Iceland Symphony Orchestra gave us the call, and asked us if we were up for doing this project, and of course we said yes. The Iceland Symphony Orchestra do this every two or three years – they play shows with Icelandic pop or rock bands, and this was the first time that they had tried it with a metal band. We were really honored that they chose us when they were selecting their next project. It’s funny, when we were writing the first two albums it was sort of a joke between us all that this epic part would sound really good with a massive symphony orchestra. So it was really nice when they gave us the call, and we just had to take the opportunity.
When you’re writing and recording, are you ever worried about how you are going to perform your massive-sounding new songs live?
Not really. We just basically write the music without ever dealing with this live, until it comes to playing it live. Though with all three albums there has been this dilemma. We’ll finish the album, and show up to the first live rehearsal and think… ‘Oh fuck. How are we going to do this live?‘ Then we just rehearse until we can do it. But we never think about it when we are writing. We try to focus on writing the best music and best albums we can. The live stuff we consider when it’s finished.
Your current tour has just passed through the UK. How well did we serve you?
The UK shows were really good. Last year we did a tour with Finntroll and Tyr, playing six shows around the UK and Ireland. We really enjoyed that, and we really felt a difference this time when we came back a year later. We played some of the same venues and same towns. Somehow, Iceland and the UK are much alike. We felt really comfortable staying and playing in the UK. Hopefully, we will come back as soon as possible.
I found a video of Skálmöld at the Reykjavik City Theatre, and was quite surprised to find you on stage with suited up clowns with swords. If only for my own sanity, what on earth was going on?
(This is the video in question)
(laughs) The Reykjavik City Theatre approached us with the idea of somehow combining the music and theatre, and they wanted to set up a concert where we would play our first album Baldur in its entirety, with actors who would tell and translate the story. To make it even more unusual, the idea came up that we use clowns to interpret the story. It was strange in a way combining these two very unrelated forms – clowns and metal music, but it worked. It was really fun taking part in this project.
It was announced earlier this week that you had just been nominated for nine Iceland Music Awards. Congratulations. In the UK, metal music wouldn’t be touched with a long stick, let alone be awarded at its biggest ceremonies. Why do you think that Iceland is so much more accepting of metal?
I don’t really know. For the last five or six years the Icelandic metal scene has been growing really, really fast. It somehow has got the attention of the media back home. I don’t know the reason for it. We have bands like Skálmöld who are quite popular back in Iceland. And then we also have bands like Solstafir who have been growing extremely fast around Europe. It’s just a great time to be a metalhead in Iceland.
I promised the editors to stop asking this, but metallers always give the best answers to this question: If your music were a food, what would it taste like?
(laughs) Wow, I don’t know. Probably rotten shark, as we’re from Iceland.
I spoke to Kontrust, also on Napalm Records, just yesterday, and they said ‘rotten pizza’. I see a pattern emerging. Thank you very much for your time.
And thank you. Hope to see you in the UK soon.