Helrunar - A catch up interview
Just with the first snow falling in southern Finland, the new and third issue of the Swiss-Finnish-Estonian oldschool print zine Offense Zine, for which I am a contributor as well, is out. What does that have to do with Helrunar, the German pagan black metal band, you ask? Well, over six years ago when we were working on the first issue of Offense Zine, I conducted my first ever band interview. Helrunar vocalist Marcel aka Skald Draugir graciously took the time to sit down with a very nervous and by then slightly tipsy me one warm spring evening at Metalfest at Z7 in Pratteln, Switzerland, where the band played. (You can read the result of that interview in Offense Zine Issue No. 1 online on Issuu starting on page 30. Offense Zine Issue No. 2 is also available to read on Issuu.) While working on the latest issue of the zine, I thought why not catch up with Marcel after all these years to see where this musical life journey has taken him.
A brief interval before the interview for those not familiar with Offense Zine:
Offense Zine, a cooperation project between Estonia, Finland and Switzerland, will bring its readers mostly old and forgotten interviews with famous and not-so-famous black/death metal bands. However, the zine is not only walking on old paths, but tends to step aside from time to time, bringing its readers also thoughts from newer bands.
Offense zine No. 3 Autumn/Winter 2017
Al-Namrood (KSA), Cauchemar (CAN), Darkness (GER), Enchanted (NOR), Furze (NOR), Hyponic (PRC), Lubricant (FIN), Obliteration (NOR), Spectral Voice (USA), Strid (NOR), True Black Dawn (FIN), Emperor (NOR, old unpublished interview)
English language 40-page b/w pro printed - 5 € + shipping 6€ worldwide. Order it via email@example.com
Offense Zine Issue No. 3
But let's get down to business aka talking with Marcel now:
The Metal Phenomenon: We last spoke for an interview in May 2011 in Switzerland. That was just after the release of 'Sól' and the year of Helrunar’s 10 year anniversary. What has Helrunar been up to since?
Marcel: Well, a lot has happened since then… the most important event might be the release of our album 'Niederkunfft', for it marks a small change in both our lyrical and musical approach. It shows, for example, stronger influences of Death- and Doom Metal and the lyrics are by far less personal than earlier. The concept is actually a more historical one, for it deals with the mentality of people in late medieval and early modern times. These were times characterized by fear and terror, just think about the great plague, the religious conflicts, witch-hunts and the fear of doomsday. All these aspects make it an interesting topic to deal with musically, and we decided that a heavier production would catch the atmosphere of that age quite well. Lyrically, I kept close to the sources and also used old German for the best effect, while two songs on 'Niederkunfft' were our first songs in English.
Helrunar - Devils, devils everywhere!
TMP: What have you been up to? There seem to be many projects going on, from other bands, projects to a theatre play? What happened to the trip-project you mentioned?
M: Ah, yes, the “Trip-Folk-Project”! Well, it turned out into a, let´s say, quite emotional Dark-Folk-Band called Wöljager, and Stefan and Árni, the guys I also work with in the Norse Metal-band Árstiðir lífsins, joined in. The debut was released last year and it is mainly melancholic and eerie Folk music with acoustic guitars and strings, while the vocals are performed in Münsterländer Platt, a German dialect that is nowadays nearly extinct… I learned it from my grandparents when I was a child. I guess that makes Wöljager quite special. The lyrics deal with dark and spooky folklore.
But anyway, I should start at the beginning… in 2014 I decided to try to make a living just from my art and was quite active back then. A local theatre director named Konrad Haller asked me at that time, if I had something to bring to the stage. I remembered the folk songs that I had written and realized that their lyrics tell a coherent story… so I thought it might be a wonderful to create a theatre play from these lyrics and bring it to stage. With the help of Prophecy Productions we soon had a chance to finance the production and we recorded the Wöljager debut 'Van´t Liewen und Stiäwen' ('On living and dying' in German dialect) in Iceland in summer 2014, at the same time we also recorded the lyrics for 'Heljarkviða', the latest Árstiðir lífsins release. But unluckily, the financing of theatre play did not work, so we had to delay it. In late summer 2014 I simply had to realize that it is impossible to make a living just by the arts. I even created a Patreon account and worked as freelance teacher at the university, but all I did didn't help enough. So I had to take permanent employment at a theatre to avoid going bankrupt, and this decision had an impact on my artistic work for the following years.
Wöljager - Üöwer de Heide
I guess you can imagine how much time and energy a normal job consumes. But time and energy are most vital to be able to create art, so we (me and Sebastian, my Helrunar bandmate, he had the same problem) had to cease nearly all musical activity for some time. In summer 2016, shortly after the release of the Wöljager debut, we slowly started again with the first Helrunar live gig since 2013 (at Prophecy Fest 2016, a fantastic festival I would strongly recommend to anyone who is into dark and atmospheric music!) and the final realization of my theatre play (we had four shows that summer, three at Burg Vischering, an old castle close to Münster, and one also at Prophecy Fest). It was quite exhausting, but it worked.Recently I decided to reduce my working hours in order to have more time for music again, and Sebastian will do the same.
Helrunar at Prophecy Fest 2016 (Photo by Ruth Gräbeldinger)
TMP: Are you playing live more now ? Why (not)?
M: Yes, after Prophecy Fest we had another gig in Zürich this January, and more gigs are planned for this year. I should also add that we have a new line-up for concerts: Stefan and Árni from Árstiðir lífsins now both joined Helrunar as live-guitarists. Hah, we are a happy little incest-family, aren´t we?
No, seriously, we have been working together effectively for so long now and it all works well, also on a personal level, no matter if you look at Helrunar, Wöljager oder Árstiðir lífsins. I guess Wöljager would, for example, simply not exist without the help of Stefan and Árni. Especially all the beautiful and atmospheric string arrangements that Árni composed made the album so touching and special. It is a wonderful experience to work together with such talented artists and also performing live with them is a pleasure.
TMP: Have you been in the German charts again?
M: With 'Niederkunfft', yes… I guess it was at rank 46 or something. I am sure that it was due to our fans, who still like to have physical copies… unlike the “normal” way of music consumption via streaming nowadays.
TMP: Has anything changed for Helrunar or yourself since we last spoke? If yes, what?
M: I think I already mentioned the most dramatic changes. Maybe the lyrical topics that I use also changed. On the older Helrunar albums the lyrics are quite personal and strongly interwoven with Nordic/pagan mythologies. Now it is mainly the Árstiðir lífsins lyrics that transport Nordic mythology, and those are written by Stefan, not by me. It is not so easy to explain these changes… if I look at the first three Helrunar abums nowadays it feels like I always wanted to explain (or get a grip on) a certain thing… and all these albums are just variations on this. 'Grátr', 'Frostnacht' and 'Bald ok Íss' all describe a kind of process, a circle, lyrically and spiritually. It is always a path out of winter into spring, this can be regarded mythologically, emotionally or psychologically… they describe a process of growth and development, also enlightenment, maybe. 'Sól' then marks a kind of turning-point… it deals with the same, but in a greater, deeper way. After 'Sól' I had the feeling that I had simply said enough on this. It also went along with greater changes in my life, of which 'Sól' is a kind of reflection, definitely.
After all this was said and done, I had to search for new topics, as you can see in 'Wein für Polyphem' and 'Niederkunfft'. Apart from that, I am simply so fed up by the pagan stuff… too many bands do it, in a bad way. They are actually a parody of what they want to glorify and don´t see it. Yet they´re pretty successful… people obviously don´t want an elaborated, authentic and honest reflection of mythology, they just want cliché. I actually don´t want our work to be associated with such bands. That´s another reason why I moved away from pagan topics.
Arstidir Lifsins - Vindsvalarmal (taken from "Fragments. A Mythological Excavation")
TMP: What’s coming up in the future?
M: We already started to write new Helrunar songs… we don´t have so much material yet, but I guess we can go to the studio in spring 2018. Apart from that, we´ll be recording a new song for an Árstiðir lífsins split soon.
TMP: Anything to add?
M: My final remark that I forgot at our last interview in 2011, you remember? Ask me how the typical Helrunar fan looks like!
TMP: How does the typical Helrunar fan look like?
M: Sexy and intelligent!
There you have it, you intelligent and sexy Helrunar listeners!
Find the bands here: