One of my favorite albums from 2013 was Månegarm‘s Viking metal epic Legions Of The North. Their 2013 album, released on Napalm Records, presents various perspectives on death, life, and the beyond. One day, this long-running Swedish band came up in conversation, and from that moment, this was an interview I ‘had to have’. Let bassist/vocalist (and former drummer) Erik Grawsio take you on a journey through the wild north; check out what he has to say regarding the band’s latest effort, and their future plans.
Hello Månegarm! My first question is… who’s the lady doing the fantastic backing vocals (lead on “Raadh”) on your latest disc?
Hello there! The female voice belongs to Stina Engelbrecht, who is a Swedish folk musician/composer/vocalist.
When I heard Legions…, I was blown away, not just because of the songs’ visceral impact, but because of how layered and well thought-out they seemed to be. You guys “get it”. I guess that’s what happens when you have at least one band member who’s gigging in an “Americana” type rock band, alongside ‘all this heavy metal’.
Thanks a lot!! We really did our best, so I’m very glad that you liked the final result.
I think that our “sound” on the album comes from a bit of everything; we have been doing this for nearly 20 years and that gives you experience of course, we also did some pre-production for most songs, and besides from all that we are probably insane geniuses!! ;)
It’s fun that you mention the “Americana”. It’s the only music I listen to these days (almost). It is great fun to play as well, and I’ve learned a lot by doing it. I have always been a sucker for strong melodies and catchy hooks, and in the Americana music you really find all that, with its beautiful guitar works, and exceptionally good vocal harmonies. Today I work much more (at least in a different way) with melodies, harmonies, arrangements, and also 3-part vocal harmonies, and I wouldn’t have done that without the “Americana” input I guess.
Could you talk about these Legions Of The North songs a bit – who composed the music, who wrote the lyrics, what inspired the tune – that sort of thing.
* On “Eternity Awaits”, you have this catchy melody and then you smash all of that with some abrasive bleakness, and back again. You don’t have to play a thousand miles an hour to ‘effect’.
Jonas has written the song and lyrics, and I have composed the guitar/violin melodies. I think that the diversity in our music; from the catchy melodies, to the aggressive parts, is the true strength of Månegarm and that is really shown in “Eternity Awaits”. It’s a good song; catchy and melodic, yet hard.
* “Hordes Of Hel” is another neck-snapping killer. Not too fast, not dragging or too slow.
I have composed it (both music & lyrics) and I like this song a lot since it has that good “groove”. Someone wrote in a review that this song must be the Viking metal version of Motörhead‘s “Orgasmatron”! I couldn’t have gotten a better comment; Lemmy is THE king, and I just love Motörhead!!
* “Tor hjälpe” has that atmospheric, quasi-jazz infused break in the middle somewhere.
“Tor hjälpe” is one of the faster songs on the album. I like it since it has that “hypnotic” suggestive riff that just keeps rolling on in the verses. The chorus is great as well, and I like the end of the song too, where Jakob gets the chance to play his heart out on the drums. Jonas is the composer for “Tor hjälpe”.
* “Sons Of War” has that biting double octave, groovy riff. It would be equally at home in some hard rock tune.
Another song that I wrote with a good “groove”. That double octave riff is something that I’m very satisfied with, and you’re probably right; it would have fit nicely in other hard rock songs as well.
If I remember the recording correct, you hear 6 guitars on that riff; 2 that plays in the standard key of C flat, 2 that plays in standard C with power chords (adds the G tone), and 2 guitars hits an octave above while the bass hits the lower C. It makes the riff very wide and “big”, and it sounds really cool I think.
It’s amazing what you can do in a studio… ;)
You guys don’t shy away from including the ‘acoustic guitar touch’. Besides having produced a full album (The Forest Sessions), you include it on a bone-crushing metal album. It sounds great.
Thank you! Traditional instruments such as acoustic guitar, violin, and flute are something that we have worked with a lot, and we used these “ingredients” on Legions Of The North as well. It’s an important part of our sound.
Pelle Saether “hit a home run” with Legions… Who else has he produced?
Pelle Saether did a great job indeed! Pelle has been in the business for 30 years or so, and he has recorded, mixed and produced many, many bands: Carnal Forge, Psycho Punch, Diabolical, Diablo Swing Orcestra, Distorted, Axenstar, Steel Attack, and Wolf, just to name a few of hundreds… We have recorded many albums at his studio, and Pelle has become a very good friend of ours.
You’ve been sort of on the front lines of the “new” music business – how the Internet shook things up, both from recording and publicity standpoints. Do you like working in ‘someone else’s’ studio, or your own band studio? Does working in someone else’s studio give you a needed time-pressure motivation, or do you like the more relaxed recording you can do ‘at home’?
We printed our first two demos on cassette tapes, and we sent them out to record labels and zines in these brown ugly envelopes. :)
Today people just post their new song (that you have recorded in your bedroom on your laptop) on f***ing Facebook and it’s spread to thousands of people in a blink of an eye… I just sounded like an old grumpy dinosaur right there, didn’t I?? :) But to be serious: The technology moves forward all the time, and for a band of our size, it’s all good. We don’t get rich by selling CD’s, and if we can spread our music to people with the help of the Internet, it’s just good. We want people to hear and enjoy our music because then they will show up for the concerts and bang their head with us. That’s the most important thing!!
We have always recorded our albums in professional studios; Sunlight Studios (Entombed, Dismember) but mostly in Studio Underground with Pelle Saether.
Legions Of The North was recorded partly at Studio Underground (drums and mix) but we did the rest in our own studio which we built in the basement in Markus’s house.
You have totally right when it comes to the good and bad things with recording in another studio vs. our own. In our own studio we felt relaxed (mostly) and we could take the time that we needed without rushing things… the bad thing was that it actually took us much more time than we expected. We all have families and day-time jobs, and it’s not always that easy to find time for recording.
When we have recorded at Pelle’s place, we have been there for 3 weeks, and the best thing is that you leave the studio with a finished album. The bad thing is that it ALWAYS stresses you the f**k out. There are so many things to record and the time is never enough…
Sweden has a thriving metal scene; one of the best if not the best (or at least most expansive) in the world. Yet you draw no influence from it, you don’t listen to any of the music by your contemporaries? What -do- you listen to, then?
Naaa, I don’t listen that much to Swedish metal actually… Besides the “Americana” as I said earlier, I also listen to Motörhead, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and great old stuff like that!
Talking about great stuff; yesterday I actually listened to the new song “Eweroun” by Falkenbach! An amazing song in my opinion, so atmospheric… I liked it a lot! :)
A couple of months after listening to Legions…, I watched a documentary on Viking life and culture, and what struck me was how similar the Vikings were to our Native Americans. That’s when I realized why Europe is still so fascinated with the Viking culture and ethos. Europe is doing something to keep that ‘mystique’ alive, when artists repeat these themes in art and music.
The Vikings, our ancient customs and mythology are very interesting and fascinating subjects for many people, but it’s also an important part of our legacy. The mythology and legends that were told from parent to child back then, was the common belief and perception of the world. I personally think that it’s a very exciting and mysterious subject, and it’s a great subject for lyrics.
Månegarm himself is a very powerful creature. You’ve taken the name and spirit of someone who can propel us to the darkest depths, after long pursuit – a wolf who hunts tirelessly. You guys chose the band name long ago; has this creature’s essence served you well?
Just as Månegarm, we hunt tirelessly ourselves… for fame and money, hahaha!! :)
The name has served us well through the years; it’s a good name for our band.
Personally, I enjoyed the English lyrics. There seems to be some misunderstanding about the lyrics. Some were saying that because you switched from Swedish to English, that you were either “selling out” or “abandoning your roots”. It turns out that you guys just needed lyrics since your main writer left, so you decided to write in English. Those critics are going to be shocked when you revert back to the “old way”, soon…
That’s right. Pierre (former bass player) was the one that wrote our lyrics before (in Swedish), and when he left, we had to solve the situation… it was either to find a solution or quit playing, simple as that!
We decided to move on, and Jonas and I started to write lyrics ourselves. Since we thought that it was easier to do that in English we decided to go for it. But you can’t please ‘em all you know… whatever you do, some people will always be disappointed.
BUT, we were one of the first bands that started to play this particular kind of music; we have been doing our shit for nearly 20 years, and we’re still around!! We like what we’re doing and we always try to make the best of every situation so to be totally honest… I sometimes find it a liiiiiittle bit annoying when some people say/write/whine about that we are “selling out” or “it’s not Månegarm anymore”.
Let me put it like this; you don’t tell your daddy how to f**k people!! ;)
…and we will write much more in Swedish on the next album. :)
You’ve mentioned writing for a new album, several times. Have you begun writing formally yet, or are you just recording whatever ideas run through your mind at the time?
I’m in an amazing creative flow right now so I almost have the album finished in my head already!! :)
Our vision is to release a new album next year, and that would be awesome, because 2015 would be the 20 year anniversary for Månegarm. We have plans (and also songs quite soon…) to release a really special “anniversary” album that will disappoint no one!! We will start recording some demo songs in the nearest future, and that will be really fun.
Not many have asked you questions about your musical background. What got you started in music, and what made you continue to focus on metal? How long have you been playing, and do you have formal training, or is it all done “on the job”?
I started playing flute in school, but pretty soon started to play horn, and later on trumpet. I can’t really say that these instruments got me hooked on music, but it was anyhow my first experience with instruments.
When I was around 13-14 years old, I had a neighbor by our “summerhouse” that played guitar. His name was Anders, and I remember that he had a red Squire Stratocaster, and he was really good. He showed me some cool riffs, and I was just blown away… To hell with the trumpet, I NEED to play guitar. :) I listened a lot to early Guns n’ Roses and Metallica, and just tried to play those cool riffs over and over. That’s when my interest and feelings for “metal” was born definitely!
When I was 17 I started to play drums, by a coincidence actually, and after playing for 6 months or so I got the chance to join Månegarm. Then I played the drums in the band until 2007 when Jakob took my place. Then I did the vocals only for 2-3 years, and from 2010 I play the bass AND sing.
I don’t really know why music became my big passion in life. My sister played a little piano for a while, but no one of my parents have ever been into music… Music for me is so emotional and powerful, and makes me feel great and I guess that’s why it caught my attention and made me continue playing. I can’t imagine my life without music.
I’m “self-taught” on all instruments I play… except for the god damn trumpet. :)
You mentioned that guitar is your favorite instrument. Do you compose on guitar primarily?
Yes, it’s my favorite instrument. I play guitar almost every day, and I also compose all of my songs on guitar.
A lot of ‘indie’ bands have a secretive writing/recording process, and they won’t let an outsider in to record with them. Månegarm is different: you’ve utilised the talents of at least two session musicians on the latest record, and the results are stunning. What do studio or session musicians bring in to the project?
First of all, they bring something to the process that we can’t bring ourselves. ;) I mean, we can have visions and ideas for a song, but we can’t realize them all by ourselves. I can’t play the violin or piano for example: then you need to find a nice person who can.
We have worked with session musicians on this album, but also on earlier albums, and I think that it’s really fun and evolving.
You guys have a lot of shows booked for 2014 already. Vintermorker, Ragnarok, Niflheim… anything else?
Yes, it’s seems like it’s going to be a great year!
“Vintermörker” in February, “Cernunnos” festival in Paris in February, the “Nifelheim tour” with Borknagar and Ereb Altor in March, and we will play the “Ragnarök” festival in Germany in late April. This summer we have “Metal Frenzy” (Germany) booked 14th of August, and we’re also in contact with some other cool festivals, but these aren’t confirmed yet.
What’s in the future for Månegarm?
Those gigs/festivals I just mentioned, and then we’re going to concentrate on the new album.
These last words are yours… Thank you for your time.
Thanks a lot for the interview! Really good questions, and it was a pleasure to answer ‘em!
To all of our fans & listeners: We really hope that you will have a great 2014 and hopefully we’ll see each other on the road!! :) Rock n’ Roll!